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

SMSA Library Crime & Mystery Book Club Favourite Stories of 2017

Our Favourite Crime Books That We Read in 2016

Recommendations from the SMSA Crime & Mystery Book Club

The theme for this batch of recommendations is book series that you like. This theme resulted in a joyful discussion on authors and characters that ended up like a trip across Europe into North Africa.  More information on the Sydney Mechanics School of Arts Crime and Mystery reading Group can be found here.

The Kiss Murder by Mehmet Murat Somer (Kenneth Dakan - Translator)
The Kiss Murder (2008) is the first book in The Turkish Delight (Hop-Ciki-Yaya) series from Mehmet Murat Somer, which have been translated into English and done very well. Mehmet Murat Somer was born in Ankara, Turkey and studied and worked as an engineer before becoming a banker. In 1994 he became a management consultant. The unnamed heroine of the book is a male computer technician by day and a transvestite hostess of a nightclub in Istanbul by night and s/he becomes embroiled in the underworld of Istanbul when one of the 'girls' from the nightclub comes to him for help.  The series is described as charming and page-turning, so something to sample at least.

The Ghost Runner by Parker Bilal
Parker Bilal is the pseudonym of Jamal Mahjoub who writes in English. Born in London, he is the child of a British and Sudanese parents. He has lived over the years in the UK, Sudna, Cairo and Denmark. He currently lives in Barcelona. The Ghost Runner is the third novel in the Makana series, named after its lead character, Private Investigator Makana. The book is set in 2002 just as the US forces enter the West Bank after the 11 September attacks in the USA. Makana is living in Cairo at the time, in exile from his native Sudan. He is not in a good emotional space and becomes involved in looking for the murder of a teenage girl. The book follows his travels to Siwa, an oasis town on the edge of the Sahara Desert in search of the murderer.

This series highlights the everyday life of an area of the world that continues to be in turmoil from internal and external political, religious and social forces. 

Bruno, Chief of Police by Martin Walker
This debut novel from Martin Walker introduces you to  Benoît Courrèges, aka Bruno, a policeman in St Denis, a small village in present day South of France.  Bruno is aiming to have a quiet life and has chosen to live in a small village in the South of France to do just that. He is a former soldier who was wounded while serving in the UN peacekeepers during the siege of Sarajevo. Bruno  likes his routines and calm life and that is disrupted when there is a murder on his patch of an elderly North African who fought in the French army.

Martin Walker used to be a foreign correspondent for the British newspaper, The Guardian,  in the USSR, USA, Europe and Africa. He has written non-fiction history books on the Cold War and 20th Century USA. He, like his creation, is looking for a calm life in the Perigold region of rural France.

Gardens of the Dead by William Brodrick
This is series set in England about Father Anselm, a barrister turned monk. In Gardens of the Dead, the second in the series, Father Anselm becomes involved in solving a mystery when one of his former barrister colleagues dies and it is revealed that she was trying to resolve a case they both worked on when Father Anselm was Anselm Duffy Q.C. The story weaves questions around justice, innocence and redemption throughout the plot. 

William Brodrick was born in Bolton, Lancashire and grew up in Australia and the UK. He joined the Augustinian Friars in Dublin, Ireland in 1979. He lived several years as a friar before he left the order to set up a charity for homeless people. In 1991 he became a barrister. Broderick holds British and Canadian citizenship and is married with three children. He now lives in France. 

The Raven's Eye by Barry Maitland
Barry Maitland has been recommended before by this group, twice. For our recommendation on The Raven's Eye, Maitland's latest novel, go here.  For our recommendation on The Marx Sisters, the first novel from the Brock and Kolla series, go here

Barry Maitland has written twelve novels in total in the series. To quote his website, "the books have been described as whydunits as much as whodunits, concerned with the devious histories and motivations of their characters. Barry's background in architecture drew him to the structure of the mystery novel, and his books are notable for their ingenious plots as well as for their atmospheric settings, each in a different intriguing corner of London."

Lewis Island Trilogy by Peter May
Like Maitland, Peter May has been recommended before by our Mystery and Crime Reading Group. To find our recommendation on The Blackhouse, the first novel in the trilogy, go here, and for our recommendation for The Chessmen, the  last novel in the Lewis Island trilogy, go here.

The Lewis Man is the middle novel and it centres around the discovery of a body in the peat bog off the Isle of Lewis. First believed to be a find for the history books, it is revealed by the discovery of an Elvis tattoo on the body that it is a victim of a very twentieth century crime.

