Kate Flora, here, and yes, I really did mean that crime can be comforting. Let me begin with a story.
Several years ago…fifteen, to be more precise…we suffered a terrible national tragedy on a day in September when terrorists flew airplanes into the Twin Towers and the Pentagon. Shortly after that event, my friend Hallie Ephron had a book launch planned. She arrived at the book party a little bit late, and a little bit frustrated, having just come from doing a radio interview. In the course of that interview, the interviewer had challenged the legitimacy of holding the launch of a crime novel at such a terrible time. Didn’t Hallie feel guilty, the interviewer inquired, about promoting fiction that profits from violence and death?
Hallie’s reply was brilliant, and correct. She said that we should all wish that the real world was more like the world of a crime novel, where good guys triumph, bad guys get caught, and moral order is restored to the world.
I don’t know about you, but I am feeling a great need for order and comfort and morality right now. Which is why I am suggesting that you join me in taking refuge in reading crime novels.
It really doesn’t matter which corner of the big crime-writing tent you choose. Maybe you lean toward romantic suspense, with that double happy ending of crime solved or dastardly deed averted and a bit of happy ever after. Or perhaps you like the shoot ‘em up, beat ‘em up, casual violence of a Paladin like Lee Child’s Jack Reacher, books which provide a reliably American hero to root for who will always step up for the underdog. Maybe you like the mind-game contests between the investigators and the diabolical bad guys in one of Jeff Deaver’s brilliantly plotted thrillers? Or feel comforted by the idea of having Robert Crais’s Joe Pike watching your back? Personally, I’d like to hang out with Sara Paretsky’s V.I. Warshawski.
Perhaps your cup of tea is more in the vein of Agatha Christie? Less blood, more social norms. Right now, it can be very comforting to spend time with people who have good manners and obey social conventions. A bit of Margery Allingham, perhaps, and the very proper Albert Campion and his manservant Lugg, or the charmingly bumbling Lord Peter Whimsey, with his impeccable servant and the insightful and witty Harriet Vane? Even when we learn that Harriet has committed the shocking act of cohabiting before marriage, she is still a model of good manners and decorum.
Maybe the wearying cycle of bad news just makes you want to get out of town. Go someplace different where you can steep yourself in the landscape and forget about the state of the country. For that, you could go west with Tony Hillerman, or into the wilds of Wyoming with Craig Johnson’s Sheriff Longmire, or up to the wilds of Minnesota with William Kent Krueger. Or you could spend more time in Maine with Barbara Ross’s Clam Bake series or Lea Wait’s Shadow’s series.
If you really need to get out of town, there are mysteries set all over the world, and you could just set up a twelve-month calendar and visit a different venue every month.
Personally, right now, I would love someone to have my back…one of those kick-ass sidekicks who do bad stuff and break laws and compel cooperation and answers from the reluctant? If you’d like to explore sidekicks, we did a blog post here a while back on the subject. Here’s the link: http://mainecrimewriters.com/group-post/whod-have-your-back Stephanie Plum, perhaps? She might loan you Ranger. Or you can make up your own sidekick, which might be a fun way to spend another afternoon avoiding the news.
Feeling dystopic? How about Ben Winter’s The Last Policeman?
Or if you want to be transported by descriptive prose, go back to an old Mary Stewart romantic suspense, or make your way through John D. MacDonald. Both will have some dated social conventions, and some rather old-fashioned versions of the male/female relationship. But right now, that doesn’t seem half bad.
And guess what?
The good guys win.
So, dear reader, if you are going to escape into crime fiction, what will you be reading? (I am so hoping it is my new Joe Burgess)
Between now and December 9th, folks who leave comments will be eligible to win a bag of goodies perfect for your mystery reading escape–tea and biscuits! (Actually including Effie’s Oatcakes, which are perfectly heavenly. And perhaps some shortbreads?)
I’m so excited for the new Joe Burgess! Next a new Thea Kozak?
All very good suggestions..Loved Harriet Vane, but wanted to be like her m-i-l. 🙂
Thank you, Kate. You just validated my reading this week. I gobbled up Kait Dunnett’s “The Corpse Wore Tartan,” then our Little Free Library presented me with an old Archer Mayor, “Borderlines.” Smart people working hard to bring justice to the world–I needed that. And you’ve inspired me to get cracking on my own cozy mystery, set in Ogunquit.
