Two strangers make a unique connection on a commuter train that changes their lives in Priya Basil’s “quick read” short novel – Strangers on the 16:02. In a little over 200 pages, Dr. Kerm, traveling home after visiting his dying grandfather at the hospital, and Helen, a thirty something woman who has just been told that the identity of the anonymous obscene phone caller who has been harassing her is her brother-in-law, literally bump into each other when a crowd of students overwhelms the train. Three of these students significantly alter the atmosphere in the train as well as Kerm and Helen’s relationship. It all happens quickly, beginning and ending on the train. When the train reaches the station, the story abruptly ends, leaving the reader to decide the fate of the characters. Captivating, fun, quick – a tale for all travelers whether by train or plane – you just never know what will happen or whom you may meet.
I found this story by accident as I scrolled through my Kindle recommendations, and was intrigued by the title and the brevity. After finishing the story, I discovered that “Quick Reads” is part of a British Literacy Project, focusing on motivating adult functional readers. Bestselling authors, including Alexander McCall Smith, James Patterson, Minette Waters, and others have contributed short novels to the project.
As an academic, Carolyn Gold Heilbrun was a Guggenheim Fellow, a Senior Researcher at the National Endowment for the Humanities, President of the MLA (Modern Language Association), an English professor at Columbia University, and author of texts as well as a biography of Gloria Steinem, but most fans of her mystery stories know her as Amanda Cross, creator of fictional sleuth and English professor Kate Fansler.
Although she kept her identity secret from her colleagues, Cross used her erudite characters to reveal the cynicism inside the ivy-covered walls – and maybe get a little quiet revenge. The Kate Fansler mystery series started in 1964 with The Last Analysis and ended in 2002 with The Edge of Doom.
In 1997, Heilbrun had promised herself to not write fiction until she finished her memoir – The Last Gift of Time: Life Beyond Sixty. But Kate would not be denied, and a series of short stories emerged – written by Amanda Cross and published in Ellery Queen’s Mystery magazine and other collections. “The Disappearance of Great Aunt Flavia” caught my eye, the name reminding me of that perspicacious eleven-year-old star of Alan Bradley’s mysteries. Cross has her elderly Flavia saving the residents of Merryfields nursing home from an unscrupulous television evangelist of The Divine Church of the Air who traded heaven for their money. Cross offers ten short mysteries in this collection; you can dip in anywhere.
With her academic background and reluctance for using her real name when writing outside the Canon – colleagues can be brutal critics – Cross has a special appeal for me.
Next, I’m revisiting her Death Without Tenure. Have you read any of her books?
Related posts: Flavia de Luce mysteries
Remember the summer reading lists when you were in grade school? And the book you read the day before school started?
By the time you got to college, you’d figured out how to read enough to get by. The freshman year experience usually orients new students to college with a course around a book. The book that was to catapult me to new vistas of understanding and an easy transition to college life was Siddhartha. I don’t remember the discussion, but I do remember the book.
In the New York Times Book Review section, Jennifer Schuessler lists some of the books ivy-covered and brick-and-mortar institutions of higher learning are requiring for entering freshmen – Inside the List. Have you read any of them?
- Eating Animals by Jonathan Foer
- Outcasts United: An American Town, a Refugee Team, and One Woman’s Quest to Make a Difference by Warren St. John
- Born to Run by Christopher McDougall
- Between a Rock and a Hard Place by Aron Ralston
- Hamlet’s Blackberry: A Practical Philosophy for Building a Good Life in the Digital Age by William Powers
- The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brain by Nicholas Carr
- Homer and Langley by E. L. Doctorow
Wondering what other freshmen are reading?
Mount Holyoke’s required summer reading was Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn’s Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide. Tufts freshmen are discussing Brother, I’m Dying by Edwidge Danticat. The National Association of Scholars has a recommended list of 37 books for discussion.
One of my alma mater’s is requiring The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks – have you read it yet?