International Mystery Book Club At Gothic Bookshop

Explore the world from armchairs during free monthly book club

Gothic Bookshop manager Katherine World, graduate student Cynthia Greenlee-Donnell, and Professor Emeritus Bob Healy regularly attend the International Mystery Book Club discussion on the last Thursday of the month at the Gothic Bookshop. Photo by Marsha

Eight people gathered in a circle in a back corner of the Gothic Bookshop. Oblivious to store patrons perusing books, these readers grappled with a murder in Iceland and marveled over descriptions of Icelandic culture.

Every month, interested readers meet in the Gothic Bookshop as part of the "International Mystery Book Club," which was launched two years ago by graduate student Cynthia Greenlee-Donnell and Kathy World, Gothic Bookshop manager. The two mystery-lovers wanted an entertaining way to learn about different places.

"Mysteries are a fascinating way to learn how things work in other cultures," World said. "It's a specialized form of armchair travel."

The book club meets at 5:30 on the last Thursday of each month and is open to all readers. Current members include faculty, staff, graduate students and retirees.

During a recent meeting, participants discussed "Ashes to Dust" by Yrsa Sigurdardottir. This macabre murder mystery begins with the unexpected discovery of corpses in the basement of an Icelandic house buried in ash after a volcanic eruption in 1973. The group analyzed how the author sprinkled clues throughout the story, and shared thoughts on the detailed account of a volcanic eruption, the descriptions of smoked puffin and other Icelandic food, and the emotional complexity of living in a country so small that nearly everyone is related.

Greenlee-Donnell is fascinated by the breadth of conversation that mysteries stimulate. "The conversation always starts with the text but meanders on to the history, culture and lifestyles described in the books," she said.

So far, the group has read mysteries that introduced them to the back streets of Istanbul, Turkey, as seen by a transgendered person, contemporary Laos as interpreted by a geriatric coroner and medieval England through the eyes of a female healer accused of murder. 

For Jan Ewald, associate professor of history, the book club offers an engaging way to connect with places she may never visit. 

"Mysteries very often have a very well developed sense of place," she said. "Good mysteries pay great attention to detail, which makes it easy to imagine you've actually been there."

Although World and Greenlee-Donnell select most books, participants are encouraged to suggest mystery titles that explore new cultures. World orders copies of each book for the Gothic Bookshop and puts them on the "staff picks" table, where patrons can purchase a copy at 30 percent off the list price.

Having recently explored Iceland, Tibet, Laos, Algeria, Harlem, Saudi Arabia and Korea, the next stop for the group is South Africa. Join them in the armchairs of the Gothic Bookshop at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 25. They'll discuss "The October Killings," a mystery that reveals the color and complexity of the post-apartheid era in Pretoria, South Africa.