Up Front by Emma Hart

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Up Front: Reading Murder Books

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  • kiwicmc,

    Emma!, from Christchurch and no Paul Cleave shout out? My wife, appalled that I have only read 4 woman authors out of the 80 or so books this year, put me onto Kate Atkinson's Jackson Brodie series - Case Histories is the first one and then there's another three to knock off after that. Got to love finding a series you can binge read.

    Is it just me or is The Luminaries just a good who dunnit? Also recommend Paul Thomas, Pierre Lemaitre, Parker Bilal (Somalian detective in Egypt), Malla Nunn (South African crime).

    Regarding women's prominence in crime fiction - this month I've read 11 women authors - a good proportion crime fiction - I must say, they're not afraid of snuffing the kiddies to kick things off...

    Auckland, New Zealand • Since May 2008 • 88 posts Report Reply

  • Hebe,

    When my twin sons were two years old I started on 18 months of reading World War Two schlock thrillers, then the relentless carnage of Patricia Cornwell. My life was so overwhelmingly child-focused, with brief breaks for work, that I felt in need of a stringent counterpoint. I rapaciously read all her books, the boys turned four and I have never again been tempted by those books.

    A few years later a bit of Rebus went down well, but I haven't dipped into much other mystery and crime fiction in recent years.

    Christchurch • Since May 2011 • 2895 posts Report Reply

  • johnno,

    I would like to offer Aussie crime writer Peter Temple to the pot. His "Broken Shore" and "Truth"have wonderful broken police officers, and an amazing line in terse cynical dialogue.

    wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 111 posts Report Reply

  • Rich Lock, in reply to Emma Hart,

    I can't fathom what would make me sit through I and II again.

    The only way to make any of the prequels 'watchable' is to watch them via Red Letter Media's 'reviews', which are almost longer than the films themselves.

    I finally achieved some sort of catharsis over the four or so hours it took me to watch these.....

    Part one for Ep 1 here:

    ETA: in an over-abundence of caution, these might need a trigger warning, as they're told from the point of view of a deranged serial killer....

    back in the mother countr… • Since Feb 2007 • 2728 posts Report Reply

  • Rich Lock, in reply to Emma Hart,

    I may have to get myself a Christmas present then.

    I read 'Drood' and 'The Terror' back-to-back a couple of years ago. They're fairly hefty, and more 'horror' than they are 'murder-mystery'.

    The amount of background research and detail is extremely impressive, if nothing else.

    back in the mother countr… • Since Feb 2007 • 2728 posts Report Reply

  • Marion Ogier, in reply to johnno,

    Totally agree. Would also recommend his Jack Irish thrillers for more of a cynical, humorous take on the corruptions of Victorian politics and some cracking Aussie dialogue.

    Christchurch • Since Nov 2010 • 20 posts Report Reply

  • Ian Dalziel, in reply to Sam F,

    the Gernsback Continuum…

    … a rather odd fictional overlay to my memory of my first visit to the Manawatu.

    aaaah… the mean streets of Palmerston Noir…
    (reminds me of Mieville's The City and the City )


    Bonzer noir – keeping it local…
    …follow Ellerslie Penrose (among others) along the median strips of Auckland (and elsewhere) in Chad Taylor’s oeuvre – excellent stuff.
    The Guardian called it entropy noir…

    Bart, you might like this one… Electric there’s a bit going on…

    His setting is a New Zealand you won’t see in Lord of the Rings: a city suffering from the same urban malaise as glitzier metropolises on other continents. Our protagonist, Samuel Usher, is a drug addict who supports himself by recovering data from damaged computers. He falls in with a couple of drifters who occupy themselves with recondite mathematics. But the favoured activity for all three involves powders on polished surfaces. When Jules dies in mysterious circumstances, Usher sets off to find out why. Thematically, Taylor’s concerns are twofold: the infinite extent of digitised culture; and the limitless flood of narcotics (not to mention the global industry behind it). Electric looks at what happens when chaos rises up to warp these apparently unassailable worlds.
    (Set prophetically in an Auckland beset by power cuts)

    or Shirker

    Imagine Raymond Chandler filing from New Zealand with a little help from Anne Rice and Jean-Paul Sartre, and you’re still not close to imagining the oddity of this weird, wonderful novel. We begin with futures broker Ellerslie Penrose stumbling upon a mutilated corpse and pocketing the dead man’s wallet; as Penrose takes it upon himself to find the killer, he becomes involved with another, century-old murder and some mighty funky characters. Taylor’s structural instincts are so unerring and his tersely elegant language so seductive that the story never once falters – even as it morphs from a murder mystery into an exploration of passion and mortality.
    Rebecca Ascher-Walsh, Entertainment Weekly (December 2001 )

    I just wish he’d get the English version of The Church of John Coltrane released some time soon…

    ..and a local release of the movie he made with Jonathan King Realiti

    …and he is a Public Address Alumnus from days of yore
    </secret handshake>
    ;- )


    Bonzo noir:..

