Here are Mrs. Peabody’s 2021 Christmas crime recommendations!
Treat others! Treat yourself!
Please support local booksellers while keeping yourself and others safe.
Belinda Bauer, Exit (Black Swan, 2021 – UK)
First line: The key was under the mat.
I adore pretty much everything Belinda Bauer has written – she seems capable of turning her hand to almost any kind of crime – and Exit is no exception. Mild-mannered pensioner Felix Pink is an ‘Exiteer’, one of a group of volunteers who keep the ill and infirm company when they decide they’ve had enough of life. But one day an assignment goes horribly wrong, and Felix finds himself needing to stay one step ahead of the police while frantically trying to work out what is going on. Exit tackles weighty issues of life and death with humanity, compassion and a lot of laughs. I’m not sure how Bauer pulls it off, but she emphatically does, and I don’t know anyone who hasn’t loved this impeccably constructed crime novel (including those who claim not to like crime).
Jane Harper, The Survivors (Little, Brown, 2020 – Tasmania)
First line: Kieran hoped the numbness would set in soon.
Two things drew me to this crime novel: its top-notch author and its setting – a little town on Tasmania’s wild coastline. Kieran Elliott is on a rare visit to Evelyn Bay where he grew up. His mother Verity is struggling to look after his father, who has dementia, and the absence of his dead brother Finn looms large both within the family and his wider circle of friends. When Bronte, a young artist working at a cafe, is found dead on the beach, unresolved questions from the past resurface, not least the disappearance of schoolgirl Gabby during the same big storm that claimed Finn’s life. The Survivors is a crime novel that delivers on a number of levels: superb characterization, an absorbing and gripping plot, and a sensitive examination of grief.
Jess Kidd, Things in Jars (Canongate, 2019 – England/Ireland)
First line: The raven levels off into a glide, flight feathers fanned.
Jess Kidd is one of the most original crime authors writing today, both in terms of her subject matter and her rich writing style. Things in Jars is her first ‘proper’ historical crime novel, set in and near London between 1841 and 1863. It features a number of formidable women, chief among them Bridie Devine, ‘the finest female detective of her age’, who begins investigating the kidnapping of a highly unusual child. Oh, and she can see ghosts – specifically, a heavily tattooed boxer (a ‘circus to the eye’) called Ruby Doyle, who claims to have known Bridie in life, and keeps her company through the ups and downs of the case. Filled to the brim with the eccentric, the otherworldly and the gothic, Things in Jars explores female oppression, survival, and how, with the help of allies, women can carve out a space for themselves in a hostile world.
John le Carré, Silverview (Penguin, 2021 – UK)
First line: At ten o’clock of a rainswept morning in London’s West End, a young woman in a baggy anorak, a woollen scarf pulled around her head, strode resolutely into the storm that was roaring down South Audley Street.
For le Carré fans, this is a poignant read – a final novel from the master of the spy genre. In many ways, this is a classic le Carré tale – a forensic deconstruction of one story among the many making up the intelligence world, and a scathing examination of the moral vacuum at the heart of foreign policy. We see events through the eyes of Julian Lawndsley, who has moved to a small seaside town in East Anglia to run a bookshop, and Stewart Proctor, senior intelligence troubleshooter, who gets word of a security breach in the very same spot. At the heart of it all: a mysterious Polish émigré living in ‘Silverview’, a grand manor house. It was a pleasure to be back in le Carré’s world and to spend time with his richly drawn characters. Happily, as with Agent Running in the Field, there are redemptive elements that temper the bleaker aspects of the novel.
Abir Mukherjee, Death in the East (Harvill Secker, 2020 – UK/India)
First line: I’d left Calcutta with a grim resolve, a suitcase full of kerdu gourd, and, in case of emergencies, a bullet-sized ball of opium resin hidden between the folds of my clothes.
