opisthography (n.) “the practice of writing on the back of anything,” 1715, from Greek opisthographos “written on the back,” from graphos “writing” (from graphein“to write” (see -graphy) + opisthen “behind, from behind, at the back,” from opi, a variant of epi “on it, at it” (see epi-). (etymonline)
scrawl (v.) From the 1610s, “write or draw awkwardly and untidily,” a word of uncertain origin, perhaps from a specific use of Middle English scrawlen “spread out the limbs, sprawl” (early 15c.), which might be an alteration of sprawlen (see sprawl (v.)) or crawl (v.). Some sources suggest a contraction of scrabble. Related: Scrawled; scrawling.
The noun in the sense of “piece of unskilled or inelegant writing” is by 1690s, from the verb; the meaning “bad style of handwriting” is by 1710. (etymonline)
chirography (n.) “handwriting, the art of writing,” 1650s, from chiro– “the hand”+ –graphy “writing.” Chirograph “formal written legal document” is attested from late 13c. in Anglo-French, from Latin chirographum, from Greek kheirographia “written testimony.” Related: Chirographer; chirographic. (etymonline)
cacoethes (n.) “itch for doing something,” 1560s, from Latinized form of Greek kakoēthēs “ill-habit, wickedness, itch for doing (something),” from kakos “bad” (from PIE root *kakka- “to defecate”) + ēthē- “disposition, character” (see ethos). Most famously, in Juvenal’s insanabile scribendi cacoethes “incurable passion for writing.” (etymonline)
Ready to retire, four women (of a certain age) are treated to a boat cruise by their former employers as a reward for their exemplary service. A vacation which they enjoy right up until one of the group spots a former colleague on the same boat.
The only problem — Billie, Mary Alice, Helen, and Natalie’s former job title: Assassin.
Deanna Rabourn’s tale is a rollercoaster ride of the first water! Blending together the librarians from Gunpowder Milkshake, the general premise of Burn Notice, and Lana’s origin story from Archer — you’ve now got an inkling of the wild ride between the covers of Killer’s of a Certain Age.
Seriously, I couldn’t put Killers of a Certain Age down.
I’d recommend this book to anyone who needs a fantastic, fast-paced read for the bath or a holiday. Seriously, I love how these women outwit, outmaneuver, and outshine their pursuers using experience their younger counterparts don’t yet possess…
Plus, it was just lovely to sit down for a few hours and read a book from cover to cover — especially when Raybourn penned such a satisfying ending!
Keep an open mind
I had just finished watching the series “Madam Secretary” when I picked up State of Terror. Now, if you were going to write a thriller involving the Secretary of State, and you wanted a fast-paced, well plotted book with intriguing characters, who would you have author it? Be fair, be honest, who knows their stuff?
Hillary Rodham Clinton knows the ins and outs of being Secretary of State. Whatever you may think of her, she knows her stuff.
Louise Penny has proved time and again that she can write a gripping novel filled with real people.
Together, they created State of Terror, and honestly, now is the time to read it.
I want to sit down and talk about this book with you face to face so you can see my enthusiasm. But it’s good that I can’t, because I’d give away spoilers. For our plot purposes here, let me just say that Ellen Adams was a harsh critic of now President Doug Williams during her media mogul days, so it was a huge surprise when he appointed her Secretary of State. Adams handed off her media empire to her daughter and accepted the position, where her first assignment failed miserably. Let’s just say this did not displease President Williams.
But when bus bombs happen in a couple of European cities, Adams and Williams have to work together to figure out where the next target is. One of Secretary Adams’ people in the Pakistan office gets a clue, and the race is on.
“The most amazing thing that has happened in my lifetime is neither putting a man on the moon nor Facebook having 2.8 billion monthly active users. It is that in the 75 years, 7 months, and 13 days since Nagasaki, a nuclear bomb has not been detonated.” – Tom Peters
The more I read this book, knowing HRC‘s insider knowledge of Washington politics and its back door dealings, combined with Louise Penny’s astonishing ability to put you right in the heart of the story, the more terrifying it became. And watching current news cycles both in the US and around the world, this book becomes more relevant every day. I had no idea.
Which is not to say it doesn’t have moments of levity. Some of the characters will jump right into your heart. Betsy Jameson, Secretary Adams’ good friend and counselor is one of them. She’s the “Mrs. Cleaver” below, because she looks so ordinary and friendly.
“Steve Kowalski, Ellen’s head of Diplomatic Security, a longtime veteran of the service, turned in the front seat to look at Mrs. Cleaver as she combined and conjugated words that should never, really, have conjugal relations. The ensuing progeny was both grotesque and hilarious, as she turned nouns into verbs, and verbs into something else entirely. It was a display of linguistic gymnastics the agent hadn’t thought possible. And he’d been a Marine.”
You’ll get chills, and it’s possible that your sleep will be disrupted by this novel – and remember, it is just a novel – and with good reason. The possibilities given here are far too plausible not to be considered, and when a power team like this presents it to you, you pay attention.
Also, it’s a great thriller! Trust me, you want to read State of Terror now.
