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Literature / Retired Witches Mysteries

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Retired Witches Mysteries is an armchair/amateur sleuth/Cozy Mystery series by Joyce and Jim Lavene. The series features Molly Addison Renard, Elsie Clarrett Langston, and Olivia Dunst, a coven of three older witches who run the Smuggler's Arcane shop in Wilmington, North Carolina, hiding their witchy nature in plain sight. With their powers fading from age, the trio are looking for three new witches to take over and inherit their ancestral spell book, so they can retire to Boca Raton. But when Olivia is suddenly murdered (and returns as a ghost, to the disapproval of the Grand Council of Witches) and their spell book stolen, the three must work with new coven member Dorothy Dunst Lane (Olivia's long-hidden daughter) and initially reluctant ally Brian Fuller to solve the crime... and then some others that pop up involving witches.


It was the last series created by Creator Couple Joyce and Jim Lavene, with the third book being published posthumously.

The series consists of:

  • #1: Spell Booked (2014)
  • #2: Looking for Mr. Good Witch (2015)
  • #3: Putting on the Witch (2016)

This series provides examples of:

  • All Witches Have Cats: All the members of the coven have cats, who are reincarnated from humans and serve as their familiars. It's a tradition for witches in general to have them, though some don't.
    • Olivia's cat Harper, a Russian blue with a gray and white coat, was a British sailor from the 1500s.
    • Molly's cat Isabelle a long-haired gray, was a fourteenth century witch who was burned at the stake.
    • Elsie's cat Barnabas, a ginger tabby Manx, was a preacher from the 1700s who was mistakenly hanged for witchcraft.
    • Dorothy's cat is a tuxedo named Hemlock (originally called Scooter, but he revealed his real name after she gained her magical tool and became able to communicate with him), a Greek scholar who studied with Plato and witnessed the eruption of Mount Vesuvius that destroyed Pompei.
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    • Brian averts it when they first meet him (which Molly thinks in book 3 is a sign of his parents neglecting aspects of his training, but which his grandfather later reveals is because Abdon thinks having one is a sign of weakness), but discusses the possibility in book 2. In book 3, he does get one from Dorothy, who turns out to be a shifter named Kalyna, and the book ends with Dorothy giving him a replacement, a black-and-white cat named Laue.
  • Amplifier Artifact: Molly's amulet, inherited from her mother and said to be a gift from a lesser sea god (which is proven to be the case in book 2), which enhances her magic.
  • And I Must Scream: Book 2 reveals that the Bone Man is trapped on Oak Island for his act of vengeance against the colonists who murdered his lover, though he's been shown to send a vision of himself to Molly during her quest to find his long-lost wife.
  • And I'm the Queen of Sheba: Early in book 3, Molly suggests that Dorothy's evil father really has just come for a friendly visit. Elsie retorts with the trope name.
  • The Archmage: These make up the ruling Grand Council of Witches, who are in charge of running witch society.
  • Back from the Dead: The sea witch in book 2 originated this way, as she was a mortal woman who was convicted of witchcraft and killed by being burned at the stake, then given new life by her sea god lover after he returned too late to save her.
  • Baleful Polymorph:
    • At age five, Molly accidentally turned Olivia into a spider. The latter was not happy, since spiders terrify her.
    • In book 2, Dorothy accidentally turns Brian into a cardboard cutout.
    • In book 3, Dorothy gets angry and deliberately changes Cassandra Black into a snake.
  • Banishing Ritual: In book 3, Cassandra Black finally uses one to open a door and forcibly send Olivia's ghost onward into some nether realm, with the intention that she'll go from there to the afterlife (she and the rest of the Grand Council really don't approve of witches sticking around after death). Fortunately, Olivia's too stubborn for it to actually work, and returns soon afterward with Drago's aid.
  • Black Sheep: Brian Fuller's grandfather Abdon is a member of the Grand Council of Witches and (along with Brian's parents, Schadt and Yuriza) a staunch traditionalist. Brian rebelled by attending a regular community college and later allying with (and eventually joining) a coven of witches who are not happy with the council's attempts to meddle in their lives. His family do not approve of this and try to force him back under their control, but Brian insists on making his own way. In book 3, he mentions an uncle who was similar (among other things, he practiced dousing), and his parents never wanted him to visit because they didn't want Brian to follow in his footsteps.
