Crime Novels Set In or Involving a Country in Asia

Recommendations from the SMSA Crime & Mystery Book Club

This month our book club focused on crime and mystery novels that were about isolation or remote places. There are quite a few books from Australia, which is understandable as we are a book club from Sydney, Australia. Enjoy.

The End of The Earth by Julie Smith
The End of The Earth is one of the short stories that is part of the Mean Rooms collection from Julie Smith. All the stories are written from the central concept that the perpetrators of the crime are forged indoors where the person’s impulses are explored. Julie Smith has written over 20 crime novels which comprise of four different series. Her most well known series is about Skip Langdon, a female cop in New Orleans, however she has also written about Rebecca Schwartz who is a San Franciscan lawyer; struggling mystery writer, Paul Macdonald; and the private eye duo of Talba Wallis and Eddie Valentino.  Smith has also written the young adult paranormal adventure, Bad Girl School.

Death In The Loch by Thomas Muir
Published in 1950, this is the third Roger Crammond stories written by Muir between 1948 and 1957. Roger is a marine biologist and amateur detective who becomes involved in many mysteries that take place on the high seas or at the very least on a patch of water.  Roger is definitely a man of his time and although he finds himself in an unusual or remote locations like Scottish Lochs (of the title) or the Arctic Ocean the structure of the stories are along the cosy crime sub genre in the mould of Hercule Poirot.  There is not much information on the author Thomas Muir, just a list of his books and the dates of publication. He had ten very productive writing years.

Cold Grave by Kathryn Fox
Cold Grave does a deep dive into the potential dangers of crime on a cruise ship. Australian author Kathryn Fox is a medical practitioner with a special interest in forensic medicine and she brings a methodical, layer by layer approach to unravelling the microcosm of society that is the cruise ship. Fox’s protagonist is Anya Crichton, who is a forensics expert, and this is the sixth novel featuring her. Anya is on holiday on a cruise ship and she becomes involved when a teenage girl is discovered dead on the deck of the ship. Her investigation highlights the lack of policing that is common on cruise ships as they are floating in international waters.  It is an interesting read that would make you think twice about going on a cruise for a holiday. Fox started writing in 2005 and her debut Malicious Intent won the Davitt Award for adult fiction and was shortlisted for the Ned Kelly best debut novel award. 

Diamond Dove by Adrian Hyland
Diamond Dove (2006) is Adrian Hyland’s second novel featuring Emily Tempest, who grew up in the outback town of Moonlight Downs, Central Australia. Emily is an appealing lead character who takes the audience through what could be a very alien setting. The story delves into the harsh climate of the outback and the racial tensions and poverty of a town that relies on the weather to survive. Adrian Hyland lives in Melbourne, Victoria and won the Ned Kelly for Crime Fiction (2007) for Diamond Dove. 

The Plague by Albert Camus
This is a modern classic novel that has been shoehorned into our crime and mystery book club. The Plague was written in 1947 and was marked as a popular literary classic. It uses the isolation of the Algerian town that is being overtaken by the plague as an allegory for human nature. Survival brings out the best and worst in people and Camus shows this as the plot weaves from vignette to vignette. Albert Camus was born and grew up in Algeria which was one of the French colonies. He was critical of the French colonial government and he brought his political and philosophical beliefs into his journalism and his books. Camus was extremely popular as a left wing writer and teacher post World War Two as it was felt that he faithfully recorded the suffering and misery of separation and exile.

The Bet by Anton Chekhov
The Bet is a short story from Anton Chekhov that explores an agreement between two a banker and a young lawyer about whether the death penalty is better or worse than life in prison. the young lawyer takes the bet to live for 20 years in prison to prove his point about the death penalty. Written in 1889 during the time that Chekhov developed, according to Goodreads, "his concept of the dispassionate, non-judgemental author. He outlined his program in a letter to his brother Aleksandr: "1. Absence of lengthy verbiage of political-social-economic nature; 2. total objectivity; 3. truthful descriptions of persons and objects; 4. extreme brevity; 5. audacity and originality; flee the stereotype; 6. compassion." This short story is all of these and so much more.

Murder in Mesopotamina by Agatha Christie
This the fourteenth Hercule Poirot novel from Agatha Christie. By its title it would seem that Christie was inspired by her own experiences on archeological digs in North Africa and the Middle East. However it is a typical cosy crime with a member of a closed community being murdered. The setting is not a character in itself as it can be in other novels, it just informs the mechanics of the plot. The unusual aspect of the story is that Poirot does not turn up until over half way through the novel, after the victim has been killed. If you like Agatha Christie novels, you will enjoy this.  

Present Darkness by Malla Nunn
We have recommend Malla Nunn before (see below in this section). This novel is set five days before Christmas in the 1950s in an aparthied South Africa. It is the fourth Detective Sargeant Emmanual Cooper novel. Cooper is part of the major crimes squad in Johannesburg and is called into investigate the assult of a white couple in their bedroom. Left for dead and unable to assist in the investigation, it is left to the couple's teenage daughter to identify the attacker. She points the finger at the youngest son of the Zulu Detective Constable Samuel Shabalala, Cooper's best friend. The resulting story involves the challenging of race, politics and the society of the time in the hunt for the truth of the matter. Nunn was born in Swaziland, South Africa, but moved to Western Australia as a child. She now resides in Sydney, Australia.

Prime Cut by Alan Carter
We have recommended this book before and this is what we said.

This is the debut novel of Australian author Alan Carter featuring DSC Cato Kwong, a disgraced cop stuck in Hopetoun, Western Australia working in the Stock Squad (focus on horses and ponies).  Set during the recent global financial crisis, seaside town, Hopetoun is prosperous because of the Australian mining boom. With an influx of people and money comes crime and when a torso of a human body is washed up by the sea, Kwong is called on to investigate.  This is a great first novel, and a good look into Australian rural life in the 21st Century.  The juxtaposition of white Australian mythology about the outback with the reality of modern Australia with different cultures and the impact of mining and selling a natural resource to the highest bidder is woven through the investigation. Well worth a read.  

Murder and Redemption by Noel Mealey
The outback in Western Australia and the impact of the mining boom takes centre stage in this story. This debut novel from Noel Mealey introduces Syd Fielding a detective sergeant in Geraldton, who was brought up in the Bindoon orphanage (an actual place that was just outside of Perth, Australia - read about it here), and fought in the Vietnam War.  This violent past informs the way Syd deals with the investigation into the death of two men from the same cargo ship. The story takes you through the twists and turns of drug trafficking and the impact of the mining industry on the communities and towns in Western Australia. There may be a shade too many plots points but overall the story gives you a good sense of place.

Powder Burn by Daniel Glick
Set in 1998 in the high country in Colorado, USA, Poweder Burn is a thriller featuring environmental groups, the FBI, shadowy financial corporations, the remoteness of a small mountain town and skiing. Daniel Glick was a journalist with Newsweek Magazine for twelve years before freelancing for a number of top American magazines. He is a skiier so the skiing elements are authentic. He also lives in Colorado.

