Women’s History Month: Recommendations of Women (and Men) in Crime Fiction, From Women in Crime Fiction

-Post by Molly

March is Women’s History Month, so at the beginning of the month, I reached out to many of my favorite female authors writing in crime fiction today for some thoughts and recommendations. Jamie Mason, Meg Gardiner, Ausma Zehanat Khan, Megan Abbott, and Lori Rader-Day all sent replies along, posted earlier this month (Mason’s response posted separately), and now we bring you some of their amazing recommendations. Not all the authors listed below are currently in print (although some soon return to print), and this is certainly not an exhaustive list of all the best crime writers today (a virtually impossible task). I’ve added quite a few of the following to my “to read” list. Enjoy!

monday's lieJamie Mason Recommends…

Classic Authors:

  • Josephine Tey
  • Dorothy Sayers
  • Daphne du Maurier
  • Patricia Highsmith
  • Agatha Christie

Second Wave Authors:

  • Ruth Rendell
  • PD James
  • Patricia Cornwell
  • Mary Higgins Clark
  • Sue Grafton
  • Kathy Reichs

Contemporary Authors:

  • Gillian Flynn
  • Tana French
  • Laura Lippman
  • Megan Abbott
  • Tess Gerritsen
  • Kate Atkinson
  • Lisa Lutz
  • Mo Hayder
  • Sara Paretsky

phantom instinct

Meg Gardiner Recommends…

Classic Authors:

  • Agatha Christie
  • Mary Shelley (as innovator of suspense fiction)
  • Patricia Highsmith

the unquiet deadAusma Zehanat Khan Recommends…

Classic Authors:

  • Ngaio Marsh
  • Dorothy L. Sayers (and the Jill Paton Walsh continuation of the Wimsey/Vane series)

Contemporary Authors:

  • Deborah Crombie
  • Imogen Robertson
  • Charles Finch
  • Charles Todd
  • Alan Bradley
  • Louise Penny
  • Susan Hill
  • Ariana Franklin
  • Anna Dean
  • Martha Grimes
  • Morag Joss
  • C. S. Harris
  • Stephanie Barron
  • Laurie R. King
  • Laura Joh Rowland
  • Elizabeth George
  • Peter May (in particular, The Blackhouse)
  • the late, great Reginald Hill

feverMegan Abbott Recommends…

The following books are soon to appear in the Library of America’s collection Women Crime Writers: Eight Suspense Novels of the 1940s & 50s, edited by Sarah Weinman

  • Dorothy B. Hughes’s In A Lonely Place
  • Vera Caspary’s Laura
  • Elizabeth Sanxay Holding’s The Blank Wall
  • Margaret Millar’s Beast In View

the black hourLori Rader-Day Recommends…

Classic Authors:

  • Lois Duncan
  • Agatha Christie
  • Mary Higgins Clark

Contemporary Authors:

  • Tana French
  • Catriona McPherson
  • Denise Mina
  • Clare O’Donohue
  • Sara Gran
  • Gillian Flynn
  • Alan Bradley
  • James Ziskin

MysteryPeople Review: DREAMING SPIES by Laurie R. King

dreaming spies

-Post by Molly

I have been a fan of Laurie R. King’s Sherlock Holmes and Mary Russell novels ever since my sister pressed The Beekeeper’s Apprentice into my hands and, one Sunday afternoon, I finally read it. I immediately fell in love with the indomitable Ms. Russell and her adventures with her rather-older paramour, Sherlock, as they wandered across the world, putting the lie to Holmes’ rumored retirement and semi-permanent bachelor status, and solving cases for who-knows-which governments, in the province of soon-to-be-gone empires, for the benefit of the not-for-long wealthy and their soon-to-triumph underlings. In other words, Laurie R. King situates one of the greatest Victorian creations in the context of a steadily declining empire, and modernizes him by pairing him with an American-Jewish scholar-flapper well able to keep with with Sherlock’s complex cases.

In Dreaming Spies, Russell and Holmes are headed to Japan on holiday after finishing up a case in India. Upon boarding their steamer set for the South Seas, they soon discover that a blackmailer may be on board the ship, and he may have sinister intentions for those on board and those awaiting him at his destination. Russell and Holmes take some valuable lessons from a Japanese gymnast just returning from school abroad, and while learning all about the customs and culture of their destination, also begin to suspect their tutor in all things Japanese may know more about the mysterious circumstances of the blackmailer on the boat than she initially led them to believe.

