Today is a happy day. Felix Francis, son of mystery master Dick Francis, has a new mystery novel out, one featuring the best Francis character of all: Sid Halley. I first met Sid on a sunny autumn day in 1983. I’d signed up for a college class on mysteries. ODDS AGAINST was the first assignment. I was sitting in my car on my lunch break, munching on a tuna fish sandwich as I read the opening page and fell in love with Sid forever.
So far, Felix has done a good job of following in his father’s footsteps. The Dick Francis mystery franchise seems set to carry on for some time to come. And that suits me fine.
Sue Grafton’s “W” novel in her alphabet mysteries series is also due in stores today. I have fallen behind in reading the Grafton stories, but I have been faithfully buying each of them annually. What a monumental job, carrying on with 26 novels featuring the same protagonist. Way to go, Sue! Only three more to go. You can do it!
Earlier this summer, I mentioned in a post that I don’t allow myself to buy used books anymore due to my mold allergies. Well, two weeks ago, I fell off the wagon and bought a handsome old set of Bulwer-Lytton novels, circa 1892, quarter-bound in leather with illustrations. They have been sadly abused over the years, and when I found them at a junker’s overstock sale, they were heaped on a table outdoors in the baking sun. Some of them were broken; some intact. The seller gleefully told me he’d thought about removing the illustrations and selling those separately, but it was “too much trouble.” I bought them the way I would give a stray kitten a saucer of milk.
Someone has to save these relics of a more elegant and graceful life. Someone has to find them a better home.
It was like picking up an elderly gentleman who’d fallen in the gutter through no fault of his own and couldn’t quite stand up again.
So these books are now in my garage, awaiting a little leather polishing, until I can find a good home for them.
But as harmless as that act of salvage seemed, it opened a gate that I can’t seem to close. With Bulwer-Lytton residing in stately decay in my garage, I stumbled over a partial set of Abbey Girls novels by Elsie J. Oxenham, a series popular in Great Britain during the 1940s. I found them in an antiques/junk shop. The books were piled on a rickety table, obviously part of a series. They looked gentle and fun. They looked interesting. I succumbed in a mad splurge, refusing to even give them the “sniff” test for mustiness.
Now I dare not open them and breathe in their scent, so how will I read them? Alas. They called to me like sirens, and I could not resist their song tho I die for it.
This past weekend, I attended an estate sale liquidating the home of avid readers. There was the room filled with old, rare, and collectible books: Victorian authors, Edwardian authors, books with Art Nouveau cover illustrations, classics, and weighty old medical tomes. There was also the room of children’s books: picture books, chapter books, YA adventures, and an entire set of Nancy Drew. Then there was the room of modern paperbacks, chiefly romance and general fiction. There was the room featuring writing references and books on the writing craft. There was the room of sewing, quilting, and craft books. And outside, stacked on long tables ranging across the patio and into the yard beneath big shade trees, were the rest of the books: boxes of Erle Stanley Gardner’s Perry Mason stories, boxes of Agatha Christie, boxes of John D. MacDonald, and boxes and boxes and boxes of just about everything else.
I told myself no, no, no. I tried to be strong. I tried to resist. But then I found the Perry Mason books, at 25 cents each. I was outside. The scent of musty old books occasionally wafted through the fresh outdoor air before being blown away by the Oklahoma wind. I knew better. I did. And I bought them anyway.
What is it the English say? You might as well be hanged for a sheep as a lamb?
Okay, so hang me now.
I went for the volumes of Elizabeth Gaskell (she of Cranford fame). I went for Anthony Trollope. I found a book written about life on the prairie and one about teenage flying aces in WWI. I did my best to reject books bearing evidence of “tooth of worm” and those printed on such acid-corrupted cheap paper that the pages were an ugly dark brown. I kept saying to myself, “Put that back. Don’t get that one. You have enough. That’s too many.” And I came staggering out of that house with two huge shopping bags of wonderful reading–astonished at my dissipation in throwing all good sense to the winds.
How will I read them? Wearing a paint respirator mask, I suppose. (After I’m done with Felix Francis and Sid Halley.)