Crime Fiction Alphabet: U is for Umberto Eco

This week’s letter in Kerrie’s Crime Fiction Alphabet series is  ‘U’.

I’ve chosen Umberto Eco, an Italian writer of post-modern fiction, full of allusions and references, using puzzles, playing with language, words and symbols.

I’ve read  The Name of the Rose twice, some years ago now.It is a fantastic historical crime mystery novel set in a Franciscan monastery in 14th century Italy. William of Baskerville and his assistant Adso are sent to the monastery to investigate a series of murders. I loved this book, which has so much of what I enjoy in reading – historical setting, the pursuit of truth behind the mystery and the meaning of words, symbols and ideas and a great detective story all combined with religious controversies and theories. William is an expert in deduction, and needs all his skills to work his way through the monastery’s labyrinthine library:

The library is a great labyrinth, sign of the labyrinth of the world. You enter and you do not know whether you will come out. … And in our midst someone has violated the ban, has broken the seals of the labyrinth … (pages 158 & 159)

I read Foucault’s Pendulum after reading The Name of the Rose, but struggled at first to read it. It’s immensely detailed, slow to get going and in parts it is boring. But I persevered and in the end I found it fascinating, although I do prefer The Name of the Rose. Again it’s a mystery thriller this time concerned with books and words, mixed in is a coded message about a Templar plan to tap a mystic source of power. It features the Knights Templar, the Crusades, the bloodline of Christ, the Rosy Cross etc, etc  so that when I read Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code I immediately thought back to this book, but of course it’s nowhere near the same!

I have one other book by Eco – The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana. I haven’t read it yet. From the back cover:

Yambo, a rare-book dealer, has suffered a bizarre form of memory loss. He can remember every book he has ever read but nothing about his own life.

In an effort to retrieve his past, he withdraws to his old family home and searches through boxes of old newspapers, comics, records, photo albums and diaries kept in the attic.

Flipping through it, it doesn’t look as difficult as Foucault’s Pendulum and there are colour illustrations of the books and newspapers etc that Yambo finds in the attic. As a book-lover this appeals to me.

Crime Fiction Alphabet: Featuring the Letter ‘E’

crime_fiction_alphabetInstead of concentrating on one book or one author I’ve picked a mixture of books and authors for this week’s featured letter E in Kerrie’s Crime Fiction Alphabet Community Meme.

First up is Martin Edwards, who is one of my favourite authors and bloggers (click on the links to go to his website and blog). I  ‘discovered’ him when he commented on one of my posts. I’m so glad he did.  He’s written several novels, short stories and non-fiction books as well as edited a number of anthologies. Click on the titles to see my posts on his Lake District series:

Another author who used to be a great favourite of mine is Ed McBain. I haven’t read anything of his for many years.  He was born Salvatore Albert Lombino in 1926 and changed his name to Evan Hunter, writing under the pseudonym Ed McBain from 1956. He died in 2005. He wrote an enormous number of books – from 1958 until his death he wrote one or two books a year as Ed McBain. The first one in his 87th precinct series is Cop Hater. You can read the beginning of chapter one on the Ed McBain website. Writing under his own name Evan Hunter, he wrote the screenplay for Alfred Hitchcock’s film The Birds, based on Daphne Du Maurier’s short story (which is very different from the film). I think it’s time to re-read some Ed McBain books!

Then there is Ellery Queen – who was actually two people writing pseudonymously. They were  cousins Daniel (David) Nathan, alias Frederic Dannay and Manford (Emanuel) Lepofsky, alias Manfred Bennington Lee. They also used the pen name Barnaby Ross. Ellery Queen was also the chief character of their novels. A list of their books can be found on the Fantastic Fiction website. I first read Ellery Queen and Ed McBain as a teenager when I found them on my parents’ bookshelves and devoured them after I’d read all the Agatha Christie books I could find.

Umberto Eco wrote one of my favourite books The Name of the Rose. I read this when I was working in the Archives of the local County Council. It was recommended by one of the archivists and we spent many happy tea breaks discussing this novel. It is set in the Middle Ages in Italy, in which Brother William a Franciscan monk, aided by Adso a novice,  investigates several strange deaths. It’s a wonderful mix of detective fiction, historical fiction and religious history rolled into one, involving solving cryptic clues, secret codes and puzzles. 

Finally some books beginning with the letter E:

And on that note I shall end this look at the letter E in crime fiction.