disgruntled: It started from the English barnyard, where gruntle was used to describe the noise made by a piglet (adults made a grunt). From there it became a term for a complaint. Dis got added as an intensifier sometime in the 17th or 18th C. (Says You, episode 1512)
impend (v.): To hang or hover menacingly; to be about to take place; archaic use to overhang
We recently learned that one of our long-time supporters died last Sept. John Cashin stopped in a couple of times a week on his way to the Bainbridge ferry or a Mariners’ game. Couldn’t say when he first found us but it was probably on one of those trips home. He’d worked at a local printer for decades and he’d hand off a couple of notepads of a certain size that we’d use for daily bookkeeping. We called them ‘cashin pads’. John helped us out a few times as an auxiliary staff member during big events or if one of us had a health issue. Always cheerful, he slowly amassed a sizable collection. Adele stumbled on the news of his passing when dropping into Arundels Books. “Phil has not gotten through all the mysteries but said most he kept with the SMB signing band.” We got those belly bands through John. We also got our GM Ford limited edition pieces through John. John died five days short of his 74th birthday. As he said each time he departed, “Say goodbye, John!“
Okay, so the pull of this mystery title is obvious. Whilst not about Dame Agatha directly, the tangential tie intrigued me, so I settled down for a read…. and found myself enjoying the book rather a lot.
Ann Claire, our author, does a great job of keeping the mystery focused on the mystery. Knitting tidbits about the famous authoress in seamlessly and as needed — by using a Mary Westmacott book as a critical clue, naming the bookshop cat Agatha, and occasionally invoking our sleuth’s inner Miss Marple to help push the story forward.
The characters are well-rounded and interesting, as is the town of Last Word itself. The mystery, a variant of a Patricia Moyes plot I once read, works well.
I’d recommend this book to anyone who enjoys mysteries set in a bookshop, around a ski town, or with a strong family vibe. Seriously, I cannot wait until the next book in the series, Last Word To The Wise, comes out in October!
January in February
For any number of reasons, I’ve been in a funk this month, and it’s been a bad one for me. Therefore, I don’t have a book recommendation this month because I pick them up and set them down again. Yeah, I can’t even read.
Although I can write, so that’s something, and one of these days I’ll tell you what I’m writing, but for now the fact that I am seems encouraging. And, of all weird places, I find inspiration while I’m doing physical therapy for my knee, especially during my pool time.
So I decided to do a Best Of 2022 review, but then realized that it’s a recap of authors I’ve recommended through the years. Apparently I spent last year reading authors I know and love, and honestly, I’m really good with that.
Well, you get the drift. Tried and true authors who never let me down. Or if they do, it’s a minor drop because none of these folks can write a bad story if they had to.
So instead, I’m going to resurrect a recommendation from years ago, with a slight twist. I’m going to tell you to read anything and everything by Jenny Lawson, a/k/a The Bloggess. Why? Because I’m in a funk, and Jenny Lawson is perfect for those times when our mental health is iffy. She isn’t afraid to tackle mental health issues, which I admire endlessly, but she’s funny as hell too, which I also need.
This is one of her books, and starting here is a good place. It’s funny, and decidedly weird, and uplifting in an unusual sort of way, and for January and February doldrums, well, you just can’t ask for better than that.
“Slow Horses” – Apple TV adaptation of Nick Herron’s books – is fabulous – both seasons.
“The Pale Blue Eye” – adaptation of Louis Bayard’s 1830 murder mystery with West Point cadet A.E Poe – is a a good evening’s entertainment. On Netflix.
Also on Netflix, “Kaleidoscope” is astonishing. Episodes are by color and you can/are supposed watch them in any order. They direct you to save White for last. I would recommend that you save Pink to watch just before White. It was created, and some of the episodes were written, by Eric Garcia (remember Anonymous Rex?).
After sitting on my “to be read” pile for FAR TOO LONG, I picked up the new hardcover by Michael Mann and Meg Gardner, Heat 2. When I first heard they were releasing the novel, I was curious about what was left to tell. Well, there was LOTS. It goes both into the past, the period right after the end of the movie, and into the future. We get Vincent Hanna’s (Pacino) past in Chicago, Chris’ (Kilmer) escape from LA and his future, and then how their lives collide in the future.
The writing fits the characters very well and mirrors the stylings of the movie. And just like the movie, the plot and characters are full and rich and the result is terrific. Hard to put it down to eat or sleep!
Loren D. Estleman has been one of my favorite authors since Bill recommended when I first started working with him. His Detroit PI series with Amos Walker is the closest we’ve been able to get to Chandler since he started the series. It’s as reliable, durable, and hardboiled as the private eye himself. Looking on my overloaded shelves for something to read next, I spied The Sundown Speech, from 2015. I hadn’t gotten to it when it was released as that was the time of true stress at the shop. It appears to be out of print but it you can find a used copy, get it. Amos is hired by an Ann Arbor couple to recover an investment they made in an independent film and the director has gone missing. Great fun, especially Walker’s by-play with the homicide detective on the eventual case. I’ll be gathering the Walkers that I’ve missed over the last five years, no doubt about that!
Max Allan Collins has another Nate Heller book just out, The Big Bundle. As usual, Collins puts his fictional Chicago private eye, Nate Heller, into actual, historical true crime events. It starts out with Heller called into assist with a famous kidnapping case in 1953 Kansas City. I was astounded by this because I grew up maybe 7 minutes from the family’s house and drove by it maybe 10,000 times over the decades. Never heard anything about the case at any time, anywhere from anyone. The issue of missing ransom money continues into second half of the book and becomes entangled in the Bobby Kennedy/Jimmy Hoffa war, which will lead into the next book and RFK’s assassination.
