Mystery Novels

In a classic murder mystery or whodunit there will be red herrings, multiple suspects, dead ends, shifting motives, perhaps another death or two, but the story will be driven by specific questions. Who is the killer? What is the motive? The plot is propelled by the investigator's need to solve the crime, for personal or professional reasons. The investigator doesn't need athletic prowess or skill with weapons; but he or she must have a sharp mind – preferably sharper than ours – indefatigable curiosity and a firm sense of resolve. The best detective novels focus on the characters and the conflicts between them; they are puzzle stories and the puzzle pieces are the limitless facets of human psychology.

Mystery novels offer more than a satisfying solution to the crime. They guide readers who are hungry for both escape and information into a different time or place. I'm sure many of you are familiar with Tony Hillerman's New Mexico, Walter Mosley's post-war black Los Angeles, Sara Paretsky's Chicago, Martin Cruz Smith's Russia, Donna Leon's Venice, Michael Connelly's L.A., Kwei Quartey's Ghana, Daniel Woodrell's Ozarks, Tana French's Ireland, the American National Parks that are the setting for Nevada Barr's Anna Pigeon novels.

agatha christie

Mystery Writer Agatha Christie and her books.

British mystery writers who have staked out their unique turf include Lynda LaPlante, Val McDermid, Kate Atkinson, Ian Rankin, Reginald Hill, John Harvey, Alex Marwood and Peter Robinson.

Those of us who like to go gloomy and brooding appreciate the Nordic Noir of Scandinavian mystery writers Jo Nesbo, Stieg Larsson, Jussi Adler-Olsen, Karen Fossum and Henning Mankell. I believe it's the paradoxes inherent in Nordic Noir that explain its success. We imagine Scandinavian societies as placid and comfortable, cocooned in the security of the welfare state; we don't see the discontent and murderous hearts that lurk below the prosperous surface.

Historical mysteries apply the conventions of detective stories to exotic past eras. Readers revel in ancient facts and oddities, in truths revealed and myths debunked. This is a rich and expanding genre; my favorites include the crime solving medieval monks of Ellis Peters, Phillip Kerr's Nazi-era Berlin, Elisabeth Peters' early 20th century Egypt.

With the space to stretch out over several novels, these writers create vivid, textured travelogues that illuminate specific geographies while creating portraits of the people who live there.

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