In 1962, a woman named Phyllis James sat down and wrote Cover Her Face, the first Adam Dalgleish mystery. Two years later, in 1964, Ruth Rendell wrote her first Reg Wexford mystery, From Doon with Death. These two women pulled the golden age format created by Agatha Christie and Dorothy L. Sayers into the present, and as they wrote, they deepened the form psychologically, writing darker, more intense and longer books as their careers progressed. They were the godmothers of what I think of as the contemporary noir police novel, and writers like Jill McGowan, Colin Dexter, Ian Rankin, Val McDermid, Peter Robinson, Elizabeth George and many others have carried it forward.
Jane Langton died last month, just short of her 96th birthday. Through 18 mysteries, her characters Homer and Mary Kelly studied transcendentalism while solving crimes. Langton wrote about the power of nature, art, and kindness. Her protagonists were often besotted with the natural world, or with art, while her villains and comically-awful annoyers were out of harmony with those worlds.
Though Langton hid clues and unveiled solutions, as the genre requires, her voice and presentations were utterly distinctive. She stitched plots together with quirky observations. A World War II-era University of Michigan alumna who studied astronomy and art history, Langton had prodigious powers of invention and spun plot complications from nuggets such as soil chemistry, the water table under a Boston church, and a flooded town under a reservoir. Her line drawings of the settings accompany most of the series, and the settings are integral to the stories.