Some people are born to be program directors specializing in mystery clubs at small town libraries. Really? Well, take a look at the career trajectory of Mikaela (known as Miki) Wolfe.
Starting in grammar school year, her earliest dream was to own a used book store. [A close cousin to a library, right?].” And it just so happened a template of that business plan was already in place in her family’s house of avid readers. Young Miki’s mom consecrated their attic to all the books that could be bought, borrowed, rescued, and scooped off the shelves of Warwick, R.I., and stored under the aged rafters. The extended family of dozens of cousins was invited upstairs to choose a book.
“The books were mostly fun kids’ mysteries — Trixie Belden, Hardy Boys, Bobbsey Twins,” Ms. Wolfe said in a recent interview in the meeting room of the Oak Bluffs Library. When I asked her about my own bar-none fave from my youth, Nancy Drew. Ms. Wolfe nodded vigorously, “Nancy Drew is out in graphic novels now and my nine-year-old daughter Riley loves them!”
Up in the Warwick attic, whenever a member of the clan finished a book, he or she entered his or her name on the front page with all the other scribbled names, and returned it to the stacks. Each book contained a history of its journey within the family.
As Ms. Wolfe came of age, her restless sense of adventure carried her off on fancy-free road trips on long bus rides around the country. But eventually she managed to fulfill part of her dream: Settling in Gainesville, Fla., she ran a used bookstore, enrolled in college, and pursued English literature, women’s studies, and social media in libraries and nonprofits. This landed her in a job with Digital Services Library in Gainesville, but her work was heavily immersed in tech training.
“I really longed to do more programming,” she said, adding with her signature grin, “My ambitions were being thwarted.”
She was 36 with a young daughter, and her formative years in Rhode Island left her aching to make a home in New England. She found a job offered online for program director at the Oak Bluffs Library. Like an inspired Meryl Streep, she rehearsed for her coming Skype interview, rigging up lights in her room, finding the right professional ensemble, all the while researching Island life in Vineyard newspapers so she could schmooze about all matters local. She could tell the Skype interview surpassed all expectations, and she was invited to come up with Riley to scope out a new life for the two of them.
They found a house in West Tisbury and Ms. Wolfe set up shop at the palatial new library at the top of School Street. Various activities spilled from her bag of tricks, but she was most fond of her idea for a Cloak And Dagger Literary Society to meet once a month. She launched with “The Police Procedural” in September. “I realized right away that the heading was too broad,” she said. “I’ll be able to chop and dice that subject into a whole bunch more that fit under the rubric.”
I asked her, “What is it about the mystery that’s so compelling for so many of us? Is it because we know we’ll never be bored? That if people are sitting around a long dining table discussing dahlias, any minute now someone’s head is going to roll, dead, into the Waterford crystal salad plate?”
Ms. Wolfe laughed, “Well, or course there’s that. Buf for me at this very moment, it’s a great way to discover hoards of new writers.”
Ms. Wolfe boasts something of an eidetic memory and, with her trusty laptop, she reels in data quicker than anyone else can snap a stick a gum. A typical mystery club on March 18 bore the witty title, “St. Patrick Missed A Few Snakes.” The director passed out flyers of Irish mystery writers such as Ken Bruen’s “The Guards,” and Louise Phillips’s “The Doll’s House.” Between the program director’s information hot off the screen, and recommendations from the participants, we cobbled together an even richer Irish stew of mystery writers.
Ms. Wolfe follows up each club date with a list of all the new writers we’d found, including others who had just jumped into the pile after all of us had come and gone, but literary leprechauns kept leaping out of her laptop.
Ms. Wolfe believes we pursue mysteries because the form provides a rich and fertile soil for gender issues, sociological trends, and the weighty issues of good and evil, love and loss, all the while having a corpse show up inside great uncle Boris’s steamer trunk from the British raj.
The next Cloak and Dagger club meeting, at 10:30 am on June 17, will explore “With a Little Help From My Friends.” Ms. Wolfe will open the subject up to the great sidekicks of detective fiction: Dr. Watson to the bigger-than-life Sherlock, Archie Goodman for Nero Wolfe and, of course, the charismatic thug Hawk to Robert B. Parker’s Spenser.
Does she think she’ll ever run out of genres? Ms. Wolfe shakes her head. “There are some so vast I’ll have to break them down in various ways,” she said. “The police procedural, for instance. That’s huge. So is the heading of women detectives. There’s a big new market in LGBT detectives! And now there are fantastic mysteries written from all over the world, which give you an added advantage of enjoying an armchair travel weekend. July’s meeting, for instance, will be named, “Darkness In The Land of The Midnight Sun: Scandinavian Crime Fiction.”
Now that’s a dandy set of mysteries to be read in the summer. Take your beach chair down to the high water mark of Inkwell Beach as you read about Detective Wallander tramping through frozen fields at five degrees below zero, Celsius. Don’t forget the sunscreen.
The Cloak and Dagger Literary Society, Tuesday, June 17, 10:30-11:30 am, Oak Bluffs Library. For more information, call 508-693-9433 or visit oakbluffslibrary.org.