By R.J. Harlick
What three mystery books would you recommend to someone as must reads who’s never read a mystery before?
A tough question. There are so many fabulous mystery books that have been written over the years, it makes for a difficult choice. Since it is February 14, I could look at mysteries that have a hot steamy romance. Though, that isn’t usually a crime novel’s strength.
I developed my love for mysteries by devouring Agatha Christie as a child before moving onto other British authors like Dorothy Sayers, Ruth Rendell, Colin Dexter and the like, so I might as well look at British crime writers for my suggestions.
A person new to mysteries could start with one of the forerunners of today’s modern mystery, The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins. Written in 1859, it is considered an early example of detective fiction with the protagonist, Walter Hartright, taking on the role of an amateur sleuth. The action starts with Walter encountering a mysterious woman in white who appears to be in some distress. He later learns that she escaped from an asylum. The plot swirls around switched identities and an inheritance while drawing attention to the lack of legal rights women had at the time. A fabulous book. The Moonstone, also written by Wilkie Collins is another fine example of an early mystery.
Agatha Christie was truly the master, or should I say mistress, of the puzzle mystery. I don’t think I have read one book of hers that I have been able to guess whodunit. For me the Christie book that stands out the most in its ability to fool the reader is The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. It is masterful in its ability to hide the truth which, by the way, is in plain sight, if only the reader were perceptive enough. A person couldn’t go wrong in trying to test their wits with this book.
There was a time, when I took a break from mysteries, preferring to make my way through the literary greats. The discovery of the P.D. James’ series with poetry-writing detective Adam Dalgliesh brought me back into the mystery fold. Beautifully written with a strong sense of the British countryside, each book deftly explores the psychological motives behind murder. I’m not sure I could recommend any one book of the fourteen in the series. They are all good. So perhaps the best place to start, as with any series, is with the first one, Cover Her Face.
I mustn't forget what day it is. Hope you celebrate it appropriately.