Mystery of Ashland uncovered

I'm reading a novel set in Ashland right now. I came across the book in a used book store, and decided to give it a try. It's not a book I would have usually picked out for myself, but seeing the blurb on the back that the detective tracks his runaway daughter to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival made me unable to resist.

Of course, this was made easier by the fact that used book stores are lovely places where you can make a bad reading choice and only be out about three dollars.

I was once an extra on the set of a soap opera, and reading a book set in Ashland gives me the same kind of excitement. Each new scene gives me a rush of anticipation where I wait to see if I can find myself in the background.

Of course this book is set in the early '90s, so of course I am not actually in the background (sadly, few mystery novels feature third-graders), but I get to read about Ashland landmarks. The detective eats a burger at Geppetto's, gets his hand stitched up at Ashland Community Hospital, and meets his friends on "The Bricks" outside the theater.

The novel is "Failure to Appear" by J.A. Jance. Jance herself is from the Northwest, and mentions in her blog that she regularly vacations to Ashland.

She didn't invent a new town for her book. She wrote about a town she knows and loves as a visitor. As a lifelong resident of Ashland, reading her book gives me the opportunity to experience the town as a tourist. I hear about what it's like to see the plays, stay in a bed-and-breakfast, and drive through downtown for the first time.

Of course, knowing the setting so intimately also gives me the occasional frustration. "There's no street named that!" I have howled at the pages various times, never failing to shock and terrify my cats that were under the impression we were all just going to be reading quietly in bed.

To be sure, I look up the street name on a map, just to double check myself. I can't explain why I'm so uptight and rigid about this, but my family is convinced I'm driving myself to an early grave.

The book is fun and exciting and full of the usual types that are usually sprinkled throughout a mystery novel. There's the rich man with the young wife, a beautiful actress, and a grumpy, world-weary detective struggling with his sobriety.

Don't worry. I won't give away the ending. Mostly because I haven't actually finished the book yet. I don't usually have a problem spoiling plots of books and movies for other people. In fact, I usually spoil them for myself. I like to read the last couple of chapters before I read the beginning. I managed to restrain myself this time, and do not actually know how "Failure to Appear" ends.

The book has made me realize that I should appreciate my town a little more. Jance is just a tourist to our town, and likes it enough to set one of her stories here. I live here, and yet rarely see a play at the Shakespeare Festival, go out to eat downtown, or window shop on the plaza.

The book also made me realize I should watch my back before I get stabbed in the back with a prop knife. It's always important to read books with an important lesson like that.

So while I can't say that I was inspired to book myself a weekend at a bed-and-breakfast, the book has at least opened my eyes in a fresh new way. I love living in Ashland, and this book reminds me how lucky I am that such a setting actually exists.

I'll just try to relax and give the author a break about the street names.

Zoe Abel is lying in bed, reading novels with her cats. She also enjoys reading in the bathtub, but has dropped a book in there more than once. Quite a bit more than once, actually. You can contact her at

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