Meeting Jack Duckworth

In 1992 I went to Manchester to research Coronation Street for a CBC Radio Ideas documentary on British and American soaps.

Vera and Jack Duckworth in RoversAt Granada, I watched the taping of a scene on the street and interviewed writers, production people and cast members. When I was told the names of two actors I was going to meet, I was struck dumb with awe and terror – Bill Tarmey and Elizabeth Dawn aka Jack and Vera Duckworth.  Like pretty much everyone who has watched during the past 30 odd years, for me, Jack and Vera were Coronation Street.

Elizabeth Dawn

Vera DuckworthI went first into Elizabeth Dawn’s dressing room.  She and Bill had just finished their scenes for the day and she had to leave soon for a family function.  She was sitting in front of the mirror taking off her makeup when I kind of stumbled my way in the door.  “Sit down, dear, and don’t mind me.  We can talk while I do this”.  Instantly, I felt at home, felt like I was with someone I’d known a long time.  And I was in a way.

Liz Dawn was wonderful – not Vera, yet Vera.  She took off Vera’s makeup and put on her own. Then Vera’s hair was gone and she brushed out her own.  She looked Elizabeth Dawn in real lifedifferent.  We talked a long time, then she said she had to run.  She told me where Bill’s dressing room was and just to go on there when I was ready, then with a ‘ta-ra’ she was out the door.  Before I got everything picked up, she was back in laughing.  “I’ve got Vera’s coat on”.  She shucked off the familiar looking black cloth coat, grabbed another more stylish one, laughed, waved and was gone again.

Bill Tarmey

Then to meet Jack.  My nerves came back.  Hand shaking, I knocked on his door and a familiar gruff voice told me to come in.  He too was Bill Tarmey 2010removing Jack and becoming Bill.  When he finished, he leaned back in his chair and just talked.  He asked me a lot of questions, where I lived, what I did, about my family.  He told me about his family, pointing out who was who in the photographs around his dressing room.  It was nice.  He was an easy man to talk to.  So much so I would forget why I was there – to get him on tape talking about being Jack.

Amazon link for Bill Tarmey cd Incurably Romantic
Click for Amazon link

So he told me about Jack and him – how he came to be on the show, first as a short-term bad guy, then brought back as Jack when the writers created the Duckworths.  He told me about his career as an actor and primarily as a singer.  He said when the writers had Jack sing once – badly – he, Bill, found his singing gigs drop off and even bookings cancelled.  If that’s how Bill Tarmey sings, he laughed, they didn’t want him performing.

He wasn’t likely telling me anything he hadn’t told hundreds of interviewers before, but he made it seem personal.  Just him and me talking about stuff.  It wasn’t slick, like a performance piece, just good conversation.  He talked straightforwardly and was engaged in the discussion, talking and listening.

He reminded me of my father, as Jack Duckworth always has.  “Rough, tough and hard to Bill Tarmey, outside Rovers, upon retirementbluff” as my dad would say about himself.  That’s what Jack is like, with a lovely soft heart.  That too is what Bill Tarmey is like.  And my dad.  I can think of no higher compliment to any one of them than being compared to each other.  Bill, if you are reading this, you and Jack will be greatly missed.  I hope you have a wonderful retirement.  Cheers!

Bill, and Jack, on Amazon

Amazon link for Bill Tarmey book on Jack DuckworthSee my Corrie Scene Sept. 4/11 for Bill’s final episode. Click the image to left for an Amazon link to Bill Tarmey’s book on being Jack and the ‘Incurably Romantic’ image above for link to his music.

 

Coronation Street Scene of the Week (Aug. 28/11)

Jacks’ Bonfire Night

A lot of story this week, but nothing leaping out at me until Friday. It was November 5thKevin on Street with fireworks behind him, Bonfire Night. Fireworks had started, literally on the street and figuratively for Baby Jack Dobbs.

The last thing we see is Kevin, back turned to the explosions over the street and soon to happen in the Dobbs-Duckworth house. He was heading back to the Rovers after seeing Molly. He had confronted her about the baby’s paternity. It was that, and especially the accidental fallout from it, that caught my attention.

