Category Archives: Lorna Barrett

When I Want to Run Away*

Books as EscapismLet’s face it: the world is sometimes not very much fun at all. Whether it’s your personal or professional life, or the larger world in general, there are times when you just need to take a break. And book lovers know that there’s nothing like the right book to help you escape.

We all have our own ‘escape routes,’ too. Some readers like to turn to light crime fiction. You know, the kind that takes place in small towns, with a minimum of violence, quirky characters, and maybe even some romance. There are many examples of this kind of cosy mystery, of course. Lorna Barrett’s Booktown mysteries, which feature mystery bookshop owner Tricia Miles fall into this category. So do Elizabeth Spann Craig’s Southern Quilting mysteries, which ‘star’ retired folk art curator Beatrice Coleman. If you enjoy cosy series, I’ll bet you’ve got several to add to this list.

These series, when they’re done well, can create for the reader a world where things work out, and where it’s all going to be all right. It’s a little tricky to do such a series well, though, without it getting too ‘frothy.’ The best cosy series have enough realism and solid characters that they’re not too full of ‘sugar content.’

Those kinds of series aren’t for everyone, though. For some people, ‘escape’ means a ‘high-octane’ sort of thriller, complete with narrow escapes, undercover operatives, and shadowy groups. Robet Ludlum’s Jason Bourne novels come to my mind as an example of this. So does Lindy Cameron’s Redback, which features a crack team of Australian retrieval/rescue specialists who go up against a mysterious and very dangerous terrorist group. By the way, Ms.Cameron, if you happen to be reading this, I think Redback would make a terrific film.

Some thriller fans don’t mind suspending quite a lot of disbelief, and it’s easy to see why. It’s escapism, and doesn’t necessarily reflect real life. Other thriller fans like their ‘wild rides’ to be more realistic. So, for the thriller author, there’s always the question of just how much to stretch credibility. But even so, there are plenty of readers for whom ‘escape’ means the ways in which Ian Fleming’s James Bond gets himself out of trouble.

‘Escape’ can have another meaning too: travel. For some readers, the novels they read when they need to ‘get away from it all’ are set in exotic places. I see you out there, fans of Andrea Camilleri’s Salvo Montalbano series. It’s not hard to appreciate the allure of gorgeous weather, delicious food and white, sandy beaches. Shamini Flint’s Inspector Singh series is also set in what for many people is an exotic location: Singapore. Inspector Singh travels quite a lot in the series, to places such as Mumbai, Beijing, Cambodia and Bali. So the novels really give the reader a chance to ‘visit’ all sorts of different locations.

A series set in an exciting, different sort of place can’t just trade on its setting, of course. The story and characters do matter, and readers don’t want their crime novels to start resembling a travelogue. But sometimes, when the world gets a bit much, a virtual trip to Greece, or Malaysia, or Ibiza, or perhaps Botswana, can be very enticing indeed.

There are also plenty of crime fiction fans who like to escape using a virtual time machine. Life might not have been better during the Victorian Era, or Ancient Rome, or the early 1950s. In fact, in some ways, it was very much harder. But it can be really interesting to learn about life in a very different time. And isn’t it nice to contemplate a life without spam email and ‘robo-calls?’ C.J. Sansom’s Matthew Shardlake novels, for instance, are set in Tudor England. Life at that time, and in that place, wasn’t very easy, even if you had money. But there’s plenty of court intrigue and insights on the customs of the times to invite readers to forget their modern-day worries, at least for a time. Alan Bradley’s Flavia de Luce series is set in the 1950’s mostly in the English village of Bishop’s Lacey. It’s not completely idyllic; there’s post-war financial difficulty, for instance. But Bradley does evoke a quieter time.

Of course, readers only enjoy literary escapes if their destinations are well-written. It’s not enough to have a cosy premise, or an exciting ‘thrill ride,’ or a solid historical context. Character development and story content really do matter. But that said, there are just some novels and series that are perfect ‘getaway vehicles.’ I’ve mentioned a few. Now it’s your turn. When you’re looking for a book simply to escape, what sort of series do you choose? If you’re a writer, do you write escapist novels? I know, that’s not an easy question as we all define that term differently. What’s your take on this?


