Saturday, 17 July 2010

Summer time reading is mysteries

I don't know about you, Gentle Reader, but this is a very warm summer where we are in Ottawa. Certainly the warmest for at least 3 years. We had a heat wave at the beginning of the month, which is over now. The temperatures have to reach 90F for three days in a row to be declared a heat wave. We have been hitting the mid-80's for the past several days. Today it's 88F and all the fans are running. What's a girl to do in the heat but......READ. It's bliss, pure bliss, to be so hot that all I can do is read.

I have discovered that this summer, I want to read mysteries. In January, I had set my goal of reading 50 mysteries this year, and after my abysmal reading in May (one book!!) I've been more determined to get reading. I've read 7 mysteries since May 30, 15 books in total since May 30. 20 mysteries in total this year. Almost half-way there! I have two shelves full of mysteries waiting to be read, series I want to catch up in, new series to start. There are so many mystery series out there, the field has exploded in the past twenty years. My local Chapters store has 5 long shelves devoted solely to mysteries - the middle of the floor shelves, that pack a lot of books in them. So I thought I'd ask you, my dear readers, and try to answer myself, this question: what makes a mystery worth reading? How do you find the series that you love?

Things I Look For in Mysteries

- layered plot
-intelligent hero/heroine, cast of characters
-clues sprinkled throughout
- sense of morality
- asks why
- the crimes have repercussions experienced through following the victims too. so we see the cost in human terms, and we see the ripple effects in the community.

How do I find mysteries to read?
I mostly find my books through browsing in stores, reading reviews from various sources, and you, my dear book bloggers. You have brought me Susan Hill (I wasn't aware really of this series before), Martin Edwards, Elly Griffiths (still to be reviewed, very good first mystery), Jo Nesbo, Peter Lovesey, Christopher Fowler........My mother is a big source, as are my friends who read mysteries. I'm always looking for a new series to read, new detectives to bond with.

The five series I'm going to talk about are ones I've been reading this summer.

Susan Hill's Simon Serrailler series, Graham Hurley's DI Joe Faraday series, Jo Nesbo's Harry Hole series, Louise Penny's Chief Inspector Gamache series, and Martin Edward's DCI Hannah Scarlett series. These are all police procedurals. I've realized that I am attracted to the search for justice within the police services. In real life, men and women who join the police do so usually because they want to protect, to defend, and to solve mysteries. The detectives in mysteries represent the same ideals, I think. Each author brings something different to the their detectives and to the themes or issues they are interested in exploring.

Susan Hill: Like PD James' Adam Dalgleish, Simon Serrailler has a secret other life: he is a painter. He goes away on breaks to his hideaways and sketches, that he develops later into paintings. It sounds faintly ludicrous, that a DCI could be an artist as well as chief Inspector, but in Susan Hill's hands, it more than works. It is thrilling and like with Dalgleish's poetry, I really wish I could see Serrailer's art! I think that because Simon is at some remove from his detective work - he enjoys it, is passionate about finding the killers and bringing closure to cases - that, also like Adam, neither are defined solely by their police work. They bring a detachment that allows them to view colleagues and the crimes with intelligence unmarred by political ambition. It is also a way for them to hang on to their souls when faced with the hideous crimes and actions they witness every day.

I really like the Simon Serrailler mysteries. They are quite addictive. I have to know more about Simon and his twin sister Cat Deerborn, who is a GP and happily married to another GP. Their house is another sanctuary for Simon, who is single. They are actually part of a set of triplets, but the third child, Ivo, is in Australia and so far (end of book three) we haven't met him yet. There is a deep sense of humanity in the Simon Serrailer mysteries. The crimes, when they occur, are sometimes terrible. Hill is good at depicting all the characters involved in each mystery, all the secondary characters and their inner lives, and how the crimes affect them. I find this fascinating. The killer in books 2 and 3 is an amazing portrait of a psychopath. I can't recommend this series enough. The first three books I've read so far - and if you note, Book 2 and Book Three do follow on one another, so this series should be read in order.
The Various Haunts of Men (read and reviewed last year **can't find it, still looking)
The Pure in Heart - 5/5
The Risks of Darkness - 5/5

Graham Hurley - DI Joe Faraday is a widower raising a deaf son. He is also a bird-watcher, and the first book in the series, Turnstone, takes its name from one of the many birds that live on the shores of the beaches around Portsmouth, where this series takes place. It's how he gets away from it all, when he needs to. It's interesting that in today's crime novel, detectives need to have some interest away from work, in order to keep their sanity. Something to balance the horror.

