Growing up in the 1970's feels as if my generation was the last one to have a truly nostalgic sense of time and place. The innocence of the 1950's may have been lost. The changing times of the 1960's had passed. An era of 'new and improved' was upon us. It was a generation that fell in love with Hostess Fruit Pies, Pet Rocks, Big Wheels and waking up on Saturday mornings to watch "Super friends' in the Hall of Justice on color TV. Our mothers wore long, wildly printed Maxi-dresses with platform heels. Our fathers eschewed ties and wore open neck shirts. Evil Knievel attempted to jump to Snake River Canyon. Nadia Comaneci was cheered on for Olympic Gold in gymnastics. But, most of all, I remember an enormous treat that happened every weekend: the NBC Friday Night Mystery. It was a huge thrill to stay up way past my bedtime and get to watch MacCloud, MacMillian & Wife and the other thriller series that would take turns airing each weekend. These one hour programs would always reveal an underlying plot, solved bravely by our heroes, who were really just 'regular folks' trying to do the right thing. TV shows today don't have the same innocent, but multi-layered, approach to mystery. We are now told, in graphic detail, by forensic specialists, what happened. The only question remaining today is: "What techniques will they use in the lab?".
In the great spirit of well told stories, underlying character traits, hidden agendas and the need to dig for clues on a personal level, comes "A House to Die For" by Vicki Doudera. Doudera has authored several excellent non-fiction books, worked as a freelance magazine writer, has owned and run a successful Inn, and has worked in selling luxury real estate. Her varied life experience has brought a wonderful amount of charm, perspective, humor and knowledge to her first mystery novel. In many ways, Doudera's book, "A House to Die For", reminds me of those Friday Night mysteries that I grew up watching...or even a Nancy Drew for grown ups. This book is deeply compelling, sensual, entertaining and amusing. But, its style hearkens back to a time that didn't overwhelm the reader (or viewer) with horrific 'too much information' about the wounds on the victims. The protagonist, Darby Farr, solves the mysteries the old fashioned way: good old sleuthing. She asks questions, she digs deeper into all possibilities and rather than relying on crime scene lab, she goes to people's homes and asks questions. Is she a criminologist, working for a secret government agency? Nope. Darby Farr is a realtor...and just like Nancy Drew, just can't help but solve the mystery of the deadly, historic Victorian house on the point.
Comparisons to Nancy Drew aside, "A House to Die For" is *not* a children's book. It's a well written, imaginative grown up novel. However, the style and prose reminded me so strongly of the mysteries I grew up loving, I couldn't help but make the connection. It's a read for a rainy day, with a cup of tea, and a roaring fire. It's a novel to immerse yourself in, on a beach on vacation. It's a step back, nostalgically, because it's not an onslaught to the senses. It manages to be thrilling, and takes unexpected twists along the way. But, "A House to Die For" is not brutal in the way that a Lee Child or Robert Crais novel might be.
Mysteries are compelling for most of us. We all love unsolved puzzles and we admire the intelligent truth seekers who can ferret out the truth. Above all, we love being privy to the process surrounding the "whodonit". Since very few people will actually pursue investigation as a career, it's