Pop Culture Junkette

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Friday, May 18, 2007

Mysteries

I've been binging on mystery novels for the last few months, and I thought I'd share some of my new favorite authors. None of them are technically "new" since they've been dead and buried for ages, but I hadn't gotten around to reading them until recently. I'm a huge fan of the classic English murder mystery and finished reading all the Agatha Christie, Ngaio Marsh, and Dorothy Sayers books in existence long ago. (Though if you're fond of Agatha Christie but have never read either Sayers or Marsh, read them, they're fabulous.)

My first discovery is Margery Allingham. She, like all the authors I'm going to mention, was a contemporary of Christie and her books cover some of the same ground - espionage, classic country house murders etc. - but with a lovely twist in the form of her detective Albert Campion. Campion would be right at home in a Dorothy Sayers mystery actually, as he's often compared to her detective Lord Peter Wimsey. Campion is brilliant, athletic and brave, but manages to hide it all behind an inoffensive, silly ass demeanor and a trick of looking shorter and weaker than he actually is. There's some mystery about who Campion actually is, and there are some hints in the early books that he's the (possibly impoverished?) younger son of a famous aristocratic family, and Campion is just one of his many aliases used to keep the family name unsullied by his more unsavory exploits. Highly recommended.

And then there's Gladys Mitchell, whose books, unfortunately, were never widely published in this country and are therfore damned difficult to find and expensive when you do come across them. If I could afford it, I can think of few trips I'd enjoy more than a used book store tour of England to stock up on her entire catalog. She's that sublimely good. Mitchell's detecive is Beatrice Adela Lestrange Bradley, an independently wealthy psychologist with some shocking opinions. Mitchell's books take all the conventions of the English murder mystery and pull and tweak them in fabulously ridiculous ways so that they're almost parodies of the genre. (I just finished one in which an old lady is murdered with grated carrot. Seriously.) But her characterizations are fantastic, and her plots intricate and amusing. Like all the members of the Detection Club, Mitchell plays fair with her readers but the plots are so outrageous that even with all the clues, the solutions are a surprise. Very highly recommend.

Crossing the pond to America, I present for your reading enjoyment Elizabeth Daly. Her detective is New York antiquarian book dealer Henry Gamadge. I've only read two of her books, but from what I can tell the series is quite good. They're urbane, well plotted, well characterized, and feature some really creepy post-war New York high society settings. Recommended.

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5 Comments:

Blogger Red Fraggle said...

This is very exciting! I have read Christie, Marsh and Sayers, although I have to disagree with you about Marsh. I have read a number of her books and I don't think that the plots or clues are up to snuff. They aren't truly solvable in the way that Christie's and Sayers' are.

I have heard of Allingham, but have never read any of her, and I haven't heard of the other two women at all. I wonder if I can convince Gobo's sister's boyfriend, who lives in London, to go on a little used book store jaunt for me....

5/18/2007 4:09 PM  
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