By Jenn McKinlay
Twenty years ago, The Catcher in the Rye was checked out to Candice Whitley, a teacher, on the day she was murdered. When the book is returned to the Briar Creek Public Library during its fine amnesty day, librarian and amateur sleuth Lindsey Norris can’t help but think it might be a clue to the cold case that has haunted the small coastal town for decades. And so starts BETTER LATE THAN NEVER, the seventh title in my library lover’s mystery series.
Why The Catcher in the Rye? This has probably been the question I’ve been asked the most since I wrote the book. It’s a really good question. I wish I had a really good answer. But I don’t. Frankly, my relationship with the novel has been a love hate relationship over the years. I first read Salinger’s story about Holden Caulfield when I was in high school. Full disclosure, I hated it. I thought Holden was a whiner and his ceaseless complaining about everyone being a phony grated on my nerves. Of course, in high school, I was heavily into genre fiction (that has never changed) so I wasn’t really enjoying any of the literature I was reading. Faulkner gave me fits!
Like a bad penny, Catcher showed up again in my college years. I hated it less as I was feeling rather anti-establishment myself and Holden’s angst and confusion, as I dipped my toe into adulthood, made more sense to me. He seemed to be able to read people with a clear-eyed gaze and was frequently disappointed in them and their lack. By that time, I had met a few disappointments myself. We were not friends but I felt less animosity towards the book.
Then I began my library career. Reader’s advisory was my jam so I read anything and everything I could get my hands on. I was lucky enough to be the fiction selector for three years in my first library job in Cromwell, CT, so I read every issue of the New York Times Book Review, Publisher’s Weekly, Library Journal, Kirkus Reviews, etc., all in my quest for the best the fiction world had to offer. (Side note: some of these publications could be very harsh to authors and the fact that Publisher’s Weekly gave me a starred review for one of my first mysteries still makes me Snoopy dance). In addition to keeping up with the latest and greatest, I also encouraged my patrons to read the classics and as a librarian I became a big promoter of encouraging people to read banned books. Well, guess which book in the twentieth century is one of the most frequently challenged and banned? Yes, you got it – The Catcher in the Rye.
Why was it banned? Vulgar language, drinking, promiscuity, not fit for children, yada yada, the same old noise that is always made when something challenges preconceived notions of appropriateness. As I look at my own journey with the book, I realize it was not a novel I could appreciate as a teen but when I read it again before writing BETTER LATE THAN NEVER, I actually fell a little in love with the damaged Holden Caulfield. I had finally lived enough life, known pure joy and tremendous sorrow, to understand him and his desire to be “the catcher in the rye” the keeper of children’s innocence. So, that’s why I chose to use The Catcher in the Rye as the book that was checked out to the victim in BETTER LATE THAN NEVER.
Now the only question is, does the book help Lindsey solve the case of who murdered high school English teacher Candice Whitley?
Thanks for letting me visit!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR