Common Themes: Mysteries and Cars

It’s a classic scene. The young woman is driving down a twisting road with her long blonde hair streaming behind her, and suddenly, she realizes she’s going too fast. She slams her feet down on the Corvette brakes, but nothing happens – the brake lines have been cut!

For my last “common themes” list of the year, I offer five mysteries with cars involved in them:

1) Swapping Paint: A Stock Car Racing Mystery, by Jim Lavene
2) The Muscle Car Mystery: From the Case Files of Private Investigator James Mitchell, by M. L. Angell
3) The Keys To The Car, by Robert P. Robertson
4) Last Car to Elysian Fields, by James Lee Burke
5) The Clue of the Phantom Car, by Bruce Campbell

Many car-related mysteries are in series, of course, and most seem to be targeted toward young readers, probably to attract boys to books (this is a guess), so I decided to give you a double list, and mention some of my favorite cars in fiction.

My favorite fictional car is probably the title “character” in Chitty-Chitty Bang-Bang, which was written by Ian Fleming, the man who created James Bond. His fondness for cool gadgets is evident even in this classic work of children’s fiction.

Cars in detective fiction include poor V. I. Warshawski’s vehicke, which is forever being left in odd places, and never seems to work terribly well, and then there’s also Harry Dresden’s Blue Beetle. (These two characters belong to Sara Paretsky and Jim Butcher, respectively.)

In one of my favorite books ever, two of the characters, Lily the female chessmaster and Nim, the mysterious mentor, both have ragtop sports cars and like to drive with the top down in winter, which behavior I completely fail to understand.

Although, I completely understand the appeal of ragtops in general.
At least, when it’s warm.

Home away from Home

If Barnes and Nobel was closer, it might well become my second home. It’s already my favorite weekend destination. Oh, we have a library in the neighborhood, and I used to be a frequent haunter of libraries, but used books smell funny, and I don’t like to have to give things back.

We have a new Borders that is slightly closer than the B&N, but I don’t really like it as well, and no, it’s not because they serve non-Starbucks coffee. It’s just…not as warm, not as inviting, doesn’t have comfy chairs, and seems too bright somehow.

I like Half Price Books, despite the funky used-book smell, because they do encourage lingering and lounging, but they don’t generally have cafes, and I think they’re the poorer for it. Books and coffee go together. So do books and tea.

So, for now, since our town lacks ANY decent independent bookstores, I shall stick with Barnes and Nobel.
And their green comfy chairs.

Scenes from a Bookstore

You’d have thought, by listening to the intensity in his voice, that the old man was trying to find a decent New York Moving Company willing to transport a grand piano between boroughs, but no, he was merely consulting with the Barnes and Noble info-desk dude about a book he really needed to have. “Can you hold this while I run to the car to get money?” he asked? Of course the answer was yes.

A bit later I approached the desk myself, asking sheepishly, “I need you to look up a title. I know the first four words are ‘On the beach with’ but I don’t remember the rest, and I know you hate it when people do this because I managed a bookstore in college and hated it, too.”

We couldn’t find the book.

It’s from an interview with Julianna Margulies in the December 15th 2007 edition of the American Airlines magazine.

Oh, well.


Hola, everyone. I’m back from Mexico, where I barely had time to read, though I did finish The Tipping Point, by Malcom Gladwell who also wrote Blink, and re-read a good portion of Anne Rivers Siddons’s Outer Banks because a weathered copy was in the casita and I needed something in the bathroom.

Bathroom reading is a thing. If you don’t do it, just nod, smile, and move on. If you do, well, you understand.

Friends, who were in La Paz for the holiday as well, mentioned looking at pens, and I remembered my grandfather once ordering a case of personalized pens with his name and phone number on them. I’m not a fan of ballpoint, being a retractable roller-ball sort of person, but I still have a couple of those pens.


While packing today I’ve been feeling rather like I’m planning an escape, except that all I’m escaping is the winter doldrums, and the not-even-terribly-cold weather that I really can’t complain about. I don’t really travel to escape.

I read to escape. When life feels like one endless treadmill, albeit one without the benefit of granting exercise or physical fitness, I pick up a good book. If I’m cold, I read about somewhere warm, if I’m missing the beach, I read a novel that takes place on the shore.