Kevin had a DNA test done. It showed he is the father of baby Jack. After acting like a complete jerk at the Rovers with Sally and Gail and, indeed, with and about Kevin and Molly after she saw dna resultsTyrone, he sneaks around to Molly’s back door to confront her.

After ascertaining that no one else is there, as far as she knows, they have it out. She had not agreed to the DNA test on the baby, she just wanted to believe he is Tyrone’s. Kevin wanted to know, but doesn’t know what to do with the knowledge he now has. Neither of them knows that the elder Jack is sitting on the stairs listening.

Jack on stairs listening to Kevin and MollyJust great! I had hoped that Jack would go to his grave believing that all was well with the family of his son of the heart. But at the same time, I knew that the best chance for this mess to get sorted out was if Jack knew. Neither Molly nor Kevin can be trusted to do the decent thing. And poor Tyrone is just living in his happy little world. Now Jack must share that happy world and try to forget what he knows, or blast it to Kingdom Come.

Tyrone holding baby JackEven if it doesn’t really matter if any of the adults know, the baby needs to know his biological parentage for reasons of medical history if nothing else. I had just hoped that Jack Duckworth would not have to be the one to break Tyrone’s heart. Also to have his own heart broken by knowing what Molly, who he loves as his own, had done.

Pawlooza: Rescue me!

Pawlooza last Saturday in London Ont was great.  So many people and dogs!  Other pug having a rest at STDOA booth on rescue rowthan a bit of a walk-around, I hardly saw anything of it other than our St. Thomas Dog Owners booth in Rescue Row.  But the world comes by one’s booth, I found.

We didn’t take Leo and Charlie.  Charlie likes a party, but gets bored and cranky quickly.  Leo gets very enthusiastic at parties!  While I felt a bit ‘odd man out’ without dogs, I found our booth provided a haven for dogs who wanted a little quiet time.

Touring Rescue Row

Next to us was the Chinese Crested rescue.  They had several of these dogs with hairless bodies and long plumes on head and tail.  I Chinese Crested from Crest Care rescueoverheard them telling stories of their dogs to people flipping through photo albums.  Horrific stories.  One dog was left in the house, locked in, after the people moved away.  Fortunately, someone suspected that she was in there, and she was saved.

Why, I thought, would someone leave a dog like that?  Any dog, but one of these?  These aren’t dogs you see notices tacked up for, saying “free puppies.”  You have to go to a lot of trouble and expense to get one.  So why would you then just walk away?

A magnificent black Standard Poodle across the aisle.  A St. John Ambulance therapy dog now, he’d been taken from what sounds like an unbalanced hoarder.  The man who rescued him had been looking for a Giant Schnauzer.  He’d had them for years, but this Poodles at Pawloozatime he wound up with a giant Poodle.

He said Giant Schnauzers end up in rescue care because people get them as puppies and then are surprised at how big they get, how much care their coats take and don’t want to be bothered.  But how can that happen?  Doesn’t the “Giant” in their name give you the tip off that this is going to be a big dog?  They also are expensive pups.  He said it’s easy to pay $4,000 for one.  You would lay out money like that and not realize that it’s going to be a big dog and that rough beautiful coat requires a lot of brushing and clipping?

Why so many?

I passed by Friendly Giants Rescue on my one tour.  A St. Bernard was lolling around, hoping for a home I guess.  Sure, there are legitimate, even heartbreaking, stories of why someone has to give up their dog.  But so many of them?

Do people get them as status symbols?  Be the first on your block to have a hairless dog.  Then you realize there is upkeep and expense particular to that breed and it’s too much bother?  Or you saw the movie Beethoven and thought how much fun it would be having a St. Bernard living with you? And you forgot you’re already cramped in your tiny apartment?

