Recommendations from the SMSA Crime & Mystery Book Club

The theme for this batch of recommendations is book series that you like. This theme resulted in a joyful discussion on authors and characters that ended up like a trip across Europe into North Africa.  More information on the Sydney Mechanics School of Arts Crime and Mystery reading Group can be found here.

The Kiss Murder by Mehmet Murat Somer (Kenneth Dakan - Translator)
The Kiss Murder (2008) is the first book in The Turkish Delight (Hop-Ciki-Yaya) series from Mehmet Murat Somer, which have been translated into English and done very well. Mehmet Murat Somer was born in Ankara, Turkey and studied and worked as an engineer before becoming a banker. In 1994 he became a management consultant. The unnamed heroine of the book is a male computer technician by day and a transvestite hostess of a nightclub in Istanbul by night and s/he becomes embroiled in the underworld of Istanbul when one of the 'girls' from the nightclub comes to him for help.  The series is described as charming and page-turning, so something to sample at least.

The Ghost Runner by Parker Bilal
Parker Bilal is the pseudonym of Jamal Mahjoub who writes in English. Born in London, he is the child of a British and Sudanese parents. He has lived over the years in the UK, Sudna, Cairo and Denmark. He currently lives in Barcelona. The Ghost Runner is the third novel in the Makana series, named after its lead character, Private Investigator Makana. The book is set in 2002 just as the US forces enter the West Bank after the 11 September attacks in the USA. Makana is living in Cairo at the time, in exile from his native Sudan. He is not in a good emotional space and becomes involved in looking for the murder of a teenage girl. The book follows his travels to Siwa, an oasis town on the edge of the Sahara Desert in search of the murderer.

This series highlights the everyday life of an area of the world that continues to be in turmoil from internal and external political, religious and social forces. 

Bruno, Chief of Police by Martin Walker
This debut novel from Martin Walker introduces you to  Benoît Courrèges, aka Bruno, a policeman in St Denis, a small village in present day South of France.  Bruno is aiming to have a quiet life and has chosen to live in a small village in the South of France to do just that. He is a former soldier who was wounded while serving in the UN peacekeepers during the siege of Sarajevo. Bruno  likes his routines and calm life and that is disrupted when there is a murder on his patch of an elderly North African who fought in the French army.

Martin Walker used to be a foreign correspondent for the British newspaper, The Guardian,  in the USSR, USA, Europe and Africa. He has written non-fiction history books on the Cold War and 20th Century USA. He, like his creation, is looking for a calm life in the Perigold region of rural France.

Gardens of the Dead by William Brodrick
This is series set in England about Father Anselm, a barrister turned monk. In Gardens of the Dead, the second in the series, Father Anselm becomes involved in solving a mystery when one of his former barrister colleagues dies and it is revealed that she was trying to resolve a case they both worked on when Father Anselm was Anselm Duffy Q.C. The story weaves questions around justice, innocence and redemption throughout the plot. 

William Brodrick was born in Bolton, Lancashire and grew up in Australia and the UK. He joined the Augustinian Friars in Dublin, Ireland in 1979. He lived several years as a friar before he left the order to set up a charity for homeless people. In 1991 he became a barrister. Broderick holds British and Canadian citizenship and is married with three children. He now lives in France. 

The Raven's Eye by Barry Maitland
Barry Maitland has been recommended before by this group, twice. For our recommendation on The Raven's Eye, Maitland's latest novel, go here.  For our recommendation on The Marx Sisters, the first novel from the Brock and Kolla series, go here

Barry Maitland has written twelve novels in total in the series. To quote his website, "the books have been described as whydunits as much as whodunits, concerned with the devious histories and motivations of their characters. Barry's background in architecture drew him to the structure of the mystery novel, and his books are notable for their ingenious plots as well as for their atmospheric settings, each in a different intriguing corner of London."

Lewis Island Trilogy by Peter May
Like Maitland, Peter May has been recommended before by our Mystery and Crime Reading Group. To find our recommendation on The Blackhouse, the first novel in the trilogy, go here, and for our recommendation for The Chessmen, the  last novel in the Lewis Island trilogy, go here.

