Cornucopia of crime fiction

August 3, 2008 at 8:28 pm (books, Mystery fiction)

Or to be more precise: “Crime Fiction: Around the World in 80 Sleuths,” courtesy of Jonathan Gibbs of The Independent.

Lists like this are a lot of fun but can also be rather frustrating for the usual so-many-books-so-little-time reason. It’s always gratifying when you’ve already read and liked some of the suggested titles; then, you can feel pleased that your good taste has been ratified!

Having said that, here are a few of my favorites that appear here: Raven Black by Ann Cleeves; Knots and Crosses by Ian Rankin, The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins, The Last Bus to Woodstock by Colin Dexter, In Matto’s Realm by Friedrich Glauser, Death of a Red Heroine by Qiu Xiaolong, The Coroner’s Lunch by Colin Cotterill (a book that, to my amazement, had me laughing out loud!), The No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith (of course!), Don’t Look Back by Karin Fossum, and The Broken Shore by Peter Temple.

Some additional comments on the above:

Among its many other virtues,The Moonstone does bring one of my favorite places, Yorkshire, vividly to life. But several of my favorite contemporary British procedurals also take place there, notably Peter Robinson’s reliably outstanding Alan Banks series, the equally terrific Dalziel and Pascoe books by Reginald Hill, and Peter Turnbull’s Hennessey and Yellich novels, set most picturesquely in York itself.

Gibbs picked Friedrich Glauser to represent Berne, Switzerland, the setting for In Matto’s Realm. Glauser’s story is a sad one. Born in Vienna in 1896, he spent most of his brief life cycling in and out of mental hospitals and battling drug addiction. He died at the age of 42, shortly before he was to be married.

In Matto’s Realm takes place in an asylum in Switzerland; it’s the kind of place Glauser possessed a first hand knowledge of. I enjoyed the novel, though it was a slow read, and would like to try another one by this author. (There are five in all, currently being published by Bitter Lemon Press.) Germany’s most prestigious award for crime fiction is called the Glauser Prize.

[Friedrich Glauser]

I’ve never read Faceless Killers, the first of Henning Mankell’s Kurt Wallander novels, but I’ll probably go back and pick it up at some point, since i love these books so much. To my chagrin, Mankell seems lately to have abandoned this series. Still, The Pyramid, a story collection featuring the Wallander character, is due out next month. And we have the films, with Kenneth Branagh in the starring role, to look forward to.

Gibbs mentions several authors whose books, contrary to expectation and despite of glowing reviews, I couldn’t get into: Fred Vargas, Jean-Claude Izzo, Andrea Camilleri, and Boris Akunin among them. He also names Arnaldur Indridason as a worthy successor to Henning Mankell, a judgment with which I take issue. I found The Silence of the Grave to be top heavy with soap opera elements, especially as regards Inspector Erlandur’s messy personal life.

Anyway, Arnaldur Indrisadon’s procedurals are set in Iceland, not Sweden, a country which appears to be well supplied with great writers of crime fiction. As an instance, I just finished The Demon of Dakar by Kjell Eriksson   and thought it outstanding. Eriksson handles the private anguish of his characters with insight and restraint.


Although, as I’ve mentioned, I did like Death of a Red Heroine, for me the Judge Dee stories by Robert Van Gulik have no peer. Try to find an edition with the author’s wonderful line drawings.

[Click to enlarge]

Or you could listen to the superb readings done by Frank Muller for Recorded Books. (Sadly, this fine actor recently passed away. For further information, see

Finally, as you read Jonathan Gibbs’s piece, you may discover for yourself some glaring omissions. One that leaped out at me instantly was Donna Leon, poet – and scourge! – of Venice.


  1. kay wisniewski said,

    Like you, I loved The Coroner’s Lunch and found it surprisingly funny, considering the horrors that the people of Laos (and our detective) somehow survived. His attempts — amazingly successful — to perform forensic pathology with virtually none of the resources we take for granted were enthralling. This book isn’t for everybody, but for anyone who appreciates a unique character and very offbeat plot, this is a great read!

  2. Mysteries go global: Part One « Books to the Ceiling said,

    […] the Dutch writer and diplomat  Robert Van Gulik. I’ve written about Van Gulik’s Judge Dee stories in previous posts, but only briefly. Van Gulik was also an accomplished orientalist and musician; […]

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