As the title suggests, I’ve been on a detective fiction kick lately. One of my all time favourite mystery novelists is P.D. James, so I’ve been supplementing my home library with those Adam Dalgliesh mysteries I didn’t already have (they are easy to thrift), and re-reading them in the process. The most recent were Devices and Desires, A Taste for Death, and Shroud for a Nightingale. I liked the last one the best of the three; it’s one of James’ older novels and its setting (a nursing school) and plot reminded me of latter day Agatha Christie. What I love about James mysteries is how she delves into the psychology of each character; her books are a mix of police procedural and cozy English mystery featuring a small (but not too small) cast of suspects. The writing is always superb. Adam Dalgliesh is perhaps my favourite fictional police detective, and the supporting recurring characters (including a female detective) are also well drawn.

Because I love P.D. James so much, I got suckered into buying a collection of her short stories, supposedly never before published (The Mistletoe Murders). Well, 3 of the 4 were not; one, I definitely read before. I should have known from the description that the volume would be slim, but I was still disappointed by just how little there was to read, considering the $25 price (for the hardcover). The stories themselves were good, but I definitely don’t recommend buying the book. Thrift a few Dalgliesh novels instead.

I also tried a new-to-me mystery author, Tana French. Her books are buzzy enough, but since I rarely pay attention to new releases, I’d never come across them before. I read In the Woods (the first in her Dublin series of police mysteries) and Broken Harbour (the fourth book in the series). I liked the latter much better, although both were enjoyable. For what it’s worth, I don’t think you need to read the entire series in order; I was able to read Broken Harbour without feeling like I missed anything of substance from not having read Books 2 and 3. With that said, I enjoyed these less than the P.D. James novels. Largely, it comes down to the “flavour” of the mysteries, if you will. Both of French’s books had a very, very small pool of potential suspects, which made them less about  “whodunit” and more about “whydunit”. I prefer more emphasis on the former; James strikes a better balance, in my opinion, although her stories are now obviously more dated (she died in 2005, I think).

My other complaint about French’s books was that some of the critical characters’ psychology struck me as a bit implausible, or perhaps not sufficiently well set up. As far as In the Woods was concerned, the psycho villain was immediately obvious and rather overdone. The fact that one of the central mysteries in the story was not resolved at the end of the book also bugged me, although not as much as some people (according to Goodreads). In Broken Harbour, the “bad guy” was less obvious and the psychology more interesting, but there were still a lot of things I found really implausible. None were bad enough to make me stop reading, mind you. I devoured both books very, very quickly. Let’s just say that I was less than fully satisfied at the end. Would still recommend, but would suggest borrowing them from the library.

Which brings me to a good point. I have a lot of mysteries in my home library, and some of you may wonder why. After all, once you’ve discovered the plot twist at the end of the story, isn’t all the fun gone? Not necessarily. I re-read my favourite mystery novels (Agatha Christie, Ngaio Marsh, PD James, Colin Dexter, etc.) every few years, and always enjoy them. The plots tend to be familiar after a while, but with a sufficiently interesting cast of characters, I tend to forget precisely the details of the ending so there is still a thrill to be had. Robert Galbraith is a good example of a contemporary mystery writer whose books I will happily re-read at some point. (Not yet; not enough time has passed since I read them the first time.) Tana French, on the other hand … probably not. On a re-read, the whodunit would be too obvious, I think.

And with that, let’s move on to some interesting articles. Did you know that people used to wake up in the middle of the night before going back to bed again? This article on first and second sleep lays it all out in fascinating detail. I can’t imagine paying social visits at midnight as a matter of course, but then again I also can’t imagine having to go to bed at 5PM or whatever.

The Fashion Law wrapped up its series on the Anti-Marketing laws of luxury with part 4.

This post on dressing for your face — yes, you read that right — was truly eye-opening. I was very skeptical at first, but the accompanying photos kinda sold me on the author’s basic premise: every face has a type (Classic, Romantic, Gamine, etc.) and the person looks best when their clothes match that style (as opposed to, say, their body type). I recognized some of that struggle in myself; various styles look fine on my body (hourglass/slight pear) but I probably look and feel best in things that match my face type (Dramatic Classic, I think). Anyway, I’ve been reading up on the whole face/body type thing (and seasonal colour analysis) and thinking about my style from that perspective. If you’re familiar with these concepts, I would love to hear from you.

