Crime Stories Read over the Break

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:

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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 "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.

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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