Purely by happenstance, over the last three-four years, I have embarked on two life-changing projects: I became a blogger, and I began to learn how to play bridge.
So, bridge . . . well, did you know that the average age of an American bridge player is 72? A great many of the people I have met through this game meet and beat the average! And yet, I cannot think of an activity in my lifetime, including theatre and education, where I have made so many friends so quickly. Terrified though I may be to go on a date, I have allowed myself to partner with strangers at tournaments and have managed to scrape together three master points!!!!! That’s a point a year, folks. At this rate, I will become a life master by 2135. In September of that year, if my calculations are correct.
I have also made some amazing friends as a blogger. The big difference between them and my bridge friends is that I have never actually met any of the bloggers. (My greatest sadness last year was knowing I would never get to play bridge with Noah Stewart, whose expertise at both these activities was well known to his friends and family.) I talk nearly every day to JJ and Margot and Kate and Ben and Santosh and Christian and six guys named John and people with names like “SuddenlyAtHisResidence, ” “JusticeForTheCorpse,” and “RealHog” (whose real name, by the way, is John!) But I have never met any of them.
That, my friends, is about to change. A few months ago, in an act of unbelievable chutzpah, I responded to the announcement that tickets were now on sale for the 2019 Bodies in the Library conference, to be held at the end of June at the British Library. In London.
Once I shelled out the forty pounds for admission, it followed that I had to find airfare and a hotel. I got the plane tickets and then got talked into giving Airbnb a try! And so, for one week at the end of June, I will be living just off the Kensington High Street and hoping to spend as much time as my G.B. friends will allow me in getting to know them. I’m not a huge traveler, but I’ve been to London twice on short visits. The purpose of the trip is not to act the tourist but to immerse myself in this exciting niche world of GAD geeks, uh, fans, er, experts! With London as my yeshiva, I want to share in the mutual love and knowledge of this art form over gluten free high tea, posh brunches and casual dinners (and vice versa), long walks through the Charing Cross bookstores, trying to make JJ disappear on the London Eye without a trace!, wondering if my California non-accent sounds like a Texas twang to these posh Brits, and essentially allowing myself to be led by the nose wherever the whim takes these good folks. Oh, and if Theresa May plays her cards wrong, I might even be there the day Brexit goes through . . . or falls apart . . . or . . . I don’t understand this mess but it sure sounds messy.
The program (or is it “programme”?) for this year’s conference was recently released, and I have decided to spend the next couple of months doing my homework in preparation for the various topics that will come up. This has generated a reading list. Frankly, I don’t do too well with reading lists: I’m a notoriously slow reader, and once I get behind I become a nervous wreck. So let’s call this a recommended reading list and see how far I get by the time my flight lands at 6:55am on June 24.
May I begin by saying how grateful I am to Tony Medawar for talking about John Dickson Carr and to Christine Poulson for her upcoming presentation concerning Helen McCloy. Not only are these two of my favorite authors, but I’ve already read enough of them to figure I don’t need to include them on the list.
As for the rest, here we go, in no particular order:
Murder in the Telephone Exchange, by June Wright. My buddy Kate Jackson will be speaking about one of her favorite Australian authors, and she recommended I start at the beginning. Yes, some folks have commented that it’s overlong, but it sounds like a nice combination of classic British-style tradition and some cool Down Under touches.
An English Murder and Suicide Excepted, by Cyril Hare. Martin Edwards himself will be discussing Hare with Christine Poulson, and I can’t believe I have never read the man! I think I tried one of them decades ago and simply was too green to appreciate it. I polled the folks on the Facebook page and found too many diverse opinions to choose. The hope is that I will get a taste of Hare’s gentle satirical edge with the former title and one of the best of the Pettigrew novels with the latter.
Curtain Up, by Julius Green. I have owned this book for, I don’t know, almost two years, and have yet to read it. With Green himself coming to the conference and engaging in conversation with Christie expert John Curran, I think it’s high time I picked up the book. At least, I can take solace in the fact that I have read all the plays themselves (and even produced four of them.)
Something by E.C.R. Lorac. I’ve never read the lady, and I don’t know what to choose. My internet is all fuggy tonight, so I can’t look things up. I know everyone is reading Bats in the Belfry and Fire in the Thatch because the BL has published them. I am totally up for suggestions here.
Some of the Max Carrados Tales by Ernest Bramah. Short stories are not my strong suit; neither is crime fiction from between 1910 – 1920. So I’ll have to see what comes along. The last thing I want Dolores Gordon-Smith to do is look out over the crowd and see dullness in these baby blue American eyes!
Gallows Court, by Martin Edwards. So here’s a funny small world story for you. I really haven’t found anyone locally to talk to about Golden Age mysteries, but there are fans out there in the Bay Area. One of them is my own cousin Julie. She is a busy educational specialist, traveling around the world to talk about policy, but we see each other during some holidays and on occasional dinners out with the cousins. The last time we got together, I told Julie that I was going to a GAD conference in London, and Julie told me that she was going on a cruise aboard the Queen Mary that sounded absolutely fabulous. The boat will embark from New York City and sail to England. Every night onboard, the passengers will be treated to a lecture by a noted mystery author about the great classic detective novelists and their work. Then they will disembark and travel to Oxford where they will immerse themselves in the world of Inspector Morse.
I asked Julie who the “noted mystery author” and she couldn’t quite remember his name. So I started to put the clues together: what modern mystery writer might be considered an expert in the field of classic mysteries? It had to be someone with the connections, possibly the position, and certainly the perspicacity to talk about – maybe even write about – maybe even PUBLISH– all those wonderful crime novelists of old. Somebody who might even be able to put together an annual conference that would lure an eager Yank to British shores?
“Could you possibly be talking about Martin Edwards?” I asked her. “Yes!” she cried. The next day, I ordered Julie a copy of The Golden Age of Murder so that she could study before her trip. I also bought Gallows Court for myself, and I sent a quick note to Martin telling him that this summer he would have more than his fill of my family! He was gracious to the core about it!
Finally, I add this question mark at the end because there is one slot on the programme (or is it “program?”) that is a bit vague. John Curran will be talking about “Two (Undeservedly) Forgotten Crime Club Authors.” I have no idea who these people are. If one of them is Vernon Loder, then I have The Shop Window Murders ready to go. Otherwise, I am in need of further information, Mr. C. . . .
So there you have it: my big summer announcement. I will get as much of this homework done as possible and post the results for your grading purposes. I have no idea how connected to the internet I will be while in London, but one way or another you will hear about my trip. Maybe I’ll even have pictures!!! If ANYONE has any suggestions of a good bookstore or wants to suggest a plan for meeting up (Moira has promised to accompany me to tea), then by all means let me know! I’m getting real excited!