3 Quirky Mysteries to Liven Up Your Reading List, From Private Eye to Pigeon Pie
So here we are in the "dog days" of summer, feeling a tad damp and wilted around the edges. But your reading list can stay as fresh and crisp as the first day of fall with these three unique mysteries. Each one is delightfully different, and guaranteed to provide endless amusement in the hammock/armchair/beach chair of your choice.
Harry Lipkin: Private Eye, by Barry Fantoni
For those of you who are wondering why your parents bothered to shlep their car up north when it's just as hot here as it is in, say, Miami, allow us to introduce you to Harry Lipkin, the world's oldest private detective. He's part Sam Spade, part Woody Allen, all mensch. As handy with a .38 as he is with a tube of Poligrip, Harry is perhaps not the best detective in Miami, but his rates are reasonable, and hey -- what do you want from an eighty-seven-year-old man's life? Harry's latest client, Mrs. Norma Weinberger, suspects her household staff of having sticky fingers. Her chauffeur, butler, maid, and gardener all seem to have a motive, plenty of access to her home … and way more gelt than they should. Whodunnit? To spoil it would be a shande! But we can tell you that that nice boy A.J. Jacobs, author of The Year of Living Biblically, says, "I love this man. I want to eat blintzes with him and talk about macular degeneration all day. What I'm trying to say is: This is a seriously funny book."
The Pigeon Pie Mystery, by Julia Stuart
Let's do a bit of time traveling to Victorian England (no removal of shoes required), where Princess Alexandrina has not only suffered the loss of her father, she has also discovered that he left her flat broke. Fortunately for her, Queen Victoria grants her a grace-and-favor home at Hampton Court Palace (I'm not sure what this is, but it sounds quite wonderful, and I think I need one). Soon after her arrival, the princess is invited to a picnic and, wanting to make a good impression, she asks her maid, Pooki, to bake some pigeon pies. But after Major General Bagshot eats a piece of pie, he collapses and dies. Who poisoned the pie? A maze of suspects awaits you, including the ghost of Hampton Court Palace, Lady Montford Bebb, and Mrs. William Sheepshanks, who occasionally likes to dress up like a toucan. See? Quirky. If you loved Julia Stuart's previous novel, The Tower, the Zoo, and The Tortoise, you will surely want to sample a piece of pie.
You can also take a tour of The Pigeon Pie Mystery with the author, here.
Some Kind of Fairy Tale, by Graham Joyce
Also set "across the pond," Some Kind of Fairy Tale takes us into the mysterious place called the Outwoods. Twenty years ago, a teenager named Tara Martin disappeared after she was last seen in the woods that some people claim to be haunted. Police and neighbors searched for days; days turned into weeks; and after months and months, Tara's family finally had to face the devastating truth: Tara was gone for good. So naturally they are stunned beyond belief when Tara turns up on their doorstep on Christmas Day, twenty years later. Tara claims that if she tells the truth about where she's been all these years, no one will ever speak to her again. Even more unsettling: Tara barely looks a day older than when she vanished. Welcome to the spooky world of Graham Joyce, winner of the O. Henry Award, the British Fantasy Award, and the World Fantasy Award. If you like spine-tingling suspense served up with a literary flourish, then allow us the distinct pleasure of introducing you to this enormously gifted writer.
Tags:Barry Fantoni|Fantasy|Graham Joyce|Harry Lipkin Private Eye|Humor|Julia Stuart|Mystery|Some Kind of Fairy Tale|The Pigeon Pie Mystery|Victorian England
Harry Introduces Himself
Harry Lipkin. Eighty-seven. Eighty-eight next birthday. You think that's old? My mother lived to be a hundred and three. So. Make a note. Send Harry Lipkin a card and a box of soft candy. Something he can chew easy. No nuts. I don't digest nuts. Make yourself at home. Relax. You got some spare time? A little? I got plenty.
When I first started in this business, I rented a place in the center of Miami. Two rooms and a closet. I had a hand-painted sign on the door. Big gold letters: Harry Lipkin. Private Investigator. Standard Rates. It was on the third floor of a block on Camilo Avenue and cost me forty bucks a month.
Now I work from home. My card says 1909 Samuel Gompers Avenue, Warmheart, Florida. There's also a zip code I can never remember. Since no one writes anymore it doesn't bother me. My license I keep in the desk drawer, along with my .38, a box of slugs, my clothes brush, and a spare set of dentures. I might not be the best but I am certainly the oldest.
These days I deal mostly with the sort of cases the cops don't want. Cops want serial homicide. It makes them feel good when they catch someone. But how tough is it to catch a serial killer? You put his picture on TV. Nationwide. You wait. Ten days later a schoolteacher on her lunch break spots him. He's walking out of a Baskin Robbins in a hick town somewhere in Montana. That's him. The guy whose picture was on TV. Before you know it he's surrounded by a million armed cops telling him to drop everything and freeze. And then they shoot him. Ninety-nine cents' worth of vanilla, banana, and pistachio ice cream wasted.
You want to know about my home? The place I leave for the grocery store. The place I come back to from the grocery store. I'll tell you.
Warmheart is an architectural folly. A mix of Flemish and Florida. It was put up by a homesick Belgian called Herman Van Dood. He built it to look just like the town he left behind when the Germans took over in 1914. The houses are single story but with slate roofs thirty feet high. The incline is sixty-five degrees. Everyone else in Miami has a flat roof. You can stand on it and watch the sun go down. On mine you'd need to be a mountaineer.
Last month a hurricane took half the tiles off. Big heavy gray slate tiles. Van Dood imported them from Liege. They landed on the grass. They're still there. Some busted into bits. Some are half buried in what used to be the lawn when I cared about lawns. The tiles don't bother me either. But they bother the woman next door. Mrs. Feldman.
"When you gonna get those tiles put back?" she yells. "You think this is Gaza? It looks like a bomb zone."
I tell Mrs. Feldman I don't pay rent to climb ladders.
So. Here I am. No family and no buddies. Issy. Joe. Angelo from Napoli. Big Mal. Little Mal. Manny. Ike. All gone. My oldest buddy died last Purim. Abe Schultz. Born the same year. Same street. Abe's parents were Dutch Jews. Old man Schultz made cigars. They both had mustaches. His was a handlebar with waxed ends. Hers? Well. You couldn't wax the ends. Abe was a dentist before he retired. He made the spare set I keep in the desk drawer. He only charged me for the materials. Abe was that kind of a mensch.
People ask me. Clients. Usually clients. Clients with time on their hands. Were you ever married? I don't mind. They can ask what they like. I charge by the day.
I did try marriage. But it didn't last. I married Nancy. She had long legs and soft lips. Nancy was twenty years old when we got married. Just twenty. Twenty-one when she walked out. I came home one night late from a stakeout and she was gone. No note. Nothing. Just an empty clothes closet and the faint smell of her ten-cent perfume.
This office has a lot less space than the one I had before. So when I get a client I sit them in the yard. I got a little table and a couple of garden chairs. Plastic with cushions. Yellow. Bright yellow I can see easy. I picked them up in a garage sale. Three bucks and fifty cents. A table and two chairs. For another fifty cents the guy also threw in an umbrella.
Like the suit? I wear it to meet new clients. Brooks Brothers. Seersucker. Classic. 1953. Single-breasted. Loose fit, so the front doesn't go all baggy when I strap on my .38. Perfect for Miami in the summer. It is the same suit that I put on to meet Mrs. Norma Weinberger. Except there was no Mrs. Weinberger.