Recommendations from the SMSA Crime & Mystery Book Club

This month we read comedy crime and have collated our suggestions below:

Vane Pursuit, The Withdrawing Room by Charlotte MacCleod and Murder Goes Mumming as Alisa Craig
Canadian born writer, Charlotte MacLeod also wrote as Alisa Craig and published over 35 crime novels, short stories and non-fiction stories. She was co-founder and past president of the American Crime Writers League. She immigrated to the USA in the 1920s and became a US citizen in 1951. She studied in Boston and had a career in advertising before retiring in 1982. Her first crime novel was published in 1979. She had four different crime series and they could all fall under comedy crime, but are definitely all ‘cosy’ crime with little violence or gore. Our members read four of her books, two were written as Charlotte MacLeod, Vane Pursuit (1989) from the series featuring Prof. Peter Shandy of (fictional) Balaclava Agricultural College and his wife Helen Marsh Shandy, set in New England; and The Withdrawing Room (1981) from the art investigators Sarah Kelling and Max Bittersohn series set among Boston's upper crust on Beacon Hill.

The other two novels were published under Alisa Craig and were set in Canada. One was from the Lobelia Falls Grub-and-Stakers Gardening & Roving Club featuring Dittany Henbit Monk, and Murder Goes Mumming (1981) from the Madoc Rhys of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and his wife Janet Wadman Rhys.

According to wikipedia MacLeod was ‘described as a "true lady" and often seen with hat and white gloves, MacLeod began writing at 6 a.m., continued through the morning, then used the afternoon for rewrites. She only started new books on Sundays and during writing would stay dressed in a bathrobe to avoid temptation of leaving the house for an errand.’ She died in 2005 in Maine after suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.

Dog On It by Spencer Quinn
Spencer Quinn is a pseudonym of crime author Peter Abrahams. Dog On In is the first crime novel written under this name and it seems to be done to distinguish Abrahams existing action crime thrillers and his Echo Falls mystery series from this very different style and tone of the Chet and Bernie mysteries introduced in this novel. These stories are narrated by Chet, a dog, Bernie’s best friend and constant companion. This is a difficult central conceit to do well and thankfully Quinn does this. He keeps the story light and fast paced and once he establishes Chet’s mindset and capabilities, he maintains the logic of the storytelling from this perspective. The result is a delightful romp that gives you asides that we could well imagine could be from a dog, such as food as a distraction and spotty memory that is not related to food.  Bernie Little runs the Little Detective Agency and he and Chet are a detective duo of the old gum shoe mould, driving around in the old convertible solving small crimes that have the tendency to become big.

Rumple and the Age of Miracles by John Mortimer
John Mortimer was an English barrister, author and writer for stage and screen. He is known for creating Horace Rumpole, an English barrister, who defended those accused of crime in London’s criminal courts at the Old Bailey. The character of Rumpole was modeled after Mortimer’s father, Clifford, and was initially created by Mortimer for a BBC Play for Today in 1975. The character of Rumpole was played by Leo McKern and proved to be so popular that a TV series, Rumpole of the Bailey, was devised. In addition to providing scripts for the TV series, Mortimer wrote several books about Rumpole.  According to wikipedia, Mortimer ‘developed his career as a dramatist by rising early to write before attending court, and his work in total includes over 50 books, plays and scripts.’

Rumpole and the Age of Miracles (1988) is a collection of short stories which were also dramatised for the TV series. Rumpole as usual negotiates the case before him with wry humour and sharp observation as well as ensuring that he keeps his wife (also known as ‘she who must be obeyed’) happy. If you were a fan of the TV series, the books are just as much fun and well worth a read.