Faraday is set up against DC Paul Winter, who is a lone wolf in the detective force. Winter sets his own rules, and has directly wrecked one of Faraday's investigations in revenge for trying to reel him in. In the Portsmouth police force, there is as much betrayal within the police department as without. Most of all though, is Joe Faraday, who still makes the effort to connect to the people affected by the crimes, and through whose eyes Portsmouth the ancient port, once proud Naval bastion of England, comes to grips with grim, modern life. It's not a pretty city, but it does have its places of charm and beauty, despite the rampant crime the police face. This is a nitty-gritty police series, where every step of the investigation is detailed, and it's fascinating and gripping. There are 10 books in the series now, I've read three:
The Take

Angels Passing 4.5/5

Louise Penny: Inspector Gamache is from the Surete Du Quebec, the provincial police force called out on major crimes. The first three books are centered around Three Pines, which for a tiny village has alot of serious crime! Three Pines is so beautiful and cosy that everyone who reads about it wants to move there, myself included. It's not a real place, but is set in the real countryside of Quebec.

Inspector Gamache himself is unusual - quiet, charming, intelligent, and very, very observant. He also has a team of detectives under him, and pulled from nearby forces for local knowledge and help, that come with him when he goes out on cases. Over the three books I've read so far in the series, we've seen Gamache fight for his life with both the criminals and from betrayal within his force. He is so good at his job that he has incurred much jealousy, and in the third book, The Cruellest Month, it comes to a head. How Gamache escapes, and how a seance features, makes for a very creepy ending. The Cruellest Month was very good. Gamache's team are interesting because they vary from novices to experienced detectives, so we get a range of what working on an investigation - and the mistakes made - as well as the leaps of intuition that Penny has so skillfully written that we feel brilliant too, reading these books. Very, very entertaining. Penny is my personal favourite of our Canadian mystery writers.
All three of her books that I read, are linked in the post I did on Louise Penny last fall:
Still Life
Dead Cold
The Cruellest Month

Martin Edwards: DCI Hannah Scarlett heads up the newly formed Cold Case Review Team in England's beautiful Lake District. Aiding her is Daniel Kind, son of Scarlett's former detective partner, Ben Kind. When the series opens, Daniel comes to the Lake District in an effort to understand a little bit about his recently dead father, and ends up buying a cottage and staying with his girlfriend. As he gets to know the locals, he often investigates on his own initiative, though by The Cipher Gardens, the second book, both Hannah and Daniel are beginning to be aware they are attracted to one another. DCI Scarlett views her position on the Cold Case team as a setback, a punishment for failing on a big case before the series opens. She wants to get back to the real work, in the serious crimes division, but has realized that Cold Cases have their own satisfaction when they are solved.

Hannah Scarlett is interesting and I almost wish we could have more of her. I like her personal struggles as well as her professional ones. She is not a detective who has it all together, but because of this, we get to see her learn about herself as well as her team and the part of the Lake District she lives in. Daniel Kind is a fun character. He is a historian, which in the books they make comparisons to being a detective. Because these are cold cases, of course Daniel is used to questioning and looking for clues in historical facts and stories, and he easily slides into finding local knowledge, though not without some personal risk to himself. It's going to be interesting to see how this relationship develops. There is danger of course, as secrets long held are finally exposed. I'm really enjoying watching the Cold Case team decide if they should follow anonymous tips or letters received about old unsolved crimes or not. I've read two out of the existing 5 books in the series so far.
They are:
The Coffin Trail (read and reviewed earlier)
The Cipher Garden 5/5

The others are on my shelf, waiting their turn to be read this hot summer!

