Partners & Crime Mystery Booksellers in NYC’s West Village is closing next month after 18 years in business. When I shopped there during one of my trips to New York, a bookseller guided me toward selections I might enjoy, and I appreciated his knowledge and advice. I so hate to hear about these closings of independent bookstores for just that reason — we’re losing shopping access to knowledgable booksellers, let alone to stores rich with discovery of all kinds of books, not just the popular ones.
At least with Partners & Crime, we have “100 of the Best We’ve Ever Read”, a list of their recommendations the store’s partners, according to their website, have updated over the years. Last updated March 2010, as of this post, the list includes classics (books by Truman Capote, Raymond Chandler, Agatha Christie, Arthur Conan Doyle) and crime series selections (books by Charles Todd, Sue Grafton, Henning Mankell, Peter Robinson), as well as best-sellers (The Alienist by Caleb Carr and Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, which, I find interesting, has been translated to a stage production).
Turning to this list certainly can’t replace the joy of turning to the booksellers for one-on-one recommendations. Nevertheless, it’s a great resource to print for future reference. But how do you make a choice, when there’s 100 books and no one to talk to? You simply have to do your own research. I selected three and threw the proverbial dart. Then I checked them out. Here’s the result.
The Way Through the Woods by Colin Dexter
Published in 1993 and #10 of Dexter’s 13 Inspector Morse novels set in Oxford, England, this crime story centers on a cold case of a missing student. The case returns to the police blotter due to new clues sent in the form of poetry to The Times. The novel’s title is from a Rudyard Kipling poem. Kirkus Reviews wrote: “Honest detection, illicit sex, puns and anagrams galore, Morse’s trademark drinking and dour byplay with colleagues and suspects, plus a plot as agile as Dexter’s best — in short, everything you could possibly want in an English detective story. Bolt the door and enjoy.”
The Marx Sisters by Barry Maitland
The detectives on this crime case are Chief Inspector David Brock and his female colleague Sergeant Kathy Kolla. This is the first book in Maitland’s Brock and Kolla series set in London. In 1994, The Marx Sisters was shortlisted for the prestigious U.K. CWA (Crimes Writers Association) John Creasey Award for the best first crime novel. Publisher’s Weekly wrote: “Two Scotland Yard detectives investigate the murder of Karl Marx’s great-granddaughters (via an illegitimate son) and the theft of the unpublished manuscript of a fourth volume of Das Kapital, in this engrossing mystery from an Australian writer making his American debut.” Kirkus Reviews wrote: “A clever, flavorsome debut with a particularly deft knack of pulling the rug out from under you in between chapters, just when you think you’re safe.”
Miss Pym Disposes by Josephine Tey
A testament to the expertise behind the list, Josephine Tey is little-known and, according to this Guardian columnist, deserves to be rediscovered. Josephine Tey is a nom de plume for Elizabeth Mackintosh,who also wrote under the pen name Gordon Daviot. Her six Tey novels were written during the 1940s and ’50s. Here’s a plot summary from the back of the book:
“Miss Lucy Pym, a popular English psychologist, is guest lecturer at a physical training college. The year’s term is nearly over, and Miss Pym — inquisitive and observant — detects a furtiveness in the behavior of one student during a final exam. She prevents the girl from cheating by destroying her crib notes. But Miss Pym’s cover-up of one crime precipitates another — a fatal ‘accident’ that only her psychological theories can prove was really murder.”
Book critic Jonathan Yardley wrote about Elizabeth Mackintosh in The Washington Post, saying this about the Tey novels: “Each of the six seems as fresh today as it must have when it first appeared: elegantly written, populated with interesting and sometimes eccentric characters, witty but also laugh-out-loud funny, engaged with far deeper themes and ideas than one is accustomed to encounter in most mystery novels.”
According to Yardley, another Tey novel, The Daughter of Time, is “by far her best known.” It seeks truth about the crimes of England’s King Richard III. Not on the 100 list, but I’m thinking it’s one to inspect for future reading.