Thursday, January 03, 2008

The Detectives Beyond Borders top eighteen (or nineteen), part I

What’s so great about the decimal number system? Who says base ten rules? And do the Simpsons keep top-eight lists because they have eight fingers rather than our ten?

I can no more trim my list of 2007’s top crime reading to ten than I can restrict it to novels or to fiction, for that matter. So, here's part one of a list of novels, stories, plays and histories that made my crime-fiction reading interesting in 2007.

Nice Try by Shane Maloney – At least as funny as the other novels in this Australian writer’s Murray Whelan series but, it seems to me, more intricately (and tightly) plotted.

Fast One by Paul Cain – This novel by the most enigmatic of the American pulpsters is fast, witty, hard and, perhaps most impressive for a book published in 1932, not at all dated in its language.

Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer – A group entry of the first four books in Colfer's series about a young criminal genius, plus Half Moon Investigations, about a 12-year-old private eye. The books are funny, smart, and decidedly not just for young-adult readers.

"Bloody Windsor" by Gwendoline Butler and “An Urban Legend Puzzle” by Norizuki Rintaro – These two stories, the first from The Oxford Book of Detective Stories: An International Selection, the second from Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine's Passport to Crime collection, make the list because they surprised me with little acts of authorial magic. Butler sets the scene forcefully at the start and thereby avoids the need to clutter the rest of the story with detail of its eighteenth-century setting. Norizuki, part of the "New Traditionalism" movement in Japanese crime writing, has written a story true to the old tradition of the puzzle mystery yet thoroughly modern in setting and feel.

Wash This Blood Clean From My Hand by Fred Vargas – Funny and written with a deep sympathy for its characters. This and the French author's other three novels published to date in English translation give quirkiness a good name.

Snobbery With Violence: English Crime Stories And Their Audience – Colin Watson’s highly opinionated social history of English crime fiction will make you laugh just as I suspect it made its original audience squirm in 1971. And you may be surprised by what Watson says about George Orwell.

Diamond Dove by Adrian Hyland – This debut, winner of Australia’s Ned Kelly Award for best first crime novel, does a number of things well. It’s a glimpse into a fascinating, exotic, though thoroughly contemporary world, it’s a convincing and well-plotted amateur-sleuth tale, and it’s funny, with a sympathy for its characters something like that Fred Vargas has for hers.
How about you, gentle readers? If you can still remember 2007, tell me about your favorite crime reading from that year.

© Peter Rozovsky 2008

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18 Comments:

Blogger pamos1949 said...

This is easy for me, and quite a lot of my happiest reading I owe to your good self putting me on the q.v. via this blog. In short, 2007 was the year I decided I really should look at Fred Vargas, Henning Mankell, Jo Nesbo, Hakan Nesser, Karin Fossum, Peter Temple, Analdur Indridasen, and others, most of them writers I was aware of but whose books I had just not yet broached. That in turn resulted in some very pleasurable re-reading of Sjowall and Wahloo, Wetering, Freeling. If I single out one book, I think it would be Nesbo's The Redbreast, wonderfully complex, so much so that it might easily have been confusing, but so finely constructed that its fugal lines, each suggestive of a possible resolution of the mystery, are always clear. A masterpiece, I think.

January 04, 2008  
Blogger Maxine said...

I was getting a bit worried as I scrolled down your list, as I thought I must have read at least one.....as it turns out I have read the last 3. I particularly liked Diamond Dove.
I have sent my list to Euro Crime, for her annual "reviwers' choice" feature, so all will be revealed when she publishes them! Very soon I believe....

January 04, 2008  
Blogger Peter said...

Pamos, I think The Redbreast will find its way onto Part II of this list. I'm pleased to hear that this blog introduced you to some fine books. I also owe thanks to fellow bloggers for some good reading.

January 04, 2008  
Blogger Peter said...

Maxine, no need to worry, since the list includes some older work. Such work deserves wider exposure, but there is no need for one to have read it in any given year. Maybe you can put some of it on your own best-of list for 2008. In any case, perhaps you'll have read some of what include in Part II of the list.

