Though he’d published other novels before Booked to Die, it cemented his fame and reputation in the world of mysteries, biblio-mysteries, and publishing. When it was published in 1992, if the term “hyper-modern collectable” had been used or not, it applied to this book. Shop founder Bill Farley ordered just two copies from the publisher – not strange as it was a hardcover from an unfamiliar author – and he took two probably and simply because it was a mystery book about books, and biblio-mysteries have a special niche in our world. But before Bill could order more copies the book had vanished from all sources. And as an instant collectable, the race was on to find a copy of this immediately rare book with it’s escalating price.
Each book in the Janeway series dealt with a different aspect of the world of book collecting.
Booked to Die concerned libraries of collectable books. It provided a good view of why books became collectable and the rampant insanity inherent in collecting – and collectors. (we know whereof we speak…)
The Bookman’s Wake(1995) dealt with fine, small presses, the sort that survive by subscription. In this instance, it focused on a 1969 Poe book from a fine press in Northbend, WA. Lucky for us, the setting for most of the action guaranteed he’d come to town for a signing!
The Bookman’s Promise (2004) centered on the provenance of a specific book – who really owned it and how to prove it.
The Sign of the Book (2005) saw Janeway looking into the murder of a book collector and the question of the authenticity of an author’s signature.
The Bookwoman’s Last Fling (2006) is, alas, the final Janeway novel. He’s asked to value a collection of juvenilia – collectable children’s books. He notices that some highly valuable books have been replaced by cheap editions while others haven’t. The story combines John’s love of books with his love of horseracing. He was a man of great interests and great knowledge.
If memory serves, he was working on another Janeway when he was operated on for a brain tumor. The results were that he never recovered the ability to write and never finished the book. Janeway travels the streets, alone now, searching for the next adventure, the next great find.
Vaya con dios to both of them. Our best to Helen the bookwoman he left to dust the shelves.
cachinnation(n.): “loud laughter,” 1620s, from Latin cachinnationem (nominative cachinnatio) “violent laughter, excessive laughter,” noun of action from past-participle stem of cachinnare “to laugh immoderately or loudly,” of imitative origin. Compare Sanskrit kakhati “laughs,” Greek kakhazein “to laugh loudly,” Old High German kachazzen, English cackle, Armenian xaxanc‘. [Perhaps this is a way to understand what Chandler meant when he wrote in “The Simple Art of Mureder”: In everything that can be called art there is a quality of redemption. It may be pure tragedy, if it is high tragedy, and it may be pity and irony, but it may be the raucous laughter of the strongman.]
groan(v): Old English granian “to utter a deep, low-toned breath expressive of grief or pain; to murmur; to lament,” from Proto-Germanic *grain- (source also of Old Norse grenja “to howl”), of imitative origin, or related to grin (v.). Meaning “complain” is from early 13th C., especially in Middle English phrase grutchen and gronen. As an expression of disapproval, by 1799.
cackle(v.): early 13c., imitative of the noise of a hen (see cachinnation); perhaps partly based on Middle Dutch kake “jaw,” with frequentative suffix -el (3). As “to laugh,” 1712. From 1856 as “a short laugh.”
grin (v.): Old English grennian “show the teeth” (in pain or anger), common Germanic (cognates: Old Norse grenja “to howl,” grina “to grin;” Dutch grienen “to whine;” German greinen “to cry”), from PIE root *ghrei– “be open.” Sense of “bare the teeth in a broad smile” is late 15th C., perhaps via the notion of “forced or unnatural smile.”
chuckle (v.): from the1590s, “to laugh loudly,” frequentative of Middle English chukken “make a clucking noise” (late 14th C.), of imitative origin. Meaning shifted to “laugh in a suppressed or covert way, express inward satisfaction by subdued laughter” by 1803.
laugh(v.): from the late 14th C., from Old English (Anglian) hlæhhan, earlier hliehhan, hlihhan “to laugh, laugh at; rejoice; deride,” from Proto-Germanic *klakhjan (source also of Old Norse hlæja, Danish le, Old Frisian hlakkia, Old Saxon hlahhian, Middle Dutch and Dutch lachen, Old High German hlahhan, German lachen, Gothic hlahjan), from PIE *kleg-, of imitative origin (compare Latin cachinnare “to laugh aloud,” Sanskrit kakhati “laughs,” Old Church Slavonic chochotati “laugh,” Lithuanian klagėti “to cackle,” Greek kakhazein).
