ultracrepidarian (adj.) Noting or pertaining to a person who criticizes, judges, or gives advice outside the area of his or her expertise. (fishofgold.net)
What We’ve Been Up To
Liz Ireland – Mrs. Claus and the Halloween Homicide
What do you get when you take Christmas, Halloween, murder, and whiz it up in a blender?
Okay – now you need to trust me on this one.
April Claus married into one of the most famous families in the world, which initially didn’t impact her life a whole lot – as her husband was heir to the mantle of Santa Claus. Sadly, thru a series of unfortunate and murderous events, both she and her husband were thrust into the roles of Mr. and Mrs. Santa Claus on a strictly interim basis. (The details of how this came about are detailed Mrs. Claus and the Santaland Slayings.)
Now having a whole year of Mrs. Claus duties under her belt and being the new blood of the clan April is keen on introducing the elves of Christmastown to another holiday, her (previous) favorite Halloween, an idea which proves somewhat controversial in a town dedicated to all things Christmas.
A small but vocal contingent of elves believes Christmastown should remain a single celebration city. The most vocal critic of All Hallows Eve is Tiny Sparkletoes – who unfortunately – is found dead not long after a greenhouse full of pumpkins is vandalized…
Now I picked up this book based on the mash-up of holidays promised in the title – and it did not let me down. In fact, it utterly beat my expectations! The setting of Christmas town, the entertaining character names, and the reindeer (oh, the reindeer!) are treated so off-handedly that it successfully neutralizes the sweetness that could’ve crept into this narrative. April Claus just happens to live at the North Pole with her husband in Kringle Castle.
No big deal.
It also helps that April finds herself hip-deep in investigating a case of vandalism but a potential murder. Then there’s the problem of her best friend’s creepy boyfriend, drunk reindeer, and a mother-in-law who isn’t ready to cede her status as the numero uno – Mrs. Claus.
Seriously, Mrs. Claus and the Halloween Homicide is a well-paced and surprisingly nuanced themed mystery that will have you turning the pages quicker and quicker to find out whodunit!
HAPPY MERRY JOLLY!
So, how was your holiday season? We spent ours being all trendy, having the newly fashionable COVID Christmas, and it was just as spectacular as you might imagine.
I hope you didn’t participate, and if you did, I hope you’re feeling much better. We are, thank you for asking. That’s very sweet of you, but we’re vaccinated and boosted, so we were just unhappy, not in danger. Mostly we were blearily waiting for Barnaby to solve the Midsomer crime of the day. He’s reliable, is Barnaby. We needed that. Thank you, Caroline Graham!
I didn’t read a lot during this time. Brain fog is a real thing, hence the need for Barnaby to solve the cases. But I did read a YA book that was tons of fun, and perfectly suited my mood – Maureen Johnson’sDevilish.
While I never attended a religious prep school on the East Coast, any high school student will be able to relate to the issues facing Jane Jarvis, who doesn’t quite fit in, is too smart for her own good, and is worried about her bestie, Allison Concord. See, Ally’s changed, and while on the surface it seems to be a good thing, Jane is concerned because the changes in Ally are so radical. I mean, who gets a scholarship that pays for you to go shopping? To change your entire personality and become the Cool Kid? Something is suspicious, and Jane is going to find out what.
What I love about Maureen Johnson’s writing is how very relatable all her people are. While I’ve never been in the circumstances Jane finds herself in – and I’m grateful for that, by the way! – I know her, and Ally, and Owen, and Elton, and even the nuns.
Devilish is a quick read, which is perfect for this time of year, and definitely worth your while. If, however, you decide to save it for a summer beach read, I totally understand. The important thing is that you read it. Which you will, right?
obnubilate (v.): “to darken, cloud, overcloud,” 1580s, from Latin obnibulatus, past participle of obnubilare “to cover with clouds or fog,” from ob “in front of, against” (see ob-) + verb from Latin nubes “cloud,” from PIE *sneudh– “fog” (see nuance). Related: Obnubilated; obnubilating. Middle English had obnubilous “obscure, indistinct” (early 15th C.). (etymonline.com)
obloquy (n.): From the mid-15th C., obloquie, “evil speaking, slander, calumny, derogatory remarks,” from Medieval Latin obloquium “speaking against, contradiction,” from Latin obloqui “to speak against, contradict,” from ob “against” (see ob-) + loqui “to speak,” from PIE root *tolkw- “to speak.” Related: Obloquious. (etymonline.com)
[seriously, we were honest in our belief that it wasn’t worth including stories about Amazon. We’ve waged a war against the behemoth for 20 years and few have paid attention. But the stories keep piling up, sooo…..]
obscurantism (n.): “opposition to the advancement and diffusion of knowledge, a desire to prevent inquiry or enlightenment,” 1801, from German obscurantism, obscurantismus (by 1798); see obscurant + -ism. (etymonline.com)
obreption (n.): “the obtaining or trying to obtain something by craft or deception,” 1610s, from Latin obreptionem (nominative obreptio) “a creeping or stealing on,” noun of action from past-participle stem of obrepere “to creep on, creep up to,” from ob “on, to” (see ob-) + repere “to creep” (see reptile). Opposed to subreption, which is to obtain something by suppression of the truth. Related: Obreptious.
subreption (n.): “act of obtaining a favor by fraudulent suppression of facts,” c. 1600, from Latin subreptionem (nominative subreptio), noun of action from past-participle stem of subripere, surripere (see surreptitious). Related: Subreptitious. (etymonline.com)
What We’ve Been Up To
The Box In The Woods – Maureen Johnson
The Box In The Woods is probably one of the finest transitional books I’ve read – period.
A bold statement, to be sure, but I think an accurate one nonetheless.
The Box in the Woods is a continuation of Johnson’s Truly Devious series.
In that, a brand new cold case reunites Stevie and company during their summer vacation. Even better, if you’ve skipped reading the Truly Devious series and aren’t sure you want to sink in the extra time reading the trilogy (though you really should, they’re great), you don’t need to. Johnson brilliantly catches you up – without ruining the first three books!
Seriously, you don’t know how rare this is.
For some insane reason, mystery writers (or I suspect their editors as the more likely culprit) love revealing the ending of a previous mystery in newer installments! A feature that is fantastically frustrating if you accidentally start in the middle of the series. Thankfully, Johnson neatly sidesteps this common transgression.
But I digress.
Another reason why I enjoyed reading this book is Johnson makes use of two very well-known tropes and cunningly freshens them up.
Trope One: The horrors of summer camp as popularized by the Friday the 13th franchise.
