Friday, October 1, 2010

A Medley of Mysteries

For the past week or so, as I was overcome with reading 'responsibilities', I returned to my favorite comfort reads - mysteries. There were a variety of them sitting around, and while I wasn't ready for a fluffy comfort cozy, I did want a familiar format that seldom fails me.

 I started with a golden oldy.  Our mystery book club reads a different author each month, with members allowed to choose any works from the author's catalog.  By the time I returned from my vacation, the only Margery Allingham available in town was this short volume of her "uncollected Stories." 

Author: Margery Allingham
Format:St. Martin's Press (1989), Hardcover, 165 pages
Characters: Mr. Campion
Subject: various mysterious happennings
Genre: short stories
Source: public library
Challenge: Book Club reads

While these stories were entertaining, I think an expression of my mother's best describes my reaction: "T'aint nothing to write home about." I think that if I've learned nothing else from participating in this mystery group, it's that the "old style" mystery writers, i.e., the CLASSIC ones - Agatha Christie, Arthur Conan Doyle, Margery Allingham, Dorothy Sayers, etc, just don't do too much for me. Perhaps I've been spoiled by the more exciting modern stories like those below.  I have been told that some of Allingham's full length novels are perhaps more exciting, so I'm going to be on the lookout for one of those when the opportunity presents itself.

 I always have at least one mystery going in audio, so this one was a natural when I saw it was available in the download list. I had finally read one of the Anna Pigeon stories earlier this year and wanted to read more in this series.

Author: Nevada Barr
Format: audio 5hr, 55 min;  352  pgs equivalent
Narrator: Jean Bean
Characters: Anna Pigeon
Subject: murder in National Parks, grizzly bear habits
Setting: Glacier National Park
Series: Anna Pigeon
Genre: police procedural mystery
Source: public library audio download

In this story, Anna is learning about a program the park rangers are helping with to track and tag grizzly bears in Glacier National Park.  The descriptive prose in these is so powerful that even if you have never visited a particular park, you never have any trouble picturing the scenery, feeling yourself up on a ledge, or walking down the side of a mountain.  While out checking on the bear monitors, the rangers are called upon to investigate a murder.  At one point Anna thinks "she doesn't know whether she has too much information and too many suspects, or not enough of either."  This one had a good plot, and interesting suspects.  I'm looking forward to getting to know Anna even more in this series.

Author: Tony Hillerman
Format: audio - 5 hrs 20 minutes; 304 page equivalent
Narrator: George Guidall
Characters: Joe Leaphorn, Bergen McKee
Subject: Murder; Navajo culture
Setting: Navajo Reservation in Arizona
Series: Joe Leaphorn
Genre: police procedural, amateur detective mystery
Source: public library

My husband is a huge Tony Hillerman fan.  Many of my fellow LTers are always raving about his stories.  And Joe Leaphorn seems to have achieved almost cult status among the faithful.  So I decided I'd better see what all the excitement was about.  I'd tried reading some of these last year,and didn't get very far, but then when I noticed this one - the very first one!- was available in audio read by George Guidall, well................(George Guidall could read the yellow pages and I'd think it was fascinating).

This was a really good mystery story. It takes place on a Navajo reservation.  Joe Leaphorn is a Navajo cop who is able to use his knowledge of ancient traditions and culture to allow reticent and private people to tell their stories and gather the information he needs to solve the mystery.  The real hero of this one  (I'm guessing Joe's character will flesh out as the series goes along--after all the series is named after him) is a sort of has-been college professor/anthropologist named Bergen McKee.  Even tho I had figured out 'whodunnit' with about 20% of the book left, it didn't spoil my enjoyment of this adventure.  Not only was the plot a good one, and the characters well drawn and interesting, the descriptions of Navajo life, poetry, and scenery were an added bonus.  I will definitely be reading another in this series.

Author: Mark de Castrique
Format: Poisoned Pen Press (2009)- review copy 250 pages
Characters:  Sam Blackman, Nakayla Robertson
Subject: Nazis, F. Scott Fitzgerald,Blackwater Company in Iraq
Setting: North Carolina
Series: Sam Blackman
Genre: private detective mystery
Source: review copy from publisher
Challenge: ARC completed

This is a review copy I'm ashamed to say I've had for quite a few months.  It was too good to have let it sit that long.  Set in North Carolina, it tells the adventures of Sam Blackman, recently retired Army Chief Warrant Officer who lost a leg in Iraq in an incident involving Blackwater Company mercenaries. He and his partner (in detecting and in life) Nakayla Robertson are opening their own detective agency.  Their first case involves a old lady in nursing home who wants to right a wrong she supposedly did to F. Scott Fitzgerald 70 years ago!  The plot is a bit convoluted, with several sidebars seeming to be entwined (or are they?)  but the characters are charming, interesting and cunning.  Again, I was able to spot 'whodunnit' before the author revealed it, but that didn't detract from the story. This is a couple I'd like to see more of, although I'm not sure I could take a steady diet of these two.

So there you have it. Mysteries of all time periods, with different kinds of characters.  I have two new series to look out for.  And once again I'm assured that I'll always be able to get out of my reading funk by settling down to search for clues.


  1. I often turn to mysteries as well, when I don't know what to read.

  2. yes, mysteries are my comfort read too...
    I always enjoy a book by Barr and Hillerman is an author I always mean to read...and don't.

  3. I love mysteries in the fall. They just seem perfect to hide under the comforter with..LOL


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