from Lithub‘s CRIME READS
A merry rundown of crime fiction set during the holiday season.
by Paul French
The following is a guest review Brenda Winter Hansen, someone JB now has the great pleasure to work with. Her bona fides are listed after her review, should you require them, otherwise take JB’s word that she’d have fit in at SMB easily but would’ve needed more salty chips – and salsa – than we normally kept on hand…
In A Trick of Light, three very different misfits who have suffered significant losses deal with the hand fate has dealt them. Desperation and determination lead each of them down different and often intersecting paths until they weave themselves into a clever satisfying narrative that reminds us how often love, loss, and rebirth are tightly bound within the stories of all our lives.
Nia is a teenager who has been kept away from the real world her whole life by a loving (yet intensely controlling) father with the best of intentions. Raised in a virtual reality world, she is a true digital native and hungers for the real world and visceral connections with real people more than anything. Cameron is the young adult son of a computer genius who disappeared in a freak storm on the lake when Cameron was very young. Cameron tempts fate by sailing into the recurring freak storm and is struck by lightning which changes his life and mind forever. Cameron’s best friend Juaquo hasn’t been the same since his mom died from cancer. He tries to keep up the façade of normal life but he’s coming apart at the seams.
This character-driven origin story set in a near-future near-apocalypse world, does a great job of keeping the characters realistic. Their authentic actions and dialogue drive the plot forward in a believable, if not always elegant, manner. But what about young adulthood is elegant? The authors reflect an astute awareness of the emotional inner life of teens and how their attempts to build relationships sometimes end up alienating them. When they do connect, their darker and often destructive emotions rise to the top to fight against the injustices of their world. A healthy dose of creepy cool and gruesome elements pepper this novel without being over the top disgusting or gratuitous. There is plenty action and intrigue that kept me page turning until the end.
Some readers might find the plot a bit drawn out, but believability of the characters made up for it beautifully. The relationship building between Nia and Cameron is well done; from their awkward moments and visceral yearning, to conflicts and resolutions. It’s Juaquo who needs more attention in this story. I found myself wanting additional back story so the brotherly bond between Cameron and Juaquo would feel more believable. I wondered if the authors considers splitting the narrative one more time so the reader has Juaquo’s perspective as well. Without him as a third narrator, Juaquo’s presence feels a bit more like a plot prop when it could have been a pivotal role in the formation of this powerful trio and an even more powerful ending.
The digital world is a constant feature in the landscape of this novel, and there is even an out loud reference to the seminal Ready Player One. With cinematic storytelling, one can easily envision the conflation of virtual and real worlds. A Trick of Light bears the influence of The Matrix (but not overly so) and I can easily imagine (and hope to see) this as a movie. The complications of dealing with social media as a teen in the 21st century is tangled among a narrative that questions reality. What is real? Who is real? In the end you are left to wonder if feelings are the realest thing we have since they seem to be what define us the most. Without feelings, who are we?
Don Herron has been conducting his walking tour of Dashiell Hammett’s San Francisco for over four decades. He knows his stuff up one hill and down the next. When we scheduled our long weekend in the middle of August I knew it was a must.
The tour begins here, at 870 Flood, where the Pinkerton Detective Agency had it’s San Francisco office. Dashiell Hammett worked there in office #314. From here he got so much of the color and characters that he then used in his stories.
No dummies, the building pays homage to Hammett and The Black Bird in one of the large, glass cases that line the entry foyer. If you can read the writing here, it tells you that the statuette is owned by John’s Grill.
Go straight through the foyer and you end up on Ellis Street. Turn right and there it is. Hammett ate lunch there and so did Spade.
The above photo shows that Sam Spade Lamb Chops are still on the menu.
The walking tour took nearly 3.5 hours. It was a very warm afternoon. There was lots of shade but I still fried my nose. It was worth it.
In the top right corner of this building, Hammett wrote Red Harvest, The Dain Curse, and The Maltese Falcon. Herron said it’s a very small apartment. When the Murphy bed is down it’d be hard to move around the room.
[Pardon my thumb in the corner.] This is a plaque by the entrance of that white building on Post. The Maltese Falcon doesn’t specify the building in which Spade lived but there are clues in the text that lead Herron to say this is Spade’s building as well as Hammett’s.
