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About Marilyn

September has arrived, and that means the beginning of a new school year.  At BOLLI, the Brandeis University adult learning program where I teach classes on mystery novels, we begin the fall term on September 20th.  Classes will be virtual, but nevertheless it will be an opportunity to meet on Zoom with friends and classmates and share opinions on the novels we are reading.

Once again I invite you to read along with my class, which this semester will be discussing International Mysteries, Part II.  We will be visiting various countries vicariously, as most of us were unable to travel in person over the past year and a half (and counting).  Here is the list of the books we’ll be reading and the countries we’ll be touring:

DEATH IN A STRANGE COUNTRY (Italy) by Donna Leon; THE MIST (Iceland) by Ragnar Jónasson; AMONG THE RUINS (Iran and Canada) by Ausma Zehanat Khan; SMOKESCREEN (South Africa) by Dick Francis; BRUNO, CHIEF OF POLICE (France) by Martin Walker; LITTLE BLACK LIES (Falkland Islands) by Sharon Bolton; THE SATURDAY MORNING MURDER (Israel) by Batya Gur; THE KIND WORTH KILLING (the United States) by Peter Swanson.  The last book brings us home, and I chose it because I imagine we’ll probably be tired after all our international journeys and will welcome a return to a more familiar landscape.

—–

“A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…” people ate inside restaurants, went to movies, plays, and concerts sitting next to strangers, and attended classes and lectures in person.  Oh wait, that was only a year and a half ago.  My wish for us all is that soon we may be able to visit countries that now we can only read about, and upon returning we will be filled with the wonders of international travel but happy to be home again.  Until then, join us for International Murders, Part II.

Marilyn

 

 

 

The Mystery Writers of America just published its annual anniversary issue.  In it are listed this year’s award recipients in various categories, three of which have a special interest for me.  Those are Best Novel, Best First Novel by an American Author, and Best Paperback Original, which pretty much comprise the types of books I blog about on a weekly basis.

This year’s winners in the above mentioned categories (in the order mentioned above) are Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line by Deepa Anappara, Please See Us by Caitlin Mullen, and When No One is Watching by Alyssa Cole.  My congratulations to these authors and to all the authors who were nominated.

What I found amazing and unsettling, given the number of mysteries I read year, is how many past winners I was unfamiliar with.   Not only had I not read these writers, but I hadn’t even heard of them.  Jeffery Hudson (A Case of Need, 1959), Warren Kiefer (The Lingala Code, 1973), and Mary Willis Walker (The Red Scream, 1995) won the Edgar for Best Novel, and now I wonder if the winning book was the only mystery each one wrote, if they went on to other endeavors, or if they passed away shortly after receiving the award.  (My husband suggests doing a Google search, but where is the mystery in that?)

I have the same questions about the winners of the Best First Novel award by an American Author:  Deidre S. Laiken (Death Among Strangers, 1988), Jess Walter (Citizen Vince, 2006), Jason Matthews (Red Sparrow, 2014), and Best Paperback Original:  Mike Jahn (The Quark Maneuver, 1978), Thomas Adcock (Dark Maze, 1992), Naomi Hirahara (Snakeskin Shamisen, 2007).

I am delighted to say that the majority of the above mysteries are available in the Minuteman Library System in Massachusetts, so given that libraries regularly cull their collections of “unwanted” books, this indicates that people are still reading these novels.  I’m left wondering why if other mystery fans knew about these authors/books, why didn’t I?

So it’s a case of bad news/good news:  Despite my “living” at the library, there are still many, many books I haven’t read–so there are still a lot of books left for me to read!

Marilyn

I never thought the day would come when I would view the postal carrier/FedEx/UPS delivery person with alarm.  So let this be a warning to all–be careful what you wish for!

The thought of having thirteen mysteries waiting to be read once would have seemed like heaven.  Now there are that number of novels staring at me balefully in my study.  In truth, they probably aren’t staring balefully; that’s just my overwrought imagination, I suppose.  They include books from publishers, books I’ve purchased, books from the Minuteman Library system.  Regarding the latter, I have fifteen books on hold, including three that are “in transit,” according to my account.