On Another Note…


Thanks very much to all of you who voted on which of my stories you’d like to see continued. It means a lot to me that you liked them that well. Interestingly, A Bite to Eat and Giving All Your Clothes to Charity were tied. So the matter was settled by a coin toss. The winner? A Bite to Eat.  Look for the next instalment very soon!



*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Peter Gabriel’s In Your Eyes.


Filed under Alan Bradley, Andrea Camilleri, C.J. Sansom, Elizabeth Spann Craig, Ian Fleming, Lindy Cameron, Lorna Barrett, Robert Ludlum, Shamini Flint

But I Got Cat Class and I Got Cat Style*

zenasstedaureliocolumn1Ciao, my Bellas!

I am Aurelio Zen, Assistant Editor at It’s a Crime! (Or a Mystery…). Now, before I go any further, let me encourage you to pay a visit to my home blog, where She Who (thinks she) is in Charge and I always provide top-quality crime fiction information and reviews.

I’m here today on special assignment because Margot Kinberg is not intelligent enough to be worthy of being owned by a cat. Therefore there was no choice but to have me come in to discuss the vital role that cats play in crime fiction. You don’t believe me? You must certainly have been listening to a dog lately then. Let me put you right on how very important cats are in the genre.

Let’s start with Agatha Christie’s The Clocks. British Intelligence operative Colin Lamb happens to be in the town of Crowdean on his own business one afternoon when he’s quite literally run into by Sheila Webb. She’s a secretary who was sent to a house in the same neighbourhood for what she thought was a typing job. What she’s found instead is the body of an unknown man. Lamb summons the police in the form of Inspector Richard Hardcastle, and the hunt for the killer is on. There are some odd aspects of this murder, so Lamb thinks the case may be of interest to his father’s friend Hercule Poirot. It turns out he’s right and Poirot guides the investigation. Next door to the house where the body was found lives Mrs. Hemming, a widow who is servant to a houseful of cats. She is, quite naturally, far more interested in her masters’ well-being than she is in a murder, but she says something that proves to be very useful to the investigation.

Robert Crais’ PI sleuth Elvis Cole is owned by a cat. The cat, of course, chooses to remain more or less feral, but Cole sees that it’s fed and cared for and he is, in his own way, comforted by the cat’s presence. Interestingly enough, the only human who seems intelligent enough to interact properly with Cole’s cat is his partner Joe Pike. Pike is a tough guy with an interest in weapons and a background that includes military duty. He’s really not intimidated by anyone. But he also knows the proper way to relate to us feline rulers. So Cole’s cat gets along with him.

Åsa Larsson’s series includes police detective Sven-Erik Stålnacke, who is owned for a time by a cat he calls Manne. That relationship doesn’t last, but in The Black Path, he meets a widow named Airi Bylund who is very much a cat person. In that novel, Stålnacke and his partner Anna-Maria Mella are investigating the murder of Inna Wattrang, Head of Information for Kellis Mining. The trail leads to some very nasty business at the top of the corporate ladder, to say nothing of some international intrigue. But none of that matters. What does matter is that Stålnacke and Bylund are able to bond because of – that’s right – cats. Before cats, Stålnacke lives by himself, lonelier than he cares to admit. After cats? Of course – a relationship. That’s feline power.

Kerry Greenwood’s Corinna Chapman is owned by three cats. One, Horatio, shares her home and later, does his share of monopolising her lover Daniel Cohen. Chapman knows the real truth about cats: if they approve of a person, that person is probably worthy. Chapman also keeps two Rodent Control Officers Heckle and Jekyll. They ensure that mice and rats pose no threat to Chapman’s bakery and despite concerns from Health Department officials, the fact is, the Mouse Police are a much safer and more environmentally-friendly deterrent to such vermin than are traps or poison. And the Mouse Police do their jobs well. When their shift ends early in the morning, Chapman feeds them and then lets them out to get dessert from the nearby restaurant. It all works very well for them.

