The Sir John Fielding Mystery Series

Like I’ve said many times before, I’m always on the lookout for another good mystery series to read.  I know a lot of you are too, so I thought I’d share some of my favorite ones with you and hopefully a few of them will be a good match to what you’re looking for!

“It’s a great era to write about. So much crime. The last witch was burned in England in the early 18th century. Yet the beginnings of modern times are right there, too.” – Bruce Alexander (1)

I’ll start with one of the first mystery series I read from beginning to end: the Sir John Fielding mysteries by Bruce Alexander (the pseudonym of Bruce Cook). This is a historical mystery series set in the late 1700’s that features Sir John Fielding, the real-life, blind magistrate of Bow Street Court.

“I was just reading around in a book called A House in Bow Street, a history of the Bow Street Runners, by Anthony Babington, published in the UK, when I first met with Sir John Fielding, this great, great character, and wondered why nobody had done anything about him. This was about 1976 or 77. And nobody had!” – Bruce Alexander (1)

The books are narrated by Jeremy Proctor, a fictional character, who serves as Sir John’s assistant throughout the series.  They are told as something of a memoir, as Jeremy is looking back at his adventures with Sir John Fielding after his mentor has died.  In the first book, Blind Justice, he recounts his initial meeting with Sir John when he was brought before the Bow Street Court as an accused thief… wrongly accused of course.  Sir John wasn’t fooled by the false accusation though and quickly worked out the truth of the matter.  And because Jeremy was a newly-orphaned thirteen-year-old in London for the first time, he decided to temporarily make Jeremy a ward of the court.  Jeremy’s father had been a printer and had trained Jeremy in the trade so Sir John decided that he should be apprenticed to a printer to finish his training.  A meeting with Dr. Johnson to help set up the apprenticeship is interrupted though with news of the death of a prominent figure and their first case together is underway.

The use of a young, inexperienced side-kick is particularly well suited to historical detection; much historical information can be presented to the modern reader as the detective explains his reasoning to the perplexed assistant.  Jeremy, a naive teenager from Leichfield, is somewhat of an outsider to everyday life in London, thus allowing the author to introduce the conventions of the age. (2) 

As they wrapped up the murder investigation, where he proved that he could be quite useful, Jeremy hoped that Sir John would have changed his mind about the apprenticeship.  But Sir John still feels that is the best decision and the second book in the series, Murder In Grub Street, opens with what is supposed to be Jeremy’s first day on the job.  But fate, and murder, intervene once again.

As the series continues on with many more exciting mysteries to solve, Jeremy, now firmly established as a part of Sir John’s household, quickly begins to mature into a very capable assistant.

“And I would say I have an obligation, to the reader and to Jeremy himself, to bring him up through adolescence and so on. That’s why I spend so much time on his crushes. He becomes involved, mostly in his fantasy life, with a young prostitute. He’s an adolescent boy. He lived in one of the wildest, smallest parts of London. I’ve tried to make him develop normally, truthfully.” – Bruce Alexander (1)

The last book in the series, Rules Of Engagement, was left unfinished by Bruce Alexander at his death in 2003.  His widow Judith Aller and John Shannon worked together to finish it and it was published in 2005.

I’ve read a lot of other series since I first discovered this one, but it still remains one of my favorites.  One of the most important things about a book to me is that it has unique, memorable characters and this series certainly does.  The fictional characters are well-thought-out and the addition of real-life people adds a lot to the stories.  And while I haven’t read many books set in this time period, it seems to be pretty accurate to how life was then.

Historical accuracy in characterization is another important element in this series.  Using a real historical personage as a detective is common in historical mysteries.  Alexander is thoroughly versed in the minutiae of Sir John Fielding’s life and displays that knowledge for the benefit of the reader. (2)

___

“Well, I have said that he was a good man in a bad time, and he was that. He was knighted for his social plans and for his work with the Bow Street Runners and so on…
I couldn’t tell you what Sir John Fielding was really like; but I suppose I’ve been inspired somewhat by Samuel Johnson. He’s a little less haughty than Samuel Johnson, but I would say he’s just as given to controversy. And doesn’t duck a good controversy.”  – Bruce Alexander (1)

fielding

If you’ve read The Sir John Fielding books I’d love to know what you thought about them.  And if you’d like to check out another series that features the Bow Street Runners then pick up T.F. Banks Memoirs of A Bow Street Runner series that’s set in the early 1800’s.  The Thief Taker was published in 2001 and The Emperor’s Assassin in 2003.

