Archive for category Classic Mystery

Summer Reading List – Golden Age Mysteries

I’m going to be posting some summer reading lists throughout the, well, summer. These won’t be in-depth reviews, just a list of “hey, these are great and you should drop everything and read them now!” books. I’m going to be doing it by genre, and for my first genre I’m picked Golden Age Mysteries. These are the mysteries that many people think of as the “classic” mysteries, typically written in the 1920’s or 1930’s. I love this era – so much so that they comprise the vast majority of the mysteries on my personal bookshelves that survive my frequent purges. So, here’s your summer reading list for Golden Age Mysteries:

  1. Gaudy Night (1935) by Dorothy Sayers. Normally I wouldn’t recommend starting with this one (just because it’s not the first and I’m a bit obsessive that way), but I think it really is her best and if you want to give Sayers a try, this is the one to do it with.
  2. Murder on the Orient Express (1934) by Agatha Christie. Probably my favorite Christie, and a great introduction to her work.
  3. Opening Night / Night at the Vulcan (alternate title) (1951) by Ngaio Marsh. I’ve only read a handful of Marsh’s works, but I’ve enjoyed all the ones that I have read. I’d rate her a bit below Agatha Christie, but still very fun to read if you like this genre. She was from New Zealand and worked in the theatre, so several of her works are set in the theatre as this one is (and also features a heroine fresh off the boat from NZ).
  4. Death of a Ghost (1934) by Margery Allingham. This is my favorite Allingham. Her work is a bit darker than any of the others I’ve mentioned, but this one especially is extremely well crafted. Some of her books I found the characters to be flat, but in this one they are more fleshed out.

The four authors above are considered the four original “Queens of Crime”, and reading one of each of their works would certainly constitute a good introduction into the golden age of detective fiction. Another author that I hear frequently recommended along with the four above is Josephine Tey, but I have yet to read any of her works.  So, as a bonus, I’m including:

        5. Anything by Josephine Tey. This is going on my reading list for the summer.

I hope you enjoy your first reading assignment from me – look for more to come!

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Review of the Lord Peter & Harriet Vane mysteries by Dorothy Sayers

Bottom line: Great mysteries, great characters, great writing. I cannot recommend these highly enough.

Rating: Strongly Recommended

Review:

Gaudy Night is my all-time favorite book. Not just mystery, but book. The other three books in this series are all very, very good (though I’d rate Have His Carcase a bit below the other three – it’s slow in places). The depth of Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane, combined with their interactions, feel more real than any other characters I’ve read. It feels more like being in a room with two people you know well than reading a story about fictional creations.

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Five Free Kindle E-book Classic Mysteries Written in the 1800s

I think it’s interesting to read some of the earliest mysteries and science fiction and see what has changed in the genres over the centuries. Some are as enthralling as the day they were published and some….not so much. Here are five free Kindle e-book mysteries from some of the writers who popularized the genre and inspired those who came later.

The Cask of Amontillado (1846) – Edgar Allan Poe  (short story)

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect when I started this, but I ended up liking it. It’s a REALLY short story. I think it could have benefitted from explaining what the offence was that had been committed against the narrator, but it’s a creepy (in a good way) short read from the perspective of the perpetrator. More of a thriller than a mystery.

The Woman in White (1859) – Wilkie Collins

Of the five books here, I found this one to be the most of a slog. It’s long, and there is a lot of  “women are to be pretty and helpless”, but if you can get past that it’s a well thought out plot, and the way the amateur detective goes about uncovering the evidence seemed pretty believable. The main perpetrator reminded me a lot of Agatha Christie’s perpetrator in The Man In the Brown Suit, but I don’t know if that was an homage or coincidental on her part.

Crime and Punishment (1866) – Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Parts of this book drag a bit, but it was an interesting look at Russian life during that time. The names can get a bit confusing (not because they’re Russian, but because each person has several different names, all used interchangeably depending on the person speaking). It’s different from many mysteries in that we get the point of view of the killer, but there is definitely murder, and detectives, and uncovering of evidence, and then resolution. It was a little uncomfortable to witness the effect the crime has on the killer’s mind, but definitely fascinating. Plus, there’s the advantage of being able to say “oh, you know, just reading a little Dostoyevsky”  to anyone you want to impress. Fair warning: It’s REALLY long.