I was thrilled to find that Rinker Buck had a new book coming out. The Oregon Trail: A New American Journey was one of the best books I read when it came out in 2016. I’ve given away at least a half-dozen copies. In it he builds a canastoga wagon and set off, powered by three mules, across the Oregon Trail. It is an outstanding book, jammed with history and interesting tidbits, and I was ready for a new adventure.
Life on the Mississippi: An Epic American Adventuremirrors that earlier book but this involves first building a flatboat – the sort first used to navigate the Father of Waters – and then float it from the start of the Ohio River and down to New Orleans. Nearly everyone he discusses this plan with tells him he’s going to die. They’re all quiet serious. Perhaps it is hubris, or his own native mule-headedness, but he plunges on. It’s a daunting plan but you know he survived ’cause you’re reading the book.
Along the way you accumulate a flowing history of how the commerce and settlement of the country was enhanced by European-Americans moving West and following the waters. Of course, the current river is nothing like the unfettered highway of 200 years ago – just as the Oregon Trail no longer exists as it was when first blazzed. Buck is aghast at the garbage and trash (it often was, he says sadly, a “floating junkyard”). “And the river has been so contained and shaped so as to stay within it’s bounds that is in no way as wild as it once once. That’s not to say it isn’t dangerous; big storms along any of the rivers that feed it can make it swell and churn, and the commercial traffic is astonishing. Then, too, there are the weekend fools.
Like the junk that float by, so too does the awful history of our country – Buck does not shy from explaining the ways the waters helped to decimate the natives that had ruled and helped to spread slavery further into the landscape. Truly, life on the Mississippi is both a grand tale of human progress corrupted because of the costs that it charges on all who used it.
All Haunting is Regret
Don’t worry if you start Hell and Back and can’t figure out what is going on. Neither can Walt. Craig Johnson puts all of us – readers and characters – in a place that defies explanation and populates it with people who can’t possibly there. In fact, there are so many people from Walt’s past that I stopped reading the new book and re-read the previously three and it helped. It is a book overflowing with mystery and mysticism. It is a book unlike any of the previous Longmires, yet is is easily experienced as another in a long line of Absaroka County stories that are unique and comforting. Because at the center is Walt Longmire and he is trustworthy to all.
“Words are important, no matter what the language – they are perhaps one of the most powerful things we have. Words can preserve life or invoke death and should be handled with the same care as any deadly weapon.” Those are Virgil’s words, but the truth is Craig’s.
So starts an entertaining and convoluted story of the hunt for a Soviet mole in the CIA. Scads of books have been written about this hunt, the suspects, the battles over which Russian turncoat to believe, and the destruction and devastation the hunt caused to US intelligence. Blum’s book follows the investigation of Tennent “Pete” Bagley, a retired American spook who lived through that destruction and suffered from it. The circumstances of the mystery sail boat brings him back to the hunt and it unfolds like a well crafted whodunnit. Clues, red herrings, and blind alleys abound and, along the way, you see the Cold War games of both sides of the spy landscape.
If you’re interested in American history, Cold War history, CIA history – or even if you don’t think you are – pick up the books. It’s a great mystery, but all true.
Next up: a book that was released in Feb. but that I just discovered near the end of Sept – Fran has been yelling at me for years to read Joe Ide. So far I haven’t but I will now. To my knowledge, this is the third book the Chandler estate has engaged current authors to pen a new Philip Marlowe novel. First, in 2014, there was Benjamin (John Banville) Black’s The Black-Eyed Blonde, a follow-up to The Long Goodbye. In 2018, Only to Sleep by Lawrence Osbourne was released. In that, Marlowe is 72 and living in Mexico.
It’s one thing to search for new books by a favorite author. I’m not sure how you search for new books about a favorite character!
school (n.): [place of instruction] Middle English scole, from Old English scol, “institution for instruction,” from Latin schola “meeting place for teachers and students, place of instruction;” also “learned conversation, debate; lecture; disciples of a teacher, body of followers, sect,” also in the older Greek sense of “intermission of work, leisure for learning.”
This is from Greek skholē “spare time, leisure, rest, ease; idleness; that in which leisure is employed; learned discussion;” also “a place for lectures, school;” originally “a holding back, a keeping clear,” from skhein “to get” (from PIE root *segh- “to hold”) + -olē by analogy with bolē “a throw,” stolē “outfit,” etc.
The basic sense of the Greek word is “leisure,” which passed to “otiose discussion” (in Athens or Rome, the favorite or proper use of free time), then it came to be used for the place for such discussion.
The Latin word was widely borrowed (in addition to Old French escole, French école, Spanish escuela, Italian scuola; Old High German scuola, German Schule, Swedish skola, Gaelic sgiol, Welsh ysgol, Russian shkola).
The meaning “students attending a school” in English is attested from c. 1300; the sense of “school building” is by 1590s. Sense of “people united by a general similarity of principles and methods” is from 1610s; hence school of thought (by 1848). As an adjective by mid-18th C., “pertaining to or relating to a school or to education.”