Some Must Watch by Ethel Lina White
Also known as The Spiral Staircase, Some Must Watch (1933) is a mystery set in an isolated country home in Wales called The Summit. It focuses on an assortment of people in this house, Helen Cadel (a lady's companion), Professor Warren (the head of the household), his sister Blanche (who is also his housekeeper), his aunt (who is a bit sinister), his whiny son, his high maintenance daughter-in-law, his student and two servants. So it is a big house. Young girls have been murdered in the neighbourhood and this threat starts to infiltrate the house. Tension ratchets up, behave weirdly and everything is not what it seems. It was so popular as a novel it made into a movie three times. 

Ethel Lina White wrote 17 novels in total, her first three being mainstream novels before starting on crime writing in 1931. She was a well known and popular writer in the 1930s and 1940s and two other of her novels were made into movies. Namely The Wheel Spins (1936) which became The Lady Vanishes, directed by Alfred Hitchcock and Midnight House (1942) made into The Unseen.

Ethel Lina White was born in Wales in 1876 and died in 1944. Her novels were not a series.

Silent Voices by Ann Cleeves
We have recommended Ann Cleeves before, however it was in relation to her Shetland Island series, and you can read that here. Silent Voices (2011) is the fourth novel in the Vera Stanhope series that Cleeves began writing in 1999. These novels have been made into a TV show in the UK called Vera, with Brenda Blethyn in the lead role.

Vera is a Detective Inspector with the Northumberland police and she works with her colleague Sergeant Joe Ashworth to solve murder cases. Vera does not play nicely with others but she gets results and much of the series is about delving in behind the masks people wear in everyday life to get to the issues below. 

Skeleton Road by Val McDermid
Skeleton Road is the third in Val McDermid's Inspector Karen Pirie series. Inspector Pirie lives in Fife, Scotland and is a cold case expert. Like the two previous novels featuring Pirie, Skeleton Road is about the remains of a body found in a Victorian Gothic building in the historic part of Edinburgh that is being developed into new flats. Pirie tracks the case to former Yugoslavia and the Balkan Wars of the 1990s.

Val McDermid is very good writer and her novels are always complex with great plots intertwined with a study of psychological impulses of killers as well as those who hunt them. McDermid has three well known as established series that we have recommended before. Go here to see that recommendation.  She has also written over a dozen standalone novels. 

Spies of Warsaw by Alan Furst
Alan Furst is an American author how writes historical spy novels set in the first half of the twentieth century. Spies of Warsaw (2008) is the tenth in the Night Soldiers novels that Furst began writing in 1988. Each novel has different protagonists, however he has a cast of secondary characters that appear in a number of the stories across the series.

Spies of Warsaw is set in a pre-World War Two Warsaw where French and German spies are playing deadly games that involve the underworld and the elite. Each major European country seems to have a spy in play in town and everyone who is anyone is a piece on the chessboard in the lead up to war.

 Spies of Warsaw was made into a British TV miniseries in 2013. 

Mystery Muses: the 100 Classics That Inspire Today's Mystery Writers by Jim Huang & Austin Lugar
According to the Crumb Creek Press website, Jim Huang and Austin Lugar asked 100 published crime writers: 

"Did a mystery set you on your path to being a writer? 
Is there a classic mystery that remains important to you today?"

These crime writers penned each penned an essay with these two questions in mind and Huang and Lugar edited these essays for this collection. The essays range from insights into Patricia Highsmith, Denis Lehane, golden age authors such as Agatha Christie and Dorothy L Sayers, and hard boiled legend Raymond Chandler. The essays are arranged in order of the classic novels they cover so there is a sense of change and history in the collection.

Spirit of Steamboat by Craig Johnson
Spirit of Steamboat (2013) is a Christmas themed novella from the writer of the  Walt Longmire series set in Wyoming, which has been made into a TV series called Longmire

Good Reads website puts the plot succinctly, "Sheriff Walt Longmire is reading A Christmas Carol in his office on 24 December when he is interrupted by the ghost of Christmas past: a young woman with a hairline scar across her forehead and more than a few questions about Walt's predecessor, Lucian Connally. Walt doesn't recognise the mysery woman, but she seems to know him and claims to have something she must return to Connally. With his daughter, Cady, and his undersheriff Vic Moretti in Philadelphia for the holidays, Walt is at loose ends, and despite the woman's reticence to reveal her identity, the agrees to help her.

