Thursday Thoughts: Who is your Favourite Detective?

I do not claim to have read all novels starring every single famous literary detective – however, I do enjoy a good piece of crime fiction!

Before I start, I have previously done a piece about Poirot versus Miss Marple. For me, Poirot won and he would again in that debate. Yet, would my opinion be swayed if I was to throw other characters into the mix?

Well, he would be ever so slightly pipped to the post of my favourite detective. You see, for me, it is the tales from the pen of Sur Arthur Conan Doyle that can be read over and over again. The greatest detective is Sherlock Holmes, with his companion Dr John Watson. There are tales I never get bored of. I can read them, watch them, listen to them, repeatedly, without ever getting bored. I know the solution, but I still love following the adventures. I have never really been able to put my finger on one specific reason why these stories are my absolute favourite – it is not down to one thing. Conan Doyle’s writing and characterisation just bring me back, time and time again to the books. And I do believe that they are responsible for my love of crime novels.

Because, let’s be honest, if I had read the tales of the great Sherlock Holmes, I would not have read so many of the other famous literary detectives. As mentioned, I love the cosy crime of Christie’s two main famous creations, but I also enjoy the investigations of Rebus, Morse, Scarpetta, Pirie (newly discovered) and there are so many more for me to discover.

So, I am interested in your thoughts – who is your favourite detective?

Still Life by Val McDermid

This was my first novel by Val McDermid (other than her retelling of ‘Northanger Abbey’) and I am very thankful to have been gifted a copy to read and discuss.

Immediately, I was sucked in, because I absolutely love a good crime novel. The book was atmospheric from the start, and I needed to know what was going to happen next and where this whole tale was going.

McDermid also creates excellent characters. I was a big fan of DCI Pirie. Do no get me wrong, she has character flaws as all good fictional detectives do. But she is someone that you can imagine sitting down with to have a G&T and a chat. McDermid’s villains in this tale are fabulous, too, as you could easily believe that they could commit the crimes of the story.

Yet, the thing I really like about this book is so simple – the title. There is so much meaning about the phrase ‘Still Life’. Not only could it point to the theme of art and a styl, but it points to the ideas of life ending – and the idea that life returns and continues. There is, in fact, so much of the book in that two-word title.

Val McDermid’s writing is charming and creates a real page-turner. I am really keen to read more of her work. Especially to find out more Karen Pirie’s earlier life.

Death in the East by Abir Mukherjee

Another new author for me this year – and an excellent one at that. ‘Death in the East’ is a classic example of a good detective fiction. This book, to me, was like a combination of Christie and Conan Doyle – a magic combination. However, this is also a book that takes a good look at moral issues surronding the British control of India.

A classic locked room mystery – well, two actually – came to the attention of our hero Wydenham. One from his past, which he has struggled to make peace with, and one now – which really does seem impossible.

All of this takes place as Wydenham reflects on his position and the position of Britain in India (as wel as the relationship of other groups with Britain). Mukherjee himself says that this a theme that was required and, sadly, reflects some of the concerns that are part of all of our cultures.

This books is beautifully written and fully engaging. A real page-turner, which is the best thing about a crime fiction novel. There is a great collection of characters who make for a wonderful addition to the plot. Also, it is actually the fourth book in a series, but it works wonderfully as a standalone book. Nothing is lost at all from not having read the other books. Although, this does mean that there is a whole collection of books to added to the wishlist…

A little update – I was lucky enough to have the chance to ask the fantastic author Abir Mukherjee a question about his work. I wanted to find out why he chose crime fiction as his genre of choice:

I started writing basically to scratch an itch. When I was growing up, we were never taught about British colonial history in school. All we received was a rose tinted version of our history which emphasised British greatness and glossed over all of the terrible things done in the name of Empire. I learned from my parents, that there was another side to this history, and I set out to research it and make it more accessible to others. One of the things I learned though, was that the history of the British in India is a difficult subject for many. People don’t want to be told that the achievements of their grandparents and great grandparents might hide a much blacker truth. Therefore I decided that my message needed to be couched within ripping, page-turning stories, ideally told by a narrator whom readers would find appealing. Crime fiction was a natural choice of genre for me. I grew up in the tradition of Tartan Noir, pioneered by the great William McIllvaney and heroes of mine such as Val McDermid and Ian Rankin, where the crime novel was used as a vehicle to examine and comment on social issues. The detective is a great person to highlight these issues as he or she has access to all levels of society, from princes to paupers, and so I decided to make my narrator an ex copper from London who finds himself in Calcutta because he’s nowhere else to go.

