The Mysteriousness of Collecting

I’m staring at shelves again.  And some of them are even empty.  I’m also thinking about Booklist’s mystery theme this month, and there IS a connection.

There are certain kinds of mysteries I enjoy.  The ones I like, I really, really like.  The ones I don’t, simply don’t work for me.  My enjoyment of mystery series has so much to do with liking the point of view character.  In a series, the detective is the person you “live with” throughout the series–if you don’t like them and the “family” they create to investigate with, it’s difficult to like the series, or at least it is for me.

Janet Evanovich‘s Stephanie Plum is a truly likeable heroine.  The scrapes she gets into always seem not just far-fetched, but trouble that almost anyone with half a brain should have seen coming a mile (make that ten miles) away.  At the same time, I can identify with Stephanie’s multi-generational issues with her mother and her grandmother, and her Grandma Mazur is an absolute hoot!  I still want to read the next book in the series, even though I know Stephanie’s train wreck of a love life is never going to be resolved.  The mystery in the books is not the point, everything else in “the Burg” is.  The Plum books are a series I have read all of, but never owned.

A lot of my mystery reading falls into that category.  But there were a few series that I had collected, absolutely religiously.  I had all of the Amelia Peabody series by Elizabeth Peters.  I love Amelia.  She’s someone I would have adored to have tea with, or more likely brandy.  Right up until she started ordering my life around, which she would have done upon 15 minutes acquaintance, tops.  Readers either love Amelia, or can’t stand her.  I found her attempts to reconcile her passionate marriage with Victorian circumlocution utterly hilarious. And, as Abdullah, their reis intones in an early book, “another season, another dead body”. Someone always dies, providing another mystery to investigate.

In a completely other vein, I had the entire run of Shirley Rousseau Murphy’s Joe Grey series.  Joe Grey is the narrator.  However, Joe Grey is a tomcat who both understands and speaks perfect English.  Joe doesn’t know why he is gifted, but he uses his talent, which he acquired as an adult cat, to help the police in his small town solve mysteries.  His owner does know about his gift, which Joe occasionally misuses to place delivery orders from the local deli.  Joe Grey is sarcastic and somewhat confused by his gift, which is shared by two other cats.  He doesn’t just speak human, he also thinks human, and he knows it’s wrong for a cat to be whatever it is he is.  There are a lot of times he’d rather be normal. But Joe somewhat subscribes to Spiderman’s credo, “With great power comes great responsibility”. Joe is able to help, so he must, in spite of the fact that sometimes he’d rather still be selfish, just like a cat.

Both these series are gone now.  I’m still not sure how I feel about that. These were long series, and took up a lot of space. I bought them because I wanted to read them as soon as they came out, not because I re-read them. But being able to see them on the shelves, especially the Peabody series, was very…comforting.  At the end of the Star Trek episode “Amok Time”, Spock tells T’Pring, “…having is not so pleasing a thing, after all, as wanting. It is not logical, but it is often true.”  When it comes to books, having them to read ASAP is very pleasurable indeed.  But I kept thinking I was going to re-read Amelia’s story, beginning with Crocodile on the Sandbank, someday. I guess if someday ever comes, I’ll just have to buy them all as ebooks!

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