I Don’t Read Crime Fiction Just for the Crimes

Author Sherry Thomas doesn't read crime fiction just for the crimes—it's the characters and relationships and communities that keep her coming back for more! Here, she discusses some of her favorite mystery series and why she can't get enough. Bonus: comment on the post below to enter for a chance to win a copy of her fourth Lady Sherlock mystery, The Art of Theft.

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

Lord Peter Wimsey & Harriet Vane
Harriet Vane (Harriet Walter) and Lord Peter Wimsey (Edward Petherbridge) in Have His Carcass (1987).

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.

Comment below for a chance to win a copy of The Art of Theft by Sherry Thomas.

To enter, make sure you’re a registered member of the site and simply leave a comment below.

The Art of Theft Comment Sweepstakes: NO PURCHASE NECESSARY TO ENTER OR WIN.  A purchase does not improve your chances of winning.  Sweepstakes open to legal residents of 50 United States, D.C., and Canada (excluding Quebec), who are 18 years or older as of the date of entry.  To enter, complete the “Post a Comment” entry at http://www.criminalelement.com/i-dont-read-crime-fiction-for-crimes-art-theft-comment-sweepstakes/ beginning at 1:00 p.m. Eastern Time (ET) October 15, 2019. Sweepstakes ends at 12:59 p.m. ET October 29, 2019. Void outside the United States and Canada and where prohibited by law. Please see full details and official rules here. Sponsor: Macmillan, 120 Broadway, New York, NY 10010.

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  1. John Smith

    I haven’t watched that 1987 “Have His Carcass”–I’ll have to look that up! I love Lord Peter Wimsey!

  2. Jeannine

    Yes, the characters interaction drives the story. I usually come for the characters too.

  3. Susan T.

    The Vanished Bride was such a great start so I’m excited for the series!

  4. Lois A Becker

    I am going to have to look into this series as I love Sherlock stories, and Lady Sherlock to boot. Awesome. thanks for sharing and the chance of winning.

  5. Rosemarie Simonelli

    Please enter me in the contest for free copy of ”The Art of Theft”! I am mad for this book!

  6. Joan Salinger

    All of these sound interesting, so I will have to look into them.

  7. Shelly Garnett

    I cannot wait to read the new release

  8. Tiffany

    This looks so good!

  9. Patricia

    I am a fan of a number of series, and enjoy the various locales and time periods. Once I find a series that I enjoy, I am compelled to read all of the books. Some of my series are newer and some require that I search for copies either in the many libraries where I hold cards, at book sales, used book outlets, and online.
    I lhave read all of Doyle’s Sherlock and now l look forward to Lady Sherlock.

  10. Jackie Wisherd

    I would love to read your book. It sounds very interesting.

  11. Jane Schwarz

    I have also enjoyed the books and characters that you have mentioned. Thank you for the opportunity to win a copy of “The Art of Theft”.

  12. Portia Asher

    I loved Lady Sherlock and I would love to read THE ART OF THEFT…

  13. Mary Kearney

    I keep reading series because I, too, enjoy the characters. Thank you for chance to win.

  14. John Davis

    Like Ms. Thomas I remain fascinated by characterization. I stand astounded indeed whenever I read series in which the persona of the investigator(s) develops, or even modifies in a realistic way. In particular, I too am charmed by any Sherlock Holmes related pastiches.

  15. Terry

    WOW! Thank you so very much. I love the Lady Sherlock Series so much that I got my sister hooked on them as well.

  16. Marisa Young

    Yes, it is the people, not the crimes.

  17. Carolyn

    I haven’t read any of the Bronte Sisters books, so I’ll have to give them a try. I have read the other series mentioned, all excellent. Looking forward to reading this book too!

  18. lasvegasnv

    interesting books

  19. Karen Parisot

    There’s nothing better than a good mystery. These are all great, and it’s wonderful that you’re writing a new series for all us mystery fans.

  20. carloshmarlo

    I’ve seen The Art of Theft on a couple of blogs today. It looks like a winner to me. Thanks for the chance to win a copy.

  21. kathy

    It sounds like a fabulous new series!

  22. Anne

    Captivating and wonderful.

  23. Pearl

    A great new and intriguing series.