Set a month or two after Stevie solved the Truly Devious case, Stevie’s hired to investigate the notorious Camp Wonder Falls murders, a cold case from 1978 where four camp counselors sneak out to hang out one summer night and are found murdered the following morning. Amplifying the horror of the crime is the fact neither the Sherriff nor State Police solved the crime. Leaving Barlow Corners, where Camp Wonder Falls and all four victims called home, in a state of animated suspension.
Amplifying this trope: Stevie and friends are hired as counselors to the newly revitalized (and renamed) summer camp as cover for said detecting.
While writing this review, I began to wonder: Does this trope have any real-world roots, or is it a purely fictional construct?
The answer sent me down an hours-long rabbit hole.
More specifically, I discovered an unsettling case dubbed the Oklahoma Girl Scout Murders. In 1977, Michele Heather Guse (9), Lori Lee Farmer (8), and Doris Denise Milner (10) were raped and murdered during a thunderstorm while attending Camp Scott (which was later shut down).
The Sherriff honed in on an escaped felon and convicted rapist who grew up in the area as his prime suspect. Gene Leroy Hart, said offender, was found not guilty of the girl’s murder in 1979. Other suspects have surfaced over the years, but no convictions have come about. Nor has DNA testing helped, as the biological material has deteriorated enough over the years that finding usable samples has become increasingly difficult.
Hauntingly, two months prior to the three little girl’s murder, a room was ransacked during a counselor’s training session. The perpetrator left a note stating, “We are on a mission to kill three little girls in Tent One.”.
The note, deemed a prank, was unfortunately tossed out.
(Click here if you’re interested in reading Tulsa World’s coverage of the tragedy. Or here for an alternate suspect theory.)
But back to The Box In The Woods.
The second trope Johnson used is one I’ve read at least a dozen times before – yet Johnson disguised it so cleverly I didn’t see it coming. Which I think is the mark of a great author and an excellent book.
Unfortunately, I can’t explain the trope any further. Otherwise, I will ruin the book for you. This is one where you need to trust me – the trope’s there, and it’s well-executed.
Overall, I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys YA detectives (though it is only YA due to the ages of the sleuths and a few hormones) and/or those who enjoy Agatha Christie-esque mysteries.
Honestly, I can’t say enough good things about The Box In The Woods!
The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death – Essay & Photography by Corinne May Botz
Interestingly, the review of the Nutshell Studies is directly linked to The Box In The Woods. When Stevie is first approached about investigating the cold case at Wonder Falls, she knows her folks won’t be keen on the idea, as they don’t understand or entirely approve of her fascination with true crime. So Stevie devises a strategy – which involves using a book filled with photos of the Nutshell Studies – to secure her parent’s permission to become a counselor at the notorious camp.
Intrigued by Johnson’s description, I found the book Stevie was reading.
Whereupon I discovered I’d seen homages to these scaled works in Elementry, CSI: Las Vegas, and Father Brown.
Created by Frances Glessner Lee, the mother of forensic science in the United States, these dioramas are intended to help train investigators on how to approach and analyze crime scenes.
Each scene is a 1-foot to 1-inch scale replica of crime scenes Lee either read about or visited. And much like Dragnet, Lee altered the specifics of each case she used, lest the detectives already know the solution. Though small, these gruesome dollhouses are fully immersive crime scenes where only one of three outcomes were acceptable – accident, suicide, or murder.
Brining us to Botz’s book.
Botz’s photography of these tiny worlds is both haunting, eerily lovely and acquaints her readers with the specter at the feast. All the while keeping true to Lee’s goal for the Nutshell Studies.
And this is where my criticism of this book lies.
Authors and Readers don’t always have the same agenda when beginning a book. And that’s okay. However, it is the duty of the author to set a clear message for their audience – particularly when dealing with such a tantalizing and fascinating subject like the Nutshell Studies.
Because, much like Stevie in The Box In The Woods, I wanted to hone my own critical thinking skills and eye on dioramas meant to do just that.
And this is where the rub of the book lies.
Botz waited until page 220 of 223 in a footnote, no less, to inform her readers she only included the solution to five out of twenty Nutshell Studies. (And one other tiny pet peeve the few provided solutions aren’t listed in the order the cases were presented in the previous chapter.) In any case, the reason for this purposeful omission is due to the fact law enforcement still use the Nutshell Studies as training tools. So they asked Botz not to reveal three-quarters of the solutions.
Which is entirely understandable and isn’t the basis of my quibble.
My objection lies in waiting until the last four pages to finally elucidate this crucial detail – Botz could’ve just as easily placed the footnote in her prologue (which would’ve avoided a great deal of frustration and annoyance).
Admittedly, in Botz’s preface, she does allude to this contentious detail. Stating she set out to photograph the Nutshell Studies, “With the resolve of an investigator at the scene of a crime (yet with no interest in solving it)…” (pg. 12). Additionally, Botz felt a kinship with Lee – which meant Botz kept true to Lee’s intent for the Nutshells, “…they were not supposed to treat the Nutshells as ‘whodunnits’…they are, rather, designed as exercises in observing and evaluating indirect evidence…” (pg. 29).
This obfuscation of information continues with the photographs, as Botz only gives the audience small slices of these miniatures to study. Now, these slices are spectacular in their incredible detail, meticulous craftsmanship, and atmospheric perspective – but they do not afford the same opportunity for the reader as they do investigators.
Happily, Botz does include the background info written by Lee for each diorama. Then provides a crime scene diagram of each overall scene where Botz highlights investigative features, the personal quirks Lee buried within the rooms or just general fun facts. They draw the reader’s eye hither, thither, and yon much like a red herring in a mystery novel.
Now, with all this being said – and I know my criticism is rather long – I would still highly recommend reading this book. Although, with the caveat, the cases may leave you a bit frustrated with not knowing the answers…In any case, the sheer precision and accuracy of Lee’s dioramas is astonishing, and Botz’s photography elevates the Nutshell Studies to a whole new level. Making Botz’s book The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death deserving of your time and energy. Because I bought this book several months back, and I still find something new each and every time I reread it.
