If you've been meaning to get in on the action, NOW IS THE TIME. As I've received so many lovely contributions (Did I mention that I'm totally still taking them?), I'll be running some of the longer ones over the course of the week, and linking everything up together at the end.
For those of you who've never been introduced, Jacqueline Kirby is Elizabeth Peters' wonderfully wonderful middle-aged librarian sleuth. She's a bit like Mary Poppins—the book version, not the movie version—in that she's crabby and bossy and a bit vain, but she's also fascinating and resourceful and so all-around awesome that you'd follow her anywhere, through fire, snow, or more fire. Also like Mary Poppins, she travels with an apparently-bottomless handbag.
She's also a bit like Chrestomanci, in that if she puts on her forgetful and/or vague face, WATCH OUT.
In The Seventh Sinner, the first Jacqueline Kirby book, SHE'S NOT EVEN THE MAIN CHARACTER! Which is so unusual, right? (And which makes me wonder if she was even originally planned as a recurring character: did she just TAKE OVER? I certainly wouldn't put it past her.)
Jean Suttman is a graduate student studying in Rome. Between herself and her six friends—they call themselves the Seven Sinners—they are a painter, a sculptor, an art historian, a priest, and... er... well, I forget the rest, but you get the idea. And then there's Albert, who all of them dislike intensely, but who insists on tagging along with them at all times.
One day, while they're touring an underground Roman temple... Jean finds Albert alone in a room with his throat slit. Just before he dies, he manages to scratch the number seven into the dust... but no one knows what he was trying to say. Luckily for Jean (and unluckily for the murderer), Jacqueline Kirby is there as well: because no one—saint or sinner alike—is any match for Jacqueline Kirby.
Is it a bit dated? YUP! It came out in 1972, which comes across in the cultural aspects, especially, and there are also some bits that don't come across as particularly politically correct. But is it still totally fun? FOR SURE. I love Elizabeth Peters across the board, but the Jacqueline Kirby books continue to be my very favorite.
A few of my favorite things in this one:
How we first meet her: It's the classic librarian-with-her-hair-down scene! Jean and Michael (one of the other students) barrel around a corner and run full-tilt into her, knocking her down. While Jean had noticed her in the library previously, she hadn't paid much attention to this severe-looking figure with her bun and her horn-rimmed glasses and her impeccably tailored suits... a far cry from the creature that now lies before them, with the whistle-provoking legs and the hair like "molten bronze" and the green "seawater" eyes.
Then, of course, she opens her mouth and she's wonderfully snippy and crabby (but not without a large dose of humor), refuses their help in standing and instead, threatens to lie there on the floor for the rest of the day.
The cultural and historical references, from the most well-known to the most esoteric: Jacqueline, as a librarian and a knowledge-lover, knows "more totally useless things than anyone you'll ever meet." She drops references without explaining them, and expects people to keep up with her... much like Elizabeth Peters does in her narration. If the references go over the reader's head—and it seems doubtful that anyone would catch them all—it isn't a big deal, though, as they're not necessary for mystery-solving purposes, and just act as little fun bonuses. Example: when all of the Sinners get introduced at the beginning, the Scoville siblings get described as having hair like "Little Orphan Annie, Struwwelpeter, and Art Garfunkel."
J. Kirby's love of thrillers: As she's a huge fan of murder mysteries, she references them while doing her detecting, and the whole thing gets pretty fantastically meta. ALSO, the book culminates in one of those scenes where all of the suspects get together, the investigator explains her process and then identifies the killer. AWESOME.
This: "I expected to be laughed at, but that didn't bother me; ridicule, as a weapon, is only effective against the young."
She always drags her knitting around with her, but she's terrible at knitting:
"It's supposed to be a sweater," Jacqueline said doubtfully. "For an unfortunate baby of my acquaintance. Not a grandchild, no. I don't think I'm about to acquire one in the near future. The real function of this mess is to keep my hands occupied so I won't smoke."
"I think you just dropped a stitch."
"The baby won't know the difference," Jacqueline said callously. "And if you keep up those smart remarks, I'll let you do it."
Every dude on the scene has the hots for her, but in her case, IT'S ACTUALLY UNDERSTANDABLE.
I could go on and on (yes, even more), but I'll save it for Book Two tomorrow.
Book source: ILLed through my library. (I totally own it—probably in triplicate—I just CAN'T FIND IT.)