I did find a few geographical things in the book that I thought were mistakes but the author insists they’re correct. If you know the streets of Mission Hills, KS, and the geography of eastern Kansas, you may run into things that clank when read. They are as the author insists they should be. Except for them, it was a great read.
and, finally, one last word for the Month of Romance
shotten: exhausted from a recent, romantic encounter (Says You!, episode 1402)
drivel (v.): Old English dreflian “to slaver, slobber, run at the nose,” from Proto-Germanic *drab-, perhaps from a PIE *dher– (1) “to make muddy, darken.” Transferred meaning “to speak nonsense” is mid-14th C., driveling being characteristic of children, idiots, and dotards. Related: Driveling, drivelling.
drivel (n.): early 14th C., drevel “saliva, slaver,” from drivel (v.). Meaning “senseless twaddle, idiotic speech or writing” is by 1852.
fable (n.) c. 1300, “falsehood, fictitious narrative; a lie, pretense,” from Old French fable “story, fable, tale; drama, play, fiction; lie, falsehood” (12c.), from Latin fabula “story, story with a lesson, tale, narrative, account; the common talk, news,” literally “that which is told,” from fari “speak, tell,” from PIE root *bha- (2) “to speak, tell, say.”
Restricted sense of “animal story” (early 14th C.) comes from the popularity of Aesop’s tales. In modern folklore terms, defined as “a short, comic tale making a moral point about human nature, usually through animal characters behaving in human ways” [“Oxford Dictionary of English Folklore”].
twaddle (n.): “silly talk, prosy nonsense,” 1782, probably from twattle (1550s), of obscure origin.
What We’ve Been Up To
Mia P. Manansala – Blackmail and Bibingka
The third installment in the Tita Rosie’s Kitchen Mystery series finds Lila in a much better head space. Both the Brew-Ha Cafe and her personal life are starting to take off in extremely happy directions. (If you hear nerve-jangling music at the end of the sentence, there’s a reason.) On the other hand, her family life has hit a rather large speed bump — in the form of her cousin, Tita Rosie’s son, Ronnie. The teenage ne’er-do-well has returned home, still carrying all the emotional baggage he left with, to start a new business with some college chums. This powder keg of past resentment blows when Ronnie’s primary investor is poisoned, and he becomes a suspect in her murder….and Lila feels duty-bound to snoop despite Ronnie’s insistence she stays out of his affairs.
Blackmail and Bibingka is an excellent read! With just a fringe of the winter holiday season on display and a well fused food motif, neither theme ever threatens to overwhelm the book’s main plot. Blackmail and Bibingka is a thoroughly engaging mystery I enjoyed reading, as it’s been quite a while since I’ve seen poison other than arsenic, cyanide, or thallium used as a murder weapon.
A Note From The Office of Fair Warning: Our author also deftly fuses genuine family tensions and resentments in ways that push the plot forward rather than stopping it cold, which isn’t an easy feat. But they could prove a tad uncomfortable for readers who’ve dealt with similar situations.
That said, I really can’t say enough nice things about this book. Technically speaking, you don’t need to read the first two books in order to understand what’s going on in Blackmail and Bibingka — but you should just because they are both awesome reads!
What Goes Around
Back in 2020, when we were all locked down and feeling grumpy, John Connolly helped ease us through the time with a serialized story that he released weekly (if I recall properly) to keep us alert and giving us something to look forward to. He called it “The Sisters Strange”, and oh my, they certainly were.
But not everyone who loves John’s work gets his newsletter, so he decided to flesh the story out a bit and put it into a book called The Furies. Because “The Sisters Strange” was more a novella than a novel, he added another story, “The Furies”, and the two of those stories comprise the book, The Furies.
During my knee replacement recovery, I was basically locked down again, so I jumped into The Furies with wild abandon. It was good to meet up with the Sisters Strange again — well, as good as meeting them can be, what with their troubles and all — and it certainly took me away from the required exercising.
Jumping into “The Furies”, I was once again reminded why John Connolly is so good at writing creepy stuff. He picks up on our collective awareness and turns it sideways. What he writes is absolutely relatable, but also just odd enough to hold you hostage.
But it’s not just that. John has created some amazing recurring characters, and there’s a special place in my heart for the Fulci brothers, as I know is true of many of you. There’s something endearing about two bear sized men with anger issues who completely adore their mother that just makes you smile. And be glad you don’t have to repair what they break.
John knows this, so with this book, he included a little something extra, if you ordered at the right time from the right place, and I did. So I’m the proud owner of a Fulci tote bag.
Don’t look too closely at the number of fingers on the fist. *grin* Otherwise their slogan will come into play.
If you haven’t read John Connolly, what the hell are you waiting for? Start with Every Dead Thing and I promise, you’ll just keep going. If you have, but you didn’t pick up The Furies because you already read “The Sisters Strange”, it’s time to rectify that oversight because the sisters are stranger than you remember, and the furies set free in the other story will haunt you. Best get to it!
I don’t have a book to write up so I’m recommending a few of songs that I’ve fallen for this year. A couple of years ago when Mom was dying, I asked my cousin Tom to recommend a radio station I could tap into when in the car running errands. He said “The Bridge, 90.9”. It’s the same type of station as KEXP here in Seattle – independent, listener supported – but I like their music more. Why? – just good rock, maybe not so “experimental” as just joyful. I listen to it everyday on some computer-like device. (Be Warned~ it’s out of KC, so all the ads and concert announcements are from there.) Monday’s are great as, mid-day, it’s all new music, I can’t link the songs themselves but I’ll like the youtube videos. In no particular order:
[ There’s the Marvel Universe, the Star Wars Universe, and any number of other Universes – why then isn’t there be a “00” Universe? There are so many actors who could be a great 00, whether they are Bond or not, so why can’t there be other 00 movies in between Bond? Why can’t Lashan Lynch have her own 00 movie, or Tom Hardy, Regé-Jean Page, Charlize Theron, Henry Cavill?? Sorry, but Idris Elba is now too old, but he’d make a great M. I don’t think other 00 movies would dilute the brand. If anything, it’d enlarge the brand. It appears that there will be room as we’re not likely to get any more Bourne movies and how many more Mission:Impossibles does Tom have left before one of the magnificent stunts kills him? I assume there are nine OOs: 001-009. Take out 007 and that leaves EIGHT other 00s open for their own movies. I listed five actors and it’d be pretty easy to add three more. Besides, we have to wait too damn long between Bonds! – JB]
I read Sarah Addison Allen’s Other Birds back in September, and I’ve struggled to figure out how to review it ever since then. Not because it’s terrible — but because I enjoyed it so very much. And the fact that Sarah Addison Allen’s style, magical realism, is done with such a deft hand, I don’t want to ruin the book for you!
