Monday, March 01, 2010

Mysteries That Borrow Literary Characters

There's a fine tradition of borrowing characters from earlier work, often to tease and entertain. Jasper Fforde takes this to the n-th degree in his "Thursday Next" detective fiction, punning madly and playing wildly with the literary canon. Far more serious are the "continued" books in the name of earlier authors -- and somewhere in between are Laurie R. King's mysteries that entangle young Mary Russell with an aging Sherlock Holmes. In very different ways, I've enjoyed both Fforde and King.

In this month's "Killer Books" reviews on the website of the Independent Mystery Booksellers Association there's mention of a new "Jane Austen" take-off: JANE BITES BACK by Michael Thomas Ford. Picture Miss Austen in modern days, living as a vampire ... OK, I know that sounds nuts, but it's no more crazy than what Fforde does -- and the reviews have been so upbeat that I'm planning to snag a copy soon.

And that reminded me of a gem that I picked up in Boston in December: MURDER ON THE CLIFFS by Joanna Challis. I had to bring it home because the author is Australian, and Dave and I are dedicated fans of the dark mysteries by Australian author Garry Disher, which feature a protagonist named Hal Challis. Does that make sense as a reason to buy a book? Well, I confess we're in a lengthy binge of reading Australian authors lately. And it turns out Joanna Challis has written a lively and delicious "historical" mystery that allows the young Daphne du Maurier to seize life in ways that will lead toward her literary career (think Rebecca).  This is the first in a sleuth series, and promises well.

Now I've broken the ice into the area of light and sometimes romantic mysteries that are going to stay firmly on my side of the room. And I've got a few more to add ... stay tuned.

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