As you’ve perhaps noticed, we don’t pan books in the newsletter. We’re here to sell books and advance the mystery genre, after all, and if we don’t like a title, there’s no point in publicly knocking it when there are so many other mysteries that we DO like and are more than happy to recommend and sell. I just finished a recent release that seemed promising and began pretty engagingly, but by the time I reached the end, had me wanting to throw it against the wall. I then read a review by a mystery maven who I admire, and was quite surprised to find that she praised it, not as a mystery exactly, but as something she could relate to and a fine example of a “literary thriller.”
I have been feverishly re-reading Dorothy Gilman’s Mrs. Pollifax books – it’s been long enough that I don’t remember the particulars, but I do remember how much I enjoyed Mrs. P, though in my memory she was a bit softer than she actually is on the page. Gilman’s portrayal of her in the very first book, The Unexpected Mrs. Pollifax (1966), is one of the best first mysteries ever. The set-up is clever – an older woman, unsatisfied by life, goes to the CIA to volunteer her services. When the CIA’s Carstairs sees her in the waiting room he thinks she would be the perfect innocent abroad. And through 13 books, she was. Gilman lays down her adventure story format leavened with Mrs. Pollifax’s generous yet knowledgable heart in the very first book and the formula holds. Gilman often provides the reader with surprisingly penetrating insights into human behavior, courtesy of Mrs. P; one of my favorite moments involves a Whirling Dervish (Mrs. Pollifax and the Whirling Dervish, 1990). Re-discover her for yourself.
William Kent Krueger visits us this September, appearing, as he has with nearly every one of his now sixteen novels, at Aunt Agatha’s. This lucky association started for us back in 1998 when Kent called and invited himself to the store to sign copies of Iron Lake. I was delighted with Kent and his books back in 1998 and I still am today. In between, our tiny staff have all become hard-core Krueger fans and have relentlessly pressed his books on almost every reader we can think of. Every one of them comes back for more. Even my brother, a mystery reader who doesn’t remember authors, asks about that “Minnesota guy.”
I have asked this of several people, and all the writers I have asked, male or female, have denied that they do. But I, a mere reader, disagree. There are exceptions to every rule – Memoirs of a Geisha, anyone? – but on the whole, I always think you can tell whether the writer is male or female.
I’m not saying one is better, either – just different. A male writer is (usually) more focused on direct action, plunge ahead narrative. The male writer’s character often has a certain kind of guy “code” he lives by – doing the right thing, helping the downtrodden, etc. I think we are all familiar with the “White Knight” P.I. trope.
I was lucky enough to attend a panel at Bouchercon about Agatha Christie. One of the panelists, Carolyn Hart, author of the Death on Demand and Henry O mysteries, is a well known Christie devotee. She had prepared a wonderful essay on Agatha to share, and she graciously agreed to let me reprint it here. Enjoy!
Agatha Christie was among the world’s most retiring authors. She rarely gave interviews, dreaded public appearances. If we were to have the good fortune to walk beside her in an English garden, how would we find our companion?