by Lou Borgenicht
I have never been a big mystery reader, for a couple of reasons: my mother was an avid mystery reader, often consuming (the notion of being voracious is appropriate) two a day and, perhaps as a result of reverse Oedipal rebellion, I have considered mysteries a lesser form of literature. Then there is my fear of becoming addicted to any one literary genre. I avoided science fiction for that reason.
The first mystery I recall reading was The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie. At the time I considered it a tour de force; there was no need to read any other mysteries. Many years later I visited Oxford, England and read an Oxford-based mystery as a way of feeling connected to the place. Betsy suggested one (not Wilkie Collins). I absorbed it quickly and for the next week I meandered through the quaint residential neighborhoods of the quintessentially English university town on daily early morning walks reciting a spontaneous monologue in an affected accent.
Imagine: “It was a quiet morning. The milkman had just completed his rounds in the alley known as Orchard Street. Mrs. Entwhistle had just picked up her quart container of clotted cream from her rainsoaked stoop when she noticed the streak of bright red blood on the path leading to Mr. Castle’s garage.”
After that visit to the continent there was a significant hiatus in my interest in mysteries. A few years ago, for no discernible reason, I happened to ask Betsy, the guru of mysteries, about a book I might think of reading. She suggested a mystery by British writer Peter Robinson. After perusing the shelves (I have for years selected books by unknown authors by their cover; I also select wines by the aesthetic of their labels) I settled on In a Dry Season. I loved it.
Since 1996 my wife (Jody) and I have become unabashed Francophiles. We try to go to Paris once a year; Salt Lake is just not enough of “a little bit of Paris” for us. So it was natural that I should delve into the series of Cara Black mysteries that take place in various Parisian arrondissements. I tried and failed miserably. Several friends at the KE looked aghast when I told them. There is no accounting for taste.
2010 was a breakthrough year for me: I have read five mysteries in six months. First was , a once upon a time physician who gave up her medical career to write. She came to SLC this fall to speak at the Utah Humanities Book Fair; I was asked to introduce her. Accordingly I read three of her mysteries before she arrived. I could not put them down. It was not just because she was a lapsed doctor, a secret wish perhaps of many medical folks. Her plots were compelling and her style was insistent. A TV series, “Rizzoli and Isles,” had recently surfaced based on two characters in her most recent books. I watched the first episode but gladly returned to the books.
Tess’ talk was as engaging as her mysteries. She talked about her life as a writer and did not read from her oeuvre. I have always thought that writers who merely read from their works cop out. Their audience always wants to find out something about the writer. The reader can read for him or herself. This caveat does not apply to either the past (e.g. recordings of William Carlos Williams or Dylan Thomas) or any readings of Billy Collins.
Three weeks ago I was chatting with Kimberly about what might be both light and absorbing read during my upcoming two week vacation in Maui. She suggested Tell No One by Harlan Coben. In an act of faith usually reserved only for friends who suggest great restaurants (my current favorite is Caffe Niche, caffeniche.com) I bought the book and read it in three days. I delayed starting my next mystery, Tess Gerritsen’s Vanished, for fear of running out of reading matter on my vacation. I could have bought another on the island at Borders (God forbid) but I love to think my planning (both proper clothes and reading matter) is unerring.
But I could not resist. After perusing the most recent Atlantic and The New Yorker, I opened the cover of Vanished. I carried it with me to the beach, careful not to taint it with even one grain of sand. Three days later I had finished it and was left with Beyond Fundamentalism by Reza Aslan. Luckily, I had started it before I left SLC and knew I could find political absorption there. Furthermore I had bought it at his talk at the library from the KE.
In sum, I have discovered a disturbing phenomenon, perhaps a function of aging. Every time I read mystery I reach a point after I have read about eighty percent of it: I am compelled with the simultaneous urge both to finish it and not finish it. I want read it all and yet not read it all. The problematic issue for me is once I have completed my effort I am not sure I understood the ultimate denouement. Generally it is not who the murderer was. It is the nuances of the mystery itself.
Like life I suppose.