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??
Fran and Amber had the answer in no time: Daniel O’Malley’s The Rook
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.”
Overlooked No More: Dilys Winn, Who Brought Murder and Mystery to Manhattan
Why Bill insisted we keep politics out of author events: ‘He’s a Tyrant’: Trumpers Fume After Being Booted From DeSantis Book Event
Judy Blume asks that you stop being so weird about what your kid reads.
The Real Star of North by Northwest is Cary Grant’s Suit
When handling rare books, experts say that bare, just-cleaned hands are best. Why won’t the public believe them?
Lost in translation: 4 perfect words that have no English equivalent
$250K offered to decode ancient Roman scrolls
A new $1,500 book offers never-seen ‘Shining’ ephemera. Are you obsessed enough?
An Ancient Document Breakthrough Could Reveal Untold Secrets of the Past
In “All the Knowledge in the World,” Simon Garfield recounts the history of the encyclopedia — a tale of ambitious effort, numerous errors and lots of paper.
LeVar Burton Is Still Championing Literacy In The Right to Read
A Rare Collection of Shakespeare Folios Is on Sale for $10.5 Million
Go Inside the Emily Dickinson House, Vibrantly Restored in Amherst, Mass.
For Decades, Cartographers Have Been Hiding Covert Illustrations Inside of Switzerland’s Official Maps
Ezra Klein: This Changes Everything (AI and how the creators don’t know what is coming…fiction and term papers aren’t his worry)
Former acting Met commissioner allegedly called bulk of rape complaints ‘regretful sex’
Books by female authors studied by just 2% of GCSE pupils, finds study
Hackers steal sensitive law enforcement data in a breach of the U.S. Marshals Service
A former TikTok employee tells Congress the app is lying about Chinese spying
Sensitive Personal Data of US House and Senate Members Hacked, Offered for Sale
Roald Dahl is the last thing we should worry about on World Book Day
Inside the “Private and Confidential” Conservative Group That Promises to “Crush Liberal Dominance”
He was with Emmett Till the night he was murdered. The horror haunts him still
Mauritania’s Ancient Libraries Could be Lost tot he Expanding Desert
Secret trove offers rare look into Russian cyberwar ambitions
‘Vulkan files’ leak reveals Putin’s global and domestic cyberwarfare tactics
Words of the Month
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.)
Culture war in the stacks: Librarians marshal against rising book bans
A partial Malcolm X quote that sparked protest is removed from a university building
A New Bill Could Legalize Kidnapping Trans Kids by Their Parents
The Right Wants to Boycott Hershey’s Because a Trans Woman Was in Its Ad
Self-Censorship on College Campuses Is Widespread and Getting Worse
Idaho College Pulls 6 Abortion-Related Artworks from Exhibit, Citing State Law
A Man Accused Of Spray-Painting “Groomer” On Libraries Has Now Been Charged With Possessing Child Sex Abuse Materials
First they came for drag storytime… Then they came for James Patterson?
Censored and then forgotten, Anatoly Kuznetsov’s Babi Yar, about the Nazi occupation of Kyiv, is again painfully relevant.
Kirk Cameron Gets Tennessee Library Director Fired
Are Literary Agents Seeing Changes in Publishing with Increased Book Bans (A Survey): Book Censorship News, March 24, 2023
Tallahassee principal is forced to resign after parents complained that Michelangelo’s statue of David is ‘pornographic’ and shouldn’t be shown to sixth grade art history class
MO lawmakers strip library funding over book ban lawsuit
Agatha Christie Novels Stripped of Slurs, References to Ethnicity
Plot twist: Activists skirt book bans with guerrilla giveaways and pop-up libraries
Shameful: ‘Ruby Bridges’ Film Banned from School Because White Parents Feeling Some Kind of Way
Spotsylvania to remove 14 books from school libraries for explicit content
Heroic DC library staff trolls all-star conservative story hour with LGBTQ display.
Opinion A new book-ban fiasco in Florida reveals the monster DeSantis created
Words of the Month
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.”
Two WA artists plead guilty to faking Native American heritage
Duck hunter finds human remains 43 years ago in WA, officials say. DNA identifies them
72 Hours in Seattle: Where to Eat, Drink, and Visit During AWP 2023~Hot Tips From Local Writers
How police pursued Idaho slaying suspect
J.A. Jance on Creating Believable Characters
Shoreline Community College Website Hacked in Apparent Ransomware Attack
Wine vocabulary is Eurocentric. It’s time to change that.
Magic: the Gathering fans ‘heartbroken’ as $100,000 worth of cards found in Texas landfill
Man Busted With 600 Year Old Mummified “Girlfriend” [Shades of Norman Bates…]
A Murdaugh family death in 1940 was also suspicious — and eerily similar
Novelist William Kennedy bought the Albany home where Jack “Legs” Diamond was gunned down. Nearly 40 years later, he’s selling the landmark for $499,000
Neuroscience Explains Why Bill Gates’ Weird Reading Trick Is So Effective
Pssst! Wanna buy an Oscar? The mysterious case of the missing Academy Awards
My neighbor found Lincoln’s hair in his basement. I found a mystery.
