In a previous blog, Mystery Mavens, I listed mystery authors — all women — whom I have enjoyed and would recommend. It’s time I gave the men their due.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
If purists would argue that Edgar Allen Poe invented the mystery story, I think it’s inarguable that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle brought it to life. He did something that had never been done before: he created characters that were so believable, that even today, there are people who are convinced that Sherlock Holmes and John H. Watson were not figments of Conan Doyle’s imagination. Conan Doyle is famous for growing to dislike Holmes’ popularity so much that he actually killed him off, only to be forced to bring the world’s first consulting detective back to life to stem the outcry. While some stories aren’t as good as others, most of these are eminently readable even in our day and age.
Denis O. Smith
And while we’re talking about Sherlock Holmes, I thought I would mention Mr. Smith, who, in my opinion, has written the best collection of Sherlock Holmes pastiches I have ever read. (A “pastiche” is “an artistic work in a style that imitates that of another work, artist, or period.”) Some Sherlock Holmes pastiches are pale and sometimes painful imitations of the original, but Mr. Smith treats the characters masterfully. I also tried my hand a Sherlock Holmes pastiche The Case of the MelRoy Theatre Ghost, which I mention here in the shameless hope you’ll purchase it! But if you don’t read mine, you must read Denis O. Smith’s The Lost Chronicles of Sherlock Holmes.
Rex Todhunter Stout was a child genius and intellectual who developed a school banking system, but he is most famous for the creation of Nero Wolfe, genius (pictured), and Archie Goodwin (not pictured), Wolfe’s guy Friday through Thursday. These mysteries are as believable as anything Conan Doyle wrote, and I highly recommend them. When my wife was nursing our first child, I would read these books to her while she fed our oldest just to hear her laugh, because in creating eccentric Nero Wolfe and Archie, he created mysteries that are full of humor — but not silly humor. They are simply — well — they are complicated, fascinating, multi-layered, and surprisingly funny. And, if you’re paying attention, you can figure out some of them. (Try Some Buried Caesar and Plot it Yourself). I would recommend you avoid Robert Goldsborough “Nero Wolfe” pastiches. They simply aren’t up to the original.
James Melville was the pen name of Roy Peter Martin, an author who was also a diplomat in Japan. He wrote the Superintendent Otani mysteries, which are replete with oriental flavor, inscrutable plots, and unexpected denouements. Sadly, these elegant, interesting mysteries are out of print, but they can still be purchased in both hardback and paperback second hand. Keep an eye out for them. They are well worth the search.
Was the pseudonym of Bruce Alexander Cook who wrote the Sir John Fielding Mysteries narrated by teenager Jeremy Proctor and set in Bow Street. Fielding and the Bow Street Runners are actual historical people, and Alexander uses that to his full advantage to recreate London of the 1700’s. These mysteries are a cut above the rest, and I am pleased to announce they are still in print.
John Maddox Roberts
Taking a page from Bruce Alexander’s Sir John Fielding mysteries, John Maddox Roberts peopled his books with actual Roman characters like Cicero, Catalina, and Julius Caesar. His fictional narrator, Decius Caecilius Metallus the Younger, is born into a non-fictional family and proceeds to solve mystery after mystery. The first in the series, SPQR, has a scene that isn’t for the children, but after that, the books are a solid PG. Decius is snide, cynical, generous, and often humorous. It’s a good way to learn your Roman history — if you can tell the fact from the fiction!
Steven Saylor is a historian specializing in ancient Rome and famous enough to be on PBS (the Public Broadcasting System) — assuming that you are famous if PBS invites you to speak. His fictional character “Giordanus the Finder”, is a detective during the time of Cicero, Catalina, and Julius Caea…. wait! Didn’t we do this already? I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that two different mystery authors picked Ancient Rome as their setting. What did surprise me is that both are so well written, I’m not sure which I prefer. One thing may help you decide: Steven Saylor’s books have scenes that would be rated R on any movie screen. I judiciously skipped paragraphs every now and then.
I am confident that any of these authors will provide you with many hours of reading pleasure, much like the Mystery Mavens will!