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Mysteries and Detective Stories


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#21 Jason Panella

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Posted 16 March 2011 - 09:49 PM

I did start a second book of Reverte's--THE SEVILLE COMMUNION--but it didn't seem anywhere near as well-written as THE CLUB DUMAS and so I subsequently put it away, moving on to other things.


A good move. Out of the several Reverte books I've read, Seville is one of the better ones — and it's not that good. I remember The Nautical Chart particularly, since it steals the plot (and subplots) elements from The Maltese Falcon and renders them entirely uninteresting. Reverte also seems to like to recycle plot elements over and over. If you want to read a mystery author who does that shamelessly, but in a highly readable sense, check out Alan Furst.

Edited by Jason Panella, 16 March 2011 - 09:49 PM.


#22 Ryan H.

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Posted 16 March 2011 - 09:52 PM

A good move. Out of the several Reverte books I've read, Seville is one of the better ones — and it's not that good. I remember The Nautical Chart particularly, since it steals the plot (and subplots) elements from The Maltese Falcon and renders them entirely uninteresting. Reverte also seems to like to recycle plot elements over and over.

Well, then, it would seem that THE CLUB DUMAS is the pick of the litter.

#23 NBooth

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Posted 31 March 2011 - 10:22 AM

FWIW, this week saw the passing of H.R.F. Keating (obit). I never read any of his novels, but (oddly enough) I devoured his book on how to write detective stories.

Keating compiled a list of the 100 Best Mystery Novels that should be of interest to anyone who wants to know more about the genre (certainly, looking over it, I see a lot of holes I need to fill!)

#24 M. Leary

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Posted 31 March 2011 - 11:22 AM

Very nice to see Hillerman's Dance Hall of the Dead on there.

#25 J.A.A. Purves

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Posted 02 April 2011 - 12:25 PM

... Richard Price, James Sallis, Jim Thompson, James Ellroy, Don Winslow, Dan Chaon, George Pelecanos ...

With a few of the Pelecanos early detective novels being republished this year, I think I'll have to start over my reading of his work. I keep forgetting he was also part of the David Simon/Richard Price/Dennis Lehane writing team for The Wire. I'm reserving a bookshelf for collecting them all in my library.

Edited by Persiflage, 02 April 2011 - 12:27 PM.


#26 J. Henry Waugh

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Posted 02 April 2011 - 11:17 PM


... Richard Price, James Sallis, Jim Thompson, James Ellroy, Don Winslow, Dan Chaon, George Pelecanos ...

With a few of the Pelecanos early detective novels being republished this year, I think I'll have to start over my reading of his work. I keep forgetting he was also part of the David Simon/Richard Price/Dennis Lehane writing team for The Wire. I'm reserving a bookshelf for collecting them all in my library.

The books Pelecanos writes these days are night and day from his early detective novels. I've even read him slagging them a bit.

And I completely disagree.

They have flaws, yes, but there is a punk rock energy running through them.

Pelecanos is an ambitious writer in the best sense of the term, and it is a blast to see this develop through the Stefanos series.

p.s. I re-read them 2-3 years a go, and it is crazy how much they represent a DC that no longer exists due to gentrification. You have to read the recent Pelecanos novels to keep up with modern life in DC!

#27 Christian

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Posted 14 April 2011 - 08:17 PM

Crow mentioned writer J. Mark Bertrand over here. I've just learned a lot more about him after reading his take on noir fiction, or what he dubs "writing about reprobation."

As a crime novelist, I know there’s more than one problem of evil. Setting aside the philosophical question, which has more to do with how to justify evil’s presence in the world, there’s the matter of how to live with evil, how to cope with its ever-present taint.

We can resolve to be good. But when it comes time to measure our actions against a moral yardstick, we’re forced to decide just how pure a deed must be in order to qualify. Nobody’s perfect, after all. If we’re honest, even our whitest whites can look a little gray.

To some, though, to admit even that much suggests despair, or at the very least cynicism. We all make mistakes but, we’re tempted to think, that doesn’t mean we’re all evil. Sure, there are evil people out there, and they do terrible things, but most of us are basically good--aren’t we? Just because things aren’t always black-and-white doesn’t mean we have to surrender to moral ambiguity, looking for ulterior motives behind every good deed.

Which means that when nice, churchgoing people find out the kind of books I write and start offering up creative ways to commit a murder, eyes glowing with delight, I shouldn’t read too much into it.

But I do. Because the tone of my work has been classified as “dark.” The word “gritty” was used so often to describe my first novel, Back on Murder, that I started to wonder if I had sand in my teeth. And there are philosophical––indeed, theological––reasons for this orientation of vision. It reflects my own take on reality, which for lack of a better term, I’ll describe as “noir.”


