Confession time: I grew up in Canada, got all of my education there through Grade Nine, and even waved my little Union Jack when Queen Elizabeth came through New Westminster.
Confession time: I had ancestors who managed not to freeze to death at Valley Forge.
And someone is asking me to discuss American vs British mysteries? Aren’t I schizoid enough on July 4th?
In the distant past, I would have said I preferred the British. I grew up reading English novels written before the turn of the 20th century. Other than Hawthorne and Poe, I missed that cadence of language, born from reading a lot of Shakespeare, in almost all American literature of that era. Trollope, Thackeray, Austen, the Brontes were my literary heroes. With mysteries, I began with Agatha Christie and the Golden Agers, although I never cared for Dorothy L. Sayers. Again, I understood how they thought, the world they wrote about, and couldn’t relate to pioneers and Manifest Destiny. That was a bit understandable. My maternal ancestors arrived on the west coast of the US by train, although the paternal ones did get from Maine to Illinois in a wagon pulled by two horses: Bouncing Betsey and Queen Victoria.
All this changed in my post-college days. I learned that not all American writing was like Charles Brockden Brown, Melville, Hemingway, or Faulkner. There were Cather, Wharton, and Constance Fenimore Woolson. In mysteries, there was Anna Katherine Green whose Amelia Butterworth may have inspired my favorite Miss Marple. There were C. L. Pirkis (Loveday Brooke) and Carolyn Wells (who wrote the first guide to writing mystery novels in 1913). I converted and, in a reading sort of way, moved across the pond.
As for modern mysteries, I stand firmly with one foot in the British Isles and the other just as firmly in the USA. In my always less than humble opinion, I find fewer differences between the two in style and content. Maybe there is more emphasis on guns, fist fights, car chases, and the inordinate amount of booze a detective drinks without passing out in the American mysteries. British detectives get more hangovers, eat a lot of Indian take-out, and walk more. But my list of favorite modern mystery writers on each side of the Atlantic is pretty equal.
Ok, so having survived that discussion, I will go back to celebrating the incredible documents on which this country was founded while grieving for those United Empire Loyalists who lost everything and had to flee to Canada…