Yesterday I wondered if my preference for UK mystery writers stemmed from an early taste for the mysteries of Enid Blyton. The same year I discovered Blyton and the Famous Five etc. I also read a book in the Narnia Chronicles. I was hooked. Completely hooked. I didn’t get the whole set at once — I was given one book at a time, in no particular order that I can remember. The first book I read in the Narnia series was The Horse and His Boy. I loved it. It is still my favourite of the Narnia books. (Here my friends the Playwright and the Norwegian would insert their horror at this being my favourite and all the ways this is a politically incorrect selection.) I read the copy I got when I was seven until it was in tatters. I searched for a new copy with the same blue cover, but sadly had to settle for a newer cover with a different picture on the front.
My second favourite in the Narnia series is The Silver Chair. (Insert more distaste from the Norwegian who prefers The Dawn Treader.) That one also fell apart and the newer copy is from the same set as my newer copy of The Horse and His Boy. One reason I dislike the trendier covers is the numbers are incorrect. I read the books in publication order, not in Narnia-chronology order. I feel that reading The Magician’s Nephew first violates the writing process somehow. That book is clearly a prequel, written after The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe – and the references to the Narnian world in The Magician’s Nephew are made with the earlier-written book in mind. I realize that C.S. Lewis approved the Narnia-chronology order in his letters to his readers, but I still prefer publication order.
One reason I loved the Narnia books was – and is – the imaginary world that Lewis created. I loved the details including the maps and the fantastic illustrations by Pauline Baynes. This was escapist reading of a new kind — I got to go to a completely different world! Yup, I’m still hooked on fantasy. But more of that tomorrow.
In the spot-the-trend category you may have noticed that all the mystery writers I’ve talked about in the last week and a half have been British. I don’t read mysteries from the UK exclusively, but I do tend to favour them over mysteries from the USA. I’m not sure why this is so. As I write this blog post, perhaps the half-formed (half-baked?) theory living in my head regarding this preference will become clearer.
The first possible contributing factor to my British preference is the fact that I lived and went to school in Greater London for almost a year when I was 7 (I turned 8 about a month before we came home to Canada). This was a formative year in my reading life, as it is for many children. I was just nicely into the read-anything-you-can-find stage, and what I found were mystery stories by Enid Blyton. It is possible that my current reading habits are influenced by nostalgia for the Famous Five, or the Secret Seven, or (best of all in my view) the Adventure series.
I do read some USAian mystery writers, but none of them so far have rated either collecting or re-reading. I usually take them out of the library, or borrow them from someone, or buy them second hand and dispose of them the same way. I’ve read Mary Higgins Clark, Patricia Cornwell, Kathy Reichs, Linda Farstein, Sue Grafton & Jane Haddam to name a few. Most of these books were all right, but I didn’t exactly run out and get everything by the author. In a couple of cases I made a clear decision never to read anything by the author again. On a more positive note, I recently read through all the Judge Deborah Knott books by Margaret Maron; they were very enjoyable. Maron I might even collect if her books were readily available in Canada. Fortunately the library has them. I think one thing that Maron does (that the others listed do not do) is create and sustain an interesting character who changes and develops through the series. I like this in an author whether from the US or the UK
One other thing I’ve realized is that I quite like police procedurals as a sub-set of the mystery genre, but I haven’t encountered many USAian mysteries of this type. I am possibly not looking in the right places. UK mystery writers seem to crank out police procedurals with abandon, and I’ve had no trouble finding them at all. In fact one USAian writer, Elizabeth George, who DOES write a mean police procedural sets her stories in the UK! Does the US system of policing not lend itself to detective stories? There seem to be a lot of TV police mystery series set in various US cities, why not books? Perhaps I’ve just not been looking in the right places or at the right authors.
Finally, I think there is a difference in tone between UK and US writers. The books have different accents. It is hard to describe the difference, but you can hear it. I like the sound of the (writing) accents that come from the UK.