For years I read exclusively non-fiction, but the last year or two my attention has turned to mysteries. There are a few writers that have caught my attention. Let me pass them on to you:
Charles Todd: He writes of a shell-shocked Great War veteran who returns to his pre-war job as Inspector at Scotland Yard. He is a sensitive soul, wracked with the remembrances of the unimaginable trench warfare of Ypres and the Somme. The real beauty of the books lies not in the mystery stories that make up the plots, but in the descriptive language that fill in the story. My guess is that Mr. Todd is not a veteran, but (in especially the first two books) he does a fine job of evoking battle fatigue. This is what drew me to the series originally, but what kept me with it was the excellent command of the English language.
Bruce Alexander: He writes of the adventures of Jeremy Proctor who is taken into the household of Sir John Fielding, the blind magistrate of Bow Street in the mid-1700s London. The plotting is well done – plenty there to keep one interested – and the characters sparkle. The reader is made to really care about what happens. What really keeps me reading, though, is the incredible evocation of Samuel Johnson’s London.
Stephanie Barron: She is a Jane Austen admirer and scholar. She writes in the style of Jane Austen and fills in biographical blanks in Austen’s life with mysteries. I, too, am a fan of Jane Austen. Pride and Prejudice saved my sanity in Vietnam, so I was predisposed to like this series. I am not a fan of “tea cosy” mysteries, however. Barron manages to capture Austen’s writing well enough to keep me fascinated through six volumes; this is saying quite a lot.
Barbara Hambly: She writes of the life of Ben January, a free man of color in early 1800s New Orleans. The plotting is good and the sense of place irresistible. I do not like the French, and have to get “past” many French names and mannerisms. It is well worth the effort. The door that this series opens on Creole culture and history is fascinating. The hero is well thought out and has understandable motivations and responses. One has the sense that the history is impeccable.
Steve Hamilton: The only one on my list that is not an historical writer is Steve Hamilton. He does a small town ex-cop PI, Alex McKnight. He is a reluctant hero, a la Matt Scudder, and charming in his way. There is little to occupy the mind here – not much philosophy, not really much sense of place besides the cold. The plots have a staccato feel to them that whisks one along. I have only read the first three books, but I like the way the characters develop and I care about what they are doing. The writing is terse and a pleasant change from Stephanie Barron.