  • Bookworm: Dorothy Dunst, who's a librarian and freezes up in sheer delight when she sees the Grand Council's library, the largest library in the world, in book 3.
  • Brought Down to Normal: With a few exceptions (who continue to grow in power and live longer because they've somehow bought extra magic from the Grand Council), witches' powers generally grow weaker as they get older, until they finally give up their magic entirely and retire. The titular characters are among those who are weakening, which is why they're looking for new witches to replace them in their coven.
  • Cliffhanger: Book 2 ends with the coven arriving at their shop and finding Dorothy's father Drago Rasmun waiting for them. Book 3 picks up immediately afterward.
  • Clingy MacGuffin: Molly's amulet, which is said to be a gift from a lesser sea god, can't be removed from around her neck once she puts it on, even by herself; it's said later that it can only be removed by a family member, or once she dies. She doesn't mind so much though.
  • Cool Sword: Witches in the series have a specific tool, depending on their respective element, that helps them focus their powers and retains some of their magic after years of use. Fire witches, like Elsie, have a sword; hers, which was made in Toledo, Spain, has a silver hilt inscribed with fire symbols and is sharp as a razor.
  • Daddy Had a Good Reason for Abandoning You: Olivia Dunst gave up her daughter for adoption when she was born to hide her from her father Drago Rasmun, who was an evil witch and whom she feared would try to take and raise the girl to be like him if he knew about her.
  • Disney Death: In book 2, Brian is believed dead at the hands of the sea witch, to the point where his family even holds a funeral... where Dorothy, unable to stand it, breaks into his coffin and kisses him, which brings him out of his death-like state and leaves him very confused about what's going on.
  • Does Not Like Spam: Book 3 reveals that Dorothy hates oranges, which is why turning someone into an orange tree (as she threatens to do at one point) is one of the worst fates she can think of for a person.
  • The Dreaded: The Bone Man, who lives on Oak Island and is willing to trade information and advice or spell ingredients for other things. Almost every witch scorns and/or fears him, and justly so.
  • Dying Clue: In book 3, Makaleigh Verza whispers three words to Molly as she's dying, but Molly just thinks they're gibberish at first. It's not until a discovery spell identifies them — "Aba. Mho. Ord." — and Olivia recognizes them as runes some time later that their true meaning is found. "Aba" means "atone", "Mho" means "change", and "Ord" means "beginning". It's eventually subverted when they turn out to be the words necessary to bind the witchfinder within his prison in the castle, and were meant to be used to summon him to solve Makaleigh's murder.
  • Emerald Power: Literally with Dorothy, whose magical focusing tool is an old emerald cull (a piece of emerald rejected as below the desired grade of stone), which she found on a riverbank. Aside from its main purpose as a focus, it's able to restore her memories of magic when she picks it up.
  • Falling Chandelier of Doom: In book 3, Brian is challenged to a magical duel by his father, with the winner claiming a vacant seat on the Grand Council of Witches. He wins by causing a chandelier to fall, knocking Schadt unconscious (though at first it seems it killed him).
  • Fantastic Racism:
    • Some witches, like Cassandra Black, are highly prejudiced against any non-witch fantastic being. Cassandra in particular regards ghosts as "the lowest life forms", and the seer the coven calls for aid refuses to speak to Olivia's ghost. In book 2, it's suggested that this is because being a witch is all about maintaining the natural order of things, and they feel ghosts violate that order.
    • Witches and werewolves traditionally hate one another. Molly's coven is a rare aversion, as they not only accept werewolves, Elsie starts dating one during book 1.
  • Forged by the Gods: Molly's amulet, inherited from her mother and said to be a gift from a lesser sea god, which enhances her magic when she begins wearing it. Book 2 reveals this to be the truth, and that the god in question was the Irish sea god Manannan MacLir, who gave the amulet to his lover originally.
  • Four-Element Ensemble: Covens are traditionally made up of witches who represent any combination of the four classical elements, usually three out of four (though having all four together makes spells more powerful), drawing strength from the presence of their respective elements. Molly is water, Olivia and Brian are air and Elsie is fire, while Dorothy is earth when they discover her.
