Northwest author Jo Dereske creates a ‘loving sendup’ to librarians in Miss Zukas mysteries

photo of author jo dereskeTurns out my favorite librarian in the universe will be making an appearance at our very own Green Lake Library this week. Okay, make that my favorite fictional librarian, created by Northwest author Jo Dereske, who will be reading from her popular Miss Zukas mystery series and discussing writing mysteries (she has a new series in the works) on Thursday, March 13, from 6 to 7:45 p.m.

Wilhelmina (Helma) Zukas’ independent spirit, intelligence and resourcefulness make it impossible for this librarian/sleuth to resist solving murders and setting things straightcatalogue of death book cover in her beloved Bellehaven (think Bellingham/Fairhaven). I love the local setting, witty style and crisp writing that comes through in each of the ten Miss Zukas mysteries (which the New York Times called “a loving sendup” to the librarian stereotype). I was delighted when Miss Zukas returned, after a three-year break, in Bookmarked to Die and Catalogue of Death. The 11th title in the series comes out in April.

Author Jo Dereske (who is also a librarian) gives us a bit of insight into Helma Zukas — as well as some excellent reading suggestions — in part one of a two-part interview:

How does this amateur detective benefit from her librarian background?

Well, as everyone knows, library folk are sharply observant, and relentless researchers. Miss Zukas understands patterns and anomalies and she does not give up. She has a book and she knows how to use it.

Those who don’t yet know Miss Zukas may have some preconceived notions based on her profession. What do you wish people knew about Helma Zukas?

When I began writing the series I wanted to respond to two things. I’d been told: “Nobody would ever publish a book about a librarian.” The other was the way librarians were viewed as dull stereotypes by the popular press. Rather than write against the stereotype I decided to take it over the top, yet make Helma so strong a character that hopefully readers couldn’t help but like her. I love it when readers laugh and recognize something of themselves in Helma, and am also gratified when readers comment that she’s sexy, because she is!

Last I heard, Helma was reading Beethoven’s Hair by Russell Martin. What’s on her nightstand reading pile now?

Helma just finished Iceblink by Scott Cookman. It’s the factual account of the doomed Franklin expedition to find the Northwest Passage, pieced together from evidence of the time, and also remains that were discovered years later. The fictional horror story The Terror, by Dan Simmons, is heavily based on Iceblink, and Helma suspects that sometimes the truth can be far more compelling than a fictionalized account.

What’s on your stack of reading right now?
I’m currently reading Day, by A.L. Kennedy, a wrenching inner story of a World War II veteran, In the Woods, an eerie mystery by another Scottish author, Tana French. I’m also just finishing Grand Obsession by Perri Knize, about a woman obsessed — and I do mean obsessed — with the tone of her grand piano. Next is A Land Gone Lonesome, by Dan O’Neill, about the Yukon River.

For more reading suggestions from other interesting authors, check our our popular Nightstand Reads feature.

3 thoughts on “Northwest author Jo Dereske creates a ‘loving sendup’ to librarians in Miss Zukas mysteries”

  1. I think Miss Zukas rocks! And I’m sure I’ve met her at our local library. Is the fictional Helma based on a real librarian? Do you think there are still “typical” librarians? What are their traits? And why do we care about them?

    Has anybody read any other light mysteries set in the Northwest like the Miss Zukas series? I enjoy a good mystery I can’t solve before the end, with a likable female sleuth. I really like the Mary Russell series by Laurie King — the first one is The Beekeeper’s Apprentice. Anyhow, I could use some ideas.

  2. for Jo Dereske

    reading a mystery

    just like in real life
    people are getting killed
    left and right
    emotions rise and subside
    as we track a would-be assassin
    only to hit the dead end
    while savagery of headlines bleed
    life of sarcasm:

    art collector stabbed by a long sword painted by Carravaggio
    prune of an aunt drowns in her compote
    old hag hanged on an old tree
    fiction librarian drops dead on reality show
    nagging salesman entered the realm of silence
    inconvenient husband exchanged for travelers checks
    fortunate man stonewalled for the love of amontillado

    a picture with a blurred face
    phantoms – real or imagined –
    all have a reason to die

    on the last page
    as we help catch the villain
    we carry out the punishment
    for the crime
    we sentence them to life of mystery
    and close the book

    it’s comforting to know
    that sometimes one can get away
    with murder
    Leszek Chudzinski
    Shoreline, March 8, 2008

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