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: I is for Innes

I’m late, late, late!

There are two reasons.

The first was my difficulty in settling on a book.

First I picked up Death Wore a Diadem by Iona McGregor, a historical mystery published bt The Womens’ Press back in the 1980s. I made it through a few chapters and found a lot of feminism but not very much mystery. It could well get better, but I knew that I had another book for the letter I, and so I changed tack.

I picked up Murder on the Eiffel Tower by Claude Izner: the first in a series of mysteries, with a bookseller caught up in a mystery at the World’s Fair in 1889. And I did like it, but I just wasn’t in the mood for Paris.

England and the golden age of crime writing called me. And I remembered Michael Innes. I read, and liked, one of his books a few years ago but I had never got round to reading another one. Surely it was time.

I picked up the first Inspector Appleby mystery, Death at the President’s Lodging.

And that’s the second reason why I’m late. I liked the book very much, but it did require slow and careful reading.

I knew from the opening paragraph what I could expect: a classic mystery, shot through with intelligence and wit.

“An academic life, Dr Johnson observed, puts one little in the way of extraordinary casualties. This was not the experience of the fellows and scholars of St Anthony’s College when they awoke one raw November morning to find their president, Josiah Umpleby, murdered in the night. The crime was at once intriguing and bizarre, efficient and theatrical. It was efficient and theatrical. It was efficient because nobody knew who had committed it. And it was theatrical because of  a macabre and unnecessary act of fantasy with which the criminal, it was quickly rumoured, accompanied his deed

It was such an elegant mystery. A man, indeed the top man, lay dead at the very heart of an Oxford College. And behind locked doors, so that suspicion fell on only a certain number of fellows.

Inspector Appleby was called in from Scotland Yard and Inspector Dodd, the local man, set out the facts for him very clearly.

As the investigation proceeded a very complex story began to unfold. There was little action, little drama, but much careful questioning, checking of alibis, and analysis of known facts.

It was a little quiet, but it was lovely to watch two professionals, with not one gimmick between then, working together. And the story was enlivened by the very well drawn fellows, each one of them desperate to throw suspicion on another.

A story full of details and subtleties, so that I had to read slowly and carefully, but it was very nice to linger.

I noticed that there was not one woman character, but that was right in that particular milieu, in that particular period.

And I wondered if the success grand dames of the golden age, Christie, Sayers, Allingham and Marsh, might have had the unfortunate side effect of casting their male contemporaries. Because what I have read of Michael Innes and Anthony Berkeley suggests that they may well be just as worthy of acclaim …

This story held me to the very end, with lovely characterisation and fine plotting 

And it was a very good end. It was lovely to watch suspects being gradually eliminated  instead of the traditional dramatic finale with everyone still a suspect, and I appreciated that the identity of the murder was simply revealed to the remaining fellows, and the facts explained afterwards.

It took time and concentration to read Death at the President’s Lodging. I wouldn’t want to read like that all of the time but I shall definitely be doing it again.

The second book in the series – Hamlet, Revenge! – has such a wonderful title and the prospect of seeing Inspector Appleby investigating murder after a performance of that play at a country house is very enticing..


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, J is for … ?