Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Alfred, Agatha and Me

There are few things I like better than a nice, juicy murder, especially if it has a surprising twist at the end. I like to read stories so scary I have to sleep with every light on, the kind that get into your head and won't go away.

I blame Alfred Hitchcock.

Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden books were my first introduction to mysteries, but it was Alfred Hitchcock's short story collections that clinched the deal. I discovered short stories when I was about 12 - DeMaupassant's "A Piece of String," Ray Bradbury's "The Veldt," "The Ravine" and his heartwrenching story, "I See You Never." I read every short story collection I could get my hands on, by those authors (although the Hitchcock collections only bore his name) as well as Isaac Asimov's "The Black Widowers" and Rod Serling's "Twilight Zone" collections.

There was magic in those stories that I still remember some 45 years after I first read them. I saved my favorites, dragging them with me to England and back, to New Jersey, Chicago and to Cincinnati. One of those books is Alfred Hitchcock's STORIES MY MOTHER NEVER TOLD ME. Grace Amundson's "The Child Who Believed" still gives me chills, and Bradbury's "The Wind" still haunts me. "The Man Who Sold Rope to the Gnoles" by Idris Seabright remains one of the scariest stories I've ever read. "For All the Rude People" by Jack Ritchie, from STORIES NOT FOR THE NERVOUS, is a brilliant morality tale -- every title in these anthologies brings back memories.

I need to go through these books and find the story I've been trying to remember, where the murder victim wishes for a smart cop, and the wish is granted. There's another story I'd like to read again, with a boy and dogs and a series of murders, but that one is just a fading memory. I've read so many short story collections now, it could have been in any of them.

For years I read all the Alfred Hitchcock and Ellery Queen mystery magazines, plus short story collections by Agatha Christie, Michael Gilbert, Daphne DuMaurier, Dorothy L. Sayers, Ngaio Marsh, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Stephen King, Frederick Forsyth and more. In recent years, I've read anthologies by Laura Lippman, a couple edited by Lee Child and all those Sisters in Crime, Malice Domestic collections - you name it, and if it was a mystery short story collection, odds are I've read it.

I read my first Agatha Christie, FUNERALS ARE FATAL, at age 15 while visiting my aunt in Albuquerque. That same summer I worked my way through all the books my aunt's friend Lois Duncan had written, including RANSOM. (When my daughter was about the same age, she also fell in love with Lois' books. Her favorite is DAUGHTERS OF EVE.) Not long after that, back in the Chicago suburbs, I was reading a Christie mystery when the people I was babysitting for came home. The woman - Mrs. Murgle - was thrilled, and promptly packed up a box of her Christie paperbacks for me. I still have every one of those books.

Short stories may not be as popular today as they once were, but they'll always be favorites of mine - short and sweet and scary as all get-out. And, in some cases, unforgettable.


jedidiah ayres said...

I'm with you Becke

Becke Davis said...

Hey, Jedidiah! What are some of your favorite short story collections? I know you love mysteries as much as I do!

Fricka said...

I followed you here from the Barnes and Noble site, Becke. I also discovered Nancy Drew and Alfred Hitchcock at an early age. I read every ND book in our town library, and borrowed my brother's Hardy Boys, Three Investigators, and Alfred Hitchcock Presents reading materials. That story you mentioned, The Veldt, was one of my first Sci-Fi/mystery reads, and I still remember it vividly today.
I went from there to reading Frank Herbert's Dune trilogy, but my real love was the mystery world of Agatha Christie and Victoria Holt.

Becke Davis said...

Fricka - I also read my brother's Hardy Boy books. I think I liked them better than he did!

"The Veldt" was so far ahead of its time, it gives me chills to think about it. I was hooked on Ray Bradbury and read everything he'd written. A lot of people liked his Uncle Einar stories best, but I liked the mysteries. I also liked the sci fi stories, which led me to read Isaac Asimov. I didn't know he wrote mysteries, too, when I first discovered him. I can remember one story that really hit me - it took place on a planet where it was never dark, as I recall. I guess it's no surprise I like sci fi and paranormals, too.

A couple of the first "other world" stories I read were Aldous Huxley's ISLAND (which takes place on Earth, but in an imagined society), Kurt Vonnegut's SIRENS OF TITAN and Richard Heinlein's STRANGER IN A STRANGE LAND. And, of course, Madeleine l'Engle's A WRINKLE IN TIME.

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