Showing posts with label Edgar Allan Poe. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Edgar Allan Poe. Show all posts

Friday, February 19, 2016

#MarchMysteryMadness Challenge List

Goodreads Group: March Mystery Madness
~~~~~ The Food/Craft/Hobby Cozy~~~~~
1.       “It wasn’t the way that Hannah preferred to attract new clientele, but she had to admit that finding Ron’s body had been good for business.  The Cookie Jar was jam-packed with customers.  Some of them were even standing while they munched their cookies, and every one of them wanted her opinion on what happened to Ron LasSalle.”
Everybody has a craft–a hobby.  Whether it’s baking sugar cookies or crocheting Forget-Me-Not dollies.  Maybe even culturing herbs for organic dishes.  Or are you into nature photography and are a dedicated bibliophile?  Now imagine engaging with your day-to-day passions when a body suddenly crosses your path.  What would you do?  Do you have what it takes to balance your craft with solving murders?  Explore the possibilities by reading a cozy mystery with a food/craft/hobby theme.
~~~~~ The Get Christie Love Lead~~~~~
2.       “Finally, after all my procrastinating and avoiding Bessie’s calls, I was able to put the finishing touches on my report, explaining exactly how I had spent her money (I didn’t include the manicure), apologizing for what I hadn’t been able to find out, but pointing out that her involvement may have sparked the cops’ renewed interest in the case.  I included the name of the lawyer that Jake had given me as well as the contact for the program for Rayshawn.  I also warned her in strong language that Rayshawn had been on the verge of committing a serious felony and had some serious problems that had to be dealt with, and if she and Viola didn’t make sure he got help, I’d be forced to go to the authorities with information that would result in his arrest.”
Find and follow your inner Christie Love and Foxy Brown.  Read a mystery/crime fiction novel powered by an African (-American) female sleuth.  Or, from Tokyo to Seoul.  Shanghai to Kolkata.  Or even New York to Los Angles.  Read a mystery/crime fiction novel featuring a sleuth with an Eastern perspective on matters.  (In general, a book featuring a person of color taking lead.)
~~~~~ The Christie/Poe Complex~~~~~
3.      “I wish I could write as mysterious as a cat.”
“Dogs are wise. They crawl away into a quiet corner and lick their wounds and do not rejoin the world until they are whole once more.”

Did you know Edgar Allan Poe did mystery and crime fiction before mystery and crime fiction were even a thing?  Let’s face it; he’s the godfather of the genre.  He’s the seed to this entire challenge.  Therefore, your challenge is simple: indulge in one or all three of Poe’s mystery shorts…
A.     The Murders in the Rue Morgue
B.     The Mystery of Marie Roget
C.     The Purloined Letter
Or how about the matriarch of mystery and crime fiction, Agatha Christie?

Sunday, April 6, 2014

March Mystery Madness: Survey Says

March is over.  It’s been a solid month filled with icky weather, but some outstanding books to pull me through the storm.  As you know I dedicated the month of March to catching up and clearing the mystery books/series off my shelf--the majority of them at least.  I want to move up at least one book in each series, and for the most part, I succeeded.  Cleanly I might add.  I stuck to my commitment book by book, except for an unfortunate few that I'll name later.  Now it’s time for me to reveal the verdicts on my readings, considering most of my progress with these series were stalled between 5-2 years.  Included in the verdicts is my version of ratings--in the form of "Brooklyn Heads" for that extra creative juice.  I want to thank those who have commented on my March Mystery Madness video, shared their favorite mysteries, and etc.  Much, much appreciated.  If you've read any of these books, also share your opinions below.

The Flower Master by Sujata Massey

“Life in Japan for a transplanted Californian with a fledgling antiques business and a nonexistent love life isn't always fun, but when the flower arranging class Rei Shimura’s aunt cajoles her into taking turns into a stage for murder, Rei finds plenty of [the] excitement she’s been missing.

