My Favorite Mystery Writers 2

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 Graftons 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!

CALL 999!

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.

BOOKS AND MORE BOOKS

This, I believe, is the 50th blog in this series, so I thought I would review, to the best of my memory, some of books I have read over my lifetime.  I have always had books at home.  Being I was a history major in undergraduate and graduate school (not counting MSLS degree) and history is a reading intensive subject, my education brought me in contact with even more books.
Like me, Emily Dickinson loved books and even wrote a poem about them:

There is no Frigate like a Book

There is no Frigate like a Book
To take us Lands away
Nor any Coursers like a Page
Of prancing Poetry –
This Traverse may the poorest take
Without oppress of Toll –
How frugal is the Chariot
That bears the Human Soul –
                                        EMILY DICKINSON
 I do not recall what my parents read to me before I could read.  Babar is the first character in book I can remember.  Enid Blyton, who was a famous author of children’s adventure stories in Great Britain, had published six of the “Famous Five” series by the time I left Scotland in 1948. I think I had read them all.
When we moved to Memphis in 1949, one the first things my mother did was to visit the old Cossitt Library downtown to get us both a library card.     There I discovered Joseph Altsheler, who wrote a number of series of historical novels for what we now call middle school boys. (I was delighted to discover Altsheler’s books are still available in either paperback or Kindle editions from Amazon.)  As a sixth grader and on into junior high I read his books and a series of biographies of famous baseball players and managers and other sports figures.   In fiction my choice was also sports including John Tunis, who wrote about all sports, not  just basketball, baseball, and football.
In high school and college I had little time for pleasure reading, but when I did, I read Leon Uris, James Jones, and James Michener each of whom wrote historical novels, some based on their experiences in World War II.  Meantime, in classes, I was introduced to a number books I still have in my personal library:  The Tennessee: the Old River by Donald Davidson, which I had to read for class in Tennessee History;  and  Mont Saint Michel and Chartres by Henry Adams, which was required reading for Medieval History.  A graduate reading course in Southern history made me familiar with William Faulkner’s  Absalom, Absalom!, Robert Penn Warren’s All the King’s Men, and Eugene Genovese’s powerful study of the world slaves lived in Roll, Jordan, Roll: The World the Slaves Made.    For other classes I read Nixon Agonistes by Gary Wills and The Quiet American by Graham Greene.
In the mid-1970s a colleague introduced me to a genre of fiction that has given me pleasure ever since:  the mystery.  In this vein, I just learned that one of favourite mystery writers, Ruth Rendell, died last May.   She was equally at home with psychological mysteries or police procedural  novels.  In fact, her Inspector Wexford series was adapted for television.   Anne PerryTess Gerritsen, Rhys  Bowen, Jacqueline Winspear, and, of course Agatha Christie, are a just a few of my favourite mystery authors.
Mysteries are my habitual fiction reading tastes.  In non-fiction I tend to read military (mainly Civil War, WWI and WWII) history and biography.  Such interests have seeped through onto this blog.  See, for example, previous  blogs on Shelby Foote, Winston Churchill, and John Keegan.  During the last few years, when I’ve evidently have had more time,  I have read and am reading multi-volume works such as Foote’s The Civil War, Douglas Southall Freeman’s Lee’s Lieutenants: a Study in Command, Rick Atkinson’s The Liberation Trilogy,  about the American army in North Africa and Europe, Volumes 1 and 2 of Ian W, Toll’s in progress Pacific War Trilogyand Carl Sandburg’s massive biography of Abraham Lincoln, The Prairie Years and The War Years.
About fifteen years ago, I decided to keep a log showing what I had read and the date I finished the book.   Beginning in 2002, I have, on my computer, a complete list of books I have read each year.  I also keep a record of the number of pages in each volume so I can see how many pages I have read.  (BWT: I don’t tell my wife because she thinks I read too much already!)  That came in handy a few years ago when a friend accused me of reading nothing but boring history books, I could tell that person that over the past few years I had read fiction and non-fiction equally.   And I plan on doing that as long I can read!