Favourite Crime Novels Read During 2018

Crime Stories Read over the Break

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

Recommendations from SMSA Crime and Mystery Book Club featuring Travel

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.


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.


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. 


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.


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."


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. 


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.


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.


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.


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.


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. 


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. 


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 from the SMSA Crime & Mystery Book Club

Welcome to the first set of recommendations from the Sydney Mechanic's School of Arts' Crime and Mystery Book Club. We discussed what we read over the holiday break, and boy there were quite a few. So strap in and enjoy:

No 9.jpg

No 9 Belmont Square by Margaret Erskine
Also known as The House at Belmont Square, this 1963 novel is the 13th novel in the Inspector Septimus Finch series. It is a cozy English crime novel that focuses on the crime and suspects being limited to a single location. The plot is as follows, according to Goodreads.com "Beautiful Tamara Lubova had disappeared from the life of opera star Istvan Kardos over half a century ago, and so had the famous diamond called the Lake of Fire. Now Kardos was searching for both of them in Sara Harkness's boarding house at 9 Belmont Square. What he found was a group of dotty old ladies and balmy gentlemen with a penchant for sneaking about the creaking corridors at night and stashing things in locked cupboards. Kardos suspected they all had something to hide: one of them might be Tamara, one of them may have stolen the diamond, and one of them must have committed murder."


Miss Smilla's Feeling for Snow by Peter Hǿeg
This Danish novel was translated into English in 1992 and became an international bestseller. The story is about Smilla, who grew up in Greenland and developed an understanding of the different types of snow. Her mother is a Greenlandic Inuit and her father is is a Danish doctor. As an adult, she is a scientist who now lives in Denmark and wrestles with the meshing of the two cultures in her life. Smilla investigates the death of a neighbour's daughter (a fellow Greenlander) who fell from the snowy roof of her apartment building when the police refuse to think of it as anything other than an accident. The book delves into Danish post-colonial society and its relationship with Greenland, which is still contentious to this day.

This is Peter Hǿeg's second novel and he has a reputation for being hard to classify. As Miss Smilla's Feeling for Snow is about an investigation into a death, so is often included in crime and mystery sections.


Murder and Mendelssohn by Kerry Greenwood
This is the 20th novel in the long running Phryne Fisher mysteries set in the late 1920s in Melbourne, Australia. These are very straightforward, by the numbers cosy crime novel that rests on how much you like the main character. It is difficult to keep the light and frothy tone of these novels and hats off to Kerry Greenwood for keeping the series going so long.  In this adventure, and that is definitely the word for this type of story, Phryne Fisher is called in by Inspector Jack Robinson to help navigate the world of orchestral music when the conductor was found dead. This series has been made into a TV program in Australia, starring Essie Davis as Phryne. It is a good way to spend an hour each week and possibly will have more of a legacy than the original novels.  Click here to see the trailer for the TV program.


Noblesse Oblige by Cynthia Smith
Published in 1996, this is the debut in this cosy crime series about Emma Rhodes. Written in the first person, Emma sees herself as a private resolver for the English upper class. She could be seen as a snob, and if you are ok with a a bit of name dropping along with your story, you should be fine. It will depend on how much you like Emma as a character. She goes on adventures and the tone is fun and if you like Emma, delightful.   

Cynthia Smith started out as a writer of children's fiction and non-fiction. There are at least seven more Emma Rhodes novels.


Naked Once More by Elizabeth Peters
The fourth in the Jacqueline Kirby series, Naked Once More finds the ex-Librarian/best selling author enticed to come back to writing with the opportunity to pen a sequel to blockbusting novel, Naked in the Ice, by Katleen Darcy.  As Jacqueline starts to dig through the missing author's papers, gets to know Katleen's friends and families and is the subject of some nasty accidents, she realises that there is more to the job than just writing a novel.

Elizabeth Peters is the pseudo nom for Barbara Mertz. She also wrote as Barbara Michaels. She was a prolific author who wrote three different crime series as Elizabeth Peters and two gothic and supernatural thrillers series, 25 stand-alone novels and three non-fiction books as Barbara Michaels.


