From a Raven's Shelf: October 2023
From a Raven's Shelf
October 2023 Edition
By Sarah Young
Can you believe it is October already? I’m still staring at the pile of “summer reading” and thinking, “Oh, I’ll get to that this summer. . . .” Ah, well. If we read all the books in our stack, what would we have to look forward to?
I took a trip down my reading memory lane this month when I decided to pull out a book I hadn’t read for years but was part of a series I loved. Through the last three decades of the twentieth century, Alexander Kent, which was the pseudonym of Douglas Reeman, wrote a series of naval adventure stories set during and after the American Revolutionary War. The main character, Captain Richard Bolitho is a British naval officer, whose career Kent follows from book to book as Bolitho rises in rank and station. When I first read the series many years ago, I began with Sloop of War, which is not the first novel, but is the moment in Bolitho’s career that he is given the command of his own ship, and this is the book I returned to recently. The harrowing and sometimes brutal life of an 18th-century British sailor is told without stint or evasion, but the novel is not overly gruesome. Kent’s command of the historical moment is detailed and nuanced as he follows the career of one man buffeted by political tides over which he has no control, while remaining an honorable and steadfast military officer. If you enjoyed the Horatio Hornblower novels, you would like these novels as well.
More in the mystery vein this month, I picked up Shakespeare’s Landlord by Charlaine Harris. Harris is a phenomenally successful writer with several well-written, best-selling books. You are probably familiar with Harris’s Sookie Stackhouse Southern Vampire books that begin with Dead Until Dark, adapted for television in the series True Blood. I prefer the Shakespeare’s Landlord series that features Lily Bard, a complicated but resourceful woman, who tries to escape the aftermath of violent trauma by settling in the small town of Shakespeare, Arkansas. She cleans houses, takes karate lessons, and minds her own business, sometimes spending sleepless nights walking through the dark streets of Shakespeare. On one of her midnight walks, she witnesses the disposal of a body, who turns out to be the unpleasant and disliked landlord of the apartment complex where she does many of her cleaning jobs. Despite her best efforts to remain uninvolved, she finds herself at the center of the investigation and suspicion. Charlaine Harris’s books always have a bit of an edge to them. They feature challenged characters who evolve through the series of books, and she does not pull punches too often or shy away from a little darkness.
A character many people say never evolves is Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum, and I just finished reading an advanced copy of her latest adventure, Dirty Thirty. Once again, Stephanie is on the trail of fugitives who have skipped out on their bail. With her sidekick Lula, Stephanie gets into all kinds of scrapes and mischief and loses at least one more car, forcing her back to “Big Blue,” the indestructible Buick. I was pleased that in this book, Evanovich heavily features one of my favorite characters: Morelli’s big yellow dog Bob. Stephanie is charged with Bob's care while Morelli is out of town, and he proves to be a worthy partner in crime-solving! I like Evanovich’s books for the same reasons most people do: they are funny, sexy, predictable, and fast. The charge at some level against the books is that Stephanie is still doing basically the same things in the same somewhat inept ways she was doing them thirty years ago when the first novels came out, but Evanovich has made a conscious and specific choice not to age her characters as the series goes along, and that is not an uncommon choice in the mystery genre. This book feels a little different, however. There are some significant alterations in Stephanie’s life that suggest change may be afoot.
An entirely different kind of novel is my staff pick for this month. The Vicar by A.J. Chambers is a slam-bang, heart-stopping thrill ride of a spy novel that will not let you rest until you have ignored everything else around you and gotten through to the final scene. Chambers clearly knows the world of which he writes, and this deep dive into the dark corners of the military and spy universe is complicated and simple at the same time: there are bad guys who do horrible things and good guys who do bad things to stop them. The hero is an off-the-books MI5 agent nicknamed “The Vicar” because he controls a network of “parishioners” or fellow spies in the United States. When, one by one, they are “burned,” he sets out to save his last remaining agent and discover what has gone wrong with the organization. Soon he finds himself deep in international intrigue, with an apparent mole in MI5 and dirty bombs threatening the United Kingdom. Clear the stage for the new spymaster novelist on the scene. We will be hearing more from Chambers, I suspect.
Speaking of spy novels, they feature rather heavily in TIME magazine’s recently published “100 Best Mystery and Thriller Books of All Time.” It’s quite an interesting exercise that offers an interesting “to be read” pile of its own. Such lists are never fully satisfactory because we can all think of books that are not included and usually wonder why in the world some titles made the cut. “Greatest” lists are like literature anthologies: they say as much about the times in which they are compiled as the books themselves. The way this list was created was rather interesting. In addition to TIME editors, seven writers of mystery thrillers were also included on the panel of judges. Megan Abbott, Harlan Coben, S.A. Cosby, Gillian Flynn, Tana French, Rachel Howzell Hall, and Sujata Massey joined the TIME editors in nominating and rating more than 250 books. The editors then evaluated the finalists “on key factors including plot payoff, suspense, ambition, originality, critical and popular reception, and influence on the mystery and thriller genre and literature more broadly.” The breadth of this criteria allows inclusion of novels that extend beyond a narrowly defined genre of “mystery” or even “thriller” and reminds one that great mysteries are simply great novels.
