My bookshelf is stuffed. It is, in fact, overflowing. I’m not sure, but there is probably a 12-Step group to address my mystery addiction. However, I’m not looking for a cure so much as bookshelf equilibrium.
I think my main bookshelf problem is that I tend to automatically reach for the authors I’m familiar with so I know I’ll be getting a good story and won’t spend a lot of time on books that turn out to be duds. To this end, I also don’t believe in compulsively finishing books I don’t like. Seriously, when I’m reading mysteries I’m reading for entertainment, if I’m not entertained then that kind of defeats the purpose. Life is too short and my bookshelf is too stuffed.
But I really like discovering new (new to me) mystery authors. There is a sense of discovery for me when reading books written by authors I haven’t read before. And, frequently, that has paid off. This last year I have discovered Elizabeth Peters and her Amelia Peabody mysteries, Chris Ewan and the Good Thief’s Guide books, Rhys Bowen and both her Molly Murphy series and the Her Royal Spyness series. But there have been some duds too. For example, I have no idea how Dana Stabenow’s Kate Shugak Alaska mysteries have won an Edgar award because they seem more like a book-length diatribe about Alaskan law and natural resources loosely interspersed with a very bleak mystery. And I’m still not sure how I feel about Nicola Upson’s book An Expert in Murder. The mystery seemed a little farfetched unless the murderer is very evil, cracked, and theatrical—however, she conveniently supplies a murderer who is just that.
So, despite the ups and downs, I’m resolving to read more books by authors I haven’t read before—for the sake of my bookshelf if nothing else. That’s the plan, anyway. And, if you would like to read along with me or give me any input on how you liked books by these authors, that would be swell too.
Here’s a list of a couple of the authors I’m planning on working up my courage to take a chance on this year.
Christopher Fowler. I don’t know how it is that I hadn’t discovered him sooner, but in just the last month I have become aware of his mystery series featuring John May and Arthur Bryant of London’s Peculiar Crimes Unit. May and Bryant are “detection’s oddest—and oldest—couple” who refuse promotion and simply want to solve peculiar crimes. I’m always looking for stories with interesting characters, characters who you want to actually spend your time with, and May and Bryant just might be the ticket. Oh, and according to the back of the book, Fowler is known for employing quirky humor in his books. I’m a big fan of quirky humor. Books in the Peculiar Crimes Unit series: Full Dark House (2004), The Water Room (2006), Seventy-Seven Clocks (2005), Ten Second Staircase (2006), White Corridor (2007), The Victoria Vanishes (2008), Bryant & May On the Loose (2009).
Carl Hiaasen. A recommendation from my dad, Hiaasen’s stories are set in south Florida where, apparently, people are crazy. At least, I’m guessing they’re crazy based on the teasers on the backs of the books. Every description of Hiaasen’s stories that I have read suggests these books are hilarious. I’m going to cross my fingers and hope that the author who helped define Florida noir puts plenty of vitamin C into his mysteries, something I’ll need this winter. Some of his books for adults: Skinny Dip, Nature Girl, Strip Tease, Sick Puppy, Tourist Season.
Patrick F. McManus. I grew up reading some of his comical works like The Night the Bear Ate Gumba and Rubber Legs and White Tail Hairs, but now the guy who made me laugh at mountain man Rancid Crabtree has branched out into mystery writing. His sleuth is a Sheriff Bo Tully of Blight County, Idaho who has to put up with an ornery father as well as crime. I made a half-hearted attempt to read one of these mysteries, but I don’t think I was in the right mood, or I was expecting it to be more like his other works. This year, I will have to give Bo Tully another try. Bo Tully mysteries: The Blight Way: A Sheriff Bo Tully Mystery (2006), Avalanche (2007), The Double-Jack Murders (2009).
Laura Joh Rowland. I made a half-hearted attempt to start reading one of her books right before Thanksgiving one year, but with all the bustle of cooking and cleaning and company arriving and then leaving, I just didn’t have the time to devote to the book for it to really grab me. But I would like to because her series is set in 17th century Japan and I like the idea of reading about the protagonist’s (samurai Sano Ichiro) quest to solve murders in the midst of the intrigues of the shogun’s court. And, as a plus, there are 14 books in the series so far. First five books in the Sano Ichiro series: Shinju (1996), Bundori (1997), The Way of the Traitor (1997), The Concubine’s Tattoo (2000), The Samurai’s Wife (2001)
Qiu Xiaolong. My dad is the one who got me started reading Colin Cotterill’s series featuring the irascible Dr. Siri Paiboun. So, I have hopes that this series will be good too. However, dad has not been an infallible judge of what I will like in the past (I didn’t like The Sultan’s Seal at all), so it is hard to place absolute trust his recommendations. In this series Chief Inspector Chen tries to stamp out crime in his corner of China, occasionally even with the help of the Communist Party. Books in the Inspector Chen Cao series: Death of a Red Heroine (2003), A Loyal Character Dancer (2003), When Red is Black (2005), A Case of Two Cities (2006), Red Mandarin Dress (2007), The Mao Case (2009).