Boy, if there’s a Word of the Month that fits us itis this:
gallimaufry (n.)“a medley, hash, hodge-podge,” 1550s, from French galimafrée “hash, ragout, dish made of odds and ends,” from Old French galimafree, calimafree “sauce made of mustard, ginger, and vinegar; a stew of carp” (14th C.), which is of unknown origin. Perhaps from Old French galer “to make merry, live well” (see gallant) + Old North French mafrer “to eat much,” from Middle Dutch maffelen [Klein]. Weekley sees in the second element the proper name Maufré. Hence, figuratively, “any inconsistent or absurd medley.” (etymonline)
absurd (n): “plainly illogical,” 1550s, from French absurde (16th C.), from Latin absurdus “out of tune, discordant;” figuratively “incongruous, foolish, silly, senseless,” from ab– “off, away from,” here perhaps an intensive prefix, + surdus “dull, deaf, mute,” which is possibly from an imitative PIE root meaning “to buzz, whisper” (see susurration). Thus the basic sense is perhaps “out of tune,” but de Vaan writes, “Since ‘deaf’ often has two semantic sides, viz. ‘who cannot hear’ and ‘who is not heard,’ ab-surdus can be explained as ‘which is unheard of’ …” The modern English sense is the Latin figurative one, perhaps “out of harmony with reason or propriety.” Related: Absurdly; absurdness. (etymonline)
paradox (n): From t he 1530s, “a statement contrary to common belief or expectation,” from French paradoxe (14th C.) and directly from Latin paradoxum “paradox, statement seemingly absurd yet really true,” from Greek paradoxon “incredible statement or opinion,” noun use of neuter of adjective paradoxos “contrary to expectation, incredible,” from para- “contrary to” (see para- (1)) + doxa “opinion,” from dokein “to appear, seem, think” (from PIE root *dek- “to take, accept”).
Originally with notions of “absurd, fantastic.” Meaning “statement that is seemingly self-contradictory yet not illogical or obviously untrue” is from 1560s. Specifically in logic, “a statement or proposition from an acceptable premise and following sound reasoning that yet leads to an illogical conclusion,” by 1903. (etymonline)
preposterous (adj.): 1540s, “contrary to nature, reason, or common sense,” from Latin praeposterus “absurd, contrary to nature, inverted, perverted, in reverse order,” literally “before-behind” (compare topsy-turvy,cart before the horse), from prae “before” (see pre-) + posterus “subsequent, coming after,” from post “after” (see post-).
The sense gradually shaded into “foolish, ridiculous, stupid, absurd.” The literal meaning “reversed in order or arrangement, having that last which ought to be first” (1550s) is now obsolete in English. In 17th C. English also had a verb preposterate “to make preposterous, pervert, invert.” (etymonline)
canard (n.): An “absurd or fabricated story intended as an imposition,” 1851, perhaps 1843, from French canard “a hoax,” literally “a duck” (from Old French quanart, probably echoic of a duck’s quack); said by Littré to be from the phrase vendre un canard à moitié “to half-sell a duck,” thus, perhaps from some long-forgotten joke, “to cheat.” But also compare quack (n.1). (etymonline)
Until I cracked the spine of Mango, Mambo, and Murder – I hadn’t realized how very long it’s been since I’ve started a new series. Or, in fact, a series that didn’t feature a mystery writer, bookshop owner, or librarian as the sleuth. So why you ask, are these careers important? Reading about true or fictional crime does generally give bookish detectives a leg up in their investigations.
However, in Mango, Mambo, and Murder, our investigator is Dr. Miriam Quinones-Smith, a Food Anthropologist, mother of one, and the newest resident of Coral Shores, Miami. All outstanding life achievements – but not ones that prepared her for investigating a murder. However, this is precisely what Miriam needs to do when her best friend Alma is accused of murder.
And she makes mistakes. Lots of mistakes. Because she’s quite literally an amateur sleuth trying to solve her first case – the first one I’ve read in a very long time.
She did a good job.
However, the cream of the first book in A Caribbean Kitchen Mystery series is how Reyes (our author) seamlessly works food into her mystery. The dishes Miriam cooks add layers and nuance to the book without detracting from the unfolding story because food is the cornerstone upon which Mirium’s life is built, therefore making it a cornerstone of the book.
But it’s still very much a mystery…with delicious sounding Cuban food on the side.
The one and only criticism I have for the Mango, Mambo, and Murder is that the very last chapter is just a hair overly sweet. But as it is a first novel – which gives a slightly unusual but satisfying wrap -up the murder mystery – I can forgive this very small foible.
Overall, I would recommend this mystery to anyone who enjoys reading cozy mysteries, culinary mysteries, and/or culturally diverse mysteries. Raquel V. Reyes did a great job creating a new exciting character, who I am looking forward to meeting again.
(BTW – Thanks to JB who emailed me about this great book!)
Craig Johnson’s new Longmire, Daughter of the Morning Star is a puzzler. I don’t mean that due to it’s mystery and crime and whodunnit elements. I mean it from the point of view of “where is this going”?
Walt spends the book up in Montana, helping the locals search for a missing Indian woman. The issue of missing and murdered Indigenous women is a real and frightening problem but Walt is the sheriff of the largest county in WY, he doesn’t have a huge staff (is the Powder River annex still manned? Was it rebuilt after it was torched? Has his Basque deputy been replaced?) Who’s running the place? While the hunt for the missing girl is the plot, the story is more about Walt’s continued brush with Native American spirituality, what it means to him, how he deals with it – or not – and how the Spirits deal with Walt. There are a number of Mallo wrappers in the story and if you’ve been reading the books you understand their significance.
There’s a lot of basketball, not enough Vic, and the oddity of Dog shying away from Walt after a Spirit encounter but then everything is normal between them with no explanation.
Felt, again, like a bridge book – taking the series somewhere but not going very fast. Still, anytime with Walt and Henry is time well spent.
After becoming frustrated with the commercials during BBC’s airing of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, I turned off the TV and started re-reading the book. It has to be at least 20 years since I first read it. I was struck – again – by how well crafted it is as a mystery/thriller/crime novel, how assured it was as a first time work of fiction, and how serious Stieg Larsson was about addressing the violence done to women. Re-read all three. Great trilogy!
ATTENTION MUST BE PAID: From the introduction to Craig’s new Longmire:
“The plight of missing an murdered indigenous women is so great that I had to reassure my publisher that the statistics contained in this novel are accurate. The numbers are staggering, and they speak for themselves. What if I were to tell you that that the chances of a Native woman being murdered is ten times the national average, or that murder is the third leading cause of death for indigenous women? What if I told you that four out of five Native women have experienced societal violence, with having experienced sexual violence as well. Half of Native women have been stalked in their lifetime, and they are two times as likely to experience violence and rape than their Anglo counterparts. Heartbreakingly, the majority of these Native women’s murders are by non-Natives on Native owned land.
