ultracrepidarian (adj.) Noting or pertaining to a person who criticizes, judges, or gives advice outside the area of his or her expertise. (fishofgold.net)
What We’ve Been Up To
Liz Ireland – Mrs. Claus and the Halloween Homicide
What do you get when you take Christmas, Halloween, murder, and whiz it up in a blender?
Okay – now you need to trust me on this one.
April Claus married into one of the most famous families in the world, which initially didn’t impact her life a whole lot – as her husband was heir to the mantle of Santa Claus. Sadly, thru a series of unfortunate and murderous events, both she and her husband were thrust into the roles of Mr. and Mrs. Santa Claus on a strictly interim basis. (The details of how this came about are detailed Mrs. Claus and the Santaland Slayings.)
Now having a whole year of Mrs. Claus duties under her belt and being the new blood of the clan April is keen on introducing the elves of Christmastown to another holiday, her (previous) favorite Halloween, an idea which proves somewhat controversial in a town dedicated to all things Christmas.
A small but vocal contingent of elves believes Christmastown should remain a single celebration city. The most vocal critic of All Hallows Eve is Tiny Sparkletoes – who unfortunately – is found dead not long after a greenhouse full of pumpkins is vandalized…
Now I picked up this book based on the mash-up of holidays promised in the title – and it did not let me down. In fact, it utterly beat my expectations! The setting of Christmas town, the entertaining character names, and the reindeer (oh, the reindeer!) are treated so off-handedly that it successfully neutralizes the sweetness that could’ve crept into this narrative. April Claus just happens to live at the North Pole with her husband in Kringle Castle.
No big deal.
It also helps that April finds herself hip-deep in investigating a case of vandalism but a potential murder. Then there’s the problem of her best friend’s creepy boyfriend, drunk reindeer, and a mother-in-law who isn’t ready to cede her status as the numero uno – Mrs. Claus.
Seriously, Mrs. Claus and the Halloween Homicide is a well-paced and surprisingly nuanced themed mystery that will have you turning the pages quicker and quicker to find out whodunit!
HAPPY MERRY JOLLY!
So, how was your holiday season? We spent ours being all trendy, having the newly fashionable COVID Christmas, and it was just as spectacular as you might imagine.
I hope you didn’t participate, and if you did, I hope you’re feeling much better. We are, thank you for asking. That’s very sweet of you, but we’re vaccinated and boosted, so we were just unhappy, not in danger. Mostly we were blearily waiting for Barnaby to solve the Midsomer crime of the day. He’s reliable, is Barnaby. We needed that. Thank you, Caroline Graham!
I didn’t read a lot during this time. Brain fog is a real thing, hence the need for Barnaby to solve the cases. But I did read a YA book that was tons of fun, and perfectly suited my mood – Maureen Johnson’sDevilish.
While I never attended a religious prep school on the East Coast, any high school student will be able to relate to the issues facing Jane Jarvis, who doesn’t quite fit in, is too smart for her own good, and is worried about her bestie, Allison Concord. See, Ally’s changed, and while on the surface it seems to be a good thing, Jane is concerned because the changes in Ally are so radical. I mean, who gets a scholarship that pays for you to go shopping? To change your entire personality and become the Cool Kid? Something is suspicious, and Jane is going to find out what.
What I love about Maureen Johnson’s writing is how very relatable all her people are. While I’ve never been in the circumstances Jane finds herself in – and I’m grateful for that, by the way! – I know her, and Ally, and Owen, and Elton, and even the nuns.
Devilish is a quick read, which is perfect for this time of year, and definitely worth your while. If, however, you decide to save it for a summer beach read, I totally understand. The important thing is that you read it. Which you will, right?
We’re heartbroken to learn today of the death of G.M. Ford. Jerry died on December 1st according to his partner-in-crime Kathleen Skye Moody. We know he was born on July 9, 1945 in Everett, MA. At this time, we do not know where he was living when he died, or the cause. He was 76.
Jerry was an early customer of the shop. He and his dear friend Arnie would stop in on weekends to chat, chew the fat, buy some books and complain about the quality of the books he’d been reading. He’s laughingly say that he could write a better book, and Bill would say sure, sure, Jerry, sure you could. He would threaten to do it and Bill promised to give him his first signing if he got it published.
Pretty soon, he’d say that he was writing one, then that it was finished, then that he had an agent and the agent had sold it. We were left to swallow and hope it was good. Son of a gun – it was.
That was Who in Hell is Wanda Fuca?, and, of course, Bill and Tammy and I loved it. Just like Jerry, it was funny and smart and one-of-a-kind. The release date was set for May 1995. We were thrilled to set up a signing. But then an odd thing popped up. When Bill saw the publisher’s proposed dust jacket, he frowned at it said something to the effect that a brown paper bag would be better. Bill, you see, being an old bookman, had clear thoughts about book promotion… And lead us to the idea of making our own dust jacket to celebrate the book and the premiere signing.
It took off with a life of it’s own. 200 numbered, signed and dated copies, dated and signed on the date listed on the dust jacket. We weren’t sure how it was going to work but, boy did it. We found ourselves doing something similar for the next seven books – the next five Leo Watermans, and the first two Frank Corsos. It was a big production and great fun. Jerry admitted that he was in no way a collector but I think he was bemused and gratified that so many fans, from across the country, demanded to have the same number of their limited editions, year after year.
If you don’t live in the Puget Sound area, you may not get the joke of the first book’s title. One of “The Boys”, the drunks that acted like Leo’s Baker Street Irregulars, asked that question in the book, taking the waterway for a woman’s name. His second book also had ties to another geographic spot, Concrete, WA. Jerry didn’t want to get locked into a title gimmick that he would regret so he stepped it sideways. Instead of original, Set in Concrete, he used Cast in Stone.
There came a time when he grew tired of battling his publisher over titles. He wanted to call his third Leo The Pigeon Shit Shuffle. Strangely, his publisher declined to use it. We did. His fourth book, his homage to Nero Wolfe, was to be A Steak in the Action, but the publisher wanted something shorter and punchier, so it became Slow Burn (not for our dj). For the fifth, he refused to give it a title and allowed them to pick one. We used his working title, Whatever #5.
