This blog represents most of the newspaper columns (appearing in various Colorado Community Newspapers and Yourhub.com) written by me, James LaRue, during the time in which I was the director of the Douglas County Libraries in Douglas County, Colorado. (Some columns are missing, due to my own filing errors.) This blog covers the time period from April 11, 1990 to January 12, 2012.

Unless I say so, the views expressed here are mine and mine alone. They may be quoted elsewhere, so long as you give attribution. The dates are (at least according my records) the dates of publication in one of the above print newspapers.

The blog archive (web view) is in chronological order. The display of entries, below, seems to be in reverse order, new to old.

All of the mistakes are of course my own responsibility.

Wednesday, May 13, 1992

May 13, 1992 - It's A Mystery to Me

Back when my wife and I were still courting, she made some disparaging remarks about mystery writers in general, and Raymond Chandler in particular. By way of rebuttal, my college roommate and I talked her into reading "The Big Sleep" aloud to us.

Zanne started in with a tone of utter cynicism, even disdain. The thing is, when my wife talks like that, she precisely captures the mood of Raymond Chandler. She sounds, in fact, exactly like Lauren Bacall in the movie also called "The Big Sleep."

She looked up once or twice and saw my eyes shining. Her voice lilted over one of those unexpected and exquisitely poetic passages Chandler tosses in from time to time. In just a few minutes, my wife-to-be fell for Chandler's writing in a big way. Saved our relationship, probably.

Or take Mickey Spillane novels. I never imagined I'd go for the hard-bitten, macho cop stuff. But I did recall hearing something about Spillane I liked. Once someone had referred to Spillane as an author. "I'm not an author, I'm a writer," he snapped.

What's the difference between an author and a writer? Spillane says, "Writers make money."

I finally got around to one of his books. It was "I, the Jury." I admired its lean, muscular prose, the tightly-wound plot, the impeccable characterizations. He deserved to make money.

I haven't read many mystery writers. But the ones I have, were terrific. As a child, I curled myself into the corner of 221B Baker Street, smoking an imaginary pipe and matching wits with Mr. Sherlock Holmes (and faring about as well as Dr. Watson).

Much later, in college, I stumbled across the novels of Dorothy Sayers. Her Lord Peter Wimsey and the winsome Harriet Vane taught me nearly everything I know about the English countryside and high-born.

Compared to many, many thousands of library patrons, I haven't even scratched the surface.

Mystery readers are among the most fanatical of all library users. They do not read; they devour. Their appetite cannot be satisfied. To switch metaphors, they line up for new books like stiffs in a morgue. (Sorry. It's the subject. I can't help it.)

They re-read the old favorites endlessly. When most of us want to get to sleep, we count sheep. Mystery readers count corpses. But while they're counting, they're turning pages.

Mystery readers are a big part of our business.

People who read mysteries tend to be a little sharper than average too. They like puzzles. A little excitement doesn't scare them. They're observant. They're thinkers.

So to thank them for their unstinting support of libraries everywhere, the Douglas Public Library District has decided to kill somebody.

Just kidding!

No seriously, I have been thinking that perhaps the library should be doing something more for mystery fans than we do at present. Specifically, I've been wondering if we oughtn't to create, at each of our branches, a separate mystery section. (And perhaps a separate science fiction section as well.)

Let's face it: this is a consumer economy. The companies that understand consumer needs, and set up their inventory to be the most convenient to those consumers, will do better than those that don't.

When you go to video stores you find everything organized by type of movie: western, science fiction, horror, comedy. Most bookstores group their materials by genre as well. Is it time for Douglas County's libraries to follow suit?

I'd appreciate hearing your opinions on this. Next time you're in the library, let any library staff person know if you'd like to see distinct sections for your favorite kind of fiction -- and what kind of fiction that is.

Of course, finding the space, re-marking, and moving all the books around won't be easy. In fact, it will be murder.

But hey, mystery fans, you deserve it.

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