“What are your favourite mysteries?” comes up every now and then, and I would have to admit to having a few books, films or series that I could happily cite as being major influences in my interest in the murder mystery genre. Not all are well known, and perhaps some aren’t that brilliant, but they have all left some sort of impression upon me in the last 50 years or so….
The Three Investigators Series
As mentioned previously, I read voraciously in my youth, and one of my favourite series from about the age of about 8 were the Three Investigator novels published by Random House from 1964. In these, the portly, quick-witted Jupiter “Jupe” Jones, athletic Peter “Pete” Crenshaw and studious Robert “Bob” Andrews solve a variety of mysteries from their headquarters, a house trailer, hidden among the piles of scrap at the edge of Jupiter’s Uncle Titus’ scrapyard. Originally billed as Alfred Hitchcock and the Three Investigators, I fervently believed that each story had been written by the famous film director, whereas, in fact, they were produced by several writers, most notably, Robert Arthur, who came up with the original concept. Although there are 43 complete stories in existence, I outgrew them by number 20, The Mystery of Monster Mountain, but I still have fond memories of the stories which featured puzzles and clues to find treasure, including the Mystery of the Stuttering Parrot, and The Mystery of the Screaming Clock.
Peril at End House
No collection of favourite mystery novels is complete without a Christie or two, and, despite the fact that I cam to the Queen of Crime’s work fairly late in life, I will tip my metaphorical hat to Peril at End House, a Poirot mystery that plays by the rules and has both a satisfying and logical conclusion that the observant reader should have seen coming and a cracking red herring that whilst nothing to do with the ultimate solution, distracts both the detective and the reader, whilst also being satisfactorily explained by the novel’s conclusion.
The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle
A more modern addition to the genre, which skilfully blends the traditional country house whodunnit with more fantastical elements. Perhaps best described as a fusion of Agatha Christie with Quantum Leap, the investigator in this story repeatedly finds himself as a new character in the story, and each time has to investigate the murder of the title character – a murder which he has witnessed on several occassions, yet has been unable to prevent. As well as having a cracking good murder mystery at its heart, with plenty of suspects and a good few twists along the way, there is another mystery – just who is the person investigating the crime, and why is he trapped in this ever-changing time loop? Whilst this latter mystery was less well resolved in my mind than the murder side, I found the story original and compelling throughout and certainly something worthy of rereading.
Moriarty by Anthony Horowitz
Horowitz is a prolific writer with plenty of strings to his bow; as well as writing for the popular TV series Foyle’s War and Midsomer Murders, he has written official James Bond stories in the tradition of Ian Fleming and created his own detective, Daniel Hawthorne in a series that almost made it into this list in The Word Is Murder (2017), and The Sentence is Death in which he writes himself in as the clueless Watson character. He has also written a couple of stories set around the world of Sherlock Holmes. This second, a follow-up, of sorts, to The House of Silk is a great invocation of the works of Conan Doyle and pulls off a great twist, the nature of which, if not the details of which, many may have seen coming, yet still be surprised by. It’s a bold and intriguing story which is worthy of a second read.
The Coffin Dancer by Jeffery Deaver
Jeffery Deaver’s detective, Lincoln Rhyme, a brilliant but hardheaded forensic criminologist who suffers near-fatal injuries while on the job, leaving him a quadriplegic made his debut in The Bone Collector in 1997, but for me, this follow-up narrowly beats it mainly for its sheer twistiness and the fact that Rhyme is somewhat more likable in this story. The Bone Collector was made into a film starrring Denzel Washington as Rhyme, but so far, no announcement has been made of a possible follow-up.
Lethal White by Robert Galbraith
One of literature’s big secrets was blown in 2013, when the author of the previously little regarded The Cuckoo’s Calling, was exposed as none other than Harry Potter creator, JK Rowling. In this fourth outing for Galbraith’s private detective, Cormoran Strike and his “assistant” Robin Ellacott, he really finds his stride and voice. The pacing of this admittedly lengthy novel is absolutely spot-on and I couldn’t put it down, anxious to find out who did what to whom. The ultimate denouement is satisfying and the will-they-won’t-they relationship between Cormoran and Robin is played out well, and never cloying, as so often such relationships can be.
It has been a tough task picking out my few favourite detective fiction novels, and a few that didn’t quite make the cut for various reasons include Kate Atkinson’s Jackson Brodie series, Ann Cleeves’ Shetland-set Jimmy Perez novels, the original Sherlock Holmes stories and Erin Kelly’s He Said/She Said. It also adored Donna Tartt’s Secret History, which doesn’t quite fit into the murder mysyery mould, as we know from the outset who committed the crime – the story then revolves around explaining the complex reasons why it occurred and the consequences of the perpetrators’ actions. I’m sure you have your favourites too. What books do you think I have missed off, or should have read?
I will be returning soon to consider some of my favourite mystery tv series and films, and will include a couple of obscure or forgotten titles you may well have missed or overlooked.