During difficult times in life, many of us find it comforting to turn to more lighthearted fare. And fans of mysteries have many great options of humorous mysteries to enjoy.
Below are ten of my favorite humorous mystery series. Since I read by listening to audiobooks, I am including information on the audiobook performance and narrator of each series as well.
The Nero Wolfe series by Rex Stout
As far as I am concerned, the Nero Wolfe books by Rex Stout are the original and still unsurpassed humorous mystery series. They are narrated by Archie Goodwin, the clever and witty “man Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday” to the sedentary, gourmet, and orchid-obsessed Nero Wolfe. Wolfe is extremely fat, but he prefers to be known as gargantuan. So he never leaves the house but instead sends Archie all over to do his errands. With Fritz, his personal Swiss chef; Theodore, his full-time orchid nurse; and Saul, Fred, and Orrie, the three operatives who work for Wolfe, the books contain great character depictions as well as impressive mystery plots that often leave you wondering how you missed seeing such an obvious solution (since of course, you did miss seeing it!). With the narration of Archie, this series is full of wise-cracks and fun witticisms that make me laugh out loud.
The best audiobook editions of the Nero Wolfe books are narrated by Michael Prichard. His voice sounds very much like one might imagine Archie to sound. He makes the jokes and word play of Archie and Wolfe seem especially clever and fun. This highly diverse narrator has recorded hundreds of books and won an Audie, plus six Earphone Awards for performances throughout his career. Prichard is such an amazing narrator that I have actually bought audiobooks purely on the basis that they were performed by him.
The Meg Langslow series by Donna Andrews
This is my go-to series when I need a smile. Meg Langslow, a blacksmith with unique organizational skills and the quirkiest family ever, keeps getting plunged into unusual murder investigations. The titles, which so far add up to 26 books, consist of puns with bird names. (Book 27, The Falcon Always Wings Twice, set at a Renaissance Faire, is scheduled for release on August 4.) The humor in this series is related to family and community dynamics and grows organically out of the book’s plot. I have listened to many of the books in this series dozens of times and still never cease to get a laugh at the incredible creativity of these books.
The Donna Andrews books are performed by one of my very favorite narrators, Bernadette Dunne. Dunne is so expressive that she convinces us that we are listening to Meg Langslow herself. In fact, when I recommend audiobooks for newbies to the medium, this is the series I name first because it is so accessible even to those who normally have difficulty following books aurally instead of visually. Dunne highly deserves the three AudioFile Earphones Awards she has received for performances in this series. In addition, she has won a total of 21 Earphones Awards for books in different genres, plus six Golden Earphones Awards and two Audie nominations.
The Miss Fortune series by Jana Deleon
What happens when you take a CIA assassin with a million dollar price on her head and drop her into the crazy town of Sinful, Louisiana? Chaos, adventure, and wild hijinks, of course. Fortune Redding finds herself paired up with Gertie and Ida Belle, two senior women who pretty much run Sinful through the Sinful Ladies Society, a.k.a. The Geritol Mafia. The SLS admits only women who have never married or have been widowed at least 10 years, since that is how long it takes to get the influence of men out of their lives. This series never ceases to make me laugh out loud at the wild adventures the trio gets up to, especially dodging Deputy Carter Leblanc, whom Fortune begins dating. I have been known to wake up my husband by my laughter at these books while listening in bed. However, the books are not merely escapist pleasure. They also contain strong messages of female empowerment and model to readers what kind of healthy romantic relationships we should be pursuing, relationships of equality and respect.
Cassandra Campbell performs the audio versions of this series, and this charter member of the Audible Hall of Fame distinguishes herself and the series incredibly. Campbell uses a distinct voice for each character that makes the audiobook experience a true delight. Though the Miss Fortune series has never been reviewed by AudioFile Magazine, presenter of the Earphones Award, and the Audie Awards seem to overlook cozy mysteries in presenting their awards for best mystery performance, Campbell has excelled in awards from the over 700 books that she has narrated, winning four Audie Awards, with nominations for a dozen more, across the genres. You really can’t go wrong in listening to this series, and even friends who usually prefer to read their books tend to gravitate towards the audiobook recordings of the Miss Fortune series because of how amazingly Campbell brings Fortune and Sinful, Louisiana to life.
The Lady Hardcastle series by T.E. Kinsey
With the first books taking place in 1908, this series focuses on the adventures of the widowed Lady Hardcastle and her lady’s maid and best friend, Flo. These books are witty, full of clever word play and fun mystery plots. The back story of the pair, who worked in government service as spies, adds flavor and further humor. The pair get involved in such period adventures as a mysterious seance, a car race, and the women’s suffrage movement.
Elizabeth Knowelden performs the audiobook of this series. She does an excellent job of capturing the witty, yet whimsical, tone of the book and the banter between the pair of close friends. However, the fast-paced word play makes this one book that you might prefer to read visually in order to avoid missing some of the humor. I have listened to these books numerous times and still never fail to catch witticisms that I hadn’t spotted in earlier listenings. Fortunately, with two Earphones Awards for this series and a total of three Earphones Awards, the performance is so effective that Knowelden makes the audiobooks delightful to listen to.
The Miss Julia series by Ann B. Ross
Miss Julia is a highly proper member of her small town’s society and has just lost her husband when she learns that this church lay leader and epitome of respectability has had a second family for years. With a first person narration by Miss Julia, the books in this series contain humor based upon situations both from typical daily life and the ridiculous.