Unfortunately too many people have a reason for committing the crime--her aunt included.  While struggling to adjust to the nuances of Japanese propriety, trying to keep her business afloat, and dealing with veiled messages left under her door, Rei sifts the bones of old skeletons to keep her family name clear--and her own life safe from an enemy with a mysterious agenda.  If Rei doesn't want to be crushed like fallen cherry blossoms, she's going to have to walk a perilous line and uncover a killer with a dramatic flare for deadly arrangements." ~ The Flower Master blurb

I breezed through this book; hooked the second I got through the first chapter.  However, I remained upset that I didn't continue the series two years ago, having been burnt by the second book in Massy‘s series, Zen Attitude.  Seriously, The Flower Master sat on my shelf for two years!  I could’ve been at least seven books deep into the series by now, had I continued.  Nonetheless, now that I'm done with The Flower Master my commitment to Massey’s series is so real.  And so strong as I browse Amazon for The Floating Girl--book four in the series.  I wouldn't say that Massey’s mystery set-up is out of this world in The Flower Master.  It was certainly stronger here than in the previous book.  Nonetheless, it’s not necessarily the mystery that causes this series to glow.  No, it’s Massey’s system of introducing and acknowledging traditions centered within Japanese culture that makes this series stand out; and the un-bustled parts of Tokyo in which she explores her murders.  

Nonetheless, The Flower Master took the histrionics behind Japanese flower arrangement, as well as today's modern approach, and wrapped a cryptic revenge murder around it.  And the pages are thick with the entrapping details--expressed between characters and lite exposition--that unfold throughout the reading.  Now, I will mention that sometimes Massey's scenes and character choreography were off.  That might seem trivial to some, but when I read I put my trust into the author and her ability to carefully paint and direct a scene.  Nevertheless, some online reviewers’ complain of Massey’s knowledgeable understanding of Japan and Japanese culture alongside their personal definition of the subject.  Forget all of that, I say.  I held on to Massey's words on the subject and flew through Rei Shimura’s third mystery with glee.  I couldn't be contained.

Deadlock by Sara Paretsky

"Deadlock, V I Warshawski's second case, involves the huge Great Lakes shipping industry.  Once again the subject is murder--this time the "accidental death" of Boom-Boom Warshawski, an ex-hockey star and V I's beloved cousin, who fell--or was pushed--off a rain-slicked pier on Chicago's busy waterfront.  Convinced that Boom-Boom was in fact killed because of information he had uncovered about criminal doings on the shipping lines, V I begins a long and frustrating search for her cousin's murderer.  In the course of an investigation that takes her to a remote Canadian port city and a calamitous trip on a sabotaged freighter, V I finds all too many possible candidates for the killer, including a grain company executive involved in extortion; and rivals heads of two shippers, one of whom is being blackmailed for his criminal past; a hockey player whose specialty is graft; and Boom-Boom's lover, an icily beautiful dancer with expenstive taste in men and merchandise."

Let me be real in stating that Deadlock’s themes of freighters and shipments spread itself just as convoluted as the insurance scam in V. I.’s previous book/case, Indemnity Only.  And while that is all somewhat insufferable to the reading experience, what I will also frankly state is that I'm a step above becoming enamored by V.I. herself.  She pulled no punches in Deadlock, reaffirming that she’s a strongly-crafted and capable character.  She definitely goes a lot harder than her counterpart in hard-boiled detective fiction, Kinsey Millhone.  So whether V.I. is struggling to control a wire-snipped runaway car, or holding on for her life as explosives detonate in the engine room of an occupied freighter, she recapitulates that women P.I.s can go a tab or two above men.  Naturally, I love all of femme maven excitement, enough so to move into Paresky’s third V.I. book, Killing Orders.  Nonetheless, as I mentioned earlier, the problem I had with this book is that I didn't understand a damn thing surrounding its setting and theme.  Consisting of freighters, wafts, and the elevator lay of the Port of Chicago, I was mostly lost Deadlock's set-up.  Paretsky's system just wasn't clear to me.  Had I lived in Chicago I may have struggled less to absorbed Paretsky’s detailing--but I don’t.  Never even seen the Port of Chicago until I had to pause my reading to do a quick Google Image search on my phone.  So while all that screamed for a proper visual, Paretsky’s run down on shipping rates, private papers, and contracts between suspects kept me further in the clouds.  

Additionally, it didn't help that I found myself mostly confused between the numerous introduction and motivations of the men involved in this business, particularly when one is a killer worth concentrating on.  I still pushed through for the gold, mostly driven by the murder mystery and action scenes.  A splash of softhearted scenes related to the victims also encouraged me to move forward.  Nevertheless, it was only toward the end that all of the convoluted set-up finally began to make some sense.  Once I shut the last page, that’s when I exclaimed, “I GET IT NOW!”  I will be continuing this series after that year long hiatus between the first and second book.  On the third go-round I'll try harder to "get it" in the early quarter of the book.  Especially now that I have a better grasp on Paretsky's style.

