Monday, October 31, 2011

Murder Most British

I love a good mystery and of the myriad of mystery subgenres, British Police Procedurals are my favorite.  Although these mysteries focus on investigating and solving a crime, they also explore the personal lives of the detectives.  Books within a series may be read out of sequence and still provide an excellent mystery; however, reading in chronological order allows for character development.  A prime example is the Inspector Linley series written by Elizabeth George.  The lives of the police and their families are integral to the narration of the series.

Best known for her psychological suspense novels, Ruth Rendell’s Inspector Wexford series is a favorite.  Rendell introduced Inspector Wexford in 1964 in From Doon with Death.  In Rendell’s most recent Wexford mystery, The Vault, Wexford has retired from the police and finds himself missing the action of solving crimes.  He encounters a former coworker who later calls him to advise on an unusual murder scene; the remains of four people are found in a former coal hole of a picturesque cottage in London with three of the remains approximately 12 years old and the fourth only two years old.  Wexford eagerly accepts the challenge of this cold case but finds himself grappling with the difficulties of conducting an investigation without the benefit of his former rank and resources. 

Fans of Prime Suspect, starring Helen Mirren, will enjoy the Anna Travis series written by screenwriter and author Lynda La Plante.  In BlindFury, Detective Inspector Anna Travis is assigned to a murder investigation team under DCS James Langton, her former lover and boss.  The body of a young woman is discovered close to a motorway service station; despite public appeals, no one identifies her.  Similarities to two unsolved murders prompt Langton to suspect they are contending with a triple murder investigation with no suspect.  Meanwhile, Anna receives a letter from an incarcerated murderer she helped to arrest insisting he can track down the killer, but will only talk to Anna herself.  Is this boasting a ruse to bring Anna to him, or does he really have insight into the psychotic killer’s mind?

Cynthia Harrod-Eagles presents a wry view of police investigations in her Bill Slider series featuring the fallible Slider with his bon vivant partner, Atherton.   Slider has obtained the rank of Detective Inspector and intends to go no further as it would remove him from active investigations, much to the detriment of the social aspirations of his wife.  In Orchestrated Death, the nude body of a young woman is found in a derelict flat without clothing or any other means of identification.  A small callous on her neck is identified as unique to violinists which leads the police to local orchestras.  The intricate plot leads to more crimes, an extremely valuable Stradivarius, some mysterious tins of Italian olive, the mob, the victim’s orchestra partner whom Slider finds more than tempting, and a lot of very British humor. 

Deborah Crombie’s long running Duncan Kinkaid and Gemma James mystery series follows the careers and romantic relationship of two Scotland Yard detectives.  Necessary as Blood finds Gemma and Duncan at a pivotal point in their relationship as they deal with personal loss while investigating an emotionally charged case.  A young mother leaves her daughter with a friend to run a few errands but never returns and cannot be found.  Shortly after, her husband, a Pakistani lawyer, disappears and is later found murdered.  In the course of the investigation a conspiracy is uncovered that will have bigger repercussions than anyone could imagine. The detectives must tread cautiously or the three-year-old child who has lost her mother and father under mysterious circumstances may be the next victim.

If you like well-developed characters, intricate plots, and plausible mysteries, try one of these British police procedurals this winter.

Other Recommended Authors:
Colin Dexter: Inspector Morse
Peter Robinson: Inspector Alan Banks
Jill McGown: Inspectors Lloyd and Hill
P.D. James: Adam Dalgliesh
Ian Rankin: Detective Inspector John Rebus, Scotland

Monday, October 10, 2011

Extraordinary Adventures

"An ancient curse"..."A prize beyond imagination"..."A fortune lost for ages"... are some of the descriptive phrases introducing books I love to read. If exotic places, a blend of action and adventure, survival against nearly impossible odds, mixed with a bit of history, a lot of camaraderie and good clean fun are what you are looking for author Clive Cussler has a book for you. Over the past 40+ years, he has written five adult series of over 45 books. Most recently some of his books have been coauthored by excellent writers who are experts in particular fields.

