Please contact E. B. Davis at for information on guest blogs and interviews. Interviews for May: (5/4) Linda Norlander, (5/11) Connie Berry, (5/18) Mary Keliikoa, (5/22) Annette Dashofy, and (5/25) Rosalie Spielman.

Monday, March 5, 2012

A Sentimental Blog

I’m writing as a reader today, a wistful reader, who must acknowledge the end of a great series. Any author who creates a character worthy of a sendoff can be proud of her achievement. Ms. Jo Dereske decided to end her mystery series featuring main character, Helma Zukas, after twelve books. But she made sure to leave Helma in a departure, not a finale, and for that, I am grateful because in that departure, Ms. Dereske completed her character’s ARC. Miss Zukas has been transformed.

I met Helma many years ago, and she became a favorite character of mine. At first, she bothered me. She seemed so constricted, too logical and unyielding. I also recognize her strength and at times admired and wished I held my standards as high. In that, she taught me something. Ms. Dereske said in a note at the back of Farewell, Miss Zukas, that as a librarian, she created a character that depicted all of those traits people consigned on her when they discovered her profession, as if there were such a thing as a stereotypical librarian.

Ruth, Helma’s best friend and polar opposite—a spastic artist— is as unconventional as Helma is conventional, at least outwardly. They are both outlandish in their extremes, which means that each woman thinks outside of the box and that is where they find common ground. I will miss Helma and Ruth because they complemented, stretched, and appreciated each other when few others did, which accounted for their lasting friendship.

There are many reasons why I loved the series, but its strength lies in Helma’s character. Readers wish to be like her, perhaps not all the time, but in given moments her logic, forthrightness and character shine through when we, caught in reality, fail. Here are some of the reasons why we love her:

“…Ruth twisted her hands together, and Helma heard the impatient tapping of her feet. ‘I’m jumpy, you know what I mean?’ Helma did not believe in being jumpy…”

“…Ruth’s presence did have the effect of dampening Lillian’s [Helma’s mother] enthusiasm. ‘Wouldn’t you like to have nice friends, Helma?’ her mother had asked the first time Helma brought Ruth home from school in fourth grade.”

And like all card-carrying librarians (think Marion), she is outwardly dry and practically sexless, and yet inside she’s all passion giving herself up to the moment.

“She [Helma] opened the door all the way for him and he stepped inside, taking her in his arms before she had time to think. Helma had a highly developed sense of the transit of seconds, minutes, and hours, and it was always a shock how personal closeness to Wayne Gallant skewed her sense of time’s flight. So much so that when his arms relaxed she checked the clock over her stove to reorient herself.”

In this final book, Miss Zukas changes her relationship with her cat, Boy Cat Zukas. This change completes Miss Zukas’s transformation. She never will be the same. The reason I suspect, that Ms. Dereske ended the series.

Farewell, Miss Zukas, your fans will miss you.


Warren Bull said...

Losing a beloved character is like losing a good friend.

Anonymous said...

I'm a librarian and I'm a big fan of Miss Zukas. Some of my co-workers thought she was a stereotype, but honestly, we've all worked with someone like Miss Zukas. I'm glad Jo Dereske wrapped up the series in a fitting way.

Gloria Alden said...

Losing a beloved character is why I don't read all of Sayers novels at once. I love Lord Peter Wimsey. The same is true of Brother Cadfael. What I can do is reread them like I do Jane Langton's books because I like Homer Kelly so much. She's either 90 or will be this year and hasn't written a new Homer Kelly book for several years. I must try Jo Dereske. What book is the first in her series?

Polly Iyer said...

How nice that a writer kept readers interested through twelve books. Not many series writers can do that without their characters becoming either boring or cliche. Guess you'll have to find a new series, Elaine. There sure are plenty of them out there.

E. B. Davis said...

Thanks for all your comments. I've been on the road today, driving first through a weird blizzard in VA and then into flooding on the Outer Banks. Great day!

I will miss Miss Zukas, but I think the author made the right choice. I have many series to keep me busy, and I hope, as we write here, more are being created. The possiblilities are endless and fun!