An odd title for a blog post, but let me explain. When I was in high school, I went through a phase where anything about Scotland fascinated me. I read every book I could get my hands on, both fiction and history. The internet wasn’t yet available, but the regional library was right across the school’s parking lot. I had 30 minutes after each school day to explore the stacks and then a 40 minute bus ride home where I could read. My house was on the last street in the county and school district. I read a lot about Scotland and that eventually lead me to Legend in Green Velvet by Elizabeth Peters.
I can still picture the cover of the library’s hardcover book. A man with a curling beard stood with arms akimbo in a green velvet jacket and plaid kilt. That was how I knew it was a Scottish story. And what story!
Through the years, I’ve read and reread about Susan, the American archeology student who loves Scottish history and knows all kinds of obscure facts. (You can see why I identified with her.) She is on her way to a new dig in Scotland when she stumbles across a dying, murdered man who gives her a cryptic message. She tries to get the police involved, but the victim was known as believer in crackpot conspiracies. The police don’t listen to her—but apparently, someone does and now it’s a chase across Scotland with all its history in play.
She meets a young man who hides his face behind a beard for a very good reason, and soon both of them are dodging police and others as they try to figure out what is going on. The climax requires all of Susan’s knowledge of Scotland to solve the mystery. Today, this book would be classified as light romantic suspense due to the banter between the two leads as they fall in love during the danger.
Legend lead me to all the rest of Elizabeth Peters’s books. I wanted to read more of what this author had written. Although that was her only strictly Scottish story, she tackled other legends and settings around the world. She is especially known for the Amelia Peabody series of Victorian Egyptian exploration mysteries. (Also a series of which I own and read every book.) Imagine my delight when I learned she was so prolific she also wrote under the name Barbara Michaels. I mourned her when she passed in August 2013, even though I’d never met her in person. Her books had given me many hours of enjoyment.
She was one of my first legendary authors.
I discovered more because I searched the library shelves near Elizabeth Peters to see what else might be available, as though I expected her magic to rub off on nearby authors. Amazingly this theory worked. I found two more mystery series writers: Anne Perry and Ellis Peters. I’ve also read Perry’s two Victorian series (the Thomas and Charlotte Pitt, and the William Monk series) and Peters’s Brother Cadfael medieval monk series.
Today everything is digital. You can find any book you want, so long as you know of its existence. I wonder if the readers coming after me will ever discover amazing authors just because they were browsing in the stacks. Will they meet their Elizabeth Peters/Barbara Michaels, Anne Perrys, and Ellis Peters through the happy accident of the legends lurking nearby the book they sought?
I hope access to browsing in the stacks never disappears into just typing in pixels.