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Thursday, September 8, 2011


Our guest today is mystery author Clea Simon, author of the The Dulcie Schwartz mysteries. Clea is also the author of the Pru Marlowe pet noir series, which began last fall with Dogs Don’t Lie and continues this spring with Cats Can’t Shoot and the Theda Krakow mysteries. To learn more about Clean, visit her website and follow her on Twitter @Clea_Simon.

Clea is offering a copy of
Grey Zone, one of her Dulcie Schwartz mysteries, to a lucky reader who posts a comment to the blog this week.
-- AP

The world of academia is usually a quiet one. Libraries, books, hours spent poring over old manuscripts… it’s not a routine that lends itself to murder. And yet, Dulcie Schwartz often somehow finds herself involved in crimes. Partly, as Dulcie – the heroine and amateur sleuth of Shades of Grey, Grey Matters, and Grey Zone – herself admits, that’s because of her area of expertise. A doctoral candidate in English literature, she’s studying the Gothic novels of the late 18th Century – books that are chock full of ghosts, demons, and all matter of nefarious crime. Partly, she would also acknowledge, that’s because her most trustworthy sidekick is the ghost of her late, great cat, Mr. Grey.

In her fourth adventure, the upcoming Grey Expectations (available December 2011 from Severn House), Dulcie tackles a mystery of another kind. In addition to missing persons, mistaken identities, and (of course) a dead body, this time around Dulcie has to help recover a missing rare book. The Dunster Codex (a codex is kind of the missing link between scrolls and books) is an ancient Anglo Saxon document, and one of the treasures of the university rare books library. One of Dulcie’s colleagues – the charming Roland Galveston – may have been working in the paper restoration labs when the Codex disappeared. Another – Dulcie’s good friend Trista – had already warned her that the priceless item was haunted.

Can a book be haunted? As anyone who works with antiques can sense, the history of an item can often be seen. The pages of a book may be faded or even damaged. The cover may be faded from being left, unread, in the sun. Scribbles from generations of scholars or schoolboys may mark its pages, and inscriptions may hint at owners or friends who purchased the item to pass on. But haunted? Well, in the magic of the restoration labs, anything is possible – and it may be all too likely that a thousand-year-old book has come in contact with human blood. Is it Trista’s blood? Is Roland responsible? Or are these all separate happenings that have nothing to do with one another – crimes that may not even originate in the same century? As Dulcie sees it, she’s trained to do research. Solving a crime isn’t that different, is it?

Books, after all, are not that different from people. And as Dulcie hunts for clues about the Codex (and manages to sneak in a little work on her thesis), she may find that they have personalities as well. A two-hundred-year-old letter, from a hero of the Revolutionary War, may offer a contemporary insight into a long-forgotten novel, while that book itself sheds light on the social mores and gender politics of a very different time.  For Dulcie, such insights are part and parcel of her work, and there’s very little she loves as much as time in the library with a good literary mystery. But if the quiet grad student isn’t careful, she could easily lose sight of what’s happening to the people around her. That’s where Mr. Grey comes in, bringing her back to the reality of the waking day.

Besides finding her missing friend, finishing her thesis, and – oh, yes – solving the mystery of the murdered professor and the Dunster Codex – Dulcie has some tips to share with booklovers on how to keep your own personal collection in what those dealers and restorers would call “very fine” condition.

First, watch out for extremes of temperature. Very hot and very cold temps may not be as damaging as sunlight (which fades print and degrades paper) or damp (which fosters the dreaded rot), but they can shorten the life of printed paper.

Second, think about how you are storing your book. Tall books like atlases and art books are often better left to lie flat than upright in the shelves – and make sure that the sun isn’t hitting those spines!

Third, reconsider those book covers. Plastic covers may actually encourage the growth of mold and mildew, since they trap moisture. And cardboard boxes or book covers made out of newspaper will likely have acid that will eat away at your books.

Finally, never EVER use tape to “repair” a torn page. The adhesive in the tape will damage the rest of the page. As Dulcie would tell you, this is almost as bad as dog-earing the corner of a book. Something, she is sure, you would never, ever do.

Great advice for taking care of our books, Clea! Thanks so much for paying us a visit today. Readers, don’t forget to post a comment if you want to be entered in the drawing for a copy of Grey Zone. Check back on Sunday to find out who the lucky winner is. -- AP


Liz V. said...

Sounds like a fun series. Best wishes for success of Grey Expectations.

Clea Simon said...

Thank you!

Dori said...

Looks great!

Anonymous said...

What a captivating series which interests me. Best wishes and much success. Anne. saubleb(at)gmail(dot)com

Anonymous said...

Excellent advice! I'm a former archivist/rare book specialist/conservator -- you're right on target with your basic preservation advice. Readers who need additional information can often get a little free advice from their local college rare book or archives librarian or from their state historical society. Also, look at the website for a regional conservation agency such as the Northeast Document Conservation Center.
Llyn K.

Patricia said...

Loved this post and tips about keeping my books safe. The series sounds intriguing and I love anything that has animals in it. I'll have to go to your website and check it out.
Thank you for writing this for us.

Anonymous said...

The pet series sounds interesting as I also love anything with animals in it. As for Cats Can't Shoot, they don't have to. They'll just open a vein with their claws and watch you bleed to death. I speak from experience as I need a transfusion every time I try to get my cat into her carrier to go to the vet.

Kathy Nycz

Susan Fleet said...

Dead bodies and rare books ... sounds like a winning combination to me! Good luck with sales, Clea.

Clea Simon said...

Thanks for reading, folks! I always follow the rule that I can kill as many people as I want - but no pets. Add to that, "and no books will be damaged," too!

Cris Anson said...

One of my peeves is a library book that has dog-eared pages. Haven't readers heard of bookmarks?

Thanks for the good tips on caring for books. And your series (serieses?) sounds good, too.

Anonymous said...

This sounds like it is a must-read. Thanks also for the book care tips/reminders!


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the good advice!

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Brenda P said...

These sound like great tips, thanks! I'm going to look into your book series, also.