“The violence is being addressed, but there is so much more to do. Jurisdictional issues and a lack of communication among agencies make the investigative process difficult. Underreporting, racial misclassification, and underwhelming media coverage [emphasis from us] minimize the incredible damage that is being done to the Native communities as a whole.
rougarou (n.): “Rougarou” represents a variant pronunciation and spelling of the original French loup-garou. According to Barry Jean Ancelet, an academic expert on Cajunfolklore and professor at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette in America, the tale of the rougarou is a common legend across French Louisiana. Both words are used interchangeably in southern Louisiana. Some people call the monster rougarou; others refer to it as the loup-garou. The rougarou legend has been spread for many generations, either directly from French settlers to Louisiana (New France) or via the French Canadian immigrants centuries ago. In the Cajun legends, the creature is said to prowl the swamps around Acadiana and Greater New Orleans, and the sugar cane fields and woodlands of the regions. The rougarou most often is described as a creature with a human body and the head of a wolf or dog, similar to the werewolf legend. (wikipedia)
soucouyant (n.): The soucouyant is a shapeshifting Caribbean folklore character who appears as a reclusive old woman by day. By night, she strips off her wrinkled skin and puts it in a mortar. In her true form, as a fireball she flies across the dark sky in search of a victim. The soucouyant can enter the home of her victim through any sized hole like cracks, crevices and keyholes. Soucouyants suck people’s blood from their arms, legs and soft parts while they sleep leaving blue-black marks on the body in the morning. If the soucouyant draws too much blood, it is believed that the victim will either die and become a soucouyant or perish entirely, leaving her killer to assume her skin. The soucouyant practices black magic. Soucouyants trade their victims’ blood for evil powers with Bazil, the demon who resides in the silk cotton tree. To expose a soucouyant, one should heap rice around the house or at the village cross roads as the creature will be obligated to gather every grain, grain by grain (a herculean task to do before dawn) so that she can be caught in the act. To destroy her, coarse salt must be placed in the mortar containing her skin so she perishes, unable to put the skin back on. Belief in soucouyants is still preserved to an extent in Guyana, Suriname and some Caribbean islands, including Dominica, Haiti and Trinidad. The skin of the soucouyant is considered valuable, and is used when practicing black magic. Many Caribbean islands have plays about the Soucouyant and many other folklore characters. Some of these include Trinidad Grenada and Barbados. Soucouyants belong to a class of spirits called jumbies. Some believe that soucouyants were brought to the Caribbean from European countries in the form of French vampire-myths. These beliefs intermingled with those of enslaved Africans. (wikipedia)
manananggal (n.) The manananggal is described as scary, often hideous, usually depicted as female, and always capable of severing its upper torso and sprouting huge bat-like wings to fly into the night in search of its victims. The word manananggal comes from the Tagalog word tanggal, which means “to remove” or “to separate”, which literally translates as “remover” or “separator”. In this case, “one who separates itself”. The name also originates from an expression used for a severed torso. The manananggal is said to favor preying on sleeping, pregnant women, using an elongated proboscis-like tongue to suck the hearts of fetuses, or the blood of someone who is sleeping. It also haunts newlyweds or couples in love. Due to being left at the altar, grooms-to-be are one of its main targets.The severed lower torso is left standing, and is the more vulnerable of the two halves. Sprinkling salt, smearing crushed garlic or ash on top of the standing torso is fatal to the creature. The upper torso then would not be able to rejoin itself and would perish by sunrise. The myth of the manananggal is popular in the Visayan regions of the Philippines, especially in the western provinces of Capiz, Iloilo, Bohol and Antique. There are varying accounts of the features of a manananggal. Like vampires, Visayan folklore creatures, and aswangs, manananggals are also said to abhor garlic, salt and holy water. They were also known to avoid daggers, light, vinegar, spices and the tail of a stingray, which can be fashioned as a whip. Folklore of similar creatures can be found in the neighbouring nations of Indonesia and Malaysia. The province of Capiz is the subject or focus of many manananggal stories, as with the stories of other types of mythical creatures, such as ghosts, goblins, ghouls generically referred to as aswangs. Sightings are purported here, and certain local folk are said to believe in their existence despite modernization. The manananggal shares some features with the vampire of Balkan folklore, such as its dislike of garlic, salt, and vulnerability to sunlight. (wikipedia)
Chonchon (n.) The Chonchon is the magical transformation of a kalku (Mapuche sorcerer). It is said only the most powerful kalkus can aspire to master the secret of becoming this feared creature. The kalku or sorcerer would carry out the transformation into a Chonchon by an act of will and being anointed by a magical cream in the throat that eases the removal of the head from the rest of the body, with the removed head then becoming the creature. The Chonchon has the shape of a human head with feathers and talons; its ears, which are extremely large, serve as wings for its flight on moonless nights. Chonchons are supposed to be endowed with all the magic powers of, and can only be seen by, other kalkus, or by wizards that want this power. Sorcerers take the form of the chonchon to better carry out their wicked activities, and the transformation would provide them with other abilities, such as drinking the blood of ill or sleeping people. Although the fearsome appearance of a chonchon would be invisible to the uninitiated, they would still be able to hear its characteristic cry of “tue tue tue”, which is considered to be an extremely ill omen, usually predicting the death of a loved one. (wikipedia)
Your Guide to Not Getting Murdered in a Quaint English Village is exactly what it claims to be – a guide. Elucidating all the things a tourist needs to know about a quiet English village in order to navigate it and the inevitable undercurrents successfully (i.e. not get murdered).
Its’ also one of the funniest books I’ve ever read.
Aimed at the lovers of classic manor house and/or English village mysteries (think the Queens of Crime, Georgette Heyer, Francis Duncan, Patricia Wentworth) it takes the stock characters, architecture, and events found within those pages and gives them an irreverent, rib-tickling, and on the nose descriptions.
There’s even a quiz at the end to test your prowess.
I died twice…on the same page.
What I love even more – is how many of the people, places, and things Johnson describes in Your Guide to Not Getting Murdered that I recognize either from reading them or from watching tv shows like Father Brown, Death In Paradise, and Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries.
I would recommend this book to anyone who loves classic mysteries and has a very good sense of humor – Your Guide to Not Getting Murdered will not let you down!
This is not a political post, but the book I’m talking about has its roots in politics, specifically the 2016 election. When the results were tallied, many people were upset, and out of that visceral reaction a new publishing house was born, Nasty Woman Press, the Creative Resistance.
