Great Mysteries volume 2.

Author:Smith, Patrick

THE MOST COMMON QUESTION Bookmarks readers ask us is, "When are you going to do Vol. II of 'Great Mysteries?'" And so we oblige. Way back in our Nov/Dec 2004 issue, we looked at historical mysteries and police procedurals. This time we look more broadly--and more darkly--at the genre.

The three categories of mysteries and thrillers detailed here--international, contemporary hardboiled and noir, and psychological--describe different, and often overlapping, subgenres of the larger one. Mystery and crime fiction, in these myriad forms, melds illicit activity, psychological insight, and exotic settings--even the meanest streets of Washington, D.C., can be exotic if George Pelecanos is your guide--into a journey that takes readers into the darkest reaches of the human mind. We meet characters who both exhibit and transcend human weakness: a Chinese detective reconciles his present life with his memories of Mao's Cultural Revolution; a Laotian coroner invokes the spirit world as a way of solving cases; an alcoholic policeman searches for redemption in his Louisiana bayou.

Are list caveats necessary? Our suggestions are certainly not comprehensive, but they will give readers a point of reference from which to decide where to get started and where to go next. As with the best mysteries, under the spell of a skilled writer we often race to turn the last page--to find out what happens and to have an excuse to immediately pick up the author's next work. The books listed below are those kinds of books. Their writers are those kinds of writers.

THE INTERNATIONAL MYSTERY--loosely defined as a police procedural that takes place outside the United States--has gained cachet in the last few years. It might be easy to attribute that leap in popularity to the extraordinary success of Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code and a host of derivative efforts. But not so fast, says Laura Hruska, publisher of Soho Crime, an imprint dedicated to books that give readers glimpses into unfamiliar cultures: "I think there is a growing interest in international mysteries because Americans are becoming more interested, year-by-year, in the rest of the world and realizing, perhaps, that our ideas of crime and punishment are not the only valid possibilities. You can learn more about some of these countries in our mystery series than in an academic tome."

Batya Gur


Gur, who died in 2005, brought the mystery genre to prominence in her native Israel with a six-book series set in and around Jerusalem. The books--among them LITERARY MURDER (1993), BETHLEHEM ROAD MURDER (2004), and the posthumous MURDER IN JERUSALEM (2006)--feature detective Michael Ohayon, intuitive, intellectual, and adaptable. Ohayon must solve cases by reconciling his worldview with aspects of society that remain closed to others. Gur's work...

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