What can I tell you?
Well, there’s a peculiar death, a series of strange occurrences unrelated to the four ghosts who also call Dellawisp home, and a cantankerous flock of birds flitting about the property. Add in the living human happenings in the small block of apartments, and you’ve got a riveting read!
Seriously, Sarah Addison Allen is one of my all-time favorite writers. Who, in fact, penned my all-time favorite novel, The Sugar Queen. In Other Birds, as with Allen’s other novels, she brushes up against several writing styles, like mystery and urban fantasy — which creates a story that’s more than a sum of its parts. (Or literary techniques in this case.)
Sitting here writing this review, I realized all the nice things I wish to say about this book boil down to this: I enjoyed every page of Other Birds. And I cannot wait to revisit the Dellawisp apartments and its inhabitants again and again.
Seriously, if you’re looking for a mysterious and lovely read this festive season, you cannot go wrong with Other Birds.
Out of the loop
There are a lot of things I miss about the shop – and I do keep dreaming about it (last night it was where Diva Dolls is/was) – but one of the things I really miss is being in the know about what’s going on.
So I had no idea that Thomas Perry‘s The Old Man was a series on Hulu. But then, I don’t have Hulu either. I’m becoming a hermit. Send cookies.
But in my lack of knowledge, there are delights to be had. You all know I’m a dedicated Thomas Perry fan, and I’d follow Jane Whitefield anywhere. When JB sent me a copy of The Old Man, I figured it’s because he knows what I love. Also he wanted to give me something to think about other than my knee, which is fine so far, thank you for asking.
The old man in question has been living his life quietly in Vermont, his dogs Carol and Dave keeping him company. He seems like a harmless older man, but obviously he’s not. Dan Chase has a past, and not your ordinary one, even when you think about thrillers. See, when Dan was stationed in Afghanistan, he saw something go wrong, and he tried to make it right.
Seems simple enough, except that by doing what he did, Dan ran counter to the US government’s wishes, so he became a fugitive. Now they’ve found him, or at least they think they have.
Yeah, that’s vague and generic, but Thomas Perry delivers an amazingly complex and twisted story. Dan Chase’s name isn’t Dan Chase, and he goes through several name changes throughout the book, but you never once lose track of who’s who. I promise you, that’s masterful writing.
And I love that I thought I knew how it was going to go, only to discover I was wrong. I love being wrong for all the right reasons!
I have no idea how the TV show plays out, and if someone has watched it and read the book, I’d love to hear from you. But in the meantime, definitely pick up The Old Man by Thomas Perry.
For years I’ve been meaning to read Marc Reisner’s Cadillac Desert. I’ve had enough time; it was published originally in 1986. Considering all of the dire drought news, especially concerning the Mississippi (you may recall I read a book by Rinker Buck about drifting down to New Orleans from Pennsylvania earlier this year which made the later drought stories more vivid), it was time to get a copy. And it is a startlingly majestic book.
Reisner covers the entire history of the US government fiddling with nature to move water from areas where it flowed freely to areas that were naturally arid, the infighting between departments to get the job, the pork-barrel spending to keep the projects moving, and the folly and damage caused by it all.
The worst of it is that Reisner writes about a future he hopes will not unfold, and his future is our present. So you get to see where much of our current problems start. He’s entirely caustic about it all, the politicians, the government actors, the developers, the big farmers, and the inability of them all to look ahead at what their actions will cause.
Another thing he refers to is the 100th Meridian. That’s the imaginary line on the continental US map that marks the climate divide between the humid east and arid west in North America. Well, for the last half dozen years there has been thought that this divide is shifting EAST. This has massive implications for the crops grown in the Great Plains, what we eat, the health of farms, the economics of food, and where people live. Again, when he wrote the book, is was just a fear – now, apparently, it is our reality.
Reisner is a wonderful writer, sprinkling his story with an impressive vocabulary. I kept a pen nearby to write down words I did not know on the back of a shop bookmark. The Words of the Month are all from his book.
coterminous (adj): having the same boundaries or extent in space, time, or meaning.
And if you do read it – I highly recommend that you order a copy of the trade paperback from your local independent bookseller – you’ll find the machinations of the big shots of LA to “acquire” more and more water familiar: it’s the plot of Chinatown.
BUY SMALL ~ SUPPORT SMALL
We Wish and Yours Peace and Happiness in this Season of Silliness, Sales, and Shindigs
danger (n.) mid-13th c., daunger, “arrogance, insolence;” c. 1300, “power of a lord or master, jurisdiction,” from Anglo-French daunger, Old French dangier “power, power to harm, mastery, authority, control” (12th c., Modern French danger), alteration (due to association with damnum) of dongier, from Vulgar Latin *dominarium “power of a lord,” from Latin dominus “lord, master,” from domus “house” (from PIE root *dem- “house, household”).
