Mysteries to Go

Guest poster Michele Braun says, “It all started with The Hound of the Baskervilles.”

It was spring vacation—a chilly spring, as I recall.  We were planning a road trip across Pennsylvania, about 400 miles each way, plus stops at Fallingwater and the Flight 93 Memorial.  I needed something that would entertain my husband, who prefers histories, philosophy, or John le Carre spy novels, as well as my almost-10-years-old daughter with a very strong preference for fantasy and classic fiction.  Not much overlap there.

I despaired as I scanned the shelves of books on disks at our local public library.  It’s a good selection but what would the whole family enjoy?  Then I found the shelf with recordings of several Sherlock Holmes books.  I knew that these would be new to my daughter, and I hadn’t read any in decades, so I checked out The Hound of the Baskervilles, and a new family tradition was born.  

As a family, we weren’t new to audio books.  Anne of Green Gables, Misty of Chincoteague, and Harry Potter had gotten my daughter and me through many long drives.  Satisfying everyone in the family, however, was a challenge:  The road trip accompanied by Theodore Rex, the many-disk biography of Theodore Roosevelt, had not met with car-wide acclaim.  Frankly, it had put me to sleep.  But Sherlock Holmes?  Just maybe.

Stop the disk! I know the solution.”

To my delight, everyone liked the story.  (There’s a reason that it is a classic!)  To my surprise, though, we started arguing about the mystery.  Ok, maybe not arguing;  does “enthusiastically discussing” sound better?  What I mean is that we ended up in long discussions about who “did it.”  “Wait,” one of us would call out.  “Stop the disk!  I know the solution.”  And then explain his/her analysis.  “No,” another one of us would reply.  “That won’t work, you forgot about…”  Lunch stops and restaurant dinners were filled with detailed discussions of plot twists, character analysis, review of the clues, and, frankly, some pretty bizarre theories.  

We were not just listening to an entertaining story.  

We were LISTENING. We were HEARING. We were thoroughly and delightfully engaged.”

Ever since, for family trips, we bring along (recorded) mystery books:  Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, very early John le Carré, to name a few favorite authors.  We particularly enjoy the Rumpole of the Bailey books, and my daughter has learned about the Magna Carta and the old saw that “if the facts are against you, argue the law.  If the law is against you, argue the facts.  If the law and the facts are against you, pound the table and yell like hell.”  Rumpole is a great table pounder!

Now, anyone in the car has the right to call out “stop the disk” and propose a solution.  But that person had better be prepared to defend the solution, and the discussions can get pretty intense.  Sometimes the analyses, the proposing of “solutions” starts in the first chapter of the book—right after the break in or the finding of a body in the library and long before most clues are revealed.

I’m pretty sure I can make the case for pedagogical value in this:  reading, close listening, proposing and defending analyses, good family interactions.  Mostly, though, I want to make the case that this is fun for all of us.  My conclusion?  Do try this at home!


Michele’s recommendations for further listening:

The Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle 

Murder on the Orient Express, by Agatha Christie, and her other mysteries featuring Hercule Poirot

Interested in very early John le Carré? Try A Call for the Dead

Murder Must Advertise,  Dorothy L. Sayers

Rumpole of the Bailey, by John Mortimer


Michele says, “At bedtime, my mother would read to us. I favored Beatrix Potter and Madeline, while my brother requested the nonfiction Microbe Hunters. Summers during junior and senior high school, my mother would insist that I not spend my ‘down time’ sprawled on the couch; I should go outside.  So I’d take my book to the lounge chair out back, but never stop reading. Since my daughter was born, I’ve read thousands, maybe tens of thousands, of pages to her, rediscovering old favorites and exploring new stories and worlds together.”

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