screwball (n): crazy, insane, odd or eccentric, predates the “screwball comedy” of Hollywood. From baseball, a pitch that breaks the other way from a curve ball, invented in the 1890s. (Says You! #1523)
blockhead (n.): 1540s, also block-head – a “stupid person,” someone whose head is impenetrable, from the head-shaped oaken block used by wig-makers and hat-makers, though the insulting sense is equally old.
nincompoop (n.) 1670s, nicompoop; modern form from 1713. Despite similarity [noted by Johnson] to Latin legal phrase non compos mentis “insane, mentally incompetent” (c. 1600), the connection is denied by the OED’s etymologists because the earliest forms lack the second -n-. Weekley thinks first element may be a proper name, and cites Nicodemus, which he says was used in French for “a fool,” or Nicholas. Klein says it is probably an invented word. Century Dictionary has no objection to the non compos mentis theory. (etymonline)
whackjob (n): one whose beliefs are not based in reality, first used in Elmore Leonard’s 1992 Rum Punch. (Says You! #1523)
What We’ve Been Up To
The Broken Spine – Dorothy St. James
I thoroughly enjoyed reading this mystery.
Tru, our librarian heroine, spoke to the not-so-secret rebellious streak housed in my heart of hearts. By not only saving hundreds of books – that her town’s leading lights consigned to the dump for being “obsolete” – then used said books to open a secret lending library! (Can it get any better?) As the aforementioned leading lights, decided to transform Tru’s beloved library into a bookless technology center.
But no good deed goes unpunished.
Just as Tru and her cohorts are spit polishing the brass for the secret opening of their clandestine reading room – one of the driving forces behind this abominable shift in biblio-philosophies is found crushed beneath a shelf of DVDs. And Tru, who didn’t mince any words about his bookless library scheme, is suspect numero uno.
So now, unless she’s willing to rat-out her secret project (Which isn’t going to happen even if it gives her an iron-clad alibi) Tru must figure out who actually did the deed to save her own bacon!
While this is a cozy mystery, it’s not a cute one, and it’s a fine first in series. St. James does a good job in adding layers to her characters and nuance to her plot. If you enjoy reading biblio mysteries, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed with The Broken Spine.
Oh, and did I mention there’s a cat named Dewey that has his paws all over things?
It’s summertime, vacation time, time away from school. So let me drag you back to high school via the inestimable Lisa Lutz. Trust me, even if you’ve been to boarding school, you haven’t been to Stonebridge Academy, a New England prep school with a terrible secret.
Alexandra Witt didn’t really want to teach at Stonebridge, but her famous author dad knew she needed a job after things went sideways at her last teaching gig, and he got her a place at the Academy. Alex takes the job, but with serious reservations; she and her father have a difficult past.
It doesn’t take Alex long to figure out the usual issues: teens with issues and egos, teachers with issues and egos, and an eccentric curriculum designed to allow students freedom of expression, which doesn’t always bring out the best in, well, anybody
But there’s something else going on, and because of Alex’s unorthodox teaching methods, she is soon privy to information she didn’t want to have. With strong-willed students going their own ways, Alex is caught up in a really ugly situation, and getting out of it could be incredibly difficult. And dangerous
The Swallows is Lisa Lutz at her best. It’s dark, true, but her trademark humor is liberally sprinkled throughout the novel, and her pacing is breathtaking Told from several points of view, not just Alex’s, you get a good look at what goes on at Stonebridge Academy, and it’s a testament to Lisa’s talent that each voice is unique. There’s never any doubt as to who is talking.
If I have a complaint, it’s that there are so many people – not narrators, but characters in general – that there were times when, having put the book down because stupid life dragged me away, that I had to figure out who was whom again. But then, I’m getting older. These things happen.
The mere fact that The Swallowsis a Lisa Lutz novel should be enough to recommend it to you, if you’ve read her other work. If you haven’t, then by all means, grab it and dive in. Oh, you’re in for quite a ride, even if you’re back in school during summer vacation!
Around the time the shop was closing, the second novel by Andy Weir was set to be published. I’d loved both the book and the movie The Martian, and had high hopes for this new one Artemis. Over three years later I picked up a copy and have to say it was a disappointment. The science that underlies the fiction, as with The Martian, gives it the foundation of believablility. But the voice of the central character is annoying. The story would’ve been better, sleeker, had it been written in third person. But there you go. If you want a crime story set in the first settlement on the moon, and what the science and physics of it would be, give it a try.
Finally, it will come as no secret that we are no fans of Amazon. In fact, for years we’ve referred to them as SPECTRE due to what we feel is their nefarious practices. Now, with the news that Amazon is in talks to buy MGM for $9Billion, the circle comes around. MGM is the owner of the James Bond movies. If Amazon does buy the entertainment behemoth, SPECTRE will own SPECTRE…
If our counting is right, there were 52 mass shootings in April, 2021. In May – and the month isn’t over as this is typed – there have been 65, more than 2 a day. If it feels as if they’re happening all the time it is because they are.
Ever wonder what Winnie-the-Pooh would do if he found himself embroiled in a mystery? I believe H.F. Heard inadvertently gave us the answer in a Taste For Honey.
Admittedly, H.F. Heard didn’t intend to write an A.A. Milne pastiche. Heard intended A Taste For Honey to enter the Sherlockian canon of works. The driving force within the novel is a mysterious beekeeper who owns a surprising amount of knowledge in a diverse number of fields. And I concede Mr. Mycroft and his bees are intriguing.
HELPFUL HINT if you decide to pick up this title… If you know nothing about this book other than this review and the blurb on the back, I advise you NOT TO READ Otto Penzler’s introduction.
Until after you’ve finished the book.
Unfortunately, within those roman numeral pages, Mr. Penzler unintentionally spoils the biggest mystery in the book and its’ ending by making one fundamental assumption – the reader already knows how A Taste For Honey wraps up. Granted, it’s a reasonable assumption – as A Taste For Honey‘s original publication date was eighty years ago (1941) and is apparently well known in Sherlockian circles. However, if, like me, you’d never heard of this book prior to picking it up – take my advice read the introduction last.
In any case, back to Sydney Silchester – the reluctant companion pressed into service by Mr. Mycroft – who reminded me of that famous yellow bear.
Not only because his singular love of honey put him in the path of both a murderer and a detective. But because of his love of long walks, nature, his own company, and his overall reluctance to get involved with other people. And really, Sydney is a man of very little brains who (if it weren’t for Mr. Mycroft) would’ve become the villain’s second victim.
Undoubtedly, Heard didn’t intend for me to liken his narrator to Edward Bear. However, once it dawned on me, I couldn’t shake the notion! It added an extra layer of humor to an already excellent mystery I’d happily recommend to anyone who enjoys British and/or Sherlockian-style mystery.
(BTW – I’ve no evidence that even hints that Heard intended to mash together Winnie-the-Pooh and Sherlockiana. Though chronologically speaking, Pooh appeared in print (1926) well before A Taste For Honey was written. Additionally, Milne did pen a well-received locked-room mystery in 1922, The Red House Mystery – thereby getting on the radar of mystery readers and writers….so it’s possible, though not probable…right?)
Of course I want you to read the latest Joshilyn Jackson novel. I want you to read ALL of her work, so it’s no surprise that I want you to read this one, and the core reasons are just as compelling.
Can she create complex and believable characters? If anything, they only get better.
Can she tell an amazing and gripping story? Oh my goodness yes, and again, they just get better.
