The sun is shining; it’s a beautiful weekend, and I am inside with my nose stuck in a book. I can’t help it… I am addicted to reading. And if I don’t get the required hours immersed in my book each day…I get the jitters. I feel deprived. Luckily I’m retired now and have the time to do all the things I should be doing, including getting outdoors for fresh air and exercise, and still have time for lots of reading. And right now, I’m addicted to murder and mayhem, to mystery and detective fiction.
I know of so many great mystery authors writing these days…. and there are so many more to discover. For the past couple of weeks I’ve been reading Graham Hurley. I love his books.
Hurley’s books are set in Portsmouth (or Pompey as the locals call it) and, like all good books, they transport you there, to that island city in southern England. You can smell the sea air and feel the cold rain on your face. Hurley’s main character, Detective Inspector Joe Faraday, is a widower with a deaf son and a passion for birds… and for finding meaning in his job and in the increasing violence, greed and corruption around him.
Realistic characters must grapple with the gritty underside of life, especially if they are police officers. They will sometimes, as a result, feel despair over their inability to make a difference, which Faraday certainly does. But what makes me keep coming back to Hurley’s books is that they are always in some way hopeful. Joe Faraday keeps on battling despite overwhelming odds. I have been known to give up on writers who make me feel a sense of futility book after book. Stuart McBride is one of those. His books, to me, depict unrelenting despair and the idea that violence, corruption and incompetence will reign supreme. McBride is a gifted writer but…. sadly, I don’t want to read his books anymore.
Another of my current favourite mystery writers is Ann Cleeves. The shot below is Cleeves on location, filming the TV series based on her Vera Stanhope books.
I love her character Vera Stanhope. If you’ve ever read any of Reginald Hill’s Daziel series, you’ll know what I mean when I say she is a female Daziel… overweight, incorrigible in some ways, totally NOT politically correct, and utterly determined to buck the system to get her job done. Cleeves’ books can be dark; they’re set in the stark (but beautiful) landscape of Northumberland, in north east England, afterall. And for sure Vera’s personal life beyond the job is, in typical mystery novel style, solitary and lonely, what with her sharing her remote childhood home with her dead father’s possessions. But I find the characters and the plots strangely heartening, evidence that there are good, albeit, flawed people in the world. And yes, I know it’s fiction…and that these characters don’t actually exist…still… it’d be nice if they did, eh?
If you do read Ann Cleeves, you might also want to try to find the TV series with Brenda Blethyn as Vera. We found the first two series on DVD at our public library and fell in love all over again with Cleeves’ creations. The photography is stunning, and Blethyn as Vera is wonderful…at least in my opinion. Blethyn’s Geordie accent was apparently a bit of a trial for some viewers. Apparently she studied up to get her “Tyneside” accent perfect.
This is a shot of Blethyn in 2013. She looks great, doesn’t she?
This is Blethyn as Vera (below) in 2011. I love that the character, Vera, is not prettied up for TV. As Blethyn herself says: “Vera’s no sex symbol which I find very refreshing.” Me too. And kudos to Blethyn for playing her that way.
Two other writers in the same vein as Hurley and Cleeves are Stuart Pawson and John Harvey.
Stuart Pawson’s main character Inspector Charlie Priest is one of my favourite detectives. He’s an art graduate who loves hill walking and one-liners and solving crimes. Pawson writing makes me feel like I’m in Yorkshire. Or back in Yorkshire…we visited in 2005 and loved it there. Pawson captures perfectly, I think, the feel of the Yorkshire countryside and the taciturn humour of the people.
John Harvey’s novels are set in Nottingham and feature his Polish detective Charlie Resnick. Like the other writers I’ve talked about here, Harvey creates complex characters that we care about. There is a new Resnick novel out this year that I have yet to read. Darkness, Darkness is, according to Harvey, his last detective novel. At 75 he thinks he will stop writing and do other things. I’m sad to see the end of the series but…. I can’t really blame him.
As I was searching for info on John Harvey today I read that the BBC made some of Harvey’s books into TV movies starring Tom Wilkinson as Resnick… way back in the 90’s! How did I not know about this?
Ah well… with no more Resnick books in the offing, Hubby and I can now look forward to watching the BBC series. The combination of Harvey’s writing and the acting of Tom Wilkinson is sure to be great.
It seems odd to be talking (and reading) about murder on such a lovely day. After waiting so long for spring … and whining so much about it on this blog…you’d think that I’d be out there…soaking up the heat and the sunshine.
But I’m stuck in the house with my nose in a book. Just like when I was a kid. Yep…. it was ever thus. Right Mum?
Maybe in the fall I’ll get back to reading more “literary” fiction. But for now…. I’m addicted to murder. And all the great writers out there who produce quality mystery novels.
What are you reading ?