Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Eleanor Taylor Bland, mystery author

I love mysteries.

Whodunits and detective stories have been among my favorite reading pleasures since elementary school.

I remember a third grade teacher trying to dissuade me from reading Encyclopedia Brown books because they were below my reading level. I didn’t care one bit about the reading level – I loved those little mysteries. He was my first fictional sleuth.

And I read a few Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys mysteries along the way.

Because I majored in literature and eventually got a graduate degree in literature, many of my adult reading years were focused on more “serious” titles. So I didn’t read many mysteries.

A few years ago, I “rediscovered” my love of mysteries. I think the credit for that goes to Walter Mosley and Valerie Wilson Wesley. Black private investigators and rich storytelling, FTW.

There was only one problem. Once I’d read all of Valerie Wilson Wesley’s Tamara Hayle novels, I was jonesing for another Black woman detective to follow. So I went searching and eventually found a site that listed Black mysteries. And I began to read books by the women I found there.

One of those writers was Eleanor Taylor Bland. She wrote the series featuring Detective Marti McAlister. Marti is a widow with two children who is on the police force in a small town outside of Chicago.

She became one of my favorite characters. There are many books that feature lone investigators and detectives with no family ties or obligations. They endanger themselves and take incredible risks. But the inclusion of family life in Bland’s novels kept me interested. I wondered how the character’s life would develop and knew that she had motivations beyond solving the case. And I’m interested in how family life affects the character’s decisions, information gathering and thinking. How would a mother approach a case differently than an unencumbered man?

Bland wrote Marti in a way that kept her out of the cozy side of the genre (which is where sleuths tend to face those issues, more, I think).

Several of my favorite female sleuths face those family questions, including Marti McAlister, Tamara Hayle, Charlotte Justice (novels by Paula Woods).

Bland died at age 65. I’ve only seen one long obituary on her. It makes me think that there are many readers who have missed out on her work. And that makes me sad. I had to look for her work, but when I found it, I loved it.

If you love mysteries, female sleuths, stories about justice-loving working women - go read one of her books. Here's a list.

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