It’s no secret I like to read mysteries! I used to work with someone who introduced me to that genre of fiction about forty years ago. I am one of those readers who have three or four, or maybe more books going at a time. I read non-fiction for the most part in my living room, restaurants, and doctor’s waiting rooms and fiction at night in bed. The only exception is when I getting close to the end of a mystery, it moves to the front of the line. I’ll read it anywhere, except, of course, at work. In the case of mysteries my preference is British police procedurals and the occasional spy story.
Recently I have started watching Inspector Morse and Inspector Lewis, both characters developed by Colin Dexter in a series of books, (which I am also reading) who investigate crime in Oxford. Ruth Rendell, who died just last May, wrote twenty-four mysteries featuring Inspector Wexford and Detective Mike Burden, who were later brought to life on television. North of the border (English-Scottish border, that is) Stuart MacBride sets his stories around Aberdeen and the Northeast. Ian Rankin, another Scot, has his detective policing in Edinburgh. Martha Grimes, an American author, has written a series of British police procedural mysteries with each title reflecting the real name of an English pub. Elizabeth George is another American who write police detective fiction set in England.
In the Morse books and the television episodes, Morse is the detective inspector and Lewis is his sergeant. Dexter did not write any books with Lewis as the main character, but the ex-sergeant, now a detective inspector himself, stars in his own television series, a spin off from the Morse shows. Morse, himself, likes his liquor, cryptic crosswords and other word games, and expects people who send reports him to be grammatically correct and know how to spell. Unlike Lewis, who has a wife and family, Morse lives by himself and expects his sergeant to make himself available any time at his chief’s beck and call.
Unlike Colin Dexter’s character, Inspector Wexford is married with two daughters and a long suffering wife. To assist Wexford in his cases, Ruth Rendell created Mike Burden, Wexford’s sergeant, also as a married man. Rendell wrote twenty-three more novels featuring Wexford in almost fifty years. In the last two, Wexford is retired but still consults on cases. In the debut book in the series, From Doon With Death, Wexford has to identify the person who gifted the murder victim books inscribed with the name “Doon”. If Wexford investigates of the past of the dead person, he is sure he will be able find “Doon”.
Up in Aberdeenshire, Stuart Macbride writes about Detective Sergeant Logan McCrea solving crimes in the Granite City, where the winters are long, wet, and cold, as suggested by the title of his first book: Cold Granite. I like MacBride’s books for the simple reason I spent the first nine years of my life in Aberdeen, so I am familiar with the geography of the city and the region. A warning to fans of ‘cozy’ mysteries, MacBride’s books are not for you. If, on the other hand, you never miss an episode of ‘Law and Order Special Victims Unit” you will enjoy his books. A note about DS McCrea: he is far from a perfect hero, as he bucks the system and often is far from politically correct. What would you expect from an author who calls his cat “Grendel!”
A little further south, in the capital city of Scotland, Edinburgh, Inspector John Rebus is actively hunting bad guys. Ian Rankin, along with MacBride and a number of other Scottish mystery writers publish what has been called “Tartan Noir.” In Rankin’s first Rebus novel, “Knots and Crosses,” the detective get assigned to the case of the Edinburgh Strangler, who is murdering young girls whom he has kidnapped. His investigation is hampered by an anonymous person is sending him clues and a nosy newspaper reporter who thinks Rebus is hiding something. To solve his first case, Rebus has to delve into his past.
Martha Grimes main character is Detective Inspector Richard Jury. Like Morse, Jury is a single man, but Grimes has surrounded him with a bevy of appealing characters to keep his life interesting. Jury is aided in solving crimes by a sergeant who is always on the verge catching some disease and a personal friend, Melrose Plant, an aristocrat who long since lost interest in his title and given it up. Jury is based in New Scotland Yard in London, so he goes other places in England when the local police request help from the capital to solve a case.*
Another aristocrat crime solver is Elizabeth George’s Inspector Thomas Lynley. Unlike Richard Jury’s friend, Lynley admits to being the 8th Earl of Asherton. He has a valet and drives a Bentley. His crime solving partner, Sergeant Barbara Havers comes from a lower middle class background, which makes them an odd couple. In A Great Deliverance, the first book in the series, the latter is given a second chance at working in the CID (Criminal Investigation Division) at NSY, so she has to learn to get along with Lynley as they delve into a family whose conflicts climaxed in a horrific crime.
*– A word about British police organization. New Scotland Yard is responsible for policing Greater London, providing security for the Royal Family and other important individuals, and lending a hand when requested by local police to help solve cases, among other things. In other words, in its national responsibilities, it is like the American FBI and Secret Service combined.