In fact, “Books” is the first word of Agatha Christie’s Postern of Fate, the final adventure featuring Tommy and Tuppence Beresford. In that novel, the Beresfords have moved to the village of Holllowquay with the idea of settling down and retiring. When they take possession of their new house, they discover a large collection of books left behind by previous owners. They’re going through the collection when Tuppence notices that some words in a copy of Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Black Arrow have been underlined. She soon figures out that the words are actually a coded message:
“Mary Jordan did not die naturally.”
It turns out that that message was written by Alexander Parkinson, a young boy who lived in the house many years ago and died not very long after he left that code. That cryptic message arouses Tuppence’s curiosity and before long, she and Tommy are searching for the truth behind Alexander’s death and the death of Mary Jordan, a German-born maid who lived in Hollowquay at the time that the Parkinsons did. In the process of solving the mystery, the Beresfords also unearth several local secrets, including international espionage.
Several other Christie novels also weave in books, writers and literature, including Shakespeare. For instance, in Appointment With Death, Hercule Poirot solves the murder of Mrs. Boynton, a tyrannical matriarch who’s dominated her family for years. One of her children, Ginevra “Jinny” Boynton, is driven to the brink of serious mental illness by her mother’s tyranny. Once Mrs. Boynton’s murder has been solved, the members of the family are able to move on and make lives for themselves. Jinny becomes a well-known actress whose specialty is Shakespeare, and Christie refers to a few of Shakespeare’s plays in this novel, including Cymbaline and Hamlet.
Some of Christie’s titles are also inspired by books and literature. For instance, Taken at the Flood (AKA There is a Tide) is part of a line from Shakespeare’s Julius Caeser. Other titles (e.g. One, Two, Buckle My Shoe, A Pocketful of Rye and Hickory Dickory Dock) are references to nursery rhymes. Christie also makes brief references to other authors in several of her novels. Some examples are Dickens, Arthur Conan Doyle and an oblique reference to one of her contemporaries, Ngaio Marsh.
Dorothy Sayers’ Lord Peter Wimsey is an avid bibliophile and collector of rare books. He knows his literature quite well, and in fact, that knowledge helps him more than once. For instance, in Clouds of Witness, Wimsey’s older brother Gerald, Duke of Denver, is arrested for the murder of their sister Mary’s fiancé, Denis Cathcart. The Duke admits that he and Cathcart quarreled, but he maintains his innocence, so Lord Peter and his friend, Inspector Charles Parker, investigate the case. There is a lot of evidence (e.g. a gun, a letter, footprints) that seems to lead in different directions, so the case is not an easy one to solve. It’s not until Lord Peter makes a connection to a book in Cathcart’s collection that caught his fancy that he’s able to get on the trail of the real killer.
Bibliophiles also feature in Terrie Curran’s All Booked Up, in which Professors Basil and Hortense Killingsly get mixed up in a series of murders and rare book thefts at New England's Smedley Library. The Killingsleys are “regulars” at the library, and are shocked when a very rare book, a 15th-century edition of Ranulf Higden’s Polychronicon, goes missing from the library. A copy of Tottle's Songs and Sonnets is found in its place. Other rare books, too, disappear and are replaced by copies of the Tottle book. Then, the library’s director, Glen Moraise, is found dead. Now these two book lovers and some of the Smedley’s other denizens band together to find out the truth behind the thefts and murder.
Books are also at the forefront of Martin Edwards' The Serpent Pool. In that novel, DCI Hannah Scarlett and her Cold Case Review team re-open the six-year-old drowning death of Bethany Friend. As they slowly put the pieces together, the team discovers the connection between that murder and the recent murders of rare book collector George Saffell and attorney Stuart Wagg. We also discover how the three murders are connected to Oxford historian Daniel Kind’s interest in 19th Century British author Thomas de Quincey
There are also many books and series that take place in libraries and bookstores and feature librarians and book dealers and sellers as sleuths. Just one example is Lorna Barrett’s Book Town series, which features her sleuth, mystery bookstore owner Tricia Miles. And then there are sleuths such as Lilian Jackson Braun’s Jim Qwilleran, a former investigative journalist and now columnist. He collects all sorts of books and they frequently provide clues to the mysteries he solves.
So why am I taking the time to talk about books and reading today? In part, it’s because books and words are powerful. Those who can read and love reading have access to that power that those who cannot read do not. So I would like to take a moment to salute those of you who pass the power of literacy on to others. All of you who blog about books and writing are important in keeping literacy alive, but I’m especially thanking you today because I’ve been honoured to receive this
My deep thanks to Clarissa Draper for passing this award to me. I consider literacy building to be such an important calling that I am especially flattered that Confessions of a Mystery Novelist… was chosen for this award.
Here are the rules for this award:
1. Thank and link back to the person who gave you this award.
2. Display the award logo on your blog site.
3. Tell us five of your favorite words and why you like them, (add as many as you like).
4. Pass the award on to three bloggers you feel are excellent literacy builders, and link to their sites.
5. Contact the bloggers you’ve chosen and let them know about the award.
Of course…rules were made to be – er – bent, so I will vary those rules just a bit. There are so many, many bloggers that I know whose blogs promote, support and develop literacy that choosing just three would be completely unfair to the rest. I’m “cheating” and choosing five blogs whose focus on reading, writing and literacy are helpful to all of us. I’m not even completely comfortable doing this, because it leaves out so many superb book blogs that have expanded my reading horizons. But here goes:
Crystal at Crystal Clear Proofing
Kerrie at Mysteries in Paradise
Michele at Southern City Mysteries
Rayna at Coffee Rings Everywhere
Elizabeth at Mystery Writing is Murder
I’ve also been asked to tell five of my favourite words (another hard task, as I love words). I found it very difficult to narrow my list down, but here goes:
Scintillating – I love this word because of what it means: sparkling – brilliantly clever
Onomatopoeia – This word has a lovely sound to it, and I like its meaning, too. It’s got zip ;-)
Wallaby – This word is a perfect example of how indigenous languages have changed other languages permanently. I love the power that language has to affect other languages.
Hoosegow – This word is such a terrific example of language mixing. It comes from the Spanish juzgado (court or court room), was anglicized and is now a slang term for “jail.”
Delicious – This word has a smooth and rich “feel,” and I like its meaning. I also like that many things (not just food) can be described with this word. It’s flexible
On a Related Note…
To the rest of you who share your passion for books – thank you! You light that proverbial “candle in the darkness,” and that makes a real difference.
I don’t often step on a soapbox; I’m too firm a believer in critical thinking for that. However on one issue, I do: literacy. Whether you choose to read with a child to help create a lifelong love of books, donate your books, help an adult to learn to read, or do something else to share the love of books, you are giving someone access to knowledge. Any small step you take to give someone the power of words is liberating.
And why am I going on about books during this particular week? Because it is Banned Books Week. It’s one thing to recommend that someone read or not read a particular book. It’s quite another to prevent that someone from reading what he or she chooses to read…
*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Tim Rice and Alan Menken’s Whole New World.