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Where Did They Go?: Unsolved Disappearances

By Lon Maxwell, Reference Department

Everyone loves a good mystery. We love to hear the details and questions left. We love to put our brains to the facts and puzzle out what may have been missed. A small part of us hopes (however unlikely it may be)  that we may actually be able to find that crucial overlooked bit, or make that perfect leap that could bring the mystery to an end. It’s one of the reasons the mystery genre has been so popular since Poe created it, through books, radio, film and television. Sometimes though, the mysteries are real, the people have disappeared. I’m not talking about the search for mysterious creatures like big foot or the investigations of odd phenomenon like the Bermuda triangle.  I’m talking about the actual mysteries from the real world that puzzle investigators and theorists every day.

The Lost Persian Army

Painting of a Persian Army in circa 1500AD by Chingiz Mehbaliyev

Some mysteries go back in time, way back in time. For instance, in 524 BCE the emperor of Persia sent an army into Egypt. The emperor, Cambyses II, was attempting to solidify his claim to the throne of Egypt. This meant destroying an oracle and priests of Amun that declined his invitation to legitimize his right to pharaonic glory. To do this he sent 50,000 troops from Thebes in the east of Egypt into the desert. These were Persian soldiers and Egyptian conscripts, men used to the harsh deserts. However not a one of them ever made it to the oasis where the temple was. They had simply vanished into the desert. Theories have abounded to explain their fate for millennia. Herodotus believed they were lost in a sandstorm and the entire army is buried beneath the dunes of Egypt. Most recently an Egyptologist and Professor, Olaf Kaper, has said he believes they were slaughtered by the rival claimant and Cambyses just claimed they were lost to avoid the embarrassment according to some hieroglyphics he has just discovered.

Roanoke

John White discovers the word “CROATOAN” carved at Roanoke’s fort palisade

Let’s jump forward about 2000 years. While we are all at least somewhat familiar with the lost colony of Roanoke, most of us never understand the immensity of it. Sure there were other colonies that failed. The initial attempts at Jamestown collapsed. The Popham colony in Maine thirteen years before the pilgrims also ceased to be. There was even a late 1600s colony near the site of Roanoke on Colleton Island that ceased to exist. These examples have one thing that Roanoke does not. We know what happened to the people. Poor planning, internecine strife and fiscal mismanagement brought those colonies to an end, and we have the records, survivors and graves to prove it. Roanoke has none of this. Here an entire colony just simply vanished from the face of the Earth in the time it took the governor to sail to England and back. Governor White had gone back to England for supplies for the struggling colony and left 115 people, including his granddaughter, and first English child born in the new world, Virginia Dare.  When he returned three years later the colony was deserted. A fence post had the word Croatoan carved into it and a tree had the letters cro. All the buildings had been taken down showing it was not a hasty departure and no new graves were located. The agreed on sign that they were forced to withdraw, a Maltese cross, was not found anywhere. The people had just gone and, despite much trying and many theories, no one has figured out their fate in the intervening five hundred years.

MV Joyita

MV Joyita towed on shore after found drifted 1955 partially submerged and listing heavily to port side

Closer to today we have the case of the MV Joyita. This was a yacht built for a 1930s film director that was found adrift in the south pacific in 1955. But this was no luxury toy, discarded when the next shiny bauble appeared. This boat had gone from luxury yacht to U.S. Navy patrol ship to a charter boat for hauling or fishing. She was sturdy, despite some radio range issues and leaky pipes. She was found listing, but afloat, five weeks after and 600 miles off course from her last planned trip. She was found with the dingy, life rafts, emergency supplies, firearms and crew of twenty-five missing.  Not a person was aboard, which was odd considering the fact that she’d been afloat all that time. Here too you find a lot of theories, from injured captains to attacks by Japanese military personnel that refused to believe the war was over, but no answers.

Apollo Mission Goodwill Displays

Rock fragment (encased in acrylic) from the Apollo 17 mission to the moon. Donated to the State of Illinois along with the state flag, which accompanied the mission

Here we find the theft of an object. Not too irregular, right? Things get stolen all the time. How about when twenty-seven versions of the same thing go missing? Now we have your attention.  After the Apollo program managed to reach the surface of the moon, NASA put together plaques and displays of moon dust and a flag that was carried on an Apollo mission. They were made for all the United States Territories and States and multiple other countries as well as the United Nations as good will gifts by the Nixon administration. Since that time the displays from Brazil, Canada, Cyprus, Honduras, Ireland, Malta, Netherlands, Nicaragua, Norway, Romania, Spain, Sweden, Alaska, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Missouri, Nebraska, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, and West Virginia have all vanished mysteriously. Several attempts have been made to locate the displays but none have surfaced, not even on the illicit markets catering to less than scrupulous collectors. This is made more suspicious by at least five more thefts of moon materials.

While we like a mystery that ends with a solid resolution, there is something to the unexplained mystery that draws us to seek new answers and solutions. Maybe someone should write and unsolved mystery novel next?

