Shall we go gothic?
The TALE: Tehachapi Art, Literature and Entertainment
September 28, 2019
No GPS. No smartphones. No internet. Yet they managed to get around, keep in touch and gather information while solving mysteries! I was a mature 12 year old, or liked to think I was. I wandered into the adult section of the library often and Phyllis A. Whitney’s books were my first gothic novels. They were full of eeriness and mystery, with big dark houses, ghostly hallways and creepy attics. Who doesn’t like to be scared in the safe environment of their own cozy chair? I also did a lot of reading under the covers with my flashlight back then, reading through the night into many early dawns! I read entranced and enthralled. I couldn’t put some books down without knowing their endings.
Whitney was one of those authors that caught my attention. A prolific writer, born in Japan in 1903 to American parents, she lived her childhood in Japan, San Francisco, Texas and Chicago. Quite diverse settings to influence her early imagination. She wrote both juvenile and adult mysteries, many in her later years from exotic locations as she loved to travel as an adult. She lived to be 104 and wrote 39 adult novels and 14 young adult novels, plus many short stories and several books on writing. The New York Times called her “the Queen of American Gothics” but she preferred to be referred to as a writer of “romantic novels of suspense.”
Her first novel “A Place for Ann” was published in 1941. Her last, “Amethyst Dreams,” in 1997. My first read was “Window in the Square” written in 1962. Periodically, they re-release her novels with new covers in paperback. Recently I read “Woman Without a Past” and thoroughly enjoyed finding Whitney’s books again. I’m hoping you will too. And I hope newer, younger readers will get onboard and be willing to travel into an earlier setting before tech gave us a helping hand in solving mysteries.
“Woman Without a Past” takes place in Charleston, South Carolina. A charming southern city that to this day refer to their war (the Civil War) as if it was yesterday. Molly finds out she was abducted as a child and has a twin sister. Traveling from her adoptive home in Long Island, New York, she finds the south intriguing, beguiling and restful other than the undercurrents that spell danger to her and all she meets.
If gothic romance does not intrigue you, maybe a visit into Sherlock Holmes would be a better fit, especially if you have only watched the movies and TV shows and have never really read the words of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. In four novels and 56 short stories, Doyle managed to immortalize Sherlock from the last century into our present one. Some people actually believe Sherlock to be a real living person instead of the fictional character he is, because his reputation worldwide has become so grand. Sherlock too worked without GPS, smartphones and internet. He used forensic science and logical reasoning. Through a varied list of clientele and with Scotland Yard requesting his help, Holmes unlocked mysterious and unanswered mysteries. And we mustn’t forget his sidekick Dr. Watson. In the books, the stories are told by Watson himself, a sometimes participant and an always astute observer. Holmes demanded that!
Not to forget the kids, who love a good mystery like the rest of us, check out the Encyclopedia Brown series, where readers are given clues to solving the mysteries along with the story characters. The A to Z Mysteries are written as easy readers for our youngest mystery readers. For the non-readers many wordless picture books can capture imaginations and creativity too. I like “The Lion and the Mouse” by Jerry Pinkney. Something for everyone!
Picture this...you can get a mystery book for every person in the family, get your wood delivered, air out the cozy blankets, stock up on hot chocolate and plan some evenings snuggling down with good books as your family time. Yes, summer has ended, it was a good season. But now it is time for the leaves to turn.
*Midge Lyn’dee is a fictional character used for the purpose of entertainment though the reviews are real and sincere.