For those of us who have read mysteries all our lives—I started as a child—those early queens of mysteries probably were our first introduction to the genre.
I cut my reading teeth on Hammett, Chandler, and Stout, but it was the stories of Josephine Tey, Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, and Margery Allingham that I most gravitated toward.
And, Ngaio Marsh.
Ngaio Marsh was a New Zealand crime writer and theater director who is known primarily for her Inspector Roderick Alleyn, a gentleman detective who works for the Metropolitan Police in London.
If you have never read her Alleyn series, I highly recommend these 32 novels.
But they still hold up. Nine of these novels were adapted as The Inspector Alleyn Mysteries and aired by the BBC in 1993 and 1994 with Patrick Malahide as Alleyn. You can still find these DVDs as The Inspector Alleyn Mysteries, put out by Acorn Media.
Marsh has been cited by several contemporary women mystery writers as their inspiration, among these Val McDermid and Catriona McPherson.
Marsh also is the namesake of the Ngaio Marsh Award that honor the best in crime writing. The New Zealand award is now in its eighth year.
And finally, a woman has been awarded the prize for best crime novel.
Fiona Sussman became the first female author to win the Ngaio Marsh Award for Best Crime Novel, for The Last Time We Spoke. The international judging panel praised the winning novel for being "laden with empathy and insight.... A challenging, emotional read, harrowing yet touching, this is brave and sophisticated storytelling,” Booksellers New Zealand reported.
The Last Time We Spoke, published by Allison & Busby, is described as a survivor and a perpetrator of a brutal home invasion try to come to terms with their altered lives.
Self-published e-book author Finn Bell won the best first novel category, for Dead Lemons. The judges called him "a wonderful new voice in crime writing" who "delivers a tense, compelling tale centered on an original, genuine, and vulnerable character."
Michael Bennett won the inaugural Ngaio Marsh Award for Best Nonfiction, for In Dark Places, which the judges called "a scintillating, expertly balanced account of one of the most grievous miscarriages of justice in New Zealand history."
Living in South Florida, I am well aware of what goes on in Cuba and its impact on the US, especially in the area in which I live.
So Nelson DeMille’s latest novel, The Cuban Affair (Simon & Schuster), held special interest for me, aside from the gripping plot. The look at Cuba, and also the Keys, was what I was after.
Of course, the extra bonus is that The Cuban Affair is a darn good mystery. As I wrote in my Sun Sentinel review, The Cuban Affair is “a heady mix of politics—both US and Cuban—culture, nonstop action, and believable characters.”
DeMille launches a new series with his 20th novel, The Cuban Affair, and his new hero—Daniel “Mac” MacCormick—proves more than capable of leading his own series.
A 35-year-old army veteran wounded in Afghanistan and now living in Key West, Florida, as a charter boat captain, Mac is coaxed into a covert trip to Cuba that offers him a huge paycheck.
A group of anti-Castro Cuban-Americans hire Mac to bring back millions of dollars and some documents hidden in a Cuban cave.
“To say the job is risky is an understatement and it involves a convoluted network of plans, any of which could go wrong,” I wrote in my review.
The Cuban Affair is set in 2015, and US relations with Cuba were very different then, especially in light of recent developments in Washington. DeMille deftly makes “The Cuban Thaw,” as more than one character describes it, an integral part of the plot, which shows suspicions on both sides.
Mac sees Cuba as “an alternative universe where the past and the present fought to become the future.”
The Cuban Affair works as a travel guide, showing the country, the cities, and the people with clarity.
DeMille’s precise research stems from a trip he took with the Yale Educational Travel group in 2015. On that trip was a childhood friend who had been a roommate of former Secretary of State John Kerry.
They had a meeting with the newly opened American embassy in Havana, and a briefing there provided a lot of “grist” for his research, as he writes in a note to his readers. (That embassy has been in the news a lot lately.) While in Havana, DeMille’s group also visited many sites.
This research is deftly woven into the brisk, action-packed plot of The Cuban Affair.
But in addition to Cuban politics, DeMille also delves into the emotional landscape of those who have strong roots in the country. One character sees her grandparents’ former house, the bank her grandfather managed, and the streets her parents once walked. I know many Cuban-Americans who have had similar experiences.
It’s not giving anything away to say that The Cuban Affair begins and ends at The Green Parrot bar in Key West.
The Keys were devastated by Hurricane Irma, but Key West is open again for business, as is The Green Parrot, a landmark bar.
Nelson DeMille photo by John Ellis Kordes Photography.