Last time we honored the memory of author C. J. Henderson by examining the genre of the Occult Detective. This week we continue, inspired by Henderson, to look at the larger genre, which he also wrote in, the Detective Story, part of Mystery Fiction. This, of course, cannot be an exhaustive catalog of these genres, which are vast. Rather, it refers to authors I have read, or whom I know about in one way or another. I heartily invite the readers to add their favorite Authors in this genre in the Comments section. In many cases, this post will also serve as “one stop shopping,” as I have linked many of the books to purchase opportunities!
Caveat Lector (Let the Reader beware): The Mystery genre, and especially the hardboiled detective genre, often involve sex and violence. With some exceptions, the books in this post are for adults.
I learned to love Detective Fiction at my Mother’s knees, as she and her Mother, my Grandmother Annie Laurie Lewis Escontrias, were huge mystery fans. I spent many wonderful days in my childhood reading Mamoo’s (my pet name for my Grandmother) extensive Detective Novel collection, many printed in Wartime editions (WWII).
…And you know the old saying “Saved the Best for Last”? Check out the last author listed in the alphabetical section below for one of the best mystery and detective writers today, Mark Richard Zubro!
BTW: The saying “Saved the Best for Last” has its origins in the Christian New Testament (John 2:10). When the Master Jesus and his Mother attended the Wedding at Cana, He changed jars of water into wine, as the supplies had run low. The Wedding’s sommelier was amazed at how much better this miraculous wine was than the first wine, and said to the Bridegroom:
Πᾶς ἄνθρωπος πρῶτον τὸν καλὸν οἶνον τίθησιν, καὶ ὅταν μεθυσθῶσιν τὸν ἐλάσσω· σὺ τετήρηκας τὸν καλὸν οἶνον ἕως ἄρτι.
Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.
The Mystery of “The Mysteries”
As you recall from previous posts, a Mystery Tale is a story where you come face to face with the truth. The word Mystery itself has a rather noble lineage:
From Middle English mysterie, from Anglo-Norman misterie, from Old French mistere, from Latin mysterium, from Ancient Greek μυστήριον (mustḗrion, “a mystery, a secret, a secret rite”), from μύστης (mústēs, “initiated one”), from μυέω (muéō, “I initiate”), from μύω (múō, “I shut”). Proto-Indo-European root *meue- related to Latin mutus and Sanskrit मूक (muka, “mute”).
Divine Liturgy (one of the Holy Mysteries) at Our Lady of Fatima Russian Byzantine Catholic Church in San Francisco: visit them!
In the ancient world, the Mystery Schools initiated men and women into the reality that we need not fear death, since we are in union with the Divine. This concept continues in Christianity, as what the Roman Catholic Church calls “Sacraments,” are known in Eastern Christianity as “The Holy Mysteries” (τὰ ἅγια μυστήρια — ta hágia mystéria). They include more than the Western “Seven Sacraments” and include:
- the service for the burial of the dead
- the rites for a monastic profession
- the blessing of waters at Theophany (Epiphany), the Feast of the Baptism of Christ
- the anointing of a monarch.
In the religious and spiritual sense then, both ancient and modern, a Mystery is an occasion, initiation or event in which one comes face to face with not just “the truth” as in some axiom, but “The True, The Real, Being itself.” That is, what we call “The Divine,” or “God.” And we must be silent, for such an experience cannot be communicated in its reality. I’m not saying it shouldn’t be, it CANNOT be. Each person must experience it for him/her self.
In literature, the term is today applied generally to crime stories in which investigators work to find those responsible for a crime. In its broad sense, as used in the 30s and 40s pulps, it can also mean mysterious stories, even supernatural thrillers, described as Weird Menace.
More often today, the primary type of Mystery is the Detective Story. In this immensely popular, as we will see.
Mystery and the Language Police
In everyday usage, it is common for people to use “Mystery” in another way:
“Where is that other sock?”
“It’s a mystery.”
“Sister, can you explain The Holy Trinity?”
“No, dear, it’s a Mystery. Just believe it.”
In this sense, “Mystery” is being used to represent something we cannot know, or understand. While of course, words mean what a large number of people using them mean by them. Remember that today, “Cool” and “Hot” can be virtual synonyms” “That’s Hot!” “That’s Cool!” and “Bad” can mean that the speaker likes something: “That’s one bad ride!” Finally, “The (Da) Bomb” can mean that something is explosively Good: “She da Bomb!”
Lt. Cmdr. Data in the Star Trek Franchise. Image © Paramount Pictures
Grammarians, at least the good ones, and in English, are not rule makers. They are observational scientists, and they know that word meanings change. Like other scientists, they derive rules from observational data. Data of course, from the Latin data, the neuter plural past participle of the verb to give (Principle Parts: do, dare, dedi, datum) is itself an example. Old sticklers like me know that to be painfully proper, one should treat data as a plural: “Doctor Edmunds, the data are inconclusive!” But who talks like that? I don’t even say that. I say “The data’s in, and it’s conclusive.” And of course, there is only one Lt. Cmdr. Data!
English grammarians observe.
It isn’t the same in some other languages. For French, the Académie française keeps a pretty tight grip on the language, established by none other than Cardinal Richelieu, the chief minister to King Louis XIII, in 1635. Naturally, they can fume and fuss, but they can’t legislate, so their recent battle against using “Hashtag” to denote the # symbol in social media (you are supposed to say mot-dièse, that is “sharp word” for #) was largely laughed at in the francophone world. As a bonus, the 40 “members are known as les Immortels (the Immortals) because of the motto, À l’immortalité (“To Immortality”), that appears on the official seal of the charter granted by Cardinal Richelieu.”
Spanish is regulated by the
Asociación de Academias de la Lengua Española (constituted by the Real Academia Española plus 21 other separate national academies in the Spanish-speaking world). So tell the people on our southern border they can’t say “Ay te watcho!” in Spanglish, which means, “I’ll see ya!” (Ay = English “I,” te = Spanish familiar “you,” and watcho puts a typical Spanish first person singular verb ending on the English “watch.”) You can come up with monsters like “Yo voy checkiar el oil en mi carro”: I’m gonna check the oil in my car”!
There are a surprisingly large number of Languages that attempt to regulate their usage. Of course, the Vatican regulates Latin with the Pontifical Academy for Latin (Pontificia Academia Latinitatis), established in 2012 by Pope Benedict XVI! After all, you have to be able to write about modern things in Latin:
- Nuclear Energy: energia nuclearis
- Automobile; autocinetum
- Computer Language: lingua programmandi
I imagine some of the words that Catullus and Petronius used might be in the Vatican’s Latin Dictionary
A Modern statue of the roman poet Gaius Valerius Catullus in Sirmione. Photo: Schorle
but are probably marked “Noli uti” or “Ne utaris.” Both mean “Do not use.” I’m not sure the ancient Romans or Greeks actually had a sense of words being obscene in and of themselves. I’ll have to look into that one.
Now I’m not saying that everyone shouldn’t learn the “proper” form of their language and be able to use it fluently, I just hold out for some fun too. If you are not able to speak and write your own language in its formal form, you risk economic and social misfortune. When we do not successfully teach our children how to communicate formally, we seriously disadvantage them in their lives. It’s not enough to teach them, they have to be successfully taught.
As we have seen the way we popularly use “Mystery” does not apply to “Mystery Stories,” or “The Holy Mysteries.” So: now, back to the topic at hand: Mystery Stories.
Old Scotland Yard
Probably the most popular sub-genre of the Mystery Story is the Detective Story. There are arguments on how far back it goes. The Wikipedia article Detective Fiction does a good job of tracing the antecedents of Detective Fiction in ancient Classical literature, and in Early Arab, Chinese, and Western Literature, so I won’t re-tell that story, but do read it: a fascinating history!
