"That Affair Next Door," by Anna Katharine Green

This year of COVID I have found myself reading mysteries by the stack. There is something soothing about a plot that keeps my brain puzzling throughout the middle and is wrapped up neatly by the end. "That Affair Next Door," first published in 1897 and reissued this year as one of the Library of Congress Crime Classics, features the first female sleuth in American crime novels — the redoubtable Amelia Butterworth.

Miss Butterworth is an elderly snoop who pays intense attention to the goings-on in her neighborhood. She has little self-awareness (her lofty asides about her own brilliance give the book a lot of its humor). And so late one night, when a young man and woman alight from a carriage and enter the house next door — a house that Miss Butterworth knows to be vacant — and the man leaves alone, well, Amelia is all over it.

Everything about the crime is mysterious — not just who dunnit but who the dead woman is (a heavy shelf has toppled onto her, obliterating her face), how she died (it wasn't the shelf), who the young man is, and just about every other detail.

In the interest of critical fairness, I should mention that noted book critic Maureen Corrigan found the three Amelia Butterworth novels "decorously dull." Me, I loved this one and am looking for the other two. Who are you going to trust? Me, or Maureen? Another mystery.


Quarantine Reads are suggestions of soothing books during fraught times. Send your suggestion, with your name and city, to books@startribune.com.