William The Coroner’s Forensic Files

Righteous Reading

As a little knowledge is a dangerous thing, there are some TV shows and some books that I just cannot watch. The science is so bad, and the errors are so egregious, that I just cannot bear to be in the same room with them. Recently, I was asked “So, what books DO you like, then?” So, here are some authors that I go back to again and again. Some are mysteries/forensic stuff, some are not. These opinions are well written, insightful, and blindingly obvious as any right thinking person will agree. They are mine, and mine alone. No one paid me to recommend these books or review them. You don’t care for my opinion, feel free to disagree on your own blog.

Bill Bryson
* The Palace Under the Alps and Over 200 Other Unusual, Unspoiled, and Infrequently Visited Spots in 16 European Countries (1985)
* The Lost Continent: Travels in Small-Town America (1989)
* Neither Here Nor There: Travels in Europe (1991)
* Notes from a Small Island (1995). (Adapted for television by Carlton Television in 1998)
* A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail (1998)
* Notes from a Big Country (UK) / I’m a Stranger Here Myself (US) (1999)
* Down Under (UK) / In a Sunburned Country (US) (2000)
* Bill Bryson’s African Diary (2002) (travels in Africa for CARE International)
* Walk About (2002) (Combined in one volume are Down Under and A Walk in the Woods)
* The Penguin Dictionary of Troublesome Words (1984)
* The Mother Tongue: English and How it Got That Way (1990) (Adapted for Journeys in English (2004) BBC Radio 4)
* Made in America: An Informal History of the English Language in the United States (1998)
* Bryson’s Dictionary of Troublesome Words (2002)
* Bryson’s Dictionary for Writers and Editors (2008)
* A Short History of Nearly Everything (2003)
* A Really Short History of Nearly Everything (2008) (Children’s version of 2003 book)
* On the Shoulders of Giants (editor – 2009)
* Seeing Further: The Story of Science, Discovery, and the Genius of the Royal Society (editor – 2010)
* Shakespeare: The World as Stage (2007)
* At Home: A Short History of Private Life (2010) Doubleday.
* The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid (2006)

I’ll read just about anything by Bill Bryson. I liked his Notes From A Small Island, and I appreciated the effort he put into A Short History of Nearly Everything. That book got weaker towards the end, but it was a valiant try, and the first bit was very good.

Patricia Cornwell
• Postmortem (1990)
• Body of Evidence (1991)
• All That Remains (1992)
• Cruel and Unusual (1993)
• The Body Farm (1994)
• From Potter’s Field (1995)

After writing From Potter’s Field Ms. Cornwell seems to have lost her mind. Or perhaps her muse. I cannot tell, but these books are her best, and I just cannot read the others. If a medical examiner were as angry and independent as her protagonist, she’d be dead or committed. I know that the character of Kay Scarpetta is based on a real person, who is known to be unpleasant (I’ve met her), but this character goes to an extreme. The first six books are good, with decent forensics and good stories.

Iain M. Banks

* The Wasp Factory (1984)
* Walking on Glass (1985)
* The Bridge (1986)
* Espedair Street (1987)
* Consider Phlebas (1987)
* The Player of Games (1988)
* Canal Dreams (1989)
* Use of Weapons (1990)
* The Crow Road (1992)
* Complicity (1993)
* Against a Dark Background (1993)
* Feersum Endjinn (1994)
* Whit (1995)
* Excession (1996)
* A Song of Stone (1997)
* Inversions (1998)
* The Business (1999)
* Look to Windward (2000)
* Dead Air (2002)
* Matter (2008)
* The Steep Approach to Garbadale (2007)
* Transition (2009)
* Surface Detail (2010)

I am a big fan of Iain M. Banks and his culture novels. I think his best three are The Player of Games, Use of Weapons, and Complicity (which is not a Culture novel). His later books are in need of an editor, and he strays over the line into political preaching too much for my taste in the later ones.