The article bio cites Bertrand's books:

J. Mark Bertrand is the author of two crime novels, Back on Murder and the forthcoming Pattern of Wounds, and the nonfiction title Rethinking Worldview: Learning to Think, Live, and Speak in This World. He's the writer behind Bible Design Blog, a site dedicated to "the physical form of the good book." Bertrand is also a ruling elder in the Presbyterian Church in America.

This encourages me, given my struggles, related elsewhere on the board, with this type of fiction. I'm interested enough in Bertrand's writings to even rethink my distance in the past few years from any book with the word "Worldview" in the title.

Also, it's interesting to see Bertrand's comments below the main article, in response to someone who thinks more balance might be called for in noir fiction:

Taken as a whole, noir fiction might be more balanced that you realize, especially if you allow the broadening of the definition I attempt in the article, seeing noir more as an influence than a formula to repeat (which these days can only end in pastiche). Having said that, in fiction "balance" isn't always the objective. We illuminate the whole of life not only through breadth of scope, but by focusing deeply on just one of its parts.

Edited by Christian, 14 April 2011 - 08:25 PM.


#28 NBooth

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Posted 09 May 2011 - 11:03 AM

Here's a couple of books on detective stories I managed to read recently:

Isn't Justice Always Unfair? by J.K. Van Dover and John F. Jebb. Broad survey of the Southern detective story from its creation (by quasi-Southerner Edgar Allen Poe) to its practitioners in the mid-nineties. The authors establish that a set of concerns—“Land, Race, Past, Law, and Technology,” (358) crop up again and again when Southerners set their hand to the genre, though they suspect that the similarity isn’t strong enough to be definitive (ibid). The best part of this book is the section on William Faulkner; after that, too many authors enter the scene and the writers are obliged to divide chapters among numerous countryside-based authors and New Orleans- and Miami-based detectives. Still, these chapters bring me more up to date on the genre than my Golden Age sensibilities would otherwise, and I certainly want to check out some of the authors they cover in these sections (Sharyn McCrumb and Margaret Maron seem promising. If the effect of this survey is somewhat diffuse, that can’t be helped; the field, even when narrowed to Southern authors, is a broad one (interestingly, no Golden Age authors operated out of the South—presumably because it was too rural).

More interesting to members of this board, though, will be Robert S. Paul's Whatever Happened to Sherlock Holmes? Detective Fiction, Popular Theology, and Society. Here’s one that started well; the introduction lays the purported groundwork for Paul’s thesis, and I like it. He argues that popular fiction mirrors the theological (not in the sense of "dogma") presuppositions of the society. I like the themes he points to while arguing for the basically theological nature of detective fiction. Unfortunately, the book kind of errs after that: first by falling into rote recitation of authors and qualities, and then by too clearly revealing the author’s agenda. I might be inclined to agree with many of the concerns Paul raises about late-twentieth century Europe and America, but his arguments aren't really developed. If anything, they're flippantly dismissive of modern critiques of religion and a little too optimistic about the era before "social religion" began to fade. And it really bugs me that an interesting study transforms into polemic at the end, with Paul entering evangelist mode and calling for a return to religious piety (though not, perhaps, traditional religion—he leaves that option open but unpressing). A straightforward examination of themes and sociological import without lapsing into sermonizing would have been more effective. Because the rest of the book is so survey-oriented, he doesn’t have enough substance to support the weight of such a heavy assertion.

That said, there’s some good stuff here: his surface-level but interesting treatment of P.D. James, his chapter-length study of Agatha Christie, and the Introduction are the best aspects. However, much of his work is irritatingly surface, and never fulfills on the promise of its Introduction. It would be interesting to compare this book to Holy Clues by Kendricks, which I recall as dealing more effectively with similar themes. In each case, the general thrust is the same: that the detective, by paying close attention to "bits of matter" is doing more than solving a murder; he (or she) is affirming the basic rationality of the universe, and so finds himself/herself on the track of the greatest Mystery of all.

Edited by NBooth, 09 May 2011 - 11:05 AM.


#29 BethR

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Posted 09 May 2011 - 07:29 PM

NBooth wrote:

...after that, too many authors enter the scene and the writers are obliged to divide chapters among numerous countryside-based authors and New Orleans- and Miami-based detectives. Still, these chapters bring me more up to date on the genre than my Golden Age sensibilities would otherwise, and I certainly want to check out some of the authors they cover in these sections (Sharyn McCrumb and Margaret Maron seem promising.