Mystery writer Mark Coggins has a page about the apartment. It includes photos and a floor plan. Take the embedded link to the story about the guy who lived in it.
Much of the tour relates how much of the city was destroyed in the 1906 quake and what had been rebuilt by the time of Hammett’s residency. One of the buildings that did survive is in the center of the photo (admittedly not great but one must dodge oncoming vehicles). Look to the left of the street light, and then the long, red sign, and you can see a tall, tan building that has a reddish roof that’s then topped with light green fencing. That’s the building that Herron points toward as the likely location of the Space & Archer office.
Herron explained that the tour was originally 4 hours be he cut back on the hills as he aged. Don’t know if the tour used to range as far as this building.
The tour pointed out more than just Hammett’s world. This hotel, which has learned to take advantage of it’s Hollywood past, was where Kim Novak’s character lived in Vertigo. It was around this area that I found I was one block from Frank Bullitt’s apartment in that movie. I really wanted to run up there for a photo but it was getting late in the day, I hadn’t had anything to eat or drink for about 5 hours… can’t do it all. However, not once but twice we Ubered past the intersection where the car chase in Bullitt began. Close as I could get.
At this point, he corner of Pine and Hammett, turn or look left and you see a red brick building where Hammett also lived. Must have been before living on Post because of how he used this area in The Maltese Falcon. He didn’t move around as much as the Chandlers but almost. Down the way is Stockton and you can see the railings for the three stories of stairs that lead down a level.
And not far from this is the Stockton Tunnel. It has changed quite a lot. At the time he wrote the scene, it was mostly a vacant lot with a long dirt hill down to the next street.
Across Pine is this alley named Burritt Street. Above the man in the fedora (that’s Don in full regalia, trench coat and all) is another plaque. It says this:
The red brick across from the plaque wouldn’t have been there when Hammett knew the area, so the idea is Archer either followed Brigid here, or met her, and she let him have it. He then fell backwards and rolled down the hill to the lower level of Stockton.
You can see that Hammett used the city he knew well in the novel, the buildings and the lots, and used them well.
Don ends the tour here, with a view of the majestic St. Francis hotel at Union Square. Hammett worked here, too. In the front, top-left set of rooms, silent film great Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle and 2 friends had their roaring party in September of 1921. A young actress fell ill and died a few days later and Arbuckle was charged with rape and manslaughter. The Hearst papers turned it into a massive swamp of accusations and ugliness. Two trials resulted in hung juries; the third acquitted him. The scandal finished his career and the trials were a media circus. The Pinkertons were part of the investigative force, as was Hammett.
Wyatt Earp once stayed there, too.
Saw this Black Bird at the Legion of Honor. It’s an eagle, not a falcon, but I couldn’t resist including it. At that museum, we ran into an unexpected delight – a Peter Paul Rubens exhibit.
One of the items was this pen and ink wash title page illustration Rubens created.
Lastly, at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Popeye!
If you find yourself in San Francisco and have a Sunday afternoon to burn, Don Herron’s walking tour is well worth the time!
A grateful tip of the fedora to Don.
Seattle photographer Nate Gowdy celebrates the many hues of red, white and blue.
“In a rampart of a building at the southwest edge of Seattle’s Chinatown-International District, people from all walks of life have been dressing up as American superheroes. Some choose their red, white and blue costumes from a large cardboard box. Others bring their own props to the building, which served as an immigration center for 72 years — a way station where newcomers were detained, deported or granted citizenship.
The superheroes are a diverse league: teachers, politicians, immigrants, veterans and students donning tights, shiny gloves and star-spangled plastic shields to strike a pose for Seattle photographer Nate Gowdy.
“’It’s about being American,’ Gowdy says of The American Superhero, the ongoing, collaborative patriotic portrait project for which he is photographing people of all ages, genders, races, creeds and abilities. ‘It’s about embracing our differences, which always ends up highlighting our commonalities.'”
You might remember that we had a number of ink stamps at the shop that, over the years, we used on our plain, brown bags. We rotated which ones we’d use. The skull and crossbones was popular. Customers would request one that they could use for a lunch bag. Reports were that a bag decorated with that death symbol would be safe in the company fridge. In the middle of the top row is that design.
