Last month, we asked you to name your five favorite contemporary mystery authors. This month, name your five favorite classic authors.
Thanks to all those who replied to last month's request to name their five favorite contemporary authors. Congratulations to Deb Walker of Washington, D.C., whose name was randomly drawn from submissions. She identified her favorite authors as: Louise Penny, Donna Leon, Alexander McCall Smith, Martin Walker, and Andrea Camilleri.
Each month we note birthdays of some of the greats of mystery writing in hopes that you might choose to read (or re-read) one of their works.
P.D. James was born
1920, in Oxford, England. Adam Dalgliesh, a poetry-
writing Scotland Yard inspector who appeared in 14 books from 1962 through 2008, was her most enduring character. By the time of her death in 2014, James and Ruth Rendell were the most popular contemporary writers of "traditional" mystery novels. The Mystery Writers of America honored her as a Grand Master in 1999.
Robert van Gulik, author of the Judge Dee mysteries, was born August 9, 1910, in Zutphen, Holland. His work as a Dutch diplomat in the Far East led to his interest in Chinese history and culture. He wrote 16 novels featuring Judge Dee, a magistrate in China during the Tang Dynasty (600s). He died in 1967.
Dorothy B. Hughes
, one of
the first nbsp;women to write hard-boiled fiction, was born August 10, 1904, in Kansas City. Named a Grand Master by the Mystery Writers of America in 1978, she died in 1993.
Steig Larsson, Swedish
journalist and mystery writer, was born August 15, 1954. His famous Millennium trilogy--The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played with Fire, and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest--was published after his death in 2004.
, more often
recognized for her Regency romances than her mysteries, was born August 16, 1902, in Wimbledon, Surrey. Her 12 mysteries, written between 1935 and 1953, are often cited as perfect examples of the classic country house mysteries. Clever dialogue was her forte. She died in 1974.
Earl Derr Biggers was born August 26, 1910, in Warren, Ohio. He is most remembered for his creation of the inscrutable Hawaiian detective Charlie Chan, his attempt to counteract the then-prevailing image of the "sinister Oriental." He died in 1967.
Some of you already do this, but just a reminder that there's something that you can do for other mystery readers--and it's free.
Forward them our newsletter. If they enjoy it and would like their very own free subscription, tell them to sign up by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We're pleased to have subscribers throughout the United States as well as many internationally.
Our gift cards are available in any amount. They're always the perfect gift for the holidays, birthdays, anniversaries, or "just because."
We're happy to take mail/phone orders and will send the card either to you or directly to the recipient.
Outdoor Sale Cabinet
We can't begin to fit our entire inventory on the shelves inside our shop. Solution: our outdoor sale cabinet filled with dozens of great reads--
including former bestsellers.
At only $3 each or $10 for four, the price can't be beat. Books are added daily. Whether you're looking for some new (to you) authors, eyeing some old favorites, or even stocking up your own bookshelves for summer guests, you'll have plenty from which to choose.
With success, our bookshelf space grows ever tighter. So, too, does parking for customers.
You're welcome to park in our driveway. Street parking is available, as is space in the lot across Bourne Street.
While our neighbor, the Kennebunk, Kennebunkport, and Wells Water District, has been great about our customers parking in its lot, we know that spaces there are at a premium during the week. Feel free to park there after 3:30 p.m. or on Saturday.
What better way to carry your books (or anything else) and at the same time demonstrate your love of mysteries than with our signature black bag?
Made of durable fabric with reinforced 20-inch handles, the bag sports our recognizable logo. ($7.)
Remember, if you've taken your Mainely Murders bag on a trip, let us know. Send your photo (jpg) and details to email@example.com.
A Trip to Three Pines
Not every fan of author Louise Penny can travel to the Quebec settings of her best-selling series. But, that doesn't mean we can't all enjoy magical Three Pines.
See our special offerings inspired by Armand Gamache and his friends (and now-neighbors) of Three Pines.
How better to start the morning than with a Three Pines café-au-lait mug. It holds 12 ounces, is microwavable and dishwasher safe, and comes in two styles: Viva Gamache! and, from Ruth's book of poetry, I'm F.I.N.E. ($25.)
Louise Penny has provided a lovely perpetual calendar. Each page of this charming 5" by 17" calendar pictures the author, her home, or things that inspire her writing. ($22.)
Lastly, show your affection for Three Pines with a ¾" × ½" lapel pin in the shape of those iconic green trees with silver border. ($15.)
For those who can't resist the mysterious--why else would they be at Mainely Murders?--our popular grab bags are back.
Check out our selection of the colorful bags. Each ($5) contains three books from our stock, each tied to a particular theme. Among our most popular: Passport to Murder (for the armchair traveler), Culinary Crimes (recipes can be deadly), Death By Chocolate (say it ain't so!), and Murder is Academic (our particular favorite).
Thank you for supporting
Mainely Murders and other small independent booksellers. At a time when you have other choices, you've shown a commitment to those of us who are part of the local community and who consider customers to be friends and neighbors.
We take great pride in talking with our clientele, whether it's trading viewpoints on favorites or recommending new titles and authors.