Real Murders by Charlaine Harris

"Lawrenceton, Georgia, may be a growing suburb of Atlanta, but it's still a small town at heart.  Librarian Aurora "Roe" Teagarden grew up there and knows more than enough about her fellow townsfolk, including which ones share her interest in the darker side of human nature.  With those fellow crime buffs, Roe belongs to a club called Real Murders, which meets once a month to analyze famous cases.  It's a harmless pastime--until the night she finds a member dead, killed in a manner that eerily resembles the crime the club was about to discuss.  And as other brutal 'copycat' killings follow, Roe will have to uncover the person behind the terrifying game, one that casts all the members of Real Murders, herself included, as prime suspects--or potential victims..." ~ Real Murder blurb

Let me go ahead and get this part out of the way: I did/do not like Aurora Teagarden.  Unfortunately, you can't get away from her, considering the books are told through the first person via her snarky perspective.  I can't pinpoint the gradient in which I did not take to her character.  Maybe it was because her mother owned the apartment complex that housed a number of the supporting characters--giving Aurora reason to look down on the cast Harris created.  I just know that my dislike of her had a lot to do with how she viewed the supporting characters.  Her view of them had this unpleasant, impatience taste to it.  For a character described as plain looking--of an extreme librarian quality--Aurora housed a high opinion of herself.  Especially in concerns to others.  

Furthermore, she took it upon herself to snoop into everyone else’s business, granted she's an amateur sleuth solving a murder.  However, with that snooping lie more of this hint of self-righteousness she sometimes exuded.  I remember reading Aurora’s antics and aloof disposition toward others, wondering to myself “just who the hell are you to think that way.”  I saw this to a degree in Harris’s other first person protagonists from her numerous series.  However, something about Aurora, with her plain clothes and large glasses, just rubbed me the wrong way.  At least that’s what I was left feeling, which consequently takes a chunk out of my verdict for the actual mystery.  

Oh, and I wasn't exactly won over by the fake charm Aurora shined over her younger brother from her father’s current marriage (her parents divorced; her father re-married).  Aurora's attitude was as if the boy was a burden to look after.  However, later he became the catalyst to the events that took place (in watered-down fashion) toward the final reveal.  As for the mystery element, it was cozy with a touch of bloody, but nothing outstanding or even witty.  I know that's not much, but it was hardly what I was left with the minute I closed the book.  There's a wonder why it took me from January 2010 till now to start this series.  Seeing that I already own the first four books, I'll give the series a further go in the hopes that maybe Aurora will chill on the subtle bitch-mobile.  Insecure much?

Concourse by S. J. Rozan

"Bill Smith has been hired by an old friend to investigate the killing of a security guard at the Bronx Home for the Aged.  Going undercover, Smith wades out into a sea of violence and lies washing up against the old brick building.  When a second murder is committed, Smith knows that there's a method to the madness.  With the help of bright, young Chinese-American investigator Lydia Chin, Smith uncovers a web of corruption that's found a home in the Bronx.  Now he has to figure out who will die next." ~ Concourse blurb

Certainly one of my favorite reads of the month of March.  Concourse delivered.  For the sake of sounding cliché… it did so in spades.  I sit back and wonder why was I really so hesitate to read the second book in the Lydia Chin/Bill Smith mystery, after devouring the first book two years ago.  It wasn't so bad uncovering a mystery in Bill Smith’s perspective, partly because Rozan did (but at the same time did not) paint Bill Smith underneath the gossamer of your average male P.I.  His voice had a very reasonable ting to it, that I liked instantly.  He wasn't overtly cynical or a masculine brute.  

The mystery was packed, and somewhat twisted, but the delivery was nowhere near as convoluted as what I experienced in the two Paretsky books I've read.  I think most of that is in part to Rozan’s writing, which is very clear and succinct.  Each measure and beat of her words and sentence all seemed to fall right into place.  I barely stumbled over the text to devour her point.  This helped in the immersion, in turn guiding me through the offering of her mystery.  Tie those elements to the emotionally driven motivations of her characters (between justice and greed) and here I was closing the last page with a grin plastered all over my face.  Needless to say, I'm anxious for the next book, Mandarin Plaid.  Concise is the magic word here.  Concise with all the right ingredients for a great mystery.  I'm only sorry that it took me so long to warm up to Bill Smith.