Thirst by L.A. Larkin
L.A.Larkin is a thriller author along the lines of Michael Crichton. She is an Australian author (immigrated in 1998) who comes from a successful career in magazine publishing. In addition to writing crime novels she teaches thriller writing courses. Larkin is a member of Australia’s Sisters In Crime and the UK’s Crime Writers’ Association. Thirst is set in Antarctica and sets up a race against time for a team of Australian scientists who need to stop a conspiracy to cause a global catastrophe. Her protagonist, Luke Searle, is a glaciologist and is described as a maverick and there is a count down clock. This is a typical glocal thriller. If you like these types of novels, you will enjoy this. 

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No Turning Back by Joanne Lees
This is the only non-fiction novel recommended this week. Joanne Lees was under suspicion when her boyfriend Peter Falconio was murdered while they were travelling on a lonely stretch of highway in the Australian outback in 2001. This book is written by Joanne and takes the reader through what happened that night and the subsequent investigation and trial that lasted a couple of years.  It gives insight into the bureaucracy of criminal investigations and the politics and media circus that surrounded this situation. Here is one of those media stories from Australian Broadcasting Corporation program "Australian Story".

Death at a High Latitude and Death in the Desert by J. R. L. Anderson
There is very little information on J.R.L. (John Richard Lane) Anderson except a list of books he wrote and that he was born in 1911. The two stories suggested by our club members shows that he writes in the John Buchan tradition of the spy novel set just after the Second World War. Anderson's protagonist is Colonel Blair who works with the British Home Office and Scotland Yard and follows the international plots around the world and into the two remote locations featured in these novels. These are adventure novels that may be formulaic but are fun.

Next month the theme is comedy crime. Not an oxymoron I promise. 

 

Recommendations from the SMSA Crime & Mystery Book Club

The theme for this month was a crime involving transport or machines such as trains, planes and automobiles. 

The Spy by Clive Cussler and Justin Scott
The third Isaac Bell adventure, The Spy is a transportation themed murder mystery. Set in 1908 in the arms race in the lead up to World War One.  The US are constructing a 600 foot Dreadnought and England, Germany and Japan are also beginning to arm their countries. Bell is the lead detective at the Von Horn detective agency and he is tasked to find out who the spy is, the person who has been assassinating the top engineers in the shipbuilding industry. Clive Cussler is known for his Dirk Pitt thrillers which have high adventure and pulping plots. He started writing in 1965 and has written a couple of other series focusing on Kurt Austin, an member of the NUMA Special Assignments Division, the Oregon Files, about a seemingly decrepit freighter that is a cover for an organisation known as 'The Corporation’ and under the leadership of Juan Cabrillo, and the Fargo Adventures about a Sam and Remy Fargo , a couple who are treasure hunters. he started writing the Bell novels in 2007 and he co-authors them with Justin Scott.

Gold Fever by Mal Leyland
An Australian crime novel set in the 1970s in the Northern Territory and northern Western Australia and featuring an extremely attractive female detective from the Western Australian Police Force in Perth, this book tracks the theft of gold from a gold mine smelter in the north west. This novel is not very good, with bad plotting, unrealistic characters and risible dialogue. Mal Leyland was born in 1941 and died in 2009. He was known as part of the Ask The Leyland Brothers, who fronted a popular Australian TV series from 1975 to 1984. The Leyland brothers owned an amusement park and made documentaries about Australia, its landscape and history.

The Chessmen by Peter May
This is the third book in the Lewis Trilogy set into the Scottish archipelago, the Outer Hebrides.  Like the other books in the trilogy, The Blackhorse and The Lewis Man, this novel features Fin McLeod. there is no point in reading The Chessmen without reading the other two first as you will miss most of the point of the novel.  Peter May has written other series, namely The Enzo Files and his China mysteries set in modern Beijing and Shanghai, six stand alone novels and five TV dramas for Scottish TV.

Flight by Jan Burke
Irene Kelly is the heroine of Jan Burke’s series, however this eighth novel features Irene’s husband Detective Frank Harriman, of the Las Piernas Police Department. Frank investigates the death of a witness, one of his colleagues is suspect and when that colleague dies in an aircraft crash, Frank starts to unravel the mystery. Jan Burke is an Edgar Award winner for best novel for Bones her seventh Irene Kelly novel.

 

A Ghost In The Machine by Caroline Graham
If you came to the novels of Caroline Graham through the dramatization of her series of novels, The Midsomer Murders, you will find the books quite different to TV series. Chief Inspector Barnaby is not as central to the stories as he is on screen. Like all Caroline Graham novels, A Ghost In The Machine delves into the lives of a small group of people in a village. Dennis Brinkley is a collector of medieval torture devices and machines and is found one day crushed by one of his prize machines. Jan Burke first started writing in 1982, and wrote two novels before she started her Barnaby series in 1987. A Ghost In The Machine is her seventh and last Barnaby novel, published in 2004.

The Night Ranger by Alex Berenson
This series features CIA Agent, John Wells the military man about the world who delves into different international conflicts. This seventh novel is set in East Africa and Wells goes in search of some Americans who have been kidnapped by Somali soldiers. Cars are heavily featured in this book as each one is described just as much as the type of guns used in each scene. Alex Berenson's novels are a modern take on the spy thriller. He definitely understands the way the world works as Alex Berenson used to be an investigative business journalist with the New York Times and covered the pharmaceutical and healthcare industries.  

Sun, Sea and Murder by Roderic Jeffries
Roderic Jeffries is a British cosy mystery writer who sets his novels in Mallorca, Spain where he lives.  His central character is the laid-back Inspector Alvarez. Sun, Sea and Murder is about a rich and arrogant Englishman, Tyler, who was involved in a drink/driving accident and as a result drives to Mallorca to hide his car from the English police. Enter Inspector Alvarez who is ordered to find out if Tyler is in the area. As he investigates, Alvarez discovers that there is far more to the story than a drink/drive accident.

Critical Mass by Sara Paretsky
This is the sixteenth V.I. Warshawki novel and is split between modern day with V.I. and World War Two. V.I. is one of the most well known and loved private detectives in American crime fiction. This is a bit of a burden for this novel as it seems that Sara Paretsky really wanted to write the story set in World War Two, which is focused on a female German scientist who is Jewish and is forced to work on the Nazi scientist team that is trying to create the atomic bomb. However, as the V.I. character and novels are so popular, it must be difficult for Paretsky to break out of this success. The story ties the incidents of the World War Two story with what V.I. is investigating in Chicago in the her present time and it does flow as a novel. However, the meat of the story is definitely delving into the pioneers in physics and the overlay of the Nazi regime. 

Bad Debts by Peter Temple
Peter Temple was born in South Africa and moved to Australia in 1980 where he continued to be a journalist and a journalism lecturer.  He began writing crime fiction in 1996 with this novel, Bad Debts. This book introduces Jack Irish who is to quote 'criminal lawyer, debt collector, sports lover, horse-racing man and trainee cabinetmaker'. So he is a bit of a renaissance man who knows how to brood. He becomes involved in high level corruption, shady property deals and murder when starts to investigate the death of an ex-client. Peter Temple creates well drawn characters and is able to show the different shades of grey in the murky world cops, criminals and politicians in contemporary Melbourne, Australia.   

