When Art Imitates Life

Anne Perry is an accomplished mystery writer with more than forty novels to her name, including the Thomas Pitt series, the Daniel Pitt series, the William Monk series, and more. Many of her novels take place around World War I. 

She’s also a convicted murderer.

A friend from college – who is also a librarian – told me this while I was reading Death with a Double Edge, the fourth of her Daniel Pitt series. And thereby hangs a tale.

Perry (whose birth name was Juliet Hulme) was born in England but spent much of her childhood in the Bahamas, South Africa, and New Zealand. As a teen in New Zealand, she became fast friends with a girl named Pauline Parker. Their friendship was so tight it bordered on obsessive, with the girls creating rich fantasy worlds they pretended to live in, and throwing tantrums if they couldn’t be together.

When Perry was 15, her mother was caught in an affair, and her parents decided to divorce. Perry was going to be sent to South Africa to stay with relatives for a while. This sent the friends into a panic. They asked Pauline’s mother if Pauline could go with Anne/Juliet, and her mother said no. Pauline then, in the short-sighted way children have, decided to kill her mother, freeing Pauline to travel with Anne/Juliet. When Anne hesitated, Pauline threatened to kill herself if Anne didn’t help. Just three days later, while walking with Pauline’s mother, the girls beat her to death with a brick – a deed that took twenty savage blows.

Perry and Hulme were caught quickly. They were too young for the death penalty, and both wound up serving five years in prison. They didn’t speak to each other again. Perry eventually settled in the United Kingdom, where she lived a quiet, penitent life and took up writing mysteries that often had a theme of redemption. It wasn’t until 1994, when no one less than Peter Jackson made a movie about the crime (Heavenly Creatures), that a New Zealand journalist outed her as Juliet Hulme – three days before the release of the film. No one had spoken to her to get any actual facts about the crime, and the film remains highly fictionalized.

Is Perry the only author who has done hard time? Of course not. Mystery writer Dashiell Hammett did six months in jail for contempt of court. Nelson Algren, who wrote Man With the Golden Arm, spent five months in jail for stealing a typewriter. William S. Burroughs, author of The Naked Lunch, first spent time for forging a prescription, but later killed his common-law wife after a drunken argument while in Mexico. He escaped prosecution by fleeing back to the United States. Chester Himes was sent to jail for eight years at the age of 19 for armed robbery, where he began to write such novels as A Rage in Harlem and Cotton Comes to Harlem. In all cases, incarceration, even for a little while, made a huge impact on the writer and their view of the world.

Anne Perry’s latest book, Three Debts Paid, a fifth volume of the Daniel Pitt series, was released in April.

CPL Staff’s Favorite Reads of 2020

Ask a librarian for some good books, be prepared for a long list! I recently asked our staff members to share some their favorite reads in 2020, and the answers that came back were many and varied. We really do read a lot! Not all the books on this list were published in 2020, (some were older books we just got around to reading in 2020!), but all received a solid thumbs up from a member of our staff:

Children’s Books

Picture Books

Chapter Books

YA Fiction

Adult Fiction

Adult Non-Fiction

 

( * – this book was recommended by more than one staff member)

 

A Double Dose of Girl Power: Enola Holmes and Flavia de Luce

When the Enola Holmes movie was recently released on Netflix, I decided to read the book that it was based on (The Case of the Missing Marquess by Nancy Springer) before watching the movie. As I read the book, I was struck by two things. #1, though this book series is found in the Children’s Room, it has surprisingly sophisticated themes and I found it very appealing as an adult reader. #2, the protagonist, Enola Holmes, precociously adept at solving mysteries, reminded me of another young sleuth I loved, the delightfully quirky Flavia de Luce from Alan Bradley’s series.

I quickly devoured The Case of the Missing Marquess, and immediately checked out the rest of the series. I’m happy to report that all six books are wonderful, quick reads that will appeal the fans of dear Flavia, or cozy mysteries in general. Let’s take a look at the young protagonists from each series.

Enola Holmes is the much younger sister of Mycroft and Sherlock Holmes, whom she admires but rarely sees. Raised by her mother in a very unconventional way, and often left to her own devices for extended periods of time, Enola has a skill set not normally found in young ladies of her era, with a particular talent for cryptology. In 1900, on her 14th birthday, her mother mysteriously disappears, leaving coded clues behind. Enola sets out to solve the mystery of her disappearance, much to the consternation of her brothers, who want to put her into boarding school and make a proper lady out of her. She is in hiding from them for most of the series, and it’s fun to watch Enola outsmart the brothers who think themselves so much smarter than her.

