Friday, July 02, 2010

Diana Killian - "Mantra for Murder Mysteries" Series, vols I, II & III

Corpse Pose
Dial Om for Murder
Murder on the Eightfold Path

I enjoy dipping into the “cozy” genre every once in a while. Sure, you have to be in the right mood, but I’ve enjoyed Maggie Sefton’s “Knitting Mysteries” and some of Joanne Fluke’s “Hannah Swensen Mysteries” as well as a few others.

However, Dianna Killian’s series “Mantra for Murder” is just on a whole different level. Intelligent, very well written, with a rhythm that carries you along effortlessly and a strong, visual feel to it – I could easily see it turned into a tv series or film – it is a delight to read.

What frustrates me with “cozies” sometimes is that these women (the heroines are mostly female, just like the intended audience) seem to live in a bubble. There never seem to be any “big issues” addressed (discounting the rising body counts, of course) and they don’t seem to watch tv shows, read books or magazines or read any blogs for that matter! It’s like they live outside of time, if that makes sense, in a sort of post-Millenium St Mary Mead. Also, there is usually precious little humour.

What I loved in this series were the cultural references, popular and otherwise and the fact that the author isn’t afraid to approach issues such as veganism right in the middle of narrative. And the humor…ah! Very dark, and very funny.

The theme is, obviously, yoga, as our protagonist, A. J. Alexander receives a very large inheritance from her aunt Diantha, owner of a successful yoga studio in a small New Jersey town, which includes the school itself. A. J.’s former life included being a fast-paced marketing consultant in the big city as well as a marriage that failed when her husband Andy, came out of the closet.

As heroines go I found A. J. incredibly likeable – I think throughout these three books she only annoyed me once or twice, which is great. However, credit is due to author Diana Killian for creating, to my knowledge, the only “cozy” mother-daughter duo. Elysia, former screen sex-kitten and star of “Avengers” style series “221B Baker Street” provides much of the comic relief and is an absolutely priceless character – she is the one who generally convinces A. J. to partake in a spot of sleuthing. I do hope she continues to be a staple in the series.

What about the love interest, you ask? Gotta have that love interest. And it’s mostly law enforcement or construction as these thing go. Here we have ruggedly handsome Detective Jake Oberlin: he wears snug jeans and listens to The Boss (I imagined him sort of like Saving Grace’s Butch Ada), takes himself a little too seriously and…well, the poor guy is probably the Achilles heel of this roster of characters. It almost made me hope ex-husband Andy would move to Stillbrook (and he does, temporarily, in vol. II - yay!). I do wish "cozy" love interests could be more original…like an oddball inventor or a kindergarten teacher… strong silent types are so…not funny. Oh well.

The mysteries themselves I found quite satisfying: the solution was neither obvious nor mind-boggling difficult. And anyway, as the Bard says “It’s as much about the journey as the destination”.

The “cozy” market is so huge right now that I can’t be certain this is the best series out there – but, so far, it is certainly the best I’ve come across.

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