According to my list, I read 47 books in 2009. If I had thought about it somewhere in December, sometime before I wrote about my resolution to read more books by authors I haven’t read before, I would have written about my favorite books and authors in 2009. But I didn’t. Instead my sister had a baby in mid-December and I went into big-time auntie mode.
However, even if it wasn’t done in as orderly a way as I would have liked, it still seemed like a good idea to share some of my favorite books read last year. I get tired of the only books you hear about being the ones with publishers who have the cash to pay off reviewers, or those “achingly haunting” depressing coming-of-age/women-with-problems books. Nope, I’m just into good, clean murder mystery fun.
Suzanne Arruda. Technically, I discovered Suzanne Arruda and her feisty heroine Jade del Cameron in December of 2008, but I didn’t finish the book The Mark of the Lion until after New Year’s. While the book has its flaws, like a rather weak McGuffin for getting Jade out to Africa at the end of WWI, once she’s in Africa and on her mission to find her dead fiancee’s lost half-brother, the story picks up. I loved the warm, vivid way Arruda wrote about Africa, the British, and the wildlife. Jade herself is occasionally tiresome because she is almost, but not quite, a female version of Teddy Roosevelt. But overall, I liked this book as well as the next two in the series (Stalking Ivory, The Serpent’s Daughter). The settings in post WWI Africa are rich with historical detail letting me feel like I’m on vacation—and a vacation to warm, sun baked Africa sounds pretty good right now because yesterday the high was 14 degrees. There are five books in the series, I just haven’t read The Leopard’s Prey or The Treasure of the Golden Cheetah yet.
Bruce Alexander. Alexander’s book Murder in Grub Street is a solid follow up to his first book in his Sir John Fielding series Blind Justice. Set in London, England in the 1700s, Alexander’s protagonist/narrator Jeremy Proctor is all set to start an apprenticeship with a printer in Grub Street when the printer and his entire household are brutally murdered just the day before Jeremy was to start. Blind Justice was good, but I think I liked Murder in Grub Street better because Jeremy acquired a friend his own age and acted like a real kid. Alexander wrote eleven books in this series before his death in 2003 and, when I was at Barnes & Noble last week, I saw Blind Justice with brand-spanking new cover art so it looks like they are being re-released, making it is a good time to start reading the series.
Chris Ewan. The saying, “You can’t judge a book by the cover,” may be true, but I think a lot can be said for titles. I picked up The Good Thief’s Guide to Paris solely for the title and was pleased to find it did not disappoint. Set in modern-day Paris, the book follows the adventures of international author Charlie Howard who writes mysteries about a fictional cat burglar. However, Charlie really is a cat burglar and the burglary racket is much more complicated than the plots of his novels, and much more likely to get him killed. The book jacket described Charlie Howard as “the most disarming burglar since Cary Grant in To Catch a Thief” and I thought that was a pretty tall order, but the book delivers, mostly. So far there are two books in the series, The Good Thief’s Guide to Amsterdam and The Good Thief’s Guide to Paris.
Tarquin Hall. I have been fascinated with India since I was about four-years-old and went to a Hindu wedding. Eventually, I would dearly love to visit that country, but in the meantime I have discovered a writer whose rich details and commentary on modern Indian life were both entertaining and insightful. In The Case of the Missing Servant our detective, Vish Puri (a.k.a. Chubby) makes his stand for getting to the truth, being thorough, and employing strategic use of technology, even while he thinks technology has played a part in the breakdown of Indian society. The book really flowed and I didn’t want to put it down. Best of all, there was a handy glossary at the back so I could find out what all those strange terms I was reading meant. Sadly, I this is the first book in Hall’s Vish Puri series, which means I’m going to have to impatiently bide my time until the next installment.
Rhys Bowen. This year I read the first books in two of Rhys Bowen’s series, Murphy’s Law about Irish immigrant Molly Murphy, and Her Royal Spyness about Lady Georgianna (a.k.a. Georgie) who is thirty-fourth in line for the British throne. Maybe it is a sad statement about my lack of patience, but I like books that don’t drag or indulge in historical background simply for the sake of showing me how much research the author has done. Bowen writes an engaging mystery that moves without feeling disjointed and rushed, or that character and plot development have been sacrificed for the sake of showing off research. Also, and I really like this, there is a sense of humor in Bowen’s books. Sure these women are in outrageous and dangerous circumstances, but they don’t lose their ability to see the ridiculousness around them and they don’t lose their gumption. Currently, Bowen is up to eight books in the Molly Murphy series and three in the Her Royal Spyness series. Bowen has a third mystery series featuring Constable Evans with ten books and counting.
Elizabeth Peters. During 2009 I discovered writer Elizabeth Peters in a big way. Part of what I love about her work is that there is just so much of it, making it easy to find her books used. Peters has several series of books plus a glut of non-series books, she has written under two names (Elizabeth Peters and Barbara Michaels), and she has been publishing novels and non-fiction since the 1960s. I read a few of her non-series books (Summer of the Dragon, Legend in Green Velvet, and The Copenhagen Connection) and liked her use of history, archeology, and humor in her writing because she makes it feel like it fits rather than that it is mashed together for the sake of a plot vehicle. I read the first book in her Amelia Peabody series, Crocodile on the Sandbank, and immediately had to start hunting the used bookstores for the next book in the series (The Curse of the Pharaohs) because I was so taken with the umbrella-wielding heroine Amelia Peabody. The only drawback to Peters books, and it is a small one, is that when I was trying to look for the next book in the series, the lists in the books themselves do not always separate the books by series and order, and, given the volume of material that Peters has written, it can be a bit of a mess making sense of it. My solution, and I wish I’d thought of it sooner, it to just print out the lists from her page on wikipedia.
Will Thomas. How do I love Will Thomas, let me count the ways. The man writes a good mystery. This year I read the third (The Limehouse Text) and fourth (The Hellfire Conspiracy) in his Barker and Llwelyn mystery series. I have the fifth and latest installment (The Black Hand) tempting me to ignore other books, eating, and sleeping in favor of reading it. Will Thomas is simply a damn good writer who has created interesting characters in Cyrus Barker and Thomas Llewelyn, characters I want to spend time with. Private enquiry agents (not detectives) in Victorian England, this pair matches wits with anti-semites, Irish terrorists, Chinese factions in Limehouse, and seedy aristocrats. Thomas blends action, historical background, and character development in a way that feels effortless. And, although not important to the enjoyment of these books, I have my heart set on Russell Crowe playing the roll of Cyrus Barker if these books are ever turned into a film. The first two books in the series are Some Danger Involved and To Kingdom Come.