Welcome to Murder by the Book's blog about what we've read recently. You can find our website at www.mbtb.com.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Backpack, by Emily Barr (c2001)(out of print -- sorry)

I saw Backpack poking out of the sale bin. Wait, I thought. I haven't read it yet. I always meant to read it. It's out of print and now it's probably headed out the door soon. So I grabbed it.

Tansy Harris is a spoiled, arrogant, superior, snobbish Londoner. She's young, has a great job at a newspaper, and jaunts about with her spoiled, arrogant, superior, snobbish Londoner boyfriend, Tom. What the world only sees a tiny glimpse of is that Tansy's mother is an alcoholic. She has made home life miserable for Tansy. Then Tansy's mother dies.

Suddenly Tansy is released from her burden. She and Tom plan to travel to Southeast Asia, lie on the beach, get tanned, eat great food. Then Tom, the rat, backs out of the trip and breaks up with her. Just to show him, Tansy goes ahead with her plans anyway.

Tansy's first day is in Ho Chi Minh City. She's wearing a stylish traveling outfit and turning up her nose at the smells and cacaphony. She's miserable and refuses to associate with the traveling backpackers (eww!) she meets. After she has had her fill of touring the requisite tourist spots, she realizes that she's lost and lonely. She gradually makes the acquaintance of several backpackers, who warmly receive her despite her snobbish attitude. And gradually, as she makes her way through Southeast Asia -- as a backpacker -- her old persona melts away and a more thoughtful Tansy appears.

This book hit the spot. Next to mysteries, I love reading travel books. This has thoroughly combined the best of both worlds. Emily Barr brings traveling through Southeast Asia to life. She packs details of the Asian cultures and the backpacking world into her story, so much so that the mystery is hard to spot.

The mystery is that someone is killing young blonde female backpackers. Tansy is a young blonde female backpacker. His -- because enough people have identified a potential suspect as male -- killing spree begins in India and travels, strangely enough, backwards through Tansy's projected travel route. Each victim is found with an object. Granted they are ordinary objects, but Tansy has a box back in England with these same objects. In a hallucinatory moment, Tansy imagines that she might be the killer, despite the fact that it would be physically impossible, say, to kill someone in India at lunch and make it back to Laos by dinner.

Tansy does feel a strange affinity to what is happening to the victims. Perhaps it is because she, too, has a secret, and maybe she feels she should be punished for it. It has been traveling heavily with her as psychological baggage. Thus, Tansy's voyage is also one of enlightenment and a search for a better version of herself, Tansy 2.0.

I'm sorry that this book is out of print, because it's quite wonderful. Barr is a very good travel writer, and the mystery is original. The book is going back in the bargain bin tomorrow, so on your mark, get set, go!

1 comment:

  1. It's terrible how quickly books are remaindered. Thanks for taking the time to draw attention to this worthwhile novel.