Sunday Retrospective ~ March 9th 2019

A very brief retrospective this week because I am running up against the deadline for the second assignment on my Shakespeare course so just two simple genre related points.

First, a plea for help.  A friend of mine (really, a friend of mine, I’m not hiding behind a false anonymity here) has been asked by the local library service to select books for some of their housebound borrowers. One of these only wants to read what I would call cosy (cozy) crime.  My friend isn’t a crime reader at all and I am not really into the cosy end of the spectrum.  I have the beginnings of a list of recommendations but would welcome any further suggestions. This borrower gets through fifteen books a month so it may have to become a question of quantity over quality.

My current list is

A C Beaton

Carola Dunn

Elizabeth Peters

Alan Hunter

Kerry Greenwood

Simon Brett

Nicola Upson

Frances Brody

I shall also suggest that she looks at writers like Agatha Christie, Dorothy L Sayers and Elizabeth Peters and, if those go down well, point her in the direction of the British Library Classic Crime series.  Are there any other writers that you can suggest?  We would both be very grateful for any help you can give.

Secondly, an observation about my own stupidity.  I have been reading my friend Helen’s blog, She Reads Novels, quite literally for years. As those of you who are discriminating enough to do the same will know, Helen mostly reads and blogs about historical fiction.  I really enjoy her posts but if you had asked me before the beginning of this week I would have told you that personally I was not a fan of the genre.  Well, on Wednesday The Walter Scott Prize announced the long list for this year’s award, which unsurprisingly is for Historical Fiction and Helen posted about it here. I was astounded.  What do I mean I don’t read historical fiction?  I’ve already read three of these novels and have another three on my up and coming list. (That’s the one with books I really do intend to read as opposed to the tbr list which we all know is a flight of fancy.). So, I went back and checked previous nominees and discovered that one year I’d read the entire short list!  I simply didn’t classify them as Historical Fiction because in my mind (Helen, I’m really sorry!) they were far too good.

Actually, I think there are two factors at work here.  First, when I was reading historical fiction, in my teens, there were a lot of poorly written examples of the genre and for the most part what I was borrowing from the library was substandard romance fiction in an historical setting. That experience has undoubtedly coloured my view. The second is to do with what counts as historical. For goodness sake, Linda Grant’s The Dark Circle is on one of the short lists. That describes events that happened in my own life time. When did I become historical?

Anyway, enough of my blinkered approach to genre. As soon as my course is over (I have loved doing it, but it has really cut into reading time) I am going to mine the back lists of the Walter Scott Prize because, if the novels I have read are anything to go by, the others are going to be well worth exploring too.


27 thoughts on “Sunday Retrospective ~ March 9th 2019

  1. BookerTalk March 10, 2019 / 10:09 am

    You don’t care that much for historical fiction you say but didn’t you do the Coursera module on this (Plagues, Witches ….) a few years ago (same time I did it I think)??


    • Café Society March 10, 2019 / 6:37 pm

      I did Karen, in an attempt to understand the genre better. However, a couple of the books that we had to read for that were so poor that it didn’t really do much to change my mind.


      • BookerTalk March 10, 2019 / 7:22 pm

        I wasn’t enamoured of the set texts either…


  2. A Life in Books March 10, 2019 / 12:19 pm

    Your point about historical fiction made me smile and rang loud bells for me. Having frequently declared myself not a fan of historical fiction it turns out that several of my recent favourites are just that. I also have to admit that some novels classed as historical fiction cover events in my own lifetime.


    • Café Society March 10, 2019 / 6:38 pm

      It’s really disconcerting, Susan, isn’t it? I wonder if there is an official cut off point after which a time period counts as historic?

      Liked by 1 person

      • A Life in Books March 10, 2019 / 7:17 pm

        I suspect it’s in the eye of the beholde, Ann. I live with a contemporary historian who would probably tell you that that yesterday is historic.


  3. Helen March 10, 2019 / 12:44 pm

    No need to apologise! I think it’s a common perception that ‘good’, well written books set in the past are literary fiction, while the fluffier, less serious kind are historical fiction. It’s a problem that other genres, such as fantasy and science fiction seem to suffer from as well. As you’ve said, it possibly depends on the type of books you were exposed to in the past. The Walter Scott Prize nominees I’ve read so far have nearly all been excellent, so I do recommend delving into the previous shortlists when you have time!


