Crime Fiction: Respite Reading for the Pandemic

I hope you’re all safe and well in this strange and worrying time. For many of us (including me), reading has taken a back seat while we process the situation, and deal with its fallout for our families, working lives and communities.

Aside from the practical challenges we’re facing, many of us are feeling too stressed to read, or can’t find the ‘right book’ to settle down with.

If this is you, then here are some suggestions and strategies for Respite Reading.

Even if you manage just a chapter a day, you’ll hopefully feel the benefit. Reading has an amazing ability to ground us, distract us and provide solace – in short, to provide us with respite in these very tough times. A study by the University of Sussex found that a mere 6 minutes of reading can reduce stress levels by 68%! Sounds good to me.

7 types of Respite Reading: find the one that works for you!

1.   An old favourite. There’s no rule that says you have to read something new. Perhaps a novel you know and love is already on your bookshelf, waiting to wrap itself around you like a comforting blanket. For me, that’s John le Carré’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. Or Paul Scott’s The Jewel in the Crown, a novel I first read in 1988, which explores the fallout of a crime in The British Raj. Or your favourite Agatha Christie – hard to choose, I know… For me it’s a toss up between The Murder of Roger Ackroyd and Murder on the Orient Express.

2.   Travel to another time or place. If the present is too much for you right now, then take a break in another era with some historical crime and/or crime set in another country – like Abir Mukherjee’s A Rising Man (1919 India), Riku Onda’s The Aosawa Murders (1970s Japan), Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose (1327 Italy) or Eduardo Sacheri’s The Secret in Their Eyes (1970s and 1980s Argentina).

3.    Cosy, comforting crime. If you’re finding the gritty end of the crime fiction spectrum a bit much right now, then perhaps you’re in need of a cute baby elephant: yes, we’re talking Vaseem Khan’s The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector ChopraOr try out Peter Bartram’s comic ‘Crampton of the Chronicle’ series, which follows the adventures of a young journalist in 1960s Brighton. Or how about Ellis Peter’s classic ‘Brother Cadfael’ series, set in medieval times? Another personal favourite: Harry Kemelman’s ‘Rabbi Small’ series, which offers an affectionate portrait of 1960s small-town America, along with some pearls of wisdom.

4.   Crime with heart, whose characters you’ll love to spend time with – try Elly Griffiths’s ‘Ruth Galloway’ series (forensics in Norfolk) or Lesley Thomson’s ‘Detective’s Daughter’ series – both are marvellous. And if you’ve not yet met octogenarian Sheldon Horowitz, then it’s definitely time for Derek B. Miller’s Norwegian by Night. It’s still one of my top favourites.

5.   Criminally black humour. If your way of getting through involves grim laughter, then Mick Herron’s ‘Slough House’ spy novels are a wonderful read – start with Slow Horses. Or get to know Jo Ide’s IQ, the Long Beach Sherlock – a thoroughly engaging and original detective. And Leif GW Persson’s novels are always up there for me – Linda, as in the Linda Murder is a good opener, with moments that are wonderfully wry.

6.   Hair ‘o’ the dog apocalypse crime. Because one way to deal with our fears is to read about stuff that’s just that little bit worse. Louise Welsh’s A Lovely Way to Burn is excellent, and check out my earlier blog post on ‘Apocalyptic Crime Fiction from America and Finland’ for a few other suggestions. My top non-crime recommendation is Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven. Bleak, but strangely uplifting and hopeful.

7.   Still not sure… Just give me top-quality crime! No worries – have a browse through my Xmas recommendations over the years. These are effectively my annual best-of-the-best lists, so hopefully you’ll find something there that’ll hit the spot…

2014   2015   2016   2017   2018   2019

There’s also a list of trilogies here should you fancy a more ambitious reading project.

And if you’re looking for further ideas or inspiration, then I can heartily recommend the following indie publishers. They could all do with some love and support right now!

Bitter Lemon Press   No Exit Press   Orenda Books   Europa Editions

OK everyone – stay home – stay safe – save lives!

Please do add your own thoughts and recommendations below, or just drop by for a chat. It would be lovely to hear from you! Hugs and kisses xxx

22 thoughts on “Crime Fiction: Respite Reading for the Pandemic

  1. What a great set of suggestions, Mrs. P! I second your recommendation of the Chopra series; I like those novels very much. And you can’t go wrong with Christie, if you ask me. The rest are great choices, too, and for all sorts of moods, too.

    • Thanks, Margot. You’re spot on – our emotions are heightened at the moment, and our moods may change with lightening speed. It’s good to have lots of reading options available to us that suit those different moments. Blowing kisses across the pond xxx

  2. Books about the Black Death: Company of Fools by Deborah Ellis (a children’s book); A Parcel of Patterns by Jill Paton Walsh and Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks (both set in the village of Eyam in the 1666 plague); The Doomsday Book by Connie Willis (my favourite) time travel between a virus outbreak in 21st century – how did she know? – and 14th century England; Kristin Lavransdatter, spoiler alert…Plague appears just in the last few pages of a three volume saga about medieval Norway, sometimes I wonder if she had trouble thinking of an ending.
    Yes staying home and reading is good – I am actually going to dig out my Cadfael, and 21 books later, I’ll start in on the Silver Pigs Roman Mysteries…maybe it will all be over by the time I’m done…

    • Thanks so much for that marvellous list! I’ve only heard of one of those, so will go and have a good forage. I hope you are all tucked away safely and are well. Sending love from us to you! xxx

  3. Good to see you back. Like the sound of joe ide books, agree with you re the Heron books excellent read. Still no new Perrson book, just checked his agents website, still not sold the English rights for his last book, published 2015, so who knows when or if we will see it! Oh there is a Backstrom Swedish TV Series started this March. Wonder if BBC4 or more likely Walter Presents will pick it up. Speaking off…. the second series of the excellent ‘Thou Shall not kill’ has started two weeks ago on More 4. It’s Italian, see Italy before the virus struck!!

