I grew up on a small farm not far from the western shore of the Chesapeake. Summers meant daily hard work, up before dawn and out long after dusk, until the mosquitoes mercifully carried us off the fields. There was little respite for working kids who lived on an organic subsistence long before we ever knew what the word organic meant.
Some leisure time, though, was to be had for me: down at the swimming hole, scampering after the ice cream truck, badminton nets on the grassy lawn, softball with the flirty girls and showoff boys, cookouts under the apple trees; laying on the still-warm grass gazing up at the carpet of stars that blanketed the night sky and using my imagination when my mind was not otherwise occupied with work and play.
One of my favorite summer pastimes was reading. Living far from the convenience of our local library meant that we were dependent on the bookmobiles when school was out. It usually parked on the side street bordering the far corner of our property. Before long a line of kids were making their way past the bookshelves in what looked like a converted bus. We entered through the front door and checked out and exited through a rear door. We were allowed to take out six books that would be returned when the mobile returned a week or two weeks later. It was from the bookmobile where my lifelong interest in Victorian mystery novels began at the age of twelve.
Arthur Conan Doyle’s “The Adventure of the Speckled Band” was originally published in Strand Magazine in 1892. The plot was known as a “locked-room” mystery where a young woman consults the detective Sherlock Holmes about the suspicious death of her sister. The copy I checked from the bookmobile had the Sidney Paget black and white illustrations which were styled in form and character set in the late Victorian era.
As the story unfolded I felt as though I had stepped back in time 80 years before. I never lost that sensation of time displacement. As usual with me, the story ends too soon that left me only wanting for more. Over the next fifty years I have read all 56 of Conan Doyle’s stories twice. I hope I live long enough to give them one more once over.
When I arrived in Brattleboro about six years ago one stop on my first stroll down Main Street was Mystery on Main Street (http://mysteryonmain.com/), just up from Beadniks and Amy’s Bakery. Oftentimes since I would stop in and chat with David, the proprietor, and soak up the atmosphere from a kaleidoscope of graphic suspense and mystery book covers, vintage posters, games and other mystery inspired merchandise. If I need to rest my legs I drop by to spend a few minutes sitting in his bright comfortable lounge that overlooks Wantastiquet across the Connecticut River. There when browsing the books or relaxing on the sofa it wasn’t unusual to strike up a conversation with people who shared the same interest in the mystery genre.
It was David who introduced me to Victorian mystery writers Robin Paige and Gyles Brandreth. Like the Conan Doyle novels, Paige and Brandreth capture the era through some of the best historical mysteries written in modern times. As many of you know, David also supports authors, both local and beyond, with special events in his bookstore.
Located on the sunny side of the street, Mystery on Main Street remains one of my favorite spots to enjoy the vibes and character of downtown Brattleboro.