My First “Gripping Psychological Killer”

summeroffearAn Ode to Lois Duncan

I think I was 14 before I discovered that I could buy books at school. I don’t remember what the program was called, but it was very similar to (if not the same as) the Scholastic program I run at my school now; flyers come out, you pick the books you want, mum provides a cheque and the books come to your classroom. One of the books that I ordered (and that arrived so promptly) was something called Summer of Fear, and it had quite a disturbing cover, as you can see. I was past my Nancy Drew phase and well into Agatha Christie by this time and looking for mysteries in any form. This sounded very mysterious; a visiting cousin, that even looks a little like our heroine, starts to gaslight her. Everyone loves said cousin, so no one believes our heroine. Great fun!!

Summer of Fear was my first; my first Lois Duncan. After reading it, I then, in true obsessive fashion had to find everything the woman had ever written. Killing Mr. Griffin followed Summer of Fear, then I Know What you Did Last Summer.griffin1   Then everything else she had written.  All psychological thrillers before “gripping psychological thrillers” were a thing, or even a genre. I had all of Lois Duncan’s books (and still have them) and even hooked my brother on them. He used to snatch them from me as soon as I finished them. Now, again, this was the 80’s so there was no Amazon to tell you when the next one was coming out, no author website to keep you up to date on the author’s life. All I knew was that around 1990, new Lois Duncan books stopped. I looked every time I went into a bookstore but by then I’d moved onto Stephen King, so I wasn’t too concerned.  I never thought to look in the adult section though. Maybe I should have after finding Judy Blume there. But this wasn’t like Judy Blume.

who killed.jpeg              It was ten years later that I found a new Lois Duncan on the adult shelves. It was called Who Killed My Daughter. I can still remember reaching up to take it down to read the back, not believing that it was a true story. Seems there was a very good reason Lois Duncan stopped writing. She became somewhat obsessed with finding her daughter’s killer yet years later the case remains unsolved.  Of course before the internet there was no way of knowing what had happened. Now, I can go to her website and read all about her career and what it felt like to try and write about teen killers when her own daughter had been killed. Back in the late 80’s I just knew there were no new Lois Duncan books.

Lois Duncan died two years ago, the mystery of her daughter’s death unsolved. I can only imagine what impact it must have had on her writing. To this day I have a love of the “gripping psychological thriller” which I attribute to her. I can go back and read Killing Mr. Griffin and enjoy it as much today as I did as a teen. A good indication of the legacy left by this gifted writer. I only hope she has found the peace she wasn’t able to find after the death of her daughter.

Kinsey and Me

GraftonSweeps3I had a different post planned for today but the death of Sue Grafton has left me feeling sad and nostalgic. For decades I have loved her stories, eagerly anticipating the next chapter in Kinsey’s story. Z is for Zero was set to be published within the next two years, and I was already wondering what Grafton would write next. Now the alphabet ends with Y and Kinsey’s story will remain unfinished.

In a previous post I talked about my love of mystery stories and Nancy a is for alibiDrew. In my teen years I quickly progressed to more “adult” books with Agatha Christie and Sue Grafton (I’ve always hated the age-labelling of books but that’s another post). I finished Grafton’s A is for Alibi and was forever after enamoured with her detective, Kinsey Millhone. Kinsey is flawed, independent and resourceful; and I wanted to be her. I even went through a spell of wanting to go to detective school; train to be a PI like Kinsey and Nancy Drew before her. That never happened but still I lived vicariously through Kinsey with B is for Burgler, C is for Corpse and, most recently, Y is for Yesterday.

There are certain people we may never know or meet but who have an everlasting impact on us. For me Sue Grafton was one of those people. Thank you, Ms. Grafton, for years of wonderful stories. You live on in Kinsey, and I look forward to my reread.

What If You Could Buy Immortality?

cover_replica

Replica by Jenna Black

I’m not sure how I came to read Replica, but it doesn’t seem to be one that everyone’s talking about (or was talking about) but it should be.

Sixteen-year-old Nadia Lake lives in a futuristic society where human replication technology is a reality; carefully controlled by its creator, Paxco. Nadia comes from a high-class family and lives a life of privilege, although she’s not too keen on the paparazzi that follows her everywhere; eager for the latest on the fiance of notorious playboy, Nathan Hayes, heir to Paxco.

They’re not in love but they are friends and everyone appears satisfied with their match. That is until Nate is killed and the wrong person was the last to see him alive. When the new Nate wakes up in the replication chambers he is missing a month of memories. Nadia and Nate set out to find the killer and prevent the world from discovering Nate’s secret, a secret that could destroy everything they know.

Replica has riveting characters and an intricate plot. I loved the friendship between Nadia and Nathan and how they looked after each other. The idea of being unable to die is not new but the twist of being born a replica intrigued me. Also, it was interesting to see how the replicas were treated by their society even if they were the elite when they were “alive”. There are two more books in the series. I highly recommend them all but put the first just that bit above the others.

Ages: Teen

Rating: 5 stars for this part of the series (4 for the others)

For the Love of the Bard

For the Love of the Bardshake

I have had a love affair with Shakespeare as long as I can remember, but every time I hear someone say they hate Shakespeare or they don’t understand Shakespeare or why do we need to study Shakespeare, I wonder how I ended up so different. Even some English teachers I know avoid Shakespeare (to my mind a travesty but there ya go). I can’t think of anything better than a week in Stratford and I’ve lost count of the number of Shakespeare plays I’ve seen live. I roamed the streets of Stratford England in awe and saw Judi Dench in The Merry Wives of Windsor. I revel in his words and delight in his intricate plots.