The book is split into three parts: the journey to Japan, journey through Japan, and the later appearance of a Japanese visitor to Russell and Holmes’ country house in Britain. The book dedicates most of its space to the equally exotic environments of a luxury sea voyage in the 1920s (the last days of the great ocean liners) and Japan in the process of modernization yet still very much rooted in traditional practice. Without ever losing sight of the plot, King gives us charming digressions into such topics as the importance of determining one’s table mates for the duration of a long sea voyage, the vicious competition over train seats in an otherwise polite Japanese city, and the pleasant intermingling of Japanese and English gardening styles.

King, as always, has done her research, and Dreaming Spies is full of rich historical detail, much of it charming tidbits – the type of minutiae that end up in the end notes of the history books, but bring historical fiction to life. King’s latest is also full of intrigue, blackmail, spies, and of course, a healthy dose of murder most foul. You don’t need to understand the historical background of Japanese-English relations in the 1920s to enjoy Dreaming Spies – in fact, King becomes rather playful in the sizable conspiracy taking up much of the book, which by the end, reaches epic proportions.

You can find copies of Dreaming Spies on our shelves and via bookpeople.com.

If You Like Laurie R. King…

-Post by Molly

Laurie R. King is one of my favorite authors of historical crime fiction, and ever since my sister finally convinced me to read The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, King’s first novel starring Sherlock Holmes and his assistant (later to be his spouse) Mary Russell, I’ve been hooked on the series. King’s appeal is certainly not based on riding the coattails of the Sherlock Holmes phenomena – instead, King uses one well-established character, Holmes, drops him in the middle of the 1920s, and creates a companion for him worthy of the change in setting. Here are a few recommendations for the Laurie R. King fan…

day of atonement1. Day of Atonement by David Liss

David Liss has been writing historical fiction with Jewish characters gallavanting about the 18th century world for some time now, and his latest, Day of Atonement, set in Lisbon around the time of the great Lisbon earthquake, is a masterpiece of historical crime fiction. Framed as a revenge thriller, Day of Atonement is a fun fact-filled and action-packed thriller. It’s either the Jewish Count of Monte Cristo or the 18th century Inglourious Bastards, take your pick.

maisie dobbs2. The Maisie Dobbs novels, by Jacqueline Winspear

Jacqueline Winspear writes mysteries starring the working class girl, wartime nurse, and amateur private detective Maisie Dobbs, who spends her time in post-WWI England solving crimes with their roots buried in the war. Recent additions to the series include A Lesson in Secrets, Elegy for Eddie, and Leaving Everything Most Loved. For those who enjoy Laurie R. King’s chosen time period, Winspear’s novels are a must-read, especially upon the 100th anniversary of World War I.

jack of spies3. Jack of Spies – David Downing

Good espionage novels set around World War I are unfortunately few and far between. With the help of David Downing, already known for his brilliant series of spy novels named after different European train stations and set during the dark days of World War II, this may change. Downing published Jack of Spies, his first novel in a new series set during World War I, earlier this year, and here’s to hoping that he writes just as many installments of his new series as of his previous John Russell series.

Copies of the above listed books can be found on our shelves and via bookpeople.com.

MysteryPeople Q&A with Laurie R. King

We’re looking forward to hosting Laurie R King here at BookPeople this week. Her latest book, Bones Of Paris, is a sequel to her novel, Touchstone. As you can tell in this interview, she’s a fun, witty, and charming conversationalist. This will be a great event Wednesday night.

MYSTERYPEOPLE: How did this book come about?

LAURIE R. KING: I’ve been working in the Twenties for a long time now, since writing The Beekeeper’s Apprentice in the late ‘80s.  However, the Russell & Holmes series is not only light-hearted, most of the episodes don’t move very far chronologically.  Which meant not only would it take me another twenty books to get to the 1926 General Strike, I’m not sure what the Duo would do once they were there.  So I decided to give the Twenties another series, beginning with Touchstone in 2008.

MP: Why did you decide to write a novel set in the 1920’s in Paris? Why right before the Great Depression?

LRK: Ease and contentment spell death to a crime novel.  A story about Montparnasse at the height of the expatriate boom of the early Twenties would be battling against the happiness of those years. Moving to the end of the decade finds that world falling to pieces: artists gone to the south of France, American writers packing their bags for home, and (reader prescience: a key tool of the historical novelist!) Black Tuesday lurking around the corner, a disaster that would send those smug Yanks creeping for home.

