Tuesday, December 27, 2016
Mister Death's Blue-Eyed Girls
I don't read many murder mystery stories. I find forensic science fascinating, and I watch a lot of television shows and documentaries on how murders get solved, but I don't read them often. Perhaps the reason is because I prefer ghost stories, so when I try to read a story that involves death, I'm waiting for the ghost to come back and take revenge, or at least scare the crap out of someone. If I know that a ghost isn't going to show up, then it's hard for me to stay motivated to keep reading.
I guess that might be the reason why it's taken me so long to complete this book. I've picked it up several times, but it seemed I always got distracted and put it aside, probably in favor of a ghost story. But I resolved to read it because it's one of the only books by Mary Downing Hahn that I hadn't read yet, and I had plenty of time during the long drives we did at Christmas time to visit relatives.
Reading this book reminded me why I fell in love with Hahn's story-telling. It speaks to me. The first book of hers I ever read was Wait Till Helen Comes, and I remember how much I enjoyed the character Molly's narration because it was filled with the kind of thoughts I had myself regarding Death. That great unknown filled me fear and awe and led me to question what I'd been taught; furthermore, it validated everything that I thought and reassured me that I was not the only kid who considered that maybe there are other possibilities than just dying, sprouting white wings and floating up to Heaven.
Mister Death's Blue-Eyed Girls is not a ghost story, but it is an examination of death. How it affects a community and why people sometimes jump to the easiest explanation and also how it can shake the belief systems that we have always taken for granted. After her friends Sheri and Bobbi Jo are senselessly murdered one day while walking to school, Nora struggles to understand why it happened and what it means in terms of the Catholic beliefs she was raised on. How can something so tragic be part of a "master plan"? How can she believe that their deaths are not in vain if their murderer is never found and punished? Why did a ten minute difference in the walk to school determine two girls' fate while she and her other friend continued on to school without a clue as to how that horrible day would unfold?
Whenever something tragic happens, we are left asking ourselves "Why did this happen?". Some people take comfort in the belief that whatever injustices or hardships we suffer during our time on Earth will be balanced out afterwards with a reward of eternal life. And some people struggle to believe that. I liked Wait Till Helen Comes because it didn't talk down to its intended audience by explaining away the idea of a ghost with a ridiculous Scooby Doo type ending, like "Oh, it wasn't a ghost, it was just a sheet flapping on the clothes line the whole time!" It allowed the reader to believe that maybe the afterlife is more complicated than angels and Heaven. And I liked Mister Death's Blue-Eyed Girls similarly because it doesn't have a neat ending, with a dramatic confession from the killer or a crack team of cops that locate the most unlikely suspect. It reminds me that life is more complicated than we like to believe, and the most obvious idea, the one's that's most convenient to believe, isn't necessarily the correct one. We always hope for justice when terrible things happen, but sometimes we need to be satisfied with accepting the terrible things that happen, without understanding them. It's the only way we can retain some semblance of peace.