  24. Lori P

    Haven’t read a series in order, uninterrupted by other series, for awhile. Must make a point of doing it again, sooner rather than later, in order to become better immersed in all of the above.

  25. Linda Farabaugh

    I love mystery series books. Have read all the books in this series, except The Art of Theft.I love to read books about Sherlock Holmes. Try the Leonard Goldberg books on the daughter of Sherlock Holmes. Very good. Thanks for a chance to win the latest in Sherry Thomas’s series.

  26. Desmond Warzel

    Count me in, please!

  27. Kristine Bihm

    These all sound great! Added to the TBR!

  28. Emell

    I look forward to a new Sherry Thomas book.

  29. Dianna Young

    Love the cover…

  30. mindy

    Some of my favorites. The mystery is secondary.

  31. Jerrie Adkins

    You have impeccable taste in authors and series.

  32. Suzanne McMannis

    sure would like to win this Sherlock story

  33. Julie McDonough

    I do enjoy the characters and their interactions as much as the mystery.

  34. Michael Carter

    I’d love to win.
    Please count me in to this sweepstakes.
    Thanks —

  35. Diana Hardt

    It sounds like a really interesting book.

  36. M Thompson

    The Lady Sherlock series sounds interesting – would be great to win.

  37. threepinesfan

    I knew Louise Penny’s Inspector Gamache series would be on the list. I would love th win your book, victorian murder mysteries are a favorite of mine.

  38. C

    Sounds interesting-thank you for the giveaway!

  39. DebP

    I’d love to read The Art of Theft. I always get excited over a good, intricate mystery.

  40. Susan Lynn Smith

    Some of my favorites! I’d love to win your latest book.

  41. Susan Morris

    I love the complicated characters in the detective novels. Their eccentricities make for great reading! Another great series is the Charles Lenox books by Charles Finch. Would love to read your latest Lady Sherlock mystery!

  42. Patricia Reed

    Huge fan!! I have loved this series from the start and can’t read to read this one. Love Agatha and have read all the Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes series, too.

  43. alexhydra11

    i watched that series i loved it

  44. Jay

    I’m a big fan of the Laurie R. King Mary Russell series as well. But I’m saddened to see that I’ve missed out on Sherry Thomas’ series and now I need to go about picking up the books. I’d love to win a copy of this newest one!

  45. CarolT

    I, too, read mysteries for characters, including place. The mysteries themselves are usually secondary to the reading (tho almost always first rate).

  46. Pellington21

    Will have to look for these books. Thanks!

  47. Teresa

    I love all these series. I haven’t read the Bronte novel yet, but I love Inspector Gamache and Three Pines.

  48. Amanda82

    I absolutely loved the first three books and cannot wait to read the fourth one!

  49. Erika Acosta

    Sounds great, I’d love to win, read & review!

  50. Theresa

    I’m also a HUGE fan of Louise Penny and Laurie R King!!!!
    Looking forward to reading this one!!!

  51. Kim

    I’m looking forward to reading this book.

  52. Rochelle Melander

    I absolutely read books because I fall in love with the characters. That’s why I love the idea of a series, it’s like getting together with old friends every single time!

  53. susan beamon

    I have dipped my eyeballs in each of the names series, and others besides. Some you just have to go back for the people.

  54. Daniel M

    sounds like a fun one

  55. Rebecca Swanson

    As a big fan of the Lady Sherlock series it’s interesting to see what Sherry Thomas reads herself!

  56. Tiffany

    This look really good

  57. MelodyJ

    Characters and plot are equally important to me.

  58. Christal M

    I’d love to read this

  59. lisa

    Character interaction, historical context, and character development all pique my interest, not just the crimes

  60. martin bodnar

    thanks for the chance to win. . …

  61. Robin

    I also mystery series for their characters – Louise Penny is a stellar example. I appreciate when their lives are multi-faceted and have depth. I will admit I have tired of series where the characters’ lives revolve around their work to exclusion of everything else. Or they’re so depressingly miserable all the time; you know the type: they live in a crappy apartment because they can’t be bothered to find anything else, they have no friends, no family, no pets, they don’t read, don’t appreciate art. Their lives are just this dismal, grey purgatory interrupted by the crimes they solve. Those wear me down because, let’s face it, they’re boring!

  62. L

    I agree, the development of the characters and their relationships really bring a story to life and make me that much more invested in the mystery!

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