At the Durant Home for Assisted Living Lucian Connally is several tumblers into his Pappy Van Winkle's and swears he's never clapped eyes on the woman before. Disappointed, she whispers "Steamboat" and begins a story that takes them all back to Christmas Eve 1988, when three people died in a terrible crash and a young girl had the slimmest change of survival....back to a record-breaking blizzard, to Walt's first year as sheriff, with a young daughter at home and a wife praying for his safety...back to a whisky-soaked World War II vet ready to fly a decommissioned plane and risk it all to save a life."    

In the Morning I'll Be Gone by Adrian McKinty
This is the third novel in The Troubles Trilogy from Irish writer Adrian McKinty's Sean Duffy novels. McKinty was born in Belfast, Northern Ireland in the late 1960s and grew up in Carrickfergus, County Antrim. He lived in New York city and Denver in the USA in the 1990s and early 2000s. He now lives in Melbourne, Australia. 

His novels are set in the early 1980s in Ireland and focus on the Irish 'troubles'. Sean Duffy in a Catholic cop in the Protestant Royal Ulster Constabulary. He is caught between the Irish and the British during Margaret Thatcher's time as UK Prime Minister and the plot delves into this contentious time in British/Irish relations and involves an IRA master bomber, MI5, and the British Conservative Party Conference in Brighton in 1984, where Mrs Thatcher is giving the keynote speech. If you want to know why this occasion is important in the conflict, you can click here

Ratking & Dead Lagoon by Michael Dibdin
Ratking (1988) is the first in the Aurelio Zen series by Michael Dibdin, and Dead Lagoon (1996) is the fourth. Dibdin wrote 11 novels in total featuring Zen, and unfortunately died in 2007 just after finishing the last book in the series. 

Zen is an Italian Police Commissioner and is part of the elite Italian Criminalpol squad stationed in Rome. He is described as middle-aged and "disgusted with - but begrudgingly resigned to - the political bog of corruption and cynicism with which he has to work". These books are a mixture of police procedure and psychological suspense, Dibdin gives us a way into the dealings of the modern Italian police force. They were made into a British TV series in 2011. 

Berlin Noir Trilogy by Philip Kerr
We have recommended this trilogy before, read here. This trilogy is set in Nazi Germany pre World War Two and features Detective Barnie Gunther. The first novel in the trilogy is March Violets (1989) and is set at the time of the Berlin Olympics in 1936. The Pale Criminal (1990) is set two years later and Bernie is investigating the death of Aryan teenage girls. The frog is no longer being slowly boiled in Berlin in relation to how the Nazi regime is impacting every day life for all Germans, especially those who do not support the Nazi party but identify themselves as patriotic Germans. It is basically a nightmare, and Kerr does not shy away from this. It can make this trilogy a difficult read, but it is a fascinating one. The third novel is A German Requiem (1991) is set after World War Two in 1947, and the Russians and the Americans are the new masters of Berlin and Bernie is navigating the shortages that dominate the city as well as the new politics of what becomes the Cold War.

Buried Angels by Camilla Lackberg
Buried Angels (2014) is the eighth (and latest) novel in the Patrik Hedstrom/Erica Falck series from Swedish writer Camilla Lackberg. Her first novel in the series, The Ice Princess, was published in 2003. Patrik is a detective in a small fishing village, Fjallbacka, and his wife, Erica is a crime writer. The books are as much a look at a working partnership as a police procedural and they take the reader into the life of a community that is reliant on the land and the sea. 

Buried Angels focuses on a cold case about a family that vanished from their home on an idyllic island off the coast over Easter in 1974 leaving their one year old daughter Ebba behind. 40 years later Ebba has returned to find out what happened.

Recommendations from the SMSA Crime & Mystery Book Club

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next month the theme is gardening, gardens or horticulture.

Recommendation from the SMSA Crime & Mystery Book Club

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


Prime Cut by Alan Carter

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


Pick You Victim by Pat McGerr

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


The Missing Wife by June Duncan Owen

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

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Winter Study by Nevada Barr

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

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O Caledonia by Elspheth Barker

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

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Murder on the Iditarod Trail by Sue Henry

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

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The Dark Wind by Tony Hillerman

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

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On the Head of a Pin by Janet Kellough

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


Silent Valley by Malla Nunn

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

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The Blackhouse by Peter May

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


The Shooting of Dan McGrew by Robert Service  

Watch the poem read by Bill Kerr below:

Recommendations from the SMSA Crime & Mystery Book Club

In the May meeting, the Sydney Mechanics School of Arts’ Crime and Mystery Book Club discussed novels featuring an unusual crime solver who is not with the police, a private investigator, lawyer or forensic pathologist.  Here are our recommendations:


Father Crumlish Celebrates Christmas by Alice Scanlon Reach
This is a short story in the January 1968 issue of Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine.  Written by Alice Scanlon Reach, who, according to www.detecs.org, “began her writing career as a reporter on a Buffalo, New York, daily paper.  During the Second World War, she became the Assistant Director at the Office of War Information in New York.  In 1961 she won Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine’s best first story award for In The Confessional and went on to publish a total of thirteen short stories in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazines in the 1960s, all featuring Father Francis Xavier Crumlish.”   She sounds like a really interesting woman.   The character of Father Crumlish is described as “the old, compassionate, Irish Catholic parish priest, who limps ‘a little from the arthritis buried deep in his ancient roots’, and suffers from a corn on his left toe.” 

In this short story, Father Crumlish gets involved when he has to talk one of his parishioners, Charley Abbott, down from a roof.  Charley is scared that he will be charged with a murder and Father Crumlish gets to the bottom of the matter. 

Themysteryplace.com is the website for Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine and it states that the magazine “was launched in the fall of 1941 by Lawrence E. Spivak of The Mercury Press.  It was heralded as the brainchild of Ellery Queen himself, really the two-cousin writing team of Frederic Dannay and Manfred B. Lee. Even in the early years, however, Frederic Dannay assumed primary responsibility for the magazine, serving as its editor-in-chief from 1941 until his death in 1982.”  The magazine mixes a tradition of literary excellence and top-notch crime and detective writing.  It is still published today.

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The Three Evangelists by Fred Vargas

‘Vargas’ is a pseudonym, but the ‘Fred’ is short for ‘Frédérique’.  Fred is a best-selling author in France as well as a historian and archeologist.  She also comes from a family of academics, and in The Three Evangelists she introduces three historians (Marc, Mathias and Lucien) who share a ramshackle house in the very posh suburb of Paris with Lucien’s godfather Arman Vandoosler (a retired policeman).  Mathias’ area of expertise is pre-history, Marc is a medievalist, and Lucien studies the First World War.  Vandoosler keeps referring to them as three of the disciples, Mark, Luke and Matthew, which is how they become known as the three evangelists. 

Their next door neighbour, a Greek opera singer, disappears overnight and once her body is discovered burned in a car, months later, the three evangelists and Vandoosler start their own investigation into what happened.

This book was originally written in 1995 and translated into English in 2006.  This translation by Sian Reynolds went on to win the Duncan Lawrie International Dagger in 2006.  Mostly known for her series about Commissaire Adamsberg, Vargas introduces The Three Evangelists as the beginning of another series.  

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Gently In Trees by Alan Hunter

Written in1974, but set in the 1960s, this novel part of the Inspector George Gently series by Alan Hunter.  Set in East Anglia like most of the other 45 Gently books, it is also known as Gently Through The Woods.  Gently investigates the apparent suicide of a film director in Latchford Chase and discovered more to the story in the shape of a love triangle.  The language in the book dates it, like it is the 1970s man, and the asides about being one with the trees takes the story structure in a meandering way.  If you like the Gently series and a quick paperback read, this is for you. Man.

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A Free Man of Colour by Barbara Hambly

This is the first in a series about Benjamin January, a free man of colour, who has returned home to New Orleans from Paris, where he has lived for the past 10 years.  Set during Mardi Gras in 1833 in a city that is governed by strict rules of conduct and interaction based on the colour of your skin, but is also known for its decadence and wild night life, A Free Man of Colour deals with the murder of a notorious octoroon at the ball at the Salles d’Orleans.  Benjamin January is a Creole physician and music teacher, playing piano at the ball and one of the last people to see the victim. He starts to investigate the murder to clear his name, because, as a man of colour, the police would be happier to see him hang than put a white man in the frame for murder.   There is a lot of detail about the era and the background of the community and the societies in which January slips in and out of.  The plot gets bogged down in this detail and I sometimes wonder if that was intended as the red herring to distract the reader from spending time working out the murder.

Hambly is a prolific writer of fantasy, science fiction, mystery and historical novels. In addition to the Benjamin January novels, she writes a crime series featuring Abigail Adams (a fictionalized version of the President’s wife, a novel about Mary Todd Lincoln, the Darwath Triology, the Windrose Chronicles and many others.

