Best reading in 2016: Mysteries, part one: international and classic

December 31, 2016 at 8:42 pm (Best of 2016, Mystery fiction)

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Oh, boy,,,

Where crime fiction is concerned, it was a field of amazing richness this year, that is for sure. I decided that it would be easier if I begin by mentioning my favorites according to subgenre, wherever possible. So here goes:

International

I wrote about this group in a recent post, but somehow managed to cover only Nordic and French titles. And regarding the latter, I managed to omit one of my favorites in this category from this past year: The Bookseller by Mark Pryor.   This was Ann’s choice for the Usual Suspects – a very enjoyable novel, redolent of the sights and sounds of present day Paris. Also the protagonist takes a trip to Pau, a town in the Basque region. I’d never heard of it, but I immediately wanted to go there!

Here are five additional titles set outside the U.S. and the U.K. that I recommend:

The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra by Vaseem Khan (India)

Hell Fire by Karin Fossum (Norway)

Too Close to the Edge by Pascal Garnier (France)

I Am Your Judge by Niele Neuhaus (Germany)

The Waters of Eternal Youth by Donna Leon (Venice, Italy)

Fatal Pursuit by Martin Walker (France)

Classics

The unexpected and welcome success of the British Library Crime Classics series has spurred an increased interest in Golden Age mysteries in general – at least, it has for This Reader. I wrote about this phenomenon in a recent post in a series on current trends in  crime fiction.

These are the three British Library Crime Classics that I read this year:

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The Secret of High Eldersham was a classic English village mystery, with more than a soupcon of the supernatural thrown in, plus a charming love story to sweeten the pot a bit more. Sergeant Cluff Stands Firm takes place in an even more insular community, with a stolid village policeman refusing to accept the prevailing view of a crime borne of a terrible transgression of trust.

In his introduction to this novel, Martin Edwards notes that Cluff  “…possesses a deep understanding of human nature, born of years of observing life in a small community at close quarters; in this respect, if in no others, he resembles Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple.” Edwards then points out that there’s yet another discernible influence at work in this  novel:

The storyline is strong, but this is not a whodunnit; Gil North’s focus is not on mystification for the sake of game-playing, but on the human condition. His work shows the influence of Georges Simenon, and his most famous character, Inspector Jules Maigret.

As much as I enjoyed these two novels, the third, The Murder of a Lady, is probably my favorite. It takes place in the Highlands of Scotland, and is both beautifully written and atmospheric in the extreme.

 51umejxh7el-_sx331_bo120403200_     The Beast in View was Frank’s choice for the Usual Suspects discussion. I’d long wanted to read Margaret Millar’s Edgar Award winner (1956). It proved to be a claustrophobic nightmare of suspense. And for those of you who love “a twist at the end,” this one’s got it – and it’s a corker!

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I wrote about the above two in the Book list for a Friend series of posts.   Do seek them out; both are excellent. And I don’t remember who first recommended Patricia Wentworth to me, but thank you, whoever you are. Wentworth is probably best remembered for her series featuring Maud Silver. As she sits placidly knitting a garment for a nephew while asking probing questions, Miss Silver is something of a dead ringer for Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple. The Clock Strikes Twelve is swiftly moving domestic suspense with bite. I’ve downloaded several more titles by Wentworth and look forward to reading them. 9780446349055-us-300

And finally, once more with feeling: thanks go to the Usual Suspects in general and to my friend Mary Michael in particular. Mike loves the classics, especially those written by the redoubtable Dorothy L. Sayers. Her choice this year was a title that many consider to be Sayers’s masterpiece: the-nine-tailors  This was my third encounter with this novel; I admire it more at each reading. This time I was especially struck by the insularity of Fenchurch St. Paul, and by the endearing presence of the Reverend Theodore Venables. His simple, albeit absentminded goodness acts as a powerful counterweight to the evil lurking just below the surface in this seemingly quiet village.

Reverend Venables is purportedly an homage to Sayers’s father Rev. Henry Sayers, who served as Rector of the Church of St. Mary, Bluntisham. Like Fenchurch St. Paul, Bluntisham is located  at the edge of fens whose flooding serves so memorably as the high dramatic climax of The Nine Tailors.

I strongly recommend the BBC’s 1974 dramatization of The Nine Tailors starring Ian Carmichael as Lord Peter Wimsey.

Ian Carmichael, center, as Lord Peter, with Donald Eccles, left, as the Reverend Venables

Ian Carmichael, center, as Lord Peter, with Donald Eccles, left, as the Reverend Venables

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