Archive for the ‘Mystery’ Category
Public broadcasting currently shows Midsummer Murders, the long-running British detective show. Based on the books by Caroline Graham, the series is set in the fictional, and rather deadly, county of Midsomer.
The second episode of Midsomer Murders (and the first I saw) was based on the novel Written in Blood. It features DCI Barnaby and quirky cast of potential suspects.
The Midsomer Worthy’s Writer’s Circle invites a yearly speaker, and they usually can’t get anyone famous or successful to attend. So when best-selling author Max Jennings agrees to speak, they’re mostly excited. The circle’s secretary, Gerald Hadleigh, is furious, as he never wanted to invite Jennings in the first place.
When Hadleigh is found dead the morning after Jennings speaks to the writers, Barnaby is called in to investigate. Almost everyone in the group has something to to hide, whether embarrassing or sinister. He has to sift through everyone’s secrets and the past to find the murderer.
The TV version ups the ante a bit, adding in an additional murder. Most of the major subplots are brought to the small screen, although the book goes into most of them in more depth. The show is satisfying, using two one-hour episodes to dig into the lives of the potential suspects. Not surprisingly, the novel goes deeper into the lives of the characters, and the subplot with Sue is especially rewarding in the book.
Both the books and TV show are fun, perfect for fans of mysteries set in the English countryside. Barnaby is a likable character both on-screen and in the books. His family is important in both mediums, although his wife and daughter are less entwined in the mysteries in the novels. His sergeant, Troy, is nicer on-screen, which works well for the viewing public.
In addition to Written in Blood, I read several other novels in the Inspector Barnaby series: The Killings At Badger’s Drift, Faithful Until Death, A Place of Safety, and A Ghost in the Machine. All are solidly written and would make good reads for fans of cozy mysteries.
Title: Written in Blood
Author: Caroline Graham
Source: Public Library
Read: March 2012
Jo Nesbo’s The Redbreast is the first Harry Hole novel translated into English, although it’s actually the third in the series. While each Harry Hole novel stands alone, there’s a major plot thread that weaves through The Redbreast, Nemesis, and The Devil’s Star.
As someone who read both Nemesis and The Devil’s Star before reading The Redbreast, I knew how the major plot thread ends, but I didn’t know the reader sees the event happen on the page, and knows the solution the whole time even though the characters (including Hole) are in the dark. This is just one of the many reasons I love these novels.
In The Redbreast, Harry Hole has been promoted to Inspector and transfered to an out-of-the-way desk job after almost causing a diplomatic disaster when the US President visited Oslo. Hole discovers a very expensive rifle was smuggled into Norway, and he’s also assigned to keep tabs on Neo-Nazi events in Norway.
The mystery flashes back to events during World War II, following a Norwegian solider fighting for Germany against the Russians. The story lines eventually converge, but only after a ton of twists, turns, and heartache.
The Redbreast is great for fans of Stieg Larsson and Scandinavian crime fiction.
Title: The Redbreast
Author: Jo Nesbo
Source: Public Library
Read: January 2011
One evening, after searching through the movies on-demand to find something that interested both my movie-watching companion and me, we settled on the film adaptation of The Oxford Murders, starring Elijah Wood and John Hurt. While I liked the movie, I had a few quibbles with it and thought it made some jumps not based in logic or weren’t believable on screen.
It wasn’t until the end credits rolled that I realized the film is based on a novel written by Guillermo Martinez. Since my local library has the book in their collection I knew The Oxford Murders would make an excellent second book for my fifty-two books in one-year challenge.
In The Oxford Murders, a twenty-two year old Argentinean (American in the film) receives a scholarship to study moths at Oxford. His academic advisor recommends he take a room with the widow of her former academic advisor, and so he does. His landlady, a former Enigma code breaker, lives in Oxford with her granddaughter. She’s obsessed with Scrabble and makes him feel welcome. The granddaughter, Beth, and the narrator are attracted to each other but this is never acted upon.
