Sue Grafton R.I.P.

Three women led the way in the Second Golden Age of the Mystery in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. The huge boom in detective fiction was due to the courage of three women authors who moved the mystery novel from violence AGAINST women to alibiviolenceSOLVED by women. These leaders were Marcia Mueller, Sara Paretsky and Sue Grafton.

Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone broke onto the mystery scene in 1982 with A is for Alibi and went on to achieve cult status in the 1980’s as she became the most read detective of either gender in that decade. The new young, hard-boiled but female detective Grafton and the others created was strong, intelligent and yet emotional about the effects of violence and crime. A new era in mysteries was beginning.

Sue Grafton died Dec. 28th at the age of 77 having written the entire alphabet series from yesterdayA to Y…. Z is for Zero, which was to be her last novel in the series, will not be written after all. Grafton’s family says that she was adamant about not allowing her novels to be turned into television or film so Y is for Yesterday, which came out last August, will be the last Grafton we will be able to enjoy.

Kinsey Millhone and Sue Grafton had a sort of alter-ego connection, according to Grafton. But she noted in an interview that there was one big difference – She realized early in writing the series that if she was going to write the entire alphabet, Kinsey could not age in real time and still be a young, strong detective.

“When I started, she was 32 and I was 42,” Grafton said to the Seattle Times last August. “And now she is 39 and I am 77, which I just do not think is fair.”



Domestic Noir Mysteries

Since my last review of The Ex, where I was less than a happy reader, I decided to make mention of other Domestic Noir mysteries that I do indeed like. After Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, the Domestic Noir business shot through the publishing roof. Though not the first of the new genre of mysteries, Gone Girl became the lightning rod for those that followed — many with “Girl” or its off-shoot in the title.

There was The Girl on the Train, The Couple Next Door, the Girl in the Dark, The Woman in Cabin 10, The Girl Before, The Girl in the Red Coat, The Silent Wife, The Good Girl and many more. Publishers actually told writers to include “girl” or the equivalent in their titles to market their books.

Domestic Noir is a sub-woman cabin 10genre within mysteries, which takes place primarily in homes and workplaces and concerns itself largely (but not exclusively) with the “female experience.” That means things that women are supposed to care more about – family, love interests, home-life, marriage. Usually the boyfriend/husband is considered part of the problem, and the question for the reader is usually — is my home and relationship safe?

In reality for many women the answer is no, and women do concern themselves with family a great deal so I can buy the supposedly broadly feminist view that domestic life is a challenging and sometimes dangerous prospect for its inhabitants. Unfortunately, many of the Domestic Noir mysteries are lacking in the essential mystery elements like clues, red herrings, and more than one potential villain.

I think the first real modern Domestic Noir mystery was Learning to Swim by Sue Henry in 2011 which was a fine book about a woman who saves a boy who is thrown off the back of a boat and then sets out to find out who is trying to kill him. But Gone Girl, 2014, gets all the credit. And I have no objection as Gone Girl was actually a good read – go back and read Gillian Flynn’s other books which are equally as good.

girl in darkI set out to find some other well-done Domestic Noir books to recommend. My favorite three are Girl in the Dark by Marion Pauw, Before I Go to Sleep by S.J. Watson and The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware, all for different reasons.

Girl in the Dark is written by a Dutch woman and is my favorite. A single mother/lawyer discovers a long-time family secret that her autistic brother is in prison for murder. Curious, she looks into the case and an amazing story unfolds. Highly recommended.

Before I Go To Sleep was an early entry into the Domestic Noir field, published in 2011. In this engrossing suspense novel, an amnesiac, following a mysterious accident, cannot remember her past or form any new memories, and desperately tries to uncover the truth about who she is—and more importantly, who she can trust.

Another favorite of mine, which might not be as well-written as the others, but is a fun romp, is The Woman in Cabin 10. More of a thriller than a mystery, I enjoyed the fast-pace tease. Reminiscent of an Agatha Christie enclosed-mystery, our heroine, working for a travel magazine, has just been given the assignment of a lifetime: a week on a luxury cruise with only a handful of cabins. What could go wrong?



The Sunday Times 50 best Crime and Thriller Books

I recently read an article in the Sunday Times of London from last year, which pulled together their favorite crime and thriller books for the past 5 years. There are many lists of “the best” mysteries, but they always include titles from the 1920 like The 39 Steps and all those assassin books from the 1960’s like The Day of the Jackal. Of course, I love those two novels and all the other mysteries of old, but rarely do you get a list of modern exceptional reads.

