By Michele Reed
In the hallway of the old family home, where my son, Mike, now lives, there’s a bookshelf full of memories. Third bookcase from the left, second shelf down. Twenty-two worn hardcovers line the shelf, their bright yellow spines bearing the portrait of a girl peering through a magnifying glass, above numbers in black type, ranging from 1 to 55.
The titles will be familiar to many readers, “The Secret of the Old Clock,” “The Hidden Staircase, The Bungalow Mystery,” and so on, up to “The Ghost of Blackwood Hall.”
If you haven’t guessed it by now, it’s my daughter’s Nancy Drew library, painstakingly collected by Katie and me, scouring flea markets and yard sales, library fundraisers and used bookstores together.
It was a labor of love. Katie comes by her passion for mysteries naturally. My mother was a “Dragnet” and “Perry Mason” fan. When I was 10, you could always find me curled up in an easy chair or under the boughs of the cherry tree in the side yard, pouring over the adventures of the “Girl Detective.” I’d hand over my worn library card to the clerk at Carnegie Library in Amsterdam, New York, and she’d check out my latest treasure, which I’d carry back up the hill to home, anticipating a night of reading under the covers by flashlight.
And while I’m sure, like most girls my age, I fantasized solving crimes just like Nancy, Bess and Ned, I harbored a secret dream: I’d be like their author, Carolyn Keene. One day, I promised myself, I’d write mysteries myself.
Third-grade me wrote my own little newspaper, complete with a cartoon of two elephants, Bimbo (the boy elephant) and Bimbi (the girl.) Later I’d try writing plays depicting the lives of the saints, since that was the only kind we could put on at St. Stanislaus.
In college, I studied journalism, and got a degree in English and medieval studies. I’d work for my hometown newspaper, and later get jobs in advertising and public relations. For a dozen wonderful years, I had my dream job, editing SUNY Oswego’s alumni magazine.
For 40 years, those jobs and a busy family life kept me occupied. But as the years ticked by, I’d keep telling myself: “Someday, I’ll write mysteries.”
When I retired in 2013, I reached into a desk drawer in my little home office and pulled out a stack of yellowed papers covered in type. Some pages had handwriting in the margins and others had none. Many had corners folded over and most were stained with coffee rings and smeared ink.
This was the novel I had started more than 15 years before, when I took a mystery writing course at SUNY Oswego.
Since then, I’ve worked on it, little by little. It’s yet to be published, but I’ve been trying to work at learning how to write mysteries better.
I joined writing groups and took some online writing courses, one of which sent me in a whole new direction. A class on short stories hit a chord with me — here was something I could actually finish! In short, instead of novels, I started penning short mystery stories.
I owe the inspiration for my main character to my late husband, Bill. As we were walking our son’s 16-year-old rescue hound dog, Jerome, who plodded along looking miserable, Bill turned to me and said, “You should write a children’s book about a hound dog — Harry Jerome, the sad-sack detective.”
The children’s book never came to be, but when a publisher in England put out a call for detective stories, Harry Jerome, P.I., was born. Harry is a private investigator in Prohibition-Era Syracuse, working in shabby offices on the fourth floor of a building overlooking South Salina Street. He loves hanging out at the speakeasy around the corner. And some of his cases are inspired by true events from newspaper archives.
I could hardly believe it when that publisher accepted the story, “The Lady in Black,” and since then, two more Harry adventures have been published, and another couple are set to appear this autumn or winter. A few other stories, including one with a senior sleuth and quilter based on my mother, have appeared in different anthologies.
Now, in my little apartment there’s another bookshelf. And on it is a handful of books, each of which has one story by me. When I see it, I think back to a little girl growing up in 1950s Amsterdam, and her dreams of becoming a mystery author. And I smile, because it may take a long time, but some dreams do come true.
Since the “What a Journey!” column ran, I have received many emails, cards and letters of condolences from readers. While I tried to answer everyone individually, if by chance I missed you, please accept my sincerest thanks. Whether you wrote, called, said a silent prayer or sent good thoughts our way, Thank You from the bottom of my heart. Your kindness means a lot to me and my family.