Summer’s here! Mrs Peabody’s holiday crime fiction recommendations

Now that it’s July, my thoughts are turning to the serious business of holiday reading.

Choosing reading matter to take on holiday is something I take extremely seriously: an afternoon of peaceful reading with ice-cubes tinkling in a cool drink by my side is one of my chief holiday pleasures, and the quality, quantity and variety of the crime fiction in my suitcase needs to be just right. Major disasters in the past have included being caught short in Spain, resulting in an exhaustive hunt for an English-language bookshop, and paying well over the odds for some crime fiction in New Zealand, where book prices are incredibly high. As a result, I now always carry a small library with me abroad (Kindle, of course, is another option, although I like to take second-hand paperbacks I can leave for other holiday-makers, which I then cunningly replace in my luggage with souvenirs).

The following are some random holiday crime fiction recommendations – all books that I’ve read and enjoyed, albeit for varying reasons. If you feel like posting suggestions in return I’d be very pleased to see them.

  • Light and frothy, with an emphasis on entertainment. Perfect for lounging by the pool or whiling away a few hours in a café with a cappuccino.

Fred Vargas’ Detective Commissaire Adamsberg series: a quirky and erudite collection of crime novels, mostly set in Paris. It’s not essential to read them in order, in my view, but Have Mercy on Us All is a good place to start. You may or may not know, but Fred is actually a female author, and an archaeologist by trade.

Colin Bateman’s Mystery Man: Murder, Mayhem and Damn Sexy Trousers (2009). It’s rare for writers to pull off a successful comic crime novel. This one made me laugh out loud, in spite of its ultimately rather serious subject matter – the legacy of the Nazi past and the weighty theme of post-war justice. A deft juggling act.

Michael Dibdin’s Aurelio Zen series (televised earlier this year). Written quite a while ago now, but they’ve held up well, with a nicely rounded investigative figure. A wry look at Italian policing, politics and life. An earlier Mrs P. post on Ratking is available here.

  • Stronger stuff – more intense and challenging crime. The sort of novel you might not normally get round to, and which isn’t necessarily the easiest of reads in terms of its content or style.

Andrew Taylor’s Roth Trilogy. Brilliant and somewhat underrated, this trilogy excavates the history of a sociopathic killer, moving backwards in time from the present day to the 1970s and the 1950s. Best read in order for cumulative effect.

George P. Pelecanos, The Big Blowdown. First in the Washington Quartet by an author also famous for his contribution to The Wire. Grim and gritty depiction of D.C. just after the Second World War. Breathtakingly good.

Jussi Adler Olsen’s Mercy - a recent Danish sensation, which is brilliantly written, but very hard-hitting. First in the Department Q series, featuring detective Carl Mørck. A Mrs P. review of Mercy is available here.

Happy holidays and enjoy!

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10 Responses to Summer’s here! Mrs Peabody’s holiday crime fiction recommendations

  1. kathy d. says:

    Very good list. I am now reading An Uncertain Place, having devoured all of Vargas’ prior translated books.

    I would add to this list Donna Leon’s Brunetti series set in Venice, Andrea Camilleri’s Montalbano series set in fictional Vigata, Sicily and books by Michael Connelly, either the legal thrillers or Bosch police procedurals (which are more than that).

    I’ve recently rediscovered (actually a wonderful blogger reminded me of these) the Rex Stout Nero Wolfe series. I feel totally distracted by them and laugh out loud often, while admiring the very witty prose.

    This is a reminder for me to get Bateman’s book.
    Enjoy the summer reading, iced drinks and distraction.

    • Mrs P. says:

      Many thanks for these additional suggestions, Kathy, which I’ve put in bold so that other readers can pick them out easily.

      I’ve enjoyed what I’ve read of Leon’s Brunetti series, as well as Camilleri’s Montalbano series, although I still have a problem with the ‘Ingrid factor’! The Snack Thief is the one I’ve liked most so far of those. Not familiar with the Connelly or Stout series, so thanks – potentials for my own suitcase this summer :)

      I do think the comedy-crime fusion is a very difficult one to pull off, so will definitely investigate the Wolfe novels. The other one that springs to mind is the Stephanie Plum series by Janet Evanovich, set in New Jersey. I’ve only read a couple, but they made me hoot with laughter in places.