Takeover by Lisa Black

"In the tradition of Kathy Reichs and Jeffery Deaver, a talented novelist introduces a gutsy forensic investigator caught in the middle of an explosive crisis.
Early one Thursday morning, forensic scientist Theresa MacLean is called to the scene of a gruesome murder. The body of a man has been found on the front lawn of a house in suburban Cleveland, the back of his head bashed in. Although it's not the best start to her day, Theresa has been through worse. What unfolds during the next eight hours, though, is nothing she could ever have imagined.
Downtown at the Federal Reserve Bank, her police detective fiancé is taken hostage with six others in a robbery masterminded by two clever criminals. When she arrives at the scene, Theresa discovers that the police have brought in the city's best hostage negotiator: handsome, high-profile Chris Cavanaugh. He hasn't lost a victim yet, but Theresa wonders if he might be too arrogant to save the day this time around.
When her fiancé is injured, she seizes the opportunity to trade places with him. Once on the inside, she will use all her wiles, experience, and technical skills to gain control of the situation. But what initially appears to be a bank heist turns into something far more complex and deadly, and Theresa must decide how much more she is willing to sacrifice in order to save the lives of innocent people as well as her own." ~ Goodreads
In all and total fairness, I should not be providing a verdict for my experience with Takeover by Lisa Black.  Why?  Because I only made it to page 30 before I knew--deep in the craw of my reading spirit--that it wasn’t going to work.  However, since I plugged it as a book involved with my March reading, I feel the next to explain why.  It was boring.  The main character, Theresa, was uninteresting and detached.  Within those 30 pages I never gathered exactly why I should stick by her.  The set-up involving a murder and a bank robbery was kind of sped, while monotonous in its delivery.  Black's speeding pace could have been spent fleshing Theresa out a little more.  Also, the writing was without color to me.  Heck, I would even stay to a startling degree.  I was four mystery books deep when I realized Black’s voice/syntax read like an a-type narrative.  Every word seemed meticulous and in place.  No banter.  No wit.  No clever passages.  No sense of creative abandon and risk.  I’m more than positive that a little more color will come out of the next book.  But concerning Takeover, I just didn’t feel inspired to finish it.

Wish You Were Here by Rita Mae Brown

"Small towns are like families:  Everyone lives very close together... and everyone keeps secrets.  Crozet, Virginia, is a typical small town--until its secrets explode into murder.  Crozet's thirty-something postmistress, Mary Minor "Harry" Haristeen, has a tiger cat (Mrs. Murphy) and a Welsh corgi (Tee Tucker), a pending divorce, and a bad habit of reading postcards not addressed to her.  When Crozet's citizens start turning up murdered, Harry remembers that each received a card with a tombstone on the front and the message "Wish you were here" on the back.  Intent on protecting their human friends, Mrs. Murphy and Tucker begin to scent out clues.  Meanwhile, Harry is conducting her own investigation, unaware her pets are one step ahead of her.  If only Mrs. Murphy could alert her somehow, Harry could uncover the culprit before another murder occurs--and before Harry finds herself on the killer's mailing list." ~ Wish You Were Here blurb

I knew like I knew like I knew that this was going to be a good, cozy mystery.  The receipt says I bought it 7/2/2012 and here I am finally giving this book the chance it deserves.  I’ve turned my back on a lot of books, but this one was destined to be read and enjoyed.  It’s almost spiritual in its explanation.  Nonetheless, I’ll first admit to what halted me from diving into my first Rita Mae Brown mystery back in 2012.  See, Wish You Were Here introduced too many characters too quickly; and it didn’t help that each and every one of them had off-beat names, causing you to pause and recount what name matched what character.  Yes, Brown's name-game can work instantly for the rapt reader, or a reader familiar with Brown’s technique (through her non-mysteries) of employing unique character names in her books.  

