I've decided to do a post about mysteries, because it's overdue that I write about my favourite genre! I've written about fantasy, science fiction, horror, fairy tales, and I've written about particular mystery authors, but I don't think I've devoted a whole post to the wonderful world of mystery novels. So:
Considering I read 25 last year, the most of any genre, as it is every year since I've been keeping a list of books read, it's about time I think that I gave it some appreciation. It is the genre I am most comfortable with. The very first novel I read was a Nancy Drew mystery, when I was 8. I've read almost every mystery series for kids when I was growing up, from Trixie Belden, to Cherry Ames, to Meg Diamond, to the Enid Blyton series - Famous Five, Secret Seven, Adventurous Four.......I even read all the Hardy Boys I could find! I have always gotten a thrill from picking up a mystery book. It's like a frisson of excitement, a little oh! or ahh!, and I am really excited when a new book by a favourite author and series comes out. I get such a bookaholic joy when I look at my shelves and see my mystery series lined up in order.
By saying I am comfortable with mysteries, I mean that I understand how it works. It is a story structure that I can see and admire even while I read it. I know what a mystery is supposed to do, and why, and when one works, and when one doesn't. It is the first kind of story I ever tried to write, and it is a how I dream - I dream mysteries, who done it's, suspense. This is not to say that I don't love fantasy - I do! really good fantasy writing transports me to a magical world, and I love it. Mysteries, however, are dark and deal with the horrors and nightmares of the real world and what people do to each other, layered in thoughtful analysis of the world, and glimpses of unsung heroes who battle on street corners for truth and justice. That is so noir! But where would we be without our lonely detectives and inspectors and private eyes seeking the truth in the darkest corners of our world? Bringing a sense of closure often, and other times, a struggle to find a sense of peace even if justice is not fully served? They are our guardians against the night, against the dark, they bring the light so that there can be cleansing and healing for the ones left behind. Maybe I find a sense of rightness in reading mysteries, but whatever it is - and I don't think I've captured it all tonight, that sense of real joy when a mystery is true, and the story reveals something about the world as I know it, too. I need that fight against the darkness, that fight to right a wrong, and I am thankful every day for all the mystery writers out there.
I also think mysteries explore a sense of place. Take Sara Paretsky's VI Warshawski, set in Chicago; forever more, when I think of the Windy City, I think of VI and the battles she's fought with the corruption of the officials so that there is some freedom for especially the weak and downtrodden of society. Or Erlendur, in Iceland, the cold windswept landscape mirroring his frozen child self always looking to forgive the moment he lost touch with his brother's hand. Or the cold Moscow nights as Arkady Renko, ever more tired, battles against corruption that never goes away, it slinks off to come again another day. What about Hercule Poirot with his brain, or Jane Marple in her village, or Sherlock Holmes as he sees ahead miraculously to stop the final act of the villain? His Baker Street residence is etched firmly in all our minds. (and yes, I am going to go see the movie, this weekend I hope!) Or, two of my Canadian favourites, Inspector Gamache in Three Pines, that lovely tiny Quebec village that gives a sense of community and love even as evil threatens all around, and the cold forested Ontario landscape around Algonquin Bay with Det John Cardinal fighting is lonely battle with himself as well as with the criminals who live in and out of his town in Giles Blunts' series. Or, my favourite humorous mystery series, Joan Hess' Maggody series, set in a tiny town in Arkansas, overrun by the Buchanon clan, that neanderthal family who scarily could be in any town anywhere.......interrelated and always at the edge of morality as well as crime. It's also the character of the detective/PI whoever, that makes the mystery series work, too, but I'll save this topic for another day.
I really believe mysteries give us a glimpse of society. A good mystery looks into the dark heart of people, and finds resolution - an ending to the evil, so that we can all experience catharsis and heal a little bit from the horror stories that are all around us in the world. We can't change the crimes committed, the innocence lost, but we can try to understand so that we can prevent it in the future. Or, as Detective Jack Whicher says in The Suspicions of Mr Whicher, let Saville, the victim, have justice served for him by finding out who killed him.
So, now to the next part:
my favourite mysteries of last year:
Turnstone - Graham Hurley
The Draining Lake - Artur Indridason
Various Haunts of Men - Susan Hill
Maisie Dobbs - Jacqueline Winspear
Mistress of the Art of Death - Ariana Franklin
The Cruellest Month - Louise Penny
Case Histories - Kate Atkinson
Last Rituals - Yrsa Sigurdottir
This Night's Foul Work - Fred Vargas
The Suspicions of Mr Whicher - Kate Summerscale (my book of the year)
I was doing some thinking today about my stats from last year, as well as other years. If I read mysteries the most, and I want to get to 100 books read this year, then I had a brilliant idea (well to me it was, to you, you've probably seen this coming all this post, dear Reader!): why don't I increase the number of mysteries I read this year? So, I am. I am going to read 50 mysteries this year. My own challenge to myself.