A few posts ago, M.Leary (I think it was) mentioned James Lee Burke. He should certainly be mentioned as a creator of New Orleans-based detective Dave Robicheaux. Burke writes beautifully, and you can tell he cares about his characters, even the sleazy ones, and about southern Louisiana; the later books are increasingly informed by Dave's commitment to AA and the (Catholic) church, and trying to keep his life and work commitments balanced. The novels are sometimes hard to read, but they're never simplistic. My favorites may be Heaven's Prisoners (the second), In the Electric Mist with Confederate Dead (partly because it has the best title), and Tin Roof Blowdown (hurricane Katrina--say no more).

Sharyn McCrumb's Appalachian mysteries are great (a.k.a. the "Ballad Novels"); she hasn't written a new one in a while, though. Margaret Maron is from the next county over from me. I enjoy her books mostly for the local color, because I recognize a lot of the places (even under pseudonyms) and the types of people. That said, the mysteries haven't struck me as particularly compelling. The early ones, when Deborah Knott is trying to rehabilitate her family reputation, are better, I think (Bootlegger's Daughter, etc.)

#30 NBooth

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Posted 10 May 2011 - 01:04 PM

I'm currently reading Burke's Crusader's Cross and I'm very impressed. As you say, his writing is beautiful. I'm finding the book a pretty quick read, too--not quick because it's lightweight, but because the words move one along so well. I'll definitely be digging into more in this series.

#31 Christian

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Posted 22 May 2011 - 09:17 AM


- Robert Parker's novels became more and more basic towards the end, and where they lacked in plot they gained in subtext. That said, the Jesse Stone adaptations by Tom Selleck are among the best bits of detective cinema in recent memory. Selleck has an odd knack for transposing the thoughtful quiet at the heart of Parker's fiction to the screen.

See, we watched two of these a few months ago, and while I didn't hate them, they seemed little better than an average TV crime drama. They weren't bad cinema, just average. I can understand their straightforward appeal, but nothing cries out to me to keep watching these films.

I just learned yesterday that another Jesse Stone movie airs tonight on CBS. I think we might watch this one from 9-11 p.m. I recently brought a Jesse Stone DVD home and was told that we'd already seen it. We've seen three of the movies; I think five have been made. I'll keep trying to catch up, although it seems I've fallen asleep during stretches of these movies and can't remember them afterward. But the last one we watched was the best yet! Really, I kind of like these movies. Just not enough to stay awake through them.

Edited by Christian, 22 May 2011 - 09:18 AM.


#32 Thom Jurek (unregistered)

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Posted 23 May 2011 - 07:33 AM

Richard Price
Andrew Vachss
Jim Thompson
James Ellroy
George Pelecanos
Ian Rankin
Benjamin Black (aka John Banville)
Tana French (Dublin Murder Squad series)
Daniel Woodrell's Bayou Trilogy
Stuart Neville
Henning Mankell
Elmore "Dutch" Leonard
Dennis Lehane (when he's not bullshitting like with that latest novel0
--And though he's only written one book, the amazing Galveston, Nic Pizzolato
Richard Stark's (a.k. Donald Westlake) Hunter Novels

Edited by Thom Jurek, 23 May 2011 - 07:33 AM.


#33 Christian

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Posted 28 May 2011 - 09:26 AM


... Richard Price, James Sallis, Jim Thompson, James Ellroy, Don Winslow, Dan Chaon, George Pelecanos ...

With a few of the Pelecanos early detective novels being republished this year, I think I'll have to start over my reading of his work. I keep forgetting he was also part of the David Simon/Richard Price/Dennis Lehane writing team for The Wire. I'm reserving a bookshelf for collecting them all in my library.

I just learned his latest novel, starting a "hot new series," releases later this summer:

The Cut is George Pelecanos’s chance expertly to introduce Spero Lucas, an irresistible 29-year-old Marine turned private investigator, at the start of a hot new series. It arrives in August.

#34 NBooth

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Posted 29 May 2011 - 08:50 AM

Ellery Queen is Alive and Well and Living in Japan

The term shinhonkaku-ha, the New Orthodox School, was first attributed by Shimada to the novels of Yukito Ayatsuji, who first debuted in 1987 with The Decagon Mansion Murders (Jukkakan no Satsujin). The novel, featuring an Agatha Christie-like plot with a group of young students on an island who get killed off, one by one, was an ode to the Golden Age classics. Ayatsuji continued with his Mansion (Yakata) series, all of which would feature odd architecture and the ambience of the buildings as a main attraction. By then, the New Orthodox School had become the name of the whole literary movement that took its cues from the Golden Age detective novels. Writers of this school would incorporate classic elements like the master detective, the puzzle, the mansion with the locked-room murder into their stories, but most importantly, the stories were primarily set in contemporary times and contemporary settings. These writers proved that the puzzling mystery could also work, perfectly even, in modern times.



