My vintage mystery series: Volume 1

I read a lot of mysteries, and a lot of the mysteries are read are vintage mysteries. I thought it would be fun – and helpful – to make a list of the golden/silver age series that I have been making my way through over the last few years. This is going to require multiple posts, so today is just volume I.

Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct series: I am on book 11 of this series

Why I read it: I’ve been reading it for probably 4 or 5 years at this point. Most (if not all) of the books are available through the Kindle Unlimited library on Amazon, and, as well, I bought a huge number of them when they went on sale many years ago for $.99 or $1.99 a book. The books are set in the fictional city of Isola, which is an obvious stand-in for NYC. McBain started writing the books in 1956, with The Mugger, and it is the longest-running American detective series (of which I am aware), with 55 entries, the last of which was published in 2005, so nearly 50 years later. I’m intrigued at the idea of a series which covers all of the changes in police procedure and criminal investigation that have occurred over the 49 year period, including changes in interview techniques, forensic evidence, and legal opinions. I don’t know how much McBain will mention those changes, but it has the potential to be very interesting.

The Henry Gamadge series by Elizabeth Daly: I am on book 6 out of 16.

Why I read it: I stumbled on this series when I was browsing the digital catalogue at one of my two libraries systems. I had never heard of Elizabeth Daly, but when I started googling and looking on GR, it looked interesting. The first book was published in 1940, and there are 16 entries in the series, with the final book having been published in 1951. I’ve enjoyed the five books I’ve previously read, and my library has the entire series, so I’m sure that I will read the rest of them, at some point or another. Henry Gamadge is a rare-book dealer/antiquarian, although so far his occupation hasn’t featured as much as I would have liked. I really like mysteries published in the 1940’s, and I’m hopeful that I will get some WWII homefront vibes. The next book in the series is Evidence of Things Seen, published in 1943.

Mr. and Mrs. North by Frances & Richard Lockridge: I am book 7 of 26.

Why I read it: I don’t actually remember how I found this series, but it’s perfect golden-age mystery fun. The first book, Mr. and Mrs. North, was published in 1936. Pam and Jerry North are a young married couple living a very glamorous 1930’s life in NYC. I reviewed the first three books in this post: Mr. and Mrs. North and their Glam and Fab Murder Life, and since then, I’ve added another 3 to my read pile. All of them are delightful. Pam North is particularly enjoyable, with her sparkling personality and occasional poorly-tuned sense of self-preservation. Detective Weigand – aka Loot – and his former love interest, now wife, Dorian are also terrific characters. The mysteries are fine, but it’s the sense of glamour and amusement that really makes these books worth reading. Unfortunately, my library only has 14 of the books, so if I want to read the other 12, I’m probably going to have to buy them. They were re-issued by Mysterious Press/Open Road, so they are available as ebooks.

Inspector Maigret by Georges Simenon

Why I read it: Well, first of all, I’m completely obsessed with the new Penguin Classics editions. They are lovely books, and my local library has – I think – all of them available. I’ve been checking them out in blocks of 4 at a time. I can’t say where I am at in the series, because I have just been reading them in no particular order, as my fancy (and what’s available) guides me. The series began with Pietr the Latvian in 1931, and spans 75 books and 5 decades, ending with Maigret and Monsieur Charles in 1972. The books themselves are often barely more than novellas, but it’s the character and setting that Simenon makes sing – Maigret himself is intriguing, but the side characters: the victims, the perpetrators, the witnesses, bring the various settings within France, Paris and elsewhere, to life. I imagine that I will read these books for the rest of my life, because, like Agatha Christie, they have become comfort reading for me and the mystery is almost beside the point.

Chief Inspector Littlejohn by George Bellairs

Why I read it: This is another series where I read more or less randomly. According to Goodreads, there are 57 books in the series, but they have not been reprinted by a single publisher. British Library Crime Classics has a few, Agora Press has some, Mysterious Press has a few, and some haven’t been reissued at all as far as I can tell. Fortunately, this is not a series that requires chronological reading, so I’ve mostly been reading the ones that are available through the Kindle Unlimited library, which tend to be the Agora Press editions. I enjoy Chief Inspector Littlejohn and his wonderful wife, Letty. There are several books that are set on the Isle of Man, which is a unique setting – Bellairs apparently retired to the Isle of Man, which explains why. There are also a few that are set in France, that take place while Littlejohn is on holiday. The first book in the series was published in 1941, the final book was published in 1980.

That’s a start for today. To be continued…

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