For years I had a copy of Edmund Crispin’s The Moving Toyshop with a cover from the ’60s of a disembodied doll. The premise always intrigued me: poet Richard Cagodan goes on vacation to Oxford. He comes in town late at night and stumbles on a toy store with its front door opened. He goes into the store to warn someone about the open door when he finds the body of an old lady who has been strangled with a pearl necklace. Cagodan is hit from behind. When he wakes he finds that the toy shop is now a grocery store.
I thought the book was a fun and witty mystery novel. Cagodan seeks the help of professor Gervase Fen, who helps figure out what happened that night. Fen is a very eccentric detective, teaching seminars on Hamlet and drives a car he has named Lily Christian III very fast. But there are a number of eccentric people in this novel including a lorry driver who loves D H Lawrence, a millionaire fortune teller, and a “neurotic physician “. And we can’t forget “the prowling poet “, who is told that he doesn’t look like a poet. The book itself is dedicated to the famous British poet Philip Larkin, who is actually talked about by Fen. The book also has chases by foot, car, and boat. I didn’t expect to laugh so much and I loved that wasn’t an easy mystery for me to solve. I found out that Fen was in a series of mystery books with titles like Love Lies Bleeding and Frequent Hearses.
I have to admit I love a good mystery series. There are so many but here is a rundown of some of my favorites:
Adam Dagliesh, the hero in a series of P.D James novels, is a poet as well as a police detective. In the first book that I read that featured him was Devices and Desires. Dalgleish has just published a second book of poems and is thinking of retiring to a coastal village. However, there is a body found on the grounds of a nuclear plant. Although there was a sympathetic gay character, the book was long. I preferred A Shroud for a Nightingale, which is about the murder of 2 nursing students on the ground of a nursing school. I loved the premise and you didn’t know which instructor or student was a killer.
A series I read when I was younger was the Rabbi David Small series by Harry Kimmelman. David Smalls is a rabbi to a synagogue in Barnard’s Crossing, Massachusetts. The rabbi is an Orthodox Jew who uses his understanding of The Talmudic principles. What I loved about the series was you learned with each book about the Jewish religion.
I highly recommend the Mc Nally series by Lawrence Sanders. Sanders wrote a number of different series including a Deadly Sins and the Commandment series. I really like the Mc Nally books. Archie Mc Nally runs a private detective agency out of his father’s office at Palm Springs, Florida. Archie sometimes has to investigate the members of the wealthier people in Palm Springs. Even though he grew up in the community, he always seems to be an outsider. The books are funny and entertaining.
The Ed Mc Bain 87th Precinct novels are great police procedurals. I’ve read a number of them when I was younger but about 5 years ago it so I read Lullaby, which the main plot revolved around a violent murder of a baby. The 87th Precinct takes place Isola, which is a fictional version of Manhattan. The precinct is run by Sargent Steve Carella. I like how the books talk about the drudgery of police work. It’s not always chasing down suspects. Mc Bain also wrote under Evan Hunter and was a prolific writer.
Last year I came across a series I hadn’t heard of, The Gaslight Mysteries written by Victoria Thompson. I read the first book in the series, Murder on Astor Place. Sarah Brandt had to work as a midwife after her husband David died. Sarah delivers a baby in a poor boarding house and later one of the girls in the house is killed. When Sarah comes back for a follow-up visit, Sargent Frank Malloy asks Sarah to help him solve the murder. This was another book that I couldn’t put down. The climax to the book was stunning. The series finds murders all over Manhattan, from Morningside Heights to Chinatown. Definitely a series I want to read more of.
Of course, I’m a big fan of Agatha Christie, but I prefer Hercules Poriot over Miss Marple. Still, I think there is more to the mystery genre than Christie. Other mystery writers I enjoy include Georges Simenon, Ngaio Marsh, Dorothy Sayers, and Marjorie Allingham. The sad thing is I usually just read one mystery novel a year and I want to change that. They are a great escape from reading classics and other demanding books.