My introduction to mystery/detective stories came early.
Of course, by the age of 12, like many other American girls, I had amassed an entire set of Nancy Drew mysteries and had read each twice.
But my real introduction to the mystery/detective genre came one hot summer afternoon when bored with nothing to do, I discovered my father’s collection of paperbacks hidden in the back of his closet.
In addition to Westerns by Zane Gray and Ernest Haycox, I found books by Dashiell Hammet, Raymond Chandler, John D. McDonald, and Ian Flemming.
I gained a wonderful education for the rest of the summer.
I learned about geography: New York City back alleys, Florida beaches, and exotic global getaways.
I learned psychology: how to predict someone’s next reaction by his body language, how to stare down your opponent, how to make your suspect confess.
I learned about human relations: what to do when someone comes to you for help, how to deal with romantic partners who might prove to be untrustworthy, how to overcome your own fears and mental and physical issues (such as depression or alcoholism).
Yes, Nancy Drew was inspirational—but those guys were deep.
Later, I grew even more enamored with mysteries and hard-boiled detectives. I discovered James Lee Burke and fell in love with New Iberia, Louisana, with Creole cooking, with live oak trees—and, most importantly, with the power of language. Not only did James Lee Burke take me back to Southern Louisiana and make me care when his detective Dave Robicheux fell off the wagon, but he also made me relish words and phrases. He had me hooked on his prose.
I went through a phase of binge-reading books by female writers. I went through the alphabet with Sue Grafton. Janet Evonivich took me from ONE FOR THE MONEY through SMOKIN’ SEVENTEEN by the end of a single summer.
When I was teaching during most of the year, I discovered that only a mystery book could keep me awake for more than a couple of paragraphs at the end of a long day.
British writers from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to Agatha Christy to Tana French kept me turning pages late into the night.
I discovered forensics science with Patricia Cornwell.
Walter Mosley introduced me to an African-American detective.
I loved Robert B. Parker’s sense of humor.
Jo Nesbo and Stieg Larsson showed me Scandinavia.
Tony Hillerman took me to the Southwest.
Louise Penny told me about “Three Pines” in Canada.
There were more, of course, many more which added to my education.
In fact, looking back over my mystery/detective novel obsessions, I see that my education would have been incredibly incomplete without them in my life.
This is Lynne Hewes from Cimarron, inviting you to tune in to HPPR at 6:00 p.m. on Sunday, May 5, for our on-air Radio Readers mystery book discussion.