By 2006, Jerry had seemed to have retired Leo Waterman, and he left Frank Corso in Blown Away in 2006, pleading for help with a bomb wired around his neck (Jerry was gleeful at the ending, happy to have used that odd, true 2003 crime that was at that time unsolved but that he remembered!) After that, he began writing stand-alone thrillers and then began publishing through SPECTRE (Amazon) as so many local authors were doing. We explained to him that we couldn’t sell books from them and I think he felt we’d turned our backs on him. The last signing we had with him was in 2008.
He would still drop in to chat. He’d find a reason to come down to Bakeman’s for lunch and spend some time with us. And then, when we were occupied with customers, he’d wander out, often without saying goodbye. It always felt as if we’d see him again sometime. Until we didn’t.
We’re not ones to bring religion into the shop but, if there is an afterlife, a heaven, we’re heartened to think he’s there swapping stories with John D. MacDonald and Rex Stout (two of his favorites). And we hope that he’s wandered into that Big Bookshop in the sky to say hello to Bill Farley, a man Jerry dedicated Black River to as “master of all things mysterious and bookseller extraordinaire”.
obnubilate (v.): “to darken, cloud, overcloud,” 1580s, from Latin obnibulatus, past participle of obnubilare “to cover with clouds or fog,” from ob “in front of, against” (see ob-) + verb from Latin nubes “cloud,” from PIE *sneudh– “fog” (see nuance). Related: Obnubilated; obnubilating. Middle English had obnubilous “obscure, indistinct” (early 15th C.). (etymonline.com)
obloquy (n.): From the 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 PIE root *tolkw- “to speak.” Related: Obloquious. (etymonline.com)
[seriously, we were honest in our belief that it wasn’t worth including stories about Amazon. We’ve waged a war against the behemoth for 20 years and few have paid attention. But the stories keep piling up, sooo…..]
obscurantism (n.): “opposition to the advancement and diffusion of knowledge, a desire to prevent inquiry or enlightenment,” 1801, from German obscurantism, obscurantismus (by 1798); see obscurant + -ism. (etymonline.com)
obreption (n.): “the obtaining or trying to obtain something by craft or deception,” 1610s, from Latin obreptionem (nominative obreptio) “a creeping or stealing on,” noun of action from past-participle stem of obrepere “to creep on, creep up to,” from ob “on, to” (see ob-) + repere “to creep” (see reptile). Opposed to subreption, which is to obtain something by suppression of the truth. Related: Obreptious.
subreption (n.): “act of obtaining a favor by fraudulent suppression of facts,” c. 1600, from Latin subreptionem (nominative subreptio), noun of action from past-participle stem of subripere, surripere (see surreptitious). Related: Subreptitious. (etymonline.com)
What We’ve Been Up To
The Box In The Woods – Maureen Johnson
The Box In The Woods is probably one of the finest transitional books I’ve read – period.
A bold statement, to be sure, but I think an accurate one nonetheless.
The Box in the Woods is a continuation of Johnson’s Truly Devious series.
In that, a brand new cold case reunites Stevie and company during their summer vacation. Even better, if you’ve skipped reading the Truly Devious series and aren’t sure you want to sink in the extra time reading the trilogy (though you really should, they’re great), you don’t need to. Johnson brilliantly catches you up – without ruining the first three books!
Seriously, you don’t know how rare this is.
For some insane reason, mystery writers (or I suspect their editors as the more likely culprit) love revealing the ending of a previous mystery in newer installments! A feature that is fantastically frustrating if you accidentally start in the middle of the series. Thankfully, Johnson neatly sidesteps this common transgression.
But I digress.
Another reason why I enjoyed reading this book is Johnson makes use of two very well-known tropes and cunningly freshens them up.
Trope One: The horrors of summer camp as popularized by the Friday the 13th franchise.
Set a month or two after Stevie solved the Truly Devious case, Stevie’s hired to investigate the notorious Camp Wonder Falls murders, a cold case from 1978 where four camp counselors sneak out to hang out one summer night and are found murdered the following morning. Amplifying the horror of the crime is the fact neither the Sherriff nor State Police solved the crime. Leaving Barlow Corners, where Camp Wonder Falls and all four victims called home, in a state of animated suspension.
Amplifying this trope: Stevie and friends are hired as counselors to the newly revitalized (and renamed) summer camp as cover for said detecting.
While writing this review, I began to wonder: Does this trope have any real-world roots, or is it a purely fictional construct?
The answer sent me down an hours-long rabbit hole.
More specifically, I discovered an unsettling case dubbed the Oklahoma Girl Scout Murders. In 1977, Michele Heather Guse (9), Lori Lee Farmer (8), and Doris Denise Milner (10) were raped and murdered during a thunderstorm while attending Camp Scott (which was later shut down).
The Sherriff honed in on an escaped felon and convicted rapist who grew up in the area as his prime suspect. Gene Leroy Hart, said offender, was found not guilty of the girl’s murder in 1979. Other suspects have surfaced over the years, but no convictions have come about. Nor has DNA testing helped, as the biological material has deteriorated enough over the years that finding usable samples has become increasingly difficult.
Hauntingly, two months prior to the three little girl’s murder, a room was ransacked during a counselor’s training session. The perpetrator left a note stating, “We are on a mission to kill three little girls in Tent One.”.
The note, deemed a prank, was unfortunately tossed out.
(Click here if you’re interested in reading Tulsa World’s coverage of the tragedy. Or here for an alternate suspect theory.)
But back to The Box In The Woods.
The second trope Johnson used is one I’ve read at least a dozen times before – yet Johnson disguised it so cleverly I didn’t see it coming. Which I think is the mark of a great author and an excellent book.
Unfortunately, I can’t explain the trope any further. Otherwise, I will ruin the book for you. This is one where you need to trust me – the trope’s there, and it’s well-executed.
Overall, I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys YA detectives (though it is only YA due to the ages of the sleuths and a few hormones) and/or those who enjoy Agatha Christie-esque mysteries.
Honestly, I can’t say enough good things about The Box In The Woods!
The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death – Essay & Photography by Corinne May Botz
Interestingly, the review of the Nutshell Studies is directly linked to The Box In The Woods. When Stevie is first approached about investigating the cold case at Wonder Falls, she knows her folks won’t be keen on the idea, as they don’t understand or entirely approve of her fascination with true crime. So Stevie devises a strategy – which involves using a book filled with photos of the Nutshell Studies – to secure her parent’s permission to become a counselor at the notorious camp.