Will you find something to relate to? That’s her special gift.
Bree Cabbat was not raised in wealth. Her single mom firmly believed that the world was dangerous and a deeply scary place. However, Bree has found comfort and happiness in her marriage to Trey, and their two daughters are beautiful and headstrong and as challenging as pre-teens can be. Right now, though, Bree’s six-month-old baby, Robert, is the center of her world.
She figures she imagined the woman looking into her window, but is disturbed when that same strange lady appears in a parking lot, watching her.
And then Robert vanishes. It only takes the turn of a head, a few precious seconds, and Bree’s baby is gone. But Robert hasn’t been taken by some woman who longs for a child. No, Robert is being held hostage, not for money but for Bree to complete one simple task, along with her silence.
Here’s where my foggy brain caught up to my history of reading Joshilyn Jackson’s books. She tells one helluva tale, that’s indisputable. But what I hadn’t realized until Mother May Iis that she shines a powerful spotlight on social issues. The thing is, she does it in such a personal way that it’s easy to overlook how compelling and clever she is because you’re caught up in the sweep of the story.
If you need to have an issue addressed, look at one of Joshilyn Jackson’s books. From racism to privilege to domestic violence to dysfunctional families, she’s got it covered, and in a way that makes it personal but never preachy. She’s brilliant.
So yes, read Mother May I, and anything else by Joshilyn Jackson that you can get your hands on. Do it now.
“It was common for Negro Leaguers – especially those reared in the Southern states – to cherish the unfettered citizenship that Mexico offered them. Its perks were famously articulated by [Willie] Wells, the Devil himself (fondly regarded across the Spanish-speaking nation as El Diablo, which is inscribed on his Texas tombstone), who observed to Wendell Smith of the Pittsburgh Courier that ‘we live in the best hotels, eat in the best restaurants, and can go anyplace we care to. We don’t enjoy such privileges in the United States. We have everything first-class, plus the fact that the people here are much more considerate than the American baseball fan.’ … Monte Irvin, the future Hall of Famer, played only one season in Mexico before he was called away to World War II, but that season made a profound impression. ‘It was the first time in my life that I felt free.’” Irvin was 23 when drafted.
While it was way past time last year for Major League Baseball to incorporate the records of Negro League players into the statistics of those there were not allowed to play with, Lonnie Wheeler‘s new biography of the man reported by all who saw him play – black and white – to have been the fasted man who ever played baseball, points out the problems doing that .
“‘That Cool Papa Bell,’ recalled [Art] Pennington, speaking to Brent Kelley in Voices from the Negro Leagues, ‘I thought I could outrun him. I was young (Bell’s junior by twenty-one years), and Taylor would have us get out and run the hundred-yard dash. We would run, but all at once Cool Papa would walk on by me. And I thought I could fly in those days.'”
Black baseball was never covered with the specificity of white ball. The white papers rarely covered Negro League games and no papers devoted time or space to reliable box scores. Reconstructing Bell’s or any other player’s stats is a fruitless pursuit. So by not being allowed into the Major Leagues, their abilities were not documented as the white players had been, so it is now impossible to do side-by-side comparisons. They were robbed of playing time and then robbed of the proof that baseball uses to measure a player. Wheeler’s title points to this: The Bona Fide Legend of Cool Papa Bell. There are some newspaper stories, the recorded testaments of his contemporaries, and still pictures, but no film of him flying around the bases. Bell scoring from first on a simple base hit was not odd, nor was stealing his was around the diamond. It is a crime that blackball was treated so poorly, but it isn’t a surprise.
Besides the racist cruelty and hatred they had to withstand, they were also relegated to inferior ballparks (one section of the book relates how one ballpark had tracks running through the outfield and play would be suspended for the trains to pass), uncomfortable travel means, and the indignity of outplaying white players in the off season but not being allowed to outplay them in the regular season. And nothing about this is different from what jazz musicians or any other black person confronted then – or now. But through it all, by all accounts, Bell kept his dignity, kept his attire fine, and was a roll model for all who came in contact with him. He loved the game and was not shy or reluctant to freely give pointers to anyone, whether it was on base running or drag bunting. As Wheeler points out as well, when the major leagues were finally ready to accept black players, those who were too old to be brought “up” worked to ensure the younger players’ statistics were stellar. These veteran players held themselves back while playing so as to highlight the younger players stats, and ensure they’d be taken by the white teams. Stylish and selfless that was Bell.
Wheeler’s book is a lively story, told with spirit and no small amount of sadness for what might have been had the black ball players been allowed to play in the major leagues, had their accomplishments been recorded objectively, had America not been so mean and foolish. But then, that’s the story of American, a lively tale mixed with sadness for how great it should’ve been and what was missed. It’s a great baseball book and an honest American tale.
[and this brings us to our last word twister: in baseball, the foul pole is fair…]
eggcorn (n.) “an idiosyncratic substitution of a word or phrase for a word or words that sound similar or identical in the speaker’s dialect. The new phrase introduces a meaning that is different from the original but plausible in the same context… eggcorns are sometimes also referred to ‘oronyms’… The term eggcorn, as used to refer to this kind of substitution, was coined by professor of linguistics Geoffrey Pullum in September 2003 in response to an article by Mark Liberman on the website Language Log, a group blog for linguists. Liberman discussed the case of a woman who substitutes the phrase egg corn for the word acorn, and he argued that the precise phenomenon lacked a name. Pullum suggested using eggcorn itself as a label… An eggcorn is similar to, but differs from, folk etymology, malapropism, mondegreens or puns.” (Wikipedia)
What We’ve Been Up To
Do you need a new addiction? I’m sure you do. On the upside, this habit’s less problematic than Sherlock’s 7% solution. However, it isn’t without cost.
A subscription box that sends you a mystery to solve every month!
So far, I’ve unmasked a stalker, solved a decades-old cold case, foiled a kidnaper, resolved an art heist, and unraveled several murders in Valley Falls. (The small town where these cases are set. You work for a P.I. firm that takes on all kinds of clients.)
One of the best things about each Deadbolt Mystery Society box, beyond the variety of crimes, is the wildly different types of evidence they supply, kinds of puzzles to solve, and suspects/witnesses/victims you meet.
The puzzles of which I write are sometimes sneaky, always challenging, and require a vast array of skills to solve. One time I created a comprehensive timeline in order to cross-reference events against alibis—another time, I widdled down a massive list of addresses to locate a suspect’s abode and played a board game. On top of the logic & math problems, pictograms, cryptograms…The Deadbolt Mystery Society uses such a wide assortment of puzzles across all their boxes; it keeps them from becoming predictable and your wits sharp!
If you haven’t guessed – I’m a fan.
They remind me vaguely of online hidden-object games like the Enigmatis series (I loved them), Yuletide Legends (an excellent holiday-themed game), or Dreamwalker (another I enjoyed playing). In so far as, no matter how urgent your case, you need to solve each and every puzzle provided to move closer to the penultimate solution.
However, unlike the hidden-object games, which use short animated clips to move the story along – Deadbolt Mystery Society employs QR codes.
More often than not, these QR codes send you to password-protected web pages, which require you to input the solution from one of the aforementioned puzzles in order to obtain the next clue! Keeping the investigator honest – as you can’t just guess the answers – you need to know them.
But once you surmount each hurtle, you are rewarded with a witness statement, diary entries, cryptic phone messages, eerie songs…the list goes on, and you never know what you’re going to uncover next – which is great fun!
