Friday, June 5, 2015

I, the Jury versus The Cereal Murders

You won't meet two more opposite protagonists than Mike Hammer and Goldy Bear. One carries a gun, the other a spatula. One is a professional hard-boiled detective, the other is an amateur detective who sometimes hard boils eggs. One is a cynical lone wolf, the other a resourceful woman with friends and family all around her. One lives in a seedy, urban world, the other in a self-contained, small town.

These were the detectives in the books I read over the past two weeks for the History of Mystery class I am attending. The Mike Hammer book is I, the Jury by Mickey Spillane. The Goldy Bear title is The Cereal Murders by Diane Mott Davidson.

Image result for i the jury

The writing style in I, the Jury is terse and gritty as befits the personality of Mr. Hammer. (At first I found it entertaining but after a hundred pages, it began to wear thin.) He charges around the city chasing down clues and suspects in the murder of a friend who at one time saved his life.  He has sex or thinks about having sex with just about every woman he meets. He falls in love at the drop of his felt hat. A bottle of beer (more like a 12-pack) and many smokes help him think about the case. The story, set against the background of human trafficking, prostitution, and heroin addiction, not to mention multiple murders, seems oddly modern and is reflected in today's headlines. 

Image result for cereal murders

On the other hand, the writing style in The Cereal Murders, the third in a series starring caterer Goldy Bear, is almost florid. Way too many adjectives and adverbs to my taste. There were a couple of witty lines but not enough to keep me reading this 335-page mystery. I didn't particularly care for any of the characters - living or dead - and after a hundred pages jumped to the end to see who the murderer was. Even then I didn't care. For me, the whole thing fell as flat as one of Goldy's failed souffles.

It seems that the cozy mystery with its amateur detective, usually a woman with an interesting but not too stressful job or avocation that allows her to eavesdrop, is a genre that has exploded in the past 30 years or so. Perhaps as an antidote to the earlier hard-boiled, violent mysteries. Or, it was noted, as perhaps an updating of the Golden Age mysteries.

Unlike the up close and personal murder in the hard-boiled detective story, in the cozy mysteries, the violence is usually off-stage, there is little profanity and no graphic sex, and no harm ever comes to a cat.

The discussions about these two books was lively. The class was especially divided over the Diane Mott Davidson book - some found it frustrating and others loved it and raved about the entire series (of which there are to this date seventeen.)

I would like to read or reread some of the classic hard-boiled detective stories of Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler. And there are many, many cozy mysteries on the bookstore shelves that probably would appeal to me if I can only find them. Some of the ones I have started are way to cute. 

Next week's discussion will be on the Dark and Dangerous genre typified by Elizabeth George, Val McDermid, Tana French, and others. I read long ago the book suggested for the class written by Ms. George, A Great Deliverance, and dark and dangerous it is. I stopped at this first book in the series that introduced her Inspector Lynley.

So where do you fall in your reading tastes? Are you a Mike Hammer or a Goldy Bear? Or maybe somewhere in between?


  1. I've read the classic hard-boiled mysteries, but they're not my favorite (although I usually like movies of those books). But I also don't like the fluffy mysteries. I guess my tastes fall between the two. I've just discovered the author Margot Arnold, whose protagonists Sir Toby Glendower and Dr. Penny Spring are archeologists, as was the author.

    I've read most of Elizabeth George's books but stopped as they got thicker and thicker (longer and longer). I've also read most of Val McDermid's, but finally the horrific descriptions of the sex crimes in her books turned me off. Tana French's first book, In the Woods, left me feeling unsatisfied. One of the reasons many of us like mysteries is because they are a contained and just world: the good guys win and the bad guys lose.

    Your course sounds like a lot of fun.

    1. Joan, I know you are a mystery fan as well and I appreciate your comments. I just can't see any pleasure in reading 'horrific descriptions' right before I go to sleep. By the time I finished Elizabeth George's first book, my stomach hurt and I had nightmares. So that was that and I am very careful now about what I read. I hope to find some cozy mysteries that are well written and entertaining and not too fluffy. The reading list from the class is quite long and when I get a minute or two I will post it here. I will look for the Margot Arnold books and give them a try.

  2. I've read most of the Goldy mysteries, and I totally understand what you're saying. I liked some things about them and didn't like others. (On the plus side, I've actually tried several of the recipes in her books and they've turned out well!) I probably fall closer to the Goldy end of the spectrum than the Mike Hammer end...I don't like too dark and distrubing a story, and I prefer not to read all the gory details of the crimes. But I also like good writing, and will put up with more intensity of story to read it.

    1. Kathy, I am not surprised to learn that you have tried Goldy's recipes. As you know, I am worthless in the kitchen! I think her brownies are supposed to be a reader favorite. I will continue to search for well-written mysteries that are told with a bit of humor and let you know when I come across any favorites.

  3. Belle, WOW what interesting covers! I would be interested to know if your expert knows of Georges Simenon the Belgian writer. I recall my mother devouring Penguin editions of her favourite mystery author who was best known as the creator of the fictional detective Jules Maigret. I have not read or even seen one of his books in decades possibly he was a favourite of another age. With very limited reading experience in this genre I'm afraid I fall into the Agatha Christie camp, if there is one. The hard-boiled Spillane for the little I have read left me cold (except for the covers !! %-)).

    1. Tullik, thanks for the mention of Georges Simenon. He is one of my favorites and perhaps will show up when we discuss police procedurals. I will remember to mention him at that class. You are in good company in the Agatha Christie camp. I think she is probably a favorite of many mystery readers.

      I read the Mickey Spillane book more out of curiosity than anything else. I did read that he once played his hero Mike Hammer in the film 'The Girl Hunters'. I don't know of another author who has done that. And, yes, the lurid covers are quite spectacular, aren't they!

  4. I can't read Mickey Spillane. I had to read one of his books--any of his books--for a class in Images of Women in Lit. I didn't care for his images..

    I like cozies, and did read one of the Motts. I like Laura Childs' tea house myserteries, but I have to admit that most of it is because I like to read about the business! I don't actually remember any of the mysteries...

    1. You are so right, Kat. Mr. Spillane offers very unflattering images of women. It is OK for Mike Hammer to want to have sex with all the women he meets, but if a woman wants to have sex with him, well, she is classed as a 'nymphomaniac'. I had to cringe at some of the language. Very politically incorrect.

      I will try the tea house books. We love tea. There is also a series that features a bookstore-owning sleuth. A whole world to discover.