Glad you enjoyed THE CORPSE WORE TARTAN. Snowbound in a hotel is about as far away from the real world as you could get! Best of luck with your writing.
Thank you! Great prescription for what ails me.
Thank you for the comforting thoughts at this difficult time for many.
My escape is with the 1950s crime/thriller writer, William P. McGivern. Here’s a description of some of his novels, a number made into movies, from Speedy Mystery:
My favorite so far is “Night Extra” (1957), in which the protagonist is a newspaper reporter who writes a crime/scandal type column for a mythical or unnamed big city (being from New Jersey, it sounds like Newark to me). McGivern’s treatment of the protagonist gave me ideas which I hope helped me create some verisimilitude between a character in a novel which I’m writing, set in 1960, and real newspapermen/journalists of that era.
Thanks so much for this column, Kate. It led me to take some deep breaths, something in short supply in my life this week. And it also made me smile, reading about so many authors I’ve read and enjoyed.
As for right now, I’m reading See Also Murder by Larry D. Sweazy. It’s set in mid-1960s North Dakota, a state about which I know little, and with main character a woman indexer. The setting and situation is somewhat grim, but at least it’s an escape from the realities of this week!
I can see, Pat, that I’m going to have to expand my reading list.
As soon as the book due on the 15th goes in, I am going on a reading binge!
My prescription for myself this week, actually the past couple of weeks, has been reading — rereading, actually — Lee Martin’s Deb Ralston series. Unorthodox though she may be, Deb always gets her perp, and there are enough warm chuckles from the antics of her unusual family and pet cats — Rags and Margaret Scratcher — and dog — Pat the Pitbull — to warm any heart. I think I’ll go back and reread some Lord Peter next. After I read the newest Joe Burgess, that is.
Smiling. Hope you like the new Joe B…I’m now cooking up a plot for the next one.
Also, I don’t know the Deb Ralston series, so I’m going to look into this.
Unfortunately, they aren’t available for Kindle, but used DTB copies are easy to find. They’re procedurals — written in the ’80’s and 90’s, so the technology is outdated, but the author is a former policewoman and fingerprint analyst, so they’re pretty authentic. Martin is also Anne Wingate/Martha Webb.
Kate – may I copy your post to a blog I write for our local library book discussion group – we’ll be talking about mysteries next month – we do subjects rather than specific books. I would of course give you total credit and mention the blog.
Absolutely feel free to share it, Dottie. And I’ll dig around and see if I can find the old one where I interviewed librarians about why their patrons are drawn to crime. I got some great answers.
You are so right, Kate. Looking forward to the Crime Bake. See you soon. Got to buy your book a.s.a.p.!
Kate, a cup of tea and a good book like Led Astray is the best prescription for any day. Looking forward to reading it.
Wonderful post! Since your visit to the Merrimack Library, I’ve been inspired to try my hand writing a NaNoWriMo mystery…attempted murder anyone? So far, it’s been very interesting to turn things around and “actively” plot against someone. Still not sure who’s behind all of it, but we’re only in week 2…
Good for you, Yvette! If you get stuck, put on that horned helmet and flip a situation. Since our panel, I’ve had such fun thinking about flipping things. I even pitched a short story with a peculiar twist on Michele Obama today.
I forgot to include funny mysteries, which we all need right now. If you can find it, grab Edmund Crispin’s The Glimpses of the Moon, one of the funniest books ever.
You stated the big reasons I love mysteries, Good guys win, Bad guys get caught and punished. I am currently escaping the world in Karen E. Olson’s Shadowed.
That was great, Kate. Would have commented without the biscuit tease and will keep a copy of your post because there are authors (and escapes) you included I didn’t know about. And instead of heads in sand, or heads on chopping blocks, or even exploding heads… you offered heads in books. That was great. Thanks!
So many choices, it’s like a crime story buffet. And Joe Burgess is on the main table.
I went with romantic suspense – first a stand-alone, then a J.D. Robb re-read. But police procedurals are my default mystery preference as a form of comfort reading, so I’ll be getting Led Astray shortly!
Great advice, Kate, and your book sounds great.