I'm trying to figure out who did it
May 15, 2011 12:04 PM   Subscribe

I'm looking for "manor house" mystery novels, that take place in a single location (including a manor house, but variety would be appreciated), and involve tracking down a killer.

I like Georgette Heyer, but I'm looking for something with a little more grit and a little less romance. Classic or contemporary is fine. I've read stuff by Arthur Conan Doyle and Poe, but haven't read anything by Christie or the other (more recent) giants in the genre.

I'd be interested in any mysteries that take place in single locations, including manor house novels.
posted by codacorolla to Media & Arts (36 answers total) 58 users marked this as a favorite
Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None is a classic of this trope.
posted by That's Numberwang! at 12:12 PM on May 15, 2011 [3 favorites]

Agatha Christie's The Murder of Roger Ackroyd also takes place in a manor house. Loads of hers do this, in fact.
posted by DarlingBri at 12:14 PM on May 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

Agatha Christie was the master of this. Besides And Then There Were None, her Murder on the Orient Express is another classic single-location mystery.
posted by Rinku at 12:15 PM on May 15, 2011 [2 favorites]

Try Mary Stewart's early books, not the Merlin stuff.
Nora Roberts
And the master class for this: Rebecca

Outside of the gothic category, try Christie's Murder on the Orient Express.
posted by SLC Mom at 12:16 PM on May 15, 2011

Lawrence Block wrote an amusing take on the locked room mystery at a bed and breakfast in The Burglar in the Library. It's not my favorite of his books, but it's a good read.

And Sjowall and Wahloo wrote a similar one. I don't know it it technically meets your requirements, as there's two major mysteries that the book cuts between.

And, again, it doesn't totally match your specifications, as there are multiple characters with many, many storyline happening, but one thing I liked about The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest is the way almost all of Lisbeth's scene take place in one room in a hospital.
posted by Ideal Impulse at 12:16 PM on May 15, 2011

The Private Patient by P D James is mostly set in a manor house (retrofitted as a private plastic surgery clinic).
posted by Quietgal at 12:20 PM on May 15, 2011

Eco's "The Name Of The Rose" is a murder mystery set in a monastery in medieval Italy, plays a lot with the form of a "locked room" whodonit
posted by The Whelk at 12:20 PM on May 15, 2011

Also: Tvtropes on "closed circle" stories.
posted by Rinku at 1:13 PM on May 15, 2011

Damn, forgot the link: here you are.
posted by Rinku at 1:13 PM on May 15, 2011

You might be looking for a genre called a "cozy". Usually less grit and bloodshed, with the focus on deduction. Think "Clue" or most Agatha Christie.
posted by PSB at 1:17 PM on May 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher fits the model. Some Ruth Rendell novels do, too.
posted by crush-onastick at 1:32 PM on May 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

seconding The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher, if you're OK with nonfiction.

Boris Akunin's Murder on the Leviathan isn't an exact match for what you're looking for, but in the neighborhood.
posted by scody at 2:02 PM on May 15, 2011

Best answer: In order to be a classic of this genre, the novel has to be set in an English country house, preferably cut off by snow, and the police inspector has to utter the line: 'I'm afraid none of you can leave.' At least one of the murders must take place under the noses of the police. Novels that conform fairly closely to this stereotype include: A.A. Milne, The Red House Mystery (1922), Michael Innes, Hamlet, Revenge! (1937), Ngaio Marsh, Death and the Dancing Footman (1942), Christianna Brand, Suddenly At His Residence (1947) and Cyril Hare, An English Murder (1951). Hilda Lawrence's Blood upon the Snow (1944) is a nice American Gothic, Rebecca-inflected take on the genre ('There's something hellish in this house and I stay right here until I dig it out!').

Of course there are endless variations on this theme, set in every imaginable type of closed community from a monastery (Gladys Mitchell, St Peter's Finger) to an ocean liner (John Dickson Carr, The Blind Barber). My personal favourites include Nicholas Blake, A Question of Proof (1935), set in a boarding school, and P.D. James, Shroud for a Nightingale (1971), set in a nursing college. (Others belong to the sub-genre of the locked-room mystery.) In general I think Christianna Brand, John Dickson Carr and P.D. James are particularly good at the claustrophobic, single-location murder mystery. In Agatha Christie and Ngaio Marsh the claustrophobia is reduced to some extent by the emphasis on the detective as the controlling figure who lets light in on the mystery from outside.
posted by verstegan at 2:08 PM on May 15, 2011 [16 favorites]

By Laurie R. King:

Justice Hall
A Darker Place
posted by bq at 2:10 PM on May 15, 2011

If you like Heyer you will devour Kate Ross' four regency mysteries-- the first one, Cut To The Quick, is a classic country-house murder.
posted by Erasmouse at 2:19 PM on May 15, 2011

I just read Ngaio Marsh's Tangled up in Tinsel which belongs in the even-more specific sub-genre of the Christmas Country House Mystery, and is delightful. There are also quite a few Margery Allingham mysteries that fit the model, including The Beckoning Lady.