However, it didn't seem worth the trouble when the narrative is tied to the first person, and that a sliced portion of this off-beat named cast was destined to die any way.  Essentially, these names probably deserved a proxy name come publication, while letting the author indulge in her cleverness from the desk.  But that’s neither here nor there considering Brown’s been publishing since the 70s.  Nevertheless, after 100 pages or so, I got the hang of it.  With all that aside, I loved this book because of Brown’s “creamy” writing.  No, seriously.  That’s how I envisioned her use of words and language.  She has a certain je ne sais quoi with words and their unfolding in concerns to her plot.  This made for a comfortable and alluring read.  Aside from the revealing narrative between the cat and dog duo, Mrs. Murphy and Tucker, Brown’s ability to knock sleeves of information about characters without the reader really knowing it had me in wonder.  In wonder as in I sometimes wanted to put the mystery aside to explore a full on character portrait instead.  Let me provide an example from page 33:

“Did Susan do this for Ned?  In the beginning of the marriage, yes.  After five years and two kids she had felt she was losing her mind.  She balked.  Ned was rip-shot mad.  Then they got to talking, really talking.  She was fortunate.  So was he.  They found common ground.  They learned to do with less so they could hire help.  Susan took a part-time job to bring in some money and get out of the house.  But Susan and Ned were meant for each other, and Harry and Fair were not.  Sex brought them together and left them together for a while, but they weren't really connected emotionally and they certainly weren't connected intellectually.  They were two reasonably good people who needed to free themselves to do what came next, and sadly, they weren't going to free themselves without anger, recrimination, and dragging their friends into it.”

Like, I’m sorry.  But that was one amazing passage to me.  That’s how you bring just enough information to provide a background for a character and disguise him/her from the rest of the crowd.  And it’s just enough information--as I mentioned--to leave you wanting to explore it elsewhere, while remembering that it just might provide itself as a hint to the mystery.  The second Mrs. Murphy book, Rest in Pieces, is shipping my way as we speak.

Sadly, my reading of Frankie Y. Bailey's Death's Favorite Child did not proceed forward.  Unlike Takeover, I have even less to say about it at this point.  The fact is that after Rita Mae Brown's Wish You Were Here, I developed a taste for something else in the mystery genre.  So I ended up with Elizabeth Peter's Crocodile on the Sandbank and will share my verdict on it later.  Nevertheless, the month of March made for a huge success.  I've caught up on mystery series that I stopped reading years ago--and enjoyed them all.  I've come to realize that some stayed on my shelf too long, and some needed to be remove long, long ago.

So what is your take?  Read any of these books?  Liked them?  Hated them?  Would you like me to provide clarity if necessary on my verdicts?  What did you read in the month of March?  Share you responses below!

Sunday, March 30, 2014

The Sounds of Sub-Genre

To keep in line with my March Mystery Madness theme (sadly ending next week), I've decided to follow up my post on Poe by listing a number of sub-genres in the mystery field.  These sub-genres transformed and expanded upon the classic whodunit that Poe created, with authors who took the pandemonium of literary murder and restored order in their own unique fashion.  I can't say that I've read exclusively in each and all of these sub-genres, so I'll admit that I'll need a little Google help in finding some authorial examples.  However, I think when you read a diversity of mysteries, which all seem to involve a series of some sort proximating one main sleuth, you get a taste of each.

So without further ado, let’s break this down…

Regional Mystery

First on the list is the often missed regional mystery.  At least I tend to think of this sub-genre as often missed.  Why?  Because just about every mystery has a particular region in which the sleuth detects.  Except for something like Lee Child’s traveling ranger, Jack Reacher.  In any regard, regional mystery appears to expansive to always contain.  Take Jessica Fletcher’s [Murder, She Wrote] atmospheric blend of cozy and regional, where her cozy-style sleuthing takes place in the idyllic coastal town of the fictional Cabot Cove, Maine.  A defining characteristic of regional mysteries place a chunk of the setting as a character in itself.  In turn, this requires the author to shed information on the setting’s history, economics, and local color/culture.  Maybe those requirements are set above the actual mystery element, however, to a careful degree.  Still, those elements must be there and present, as they are what educates readers and draws color around the sleuth and his/her list of suspects.  Additionally, the regional aspect may also construct itself into the culprit’s modus operandi, as well as the list of evidence.  At least that’s how I see it.  A quick example: Honey Island swamp drownings in New Orleans and the bodies recovered with botanical pieces specific to that swamp region.  When I think of regional fiction I think of two authors who I recall shelving with a double glance at their covers.  Those covers were undoubtedly a sign of their regional based content.  First, Tony Hillerman’s settings take place in New Mexico and Arizona, capturing each of their local zest mostly through Native American culture.  Like I said, this is obvious from the cover but I haven't read him (only researched him).  That second example belongs to Elizabeth Peters.  From the covers of her Amelia Peabody Emerson books, you automatically gather that her regional sparkle takes place in sands of Egypt.