In some sense, the Vulgate Cycle, the medieval series of Arthurian tales involving the Grail Quest, might be considered an early form of detective story, seeking to solve the Mystery of the Grail. Certainly some 20th Century Literary Critics and Semanticists saw it as the search for meaning.
The actual sub-genre in English Language literature is usually said to begin with Poe’s “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” in 1841, followed by two further C. Auguste Dupin tales: “The Mystery of Marie Rogêt” in 1843 and “The Purloined Letter” in 1845. “The Purloined Letter” has also been embraced by literary critics such as Jacques Lacan, Jacques Derrida and Barbara Johnson as an important symbolic narrative.
Elliot Gilber suggests that one of the reasons that this sub-genre emerged relatively late is that prior to
Illustration to “The Purloined Letter” by E. A. Poe.
the 1800s, “was due in part to the lack of true police forces. Before the Industrial Revolution, many of the towns would have constables and a night watchman at best. Naturally, the constable would be aware of every individual in the town, and crimes were either solved quickly or left unsolved entirely. As people began to crowd into cities, police forces became institutionalized and the need for detectives was realized – thus the mystery novel arose.” (Paraphrased in Wikipedia.)
The Modern Detective Novel is distinguished from the Occult Detective Sub-genre, as well as from the Mystery Fiction of the Pulps and Weird Tales type Comic Books by the fact that it must be firmly rooted in the real (and often gritty) world. No supernatural themes or event. As Sgt. Friday put it so well, “Just the facts M’am, just the facts” in TV’s Dragnet, perhaps the most influential Police Procedural, with iterations from 1949-2004.
These three American short-stories launched a rapidly growing genre. Thanks to Wikipedia for many of these descriptions:
Émile Gaboriau‘s Monsieur Lecoq (1868), has a detective “adept at disguise. Gaboriau’s writing is also considered to contain the first example of a detective minutely examining a crime scene for clues.”
“A subplot in the novel Bleak House (1853) by Charles Dickens: The conniving lawyer Tulkinghorn is killed in his office late one night, and the crime is investigated by Inspector Bucket of the Metropolitan police force. Numerous characters appeared on the staircase leading to Tulkinghorn’s office that night, some of them in disguise, and Inspector Bucket must penetrate these mysteries to identify the murderer. Dickens also left a novel unfinished at his death, The Mystery of Edwin Drood.”
Wilkie Collins (1824–1889) is honored as the First Detective Novelist, with his 1859 The Woman in White. “T. S. Eliot called Collins’s novel The Moonstone (1868) ‘the first, the longest, and the best of modern English detective novels… in a genre invented by Collins and not by Poe,’ and Dorothy L. Sayers called it ‘probably the very finest detective story ever written.'”
Other candidates for early, if not the earliest Detective novels include:
Notting Hill Mystery (1862–63), by “Charles Felix” (Charles Warren Adams)
The Trail of the Serpent (1861) with Mute Detective Mr. Peters and Aurora Floyd (1862-3) with Detective Grimstone of Scotland Yard.
“Tom Taylor‘s melodrama The Ticket-of-Leave Man, an adaptation of Léonard by Édouard Brisbarre and Eugène Nus, appeared in 1863, introducing Hawkshaw the Detective.”
Then in 1887, the literary world was changed forever with Arthur Conan Doyle’s creation of Sherlock Holmes, eventually writing four novels and fifty-six short stories. There have been so many continuations, adaptations and pastiches that whole books are written on them! Holmes is the definition of the distinction between Mundane Detectives and Occult Detectives. He is all about logic and science.
After Holmes, the detective floodgates opened!
From here on, I cannot possibly give an exhaustive catalog of Detective Fiction, including British Mystery stories, PIs, Police Procedurals, and the like. The field is vast! I will share with you those I have read or know about in some way.
The 1920s and 1930s are usually referred to as the Detective Novel’s Golden Age. Most of the authors were British, but there were significant contributions from the United States and New Zealand. The Four Queens of Crime ruled the Golden Age:
Emerging were Official Police Investigators and Amateur Sleuths in what is sometimes called Cozy Mysteries, or English Country House Mysteries. A good modern example is the TV and Book Series, Murder She Wrote which entertained millions, and still does in syndication.
Dorothy L. Sayers (1928)
One of the best of this genre is Sayer’s brilliant Lord Peter Whimsey. His creator, Dorothy L. Sayers was truly a remarkable woman. A Englishcrime writer, poet, playwright, essayist, translator and Christian humanist, and feminist, she was the daughter of Rev. Henry Sayers, rector of Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford and Helen Mary Leigh. When she was six years old, her Father began teaching her Latin. She continued with a superb education, finishing with first class honors at Oxford in 1915 in modern languages and medieval literature.
Shamefully, Oxford did not grant Degrees to women at that time, but when they finally changed the policy, she was one of the first to be given her M.A. in 1920. One of the most brilliant scholars of her time, she was associated with and sometimes met with, but was not a member of, The Inklings, the literary circle that included J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis and Charles Williams, three authors who have thoroughly shaped my life. Although I am a Byzantine Catholic Christian, these Western Christian authors, including Sayers and G.K. Chesterton (see below) have inspired me since I was very young.
Lord Peter and Bunter (Ian Carmichael and Glyn Houston) from a BBC TV Production.
Sayers was an brilliant essayist, literary critic, poet, theologian and translator. Her translation of Dante’s Divine Comedy was her crowning achievement, and my favorite. Lord Peter Whimsey, her amateur detective is her best known creation, along with his love interest and eventual wife, Harriet Vane a Mystery Writer, and his friend and fellow soldier from WWI and Valet, Mervyn Bunter . The team is featured in many novels and stories, as Wikipedia lists:
Short story collections:
In addition there are:
- The Wimsey Papers, published between Nov. 1939 and Jan. 1940 in The Spectator Magazine—a series of mock letters by members of the Wimsey family, being in effect fictionalised commentaries on life in England at the inception of the war. Included in the Lord Peter collection above.
Before researching for this post, I had not realized the Jill Paxton Walsh had continued the series. I have more delightful reading to do! I recommend all of Sayer’s work, fiction and non-fiction. She is one of my heroes! The BBC created an excellent series of Lord Peter TV Mysteries.
The Americans Fight Back
Humphrey Bogart as Sam Spade in The Maltese Falcon.
Soon, another player entered the stage, The Private Investigator. Although the first fictional PIs was British, as were Sherlock Holmes and Arthur Morrison’s 1894 Martin Hewitt, The PI became a staple of American Noir Detective Novels.
The 1930s saw American PIs emerge in full force, as hardboiled sleuths, a dramatic contrast with their British counterparts. These were hardbitten, gritty novels with tough detectives, usually in New York, L.A., Chicago or San Francisco. John’s Grill in SF, one of our favorite restaurants, was a setting in The Maltese Falco, and has a shrine to the film and bird, and great food.
Also recall that the hardboiled detective genre often involves adult sexual themes and scenes, so be aware that some of this literature is for adults only.
Some of the most well known writers and detectives from this era are:
Dashiell Hammett, a heroic fighter against the Red-mania in the U.S., created many memorable characters, including:
Nick, Nora and Asta from the Warner Brother’s film series.
Jonathan Latimer, a crime writer for the Chicago Tribune, was also a prolific screen writer. His Detective novels are:
The William Crane series:
Paul Drake, Perry Mason, and Della Street from the long-running TV series.
Erle Stanley Gardner, one of my Mother’s and my favorites, is the creator of the famous Perry Mason. Mason, of course was an attorney, and his PI is Paul Drake. Along with his Secretary Della Street, the three solve cases to exonerate Perry’s clients. I grew up reading Perry Mason Novels and watching Raymond Burr’s TV Perry. A prolific author, he also published under the pseudonyms A.A. Fair, Kyle Corning, Charles M. Green, Carleton Kendrake, Charles J. Kenny, Les Tillray and Robert Parr. There are a whopping 82Perry Mason novels by Gardner, three short stories and two novels by Thomas Chastain after Gardner’s death. Here are just a few Perry Mason novels to get you started. He also wrote many other mystery and detective series including Cool and Lam, and the DA Doug Selby series in which the roles are switched from the Perry Mason series. DA Selby is the hero, unlike Mason’s foe, the DA Hamilton Burger, and the defense attorney, D.A. Carr is an unscrupulous nave. He also wrote many other mysteries.