The Lewis Man is the middle novel and it centres around the discovery of a body in the peat bog off the Isle of Lewis. First believed to be a find for the history books, it is revealed by the discovery of an Elvis tattoo on the body that it is a victim of a very twentieth century crime.

Some Must Watch by Ethel Lina White
Also known as The Spiral Staircase, Some Must Watch (1933) is a mystery set in an isolated country home in Wales called The Summit. It focuses on an assortment of people in this house, Helen Cadel (a lady's companion), Professor Warren (the head of the household), his sister Blanche (who is also his housekeeper), his aunt (who is a bit sinister), his whiny son, his high maintenance daughter-in-law, his student and two servants. So it is a big house. Young girls have been murdered in the neighbourhood and this threat starts to infiltrate the house. Tension ratchets up, behave weirdly and everything is not what it seems. It was so popular as a novel it made into a movie three times. 

Ethel Lina White wrote 17 novels in total, her first three being mainstream novels before starting on crime writing in 1931. She was a well known and popular writer in the 1930s and 1940s and two other of her novels were made into movies. Namely The Wheel Spins (1936) which became The Lady Vanishes, directed by Alfred Hitchcock and Midnight House (1942) made into The Unseen.

Ethel Lina White was born in Wales in 1876 and died in 1944. Her novels were not a series.

Silent Voices by Ann Cleeves
We have recommended Ann Cleeves before, however it was in relation to her Shetland Island series, and you can read that here. Silent Voices (2011) is the fourth novel in the Vera Stanhope series that Cleeves began writing in 1999. These novels have been made into a TV show in the UK called Vera, with Brenda Blethyn in the lead role.

Vera is a Detective Inspector with the Northumberland police and she works with her colleague Sergeant Joe Ashworth to solve murder cases. Vera does not play nicely with others but she gets results and much of the series is about delving in behind the masks people wear in everyday life to get to the issues below. 

Skeleton Road by Val McDermid
Skeleton Road is the third in Val McDermid's Inspector Karen Pirie series. Inspector Pirie lives in Fife, Scotland and is a cold case expert. Like the two previous novels featuring Pirie, Skeleton Road is about the remains of a body found in a Victorian Gothic building in the historic part of Edinburgh that is being developed into new flats. Pirie tracks the case to former Yugoslavia and the Balkan Wars of the 1990s.

Val McDermid is very good writer and her novels are always complex with great plots intertwined with a study of psychological impulses of killers as well as those who hunt them. McDermid has three well known as established series that we have recommended before. Go here to see that recommendation.  She has also written over a dozen standalone novels. 

Spies of Warsaw by Alan Furst
Alan Furst is an American author how writes historical spy novels set in the first half of the twentieth century. Spies of Warsaw (2008) is the tenth in the Night Soldiers novels that Furst began writing in 1988. Each novel has different protagonists, however he has a cast of secondary characters that appear in a number of the stories across the series.

Spies of Warsaw is set in a pre-World War Two Warsaw where French and German spies are playing deadly games that involve the underworld and the elite. Each major European country seems to have a spy in play in town and everyone who is anyone is a piece on the chessboard in the lead up to war.

 Spies of Warsaw was made into a British TV miniseries in 2013. 

Mystery Muses: the 100 Classics That Inspire Today's Mystery Writers by Jim Huang & Austin Lugar
According to the Crumb Creek Press website, Jim Huang and Austin Lugar asked 100 published crime writers: 

"Did a mystery set you on your path to being a writer? 
Is there a classic mystery that remains important to you today?"

These crime writers penned each penned an essay with these two questions in mind and Huang and Lugar edited these essays for this collection. The essays range from insights into Patricia Highsmith, Denis Lehane, golden age authors such as Agatha Christie and Dorothy L Sayers, and hard boiled legend Raymond Chandler. The essays are arranged in order of the classic novels they cover so there is a sense of change and history in the collection.

