Hard to Find or Forgotten Crime & Mystery Novels

Recommendations from the SMSA Crime & Mystery Book Club

This month we recommended books that were published in the decade that members of the club were born. Here they are:

Night Has a Thousand Eyes by Cornell Woolrich
Written in 1945, when Woolrich was 42 years old. He was an unhappy man who was a homosexual who had a very brief marriage and then lived with his mother until her death in 1957. He then became a recluse. He struggled with diabetes and alcoholism and was quite miserable. However, he could write a cracking yarn full of a sense of doom. The Night Has a Thousand Eyes is about two people who seem to have everything in life but an obsession with death plagues them to the extent that all attempts they make to avoid death leads them right to it. Woolrich delves into the layers of a character, eroding their worldly positions to their instinct to fight, flight or fright, and in this case it is fright.  Well worth a read.

Fletch by Gregory McDonald
Fletch, the investigative journalist who was brought to life by Chevy Chase in the 1985 hit movie, was brought into being in the novel of the same name just over a decade earlier. Written by Gregory MacDonald, I.M. Fletcher, who hates his given names of Irwin Maurice and is known as ‘Fletch’ is a hot-shot reporter for a LA newspaper. At the age of 28 years old, he has two ex-wives, who are demanding alimony, a demanding editor and some military men who want to give him the Bronze Star for his service in Korea. While trying to dodge all these demands on his time, Fletch becomes involved in a scheme to help a man kill himself in a week’s time. The writing is fast, sharp and with an underlying wit. It is dialogue driven as it sketches the circumstances in rapid fire. Upon its’ success MacDonald wrote nine other Fletch novels. However these books were not chronological and jumped all over Fletch’s life, so do not rely on the publishing date for guidance if you like to read them in order of Fletch’s experiences.

The Friends of Eddie Coyle by George V. Higgins
Published in 1972, The Friends of Eddie Coyle has had a resurgence in popularity and identification as an American crime classic recently with a reissue of the book with a forward by Denis Lehane. Like Lehane, George V Higgins is a Boston writer who focuses on the intricacies of the city’s cultural influences, the American working class and the mix of the criminal world with the police force. Higgins was a lawyer who worked as a legal assistant and a deputy assistant attorney general in Boston from 1967 -69, working his way up to a special assistant US attorney from 1973-74. During this time there was a small gang war between the Irish and Italian criminal networks in Boston, and Higgins prosecuted a number of related murders. Part of his job was to listen to numerous wire taps of suspects, and these hours and hours of conversations directly impacted his writing style. The Friends of Eddie Coyle is a short, dialogue driven novel that focuses on a small time criminal Eddie Coyle who is about to go back to jail and is looking for a way out of this fate. He turns informant to try and negotiate his release and the consequences of this decision is the heart of the novel. It is a masterful novel that must have influenced David Simon when he was creating and writing the TV program The Wire. The realism and tone is very similar.

The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler
Published in 1939, The Big Sleep revolutionised the crime novel. This article gives insight into why Chandler wrote the way he did.  As the article says, Chandler’s literary hero was Dashiell Hammett, whose crime novels were initially seen as American pulp, and he was captivated by the completely different way of approaching a murder story. The Big Sleep is his most well known story, mainly due to the Humphrey Bogart/Lauren Bacall movie from 1946. The real life romance of Bogart and Bacall became synonymous with novel and added to the allure of the crime story. Chandler introduced the world to his hardboiled private detective, Philip Marlowe, as well as a first person narrative with short, sharp sentences full of tone and atmosphere.

The story starts with Marlowe being hired by General Sternwood to track down the gambling IOUs and the nude photographs of his younger daughter, Carmen. As Marlowe sets upon his task he becomes more embroiled in the whole family and their activities, especially with Vivian, Carmen’s older sister, who is married to the expatriated and now missing I.R.A. veteran Rusty Regan. How the plot comes together is the subject of many discussions about The Big Sleep. However, this novel is more about the journey than the destination. 