The Red Pavilion by Rob van Gulik
The Red Pavilion is set in Imperial China at the time of the Tang Dynasty and features Judge Dee, a magistrate of Poo-yang and statesman of the Tang Court. The character of Judge Dee is based on a real person who lived between 630AD - 700AD. This is a gong'an crime novel - gong'an being a sub genre of Chinese crime fiction involving government magistrates who solve crimes. In The Red Pavilion, Judge Dee has a chance encounter with Autumn Moon, a powerful courtesan on Paradise Island which leads to him investigating three deaths.  

Published in 1961, this is van Gulik's ninth Judge Dee novel. This Dutch diplomat translated the eighteenth-century Chinese murder mystery, The Celebrated Cases of Judge Dee, by an unknown author and he continued to new mysteries for Judge Dee.


Pilgrim Souls and Unquiet Heart, both by Gordon Ferris
Gordon Ferris has been recommended before and the Pilgrim Souls is the follow on from Bitter Water the book previously discussed here. It is part of the Douglas Brodie series set in Glasgow in the 1960s.

The Unquiet Heart is the second book in the Danny McRae series which is set in London and Berlin. Danny McRae is a World War 2 spy turned private detective who delves into the disappearance of his lover Eva Copeland and gets drawn into the world of the black market, espionage and terrorism at the beginning of the Cold War. 


Spider Woman's Daughter by Anne Hillerman

Anne Hillerman is Tony Hillerman’s daughter, and she carries on with her father’s characters, Leaphorn and Chee. This book focuses on Chee’s wife,  Navajo Nation Police Officer Bernadette Manualito investigation of a shooting she witnesses. As she knows the person who has been shot, Bernie goes on leave and starts to look into the shooting with her husband and his former boss and partner, retired Inspector Joe Leaphorn.

As with her father’s novels, this story is set in the Four Corners area in USA (Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado and Nevada) and deals with the intricacies of Native American culture and territory and white America.

strange shores.jpg

Strange Shores by Arnaldur Indridason

Strange Shores is a Nordic Noir set in Iceland and featuring Detective Erlendur who is investigating the disappearance of young woman who walked into the frozen fjords in Iceland 10 years ago as well as any clues about his brother's disappearance in a snowstorm when they were children. So a lot of searching in the snow and cold.  

According to Random House, "outside Iceland, he is best known for his crime novels featuring Erlendur and Sigurdur Óli, which are consistent bestsellers across Europe. The series has won numerous awards, including the Nordic Glass Key and the CWA Gold Dagger."


Saints of the Shadow Bible by Ian Rankin

This is the 19th Rebus novel and Rebus is pulled back into a case he was involved in 30 years old because of an internal investigation lead by Malcolm Fox. Rankin uses this frame to look at the issues and culture of Scotland now in comparison to 30 years ago. What has changed? What is the same? How has Rebus changed over 30 years? 



Mr Churchill's Secretary by Susan Elia MacNeal

This is MacNeal's debut novel featuring Maggie Hope, a very intelligent, red-headed American (born in England) who becomes Winston Churchill's secretary during the first few months of World War II. This is a historic crime novel that mixes real people with fictional ones. It is a bit of a page turner that has one plot point too many and a reveal that you see coming half way through the book. It is a nice way to spend a Sunday afternoon.

This series has made Susan Elia MacNeal a New York Times best selling author. Mr Churchill's Secretary won the Barry Award and was nominated for the Mystery Writers of America's Edgar Award for Best First Novel.


The Telephone Never Tells by Margaret Hinxman

Margaret Hinxman wrote 13 fiction and non-fiction novels. The Telephone Never Tells is her 10th book written in 1982 and it is hard to find much information about. It is a Lythway Mystery, so published by Lythway Press Ltd, a publishing house that focuses on classic genre that includes crime and science fiction.


Dead Cat Bounce by Peter Cotton

Dead Cat Bounce is the debut novel of Peter Cotton. Set in Canberra in the lead up to a tight election, the Environmental Minister is found dead near a Canberra landmark. Detective Darren Glass in on the case to find out what happened. The book delves into the relationship between politicians and the media who covers them, the relationship to power and the games politicians play.

