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: R is for Roth

 Letter R in the Crime Fiction Alphabet offered up many possibilities, but once again it was a book from my line of green Penguin Books that called the loudest.

You see that line holds many lesser known woman crime writers from the fifties and sixties. Women who created such original scenarios, such interesting characters, and who wrote about them with subtlety, intelligence and wit.

And so I picked up Shadow of a Lady by Holly Roth, hoping to meet another.

I knew nothing of the author, but the storyline was intriguing.

An American woman was driving from Paris to Geneva. Her fiance, who had been called home to England, had planned a route for her, but she decided to do things a little differently. Just a small show of independence. Sadly though, it lead her into trouble. The terrain was much tougher than she had expected, and the small British car that her fiance had given her was quite unlike the cars she had driven before. Laura pressed on, but she never reached Geneva. She disappeared.

The drama of Laura’s journey pulled me in. I liked her,  I admired her spirit, and I missed her when she disappeared.

And then the scene shifted. The drama was quieter, the story moved forward through dialogue instead of action, but it was no less effective.

Some time later a trunk arrived at a Norfolk station.  And it caused great consternation when it is found to contain the body of a woman who has been badly beaten, and is wearing only an anklet engraved with the letter L.

The trunk was linked to Laura’s fiance, John Seton-Smith, and the body was identified as Laura’s, by her maid and by the porter at the mansion block where she made her home.

John disputed the identification, but his was a lone voice. He could not – or maybe would not – account for the hours immediately after he and his fiancee parted.

That was infuriating, but I realised that Holly Roth was very cleverly planting a seed of doubt.

John found himself on trial for murder at the Old Bailey. He knew that he was innocent, but as the prosecution builds its case he realises that he could be found guilty.

His only hope lies with the private detective hired to trace Laura…

And so dramatic, and utterly believable, courtroom scenes are balanced by the investigations of a most practical and logical detective.

It was a fine mystery and the two principal characters made it sing. They were simply but effectively drawn in the beginning, but they gained depth as more was revealed. And yet they both retained a certain mystery. That was very clever.

I knew that there was a very simple solution to the mystery, but I was sure that it was wrong. And so I was baffled.

The end when it came was dramatic. At first I thought that the solution owed rather too much to luck, but maybe that had to be because identification mysteries are very difficult to resolve satisfactorily.

Or  that maybe the author built up the mystery a little too much and made it impossible for her ending to work perfectly. There were some loose ends that made me think the book might have worked better as a whole if things had been simplified just a little.

But the quality of the writing and the characters carried the day.

And a striking twist, followed by a very clever postscript, rounded things off nicely.

I haven’t been able to explain the many strengths and few weaknesses of this book as well as I’d like, because I don’t want to say too much about the plot. So just let me say that it wasn’t perfect but it was certainly good enough to make me want to investigate Holly Roth’s other books.

And, as luck would have it, I picked up two of those other books this afternoon. But that’s another post for another day …


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 S is for … ?