Modern sense of “risk, peril, exposure to injury, loss, pain, etc.” (from being in the control of someone or something else) evolved first in French and was in English by late 14th c. For this, Old English had pleoh; in early Middle English this sense is found in peril. For sound changes, compare dungeon, which is from the same source. (etymonline)
peril (n.) “danger, risk, hazard, jeopardy, exposure of person or property to injury, loss, or destruction,” c. 1200, from Old French peril “danger, risk” (10th c.), from Latin periculum “an attempt, trial, experiment; risk, danger,” with instrumentive suffix –culum and first element from PIE *peri-tlo-, suffixed form of root *per- (3) “to try, risk.” (etymonline)
alarm (n.) late 14th c., “a call to arms in the face of danger or an enemy,” from Old French alarme (14th c.), from Italian all’arme “to arms!” (literally “to the arms”); this is a contraction of phrase alle arme.
Alle is itself a contraction of a “to” (from Latin ad; see ad-) + le, from Latin illas, fem. accusative plural of ille “the” (see le); with arme, from Latin arma “weapons” (including armor), literally “tools, implements (of war),” from PIE root *ar- “to fit together.”
The interjection came to be used as the word for the call or warning (compare alert). It was extended 16th c. to “any sound to warn of danger or to arouse,” and to the device that gives it. From mid-15th c. as “a state of fearful surprise;” the weakened sense of “apprehension, unease” is from 1833. The variant alarum (mid-15th c.) is due to the rolling -r- in the vocalized form. Sometimes in early years it was Englished as all-arm. Alarm clock is attested from 1690s (as A Larum clock).
alarm (v.): 1580s, “call to arms for defense,” from alarm (n.) or from French alarmer (16c.), from the noun in French. The meaning “surprise with apprehension of danger” is from 1650s. Related: Alarmed; alarming. (etymonline)
warn (v.) Old English warnian “to give notice of impending danger,” also intransitive, “to take heed,” from Proto-Germanic *warōnan (source also of Old Norse varna “to admonish,” Old High German warnon “to take heed,” German warnen “to warn”), from PIE root *wer– (4) “to cover.” Related: Warned; warning. (etymonline)
safe (adj.) c. 1300, sauf, “unscathed, unhurt, uninjured; free from danger or molestation, in safety, secure; saved spiritually, redeemed, not damned;” from Old French sauf “protected, watched-over; assured of salvation,” from Latin salvus “uninjured, in good health, safe,” which is related to salus “good health,” saluber “healthful” (all from PIE *solwos from root *sol- “whole, well-kept”). For the phonological development of safe from sauf, OED compares gage from Old North French gauge.
From late 14th c. as “rescued, delivered; protected; left alive, unkilled.” The meaning “not exposed to danger” (of places, later of valuables) is attested from late 14th c.; in reference to actions, etc., the meaning “free from risk,” is recorded by 1580s. The sense of “sure, reliable, not a danger” is from c. 1600. The sense of “conservative, cautious” is from 1823. It has been paired alliteratively with sound (adj.) from c. 1300. In Middle English it also meant “in good health,” also “delivered from sin or damnation.” Related: Safeness.
safe (n.) “chest for keeping food or valuables” safe from risk of theft or fire, early 15c., save, from French en sauf “in safety,” from sauf (see safe (adj.)). Spelling with -f- is by 1680s, from influence of safe (adj.). (etymonline)
The second installment of the Caribbean Kitchen Mystery series is fantastic! Set during Halloween and the trials and tribulations that plague a household with a five-year-old during said month of the perpetual sugar rush, Miriam finds herself juggling her on-air cooking show career with her mother-in-law’s demands upon her time. So when a body magically appears on her front lawn, amongst the fake plastic tombstones, our intrepid sleuth decides to sit this mystery out. Until…You’ll need to read the book to find out what happens next!
I enjoyed reading Calypso, Corpses, and Cooking very much. The food, the hook of this cozy, is written seamlessly into the story — adding to the narrative without detracting, distracting, or diverting one from the actual focus of the story — murder. (And if you enjoy this particular subgenre of mysteries, you understand how difficult this feat can be to achieve.) Above and beyond, watching Miriam making dishes I’ve not attempted before in her home kitchen (in my mind’s eye) makes them feel more accessible and far less daunting to attempt in my own kitchen.
(Don’t ask me why I find guava paste intimidating. I just do.)
Now, unlike Mangos, Mambo, and Murder, whose final pages succumbed slightly into the realm of saccharin (which one could ignore because the rest of the book was so splendid), Calypso, Corpses, and Cooking does not possess this flaw. Even featuring both Halloween and Thanksgiving between the pages, Reyes found an outstanding balance between the holidays and criminal intent.
However, because this is a review, I need to point out a minor flaw (again) in the final few pages. The penultimate summing up felt a tad muddled, in so far as untangling which crimes we could attribute to whom. Though, to be fair, I could’ve been so excited to find out whodunnit I skipped a few crucial deductions…But I don’t think so. That said, I think the slight tangling of plot threads has more to do with Reyes furthering an ongoing storyline from Mangos, Mambo, and Murder than anything else. And this minor flaw will in no way impede me from picking up this tome up for a reread in the near future or politely throwing money at my local bookseller when the next installment is published!
From the Office of Fair Warning: I do need to tell you that you do need to read Mangos, Mambo, and Murder before Calypso, Corpses, and Cooking as the latter narrative builds directly upon the bones of the former and gives away the solution to the first mystery in the second. Which, again, makes sense as background nefariousness is afoot in Calypso, Corpses, and Cooking that will hopefully burst into the foreground in Reyes’s next book!
I don’t have a review this month, but wait! Wait now. I have what I believe is a relatively good reason.
In a few days, I’m having a knee replaced. I know, right? I needed this back when the shop was going strong, but I’m very good at putting off things I don’t want to think about.
