Getting Into Crime Fiction

Crime fiction – particularly of the contemporary period – was a genre which I oddly found myself steering away from in my teenage years, but of late, I have been veering more and more toward it.  I love a good mystery, and whilst I have always been a fan of cosy crime, I am now drawn to more recent releases.  For those of you who don’t classify crime fiction as within your favourite literary genres, I thought it would be a good idea to point out five crime books which I would highly recommend, giving you a springboard from which to dive into some exciting books.

  1. The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie (Flavia de Luce series #1) by Alan Bradley 9780752883212
    ‘Take one precocious eleven-year-old girl called Flavia. Add an ancient country house somewhere in England in 1950. Then sprinkle with murder, mystery and dark family secrets…For very nearly eleven-year-old Flavia de Luce, the discovery of a dead snipe on the doorstep of Buckshaw, the crumbling de Luce country seat, was a marvellous mystery – especially since this particular snipe had a rather rare stamp neatly impaled on its beak. Even more astonishing was the effect of the dead bird on her stamp-collector father, who appeared to be genuinely frightened. Soon Flavia discovers something even more shocking in the cucumber patch, and it’s clear that the snipe was a bird of very ill omen indeed. As the police descend on Buckshaw, Flavia decides it is up to her to piece together the clues and solve the puzzle. Who was the man she heard her father arguing with? What was the snipe doing in England at all? Who or what is the Ulster Avenger? And, most peculiar of all, who took a slice of Mrs Mullet’s unspeakable custard pie that had been cooling by the window…?’
  2. The Secret Adversary (Tommy and Tuppence, #1) by Agatha Christie
    ‘Tommy and Tuppence, two young people short of money and restless for excitement, embark on a daring business scheme – Young Adventurers Ltd. Their advertisement says they are ‘willing to do anything, go anywhere’. But their first assignment, for the sinister Mr Whittington, plunges them into more danger than they ever imagined…’
  3. 9780008124120The Moving Toyshop (Gervase Fen Mysteries) by Edmund Crispin
    ‘As inventive as Agatha Christie, as hilarious as P.G. Wodehouse – discover the delightful detective stories of Edmund Crispin. Crime fiction at its quirkiest and best. Richard Cadogan, poet and would-be bon vivant, arrives for what he thinks will be a relaxing holiday in the city of dreaming spires. Late one night, however, he discovers the dead body of an elderly woman lying in a toyshop and is coshed on the head. When he comes to, he finds that the toyshop has disappeared and been replaced with a grocery store. The police are understandably skeptical of this tale but Richard’s former schoolmate, Gervase Fen (Oxford professor and amateur detective), knows that truth is stranger than fiction (in fiction, at least). Soon the intrepid duo are careening around town in hot pursuit of clues but just when they think they understand what has happened, the disappearing-toyshop mystery takes a sharp turn…Erudite, eccentric and entirely delightful – Before Morse, Oxford’s murders were solved by Gervase Fen, the most unpredictable detective in classic crime fiction.’
  4. In a Dark, Dark Wood by Ruth Ware
    ‘Nora hasn’t seen Clare for ten years. Not since the day Nora walked out of her old life and never looked back. Until, out of the blue, an invitation to Clare’s hen party arrives. A weekend in a remote cottage – the perfect opportunity for Nora to reconnect with her best friend, to put the past behind her. But something goes wrong. Very wrong. And as secrets and lies unravel, out in the dark, dark wood the past will finally catch up with Nora.’
  5. Case Histories (Jackson Brodie, #1) by Kate Atkinson 9780552772433
    ‘Cambridge is sweltering, during an unusually hot summer. To Jackson Brodie, former police inspector turned private investigator, the world consists of one accounting sheet – Lost on the left, Found on the right – and the two never seem to balance. Jackson has never felt at home in Cambridge, and has a failed marriage to prove it. Surrounded by death, intrigue and misfortune, his own life haunted by a family tragedy, he attempts to unravel three disparate case histories and begins to realise that in spite of apparent diversity, everything is connected…’


Which are your favourite crime books?  Which would you recommend to someone just starting out with the genre?


Five Very Different Detectives

Detective fiction is a genre which I have always enjoyed.  I loved reading things like the Famous Five and Secret Seven series when I was quite small, and progressed quite naturally onto Arthur Conan Doyle’s marvellous Sherlock Holmes stories.  Of late, I have come across some incredibly interesting – and not at all cliched – detectives, and thought that I would make a little post about them.

1. Oscar Wilde (The Oscar Wilde Mystery series by Gyles Brandreth; the first book is Oscar Wilde and the Candlelight Murders)
Wilde is a most interesting choice of detective, and he is rendered incredibly well by Brandreth.  He comes across as a realistic and rather noble figure in Brandreth’s fiction, and much research has been put into his mannerisms and turns of phrase.

2. Flavia de Luce (The Flavia de Luce series by Alan Bradley; the first book is The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie)
Flavia de Luce is untypical in the sense that she is only almost-eleven years old when the series begins.  She is obsessed with chemistry and busies herself with solving the mysteries which begin to occur around the small village in which she lives.

3. Daphne du Maurier (The du Maurier Mystery series by Joanna Challis; the first book is Murder on the Cliffs)
Daphne du Maurier makes a fascinating and rather level-headed solver of mysteries.  She continually talks about how the deaths which she involves herself within can provide inspiration for her work.  She comes across as an intelligent and shrewd character; much like a far younger Miss Marple in some ways.

