What do I read now that Jill Churchill’s ended her Jane Jeffrey series?


Hazel Holt‘s Mrs. Malory series. Here’s why.

1) The protagonists are similar enough to appeal to the same readers (I think!) yet are different enough that readers won’t feel that it’s just more of the same old same old. Both protagonists are recent widows with children when the series begin, but Jane Jeffrey’s husband was killed on an icy overpass in the process of leaving her for another woman while Sheila Malory’s husband died after a long illness. Both protagonists are homebodies, concerned with domestic issues such as giving dogs flea baths, cats bringing home stunned rodents, carpooling and such like, but Mrs. Malory is a literary critic, concentrating on Charlotte Yonge while Jane1 has always been a stay at home mom with little more than a high school education, who’s rarely shown reading. Neither of them works outside the home in any organized sense of the term–technically they’re both housewives–though given the difference in ages (and number!) of their children, Mrs. Malory has more time for work2 in the form of presentations at conferences, articles in academic literature journal and the like.

2) The environments are also similar, though divergent. Jane1 lives in a suburb of Chicago while Mrs. Malory lives in a town far enough outside London that it hasn’t quite been subsumed into the city yet, as Jane’s community has been into Chicago. (That said, England’s small enough and the transit system extensive enough that Malory can get about quite nicely.) Not surprisingly, given the difference in the protagonists’ educational backgrounds and current occupations, Mrs. Malory moves in more academic/literary circles than Jane; her friends tend to be playwriters and actors, authors and prelates while Jane’s friends are largely from her own neighborhood and her activities are still concentrated on her kids’ schools, though by the end of the series this is obviously coming to an end.

3) Both series center on the characters’ gender and occupation and knowledge of their environment as women and housewives. In Grime and Punishment, the first Jane Jeffry mystery, Jane points out that the murdered housecleaner would have vacuumed backwards out the door of a room, giving the murderer an opportunity to strangle her sight unseen (and sound unheard!) while in Mrs. Malory Wonders Why, it is Mrs. Malory’s familiarity with the victim which allows her to point out to the detective that Miss Graham wouldn’t have washed up the morning coffee things by hand; she’d have used the little portable dishwasher that Mrs. Malory passed along when her son came home to live. Both series are chicklit, if you will.

4) Both series allow the characters to change and grow and age as the books are written, though not necessarily on a one to one passage of time. The children grow–Jane’s kids start in grade school and end with two in college and the third about to start high school, while Michael Malory is in college at the beginning and ends up married with a child almost old enough to start school herself. This is one of the chief complaints I have about Lilian Jackson Braun’s “Cat who…” series; I understand that the primary draw of THAT series was the cats but really! there’s a practical upper limit to how long cats will live, and as the two show little signs of aging, that forces all the crimes Qwilleran encounters into a telescoped period.

Holt’s mysteries have a minimal though noticeable Mary Sue element–Holt went to Cambridge while Malory went to Oxford, Holt was a friend of Barbara Pym while Malory concentrates on Charlotte Yonge–but not enough to be obnoxious. Certainly, Sheila Malory isn’t at all romanticized or puffed into something Holt only wishes she could be. Both series are quintessential cozies; the terms used may be different but both protagonists are, in essence, doing the same things in the same environment. I know that far too many female detectives of a certain age are called “The new Miss Marple”, but I can see Sheila Malory becoming something similar in future; certainly, she’s acquainted with most of what her detective inspector ‘godson-in-law’ refers to as the Taviscome Mafia, the neighborhood gossips for miles around who’ve often provided Malory, and therefore Roger, with the clues necessary to solve several crimes. People are reluctant to talk to the police, as they’re The Law, but surely there’s no harm in talking to that twittery little old lady? Well, don’t! Chances are they’re Best Friends Forever with the Yard in its entirety.

1Churchill’s series is written in third person and this is how she usually refers to her protagonist.
2this is not to imply that staying at home ISN’T work!

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