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lady narcissa

Mysteries: Cosy, Cats, Capers, Historical, Medical, Procedural and everything in between

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I've loved the policiers featuring Bosch as amazon originals.  But I've never read any of the Michael Connelly books from which they have been adapted, and I probably won't for reasons I don't quite know.  it might be because the series is US based in that most USA of locations, LA, and begins (1992) prior to 9/11 changing the US forever, it seems, and not for the better.  9/11 is much a cut off for me for so much of 'before' and 'after.'

Yet, the same could be said of Ann Cleeves's Vera Stanhope novels.  But I love both the print and screen verisons of her Veras and her Shetland novels. Though I discovered Cleeves and Vera quite some time post 9/11 that didn't prevent me avidly reading them as quickly as I could find another one.  So -- go figger!  I don't understand this at all.

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I came to a realization in the last couple of years that I'm really into crime fiction, particularly mysteries, and it's not a new thing for me. I have memories of reading some poirot in my early teens and a series called the Three Investigators which I guess is like the Hardy Boys or Nancy Drew but not as well known(?). Rarely see anyone mention it. For the longest time I thought scifi and fantasy was the only thing I was into. I must have blotted those early books from memory for whatever reason. I've been correcting it recently but it doesn't help the TBR pile especially with so many mystery series being multiple books long.

Of the series mentioned here I can wholeheartedly recommend the Gamache series by Louise Penny and the Falco series by Lindsey Davis. I'm multiple books into both series and they are up there with other favourite series in fiction like the Vorkosigan saga. Esteemed company.  Gamache is fantastic. Really atmospheric and evocative with some fantastic characters. It's this mix of cosy atmosphere with obviously much darker undertones. I want to live in Three Pines and I want to be friends with Gamache and co. Likewise the Falco series does for ancient Rome what the Gamache series does for Montreal and its surrounding areas. Really good at transporting you to a different time and place.

I have also read the first book in the Cadfael series and thought that was a strong opening book in the series. I intend to get back to it someday. A recurring problem following all these different series

People were looking for something set in Australia and Peter Temple's books fit the bill. I have only read the first book in his Jack Irish series but that was enough to convince me to get the rest of them. He's an acclaimed writer but not as well known as some think he should be. Sadly passed away in 2018.

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Another Australian series worth a try is Arthur Upfield's Bony series. They are set in the mid 20th century and feature the half Aborigine Inspector Napoleon Bonaparte (he was named that by the nuns at the Catholic mission that raised him). He generally investigates crimes in obscure parts of the Outback undercover, and the books give a vivid impression of the country back then.

I think it was made into a TV series also.

 

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Posted (edited)
11 hours ago, zapp said:

...a series called the Three Investigators...

The Three Investigators series was an outstanding set of books, at least for the first thirty or so volumes, of which Robert Arthur Jr. wrote the first ten.  They were my favorite books as an elementary student, and they inspired me to settle in the West once I was an adult.  I also went out and found them for my own child, who also loved them.

The creator, Robert Arthur Jr. also wrote a couple of very good science fiction stories. He also wrote for The Twighlight Zone, and several Alfred Hitchcock Presents... anthologies.  His stories appeared on Dimension X and X Minus One, particularly the mystery/scifi hybrids, so if you want to listen to the stories read in mid-Atlantic accents and interrupted by ads for cigarettes, track down those audio files.  Similarly, he wrote for The Mysterious Traveler and The Sealed Book which were very popular radio serials that you can find online.

Audio stories on Librivox - some good readings in there.

Big Old List of his mystery stories - I have tracked down a few of these over the years, and they are very much of their time, but he is a master of evoking a time and place in prose.

He was an interesting guy - His daughter said that when he arrived in California, he couldn't believe how beautiful it was compared to Michigan, New Jersey, the Philippines, etc., and that is why he wrote with the backdrop of Rocky Beach or Sonoma County.