The narrator slowly builds a life in Oxford, working with his advisor and making a few friends through tennis. Then he comes home one day after hitting up the bank so he can pay rent. Professor Seldom, a well-known mathematician and long-time friend of the household, is also arriving at the house. They find the landlady murdered.
Seldom tells police he received a note earlier in the day that read “the first of the series”, and gave him the address of his friend (but no name). There was a circle drawn on the bottom of the note.
More notes appeared, all attached to murders and containing the next symbol in the series. Can Seldom and the narrator decipher the series in time to stop the killer?
Reading a book after seeing is such a strange endeavor since a filmmaker’s view of the story can differ so much any given reader’s interpretation. In this particular case, I knew the end solution, which definitely ratcheted down the suspense. However, it allowed me to appreciate how closely the film mirrored the events of the book while also being more logical. Some of the things I didn’t find believable on screen, like any sort of sexual longing Beth and the protagonist, felt natural in the book. The main character also isn’t obsessed with Professor Seldom, which felt a little too stalkerish and obsessive in the film. While disturbing, the narrator’s whole life isn’t thrown asunder by the murders in the novel, and he continues his education.
The mathematical elements were a nice addition to the story, although sometimes these elements were explained for the sake of the reader and this bogged the story down. In real life, two mathematicians aren’t going to take the time to explain basic mathematical concepts to each other. Rather, they’d talk in mathematical shorthand unique to their field. As a reader I was willing to overlook this because I appreciated the originality of the story and appreciated using mathematics and higher thought to create a serial killer.
Title: The Oxford Murders
Author: Guillermo Martinez
Source: Public Library
Read: January 2011
Looking for gift ideas this Christmas? How about giving a book? Here’s some gift recommendations based on books or series we read during 2011.
The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides
About: Effortless novel from one of our favorites.
Best for: Fans of The Virgin Suicides or Middlesex; people who enjoy character studies; Fans of Jane Austen, and also of Victorian writers.
Also consider: Game of Secrets by Dawn Tripp or The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender.
Short Story Collection
20 Under 40: Stories from the New Yorker
About: Sampling of the hottest short-story authors under 40 years old. Great way to find your favorite new literary author.
Great for: fans of short stories, literary fiction.
Also consider: St Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves by Karen Russell, Smoke and Mirrors by Neil Gaiman.
Adult Dystopian, Sci-Fi, or Fantasy
Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin
About: Game of Thrones is a layered high-fantasy novel with high stakes.
Great for: fans of high fantasy, people who like epic sagas.
Also consider: Greywalker by Cat Richardson
Ghost on Black Mountain by Ann Hite.
Why: Five different female narrators tell the story of Nellie’s unfortunate marriage to Hobbs Pritchard.
Great for: fans of Southern gothic novels, literary ghost stories.
Also consider: Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt
Soulless by Gail Carriger
About: Victorian steampunk with supernatural creatures. Mixes romance and humor with a mystery. Absolutely brillant fun read.
Best for: readers with a sense of humor.
Also consider: Dead Until Dark by Charlaine Harris, Outlander by Diana Gabaldon
Young Adult Dystopian, Sci-Fi, or Fantasy
Feed by M. T. Anderson
About: Ecological and technology issues, sci-fi, and dystopian blend in this YA novel perfect for boys and girls. Also has one of the best first lines ever: “We went to the moon to have fun, but the moon turned out to completely suck.”
Best for: fans of dystopian or sci-fi.
Also consider: Divergent by Veronica Roth, Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson, Daughter of Smoke and Bones by Laini Taylor, and Witchlanders by Lena Coakley.
Young Adult, Contemporary
Please Ignore Vera Dietz by A.S. King
About: Vera’s journey as grieving high school student with broken family has heart, and her journey rings true.
Best for: YA contemporary fiction.
Also consider: Flash Burnout by L.K. Madigan
Cinderella Ate My Daughter by Peggy Orenstein
About: excellent analysis and insight into the “girly-girl” culture invading US society. Go check out the pink toy aisle at your local Target if you don’t believe me.