(BTW – you need either a smartphone or tablet with a camera to solve each case. Otherwise, you’re dead in the water.)
Deadbolt Mystery Society says each case takes anywhere between 2-6 hours to solve, depending on your skill level and the number of people working together. I take my time and usually solve them in a week or two – depending on how much free time I can carve out (unlike books – I don’t rush thru these). I would recommend these for adults or teens working in tandem with an adult, as most of the puzzles are pretty tricky (by design).
Not sure you’re ready to sign up? The Deadbolt Mystery Society also sells individual boxes – if you want to try it out before committing to a subscription!
FYI: While the web pages, photos, and packets don’t explicitly show any gore, the scenarios themselves can have a high body count (this last month featured a serial killer) together with the puzzle difficulty level… I’m not sure I’d be comfortable gifting a subscription to any of my nieces or nephews under fifteen or sixteen.
A Walk on the Dark Side
I haven’t been reading a lot of noir lately, because things are noir enough in real life, even though I have puppies to help liven things up. Oh, and they do!
But as I was unpacking books, I ran into Lono Waiwaiole’s “Wiley” series. Well, the first two anyway. I haven’t unearthed the third one yet. The thing is, I have them, but I never read them. I like Lono as a person, JB and Bill raved about the books, so I knew I’d like them. I just never got around to it.
I just finished Wiley’s Lament. WHY DID I NOT READ THIS EARLIER? Holy cats.
Wiley is just kinda drifting through life. He’s living in a house owned by his old buddy, Leon, and he gambles to pay the rent. When he comes up short, Wiley leaves his home environs of Portland, OR, and wanders up to Seattle, where he robs drug dealers. He has nothing to lose, as far as he’s concerned.
“When I lose, I go to Seattle and find a drug dealer to rip off.”
“Isn’t that dangerous?”
“I like the symmetry of it. Either I get the money, or it blows up in my face and I don’t need any money.”
“It sounds like you don’t really care which one it is.”
“I don’t,” I said. “That’s the key to the whole thing.”
But when Wiley’s estranged daughter is murdered, his interest in things comes sharply into focus. He blames his buddy, Leon, for Lizzie’s death, but it turns out things are much, much more complicated than what Wiley initially thought, and that drive to find out just what happened puts both Wiley and Leon on a dark and dangerous path.
Lono Waiwaiole‘s writing is dark, visceral, and deeply, profoundly human. Wiley and Leon and their associates are not the guys in white hats. They’re flawed and emotionally scarred, and it takes some looking to see the solid and faithful hearts beating underneath. But it’s there, and you care. Deeply.
And of all the characters I wish I could be, among a whole lot of wonderful and memorable people, I want to be Elmer. He’s a total delight to me. Granted, I want to be faster. Maybe I just want his wisdom.
I’m so sorry I took this long to read Wiley’s Lament, and I’ve got Wiley’s Shuffleclose to hand. If you haven’t read them, now is a good time.
Mike Lawson’s books have an subtle thrum to them, a smooth motion that seems to me to hum. They are the finest example of thrillers as, once they start, they don’t slow down. And though DeMarco is a classic reluctant hero, he never fails to see the case finished, even if he has to cut corners.
House Standoffis a departure for Lawson, this time playing with the strict rules of a whodunnit. Someone close to DeMarco has been murdered in a distant setting, and he’s not going to rest, as he warns the people he bangs into, until he finds out who pulled the trigger. Mike provides a number of suspects and seeds the stories with red herrings. The book works like a Manor House mystery, set in a small town in the Far West. And then he has the audacity of upend the rules. It is a stunning piece of work.
He buffaloed me. I was sure I’d fingered the killer, but …
There are many series I have re-read many times. I think it is time to start the DeMarcos at the beginning. Sounds like as much fun as can be had between the covers of a paperback. Keep me occupied til he next new Lawson book.
I was in my teens when I started reading Gothic mysteries. It seemed like a natural progression, y’know? Nancy Drew, the Hardy Boys, Ken Holt, and then Gothics crossed my path. From a teenage perspective, they made sense. Strong women facing danger with more romance than Nancy ever saw.
I noticed that people tended to fall into two categories: Jane Eyre or Jane Austen. That’s obviously over simplistic, but I found that a lot of folks found their footing either with the perils presented by the Brontes or the human drama showcased by Ms. Austen. Both are excellent, and of course a whole lot of people love both, as they should.
In my opinion, there’s a misplaced dismissal and, frankly, snobbish elitism when mystery readers consider Gothics. They’re dismissed as formulaic, and more than a little silly.
I beg to disagree.
The Gothic tradition is formulaic to an extent, yes, because there are certain elements that need to be met – a woman out of her element, isolated in some way, the dashing hero (or is he?), the scowling villain (or is he?), and an overwhelming feeling of something dire, sometimes with a supernatural twist, but often not.
To me, that’s as formulaic as a thriller, with it’s obligatory car chases, gun play, and the hero getting shot in the shoulder but shrugging it off. Mind you, I love them both!
And that brings me to what may be the Gothic’s Gothic novel, HOUSES OF STONE by Barbara Michaels.
Whether you know her as Elizabeth Peters, Barbara Mertz, or Barbara Michaels, no one can deny that she could write a compelling tale, but her cleverness in putting the Gothic novel on display in this book is phenomenal.
Basic plot, Karen Holloway has created a name for herself by finding a small book of poems by a heretofore unknown 19th century poet known only as Ismene. When she’s presented the partial manuscript by the same unknown lady, Karen finds herself in a race to figure out who Ismene really is, but of course the challenges, both physical and emotional, keep piling up.
The manuscript is a 19th century Gothic, and that’s the area of Karen’s expertise. It also happens to be an area of expertise for Barbara Michaels.
What makes HOUSES OF STONE particularly special is that it’s a Gothic novel about a Gothic novel, while the protagonist discusses the elements of the Gothic novel. What Ms. Michaels did was write a great treatise on the Gothic novel and then use the story she was telling to illustrate all her points.
Those points are not light and fluffy, though. She discusses racism, feminism, chauvinism, and looks hard at the politics of repression of the female voice in literature, with a strong nod to Virginia Woolf’s observations about a woman needing a space of her own.
It’s also a page turner, and a must-read for anyone who loves books.
If you’ve ever dismissed the Gothic, you should read this book. If you love Gothic novels, you should read this book.
bad penny (n): This proverb has lived long in the language. It derives from the notion that some coins were ‘bad’, that is, they were debased or counterfeit.
The ‘clipping’ of coins was rife in the Middle Ages, long before standardisation of the coinage was reliably enforced. This example from the reign of Edward I shows the degree of ‘badness’ that pennies then endured.
The term ‘bad penny’ was established enough in English by the late 14th century for it to have been used in William Langland’s famous prose poem The vision of William concerning Piers Plowman, 1370-90: “Men may lykne letterid men… to a badde peny.”
to coin a phrase : Coining, in the sense of creating, derives from the coining of money by stamping metal with a die. Coins – also variously spelled coynes, coigns, coignes or quoins – were the blank, usually circular, disks from which money was minted. This usage derived from an earlier 14th century meaning of coin, which meant wedge. The wedge-shaped dies which were used to stamp the blanks were called coins and the metal blanks and the subsequent ‘coined’ money took their name from them.
