My buddy Lloyd left me something besides Copper River smoked salmon, Seattle coffee and great memories – he left me three new friends: Mary Russell, Armand Gamache and Guido Brunetti. They’re all brilliant, tough, kind and they’ve introduced me to their families and friends, their colleagues and their cafes and tea tables. Thank you, Lloyd.
They’re all in law enforcement. Mary Russell is a headstrong young Englishwoman who’s assistant to a certain violin-playing deerstalking wearing detective. Armand Gamache is head of Homicide for the Surete de Quebec, and Guido Brunetti’s beat is the canals and mists of Venice. Many of you are ahead of me here because you’ve already enjoyed your way through the crime series of Laurie R. King, Louise Penny and Donna Leon respectively. But all of you who love detective fiction know the seduction of reading the first book of a series of crime novels and realizing with gratitude that you’ve only just begun.
Of course I love a sharp plot, a clear narrative, and a tidy ending – the Agatha Christie rules. But even with an author whose plotting is better than her writing, it’s Hercule’s employing of the little grey cells and his sidekick Hastings, his idiosyncrasies that make the books memorable.
And so it is with the bachelor flat at 22B Baker Street or Nero Wolfe’s brownstone. I can forget a Rex Stout plot in a couple of years, but Theodore and Fritz and Inspector Cramer are life long friends. I’ve been in love with Archie Goodwin since I was fourteen, and I even remember the nightclub he’d take the lovely Lily to – the Flamingo. And yes, I remember that it takes an hour to make scrambled eggs up to Nero’s standards.
The best counterexamples are Erle Stanley Gardner’s Perry Mason novels. The plotting ain’t bad, but Perry, Della, Hamilton and Paul are cardboard. Ditto Ellery Queen and The Saint. But Inspector Maigret? After all these years I can smell Madame Maigret’s pot-au-feu and remember that his assistant’s name was Lapointe.
Off the top my head: some of my other favorite series, and their protagonists:
Joan Hess’s two series: Arly Hanks as Chief of Police in Maggody, Arkansas — hilarious. I like her Claire Molloy line – she’s a bookseller and amateur sleuth in Fayetteville.
Jonathan Gash’s Lovejoy series – also funny, and I’ve learned a lot about the antiques biz.
Tess Gerritsen’s freaky scary Maura Isles series.
My Chicago sistergirl V.I Warshawski.
Janet Evanovich’s numerical Stephanie Plum series.
I’m always longing to make new friends and “waste” whole days with a new series of thrillers. Suggestions?