Yorkies trying on coats at STDOA boothI am so glad the rescue people are around, both for specific breeds and just for regular old dogs.  Without them, I don’t know what would happen to these poor creatures.  A woman at Boston Terrier Rescue told me a lady had made an 8-hour drive to Pawlooza, just to look for a dog at their booth.  I hope she found one.

Goderich, Prettiest Town

Statue standing by courthouse, Goderich, after tornadoThe slogan of Goderich, on Lake Huron, is “The Prettiest Town in Canada.”  It’s never seemed like hyperbole to me.  Last Sunday, downtown Goderich was slammed by a tornado.  It devastated buildings, trees and vehicles.  A man was killed.

We had a cottage just south of Goderich when I was a kid.  Bluewater Beach was my favourite place.  Dad built me a tree house and I spent hours in it and prowling around in the woods.  Also hours at the beach – in the water, building sandcastles, picking up beachstones, on the hill up from the beach.

Aerial view of Goderich square, postcard 1984Then we’d go to town.  I love the main street of Goderich – the square.  It’s more a circle around the beautiful courthouse in the middle, with huge trees and a bandshell.  Spokes go off all the way around, streets leading to the beach and other parts of town.

There was a five and dime on the square – we spent hours in there.  A glorious old hotel on one corner. I never went inside, but thought it was the most elegant building I’d ever seen.  Sometimes we’d swap Bluewater Beach for Goderich beach with its fine white sand.

We also went to the Maitland River at Benmiller.  We’d go in to the rock-bottomed river, St. Christopher's Beach at sunset, Oct. 2009lie in shallow pools of warm water or play in pockets of deeper water.

The old airport was a favourite stop, to visit the parrot who lived in the waiting room and talked a blue streak.  We’d drive along the industrial side of the harbour.  Sometimes just to look at the mountains of salt waiting to be loaded on ships.  Sometimes to go out in Dad’s boat fishing or just in the harbour steering around the huge Great Lakes vessels tied up.

Hindmarsh Horses

First time we went, to look at the cottage for sale, it was winter.  We heard sleighbells.  It seemed like a magic Christmas card, snow sparkling on the ground and evergreens, snowflakes falling.  It must be our imaginations, but our imaginations were all hearing the same thing.  And through the snow, we saw a horse-drawn wagon coming toward us.

The driver whoaed the horses and asked if we wanted to jump on.  Two Clydesdales were pulling a hay wagon full of kids and adults all bundled up.  Thermoses of hot chocolate were passed, people introduced themselves.  We rode around the small complex of streets, then people began jumping off at their respective cottages, saying “Thanks John, see ya later.”  We did the same thing when we got back to our car.

Angers' Retreat, cottage at Bluewater Beach 1961My parents bought the cottage and we went up in all four seasons.  Every winter, the horses would come through.  You’d hear the harness bells jingling, and run toward them and jump on the wagon.

The man with the horses was Mr. John Hindmarsh. His family had published The Star in Toronto.  I would walk out Bluewater Road to the highway where the Hindmarsh farm and another were kitty-corner from each other.  At both, the horses would amble over to the fence for handfuls of grass I’d pluck.

We called them “the millionaires.”  I don’t know if they were in terms of bank balances.  But the late Mr. Hindmarsh certainly was in terms of generosity of spirit.  The Hindmarsh farm has been donated to the Ontario Farmland Trust and there are many walking trails and protected lands around Goderich thanks to the John Hindmarsh Environmental Trust Fund.

Goderich Rebuilding

Aerial view of Goderich town square after tornadoIf you’ve ever enjoyed driving around the square, or relaxed under the trees by the courthouse or on the beach, Goderich needs your help now.  You can donate to the Red Cross (1-800-481-1111 Canadian Disaster Relief), the Salvation Army, Perth-Huron United Way, Huron County SPCA or check out the open Facebook pages Goderich Help Link and Goderich Ontario Tornado.

