Around the Island

The Library’s Mysterious Book Club, where things may not be as they seem

The meetings of the Shelter Island Intelligence Network were rarely held in secret.

Hiding in plain sight, a seemingly random collection of local women gathered at the Library, exchanging vital information under the guise of the Mystery Book Club. The spymaster had a perfect cover as the research librarian, adept at extracting little-known facts from exotic and esoteric sources.

The club gathered last week with the Andrew Wilson novel, “Death in a Desert Land” as its ostensible focus. An intrepid investigative Reporter reporter (IIRR, “I” for short), requested access to the discussion, centered around a crime solved by Agatha Christie, the real-life Queen of Crime. Set at the excavation site of the ancient Middle East city Ur, the book plunges readers into sandstorms, schemes and ziggurats, far away from modern times. Or so it would seem.

From the start of the conversation, it was clear that the “librarian” had selected the three participants for their expertise in diverse areas. All were very conversant in mysteries and the life of Ms. Christie, as would be needed to maintain their cover. But why did one know so much about genetic mutations, not mentioned in the book, that had impacted the life of one character, also a real figure, and caused her first husband’s suicide? Why was another member able to diagnose the woman’s mental disorder, cleverly hiding her expertise with the catchall layman’s term “Wackadoodle?” What was she hinting about the one female Pharoah, and what was the hidden meaning in her question, “Who really built the Pyramids?”

How was it that a mother of five, who rarely had time to travel, spent a recent birthday cruising the Nile? She also seemed to know the truth behind Agatha Christie’s real disappearance for weeks at a time.

These disparate spheres of knowledge must tie together somehow, I thought. They were all contributing nuggets of information, and I had almost no idea what they were talking about. They all seemed to have an issue with a character who was “mousy” and I wondered what that was code for. Perhaps a covert operation named for Georges Moustaki (1934 – 2013), an Egyptian-French singer-songwriter of Jewish Italo-Greek origin. Yes, he’d fit right in.

They’d declared they weren’t taken in by a “red herring” in the book, but that could just be a red herring, I suspected, to throw one off. The pyramid expert declared she enjoyed solving the mystery because it was like the board game, “Clue.” Or was that another clue?

The spymaster was cleverly pulling the strings to choreograph the members of her cabal in pursuit of their objective. What that was remains a mystery, I must admit.

Before concluding their meeting, the group was told to look forward to next month’s book, which will be set in New Orleans.

Ah, great. DA Jim Garrison, JFK conspiracy theories, voodoo priestesses, The Green Fairy (absinthe). Not to mention Po-boys and Hurricanes. I probably won’t understand that one either, but laissez bon temps rouler.*

Dramatis Personae: Spymaster/research librarian: Jocelyn Ozolins; Genetics expert: Patricia Hindin; Nile cruiser: Marcia Byington; Pyramids expert, Susan Eschrich; I: Yours Truly

*Let the good times roll.