Raymond Chandler (1888-1959) created one of the most influential detectives in Philip Marlowe. He is the model of the hardbitten, independent minded Private Dick. As Chandler writes:
“Tell me about yourself, Mr Marlowe. I suppose I have a right to ask?”
“Sure, but there’s very little to tell. I’m thirty-three years old, went to college once and can still speak English if there’s any demand for it. There isn’t much in my trade. I worked for Mr Wilde, the District Attorney, as an investigator once. […] I’m unmarried because I don’t like policemen’s wives.” “And a little bit of a cynic,” the old man smiled. “You didn’t like working for Wilde?” “I was fired. For insubordination. I test very high on insubordination, General.”
The Philip Marlowe novels are, as cataloged in Wikipedia:
- The Big Sleep (1939). Based on the short stories “Killer in the Rain” (1935) and “The Curtain” (1936).
- Farewell, My Lovely (1940). Based on the short stories “The Man Who Liked Dogs” (1936), “Try The Girl” (1937) and “Mandarin’s Jade” (1937).
- The High Window (1942). Based on the short stories “Bay City Blues” (1938) and “The Lady In The Lake” (1939).
- The Lady in the Lake (1943). Based on the short stories “Bay City Blues” (1938), “The Lady In The Lake” (1939), “No Crime In The Mountains” (1941).
- The Little Sister (1949). Scenes based on the short story “Bay City Blues” (1938).
- The Long Goodbye (1953 UK; Sept 1954 USA; Edgar Award for Best Novel, 1955).
- Playback (1958). Based on an unproduced screenplay.
- Poodle Springs (1959). (incomplete; completed by Robert B. Parker in 1989). Parker is my favorite Detective author, as you will soon see.
- Perchance to Dream (by Robert B. Parker, a sequel to The Big Sleep)
There are also numerous short stories and screen plays.
Ross Macdonald (Kenneth Millar)
Millar was born in Los Gatos, CA, but was raised in his parents’ native Ontario (in Canada, not California!). He began writing under the pseudonym Ross Macdonald, and created his best known character in Lew Archer. Archer is derivative of Philip Marlowe, with some significant differences. It is almost as if Archer is a bridge between Marlowe and Robert B. Parker’s Spenser. Macdonald’s gumshoe works in Southern California, and the author himself moved to Santa Barbara in the 1950s, and fictionalized the town as Santa Teresa in his novels. Macdonald’s work is celebrated by both genre and mainstream critics, and the public, and wrote other novels and short stories as well as the Archer series. He died of Alzheimer’s in 1983.
Lew Archer novels:
Lew Archer short story collections:
- The Name is Archer (paperback original containing seven stories) – 1955
- Lew Archer: Private Investigator (The Name is Archer + two additional stories) – 1977
- Strangers in Town (Two of the three short stories include Lew Archer; one,”Death by Water,” features Joe Rogers) – 2001
- The Archer Files, The Complete Short Stories of Lew Archer Private Investigator, Including Newly Discovered Case Notes, ed. Tom Nolan – 2007. (Contains the contents of The Name Is Archer, the additional stories in Lew Archer, Private Investigator, and the three stories in Strangers in Town; “Death by Water” has been changed (with the estate’s permission) to feature Lew Archer rather than Joe Rogers. The book also includes 11 “case notes” – beginnings of novels or short stories that Macdonald never completed.)
” is both the nom de plume
of Daniel Nathan, alias Frederic Dannay (1905–1982) and Emanuel Benjamin Lepofsky, alias Manfred Bennington Lee (1905–1971), and the name of their principle character. Nathan and Lepofsky were cousins born in Brooklyn, who created an immensely popular mystery franchise. This idea of having a fictional detective publishing books has often been used, notably in the Jessica Fletcher novels, a spinoff series of ghost written books by the fictional mystery author and sleuth from TV’s Murder She Wrote
, and Richard Castle’s ghost-written novels from TV’s Castle
With a long series of novels, short stories, anthologies and magazines, as well as Radio, TV, Film, Comics and Games representations, what British crime novelist Margery Allingham
said about Ellery Queen is true: “[Ellery Queen has] done far more for the detective story than any other two men put together.” “Queen” was one of my Mother’s and Grandmother’s favorites. The character himself is a New York mystery writer and amateur sleuth who helps his father, an NYPD Inspector, solve crimes. Over the years, Queen softened and became more sympathetic. The novels are often compared to the Philo Vance
novels by S. S. Van Dine
. Here are some to get you started.
Timothy Hutton as Archie Goodwin and Maury Chaykin as Nero Wolfe
Rex Stout (1886-1975) was one of my Mother and Grandmother’s favorites, and they loved Archie Goodwin, Stout’s Sleuth Nero Wolfe’s action man. Nero Wolf himself was a Mycroft Holmes type detective, who did not like to leave his beautiful brownstone with his beloved Orchids. Archie did the footwork. There have been many film and TV adaptations, and my favorite is A&E’s rendition with Maury Chaykin as Nero Wolfe, and Timothy Hutton as Archie Goodwin. Hutton, as mentioned earlier, is the youngest person ever to receive an Oscar for best supporting actor for his performance as Conrad Jarrett in Ordinary People (1980). He has continued to be an enduring and important actor, recently on TV as Nate Ford, the leader of the good con-team on Leverage. In 2014 he played in the ABC crime drama American Crime.
Stout wrote many other novels and short stories, but it is his Nero Wolfe series that has continued to be amazingly popular. The writing is good, the characters are likable and well-drawn, and the mysteries fascinating! There are years of good reading in the Wolfe corpus:
- 1934: Fer-de-Lance
- 1935: The League of Frightened Men
- 1936: The Rubber Band
- 1937: The Red Box
- 1938: Too Many Cooks
- 1939: Some Buried Caesar
- 1940: Over My Dead Body
- 1940: Where There’s a Will
- 1942: Black Orchids (contains “Black Orchids” and “Cordially Invited to Meet Death”)
- 1944: Not Quite Dead Enough (contains “Not Quite Dead Enough” and “Booby Trap”)
- 1946: The Silent Speaker
- 1947: Too Many Women
- 1948: And Be a Villain (British title More Deaths Than One)
- 1949: Trouble in Triplicate (contains “Before I Die”, “Help Wanted, Male” and “Instead of Evidence”)
- 1949: The Second Confession
- 1950: Three Doors to Death (contains “Man Alive”, “Omit Flowers” and “Door to Death”)
- 1950: In the Best Families (British title Even in the Best Families)
- 1951: Curtains for Three (contains “The Gun with Wings”, “Bullet for One” and “Disguise for Murder”)
- 1951: Murder by the Book
- 1952: Triple Jeopardy (contains “Home to Roost”, “The Cop-Killer” and “The Squirt and the Monkey”)
- 1952: Prisoner’s Base (British title Out Goes She)
- 1953: The Golden Spiders
- 1954: Three Men Out (contains “Invitation to Murder”, “The Zero Clue” and “This Won’t Kill You”)
- 1954: The Black Mountain
- 1955: Before Midnight
- 1956: Three Witnesses (contains “The Next Witness”, “When a Man Murders” and “Die Like a Dog”)
- 1956: Might as Well Be Dead
- 1957: Three for the Chair (contains “A Window for Death”, “Immune to Murder” and “Too Many Detectives”)
- 1957: If Death Ever Slept
- 1958: And Four to Go (contains “Christmas Party”, “Easter Parade”, “Fourth of July Picnic” and “Murder Is No Joke”)
- 1958: Champagne for One
- 1959: Plot It Yourself (British title Murder in Style)
- 1960: Three at Wolfe’s Door (contains “Poison à la Carte”, “Method Three for Murder” and “The Rodeo Murder”)
- 1960: Too Many Clients
- 1961: The Final Deduction
- 1962: Homicide Trinity (contains “Eeny Meeny Murder Mo”, “Death of a Demon” and “Counterfeit for Murder”)
- 1962: Gambit
- 1963: The Mother Hunt
- 1964: Trio for Blunt Instruments (contains “Kill Now—Pay Later”, “Murder Is Corny” and “Blood Will Tell”)
- 1964: A Right to Die
- 1965: The Doorbell Rang
- 1966: Death of a Doxy
- 1968: The Father Hunt
- 1969: Death of a Dude
- 1973: Please Pass the Guilt
- 1975: A Family Affair
- 1985: Death Times Three (posthumous; contains “Bitter End”, “Frame-Up for Murder” and “Assault on a Brownstone”)
Continuations by Robert Goldsborough:
There are many other pastiches, since Nero and Archie are such popular characters!
