Anne here talking about a mystery reading binge I've been on recently. I've always been a reader of mysteries, and still have an occasional yen to write a mystery one day. In the meantime, I enjoy reading other people's, and I thought I'd share my current faves with you, concentrating on series with ongoing characters.
I should explain that I'm not a fan of the scary/gory/horrific kind of crime novel — there's a reason I'm a romance writer; I like happy endings in my crime novels, meaning I like the scales of justice to be balanced by the end of the book. More or less. So my preference is for the kind of book called "cosy" mysteries.
A famous crime writer whose name escapes me, commented once that in crime, it's the characters that people come back for again and again, that though readers enjoy nutting out the puzzle, afterward, they frequently forget the details of the puzzle, but not the characters. That's certainly the case with me.
Kerry Greenwood - crime, baking and cats.
This particular reading binge of mine started a while back, when I discovered Kerry Greenwood's Corinna Chapman series. I talked about her 1920's Phrynne Fisher books back here, which I've known about since the first one came out in the '90's. But this year I belatedly discovered her Corinna books, which are contemporary, not historical. And after the first, I devoured the rest of the series in short order.
They're set in the inner city of Melbourne (my home town) where you get a mix of wealthy apartment-dwellers and some lost, stolen and stray types — cats, as well as humans. There's warm-hearted, plus-sized Corinna, a former accountant now turned baker, Daniel, her sexy, mysterious boyfriend and Jason her apprentice — one of the strays I mentioned.
The baker shop is at the bottom of a quirkily designed apartment building which houses an eclectic collection of humans, and from the second book in the series, cats, and it's this community of people that for me is the real draw card of the series. There are six books, so far, and Earthly Delights is the first.
Louise Penny — Crime, Quebec and Characters
The next surge in my reading binge was caused by a Canadian writer, Louise Penny. Set in Quebec, much of the action takes place in the small village of Three Pines. It's an idyllic kind of village with a quirky collection of characters, often escapees from the rat race of city life. The star is the detective, Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, head of the Sûreté du Québec, thoughtful, wise and deeply human. Again, it's the characters and the community that appeal to me most.
What I particularly enjoyed in these books, apart from the writing and the story, were the small touches of human observation, wry and sometimes gently humorous. For instance, this is from the first in Louise Penny's series — Still Life, the introduction of Gabri, the large and flamboyant gay chef who, with his partner, runs the local cafe.
Just then a large man in a frilly apron that said, "Never Trust a Skinny Cook" made his entrance through the swinging door. Gamache was startled to see more than a passing resemblance to his grandmother.
Gabri sighed hugely and put a wan hand up to his forehead in a gesture not often seen this side of Gloria Swanson.
The question was so unexpected even Gamache was thrown off-guard. "Pardon Monsieur?"
"I have carrot, date, banana and a special tribute to Jane called 'Charles de Mills'." And with that Gabri disappeared and reappeared a moment later with a platter holding rings of muffins marvelously decorated with fruit and roses.
"They aren't Charles de Mille roses, of course. They're long dead." Gabri's face dissolved into tears and the platter lurched perilously. Only Beauvoir's quick action, fueled by desire, saved the food.
"Desolé. Excusé-moi. I'm just so sad." Gabri collapsed on to one of the sofas, arms and legs flopping.
Gamache had the feeling that for all the dramatics, the man was sincere. He gave Gabri a moment to compose himself, fully realising it was possible Gabri had never been composed.
There are three more crime series I want to recommend, all of which are historical.
Lindsey Davis — Crime, Humor, In-laws and Devious Politics.
First is the Lindsey Davis "Falco" series, set in ancient Rome. The books are funny, complex, clever, beautifully researched and also contain a gorgeous ongoing romance between Falco and his beloved Helena Justina.
Ellis Peters — Crime, Monks, Medicine and Politics.
Next is the Ellis Peters' Brother Cadfael series, which I've been reading and enjoying since the first or her medieval mysteries came out. Brother Cadfael is wise, clever, and though a monk, well seasoned by life. A wonderful series, engrossing, and rich in history. I also enjoyed the TV series of the books.
Lastly — and I'm very aware that I'm leaving out lots of wonderful books — is a newer writer — well, she's relatively new to crime, although she wrote some wonderful historical romances under the name Candice Proctor. I'm talking about C.S. Harris and her Sebastian St. Cyr series.
C.S. Harris — Crime, Regency England, Romance.
Set in Regency England, these books are a delight. Clever, compelling, wonderfully researched and with a continuing romantic thread, they plunge you into the world of Regency England — both the ton and the underworld — in a wonderfully atmospheric way.
Now, there are many more wonderful mysteries, I know — the word wenches have had an ongoing conversation about them all week, which I plan to share next week, but for me, the above are the series that never fail. There are others — for instance, I adore Elizabeth Peters' Crocodile on the Sandbank — and why has that not been made into a movie yet? — but not all the books in the series have engrossed me as much. And I've read every Dick Francis book ever written, but I don't call that a series, because only a few have continuing characters.
But there are plenty of mysteries I've yet to read. So I'm asking you, do you read crime or mystery? If so, do you read for the puzzle or the characters, or both? Do you like series? What are your faves? Have you read any of the books mentioned above? Any recommendations?