Mysteries for me were always the common ground I found with my mother.  In a relationship not always easy they were the one subject where we could declare a truce.  We'd share Ngaio Marsh books and discuss the correct pronunciation.  We'd debate whether The Nine Tailors or Gaudy Night was the best book by Dorothy L. Sayers.  I was definitely in the Nine Tailors camp, having developed a crush on Lord Peter and therefore hating that tramp, Harriet Vane.  My mother, hearing this, declared Harriet to be her favorite. 


We read Michael Innes together, and laughed, and felt quietly superior for understanding some of the literary references, and we agreed Josephine Tey was probably the best of them, though once again we disagreed on which was her masterpiece, my mother plumping for The Franchise Affair and therefore I passionately arguing that The Daughter of Time was Tey's best (while secretly agreeing with my mother that The Franchise Affair has no equal - I still think that).


My mother introduced me to Georges Simenon's Inspector Maigret and the austere post-war Paris, and the brasseries where they ate endless sandwiches and drank beer.  My love of Maigret has informed my own writing, and in the first draft of STILL

LIFE one of Gamache's inspectors was named Janvier, in homage to Maigret's second-in-command.  Indeed, each and every one of these Golden Age writers has inspired some aspect of my work.  From Tey's crystalline prose where every word counts, to Innes' insistence that a mystery can also be intelligent and intellectual.  To my crush on Lord Peter, and my crush on my own detective, Gamache.



But no one has influenced me more than the very first mystery author my mother pressed into my hand.  Agatha Christie. From that moment a life-long love affair has flowed.  I am almost without critical faculties when I read a Christie, though I know in my head some are better than others.  Indeed, I know some are so awful as to defy reason.  But others are fabulous. 


And I don't care which I read.  I honestly don't.  Great Christies, dreadful ones.  They're all much the same because I no longer read them for the story.   They serve another, more intimate, purpose.  I read and re-read them today when I'm ill, or stressed, or the world has been meaner than I would have liked.  Or I've been meaner. 


I crawl into bed with a vat of Gummi bears, a Diet Pepsi and an Agatha Christie.  And as I read my mother comes to me.  Not the mother I remember arguing with - but the mother who would laugh, and debate and discuss these books.  Who'd visit used bookstores with me and spend hours finding old, dusty treasures.  And the mother who died just before my own first mystery was published.  A traditional mystery, inspired by the books she loved, and gave to me.


What are the books and writers that you shared with your mother?


Editor's Note: Louise Penny is the award winning author of the Inspector Gamache novels. Her latest book, The Brutal Telling, was named a Barnes and Noble Recommends Main Selection.


by Moderator becke_davis on ‎10-07-2009 03:58 PM

Hi Louise! I already liked your books, but after seeing your comments about Josephine Tey I can see we also have similar taste in mysteries! I think Tey's Daughter of Time is a classic, but The Franchise Affair is also my personal favorite. She's a fabulous author, and I wish more people read her these days. I think I've read all the Maigret novels, too, but like you, Christie is my all-time favorite. 


In the days before B&N -- back when my TBR pile wasn't growing like kudzu -- I would reread a Christie whenever I was in need of a comfort read. I've read all of her books, even the Mary Westmacotts and her plays, but the Miss Marple books are my favorites. I'm not sure what it is about Miss Marple, but I would have liked to meet her!


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