The Little Man from Archangel by George Simenon
First published in English in 1957, this bleak mystery by Belgian Georges Simenon is set in a small market town in France after the Second World War. It is a story of prejudice, isolation and loneliness. It is about an unassuming, physically small man, Jonas Milk, who had come to the town after the war from Russia and had married a promiscuous younger French woman.  Jonas runs the second-hand book shop and puts up with his wife’s habit of going a way for a few days with another man, as she always returns to him. One day Jonas wakes to find that his wife has disappeared and proceeds to lie to his neighbours about her whereabouts. When his wife fails to return, rather than face the truth about his wife’s infidelities, Jonas maintains his lie in the face of his neighbours hostility and accusations and soon spirals into despair.

Jonas’ stance and actions are informed by his experiences during the war. As a Russian Jew, his family was either killed or scattered during the Russian revolution and the Second World War. His choice to settle in the French village was an attempt to replace his family and be accepted into a community. Their subsequent rejection of him because of his wife’s disappearance is devastating to Jonas. Don’t let the bleakness put you off, it is well written and compelling. Georges Simenon was a prolific writer known for his Inspector Maigret stories. This standalone story was written in the middle of his career.

Busman's Honeymoon by Dorothy L. Sayers
We have recommended this novel before back in November 2013. As we said then, Dorothy L. Sayers introduced Lord Peter Wimsey, her amateur gentleman detective, in 1921 in the novel Whose Body? .Busman's Honeymoon is the 13th and last full crime novel she wrote, only completing short stories and leaving an unfinished manuscript upon her death. This novel is set in 1937 during Lord Peter and Harriet Vane's honeymoon at their newly acquired estate in the country where a man is found dead in the cellar. Most of the investigating is left to Harriet as Peter is called to do some work for the Foreign Office. As a writer of crime novels and someone who has assisted Lord Peter in his work before, this is really a Harriet Vane novel. It is an intellectual puzzle like all DL Sayers novels, and if you are a fan of the characters, a good way to see how this relationship is going to work as a marriage. Harriet was introduced in Strong Poison (1930) where she was on trial for the murder of her lover.  She is also part of Have His Carcase (1932) and Gaudy Night (1935), all of which featured their unusual courtship and the duo solving a couple of murder cases. Other Lord Peter novels where written in between these and are pretty much stand alones, except for a reference to the time and place they are set.

The Short Weekend by T. S. Strachan
This novel is an original Green Penguin (crime and mystery series of novels). Not to be mistaken for the 50 Popular Green Penguins issued in the last couple of years reflecting the history and development of crime novels since the 1800s. First published in 1953, it is one of three known novels from Tony Simpson Strachan. The other two being Key Major (1954) and No Law in Illyria – A Novel (1956). It is another book and another writer who is difficult to find any information on. However, it is an original Green Penguin which recommends it as a classic of its time.


Dark Emerald by Joan Storm
First published in 1951 it was reissued by Black Dagger Crime in 1997. Another British writer, Joan Storm wrote two other novels, Bitter Rubies (1952) and Deadly Diamond (1953). That is all we can find on the internet about this author and this book. Joan Storm is an author with Random House in the UK but there is no current biography for her. The member of the group who read the novel enjoyed it and recommends it as an interesting British crime novel.

Envious Casca by Georgette Heyer
Georgette Heyer is known for her Regency romance novels, however she did write quite a few 20th century crime mysteries. Envious Casca (1941) is her second Inspector Hemingway book which is set at Christmas time at Lexham Manor with a limited number of suspects and an investigating detective. This time in the the British cosy crime mystery sub-genre, it is Inspector Hemingway of Scotland Yard. It is a light book and only should be written if you are into this cosy sub genre.