I'm actually teaching a class that deals specifically with the country house mystery and related genres (including more horror-inflected tales about houses like The Fall of the House of Usher and The Haunting of Hill House and some newer mysteries where the city becomes the architectural constraint) in the fall, and I'd be happy to send you the syllabus once it exists, if you'd like. I'm totally going to mine this thread for possible readings I haven't yet considered, so it seems only fair!
posted by dizziest at 2:44 PM on May 15, 2011

seconding The Name of the Rose. Great book.
posted by xbonesgt at 3:01 PM on May 15, 2011

Best answer: P.D. James, P.D. James, P.D. James. Several of my favorites:

Cover Her Face, James' first novel, combines a dysfunctional family, a crumbling estate, and servants who don't know their "place."

The Skull Beneath the Skin, set in a Victoriana-filled castle off the coast of England.

A Certain Justice
, in which an ambitious lawyer is found dead in her locked office after successfully defending a young man on charges that he murdered his abusive aunt.
posted by virago at 3:03 PM on May 15, 2011 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: I didn't much care for Foucault's Pendulum because of how dense it was. Might The Name of the Rose also present the same problem?
posted by codacorolla at 3:05 PM on May 15, 2011

i think the hook of the murder mystery genre keeps it from being too dense but it's not exactly light
posted by The Whelk at 3:23 PM on May 15, 2011

If you liked Georgette Heyer you might like Stephanie Barron, who writes a series of mystery novels in which Jane Austen solves the crime. They're definitely not gritty, but are good, engaging reads without the romance angle of Heyer (at least the once I read were not romancey).

You also might like Lady Audley's Secret, which mostly takes place in Audley Hall. It's so good!
posted by apricot at 3:57 PM on May 15, 2011

The Westing Game.

A very enjoyable book, if a bit short.
posted by 47triple2 at 4:04 PM on May 15, 2011 [3 favorites]

You may like J. D. Sawyer's Down From Ten. It's still being edited for eBook/print release, but it's available as a free podcast, available on iTunes. Definitely gritty, although there is also romance. It has weird elements, but all is explained in the end.
posted by JDHarper at 4:14 PM on May 15, 2011

Dorothy Sayers does lots of these--Gaudy Night, among others. Seconding Ngaio Marsh as well.
posted by Go Banana at 4:16 PM on May 15, 2011

Best answer: Golden-Age classics: Michael Innes has several set in one location. verstegan has mentioned Hamlet, Revenge!, wch is one of the best. There's also Christmas at Candleshoe, like Marsh's Tied Up in Tinsel a Christmas country house mystery (there is a Disney film based on the book, but I understand it's not actually very like the book), and What Happened at Hazelwood (link is to PDF extract which will give you a sense of the style) - both these are stand-alone, not with Innes's usual detective Appleby. Another of Ngaio Marsh's books set in one location is A Clutch of Constables, set on a narrowboat. Margery Allingham, another Golden Age writer, tends to have her characters move around a bit, but if you aren't needing the book to be set in the same location all the time some of hers might qualify - More Work for the Undertaker, for instance, set mostly in one house / one street in London. You might also be interested in Patricia Wentworth - sorry to self-link, but my blog entry should give you a sense of one of the books.

Contemporary writers - as PSB says, you may want to search for cosies. These tend to take place not necessarily in one building but often in one town. You could try Katherine Hall Page - the first in her series is The Body in the Belfry - or Carola Dunn (Death at Wentwater Court). If you'd like more suggestions of cosies MeMail me.

Another contemporary writer who definitely qualifies is James Anderson. He has a series of three books using the same detective. I've only read the first (The Affair of the Bloodstained Egg Cosy) and third but both of those were set in the same country house, and I don't think the first book left that location apart from a brief introductory bit.

In response to other comments: I found The Name of the Rose pretty dense (and pretentious). And at the other end of the spectrum I found Stephanie Barron's Austen mysteries unreadable, despite added local interest for me, and my tolerance of bad writing is very high.
posted by paduasoy at 4:28 PM on May 15, 2011 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Seconding Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers, and Laurie R. King. The Seven Dials is another country house setting, although I think the characters get to leave.