Fans of Elly Griffiths’ Ruth Galloway series will know that she is owned by Flint. Now, Flint doesn’t stoop so low as to actually act like a human and solve mysteries. But Flint provides good company for Galloway and her daughter Kate. And to be honest, Galloway prefers Flint to most humans. As she herself puts it at the end of A Dying Fall,


‘My life is just me and Kate and Flint.’


Wise woman.

One of the most interesting crime-fictional cats is without a doubt Snowball, who runs Commissaire Adamsberg’s office in Fred Vargas’ series. Snowball’s favourite human among those on Adamsberg’s team is Violette Retancourt, and that makes sense. Retancourt is gifted with animals and she and Snowball have an understanding. In This Night’s Foul Work, the team is faced with some odd cases that could be connected. Two drug dealers have been found with their throats cut, and it looks like it could be the work of serial killer Claire Langevin, who’s recently escaped from custody. These murders could also be related to the bizarre killings of some Normandy stags. In the midst of all of this, Retancourt goes missing. At first, only Snowball seems aware of her absence (humans!!). But gradually some of the other members of the team notice that she’s gone. Finally, when she doesn’t return, the decision is taken to let Snowball track her. It turns out to be the right decision, as Snowball is able to lead the team to Retancourt. We also find out why she disappeared and how that is related to the other plot threads in the novel. Snowball soon puts paid to all of the nasty remarks made about cats’ lack of intelligence. I mean, really!

There are also several series such as Lorna Barrett’s Booktown series and Lilian Jackson Braun’s Cat Who… series where the human sleuths are accompanied by feline partners. In the Booktown series, which takes place in Stoneham, Massachusetts, Tricia Miles owns Haven’t Got a Clue, a bookshop specialising in crime fiction and mystery. In turn, Miles is owned by her feline overseer Miss Marple. That’s almost as good a name for a cat as mine. And fans of the Cat Who… series will know that in those novels, journalist Jim ‘Qwill’ Qwilleran is owned by Koko and Yum Yum, two elegant seal-point Siamese.  And of course there’s Carol Nelson Douglas’ Midnight Louie series. Fans of those novels will know that Midnight Louie owns PR freelancer Temple Barr.

There are other series and novels too of course that feature fearless felines. How could they not? Which ones do you like best?

Now, then, time for me to return to She Who (thinks she) is in Charge. What would she do without me? Ciao!



*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from the Stray Cats’ Stray Cat Strut.


Filed under Agatha Christie, Åsa Larsson, Carole Nelson Douglas, Elly Griffiths, Fred Vargas, Kerry Greenwood, Lilian Jackson Braun, Lorna Barrett, Robert Crais

I Know a Place*

Do you have a favourite bookshop? I don’t necessarily mean one of the larger chains (although they can certainly have their advantages). I mean one of those second-hand or independent bookshops where you can poke around and find an old edition of a novel you haven’t thought of for years. The kind of shop where there are comfortable places to sit and browse through a book and maybe take a chance on a new-to-you author. With today’s technology, bookshops like that may not be as popular as they once were, but they are (at least to me) special places. They’re also full of atmosphere, so it’s no wonder we see them in crime fiction, even when they’re not the site of a murder (although in my opinion, a second-hand bookshop is a great setting for a murder!).

One thing about those special bookshops is that they can be full of surprises. For instance, in Agatha Christie’s The Clocks, special agent Colin Lamb is working undercover to find out the truth behind the recent death of a colleague and to close in on a spy ring that he thinks is operating in the town of Crowdean. In one scene, he goes to a meeting with his chief – whose office is in a secret place inside an old book shop. Lamb goes through narrow cluttered aisles and up a set of rickety steps until he gets to the floor he wants and meets with his chief. His investigation is interrupted when he’s drawn into a case of murder. He’s walking through a quiet neighbourhood of Crowdean when a young woman comes out of one of the houses screaming that there’s a dead man inside, and so there is. Lamb gives the alert and it’s not long before he and his friend Inspector Richard “Dick” Hardcastle are on the case. Certain features of the case are intriguing, so Lamb brings it to his father’s friend Hercule Poirot. Poirot’s intrigued, too, and works with Lamb to solve the murder.