Flavia de Luce is an 11-year-old girl in 1950 who lost her mother when she was a baby. She lives with her largely-absent father and two annoying older sisters on an English country estate that’s seen better days. Flavia’s upbringing is also quite unconventional, and she spends much of her time indulging her passion for chemistry, becoming quite an expert in poisons through the many experiments she conducts in her laboratory. Flavia’s obsession with the gruesome and deadly along with her need to get to figure out why things happen is a by-product of losing her mother at such an early age; indeed Harriet de Luce remains a presence in the sad little family throughout the series. While this could be maudlin, it is never overdone, and Flavia’s determination to make sense of events in the world around her drives everything she does. She is the definition of “pluck”.

Both girls are motherless and do not follow the social norms of their times. Both have older siblings who are the banes of their existence.  Both are whip-smart and often underestimated by the adults around them. And both have the uncanny knack for landing in the middle of trouble, over and over again, and are able to survive largely by their wits.

The Flavia de Luce stories are longer and a bit more complex than the Enola Holmes stories, but watching both of these unconventional sleuths get to the bottom of each mystery they land into is pure delight. I’ll add an additional plug for the audiobooks, the narrators of each series are pitch-perfect in their portrayals, and really bring the characters to life.

It’s recommended to read the books in both series in order, as each book builds off the previous one. Get a double dose of girl power with these terrific mysteries!

Flavia de Luce Mysteries:

  1. The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie
  2. The Weed That Strings the Hangman’s Bag
  3. A Red Herring Without Mustard
  4. I Am Half-Sick of Shadows
  5. Speaking from Among the Bones
  6. The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches
  7. As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust
  8. Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew’d
  9. The Grave’s a Fine and Private Place
  10. The Golden Tresses of the Dead

Enola Holmes Mysteries:

  1. The Case of the Missing Marquess
  2. The Case of the Left-Handed Lady
  3. The Case of the Bizarre Bouquets
  4. The Case of the Peculiar Pink Fan
  5. The Case of the Cryptic Crinoline
  6. The Case of the Gypsy Goodbye

A Librarian’s Guide to “Longform” Reading

Long-form journalism is a branch of journalism dedicated to longer articles with larger amounts of content. Typically this will be between 1,000 and 20,000 words. Long-form articles often take the form of creative nonfiction or narrative journalism

Publications such as Reader’s Digest, The Atlantic, and Harper’s Bazaar popularized this format of writing, which led to the founding of several new long form coverage companies such as The Atavist and Longreads. These articles tend to be categorized as “non-fiction” with a majority of the titles falling into human interest or think piece articles on a specific topic. These topics cover a broad range of subjects, including but not limited to: crime, art’s and culture, books, business and tech, current events, essays and criticism, food, profiles and interviews, science and nature, and sports.  Much like a non-fiction book, these articles are long enough to really develop a story, and inform you on topics you may not know much about. Personally, this is my favorite part about reading longform. These articles help you learn more about a topic, without overwhelming you with becoming an expert. They also give you a view into a strangers lifestyle, ideas or hobbies, which is one of the many reasons why non-fiction keeps me coming back for more.

There are thousands of articles that are as long as books, or as short as short stories, on thousands of different topics and subject matters. If you’re overwhelmed with where to start, I’ve compiled a list of my favorite “longform” websites, as well as several popular non-fiction titles available at the Cheshire Public Library.

            1. First up is Narratively, which is my favorite of all. Narratively’s tagline is “celebrating humanity through authentic storytelling”. The website works with a network of over 3,000 talented journalists and storytellers that explore the hidden stories of the world, focusing on the “underdogs” and the “overlooked tales that enlighten us”. The website has several subsections, including: hidden history, memoir, renegades, secret lives, and super subcultures. Examples of articles include “Secret Life of a Children’s Party Princess“, which explores the not so glamorous life of a part time princess, full time college student, as well as “That Time I Conducted an Autopsy Without Any Medical Training” or the mistaken identity of a med school poser. These articles, and many others, are charming, heartbreaking, and insightful. Narratively is a gem of a website, and worth coming back to again and again.