Coronation Street Scene of the Week (Aug. 21/11)

Cheap Tricks

cheap tricks - Kylie waiting and Steve's cab pulling upThursday just before a commercial break:  Kylie, obviously still in the Greater Manchester area.  Oh no, I groaned, I thought she was gone.  I like Max and the story of Becky wanting a child, wanting Max.  But Becky and Kylie have gone back to their roots – back to the trailer park.  Kylie never left it and I’m tired of her and her conniving sleaziness.  She makes me want to take a shower to rid myself of the contact slime.

She, and the whole storyline around her, embodies cheap tricks in all senses of the term.  Now she’s trying to sell Max to Becky and Steve.  No matter what you think of that, he’s not hers to sell.  “The Social” is still involved: he’s theirs to sell or give away, whatever.

Becky saying goodbye to Max as Kylie leaves RoversI doubt they’ll see Becky as being number one on the potential mother list, especially after her stunt of pretending to be Kylie.  Her history, police record, explosive temper and smoking probably already put enough nails in the adoption coffin. If not, deliberately deceiving the social worker in order to cover for her sister would be the final one.  I’ve rooted for Becky as an adoptive mom.  I think she’d be great.  I’ve hoped someone in social services would look beyond the rulebook and see that.  But even I can’t believe they would or should look past that stunt.

Dmitri meeting BeckyAnd Dmitri, the lovely looking young man from Cyprus who Kylie has dragged back with her.  Funny, but another cheap trick having him speak absolutely no English and Kylie alternately bullying and coddling him.  I’m not sure if he’s a plot device or part of the set design.

Writers’ cheap tricks?

Ashley looking at his prunes and yoghurt breakfastThere have been other cheap tricks in the writing this week.  Claire feeding Ashley yoghurt with prunes when she thinks he has angina.  Fair enough that she figures cut down on fat in his diet, but prunes?  Why?  Only because prunes are funnier than any other fruit, the kinds you would be more likely to eat with yoghurt.  Even she makes a face while pretending to enjoy her healthy breakfast.  Getting a proud meat-eating butcher to eat a breakfast of yoghurt and fruit would be incongruous and funny enough on its own, you don’t need to hammer the point home by having prunes involved.

Becky and Steve smoking on park benchThe first cheap trick I noticed this week was Tuesday, after Becky and Steve were playing football with the kids.  They sit on a park bench and extol the virtues of being out in the fresh air.  Then, simultaneously, they lift previously-unseen lit cigarettes to their mouths and both take a deep draw.  Funny?  Yes.  A little gratuitous dig at them and smokers everywhere?  I fear so.

Fizz looking at wreath on factory stepsAnd finally, a perhaps cheap plot trick (as unwelcome to me as the reappearance of Kylie), funereal flowers appearing on the steps of the factory.  A bouquet with Rest in Peace, followed by a wreath in the shape of a C.  Oh no, the story of Colin buried under the factory floor is going to rear its head again.  You knew it had to, and should, being an unresolved story line.  But with mysterious floral tributes?  Who would do it?  Charlotte?  Yes, she’s a tad unbalanced, but she’d have to be truly deranged to do that.  She’s involved!

Going to Graceland

Thirty-four years ago, Graceland became a memorial shrine. The day before, August 16th 1977, the King of Rock and Roll had died in it, his home.

Andrea-and-Memphis-Caddy-(photo-H.-Edison)Despite liking Elvis, Graceland had never been on my ‘must-see’ list. But passing through Memphis once, it seemed wrong not to see Elvis’ house.

Even pulling into the parking lot, though, I had quibbles. “Our money will be going straight to Priscilla and Lisa Marie’s pockets,” I said, “there’s starving children who need this money.” Still, we bought our tickets and went in.

Oh, I hope the starving children can understand the cultural value of Graceland. It is wonderful. Not just the place itself but those touring it and those working in it. It is Graceland media-roomMecca for American culture in the latter half of the 20th century.

Our tour group shuffled through the house, oohing and aahing over the opulence, the excess, the fact that Elvis the King sat in these rooms. The tour guide was informative and clearly enjoyed her job. She was a child when Elvis died but she “got” him – the house, the magic.