We always wondered where the middle one came from. Now we know!
In working on my Hardboiled blog and looking for pulp images, I ran across a magazine image that I hadn’t seen.This site was set up so that you could flip through the issue, page by page.
And – BINGO – there it was on the title page!
LeVar Burton Reads: The Best Short Fiction, Handpicked by the World’s Greatest Storyteller – Literally LeVar Burton (of Reading Rainbow & Star Trek fame) reading short stories (all kinds) to you!
Netflix has released a new series that IS interesting and certainly IS grisly: Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes. It is also full of period film of Seattle in the 70s.
supergrass (n): supergrass is a British slang term for an informant who turns Queen’s evidence, often in return for protection and immunity from prosecution. In the British criminal world, police informants have been called “grasses” since the late 1930s, and the “super” prefix was coined by journalists in the early 1970s to describe those who witnessed against fellow criminals in a series of high-profile mass trials at the time…
The first known use of “grass” in that context is Arthur Gardner’s crime novel Tinker’s Kitchen, published in 1932, in which a “grass” is defined as “an informer”. The origin of the term “grass” being used as signifying a traitor, a person who informs on people he or she knows intimately, ostensibly can be traced to the expression “snake in the grass”, which has a similar meaning. The phrase derives from the writings of Virgil (in Latin, latet anguis in herba) and has been known in the English language, meaning “traitor”, since the late 17th century.
An alternative claim is made for the term originating from rhyming slang, whereby “grasshopper” is defined as “copper”, meaning “policeman”. The rhyming slang version was supported in 1950 by lexicographer Paul Tempest. (wikipedia)
February 4: April Henry, 7pm Powell’s
February 9: Mike Lawson, 1pm Barnes & Noble, Silverdale
February 14: Mary Daheim AND Candace Robb, 7pm Third Place/LFP
February 16: Mike Lawson, 3pm, Magnolia Bookstore
February 24: Jasper Fforde, 6pm Third Place/LFP
January 6 (from the UK): Independent bookshops grow for second year after 20-year decline
January 11: Some Dos and Don’ts from Famous Authors
January 11: Can Romance Novels Save Heterosexual Sex?
January 11: British sarcasm ‘lost on Americans’
January 12: Can a fugitive remain on the run forever?
January 15: The Homeless Man Who Set Up A Book Club
January 15: ‘Most famous’ banned book to be sold
January 17: The Library Of Forbidden Books
January 17: New York’s Secret Travel Club
January 23: ‘Buffy’ returns with a modern comic book reboot
January 23: A week in the life of a London murder detective
January 27: Booker Prize Looses Sponsor
January 27: The Knotty Nostalgia of the Hardy Boys Series
croodle (v): To cower or cuddle together, as from fear or cold; to lie close and snug together, as pigs in straw. (thanks to wordfinder)
We say farewell to Ed Kennedy, a customer who went back to the early days of the shop. He’d bop in with a big smile and a friendly “Hey, Man!” He bought books for himself, mysteries and special orders for himself and relatives. Ed had a deep, smooth voice and would often be on his way to or from a session of taping a book for the Washington Talking Book. This seemed to be one of his great pleasures, reading a book aloud for those who couldn’t read themselves. With that voice he must’ve been one of their stars.
Thanks, Ed. Vios con dios!
January 4: Edgar Winner Brian Garfield, dead at 79
Rivulose – adjective – marked with irregular, narrow, sinuous, crooked lines or furrows resembling rivers marked on a map.
While they may use this word primarily to describe the irregular, surfaces of bugs, fishes, and mushrooms (for purposes entomological, ichthyological, and mycological), you can apply it as you wish. It can, for example, do the job of describing the wrinkles on your typical lexicographer’s shirt. The word is Latin in origin, tracing back to rivulus, meaning “rivulet,” and the English suffix –ose, meaning “possessing the qualities of.” Something that is rivulose is marked with lines reminiscent of those made by a rivulet—that is, a small stream—as viewed from far above.
Don’t forget! Check out my mystery blog!
After an eventful night which included a mysterious FLYT fare, the discovery of Little Ben’s ill conceived pet cemetery plans and getting chewed out by Joseph at Nevermore. Phoebe’s on her way home for a quiet snack and then bed…
But her night’s not quite over yet!
