Favourite Characters in Crime and Mystery Novels

In this meeting, the Crime and Mystery Book Club at the Sydney Mechanics School of Arts Library discussed our favourite characters from the genre. Here are the books and characters:

Court Counsellor Fandorin from Special Assignments by Boris Akunin

Simon Templar from The Saint by Leslie Charteris

Phryne Fisher from Cocaine Blues by Kerry Greenwood

Aimée Leduc from Murder Below Montparnasse by Cara Black

Captain Richard Gaudeans from The Blindfold Game by Donald Thomas

Clara Vine from Black Roses by Jane Thynne

Marcus Didius Falco from The Silver Pigs by Lindsey Davis

Inspector Shan Tao Yun from Skeleton God by Eliot Pattison

Inspector Chen from Death of a Red Heroine by Qiu Xiaolong

Miss Marple from At Bertram Hotel by Agatha Christie

Richard Hannay from The 39 Steps by John Buchan

Lew Archer from The Underground Man by Ross Macdonald

Tommy and Tuppence from Postern of Fate by Agatha Christie

John Smiley from Smiley's People by John LeCarre

Jackson Brodie from One Good Turn by Kate Atkinson

Hugh Llewellyn Monsarrat from The Soldier's Curse by Meg and Tom Keneally

Hugo Marston from The Bookseller by Mark Pryor

Father Anselm from The Silent Ones by William Brodrick

Professor Simon Shaw from Simon Said by Sarah R Shaber

Stewart Hoag from The Man Who Died Laughing by David Handler

Father Brown from The Innocence of Father Brown by GK Chesterton

Lovejoy from The Judas Pair by Jonathan Gash

Jesper Humlin from The Shadow Girls by Henning Mankell

Jim Chee and Joe Leaphorn from Skinwalkers by Tony Hillerman

Ian Pembroke from Hot Money by Dick Francis

Kramer and Zondi from The Steam Pig by James McClure

Emily Tempest from Gunshot Road by Adrian Hyland

Enzo Macleod from The Blackhouse by Peter May

Agnes Charmichael from Angel Without Mercy by Anthea Cohen

Detective Chief Inspector Adam Dalgleish from Cover Her Face by PD James

A Selection of Green Penguins from the SMSA Crime Book Club

In this meeting we read books that had been published as a green Penguin. The original idea, according to wikipedia, was established by Penguin Books, a British publishing house that was established in 1935 that sold inexpensive paperbacks through high street stores.

"From the outset, design was essential to the success of the Penguin brand. Eschewing the illustrated gaudiness of other paperback publishers, Penguin opted for the simple appearance of three horizontal bands, the upper and lower of which were colour-coded according to which series the title belonged to; this is sometimes referred to as the horizontal grid. In the central white panel, the author and title were printed in Gill Sans and in the upper band was a cartouche with the legend "Penguin Books". The initial design was created by the then 21-year-old office junior Edward Young, who also drew the first version of the Penguin logo. Series such as Penguin Specials and The Penguin Shakespeare had individual designs (by 1937 only S1 and B1-B18 had been published).

The colour schemes included: orange and white for general fiction, green and white for crime fiction, cerise and white for travel and adventure, dark blue and white for biographies, yellow and white for miscellaneous, red and white for drama; and the rarer purple and white for essays and belles lettres and grey and white for world affairs. Lane actively resisted the introduction of cover images for several years. Some recent publications of literature from that time have duplicated the original look."

What a great design and marketing idea that has been fabulously executed and has been renewed throughout the years. This meant that the Sydney Mechanics School of Arts Library's Crime and Mystery Book Club members had a plethora of books to choose from to read. For the latest list you can go here to Penguin Australia. Here is a list of what was read by the group.

The Franchise Affair by Josephine Tey

The Invisible Man by H.G. Wells

The Godwulf Manuscript by Robert B Parker

Duet of Death by Hilda Lawrence

The 39 Steps by John Buchan

Frequent Hearses by Edmund Crispin

The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins

The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler

The Glass-sided Ant's Nest by Peter Dickinson

Traitor's Purse; Death of a Ghost; The Fashion in Shrouds by Margery Allingham

Bullet in the Ballet by Caryl Brahms & S.J. Simon

The Caterpillar Cop by James McClure

The Man Who Was Thursday by G.K. Chesterton

Death At The President's Lodging by Michael Innes

Recommendations from the SMSA Crime & Mystery Book Club

This month the theme was architecture and the range of books read and recommended reflect big cities and small towns both in modern times and days gone past. Quite a few are Australian authors and there are a couple of debuts. Enjoy.

