The "Murdermobile" is only just starting up, but things already are booking along quite nicely for Barbara and Brian Cantwell.
The Cantwells used to live in Vancouver, and journalist Brian wrote for The Columbian while librarian Barbara rode the Multnomah County Library bookmobile all around the region and even out into the Columbia River Gorge. Nowadays, the couple live in Seattle, where Barbara works at the Suzzallo Library at the University of Washington and Brian is an editor and travel writer at The Seattle Times.
About a dozen years ago, the pair wrote a murder mystery based partly on Barbara's bookmobile adventures. Not that she ever faced anything quite as exciting as the spark of the story — a dead head librarian in the back closet of the vehicle — but she did experience some slightly murderous feelings when her beloved bookmobile got mothballed.
"It was an amazing service and very well-loved, but only for a small segment of the population. It was the best job I ever had," Barbara said. "When the service went away, I wasn't very happy. Maybe I felt like somebody should pay for this."
So the couple killed off the head librarian. Then they created staff librarian Hester Freelove McGarrigle, whose name evokes everything from dark Yankee puritanism to the kaleidoscopic 1960s, to crack the case — accompanied by her often-regurgitative cat and her pizza-loving detective neighbor, Nathaniel.
Why the sly literary names? Why the disgusting cat? Well, why not? "That's the fun thing about writing a book, you get to put in all sorts of things you like," Brian said.
Fun as it was to write, the novel never stirred an agent's interest when it was new, and it sat on a shelf for years — until recently, when the Cantwells resorted to retailer Amazon and its publish-it-yourself Kindle outlet. Lo and behold, they've sold 2,100 copies at $2.99 since spring, and the positive online reader reviews mention the familiar settings as well as the twisty plot. The positive response has the authors — writing under the joint pseudonym B.B. Cantwell — planning a whole series of "Portland Bookmobile Mysteries."
The next installment is already punningly titled "Murdermobile 2: Corpse of Discovery," and as the title suggests, it includes a healthy dose of Lewis and Clark history as well as a visit to our own Fort Vancouver.
Bits 'n' Pieces appears Fridays and Saturdays. If you have a story you'd like to share, email firstname.lastname@example.org