Tuesday, 5 January 2010

All about mysteries

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?


Anonymous said...

A fellow mystery lover. I'm planning on reading Martin Edwards this year, I have seen very positive reviews all over the place and Mistress of the Art of Death is on the shelf waiting. I just discovered a new author and series, Christoper Fowler, his detectives are Bryant and May. I just read The Victoria Vanishes and absolutley loved it, can't wait to read more of his books. I also still have a Reginald Hill on the TBR, Roar of the Butterflies. I tend to save up the mysteries for when I feel most stressed and need serious relaxation, which seems ironic. Not sure what the appeal is except that they are dramas which expose the most raw of emotions. The detective is the modern hero, I wonder what that says about us and our culture. Awesome post. Enjoy your mystery reading year, I will be following your reviews eagerly, storing up titles to seek out.

Eva said...

I LOVED this post. Mysteries are one of my favourite genres too, but I'm not nearly as articulate as you. Have you read Laurie King's Mary Russell series? They're some of my faves!

Looking at your list, I've read The Winter Queen by Boris Akunin, which I quite liked (I've been meaning to read more of him actually!). And I read a different Nevada Barr book a couple years ago that I enjoyed as well.

I'm very excited about your project, simply because that means lots of delicious mystery reviews for me to read here! :D

DesLily said...

I didn't see the 13th Tale there but I think you read it...

since you like England you might like Laurie R King's book Touchstone. (it's a stand alone book) Cath liked it when she read it too.

also Shadow of the Wind is a mystery with some supernatural in it. Same with Angels Game..

somehow I don't really think you need more titles though! lol

Table Talk said...

You should be shot immediately for this post. How am I going to resist sitting down and ordering all these from the library immediately? I have far too many other things that I should be doing to involve myself in nothing but mystery reading but......

By the way, Martin Edwards has a new books out in a couple of months and have you read Sophie Hannah?

April said...

Oh, I love mysteries! I'm really getting into them now that it's winter and I just want to cuddle up in a chair with a cozy Agatha Christie.

Best of luck with your self-challenge, I bet you will exceed your goal :-)

Can't wait to read your reviews of the books you read!

Anonymous said...

Can you believe that I can't remember if I welcomed you to the 100+ Reading Challenge? Ugh! I am brain dead. ;)

It's going to be such a good year...so many books are coming out. Can't wait to read them all.

Susan said...

book-pusher: I just went and saw your lovely post from early December lamenting the state of bookshops, and your post about Christopher Fowler, so you know I've added him straight on to my list!!! It looks so good, and set in London, my favourite city. I tend to read more mysteries in the summer, fall, and winter, and when I'm stressed - it's one way I relax. I think I distract myself with the mystery I'm reading! lol thanks for your thoughts, you're right, if the detective is the modern hero, what does that say about our culture?

Susan said...

Eva: thanks for the compliment, though I find it hard to believe you're not articulate enough!! lol I know you and Pat love Mary Russell series, I have to get past Sherlock having a partner who's female first! And I really enjoy Nevada Barr and her outdoor settings of nature. Some of her mysteries (and where Anna Pigeon finds herself in the books) are truly frightening. I'll be reviewing, don't worry!

DesLily: sadly it still remains unread on my TBR shelf. I'm getting more interested in reading it though!! so hoping this year sometime. I'm not sure I saw touchstone, I'll look for that. I do like her other mysteries series very much (the one without Mary Russell). And I just picked up Shadow on the Wind at a used book table! (post is to follow on that book sale.).....what series other than Mary Russell do you like, Pat?

Table - Talk. A new book by Martin Edwards! and who is Sophie Hannah?

Did the bears convince you to try some more mysteries? I will be reviewing them, that's one of my goals this year!!! To be a better reviewer (if a little shorter and more succint too....)

And if i can tempt you to discover good mystery series, then I am thrilled!!!! lol!!

April: Hi! I think this is your first time here, I'll come find you. thanks for leaving a comment! and yes, there is something about winter that makes me want to curl up in a chair for the entire season and read, read, read! What series or authors do you especially like?

