Mystery Fiction

At the Seattle Dopefest the conversation turned to reading preferences and everyone mentioned that they read mysteries. (Well, not Hank the waiter.) Is this generally true for Dopers? I realize mystery fiction is pretty popular reading in general, but is it higher among us MENSA types? (or MENSA wannabes – you know who you are!) Do you read mysteries? What’s your favorite kind of mystery – hard-boiled detective, British drawing room, police procedure, psychological thriller?

And why do you suppose they are so popular? Is it because of the intellectual challenge? (hah!) Is it mind candy to release them from the tension of thinking hard all day? (could be) Is it vicarious living through their favorite detective? (probably)

I like the old-fashioned British mysteries (ala Agatha Christie) especially when people keep getting murdered until the detective finally figures it out. Along those lines I like Ngaio Marsh, Dorothy L. Sayers, Marjorie Allingham, and Ellis Peters (for really old British mysteries!)

I’ve had less luck finding current (i.e., living) authors I like as well. I suppose Martha Grimes comes closest, with Superintendent Jury and Melrose Plant. However, Scotti suggested Laurie R. King at the Dopefest and I’ve just started one of hers. She has series that ressurect Sherlock Holmes as second banana to a young English woman detective. I’m enjoying it, which is odd because I’ve never really enjoyed Conan Doyle’s original stories.

So anyway – what’s yours?

Ruth Rendell is the queen. She writes two types of books: A “traditional” British police detective series, with a crusty old chief inspector type and stand-alone books that would probably best be described as psychological thrillers. She’s a wonderful novelist by any standard.

I also like Caroline Graham, P.D. James, and Simon Brett.

I like Lawrence Block’s Matt Scudder books quite a bit; “Eight Million Ways to Die” is one of the best hard-boileds I’ve ever read (forget about the miserable movie). Block’s early and post-1990 books are terrific, though he did get too violent for my tastes in the mid-'80s. I generally won’t read a writer, no matter how good he is otherwise, who gives play-by-plays on the murders (I think of those as “snuff books”). I require my violence to take place offstage, as it were.

I also love John MacDonald’s Travis McGee novels, though you do have to put up with the hero’s rather alarming attitude toward women (Ol’ Trav always knows exactly what a girl needs). MacDonald’s 50-plus nonseries mysteries are mostly out of print, alas, but they are even better than the McGees.

I also highly recommend Loren Estleman (Loren’s a guy) Amos Walker books for those who like private eye novels. The first in the series, “The Midnight Man,” and the second-most-recent, “Never Street,” are particularly good.

I guess I like the tough guys :slight_smile:

I read mysteries, though I wouldn’t say I’m a fan of mystery. I’m a fan of detectives, and the sorts of things they do in the course of a story. I realized at a young age that I was generally not that interested in the `mystery’ so much as I was in what the detective had for breakfast, or how they dealt with their surroundings.

I like Philip Marlowe, of course, because even though he’s a hard apple, his worst trait is that he cares about people who don’t deserve who don’t deserve it, and fights for them for $25 a day.

I like Donald Lam, a slick character who is smart and sensitive, even if he does kind of string along his secretary (who fell in love with him back in the thirties) for decades. It’s not that bad, really, since they were on that comic book time dilation where they were dealing with WWII for a while and then a few cases later they’re talking about those new mini skirts. Gardner’s writing is not good in most places, but his plotting is quite enjoyable, and even his shallow characters are amusing, in a shallow kind of way.

I like Fletch. He’s a kick in the pants, and the swell thing about Gregory MacDonald is that he’s as good at plots as Erle Stanley Gardner, and a hell of a lot better a writer. Pow, pow. Kicks my ass every time.

And of course, the Continental Op. Doesn’t give squat/jack about anything but nailing motherfuckers for the sheer sport of it. That is, until the Dain case. Then along comes Sam Spade, just to show you Hammett ain’t got too soft. Spade is the stuff they cut diamonds with.

I love Elizabeth George. She lives in CA, but writes British mystery fiction. Her series features Inspector Langley and his sidekick, Barbara Havers, plus a few other regulars. The relationships between them all develop over time, which is the addictive part of the books. Just make sure you read them in order!

OOH—this thread is the perfect place to ask a question I have had for a while. Several years ago I read a book in which the detective was gay. I liked it, but can’t remember the author’s name, or the title, or the character’s name. Anyone out there know of any mystery novels starring a gay detective?

Yes, Catrandom, Block is one of the greats. His other series characters, Bernie Rhodenbarr and Tanner, are good too, in a couple of different ways.

But hard-boiled is the way to be.

Brynda,George Baxt wrote a few books featuring a gay detective. He also wrote an excellent series of mysteries featuring Dorothy Parker and people who were around that same era and/or members of the Algonquin crowd.

Can’t remember many exact titles, but I believe there was one with Noel Coward, one with Tallulah Bankhead and etc.

KK Beck has written a couple of excellent series.

I’m currently reading P.M. Carlson and Jeanne M. Dams.

I could go on and on, but I won’t.


I know I promised to shut up, but one of my favorite authors is Elizabeth Peters. She has written a TON of books; some about a Victorian archeologist and husband (Amelia Peabody and I think Emerson Radcliffe), some about a contemporary college professor (Jacqueline Kirby) and some about a woman named Vicki Bliss.

All intelligent, all witty and not a clinker in the bunch. (IMHO) Try to read them in order of publication, they are written in chronological order.