Las Vegas jumpsuit Graceland museum Next the outbuildings, the museums of Elvis stuff. His collections of firearms and police badges are laid out in glass cases. There are rooms of display cases filled with gifts he was given. His costumes, his gold records. There’s every award and honourable mention he received from anyone anywhere. Presumably there’s museum curators working behind these public rooms, sorting, preserving, cataloguing a life of a man.

You can tour the grounds. A paddock near the house had about six horses in it. A couple of them would remember Elvis. The others were Lisa Marie’s and Priscilla’s. They came charging over to the fence, Graceland horse paddocklooking for treats. I pulled handfuls of grass, fearful I was going to be yelled at. But no one said anything. The horses happily munched the grass I gave them.

Quite close by is Elvis’ grave. The true believers circle around it, taking pictures, looking down misty-eyed. They stay there a long time.

Beside the parking lot, near the entrance, Elvis’ planes are parked. The smaller one is called the Lisa Marie. Both have TCB with a lightning bolt painted on them.

Edmund

Elvis' dog Edmund-and-sitter-GracelandMy favourite moment happened while standing in line for the Elvis memorabilia museum. Over on the lawn by the house, a small elderly dog was tottering around with an elderly woman. I asked a young man checking tickets about the dog. “That’s Edmund, Elvis’ dog,” he said, “he lives with Elvis’ aunt.” I asked who the lady was. “She’s a maid and her job is looking after Edmund.” When I asked if I could go closer, he said no. “It’s really for your safety. He’s a nasty little dog.” I liked his candor but wondered if that was why he was doing crowd control in the blazing sun rather than leading tours inside.

Andrea-at-Graceland-(photo-H-Edison)Edmund has left the building, and probably Elvis’ horses have too. But I’m sure the magic of them and Elvis are still there in Graceland. Taking care of business.

The pictures of Edmund and the horse paddock are mine from 1990. My cousin Andrea Hutchison very kindly let me use photos from her 2011 trip to Memphis.

Coronation Street Scene of the Week (Aug. 14/11)

Little Englanders

Ashley Peacock just put himself in the ranks of splendid curmudgeons of Weatherfield.  Claire and her mom with Ashley at kitchen tableIn a kitchen table scene Tuesday, Claire and her mother extolled the virtues of living in France.  He listened to the advantages of bilingualism for the boys. Then he said what he really really thought when they talked about the possibility of him continuing to work in the meat business in France.

He argued that French butchers would not welcome him setting up shop in their midst and “it’s all union over there.”  “When it comes to meat, trade over there never forgot what them farmers did to our sheep.”  “That happened 20 years ago,” Claire said in reference to the diseased sheep and cattle tragedy and ban on British meat.  “Some things you never Ashley saying 'some things you never forget'forget,”  he pointed out.

Claire’s mother said that the village where she lives is filled with British ex-pats who share his views.  “You’ll have them queuing all the way to Paris” she said to encourage him.  “Little Englanders” Claire said they called them.  English people who shared Ashley’s world view, living happily away from English soil.  No, not having any of it was Ashley.  And this was when he truly joined the pantheon of unforgettable and timeless Street men.

Ashley off for British hotpotHe got red of face as he said, “If being a Little Englander means proper weather, proper ale, proper footie, proper – I don’t know, you name it – then I’m guilty as charged.  Now I’m off to Rovers for a nice pint of warm ale and a plate of Betty’s Best of British hotpot.”

It was like seeing his father when Fred was being the quintessential “English butcher” in attitude.  Stan Ogden, Albert Tatlock, Ken Barlow’s dad. All were proud Englishmen from the the early years of the show.  All men happy to pronounce on what was right with England and wrong with everywhere else.

Riots – not Ashley’s England

Burning_car_Manchester_riots-(by-Richard-Hopkins)It’s ironic that this episode, broadcast in the UK in October 2010, aired 10 months later in Canada on same day as Salford and Manchester were going up in smoke.  The riots that started the weekend before in London spread north.  Young rioters smashing windows, firebombing cars and buildings, looting stores.  I heard a CBC radio news interview on the street with a young fellow in Manchester.  Everybody’s doing it, he said, so he had just joined in.  Wonder what Ashley – and Albert Tatlock – would have to say about that.