These writers, along with James M. Cain
, are considered the founders of the American Hardboiled Detective Story.
The Strange Case of Inspector Chan
We can’t leave the Golden Era without talking about one of my all-time favorite characters, Inspector Charlie Chan of the Honolulu Police Department. Earl Derr Biggers (1884-1933) created him in 1925. Chan was loosely based on what Biggers had read about of Chang Apana (鄭阿平) and Lee Fook, two detectives on the Honolulu police force. He conceived of the character during a visit to Hawai’i in 1919, as a counter to the then-popular racist Yellow Peril stories, typified by the infamous Fu Manchu.
The Chan Canon includes both the Biggers novels and those that followed.
- Biggers, Earl Derr. The House Without a Key. New York: Bobbs-Merrill, 1925.
- —. The Chinese Parrot. New York: Bobbs-Merrill, 1926.
- —. Behind That Curtain. New York: Bobbs-Merrill, 1928.
- —. The Black Camel. New York: Bobbs-Merrill, 1929.
- —. Charlie Chan Carries On. New York: Bobbs-Merrill, 1930.
- —. Keeper of the Keys. New York: Bobbs-Merrill, 1932.
- Davis, Robert Hart. Charlie Chan in The Temple of the Golden Horde. 1974. Charlie Chan’s Mystery Magazine. Reprinted by Wildside Press, 2003.
- Lynds, Dennis. Charlie Chan Returns. New York: Bantam Books, 1974.
- Pronzini, Bill, and Jeffrey M. Wallmann. Charlie Chan in the Pawns of Death. 1974. Charlie Chan’s Mystery Magazine. Reprinted by Borgo Press, 2003.
- Avallone, Michael. Charlie Chan and the Curse of the Dragon Queen. New York: Pinnacle, 1981.
- Robert Hart Davis. “The Silent Corpse”. Feb.1974. “Charlie Chan’s Mystery Magazine.”
- Robert Hart Davis. “Walk Softly,Strangler”. Nov. 1973. Charlie Chan’s Mystery Magazine.”
- Jon L. Breen. “The Fortune Cookie”. May 1971. “Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine.”
Keye Luke, Lee Chan in many of the Chan films.
There is controversy over whether Biggers’ Chan is an entirely positive portrayal of Chinese-Americans, particularly with his difficulties with English. There are cogent arguments on both sides. On balance, I consider Biggers a remarkable advocate for Asian-Americans as early as the 20s and 30s. The rest of the Country (and much of Western world) was in the throes of the Yellow Peril racism, with the despicable legislation of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 being extended in 1892 and made permanent in 1902. It was not repealed until 1943! This was the thanks that the men and women who built much of our first transcontinental Railroad got for their trouble. Bigger’s portrayal of Detective Chan may not be perfect, but it was much better than the alternative. Of course we would not use the same portrayal today.
Even more unfortunately, the early screen adaptations starring East Asians (never a Chinese actor, rather George Kuwa, a Japanese actor Japanese actor, Kamiyama Sojin, and Korean actor E.L. Park) did very poorly at the box-office. All of this demonstrates the racism of the day. In response, the studio cast Swedish actor Warner Oland, who played Chan as somewhat subservient, and later another white actor, Sidney Toler. Inexplicably, the Chinese actor Keye Luke (Chinese: 陸錫麟, Cantonese: Luk Shek Lun; 1904 – 1991) was well accepted as Chan’s “Number One Son,” Lee Chan.
I do not know if there will ever be a modern production of any of Biggers novels with a accurate casting and an update that is appropriate and non-racist. Hollywood just doesn’t get it: in 1979 they made another Chan film, with Ross Martin as Chan! Now I love Ross Martin, but come on…why make the same mistake again? There have been stories for years that Lucy Liu will play Chan’s granddaughter in her own film someday. I hope a realistic Chan will eventually come to the screen. In the meanwhile, read the books!
My Favorites Today
Now that we’ve seen some of “The Classics,” I’ll share with you some of the authors I love, and a few I intend to start reading. In lieu of an other way, I’ll do this in alphabetical order. But remember about saving the best for last!
Dr. Isaac Asimov enthroned with symbols of his life’s work, by Rowena.
Where best to start the list than with the man who taught me something about everything through his books. He published over 500 books, and they are cataloged in 9 of the 10 Dewey Decimal major categories. If there was a Renaissance Man in modern history, it was Asimov.
His Detective Stories fall into two groups.
The Robot Mysteries:
These involve NYPD Detective Elijah Baley and his Robot Detective Partner R. Daneel Olivaw who solve crimes. Olivaw is of course bound by Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics. Asimov eventually links the series with his Empire timeline. The Android detective trope was recently used in the all-too-quickly cancelled Almost Human.
The Other Mysteries:
Black Widowers Series:
Anything by Asimov is great! Read them all!
The Saint Logo © 1967, Fiction Publishing Company.
Leslie Charteris — The Saint
Leslie Charles Bowyer Yin (1907–1993), was a Chinese-American-British writer and screenwriter writing as Leslie Charteris. Another prolific author, his most famous creation was Simon Templar a debonaire Gentleman Crook. This is the reverse of most Mystery Fiction, as the Crook is the hero. His cons are against bad guys though, and worked with a Band of colleagues, a recently revived trope in TV’s Leverage, led by Timothy Hutton who also played Archie Goodwin in a Nero Wolf series (see below).
There are over 50 Saint Novels and many short stories, and Simon Templar was a popular Radio, Film, and TV character. My Mother and Grandmother loved this series, and I grew up reading and watching Simon Templar. Both of them always liked dashing handsome men! From 1962-1969, Templar was played on TV by Roger Moore. Here are some of the Simon Templar Novels to give you a taste!
Father Brown and cast from the current BBC series © BBC
Gilbert Keith Chesterton (1879-1936) is one of the great literary influences on my life. He was a theologian, journalist and author. Wikipedia reports that “[n]ear the end of his life, Pope Pius XI invested Chesterton as Knight Commander with Star of the Papal Order of St. Gregory the Great (KC*SG).The Chesterton Society has proposed that he be beatified. He is remembered liturgically on 13 June by the Episcopal Church (USA), with a provisional feast day as adopted at the 2009 General Convention.” I would certainly support his Glorification as a Saint! Also note that the Episcopal Church is remarkable in that they Liturgically commemorate persons who were not Anglican! See the awesome Iconography in the dome of St. Gregory of Nyssa Church in San Francisco for a wonderful example of this.
His most famous contribution to Detective Fiction is the lovable, relentless, and very shrewd Father Brown, currently portrayed on the BBC by Mark Williams. In appearance and manner he is a prototype of the Peter Falk’s Columbo Detective. Evil doers don’t take them seriously, to their peril!
