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Mysteries and Detective Stories


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#61 Christian

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Posted 04 February 2012 - 09:32 AM

FWIW, here's Patrick Anderson's review of What It Was in today's Post.

In recent decades, as American crime fiction has reached new heights, a few novels have been outstanding, including Dennis Lehane’s “Mystic River,” Laura Lippman’s “What the Dead Know” and Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch series. The five Strange novels belong on that list. They’re about crime, but, finally, they’re a profound meditation on good and evil in this city, mostly in parts of it that many of us pass through often but never really see.

#62 Nathaniel

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Posted 20 February 2012 - 03:49 PM

Note to self:

Add Lord Dunsany's "Two Bottles of Relish" to favorite mystery stories.

#63 NBooth

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Posted 22 February 2012 - 09:21 AM

Note to self:

Add Lord Dunsany's "Two Bottles of Relish" to favorite mystery stories.


It's been years since I read that one, but as I recall it has one of the best closing-lines of any mystery anywhere.

#64 Nathaniel

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Posted 22 February 2012 - 04:42 PM


Note to self:

Add Lord Dunsany's "Two Bottles of Relish" to favorite mystery stories.


It's been years since I read that one, but as I recall it has one of the best closing-lines of any mystery anywhere.

It's true! The curtain line is a classic. The story itself straddles both horror and mystery. It's a horrible mystery, a mysterious horror.

Edited by Nathaniel, 22 February 2012 - 05:02 PM.


#65 Jason Panella

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Posted 23 February 2012 - 10:15 PM

It's true! The curtain line is a classic. The story itself straddles both horror and mystery. It's a horrible mystery, a mysterious horror.


Lovecraft was an admirer of Dunsany, maybe to a fault. Many of his earliest writings had him copying Dunsany's style to a 't.'

EDIT: I was really sleepy when I wrote this, so let me also note that the reason I mentioned this was because Lovecraft also tried one or two (I think) stabs at hardboiled mystery/horror hybrids. They were more unintentionally funny than mysterious (or scary, for that matter).

Edited by Jason Panella, 24 February 2012 - 06:46 AM.


#66 NBooth

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Posted 25 February 2012 - 12:23 PM


It's true! The curtain line is a classic. The story itself straddles both horror and mystery. It's a horrible mystery, a mysterious horror.


Lovecraft was an admirer of Dunsany, maybe to a fault. Many of his earliest writings had him copying Dunsany's style to a 't.'

EDIT: I was really sleepy when I wrote this, so let me also note that the reason I mentioned this was because Lovecraft also tried one or two (I think) stabs at hardboiled mystery/horror hybrids. They were more unintentionally funny than mysterious (or scary, for that matter).


That's interesting, and it touches on a point that is, I think, too little remarked upon: the close affinity horror and detective fiction share. When I read Lovecraft, I associate him with Poe--and Poe, of course, invented the modern detective story. There's a strong Gothic tinge in the Sherlock Holmes stories (most obviously, of course, in The Hound of the Baskervilles, but also in shorts like "The Speckled Band" and "The Copper Beeches") and writers of the "Golden Age" like John Dickson Carr and even Ellery Queen were not averse to mixing horror-elements with their classically-constructed stories. And, of course, the hardboiled school does the same thing (I say this though my experience is limited)--the mouldering rich family in The Big Sleep might be an example, and David Peace's novels are nothing if not Gothic detective stories.

I have no idea why this should be so, but it's something that has been prodding at me for a while.

#67 Nathaniel

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Posted 25 February 2012 - 01:38 PM

I have no idea why this should be so, but it's something that has been prodding at me for a while.

Me, too. Carr's The Burning Court might make a good case study, for reasons I'm hesitant to say.

But, as I mentioned earlier in this thread, my favorite mystery stories are those that tease you with supernatural explanations before bringing you back to commonsense reality (but only after it has awakened the sense of the supernatural that is intrinsic to our humanity). My mind tends to drift when I read Agatha Christie, her masterly plot construction too detailed for my wandering attention, but I'm usually electrified by Father Brown. "The Oracle of the Dog" is a perfect illustration of what I'm talking about. ("It's the first effect of not believing in God that you lose your common sense.")

Anyway, I think you're very close to cracking this one, Mr. Booth. The clues are all there.

#68 Jason Panella

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Posted 26 February 2012 - 08:58 AM

Anyway, I think you're very close to cracking this one, Mr. Booth. The clues are all there.


Absolutely. Even look at James Ellroy — his neo-noir novels shift over into horror quite frequently, though not of any supernatural kind. The L.A. Quartet in particular drips with gothic flourishes.

I've been slowwwwwwly putting ideas down for a slightly hardboiled, slightly Lovecraftian novel (all set in academia). I guess it makes sense that it all clicks together so well.

#69 Ryan H.

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Posted 26 February 2012 - 04:28 PM

The L.A. Quartet in particular drips with gothic flourishes.

