In Baltimore City
There’s a small house in which the kitchen is the largest room. The old place sits among the graves that are dug by a man who is, more often then not, drunk. And in this place where you find the dead is where my mother lived.
Many times while writing about Dad’s adventures it has occurred to me that I might never have been the offspring of this detective had he not met the grave digger’s daughter. She spent her childhood tucked away in a Lutheran cemetery along with her mother, sister, and brothers. The grave digger came and went, but she and her family cared for the yard and all those who came to rest. Occasionally her father stumbled home and they would share some good weeks before he was off again. Her older brothers took on their father’s responsibilities when he disappeared for days, or even months. In that time the young girl who grew to be my mom found reprieve from her life in books.
She’d curl up in her room or hide away in the small stone house that sat between the headstones and memorials immersed in ghost stories, mysteries and thrillers. It was the love of reading that kept her going even during difficult circumstances.
Dad may have been living out real mysteries, but it was Mom who introduced me to crime fiction. Most sunny afternoons we could find her in a lawn chair near the garden in the midst of a Helen MacInnes or Barbara Michaels novel. There were weekly trips to the library to check out the latest Mary Higgins Clark or read a Patricia Wentworth. One of our favorites was Phyllis Whitney and though we could not agree on which of her mysteries was the best (I still say it was Emerald!) these books always gave us a common ground even through my teenage years.
As I sit in my own kitchen today reading the delightful Boiled Over, my mind wanders back to the kitchen of my childhood where mom and I sat, elbows on table, books in hands, holding our breath as another heroine stumbled onto an important clue. These days Mom visits the library to get audio books. She drives around and listens to her favorite authors, some old, some new, as she goes to work or runs errands. I’ve tried listening to books in my car, but every time I do I become so involved with the story I forget where I’m going.
We continue to discuss what we’ve read, and recommend books we like. Mom is always anxious to learn about the authors I meet at Malice Domestic each year. I was especially proud to have her with me at the Agatha Awards the year I won the William F. Deeck- Malice Domestic Grant. That night we mingled with the authors and left our books at home.
Dad gave me ample stories of murder and mayhem, but it is the love of books I have inherited from Mom that inspires me to put pen to paper and spin mysterious tales for her to someday read.