Some examples:

The Indulgence of Negu Mah

Ring Once for Death

Another Ring Once for Death

Edited by Wilbur

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The three Investigators or 3 ??? acquired a cult following among Germans born between the late 60s and mid 80s! Many boys my age started with Enid Blyton around age 7-9 and then "graduated" to the 3 ??? (While the offical translation is "Die drei Detektive", the series is more commonly called "Die drei Fragezeichen" (the three question marks). Even more than the books, the dramatized audio versions (usually on cassette tapes) are considered classics and the original speakers (now around 50 or older) have been on tour with live readings frequently. (There are some changes, e.g. Jupiter Jones became "Justus Jonas" but the setting remains in California and was not adapted to Europe.)

I wonder if anyone would particularly recommend a book from Hillerman's Navajo series. I read one "The Ghostway" and while good it did not quite grab me to actively seek out more from the series. But it is so frequently recommended that I am willing to try at least another one.

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Posted (edited)
11 hours ago, Jo498 said:

The three Investigators or 3 ??? acquired a cult following among Germans born between the late 60s and mid 80s! Many boys my age started with Enid Blyton around age 7-9 and then "graduated" to the 3 ??? (While the offical translation is "Die drei Detektive", the series is more commonly called "Die drei Fragezeichen" (the three question marks). Even more than the books, the dramatized audio versions (usually on cassette tapes) are considered classics and the original speakers (now around 50 or older) have been on tour with live readings frequently. (There are some changes, e.g. Jupiter Jones became "Justus Jonas" but the setting remains in California and was not adapted to Europe.)

I wonder if anyone would particularly recommend a book from Hillerman's Navajo series. I read one "The Ghostway" and while good it did not quite grab me to actively seek out more from the series. But it is so frequently recommended that I am willing to try at least another one.

I really liked the Hillerman books -- I lived for 8 years in New Mexico and knew the landscapes and the people he wrote about quite well. They are quite consistent in quality, but seem to get, deeper? by Skinwalkers (1986), A Thief of Time (1988), the 7th and 8th of the 18 of that series.  At least while I was living in NM, the First People I knew like the books too.

This is another series that I can read, or by now, probably, re-read, and not feel that dislocation of the 9/11 and digital singularity that puts me off a lot of earlier books of many writers these days.  That must be because these books are founded within such an ancient landscape, and among the people who settled it so long ago, first.

Hillerman's daughter daughter has continued this series, featuring a new generation in the same places.  It works quite well, I think, which is interesting in itself, since when that gets tried the next incarnation of a series usually isn't as good or interesting reading.

James Lee Burke's daughter, Alafair Burke, starting as a criminal lawyer here in New York, is also a crime / thriller novelist.  She's nowhere near as dark as her father though -- that might be because she's not writing in the same locations that are soaked in evil since the first days the Iberville brothers came down the Mississippi from French Canada.  The latest Robicheaux novel (2019), New Iberia Blues* -- I put it down about 40 pages into it.  It can't cope with reading such extreme evil characters, what has happened to them, and what they do to others, these days.  Not because I don't believe the author that these terrible people and what do are real, but because -- the whole world is filled with them, they are all around, globally, everywhere, and it's just too much now to be reading fictions featuring them when they're in the media 24/7 and it's not fiction.

Again, James Lee Burke's Robicheaux novels are a series one can read without that 9/11 cut-off too.  In Burke's novels, history is front and center, and 9/11 has joined the War of the Rebellion, WWII, the Vietnam War as part of the chronotope of Robicheaux's meditations.  (Iraq and Afghanistan haven't though.)

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

* Additionally Burke had already shoved "Blues" in his books' titles too many times. More than most who throw "Blues" into their titles, he understands better what the blues form is, but he shouldn't be doing it, either, imnotsoho.  I know the peoples and landscapes of New Orleans and Louisiana really well too, having lived there as well, off and on, for extended periods, for years. I've evacuated out of NO at least 4 times ahead of hurricanes, including Katrina. I also evacuated to NO from Hurricane Sandy! :cheers:

 

Edited by Zorral

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Notable omission or i might have overlooked its mention is the Arkady Renko books by Martin Cruz Smith set in Russia (and other places) during and after the fall of communism, great books, i loved them. 

