Seeing as this is a library, I thought it needed more books. If I could invent a molecular manipulation machine that would enable you to pluck freshly printed books from your screen, I would. But I can’t, so the next best thing to is point you to books. These are, in my very humble opinion, some of the cream of the crop in the mystery genre. It’s far from exhaustive, I know, but maybe you could help by adding some of your own favorites?

Clouds of Witness by Dorothy Sayers
The Plot Thickens:
This is Sayers’ second novel starring Lord Peter Bredon Death Wimsey, one of the most popular amateur detectives in the history of detective fiction. Lord Peter’s leisurely holiday abroad is rudely cut short by the discovery that his brother, the Duke of Denver, stands accused of murdering their sister’s lover. Not to let trifling difficulties like family ties get in his way, Lord Peter sets out to find the killer. Even if that means fingering his own brother.

Data, Data:
As per usual with Sayers, the novel reads something like a Holmes story injected with a high dose of humor and eccentricity. Characters range from the thoughtfully irresponsible Lord Peter to the Duchess of Denver who “straightens her hair and her children.” The comedy is belly laugh-inducing, but the novel can at times rise to touching heights. Perhaps the book’s only liability is Lord Peter himself. Joyce Carol Oates describes him as being “like a tinny radio turned up too high.” (And while I’m not usually much one for Oates this article made me smile.) And some people think this tinny radio never shuts up–which is true–and that he burbles merrily about absolutely nothing at all–which is also true. These, along with the sensitive and cunning person hidden behind his foppish exterior, are exactly why the rest of us adore Lord Peter.

And the Jury Finds the Defendant:
Read this. If you have any interest in mysteries, comedy, or the years tucked between the World Wars, read this book. Or really, read nearly any Lord Peter mystery. I was hard pressed to choose a favorite for this review, and still am not sure if I should have written about Murder Must Advertise or Strong Poison or Have His Carcase instead.

The Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
The Plot Thickens:
Need I give a synopsis for perhaps the most famous mystery of all time? Oh, very well, here is goes: A lord is killed by what appears to be the hellhounds of ancient legend, and his heir approaches Sherlock Holmes, asking the great detective to unravel the mystery. Before he even has the chance to leave London and reach his new home, the young man is robbed. Things get steadily worse from there, as death begins to stalk the living.

Data, Data:
Written from Dr. Watson’s perspective, as are all of the Holmes stories with two exceptions, The Hounds of the Baskervilles showcases some of Doyle’s best characters. It provides one of the best pictures of Dr. Watson. Holmes, however, lingers on the periphery of the scene for the much of the story. Still, his character comes out in full force when he steps into the limelight. The layers of the mystery peel back skin by skin as secrets are revealed and crimes come to light. Admittedly, Doyle’s writing style can be less than engrossing at times and his research tended to be less satisfactory, but it is difficult to find characters equal to his.

And the Jury Finds the Defendant:
Yes, I know the honor of inventing the mystery genre goes to Poe, but am I alone in identifying the bond between ‘mystery’ and ‘Holmes’? The genre without Holmes would be a different beast entirely, and this is the best of all Doyle’s novel-length stories. When you read it, you hear the howling whipping across the moor, the cries of hounds and the moaning of the wind.

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley
The Plot Thickens:
The first in a series, The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie follows the story of a young Flavia de Luce, an eleven-year-old budding chemist running loose in rural 1950’s England. Armed with an encyclopedic knowledge of poisons and tenacious curiosity, Flavia’s first reaction upon discovering a dead stranger in her garden is not to run for help, but to examine the body for clues. Yes, really. And no, it doesn’t go over well with the police–or with her father for that matter. But despite her age and lack of experience, Flavia just might be the best girl for the job.