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More than just a Mystery

By Lindsay Roseberry, Reference Department

Love a good mystery? Looking for a new author to read?  Since May is Mystery Month, you’re in luck!

First off, I need to tell you about a great database we subscribe to: Books & Authors. B&A offers new ways to explore books, authors, genres and topics. This database makes exploration of genre fiction and essential non-fiction fun! You can also look through lists created by libraries under Expert Picks & Librarian Lists to find new mystery genres to read. One of the best Books+and+Authorsfeatures is looking up a book you just enjoyed and finding a list of similar books and finding new authors to read. And you can access this list at home, before you come to the library, or go on READS.

There are another two great websites to consider when looking for new authors. You might already know about Good Reads for looking up reviews.  But did you know they have genre lists?  You can browse through page after page of books, read the blurbs and make your lists.  The second site we use often is Fantastic Fiction.  This is a great website that gives you series information either with an author search or a title search about British and American authors.

If you’re looking for new mystery books, try Stop, You’re Killing Me. It’s a great website for mystery lovers.  You can look for new mysteries by job (archaeologist, pathologist, farmer, antique dealer), by location or country, by historical time periods, by awards and by read-alikes.  It’s almost a one-stop shopping/reading center!Mystery

Most people choose what mysteries to read based on the New York Times Book List or word of mouth. But there are many genres of mysteries and many places to find more titles to read. There are police procedurals, thrillers, legal thrillers, historical mysteries, gothic mysteries, paranormal mysteries, cozy mysteries, mysteries set in foreign countries and in futuristic settings.

Cozy mysteries can be addictive. These are usually a series about amateur sleuths and you don’t want to miss one.  Some of the popular authors are Agatha Christie, Susan Wittig Albert, Julia Spencer-Fleming, and many more.

Gothic mysteries are usually set in a dark, spooky mansion or castle, with suspicious sounds and people. Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen and Wuthering Heights may have been some of the first Gothic novels, but they certainly weren’t the last.  Mary Stewart, Phillis A Whitney, Victoria Holt, Barbara Michaels and V. C. Andrews are preeminent in this genre.  Diane Setterfield, M. J. Rose, John Harwood, Kristen Callahan are more contemporary authors of this genre.

If you get tired of mysteries in a current setting, try a historical mystery. There are so many series set in the middle ages.  One of the best featured Father Cadfael, soldier and man of the world who became a monk.  Most of the mysteries take place in the monastery or on the grounds.  Another good series features Marcus Didius Falco, and is set in ancient Rome.  One of the most popular was written by Arian Franklin, who unfortunately passed away several years ago.  Her detective was a woman physician who lived under Henry II of England’s rule.

cadfael-composite

John Grisham made the legal thriller a genre. Everyone was pleased when he wrote a sequel to A Time to Kill. Other authors in this genre are Scott Turow and John Ellsworth and John Lescroart.  And we can’t leave out Earl Stanley Gardner, who started it all with Perry Mason.  He is credited with influencing many people to become lawyers.

International mysteries, which are set in foreign countries, are fun to read. You learn about other countries, how the police and justice system work and they are absorbing.  Just about every country in the world has had at last one mystery set in it.  The Scandinavian countries are very popular locations now, what with The Girl Who and Wallander series.  Jo Nesbo is very popular, and Icelandic and Finnish stories are in the running as well.  One of the continued favorites read is Donna Leon, which features Commissario Brunetti in Venice. And Louise Penny must be mentioned here again since her series takes place in the Toronto area.

One good example of a paranormal mystery series is the character of Aunt Dimity, a ghost who assists in solving mysteries. Barbara Hambly has a series with a physician in Victorian England seeking the assistance of a vampire.  Laurell K. Hamilton’s Anita Blake would fit here, too; she’s a vampire slayer.  Patricia Briggs has quite a following with her series featuring Mercy Thompson; Simon R. Green has his Tales of the Nightside. Charles Stross, Dan Simmons and Nora Roberts write mysteries with a more science fiction edge.

GreenSR-Nightside-UK2-BlogPolice procedurals are mysteries are solved by police as they go about their daily duties, working with clues, putting them together, solving the crime and catching the bad guys. The detective novel is similar, but the crime solver has a few more liberties, and we learn more about their lives and sometimes loves and if you have an amateur detective, those are often considered cozy mysteries.  .  Louise Penny was won many awards for her police procedurals.  They are also excellent to listen to.  Other authors to consider are Carol O’Connor, Ed McBain, Michael Connelly, and Bill Pronzini.

Psychological suspense thrillers are the ones you can’t put down and keep you up at night. Remember Gone Girl?  That was Gillian Flynn, who is a master of this genre.  There are other authors too; S J Watson, Paula Hawkins (The Girl on the Train), Iris Johansen, Lisa Gardner, Jonathan Kellerman, Patricia Highsmith, Henry James, Dennis Lehane, Tana French, Mary Kubica and many, many more.


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