Spearheaded by the glorious Kelli Stanley, Nasty Woman Press, a 501(c)(4) non-profit, decided to use literary creativity to bring awareness and aid to those who are struggling. To quote Kelli, “Our plan is to publish anthologies of captivating fiction and thought-provoking non-fiction, each built around a general theme – the theme itself tying in to the non-profit for which the book is raising money.”
That’s right. The profits from the sale of each book go to a cause. In the case of the the debut anthology, Shattering Glass, the theme is empowered women, and the profits go to Planned Parenthood.
Now, I know that a lot of you don’t like short stories, but here’s where you trust me. The fiction is amazing, and not all the authors are female. Anyone who says that men can’t write accurately about women needs to read some of these stories. Men can and do understand women, and know how to write them as believable characters.
But it’s not just the stories. One of the essays, written by Jacqueline Winspear about women firefighters, has stayed with me since I read it, and even as I type this, California is on fire, and I want to sit down with Jackie over a pot of tea and listen to her, because she knows her stuff.
The opening essay by Valerie Plame – yes, THAT Valerie Plame, outed CIA spy turned politician and novelist – is definitely thought provoking and erudite. I’ve read it a couple of times now.
But in the end, you’re going to love this anthology and come back to it. Parts of it will leave you aching, sometimes you’ll be so pissed you want to throw things, and at other times, you’re going to laugh out loud at the audacity. You will not remain unmoved. And that’s because these people can Write.
Who, you might ask? Well, I don’t want to spoil surprises, but if you like the writing of people like Cara Black, Catriona McPherson, Anne Lamott, Joe Clifford, Senator Barbara Boxer, Jess Lourey, and Seanan McGuire, you’re in for a treat.
Pickup up a copy of Scott Turow’s The Last Trial. It’s one of those many books by favorite authors that I missed after the shop closed. It’s all that you’d expect from Turow – no one else plots such stunning and sinuous legal thrillers. But the wonderful part of the book, for me, was spending time with defense attorney Sandy Stern. While the lawyer is described differently, it’s impossible for me to not picture and hear Raul Julia as him, and since it is likely to be the last book with Stern and Julia’s sadly dead, it was so nice to be in their company one last time.
There are words authors use that are too fancy for the stories they’re telling. In a way, it’s showy. It’s proving you have a large vocabulary. “Verdant” is one. It is almost always out of place. And, please – PLEASE – can we retire “plethora”!
But, having blurted that out of my head, I am here to HIGHLY RECOMMENDBlacktop Wasteland by S.A. Cosby. A new book is out now in hardcover. It’s getting high praise. I thought I’d go back and start with his first and – man – the guy can not only write beautifully but plot a tight, thrilling story.
“That was the things about his mother. She could be emotionally manipulative one minute then making you laugh the next. It was like getting hit in the face with a pie that had a padlock in it.”
Beau is a young guy whose stuck in a thicket of bills – mortgage on his garage, his dying mother’s healthcare is a mess, his youngest daughter needs money for starting college. He’s turned his back on his past livelihood – get-away-driver. His father was a noted driver and Beau doesn’t want to follow that path. “But when it came to handling his responsibilities we both know Anthony Montage was about a useful as a white crayon, don’t we?”
But the bills are demanding and off we roar into a series of sharp turns and dead ends that threaten everything he cherishes. Danger is his passenger and worse follows. “Reggie jumped like a demon had spoken to him.”
This is great noir, a great crime novel. I believe it is a stand-alone. I don’t think his books are connected. And I look forward to reading more. Cosby writes with a fluid, memorable style. How can you not want to read an author who comes up with a line like this: “She was wearing a tank top and shorts so tight they would become a thong is she sneezed.”
But it’ll have to wait ’til I finish the new Longmire.
The new James Ellroy, Widespread Panic, is everything you’d expect from an Ellroy book – literately lurid, speedily sleazy, and full of film faces. The narrator is real-life reprobate Fred Otash, a former cop, LA fixer, and all-around asshole. He’s into everything, everyone and everywhere. The book takes the form or a sort of memoir, a look back on a set of years in the 1950s. Naughty and nefarious nostalgia.
As with any Ellroy, when finishes, it is difficult to remember if there were any good people in the story. As with any Ellroy, the story is stocked with actual people. How does he get away with it without being sued out of his bowtie? Elizabeth Taylor in a three-way romp? James Dean, Nick Adams, Nicholas Ray and many others as reprehensible souls involved in rampant raids, reprobates riding roughshod over rights! None are alive now, but….
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.
Finally, it will come as no secret that we are no fans of Amazon. In fact, for years we’ve referred to them as SPECTRE due to what we feel is their nefarious practices. Now, with the news that Amazon is in talks to buy MGM for $9Billion, the circle comes around. MGM is the owner of the James Bond movies. If Amazon does buy the entertainment behemoth, SPECTRE will own SPECTRE…
If our counting is right, there were 52 mass shootings in April, 2021. In May – and the month isn’t over as this is typed – there have been 65, more than 2 a day. If it feels as if they’re happening all the time it is because they are.
Ever wonder what Winnie-the-Pooh would do if he found himself embroiled in a mystery? I believe H.F. Heard inadvertently gave us the answer in a Taste For Honey.
Admittedly, H.F. Heard didn’t intend to write an A.A. Milne pastiche. Heard intended A Taste For Honey to enter the Sherlockian canon of works. The driving force within the novel is a mysterious beekeeper who owns a surprising amount of knowledge in a diverse number of fields. And I concede Mr. Mycroft and his bees are intriguing.
HELPFUL HINT if you decide to pick up this title… If you know nothing about this book other than this review and the blurb on the back, I advise you NOT TO READ Otto Penzler’s introduction.
Until after you’ve finished the book.
Unfortunately, within those roman numeral pages, Mr. Penzler unintentionally spoils the biggest mystery in the book and its’ ending by making one fundamental assumption – the reader already knows how A Taste For Honey wraps up. Granted, it’s a reasonable assumption – as A Taste For Honey‘s original publication date was eighty years ago (1941) and is apparently well known in Sherlockian circles. However, if, like me, you’d never heard of this book prior to picking it up – take my advice read the introduction last.
In any case, back to Sydney Silchester – the reluctant companion pressed into service by Mr. Mycroft – who reminded me of that famous yellow bear.
Not only because his singular love of honey put him in the path of both a murderer and a detective. But because of his love of long walks, nature, his own company, and his overall reluctance to get involved with other people. And really, Sydney is a man of very little brains who (if it weren’t for Mr. Mycroft) would’ve become the villain’s second victim.