Sources:

1. “Cook’s Tour Of The Past” an interview of Bruce Cook for January Magazine (1999) written by Tom Nolan
http://januarymagazine.com/profiles/bruce.html

2. The Detective as Historian: History and Art in Historical Crime Fiction edited by Ray B. Browne and Lawrence A. Kreiser, Jr.
Bruce Alexander article written by Donna Bradshaw Smith.  Published by University of Wisconsin Press (2013).  Pages 176 & 178

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Coming Soon: Murder At The 42nd Street Library

The stack of books I have yet to read is taller than I am but that hasn’t dissuaded me from looking for others others to add to it.  Especially when it comes to mysteries.  I was browsing through some upcoming releases on Amazon the other day and this one caught my attention:

murder at the 42nd street library_MECH_01.indd

A mystery that involves books or the book industry is something I will definitely check out but I’ve not read too many that focus on a library. It sounds interesting!  Here’s what it is about:

This first book in an irresistible new series introduces librarian and reluctant sleuth Raymond Ambler, a doggedly curious fellow who uncovers murderous secrets hidden behind the majestic marble façade of New York City’s landmark 42nd Street Library.

Murder at the 42nd Street Library follows Ambler and his partners in crime-solving as they track down a killer, shining a light on the dark deeds and secret relationships that are hidden deep inside the famous flagship building at the corner of 42nd Street and Fifth Avenue.

In their search for the reasons behind the murder, Ambler and his crew uncover sinister, and profoundly disturbing, relationships among the scholars studying in the iconic library. Included among the players are a celebrated mystery writer who has donated his papers to the library’s crime fiction collection; that writer’s long-missing daughter, a prominent New York society woman with a hidden past, and more than one of Ambler’s colleagues at the library. Shocking revelations lead inexorably to the traumatic events that follow―the reading room will never be the same. (Amazon)

Murder at the 42nd Street Library by Con Lehane will be released on April 26th.

Other Books By Con Lehane: Beware The Solitary Drinker, Death At The Old Hotel, What Goes Around Comes Around

The Railway Detective

Whenever I make the trip over to Half Price Books I’ve always got a list of books to look for.  It’s usually just wishful thinking though because about 95% of the time they don’t have what I want.  But it’s never a wasted trip… I just wander the aisles until a book or two (or ten) catches my eye.  I was browsing the mystery aisle a few months ago when I noticed this one:

The Railway DetectiveAnything about trains, particularly in the mystery aisle, is bound to catch my attention and The Railway Detective by Edward Marston (Keith Miles is his real name) did just that.  I was pretty excited to find this one, especially after reading the description:
London 1851.  With the opening of the Great Exhibition at hand, interest is mounting in the engineering triumphs of the railways, but not everyone feels like celebrating…
In an audacious attack, the London to Birmingham mail train is robbed and derailed, causing many casualties.  Planned with military precision, this crime proves a challenge to Detective Inspector Robert Colbeck who fights to untangle a web of murder, blackmail and destruction.
As Colbeck closes in on the criminal masterminds, events take an unexpected turn when the beautiful Madeleine, daughter of the injured train driver, becomes a pawn in the criminal’s game.  With time running out, good and evil, new and old, battle against each other.  But will the long arm of the law have speed on its side?
Full of historical detail, The Railway Detective is an action-packed dip into murky 1850s London.

As excited as I was to read this one, I was a little disappointed by the time I finished it.  I liked the plot and the details given about the different types of trains but it just wasn’t enough to set it a part from the many other mystery series I read.  While the main characters, Detective Inspector Colbeck and Sergeant Leeming, are likable enough all the characters felt a little flat, especially the main “criminal mastermind”. The dialogue seemed to be pretty repetitive in parts too.

The Railway Detective did keep me interested enough to finish it though and I really do like the idea of a mystery series focusing on trains and railways.  I’ll probably try one or two more books in the series.  A lot of times a series improves with each new book and hopefully this one will too!  If you’ve read The Railway Detective, I’d love to know what you thought about it!