Coining later began to be associated with inventiveness in language. In the 16th century the ‘coining’ of words and phrases was often referred to. By that time the monetary coinage was often debased or counterfeit and the coining of words was often associated with spurious linguistic inventions; for example, in George Puttenham’s The arte of English poesie, 1589: “Young schollers not halfe well studied… will seeme to coigne fine wordes out of the Latin.”
Shakespeare, the greatest coiner of them all, also referred to the coining of language in Coriolanus, 1607: “So shall my Lungs Coine words till their decay.”
Quoin has been retained as the name of the wedge-shaped keystones or corner blocks of buildings. Printers also use the term as the name for the expandable wedges that are used to hold lines of type in place in a press. This has provoked some to suggest that ‘coin a phrase’ derives from the process of quoining (wedging) phrases in a printing press. That is not so. ‘Quoin a phrase’ is recorded nowhere and ‘coining’ meant ‘creating’ from before the invention of printing in 1440. Co-incidentally, printing does provide us with a genuine derivation that links printing with linguistic banality – cliché. This derives from the French cliquer, from the clicking sound of the stamp used to make metal typefaces.
‘Coin a phrase’ itself arises much later than the invention of printing – the 19th century in fact. It appears to be American in origin – it certainly appears in publications there long before any can be found from any other parts of the world. The earliest use of the term that I have found is in the Wisconsin newspaper The Southport American, July 1848: “Had we to find… a name which should at once convey the enthusiasm of our feelings towards her, we would coin a phrase combining the extreme of admiration and horror and term her the Angel of Assassination.”
shot in the dark: The term ‘shot’ has been slang for an attempt since the middle of the 19th century; for example, this piece from Joseph Hewlett’s comic work Peter Priggins, the college scout, 1841: “After waiting for a little while, Ninny… made a shot, and went so near the mark.”
‘A shot in the dark’ is simply a hopeful attempt to hit an enemy that you can’t see.
George Bernard Shaw seems to have been the first to use it metaphorically, in The Saturday Review, February 1895: “Never did man make a worse shot in the dark.”
Change is a tricky thing. Often uncomfortable, awkward, unsightly, and a difficult thing to manage gracefully. Whether it’s moving to a new house in a new city, purchasing a new car, or adopting a new pet, unexpected complications always seem to creep into the proceedings.
Books series are no different.
Any author worth their salt, who endeavors for a successful string of books knows – eventually – they will need to change things up. Otherwise, the series stales and stalls.
Elizabeth Peter’s efficiently handled this problem by sending Amelia Peabody to a different location in Egypt (generally speaking) for each installment. Patricia Moyes employed a similar tactic by sending her husband & wife team on vacation all over the world. J.K. Rowling sends her famous wizard off to school (or to defeat dark wizards every year.
In the case of Ashley Weaver’s A Deception At Thornecrest, she does the reverse – she sends Amory Ames and her husband Milo home.
And it works beautifully.
Over the past six books, neither member of our dynamic duo has spent much time at Thorncrest – so it’s the perfect place for Weaver to set her transition mystery. By mixing a bit of old with a bit of new, Weaver is all set to send our heroine into new and exciting directions in future books. Even better? She accomplishes this aim with such flawless skill it makes A Deception At Thornecrest a joy to read.
One of the most significant changes in Amory’s life? She’s about to become a first-time mother! A fact which both she and Milo are over the moon about, in their understated way. The only hitch in the giddy-up? During the annual Springtide festival, a stable hand is murdered…Amory, our remarkable amateur sleuth, is discouraged at every turn from investigating because of her “delicate condition”.
Fortunately for Lady Justice and us readers, Amory has zero interest in heeding their unsolicited opinions.
A Deception At Thornecrest was a compelling historical mystery, one which I thoroughly enjoyed reading from beginning to end. Even better, if you’re not interested in reading the previous exploited of our heroine and her husband (but I would highly suggest you do as they are lovely), you don’t have to! Because this is a transitional book, so long as you aren’t starting with numero uno, you can start with this installment and be alright.
Honestly, I cannot say enough good things about A Deception At Thornecrest.
It’s not her latest, but it’s the most recent one I’ve read, and holy cats, does J.T. Ellison have a twisty mind! Just one more reason to love her, honestly, just like you’re going to love Good Girls Lie.
The Goode School is an Ivy League feeder boarding school in Virginia, and there’s a long waiting list of girls hoping to be chosen. The Goode School accepts only 50 girls for each grade level, and each girl is properly and thoroughly vetted before acceptance. You know what I mean, right?
Ash Carlisle is a bit of an exception. She’s British, for starters. She was being considered before her parent suddenly died, and no one can say that the Goode School is without compassion.
However, Ash’s new classmates don’t take to her that well, and Ash has secrets, so she doesn’t want to make a fuss. The resulting dynamic of mean girls, vulnerable girls, and a certain amount of looking the other way by staff members leaves Ash in a precarious position.
Then things start to get really ugly. Even deadly.
J.T. Ellison attended a similar school, although it wasn’t as perilous, so her insights and knowledge about this setting give Good Girls Lie an added edge that, combined with J.T.’s fabulous writing, makes this novel deeply disturbing. And did I mention it’s twisty as all get out? You get to see events through multiple viewpoints, and very little of what everyone sees on the surface is real. Just like most social interactions, I suspect.
You don’t have to have attended a posh boarding school to appreciate Good Girls Lie, although if you have, I bet you’ll recognize some of the people. You’re in for a treat!
The title alone gave me hope that the book would answer some of my questions about why there have been so many serial killers in the last decade. Peter Vronsky is a Canadian with a PhD in criminal justice history. I saw that he’d written a couple of other books on the subject and this new one, American Serial Killers: The Epidemic Years 1950-2000, seems the most promising to address my curiosity.
Why so many? Why now? Why do many not fit the profile we’re always told about? And most strangely, why do some seem to quit?
Vronsky carefully explains what he sees as the roots – fathers who came back damaged from WWI, the great number of desertions by fathers during the Depression, and those effects on families and sons specifically. There were women who really should never have been mothers due to domineering personalities or mental health issues, the frequent element of head injuries and you have a pool ready for the birth of trouble. As youngsters, they were subjected to the social traumas of WWII, the revelations of horrors of the Holocaust, the dawn of the atomic age, and the movement of the population from the smaller towns where everyone was known to one another to the large cities and their anonymity, and evil can erupt. Mix in the interstate highway system… OK, so far I understand.
But he then begins to mix in the proliferation of true crime magazines in the 40s and 50s – when they’d begun in the 20s. I understand that many of the killers in the 60s, 70s and 80s mention them as formative with their lurid imagery. But I don’t see that had there not been these magazines, things would’ve been far different. It strikes me as a cheap target, like Bundy saying it all started with pornography.
Similarly, Vronsky puts blame on film noir and the pessimism and corruption they portrayed. He neatly glides by the fact that film noir was a direct outgrowth of the crime novels of the 20s, 30s and 40s. He doesn’t attempt a connection that the fiends were reading novels about sex and death, just looking at images of it. Municipal corruption was a massive menace well before the killers of the last half of the 20th C., but he gives little attention to the first half. I can make a couple of guesses as to why: killers could still travel around by jumping trains but the journalism may’ve lacked the ability to connect murders in different locales. He often points to the problem with killers crossing jurisdictions and police from one town/city/county/state not communicating with one another. Indeed, it still seems to be a problem – not every facet of law enforcement knew what was going on at the Capitol on January 6th, or 9/11.
Odder still, he spends an unnecessary amount of time and gory detail on crimes of Jeffrey Dahmer while mentioning that many others have been ignored in the study of serial killers. If we’ve never heard of them, he’s missed his chance to inform us.