Originally with a “hard” -gh- sound, as in Scottish loch; the spelling remained after the pronunciation shifted to “-f.” To laugh in one’s sleeve is to laugh inwardly so as not to be observed. “The phrase generally implies some degree of contempt, and is used rather of a state of feeling than of actual laughter” [Century Dictionary].
Deanna Raybourn — A Sinister Revenge
One of the things I love about the Veronica Speedwell Mysteries is how Raybourn seamlessly weaves natural history into her mysteries! In fact, as in A Sinister Revenge, they become critical to the plot! Imparting just enough info, should you like, you can find out more about whatever she’s spliced into the story.
In A Sinister Revenge, we find ourselves exposed to fossils, or more specifically, one giant fossil. Said fossil is at the heart of this murder in retrospect, where the remaining members of a group of friends come back together to discover who amongst them is a murderer….whilst Veronica and Stoker are on the outs, and Tiberius tries his hand at playing peacemaker.
Honestly, this series is so much fun.
I cannot recommend these books enough. You don’t HAVE to read the first in series to read this one….so long as you recognize several books precede it. However, if you do not, you will miss much of the nuance betwixt the main characters — Veronica, Stoker, Tiberius, and Merryweather. Plus, the books are such a lark; why would you not want to start with the first?
For the next several months, I’ll be doing something a bit different. You see, I’m re-reading all of Louise Penny’s Gamache books, and I’ve gone on about them before, but this time, I’m approaching them a little differently, so hang with me.
Then I’m reviewing either a movie or TV show that I think you should watch, and of course, I’ll tell you why.
Ready? Okay, here we go:
What brings me back to these books is not Inspector Gamache himself, although he’s an inspiration and an icon. It’s Three Pines, the hidden little Canadian village where so much takes place – and rest assured, it isn’t Cabot Cove – and where so many special and wonderful people live.
“At the top of the hill Armand Gamache stopped the car and got out. He looked down at the village and his heart soared. He looked over the rooftops and imagined the good, kind, flawed people inside struggling with their lives. People were walking their dogs, raking the relentless autumn leaves, racing the gently falling snow. They were shopping at M. Beliveau’s general store and buying baguettes from Sarah’s boulangerie. Olivier stood at the Bistro doorway and shook out a tablecloth. Life was far from harried here. But neither was it still.”
It’s the sense of community that brings me back. All the people with their mixture of good and bad, selflessness and selfishness, small kindnesses and petty cruelties, all the very human parts of us call to me, and the quiet, unassuming little village seems like a refuge. You’ll love it here.
Speaking of community, have you seen the movie The Old Guard? It’s written by an author I know I’ve mentioned more than once, since he’s a fantastic author and an all-around great guy, Greg Rucka.
[JB has watched The Old Guard a number of times and was thrilled to hear a sequel is coming!]
I was 14 and just in high school when Boston erupted over forced school busing in 1974. I remember seeing pictures and news footage of outraged white people screaming and throwing things at the buses carrying black students into their world. Adults. That impression is deep. There were only a couple of black students in my high school, which as in a predominantly – if not all – white suburb. But there was no overt objection to those kids, at least that I was aware of then or now. You can bet there was silent objection. Had to be. But I just couldn’t grasp the snarling fury of those parents in Boston. It reminded me of the news coverage of 60s civil rights protests in the South. I knew nothing of South Boston. Then.
