Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Middlebrow Mysteries

Mirabile Dictu writes that she enjoys reading middlebrow fiction. I enjoy reading Middlebrow Mysteries. Nothing too gory, too psychological, or too creepy. No scary Scandinavian sagas for me. I just want my crimes stories to be witty and well-written.

Here is a sampling of a few Middlebrow Mysteries I have recently finished:

Why Me? by Donald Westlake (1983)

Oh dear. Poor John Dortmunder. In this caper, his fifth, he has unwittingly stolen the hugely valuable Byzantine Ruby while burglarizing a jewelry store. He doesn't even realize he has it. But now all of New York City's finest are after him along with the FBI. Not only that, but because the cops are shaking down all the street criminals, they in turn are trying to find out who stole the ruby so they can get the cops off their backs. And then there are the terrorists. Everyone one wants to get hold of him. John and Andy Kelp take to the sewers to avoid grievous bodily harm. Westlake has fun making fun of (at the time) new telephone gadgetry and paints a hilarious picture of the police chief and the two FBI fellows.

Murder in the Mews by Agatha Christie (1937) 

Actually this volume contains four novellas or short stories by Dame Agatha all starring M. Hercule Poirot. In the title tale, a young woman commits suicide. Or was it murder? Only her roommate holds the clue that can help solve the mystery.

In the second, "The Incredible Theft", plans for a bomber plane go missing and M. Poirot is called into action in the middle of the night. It takes some snooping about in the Michaelmas daisies of Lord Charles Mayfield's stately home to discover who stole the missing blueprints.

"Dead Man's Mirror" presents another suicide-or-murder case for the Belgian detective at the country manor house of Sir Gervase Chevenix-Gore. Sir G. summoned Poirot but by the time he arrives, the summoner is dead. This one has a classic "everyone assembled in the study" denouement.

Finally, in "Triangle at Rhodes", a vacationing M. Poirot cannot escape the tragedy of a poisoning and a lovers' triangle. Poor Poirot. He just can't seem to get away from murder.

I am currently reading the sixth Dortmunder novel, Good Behavior. While trying to escape from the police, John literally falls through the roof of a convent. He is rescued by the the nuns who have taken a vow of silence (which allows Westlake to have some fun working out the communication between sisters and burglar).  In lieu of turning him and his burglary tools over to the police, the nuns (whose names all are Mary...Mother Mary Forcible, Sister Mary Serene, Sister Mary Capable, Sister Mary Accord, Sister Mary Vigor...) want Dortmunder to rescue Sister Mary Grace whose wealthy father has kidnapped her from the convent and is having her 'deprogrammed' in his apartment on the 76th floor of his bank building. 

How will Dortmunder ever cope with hidden elevators, bodyguards with guns, and Mother Mary Forcible? 


  1. Ooh, I'm all in favor of the Agatha Christie. And I STILL have Westlake on my list. I'm hoping to pick up some of his books at a sale...

    I don't read the hardcore crime fiction either--still haven't gotten to, well, the Scandinavian trilogy that was made into movies. The titles escape me!

    1. Kat, I am not even sure what I consider highbrow mysteries: P.D.James? Dorothy Sayers? Ruth Rendell? What do you think?