Jo Nesbo: You all know from my previous reviews (see links just below) how much I love Harry Hole. He's the detective I've fallen in love with. He is the loner here, the wild card, the one who goes off on his own, protected by his immediate boss when he would be thrown out of the force - mostly for insubordination, and not always telling his bosses exactly what he's doing until he's done it. But he gets results, almost always because Harry is persistent. Dogged. Determined. Heroic in the best sense of the word. Certainly not angelic and brings about his own problems. I love how he wants the truth, no matter how much it costs.
The Redbreast

All the above detectives wonder at times what they are doing in the police force, and that the job isn't what it used to be. There is a melancholy about these detectives as they fight their often lonely battle against crime, against criminals who don't care they are breaking the law, and often battle elements within the police force itself - pointless paperwork and staying within the law.

Mostly, these characters have become characters I care about, revealing the world we live in, often standing between us and the darkness that crime threatens to pull us all into. All of these books are very well-written, gripping adventures, heart-breaking in places, with excellent characters and interesting stories to tell. I have the next books in all the series lined up on my shelves to be read shortly. It seems to be a mystery reading summer for me.

What are you reading this summer? Is it unusual for you to be reading what you're reading, or do you have a normal summer fling - beach read - that you reach for when the temperature is hot and all you can do is read? Where you are, have you found you've been doing more reading or less, in our above-average hot summer?


Molly said...

Oh Susan, why are there not more hours in a day? Every one of these series sounds great and I want to read them all!

I had no idea Susan Hill had a mystery series. I really do enjoy her stand-alone works and have decided to place this series at the top of the TBR mystery list.

Stay cool - and read lots!

Anonymous said...

More books to add to the list. I have been curious about susan Hill, picking up her titles more than once but never really getting around to trying one and clearly I should.
Your post made me think about what I enjoy in a good mystery; and it is the depth of characterisation, and the sheer humanist interest that draws me in, and for me often combinded with intelligent observation and ability to find humour in the darkest of situations.
Christopher Fowler is a recent favourite of mine, I am currently waiting for two more titles to arrive in the post.
I always think of mysteries as holiday reading.
Hope things cool down for you soon, I know how draining the hot weather can be.

Kaye said...

ah, I liked your comment about Three Pines - as I was reading The Brutal Telling, I was thinking that I'd love to live there. Louise Penny is a fantastic writer and I hope to read more of her books soon.

zetor said...

Great list of books there, Susan. I have checked out Louise Penny before and mean to add them to my tbr list. Thanks for your comment and yes I have visited Haworth some 14 yrs ago and intend to revisit one day. I would also like to visit Anne's grave in Scarborough sometime.The wonderful Brontes!

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Susan said...

Molly: You do a good job of posting about books I want to read, too! I am like you though, I wish very much for more hours in the day so I can read more. I hope you enjoy the Susan Hill series. Stay cool too!

Book pusher: It's because of you that I am reading Christopher Fowler!! lol I haven't written more about this series because I'm looking for Book 2 so I can read them in order. Loved Book one.

So if mysteries are holiday reading, and we read them the year through, are we wishing we were on holiday all the time?? :-D

Kaye: Yes, I have the Murder Stone to read, and then the Brutal Telling, which I am really looking forward to! She hasn't written many other books that I am aware of, just this series.

zetor: I didn't know that Anne Bronte was buried at Scarborough until after we visited there, or I would have looked up her grave.

I hope you get to Louise Penny one day! One good thing about books is they always wait for us :-)

Cath said...

Wonderful post, Susan! Completely agree about Louise Penny, Susan Hill (have you tried her ghost stories?), Martin Edwards, Elly Griffiths etc. Also enjoyed the first book in Anne Cleeves' Insp. Perez, Shetland Isles series, Raven Black. I think you would like it too.

My reading is not what it should be this summer, so I can identify with your 'only one book read in May' statement. Getting better though. I read John Barrowman's two autobiographical books this month and loved them. Now reading a non-fiction by Sandi Toksvig (British/Danish commedienne, your hubby might know her), The Chain of Curiosity, and it's one of the funniest things I've ever read.

Hope it cools down a bit for you soon. It's quite autumnal here...

Susan said...

Cath: What other ghost stories has Susan Hill written? The Woman in Black scared me so much! I'm thinking of rereading it for this year's RIP challenge. I have Raven Black, by the way, just waiting for an opportunity to read it. It's on my TBR shelf :-D

I hope you are reading more now, Cath. Mine has picked up in July. We have started to get cooler too, last night we all used blankets! I think I saw a red leaf fall off a tree too, though it's much too soon for that.