Up Front by Emma Hart

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Up Front: Reading Murder Books

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  • Stephen R, in reply to Emma Hart,

    Barry Hughart's ancient-mythic-China detective novels

    Are they the ones that start with "Bridge of birds" and have "Number 10 Ox" as the sidekick character?

    Wellington • Since Jul 2009 • 259 posts Report Reply

  • Emma Hart, in reply to Stephen R,

    Yep, those ones. Bridge of Birds, Story of the Stone, Eight Skilled Gentlemen. Apparently Hughart intended to write seven, but had a 'falling out' with his publishers, so there are only three. I used to own them, but I'm pretty sure they belong to my daughter now. They live in her room, anyway.

    Christchurch • Since Nov 2006 • 4644 posts Report Reply

  • kiwicmc,

    I can't believe I forgot to name check The Bernie Gunther Novels of Philip Kerr. A detective in Berlin set before, during and after world war 2. Great sense of place, woven with real historical events.

    Philip Kerr also does a series about a football manager in the English premier league who solves crimes - they're particularly stupid, dumb good fun...

    Auckland, New Zealand • Since May 2008 • 88 posts Report Reply

  • John McCormick,

    Aarrrgh! I hate you all. The gap between the books I want to read and the time I have available to read them is already at epic proportions. Then I find something like this and add a whole lot more. I think I need several additional lifetimes to get through them all.

    Auckland • Since Sep 2014 • 18 posts Report Reply

  • kw,

    Among Australians who travel as well as Peter Temple, there's also Shane Maloney's Murray Whelan novels, which are fun, and a couple by Adrian Hyland set in the outback.

    I have a weakness for (Scot) Chris Brookmyre as well, and the new series is far less ranty than those with Jack Parlabane.

    Adrian McKinty's pretty good too, set in Belfast.

    Aside from Brookmyre, none of these guys are into double figures yet, so good for Christmas binge reading.

    And while I haven't picked up a Cornwell in years, two of her contemporaries in Sara Paretsky and Sue Grafton have not lost their mojo and this year's offerings by both were terrific.

    Dunedin • Since Jul 2014 • 30 posts Report Reply

  • Thomas Lumley, in reply to kw,

    I'm glad to hear the Murray Whelan books travel well, though a bit surprised. I'm from Melbourne and to me, they seem to fit their time and place so well.

    Auckland • Since Feb 2013 • 43 posts Report Reply

  • steven crawford,

    Twice, as a child, I can remember being told off by teachers for reading something that wasn’t good enough for me. The first time, it was reading The Hardy Boys when I was nine. The second time, it was reading Agatha Christie when I was thirteen.

    A more enlightened teacher would have explained that Agatha Christie, is a story teller, that literally couldn't actually write. She had dysgraphia, which meant somebody else had to drive the tractor.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 4043 posts Report Reply

  • sandra,

    Curious London settings and mysteries to be found in the Bryant and May series by Christopher Fowler. The odd facts about the grand old city are true which makes the stories even better.

    tauranga • Since Dec 2011 • 70 posts Report Reply

  • Rich Lock, in reply to BenWilson,

    Which might seem odd until you've read a Biggles and realize that he's basically a flying detective.

    Although one or two of them wandered off-track quite a distance. The one where he fights a legion of invisible glass villains from China, for example. Or the one where they find a lost Persian army in the Egyptian desert.

    back in the mother countr… • Since Feb 2007 • 2728 posts Report Reply

  • Biobbs, in reply to sandra,

    Staying in London, my absolute fav detective of all time is Lauren Henderson's hilarious Sam Jones . Sam is a Camden girl - hedonistic, foul-mouthed and witty, and when not detecting or doing her day job as a sculptor, spends her time clubbing in black leather and rubber (one of the books is even called Black Rubber Dress). Lauren also has a newer YA detective series which I've not read, but has really good reviews on Goodreads and Amazon.

    Sam Jones is part of the English 'Tart Noir' wave of the 90s - to which our Stella Duffy and her fantastic Saz Martin series also belong, although the Saz novels are much more violent and less humorous.