The Leavenworth Case (1878) – Anna Katharine Green

The first novel of of one of the earliest mystery writers in America (at least according to Wikipedia). It has many elements of what I usually think of as the typical English mystery – a murder of a wealthy person in a locked house, secrets of those who may stand to gain from his death, a side of romance, unexpected twists and turns in the plot, and ending with the detective eliciting a confession from the guilty party. Some of the language feels a bit dated, and there are a few typos, but definitely worth a read.

The Sign of the Four (Sherlock Holmes #2) (1890) – Arthur Conan Doyle

This is one of my favorite Sherlock Holmes mysteries, and it’s free! Fantastical elements in a story that stretches back in time and halfway across the world. Holmes and Watson are in fine form, despite the distraction of a fair lady…

Bonus:

Not free, you’ll have to shell out $0.99 for this book, but if you want to read about Holmes from the beginning, there is:

A Study in Scarlet (Sherlock Holmes Vol.1) (1887) – Arthur Conan Doyle

Have you read any of these books? Still enjoyable despite the 100 – 150 years they’ve been around?

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A Handful of Agatha Christie Mystery Recommendations

Agatha Christie is one of my favorite authors. That being said, most of her books are of the “read it and forget it” type of mystery. I think her talents tend more towards great storytelling/clever murder ideas (which she does better than just about anybody) than exceptional literary skill. You can go into just about any thrift store or library and pick up an Agatha Christie, knowing that odds are good it will be a really fun ride. As with many mystery writers, I find that once I’ve read one of her stories and know the solution, I’m not generally interested in rereading that book. However, these books below are some of my favorites, and I’ve enjoyed them over and over again. So, consider the following as “Strongly Recommended” and in no particular order:

Side note: for those of you who like to start from the beginning, or just want to try before you buy, check out my review of The Mysterious Affair at Styles, Christie’s first novel, and available for free on Kindle or free Kindle reader apps.

Click below to see list of recommendations:

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Review of Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie (1920) (Hercule Poirot Book 1) Free Kindle E-Book

Bottom line: A classic Golden Age mystery, by the Queen of mystery, although not her greatest work. The first time the world was introduced to the Hercule Poirot – the funny little man with the egg shaped head and impressive mustache.

Rating: Recommended IF – you are looking for a free mystery, you want to try an Agatha Christie, or you are a Christie fan and want to see where it all began.

Blurb:

Agatha Christie’s famous Belgian detective Hercule Poirot makes his debut in “The Mysterious Affair at Styles.” The mystery of the novel is the one of who poisoned wealthy heiress Emily Inglethorp and how did the killer get in and out of her locked bedroom. The suspects are many and Poirot must use Holmesian deduction to discover the killer. Mystery fans will delight in the first installment of Agatha Christie’s famous series of Poirot mystery novels.

Review:

This is Agatha Christie’s first Hercule Poirot mystery, and also her first novel. It was fun to see Poirot introduced to the world for the first time, along with his trusty sidekick, Captain Hastings. However, it was the first time for me to reread this book in a long while, and what struck me was how much it felt like a pilot episode of a tv show. If I’m trying a new show, I always watch the pilot first, and if there are even a few things I like about it, I’ll try the next episode. Often it feels like characters have little depth to them, and the action and dialogue haven’t quite melded into the right style yet.

That’s how I felt about this book – the plot twists felt a little contrived, and the characters (Hastings especially) felt a little one-sided compared to Christie’s later books. It’s still an enjoyable read, and an interesting mystery, I just didn’t think it was as good as some of her other books. However, given the dearth of free e-book mysteries, this is a good way to try out one of (if not the) most popular writers of all time. But if you liked it, even a bit, you must try some of her later books.

Available:  Free Kindle E-Book at Amazon and iTunes, $0.99 – $2.99 for the Nook Book at Barnes & Noble. Also available as a paperback. 

What did you think? Did you like the book?

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