Every time I do a reading and talk at a bookstore, I inevitably get this question: “What book was your greatest influence?” I know they’re expecting something like War and Peace, but my answer is always the same: The Complete Sherlock Holmes. I let that sink in for a moment and then I tell them why: Holmes taught me, at the age of about twelve, how to think.
In a 1926 story, author Conan Doyle has Holmes say, “When you have eliminated all which is impossible, then whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.” There, in a single sentence, is the core principle of deductive reasoning. Life is often a puzzle, a series of unlikelihoods disguising the truth. Holmes helped me make sense of things and find the truth.
Before I began writing the Davies and West series of British murder mysteries, I had been a devotee of the British mystery genre, especially those written during the so-called “Golden Age” between the two great wars. Who were those authors? Agatha Christie, of course, though I never much liked her books—too many tricks. The real Queens of Crime in that period were Margery Allingham, Ngaio Marsh, and the paragon: Dorothy Sayers with her Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries. The Wimsey stories were dramatized on the BBC in the 1970s. The first in the series is Whose Body, but my favorites are The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club (“I’m afraid there’s been another unpleasantness…”) and The Nine Tailors (which, by the way, has nothing to do with seamstresses). They are deeply atmospheric, baffling, and wonderful.
Gentleman sleuth Albert Campion features in more than two dozen of Margery Allingham’s mysteries, but start at the beginning: The Crime at Black Dudley. Ngaio Marsh’s detective is Inspector Roderick Allyn and the first of her nearly three dozen stories is A Man Lay Dead. I love reading them all in series.
Of the current crop of British mysteries, my favorites are Deborah Crombie’s A Share in Death; Elly Griffiths’ Crossing Places; Ann Cleeves’s first Vera mystery (just to get you hooked), The Crow Trap; Peter Lovesey’s first mystery featuring the irascible, rule-breaking detective, Peter Diamond, The Last Detective, and Val Macdermid’s non-fiction guide, Forensics.
Try just one of these and you’ll be in for the whole series. These are remarkable authors…and isn’t it interesting that most are women!