Undoubtedly, Heard didn’t intend for me to liken his narrator to Edward Bear. However, once it dawned on me, I couldn’t shake the notion! It added an extra layer of humor to an already excellent mystery I’d happily recommend to anyone who enjoys British and/or Sherlockian-style mystery.
(BTW – I’ve no evidence that even hints that Heard intended to mash together Winnie-the-Pooh and Sherlockiana. Though chronologically speaking, Pooh appeared in print (1926) well before A Taste For Honey was written. Additionally, Milne did pen a well-received locked-room mystery in 1922, The Red House Mystery – thereby getting on the radar of mystery readers and writers….so it’s possible, though not probable…right?)
Of course I want you to read the latest Joshilyn Jackson novel. I want you to read ALL of her work, so it’s no surprise that I want you to read this one, and the core reasons are just as compelling.
Can she create complex and believable characters? If anything, they only get better.
Can she tell an amazing and gripping story? Oh my goodness yes, and again, they just get better.
Will you find something to relate to? That’s her special gift.
Bree Cabbat was not raised in wealth. Her single mom firmly believed that the world was dangerous and a deeply scary place. However, Bree has found comfort and happiness in her marriage to Trey, and their two daughters are beautiful and headstrong and as challenging as pre-teens can be. Right now, though, Bree’s six-month-old baby, Robert, is the center of her world.
She figures she imagined the woman looking into her window, but is disturbed when that same strange lady appears in a parking lot, watching her.
And then Robert vanishes. It only takes the turn of a head, a few precious seconds, and Bree’s baby is gone. But Robert hasn’t been taken by some woman who longs for a child. No, Robert is being held hostage, not for money but for Bree to complete one simple task, along with her silence.
Here’s where my foggy brain caught up to my history of reading Joshilyn Jackson’s books. She tells one helluva tale, that’s indisputable. But what I hadn’t realized until Mother May Iis that she shines a powerful spotlight on social issues. The thing is, she does it in such a personal way that it’s easy to overlook how compelling and clever she is because you’re caught up in the sweep of the story.
If you need to have an issue addressed, look at one of Joshilyn Jackson’s books. From racism to privilege to domestic violence to dysfunctional families, she’s got it covered, and in a way that makes it personal but never preachy. She’s brilliant.
So yes, read Mother May I, and anything else by Joshilyn Jackson that you can get your hands on. Do it now.
“It was common for Negro Leaguers – especially those reared in the Southern states – to cherish the unfettered citizenship that Mexico offered them. Its perks were famously articulated by [Willie] Wells, the Devil himself (fondly regarded across the Spanish-speaking nation as El Diablo, which is inscribed on his Texas tombstone), who observed to Wendell Smith of the Pittsburgh Courier that ‘we live in the best hotels, eat in the best restaurants, and can go anyplace we care to. We don’t enjoy such privileges in the United States. We have everything first-class, plus the fact that the people here are much more considerate than the American baseball fan.’ … Monte Irvin, the future Hall of Famer, played only one season in Mexico before he was called away to World War II, but that season made a profound impression. ‘It was the first time in my life that I felt free.’” Irvin was 23 when drafted.
While it was way past time last year for Major League Baseball to incorporate the records of Negro League players into the statistics of those there were not allowed to play with, Lonnie Wheeler‘s new biography of the man reported by all who saw him play – black and white – to have been the fasted man who ever played baseball, points out the problems doing that .
“‘That Cool Papa Bell,’ recalled [Art] Pennington, speaking to Brent Kelley in Voices from the Negro Leagues, ‘I thought I could outrun him. I was young (Bell’s junior by twenty-one years), and Taylor would have us get out and run the hundred-yard dash. We would run, but all at once Cool Papa would walk on by me. And I thought I could fly in those days.'”
Black baseball was never covered with the specificity of white ball. The white papers rarely covered Negro League games and no papers devoted time or space to reliable box scores. Reconstructing Bell’s or any other player’s stats is a fruitless pursuit. So by not being allowed into the Major Leagues, their abilities were not documented as the white players had been, so it is now impossible to do side-by-side comparisons. They were robbed of playing time and then robbed of the proof that baseball uses to measure a player. Wheeler’s title points to this: The Bona Fide Legend of Cool Papa Bell. There are some newspaper stories, the recorded testaments of his contemporaries, and still pictures, but no film of him flying around the bases. Bell scoring from first on a simple base hit was not odd, nor was stealing his was around the diamond. It is a crime that blackball was treated so poorly, but it isn’t a surprise.
Besides the racist cruelty and hatred they had to withstand, they were also relegated to inferior ballparks (one section of the book relates how one ballpark had tracks running through the outfield and play would be suspended for the trains to pass), uncomfortable travel means, and the indignity of outplaying white players in the off season but not being allowed to outplay them in the regular season. And nothing about this is different from what jazz musicians or any other black person confronted then – or now. But through it all, by all accounts, Bell kept his dignity, kept his attire fine, and was a roll model for all who came in contact with him. He loved the game and was not shy or reluctant to freely give pointers to anyone, whether it was on base running or drag bunting. As Wheeler points out as well, when the major leagues were finally ready to accept black players, those who were too old to be brought “up” worked to ensure the younger players’ statistics were stellar. These veteran players held themselves back while playing so as to highlight the younger players stats, and ensure they’d be taken by the white teams. Stylish and selfless that was Bell.
Wheeler’s book is a lively story, told with spirit and no small amount of sadness for what might have been had the black ball players been allowed to play in the major leagues, had their accomplishments been recorded objectively, had America not been so mean and foolish. But then, that’s the story of American, a lively tale mixed with sadness for how great it should’ve been and what was missed. It’s a great baseball book and an honest American tale.
[and this brings us to our last word twister: in baseball, the foul pole is fair…]
eggcorn (n.) “an idiosyncratic substitution of a word or phrase for a word or words that sound similar or identical in the speaker’s dialect. The new phrase introduces a meaning that is different from the original but plausible in the same context… eggcorns are sometimes also referred to ‘oronyms’… The term eggcorn, as used to refer to this kind of substitution, was coined by professor of linguistics Geoffrey Pullum in September 2003 in response to an article by Mark Liberman on the website Language Log, a group blog for linguists. Liberman discussed the case of a woman who substitutes the phrase egg corn for the word acorn, and he argued that the precise phenomenon lacked a name. Pullum suggested using eggcorn itself as a label… An eggcorn is similar to, but differs from, folk etymology, malapropism, mondegreens or puns.” (Wikipedia)
What We’ve Been Up To
Do you need a new addiction? I’m sure you do. On the upside, this habit’s less problematic than Sherlock’s 7% solution. However, it isn’t without cost.