This is a fantastic response as I think these great influences are clear as Abir has created his own individual works.

I was lucky enough to be gifted this novel as part of a blogtour. The paperback is published this week – so make sure you grab a copy.

Hidden Intentions by Dave Flint

I was lucky enough to be gifted a copy of ‘Hidden Intentions’. And I am glad I was, as, again, it is a chance to try something new.

This novel is billed as a murder mystery – however, for me it is more of a study of human nature. You do not need to solve any murder mystery; you are of the motive, victims and culprit. Yet, you go on a journey with Toby as he moves through his formative years to adulthood. You become very aware of the impact that people and their experiences have on the person. There is almost a Jekyll and Hyde feel to the character of Toby. When loved, respected and trusted we have the gentle Toby, but when things are not as they should be and Toby or his world is threatened we the hidden Hyde – the dark side of human nature.

Although this novel is rather slow-paced, that is part of the charm of the novel. After all, time does not always pass at speed in day-to-day life. You need to take the journey at Toby’s pace to understand the path that it takes.

It has quite an ending, which I will not spoil, but as you reach the conclusion of this novel, you will be left contemplating what exactly makes people take some of the actions they do. Also, that age-old question: do you really know anyone? Can you hide who you are? Can we have conflicting emotions towards people?

There are some interesting questions raised in this book, too, as its setting of the 50s and 60s leaves you thinking about gender roles and cultural identity. Do these forced ideas of both create people and force actions, rightly or wrongly?

This is certainly an interesting read – especially if you have an interest in human nature.

Good Girl, Bad Blood by Holly Jackson

I absolutely loved ‘A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder’. It was one of those great YA novels that could be enjoyed by more than its ‘target’ audience. So, when I saw that the sequel was out, I knew I had to read it, especially as escapism in these lockdown times.

‘Good Girl, Bad Blood’ is just as wonderful as its predecessor. Pip has found success with her true crime podcast ‘A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder’, and believes she will now hang up her (metaphorical) detective’s hat. However, when there is a local disappearance, can she avoid getting involved? I don’t think it is a spoiler to say, of course she gets involved – we wouldn’t have a book otherwise. However, this is still a fresh story; this is a current case.

This novel is an excellent continuation from book one. The characters evolve naturally (you find out so much more about Pip) and there are links to the previous tale.

What I enjoyed most about this book is that it is not simplistic – it is a well-constructed crime novel. I worked out one teeny, tiny part of the story but that was it – the rest I discovered alongside Pip and her friends as they carried out their investigations.

I really hope there is more from the pen of Holly Jackson, because she really knows how to put together a contemporary and engaging thriller that can be enjoyed by so many fans of the genre.

The Lost Man by Jane Harper

This is the third novel I have read by Jane Harper – and, yet again, I really enjoyed it.

This is a clever tale: a locked room mystery, yet set in the vast Australian outback. It is amazing how somewhere so open could be so suffocating – but it certainly can be isolating.

Cam dies, at the site of the isolated grave of the stockman: a landmark that has become infamous with all the stories surrounding it. And now there will be another story: why would Cam be there alone when he knows the territory and the dangers so well. So easily it is written off as a choice Cam made, but his brother Nathan is not so sure.

As the tale unfolds, secrets are unearthed and characters are called into question. Especially the character of Cam. Could someone have killed him after all?

This is a brillaintly atmospheric book. Using the landscape of the Australian outback, not just as a setting but also as a chracter. I could not put it down, as there are a number of interesting threads that lead into the overall mystery.

I would really recommend the books of Jane Harper, so why not give them a go?

One, Two, Buckle my Shoe by Agatha Christie

Wow – my Agatha Christie reading has been behind this year. I have not kept up with ‘Maidens of Murder’ 2020 at all. So, I guess one lockdown highlight is that I have managed to catch up with the April read.

I was excited that I could read ‘One, Two, Buckle my Shoe’ as it is a Poirot mystery – and he is my favourite of Christie’s characters.

It must be a good one as, in one Sunday, I managed to consume the whole book. I love Christie’s books, however, I always seem to find them hard to review because they are such classics and I never want to spoil the surprise readers.