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The Mysterious Mickey Finn by Elliot Paul
American journalist and author, Elliot Paul wrote 33 books from 1922 to 1957. He fought in World War One in France where he fought in the Battle of Saint-Mihiel and in the Meuse-Argonne offensive. After that war he became a journalist and began to write books inspired by his military experiences in his spare time.  In 1925 Paul left the USA and joined the grouping of authors, artists and musicians in the Montparnasse Quarter of Paris, France. He continued to work as a journalist, first as the international contributor for the Chicago Tribune, then becoming co-editor of the literary journal, transition, before returning to the newspaper business as a journalist for the Paris Herald. He was friends with James Joyce and Gertrude Stein and wrote three more novels during this inter war period before suffering a nervous breakdown. He left Paris and recuperated on the island of Ibiza where he became embroiled in the Spanish Civil War. This caused him to flee Spain back to Paris where he created his amateur detective, Homer Evans. All a bit of a preamble before we even get to the bit about a comedy crime novel. But interesting none the same.

The Mysterious Mickey Finn was his 10th novel published in 1939 and it features Homer Evans. Evans is an American in Paris who becomes involved in trying to solve the mystery of the disappearance of a millionaire. This story is written as comic fiction with flights of fancy and poking fun at the seriousness of hard noir crime fiction of the time. Whether you find it funny or not will depend on your sense of humour.

With the outbreak of World War Two, Paul returned to the USA, where he began writing for Hollywood and continued to do so until 1953. He died in 1958 at the Veteran’s Hospital in Providence, Rhode Island, USA.

Bimbos of the Death Sun by Sharyn McCrumb
Sharyn McCrumb has written over 20 novels and counting. Her first published story was in 1984 with the debut of her character Elizabeth MacPherson, a forensic pathologist in the South in USA. In 1988 she published the first of her two satirical novels set in the world of science fiction conventions and fandom, Bimbos of the Death Sun. The story is set at a fictional science fiction convention in the Virginia suburbs of Washington, DC. The guest of honour, a fantasy author who is unpleasant and not liked is killed with a bullet through his heart. His co-guest of honour, an engineering professor who has written a hard science fiction novel, takes it upon himself to investigate the death.   

McCrumb is known for The Ballad Novels that celebrate the history and folklore of Appalachia Mountains in North Carolina, USA. These novels are studied in universities around the world. In addition she has written the St. Dale series, which she started in 2005, inspired by her love of NASCAR racing and her desire to update Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales.

One for the Money by Janet Evanovich
One For The Money (1999) is the debut of the comedy crime series, written by Janet Evanovich, featuring New Jersey bounty hunter Stephanie Plum. This is the beginning of a long running series that is just as much about the working class community in New Jersey and the interconnectedness of families as it is about a Stephanie’s adventures in bounty hunting. Stephanie is actually good at her job as she is underestimated by those she is looking for, despite what happens to the cars she drives. Her grandma Mazur is the perennial favourite with readers and the first 3 or 4 books in the series are very well written and very funny, however this series is an example of one that should be ties up sooner rather than later.

The Man in the Sopwith Camel by Michael Butterworth
John Michael Butterworth was a British comic book writer who was known for the popular boys' adventure strips, The Rise and Fall of The Trigan Empire. He wrote 22 novels between 1967 and 1987, 10 under the name Carola Salisbury. The Man in the Sopwith Camel (1974) is 'Walter Mitty' like with its focus on an unassuming bank clerk who has the opportunity to rob a bank. It is a caper story with dreamlike elements.

My Very Own Murder by Josephine Carr
Josephine Carr initially wrote young adult novels before writing My Very Own Murder. Her style is light and fast paced and in this novel she is focused on a newly divorced 50 year old Anne who whiles away her time in her luxurious apartment in Washington DC, living the good life. She is a free spirit and completely believes when she hears a voice whispering to her as she was dropping off to sleep that a murder will occur in 30 days, and she must prevent it. Anne and her cleaning woman, Mary, plan to find out what will happen in the next 4 weeks. This novel is a bit of fun if you suspend your disbelief and jump straight in.

The Good Thief's Guide to Paris by Chris Ewan
Chris Ewan is known for his ‘Good Thief’ series, of which this is his third. They feature Charlie Howard, a thief and author of his own crime series, who writes about his exploits in each city he is ‘working’ in. The Good Thief’s Guide to Paris was shortlisted for the Last Laugh Award for best comic crime fiction.

Ewan is British and was born in Taunton, Somerset. He now lives on the Isle of Man. He has written seven novels to date, five of them are in the ‘Good thief’ series.

