Crime Spree

I’ve been reading relaxing novels of late, and there’s nothing quite so relaxing as crime. Here’s a selection that I’ve enjoyed:

Peter Robinson – Before the Poison

Widowed film music composer, Chris Lowndes returns to his native England and buys a large and very isolated house in Yorkshire. It was a dream he shared with his wife, but now he has to see it through alone. As he settles in, so he gradually learns about the sad history of its previous owners, and the story of beautiful Grace Fox, who was hanged sixty years ago for the murder of her husband, a murder that Chris becomes convinced she did not commit. As the quest to prove her innocence develops, it becomes essentially a reconstruction of Grace’s life, and in particular her time as a nurse in the Far East during World War Two. This was a beautifully structured and plotted novel that seemed to do a great deal more with the ‘cold case’ scenario than many other stories. Peter Robinson takes his time and develops Grace’s story layer upon layer, and the account of her war service is extremely moving. On a very different note, the narrator mentions a number of classical recordings he is listening to, and for a while I chased them down because he had taste that definitely coincided with mine. Robinson is better known for his Inspector Banks mysteries, which I’ve never read, but am certainly intrigued to try now. This was an excellent standalone novel, complex and atmospheric.

 

Michael Harvey – We All Fall Down

Harvey has a particular noir kind of voice, very Chandleresque, and he deploys it with some style and wit on modern day Chicago, a city that is bursting at the seams with corruption, it appears. This novel opens with a stark image; the fall of a light bulb in a subway tunnel that releases a lethal pathogen. Private eye Michael Kelly is dragged into the government cover-up because he already knows too much (and it is probably worth reading the previous novel, The Third Rail, before reading this one, which I did not and was briefly nonplussed in some of the opening sections, not that it matters ultimately). Quickly he makes the link between the biological warfare unleashed on the city and its mafia- and drug-ridden quarters, convinced that gangland murders are enmeshed in some way with the altogether more sophisticated black biology. This was a terse and tensely written novel, well structured again with all sorts of clever twists. I also felt it depicted its disaster scenario very well, with enough restraint to make it enjoyably readable and plenty of tough science. Whether you appreciate it or not depends a little on how you feel about mash-ups, as this is a book of two very different sides, with the gangstas making a colourful juxtaposition to the sci-fi women in lab coats. Once I’d settled into it, I was surprised how gripped I was by the story. I always think that these male fantasy figures of vengeance, like Kelly, are a little overblown these days, testimony to the masculine desire to be proved right both in high places and in their stubborn refusal to take advice. But hey, James Bond started it and it’s the same kind of tough guy omnipotence in charge here. Fun for the ride.

 

Helen MacInnes – Above Suspicion

This was a slice of old school style and class. Oxford academic, Richard Myles and his delightful wife, Frances, are preparing for their annual trip to the mountains of Europe. But it’s 1939 and the political situation is in turmoil. They are visited in Oxford by an old friend, Peter Galt, who asks them to undertake a task that, in theory, should be simple. Part of the growing spy network, he is worried that one of their main operatives in the field has been nobbled, and so he wants Richard and Frances to check the links in the chain of communication, starting in Paris and following in a kind of treasure hunt through the clues that will be passed to them. In no time at all, the couple are required to use all their ingenuity to evade the dangers that lurk everywhere. This was just a pleasure from start to finish, absolutely beautifully written, with fine, plucky leads in the form of our academic husband and wife. If you ever enjoyed Tommy and Tuppence or Paul and Steve, you will love these two, as the sort of Ur-Couple against whom all other sleuthing pairs pale a little in comparison. Only one warning: this novel was first published in 1941 and the anti-German sentiment is very marked in our thankfully more peaceful age. I can’t imagine it would be a very comfortable book for a German to read. But if you can live with this, and after all, it is just in keeping with the historical climate of its time, then give it a try. I loved it.

 

33 thoughts on “Crime Spree

  1. Thank you for these. I have recently started reading crime novels again and am working my way through Jo Nesbo and Henning Mannkell and have dipped into Benjamin Black knowing that the language would be beautiful! I consumed every Agatha Christie in my early teens but haven’t read crime/thrillers since and am out of touch.

    • I have my first Benjamin Black to read! I’m very intrigued to see how I’ll take to him (have heard good things). I was also an avid Agatha Christie consumer, and have been rereading (last year, read all the Miss Marples – very satisfying!). There’s so much good crime out there, although my main inclination is towards the Golden Age stuff. But still, enjoy!

