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Best Genealogy Mystery Book Series: The Torie O'Shea Mysteries

Updated on January 24, 2016
Cemeteries can be a source of many clues and many unanswered questions.
Cemeteries can be a source of many clues and many unanswered questions. | Source

These Mysteries Do Right by Genealogy

For a mystery written around genealogy or historical research, there has to be a ring of authenticity. Oh, I do expect the author to cut corners and sensationalize a bit. I'd be just as bored as everyone else if the document found was described for two chapters.

Too many genealogy series don't put much effort into the research portion of the plot. The lead character's weight problems or failing marriage are really the focus. The genealogy takes a backseat.

But, the Torie O'Shea Mysteries are the closest thing to the real deal that I've read. And, for that, they are one of my favorite mystery series.

Why I Enjoy These Genealogy Mysteries

I am a genealogist and I am a bit persnickety when it comes to novels based on this theme. Too often, authors make genealogy research so easy that it isn't believable. When I started reading this series, I was a skeptical. I had read other books in this genre that just didn't pass muster when it comes to showing how research is done to solve a problem. The Torie O'Shea Mysteries are different. The author, Rett MacPherson, is a genealogist which explains why she has taken great care with how the genealogy research is presented.

Each book presents several genealogy problems. The lead character, Torie O'Shea, has to resolve many problems to solve the mysteries. She takes the reader along on her trips to old cemeteries, dusty archives, and interviews with townspeople. As she looks for obituaries, deciphers writing in wills, and tries to figure out old photographs, the reader sits beside her working out the clues. You really get a sense of the story unfolding and the mystery unraveling. Because it seems so close to the truth, when our lead character hits a snag, you get frustrated with her.

I'm one of those people who hates overly detailed or descriptive books. If you want me to lose interest, describe the scenery down to the specific colors. I feel there is just enough research that you understand the steps taken to solve the mystery, but not so much that you wish the characters would put themselves out of their misery. It is that balance that makes these stories so engrossing.

MacPherson has also taken care to make Torie seem real. She is an incredible researcher. She has the tenacity that ever great genealogist has. However, she seems incapable of heeding warnings. Where she is detailed in research, she is rash in action. She is imperfect like all of us.

A little imperfection and humor mixed with authenticity makes this the best genealogy mystery series there is.

The Background for the Torie O'Shea Mysteries

The story begins in New Kassel, Missouri with our amateur sleuth, Torie O'Shea. Torie is a mother who works at the local historical society found at the Gaheimer House. She runs tours, does historical research, and compiles genealogies.

Like most cozy mysteries, our lead character finds herself in the most outrageous predicaments. Unlike normal people, her curiosity gets the best of her. (Think Judith in the Bed and Breakfast mystery series). She is tenacious and nosy, which helps with the mystery solving, but can really irritate her loved ones.

Instead of planning the murders at the local apple festival (does that happen in small towns?), MacPherson places them in the present and the past. It is a mystery within a mystery. The first one revolves about some devious deed in the present time. The second one revolves around a crime committed decades ago. The two are interdependent. The clues found from one usually helps solve the other.

In the 5th book in this series, Torie must research one of the famous folks from New Kassel for a biography.
In the 5th book in this series, Torie must research one of the famous folks from New Kassel for a biography. | Source

The Reluctant Sidekick and Others

It wouldn't be a cozy mystery if our meddling Midwesterner didn't have a reluctant sidekick. You know, the person who has better sense but gets drawn in any way. In this series, it's the local sheriff, Colin. The two have never gotten along, but, because Torie keeps ending up in the middle of criminal investigations, they can't avoid each other. Much to their chagrin, they must collaborate on numerous occasions.

I love the banter between the two. The dialogue is funny and cleverly written. I find myself chuckling at times.

Over the series, a grudging respect emerges between the two. They each have talents which the other admires, but would never admit. When they work together, they complement each other despite their annoyance.

In addition to the sheriff, there is Torie's family including her husband, Rudy, their children, and her mother who lives with them and helps out. Her father and grandmother make occasional appearances.

There are the elderly Pershing sisters: the stern Sylvia and the friendly Wilma, who own most of the town and are in charge of preserving the town's history. They own the Gaheimer House where Torie works.

Her nemesis is the mayor, Bill Castlereagh. He and Torie are always at odds over something going on in town.

There are the usual eccentric characters who live in New Kassel and the quirky strangers who travel through.

The Best Book in the Series in My Opinion

In Sheep's Clothing is My Favorite

Although I enjoyed them all, the one that is my favorite is “In Sheep's Clothing”. In this book, Torie goes to visit her Aunt Sissy and Uncle Joe. Her husband and the sheriff come along so they can make a fishing trip of it.

When she arrives, her Aunt gives her a diary she has found in her attic. It is written by a young woman in the 1850s. The diary ends abruptly and Aunt Sissy wants to know why. She is sure something awful happened in this woman's life. Torie becomes engrossed and determines to find out what happened when the diary ends.

When the sheriff gets into trouble with the local law enforcement, it's Torie who has to get him out of trouble. As the clues are revealed about his arrest, the mystery alluded to in the diary comes to light. As in all the books, the events a century ago have an impact on today.

Was it an accident, suicide, or murder?
Was it an accident, suicide, or murder? | Source

The Last Torie O'Shea Book Published

Eleven Books in This Series

As with this genre, the lives of the characters continue through each book. They age, they grow, and they have conflicts that persist from one book to the next. Because of this, it is best to read them in order.

In my opinion, this series gets stronger as it goes along. You have to get to know the characters before you warm up to them. Since the plot continues, you can be a bit lost if you read them out of order. If you start in the middle, someone's died and then you have to piece together what happened in earlier entries.

The last book in this series "Blood Ballad" was written in 2008. It is an exceptional mystery. I really hope MacPherson writes another. I want more!

Give These Book a Try

Will you read one of the Torie O'Shea Mysteries?

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Torie O'Shea Mysteries in Order

For reference, here they are in order:

  1. Family Skeletons
  2. A Veiled Antiquity
  3. A Comedy of Heirs
  4. A Misty Morning
  5. Killing Cousins
  6. Blood Relations
  7. In Sheep's Clothing
  8. Thicker Than Water
  9. Dead Man Running
  10. Died in the Wool
  11. The Blood Ballad

© 2014 Melody Lassalle


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