A subscription box that sends you a mystery to solve every month!
So far, I’ve unmasked a stalker, solved a decades-old cold case, foiled a kidnaper, resolved an art heist, and unraveled several murders in Valley Falls. (The small town where these cases are set. You work for a P.I. firm that takes on all kinds of clients.)
One of the best things about each Deadbolt Mystery Society box, beyond the variety of crimes, is the wildly different types of evidence they supply, kinds of puzzles to solve, and suspects/witnesses/victims you meet.
The puzzles of which I write are sometimes sneaky, always challenging, and require a vast array of skills to solve. One time I created a comprehensive timeline in order to cross-reference events against alibis—another time, I widdled down a massive list of addresses to locate a suspect’s abode and played a board game. On top of the logic & math problems, pictograms, cryptograms…The Deadbolt Mystery Society uses such a wide assortment of puzzles across all their boxes; it keeps them from becoming predictable and your wits sharp!
If you haven’t guessed – I’m a fan.
They remind me vaguely of online hidden-object games like the Enigmatis series (I loved them), Yuletide Legends (an excellent holiday-themed game), or Dreamwalker (another I enjoyed playing). In so far as, no matter how urgent your case, you need to solve each and every puzzle provided to move closer to the penultimate solution.
However, unlike the hidden-object games, which use short animated clips to move the story along – Deadbolt Mystery Society employs QR codes.
More often than not, these QR codes send you to password-protected web pages, which require you to input the solution from one of the aforementioned puzzles in order to obtain the next clue! Keeping the investigator honest – as you can’t just guess the answers – you need to know them.
But once you surmount each hurtle, you are rewarded with a witness statement, diary entries, cryptic phone messages, eerie songs…the list goes on, and you never know what you’re going to uncover next – which is great fun!
(BTW – you need either a smartphone or tablet with a camera to solve each case. Otherwise, you’re dead in the water.)
Deadbolt Mystery Society says each case takes anywhere between 2-6 hours to solve, depending on your skill level and the number of people working together. I take my time and usually solve them in a week or two – depending on how much free time I can carve out (unlike books – I don’t rush thru these). I would recommend these for adults or teens working in tandem with an adult, as most of the puzzles are pretty tricky (by design).
Not sure you’re ready to sign up? The Deadbolt Mystery Society also sells individual boxes – if you want to try it out before committing to a subscription!
FYI: While the web pages, photos, and packets don’t explicitly show any gore, the scenarios themselves can have a high body count (this last month featured a serial killer) together with the puzzle difficulty level… I’m not sure I’d be comfortable gifting a subscription to any of my nieces or nephews under fifteen or sixteen.
A Walk on the Dark Side
I haven’t been reading a lot of noir lately, because things are noir enough in real life, even though I have puppies to help liven things up. Oh, and they do!
But as I was unpacking books, I ran into Lono Waiwaiole’s “Wiley” series. Well, the first two anyway. I haven’t unearthed the third one yet. The thing is, I have them, but I never read them. I like Lono as a person, JB and Bill raved about the books, so I knew I’d like them. I just never got around to it.
I just finished Wiley’s Lament. WHY DID I NOT READ THIS EARLIER? Holy cats.
Wiley is just kinda drifting through life. He’s living in a house owned by his old buddy, Leon, and he gambles to pay the rent. When he comes up short, Wiley leaves his home environs of Portland, OR, and wanders up to Seattle, where he robs drug dealers. He has nothing to lose, as far as he’s concerned.
“When I lose, I go to Seattle and find a drug dealer to rip off.”
“Isn’t that dangerous?”
“I like the symmetry of it. Either I get the money, or it blows up in my face and I don’t need any money.”
“It sounds like you don’t really care which one it is.”
“I don’t,” I said. “That’s the key to the whole thing.”
But when Wiley’s estranged daughter is murdered, his interest in things comes sharply into focus. He blames his buddy, Leon, for Lizzie’s death, but it turns out things are much, much more complicated than what Wiley initially thought, and that drive to find out just what happened puts both Wiley and Leon on a dark and dangerous path.
Lono Waiwaiole‘s writing is dark, visceral, and deeply, profoundly human. Wiley and Leon and their associates are not the guys in white hats. They’re flawed and emotionally scarred, and it takes some looking to see the solid and faithful hearts beating underneath. But it’s there, and you care. Deeply.
And of all the characters I wish I could be, among a whole lot of wonderful and memorable people, I want to be Elmer. He’s a total delight to me. Granted, I want to be faster. Maybe I just want his wisdom.
I’m so sorry I took this long to read Wiley’s Lament, and I’ve got Wiley’s Shuffleclose to hand. If you haven’t read them, now is a good time.
Mike Lawson’s books have an subtle thrum to them, a smooth motion that seems to me to hum. They are the finest example of thrillers as, once they start, they don’t slow down. And though DeMarco is a classic reluctant hero, he never fails to see the case finished, even if he has to cut corners.
House Standoffis a departure for Lawson, this time playing with the strict rules of a whodunnit. Someone close to DeMarco has been murdered in a distant setting, and he’s not going to rest, as he warns the people he bangs into, until he finds out who pulled the trigger. Mike provides a number of suspects and seeds the stories with red herrings. The book works like a Manor House mystery, set in a small town in the Far West. And then he has the audacity of upend the rules. It is a stunning piece of work.
He buffaloed me. I was sure I’d fingered the killer, but …
There are many series I have re-read many times. I think it is time to start the DeMarcos at the beginning. Sounds like as much fun as can be had between the covers of a paperback. Keep me occupied til he next new Lawson book.
MASK OF SANITY – Ted Bundy, Charles Manson, John Wayne Gacy—these serial killers were famous not only for their crimes, but their deceptively charming dispositions. This is what crime experts refer to as the Mask of Sanity. Coined by psychiatrist Hervey M. Cleckley in his 1941 book, this describes the phenomena of psychopaths easily blending in with their peers because they don’t typically suffer from more noticeable mental symptoms like hallucinations and delusions.
While working the shelves of Seattle Mystery Bookshop, several series caused me no end of dismay when trying to space them out, so they looked pretty for you all!
Agatha Christie often clogged the classics section with the sheer variety of sizes publishers used to reprint her mysteries. Earle Stanley Gardner also had his moments of causing classic section consternation due to the sheer volume of books he wrote – 82 in the Perry Mason series alone!
