I Don’t Read Crime Fiction Just for the Crimes
I don’t read crime fiction just for the crimes.
Well, sometimes I do. When I pick up an Agatha Christie novel, I’m usually in it solely for the intricacy of the plot—to see how the whodunit was done. But there are other instances when the murder(s), adventures, thrills and suspense of each book—usually in a series—are but an excuse for me to spend time with the cast of recurring characters. I become just as invested emotionally and storytelling-wise, possibly more, in the lives of these characters as they move through a crime-strewn landscape as I am in the cases that give me a reason to revisit these people.
That doesn’t mean the mystery element in these stories are less good. On the contrary, they are usually stellar. It’s just that the recurring characters and their own stories are exceptional.
Chief Inspector Gamache Series by Louise Penny
When a lot of murders take place in or near a village so tiny it’s not even on the map, you would think the residents would freak out and an air of macabre dread would hang over the place.
Yet it is not so at Three Pines. The village remains something of a Shangri-La, pristine and enviable, saved from being saccharine by the snark and bittersweetness with which Louise Penny imbues the longtime residents of the village.
And her detective, Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Sûreté du Québec, is a man of incorruptible virtues who is yet entirely human. He, his warm, wise wife, and his team from the Sûreté form an interesting, sometimes tense, yet close-knit community with the residents of the village.
The bone-deep rectitude of Gamache and the trust and connection of this community are what I keep coming back for, an almost meditative rumination on the best possibilities of being human. And these books are what made me decide, in my own Lady Sherlock mysteries, that I needed to create a similarly cohesive, if somewhat smaller, community.
The Lord Peter Wimsey/Harriet Vane Quartet by Dorothy L. Sayers
I once came across a strong recommendation for a book called Gaudy Night and immediately laid my hands on a copy only to abandon it not too far in because there were so many characters—each referred to variously by first name, last name, and position of authority—that I felt I was trying to complete a logic puzzle rather than enjoy a work of fiction.
And then, I got into the Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries by Dorothy L. Sayers and saw, lo and behold, that there was going to be a love story for our detective. Being an inveterate lover of a good romance—I began my career in historical romances—I swiftly consumed the first two books of the four-book arc.
Only to realize that the third and pivotal volume was the dreaded Gaudy Night.
Readers, I girded myself and waded in—and was amply rewarded once I figured out who was who. The mystery was well-done, but the love story, ah, it was sublime.
The Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes Books by Laurie R. King
I started The Beekeeper’s Apprentice on audio, back when audiobooks still came on cassettes. The only cassette player I had at the time was in my car, and I didn’t drive enough to “read” as much of the story as I liked. So halfway through, I ditched the audio and got a physical copy so that I could have more of it faster.
The series hold a special place in my heart because they are what first inspired the thought in my head that perhaps someday I could write my own Sherlock Holmes adaptation.
But they also hold a special place in my heart because it’s the first time I’d seen such a true and equal partnership between a man and a woman, in every way, in fiction. I enjoy seeing what adventure each new installment brings, but I am really in it for the partnership.
The Brontë Sisters Mysteries by Bella Ellis
I might not have picked up The Vanished Bride, the first volume in Bella Ellis’s Brontë Sisters mysteries on my own; mid-19th century isn’t my favorite time period, and I knew next to nothing of either the Brontë sisters or their works. But my publisher sent me a copy, and I’m so glad they did.
The book takes place at a rather discouraging moment in the sisters’ lives. They’d returned home to Yorkshire from various places further afield in disappointment and disillusion. They had yet to publish—or even finish—their great works. Their brother was on an alarming downward spiral. Their father was old and frail. And life seemed small and hopes scant.
The mystery is great—a proper gothic beast fit for the imagination of the Brontës. But it is the sisters themselves who are the book’s greatest draw, their fierce love and loyalty to one another, their lust for life, their indomitable resolve that they would make something of themselves in their allotted time on earth.
Only one book has been published in the series, but I can’t wait for future releases to traverse the moors alongside the Brontë sisters.
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