The Paradine Case by Robert Hichens. Hichens sustains tension and builds suspense throughout a long and complicated novel. And, whether he portrays villains or heroines, his characters are intriguing and moving, even if it’s only a family pet, like the little dachshund, ‘Sausage’. This book is worth reading for the protagonist’s passionate and painful internal dialogues alone, because though married he falls in love with a woman he is defending on a charge of murdering her husband. She did murder him. The judge in the case is as wicked as the defendant; in fact, the judge’s wife constantly prays for him because she realizes that he enjoys pronouncing the death sentence. Sadly, this minor masterpiece is out of print.
The Leavenworth Case by Anna Katherine Green. Green offers more than one true love story, a uniquely quirky yet credible police detective, tons of atmosphere (late 19th Century urban America), and false leads that carry a reader’s thoughts off in the wrong direction as you try to solve her engrossing puzzle. Agatha Christie admired Green, who was one of the first writers of detective fiction in America. I loved this book!
Latter End by Patricia Wentworth. Wentworth provides one of the most satisfying conclusions to a mystery ever – built on a turn-of-the-tables happenstance. Her remarkable sleuth, a former governess turned ‘private enquiry agent’, Maude Silver, works in concert with the police and amateurs to discover the killer of a beautiful woman who seems to have everything. Miss Silver – likeable, gracious, and shrewd – is invited by the amateurs to enter the household where the poisoning occurred, discover the murderer, and so save the husband who is unjustly accused. There, she gains the confidence of almost everyone, silently and closely observing them while – a bit like Miss Marple – she seems simply to be knitting. Miss Silver comes at last to envision then demonstrate how the terrible tables were turned and the woman, who planned to murder her husband, drank the poisoned coffee she made for him. For me this turnabout illustrates a wonderful verse from Psalms: “They dug a pit before me; They themselves have fallen into the midst of it.” (57:6b, NKJV) I admire this book and want to reread it (again).
Curtain by Agatha Christie. Christie’s handling of serial murder reveals her grasp of human nature and our capacity for evil. Her novel is thought-provoking, fascinating, and troubling. The story: Once again, there is a murderer on the loose at Styles. Styles is now a kind of resort and the guests have the perfect murderer moving among them, an ‘Iago’ who constantly influences others to see murder as a solution to their problems. Hercule Poirot prevents one such murder – he keeps Captain Hastings from poisoning a rogue he suspects of trying to seduce his daughter. But Hastings unintentionally and unknowingly murders someone else (a woman planning to murder her husband) with a literal turn-of-the-tables. Poirot then murders the scheming ‘Iago’ (the seemingly inept but clever Norton), believing that if he doesn’t murder him, Norton will continue to murder vicariously and never be brought to justice. Then, Poirot murders himself by setting his heart medicine aside and praying that God will be merciful to him for his murders. Tragic and compelling! Captain Hastings and most of the guests survive this mess. Love appears on the horizon again for the widower Hastings, and he has a minor triumph as he and his daughter grow a little closer. This book continues to make me uneasy. More than once in her novels, Christie has someone take the law into their own hands. (For example, in the next mystery.)
Crooked House by Agatha Christie. Here, Christie deals extremely well with the horrific subject of a child murderer (not for the first time). She deftly uses mystery tropes, such as, a missing will and a diary; and her unforgettable cast of characters keep the reader amazed and involved. I believe this book could have, and should have, ended differently.
Gaudy Night by Dorothy L. Sayers. As others have said, a setting can be like a character in itself. Just so with this novel’s setting. Its imaginary women’s college at Oxford University seems very real. I admire Gaudy Night for many more reasons, such as, Sayers’ portrayal of characters from a variety of social backgrounds. Yet, pre-eminently, for me it is a love story, a match made in Heaven, between the witty Lord Peter Wimsey and the wayward daughter of a clergyman, Harriet Vane, whom Wimsey saved from execution for someone else’s crime in Strong Poison. I enjoyed this book and the adaptation with Harriet Walter and Edward Petherbridge.
Busman’s Honeyman by Dorothy L. Sayers. This mystery ranks high in telling the truth about murder. Murder is vicious, and murderers can die unrepentant. I loved this novel as the conclusion to Lord Peter and Harriet’s romance; and, for Sayers’ portrayal of Harriet comforting Peter when he agonizes over solving a crime and thus being the means of bringing an unrepentant murderer to the gallows.
Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. Dostoyevsky made me love both his detective and his criminal. He shows great insight into human depravity and the need for and reality of Christ’s Redemption of us. Dostoyevsky is a master of characterization, and I love every novel by him that I have read.