I have been an avid reader of murder mysteries for many years. It is a genre that has expanded to fill every nook and cranny of life [or even death!]. Every occupation, every city, every era has their own detective — like these two!
Barbara Nadel: Sure and certain death
Nadel’s detective character, Francis Hancock, is one of the most unusual that I have come across. He is an undertaker, which is a clever device, as and death go hand in hand. He has an Indian mother and an English father. Not an oddity these days, but not such a common sight in the east End of London during World War 2, when the series is set.
I liked the issues Nadel raised — racism, trauma because of war, the invisibility of older widowed or unmarried women — and I really enjoyed the way positive she dealt with them. Hancock is an interesting character, and I will read more of him.
[Update: Now I have read another of her books, Ashes to ashes. Not such an easy read as the first one. It was set in St Paul’s Cathedral during one of the most intensive bombings of London, and the firestorm that followed. It was dark, hectic and dangerous in the cathedral. I got confused about who was where and, indeed, who was who. It didn’t flow as easily as the other, and the premise seemed a little far fetched.]
Louise Penny: The cruelest month
The niche that Penny’s detective occupies is Montreal and the province of Quebec. Armand Gamache of the Surete du Quebec solves murders that mostly happen in the charming village of Three Pines.
Penny’s writing is lovely and quite poetic. Her characters are well created. And if you find them a little twee at times, you know that there are nasty undercurrents, especially in the Surete!
I have read four of the books in this series, and like the world Penny describes to me. That’s the sign of a good series — does the world hold together over a number of books; do I care enough about the characters to invest more time with them. However, I would recommend starting this series with the first book. Often it doesn’t matter which you pick up first. This does. Not only is there a continuity of character development, which I like, but also there are plot developments in one book that may spoil an earlier one.
And for something completely different….
He is an author I have heard of for a while. Someone mentioned him on a blog recently and I decided to read more of him. This month I read two.
Stardust was written quite few years ago. It is almost a fairy story for adults, and has resonances of Douglas Adam and Terry Pratchett, both of whom I really enjoy.
The other book was a graphic novel, Black Orchid , with stunning illustrations by Dave McKean. Gaiman takes the Super Hero concept, and distorts it. To quote Mikal Gilmore’s introduction
…Black Orchid works against these conventions of violence: It begins in the horror of reality and it works its way towards a lovely, dreamlike end that is no less powerful or hard-hitting for all its fable-style grace.
An author to explore further.