BLESSED BY BRITISH MYSTERIES

Editor’s note: Following is a page from my spiritual journal.

My energy reminds me of fireworks. Up, up, up it goes through the morning. Around noon it bursts quickly losing color and brilliance, falling to earth and disappearing. How-ever, replenishing my get-up-and-go with a nap ruins my overnight sleep. Instead, I watch a mystery on DVD while I sip a cup of after-dinner coffee.
Last year I finished all forty-four of the British Mid-summer Mystery series. In casting about for another British mystery series, I chatted with one of the library volunteers, a gray-haired smiling woman who often checks me out. I said, “I’ve finished all the ‘Dr. Blake’s. Not sure what to try next.”
The woman paused in checking out my books. She offered, “I really like ‘Vera.’ “
I raised my eyebrows. “Vera?” I like other mysteries this woman has mentioned. “OK!” Turning, I trotted back to the DVD fiction shelves. Eight folders of the series where waiting. They were numbered from season one to seven with four episodes in each. That’s a good sign. “Vera” must be popular! I checked out two episodes from the first season to get a taste of the characters.
One happy aspect of the Vera tales was the slowly devel-oping stories. The ninety-minute British tales were often made for the PBS (Public Broadcast Service) “Masterpiece Theater” and filmed with an artist’s eye. In these character-centered tales, the culprit did not appear in the first fifteen minutes as I noticed was often the case with the original, hour-long American “NCIS” TV series.
A part of the “Vera” that brought me smiles was the scen-ery. Detective Chief Inspector (DCI) Vera Stanhope lives and works in Northumberland, an English National Park. Located in northeast England on the border with Scotland, gray stone walls lined many two-lane, un-striped roads that wound through valleys between rolling green hills. Reminds me of my Ireland pilgrimage in 2002.

hadrians_wall
Hadrian’s Wall (an old Roman fortification)

The main character is at least middle-aged and makes no claims on being stylish. She also has no love-life to distract the viewer from the story. “Schmooze” might be a verb the detective could define, but no one will see Vera going out of her way to please bosses or impress her staff. Outside of work, the DCI is a loner. Unable to carry on small-talk, she avoids social situations. Vera is all about being a detective and solving her cases. Maybe I enjoy Vera because am somewhat like her: I’m at least middle age, like to solve mysteries, am focused on work and not good at small talk.
For a month I lost myself with Vera in Northumberland for ninety minutes nearly every afternoon. Then several weeks ago I stood at the public library checking out another episode. A younger-than-me librarian I did not know began scanning my disks. She said, “I like “Vera,” too. Have you read any of the author’s other books?”
‘Vera’ author? Books? I frowned, “No. Who’s the author?”
The blonde woman paused in the check-out process and glanced behind me. She probably wants to be sure there’s no line before chatting. She turned her eyes on me. “Ann Cleeves wrote many of the ‘Vera’ DVD stories.”
I shook my head. “I haven’t read any of them!” I stacked my checked-out items.
“I really like the ‘Vera’ series. The scenery is so lovely.”

The woman nodded. “I think I have seen them all. But, the author has another book series. It’s set in the Shetland Islands.”
My eyes opened wide. “Really?”
The heavy-set lady gazed into the mid-distance. “I think I saw books one and two in the back room this morning. Let me check.” She tapped several keys of her computer and focused on her screen. “Yes. They are checked in. Are you interested?”
I grinned. “Yes!”
The big woman slid off her tall chair, trundled down a hallway and disappeared. A few minutes later, she returned with Raven Black and White Nights by Ann Cleeves. She grinned. “Want to check them both out?”
Eyes bright, I nodded.
Smiling like a fellow conspirator, she placed the books on her scanner and handed them to me. “Let me know how you like them!”
At home that evening, I opened Raven Black and began reading. Used to American authors, I was struck with different punctuation used in Great Britain. I can get used to this. The opening page featured a Shetlander working in his “croft.” I know a croft is a small farm. The author wrote the man was “singling neeps.” Oh boy! Here I go with the English-isms!
While watching Vera, I had learned new words from the British Isles. “Kip” and “kip-ping” referred to staying over-night, “scarpered” meant “ran off” and “skint” meant “broke.” Mostly, I got the meanings of odd vocabulary without using Google for definitions.
With Raven Black, I was prepared to do the same thing. Since the man was using a hoe, I figured “singling” meant “thin-ning a sprouted crop.” However, I “neeps” puzzled me. It’s some kind of crop. But, when the word was mentioned again on page three, I got out my smart phone to ask Google. Google showed me a photo and I learned the fellow is thinning his large yellow rutabagas!
Continuing into chapter one, I tried to visualize the story’s setting. I figured the Shetland Islands were north of Scotland somewhere. They’d still have some of the warm current that keeps The British Isles mild. Never giving my smart phone a thought, I hauled down our world atlas and located the is-lands. I was surprised they were quite far north and west of Scot-land and located in the North Sea.

Shetland Island

My mental green-and-rolling-hill images from “Vera” did not work for the Shetlands which were described as craggy with ravines. This time, I reach-ed for my smart phone. “Hey Google! Show me pictures of the British Shetland Islands.”
Seconds later I had a choice of a video of Lerick, their tourist-centered area. The gray stone buildings and bright flow-ers in boxes and hanging baskets reminded me of older Irish cities I saw during my 2002 pilgrim-age. Other single shots showed tall grasses and land with deep ravines and gray-to-black stony outcroppings.
As I finish the second Shetland book which features a soft-spoken male, DI (Detective Inspector) Perez, I keep a map of the main Shetlands and my smart phone handy. I feel like a student again, learning geography, British words and slang.
Since my traveling days are behind me, I am seeing new places through videos and stories. In addition to England’s Northumberland, I am experi-encing life in the Shetland Islands where the sun doesn’t completely set in the summer.
Like so many threads of my life, I didn’t foresee how watching after-dinner mysteries would develop into such a blessing. Now, I not only get a little rest after our noon meal, but am adventuring and solving mysteries with DCI Vera. Evenings before sleep, I am in the British Shetland Islands shadowing Detective Perez – and learnings lots of British-isms!
My Higher Power supports me in mysterious ways.

Frances Fritzie

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