Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Fairytale Crime

My new sub-genre designation: Fairytale Crime. These are books that are not, necessarily fairy tales as we normally think of them, but are the kinds of mystery and/or thrillers that can easily be described as fairytale in tone. i.e. THE SECRET OF CHIMNEYS by Agatha Christie. These books usually (but not strictly) have involved story lines dipped in uproarious improbability, heavy on outrageous doings, and the kind of character insouciance that makes actions and motivations just the tiniest bit unrealistic, but charmingly so. Under no circumstance must realism rule the day even when a dead body or two makes an appearance.
I guess these stories could be seen as Fractured Fairytales with murder thrown in.

And of course, no matter what the melodrama, it's all happily ever after (more or less) in the end. If I could pick one quality that all Fairytale Crime stories have in common, it is the ability to delight in some unique way.

I've begun with three titles, but will, over time, add more as we go along. These few are just to whet your appetite for books you may not have read already or if you have, might want to think about in a new way.

This is one of my very favorite sub-genres (even if I've just invented it). I hope you'll let me know if you like the whole idea, if you agree with my designation and if you have any favorites of your own that might qualify.

THE EYRE AFFAIR by Jasper Fforde

The incredibly gifted Mr. Fforde always surprises with what emerges from the depth and lively breadth of his unparalleled imagination. Fforde has created an alternate universe which resembles a slightly off-kilter England. An England where air-travel is conducted by dirigible, time travel exists, the country is run by the all-knowing, all-seeing Goliath Corporation and the profession of literary detective has been made necessary by the propensity of fictional characters to jump from the pages of their books into the 'real' world, causing literary havoc. Phew! The heroine of this series, beginning with The Eyre Affair (Yes, Mr. Rochester makes an appearance), is Thursday Next, literary detective. She has the ability to jump into the pages of a book and inhabit the story - very handy when you're trying to see if a fictional character is up to no good. I mean, imagine if the ending of, say, Jane Eyre were to be altered by a character jumping ship? Unthinkable.

Obviously a huge suspension of disbelief is necessary when reading the Thursday Next books, but if you can manage it and if you like literary allusions, puns and fun wordplay, this series is made for you. I love the books myself, but don't let that sway you.


I am a big fan of Coulter's historical romance/thrillers but not so much her contemporary thrillers. This particular book is my favorite (next to The Sherbrooke Bride) of all her novels and I've lost count of how many times I've read it. It's just a dandy story that lends itself to re-reading. The tale is set in Regency Cornwall and stars 19 year old Caroline Derwent-Jones, the sprightliest heroine you will ever meet. Yes, I know, I know, what on earth could I have in common with a 19 year old heroine? Well, the answer is: not much. Except that Caroline's likability, guts, tenacity and downright moxie transcends age. When first we meet her she is on the run from her profligate guardian, Mr. Ffalkes, a hilariously odious villain who is bound and determined to force Caroline to marry him (she is shortly to inherit a fortune) and whose grown son, Caroline has had to take hostage (I mean, it's all too preposterously wonderful) to escape the vile clutches of Ffalkes and a fate much worse than death.

The amusingly grim and dour hero of this tale is named Frederick North Nightingale, Lord Chilton. I need hardly add any more except to say that he will be vexed by Caroline for the rest of this preposterous and delightful story.

4:50 FROM PADDINGTON by Agatha Christie (also known as: What Mrs. McGillicuddy Saw!)

A Miss Marple book which has all the elements of a fairytale tied up in these two words: Lucy Eyelesbarrow - one of Agatha Christies' more imaginative creations. The ultra-competent, Oxford educated, domestic genius/jack of all trades/fairy godmother, arrives on the scene of the Crackenthorpe mansion (at the behest of Miss Marple) in search of a body and stays to stir things up, receive various marriage proposals and set things to rights - with the help and guidance of Miss Marple, of course. The book has the liveliest of beginnings since it takes place on a train (always a good start) where the Mrs. McGillicuddy of the title witnesses a nasty murder. How the disappearance of a body from a train leads to Lucy Eyelesbarrow being brought in to manage a house full of the quirkiest of Brits, is such fun to read. In fact, the rest of the colorful cast of characters in this very improbable mystery are almost, but not quite, as good as Lucy Eyelesbarrow.


  1. I love the idea of fairy tale crime!

  2. Thanks, Lisa. I didn't know what else to call them and this seemed a good idea at the time. :)


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