The Problem With My Problematic Fave

I read a few Michael Connelly mystery books and other similar novels throughout college. I’m currently working through another hard-boiled mystery, Privileged Lives, the first in the Vincent Cardozo novels by Edward Stewart. I love the gritty, dirty mood and feel these novels provide. I like rough around the edges detectives who are kind of jerks, especially to bad guys, but deep down they’re really passionate about their job of protecting people and finding justice, even if they are a bit jaded after decades on the job. I love skeevy settings and shady characters. I love the down in the dirt crimes and seeing the worst of humanity. It’s a weird wheelhouse, but I know I’m not alone.

What I don’t love about most of these books though, is that they also come with a healthy helping of sexism, misogyny, homophobia, and racism. There’s something about the hard-boiled detective that makes writers turn to tropes of womanizing, prejudice, and “just being honest.” I get it. These novels are made for a hypermasculine audience. That’s their appeal.

And yet, the more I read them, the less and less I can stomach dialogue that blatantly uses slurs and stereotypes to convey the image of hardened police officers who are just macho men. That’s just what these detectives do. They rough up criminals, drink straight Scotch, and spend too much introspection time on pondering the length of a broad’s legs and the attractive shape of her waist to hip ratio.

I guess what I’m getting at here is recommendations from fellow readers. For those like me who love the gritty, hard-boiled mystery but without the bigotry, I’d like to invite you all to tell me what some of your favorites are. I’m still all for the gruff detective who won’t let go of the case that haunts his nightmares, and in the end gets the girl. I just want less of that man’s man mentality that leads to toxic masculinity. I’d really like a female detective lead that has those same qualities that a male character is allowed to have, and still be loved by the reader.

You could say I’m looking for Jessica Jones read-alikes. I think that’s what really appealed to me about that character and show. She was a flawed and terrible protagonist who acted like she didn’t care about anyone, but she still did the P.I. job because the truth was she did care. It’s probably the only time I’ve seen a female anti-hero that fans love and want more of her story.

Though I’m a big fan of the character and the show, I don’t just want to read J. Jones comic books. I want other novels and mysteries in that vein that give me the seedy side of humanity without the outright prejudice. I know that sounds contradictory, but it’s clearly possible if the creators of Jessica Jones could make it happen.

So if anyone out there has suggestions to help me get my fix of the hard-boiled detective mystery without bigotry, I’d greatly appreciate it. Let me know your recommendations in the comments!

Meagan Reads Classic Mystery: The Lodger by Marie Belloc Lowndes

The Lodger by Marie Belloc Lowndes, Published 2005 by Chicago Review Press (Image from Goodreads)

It’s been a while since I gave my insights to a book I’ve read. I’d like to get back into the habit with this classic mystery I just finished reading called The Lodger by Mari Belloc Lowndes, originally published in 1913.

The story takes place in London, where a series of Jack the Ripper style murders are occurring, and simultaneously, the Buntings, down on their luck, get an eccentric gentleman looking for lodgings to rent their space. Their new lodger, Mr. Sleuth, rents out both rooms they have available for twice as much as they’re worth to ensure he has the lodgings all to himself and doesn’t have to share the house with anyone but the proprietors. He also carries a strange leather case and only ever leaves the house past midnight, which are two characteristics of The Avenger, the serial killer murdering women in London. What a crazy random happenstance.

It’s clear from the get-go that the Buntings’ new lodger Mr. Sleuth is in fact The Avenger. So what exactly is the mystery in this mystery novel? I suppose you could say it’s the inner workings of the human brain and what people who have been going hungry for a long time will do to keep their only source of income from fleeing or getting arrested.

Mrs. Bunting figures out pretty early on that Mr. Sleuth is in fact The Avenger. Now, she never gets solid proof, never catches him in the act, never sees blood on his hands, but like the audience reading the story, she’s not blind and understands what all signs point to. She then spends the entirety of the book giving into fits of hysteria, holding onto her secret, even keeping it from her husband (who’s as thick as they come, because he doesn’t notice Mr. Sleuth is the murderer until literally the last 10 percent of the book).

The book really is mostly about Mrs. Bunting’s guilty conscience as she suspects Mr. Sleuth’s crimes. She goes about trying to learn the truth without revealing how much she suspects. She’s torn between the money he brings to her household and what’s right, all the while keeping up a friendship with a police officer who’s working the case of The Avenger.

Overall, I enjoyed the story up until the end, because although the reader knows the whole time Mr. Sleuth is the murderer, the suspense builds and builds and builds, waiting for the snap at the end. Will the Buntings finally turn him in? Will he kill them? No, neither of these things happen. In fact — spoilers ahead! — at the point in the book where he realizes he’s been found out, he assumes Mrs. Bunting has betrayed him and he runs away from Madame Tussaud’s, where they are spending the day with Mr. Bunting’s daughter Daisy for her birthday, but not before threatening her with a most terrifying and gruesome death.

Days pass and they never hear from him again, and The Avenger is never caught. That’s it. That’s the ending. It was like an orchestra building up to an absolute cacophony of crescendo and then the sound gets sucked out of the room and the musicians walk off stage.

Truth be told, I didn’t feel an affinity for Mrs. Bunting. I never felt sorry for her or related. There wasn’t actually anything there to root for. She was always cross with her husband, portrayed as the nagging wife trope, and she was such a bitch to Daisy. It always felt like she resented Daisy, like somehow it was the girl’s fault that her husband had had a previous marriage and a child from that marriage. I never felt for her as the protagonist, and Mr. Bunting was just short of being a downright idiot. The characters were rather flat, so I certainly didn’t stay for them.

If you’re looking for an easy read to take on the train or to the beach, I’d say this is a solid choice. It doesn’t require much thought and it’s entertaining enough to keep your attention for long periods of time. Just don’t expect to feel satisfied by the ending.

Have any of you read classic mystery novels? What are your favorites? Let me know your recommendations in the comments!