To illustrate Father Brown’s approach, here is a dialogue in “The Dagger With Wings.” The Priest speaks first:
“…But it wasn’t only the way he said it, it was what he said. It was the religion and philosophy of it.”
“I’m afraid I’m a practical man,” said the doctor with gruff humor, “and I don’t bother much about religion and philosophy.”
“You’ll never be a practical man till you do,” said Father Brown.
Chesterton is also the author of one of my favorite poems and hymns, “O God of Earth and Altar” which I have cited many times in this Blog.
The Father Brown Canon comes in five collections of short stories and three uncollected stories. The whole corpus can be found in The Collected Works of G. K. Chesterton, vols. 12 and 13.
Father Brown is a delight, and has appeared in many films and TV series. Read the stories for sure!
Chesterton also penned a number of wonderful philosophical and though-provoking works that are closely connected to mystery and detective stories and are often quite funny. As always, Chesterton is the King of Paradox, and these stories illustrate this very well. They are all very worth reading:
To read Chesterton’s entire corpus of fiction, poetry and non-fiction, including his Christian apologetic works, there is no better source than Ignatius Press’sCollected Works of G.K. Chesterton. I do not agree with or recommend every book published by this press, founded by Fr. Joseph Fessio, S.J., some of which are very conservative, but they publish much of considerable worth, and their books are well made and carefully produced. I guess I feel the way about Ignatius Press as I do about Russell Kirk, whom I talked about in the last post.
August Derleth, whom we know best as the founder of Arkham House Press and the champion of H.P. Lovecraft’s work, was himself a prolific writer. His works include historical fiction, poetry, detective fiction, science fiction, and biography, and Cthulhu Mythos stories (in which the Mythos takes on a more Judeo-Christian good vs evil tone). He was also very interested in making Fr. Jacques Marquette, S.J., and the Jesuits better known.
His detective pastiche of Sherlock Holmes is one of his best loved series. It features the consulting detective Solar Pons and his friend and amanuensis* Dr. Lyndon Parker. Pons lives at 7B Praed Street, and his housekeeper is Mrs. Johnson. Although all this is parallel to Holmes, Pons does have his own personality, and is less brooding than his counterpart, who exists in the Pons universe. Here are these tales:
* I know, I can’t just throw in a word like amanuensis without an explanation. An amanuensis is a literary assistant. The word was used much more frequently in the 19th century, and has been in decline in later years. It comes from the practice in Ancient Rome of having a trusted slave within “hands’ reach” (we would say “within arms’ reach”) to act as secretary and also carry out other duties.
That slave would be known as servus a manu or “slave at hand.” Compare our expressions: “Right Hand Man,” “My Man Friday” (from Daniel Defoe’s 1719 novel Robinson Crusoe, in which the character Friday is Crusoe’s closest helper), and His Girl Friday, the 1940 Screwball comedy starring “Cary Grant as Walter Burns and Rosalind Russell as Hildy Johnson and features Ralph Bellamy as Bruce Baldwin.” It was directed by “Howard Hawks, from an adaptation by Charles Lederer, Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur of the play The Front Page by Hecht and MacArthur.”
Servus a manu was shortened to amanu and the suffix -ensis was added, meaning, having to do with, belonging to, something. Thus we have amanuensis.
John Thaw as Inspector Morse in the ITV series. © ITV
Norman Colin Dexter, OBE (born 1930) is the creator of the Inspector Morse Novels. Morse is a late example of the British Gentleman Detective, although he is a Policeman. An irascible perfectionist, he is nonetheless likable. As Wikipedia describes him: “Morse originally is described as a senior CID (Criminal Investigation Department) officer with the Thames Valley Police force in Oxford, England. With a Jaguar car (a Lancia in the early novels), a thirst for English real ale and a penchant for music (especially opera and Wagner), poetry, art, classics, classic cars, and cryptic crossword puzzles, Morse presents a likeable persona, despite his sullen temperament.”
The TV series was produced by the ITV from 1987-2000, and a Prequel Series Endeavour in 2011.
Sean Connery as Bro. William, and Christian Slater as Bro. Adso from the 1986 film, The Name of the Rose.
Umberto Eco, OMRI (b. 1932) is an Italian semiotician, essayist, philosopher, literary critic, and novelist. A man of vast accomplishments and huge erudition, he has penned two novels in the Mystery tradition. The first and most famous is The Name of the Rose (1980 Italian, 1983 English) is an immensely complex novel revolving around Franciscan friarWilliam of Baskerville and his novice Adso of Melk. Naturally, Baskerville is an echo of Sherlock Holmes, and Adso of Watson. Set in 1327, it is “an intellectual mystery combining semiotics in fiction, biblical analysis, medieval studies and literary theory.” It is famously allusive and multi-leveled, and at least for me, a complete joy to read! As I had a literary semioticist for my advisor at Yale, this one is a must for me.
Sean Connery did a good job portraying Friar William in the film version, which was appropriately labeled as “a palimpsest of the Novel.” Palimpsest, Latinpalimpsēstus, is from the Ancient Greekπαλίμψηστος (palímpsestos, “scratched again,” “scraped again”) from πάλιν (palin, “again”) and ψάω (psao, “I scrape”). A palimpsest is a parchment that had been written on, and then scraped clean to be used again. In this way, the film does not claim to fully recreate the novel, which would have been practically impossible.
His second novel can be seen as a Mystery tale: Foucault’s Pendulum (1988 Italian, 1989 English). Again, it is a novel of great complexity and is constantly referential to other ideas, and to literary and esoteric theory. It is a search for the work of the Knights Templar, and is filled with literary, esoteric, and semiotic themes. It may not be for everyone, but I love it!
The San Francisco Mystery Bookstore in Noe Vallery, now sadly shuttered.
Graham Greene (1904-1991) is not always thought of as a Mystery writer, yet a number of his works are mysteries, such as The Third Man, featuring Harry Lime. Greene was a great literary figure, and I just couldn’t leave him out of the list!
Joseph Hansen (1923-2004), was one of the first to write a serious hardboiled Detective novel with a Gay Investigator, Dave Brandstetter. His second Mystery series featured retired Deputy Sheriff Hack Bohannon, who is heterosexual. Hansen’s ground-breaking work with the Brandsetter series opened up a brand new genre, hardboiled LGBT Detective Fiction. Hansen’s Brandstetter is “an openly gay
insurance investigator who still embodied the tough, no-nonsense personality of the classic hardboiled
private investigator protagonist.”
Bohannon is “a former deputy sheriff who quits the force after fourteen years because of his disapproval of a whitewashed homicide inquiry and runs a horse farm.”
Dave Brandstetter Series:
Hack Bohannon Series (novella & short story collections):
Besides the Occult Detectives and other genres we saw last week, C. J. Henderson (1951-2014) also had his own hardboiled non-Occult Detective, Jack Hagee. The titles include:
… and there are other short stories as well. You can sample one here. Get the full Bibliography at the Thrilling Detective site. I look forward to exploring them all. Again, Henderson will be missed!
By the way, http://www.thrillingdetective.com is a top notch go-to site for info on “Private Eyes and other Tough Guys”! Its Bibliographies are a great addition to my last post on Occult Detectives: http://www.thrillingdetective.com/trivia/triv10.html.
Robert E Howard
Robert E. Howard, as Two-Fisted as his heroes.
Robert E. Howard (1906-1936), the creator of Conan, Kull, and so many other memorable characters had several hardboiled detectives, Police Detective Steve Harrison, PI partners Brent Kirby and Butch Gorman, and Steve Bender, Weary McGraw and the Whale. Unfortunately, Howard does indulge in some of the Yellow Peril plots. If you can get past that, Howard is one of the great storytellers of the 20th century. Check out The Robert E. Howard Foundation for all his work.