    Christchurch • Since Dec 2006 • 7876 posts Report Reply

  • Ian Dalziel,

    One to watch...
    Step aside Patricia Highsmith, Paul Cleave, et al there's a new voice in town - the winner of this year's Sunday Star Times Short Story competition - with her story - Bodies

    This story gives us the grand themes of sex and death. Perspective moves fluidly between the two protagonists. The reader is not told everything about their predicaments. Elegantly and sparely written, Bodies allows us to draw our own conclusions about characters' pasts. The story is also about social class and mutual exploitation, expectations and secrets. Although the narration is tightly focussed on Laura and Mike, there is a strong sense of the wider world moving beyond their smaller concerns.

    So Emma - are you taking Laura out for another spin soon?
    I look forward to the back story of Laura finding love in the time of 'collar-up'
    - a true Chchch noir going begging in the wings...

    Well done that woman!!

    Christchurch • Since Dec 2006 • 7876 posts Report Reply

  • Carol Stewart, in reply to Hebe,

    A few years later a bit of Rebus went down well,

    I'm very fond of Ian Rankin's Rebus as well. I also went through a Patricia Cornwell phase, but I wearied of her humourlessness as well as the carnage you mention. In that genre I much prefer Kathy Reichs.

    Wellington • Since Jul 2008 • 821 posts Report Reply

  • octopusgrrl, in reply to Carol Stewart,

    Quite right, Carol - I enjoyed Cornwell's books in the beginning but now they seem to dehumanise the victims too much and the plots are so unbelievable, not to mention that Kay Scarpetta has become a very unsympathetic protagonist for me. I like the Tempe Brennan books, but they're a bit like junk food: sometimes you really crave them and they're great at the time, but you can't have too much in one sitting :-)

    Dunedin • Since May 2009 • 33 posts Report Reply

  • Ianmac,

    I enjoy Detective novels. But what makes it more intriguing is those that are set in so many countries that the background becomes as much fun as the plot. Swedish, Italian, French, Greek, etc. A really good book sometimes can have the solution to the crime being relatively less important than the setting.

    Bleneim • Since Aug 2008 • 135 posts Report Reply

  • Son of Dad,

    As an aside, I recommend Colin Watson's 'Snobbery With Violence: English Crime Stories and Their Audience'. Watson was a fine crime novelist himself, and his witty and astute history of the genre from the 1920s through the 1960s makes for a very entertaining read.

    Since Aug 2014 • 14 posts Report Reply

  • sandra,

    Started with Christie when I was about 12 - as I recall my mother was reading them from the library and I just picked one up. Why do I always feel so guilty when I tell people that my main reading is crime fiction/thrillers?

    On to Marsh and Sayers, both enjoyed, and then in a blaze of light one day in early 80s London I discovered Margery Allingham (1904-66) - her books were being reissued. Albert Campion is very much in the style of Lord Peter Wimsey, although we never learn Campion's true name and only hear hints about his connections (very close) to the aristocracy. His 'manservant' Magersfontein Lugg (great name for a great character) is a bit of an Eeyore but knows what to do when needed.

    Pick up any one and enjoy it - they're not terribly long, but for me one of the apex books in the collection is 'Tiger in the Smoke' (published in 1952), which has a real psychological element to it and features the inestimable Inspector Stanislaus Oates.

    The other 'old' writer I greatly enjoy is Ed McBain and still haunt charity book fairs to pick up one or two (if I'm lucky). I stick to the 87th Precinct novels and am well rewarded. I recently shouted myself a new copy of 'Lady Killer' (1958), which includes a 1994 Introduction by McBain (1926-2005). If you'll bear with me I'll reproduce some of it here because it tells us a few things about him and about his writing.

    The book was written in 9 days in the summer of 1957!

    "The 87th Precinct novels were still paperback originals in those days and that was the required length - 180 pages. Not a page more, not a page less. If they'd been as long as today's 87th Precinct novels, which run some 400 to 450 pages in manuscript, I'd have been in that damn garage all summer.