Cussler's original series features Dirk Pitt, an ex-Air Force man of action, employed by NUMA (the National Underwater and Marine Agency) ready to match wits on land and on sea, to right wrongs, to save the day, the planet, and the girl. He is surrounded by a delightful cast of characters who help him solve the mystery and get the bad guys.  Cussler, himself, always appears as a cameo character, a la Alfred Hitchcock, but he provides valuable information for solving the mystery. The latest book in the Dirk Pitt series, Crescent Dawn, involves the rise to power of a fundamentalist group in Turkey seeking to restore the glory of the Ottoman Empire, a mysterious Roman ship manifest lost for more than a thousand years that could change history as we know it, and a race against time and the bad guys.

Cussler has built a comfortable cast of characters you enjoy joining on each new adventure. They age naturally as the series progress so Cussler develops a new younger crew featuring Kurt Austin and Joe Zavala who work for NUMA and carry on adventures under the watchful eyes of Dirk Pitt, their boss.  The latest book in the NUMA Series is Devil's Gate (due out in November of 2011). Kurt and Joe and the NUMA Special Assignments team are battling against an ambitious African dictator who has created a super weapon of mythical power and plans to extort the great nations of the world or destroy their cities one by one.

For a more technologically savvy reader, Cussler created the Oregon Files series.  Led by the Chairman, Juan Cabrillo, the men and women of the Corporation are an elite fighting force operating from a ship named the Oregon which is a fantastic mix of state of the art scientific research equipment and the latest weaponry, all mounted inside a ship that is disguised as a hunk of junk.  Able to move around the globe at incredible speeds, thanks to their special magnetron engine, they solve the most intriguing mysteries. In their latest adventure, The Jungle, a young, 13th century Chinese ambassador witnesses a village annihilated by a mysterious weapon.  In present day, Juan and his crew of mercenaries find a girl lost in the jungles of Myanmar and go to the depths of the earth to stop a fathers plan for global domination. There are daring escapes, tortuous imprisonments, heart stopping action and last minute victories but the ending of this one will blow you away!

More recently, Cussler created a gentler mystery/adventure series involving a happily married couple, Sam and Remi Fargo, who are treasure hunters. Through fortunate inventions, they are free to roam the world searching for lost treasures. The latest book in the Fargo series is The Kingdom.  The Fargos find themselves abandoned in a flooding ravine, exploring long forgotten caves in Tibet, attempting to fly an ancient balloon aircraft from a century before its time, solving Chinese puzzle chests, and searching for a sacred skeleton from an ancient kingdom that may hold an interesting key to evolution. Sam and Remi are likable characters, who are smart, intelligent and quite possibly attended the MacGyver School of getting out of a jam with a few old sticks and some hundred year old sinew.

If sea adventures and treasure hunting are not of interest to you, Cussler's latest series is set in pre- World War I America. Railroads, telegraphs, motorcars and flying machines are beginning to move across the country and a new class of detectives has grown from the needs of the bustling new country. Isaac Bell, of the Van Dorn Detective Agency, has investigated cross country bank robberies, saboteurs on the new railway lines, and in his latest adventure, The Race,  the rivalry and competitiveness of the budding flying machine business. San Francisco newspaperman, Preston Whiteway, is sponsoring an air race; $50,000 to the flier who can fly across America in 50 days. Competitors include a jealous husband with a violent temper, a wife who lives to fly, a flying machine mechanic who dreams of owning fleets of his own planes, and a mysterious person who is sabotaging competitors' planes. Isaac Bell and the agency are charged with protecting everyone and guaranteeing the race through to the finish.

Cussler has researched and lived much of the action in these series.  He is the founder of an actual group of historians, divers, salvage experts, marine experts and volunteers known as NUMA (named for his fictional agency) who dedicate themselves to the preservation of American maritime and naval history. They have discovered more than 60 historically significant underwater wreck sites including the first Confederate submarine to be used in battle, the Hunley. You can read about many of these expeditions in Cussler's non-fiction works such as The Sea Hunters.  Clive Cussler has provided a great variety of good entertaining stories which are available at the library. Every book aims to entertain, and I don't think you will ever be disappointed. I am always anxiously awaiting each new book!

You might also like these titles or any of the other titles by these authors.

The Medusa Stone by Jack DuBrul  
Amazonia by James Rollins  
The Six Sacred Stones by Matthew Reilly  
Legend by David Lynn Golemon  
The Ark by Boyd Morrison
Cold Vengeance by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child