J kaye - you did welcome me to the 100 + challenge, lol!!! I'm thinking about your library one now again....it does get me to using the library more! there are so many good books coming out, too. I'm waiting for quite a few to come out in soft cover, like The Little Stranger, and Under the Dome, and.......I hope you have a really good reading year too!

Anonymous said...

Susan, oh good, I can't wait until things settle. My memory cells aren't as good as they use to be. ;)

Sheila Beaumont said...

Really enjoyed your post! I'm a mystery lover too, and also like fantasy (mostly YA & children's), plus Dean Koontz's books and some of Stephen King's (just finished Under the Dome).

I'm a fan of most of the authors you mentioned. Armand Gamache is a wonderful character (wait until you get to the latest in Penny's series, The Brutal Telling; she outdoes herself!). I second other commenters' recommendations of Laurie R. King's Mary Russell series, Christopher Fowler's Bryant & May series, and The Thirteenth Tale.

Now that I've discovered your blog, you can be sure I'll be a regular reader!

Gavin said...

Susan - You've said so many things that I agree with here. Last year I discovered several new-to-me mystery authors and I just keep adding more!
You mention many of my favorites but I have a couple author names to give you, Colin Cotterill and Jason Goodwin. Not that I mean to add more to your TBR pile or anything:)

Table Talk said...

Sophie Hannah is one of the best new crime writers on the block, although she isn't a new writer being best known in other circles as a poet. You do need to read her books in the right order. Start with 'Little Face'.

DesLily said...

Touchstone is NOT a mary russell book..just want you to know that.

I don't know any other series of books I've read or reading that are mysteries.

Amy said...

I guess I'm going to have to look up "The Suspicions of Mr Whicher" right away!!!

Life by Candlelight

Nymeth said...

I feel like I should save your list of favourite mysteries and make it my personal reading list for 2010. In fact, I have mooched Mistress of the Art of Death, Case Histories and Maisie Dobbs, so I'm getting there already :D Good luck with your goal, Susan, and thank you for sharing your passion for mysteries. You're turning me into a fan!

Cath said...

Well, up to a a year or two ago I didn't consider myself a mystery reader at all, despite the fact that I'd read Sherlock Holmes and devoured over 20 Cadfael books one year... (Oh, how we deceive ourselves.) Now I think of myself as a novice mystery reader. After reading your post I went back and counted how many of my 2009 reads were mysteries. 25 out of 76. I am shocked. A *third* of my books last year were mysteries and if I add in questionable ones like The 13th. Tale (Gothic story but still a kind of mystery), Mercy Thompson, and the Enid Blytons then it's even more. That's amazing.

I've read 4 of your fav. 2009mysteries and they're favs of mine too. And talking of influencing each other's reading I have the first Fred Vargas book on my library pile since this morning, I think it's called The Chalk Circle Man... because I also read about the author somewhere other than here too.

And that's a wonderful stack of mysteries you have there to read. So many I would like to walk off with when you weren't looking. ;-) I think I need to think of myself as a genuine mystery reader now and stop trying to kid myself!

Christie said...

You had me at Trixie Belden. "Moms!" I loved her...but my first love, even before Trixie, was The Bobbsey Twins and I just talked about them a few days ago on my own blog!
I do enjoy a good mystery, but I am by no means the connoisseur that you are. When I was 12 or so I discovered Agatha Christie and I still remember reading Ten Little Indians (I think they've gone and changed the name, haven't they, to And Then There Were None.) I'll look forward to your thoughts on these mysteries as you read them...so perhaps I can add a few new names to my tbr list.

Julia Smith said...

I love your descriptions of your favorite fictional detectives, Susan.

Have you ever dropped by my Danish crime fiction blogger's site? Here's a link:

DJ's Krimiblog

Your 100 Books challenge seems do-able. Good thing I'll never join one of those - I did the Dewey Book Challenge (only 6 books) last year and still have half the books on my list to read. Not a fast reader, me.

Julia Smith said...

I meant my Danish friend's blog - not my blog - woops...

Susan said...

J kaye: do things ever settle?? My life doesn't seem to be! One challenge after another!

