Here’s a post at Crime Reads: HOW JOSEPHINE TEY CRAFTED A MASTERPIECE OF PARANOIA IN POSTWAR ENGLAND
Well, here’s this paragraph from the Crime Reads post:
The Franchise Affair has become a wonderfully evocative period piece, including the supposed raison d’être of the plot. Why would the respectable if isolated Sharpes commit such an extraordinarily desperate act? It is the alleged explanation which is so interesting: they were indeed desperate—desperate for domestic help. Marion Sharpe cannot cook, the house is large and too far away for the local cleaners to patronise. This kind of problem, which sounds fairly surreal as a motive for abduction today, appeared perfectly convincing to the middle classes of the late forties: the domestic staff who vanished into the war effort and were expected to return having signally failed to do so.
This makes me want to pick up this story just for that — though the author of the post also talks up The Franchise Affair as a story too! — but as it happens, the two things I most appreciate in murder mysteries are:
a) Character, and
Style would be third in line and plotting a distant fourth. I appreciate a mystery I don’t figure out, but I don’t mind much if I do figure it out, although if the mystery seems TOO obvious, that’s a shame. Still, I’ll enjoy the story no matter how obvious the murderer is, if the writing is good, the characters well drawn and sympathetic, and the setting beautifully evoked. I’m not sure why setting is so important to me in mysteries, but it is, so that’s a big reason I lean heavily toward historical murder mysteries, and also mysteries set in, say, South Africa.
Josephine Tey’s books were written with contemporary settings, which undoubtedly provides that little extra depth of verisimilitude, but of course plenty of excellent historical mysteries are written by modern authors. One of the best examples I can think of where the setting is beautifully drawn while the mystery itself is not that mysterious is Barbara Hambly’s / Hamilton’s series featuring Abigail Adams as the protagonist. I enjoy these books very much even though the murderer is relatively obvious in each of the books.
For wonderful contemporary-ish settings, it’s hard to beat the Tannie Maria series, set in South Africa. Unfortunately, the third book is for some reason not currently available, at least not from Amazon. Not just unavailable in Kindle, but unavailable period. That’s getting to be pretty unusual. Such a shame when it’s a book one would really like to read.
So: if you were making a Top Ten list for murder mysteries with beautiful, evocative, interesting settings, historical or otherwise, what would you put on it? Anything come to mind?