              2. Longreads and Longform are two fantastic websites that recommend longer works of fiction across the web. Each  feature in-depth investigative reporting, interviews and profiles, podcasts, essays and criticism. Both websites curate content from a variety of different publications including, The Atlantic, Harper’s Bazaar, The Guardian, and Cosmopolitan. Articles include a variety of subject matters from serious to silly, including “Taken: How police departments make millions by seizing property” (Anna Lee, Nathaniel Cary, and Mike Ellis, The Greenville News) and “I Walked 600 Miles Across Japan for Pizza Toast” by Craig Mod. Each website is updated frequently, and each hosts a fantastic array of human interest stories as well as investigative reporting.

All of these websites have a handy feature which lets you subscribe to their stories, which sends you articles by email on a weekly basis. This lets you cater your taste in articles, and lets you catch up on news when you have a moment. It’s a fantastic way to exercise your brain, and learn more about the world around you.

If you’d prefer a physical title, the Cheshire Public Library has a large collection of non-fiction titles, as well as newspapers for current events and other human interest pieces. My personal favorite is our biography section, as well as our true crime selection. A few new titles that I’ve been enjoying lately are “Three Women” by Lisa Taddeo, and “I’ll be Gone in the Dark” by Michelle MacNamara, . There are plenty of titles on a variety of subjects, and if you see gaps or something we don’t have, you can always feel free to mention it to a staff member (we’re pretty great about supplying titles our patrons suggest!)

 

Looking for more? Here are some titles from our new non-fiction section:

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Happy St. Patrick’s Day! Classic and Contemporary Titles by Irish Authors

St. Patrick’s day is more than an excuse to wear green and pinch those who aren’t, it’s also a great time to read globally, rather than locally. There are a host of traditions that are celebrated each year around the holiday, several of which include:

  • Boston – St. Patrick’s Day celebrations in Boston bring over 600,000 visitors to the city, which has a large Irish-American community. The city has one of the largest parades, which many veterans take part in, and events are held in the large number of Irish pubs in the city. The Irish Cultural Center holds a celebration, and many events feature Irish food, such as corned beef.
  • New York – New York City is the place of the oldest civilian parade, which boats over 150,000 participants. This may include veterans along with firefighters, policemen, and cultural clubs. It is led New York’s 69th infantry regiment. Another city in New York state, Pearl river, has the second largest parade in the state with crowds of over 100,000. In Buffalo, there are two St. Patrick’s parades.
  • Ireland – This celebration is more religious in nature, as it is considered a religious feast day. While it was made an official holiday in 1903, the first Saint Patrick’s Festival was held in 1996. During these recent years, the even has become more cultural and consists of many celebrations in the streets. – ( St. Patrick’s Day – The History and Traditions Of St. Patty’s Day. https://wilstar.com/holidays/patrick.htm)

If you’d prefer to keep the celebration more low key, go to your local library, pull up a chair, and tuck into some fantastic Irish titles this holiday.

1. If you’d like to start off with a bang, why not dive straight into Ulysses by James Joyce. As a staple of 20th century literature, Ulysses follows the events of a day in Dublin in 1904 and what happens to the characters Stephen Dedalus, Leopold Bloom, and his wife Molly. Ulysses is a slice of the day to day of human condition, and stands the test of time as a moment in writing that cannot be forgotten.

2. From the critically acclaimed author of The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, John Boyne, comes The Heart’s Invisible Furies . The novel tracks a man’s life in post-war Ireland and the main characters complicated relationship with Catholicism.

3. Described by The Irish Times as “arguably the most talented writer at work in Ireland today,” Lisa McInerney‘s debut novel The Glorious Heresies follows the fringe life of a city plagued by poverty and exploitation, where salvation still awaits in the most unexpected places. Following several main characters through a variety of criminal and difficult situations, McInerney captures hope in the underbelly of a small community.

4. John Banville‘s The Sea is an intimate look at the power of love, loss and the power of memory. This Booker Prize–winning novel follows Max Morden, an Irishman experiencing the loss of his wife and traveling back to his childhood seaside town. Banville does a fantastic job weaving together the history of Morden’s wife, both her life and death, into one powerful story.

5. Emma Donoghue, Dublin native and bestseller brings the story of mother and child to life in Room. Room is a tale at once shocking, riveting, exhilarating–a story of unconquerable love in harrowing circumstances, and of the diamond-hard bond between a mother and her child.

Looking for more? Check out these authors/titles you may have missed.

Unraveling Oliver by Liz Nugent

Normal People by Sally Rooney

A Girl is a Half-formed Thing by Eimear McBride

PS, I Love You by Cecelia Ahern

 Faithful Place by Tana French