My cousin and I are sitting on the porch on a windy day slurping bubble tea. We’re wearing old paisley bandannas (circa 1970s) to keep the hair out of our eyes while we pore over books for our annual mystery swap. My pile has surplus copies of Dorothy Sayers’s Have His Carcase and Busman’s Holiday, while hers tends toward Laura Lippman and Patricia Cornwell. We’re opposites, but we both do love mysteries.
We agree to swap Simenons: The Two-Penny Bar, a moderately enjoyable book in which Maigret learns from a condemned man about a murder committed six years ago, for Maigret and the Reluctant Witnesses, which my cousin (a librarian) stole from a discard pile at the library. Though I never understand the Maigret mystique–all Simenons are alike–at least they’re fast reads.
With some reluctance, I agree to part with one of my favorite Patricia Moyes books. (“That isn’t in my pile; you’re cheating.”) If you haven’t read Patricia Moyes, who wrote 19 books in the Inspector Henry Tibbets series from 1959 to 1993, I can affirm that they are utterly delightful. In the third book, Death on the Agenda, Henry goes to Geneva to a police conference on devising ways to stop narcotics smuggling. Emmy, his wife, goes along to see friends and shop. And Moyes, who once worked as an assistant editor at Vogue, describes fashions in detail: I yearn for the peignoir Emmy buys, a “white chiffon peignoir scattered with embroidered roses and edged with lace.” But the day after a posh party, Henry is accused of killing an American cop who’s suspected of leaking information to the drug dealers. Emmy helps Henry investigate, and what a web of lies, sex, money, and crime they untangle!
And so it’s philanthropy to part with a Moyes. This is such a fun book! But then we reach a crisis: should I trade my Janet Evanovich pile for her Laura Lippmans? I love Evanovich’s heroine, Stephanie Plum, a doughnut-eating New Jersey bounty hunter, but the titles, which all have numbers (One for the Money, Four to Score), are interchangeable. Which have I read?
“It doesn’t matter, because she eats doughnuts in every single book,” says my cousin practically.
We make the trade.
And then it happens.
A woman approaches. With a clipboard. That can’t be good. And before we go inside, she is upon us. She is campaigning for a candidate for the Democratic primary, and have I heard of Cindy?
“Which Cindy?” my cousin says.
The campaigner is startled. “There’s only one.”
“I’m sure there are two. Or is that Sandy?”
“I’m here for Cindy ___. She’s concerned about Planned Parenthood, the environment, and mental health.”
“I’m concerned about mental health,” my bipolar cousin says. “Does she know that a corporate psych hospital chain has been barred from moving in here, though the state has shut down five hospitals? And that mental hospitals no longer allow the mentally ill to smoke, or take supervised breaks outdoors?”
Now the woman is rattled. “Cindy wants to increase funds for mental health care facilities.”
“Sandy wants to increase funds for research for psychotropic medications that will improve the lives of millions of people.”
“I do agree with Cindy on the environment,” I say, just to cut this short. “I will vote for Cindy.”
The poor woman ticks off a bunch of boxes on her clipboard and thanks us.
“Now that,” I tell my cousin, “was outrageous.”
“I’m voting for Sandy.”
“Except there is no Sandy.”