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2 hours ago, shortstark said:

Notable omission or i might have overlooked its mention is the Arkady Renko books by Martin Cruz Smith set in Russia (and other places) during and after the fall of communism, great books, i loved them. 

I too enjoyed those books.

Does anyone else recall Carol O'Connell's Mallory series -- feral child grown up with stupendous skills?

https://www.bookseriesinorder.com/carol-oconnell/

I liked the books very much, and appreciated that the author understood she'd done what could be done, and quit.

 

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1 hour ago, Zorral said:

I too enjoyed those books.

Does anyone else recall Carol O'Connell's Mallory series -- feral child grown up with stupendous skills?

https://www.bookseriesinorder.com/carol-oconnell/

I liked the books very much, and appreciated that the author understood she'd done what could be done, and quit.

 

I have been meaning to check these out for a while now.  I had forgotten about them until you posted this. 

Your post about Burke has me wondering if authors have anything to do with titles or not.  I know they title their work, but I always assumed the publisher would change it if they saw fit and often did exactly that.  I read a thing not long ago about Toni Morrison, Pulitzer and Nobel winner, having her titles changed regularly.  Another thing I read claimed the authors must agree to the change, typically, and so some will be changed and some will not.  Anyway, I'm going off on a tangent...

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On 5/22/2019 at 3:47 AM, Wilbur said:

The Three Investigators series was an outstanding set of books, at least for the first thirty or so volumes, of which Robert Arthur Jr. wrote the first ten.  They were my favorite books as an elementary student, and they inspired me to settle in the West once I was an adult.  I also went out and found them for my own child, who also loved them.

The creator, Robert Arthur Jr. also wrote a couple of very good science fiction stories. He also wrote for The Twighlight Zone, and several Alfred Hitchcock Presents... anthologies.  His stories appeared on Dimension X and X Minus One, particularly the mystery/scifi hybrids, so if you want to listen to the stories read in mid-Atlantic accents and interrupted by ads for cigarettes, track down those audio files.  Similarly, he wrote for The Mysterious Traveler and The Sealed Book which were very popular radio serials that you can find online.

Audio stories on Librivox - some good readings in there.

Big Old List of his mystery stories - I have tracked down a few of these over the years, and they are very much of their time, but he is a master of evoking a time and place in prose.

He was an interesting guy - His daughter said that when he arrived in California, he couldn't believe how beautiful it was compared to Michigan, New Jersey, the Philippines, etc., and that is why he wrote with the backdrop of Rocky Beach or Sonoma County.

Some examples:

The Indulgence of Negu Mah

Ring Once for Death

Another Ring Once for Death

Thank you for the write up. I'm almost afraid to go back to them. As I say I have vague memories of reading the books. I don't think we had access to many of them back then ( I can't even remember which ones I read) but I do remember really liking them at the time. I've checked and some are available on the Kindle UK store.

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2 hours ago, zapp said:

Thank you for the write up. I'm almost afraid to go back to them. As I say I have vague memories of reading the books. I don't think we had access to many of them back then ( I can't even remember which ones I read) but I do remember really liking them at the time. I've checked and some are available on the Kindle UK store.

I re-read them with my daughter over the last decade, and the Robert Arthur, Jr. ones hold up very well indeed.

Some of the books from the 1970s focus on things that were prominent in the 70s but don't pose much interest today (witchcraft, sharks, UFOs), and only a couple of the books in the 80s are worth a second reading.

William Arden seems to have done a competent job throughout his share of the books while Nick West and M.V. Carey are a little more variable in their quality.

Later the estate also authorized additional "Find Your Fate" and "Crimebusters" stories, but the attempts to update the Three Investigators to a more modern era don't really work.  Part of the original attraction of the 1960s era California setting is the limitations the boys work within - needing a ride from Worthington in the Rolls-Royce or from Hans or Konrad in the truck, needing to go to the library to look up facts, the constant question of how to communicate via telephone, secret signs, walkie-talkie, etc. when they were separated, and the question of whether Chief Reynolds will believe them.  Robert Arthur, Jr. solves those problems in a believable manner, while the later books use his ideas for wish-fulfillment fantasies that the reader can't really buy.