As I’ve mentioned before in this blog, I’m a fast reader.  I can read a 300-page book in a day if there are no annoying interruptions such as laundry or cleaning.  But even I have a breaking point, and I may have reached it.  The problem is that no matter how many books I read more are published every day, and many of them I am sure are worth reading.

I’ve thought about writing to various publishers and asking them for a short moratorium on new mysteries, just for a couple of months until I can catch up.  But I’m afraid that my request will backfire, and I’ll run out of books before the moratorium is lifted.

So now I’m between a self-made rock and a hard place.  I guess I’ll just keep turning the pages faster and faster, hoping to catch up.

Marilyn

In this About Marilyn column I am celebrating two events.

The first is that this month begins my eleventh year writing Marilyn’s Mystery Reads.  In that time I’ve blogged about hundreds of books plus my favorite authors and my thoughts about all things mysterious.

In addition to the fun of having a personal space to air my thoughts, I’ve discovered numerous new authors and have revisited old favorites.  My only problem is that there are so many books being published that I can’t read them all.  I’m really trying, though.

Second is my upcoming course at BOLLI (Brandeis Osher Lifelong Learning Program).  I’ve been taking classes there for as long as I’ve been writing my blog, in a variety of subjects–literature, music, sociology, and art to name a few areas.

Then, nearly four years ago I was asked to teach a course on mystery novels because two BOLLI members had been reading this blog and thought I knew the subject well (“My blushes,” as Holmes said to Watson).  In March I’ll begin my eighth course, WHODUNIT?:  INTERNATIONAL MYSTERIES, PART I.

Given that there are enough mysteries set across the globe for me to teach PARTS II through X, I had a difficult time deciding which countries to showcase first.  I chose a mix of countries, a number of which many of the students in my class have probably visited as well as countries less familiar to us.  I also decided to showcase authors who are very well known as well as newcomers to the field.

So here is the list of books we’ll be reading beginning in March, with the countries given in alphabetical order:  THE DRY by Jane Harper (Australia), STILL LIFE by Louise Penny (Canada), AND THEN THERE WERE NONE by Agatha Christie (England), BEHIND GOD’S BACK by Harri Nykänen (Finland), SMOKE AND ASHES by Abir Mukherjee (India), NEWCOMER (Japan) by Keigo Higashino, ROSTNIKOV’S VACATION by Stuart M. Kaminsky (Russia), and FINDING NOUF by Zoe Ferrais (Saudi Arabia).

Please join us on our round-the-world journey, won’t you?

Marilyn

The summer has come and almost gone, but I have not (gone, that is).  Like many/most/all of you, my summer plans vanished in a puff of Covid-19.  The two foreign trips my husband and I had anticipated were not taken, and even shorter, closer-to-home visits to family and friends were non-happenings.

However, even the darkest clouds have a silver living.  First, and most important, my family and friends have not contracted the virus and have remained healthy during this pandemic; I hope the same is true for you and yours.  Second, with all the unexpected free time I had, I was able to do much of the preparation for my fall BOLLI (Brandeis Osher Lifelong Learning Institute) course, WHODUNIT?:  DETECTIVES WITH DISABILITIES, which begins on September 14th.

I had been thinking about this course for some time, having become increasingly interested in the various challenges people with disabilities/handicaps/impairments face.  How do we view people with handicaps?  Do we automatically think they will not be able to do everything the non-disabled among us can do?  Do you think some types of impairments are harder to deal with than others?  Physical, because they’re easy for others to see and perhaps judge?  Mental or emotional, because they’re often hidden, making it more difficult for others to understand the problem facing the detective?  Or perhaps you don’t see “disabilities” as problems at all, but rather as “differences.”

We will be reading and discussing disabilities both visible and invisible, some obvious and some not.  Here is the list we’ll be reading for the fall semester, along with the issues faced by the protagonists of the novels:  The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith (amputation); After She’s Gone by Camilla Grebe (memory loss);  Love Story, with Murder by Harry Bingham (Cotard’s Syndrome), Odds Against by Dick Francis (deformed hand); A Cold Treachery by Charles Todd (PTSD); Motherless Brooklyn by Jonathan Lethem (Tourette’s Syndrome); The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon (Asperger’s Syndrome); and Little Black Lies by Sandra Block (ADHD).