Peter Cotton was an Australian political journalist and media advisor to three Australian federal cabinet ministers.


The Norfolk Mystery by Ian Sansom

Published in 2013,The Norfolk Mystery is the first in the County Guides series written by Ian Sansom. It introduces eccentric, autodidact Swanton Morely who plans to write a series of guides to the counties of England. Set in the 1930s, Morely employs a young assistant, Stephen Sefton, who is a veteran of the Spanish Civil War, to accompany him and his daughter Miriam on their first trip to Norfolk. During their sightseeing tour they stumble into a murder investigation. 

Ian Sansom has also written the popular Mobile Library Mysteries Series.


Murder on Nob Hill by Shirley Tallman

Another debut novel, Murder on Nob Hill is the first in the Sarah Woolson Mysteries. Sarah is a newly graduated lawyer who is struggling to be employed as it is 1880 and women are not expected to be career minded. If you are ok with this central premise of dogged intelligent women overcoming the sexism of the day you will love this. If you don't, you won't. There is a fine line for historical crime whereby the tone and values of the novel can be modern set in a historical setting or it can be of its time. This book is the former, it gets the historical context right however Sarah does feel very 20th century. 

Shirley Tallman has written five Sarah Woolson Mysteries to date. This is a popular historical crime series.


The Little Walls by Winston Graham

First published in 1995, The Little Walls is a classic crime novel that won the very first Gold Dagger from the Crime Writer's Association. The Little Walls is an area in Amsterdam where Phillip Turner's brother was found dead in a canal. Phillip does not believe that his brother, Grevil, committed suicide and he begins to investigate his death. 

Winston Graham is known for writing the Poldark series, however in addition to this series he wrote 35 novels from 1935 to his autobiography, Memoirs of a Private Man in 2003. One of those 35 novels was Marnie, the basis to the Hitchcock movie.


The Blind Man of Seville by Robert Wilson

Ok, so we did read a lot of debut novels this month. The Blind Man of Seville is the first in the Javier Falcon quartet.  It is set during the Holy Week in Seville, Spain when a leading local restaurateur is found, gagged and dead in front of his television set. Falcon is the homicide detective who investigates the murder and as he gets deeper and deeper into the past of the victim, his own past and that of his dead father, a famous Spanish painter. This quartet of novels has been dramatised by Sky Television for British TV.

Robert Wilson is a British author who has also written the Bruce Medway series and four standalone novels, which includes The Company of Strangers.


Exile by Richard North Patterson

This political thriller published in 2007 focuses on the Isreali/Palestine conflict in the Middle East. The protagonist is David Wolfe, an American lawyer who is primed to run for Congress when he is asked to take on a case by a Palestinian woman, Hana Arif, a woman he had a secret affair with when they were at law school. The following day he Prime Minister of Israel is assassinated while visiting San Francisco. Hana is accused of being the mastermind of the assassination. 

This case pits David, an American jew in conflict with the Jewish community and Israel as he delves into Hana's past and that of her militant husband. This is a very good read that is fast moving and satisfying. 


Gods of Guilt by Michael Connelly

This is the fifth Mickey Haller novel. Mickey is a defense attorney in Los Angeles and this story builds on a past case as the victim of a murder is a former client who he helped to get clean and out of prostitution.

Michael Connelly is very similar to John Grisham as it is a thriller based on law cases. It is a holiday read as it is a well written page turner that promises on its premise. 


Bay of Fires by Poppy Gee

Bay of Fires is the debut crime novel set in the actual small seaside town of the Bay of Fires in Tasmania, Australia. A body of backpacker washes up on shore and as a result cracks start to show in the close knit community of the town. The protagonist is Sarah Avery who has returned to the town leaving an ex-boyfriend and her job behind. Sarah starts to investigate the death of the backpacker along with Hall Flynn, a journalist who is sent to the town to cover the story.

Poppy Gee was born in Launceston, Tasmania and spends her summer at the family shack in the Bay of Fires. 

Next month we will be reading books from between the World Wars