    Also really enjoy Carol O'Connell's long-running Kathy Mallory series. Mallory is definitely not immediately likeable, but the depths of her character make her a great protagonist.

    More innocent younger pleasures: I was a huge Dick Francis fan back in the day, read almost every one of his books, even though I've never had anything to do with the equestrian world. My work took me back and forth to Oz fairly often in the late 80s and early 90s, and they were a perfect length for Trans-Tasman travel in the days before personal entertainment systems in planes. I'm sure they would seem very dated now, but a few of those written at his late 70s/early 80s peak (Knock Down, Risk, Whip Hand and Reflex in particular) had surprisingly deep characterisation.

    The River Mouth, Denmark • Since Jan 2011 • 114 posts Report Reply

  • Ross Francis,

    I haven't read any detective novels as such but The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time can almost be described as a detective novel.

    "Mark Haddon's bitterly funny debut novel, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, is a murder mystery of sorts--one told by an autistic version of Adrian Mole. Fifteen-year-old Christopher John Francis Boone is mathematically gifted and socially hopeless, raised in a working-class home by parents who can barely cope with their child's quirks. He takes everything that he sees (or is told) at face value, and is unable to sort out the strange behavior of his elders and peers."

    http://www.amazon.com/The-Curious-Incident-Dog-Night-Time/dp/1400032717

    Wairarapa • Since Apr 2012 • 26 posts Report Reply

  • Bart Janssen, in reply to Emma Hart,

    Bridge of Birds, Story of the Stone, Eight Skilled Gentlemen

    Oh god those are amazing! I have physical copies but I think I’ll just get them electronically as well because realistically that’s how I do all my reading now.

    And I didn’t know Fox published/destroyed books too. I presume they have rights to the rest of the series if he writes them so he can’t bring himself to do it.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 4431 posts Report Reply

  • kw, in reply to Biobbs,

    Had forgotten about Sam Jones and Saz Martin - Sam in particular seemed to have been left dangling a bit, but I guess there's only so many times a sculptor can get herself tangled up in crime without it being completely preposterous. (Not that I cared.) Zoe Sharp's Charlie Fox series is another I look out for - she's a bodyguard with a complicated military back story, a bit like a professional, sane, female Reacher.

    As for Murray Whelan - maybe I enjoy them because I lived in Melbourne for a few years a long time back. But that vernacular humour is much like the Paul Thomas or Chris Brookmyre's Parlabane novels.

    Dunedin • Since Jul 2014 • 30 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to Rich Lock,

    The one where he fights a legion of invisible glass villains from China, for example. Or the one where they find a lost Persian army in the Egyptian desert.

    I'm sure he was as phlegmatic and coldly logical throughout as ever. Lots of detail about the possible march times of lost Persian armies, and how one might spot them from the air.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10579 posts Report Reply

  • sandra,

    Okay, I'm going to bring it up ...

    The 'cozy' mysteries that American woman writers churn out ... I occasionally read one just because there's no intellectual work needed, kind of like a lie down or goofing off! Turns out, 'cozy mysteries' is an actual sub-genre.

    Diane Mott Davidson is (slightly) a cut above the others in terms of her plotting and characters: Goldy Schulz is a caterer in Colorado (recipes in every book, including details for altitude) whose motto is 'Everything is Just Right'. She's married to a sheriff and has a chatty OTT rich friend and an abusive ex. Her son looks up to her student employee. There's a dog and a cat. The number of bodies she's found makes me wonder about her motto.

    Katherine Hall Page is the other above-average in this field: Caterer Faith Fairchild has done the one thing she vowed never to do - marry a vicar. Which comes in handy when she finds the bodies, I suppose. Anyway she lives in a rackety manse in a small Massachusetts town, full of eccentric characters. She has 2 children and a great next-door neighbour, and there are recipes in every book.

