Monday, July 27, 2015

Code Grey by Clea Simon

Reviewed by Jeanne

It’s spring break, though it’s a bit hard to believe with the chill in the air.  With Dulcie’s boyfriend Chris away visiting his mother, it seems a perfect time for Dulcie to put in some serious work on her dissertation.  Some have begun to wonder if she’s become so attached to her subject that she actually doesn’t want to finish it, which Dulcie finds to be nonsense.  She’s ready to make progress just to prove them all wrong.  Then parts of the library are closed due to water issues, and former student Jeremy Mumbleigh is found injured, clutching a rare library book under his coat.  Even though Jeremy is homeless and battling mental health issues, Dulcie can’t believe that he would steal from the library he loves.  So where did he get the book?  And more importantly, were his injuries due to an accident—or was he attacked?  Jeremy is in no condition to answer, so Dulcie recruits Mr. Griddlehaus, her librarian friend, to help find the answers before someone else is hurt.

The Dulcie Schwartz mysteries are perfect for those who love a good academic mystery.  Simon’s vivid descriptions almost make the college and its environs into characters themselves.  Dulcie’s long term (long, long, long term!) dissertation deals with the unknown author of eighteenth century Gothic romances, so the themes of literature and history loom large.  Code Grey in particular is a love song to those who treasure the physical book.  Part of the story deals with the history of publishing, the value of manuscript, and novels that are much more than they seem.  There’s a reverence that will warm the heart of any bibliophile, those who appreciate the physicality of a book: feeling the story flow almost through one’s fingers as the pages turn, appreciating the appearance of the fonts, the margins, the texture of the paper.  It was easy for me to feel a kinship to Dulcie, Jeremy, and the others who appreciate books as valuable physical objects—like gold or jewels-- in their own right. Just ask anyone standing in line at Trinity College, hoping for a glimpse of The Book of Kells.

Of course, no Dulcie tale would be complete without the cats. Esme is ever the willful young diva; she's perfected the feline version of a flounce.  The departed Mr. Grey still manages to dispense love and wisdom (sometimes couched in  enigmatic expressions) to his favorite human kitten.   Dulcie’s delightfully ditsy mother calls with difficult to interpret warnings from the psychic world. (“Ditsy” is not exactly the right word, but I do love alliteration in moderation.) Simon indulges in some wordplay as well, but let me hasten to add on a much more sophisticated level. For example, the passages from the Unknown Author’s work are affectionate satires of the classic gothic genre while reflecting Dulcie’s psyche. However, the supernatural elements are more for atmosphere than intervention:  the mysteries are solved through human means.  

For fans of the series, we learn much more about Mr. Griddlehaus’ background. The librarian has played an increasingly large role the books and this time out he actively helps Dulcie investigate.  He finally comes into his own as a fully fleshed out character, one it’s a pleasure to get to know better. 

If you’re looking for blood ‘n’ gore or car chases, look elsewhere.  But if you want to feel as if you’re walking the halls of the Milhorn Library or grab a bean burger at Lala’s while trying to sift through clues, then prepare yourself for a real treat. You may want to have a hot beverage at hand against the chilly Cambridge winds and don’t be surprised if you fancy you hear a wolf howl or see some fog drifting in.

Full disclosure:  I was sent an advance copy of the book for review, but this did not influence my opinion any more than does my love of literary felines.

BeeGee appears smitten by the cover's kitten.

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