Recommendations from the SMSA Crime & Mystery Book Club

This month the topic was interesting authors. This gave us another wide range of choices and suggestions from old staples such as Agatha Christie and Margery Allingham to buried treasures like Eric Ambler, all who lived very interesting lives. The library at the Sydney Mechanics' School of Arts has a great selection of crime fiction, science fiction, romance and biographies. More so than the typical municiple library. It is in the heart of the city and is a lovely respite from the hustle and bustle of the streets.  You can find out more about it here.

Angel Court Affair by Anne Perry
This is a Charlotte and William Pitt novel, the 30th one actually. Set in Victorian London, William Pitt is a policeman who is married to Charlotte, who is from the aristocracy. As it is the 30th novel, William has risen through the ranks and as the characters have aged through the books. This is a very popular crime series and you get more joy out of reading this novel if you have read previous ones as it is just as much about the characters as it is about plot. Anne Perry was chosen as an interesting author due to her past that came to light in 2003. When she was 15 years old and living in New Zealand, she and her best friend killed the best friend's mother. The story was made into a movie, Heavenly Creatures, by Peter Jackson.  Perry served her time and changed her name upon release. If you would like to read more, click here

Murder in Mesopotamia by Agatha Christie
Murder in Mesopotamia is Agatha Christie's 14th novel and was published in 1936. It is set on an archeological dig in what is now Iraq and features Hercule Poirot, the infamous Belgian detective. Agatha Christie is most probably the most famous crime writer of the early 20th century and you can read about her here. What we are highlighting is those 10 days she disappeared in 1926. Her first husband, Archie, asked for a divorce as he was in love with another woman, and Christie, already a famous author, drove away from her house in Berkshire in early December, not to be seen for over 10 days. There was a nationwide hunt for Christie, with hundreds of volunteers and the press spinning theories and accusations of foul play as her car was found abandoned. There was so much speculation that contempories, Arthur Conan Doyle and Dorothy L Sayers were drawn into solving the puzzle. She was found registered under a false name living in a hotel in Yorkshire in mid-December. Christie claimed to have no memory of the missing days, but soon returned to her life. She divorced Archie in 1928 and remarried in 1930 to archeologist Max Mallowan, whom she travelled with extensively.   

An Expert in Murder by Nicola Upson
We have written about Josephine Tey previously, with the usual top level biographical information on the author. Josephine Tey is a pseudonym for Elizabeth Mackintosh, who was born in Inverness, Scotland. Not much is known about her as she was very private and did not give interviews. Here is what we know: She was a physical education teacher in England until her mother died in 1926 and she returned to Inverness to care for her father; she had a fiancé who died in World War One and never married; she was an accomplished gymnast; she started writing when she lived in Inverness; her writing also included plays which were published under the name Gordon Daviot; she wrote a play for John Gielgud and they became lifelong friends; she referred to her detective novels as her yearly knitting; in 1950 her father died and she moved to Stratham, south England and increased her writing output. An Expert in Murder features a fictional Josephine Tey who solves a murder in the London theatre district in the 1930s at the time the real Josephine Tey was writing plays. This fictional Tey works with Detective Inspector Archie Penrose to find the killer of a young woman who in some way is connected to her latest play. An Expert in Murder (2008) is Upson’s debut, she has written six more featuring the fictional Tey

Better to Rest by Dana Stabenow
Better To Rest is the fourth Liam Campbell novel by Dana Stabenow. Stabenow was born in Anchorage, Alaska in 1950, and she writing crime fiction, science fiction and historical adventures. Stabenow brings the experiences of living in Alaska to vivid life in her crime novels. You can read more about it hereAccording to an article written by Claire E. White in conversation with Stabenow in 2000, "she was raised on a 75-foot fish tender in the Gulf of Alaska. Her mother was a deckhand on a salmon tender called the Celtic, for five years, from the time Dana was in the third grade. Dana and her mother lived on board most of the time. After falling into the hold with a load of fresh fish one day, she refused to eat salmon again until she was 35. When she wasn't seasick, she wrote stories about normal children who lived on shore, and made her mother read them. She claims this was probably some of her best work.”

The Discourtesy of Death and The Gardens of the Dead by William Brodrick
According to Goodreads, ‘William Broderick was born in Bolton, Lancashire in 1960. Having lived in Canada since he was eleven, he went to school in Australia and England, and went on to take a BA in Philosophy and Theology, then a MTh (Master of Theology) and a Degree of Utter Barrister. Brodrick worked on a logging camp in British Columbia, Canada, before joining the Augustinian Friars (1979-1985). He began his life as a friar in Dublin, Ireland, based on a farm that deployed Iron Age techniques bringing him very close to nature. After several years as a friar, he left the order to help set up a charity at the request of Cardinal Hume, The Depaul Trust, which worked with homeless people. In 1991 he became a barrister. He holds British and Canadian citizenship and is married with three children with whom he lives in France.” 

Murder in the Frame by Dave Warner
Murder in the Frame is a light crime novel featuring a former rock star and recluse Andrew ‘The Lizard’ Zirk and is set in Australia. It is the second book in the series written by Dave Warner who is a former punk rocker. In the 1970s he formed the punk band Pus. He formed his next band, The Suburbs in 1977. This band was more successful with a number of hit singles. By the 1980s Warner started to diversify and he wrote a theatre revue, The Sensational Sixties, and later The Sixties and All That Pop. He started writing screenplays in the 2000s, both movies and episodes of Australian TV programs. He wrote his first novel, a crime story, City of Light, which was published in 1995. He started his Andrew Zirk novels in 1998.

