So what have you been reading this summer? Here at Mid-Manhattan we’ve been celebrating Mystery Summer with a monster film noir series on Wednesdays and Sundays, mysterious Story Times for Grown-ups, suspenseful selections in the Reader's Den, and and lots of reading and viewing lists. Personally, I’ve managed to do quite a lot of mystery reading over the past few months, but I’ve still got many more books on my For Later shelf. Fortunately, mystery reading (and viewing) is a year round activity, so we hope you’ll find some intriguing suggestions for the rest of the year on the lists of books and DVDs we put together for Mystery Summer. What have you read? What’s on your For Later shelf? What mysteries would you recommend? Please tell us through the comments form at the end of this post.
I don't know about you, but I just love reading mysteries! Is it the intellectual puzzle, the solving of the crime? An opportunity to experience a darker side of human nature than we would wish to encounter in real life? A desire for order? For justice? While an engaging plot with a solution you don't guess too early on is essential, my favorite mysteries also offer psychological insight, well-developed characters, a glimpse of another place or time and a touch of moral ambiguity. A recently discovered detective whose adventures meet all these criteria is Phillip Kerr's Bernie Gunther, a cynical and opportunistic yet fundamentally decent wisecracking private investigator working in 1930s Berlin. (Think Philip Marlowe in Nazi Germany.) I recently finished the third novel in the original Berlin Noir trilogy, A German Requiem, published in 1991 and set in post-war Berlin and Vienna, complete with war criminals in hiding, black market moguls, deadly power struggles and no obvious good guys. I'm looking forward to more satisfying reads in the later Bernie Gunther books, including the eighth and most recent novel, Prague Fatale, set in October 1941.
Early in the summer I returned to the gritty Victorian mysteries of a favorite author, Anne Perry, and was happy to find that she continues to write well-plotted mysteries with just the right amount of period detail and outrage at the hypocrisy and social evils of the day. I enjoyed the political intrigue of Dorchester Terrace, the latest in the Charlotte and Thomas Pitt series and also Acceptable Loss, a recent novel in the darker William Monk series. The latest Monk novel, A Sunless Sea is on my For Later list. With Elegy for Eddie I also caught up with another favorite period British detective, Maisie Dobbs, Jacqueline Winspear’s “psychologist and investigator” working in 1930s London. I also spent some time in 1880s Rome with Oscar Wilde and Arthur Conan Doyle in Oscar Wilde and the Vatican Murders, the fourth book in Gyles Brandreth’s clever series, in which Wilde plays an epigrammatic Holmes to Conan Doyle’s faithful Watson. Check out our Mystery Summer list, Authors as Sleuths, for more mysteries featuring famous authors as amateur detectives.
Having lived in Italy for a number of years, I confess to a special fondness for mysteries set there but somehow didn’t manage to read any new ones this summer. Reading one of Donna Leon’s Guido Brunetti novels is the next best thing to actually traveling to Venice, and Magdalen Nabb’s Marshal Guarnaccia series really captures the city of Florence. I’ve got the most recent Brunetti novel, Beastly Things, and Andrea Camilleri’s most recently translated Montalbano novel, The Age of Doubt, on my to read list for when I’m in the mood for a virtual visit to the darker side of Venice or Sicily that tourists don’t usually see. The admirable detectives in these series have no illusions, but they continue to do their jobs as if the truth matters despite the endemic corruption surrounding them. Michael Dibdin’s Aurelio Zen is a little more careful about saving his own skin, but sometimes the expedient thing can also turn out to be the right thing. An even grimmer view of Sicilian justice can be found in Leonardo Sciascia’s “metaphysical mysteries,” such as To Each His Own. These authors and others are included on our list of Gialli! Italian Mysteries.
Part of the fun of reading international mysteries is that in addition to meeting interesting characters and following an intriguing plot, you also get to experience another city, another country, another culture, another way of thinking, another set of rules. Outside of 20 minutes at Malmö airport, I’ve never been to Sweden, yet I feel I know Ystad really well thanks to Henning Mankell’s topical and acutely observed Kurt Wallander novels. I read the final Wallander novel, The Troubled Man, a few months ago, and I’ll miss the dour, determined inspector and his worries about the future of Swedish society. Feeling the need for another foreign detective in existential crisis in my life, I finally made the acquaintance of Ian Rankin’s popular Inspector Rebus, breathlessly reading the first four novels in this long series. I love the hard-boiled but humane cop who, like Wallander, is ultimately a truth seeker in a brutal and shady world, and the detailed Edinburgh setting offers an opportunity for ticketless travel. Exit Music, published in the U. S. in 2008, was to be the end of Inspector Rebus’s colorful career, as he was forced to retire at age 60, but the chaotic cop returns this fall in Standing in Another Man’s Grave. You can find more exotic locales and suggestions for crime novels from around the world on our International Mysteries list.
A foreign setting, an intriguing mystery and a colorful detective also make for compelling film and television viewing, and a number of popular international mystery series, such as the Wallander series, the Rebus series and the Aurelio Zen series have been adapted for television. And let us not forget Sidney Lumet’s all-star adaptation of Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express, featuring everyone’s favorite fastidious Belgian detective, Hercule Poirot. This summer, I greatly enjoyed watching the Maigret Collection, starring Michael Gambon as Georges Simenon’s beloved inspector. The twelve mysteries were interesting and well-plotted, but it was the laconically observant character of Commissaire Jules Maigret and the authentic feel of the Paris setting that really engaged me. Check out our International Detectives on DVD list for more viewing suggestions. Garrow's Law, based on the life of pioneering 18th century English barrister WIlliam Garrow, was also a viewing treat, a period courtroom drama, two of my favorite types of television in one! Our Law and Order, British Style list focuses on crime and courtroom dramas set in England, from Ellis Peter's 12th century monk, herbalist and sleuth, Brother Cadfael, played by Derek Jacobi, to Idris Elba’s brilliant but erratic 21st century London detective, John Luther.
Well, that's more than enough about my summer reading and viewing for now! What have you been reading? What are some of your favorite mysteries? We'd love to know, so please use the comments form below!
Tune in next time for Part II of My Mystery Summer Log and film noir lists, short stories, Teen Mysteries, NYC Mysteries, Reader's Den selections and more...