The Year in Mystery: Group One, Part Two

December 19, 2008 at 3:24 pm (Anglophilia, Best of 2008, Blogging-the process, books, Historical fiction, Mystery fiction, Performing arts, Travel, Uncategorized)

stranger Stranger in Paradise by Robert B. Parker. I have a lingering affection for this author, though I usually stick to his (incredibly long-running) Spenser series. In the past,I haven’t cared for the Jesse Stone novels, finding them too touchy-feely. As it happened, though, my husband and I were very much liking the made for TV films, which feature Tom Selleck as Stone, a role he seems born to play. Hence, my decision to read Stranger in Paradise, which I quite enjoyed. This enjoyment was somewhat enhanced by having Tom Selleck in my mind’s eye for much of the time I was reading!

chat Chat by Archer Mayor. I love Mayor’s straight-ahead, unadorned prose style and his exceptionally appealing protagonist, Joe Gunther. This series also features a vividly rendered ensemble cast of law enforcement officers.

blue-heaven Blue Heaven by C.J. Box. The author manages to keep you on the edge of your seat throughout the narrative;  you’ll be chewing your fingernails as you agonize over the fate of a seriously imperiled but amazingly courageous and resourceful 13-year-old girl. Definitely a candidate for my “thriller with brains” designation!

devil Friend of the Devil by Peter Robinson. I’ve read every one of the Alan Banks novels, and what a pleasure it has been watching this author go from strength to strength in this outstanding series. The latest, All the Colors of Darkness, can now be reserved at our local library.

city-of-fire City of Fire by Robert Ellis. Setting: southern California. Where else, with a title like that? Homicide Detective Lena Gamble is one of the lead investigators in this fast-moving tale of  multiple murder and its far-reaching consequences. Ellis is an author new to me, but I’d certainly read more of his work. A commenter on my review said that City of Fire was the best book he read in 2007. ( I read it in January of this year.)

mistress-death-large Mistress of the Art of Death by Ariana Franklin. I forgot to include this title in my discussion of historical mysteries I enjoyed this year. I had some initial reservations about the premise of this novel, but I got swept up in the story and fell utterly in love with Franklin’s feisty protagonist, the splendidly named Vesuvia Adelia Rachel Ortese Aguilar.

And now, two classics and three pleasant surprises.

This year I went back to two of my favorite crime fiction greats of the past, Georges Simenon and Ross MacDonald. Both are masters at creating atmospheric thrillers shot through with crisp, no-nonsense dialogue; both follow the rules of the conventional forms in which they write while at the same time subtly pushing against the boundaries of those same forms. How can formulaic writing be so compelling? I can’t explain it, and it’s just as well that I don’t even try:


Georges Simenon

Georges Simenon


Ross MacDonald

Ross MacDonald

As for the pleasant surprises:

skeleton The Skeleton in the Closet by M.C. Beaton. I grabbed this book on tape – yes, tape, that finicky old technology! -off the shelf at the Central Library with no idea what it was about. Set in a village in the Cotswolds, a place almost too dreamily English to be real, Skeleton is not an especially compelling mystery. It is, however, an utterly enchanting love story, read by the eminently listenable Donada Peters. I commend it to you warmly!

hit I also listened to Lawrence Block’s Hit Parade. Block is one of the reigning masters of American crime fiction. At one time, I was a huge fan of this author’s Matt Scudder series. Those books, a chronicle of one man’s struggle to be a good person, are utterly gripping and tend to be quite somber in tone. I knew we’d be seeing Block at Bouchercon, where he was to be honored for distinguished contribution to the mystery genre. I was intrigued by this prolific author’s new series featuring John Keller. Keller flies all over the country carrying out various commissions while Dot, his business partner, stays home in White Plains. It’s a business much like any other – except that Keller is a professional hit man! Hit Parade was read by the author, with appropriate sardonic inflection. I haven’t come across fiction this deliciously subversive in years.

Here’s Block being interviewed by Charles Ardai at Bouchercon. (You can’t tell from this video snippet but the room was packed.)

And here’s the author discussing his latest creation at a book signing.

ash Ash Wednesday by Ralph McInerny. This author’s Father Dowling novels now number twenty-six; there’s also one story collection and another on the way. I hadn’t read one of these in a while and had forgotten how much I enjoy McInerny’s delicious low-key wit. Under the guise of a cozy set in a gossipy small town in Indiana, Ash Wednesday manages to examine some genuinely provocative moral and spiritual issues. And what the heck, it’s just plain fun to hang out with the wise, witty, self-effacing Father Dowling and his prickly housekeeper Marie Murkin.

Next – when I can get to it, what with wrapping presents, sending cards, etc. – Group Two: the creme de la creme of my mystery reading year!

1 Comment

  1. Lawrence Block, sympathetic villains, and Great Books Lists « Books to the Ceiling said,

    […] 7, 2009 at 1:36 am (Mystery fiction, books) In one of my posts on favorite mysteries of 2008, I mentioned Lawrence Block’s new series, Keller’s Greatest Hits. I had listened to Hit […]

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