The Necropolis Railway by Andrew Martin
Set in London in 1903, The Necropolis Railway is about the actual London Necropolis Railway which was according to wikipedia 'opened in 1854 as a reaction to the severe overcrowding in London's existing graveyards and cemeteries. It aimed to use the recently developed technology of the railway to move as many burials as possible to the newly built Brookwood Cemetery in Brookwood, Surrey.' This is the first Jim Stringer novel who moves to work on the South East Railway in Waterloo, London. Part of his job is to do the graveyard shift on the Necropolis Railway. He learns that his predecessor has gone missing and he sets out to investigate. In addition to his eight Jim Stringer novels, Andrew Martin has also written four non-fiction novels on subjects ranging from a man's guide to ironing, dusting and other household arts to jungle warfare in World War Two including elephants.  

Corporate Bodies by Simon Brett
Published in 1991, Corporate Bodies features the actor/detective Charles Paris who becomes involved in a mystery during his latest gig as a forklift operator for a corporate video shoot. Corporate Bodies is the fourteenth novel in a series of nineteen. Simon Brett is a prolific writer of comedic mysteries and has also written three other mystery series, Blotto and Twinks (a farcical series set in the Edwardian era), Fethering (based around the fictional village of Fethering on England’s south east coast) and Mrs Pargeter (a widow with a past). 

Next month the theme is gardening, gardens or horticulture.

Recommendations from the SMSA Crime & Mystery Book Club

This month the theme was rock, paper, scissors. That means it could be a crime involving one of those elements or a story that uses these elements as a metaphor or a location. We left it up to the imagination.

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Don't Lie to Me by Tucker Coe
Tucker Coe is one of 16 pseudonyms for American writer Donald E. Westlake has won an Edgar in three categories (Best Short Story, Best Screenplay and Best Novel). As Tucker Coe he wrote five novels featuring the character Mitch Tobin. Don't Lie To Me is the last of these five books and was published in 1972.

Tobin is an ex-policeman who was thrown off the force after he was involved in the death of his partner. The five novels track his journey of forgiving himself and managing his guilt, as well as solving crimes. We suggest that you read these books in sequence to get the emotional journey of the main character. In Don't Lie To Me, Tobin is a night watchman at an art museum (paper) and an old girlfriend seeks him out at the museum to ask for his help.

Westlake won the Edgar for Best Screenplay for The Grifters  and several of his novels have been made into movies, e.g. 1967's Point Blank (based on The Hunter), The Hot Rock (1972) starring Robert Redford, Payback in 1999 with Mel Gibson and 2013's Parker (based on Flashfire) starring Jason Statham.

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A Scream of Murder by John Creasey
John Creasey founded the Crime Writer's Association in the United Kingdom in 1953. Like Westlake, he wrote many books under a number of pseudonyms, 23 to be exact. He wrote crime, westerns and romance novels. 

He wrote over seven different series, and A Scream of Murder (1969) is the 44th novel featuring Patrick Dawlish and initially written under the pseudonym, Gordon Ashe. In this novel a dead man is found on an icy road and he is known to the police. 

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Trouble in Paradise by Robert B Parker
Trouble in Paradise is the second in the Jesse Stone series from Robert B Parker. Stone is the Chief of Police in a small town called Paradise, Massachusetts. In the previous novel Stone moved from the west coast to escape his past and settles in Paradise to rebuild his life. Unfortunately Paradise only wants a Police Chief that will not work to hard and interfere in the way the town runs. In this novel, Stone starts to dig into the culture of the town when he deals with the string of hold-ups on the affluent Ritzy Island in Paradise Harbour. 

Parker is a hard boiled crime writer and was asked to complete Raymond Chandler's novel Poodle Springs. Stone is typical of the lead male character who is macho and does things his way.  Parker is usually known for his private eye character, Spenser, but he has written other series such as Sunny Randall and Cole & Hitch.

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Third Girl by Agatha Christie
This is the 35th Poirot novel and from the later part of Agatha Christie's writing life. It is set in the mid 1960s and smacks of Christie trying to bring a younger generation onboard. If you are a fan of Poirot you may find this book a bit difficult as he is slightly mocked, but it is an interesting attempt to bring a well known and beloved character into a new era. Sometimes that works and sometimes that doesn't. 

According to wikipedia, 'the novel is notable for being the first in many years in which Poirot is present from beginning to end. It is uncommon in that the investigation includes discovering the first crime, which happens comparatively late in the novel."

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Greenmantle by John Buchan
John Buchan wrote five novels featuring Richard Hannay. The most famous one was The 39 Steps that was made into a movie twice by Alfred Hitchcock. Greenmantle is the second of the five Hannay novels and was published in 1916. It is set during World War One and sends Hannay into Asia Minor to find out if the Turkish seditionaries are going to drive a Islamic uprising that will distract the Allies from the war with Germany. It is a rip roaring spy adventure. 

John Buchan lived a varied and interesting life, from working as a diplomat in Southern Africa in the late 1890s to becoming Governor General of Canada in 1935. He started writing fiction (36 novels) and non-fiction (52 novels) in 1896 until his death in 1940. 

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Last Will and Testament by Elizabeth Ferrars
Elizabeth Ferrars wrote eight mysteries featuring semi-estranged married couple Virginia and Felix Freer. Last Will and Testament  (1978) is the first in the series. Virginia is the primary character and does most of the investigating and Felix is her estranged con-artist husband who drops in and out of the story.

Elizabeth Ferrars wrote under E.X. Ferrars and Morna MacTaggart and started writing in 1932. She died in 1995 and her last book was published posthumously in the same year. She wrote over 60 crime novels, most are standalone, however she did write three series, this one, a series featuring Toby Dyke and the Andrew Basnett books.

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The Ingenious Mr Stone by Robert Player
The Ingenious Mr Stone (1946) is told in the first person by three protagonists. It's present day is the mid 1940s and the story being related is set in the mid 1930s in the UK. It highlights how perspective is important to the 'truth' we are told as readers. Mr Stone, the investigator is only introduced halfway through the book, and that is intriguing in itself. The mystery is pretty easy to figure out but the unusual way it is told makes this an interesting read.

Robert Player is the pseudonym for architect, Robert Furneaux Jordan. He wrote six crime novels and four novels on architecture.

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Paper, Scissors, Death by Joanna Campbell-Slan
This is the first in the Kiki Lowenstein series and is tagged as a scrap-n-craft mystery. This could put off a lot of readers, so you hope that the marketing team knows what they are doing creating this very very niche sub genre. This is a cosy mystery, however it morphs into a story about a woman discovering herself and becoming more impowered. Which is nice. 

This series is Joanna Campbell-Slan's first and she writes strong characters in a clear voice. It will be interesting to see if she stays in the marketing pigeon-hole she has been put in.

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The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley
Published in 2009, this first novel in this series is set in the summer of 1950 in England and its main protagonist is an 11 year old girl called Flavia de Luce who lives with her two older sisters and her father in a decaying mansion in the English countryside. To put it very succiently, Flavia is a keen chemist and uses her skills in this area to clear her father of being accused of the murder of a man who visited their home. However, Alan Bradley manages to convey a realistic young girl that is inches off that line of being too precosious. You will like this book if you like Flavia and buy into her being the central character.

