This is Mystery Series Week, and if you have ever been in our book aisle, then you know we have an affinity for mysteries. We know it can be daunting to pick up a new series, but the reward is huge. Is there anything more fun than sitting down with a cup of tea and getting fully absorbed in a great mystery? The answer is no. The best thing about a great series is that you get to know the characters, particularly the detectives, getting familiar with their little quirks, styles of sleuthing and, of course, their strange friends. Use this week as an excuse to start a new obsession, and here are some handy lists to get you started, featuring three of our favorite mystery authors: Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers, and Alexander McCall Smith. The best thing to do is pick one and jump right in!
This is the cornerstone in the world of mystery series. Dame Agatha Christie is the world’s best-selling author, according to Guinness Book of World Records. She is most famous for her detective Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple. We carry most of her books, and there are tons of them, which can make it difficult to figure out where to start. Most people are familiar with Agatha Christie through her film and TV adaptations. This is actually a pretty good guide, because her best books translated into the most popular adaptations. You don’t have to read her books in any particular order, so where to start is completely up to you, but there are some books that will get you hooked faster than other ones.This list should help you get started with the Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple mysteries, both of which are highly recommended.
Probably Agatha Christie’s most well-known detective, and second only to Sherlock Holmes as the most famous ficitonal detective of all time. Hercule Poirot is known for his “little grey cells” and using “order and method” to solve mysteries, as well as gathering all his suspects together at the end of the book to reveal who the murderer is. Poirot’s mysteries are the most popular adaptations, so they make a good jumping-off point for Agatha Christie novices.
There is a bit of a debate here whether to start with Death on the Nile or Murder on the Orient Express, but either one is sure to get you hooked. By the time you finish those you are sure to be thirsting for more Poirot, and I would continue with The Mysterious Affair at Styles, Murder in Mesopotamia, An Appointment with Death, and Peril at End House. By the time you finish these you will be a Poirot expert and can then branch out to any of his numerous novels, and there are 33 in all so you should have plenty to choose from.
Based on Agatha Christie’s grandmother and her cronies, Miss Marple is an elderly amateur detective in the village of St. Mary Mead. She solves crimes with shrewd intelligence, keen insight, and a tendency to be underestimated. Miss Marple is a real treat to read. I also find that you can solve the mysteries if you pay attention. Everything falls right into place, and you feel like a bit of a detective yourself, sleuthing out the murderer using the evidence presented in the course of the book.
Although Murder at the Vicarage is the first Miss Marple novel, her character wasn’t fully developed, and she isn’t the sweet, clever old lady that she is for most of her books. I would start with A Murder is Announced, and follow up with The Body in the Library. From there you should read The Moving Finger, A Pocket Full of Rye, A Caribbean Mystery, and 4:50 from Paddington. Miss Marple appears in 12 novels in all, but they are all among Agatha Christie’s best-loved books, and if you like Miss Marple then you should read them all.
Dorothy Sayers is most famous for her aristocratic amateur sleuth Lord Peter Wimsey, and he is a bit of an obsession for us here at KU. He is everything we strive to be. He collects first editions, (me too, and because of him) has an extensive knowledge of fine wines, (I’m working on it, mainly by drinking lots) and other culinary matters, played world class cricket for Oxford, (why I watch cricket) and he has a superlative manservant, Bunter (still looking for my manservant, so if anyone out there lives to serve, call me). And Lord P. isn’t a Nancy Boy, in fact he is kind of a bad-ass, albeit a smarty-pants one. Best of all, he has the most attractive (to me) of traits, a wry and self-deprecating sense of humor.
I would recommend reading Dorothy Sayers’ books in order. You don’t have to, but there some character progression that is a bit more enjoyable when read chronologically. However, there are some novels that I recommend more than others, so if you feel like jumping around then I would encourage that. The first book is Whose Body?, which I would start with, even if you aren’t reading them all in order. The two best books are Murder Must Advertise, and Strong Poison (which introduces Lord Peter’s detective foil and love interest, Harriet Vane), which are among the most beloved mysteries stories of all time. Then I would move on to Gaudy Night, Have His Carcase, and Busman’s Honeymoon. There are 16 Lord Peter Wimsey books in all, so if he and Harriet Vane pique your interest, then you have plenty of reading to do.
Alexander McCall Smith has several mystery series, but he is best known for his series concerning Mma Precious Ramotswe and the rest of the crew at The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency in Botswana. This a charming series, with a large cast of characters whom you get to know fairly well over the course of the series. His second most popular series is the 44 Scotland Street series, about a boarding house in Edinburgh and the personal drama of its residents. Both come highly recommended by us here at KU.
The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency:
You may be familiar with these books through HBO’s television adaptations, but I highly recommend reading them if you are a fan. These books are episodic, and can be read chronologically or here and there. Either way you choose to read them, I would start with the first book, The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency, just so you get a sense of background. Then you can work your way through the 13 other books in the series. My favorite is the first book, but I loved all of them, especially In the Company of Cheerful Ladies, which is the sixth book.
44 Scotland Street:
44 Scotland Street is a boarding house in a part of Edinburgh where the bourgeoisie and the bohemian mix. As you can imagine, this is a perfect setting for all kinds of humor and trouble, which is precisely where Alexander McCall Smith is at his best. Again, these books are episodic and can be read in any order you like, but I would recommend starting with the first book, 44 Scotland Street, and continuing from there. There are 8 books in all, and they are all delightful.