However, in my humble opinion, the great thing about this narrative is that there appears to be absolutely no reason for the death of the dentist Mr Morley. In fact, it is only Poirot who has any suspicions about the death. Japp is quite happy to write it off as a suicide, as that is what all the evidence points to. But, Poirot’s little grey cells are not satisfied with the obvious. As events unfold it appears, of course, that Poirot is correct and the truth must be uncovered.

This is a great read and the clever use of the ryhme ‘One, Two, Buckle my Shoe’ adds to the joy of the narrative.

If you love Christie and Poirot, you will love this novel.

Perfect Crime by Helen Fields

This book was sent to me as part of a Secret Santa bookswap at the end of last year. I am, always, willing to give a good crime novel a go and discover new authors, so was intrigued to see what was in store for me.

The setting for this novel is Edinburgh – such an atmospheric city and one that does seem to inspire some wonderful crime novels. Our detectives, DI Callanach and DCI Ava Turner, are called in to investigate the death of a man who only a week before had been talked out of committing suicide – so maybe this is not suspicious, this time he actually went through with it? Until there are a number of other deaths – clearly murders – of people who have been known to consider taking their own lives.

Alongside this, the handsome-but-troubled Callanach is dealing with his own demons – and could even find himself a suspect in a murder investigation.

I really enjoyed this novel as a good piece of crime fiction. I did work out the culprit for one of the mysteries (possibly due to my love of crime novels), but was completely in the dark for the other.

This has all the ingredients of a good modern thriller: secrets, well-crafted characters, pace and complex romance.

I have read this as a standalone novel, although it is a series and this is not the first book, but I am keen to read the others. Another set of titles for the ever-growing to-be-read pile.

Murder Most Unladylike by Robin Stevens

Before I start my ‘review’, or humble opinion, of this book, I have a little anecdote. I was reading this book on the train and it sparked a conversation. A lady told me that her friend was the author of the book – and, in fact, she was the author Helen Moss (Adventure Island Series, among others). We had a lovely chat, with another lady also, about books, encouraging reading and a reading scheme in prisons. A brief but great chat.

So, back to ‘Murder Most Unladylike’, I am clearly not the target audience, but these books had been catching my eye for a while and I was lucky enough to receive one in a bookswap. This is the first in a series, and I will be reading more, of crime capers involving the pupils of Deepdean School for Girls. Daisy and Hazel set up a secret detective agency, but there have not been many real crimes to investigate – until Hazel stumbles across the body of Miss Bell. Well, she is convinced she did but, apparently, Miss Bell has just resigned… Daist and Hazel know that this can not be true, but how do they prove it?

This book is such good fun. It has all the magic of the classic boarding school stories, such as the Chalet School, and the classic crime ingredients of the greats, such as Agatha Christie.

Beautfully written. it is engaging for all readers; you want to know ‘whodunnit’. Although Daisy is clearly a little bit of a dominant character, Hazel has the classic crime-solving skills. Together, they complement each other – a little like Holmes and Watson.

So, if you, or a reader you know, enjoys a good crime puzzle, then pick up ‘Murder Most Unladylike’ and start a whole new set of adventures.

A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder by Holly Jackson

Crime fiction has often been my genre of choice in February. I am not sure why, but it just seems to have been the theme.

‘A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder’ has been on my tbr pile for a little while but, as it has been nominated for the ‘Waterstones Children’s Book Prize 2020’, I thought it was about time I picked it up.

This is a great piece of crime fiction – that all readers can enjoy, it does not need to be defined by YA.

Pip decides to tackle a cold case as part of a college project. She is convinced that Sal was not responsible for the disappearance of Andie. As Pip investigates the case, with the help of Ravi, Sal’s brother, she uncovers far more secrets and mysteries that she was expecting.

Although, I solved a small part of it as I read the book (too many crime novels and TV shows in my formative years), there was plenty I did not work out; plot twists galore.

Pip is a great lead character. A strong-minded, determined young lady – who values education and is loyal to those that matter to her. It is great to see another strong female lead in a novel who can be an inspiration, although of course I would not expect us all to go off and investigate cold cases.

I really enjoyed this book and wish it lots of luck in the ‘Waterstones Children’s Book Prize’. I, also, can not wait for the release of ‘Good Girl, Bad Blood’ later in the year to join Pip on her next escapade, and enjoy more of Holly Jackson’s writing.