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British Mysteries

Murder on Monday, Ann Purser, Berkley Prime Crime, $6.99.

These books have been flying off our shelves, and I finally know the reason why. Set in a small English village - and written by someone who actually lives in one - they are a nice mixture of a cozy village mystery and nuanced character study of Lois Meade, cleaner. Lois is a brisk breath of fresh air; straightforward and no-nonsense, she balances life with three rowdy and often unruly children, an affectionate husband, and a five day a week cleaning schedule, each in a different house. Her job, of course, gives her access to all kinds of inside knowledge, though Lois is never really the proverbial fly on the wall - she has too much self respect for that. She's kind of like Charlaine Harris' Lily Bard, without the trauma, but with some of the attitude. This is such an unusual and effective combination, the story so brisk and entertaining, you'll probably finish in the same time it takes Lois to handily dust an unused bedroom.

The book opens with a murder, of course, the murder of the village slut, for want of a better word. As Lois slowly realizes that the doctor, the professor, and the businessman she cleans for have all been frequent guests at the dead woman's house, she begins to keep a notebook of clues. The police even realize her invaluable position and question her regularly to find out if she's learned any new tidbits. Woven in with the mystery is trouble with Lois' 14 year old daughter, Josie, who has an older boyfriend. The boy, Melvyn, makes both Josie's parents crazy, and with good reason, as it turns out near the end of the book. Purser carefully lays the foundation of her story so when it all begins to knit together at the end of the book, it really zooms along with accumulated suspense and tension. The combination of the well thought out characters, the traditional village mystery set-up - it's a direct descendant of Miss Marple's work in St. Mary Meade - and the person of Lois herself make this book an enjoyable standout. And luckily, Purser is already up to Thursday as she works through the days of the week, so there's plenty more to look forward to.

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