Show Jumper

Coming up fast to the fence, feeling the muscles gather beneath you, crouching low over Ian-Millar-and-In-Style,-winners-of-WEF-Challenge-Cup-Round-7the horse’s neck, then springboarding into the air. Sailing over the rail, touching down on the other side, horse and you regaining balance and cantering on. The exhilaration of flying. One time I did this.

I had no business jumping, in fact had no plans to. I was taking English riding lessons at a large stable. Lessons consisted of riding around in small circles, learning balance and control. I liked it; just being on a horse’s back was enough for me. I had many different teachers, all young women who had ridden since they could walk. The horse was often different too. They wanted you to learn to ride any horse.

One week, only one teacher was there. The others were at a show or something. She had never taught me before. Maybe she was bored, tired of watching incompetent people ride in circles or, with it just being two of us, felt like having some fun. She said, “do you feel like jumping?” I stared open-mouthed and said “I don’t know how to do that.” She shrugged and said “up to you.” I said ok. I’d never ridden that horse before either. He was a good choice. He knew what he was doing.

Jumping

Show jumping sequence over fence, DelawareI was like a floppy sack of potatoes on his back on the first jump. I’d chickened out several times leading up to that; getting to the jump, then losing my nerve and pulling him up. I daresay he was fed up with me and probably as surprised as I was when, finally, I let him keep going.

I remember the power surge as he prepared to jump. But I don’t remember the actual jump. I closed my eyes to keep my heart from stopping. I reopened them when we landed on the other side, both of us in one piece and me still on his back.

Then I wanted to do it again. That time was perfect. I made myself keep my eyes open 2008 Olympics poster, Eric Lamaze and Hicksteadand experience it. Riding Pegasus. It was bliss. I was Ian Millar and Eric Lamaze rolled into one.

Third time, I unbalanced myself. He jumped straight, but I came off to the left. He circled around and stood looking at me. My teacher thought maybe that should be the end of my lesson for the day. So I got back up on him – always get back on the horse – and rode around a bit.

After the Jump

I took him to the barn, took his tack off and groomed him. Then I went to my car. Standing beside it, I had no idea where I was. The barn didn’t look familiar and I didn’t know how I got there, or why. After a few minutes of concentrated thought, I remembered my lesson, the jumps and the fall.

The next week, I had a familiar teacher. She didn’t mention jumping and I didn’t tell her about the week before. I kept taking lessons, but never jumped again. My time as Captain Canada was over. But it was worth every second of terror and the concussion to fly that one time.

Coronation Street Scene of the Week (Aug. 7/11)

bring me flowers

flowers dropped to streetThree scenes Tuesday.  First, Chesney taking flowers to Katie, and her dad answering the door.  Flowers go to the cobbles and Chesney goes to the wall, pinned by Owen who tells him what will happen to him if he messes his “baby girl” about.  His daughters might think Owen is a Owen pins Ches against the wall“rubbish dad” but it’s clear, at least if you’re not his daughter, that he truly cares for them and will protect them no matter what.  Chesney got the message.  Didn’t stop him, but he knows to be careful around “psycho” Dad.

Love of Neil

Julie and Brian sing together in RoversLater, Brian and Julie in the Rovers discovering they are a match made in heaven.  They share a love for the music of Neil Diamond.  Discussion of the lyrics of his deeper songs leads to a little duet.  They beautifully sing the last couple lines of “You don’t bring me flowers anymore”.  John is horrified.

He had earlier spun an incredible story to former boss Brian about why Owen called him John.  Owen had come to John and Fizz’s to see if they knew what Chesney and Katie were up to in their house.  Brian, there to pass on a message that Mrs. Fishwick was looking for her son, was understandably confused.