South Boston is the setting of probably my favorite series of books, Dennis Lehane‘s Patrick and Angie private eye novels. Wouldn’t be surprised if I’ve read the series a dozen times, and Darkness, Take My Hand more than that. Reread it just a couple of weeks ago, on a trip home. His new novel, Small Mercies, is set in their world, in 1974 as the busing is about to start. As made clear in his books, South Boston was a homogeneous and insular place, and folks don’t like to be told what to do, especially by cops or government – they’ll only accept orders from the Irish gangster who runs the whole shebang: Marty Butler, surely a stand-in for the actual king, Whitey Bulger.
Set against all of this anger and prejudice and mindless hatred of those people, he gives us the story of Mary Pat Fennesey, a lifelong resident who has never questioned anything she’s been told. But then her last child vanishes – she lost a son to drugs after Viet Nam – and her daughter Jules is her heart. The answers she starts to receive to her requests for help, and the fury released by the upcoming busing, cause her look long and hard at her neighborhood and herself.
Hers was childhood of bewilderment, violence, and devoid of reason. “She can’t remember that girl, but she can feel her. She can feel her bafflement and terror. At the noise and the fury. At the storm of rage that swirled around her and spun her in place until she was so fucking dizzy from it, she had to learn to walk in it without falling down for the rest of her life.” To use a phrase from Darkness, Mary Pat is a person of impact. Her actions cause ripples that alter what comes next.
Her relentless search for answers brings her into conflict with those who want the questions to stop. And then there are her friends, her family, who don’t like seeing the the truth that her answers expose. She won’t be swayed or stopped. One fist-fight – at 44, Mary Pat is still the battler everyone remembers from her childhood – leaves her looking “like she was attacked by the live trees in a fairy tale.” But you can be sure those trees don’t look so hot, either.
Lehane had just turned nine when Boston blew up over busing. It obviously left a deep impression on him. Small Mercies is a book of heartbreak and determination, both from the resistance to change and from those who dare to. It is beautifully written, of course, and provocatively challenging. It’s a proud addition to Dennis Lehane’s shelf of literature.
Downtown for a Mariners’ game, we parked “in front of the shop”, like we used to. It isn’t a bad walk to the park and you’re out of the worst of the traffic when heading home.
Granted it was late on a Saturday afternoon, but still it was all dark.
Bakeman’s looks like a fortress – more later…
The hair salon is gone –
Both it and our old space just had chairs and tables, as if used for the meetings of ghosts… No business names present, not filled with customers or workers.
Southwest corner of Second and Cherry – empty as well
But Bakeman’s – – –
Walled off, gated at the sidewalk, probably to keep the campers out and not inviting to a new tenant, and just devoid of life. Hard to believe that space used to be jammed with people, talk, clanking silverware, and the shouting of orders and desires.
They Saw the Horrific Aftermath of a Mass Shooting. Should We? [this is a brutal examination of the effects of the Sandy Hook massacre on those responsible for dealing with the crime scene. it is not an easy read but it’s important to understand the breadth of the trauma in these events that just keep happening.]
agowilt (n): a sudden, sickening and unnecessary fear (Says You!, #701)
funk (n.1) “depression, ill-humor,” perhaps from earlier sense “cowering state of fear” (1743), identified in OED as originally Oxford slang, probably from Scottish and Northern English verb funk “become afraid, shrink through fear, fail through panic,” (1737), of unknown origin. Perhaps from Flemish fonck “perturbation, agitation, distress,” which is possibly related to Old French funicle “wild, mad.”
funk (n.2) “bad smell,” 1620s, probably from the verb funk in the sense “blow smoke upon; stifle with offensive vapor” (though this is not recorded until later 17th C.). It is from dialectal French funkière “to smoke,” from Old French fungier “give off smoke; fill with smoke,” from Latin fumigare “to smoke” (see fume (n.)).
Not considered to be related to obsolete funk (n.) “a spark,” mid-14c., fonke, a general Germanic word (compare Dutch vonk, Old High German funcho, German Funke. The Middle English word is probably from Low German or from an unrecorded Old English form.
