A monthly recap of books I've read. For past months, see:
Where has this month gone? More than half over and I'm just now getting to my book post for last month. And there aren't even that many books on the list!
It appears that in October I undertook an unsystematic study of detective fiction. I cleaned out my bookshelves a while ago and filled up a rather large box which would be labeled, if I was the labeling type, "Read And Get Rid Of" or perhaps "Read Or Get Rid Of." In any case, I'm trying to work my way through them (so that I can buy more books, of course), and last month I read the mysteries among the pile.
But first, I read Talking about Detective Fiction, by P.D. James, a survey of the genre, specifically British realm of detective fiction, written by a titan of the form. I picked this book up at a used book shop a few months ago, thinking it might be useful if I ever decided to write mysteries myself. It was an engaging and entertaining read, which made me want to read some of the books mentioned within, so I turned to my box of Books to Read and/or Get Rid of and sorted all the mysteries out of the pile.
I'm not sure how any of these books came into my possession in the first place, or why I've never read them before, but I started with Dorothy L. Sayers, a name I was familiar with from the TV show Mystery adaptations of some of her books. Gaudy Night was a lot of work to get through—it was filled with references to Classical Literature, Elizabethan Poetry, the geography and inner workings of Oxford (both the town and the university) and other esoteric fields that us public-schooled Americans might not have the best grasp of (I think P.D. James mentioned that some have found Sayers' books snobbish for these references), but I persevered and enjoyed the books central conflict about the role of women in society (mother & caretaker vs. intellectual & working woman), and didn't let the fact that Lord Peter swooped in and solved Harriet Vane's puzzle bother me too much. The Nine Tailors, which was shorter and had a lot less esoteric detail (only in reference to the complicated workings of Anglican church bells) was a faster read, but also enjoyable.
By good luck, there was a P.D. James among the pile—unfortunately not Death Comes to Pemberly, which I've been wanting to read, but unable to find, for a while, but rather an Adam Dalgleish mystery, A Taste for Death (interestingly, the second among the pile in which the murder takes place in a church). James does interesting things with point of view and comes at the story from several characters' angles, including a young female detective, which made it more interesting to me (sorry, I just don't want to read about stuffy old dudes that much).
Finally, I read In Potters Field, a contemporary mystery by American writer Patricia Cornwell. It was, frankly, a big letdown after the three previous books. The writing was not nearly as rich and interesting as Sayers's or James's books. The plot not as complicated. There really was no "mystery" to it at all, just a chase for a serial killer (who, one presumes, has made an appearance in previous books). The book relies more on gruesome murder and an anxiety-riddled chase-and-kill scene than a clever puzzle to unwind.
In sum: classics are classic for a reason (even in genres) and I need to find a Little Free Library in which to deposit these books.