My life as a mystery reader began with Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys novels checked out from the school library and the public library in the small town where I grew up. I didn't know it at the time, but a decade later I would marry a young man who had worked as a volunteer in that public library when he was a kid. I almost certainly checked out books from him or his mother, who also worked there, but at the time I was just interested in finding out what baffling case Nancy or Frank and Joe had gotten mixed up in.
Also as I was growing up, my mother always had volumes of Reader's Digest Condensed Books around the house, so my first exposure to adult mysteries came from the books that were abridged for that series. That was my introduction to the Mrs. Pollifax novels by Dorothy Gilman and the Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot novels by Agatha Christie, to name a couple of authors who quickly became favorites of mine.
Later on, I married that former library volunteer who was (and still is) an avid reader and book collector, so my mystery reading expanded even more. I discovered the Nero Wolfe novels by Rex Stout and was entranced by them, savoring the witty dialogue between Wolfe and Archie Goodwin and the eccentric world in which they lived as I raced through book after book in the series. I took up the "Challenge to the Reader" and tried to figure out the intricately-plotted mysteries of Ellery Queen. I enjoyed the sophistication and humor of the Mr. and Mrs. North novels by Francis and Richard Lockridge, the action and adventure and colorful settings of the Saint novels by Leslie Charteris, and I laughed out loud every time Bertha Cool exclaimed "Fry me for an oyster!" to Donald Lam in the series by A.A. Fair (Erle Stanley Gardner). And I returned to old favorites from my childhood like Mrs. Pollifax, Miss Marple, and Hercule Poirot, only I was reading them in the unabridged versions this time.
Today my reading still centers mostly around mysteries. That's what I like to write, and that's what I read for the most part. From the cooking mysteries of Diane Mott Davidson to the suburban escapades of Sarah Strohmeyer's Bubbles to the pulse-pounding thrillers of Tess Gerritsen to the darker, supernatural world of Charlaine Harris's Sookie Stackhouse, I always have a good mystery novel going, and I sometimes revisit older authors, too. It's no mystery to me why I love these novels: great writing, great characters, great plots. I can't imagine a world without mysteries . . . and luckily I don't have to.
How do you like your mysteries? Light or dark?
Editor's Note: Livia Washburn is the award winning author of the Fresh-Baked Mystery series.