City of Ransom by Robert W. Walker
City of Ransom is the first novel to feature Inspector Alistair Ransom of the Chicago Police Department. Set in 1893 during the Chicago World's Fair, the world wary Ransom is hunting for a killer who is using the hustle and bustle of the great Exhibition to cover their tracks. If you like The Alienist by Caleb Carr and similar novels that delve into the advances in forensics, change in policework, and the rise of big Amercian cities at the turn of the 20th century, this is the book for you. 

According Harper Collins Publisher, "Robert W. Walker, a graduate of Northwestern University, is the author of thirty-six novels, including the acclaimed PSI Blue featuring FBI Psychic Rae Hiyakawa, the Instinct Series with FBI Medical Examiner Dr. Jessica Coran, and the Edge Series featuring Texas Cherokee Detective Lucas Stonecoat and psychiatrist Meredyth Sanger. He has also recently published the serialized thriller set in India entitled Fleshwar on Amazon.com\shorts. Robert was born in Corinth, Mississippi; grew up in Chicago, Illinois; and currently resides in Chicago and Charleston, West Virginia. In between teaching, lecturing, and book touring, Rob is busy tackling his next two novels, City of the Absent and Deja Blue."

The Bookseller by Mark Pryor
The Bookseller is Mark Pryor's debut featuring Hugo Marston, the head of security at the US Embassy in Paris, France. Marston is ex-FBI and has friends in the CIA. Through his friendship with the bookseller of the title, a riverside bouquiniste who runs one of the stalls on the River Siene near Notre-Dame Cathedral, Marston is drawn into investigating the deaths of these bouquinistes. The book is well researched and learning about the history of this unique aspect of Paris is very interesting. The is a great sense of place, and the backstreets of Paris come to life. The plotting of the story is a bit movie of week by numbers, and Marston is a nice enough protagonist, who is from Texas, so is a straight shooter and heroic in a traditional way.  

According to goodreads, "Mark Pryor is a former newspaper reporter from England, and now an assistant distribut attorney with the Travis County District Attorney's Office, in Austin, Texas. He is the creator of the nationally-recognised true-crime blog D.A. Confidential." So it looks like he knows his Texans. 

Angels in the Architecture by Mary-Rose MacColl
Australian author MacColl has written three novels, Angels in the Architecture (1999) in her second book. She contributes to Australia's leading literary magazine, Griffith Review. The blurb discribes the plot as "In a secret chamber uncovered by a fire that nearly destroys the nineteenth-century chapel at Archangels University, architect Harriet Darling finds a skull. The police have a body and murderer in mind, and on campus, rumours are rife. But Harriet wants to save the chapel from further harm, and hse has ideas of her own. She has a blue rosary and a Black Madonna, and they take her back, to a girls' school, a powerful nun, and a time of innocence lost and found." It is a well written story which delves into a fictional university and school in Australia and uses this premise to explore gender politics, moral responsiblity and how much trust you put in the person telling a story.

MacColl (yes this is the correct spelling, even though this picture says different) writes standalone novels with strong female protagonsts who are well educated and cerebral. As she sets her novels in Australia, you also get a slice of life from late 1990s/ early 2000 Australia city life. 

There is No Place Like Holmes by Derham Groves
Senior Lecturer in Architect at University of Melbourne, Australia and author Dr Derham Groves is a crime fiction fan, especially Sherlock Holmes, and has combined his two main passions in this book. There is No Place Like Holmes explores the impact of the settings and sense of place to Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories. 

