My love of mysteries and legal thrillers – which, in my book, may as well be mysteries – started early in my life. I realized a love of reading at a very young age. I can remember relishing our weekly class trips to the school library as far back as the 4th grade. It was there that I discovered the first book in a very long line of detective based fiction I would read in my life, Encyclopedia Brown, Boy Detective by Donald J. Sobol.
I would go on to read all of the Encyclopedia Brown offerings my little grade school library managed to acquire back in the 1970’s. I owe a debt of thanks to the school librarian, Mrs. Karki, wherever she may be today.
That’s where it all began; simple little stories designed to foster an interest in reading for children in grades 2-6. Here then is the journey I took with 10 more books – many the start of a series – that influenced my love of mysteries and, finally, decades after grade school, prompted me to try my hand at writing my own.
Disclaimer: All links to Amazon in this post are affiliate links. If you click a link here and then make a purchase from Amazon, I’ll earn a small commission.
1 & 2: After noticing the enjoyment I took in reading the Encyclopedia Brown books and seeing my frustration at the fact that they just weren’t being released that fast (or that my school library just didn’t acquire them), my mom – er, Santa Claus – got me the first Nancy Drew mystery, The Secret of the Old Clock and the first The Hardy Boys mystery, The Tower Treasure for Christmas and a subscription to the series for each. She had enjoyed them herself as a girl. For more than a year afterward, I would rush home from school praying for the next delivery via mail of the next book in either series.
The two series by Carolyn Keene/Franklin W. Dixon (they’re pseudonyms for several authors) are now in their 80th year and going strong among young mystery lovers. They are available for the Kindle but, for these, the old blue and yellow bound hardbacks (as shown above) are a real treat!
3: One summer day, bored and home alone in our early teens, one of my brothers and I ventured into the attic of our house. It was a place we’d been forbidden to go as one that was both dirty and dangerous and so, of course, we went. It was there that I discovered two large trash bags filled with my fathers pulp paperbacks. There were westerns filling one bag and part of the other which I wasn’t very interested in, but there was also a stash of Mike Hammer detective pulps by Mickey Spillane. I must have sat there in that attic, sweating, for two hours as I marveled at a collection of about 18 Spillane books. I remember paging through and looking at the publication date of each and then taking the first book, I, The Jury down from the attic to read. I would sneak into the attic and back down, switching out books for several weeks, before my mom figured out what I was really reading under the covers with a flashlight at night. Those books certainly weren’t Nancy Drew or Hardy Boys fare!
4: My mom sure wasn’t happy about my junior high school self reading the sex and murder riddled Spillane novels. She ratted me out to my English teacher during a parent/teacher conference who promptly recommended the novels of Agatha Christie as being more appropriate for someone my age. They still contained murder, of course, but sex was nowhere to be found. Mom and I trundled on down to The Book Rack, the local buy, sell, trade book store that next weekend and I acquired for pennies, And Then there Were None by Agatha Christie and several other of her books. I had reading fodder for weeks and would continue to enjoy her work for years.
5: I went into the military in the early 1980’s. It was during my stationing at a post on the Eastern Seaboard in the mid ’80s that I first discovered series based mysteries aside from the Spillane pulps of my early teens. The little branch library that was close to my barracks had Sue Grafton’s book, A is for Alibi featuring her lead character, PI Kinsey Millhone, and a couple of others of the Grafton alphabet series books that had been released by that date. I snatched all three up and devoured them over a long weekend. I’ve since spent years following the series. It all starts here:
Part 2 of The Best Eleven Mysteries I Ever Read is a discussion of the other five books that won’t take you back into the 1970’s!