School of hard knocks “rough experience in life” is by 1870; to tell tales out of school “betray damaging secrets” is from 1540s. School-bus is from 1908. School days is from 1590s. School board “local committee of education” is by 1836; school district “division of a town or city for the management of schools” is by 1809. (etymonline)
learn (v.): Old English leornian “to get knowledge, be cultivated; study, read, think about,” from Proto-Germanic *lisnojanan (cognates: Old Frisian lernia, Middle Dutch leeren, Dutch leren, Old High German lernen, German lernen “to learn,” Gothic lais “I know”), with a base sense of “to follow or find the track,” from PIE root *lois– “furrow, track.” It is related to German Gleis “track,” and to Old English læst “sole of the foot” (see last (n.1)).
From c. 1200 as “to hear of, ascertain.” Transitive use (He learned me (how) to read), now considered vulgar (except in reflexive expressions, I learn English), was acceptable from c. 1200 until early 19th C. It is preserved in past-participle adjective learned “having knowledge gained by study.” Old English also had læran “to teach” (see lere). (etymonline)
study (v.): Early 12th C., “to strive toward, devote oneself to, cultivate” (translating Latin occupatur), from Old French estudiier “to study, apply oneself, show zeal for; examine” (13th C., Modern French étudier), from Medieval Latin studiare, from Latin studium “study, application,” originally “eagerness,” from studere “to be diligent,” from PIE *(s)teu- (1) “to push, stick, knock, beat” (see steep (adj.)). The notion appears to be “pressing forward, thrusting toward,” hence “strive after.
From c. 1300 as “apply oneself to the acquisition of learning, pursue a formal course of study,” also “read a book or writings intently or meditatively.” From mid-14th C. as “reflect, muse, think, ponder.” Meaning “regard attentively” is from 1660s. (etymonline)
class (n.): c. 1600, “group of students,” in U.S. especially “number of pupils in a school or college of the same grade,” from French classe (14th C.), from Latin classis “a class, a division; army, fleet,” especially “any one of the six orders into which Servius Tullius divided the Roman people for the purpose of taxation;” traditionally originally “the people of Rome under arms” (a sense attested in English from 1650s), and thus akin to calare “to call (to arms),” from PIE root *kele- (2) “to shout.” In early use in English also in Latin form classis.
Meaning “an order or rank of persons, a number of persons having certain characteristics in common” is from 1660s. School and university sense of “course, lecture” (1650s) is from the notion of a form or lecture reserved to scholars who had attained a certain level. Natural history sense “group of related plants or animals” is from 1753. Meaning “high quality” is from 1874. Meaning “a division of society according to status” (with upper, lower, etc.) is from 1763. Class-consciousness (1903) is from German Klassenbewusst. (etymonline)
Sad note: we just learned that Seattle mystery writer Frederick D. Huebner died on December 31, 2019. He was a great writer, a great friend of the shop, and one of the very few people who ever bought one of JB’s paintings. Sorry we didn’t know it at the time to pay tribute then.
recess (n.): 1530s, “act of receding or going back or away” (a sense now obsolete), from Latin recessus “a going back, retreat,” from recessum, past participle of recedere “to go back, fall back; withdraw, depart, retire,” from re– “back” (see re-) + cedere “to go” (from PIE root *ked– “to go, yield”).
Meaning “hidden or remote part” is recorded from 1610s; that of “period of stopping from usual work” is from 1620s, probably from parliamentary notion of “recessing” into private chambers. Meaning “place of retirement or seclusion” is from 1630s; that of “niche, receding space or inward indentation in a line of continuity” is from 1690s.(etymonline)
I gardened, did laundry, baked cookies, made the bed betwixt chapters…and yet, I still devoured the pages in less than twelve hours!
The thing is, Nonna Maria occupies the space between Sherlock Holmes and Miss Marple. Driven by neither cold logic nor the belief in the baseness of people’s motivations — Nonna Maria serves at the pleasure of her fellow islanders. Intervening when asked, she combines island gossip, a decade’s worth of past experiences, and her own leg work to solve whatever problem presented to her — relying on a plethora of friends, a legion of family members, and occasionally the Carabinieri to catch the culprit (and have her back during perilous situations).
I know Barnes & Noble placed Nonna Maria in their cozy section. Probably because there’s not much in the way of on-stage bloodletting…However, there’s still plenty of death, thugs, threats, and mystery to satisfy any reader without relying on a shoehorned in themes like cats, gourds, cookies, Santa, quilting, dumplings, or crafting to generate interest in the story.
I cannot recommend Nonna Maria and the Case of The Missing Bride highly enough. Set in sun drenched Southern Italy, this mystery is everything I didn’t know I wanted to read over and over again this August!
Louise Penny isn’t afraid of tackling difficult subjects. She never has been, even before her collaboration with Hilary Rodham Clinton, about which I’ll write in another post.
But in The Madness of Crowds, she delves much deeper into a dark place that most of us would really rather avoid. I don’t want to get into specifics because of spoilers, but she taps into a collective awareness that no one wants to look at, but of which we have all glanced at.
All the regulars are back, and this is really not a stand alone. To get the full impact, you need to have read all the books that have come before, beginning with Still Life. There are new, compelling characters here, ones who will remain with you forever, and there are the ongoing delights. Rosa has expanded her vocabulary, and is teaching it to the children, much to their parents’ dismay. There is laughter and humor, compassion and passionate humanity, and all of it stems from people being people, in the best and worst possible ways.