Although this class and the mysteries we will be reading may sound overwhelming and depressing, I will tell you now, without giving too much away, that this is not the case.  Class members will join me in discussing the strength of the human spirit, as the detectives learn to overcome their physical or emotional problems and lead successful lives.

One more thought.  Two weeks ago a reader of this blog emailed to say that he wished I reviewed more American mysteries.  I wrote back, noting that half of the recent books I’d reviewed took place in the United States, but that made me think about the books I’ve chosen for this term’s course.  In fact, five of the eight take place in England (!) and the sixth is set in Sweden.  Only two take place in the States.  I’m wondering if that says something about how America views disabilities as opposed to how they are seen in other countries.

Please read along with us as we meet (via Zoom) to talk about WHODUNIT?:  DETECTIVES WITH DISABILITIES.  I promise you that these novels are truly something special.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her website.  In addition to book review posts, there are sections featuring Golden Oldies, Past Masters and Mistresses, and an About Marilyn column that features her opinions about everything to do with mystery novels.

My best wishes for good health for everyone.

Marilyn

Is it possible to have a mystery novel in which the protagonist is not investigating a murder?

That’s a question that is frequently asked in the mystery courses I teach at BOLLI, the Brandeis Osher Lifelong Learning Institute.  And my answer always is yes.

It’s true that the majority of mysteries involve murders because that crime is one from which there is no return, at least for the victim.  Once dead, always dead to be blunt about it.  In the hands of a skillful, creative author, however, any crime may be the basis for an outstanding mystery.

In this time of COVID-19 and social distancing, I have been scanning the shelves in our family room and re-reading many of my favorite mysteries.  In particular, I have been re-reading Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone alphabet series, and I just finished “L” IS FOR LAWLESS. 

A little background for those not familiar with Sue Grafton’s work:  the series started in 1982, when Kinsey is a private investigator in Santa Teresa, California.  Through the series, which ran until the author’s death in 2017, Kinsey barely ages, remaining in her thirties even in “Y” IS FOR YESTERDAY, the last mystery Ms. Grafton wrote.   As her daughter Jamie Clark wrote, “As far as we in the family are concerned, the alphabet now ends at Y.”

LAWLESS starts when Kinsey is asked by her landlord and close friend, Henry Pitts, to do a favor for a friend.  Johnny Lee, an elderly man who lived around the corner from Kinsey and Henry, had died several months earlier, and his son and grandson have been attempting to get the government to pay the funeral expenses, to which they believe Lee was entitled as a World War II veteran.

Lee’s survivors can find no papers with information about his time in the Air Force, and they have been told by various federal agencies they’ve contacted that there’s no record of his service.  Checking with Johnny’s son Chester, Kinsey is told of his belief that the government is hiding his father’s record.  When she asks why the government would refuse to admit that the deceased was ever a member of the armed forces, Chester tells her that it’s his belief that “he was a double agent…for the Japanese.”

Farfetched as this seems to Kinsey, she agrees to look into the situation, and thereby hangs a tale of break-ins, assaults, ex-cons, domestic abuse, and much more.  The book is humorous at times, always suspenseful, and filled with characters whose commonality is their inability to tell the truth.  Masterful writer that Sue Grafton was, the reader may not notice until the book’s end that there’s no murder for Kinsey to investigate.

Readers can go back as far as Sherlock Holmes to see that there are many books and stories in which murder does not play a part.  As an aside, I find that I am often bothered by the gratuitous number of murders in recent novels.  Some authors seem to feel that when in doubt, throw in another body.  It’s an easy way to hike up the tension, but it’s not a good story-telling technique.  Rather a cheap trick, in my opinion.

I still have thirteen Sue Grafton mysteries left to re-read, and I am certain that whether they feature murders or not, each one will be well worth a second go-round.  And in reading the novels for a second time, perhaps I can discover Kinsey’s secret formula for not getting older…it’s worth a try.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her website.  In addition to book review posts, there are sections featuring Golden Oldies, Past Masters and Mistresses, and an About Marilyn column that features her opinions about everything to do with mystery novels.