  • Frame-Up:
    • During book 1, when Olivia's murder is being investigated, the police find one of her valuables hidden in the flour canister at Molly's house, left there by the killer and thief to implicate her. Fortunately, Molly is able (with advice from Olivia's ghost) to explain that it was loaned to her and hidden to keep it safe.
    • They later try to frame Larry Tyler, a werewolf, for Olivia's murder. He's cleared though.
    • In book 3, Dorothy and her father Drago are accused killing council member Makaleigh Veazy and kidnapping Hedyle, another member of the council (who's been freed by this point) to cover it up. Hedyle, who makes the accusation, is actually the one who set up Makaleigh's murder.
  • Game Face: By book 3, Olivia's figured out how to use one of these to try and scare people. It even threatens the witchfinder (which is what she intended), though he claims he wasn't scared — merely retreating to get help in order to protect Molly and Elsie from her.
  • Glamour: Some of the villains use this to disguise their true nature. The sea witch in book 2 is able to disguise her true features, even posing as a man at one point and pretending to be a witness to one of her own crimes, while book 3, Dorothy's father disguises himself so he can give her a cat (actually a shapeshifter) that he can hitch a ride on, allowing him access to the Fuller family castle when it's brought inside.
  • God Was My Copilot: The series features the Bone Man, an occasional aid to local witches who come to make deals with him, who's known to be a supernatural being, but not a witch himself. In book 2, the coven learns he's actually the Irish sea god Manannan MacLir.
  • I Heard That: Referenced in book 3, when Elsie mutters under her breath about Abdon Fuller's lack of conscience and Molly expects him to say the line. Subverted when he doesn't acknowledge her remark.
  • Immediate Sequel: Book 3 literally starts with the same line that book 2 ended with.
  • In the Back: In book 3, Makaleigh Veazy, a member of the Council, is stabbed in the back with a poisoned knife, but manages to hang on long enough to say a few final words to the group.
  • Laser-Guided Amnesia:
    • One of the Grand Council of Witches' policies is to find non-magicals who learn that the supernatural is real, even if they're a witch's spouse, and wipe their memories of that information. It can be undone though, as evidenced by Molly and her coven restoring the memories of at least one such individual some years pre-series.
    • Dorothy temporarily loses her memories of magic while she's held captive by the villain of book 1, but gets them back when she finds and picks up her magical focusing tool.
  • Left Hanging: While the third and final book did see the coven recovering their grimoire and answered some questions, the details of what happened to it between its original theft and the recovery remained unknown, and Molly and Elsie had yet to fulfill their goal of retiring since they hadn't found a third witch to join Dorothy and Brian.
  • Let Off by the Detective: In book 2, a cop tries to stop (and then arrest) Molly for speeding, but when he realizes she was only doing it to catch up to her husband, who's also a cop (and whom she claims had called for help), who'd been left unconscious by the book's villain, he's sympathetic to her and decides to let it slide.
  • Little Old Lady Investigates: The titular characters, who are in their late fifties (or early seventies, in Elsie's case) and wind up investigating murder mysteries.
  • Lost Will and Testament:
    • The Grand Council of Witches sometimes tries to take advantage of these — if no will can be found and no relatives exist, they claim everything for themselves, as happened with an earth witch a few years before who'd been interested in joining the coven but was killed by a hit-and-run driver before she could.
    • In book 1, Molly and Elsie fear this will happen to Olivia's estate because they didn't think she even had a will. It's subverted when her ghost confirms she did indeed have one, which leaves everything to her daughter and fellow witch (Dorothy even gets her car, the one thing Olivia hadn't included in the will at the time because she was thinking of trading it in, after some doing).
  • Magic Cauldron: Witches in the series have a specific tool, depending on their respective element, that helps them focus their powers and retains some of their magic after years of use. Water witches, like Molly, have a cauldron; hers is three-legged cast iron one, and she carries a miniature copy on a necklace.
  • Magic Staff: Witches in the series have a specific tool, depending on their respective element, that helps them focus their powers and retains some of their magic after years of use. Air witches, like Olivia, have a wand or staff; hers is a limb from a rowan tree, carved with magical runes.
  • Magic Wand: Wands are one of the traditional focusing tools for air witches in this series. Brian Fuller owns one, made of willow, which he's had since he was ten; book 3 reveals his father also has one.
