Following the trend of picking books up out of order, I recently finished Oxford Blue by Veronica Stallwood. In fairness, I wasn’t even aware this book was part of a series.
I discovered Oxford Blue in Blackwell’s, one of the greatest bookstores in the known universe. Located in Oxford, across the street from the Bodleian Library and History of Science Museum, right around the corner from my Oxford home, Exeter College, Blackwell’s has been a proprietor of the written word since 1879. I purposefully did not allow myself to enter the bookshop on a variety of occasions because I knew I would leave with a pile of books and an empty bank account. Let’s put it this way – when I headed back to the US, I had to buy a new suitcase and still ended up shipping 10 books across the pond.
Like many bookstores, Blackwell’s has a section for local interests – books written or based in the region or by local authors. I always love these sections. It’s a way to take a little piece home or to learn more about where you are. That’s where I found Oxford Blue.
It met my travel book buying specifications: Inexpensive, paperback, fairly small in size and interesting summary. I like books of all sizes, but one I can slip in my back pocket or into a small purse has my heart. I don’t leave the house without reading material, so I’m always on the lookout for a book I can cram into an evening back.
What I loved the most about Blue was the sheer Britishness of the book. Sure, it had it’s stereotypes and tropes like lots of books. I just loved hearing people talk about taking tea, have “pud” after dinner, the talk of going to Hall and wearing robes to dinner (a very Oxford experience). I go through phases and read writers from different geographic regions. When I lived in Nepal, I get introduced to so many South Asian writers I would have otherwise not found. I discovered some interesting West African authors in college and in high school, I read a lot of European diaries in translation. While each writer has a unique voice and style, there is a difference in region. Sometimes it’s how phrases are built or word choice; it may be the translation of the book. But the authors share their shared regional heritage. There’s a reason Southern Gothic is a style of American Literature. There’s an essence you can pick up when reading a book by someone from the location they set their stories.
Oxford Blue transported me back to the cobblestone streets of one of my favorite places in the world. It had the cozy feeling of afternoon tea time in the summer sun but had exciting twists and turns like the old, rambling side streets of the town. Blue is the type of mystery that’s solvable for the average person – there’s no crazy car chases or international plots to take down a world leader. It’s a simple, but well constructed tale about a writer seeking refuge in the country, away from her home of Oxford. Instead of just finding a place to rest, she finds herself in the center of uncovering what really happened when a local gardener is killed.
I like subtle mysteries. There’s a time and a place for thrillers that keep you up at night and have your heart pumping so hard sleep is elusive for weeks. What I enjoy is when an author makes me care about the characters and slowly builds toward action. Nothing out of the ordinary happens; just enough suspense to make me feel like I’m along for the ride.
I look forward to checking out the rest of the Kate Ivory mysteries by Veronica Stallwood. I have a feeling they will be my easiest and fastest ticket back to Oxford.