14 Comments on What I Read: Detective Fiction Edition

  1. So what outfits do you think most successfully match your face?

    The thing I found really interesting about the website was the idea that dramatic faces look good on menswear and clean lines because the angularity of their faces is somehow masculine. I’d always assumed the opposite – that it’s the unmistakably feminine women, like Katharine Hepburn, who can pull off menswear because the contrast makes the look interesting. Maybe it’s just a philosophical difference about what looks feminine.

    • That’s very interesting. I would say that Katharine Hepburn, though an undoubtedly beautiful woman, had a more “masculine” beauty than say someone like Scarlett Johansson. Generally, I think angular faces with strong jawlines read as more “masculine”.

      I think my love of clean, architectural lines works for my face, which is definitely more dramatic than anything else. I think I have struggled in the past because my body is not as clearly dramatic as my face, and different kinds of styles look fine with it. But I am still working on refining my style. My next monthly recap is probably going to give a good idea of the general direction in which I’m currently going.

  2. Hmm, the “dress for your face” link is interesting. I have definitely noticed that I don’t feel right in some garments because they don’t seem to match my face. At the same time, I am pretty sure that my features would be considered ingenue (I have really large eyes and fair coloring, and generally look younger than my age), and I don’t feel right in ruffles/bows/etc either. I think it is probably because I am also very petite, with a non-curvy body. So if I wear things that are too sweet/girly I just look juvenile. Maybe there’s such a thing as TOO on point? Interestingly, her “natural ingenue” is probably closest to the style I feel best in…so maybe there’s something about the combination of face (ingenue) and body (natural) type?

    • I think the original Kibbe types (which form the basis of this writer’s system) contemplated both body and face characteristics. There is a quiz floating around online. I haven’t taken it yet but it’s been popular since the 80s. You could try that and see if it works better.

    • Hi Sarah! I’m just jumping in to say that you hit on the one thing that seemed unsatisfying to me – at least some of the style suggestions seemed completely impractical if you’re an adult. You can’t possibly be expected to wear bows and ruffles to work, can you? Or, really, anywhere above the age of 25.

  3. I loved the “Dressing for Your Face” article. I’ve never thought about that before, but it seems pretty accurate and explains a lot about my style preferences. I would say I’m a mix of Gamine/Ingenue (I appreciated the comment that petiteness is not the ultimate defining factor of gamine).

  4. I found the dressing for your face article interesting! I think mine may be dramatic, but in terms of my dress style, I think the dramatic-ingenue-classic style would suit me best. I’ll consider it going forward. I’m usually stumped by the different color systems, though I look best in blues, greens, and purples. Reading through, it just convinced me that I should start there and just try stuff on to see how it looks–I know there are certain shades, like khaki or olive that just wash me out. I will say though, that even with a dramatic, more angular face, I’ve never found that masculine style clothing suited me–maybe it’s just too far from my personal taste.

    • I like a masculine twist on things, if by “masculine” we mean sharply tailored, architectural stuff (all about lines, angles and tailoring). But I like “girly” things too much (like bright colours and prints, especially florals) to go much further than that.

      I think my style is either Dramatic-Ingenue-Classic or Ethereal-Dramatic-Classic, or some hybrid. Between that and the colour palette I’ve adopted, I have really cut down on my clothes shopping in the past month. I mean, it’s all relative of course, but I have definitely experienced a change in how I approach thrifting in particular.

  5. Agreed on Tana French. I like her writing style and her work is very captivating (you want to keep turning the pages!) but the pay off is always kind of a let down and I never feel like her books live up to their promise.

    • Yes, exactly my feelings. But I like her writing enough to try some of her other books. I just thrifted Faithful Place, in fact. Looking forward to reading it.

  6. I’m totally late here, but just to add, I agree with the Classic identity, but I think Gamine is also a part of it. Are people usually telling your look younger than you do? If yes, that’s a sign of a Gamine or Ingénue.

    And about color, I think you are a True (Warm) Spring.

    • I looked at Warm/True Spring, but the colour palette is “meh” to me. There are some bright greens I definitely would never wear (and don’t think would be flattering on me). It’s one of the reasons why I’m struggling with PCA, and have been thinking about getting it professionally done.

      I think Ingenue was one of the components of my style, but probably less so as I get older. I think my style is either Dramatic-Classic-Ingenue or Ethereal-Dramatic-Classic.

  7. You’re right, you are more Ingenue than Gamine. It’s not always easy to translate that style component into work outfits though. But I totally agree on the Classic side.

    I thought about Warm/True Spring because of the Mustard and Tomato Red you wear sometimes. But my screen colors might be a little off. I hope you find your season, it makes shopping decisions a lot faster when you you what to look for.