Good for: parents of daughters, people who deal with children, anyone concerned with the way girls are taught to value themselves.
Also Consider: The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell
On Writing by Stephen King
About: Great advice and insight into King’s journey.
Best for: writers.
Also consider: Save the Cat! by Blake Snyder
A literary agent complained on Twitter about seeing someone read a Monk TV tie-in novel. The complaint wasn’t that someone was reading, but that the publishing industry could be more creative when choosing novels to publish. This made me wonder about the series, and I checked one of the novels out from my local library.
Mr. Monk on the Road is the eleventh (11th!) book in the series about the TV detective. These novels are based on the TV series, as opposed to the show being derived from the books. The 11th novel takes place after the end of the show, and so Adrian is dealing with life after solving his wife’s murder.
My big question when picking up this novel was does the novel satisfying on its own, or does it rely on the TV series? The novel is told in first person from Natalie’s point of view, and having seen the TV show helped me understand her description of Monk’s mannerisms and other quirky attributes. Natalie and Monk essentially kidnap Monk’s agoraphobic brother Ambrose and take him on a road trip in motor home. (Since Ambrose has only left the house twice in thirty years, a motor home will allow him to see things without having to go outside.)
Of course, they stumble upon murders, and Adrian unveils a serial killer. I knew how the murderers were when they were introduced. The ending is a bit rushed as the murder storyline is resolved, and some of the coincidences are a little much. But overall the novel is fun and I can see how uber-fans of the show will enjoy these books.
Since FreakAngels Volume Three ended on a cliffhanger, I had to pick up the fourth installment as well. I’m going to say much about these graphic novels, other than I loved them and really enjoy the series. They’re fast, fun reads set in an interesting world. The writer and illustrator are still world-building, but the stakes for the FreakAngels are getting higher as they take on responsibility for building a new world in Whitechapel.
Title: FreakAngels Volume Three
Author: Warren Ellis and Paul Duffield
Source: Public Library
Read: May 2011
Title: FreakAngels Volume Four
Author: Warren Ellis and Paul Duffield
Source: Public Library
Read: May 2011
Title: Mr. Monk on the Road
Author: Lee Goldberg
Source: Public Library
Read: May 2011
Read by: Kelly
I’ve been on the fence the past few days about reviewing the three—three—books I’ve read in the past week. I enjoyed all of them, but I didn’t want to write an in-depth reviews. But then I realized a short blurb for each book meets the spirit of my 52 books in one year challenge. Plus all of these books are worth mentioning.
Snow Angels is the first in the Detective Vaara series by James Thompson. (The second novel in the series, Lucifer’s Tears was reviewed on this site earlier this year.)
The scenery and climate of Northern Finland during December, aka the darkest days of the years, is as important to the novel as the actual crimes of the novel. Adding to the complexity of the story are facets of the Laestadian religion and Finnish culture. As someone who’s lived in Finland—and has Laestadian ancestors—I appreciated this book on multiple levels, including for its insight into Finnish culture. This is a good series for mystery buffs.
After reading and reviewing Fairest, I picked up Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine from my local library. There’s not much to say other than I loved it. It’s a great retelling of Cinderella. It’s easy to root for Ella as a character, and I love the idea of gifts (like Ella’s gift of “obedience”) turning into curses.
Last of all, since I’ve read all of Rick Riordan’s middle grade novels, I decided to pick up the first in his Tres Navarre mystery series for adults. In Big Red Tequila, Tres Navarre returns to his hometown of San Antonio to rekindle a relationship with his childhood sweetheart. He left town ten years before after seeing his Sheriff father gunned down in the front yard of his home. His father’s murder was never unsolved, and now it’s time for Tres to use the private investigator/English PhD/tai chi skills he honed in San Francisco.
Big Red Tequila is a fun read, and it’s definitely meant for an adult audience. Robert Johnson, Tres’ cat, is perhaps the best drawn character in the novel. The setting—San Antonio, Texas—adds color to the novel. This is a good choice for mystery fans.
