Growing up I was exposed to a steady stream of murder and mystery courtesy of my mother. Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple. Sherlock Holmes and Watson. Charlie Chan. Ellery Queen. And the one I truly dreaded: Jessica Fletcher. Each Sunday evening we watched the Cabot Cove, Maine mystery writer amateur sleuthing her way to the gal or guy who committed the dastardly deed. And I hated it. About the only thing I liked of the program was the catchy opening theme song and the bit where you see JB Fletcher tapping the keys on her typewriter. The rest of it bored me to tears.
Now that I’m in my 40s, whenever I find myself near the mystery section in a bookstore I think of my mom and eagerly peruse the tomes in front of me, remembering those Sunday nights and my mother’s love for a good mystery novel or TV program. Her yen for Murder She Wrote might not have rubbed off on me, but the rest certainly did, so when I arrived in Hay-on-Wye and discovered Murder and Mayhem I had to pay a visit.
On one of the rainy mornings during my week-long stay I spent 45 minutes to an hour looking through book cases filled with soft and hardcover Agatha Christie’s, the collected tales of Sherlock Holmes, a plethora of riffs on Jack The Ripper, and a historical tome on the diets of prison inmates. The proprieter of the shop was either on the phone or talking to other customers so I was able to enjoy my browsing without interruption, floorboards creaking as I walked from room to room and up and down the steep old stairs, posters and wall art and decorative displays creating an experience versus a simple act of book finding and purchase.
It wasn’t until I was ready to walk out the door that I spied what I knew I could not do without: legend of the Old Bailey Horace Rumpole, in a hardcover. Thanks to PBS I grew up watching him brought to life on screen by Leo McKern. I didn’t know until recently that writer and barrister John Mortimer actually created the TV series first and the short stories and books came after. I also didn’t realize until I got my purchase back to the cottage I had rented that my book was signed by Mortimer. Fancy that.