Sometimes I’ll make the bed with fresh sheets, brew tea, and read for an entire blissful afternoon or evening, coming out of the book mood as refreshed as if I’d been napping – perhaps more so. Other times, I’ll read in fits and snatches only, but always, always, there are words and books and pages.

It’s my favorite form of escapism.


An advertisement for Amazon’s “Kindle” e-book reader has me contemplating e-books again. I go through stages where I almost like the notion of reading via screen, keyboard and fiber cable, but then I come back to my love of printed covers and textured pages, and the fact that even the most expensive e-book reader isn’t designed for use while soaking in a tub.

(Not that conventional books are either, really.)

Somehow, I can never immerse myself into an e-book the way I can with paperbacks or hardcovers. It’s not the physical presence, as there is something to hold in either case. I think it has to do with the way we read computer text, not blinking fully and staring at certain parts of the page, being different from the way we read text on paper.

Or it could just be that I like the smell of paper, and the smell of a book should be associated with that papery scent. Dusty, dry, crisp, ancient, magical paper.

Sailing through the Pages of Fiction

At the dinner-party we attended earlier this evening there was some talk of cruises, and specifically Alaskan ones. We all agreed that a cruise of the Inside Passage would be fabulous.

On the way home, singing Christmas carols with Fuzzy, I thought about the collection of books I have that involve cruise ships. Most, of course, are related to the Titanic:
Something’s Alive on the Titanic, by Robert J. Serling
Ghosts I Have Been, by Richard Peck
Her Name: Titanic, by Charles R. Pellegrino
Futility, or The Wreck of the Titan, by Morgan Robertson
Raise the Titanic, by Clive Cussler

If it seems like I have an unhealthy obsession with that ship…I have no answer. I don’t really. I’m fascinated by all cruise ships because they are self-contained microcosms – floating cities, with all the services one might need – and both connected and disconnected from reality at once.

I don’t think I’d want to work on such a ship, though I do love reading about them (they’re the perfect setting for mysteries), but that Alaskan cruise is calling my name ever louder.

Uncommon Careers

I’ve been thinking a lot that characters in fiction either have very high-profile or very low-profile careers, and they’re generally pretty generic, so that if they need to plausibly have a lot (or very little) of money, the author can arrange that. You see lawyers, for example, but do you ever see a mesothelioma lawyer ? I never have.

This, then, is my list of five careers I’ve love to see explored in fiction (and not by characters only in one or two scenes):

  1. Voice-over actor. Cartoons or commercials. Either works.
  2. Improvisational comedian. I’ve played with the idea, but never really took it anywhere.
  3. Hand model. Because I can just see the “so what do you do?” scene.
  4. Sommelier. We see restaurateurs and wait-staff all the time. We rarely see the guy who picks the wines.
  5. Cab driver. They’re always incidental characters. They shouldn’t be.

What careers would you like to see in fiction.


It’s been cold today here in the DFW metroplex, and while our winters are nothing compared to winter in places like Minnesota and Ohio, for us it’s been a brutal day, made worse by wicked wind. I do not usually have a problem with cold weather, so long as I can be home, wrapped in a blanket with a good book, sipping tea.

Today, I was out shopping. Not fun, especially at this time of year.

Where I wanted to be was on a deck chair by the pool at one of those Condo Hotels where you own the space, but there’s still maid service and food service. I’ve visited such places (mainly near La Paz), and they are wonderful. My parents almost bought one, but decided to build instead. That’s fine too.

I have the book.
I have the blanket.
Give me some warm weather, please, so I can get back to the important task of basking.

Wanted: A Local Bookstore

Could someone tell the local real estate franchise folks that we need to update the shopping in Grand Prairie? I mean, we have a lovely Target in the same shopping center as Home Depot and Starbucks, but it’s really lacking a bookstore.

Oh, I know, there’s a Borders and a Barnes and Nobel just up the road in Arlington, and another Barnes and Nobel in Cedar Hill, but honestly, you should not have to leave your town to browse through shelves of books. is great, but it’s not the same. There is a special kind of romance in browsing through stacks of books, in picking things up because they seem interesting, in feeling the weight of pages.

My summer job during my freshman year of college was in a bookstore/cafe.
I think I never completely left it behind.