202021Jan

Ancestry Detective Mysteries

“Murder Once Removed” by S.C. Perkins, New York: Minotaur Books, 2019, $26.99

Lineage Most Lethal” by S.C. Perkins, New York: Minotaur Books, 2020, $26.99

These two “ancestry detective mysteries” use main character and genealogical researcher Lucy Lancaster as the vehicle for contemporary murder mysteries with historical connections.  Lancaster, the proprietor of Austin, Texas based Ancestry Investigations becomes embroiled in dangerous situations as she investigates lineages on behalf of clients with long-held family secrets.

In the debut mystery, “Murder Once Removed”, Lancaster discovers an old 1840s photograph known as a daguerreotype and uses it as the basis to speculate that a wealthy Texas billionaire’s ancestor was murdered by one of two men who have living descendants—one of them a prominent politician.  This in turn leads to a present-day murder to suppress secrets divulged in the early photograph.  “Murder Once Removed” was the winner of the Malice Domestic first traditional mystery competition when it came out.

The second entry in the series finds Lucy Lancaster doing family research for Texas hotel owner Pippa Sutton when two murders occur on the hotel premises—the first that of an elderly forensic accountant with pretensions as an investigator and the second that of the hotel’s star chef.  As he dies, the accountant seeks to give Lancaster a World War II vintage Montblanc writing pen that turns out to have connections with a war-time espionage case.  Evidence found via the pen leads Lucy to focus on a shortlist of descendants of Allied spies who might be in current danger.

Supporting characters in the mystery series include Lancaster’s office mates and fellow small business owners Josephine and Serena and various family members including her elderly grandfather.  Another peripheral character is her sometime love interest Special FBI Agent Ben Turner.  The interplay with Turner seems strained at times and the reader is left unsatisfied by the somewhat thin character delineation of the romantic subplot.

This series is probably not recommended as a teaching tool for conducting genealogical research, although some specific techniques Lancaster uses such as how to create a damage-free reproduction of the epitaph on a tombstone are useful skills in the family historian’s toolbox.  Author S.C. Perkins has roots in Texas that go back five generations and the series does include some useful Texas history. 

As a projected series of “themed” books, the Lucy Lancaster Ancestry mysteries are highly similar to author Rett MacPherson’s eleven book series featuring female genealogist Torie O’Shea, who solves mysteries as she researches genealogy.  Of the two, the nod may go to Rett MacPherson as slightly better at clean plotting and character development in her series of “cozy” genealogy mysteries featuring a small-town Missouri historical society president.

Lisa Kobrin is the Reference Services Manager at May Memorial Library. She can be reached at lkobrin@alamancelibraries.org.