Agatha Christie and Co.

I did some reader’s advisory at the library recently for a patron who was looking for something like Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple mysteries, so I thought I would share it here, especially since I’ve been on an Agatha Christie kick lately. I’ve been trying to figure out what I have read and what I haven’t, which involves reading a lot of Agatha Christies, sometimes unknowingly (at first) for the second time.

The patron was looking for something set in an English village (she really enjoyed books set in England – setting was very important); a cozy mystery, not graphic or racy; something light in tone, humourous. She mentioned the Miss Marple mysteries by Agatha Christie specifically. I did some research and this is what I came up with. They are all set in rural England and English villages. They are such blood-thirsty places! I haven’t read many of these authors, but I think I might give them a try.

  • Ann Granger – Writes several series, two of which are set in rural England, the Mitchell and Markby series (first title: Say It With Poison) and the Campbell and Carter series, set in the Cotswolds (first title: Mud, Muck, and Dead Things).
  • Hazel Holt – Her sleuth is the Mrs. Shelia Malory, a reluctant amateur sleuth. (First title: Mrs. Malory Investigates).
  • Robert Barnard – Series features Detective Charlie Peace in West Yorkshire. (First title: Death and the Chaste Apprentice).
  • Catherine Aird – Writes a series set in rural England featuring C. D. Sloan, who finds himself investigating crimes among interesting groups. (First title: The Religious Body).
  • M. C. Beaton – Writes two series, one set in the Cotswolds featuring Agatha Raisin (first title: The Quiche of Death), and the other set in Scotland, with Hamish MacBeth (first title: Death of a Gossip).
  • Caroline Graham – Her mysteries follow C. I. Barnaby (first title: The Killings at Badger’s Drift).
  • Charles Hampton/Hamilton Crane/Heron Carvic – All three authors contributed to the series about Miss Seeton, a retired art teacher, who is a bit like Miss Marple. (First title: Picture Miss Seeton).
  • G. M. Galliet – Her mysteries feature Max Tudor, who thought he left crime behind in the city but finds that is not the case (first title: Wicked Autumn).
  • John Sherwood – Write the Celia Grant series. Celia is a horticulturalist. (First title: Green Thumb Trigger.)
  • Nancy Atherton – Her Aunt Dimity series is little more on the kooky side. One of the detectives, Aunt Dimity, is a ghost. (First title: Aunt Dimity’s Death).

I haven’t provided a tonne of information but hopefully it’s enough for people to find books and give them a try. You can glean some information from the descriptions though. Is the title humourous? Is it serious? What type of detective is it – amateur or police? Is the detectives name quirky or down-to-earth? All these things give us little clues to the author’s intentions. We could categorize books according to detective:

Police – Campbell and Carter (Granger), Charlie Peace (Barnard), Sloan (Aird), Hamish MacBeth (Beaton) and Barnaby (Graham).

Amateurs – Shelia Malory (Holt), Agatha Raisin (Beaton), Miss Seeton (Carvic, etc.), Celia Grant (Sherwood), and Aunt Dimity (Atherton).

Professional/Amateur mix – Mitchell and Markby (Granger) and Max Tudor (retired MI5).

I have to say, when it comes to names, I like Granger’s use of alliteration but I still think Hamish MacBeth is the best name, followed closely by Aunt DImity.

Anyway, some cozy-ish mysteries to consider!


A Doorway into Books

I’m stepping down off the shelf – sort of – for this post. Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about how people choose their leisure reading. What are they looking for in a book? What defines a “good book” for them? What makes you pick it up off the shelf and give it chance? What draws you in and keeps you reading it through to the end?

In my reader’s advisory class, we have been discussing appeal factors. There are a lot of different terms out there for thinking about appeal, so it can get confusing. One way to think about it is the author’s storytelling style. Where is the author’s strength or focus: is it characters, story (plot), setting, or language? These are Nancy Pearl’s four doorways into a book. Certain books may emphasize one aspect over the others and certain aspects appeal to certain people more than others. She describes her idea in this article.

Joyce Saricks, another experienced reader’s advisor, describes appeal factors differently. (Learn more about her here.) For her they are: pacing, characterization, story line, and frame. But really, Pearl and Saricks are talking about the same thing. Pacing depends on the style of writing and the density of the language; characterization and story line clearly align with character and story; and frame takes into account setting, mood, atmosphere, and context. Of course, there are other important factors in our reading: our mood and life situations are one. But, we tend to gravitate to a certain kind of storytelling.

My reader’s advisory teacher said if we write down 3 books we really liked, we will probably start to see a pattern. We will be able to see which appeal factor, doorway, or storytelling style we go for. Likewise, if we write down books we really disliked, we can understand what turns us off. This will also probably speak to what appeals to us. Sure enough, I’m seeing a pattern.

I think I’m a character girl. The 3 books that I really liked all have many characters and complex characters, interweaving stories, sympathetic central characters. The 3 books I disliked all have characters I did not like, could not stand. Now, there is a hefty helping of story involved as well, and language and setting are important to me too, so it’s hard for me to outright declare myself for character, but I can’t really deny the evidence in front of me either.

Understanding what appeals to you a reader, not just author, genre, or subject matter, really improves the chances of experiencing a good read. It also helps you with the first step which can be very tricky – selection. So let’s explore our reading to understand what kind of readers we are.

Here is another challenge. Right down your top 5 reads; and be honest – you don’t have to look like the reader only of the best to yourself. When you think about these books, what doorway opens up?