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Foreign Mysteries offer a new flavor
By Sue Roberts
October 5, 2002

Define the task. Brainstorm all possible sources.

I was asked by a friend of a friend to recommend novels for a sociology class, "Gender, Crime, and Deviance." The course has an international component to it and the professor wanted mysteries/detective stories set in other countries. Surely there are more authors who fit the bill than Agatha Christie. So I passed the request on to my colleagues on the iChat listserv and found out what great resources library students are.

Some of the recommendations were short but sweet: "What about Damage by Josephine Hart or The Reader by Bernhard Schlink?" Or "Jonathan Kellerman's Butcher's Theatre is a particular favorite, as it deals with a serial killer in Israel and makes a strong point that this does not often happen overseas."

And "mysteries by Janwillem van de Wetering, set in and around Amsterdam, are fabulous and unique reads." Val McDermid is a British writer recently discovered and liked by one contributor. The Flanders Panel by Arturo Perez-Reverte was reviewed in the Philadelphia Inquirer: "A beguiling puzzle -- a game within a game within a game -- solved in a perplexing..."

Some turned to their partners for ideas. "I ran this one by my wife, who is more of a fiction reader than I am and who lived overseas…" This resulted in a recommendation for a series of 10 books set in Sweden by Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo, which include discussions of crime and deviance from a Swedish perspective. Specifically mentioned were The Man on the Balcony, and Roseanna. "My boyfriend loves reading crime/mystery stories…Secrets by Kathy Reichs, part of it fiction about true events and the other simply fiction." It takes place in Guatemala.

Aurelio Zen mysteries by Michael Dibdin, taking place in Venice, were recommended, as were Sarah Caudwell's mysteries. "Aaron Elkins has a series with Chris Norgren, a curator for SAM, and one of those takes place between Italy and Seattle with interesting questions of art provenance and foreign thugs instead of American ones -- A Glancing Light." Two modern English mystery writers who were found to be thought provoking were P.D. James and Reginald Hill -- different ends of the political spectrum, providing some interesting opportunities for comparison.

Novels that were made into movies were submitted, such as Patricia Highsmith's, The Talented Mr. Ripley and Strangers on a Train, and the international bestseller Smilla's Sense of Snow, by Peter Heog.

The person who submitted Sense of Snow was kind enough to put up a possible red flag for a sex scene. A video of The Sculptress, by English author Minette Walters, was not well received, though the novel was recommended. And of course, Gorky Park by Martin Cruz Smith, the first in the series with Arkady Renko, a Moscow police detective, was also recommended.


A couple of students taught me how readers can help themselves:

  • lists mysteries by geographical region.
  • Seattle Public Library's NoveList database has "Readers' Resources on this web page: "It allows readers to search for fiction by describing a plot of a story they'd like to read or by doing a Boolean search. However you need an SPL card to access the database." (Thanks to Monica Jackson for featuring this in our LIS560 class.)

Thanks to the many future reader advisors who responded: Marianne Sweeny, Dianne Ludwig, Gregory Hatch, Kate Wehr, Julie Staton, Renee Remlinger, Matt Love, Joan Reberger, and Nikki Carder.

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Edited by Michael Harkovitch

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