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Dead Dry by Sarah Andrews
Em Hansen is a forensic geologist and this is her 10th outing. Set in Utah, USA, Em is called on from her regular job at the Utah Geographic Survey to work with state law enforcement to help with investigate why a massive quarry wall collapsed. During the dig they discover a mutilated body of of an old geologist colleague. The geologist world must be small.

Sarah Andrews is a geologist so the job details in this mystery are correct. Obviously the landscape is central to her novels and her play ground is the Rocky Mountains, which is a very beautiful part of the world. 

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Body Scissors by Jerome Doolittle
This debut novel from Jerome Doolittle was published in 1990. Set in Boston, it features Vietnam war veteran, Tom Bethany, who is a security consultant who lives off the grid. He is hired by a Presidential campaign committee to vet a Sectretary of State nominee, and as a result, he becomes involved in solving the murder of the nominee's daughter that happened years before.

Jermone Doolittle is a former journalist and editor for The Washington Post. He wrote six political thrillers in the early 1990s featuring Tom Bethany. 

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Paper Butterfly by Diane Wei Liang
Mei Wang is a successful private investigator in Beijing, China who was introduced in The Eye of Jade (2008). Paper Butterfly picks up Mei Wang's story from there and throws her into the investigation into the disapparence of the Chinese pop music star Kaili.

According to Good Reads, "Diane Wei fled Tiananmen Square in June 1989 and returned to Beijing six years later to find the sweetheart she lost when the troops rolled in, separating them but never severing their bond. In the Mei Wang mystery series she draws deeply from her life story, filling her books with vivid details that only someone who has lived it firsthand can know." 

That is it for this month. I hope you enjoy the recommendations. See you next month. 

 

Recommendations for the SMSA Crime & Mystery Book Club

This month we focused on books written or set between the two world wars. Writers were rediscovered and some were discarded. Read on to see our recommendations.

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Birds of a Feather by Jacqueline Winspear
We have talked about Jacqueline Winspear before here, we we recommended her debut, Maisie Dobbs. Birds of a Feather is the second in the series and it continues to delve into how Maisie became a private investigator in the 1920s and how the past informs the actions of today. Well the today portrayed in the novel, not the present.

Jacqueline Winspear is an English writer and has won several awards for her Maisie Dobbs series.

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The Man and The Queue and A Shilling for Candles by Josephine Tey
Josephine Tey is not new to our group, and two of her novels were recommended this month.  The Man and The Queue is the first Inspector Alan Grant novel and A Shilling for Candles is the second. They may feature the same character but they were written years apart. A Man and the Queue was published in 1929 and A Shilling for Candles was published in 1936.  The next one in the series came out in 1950, so she obviously liked to have some time between novels with this character. This was the only series she wrote as she wrote seven other novels (one is a biography) and two plays. There is quite a difference in how the books are written and her experience as a writer is definately more prevelant in the seond novel. 

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Footsteps in the Dark by Georgette Heyer
Georgette Heyer is known for her historical romances set in the Regency era, however, she also wrote some crime fiction. Footsteps in the Dark is her first thriller, written in 1932, and it is set in a old house, The Priory.  Guests are charmed by the remote, ramshackle house as they stay during summer, however the frisson of a possible haunted house turns deadly when someone is murdered. It is a very light read and can be irritating and inplausible at times.  Only for the fans.

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The White Cottage Mystery by Margery Allingham

This is Margery Allingham's second novel, but first crime fiction, that was originally written as a serial for a newspaper. It has been edited into a novel by her sister in 1928. It is a single location murder in the English countryside. The body of a man is found in The White Cottage and as Detective Chief Inspector Challenor and his son Jerry begin to investigate, they find that he was not well liked by the community. To explain any further would ruin the plot.

Margery Allingham went on to write the Albert Campion series (21 in total) and 11 standalone novels and short story collections. She wrote her first novel, The Blackkerchief Dick, was published when she was 19 year old in 1923, and it had occult and supernatural themes. She included the occult in many of her stories.

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The Viaduct Murder by Ronald Knox
The Viaduct Murder was published in 1925 and is seen as a classic British crime story. It tells the story of four older gentlemen, a clergyman, a retired don, a former member of military intelligence and a vacationing golfer, stumble across a body below the railroad viaduct during a golf game. They set out to solve the murder.

According to the website Clerical Detectives and some other crime fiction, selected by Phillip Grosset, Ronald Knox was "Monsignor Ronald Arbuthnott Knox (1888-1957), was a well-known English Roman Catholic theologian, preacher, satirist and writer. Educated at Eton (which he liked very much. It probably really was the happiest time of his life) and Balliol College, Oxford, he had to give up being the Anglican chaplain at Trinity College, Oxford, when he converted to Roman Catholicism in 1917. He was (not very happily for him) sent by his bishop to teach Latin at St Edmund's College, Ware, then became RC chaplain at the University of Oxford (1928-1939), during which time he decided he would have to make ends meet by writing detective stories, five of the six featuring Miles Bredon. He also wrote a short story (Solved by Inspection) featuring Bredon"

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For the Defence: Dr Thorndyke by R. Austin Freeman
This is a Dr Thorndyke novel that was published in 1934. It is a very plodding novel that starts with crime and has a unrealistic mistaken identity that is the central conceit. If you can swallow this set up, you will enjoy the novel, if you can't employ the Nancy Pearl rule of reading. Dr Thorndyke is a medical/legal forensic investigator, which is a combination that is a little ahead of its time.

Richard Austin Freeman was a doctor in the British colonial service until that late 1890s, when he returned to London. During World War One he served as a Captain in the Royal Medical Corps. He brings this knowledge to his books. He started writing the Thorndyke novels in 1907 and wrote one just about every year until his death in 1943.

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The Santa Klaus Murder by Mavis Doriel Hay
The title does give the theme away, it is a yuletide murder mystery and it has been republished by the British Library Crime Classic series. The original came out in 1936 and it is English mansion crime mystery. The patriarch of the Melbury clan, Sir Oswald is found dead on Christmas Day dressed in a Santa Claus suit. The book gives you the different family members points of view before Colonel Halstock takes over as protagonist and investigates the murder.

Mavis Doriel Hay wrote three detective novels and thanks to the British Library Crime series all three are now available.

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The Dorothy Parker Murder Case by George Baxt
This is the first in the Detective Jacob Singer novels that merge fact and fiction and focus on famous people as co-investigators with Jacob. This novel is set in 1926 and as you can tell from the title, involves writer and witticist Dorothy Parker and some of her cohorts from the Algonquin Roundtable, George Kaufman and Alexander Woollcott, help solve the death of a New York showgirl. Baxt manages to capture how you think these people would talk to each other and has some lovely witty comments. 

George Baxt wrote 13 novels in the Celebrity Murder series as well as two other series, one featuring a gay black protagonist (Pharoah Love) and the duo Plotkin and Van Larsen. He also wrote five standalone novels. Baxt has also written screenplays for TV and cinema. He died in 2003.

