If you will forgive me for taking yet another walk down the now dusty and slightly hazy paths of memory lane, I’ve been struck by another thing that appears to have changed from my childhood- or rather from my teenage years.
In light of all the other fancy distractions, teenagers these days barely read at all. More pertinently for the purposes of this article, they do not read mystery novels.
Growing up in Uganda, we were surrounded by books.
However two series of books in particular were treasured more than most- the Hardy Boys and the Nancy Drew books. The former involved two young brothers who solved an endless amount of crimes under the watchful eyes of their father who was himself a detective.
The latter was about a girl who did the same but virtually single-handedly.
The books had plenty of similarities- a seemingly insolvable mystery, danger to the protagonists and each chapter ending with a tense cliffhanger usually with the detectives being shot at or pursued.
I am under no illusions about how the books have aged. If I skimmed them now, I would probably find the prose stiff, the characters one-dimensional and the end-of-chapter cliffhanger a bit too formulaic.
However at the time there were few things more thrilling than immersing yourself in a world of mystery-solving. And now with the benefit of hindsight, I can see that the books had some transgressive elements that make them even more impressive.
For example, Nancy Drew was female and solved the crimes almost single-handedly with her bemused boyfriend merely tagging along sometimes- a situation that would have delighted any feminist.
Strangely enough, although there was an endless supply of these books, neither I nor my friends knew anyone who owned even one of them. It was like all these books were appearing from nowhere, and disappearing back into that nothingness as quickly as they arrived.
And while I might be accused of over-thinking this, I think the books were also avid promoters-knowingly or not-of vital skills like scepticism and empiricism.
The detectives went where the evidence pointed them, and they connected the dots using the evidence and the data they had drawn up during their investigations.
Despite being teenage fiction, it was quite scientific. Rationality was prized above all, and I think whether consciously or not we absorbed these lessons. Above all, of course, they were fabulously entertaining.
Mystery novels seem to have vanished from the teenage landscape. Of course everybody seems to have read Dan Brown’s ‘The Da Vinci Code’ but that book was the literature equivalent of a swarm of destructive locusts.
If it is not Dan Brown or Harry Potter, people don’t want to know about it. Of course different generations have their own literary preoccupations, but it is sad that these kinds of books have virtually vanished already.
It is a pity, because I think mystery novels were vital to us growing up- a source complexity, moral clarity and non-stop entertainment in addition to a welcome bit of old-fashioned wonder to our lives.
Minega Isibo is a lawyer