Because one of my duties at Marianna Black Library is selecting non-fiction, most my blogs in this venue have been about this type of reading material. However, this time I want to point readers to authors who use their imaginations instead writing about real events.
When I read fiction, my interest tends towards mysteries. Of late, I have been going through Anne Perry’s Thomas and Charlotte Pitt series. Like Sue Grafton’s alphabet mysteries, they are better if read in order. To get a break from a long series like the Pitt novels (at last count there 27), I like to read stand alone mysteries. (Let me suggest, I use the term “mystery” in its broadest sense.) This is the type I am going to concentrate on here.
The Mystery of Edwin Drood was Charles Dickens last novel. Like his other books, it was serialized in a magazine or newspaper, but Dickens died before the serial was finished. Drood, a novel by Dan Simmons has Dickens trying to find a mystery man, Drood?, he encountered after a train wreck helping the injured. The book is narrated by Dickens’ friend and fellow author Wilkie Collins, who is an unreliable narrator . Collins takes reader on tour of the London underworld that is the background of so many of Dickens’ books while Dickens searches for the mysterious Drood. What complicates the plot is that Dickens and Collins are both addicted to drugs, so reality becomes jumbled.
Equally as mysterious is the legend of Dracula. Elizabeth Kostova, a resident Asheville, produced her take on the vampire in The Historian. One the nineteenth authors whose adventure books she wanted emulate was Wilkie Collins, the narrator of Simmons’ novel. Kostova states The Historian is not a horror story, in fact critics have not agreed what genre it is. It is adventure, mystery, historical fiction, etc., as it follows narrator and her father across Europe trying find the tomb of Vlad the Impaler. In the course of the story the author imparts the history and culture of Eastern Europe, and why the people of that region believe in vampires.
In Every Contact Leaves a Trace, a first novel by Elanor Dymott, the widower of a murdered woman finds out he didn’t know her as well as he thought. Alex was very much in love with his wife Rachel, who is murdered in a visit to their alma mater, Worcester College, Oxford. While the police are stymied trying to find her killer, Alex is trying to piece together what happened the night of her murder and how events of her past led to her death. He finds the picture of Rachel drawn her former tutor and her college friends does not sound like the woman he was so deeply devoted to. Eventually the reader wonders whether or not Alex was seeing his wife through rose-colored glasses or conversely whether or not he was being told the truth about her past .
Like questionable information the reader is given in Every Contact Leaves a Trace, the narration of Em Moore in Linda Barnes, The Perfect Ghost raises the curiosity of the reader. Em relates to her dead writing partner, Teddy, how she is finishing the biographical project they started before he was killed in a traffic accident. At the outset of the book, Em seems to have been devoted to Teddy as she has panic attacks which keeps from interviewing the subjects of their biographies. As her relationship evolves with the current subject of their book, a difficult man, who is both a famous actor and a director, the reader begins to question the truthfulness of what Em is telling Teddy and the reader.
The Art Forger by B. A. Shapiro has its genesis in a real crime: the robbery of the Esabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston twenty years ago. A colleague from the Boston art community brings a Degas painting to a young woman artist and asks her to copy it. Is it the original that was stolen from the Gardner museum or it a forgery? Claire Roth, whose reputation in Boston art world is questionable anyway, decides to make the copy and take the substantial amount of money that comes with it, instead of asking too many questions. She suspects that the stolen painting is itself a copy When the Degas, is it the painting stolen from the Gardiner or her copy, is confiscated by TSA in San Francisco from a man who is taking it to India, the story really gets interesting. When her agent is arrested and charged with stealing the Degas and other paintings from the museum, Clair also is in trouble with the law. She wonders what happened to the real painting Esabella brought from Paris at the end of the 19th century? As the book draws to a climax, Claire solves the mystery.