Tracee: What is everyone reading? There are so many good books out right now and I’d love to have your recommendations. It doesn’t have to be new, and can be the book you’re just about to start, as long as you are willing to share why.
I’ve had a bit of a re-reading binge, dipping back into the 2020 Edgar winner The Stranger Diaries by Elly Griffiths. Recently I completed her latest book, The Postcript Murders, which is not exactly part of a series, but involves some of the same characters (similar to Tana French now that I think about it). The Stranger Diaries stood out for me when it was first published and it holds up to that high standard. Every detail is so beautifully woven together.
Another re-read I’ve enjoyed is Anthony Horowitz’s The Sentence is Death. His books are clever and fun and I enjoy how he weaves together his ‘real life’ with fiction. Sometimes I’m not sure I can tell it apart. After all, he references shooting scenes for Foyle’s War, and he was a writer for the show, so where is the edge of reality! (And was Horowitz really shot while assisting with a murder investigation??) I wanted to reread The Sentence is Death after finishing The Thursday Mystery Club by Richard Osman.
Keenan: I’m currently obsessed with George Smiley, the hero of many John Le Carre spy novels. Last year I focused on the Karla Trilogy, Tinker, Tailer, Soldier, Spy; The Honourable Schoolboy; and Smiley’s People. Oh happy day when I discovered there are more! I had just finished The Secret Pilgrim when I ran across the Crimereads article listing all nine, so I’m going to start over, listening to each in order.
The books are about loyalty and betrayal, truth and lies. What I love about George Smiley is that he is a kind and decent human being, but one who does not suffer fools gladly, whose main weakness is his devotion to a faithless wife. That’s an interesting way to handle the protagonist’s flaw. Internally, it’s a flaw of devotion, a necessary element of love to some. Externally, it links him to source of heartache and humiliation. In at least one of the books, his flaw blinds him to corruption within MI6.
And the writing! After I had listened to the Karla Triology, I purchased a paperback of The Honourable Schoolboy so I could study Le Carre’s sentence structure. It’s now by my bedside, highlighted and tagged. Although one is often recommended to other writers for dialogue, Le Carre’s is not to be missed. His ability to describe character through dialogue is peerless.
Connie: Well, Tracee, you and I are clones when it comes to our reading preferences. I’ve recently read all the books you mentioned, but not in the same order. I started The Stranger Diaries when it first came out but couldn’t get into it. I don’t know why. But now, after just finishing (and loving) The Postscript Murders, I’m going back and starting from the beginning.
I love Elly Griffiths’ language. She knows exactly how to let the reader know what’s going on in someone’s head without spelling it out. And she is so good at first-person, present tense. Actually, she’s the first author I read who could pull it off seamlessly. Done right, it’s so immediate. You feel as if you’re discovering along with the narrator.
Richard Osman’s The Thursday Club is similar in that way. What I love about both these authors is their fully developed characters. With Osman especially, you learn to know them slowly, over time, as you do in real life. Gradually he peels back the layers and lets the reader go deeper. I thought the plot of The Thursday Club was a bit convoluted, but the characters carry the story along. I can’t wait to read his second book.
Both these series focus around elderly people, both getting themselves murdered and solving murders, which is also a thread in my WIP, The Shadow of Memory. I’m glad I can prove my manuscript was mostly written before either of the books came out! What I’ll read next is a question, so I’m looking forward to some great recommendations.
Susan: I’m also a big Elly Griffith fan and just finished The Postscript Murder, which I loved.
I teach a class on Novel Critique and I love to ask my students to bring in novels that they love. Each week a different student presents a different novel and talks about why she loves it, and invariably I go off and read that novel afterwards. So the one I’m reading now is Alone in Berlin by Hans Fallada. It’s set in 1940 in Berlin and is about a man who loses his son in the war and undertakes to stand up to the Nazis. It’s about bravery, but on a small and ordinary scale, though it does become epic. The writing and characterization are beautiful.
I was so excited to see characters from The Stranger Diaries in The Postscript Murders. It was like bumping into old friends.
Connie: I’m reading it right now—and loving it. The Tana French method of focusing on one of a cast of characters is such an interesting thing to do. I just now realized that in my Kate books (only four so far), I focus on one or two of the secondary characters each time. In A Legacy of Murder it was Lady Barbara. In The Art of Betrayal it was Ivor Tweedy and Kate’s daughter, Christine. In my current WIP, it’s Vivian Bunn.
Emilya: Since I can’t travel, I’ve been reading/listening to novels from the British Isles. I’m currently reading Shuggie Bainby Douglas Stuart. It’s absolutely gorgeously written, and the best lesson I’m walking away with is that voice is not about the perfect sentence but about the right sentence. It’s a bit on the gloomy side though, so I have to try not to read it too close to bedtime.
Simultaneously I’m listening to Say Nothing by Patrick Radden Keefe, which is a non-fiction account of the history of the IRA. It is also absolutely brilliant. As well written as the best novel with voice in spades. Speaking of voice, it’s narrated by hands down the best narrator I’ve ever heard. I mean, I actually come up with tasks for myself to do around the house just so I can listen to that Northern Irish burr. Burr… It’s like watching the best documentary ever inside your head. Highly recommended, especially if you have a long drive.