Now I don’t come from a family of Shakespeare lovers. My parents didn’t read sonnets to me in the womb and there were certainly no performances to attend in tmy small Northern Ontario city. So where did my passion come from? Well I trace It all back to a single book; Cue For Treason by Geoffrey Trease. The story is set in Elizabethan England and is the tale of 15-year-old Peter who escapes prosecution for a minor offence and heads to London where he eventually ends up as Shakespeare’s apprentice. There is murder and intrigue and a plot to assassinate the queen and I was riveted from start to finish.

It was the set novel in my grade 9 English class and we spent a long time with it, tracing the historical elements, labeling maps and learning about Shakespeare’s plays.

I don’t remember how many times I read it but I went over and over my favourite scenes and answered every study question in the back. It was a fascinating study of the times and the political and social climate, not to mention how theatres operated.

elizabeth_11  I then sought everything I could find about Shakespeare, theatre, Elizabethan England and the Tudors. Strangely enough I didn’t study Shakespeare in high school until my final year and I wonder if that might not have cemented my love of the Bard. Honestly I don’t think I could have been turned off, but I can’t help wondering if a bad first experience with Shakespeare is where all the haters come from. Students who are presented with the Bard too early, before they can appreciate the genius of the language and the bawdiness of the comedy. Or a teacher who is indifferent to Shakespeare but forced to teach it, resulting in everyone being unhappy.

I was lucky. I had two very passionate English teachers in high school that I credit with nurturing my newfound love, leading me to eventually study and teach dramatic literature.cue new cover

There is no doubt that the impact of a single book can be very powerful in its influence on a child. Saying that Cue for Treason is the reason I am where I am today is pretty simplistic, but it certainly started me down the path. I feel an overwhelming desire to read it again but I’m a little afraid that as an adult reader I won’t feel the same magic.

Will let you know how it goes…

The Great Girl Detective

nancy drewThere was a secret place under the basement stairs at my aunt’s house. In this “secret” place were boxes and boxes of books, all sizes and colours.  Huddled under those stairs, I got lost in the adventures of Joe and Frank, Freddy and Flossie, Nan and Bert, Trixie Belden and, my very favourite, Nancy Drew. Nancy was a teenager who had great friends, a fantastic car, unlimited funds and Ned. Each book immersed me in her world of adventure and with Nancy I began my love affair with mystery books. I loved trying to figure out “who done it”.

pine hillI wanted to be just like Carolyn Keene when I grew up.  Yes, I thought she was a real person.  You see, when I was young, you couldn’t just Google a name and find out all about them. And there was no reason for me to believe she wasn’t a real person. I was an adult before I found she was just a name for a stable of authors who wrote from a publisher’s outline. I was a bit let down I have to say. It seems it wasn’t an unheard of phenomena either. Franklin W. Dixon (Hardy Boys) and Laura Lee Hope (Bobbsey Twins) where also pseudonyms, crushing my hopes of every meeting them some day. I wonder if there are any more I should know about. Does James Patterson really write a book a month (she said sarcastically)?
I decided to see what else I didn’t know about Nancy (which is quite easy now we have Google) and was interested to learn that she has quite a transformation over the years).  It appears the original 1930’s Nancy was quite a tomboy with a sassy mouth. (I need to see if I can get my hands on some of those originals). The Nancy I knew (1950’s Nancy) was more respectful of male authority and went to church as often as she could.  That was the post-war Pollyanna image of women that the media was using to promote home and family.

drew18a I had all of these 1960’s/60’s Nancy Drews; the real ones with the list of books on the back. Until recently, I didn’t realize that most of them came from that original collection I had discovered under my aunt’s basement stairs. Even more importantly I didn’t realize this treasure
trove under the stairs belonged to my cousin before my aunt found them a new home (with me).  I continued to add to that original collection and each time a new one came out I bought it and read it within a day. My favourite was Phantom of Pine Hill and I’m a little ashamed to say it was because it was the one that featured Nancy’s “romance” with Ned.

I stopped reading Nancy in my teens although do remember trying one or two of the Nancy Drew Files. I don’t remember much about them but I do find it interesting to look at the difference in these covers and those of the original series. On the original books, Nancy was presented with a magnifying glass, or a clue or in some kind of setting. On the new series it was with a boy. I guess the mystery wasn’t enough in the 80’s. There needed to be more romance.

old clocknancy drew files

My last post was a result of my brother’s rhapsody about The Great Brain, and dedicated to him. This post is dedicated to my cousin, whose pain at losing her Nancy Drew collection to me was matched only by my own when my mother gave them all to a garage sale. My cousin has always been my kindred spirit, loving books and writing as I do (she also shares my feelings about cooking and cleaning but I digress). I have to wonder how much of an impact Nancy had on her.  After all she did grow up to write her own mysteries!  Head over to Amazon to get her novel A Bother of Bodies.  Murder never was so much fun!

Resources and Links           

http://digital.lib.uiowa.edu/bai/lapin.htm

http://series-books.blogspot.ca/2010/05/nancy-drew-first-pc-that-isnt.html

Kismaric, Carole; Marvin Heiferman (2007). The Mysterious Case of Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys. Fireside. ISBN 1-4165-4945-5. (via Wikipedia)