Historical Mystery

I think this sub-genre comes easier to mull over than the last.  They are mysteries that take part in a historical era prior to our own.  In a sense, historical mysteries go hand-in-hand with regional.  They both seem to call on an author’s affinity--or rapport--for a certain setting.  With historical mysteries authors can take their sleuth to China’s Qin Dynasty, sniffing for clues around the Terra Cotta Army.  Or see a sleuth in a lost tribe before the drought of Africa’s the Green Sahara.  Though I imagine that would be tough to pull off.  Nevertheless, some of the common historical locales of this specific sub-genre are European places like Victorian England.  The possibilities go on.  A loose example resides in Diane Wei Liang’s Mei Wang series.  Mei Wang is a private detective in today’s China; however, Liang fuses her protagonist’s personal struggles and job-related riffs with references to China’s outcome years after the Cultural Revolution.  Also included are mounts of discussion about the Red Guards, as well as references to the Tiananmen Square protest.  The only sad part is that the series is currently two books deep after its 2009 release of Paper Butterfly.  Just the mention of this series warrants a re-read.  Also worth mentioning off the top of my head is Elizabeth Kostova’s The Historian and Tess Gerritsen's The Bone Garden.

Cozy Mystery

Cozy mysteries are one of the most diversely themed mystery sub-genres.  You walk into a bookstore’s mystery section and see an assortment of murder mystery books adjoining murder and subjects such as sewing, knitting, baking, pasta, ghost, witches, librarians, cats, dogs; it just goes on and on.  Cozies are considered cozy because of their customary blend of light and comical tones.  That’s not to say that many aren't darker, like Charlaine Harris’s Lily Bard series.  Nevertheless, one common trait of cozy mysteries are the off-stage murders.  An immediate example of off-stage murders emerges in Rita Mae Brown’s cozy, Wish You Were Here.  The first murder consisted of a character‘s body found crushed in a cement mixer.  The main protagonist, Harry (she‘s a woman), never saw the body, but had it described to her--as well as the reader--second-handedly.  I should point out that one strong stipulation to the off-stage murder topic is during the final reveal.  It's here that the protagonist sometimes witness or cause the killer's own demise.  Nonetheless, the same example could be said about sex in cozies--which is usually off-stage also.  But that's another post.  However, the off-stage sex deal brings me to another cozy commonality: cozies are often explored by a female amateur sleuth residing in a small town/community.  This amateur sleuth knows the population and their individual ticks as characters, which helps guide her detection toward the murderer.

Police Procedural Mystery

Simple enough.  Mysteries underneath this sub-genre use a professional detective operating underneath the auspices of law enforcement.  Therefore, said detective has access to certain resources that an amateur--or good-natured P.I--would not.  Usually authors portray these departmental sleuths from a big-city precinct’s homicide division, whether the sleuth status himself as detective or lieutenant.  Nonetheless, narcotics, high-tech crimes, undercover, and vice make for conceivable intermingling into murder.  So you often get a blend of much more than a simple murder mystery.  The key of the police procedural lies in the detective’s almost step-by-step case-handling.  Under an authoritarian view, this detective responds to the crime, process and collects evidence, then follows suspects and leads related to the victim.  That’s my simplified version at least.  I won't go into the use of marking paint and traffic cones, blood splatter and insect evidence.  Nor case clearance rates.  It’s hard to find others who talk about this particular series, but one police procedural writer I love is Eleanor Taylor Bland.  She wrote the Marti MacAlister series.  The series follows an African American homicide detective through the streets of the fictional city of Lincoln Prairie (near Chicago).  There will always be series far popular than this, but I point this out specifically because it’s rare to find an author sporting a black woman as the resident detective.  Granted that Bland was black herself.  Nevertheless, Paula L. Woods and her L. A. detective, Charlotte Justice, are murder mystery sisters with Bland and MacAlister.  For more on women of color solving crimes click here.  

