Mysteries are perfect for reading on the chaise lounge outdoors, but you can’t read outdoors without the right equipment. Cover yourself with bug spray, wear a hat, pour a big glass of iced tea, and then choose a mystery and lounge. If it’s humid and 90 degrees, you might enjoy John D. Macdonald’s Travis McGee mysteries, set in sultry Florida. Then again, for an escape to California, I recommend Stuart Palmer’s The Puzzle of the Happy Hooligan, a novel in the Miss Withers series (which I wrote about here).
The great thing about mysteries is that you can pretend to be a lofty intellectual even as you race through one of Agatha Christie’s Tommy and Tuppence books. That’s how respectable the genre is! A few years ago Julian Barnes highly praised the Penguin translations of Simenon’s Inspector Maigret series in the TLS. I personally find Simenon’s minimalist books interchangeable, but they are delightfully entertaining and blessedly short.
If you are a fan of witty cozies with vivid characters, Patricia Moyes’s Inspector Henry Tibbett series has stood the test of time. I loved Murder à la Mode, set in the 1960s at a London fashion magazine. Moyes used to work for Vogue, so she knows fashion and magazines. When somebody puts arsenic in the assistant editor Helen’s tea, Inspector Henry Tibbett investigates–and it helps that his niece has been interning there.
I am an aficionado of the Dutch writer Janwillem van de Wetering, a police officer and Zen Buddhist monk who turned to writing police procedurals. In Tumbleweed, the second in his Amsterdam Cops series, Detective-Adjutant Gripstra, a middle-aged, overweight officer who plays the drums, and Sergeant de Gier, his handsome young partner, investigate the murder of a prostitute who practiced black magic.
Syndicate Books has reissued Margaret Millar’s classic crime fiction in omnibus editions. My favorite is Do Evil in Return (1950), an eerie exploration of the consequences of illegal abortion. The twist is that a young woman dies, not from an illegal abortion but because it is illegal: she cannot find a doctor to perform one. You can read this addictive novel in Collected Millar: Dawn of Domestic Suspense.
I was utterly engrossed by Vera Caspary’s Laura,a brilliant 1944 crime classic reissued in Women Crime Writers: Four Suspense Novels of the 1940 (Library of America). This stunning mystery has many angles: it’s like being in a hall of mirrors. Told from three different points-of-view, this is a psychological novel about the murder of a successful advertising executive whom everybody liked. In 1944 Laura was adapted as a popular Otto Preminger film with Gene Tierney.
You can’t go wrong with Dorothy L. Sayers’s Lord Peter Wimsey series. I especially like Have His Carcase, in which Lord Peter Wimsey, an amateur sleuth, and Harriet Vane, a mystery writer, collaborate on solving the murder of a ballroom dancer. Harriet finds the body on the beach, but by the time the police get there it has been washed out to sea. How do you solve a murder without a body?
What are your favorite mysteries?