When my children were small, there were still independent bookstores in our city and a number of used bookstores, as well. It was in one of these that I first discovered Ngaio Marsh, a New Zealander who sits firmly in the classic mystery tradition and is often referred to as one of the Queens of Crime. (I’ll settle for the moniker Marquesa of Mystery, thank you very much.)
Marsh was active in theater production while living in England in the early 1930s where she wrote her first mystery, A Man Lay Dead, introducing the detective Roderick Alleyn of Scotland Yard. Compared to some of the amateur sleuths or pompous private investigators of the mystery genre, Alleyn is a professional and Marsh elevates him along with a literary style that gives her books depth.
As a theater producer and enthusiast, it is not surprising to find Ngaio Marsh used those references in her titles such as Opening Night or the Shakespearean A Surfeit of Lampreys.
Why not start at the beginning with the 1934 first in series?
The Indie Author of the week is Scarlett Moss, a pen name for author Scarlett Braden’s Cozy Mystery books. Scarlett is from the southern United States, but currently lives in the Andes mountains of Ecuador. She lives with her husband and Ecuadorian pound puppy, a Schnoodle, named Picasso. Picasso has the self-proclaimed job description of writer’s assistant, and husband Ron works promoting Scarlett’s books.
When she’s not writing, Scarlett loves enjoying the many festivals in her new adopted home, walks along the river, and sharing a coffee with friends. She does spend a little too much time on Social Media and loves hanging out with her readers in her Facebook group, Scarlett’s Cozy Couch.
Join the readers group here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/ScarlettsSafeRoom/ Sign up for Scarlett’s newsletter and receive free books including the prequel to the House Sitters Cozy Mystery here: https://www.subscribepage.com/mosscozymysteries
If there is such a thing as a writing machine, Janet Evanovich is it. And that is meant as a compliment. She started in her 30s beginning with serious novels that didn’t get published before diving into romance where she was productive and successful. She then developed the character for which she is most well-known, Stephanie Plum, a New Jersey bounty hunter with quirky friends and family. As of this writing, she has published 27 books in that series with number 28 coming out in November of 2021.
Remarkably, she has at least three other series: Fox & O’Hare, Wicked, and Knight & Moon written solely or in collaboration with others. What distinguishes her writing is its fast-pace, large doses of humor, snappy dialogue and action that have made her a #1 Bestseller for years.
Margery Allingham is in the pantheon of classic British mystery authors with her most famous creation, the gentleman sleuth, Albert Campion. Beginning in 1929, Allingham wrote 18 books with the detective (Campion is a pseudonym) light-heartedly solving crimes with the assistance of Magersfontein Lugg. Really, Dickens couldn’t have created a more absurd name that refers to a battle in the Boer War. I’m sure there is some amusing in-joke that readers of the time would understand, but it was lost on me.
That brings up the interesting issue of inserting contemporary issues into novels where the writing outlives the reference and many times I find myself going down the rabbit hole researching terms, names and places trying to figure it all out.
That digression aside, if you want to read one of the memorable detectives from the golden age of crime writing, Allingham is a smooth, clever and amusing writer. Below is a link to the first Campion book.
Shane is a Tucson artist and writer who divides her days between doing art and writing mysteries. She started her professional career as a newspaper journalist and later a university reference librarian with a strong sense of accuracy in her mysteries.
Shane’s first mystery series is about Letty Valdez, a private investigator based in Tucson. She is a Mexican American/O’odham who is an Iraq War vet. She tends to be on the serious side, and she does her best to bring right to the world. A martial arts expert, she prefers gong fu to a gun any day. The first Letty book is Desert Jade.
The second series, Cat Miranda Mysteries, is set in Bisbee. Cat is a lively personality who runs an art gallery. In the first Cat mystery, her plumber finds a dead body in the wall of Cat’s art gallery behind a big painting titled Kissed. She and Miles Trevelyan, a visiting scholar from the U.K., form an attachment to each other as they solve mysteries. Cat mysteries are both cozy mysteries, and also, thanks to Miles, romantic suspense. The second Cat mystery, Fair Play, comes out later this summer.
Sue Grafton had a long writing career beginning with television screenplays then transitioned to mysteries with Kinsey Millhone as the gumshoe. Her Alphabet series, beginning with “A is for Alibi,” was told from the standpoint of the former insurance company investigator turned private eye in Santa Teresa, California, standing in for Grafton’s own Santa Barbara. Kinsey is the self-sufficient single woman, jeans and turtleneck kind of gal, who doggedly follows the clues, cracking wise along the way. The secondary characters, such as her neighbor/landlord and eccentric extended family, the various ex-boyfriends, and a back story weave their way through all the books giving them a strong continuity. It is hard to believe that when she published her first mystery in 1982 the idea of a female detective was something of a novelty.
