*With apologies to Frank Loesser, who wrote “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.”
It’s that time of year here at Lake Chapala…..the hot, dry time of the year, that is. For weeks it has been hovering around ninety degrees Fahrenheit here in lovely downtown Jocotepec. The saving grace is that the humidity is, as a rule, not high; usually in the low double digits. But when all you have is a fan to cool you off, that’s still pretty darn hot.
By about 5PM every afternoon, this delicate flower is about to wilt, as are all her delicate flower friends.
It’s the time of year when I occasionally go get into Stormy the pickup and turn on the air conditioner for a while just to cool down some. I don’t drive anywhere….I just sit in the truck with the a/c and CD blasting for a while.
Or I go soak in the pool for a bit. [This is the first time I’ve had this private luxury available to me.] Oddly, even though the air temp is so high, the water temp in the pool is still only about 80. Presumably this comes from the fact that during the night the air temperature drops so much. Thank heavens!
Since we’re all breathlessly awaiting the beginning of the rainy season, my friends and I have a wager going on when the monsoons will begin. The winner will be accorded the title of weather goddess and will be deferred to in all discussions weatherwise for the following six months. So there are some serious bragging right stakes involved here.
So what is a delicate flower like myself to do during the heat of the day? Well, I read. A lot. I’ve been plowing through an inordinate number of books recently. Averaging one every two days or so.
This would probably be a good time for me to do some serious reading. You know, books that would enlighten and/or educate me. Improve my mind. Yup, probably a good idea. But I swear it’s too hot for that. There may be a reason why most great writers are NOT from the tropics. Perhaps writing as well as reading skills just kinda shut down in the heat. [There ya go, comp lit majors, a dissertation topic. You’re welcome.]
So no classics for me. No philosopy books. Not even any nonfiction. Too hot for those. If I had to use my brain in this heat, it might spontaneously burst into flames as the result of synapses lapsing and neurons misfiring. And while, in cooler months, I love reading about freaky things like spontaneous combustion, I prefer not to be an example thereof.
So I’m reading mystery novels. One after another. Old ones, new ones. Short ones, long ones. Those by well known authors and those by authors of whom I’ve never heard.
A couple of months ago I went to a moving sale and picked up 40 paperback mysteries for $200MX [about $17US at today’s exchange rate]. Then a friend gave me about 15 more that she had finished and wanted out of her house. So that’s what I’ve been working my way through for the past month.
I’ve always enjoyed mysteries. As a kid I read all the Nancy Drew books and discovered for myself why Sherlock Holmes has been so popular for so many years, and why people were still reading Agatha Christie so many decades later. I stumbled upon Erle Stanley Gardner, Raymond Chandler, Rex Stout, and Dashiell Hammett. All writers well before my time, but greatly beloved by me.
Then it was on to Georges Simenon, P.D. James, Ross Macdonald, Ed McBain, and Dick Francis, among others. Simenon’s Commissioner Maigret, James’ Adam Dalgliesh, Macdonald’s Lew Archer, the men of McBain’s 87th precinct, and Dick Francis’ horse racing novels all became particular favorites of mine.
In the early ’80s, I started college as a nearly 35 year old freshman. Most of my time was spent attending classes, writing papers, taking care of my son, and working full time at Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana, but I still found time to read mysteries. They were a great break from all those badly written textbooks that I needed to read for my classes.
It was during this time that I found Tony Hillerman, Andrew Vachss, and Ruth Rendell, among others. My absolute favorite was Tony Hillerman and his Navajo tribal policemen, Jim Chee and Joe Leaphorn. One year I was working at an election polling place on the campus of Indiana University. As I recall, there were 12 of us working at that particular precinct. Of the 12, eleven were reading books, and of those 11, six of us were reading Hillerman. When I pointed this out to one of my coworkers, she and I started talking about Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee. Almost immediately, the other Hillerman readers joined in. Republican or Democrat, we all loved Hillerman. After a while, the one person there without a book said, in all sincerity, “Are these two guys students here or professors?” Because apparently the six of us were speaking about Leaphorn and Chee not only as if they were real, but as if we knew them personally.
Continuing through the nineties, through grad school, working in the US national parks and being on the road for two years installing computers at motel front desks, I continued reading mystery novels. Faye and Jonathan Kellerman; Carl Hiaasen; James Lee Burke; Janet Evanovich; and John MacDonald, among others.
And I continue to read and love mysteries to this day.
Why do I….and all the others who read them…..love them so much? Maybe because they’re escapist literature? Maybe because lots of us like solving puzzles? Maybe because, at least in the series novels, it’s like spending time with an old friend, catching up on what they’ve been doing since you last heard from them? Maybe because, in the end, the bad guy gets what’s coming to him….unlike in real life?
Or is it because they all tell a story from beginning to end? You’re never left hanging at the end of a mystery. There’s always some resolution…….again, unlike in real life.
Also, depending on which author you are reading, you can travel through time. In Elizabeth Peters’ novels, the reader is transported back to Egypt in the 1880’s. The Sherlock Holmes’ stories take one back to about the same period in England, as do Anne Perry’s Thomas and Charlotte Pitt novels. Dorothy Sayers’ Lord Peter Wimsey series is set in London in the ’20s and the mysteries of many American authors are based on life in the ’20s, ’30s, and ’40s.
Or do we read them because they always address the BIG issues: good versus evil; right versus wrong?
Okay, enough philosophizing. I can feel my synapses lapsing and my neurons misfiring!! Back to the Perry O’Shaughnessy book I’m currently reading!
Have a cool day, mis amigos!