There are several narrators of these books, but much of the Miss Julia series is performed by the incredible Cynthia Darlow, who has a particular gift for voicing characters in such a way that listeners recognize each one’s class and racial heritage. Darlow, who has received one Earphone Award for the Miss Julia books and a total of eight Earphones altogether, makes the books in this series seem to take place in front of the listeners and adds to the humor of the books.
The Merry Wrath series by Leslie Langtry
After being outed as a CIA agent by the vice President of the United States, Merry Wrath settles down in Who’s There, Iowa and becomes a Girl Scout leader. She adopts a cat who looks just like Hitler and whose kitten looks just like Elvis. But Merry can’t truly get away from the CIA and her former career. This laugh-out-loud series contains a lot of silly adventures, often including the people even scarier than Al Qaeda — the girls of her girl scout troop!
This delightful series is available on audio for only the first four books, which is a shame. Bailey Carr, winner of one Earphone Award, portrays Merry and her mental musings effectively. At times, Merry’s fantasies of the men in her life gets a little tiresome, but Carr handles Merry’s thought life well. I really wish that more books were available on audio to enjoy.
The Andy Carpenter series by David Rosenfelt
Andy Carpenter is a top-notch attorney with just one major problem — he hates to work. And since he has inherited a lot of money, he tries very hard to avoid any semblance of the detested action. He would rather spend his time with his adored golden retriever, Tara, after whom he names the Tara Foundation, a dog rescue group. However, life and those around him keep transpiring to push him into taking on new cases, always the ones with certain loss as their outcome. With a witty sense of humor, full of wisecracking, Andy narrates the books, which also feature excellent mystery plots.
Grover Gardner performs the audiobooks of the Andy Carpenter series in a highly effective manner. He uses a strong sense of timing and expression that adds to the enjoyment of listening to the series. Gardner has won four Earphone Awards for excellence in his performance of these books, with one of those books’ being nominated for an Audie Award. He has received 41 Earphones Awards in total. You can’t help but enjoy the series when Gardner brings it to you.
The Oxford Tea Room series by H.Y. Hanna
Gemma Rose has returned from a few years in the corporate world in Australia to her hometown of Oxford to open a tea room. However, she keeps finding herself in the middle of murder cases, which throws Gemma in with her university boyfriend, now a detective chief inspector at the Oxford CID (criminal investigations division). Adding to the strength of the mysteries is the humor, largely stemming from some really fun, unique characters, including Gemma’s mother; a group of crazy senior citizen ladies known as the “Old Biddies”; and Gemma’s cat, Muesli.
The audiobooks of this series are performed by
Pearl Hewitt, who does a fantastic job of making the books come to life. Hewitt is one of my favorite British narrators and gives real delight in her performances. She always sounds to me as if she is smiling.
The Beryl and Edwina Mystery series by Jessica Ellicott
The prim and proper Edwina, who stayed unmarried all her life to serve her overbearing father, has found 1920 England to be more expensive than her finances can afford, so she advertises having a room to rent. She is pleasantly surprised when her school friend, the brash American adventuress Beryl, responds to the ad. Together they get involved in local murder cases, with Beryl’s dragging Edwina into wild adventures. The series endears with clever mysteries, a cozy small English town setting, and lots of humor.
The inimitable Barbara Rosenblat performs this series with expression and a great sense of humor. Rosenblat has the unique distinction of being the first person ever to record a book for Audible and was inducted in 2018 into the charter class of the Audible Hall of Fame. Winner of eight Audie Awards, more than any other narrator has received, and over 40 Earphones Awards, Rosenblat won an Earphones Award for her performance of Murder Cuts the Mustard, book three in the series. As the AudioFile review [Disclosure: It was written by me.] states, “In her performance, Rosenblat ingeniously shifts among the staid, proper Edwina, the adventurously flamboyant Beryl, and the many residents of Walmsly Parva. In addition to depicting the personalities of each character, Rosenblat clearly communicates their social statuses.” This is one excellent series that also contains an amazing narrator for its audiobook performances.
The Poppy McAllister series by Libby Klein
In January 2018, Libby Klein sprang onto the literary scene, taking readers by storm with Class Reunions Are Murder. It seemed that all at once, everyone was talking about this book. Since sadly, only Klein’s first book is on audio, I can’t report on the whole series, so I will talk just about the first book. Poppy MacAllister, widowed six months ago, attends her high school’s 20th reunion, where she has to face the two cheerleaders who bullied her all through high school. When the bigger bully gets murdered, Poppy gets accused of the murder. Interestingly, it is the hookers in the jail who teach Poppy that she needs to take back her personal power and stand up for herself. The book addresses issues of body image, personal achievements, and family, as well as the insecurities people frequently have in facing their past, in this case through the class reunion. This book contains an impressive balance between serious themes and incredible humor.
The audiobook of Class Reunions Are Murder is performed by Callie Beaulieu. With effective tones of voice, Beaulieu sounds just as we imagine Poppy sounding as she recounts all the personal challenges she experiences in her progress toward self-awareness and freedom from suspicion over the murder.
Disclaimer: I serve as a reviewer for AudioFile Magazine, bestower of the Earphones Awards. Further, I nominated some of these books for that award.