Sorry, Cat…the first in Estleman’s Walker series is MOTOR CITY BLUE, the second most recent is THE HOURS OF THE VIRGIN, and the most recent is A SMILE ON THE FACE OF THE TIGER.

Your taste is impeccable, though. And NEVER STREET is damn good.

Lawrence Block is for the brainwashed. His peer (also a MWA Grandmaster…in fact, he got it the year BEFORE Block), Donald E. Westlake, can write rings around him. I’ve always considered the Rhodenbarr books to be pathetic knockoffs of the much superior Dortmunder series.

Incidentally, my favorite crime novel is G.K. Chesterton’s THE MAN WHO WAS THURSDAY.

Also Joseph Hansen, and his Dave Brandstetter (Los Angeles gay PI) series. Hansen and Baxt were the first to do gay detectives.

Baxt’s gay series character was Pharaoh Love, a black New York cop.

At the risk of revealing just how low-brow I really am, I’d like to say that I like the Robert Parker ‘Spencer’ books in the hard-boiled, wise-craking detective genre. I also read Tony Hillerman.

Feel free to pelt me with vegetables. :slight_smile:

I don’t read mystery novels a lot, but I read The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins a little while ago and loved that. I’ve been meaning to read The Woman in White but haven’t gotten 'round to it.

Anything by Fredric Brown. He had a wicked imagination and a wonderful clear style. I didn’t realize for the longest time that he wrote mysteries – I was fmiliar with his science fiction and fantasy stories. But “The Fabulous Clipjoint” blew me away. Apparently it had he same effect on a lot of people – it won the Edgar for best First Mystery Novel the year it was published. In a saner universe it would already have been filmed. Sadly, most of Brown’s works are out of print.
Robert H. Van Gulik’s Judge Dee stories. Djien Djie Dee was a real individual in Tan dynasty China. A seventeenth century Chinese novel depicts him as a detective of Sherlockian ability (China has a MUCH longer history of detective novels than the West). Van Gulik translated this book into English. It was so successful that he started writing his own novels, based upon Chinese formulas. Each has three interlinked mysteries. Most of hese are now back n rint. There was an ABC movie f the weeks based on one of these, “The Haunted Monastery”. The screenplay was by Nicholas Meyer. Should you get the chance, it’s well worth aching. I understand there was a British series of Judge Dee TV shows, as well. I would dearl love to se these. (I suspect that they may have helped inspire Judge Dredd, which does not resemble them at all.)
Sherlock Holmes is my hands-down favorite. I even like the imitations and pastichs. Of these , the best in my opinion are “The Exploits of Sherlock Homes” by Adrian Conan Doyle and John Dickson Carr.

Cal, you really should read Laurie R. King’s “The Beekeeper’s Apprentice” and the rest of the series. (Again, you should try to read it in chronological order.) It is the best Sherlock Holmes series NOT written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

I love P.D. James and Ruth Rendell. I don’t know why, but English mysteries are soothing to me. I know they’re not great literature, but hell, there are times you’d rather have a pizza than a gourmet dinner, right?

I tend to go in for female authors and/or female dicks… er, better make that female detectives. I also like funny.

Top o’ the list is, of course, Phoebe Atwood Taylor who created Asey Mayo, the Codfish Sherlock. She also wrote a series of books under the name “Alice Tilton” with a character named Leonidas Witherall - and those are about the closest you can get to reading a rollercoaster; they’re fast-paced, exhilirating and completely insane. All Phoebe’s stuff was written in the 20’s and 30’s and I used to have to scour used bookstores to find them, but her titles have recently been republished in glorious paperback.

I like mysteries because I like a good puzzle - but it’s really the characters that make me read all the stories by a particular author. Egad! I just realized I’m a serial reader!

“Incidentally, my favorite crime novel is G.K. Chesterton’s THE MAN WHO WAS THURSDAY.”

—Well, Ike, obviously you have never read anything by K.C. Constantine or Donald Westlake.

MUCH better than Chesterton.

John Dickson Carr AKA Carter Dickson should be read by anyone who loves a good puzzle/mystery. The plots are ingenious, the crimes nearly always impossible, and the reading both creepy and fun.

I challenge anyone to discover how the murderer escaped in “The Three Coffins” or to discover the location of “The Judas Window” an opening only a murderer can see. How did the killer leave no footprints in the snow in "The White Priory " murders? Is the room the murderer in “The Red Widow Murders”?

If you love the challenge of solving a bizarre crime, this author was the absolute best.

Jonathan Kellerman has written a bunch of books, not mysteries, but more like psychological thrillers, with a detective who is gay. The main character, Alex Delaware, is a psychologist who works with the gay detective sometimes. He is in all the stories, but isn’t a main character.

'Scuse me for a second while I play “Whack-a-Mole” with Eve.

Okay, I’m back. Cal, I just read THE FABULOUS CLIPJOINT a couple months back myself, and I heartily second your opinion. I was a leetle disappointed by the ending, but I had such a great time getting there it didn’t matter. Ed and Am Hunter are tremendous protagonists.

If you can find a copy, try to get the Zomba edition of Brown’s novels…it’s an omnibus containing THE FABULOUS CLIPJOINT, THE SCREAMING MIMI, KNOCK THREE-ONE-TWO, and THE NIGHT OF THE JABBERWOCK.

That last one is truly one of the wiggiest hard-boiled novels ever written.