In reference to a style of music felt to have a strong, earthy quality, it is attested by 1959, a back-formation from funky (q.v.).
funky (adj.) 1784, “old, musty,” in reference to cheeses, then “repulsive,” from funk (n.2) + -y (2). It began to develop an approving sense in jazz slang c. 1900, probably on the notion of “earthy, strong, deeply felt.” Funky also was used early 20th C. by white [racist] writers in reference to body odor allegedly peculiar to blacks. The word reached wider popularity c. 1954 (it was defined in “Time” magazine, Nov. 8, 1954) and in the 1960s acquired a broad slang sense of “fine, stylish, excellent.”
flunk (v.): 1823, American English college slang, original meaning “to back out, give up, fail,” of obscure origin, traditionally said to be an alteration of British university slang funk “to be frightened, shrink from” (see funk (n.1)). Meaning “cause to fail, give a failing mark to” is from 1843. Related: Flunked; flunking.
Last Seen Wearing — Hillary Waugh
Originally published in 1952, Last Seen Wearing is one of the first police procedurals that gave readers a realistic portrayal of both the police people and the methods they employ to clear cases. Which, in this instance, is the disappearance of college freshman Lowell Mitchell.
Waugh, a pioneer of the police procedural subgenera, follows the case from start to finish — showing there are no shortcuts when solving a case. Unlike Holmes’s specialized knowledge or the leaps Poirot’s little grey cells make — Police Chief Frank Ford relies on his thirty-three years of experience as a cop and the leg work of his men to run down every lead, blind alley, and dead-end so they leave no stone unturned in their search for Lowell Mitchell, a girl who doesn’t seem to have an enemy in the world.
Unique at the time, Waugh shows all the ephemeral leads Ford’s men run to ground, the tedious leg work done to verify every piece of information, and the politics that inevitably creep into the case thanks to the pressure exerted by the press, family, and district attorney who’ve all got a stake in getting the crime solved…by yesterday preferably.
All these small and large details helped create a slow burning plot, which turns into a raging inferno by the time you reach the last page. Seriously, I couldn’t put it down as Chief Frank Ford, right-hand man Burt Cameron, and his officers closed in on their suspect.
Another interesting tidbit about this particular mystery is that it’s loosely based on the actual real-life disappearance of Paula Jean Welden. Who, on December 1, 1946, decided to hike the Long Trail (as it’s called) a few miles away from her college in Vermont. Unable to persuade anyone to go with her, she set out alone. Several people met her on and during her journey, however, none saw her leaving. When she didn’t turn up by the next morning, as her roommate thought she was studying elsewhere on campus that night, the search was on.
Paula, or more gruesomely her body, was never found.
In an odd twist of events, Paula wasn’t the first to go missing in this area. One year earlier, Middie Rivers, a local man familiar with the area and an experienced outdoorsman, disappeared without a trace whilst hunting with four other people. Exactly three years later, on December 1, 1949, a military veteran went missing whilst traveling by bus through the area. Ten months later, an eight-year-old boy Paul Jepson, vanished into thin air while waiting for his mother to finish feeding some pigs. It’s rumored that bloodhounds tracked him to nearly the exact spot where Paula Welden was last seen four years earlier. Sixteen days after Paul went missing, Frieda Langer disappeared while hiking with friends. Of the five people who vanished from the area over five years, Frieda’s body was the only one ever found.
And not one of the quintet of mysteries was ever solved.
This string of people going missing from the same general location earned the area the moniker — The Bennington Triangle.
To be clear, Last Seen Wearing only details Paula’s missing person case. Using elements of the search for her and her family life in the book, the conclusion (obviously) is Waugh’s alone. Nevertheless, it’s a mystery I’d highly recommend to anyone looking for a police procedural, which is a classic and surprisingly bloodless!
Back in the day, Amber and I speculated about the possibility that Nora Roberts farmed out her J. D. Robb series because, aside from a well-crafted mystery, you never knew what you were gonna get. Cozy? Noir? Humorous? It didn’t matter because it was going to be good, but man, you just never knew.
Of course we were wrong, and she writes it all. Have you heard about her writing schedule? It’s her job, and she treats it like a day job, writing in the morning at a set time, breaks for lunch, then writes until 5:00 or so, then quits for the day. Now THAT is discipline! So of course she’s prolific.