Intrigued by Johnson’s description, I found the book Stevie was reading.
Whereupon I discovered I’d seen homages to these scaled works in Elementry, CSI: Las Vegas, and Father Brown.
Created by Frances Glessner Lee, the mother of forensic science in the United States, these dioramas are intended to help train investigators on how to approach and analyze crime scenes.
Each scene is a 1-foot to 1-inch scale replica of crime scenes Lee either read about or visited. And much like Dragnet, Lee altered the specifics of each case she used, lest the detectives already know the solution. Though small, these gruesome dollhouses are fully immersive crime scenes where only one of three outcomes were acceptable – accident, suicide, or murder.
Brining us to Botz’s book.
Botz’s photography of these tiny worlds is both haunting, eerily lovely and acquaints her readers with the specter at the feast. All the while keeping true to Lee’s goal for the Nutshell Studies.
And this is where my criticism of this book lies.
Authors and Readers don’t always have the same agenda when beginning a book. And that’s okay. However, it is the duty of the author to set a clear message for their audience – particularly when dealing with such a tantalizing and fascinating subject like the Nutshell Studies.
Because, much like Stevie in The Box In The Woods, I wanted to hone my own critical thinking skills and eye on dioramas meant to do just that.
And this is where the rub of the book lies.
Botz waited until page 220 of 223 in a footnote, no less, to inform her readers she only included the solution to five out of twenty Nutshell Studies. (And one other tiny pet peeve the few provided solutions aren’t listed in the order the cases were presented in the previous chapter.) In any case, the reason for this purposeful omission is due to the fact law enforcement still use the Nutshell Studies as training tools. So they asked Botz not to reveal three-quarters of the solutions.
Which is entirely understandable and isn’t the basis of my quibble.
My objection lies in waiting until the last four pages to finally elucidate this crucial detail – Botz could’ve just as easily placed the footnote in her prologue (which would’ve avoided a great deal of frustration and annoyance).
Admittedly, in Botz’s preface, she does allude to this contentious detail. Stating she set out to photograph the Nutshell Studies, “With the resolve of an investigator at the scene of a crime (yet with no interest in solving it)…” (pg. 12). Additionally, Botz felt a kinship with Lee – which meant Botz kept true to Lee’s intent for the Nutshells, “…they were not supposed to treat the Nutshells as ‘whodunnits’…they are, rather, designed as exercises in observing and evaluating indirect evidence…” (pg. 29).
This obfuscation of information continues with the photographs, as Botz only gives the audience small slices of these miniatures to study. Now, these slices are spectacular in their incredible detail, meticulous craftsmanship, and atmospheric perspective – but they do not afford the same opportunity for the reader as they do investigators.
Happily, Botz does include the background info written by Lee for each diorama. Then provides a crime scene diagram of each overall scene where Botz highlights investigative features, the personal quirks Lee buried within the rooms or just general fun facts. They draw the reader’s eye hither, thither, and yon much like a red herring in a mystery novel.
Now, with all this being said – and I know my criticism is rather long – I would still highly recommend reading this book. Although, with the caveat, the cases may leave you a bit frustrated with not knowing the answers…In any case, the sheer precision and accuracy of Lee’s dioramas is astonishing, and Botz’s photography elevates the Nutshell Studies to a whole new level. Making Botz’s book The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death deserving of your time and energy. Because I bought this book several months back, and I still find something new each and every time I reread it.
Boy, if there’s a Word of the Month that fits us itis this:
gallimaufry (n.)“a medley, hash, hodge-podge,” 1550s, from French galimafrée “hash, ragout, dish made of odds and ends,” from Old French galimafree, calimafree “sauce made of mustard, ginger, and vinegar; a stew of carp” (14th C.), which is of unknown origin. Perhaps from Old French galer “to make merry, live well” (see gallant) + Old North French mafrer “to eat much,” from Middle Dutch maffelen [Klein]. Weekley sees in the second element the proper name Maufré. Hence, figuratively, “any inconsistent or absurd medley.” (etymonline)
absurd (n): “plainly illogical,” 1550s, from French absurde (16th C.), from Latin absurdus “out of tune, discordant;” figuratively “incongruous, foolish, silly, senseless,” from ab– “off, away from,” here perhaps an intensive prefix, + surdus “dull, deaf, mute,” which is possibly from an imitative PIE root meaning “to buzz, whisper” (see susurration). Thus the basic sense is perhaps “out of tune,” but de Vaan writes, “Since ‘deaf’ often has two semantic sides, viz. ‘who cannot hear’ and ‘who is not heard,’ ab-surdus can be explained as ‘which is unheard of’ …” The modern English sense is the Latin figurative one, perhaps “out of harmony with reason or propriety.” Related: Absurdly; absurdness. (etymonline)
paradox (n): From t he 1530s, “a statement contrary to common belief or expectation,” from French paradoxe (14th C.) and directly from Latin paradoxum “paradox, statement seemingly absurd yet really true,” from Greek paradoxon “incredible statement or opinion,” noun use of neuter of adjective paradoxos “contrary to expectation, incredible,” from para- “contrary to” (see para- (1)) + doxa “opinion,” from dokein “to appear, seem, think” (from PIE root *dek- “to take, accept”).
Originally with notions of “absurd, fantastic.” Meaning “statement that is seemingly self-contradictory yet not illogical or obviously untrue” is from 1560s. Specifically in logic, “a statement or proposition from an acceptable premise and following sound reasoning that yet leads to an illogical conclusion,” by 1903. (etymonline)
preposterous (adj.): 1540s, “contrary to nature, reason, or common sense,” from Latin praeposterus “absurd, contrary to nature, inverted, perverted, in reverse order,” literally “before-behind” (compare topsy-turvy,cart before the horse), from prae “before” (see pre-) + posterus “subsequent, coming after,” from post “after” (see post-).
