Q: Do you prefer reading “classic” mysteries or contemporary mysteries?
As if it were that easy, eh?
Do you prefer chocolate ice cream with marshmallow sauce, or vanilla with hot fudge? Chicken or cookies? Van Gogh or Matisse? Paris or New York?
There are times when I crave the pure puzzle of a classic Agatha Christie story that hums along inexorably to what I know will be a tidy solution, written in brisk, confident language, breezily defining characters on the surface, leaving it to readers to decide whether or not to embellish them with their own imaginations.
But there are other times, scanning my bursting bookshelves and stacks and table tops, when I can’t work up even the slightest appetite for that part of the crime fiction genre, when I need something more filling, more demanding of me, possibly more shaded, definitely something more of my own times.
I can become paralyzed by the choices, so much so that I retreat from my study, where all the crime fiction lives to the guest bedroom where another overstuffed bookcase is full of Tolstoy and Virginia Woolf and James Joyce and Irene Nemerovsky. I even get a sudden craving for poetry once in a while, which is healthy – reminds me that every word should count, whether I’m reading or writing.
Some favorites when I want a complicated dish: Sara Paretsky, Elmore Leonard, Stuart Neville, P.D. James, Michael Dibdin, Dennis Lehane, Denise Mina, Colin Cotterill, Lisa Brackmann, Martin Cruz Smith. Modern, edgy, compromised protagonists dealing with an often mean and unjust world in which there’s no guarantee the good guys will win.
For dessert, in addition to Christie: Rex Stout, Anne Perry, Arthur Conan Doyle, Juliet Blackwell, Camille Minichino, Magdelen Nabb, Susan Elia MacNeal. Not all cozies, and all more character-driven and psychologically interesting than Miss Marple or Hercules Poirot, but worlds in which order is, at least temporarily, restored and the protagonist and I can sleep easier at night.
I’m just scratching the surface of good reads I know are waiting for me. Just thinking about what’s waiting for me makes me hungry, and ticking them off in my head makes me as happy as if I were eating Christmas dinner!