And it explains why, every time you pick up a J. D. Robb title, you don’t know what flavor it’s going to be. For her own sanity, she’s gotta mix it up. All you know is that it’s going to be good, and you’re going to get to spend time with characters you know and love.
Amber noted last month that this book, the 55th in the series (!), might need a trigger warning because it deals with graphic and brutal topics, namely the sex trafficking of children. You may think that Nora Roberts writes sweet romantic stuff, and she does, but do not ever doubt that she can hit hard and be brutal as well. As J. D. Robb, she gives it a futuristic twist, but that’s window dressing. The heart of the story is always solid.
What gives Desperation in Death the nuances it has, and part of the impact, comes from being a long-time fan of the series. Without spoilers, knowing Eve Dallas’s background informs and influences the storyline in ways that only a skilled writer can bring to a tale.
So take a deep breath, brace yourself, and jump into an action packed murder mystery, filled with all the feelings you get when you read a really good story, and take a deep breath, because if you’re a fan of the series, you’ll know what I mean when I say Jenkinson’s tie is yet again a real topic of discussion.
I won’t have it finished when this needs to post but I’m confident that what I think now of the book will carry through to the last page.
Timothy Egan is a local writer of note. His Pulitzer-winning reporting has been featured in the NYTimes, and we stocked his book Breaking Blue at the shop. That’s an account of a notorious Depression-era crime in Eastern Washington.
Egan’s portrait is cleaner, clearer, and that much more damning about the race relations in our country. If you think that the weak-minded racists of today are bad, that evil is more public than ever before… well, read this book. It shows the truth that White Power has been a threat to democracy all along, and is ever present, and, if not openly walking the streets in sheets, it has never gone away.
Egan’s book is crucial, critical, and a cold-eyed look at white supremacy in middle-America.
If you appreciate what we do, please spread the word!
People were always amazed at our ability to recognize books that they’d read but couldn’t remember. Our joke, when working with such questions, was that someone would inevitably come in and ask about a book they read 30 years ago, the cover was red and it had murder in the title and could we tell them what it was? It was amazing that with the right clues we often could figure out what the book was.
Well, case in point: Marian emailed to ask the following – “I bought a book from your store somewhere in the early 2010s that I think Fran recommended to me. It was a red paperback and it was the first book this author had written. The story was wonderful and started off with a woman who had no memory of who she was. She had written letters to herself throughout the course of the book discovered more about her identity and the identity of the person who’d removed her memory. She was in an agency within the British Parliament and essentially dealt with paranormal type topics.” She’d lent out the book and never got it back. Could we possibly tell her what it was??
Another satisfied customer!! Nice job ladies!!! They still got tha magic!
And just to be clear, this was not one of our old April Fool pranks. It happened on March 21st. Really! Seriously! No joke!! Don’t believe me!?!?!? Guess we can’t blame you…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….
Words of the Month
fool (v.): Mid-14th C., “to be foolish, act the fool,” from fool (n.1). The transitive meaning “make a fool of” is recorded from 1590s. Sense of “beguile, cheat” is from 1640s. Also as a verb 16th C.-17th C. was foolify. Related: Fooled; fooling. Fool around is 1875 in the sense of “pass time idly,” 1970s in sense of “have sexual adventures.”
foolocracy (n.): 1832, from fool (n.) + -ocracy (word-forming element forming nouns meaning “rule or government by,” from French -cratie or directly from Medieval Latin -cratia, from Greek -kratia “power, might; rule, sway; power over; a power, authority,” from kratos “strength,” from PIE *kre-tes– “power, strength,” suffixed form of root *kar– “hard.” The connective -o- has come to be viewed as part of it. Productive in English from c. 1800.)
folly (n.): 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.”
muggins (n.): A “fool, simpleton,” 1855, of unknown origin, apparently from the surname and perhaps influenced by slang mug “dupe, fool” (1851; see mug (n.2)). It also was the name of simple card game (1855) and the word each player tried to call out before the other in the game when two cards matched. The name turns up frequently in humor magazines, “comic almanacks,” etc. in 1840s and 1850s.