 

Blame it on the coronavirus!

When I walked upstairs after using the treadmill this morning, my husband asked me why I had sent out a blog post today instead of on Saturday.  But I didn’t, I protested.  Well, he said, I got one this morning.

I rushed to my computer and there it was–my review of Harry Dolan’s THE GOOD KILLER.  When I finished writing it last night, I obviously pressed publish instead of saveSeriously, my mind is a jumble nowadays, dealing with how best to get groceries, missing visits with family and friends, and teaching my mystery class online.  Those are my excuses—I mean reasons–for the midweek blog.

In any event, I tell myself it could have been worse.  I usually write about half a review and leave it to percolate for a couple of days before completing it and sending it out.  What if I had sent out only half a review?  I guess I could have covered it up by saying that after all this is a mystery blog; readers would have to be in suspense until Saturday for the second half of the post.  I did notice one typo, and there may be more since I had not proofread the blog carefully before accidentally pressing the publish button.  I hope not.

At any rate, I hope the post’s early arrival didn’t shake you up too much (if you even noticed); a friend had already emailed me by the time I saw the post to say it threw her entire week off schedule.  I definitely don’t want to create more uncertainty during an uncertain time.  In these difficult days, I plead for a little understanding.

Stay well.

Marilyn

Monday is the first day of the spring term at BOLLI, the Brandeis Osher Lifelong Learning Institute program.  It will be my sixth time teaching a course on mystery novels, and this semester the title is WHODUNIT?:  A STUDY IN SIDEKICKS.

Frankly, I don’t usually think about sidekicks when I pick up a detective story.  The main focus, of course, is on the detective and not any assistant she/he may have.  But when I started to think about the subject a few months ago, I realized how many of my favorite authors have incorporated interesting, charismatic, funny, frightening, but always ultimately fascinating seconds-in-command.

I think the first sidekick that comes to most readers’ minds is Dr. John Watson, Sherlock Holmes’ colleague.  Of course, everyone knows that Holmes was the one who solved the crimes, but if you read the short stories and novels carefully you can see how much the good doctor contributed.  Sometimes it was his medical knowledge, sometimes his willingness to bring his gun along to a possibly dangerous encounter, sometimes simply his obvious admiration of his friend’s abilities, that made this twosome work.

So that’s where the course will begin, with THE SIGN OF THE FOUR, published in 1890.  It was a time of gaslight rather than electricity, mail and telegrams rather than email and cell phones, hansom cabs instead of cars, but the personalities and characteristics of Watson and Holmes still resonate with readers today.

Then we’ll jump into the twentieth century with THE LEAGUE OF FRIGHTENED MEN by Rex Stout, featuring the inimitable Archie Goodwin as Nero Wolfe’s assistant, secretary, “legs,” and all around pain-in-the neck.  This will be followed by PROMISED LAND by Robert B. Parker (Hawk and Spenser), I KNOW A SECRET by Tess Gerritsen (Maura Isles and Jane Rizzoli), THE WANTED by Robert Crais (Joe Pike and Elvis Cole), PROMISE  ME by Harlan Coben (Win Lockwood and Myron Bolitar), GHOST HERO by S. J. Rozan (Bill Smith and Lydia Chin), and A DRINK BEFORE THE WAR by Dennis Lehane (Angela Gennaro and Patrick Kenzie).

Some of the sidekicks in these books are more clearly secondary characters, with the major detective work done by the detectives.  But in other novels, there’s not such a clear demarcation, and the role of the sidekick is more important, both to the detective and to the book itself.

I invite you to read along with us and perhaps get a different perspective on what being the main character’s friend/partner/colleague means in detective fiction.  I promise it will be a fun trip.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her website.  In addition to book review posts, there are sections featuring Golden Oldies, Past Masters and Mistresses, and an About Marilyn column that features her opinions about everything to do with mystery novels.

