Monday, April 21, 2014

M is for Mystery

now finished: quick re-reads of Sue Grafton's A, B, and C are for... mysteries
now reading: An Uncommon Man: The Triumph of Herbert Hoover by Richard Norton Smith
next up: a Project: Finally! entry, The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver

"Everything happens for a reason, but that doesn't mean there's a point."
-- from C Is for Corpse by Sue Grafton

What happened was, I was working at Borders and touching lots of books every day and somewhere in the back of my head getting attracted to the idea of reading projects, and I had read all of Sandra Scoppettone's Lauren Laurano books and Sandra wasn't writing anymore, and in them even Lauren, a fictional person, mentions Kinsey Millhone, and Sue Grafton's alphabet mystery series just seemed like something I should try. Right? At that time (early '00s) I think we were up to about O or P or so. AND not too long before that I had heard an interview on NPR's Morning Edition in which Bob Edwards asked Ms. Grafton if she already knew what 'Q' and 'X' and 'Z' were going to stand for, and she told him she sure did, and he kind of nudged her, asking for maybe a hint, to which she was all no-way-you-have-to-wait-along-with-everyone-else.

Suffice to say I was intrigued and had mentioned that maybe I'd delve into Sue's alphabet, and then my friend/former bookstore co-worker/partner in reading crime happened upon A Is for Alibi at a used bookstore for like fifty cents or a quarter or something and he bought it for me because it was a cosmic sign. So I plunged in.

I got as far as E Is for Evidence before trailing off. I always meant to pick back up with the alphabet! But of course, you know me -- ever busy reading War and Peace and inventing new reading projects and then moving to different countries where I inevitably invent even more reading projects and I still have projects that have been going on for years now, Pulitzer winners and Prez Bios and Modern Library's Top 100 being chief among them, but there are others, and, well, you know. It has always seemed to me that I have plenty of time to catch up with ol' Sue--one summer, I assured myself and anyone who cared (so, myself), I would just sit down and blaze through the letters and catch up and then resume reading them along with Grafton's adoring fans who rush out to buy each newly released letter in hardcover. (UGH! to the very notion of buying mysteries in hardcover, but that's another blog post for another day.)

Well, it's do-or-die time, because the series has reached W (which is for Wasted, in case you are curious), and there isn't much more time to procrastinate if I'm going to get on this alphabet train.

And I had been thinking about that, and thinking about which beach books I will breezily read this summer as I stick my toe hesitantly into the The Genres (also considering A Song of Ice and Fire, natch, plus there's my annual Nelson DeMille or two, and a few other mystery authors who are in contention to have me plow through their oeuvres) while never fully committing to reading too much mystery and sci-fi in any one year because: genre fiction overwhelms me. (The series pressure!! I've talked about this before!) But I have been disappointed in my total-number-of-books-read over the last two years and that is partly because I have been reading long, laborious, sometimes multi-volume prez bios that, while fascinating, take forever. And I figure if I read, like, twenty mysteries this summer, then I won't feel bad about my tally.

And then, we were just strolling along the street in my mom's neighborhood on our last Sunday in Phoenix on our way to go get a morning coffee at the local Dunkin' Donuts when we passed a garage sale and lo and behold! there in the books! F Is for Fugitive, J is for Judgment, L Is for Lawless. And F is totally where I'd have to pick back up! Another cosmic sign! I purchased them for $1.45.

Then I sat there thinking -- what the heck happened in A, B, C, D, and E, anyway? Really couldn't remember. I could picture Kinsey's little "apartment"  in Santa Barbara Teresa but no traces of memories of plots remained a decade+ later. So maybe, I thought, I should "review" really quick before continuing on with the alphabet. I grabbed Alibi, Burglar, and Corpse from the library. And in the last week or two, in between Almanac of the Dead (awesome) and Herbert Hoovering, I have quickly reread the first three Kinsey Millhones and totally not even remembered whodunnit and how-they-dun-it as I was reading, so I had to actually read the whole things. Gotta grab Deadbeat and Evidence to "review" now, since I'm sure I won't get any aha! moments of remembering the ending in those, either. Then, I can pick back up with F, onward.

But the question is: are these books any good?  And if not, is that why I trailed off in my alphabetting to begin with? And why, then, do I feel compelled to start back up and complete this project?

These mysteries are all right. I've read better. We're just getting started, so I have hopes that amid the ups and downs I will find some letters to enjoy more than B and C,  but to be honest, they were kind of implausible and left some loose ends/distractions hanging. It's as if she didn't quite know how to follow up A Is for Alibi. That first one was all right, if a bit insane of an ending, but the next two left me furrowing my brow and shaking my head at how it all went down in the big moments.

But then again, they do hold my attention, and I more or less like Kinsey's observations and -- as with most mysteries -- you can get through them pretty quickly (although I'm not counting these re-reads of A through E in my tally of books read this year, p.s.) and you can read them while the TV is on and stuff, which is good for me right now because we're temporarily in a place where I don't have my own space or many quiet reading spots. So I'm sure that I'm going to just do this thing, if nothing else to check off one of my many reading projects-in-progress.  And maybe I'll be all caught up when X Is for whatever X is for comes out.

What I really want to know is this: Is there going to be a big party when we get to Z or what?! In California or something? There should be. I hope someone has thought of this. Does anyone know any real Sue Grafton fans I can ask?

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