Saturday, April 10, 2010

Review of Laurie Mantell's A MURDER OR THREE (2010 Global Reading Challenge)

As some of you know, I'm currently participating in the excellent 2010 Global Reading Challenge, which was created by Dorte of DJs krimiblog, with able assistance from Kerrie of Mysteries in Paradise.

There are over 90 keen readers from around the world participating in one of the three levels of challenge. I'm aiming for the 'Expert' level - to read two novels from each of six continents (Australasia, Asia, Europe, Africa, North/Cenral America, and South America), trying to read and review novels from 12 different countries if possible (and new-to-you authors), as well as two novels set in Antarctica. So a total of 14 novels. The challenge isn't restricted to crime/thriller writing, but that's what I'm aiming to read.

Three months into the year, I'm going along okay with the Expert Challenge, having tried several new authors, and books from or set in several countries. I am just about finished my 12th of 14 novels (Shamini Flint's A BALI CONSPIRACY MOST FOUL). After that I have one more novel from each of South America and Antarctica to read to complete the challenge.

As an aside, I've been thinking - perhaps Dorte and Kerrie could add a further, higher level, encouraging people who finish early to read even more crime fiction from around the world. I'm not sure what you would call it, but format-wise it could perhaps work by adding a 3rd book from each of the main 6 continents (making a nice round total of 20 novels), with all 6 having to be from different authors, and at least the Asia/Europe/Africa ones having to be from a different country than the others from those continents you've read thusfar (given that those continents have plenty of countries to choose from, unlike North America or Australasia). That would make 20 novels, from 20 different authors, two from Antarctica and 3 each from 6 continents, and a minimum of 15 different countries. What do you think?

Anyway, onto another of my much-overdue reviews for 2010 Global Reading Challenge books I have read thusfar this year. I have been a little slack on posting reviews thusfar, so will be posting a few in the coming days, to 'catch up', so to speak. Today, I'm looking at A MURDER OR THREE by Laurie Mantell - the book I read for the 'New Zealand' part of the Australasian continent.

Laurie Mantell was a New Zealand writer of detective fiction, who passed away last month at the age of 93. Between 1978-1984, Mantell wrote five Wellington-set murder mysteries featuring Detective Sergeant Steve Arrow of the NZ Police. She also wrote a sixth crime novel, the standalone MATES, in the late 1990s. I understand that, particularly her first five books, were reasonably well-received and popular, being read and published in several countries. Unfortunately they are a little harder to find now.

In A MURDER OR THREE, three women are murdered, each with a pair of pantyhose. Detective Sergeant Steve Arrow of the Wellington Police knows the first victim, a shy teenager he met as part of an investigation into a flasher seen in nearby bush. The body of the second victim, older, extremely attractive, is found in this same bush, and, later, a flirtatious wife dies in her own home with the tell-tale pantyhose around her throat. Residents are in near panic, and Arrow and his colleagues have little to go on as they try to investigate the murder of three women who seemed to have little in common. Could a serial killer, some kind of sex maniac, be loose in 1980s suburban Wellington?

A MURDER OR THREE was a bit of a change of pace for me, as it definitely reads as a book of 'another era', so to speak - but it is well-written, and very enjoyable nonetheless. I would imagine that Mantell may have been a fan of the classic Golden Era 'puzzle' detective fiction of the likes of Agatha Christie and Ngaio Marsh, as A MURDER OR THREE shows many of the hallmarks of the, rather bloodless and sex-free, 'cosy' style. But this 'traditional' storytelling of course still remains a style that has many, many fans - as evidenced by the popularity of Malice Domestic etc.

In a way, A MURDER OR THREE would probably most appeal to those who love such 'traditional' detective stories, with interesting characters and puzzle-type whodunnit plots (rather than some of the modern procedural or whydunnit styles) - but brought forward from the war and post-war years of Poirot and Alleyn into the 1970s-1980s - a Midsomers Murders or Inspector Morse type of feel and style perhaps. Not a confined mystery of the country house sense, but still 'old school', in a good way.

Mantell writes well, setting up a good plot, with plenty of red herrings and suspicion to be cast about and keep the reader guessing right until the end. Arrow is an engaging lead character, although the reader doesn't get as much background or personal life (overload) with him as you would with some present-day detectives. Mantell brings 1970s/1980s Wellington and New Zealand to life, especially in terms of the way she evokes suburban life, and the way in which even our biggest cities were pretty relaxed in pace at the time.

Overall I really enjoyed A MURDER OR THREE. It was a bit of a nostalgic trip down memory lane, in terms of the style of writing and the era of the story - but in a good way, because Mantell writes very well. If you primarily enjoy the darker end of crime, with plenty of blood and gory serial killers, you might find A MURDER OR THREE a little slow or tame for your liking. But anyone who likes cosy or traditional mysteries, whether by preference or as an occasional diversion, will find themselves very glad if they get their hands on a copy of this book.

A MURDER OR THREE is a solid, enjoyable read. And I for one will definitely be reading more of Mantell's Steve Arrow tales.

Have you read any of Laurie Mantell's work? Does this type of storytelling appeal to you? Thoughts and comments welcome.


  1. Craig - Thanks for this review, and well-done moving along as far as you are on the Global Challenge. I admit that I like the whodunit and intellectual-puzzle kind of story as much as I like today's whydunits and procedurals, so this one appeals to me : ).

  2. Doing okay seems to be an understatement :D
    Are you sure you need any stimulation to read global crime fiction? ;)

    Laurie Mantell sounds good. I like a taste of the good old days once in a while.