The sense gradually shaded into “foolish, ridiculous, stupid, absurd.” The literal meaning “reversed in order or arrangement, having that last which ought to be first” (1550s) is now obsolete in English. In 17th C. English also had a verb preposterate “to make preposterous, pervert, invert.” (etymonline)
canard (n.): An “absurd or fabricated story intended as an imposition,” 1851, perhaps 1843, from French canard “a hoax,” literally “a duck” (from Old French quanart, probably echoic of a duck’s quack); said by Littré to be from the phrase vendre un canard à moitié “to half-sell a duck,” thus, perhaps from some long-forgotten joke, “to cheat.” But also compare quack (n.1). (etymonline)
Until I cracked the spine of Mango, Mambo, and Murder – I hadn’t realized how very long it’s been since I’ve started a new series. Or, in fact, a series that didn’t feature a mystery writer, bookshop owner, or librarian as the sleuth. So why you ask, are these careers important? Reading about true or fictional crime does generally give bookish detectives a leg up in their investigations.
However, in Mango, Mambo, and Murder, our investigator is Dr. Miriam Quinones-Smith, a Food Anthropologist, mother of one, and the newest resident of Coral Shores, Miami. All outstanding life achievements – but not ones that prepared her for investigating a murder. However, this is precisely what Miriam needs to do when her best friend Alma is accused of murder.
And she makes mistakes. Lots of mistakes. Because she’s quite literally an amateur sleuth trying to solve her first case – the first one I’ve read in a very long time.
She did a good job.
However, the cream of the first book in A Caribbean Kitchen Mystery series is how Reyes (our author) seamlessly works food into her mystery. The dishes Miriam cooks add layers and nuance to the book without detracting from the unfolding story because food is the cornerstone upon which Mirium’s life is built, therefore making it a cornerstone of the book.
But it’s still very much a mystery…with delicious sounding Cuban food on the side.
The one and only criticism I have for the Mango, Mambo, and Murder is that the very last chapter is just a hair overly sweet. But as it is a first novel – which gives a slightly unusual but satisfying wrap -up the murder mystery – I can forgive this very small foible.
Overall, I would recommend this mystery to anyone who enjoys reading cozy mysteries, culinary mysteries, and/or culturally diverse mysteries. Raquel V. Reyes did a great job creating a new exciting character, who I am looking forward to meeting again.
(BTW – Thanks to JB who emailed me about this great book!)
Craig Johnson’s new Longmire, Daughter of the Morning Star is a puzzler. I don’t mean that due to it’s mystery and crime and whodunnit elements. I mean it from the point of view of “where is this going”?
Walt spends the book up in Montana, helping the locals search for a missing Indian woman. The issue of missing and murdered Indigenous women is a real and frightening problem but Walt is the sheriff of the largest county in WY, he doesn’t have a huge staff (is the Powder River annex still manned? Was it rebuilt after it was torched? Has his Basque deputy been replaced?) Who’s running the place? While the hunt for the missing girl is the plot, the story is more about Walt’s continued brush with Native American spirituality, what it means to him, how he deals with it – or not – and how the Spirits deal with Walt. There are a number of Mallo wrappers in the story and if you’ve been reading the books you understand their significance.
There’s a lot of basketball, not enough Vic, and the oddity of Dog shying away from Walt after a Spirit encounter but then everything is normal between them with no explanation.
Felt, again, like a bridge book – taking the series somewhere but not going very fast. Still, anytime with Walt and Henry is time well spent.
After becoming frustrated with the commercials during BBC’s airing of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, I turned off the TV and started re-reading the book. It has to be at least 20 years since I first read it. I was struck – again – by how well crafted it is as a mystery/thriller/crime novel, how assured it was as a first time work of fiction, and how serious Stieg Larsson was about addressing the violence done to women. Re-read all three. Great trilogy!
It’s been a year since I left the Pacific Northwest, and I’ve been busy. Rather than review, I thought I’d give you a peek into my new world. Come on in.
We bought a tiny pistachio farm. We have 103 pistachio trees, one almond, a peach tree, and a couple pomegranate and lime trees. We’re in the Tularosa Basin in New Mexico, which is a HUGE change from the PNW, but we’ve lived in New Mexico before.
Obviously bookshelves were the first priority.
Oh, and yes, it does rain here. Sometimes like a firehose has been opened.
And yes, we got puppies. Look at them. Aren’t they adorable? The one on the left is Tank, who is beating up on his sister, Mazikeen. Don’t worry, she can hold her own.
But now, you see…
Now, at about a year old, they’re much more sophisticated.
LOL, no, they’re not. They’re complete doofuses, and firmly believe that they’re still lap dogs, even though they weight well over 50 pounds each. But they’re cuddle bugs and we love them.
You may not know it, but the Tularosa area in New Mexico is great for roses.
The pistachios grew beautifully, and we had a great harvest.
See those red pods? Those are pistachios still in their protective hull, which is easy to remove when they’re ready for harvesting. It was amazing to watch.
And yes, they’re tasty!
So that’s what I’ve been up to. I’m still reading and will obviously keep on reviewing, but I’ve missed chatting with all y’all, and wanted to take a moment to catch up. Have a great holiday season!
First of 5 parts, introducing Don Diego de la Vega who secretly fights for justice as the swashbuckling hero Zorro of Spanish California (1769–1821)
After Douglas Fairbanks released his 1920 movie, The Mark of Zorro, demand for more stories was great. Johnston McCulley would write over sixty more Zorro stories, beginning in 1922 with ‘The Further Adventures of Zorro’. His last Zorro story appeared posthumously in April 1959.
McCulley was a prolific writer, publishing under many names other than his own: Harrington Strong, Raley Brien, George Drayne, Monica Morton, Rowena Raley, Frederic Phelps, Walter Pierson, John Mack Stone, among others as did so many pulp writers.
In addition to Zorro, McCulley created numerous pulp characters who continue to inspire today: Black Star, The Spider, The Mongoose, Thubway Tham, The Green Ghost, The Thunderbolt, and The Crimson Clown.
ATTENTION MUST BE PAID: From the introduction to Craig’s new Longmire:
“The plight of missing an murdered indigenous women is so great that I had to reassure my publisher that the statistics contained in this novel are accurate. The numbers are staggering, and they speak for themselves. What if I were to tell you that that the chances of a Native woman being murdered is ten times the national average, or that murder is the third leading cause of death for indigenous women? What if I told you that four out of five Native women have experienced societal violence, with having experienced sexual violence as well. Half of Native women have been stalked in their lifetime, and they are two times as likely to experience violence and rape than their Anglo counterparts. Heartbreakingly, the majority of these Native women’s murders are by non-Natives on Native owned land.