      Wishing you a very happy summer of reading also.

  2. Maxine says:

    Thanks for this list, will check out the ones I have not read already, eg the Roth trilogy. I was once stuck in Spain having read my 20 books in less than 2 weeks, I eventually found a bookshop with a few eng lan books, only a few though, which is how I came to read the Da Vinci Code…….not recommended ;-(

    • Mrs P. says:

      It’s a while ago since I read the Roth Trilogy, but it blew me away at the time and has always stayed with me, which is a good sign. Doerte tells me she’s read it twice, once forwards, once backwards :)

      Da Vinci Code? Now there’s a cautionary tale if ever I heard one. And 20 books in less than two weeks?! How do you do it?

  3. kathy d. says:

    Oh, yes, the Ingrid factor. Don’t know what’s with that, unless it’s Montalbano’s middle-aged (or aging) crisis. He’s having a lot of difficulties as he realizes that he can’t do what he could do when he was younger, is losing stamina, his fitness and more. But many of the books in the series are a lot of fun, although a few occurrences are a bit annoying.
    Rex Stout wrote 46 novels featuring Nero Wolfe, Archie Goodwin and a gaggle of other private eyes. He began in the mid-1930s and continued for 40 years. There are also some short stories.
    I try to read global crime fiction so I can go on virtual vacations, but the Wolfe books keep me riveted to my own city. I’m trying to move on, but since the books are so delightful, that I may stay in this hot city for much of the summer. But to visit cooler climates is my goal.

    • Mrs P. says:

      I’ll look forward to sampling some Stout very soon. Am very fond of your city having spent some time there in my youth :) Is there a good one that you’d recommend to start me off?

      Virtual vacations: one of the chief pleasures of reading global crime fiction, I agree. And not just for the snowy or sunlit landscapes but for little insights into the cultural lives of others. I just finished Camilla Lackberg’s The Hidden Child and was struck by how huge a role coffee appears to play in Swedish social rituals. No sooner has someone walked through the door than coffee is being served as a matter of course. Here in the the UK (or at least in my house), it would be tea (and not quite so many gallons of it). Not that crime novels are always completely accurate social portraits, but I’m sure we do gain a greater cultural awareness through reading international crime. The lovely dishes that appear in the Montalbano books are another small example.

  4. kathy d. says:

    People do drink a lot of coffee in the U.S., and it is part of socializing. People go out for coffee to catch up with each other or have a short meeting, or even a date. It is a ritual. And people pick up coffee at delicatessens, “coffee” shops, which are everywhere. Much of it is awful. However, good coffee, freshly grounded can be very tasty.
    However, I am a tea drinker, became one years ago due to health problems. And English and Irish breakfast teas are my favorites, hot, cold, whatever.
    On Rex Stout’s books, I’ve only read three so far this year. The Doorbell Rang is good; Nero Wolfe gets into a snit with the FBI. Fer-De-Lance is the first one written in 1934, and it gives some interesting flavor of the period. Over My Dead Body was written in 1940 and has a few anti-Nazi well-placed barbs in it.
    I have more to read and will keep going, but I’ve been distracted by Camilleri, Vargas (liked her new book, it’s a brilliant crazy ride), and now Peter Lovesey, whose books I’ve never read before.

    • Mrs P. says:

      We’re gradually catching up – a Starbucks on every corner :) And I’ll tend to drink coffee rather than tea out and about as the latter often tastes like dishwater in coffee houses! Many thanks for the Stout recommendations, and good to hear you liked the Vargas – still on my TBR pile but perhaps one for the summer hols.

  5. kathy d. says:

    Vargas’ new book is stirring up controversy over the blogosphere, exciting. Lots of opinions.
    I can loan it to some mystery fans I know but not others.

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