But I could also guess that many killers in the century from 1850 to 1950 had easy outlets for their murderous ways – they had the Civil War where murder could easily be disguised as warfare, they had the Wild West where murder was cheap and easy, and they had the growth of Organized Crime where there were always opportunities for hired killers.
Over all, the book was interesting but frustrating. For an academic, he was flippant at time, snarky at others, and those instances felt out of place. It is one thing to be casual and entertaining. It is another to sound off key.
My largest question – why do some seem to stop – was answered in one quick paragraph about Gary Ridgeway: the thrill was gone. Really? That doesn’t feel adequate to explain why a monster who killed dozens of women would simply cease doing it. I hope to get an answer to that some day from a future author.
“This whole arduous process began with a monumental failure by the keepers of the public memory – the government and the press. Their failure remains with us. Over the past half century, this case has been filled with bitter arguments and wild conspiracy theories; government bodies papering over significant failures; junk science and ’eminence-based’ conclusions; sober, tenacious research and trumpeting blowhards. But over these same decades and despite many mistakes and reverses, a partial truth has been brought to light. That truth, however, leaves open many of the questions that should have been answered fifty years ago and in all likelihood cannot be answered now. Principally…who did it, and why?”
Another book that had great promise yet fell slightly short was Josiah Thompson‘sLast Second in Dallas. The philosophy professor who left academia to become a private eye in San Francisco had released one of the seminal books on the JFK assassination in 1967, Six Seconds in Dallas. It’s always been hailed as a scholarly work on the shooting and, while he stayed connected tangentially with the case, he’d published nothing else in the nearly 55 years since.
His new book is in the form of a re-examination and memoir. He situates his arguments amongst the developments in his life and the assassination evidence that has come out over the decades. He admits when he had something wrong and corrects it. It’s a fascinating thing to track.
Thompson has always focused on the evidence, the “what” of the case, not the “who” of the case. As the titles say, he’s focused on the seconds of gunfire in Dealy Plaza, not those who organized the crossfire or pulled the triggers. This narrow view allows him to delve deeply into what is known and can be proved and he does a masterful job of it.
“There is, however, one fact about assassination that has not changed in fifty years. It is its most obvious feature – the brutal effectiveness of crime… In this whole narrative, what was clear in 1966 is even clearer now. This was a highly sophisticated, devastatingly effective assassination: who bullets to the head and one to the back. Its very audacity is the most compelling feature. And speculation as to who did it and why must at least start with that fact.”
However, within those seconds of shots, he does allow some questions to go unanswered. He’s got four shots being fired. What accounts for that shallow wound in Kennedy’s back that didn’t penetrate far? The Dallas doctors could feel the end of the tract with their little fingers. What of the bullet or fragment or chip of cement that nicked James Tague? Tague and his wound are not mentioned by Thompson even as he has bullet fragments bouncing around the inside of the limo. Other than the gunman behind the picket fence, he’s non-committal about the location of the other shooters – one in the depository, the other… perhaps, like the identity of the participants, he’s leaving those questions to others. He also condescendingly dismisses the Garrison investigation, which was, after all, about the “who”s. That sounded unfair, tone-deaf, and short-sighted.
Still, Last Second in Dallas is a fascinating book and a worthy addition to my shelves of books on the assassination.
Question: Have you ever moved house/apartment/room and discovered you’ve inadvertently started a collection? Or perhaps you were aware of said collection but utterly unaware of its sheer size due to it being tucked away in odd corners/cabinets/drawers of your abode.
Or – in my case – on multiple shelves, in multiple bookcases, in multiple rooms. The collection in question? Agatha Christie, and Agatha Christie adjacent, books.
In 2014, when I started my Christie blog, I quickly discovered photos make the internet go round. Meaning? I began posting cover art along with reviews.
And you can’t photograph the same cover art over and over again…
So over the past seven years, I’ve haunted little out-of-the-way used bookshops in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and biblio.com for foreign/vintage/obscure Agatha Christie mystery covers…when I wasn’t spending my SMB paycheck to augment and enhance my collection.
Fast forward to March 2021. When we move into new digs (and for the first time ever), I’ve my own home office and finally gathered all my Christie’s into a single room.
Though not a single bookcase.
Fran (who I texted when I realized how marginally out of control my collection’s got) thought you guys might be interested to see part of what I’d amassed.
(Hilariously these photos don’t include the other book cases filled with other classic mysteries and general mystery related research books! My office is mostly shelves…and yet still not enough space…)
Now For Something Completly Different.
Hench by Natalie Zina Walschots
How many of you out there watched the Venture Brothers? (If you haven’t, you really should.) To narrow our focus further, how many of you recall The Monarch’s most trusted henchman Number 24 (aka Gary)? Yes. No.
Well, I love the series (and am still miffed Adult Swim axed its longest-running series last year), and I’ve watched every episode several times over. And when I first started reading Hench, Anna loosely reminded me of Gary…if his life were bleaker.
Much, much, bleaker.
Which initially made me want to set the book down and walk away…Because I thought I knew where the story was heading (especially when Anna accepted a contract with a villain named Electric Eel).
Boy, am I glad I stuck with it. (And finished it a day later.)
Because not only did I not see the direction Anna’s life would take…I found a clever, sarcastic, and compelling hench(woman) whose motivations were entirely understandable and relatable – but whose viciousness (in her revenge) is utterly and unapologetically unrestrained.
Seriously, Hench is an excellent read. Because it’s more than just a tale of a single all-consuming revenge…
This review is so hard because I want to seriously gush about this book, but in gushing over it, I would ruin the layers, nuance, and sheer evil genius found within its pages. Hench is a book, if SMB were still open, I would simply put Hench in your hands* and say:
“Trust me.” (Squinting at Fran.)
Because if this is a first in a series (and I suspect it is or at least will have a follow-up), I CANNOT wait to see where Anna’s henching takes her next.
(Provided I knew you enjoyed reading gritty urban fantasy and/or sci-fi.)
Editors’ note: we’re going to take a break from the usual Words of the Month and take the opportunity to inject some color into the issue…
Words of the Month
orange (n.) From the late 14th C., in reference to the fruit of the orange tree (late 13th C. as a surname), from Old French orange, orenge (12th C., Modern French orange), from Medieval Latin pomum de orenge, from Italian arancia, originally narancia (Venetian naranza), an alteration of Arabic naranj, from Persian narang, from Sanskrit naranga-s “orange tree,” a word of uncertain origin.
Not used as a color word in English until 1510s (orange color), “a reddish-yellow color like that of a ripe orange.” Colors similar to modern orange in Middle English might be called citrine or saffron. Loss of initial n- probably is due to confusion with the definite article (as in une narange, una narancia), but also perhaps was by influence of French or “gold.” The name of the town of Orange in France (see Orangemen) perhaps was deformed by the name of the fruit. Orange juice is attested from 1723.
The tree’s original range probably was northern India. The Persian orange, grown widely in southern Europe after its introduction in Italy 11th C., was bitter; sweet oranges were brought to Europe 15th C. from India by Portuguese traders and quickly displaced the bitter variety, but only Modern Greek still seems to distinguish the bitter (nerantzi) from the sweet (portokali “Portuguese”) orange.