The Multnomah County Library has a “if You Like Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with The Dragon Tattoo, You Might Enjoy . . .” list on their site, which led me to reserve Lucifer’s Tears by James Thompson. The novel had several things going for it: it’s set in Finland, and as I’ve lived there, this intrigued me. The story itself sounded interesting. Inspector Vaara is asked to investigate an elderly national hero who may or may not have committed war crimes during World War II. At the same time, Vaara is investigating a gruesome torture-and-murder case with political ramifications.
I really enjoyed this novel. The author clearly understands Finland, and according to the author’s bio Thompson has lived in Finland for a number of years and speaks the language fluently. (Trust me, that’s no easy task.) He highlighted the uniqueness of the Finnish culture against Vaara’s American in-laws, and it worked. Neither side felt like caricatures.
The mysteries themselves came to conclusions I didn’t expect, and did justice to both the novel and characters. Vaara’s home life is as important to the novel as the crimes themselves. It’s nice to see a detective in a novel with dynamic, loving home life. I liked the usage of Finnish names and the locations within Helsinki. Plus, the characters drink kossu!
If I was going to highlight flaws in the novel, I’d say two things:
1. I would have preferred to read the first in this series, Snow Angels, before reading Lucifer’s Tears. I hadn’t realized this was a series until I’d gotten a few pages into the novel.
2. While I liked the introspective tone, I thought the author slipped into a telling voice too often. For example, instead of telling the reader that Vaara and his new partner Milo hadn’t worked together for very long, he could have shown us. This happens throughout the novel, and while it occasionally jolted me out of the reading experience, it didn’t stop me continuing.
I’m definitely interested in checking out Snow Angels, especially since its set in Northern Finland.
At first, I wasn’t going to blog about In Dublin’s Fair City. Not because it’s a bad book—it’s a solid cozy, I enjoyed it, and it was the perfect book to relax with after surgery—but I don’t blog about every book I read. But then I realized this novel complements Kim’s genre post.
In Dublin’s Fair City is the sixth Molly Murphy Mystery. The series is primarily set in New York City, although this novel also takes place in Ireland. The novel references events from earlier books which can be confusing if you haven’t read other books in the series, or don’t remember the details.
From a genre level, this novel checks two major boxes: historical fiction and mystery. It’s shelved with mysteries, which makes sense. The author, Rhys Bowen, is both an Anthony and Agatha award-winning author. I’d also guess this novel would appeal to mystery fans first and historical fiction fans second.
Does this novel succeed in both genres? I’d say yes. The mystery is solid; can Molly find the missing sister of her client? (Note: Molly is a PI.) Who killed Rose, the servant of a famous actress, and also—sort of—Molly’s client? Like the earlier books, a series of coincidences helps Molly solve the mysteries, although Molly is no slouch intellectually.
Does the historical aspects ring true, and does it add to the story? Yes, and yes. I’m not sure how realistic an early-1900 female private investigator is, but I’m willing to buy it. Seeing aspects of an English-occupied Ireland adds interesting flavor to the book.
To quote my comment about cozies in the genre post, this is the sort of novel I’d give to my mom. But I won’t give this particular book to my mother—I’m sure she’s already read it.
Title: In Dublin’s Fair City
Author: Rhys Bowen
Read: March 2011
Source: Public Library
I’m not sure what got me thinking about the use of genre. Perhaps it was an interview I was reading on Patricia Highsmith. She’s one of my favorite authors and is widely known, primarily for her works Strangers on a Train and The Talented Mr. Ripley. She brought up a good point about how in the states her work is classified as mainly suspense, though in the UK, she is classified as a much more literary writer. The same has happened to Stephen King, who undoubtedly writes horror and suspense, but is largely skilled as a literary writer as well. (Many people don’t know he wrote The Shawshank Redemption, for example.)
