By the time the film Women of Mystery: Three Writers Who Forever Changed Detective Fiction had been completed by filmmakers Pamela Beere Briggs and William McDonald, it had inspired the creation of a screening, reading, and discussion program that would go on to delight, provoke, and stimulate audiences in California libraries. Here the film's codirector relates the movie's genesis, and a librarian tells how it developed into an innovative program for libraries.
1990: A reader is hooked, and the public library supplies her habit.
PAMELA BEERE BRIGGS: I remember seeking fun-to-read, engaging mystery fiction following my graduation from college in 1980, but all I found were the books I had already read as a teenager: Sherlock Holmes, Miss Marple, and thrillers. By the time Sara Paretsky's and Sue Grafton's books first appeared in 1982, I had given up my search and gone on to other kinds of books and then to graduate film school, where my schedule no longer allowed any time to read fiction.
By 1990, I was working as a congressional fellow on Capitol Hill for Congresswoman Pat Schroeder, and simultaneously editing my film Funny Ladies: A Portrait of Women Cartoonists in the living room of the apartment I shared with my husband and filmmaking partner, Bill McDonald. One day, after hearing me yearn for mysteries as riveting as those I had read as a child, an intern in Schroeder's office placed on my desk a copy of Paretsky's Killing Orders. Little did she know that this gesture would influence the next 12 years of my life.
I will never forget the excitement I felt in meeting Paretsky's protagonist, V. I. Warshawski, for the first time. Bold, intelligent, strong, and brave, she was vastly different from any character I had previously encountered in fiction. By page 50 I was hooked; I couldn't stop reading. Happily, the District of Columbia Public Library's Cleveland Park branch fed my hunger for Paretsky's books and introduced me to such writers as Linda Barnes, Liz Cody, Amanda Cross, Sue Grafton, and Marcia Muller.
I soon realized that many others were reading these novels with as much interest …