  • Masquerade Enforcer: The Grand Council of Witches maintains a crew of mind-wipers to make sure people won't realize magic is real. Werewolves have their own way, by murdering any of their own kind who change where they can be seen.
  • Mate or Die: The sea witch in book 2 reveals that if she doesn't mate with a male witch who can survive the experience once every hundred years, she'll die. Unfortunately, if they aren't the right one for her, they die. This ceases to be an issue once she's been returned to her sea god husband.
  • Memory-Wiping Crew: The Grand Council of Witches maintains one to wipe the memories of any non-magical who finds out about magic, including any witch's non-magical spouse.
  • Men Can't Keep House: When Molly, Elsie and Dorothy go to investigate the dorm room that Brian Fuller shares with another student in book 1, they can't go in because it's magically protected against other witches, but they can see in, and discover it's a disaster area and smells terrible (though they later find that his personal space is actually very clean). Molly notes that her son Mike has a dorm room in similar shape, which is why she and her husband never meet him there.
  • Missing Mom: Olivia was the missing mom to her daughter Dorothy Dunst Lane, giving her up for adoption to keep her safe. They only reunite after Olivia dies and comes back as a ghost.
  • Muggle Born of Mages: Magic sometimes skips a generation in this series, as evidenced by two of the three titular "retired witches" (Molly and Elsie, each of whom married a non-magical man) having one non-magical child each, Mike and Aleese. Only their third coven member Olivia had a magical child, by a very powerful (and evil) male witch. It actually subverts part of the trope in that non-magical family members are strictly forbidden from learning about magic, and the Grand Council of Witches will wipe the memories of any who find out (and as revealed in book 2, some would like to prevent the existence of any witch's non-magical children entirely, through... proactive means, whether the witch parent wants it or not).
    • Lisbet, Joe Renard's partner in the homicide department, also turns out to be one, and agreed to do her mother's dirty work because Matilda claimed she could give her powers. When she admits she can't actually do this, Lisbet kills her.
  • Obstructive Bureaucrat: The Grand Council of Witches are ostensibly meant to keep witch society running smoothly, but more often than not they just end up making things difficult for the heroes. The witch community in Wilmington especially doesn't like them because they're more obstructive than helpful. Cassandra Black, the herald of the Grand Council of witches, especially serves in this role, since she's mainly out to stop witches from doing anything the Council doesn't like. Among other things, in book 1, the Council's representatives try to stop Molly and her coven from investigating Olivia's death (and barely do anything to investigate on their own until the witch in question's been dealt with already), and try (but fail miserably) to confiscate the amulet her mother left her because of its non-witch origins.
  • Outliving One's Offspring:
    • During book 2, one of the victims of the sea witch is a young witch named Sam, whose mother Belinda is a friend of Molly and her coven.
    • Another witch introduced in book 2 is Emma. While visiting her, the coven learns that her daughter Brandy died of cancer the year before.
  • Out with a Bang: The sea witch in book 2 seeks out a new mate — a young male witch — every hundred years or so, sleeping with any witch of the right age that she can get her hands on, but if they aren't suited to be her mate, they die in the process.
  • Pocket Dimension: Book 3 explains that the Fuller castle is located in one; it's "still in our world, but set slightly apart from reality". Separated from the earth, air, fire and water of the natural world, it leaves most witches slightly weaker while they're there.
  • Power Parasite: The villain in book 1 is this, stealing magic from other witches (along with magical tools) by killing them, all to increase their own power and lifespan.
  • Reluctant Retiree: Zigzagged with the title characters. They know they need to find successors to take their places in the coven, but they're not looking forward to life without magic, and Elsie especially doesn't like that her daughter Aleese has been rather vocal about trying to force her into retirement before she's ready.
  • Resignations Not Accepted: In book 3, it's explained that once you take the oath to be a member of the Grand Council of Witches, you're in that seat for life.
  • Retired Badass: How "badass" they used to be varies, but in the first book it's stated that Boca Raton is an entire community full of former witches who gave up their powers and retired, and it's where the main characters intended to move once they'd found younger witches to replace them in their coven.
  • Secret-Keeper: Molly's husband learns about her magic in the first book when she confesses the truth to him, but he keeps it secret from everyone else.