Life is good here in the summer. It's not just a T-shirt slogan.
As we noted last month, everyone, it seems, is coming to Maine. And, July's mention in DownEast magazine brought us a whole new wave of first-time visitors.
Summer's a great time for reading. Maybe it's a holdover from our youth when we looked forward to three months of non-school books. And, of course, the term "beach reads" has to have come from somewhere.
Despite our proximity to the ocean, we're not beach readers. Paula prefers her favorite outdoor chair overlooking the garden. Ann heads for the air conditioning.
We're convinced that reading, at least of mysteries, soars in the summer. So wherever you choose to do your reading, we've got plenty from which to choose--from some recent releases to those of the past.
Paula and Ann
Partners in Crime
P.S. If you're visiting us on a Saturday morning, you'll find a food lover's paradise just across the street. It's no mystery why, during the summer months, the Kennebunk Farmers Market is a "go-to" place for residents and visitors alike. You might snag a "sticky bun" to die for (Ann's favorite and they don't last long), fresh pasta (Paula's choice), or myriad other delectable choices.
Classics Served a la Mode
Join us Saturday afternoon, August 11, from 4 to 5:30, for Mainely Murders' version of a classic ice cream social.
Like ice cream, mystery classics never go out of style. That's why they're called classics.
While you're sampling the ice cream (cones or cups), check out writers of the past. Americans like Raymond Chandler, Amanda Cross, Elizabeth Daly, Erle Stanley Gardner, Dashiell Hammett, Margaret Millar. Or for the Britophiles, consider Catherine Aird, Margery Allingham, Manning Coles, Elizabeth Lemarchand, Philip MacDonald, and Anthony Price.
True classics: ice cream and mysteries. They're the makings of a Mainely Murders tradition.
Our Garden Plot
Our garden, because of its location right outside our shop, gets lots of attention. This despite the fact that neither of us qualifies as a "real" gardener.
Ann decided several years ago that she wanted no part of it. Nothing about it appealed to her: "heat, sweat, dirt, and bugs." It might be a "family thing." Her mother, also a great reader of mysteries, has managed to stay away from gardens for her entire 97 years. The daughter of a North Carolina tobacco farmer, Clara, according to family lore, spent most of her youth hiding in the barn loft reading books.
Paula, on the other hand, enjoys playing in the dirt, coaxing her favorite plants to thrive (or at least to survive), and then enjoying the view from her outdoor reading chair.
Still, the gardens we both like most are those we read about in mysteries with titles like Deadheads, Death in a Garden, Creeping Venom, The Dandelion Murder, The Orchid Shroud, Murder at the Azalea Festival, The Savage Garden, Love Lies Bleeding.
Truthfully, gardening has all the ingredients for murder and mayhem. Potential weapons abound. And, they're not just limited to shovels, spades, and pruning shears. That helpful bee can be more than a minor irritant for those with the right allergies.
Poisonous plants--many of them potentially lethal--are everywhere. The ever-popular hemlock may be the first that comes to mind, but there are many others, with villainous sounding names like belladonna, deadly nightshade, lantana, monkshood, and chokecherry.
Then, there's the garden shed, home of weed killers, pesticides, and caustic fertilizers.
Furthermore, once the deed is done, there's a plethora of places to hide the body. Beneath the rose bush is a particular favorite. There's also under the corner compost or mulch pile. And, if a new patio, pool, or other structure is planned . . . . Well, think fast-drying cement.
In truth, every bookstore--especially a mystery bookstore--should have a garden. Think about that the next time you take a peak at our garden plot.
What We're Reading
Chris Ould: The Blood Strand (Ann)
It's not every day that there's a murder on the Faroe Islands; with a mere 80,000 people, there really aren't many to spare. So when one of the richer men on the islands has a stroke in a remote location at night, accompanied by vast amounts of cash, and a body washes ashore nearby, the local police face a quandary.
Yet the protagonist here is not a local policeman
but a British detective, Jan Reyna, who is visiting the Islands because his Faroese family might know more about his own family history. He, of course, has the experience the local police lack, if not the local knowledge.
The local detective, whose superiors are not keen to concede any crimes have been committed, and Reyna join forces to figure out what might have happened. At the same time Reyna pursues leads about his mother's background and why she moved to Britain. Ultimately the crime is solved, but Reyna hasn't found out much about his mother--which gives rise to two more books: The Killing Pit and The Fire Pit.
In the end the star of this book is the Faroes. The crime and crime solving is okay, but the descriptions of its geography and scenery are utterly compelling. (And if you want even more on the Faroe Islands, there's always Craig Robertson's The Last Refuge.)
Paul Thomas: Fallout (Ann)
Another island, another murder. Actually, as it turns out, many murders. In this, the fifth of the Tito Ihaka detective stories, our (flawed) Maori hero is looking into the cold-case murder of a 17-year-old girl that his boss obsesses about, and the accidental death of his trade union activist father when Tito was young that Tito obsesses about since new information came to light.
Subtlety is missing from Ihaka's vocabulary. He mostly loves rugby, food, and solving crimes in no particular order. His preferred crime-solving style is going forward over any obstacle, legal or otherwise, in his way.