 

 

We’re all familiar with New Year’s resolutions.  More exercise, healthier foods, more connections with friends and family.  Some we’re able to keep, some not so much (or not as much as we’d hoped).  But today I’m writing not about resolutions but about second chances.

I’ve just celebrated my 10th anniversary writing about all things mysterious on this blog.  But I wasn’t always the confident, smooth, literary woman you know as the author of marilynsmysteryreads.com.  When my son Rich suggested in 2009 that I write a mystery review blog, I waived away his suggestion–I was no Marilyn Stasio of The New York Times--who was I to let people know what books I was reading?  Why would they care?

But Rich persisted, so a few months later I launched this blog, and much to my amazement people started reading it.  Not only family and friends but friends of friends and people from far away (I know that because I receive emails from people across the States and abroad) were reading my posts and often responding to them.

Then my husband suggested that I write to authors when I reviewed their books.  Again I declined, and it was only after a year or two of Bob’s prodding that I took up his suggestion; lo and behold, many of these authors, well-known authors and first-timers, responded to my emails with gracious letters of appreciation, telling me that they were putting a link to my blog on their Twitter/Facebook accounts.

And, as another bonus, I have been receiving books to review from publishers and publicists for the last three or four years; no obligation, but they hope that if I enjoy their books I will write about them.  And if I do, I will.

A few months after starting my blog I joined BOLLI, an adult education program at Brandeis University, where  I took two courses each semester for three years.   Then I was approached by two Study Group Leaders who knew about my blog and asked me to teach a course on mystery novels.  I know this will come as no surprise, but I turned them down.  Who was I to teach mysteries?  The women waited a year and tried again, and this time I said yes.  I have taught five courses and am preparing for the sixth one that begins in March–WHODUNIT?:  MURDER WITH SIDEKICKS.

And in December I was asked to interview Hallie Ephron, the author of more than a dozen mystery novels, when she spoke at BOLLI.  And then she interviewed me for the blog that she and six other women mystery authors write, Jungleredwriters.  I was so honored both times.

Writing this blog and teaching at BOLLI have been outstanding experiences for me.  I’ve been lucky to have had several second chances and finally got smart enough to take them.  If you have an opportunity to grab a second/third/fourth chance, take it.  It’s definitely possible to grab the gold ring then, even if it slipped through your fingers the first time.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her website.  In addition to book review posts, there are sections featuring Golden Oldies, Past Masters and Mistresses, and an About Marilyn column that features her opinions about everything to do with mystery novels.

Marilyn

 

 

It’s amazing how quickly the year flies by when you and I are reading wonderful mysteries.  And really, can there be a better time than winter to hunker down with a cozy/thrilling/chilling novel and a cup of hot cocoa or tea?

As was true last year, it’s simply been too hard to narrow my list of Best Books of the year to fewer than fourteen.  Truly, I could have added several more, but one has to stop somewhere.  So here are my choices, in no particular order.  I’ve blogged about each one, so by going to the Search For box on the left side of my home page, you can read my posts about each choice.

NEWCOMER by Keigo Higashiro, THE NOWHERE CHILD by Christian White, LIVES LAID AWAY by Stephen Mack Jones, DECEPTION COVE by Owen Laukkanen, THE LOST MAN by Jane Harper, FINDING KATARINA M. by Elisabeth Elo, A BEAUTIFUL CORPSE by Christi Daughtery, IF SHE WAKES by Michael Koryta, AFTER SHE’S GONE by Camilla Grebe, SCRUBLANDS by Chris Hammer, LADY IN THE LAKE by Laura Lippman, A DANGEROUS MAN by Robert Crais, THE COLD WAY HOME by Julia Keller, and GOOD GIRL, BAD GIRL by Michael Robotham.

Eight novels take place in the United States, one in Japan, three in Australia, and two in Europe; eight were written by men, six by women.  The majority feature private investigators, but there are also a couple of police procedurals.  Most are either stand-alones or possibly the first in a series, although four are part of continuing series.  That is very different from my choices last year, when most of the books I chose were mysteries in a series.  You can see that there’s no formula, at least for me, in what type of mystery will make my “best of the best” column in any given year.  It all depends on the characters, plot, and style of the book.