Wherein I set my own challenge:
I don't know whether to laugh at myself because obviously my inner mystery book goddess has known all along what was coming, or thump myself on the head for being so thick: but at a quick count, I already have over 30 new mysteries on my TBR shelf, just waiting for me to read!!!! And, please don't tell my husband, but I snuck into Chapters today, looking for Nicola Slade thanks to Geraniumcat's lovely review of this series, and ended up finding a book that made it onto a couple of reader's lists over at Kerrie's Mysteries in Paradise 2009 Crime Novels of the year list that is open to bloggers: yes, on the 5th day of the new year, I bought two books, already, just because.
Echoes from the Dead by Johan Theorin (two readers picked this among their favourite mysteries last year), and:
A Cure for All Diseases by Reginald Hill, the latest Dalziel and Pascoe mystery, mostly because it looks very good, and partly because he dedicates it to Janeites everywhere - the book is a mystery homage to Jane Austen's unfinished Sandition. Well, how can I resist that? so that's another two mysteries to add to the 50 Mystery Challenge!!!!
*****I'm sorry, I'm unable to provide the link tonight to Kerrie's blog, my computer is acting very slow and not letting me link. Grrr! ******** Or to Geraniumcat's blog. ****Grrrr Grrrr******They are both on my sidebar.
So, because I know you want to know what mysteries I have been collecting over the past year or so, here is a partial list of mysteries I have waiting to be read RIGHT NOW:
A Cure For All Diseases - Reginald Hill
Echoes From the Dead - Johan Theorin
Bone By Bone - Carol O'Connell
Dead Famous - Carol O'Connell
Winter House - Carol O'Connell
The Pure in Heart - Susan Hill
A Deeper Sleep - Dana Stabenow
Prepared for Rage - Dana Stabenow
Fearless Fourteen - Janet Evanovich
Doors Open - Ian Rankin
The Red Fox - Anthony Hyde
The Calling - Inger Ashe Wolfe (a new Canadian mystery author!!!)
The Broken Shore - Peter Temple - highly reviewed Australian Ned Kelly winner
A Restless Evil - Ann Granger
The Black Path - Asa Larsson
The Blood Spilt - Asa Larsson
A Beautiful Blue Death - Charles Finch
Never End - Ake Edwardson
The Winter Queen - Boris Akunin
Seeking Whom He May Devour - Fred Vargas
Morality for Beautiful Girls - Alexander McCall Smith
Blue Shoes and Happiness - Alexander McCall Smith
Damage Control - J.A. Jance
Deadly Web - Barbara Nadel
When Gods Die - C. S. Harris
The Grave Tattoo - Val McDermid
The Serpent's Tail - Ariana Franklin
Raven Black - Ann Cleeves
The Murder Stone - Louise Penny
The Shape of Water - Andrea Camilleri
Sweet Revenge - Diane Mott Davidson
Firewall - Henning Mankell
A Quiet Belief in Angels - RJ Ellory
Death is a Cabaret - Deborah Morgan
Perception of Death - Louise Anderson
The Dead Hour - Denise Mina
The Red Breast - Jo Nesbo
Arctic Chill - Artur Indridason
Winter Study - Nevada Barr
Every Dead Thing - John Connolly
The Sign of the Book - John Dunning
One Good Turn - Kate Atkinson
Stalin's Ghost - Martin Cruz Smith
Missing Justice - Alafair Burke
What the Dead Know - Laura Lippman
Not in the Flesh - Ruth Rendell
Death in the Off-Season - Francine Mathews
Immoral - Brian Freeman
Stripped - Brian Freeman
Hard Row - Margaret Maron
Death's Half Acre- Margaret Maron
I think that's over 50!!! And they were all on my TBR shelves!!!!! Honest. That's not counting the other mysteries tucked away on the shelves, like Stephen Booth and Graham Hurley (missing book three to continue the series), Charles Todd....
Plus, I want to buy the latest Henning Mankell (the one with Kurt and Linda wallender investigating together, and the one with her alone), and as soon as the latest by Fred Vargas - Chalk Circle Man, Artur Indridason - Hypothermia, Louise Penny - A Brutal Killing, and Yrsa Sigurdottir and Sara Paretsky, are in paperback, I'll be picking them up!
And, I have The Coffin Trail by Martin Edwards on order at Amazon.ca, as well as An Instance of the Fingerpost by Iain Pears........and the Nicola Slade, and the other mystery series people are reading and recommending! **warning, going to Kerrie's Crime Books of 2009 will find you adding more authors and books to your reading list!!***
I don't want to read just mysteries this year. I do get to a point where I need to read something different, and then I pick up fantasy, which is the second most read genre for me, every single year also. So if I bump fantasy up to 25 (and you don't want to see how many fantasy books I have also on my TBR shelves, tonight, do you??), that will give me 75 books read, and let me read some non-fiction, sf, horror and poetry to make up the rest.
So what do you think, my Gentle Reader? Can I pull it off, can I finally read some of these mysteries and get to my 100 books this year? I think I can! Do you have any mystery series that you love? Do you agree or disagree with what I said about mysteries? Let me know, I'd love to hear your thoughts on why you read mysteries also. What does it satisfy in you? What do you enjoy most about them?