The Case of The Abominable Snowman by Nicholas Blake
Nicholas Blake is a pseudonym of the British poet laurette Sir Cecil Day Lewis. He wrote this novel in 1941 and is set in the winter around a single house (Easterham Manor) and focused on a number of houseguests and the snow man of the title. It is told in flashback and features Blake's recurring character, amateur detective, Nigel Strangeways who used to be a poet. He is summoned to the Manor to investigate some strange events that ends with an apparent suicide of a young woman. 

This is a Golden Age British cosy crime mystery in the tradition of Agatha Christie. It is interesting because of its author rather than its content. 

Mr Jelly's Business by Arthur Upfield
We have written about Australian author, Arthur Upfield previously here. In this novel, his fourth Inspector Napoleon Bonaparte (Bony) story, published in 1937, Upfield has Bony work incognito as a government employee on a section of the rabbit fence near the wheat town of burracoppin in western Australia. Like most Bony stories Bony’s mixed heritage helps him track the clues on the land and in through watch human behaviour.  

The novel focuses on the disapperance of a farmer, whose car is found smashed along one of the longest fences in the world in Burracoppin in outback Western Australia. As part of his investigation, Bony, meets the unusual Mr Jelly who is an amateur criminologist who collects portraits of murders and provides Bony with some insight into the case. 

The Franchise Affair by Josephine Tey
The Franchise Affair written in 1948, is the third Inspector Alan Grant novel written by Josephine Tey.  However, this story focuses on a mystery that is not solved by Inspector Grant but by a solicitor Robert Blair, who plays amateur sleuth as he tries to find out the truth about the accusations levelled at his client Marion Sharpe and her mother. Marion is a local woman who lives quietly with her mother at their decrepit country house, The Franchise and they are accused of brutally kidnapping a demure young woman named Betty Kane. Who is telling the truth? Betty Kane or Marion Sharpe? That is the crux of the story as it explores class and sexuality.

According to Wikipedia, “Josephine Tey was a pseudonym used by Elizabeth mackintosh (25 July 1896 – 13 february 1952) a Scottish author best known for her mystery novels. She also wrote as Gordon Daviot, under which name she wrote plays with an historical theme.”

Murder in The Telephone Exchange by June Wright
US publisher Verse Chorus Press reissued this neglected Australian crime novel in April 2014. Written in 1948, Murder in The Telephone Exchange was June Wright's debut novel and she drew from her own experiences working at the Melbourne Central Telephone Exchange from 1939 to 1941 to create the story and setting. The book was a success and so were who subsequent five novels. According to the Sisters in Crime website, "Wright stopped writing crime fiction to earn a regular salary when her husband Stewart became unable to work. She returned to the telephones, this time at the TAB, where she worked for six years. Stewart later established a cleaning business, and Wright retrained in business to assist him until his death in 1989." However, today her novels are all but forgotten. Thanks to the re-issue from Verse Chorus Press, we have the opportunity to discover these gems.

Murder in The Telephone Exhange features the young telephonist, Maggie Byrnes, who investigates the death of one of her colleagues who is rather disliked.   

1934 Plot by Linda and Gary Cargill
This is book two of the Edward Ware series that is set inbetween the world wars. Published in 2013, it is a novel that is reminiscent of a boys' own adventure story. It name checks famous people from the time as it traverses continents. It is a light and easy read.

The Cargills are married and write this series together. they live in Tuscon, Arizona, USA.  Linda Cargill also writes young adult suspense novels.


Joyland by Stephen King
Written in 2013 but set in the 1970s, Joyland merges mystery with a little bit of horror and pulp, and with Stephen King at the wheel there is an expectation of a cracking yarn that is well written. However, the novel hinges on the reader’s acceptance of the carnie world of the North Carolina seaside amusement park. The Joyland of the title. King creates a carnie language that establishes the otherness of the world, bit is also a barrier to enjoying the novel. All that aside, the plot is basic King, Devin Jones, who has just finished his junior year of college has taken a summer job at Joyland. Devin is in the middle of dealing with a break up with his girlfriend and is pondering the meaning of life and his future when he starts to become more interested in the carnie life and the history of Joyland. Which of course reveals the murder of a girl inside the funhouse many years ago. It is a bit Scoobie Doo, but it is Stephen King, so if you are a fan of his. You may enjoy this.

