Living Columns & Blogs

From The Beacon: Find your inner sleuth in these mysteries

I find myself doing a lot of reading lately - just to relax and unwind after a busy day at the Bluffton library.

Of course, from time to time we all read for informational purposes and read books on topics that interest us. Personally, I enjoy reading well-written nonfiction titles as well as a good story. However, what I want to write about today is reading for pure escape. A favorite genre of mine for doing that is the mystery. I like mysteries that have engaging characters and plots that are not too dense but are fast-paced and keep the reader turning the pages, only to sigh with a little regret when the mystery is solved and the novel ends.

In her Benni Harper mystery series, Earlene Fowler writes very entertaining and charming stories about a young widow in her early 30s who is an avid quilter, curator of a quilt museum and finds herself a reluctant sleuth. Set in a small town in the central California coast, it seems that the harder she tries not to get involved in a local murder or theft, she ends up right in the middle of it. And when she meets the recently arrived interim police chief, Gabriel Ortiz, life becomes all the more complicated as they fall in love and marry. Her relationship with Gabe and her beloved grandmother who moved from Alabama to California are key to the stories.

Alexander McCall Smith is most well-known for his Ladies Detective Agency series, which is set in Gaborone, the capital of the African country of Botswana. Precious Ramotswe has started a detective agency in Gaborone, the only detective agency that is run by a woman. Her assistant, Grace Makutsi, is a good foil: she is less flexible and more suspicious by nature and takes comments and directions very literally. Makutsi also is very ambitious, and does not hesitate to remind her boss that she is very good.

These exchanges do provide some comic relief for the reader, although not necessarily for Precious. McCall Smith describes in a charming way their many adventures while pursuing cases. At the same time he provides a lot of insight and commentary on human nature. There are also beautiful passages that describe the geography and the people and history of Botswana.

Lisa Scottoline is another mystery writer with the ability to write a fast-paced and suspenseful story that keeps your eyes glued to the page, but your fingernails and heartbeat intact -- well, most of the time. She has written several standalone mysteries and a series, all set in Philadelphia (the author's home town). The Rosato and Associates series is centered around an all-female law firm. Scottoline, a lawyer by training, has a real flair for describing what it is like to work in a law firm, and the cases provide lots of exciting -- and sometimes dangerous and suspenseful -- adventures for the principal of the firm, Benni Rosato, and her associates.

Scottoline explores the relationships between Bennie and her associates as well as those of their families. The author also has written a couple of nonfiction books, one of which is a compilation of her columns which appear in the Sunday edition of the Philadelphia Inquirer. It's titled "Why My Third Husband Will be a Dog." Simply put, they are a hoot.

There are many more, but I have run out of column space. Now you know how I unwind after a busy day at the library. And, needless to say, I heartily recommend reading in general as a "great escape." Find a genre that you truly enjoy and -- voila! -- you have a guaranteed hour or two in the evening where you can escape the real world and live in the world the author has created for you.

Ann Rosen is branch manager at the Bluffton Branch of the Beaufort County Public Library, at 120 Palmetto Way, Bluffton.