I really cannot recommend Louise Penny’s writing strongly enough. They do need to be read in order, and once you have experienced the world of Three Pines, even if you’re not a fan of police procedurals, you’ll want to visit this village time and again, I promise.
Finally, finally, after toooo many decades, I read Fredric Brown’s The Fabulous Clipjoint. Published in 1947 – and winning the very first Best Novel Edgar – it’s a lively and raucous story of a young man and his uncle who undertake an investigation into a murder – the young guy’s father and his uncle’s brother.
This is the first in a series to feature Ed and his uncle Am (short for Ambrose). Am is a carny and the pages are jammed with the hardboiled jargon of the late 40s AND carnival lingo. Am also makes for a good investigator. His years sizing up “marks” at the carny give him an edge when talking to those involved.
Here’s one line that I found particularly sharp. Uncle Am says to his nephew, “I’m not worried about going to hell, Ed, but I begrudge the money the ticket costs.”
A bonus is the introduction by Lawrence Block who takes you on a tour of his reading as a young man.
A year or so before the shop closed, a man came in one afternoon and introduced himself: James Grady. Now, maybe you have to be a “certain age” to have reacted as Fran and I did. Six Days of the Condor was published in 1974, which means I probably read the paperback in 1975 when it came out. The movie version, Three Days of the Condor was released around the same time. I’d read a number of his books over the years, Old Dogs was one that stands out.
We chatted awhile and he explained that he had an idea for a thriller that took place on a train going from Seattle to Chicago and was in town to start his research. We talked about the long history of train mysteries and showed him our list in the Yellow Notebook that we refereed to when people came in asking for one. I kept my eyes alert for his book, and it’s out now.
James Grady’s This Trainfeatures an odd cast of characters who first see one another in the Seattle train station. At first, they’re “named” by their visual shorthand. As the trip progresses, you learn names and details. You can tell that some are a bit shady but, if you’ve been reading thrillers as long as I have, you know that anything is possible from any one character.
The fun, of course, is finding out who is who and if you’re suspicions were correct. You find that the short-hand descriptors from the start – the guy in the camel-colored cashmere coat or the young woman with the intense red hair – are also accurate descriptors of their personalities.
And then, or course, why are all of these people on this one train and what about the SWAT team, and the guy who always lugs around the beat-up satchel? Well, find out yourself. It’s a great ride!
This debut by Dwyer Murphy got great reviews. The New Yorker promoted it, and the cover carries a one-word rave by Walter Mosely. As a bonus, An Honest Living is billed as a bibliomystery and who isn’t looking for the next John Dunning? So I got a copy right away.
This is very much a New York Novel. The lawyer who narrates the story is certain to tell you what street he’s on, where he turns, where he eats or drinks, details about the neighborhoods, and so on. In that, it reminded me very much of the Scudder books by Lawrence Block. The City itself is a character.
The time frame was a bit puzzling. At one point, he looks someone up on-line and mentions Gawker – stopped publishing in 2016 but recently re-started- so I was unclear about when the book was set. Of course, that shouldn’t really matter, but when I first read that name it popped me out of the story. And that’s not a good thing.
And I can’t point to any good things. He writes well, the characters were interesting…
Overall, it was a very easy book to put down. I have no particular fascination for the minutia of NYC when it is a major component of the story. It read as if it was filler, in place of a plot – because the mystery, and the bibliomystery element, aren’t there. I don’t even think it is fair to call it a mystery for a number of reasons but I can’t tell you those and not ruin the story. Go ahead, give it a try.
nonsense (n.) “that which is lacking in sense, language or words without meaning or conveying absurd or ridiculous ideas,” 1610s, from non– “not” + sense (n.); perhaps influenced by French nonsens. Since mid-20th C., non-sense, with the hyphen, has been used to distinguish the meaning “that which is not sense, that which is different from sense,” not implying absurdity.
falderol (n.)also falderal, falderall, folderol, etc., 18th C. nonsense words from refrains of songs; meaning “gewgaw, trifle” is attested from 1820.
What We’ve Been Up To
A Bride’s Guide to Marriage and Murder — Dianne Freeman
Familiarity breeds contempt…and when it’s your family?
Things can get explosive.
And explode they do (though not literally). When a murder, accusations of infidelity, thugs, and rivalries all come to a head at and after France and George’s much-anticipated wedding.
Seriously, if your looking for a light-hearted historical murder mystery that never takes itself too seriously — the Countess of Harleigh Mystery series is the one for you! Freeman does an excellent job of blending the time period, manners, and societal rules into an excessively readable mystery.
What I love the most about the Countess of Harleigh Mysteries (BTW – Frances is said Countess) is their funny. Not a slap you on the back hardy-har-har kind but wry, sly, and observational humor that one can relate to – especially if you’ve ever tried planning a wedding with the “help” of your family and/or in-laws.
Now, you don’t need to read them in order….However, there are only four predecessors, so starting at numero uno, A Lady’s Guide To Etiquette and Murder isn’t too much of a stretch, and hopefully, you’ll laugh (or at least smile) as much as I did whilst turning the pages.