P. I. Mystery

So of course the P.I. mystery sub-genre is my favorite.  I like it because it has this lonely hearts taste to it.  Which I can identify with, and also why I would love to write a series in this sub-genre.  I learned to really submerge myself into hard-boiled P.I. novels through Sue Grafton.  Consequently, her Kinsey Millhone detective is high on my list of favorite gumshoes.  I was at a used bookstore recently where a customer asked me to recommend her a mystery to help her out of a reading slump.  Without hesitation I told her to start with Sue Grafton.  Needless to say, Grafton and Kinsey deserve a post of their own.  So I’ll rein back and stick to the topic.  P.I.  Private Investigator.  Characters working in this vocation need a license to sleuth gracefully; a vigilant comprehension of liabilities and insurance; and a profitable, operating niche.  Secondary requirements consist of a good camera, binoculars, digital recorder, and some powerful mettle.  Oh, and sometimes a pack of cigarettes and a liver that can handle alcohol.  For all it’s worth, the P.I. sub-genre is probably the most familiar and easiest to reference.  However, two examples besides Grafton/Kinsey are Raymond Chandler’s classic hard-boiled defining P.I., Philip Marlowe; and Valerie Wilson Wesley’s single mother P.I., Tamara Hayle.  Both show the range and spectrum of characters and voices you'll find in the P.I. sub-genre.  Before I move on, you want to know something funny?  Female private investigators like Kinsey Millhone unearths my need to listen to Giorgio Moroder and Joe Esposito's "Lady, Lady." 

Forensic Mystery

The forensic sub-genre applies a gamut of varied physical evidence to uncover its criminals.  Normally operated in a lab or morgue, an evidence tech or forensic pathologist concerns him or herself with crime-related matters such as the autolysis of a corpse, DNA, bones, fingerprints, and blood splatter velocity.  This science pushing sleuth also uses hard facts, as well as chemicals like fluoresce and cyanoacrylate vapor, to corner criminals with harder evidence.  Considering we're speaking from a murder mystery stance, in the real world these coroners and medical examiners spend much of their time in a lab or court room.  They use their services to aid law enforcers in building a solid case.  However, in the literary world these individuals take on the role of a gumshoe, following their own trace evidences and firearms examinations to the criminal.  It goes without saying that Patricia Cornwell’s Kay Scarpetta series is the king of this sub-genre.  Speaking of Cornwell, I once had a mystery writing instructor mention that she's mean?  Is that true?  Okay, back on the subject.  Tess Gerritsen’s use of medical examiner Maura Isle pulls her own weight, as well as Kathy Reichs’ Temperance Brennan forensic anthropology series/sleuth.

That is it for now.  I haven’t forgotten about the Caper sub-genre which involves a complicated plan designed for a character to break into an impenetrable establishment of some sort.  It might be a little off beat to mention, but Eric Jerome Dickey’s Tempted by Trouble works as a caper of sorts.  It’s not easily recognized, but it involves thieves and an elaborate set of schemes used to relieve its characters of a financial, economic bust.  Naturally, it goes all wrong.  Then there’s the Suspense/Thriller sub-genre (sometimes subcategorized between Romance and Psychological Suspense).  I look quickly to my set of Greg Iles books, remembering the little old lady who suggested his book 24 Hours.  Needless to say, it took me less than five to read it because I couldn't put it down.  

Having years of bookseller experience, I know without a doubt that John Grisham is the defining force of the Legal sub-genre.  That’s not without a healthy mention of Michael Connelly and Lisa Scottoline.

Of course the subject of mystery sub-genres go on.  Listen, we could be here all day discussing it.  We could even have a sub-sub-sub-genre discussion filled with tiers and diplomatic ramblings on the details that make them all difference.  Nevertheless, the fact remains that the mystery genre is about chaos, puzzles, and the necessity to swerve life back into order.  Tact in themes surrounding social issues and personal disparities and you can't go wrong here.

The video below is one of my favorite summaries of mystery sub-genres, delivered gracefully by Lisa Scottoline...  

Each of us like our mysteries like our coffee.  So how do you get your fix?  What’s your favorite sub-genre and why?  Also, share your favorite author and what it is about this particular writer that appeals to you?  And if you like this post and found it entertaining and informative, please share it through the provided networks below.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Father Poe & Dic Dupin

1860s portrait by Oscar Halling
When I was too young to know any better, it didn't register to me that American writer, Edgar Allan Poe, is considered the originator of the mystery genre, or detective fiction.  When I was first introduced to his works, back in those ghastly (notice the word choice?) early middle school years, I instantly connected his creativity to that of Gothic horror and swirls of nasty, black ravens perched on iron fences.  The connection appeared that lucid, until I got the chance to dig deeper into his short stories as part of a high school theatre assignment.  Even then nothing about his short stories resonated with detective fiction in my hormone congested brain.  No, it wouldn't be until I became an adult with the taste of hard-boiled P.I. novels, soaking in the plethora of capillaries underneath my tongue, that I made the connection.  So while I do have my specific flavor (my love of female leads...) and a set of caveats (...where romance is handled judiciously), mystery fiction was in my bloodstream by then.  So one college-aged year I had to give Poe a suggested third look; naturally, with Poe’s 1841 short story, “The Murders in the Rue Morgue”.  As I close in on my March Mystery Madness readings, I thought it made sense to revisit and write a short post on this peculiar--yet eye-opening--story.