There are some expected entries in the list, which is ordered chronologically. The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins is often considered the first mystery novel and establishes some of the conventions of the genre. Then there are the obvious entries like The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie, The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett, A May Lay Dead by Ngaio Marsh, and The Crime at Black Dudley by Margery Allingham. Other classic mystery and thriller writers of the mid-twentieth century are also represented like Dorothy Sayers, John Dickinson Carr, Eric Ambler, Josephine Tey, James M. Cain, Raymond Chandler, and Ian Fleming. Then there are some classic novels as well, like Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca, Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment, Graham Greene’s The Quiet American, and Stephen King’s The Shining.
There is also an array of diverse contemporary authors and novels that will likely feature in many such lists to come. Books like S.A Cosby’s Blacktop Wasteland, Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s Mexican Gothic, David Heska Wanbli Weiden’s Winter Counts, and Robyn Gigl’s Survivor’s Guilt reveal that the mystery thriller is a thriving and expanding genre. Go to this list for some of your next best reads; it’s a very good place to start.
Happy reading to you all.
The year is 1778, the ship is the 18-gun HMS Sparrow, England's finest sloop of war, and the Captain is Richard Bolitho, sailing his command into the fury of battle.
Three novels in one! Sixteen-year-old Richard Bolitho joins the British Royal Navy as a young midshipman. Follow his adventures as he undergoes a severe initiation into the dangerous world of the great sailing warships! 1. Richard Bolitho: Midshipman 1772: a young Richard Bolitho joins the 74-gun Gorgon. Naive and untested, Bolitho must learn the ways of the navy quickly if he is to survive. 2.
This book cannot be returned. Make sure what you're ordering is exactly what you want.
From Charlaine Harris, the #1 New York Times and USA TODAY bestselling author behind HBO’s hit series True Blood and NBC’s Midnight, Texas, the first in a series of mysteries that hits as hard as its heroine…
Sink your teeth into the first novel in the #1 New York Times bestselling Sookie Stackhouse series—the books that gave life to the Dead and inspired the HBO® original series True Blood.
INSTANT #1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER
Janet Evanovich, the “most popular mystery writer alive” (The New York Times), is in top form as she sends Stephanie Plum on the trail of a stolen stash of dirty diamonds.
Stephanie Plum, Trenton’s hardest working, most underappreciated bounty hunter, is offered a freelance assignment that seems simpl
Inspired by the author's own experience, The Vicar introduces Terry Nolan, an MI5 operative who, when he discovers his cover is blown and millions of lives are at stake, will do whatever it takes to stop enemy forces.
The Woman in White famously opens with Walter Hartright's eerie encounter on a moonlit London road. Engaged as a drawing master to the beautiful Laura Fairlie, Walter is drawn into the sinister intrigues of Sir Percival Glyde and his "charming" friend Count Fosco, who has a taste for white mice, vanilla bonbons and poison.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's The Hound of the Baskervilles gripped readers when it was first serialised and has continued to hold its place in the popular imagination to this day. Could the sudden death of Sir Charles Baskerville have been caused by the gigantic ghostly hound that is said to have haunted his family for generations?
Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson face a mystery on the moors in this classic caper from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
“This is Agatha Christie’s masterpiece, and if she never wrote another word, she’d have still gone down as the Queen.” –LOUISE PENNY, #1 New York Times bestselling author
“Ingenious and unexpected.” –NEW YORK TIMES
ONE OF TIME MAGAZINE'S 100 BEST MYSTERY AND THRILLER BOOKS OF ALL TIME • A special edition of this coolly glittering gem of detective fiction that has haunted three generations of readers, from one of the greatest mystery writers of all time. Featuring an introduction by James Ellroy.
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Ngaio Marsh was one of the queens (she has been called the empress) of England's Golden Age of mystery fiction. And in true Golden Age fashion, her oeuvre opens with, yes, a country-house party between the two world wars - servants bustling, gin flowing, the gentlemen in dinner jackets, the ladies all slink and smolder.
George Abbershaw is set for a social weekend at Black Dudley manor, hosted by Wyatt Petrie and his elderly uncle Colonel Combe, who enjoys the company of Bright Young Things. With Meggie Oliphant in attendance, George looks forward to the chance of getting closer to the girl he's set his heart on.
The multi‑million‑copy bestseller that has enthralled generations of readers. A haunting tale of obsessive love. A mesmerizing psychological thriller.In Monte Carlo, our heroine is swept off her feet by the dashing widower Maxim de Winter and his sudden proposal of marriage. Orphaned and working as a lady’s maid, she can barely believe her luck.
Nominated as one of America’s best-loved novels by PBS’s The Great American Read
Graham Greene's classic exploration of love, innocence, and morality in Vietnam
#1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • ONE OF TIME MAGAZINE'S 100 BEST MYSTERY AND THRILLER BOOKS OF ALL TIME • Before Doctor Sleep, there was The Shining, a classic of modern American horror from the undisputed master, Stephen King.
A New York Times Notable Books of 2020
Like Ocean’s Eleven meets Drive, with a Southern noir twist, S. A. Cosby’s Blacktop Wasteland is a searing, operatic story of a man pushed to his limits by poverty, race, and his own former life of crime.
NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • “It’s Lovecraft meets the Brontës in Latin America, and after a slow-burn start Mexican Gothic gets seriously weird.”—The Guardian
ANTHONY AWARD WINNER FOR BEST FIRST NOVEL
THRILLER AWARD WINNER FOR BEST FIRST NOVEL
EDGAR AWARD NOMINEE FOR BEST FIRST NOVEL
“A groundbreaking series…razor-sharp, compulsively readable courtroom scenes.” —The New York Times Book Review
“Another barrier-breaking thriller from a voice missing too long from the mystery chorus.” —The Los Angeles Times Book Review