Mysteries and more mysteries

Catching up with that summer reading list would be a lot easier if I didn’t keep adding as I go; I’m still wondering what happened to my one in one out rule? You know, no new books unless I finish one old one first.


Yes, pretty funny, I know and completely undoable. The first book in a series inevitably forces you to read the second one, and then there are those book groups that churn out one read a month each. The Usual Suspects is most indictable I’m afraid, because I am admittedly, confessionally speaking, a mystery addict.

Elizabeth George, whom I had the pleasure of hearing speak last year at Third Place Books (Yes, independent bookstores thrive I Seattle despite the fact that Amazon opened its one and only brick and mortar presence here), first created her long-running detective duo in 2006. Detective Inspector Lynley and his seemingly hapless but brilliant partner, Barbara Havers began their tumultuous relationship in the pages of A Great Deliverancea first novel for George that illustrates how well a tightly written mystery can deliver its punches, create memorable, empathetic protagonists, and pave the way for a financially successful writing career. Ditto for Louise Penney and her Inspector Gamache series, which debuted in 2005 with Still LifeCuriously, Penney’s second book, A Fatal Grace shares a number of elements with George’s Deliverance. It would spoil the fun if I gave too much away, but suffice it to say both stories center around an unlovely pre-teen with even more unlikeable parents.

In a few days I’ll be heading out to board the QMII enroute to Southampton. This transatlantic crossing is part of a Road Scholar program themed around the English murder mystery.  So, of course, I will be binge watching Inspector Morse and Midsomer Murders as well as rereading some old favorites in preparation for seven days at sea with daily lectures on the genre and four days touring around London and Oxford.  I will keep you posted on my progress!

Magpie Murders – Double Troubles

If anyone could be expected to play well with the murder mystery genre, it would be Anthony Horowitz, novelist and screenwriter for the likes of Foyle’s War and Midsomer Murders, not to mention (though of course I am doing just that) eleven episodes of Agatha Christie’s Poirot. And play with the genre is precisely what Horowitz does with the Magpie Murders. In The Elements of Mystery Fiction, William Tapply provides budding mystery writers with a list of no-nos—the not so obvious pitfalls of poor detective fiction. Horowitz might have read and certainly must have enjoyed tinkering with nearly each of Tapply’s taboos.  Continue reading

A Bucket of Books


A fellow blogger suggested putting together a ‘bucket list’ of books we need to read before—well, in my case, before the end of summer. My collection is a bit eclectic, and the choices I’ve made were sometimes impulsive, not necessarily with a great deal of forethought. Take Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz, for example. I bought this on the first day of its release (June 6, 2017) mostly because I loved the cover and only then did I pay attention to the author, who just so happens to be the writer responsible for many of my favorite Midsomer Murders episodes, and only then did I read the first chapter and decide it was going to be time well spent reading. And how was I to pass up a title like Tova Reich’s One Hundred Philistine ForeskinsThis tantalizing satire was passed along to me by a good friend; caveat though to those unfamiliar with the alternative universe of orthodox Judaism, you might want to find someone who is or keep Google open to look up unfamiliar terms. Continue reading

The Usual Suspects

Mysteries have long been a favorite genre of mine. Beginning with Agatha Christie and Dick Frances as a teenager, I became an early addict to these compelling reads. Decades later I am still hooked. Recently, I moved to the Pacific Northwest where finding a reading group is as simple as a trip to one of the many (still) independent book sellers that thrive in our neighborhoods. “The Usual Suspects” is one such group that I have joined, sponsored by the local branch of the University of Washington bookstore . We are a new group, on our fifth mystery novel, and speaking for myself, having a grand old time talking about our passion.

This month’s read was Donna Leon’s first Comissario Guido Brunetti mystery, Death at La Fenice (1992). Though I understand it is difficult to classify mystery writing, I think Guy Magar’s categories (and their historical derivation) are helpful: Private Detective Stories, The Cozy Mystery, Historical Mysteries, Police Procedurals, Legal Thrillers, and the necessary other, “everything else”. Death at La Fenice would fall into the Historical category first – it is set in Venice during the 1950s – and perhaps police procedural second (though as one of our members pointed out, the story is a bit short on actual police procedure), and third, the means of death might earn this story a place in the “Cozy” section of the bookshelf. I don’t want to have to issue a SPOILER ALERT here, but another of our members with a doctorate in pharmacology provided us with a quick lesson on the offending substance that makes a star appearance in Brunetti’s case.

Continue reading