Okay, so hear me out
I don’t have a review, but I have a really good explanation. A couple of ’em, if I’m being honest. And one is legit book stuff!
The mother of a dear friend of mine passed away, and she lived near me. Her son and his wife, both of whom are great friends of mine, asked me to assess her books to see if there was anything worthwhile in there. We all figured probably not, but hey, you never know, right? And she was a pack rat, as was her late husband, so treasures were possible.
There were a couple of catches. One was that she lived near where we had originally moved to in New Mexico, which is now an hour away from where I now live, but is certainly much closer than the five hours away where Bill and Kate live. I have time and am certainly willing to help, so that was just a minor thing.
The bigger issue is that, while I’m pretty good at mysteries, I’m not so well versed at Southwestern history.
Like not at all. And it’s been educational.
There have been books, and pamphlets, and cookbooks, and all manner of things. Including Hillermans and Jances, which were easy enough. But mostly it was Southwestern stuff.
Boxes and boxes of books. It’s kept me busy, and it’s been immense fun.
But that’s why I haven’t reviewed anything.
Well, that and the fact that I’ve been diagnosed with Parkinson’s. But that’s not really a good reason. Assessing books, however, really is.
I’m going to try to have a review next month, but I’m planning on putting these books up for sale, and honestly, that may take a lot of time, so we’ll see what next month brings.
Oh, but it’s exciting!
After catching up on my Haller, Bosch, and Ballard, I picked up another from my always growing To Be Read Pile – Stephen Hunter’s Game of Snipers from 2019. Burned through it in two days, as one does with a thriller of this quality (please note I chose to not writer “of this calibre”. Swagger books are reliable fun. I don’t know about anyone else, but I skip over the nitty-gritty details of the guns in play and stick with the action. This one is as if one put the Day of the Jackal in the US with Swagger part of the team hunting the sniper. And thanks to David G. for keeping me supplied!
We’ve been watching a number of series that I’d recommend: “Dark Wind”, the adaptation of Tony Hillerman’s The Listening Woman, “Reservation Dogs”, “Obi-Wan Kenobi” with a wonderfully guilt-ridden Obi-Wan, “DB Cooper Where Are You”, and “Under the Banner of Heaven”. After watching that, I bought a copy of Jon Krakauer’s book on which it was based and burned through it. First of all, the series is quite accurate when it says “inspired” by the book. While the series is a good police procedural, it is largely fiction. Written in 2003, it is a deep dive into the Mormon faith and the fundamentalist offshoots. True it does center around a vicious double murder but it really is about people blinded by their faith and incapable or unwilling to look at the real world before them. While Krakauer does make a few faint parallels to Isis and other foreign “tribes”, the book felt more relevant to me when matched to Trumpism, and the true believers who know that they know to be truth and everyone else is just wrong.
Now, what I expect to be the last “major” book on Watergate (at least this year) is out: Jefferson Morley’s Scorpion’s Dance. I’d looked forward to this, as I thought his book on James Jesus Angleton, The Ghost, was quite good. But I found this book focusing on the lethal dance between President Nixon and CIA Chief Richard Helms to be oddly light. I suppose I was expecting something of the heft of Waldron’s or Graff’s and I found it short on depth. For instance, during the heat of August 1973, he glides over the details of the Saturday Night Massacre in one small paragraph and doesn’t use that weighted term. I certainly followed along because I knew the details and was hoping for new revelations. There was little of it. I would not recommend this to someone not familiar with that crucial and sordid history.
Yet there were a few bits new to me that I found interesting:
~ After his arrest, James McCord directed his wife and a neighbor, who was also a CIA officer, to burn papers and copies of transcripts of the DNC wiretaps. The damper in the fire place was closed, they filled the house with smoke, and had to explain what was going on to the fire department.
~ He never points to a specific rationale for the Watergate break-ins, but does repeatedly write about the salacious recordings that the bugs provided. It is the supposition of some – like Stanford – that a call girl ring was being run out of the DNC office and the bugs were to get dirt on the Dems. Indeed, the office of Larry O’Brien, the head of the DNC, never was bugged.
~Helms quoted a Nixonian threat as having a “devious, hard-nosed smell”
~ Sometimes it is just the way he phrases things: “In this perilous situation, Helms had one advantage that Nixon did not. For the president, it was illegal to conceal of destroy material evidence, suborn witnesses, or dissemble to law enforcement. Helms, not so much… As CIA director, Helms had discretion to hide certain activities from law enforcement. As the duly sworn president, Nixon did not. And that would make all the difference in determining who would fall first.”
~ I had not known that like JFK, LBJ, and Nixon, Helms had recording equipment in his office. Those recordings and transcripts were destroyed damn fast. Likewise, the day after Nixon’s resignation, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who had been recording and transcribing their meetings since the end of WWII, destroyed all of those records.
~ After his fall, Helms was stunned by how Washington had deserted him. “‘ It was unthinkable that the Establishment would turn against Dick Helms’… He could not understand with all these powerful friends and with all these connections and with all these people who he had helped and become socially close to them and that retained positions of influence and power, that this could nonetheless be done to him…” This brought to mind the disbelief in the intelligence world after Philby defected to the Soviets. He was one of them, he was from their schools, they socialized and ate dinner and drank in the same clubs – this “Old Boy” network was the rot at the center of the post-war Free World. Those who belonged to it were deluded and took us down with them.