Portuguese, Spanish, Arab, and Dutch sailors planted citrus trees along trade routes to prevent scurvy. On his second voyage in 1493, Christopher Columbus brought the seeds of oranges, lemons and citrons to Haiti and the Caribbean. Introduced in Florida (along with lemons) in 1513 by Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de Leon. It was introduced to Hawaii in 1792.
Will downtown Seattle bounce back after the pandemic? [we include this article as it deals with Cherry Street Coffee, which was just down the street when SMB closed. that the owner, Ali, had to install a buzzer at the door so that only customers could be let in says something about the state of Pioneer Square since we left. very sad!]
vermilion (n.) From the late 13th C., “cinnabar, red dye,” from Anglo-French and Old French vermeillon “red lead, cinnabar, (cosmetic) rouge” (12th C.), from vermeil (see vermeil). As an adjective, from 1580s.
violet (n.) A small wild plant with purplish-blue flowers, c. 1300, from Old French violete (12th C.), diminutive of viole “violet,” from Latin viola “the violet, a violet color,” cognate with Greek ion (see iodine), probably from a pre-Indo-European substrate Mediterranean language. The color sense (late 14th C.) developed from the flower.
Burgundy (n.) A region, kingdom, duchy, and province in France, from Medieval Latin Burgundia, from Late Latin Burgundiones, literally “highlanders,” from Proto-Indo-European *bhrgh-nt– “high, mighty,” from root *bhergh– (2) “high.” The Burgundians were a Germanic people, originally from what is now Sweden, who migrated and founded a kingdom west of the Rhine in 411. Their story is told in the 12th C. Nibelungenlied. As “wine made in Burgundy,” 1670s; as a color resembling that of the wine, 1881 (burgundy rose as a color is from 1872). Related: Burgundian.
verdigris (n.) From c. 1300, vertegrez, from Old French verte grez (13th C.), verte de Grece (late 12th C.), literally “green of Greece,” from obsolete French verd, from Latin viridis (see verdure). The reason for it being called that is not known. In other languages, “green of Spain” (German grünspan, Danish spanskgrönt, Dutch spaansch-groen), from Medieval Latin viride Hispanum. Current spelling in English is from 1789. In chemistry, confined to a basic copper acetate; popularly applied to the green encrustation on copper or brass exposed to the air.
blue (adj.1) “of the color of the clear sky,” c. 1300, bleu, blwe, etc., “sky-colored,” also “livid, lead-colored,” from Old French blo, bleu “pale, pallid, wan, light-colored; blond; discolored; blue, blue-gray,” from Frankish *blao or some other Germanic source, from Proto-Germanic *blæwaz (source also of Old English blaw, Old Saxon and Old High German blao, Danish blaa, Swedish blå, Old Frisian blau, Middle Dutch bla, Dutch blauw, German blau “blue”).
This is from Proto-Indo-European *bhle– was “light-colored, blue, blond, yellow,” from root *bhel– (1) “to shine, flash, burn,” also “shining white” and forming words for bright colors. The same PIE root yielded Latin flavus “yellow,” Old Spanish blavo “yellowish-gray,” Greek phalos “white,” Welsh blawr “gray,” showing the slipperiness of definition in Indo-European color-words. Many Indo-European languages seem to have had a word to describe the color of the sea, encompassing blue and green and gray; such as Irish glass (from PIE root *ghel- (2) “to shine,”); Old English hæwen “blue, gray,” related to har (see hoar); Serbo-Croatian sinji “gray-blue, sea-green;” Lithuanian šyvas, Russian sivyj “gray.”
The present spelling in English is since 16th C., common from c. 1700. The sense “lead-colored, blackish-blue, darkened as if by bruising” is perhaps by way of the Old Norse cognate bla “livid, lead-colored.” It is the meaning in black and blue, and blue in the face “livid with effort” (1864, earlier black and blue in the face, 1829).
The color of constancy since Chaucer at least, but apparently for no deeper reason than the rhyme in true blue (c. 1500). Figurative meaning “sad, sorrowful, afflicted with low spirits” is from c. 1400, perhaps from the “livid” sense and implying a bruised heart or feelings. Of women, “learned, pedantic,” by 1788 (see bluestocking). In some phrases, such as blue murder, it appears to be merely intensive. Blue was by c. 1600 the distinctive color of the dress of servants, which may be the reason police uniforms are blue, a tradition Farmer dates to Elizabethan times.
Blue pencil as an editor’s characteristic tool to mark corrections in copy is from 1885; also as a verb from 1885. The fabulous story of Blue-beard, who kept his murdered wives in a locked room, is from 1798. For blue ribbon see cordon bleu under cordon. Blue whale attested from 1851, so called for its color. Blue cheese is from 1862. Blue water “the open ocean” is from 1822. Blue streak, of something resembling a bolt of lightning (for quickness, intensity, etc.) is from 1830, Kentucky slang. Delaware has been the “Blue Hen State” at least since 1830, supposedly from a nickname of its regiments in the Revolutionary War.
blue (adj.2) As “lewd, indecent” recorded from 1840 (in form blueness, in an essay of Carlyle’s); the sense connection with the color name (see blue (adj.1)) is unclear, and is opposite to that in blue laws (q.v.). John Mactaggart’s “Scottish Gallovidian Encyclopedia” (1824), containing odd words he had learned while growing up in Galloway and elsewhere in Scotland, has an entry for Thread o’Blue, “any little smutty touch in song-singing, chatting, or piece of writing.” Farmer [“Slang and Its Analogues Past and Present,” 1890] offers the theory that this meaning derives from the blue dress uniforms issued to harlots in houses of correction (from c. 1600), but he writes that the earlier slang authority John Camden Hotten “suggests it as coming from the French Bibliothèque Bleu, a series of books of very questionable character,” and adds, from Hotten, that, “Books or conversation of an entirely opposite nature are said to be Brown or Quakerish, i.e., serious, grave, decent.”
What We’ve Been Up To
Do you remember how excited we were when Ernest Cline wrote Ready Player One? You should, because we could not stop talking about it, and were selling it right up until we closed.
Amber even got to sit in the prize-winning DeLorean, which was extra-special cool!
So you know I was over the moon when the sequel, Ready Player Two, came out. But then, I just sat there and stared at it, not reading it, because what if it wasn’t as good? Second books often aren’t, although technically this isn’t the second book, since Armada dropped in there. But you know what I mean. What if…?
If you’re in the same place, go ahead and dive in. You’re in for a treat!
When we left Wade Watts (a/k/a Parzival, or just “Z”), he and his spunky crew had won James Halliday’s challenge and had been rewarded with his empire. Life was good.
Nine days later, Wade discovers a secret that Halliday left for him to find, and suddenly everything goes nuts. The old OASIS Haptic goggles and gloves are suddenly obsolete, but the new and completely hidden technology, OASIS Neural Interface, will literally change the world.
This is not necessarily a good thing, and it divides the crew. And then there’s a new riddle to be solved, a game to be won. Things get even worse.
MASK OF SANITY – Ted Bundy, Charles Manson, John Wayne Gacy—these serial killers were famous not only for their crimes, but their deceptively charming dispositions. This is what crime experts refer to as the Mask of Sanity. Coined by psychiatrist Hervey M. Cleckley in his 1941 book, this describes the phenomena of psychopaths easily blending in with their peers because they don’t typically suffer from more noticeable mental symptoms like hallucinations and delusions.
While working the shelves of Seattle Mystery Bookshop, several series caused me no end of dismay when trying to space them out, so they looked pretty for you all!
