Our last post featured lighter mysteries; this time we move toward the middle of the mystery spectrum... these are not light mysteries, but are still miles away from the disturbing, gritty streets on the "darker" side of the mystery genre. You'll find there is some violence described and some darker issues are raised, but we avoid nightmare territory. From this week's list, you can satisfy your craving for a literary novel at the same time as you feed your mystery bug!
Historical mysteries can bring the past to life while keeping you riveted to the page as you follow the mystery plot. Although the historical setting forms the backdrop, it also sets the mood and perhaps educates as well.
This pen name represents the mother and son writing team of Caroline and Charles Todd, who write two great historical mystery series. The longest-running series features Inspector Ian Rutledge and is set in post-World War I England. The first book in the series, A Test of Wills, introduces the troubled past of our main character:
...It's 1919, and the "War to End All Wars" has been won. But there is no peace for Scotland Yard inspector Ian Rutledge, recently returned from the battlefields of France shell-shocked and tormented by the ever-present voice of the young Scot he had executed for refusing an order. Escaping into his work to save his sanity, Rutledge investigates the murder of a popular colonel in Warwickshire and his alleged killer, a decorated war hero and close friend of the Prince of Wales. The case is a political minefield, and its resolution could mean the end of Rutledge's career. Win or lose, the cost may be more than the damaged investigator can bear. For the one witness who can break the case open is, like Rutledge, a war-ravaged victim . . . and his grim, shattered fate could well prove to be the haunted investigator's own. (from the CPL catalogue summary)
If you're already a fan of the Inspector Rutledge series, you might like to try the other historical mystery series from this writing duo, featuring World War I nurse Bess Crawford. The first book in the series is A Duty to the Dead. Read the catalogue summary:
The daughter of a distinguished soldier, Bess Crawford follows in his footsteps and signs up to go overseas as a nurse during the Great War, helping to deal with the many wounded. There, serving on a hospital ship, she makes a promise to a dying young lieutenant to take a message to his brother, Jonathan Graham: "Tell Jonathan that I lied. I did it for Mother′s sake. But it has to be set right." Later, when her ship is sunk by a mine and she′s sidelined by a broken arm, Bess returns home to England, determined to fulfill her promise. It′s her own duty to the dead.
Don't forget to use Novelist, a fantastic resource in your E-Library, to help find your next favourite author in any genre! As a relative newcomer to historical mysteries, that's how I found these next two...
Anne Perry is acclaimed for her two well-researched, detail-rich, atmospheric Mystery series that probe the social and political injustices found in the underside of Victorian London society. The crimes that fill these novels are brutal and Perry provides plenty of details of these crimes, as well as the society that produced them. Her introspective character studies provide depth and psychological insights that please fans. Pacing in both series is slow, due to the wealth of historical information, character details, and social commentary. Start with: The Cater Street Hangman. (Novelist)
Laura Joh Rowland
Laura Joh Rowland's historical crime novels have a strong sense of place and are steeped in Japanese history. Set in the Japanese court in the 17th century, the stories center around Sano Ichiro, the shogun's Most Honorable Investigator of Events, Situations, and People. Rowland captures the sense of honor and service that form the foundation of the shogunate, and the political scheming in the court is well-depicted. The addition of Sano's wife in the later series titles gives additional depth to the stories, as Rowland explores the role of women in 17th century Japan. Start with: Shinju. (Novelist)
The next two series stand out for their character development. Although all aspects of these series are fully satisfying, including the settings and the intricately woven plots, it is the cast of characters and their relationships that really pull me in. When the characters feel like real people making their way through real lives, with all the expected and unexpected ups and downs to deal with, and internal dialogues and struggles that are true to life, the experience of reading is like being absorbed into another world.
Another Canadian award-winner, Louise Penny's writing is a treat! Penny writes the Inspector Armand Gamache series set mainly in rural Quebec. Her characters fly off the page and into your memory, as if they're people you've met, and part of the joy of reading her series is getting to know them better with every installment. Read these in order starting with Still Life, which introduces the tiny village of Three Pines.
Gamache and his team are called in when a well-loved resident is found murdered in the woods. It is interesting to see the idyllic setting and warm, kind characters juxtaposed with the horrific crime that has brought in the authorities. Inspector Gamache knows he must uncover the darkest secrets of each of the inhabitants if he is to solve the crime.
Icelander Arnaldur writes the Reykjavik mysteries, featuring the moody, introspective Detective Erlendur. Unfortunately for the English-speaking world, the first novel in this series that has been translated into English is actually the third in the series. Nonetheless, Jar City introduces the detective as something of a mysterious figure, poorly understood by his closest colleagues and estranged family. As the novel and the series progresses, more snippets of Erlendur's life come to light, each bit of information gradually illuminating his character and revealing the past behind his withdrawn personality and way of life.
From the catalogue's summary, here's a little about the plot:
A man is found murdered in his Reykjavik flat. There are no obvious clues apart from a cryptic note left on the body and a photograph of a young girl's grave. Delving into the dead man's life Detective Erlendur discovers that forty years ago he was accused of an appalling crime, but never convicted. Had his past come back to haunt him? As Erlendur struggles to build a relationship with his unhappy daughter, his investigation takes him to Iceland's Genetic Research Centre, where he uncovers disturbing secrets that are even darker than the murder of an old man.
What have I missed? Leave your favourite author or series in the comments.