Some More Recommendations of Historical Crime

Favourite Crime Novels Read During 2018

Crime Novels Set or Written in the 1930s

New Year & Over 40 Recommendations from the Latest SMSA Crime & Mystery Book Club

Welcome to 2016 and the Sydney Mechanics School of Arts Library crime & mystery book club's latest recommendations. All of them read over the holiday period. Click on the books listed below for reviews and information. Enjoy.

The Postmistress by Sarah Blake

The Crowded Grave by Martin Walker

The Mystery of the Blue Train by Agatha Christie

Her Royal Spyness Mysteries by Rhys Bowen

Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

Play Dead by Bill James

The Fall of Man in Wilmslow; The Girl in the Spider's Web by David Lagercrantz

Grave Mistake by Ngaio Marsh

Inspector Singh Investigates: The Singapore School for Villainy by Shamini Flint

Shoulder The Sky by Anne Perry

Chosen Perry by Karen Grigsby Bates

Smoke and Mirrors by Kel Robertson

Grandad, There's A Head on the Beach by Colin Cotterill

City of the Dead by Sara Gran

The Marathon Conspiracy by Gary Corby

Dishing The Dirt by M.C. Beaton

Chance Developments by Alexander McCall Smith

Even Days in the Wild by Ian Rankin

The Crossing by Michael Connelly

Dictator by Robert Harris

My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante

Pardonable Lies by Jacqueline Winspear

The Whites by Richard Price

The Spies of Warsaw; The Polish Officer; The World At Night by Alan Furst

The New York Trilogy by Paul Auster

The Dark Side of the Road by Simon R. Green

Princess Elizabeth's Spy by Susan Elia Macneal

Crocodile on the Sandbank by Elizabeth Peters

Monday Mourning by Kathy Reichs

Looking for Rachel Wallace by Robert B Parker

The Ghostway by Tony Hillerman

Singing the Sadness by Reginald Hill

Three Crooked Kings by Matthew Condon

Red Mass by Rosemary Aubert

The Man Who Watched Trains Go By by Georges Simenon

Lost Swimmer by Ann Turner

Envious Casca by Georgette Heyer

A Morning for Flamingos by James Lee Burke

Acute Misfortune - The Life & Death of Adam Cullen by Erik Jensen

The Girl Who Saved The King of Sweden by Jonas Jonasson

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.


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.


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. 


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.


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.


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"


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.


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.


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.


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. 


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.  


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.


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.  


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

For the last month of the year, we are recommending series that we enjoy or have just started reading. 

Big Issue.jpg

The Big Issue Magazine

One recommendation from the left field. In a time when magazines are on the decline, one of our members suggested The Big Issue as a magazine that should be regularly read. Not only because the money goes to a good cause, but because the articles are well written, interesting and more substantial than any other magazine available today.

According to its website, "The Big Issue is timely and topical and loved by readers for its distinctive brand of irreverence. Since its inception in Australia in 1996, more than eight million magazines have been sold, with $16 million going into the pockets of Australia's homeless, marginalised and disadvantaged." Get a subscription this Christmas and your money will go to homeless women. 


The Raven's Eye by Barry Maitland

The Raven's Eye is the 12th novel in the Brock and Kolla series, which are usually classified as whydunits rather than whodunits. DI Kathy Kolla and DCI David Brock of Scotland Yard, London are in the Serious Crime Unit. There is not an hint of romance between the characters which is pleasant change from the norm. The series started in the early 1990s and is still being writ

ten today. Maitland's love of architecture comes through in his description of London and the rest of England, if the story goes there, His focus on the growth of his characters through the years, rather than a reset that does happen in other series, keeps readers coming back. If you like a police procedural and good characters, start at the beginning of the series with The Marx Sisters.


Series by Elizabeth Linington

Elizabeth Linington has written under many non-de-plumes, namely, Dell Shannon, Anne Blaisdell, Lesley Egan and Egan O'Neill. In 1960 she published Case Pending the first novel of her most popular series (written as Dell Shannon) featuring LAPD Homicide Lieutenant Luis Mendoza.  She wrote 41 novels as Dell Shannon.

In 1961 she published three books, Nightmare, a standalone that was written under the name Anne Blaisdell and made into a movie called Die Die My Darling in 1965 starring Tallulah Bankhead and Stephanie Powers. Another Dell Shannon called, The Ace of Spades, and A Case for Appeal her first novel written as Lesley Egan. She has also 16 novels under her real name, Elizabeth Linington. 


Echo Park by Michael Connelly

Echo Park is the 12th in the Hieronymus 'Harry' Bosch series. Bosch is a LAPD Detective who retired and became a private investigator before returning to the LAPD's Open Unresolved Unit - basically the cold case unit. Bosch is a Vietnam War vet who grew up in refuges and orphanages and his past is a theme that comes up often in the series. Los Angeles is just as much a character in these novels and Harry's many roles in the LAPD and as a PI give the reader an insight into different parts of the city. These books are 'airport novels' that are a bit formulaic so it is difficult to read one after another. However, they are great one-off reads.


Veil of Lies by Jeri Westerson

Marketed as a medieval noir, Veil of Lies is the first in this crime series set in 1383 featuring Crispin Guest, a disgraced knight turned detective. Guest was stripped of his title as a result of supporting his liege from the House of Lancaster over Richard II, son of Edward the Black Prince for the English crown. Guest is preoccupied with his loss of status in relation to his birth right, and the idea of heritage and breeding anchors his approach to life. The tone of the book is a bit modern in comparison to the history it is illustrating, which makes this a light read. The use of the term noir in describing the book is misleading as a disgruntled private investigator who is attracted to a woman involved in a crime does not make it noir. It makes it like most private investigator crime novels out there. 


