My mom always says she knew she had trouble on her hands when, at the age of about six, I requested a Time Life series of hard-backed books about real-life murderers that I’d seen advertised on TV. Mom wisely demurred and guided me safely into the loving arms of Nancy Drew, where I could get my mystery fix without all the long-term psychological damage.
For the first few years of elementary school, Nancy and I were inseparable. I wanted to sit under my favorite tree during summer vacation and read about her. I wanted to dress up like her for Halloween. I wanted piles of those yellow-spined books for Christmas. By the time I’d hit about third grade, I’d figured out the secret of the old clock, learned the password to Larkspur Lane, and safely avoided the ghost at Blackwood Hall. I’d effectively ran out of mysteries to solve along with Nancy in her little blue roadster.
As a mystery lover for some 30 years now, I’ve become all too familiar with the feeling of terror that grips you when the mystery has been solved and the cover closes on your latest whodunnit. What next? Once again, Mom swooped in to rescue me and handed over a collection of Miss Marple stories by Agatha Christie. Oh, sweet relief!
I was officially a mystery addict.
Ags (as I like to call her because we’re tight like that) and I have had a fruitful relationship for many moons now, and I love her detectives—Marple, Hercule Poirot, even the elusive Tommy and Tuppence—more than any others. But when you’re a mystery addict, even Hercule’s perfectly waxed mustaches aren’t enough to keep you from looking for the next clue. So I’ll hunt for girls on trains, girls with dragon tattoos, and girls who are just, well, gone. I’ll read whatever’s on the best seller list (as long as it isn’t too gruesome. My 6-year-old bloodlust seems to have been sated.) or whatever my trusted librarian friends recommend. I’ve run the gamut from cranky Norwegian detectives to the spunky tea-shop owners who star in cozy mysteries. And I still feel like I haven’t read enough…
And so when I first heard that our intrepid librarians in the Rare Book Department and our fabulous curators at the Rosenbach were about to undertake the massive We the Detectives effort to highlight the history of the detective genre, well, I just about lost my little mystery-loving mind. Seeing those exhibitions come to life—and experiencing the real life whodunnit of the complementary live theater experience GUMSHOE—has been an amazing treat.
I still don’t quite know why mysteries move me the way they do, but if anything, We the Detectives highlights the fact that I’m not alone. So go check out the exhibitions and learn more about the genre that’s been making so many of us scratch our collective heads for more than a century!
Our We the Detectives initiative continues with Clever Criminals and Daring Detectives at the Rosenbach and Becoming the Detective: The Making of a Genre in Parkway Central Library's Rare Book Department. Check out the exhibitions now through September 1!
And experience the GUMSHOE immersive adventure by New Paradise Laboratories using your mobile phone any time, now through September 1.