    "Twenty pages a day was not unusual for me back then. This output diminished over the years to ten pages a day, and eventually to eight pages a day. Critics seem to believe that fast is lousy. That's because it takes them a week and a half to write a 400-word book review praising a novel somebody took seventeen years to write. The odd thing about 'Lady Killer' is that it is no better and no worse than any of the 87th Precinct novels over which I labored [sic] longer. This may mean that all of them are lousy."

    After some chat about how hard it is to write with your own kids underfoot and then another family turns up to stay and the kids catch a shark...

    "Because I was driven by a singular need to get onto the beach as soon as possible, the book itself is driven by a single plot. It's a no-frills book. You jump right into it, you move right along with it, you let it take you where it wants to go. And because it was written fast it seems to _move_ fast. The ticking twelve-hour clock in the book seems to echo the urgency of the deadline I'd set for myself. Nine days. Twenty pages a day. Clocks are ticking and the cotton is high."

    And then: "It took more time to get the stench of that damn shark out of my kitchen than it did to write this book."

    Because of the 180-page limit McBain (who also wrote as Evan Hunter, his legal name though not his birth name) often published more than one book a year - 2 in 1952, 3 each in 1953 and '54 - and six in 1956! This was how he made his living.

    tauranga • Since Dec 2011 • 71 posts Report Reply

  • sandra,

    Among the foreign writers that I enjoy reading in translation (in no particular order) are:

    Fred Vargas (French: Commissaire Adamsberg)
    Andrea Camilleri (Italian: Salvo Montalbano). A mention of translator Stephen Sartarelli here, he does a brilliant job.
    Jo Nesbo (Norwegian: Harry Hole)
    Hakan Nesser (Swedish: Inspector Van Veetern). These books aren't set anywhere in particular, just in a city in Europe.
    Arnauldur Indridason (Icelandic: Detective Erlendur - lately the books have been revealing more and more of the childhood tragedy he was involved in).
    Karin Fossum (Norwegian: Inspector Konrad Sejer).
    Janwillem van de Wetering (1931-2008) (Dutch: Adjutant-Detective Henk Grijpstra and Detective-Sergeant Rinus de Gier).
    Henning Mankell (1948-2015) (Swedish: Kurt Wallander). If you can get your hands on a DVD of Kenneth Branagh as Wallander do give it try.

    Authors I enjoy who set their books in Italy but aren't Italian are Donna Leon (Venice: Commissario Brunetti); Magdalena Nabb who died suddenly in 2007 (Florence: Marshal Guarnaccia) and Michael Dibdin who also died in 2007 (Venice to start with, then all over Italy: Aurelio Zen).

    tauranga • Since Dec 2011 • 71 posts Report Reply

  • sandra,

    Oh, okay, just one more ..

    James Lee Burke ... do not go past James Lee Burke. I started with the Dave Robichaux novels and although they have been getting bigger and bigger and somewhat formulaic (poetic description of the landscape/weather-action-landscape/weather-action-Dave wonders whether to drink-Clete does something outrageous-landscape/weather) he is still worth a huge recommend. Fascinating morality tales told through the character of a Vietnam vet-police detective-sober (for now) alchoholic. Since Hurricane Katrina there has been a new element of anger at the political systems that plague Louisiana.

    I resisted reading the Billy Bob Holland series for I don't know why. Also great.

    tauranga • Since Dec 2011 • 71 posts Report Reply

  • JacksonP,

    I believe I share this guilty secret with Craig. Over a few years I consumed two series, set at different times in Roman history.

    Lindsay Davis’, Marcus Didius Falco series is a hoot, and his long suffering significant other, Helena, is one of my favourite fictional characters. They solve murders and crimes in the streets of Rome around 75 AD.

    Steven Saylor also has a shorter collection called the Roma Sub Rosa series, centred around Gordianus the Finder. These are set during the time of Julius Caesar.

    Both are easy reads, and quite a lot of fun.

    Auckland • Since Mar 2011 • 2448 posts Report Reply

  • Bart Janssen, in reply to Ianmac,

    A really good book sometimes can have the solution to the crime being relatively less important than the setting.

    Very true. However it's really easy to cross the line into boring travelogue, which is where the current book (Paul McAuley's gardens of the Sun) I'm reading has failed me,
    "yes I know you read all about the moons of Saturn but so did I and frankly NASA did a shit load better job of making them feel real and exciting than you did"

    The first book of his I read "Something coming through" was much better and yes there is blood on the ground and a hard bitten detective chasing leads through a corrupt city.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 4449 posts Report Reply

  • Rob S,

    Inspector O series of books set in North Korea, written by James Church.
    A truly great read in such a foreign setting with an understated wit penned by an ex C.I.A. officer who presumably knows his stuff.

