Margery Allingham, raised by writer parents, was practically pre-ordained to be a writer. From a very early age she was writing serials, and all kinds of other writing to earn her keep; but talent, of course, is a different animal altogether. Allingham is generally regarded as one of the major names of the British “Golden Age” of detective fiction, and certainly not without reason. Along with Agatha Christie (for whom Allingham had no high regard), Ngaio Marsh, Dorothy L. Sayers and Josephine Tey, she’s one of the writers readers today seem to turn to again and again. Along with Dorothy Sayers, she was also the one to push the envelope of traditional detective fiction, eschewing the puzzle mystery in favor of the more psychological. To me her gift is even more basic: that of lovely prose. In that, Sayers included, she had no equal.
This is the third volume in Crum Creek’s – and Jim Huang’s – very successful succession of books focusing on mystery as a genre. The first one, The 100 Favorite Mysteries of the Century, was a compilation of booksellers’ recommendations of favorite mysteries written between 1900-2000. The second volume, They Died in Vain, was a collection of essays by booksellers about books that were unfairly overlooked. And this volume goes right to the source – the authors – to ask them who was an influence on their writing. Contributors Sandy Balzo (Barbara Michaels/Elizabeth Peters), Terence Faherty (Margery Allingham), Sharon Fiffer (Dorothy L. Sayers), as well as editor Jim Huang, will all be visiting Aunt Agatha’s to help launch this unique and entertaining volume. Below is an essay from the book, reprinted here with permission from Elaine Viets and the Crum Creek Press. I felt especially strongly about this one not only because it’s really funny, but also because Nancy Drew started so many mystery readers on a lifelong, enjoyable path. Thanks, Nancy!
This slim volume can easily be read in an evening, and for any lover of traditional detective fiction, it is practically a must. Not only for insights that James provides into the origins of detective fiction, but the insights it provides into James herself as a working writer, one whose intellect, at age 90 plus, is far from dimmed. In one of the early chapters, discussing the author G.K. Chesterton, she quotes the author of the Father Brown books as saying: “the only thrill, even of a common thriller, is concerned somehow with the conscience and the will.” She goes on to say (and this is really no surprise to any devoted fan of James) that this is her own personal credo as a writer.
Though this novel might at the beginning be categorized along with books by writers like Barry Eisler, Brent Ghelfi and maybe even Lee Child, half way through Stone turns his action story on its ear in an entirely unexpected way. This is the fourth book in a series featuring detective Ray Sharp, a Hong Kong based investigator who does “due diligence” investigations with his partner, the Chinese-Mexican dwarf, Wen Lei Yue. As the story opens Ray and Lei are looking into a missing monk. What they can’t decide is if the monk is just having a little illicit fun or if the monk is the money man for his well endowed monastery, in which case his disappearance is more worrisome.
As everyone knows, there are a very famous series of books set in Botswana—by Alexander McCall Smith. McCall Smith’s delicate prose is matched by the charm of his main character, Precious Ramotswe. Now there is a new series set in Botswana, with a slightly darker take, though the main character, Detective Kubu, would surely be friendly with Precious were they to meet. Detective Kubu (the Botswana word for “Hippo”) is hugely fat and hugely smart. If Precious is the African Miss Marple, then Kubu is the African Nero Wolfe. Kubu and Wolfe both share a deep appreciation for the pleasures of the table, and both of them have brains that work best with their eyes closed.
“It was a mistake to think that detection was a matter of figuring out what had happened in the past and then taking revenge for it. He understood now that it was about protecting the future from the people that committed evil and who would do so again.”
When enough customers ask you about a certain author in a short period of time, it makes you take notice. When several of my more discerning “guy” readers mentioned Matt Rees as a wonderful writer, I was intrigued enough to pick up the first book. Rees was a longtime bureau chief for Time in Jerusalem, and his familiarity with the area certainly shows. The book is set in Bethlehem, with characters that are a mix of all the peoples that crowd into this tiny area—Jews, Christians, Muslims, Palestinians. The central character, Omar Yussef, teaches at a UN Refugee school. He is a Muslim originally from Palestine, and his view of the world is out of sync with many of those around him.
There has been a huge outpouring of international mystery fiction lately, much of it excellent. There are several series set in Africa, which a large enough continent that it can ensure a great deal of variety, depending on the country where the book is set. This one is set in Ghana, which is in Northern Africa, kind of the on the heel (between Ivory Coast and Togo). This novel, joining work by Alexander McCall Smith, Michael Stanley, and Deon Meyer, is outstanding. Quartey has some of the same qualities of both McCall-Smith and Michael Stanley: like both men, his reverence for the African countryside is apparent. Like Stanley’s Detective Kubu, his Detective Darko is a well rounded family man whose family life, especially in this novel, plays a key part in the story. His book is much more concisely told than Stanley’s, however, and more narrative driven than McCall-Smith’s. And Detective Darko is an instant classic.
This is a wonderful first novel, fitting in well with work by other newer writers like Tana French and Sophie Hannah. Like the work by those two ladies, it’s layered, complex, and beautifully written. Set in South Africa in the 50’s as the strict rules of apartheid were being enforced by draconian measures, the similarities between the Nazis and the Afrikaners can’t be overlooked. Nunn even supplies a Jewish refugee in the tiny village of Jacob’s Rest to make her point. Detective Emmanuel Cooper is called in from Johannesburg to take over the case of a murdered white police officer, but before he makes much headway the Security Branch is called in, and he’s put on a tangential investigation.
I’m not sure what all goes on in the mind of Michael Gruber, but I’m delighted he’s decided to share some of his thoughts with us. Any book of his I’ve ever read has been totally thought provoking and sometimes an almost mystical experience. That sounds corny, but it’s true—he’s a profound thinker disguised as a mystery writer. This outing deals with the differences between the cultures of the United States and the cultures of various Muslim nations, but most notably Pakistan. There’s hardly a topic more timely, of course, and Gruber will make you examine any preconceived ideas you might possibly have about Muslims, and maybe even get you to question some of your own about our own culture. That sounds tedious, though, doesn’t it? Gruber is far from a tedious writer, however, and this book is no exception.
This is a very pleasant novel set in Trafalgar, British Columbia, featuring Constable Molly Smith. It’s a police procedural at its heart, though it’s also a nice, layered look at Molly’s life, taking in all aspects – her romantic life, her relationship with her parents, and her relationship with her brother. Her parents run a small shop in town, and one of the opening scenes finds Molly’s dad collapsing at work. Molly thus spends her time split between a breaking case, worrying about an apparent stalker, and hospital visits to see her father, which also serve to round her out as a character. One of my favorite details was that her parents, apparently former hippies, actually named their children “Samwise” and “Moonlight.” Of course neither of them use their given names, and it’s sometimes confusing when Molly is called “Moon” by her mother, but it’s a funny, sweet detail.