The "Rue Morgue", lead my Poe's mostly observant-style narrative, introduces us to the extraordinarily keen first sleuth of the literary world, C. Auguste Dupin.  Nope... not Sherlock Holmes, though apparently Doyle bit some of Dupin's flavor to construct Holmes.  Nonetheless, after pages of crowded exposition, servicing Poe's commentary on analytical thinking, the "Rue Morgue" opens with Poe and his French pal, Dupin, having an unhurried stroll through Parisian streets.  Having met and become acquainted with Dupin in the past (through the mutual taste in a library book), Poe arrived in Paris to spend time with the friend that he soon describes as having a "diseased intelligence" and "rich ideality".  Dupin demonstrates those two expressions during their stroll, astonishing Poe with what he first took as Dupin reading his mind.  I won't spoil the fun of witnessing Dupin at work on a bawling Poe.  However, it's not until the two come across a local newsletter that Dupin's "intelligence" and "ideality" skills are truly demonstrated, giving mass to his literary role as the first literary detective written.  

Pausing in their stroll, the two peer through said newsletter that details the locked-room double murder of two women--mother and daughter--in an apartment not far from the city.  It appears that the mother was thrown through an open window, her head nearly severed upon landing.  Whereas the daughter was beaten, then in a puzzling manner, partly stuffed head first up a chimney.  Short of consumed by the horrific details (particularly in relation to the 1800s time period and the conception of murder itself), Dupin's calculating mind doesn't go without notice to Poe as Dupin's practicable questions about the murders stir.  As used in the actual text, Dupin takes note of the mentioned clews, which appears unforeseeable by the Paris policemen investigating the case.  Their dumbfounded response to the murders further interest Dupin in striking a possible conclusion.  

The following day, Poe and Dupin obtain more details concerning the double murder as the daily newsletter lines up a list of individuals who reported to the scene within the time frame of the murders and its unveiling to the immediate public.  As the newsletter keys into the nationality, language, and witness statements of the listed individuals, Dupin ruminates on each statement and whatever inconsistencies he notices.  Finally, Dupin decides that the best way to assist the police in finding the culprit is for him and Poe to pay a visit to the apartment where the murders took place.  So on leads Dupin's need for explaining "the nature of inductions" involving the murders and the clews scattering the wrecked room.  And that is just what he does as Poe follows Dupin in his investigation.  So as not to spoil anything, I'll leave it at that.  However, be ready for a surprise, delivered by Poe's crafty writing.

Following “Rue Morgue” were two other short stories featuring Auguste Dupin.  Those were “The Mystery of Marie Roget” and “The Purloined Letter”.  Combined, the three are known as “The Dupin Tales”, and are acknowledged as the beginning of classic detective fiction.  As mentioned, Poe's Dupin character is the influence behind Sir Arthur Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes.  Nevertheless, both applied the staple elements to solving literary murder.  And while those staples have transformed today, I believe a cunning eye, deductive reasoning, scientific hypothesizing, and sleight interrogation skills never changes.  It all originated with Poe's Dupin and his linchpin locked-room mystery that makes “the impossible made possible”.

"He might see, perhaps, one or two points with unusual clearness, but in so doing he, necessarily, lost sight of the matter as a whole.  Thus there is such a thing as being too profound.  Truth is not always in a well.  In fact, as regards the more important knowledge, I do believe that she is invariably superficial.  The depth lies in the valleys where we seek her, and not upon the mountain-tops where she is found.  The modes and sources of this kind of error are well typified in the contemplation of the heavenly bodies.  To look at a star by glances--to view it in a side-long way, by turning toward it the exterior portions of the retina (more susceptible of feeble impressions of light than the interior), is to behold the start distinctly--is to have the best appreciation of its lustre--a lustre which grows dim just in proportion as we turn our vision fully upon it."

This quote is Poe's "simple" way of illustrating how to the truth behind any murder mystery is always on the surface, and something I would hope to keep in mind if I ever got the opportunity to craft my own as eloquently.

Have you experienced "The Dupin Tales"?  What was your take?  Or favorite of the three short stories?  

Also, while he was short-lived, do you think Dupin would've made for some heavy competition with Sherlock Holmes?

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