    • Hello, Brian – good to see you too! I hope all is well with you and that you’re tucked up safely.

      It’s a real shame that there aren’t any more Persson novels in the pipeline. I think they’re SO good.

      I keep meaning to watch a bit more crime on telly, but am tending to stick to comedy at the moment – Derry Girls is our current favourite. Will have a peek at ‘Thou Shall Not Kill’ – thanks!

    • Thanks very much, June Lorraine – and yes, hopefully. It might be a list that readers can dip into two of three times depending on mood x

  4. Thank you for this. I so relate to the whole “can’t find the right book to settle down with.” I’ve been saying I’m going to get some reading done while I’m home (at least on the weekends when I’m not working). But I’ve found that when I pick up a book, I don’t have the mental energy to read. Thank you for sharing these recommendations and giving us a place to commiserate.

    • Hi Gillian – you’re welcome, and I know exactly what you mean about the lack of mental energy.

      I’ve been trying to read a little something every night just before I go to sleep, just to take my mind to a place other than the news. It does seem to help. Perhaps a little ritual / routine might work as well. Brewing a nice cup of tea or coffee, sitting down with two or three books and seeing if any do the trick xxx

  5. Hi Kat, hope you and yours are all ok.
    I’m slowly getting though all those paperbacks in my tbr pile, just discovered Elly Griffiths and Craig Russell, two different styles but really enjoyed them.

    • Hi Karen! Good to hear from you. We’re all OK at this end – I hope you are too. Really glad you’re enjoying Elly Griffiths. I find that series very absorbing and entertaining, but also really well observed in terms of characterisation – Ruth and Nelson are very human. And Cathbad is great! xxx

  6. Hi Karen, Rumpole of the Bailey by John Mortimer is my choice. I’m reading”Forever Rumpole, The Best of the Rumpole
    storoes”. When I looked through my book sheleves,I discovered I have a ton of books I have not read in years, so I’m set for a while. I hope no one is dependent on libraries- most of which I assume are closed like mine.

    Don’t forget to be sure your childen and grandchildren have something good to read.

    Carol)

    • Thanks, Carol! Do you know, I’ve never read any Rumpole of the Bailey, which is clearly a huge omission. Have just downloaded an omnibus to make good. I know Clive James was a big fan, which is a splendid recommendation x

      Enjoy all of those rediscovered books!

  7. you cannot beat Ed McBain for classy police procedurals. The Graham Hurley Faraday novels are an absolute treat. Philip Kerr’s Bernie Gunther series is also exceptional. If we are all still in lockdown after you’ve worked through all of those we are in deeper trouble than we think!

    • Ed McBain! Charles, that is a top recommendation – many thanks. I’ve only read a few, but they’ve held up incredibly well.

      I’ll have to check out the ‘Faraday’ novels – those are new to me. Thanks for the tip.

      And yes, let’s hope we only need a fraction of these for the actual lockdown period :-/

  8. Thank you for a marvellous set of recommendations. I’d like to add Parker Bilal’s Makana investigations set in Egypt and the Michael Stanley Detective Kubu novels set in Botswana – the setting is the only similarity to the No 1 Ladies Detective stories.

    • Thanks, David – two excellent series to add to the list. I’ve enjoyed the Kubu novels I’ve read so far, and have heard lots of good things about the ‘Makana’ novels. I don’t think I’ve read any crime set in Egypt as yet, so that’s very tempting…

  9. This is an excellent post. My top choice is “read an old favorite”, and, although I don’t read many cozy books, your suggestions in that group are very good.

    I visited the page on trilogies and got some wonderful suggestions for future reading.

    • Thanks, Tracy – and I’m glad you found some useful recommendations. As you’ll have gathered, I love trilogies, and a three-book reading project might be just the thing. Not too long, not too short. Or an old fav! I think it just has to be whatever we feel like reading at the moment xxx

  10. Morning Mrs P. Hope all is well with you and yours? Great set of recommendations there. I love Peter Bartram’s Crampton of the Chronicle. I always said if Colin wasn’t a journo, he’d make an excellent copper. I found an old pile of books stacked in the cupboard under the stairs which I’ve been reading again. The Sherlock Holmes Omnibus, numerous Agatha Christie’s, Henning Mankell’s Wallander, some battered Peter Robinson’s DCI Banks and…don’t laugh Enid Blyton’s Famous Five. That and the; too many to mention I’ve downloaded onto my Kindle, should keep me very well occupied…for a while at least. Take care.

    • Hello, Kathy! All is fine with us at this end – I very much hope it is with you too xxx

      The Crampton series is great, isn’t it? A real breath of fresh air 🙂

      And now that you’ve mentioned Wallander…some Mankell would definitely fit the bill. Top quality stuff, but with that thoughtful, unflappable, common-sense approach to things – perfect for these times. I have some sitting on my shelf and will take a look. Thanks!

      I haven’t read an Enid Blyton for about forty years!!! I was into the ‘Mallory Towers’ series as a kid… Posh midnight snacks in the dorm!

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