    Sarah Graves also doesn't do a bad job if these sorts of books are your cup of tea: Jake Tiptree has left being a financial advisor in NY to renovate a big, old house in a small coastal town in Maine (handy tips in every book). She has her son, her abusive ex, her ruggedly handsome coastguard boyfriend, her 'sleuthing partner'. Oh god, there's a cat.

    Monica Ferris: Middle-aged Betty Devonshire owns Crewel World (cross-stitch pattern in every book!) in a Minnesota town and 'sleuths' at the behest of others. Her co-worker Goddy is gay and sometimes flip, she has an overweight cat and more lately has acquired a gentleman friend. Not too bad, and although some of the minor characters are tedious, Betty is well-rounded.

    Laura Childs has three series going on but I've only tried her Teashop Mysteries: Theo owns a teashop in Charleston and regularly comes across dead bodies in the course of catering things (recipes in every book) or just walking around. Her tea master is a stuffy Anglophile while her cook is a ditzy blonde - they profess not to get on. She has a dog and has had various relationships, none of which have stuck. The overweight police detective has come to grudgingly admire Theo. Occasionally there are interesting facts about tea and the Charleston setting is interesting.
    Her other series are Scrapbook Mysteries and The Cackleberry Club (oh, all right I read one of these - it was so dire I'm trying to pretend it never happened).

    Joanne Fluke: Hannah Swensen owns a bakery in a small Minnesota town (Minnesota, crime capital of the US?). She has two handsome beaux - a steady dentist and a charming but unreliable police detective - and an overweight cat. Recipes in every book. Her mother is a ditzy pain, her sister a ditzy real estate agent ... Meh.

    Maggie Sefton: Accountant Kelly Flynn has moved to a small town in Colorado when she's left a house. (No wait, Colorado is the murder capital...) Across the street (or something) is a fibre shop that holds knitting classes (pattern in every book). You guessed it. Kelly takes up knitting and sleuthing. The dialogue, characterisation and plotting in these books is terrible. Which is why I stopped after about 4!

    Cleo Coyle: Claire Cosi owns a coffee shop in Greenwich Village ... blah, I can't go on.

    The only other thing to note about ALL these books is the punning titles or a 'series title' like 'The Body in'. It's a 'thing'. Match the titles to the author:

    Wreck the Halls, Purl Up and Die, Chamomile Mourning, Peach Cobbler Murder, Darned if You Do, The Cereal Murders, The Body in the Vestibule, A Brew to a Kill.

    Don't say I didn't warn you!!

    tauranga • Since Dec 2011 • 70 posts Report Reply

  • Andrew Stevenson, in reply to Bart Janssen,

    Bridge of Birds, Story of the Stone, Eight Skilled Gentlemen

    Oh god those are amazing! I have physical copies but I think I’ll just get them electronically

    I'll take the physical copies off your hands so you can free up valuable space...

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 206 posts Report Reply

  • linger,

    One from the world of linguistics is David Carkeet's Double Negative, set in an institute for research into child language.

    Oh, and has anyone in this thread already mentioned the Peter Shandy books by Charlotte MacLeod (e.g. Wrack and Rune )?

    Tokyo • Since Apr 2007 • 1830 posts Report Reply

  • Emma Hart, in reply to sandra,

    Wreck the Halls, Purl Up and Die, Chamomile Mourning, Peach Cobbler Murder, Darned if You Do, The Cereal Murders, The Body in the Vestibule, A Brew to a Kill.

    Heh. They're awful, but in a really endearingly sweet kind of way. You can usually find a couple on the sale tables outside bookshops.

    Christchurch • Since Nov 2006 • 4644 posts Report Reply

  • sandra, in reply to Biobbs,

    my absolute fav detective of all time is Lauren Henderson’s hilarious Sam Jones

    Thanks for this - one I don't know. Library, here I come!

    tauranga • Since Dec 2011 • 70 posts Report Reply

  • sandra, in reply to Emma Hart,

    They’re awful, but in a really endearingly sweet kind of way

    I agree. These authors know their audiences and are writing exactly what their fans want to read.

    tauranga • Since Dec 2011 • 70 posts Report Reply

  • A C Young, in reply to Emma Hart,

    Regarding Bridge of Birds, the forgotten classics podcast recorded all of bridge of birds as hourlong pod casts starting here:

    http://hcforgottenclassics.blogspot.co.nz/2011/09/episode-168-bridge-of-birds-ch-1-3.html

    Wellington • Since Feb 2011 • 35 posts Report Reply

  • Hebe, in reply to sandra,

    The ‘cozy’ mysteries that American woman writers churn out … I occasionally read one just because there’s no intellectual work needed, kind of like a lie down or goofing off!

