At my art opening the other night, I engaged in a rather mind-blowing conversation. While I was chatting with a visitor, he idly looked at my business card holder on the countertop, and kind of brushed his index finger along my name. Half to himself, he said he hadn’t heard that name since he was a kid…
As he trailed off, my brain leapt ahead of his words because no one ever knows my name! It’s a lone wolf of a name…shared by almost no one, not to be found on keychains, in pop culture, or any roster or directory of any kind. You just never – well, almost never – run into it, so I was intrigued.
He went on to say that he’d read a series of mystery stories as a kid – I practically cut him off to joyfully shout “McGurk Mysteries!” – and then we were off an running on a trip down memory lane about these books.
I very fondly remember these books from my childhood, and personally owned a good many of them. They featured a ten-year-old boy named McGurk, who ran a private investigation service, the McGurk Organization, out of his basement. I don’t remember how the series came to my attention back in the day, but the main attraction for me was to see my name in print (outside of looking at my own handwriting, that never happens). Meanwhile, my friend said he wanted a window on what it was like to live in the suburbs with a stable family. His memory was excellent, by the way, recalling an astonishing level of detail about the author, illustrator, titles, and plots as if he’d read the series last week, instead of over 30 years ago.
I was completely tickled by this connection we’d made, which looped back through my childhood and brought us together in the present day because of a shared understanding of my name – of all things. I decided to reread a couple of the books, and checked out two from the library.
I was a little disappointed that the book (it turned out that one was enough) didn’t quite stand the test of time. But, it was funny to see all the detective fiction tropes that were checked off in kid-size boxes:
- a flawed detective (McGurk is impatient and stubborn, with flashes of risky behavior)
- a willingness of the Organization employees to shade the truth (especially to those in positions of power)
- a strained relationship with local law enforcement (the police chief doesn’t have time for juvenile detectives)
- good guys working against limitations (curfews, the need to attend school during the day)
- the unmasking of the villain in dramatic fashion
Moving beyond the books themselves, I couldn’t help thinking that my own love of mysteries relates to my affinity for abstraction…multiple layers of meaning, a chronology that might seem less than straightforward, some red herrings, shrouds, and veils – but ultimately a framework that is flexible enough to tell many tales and engage many topics.
I’m indebted to this art lover for sparking this utterly enjoyable conversation and train of thought.