Did voter fraud kill Edgar Allan Poe?
How to spot the Trump and Pope AI fakes
Words of the Month
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.
Amazon Driver Says AI Is Tracking Their Every Move, Even Beard Scratching
Group of businesses unite to battle Amazon
Uh oh, trouble in Amazon-headquarters-town.
Amazon’s belt-tightening affects towns across the U.S.
Seattle court to Amazon: Time to improve safety at Kent warehouse
It Sure Seems Like Amazon Is Making a New Web Browser
Amazon’s Pricey Stock Is Getting Harder to Justify
Amazon Sellers Disguised Banned Gun Parts as Bike Handlebars
‘Three Pines’ Canceled, Author Louise Penny ‘Shocked and Upset’ Prime Video Series Won’t Return
Amazon delivery firms say racial bias skews customer reviews
Amazon Is Considering a Surprising New Acquisition
Amazon fights Oregon data center clean energy bill
Amazon flags “frequently returned” items to warn customers
Amazon consultant admits to bribing employees to help sellers
Words of the Month
mome (n.): A “buffoon, fool, stupid person,” 1550s, from Old French mome “a mask. Related Momish. The adjective introduced by “Lewis Carroll” is an unrelated nonsense word.
Here are the winners of the 2023 PEN America Literary Awards
Author receives young author award for novel about the legacy of male violence
2023 Lambda Award Shortlist Finalists Announced
The winner of The Story Prize in 2023 is Ling Ma for Bliss Montage.
Here are the finalists for the 2023 Dylan Thomas Prize.
The 2023 National Book Critics Circle Awards
Here are the 2023 Whiting Award winners.
R. W. Green reflects on carrying on his beloved friend M. C. Beaton’s long-running series.
The Brave Women Who Saved the Collected Texts of Hildegard of Bingen
Mysteries Featuring Anonymous Notes As Catalysts
Rupert Holmes Can’t Read While Music Is Playing
How Barnes & Noble turned a page, expanding for the first time in years
A book collector’s memoir: Pradeep Sebastian on the joys of discovering and collecting fine books
Turns out that America’s most “recession-proof” business is . . . bookstores.
8 Books That the Authors Regretted Writing
The FBI is spying on a Chicago bookstore because it’s hosting “extremists.”
Ashes in the Aspic: Elisabeth Sanxay Holding’s Life and Short Crime Fiction
Stranger Than Fiction: Crime in the Library
>Filippo Bernardini has been accused by the government of stealing over 1,000 book manuscripts. In court filings, he said he was motivated not by money but by a love of reading.
>Manuscript Thief of 1,000 Unpublished Books Will Not Receive Prison Time
Why More Men Should Read Romance
Blurred Lines: When a Novel’s Author Is Also Its Narrator
Espionage Book Recommendations From a Former CIA Spy
What Murder Mysteries Get Wrong About The Food Industry
Downtown SF’s Death Spiral Continues as Independent Bookstore Shutters
Houston’s local bookstores thrive by being more collaborative than competitive
Why Are Audiences So Captivated by Locked-Room Mysteries?
50 Years of ‘The Long Goodbye’ [the movie, the book marks 70 years this year]
Why 1973 Was the Year Sidney Lumet Took on Police Corruption
Is 1973 actually crime film’s greatest year?
New Mystery: Remembering Nebraska’s forgotten “whodunit queen”
In defense of fan fiction, and ignoring the ‘pretensions of polish’
What I Buy and Why: Bibliophile Pom Harrington on His Original Roald Dahl Book Illustration, and the Accessible Beauty of Picasso’s Prints
The Joy of the Bad Decision in Crime Fiction
Harlan Coben’s Top Tip for Book Touring: Appreciate Crowds
Literary baby names ranked from least to most cringey.
Inside the revolutionary Free Black Women’s Library in Brooklyn
The 11 Best Book Covers of March
8 Novels Featuring Artificial Intelligence
How about a Cuppa and a Good Mystery?
What’s The Difference Between Suspense and Mystery?
April 4: Timothy Egan signs A Fever in the Heartland: The Ku Klux Klan’s Plot to Take Over America, and the Woman Who Stopped Them, Elliot Bay/Town Hall, 7:30
April 18: Matt Ruff signs The Destroyer of Worlds, a sequel to Lovecraft Country, Powell’s, 7pm
April 20: Don Winslow signs City of Dreams, Powell’s, 7pm
Other Forms of Entertainment
Paul Newman’s Reflection on Noir: The 25th Anniversary of Twilight
‘Devil in the White City’ Dead at Hulu (Erik Larson’s book was published in 2003!)