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The Feathered Serpent and Mr J. G. Reeder Returns by Edgar Wallace
Two of Edgar Wallace's novels were recommended this month. One a Mr J. G. Reeder story and the other an Inspector Wade book.  

Edgar Wallace was a prolific writer with six crime series (which includes 36 novels), 83 crime novels, nine other novels, three poetry collections, 16 non-fiction novels, six screenplays, 48 short story collections and 25 plays. So, a few. As well as writing he was a war correspondent during the Boer War and stayed on in South Africa to write for local newspapers before moving back to the UK prior to World War One. After the war,  he continued to work as a journalist until the 1920s when he wrote full time. 

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In the Train by Frank O'Connor
In The Train is a short story by Frank O'Connor, one of the great Irish writers from between the wars. For some background on O'Connor, you can read this article from The Guardian.  Many of his short stories are out of print, but can be found now and again in collections such as the Collection of Great Irish Detective Novels. 

In the Train was written in 1935 and it is about the people on a train heading back to their country town from the city after they have all participated in one way or another in the murder trial of a townsfolk. The story unravels the story from different perspectives.  

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The Middle Temple Murder by J. S. Fletcher
Published in 1919, The Middle Temple Murder is of course set in the Middle Temple part of London, which is, according to wikipedia, "the Honourable Society of the Middle Temple, commonly known simply as Middle Temple, is one of the four Inns of Court exclusively entitled to call their members to the English Bar as barristers, the others being the Inner Temple, Gray's Inn and Lincoln's Inn. It is located in the wider Temple area of London, near the Royal Courts of Justice, and within the City of London." So it is safe to say that the murder is strongly connected to the legal system in England. This book not only searches for the killer but also the identity of the victim. 

Joseph Smith Fletcher was a British journalist and a crime writer from the early twentieth century.  He died in 1935. He was very prolific and wrote over 230 novels, both fiction and non-fiction.

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Bring the Monkey by Miles Franklin
Australian author Miles Franklin is better known for her non-genre books, however, this is her take on a crime novel and it is a spoof of an English country house cozy crime. The story is complete with eccentric characters such as the narrator, her dazzling companion and a monkey.  Published in 1933, the book satirises the English upper class but not in a mean way. It is fun to read.

Stella Franklin wrote under the name Miles Franklin so that she would be published. Her novel My Brilliant Career is an Australian and feminist classic. The top Australian Literary Award is called the Miles Franklin Award.  

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Thrones & Dominations by D. L. Sayers & Jill Paton Walsh
Dorothy Sayers has been written about before on this blog, and the continuation of her characters, Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane, by Jill Paton Walsh have also been touched on before here. Thrones & Dominations is the first book that continues the series after Sayers death. Sayers started writing the novel in 1936 and Paton Walsh completed it in 1998. It focuses on Lord Peter and Lady Harriet settling into married life and they are dragged into the death of a young woman. This is mainly a Harriet Vane story as Lord Peter spends most of the plot off doing Foreign Office business in the lead up to World War 2.

Next month we will be reading crime novels that feature rock, paper or scissors. A wide range indeed.

Recommendations from the SMSA Crime & Mystery Book Club

The theme this month was a connection to the elements - water, earth, air, fire.  We have a wide range of books that have been recommended and we hope you find something you may want to read:

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Bitter Water by Gordon Ferris

Gordon Ferris often gets compared to Ian Rankin as he is Scottish and sets his noirish crime stories in a Scottish town where the reader gets to see the underbelly of a city and invest in a hardened crime investigator. Where I am sure that this comparison helps with marketing, but it short changes this series of novels. Douglas Brodie is a local crime reporter in Glasgow and he gets involved in the investigation of a death that has been overlooked during heated clashes between police, mobs and a newly formed group of vigilantes called The Glasgow Marshals. With the help of Advocate, Samantha Campbell, Brodie begins to find out that the old saying 'still waters run deep' proves true.

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Death in a Ditch by Graham R Wood

Published in 2002 as two novels in one book, Death in a Ditch is the first mystery by British author Graham R Wood. Set in France in the 1960s, Detective Lauriant investigates the murder of a French-speaking German with an Argentine passport in a small town. The victim leaves behind an antique shop that has its own set of mysteries. This novel is part of the Detective Lauriant series and it is a historical cozy mystery where the people in the small town and the lifestyle is just as important as the murder plot and the insight into a historical era.

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Hell is Empty and Death Without Company, both by Craig Johnson

These are two books from Craig Johnson's Walt Longmire series.  Death Without Company is the second Longmire mystery and takes the reader to Absaroka County, Wyoming, where Mari Baroja is found poisoned at the Durant Home for Assisted Living.  Sheriff Longmire investigates the death with the help of his friend Henry Standing Bear, his Deputy, Victoria Moretti and newcomer Santiago Saizarbitoria.  According to Johnson's website Baroja has a connection to the local "Basque community, the lucrative coal-bed methane industry, and the personal life of the previous sheriff, Lucian Connally, lead to a complex web of half truths and assumed allegiances. 

Hell is Empty is the seventh Longmire novel and focuses on Raynaud Shade, an adopted Crow Indian, who has a reputation as a killer. Shade confesses to the murder of a boy 10 years previously and burying him in the Bighorn Mountains. Walt is asked to transport Shade through a blizzard to the site and on the trip realises that he knows the family of the lost boy. The journey becomes just as much personal as it is professional. 

This mystery series has become a TV program, Longmire,starring Robert Taylor and Lou Diamond Phillips. The TV program is excellent, but so are the novels as you get a sense of weather and landscape and how this impacts the lives of the people in Absaroka County, Wyoming.

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Hot Water by Sally Gunning

Hot Water is a cozy mystery set on the Cape Hook island of Nashtoba and featuring Peter Bartholomew, an islander born and bread, who owns a local company that specialises in odd jobs. One of his jobs, cataloguing books at Edna Hitchcock's place, leads him to discovering her dead in her bath. What seems to be an accident that involves too much bourbon and Seconal, soon becomes an investigation as Peter worries that water in the bath was hot when he found her. As Peter begins to figure out what happened to Edna he not only finds out about the history of the people on Nashtoba, he gets distracted by the return of his ex-wife Connie, and Edna's estranged daughter, Martha.  

This is a debut novel published in 1990 and Sally Gunning continued to write nine more mysteries featuring Peter Bartholomew.

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The Burnt House by Faye Kellerman

The Burnt House is set around the core mystery surrounding the crash of a small commuter plane carrying Forty-seven passengers into an apartment building in Granada Hills, California. L.A.P.D. Lieutenant Peter Decker works to calm the fears of a 9/11 type terror attack and to investigate the lives of the four unidentified bodies and the disappearance of an airline employee. Decker and his wife Rina Lazarus are personally shaken by the tragedy as the crash happened close to their daughter's school. The mystery continues to become personal as he and Rina delve further into the past to find out what happened in the present. Faye Kellerman has written 21 Decker/Lazarus novels and The Burnt House is the 16th in the series. Kellerman is an Orthodox Jew and she frequently deals with Jewish themes and characters into her mysteries. The character of Decker was raised as Southern Baptist who returns to his Jewish roots after marrying Rina, an Orthodox Jew. This exploration of faith and family is central to all her novels.

