The Influence of Books, part 4

Yes, I still have my little slip of note paper by the computer, with my off-the-top-of-my-head notes on authors I read long ago.  Next up: mystery novels.

I love mysteries, always have.  Both my parents were avid mystery readers, and my mother introduced me to her favorites early on.  I’ve belonged to the Doubleday Mystery Guild since I lived in Louisiana, far from any book store, in the late 1960s.  Today I have a whole list of must-buy mystery authors.  On the humorous end, I love Elaine Viets, Janet Evanovich, Joan Hess, and Spencer Quinn.  On the more serious side, I’ve followed Sue Grafton and Marcia Muller since their debuts.  I’ve read everything from Ed McBain’s hard core procedurals, set in Isola, McBain’s version of mid-twentieth century New York City, to Robert Van Gulik’s Judge Dee mysteries, based on 18th century Chinese detective stories.

The three mystery authors on my notepad list are Agatha Christie, Ngaio Marsh, and Rex Stout.  They weren’t the only classic detective novelists I read–Dorothy Sayers, Josephine Tey, Margery Allingham, and Ellery Queen come to mind–but they were prolific and addictive.

Agatha Christie (1890-1976) was my mother’s favorite.  For years Mom carried a list of Christie’s countless titles, so that she could check the copyright page for alternate titles before she bought a paperback.  Christie was British, and her American publishers often changed her titles.  Whether that was an effort to sell more books to careless buyers or because they thought American readers wouldn’t understand the original British titles, I don’t know.  I spent a couple of long hot summers in New Orleans when I was in grad school at Tulane reading Christie in a hammock on my apartment porch, now and then riding my bicycle or taking the St. Charles Avenue trolley to a book store for more paperbacks.  I’m pretty sure I read every mystery Dame Agatha wrote.

Ngaio Marsh (1895-1982) was a New Zealander, but she spent much of her time, and set most of her novels, in England.  Her sophisticated and intellectual detective hero, Roderick Alleyn, was an aristocrat who chose to make a career in the police.  His romance with (and eventual marriage to) a rather Bohemian artist named Agatha Troy ran through the series, written between 1934 and 1982.  I read every one of Marsh’s novels, too.

Rex Stout (1886-1975) recorded the cases of eccentric detective Nero Wolfe from 1934 to 1975.  The novels were narrated by Archie Godwin, Wolfe’s assistant and leg man; Wolfe himself rarely left his New York brownstone, preferring to solve mysteries while meditating in his office or nurturing the orchids in his greenhouse.  I never missed one of Wolfe’s adventures (and I have on my DVD shelf a boxed set of the excellent TV adaptations featuring Timothy Hutton as Archie and Maury Chaykin as Wolfe).

All of those old classics have slipped out of my library over the years, replaced by more modern tastes and contemporary authors.  I’ll probably never get the urge to track them down again–there are just too many new mysteries to read, including several that I ordered from the Mystery Guild a few days ago.  But I cut my mystery-lover’s teeth on decades of novels from Christie, Marsh, and Stout.

6 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Cheryl Bolen
    Nov 02, 2012 @ 15:27:10

    Back in the seventies I, too, read every mystery novel Dame Agatha ever wrote. I love Dorothy L. Sayers, too. To this day if I need to indulge myself with a comfort read I’ll whip out Josephine Tey–definitely on my keeper shelf–and allow myself the pleasure of reading one of her books again. I lament that neither she nor Dorothy L. were as prolific as Agatha. Mysteries by American authors just don’t do it for me.

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    • Kay Hudson
      Nov 02, 2012 @ 22:23:53

      Catherine Aird was another one, Scottish, I think. We used to haunt used book stores, Jack scarfing up military books and me collecting mysteries. And shipping boxes of paperbacks to my mother in Florida.

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  2. Cheryl Bolen
    Nov 02, 2012 @ 15:29:13

    Oh! I forgot to ditto what you said about the TV Nero Wolf. Fantastic! I have them all on dvd, along with Lord Peter — which is my ultimate curl-up-by-the-fireplace and watch indulgence.

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    • Kay Hudson
      Nov 02, 2012 @ 22:28:46

      I also have Jim Hutton’s Ellery Queen series on DVD (and I’ve actually watched that whole set) and the BBC Brother Cadfael series, with Derek Jacobi (read all those books, too).

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  3. Cheryl Bolen
    Nov 03, 2012 @ 19:38:08

    We are currently watching the old Ellery Queen series, which we’re getting from Netflix. Great fun – even with the hoaky dying clues! The Cadfael didn’t appeal greatly to me. I love England between the wars and noir period, like Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler. I am so UNcurrent. But I know what I like.

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    • Kay Hudson
      Nov 03, 2012 @ 20:14:28

      The guests stars on the Ellery Queen series were great fun, too.
      I’ve watched all the episodes of Murder She Wrote so often I can practically recite the dialog, so lately I’ve been getting my late night mystery fix from Perry Mason.

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