Getting Warmer by Alan Carter

This is the second book in the Cato Kwang series set in Perth, Australia, first featured in our recommendations earlier in the year. The plot is described on the Freemantle Press website as "Cato Kwong is back. Back in Boom town and back on a real case - the unsolved mystery of a missing fifteen-year-old girl. But it's midsummer in the coty of millionaries and it's not just the heat that stinks. A pig corpse, peppered with nails, is uncovered in a shallow grave and a body, with its throat cut, turns up in the local nightclub. As a series of blunders by Cato’s colleague brings the squad under intense scrutiny, Cato’s own sympathy for a suspect threatens to derail his case and his career." This is a series I am planning on diving into, as it is always interesting to have a series set in a city that is not a common location for crime novels.


Coffin Scarcely Used by Colin Watson

This is the first in the Flaxborough Chronicles by Colin Watson written in 1958. Flaxborough is a small fictional town in England, not the name of the Detective, which is a bit of a change. These cosy British crime novels feature DI Purbright and Sergeant Love who are decent and centred, and in Coffin Scarcely Used they investigate the death of the unpopular editor of the local newspaper. The novels usually target the pretentiousness of the bourgeoisie and money is the root of all evil. There are twelve novels in total and four of the Flaxborough novels were adapted for television by the BBC under the series title Murder Most English. The last book was written in 1982. Colin Watson died in 1983.


The Inspector Montalbano Series by Andrea Camilleri

According to "In 1994 Camilleri published the first in a long series of novels: "La forma dell'acqua" (The Shape of Water) featured the character of Inspector Montalbano, a fractious Sicilian detective in the police force of Vigàta, an imaginary Sicilian town. The series is written in Italian but with a substantial sprinkling of Sicilian phrases and grammar. The name Montalbano is an homage to the Spanish writer Manuel Vazquez Montalban: the similarities between Montalban's Pepe Carvalho and Camilleri's fictional detective are remarkable. Both writers make great play of their protagonists' gastronomic preferences" This is a very popular series that has been translated into English and was made into a long running television program by Italian TV channel RAI in 1999. The TV series has been running for nine seasons and is still in production.  


The Rabbi Small Series by Harry Kemelman

The Rabbi Small series began in 1964 with Friday The Rabbi Slept Late and ended twelve books later in 1996 with The Day The Rabbi Left Town, when Harry Kemelman died at the age of 88. This series is one of the most famous clerical detectives in crime fiction. Although technically a Rabbi is not part of their community as the same way as clergy in Christianity. The books are set in a small knit Jewish community in a fictional town of Bernard's Crossing, along the east coast of the US. The books are fill of humour and sharp observations and the mysteries are solved by the Rabbi using logic and teachings from the Talmud. Kemelman did say that the purpose of his stories was to teach and explain Judaism to Jews and Gentiles. He succeeds in this.


Almost Night by Ann Prospero

Almost Night is Ann Prespero's debut novel featuring Detective Susannah Cannon of the Miami Police Homicide Squad. Published in 2000, this novel is written in the first person and highlights what Susannah goes through in the male-dominated world of a homicide police squad. The story starts when the body of Carla Reeves indicates that the killer has previous skill and knowledge and indicates that they may be a serial killer. However, Almost Night is the only crime novel by Ann Prospero at present, so not technically a series. Ann Prospero has also written recipe books and is a freelance journalist.


Hangman by Faye Kellerman

As highlighted last month, Faye Kellerman writes a series featuring Peter Decker and his wife Rina Lazarus set in Los Angeles. She is an American author who explores modern Judaism through these characters. She has written nineteen novels in this series, two short story novels with her husband, crime author, Jonathan Kellerman and has co-written a teen novel with her daughter Alexa.


The High Commissioner by Jon Cleary

The High Commissioner introduces Sergeant Scobie Malone of the Sydney police. Written in 1966, Malone is sent to London where he is to arrest the Australian High Commissioner for the murder of his first wife. This novel was a best seller and made into a movie. However, Cleary wrote two more Malone novels in the following ninenteen years before coming back to writing a Malone novel nearly every year. Jon Cleary is known for his 1953 novel The Sundowners as well as his Scobie Malone series. He wrote over fifty six novels, twenty of them featuring Malone.


Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear

Maisie Dobbs is the first in the Maisie Dobbs series set in between the world wars in England. Maisie is a Psychologist and Investigator who began her education prior to World War I when as a servant in a big house owned by Lady Rowan Compton, she was discovered reading in the library. Lady Compton supports Maisie's search for knowledge by sponsoring her to be educated by Lady Compton's friend Dr Maurice Blanche, a Psychologist. The war intervenes and instead of going to Cambridge University, Maisie enlists as a nurse. The impact of the war is a thread throughout Maisie's career and the following ten novels, as we follow Maisie through the late 1920s and early 1930s. Jacqueline Winspear was born and grew up in England and now lives in the US. The series is ongoing. 


A Cold Day for Murder by Dana Stabenow

The Kate Shugak series is set in Alaska and starts with A Cold Day for Murder, first published in 1992. Kate is an Aleut and was raised by her grandmother in the National Park in northern Alaska. She is an ex-investigator for Anchorage District Attorney's office and is now a Park homesteader. She was injured in her role as an investigator for the D.A.'s office and is now asked to use her skills to find out what happened to a missing National Park ranger. The books investigate the tensions between the traditional Aleut way of life and modern America. There are twenty one novels in the Kate Shugak series. Dana Stabenow also writes science fiction and thrillers and has two other series, the Star Svensdotter series (science fiction) and the Liam Campbell series featuring Alaskan State Trooper Liam Campbell.

The SMSA Crime & Mystery Book Club will be back in January, when we will discuss what books we read over the holidays. See you then.