02/07/2013 04:58 pm ET Updated Apr 09, 2013

My Midwinter Escape to Murder

Midwinter is the perfect time for reading mysteries. Settling myself back on the couch with a pile of mysteries and a glass of wine is less expensive than a trip to the Caribbean, and just as restorative as all that sun, sand and rum. This year my January into February splurge of murder and mayhem took me to Hawaii (yes!), old New York (liking this very much), and Alaska in the summertime (flowers, midnight sun, and bears).

If you are one of the few on the planet yet to discover Molly Murphy, created by Rhys Bowen, now is the time to take the plunge. Molly is sassy, saucy, brave and smart -- and living in New York City in the early 1900s. She's come over from Ireland to escape the arm of the law and ends up, literally and quite happily, in the arms of the law. Along the way she discovers she has quite a skill in solving crimes, as documented in the ample selection of Bowen's books about Molly. I started with Murphy's Law, just out in paperback, and then devoured the series one by one. The last installment, The Face in the Mirror, was a short novella available only as an e-book, and just perfect for one long winter's afternoon spent on the aforementioned couch. It whetted my appetite for the next full-length novel, The Family Way, which comes out in March.

A brand new sleuth on the murder mystery circuit is Stryker McBride, whom I met in the thoroughly entertaining and satisfying debut novel Aloha, Lady Blue, written by Charles Memminger. Stryker is a former swimmer and journalist recuperating from an undercover reporting job gone bad. He's taken to holing up in his houseboat (named The Travis McGee in homage to an old sleuth), drinking beers, and swimming from one pier to another in the yacht club he guards with his two huge German shepherds. Memminger does for Hawaii what Hiaasen does for Florida: shows all us tourists the bad and the ugly sides of these holiday paradisos, while also giving us full access to the beautiful and the good. Strong vibes of Don Ho mixed in with Steve McGarrett mixed in with Memminger's own take on island life make Aloha, Lady Blue a great first in what I hope will be a long series of Stryker McBride mysteries.

Hiaasen has his Florida, Memminger now has his Hawaii, and Dana Stabenow most definitely has her Alaska. I may never make it all the way up north but, Stabenow takes me there with every Kate Shugak mystery she writes. Each of these penetrating novels is good, from the very first, A Cold Day for Murder (available practically for free as an e-book) to Stabenow's latest, Bad Blood. Bad Blood comes out later this month and is the 20 Kate Shugak mystery in 20 years. Congratulations to Stabenow and lucky for us. Twenty years on, Shugak is just as determined as ever, and when her badass trooper boyfriend gets involved in the feud between two neighboring communities, she does not hesitate to jump in to help out. Stabenow does it all: ample history, rich socio-political background, vivid atmosphere, complex characters, hot sex, twisted plot, and solid conclusion. What more could anyone want from a midwinter escape?