    Since Apr 2010 • 133 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson,

    Cornwall put me off detective novels forever, unfortunately. Prior to that, the aforementioned oldies are favourites of mine, and I'd only add Biggles. Which might seem odd until you've read a Biggles and realize that he's basically a flying detective. Even in the wartime novels, he approached problems thrown up by the German Air Force as a detective would. In the post war ones, he is, in fact, a CID.

    If you never read any other Biggles books, Sergeant Bigglesworth, C.I.D should be it. It starts slowly, with the typical Biggles bollocksing around a base with his goofy mates, directly after the war has finished, getting bored because basically they're all mad, and can't really celebrate the end of something that killed nearly all of their friends and family. But fortunately for Biggles, Nazis didn't end just because the war did...and thus begins a non-stop pursuit of a villainous airborne gang across Europe, the Middle East and Africa, finishing with an epic 2 day pursuit, culminating in a brutal dogfight and then a shoot out on the ground.

    Only a quarter of a mile of heat-distorted air divided the two machins; and still the distance closed. Biggles sat quite still. His face was expressionless. Never, not for an instant, did his eyes leave his quarry.
    Ginger moistened his lips, thankful that he was not in the Renkell. There was something so implacable, so relentless, about Biggles when he was in his present mood. He knew that whatever happened he would not turn back. He would go to the end, even if their petrol ran out and left them stranded in the heart of the Sahara...

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10629 posts Report Reply

  • Andrew Stevenson, in reply to Ianmac,

    the background becomes as much fun as the plot

    Which is part of the Stross's Laundry Files is so much fun - Lovecraftian horrors invoked by technology, dealt with by the modern British Civil Service... (another plug for 'The Rook' too)
    Back on the Detective novels, good page turners for the summer holidays - Craig Johnson's Walt Longmire series have that background that pulls you in, and a really dry wit.
    Tony Hillerman's Chee and Leaphorn novels,
    Kinky Friedman - yes that is the name, a singing detective...

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 206 posts Report Reply

  • Ian Dalziel, in reply to Son of Dad,

    ‘Snobbery With Violence: English Crime Stories and Their Audience’.

    I enjoyed this recent tweak on Sherlock Holmes, steampunk'd and hacked in his own time...

    Christchurch • Since Dec 2006 • 7876 posts Report Reply

  • sandra, in reply to Rob S,

    I endorse this wholeheartedly:
    Inspector O series of books set in North Korea, written by James Church.

    And would mention Colin Cotterill's series featuring Dr. Siri Paiboun that are set in the Laos of the mid-70s. Not as serious as the Inspector O books but a good read.

    tauranga • Since Dec 2011 • 71 posts Report Reply

  • Emma Hart,

    So much gold on this thread. You know I basically only do these to get book recommendations.

    Two I haven't mentioned. Barry Hughart's ancient-mythic-China detective novels, and Elizabeth Peters' Amelia Peabody mysteries, set in turn of last century Egypt. Both get a good deal of dry, gentle humour from fallible narrators. Peters (Barbara Mertz) was an Egyptologist, but unlike several authors mentioned here (and Anne Perry), her knowledge is never obtrusively shoved in your face.

    So Emma – are you taking Laura out for another spin soon?
    I look forward to the back story of Laura finding love in the time of ‘collar-up’

    Man, I walked around with Laura in my head for so many years while I was writing The Isis Knot. It's not possible for her to exist as she does in "Bodies", twenty years later, but the idea of her carrying on, an undercover class warrior with an ideology and no compunctions, was simply irresistible.

    Christchurch • Since Nov 2006 • 4650 posts Report Reply

  • simon g,

    Peter Abrahams. My summer reading of choice (alas, he has stopped writing) - hits my middling brain's target area, between "I'm confused" and "I'm insulted".

    Scott Turow for legal thrillers, and more.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 1315 posts Report Reply

  • Son of Dad,

    As a teen I loved Robert van Gulik's Judge Dee novels set in Tang Dynasty China. The novels were based (I think) on the life of a real Tang Dynasty official.

    Also, the dire Johnny Depp film notwithstanding, Kyril Bonfiglioli's damn weird novels featuring dissolute art dealer / thief Charlie Mortdecai will happily beguile an afternoon's leisure.

    Since Aug 2014 • 14 posts Report Reply

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