Agatha Christie often clogged the classics section with the sheer variety of sizes publishers used to reprint her mysteries. Earle Stanley Gardner also had his moments of causing classic section consternation due to the sheer volume of books he wrote – 82 in the Perry Mason series alone!
M.C. Beaton and Alexander McCall Smith (in the general mysteries) eventually got their own sections due to the ever-expanding series.
However, there’s one writer who often lead me to tear my hair out – J.D. Robb.
Due to Robb’s overwhelming popularity, we needed to keep the majority of the In Death Series on hand at all times. Meaning? When Robb released a new book or we received a batch of used mysteries…We often needed to move entire rows & sections of books around, so Eve and her cohorts didn’t scrunch, encroach, or simply dominate the neighboring authors!
Now that Robb’s hit book number 51 in her In Death series, I shudder to think how we’d struggle to fit her prodigious output on the shelves!
Speaking of book 51, Shadows in Death…Robb delivers yet another page-turning, read-late-into-the-night thriller you can devour in a single (long) sitting. One that will leave Eve & Roarke fans with a pleasant taste in their mouths; as we learn more about Roarke’s past, watch Eve work with her team and visit Ireland!
Feeney had stars in his eyes.
Perhaps, just perhaps, the mystery’s culmination teetered on the edge of sensationalism. But really, it only ever teetered, but Robb never actually jumped the shark, so we’re still fine!
Did you know the Western tradition of a bride wearing white didn’t come about until Queen Victoria wore a white dress to her wedding in 1840? The trend soon caught on amongst the elite across Europe as it became a symbol, not of the bride’s ‘purity’ but her family’s wealth. (i.e., they could afford to purchase an easily ruined dress.) Prior to this point, brides wore all kinds of colors – red being a particular favorite.
It wasn’t until prosperity hit the middle classes after WWII, helped along by the silver screen, that white wedding gowns became commonplace across the US and Europe.
In 1981 the tradition received a significant boost when soon-to-be Princess Diana walked down the aisle in a stunning ivory dress which sported 10,000 pearls, a 25 ft train, and a 153-yard tulle veil. As one-in-six people around the entire world watched the wedding – her gown inspired generations of brides.
Beyond the fact, it undoubtedly took some serious spine and determination to pull the weight of the dress down the aisle. The train and veil caused one wedding day hiccup. The designers failed to consider the size of the glass coach Princess Diana would ride in to St. Paul’s Cathedral. So, despite the bride’s best efforts, the dress became badly wrinkled on the ride over.
I know a few wrinkles in a dress doesn’t sound like a huge deal, but I know from experience, trying to create a perfect day – something like this can easily spin one out.
Fortunately, or unfortunately depending on your view, Lindsey Norris doesn’t need to wait until the big day for something to go wrong! Not only did the guest list accidentally triple overnight – she and Sully find their officiant washed up on the beach of their wedding venue…dead!
So it’s a race against time as Lindsey & Sully work to solve a friend’s murder, find a new officiant, and expand their wedding venue – all before the big day!
I thoroughly enjoyed reading One For The Books.
The murder and the practicalities behind throwing a wedding provide an excellent counterpoint to well – the wedding. An event, which handled by a less deft mystery author, can edge towards the overly sweet – a trap McKinlay, thankfully, never falls into!
In addition, the possible motives of our cast of suspects are, for lack of a better word – intriguing. As no one, not even our victim, is innocent. It’s this tangled set of relationships, ones that neither Lindsey nor Sully ever suspected, and their revelations that make this mystery.
Then there’s The Lemon, Ms. Cole, who since announcing her aim to become Briar Creek’s next mayor – is endeavoring to loosen up and smile more….neither of which is precisely in her wheelhouse – thus adding an extra layer of sharp mirth to an already engaging read.
All in all, One For The Books was a fun, fast-paced, and diverting book I would recommend to anyone looking for a biblio-mystery or a fun way to escape an afternoon or two!
This last week we’ve met Squiddy, The Brownie Stealing Bench and Phoebe’s Silver City Operative!
One of the questions we routinely got at the bookshop was, “Have you read every book here?” It was generally accompanied with a laugh, although sometimes it was a serious question.
We always grinned and responded that there was no way to read all of them, and that we all had areas of specialty. The fact is, of course, that not only could we not have read all 10,000+ titles, but we honestly had so many new titles coming in every week, we didn’t even pretend to try.
That didn’t mean we couldn’t sell books we hadn’t read. A good working knowledge of the standards and classics worked well, and the quality of writing helped several series sell themselves.
That’s why I was pleased to finally get around to reading my first book by Charles Todd. I prefer to start at the beginning of a series, and I should have begun with A Test of Wills, but it turns out that I had an Advance Reader Copy of The Red Door, so that’s what I read.
It was obvious there were ongoing things I would have gotten had I started at the beginning, and I will enjoy filling in the backstory, but the delight of Charles Todd is that each story stands by itself. So I got to meet Ian Rutledge and his internal companion, Hamish, and I’m thoroughly hooked.
The Red Doorhas two inquiries, one concerning a street thief who attacked Rutledge on a bridge, and escapes. However the thief, known as Billy, becomes more aggressive, and it’s up to Rutledge to stop him.
But a missing person case takes precedence, since the Talley family is very important, and finding Walter Talley is deemed to be of utmost importance. Rutledge is given the assignment to find Talley, and to keep news of his disappearance out of the press, to protect the family’s privacy. What Rutledge finds in his investigation will leave death and sorrow as secrets are revealed.
The combined talents that comprise Charles Todd are wonderful, and I am looking forward to reading them all. The depth of understanding they bring to our shell-shocked hero steeped in the times and turmoil of Great Britain in the wake of the Great War makes this book, and I can only assume all the rest, absolutely compelling.
Have we read them all? Not even hardly, but it’s great to start in on some of the ones I know I missed!
People around the world have different traditions concerning New Year’s.
Creating New Year’s resolutions, banging pots & pans outside at midnight (hopefully your neighbors do the same), kissing your sweetheart, or jumping off a chair at the very second the hands strike twelve – are all popular.
One particular interesting tradition that features a bit of divination, favored by Germans around the turn of the century, was placing walnut shells in a punchbowl and watching them zip around to figure out how the following 365 days will go.
However, one of the most recognized and well-known traditions is the NYC ball drop in Times Square. Which, if you didn’t already know, first started its duties by marking the end of 1907 and the beginning of 1908. And this is when A Resolution At Midnight comes to a thrilling conclusion (it’s in the title, after all).
(Fun Fact: The ball’s only failed to mark the occasion twice – in 1942 & 1943 – when the threat of air raids kept it, and the rest of New York, dark.)
Now you know where A Resolution At Midnight ends, lets got back to the beginning – ten days before Christmas, when Lady Dunbridge arrives home from gift hunting and finds a short note from Mr. X requesting a meeting at a nickelodeon…in just over thirty minutes! Even in 1907, New York traffic is still thick. So Phil, much to her annoyance, arrives late to her meeting…whereupon she discovers a man with his throat slit!
Here’s what I love about this series: Shelley Noble never loses sight of the fact she’s writing a mystery. Yes, she incorporates the very first NYC ball drop, the NY Times, the seedy underbelly of NY politics, and the slow slide of the NYPD back into its bad ways after Roosevelt moved on…but Noble never succumbs to the temptation of historical pontification. Rather, Noble seamlessly weaves just enough detail of these fascinating facts to flesh out her mystery without Without ever detracting, derailing, or slowing the pace of her storyline. Yet, she manages to give her audience enough detail to do a bit of historical sleuthing on their own – if they so choose.