Recommendations from the SMSA Crime & Mystery Book Club

This month we focused on crimes and mysteries set during a natural disaster. Hurricane Katrina in 2005 in New Orleans was featured in three of the choices and the Great Earthquake of 1906 in San Francisco was the centre of two. One of our members got creative and included books set during the two World Wars, which were not technically natural disasters but disasters nonetheless.

The Draining Lake by Arnaldur Indridason
Published in 2004, The Draining Lake is the fourth Detective Erlendur books from award winning Icelandic author Arnaldur Indridason.  Based on an acutal Icelandic lake, Kleifarvatn, which began draining away in 2000 following an earthquake. In this story, the draining lake reveals a body. Erlendur investigates this cold case (no pun intended) which delves into the political and social history of Iceland with left-wing students during the time of communist East Germany during the Cold War. 

This is a great novel fulled with pathos and realism. Indridason is a master storyteller and any books written by him are well worth it.

First the Dead by Tim Downs
First of the Hurricane Katrina novels read this month, First The Dead is the third in the Bug Man series that features forensci entomologist Dr Nick Polchak who volunteers for the Disaster Mortuary Operational Response Team (DMORT), which is part of the Federal Emergency Management Agency in the USA. This is a real life organisation that responds to disasters such aeroplane crashes, fires and hurricanes. The volunteers are doctors, nurses, pathologists, scientists and in the case of Polchak, a forensic entomologist, who deploy and work very hard over a short period of time to identify and investigate the bodies of victims of these disasters.  Polchak is an unusual protagonist, but very likeable and the insight into the bureaucracy that was involved during the actual natural disaster that was Hurricane Katrina and the additional disaster which was the lack of assistance and clean up that followed. 

Tim Downs crafts a well written dialogue driven story that is a quick and interesting read. He creates scene and atmosphere through very natural dialogue. Downs has written five Bug Man novels and this is what he says about these novels on his blog, 'my Bug Man stories are not about the bugs—they’re about a man who thinks he’s a bug. Why does he think that? Why would he want to? What’s wrong with him? What was it in his past that made him that way? Will he ever change? Can he? And is there a woman anywhere who could love a man like that? Anyone who has read one of my novels will tell you that that’s what my stories are really about. The bugs—well, they’re just bugs. - See more at: http://www.timdownsblog.com/category/the-writing-process/#sthash.J8ehNloH.dpuf.'

Bony and The Black Virgin by Arthur Upfield
Arthur Upfield's Detective Inspector Napolen Bonaparte (Bony) series from the outback in Australia from 1920s to 1960s features a natural disaster in Bony and The Black Virgin. Bony (a mixed race Australian, his mother was an Aboriginal woman and his father is a white man) is called into investigate the death of two men on a desolate sheep station in outback New South Wales, in the middle of a drought. The men have been beaten to death and it is up to Bony to find out what happened. As usual, Bony is discounted as an investigator because of his heritage and the inherent racism in Australian culture in regards to Aboriginal people.

Upfield is an Englishman who immigrated to Australia in 1910 and wrote copiously about rural Australia, the outback, Aboriginal culture as well as white Australia. His Bony series is an insight into the cultural and social history of Australia.  

Bad Karma In The Big Easy by D. J. Donaldson
Featuring Chief Medical Examiner, Andy Broussard and forensic psychologist Kit Franklin, this seventh novel from Donaldson focuses on the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. It is August 2005 and Broussard is identifying bodies from the natural disaster. He is intrigued by the bodies of three women who apparently died of foul play and calls in Kit to help him solve the mystery.

