Friday, March 16, 2007

Five favorite crime fiction writers


Blame Enid Blyton. After all, she not only played a big part in making me the bookworm that I am but also -- by way of being the woman behind the Secret Seven, Famous Five, Five Find-Outers and Dog, and a fair few other series featuring intrepid child detectives -- was the first writer of crime stories that I came across.

Put another way: Enid Blyton books may no longer be a staple of my bibliographic diet. However, I think that extremely prolific plus popular author's due some credit for making me the fan of crime fiction -- a genre which I've been surprised to latterly learn is female dominated in terms of both authors and readers -- that I remain to this day.

At the same time though, I have to say that she doesn't make my current list of five most favorite crime fiction writers. Rather, these are (in order of personal discovery):-

1) Sir Arthur Conan Doyle: An admission to which the more foul-mouthed might exclaim, "No shit, Sherlock!" ;D More seriously though, I realize that this looks to be an unimaginative choice. Still, the truth of the matter is that, while still in my early teens, I got myself a copy of The Penguin Complete Sherlock Holmes and proceeded to race through every single one of the four novels and fifty-six short stories in it which had Sherlock Holmes as its protagonist.

Also, to make up for my general unimaginative choice, I'm going to name the not particularly well-known The Adventure of the Lion's Mane along with A Scandal in Bohemia as my favorite Sherlock Holmes stories in that hefty 1,122 page paperback book which weighs -- yes, I really did go and weigh it just now! -- in the region of 2 pounds or 1 kilograms! ;b

2) Elizabeth George: It was not until many years later that I would come to be as gripped by, and care for, a crime series' characters the way I had with Sir Arthur's Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson. But in -- and through -- works like A Suitable Vengeance, Payment in Blood and Deception On His Mind, Elizabeth George got me all engrossed and enthralled by the lives, works and loves of the likes of Scotland Yarder Thomas Lynley (AKA the Earl of Asherton); his lady love, Lady Helen Clyde; detective Barbara Havers; and Barbara's little friend, Khalidah Hadiyyah.

...which is why her thirteenth novel, With No One As Witness is so painful to read. Succinctly put: one of my favorite characters in this series is shot dead in the book. Yet, even as the incident ellicited reactions of shock and horror from me, it didn't cause me to stop reading the story. And yes, I'll give Elizabeth George at least one more chance to redeem herself in the form of her latest work: that which is entitled -- and do not click on the title if you don't wish to see spoilers for the preceding book! -- What Came Before He Shot Her.

3) Tess Gerritsen: Another crime fiction writer whose characters I love. In this case, the trio of characters in question are Boston medical examiner Dr. Maura Isles, police detective Jane Rizzoli and Jane's FBI agent husband, Gabriel Dean. (More than by the way, Tess Gerritsen has a revelatory post on her fun-to-read blog -- one which makes her come across as a really nice and unpretentious individual -- in which she acknowledges that "Maura Isles is me"!)

More specifically, what I appreciate about the Jane Rizzoli/Maura Isles series is that its two main characters really have not only generally grown increasingly three-dimensional but also developed in increasingly intriguing ways over the course of the six books that I've read thus far. In particular, Jane Rizzoli has latterly become warmer -- and I'd even say mature -- by way of her now being married and a parent. At the same time, however, she's by no means lost the feisty and even fiery edge that helps her be the capable policewoman -- along with wife and mother -- and interesting character that she is.

4) Linda Fairstein: At a time when I was waiting impatiently for Tess Gerritsen to come up with a new crime novel, I first turned to the books of Patricia Cornwell for respite. However, the further along I went into her Kay Scarpetta series, the more irritated I became with her main characters' destructive plus depressive tendencies. Consequently, I was initially a bit hesitant to check out the works of Linda Fairstein because they seemed to feature similar main characters to Cornwell's (i.e., a financially well-off female crime professional and a proudly un-PC male cop).