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Still Water by John Harvey

This is the ninth DI Charlie Resnick mystery and set in Charlie's usual stomping ground, Nottingham, England. Published in 1998, the novel starts with the battered body of a young woman is found in an inner-city canal, floating in still water. Charlie's lover, Hannah, knew the woman and suspects that her murdered friend was the victim of domestic abuse, not the victim of a serial killer, as suspected by the Serious Crime Squad. Hannah asks Charlie to take the case. As he delves deeper he begins to question the nature of relationships and what people do for love. John Harvey is a prolific writer with over 90 books under various names. He is most known for his jazz-influenced Resnick novels, however, he has also written the Frank Elder Trilogy and many stand-alones and short stories.

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Smoke Without Fire by Elizabeth Ferrars

A retired Professor of Botany, Andrew Basnett, is sucked into the aftermath of death of his neighbour, Sir Lucas Dearden, a judge who is killed by a bomb in his flat. Set over Christmas, Basnett pieces together the possible motives for the explosion, ranging from cases Sir Lucas ruled on to his relationship with his children. Smoke Without Fire is the sixth in the Andrew Basnett series.  Born in Rangoon, Burma in 1907, Elizabeth Ferrars took a diploma in journalism from 1925 - 1928 and went on to write her first two novels in the 1930s. Ferrars wrote under two other non-de-plumes, Morna MacTaggart and According to wikipedia, "though the majority of her works are standalone novels, she wrote several series. Her first five novels all feature Toby Dyke, a freelance journalist, and his companion, George, who uses several surnames and is implied to be a former criminal. Late in her career, she began writing about a semi-estranged married couple, Virginia and Felix Freer, and a retired botanist, Andrew Basnett. Several of her short stories also feature an elderly detective called Jonas P. Jonas." Ferrars died in 1995. 

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Fire and Fog by Dianne Day

Fire and Fog is the second Fremont Jones mystery by Dianne Day. Fremont is woken up by what is now known as San Frisco earthquake of 1906. In the devastation and confusion that follows, she volunteers for the Red Cross and becomes involved in unravelling the mysteries that are uncovered by the quake, such as a smuggler's cache. Fremont is left to investigate on her own as her sleuthing partner, Michael Archer, is nowhere to be found. This is a cozy historical crime novel, where our intrepid heroine juggles suitors, ninjas and possible treasure. Dianne Day began writing the Fremont Jones series (five novels) in 1995. Dianne Day also wrote stand-alone mysteries, her last being Cut to the Heart in 2000, set on the islands off South Carolina at the beginning of the US Civil War. Day died this year aged 75.

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The Twenty-Year Death by Ariel S. Winter

This debut novel by is written in the form of three separate crime novels, each set in a different decade and imitating the style of a famous crime writers from that decade. The first book starts in 1931 and introduces the reader to Shem Rosenkrantz, a hard drinking American living in France, and his much younger French wife, Clotide-ma-Fleur, who is of a delicate nature. Written like a Georges Simenon book, this first novel features a police detective much like Maigret. The second book picks up the life of Shem and Clotide-ma-Fleur in 1941, where she has become a Hollywood actress and he is her philandering husband and a hack screenwriter. Set in Los Angeles, the middle book echos the style of Raymond Chandler. The final novel is written in the first person like a Jim Thompson book and is set in 1951. Clotide-ma-Fleur has been confined to a private clinic due to a nervous breakdown and Shem has sunk even lower. He is living off the money earned by his prostitute girlfriend, whom he pimps, and is hounded by gangland types for money he owes. By the looks of things, this is the crime novel of 2013. Ariel S Winter is a former bookseller and her love of reading and authors has definitely created a tour-de-force.   

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Wet Graves by Peter Corris

Published in 1991, Wet Graves is the 13th Cliff Hardy novel and it the central mystery is connected to the Sydney Harbour Bridge. A serial killer is targeting old men with a connection to the Sydney Harbour Bridge, and PI Cliff Hardy investigates. Peter Corris is known as the godfather of Australian crime fiction, and his character of Cliff Hardy is a private investigator archetype. Corris describes his main character in the following on his website, "Cliff Hardy, born and raised in working class Maroubra, ex-army, law student dropout, insurance company investigator turned Private Eye, has a love-hate relationship with his time and place. He embraces the best aspects of Australian life - the tolerance, the classlessness, the vigorous urban and rural culture - while despising the greed and the conservatism that are constantly threatening to undercut what he sees as "real Australia". Inevitably drawn into the ambit of the people he deplores, Hardy struggles to resolve his cases while remaining true to his own threatened values. The professional challenges spill over into his personal life where he is never on firm ground."

Next month we will be focusing on serial offenders, as we bring an example of the book series we tend to go back to, have just found out about or just want to share.

Recommendations from the SMSA Crime & Mystery Book Club

The theme this month is a locked room mystery.  The selection ranges from Nordic Noir to little known Irish crime novels written in World War Two.  Here are our recommendations:

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Beast In View by Margaret Millar

Winner of the 1956 Edger Allen Poe Award, Beast In View. is set in Southern California in the 1950s and it features a young woman, Helen, who lives alone in a small hotel in Hollywood. She lived in self imposed isolation and is a loner. One day she takes an irratic phone call from a woman, Evelyn Merrick, who accuses Helen of being a coward. Helen asks her former investment broker, Mr Blackshear, to investigate Evelyn. As Blackshear starts to investigate, the novel tells the story from different perspectives, revealing the secrets and lies of those involved. This is a dark novel that delves into the human psyche. Margaret Millar was a Canadian author who wrote 21 crime novels, her first one was Invisible Worm in 1941.  She was a pioneer in writing about the psychology of women and her books are very straightforward and frank about women, society and relationships in relation to class and economic necessity.

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The Mind's Eye by Håkan Nesser

The Mind's Eye is the first in the Inspector Van Veeteren mystery series set in Sweden. Published in 1993, Nesser was awarded the Swedish Crime Writers' Academy Prize for this novel. According to Amazon, "The swift conviction left Van Veeteren uneasy: Janek Mitter woke one morning with a brutal hangover and his wife dead in the bathtub. With only the flimsiest defence, he is found guilty and imprisoned in a mental institution. But when Mitter is murdered in his bed, Van Veeteren regrets not following his gut and launches an investigation into the two murders. As the chief inspector delves deeper, the twisted root of these violent murders will shock even him."

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The Dead Room By Herbert Resnicow

This is a text book locked room mystery. The body of inventor of an audio speaker, Walter Kassel, is found in the echoless chamber called the "dead room" at Hamilcar Hi-Fi. The room is soundproof, airtight and monitored at all times. The speaker that Kassel was working on is essential to the future of the company. Success means the company stays afloat, so it is essential to the company directors that the murder be solved quickly. The main investor in the company, Ed Baer decides to investigate and asks his son, Matthew, a philosopher, to help him detect. The story is as much about the relationship between father and son as an intellectual puzzle. It is a quick read and very much of its time, which is the late 1980s. Herbert Resnicow was a civil engineer who began to write mystery novels in his 60s. His novels are built around logic and are plot puzzles.