Donaldson is a retired professor of Anatomy and Neurobiology from the University of Tennessee and his New Orleans forensic mysteries featuring Broussard and Franklin and his medical thrillers have a strong understanding of science and medicine that gives them a level of authinticity. His writing style is described as 'a hard-hitting, punchy, action-packed prose that’s dripping with a folksy, decidedly southern sense of irony.'

The Tin Roof Blowdown by James Lee Burke
Two of our members read this James Lee Burke novel that focused on Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans in 2005.  The Tin Roof Blowdown is the sixteenth Dave Robicheaux novel and it follows a number of smaller stories until they meet up against the backdrop of Hurricane Katrina. In an interview with Reuters in 2007 when doing publicity for this book, Burke (then 70 years old) said "If you want to know about a society, look at it from the bottom up." This is a personal novel for Burke and in that age old tradition of using crime fiction to look at society he crafts a novel that is full of rage and disgust for the events of Hurricane Katrina. 

James Lee Burke has written over 30 novels, 20 of which are the Robicheaux series. Burke has won the Edgar Allan Poe Award for Best Novel of the year in 1990 for Black Cherry Blues, and again in 1998 he won the Edgar for Best Novel for Cimarron Rose. In 2009 he received the Mystery Writers of America's Grand Master Award. 

Isaac's Storm by Erik Larson
Issac's Storm is a non-fiction novel about the hurricane that devestated Galvastan, Texas on 8 September 1900. Issac Cline was the resident meterologist for the US Weather Bureau who witnessed and was taken by surprise by a massive hurricane that caused Galvastan to be flooded,  completely destroying the town and killing over six thousand people. It is seen as the greatest natural disaster in American history.  This hurricane killed more people than Hurricane Katrina in 2005, which Katrina killed at least 1,836 people and inflicted damages estimated at around $125 billion.

Erik Larson is an American journalist and non-fiction author. According to wikipedia, he started writing books in 1992 with' The Naked Consumer: How Our Private Lives Become Public Commodities, followed in 1995 by Lethal Passage: The Story of a Gun, Issac's Storm (1999)....and The Devil in the White City (2003), about the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago and a series of murders by H. H. Holmes that were committed in the ciyt around the time of the Fair....In 2006, Larson published Thunderstruck, which intersperses the story of Hawley Harvey Crippen with that of Guglielmo Marconi and the investion of radio....In the Garden of Beasts (2011), concerns William E. Dodd, the first Amercian ambassador to Nazi Germany.'

An Unmarked Grave by Charles Todd
An Unmarked Grave is the fourth Bess Crawford mystery set during World War One. Bess is a nurse and amateur investigator who becomes involved in investigating the murder of an officer, whose body is hidden amongst the numerous dead from the frontline and the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918. The pandemic infected 500 million people across the world and killed 50 to 100 million of them. That is about three to five percent of the world's population at the time. 

Charles Todd is the pen name for Caroline and Charles Todd, the mother-son writing team from USA. In addition to the Bess Crawford mysteries, they have also written the Inspector Ian Rutledge series set in England just after World War One.  

Shoulder The Sky by Anne Perry
Anne Perry is known for her Victorian crime novels featuring Thomas Pitt and a second Victorian series featuring William Monk. Anne Perry is a prolific writer and has written over 80 novels since 1979.

Shoulder The Sky is the second in Perry's World War One series. It crisscrosses from the trenches, back to London and the intelligence work going on, back Ypres and Gallipoli through three protagonists - siblings Captain Joseph Reavley (an Army Chaplain), Judith who is a driver for General Cullingford and Matthew who is a British Intelligence Officer.

Ashes to Ashes by Barbara Nadel
Set during the London Blitz in World War Two, this third Frances Hancock novel focuses on people sheltering in St Paul's Catherdral during the bombing raids. Hancock is one of those people in St Pauls and becomes involved when a young girl disappears during the night. Hanock is a World War One veteran and undertaker and is half-Indian makes an interesting protagonist as he is quite peculiar but likeable. The book is really about atmosphere and setting and if you like to sink into the era, this will be a good read for you.