Roy Harley Lewis’ Mathew Coll isn’t an active Intelligence agent, but he, too, is attracted to the rare and used book world. In A Cracking of Spines, the first Coll mystery, he retires from active service in British military intelligence and opens an antiquarian bookshop in England’s West Country. When a series of rare books starts to disappear, the Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association asks Colls to investigate, since the group knows about his background. Colls agrees and looks into the case. What he finds is that the case is not as simple (or as complicated) as it seems on the surface. He also discovers that the rare book thefts are related to the death of Radford College librarian Edward Heyman, who has a fatal fall from a skylight. Interestingly, Lewis is himself the owner of an antiquarian bookstore.

In Lilian Jackson Braun’s Cat Who… series, former journalist Jim Qwilleran, Braun’s sleuth, spends quite a lot of time at Edd’s Editions, a used bookshop owned by bibliophile and bookbinder Eddington Smith. In more than one novel, Braun mentions that Qwilleran can’t resist the opportunity to go into the shop whenever he passes it, and that he rarely leaves without making a purchase. On the surface, Edd’s Editions isn’t a particularly prepossessing place:

“It literally crouched on the backstreet behind Lanspeak’s department store. Rough stones were piled up to simulate a grotto, and the stone was feldspar; on a sunny day it glittered like the front of a burlesque house. Hanging alongside the front door was a weathered sign, almost illegible: Edd’s Editions. In the grimy front window were old books with drab covers and one drooping potted plant.

And yet, Qwilleran loves the place. There’s just a certain appeal about it.

Håkan Nesser’s Inspector Van Veeteren also feels the appeal of used and antique books. In fact, at the end of The Inspector and Silence, he’s faced with a choice of continuing his career or buying into a partnership in a used bookshop. In later Van Veeteren novels, for instance, in Münsters Fall (AKA Münster’s Case), we see that Van Veeteren has retired and now owns an antiquarian bookshop. He loves books and his new life allows him to indulge his passion and to spend more time with his family. He also finds himself drawn into investigations, though, because he’s still very good at drawing conclusions and making sense of evidence. So his former second-in-command Münster still turns to him when a case is particularly difficult.

We also see the real appeal of used books and bookshops in Martin Edwards’ Lake District series. The books in this series feature DCI Hannah Scarlett, leader of the Cumbria Constabulary’s Cold Case Review team. Scarlett’s lover is Marc Amos, who owns Amos Books, a bookshop and a resource for those who love and are looking for rare books. Amos is far from perfect, but he truly loves books and has created an inviting place. Here’s a description of it:

“A coal fire burned in an inglenook on the ground floor, in between the bookshop and the café….a slice of the legacy from Aunt Imelda had enabled Marc to take a lease on premises in Sedbergh, now designated as a book town. For the moment, the store was little more than a handful of shelves annexed to Leigh’s café.”

…and yet, it’s warm and welcoming, and when the weather is fine, patrons can take a coffee and piece of cake out on a deck attached to the building. My kind of shop.

Used bookshops and independent bookshops are such appealing places that several mystery series feature such shops and their owners. For example, Lorna Barrett’s Book Town series is focused on Tricia Miles, who owns Haven’t Got a Clue, a mystery book shop in the book town of Stoneham, New Hampshire. Here’s the way Barrett describes Haven’t Got a Clue:

“…richly paneled walls decorated with prints and photos of long-dead mystery authors…[with] upholstered armchairs and large square coffee table that made up the seating nook and allowed patrons the comforts of home while they perused Tricia’s stock of vintage first-edition mysteries and newly-minted best-sellers.”

