Best mysteries 2016 part three: historical and hard to classify

January 19, 2017 at 9:33 pm (Best of 2016, Book review, books, Mystery fiction)

229d422a39fe588415a0ca5a5243b64d  51pwjlzbmgl-_sy346_ How is it  that I read only one historical mystery this year? I’m a great fan of historical fiction, so I can’t quite figure this out. Anyway, the book in question is The Lady Chapel by Candace Robb, Marge’s choice for our November Suspects discussion. This novel is the second in Robb’s Owen Archer series. I’d read the first, The Apothecary Rose, several years ago, when I needed a Middle Ages “fix.” It did the job admirably. I therefore had high hopes for The Lady Chapel and I”m glad to say those hopes were fulfilled. I’ve already downloaded the next book in the series, The Nun’s Tale. I look forward to reading it.
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Elizabeth Edmondson’s two entries in the series A Very English Mystery are a delight, tailor made for the Anglophiles among us. With their setting in the quintessential village of Selchester in the postwar years, the milieu is rife with rumor, scheming and gossip,  readily inviting comparison to the world of Miss Marple’s St. Mary Mead.

5128jcelhkl-_sy346_ 25686558  A Man of Some Repute combines the classic murder mystery formula with the intrigue of intelligence work. Thus there are twice as many secrets and intrigues for the varied cast of characters to contend with. What  fun! I’m still in the midst of reading A Question of Inheritance, but similar plot elements are already in play.

On the occasion of the 2014 Oxford Literary Festival, Elizabeth Edmondson penned a spirited defense of genre fiction.  Unfortunately, we’ve lost this gifted author: she passed away early last year.
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I continue to be a one-person Alexander McCall Smith Fan Club. This year I reread The Sunday Philosophy Club, Chris’s pick for the Usual Suspects. Once again, Once again, I reveled in this narrative. Isabel Dalhousie, with her love of art and music, and of the city of Edinburgh, and of deep thought and ethical conundrums – both fascinates and attracts me.

As always, McCall Smith’s writing is beautiful.

Although it was a pleasant spring evening, a stiff breeze had arisen and the clouds were scudding energetically across the sky, towards Norway. This was a northern light, the light of a city that belonged as much to the great, steely plains of the North Sea as it did to the soft hills of its hinterland. This was not Glasgow, with its soft, western light, and its proximity to Ireland and to the Gaeldom of the Highlands. This was a townscape raised in the teeth of cold winds from the east; a city of winding cobbled streets and haughty pillars; a city of dark nights and candlelight, and intellect.

Similar pleasures are to be found in The Novel Habit of Happiness, the latest full length entry in this series:

She looked at Jamie. “It may well be right to say that God doesn’t care. But…” She was not sure what she wanted to say about God. She thought that he might be there— embodied somehow in the perfection of the world, or in the sublime harmonies of a great work of music. Of course, if he was anywhere in music, she felt he was in the grave beauty of the motets of John Tavener, or in the more sublime passages of Bach. The architecture of such music was incompatible, Isabel thought, with a world that was meaningless.

Admittedly, the element of mystery tends to be at best tangential in these novels, but if you wish to spend time in the company of a woman whose restless personality is made up of equal parts intellect and passion – both, I would venture to say in prodigious amounts – then these books are for you.
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I started Mick Herron’s Slough House series with the second entry, Dead Lions. Would that I had started at the beginning. Stylishly crafted and hugely entertaining, these novels are part murder mystery, part espionage, and feature fiendishly ingenious plots. Moreover, the cast of characters is…well, read them and find out for yourself. Here are the first three: 51gwvmcgh-l-_sx328_bo120420300_  51j18zww78l-_sx327_bo104203200_ 2935845. The fourth is due out here late next month. Oh, do hurry up; I’m no end impatient! 30282181
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dacallsit candle  Finally, there’s my recent quirky predilection for Erle Stanley Gardners’s legal thrillers from the thirties. No, I don’t mean  the Perry Mason novels but rather a series featuring District Attorney Doug Selby. As the series commences, Selby has recently been swept into office on the promise of cleansing the office of a recently acquired taint of corruption. He’s young and green, but he’s got fire in the belly. I’m rooting for him – and for his friend, reporter Sylvia Martin.

So far, I’ve read the above two novels in the series. I look forward to reading more. From what I can tell, they’re out of print and not available as ebooks. However, the Bertha Cool and Donald Lam books, written by Gardner under the pseudonym A.A. Fair, have begun to appear courtesy of Hard Case Crime. I’ve already downloaded this one: cover_big

Erle Stanley Gardner eventually had to shutter his law practice in order to make room in his life for his writing compulsion. Have a look at his bibliography and you’ll understand why.

 

 

1 Comment

  1. Kay Wisniewski said,

    I see the library doesn’t have the Elizabeth Edmondson titles; they sound right up my alley. I can’t take too much reality right now!

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