Monday, July 11, 2011

Dead Indeed by M. R. Hodgkin

All of New York's publishing world has turned out to the celebration at the New York Public Library - a new children's book award is set to be announced. It might not have the prestige of the Caldecott or the Newbery, but with a $5000 cheque attached to it, it's certainly attracted the attention of the book industry. Before long, however, the winner will be found dead on a couch in his publishers' offices. Little things had been going wrong at Brewin Books - missing papers, destroyed illustrations - but has someone escalated to murder? Everyone is a suspect, and many people had a motive for wanting the illustrator dead. Will the murderer be discovered before he - or she - strikes again?

I loved all of the bookishness of this book. The opening scene set in the New York Public Library, the discussions about Caldecotts and Newberys, dealing with the slush pile of manuscripts - in many ways this is a perfect mystery for librarians, book sellers, and anyone in publishing. And therein lies the problem (too strong? the issue, then) of books that are so clearly from another time. Several passages reveal attitudes and vocabulary about race that was quite shocking to me. Additionally, there was a casual sexism that just ran through the workplace scenes, even though there were many women in leadership positions (and the author is a woman). There's also a smallish subplot about one of the authors who is harassing one of the women, but it turns out okay, because it's true love after all. Of course, it's important to recognize works in their proper context, and I'm not saying to never read things that have any difficult content, but how do you recommend that someone read this? I guess with caveats like the ones I've just written. It's interesting to think about, especially given the books (Little House on the Prairie comes to mind) that live in public libraries.

See more at A Fuse #8 Production and Collecting Children's Books. That's where I first learned about this book, and I knew I had to read it. A few short weeks later, through the magic of interlibrary loans, I had it in my hands.

Read it with:
Dear Genius: The Letters of Ursula Nordstrom by Ursula Nordstrom
Student Body by M. R. Hodgkin
And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie

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