Whether used bookshops or independent book shops are cluttered and dusty, large and “homey” or simply a wall of shelves, they offer a unique chance to find books one wouldn’t find anywhere else, and they are distinctive. Little wonder they’re one of my favourite haunts. In fact, the ‘photos you see are some of the very few on this blog that I haven’t taken myself. They are ‘photos of Baldwin’s Book Barn, a converted dairy barn in Chester, Pennsylvania that now has five floors full of all kinds of books. I have spent many, many happy hours there and gotten some wonderful books. Thanks, BBB!!!

What about you? Do you haunt this kind of bookshop? Which one(s) do you like best?  Which are your favourite “bookshop” mysteries?

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from the Staple Singers’ I’ll Take You There.



Filed under Agatha Christie, Håkan Nesser, Lilian Jackson Braun, Lorna Barrett, Martin Edwards, Roy Harley Lewis

>You’ve Got Something to Hide, I Know*

>Where there’s a murder, there’s a murderer. In some crime fiction, we know who that murderer is right from the beginning of the story, but in many mystery novels, we don’t. In real-life murders, the police don’t always know who the killer is right from the start, either. They examine the evidence and they look into the victim’s life to find out who’s the most likely murderer. There aren’t that many motives for murder, so experienced detectives know that some people are more likely to have killed the victim than others. That’s one way they narrow down the list of possible suspects. Crime fiction readers often do exactly the same thing. They think about likely motives and the evidence, and they decide who probably committed the crime. Smart criminals (and careful authors 😉 ) know this, so they take pains not to be suspected or to allow the real murderer to stand out from other characters. That’s easier to do if you know what makes a person a likely suspect. Which kinds of fictional or real people are most likely to be guilty?

The Husband or Wife

In real life and in crime fiction, the husband or wife is usually the prime suspect. There’s good reason for this prejudice, too. Spouses often have motives that no-one would guess. Spouses also have all sorts of opportunities to commit a murder.

We see that, for instance, in Agatha Christie’s Evil Under the Sun. In that novel, Hercule Poirot is taking a holiday at the Jolly Roger Hotel at Leathercombe Bay. Among the other guests are famous actress Arlena Stuart Marshall, her husband Kenneth Marshall and her stepdaughter Linda Marshall. One day, Arlena Marshall is found strangled at a cove not far from the hotel. Her husband Kenneth falls under suspicion immediately. First, it’s common knowledge at the hotel that Arlena was having an affair with another guest, Patrick Redfern. Also, it’s discovered that he stood to gain financially from her death. So Kenneth Marshall’s background and his alibi get a lot of attention from the police as they go about finding Arlena Marshall’s killer.

That’s also the case with William Sumner in Minette Walters’ The Breaker. One morning, the nude body of his wife, thirty-one-year-old Kate Sumner, is found on the beach near Chapman’s Pool on the Dorset coast. PC Nick Ingram is called to the scene and begins the investigation. When it turns out that the Sumners live in Hampshire, Ingram’s joined by DI John Galbraith, WPC Sandra Griffiths and Superintendent Carpenter. Together, the team examines the evidence and Kate Sumner’s background. William Sumner is one of the prime suspects in this murder. For one thing, his marriage to Kate wasn’t the happy marriage it seemed on the surface. For another, it turns out that Kate was unfaithful to her husband. Finally, Sumner’s account of his actions on the day of the murder can’t be completely verified. So the police remain interested in him as the major suspect.

We also see this kind of suspicion in Deborah Crombie’s In a Dark House. When Laura Novak, who’s on the Board of Directors of Helping Hands, a women’s shelter, disappears, her husband Tony becomes the prime suspect. Superintendent Duncan Kincaid gets involved in the investigation by chance, but it’s not long before he realises that Laura Novak’s disappearance may be related to a warehouse fire that he’s investigating. Throughout this novel, we see how Kincaid and his team continue to believe that Tony Novak may have had a hand in the events of the story.

Anyone Who Gains Financially

Money is an all-too-common motive for murder. So detectives and savvy crime fiction readers know to “follow the money” when it comes to looking for likely suspects.

