"While we are reading, we are all Don Quixote." ~ Mason Cooley

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

In Search of a Good Mystery

I was hooked on mysteries from my first Agatha Christie. I loved mulling over the clues and was smitten with Hercule Poirot. Eventually reading every novel and short story in which he appears (and watching every Poirot episode on PBS  more than once). One summer I inhaled Sherlock Holmes, Josephine Tey, as many of the classic mystery writers I could find.

I soon learned, however, that there are some who consider mystery one cut above romance novels, fluff and formulaic.  Beneathe the intelligent reader. As a young woman, married to a professor and living in university towns, surrounded by intellectual competition,I became reluctant to admit how much I enjoyed mysteries, how many I was reading.

This reluctance lingered for years, even after we divorced and I moved on. Fortunately, it evaporated one afternoon, thanks to a serendipitous discovery. Now remarried, living in CA, my husband and I were visiting Cambria, a small coastal town north of Santa Barbara.  While out investigating the little shops and restaurants, we came upon a series of chalked footprints on the sidewalk.  Intrigued, we followed them, down a couple blocks, around a corner, up a flight of stairs into a - mystery book shop.  Shelf upon shelf crammed with mysteries.  Tables laden with mystery games and puzzles.

The owner, sporting a deerstalker cap and pipe, roamed his domain, eager to share his passion.  "Oh, you like - ?  You'll enjoy - or -. Come, I'll show you."  To anyone who asked, and a few who didn't.  There were several customers, also ready to share, some with shopping bags to be filled with anticipated summer reading. A diverse group, an intelligent group. Nirvana.

Today, I am pleased to see that there are several authors of mystery recognized for their literary skills and accomplishments, writers who develop intricate plots and complex characters, who weave engaging stories and maintain faithful followership.   Among my favorites, P. D. James, Ruth Rendell, Donna Leon, Louise Penny and Laurie R. King.  Their protagonists have become old friends. In fact, Hercule now has rivals for my affection - James' Commander Dalgliesh, Leon's Commasario Brunetti, and now Penny's Chief Inspector Gamache.  All men of intelligence, ethics, and human fraility. 

But I'm all caught up, waiting for the next installment.  And my mystery shop is no longer, so I am in search of a new author of mysteries, in search of a good mystery.  Any recommendations?

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