A MINOR CASE OF MYSTERY
Yesterday I finished A Minor Case of Murder, by Xanga’s own Jeff Markowitz. In
it, protagonist and tabloid writer Cassie O’Malley gets involved with a
rich guy, supports her slutty friend’s campaign for Mayor, and solves
the mystery of the dead mosquito.
I enjoy reading about Cassie because, like me, she’s a practical writer. She hunts down the story and writes it up without fussing about the low brow topic or the editor’s heavy hand. Writing is an art, yes, but also a craft. You have to make it useful to somebody, or you risk falling over the edge of occupation right into hobby.
Cassie writes for a disreputable tabloid, she pulls strings of
apparently unrelated facts together and creates a new though improbable
scenario. I was thinking about her as I
walked across the University of Washington campus later that day,
heading for the Health Sciences Library. I needed to find some articles to give my grant proposals a fresh dose of statistics.
love the campus on Sundays, because the hordes of cell-phone-addicted
undergrads are all at home nursing their hangovers, so only the scads
of trees overhanging the untidy expanses of grass block my path. The
UW’s web site had informed me that the library was open, but when I
reached the Health Sciences building, I found the door locked.
An intrepid reporter like Cassie would not only find her way in, but would keep an eye out for little blue men with big heads. Perhaps she would do what I did—walk in on the heels of a grad student with a key. What purpose did it serve, I wondered, to have the library open but restrict access to the building? What kind of research were the health sci students conducting in there on weekends?
To further my suspicions, I found that the library entrance I used in my own grad school days no longer existed. In fact, the new entrance to the library was on a completely different floor. Why did they move it, and what’s going on behind the old door?
After dropping a bunch of change into the photocopy machine, I took my documents and tried to leave. As
it turned out, multiple interior doors were also locked, forcing me to
the exit preferred by the administration and deepening my sense of
I headed up to the Social Work library, about a half mile uphill. Puffing a bit from exertion, I tried the door on the south end of the building. Locked. A posted sign informed me that the Social Work building was closed on Sundays. Balderdash, I said.
I hiked a little further up the hill to the north end of the building. The sign there listed Sunday hours as 1:00-6:00. The door swung open. Inside I found a group of four earnest scholars having a lively discussion round a table. Looking south down the large hallway I saw the locked door. I considered propping it open.
I went upstairs to the small, silent library where I found the
periodicals I sought and annoyed a number of studying students by
clunking change and swearing at the ill-behaved copy machine. When
I returned to the ground floor, the scholars at the round table stopped
talking and stared at me, uneasily I thought, until I’d left the
building. What did those Social Work students have to hide?
Were I a mystery writer, I feel quite sure I would have stumbled upon a dead body on my way back to my car. Were
I a tabloid writer, I would’ve dashed off an article explaining the
insidious purpose of the goings on at the UW as soon as I got my hands
on my keyboard. But I am a grant writer, so
I went home and read about the effects of stable housing upon the
health outcomes and emergency service use of people with AIDS. I’m a practical writer, and that’s my job.
Note to gadget freaks: Go see my husband’s new toy.