Rex Stout is another classic, and I know a couple of the Archie-and-Wolfe novels follow this template, with Wolfe going someplace and being trapped there by the need to solve the case. Off the top of my head, I think Too Many Cooks (murder at a resort in West Virginia!) and Death of a Dude (murder at a dude ranch) could fit this. Too Many Cooks is strictly at the resort, while Death of a Dude includes a bit of the surrounding town as well as the dude ranch and the house they're staying at.
posted by pie ninja at 4:30 PM on May 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: To people recommending book X in a series of Y (the Nero Wolfe books, for example) does not having read the preceding novels in the series ever detract from them?
posted by codacorolla at 4:41 PM on May 15, 2011

Best answer: For Agatha Christie, pretty much everything can be read in any order you like. And I'd say the same for Rex Stout -- all the basics you need to know are established in each book. The idea of Wolfe leaving his brownstone might be a bit less staggering if you haven't read the others, but the books definitely stand on their own.

I feel like Gaudy Night (Sayers) works better if you've read the previous books -- but that's just my opinion.

A couple more recommendations! One I just thought of, the first in its series: Jo Walton's Farthing is a very recent country house mystery set at a country house in an alternative 1949 where Britain made peace with Hitler.

Elizabeth Peters has a nice classic country house mystery set at a weekend retreat for a group of King Richard III fans, The Murders of Richard III. It isn't the first for that detective but it's one of the better, and it stands alone. And if you like the idea of murder at a science fiction convention (and if a science fiction convention could count as a country house), Sharyn McCrumb's Bimbos of the Death Sun might fit.
posted by pie ninja at 5:22 PM on May 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: The Nero Wolfe books can be read in pretty much any order. The only canon-changing event in the entire saga happens at the beginning of The Black Mountain, and you can usually tell from context which stories are before that and which after. Aside from that, they're all pretty much independent. (Well, there's "All in the Family", which is a deliberate last-story. It also isn't very good.)

There are topical references in some of them, which place their era e.g. the fact that Goodwin was an officer in Army Intelligence during WWII, but those don't have any long-term significance.

Too Many Cooks doesn't totally satisfy your stated requirement, although it is very good. Wolfe isn't actually stuck there, and other people come and go over the course of the story.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 5:28 PM on May 15, 2011

Response by poster: Too Many Cooks doesn't totally satisfy your stated requirement, although it is very good. Wolfe isn't actually stuck there, and other people come and go over the course of the story.

My requirements aren't too strict. I like it when mysteries are sort of localized to one place, but I'm not dead set on the protagonists not moving around a bit, nor on the idea of them being absolutely stuck in one spot.
posted by codacorolla at 5:31 PM on May 15, 2011

I just read Cardington Crescent by Anne Perry and it very nearly all is in the same house. It is also one of a series, but it's the only one I have read and I don't feel like I was missing any backstory.
posted by Duffington at 6:17 PM on May 15, 2011

Best answer: Try Martha Grimes and Elizabeth George.

Grimes' mysteries feature detective Richard Jury, and most of them are named after a featured
English pub: The Old Foxed Deceived, Man with a Load of Mischief, Five Bells and Bladebone, The Dirty Duck, etc. Jury is an engaging character. Don't start with her most recent, as I hear it's not one of her best.

George is in my top three favorite mystery writers. Her characters are beautifully crafted and psychologically complex. She has a lyrical command of language and ability to structure her sentences that make reading engaging. Her plots are substantial and well thought out. The Inspector Lynley and his plebeian sidekick Barbara Havers are the Mutt and Jeff of detectives, and Havers provides comic relief without sacrificing her depth and humanity.

One of the two has a manor house--in the snow--no one can leave novel.

Other novelists I enjoy are M.C. Beaton with the Hamish MacBeth mysteries and the historical murder mysteries written by Ellis Peters. Cadfael is a Welsh Benedictine monk living at Shrewsbury Abbey in 12th century England.
posted by BlueHorse at 8:07 PM on May 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

Brat Farrar by the superb Josephine Tey.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 8:41 PM on May 15, 2011

Also Peter Dickinson's The Last Houseparty and The Yellow Room Conspiracy. Great stuff!
posted by TWinbrook8 at 8:47 PM on May 15, 2011

You'll love Martha Grimes' Richard Jury novels. Great ambiance, tops in readability, excellent whodunits all the way around. Agatha Christie is hard to beat, but I think Martha's done it.
posted by aryma at 11:11 PM on May 15, 2011

Thirding Martha Grimes. Several of them are literally set in an old country manor, and no one can leave due to some reason: a bad snowstorm, everyone's there for a wedding, etc.

The first one in the series introduced the characters and their relationships. I would read that one first, but the rest don't necessarily have to be read in order. There are occasional references to earlier storylines, but nothing that would seriously detract from your enjoyment of the one you're reading.

I would plug any of the names in this thread into Amazon, and see what else is recommended for you.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 7:14 AM on May 16, 2011

« Older San Diego: outdoorsy edition   |   How do I choose a property management company? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.