by Marcia Talley
With the recent discovery of King Richard III’s body, I’ve been thinking a lot about Josephine Tey’s classic mystery, Daughter of Time, in which Tey proves conclusively (to my way of thinking, at least) that the much maligned Richard did not murder his two nephews, the Princes in the Tower. (Her argument is so convincing that I’m even sending a contribution to help build poor Richard’s tomb!) Tey’s novel appears on just about everybody’s “Best 100 Mysteries of All Time” list, and if you haven’t yet read it, you must.
Back in 2006, I was asked by Jim Huang to contribute to a collection of essays, Mystery Muses: 100 Classics that Inspire Today’s Mystery Writers. I could have written about Daughter of Time, which remains one of my all-time favorites, but there was another, less well-known novel that had earlier stolen my heart.
As the daughter of a career military man, I hopscotched with my family around the world, never settling anywhere for longer than two or three years. We rarely had extra money to spend on books, so libraries were my salvation, but most of the libraries I had access to were on military bases and geared for young men between the ages of eighteen and twenty-six, i.e. chock-a-block with westerns and science fiction. I never touched the stuff myself, and it rarely took me more than a couple of months to work my way through Margery Allingham, Agatha Christie, F.W. Dixon, Carolyn Keene, Ngaio Marsh, Dorothy L. Sayers and Josephine Tey down to Margaret York before I ran out of things to read.
In 1958 my family was stationed in Taipei, Taiwan, and as I moped around the sadly deficient mystery shelves, the librarian – a handsome young Navy Lieutenant – escorted me to the science fiction section and asked me if I’d ever read Heinlein. I’d never even heard of the man. The lieutenant handed me a copy of a book called Door into Summer and said, “Try this one. I think you’ll like it.” Years later, Door into Summer is one of the few novels – along with Tey’s Daughter of Time – that is packed up last and unpacked first, following me from Taiwan to California to Virginia to Ohio to Maryland, and whenever I lost a copy due to injudicious lending, it was the first to be replaced.
The year is 1970 and Dan, an inventor of ingenious labor-saving robotic devices, has been cheated out of his business by a crooked partner in cohoots with his soon-to-be ex-fiancé. Disheartened, Dan prepares for cryogenic suspended animation, but he won't do it without his best friend, Petronious the Arbiter, his ginger ale-drinking tomcat. So that they don’t fall into the wrong hands as well, Dan leaves the remaining shares in his company to his only other friend in the world, Ricky, his partner’s young daughter. Dan’s only mistake is in confronting his traitorous friends one last time. He gets the Long Sleep all right, but he wakes up dazed and blinking in the year 2000 without any money and without Pete. Following a trail of subtle clues, Dan figures out what happened, goes back in time and with several satisfying plot twists, takes revenge on those who wronged him.
Heinlein wrote this book in 1956, and in it he predicted ATMs, computer aided design, Velcro, Rhoomba's and even the drug Ecstasy.
Science fiction? To be sure. Few science fiction novels have explained the theory of time travel so well that even I as a teenager could understand. Romance? It’s got that, too, with an ending that gets me – right here – every time. But Door Into Summer is pure mystery, too. What else could it be with a cat -- another staple of the mystery, right? -- as a major character? Pete may be my favorite feline in fiction. Each winter, he howls at every door in succession, hoping that behind one of them it will be summer time. Like Dan’s quest for justice, it’s a metaphor for hope.
So Femmes, what classics inspired you to be a writer?