Steve Harrison Stories (Thanks Wikipedia for all this REH info!):
Brent Kirby and Butch Gorman Stories:
- “Hands of the Black Goddess” (“Scarlet Tears”) in Bran Mak Morn: A Play & Others, 1983
- “Sons of Hate” in Two-Fisted Detective Stories, May 1984
Steve Bender, Weary McGraw and the Whale:
- “The Ghost with the Silk Hat” in Writer of the Dark, 1986
- “Westward Ho!” Unpublished fragment
- “The Wild Man” Unpublished fragment
- “William Aloysius McGraw’s father was red-headed and…” Unpublished Unnamed fragment
Some of Howard’s Detective stories can be found here.
Of course, REH is best known by the public for his Heroic Fantasy stories and his Horror, including Lovecraft Mythos stories, which we will have to explore in a new Blog one of these days.
Mary C. Jane
As a child, the Phoenix Public Library was a wonderland for me. My Mother would take me down to the Library every two weeks and I would select the next 12 books I would read during that fortnight. I got to know the Librarians well!
I loved Mystery stories from the start, however, I did not go the route of the Hardy Boys or Nancy Drew. Instead, I immensely enjoyed the mysteries written by Mary C. Jane (1909-1991). She was a teacher who began writing mystery stories for Middle-School age students in 1952. Here is a good bibliography
, and some of these that are in print. These are great for your kids! Here are a few
Sadly, Johnson only wrote two Doug Orlando novels but they are fine police procedurals. Orlando is a Out homicide detective in Brooklyn featured in two very well worth reading books:
Timothy Olyphant as Raylan Givens on FX’s Justified. © FX
Timothy Callahan and Donald Strachey (Sebastian Spence and Chad Allen) in “Thrd Man Out” TV Movie. © Shavick Entertainment/Here!
Richard Lipez (as Richard Stevenson)
Richard Lipez (b. 1938) created the Gay Private Eye Donald Strachey
in his 1981 Death Trick. Strachey is a military vet and former police detective who has gone into private practice in Albany, NY. Timothy Callahan, his Jesuit-educated (Georgetown) partner works as a legislative aid in the State Capitol.
Four of the novels have been made into TV Movies, Third Man Out, Shock to the System, On the Other Hand Death, and Ice Blues. As is typical in Hardboiled Detective Fiction, there’s some amorous behavior to be had.
I have five more to go in the series, and I look forward to more from Lipez. The plots are interesting, the mysteries intriguing, the characters well drawn and appealing, and many of the novels reference real world events and issues.
McDowell collaborated with his close friend Dennis Schuetz in writing four LGBT mysteries starring Daniel Valentine and Clarisse Lovelace:
Kate in her bookstore
I remember finding these at a wonderful little Mystery Bookstore across the street from where I lived in Cambridge, MA while I was studying Theology. Kate’s Mystery Books occupied the first floor of a lovely old Victorian on Mass Ave. near the corner of Day St., and not far from Davis Sq. in Somerville, MA. Kate and her black cat were always welcoming. I’m sad that it closed a few years ago, and hope Kate and the cat are well!
McDowell, himself a novelist and screenwriter, was described by Stephen King as “the finest writer of paperback originals in America today.” He also wrote three Jack and Susan Novels in the style of The Thin Man:
The Word of Life is a large mural on the side of the Theodore Hesburgh Library depicting the resurrected Jesus. Designed by Millard Sheets, it was installed in 1964 as a gift of Mr. and Mrs. Howard V. Phalin. Stemming from the fashion in which Jesus’ arms are raised and its visibility from Notre Dame Stadium, the mural has become popularly known as “Touchdown Jesus.” Photo © 2012 by Mendaliv
Ralph McInerny (1929-2010) was a Professor of Philosophy at the University of Notre Dame, and a prolific Mystery writer. He created the very popular Father Dowling Mysteries, the Sister Mary Teresa Mysteries, and tons more. Together with Father Brown and Brother Cadfael, these Religious-connected detectives form a unique sub-genre, the “Clerical Detective.” The oft-used moniker is actually inaccurate, as Monks may or may not be clerics, and Nuns (sadly in the Roman Catholic Church) cannot be.
St. Phoebe, the first Deaconess
The Japanese Orthodox Church once had Deaconesses, and its Mother Church, the Russian Orthodox Church, still does. The larger Romanian and Bulgarian Orthodox Monasteries have Deaconesses. In 2004, the Holy Synod of the Church of Greece restored Women Deacons, following the lead of St. Nektarios of Aegina who ordained women as Deacons for Monasteries, beginning in 1911. Some Oriental Orthodox Churches, such as the Coptic Church, have Deaconesses. Get with it Rome, your sister Churches are moving forward on this!
McInerny wrote prolifically in many series of Religiously and Notre Dame oriented mystery novels. Here is a sampling!
Here’s a good place to start
on the Religious Detective Sub-Genre (Rabbis and other clerics are also included).
Michael Mesrobian, who wrote under the pen name of Grant Michaels sadly left us here in San Francisco
in 2009 of prostate cancer. Thank you to Jim Coughenour
for memorializing him in his blog. His Boston Beauty Operator Sleuth Stan Kraychik detected his way through several delightfully campy novels:
California Attorney Michael Nava (b. 1954) created a very literary detective series starring Gay Latino Attorney Henry Rios. I have friend-of-a-friend knowledge of Nava through Fr. James Graham of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church. The Rios Series is:
Sad to say, Nava doesn’t seem to be continuing the series, which is acclaimed not only as good mysteries, but also fine character studies and darn good literature. I voted for him for Superior Court Judge in 2010, but unfortunately he did not succeed in that race. Happily, however, in 2014 he published a historical novel set in Pre-Revolutionary Mexico, The City of Palaces. Not a Mystery novel, but it is good to see Nava publishing again.
Kathleen Turner as Vic.
Sara Paretsky (b. 1947) is one of the reigning mystery writers alive today. Unfortunately, I have yet to begin to read her work, but I am looking forward to it! Her most popular detective is the acclaimed Victoria Iphigenia Warshawski, known as Vic to her friends. A former Chicago PD Officer, she is now a tough Chicago PI. Paretsky is credited with changing the way women are portrayed in Mystery Fiction. Simply consider the many strong female police and detectives in fiction, film and TV today to see her impact.
The V.I. Warshawski series includes these novels. There are also some short stories.
Robert B. Parker
Kate Mattes and Robert B. Parker at her bookstore.
Robert B. Parker (1932-2010) has become, over the years, my favorite Detective novelist. I began reading his Spenser series while I was studying in Cambridge MA where Parker lived, and have loved his work ever since. I remember getting some of the first of the Spenser series from the Cambridge Public Library! His major mystery series are so popular that new authors have been authorized by his estate to keep up at least three of them.
Parker wrote in the tradition of Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, and Ross Macdonald, and is considered their successor. He completed Chandler’s unfinished Poodle Springs
in 1989, and in 1991 wrote Perchance to Dream
as a sequel to Chandler’s The Big Sleep
Avery Brooks as Hawk
Together with Elmore Leonard, Parker is considered the genre’s best and most popular authors of the late 20th and early 21st centuries. His most famous creation is the hardboiled gumshoe Spenser, featured in a long series of novels some of which have been adapted for TV. The audio books are read by a favorite actor of mine, Joe Mantegna. Along the way, the reader comes to love Spenser, his friend and fellow tough guy Hawk (perfectly portrayed on TV by Avery Brooks, who later commanded Star Trek’s Deep Space Nine), his love Sarah Silverman, and the many recurring characters, both the good guys, and even some of the bad guys. Spenser is principled, tough as nails, and practical. The novels are noted for their inclusion of a wide range of ethnicities, genders, orientations, among both the good guys and the bad. It makes for a very modern feel in the novels, not only the Spenser series, but his others as well. It speaks to Parker’s character.