“The violence is being addressed, but there is so much more to do. Jurisdictional issues and a lack of communication among agencies make the investigative process difficult. Underreporting, racial misclassification, and underwhelming media coverage [emphasis from us] minimize the incredible damage that is being done to the Native communities as a whole.
rougarou (n.): “Rougarou” represents a variant pronunciation and spelling of the original French loup-garou. According to Barry Jean Ancelet, an academic expert on Cajunfolklore and professor at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette in America, the tale of the rougarou is a common legend across French Louisiana. Both words are used interchangeably in southern Louisiana. Some people call the monster rougarou; others refer to it as the loup-garou. The rougarou legend has been spread for many generations, either directly from French settlers to Louisiana (New France) or via the French Canadian immigrants centuries ago. In the Cajun legends, the creature is said to prowl the swamps around Acadiana and Greater New Orleans, and the sugar cane fields and woodlands of the regions. The rougarou most often is described as a creature with a human body and the head of a wolf or dog, similar to the werewolf legend. (wikipedia)
soucouyant (n.): The soucouyant is a shapeshifting Caribbean folklore character who appears as a reclusive old woman by day. By night, she strips off her wrinkled skin and puts it in a mortar. In her true form, as a fireball she flies across the dark sky in search of a victim. The soucouyant can enter the home of her victim through any sized hole like cracks, crevices and keyholes. Soucouyants suck people’s blood from their arms, legs and soft parts while they sleep leaving blue-black marks on the body in the morning. If the soucouyant draws too much blood, it is believed that the victim will either die and become a soucouyant or perish entirely, leaving her killer to assume her skin. The soucouyant practices black magic. Soucouyants trade their victims’ blood for evil powers with Bazil, the demon who resides in the silk cotton tree. To expose a soucouyant, one should heap rice around the house or at the village cross roads as the creature will be obligated to gather every grain, grain by grain (a herculean task to do before dawn) so that she can be caught in the act. To destroy her, coarse salt must be placed in the mortar containing her skin so she perishes, unable to put the skin back on. Belief in soucouyants is still preserved to an extent in Guyana, Suriname and some Caribbean islands, including Dominica, Haiti and Trinidad. The skin of the soucouyant is considered valuable, and is used when practicing black magic. Many Caribbean islands have plays about the Soucouyant and many other folklore characters. Some of these include Trinidad Grenada and Barbados. Soucouyants belong to a class of spirits called jumbies. Some believe that soucouyants were brought to the Caribbean from European countries in the form of French vampire-myths. These beliefs intermingled with those of enslaved Africans. (wikipedia)
manananggal (n.) The manananggal is described as scary, often hideous, usually depicted as female, and always capable of severing its upper torso and sprouting huge bat-like wings to fly into the night in search of its victims. The word manananggal comes from the Tagalog word tanggal, which means “to remove” or “to separate”, which literally translates as “remover” or “separator”. In this case, “one who separates itself”. The name also originates from an expression used for a severed torso. The manananggal is said to favor preying on sleeping, pregnant women, using an elongated proboscis-like tongue to suck the hearts of fetuses, or the blood of someone who is sleeping. It also haunts newlyweds or couples in love. Due to being left at the altar, grooms-to-be are one of its main targets.The severed lower torso is left standing, and is the more vulnerable of the two halves. Sprinkling salt, smearing crushed garlic or ash on top of the standing torso is fatal to the creature. The upper torso then would not be able to rejoin itself and would perish by sunrise. The myth of the manananggal is popular in the Visayan regions of the Philippines, especially in the western provinces of Capiz, Iloilo, Bohol and Antique. There are varying accounts of the features of a manananggal. Like vampires, Visayan folklore creatures, and aswangs, manananggals are also said to abhor garlic, salt and holy water. They were also known to avoid daggers, light, vinegar, spices and the tail of a stingray, which can be fashioned as a whip. Folklore of similar creatures can be found in the neighbouring nations of Indonesia and Malaysia. The province of Capiz is the subject or focus of many manananggal stories, as with the stories of other types of mythical creatures, such as ghosts, goblins, ghouls generically referred to as aswangs. Sightings are purported here, and certain local folk are said to believe in their existence despite modernization. The manananggal shares some features with the vampire of Balkan folklore, such as its dislike of garlic, salt, and vulnerability to sunlight. (wikipedia)
Chonchon (n.) The Chonchon is the magical transformation of a kalku (Mapuche sorcerer). It is said only the most powerful kalkus can aspire to master the secret of becoming this feared creature. The kalku or sorcerer would carry out the transformation into a Chonchon by an act of will and being anointed by a magical cream in the throat that eases the removal of the head from the rest of the body, with the removed head then becoming the creature. The Chonchon has the shape of a human head with feathers and talons; its ears, which are extremely large, serve as wings for its flight on moonless nights. Chonchons are supposed to be endowed with all the magic powers of, and can only be seen by, other kalkus, or by wizards that want this power. Sorcerers take the form of the chonchon to better carry out their wicked activities, and the transformation would provide them with other abilities, such as drinking the blood of ill or sleeping people. Although the fearsome appearance of a chonchon would be invisible to the uninitiated, they would still be able to hear its characteristic cry of “tue tue tue”, which is considered to be an extremely ill omen, usually predicting the death of a loved one. (wikipedia)
Your Guide to Not Getting Murdered in a Quaint English Village is exactly what it claims to be – a guide. Elucidating all the things a tourist needs to know about a quiet English village in order to navigate it and the inevitable undercurrents successfully (i.e. not get murdered).
Its’ also one of the funniest books I’ve ever read.
Aimed at the lovers of classic manor house and/or English village mysteries (think the Queens of Crime, Georgette Heyer, Francis Duncan, Patricia Wentworth) it takes the stock characters, architecture, and events found within those pages and gives them an irreverent, rib-tickling, and on the nose descriptions.
There’s even a quiz at the end to test your prowess.
I died twice…on the same page.
What I love even more – is how many of the people, places, and things Johnson describes in Your Guide to Not Getting Murdered that I recognize either from reading them or from watching tv shows like Father Brown, Death In Paradise, and Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries.
I would recommend this book to anyone who loves classic mysteries and has a very good sense of humor – Your Guide to Not Getting Murdered will not let you down!