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Night Mares by Manda Scott

Written in the mid 1990s and set in the outskirts of Glasgow, Scotland, the plot of Night Mares is centred around the deaths of every horse that passes through Dr Nina Crawford’s operating table at her veterinary surgery.  However it is more than the sum of its plot as the book delves into the psychological torment of Dr Crawford as she is pushed to the brink of suicide and the title, Night Mares, is a play on words for a female horse and the nightmares that are plaguing Dr Crawford that causes her to seek help from her psychiatrist and friend Dr Kellen Stewart. Kellan also owns horses and one of them is in need of surgery, so she is not only helping her friend but also ensuring that her horse is not the next one to die.  

Night Mares is the second book in the series featuring Kellan Stewart, and Manda Scott who is a veterinarian, goes into quite a bit of detail in the surgery scenes that may put you off.  In addition to crime fiction, Scott writes historical novels and publishers under the name M.C. Scott.   

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The Critic by Peter May

The Critic is the second novel of the Enzo Files series, which focuses on Scottish sleuth (of Italian descent) Enzo Macleod and his quest to solve the greatest unsolved murders in France.  Macleod is a former forensics expert now teaching at a small French college who heads to the wine region of Gaillac to see if he can solve the cold case about the death of the world’s leading wine critic, Gil Petty.   There is a lot of detail about wine making and the mystery itself is not that hard to figure out.  If you are interested in the deepening of the relationships between Enzo and the secondary characters who were introduced in the first novel, you will like this.

Peter May was born in Glasgow and has had a couple of careers, as a journalist writing for The Scotsman and The Glasgow Evening Times, a TV producer and writer, and finally as a crime author.  He has written stand alone novels as well as two other series, The Lewis Trilogy about the remote and weather-beaten Isle of Lewis off the coast of northern Scotland, and The China Thrillers which features ‘the tempestuous relationship between the enigmatic Chinese detective Li Yan, and Dr Margaret Campbell, the acerbic pathologist from Chicago.’


Sister Pelagia and The White Bulldog by Boris Akunin

This is the first in a series set in a remote province of Russia in the nineteenth century. In the tradition of Father Brown and other cozy crime novels, Sister Pelagia is a physically unassuming and often over looked amateur investigator who looks into difficult situations for the Bishop Zavolzhie, the Orthodox Bishop Mitrofanii.   

Boris Akunin  is the pen name of Grigory Shalvovich Chkhartishvili, an essayist, literary translator and writer of detective fiction. He is a Russian writer of Georgian origin and is known for his layered novels filled with details and descriptions. This one is a prime example with meanderings and digressions that inform the reader of the Zavolzhie region, religious beliefs and social lives of the characters. 

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A Simple Death by Carolyn Morwood

A Simple Death is a Marlo Shaw mystery set in Melbourne, Australia. It is the third in the series and it starts with Marlo, a professional cricketer, and her friend and colleague Harold walking through a Melbourne park where they find the body of a man Harold knows.  The man is a tramp that has been bludgeoned to death.  There is quite a bit of emotional baggage for the main character of Marlo, as she is coming to terms with the death of her aunt Jenny and the suicide of her cousin Cate.  Her relationship with Harold is questioned as she investigates the death of the tramp and subsequently his connection to Harold.

A Simple Death won the Davitt Award for the best work of crime fiction by an Australian woman in 2002.  I think only Australia would give an award for writing based on gender.  It must be commonly known that your gender directly impacts your talent and capability in writing a crime novel if you live in Australia.   Carolyn Morwood has also written a historical crime series set from 1919 to 1924 in Melbourne featuring Sister Eleanor Jones who has returned to Melbourne after nursing in France during the First World War. 


The Collaborator by Gerald Seymour

The Collaborator is a thriller about the modern day mafia in Italy in the guise of the Camorra, a crime network that has the Borelli clan at the centre of it. One of the daughters of the Borelli clan, Immacolata is sent to London to learn about accountancy so that she can work in the ‘family business’ back in Naples.  Eddie is an Italian translator who helps Immacolata with her homework and becomes her boyfriend.  He is pulled into the web of the family when he travels to Naples with Immacolata to attend the funeral of her best friend as suspicions of betrayal and vendettas start to come into play. 

This is a dense novel that keeps you on the edge of your seat.  None of the characters are nice, but you are compelled to find out what happens in the end.  Gerald Seymour has written 24 novels, six of which have been made into TV programs.  He is best known for his first book, Harry’s Game (1975), about a British cabinet minister being gunned down by the IRA.