The Real Los Angeles History Behind ‘Perry Mason’ Season Two
Oscar Isaac will play Kurt Vonnegut in a new crime series
FX Reviving ‘Justified’ Starring Timothy Olyphant for New Limited Series
Netflix Wins Defamation Suit Over ‘Making a Murderer’
The 50 best true-crime documentaries you can stream right now
You’ve Probably Already Heard, but Monk is Coming Back
We Need More Female-Driven Revenge Movies
The 25 Greatest Revenge Movies of All Time
Wild Things: Why this steamy 1998 film is an underrated noir classic
Netflix Exposes the Pedophile Cult Leader Who Went to War With the FBI
Alex Mar and Sarah Weinman Discuss True Crime and Criminal Justice Storytelling
A Remake Of Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo Is In The Works, And Robert Downey Jr. Is Involved
Three ways Robert Downey Jr’s Vertigo might not be Hollywood’s stupidest ever idea
Thriller writer Harlan Coben on his latest Netflix series with Joanna Lumley
The 18 Scruffiest Detectives in Crime Film and TV
Words of the Month
jobbard (n.): A “fool, stupid man,” mid-15th Cc., jobard, probably from French jobard (but this is not attested before 16th C.), from jobe “silly.” Earlier jobet (c. 1300).
Feb. 28: Ricou Browning, the Gill-Man in ‘Creature From the Black Lagoon,’ choreographed the final scuba-battle in ‘Thunderball’, and co-wrote the movie ‘Flipper’,Dies at 93
Mar. 1: Linda Kasabian, Former Manson Family Member Who Helped Take Down Its Leader, Dies at 73
Mar. 3: Bryant & May novelist Christopher Fowler has died aged 69
Mar. 3: Tom Sizemore, ‘Saving Private Ryan,’ ‘Heat’ and ‘Natural Born Killers’ Actor, Dies at 61
Mar. 8: Ian Falconer, creator of Olivia the precocious piglet, dies at 63
Mar. 9: Robert Blake, Combustible Star of ‘In Cold Blood’ and ‘Baretta,’ Dies at 89
Mar. 14: John Jakes, Author of the Miniseries-Spawning ‘North and South’ Trilogy, Dies at 90 (before he his the historical goldmine, he was a presence in the early crime pulps)
Mar. 17: Lance Reddick, ‘The Wire’ and ‘John Wick’ Star, Dies at 60
Mar. 17: Jim Mellen, an Original Member of the Militant Weathermen, Dies at 87
Mar. 17: Jim Gordon, rock drummer (co-writer on “Layla” who played the piano section) who later killed mother, dies at 77
Mar. 22: Gordon T. Dawson, Peckinpah Protégé and ‘Walker, Texas Ranger’ Writer and Producer, Dies at 84
Mar. 29: Julie Anne Peters, Whose Young-Adult Books Caused a Stir, Dies at 71
Mar. 29: George Nassar, 86, killer who heard confession in Boston Strangler Case, is dead
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.
Links of Interest
Mar. 2: Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg diagnosed with terminal cancer
Mar. 2: Two U.S. Citizens Arrested for Illegally Exporting Technology to Russia
Mar. 3: Roe v. Wade Case Documents Fetch Over $600K at Auction
Mar. 3: Hiding in plain sight: Why are wanted Sicilian mafia bosses often found so close to home?
Mar. 8: The Invention of the Polygraph, and Law Enforcement’s Long Search for a ‘Lie Detector’
Mar. 17: Teen’s Body to Be Exhumed After Murdaugh Conviction
Mar. 17: 4Chan Troll Living With His Mom Arrested for Threatening Anti-Nazi Sheriff
Mar. 22: Ex-Florida Lawmaker Who Sponsored ‘Don’t Say Gay’ Bill Pleads Guilty in Covid Fraud Case
Mar. 22: Poisons are a potent tool for murder in fiction: A toxicologist explains how some dangerous chemicals kill
Mar. 22: The SEC charges Lindsay Lohan, Jake Paul and others with illegally promoting crypto
Mar. 22: How a Team of Ambitious Crooks in 1960s Montreal Planned the Biggest Bank Heist Anyone Had Ever Seen
Mar. 27: Everybody Panic: 5 Strange and Sinister Cases of Crime and Mass Hysteria
Mar. 27: Murder in the Air? The Mysterious Death of Stunt Pilot B.H. DeLay
Mar. 27: Man falsely convicted of raping writer Alice Sebold settles lawsuit against New York
Mar. 28: Pardon Sought in 1908 Execution That Was Really a Lynching
Mar. 29: Maryland court reinstates murder conviction of ‘Serial’ subject Adnan Syed
Mar. 29: ‘To Die For’ inspiration Pamela Smart will stay in prison after losing final appeal at Supreme Court
Mar. 29: The Evolution and Art of the Big Con
Mar. 31: Oscar Pistorius denied parole over killing of girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp
Mar. 31: The Gangster Who Died Twice
Words of the Month
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 of The 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.
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