This is not a political post, but the book I’m talking about has its roots in politics, specifically the 2016 election. When the results were tallied, many people were upset, and out of that visceral reaction a new publishing house was born, Nasty Woman Press, the Creative Resistance.
Spearheaded by the glorious Kelli Stanley, Nasty Woman Press, a 501(c)(4) non-profit, decided to use literary creativity to bring awareness and aid to those who are struggling. To quote Kelli, “Our plan is to publish anthologies of captivating fiction and thought-provoking non-fiction, each built around a general theme – the theme itself tying in to the non-profit for which the book is raising money.”
That’s right. The profits from the sale of each book go to a cause. In the case of the the debut anthology, Shattering Glass, the theme is empowered women, and the profits go to Planned Parenthood.
Now, I know that a lot of you don’t like short stories, but here’s where you trust me. The fiction is amazing, and not all the authors are female. Anyone who says that men can’t write accurately about women needs to read some of these stories. Men can and do understand women, and know how to write them as believable characters.
But it’s not just the stories. One of the essays, written by Jacqueline Winspear about women firefighters, has stayed with me since I read it, and even as I type this, California is on fire, and I want to sit down with Jackie over a pot of tea and listen to her, because she knows her stuff.
The opening essay by Valerie Plame – yes, THAT Valerie Plame, outed CIA spy turned politician and novelist – is definitely thought provoking and erudite. I’ve read it a couple of times now.
But in the end, you’re going to love this anthology and come back to it. Parts of it will leave you aching, sometimes you’ll be so pissed you want to throw things, and at other times, you’re going to laugh out loud at the audacity. You will not remain unmoved. And that’s because these people can Write.
Who, you might ask? Well, I don’t want to spoil surprises, but if you like the writing of people like Cara Black, Catriona McPherson, Anne Lamott, Joe Clifford, Senator Barbara Boxer, Jess Lourey, and Seanan McGuire, you’re in for a treat.
Pickup up a copy of Scott Turow’s The Last Trial. It’s one of those many books by favorite authors that I missed after the shop closed. It’s all that you’d expect from Turow – no one else plots such stunning and sinuous legal thrillers. But the wonderful part of the book, for me, was spending time with defense attorney Sandy Stern. While the lawyer is described differently, it’s impossible for me to not picture and hear Raul Julia as him, and since it is likely to be the last book with Stern and Julia’s sadly dead, it was so nice to be in their company one last time.
There are words authors use that are too fancy for the stories they’re telling. In a way, it’s showy. It’s proving you have a large vocabulary. “Verdant” is one. It is almost always out of place. And, please – PLEASE – can we retire “plethora”!
But, having blurted that out of my head, I am here to HIGHLY RECOMMENDBlacktop Wasteland by S.A. Cosby. A new book is out now in hardcover. It’s getting high praise. I thought I’d go back and start with his first and – man – the guy can not only write beautifully but plot a tight, thrilling story.
“That was the things about his mother. She could be emotionally manipulative one minute then making you laugh the next. It was like getting hit in the face with a pie that had a padlock in it.”
Beau is a young guy whose stuck in a thicket of bills – mortgage on his garage, his dying mother’s healthcare is a mess, his youngest daughter needs money for starting college. He’s turned his back on his past livelihood – get-away-driver. His father was a noted driver and Beau doesn’t want to follow that path. “But when it came to handling his responsibilities we both know Anthony Montage was about a useful as a white crayon, don’t we?”
But the bills are demanding and off we roar into a series of sharp turns and dead ends that threaten everything he cherishes. Danger is his passenger and worse follows. “Reggie jumped like a demon had spoken to him.”
This is great noir, a great crime novel. I believe it is a stand-alone. I don’t think his books are connected. And I look forward to reading more. Cosby writes with a fluid, memorable style. How can you not want to read an author who comes up with a line like this: “She was wearing a tank top and shorts so tight they would become a thong is she sneezed.”
But it’ll have to wait ’til I finish the new Longmire.
The new James Ellroy, Widespread Panic, is everything you’d expect from an Ellroy book – literately lurid, speedily sleazy, and full of film faces. The narrator is real-life reprobate Fred Otash, a former cop, LA fixer, and all-around asshole. He’s into everything, everyone and everywhere. The book takes the form or a sort of memoir, a look back on a set of years in the 1950s. Naughty and nefarious nostalgia.
As with any Ellroy, when finishes, it is difficult to remember if there were any good people in the story. As with any Ellroy, the story is stocked with actual people. How does he get away with it without being sued out of his bowtie? Elizabeth Taylor in a three-way romp? James Dean, Nick Adams, Nicholas Ray and many others as reprehensible souls involved in rampant raids, reprobates riding roughshod over rights! None are alive now, but….
sucker (n.) A “young mammal before it is weaned,” late 14th C., agent noun from suck. Slang meaning “person who is easily deceived” is first attested 1836, American English, on notion of naivete; but another theory traces the slang meaning to the fish called a sucker (1753), on the notion of being easy to catch in their annual migrations (the fish so called from the shape of its mouth). As a type of candy from 1823; especially “lollipop” by 1907. Meaning “shoot from the base of a tree or plant” is from 1570s. Also the old name of inhabitants of Illinois. (etymonline)
folly (n.): From the early 13th C., “mental weakness; foolish behavior or character; unwise conduct” (in Middle English including wickedness, lewdness, madness), from Old French folie “folly, madness, stupidity” (12th C.), from fol (see fool (n.)). From c. 1300 as “an example of foolishness;” sense of “costly structure considered to have shown folly in the builder” is attested from 1650s. But used much earlier, since Middle English, in place names, especially country estates, probably as a form of Old French folie in its meaning “delight.” (etymonline)
We’re eliminating this section of the newzine. What’s the point? They are into everything and will soon own everything. The windmill has won…
rube (n.): From 1896, reub, from shortened form of masculine proper name Reuben (q.v.), which is attested from 1804 as a conventional type of name for a country man… As a typical name of a farmer, rustic, or country bumpkin, from 1804. The Reuben sandwich of corned beef, sauerkraut, etc., on rye bread, an American specialty (1956) is the same name but “Not obviously connected” with the “country bumpkin” sense in rube [OED], but is possibly from Reuben’s restaurant, a popular spot in New York’s Lower East Side. Various other Reubens have been proposed as the originator. (etymonline)
August 29: Ed Asner, the Iconic Lou Grant on Two Acclaimed TV Series, Dies at 91 [Asner was born in Kansas City and his brother Ben owned a record store just across state line in Missouri called Caper’s Corners. It was the place we all went to get concert tickets and buy LPs. Later it was revealed that Ben Asner was one of the biggest fences in the city.]
con (adj.): “swindling,” 1889 (in con man), American English, from confidence man (1849), from the many scams in which the victim is induced to hand over money as a token of confidence. Confidence with a sense of “assurance based on insufficient grounds” dates from 1590s. Con artist is attested by 1910.