    They sound wonderfully batty books for summer: food and murder. Perfect.

    Christchurch • Since May 2011 • 2893 posts Report Reply

  • sandra,

    Ooooh, can I add just one more?

    Louise Penny. I found her quite by accident on the library shelves a couple of years ago and after I’d read one I grabbed everything else they had asap. She’s good – it’s not so much the murder or even the detection (although that is good) but it’s more about her great characters and the atmosphere she creates. Almost all the stories are the traditional ‘locked room’ mystery; in this case the snowbound mansion is most usually replaced by a village near-ish to Montreal (Three Pines) that doesn’t appear on maps and is cut off from everything except landlines. There’s also one that’s set in a remote Canadian monastery, accessible only by seaplane or (at a push) boat, and a couple set in Montreal itself.

    Her main character, Chief Inspector Armand Gamache (recently retired), is a real person to me, he’s that well drawn, and the minor characters much the same. They’re all complex and so not predictable.

    From Ms Penny's website:

    My books are about terror. That brooding terror curled deep down inside us. But more than that, more than murder, more than all the rancid emotions and actions, my books are about goodness. And kindness. About choices. About friendship and belonging. And love. Enduring love.

    If you take only one thing away from any of my books I'd like it to be this:

    Goodness exists.

    Whatever your biggest recommend is Emma, I double it!

    tauranga • Since Dec 2011 • 70 posts Report Reply

  • Mark Cubey,

    The detective series I enjoyed most last year was a six-part epic by CJ Sansom (his standalone title Dominion, an alternate WW2 thriller, is also exceptional). Set during the reign of Henry VIII, the six books (start with Dissolution) follow hunchbacked lawyer-turned-detective Matthew Shardlake through a compellingly evoked historical England.

    This year, on the police procedural front, Belinda Bauer is still going strong, but my UK discovery this year was Harry Bingham, and his series set around an extraordinary character: DC Fiona Griffiths. Go back to Talking to the Dead; if you like that there are three more (to date) to enjoy.

    I rate Deon Meyer as the best crime writer in South Africa (translated from Afrikaans). I haven’t read his new one, Icarus, yet, but I’ve read the other nine, and they are all great, featuring an interwoven gallery of protagonists (most notably Benny Griessel and Thobela Mpayipheli).

    Ken Bruen is the unconventional dark king of Galway Noir, and I love his Jack Taylor series, which starts with The Guards, and continued this year with _Green Hell_.

    On the Australian front, all the great things said here about Peter Temple are true. I’m also a big fan of Garry Disher, and his Wyatt novels.

    If I can stretch the crime blanket out from detective fiction to a wider expanse, you have GOT to read the 1994 thriller Kolymsky Heights by Lionel Davidson, republished this year with an introductory rave by Philip Pullman. It leaves everything else in the shade, even the unbelievably assured American Blood from young New Zealander Ben Sanders, which ticks every great summer beach reading box.

    And finally, the new epic from Don Winslow, The Cartel, takes all that was fantastic about his previous Mexican/American drug war novel The Power of the Dog and ratches it up by a factor of ten. If you loved movie of the year Sicario as much as I did, this is deeper, darker and even more disillusioning.

    Wellington • Since May 2008 • 64 posts Report Reply

  • Emma Hart, in reply to sandra,

    Whatever your biggest recommend is Emma, I double it!

    This may have just found a home on my Kobo.

    Christchurch • Since Nov 2006 • 4644 posts Report Reply

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