Monday, 18 March 2013


Mayhem Parva was the term coined by mystery writer Colin Watson in his sociological analysis of those English villages where murder is rife - like St Mary Mead.
I spent a happy half hour yesterday afternoon pottering through Murder in the Library: An A-Z of Crime Fiction, a small but very engaging exhibition at the British Library. (It's very small so although it's well worth a detour if you're passing through King's Cross/St Pancras, I wouldn't say it's worth a special trip into London.)
Naturally, A is for Agatha ... whose Miss Marple first appeared in 1927, wearing black brocade, a Mechlin lace jabot and black lace mittens. No hint of baggy tweeds.
Who knew that the footballer Pelé wrote a murder mystery (with help) or that Gypsy Rose Lee wrote the lurid Striptease Murders ... 'strangled with their own G-strings'? Won't be rushing to read them.
The birth of Nordic Noir dates back to 1965 and Swedish writers Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö. (I can see I'm going to get hooked on the new BBC series Arne Dahl.)
There were detectives I'd never heard of, like Anna Katherine Green's nosy spinster Miss Amelia Butterworth, a 19th century prototype for Miss Marple with her sidekick the debutante sleuth Violet Strange.
But the book that  I'd never come across before - and I most want to read - is The Tin Roof Blowdown by James Lee Burke which has been described as the best fictional response to Hurricane Katrina. (Hurrah. It's in my local library.)
Couldn't leave the British Library, though, without an antidote to all that mayhem and violence ... and a pilgrimage to Jane Austen's writing desk and her tiny pair of spectacles. (But don't you think that Meryton would have been a splendid place for a murder?)

11 comments:

Sue said...

Can you believe I am actually watching Joan Hickson in The Moving Finger as I type? How strange to click on your blog and see her on my screen as well.I have been doing cleaning and ironing and stuff too by the way.

mary said...

You shame me, Sue. I haven't been doing cleaning and ironing and stuff - and there's plenty to be done!

Tabitha said...

Have you read "Death Comes to Pemberton"? I was a little underwhelmed. But I usually don't go in for one author using another's characters. Still, P.D. James can get away with it - just.

mary said...

I'd forgotten about that, Tabitha. Quite agree that P&P sequels never come off well.

Mac n' Janet said...

I've read nearly all of James Lee Burke's novels, though not the one you mentioned. He's tough and gritty.

Anonymous said...

Mary,Gypsy Rose Lee's "G String Murder" is actually very entertaining. The book was the basis of a Barbara Stanwyck film titled "Lady of Burlesque". I enjoyed both the book and the movie. Nick

Noelle the dreamer said...

Good post Mary and I keep telling ex-RAF hubby London has much to offer!
Blessings,

mary said...

I don't think I've read any, Janet. Though I can Half of Paradise at the bottom of a teetering pile here. You're clearly a fan!

It does sound rather good fun, Nick. Not in the library, unfortunately, and rather pricey on Amazon - I'll keep a lookout in the charity shops. Everything turns up eventually.

Sounds like you're working on him for a holiday, Noelle!

Vintage Reading said...

Wonder how this managed to escape my radar? I'm still reading the Martin Beck series by Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo. Must make a trip to London.

mary said...

It's a tiny exhibition, Nicola - wouldn't come specially, honestly! But interesting if you're in the area.

GSGreatEscaper said...

http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/17764.Stephanie_Barron

A whole series of murder mysteries starring sleuth, Jane Austen. I've not read them and know not whether they've been published in Britain.

Also one set in Highbury: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/17557952-the-highbury-murders