“Before Bob, the hard-boiled private eye was a loner who couldn’t trust anyone, and mainly fought crime and
This is the view I had of Kate’s Mystery Books from our front porch in Cambridge!
corruption on the West Coast. Bob changed all that. He was the first to tinker with the image of the American hard-boiled detective when, in the 1970s, he created Spenser – a knight-errant with equal parts honor and humor. Bob created a “family’’ for Spenser, which included a monogamous relationship with a feminist, a best friend who was black and a young boy, abandoned by his parents, who Spenser “adopted’’ and supported in his desire to become a ballet dancer. Up until then, private detectives didn’t have anyone they could count on, or who depended on them, especially over time, in one book after another. Today it seems almost passé, but Bob breathed new life into the genre, paving the way for most crime writers today.”
Robert B. Parker. There is a lot of Parker in Spenser.
A wonderful and informative tribute to Parker was posted in two parts on The Rap Sheet
. I highly recommend it, and you will learn much about Parker and his characters, too. Besides revolutionizing how we view the PI in Spenser, Jesse Stone, and Sunny Randall, he also modernized his novels by realistically portraying characters of many ethnicities and genders outside “white” males. Here are a few:
- African-American Hawk, who is actually the other part of one PI in two people. Spencer and Hawk are the Gilgamesh and Enkidu of Detective fiction, two parts of a whole.
- Susan Silverman, the love of his life, a Jewish psychologist
- Chollo, an L.A. Mexican-American shooter and Spenser ally.
- Zebulon Sixkill, his Native American protégé.
- Many other Irish, Italian, Ukrainian, Russian, Asian heroes and villains.
These people are portrayed as normal, ordinary parts of Spenser’s life. Parker, and therefore Spenser (as well as Jesse and Sunny) never stereotypes, is never cloyingly politically correct. He treats people of other groups as real human beings, just as he does women, for whom he has a respectful but strong attraction. Just because he becomes monogamous with Susan, doesn’t mean that he has lost his eye for the ladies! Spenser’s relationship to Susan in some way mirror’s Parker’s relationship with his own wife, Joan. Women are human beings to Spenser.
Also surprising in mainstream detective fiction are his LGBT characters. His sensitivity to LGBT characters came from his two Gay sons, Daniel and David. Here are three:
- Gay Boston Police Detective Lee Farrell, a tough, good cop.
- Gay Mob Boss Gino Fish (who is also in the Jesse Stone novels)
- Gay Bouncer Teddy Sapp, Ex-Airborne, Weightlifter Black Belt, a tough-guy the equal of Spenser and Hawk
The number of gay characters, some heroes, some villains, again, leads one to believe that Parker was coming to terms with his sons through his writing. Robert was, and Joan is, supportive of their sons. Spenser, et al, treat LGBT persons as real people.
Young people are also taken seriously in all the novels, and can be noble and slovenly, but always real. Another huge change from much of previous detective fiction is Spenser’s attitude towards people. He is not cynical, misanthropic or misogynistic. He like people who deserve to be liked by their behavior, and is only contemptuous of those who deserve it, often the rich and powerful. He respects criminals who have a code as he does.
In so many ways, Parker’s writing demonstrates what a genuine and good human being he was.
The Spenser Series:
By Robert B. Parker:
- The Godwulf Manuscript (1973)
- God Save the Child (1974)
- Mortal Stakes (1975)
- Promised Land (1976) (Edgar Award, 1977, Best Novel; adapted into pilot episode of Spenser: For Hire)
- The Judas Goat (1978; adapted into Lifetime TV movie)
- Looking for Rachel Wallace (1980)
- Early Autumn (1981)
- A Savage Place (1981; adapted into Lifetime TV movie)
- Ceremony (1982; adapted into Lifetime TV movie)
- The Widening Gyre (1983)
- Valediction (1984)
- A Catskill Eagle (1985)
- Taming a Sea Horse (1986)
- Pale Kings and Princes (1987; adapted into Lifetime TV movie)
- Crimson Joy (1988)
- Playmates (1989)
- Stardust (1990)
- Pastime (1991)
- Double Deuce (1992)
- Paper Doll (1993)
- Walking Shadow (1994; adapted into A&E TV movie)
- Thin Air (1995; adapted into A&E TV movie)
- Chance (1996)
- Small Vices (1997; adapted into A&E TV movie)
- Sudden Mischief (1998)
- Hush Money (1999)
- Hugger Mugger (2000)
- Potshot (2001)
- Widow’s Walk (2002)
- Back Story (2003)
- Bad Business (2004)
- Cold Service (2005)
- School Days (2005)
- Hundred-Dollar Baby (2006)
- Now and Then (2007)
- Rough Weather (2008)
- Chasing the Bear: A Young Spenser Novel (2009)
- The Professional (2009)
- Painted Ladies (2010)
- Sixkill (2011)
- By Ace Atkins
- Lullaby (2012)
- Wonderland (2013)
- Cheap Shot (2014)
- Kickback (2015)
- With Helen Brann
- (Parker’s longtime literary agent)
- Silent Night (2013)
Parker’s second most well known detective is the former L.A. Detective, now Chief of Police in Paradise, MA, Jesse Stone. Perfectly portrayed on TV by Tom Selleck. Stone is a more troubled character than Spenser, and Parker himself said in an interview: “Jesse is a much more damaged individual who is coming to terms with himself as he goes along.” Still, he has his code of honor, and shares with Spenser his toughness, and allegiance to fairness and justice.
Tom Sellek as Jesse Stone
The Jesse Stone Series:
By Robert B. Parker:
- Night Passage (September 1997)
- Trouble in Paradise (September 1998)
- Death in Paradise (October 2001)
- Stone Cold (October 2003)
- Sea Change (February 2006)
- High Profile (February 2007)
- Stranger In Paradise (February 2008)
- Night and Day (February 2009)
- Split Image (February 2010)
By Michael Brandman:
- Robert B. Parker’s Killing the Blues (September 2011)
- Robert B. Parker’s Fool Me Twice (September 2012)
- Robert B. Parker’s Damned If You Do (September 2013)
By Reed Farrel Coleman
- Robert B. Parker’s Blind Spot (September 2014)
- Robert B. Parker’s The Devil Wins (2015)
His third popular series features Sonny Randall, a hardbitten, tough, South Boston Private Eye and her sidekick, Spike, a gay waiter/karate blackbelt, and her dogs! You also get a glimpse of her Cambridge therapist, Spenser’s Susan Silverman, and Jesse Stone. The character was created at the behest of Parker’s friend, Helen Hunt, so that she could play Sunny in film. Sadly the project never took flight.
The Sunny Randall Series:
Parker combined his love of the Western with his detective fiction in a series set in the late 19th Century West, featuring good guy gunmen Everett Hitch and Virgil Cole.
Viggo Mortensen and Ed Harris as Cole & Hitch in Appaloosa (2008)
The Cole & Hitch Series:
Read anything you can get you hands on by Robert B. Parker!
Edith Mary Pargeter
, OBE, BEM (1913–1995) published both under her own name, and that of Ellis Peters. She authored scores of novels, which often involved social commentary. Perhaps the best known, but certainly not the only ones, of her mystery series are these two.
Central Intelligence Division detective sergeant George Felse of Comerford, his wife, Bunty, and their son Dominic:
Brother Cadfael, a Medieval English Benedictine Monk
Derek Jacobi as Brother Cadfael in the ITV production.
The character of Cadfael himself is a Welsh Benedictine monk living at Shrewsbury Abbey, in western England, in the first half of the 12th century. The historically accurate stories are set between about 1135 and about 1145, during “The Anarchy“, the destructive contest for the crown of England between King Stephen and Empress Maud.
As a character, Cadfael “combines the curious mind of a scientist/pharmacist with a knight-errant.” He entered the cloister in his forties after being both a soldier and a sailor; this worldly experience gives him an array of talents and skills useful in monastic life. He is a skilled observer of human nature, inquisitive by nature, energetic, a talented herbalist (work he learned in the Holy Lands), and has an innate, although modern, sense of justice and fair-play. Abbots call upon him as a medical examiner, detective, doctor, and diplomat. His worldly knowledge, although useful, gets him in trouble with the more doctrinaire characters of the series, and the seeming contradiction between the secular and the spiritual worlds forms a central and continuing theme of the stories.
