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: E is for Ethel

I can never resist perusing the shelves of green numbered Penguin paperbacks in my local secondhand bookshop. Penguin picked up on so many of the great crime writers of the golden age, but I tend to look for intriguing titles by authors I don’t know, hoping to find lost gems.

The Wheel Spins was one of those intriguing titles, and the name Ethel Lina White rang no bells, but as soon as learned that Alfred Hitchcock’s The Lady Vanishes was based on this book, as soon as I read the opening words, I knew that this book had to come home.

Those opening words introduced Iris Carr, a society girl holidaying with a large group of friends. Iris was alone in the world and so her friends were important to her and she was generous to them. But she was beginning to see their failings, to understand how others might see them, and to realise just how shallow the ties between them were. And so, when there was a falling out, Iris decided to strike out alone.

A simple account of a turning point in a young woman’s life, beautifully observed and psychologically perfect.

Iris struggled, alone in a foreign country, not understanding the language, with no friends to turn to. Her determination was wonderful, but I realised, as she did, that she was so vulnerable. It was horribly unsettling.

Little things went wrong, and the tension grew steadily.

Waiting to board her train for a railway journey across Europe to London, Iris collapses, apparently with sunstroke, on the station platform. She finds herself, befuddled, in a compartment with a group of travellers disinclined to be at all friendly or helpful.

Except for one: Miss Froy, a middle-aged fellow Englishwoman, is warm and friendly.

But Miss Froy disappear while Iris is dozing in her seat. How can a woman just disappear on a moving train? Why does everybody else on the train deny ever having seen that woman?

Iris is disturbed, questioning the designs of the people around her. She questions her own sanity too, but she is quite sure that Miss Froy is real, that something sinister must be going on…

The plotting is so clever, the tension grows and grows, and the restrictions of the train become more and more oppressive.

A perfectly drawn central character and pitch perfect dialogue allowed me to see the train and the passengers, and to hear their voices. I was completely caught up.

The latter part of the story lost some of the tension that had built up as more viewpoints were introduced and Iris faded into the background. And the secondary characters, though wonderfully diverse and vivid, were mostly underdeveloped, as the story raced a little too quickly to an incomplete conclusion.

But I hung on, so wanting to know what had happened, what would happen.

The resolution was dramatic, if not altogether surprising. But that’s often the way with seemingly inexplicable mysteries, and I really couldn’t fault the logic at all.

The Wheel Spins is a compelling psychological mystery, an unusual coming of age story, and a striking picture of the attitudes of a certain social class in the 1930s.

Intellectual and emotional insight combined with fine writing really made the story sing.

And ultimately, like its heroine, The Wheel Spins is flawed but fascinating.

*****

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 …”

So next week, F is for … ?