English writer, Barbara Nadel is known for her Inspector Çetin İkmen novels (all 15 of them) set in Turkey. There are four books in the Hancock series and she has started on a third series featuring Hakim and Arnold set currently in East Ham in East London, UK. East Ham is an immigrant and low socio-economic neighbourhood and private investigator, Lee Arnold, works with his assistant Mumtaz Hakim, a widowed Muslim working mother.  Sounds interesting. 

Prague Fatale by Philip Kerr
Policeman Bernie Gunther came into being in the Berlin Noir trilogy set in the lead up to World War Two in Berlin, Germany. Prague Fatale is the eighth Bernie Gunther novel and it is now September 1941 and Bernie has returned home to Berlin from the horrors of the Eastern Front. He is invited by his old boss Reinhard Heydrich of the SD, the new Reichsprotector of Bohemia and Moravia to spend a weekend at Heydrich's country house in Prague. In the midst of war there is a murder for Bernie to solve.  Like his previous novels, Philip Kerr explores World War Two from the perspective of the Germans who just try to survive Hitler's Nazi regime and the war they find themselves in. Fighting for ideals they do not believe in.  These books are quite depressing, however there is an element of black humour throughout.  

Locked Rooms by Laurie R. King
Laurie R. King is the creator of the popular Sherlock Holmes pastiche featuring Mary Russell (the American wife of Sherlock Holmes). Locked Rooms in the eighth Mary Russell novel and it is set in 1906 in San Francisco during the Great Earthquake. They are in San Francisco to settle some legal affairs related to Mary's family. The earthquake and the city is the backdrop to peeling back the history of Mary's family and the unexplained deaths that are happening around them.  

The Last Policeman by Ben H. Winters
Published in 2012, The Last Policeman is the first in a trilogy set in the last six months of earth's existence. There is an asteroid heading towards earth and everyone is reacting in their own way. Some people are committing suicide, some are giving up their everyday life and doing what they please. One of those people is a young twenty something policeman in Concord, New Hampshire, Hank Palace, who is promoted from patrolman to Detective and insists on investigating a suspicious hanging in the time remaining. Ben Winters is known for his 2009 bestseller Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters, however he won an Edgar Award for The Last Policeman and has finished writing the trilogy this year.

Acts of Nature by Jonathon King
This is the fifth Max Freeman novel by Jonathon King featuring Max and his paramour Detective Sherry Richards who head to the Florida everglades for some time off and find themselves in the middle of a tense situation involving looters, killers and corporations during a hurricane. Not your average holiday then. Jonathon King used to be a journalist with a couple of US city newspapers before he created private investigator Max Freeman in 2012. His books are written in a hard boiled style and set on the streets of South Florida. 

The Last Nightingale by Anthony Flacco
This is another novel set during the earthquake in San Francisco in 1906. It teams up 12 year old Shane Nightingale who witnesses the killing of his adoptive mother and sisters the night of the earthquake. He starts to work with Sergeant Randall Blackburn who is investigating the killings. According to Bookreporter, Anthony Flacco "is the author of numerous nonfiction books and novels. He holds an MFA in Screenwriting from the American Film Institute, where he was honored with the Paramount Studios Fellowship Award and a Disney Studios Fellowship." This more visual/screenwriting approach is noticeable in this novel as it feels like it is written with a movie adaptation in mind.