This is the fourth in Mukherjee’s ‘Wyndham and Banerjee’ series, and I think it’s my favourite so far: a rich historical crime novel that offers not just one, but several discrete murder mysteries, including two intriguing locked-room cases. The novel switches between 1922 Assam, where Captain Sam Wyndham is trying to conquer his opium addiction, and 1905 London, during the early days of his policing career. The link: a villain whose reappearance in Assam threatens Wyndham’s life. This is a beautifully plotted crime novel that offers atmospheric depictions of Assam on the one hand and London’s Jewish East End on the other. Gripping, entertaining, and with a nice line in Chandleresque humour, it also shows us the changing face of India – Sergeant Banerjee’s welcome appearance near the end of the novel marks an important shift in the relations between the two.
Hansjörg Schneider, Silver Pebbles, tr. from the German by Mike Mitchell (Bitter Lemon Press, January 2022 – Switzerland)
First line: The Frankfurt-Basel Intercity — a sleek, streamlined train — was crossing the Upper-Rhine plain.
Schneider’s Silver Pebbles was originally published in 1993, but feels remarkably fresh today. The first in the acclaimed ‘Inspector Peter Hunkeler’ series, it introduces us to the jaded Basel police detective and treats us to a wonderfully absorbing case. When Lebanese smuggler Guy Kayat flushes some diamonds down a station toilet to evade the police, he sets off a chain of bizarre events. The diamonds are found by Erdogan, a sewage worker called to clear a blockage, who thinks his dream of opening a hotel back in Turkey is about to come true. But of course, things get complicated… A very human tale, told in a way that reminded me of Sjöwall and Wahlöö’s ‘Martin Beck’ series – a matter-of-fact style leavened with genuine warmth and a dry sense of humour. Erika Waldis, Erdogan’s long-suffering girlfriend, is the slow-burning star of the show.
Signal, by Kim Eun-hee, dir. by Kim Won-seok (Netflix – South Korea)
This 2016 South Korean crime drama – with shades of Life on Mars – has stolen my heart. I’m about half way through and love the way it’s developing the ambitious idea of a criminal profiler in 2015 who’s able to talk to a police detective in 1989 via a chunky old walkie-talkie. As well as working on cold cases together, the mystery of the police detective’s own disappearance in 2000 increasingly moves centre stage. Unbeknownst to profiler Park Hae-young, his boss Detective Cha Soo-hyun is also searching for Detective Lee Jae-han – he was her mentor when she was a rookie back in 1989. Along with the police-procedural elements and occasional slapstick humour, it’s Signal‘s wonderfully human characterization that stands out for me.
And here’s a trio on my own Christmas wishlist.
Mick Herron’s Dolphin Junction, a collection of short stories featuring, among others, Jackson Lamb, and Zoë Boehm & Joe Silvermann (the stars of his ‘Slough House’ and ‘Oxford’ series respectively). Expect brilliant storytelling and acerbic wit.
Katie Kitamura’s Intimacies, about an interpreter whose duties involve interpreting for a potential war criminal at the International Court in Hague.
David Heska Wanbli Weiden’s Winter Counts, a much-lauded debut that takes a hard-hitting, nuanced look at life on South Dakota’s Rosebud Indian Reservation.
There are some big changes coming to Mrs. Peabody Investigates in 2022: keep your eyes peeled for those!
Until then, wishing you all a very Merry Christmas!
Really fine choices, Mrs. P.! Harper, Mukharjee, and, of course, le Carré, are top-notch writers. I’m less familiar with Schneider’s work, but that one does sound good. All in all, a fine holiday reading season!
Thanks, Margot! A little something to suit everyone’s tastes, hopefully. When I put these lists together, I’m always amazed at the sheer variety and inventiveness of crime novels. We’re very lucky readers!
My favourite booklist of the year, thanks Mrs P!
I discovered Belinda Bauer after “Exit”was on A Good Read a couple of months ago and loved it. Have been recommending to everyone since. Currently reading “Snap”.