The Cadfael Chronicles:
- A Morbid Taste for Bones (published in August 1977, set in 1137)
- One Corpse Too Many (July 1979, set in August 1138)
- Monk’s Hood (August 1980, set in December 1138)
- Saint Peter’s Fair (May 1981, set in July 1139)
- The Leper of Saint Giles (August 1981, set in October 1139)
- The Virgin in the Ice (April 1982, set in November 1139)
- The Sanctuary Sparrow (January 1983 set in the Spring of 1140)
- The Devil’s Novice (August 1983, set in September 1140)
- Dead Man’s Ransom (April 1984, set in February 1141)
- The Pilgrim of Hate (September 1984, set in May 1141)
- An Excellent Mystery (June 1985, set in August 1141)
- The Raven in the Foregate (February 1986, set in December 1141)
- The Rose Rent (October 1986, set in June 1142)
- The Hermit of Eyton Forest (June 1987, set in October 1142)
- The Confession of Brother Haluin (March 1988, set in December 1142)
- A Rare Benedictine: The Advent of Brother Cadfael (September 1988, set in 1120)
- The Heretic’s Apprentice (February 1989, set in June 1143)
- The Potter’s Field (September 1989, set in August 1143)
- The Summer of the Danes (April 1991, set in April 1144)
- The Holy Thief (August 1992, set in February 1145)
- Brother Cadfael’s Penance (May 1994, set in November 1145)
The series has also been published in 7 Omnibus editions.
There are also some interesting guide and companion books about Brother Cadfael.
With a keen eye (and pen) for characters, settings and social mores, these novels combine the English Country Mystery with social analysis and excellent writing. Many of the Brother Cadfael series have been dramatized by the British ITV.
Brother Cadfael reminds us not only of the “Clerical Detective” sub-genre, but also of the Historical Detective Sub-Genre
, something we’ll explore at another time.
David M Pierce
David Milton Pierce (b. 1958) is a Canadian songwriter, co-author of a musical and a cookbook, Shakespearean actor, and poet (most of this in England), now living in Paris. He is the son of the Canadian Ambassador to France. Pierce created a great detective in V. Daniel, his 6’7-¼ foot tall San Fernando valley Private Eye. Reviewer Allen J. Hubin
very correctly sums him up in his review. As one of the comments says, Daniel is Zaney (= French étourdi) He also has an interesting group of pals. The novels take their names from “Down in the Valley.” One presumes this refers to the San Fernando Valley, north of L.A.
I think you’ll like this undeservedly little-read author.
Here’s the song. David, there’s lots more titles for new novels! Bring back Vic Daniel!
- Down in the valley, the valley so low
- Hang your head over, hear the wind blow
- Hear the wind blow, dear, hear the wind blow;
- Hang your head over, hear the wind blow.
- Roses love sunshine, violets love dew,
- Angels in Heaven know I love you,
- Know I love you, dear, know I love you,
- Angels in Heaven know I love you.
- If you don’t love me, love whom you please,
- Throw your arms round me, give my heart ease,
- Give my heart ease, dear, give my heart ease,
- Throw your arms round me, give my heart ease
- Build me a castle, forty feet high;
- So I can see her as she rides by,
- As she rides by, dear, as she rides by,
- So I can see her as she rides by.
- Write me a letter, send it by mail;
- Send it in care of the Birmingham jail,
- Birmingham jail, dear, Birmingham jail,
- Send it in care of the Birmingham jail.
(1918–2006) is one of the most well known of the genre. His most popular creation is hardboiled detective Mike Hammer.
While not noted for literary style, and often criticized for its sex and violence, his fiction has been immensely popular over the decades. His response to his critics was: “Those big-shot writers could never dig the fact that there are more salted peanuts
consumed than caviar
… If the public likes you, you’re good.”
Spillane as Mike Hammer in The Girl Hunters (1963)
Spillane actually played Hammer in the 1963 film, The Girl Hunters. Darren McGavin and Stacy Keach have portrayed Hammer on TV, and Brian Keith almost did, but the 1954 series was not picked up.
The Scot, Elizabeth Mackintosh (1896–1952), wrote Mystery novels as Josephine Tey, and my Mother read all of them, I believe, and I’ve read many of them. Her Inspector Grant Series is best known, and she has others as well. Mom’s favorite, and mine, is the famous The Daughter of Time
, which the Crime Writer’s Association voted best mystery novel of all time in 1990. In it, Scotland Yard Inspector Grant, while laid up in the hospital healing a broken leg, investigates the historical mystery of King Richard III, and whether he was the cruel murderer of his nephews in the Tower of London. I won’t spoil the fun by letting on what the Inspector finds. This is a must-read.
The title comes from then Rosicrucian Imperator Sir Francis Bacon
: “Truth is the daughter of time, not of authority.” The novel is not only a detective story, it is a very astute study in historiography.
Inspector Alan Grant Series:
These novels are set in the same “world”/geography as the Inspector Grant novels.
Robert Dingwall Zimmerman (b. 1952), has created two series and written other mysteries
as well. His Alex and Maddy series features “Alex Phillips, a technical writer and his sister, Maddy Phillips, a blind forensic psychiatrist, on an island in Lake Michigan.” Todd Mills is a gay TV news reporter in Minneapolis. Both series are well respected, and he has won several awards for his novels.
Alex & Maddy Phillips Series:
Todd Mills Series:
The Reds Series (Espionage):
Mark Richard Zubro
Mark Richard Zubro
As I said at the beginning, I have saved one of the best vintages of the Detective harvest for last!
Mark Richard Zubro (b. 1948) is a Novelist with three current Detective Series. In the same vein, these are smart, well-paced and connect to real-world events and history. His characters are memorable, and you really care about what happens to them! The Mysteries have always kept me guessing. This is a great example of the amateur sleuth sub-genre as well as the Police Procedural and the Private Eye sub-genres.
Zubro’s first, and most popular series is about Chicagoland High School teacher Tom Mason, who is an amateur sleuth, and his husband, Scott Carpenter, a superstar MLB Pitcher. Scott comes out as the series progresses.
The second series follows Chicago Out PD Detective Paul Turner and his straight detective partner Buck Fenwick as
A Different Light Bookstore in WeHo.
they solve cases in classic police procedurals. We also meet his (life) partner Ben, his sons Brian and Jeff, and their indefatigable neighbor, Mrs. Talucci as well as Buck’s family.
Zubro’s newest series just began this year. Private Eye Mike Hall is unattached, unlike in the other series, and so there is an opportunity for the traditional gumshoe romances. A Navy Seal vet, Mike runs a high-end detective agency along with his Man-Friday, Duncan, his enforcer Jerry and his Drag Queen Lawyer and Master of Disguise, Georgia, along with his dog Caesar. Like Zubro’s other work, it is is fun, fast-paced and full of memorable characters. Zubro is a great observer of humanity, and I happen to be in sync with his ideas about society!
I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Zubro at a book reading at the late, lamented Different Light Bookstore in West Hollywood, where he graciously autographed a copy of his 1991 novel The Only Good Priest
(how appropriate!). Just recently we have exchanged a couple of enjoyable emails. As a former High School teacher myself, I appreciate his experience as one too. I give him an A+.
Tom and Scott Series:
Paul Turner Series:
Mike King Series:
In 2009 Zubro wrote a thriller with Barbara D’Amato and Jeanne Dams, Foolproof
, about stealing elections with digital voting!
Whew! This has been a long one, but a lot of fun. Enjoy shopping at the links for some great Detective and Mystery Fiction!
Thanks for reading.
Steven A. Armstrong
Tutor, Editor, Consultant