Monday, June 21, 2010

Red Herrings: A Love Story

Friends, I am in love! And her name is Anna Katherine Green.

Here is a picture of my beloved:

Let me tell you about how we met.

I had just finished reading Stieg Larsson's "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" for my book club, the Manhattan Chapter of the Northeast Regional Book Club Association. (A name I made up when I invited celebrated author Charlie Stella to come speak to us, and it stuck.) I decided I needed a palate cleanser before starting Larsson's second book, and a name popped into my head: Agatha.

Dame Agatha Christie, the grande dame of mystery fiction. Reading her books as a teenager made me fall in love with the genre.

(As a college student I visited The British Museum, where on the tour our guide discussed artifacts from archeological digs at
Arpachiyah, Iraq. She mentioned that the man in charge of the dig was Sir Max Mallowan, and asked if we knew to whom he was married. I raised my hand, and she glanced over and nodded at me.

"Agatha Christie," I said. Her face lit up.

"Archeology buff?" she said.

"No," I replied. "Mystery fan.")

Like an addict discovering temptation, I started to explore other authors from the "Golden Age of Mystery Fiction," a term commonly used to refer to works from 1920s and 1930s. This included Ngaio Marsh, Dorothy Sayers and G.K. Chesterton. It was chicken soup [laced with arsenic] for the soul.

But when the name "Agatha" popped into my head last week, it had been years since she and I had sat down to tea and crumpets together.
Sure, I watched the Miss Marple mysteries on PBS, but that wasn't the same. Oh, and I rented Hercule Poirot DVDs with David Suchet. And there was the updated Miss Marple series. That was good too.

Still, there had been no actual Christie book in my hands in the longest time.

In search of a bargain, I went to Amazon's Kindle store and looked at the cheapest mysteries they offered. (I am no great fan of the Kindle app for iPhone, which is far inferior to the eReader and Barnes & Noble apps, but they do have some cheap-as-dirt books.) I found a bargain -- for $2.99, an anthology of short stories that appeared to include some Dame A. Well...well...

I plunked down my hard-earned change, downloaded the book, and was shocked to find, instead of the expected 50 stories -- FIFTY BOOKS! FOR $2.99! Once my heart started again, I virtually cracked open a classic Tommy-and-Tuppence mystery (one of Dame A's less-popular crime-fighting duos). And then a second.

When I was done, I perused the table of contents and found Anna Katherine Green. Never heard of her. But I decided to give it a try.

The first thing I noticed was the use of dashes in dates and place names. For example: "Nancy Smith, was going to -----, New York, on September 30, 20--."

This was an immediate throwback to reading "Bartleby the Scrivener," by Herman Melville, published in 1853. Not that Melville was the only writer of that era who employed the privacy dashes, but he was the only writer I read in high school who did. And I only have access to my memory. (For now. I'm sure Apple is working on something.)

I saw those dashes and wondered who this poseur was, pretending to hearken back to an earlier era. As I read on, curiosity soon took hold, and off I went to Wikipedia. What I learned bowled me over:

Anna Katharine Green (November 11, 1846 – April 11, 1935) was an American poet and novelist. She was one of the first writers of detective fiction in America and distinguished herself by writing well plotted, legally accurate stories. (Courtesy of Wikipedia.)

How had we never met?

When I read Agatha, and Dorothy and G.K., I didn't know I would fall in love. I just tore through every word they wrote and didn't appreciate how one can never read a book twice for the first time.

Now that I'm reading Green's
"The Millionaire Baby," I'm taking my sweet time.

(P.S. I'm writing this blog from a secret passage!)

1 comment:

  1. the Manhattan Chapter of the Northeast Regional Book Club Association

    Which is often confused with the Grand High Exalted Mystic Ruler book club of Greater Michigan, Ohio and Camaroon.

    $2.99 ... you go girl.