I was sitting on our deck one morning looking across the tree-lined road to where a leafy, arched opening revealed a shimmering glimpse of the Penobscot Bay. It came to me in a moment of utter contentment that the things I love most now are the ones that gave me the greatest happiness during my growing-up years in England. These are first and foremost family and friends, a beloved dog, a couple of independent-minded cats, a nearness to the sea, and always books, books, books.
From my father I gained a love of Dickens, Austen, and the Brontës; from my mother a pleasure in poetry; and from my third-form teacher, who read to us every afternoon in a classroom with a fireplace, a rapturous delight in children’s authors of the day. In particular Enid Blyton. Her two series recounting the adventures of The Famous Five and The Secret Seven, whose fun-packed missions it was to solve crimes by cat burglars on stilts or shadowy figures lurking in crypts, were the wellspring of my abiding passion for the mystery.
Throughout my childhood, the highlight of Saturday afternoons was going with my father to the library in our small town and returning with as many books as I was allowed – I think it was three, all with titles such as The Mystery of Smuggler’s Cove or The Meddlesome Ghost. The girls’ boarding school books I enjoyed most included such characters as the evil sixth-form prefect intent on finding and stealing the hidden treasure that would save the school from closing, or the Secret Service father of one of the pupils who required her help in unmasking the games mistress as a spy for some tiny monarchy intent on destroying the British government. I continued reading such books with relish well into my teens. And then, when I was about fourteen, my passion for the genre expanded to include works of romantic suspense works by such authors as Phyllis Whitney, Mary Stuart, and Victoria Holt, often serialized in the magazines Woman and Woman’s Own, which my mother took every week. My sister Jean and I would race each other home in the hope of grabbing them first. If interrupted when reading, we would hide them away to make sure they weren’t nabbed before we could finish that week’s installment. My favorite spot was behind the toilet tank. But then Jean thought of that too.
And so it went ... A boy I met at the swimming pool introduced me to Agatha Christie by lending me Murder at the Vicarage .... So many wonderful, well plotted mysteries by writers then and now. They are for me one of life’s constants, connecting me to the blissful magic of the past while promising future venturings into worlds of valor against villainy.
Which books remind you of your childhood?