4. Cordelia Gray (The Cordelia Gray Mysteries by P.D. James; the first book is An Unsuitable Job for a Woman)
Contrary to those around her, who believe that a woman’s place should not be embroiled in mysteries for a living, the very proper Cordelia Gray inherits a detective agency and is thrilled by the challenge.  As with Daphne du Maurier, Gray is an intelligent character who continually reasserts the facts throughout the books in which she appears.

5. Christopher (The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time by Mark Haddon)
Fifteen-year-old Christopher Boone is perhaps an obvious choice for a ‘different’ detective, but he is one of the best.  Christopher has Asperger Syndrome, a form of autism.  “He knows a very great deal about maths and very little about human beings. He loves lists, patterns and the truth. He hates the colours yellow and brown and being touched. He has never gone further than the end of the road on his own, but when he finds a neighbour’s dog murdered he sets out on a terrifying journey which will turn his whole world upside down.”

Which are your favourite ‘different’ detectives?


Flash Reviews (5th May 2014)

The Weed That Strings The Hangman’s Bag (Flavia de Luce Mystery #2) by Alan Bradley ****
I was a little disappointed by the first Flavia de Luce mystery, The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, but when I spotted its sequel in my library sale for a ridiculously low price, I couldn’t resist picking it up.  I love the idea of these mysteries; Flavia de Luce, our protagonist, is an eleven-year-old chemistry loving crime solver.  The storyline of this novel, which deals with a travelling puppet show’s arrival in Bishop’s Lacey and a subsequent murder, is appealing.  The first line – ‘I was lying dead in the churchyard’ – acts as a hook to immediately reel the reader in.

The Weed That Strings The Hangman’s Bag begins in 1950, and takes place in the small village in which Flavia lives with her father and siblings, Ophelia and Daphne, whom she does not at all get on with.  The writing style, told from Flavia’s own perspective, is engaging from the start – far more so than I remember the first book in the series being.  Bradley crafts her narrative voice seamlessly, and each word which she utters is believable of a relatively young girl growing up in the early 1950s.  Flavia is rather a complex construct too: she is amusing, sarcastic, witty, a little full of herself, and fills scrapbooks with details of murders and poisonings.  She is also a very perceptive protagonist and reads others well – like a mini Miss Marple, I suppose.  The Weed That Strings The Hangman’s Bag is almost neo-Gothic in its style and plot at times, and I am now very much looking forward to reading the third book in the series.

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The Easter Parade by Richard Yates ****
I so enjoyed Revolutionary Road when I read it last year that I have been scouring shelves for Yates’ work ever since.  As I have been on a book-buying ban more often than not, I have just looked at the lovely Vintage covers longingly, but when I received a £10 voucher from Waterstone’s for filling up my latest stamp card (oh, you wonderful promotion, you!), I chose one of his novels almost immediately.  I must admit that I selected The Easter Parade at random, as I am fully intending to make my way through all of his novels in the near future.

The novel focuses upon the Grimes sisters, Sarah and Emily: ‘Neither of the Grimes sisters would have a happy life, and looking back, it always seemed that the trouble began with their parents’ divorce’, Yates tells us in the story’s opening line.  I am struck by how realistic his characters are.  They are all multi-dimensional, and they feel so lifelike at times that they could quite easily step from the page.  Emily is the protagonist of the piece, really.  She is such a complex construction that I found myself respecting her as a distinct being, even if I did find some of her actions a little odd or questionable at times.  The plot of The Easter Parade is rather a quiet one; Yates’ beautiful prose mainly involves itself with showing the changing relationships within the Grimes family.  To anyone who enjoys literary fiction, this novel comes highly recommended.

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Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein ***
I had heard so many great things about this novel that I was half expecting it to be disappointing before I began to read it.  I love World War Two novels and find their every premise fascinating on the whole.  This storyline particularly appealed to me, telling as it does the story of a World War Two ‘enemy agent’, who is captured and is then consequently forced to ‘cough up’ her every recollection of the British War Effort.  Verity – the pseudonym which she goes by, as the novel’s title suggests – has just two weeks to write down everything which she remembers. Much of the plot – and, indeed, the entire second section, which is narrated by her – deals with her friend Maddie, and the things which the girls have done together.

Whilst the history of the period is set out well and details are built up as the story progresses, the novel is a Young Adult one in terms of its genre, and the almost chatty style of the prose does not sit overly well with the story which Wein has crafted.  The writing style also felt far too modern on the whole to fit the period.  I would have personally liked to see more exact and old-fashioned vocabulary, rather than the too-modern constructs which often find their way in.  The prose was a little lagging, and felt plodding in its pace at times.

Code Name Verity is a work of fiction, but it has been split up into separate sections, each with their own headings.  Whilst some of the plot was continuously told, it was forever being broken up in this manner, and this technique stopped it from being a story which the reader can successfully be immersed into.  The whole also felt a little disjointed in consequence.  Verity’s voice was not consistent enough, and everything felt a little flat, really, which was such a shame.  I also found portions of the novel very repetitive and unrealistic.  The style of Code Name Verity was not as I expected it to be, and whilst I have awarded it a rather generous three star rating (merely because it is better than a lot of the two star books which I have read of late), I ultimately found it rather disappointing.

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