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Check It Out

Courier Article by DeeDee Shoemaker
Sunday, May 2, 2008

It's no mystery why these books have appeal.

Dig out your notebook and dust off your magnifying glass; everyone's a detective, thanks to the Evansville Vanderburgh Public Library Summer Reading Program Get a Clue. Report next Sunday for your case assignment, and pit your wits against those of the clever and entertaining mystery writers from our collections.

Author Kit Ehrman joined the horse industry after falling in love with the mystery novels of retired jockey Dick Francis. Triple Cross is the most recent book in her own suspense series about the adventures of Steve Kline, a young barn manager turned amateur private investigator. Steve has just arrived in Louisville to assist his horse-trainer father when trouble arises, sending him on a frantic race between the backside of Churchill Downs and the lavish celebrations of Kentucky Derby Week in an effort to head off catastrophe. On the heels of this year's Derby, Ms. Ehrmann will visit Central Library to share the story behind this winner of the Indiana State Library 2007 Best Book of Fiction Award.

Genetic engineering takes a whimsical turn in The Eyre Affair, a novel by Jasper Fforde. Heretofore extinct dodos are the pets of choice in this imagined version of late 20th century England, and literature munching bookworms are the power source for the Prose Portal, a highly sought-after invention that allows travel between fiction and reality. When a character from Charles Dickens' Martin Chuzzlewit is murdered, followed by the kidnapping of the much-loved heroine of Jane Eyre, Special Operative Thursday Next is put on the case, kicking off her career as a literary crime solver. Mystery, fantasy, romance, and comedy are all offered up in this imaginative tale.

Writers themselves can be as elusive as the shadiest of suspects. Harper Lee, the 1961 Pulitzer Prize winning author of To Kill a Mockingbird, has published only one novel in her lifetime, and it is arguably the most popular book in American history. Admirers of her work will enjoy Charles Shields' highly readable, unauthorized biography Mockingbird: a Portrait of Harper Lee. Shields scrupulously pieces together the life of a sensitive, unconventional, strong-willed individual whose childhood friendship with Truman Capote in small-town Monroeville, Alabama matured into eminent writing careers for both.

Agatha Christie also kept her personal life as private as was possible for the world's most popular mystery writer. While traveling in Syria, journalist Andrew Eames was astonished to discover that Christie had been a frequent visitor to the ancient city of Aleppo. He consequently set out on a sleuthing adventure of his own, following her often traveled route to the Middle East on the Orient Express, the luxury train that her writings helped make famous. The resulting award-winning travelogue, The 8:55 to Baghdad: from London to Iraq on the Trail of Agatha Christie, reveals the life and travels of an author, adventurer, archaeologist, and photographer. The apocryphal events Eames witnessed on the eve of the Iraq War, however, ultimately overshadow his original story, and his juxtaposition of the early 20th century with ancient history and current events makes fascinating reading.

DeeDee Shoemaker is a Readers' Advisor at Central Library. The opinions expressed in this column are personal and do not reflect policies or official recommendations of the library.