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June 18, 2013

Hooking Up

I got hooked on mysteries about a month before I graduated from college.  As with so many addictions, there had been a history of gateway drugs – Nancy Drew, Agatha Christie – but none of them had truly grabbed me; when it came to mysteries, I was the equivalent of a social drinker.

And in that long-gone April, I hadn’t had a drink in a while. I was due to hand in my senior honors thesis, and I was supposed to have been working on the damn thing all semester, except that of course I hadn’t. I wound up writing it in one furious, nearly sleepless three-week burst, a period during which I didn’t read so much as a cereal box, and I certainly didn’t take a shower. At last, hallucinating faintly from fatigue, I shoved the wodge of typescript under the door to my advisor’s office, and crawled home.

My housemate Kenny was sitting at the kitchen table, reading a paperback book called Mortal Stakes, by Robert B. Parker. “What is that?” I croaked.

He looked up and flinched a little at my red-rimmed eyes, my air of grubby desperation. “It’s a murder mystery,” he answered, stuttering slightly.

I fixed him with a basilisk stare. “Does it have any social theory in it?”


“Then give it to me!” I hissed, apparently channeling Linda Blaire. Kenny slid the book across the table toward me, and fled, and I shoved it in my bag, probably grunting a little like a beast about to devour a longed-for lunch. I then disappeared into my lair. When I emerged, a day or two later, I was cleaner, less crazed, and completely in thrall to Spenser.

Shortly thereafter I graduated, packed up, and moved into my father’s apartment, which was – bliss! – stocked with every single one of the Spenser novels, about ten of them at that point. I binged my way through the entire line-up, and then moved on to Gregory MacDonald, who stole my heart first for Fletch and then for Inspector Francis Xavier Flynn, not really of the Boston PD. My dad had masses of paperback mysteries, all those glorious 1970s wise-asses – Donald Westlake, Lawrence Block, Roger L. Simon, Evan Hunter – and I fell for all of them, in succession.  As a reader, I didn’t think life could get much better.

Next month: I discover Robert Barnard, Peter Dickinson, and the true, pure heroin of British crime fiction.

So how did you get hooked on mysteries?


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