In light of yesterday’s post, I was initially a bit confused. Is this, because it’s a wrap-up, the last Mystery Monday post of 2020 or, per yesterday, the first one of 2021? I say we wait until after the popping of the champagne corks, so this is the last one of the past year.
No question that this is a wrap-up of an active reading year when it comes to (murder) mysteries. I’ve enjoyed the genre from a very early age (the enjoyment was handed down by my dad). In this atrocious year, they’ve provided a welcome escape and respite.
The year also marks my return to library lending, albeit electronically.
Libraries loom large in my youth. They go so far back I can’t remember being introduced to them. My parents were avid readers and began taking me to the Minneapolis library when I was in grade school. By then I already loved books as much as they did.
My parents played a “trick” on me that’s interesting in light of current parental trends regarding very young children. My parents read to us, my sister and I. Always a bedtime story; many other occasions, too.
It was a way of being together, and it planted seeds for the love of stories and books, but they expressly made no attempt to teach us to read. They wanted us thirsty for it when we got to school.
We were. We soaked it up like sponges.
I always enjoyed school, but libraries really opened the world to me. When I was too young my parents would take me, but it wasn’t long before I could go on my own. Always I walked out with a stack of new books to read.
From an early age I was interested in science. Then and now I favor the “hard” sciences: astronomy, physics, and electronics, at first; computers and mathematics later on. The interest in astronomy and electronics faded over time, but the latter had a lot to do with my early career arc. (Most of my career arc, one way or another, involved computers.)
I spent a lot of time in the science sections of the library. That interest has branched many times over the years, but this year I once again find myself reading science books checked out from the library. The ages of man really are circular.
Also so far back I have no memory of our first meeting is my life-long love, science fiction.
As a science geek who loved stories, science+fiction was manna from heaven. It’s also surprising how much of my early advanced science knowledge came from science fiction. The two fed each other like fire and gasoline.
At this early point, as far as mysteries go, it was mainly Sherlock Holmes, who I thoroughly adored. I’m still a big fan of various versions and spin-offs. I also discovered Erle Stanley Gardner’s Perry Mason early — something about courtroom stories appeals to me. I think I see them as a form of truth seeking.
[BTW, speaking of Holmes: I thought Enola Holmes was awful. Terrible writing; terrible ideas. “Abomination” is too strong a word, but “travesty” might not be.]
In junior high (aka middle school), I was “working” (for class credit) in the school library. I already knew the Dewey Decimal system forwards and backwards.
For me it was an early experience in the difference between knowledge work and physical work. The former can be pretty cush, and it ultimately became my path. (I do sometimes wish I’d stayed in physical labor — there is something so satisfying about it. To this day a bit of me remains blue collar.)
In high school my girlfriend worked at the city library, so I spent extra time among the shelves. I learned the Library of Congress system there (no pun intended). My taste for exploration led me to many interesting worlds in that library. (It was a beautiful building, too. Fairly new, great multi-floor open design with an atrium from ground to ceiling. I loved that place. And the girlfriend. Alas, both gone to the mists of time.)
At long last getting back to the subject, it was in high school that my dad turned me on to Rex Stout (Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin) and Dorothy L. Sayers (Lord Peter Wimsey) and Agatha Christie (Hercule Poirot).
I can’t say I really took to them (I was way into science fiction by then), but I enjoyed them okay. It’s really only as a mature reader that I’ve come to appreciate what my dad saw in them, the sheer quality of the writing.
I’ve been kind of blown away by Agatha Christie. I’ve had this vision of her as “quaint” and “veddy British” of that era. But wow can that woman spin a yarn. She was also not one to revisit the well, despite serial characters and lots of books. Every story is quite unique.
Her Miss Marple character never appealed to me for the same “quaint” reasons (and perhaps I should take another look), but of all the books my dad suggested, I took to Hercule Poirot the most. After all, he’s Christie’s very direct answer to Sherlock Holmes.
This year, thanks to not one but two libraries, I’ve read every Hercule Poirot novel I can get my hands on. Which was all 34 of them save seven.
Some time ago I bought a collection of the 50 Hercule Poirot short stories and was enjoying them as occasional treats. One thing led to another, I began gobbling them down, and then I went on a mission to read the novels.
Found and read 27 of them. (I deliberately saved Hercule Poirot’s Christmas for reading during Christmas!)
Thank you, libraries; Agatha Christie is really good!
Apple offers many of them for the reasonable price of $4.99 (which we should always see as $5 — fight the fraud and flummery). In the last year or two I’ve bought those. (For ebooks, five dollars is my ceiling for anything older than 40 or so years. I’d be happier with $2 or $3.)
About half Apple’s Rex Stout catalog has their usual pricing ($9 typically), and I just won’t pay that for books written before I was born. Take a note, Apple. Libraries stole your lunch money.
I found all the remaining Rex Stout Nero Wolfe novels at the libraries, so this year (starting in 2019) I’ve read all 35 novels and the 12 novella collections.
I’m hard-pressed to say who I like better, Stout’s Wolfe or Christie’s Poirot. I think Wolfe wins by a nose for being slightly more modern and so very American. Stout and Christie are certainly excellent writers.
Sayers doesn’t have the catalog Christie and Stout do. There are only 16 Lord Peter novels and 9 short story collections. Between a handful Apple had at acceptable pricing and the library, I’ve gotten all those under my belt as well.
I do enjoy the Lord Peter stories, but I’m afraid he trails after Nero and Hercule (and Sherlock himself). Although, that said, if I had to pick between Doyle and Sayers, I might go with Sayers as being more fun.
I have to give Amazon Prime some credit here. They offer a few of the Sayers and the first Hercule Poirot novel free to members, but they’re generally very stingy about what Prime members get for free. Their prices for old books are just as bad as Apple’s. Bad idea, I think, guys.
But wait, there’s more. I’ve been a busy reader this year!
I’ve long been a fan of the Tony Hillerman Navajo Tribal Police stories. While Tony died in 2008 (after writing 18 of the novels), his daughter Anne Hillerman has carried on, now having five books of her own. [See my post, Joe, Jim and Bernie, for more.]
I own paperbacks of most of what Tony wrote. I bought a last few from Apple to complete the catalog. This past year, between a first-one-is-free from Amazon Prime and then the libraries, I’ve read all five of Anne’s.
I rarely (more like almost never) follow a character after the author dies, but I make an exception for Anne Hillerman. For one, she’s keeping it in the family, and certainly the father’s daughter ought to know the work. More importantly, her books deliver the same love of the land and people her father’s did.
They’re okay, but not really my cup of tea. I’m just not that into serial killer stories.
[See my post: Tess Gerritsen]
Parker has another character series I never tapped into. Nine novels about Jesse Stone, Chief of Police of a small town near Boston. Stone is a former LAPD homicide detective who was fired for drinking and insubordination. His gig as a Chief of Police on the other side of the country is a chance to for him to restart.
I’ve read the first two of these and liked them okay. Stone has a lot in common with Spenser. Unfortunately, the libraries don’t have the later books.
Other authors have picked up both the Spenser and Stone characters, but I’ve had no interest in pursuing them. I’ll read more of Parker’s Stone novels if I find them, but that’s about as much interest as I have.
I really need to write that post about Spenser. But it’s… complicated.
Clearly I’m a voracious reader! And, much as my parents instilled a love of physical books in me, I’m totally sold in ebooks.
I love that I can click a word and look it up. I love that I can highlight, copy, and annotate. I love that a large library fits in my hand and I can turn pages with my thumb. (Now if only the prices were more reasonable.)
Stay reading books, my friends! Go forth and spread beauty and light.