Lately, for my mystery reading, I’ve returned to another old friend from my past: the Lovejoy series by British author Jonathan Gash. It’s a murder mystery series — the sort where the star, who is not a detective of any kind, in each book is confronted with a murder to solve. Usually against their will; they’d rather be doing anything else.
The Lovejoy series has the added attraction that each book spends a fair fraction of the text talking about antiques. The main character, known only as Lovejoy, is an antiques dealer struggling to make a living. He’s also an antiques “divvie” — he has a definite, if somewhat mystical, connection with genuine antiques. He can always tell the difference between real and fake (as he describes it, a bell goes off in his chest).
I just started reading them last week, and I was immediately struck by something.
Science fiction has been a deep part of my life since I was a child. I discovered it early and have been reading it ever since I started picking my own reading material. As a consequence, I’ve written a lot of posts on various SF topics, but somehow I’ve never gotten around to writing much about my other favorite genre: detective stories.
As with the SF, I discovered Sherlock Holmes early, along with the Agatha Christie detectives, Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot. I fell in love with the idea of the puzzle-solving detective. (I also had a crush on Nancy Drew, but that was a whole other kind of interest.)
Then my dad, who also loved mysteries, introduced me to Rex Stout…
Code master Wheatstone
Among my second tier interests are murder mysteries, detective stories, and cryptography. The first typically includes the second, but there are many detective stories that don’t involve murder. Two of my favorite detectives, Spenser (by Robert B. Parker) and V.I. Warshawski (by Sara Paretsky), often have cases not involving murder.
The third interest I listed, cryptography, doesn’t usually coincide with the first two, but it did play a role in a recent locked-room murder mystery involving the delightful amateur detective Lord Peter Wimsey (by Dorothy L. Sayers). While I’ve always enjoyed secret codes, I’d never heard of the cipher Sayers used — the Playfair cipher.
It dates back to 1854, and is kind of cool, so I thought I’d share it.