I hope you’ll take a moment to read my blog posts for the books you’ve missed.  I promise they are all well worth reading.  You can also check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at my website.  In addition to book review posts, there are sections featuring Golden Oldies, Past Masters and Mistresses, and additional About Marilyn columns that feature opinions about everything to do with mystery novels.

Wishing you a wonderful 2020, complete with family, friends, and dozens of excellent mysteries to keep you entertained.

Marilyn

There’s a wonderful song from “The King and I” that encapsulates the feelings I have about teaching at BOLLI, the Brandeis Osher Lifelong Learning Institute.   It’s from “Getting To Know You,” and it’s sung by the Welsh teacher Anna Leonowens to the children of the king of Siam.

She has come to the country at the king’s invitation to teach his children about all things “scientific” so they can take their place in the modern world and show Queen Victoria that he and his people are not “barbarians.”   It’s the first verse of the song’s introduction that is so powerful for me:  “It’s a very ancient saying, But a true and honest thought, That if you become a teacher, By your pupils you’ll be taught.”

Oscar Hammerstein II got it exactly right, I think.  When I taught my first WHODUNIT? courses in 2017, I was nervous about the actual teaching but not about letting the class members know why I chose the books I did.  I was certain they would all agree with me about my choices, bowing to my expertise (!) in the field.  Well, perhaps I thought that there might be one or two outliers in each class who would come in with different opinions after reading that week’s novel, but soon they would be overwhelmed by my many reasons why each choice was a perfect one.

However, as we all learn sooner or later, pride goeth before a fall.  It didn’t take too long into that first course, Murder in New England, before people let me know that they didn’t always agree with me about the excellence of a book we were reading and discussing.  And,  I discovered, their opinions were as valid as mine.

Where I might have found the dialogue in a certain mystery clever, a class member found it forced and gave examples to prove it.  Where I explained the intricacies of a plot, others told me that they found it repetitious and slow-moving.  And, most amazing of all, some even had the temerity to say that Agatha Christie was not the be-all and end-all of mystery authors.

All of this led to a bit of soul-searching on my part and made me realize something that I really, truly had known but perhaps had been reluctant to admit.  Each reader brings some very personal feelings and thoughts to every book she/he reads; assuming that the reader has read the book with an open mind, all those different opinions are as reasonable as mine, humbling though it is to admit.

I’ve enjoyed all the WHODUNIT? courses I’ve taught at the BOLLI program, and I hope the members of my various classes have enjoyed taking them.  But there’s no doubt in my mind now, if there had been any before, that the teacher/student relationship works both ways, and each is taught by and learns from the other.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at my website.  In addition to book review posts, there are sections featuring Golden Oldies, Past Masters and Mistresses, and my About Marilyn columns that feature opinions about everything to do with mystery novels.

Marilyn

Do you hear the school bell ringing?  That’s because it’s almost time for the fall semester at BOLLI–the Brandeis Osher Lifelong Learning Institute–to begin.

This will be my fifth semester teaching a course at BOLLI on the appreciation of the mystery genre.  Each course begins with the word WHODUNIT? and then gives the specific title of that term’s subject.  The previous ones have been MURDER IN NEW ENGLAND, MURDER IN ETHNIC COMMUNITIES, MURDER IN SCANDINAVIA, and MURDER MOST BRITISH.

This semester’s class is WHODUNIT?:  MURDER, SHE WROTE.  It features all women authors and all female protagonists.  We’ll read eight novels during the ten week course, with the first and last weeks an introduction to mysteries and an overall discussion of the books assigned, respectively.

As I’ve noted in previous About Marilyn’s columns, what I find most interesting is what brings people to the classes.  There have been class members who have been reading mystery novels their entire lives and are familiar not only with the most popular authors but also with many little-known writers; there have been others who “confess” that they have never read a mystery or, if they did, it was many years ago.

So those who are devoted fans of mystery novels are presumably eager to explain and share their love of such books, while those who are new to mysteries are eager to learn why others find them so fascinating and perhaps to find an author or two who greatly appeals to them.

