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by Jim Huang and Austin Lugar
Crum Creek Press, November 2006
224 pages
ISBN: 096258049X

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

If you have ever read the excellent Agatha award-wining collection of essays such as THEY DIED IN VEIN and 100 FAVOURITE MYSTERIES OF THE CENTURY then you will be in no doubt that you are on to a winner with this latest collection of essays, MYSTERY MUSES: 100 CLASSICS THAT INSPIRE TODAY’S MYSTERY WRITERS. This time around the editors have collected the responses from 100 of today’s crime writers about classics that inspired them to write.

It is evident from the responses received from the authors that not only do they all have wide and eclectic tastes but also many of them have been reading crime and mystery fiction over a long period.

From the perspective of someone who enjoys reading these types of essays one is certainly overwhelmed by the wide variety of responses received and the essays are most illuminating. Where else would you find authors such as the multi award-wining author Edward Hoch talking about the first mystery book that set him on the road to writing, Ellery Queen’s THE CHINESE ORANGE MYSTERY. Then there is Barbara D’Amato on MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS by Agatha Christie. Laura Lippman on James M Cain’s THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE, Linda Fairstein and Jan Burke on REBECCA by Daphne Du Maurier and Dashiell Hammett’s RED HARVEST respectively; Gary Phillips on POP.1280 by Jim Thompson and William Kent Krueger on THE BIG SLEEP by Raymond Chandler to name a few.

All the well-known and classic authors and various schools are well represented along with children’s authors such as Carolyn Keene and Louise Fitzhugh, science fiction writers Isaac Asimov and Robert Heinlein. One could easily use MYSTERY MUSES as an historical text on the history of crime and mystery fiction.

As much as I enjoyed reading this book, I had one main problem with it. If this is supposed to be 100 classics that have inspired today’s writers then why are there only six British authors in the book and no foreign authors? Are there no other 'international' authors such as French, Italian, or Swedish writers that could have been included?

There are a number of internationally-known crime writers that should have and could have been incorporated, such as French author Fred Vargas, Italians Tonino Benacquista and Gianrico Carofiglio, and Swedes Henning Mankell, Liza Marklund and Ake Edwardson. The fact that they have not been included is a disappointment because it is the one thing that lets down an otherwise excellent book.

A majority of the authors included in MYSTERY MUSES are well-known American authors but if you are not a fan of the genre then some of the names are not in the least bit recognisable. Despite this little gripe, this is certainly the type of book any self-respecting reader of crime fiction should have on their bookshelf. It is the type of book that one can dip into time after time.

Reviewed by Ayo Onatade, October 2006

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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