Well, I thought I’d start with my inspiration to write this blog.
I’ve always enjoyed a “proper” mystery. Maybe it’s my background as a mathematician (as the grammar of this blog might indicate) or my primary hobby as a competitive puzzler (been to the world championships three times so far), but the idea that you should be able to work out the murderer (rather than guess) has always appealed to me. In too many recent books that I’ve read, the murderer could potentially be any member of the cast and seems to have been picked at random. I was starting to despair that my favourite genre was dead.
My reading in the area started off in my early teens with “The Three Investigators”, a series of mysteries about three American teenagers who run their own detective agency and, certainly in their more memorable books, come across Scooby Doo type “monsters” – come to think of it, it was probably Scooby who started it all – definitely not Scrappy though. God, no. I realised after a while there was a rotating series of authors for The Three Investigators, and it was one in particular, M V Carey, who I remember always provided a cracking puzzle. In particular, I would recommend, although through the fog of 25+ years, “The Mystery of the Blazing Cliffs”, because I can still remember the solution falling into place in my head JUST before it was revealed.
Anyway, from these, I graduated to Agatha Christie, in particular the Hercule Poirot books, but after reading all of these, was at a bit of a loss where to go. Ngaio Marsh and Dorothy L Sayers were the other well-known names, but for whatever reason, I found them difficult to get into. (Note: I do plan on visiting both these authors in the near future). To be honest, at this point, I starting reading mostly fantasy stuff and my first love was abandoned.
Much later, I came across John Dickson Carr – somehow, Panic in Box C caught my eye in a charity shop. It’s by no means his finest work, but the notion of the impossible crime – in this case, a man in a theatre box is shot by an antique crossbow, except no-one else is in the box and the crossbow does not have the range to be shot from anywhere else in the theatre – rekindled my love of the genre. Much collecting later, including a trip back from New York with a suitcase full (literally) of paperbacks, and I’d pretty much exhausted the supply of Carr and his alter ego Carter Dickson (invented because at the height of his powers, he was writing four books a year and thought this looked a bit off). By then, I’d discovered Ellery Queen and the short stories of Edward D Hoch. There still seemed to me to be few modern authors that had captured the feel of the older stories. Most of the classic-style mysteries in my local library seemed either dull rehashes of Christie’s style – pick any of a multitude set in an English village – or felt the need to pastiche the genre, which has never sat particularly well.
Recently though, two authors have caught my eye. Steve Hockensmith with his “Holmes on the Range” series, and Nev Fountain with his recently published “Mervyn Stone Mysteries”. Both have a liberal sprinkling of humour, but they are decidedly not spoofing the genre. These are genuine fair-play detective stories that are an absolute joy to read, and, certainly in the case of Nev Fountain’s books, you will be smacking yourself on the forehead that you didn’t spot what seems so obvious. Reviews of both will be forthcoming, needless to say. It occurs to me that these are authors that I found, but there must be many more out there that I’m missing.
Anyway, it’s these two authors, found by me in fairly quick succession, that have inspired this blog. So, in the next few days at least, on with the show!