Monday, June 8, 2015

Crime, Mysteries, Murder: Emerald Dynasty Family Style

Family time is important to my family, the Emerald Dynasty. For a number of years, we gathered to discuss the latest release of J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter novels. We spent time viewing the movies, discussing the characters and events, and comparing differences between the books and the movies. From these gatherings, we formed a group called the “Sin City Marauders”. During the recent Fall and Winter T.V. seasons, my family gathered every Thursday night to view the latest episode of “Grey’s Anatomy”, “Scandal” and “How to Get Away with Murder”. We called ourselves “Gladiators”.

I miss these fun time and lively discussions and plan to propose a summertime activity.  Because of my love of mystery and crime novels and movies, I’m inviting the family to reserve one week night to view some of the genre’s classics. I plan to handle the selection of movies by using a “pot luck” jar. I’ll be placing a number of suggestions in the jar to get the ball rolling. My choices are based on listings from two Crime Companions, namely  “The Top 100 Crime Novels of All Time” published in book form by the British-based Crime Writers’ Association and “The Top 100 Mystery Novels of All Time” published by the Mystery Writers of America. Family members can add additions to the “pot luck” jar at any time.

In case you’re curious, here are some of the selections I’ll put in the "pot luck" jar to get the ball rolling:

The Maltese Falcon, Dashiell Hammett (1930)
Archetypal tough guy, detective Sam Spade, risks his reputation by trying to help a beautiful young lady. As his partner gets killed Spade is suspected for murder. The story is a complex web of betrayal and deception, in which everyone tries to get the gold statuette of a falcon. Sam's masculine strength is refreshing in today's world of male insecurity. Also an excellent movie with Humphrey Bogart - but the book is better.

Rebecca, Daphne du Maurier (1938)
The narrator, a young and shy woman, meets wealthy widow, Maxim de Winter, and falls in love with him. On his grand English estate, Manderley, she is immediately haunted by the powerful presence of the former mistress of Manderley, Maxim's flamboyant late wife Rebecca. This story of emotional horror and evil is classic masterpiece.

The Long Goodbye, Raymond Chandler (1953)
This is probably the best of Chandler's novels. His hero, P.I. Philip Marlowe, tries to help war veteran Terry Lennox, whose sex-obsessed wealthy wife has been murdered. This quickly gets Marlowe into trouble with cops and crazy gangsters. When Terry is also murdered, Marlowe becomes entangled in his friend's dirty family secrets. In his cynical and crisp prose Chandler delivered a gripping tale of moral corruption.

The IPCRESS File, Len Deighton (1962)
Cold war spy thriller that set the standards for the genre. Highly unusual, with a shrewd sense of humour.

Presumed Innocent, Scott Turow (1987)
Turow's first courtroom thriller is one of the best legal fiction novels. As a former U.S. prosecutor, Turow has intimate knowledge of legal procedures and can draw the reader into the grittily realistic drama of a murder trial. A dark twist of events transforms prosecutor Susty Sabich from the accuser to the accused.

Anatomy of a Murder, Robert Traver (1958)
Traver's book tells a story of deceit and murder that ends in a sensational trial. Army Lt. Manion has obviously killed tavern owner Barney Quil, the man who allegedly raped his wife. A cunning prosecutor and a determined defense attorney are battling out the convoluted case, with a surprising end. Also a classic Otto Preminger film.

Postmortem, Patricia Cornwell (2003)
Patricia Cronwell's first book in the Kay Scarpetta series is about a brilliant serial killer who is strangling young women. Kay is applying latest forensic techniques to identify the killer, but someone is sabotaging the investigation.

Strangers on a Train, Patricia Highsmith (2001) (First published 1950)
In her first novel published in 1950, Patricia Highsmith introduced the character of a subtle, murderous, sociopath who lives unsuspected for years. Highsmith's psycho-thriller was the source of a famous Alfred Hitchcock film in 1953. The book is one of the great classics of psychological crime fiction.

The Hunt for Red October, Tom Clancy (1984)
Somewhere under the Atlantic, a Soviet submarine commander has made a fateful decision: the Red October is heading west. This trademark military thriller has launched Tom Clancy's phenomenal career.

To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee (1960)
First published in 1960, the novel is a classic. It is set in Maycomb, a fictional representation of Monroeville, Alabama. The novel was awarded the Pulitzer Prize, and within two years sold more than five million copies in 13 countries. Shame on you, if you have not read "the best novel of the century".

Silence of the Lambs, Thomas Harris (1988)
Hanibal Lecter, a brilliant psychopath whose nickname is "The Cannibal" because he likes to eat parts of his victims, helps FBI trainee Clarice Starling to get into the mind of a serial killer and hunt him down. The book was made into a terrifying film - starring Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins.

The Firm, John Grisham, (1991)
About a law firm controlled by the Mafia. It’s one of the best legal thrillers on the market, fast-paced, smart, with believable characters.

Gone Girl: A Novel, Gillian Flynn (2012)
A portrait of a marriage so hilariously terrifying, we can only give you the initial premise: on their fifth anniversary, Nick Dunne’s beloved wife Amy disappears, and all signs point to very foul play. Nick has to clear his name before the police finger him for Amy’s murder. Masterful storytelling.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Stieg Larsson (2008)
Publisher Mikael Blomkvist ran a story accusing a prominent Swedish business leader of corruption. But the story is exposed as fraud and Blomkvist faces jail. He temporarily retreats to a small island supposedly for writing another industry leader's biography, but is actually hired to solve a family mystery. This multi-layered mystery is one of the smartest thrillers in recent years.

Eye of the Needle, Ken Follett (2004)
During World War II, The Needle, a ruthless German spy, a young Englishwoman and an investigator are linked together in a breathtaking tale of espionage. This superb thriller is one of the best spy novels ever written.
Queen of Crime Agatha Christie is the Best Selling novelist of all time. Her most famous creations are Miss Marpel (12 novels and 4 short stories) and Hercule Poirot (33 novels and 55 short stories). We could include “And Then There Were None”, “The Murder of Roger Ackroyd”, “Death Comes as the End”, or “Murder on the Orient Express”. “The Witness for the Prosecution” ranked #19 as one of the top mystery novel, but should not have been included on the mystery writers’ list. There is no such book. Those who voted for it presumably remember the superb stage play, the equally superb movie or the excellent story on which both were based. (The story’s ending is quite different from that of the dramatic presentations.)

The proposal on gathering the family for mystery/crime viewing and discussions hasn’t been finalized. I’ll keep you posted on our progress. However, why not use the list for summer reads on your own or start a group to view and discuss top mystery/crime novels. It could be fun. Don’t forget to share your adventure with the Emerald Dynasty via The Emerald Quill blog. Enjoy your summer!