Tuesday, August 3, 2021

Veronica Bond

Death in Castle Dark is Veronica Bond's first mystery in the Murder and a Mystery series; as Julia Buckley she writes several series for Berkley Prime Crime, including the best-selling Writer's Apprentice Series.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
This summer I have immersed myself in audiobooks, and though I love many of the mysteries written by men, I focused on female writers of the British Isles: specifically Elly Griffiths, Tana French, Denise Mina, and J.K. Rowling/Robert Galbraith. (Also Elizabeth George, though only her protagonist is English). I have plowed through the series of each writer, enjoying the threads that tie the various novels together.

Elly Griffiths won me over long ago with The Crossing Places, an atmospheric mystery set in the Salt Marshes on the English Coast. Griffiths makes great use of her setting while writing about the solitary Ruth Galloway, an archeologist called in by police to determine whether a body is the result of a modern murder or the displacement of ancient bones. Griffiths' recurring themes are the mystery of time, the notion of God and how people perceive, or disbelieve, in the existence of a higher power. One of Ruth's best friends is a Druid, while the police inspector she works with is a Catholic, and Ruth herself is an atheist. The mystery is compelling and beautifully written, and I have caught up with the series up to the latest book, The Night Hawks. I highly recommend that people read them in order.

Denise Mina writes the wonderful Alex Morrow police procedurals, which explore the gritty crime world of Scotland. Alex Morrow is tough and brave, yet vulnerable in unexpected ways. She is a hero worth rooting for, and I have done so through five books now, starting with Still Midnight. I also highly recommend Mina's novel Conviction, a standalone that is alternately horrifying and hilarious, thanks to the unforgettable narrator, a woman who begins by telling us that she has a past which has caught up with her.

Tana French was a late find for me, despite her popularity. Her writing is undeniably compelling and intelligent, as I found when I began with The Wych Elm and later with In the Woods. French draws readers in with a strong first-person narrator; in her Dublin Murder Squad series, this narrator changes from book to book. Each narrator has some compelling thing that drives him or her; in In the Woods, the detective who tells the story was himself a victim of a terrible crime that happened in his childhood; it resulted in the disappearance of two of his friends, and he has driven the trauma from his memory. The specter of this old mystery looms over his investigation of a new murder that brings him back to the place where his childhood terror occurred. French is brilliant with twists and cliffhangers and I anxiously await her next title.

I didn't expect to like the Richard Galbraith books, I'm not sure why, so I was pleasantly surprised to find that I loved them. The character of Cormoran Strike, the one-legged private detective (formerly a military policeman) is quirky, loveable, and admirable despite his many bad habits. In the first book he meets a young woman sent by the temp agency. He can't afford her in his one-man operation, but he promises to pay for a week. The woman, Robin Ellicott, soon becomes indispensable to Strike, and the two make a wonderful and often funny duo. The murders are grisly, the motives dark, but Strike and Robin keep the books from unrelenting grimness with their ever-evolving relationship. I plowed through all five books in short order, starting with The Cuckoo's Calling.

I was also delighted by the books of Jane Casey, specifically the Maeve Kerrigan mysteries. Casey's protagonist is tough and ambitious, and though she is only "PC Kerrigan," she has been selected for an investigative team by a man she admires and she hopes to make a good impression in the first novel, The Burning. What I have come to love most about these gritty mysteries is the unexpected moments of humor, which come from the relationship between Maeve and her insufferable superior, DCI Josh Derwent.

Finally, when I ran out of books in those fine series, I decided to return to the Elizabeth George books I had read in the 90s. They hold up nicely thirty years later, still compelling and impeccably written. George delves into the details with a poetic gift for description, and her contrast of the sophisticated, Eton-educated Inspector Thomas Lynley with the working class, highly sensitive but smart as a whip Sergeant Barbara Havers is a brilliant pairing, one that becomes richer with time, and which often provides wonderful moments of humor in the novels. George is not tied to happy endings, but her themes are powerful and remain with the reader after the books are closed.
Visit Julia Buckley's website and follow Veronica Bond on Facebook.

Q&A with Julia Buckley.

--Marshal Zeringue