It’s a mystery! Wait, it’s a whole herd of mysteries!

It’s a mystery why I’ve been in the mood to read mysteries lately. Here are some of the titles that stand above the rest of the herd.

The Poisoned Chocolates Case by Anthony Berkeley  

This mystery, penned in 1929, employs a classic premise: members of an amateur sleuthing club attempt to solve a murder mystery. Ah, but there is a twist that sets this story apart. The club meets every day for a week with a single member presenting his or her solution to the murder case each day. After exhibiting wholly convincing evidence and unassailable deductions, each solution is then demolished by other club members who have information unknown to the presenter. In reality, Mr. Berkeley is giving the reader a tutorial in the art of misdirection, demonstrating how mystery writers lead their audiences to believe certain assertions and ignore salient points by employing a fine coating of verbal sleight-of-hand. He presents us with a wholly enjoyable story which is ultimately a primer in mystery writing.

The Black Dove by Steve Hockensmith

Set mostly in the Chinatown of 1893 San Francisco, this mystery finds brothers Gustav and Otto Amlingmeyer, former cowboys but current private eye wannabes, in the midst of murder and mayhem. Between the police, thugs, Chinese tongs and a hard spot, the detective duo struggles to find a friend’s murderer, save a young woman from a seedy and immoral life, and stay alive. Hockensmith’s prose – this series of books is narrated by brother Otto in his inimitable speech patterns – and evocation of late 19th century San Francisco make for a fun and thoughtful read.

The Red House Mystery by A.A. Milne

Who knew that the progenitor of Winnie the Pooh had a great mystery, in addition to a plucky Piglet, in his fertile mind? In the charming foreword to this book, Milne expounds on the elements that make up a good mystery. Then he writes that mystery. The reader is transported to a typically English setting where Mark Ablett, master of the Red House, an elegant country manor, has disappeared and is presumed to be either murdered or a murderer. A passing stranger arrives just as gun shots ring out from inside the manor. The stranger, who has come to visit a friend staying at the Red House, decides to put his exceptional observational powers to the ultimate test of finding a murderer, with a little help from his Watsonian friend.

 The Big Over Easy by Jasper Fforde

In a world where nursery rhymes are real events, Inspector Jack Spratt of the Reading Police Nursery Crime Division is called upon to solve the apparent murder of Humpty Stuyvesant Van Dumpty III. Spratt faces the difficulties of being overshadowed by golden-boy detective Friedland Chymes (who writes exquisite tales that exhibit his unparalleled crime-solving abilities), of working in an under-funded soon-to-be-shutdown department, and of having a new partner (Mary Mary) who is none too happy to be working with him.  Amongst the difficulties, sinister goings-on, and spine-curling plot twists, Pratt must overcome adversity and catch his … man?

 American Lightning: Terror, Mystery, and the Birth of Hollywood by Howard Blum

This true story relates a tragic tale of terrorism on American soil: the 1910 bombing of the Los Angeles Times building, which resulted in 21 deaths. Detective William J. Burns, America’s non-fictitious answer to Sherlock Holmes, is called in to unearth the truth. By employing a series of fascinating sleuthing techniques Burns slowly unravels threads of truth that bring him ever-closer to the mystery’s solution. Clarence Darrow and D.W. Griffith, two larger-than-life historical giants, contribute significantly to the story’s outcome.

Full Dark House by Christopher Fowler

London’s Peculiar Crimes Unit, a police division that investigates bizarre crimes no one else wants to touch, is run by two elderly and brilliant detectives, Arthur Bryant and John May. In Full Dark House, the author creates an intriguing juxtaposition between the end of this odd couple’s partnership and the beginning of their career together. As May looks into Bryant’s death it becomes clear that their first case, solved some fifty years earlier, is somehow related to the current investigation. A Gothic phantom-of-the-opera-esque mood prevails as May attempts to make sense out of a senseless situation.

Ron

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