Copyright © 1999 Henrietta W. Hay

It's Mystery Time Again
October 22, 1999

My reading habits can be pretty embarassing at times. When somebody asks me what I am reading I would like give a serious, intellectual answer. Instead, however, I have to confess that I am well into my favorite mystery. I haven't read any of the Harry Potter books which are taking the country by storm. My friend the philosopher says are delightful, for adults as well as for the kids. I'm going to skip Susan Faludi's "Stiffed." I don't have time for 662 pages about the poor put-upon American male. I am reading the Dalai Lama's "Ethics for the New Millenium," but only because I'm in a group which is discussing it.
For recreational reading give me a good mystery any day. Mysteries are comforting. Virtue always triumphs-- well, nearly always --and they are great for teaching geography. My favorite characters are scattered all across the country
Two of the best mystery authors have new books this fall.
The latest in Sue Grafton's alphabet series, "O is for Outlaw," was published this month. I haven't been able to get my hands on it yet, but Booklist says, "Kinsey Milhone, a legend in the overcrowded world of female detectives, returns in her most gripping adventure to date." Kinsey lives and works in southern California, and this adventure finally lets us into a little bit of her past. I thought Grafton had started to level off in "N is for Noose," but "the trend is abruptly reversed here, with a novel of depth and substance that is, in every way, the class of the series." Can't wait.
V. I. Warshawski is back in Sara Paretsky's brand new book, "Hard Time." V. I. is one tough P. I. She lives in Chicago, shares Mitch and Peppy, the two wonder dogs, with her landlord, a retired machinest. Mr. Contreras keeps a protective eye on her and calls her cookie. In this adventure she ends up in the women's prison in Illinois, for a crime she did not commit. She chooses to refuse bail and to stay an extra week to investigate an "inside" murder. Her curiosity almost costs her her life. The conditions she uncovers are enough to keep us all on the right side of the law, but of course she solves the mystery.
Baltimore is the scene of a series of good mysteries by Laura Lippman. In her latest she fooled me and heads out to San Antonio to help an ex-boyfriend who is in trouble. Her constant companion is a grayhound named Esskay that she rescued when the dog was scheduled for the glue factory after a career on the race track. Lippman creates real settings and in "In Big Trouble" she does for San Antonio what she has done for Baltimore in her earlier books. But she and Esskay and the no longer ex-lover return to the east because as she says, "My place is Baltimore."
I found another great legal mystery by a Colorado author. Marianne Wesson is a prosecuter turned defense attorney in The People's Republic of Boulder, In her first novel, "Render Up the Body," she introduces Cinda Hayes. Cinda left her job in the D. A.'s office to head the Boulder Rape Crisis Center. In a very involved but interesting plot, she finds herself trying to get civil rights for a convicted rapist, and in so doing loses most of her friends and discovers some unpleasant things about the D. A. Remember, this is fiction!
When we read novels - mysteries in my case - in which the characters are human beings whom you feel that you know, the dialogue is so real and you find yourself talking part in it now and then, and where the protagonist is at least normally intelligent, it is a major jolt to find one that has all the emotion of high school essay on "How I Spent My Summer." Last week I picked up such a paperback, Mimi Latt's "Pursuit of Justice." It is pretty bad, but it is a good thing to read a bad one now and then to make us appreciate the good ones.
I'll get around to the serious reading some day, but for now, I'm waiting to see what Kinsey Milhone is up to in her new adventure.