I had incredibly never read John le Carre until this year, when I picked up “A perfect spy” which was just fantastic. So now I’m gathering them all. I have the best secondhand Oxfam bookshop where I live which is very handy for Le Carre.
One of last year’s recommendations (I think) was Insp Barbarotti series which I’ve loved. The 4th waiting to be my Xmas read.
“Silver pebbles” going on my wish list immediately- anything like the “beck” series is the best recommendation.
Thanks so much, Jo!
Exit and Snap! are very different to one another, and that’s something I really value about Belinda Bauer’s work – she’s incredibly versatile and original. I loved Rubbernecker as well – very different again and set in Cardiff.
Quite envious of you starting out on le Carre’s work – so much good reading coming your way, especially the Karla Trilogy, my personal favourite. Tinker Tailor my top pick of them all, I think.
Enjoy the Barbarotti – a very fine bit of Christmas reading! And hope you enjoy Silver Pebbles when it’s published in January… Bitter Lemon Press doing as sterling a job as ever of keeping Euro crime coming our way.
Merry Christmas to you too! ❤
Things in Jars is a brilliant work of imaginative fiction, not just crime fiction. All the legends and lore of the selkies and sirens were fascinating. I loved that Bridie’s Watson of sorts was a ghost. Just a bang-up job blending crime fiction conventions with fantastic and supernatural motifs and legends. I read Mr. Flood’s Last Resort (UK title: The Hoarder) in the summer and rushed out to get all Jess Kidd’s other books. Things in Jars surpassed the story of Mr Flood. I have her first book Himself waiting for me later this month. . Seems I approached her writing in reverse chronology. Nevertheless, Jess Kidd is a wonderful discovery for me this year and I can’t wait for her next book.
Hi prettysinister – I had the same sort of experience as you: I found one of Jess Kidd’s novels and then had to read them all. I agree that she’s an outstanding imaginative writer – and the weird and wonderful world of Victorian England suits her style down to the ground. All of her novels draw very strongly on crime conventions – but as you say, she kind of runs with those to create something extraordinary and original. I’m sure you’ll enjoy Himself – I really loved it.
Thank you Ms P for this early Christmas gift, and a true gift it is that you’re helping us discover new books, your capsule reviews are very rewarding in themselves. I will start with Things in Jars, I think my sister will like it, and also support my local bookseller
You’re very welcome, Jeremy – I get a lot out of putting the list together too! Hope you and your sister enjoy Things in Jars – it’s something quite unique! And hooray for our local booksellers ❤
You are tempting me with books and I have no room on my shelves. I still have not tried Abir Mukherjee, so I am glad you mentioned that book. Silver Pebbles sounds good, I have not tried much German crime fiction. And thanks for the recommendation of Signal. I have already passed that recommendation on to my husband, since we both like Korean movies. Unfortunately he is having problems with his vision and reading subtitles is a big problem but we will give it a try anyway.
I have purchased Dolphin Junction since I love both the Slough House series and the Zoë Boehm books. I haven’t read it yet though, not even the Santa story.
That’s correct, Tracy – I’m a Book Temptress! Hopefully there will be a space or two freed up on your bookshelf shortly?!
Re the Mukherjee: you could dive in with this one even though it’s the fourth in the series – I think it works pretty well as a standalone (as long as you don’t mind reading out of order). Otherwise, the first is A Rising Man.
I hope – subtitles allowing – that you and your husband enjoy Signal. There really should be a way of enlarging the subtitles in my view… Technically possible by now, surely? xxx
I’ve just finished Winter Counts – ‘tis very, very good. You’ve made my day letting me know about Silver Pebbles, having just enjoyed The Basel Killings during GLM.
Oooh, good to hear, Lizzie – very much looking forward to Winter Counts. And I think I actually enjoyed Silver Pebbles even more than The Basel Killings – a top January treat x
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