~ At Helms’ sentencing, the judge threw down the wrath of the bench at him: “If public officials embark deliberately on a course to disobey and ignore the laws of our land because of some misguided and ill-conceived notion and belief that there are earlier commitments and considerations which they must first observe, the future of our country is in jeopardy.”
What would that Judge, Barrington Parker, an African-American Republican appointed by Nixon, think of January 6th and The Big Lie that won’t die????
astonish (v.): c. 1300, astonien, “to stun, strike senseless,” from Old French estoner “to stun, daze, deafen, astound,” from Vulgar Latin *extonare, from Latin ex “out” (see ex-) + tonare “to thunder” (see thunder (n.)); so, literally “to leave someone thunderstruck.” The modern form (influenced by English verbs in -ish, such as distinguish, diminish) is attested from 1520s. The meaning “amaze, shock with wonder” is from 1610s. (etymonline)
confound (v.) c. 1300, “to condemn, curse,” also “to destroy utterly;” from Anglo-French confoundre, Old French confondre (12th C.) “crush, ruin, disgrace, throw into disorder,” from Latin confundere “to confuse, jumble together, bring into disorder,” especially of the mind or senses, “disconcert, perplex,” properly “to pour, mingle, or mix together,” from assimilated form of com “together” (see con-) + fundere “to pour” (from nasalized form of PIE root *gheu- “to pour”).
From mid-14th C. as “to put to shame, disgrace.” The figurative sense of “confuse the mind, perplex” emerged in Latin, passed into French and thence to English by late 14th C. The Latin past participle confusus, meanwhile, became confused (q.v.). The meaning “treat or regard erroneously as identical” is from 1580s.
confounded (adj.) as an intensive execration, “odious, detestable, damned,” 1650s, past-participle adjective from confound in its older sense of “condemn, curse,” which came to be considered “a milder form of imprecation” [OED]. It is perhaps a euphemism for damned. The sense of “put to mental confusion” is recorded from mid-14th C. [etymonline]
confusion (n.) c. 1300, confusioun, “overthrow, ruin,” from Old French confusion “disorder, confusion, shame” (11th C.) and directly from Latin confusionem (nominative confusio) “a mingling, mixing, blending; confusion, disorder,” noun of action from past-participle stem of confundere “to pour together,” also “to confuse” (see confound).
Meaning “act of mingling together two or more things or notions properly separate” is from mid-14th C. Sense of “a putting to shame, perturbation of the mind” (a sort of mental “overthrow”) is from c. 1400 in English, while that of “mental perplexity, state of having indistinct ideas” is from 1590s. Meaning “state of being mixed together,” literally or figuratively, “a disorderly mingling” is from late 14th C.
confuse (v.) From the 1550s in a literal sense “mix or mingle things or ideas so as to render the elements indistinguishable;” from mid-18th C. in the active, figurative sense of “perplex the mind or ideas of, discomfit in mind or feeling,” but not in general use until after c. 1800. From 1862 as “erroneously regard as identical.” It took over these senses from its older doublet, confound (q.v.).
The past participle confused (q.v.) is attested much earlier, in Middle English (serving as an alternative past tense to confound), evidently an adaptation of Old French confus or Latin confusus, “with the native ppl. ending -ED and the present stem a much later inference from it” [OED]. (etymonline)
puzzle (v.) 1590s, pusle “bewilder, confound, perplex with difficult problems or questions,” possibly frequentative of pose (v.) in obsolete sense of “perplex” (compare nuzzle from nose). To puzzle (something) out “resolve or discover by long cogitation or careful investigation” is by 1781. Puzzling (adj.) “bewildering, perplexing,” is from the 1660s. Bepuzzle (v.), to “perplex,” from the 1590s, from be- + puzzle. (etymonline)
boggle (v.): 1590s, “to start with fright (as a startled horse does), shy, take alarm,” from Middle English bugge “specter” (among other things, supposed to scare horses at night); see bug (n.); also compare bogey (n.1), boggart. The meaning ” hesitate, stop as if afraid to proceed in fear of unforeseen difficulties” is from 1630s; that of “confound, cause to hesitate” is from 1640s. As a noun from 1650s. Related: Boggled; boggling; boggler (from c. 1600 as “one who hesitates”). [etymonline]
amaze (v.)”overwhelm or confound with sudden surprise or wonder,” 1580s, back-formation from Middle English amased “stunned, dazed, bewildered,” (late 14th C.), earlier “stupefied, irrational, foolish” (c. 1200), from Old English amasod, from a- (1), probably used here as an intensive prefix, + *mæs (see maze). Related: Amazed; amazing. (etymonline)
bamboozle (v.) “to cheat, trick, swindle,” 1703, originally a slang or cant word, of unknown origin. Perhaps Scottish from bombaze, bumbaze “confound, perplex,” or related to bombast, or related to French embabouiner “to make a fool (literally ‘baboon’) of.” Wedgwood suggests Italian bambolo, bamboccio, bambocciolo “a young babe,” extended by metonymy to mean “an old dotard or babish gull.” Related: Bamboozled; bamboozler; bamboozling. As a noun from 1703. (etymonline)
There are many reasons why Murder Maps makes an excellent read. One of which is the selection of crimes featured in the book. Namely, most cases highlight a new forensic technique, first conviction using said technique, and/or new methodology police use to catch the perpetrator. We take techniques like fingerprinting, crime scene photography, and criminal profiling for granted – however, they aren’t nearly as old as one might think!
