Among the forms of “identity politics” emerging in American culture is the “disability” subculture. The Americans with Disabilities Act (now almost 30 years old) prohibited discrimination based on disability and codified the concepts of accommodation and accessibility. As always, the devil is in the details. The past three decades have been spent working them out, and along with this has come a cultural shift in how “disabled” people see themselves and interact with others. So, logically, a genre of “disability literature” is appearing.
I stumbled on the Asperger’s Mystery series at the Library. The series dates from 2014 and the books I read are #2 and #5 (I think).
When I started reading The Case of the Felonious Friend, I found the language, which is in the first person from an Asperger’s point of view, to be unpleasantly choppy. But an early plot twist caught my attention and I got used to the author’s cadence. A very good mystery read, with the advantage of being set in New Jersey, which I found amusing!
The protagonist, Samuel Hoenig, has spent his life learning how to get along with “neurotypicals”, that is, those of us who aren’t on the Asperger’s/autism spectrum. It’s a struggle, and he works hard at it, with help from his mother and a psychologist. He owns a successful business called Questions Answered. He has two close neurotypical friends (his work partner and a taxi driver named Mike). Samuel is the only character with Asperger’s in The Question of the Dead Mistress. There’s a romance in the works. If this series unfolds like other mystery series (for example, Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone books), it could go on for MANY more volumes.
I’m not giving the plots away. If you like mysteries, read these books! Another good series with an Asperger’s protagonist is Graeme Simsion’s Don Tillman/Rosie series. That’s romantic comedy, not mystery. I reviewed one of these here.
A young person with Asperger’s syndrome is much in the news recently – Greta Thunberg of Sweden, 16 year old climate activist. She has kicked the conversation on climate change to a new level (crisis), addressing international bodies with an enviable level of composure. She’s a notable leader in our difficult times.
So what does it mean to be neurotypical? Hard to say, when “normal” cannot be defined. Usually, it refers to anyone NOT on the autism spectrum. But a new concept, that of “neurological diversity” is emerging, and it is broader. It might include brain injury survivors and stoke victims, who think and function differently from their earlier baselines, and who may (or may not) consider themselves to be disabled. It might include dyslexics. Oliver Sachs wrote about many people whose brains seem to operate “differently”.
I recommend the Asperger’s Mysteries for mystery lovers and anyone looking for new and interesting avenues in contemporary fiction.