I know some people never read the same book more than once. I'm not one of those people. I have books I reread every few years. They're like getting together with old friends.
Mabel Seeley wrote some of the first mysteries I ever read; the ones that got me hooked on the genre. The books were my mother’s, bought way back when, when Pyramid paperbacks cost 50 or 60 cents. They were reprints from an older time--marginally historical--even then. They were, however, contemporaries when published in the 1930s and 40s.
The pages of these old paperbacks are yellow and crisp with age, and I take care turning the pages. And they are still page-turners, after all these years. The Listening House, The Chuckling Fingers, The Whispering Cup. I have six in all. They’re very evocative and I get a big kick out the dialogue, the action, and the lives these people led. Ms. Seeley speaks of ice-boxes and streetcars, and pay phones in the house. Water is often heated on top of a stove, sometimes gas, sometimes wood. They light lamps, they ring a central operator to place a phone call, just as described in my China Bohannon series set in 1896. In The Listening House, the heroine pays $4.50 a week rent for two rooms and a half bath. Movies and playing cards are usual pastimes. The stories seem more dated and less real to me than the Victorian era mystery/adventures (see Three Seconds to Thunder and Two Feet Below) that I write.
But here’s the thing—get readers and writers together and they’ll be talking about all the errors and typos in books nowadays. We’ll complain of poorly edited works and say, “The editors are all fifteen years old. They don’t know proper grammar and can't spell anymore.” But people, you should try rereading some of these old books.
The last time I read my inherited Mabel Seeleys--lo these several years ago--they seemed perfect to me. I didn’t notice typos and such. Now I do. Don’t take me wrong. I still enjoy these stories very much, but editing errors jump out at me like never before. On almost every page the same words are used only a sentence or two apart. Motivation often seems weak and a little repetitious. Dialogue is strange at times. Adverbs are strewn freely about; commas abound.
Oh, what the heck. I still love them. They send me right back into an era totally apart from my own. And I can never forget they’re part of what whetted my own desire to write. I just hope a few readers will find my own stories worthy of a reread a few years down the line.