Literary vs Genre
I do think it’s interesting to point out the difference between literary and genre fiction, mainly because I didn’t know the difference until only a few years ago. Genre fiction is usually classified as a plot driven novel. Literary fiction is classified as such because of the author’s use of literary techniques in the work, and because the story usually focuses on character development rather than plot development. To over simplify: genre fiction is a good beach read and literary fiction is that serious novel you’ve picked up for English class.
Purpose of Classification
The reasons we classify books are endless, but one interesting aspect about classification stood out to me in reading an article in Publisher’s Weekly. It talked about how there are a certain number of readers who specifically won’t pick up a book (or conversely, will pick up a book) based entirely on its genre. For example, there are ‘serious’ literary readers who would never pick up a suspense or mystery novel and similarly there are readers who would never venture into the science fiction and fantasy section of a bookstore or library, even if the book, read outside of that distinction, would be a great read. Think about some of the classics. Fahrenheit 451 for example, is clearly a science fiction (or dystopian) novel, yet overtime it has been reclassified with higher literary merits and has been taken off of sci-fi shelves and placed into literary fiction sections. This is just one example, but it does shed an interesting light on how novels and their audiences respond to this sort of thing. Interestingly, Shakespeare was a complete genre writer. He wrote for the masses and for the purpose of entertainment. Today, however, he is studied scrupulously in classrooms around the world as a literary genius.
Use of Genre
I’ve read countless articles about how first time authors misclassify their novels when submitting to agents and publishers. Calling the book YA for example, when the book doesn’t have a Young Adult protagonist. Or, calling the book out as something like a Fact-Based novel (no joke, I’ve seen this!) instead of the more widely known and much more appropriate, historical fiction. Now this isn’t necessarily the worst crime to commit, because there has been an emergence of new genre into the world of fiction. For example, a new genre in the mix is being called steampunk fiction, which I mistakenly called steamboat fiction, and which also highlights my limited experience with new and emerging genre trends. And thus, I leave you here with Kelly. She has an extremely wide breath of reading interests and I thought her thoughts on the matter would be not only interesting but helpful for the post.
Oh, genre novels, how I love thee. And how hard it is to define thee. Yet being able to define a novel helps you determine its market and how to publicize it, which is one of the key elements to book publicity.
I’ll break out the major genres and try to define both it and its sub-genres. These are all labels, and one novel might fit into several genres at once. For example, if you have paranormal-mystery-romance filled with supernatural beings, like The Southern Vampire series? How would you market it? Or shelve it in a bookstore?
Fantasy and Science Fiction: Fantasy and Sci-Fi are distinctly different, yet they can also crossover. Science fiction is based on what is possible, even if the technology doesn’t currently exist. Think Star Trek. Everything on the show is theoretically possible. Fantasy, meanwhile, involves elements that don’t actually exist, like magic, ghosts, etc.When most people think of a fantasy novel, they probably think of High Fantasy. Think George R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire, or Star Wars. High Fantasy creates an entirely new or parallel world, and like most fantasy generally has a strong good versus evil component.
And then there’s urban fantasy. If you read a fantasy novel set in our world, but with fantastical elements, you’ve read urban fantasy. Vampires, shapeshifters, and other supernatural creatures are mainstays of this genre, although they are not requirements.
Steampunk is a mix of speculative fiction, science fiction, and alternative history, and is generally set in a time period that uses steam power. Steampunk is frequently, but not exclusively, Victorian. It can also fall into the science fiction or fantasy camp depending upon the novel.
There are other sub-genres in both science fiction and fantasy. For example, Cyberpunk focuses on the dark impact of technology and human nature. Neuromancer by William Gibson is considered a seminal work of the genre. Note: some of my favorite science fiction and fantasy novels use their unique elements to make a point about our world. For example, Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five uses time travel and aliens as a way to craft his authorial message. Keeping to the normal boundaries of time and space would have greatly changed his message. Or think of Clockwork Orange, and how it uses science fiction to create a chilling, disturbing story.
Historical Fiction: Historical fiction is, simply, fiction set in the past. Attention to period details and speech is vital. (So, for example, an eighteenth century nobleman can’t use an acrylic towel to dry his face, since acrylic fiber was developed by Du Pont in 1941.) Sub-genres include historical mysteries, romances, etc.
