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Tillabooks: Will's Book Blog

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Bookmarked to Die by Jo Dereske

Bookmarked to Die by Jo Dereske. New York: Avon Books, 2006. ISBN: 978-0-06-079082-0

This is apparently the 9th of the Miss Helma Zukas mysteries. Inside the cover, it's listed as one of 5, but on the author's website, it's in 9th position, just before the latest title, Catalogue of Death. The 2006 imprint supports this positioning.

Miss Zukas is a librarian who works in the fictional Washington town of Bellehaven. I spent considerable time trying to decide if Bellehaven was supposed to be either Bellevue or Bellingham. Of the two, Bellingham seems the more likely, as there is still somewhat of a smalltown ambience to Bellehaven, and it seems to be on the water, with a port and harbor, etc.

I have to say that if part of the charm or attraction of a book is supposed to be its Washington State setting, then making that setting a fictional one, spoils the attraction, at least to a considerable degree. I don't want fictional Washington; I want REAL Washington! I suppose the author doesn't want to offend any real people and the invariable connections people would try to make between her characters and the actual inhabitants of said town, should she use a real one. Still . . .

In my case, I guess I have to be satisfied with the librarian/library aspect of the book for a direct connection to my life, since that's my profession, too. The author throws in bits of real librariana from time to time, such as this one on page 186:

The Internet has made it easier for people to find that information on their own,” Helma told him. “Our own library's statistics indicate that reference questions have declined since the Internet became available.”

She didn't mention that no long ago, when a patron approached the reference desk, it was in the quest for specialized knowledge. Now it was more often “the printer's out of paper,” “my computer's frozen,” or worse yet, “it's my turn and he won't get off the computer.”

The decline of the number of reference questions fielded by libraries has been well documented across the nation. Some libraries are exceptions to the general trend, but for most, the advent of easy answers vie search engines has taken its toll. But not all of Dereske's tidbits are so universally acknowledged. Take this one (found on the previous page):

Since the Bellehaven Public Library had begun self-checkouts, and patrons no longer had to show library staff the books they were borrowing, the circulation of genre books [such as mysteries, romances and westerns] had skyrocketed.

I read the general library literature regularly, and fairly thoroughly, and I've never read that one. But I have to confess, I'm not a member of the Public Library Association, and don't regularly read their journal, so maybe I've just missed it. Still, I think I would have heard of this phenomenon, were it really the case. So I'm skeptical.

Further, she sometimes doesn't take the time to get it right. For example, when Helma is Googling for some information (to her credit, Dereske doesn't mention any particular search engine by name, nor should she, without a substantial product placement bonus!),

In 2.43 seconds she was rewarded with 1,310,000 hits. A few more clicks of her mouse and there they were arrayed across her screen.

As any search engine user know, no additional clicks are required. Once you are rewarded with your millions of hits, at least the first 10 of them, more if you've changed your settings, are automatically displayed, without any additional mouse clicks at all.

But my basic problem with Miss Helma Zukas, and the reason I probably won't be back for more, library setting or not, is that I just don't find her to be all that congenial, or rewarding a person to know. Her personality seems fairly flat. She seems to let others walk over her, and is constantly being pushed around by her best friend, her boss, her co-workers, and other associates. And even though on the inside, she maintains her own views, and makes plans to do things her own way, despite what her boss and other think, we have to wonder how she'll actually manage to do so.

Even though, as suggested by a fragmentary review blurb from the New York Times quoted on the author's web site, "Jo Dereske's Miss Zukas is a loving sendup of the stereotype of the prim librarian" that sendup is a little too plain Jane, vanilla, milk-toast for my taste. Again, there are just too many books, too little time for me to come back for more, unless I'm really captivated, which I wasn't. Recommended for die-hard mystery fans, especially librarians, but only marginally recommended for the general reader.

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