The Stately Home Murder by Catherine Aird
This is an Inspector Sloan and Constable Crosby novel from Catherine Aird. As the title suggests, there is a murder at a stately home that has just been opened up for public tours. A young boy discovers a dead body in a suit of armour when he lifts the visor. Sloan and Crosby set out to find out who stashed the body and why.

Catherine Aird is a pseudonym for Kinn Hamilton McIntosh. She is a British author of over 25 crime novels that could be classified as cosy or crime procedural. Aird writes with a witty, lyrical style, which makes her books great to come back to time and again.

Riotous Assembly by Tom Sharpe
This is Tom Sharpe's debut novel that is set in South Africa during aparthied in a fictionous town called Piemburg. It was published in 1971. The story focuses on the police in this town investigating a local murder. This gives Sharpe a structure by which to satirise aparthied through the microsom of a town. Sharpe is a British author known for two satirical series, Wilt and Porterhouse Blue and his standalone novels like Riotous Assemby and Blott on the Landscape.

Sharpe spent a decade in South Africa before being deported for sedition for speaking against aparthied. He lived his remaining years in the UK and Spain writing novels. He dies of complications of diabetes in 2013.

Blotto, Twinks and the Bootlegger's Moll by Simon Brett
We have written about another series by Simon Brett featuring Charles Paris, the amateur sleuth and actor, however this series is more of Brett's take on P.G. Wodehouse with brother and sister duo, the goodlooking but rather dumb Honourable Devereux Lyminster (Blotto) and his much more intelligent and equally as goodlooking sister, Twinks. Brett rests on the chummyness and speaking patterns of the English aristocracy clashing with the gangster speak of Prohabition Chicago to provide the tone and 'hilarity' in the novel. It is difficult to right a light farce without it falling flat and if you are into this type of farce it is an ok story, however the slight mocking of the tropes and stereotypes are not enough to offer anything more. We would recommend sticking with the Charles Paris series. 

A Feline Felony by Lael J. Littke
Lael Littke is an American writer who has authored more than 40 novels for children, young adults and adults. A Feline Felony is one of her short stories that was published in an Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine in January 1968. As you can see by the title this is a cat mystery which derives its humour from the observations of cat behaviour and human behaviour.

Littke was born in Omaha, went to university in Utah and now lives in California.

Dr Nightingale Comes Home by Lydia Adamson
Dr Nightingale Comes Home (2003) introduces veterinarian Dierdre (Didi) Quinn Nightingale who runs a practice in New York State in this cozy crime series.  The first novel in the cozy series 2003. Didi investigates the death of her good friend Dick Obey, a dairy farmer, whose body is found horribly mutilated. Adamson is known as the queen of cat myteries with her series about cat sitter and New York actress, Alice Nestleton, and her third series about Lucy Wayles, a librarian who also lives in New York. If you like animals with your crime, this is the book for you.

Filmi Filmi Inspector Ghote by H.R.F. Keating
This is the 10th Inspector Ghote story from Keating published in 1976. Keating has written 26 in the series in total from the 1960s to the 2000s. Inspector Ghote is a detective with the Bombay Police Department during this novel and he is dragged into the world of Bollywood to solve the murder of one of the top villians in the industry. The time in which this story is written is reflected in the condescending characterisation of Ghote and whoever he meets. It is a dated novel. The comedy is described as farcical, however the reader of this book this month did not find it funny. Comedy is subjective.   

Do Butlers Burgle Banks? by P.G. Wodehouse
P.G. Wodehouse is known for his comedy novels featuring the fopish aristocrat Bertie Wooster and his valet Jeeves and the Blanding Castle stories. This novel is a standalone and was written in the last 10 years of his life. Set in the 1930s, Do Butlers Burgle Banks? (1968) brings Chicago gangsters to a small English village where they run a sting on the local 'lord of the manor' who also owns the local bank.  It is an English farce. Wodehouse has a wonderful turn of phrase and is a very gifted writer. He may be seen a lighthearted but this is a very difficult style to write, and even more so do to well. Which he does.