So anyway, Things have had to be done to make this work. Like, say, renovating the bathroom from tub to shower. Don’t you just love the paneling we found behind the tub wall?
But it was successful, and we’re quite pleased. However, much of my time during this process was keeping Mazikeen from freaking out every time the contractor walked through the door. You’d have thought he was a bunny or something.
Despite Mazkeen’s hyper-vigilance, we did get it done.
She does love protecting me. In fact, the other day while I was at the bathroom sink taking my multitude of pills, the heater kicked on, and she placed herself at my back, leaning against my calves, ready to take on whatever that new sound was – provided I’d guard her too. She really is a sweetheart.
But anyway, the shower now has bars and a chair, the toilet is all gussied up to make sitting there easier, and we’ve rearranged furniture to give me unobstructed access to the floors, since I’ll be walking a lot, I gather.
The weather is nice and cool down here in sunny New Mexico, and I think I’m going to enjoy my new knee during the upcoming holidays, although I’m using it as an excuse NOT to cook Thanksgiving dinner this year. *huge grin*
Happy November, everyone, and remember not to eat all yesterday’s candy at once. Take your time. But don’t wait too long! Have you noticed that Christmas candy’s already on sale?
I hate to say I was disappointed in Joe Ide’s Marlowe novel but I simply kept groaning at what he was doing.
I suppose it isn’t that big a deal to bring Marlowe into today’s world but The Goodbye Coastchanges much about Marlowe’s life. First, he dropped out of the LAPD training after a very short time and became a PI. In Chandler’s books, he was an investigator for the DA before going private. That isn’t a huge deal. But then he saddles Marlowe with a father who is a cop but suspended due to drinking, never really recovering from the death of his wife. The family trauma/drama set off my soap opera alarms and they buzzed throughout the book.
But the worst part for me was describing characters by the actors or celebrities they resembled. I found that lazy. There is so much about today’s world in the book that there’s no way for it to age well, no way for it to become timeless, as Chandler’s have.
Ide is a good writer and he’s got a feel for similes. In that way, the sentences sparkle as Chandler’s did. He described a piece of fast-food orange chicken as looking like a burnt ear. OKAY! But the writing isn’t enough, to me, to save the novel from the weaknesses of how he’s presented the rest.
I was SO looking forward to reading this. The day I found out it existed I went out and bought it. Sorry I did. If you want to read it, wait for the paperback. But I hope other contemporary authors will continue to write new Marlowe novels. He’s too great a character to say goodbye to.
I believe Fran and I directed interested folks to John Connolly‘s 2020 on-line project called “The Strange Sisters”. In the midst of the first covid wave, it was to be a short story written and posted on-line in real time, that is as he wrote it daily, not once it had gone through the publishing mill. As interesting plan, he would create the story as he went, not knowing where it would go.
Now he’s released a new book called The Furies. It’s not a novel, but a volume with two “short novels”: a reworked “The Strange Sisters”, which he notes in an afterward is twice the length of the original; and “The Furies”, a new short novel.
Both are Parker stories, both full of the odd Maine characters we’ve come to know, as well as visitors. If you read “The Strange Sisters” on-line as we did, it’s worth reading this expanded version. And “The Furies” has Parker working to help two women who are at the end of their options. Both are a delight, even when dealing with otherworldly issues. Though Halloween has passed, don’t let that keep you from the on-going creepiness that is Charlie Parker’s world. You’ve got Louis and Angel to keep you safe…
opisthography (n.) “the practice of writing on the back of anything,” 1715, from Greek opisthographos “written on the back,” from graphos “writing” (from graphein“to write” (see -graphy) + opisthen “behind, from behind, at the back,” from opi, a variant of epi “on it, at it” (see epi-). (etymonline)
scrawl (v.) From the 1610s, “write or draw awkwardly and untidily,” a word of uncertain origin, perhaps from a specific use of Middle English scrawlen “spread out the limbs, sprawl” (early 15c.), which might be an alteration of sprawlen (see sprawl (v.)) or crawl (v.). Some sources suggest a contraction of scrabble. Related: Scrawled; scrawling.
The noun in the sense of “piece of unskilled or inelegant writing” is by 1690s, from the verb; the meaning “bad style of handwriting” is by 1710. (etymonline)
chirography (n.) “handwriting, the art of writing,” 1650s, from chiro– “the hand”+ –graphy “writing.” Chirograph “formal written legal document” is attested from late 13c. in Anglo-French, from Latin chirographum, from Greek kheirographia “written testimony.” Related: Chirographer; chirographic. (etymonline)
cacoethes (n.) “itch for doing something,” 1560s, from Latinized form of Greek kakoēthēs “ill-habit, wickedness, itch for doing (something),” from kakos “bad” (from PIE root *kakka- “to defecate”) + ēthē- “disposition, character” (see ethos). Most famously, in Juvenal’s insanabile scribendi cacoethes “incurable passion for writing.” (etymonline)
Ready to retire, four women (of a certain age) are treated to a boat cruise by their former employers as a reward for their exemplary service. A vacation which they enjoy right up until one of the group spots a former colleague on the same boat.
The only problem — Billie, Mary Alice, Helen, and Natalie’s former job title: Assassin.
Deanna Rabourn’s tale is a rollercoaster ride of the first water! Blending together the librarians from Gunpowder Milkshake, the general premise of Burn Notice, and Lana’s origin story from Archer — you’ve now got an inkling of the wild ride between the covers of Killer’s of a Certain Age.
Seriously, I couldn’t put Killers of a Certain Age down.
I’d recommend this book to anyone who needs a fantastic, fast-paced read for the bath or a holiday. Seriously, I love how these women outwit, outmaneuver, and outshine their pursuers using experience their younger counterparts don’t yet possess…
Plus, it was just lovely to sit down for a few hours and read a book from cover to cover — especially when Raybourn penned such a satisfying ending!
