Prof. Plum with the Rope in the Library

by Bill Peak

I take a reading constitutional twice each day. In the morning, with my first cup of coffee, I always try to read something that will really kick-start my brain, a novel or short story that promises to both get the creative juices flowing and—if I'm lucky—teach me something about life and how to live it. Rilke tells us we must learn to love and accept the questions life poses, but truth be told, I've always hoped to someday stumble across some of the answers as well. So, in the mornings, I prefer the really meaty stuff: Virginia Woolf, Wendell Berry, Alice McDermott, Graham Swift, Andreï Makine ... you get the idea.

At night my reading goal is just the opposite. Where before I wanted to give my brain a wake-up call, now I want to lull it to sleep. It has been my experience that nothing is more likely to quickly and effectively rock my mind into a state of restful slumber than a little hard-core murder and mayhem. I'd feel bad about this if it weren't for the fact I'm so obviously not alone.

Conservative estimate: two-thirds of all books checked out of the Talbot County Free Library are murder mysteries. The odds that any given Talbot Countian will end up a murder victim must be something like a million to one. The odds the book that same perfectly civil Talbot Countian is reading right now involves a crime of violence are better than even. I spent a fair amount of my profligate youth and my parents' money at Churchill Downs and I can tell you, that horse is going to win.

Interesting, don't you think? I mean here we all are, professing to be normal, law-abiding citizens, and the one thing we can't get enough of is books about outlaws. Do you suppose there's something about living in such a well-regulated, civil society that makes us all secretly yearn after lives that are entirely unregulated and uncivil? Could all those alter egos be serving as a sort of escape valve for us, helping us to blow off steam? Or do murder mysteries appeal for the simple reason that they are, well, so simple? The bad guy does something bad. The good guy goes after him. The good guy catches him, justice triumphs, the world is made right again, and we all live happily ever after. Oh that life could be so simple!

But whatever the reason, there's no denying that most of us like nothing better than to read about that most cursed and anathematized of crimes, the taking of a human life. So let's get together and talk about something really wicked! On Monday night, June 30, at 6:00 p.m., in the Easton library, and again on Thursday afternoon, July 3, at 3:00 p.m. in the St. Michaels branch, I will host a share-all for mystery lovers everywhere. I'll bring in one or two of my favorites authors, you bring in one or two of yours, and we'll each get a few minutes to explain why the writer we like best is guaranteed to send shivers up everyone else's spine. Who knows? We may all end up with enough frightening reading material to put us gently to sleep every night for the rest of our peaceful, perfectly law-abiding lives!