So John made up a story about Mr. Big and a mob-style murder which he, “Colin”, had witnessed.  So, in DYI-style witness protection, he is living as “John” on the street and is avoiding contact with his “real” family and “real” background.  Brian buys it, in fact seems to quite like being part of such intrigue and Brian helps Julie pick up spilled shopping bagshappily goes on his way to “take control” and “reinvent” his own life.

He stops to help Julie with her spilled shopping, spies her Neil Diamond cd, and it’s kismet. John and Fiz spent the rest of the week trying to break them up, Neil Diamond cd amidst Julie's shoppingeven involving Brian’s wife Margaret and the imagery of Glenn Close as a “bunny boiler” in Fatal Attraction to stop this dangerous (for John) liaison.  I hope they don’t succeed.  I want to see more of Brian and Julie, they are just delightful.

Love of Jack

Then immediately after, at Molly and Tyrone’s, she is still absorbing the news that Jack is dying. Tyrone had to explain why he and Jack were at a lap dancing club. He inadvertently said the words “in the little time he…” then had to finish the sentence “has left.”  Shock and Molly embraces Jacksorrow show on her face, as does the love she has for Jack.  He comes in the room and she leaps to him, arms around his neck.  He says this is why he didn’t want anyone to know.  But he’s pleased and comforted by her embrace.

Finding a new Dick Francis

In need of a book for bedtime reading, looking through bookshelves – and finding a Dick Francis mystery you haven’t read.  That is true happiness.

 bookshelves with catI thought sadly that I’d read all of Dick Francis’ many novels.  Then, twice in a couple months, when library books were finished and I searched my own books for something to tide me over, I found unread Dick Francis novels.

I love mystery novels.  You get both a mystery and a glimpse into another world.  With Francis, it’s many topics but always with some horse racing, whether steeplechase or flat.  He was a top steeplechase rider for many years.  Then he began writing about that world, wrapping a lot of horsey information in a good who-dun-it.

I’ve read that mystery novelists are accorded lesser status in the literary world than regular novelists.  Like romance novelists, they are considered “genre literature”.  I don’t agree with that difference in status ranking.  In mysteries, I’ve explored human emotion and reactions, both good and evil, learned about subjects I’ve never really thought about before, and it’s all working toward an end – who did the dastardly deed.

Mystery novelists

Elizabeth George, Ian Rankin, Quentin Jardine, Michael Jecks, Martha Grimes, Andrew Greeley, Janet Evanovich, P. D. James – these are writers that I have devoured.  All different in writing style, lead characters, subplots and settings.  All have protagonists whose lives progress throughout the lifespan of the novels.  With them, after randomly reading one of a series, I went back to the beginning and tried to read them sequentially.  Among Canadian mystery writers I’ve discovered at the library are Lyn Hamilton and her archeological mysteries and the Murdoch books by Maureen Jennings.

Murdoch, a police series set in Victorian Toronto, has been very successfully adapted for television.  The tv shows go beyond the books and I find them just as entertaining and insightful as the books themselves.  Can’t say the same for the television adaptation of Elizabeth George’s Inspector Lynley series.  I enjoy the Lynley shows, but they are not as mystery novel and cat on chairrich as the books – truncated and not accurately reflective of the books’ characters.

I’m not fussy on the “cozies” – the Miss Marple-ish amateur sleuths (although I love the real Miss Marple).  But I love some village series such as M. C. Beaton’s Highlands’ Hamish MacBeth books.  I have no time for the young woman P.I. who never has any food in her house, but I make an exception for Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum.  Tiresome are protagonists who put themselves in trouble because they insist on refusing help.  I don’t like glib, wisecracking heroes or heroines. However, again, I love the originals of this persona in the novels of Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett and the incarnation by Robert B. Parker in his Spenser.

Twofer: the human condition and a puzzle

I like books that delve into the human, and societal, condition in their plot lines and characterizations.  All the authors I mention above do that, in very different worlds.  And, being mysteries, they add a second layer of information processing in figuring out who committed the crime and how they did it.  They may be “genre” but it’s a genre that gives you two stories in one.

Above are other really good mystery novels by great jockeys.