This Edition: Paperback published by Allison and Busby (2005)

Other books in The Railway Detective series: The Excursion Train, The Railway Viaduct, The Iron Horse, Murder On The Brighton Express, The Silver Locomotive Mystery, Railway To The Grave, Blood On The Line, The Stationmaster’s Farewell, Peril On The Royal Train, A Ticket To Oblivion, Inspector Colbeck’s Casebook, Timetable Of Death

Coming Soon: Stop The Presses!

Rex Stout is my favorite mystery author and I love his Nero Wolfe series.  So I was a little hesitant the first time I picked up a Nero Wolfe book written by Robert Goldsborough.  There was nothing to worry about!  I’ve really enjoyed his additions to the series.  After receiving permission from the estate of Rex Stout, Goldsborough published seven Nero Wolfe books in the 80s & 90s.  He then took a break from the Wolfe books to focus on his own series featuring Steve Malek.

He turned his attention back to Nero Wolfe with the publication of Archie Meets Nero Wolfe in 2012 (my favorite of his books so far!) and has followed it up with three more books, including the one being released next week.

Stop The PressesStop The Presses! will be released on March 8th.  Here’s what it is about:

Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin are tasked with protecting the most hated columnist in New York City.
There are few people Nero Wolfe respects, and Lon Cohen of the New York Gazette is one of them. So when Cohen asks for a favor, the famously brilliant—and notoriously lazy—detective is inclined to listen. According to Cohen, someone wants to kill the Gazette’s gossip columnist, Cameron Clay. Death threats are a regular hazard for Clay, who’s hurled insults and accusations at every bold-faced name in the five boroughs. But the latest threats have carried a more sinister tone.

The columnist has narrowed his potential killers down to five people: an egomaniacal developer, a disgraced cop, a corrupt councilman, a sleazy lawyer, and his ex-wife. But when Clay turns up dead, the cops deem it a suicide. The bigwigs at the Gazette don’t agree, so they retain Wolfe and his indefatigable assistant, Archie Goodwin, to figure out which of the suspects had the mettle to pull the trigger.

Other Nero Wolfe books by Robert Goldsborough: Murder In E Minor, Death On A Deadline, The Bloodied Ivy, The Last Coincidence, Fade To Black, Silver Spire, The Missing Chapter, Archie Meets Nero Wolfe, Murder In The Ball Park, Archie In The Crosshairs

Website: www.robertgoldsborough.com

Coming Soon: Home By Nightfall

I’ll read just about anything if it looks interesting to me but I’d have to say that my favorite genre is mystery. Like I mentioned before, I’m always on the lookout for a new mystery series and years ago when I read the first book in the Charles Lenox series I knew I had found a good one. It usually only takes me a day or two to read each book, which makes the wait for the next one seem extra long. But now it’s not too far away!  Home By Nightfall by Charles Finch is due to be released on November 10th!

home by nightfall

Here is the description of the book from Amazon: It’s London in 1876, and the whole city is abuzz with the enigmatic disappearance of a famous foreign pianist. Lenox has an eye on the matter – as a partner in a now-thriving detective agency, he’s a natural choice to investigate. Just when he’s tempted to turn his focus to it entirely, however, his grieving brother asks him to come down to Sussex, and Lenox leaves the metropolis behind for the quieter country life of his boyhood. Or so he thinks. In fact, something strange is afoot in Markethouse: small thefts, books, blankets, animals, and more alarmingly a break-in at the house of a local insurance agent. As he and his brother to investigate this small accumulation of mysteries, Lenox realizes that something very strange and serious indeed may be happening, more than just local mischief. Soon, he’s racing to solve two cases at once, one in London and one in the country, before either turns deadly. Blending Charles Finch’s trademark wit, elegance, and depth of research, this new mystery, equal parts Jane Austen and Charles Dickens, may be the finest in the series.

Other Books In The Series: A Beautiful Blue Death, The September Society, The Fleet Street Murders, A Stranger In Mayfair, A Burial At Sea, A Death In The Small Hours, An Old Betrayal, The Laws Of Murder