There’s no question that our area is the perfect setting for the Great American Mystery. Poptional Reading investigates
There’s no question that our area is the perfect setting for the Great American Mystery. Our bedroom communities are so idyllic and private that they invite crime writers to imagine the grisly things that happen behind our closed doors. Hudson Valley-set mysteries are a trend that have been going on for years, if not centuries — think The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.
It’s no surprise, then, that they often turn out to be good. Take, for instance, In the Shadow of Gotham by New York City/Westchester-based author Stefanie Pintoff. The novel, Pintoff’s first, won the 2008 Mystery Writers of America/St. Martin’s Minotaur Best First Crime Novel Award. What’s even more impressive, though, is that it’s also nominated for a 2010 Best First Novel Edgar award — basically the Oscar of mystery books.
And what lies in the shadow of Gotham? Us, of course. Open her book and you'll find descriptions of “the sleepy village of Dobson, New York, at the turn of the century.” Read the excerpt, and you’ll find a town — a mix of the middle class and the ultra-wealthy — shocked by its first real murder in years. As a backdrop to the action, “the cragged cliffs of the Palisades loomed large over the Hudson River, colored in the faded oranges and yellows of late fall.” Eventually, the action takes them to New York City and Columbia University, but the rest of it — even though it’s set in 1905 — still sounds like us. The Edgar Awards take place this Thursday; keep your fingers crossed for Pintoff so we can keep getting some intriguing little whodunits set in our area.
Speaking of mysteries, I myself am totally enthralled by the idea of The Clock Without a Face. The book is brought to us by McSweeney’s — you know, the brainy Dave Eggers and company. Though The Clock Without a Face itself is a picture book, the mystery should certainly appeal to adults: the story, about a clock (the “Emerald Khroniker”) with emerald numbers stolen from its face, contains clues that point to 12 real-life, number-shaped emeralds that are buried across the country. I’m convinced they won’t stay buried for long. Already, there are wikis and message boards and Twitter feeds devoted to the hunt.
Of course, the idea isn’t wholly original. These “armchair treasure hunts” have been around for quite some time. In fact, in 2004 another Westchester author named Michael Stadther self-published A Treasure’s Trove, a similar book with clues that directed puzzle-solvers to 12 jeweled insects. The hunt went off without a hitch, all 12 insects were found, and a book of the puzzle solutions was released. (One was found at the James Baird State Park in Dutchess County.) Unfortunately, a follow-up did not fare as well. Secrets of the Alchemist Dar, a sequel book that contained clues to one hundred real colored diamond rings, did not immediately sell as well as it predecessor. According to the Westchester County Business Journal, this lead publisher/distributor Simon & Schuster to use “Chapter 7, Title 11 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code as a means to force his hand to pay $1,961,257.80 of what it says it is owed or go into bankruptcy.” According to Luxist, the hunt was called off and the rings were put up for auction.
Does that bode ill for The Clock Without a Face and its emeralds? We hope not. After all, since Dave Eggers has a Superhero Supply Store and Nonprofit in Brooklyn, it’s not a far off bet that one of those emeralds will be buried somewhere in New York.
Are you, or have you ever been, an armchair detective? Let us know your progress — or just your favorite mystery — in the comments.