Author Essay by Sarah Graves

Fiction - Mystery & Detective - Women Sleuths | Bantam Paperback | October 2004 | $6.99 | 0-553-58577-0

Sarah Graves
Photo credit: Pam Edwards
Like my main character Jake Tiptree in the Home Repair is Homicide series, I spend a great deal of my time fixing up an old house on an island in downeast Maine. And like Jake, I find the physical doing of the work tends to let my mind run free.

Stripping old wallpaper, I wonder about the woman who chose it so long ago. Did it look the way she hoped? Did she breathe a happy sigh to see it pasted up there so bright and new, this shabby, age-scarred, terminally faded stuff that I am now peeling unceremoniously off with a scraper?

How did she feel, that woman who when she stood here was as warm and breathing and fully alive as I am now? What did she think? Whom did she care for? And most of all, the question whose answer I can never really know: who was she? I mean on the inside—what sorrows did she harbor, what secrets did she keep?

Jake wonder such things, too. But unlike me, Jake seems to attract real secrets and sorrows, many of them deadly. So when she takes up a scraper or paintbrush, her mind runs to questions more practical and pointed. Like...whodunnit? And to her the even more endlessly fascinating and troublesome question: why?

Once that question happens, we're off to the races. Jake's not the most methodical of sleuths, caring less sometimes about the physical clues than about the emotional truth of a situation. She's not always brave, either, and certainly she's not always wise. Some even call her foolhardy, and as for physical ability, she can fall off a stepladder faster than anyone I've ever met in real life or in fiction.

But Jake has a big heart, and one thing she's not afraid to do is lay it on the line: for love, for fairness, for the bull-headed notion that when things go wrong, sometimes all it takes is for one person to try to put it right. Not even succeeding, maybe, or anyway not every time. Just...someone's got to try.

That's the kind of thing Jake thinks when she's fixing and repainting a 200-year-old wooden shutter, poking fearfully into a cellar containing a dead body, or tracking down the author of a murderously threatening note. Meanwhile, somewhat in awe of her stubbornness, I follow along, hearing Jake's voice inside my head and scribbling madly as she reveals to me:

How she feels. What she thinks. Who she is, really. She's been telling me for eight books, now, and she tells a little more of the truth every time, meanwhile flinging herself willy-nilly into the investigation of yet another bloody murder. Only when she's hip-deep in someone else's secrets can she reveal a further scrap of her own, apparently.

It's a trait I've learned to accept, perhaps because she and I are more alike than either of us cares to admit. So we go on together, Jake and I, stripping wallpaper or painting shutters, repairing window sashes or sanding floors. And as we do, we go on asking the same questions, too:

Who? How? And most of all, why?

Lately Jake's answers seem to be coming more clearly and honestly. I'm starting to believe we're really getting somewhere but when I say so, Jake only laughs.

Time to peel off another layer of deception...

Oops, I meant wallpaper.

 

 

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