For instance, in Agatha Christie’s Dumb Witness (AKA Poirot Loses a Client), Hercule Poirot and Captain Hastings investigate the death of Miss Emily Arundell. At first, her death looks like a natural death from heart failure. However, it’s not long before it’s discovered that she was murdered. Miss Arundell had a large fortune to leave and a family of financially-desperate relations. So Poirot and the police very carefully into each suspect’s alibi as they figure out which of Miss Arundell’s relations needed money enough to kill for it.

There’s a similar set of motives in Ngaio Marsh’s A Surfeit of Lampreys (AKA Death of a Peer). When Gabriel Lord Wutherford is murdered in an elevator, Inspector Roderick Alleyn investigates the killing. He finds that Wutherford’s brother, Lord Charles Lamprey had begged his brother for money just before the murder. So Lamprey and his family members become the prime suspects in this killing. That makes sense, too, as the Lampreys are quirky and original, but completely financially irresponsible.

There are so many other novels where people with financial motives become suspects that I won’t mention them here. I’m sure that you can list more than I could.

The Unsavoury Suspect

There’s a common belief that people with criminal pasts or shady backgrounds are more likely to commit murder. So detectives naturally look to that kind of person as a suspect when they’re investigating a murder. It’s understandable too, since it’s often very hard to get past our prejudices.

That’s what happens in Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Adventure of the Abbey Grange. In that story, Sherlock Holmes gets a note from Inspector Stanley Hopkins, asking him to help in the investigation of the death of Sir Eustace Brackenstall. Some silver and other valuables are missing, and the police assume that the notorious Randall gang is responsible. The father-and-sons gang has been operating in the area lately, and there is the matter of the missing valuables. In fact, at first, Hopkins has no doubt of the Randalls’ guilt – until they are arrested in New York the day after Sir Eustace’s murder. Now the police have to find another explanation for the murder. So Holmes and Watson investigate and find out who really killed Sir Eustace Brackenstall and why.

In Ian Rankin’s Exit Music, Inspector Rebus and his team investigate the murder of dissident poet Alexander Todorov. When Rebus finds out that local gangster and crime boss Morris “Big Ger” Cafferty may be involved in the killing, he’s only too happy to believe Cafferty guilty. For one thing, Cafferty’s got a criminal history. For another, Rebus and Cafferty have a long-standing animus. Of course, Ian Rankin being Ian Rankin, things aren’t as simple – or as complex – as that.

Someone With a Grudge

It’s only natural to feel resentful when one’s been badly hurt. Sometimes that resentment is strong enough and goes deep enough to drive a person to murder. So when detectives are investigating a murder, they frequently try to find out who might have had a grudge against the victim. Anyone who does bear a grudge comes in for suspicion.

That’s what happens, for instance, in Lorna Barrett’s Murder is Binding. Doris Gleason, who owns a rare cookbook store in Stoneham, Massachusetts, is found stabbed to death one night in her own store. The prime suspect in this murder is Tricia Miles, who owns a nearby mystery bookstore, Haven’t Got a Clue. She and Doris Gleason didn’t get along, and Doris Gleason was an unpleasant person to begin with. Tricia decides to do her own investigation to clear her name. It turns out that more than one person had a good reason to want to kill Doris Gleason.

In Colin Dexter’s The Jewel That Was Ours, Inspector Morse and Sergeant Lewis investigate the murder of Dr. Theo Kemp, curator of Oxford’s Ashmolean Museum. As the enquiry goes on, Morse develops a solid case against one suspect in particular who’s got a grudge against Kemp. In fact, that suspect’s motive is so strong that Morse is convinced he has the culprit. In true Dexter style, though, the story is not as simple as that, and Morse has to accept the fact that he’s wrong. Once he gets some vital information about the other suspects, though, he and Lewis are able to solve the case.

Space doesn’t permit me to mention all of the “red flags” that detectives and savvy readers use to decide who’s the most likely suspect. There is, for instance, the suspect who’s afraid of the victim. And the jealous suspect. And the old standby, “the least likely suspect.” Perhaps it’s best to do as Hercule Poirot does and suspect everyone. What’s your strategy? What kind of person makes you most suspicious? If you’re a writer, what kind of character do you like to use as a “red herring” character?

