Murder in far away places.

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Photo by João Silas on Unsplash

People stop on the street and ask me, “Elena, how do you keep your sanity so very intact in this uncertain and unprecedented time?”

My husband just informed me that not a single person has asked me that question during this pandemic. Moreover, if someone approached me within the expanded 12-foot radius of a safety zone I had arbitrarily created for myself, I scream like a little girl and run away, waving my hands up in the air.

OK, if anyone would have bothered to ask me how I keep such a glib façade of nonchalance during this current remix of the plague, I would have said, “I’m faking it.” Faking it is the truth most of the time. But the other part of the time, it’s because I read and watch a lot of murder mysteries. Like, a whole lot. And definitely before bed. For reasons I will talk about in my upcoming therapy appointment, reading about murder in far-away from me places soothes and comforts me. I am only trying to help others with what works for me. You may need to find your own self-soothing ritual.

Regarding these murder mysteries, I have recently discovered a series set in Hong Kong, in mid-to-late 1970s, when it was still a British colony. Written by William Marshall, the books are funny, savage, violent, and meticulous and as easy to read as eating potato chips. They are about the Yellow-Thread Street Police Station, and the Chinese, Eurasian, and British policemen and policewomen who work out of the station.

After I read the first one, (bought for $.99) called Yellow-Thread Street, I went ahead and bought the other 15 books in the series. Because these books are on my phone, and I bought them through BookBub (no, I get no commission, wish I did) the most expensive ones were $3.99. Now I am reading the Yellow Thread Street mysteries, in order, and loving, loving, loving them.

Yes, I tore myself from reading Tana French’s Dublin Murder Squad books. Each of these books, though (mostly) involving people working in the same squad, is from a different person’s point of view. And, I gotta say, I am biased toward liking mysteries set in Ireland, as I love Ireland, love the people, the accents and language, the culture and the weather — and, I don’t think anyone cusses more than the Irish, except the Russians. But I digress.

Alexander McCall Smith, one of my favorite mystery authors, has quite a few series out. His The №1 Ladies’ Detective Agency novels are far gentler and kinder than these listed above. They are also incomparably great. The people are full of kindness, wisdom and beauty, they are suffused with it, warmly lit up from within with character. There are 21 books in this series, with one more coming out soon (you can pre-order it), plus a book for young readers. With the stories set in Botswana, this is the country I would now love to visit, although I don’t know if the idyllically polite society and culture of Botswana truly exists, outside the pages of these novels.

Alexander McCall Smith is also the author of several other series, and the one I also love (almost as much as the Ladies’ mysteries) are two mysteries set in Sweden. You may have read or heard about how dark — very dark — most Swedish mysteries are — with several deaths, dark motives, and torture. McCall’s mysteries set in Sweden are “noir light” (is that even a term? It is now.). Again, there is kindness and humanity of the people involved. The first of McCall’s Swedish mysteries was called The Department of Sensitive Crimes. The second one, that came out very recently, is called The Talented Mr. Varg. I cannot wait to read that second one.

Traveling south of McCall’s Botswana, here’s a quick shout-out to Deon Meyers and his two series set in South Africa. One is from the perspective of a bodyguard, and the other a police procedural.

I know that there are tons of incredibly fantastically fabulous (and pretty good) mysteries set right here, in these United States, but right now murder from afar is what I crave, like some people crave caffeine. If my physical body cannot travel, and least the murders I read about can be free to move about the globe.

The main reason I do not belong to a reading club is because more than 90 percent of everything I read is mysteries. However, this doesn’t mean I can’t belong to a club that only reads mysteries — Hey, there’s a thought! I might even originate such a club — if I can find people who don’t mind reading only mysteries, all the time. Then, we would gather together (virtually, of course, right now) with wine, plus snacks, to discuss these books not only for their literary merits (although that’s allowed as well) but for their wonderful red herrings and plot twists.

These are my latest explorations across the globe, via the world of mystery novels. I would love to for you to share with me your travels via murder mystery. In what murderous exotic locales or exotic time periods are you enjoying reading about?

Written by

Writer and storyteller, immigrant, wife, mom, knitter, collector of jokes, lover of cheap, sweet wine.

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