Mystery: Mysteries show the protagonist solving some sort of riddle or problem, such as a death, disappearance, etc. You know what’s the hardest part of describing the genre? Figuring out how to define the word “mystery!” The genre is filled with sub genres that spawn the spectrum from light and funny to depressingly dark, and everywhere in-between. For example, The Cozy is a warm mystery filled with quirky characters. While murder might be at the heart of the story, the mystery isn’t graphic or violent, and the mystery isn’t full of detailed technical analysis of blood splatter, or similar. The protagonist will probably solve the mystery due to his or her understanding of human nature. Think of Alexander McCall Smith’s Number 1 Ladies Detective Agency, or Rhys Bowden’s Evan series (Evan Help Us, etc). These are the types of mysteries I buy for my mother.
Some Mystery sub genres include Noir/Hard-boiled: Think Raymond Chandler or Dashell Hammet. These novels are cynical and show us the dark place of the human soul. Police Procedural: These mysteries are shown from the perspective of the police. Politics, science, and the psychology of the officers might be components of the mystery. The Amateur Sleuth: The protagonist isn’t a police officer, PI, or other trained investigator, but ends up investigating the mystery. The Aurora Teagarden and Lily Bard novels by Charlaine Harris are examples of this genre.
Romance: Truth be told, this is the genre I’ve read the least. Like the others, there’s a variety of sub-genres. Romance is generally defined as having a love story at its core with an emotionally satisfying ending.
One of the hottest areas of romance today seems to be paranormal romance. Think Twilight. Normal, clumsy teenage girl falls in luuuvvv with vampire. They fall into a chaste love. But look beyond vampires, the fae, and other magical creatures; stories of psychics, time-travel, ghosts, etc, can be elements of paranormal romances.Other subgenres include—but are not limited to—historical romance, romantic comedy, time travel (think the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon), and Western. Note that romance doesn’t necessarily mean sexual (and note that erotica is its own genre). Some romance novels can be racier, while others aren’t graphic.
And so there you have it. Just a small examination of genre and how it’s being used/viewed today. Keep in mind there is much more to be said about genre and the classification of books, and what we’ve done here is only crack the surface. Feel free to leave us a comment about your favorite genre, or about an interesting element on genre that we didn’t mention in the post.
Netflix recommended the BAFTA-winning TV show A Touch of Frost to me, and so I watched the first episode. Since I enjoy British police procedurals I checked the first novel of the Frost series out of the library.
Frost at Christmas rehashes the same mystery as the pilot of the TV show, although the TV show made several changes. The core mysteries are still the same. Eight-year-old Tracey disappears after leaving Sunday school. While searching for Tracey, police finds the remains of a skeleton tied to a bank robbery from 1961.
The multiple storylines—the missing child and the cold bank robbery—are mixed up with other, less-drawn cases that Frost inadvertently solves, like the stolen electronic equipment. Frost calls himself inefficient and bumbling, and sometimes lets other detectives take credit for his work. Yet he’s the one who ultimately sheds light on multiple crimes, and he’s warm-hearted and humorous. His character can be coarse and makes crude remarks at inopportune times, but he also works long hours and clearly cares about solving cases. He’s likable and sympathetic. I can see why this novel was picked up as a TV series . . . that ran for eighteen years.
Frost has a brand new Detective Constable under his wing, the newly promoted Clive Barnard who happens to be the nephew of a police bigwig, and the juxtaposition of the two makes an entertaining contrast. Barnard isn’t as likable as Frost, but as he also wants justice he makes a nice counterpart. None of the characters—Tracey’s prostitute mother, the drunk homeless man who is sure the police stole a quid from him—feel like caricatures.
Frost in Winter is a little grittier than a cozy, but it’s not graphic or overly violent by any means. It should appeal to a wide range of mystery and crime fans.
Title: Frost At Christmas
Author: R. D. Wingfield
Source: Public Library
Read: March 2011