Spirit of Steamboat by Craig Johnson
Spirit of Steamboat (2013) is a Christmas themed novella from the writer of the  Walt Longmire series set in Wyoming, which has been made into a TV series called Longmire

Good Reads website puts the plot succinctly, "Sheriff Walt Longmire is reading A Christmas Carol in his office on 24 December when he is interrupted by the ghost of Christmas past: a young woman with a hairline scar across her forehead and more than a few questions about Walt's predecessor, Lucian Connally. Walt doesn't recognise the mysery woman, but she seems to know him and claims to have something she must return to Connally. With his daughter, Cady, and his undersheriff Vic Moretti in Philadelphia for the holidays, Walt is at loose ends, and despite the woman's reticence to reveal her identity, the agrees to help her.

At the Durant Home for Assisted Living Lucian Connally is several tumblers into his Pappy Van Winkle's and swears he's never clapped eyes on the woman before. Disappointed, she whispers "Steamboat" and begins a story that takes them all back to Christmas Eve 1988, when three people died in a terrible crash and a young girl had the slimmest change of survival....back to a record-breaking blizzard, to Walt's first year as sheriff, with a young daughter at home and a wife praying for his safety...back to a whisky-soaked World War II vet ready to fly a decommissioned plane and risk it all to save a life."    

In the Morning I'll Be Gone by Adrian McKinty
This is the third novel in The Troubles Trilogy from Irish writer Adrian McKinty's Sean Duffy novels. McKinty was born in Belfast, Northern Ireland in the late 1960s and grew up in Carrickfergus, County Antrim. He lived in New York city and Denver in the USA in the 1990s and early 2000s. He now lives in Melbourne, Australia. 

His novels are set in the early 1980s in Ireland and focus on the Irish 'troubles'. Sean Duffy in a Catholic cop in the Protestant Royal Ulster Constabulary. He is caught between the Irish and the British during Margaret Thatcher's time as UK Prime Minister and the plot delves into this contentious time in British/Irish relations and involves an IRA master bomber, MI5, and the British Conservative Party Conference in Brighton in 1984, where Mrs Thatcher is giving the keynote speech. If you want to know why this occasion is important in the conflict, you can click here

Ratking & Dead Lagoon by Michael Dibdin
Ratking (1988) is the first in the Aurelio Zen series by Michael Dibdin, and Dead Lagoon (1996) is the fourth. Dibdin wrote 11 novels in total featuring Zen, and unfortunately died in 2007 just after finishing the last book in the series. 

Zen is an Italian Police Commissioner and is part of the elite Italian Criminalpol squad stationed in Rome. He is described as middle-aged and "disgusted with - but begrudgingly resigned to - the political bog of corruption and cynicism with which he has to work". These books are a mixture of police procedure and psychological suspense, Dibdin gives us a way into the dealings of the modern Italian police force. They were made into a British TV series in 2011. 

Berlin Noir Trilogy by Philip Kerr
We have recommended this trilogy before, read here. This trilogy is set in Nazi Germany pre World War Two and features Detective Barnie Gunther. The first novel in the trilogy is March Violets (1989) and is set at the time of the Berlin Olympics in 1936. The Pale Criminal (1990) is set two years later and Bernie is investigating the death of Aryan teenage girls. The frog is no longer being slowly boiled in Berlin in relation to how the Nazi regime is impacting every day life for all Germans, especially those who do not support the Nazi party but identify themselves as patriotic Germans. It is basically a nightmare, and Kerr does not shy away from this. It can make this trilogy a difficult read, but it is a fascinating one. The third novel is A German Requiem (1991) is set after World War Two in 1947, and the Russians and the Americans are the new masters of Berlin and Bernie is navigating the shortages that dominate the city as well as the new politics of what becomes the Cold War.

Buried Angels by Camilla Lackberg
Buried Angels (2014) is the eighth (and latest) novel in the Patrik Hedstrom/Erica Falck series from Swedish writer Camilla Lackberg. Her first novel in the series, The Ice Princess, was published in 2003. Patrik is a detective in a small fishing village, Fjallbacka, and his wife, Erica is a crime writer. The books are as much a look at a working partnership as a police procedural and they take the reader into the life of a community that is reliant on the land and the sea. 

Buried Angels focuses on a cold case about a family that vanished from their home on an idyllic island off the coast over Easter in 1974 leaving their one year old daughter Ebba behind. 40 years later Ebba has returned to find out what happened.