    • Café Society March 10, 2019 / 6:41 pm

      I am definitely going to, Helen, because the other thing the ones I have already read have in common is that they were all excellent reads. And you’re right about the same thing being true in respect of other genres. I can certainly speak for the existence of the same misconception in respect of fantasy, which shares with historical fiction the need for the writer to really create the world they are writing about for an audience for whom it will be unfamiliar.


  4. kaggsysbookishramblings March 10, 2019 / 1:23 pm

    There’s a lot of cosy about which is no bad thing. As well as the BL crime classics, which I highly recommend (and there are a lot of them) a number of other publishers have jumped on the bandwagon. I couldn’t tell you who they are but if you have a local Waterstones like mine which has a whole table of them, a quick visit might give you ideas!


    • Café Society March 10, 2019 / 6:42 pm

      That’s a good thought, Karen. It will be a couple of weeks before I can be anywhere near a bookshop but I will definitely see what they’ve got on their tables.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. FictionFan March 10, 2019 / 11:53 pm

    Cathy Ace is quite enjoyable. And I loved Anne George’s Southern Sisters series – American crime cosies set in Alabama.


  6. Jan Hicks March 11, 2019 / 8:47 am

    I love cosy crime and back your suggestion of the British Library Classic Crime series. Other than that, Ellis Peters’ Brother Cadfael books are great. I’ve read one of Anne Cleeves’ Shetland books – it was good, but I fell victim to Douglas Henshall’s portrayal of Jimmy Perez on the telly and couldn’t get the dark, Spanish Perez of the book to work with my imagination! I personally struggle with the idea of a white man writing books about a black woman, but the couple of No 1 Ladies Detective Agency books that I read were entertaining. I’ve long meant to read M C Beaton’s Hamish Macbeth books and James Runcie’s Grantchester books, too.


    • Café Society March 11, 2019 / 3:30 pm

      I hadn’t thought about the Grantchester novels, Jan but that is a good idea. Ellis Peters is definitely one for the list. Thank you.


  7. Elle March 11, 2019 / 3:23 pm

    Re cosy crime, Cyril Hare’s newly reprinted An English Murder is a cracker, as are TP Fielden’s books (The Riviera Express is the first one), and of course Alexander McCall Smith’s No 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency books. Anthony Horowitz wrote a great novel called Magpie Murders which is really an homage to cosy/Golden Age crime. Josephine Tey, Margery Allingham and Edmund Crispin are worth a look. Andrea Camilleri and Marcio Giordani are also great, and Jessica Fellowes’s new series, starting with The Mitford Murders, would probably fit the bill!


    • Elle March 11, 2019 / 3:24 pm

      *Mario Giordani, not Marcio, sorry!


    • Café Society March 11, 2019 / 3:32 pm

      Thank you Elle, that is so helpful. Have you enjoyed the Fellowes? I’m sure The Mitford Murders would be perfect for this reader but I thought it was opportunist and really annoying.


      • Elle March 11, 2019 / 5:21 pm

        Tbh I didn’t love The Mitford Murders (same objections to it as you had), but I’ve sent it to plenty of cosy crime aficionados and had no complaints so far!


  8. Jenny @ Reading the End March 13, 2019 / 12:03 am

    I always say I don’t like historical fiction too, but some of my very favorite books are historical fiction. I think it’s because I don’t naturally gravitate to it as a genre? Doesn’t mean I’m not excited when a historical fiction book gets a lot of hype, but I need a lot of hype before I’m willing to dive in.


    • Café Society March 22, 2019 / 1:36 pm

      I think I’m going to have to read the book first and then discover that it was historical fiction afterwards.


  9. jy March 13, 2019 / 7:03 pm

    Robert Barnard is a joy. His books would qualify as cozy, but there is a great deal of sly humor.


  10. mlegan March 17, 2019 / 2:56 pm

    Your comment about the “historical fiction” of my teens made me smile in recognition. Off the check the list of nominees. I assume there are no thinly disguised bodice rippers among them!


    • Café Society March 22, 2019 / 1:37 pm

      My goodness, but I hope not Mary Lou. I’ve got most of them on order from the library.


  11. Jeanne March 19, 2019 / 2:17 am

    I’ve also lived long enough to react with surprise to being told that a recent TV series, The Americans, which is set in the 1980’s, is “historical.” It is, though. I lived in a suburb of Washington D.C. in the 80’s, and part of me felt that they must still be going on there.


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