I’d like to thank Lisa and the Novel Approach for hosting me on my blog tour for my recent release, Double Indemnity. Today, I’ll be talking a little about some of my favorite murder mysteries and give you an opportunity to win a free eBook copy of my novel.
My grandmother was a huge Agatha Christie fan, and she first encouraged me to read in the genre. Murder on the Orient Express continues to feature at the top of my favorite mysteries list.The plot is fantastic (as is the ending), but I love the protagonist, Belgian detective Hercule Poirot. Like Sherlock Holmes, Poirot relies on his powers of deduction and picks unusual cases to exercise his mind. However, unlike Holmes, Poirot is constantly misjudged for his ‘foreign’ appearance and mannerisms. Early on, a passenger on the train describes him as “the sort of little man one could never take seriously.” Disproven as the book progresses, this assessment sets up and then undercuts reader expectations in a way typical of Christie—Miss Marple is another famous example. Criminals underestimate Poirot, who in turn exploits this misjudgment to his benefit in solving crimes. The BBC version of Poirot is available on Netflix and worth checking out, especially on a cold winter night.
On the opposite end of the spectrum is the novel I paid homage to in titling my own. Double Indemnity (1935) by James M. Cain is an American noir that tells the tale of a ‘perfect’ murder gone wrong. In this novel, the reader is aligned with the murderer in a first person point of view, and the tension arises, not from figuring out whodunit, but in wondering if the murderer and his femme fatale accomplice will get away with the crime. Since readers actively identify with first person narrators, the reader becomes complicit in a very uncomfortable, compelling way. In the end, the novel serves as an indictment of a particular kind of American greed. The film version is considered one of the best noirs of all time, and I would recommend it along with some of the perhaps better-known noirs, The Big Sleep and The Maltese Falcon.
The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco unfolds on the grounds of a fourteenth century Italian monastery, one of the last strongholds of medieval learning. Though told from the POV of a novice monk, the real hero of the novel is the scientifically minded William of Baskerville, whose name is an obvious tribute to Holmes. Contrasted with those who rely on faith alone (and don’t question authority), William is called in to solve a series of unexplained murders. He discovers the key to solving them within a labyrinthine library designed to keep the curious out rather than to make learning accessible. Ultimately, the book itself is a meditation on the power of philosophy and the repressive nature of dogmatic truth. This is certainly not a light Sunday read, but the1986 film version starring Sean Connery is decent (though it loses some of the impact of the novel). In either case, this is a mystery for book lovers and medieval history buffs.
Last, I recently picked up a novel called Wife of the Gods by Kwei Quartey. This book takes place in Ghana and combines some traditional mystery tropes with a contemporary, fresh outlook. What I enjoyed most about this book is the complexity of the protagonist-hero, Darko Dawson. Though far from infallible and not above reproach for some of his actions, Dawson’s humanity make him relatable and accessible—a stark contrast to the dispassionate Holmes. He becomes absorbed in a very personal quest after a young woman is murdered in the small town of Ketanu, where his own mother disappeared twenty-five years before. Ultimately, solving the current mystery results in the unraveling of the other—and a shocking discovery that stuns Dawson and the entire town. This two-stranded narrative was extremely effective storytelling and made the emotional impact greater.
What’s your favorite mystery novel and why? Sound off below for the chance to win an eBook copy of Double Indemnity!
THIS CONTEST IS CLOSED
Book Blurb: Sam Flynn dreamed of being a journalist until a car accident killed his parents and put his brother into a long-term coma. Now Sam spends his days as a landscaper toiling in the New England sun and his nights drunk in bed with the closest warm body. In his limited spare time, he writes about Stonebridge’s local crime and politics on his blog “Under the Bridge.”
Then Sam’s favorite client is found dead in her home—shortly after telling him someone has betrayed her trust. Sam can’t believe her grief-stricken husband Nathan would be a suspect, but the investigation hones in on him. Sam has always admired handsome Nathan from afar, but now he puts his libidinous feelings aside to help clear his name. However, the closer he gets to Nathan, the more he’s told to keep away from him and the investigation—by the fatherly police chief, by an officer on the case who’s hated him since school, and by Nathan himself.
Sam’s determined to expose the real reason his friend died and clear Nathan’s name—even if it’s the last thing he does. Which, considering how fast the death toll is increasing in Stonebridge… it might be.
Excerpt: Loud construction noise jackhammered through the phone.
“Sorry about the commotion,” said Nathan. “I had to leave town for a couple of days on business, but I’ll be back tomorrow. Can you meet?”
“Yeah, sure. Where and when?”
“Eight o’clock at La Fronde. I’ll make the reservation.”
“Are you sure you wouldn’t prefer someplace a little more casual?” La Fronde had an excellent reputation, but Sam had never been. A five-star French dinner would put him out at least a hundred bucks.
Nathan cleared his throat. “What did you have in mind?”
“My local—the Lucky Star. It’s a little more in my price range, if you know what I mean. They have excellent burgers and fries. French fries.”
Nathan didn’t laugh at the joke. “If you’d rather, sure, though I was planning on paying, just so you know.”
Fuck. Had he misread this entire situation? Had Nathan asked him on a date?
“That’s generous of you,” Sam said. “But I’ll feel more comfortable at the Star. I don’t think I even have anything to wear to such a fancy place.”
“All right, Sam. Eight o’clock tomorrow at the Star. I’ve got to go. I’ll see you then.”
Without another word, the line went dead. Sam stood with his cell phone in his hand, staring at it as though it could explain what had just happened.
He spent the rest of the night scouring the Internet to see if he’d missed any developments in Emma’s case over the past couple of weeks. The incident—the murder—had been fading from his mind under the avalanche of his regular worries. It had faded from the news too, it seemed. Nothing turned up. After a few newspaper mentions and an obit that Sam—thankfully—hadn’t had to write, the case disappeared from the headlines, replaced by the news du jour.
He leaned back in his desk chair, sighed, and rubbed his temples to ward off an impending headache. Sam’s parents’ deaths had been accidental, and he still hadn’t figured out how to make it stop hurting. He couldn’t imagine living with the knowledge that a killer was on the loose, possibly never to be found.
It would be like hell on earth.
Bio: Maggie Kavanagh writes gay romances that explore flawed, human characters finding love. A recent Yankee transplant to Los Angeles, her heart still resides in New England. She went to graduate school for English literature and reads and writes voraciously, whenever she can get a moment alone. You can find her in the wee morning hours typing away with coffee at hand and cat in lap, happily embodying the romance writer cliché.
While she focuses mainly on contemporary romance, don’t be surprised if a historical or supernatural tale slips into the mix, as she’s always eager to discover different genres. More fiction is forthcoming soon, so stay tuned!