However, just two books into the Alex (short for Alexandra) Cooper series, I realized that I had read at least one chapter (specifically, Chapter 28 of Likely To Die) that was unlike anything that Cornwell had written: one which was heart-warming and the perfect coda to a work that had seen its sex crimes prosecutor being involved in the investigation of a disturbing as well as messy murder case. And from then on, I was hooked!

5) Lisa See: Before anything else, here's sending out heartfelt thanks to regular reader Mikael for recommending this Asian-American author's crime novels to me. (See the comments section of this blog entry!) Additionally, here's reporting that in the wake of his doing so, I've managed to track down -- and proceeded to thoroughly enjoy reading -- two of them in the form of Dragon Bones and The Interior.

Alas, though, re my search for the first book out of just three so far which center on Liu Hulan, Inspector at China's Ministry of Public Security, and American lawyer David Stark having thus far been in vain. However, trust me when I say that I've by no means given up hope on getting my hands on a copy of Flower Net.

Also, that I really would look forward to spending more hours with my nose in any new addition to this series whose Chinese settings are often much less exoticized than -- even while as interesting as -- the books' blurbs can make them sound. (So, Ms. See, in the unlikely event that you're reading this, please write more of these crime novels, and ASAP, will you?!) :)

(N.B. This post has been submitted to engtech//'s Five Things contest)

17 comments:

bibliobibuli said...

nice piece! i also have ms blyton to thank for getting me into books

i haven't really got into crime fiction, though have enjoyed some ruth rendall. love watching all the crime dramas on bbc entertianment though.

and yes, this is a field where women seem to excell (maybe we're more devious by nature?)

YTSL said...

Hi bibliobuli/Sharon --

Am glad you enjoyed reading this piece! :)

"and yes, this is a field where women seem to excell (maybe we're more devious by nature?)"

Hmmmm, am not sure why women seemed to excel more in this field. But I'm more likely to chalk it down to a proclivity to pay attention to details -- and therefore notice plus write about important clues, etc. -- myself! ;)

Daphne said...

Elizabeth George was a favourite of mine until her last two! BTW, have you seen the Inspector Lynley series on BBC Entertainment? I can't get over a skinny Barbara Havers. And Helen's huge nose! And Lynley's black hair ...!!!!!

YTSL said...

Hi Daph --

"Elizabeth George was a favourite of mine until her last two!"

Uh oh...You mean you've read "What Came Before He Shot Her" and didn't like? Or did you also not much care for the book before "With No One as Witness" (i.e., "A Place Called Hiding")?

As for TV as well as film adaptations of favorite books of mine: Generally try to avoid them like the plague after being burnt by quite a few of them (starting from that horrible Hardy Boys series that starred Parker Stevenson and Shaun Cassidy all the way to such as Merchant Ivory's "Howard's End" and David Lean's adaptation of "A Passage to India"). :<

The Great Swifty said...

Yeah, Enid Blyton got me into reading too. I always thought that George from Famous Five was, like, really hot, back when I was 8. And then, I worshiped Fatty from those Mystery books (was it 5 findouters?) too because I was, well, fat.

Don't really read the authors you listed, though ironically, two years ago, for one of the units I did for my literature minor, my presentation was on the crime genre. But the examples I used were Sue Grafton and (the weirder one) Jasper Fforde. :D

Hey, you aren't based in PJ, are you? Would have loved to have you attend the Malaysian Shorts on Monday night :D My film's chosen for screening, hohoho.

YTSL said...

Hi Swifty --

"Yeah, Enid Blyton got me into reading too."

Enid Blyton really has a lot to answer for, doesn't she? ;)

And teeheehee re your saying that you thought that George Kirrin was hot and that you worshipped Fatty (AKA Master Frederick Algernon Trotteville)! :D

Also, I'm based in Penang, not PJ...you mean to tell me that you didn't notice the Penang bias on this blog? ;b

Daphne said...

