Who Dunnit?

It’s the most wonderful time of the year.

Yes, you heard me right. It’s dark. It’s cold. But we have just been reminded that in the fullness of time light came into the world. So keep a couple strands of those twinkle lights plugged in for a few more weeks, grab a cup of coffee, and settle into the season of reading.

This the month when you can read seed catalogs but you can’t garden. Sure the kids are fighting and you feel fat but for the next 6 weeks you will have one reprieve: a good book or ten.

This is not the time of the year to get all snobby about your reading. Sure you can read Paradise Lost if you must, but you can only do it for a few minutes before you hit the PD James murder mystery or the Connie Willis historical saga. Today would be a good day to begin the Lord Peter Wimsey series by Dorothy Sayers. I bet you can read them all by Shrove Tuesday at which time you can eat a doughnut and think about maybe exercising your body a little bit. Your mind will be obese from feasting on the high jinks and subtle vocabulary of Lord Peter.

Whenever I am in a reading slump and just can’t face any of the huge tomes I have set aside for myself (books about architecture and cathedrals, theology, psychology, or the worst of all, philosophy) I break out the murder mysteries. Often I can find philosophy, theology, AND cathedrals in a good murder mystery.

That doesn’t mean that any murder mystery will do. There will be no ridiculous books about knitting and murder or cats that catch killers. Still almost every author worth their salt in the last 50 years has written a highly readable murder series.

Here are a few of my favorites:

Sir John Fielding mysteries by Bruce Alexander. These are historically accurate books with the father of the Bow Street Runners as the detective. Begin with Blind Justice.

Flavia de Luce is a little girl with a big mind and a haunting literary voice. These books by Canadian Alan Bradley begin with The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie.

British Professor and composer Edmund Crispin thought it would be fun to try his hand at murder. He succeeded in writing a wonderful selection of Gervase Fen novels.

Michael Innes is another Scottish don who successfully lowered himself to write murder mysteries. His John Appleby books are delightful and literary.

I hope you have already read through Josephine Tey’s short list of books but if you haven’t you have a treat ahead of you. Her Miss Pym Disposes is brilliant and her most famous book, The Daughter of Time, saves Richard III from the infamy hoisted upon him by those trying to please Henry VIII including William Shakespeare.

Finally, Christian author Sally Wright has given us Ben Reese, another professor as sleuth. Who can resist a book titled Publish or Perish?

I know you plan to read some truly great books this year – The Iliad and all that – but don’t let that stop you from hunkering down with a thumping good murder mystery. Just keep to the literary ones and you will be just fine. Seriously, no cats. In case you were wondering, I just pulled out Died in the Wool by New Zealander Ngaio Marsh. I will be quite unavailable, especially to those noisy boys, until I find out who dunnit.

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