When I’m not reading history or biography I tend to read mysteries, suspense novels, and / or thrillers. I have written in this blog before about some of my favorite mystery authors. Here goes with some more! I love British police procedurals, series that have a strong woman as the main character, mysteries with a touch of humor to them, thrillers with an international twist, the noir genre, and mysteries that are set in the near past (19th and 20th centuries). Over the years, I’ve come to realize that some authors mean to have their books read in the order in which they are published, so I read them thusly.
Some authors are content to let their characters live in a particular time and others stretch their lives out to encompass long periods of time. Here are some examples. Jacqueline Winspear enters Maisie Dobbs’ life when Maisie is a young teenager in the first decade of the 20th century. In her twelfth book, an adult Maisie travels to Berlin in 1938. Contrast that with Sue Grafton‘s Kinsey Millhone, who appears to be stuck in the 1980s and ages one year every two and half books. Anne Perry‘s character Thomas Pitt has been combating criminals and traitors in London for the last twenty years of the nineteenth century through thirty-one volumes in the series. He and his wife, whom he met in his first case, married at the end of the first book and now have two teen-aged children. Elizabeth George‘s Inspector Lynley mysteries seem to follow chronologically one right after another.
Although I prefer British mysteries written by British authors, I have found there are American writers who write mysteries set in the British Isles almost as good as the natives. Elizabeth George is one of these. Inspector Thomas Lynley is a peer who likes to downplay his title, but dates a woman who is also an aristocrat. His creator has paired him with a duo of detectives, Barbara Havers and Winston Nkata from totally different cultures: Havers is from a lower middle class background who lives with aging parents in council (public) housing; Nkata is a black man who came from a violent, troubled youth.
Martha Grimes is another American author whose main character is a Scotland Yard detective. Grimes is unique because all her mysteries have titles that are the names of real pubs in Great Britain. Her main characters are Richard Jury, and Melrose Plant, a friend who helps Jury with some of his cases. Plant is a hereditary peer who has given up his titles to the dismay of his American born aunt. Jury and Plant’s worlds go from Islington, the area of London where Jury lives, to New Scotland Yard where he works, to Long Piddleton, where Plant’s ancestral home is located. Secondary characters inhabit these locales and other places where Jury has to go for his cases.
An author’s success with a series of books inhabited by the same characters, such as Grimes’, depends on similar characteristics that make for hit series on television. First, of course, there has to be good writing. The main characters have to be believable and supported by an entertaining secondary cast of characters. A good example of this is one of my favorite authors whom I haven’t mentioned yet, Daniel Silva, who writes thrillers that could mirror tomorrow’s headlines. The main character of Silva’s books is Gabriel Allon, an Israeli art restorer who doubles as a spy/assassin. Among Allon’s supporting cast is his second wife, Chiara, also an agent for the Office, the Israeli intelligence agency they both work for. In addition to her, he has a team who supports him in whatever op they are running. Various agents from MI6, CIA, etc. also populate these books, along with villains from a number of Arab organizations, both real and fictional.
To close, I’d like to remember one of my favorite writers, Ruth Rendell. She died in May 2015 at the age of 85. She was honored by the Queen as a Commander of the British Empire (CBE) in 1996 and as a life peer, Baroness Rendell of Babergh, in 1997. As such she was an active Labourite member of the House of Lords until she had a stroke four months before she died. “The last words of Ruth Rendell’s 66th novel, which can be revealed without a spoiler, consists of someone declaring: “Now it’s all over. ” May she rest in peace!