No mystery why I love Dame Agatha

Published 12:00 am Saturday, February 23, 2002

For those of you who don't know, February is National Library Lovers Month.' For me every day of the year is one suitable for celebrating books. My favorite

just-for- pleasure' reading is the mystery. There are none I enjoy more than those set in the land across the pond'…

Dame Agatha (Agatha Christie), that quintessential British mystery author, wrote dozens upon dozens of cozy' who-dun-its over a 50-plus year span. When my two older sisters started reading her Scholastic paperbacks in high school ol' tag-along followed suit. What they read, I read, or at least attempted.

Email newsletter signup

Fortunately Deb and Sara didn't have cheap and lurid tastes in reading material. I would have surely ferreted it out

little sisters have a way of doing such things

and, oh, how my eight or nine-year-old mind might have been damaged…

No worries there, however. Christie's PG' (at worst) mysteries simply introduced me to artfully constructed mystery plots filled with entertaining (if at times a trifle one-dimensional) characters set in quaint English villages, grand old estate houses and swinging 60s-era London haunts. There were even Middle Eastern archaeological digs where, amidst the blistering heat and dust, they still served afternoon high tea and dressed for dinner. Sex was only hinted at, violence was tastefully done (no reader was gobsmacked' with blood and gore by Aggie) and justice was always served, right and proper, in the end.

As a young teenager I became enamored with the fog-shrouded Victorian streets of that brilliant, eccentric detective known as Sherlock Holmes and was thrilled to receive the annotated edition of Conan Doyle's complete works centering around the most famous

albeit fictional

occupant of London's Baker Street. Some 25 years later I still take out those heavy volumes and lose myself in the gas-lit drawing rooms of a long ago world…

Today I have several favorite British mystery writers (a couple of whom are not, in fact, British). I read anything I can get my hands on authored by Ruth Rendell (who also writes as Barbara Vine) and P.D. James (both of whom create mesmerizing psychological suspense).

I'm a tremendous fan of Reginald Hill, a former teacher who has created two literary treasures; the sarcastic, perennially politically incorrect Fat Andy' Dazliel and the affable black and balding laid-off lather operator turned P.I., Jimmy Sixsmith.

I enjoy Anne Perry's two wonderful Victorian-era mystery series with William and Hester Monk and Thomas and Charlotte Pitt. Perry gets all the details of the mid- and late-Victorian period rightthe speech patterns, the clothing, the furnishings, the social customsand she creates characters you care about with compelling social commentary, to boot.

Two of the best writers of traditional' British mysteries today happen to be as American as apple pie'.

Best-selling author Martha Grimes writes a series of mysteries featuring the handsome, charismatic police superintendent Richard Jury, left an orphan by the London Blitz and his best friend, the wealthy, lazy but immensely likeable former-Lord-Ardry (who gave up his title), Melrose Plant.

Her cast of quirky, humorous and touching supporting characters would do Dickens himself proud.

In her latest jury mystery, The Blue Last' (all her titles are the names of English pubs featured in the stories) she leaves readers with a cliffhanger ending that has this fan panting to know, "What's going to happen?"

Elizabeth George's mystery novels are literate and lengthy.

But she knows how to involve her readers in complex multiple story lines that keep your nose in that unwieldy tome until the end. I sometimes question how or why certain authors make it to the bestseller lists-but by George, I would consider it a crime if this excellent author didn't make it to the top.

So if you're in need of a quick "Brit-fix" or you're just dying for a good mystery, why not stop by your local library and (literally) check it out?