Yes, I know Mother’s Day was last Sunday but this is my day so I’m having my say. I have my mother to thank for introducing me to mystery novels. We seldom agreed on much, but shared the love of a good mystery.
My parents were avid readers and regular patrons of the public library. My father preferred historical and science fiction novels but my mother read exclusively mysteries. We made weekly trips to the library, where she got me started with Nancy Drew. Here was a detective who was sharp, adventurous, and female. Who knew? And I really wanted a car like Nancy’s roadster.
Years later, I was shocked to learn not only that Carolyn Keene wasn’t the author’s name but she hadn’t even written all the series’ books. Several authors contributed but Mildred Benson wrote twenty-three including the first three. The first Nancy Drew, The Secret of the Old Clock, was first published in 1959 by Grosset and Dunlap. I researched Mildred Benson for one of my books and learned she was a journalist and a bit of an adventurer like her fictional character, even getting lost on an Amazon expedition.
After going through all the mysteries for young adults, I switched to the books my mother read, Erle Stanley Gardner’s Perry Mason series. My only disappointment in Perry Mason was the lack of romance, a trend that sadly continued on television. I also read most of Agatha Christie’s wonderful Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot stories. Dame Agatha’s first book, published in 1920, was The Mysterious Affair at Styles, which I don’t remember reading, even in reprint. I particularly loved Book number ten in her Poirot series, Murder on the Orient Express, first published in 1934 by Collins.
Finally, I discovered the beginnings of the romantic suspense sub-genre with Mary Stewart’s and Phyllis Whitney’s books that blended romance and suspense along with the mystery. Mary Stewart’s Nine Coaches Waiting was first published in 1959 by William Morrow. In those early romantic suspense books, the heroines too often put themselves in danger and had to be rescued by the hero. Thankfully today mystery and suspense novels have evolved as have their female characters, whether written by a man or a woman. For today’s romantic suspense novels, we authors want to avoid a heroine who’s TSTL, Too Stupid To Live. Many of today’s heroine sleuths are as sharp and tough and adventurous as Nancy Drew, sometimes more so.
So thanks, Mother, for directing me toward the reading that would lead to what I’m doing today, blending romance, suspense, and mystery in my writing. If you’re still reading settled on your heavenly cloud, maybe you’ve picked up one of my books.