No, this list is wonderful because the list is modern and insightful as well.

Lee Child, CJ Sansom, Belinda Bauer, Steve Hamilton and Charles Cumming.

Some of my absolute favorite authors! Well, they did leave out Denise Mina, my number one favorite author. And, unfortunately, Louise Penny is not mentioned as well (don’t panic!) because I think the point of the list is more crime and thriller than mystery. And very much less cozy police procedurals. Denise Mina should have been on the list, but even the Sunday Times of London isn’t perfect.



It’s a Mystery to me!!

I have had a couple of requests for more information on various types of mysteries within the genre. What do I mean by Soft-boiled? What is a police procedural? These words get thrown around when talking about mysteries – are they useful?

YES! If you know if a mystery is a Cozy and locked room mystery, well, you know it involves a dead person in a locked room written in the cozy style! This can help you decide if that is the mystery for you. Liking P.I. mysteries doesn’t mean you will necessarily like Animal mysteries or Serial Killer mysteries. And so on.Featured image

I normally break this down by STYLE and TYPE, to try and describe the mystery we each prefer. For instance, in STYLE where there are four choices – Traditional, Hard-boiled, Cozy (sometimes called Soft-boiled), or Combination. I prefer a combination of hard-boiled and cozy or what I call a Combination Mystery.

I like many TYPES of mysteries – P.I., Police Procedurals, Historical, Environmental, Cyber/Technological, Legal, Lone Wolf, and many more. What I do not prefer are Animal, Hobby, Romantic Suspense, Mixed(Sci-Fi), Medical or Religious mysteries. Unless they are good, of course!

The difference in STYLE between the Traditional, Hard-boiled and Cozy is the easiest to see.

  • Traditional — whodunit, emphasis on plot not character, rigid puzzle rules—Think Agatha Christie
  • Hardboiled – usually professional sleuth, violence shown, urban setting, loner sleuth, the world is usually not a moral place – Think Michael Connelly
  • Cozy (soft-boiled) – usually amateur sleuth, not realistic, light tone, closed setting, no bad language nor shown violence, wrong and right clearly defined – Think Janet Evanovich
  • Combination – modern mysteries with elements of both hard and soft boiled – Think Tony Hillerman

There are many TYPES of mysteries—everything from Amateur cop to NoirFeatured image to Culinary. While the STYLE really divides readers by philosophy, the TYPE of mystery usually just describes who the hero/ heroine will be. Here are some TYPES of mysteries:

  • PI — Philip Kerr or Robert Parker
  • Police procedural – Louise Penny or Elizabeth George
  • Police assistant – Martin Limon or Paul Dioron
  • Lone wolf – Carol O’Connell or Thomas Perry
  • Ex-cops – Jonathon King or Lee Child
  • Amateur – Julia Spencer-Fleming or Barbara Neely
  • Reporter – Mary Willis Walker or Denise Mina
  • Historical — CJ Sansom or Anne Perry
  • Serial Killer – Thomas Harris or Tami Hoag
  • Locked Room – John Dickson Carr or John Verdon
  • Noir — Robert Crais or James Lee Burke
  • Caper – Donald Westlake or Roger Hobbs
  • Romatic Suspense – Mary Higgins Clark or Nora Roberts
  • Mixed (with Sci Fi) – J.D. Robb or Ben H. WintersFeatured image
  • Hobby or Themed –Earlene Fowler or Laura Childs
  • Animal — Lilian Jackson Braun or Dick Francis
  • Culinary – Ellen Hart or Tamar Myers
  • Religious –Margaret Frazer or Ellis Peters
  • Environment – CJ Box or Nevada Barr
  • Technology – Robert Harris or William Gibson

And then of course, there is the International Mystery with all the various countries taking the stage as their own type– Not just the British, but the Scandinavians, the Mediterraneans, the Russians, the South Americans, the Asians! And more and more – The Africans.

If you look at the bottom of each blog post on books reviewed, you will see I have labeled the TYPE (and sometimes STYLE) on the tags. For example: Gun Street Girl is Hard-boiled and Historical/ Police Procedural. I only tag Hard-boiled or Cozy in STYLE, as almost all modern books are a Combination.

And finally, if that doesn’t confuse you enough, there are the Thrillers, which I don’t even qualify as mysteries. I enjoy them, yes, but mysteries — no.

But that is for another day…..