MP: Is this the start of a series or a standalone?

LRK: Touchstone was written as a standalone, until I realized 1) that I really didn’t need to kill off everyone in the story, and then 2) that I was interested in the characters, and wanted to return to them.  The Bones of Paris turns Touchstone into a series.

MP: A lot of artists and celebrities make cameos in your book, including Man Ray, Ernest Hemingway and Josephine Baker. How did you decide which artists to include?

LRK: First of all, they had to be in Paris during the time, or at least plausibly able to make a side-trip to the city in September, 1929. After that, I chose a few colorful types and then spread out among their immediate friends and associates.  Of course, certain people were ubiquitous in Montparnasse: it must’ve been hard to go into a bar without coming across Kiki!

MP: What kind of research did you do for this book?

LRK: “Twenties Paris” is a theme with more available material than any writer can possibly use, from memoirs to film to art to autobiographical novels and memoirs-that-should-be-called-novels.  I have, in fact, been to the city, but this book could have been written even if I’d never been outside California.

MP: Where would you suggest a reader new to you start? With this book? With the Mary Russell series or the Kate Martinelli series?

LRK: There are a couple of my novels that rest heavily on a previous story, but this is not one of those.  Yes, I hope people will love the characters enough to go back to Touchstone and find out what happened earlier, but it is by no means necessary.  If you love Paris, or PI novels, or spooky thrillers, or books that are “complex, more than a little kinky, and absolutely fascinating”  (Booklist’s review) then that’s background enough.  If you prefer your crime with no sex and discreet violence, by all means pick up a Russell.  If you prefer contemporary cop stories, then Kate’s your girl.  I should mention that there are descriptions and excerpts for all the books on http://www.laurierking.com/books

MP: I first came to know you through The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, which was the start of the Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes series. What do you enjoy about writing that series?  Did any Sherlock Holmes purists get grumpy about the series?

LRK: I love Russell’s voice—have ever since she introduced herself by taking my hand to write, “I was fifteen when I first met Sherlock Holmes…” in 1987.  The stories are classic romances—not in the sense of love stories, but in the sense of exotic and heroic adventures. She dresses in costumes, she beats up bad guys—she wears a knife in her boot, for heaven’s sake: what’s not to love?

As for grumpy Sherlockians, yes, there were dubious grumbles at first, but either I wore the grumpy ones down or they decided that I wasn’t as outrageous as they’d thought, because since then they’ve welcomed me, to the extent that I am now an official Irregular.

MP: What are the advantages of writing a series versus a standalone book? What are the disadvantages?

LRK: A series is like spending time with old friends, picking up where you left off. You all know the same jokes and references, you don’t have to explain much, and you have a chance to really know the people, in depth and over a period of time.

But it’s tough to keep a series fresh.  One way I do this is by sending Russell and Holmes all around the world, which forces a new perspective into each story.  And in general, I try to alternate that series with either another series or a standalone. Recently, for various reasons, I found myself writing four Russells in a row, and I kept myself interested by making them all different: the first two were linked and introduced some startling characters into the mix, and the next (Pirate King) was an out-and-out farce.  After that palate-cleanser, Garment of Shadows let me go back to a classic Russell & Holmes adventure: costumes, exotic lands, outlandish situations.

MP: I understand you do a virtual bookclub for all of your books? How does that work and what does it entail?

LRK: The Virtual Book Club used to be a self-contained site, but it was a high-maintenance setup, so last year we moved it onto Goodreads.  The moderators and I decide on books, keep the discussions rolling, and do things like welcome newcomers and organize conference meet-ups.  This month they’re reading Touchstone, but we do a lot besides LRKing!

MP: What are you working on next?

LRK: A Russell & Holmes, the first half in Japan and the second a year later when they come home from Morocco. No definitive title yet.

MP: My final question is what I call my bonus question namely what question do you wish you would get asked, or asked more often? You then get to answer that question.

LRK: Sorry, the contract I signed was only for ten questions.


Copies of The Bones of Paris are available on our shelves and via bookpeople.com. King will speak about and sign copies of her new book here at BookPeople on Wednesday, September 18 at 7pm. If you can’t make it to the event you can order a signed copy of the book.