3 detective novels of different types captivated this literary critic this month | Culture & Leisure


This column is the story of three novels, all purchased at local bookstores on Independent Bookstore Day (which was actually the 10 Day Independent Bookstore) in April. I didn’t realize how closely these three books were when I picked them up; now, having happily browsed through all three, I see them as a trio of examples of the breadth of the “detective fiction” category – and all there is to discover in this rich genre.

I had been meaning to read Ivy Pochoda’s work for quite some time (I still intend to access her award-winning “Valley of Wonders”) so I bought a brand new paperback from his 2020 novel “These Women”. It’s a beautifully sculpted modern black, set in South Los Angeles and told by six diverse women whose stories are linked by a serial killer. The world of this novel is harsh, gloomy, and gloomy, but Pochoda finds poetry in the lives of each of these women – in the way they are haunted by ghosts (one by a murdered girl, another by the memory of her. ‘a devastating event), in the way they just go through their days. I found myself particularly drawn to Essie, a pragmatic LAPD vice-police accustomed to being underestimated, and who knows crime is like a crossword that she meticulously completes every day. “There is always a solution,” she muses. “The problem is finding it.” You leave “These Women” feeling like you’ve heard voices you don’t usually hear, and you wish they could talk more.

In another world, at least it seemed, lives Jane Healey’s 2020 novel “Animals at Lockwood Manor,” a gothic tale set in WWII England. I’d admit being an absolute fan of this sort of thing (my recent gold standard: “The Little Stranger” by Sarah Waters), and Healey in her debut novel sets the scene beautifully: a vast ancestral home in the English countryside, full dusted rooms; a young natural history museum curator accompanying a collection of specimens removed from London for preservation; a girl from the sheltered house, slightly Miss Havisham; curious events under the cover of night. Do I have to say more? The mystery turns out not to be particularly mysterious, but that doesn’t matter; this book has an atmosphere to spare (just imagine all that taxidermy), and I devoured it all on a rainy afternoon. New bonus vocabulary: “leveret” (a young hare).

Marty Wingate is a Seattle author whose books I have long intended to explore; “Bodies in the Library,” winking at me from an endless bookstore shelf, seemed just right. A contemporary cozy mystery (I’ve never understood exactly what “cozy mystery” means; bodies but no blood, I guess?), This one is catnip for those with a literary bent. The main character Hayley Burke is the new curator of a first edition library in a historic Georgian house in Bath, England – a library devoted to the mysteries of the murder. (It’s the dream job I didn’t realize I always wanted; it even comes with a cozy attic. Where do I apply?) Although Hayley isn’t Miss Marple, she does find herself soon with a mystery to be solved: the curious death of a member of the fan-fiction group Agatha Christie from the library. Drawing inspiration from Lady Agatha, Hayley quickly concludes that detective novels are stories of “subtlety and deviousness, of characters and cups of tea and – ultimately – order out of chaos.” A beautiful definition, tucked away in a very charming book.

Three books, three sub-genres, three captivating journeys. Do you have a favorite – and potentially very specific – genre in detective fiction? Say it; we probably have more rainy afternoons in store.

(c) 2021 The Seattle Times

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