Words of the Year (for Tammy, who used this all the time)
wacky (adj.): “crazy, eccentric,” 1935, variant of whacky (n.) “fool,” late 1800s British slang, probably ultimately from whack “a blow, stroke,” from the notion of being whacked on the head one too many times.
gawp (n.): A “fool, simpleton,” 1825, perhaps from gawp (v.) “to yawn, gape” (as in astonishment), which is attested from 1680s, a dialectal survival of galp (c. 1300), which is related to yelp or gape and perhaps confused with or influenced by gawk.
What We’ve Been Up To
Once upon a time, when I worked as a bookseller, the founder of our shop wrote a list of the five best mysteries (in his estimation) of all time. Rex Stout’s Fer de Lance, of course, topped the list. (Bill was a huge Nero & Archie fan — as those of you who knew him well remember.) However, at that point, I hadn’t started My 52 Weeks With Christie blog nor begun reading my way through the classics section. So, on an academic level, I found Bill’s list interesting but not one I felt compelled to read my way through.
Fast forward one decade.
Whilst perusing the shelves of my local bookstore, I chance upon a copy ofThe Poison Chocolates Case, and it sparked a memory. I don’t recall its exact position on it, but for whatever reason (probably the word chocolates), I recollected its inclusion in Bill’s esteemed list.
So I picked it up.
And my oh my, do I agree with our late great founder of SMB.
Based loosely on the Detection Club, which Anthony Berkeley helped found, the story’s Crime Circle gets together regularly to discuss all things, “….connected with murder, poisons and sudden death.” (pg. 11). (Similar to the Real Murders Club from Charlaine Harris’s Aurora Teagarden mysteries and the Hallmark Movies.) In any case, believing a group of amateur sleuths/criminologists unequal to the task of finding a solution to a rapidly cooling case, which stumped Scotland Yard’s best, Chief Inspector Moresby presents the evidence and theories to the Club’s six members.
These six members have one week to form and prove their theories before presenting them to the group — and no solution is off limits.
Berkeley does a masterful job of presenting the same case seven times, with seven VERY different solutions — each ratcheting up the tension just a little further until landing on an ending that somehow I didn’t see coming!
Another aspect of this book I enjoyed is the fact the members of the Crime Circle draw parallels with real true crime cases and their own theories. Their commentary on said cases is fascinating and contains enough detail, you can research them on your own.
Should you be so inclined.
Now, I’ve read variations on this style of mystery before — Cards on the Table by Agatha Christie, written seven-ish years after The Poisoned Chocolates Case, pits four detectives against four murderers in order to solve a single crime. Asimov’s Black Widowers short stories (based on Asimov’s own experience with the Trap Door Spiders — an arguing/dinner society of noted sci-fi figures AND a favorite of Fran’s!) reminds me of Berkeley’s Crime Circle as well. Unfortunately, while reminiscent of Berkeley’s work and brilliant in their own right, neither Christie nor Asimov captures the same slow burn or surprise Berkeley manages to cram into this masterpiece.
Seriously, if you’re looking for an outstanding mystery, I highly suggest, just as Bill did before me, you pick yourself a copy of The Poisoned Chocolates Case — you won’t be sorry.
As I may have mentioned, I’ve been depressed lately, and it’s had an effect on my reading, in that I haven’t been doing much.
However, JB is smart, and JB knows I love Mike Lawson’s books, and JB knows I have a crush on his character Emma in the DeMarco books, so JB sent me an inscribed copy of Alligator Alley, the 16th DeMarco book.
Sneaky man. But he knows me because man, did it ever work!
It’s an established fact that I adore Joe DeMarco and Emma and Mahoney and the entire ensemble that Mike Lawson has created. In fact, I’m so fond of Emma that my wife is a little jealous. She told Mike, who just grinned.
So knowing that Alligator Alley strongly featured Emma was an additional draw for me, and I dove in. Well, not entirely, because it’s set in Florida, mostly, and like DeMarco, I’m not a huge fan of gators except in a safely distanced way. But alligators don’t hold a candle to Emma, so I was sucked right in.
