I‘ve always been a big fan of mysteries. I realized how much mysteries have been a part of my life just this morning, as I was thinking about being 33 years old. I was hit by a wave of nostalgia that took me back to my first crush on crime-solvers. I can remember as an early elementary school student, loving the 10-minute “Bloodhound Gang” mystery segment at the end of each episode of the 80’s television show “321 Contact.” And of course, how could I forget the “Encyclopedia Brown” books that I so voraciously read in 2nd grade?!
Then, in 5th grade, when I contracted the chicken pox, Mrs. Bjerkaas from church invited me over and let me borrow as many of her Nancy Drew classics as I wanted. During that week off of school, I think I read through a good part (if not all) of the series.
Later, during my fifth grade year, I chose to read The Complete Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle. This was a mammoth project for a fifth grader, but I loved every moment of it. I soaked in those seriously smooth sleuthy Sherlock deductions and wanted to be like Sherlock when I grew up. My crush on Sherlock lasted for years.
In college, I discovered author G.K. Chesterton. I ate up his The Man Who Was Thursday in a single afternoon. But then it was The Father Brown Omnibus that captured my every waking moment one year’s vacation at the beach. Father Brown was no match for Holmes in terms of his cool factor. Described as the type of person who was so unremarkable that he could attract no attention what-so-ever, Father Brown none-the-less had a mystique that I found attractive.
Later on in college, I stumbled across Dorothy Sayers’ Gaudy Night introducing flapper mystery-writer turned detective, Harriet Vane. Thus began my shorter venture into the lives of Harriet Vane and her male counterpart Lord Peter Wimsey.
During my years working in the children’s department of the public library, I was in very close proximity to the audiovisual section. It wasn’t long before I’d discovered Agatha Cristie’s Poirot. Ironically, I have never read any of Cristie’s novels on Hercule Poirot. However, I have seen what I believe may be all of the film versions of Poirot’s work starring David Suchet . I came to be fond of this charming Belgian detective who was constantly grooming his mustache and minding his “leetle grey cells.”
It was also during my post-college years that I was exposed to many other claimants to the “Mystery” genre in television/film (Xfiles, Law and Order, CSI being a few). I realized quickly that I did not like any of these shows — I found that their creepiness and gratuitous gore turned me off before I had a chance to bond with their characters.
However, during my years at the library, I overhead the term “cozy mystery” from one of my co-workers in the adult fiction department. I immediately realized that this term best describes what has evolved over many years to be my favorite niche in the mystery genre.
In this niche, I believe it is detective Adrian Monk who has most recently come into his own. I was introduced to the Monk TV series starring Tony Shaloub this past summer while visiting Brian & Kathy in North Carolina. While I don’t think his life is based on any books, Monk has come to be a favorite of both Mike and I here in Japan. We sometimes have a “Monk night” where we curl up in bed with an episode on the laptop and a remote control in hand. You’ll usually find us stopping the show at least 3 times per episode to see whether we can solve the mystery before Monk does.
As I think back over my evolving affection for high-profile, brainy, crime-solvers, who are able to create happy endings out of the most convoluted crime scenes, I see a trend away from the written word, to the TV/film medium. Good or bad? I’ll have to think more about this one. But for the record, I still keep a well-read copy The Annotated Innocence of Father Brown by my bedside. I am on my third time through, and I still forget the endings to almost every chapter.