This is a first-rate mystery that sheds light on modern New Zealand, which, with a few exceptions, appears much like Australia and the U.S., with rising house prices and poorer people being moved on as their land becomes desirable, ethnic divisions, corrupt politicians, and increasing drugs and crime. The earlier books in the series were the first internationally successful New Zealand crime novels. And not a sheep in sight.
Laura Lippman (Paula)
Since bursting onto the mystery scene in 1997, few authors have received Laura Lippman's level of critical acclaim. A long-time favorite, I've been with her from the beginning.
First came her series about Baltimore newspaper reporter-turned-PI Tess Monaghan. From the beginning (Baltimore Blues), I was hooked. So, too, were the critics. Every major mystery-writing award--Edgar, Anthony, Agatha, Shamus--came her way.
Admittedly, I'm a sucker for a feisty, tough-gal reporter-turned-crime fighter. (Lippman, herself, was a reporter for some 20 years before turning to full-time crime writing.)
Yet she hasn't been content to stick with her tried and true series. Her standalones--which debuted in 2003 with Every Secret Thing--have met with equal success, garnering major awards title after title.
What distinguishes Lippman, in my mind, is her unerring ability to move back and forth from series to standalones, without sacrificing the quality of either.
Indeed, I wholeheartedly agree with Tess Gerritsen, who says, "Laura Lippman's stories aren't just mysteries; they are deeply moving explorations of the human heart. She is quite simply one of the best crime novelists writing today."
My most recent Lippman
read was Wilde Lake, a much-acclaimed, psychologically complex story about a long-ago death that still haunts a family. Challenging our way of thinking about memory, family loyalty, responsibility, and justice itself, this tale is textbook Lippman.
You can't miss the modern-day twist on To Kill a Mockingbird in Wilde Lake. And, it clearly works.
I'm always surprised when customers--usually quite knowledgeable about mysteries--say they're unfamiliar with Lippman. This is a writer who should be on the reading list of any serious mystery fan.
Traveling Book Bag
. . . or, sometimes, a stay-at-home hangout for Figaro. Customers (and Figaro's "parents") Len and Denise Leblanc of Danvers, Massachusetts, say their feline's favorite mysteries include The Mousetrap, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Maltese Falcon ("He didn't like the ending"), Magpie Murders, and The Big Sleep.
of Needham, Massachusetts, is not only a customer and friend, but a first-rate blogger about all things mystery (www.marilynsmysteryreads.com
). We're always pleased when her latest posting appears, whether it's a review of a new release or, like recently, her musings about mysteries in general.
As always, we thank Marilyn for allowing us to share her postings with our readers.
Fame, they say, is fleeting, and in many cases that's true. But some people do have reputations that last long after their final books are published.
My daughter-in-law's father, former ABC radio entertainment reporter Bill Diehl, is an intrepid devotee of flea markets and "antique" shops. Bill is not an avid mystery reader, but whenever he's at these venues he's on the lookout for something for me. Recently he made a spectacular find--three copies of the Mystery Writers of America Annual Magazine--from 1965, 1970, and 1973. He sent them to me, and they made for fascinating reading.
I found the most interesting items in each issue were the ads listing that year's newly published novels. Seriously. It was an amazing opportunity for a mystery fan to see which writers are still known and read today.
Of course there were names familiar to most mystery readers, although they are from a past generation or two: from Dell Publishing--Agatha Christie, John le Carre, and Ed McBain. From Avon--Robert van Gulik and John Dickson Carr. From Fawcett--John D. MacDonald. From Viking--Rex Stout. From Random House--Margaret Millar and Bill Pronzini. These authors have definitely stood the test of time.
But equally interesting is the fact that other well-known mystery authors of the 1960s and '70s have faded into oblivion. Do you know the books of Rubin Weber, Frances Rickett, Margaret Manners, Cornelius Hirschberg, or Charlotte Jay? I'd never heard of any of them.
Who were these men and women? I looked them up in the Minuteman Library catalog, which contains the contents of 35 member libraries in Massachusetts, and not one of these authors has a book in any of the collections. Also interesting is something I Googled (naturally)--not one of the above-mentioned publishing houses of these well-known writers is still around. Each has either been totally shut down or taken over by the giant conglomerates that control publishing today.
Does all this mean that the mystery authors of the past that we read today are the best and that the ones who have not been read in years are not? How can we know whether an author is good if his/her books aren't readily available? Perhaps the works of Weber, Rickett, Manners, Hirschberg, and Jay are masterpieces that simply got lost in the deluge of the many mysteries published each year.
Fleeting fame doesn't apply only to mystery novels, of course. Back on Google, I looked for the list of Nobel Prize recipients in literature. Do the names Paul von Heyse, poet (1910), Haldor Laxnew, novelist (1955), or Yasunari Kawbata, novelist (1968) sound familiar? I must confess, not to me.
As they say, life is short, and apparently so is fame. So my advice is to curl up with a mystery now; it doesn't matter if someone will be reading it a generation or two from now. Carpe diem, carpe libre.