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Journey’s Something to Hide.


Filed under Agatha Christie, Arthur Conan Doyle, Colin Dexter, Deborah Crombie, Ian Rankin, Lorna Barrett, Minette Walters, Ngaio Marsh

>A Whole New World, A New Fantastic Point of View*

>Why do you love to read? There are as many different answers to that question as there are book lovers. Books offer entertainment, escape, wisdom and information, among lots of other things. They also provide ideas and new perspectives. They spark creativity, they make readers laugh, they hold up a mirror to the world, and they challenge readers to think. Books and words are such powerful tools that it’s no wonder we see so much of books in crime fiction.

In fact, “Books” is the first word of Agatha Christie’s Postern of Fate, the final adventure featuring Tommy and Tuppence Beresford. In that novel, the Beresfords have moved to the village of Holllowquay with the idea of settling down and retiring. When they take possession of their new house, they discover a large collection of books left behind by previous owners. They’re going through the collection when Tuppence notices that some words in a copy of Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Black Arrow have been underlined. She soon figures out that the words are actually a coded message:

“Mary Jordan did not die naturally.”

It turns out that that message was written by Alexander Parkinson, a young boy who lived in the house many years ago and died not very long after he left that code. That cryptic message arouses Tuppence’s curiosity and before long, she and Tommy are searching for the truth behind Alexander’s death and the death of Mary Jordan, a German-born maid who lived in Hollowquay at the time that the Parkinsons did. In the process of solving the mystery, the Beresfords also unearth several local secrets, including international espionage.

Several other Christie novels also weave in books, writers and literature, including Shakespeare. For instance, in Appointment With Death, Hercule Poirot solves the murder of Mrs. Boynton, a tyrannical matriarch who’s dominated her family for years. One of her children, Ginevra “Jinny” Boynton, is driven to the brink of serious mental illness by her mother’s tyranny. Once Mrs. Boynton’s murder has been solved, the members of the family are able to move on and make lives for themselves. Jinny becomes a well-known actress whose specialty is Shakespeare, and Christie refers to a few of Shakespeare’s plays in this novel, including Cymbaline and Hamlet.

Some of Christie’s titles are also inspired by books and literature. For instance, Taken at the Flood (AKA There is a Tide) is part of a line from Shakespeare’s Julius Caeser. Other titles (e.g. One, Two, Buckle My Shoe, A Pocketful of Rye and Hickory Dickory Dock) are references to nursery rhymes. Christie also makes brief references to other authors in several of her novels. Some examples are Dickens, Arthur Conan Doyle and an oblique reference to one of her contemporaries, Ngaio Marsh.

Dorothy Sayers’ Lord Peter Wimsey is an avid bibliophile and collector of rare books. He knows his literature quite well, and in fact, that knowledge helps him more than once. For instance, in Clouds of Witness, Wimsey’s older brother Gerald, Duke of Denver, is arrested for the murder of their sister Mary’s fiancé, Denis Cathcart. The Duke admits that he and Cathcart quarreled, but he maintains his innocence, so Lord Peter and his friend, Inspector Charles Parker, investigate the case. There is a lot of evidence (e.g. a gun, a letter, footprints) that seems to lead in different directions, so the case is not an easy one to solve. It’s not until Lord Peter makes a connection to a book in Cathcart’s collection that caught his fancy that he’s able to get on the trail of the real killer.

Bibliophiles also feature in Terrie Curran’s All Booked Up, in which Professors Basil and Hortense Killingsly get mixed up in a series of murders and rare book thefts at New England’s Smedley Library. The Killingsleys are “regulars” at the library, and are shocked when a very rare book, a 15th-century edition of Ranulf Higden’s Polychronicon, goes missing from the library. A copy of Tottle’s Songs and Sonnets is found in its place. Other rare books, too, disappear and are replaced by copies of the Tottle book. Then, the library’s director, Glen Moraise, is found dead. Now these two book lovers and some of the Smedley’s other denizens band together to find out the truth behind the thefts and murder.

