Wednesday, 18 March 2020
Top Ten Escapist Crime Reads
As promised yesterday, here are ten escapist crime reads. I call it a "top ten" but my inner lawyer advises me to include, well, if not a disclaimer then at least a note of explanation! I've opted for books that are British (I may do more top tens with other criteria, for instance American books, if this little list finds favour), and easy to obtain, here if not everywhere. So I've excluded some great stories that are harder to find, such as Henry Wade's Heir Presumptive and Robert Player's The Ingenious Mr Stone. I've limited myself to one book per author (sorry, Agatha) and I've tried to inject some variety, so that these are not exclusively Golden Age stories or novels inspired by the Golden Age.
With that in mind, here goes:
Agatha Christie - Why Didn't They Ask Evans? a light-hearted mystery with a clever clue in the title and a likeable pair of amateur detectives.
Anthony Berkeley - The Poisoned Chocolates Case - a cerebral whodunit with six solutions, which must represent good value. Christianna Brand (whose own books make excellent escapist reading) and I both had the temerity at different times to come up with additional solutions, which can be found in the British Library reprint.
Dorothy L. Sayers - Murder Must Advertise - never mind the dodgy sub-plot, the main story is enjoyable, the advertising world wonderfully well evoked, and there's even a cricket match...
Michael Gilbert - Death Has Deep Roots - a consistently lively blend of courtroom drama and thriller, this is one of the best books of a writer I have always admired.
Donald Henderson - A Voice Like Velvet - a BBC radio announcer as a cat burglar! A great premise and good story from a very talented writer whose life and career were sadly cut short.
Cyril Hare- An English Murder - this Christmas mystery features an engaging sleuth in Dr Bottwink and a classic closed-circle setting.
Pamela Branch - The Wooden Overcoat - Branch was one of the most amusing crime writers of the 1950s, matched only by the excellent Colin Watson, and it's a shame that she only published a handful of books. This is probably the best of them.
Peter Lovesey - The False Inspector Dew - Peter's award-winning slant on the Crippen is characteristic of his entertaining and imaginative work. I've limited myself to just one living writer, which means no place for Simon Brett, Ruth Dudley Edwards, or L.C. Tyler, but all of them are splendid entertainers too.
Sarah Caudwell - Thus Was Adonis Murdered - the mannered style will take some readers a bit of getting used to, but once you're in the swing, reading about the exploits of Chancery barristers is, surprise, surprise, enormously pleasurable.
Robert Barnard - A Scandal in Belgravia - Robert was a gifted maker of mischief in life and in his fiction. There's a lot of fun to be had in novels like Sheer Torture but the brilliant finale of Scandal makes it my favourite of his books.