books · crime · mystery

Murder, Mayhem and Mysteries

I accuse Colonel Mustard in the Billiard Room with the wrench!

Clue is one of my all-time favourite board games that I first discovered in my grandma’s basement as a child.  I would convince (force) my brother and sister to play the game with me each time we visited.  I was always so intrigued with the possibility of a puzzle to solve. So it was just natural that I would eventually become a fan of mystery novels.

A great mystery often starts with the crime in progress or just minutes after it has happened and many writers make use of the prologue to set the scene for events to come.  Whether I am reading fan-favourite Agatha Christie, Ian Rankin, John Ball or even a Nancy Drew mystery,  the crime is what sets the story in motion.

My interest in mysteries has always been present as a reader but I did not discover the Queen of Crime until into my thirties.  Agatha Christie is according to her website, “the best-selling novelist in history, outsold only by the Bible and Shakespeare” (www.agathachristie.com).  What I love about her novels is the attention to detail and the exotic locations that some of the mysteries take place in.  I also have a particular fondness for both her detectives:  Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot along with other characters that represent the iconic detective character.  My first read of Christie was Murder on the Orient Express.  My department was looking for a new novel to read and there was an appeal of studying the mystery genre.  Something about this genre of writing has always fascinated me.  Whether it is the idea of solving a puzzle or following a set of clues; including red-herrings; I am usually intrigued by this type of story.  What I like most about Christie’s stories is her ability to lead the reader off-track suspecting one person when another is the guilty party.  Her novels also include very international and cosmopolitan characters who have traveled extensively and could be embroiled in the secrets and lies resulting in a robbery, murder or kidnapping.

Recently I have discovered Scottish writer Ian Rankin’s Inspector Rebus at my local used bookstore after reading Knots & Crosses with my book club.  There is something about Rankin’s depiction of Rebus that appeals to me.  He is good at his job; in that there is no doubt but the character is also at times, slovenly, gritty and human.  Although I have a long way to go in reading all of Rebus’ series, I like the history of how Rankin had no intention of keeping Rebus as a character, intending to kill him off in the first draft of Knots & Crosses.  Rankin also is conscious of  Rebus as he completes the new novels.  He is a crime writer I would have missed if not for my book club.

Further John Ball created the iconic detective Virgil Tibbs when he wrote In the Heat of the Night in 1965.  Although the book went on the inspire a movie and television series (which deviate from the plot of the book!), the novel needs to be recognized as a stand-alone intense mystery.  Tibbs is a strong character from the beginning to the end of the book.  Everything about him is professional, competent and detail-oriented.  I always liked to study this novel with my grade 12s because of the themes, the content and the message that some things will never change.  The novel often sparked controversy about that time period and the blatant racism that existed, the classism issues in the novel and how what we think of justice, is not always the case.  Tibbs is a remarkable homicide detective that in spite of the obstacles that are thrown in his way, he still manages to solve the case.

The mystery still remains one very popular genre today with titles like Girl on the Train (Paula Hawkins) keeping the reader guessing at every turn of the page, to more classic detective stories like Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes.  Whether it is classified as a mystery, crime novel, psychological thriller or murder-mystery, this genre will have reader’s guessing “whodunnit” until the last page turns.

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