Reading Roundup -Mystery Novels

It's not ALL scholarly tomes around my house; I read for pleasure, too ! One of my favorite things to read for pure escapism is mystery novels. Not sure where to start ? There is a fabulous indie bookstore in Houston that specializes in mystery fiction (as well as horror, Gothic, espionage, and related topics, modern and contemporary) called Murder By the Book that stocks an extensive selection in these areas. Their knowledgeable staff are on hand to rec titles and authors to anyone who asks- online, by phone, or in person.

Here are a few of my favorite authors/series:

Sue Grafton, "A" is for Alibi, "B" is for Burglar, "C" is for Corpse, etc. Spunky female detective Kinsey Millhone  is a detective who runs her own little detective agency, lives in Santa Barbara, (fictionalized as Santa Theresa) Ca, and often winds up in compromising situations where she must use her intuition and pluck to escape. Kinsey is folksy, warm, wry, and lovably quirky, moral without being preachy, full of human foibles, supported by a cast of realistically drawn adorable friends and co-workers. This all sounds like cliched truisms, but Kinsey grows throughout the series, confronts many demons from her past, and she is never perfect. The pacing of these novels is just right (not too frantic, not too slow) and Grafton's writing style has sharpened over the years. Kinsey's ruminations are often profoundly quotable meditations on life, love, guilt, death, human relationships. Grafton's voice is heavily influenced by her own personal background and values. What separates her novels from imitators (Janet Evanovich's One for the Money, Two for the Show, etc series) is that in Evanovich's books, after you've read about three of them, you realize the plots are all the same and the characters never change or grow. The pacing is so frantic as to leave me with a headache as I realize my chest is pounding bc I have forgotten to breathe. Most importantly, I get to the point where I start to shout "Don't do it ! " or "You idiot!" as I am reading Evanovich's work, and have to stop. Grafton's books I can read over and over again; they are like zen meditations on whatever the topic of the story is. Beautifully crafted, I never get tired of them. Grafton says she will finish the alphabet...we are already at "V"....what will we do when we reach "Z"?

Tony Hillerman's novels, set on the Navajo Indian Reservation which straddles the Arizona/New Mexico border, feature two main detectives. He started writing about the adventures of Joe Leaphorn, a traditional older Navajo policeman, then after a few books, Hillerman switched to a new detective, the younger more modern police officer, Jim Chee. Throughout theses stories of death and mayhem that happen on "the rez", Leaphorn struggles with the death of his wife/meaning of his life, and Chee with trying to combine his spiritual heritage with modern ways in the quest for his own unique identity. The last few books often combine the two detectives each applying their individual perspectives to a case. Hillerman's research on his topics (Navajo culture, history, art, religious beliefs) earned him a special award as "friend to the Navajo People". A delightfully extreme example of "local color" style of American literature, you will long to travel there and see these places and people for yourself. Sadly, Hillerman died a few years back and no more new novels are forthcoming. But I never get tired of re-reading the ones he wrote. The earlier ones in the series are my favorites.

Elizabeth Peters and Barbara Michaels are the pen names of Barbara Mertz, who has a degree in ancient history from the University of Chicago. Her novels are filled with archaeological exploits and historical situations, are well-researched, and are a delightful, fun-filled romp that combines charming characters involved in historical or supernatural situations. Pure mind-candy of the best kind, well written and can't-put-down.
 Josephine Tey is the pen name for Elizabeth Mcintosh, a Scottish author of the 1930's, 1940's. Under this name, she only wrote six novels.  Tey has beautiful prose, character and place descriptions and is the master of psychological motivation/analysis. Two of  her books are my absolute favorites: Brat Farrar and The Daughter of Time. Brat Farrar tells the story of a long lost heir and a cold case mystery with a truly surprising twist at the end. The Daughter of Time analyzes a real life historical mystery, presented in a frame story of a detective doing some research while in the hospital. You will never read Shakespeare the same way, again.

Nevada Barr sets each story in a different national park. Her detective Anna Pigeon, is a park ranger who must investigate a variety of crimes unique to each locale. Well-written, well-researched, interesting and informative, you will learn cool interesting facts about a wide variety of our national parks. Barr picks parks that are not the "Top 10" (Grand Canyon, etc) so I truly enjoyed learning about these beautiful places I previously knew nothing about. I even managed to get hubster, not a reader in general, interested in this series.

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