Data, Data:
Flavia is instantly endearing, if rather mischievous and scheming. Her relationship with her older sisters is rocky, but we give her a break for putting poison ivy on their lipstick because they lock her in closets for hours on end. The household characters are rife with old-fashioned eccentricity, from the cook who can’t to Flavia’s father who does little but mumble about table manners and collect stamps. Speaking of old-fashioned, it is clear the author was strongly influenced by the Golden Age of detective fiction and the likes of G.K. Chesterton, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and Dorothy Sayers. Flavia’s world tends to be bright and innocent, but is singed by the darkening of the Second World War. Though the main character is a child, this is not a children’s story. Not that it’s inappropriate for children, but the literary style and references would likely fly over their heads. Oh and the title? Not sure, really. All the titles in the series are like that (the sequel’s called The Weed That Strings the Hangman’s Bag). I think it might have something to do with the quotations and snatches of verse that head each chapter but I hardly ever actually read those (do you?).

The Jury Finds the Defendant:
Let me put it this way: if your interest in The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie hasn’t already been piqued, I’m not sure what else I could do. Kids, corpses, wide English expanses, poisons: what could go wrong?

And like I said, these are just a few of my favorites: what are some of yours?

Stayed tuned as I’ll be posting favorites in other genres.

Long days and pleasant nights from the Tale-Weaver.


13 responses »

  1. propjets says:

    Anything by Melville Davisson Post, The Purloined Letter, anything Agatha Christie, the Father Brown stories, of course, and the Great Rex Stout…of his, I’d have to go with The Second Confession, And be a Villain, and In The Best Families as my favorite titles…
    The Valley of Fear is my second favorite Holmes, after The Hound of the Baskervilles.
    mmm…should just throw out a warning of adult content (murders, language in Stout’s stuff) to be found in some of the above works.

    • Never heard of Meville Davisson Post, I’ll have to check him out. Yes, love Agatha Christie, especially And Then There Were None. To be honest, I’m not a huge fan of Chesterton, but I like the story where they found the dead guy in the man’s fenced-in garden. I read one Rex Stout, but I didn’t think much of it. Maybe I picked up one of the worse stories? I’ll have to try The Second Confession.

      • propjets says:

        Post is interesting. I think he’s baptist. Anyways, his detective is Uncle Abner, a sharp, well versed Christian, living in the rural Bible belt, with keen powers of observation and induction, which he uses to drive a Christian desire for justice.
        Also in Chesterton’s works, The Man Who Knew Too Much is really really awesome.
        Stout is one of those writers…either you love him or you don’t. Do give him a second shot though, he’s sort of the typical American hardboiled action PI story with a strong intelligent thinking detective stirred in.

      • Cool, I’ll definitely check out Post. Any particular books you’d recommend to start with? Remind me though: Didn’t Chesterton write Manalive? ‘Nuff said šŸ˜›

  2. propjets says:

    Well, for Post, start out free:
    Basically, any of the Uncle Abner ones is good though. Mostly short stories. And yes, Manalive is amazing, not sure it counts as a mystery though.

  3. Sarah says:

    Have you read any P.D. James? She’s a British mystery writer; I’ve read only a couple of her books, but I like her. The Children of Men is more of a dystopian novel than a mystery, but it is quite interesting.
    I also read Wilkie Collin’s The Moonstone this summer; apparently it’s a classic in the mystery genre. It was enjoyable, though long, and I’m not sure the resolution was particularly satisfying.
    I had to chuckle at Lord Peter being described as a tinny radio. I can’t get enough of his burbling. I have to say, I love Chesterton, but not I’m not sure if his mysteries are really that good as mysteries. I just relish his writing. The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie was a great recommendation; what a narrative voice that girl has. It makes me grin.

    • No I haven’t read any P.D. James. I’ll have to read one of her books. Did she write Children of Men, or was that someone else?

      Yes, Oates description made me laugh. I tend not to agree with what she says, but what she said about Lord Peter was absolutely hilarious.

      I’m looking forward to the next book in the Flavia de Luce series. It comes out next month.

  4. Sarah says:

    Yes, she wrote Children of Men. Her other mysteries follow a detective called Adam Dangleish.

  5. […] Comments « The Bookshelf: Mysteries […]

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