Sheila Beaumont: thank you for your lovely comments! I am taking them into consideration - I even picked up and held a Mary Russell book in my hands a week ago!! lol moving slowly towards trying one....I'll come find your blog also :-)

Gavin: right, you're just paying me back for all the books you've added to your pile because of me! lol! Now I'm curious and have to go find out who those authors are!

Table Talk: I've never heard of her, as either a poet or mystery writer! But as it's you recommending her, I'm off to my library to see if we have any. A new author! Hurray! thanks, Ann :-)

Deslily: right, I'll look for Touchstone too. I think I saw it at the store recently, it's a stand-alone, isn't it? Or is it part of the other mystery series, the Kate Martinelli series? I really enjoy those ones. Just been waiting for a new one to come out! And don't worry, not everyone reads mysteries; you have got me looking for fantasy I haven't read yet either!

Amy: I hope you enjoy it! It should be out in the US by now....

Nymeth: If I turn you into a mystery fan, then I will be a little in awe! And very happy, too :-) sometimes I think it's a matter of finding a few good books or authors to lead the way into a genre, so it doesn't seem so scary. Look at me and graphic novels, The Plain Janes have totally turned my view of graphic novels around. I really hope you find, at the very least, a few mystery writers whose work you love, because then the mystery story will start to talk to you in a different way. NOt sure if that makes sense....must eat some dinner soon! lol But I'm flattered you want to read all the books I listed! and really hope you enjoy them all :-) let me know!

Cath: lol! I always thought of you as a mystery reader! Yes, how we deceive ourselves.....but I think if you read as many as I did last year, there is no doubt you are a mystery reader! Chalk Circle Man just came out in soft cover here, I'm trying to wait until February to buy any more books (I bought alot with gift certificates, post to come, already this month) to pick it up. I'll have to go see if you read it, you hadn't posted about it since last Sunday....

I like how you say you would like to walk off with a stack of my books when I'm not looking, because after reading yours and everyone's 'best reads of the year' list, I want to do that with everyone else's books too! You and Nymeth, Eva and Jeanne, I especially want to just come to your houses and browse (oh, and Ann and Bride of the Book God too, and Geraniumcat...sigh...)and see how many I can fit into my arms!!! lol Cause I want to read everything you all are reading, too! then there's Bookpusher, Memory, Chris....I think we are all so good, and so very bad, for our reading piles! It's so much fun. It does make me wish we could visit each other's houses and have a big book depository where we could put the books we've finished with (not that I let many go now....) so we could do book parties and exchanges over cups of tea....

Susan said...

Christie: I almost mentioned the Bobbsey twins! I really did read everything I could when growing up. I'm aiming to do better this year with my book reviews, so hopefully some of my 50 mysteries will appeal to you! lol

Julia: thanks for the link! I have to go check it out, but you know I will. MOre mysteries = more goodies, lol! and I think I understood it was your friend's.... and don't worry about not reading fast. It's about the enjoyment of the book, for me, always. The pleasure of reading.

Sheila Beaumont said...

Susan, don't look for my blog! You'll only be frustrated, because I don't have one! Maybe someday, but don't count on it. Right now, I'm happy just reading and commenting on other people's blogs.

I used to read the Bobbsey Twins too, then Trixie Belden, who I preferred to Nancy Drew (though I liked both).

Nan said...

I have the Theorin and Finch on my shelves, and will get the Mankell if I read the others I own. I want to read some Indridason. And I loved Death in the Off Season. Great, great post. I think you might enjoy P.D. James' new book about detective fiction.

Susan said...

Sheila: too late, I already tried! lol I would love to see what you think about what you read, but so long as you leave comments, that's good too! lol

Nan: I'd heard PD James did a book on detective fiction, I'm going to check and see if it's out here yet in Canada. I'll be getting it! My mother really enjoyed the Francine Matthews series - she was the one who recommended the book to me - so you're not alone in really liking it. and do read some Indridason this year, if you can. He really is among the best writing now. I'm glad you enjoyed my post! We'll have to see this year when we all read these books we have on our shelves, lol!

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