Archer Mayor
• Open Season,
• Borderlines,
• Scent of Evil,
• The Skeleton’s Knee,
• Fruits of the Poisonous Tree,
• The Dark Root,
• The Ragman’s Memory,
• Bellows Falls,
• The Disposable Man,
• Occam’s Razor,
• Marble Mask,
• Tucker Peak,
• The Sniper’s Wife,
• Gatekeeper,
• The Surrogate Thief,
• St. Albans Fire,
• The Second Mouse,
• Chat,
• The Catch,
• The Price of Malice,
• Red Herring

I first became aware of Archer Mayor at the New England Seminar in Forensic Sciences. He came to the meeting as an author, doing research for his books, and he comes back year after year. Subsequently, he became a constable in Vermont, so he’s a working, part-time police officer as well as an author. He knows his stuff. For technical accuracy, his books are the best. I like his protagonist, though I wish Mayor would stop giving him grief (I know, I know, otherwise there would be no plot). The Skeleton’s Knee and The Sniper’s Wife are well worth a read.

Robert B. Parker
• The Godwulf Manuscript (1973)
• God Save the Child (1974)
• Mortal Stakes (1975)
• Promised Land (1976)
• The Judas Goat (1978)
• Wilderness (1979)
• Looking for Rachel Wallace (1980)
• Love and Glory (1980)
• Early Autumn (1980)
• A Savage Place (1981)
• Ceremony (1982)
• The Widening Gyre (1983)
• Valediction (1984)
• A Catskill Eagle (1985)
• Taming a Sea Horse (1986)
• Pale Kings and Princes (1987)
• Crimson Joy (1988)
• Playmates (1989)
• Stardust (1990)
• Pastime (1991)
• Perchance to Dream (1991)
• Double Deuce (1992)
• Paper Doll (1993)
• Walking Shadow (1994)
• All Our Yesterdays (1994)
• Thin Air (1995)
• Chance (1996)
• Small Vices (1997)
• Night Passage (1997)
• Trouble in Paradise (1998)
• Sudden Mischief (1998)
• Hush Money (1999)
• Family Honor (1999)
• Perish Twice (2000)
• Hugger Mugger (2000)
• Gunman’s Rhapsody (2001)
• Death in Paradise (2001)
• Potshot (2001)
• Widow’s Walk (2002)
• Shrink Rap (2002)
• Back Story (2003)
• Stone Cold (2003)
• Bad Business (2004)
• Melancholy Baby (2004)
• Double Play (2004)
• Cold Service (2005)
• Appaloosa (2005)
• School Days (2005)
• Hundred-Dollar Baby (2006)
• Blue Screen (2006)
• Sea Change (2006)
• Spare Change (2007)
• Now and Then (2007)
• Edenville Owls (2007)
• High Profile (2007)
• Stranger In Paradise (2008)
• The Boxer and the Spy (2008)
• Rough Weather (2008)
• Resolution (2008)
• Brimstone (2009)
• Chasing the Bear: A Young Spenser Novel (2009)
• The Professional (2009)
• Night and Day (2009)
• Split Image (2010)
• Blue-Eyed Devil (2010)
• Painted Ladies (2010)
• Sixkill (2011)
• Killing the Blues (2011)
Parker writes a good story. I like his philosophy of personal responsibility and autonomy. Some of his books are weaker than others, Playmates, Hush Money and Stardust were particularly forgettable, but Promised Land, Early Autumn, Double Deuce, and Cold Service are his best. My major problem with the Spencer books is Spencer’s relationship with Susan, whom he should have thrown into the Charles River as a bad job about thirty books ago (in Valediction). But that’s just me.

Andrew Vachss
1. Flood (1985)
2. Strega (1987)
3. Blue Belle (1988)
4. Hard Candy (1989)
5. Blossom (1990)
6. Sacrifice (1991)
7. Down in the Zero (1994)
8. Footsteps of the Hawk (1995)
9. False Allegations (1996)
10. Safe House (1998)
11. Choice of Evil (1999)
12. Dead and Gone (2000)
13. Pain Management (2001)
14. Only Child (2002)
15. Down Here (2004)
16. Mask Market (2006)
17. Terminal (2007)
18. Another Life (2008)

Vachss isn’t a restful read, and his best books are those about his anti-hero protagonist Burke. Again, Vachss has a lot of philosophy of autonomy and how a man behaves, which isn’t preached but is demonstrated in the story. His best work is Blue Belle, Blossom, and Pain Management.

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