The second reason why I loved reading this book was the crimes Dr. Grey decided to detail. Of course, the covered period 1811 – 1911 includes the notorious crimes of H.H. Holmes, Crippen, and Jack the Ripper. However, rather than sticking to the stock descriptions of these heinous crimes, Dr. Grey includes often overlooked details. Including the five other possible victims of Jack the Ripper, the pioneering techniques the police used during the Ripper’s spree, and their failures.
Besides coving the most notorious crimes and culprits, Murder Maps also includes all kinds of other murders, including examples I’ve read repeatedly in fiction but never imagined having a real-life counterpart! Such as this old trope: an innocent actor unwittingly wields a real weapon instead of a prop and kills a fellow actor while on stage during a performance….
Speaking of the crimes detailed in Murder Maps, it reminds me of one of my favorite podcasts, The True Crime Files. The book gives you just enough details of the crime: who the victims were, where it took place, if/how it was solved, and how the judicial system dealt with the perpetrators (if they were, in fact, guilty). So if, for one reason or another, one of the crimes sparks your interest, you’ve enough information at your disposal to look it up for yourself.
Then there are the maps.
Each entry in Murder Maps, no matter how big or small, contains at least one illustration (usually from one newspaper or another) or photo (mug shots and/or crime scene photos), a brief description, and a map. Now, I must admit (for me), the maps containing only a single point (where the crime occurred) were only somewhat helpful. However, the maps where Dr. Grey put multiple features of interest, such as where the killers lived, worked, or were born in relation to where the victims were worked, attacked, or found – provide a wealth of information.
I can honestly say it’s been a very long time since I’ve enjoyed a piece of true-crime writing as much as I’ve enjoyed Murder Maps.
I would highly recommend Murder Maps to anyone who would like to dip their toes into the genera or to an aficionado looking for a new case to obsess over, new details/perspective on an old fave, and/or appreciates a well-laid-out book.
Seriously, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.
A Touch of Home
Since we moved back to New Mexico, I’ve been drawn to re-reading some of the authors that made New Mexico home. I know, you’re thinking about Tony Hillerman, and you should since he was fantastic, and I hope you’ve followed his daughter, Anne’s career.
But looking at these mountains out my front door has led me down more non-traditional paths.
So I decided to read some Walter Satterthwait. Granted, his Joshua Croft books are set in Santa Fe, which this absolutely is not, and there’s a definite rivalry between northern and southern New Mexico, but for a good, solid story, Walter Satterthwait is spot on.
“But outside town, the countryside is still spare and uncluttered, the sunlight still reels down from a clear blue silky sky, the mountains and the buttes still soar wild and reckless from a landscape so nonchalant about its lean rugged beauty, so indifferent to the passage of time, and the passage of man, that it takes the breath away. Driving through this country can be, should be, an exercise in humility; and that may be one of the very best exercises possible.“
One of the things that I like about Joshua Croft is that his cynicism extends to himself. He questions everything, including his own impressions of people and events, and that is brilliantly showcased in The Hanged Man, where Croft is asked to investigate the murder of a man who just paid an undisclosed but enormous amount for a single Tarot card.
The cast of characters and suspects is just as colorful as any Tarot deck, and the delight of Satterthwait’s writing is that the people come close to being cartoonish, almost caricatures, and then he brings them back down to earth in some commonplace way that resonates.
The Hanged Man was written in 1993, and the delight of it is that, while much of New Mexico has urbanized and changed, the bones are still the same. I know these dusty roads, and back ways, and the way that people here can seem more open when they’re really quite secretive.
Maybe it’s the sun, maybe it’s the heat, maybe it’s the fact that you can trust a rattlesnake to be more honest than a human being half the time, but whatever it is about living in New Mexico, and about looking into the shadows, Walter Satterthwait is well worth your time.
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.
People around the world have different traditions concerning New Year’s.
Creating New Year’s resolutions, banging pots & pans outside at midnight (hopefully your neighbors do the same), kissing your sweetheart, or jumping off a chair at the very second the hands strike twelve – are all popular.
One particular interesting tradition that features a bit of divination, favored by Germans around the turn of the century, was placing walnut shells in a punchbowl and watching them zip around to figure out how the following 365 days will go.
However, one of the most recognized and well-known traditions is the NYC ball drop in Times Square. Which, if you didn’t already know, first started its duties by marking the end of 1907 and the beginning of 1908. And this is when A Resolution At Midnight comes to a thrilling conclusion (it’s in the title, after all).
(Fun Fact: The ball’s only failed to mark the occasion twice – in 1942 & 1943 – when the threat of air raids kept it, and the rest of New York, dark.)
