When I am not reading non-fiction, I tend to relax with two or three good mysteries. The past few months I’ve reading Kerry Greenwood’s Phryne Fisher mysteries set in Australia in the 1920s, and watching the show on PBS. Deborah Crombie writes a series of books starring a couple of London detective inspectors and their melded family. I am on my third Anne Cleeves mystery set on the Shetland Isles, north of Scotland and have discovered the television adaptation, Scottish accents and all. The “Midsomer Murders” tv series, featuring Inspector Barbary, is based on characters created by Caroline Graham. I am reading that series too. I have also discovered Tana French‘s Dublin Murder Squad series.
You have noticed by now that all the authors are women. Kerry Greenwood is an Australian lawyer. Tana French was born in the United States, but raised in different cultures in the world; and currently lives with her family in the Republic of Ireland. Anne Cleeves is English as is Caroline Graham. The only true American in the group is Deborah Crombie, who lives in Texas, but makes frequent trips across the pond to research her books.
Crombie’s main characters, Duncan Kincaid and Gemma James were once partners working out of the same police station. Sixteen books later they are no longer working together, instead they are married, trying to manage a melded family, two boys and a female foster child, living in Notting Hill part of London. The first book in the series, A Share in Death, was published in 1993; the last, so far, Garden of Lamentations, came out in 2016. Because Crombie has characters, besides the ones already mentioned, that appear in more than one book, it is a good idea to read her books in order. Especially the last four which has Kincaid solving cases, which relates to Scotland Yard undercover department activities in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Most of her books are illustrated with a map, showing that section of London or Britain the action takes place in.
Kerry Greenwood also sets her novels in a big city: Melbourne, Australia. But unlike Crombie’s characters, Phryne Fisher lives in the late 1920s. She was born to a poor family in the Australian city. After her father inherited a baronetcy because all his male relatives died , the family moved to England; where Phryne was educated until she ran away to become an ambulance driver on the Western Front. Then Phryne lived a bohemian life in Paris before moving back to her birthplace down under. Armed with a pearl handled revolver, Phryne advertised herself as a private detective. She takes on interesting clients, as well as lovers, while building a household, including a maid and companion named Dot, a husband and wife butler and cook, two veterans of the Great War who do errands for Phryne while running a taxi service, and two wards she rescues from bad situations. Oh, I almost forget the handsome police inspector she helps with cases at times. Phryne (Essie Davis) stars on PBS’s “Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries.”
To return to modern England, but not in London, but to the fictional county of Midsomer, where Detective Inspector Tom Barnaby solves murders with the help of his Detective Sergeant Troy in Caroline Graham’s books or Detective Sergeant Jones in the TV version. “Midsomer Murders” is probably the most popular exported British TV show. Unfortunately, Graham only wrote seven novels featuring her popular police detective. I am on the third one, “Death in Disguise.” On the TV side, I understand Tom Barnaby has retired, his daughter has married, and he and his wife Joyce are living in retirement. But the Barnaby name lives on in Causton CID for his younger cousin has taken his place.
Anne Cleeves sets her mysteries in the remote Shetland Isles in the North Sea. There are only two ways to get to Shetlands from mainland Scotland: by ferry from Aberdeen, on the Northeast coast of the country, or by plane from Aberdeen or Glasgow. (I’m particularly interested in the series because I was born in Aberdeen and lived the first nine years of my life there.) Detective Inspector Jimmy Perez is a native of this remote, treeless place, so he knows the geography and the people of the isles he polices. Police Scotland is prone to send some help to the local Detective Inspector to help solve his murders. Like Barnaby, Perez has a TV show: “Shetland,” which is filmed on the Shetland or in Scotland.
Tana French also set her books on an island, but not as remote as Shetland: the Republic of Ireland, and it’s capital Dublin. Her detectives are part of the fictional “Dublin Murder Squad.” “In the Woods,” her first novel is about a murder of a pre-teen girl whose body is found on an archeological site. Detectives Rob Ryan and Cassie Maddox begin to investigate the case as a sex crime before undercovering evidence pointing to another motive. Maddox is featured in the second novel in the series, but French introduces new characters in the ensuing books.