Here is an endorsement from some of Groves' colleagues from the University of Melbourne:

"Derham Groves has had the brilliant idea of considering architecture as a detective story. It is a fascinating thought—that buildings might be crime scenes: in both bodies go missing—and Groves unfolds it in fascinating ways. If modern architecture has notoriously failed to make places where people can live, perhaps it is time architecture was put on trial. If so, the designs of its rooms are vital clues! Derham Groves is on the trail of a particular lost body: the home of Sherlock Holmes. He has students design buildings constructed like brilliant deductions. He designs a Sherlock Holmes Centre where the great man is absent but clues to his presence lie everywhere. An absorbing meditation on the way we read architecture, an engaging challenge to designers and the stories they tell, There’s No Place Like Holmes possesses the rare quality of making what seemed cryptic in architecture elementary, and the obvious once again filled with enchantment."
Paul Carter, Professorial Fellow, University of Melbourne.

The Dancing Floor by John Buchan
The Dancing Floor (1926) is the third Edward Leithen novel - he wrote five about this character in total. Leithen is a lawyer who befriends the young and handsome Vernon Milburne, who confides in Leithen about a recurring dream he has at the same time each year. The dream reveals details about an impending threat each time he has it and when Leithen and Milburne meet again on Plakos, a Greek Island, it seems that Milburne has enough information to figure out what is of threat to him.   We have written about John Buchan before and you can read more about him here.

One of the commentors on the Good Reads page about this book give us some extra information about how the story developed. Jayaprakash Satyamurthy says

"This is an expanded version of a short story, first published in 1914, called 'Basilissa'. I've read it in a volume of Buchan's weird fiction published by Penguin Classics, 'The Strange Adventures of Mr. Andrew Hawthorn and other stories'. Edward Leithen, Buchan's barrister/MP protagonist isn't present in the original story, which may explain why his role in this narrative isn't really pivotal so much as that of a fly on the wall, albeit a fly whose paths intersect with those of the main players in a number of ways."

The Mystery of Cloomber by Arthur Conan Doyle
A non-Sherlock Holmes story from Arthur Conan Doyle. Yes, he did write them. The Mystery of Cloomber is actually one of the first novels he wrote, but only published in 1888 (two years after A Study in Scarlet, his first Sherlock Holmes novel). Cloomber Hall is in a remote county in south-west Scotland and it has been standing empty for many years until General Heatherstone, who used to be part of the Indian Army and fought in the First Afghan War (1839 - 1842), takes up tenancy. The closest neighbour to Cloomber Hall is John Fothergill West whose adult children start to forge friendships with the General's adult children. These relationships are used to open up and explore the General's past in India and how that impacts the mystery of what is happening at Cloomber Hall now.  

Conan Doyle was renowned for believing in an afterlife and communicating with people who have died. This belief is a viable explanation for the going ons at Cloomber Hall and it is up to the reader to either explain the mystery this manner or in another less mystical way.  

The Marx Sisters and All My Enemies by Barry Maitland
The Marx Sisters (1994) is Barry Maitland's debut novel and introduced his detective duo, Brock and Kolla, two Scotland Yard detectives. Set in London, the Brock and Kolla novels use the setting of the city as another character. His books are known for their atmosphere and intricate understanding of the area of London in which it is set. The plot of The Marx Sisters is as follows - Brock and Kolla 'investigate the murder of Karl Marx's great-granddaughters (via an illegitimate son) and the theft of the unpublished manuscript of a fourth volume of Das Kapita.' The area of London that is explored in this book is Jerusalem Lane, near Clerkenwell Road in Farringdon.  

Born in Scotland during World War Two, Maitland studied architecture at Cambridge University and was a practicing architect in the UK and in Australia, which he immigrated to in 1984. He became the professor of Architecture at the University of Newcastle in Australia until he retired in 2000, whereby he started writing full time.

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The Tower by Michael Duffy
The blurb on the back describes the plot as follows: It's going to be the biggest skyscraper in the world. One rainy night a young woman falls from an unfinished upper story, landing on a ploice car. Detectives Jon McIver and Nicholas Troy think it will be a pretty simple investigation, but all is not what it seems...' You are just waiting for the intro music from a song by The Who aren't you? Or at least a voiceover from the movie trailer guy. This is a Michael Duffy novel and he writes very visual, airport thrillers that could be commissioned into a TV or movie very easily. The Tower (2009) is the first in what is hoped to be a series featuring Detective Nicholas Troy and set in Sydney, Australia. 