A Resolution At Midnight is no exception.
Honestly, I loved every second of this book. Noble festoons her mystery with just enough of both winter holidays to give the reader a taste of the season and – not unlike Christie – counterbalances it with a nice bloody murder. Which happily sops up all the saccharine that often saturates stories set during this time of the year.
Seriously, I would recommend A Resolution At Midnightto anyone who likes strong female leads and historical mysteries.
obloquious (n.): mid-15th C., obloquie, “evil speaking, slander, calumny, derogatory remarks,” from Medieval Latin obloquium “speaking against, contradiction,” from Latin obloqui “to speak against, contradict,” from ob “against” (see ob-) + loqui “to speak,” from Proto-Indo-European root *tolkw– “to speak.” (etymonline)
sedition (n.) From the mid-14th C., “rebellion, uprising, revolt, concerted attempt to overthrow civil authority; violent strife between factions, civil or religious disorder, riot; rebelliousness against authority,” from Old French sedicion (14th C., Modern French sédition) and directly from Latin seditionem (nominative seditio) “civil disorder, dissension, strife; rebellion, mutiny,” literally “a going apart, separation,” from se- “apart” (see secret (n.)) + itio “a going,” from ire “to go” (from Proto-Indo-European root *ei- “to go”).
Meaning “conduct or language inciting to rebellion against a lawful government” is from 1838. An Old English word for it was folcslite. Less serious than treason, as wanting an overt act, “But it is not essential to the offense of sedition that it threaten the very existence of the state or its authority in its entire extent” [Century Dictionary]. (etymonline)
peenge (v.): to whine, fret and complain of cold and hunger, to pretend poverty. (Says You!, episode 219). From the Oxford/Lexico site: To whine, complain in a whining voice; to mope, fret.
traitor (n.) c. 1200, “one who betrays a trust or duty,” from Old French traitor, traitre “traitor, villain, deceiver” (11th C., Modern French traître), from Latin traditor “betrayer,” literally “one who delivers,” agent noun from stem of tradere “deliver, hand over,” from trans- “over” (see trans-) + dare “to give” (from PIE root *do- “to give”). Originally usually with a suggestion of Judas Iscariot; especially of one false to his allegiance to a sovereign, government, or cause from late 15th C. Compare treason, tradition. (etymonline)
caterwaul (n.): “disagreeable howling or screeching,” like that of a cat in heat, late 14th C., caterwrawen, perhaps from Low German katerwaulen “cry like a cat,” or formed in English from cater, from Middle Dutch cater “tomcat” + Middle English waul “to yowl,” apparently from Old English *wrag, *wrah “angry,” of uncertain origin but somehow imitative. Related: Caterwauled; caterwauling. As a noun from 1708. (etymonline)
whinge(n.): “to complain peevishly,” British, informal or dialectal, ultimately from the northern form of Old English hwinsian, from Proto-Germanic *hwinison (source also of Old High German winison, German winseln), from root of Old English hwinan “to whine” (see whine (v.)). Related: Whinged; whinging. (etymonline)
lynch (v.): 1835, “inflict severe (but not deliberately fatal) bodily punishment (on someone) without legal sanction,” from earlier Lynch law (1811), in reference to such activity, which was likely named after William Lynch (1742-1820) of Pittsylvania, Virginia, who c. 1780, led a vigilance committee to keep order there during the Revolution. Other sources trace the name to Charles Lynch (1736-1796) a Virginia magistrate who fined and imprisoned Tories in his district, c. 1782, but the connection to him is less likely. The surname is perhaps from Irish Loingseach “sailor.”
It implies lawless concert or action among a number of members of the community, to supply the want of criminal justice or to anticipate its delays, or to inflict a penalty demanded by public opinion, though in defiance of the laws. [Century Dictionary, 1895]
Originally any sort of summary justice, done without authority of law, for a crime or public offense; it especially referred to flogging or tarring-and-feathering. At first the act was associated with frontier regions (as in the above citation), though from c. 1835 to the U.S. Civil War it also often was directed against abolitionists. The narrowing of the meaning to “extra-legal execution by hanging” is evident by the 1880s, and after c. 1893 lynching mostly meant killings of blacks by white mobs (especially in retaliation for alleged sexual assaults of white women). This shift in use seems due in part to the work of African-American journalist and activist Ida B. Wells. “Lynch mob” is attested from 1838. Compare earlier Lydford law, from a place in Dartmoor, England, “where was held a Stannaries Court of summary jurisdiction” [Weekley], hence:
Lydford law: is to hang men first, and indite them afterwards. [Thomas Blount, “Glossographia,” 1656]
Also in a similar sense was Jedburgh justice (1706) and, as a verb, to Dewitt (1680s), a reference to two Dutch statesmen of that name, opponents of William of Orange, murdered by a mob in 1672. Related: Lynched; lynching. The city of Lynchburg, Virginia, dates to the 1750s when John Lynch, brother to Charles but a peaceable Quaker, had a ferry landing on the James River there. (etymonline)
mob (n.): From the 1680s, “disorderly part of the population, rabble, common mass, the multitude, especially when rude or disorderly; a riotous assemblage,” slang shortening of mobile, mobility “common people, populace, rabble” (1670s, probably with a conscious play on nobility), from Latin mobile vulgus “fickle common people” (the Latin phrase is attested c. 1600 in English), from mobile, neuter of mobilis “fickle, movable, mobile” (see mobile (adj.)).
Mob is a very strong word for a tumultuous or even riotous assembly, moved to or toward lawlessness by discontent or some similar exciting cause. Rabble is a contemptuous word for the very lowest classes, considered as confused or without sufficient strength or unity of feeling to make them especially dangerous. [Century Dictionary, 1897]
Also used of a promiscuous aggregation of people in any rank of life (1680s), and in Australia and New Zealand used without disparagement for “a crowd.” Meaning “gang of criminals working together” is from 1839, originally of thieves or pick-pockets; the American English sense of “organized crime in general” is from 1927.
The Mob was not a synonym for the Mafia. It was an alliance of Jews, Italians, and a few Irishmen, some of them brilliant, who organized the supply, and often the production, of liquor during the thirteen years, ten months, and nineteen days of Prohibition. … Their alliance — sometimes called the Combination but never the Mafia — was part of the urgent process of Americanizing crime. [Pete Hamill, “Why Sinatra Matters,” 1998]
Mob scene “crowded place” is by 1922, from earlier use in reference to movies and theatrical productions; mob-rule “ochlocracy” is by 1806.
ochlocracy (n.): “government by the rabble,” 1580s, from French ochlocratie (1560s), from Greek okhlokratia (Polybius) “mob rule,” the lowest grade of democracy, from kratos “rule, power, strength” (see -cracy) + okhlos “(orderless) crowd, multitude, throng; disturbance, annoyance,” which is probably literally “moving mass,” from PIE *wogh-lo-, suffixed form of root *wegh– “to go, move.” “Several possibilities exist for the semantic development: e.g. an agent noun *’driving, carrying, moving’, or an instrument noun *’driver, carrier, mover’. … An original meaning ‘drive’ could easily develop into both ‘stirred mass, mob’ and ‘spiritual excitement, unrest'” [Beekes]. For sense development, compare mob (n.). Related: Ochlocrat, ochlocratic; ochlocratical. Greek also had okhlagogos “mob-leader, ochlagogue.”