It’s a Mystery

I can’t tell if everything still seems fucked up because it is, or if it just feels like it is because after a year of COVID, even the smallest of disturbances feels like a BIG PROBLEM. Naw, I’m pretty sure everything is still fucked up.

So what’s a COVID-weary girl to do? I picked up a book. Actually 2 books. First, inspired by my friend Creative (Almost) Full-Timer and her post on Sherlock Holmes and The Hound of the Baskervilles, I actually read the book. For the first time. She is such a huge fan, I felt admitting to her I’ve never read it would mark me with a deficiency that even my charming personality could not overcome. But I did enjoy her post, and the book was also good. And it confirmed that mystery and detective fiction just isn’t my genre jam. Fantasy, sci fi, historical romance? Ohhh, yea. Detective stories and mysteries? There’s all that death, which is upsetting, and I never will figure out who did it; perhaps more importantly, I don’t want to figure out who did it. My brain just doesn’t work that way. But at least I can say I read a classic.

Next I turned to my bookshelves. I’m trying to read what I already have — I know, what a crazy idea! My eyes rested upon Time to Be in Earnest by P.D. James. The cover text describes it as “A fragment of autobiography.” In case you are a mystery/detective novel nube like me, she is a well-known writer of mysteries. I can’t remember who gave me the book, but I remember they thought I would like it from a writer’s point of view. In one of those weird “ask the universe” moments, I have been thinking recently about trying to read more books about writing. I used to do it a lot when I was younger and desperate to get published and be a Writer. But then I published the book about my dad during World War II and many years later started this blog, and I was like, OK, I’m a Writer.

But writing isn’t one and done, or 2 and done. It’s a regular practice and there is always something more I can learn. And in a literary sleight of hand, reading books actually makes you a better writer. Isn’t that cool? It’s as if eating makes you lose weight. Sign me up!

P.D. James decided to keep a diary for one year and then publish it as her autobiography. And she started it on her birthday, August 3, which is just one day before mine. How could I not read it?

She had me at the prologue. “I have never up until now kept a diary, largely because of indolence.” Christ, she’s a good writer. And funny, wise, descriptive, and in possession of a delightful vocabulary. I’m up to “Monday August 11th” and I’ve already looked up half a dozen words. My favorite so far: “I stood for a few minutes alone on a deserted stretch of shingle and looked over the cold and dangerous North Sea…Closing my eyes, I could hear nothing but the tinny rattle of the shingle drawn back by the waves and the low hissing of the wind…”

I looked up shingle, which before reading P.D. James’s sentence meant to me an asphalt covering on a roof or the improper singular of the illness I have very unpleasant memories of.

Shingle: a mass of small rounded pebbles, especially on a seashore.

I’m in love. I could see it, hear it. smell it. So I may never be an avid reader of mysteries, but I am now an avid reader of a mystery writer’s diary. And there is nothing fucked up about that.


  1. Nobody’s saying you have to become a mystery fan, Sandy, but…there’s plenty of overlap between the genres you like and the mystery genre. For instance, if you like classic SF, look up Isaac Asimov’s mysteries featuring a New York City detective and a robot as partners. Start with The Caves of Steel.

    There are also a fair number of mysteries that are historical, involve romances, or both.

    If you want the murder quotient to stay low, however, stick with the cozy variety. Don’t go for police procedurals or, God forbid, serial killers. Stay away from Silence of the Lambs and head for Yarned and Dangerous instead.

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