Last night while I was making dinner, and the First Reader was standing at the sink washing up, we were talking books. I’d told him earlier in the day that I wasn’t going to finish David Pascoe’s Baptism by Fire in time to review it today. It’s not that it’s bad, I told him, quite the opposite. It’s emotionally fraught, in the beginning, and I keep wanting to give it more time and not rush my reading. I haven’t had time. Then, when I went in the kitchen, I took my tablet with me to stream a little TV while I was doing the dishes, but the First Reader came and took over that chore. He looked at the tiny screen. “Ah, Sherlockia!”
“No, Poirot…” I turned it off, because I’d rather talk to him. I use television to occupy my brain when my hands are in a task like dishes, or sorting balloons. Conversation is better.
“British detective of a certain era,” he pointed out. “You know what my first detective story was?”
I misheard him with the running water and putting chicken medallions into very hot melted butter, “Wilkie Collins? The Moonstone?”
“I don’t think I’ve read any Collins, although the name is familiar. No, Encyclopedia Brown.”
While I was chopping the mushrooms and onions for the Marsala, we talked about how we’d both loved Encyclopedia Brown. He could remember the plot and solution to one of the stories, involving a vanished violin, and the solution, where the inimitable Brown caught the thief in a lie about squirrels backing down trees (Squirrels go down a tree headfirst, if you observe). It’s been fifty years, he thinks, since he read that story. We both shared a similar woe, in that we had never been able to find enough stories of the child detective, who both of us had felt a kinship with.
We both, it turned out, had devoured any Danny Dunn books we could find (very few, for me, that almost twenty-year gap in our ages meant that those books had been through a lot of rough handling by the time I came along to read at my library). We’d both found Tom Swift corny, although I still read them because, well, I read everything. Even Nancy Drew.
As I told the first reader, while I was standing shoulder to shoulder with him drying dishes, Nancy Drew had been alien to me. I had been so much a tomboy, and this character was girlish in ways I didn’t understand and didn’t sympathize with. I’d much rather read other stories, although the Hardy Boys I found repetitive after a few books.
“Did you ever read any Bobbsey Twins?” he asked me, while I whisked flour into the roux.
“I wanted that ice boat so bad. The idea of being able to sail on the frozen lake was just… It caught me.”
“Me too. Although I also wanted enough ice to sail it on. Ohio and Kentucky didn’t freeze up like that. I think Alan Dean Foster used the ice boat in his series, can’t remember the name, although it might have been Ice World.”
And then dinner was ready, and the topic drifted off books, and into food, wine, and teasing the dog who was doing her best puppy-eyes at us for a treat.
So who was your first detective?
And before I forget! My mystery story, which lacks a true detective, is free from today through Sept 16, please pick up a copy, and pass the word on to others. Then later, if you would give it an honest review? Is all the thanks I can hope for!