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Check It Out

Courier Article by David Locker
Sunday, October 21, 2001

Mystery Tastes Change From Hard-Boiled to Diverse

When I first began reading mysteries 20 years ago, I liked the ones with tough and cynical private detectives who dredged the underworld for bad guys. But as the years have passed, my taste has evolved to more civilized and cozy fare. Now the detectives I prefer include park rangers, lawyers, expatriate ladies and Scotland Yard inspectors.

What made me change my reading habits were the suggestions of other avid mystery readers. I hope you will give these favorites of mine a try.

The Thunder Keeper by Margaret Coel (Berkley, 2001).

While on a vision quest, a member of the Arapaho tribe named Duncan Grover is murdered and thrown off a cliff. The Caucasian police officers think it is a case of suicide, but the Indians know better.

Enter Father John O'Malley, pastor of the Arapaho, recovering alcoholic and amateur detective. The murderer has confessed his crime to him in the confessional and warned O'Malley that more murders will happen in the future.

O'Malley is determined that this will not happen.

He is aided by Arapaho attorney Vicky Holden, a woman for whom O'Malley has refused to leave the priesthood. Holden has moved back to Denver as a partner in her former law firm. When a man who has something very important to tell her about her people is the victim of a hit-and-run right before her eyes, she is on the case, too.

It all involves diamond-mining rights on the reservation, trying to hold the modern world at bay, and preserving the Arapaho way.

Miss Pym Disposes by Josephine Tey (Scribner, 1998).

Tey is a writer from the Golden Age, and this work was originally published in 1948. Richard Barnard says that Tey's fans are different than those of other classic crime fans, because they regard her with love. I can see why after reading this book.

This exquisite mystery is set in a British girl's school of physical training. Miss Pym, who has recently published a best-selling book on psychology, originally goes there to deliver a guest lecture, but decides to stay for a few weeks because she so enjoys the company of the delightful girls.

It is almost graduation time for the seniors, and they are under a lot of pressure from exams and job assignments.

The school has never experienced a major crime, but that is about to change. The murder doesn't take place until the latter part of the book, so this can be read as a gentle read, as well as a mystery. Long live Josephine Tey.

Killing Cassidy by Jeanne M. Dams (Walker, 2000).

Dams is an Indiana author who lived in England for several years. Her amateur detective, Dorothy Martin, is from Madison, Indiana, and this case finds her back in her hometown.

She is accompanied by her new husband, Alan Nesbitt, who recently retired from Scotland Yard. A letter from an old friend, a retired professor of a fictionalized Indiana college, has instructed the executor of his will to bequeath to her a sum of money on the condition that she return to Indiana immediately to pick it up.

It turns out that the professor's letter says that if Dorothy finds herself reading his letter, it means he has been murdered. He requests that she find the culprit, but she is warned not to contact his doctor, lawyer, friends, or the police.

One of them might be the guilty party. This leaves her with her usual recourse to the gossip of her friends, as she gets to the bottom of things.

Scar Tissue by William G Tapply (St. Martin's, 2000).

Tapply is a writer I enjoyed in my private eye days, but his detective, Boston attorney Brady Coyne, is anything but cynical. He's a nice guy, an avid fisherman and a loyal friend. Tapply, by the way, is a contributing editor for Field and Stream.

The present case is personal for Brady, because it involves the apparent death of an old friend's son in a car wreck, and Brady has two college-age sons of his own. When the son's body is not recovered from the river his girlfriend had driven into, Brady wonders why.

He is a great detective, and you will find this book hard to put down.

David Locker is a librarian with the Evansville-Vanderburgh Public Library. The opinions expressed in this column are personal and do not reflect policies or official recommendations of EVPL.