Following an Amazon recommendation, I recently read two books in Madelyn Alt’s paranormal mystery series, Bewitching Mysteries: The Trouble with Magic and Hex Marks the Spot. (Those are numbers one and three of the series; sadly, my library doesn’t seem to have book two.) I called them “paranormal” mysteries, but as paranormals go, these are pretty tame. There are no vampires, no werewolves, no Fae or demons or zombies chasing the heroine (or being chased by her, if that’s her job.) Instead, this series feels like one of the many popular “cozy” mystery series featuring old books, knitting, tea shops, catering businesses, needlework… you get the drift. Except that the “Bewitching” mysteries carry a ghosts/spirits/Wiccan theme instead of the more mundane food or craft themes of the rest of the crowd. (Incidentally, I’m a fan of some of those other series, notably Maggie Sefton’s knitting mysteries.)
Alt’s main character, Maggie, is single, nearly thirty, and an empath, though she’s not at all comfortable with the implications of the latter. She works at Enchantments, a charming antiques-and-decorating boutique in a small Midwestern town. Her boss, Felicity (“Liss”), is her friend and mentor — and a practicing witch. When Liss’s estranged sister is murdered on Maggie’s first day at work, and the police seem focused on Liss as chief suspect, Maggie starts poking around on her own. She is unnerved by several spooky incidents, including a ghostly dog in the night, but as her investigation progresses, she begins to accept her sensitivity to the feelings of others — dead as well as alive.
Alt has a light touch as well as a sense of humor. Written in first person, the books are enlivened by a cast of characters that include Tom Fielding, town cop and Maggie’s sort-of-boyfriend; Marian the librarian, who wears animal-print clothing, loves men, and has a surprisingly open mind; various members of Maggie’s often exasperating family; Maggie’s best friend and fellow Magnum P.I. groupie, Steff; and Liss’s magical partner and presumed younger lover, Marcus, formerly in military intelligence. Then there are the N.I.G.H.T.s, a wildly diverse group of sensitives who gather weekly at to support each other and investigate disturbances of various spiritual ilks.
The slightly paranormal theme doesn’t overwhelm either the mystery or the storytelling, so if you’re looking for a light, entertaining read, and you’re willing to suspend your belief enough to encompass the occasional ghost, energy spike, or poltergeist, give the Bewitching Mysteries a try.
Update (11/18/2011): I’ve now read the entire series (through January 2011’s Home for a Spell), and I continue to enjoy Alt’s mix of wry humor, cozy mystery, and the paranormal. Unfortunately, I’ve been unable to locate a title or release date for the next book in the series.
Update #2 (2/10/2012): On the same day I added the previous update, Ms. Alt posted to her blog after an absence of nearly a year. While she’s not specific, she writes that the stress of a series of difficult situations or circumstances in her personal life meant she had to draw back from writing for a time, but she is now writing again. To the best of my knowledge, no date has yet been set for the next Bewitching Mystery, but it is in the works. My sympathies to Ms. Alt on what was clearly a difficult and possibly painful period in her life… but I’m very glad she’s writing again.
Update #3 (6/13/2013): It’s been over a year since the paperback release of Home for a Spell and since Madelyn Alt posted anything to her blog. She hasn’t posted to her Facebook page since August 2012. I’ve been unable to find any information at all about forthcoming books. I can only conclude that for whatever reason, she is no longer writing.