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Tales of Travel, Murder, & Mystery

I’m always uncomfortable with the thought that I might have an unfilled spare moment. This contributes to my habit of always having something to read. My compulsion is not entirely unique. No less an author than Oscar Wilde put the following words in the mouth of one of his more pretentious characters.

“I never travel without my diary,” said Gwendolen Fairfax.

“One should always have something sensational to read on the train.”

Travel reading is less “weighty” than it once was due to the advent of eBooks. But its selection remains a delicate task. Do I want fiction or non-fiction? A best seller, or something from the backlist? Shall I engage my mind, or zone into oblivion? This is the run-down of my vacation reading. From Dark to Fluffy and back again.

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil: A Savannah Story by John Berendt was a best seller in 1994. Berendt wrote about people he met in Savannah, though it’s difficult to know how well they represent what appears to be an eccentric population. The central story is about Jim Williams, a self-made man accused of shooting his alleged lover Danny Hansford. He stood trial four times without being convicted; only to die of a natural causes six months after his last acquittal. While no doubt sensational, Williams’ story was less interesting than that of two other profiles.

The first was Chablis, a drag queen who played herself in the 1997 movie. The second, Minerva, a Voodoo practitioner who may have been based on a woman named Valerie Fennel Aiken Boles. It was she who went to the cemetery she called her garden at midnight.

“Now you know how dead time works,” Minerva said to Jim Williams.

“Dead time lasts for one hour –

from half an hour before midnight to half an hour after midnight.

The half hour before midnight is for doin’ good.

The half hour after midnight is for doin’ evil.”

Whew! I needed some fluff to counteract those voodoo palpitations and turned to Dorothea Benton Frank’s Last Original Wife. I like Frank’s books for their formulaic cheer. — A bit of Charleston SC, a bit of Sullivan’s Island, and a main female character who manages to become her own woman.

Frank’s women suffer from garden variety low self esteem. David Ebershoff’s 19th Wife introduces women who overcome a culture of strict female inferiority. Two Mormon wives are known as Number 19. The first is a fictional figure based on contemporary polygamous sects found in isolated areas of the U.S. A young man overcomes the odds to clear his mother from charges of killing her husband. Embedded in this tale is the fictionalized account of Ann Eliza Young (1844-1917), once known as Brigham Young’s 19th wife.

Ann Eliza decided to leave her husband. The fictional BeckyLyn returns to life on a desert compound. I hate it when the heroine makes what I think is a bad decision until I remember, the point was for her to have the decision to make.

By the time I finished these three books, I felt like Goldilocks testing out the bears’ beds. Two were too hard. One was too soft. I wanted books that were “just right” – mentally engaging, but still relaxing. The last two books did not disappoint.

Connie Willis’ Doomsday Book demonstrates the risks of time travel. Kivrin expected to land in Oxford during the 1320 Christmas season. There was a glitch, of course. She arrived at the same time as the Plague in 1348. Oops.

My last book was A Mind to Murder by P. D. James. Deft characters. A police inspector who sees too much of humanity’s darker side. A case solved. The perpetrator’s motive unexceptional. Will she be convicted? That’s for a jury to decide.

So, there you have it – two alleged murderers, one detective, one time traveller, three wives, one drag queen and one voodoo priestess.

How does your garden grow?

Illustration of the Open Book Icon courtesy of Open Clip Art Library, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Author Sandra Wagner Wright

Sandra Wagner-Wright holds the doctoral degree in history and taught women’s and global history at the University of Hawai`i. Sandra travels for her research, most recently to Salem, Massachusetts, the setting of her new Salem Stories series. She also enjoys traveling for new experiences. Recent trips include Antarctica and a river cruise on the Rhine from Amsterdam to Basel.

 Sandra particularly likes writing about strong women who make a difference. She lives in Hilo, Hawai`i with her family and writes a blog relating to history, travel, and the idiosyncrasies of life.


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