Sure does. De Palma emphasized those elements pretty heavily in his film adaptation of THE BLACK DAHLIA.

#70 NBooth

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Posted 05 May 2012 - 04:41 PM

Flavorwire offers "A Beginner's Guide to Crime Fiction"

#71 J. Henry Waugh

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Posted 05 May 2012 - 09:42 PM

NBooth, I assume lists like that will not be good, but the Flavorwire list is just about perfect. That they include Pop. 1280 instead of other works as the book from Thompson shows due diligence. Slayground instead of The Hunter would have been gilding the lilly.

Outside the known names, Roger Smith, Ray Banks and Dave Zeltserman have been on my radar lately.

#72 J.A.A. Purves

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Posted 06 May 2012 - 11:37 AM

Flavorwire offers "A Beginner's Guide to Crime Fiction"

Wow, that reads like my junior-high / high school reading-for-pleasure list. I don't know if 13 and 14 are the best ages to start reading these books, but I loved these books then and haven't stopped loving them since.

#73 NBooth

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Posted 06 May 2012 - 01:14 PM


Flavorwire offers "A Beginner's Guide to Crime Fiction"

Wow, that reads like my junior-high / high school reading-for-pleasure list. I don't know if 13 and 14 are the best ages to start reading these books, but I loved these books then and haven't stopped loving them since.


I was all about Doyle, Agatha Christie, JD Carr, and DL Sayers at that age. And Ellery Queen, natch [because I am constitutionally unable to mention detective fiction without plugging for Queen]. The hardboiled stuff never appealed to me, leaving me with a huge gap in my reading that I'm only just starting to fill.

#74 Christian

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Posted 21 June 2012 - 05:21 AM

This is a good podcast with George Pelecanos. A nice primer on his career and influences.

#75 J. Henry Waugh

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Posted 21 June 2012 - 08:35 AM

Thanks for posting. Mr. George is the best. I am way to proud to not note that the car chase in The Cut drove down my block and past my house!

#76 Christian

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Posted 21 June 2012 - 08:37 AM

Thanks for posting. Mr. George is the best. I am way to proud to not note that the car chase in The Cut drove down my block and past my house!

How cool!

#77 Christian

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Posted 05 July 2012 - 10:46 AM

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.

I've had Bertrand's Pattern of Wounds on my GoodReads "to read" list for months. I almost bought it for, like, $2 at the Borders closeout sale, but figured I could always get it at the library (home bookshelf space was at a premium at that point). Today GoodReads informs me that another Roland March mystery, Nothing to Hide, is now out. I'm behind!

UPDATE: Books & Culture's podcast on Bertrand's latest novel.

Edited by Christian, 04 August 2012 - 10:25 AM.


#78 Darren H

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Posted 05 July 2012 - 12:30 PM

I'm reading my fourth Patricia Highsmith novel in as many months, and it's only reinforcing my opinion that she's one of the great American novelists of her era. I'm not comparing her just to other genre novelists, but to mid- and late-20th century novelists, in general. I'd take her language and her observations about suburban American life over Updike's, for example. Last night I hit the point in The Cry of the Owl when the inevitable thing happened and now I want nothing more than to go home and read. These books leave me crippled with anxiety -- but in a good way.

#79 Ryan H.

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Posted 04 August 2012 - 09:03 AM

I'm reading my fourth Patricia Highsmith novel in as many months, and it's only reinforcing my opinion that she's one of the great American novelists of her era. I'm not comparing her just to other genre novelists, but to mid- and late-20th century novelists, in general. I'd take her language and her observations about suburban American life over Updike's, for example. Last night I hit the point in The Cry of the Owl when the inevitable thing happened and now I want nothing more than to go home and read. These books leave me crippled with anxiety -- but in a good way.

What would you recommend as a starting point with Highsmith's novels?

#80 NBooth

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Posted 11 August 2012 - 09:56 PM

So this is happening: The Return of the Thin Man: Two Never-Before-Published Novellas featuring Nick & Nora Charles.

Dashiell Hammett was a crime writer who elevated the genre to true literature, and The Thin Man was Hammett's last--and most successful--novel. Following the enormous success of "The Thin Man" movie in 1934, Hammett was commissioned to write stories for additional films. He wrote two full-length novellas, for the films that became "After the Thin Man" and "Another Thin Man". Bringing back his classic characters, retired private investigator Nick Charles and his former debutante wife Nora, who return home to find Nora’s family gardener murdered, pulling the couple back into another deadly game of cat and mouse. Hammett has written two fully satisfying "Thin Man" stories, with classic, barbed Hammett dialogue and fully developed characters.

Neither of these stories has been previously published (except for a partial in a small magazine 25 years ago). The Return of the Thin Man is a hugely entertaining read that brings back two classic characters from one of the greatest of mystery writers who ever lived. This book is destined to become essential reading for Hammett's millions of fans and a new generation of mystery readers the world over.