Adventures of a Bibliophile
My mother ignited my passion for books. Books ignited my passion for adventure. My mother read to me most every night when I was young. When I
started school I began to read by myself and discovered my first mystery: Fun with Dick and Jane. “See Dick run. See Jane run. See Spot run.” Why was everybody running and from whom? Curiosity led me to a chunky wooden chair in the school library where I powered through books about the misadventures of those Swedish triplets in Snipp, Snapp and Snurr and the Red Shoes and that international thriller, The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins by Dr. Seuss.
Wanting more, I raced through fairy tales about Snow White, Hansel and Gretel and Rapunzel by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, the fables of Aesop and the tales of Baba-Yaga the witch, serialized in my Jack and Jill magazine. I learned that gingerbread houses have a dark side, witches and cats aren’t always pals, and accepting a ride across the river on the back of a smooth-talking crocodile is never a good idea, especially if you’re a monkey.
At around age eight, I discovered Sleepyside-on-Hudson and teen sleuth extraordinaire Trixie Beldon of Crabapple Farm. My fate was sealed. I wanted
to be a detective. Like Trixie, I needed a partner, so I draped a coat around the “shoulders” of my mother’s upright vacuum cleaner and balanced my dad’s fedora on its handle. The vacuum became my sidekick Honey Walker, Hoover Watson to my Sherlock Holmes. For a time, we wheeled around the house, solving mysteries: who was drinking milk from the carton and who left the wet towel on the bathroom floor?
Solving in-house mysteries was satisfying but too easy, especially when the perpetrator and the detective were one in the same. More challenging adventures awaited in the orchards and hop fields that surrounded our house. For an entire summer a neighbor friend and I ducked behind apple trees, vaulted over irrigation ditches and watched TV through a neighbor’s living room window to sharpen our investigative skills.
Finishing a Trixie book made me feel as if I were abandoning an old friend. I must have been a nutty kid because I extended the reading experience by creating sequels to the stories with buttons I purloined from a jar my mother kept near the sewing machine. I stored my button cohorts in an eyeglass
case that had once housed my grandmother’s bifocals. Each button had a name and a history. No matter how long I was away from Buttons-on-Queen-Avenue, the moment I opened the eyeglass case, the characters exploded onto the TV tray with conflicts intact and new mysteries to solve.
One auspicious day, I decided being a detective just didn’t cut it anymore. I wanted to be a spy. If it worked for Harriet, it just might work for me. Sure, spying could bring an uncertain future. I might be caught and imprisoned for a long time. No TV. No bickering with my sister. How would I handle all that down time alone in a drafty cell? I would need something to stimulate my mind while in captivity. The cartoon light bulb above my head clicked on: If I memorized stuff I could keep myself entertained forever.
I pulled a book of poetry from my mother’s bookcase and began to memorize Robert Frost’s Stopping By the Woods on A Snowing Evening. That little
horse shaking those harness-bells? Surely that was some kind of spy code. I found other books, history books with Patrick Henry’s “Give me liberty or give me death,” speech and The Gettysburg Address. I memorized those, too, until my head was awash with quotable quotes.
In junior high school, I began reading romance novels. I found comfort in the chaste but formulaic stories of Emilie Loring in which the twenty-something heroine meets the tall dark stranger. Over one summer, I carted twenty-four of her books home from the bookmobile and read them all. Then I
discovered that romantic relationships were even more adventurous when miscues and raging hormones unfolded on British soil. Mr. Darcy in Jane
Austen’s Pride and Prejudice became my new romance standard.
Acting on my newfound knowledge of how to handle the opposite sex, I began to date. My clothes became lovely “frocks” and my shoes morphed into dainty little “mules.” If I squeezed my eyes shut, I could almost imagine my date speaking with a British accent. Moving on, I found romance and
murder in Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier and romance and war in Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell. Years later I learned that emotionally remote men make good mates only in fiction. But that’s another story.
Over time I’ve read hundreds of books: fiction, non fiction, essays, political commentary and lots and lots of mysteries ranging from the classics of Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, and Rex Stout to those written by contemporary authors. Somewhere along the line, I realized that for my entire goofy childhood I’d been acting out stories inspired by the books I’d read. Why not commit some of those stories to paper? So, I became a writer of mystery novels about a woman with a penchant for solving crimes. My need for research led me to a fifteen-year volunteer job at my local police station, and that turned out to be the greatest adventure to date for a book-loving detective and former spy whose first partner was a well-dressed Hoover.
Los Angeles Times bestselling author Patricia Smiley writes a mystery series featuring business consultant and amateur sleuth Tucker Sinclair. Her short fiction has appeared in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine and Two of the Deadliest, an anthology edited by Elizabeth George.
Patty Smiley has taught writing classes at various conferences, including the Surrey International Writers Conference in British Columbia, the
Jackson Hole Writers Conference in Jackson Hole, Wyoming and the Book Passage Mystery Conference in Corte Madera, California. She served on the
Board of Directors of the Southern California Chapter of Mystery Writers of America and is the current President of Sisters in Crime/Los Angeles.
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