After a brief introduction of mystery types, we’ll spend part of the first session talking about Nancy Drew and what explains her popularity ninety years (!) after The Secret of the Old Clock was published.  To date, eighty million books in the series have been sold, a truly astonishing number, especially given the fact that the presumptive author, Carolyn Keene, is as fictitious as Nancy herself.

Carolyn Keene was the brainchild of Edwin Stratemeyer, founder of the syndicate that bore his name, and several authors were used under the Keene name to write the books to the formula Mr. Stratemeyer outlined.

Starting with the second class, we’ll be examining the eight novels I’ve chosen in the order they were published.  Since the first was published in 1930 and the last in 2017, we’ll be discussing not only the books’ heroines, plots, and settings but also the changes that have taken place in the culture and in women’s status in the nearly ninety years from the first novel to the most recent one.

If you’d like to read along with us, here are the books for this semester:  The Murder at the Vicarage  (1930) by Dame Agatha Christie, Edwin of the Iron Shoes (1977) by Marcia Muller, “A” is for Alibi (1982) by Sue Grafton, Indemnity Only (1982) by Sara Paretsky, A Trouble of Fools (1987) by Linda Barnes, China Trade (1994) by S. J. Rozan, Baltimore Blues (2006) by Laura Lippman, and The Last Place You Look (2017) by Kristen Lepionka.

Our first class is on Monday, September 9th.  Happy reading!

Marilyn

P. S.  Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her website.  In addition to book review posts, there are sections featuring Golden Oldies, Past Masters and Mistresses, and an About Marilyn column that features her opinions about everything to do with mystery novels.

Can a person be a bibliophile and a bibliophobe at the same time?  If so, I think I am one.

Being a bibliophile comes naturally to me.  My late mother used to tell people, perhaps with a bit of motherly exaggeration, that I was reading at the age of four.  That was her story for years, but then she lowered my reading age to three and finally to two-and-a-half.  Just wondering if she mis-remembered….

But getting back to the first sentence of this post.  Frankly, I feel somewhat of a bond with Eudora Welty’s character, the one who lived at the post office.  I (almost) live at the Needham library, visiting at least twice a week in search of the perfect mystery/mysteries about which to blog.

If I have fewer than three library books in my study, I go into a slight panic mode.  What if there’s an unexpected snowstorm?  (Yes, I know it’s June now, but stranger things have happened–haven’t they?)  What if the library loses electricity and has to close unexpectedly?  Or a thief empties all the shelves?

In addition to library books, there are also the novels that I’m fortunate enough to receive from various publishers/publicity agents who would like me to review their authors’ mysteries.  Don’t get me wrong; I’m delighted when there’s a package containing a mystery novel in my mailbox, and this happens several times a month.

But that’s where bibliphobia comes in.  Merriam-Webster defines that condition as a “strong dislike of books.”  Of course, that doesn’t apply to me, but it’s the closest I can come to in explaining a panic similar to the one I experience as a bibliophile.  For example, at the moment I have five books sent by publishers and four library books on the shelves in my study, one more waiting for me at the library, and ten on reserve.  What happens if they all arrive at once?

My husband’s solution for me is not to reserve so many books but simply to arrive at the library and see what’s available.  I suppose that makes sense, but what happens if I read someone’s review of a great mystery this week and don’t reserve it?  I might (probably will) forget about it until some time later, and by that time there are 50 people who have already reserved it.  There’s a word for that condition too–fear of missing out, or FOMO.

Now I have three problems which with to deal.

Marilyn

As I start my tenth year writing Marilyn’s Mystery Reads, I’m once again amazed by how quickly time moves.  It certainly doesn’t seem as if a year has passed since I wrote about my second time leading a course on murder mysteries at BOLLI, the Brandeis Osher Lifelong Learning Institute.  Both writing this blog and teaching are truly exciting and fulfilling for me.

Now I’m preparing for my fourth BOLLI course, this one entitled WHODUNIT?:  MURDER MOST BRITISH.  The class will begin with two novels, set in England, that take place in the past.  We’ll start with works by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, reading several short stories as well as The Hound of the Baskervilles, and move on to Dame Agatha Christie’s The Murder of Roger Ackroyd.  We’ll arrive at present-day England with Jane Casey’s After the Fire.