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Finished the most recent "Strike", "Lethal White". In pbck it's more than 600 pages. Way too long. As the others, the mystery is not bad once it gets going. (Although the mysterious "revelations"/secrets of the past are very anticlimactic, almost red herrings.)

But even more than I recall from its predecessors it suffers from similar faults. Admittedly, I didn't remember enough about the book before that included close encounters of both Robin and Strike with the "ripper" but I get bored to death by the predictable (failing) relationship stuff, including LOTS of tell (in the form on melancholy and boring reflections of R and S), or show in the most shallow way. Please cut that out. Or read some Flaubert or Tolstoi or James to get some idea of more nuanced descriptions of relationships. (Or maybe best just write a Bridget Jones style novel to get rid of it and focus on other things in the mysteries.) And please do not make virtually everyone besides Robin and Strike horrible persons. (Maybe the British upperclass is really that horrible. But the middle class people like Matthew are also horrible. So are the pseudo-alternative or lower class characters.) By now the mysterious fact that ugly crippled curmudgeon workaholic Strike gets only classy model types as sexual partners is already ironically commented on within the novels, but it remains a painfully silly plot element. And finally, for those of us not living in London, the 2012 Olympics are too long ago to work as an element of the setting.

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5 hours ago, Jo498 said:

Finished the most recent "Strike", "Lethal White". In pbck it's more than 600 pages. Way too long. As the others, the mystery is not bad once it gets going. (Although the mysterious "revelations"/secrets of the past are very anticlimactic, almost red herrings.)

I super enjoyed the first three Strike mysteries....although less the serial killer element of the third...but I really did not enjoy Lethal White.  It was tedious to read and I basically trudged through it grudgingly - mainly because I flabbergasted I was not enjoying it and kept hoping it would pick up.  I did not like the murders or the "guest" characters in the book and felt the White Horse elements and the Ibsen analogies were a bit overdone.  (I think it ruined Rosmersholm for me.  I'll never be able to read or see it now.)  But most of all I hate the now inevitable coming together of Strike and Robin.

Can we not have a series where the male and female characters work together and have a good working relationship and then go home to their respective lives without romantic entanglement?  I really enjoyed in the first books how Robin had her relationship with her long term boyfriend and Strike had his series of girlfriends and so the focus was more on Robin and Strike developing a working relationship and navigating that dynamic.  I dislike how Matthew has been rendered into such a complete ass. I think it would have been much more interesting to keep him a bit paranoid about the working relationship between Robin and Strike and having him and Robin work through that together.  But it is what it is at this point.  Should another one come out I'll check it out but it won't be a rush out to get when published priority.  And if I don't enjoy that one I might reexamine continuing.

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6 hours ago, Jo498 said:

"Lethal White". In pbck it's more than 600 pages. Way too long.

I looked at the book in the library yesterday when picking up some research materials.  That's exactly what I thought -- way too long / heavy.  Also, the determination to mate up Robyn and Strike irritates me no end. My Dear(s).  I. Don't. Give. A. Damn. Boring.

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1 hour ago, lady narcissa said:

Can we not have a series where the male and female characters work together and have a good working relationship and then go home to their respective lives without romantic entanglement?

We do, thank goodness, see this more frequently on tv, as in The Unforgotten and the Veras. 

It is one of the best qualities of Elizabeth George's. Detective Sergeant Barbara Havers and Detective Inspector Thomas Lynley books, that despite the large number of titles, allowed them to remain above satisfactory reads for so long too.  Also that both characters change over time, Barbara, maybe for the better, while always remaining Barbara, and Lynley, maybe not for the better, and certainly more unhappy.

