May 27, 2020

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Thriller writers mull their own mysteries

When is a mystery not a mystery?

When Victoria Zackheim, the editor of this collection, asked 20 successful mystery authors to write something "revealing the mysteries of their lives," she received efforts that were everything from the predictable to the profound.

The good news is that there’s something here for all tastes. That’s because in Zackheim’s introduction she broadens the discussion: "The mysteries we discover in the course of everyday living are real, imagined, dreamed, even hoped for, feared and anticipated."

She continues in this vein for several sentences until the reader feels it might even include that bit of lint in your pants pocket.

Fortunately by the end of the book, the authors have bailed her out with such accounts as battling cancer, a mysterious loss of voice, growing up in an abusive home and a relentless curiosity about lives lived in the midst of war.

The contributors are New York Times and international bestsellers. Recognized names include Anne Perry, with her various series including that of her Victorian policeman, Thomas Pitt, as well as Jacqueline Winspear, whose contribution, Writing About War, is as engrossing as her novels.

The list also includes Jeffrey Deaver, Carole Nelson Douglas (who reinvented Sherlock Holmes’ frenemy), Irene Adler and Charles Todd, the latter of which is actually a mother-and-son writing team of Caroline and Charles.

Each of the story essays are short, which means you can pick and choose. Indeed, the first manages to be both pedestrian and in the land of woo woo. Up second, Deaver’s is the classic "so you want to be a writer, kid, but nobody else feels you’ve got the right stuff."

There is a curious mystery about Anne Perry’s entry. She does not mention that she was convicted of murder at the age of 15, a topic this reviewer learned first-hand that she does not want to discuss. How to explain, then, her fascination with a working life devoted to violent death? Knowing her history certainly adds a dimension to her thought that "real good or evil is another matter, far deeper. One I am still exploring."

Fans of included authors will be delighted with personal revelations, some in a People magazine style, others with hard-won understanding. Some indeed are disturbing but encouraging.

It’s not surprising that self-understanding is a thread that runs through most entries, along with a relentless curiosity. Solari Gentill wanted to know about her family’s history and would ask her mother about her Sri Lankan roots. She was told just enough to pique her curiosity, but then one day upon counting the children in a photo from the past, the investigator in her came to the fore.

Cara Black’s entry, titled Field Notes à la Maigret From Paris, reminds us that sense of place can draw us back to an author or a time.

Finally, Winspear sums up what many of the authors hint at: "As writers, our curiosity and desire to make sense of madness through the creative act of storytelling prevail."

A bit like salted peanuts then, you’ll find you can’t stop yourself at just one. As a bonus, Private Investigations will send you in search of the author’s books.

Ron Robinson is a local broadcaster who is yet to solve the mystery of the missing sock in the dryer.

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