By Donna Fletcher Crow ~ February 15, 2012
2011 was a great year for the mystery novel, as authors young and old stepped up their game to produce some of the most nuanced and exhilarating works of the genre. While popular U.S. mystery authors like Janet Evanovich and Susan Grafton boast huge sales of their latest novels, lesser known authors published new works that challenged conventions of the genre. Louise Penny’s psychological thriller A Trick of the Light and Rosamund Lupton’s family-twist on the detective story in Sister are two entries that continue to keep mystery fiction continually fresh and exciting.
English authors produced equally suspenseful and outstanding mystery fiction in 2011, if perhaps to less coverage in the U.S. Two works in particular stood head and shoulders other mystery novels I read last year, and I can’t stop recommending them to any who’ll listen. Check out my brief preview of these two books below.
Death Comes to Pemberley
P.D. James definitely takes a risk with her newest mystery, Death Comes to Pemberley, a successful effort that blends period fiction with murder mystery and, improbably, a continuation of the storyline begun in Pride and Prejudice. Yes, I mean Jane Austen’s classic Pride and Prejudice. P.D. James’s story takes place several years after the events of the classic novel, at the residence of the infamous Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet. The focus of the novel hinges on the improbable murder of a famous character from Pride and Prejudice, in an intriguing tale that proved to be much more of an absorbing page-turner than I had anticipated.
P.D. James effortlessly continues Austen’s meditation on the class differences and silly culture of manners that comprise the Victorian gentry. It’s quite an ambitious task for an author to continue writing about the characters of an English classic, particularly when the story revolves around murder and deceit, but James pulls off the task flawlessly. I highly recommend Death Comes to Pemberley for lovers of suspense fiction and Austen fans alike.
A Lesson in Secrets (A Maisie Dobbs Novel)
Jacqueline Winspear continues her well-received Maisie Dobbs detective series with the electrifying entry, A Lesson in Secrets. In it, the always methodical and sharp witted Maisie Dobbs navigates the nuances corrupt underbelly of a Cambridge university while, among other things, getting accustomed to her new(ish) romantic relationship. As you’d expect from a Jacqueline Winspear story, this book perfectly marries suspense, thoughtful character development and thorough historical research to this unique (and highly volatile) period in British history.
As you may know, part of the novelty of the series lies in its historical context, set between the two World Wars that so heavily affected British culture. The timely setting of A Lesson in Secrets plays into the plot, which involves Maisie’s interaction with covert and overt members of the newly growing Nazi party, whose machinations are at least part of the “secrets” referenced in the title. She also must grapple with revelations about the British involvement in the first World War and in turn work to prevent their repercussions from affecting her investigations on the university campus. A delightful and quick read, Jacqueline Winspear’s new novel is a perfect addition to the ongoing detective narrative in English mystery fiction.
This is a guest post by Jane Smith from background check. She is a Houston based freelance writer and blogger. Questions and comments can be sent to: janesmth161 @ gmail.com
Donna Fletcher Crow, Novelist of British History, has written more than 50 books specializing in British Christianity. These books include: The Monastery Murders, clerical mysteries; Lord Danvers Investigates, Victorian true-crime; The Elizabeth and Richard series, literary suspense; and Glastonbury, The Novel of Christian England. She loves research and sharing you-are-there experiences with her readers.
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