Books are also at the forefront of Martin Edwards’ The Serpent Pool. In that novel, DCI Hannah Scarlett and her Cold Case Review team re-open the six-year-old drowning death of Bethany Friend. As they slowly put the pieces together, the team discovers the connection between that murder and the recent murders of rare book collector George Saffell and attorney Stuart Wagg. We also discover how the three murders are connected to Oxford historian Daniel Kind’s interest in 19th Century British author Thomas de Quincey

There are also many books and series that take place in libraries and bookstores and feature librarians and book dealers and sellers as sleuths. Just one example is Lorna Barrett’s Book Town series, which features her sleuth, mystery bookstore owner Tricia Miles. And then there are sleuths such as Lilian Jackson Braun’s Jim Qwilleran, a former investigative journalist and now columnist. He collects all sorts of books and they frequently provide clues to the mysteries he solves.

So why am I taking the time to talk about books and reading today? In part, it’s because books and words are powerful. Those who can read and love reading have access to that power that those who cannot read do not. So I would like to take a moment to salute those of you who pass the power of literacy on to others. All of you who blog about books and writing are important in keeping literacy alive, but I’m especially thanking you today because I’ve been honoured to receive this

Literacy Builder Blog Award

My deep thanks to Clarissa Draper for passing this award to me. I consider literacy building to be such an important calling that I am especially flattered that Confessions of a Mystery Novelist… was chosen for this award.

Here are the rules for this award:

1. Thank and link back to the person who gave you this award.
2. Display the award logo on your blog site.
3. Tell us five of your favorite words and why you like them, (add as many as you like).
4. Pass the award on to three bloggers you feel are excellent literacy builders, and link to their sites.
5. Contact the bloggers you’ve chosen and let them know about the award.

Of course…rules were made to be – er – bent, so I will vary those rules just a bit. There are so many, many bloggers that I know whose blogs promote, support and develop literacy that choosing just three would be completely unfair to the rest. I’m “cheating” and choosing five blogs whose focus on reading, writing and literacy are helpful to all of us. I’m not even completely comfortable doing this, because it leaves out so many superb book blogs that have expanded my reading horizons. But here goes:

Crystal at Crystal Clear Proofing

Kerrie at Mysteries in Paradise

Michele at Southern City Mysteries

Rayna at Coffee Rings Everywhere

Elizabeth at Mystery Writing is Murder

I’ve also been asked to tell five of my favourite words (another hard task, as I love words). I found it very difficult to narrow my list down, but here goes:

Scintillating – I love this word because of what it means: sparkling – brilliantly clever

Onomatopoeia – This word has a lovely sound to it, and I like its meaning, too. It’s got zip 😉

Wallaby – This word is a perfect example of how indigenous languages have changed other languages permanently. I love the power that language has to affect other languages.

Hoosegow – This word is such a terrific example of language mixing. It comes from the Spanish juzgado (court or court room), was anglicized and is now a slang term for “jail.”

Delicious – This word has a smooth and rich “feel,” and I like its meaning. I also like that many things (not just food) can be described with this word. It’s flexible

On a Related Note…

To the rest of you who share your passion for books – thank you! You light that proverbial “candle in the darkness,” and that makes a real difference.

I don’t often step on a soapbox; I’m too firm a believer in critical thinking for that. However on one issue, I do: literacy. Whether you choose to read with a child to help create a lifelong love of books, donate your books, help an adult to learn to read, or do something else to share the love of books, you are giving someone access to knowledge. Any small step you take to give someone the power of words is liberating.

And why am I going on about books during this particular week? Because it is Banned Books Week. It’s one thing to recommend that someone read or not read a particular book. It’s quite another to prevent that someone from reading what he or she chooses to read…

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Tim Rice and Alan Menken’s Whole New World.


Filed under Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers, Lilian Jackson Braun, Lorna Barrett, Martin Edwards, Terrie Curran