What We’ve Been Up To
A Noodle Shop Mystery (series) by Vivien Chien
One of the pitfalls of no longer working in a bookshop is that one occasionally falls behind in a series. Which I must confess – I don’t really mind. Why? Because when I eventually recall the temporarily neglected author, I’ve a backlog to zip my way thru! Thus allowing me to dive headlong and immerse myself in the world of an old friend and catch up with them…
This awkward phenomenon occurred most recently with Vivien Chien’s Noodle Shop Mystery series. Where over a week, I devoured Fatal Fried Rice – where Lana’s cooking instructor winds up dead and lands Lana in very hot water. Killer Kung Pao – where the sourest business owner in the Asian Village is accused of murder, and her sister asks Lana to clear her name. And Egg Drop Dead – during Noodle House’s first catering gig, for the owner of the Asian Village, one of the owner’s staff ends up dead, and Lana’s detective skills are pressed into service.
I reveled in every word I read.
Here’s what I love about this series: Chien does a great job in varying motives, methods, investigative techniques (as Lana learns or stumbles onto new strategies), and culprits. Thus giving each of her books a sense of freshness, variety, and surprise – a feature often missing from other cozy mysteries. Another reason I enjoy this series is the fact the book’s solutions make sense. As in, I don’t need to suspend my disbelief in thinking an amateur sleuth could stumble onto the truth. Which, again, is a nice change of pace.
Above and beyond these aforementioned attributes – these books are witty, fun, and intelligent reads.
Okay, so the titles are punny – but I can assure you that’s where the cloying coziness ends. Lana just happens to manage her family’s noodle shop – it is the backdrop for the books, not the central theme. I promise.
I would recommend this series to anyone looking for a new cozy-ish series to immerse themselves in.
(BTW – I did make an entry in my phone’s calendar to remind me Chien’s new book, Hot and Sour Suspects, is out in January 2022 – so I didn’t accidentally forget again….)
Dorothy Uhnak was a real police detective in New York in the Sixties, when being a female detective was only marginally accepted. She turned her experiences into stories, several of which were turned into movies.
Victims wasn’t made into a movie, but it should have been, and honestly, still should be. Loosely based on the brutal murder of Kitty Genovese (you remember her, right? She was murdered and over 30 people heard it but did nothing), Victims follows the investigation into the murder of a young woman while people in the neighborhood watched but did nothing because they all thought it was “the Spanish girl”.
Victims is set in the 80’s – which, sadly, I’ve lately heard called “vintage”, which I find appalling because it was just yesterday, dammit – but the only thing that differentiates the setting between then and now are cell phones and digital capabilities. It’s a solid police procedural, but with a twist.
As Miranda Torres investigates the murder of Anna Grace, journalist Mike Stein investigates the lack of response by the neighbors with an eye to a searing expose of the witnesses. Technically, they are not at cross-purposes, and for some reason, Stein has been allowed access to all of NYPD’s findings. Torres is meticulous, observant, and wickedly smart.
Between them, the two find out a great deal, but since their final goals aren’t the same, neither are their investigations.
Dorothy Uhnak brilliantly captures the delicate and pervasive racism, favoritism, back-room dealing, and political chicanery that invades all areas of society, and she makes it personal. I’ve always been a fan of her Christie Opera series, and you should read them, but Victims hits home with a gut punch that lingers.
When you finish it, if you aren’t mad as hell, you haven’t been paying attention!
There are series that I’ve read more than once, and there are series that I’ve read many times, six or more. This series I have read, I think, twice, and some of the books more than that. I like re-reading. It’s time spend with favorite characters, favorite voices. And now and then I still read a sentence that stands out. I’m not sure how I’ve not noticed it before. Maybe I did but this time it captured my eyes. “My thoughts struggled in my brain like exhausted swimmers.”
Maybe it locked me because it is how I’m feeling these days. I find myself having difficulty focusing on things – long books, long movies, even a ball game. It’s not those things, it’s my concentration. That’s when re-reading comes in handy. I don’t have to worry too much about tuning into the pages as I’ve been there before. That’s another reason why that line hooked me; I wasn’t looking for something remarkable and new, and it fit my present self.
Kennedy’s Avenger: Assassination, Conspiracy, and the Forgotten Trial of Jack Ruby by Dan Abrams and David Fisher was a compete waste of $27.99. I knew it from the first few pages when the authors started from the position that Oswald was the lone assassin. While Melvin Belli’s defense tactics were amusing, I quit reading before 50 pages. A waste of paper, printer’s ink, shipping, human efforts and, as I said, money.
I bought James Lee Burke’s A Private Cathedral the week it appeared in hardcover in the Summer of 2020. Just got to it now – and now it is in trade paper. I can’t quite explain why the long wait as I love the Robicheaux series. Doesn’t matter, really.
This is an odd one on two fronts. On one, it is set in the past, as if it makes any difference to Dave and Clete. Alafair is still in college and Helen isn’t the chief of police until the end, so maybe a ten, fifteen years? The other oddity is that this one deals more with the “electric mist” and it isn’t just Dave seeing figures out of time. It is almost fair to call this one a ghost story. Certainly the main characters are spooked by what they experience.
