Sunday, September 16, 2007

Mysteries Behind Bars (or Barbed Wire).

Today's Washington Post ran an op-ed by Woodrow Wilson Center scholar Haleh Esfandiari, who was just recently released from an Iranian prison. In it, she mentions that "Georges Simenon's police thrillers ... made excellent prison reading."

It reminded me that mysteries often have a more far-reaching impact than their writers think. A fascinating article is "'The Greatest Morale Factor Next to the Red Army': Books and Libraries in American and British Prisoners of War Camps in Germany in World War II," by David Shavit (Libraries & Culture 34.2 [1999]). He mentions that the library at Stalag Luft III (aka the setting for "The Great Escape") included "342 detective novels" (about 18 percent of the entire camp library), one POW noting that "we could not have lived without books." The Oflag 64 Item (oflags were camps that held officer POWs) reported that the most popular detectives among these servicemen were Perry Mason, Philo Vance, and Ellery Queen.

More recently, it was reported that the most popular authors at Gitmo included J. K. Rowling and Agatha Christie.

1 comment:

Peter Rozovsky said...

I have read that Richard Stark/Donald Westlake's novels were popular behind bars:
Detectives Beyond Borders
"Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"