One thinks of private eyes and hard boiled cops from Homicide, Micky Spillane, or maybe something more cosy, Miss Marple or Hercule Poirot,when one thinks of the detective novel. Maybe Enid Blyton’s Famous Five books do not immediately spring to mind. However, I wonder if these were the first detective books I read, I am sure I read them before Emile and the detectives.
Of course there are elements of detective work earlier in my life, in the Beatrix Potter books and fairy tales (the three apples in One Thousand and One Nights),there are detective type tales in the Bible but they weren’t really detective books as we now them today. No,I am plumping on Enid to have given me my first taste of the genre. There is something deliciously subversive in that small group of children outwitting the adult world. In the Famous Five books one also had the wonderful lure of camping trips, cave exploring and secret passages, I loved the freedom from adult supervision What’s not to like? Looking back it can be seen that there were sub texts as well lurking under the surface. But the main thrust of each story for me at least, unimpressed with coming of age/gender roles/ parenthood problems,,was the careful sleuthing and final triumph when the companions outwitted adults.
I outgrew these fairly quickly and the very first ‘proper’ detective stories I was actively involved in to the extent that I saved my pocket money and bought for myself were Inspector West books by John Creasey. I have re-read the only one that has survived over the years since paper backs were 2/- a copy! Having re-read it I cannot imagine why I thought them so good, but there, our tastes do change.
Of the traditional authors of the genre, I never took to Sherlock Holmes stories. I read a great many Agatha Christie, I enjoyed the Miss Marple ones better than the exploits of the Belgium Hercule, they were fun reads. At the same time I was wandering into the classics and discovered Wilkie Collins, Woman in White first and then the Moonstone.Despite the fact they had been written half a century before the Christie books I found them ore satisfying. Also Edgar Allen Poe’s The Murders in the Rue Morgue which I did enjoy as I did The Purloined Letter. Dickens also dabbled in ‘who dun it’ I discovered in a secondary plot in Bleak House.
I remained for many years a picky detective reader, it never really grabbing me as a genre I wished to buy, buy, buy as others did. I read Christie along with Naigo Marsh, Margery Allingham because my parents had them on the shelves and so if I was desperate for a read they were handy. These three shared the accolade of being the top of their period’s women writer the fourth was Dorothy L. Sayers. I discovered Dorothy Sayers on my father’s book shelves and immediately fell into a detective novel writer who, in my opinion and I know thousands will disagree, surpassed Christie – The output was shorter but I found them more satisfying and I can still now all these years later contemplate re-reading them.
I quite enjoyed Dashiell Hammet and Erle Stanley Gardner but found Raymond Chalmer more to my taste, his use of descriptive language brought the menace and romance of the underworld vividly to life for me – thousand of miles away from the ‘mean streets’.
For a while, back 20 years ago, in a resurgence of interest in the genre, I spent far too much time and money in a shop called Murder One in London. Mostly it has to be said buying American detective books,I had many favourites in this explosion of the genre most by women authors, Marcia Muller, Sara Paretsky and Sue Grafton topping the list of femine authors. This was also the time I read Dick Francis novels endlessly.
I needed more than plain murder mysteries which indeed it seems most detective novels are and went on to discover the humorous, vicious though it is, such as Carl Hiaasen; the anthropological aspects such as found in Tony Hillerman,and Authur Underhill the facets of Australian aborigine, Navajo and Hopi cultures revealed were more exciting than the detective work:)what about Harry Kemelman, I learnt a great deal about Conservative Jewish community from his books, and in the historical Ellis Peters, Candfel series, where detection without any forensics or modern help is more intuitive, I discovered a period of history I knew very little about.
I think looking back my favourites remain Dorothy Sayers, Ellis Peters, Carl Hiaasen and Tony Hilerman
Detective I fear will always hover on the outskirts of my reading enjoyment, maybe it is the logic and painstaking work necessary which slows me down. My mind is not designed so. Maybe I just fins so many genres interesting that I will forever hop from one to another. No problem, whatever the the reason, the detective/sleuthing/ who dun it/ police procedure books I have read have all added tremendously to my experience of the written word.
all the a-z posts were originaly posted on http://www.didyoueverkissafrog.typepad.com