Still, for these differences, it was a great book.
dreadnought (n.): Literally (one who or that which) “fears nothing,” from the verbal phrase (drede ich nawiht is attested from c. 1200); see dread (v.) + nought (n.). As a synonym for “battleship” (1916) it is from a specific ship’s name. Dreadnought is mentioned as the name of a ship in the Royal Navy as early as c. 1596, but the modern generic sense is from the name of the first of a new class of British battleships, based on the “all big-gun” principle (armed with 10 big guns rather than 4 large guns and a battery of smaller ones), launched Feb. 18, 1906. (etymonline)
Murder Is My Business: In the true crime genre’s latest iteration, writers, reporters, bloggers, documentary filmmakers, and podcast hosts have taken a soiled brand and turned it into a collective exercise in retributive justice, recording and correcting the history of sexual violence.
daredevil (n.): 1794, “recklessly daring person, one who fears nothing and will attempt anything,” from dare (v.) + devil (n.). The devil might refer to the person, or the sense might be “one who dares the devil.” Compare scarecrow, killjoy, dreadnought, pickpocket (n.), cutthroat, also fear-babe a 16th C. word for “something that frightens children;” kill-devil “bad rum.” As an adjective, “characteristic of a daredevil, reckless,” by 1832. (etymonline) [The Marvel superhero first appeared in April, 1964.]
The third installment of the Heirs of Chicagoland was a fast, fun and enjoyable read!
I mean, what’s not to love when you’ve got vampires, werewolves and everything in-between? Even better, Shadowed Steel finally sees our heroes and heroines emerge from their legendary parent’s shadows (and plot lines) to explore the mysteries and problems facing their Chicago.
(If you’re not acquainted with the series – the characters in Heirs are the kids of the original series – Chicagoland Vampires. You don’t have to read the original series to understand the new one – but I highly recommend it as they’re brilliant and add extra layers of nuance and fun to the newer books!)
It’s the writing, you see
I’ve mentioned before how much I love Rennie Airth’s writing, and if you’ve read his work, I know you get it.
If you haven’t, start with River of Darkness, and just keep going with John Madden’s investigations. You’ll be immersed in post-WWI life, and all the repercussions of the Great War.
I just finished The Decent Inn of Death, and it’s got some lovely surprises. Not whodunnit, at least not for me. But like every book by Rennie Airth, it’s not the surprise at the end but the whole journey. And here he takes us to visit Agatha Christie. Not literally, but The Decent Inn of Death definitely reminded me of Mousetrap.
One of the surprises is that, for the most part, the story doesn’t follow John Madden. Instead, we’re following his old chief and friend, former Chief Inspector Angus Sinclair, who goes to visit friends while the Maddens are away, and who gets caught up both in a mystery and a snowstorm, where there’s definitely something suspicious going on. And Angus has a murder to solve, but his health isn’t good, and these are stressful times.
It occurred to me while I was reading The Decent Inn of Death that I really like how Rennie Airth writes women. They’re strong, opinionated, forceful, and each woman is an individual character. They’re never cookie-cutter. And often, they’re surprising.
For example, Lucy Madden, John and Helen’s daughter, says this about marriage:
‘The trouble is I can’t see myself tied to any one man.’ She sighed. ‘The shine wears off so quickly. What I’d really like is to be one of those sultans who had scores of wives and kept them in a harem. I could probably manage with four or five – husbands, I mean. It would be so nice to be able to say, I’ll have you today…No, not you…you.’
‘You’re joking, of course.’
‘Am I?’ She sent a sly glance his way.
There are several women whom you will meet during your visit at The Decent Inn of Death, and each one is unique and, in her own way, perfect, although they have all manner of flaws. But you won’t become confused as to who is whom; Rennie Airth really does write women well!
Bill Farley always said that they weren’t Stouts but it was always nice spending time with old friends. Robert Goldsborough’s Trouble at the Brownstonekeeps up that trend. In his latest Nero Wolfe novel, the group on West 35th is disturbed when master gardener Theodore Horstmann is found nearly beaten to death. Only recently had he moved out of the brownstone into his own apartment and so the questions of where and how it happened are multiplied. All hands are called in to help and even Insp. Cramer is working with them – grousing a bit, of course, but everyone is working hard to find the culprit even as Horstmann remains in a coma. The solution may be unsurprising but is still satisfactory.
Stephen Hunter moves into a new world with Basil’s War. The book is set during WWII, the central character is an upper-class, cheeky and glib Brit, and the action is as speedy as the plot is convoluted. It is all about getting a clue to who is the Soviet spy in British intelligence not to expose them but so that information can be slipped to them that will convince Stalin to do what the Brits need him to do. They’re certain that if they just ask, he’ll think it is a devious plot and refuse, so they concoct this elaborate scheme to nudge him. Got it? Don’t worry, you’ll see once Basil’s carried out his mission. It’s a delightful book – none are exactly who you assume them to be…well, maybe van Boch of the SS. It is a very different turn from Hunter but its every bit as imaginative and serious as any of his other books, but this one is topped with a deceptive icing of nonchalant, even sporty, wit.
Respected independent scholar Jonathan Marshall is also an award-winning journalist. The reviews of his new book, Dark Quadrant: Organized Crime, Big Business, and the Corruption of American Democracy piqued my interest. It’s a fascinating book, beginning with FDR and moving forward through the growth of the Federal government, the Mob, the military-industrial complex (we really need to use Eisenhower’s original choice of “military-industrial-congressional-complex” all the time), and the parasites who affix themselves to all concerned. He brings it forward into the Trump administration and few come out of the book not covered with filth. Many of the names you’ll know – Roy Cohn, Howard Hughes, Tommy the Cork, Robert Maheu, Joseph McCarthy, Meyer Lansky, J. Edgar Hoover, Sam Giancana, Richard Nixon, on and on. Congressmen, Senators, CEOs and appointees. It’s all about greed and power, without an ounce of loyalty or civic responsibility. Talk about a shadow government… The depth and scholarship of his indictment is staggering. It’s simply staggering.
Granted, his tale is takes up nearly a century, and the players weave themselves deep into the country’s government and fabric, surfacing here and there through the decades and, following the money, entwine themselves with a variety of public figures from different facets of power. But it was disarming to continually run into his notes of “See chapter X” throughout the book, from the beginning chapters to the final ones. It gives the book a disjointed feeling, as if you’re to stop in chapter 2 to go to chapter 9 or go back from chapter 10 to chapter 5. Don’t, just keep plowing through sordid history of disgusting muck. It is an infuriating read due to subject and due to his scholarship. It’s an important subject and therefore an important book.
Finally, we’ve run into “issues” with WordPress. They’ve changed the way the program works making it less user friendly. To top it off, there was some sort of glitch and I lost reviews and links that I’d added. It’s been very frustrating. If this newzine seems thinner and less packed with goodies, that’s why.
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.