Andie Moore is a young member of the DOJ’s Inspector General staff, and she’s been sent to Florida to look into a money laundering case, just do research and learn. But she’s enthusiastic, and idealistic, so she goes above and beyond. Things do not go well.
Back in DC, Henry Cantor, who ran the DOJ’s Oversight Division and who was Andie’s supervisor, turns to John Mahoney when Andie is killed, asking for a favor. Mahoney might – and often did – lie to the President about doing favors, but if Henry Cantor asked for something, Mahoney will move heaven and earth to make it happen. What Henry wants is for Mahoney’s fixer, Joe DeMarco, and the enigmatic Emma to look into Andie’s murder.
Mahoney’s not the only one who would do anything for Henry, and DeMarco doesn’t stand a chance with Emma onboard. And so the investigation begins.
Why would they do so much for this man? Read the book. Once again, Mike Lawson has excelled at creating wonderful and memorable characters in Alligator Alley. They’re flawed and passionate and absolutely real, and I’m head over heels in love with them.
Especially Emma. But don’t tell my wife; she already knows and doesn’t wanna talk about it.
I truly wish Bill had been able to read Loren D. Estleman’s Black and White Ball, the 27th in his classic hardboiled series with Detroit PI Amos Walker. He enjoyed anything Estleman wrote but was especially fond of Walker and hitman Peter Macklin. In this entry in the series, we get both. In fact, it’s a story told from four views. Macklin hires Walker to guard his soon-to-be ex-wife from an anonymous threat. Sections are told from Walker’s perspective, from Macklin, and also Laurie Macklin. If that wasn’t enough, the fourth view is from the stalker. We get a full view of all the actors and get a deeper view of Walker than ever before.
We also get Estleman’s homage to Chandler’s opening to “Red Wind”: But things are the same no matter whether it’s Kokomo or Katmandu: The kindly old gentleman who runs the hobby shop has images on his computer that could get him twenty years in stir, the devoted couple celebrate their golden anniversary with a butcher knife and a .44, the kids with the paper route throws an a Baggie willed with white powder for the house on the corner. Noxious weeks grown in all kinds of soil.
It’s just a comfort to spend time with Loren D. Estleman.
Stephen Hunter returns to Earl Swagger in The Bullet Garden. As always, Hunter’s fiction is overlaid on an historical frame. It’s a fact that the Allies were hindered in their post-DDay advance due to Nazi snipers. Hunter ingeniously inserts Earl into the fight to stop their attacks. We’re treated to Earl’s efforts to understand how they’re able to shoot at will without leaving a trace of their ghastly work. From that he knows he’ll be able to track them and end their slaughter.
No one in London is sure what to the new Major Swagger, but there are elements afoot to stop him. Hunter is sly in steering you to and away from characters and events to keep you following the action. If you’re like me, you can’t glide over the meticulous details of the weaponry. I find it slows the flow but I understand that he writes for a variety of audiences.
The solution to the snipers’ methods is fascinating. Is that how it was done on the 1944 farmland the GIs called “the bullet garden’? Who cares! Swagger has a plan and it is WWII fiction at it’s best ~ Where Eagles Dare, The Bridge on the River Kwai, Von Ryan’s Express, The Eagle Has Landed, to name great books made into great movies – and it’s in that company.
And if you’re looking for a movie recommendation, if you have access to Hulu, I’d urge you to watch The Boston Strangler. Yes, it takes some liberties with people and events – as did Zodiac – but I thought it was the equal of Zodiac: moody, tense, well-rounded characters frustrated by what they face and played well by the actors, and a well-established sense of time and place.
Words of the Month
nugatory (adj.): “trifling, of no value; invalid, futile,” c. 1600, from Latin nugatorius “worthless, trifling, futile,” from nugator “jester, trifler, braggart,” from nugatus, past participle of nugari “to trifle, jest, play the fool,” from nugæ “jokes, jests, trifles,” a word of unknown origin.