The opportunity to discuss older works is one of the advantages of blogs, by the way. "Mainstream" media are unlikely to offer such opportunities.

I'll certainly devour the Euro Crime lists, perhaps kicking myself for not having read some of the books when they were hottest.

January 04, 2008  
Anonymous bookwitch said...

Sara Paretsky and Stephen Booth for comfort. Declan Burke and Derek Landy for humour. And may I suggest Sophie Hannah for some creepyness?

January 04, 2008  
Blogger Peter said...

You may, and thanks. You'll know I'm a Declan Burke fan. As for the rest, that's a new lot of authors for me to look into, which is one reason for making a post such as this one.

January 04, 2008  
Blogger Kerrie said...

I haven't read Artemis Fowl yet, but it sounds like I should
I like the sound of the short stories too in the Oxford Book of
Detective Stories: An International Selection
Is that recently published?
I haven't read any Vargas yet either but have one sitting here
waiting to be opened (THIS NIGHT'S FOUL WORK). Do I have to read them in order?


According to my library catalogue there is a Snobbery with Violence
by Marion Chesney but that is not the one you are referring to is it?

January 04, 2008  
Blogger Kerrie said...

I'm no good at decimal limits either Peter
My top list is
** Australian authors

THE DEATH OF DALZIEL, Reginald Hill
THE SECRET HANGMAN, Peter Lovesey
** THE NIGHT FERRY, Michael Robotham
VOICES, Arnaldur Indridason
** FRANTIC, Katherine Howell
THE WOODS, Harlan Coben
THE GOOD HUSBAND OF ZEBRA DRIVE, Alexander McCall Smith
DEAD COLD, Louise Penny
SILENCE OF THE GRAVE, Arnaldur Indridason
BLACK SECONDS, Karin Fossum
EXIT MUSIC, Ian Rankin
SCARED TO LIVE, Stephen Booth
** THE BROKEN SHORE, Peter Temple
THE HOUSE SITTER, Peter Lovesey
ABOVE SUSPICION, Lynda La Plante

January 04, 2008  
Blogger Peter said...

Thanks for weighing in, Kerrie. The Oxford collection of stories was published in 2000. You'll find some information about it here. It's a superb collection, with writers from many countries and almost all eras. It includes material unavailable anywhere else in English. There's a Rankin story in there, and the book also provided my introduction to Garry Disher.

No, the Snobbery With Violence you want is by Colin Watson, who never wrote under any other names, as far as I know!

It's probably unnecessary to read Vargas in series order, especially since the English translations were published out of series order. Vargas' principal character, Inspector Jean-Baptiste Adamsberg, has an on-again, off-again relationship with a woman that stretches over several books. I'd say that the earlier novels explain the origins of the relationship, except one gets the feeling that the relationship has been going on for a long time, even from the beginning. So, no, I'd say reading in series order is unnecessary.

Of course, I haven't read This Night's Foul Work yet, so I can't be sure. Congratulations on getting your hands on the latest Vargas!

January 05, 2008  
Blogger Peter said...

Kerrie, you'll see that our lists share some authors and titles, especially now that I've published Part II of my list. I think I'll make 2008 a year of Reginald Hill.

January 05, 2008  
Blogger pamos1949 said...

Kerrie's list of fifteen includes seven authors I read last year. Four were new to me: Indridason, Fossum, Penny, and Temple, and all four gave great pleasure. Putting aside the earlier Peter Robinson works, and it is debatable if he should be designated Canadian in his capacity as a writer, I've never found much of great worth in Canadian crime fiction, but Louise Penny, starting with her first novel, is truly outstanding. The other three of the seven are old favourites of mine: Hill, Rankin, and Lovesey, and I want to say a special word for the last here, for Lovesey has been around for the best part of forty years and he is as fine as ever. Indeed, I think in his Peter Diamond series he excels himself. This struck me particularly last year, for then I also read two Hennessey/Yellich novels by Peter Turnbull: Chelsea Smile and Dark Secret. I once enjoyed his P Division works, but these two efforts were as abysmal as I can imagine, and plainly written by the assembly-line method. Both were full of errors, but Chelsea Smile finished with a summation in which the name of one victim was changed and one murder attributed to the wrong villain.(A moment of silence here for the demise of editors.) I also read Peter Robinson's Strange Affair, and I thought that a frankly third-rate affair, continuing a decline I think myself started with his Aftermath, a rather pretentious and in some ways cheap work derived from the Bernardo/Homolka case. So 2007 was also the year in which I read my last Robinson and Turnbull books, but all will be well so long as Lovesey and Hill and their like keep on going as they always have.

