The Detective’s Daughter – The Summer Reading List



Kim in Baltimore surviving the heat.

What do Jaws, The Eye of the Needle, Where Are the Children, and Valley of the Dolls have in common? They are a few of the books I remember my mom reading when I was a child. Every day, whether she was sitting on the front steps or in the car waiting for Dad to come out of work, Mom was always reading a book.

Last summer, as I was moseying about in the East Village, I picked up a well-worn copy of Rosemary’s Baby in The Strand. By the next day I’d read it cover to cover. Rosemary’s Baby is one of my favorite movies and I remembered Mom reading the book years ago.image
Each week we took a trip to the Enoch Pratt library where Mom would walk out with an armful of novels she’d have read long before our next visit. By the time I was fourteen we were both reading Mary Higgens Clark, Phyllis Whitney and Barbara Michaels.

Throughout the years I’ve read Gone With the Wind more times than I can count. I have Mom’s battered copy locked on the shelves of my desk. I take it out just to hold sometimes, remembering Mom sitting in her folding chair, with her cigarettes and iced tea at her side, flipping the pages of the latest book she’d borrowed.

Dad was not much of a reader other than the morning and Sunday editions of The Baltimore Sun. However, one week Mom checked out The Godfather from the library and before she had her iced tea poured and her cigarette lit, Dad was absorbed in the novel. It’s the only book Mom and I ever recall seeing Dad read.

I’ve thought often about the books Mom has read and decided this summer to make them my reading list. I could cross off Rosemary’s Baby and Gone With the Wind; they are books I will read time and again. It wasn’t hard to come up with titles, but I needed to keep it compact. There’s only so many weeks in summer! Here’s what I came up with:image

Valley of the Dolls by Jacqueline Susann
Jaws by Peter Benchley
The Stepford Wives by Ira Levin
The Eye of the Needle by Ken Follett
Neither Five Nor Three by Helen MacInnes
Window on the Square by Phyllis A. Whitney
The Godfather by Mario Puzo
The Spy Who Came in From the Cold by John le Carre

I’ve finished reading Valley of the Dolls and am well into the Phyllis Whitney book. I unfortunately began watching Mad Men the same time I was reading Dolls. It was depressing reading and seeing how little freedom and respect women were given. I don’t think I can bring myself to watch another episode of Mad Men!

As I’ve compiled these books and read through them I’ve thought about what these titles say about my mom. Why do we select the titles that we do? Why are some inclined to read only mystery while others enjoy the classics? Is the genre you prefer inherited or learned?
I spoke to Mom this morning and asked her why she chose certain books. “They seemed interesting,” she said. She wasn’t particularly aware if they were best sellers or if a movie deal was in the works, she just enjoyed reading. I think that’s the part I inherited.
Hope you’re enjoying your summer reading.

Readers: Please share with us the titles of books you have read more than once and why.

The Detective’s Daughter — The Grave Digger’s Daughter

Kim'spolicehatBy Kim Gray

In Baltimore City

kim 7There’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.

kim1She’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.

Kim 4As 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 Kim 5to 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.