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The Twelfth Juror by B.M. Gill

Written in 1984, this Gold Dagger Award winner is a court room drama told from a juror's perspective. Set in the UK, TV personality Edward Carne is on trial for his wife's murder and the twelfth juror, Robert Quinn, starts to delve deep into the background of the case due to his emotional involvement in the case. There are some implausible plot points as Robert should be impartial and his behaviour and actions would have typically caused him to be dismissed from his jury service, but overall in it a bit of a page turner. B.M. Gill is a non-de-plume for Barbara Margaret Trimble, who wrote over 20 crime and romance novels under this name and two others, Margaret Blake and Barbara Gilmour.

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Common or Garden Crime by Sheila Pim

Written in 1945, this is a first novel for Irish writer Sheila Pim. Set in a small Irish village during World War Two, this cozy crime novel tells the story of an investigation into a murder by the Guard (Irish police) and local Lucy Bex, who is neighbour to the deceased. Lucy uses local knowledge to solve the crime, especially as poisonous plants from her garden were the means for murder. The introduction to the book says this about Sheila Pim, "she wrote her first detective novel, Common or Garden Crime, to satisfy her father’s thirst for detective stories, the publication of which had been curtailed thanks to the paper shortages which affected neutral Ireland during the “Emergency”—or World War II, as it was called in most other parts of the globe. The book turned into something of a collaboration, at least when it came to research, with Sheila and her accountant father pooling their knowledge of gardening and sharing details about the habits of their Dublin neighbours."

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Murder on the Trans-Siberian Express by Stuart Kaminsky

Another Porfiry Petrovich Rostnikov novel, the 14th to be exact.  As the title suggests, it is set on the Trans-Siberian Express in present day Russia, although the series started when the country was known as the Soviet Union. There are quite a few plots on the boil with Rostnikov and his assistant Sasha Tkach getting on board the Express in search of a historical document from the time of Tsarist Russia. There is also a gem involved, which is hidden near the historical document with its own set of characters in pursuit. Back in Moscow, there is a serial killer on the loose, and it is up to Rostnikov's son Iosef (also a policeman) and his partner Elena Timofeyeva to catch her.  So that is just the beginning. Kaminsky is a great writer who is able to offer social commentary as well as entertain.  If you are new to the series, we suggest starting at the beginning as there are character and historical developments that make the series a bit of a treasure to read.

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The Locked Room by Maj S. Jöwall & Per Wahlöö

Originally published in 1972, this is 'vintage' nordic noir, before anyone had heard of a girl with a tattoo of a dragon. It is set 15 months after the previous novel, The Abominable Man, and Martin Beck is recovering from being shot. He is handed this case as he returns to work and it involves the death of Karl Edvin Svard, who was found shot dead in a locked room. The case was originally identified as a suicide and handled in such a manner, so when Beck comes to take over, he has to start from the beginning. In addition there is a series of bank robberies that has instigated a task force headed up by a District Attorney, Sten Olsen.  The book focuses on the difference in approaches between Olsen and Beck and there is also insight into the actions of the criminals, which is unusual for a Martin Beck novel. This is another series that offers social commentary as well as entertainment.  This novel is a good opportunity to dip into the world of Martin Beck and see if it is a place you want to visit again,

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Busman's Honeymoon by D.L. Sayers

Dorothy L. Sayers is a contemporary of Agatha Christie and wrote crime novels featuring her English hero, Lord Peter Wimsey and his delightful family.  She introduced Lord Peter 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.  

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Winter At Death's Hotel by Kenneth Cameron

The author of Sherlock Holmes, Arthur Conan Doyle becomes the fictional character in this novel by Kenneth Cameron. Set in New York in January 1896, Conan Doyle and his wife, Louisa are at the beginning of Conan Doyle's American literary tour. A woman is found murdered in a Bowery Alley and Louisa becomes convinced that she had seen the woman at the hotel that they are staying at. Conan Doyle dismisses it as fancy, bu when Louisa twists her ankle and is forced to stay at the Hotel Britannica while Conan Doyle continues his tour, she becomes involved in trying to solve the mystery with the help of the hotel detective and an intrepid female reporter. Although Louisa and Conan Doyle were actual people, the book basically uses them as a frame to delve into society of that time and the place and expectation of educated women. It does not really need the tenuous link to Sherlock Holmes, but I suppose it guarantees some type of marketing then.

Next month the theme is a crime involving any of the elements - earth, wind, fire or water.

Recommendation from the SMSA Crime & Mystery Book Club

This month the theme was 'far away places' and we have an eclectic bunch of books and one poem that we recommend: 

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Prime Cut by Alan Carter

This is the debut novel of Australian author Alan Carter featuring DSC Cato Kwong, a disgraced cop stuck in Hopetoun, Western Australia working in the Stock Squad (focus on horses and ponies).  Set during the recent global financial crisis, seaside town, Hopetoun is prosperous because of the Australian mining boom. With an influx of people and money comes crime and when a torso of a human body is washed up by the sea, Kwong is called on to investigate.  This is a great first novel, and a good look into Australian rural life in the 21st Century.  The juxtaposition of white Australian mythology about the outback with the reality of modern Australia with different cultures and the impact of mining and selling a natural resource to the highest bidder is woven through the investigation. Well worth a read.   

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Pick You Victim by Pat McGerr

Another debut novel, Pick Your Victim was written in 1947 and set the Aleutian Islands in the Northern Pacific Ocean during World War 2. The story is known for its plot structure - starting the story with the knowledge of who the murderer is and ending it with the identity of the victim. As reviewer Xavier Lechard describes on gadetection.com "The story opens with a group of Marines, stationed in the Aleutians, whom are threatened to succumb to boredom and the monotony of daily routine, when one of them discovers that his package from the home front is padded with a heaping bundle of torn newspaper scraps. Needless to the say the scraps of paper are eagerly devoured, however, among the bits and pieces on boxing bouts and advertisements for women's garments is an incomplete account of a murder committed at the Society to Uplift Domestic Service (SUDS for short) back in Washington. Paul Stetson strangled one of the SUDS officers to death at their office, but parts of the article, that would've informed them on the victim's identity, are missing." This is a hard book to find because it is not well known. You may be able to find it in second hand book stores or through the internet. If you can find, buy it.

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The Missing Wife by June Duncan Owen

Set in a small farming town in Western New South Wales, Australia, this novel focuses on how a person can never escape the past. Laura is a history teacher in Sydney who is in the middle of school holidays when friends of hers from her time in Sri Lanka contact her to ask for her help. Their daughter,Nilanthi,has gone missing and they ask Laura to find her. Nilanthi is the missing wife of a farmer, a mail order bride who is not welcomed to the community, To find out what has happened to Nilanthi, Laura has to travel to the town in Western New South Wales, which just happens to be her home town. Laura's family history and her own marriage to a Sri Lankan man back into her own tragic past.