  2. Why is it I wonder that reading about violent death, extreme passions etc. etc. is so relaxing? It’s not even as if justice is always served or all the ends neatly tied up.

    • I know, isn’t it odd? It may be because we believe everything is going to come out, and a sort of genuine honesty about emotions and actions will finally be revealed, and that in itself can be a relief. But also, I think puzzle-solving is relaxing (there’s no other accounting for sudoko). It puts you into a different part of the brain. At least those are the thoughts that pop immediately into my head!

  3. Dear Litlove, concerning relaxing crime or detective stories, have you ever read books by Andrea Camilleri? I can’t judge the quality of English translation (the wordplay and language are extremely important here), but I would like to know your opinion about the author.

    • Magda, I have yet to read that author! But I do own one novel by Camilleri and I promise to read it very soon and to report on it. Otherwise, have a look at A Work In Progress blog (on my blogroll). I am sure Danielle has reviewed Camilleri novels relatively recently.

  4. Excellent, thank you! I can get the Robinson book from the library from my Nook, and the delightful spy novel sounds delightful and can be acquired at the physical library. Perfect.

    • Jenny, the wonderful thing about libraries is that you can try books at no personal cost! I would love to know what you think of these ones – do let me know, won’t you?

  5. I think this is something I’d like to read… esp. with the classical music components. What are some of the pieces? You know, I’m a fan of the crime writer Michael Connelly. I’ve read all his books with detective Harry Bosch who plays the sax and have a taste for jazz. And Connelly gathering all the music Bosch likes in his novels and made a CD. Isn’t that interesting. The fictional meets real life.

    • I’ve just borrowed a stack of Michael Connelly books off my Dad, so I will be trying him very shortly! This is the list of classical music that I was interested in from reading the Peter Robinson:

      Sol Galbetta – Elgar cello concerto
      Imogen Cooper – Schubert piano works (live)
      Tchaikovsky’s string quartets
      Susan Graham singing Nuits d’Ete
      Listz – Annees de pelerinage

      with apologies for lack of accents.

    • I must say I enjoy a recommendation too, as there are so many crime writers out there! It’s really hard to know who to try, without some idea of the kind of novels they write.

  6. Oooh, you’ve given me some reading inspiration. That last book in particular sounds good, am hoping the anti-German sentiment is not too off-putting because I have already put a hold on it at the library.

    • Catie, at least if you don’t like it you can return it to the library with no hard feelings! The anti-German sentiment tends to come in the form of the characters musing on how and why the German people have allowed Hitler to come to power and to behave the way he is (he is starting to invade other countries in the time when the book is set). This is a polite book essentially, not a harsh or bitter one. So it isn’t too bad, but I thought I had better mention it in case it treads on any sensitivities.

  7. I find reading crime fiction relaxing too – because (thankfully) it’s so removed from my own reality. I’ve read Before the Poison and thought it was a convincing mystery well told. Robinson’s Inspector Banks books are different and some are much better than others.

    I haven’t read the other two books – but Above Suspicion appeals to me more than We All Fall Down.

    • Margaret, I think you would enjoy Above Suspicion. I’m so glad you liked the Peter Robinson! I do seem to be getting the message that the quality of his novels is mixed, so I will tread carefully. Thank you!

  8. The only one of these author’s whose works I’ve read is Peter Robinson. I do very much enjoy his Inspector Banks books, but a word of warning. He is a writer who has grown tremendously over the years and if you start with the early Banks books they won’t be as stylish as this is. They get progressively better and I’m picking the latest up from the library at the end of the week.

  9. I like Peter Robinson’s series quite a bit and would very much like to read this. i wasn’t aware of his writing standalones.
    I don’t think however the last one would work for me. I’m somewhat allergic to the idea of a married couple as sleuths. I’m more into the lone wolf idea or a pair of detectives.

    • The beauty of crime is that you can usually find the sort of set-up that pleases. The Michael Kelly figure is very much a lone wolf sort of type, so that one might work well for you. Try The Fifth Floor first – it was the first I read of his and I enjoyed it.

