I enjoy a good mystery. P.D. James said in an interview that the mystery story is appealing because murder is the ultimate injustice, and the successful mystery restores order and justice by bringing the culprit(s) to account for their actions. (I paraphrased that.) In case you, too, enjoy a good mystery, let me introduce you to some of my favorite, women mystery authors. I’ll do men some other blog.
Some readers will no doubt be unhappy that their favorite author is missing, but some of the classical “Queens of Crime” have, to be honest, bored me. These are the ones who haven’t.
I discovered Agatha Christie as a teenager. My understanding is that Mrs. Christie remarked to a friend on reading a contemporary mystery that she could do better than that.
Indeed, she could, and in the process, she created idiosyncratic Hercule Poirot and wise, calm Miss Jane Marple, two of the most recognizable sleuths in the fictional art of detection. Having matured in an earlier age, her books have complicated but innocent plots, hardly any profanity or sexual situations, and honest clues for the reader. There are many of her mysteries that I didn’t figure out, but here are some I did: The Mysterious Affair at Styles, Death in the Clouds, Curtain, Death with Mirrors, The Caribbean Mystery, and Sleeping Murder. If you haven’t read an Agatha Christie mystery, you’re in for a treat. But whatever you do, save Curtain for second-to-last, and save Sleeping Murder for last. You’ll be glad you did.
Janet Evanovich created incompetent but persistent and engaging Stephanie Plum who became a bounty hunter by accident when she was between jobs and desperate. These mysteries are raunchy and not for children, but they are exceptionally amusing. Ms. Evanovich has surrounded her fictional bounty hunter with an extraordinary array of eccentric characters, and much of the humor of these books springs from Stephanie’s attempts to remain sane in the chaos. Starting with One for the Money, Stephanie and her cohorts bumble their way into nabbing their man or woman. What other bounty hunter actually has a partner who fires a rocket launcher at the bad guys and accidentally blows up their car? Oops.
Anne Perry served 5 years in prison as accessory to murder committed when she was 15 years of age. Now that I’ve got that information out of the way, I can say it has nothing to do with her ability as a writer, which is formidable. Officially, Thomas Pitt (aided by his wife Charlotte) and William Monk (aided by Hester Latterly) solve mysteries in Victorian England, but the truth is, Charlotte and Hester are the main characters. Perry’s books are filled with rich, period detail and peopled with believable characters and scintillating conversation. While Victorian language is normally prim and respectable, many of Anne Perry’s situations are disturbing and adult. They aren’t for the young.
P.D. James had varied careers as a tax accountant, assistant stage hand, hospital administrator, British civil servant, as even a member of House of Lords, but it is as a mystery writer that she became famous. Her most notable creation, solitary Scotland Yard inspector Adam Dalgliesh, solves murders that are often set in closed communities or among the British bureaucracies Ms. James knew so well. P.D. James wrote beautifully, though not prolifically, exploring her characters’ psyches impartially and thoroughly. Her mysteries are packed with descriptions and, as a result, can seem slow, but they provide good dividends for the reader. If I could write as well as she does, more people would read my blog posts — and my own books!
Sue Grafton has been methodically going through the alphabet starting with A is for Alibi with her private investigator Kinsey Millhone. Armed with her versatile black dress and immense savvy, Kinsey Millhone is efficient, independent, and capable of being more than a little snarky. Once hired, she has always solved the crime no matter how many decades have passed since its commission, and the ride has been riveting.
Mrs. Jeffries keeps house and solves murders for Scotland Yard Inspector Gerald Witherspoon. Surrounded by a continually growing number of accomplices that threaten to include half of London, Mrs. Jeffries does her best to ensure that her employer keep his job by pointing him surreptitiously in the right direction. Inspector Witherspoon has no clue that his entire household and their friends are helping him, but if you can ignore that improbability, these mysteries are good, light reading. The murders are tactfully done “off stage” and are rated G for general audiences (like me) who enjoy reading “drat” and “Blast a Spaniard” in place of more uncouth oaths.
To my delight, I recently discovered Olivia Paras, White House chef and amateur detective. These books are perhaps more interesting because of the glimpse behind the scenes at the White House and how it runs. Despite the stern disapproval of the Secret Service, Olivia Paras investigates dead bodies that drop in her path with alarming regularity. The Secret Service is convinced it is quite capable of handling things without her, but, of course, they can’t! Julie Hyzy manages to make this improbable situation believable. And each book comes complete with recipes fit for the President of the United States. What’s not to like? Her “Manor House” mysteries are also enjoyable; they just don’t have recipes.
Chief Inspector Thomas Lynley and his frequent partner, Barbara Havers, are perhaps as different as any two partners can be. This juxtaposition and their unlikely friendship make these mysteries even more compelling than they would otherwise be. Almost as good a writer as P.D. James, Elizabeth George has already been more prolific. In my opinion, Ms. George committed a serious mistake in her book, With No One As Witness, that complicated the life of her protagonist in ways that I simply could not believe. Despite that, I highly recommend her books. I strongly suggest you read them in order beginning with A Great Deliverance to appreciate them better.
Well, I hope someone finds my opinion on the art of mystery writers interesting and helpful!