Oh my god, I think I blocked out A Place of Hiding. I find Deborah annoying to the max. And, I'm sorry, ditto Helen. I'm rather glad she's gone. Sorry, sorry.

I watch the series cos of morbid fascination I think. It's so pathetic. I didnt think Howard's End was soooo bad.

But Pride and Prejudice, the one starring Keira Knightley!! OMG!!!!!

I'm steadfastly refusing to watch the film adaptation of AS Byatt's Possession. Gwyneth paltrow ... can't be good.

We are SUCH snobs!

Next time I'm in penang we shld have coffee and talk books and films.

YTSL said...

Hi Daph --

"Oh my god, I think I blocked out A Place of Hiding."

Not having read Elizabeth George's latest, I actually think that *that* was her nadir. And agreed with Deborah but noooooooooo re your finding Helen annoying!!!!! ;(

"I didnt think Howard's End was soooo bad."

Three things: 1) What happened to "Only connect..."?!; 2) What happened to the scene of the Schlegels listening to Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony at the Royal Albert Hall??!!; and 3) I must confess to having a general aversion to Helena Bonham-Carter (even while adoring Emma Thompson)!

"We are SUCH snobs!"

Not snobs. Purists. :b

"Next time I'm in penang we shld have coffee and talk books and films."

You've got my e-mail addy. So... :)

The Great Swifty said...

Well, yeah, was hoping that you were in PJ or something so you can drop by and gasp in horror at my insane fantasy romance of a girl who flew to the moon to seek this boyfriend she met on the Internet :D

The Great Swifty said...

And hell yes, George was so fiesty that she was the one who practically defined what I search for in a woman... or something like that, I don't know. This is one chick who constantly rebels against the establishment, which makes her... awesome.

YTSL said...

Hi once more Swifty --

Teeheehee -- your film sounds rather...amusing! :)

And wow re your feelings about -- and for -- George! :)))

eliza bennet said...

I was going to recommend Ian Rankin to you but then you wrote that pessimist characters that have self destructive tendencies turn you off. Too bad!

YTSL said...

Hi "eliza bennet" --

Hmmm...sounds like I should give Ian Rankin a miss. Thanks for the anti-heads up re him! ;b

Oh, and congratulations on being the first non-Malaysia-based individual to comment on this thread! ;)

ewaffle said...

I also think very highly of Elizabeth George and Linda Fairstein--I've read all of the books each has written--actually I stopped about 100 pages into Fairstein's current one when I realized there was a good chance of Alex being trapped underground with the tunnel worksers.

Just digging in with Tess Gerritsen and I agree that the Rizzoli/Isles pairing is an excellent one.

Like a lot of people I first read Doyle when I was quite young but my wife is just beginning to read the stories. She has been reading a series by Carole Nelson Douglas that features Irene Adler an American who encounters Holmes in all of her adventures.

Another author you might be interested in is Anne Perry who has two series, one set in early Victorian London and the other about 50 years later.

This is a lovely blog and I am also a fan of your reviews on BRNS.com

YTSL said...

Hi ewaffle --

Will try to see whether I can find the books of Anne Perry over here in Penang. As you can tell, I'm always on the look out for new crime fiction to like. :b

And thanks much for your kind words re both this blog and my reviews over at brns.com. Do keep on visiting and I hope you will continue to enjoy reading my writing for some time to come. :)

Nicki said...

I realize this is an older blog post, but I wanted to thank you for posting it. I'm always on the look out for new crime novels to read and plan to seek out a couple of the authors you list.

By the way, couldn't agree more about the Kay Scarpetta novels...she took the character somewhere I didn't care to follow.
You might try Kathy Reichs if you are interested in the more forensic side of things.

Nicki

YTSL said...

Hi Nicki --

Glad to see an older blog entry being read and attracting comments -- and nice ones at that! And, actually, I've since discovered quite a few more favorite crime fiction writers and so should maybe write another entry similar to this one... :)