  10. “there’s nothing quite so relaxing as crime” made me laugh. I know what you mean but take it out of context and it just sounds so funny, as though you are a crime boss or something. Which you might be and mild-mannered bookish person is just a front😉

    • Lol! I love this comment! Yes, you have unmasked me, and I am in fact the godfather of the Cambridge mafia, mmwhah -ha-haaaa! And frankly, I do it for the relaxation.🙂

    • Old school, my friend, but well-written. It’s interesting to see how she lets the story build, without needing to stick in masses and masses of plot (which is the modern way). And the spelling mistake is now a mere memory. (I tend to read blogs first thing in the morning, and I do not always have my contact lenses in; we will not talk about the mistakes I make!)

  11. Just stumbled on your site an hour ago and am still stuck here. About your Crime Spree entries…I read and write a lot of Crime, both non-fiction and novels, and I recently blogged a 2-part post titled “Why Crime?” musing, as you have, about the appeal. If you’d like to have a look, it’s at:

    http://www.tvlocicero.com/2012/08/23/why-crime/

    And if you have a moment, please check out the site. If one of my books catches your eye, I’ll be happy to send you a copy.

    In the meantime, I love your site, your blogroll is invaluable and I’ll certainly be coming back regularly.

    • Tom, that’s a great post – you do such a good job of summing up all the different reasons why we love a good crime novel. I think they all have a part to play, although for me, I know I love the puzzle and the restoration of order and justice. It’s seeing bullies get their comeuppance that really appeals! Thank you so much for the offer of a book – I’m afraid I don’t have an ereader or any app (I am a hopeless Luddite) but I’m delighted that you like the site and please do come back and visit again. You are very welcome!

      • Thanks so much for the kind words and the welcome. When we decide there’s something great about a crime novel, we may find ourselves wondering how it stacks up with what has become the gold standard, the literary novel. I’ve found a lot of people talking about this lately, so this morning I posted a kind of follow-up to the Why Crime? posts. It’s called Flirting with Genre, and it too is a two-parter. Here’s an excerpt:

        “The comparative value of genre fiction versus literary fiction? The topic has been hot lately, with interesting pieces by Gary Gutting in the NY Times, Arthur Krystal in The New Yorker, and Dwight Allen in the Los Angeles Review of Books. The term “guilty pleasure” is much bandied about in the discussion of genre novels, but I don’t set much store on it. I rarely feel guilty when I’m reading. It doesn’t matter what subject, style or genre, if I’m not getting some kind of value or pleasure from the collection of words in front of me—and that payoff can come in a multitude of ways—I usually stop reading and try something else.”

        I’d love to know how you and your visitors feel about this topic, so I hope you’ll check out the posts at: http://www.tvlocicero.com.

        By the way, I love your hat.

  12. I’m glad to have some good recommendations, since I’m gathering up all the entertaining reading I can find right now. My dad used to read Helen MacInnes a lot when I was younger, and I read some of her too, although I didn’t quite appreciate crime much at the time. I might enjoy her more now.

    • Crime is very entertaining although I shouldn’t say it like that! And a good sort of book to be reading when your attention is fragmented and you are a little sleep deprived! Helen MacInnes may well be more your cup of tea now – I so often find that books depend very much on our circumstances. The right book at the right time is a wonderful find.

  13. That sounds like an oxymoron–nothing so relaxing as a crime novel, but I know exactly what you mean! I seem to be reading more suspense this year than mysteries, but I am always on the look out for some good reads. I read Peter Robinson years ago but then nothing since and I am sure I would enjoy his books. I actually had this one out from the library–but you know how it goes–the line was moving and I need to return it and didn’t get it read. Maybe I’ll break down and just buy the paperback (so it can warm my bookshelves!). I’ve been waiting for those new reissues of Helen MacInnes’s books to come out and am happy to see they are available now. I even requested a review copy from the publisher–they have been kind enough to send me books–but everything except the MacInnes–such a tease! I’m sure I’ll get my hands on it soon enough. Glad to hear you liked it–she’s been on my radar for a while now. Must check out the Harvey, too. Now I am in the mood for a mystery–so must go see what is sitting on my night table–my reading has been very disorganized of late.

    • I am right with you in being a dedicated crime reader! There’s nothing quite like the satisfaction of a good piece of crime fiction and I’ve taken so many excellent recommendations from your site!🙂 I am pretty sure I first heard about Helen MacInnes there. There are quite a few of hers out now, but I pre-ordered a new release and have just heard it’s been delayed, so clearly the publisher is having a bit of a struggle getting them out! I am sure you would like her – she is such a good writer. I’d love to know what you think!

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