I’m often asked which books and/or authors are my favourites, or have influenced my writing in some way. There is always a standout answer: the late Dorothy Dunnett’s Lymond Chronicles – a 6 book historical series that is pretty much the benchmark of excellence for the genre. Nobody, but nobody, is in Dunnett’s league. If you love great fiction, especially historical fiction, and you haven’t read this series? You’re missing out an amazing experience. The first book in the series is The Game of Kings. I urge you to get a copy and be ensnared in brilliance.
But Dunnett also wrote a mystery series, known as the Dolly series. It was called that because the main character, Johnson, owns a yacht called Dolly, and he travels the world in it painting portraits – for which he’s famous. However, there is more to Johnson than a paintbrush, which is where the mystery element comes in.
What’s remarkable about the Dolly series is that each book is told from a first person narrator perspective, and each time the narrator is a different woman whose life intersects with Johnson’s – with not always happy results. It means that we learn about Johnson second-hand, and each character reveals something new and different about him. Reading the series is like putting together a Johnson jigsaw puzzle, and it’s truly fascinating. It’s also a masterclass in writing. Reading Dunnett is like that – you learn so much about writing from reading her extraordinary novels. Each narrator is a distinctly different person, with a unique voice, which is reflected in every element of the narrative.
If you like the mystery genre, and enjoy strongly character-driven storytelling, I can’t recommend the Dolly books highly enough. You can find them online at reasonable 2nd hand prices. I’ve just replaced a few of my own that were falling apart and it hasn’t broken the bank.
Start with Dolly and the Bird of Paradise. That’s the first book, and it sets the series up really well.