Saturday, September 22, 2007

A Matter of Life and Death.

Little irritates me more than reading a review in which a mystery is described as "transcending the genre," as if we genre fans will one day have a "road to Damascus" moment, see the error of our ways, and, yea, verily, trod the righteous paths of "real" fiction thereafter.


Thus I tend to collect those accounts that show that being in the genre is not such a bad thing and illustrate what mysteries can mean to their readers. You may have seen my earlier post on mystery reading of WWII POWs. There's the woman I helped in the library recently who needed some suggestions for audiobooks: she cared for a bedridden elderly lady, whose greatest pleasure was listening to legal mysteries. There's the famous story of the nurse reading Agatha Christie's The Pale Horse, who realized that her critically ill patient bore the signs of thallium poisoning, which had been misdiagnosed as a case of encephalitis. Christie wrote about the poison's effects in the novel.

Most of all, there's this anecdote from Miracles on the Water (2006), by ABC News producer Tom Nagorski. It's about the SS City of Benares, which was carrying evacuee children from Britain in 1940 when it was torpedoed by a U-boat. One lifeboat was missed in the search for survivors, and its occupants (including Nagorski's great-uncle) endured a harrowing week alone on the stormy ocean with strictly rationed food and water, and people dying one by one.

Children were in this lifeboat (many of the children from the City of Benares showed more courage than the average adult), and their chaperone came up with the idea of inventing a suspense serial and telling a chapter each night, as a way of keeping the children, as well as the adults, occupied.

The star of this daily ritual? Sapper's heroic captain, Bulldog Drummond, pitted against nefarious Nazi agents.

It's quite clear from the account that the serial helped to keep the passengers' spirits up, preserve their sanity, and convey the message that as Drummond always triumphs, they would triumph too.

Not bad for a genre story.

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