In need of a book for bedtime reading, looking through bookshelves – and finding a Dick Francis mystery you haven’t read. That is true happiness.
I thought sadly that I’d read all of Dick Francis’ many novels. Then, twice in a couple months, when library books were finished and I searched my own books for something to tide me over, I found unread Dick Francis novels.
I love mystery novels. You get both a mystery and a glimpse into another world. With Francis, it’s many topics but always with some horse racing, whether steeplechase or flat. He was a top steeplechase rider for many years. Then he began writing about that world, wrapping a lot of horsey information in a good who-dun-it.
I’ve read that mystery novelists are accorded lesser status in the literary world than regular novelists. Like romance novelists, they are considered “genre literature”. I don’t agree with that difference in status ranking. In mysteries, I’ve explored human emotion and reactions, both good and evil, learned about subjects I’ve never really thought about before, and it’s all working toward an end – who did the dastardly deed.
Elizabeth George, Ian Rankin, Quentin Jardine, Michael Jecks, Martha Grimes, Andrew Greeley, Janet Evanovich, P. D. James – these are writers that I have devoured. All different in writing style, lead characters, subplots and settings. All have protagonists whose lives progress throughout the lifespan of the novels. With them, after randomly reading one of a series, I went back to the beginning and tried to read them sequentially. Among Canadian mystery writers I’ve discovered at the library are Lyn Hamilton and her archeological mysteries and the Murdoch books by Maureen Jennings.
Murdoch, a police series set in Victorian Toronto, has been very successfully adapted for television. The tv shows go beyond the books and I find them just as entertaining and insightful as the books themselves. Can’t say the same for the television adaptation of Elizabeth George’s Inspector Lynley series. I enjoy the Lynley shows, but they are not as rich as the books – truncated and not accurately reflective of the books’ characters.
I’m not fussy on the “cozies” – the Miss Marple-ish amateur sleuths (although I love the real Miss Marple). But I love some village series such as M. C. Beaton’s Highlands’ Hamish MacBeth books. I have no time for the young woman P.I. who never has any food in her house, but I make an exception for Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum. Tiresome are protagonists who put themselves in trouble because they insist on refusing help. I don’t like glib, wisecracking heroes or heroines. However, again, I love the originals of this persona in the novels of Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett and the incarnation by Robert B. Parker in his Spenser.
Twofer: the human condition and a puzzle
I like books that delve into the human, and societal, condition in their plot lines and characterizations. All the authors I mention above do that, in very different worlds. And, being mysteries, they add a second layer of information processing in figuring out who committed the crime and how they did it. They may be “genre” but it’s a genre that gives you two stories in one.
Above are other really good mystery novels by great jockeys.