Best of 2013: Crime and Clothes

Who did do the murders? And were they well-dressed? And why are you looking at me like that?

Clothes in Books covers many different kinds of books (wherever there are clothes, obviously) but there is something of a leaning towards crime stories – just over a third of last year’s entries were on novels that could in some way be described as crime, detection, murder or espionage. It’s traditional on crime fiction blogs to produce a Best-of list at the end of the year. Bernadette at Reactions to Reading did further research into her own list: the results were fascinating, and though I will not be producing graphs to match hers, she did inspire me to compile some statistics. 

So. Of my crime authors, approximately 55% were women and 45% were men. I read about 40% of the books on my Kindle, the rest on paper. That probably is a lower Kindle percentage than in my other reading, because I’m always chasing down ancient copies of lost classics in the genre, and I also often re-read from a vast collection of old crime paperbacks. However, a quick shoutout to the excellent Bello, an imprint of Pan MacMillan, who help shift the balance – they are launching a lot of out-of-print books in electronic form, and more publishers should follow their example.

In a hat like this I can get away with murder

About 70% of my crime books were British-set – most of the others were American, with a few excursions to Canada,  DenmarkIreland and Australia. I’m tempted to say there were a few books set in a place I have described as ‘Planet Nowhere: some weird English dystopia based on Agatha ChristieDownton Abbey, and Cold Comfort Farm.’ Or just a place where nobody speaks or acts in a real or imaginable way. But fortunately such books were rare, and I won’t name them. 

Here are a few more categories:

Two books I knew I would love, and did. The latest in the series by Catriona McPherson (Dandy Gilver and a Deadly Measure of Brimstone) and Elly Griffiths (Dying Fall). Dandy Gilver and Ruth Galloway are wonderful characters, and these are both series that I get hold of on publication day.

A female author who sounds male and turned out to be JK Rowling The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith had a pseudonym, a sex change and an air of controversy. But was it any good? Yes, it was excellent, and also gave us a chance to show off an original vintage Ossie Clark dress.

No expectations, but blew me away: I had always (snobbishly) assumed that Marion Keyes was not an author I would care for, but I loved The Mystery of Mercy Close (picture, right, representing the heroine's sister in her capris.)

Michael Hogan: Burial of the Dead. A 2008 murder story that passed under most people’s radar, but is quite startlingly good, and very very unusual.

Three new-to-me female authors I’ll be looking out for in the future:  A Killing at Cotton Hill (thanks Col)  introduced me to 
Terry Shames – I said at the time ‘I loved this book: the Texan geography, the small-town atmosphere, the logical steps in solving the crime, the descriptions of the people and places that the investigator came across along the way – all were perfectly done.’

Lesley Thomson wrote The Detective’s Daughter - This really excellent book doesn’t hold back on the bad results of the murder, but is also very good on detection and relationships.

Lynn Shepherd drew readers in with  A Treacherous Likeness, a wonderful book about the poet Shelley and his circle, a really strong novel that happened to feature crime.

Three reliable writers produced new books this year: Robert Harris’s An Officer and A Spy told the story of the Dreyfus affair to great effect:

Barry Maitland gave us an excellent new entry in the Brock and Kolla mysteries, The Raven’s Eye.

And DJ Taylor’s counter-factual The Windsor Faction was a terrific WW2 book – good on the home front. (The top picture comes from the blog entry on this book.)

Re-reads: I was glad to re-read a few 1970s 80s and 90s murder classics: by Sarah Caudwell, Antonia Fraser Robert Barnard (who sadly died this year) and Justin Scott – and particularly enjoyed finding fashion pictures for their entries. The hat lady above features in the least likely of these. The young women on the right represent the gilded rubbish of Oxford in the 1980s.

Agatha Christie is on a permanent roll of re-reading, and some of the best pictures turn up for her blog entries:

 these were for Death on the Nile and Five Little Pigs.

More than 160 crime books have featured on the blog since it began – you can see a list of all of them by clicking on the Crime Fiction tab above, and you can look up authors either on that tab or the author list tabs.

More Best Of 2013 coming soon. For picture credits follow links to the original entries.


  1. Thanks for the mention Moira...and the suggestions. I really have been out of things these past few months so am enjoying people's 'top reads' lists as fuel for my own reading this year. I like your "no expectations but blew me away" category and I also love that hat...I think a gal could get away with anything in a hat like that.

    1. I'm glad we don't *have* to wear hats these days, but I do regret that I will never get the chance to wear that one! Glad you like the post Bernadette - as I said, I found yours an inspiration.

  2. Great post, glad I helped provide at least one decent read! Thansk for the mention.
    Probably another week or so, before I get onto doing my highlights of the year!

    1. Thanks Col - you get the credit for a great find! look forward to reading your list...

  3. Moira - I love your categories. And thanks for this wrap-up. I think one thing I like best about it is that you make a category for re-reads. I've done some of that myself this year, and I'm very glad that I did.

    1. I love my re-reads, I enjoy them hugely, and they are the true comfort reads aren't they? It's also always interesting to try to remember when I first read the book.

  4. As always, you have a unique and inventive way of handling the subject. Many of these are books and authors you have introduced me to, and I appreciate that. You have done much better than I have at reading a good proportion of women authors. I have not calculated the stats, but one month I made the effort to stick with just women authors and failed. And I love your definition of Planet Nowhere. I will have to check out some that I missed earlier.

    1. Thanks so much for the kind words Tracy, and glad you enjoyed the post. I wasn't sure what I would find when I started calculating the gender balance, and was relieved that it was in favour of women....

  5. Wow! What an impressive combination of photos and reading.

    It would take a woman with great self-confidence to wear that remarkable hat.

    I was surprised this fall at The Bay store, part of a Canadian department store chain, in Regina. While Sharon was looking for clothes I saw several hats, not as dramatic as in the photo, but still far from ordinary. I had not seen women's hats in stores for a long time.

    1. That's interesting - my local dept store says they have hats in for Ascot races and the wedding season... talking impractical hats here, like the one above, not sensible winter warm hats. I just went and looked at the website for your store (isn't the internet a wonderful thing?) and was able to see quite a few impractical hats...

    2. I do find it fascinating that you can find out what is being sold everywhere in the world with a few clicks.

      I do not know if you are aware that The Bay department stores were formerly part of the Hudson Bay Company founded in London in 1670 to carry on the fur trade in what ultimately became Western and Arctic Canada.

    3. I am aware of that, but only because I read it on the site when I looked at it today! I was fascinated because I remember learning about the Hudson Bay Company in school history lessons, it was extraordinary to find it as a dept store now....


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