by Janet Gilmore

Ngaio Marsh (1895–1982), who was from New Zealand, “wrote like a dream,” but she probably did not intend to have the last chapters of her books read first.

My husband, Hugh, is not the only person in this house who knows how to read. I do, too. In fact, I read some books last year, and will probably do the same this year and every year after that.

But I don’t enjoy fiction very much. It’s all lies. Writers make it all up! And the better the book is, the more frustrating it is for me because I’ve invested time and emotional energy in the reading and whether I love or hate the characters, I have lots of questions to which there are no answers because THEY’RE NOT REAL PEOPLE! THEY‘RE FAKE! There is no answer to the question of what happened to Madame Bovary’s daughter or will any man marry grown-up women as bossy as Alice up out of the rabbit hole or Dorothy back from Oz. Drives me crazy. I choose not to spend time with folks who don’t exist. I have enough problems in my real life.

There is an exception to this rule, however. I do like a mystery book every once in a while. It’s so mysterious. So little pretense. Someone done it — who? I know Good will prevail at the end, and Evil will be punished, but I have never, ever been able to figure out who the killer is before the dénouement. Never.

The writers of those potboilers are so clever that I’m mildly confused by the end of the first plot twist, heavily confused by the second and hopelessly lost after that. If I’m told near the end that the murderer might be Cedric, I wonder, “Cedric? Who’s he? Where did he come from? I want my money back! Oh, right; this is a library book! Never mind!”

Then I must go back through the text looking for Cedric to see what elevator he stepped off of and exactly when he accepted the delivery of a barrel of the world’s most poisonous acid/monkeys/ green vegetables.

So I read the end of the book first. That’s right. I read the last chapter first. Then I go back and read the rest of the book. That way, everyone is happy. The author, if alive, is happy, because I have a copy of the book, I know who-done-it, and I have the pleasure of accompanying the sleuth on his journey and knowing more than he does. The process of the investigation and discovery is the interesting part to me, more interesting than who actually committed the crime.

Because almost no one listens to audiocassettes any more, the Andorra Library in upper Roxborough has de-accessioned some audio books on tape. I picked up a 12-cassette copy of “Final Curtain” by Ngaio (pronounced Nye-o, the “g” is silent) Marsh (1895–1982), who was from New Zealand and wrote like a dream. The plot of “Final Curtain” is wonderfully rich, and the language is delicious. And how about that Chief Inspector Roderick Alleyn of Scotland Yard, eh?

I intended to listen to the tapes only while driving in my car until the thought struck me, “Wait a minute! I bet the library has BOOKS, too, not just tapes! Why don’t I get the book that goes along with the tape and read it on the sofa or in bed along with the tape? I could bring the tapes in from the car! That way, I can read AND listen, and if I fall asleep, maybe I can absorb the plot subliminally.”

It worked fine at first. Using headphones in consideration of the other readers who live here, I was able to ignore the mess in the kitchen and the stinkbugs hurling themselves into the halogen light bulbs and stinking. I settled into bed with the book and matching tape, read the last chapter, said, “Aha!” and immersed myself in the question of “Who killed Sir Henry Ancred?” even though I already knew the answer.

However, I fell asleep three nights in a row at Cassette #12, just near the end, and I had to listen three times on three subsequent nights before I “finished” the entire book. Listening to a recording of the text while reading the actual words helped me visualize and remember what was going on in the book. In fact, that technique might help students who are stuck with some required reading thing they can’t stand. There may not be a way to make “The Odyssey,” “Mythology” by Edith Hamilton or Chaucer’s “Canterbury Tales” enjoyable, but perhaps more comprehensible.

Falling asleep only increased curiosity. “What happened last night?” I asked Hugh at breakfast recently. “I was reading ‘Final Curtain,’ but I don’t remember much about it.”

“You fell asleep with the tape still running and all the lights on. I had to take the book away from you, shut off the tape player and turn off the lights.”

I toddled off to begin my day, already impatient for nighttime and the reward for a day of hard work — reading time. Even if I already know whodunit.