I think I started to really like to read in 3rd grade. I vividly recall sitting behind the juniper bushes in our front yard with my best friend reading Nancy Drew books. I’m not sure why we felt compelled to hide in the bushes to read. Certainly our parents would have been delighted to see us enjoying books. My suspicion is we were hiding out from my sister who is four years younger than I and, as a child, felt she was put on earth for the express purpose of annoying me. She almost never annoys me now.
But boy oh boy, did I love Nancy Drew. Everything about her was thrilling to me. I loved her titian hair (though I’m sure I had no idea what color “titian” was since I don’t even know today). I loved her boyfriend Ned, with whom she had an entirely chaste relationship. It intrigued me that she had no mother, and it delighted me that she drove a spiffy roadster. Plus, she solved all of those mysteries.
While I haven’t looked at a Nancy Drew novel in quite some time, I can tell you that I still love nothing more than a great mystery novel. And it’s even better when that novel is part of a series. I love watching characters develop and seeing how their lives play out as book after book is written and read.
Here are a few of my favorite mystery series (in no particular order):
1. Matthew Scudder novels by Lawrence Block
Scudder is a private investigator who lives in New York City. He is a recovering alcoholic, though in the first five or six books in the series, he is a full-fledged drunk. The author’s description of Scudder’s drinking is vivid and realistic and not a bit romantic. It is interesting to watch Scudder reach bottom, and work his way back up. Through it all, he solves murder mysteries. He is a dark and deeply mysterious person, very honest and interesting. One of the things I like best about the novels is Block’s description of New York City, which almost becomes a character in and of itself.
2. Joe Pickett novels by C.J. Box
Pickett is a forest ranger who lives in Wyoming. He is constantly in trouble with his supervisors because he gets involved in murder mysteries (and solves them, of course). Like the Scudder novels, Box does a great job in using the location as part of the story, and the sense of place is strong. Pickett has a very interesting friend, Nate Romanowski, who is often on the other side of the law, but is at his core very honest and decent. Kind of a theme in many mystery series. I like Joe Pickett because he is not a perfect character. He is a terrible shot, for example. His family is sort of dysfunctional. He and his wife don’t always get along. Box is a very good writer. He has other books as well, all of which are equally good, but I like Joe Pickett.
3. Stephanie Plum novels by Janet Evanovich
Love them, love them, love them. Evanovich is about the funniest writer I know. The Stephanie Plum novels are one of the few that I actually enjoy listening to on CD more than reading them because the narrator (Lorelei King) does a great job of portraying the quirky characters. The story lines are secondary. The dialogue is hilarious and the characters are absolutely wonderful.
4. Hercule Poirot novels by Agatha Christie
I have loved Hercule Poirot since grade school. I love Miss Marple too, but there is something about this little prissy Belgian detective that I just find totally and completely endearing. I have read that Agatha Christie grew weary and annoyed by Poirot by time she finished the series, and I guess I can understand that to a certain extent. Still, I love his fastidiousness and the use of his “little grey cells” to solve the mystery. I must admit, I can count on one hand the number of times I figured out the murderer before the end of the book, and then it was really only a guess. Love David Suchet’s characterization of Poirot in the A&E movies as well.
5. Maggie Hope novels by Susan Elia MacNeal
The Maggie Hope novels are a new series, and it has been fun to watch the author improve and the characters develop. The three novels take place during World War II, and Maggie is an American expat living in Great Britain. More importantly, she is a spy. The stories are interesting, and it is a challenge to try and figure out who are the good guys because they could actually be a double agent. You never know. The fictional characters mix with real-life characters such as Winston Churchill and then-Princess Elizabeth. Very fun reading.
I will tell you more of my favorite series at a later date.