Dorothy Sayers, an English author, is best known for her amateur sleuth, Sir Peter Wimsey and between the two of them reinforce the tropes of the British detective novel. Although a scholar of classic and modern languages, Sayers worked for a living. Her first novel, Murder Must Advertise, had references to her time at an advertising agency where she helped create the promotional campaign for Guinness featuring zoo animals, most prominently the toucan.
This very modern job is in contrast to many of the allusions to Old Britain, its class system and the nature of relationships that are at the core of the Wimsey books. Wimsey is of course an aristocrat, lives as a gentleman, in other words doesn’t have much to do, is looked after by a ‘batman,’ basically a personal servant who assists in crime solving in addition to drawing Wimsey’s bath.
Sayers’ mysteries are intricately plotted with suspects’ actions timed to the minute, train schedules sometimes figuring in—a very British thing—and a lot of Wimsey’s patter to boot. The Nine Tailors was a revelation to me with a vivid description of the Fens in England, the sharp class distinctions and a devious solution. I’ve read it twice and can’t remember who done it and why, but there is a strange ceremony of bell ringing that figures into it. If it weren’t for Sayers, I would not know about Morris dancers, chimney pots, Maundy Thursday and many other quaint terms.
I like to highlight women writers of mystery and a fellow Tucsonan,
A. J. Flick, author of Toxic Rage, has just the background for mystery and true crime. She graduated from the University of Arizona with a degree in journalism and her byline has appeared in numerous news websites and publications across the country, covering everything from news to sports to entertainment.
A. J. covered the case detailed in Toxic Rage, her first book, while reporting for the now-defunct Tucson Citizennewspaper. I remember following the news coverage of the shocking, convoluted yet true story of two ophthalmologists excited to be working together whose professional split ended in a tragic murder. A.J. digs deep into the psyche of each of the men and the strange legal entanglements that followed.
Since leaving daily journalism, she has been working as a freelance journalist, editor, copywriter, screenwriter and campaign communications director. She grew up in Maryland, the Philippines, Indiana and Arizona and loves living in Tucson.
Here’s the link to the book on Amazon, which has it in print, digital and audio:
As an author, I have only recently begun to read is the multiple award-winning Sujata Massey. Born in England of European and Indian ancestry, she grew up in the United States. After college and a several years in journalism, she moved to Japan to teach English and like any long residency in a different culture, the experience influenced her significantly.
Ms. Massey began her fiction career with a bang with the creation of Rei Shimura, a bicultural woman. Although many reviewers use the term bi-racial in describing her, I avoid using the term ‘race’ as an anthropologist who recognizes race as a social construct, not a biological reality. The cultural divide, however, is a real one, and Rei straddles it as an amateur sleuth—always a fun mystery trope—by upending expected stereotypes as she ferrets out the motive and murderer. The Salaryman’s Wife was the first of eleven books before she transitioned to the India themed mysteries with which I am came to find her.
In the Widows of Malabar Hill, Massey again examines the intricacies of culture, religion and gender this time in 1900s Bombay with the protagonist Perveen, a female attorney trying to make sense of wealthy man’s will. Satapur Moonstone is the second in the series and Bombay Prince is due to be released in early June.
Of course, I need to start the Women of Mystery series with Agatha Christie, the Queen of Crime, due to her shaping and mastery of the genre and how prolific she was. It is estimated that approximately two billion copies of her books were sold in her lifetime and beyond as well as short stories and plays scripts. Some of her work was created at home in England, while traveling or accompanying her second husband, Dr. Max Mallowan, a noted Middle Eastern archaeologist at his excavation sites.
I wrote the first draft of DEADLY MOUNTAINS in a cave one spring in the Philippines where my archaeologist husband was working and while that might sound exotic, the drip of limestone water on my laptop was a bit of a nuisance. However, it was grounding to know that those drops of water were trying to create a stalagmite at my feet to be enjoyed by some future generations.
Knowing Christie’s extensive travels, you can pick out what in her lifetime would be exciting and for most people, out of reach experiences such as traveling on the Orient Express, visiting Egypt or vacationing in the Caribbean.
Her most famous creations were the Belgian detective Hercule Poirot, the village amateur sleuth Jane Marple, and my least favorite, the couple Tommy and Tuppance who spend altogether too much time nattering at each other. The author’s sensibilities were rooted in the 1920s, 30s and 40s but her plotting was spectacular.