Michael Duffy is a former journalist and editor. He wrote for the Sydney Morning Herald and presented ABC Radio National's Counterpoint, and edited The Independent Monthly.

Have Mercy on Us All by Fred Vargas
We have recommended French author Fred Vargas before, and this novel was published in 2001, translated into English in 2003 and made into a movie (French) in 2007. Set in Paris, it features Chief Inspector Adamsberg and his team. It is the fourth in the Adamsberg series and focuses on a the possiblity that the black death may have returned to Paris when a flea-bitten corpse with plague like symptoms is found in a derlilect building. 

Fred Vargas is the pen name of French historian and archeologist Frederique Audoin-Reuzeau. She is seen as an expert on the Black Death and bubonic plague.  So she knows what she is talking about when she references the plague in this novel. In addition, there are excellent historical detail and a sense of place and culture. 

The Diggers Rest Hotel, Blackwattle Creek and St Kilda Blues by Geoffrey McGeachin
Geoffrey McGeachin is an Australian author and according to the Australian Crime Association website, he 'started his working life as a photographer, shooting pictures for advertising, travel, theatre and feature films. He has lived and worked in Los Angeles, New York, Atlantic City and Hong Kong. Now based in Sydney he takes pictures, teaches photography and writes." He wrote his first novel in 2001, followed by three spy novels featuring special agent Alby Murdoch. The three novels listed here are his crime novels featuring Charlie Berlin, an ex bomber pilot and former prisoner of war during World War Two, now a detective in the Victorian police. The Diggers Rest Hotel won the 2011 Ned Kelly Award for best fiction and Blackwattle Creek won the 2013 Ned Kelly Award for best fiction. St Kilda Blues has just been published and we will wait to see if it also wins the Ned Kelly Award for best fiction.  These three crime novels are set in the 1960s in Melbourne and delve into the changes and developments of the city during the massive social and political changes of the 1960s in Australia. 

Track of the Cat by Nevada Barr
Nevada Barr has been recommend before by the book club. Track of the Cat (1993) is the first of 18 novels she has written featuring Angela Pigeon, national park ranger. This novel is set in the Guadalupe Mountains National Park in Texas (each novel is set in a different national park in the USA). According to Barr on her website, "this is the book that gave Anna Pigeon life. Guadalupe Mountains was my second duty station with NPS (National Park Service). There are a couple of folks in Texas who really needed to be dead. I spent a lot of time wandering th back country wondering how I could kill them and get away with it. Fortunately, Anna Pigeon came along; otherwise I might be writing you this from the penitentiary." Makes you want to read it doesn't it? 

Cold Smoked by K.K. Beck
Cold Smoked is the fourth novel featuring Jane de Silva, who offers her services as a private detective to solve mysteries for people who cannot afford to hire anyone. She does this because it is a stipulation of her Uncle's will. If she does not offer to do this, she does not receive anything from her Uncle's Trust. Cold Smoked is about seafood, the fishing industry and environmentalism. Jane becomes involved when she is entertaining representatives from the Salmon Industry who are in town for an International Seafood Show and someone runs into the hotel lounge screaming that there is a dead body in their bathroom. Jane's investigation takes her from Norway to the Shetland Islands following the red herrings (yes I went there) before she ultimately solves the crime. 

Katherine Kristine Beck Marris is an American novelist who has written over a dozen novels. She has written to crime series, one featuring Iris Cooper, a young woman who is looked after by her wealthy aunt (set in the 1920s) and the other featuring de Silva. Beck lives in Seattle, USA and was married to fellow crime novelist Michael Dibdin, who died in 2007.

Quota by Jock Serong
This is another debut novel for an Australian author. Jock Serong is a lawyer, features writer and editor of Great Ocean Quarterly. Quota (2014) features barrister Charlie Jardim who snaps after a particulary hard court case. His mentor, Harlan Weir, sends him to Dauphin, a small coastal town in Victoria to check out a witness to a murder. Jardim starts to investigate the story he is told by the witness and finds himself delving into the life of the small town to find out what actually happened. The weather beaten buildings and seaside town life is very much a character in this novel and there is a great sense of place. 

 

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.