Recommendations from the SMSA Crime & Mystery Book Club

This month the theme was debuts and we managed to collate about 9 books that we recommend: 

Devils Playground.jpg

The Devil's Playground by Stav Sherev
This debut novel by Englishman Stav Sherev was shortlisted for the CWA John Creasey Dagger in 2004.  The plot starts when a body of a tramp, Jake Colby, is found in a secluded park in Amsterdam.  The Dutch detective on the case, Ronald Van Hijn, believes the tramp is the ninth victim of a serial  killer stalking the city, even though the the previous victims were young and female. The corpse has contact details for an Englishman, Jon Reed, who befriended Jake in London shortly before the murder. Van Hijn calls Jon to Amsterdam and this begins Jon's own journey into Jake's identity and his and his family's past.  The novel delves into the stories family members tell each other about their past.  It is a tough story with a fascinating take on a family's history and the impact it has for those living here and now.  

cleas moon.jpg

Clea's Moon by Edward Wright
In 2001, Edward Wright won the CWA Debut Dagger for his first chapter and synopsis of what would become Clea’s Moon. The story is set in the late 1940s in Los Angeles behind the scenes of the changing Hollywood system.  John Ray Horn was a big B western movie star in the 1930s before he went to jail for beating up the son of an owner of one of the studios for causing the death of his horse.  When John Ray left jail he found himself blacklisted in Hollywood and divorced from his wife.  The story begins with John Ray working as a bag man for his old co-star Joseph Mad Cow who now runs a casino.  John Ray becomes embroiled in the dodgy side of nightclubs, casinos and local government in LA when he is asked by his old friend Scotty to find out about the photos Scotty had recovered from his father's desk at work after Scot Bullard Sr's death.  The photos are child pornography taken at least 10 years prior and one of the subjects is John Ray's stepdaughter, Clea, who is now 17 years old and has run away from home.  John Ray sets out to find Clea and who was involved in the taking of and participating in the photographs.  This is a well written novel with a film noir tone.  It is well worth a read.


The Mermaids Singing by Val McDermid
This is not exactly a debut, but it is the first book by Scottish writer, Val McDermid, featuring Forensic Psychologist, Dr. Tony Hill, and DI Carol Jordan. It is set in the fictional town, Bradfield, in northern England. Dr Hill is asked to consult by the police after the bodies of young men are found dead after they were abducted and tortured.  Detective Inspector Carol Jordan is assigned to work with Dr Hill and their relationship becomes complicated. Dr Hill also has to juggle his patients with becoming increasingly involved in the investigation. The Mermaids Singing won the Crime Writers' Association Gold Dagger for Best Crime Novel of the Year in 1995. Val McDermid is still writing the Tony Hill/Carol Jordan series in addition to her Lindsay Gordon series and Kate Brannigan series.  The Hill/Jordan series was adapted for TV, Wire In The Blood, which follows the plots of most of the Hill/Jordan series until an actor change caused the novels content to split from the TVs. Val McDermid is a great writer with intricate plots, but they are a bit gruesome, with quite a bit of violence.


Knots & Crosses by Ian Rankin
This is the first Inspector Rebus novel from Ian Rankin, published in 1987.  There have been nearly 20 stories since then featuring Rebus.  Rankin was a post graduate student at the University of Edinburgh when he wrote this book, and little did he know that this character would become one of the most beloved in modern crime fiction.  Go back to the beginning and see where Rebus and Rankin started.  The plot revolves around the abduction and killing of two young girls and the role Rebus' brother Michael plays.  Welcome to the dark underbelly of Edinburgh and enjoy the great world building and fantastic character sketching of Rankin's writing.  It is a page turner.


March Violets by Philip Kerr
This is the first novel in a trilogy commonly known as Berlin Noir.  Good Reads describes the plot and tone by saying "Ex-policeman Bernie Gunther thought he'd seen everything on the streets of 1930s Berlin. But then he went freelance, and each case he tackled sucked him further into the grisly excesses of Nazi subculture."  This is true.  The noir tone and styling of the novel is apparent and it evokes a 1930s Berlin under the National Socialist Party that is on a slow boil.  People turn a blind-eye to disappearances and the loss of human rights.  Corruption is rife and the 1936 Olympics are taking place in Berlin.  'March Violets' is the derisive term by which long-time Nazis referred to new party converts. Converts who are jumping on the bandwagon to make a quick buck or just to survive.  Bernie Gunther is deliberately written like a character in a Raymond Chandler novel, and his wry disgust what is happening in Berlin and Germany is palatable.  This is well written and offers up an idea of what day to day life in Berlin in this time could be like.  Quite a different approach from the history books.

