Is It a Crime To Take a Break?

download.pngAlthough I tend to eschew science fiction I am not without a certain appetite for mystery novels—detective stories, murder mysteries, police procedurals, suspense novels—whether written by such classic writers as Agatha Christie or possibly by newer authors I might not even recognize as writing such entertainments. The fiction of mystery and detection is both entertaining and still it massages the little gray cells. True, it’s generally not high literature but sometimes you just need to take a break from James Joyce and Marcel Proust.

I have been collecting many of the authors of such fiction, authors who tend to develop a consistent series of novels, often with a central character lie Mike Hammer or a central theme like cooking or bird watching. Often I find myself considering reading one of these complete series. I  have read the likes of Travis McGee, Spenser, and Maigret, but in most of the mystery series I have only read one or two of the novels … and I want to read more, even if I have to interrupt Thomas Mann or Samuel Beckett.

This month I have loaded the reading list with novels in various genres of mystery fiction.

1. Hide My Eyes — Margery Allingham (226)
2. Lullaby — Ace Atkins (316)
3. The Black-Eyed Blonde — Benjamin Black (300)
4. Monsieur Pamplemousse and the French Solution — Michael Bond (220)
5. Nightfall — David Goodis (170)
6. Murder Is My Business — Brett Halliday (224)
7. An Unsuitable Job For a Woman — P. D. James (292)
8. Badge of Evil — Whit Masterson (208)
9. The Frumious Bandersnatch — Ed McBain (304)
10. The Cater Street Hangman — Anne Perry (304)
11. A Rare Benedictine — Ellis Peters (150)
12. Snatch — Bill Pronzini (272)
13. A Study In Terror — Ellery Queen (192)
14. The Circular Staircase — Mary Roberts Rinehart (226)
15. The Insidious Dr. Fu Manchu — Sax Rohmer (268)
16. Unnatural Death — Dorothy L. Sayers (291)
17. Maigret’s Dead Man — George Simenon (240)
18. Polar Star — Martin Cruz Smith (402)
19. My Gun Is Quick — Mickey Spillane (241)
20. The League of Frightened Men — Rex Stout (317)

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5 responses

  1. One of my early years (15, I think), I read nothing but Agatha Christie, mostly Poirot. These days, I find classic noir to be a guilty pleasure, often mixing these in between more serious reading. Chandler, Hammett, James Cain, Jim Thompson. Those and hard-boiled detectives, Robert Parker, Mickey Spillane. I like the Benjamin Black books and Ken Bruen is another favorite of mine (hard-biting Galway characters).

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    • Back in the ’80s the local library had a series of books presenting classical movies recreated scene by scene with the complete dialogue. I remember Stagecoach but the real gem was The Maltese Falcon (one of my favorite films). I think that was the trigger for reading much of the Hammett fiction (and don’t forget the film Hammett either) and then I made a dent in the works of Chandler and Cain, but never read Thompson or Spillane.

      Parker has been a favorite since his earliest work. Spenser has sometimes drifted into self parody and Sonny Randall is no Kinsey Millhone but Jesse has been good (Tom Sellick .. Really?) and I have enjoyed all the westerns. It’s interesting that since Parker’s death they have enlisted three or four authors to continue the franchise.

      As with Hillerman, I haven’t read any of the substitute authors who are continuing the series, but this month I will be reading the first Ace Atkins Spenser novel.

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  2. I think I probably started reading mysteries in the 80s also. A lot of what I read like P. D. James and Dorothy Sayers was due to seeing the series on PBS. At that time I was still reading a good bit of science fiction/fantasy. It was probably the 90s when I got discouraged with most of the new sf/fantasy and really got into the mysteries.

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  3. Mysteries! That’s my kind of reading, love ’em. I was very fond of the Brother Cadfael series. For years I wouldn’t read the last one – saving it, I guess. I was the same with Chee and Leaphorn after I heard Hillerman died. Speaking of that, I read the first one by his daughter. It was good to visit the old gang, but ultimately the book didn’t hold up for me. I will try her next though at some point.

    I’ve read about half of Pronzini’s Nameless series. Fell off the wagon somewhere along the way. My favorite is probably Shackles. I went into it thinking it would be boring, but really got caught up in it. I still read his wife’s (Marcia Muller) Sharon McCone series.

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    • My ex-wife, the librarian, was intellectually sharp but seriously addicted to reading mystery novels. It was her influence that opened the world of mystery fiction to me back in the ’80s. At that time I read all of Ludlam, MacDonald, Parker, Bond, and a healthy dose of many other authors. Suffice it to say, she read them all, never being more than a fat handbag away from mystery and suspense.

      I probably got my first introduction to this genre of fiction back in college when a ghost-wrote a well-received thesis comparing Tiger Mann to James Bond .. or was it Mike Hammer to Simon Templar .. or perhaps Napoleon Solo and
      Illya Kuryakin. Ah, that was the time of Modesty Blaise and Burke’s Law.

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