#35 NBooth

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Posted 03 July 2011 - 12:07 PM

The (Really) Long Goodbye

A handful of popular crime series feature protagonists who age in real time, and now, several decades on, the sleuths have matured well past their prime. These geriatric crime-busters are altering the crime-fiction landscape—grappling with creaky joints, hearing loss, poor eyesight, declining mental powers and the existential dread of retirement.



#36 J. Henry Waugh

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Posted 04 July 2011 - 02:10 PM

The (Really) Long Goodbye

A handful of popular crime series feature protagonists who age in real time, and now, several decades on, the sleuths have matured well past their prime. These geriatric crime-busters are altering the crime-fiction landscape—grappling with creaky joints, hearing loss, poor eyesight, declining mental powers and the existential dread of retirement.


I was lucky enough to have an email exchange with Michael Connelly several years back and asked if he ever thought of filling in the gaps from earlier Bosch years. (I am a sucker for books set at a specific time in the recent past). Connelly answered that he knew he would have plenty of time for that when Bosch was much, much older, but for now he wanted to get is much in as possible while Bosch could conceivably be an active police. Makes perfect sense.

I think the best book in the Matthew Scudder series is When the Sacred Ginmill Closes, and it follows the format of Scudder remembering an event in the past. Block did it again in his most recent Scudder story and it works great.

If more authors try this with their aging protagonists, I wouldn't mind one bit. (Though there aren't too many other active detectives that I follow that much anymore. Stefanos and Lew Griffin are long gone. Kenzie and Genaro came back last year after forever away. I need to dip my toes into water of the Bernie Gunther series).

#37 Jason Panella

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Posted 05 July 2011 - 11:11 AM

The (Really) Long Goodbye

A handful of popular crime series feature protagonists who age in real time, and now, several decades on, the sleuths have matured well past their prime. These geriatric crime-busters are altering the crime-fiction landscape—grappling with creaky joints, hearing loss, poor eyesight, declining mental powers and the existential dread of retirement.


Fascinating article. Thanks for linking this!

#38 Gina

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Posted 05 July 2011 - 02:18 PM

Rex Stout had a novel (heh) way of handling this issue: His detectives never aged. They went all the way from the 1930s to the 1970s without getting any older. It can seem bizarre at times, but you get used to it after awhile. And as Stout put it, "Those stories have ignored time for thirty-nine years. Any reader who can't or won't do the same should skip them."

(Speaking of Stout and his books, a tangent: Tim Hutton's show Leverage just did an episode where the characters dressed up as famous detectives for a murder mystery weekend. I was SO hoping to see Tim dress up as his old character Archie Goodwin, but they had him go as Ellery Queen instead. A nice tribute to his dad, but I missed Archie! :) )

#39 NBooth

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Posted 05 July 2011 - 10:01 PM

Rex Stout had a novel (heh) way of handling this issue: His detectives never aged. They went all the way from the 1930s to the 1970s without getting any older. It can seem bizarre at times, but you get used to it after awhile. And as Stout put it, "Those stories have ignored time for thirty-nine years. Any reader who can't or won't do the same should skip them."


IIRC, a lot of the Golden Age detectives were basically static, right?; Ellery Queen never ages more than a couple of years (of course, Ellery Queen is both pseudonymous "author" and hero-detective, so later Ellery could be considered a creation of early Ellery. Or something); Poirot really doesn't age until Curtain (and then ages dramatically); AFAIK, Gideon Fell doesn't age at all. Of course, I doubt the authors of any of these were as open about it as Stout. I/r/t these eternal heroes, one is tempted to quote Chesterton on this part--that the adventures of these ageless heroes are modern iterations of Robin Hood (come to think of it, the Saint's another hero who never really aged).


(Speaking of Stout and his books, a tangent: Tim Hutton's show Leverage just did an episode where the characters dressed up as famous detectives for a murder mystery weekend. I was SO hoping to see Tim dress up as his old character Archie Goodwin, but they had him go as Ellery Queen instead. A nice tribute to his dad, but I missed Archie! :) )


I'm not a regular viewer of Leverage, but you can bet I made a point of downloading that episode; I've just finished a watch-through of the Ellery Queen television show, and am mourning its lack of a second season. (FWIW, I was struck while watching The Ghost Writer by how much Timothy Hutton looks like his father, so I'm especially interested in watching the episode once my schedule clears).

Edited by NBooth, 05 July 2011 - 10:03 PM.


#40 Gina

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Posted 06 July 2011 - 11:33 AM

You'll enjoy this, then! From the Leverage Facebook page, side-by-side photos of the two Huttons dressed as Ellery. :)