Now you know where A Resolution At Midnight ends, lets got back to the beginning – ten days before Christmas, when Lady Dunbridge arrives home from gift hunting and finds a short note from Mr. X requesting a meeting at a nickelodeon…in just over thirty minutes! Even in 1907, New York traffic is still thick. So Phil, much to her annoyance, arrives late to her meeting…whereupon she discovers a man with his throat slit!
Here’s what I love about this series: Shelley Noble never loses sight of the fact she’s writing a mystery. Yes, she incorporates the very first NYC ball drop, the NY Times, the seedy underbelly of NY politics, and the slow slide of the NYPD back into its bad ways after Roosevelt moved on…but Noble never succumbs to the temptation of historical pontification. Rather, Noble seamlessly weaves just enough detail of these fascinating facts to flesh out her mystery without Without ever detracting, derailing, or slowing the pace of her storyline. Yet, she manages to give her audience enough detail to do a bit of historical sleuthing on their own – if they so choose.
A Resolution At Midnight is no exception.
Honestly, I loved every second of this book. Noble festoons her mystery with just enough of both winter holidays to give the reader a taste of the season and – not unlike Christie – counterbalances it with a nice bloody murder. Which happily sops up all the saccharine that often saturates stories set during this time of the year.
Seriously, I would recommend A Resolution At Midnightto anyone who likes strong female leads and historical mysteries.
At least half of you are skipping this, aren’t you? Either you’ve already read it or you’re not a convert yet. Ha!
If you’ve never read Louise Penny, starting with her latest, ALL THE DEVILS ARE HERE, actually isn’t a bad place to begin. Granted, you won’t have the emotional ties that come with being in love with the series, but don’t worry. Once you’re hooked (and you will be), you’ll go back and start with STILL LIVES, and you’ll catch up.
ALL THE DEVILS ARE HERE takes place in Paris rather than Three Pines, which is part of what makes it okay to begin here. Also, you get a lot of family history, which will help you understand some of the cloudiness about Gamache’s relationship with his son, Daniel.
There is a lot going on in this book. Armand’s relationship with Daniel, Armand’s relationship with his godfather, Daniel’s relationship with Jean-Guy. And we spend a lot more time with Reine-Marie, which is lovely.
Oh, and there’s murder. And attempted murder, and theft and burglary and corporate shenanigans. Everything you expect from Louise Penny.
Now, let me be frank. This is not my favorite of her books. I think the ending was rushed, and I’m not entirely sure her new editor gets Louise’s vibe. At times it felt a little clunky.
That being said, I still skipped all my chores to race to the ending, which quite literally haunted my dreams. I woke up from a nightmare about being in the middle of the final conflict. She’s that good. So when I say it felt clunky, understand that it’s still much, much better than many other authors’ work! It just felt rushed.
So there you go, yet another endorsement for Louise Penny, and yes, you absolutely should read ALL THE DEVILS ARE HERE. And don’t worry, you’ll still be in touch with the Three Pines crew. I think you’re gonna love the ending, by the way. *wink*
So I’ve got two great historical mysteries for you: Dianne Freeman’s A Lady’s Guide to Mischief and Murder & Rhys Bowen’s The Last Mrs. Summers!
ALGT: Mischief and Murder first!
The Countess of Harleigh is back in a new mystery! (Woot!) And life, after her last murder inquiry, is going splendidly. There’s only one small hiccup, her sister Lily and her fiancee jumped the gun a bit…and they’re now expecting!
Now, this isn’t the first or last time such an event has occurred, but that doesn’t make it any less distressing. Especially since it means Frances will need to find a new venue, plan a country wedding, and tell her mother of the change of plans.
It’s that last bit which both Frances and Lily are dreading.
Even worse? When they do find and arrive at the new venue, a series of accidents start befalling both staff and guests alike!
The Last Mrs. Summers next.
Georgie is at loose ends – Darcy’s off on a secret jaunt, her Granddad is busy, and her mother’s rushed off to Germany. Happily, thanks to the unexpected appearance of her bestie Belinda Warburton-Stoke, Georgie is able to set aside the loneliness threatening to overwhelm her.
Even better? Belinda has good news! Which leads them on an adventure down the Cornish coast – where Belinda finds herself accused of murder! And of course, Georgie can’t just leave her friend in a pickle, especially since the police aren’t willing to look beyond Belinda for another suspect…
ALGT: Mischief and Murder is a witty murder mystery – with a relatable backdrop of family and relationship hiccups. Plus, reading about an American, who’s been plunked down in English high society, is an exciting twist on the usual norm for this style of historical novel.
In The Last Mrs. Summers, Bowen does a beautiful job of melding a gothic atmosphere within her mystery and pacing it in such a way you want to keep turning the pages. While also subtly furthering the overall story arch of the oncoming specter of WWII looming at the series’s edge.
Perhaps The Last Mrs. Summers is a bit understated in its wit and humor, and ALGT: Mischief and Murder is bubblier – but both are excellent historical mysteries (set during different eras). And I would heartily recommend both books to anyone looking for a historical mystery with a strong female lead that treads on the lighter side of murder. I know I relished each and every minute I was ensconced within their respective worlds!
(And BTW – what’s with all the blue covers this season?)