Some Crime Novels Featuring Religion

There Are Quite a Few Sherlock Holmes Stories Not Written by Arthur Conan Doyle

Coffee, Tea or Bonnox Themed Crime Books

Recommendations from the SMSA Crime & Mystery Book Club

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Recommendations from the SMSA Mystery & Crime Book Club

It is time for this month's recommendations of books from the Sydney Mechanics School of Arts Mystery and Crime Book Club.  The focus in partners in crime.

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Murder on the High Seas by Conrad Allen
Murder of the High Seas is Conrad Allens's series of crime novels featuring ship detectives George Porter Dillman and Genevieve Masefield in the early 20th Century.  George and Genevieve work undercover and solve murders, fraud and theft for various passenger ocean liner companies.  These books are wonderful light romps that give you an insight into class, society and the history of the time.


Mortal Mischief by Frank Tallis
Mortal Mischief is the first book in the Liebermaan Papers series set in Vienna from 1902 to 1914.  According to Frank Tallis' website, "It was a time of unprecedented activity in the worlds of philosophy, science and the arts. The coffee houses of Vienna became lively debating societies, in which the political, social, and cultural agenda of the 20th century was set. Sigmund Freud, Arnold Schoenberg, Arthur Schnitzler, Gustav Klimt, Theodor Herzl, Ludwig Wittgenstein, and Gustav Mahler, were all neighbours; however, at the same time, Vienna was playing host to a quite different set of thinkers. German mystics, social Darwinists, and race theorists whose ideas would eventually be consolidated under the banner of Hitler’s National Socialism."  The partners in crime  are Dr. Max Liebermann is a psychoanalyst and disciple of Sigmund Freud and his friend Detective Inspector Oskar Rheinhardt, who enjoy musical evenings together when they are not investigating crimes.  Oskar often calls on Max's psychoanalytic knowledge.  Mortal Mischief is a great slice of historical crime with flourish and detail about Vienna and, what sounds like, the most delicious Austrian desserts and coffee.


False Intentions by Arlene Hunt
Arlene Hunt is an Irish crime writer who has set her series of novels around rookie detectives Sarah Kenny and John Quigley and their ailing detective agency, QuicK, in Dublin, Ireland. Set in modern times, False Intentions is Hunt's second novel, but the first about Kenny and Quigley.  The story  is a fast paced thriller with a vivid portrayal of Dublin's seedy underbelly of drugs and prostitution.

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The Collini Case by Ferdinand Von Schirach
German Ferdinand Von Schirach writes intricate court room dramas when he is not being a lawyer.  Set in Berlin, the book quickly describes the murder and the subsequent surrender of the murderer, Collini.  Young up and coming Public Defender, Caspar Leinen accepts the case and works hard to defend his uncooperative client.  The novel delves into Germany's past as well as that of Collini and his lawyer.  It is sometimes an uncomfortable read showing both the perspective of the victim and the murderer.

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The Search for Anne Perry by Joanne Drayton
So not within the theme but talked about anyway,  Joanne Drayton is Associate Professor in the Department of Design at UNITEC, Auckland and is known for her biographies, especially that of her 2008 biography of crime writer, Ngaio Marsh.  The Search for Anne Perry is Drayton's fifth biography and focuses on tying examples of Anne Perry's Victorian crime novels with her past as an illustration of how she reveals herself through her writing.  According to the book's description "In 1994, director Peter Jackson released the film HEAVENLY CREATURES, based on a famous 1950s matricide committed in New Zealand by two teenage girls embroiled in an obsessive relationship. This film launched Jackson′s international career. It also forever changed the life of Anne Perry, an award-winning, bestselling crime writer, who at the time of the film′s release was publicly outed as Juliet Hulme, one of the murderers."  This book is a bit salacious and could do with tighter editing and better bridging between ideas and passages of Anne Perry's writing.  Here is an interesting review of the biography in the New Zealand Herald.  


Templar's Penance - A Knight's Templar Murder by Michael Jecks
Michael Jecks' Templar novels are set in the 1320s in the West Country in Britain and features ex-Templar and investigator Baldwin Furnshill and his friend Bailiff Simon Puttock.  In Templar's Penance, Baldwin and Simon are on pilgrimage across Europe to Santiago de Compostela in Spain and come across a young girl who was raped and murdered.  This is a wonderful medieval crime series and Baldwin and Simon are great companions for this pilgrimage and their other investigations. And you get to learn about the Knight Templars and what became of them during the time of Edward II of England and his consort Queen Isabella of France. 

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Agatha Christie
Two novels were recommended.  The Big Four and By The Pricking of My Thumbs.  The Big Four is a Hercule Poirot novel.  Poirot and Captain Hastings investigate the world domination conspiracy of the Big Four, and according to Wikipedia 'are typical ethnic and national stereotypes of 1920s British fiction, with the Chinese characters typecast as Fu-Manchu-esque bandits. Other key villains include a French femme fatale and a vulgar American multimillionaire. These characters implement consparicies and undetectable poisonings operated from a super-secret underground hideout.'  By The Pricking of My Thumbs features Tommy and Tuppence Beresford who investigate the retirement village, Sunny Ridge, where Tommy's Aunt Ida resides and ultimately dies.   


Laurie R King
American author Laurie R King writes a Sherlock Holmes pastiche which includes a completely new character, Mary Russell.  Mary is King's creation and becomes a Dr Watson replacement and wife of Sherlock Holmes.  If you can get past that change to canon, the two books recommended where, The Language of Bees and God of The Hive.  The story started in The Language of Bees continues in the God of The Hive and centres around an investigation into a religious cult called 'The Children of the Light', which has roots in Shanghai, China.  Set in 1924 in England, Scotland and Orkney Island, Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes come across Holmes estranged son by Irene Adler and delve into the workings of Mycroft Holmes' government department.  Not for the Sherlock Holmes purists.

Hope you have found something that might want to read.  Unfortunately I will not be at the March meeting, however I will bring you the April recommendations, where the theme will be stories that involve frames, both literal and metaphorical.  

P.S.  Nancy Pearl is an American librarian who was the Executive Director of the Washington Center for the Book at the Seattle Public Library in Seattle, Washington.  She is known for her idea of connecting with the reader without pretence.  Her 2003 book, Book Lust: Recommended Reading for Every Mood, Moment and Reason offers recommendations all based on the premise that it is more important to enjoy the book that you are reading.  She coined the 50 Page rule which is "If you still don't like a book after slogging through the first 50 pages, set it aside. If you're more than 50 years old, subtract your age from 100 and only grant it that many pages."  Words to live by.  Life is too short and you shouldn't waste it on a book you are not enjoying.