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Wednesday 5: Five Sleuths with Day Jobs

August 3, 2011

I love reading mysteries where the central character does something other than solve mysteries. I think that’s the difference between a detective and a sleuth, maybe. Detectives seem to solve mysteries more officially, while sleuths have mysteries thrust upon them. Someone who has a separate day job and keeps stumbling across mysteries, while doing, or trying to do, some other career.

These spare-time, overwhelmed, unofficial detectives are at the center of my favorite sort of mysteries. I’m always going into Partners and Crime looking for this sort of book, but never sure what to call it.

1. Cherry Ames from the eponymous series by Helen Wells and Julie Tatham. Starting in the early 1940s or so, with Cherry Ames, Student Nurse, Cherry held down jobs practicing all sorts of different kind of nursing. Army Nurse, Cruise Ship Nurse, Dude Ranch Nurse, big city hospitals, country medical practices. And somehow, a mystery or caper always cropped up. Even in the jungle. A thief! A lurking stranger with a mysterious past! A stolen perfume formula! No matter what mystery Cherry was pondering, she always managed to take good care of her patients, and keep her rosy-cheeked composure. I still don’t think I’ve read all the Cherry Ames books. I keep hunting in used bookstores and garage sales to collect the set. Weirdly, I think they’re available for the Kindle.

2. Gideon Oliver, forensic anthropologist, created by Aaron Elkins, is not a detective. He has consulted by doing analysis of skeletons for the local police, and even earned the nickname “Skeleton Detective” in the press. He is definitely not suited for full time police work. I find it endearing that he gets nauseous in the presence of actual dead bodies. I am particularly fond of Twenty Blue Devils.

3. Carter Ross, New Jersey journalist. Carter Ross debuted in Faces of the Gone, by Brad Parks, solving a newsroom mystery (and the best poetic-justice murder I think I’ve ever seen) that extended out into the city of Newark, in a tale of violence and corruption. I’m not sure I ever actually met Brad Parks when he was working at the Star-Ledger, but I follow him on Twitter. And I think there’s another Carter Ross mystery out. Must track down a copy.

Father Dowling Mysteries Publicity Shot

4. Father Dowling, Catholic priest. Full disclosure– I haven’t actually read these as mysteries. I watched them on TV as a kid, and my fond memories of the TV show gave me the idea for this list. But- I’m delighted to discover the series of mysteries by Ralph McInerney, and I hope they hold up to my memories!

5. Hannah Lily, zookeeper from The Sloth’s Eye. She doesn’t so much solve the mystery as get caught up in its consequences, but the combination of interesting zoo trivia with a lighthearted mystery makes for a fun read.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. August 3, 2011 8:38 am

    Have you read the kate Fansler books written by Amanda Cross(Carolyn Heilbrun)? Kate is a professor who solves mysteries. They are very well written.

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