No Wind Of Blame by Georgette Heyer
So this mystery is a bit of a conundrum.
Because, for one reason or another, until the murder of Wally Carter I disliked every character Heyer introduced into the narrative. Since the deed wasn’t done until page one-hundred-and-thirty-one…well let’s just say it took me a while to work my through the cast’s hysterics, dramatics, whining, and martyrdom to the meat of the matter.
But two things kept me from shelving the book permanently, neither Heyer nor her foil, Inspector Hemingway has ever let me down.
And as you’ve guessed, (since I’m writing a review) my patience was rewarded, because the last half of the book was excellent.
Through Hemingway’s investigation, observations, and dry wit, you come to understand exactly who these people are and their motivations, which shed an entirely new light on the first half of the book, making it infinitely more interesting – and well worth a reread.
Perhaps not the best of Heyer’s mysteries (it is definitely not the worst), the solution straining the boundary of credulity, it is still a satisfying read.
You just need to stick with it!
BTW – Source Books has reissued all of Georgette Heyer’s mysteries! So if you couldn’t find them previously, they are easy to find now! And I highly recommend a read thru of her mysteries, if you enjoy classic 1930s-1950s British mysteries!
Okay, let me just say up front that I adore Amber and trust her implicitly. Therefore you have to understand the sorrow with which I tell you, Amber lied.
Amber lied BIG TIME.
Okay, first of all, go back and read her review of Brandon Sanderson‘s book, LEGION. It’s okay, we’ve got time. I’ll wait. It’s back in December, so you won’t have to scroll far.
I’m not going to recap the synopsis; you just read it. But what you’re not getting is how BADLY SHE UNDERSELLS THIS BOOK!
Granted, if you’re looking for Sanderson’s telltale fantasy story, you’ll be disappointed, but only briefly because the writing is incredible! It’s a suspense story, yes, and it’s told in three parts, but once again, it’s the characters that make it. And Stephen Leeds’ “aspects” are so fully formed, so incredibly wonderful, that you can’t help but get involved with them.
And if you have an artistic friend, perhaps a writer, this helps you understand how complex characters can be created.
I’ll be re-reading it, I have no doubt. It’s the kind of story that is multi-layered, and psychologically complex.
And I do wish we were still working together because Amber would have had me read this much sooner than I did, and that would have been wonderful. So now, listen to her, listen to me, and go read Brandon Sanderson’s LEGION!
Why are you still here? Go!
Coming in April is a fascinating history of the Allies’ use of women to work with the Resistance during World War II in preparation for the invasion of Europe.
Sarah Rose’s D-Day Girls is a heady mix of mission and personality as you get to know these women – Rose takes pain to note that the women involved did refer to themselves as “girls” – the men in charge of the missions in London, and the men hunting them in France.
Rose details the resistance within the Allies to allowing women to have a role in the fight, partly due to the usual, age-old sexism that women can’t or shouldn’t go into battle, partly due to racism (one woman was Jewish and could she be trusted!!), and partly due to real qualms about possible sexual torture if captured. There’s a pageant of humanity in this story – fear and courage, hope and frustration, passion and fury, good and evil – all told with a lively writing style that is somewhere in-between Ben McIntyre, Eric Larson, and Alan Furst.
In one of those strange quirks of history, the man in charge of these heroes was Captain Selwyn Jepson. It was his job to find people to insert into France and it seemed only logical to him that if men were in short supply send women. Jepson was a well-known mystery novelist and screenwriter before and after the war.
It’s a fascinating story with details and dates. I guess I’d always thought that the French Resistance took place throughout the war but Rose shows that the Resistance as a nation-wide organization really only started in 1943, with the women spending ’42 being trained in tradecraft. It was due to the approach of the invasion that the Allies used the Resistance to bedevil the Nazis so that they couldn’t respond well to an invasion. Luckily for us all it worked well enough to allow Normandy to succeed.
Thank god the men got out of the way and let these women do their jobs!
The author notes that the indignities these women went through before going into enemy territory didn’t end then. After the war, they were not awarded to the same extent as the men who did the same thing, their medals were of lesser levels. And then, of course, they were ignored by historians for the last sixty years.
I’m glad Sarah Rose has stepped in to redress this contemptuous treatment.