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: P is for Potts

It appeals greatly to the logical side of my mind that the book I am writing about for P in my Crime Fiction Alphabet was published as a green Penguin. Actually, I had a wonderful choice from three books by Pamela Branch and three by Jean Potts, all sitting unread in a bookcase. They all look very promising, but when I picked them up to try to make a decision The Man With The Cane by Jean Potts won the day.

The concept – which I will come back to – was simple, elegant, and original, and the opening was lovely. I was immediately transported to New York in the 1950s and I was quite captivated as I met Val and watched him leaving his apartment, charmingly negotiating his way past the elderly neighbours who thought that he was lovely. I tended to agree with them.

And so I was on my way, happily following a man I was inclined to like and trust through the story. I realised that I was being steered by a clever author, but I really didn’t mind.

Val was going to see his daughter. He hadn’t seen her for some time as his ex wife and her new husband had moved away, but now they were back in New York and regular visits could begin again. The two had a lovely afternoon, and when Val arrived home he met a new neighbour, a lovely young woman.

The story was moving along nicely, with an interesting mix of characters, a wonderfully evoked setting, and lovely writing. All in all, a wonderful period piece.

But of course there had to be a crime. And indeed there was. Val and his new neighbour found the body of a man who had, apparently, been battered to death with his own cane.

Shocking enough, but Val was even more shocked when he saw that the dead man fitted his daughter’s description of her imaginary friend Cane. Fitted it exactly.

That was the concept that intrigued me, and Jean Potts handled it well.

The police, of course, investigated. And Val, sure that his ex wife’s family must be involved somehow and concerned about the implications for his daughter, made investigations of his own. He stayed close to the family, watched them, talked to them …

Facts emerged. People reacted. Things happened …

Poison pen letters. Blackmail. A suicide attempt …

There were just enough details, just enough twists to hold my attention. The style was lovely and the pacing just right, so I raced through the pages. The plot was not too complex, the conclusion was not too surprising, but it was elegantly constructed and very well written.

It was the characters that really made the story sing, that kept those pages turning. I’m disinclined to list them because they just weren’t the sort of characters it is east to sum up in a few neat words. They were simply drawn, distinctive and utterly believable, in words, deeds and relationships.

And though the resolution may have been predictable it was the right conclusion to a quiet, intelligent human story.

And it’s an ending that makes me think I must read Jean Potts’ other novels soon …


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 Q is for … ?