Mysteries: 'Downton Abbey' atmosphere, Southern roots

"Proof of Guilt" by Charles Todd; William Morrow (343 pages)

This series is being called a natural for "Downton Abbey" fans. Shell-shocked World War I vet Ian Rutledge solves crimes with the aid of his ghostly sidekick, the shade of his second-in-command from the trenches: "Hamish was there, just behind his shoulder, as he always was. Just as they had watched the enemy, night after night at the Front. But now the young Scot was not the trusted corporal intent on keeping men alive and fighting as efficiently as possible. Now he was the voice of guilt and turmoil, the vivid reminder that Rutledge himself was not yet whole."

Rutledge has an unidentified hit-and-run victim on his hands, and two missing wine merchants, neither of whom is the dead man.

His Scotland Yard superior likes a jilted woman for the murder, but Rutledge is looking further back in time at betrayals and madness a generation before.

Lots of great period detail, as always, and characters who ring true even today.

"Touch & Go" by Lisa Gardner; Dutton (424 pages)

Lisa Gardner brings a fresh twist to the kidnapping genre: An entire family — father, son, teen daughter — kidnapped at once.

The family is already in turmoil over Dad's infidelity, and being imprisoned by three scary guys does not help the healing process.

We watch the family try to survive the ordeal and in alternate chapters we watch the police follow clues and gradually zero in on their location.

"Cold Feet" by Karen Pullen; Five Star (292 pages)

Here's a new regional author who's worth a look.

In Karen Pullen's first mystery novel, SBI agent Stella Lavender tags along to a wedding with her aunt, only to be pressed into professional service when the bride is found dead.

Pullen, who lives in Pittsboro, keeps it light and throws in lots of romance and Southern cooking.

I enjoyed the characters, especially the artsy aunt, Fern, who raised Stella in a decaying farmhouse and taught her to shop Goodwill.


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