I have five crime-filled stories to share with you in my Spell the Month in Books post for March. This time they span the centuries in their settings, from the medieval to the twentieth century. The books I have chosen this time around are:
Mistress of the Art of Death – Ariana Franklin
Alienist The) – Caleb Carr
Remorseful Day (The) – Colin Dexter
Coroner’s Pidgin – Margery Allingham
Holy Disorders – Edmund Crispin
Every one of these is available in audiobook, so I’ve linked to that version, although available ebooks, paperbacks and hardcovers are all listed as well.
We begin with the Middle Ages. Children have disappeared and one murdered in Cambridge. Blame is placed on the Jews who go into hiding, much to the displeasure of the king, who relies on them for revenue. In desperation, he enlists Simon of Naples to help him, and he brings with him Ariana Aguila. She has a secret for fear of being accused of witchcraft – her skill in the study of corpses. In the course of her investigations, it becomes clear that the killer has noticed her involvement. Will the killer strike again – and this time, at her?
I picked up this book originally because of my love of the Cadfael mysteries. And I am so pleased I did! It’s a very long book at just over 500 pages (or a long listen if in audio!) and wonderfully easy to read and become absorbed in. No confusing medieval dialogue to negotiate, which I appreciate, even after studying medieval literature! I have to say that I became very attached to the character of Ariana, and am really looking forward to getting around to reading the next book in the series.
Fast forward a few centuries to the Victorian period, and the setting for the quite simply stunning story of The Alienist. This is another whopping book, the story coming in at 531 pages in my version, but it’s worth every bit of your time – and if you’ve seen the series adapted from the book, you’ll know exactly what I mean. The book is written from the viewpoint of crime reporter, John Schuyler Moore, who tells the story of the solving of a set of hideous crimes.
The book is set in 1896. In New York, corruption and hypocrisy are everywhere, and someone is violently murdering young boy prostitutes. Theodore Roosevelt, Police Commissioner has to do something and he is prepared to try anything, including putting faith in psychologist (the alienist) Dr Lazlo Kreizler and John Schyler Moore to use the forensic and psychological work which is still in its infancy. There is an epitome of evil out there. They have to delve deep into the darkness of the human psyche and catch this killer, because he just keeps killing… I was spellbound by this book, and equally the series. If you love dark Victorian crime and drama, I can’t recommend this story highly enough.
Now we have three books all from the twentieth century, beginning with the most modern in this month’s stack, (The) Remorseful Day. It seems to be becoming a habit for me to pick a Colin Dexter novel and cheat a bit with the title by bracketing off the ‘the’! The wonderful Inspector Morse appears in his last crime-solving exploit. The murder of Yvonne Harrison still hasn’t been solved after a year, and Morse refuses to take on the case. So what is it that’s prompting him to make investigations of his own, as his health deteriorates? Things are not quite right, and Sergeant Lewis knows it.
If you have read (or indeed, watched) The Remorseful Day, then I have no need to tell you what a poignant book this turns out to be. If you haven’t, then I would recommend that you read the other Morse books first. I have no words to describe my emotions when reading this book, except that, for a man endlessly troubled with affairs of the heart, this last Morse book by Colin Dexter felt, to me, a very fitting ending to the series.
Coroner’s Pidgin is a book of a very different temperament to The Remorseful Day. Albert Campion is in his bath, after coming back from his holidays. Instead of relaxing, he ends up on the trail of a murderer, when his servant, Lugg comes home with a dead woman in his arms. This was the first book I ever read of Margery Allingham’s Albert Campion crime-solving antics.
While Campion is a nice enough character (although you may find in some of the books his patriarchal and sexist views, especially towards his sister, to be a bit much for you), I have developed a very soft spot for Lugg. He’s a great sidekick, and thoroughly enjoyable to watch in his split role of underground thug and honourable butler. This book has an Audible-only audiobook, so if you’re interested in listening to this one, you can take a look here.
Finally, the delightfully lighthearted mystery, Holy Disorders. I think the series of Gervase Fen stories are perfect if you’re looking for a mystery with a quirky and lighthearted narrative. Gervase Fen is an Oxford don who just seems to constantly land himself in trouble. This time, he has gone toddling off to Tolnbridge where he is busying himself with catching butterflies. And, of course, while he’s there, the most placid an inoffensive organist in the world ends up murdered. So begins Gervase’s detective work in Tolnbridge – and there are some very oddball theories thrown up as he goes about his sleuthing!
I’ve not read very many of Edmund Crispin’s books, but the ones I have read remind be very much of the feeling I got when reading P.G. Wodehouse’s Jeeves and Wooster stories. The Gervase Fen mysteries are not as obviously comedic as Wodehouse; the amusement is more subtle, but if you find you develop a liking for his quirkiness, then this could be a series for you.
There’s such a wide variety of times and settings in my February Spell the Month in Books bookstack that hopefully you might find something in a historical timeframe you enjoy, or you might be tempted to try a new historical period for your crime and mystery reads. My favourite period will always be the interwar (1920s-30s), but it’s extremely close contender is the Victorian era. What’s yours? I’d love to hear, if you’d like to leave your favourites in the comments.
As always, so you know, any Amazon affiliate links I have used in this post may earn me a tiny commission if you are able to buy through any of them (and these are all US affiliate links only). However, I only ever link to a book or product that I’ve used and thoroughly enjoyed myself, so you only ever get wholehearted, genuine recommendations from me.