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: Q is for A Question of Proof

In 1935 poet Cecil Day-Lewis published his first work of detective fiction, under the name Nicholas Blake.  I must assume that the writing was lucrative or enjoyable, or maybe even both, as he went on to write another nineteen over a period of more than thirty years.

And that first book was entitled “A Question of Proof”, allowing me to use the potentially tricky letter Q in my Crime Fiction Alphabet to see just what a former Poet Laureate might have brought to the golden age of crime writing.

Of course he brought lovely writing, and he also brought a nice little mystery. 

 A schoolboy, the headmaster’s rather unpopular nephew, is found dead, strangled, in a haystack on Sports Day at an English preparatory school. Nobody saw anything. Nobody heard anything.

There is just one clue: the propelling pencil found in the haystack. That put the teacher who it belonged to in a rather difficult position. Because he dropped the pencil during the course of an assignation with the headmaster’s wife. Did the boy see something he shouldn’t have? Was he killed to keep him quiet?

Maybe. But other possibilities present themselves.

There is no evidence though. No proof.

The headmaster, concerned that the local police are not making progress, calls in gentleman detective Nigel Strangeways.

The detective, who is both charming and intelligent, wins the trust of both teachers and pupils. He watches, he listens, and he deduces who the killer must be.

Still though, there is the question of proof.

And there is another murder before that question is finally answered…

I was transported to that school in the 1930s.

Because the characters were so simply and so clearly drawn. I could hear their voices and I could believe in their relationships.

Because the evocation of time and place was wonderful, rich with details that really brought it to life.

At first the pace was slow and the style a little self conscious. I rather resented the omniscient narrator steering me this way and that. I wondered what I wasn’t being allowed to see, and whether those authorial flourishes were padding to disguise a slight story.

But things soon settled down. The story hit its stride, and that narrator took a step back and steered me so gently that I was hardly aware he was there.

Something was missing though. The mystery lacked the depth, the possibilities to ponder that can be found in many golden age mysteries.

But that second murder was very, very clever.

And it did hold me. I read happily until the denouement came. It was dramatic, it was surprising, but I wasn’t sure that the motivation for murder was really there.

So I’m can’t file A Question of Proof under great, but I am going to file it under promising. After all, it’s the first of a series that could well grow in stature …


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 R is for … ?