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Comfort Food for the Bibliophile

I’m staring down a perfect storm of blah this February. Not only did my football team have a lousy season, but their divisional rival is in the Super Bowl. It’s one of the snowiest winters I have ever seen, with drifts that just keep growing—so I promise myself that I won’t leave the house until May. I can’t keep that promise, but the fact that I make it at all is a sign of how fed up I’m getting with winter. Oh, and, not to be left out of the gloom storm, Valentine’s Day is fast approaching. That holiday stung me badly two years ago when I was dumped a mere 12 days before Valentine’s Day and left with nothing but my broken heart and the non-refundable ticket that I had purchased so I could see the guy who had dumped me…for Valentine’s Day.

So, with all the doldrums and blah-ness going on, I have decided this is an excellent time to ignore reality and read a good book.

For me, a good mystery is like comfort food, it hits the spot and satisfies my craving. Sometimes I want to branch out and read mysteries by authors I haven’t read before, but when I want a book that won’t disappoint, I turn to books by my tried and true authors. And, I can guarantee myself books by my favorite authors because I stockpile them for just such an occasion. For authors I really like, I try to avoid being completely caught up on their series so that when I need a good mystery by a particular author I don’t have to wait a couple months for his or her next book to come out.

In honor of my comfort food theme, I’ll list books with a food selection. Seems to me that if you need some deep winter comfort, then you might as well go all out.

Tears of Pearl by Tasha Alexander. This fourth book (five in the series) in Alexander’s series of mysteries featuring Lady Emily, takes place in Constantinople during the Victorian age of the British Empire. In the three books prior to this one, Lady Emily has had to content herself to solve murders as a meddling amateur, but now, accompanied by her new husband, she’s an official agent of the British Empire. Her investigations promise to lead her into the lavish world of the Sultan’s harem and extreme danger. Who says the Victorian’s didn’t know how to have a good time? Alexander has become one of my favorites because she manages to make me feel like I learned something new and interesting about Victorian culture without it feeling like a lecture and without sacrificing good storytelling to do so. Snacking suggestion: I think this jaunt to the Orient calls for tea, Turkish delight, and baklava.

Curse of the Pogo Stick by Colin Cotterill. Dr. Siri Paiboun is once again raising some geriatric hell in Cotterill’s fifth book (seven books in the series) about Laos’ National Coroner. It’s the 1970s, disco is taking the rest of the world by storm, while in Laos the new communist government is trying to keep things under control—but they probably don’t know that their National Coroner, Siri, is conducting an exorcism on a possessed pogo stick and preparing for his wedding. It would likely only embarrass the young communist government to find out that their National Coroner is the reincarnation of a powerful Hmong shaman. What I like about this series is that, for as hokey as the idea might seem that this coroner, a man of science, becomes the reincarnation of a powerful shaman and talks to the dead to help solve their mysteries, Cotterill somehow makes it work. He writes about the country of Laos and its people with humor and compassion as they adjust to changes in their government and world. Snacking suggestion: Although not a Laotian dish, Laos is just across the river from Thailand, so I’m craving pad Thai and spring rolls—maybe some iced coffee too.

The Case of the Man Who Died Laughing by Tarquin Hall. India’s portly sleuth, Vish Puri returns in Hall’s second book (two in the series). Vish Puri (“Chubby” to his friends and family), is India’s Most Private Investigator, a man who spends most of his days vetting potential spouses for wealthy Indian families, but every so often a unique case comes along that taxes Puri and his team of peculiarly-named professionals. I like how Hall’s protagonist bemoans the erosion of traditional India and Indian values at the hands of modern society and technology, all while he uses modern society and technology to solve his cases and try to uphold traditional Indian values. And, Hall writes as if he genuinely loves India, you can feel the heavy, humid air of the monsoon, smell the saffron, and see the vivid colors of the countryside in his writing. Snacking suggestion: In honor of Chubby, I think samosas and a mango lassi are in order.

Well, you know how I’m going to ride out the winter doldrums and why I’m going to have to spend a lot of time on the treadmill and doing Pilates, samosas will sneak up on you. If you have a favorite author and food pairing to share, I’d love to hear it. One can never have too many good books. Happy hibernating!