Then we’ll move north to Scotland to read Denise Mina’s Garnethill and Ann Cleeves’ Raven Black.  After that we’ll head south to Wales to Harry Bingham’s Talking to the Dead and finish by crossing the Irish Sea and the North Channel to arrive in Northern Ireland with Stuart Neville’s The Ghosts of Belfast and Adrian McGinty’s Police at the Station and They Don’t Look Friendly.

As was true in my previous classes, some of these authors, most certainly Doyle and Christie, will be familiar to most if not all of the students.  Other authors may be known to some but not all class members, and still other authors may be new to everyone.  Re-reading old favorites and getting introduced to new authors is, I think, part of the fun of the course.

At the beginning of the discussion of each novel, I show a brief video of the author, if one is available.  As I was putting together the section on Arthur Conan Doyle, I went on YouTube to see if there was an interview with him, not really expecting to find one.  Imagine my delight to view a 20-minute video of Doyle discussing both his interest in the spirit world as well as his iconic fictional detective.  It was amazing to see a video of this man whose personality and kindness come to present-day readers through the magic of Youtube.  Here’s the link to the 1927 video:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XWjgt9PzYEM&t=44s

The course starts on Monday, March 4th, with an overview of the mystery genre.  We’ll then be reading a book a week (with the exceptions of April 15th and April 22nd, two vacation weeks at Brandeis) until May 13th.  Our last class will be on May 20th with concluding thoughts and opinions of what we’ve read.  Why not read along with us?

In addition to the About Marilyn column, this site contains posts on Book Reviews, Golden Oldies, and Past Masters and Mistresses.  I hope you find books that keep you reading mysteries from the world’s best mystery writers.

Marilyn

 

It’s that time of year when “the best … of 2018” lists are compiled.  You can fill in the dots–best films, best songs, best whatever.  So as not to disappoint the readers of this blog, here is my list of the Top Ten (and more) Best Mystery Novels of 2018.  

Please note that one big advantage of writing a blog is that I can make up any rules I want, so my Top Ten is really my Top Fourteen.  I’m listing them in the order I reviewed them, starting in January and continuing through last week.

The Wanted by Robert Crais (1/26), Let Me Lie by Clare Mackintosh (3/16), The Man in the Crooked Hat by Harry Dolan (4/16), The Plea by Steven Cavanaugh (6/8), A Necessary Evil by Abir Mukherjee (6/15), All the Beautiful Lies by Peter Swanson (7/13), The Shadow Killer by Arnaldur Indridasôn (6/22), The Dark Lake by Sarah Bailey (8/10), Bone on Bone by Julia Keller (8/31), City of Ink by Elsa Hart (9/14), Fogland Point by Doug Burgess (11/9), Shell Game by Sara Paretsky (11/23), The Night Ferry by Lotte and Søren Hammer (12/1), and November Road by Lou Berney (12/22).

Going over the list now that it’s complete, I’m struck by several things.  First, eight of the books are written by men, five by women, and one by a sister/brother team.  Second, nine take place in the United States, five in foreign countries.  Third, only Doug Burgess is a first-time mystery novelist.  Fourth, the majority of the books are part of a series.

On the last two points, I’m not sure if that means I’m partial to a protagonist I can follow from novel to novel or if it’s merely a coincidence that it almost always takes an author more than one book to fully “find his/her voice.”  At any rate, that’s how I view the novels I reviewed this year.

One of things that makes compiling a list of favorites so interesting is comparing it to others.  Because there are so many types of mysteries, and we all prefer some types to others–psychological thrillers, series, cozies, police procedurals, for example–probably no two people will pick the same dozen or so novels.   But as my readers know, every book I blog about is one I think highly of and recommend.

At any rate, here is my very personal list.  The books I chose all have outstanding plots, terrific and realistic characters, and subjects that struck a note with me.  I enjoyed every one of  these novels and hope you get an opportunity to read one, two, or more for yourself.

All my good wishes for a happy 2019!  May it be filled with an endless supply of wonderful mysteries!

Marilyn