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.


Unknown said...

Hi Martin

A great initiative to cover these long lonely days and nights ahead.

I was attracted to your list because I reckon I have read and vastly enjoyed 6 of the 10 items. So the remainder are probably a very neat fit for me. One of the unread items is by another author I’ve also read with enjoyment – Michael Gilbert.

So I’ve already ordered Kindle versions of two of these that were new to me – by Pamela Branch and by Donald Henderson. Branch’s work in particular sounds like a hoot.

Can I put in a special plea for one that you said missed out through being hard to find – Robert Player’s The Ingenious Mister Stone which is amazing as is his Let’s talk of graves, of worms and epitaphs


Trevor Smith said...

Oh dear, looks like more books going on the credit card bill!

Trevor Smith said...

Obviously some readers (or sellers) are very quick off the mark - The Wooden Overcoat was £4.06 on about an hour ago, now up to £8.10 for the Penguin version (from the same seller)!

Paul Beech said...

Hi Martin,

As an over-70 facing months of Covid-19 confinement, I’ve greatly welcomed your latest two posts. Events Maureen and I were due to attend in Wallasey and Heswall have now been cancelled, and a book launch in Wrexham we were due to read at as contributor- poets has been postponed. We’ve plenty to do with submission deadlines looming but there should be much more time for comfort reading, which means crime fiction for me!

Your “Top Ten Escapist Crime Reads” looks very inviting. I’ve read several of the authors listed (including Agatha!) but not their particular novels recommended.

As you know though, I love crime fiction in the short form too, so look forward to rereading favourite stories from the anthologies on my shelves, ranging from ‘Winter Crimes 3’, edited by George Hardinge (Macmillan 1971), to John Harvey’s ‘Men From Boys’ (William Heinemann, 2003), to the many great anthologies edited by yourself, beginning with Northern Blood (Didsbury Press, 1992), which contains, amongst other delights, Reginald Hill’s brilliant “Market Forces”. Yes, I’ll start with that!

Stay cheerful. Stay healthy,


Martin Edwards said...

Simon, many thanks. As it happens I have a copy of Let's Talk...but have never read it. In view of what you say, I'll zoom it up the TBR pile!

Martin Edwards said...

Trevor, thanks - that's very, very interesting about the price rise! Human nature, eh?

Martin Edwards said...

Hi Paul, great to hear from you and all the best to you and Maureen. Every day I'm getting more news about cancellations of events, which is really sad. But at least as you say there is more time for reading and writing. 'Market Forces' is as you say brilliant!

Anonymous said...

Just to add a couple more things.

Heir Presumptive it turns out is available in a keenly-priced Kindle edition. I know e-books don’t give quite the same pleasure as physical books but I’m already suffering from overload on bookshelves and have had to resort to them as my default going forward

In the spirit of the list I'd recommend just about anything from Peter Dickinson's crime oeuvre. To pick the most extraordinary,The Glass- Sided Ants Nest which is about a stone- age crime from New Guinea living in a house in London (yes really). Originally published as Skin Deep because someone from the publishers believed “ no woman will buy a book with an insect in the title”.!


Martin Edwards said...

Thanks, Simon, that's worth knowing. Dickinson was a truly gifted writer, though in my limited experience of his crime novels, they were in some cases rather an acquired taste. I liked some much more than others - but may be worth revisiting them to see if my feelings have changed, as they sometimes do.

karabekirus said...

Good idea for these lonely days. It may continue with Top Ten Detective Duos, Top Ten WWII, Top Ten Lady Detectives, Hospitals, Manor Houses, etc.

Martin Edwards said...

Thanks, karabekirus. Some good suggestions there. I shall think on!

TracyK said...

Thanks for this list and especially reminding me to read more by Barnard. I have been reading comfort books lately, Patricia Wentworth, and Rex Stout (I have read all of his books multiple times). But I have many unread by Barnard, and Simon's suggestion of books by Peter Dickinson is also good.

Martin Edwards said...

I'm sure you'll find plenty of comfort in Bob Barnard's books, Tracy! They are great fun.