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Posted by on February 6, 2011 in Books

 

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The New Victorians

As I wrote in my Bibliophile for All Budgets post, there is something about fall that makes me want to get cozy, sip a warm drink, and read about dastardly doings in merry ol’ England. I suppose this is because the first mysteries I remember reading were Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes mysteries I ordered from the Scholastic book orders in the fall.

However, in the years since I fell in love with Sherlock Holmes, the mystery genre, itself a sub-genre of fiction, has gotten large and unwieldy. There are probably at least a couple desperate mystery writers exploiting every murder mystery niche you can imagine and several you haven’t imagined yet. I wouldn’t have thought hairdressing, or needlework, or catering, or bookbinding were dangerous, murder-prone professions, but, I kid you not, there are writers very successfully basing their series on exactly those premises.

Finding a place to start and a writer who can actually write a mystery that makes sense rather than simply offer market-driven cutsie premises can be difficult. So, in honor of fall and Sherlock Holmes, I offer up a few of my favorite of the new Victorian writers. I read a lot of mysteries in a variety of sub-genres, but here are a few favorite authors who reinvent the classic Victorian mystery recommended by me, my friends, and my family.  Links are included to pages about the authors so you can look at full lists of their books.

•    Boris Akunin. While Boris Akunin’s Russian detective Erast Fandorin is not even remotely British, he is Victorian and a student of deductive reasoning. In the first Fandorin mystery, The Winter Queen, Akunin gives Fandorin a tragic past that keeps him a loner and also helps fuel his desire for truth and justice. Taking advantage of the European treaty network and the Pax Britannia, Fandorin travels the Victorian world solving mysteries. http://www.boris-akunin.com/
•    Tasha Alexander. What do most wealthy, young, beautiful, Victorian widows do when they are in deep mourning? Sewing? Reading? Planning their next advantageous marriage? Well, that is not what Lady Emily Ashton does. She learns Greek and becomes an amateur sleuth, solving the mystery of her husband’s death. The historical research in this series is lavish and leaves me feeling educated, but beware, these are definitely chick books. http://www.tashaalexander.com/
•    Caleb Carr. I debated whether or not to include Mr. Carr because, while I enjoy his stories, his protagonists have the irritating habit of over-explaining what is going on and what the under-lying motivation is for the villains. To quote Elvis, I want “A little less conversation and a little more action.” But, even with the over-explaining, I still enjoyed his Sherlockian mystery The Italian Secretary. http://www.randomhouse.com/author/results.pperl?authorid=4337
•    Anne Perry. While I have yet to take the plunge into Anne Perry’s vast library of work, I have it on good authority from a loved one, that if you want to read Victorian mysteries, Anne Perry should be your home-girl. I’m pretty sure I will get around to reading these at some time, but right now, I have an embarrassing number of books to read and can’t justify starting a new series today. Not that I’m not considering it even as I type. http://www.anneperry.net/
•    Elizabeth Peters. I am hording the first book in Elizabeth Peters’ Amelia Peabody series and I can’t wait to crack it open. A woman of learning and tenacity in the great Victorian age of excavation, Miss Peabody has a passion for Egyptology and knack for solving mysteries.While I haven’t started the series yet, I have read several other books by Peters and have yet to hit a dud. A friend who has read the Amelia Peabody series says it is fantastic. If she’s wrong I may have to give her the fish-eye. http://www.mpmbooks.com/
•    Will Thomas. While I can’t vouch for how men are likely to enjoy Anne Perry and Elizabeth Peters, I can say that Will Thomas’s mystery series chronicling the cases of Cyrus Barker (a private enquiry agent) and his assistant Thomas Llewelyn definitely has more testosterone and action. Like the Sherlock Holmes mysteries, these adventures are told not by the detective himself, but by his assistant. Part of what I like about these books is that they reflect the variety of influences and ethnicities mashing up against one another because of the British Empire in general and London in particular. I have the unreasonable hope that if this series is ever made into films that Russel Crowe will play Cyrus Barker. http://www.willthomasauthor.com/books.php

There they are, my Victorian mystery recommendations. Here’s to hoping that a good book and a warm drink are in your future this chilly fall afternoon. Cheers!

P.S. If you have any good recommendations for new mysteries, do tell. The only thing better than a good mystery is another good mystery.

 
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Posted by on October 16, 2009 in Books, Lifestyle, Series

 

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