I read this from Jon Carroll's column today and have to laugh. The summer before this my book group visited England together. We chose the Cotswolds and thought a walking tour and a barge trip would be just right. We didn't realize that our barge would be the largest on the canal, 70 feet long as I recall, with the five of us as captain, navigator and crew. It was funny in retrospect and funny then too. I am sure we provided a host of laughs for others and definitely for ourselves.
Here is Jon Carroll today:
I just finished a book called "Water Like a Stone" by Deborah Crombie. I'm not necessarily recommending it; the writing is just competent, and the villains are sketched with thick black lines with red arrows pointing to them. I had thought the point of a mystery was to be, what's the word, mysterious.
On the other hand, the book contains long and loving descriptions of "narrow boats," small barges retrofitted as homes that cruise the canals of central England. At one time the residents of narrow boats were mostly poor and eked out a marginal living at factories and shops along the waterways. Then the boats became quaint, and now they act as exotic second homes for London professionals in lieu of a cottage in Dorset.
It is now a convention for mysteries to be set against an obscure backdrop, so along the way to discovering who killed the vicar in the brothel, you learn about cheese making or butterfly collecting or rabbit breeding. I like the convention -- mysteries are all about convention anyway, about turning chaos into order -- and it's nice to see this one upheld so enthusiastically.