  • Seers: One appears in book 1, said to be an ancient Greek priestess from Delphi. She takes payment in antique silver, and is able to provide the coven with some answers, though she doesn't directly identify the culprits they're after.
  • Series Continuity Error: Book 3 is set right after book 2, but early on, it mentions that Joe Renard's ex-wife Suzanne had moved back to town after working with him on a case "last year". The case in question was the one from book 2, which occurred over the week before the events of book 3. Later, it says their spell book was stolen two years ago, when it should say six months.
  • Shapeshifter Mode Lock: In book 3, the witches use a special enchanted water to force a shapeshifter back into human form and stop her from changing back.
  • Slashed Throat: Olivia's body is found with a slit throat in the first book. Her ghost later explains that she didn't see them, but they came up from behind her.
  • Spell Book: Every coven has one, which contains generations' worth of witchy spells, incantations and lore. The plot of the first book is kicked off when someone not only murders Olivia, but steals the coven's spell book from her home. They finally recover it in book 3, when they discover it in the Grand Council's library, having evidently been transported there at some point.
  • Spell Construction: Witches in the series can cast spells through gestures and concentration, but words and physical tools (staffs for air witches, cauldrons for water witches, rocks for earth witches and swords for fire witches) also help; the tools in particular retain some of the user's magic after years of use.
  • Spirit Advisor: Olivia takes on this role after she dies, her ghost being visible to her fellow coven-mates and other supernatural beings.
  • Time Skip: Book 2 picks up six months after book 1 ended.
  • Two Dun It:
    • During the events of book 1, the coven learns that two people are responsible for the death of Olivia and the theft of their spell book — a witch, and a thief who does their bidding. The thief and killer turns out to be Lisbet, Joe's partner in as a homicide detective, under the influence of her mother Matilda, an ancient witch who's trying to extend her own life by killing other witches and stealing their powers.
    • In book 3, Makaleigh Verza, a member of the Grand Council of Witches, is murdered. Hedyle, her arch-rival, set it up and got another member, Bairne Caelius, to do the actual killing, because Makaleigh wanted to make changes to the council that Hedyle and Bairne didn't approve of. Shortly after it comes out, Hedyle herself is killed, but it turns out to be the witchfinder Antonio de Santiago, who was just taking advantage of the confusion and knew her death would free him.
  • Unexpected Inheritance: In book 1, Olivia's daughter Dorothy inherits her mother's property soon after finding out the recently-deceased Olivia was her mother.
  • Unfinished Business: Olivia's is to see her coven mates achieve their goals of recovering their grimoire and find replacements for themselves in their coven.
  • Vegetarian Vampire: Or vegetarian werewolf, as the case is. Larry Tyler, a middle-aged werewolf, is a literal vegetarian and confirmed pacifist who lives on a boat, keeping himself anchored far enough out to sea during the full moon in order to keep himself from hurting anyone, and drinks a special herbal tea that helps as well.
  • Wainscot Society: The series is set on Earth, with the main characters being witches who live and work among normal humans while hiding their magical identities.
  • The Weird Sisters: Covens in this series are traditionally made up of three witches, though they're not usually related. However, Molly, Elsie and Olivia do think of one another as sisters.
  • Weredragon: They exist in the setting. In book 2, Olivia mentions she dated one once, and regards it as a mistake.
  • Whodunnit to Me?: Book 1 revolves in part around Olivia's murder and her ghost working with her fellow coven mates to solve it.
  • Why Did It Have to Be Snakes?: Olivia is revealed early on to be terrified of spiders.
  • The Witch Hunter: Book 3 features Antonio de Santiago, "a witch's boogeyman", who was originally a member of the Spanish Inquisition and very good at finding and torturing witches until the witches themselves magically enslaved him to do their bidding. He's summoned this time to find the killer of Makaleigh Verza, a member of the Grand Council of Witches. While initially hostile to Molly, he becomes more reasonable after realizing her innocence, and that she genuinely wants to help solve Makaleigh's murder.
  • Working with the Ex: Book 2 sees Joe Renard's ex-wife Suzanne returning to Wilmington to work with him on a case involving a serial killer.
  • Your Days Are Numbered: People who become ghosts can spend up to one hundred years on Earth before they have no choice but to move on. The Grand Council of Witches discourages them from sticking around at all though, especially witches.

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