Crime Fiction: The A to Z

When I set out on Kerrie’s Crime Fiction Alphabet I promised myself two things.

The first was that I would read nothing just for the sake of filling a slot, that I would only read books that I would have picked up sooner or later anyway.

I’ve managed that, though I did have to bend the rules a little for the difficult letter X and I had to throw in an emergency short story when the book I’d picked for letter Y let me down.

The second was that I would mix things up, and choose some familiar and some less familiar books.

And so my list is made up of:

  • Persephone books for H and X, and a classic short story by a Persephone author for G.
  •  A Virago Modern Classic, and a winner of the CWA Gold Dagger to boot,  for K.
  •  A wonderful anthology of new writers at W.
  •  Victorian crime for S and Victoriana for U. I would have liked to read more of both, but I ran out of time and letters.
  •  Crime fiction in translation at L and V.
  •  A Cornish book, set in very familiar countryside, at B.
  •  Agatha Christie re-reads at A and F. A for Agatha seemed to be the perfect place to start, and once I had re-read one book a number of others called me.
  •  Neglected woman authors, who were published in numbered green Penguins, at E, M, P and R. If I have learned one thing through the alphabet, it is always to look carefully at green Penguins as there are some real gems there.
  •  Male authors from the middle of the last century, who aren’t as lauded as some but really should be, at I, N and Q.
  •  A lovely range of contemporary crime fiction at C, D, J, O, T and Z.
  •  And that excellent, emergency short story at Y.

Mission accomplished, I think!

Here’s the A to Z in full.

A is for Agatha The ABC Murders by Agatha Christie
B is for Bolitho Framed in Cornwall by Janie Bolitho
C is for Crombie Where Memories Lie by Deborah Crombie
D is for Darkside Darkside by Belinda Bauer
E is for Ethel The Wheel Spins by Ethel Lina White
F is for Five Five Little Pigs by Agatha Christie
G is for Glaspell A Jury of her Peers by Susan Glaspell (short story)
H is for Holding The Blank Wall by Elisabeth Sanxay Holding
I is for Innes Death at the President’s Lodging by Michael Innes
J is for Jane The Burning by Jane Casey
K is for Kelly The Spoilt Kill by Mary Kelly
L is for Läckberg
The Stone-Cutter by Camilla Läckberg
M is for Mary Death and the Pleasant Voices by Mary Fitt
N is for Not Not to be Taken by Anthony Berkley
O is for Other The Other Half Lives by Sophie Hannah
P is for Potts The Man with the Cane by Jean Potts
Q is for Question A Question of Proof by Nicholas Blake
R is for Roth Shadow of a Lady by Holly Roth
S is for Study A Study in Scarlet by Arthur Conan-Doyle
T is for Tyler The Herring in the Library (and others) by L C Tyler
U is for Unburied The Unburied by Charles Palliser
V is for Van der Vlugt Shadow Sister by Simone Van Der Vlugt
W is for Written Written in Blood: a Honno Anthology
X is for Expendable The Expendable Man by Dorothy B Hughes
Y is for You You are a Gongedip by Sophie Hannah (short story)
Z is for Zouradi The Messenger of Athens by Anne Zouroudi

And that really is the end of the alphabet.

So where does my crime fiction reading go now? Well, I have The Quarry by Johan Theorin, A Herring on the Nile by LC Tyler, Now You See Me by S J Bolton, and two books by Erin Kelly in my library pile. My own green Penguins and my Agatha Christie collection are calling too, Plus those authors I discovered, and rediscovered, along the way and want to read again. And recommendations I picked up from others along the way ….

No end of possibilities …

Crime Fiction Alphabet: U is for Unburied

I was going to be sensible. I was going to read a short modern book from my Filling The Gaps pile for letter U in the Crime Fiction Alphabet.

But in the end another book, a book that I knew would throw me way behind schedule was calling me much to loudly to resist.

The Unburied by Charles Palliser.

“A big, fat murder mystery. It is a perfectly pitched pastiche of Victorian Gothic … compulsive reading.”

That’s what it said on the back cover, quoting the London Evening Standard, and I have to agree.

At the heart of the book is The Courtine Account, a document written in 1882 and put away to be opened only after the deaths of certain of those mentioned in its pages.

The Courtine Account was finally unsealed in 1919.

It was written by Doctor Edward Courtine, a historian, a distinguished academic but  a solitary man. A man who had separated himself from the world, and as a result lacked insight and understanding of other men.

It was clear that something was amiss. Subtle hints were dropped as the story advanced and eventually the truth of the man’s history would be revealed.

He was invited to spend the week before Christmas with Austin Fickling, a student friend who had become a teacher in the cathedral city of Thurchester. The two hadn’t met for more than twenty years, and there had been bad feeling between them, but  Courtine welcomed the invitation.

He was eager to visit Thurchester as he had a great interest in King Alfred the Great, and he had learned that an earlier historian with the same interest had worked Thurchester Library, and had maybe left behind papers that were never catalogued.

It didn’t occur him to wonder why Fickling had been so eager to extend that invitation, and why he behaved so erratically.

Fickling told him stories. Stories of a ghost that was said to walk in the town. The ghost of a man who was murdered at the cathedral two centuries before. Courtine is fascinated and so he has a great deal to research, a great deal to discuss at the library and at the cathedral.

He is so caught up in his research, so disinterested in what might motivate other men, that he doesn’t wonder why the owner of the house said to be haunted by the murdered man invites him into his home. Even though that man’s door is always locked, opening only to allow servants to enter and leave, and never, never admitting guests.

And, of course, it is too late that Courtine realises that he has become a pawn in a murderous conspiracy.

He struggles both to uncover the truth, and  to have it believed.

The Unburied is a book that ebbs and flows.

An introduction, in 1919 with The Courtine Account finally unsealed in a wonderful piece of drama.

Then the pace slows as the account itself begins. There are many conversations, many small details. Stories are told, retold, discussed …It’s still a pleasure to read, but a more subtle pleasure. Close attention is required, but it pays, it really does.

The pastiche of Victorian Gothic is pitch perfect. Others (I’m thinking particularly of Sarah Waters and the late Michael Cox) may have written with more verve, more drama, but The Unburied is just as fine, in a quieter, more cerebral way.

And the two murder mysteries, two centuries apart, were intriguing.

The pace rose again as the account the Courtine Account ended with a quite splendid courtroom drama, and the author’s realisation that all he can do is set down what he knows.

The finale picked up the 1919 story again, and tied up some, but not all, of the loose ends. There was maybe a little too much revelation at the final hour, a little too much contrivance, and, I think, a little cheat, but there was so much in this book to think about that I could quite easily forgive that.

Because I would so like to travel back to Thurcester, to observe and ponder those mysteries just a little more …


The Crime Fiction Alphabet is hosted by Kerrie at Mysteries in Paradise.

“Each week, beginning Monday 10 January 2011, you have to write a blog post about crime fiction related to the letter of the week …”

And so next week tomorrow V is for … ?