My work keeps me on the road several days each month. Driving across the southeast, I find myself staying nights in hotels, motels and AirBnB rooms more often than I’d like. I also catch myself stopping in thrift stores, vintage shops, salvage yards and estate sales simply for the thrill of the hunt.
A few weeks back in a shop south of Cartersville, I came across a book from my childhood. Alfred Hitchcock and the Three Investigators in the Secret of Terror Castle is an awfully long title for an awfully short book. As a young reader, I devoured mysteries like these — the Handy Boys and Nancy Drew were some of my closest friends. The book was only $1, so what did I have to lose?
Two hours and a scant 178 pages later, I had to be honest with myself. No, the book wasn’t as good as I remembered. What from childhood ever is? The terror the book promised was more of a mild discomfort. It did, however, give me a few hours of enjoyable reading. So, I then picked up Nancy Drew and the Clue of the Whistling Bagpipes. Turns out the whistle was just a loose drone reed. Anticlimactic? Certainly. Regardless, I was hooked.
A few dozen more adolescent-appropriate adventures later, I’m still enjoying the nostalgia trip. What is interesting, however, is the craft evidenced in these mysteries. They adhere to very specific formulas in pace, characterization, structure, language and plot. Like modern cozies, they have rules they rarely break, or even bend. It’s a similar framework applied to a different audience. Are they masterpieces? Of course not. Are they well-crafted, harmless diversions? Most certainly.
In a later post, I’ll discuss one of the books I recently rediscovered that still holds up.