Michele: Emilya, I loved Tell No One. I read it around the same time I read Milkman by Anna Burns, which won the Booker and is set in the same time and place. Both blew me away. I listened to Milkman. Oh that brogue.
Alexia: All of my reading right now is for school. One class–I’m not exaggerating–assigns 600 pages of reading per week. JFC, that’s a lot of reading. We received two shopping bags full of books for that course. It’s all about wars from the Peloponnesian to Afghanistan. Luckily, some of the reading is actually interesting. I’m particularly enjoying Diplomacy, by Henry Kissinger. Whoda thunk?
The other course is about George Washington, the man, the myth (not the actual course title). I’m reading several biographies of George Washington. They, also, are surprisingly good (some of them, anyway). None of that cherry tree chopping BS. (I hope they don’t still teach that in primary school.)
Michele: What am I reading right now and why? I’m glad you asked. I’ve taken a break from reading current releases and putting a dent in the TBR pile to read two terrific WIPS by writing colleagues and friends.
Why? Because some of the best writing I have read comes to me when someone trusts and honors me with their pre-published work. Here are two great examples:
MISGUIDED by Brenda Buchanan
A victim of domestic violence is charged with a felony. She has a lot of information about a significant criminal enterprise. But if she becomes an informant to save her own skin, she may wind up dead.
The protagonist Neva, is her lawyer in Maine, whose worldview is informed by the fact she’s a lesbian and a feminist. Her relationship with her father was painful for personal reasons, and she looked down on his decision to essentially be a small town criminal defense lawyer in a rural state until she learned first-hand the cynicism of a big city white collar crime practice.
When she moves back to Maine and changes her career trajectory, Neva has to wrestle with the idea of essentially following in her father’s footsteps, though on the surface, they are nothing alike and he was the furthest thing from a mentor.
She tells her therapist, I went to law school because I wanted to help people. And I can do that here. The people I represent have their issues, but they’re honest criminals, if that makes sense. Most of them haven’t had easy lives. Some are guilty. Others are just unlucky. But they’re human, not wealthy creeps who buy their way out of trouble . . . When I imagine building a practice of my own here in Portland, the drawbacks jump right out at me. Maine’s not a place I’d make real money. And I’d be stuck in my father’s shadow, at least for a time. But this town sure as hell has had a charm infusion since I was a kid. And it’s great to have Karen in my day-to-day life. Still, when I catch myself daydreaming, I worry that Portland’s sudden appeal is an illusion born of exhaustion.
IN DEEP by Sharon Ward
People think underwater photographer Fin Fleming is floating through life on her family’s coattails and a pretty face, so she wants nothing more than to make her mother and stepfather proud. Her mother is a renowned oceanographer and founder of the world-famous MARI marine institute on Grand Cayman. Her stepfather, Ray Russo, is a legendary treasure hunter and a former world champion freediver.
Alas, Fin’s dream goes under when her shark of an ex-husband publishes her best work as his own. Struggling to find a new goal and her niche at MARI, Fin agrees to be principal videographer for the institute’s annual diving documentary, featuring Ray freediving to 330 feet.
While snorkeling alone off Rum Point, Fin, distracted by her camera, is struck by a Jet Ski. She awakens from a coma to find that her face is scarred and her stepfather has adult twins he somehow forgot to mention in twenty-two years of marriage to her mother. And her biological father re-enters her life after years without any contact.
Despite her best efforts to ensure everyone’s safety, life-threatening diving mishaps keep happening to her family. Fin is drowning in her own guilt until she realizes a clever killer has orchestrated the events. She must identify the ruthless predator before everyone she loves goes under.
I sure hope the world gets to read these two terrific and very different novels!
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These are all great suggestions that I’ll add to my TBR pile. Thanks, Michele for including me in this roundup. I’m honored.
And I’m honored to be included with Brenda Buchanan. She was one of the first people to read an early draft of In Deep at Crime Bake. Her advice was invaluable. Thanks, Brenda.
Another reminder of the great friends and connections people make at Crime Bake!
What a bunch of wonderful suggestions! I’ve read some, had others on my list, and am happy there are a few new suggestions here. Always glad to know what writers I love to read (so many of the Miss Demeanors) are reading.
Many thanks for including my WIP, Michele. Like you, I look forward to Sharon Ward’s IN DEEP finding its way into the world. I loved both her plotline and her characters in the excerpt she let me read after CB in 2019.
Always fun to hear about a WIP! Thanks for letting Michele share it with us.
I just read in the MWA Midwest publication that trends during COVID have been toward feel-good books, which puts traditional mysteries in a great place. I’ve noticed that the books I’ve loved recently involve an elderly cast of characters–The Thursday Murder Club, The Postscript Murders, etc. Then I realized that my own books feature more..ahem…mature secondary characters. I’ve always had a soft spot for elderly gentlemen, a fact my husband is appreciating more and more.
Connie what a great point! We need a cast of characters more than ever this year!