Keep an open mind
I had just finished watching the series “Madam Secretary” when I picked up State of Terror. Now, if you were going to write a thriller involving the Secretary of State, and you wanted a fast-paced, well plotted book with intriguing characters, who would you have author it? Be fair, be honest, who knows their stuff?
Hillary Rodham Clinton knows the ins and outs of being Secretary of State. Whatever you may think of her, she knows her stuff.
Louise Penny has proved time and again that she can write a gripping novel filled with real people.
Together, they created State of Terror, and honestly, now is the time to read it.
I want to sit down and talk about this book with you face to face so you can see my enthusiasm. But it’s good that I can’t, because I’d give away spoilers. For our plot purposes here, let me just say that Ellen Adams was a harsh critic of now President Doug Williams during her media mogul days, so it was a huge surprise when he appointed her Secretary of State. Adams handed off her media empire to her daughter and accepted the position, where her first assignment failed miserably. Let’s just say this did not displease President Williams.
But when bus bombs happen in a couple of European cities, Adams and Williams have to work together to figure out where the next target is. One of Secretary Adams’ people in the Pakistan office gets a clue, and the race is on.
“The most amazing thing that has happened in my lifetime is neither putting a man on the moon nor Facebook having 2.8 billion monthly active users. It is that in the 75 years, 7 months, and 13 days since Nagasaki, a nuclear bomb has not been detonated.” – Tom Peters
The more I read this book, knowing HRC‘s insider knowledge of Washington politics and its back door dealings, combined with Louise Penny’s astonishing ability to put you right in the heart of the story, the more terrifying it became. And watching current news cycles both in the US and around the world, this book becomes more relevant every day. I had no idea.
Which is not to say it doesn’t have moments of levity. Some of the characters will jump right into your heart. Betsy Jameson, Secretary Adams’ good friend and counselor is one of them. She’s the “Mrs. Cleaver” below, because she looks so ordinary and friendly.
“Steve Kowalski, Ellen’s head of Diplomatic Security, a longtime veteran of the service, turned in the front seat to look at Mrs. Cleaver as she combined and conjugated words that should never, really, have conjugal relations. The ensuing progeny was both grotesque and hilarious, as she turned nouns into verbs, and verbs into something else entirely. It was a display of linguistic gymnastics the agent hadn’t thought possible. And he’d been a Marine.”
You’ll get chills, and it’s possible that your sleep will be disrupted by this novel – and remember, it is just a novel – and with good reason. The possibilities given here are far too plausible not to be considered, and when a power team like this presents it to you, you pay attention.
Also, it’s a great thriller! Trust me, you want to read State of Terror now.
I was thrilled to find that Rinker Buck had a new book coming out. The Oregon Trail: A New American Journey was one of the best books I read when it came out in 2016. I’ve given away at least a half-dozen copies. In it he builds a canastoga wagon and set off, powered by three mules, across the Oregon Trail. It is an outstanding book, jammed with history and interesting tidbits, and I was ready for a new adventure.
Life on the Mississippi: An Epic American Adventuremirrors that earlier book but this involves first building a flatboat – the sort first used to navigate the Father of Waters – and then float it from the start of the Ohio River and down to New Orleans. Nearly everyone he discusses this plan with tells him he’s going to die. They’re all quiet serious. Perhaps it is hubris, or his own native mule-headedness, but he plunges on. It’s a daunting plan but you know he survived ’cause you’re reading the book.
Along the way you accumulate a flowing history of how the commerce and settlement of the country was enhanced by European-Americans moving West and following the waters. Of course, the current river is nothing like the unfettered highway of 200 years ago – just as the Oregon Trail no longer exists as it was when first blazzed. Buck is aghast at the garbage and trash (it often was, he says sadly, a “floating junkyard”). “And the river has been so contained and shaped so as to stay within it’s bounds that is in no way as wild as it once once. That’s not to say it isn’t dangerous; big storms along any of the rivers that feed it can make it swell and churn, and the commercial traffic is astonishing. Then, too, there are the weekend fools.
Like the junk that float by, so too does the awful history of our country – Buck does not shy from explaining the ways the waters helped to decimate the natives that had ruled and helped to spread slavery further into the landscape. Truly, life on the Mississippi is both a grand tale of human progress corrupted because of the costs that it charges on all who used it.
All Haunting is Regret
Don’t worry if you start Hell and Back and can’t figure out what is going on. Neither can Walt. Craig Johnson puts all of us – readers and characters – in a place that defies explanation and populates it with people who can’t possibly there. In fact, there are so many people from Walt’s past that I stopped reading the new book and re-read the previously three and it helped. It is a book overflowing with mystery and mysticism. It is a book unlike any of the previous Longmires, yet is is easily experienced as another in a long line of Absaroka County stories that are unique and comforting. Because at the center is Walt Longmire and he is trustworthy to all.
“Words are important, no matter what the language – they are perhaps one of the most powerful things we have. Words can preserve life or invoke death and should be handled with the same care as any deadly weapon.” Those are Virgil’s words, but the truth is Craig’s.
So starts an entertaining and convoluted story of the hunt for a Soviet mole in the CIA. Scads of books have been written about this hunt, the suspects, the battles over which Russian turncoat to believe, and the destruction and devastation the hunt caused to US intelligence. Blum’s book follows the investigation of Tennent “Pete” Bagley, a retired American spook who lived through that destruction and suffered from it. The circumstances of the mystery sail boat brings him back to the hunt and it unfolds like a well crafted whodunnit. Clues, red herrings, and blind alleys abound and, along the way, you see the Cold War games of both sides of the spy landscape.
If you’re interested in American history, Cold War history, CIA history – or even if you don’t think you are – pick up the books. It’s a great mystery, but all true.