January 05, 2008  
Blogger Uriah Robinson said...

Peter I have already posted about my top two non European best reads:
The Broken Shore by Peter Temple and Tomato Red by Daniel Woodrell.

At the moment I am reading This Night's Foul Work by Fred Vargas [half way through] and it is as good if not better than her Duncan Lawrie winner last year. She could have made it a Duncan lawrie threepeat if the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was not lurking out there.

January 05, 2008  
Blogger Peter said...

Pamos, are you Canadian, by any chance? I ask because you mentioned the Bernardo/Homolka case, and Canadian crimes don't frequently shock the world's conscience. I've had Peter Turnbull on my list since someone, perhaps you, recommended him. If these two novels of his were not up to par, which ones would you recommend?

In the matter of Canadians, how do you feel about Giles Blunt?

I've read four of the Peter Diamond novels, of which I enjoyed The Last Detective and The Summons in particular. I've hesitated to read Diamond Dust because the relationship between Diamond and his wife is one of the small pleasures of the series. I hate to think of her being murdered.

I've read some Dalziel and Pascoe stories recently, and I think I'll read more Reginald Hill in 2008. He and Lovesey certainly have managed to maintain astonishingly high standards for astonishingly many years.

January 05, 2008  
Blogger Peter said...

Damn me, but I envy you for having got hold of This Night's Foul Work and the Stieg Larsson, Uriah. Neither is available in North America yet. I may have to use up some accumulated holiday time and take a book-buying trip to England.

January 05, 2008  
Blogger Maxine said...

I think Giles Blunt is excellent, I've read all his Algonquin Bay books (3 or 4) and enjoyed them. I didn't realise Peter Turnbull is Canadian -- his books are set in Glasgow and I've loved all the ones I've managed to find.
(There is a discussion about pamos and Canada in the comments of Crime Scraps....)

January 05, 2008  
Blogger Peter said...

Ah, he is the winner of Crime Scraps' tough-as-nails quiz. I mentioned Giles Blunt's Black Fly Season recently, but only to the effect that having grown up among black flies and survived the experience, I found nothing especially menacing about them.

On second thought, black fly season may be an evocative way of referring to summer, especially late summer.

January 05, 2008  
Blogger pamos1949 said...

Peter, I live near Vancouver, but hail from London, England. Canada has its fair share of truly horrific crimes, but they have not always received the international attention given to the Bernardo/Homolka case. That one was also used as the basis for an episode of Law and Order SVU. At present, of course, we have the Robert Pickton case, which has been getting a lot of coverage in the US.
Two earlier Turnbull novels that I seem to remember enjoying are Long Day Monday and Killing Floor. Not on my A List, but very satisfactory. I really was quite shocked by the two I mentioned in my previous post -- disgraceful and an insult to the reader.
You remind me that I did read Blunt's Forty Words for Sorrow and was very happy with it. Seems to me that was a few years back and I should look at what he has done since. I should say that there has long been some solid Canadian stuff around -- L.R. Wright, Gail Bowen, Howard Engel, Eric Wright, Nora Kelly, and others -- but they have for me always lacked one or more of the vital qualities that will have me going back for more. But I have to think that must be Canadian crime novelists I have unjustly neglected to read. The problem is that there is so much good stuff coming from elsewhere and time is limited.

January 05, 2008  
Blogger Peter said...

Thanks. I've looked sporadically for Howard Engel's Cooperman series but found none of the books. In these days of ABE Books and other online clearinghouses, that is no excuse for not reading him. I should renew the search.

Thanks for the Turnbull heads-up and for clogging my list with a few more names. That's one of the joys of the blogosphere.

January 05, 2008  

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