 

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As I wrote above, my sister buys all the "Strike" novels eventually, so after some time I usually borrow them from her. I was not really enthusiastic about any of them although found them sufficiently entertaining to read all. They tended to be overambitious but underwhelming from the first one (which one had all the Latin quotes from Virgil or Horace?) To be honest, I don't remember that much about them.

Still, I had hoped we would have gone beyond the insufferable amour fou upperclass ex-girlfriend and equally insufferable square accountant husband and focus on the bloody mystery, not on badly done relationship/romance. It's frequently cringeworthy, so cut it out. I am also not interested in what everybody is eating all the time (usually chinese delivery or other fast food). The books seems to be inflated in so many ways.

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4 minutes ago, Zorral said:

It is one of the best qualities of Elizabeth George's. Detective Sergeant Barbara Havers and Detective Inspector Thomas Lynley books, that despite the large number of titles, allowed them to remain above satisfactory reads for so long too.  Also that both characters change over time, Barbara, maybe for the better, while always remaining Barbara, and Lynley, maybe not for the better, and certainly more unhappy.

I think was thinking about this earlier.  I think it feeds into my thought that in series like these, it seems the male and female main character co-workers will not get together if the female has been rendered undesirable to the reader.  The male can be completely unattractive and have a drinking problem and the personality of a boot but the female character will still end up with him.  If the female character has those traits, they won't ever get together and the reader will not expect or hope for it.  I mean look at the description of Havers on wikipedia compared to that of Lynley:

"...Lynley, the handsome and urbane Eighth Earl of Asherton, has a gilded existence as a member of the nobility, whereas the working class, unattractive and socially inept Havers finds life a struggle. Helping her aging parents is a particular grind..."

I hope there are exceptions to this and I would love to read them if there are (!) but it came to mind when I was comparing the two Ann Cleves series I'm currently reading - the Shetland and Vera Stanhope ones.  In the Shetland ones, the detective, Jimmy, is a nice enough middle-aged guy but not the greatest catch and comes with a lot of baggage and yet he has no problem getting into a relationship with his female boss.  Vera is in many ways a female version of him - middle aged woman, equally not the best catch, and yet it is never even considered to have her in a relationship with anyone, most especially her junior male coworkers.  Jimmy reminds me of Strike in some ways and Vera sort of reminds me of Havers in that sense.

Although I am reading mysteries for mysteries, not romantic relationships, I don't mind romantic relationships in mysteries.  But I guess if they are going to be there, I'd like to see a bit more balance.

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1 hour ago, lady narcissa said:

think was thinking about this earlier.  I think it feeds into my thought that in series like these, it seems the male and female main character co-workers will not get together if the female has been rendered undesirable to the reader.  The male can be completely unattractive and have a drinking problem and the personality of a boot but the female character will still end up with him.  If the female character has those traits, they won't ever get together and the reader will not expect or hope for it.  I mean look at the description of Havers on wikipedia compared to that of Lynley:

You make good points.  Or, we could even call them genre, sub-category character - plot tropes, so much is the case.

One exception that comes immediately to mind is Ian Rankin's Rebus and Detective Sergeant Siobhan Clarke. In the latest books, when no matter how energetically Rankin attempts to get around Rebus basically aging out of the force and must be retired, we continue to see Siobhan to be his friend, even as her career continues to climb -- she's now a DI, I believe? -- all on her own merits, with her own enemies and faciliators, not inherited from Rebus.  What she inherits from Rebus is clear -- his training in how to be a good investigator and survivor. Which is what a mentor should be.  Moreover, Siobhan was never characterized as ever being in the very least tempted to be anything more than professional colleagues, professional friends, and just -- friends.

As far as Barbara is concerned -- she changes as time goes on, but she will never ever be bothered unless forced to do anything about her clothes and so on.  Which is exactly what the department secretary - assistant, a total girly-girl but tough as nails in her own way, goes out of her way to do -- for the sake of Havers keeping her position.  Which was an interesting turn in itself, as far as it goes, on the all knowing department head's secretary in series like Donna Leon's Commissario Guido Brunetti, who essentially a magician, who knows all and can accomplish all via a few swipes on her computer deck. 

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