Category Archives: ‘Best of’ lists

Agatha Christie – conference

This conference aims to explore: ‘Whodunit’, and how have they ‘dunit’? Investigating Agatha Christie’s works and their adaptations.

Agatha Christie is the best-selling author of all time. She has sold over two billion books worldwide and has been translated into over 45 languages. She has written over 80 novels and a number of plays. Her work has been adapted for cinema, television, animation and, more recently, computer games. The characters she created have assumed the status of ‘fictional celebrities’; Poirot and Miss Marple have become transnational phenomena, and are the protagonists of Japanese animations series and video games for various platforms.

To investigate the work of the Queen of Crime, the Department of Film and Media Studies at the University of Derby will host a one-day Conference on September 12, 2011. Continue reading

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April foolishness? Lost fictions

When is a post not a real post? When is a book not a book? When is a fiction a ‘real’ fiction?

One of the standout features of Rex Stout’s The League of Frightened Men is the prominence in the plot of the literary accomplishments of creepy suspect Paul Chapin, author of such (fictitious) works as ‘Devil Take the Hindmost’ – indeed, it is through a detailed analysis of Chapin’s work that Wolfe is be able to crack the case. This got me thinking about long and honourable history of fictitious novels and the allure of lost manuscripts in general. Henry James’ The Aspern Papers is certainly one of the most notable of such works but in the mystery genre it does seem to be particularly prevalent – this is in addition of course to all the works inspired by to the references in Arthur Conan Doyle  to unreported tales, such as in the case of the ‘Giant Rat of Sumatra’, most notably in the book of short stories by Doyle’s son Adrian and John Dickson Carr in the 1950s (published as The Exploits of Sherlock Holmes) and most recently the pastiches written for radio by Bert Coules as The Further Adventure of Sherlock Holmes. Continue reading

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Guides to Mystery Fiction

Like so many aficionados of the genre, I got into mystery fiction at an early age, probably through exposure to film and TV adaptations. I certainly remember the great excitement of seeing the movie version of DEATH ON THE NILE (1978) when I was 10 years old at my local ABC cinema in Maidenhead and I suspect that I started reading Agatha Christie’s novels very shortly afterwards. The same was also probably the case with the much-filmed books by Ian Fleming and Raymond Chandler, the first ‘adult’ authors that I remember reading and getting really excited about. My fascination with the history of the genre is also fairly easy to pin down – it began when I came across the original 1972 edition in hardback of Julian Symons’ personal history of the genre, Bloody Murder (published in the US as ‘Mortal Consequences’), at the local library while visiting my grandparents in Horsham, West Sussex. After 30 years I still find myself regularly referring to it and so it has to come top of my list of reference works on the genre. Continue reading

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THE DEVIL’S TEARDROP by Jeffery Deaver

Jeffery Deaver originally studied journalism and he employs and unfussy, nuts and bolts prose style that partially explains why he has recently followed a long line of authors – including John Gardner, Raymond Benson, Sebastian Faulks and (in a junior capacity) Charlie Higson – in continuing the literary adventures of James Bond with the forthcoming publication of Carte Blanche. Deaver is also, like Fleming, drawn to pulpy plots involving grand schemes from master professional criminals and heroes with well-hidden human frailties and vulnerabilities. In other respects though he is very different from Fleming, most notably his trademark love of puzzles and endless twists and turns and his general avoidance of descriptive passages. Undeniably though he is a very capable writer of thrillers as well as a best-selling author (the two don’t always go together, let’s face it). He is best know for the series featuring Lincoln Rhyme, a forensic detective who, being a quadriplegic, is in a very real sense a ‘armchair detective’. He was played by Denzel Washington in The Bone Collector, a reasonably successful movie adaptation of the first of the series. Rhyme makes a guest appearance in The Devil’s Teardrop, but the main character is Parker Kincaid, a graphologist working in Washington DC who retired from active FBI duties to keep his two young children out of harm’s way. Continue reading

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9 of the Best by Ellery Queen

Why 9? Well, 40 seemed too many, 5 was too few while the number 9 features heavily in the last Queen novel which was always going to be the last of my list, so … QED (a latin maxim which in one of the stories is amusingly mis-translated as ‘Queens’s Experiments in Deduction’).

Along with John Dickson Carr, Queen was the great detective story writer of my youth – when I turned 13 I began devouring their stories, marvelling at the ingenuity as they caught me out time and again. I’ll get round to Carr soon, but then again such a good job has already been done over at the ‘In Search of the Classic Mystery Novel’ blog that it is going to take a lot more effort to come up with something new to say.

“Ellery Queen” was the pseudonym of the cousins Frederic Dannay and Manfred B. Lee, who also used the name for the detective, who is himself an author of detective stories. This is typical of the convolutions within their stories, which initially offered a ‘Challenge to the Reader’, claiming that at a certain point all the clues existed to deduced (never ‘guess’) who the murderer was. Lee later was polite enough to admit that this was probably only true if the reader was a genius! Continue reading

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Best of Postmodern Mysteries

This gallery contains 5 photos.

Is the detective story fundamentally a postmodern genre?

During the ‘Golden Age’ of the detective story, between the two World Wars, the genre developed as a game in which ingenuity and surprise were much more important than characterisation or plausibility. The likes of Monsignor Ronald Knox and SS Van Dine created rigid lists of what was, and was not, permissible in a detective story, in much the same way as one would seek to establish the conventions of a round of Bridge – there were puzzles in the real sense of the word, constructed like crossword puzzles and frequently appealing to those in search of distraction by way of gentle brainteaser. Crime not as literature but as a form of narrative Sudoku in which the main virtue was the ability to create order from seeming chaos and succeed in tricking the opponent / reader. Inevitably many of the stories written then and shortly thereafter extended the ‘rules of engagement’ to include parody but such was the sense of ‘gamesmanship’ that knowing postmodern jokes and tropes started to enter the genre even before the term ‘postmodern had come into general use after the end of the Second World War.

Below I list some of the postmodern mystery stories that I have enjoyed the most – this is clearly a short and personal list of favourites and I would be very interested to know of titles that other readers would include in their lists. Continue reading

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20 mystery books to read before dying

Over at the Mrs Peabody Investigates blog there is a discussion on the list of 20 great crime and mystery novels generated by John Connelly and Declan Hughes. Listmaking is one of life’s great joys, as is the opportunity to attempt to counter and redact other people’s lists – so here is my reposte.

In strict chronological order, here’s my score of today and I’m glad to say that keeping it to only 20 was just impossible … so it’s really 26! I’ve kept more recent titles to a minimum to give posterity a chance to percolate, although Stieg Larsson and his pulpy entertainments were never going to make it here.

    Continue reading

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