I admit it. I LOVE books and shows with highly intelligent, strong, capable women. I especially love it when those women stay true to their femininity, acting as worthy representatives of girly girls everywhere. Girls (ahem, WOMEN) with the hearts of a lioness.
This got me thinking about books I’ve read recently. Little by little I’ve been making my way through The Country Club Murder series, by Julie Mulhern. This series, and its heroine, Ellison Russell, have shot (pun intended) to the top of my list of favorite mystery series. (Just barely edging out the Her Royal Spyness series by Rhys Bowen. Also great!)
It’s the 1970s. Ellison Russell is a Kansas City artist, socialite, mother, trophy wife…and widow. Cars are sleeker, women are drooling over James Garner in The Rockford Files, and the world continues to modernize. Kansas City, a place that dwells in most of our blind spots, is home to a very elite crowd of men and women. A crowd who holds fiercely to their traditions. They run charities, attend large social functions, golf, play bridge and still manage to have a hierarchy within the hierarchy. They also have their own set of rules. Ellison plays by these rules. She is, after all, the wife of a prominent banker and daughter of a very wealthy couple. But she is also observant to the plights of the underprivileged. And…she has the unfortunate penchant for finding dead bodies. Her mother is not amused.
Ellison is the beating heart of these books (16 in total, I’ve read 8.) She is classy, sharp, unwavering, and very compassionate. She holds her own with her teenage daughter, Grace. She remains unruffled to her mother’s toxic barbs and stoic in the face of stubborn male misogyny. And, at her side throughout these adventures is a dashing homicide detective–the unconventionally named Anarchy Jones. This series is a prickly joy and never boring. We get so invested in Ellison as she juggles one murder after another, along with motherhood, society’s expectations, her mercurial parents, and a budding relationship with Anarchy. It’s superb!
9.5/10 Stars for the series (So far, #7–Shadow Dancing— is my favorite. But it’s best to read them in order.)
- The Deep End
- Guaranteed to Bleed
- Clouds in My Coffee (Yes, Ellison has a special love for the steady male in her life–her Mr. Coffee)
- Send in the Clowns
- Watching the Detectives
- Cold As Ice
- Shadow Dancing
- Back Stabbers (hereby ending the ones I’ve read so far at the time I write this review)
- Telephone Line (finished on 12/30/22)
- Stayin’ Alive
- Killer Queen (I love this title. Queen fans represented!)
- Night Moves
- Lyin’ Eyes
- Evil Woman
- Big Shot
- Fire and Rain (out in April 2023)
So, if I’ve only read half of the Country Club Murder series, WHY am I comparing it to Killers of a Certain Age?
Because Killers was a bummer of a certain book. But it took some thinking for me to figure out why I disliked it so much. Highly intelligent, strong, capable women? Check. Adventure? Check. Multiple things happening at once? Check.
Again, it is the 1970’s. Billie, Helen, Natalie, and Mary Alice are all plucked from obscurity to be part of an elect group of highly-trained assassins. Evolving from WWII Nazi hunters, Resistance members, and Monuments Men, this organization is so secret that its name is never mentioned. And these four women will be its first all-female team. It’s quite an honor. Even assembling them took years. They are multi-lingual, quick thinking, highly physical, and seductive. And, because they are women, they are always underestimated.
Fast forward forty years. The quartet has aged into their sixties and are approaching retirement. Only now, instead of being the hunters, they are the hunted. They need to find out who and why.
It’s a great premise. I had been looking forward to reading this book. It was a Book of the Month selection and a Goodreads awards nominee. But after spending so much time with Ellison Russell in the Country Club series, I had become accustomed to a heroine who had both class and sass. These four lacked class in a big way, hammering continual dents into their likability. They are vulgar and arrogant. They are also interchangeable carbon copies of each other. I didn’t care about any of them. And if I don’t care about any of the main characters, the plot–no matter how clever–becomes superfluous. A huge disappointment.