Next up: a book that was released in Feb. but that I just discovered near the end of Sept – Fran has been yelling at me for years to read Joe Ide. So far I haven’t but I will now. To my knowledge, this is the third book the Chandler estate has engaged current authors to pen a new Philip Marlowe novel. First, in 2014, there was Benjamin (John Banville) Black’s The Black-Eyed Blonde, a follow-up to The Long Goodbye. In 2018, Only to Sleep by Lawrence Osbourne was released. In that, Marlowe is 72 and living in Mexico.
It’s one thing to search for new books by a favorite author. I’m not sure how you search for new books about a favorite character!
Hard to believe that the time has flowed so quickly, but today marks five years since we locked the doors on the Seattle Mystery Bookshop as an operating business for the last time. Sure, there was lots of work left to do – counting the inventory, boxing it up, dismantling the shelves, the computers system, and packing it all out of the space – but Sept. 30, 2017 was the end of the road.
Seems as if there should be noirish terms to apply.
Amber, Fran and I would still get together for lunch now and then. But then Fran moved out of state, Amber moved out of town, and now we keep in touch electronically, as we do with you.
We miss one another, we miss being together, we miss being around books every day and knowing about what books to look forward to, and we miss talking about the books we love with readers looking for a new book to love.
But nothing good lasts forever and it was grand while it did.
school (n.): [place of instruction] Middle English scole, from Old English scol, “institution for instruction,” from Latin schola “meeting place for teachers and students, place of instruction;” also “learned conversation, debate; lecture; disciples of a teacher, body of followers, sect,” also in the older Greek sense of “intermission of work, leisure for learning.”
This is from Greek skholē “spare time, leisure, rest, ease; idleness; that in which leisure is employed; learned discussion;” also “a place for lectures, school;” originally “a holding back, a keeping clear,” from skhein “to get” (from PIE root *segh- “to hold”) + -olē by analogy with bolē “a throw,” stolē “outfit,” etc.
The basic sense of the Greek word is “leisure,” which passed to “otiose discussion” (in Athens or Rome, the favorite or proper use of free time), then it came to be used for the place for such discussion.
The Latin word was widely borrowed (in addition to Old French escole, French école, Spanish escuela, Italian scuola; Old High German scuola, German Schule, Swedish skola, Gaelic sgiol, Welsh ysgol, Russian shkola).
The meaning “students attending a school” in English is attested from c. 1300; the sense of “school building” is by 1590s. Sense of “people united by a general similarity of principles and methods” is from 1610s; hence school of thought (by 1848). As an adjective by mid-18th C., “pertaining to or relating to a school or to education.”
School of hard knocks “rough experience in life” is by 1870; to tell tales out of school “betray damaging secrets” is from 1540s. School-bus is from 1908. School days is from 1590s. School board “local committee of education” is by 1836; school district “division of a town or city for the management of schools” is by 1809. (etymonline)
learn (v.): Old English leornian “to get knowledge, be cultivated; study, read, think about,” from Proto-Germanic *lisnojanan (cognates: Old Frisian lernia, Middle Dutch leeren, Dutch leren, Old High German lernen, German lernen “to learn,” Gothic lais “I know”), with a base sense of “to follow or find the track,” from PIE root *lois– “furrow, track.” It is related to German Gleis “track,” and to Old English læst “sole of the foot” (see last (n.1)).
From c. 1200 as “to hear of, ascertain.” Transitive use (He learned me (how) to read), now considered vulgar (except in reflexive expressions, I learn English), was acceptable from c. 1200 until early 19th C. It is preserved in past-participle adjective learned “having knowledge gained by study.” Old English also had læran “to teach” (see lere). (etymonline)
study (v.): Early 12th C., “to strive toward, devote oneself to, cultivate” (translating Latin occupatur), from Old French estudiier “to study, apply oneself, show zeal for; examine” (13th C., Modern French étudier), from Medieval Latin studiare, from Latin studium “study, application,” originally “eagerness,” from studere “to be diligent,” from PIE *(s)teu- (1) “to push, stick, knock, beat” (see steep (adj.)). The notion appears to be “pressing forward, thrusting toward,” hence “strive after.
From c. 1300 as “apply oneself to the acquisition of learning, pursue a formal course of study,” also “read a book or writings intently or meditatively.” From mid-14th C. as “reflect, muse, think, ponder.” Meaning “regard attentively” is from 1660s. (etymonline)
class (n.): c. 1600, “group of students,” in U.S. especially “number of pupils in a school or college of the same grade,” from French classe (14th C.), from Latin classis “a class, a division; army, fleet,” especially “any one of the six orders into which Servius Tullius divided the Roman people for the purpose of taxation;” traditionally originally “the people of Rome under arms” (a sense attested in English from 1650s), and thus akin to calare “to call (to arms),” from PIE root *kele- (2) “to shout.” In early use in English also in Latin form classis.
Meaning “an order or rank of persons, a number of persons having certain characteristics in common” is from 1660s. School and university sense of “course, lecture” (1650s) is from the notion of a form or lecture reserved to scholars who had attained a certain level. Natural history sense “group of related plants or animals” is from 1753. Meaning “high quality” is from 1874. Meaning “a division of society according to status” (with upper, lower, etc.) is from 1763. Class-consciousness (1903) is from German Klassenbewusst. (etymonline)
Sad note: we just learned that Seattle mystery writer Frederick D. Huebner died on December 31, 2019. He was a great writer, a great friend of the shop, and one of the very few people who ever bought one of JB’s paintings. Sorry we didn’t know it at the time to pay tribute then.
recess (n.): 1530s, “act of receding or going back or away” (a sense now obsolete), from Latin recessus “a going back, retreat,” from recessum, past participle of recedere “to go back, fall back; withdraw, depart, retire,” from re– “back” (see re-) + cedere “to go” (from PIE root *ked– “to go, yield”).