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Winter Study by Nevada Barr

This is the 14th novel in the Anna Pigeon series. Anna is a park ranger who works and sometimes investigates murder in the Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado, USA. In this story, Anna is sent to Isle Royale in Lake Superior near the border between Canada and the USA in January. It is the middle of winter and mischief is afoot where Anna is being housed with the team running the famed wolf study and two homeland security scientists. This is vintage Barr where the study of nature and the environmental impact of humans is mixed with the investigation of a murder.

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O Caledonia by Elspheth Barker

A mixture of a coming-of-age story and a crime novel, O Caledonia is a first novel by writer and journalist Elspheth Barker, published in 1991. It won four awards and was shortlisted for the Whitbread Prize in the UK. The protagonist of the story is also the victim of the story.  16 year old Janet is found murdered beneath the stairs of a castle in a remote Scottish village. She is not missed by her parents or anyone in the village, just missed by a small black bird.  It is beautifully written and you sink into the vivid imagery and fantastic use of language.  The story of Janet's life is told in flashback so you learn about the world Janet inhabits physically as well as mentally.  Her approach to life and obvious intelligence makes her stick out in this small village in the 1950s. It has a lot of dark humour and wry observations and although it is sad it is also very uplifting.

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Murder on the Iditarod Trail by Sue Henry

The blurb on the back says "The winner of Alaska's world-famous Iditarod -- a grueling, eleven-hundred-mile dog sled race across a frigid Arctic wilderness---takes home a $250,000 purse But this year, the prize is survival". So this qualifies as a far off place. This novel errs on the side of romantic suspense in the mystery/crime genre as there is a central love story.  This is a page turner as the structure of the race keeps the plot tight and moving. 

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The Dark Wind by Tony Hillerman

This is the second novel is the series featuring Officer Jim Chee of the Navajo Tribal Police in Arizona. Chee works to keep the peace between the Navajo and the Hopi when a decaying and unidentified body is discovered in the desert. Tony Hillerman was known for his respect and love of the Four Corners area in the South West of USA which covers Native American tribal lands and the interaction between white and Native American culture. I have written about Tony Hillerman before, click here to read it.

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On the Head of a Pin by Janet Kellough

Published in 2009, this Canadian historical crime novel features Thaddeus Lewis, a 'saddlebag' preacher who is on his way to his new posting in Prince Edward County, Upper Canada.  Set after the 1837 Mackenzie Rebellion, Lewis is convinced that there is a serial killer on the loose. Still in mourning after the death of his daughter, Sarah, Lewis tracks the killer across the colony using the Book of Proverbs and a the small painted pin of the title as the only clues. Janet Kellough is an author and performance storyteller who has a great interest in delving into the everyday life of people rather than dates in a history book.

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Silent Valley by Malla Nunn

Set in the 1950s in South Africa in the first years of what is now called Apartheid, this is a Detective Sergeant Emmanuel Cooper novel that explores the Natal area of South Africa and the interaction between the dominant local nation, the Zulus, and apartheid structure. Cooper investigates the death of a Zulu princess in the Drakensberg mountains near Durban. According to publishers Pan Macmillan, "he must enter the guarded worlds of a traditional Zulu clan and a white farming community to gather up the clues Amahle left behind and bring her murderer to justice. But the silence in the valley is deafening, and it seems that everyone - from the uncooperative local police officer, to the white farm boy who seems obsessed with the dead girl - has something to hide."  This series is fascinating as it delves into a certain place and time in history.

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The Blackhouse by Peter May

Peter May is a Scottish writer who started started out as a journalist in Glasgow. He has written for TV and has a successful crime series set in Shanghai, China.  He now lives in France and has written two more crime series, the first is The Enzo Files books set in France and The Lewis Trilogy that takes place on the Isle of  Lewis in Northern Scotland.  The Blackhouse is the first in the trilogy and features Detective Inspector Fin Macleod, a native of the island, who is sent back to the island from Edinburgh to investigate a murder.  Like all novels set in remote areas, the weather and isolation of the communities are integral to the atmosphere and plot of the stories.  Peter May is a veteran writer who knows how to spin a yarn. It is worth spending time in the world he has created.

 

The Shooting of Dan McGrew by Robert Service  

Watch the poem read by Bill Kerr below:

I Spy With My Little Eye

With the latest James Bond to hit our screens this month, I delved back to what is known as the first English spy novel, to see where it all began.  Erskine Childers’ The Riddle of the Sands was published in 1903 and written by Childers, (33 years old at the time) as a wake-up call for Britain about German Imperialism.  It established a formula that included a mass of verifiable detail, which gave authenticity to the story – the same ploy that would be used so well by John Buchan, Ian Fleming, John le Carré and many others*.

It is a boys-own adventure featuring self-appointed amateur spies, Curruthers, a minor official in the British Foreign Office and Davies, a yachting enthusiast and old university acquaintance of Curruthers. Davies asks Curruthers to join him on a yachting holiday in the Baltic Sea on a small sailing boat where Davies reveals to Curruthers his suspicions of something sinister going on in the German Frisian islands.  The story kicks off from there and slowly reveals a German plot to invade Britain.

According to the book’s Wikipedia entry, the whole genre of "invasion novels" raised the public's awareness of the potential threat of Imperial Germany and as a result the Royal Navy developed several bases (Scapa Flow, Invergordon and Rosyth) on the North Sea coast of the British Isles to prepare for the possibility of war with Germany. Winston Churchill later credited the book as a major reason why the Admirality had decided to establish the new naval bases. When war was declared he ordered the Director of Naval Intelligence to find Childers, whom he had met when the author was campaigning to represent a naval seat in Parliament, and employ him**.   Well that is a bit of a legacy for one book.

Childers lived an interesting life.  He fought in the Boer War (1900 – 1902), and then worked as a clerk for the English House of Commons.  At this time he became a keen yachtsman.  After he wrote The Riddle of the Sands (his only novel), he became more and more political and became an advocate for Irish Home Rule.  He even used his own boat to smuggled guns to them in 1914.  Childers fought in World War I, after which, he volunteered in the Royal Navy and served in Naval Intelligence, raiding Cuxhaven and flying in a seaplane to the North Sea coast of Germany. He received a Distinguished Service Cross.  After the Irish Partition in 1920, Childers served the cause of Irish Independence until he was shot by an Irish Free State firing squad Nov. 24, 1922, after being convicted of having a small pistol. He had been one of the leaders, with Eamon de Valera, of the Irish Republican Army rebellion against the Free State leadership of Michael Collins and Arthur Griffith. His son, Erskine Hamilton Childers, was president of Ireland in 1973-4***.

The fact of the author’s life was certainly stranger than the fiction he wrote.  The Riddle of the Sands is a great read, and I understand that it has been made into a film twice.   A British film in 1979, starring Michael York, Simon MacCorkindale and Jenny Agutter and a German TV movie, Das Rätsel der Sandbank, in 1984 with Burghart Klaußner and Peter Sattmann.  So if you do not want to sit down and read it, try and see one of the movies.  It is a cracking yarn.

*Erskine Childers's log books from the UK National Maritime Museum.

**Knightley, Phillip. The Second Oldest Profession: Spies and Spying in the Twentieth Century. London: Pimlico. p. 17.

***http://www.eldritchpress.org/rec/rs.html

Published 1903.

Published 1903.