The Secret of the Garden by Arthur Gask
Englishman Arthur Gask was born in London in 1869. He trained to become a dentist, which he would be his day job until he died in 195. He married in 1898  and had four children. He divorced and married his children’s nanny in 1909 and had another two children. He and his second wife and their children moved to Adelaide, Australia in 1920. He set up a practice and self-funded the publication of his first book, The Secret of the Sand Hills in 1921. It sold well and he was taken on by a London publisher. He wrote more than a crime novel a year, often set in Adelaide. Many of them became best sellers. He wrote 30 crime novels featuring his main character, Gilbert Larose, 14 short stories and four standalone crime novels. The Secret of the Garden (1924) is a standalone crime novel.

The Fear of the Sign by Margery Allingham and her biography by Julia Thorougood
Born in Ealing, London in 1904, Margery Allingham was the daughter of writers. Not writers of literature in the traditional sense of the word, but of more popular writing, such as stories for women’s magazines (her mother) and pulp stories (her father). She always wrote stories and plays as a young girl, getting published for the first time at the age of eight in her aunt’s magazine. She studied at the Regent Street Polytechnic studying drama and speech-training (she had a stammer since childhood) where she met her husband Philip Youngman Carter, whom he marries in 1927. Her first novel, Blackkerchief Dick was published in 1923, Allingham was 19 years old. It featured occult themes that continued to be prevelent in many of her subsequent novels. This book was not a commercial success, so Allingham wrote some plays and attempted to write a ‘serious’ novel, soon discovering that she preferred a more light-hearted approach. She began writing crime stories. The Crime at Black Dudley was published in 1929. It introduced Albert Campion, who was a minor character in this story. Her publishers encouraged her to develop Campion into her main protagonist and feature him in her next story. She wrote another 16 books and 20 short stories with Campion at the centre. Allingham died from breast cancer at 62 years old. Her final book was completed by her husband.

Journey into Fear by Eric Ambler
This is a great article about Eric Ambler that was published in The Guardian. It really explores his work and life. No point in writing anything further here. Just click on it and read about his life here.

 

The Competition by Marcia Clark
Marcia Clark has written four crime novels featuring her Los Angeles District Attorney Rachel Knight, in addition to some short stories and a non-fiction chronicling Clark’s famous trial as a LA prosecutor, the O.J. Simpson trial in 1995.  She was the prosecutor for the State of California at the time and took on the case herself, along with Christopher Darden, a 15 year veteran of the LA District Attorney’s office. Former American football star, actor and entertainment personality, O.J. Simpson was prosecuted for the murder of his wife, Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ronald Goldman. As a suspect, he was infamously chased through the streets of Los Angeles by the police, driving a black bronco SVU. Filmed by the TV news, this chase became the beginning of a sensational trial that found Simpson not guilty.  Although Clark failed to make her case, Simpson did not ultimately end up a free man. He was found guilty of robbery and kidnapping in 2007. You can read about it here

Coornaki the Ghost Finder by William Hope Hodgson
According to Wikipedia, “Carnacki, the Ghost-Finder is a collection of occult detective short stories by author William Hope Hodgson. It was first published in 1913.” So early pulp fiction. Hodgson was English, the son of an Anglican priest and his wife. He was the second of 12 children and three of his siblings died as young children. The death of a child is a common theme in his work. Hodgson ran away to sea at 13 years old, he was caught and returned to his family, but he did receive permission to become a cabin boy from his father. He was apprenticed for four years, and during that time his father died and Hodgson was left to help support his family. After his apprenticeship he studied and received his mate’s certificate, as such becoming a full time sailor and paid for his services. He was bullied at sea which led him to begin a program of personal training, whereby he developed his body. He was short and of a sensitive nature, with what was described as a beautiful face. He was a target who could now defend himself. In addition to physical health, Hodgson took up photography, honed his marksmanship and kept a journal about his time at sea. At 22 years of age, in 1899, he opened the W. H. Hodgson’s School of Physical Culture, in Blackburn, England. A personal trainer of sorts, who had amongst his clients, members of the Blackburn police force. He courted publicity by appearing on stage in handcuffs and escaping, like Harry Houdini, and doing other feats of physical strength. He discovered in a few years that he could not make a living as a personal trainer and closed down his business. He turned to writing and began to write articles for journals and magazines in 1903. He published his first short story in 1904 and his first novel in 1907. His stories we adventure tales with elements of horror and thrilling crimes. They were popular and he was able to earn a living, even if it was a meagre living. In 1912 Hodgson married and moved to the south of France, as it was cheaper than England. He continued to write. When war broke out in 1914, they returned to England. He joined the University of London’s Officers’ Training Corps and received a commission as a Lieutenant in the Royal Artillery. He was injured in 1916 by being thrown from a horse and was given a mandatory discharge. He refused to stay out of the war and recovered enough to re-enlist. He continued to write articles during this time, mainly about his war experience. He was killed in Ypres in April 1918.

Salinger by David Shields and Shane Salerno
This is seen as the definitive biography of the author of Catcher In The Rye (1951) and Franny and Zooey (1961). Shane Salerno also did a documentary on Salinger released in 2013 and is seen as a companion piece to the biography. He was an unusual man, who had issues with his own identity and had an unusual relationship with the women in his life. You can read about this more here. He fought in World War Two and was affected quite deeply by his experiences. His writing reflects this as well as his ever changing beliefs. Salinger isolated himself and whoever the woman in his life was and his tendency to more extreme approaches to life had him dabble in many 'isms' including early work by L. Ron Hubbard. We recommend reading the biography or watching the documentary to try and understand this quite peculiar man.