Meaning “hidden or remote part” is recorded from 1610s; that of “period of stopping from usual work” is from 1620s, probably from parliamentary notion of “recessing” into private chambers. Meaning “place of retirement or seclusion” is from 1630s; that of “niche, receding space or inward indentation in a line of continuity” is from 1690s.(etymonline)
I gardened, did laundry, baked cookies, made the bed betwixt chapters…and yet, I still devoured the pages in less than twelve hours!
The thing is, Nonna Maria occupies the space between Sherlock Holmes and Miss Marple. Driven by neither cold logic nor the belief in the baseness of people’s motivations — Nonna Maria serves at the pleasure of her fellow islanders. Intervening when asked, she combines island gossip, a decade’s worth of past experiences, and her own leg work to solve whatever problem presented to her — relying on a plethora of friends, a legion of family members, and occasionally the Carabinieri to catch the culprit (and have her back during perilous situations).
I know Barnes & Noble placed Nonna Maria in their cozy section. Probably because there’s not much in the way of on-stage bloodletting…However, there’s still plenty of death, thugs, threats, and mystery to satisfy any reader without relying on a shoehorned in themes like cats, gourds, cookies, Santa, quilting, dumplings, or crafting to generate interest in the story.
I cannot recommend Nonna Maria and the Case of The Missing Bride highly enough. Set in sun drenched Southern Italy, this mystery is everything I didn’t know I wanted to read over and over again this August!
Louise Penny isn’t afraid of tackling difficult subjects. She never has been, even before her collaboration with Hilary Rodham Clinton, about which I’ll write in another post.
But in The Madness of Crowds, she delves much deeper into a dark place that most of us would really rather avoid. I don’t want to get into specifics because of spoilers, but she taps into a collective awareness that no one wants to look at, but of which we have all glanced at.
All the regulars are back, and this is really not a stand alone. To get the full impact, you need to have read all the books that have come before, beginning with Still Life. There are new, compelling characters here, ones who will remain with you forever, and there are the ongoing delights. Rosa has expanded her vocabulary, and is teaching it to the children, much to their parents’ dismay. There is laughter and humor, compassion and passionate humanity, and all of it stems from people being people, in the best and worst possible ways.
I really cannot recommend Louise Penny’s writing strongly enough. They do need to be read in order, and once you have experienced the world of Three Pines, even if you’re not a fan of police procedurals, you’ll want to visit this village time and again, I promise.
Finally, finally, after toooo many decades, I read Fredric Brown’s The Fabulous Clipjoint. Published in 1947 – and winning the very first Best Novel Edgar – it’s a lively and raucous story of a young man and his uncle who undertake an investigation into a murder – the young guy’s father and his uncle’s brother.
This is the first in a series to feature Ed and his uncle Am (short for Ambrose). Am is a carny and the pages are jammed with the hardboiled jargon of the late 40s AND carnival lingo. Am also makes for a good investigator. His years sizing up “marks” at the carny give him an edge when talking to those involved.
Here’s one line that I found particularly sharp. Uncle Am says to his nephew, “I’m not worried about going to hell, Ed, but I begrudge the money the ticket costs.”
A bonus is the introduction by Lawrence Block who takes you on a tour of his reading as a young man.
A year or so before the shop closed, a man came in one afternoon and introduced himself: James Grady. Now, maybe you have to be a “certain age” to have reacted as Fran and I did. Six Days of the Condor was published in 1974, which means I probably read the paperback in 1975 when it came out. The movie version, Three Days of the Condor was released around the same time. I’d read a number of his books over the years, Old Dogs was one that stands out.
We chatted awhile and he explained that he had an idea for a thriller that took place on a train going from Seattle to Chicago and was in town to start his research. We talked about the long history of train mysteries and showed him our list in the Yellow Notebook that we refereed to when people came in asking for one. I kept my eyes alert for his book, and it’s out now.
James Grady’s This Trainfeatures an odd cast of characters who first see one another in the Seattle train station. At first, they’re “named” by their visual shorthand. As the trip progresses, you learn names and details. You can tell that some are a bit shady but, if you’ve been reading thrillers as long as I have, you know that anything is possible from any one character.
The fun, of course, is finding out who is who and if you’re suspicions were correct. You find that the short-hand descriptors from the start – the guy in the camel-colored cashmere coat or the young woman with the intense red hair – are also accurate descriptors of their personalities.
And then, or course, why are all of these people on this one train and what about the SWAT team, and the guy who always lugs around the beat-up satchel? Well, find out yourself. It’s a great ride!
This debut by Dwyer Murphy got great reviews. The New Yorker promoted it, and the cover carries a one-word rave by Walter Mosely. As a bonus, An Honest Living is billed as a bibliomystery and who isn’t looking for the next John Dunning? So I got a copy right away.
This is very much a New York Novel. The lawyer who narrates the story is certain to tell you what street he’s on, where he turns, where he eats or drinks, details about the neighborhoods, and so on. In that, it reminded me very much of the Scudder books by Lawrence Block. The City itself is a character.
The time frame was a bit puzzling. At one point, he looks someone up on-line and mentions Gawker – stopped publishing in 2016 but recently re-started- so I was unclear about when the book was set. Of course, that shouldn’t really matter, but when I first read that name it popped me out of the story. And that’s not a good thing.
And I can’t point to any good things. He writes well, the characters were interesting…
Overall, it was a very easy book to put down. I have no particular fascination for the minutia of NYC when it is a major component of the story. It read as if it was filler, in place of a plot – because the mystery, and the bibliomystery element, aren’t there. I don’t even think it is fair to call it a mystery for a number of reasons but I can’t tell you those and not ruin the story. Go ahead, give it a try.