Lonley Road.jpg

Lonely Road by Nevil Shute
This is the closest to a crime novel written by Nevil Shute.  It was first published in 1932 and is done in an experimental writing style.  Shute was an aeronautical engineer and a pilot who attended the Royal Military Academy in Woolwich, UK.  He started writing novels when he was in his 30s while working as an engineer for the de Havilland Aircraft Company, and keeps his day job as an engineer up to and through the Second World War.  In the 1950s, Shute is well-known enough as an author to do it full time and he immigrated to Australia in 1950.  His post war novels are set in Australia and are what he is most known for, but this experiment he wrote back before the Second World War, focuses on Commander Malcolm Stevenson and how he came to be waking up in a hospital after a car accident.  The book opens with Stevenson narrating and describing a series of seemingly unrelated vignettes.  This structure is way ahead of its time, and understandably the novel did not sell as well in the 1930s.  It is well worth a read to see the flexing of a relatively young author as he weaves a plot that will keep you guessing.  

Arthur Upfield.jpg

The Sands of Windee by Arthur Upfield
Arthur Upfield is the father of Australian crime fiction.  He created Detective Inspector Napoleon Bonaparte (Bony), a mixed race policeman in the Queensland Police Force who is the central character in over 20 novels spanning from 1928 to 1968 (published posthumously).  Upfield was born in England and moved to Australia in 1910.  Following his World War One service he travelled through Australia extensively learning about Aboriginal culture and the geography of the country.  The creation of an Aboriginal protagonist and the depiction of outback Australian life in the 1930s through into the 1950s sets Upfields books apart.  The Sands of Windee was published in 1931 and is seen as one of Upfields best novels.  It was not his debut (it is his fourth novel), but it is highly regarded.  The plot is about the disappearance of Luke Marks near Windee Station. The local police believe he wandered away from his car and been overwhelmed in a dust-storm.  But Bony feels there is more to it and he comes down from Queensland to work at Windee to find the answers.


Crime by Ferdinand Von Schirach
Ferdinand Von Schirach is a German criminal lawyer who began practicing law in 1994 and became a successful and prominent defense attorney.  Crime is a collection of stories is based on cases from his chamber and was published in 2009.  Amazon describes the short stories as "by turns witty and sorrowful, unflinchingly brutal and heartbreaking, the deeply affecting."  Von Schirach looks into the grey areas of guilt and innocence and offers and insight into why people commit crimes. This book is highly recommended and so is the follow up, Guilt, written in 2010.  


The Anatomist's Wife by Anna Lee Huber
This debut historical crime novel came out in 2012. It is set in Scotland in 1830 and it centres on the r
ecently widowed and notorious Lady Kiera Darby, who seeks refuge at her sister's house following the death of her husband. The scandal part is due to her late husband, a Doctor and Lecturer who was writing an anatomy book, and used her as an illustrator for his book. An unseemly occupation for a lady of her station.  At a house party at her sister's house in Scotland, Lady Darby is asked to assist in the investigation due to her knowledge of anatomy when there is a death and the closest help is at least two days away due to weather and distance.  This is a well written debut with interesting characters and a tight plot.  It sets up the series (and I am sure there will be a series) featuring Lady Darby, who is called on to 'help investigate' in future adventures.  I imagine the publishers were torn between marketing this as a romance or a crime novel.  But as the novel structure is not traditionally in the romance genre form, I can see why they erred on the side of crime.  

Next month, the theme is colour.  It can be in the title, the plot, the theme.  Whatever.  See you then.