Spoilers abound for Real Murders, A Bone to Pick, and Three Bedrooms, One Corpse.
This past summer, I came across the first three books in Charlaine Harris’ Aurora Teagarden Mysteries at a garage sale. I originally read the books as they were coming out. I think I started when the series was part way done in the mid-1990s.
Harris’ Sookie Stackhouse series (the basis for the television series True Blood) is, of course, far better known. And I enjoyed the Sookie Stackhouse books, even though I am not very keen on vampire or other related supernatural beings in my mysteries, because the characters, as individuals, were compelling and Harris has a true gift for storytelling. (I have avoided the TV series because … well, I just can’t.)
But in the Aurora Teagarden series, Harris really hit on the epitome of the modern cozy. Aurora, known as Roe, begins the series as a librarian (in a public library, of course) in a small town. She is in her 20s, mildly conservative, and Christian in a somewhat casual way. She is physically notable for being very short (I sympathize and think I always appreciated that she is shorter than I am). She is very middle American ordinary, but the character is deftly drawn and feels authentic. She is interesting, brave, and busy.
One of the sources of her busy-ness is a rotating cast of semi-serious boyfriends who run the gamut of professions — police detective, mystery writer, minister, businessman, and so on.
Surrounded by friends, family, and others in the community, Roe in drawn into an unlikely (in a Murder, She Wrote sort of way) series of murders that extends over the books. Unlike with many cozy series, there is nothing overly quirky or oddly light-hearted about the stories. Instead, Roe treats the murders (and newly dead friends and acquaintances and accompanying threats to still living people) seriously without the books becoming heavy.
As I write this, I have to admit that none of this sounds like a particularly compelling reason to hunt down a twenty year old series of eight books. However. The series truly is more than the sum of its parts. Roe is someone you become interested in, someone you want to see travel through life.
I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t want to be her friend (their life spans are a bit too often unnaturally shortened) and I wouldn’t want to live in the same town (not my thing at all), but there is something intangible in the world that Charlaine Harris creates in this series that is remarkable. There is something similar in her Lily Bard books and the two early stand-alones she wrote (Sweet and Deadly and A Secret Rage) — although those books have a darker overall tone and more clearly damaged characters.
It is perhaps inevitable that the series she has found the most success with is the one that I like least (although I do like it, just less so than the others). The characters in the Sookie Stackhouse series are excellent and really drive the plot, but there is something not there in a narrative sense, perhaps. I think I have to consider that a bit more. Perhaps it is the premise — the supernatural beings and the related circumstances that arise because of their nature — that makes the books less close, less personal, less eminently possible.
So. There you go. I highly recommend the whole series.