M.C. Beaton and Alexander McCall Smith (in the general mysteries) eventually got their own sections due to the ever-expanding series.
However, there’s one writer who often lead me to tear my hair out – J.D. Robb.
Due to Robb’s overwhelming popularity, we needed to keep the majority of the In Death Series on hand at all times. Meaning? When Robb released a new book or we received a batch of used mysteries…We often needed to move entire rows & sections of books around, so Eve and her cohorts didn’t scrunch, encroach, or simply dominate the neighboring authors!
Now that Robb’s hit book number 51 in her In Death series, I shudder to think how we’d struggle to fit her prodigious output on the shelves!
Speaking of book 51, Shadows in Death…Robb delivers yet another page-turning, read-late-into-the-night thriller you can devour in a single (long) sitting. One that will leave Eve & Roarke fans with a pleasant taste in their mouths; as we learn more about Roarke’s past, watch Eve work with her team and visit Ireland!
Feeney had stars in his eyes.
Perhaps, just perhaps, the mystery’s culmination teetered on the edge of sensationalism. But really, it only ever teetered, but Robb never actually jumped the shark, so we’re still fine!
Did you know the Western tradition of a bride wearing white didn’t come about until Queen Victoria wore a white dress to her wedding in 1840? The trend soon caught on amongst the elite across Europe as it became a symbol, not of the bride’s ‘purity’ but her family’s wealth. (i.e., they could afford to purchase an easily ruined dress.) Prior to this point, brides wore all kinds of colors – red being a particular favorite.
It wasn’t until prosperity hit the middle classes after WWII, helped along by the silver screen, that white wedding gowns became commonplace across the US and Europe.
In 1981 the tradition received a significant boost when soon-to-be Princess Diana walked down the aisle in a stunning ivory dress which sported 10,000 pearls, a 25 ft train, and a 153-yard tulle veil. As one-in-six people around the entire world watched the wedding – her gown inspired generations of brides.
Beyond the fact, it undoubtedly took some serious spine and determination to pull the weight of the dress down the aisle. The train and veil caused one wedding day hiccup. The designers failed to consider the size of the glass coach Princess Diana would ride in to St. Paul’s Cathedral. So, despite the bride’s best efforts, the dress became badly wrinkled on the ride over.
I know a few wrinkles in a dress doesn’t sound like a huge deal, but I know from experience, trying to create a perfect day – something like this can easily spin one out.
Fortunately, or unfortunately depending on your view, Lindsey Norris doesn’t need to wait until the big day for something to go wrong! Not only did the guest list accidentally triple overnight – she and Sully find their officiant washed up on the beach of their wedding venue…dead!
So it’s a race against time as Lindsey & Sully work to solve a friend’s murder, find a new officiant, and expand their wedding venue – all before the big day!
I thoroughly enjoyed reading One For The Books.
The murder and the practicalities behind throwing a wedding provide an excellent counterpoint to well – the wedding. An event, which handled by a less deft mystery author, can edge towards the overly sweet – a trap McKinlay, thankfully, never falls into!
In addition, the possible motives of our cast of suspects are, for lack of a better word – intriguing. As no one, not even our victim, is innocent. It’s this tangled set of relationships, ones that neither Lindsey nor Sully ever suspected, and their revelations that make this mystery.
Then there’s The Lemon, Ms. Cole, who since announcing her aim to become Briar Creek’s next mayor – is endeavoring to loosen up and smile more….neither of which is precisely in her wheelhouse – thus adding an extra layer of sharp mirth to an already engaging read.
All in all, One For The Books was a fun, fast-paced, and diverting book I would recommend to anyone looking for a biblio-mystery or a fun way to escape an afternoon or two!
This last week we’ve met Squiddy, The Brownie Stealing Bench and Phoebe’s Silver City Operative!
One of the questions we routinely got at the bookshop was, “Have you read every book here?” It was generally accompanied with a laugh, although sometimes it was a serious question.
We always grinned and responded that there was no way to read all of them, and that we all had areas of specialty. The fact is, of course, that not only could we not have read all 10,000+ titles, but we honestly had so many new titles coming in every week, we didn’t even pretend to try.
That didn’t mean we couldn’t sell books we hadn’t read. A good working knowledge of the standards and classics worked well, and the quality of writing helped several series sell themselves.
That’s why I was pleased to finally get around to reading my first book by Charles Todd. I prefer to start at the beginning of a series, and I should have begun with A Test of Wills, but it turns out that I had an Advance Reader Copy of The Red Door, so that’s what I read.
It was obvious there were ongoing things I would have gotten had I started at the beginning, and I will enjoy filling in the backstory, but the delight of Charles Todd is that each story stands by itself. So I got to meet Ian Rutledge and his internal companion, Hamish, and I’m thoroughly hooked.
The Red Doorhas two inquiries, one concerning a street thief who attacked Rutledge on a bridge, and escapes. However the thief, known as Billy, becomes more aggressive, and it’s up to Rutledge to stop him.
But a missing person case takes precedence, since the Talley family is very important, and finding Walter Talley is deemed to be of utmost importance. Rutledge is given the assignment to find Talley, and to keep news of his disappearance out of the press, to protect the family’s privacy. What Rutledge finds in his investigation will leave death and sorrow as secrets are revealed.
The combined talents that comprise Charles Todd are wonderful, and I am looking forward to reading them all. The depth of understanding they bring to our shell-shocked hero steeped in the times and turmoil of Great Britain in the wake of the Great War makes this book, and I can only assume all the rest, absolutely compelling.
Have we read them all? Not even hardly, but it’s great to start in on some of the ones I know I missed!
foe (n): Old English gefea, gefa“foe, enemy, adversary in a blood feud” (the prefix denotes “mutuality”), from adjective fah “at feud, hostile,” also “guilty, criminal,” from Proto-Germanic *faihaz (source also of Old High German fehan “to hate,” Gothic faih “deception”), perhaps from the same Proto-Indo-European source that yielded Sanskrit pisunah “malicious,” picacah “demon;” Lithuanian piktas “wicked, angry,” peikti “to blame.” Weaker sense of “adversary” is first recorded c. 1600. (etymonline.com)
zombie (n.) From 1871, of West African origin (compare Kikongo zumbi “fetish;” Kimbundu nzambi “god”), originally the name of a snake god, later with meaning “reanimated corpse” in voodoo cult. But perhaps also from Louisiana creole word meaning “phantom, ghost,” from Spanish sombra “shade, ghost.” Sense “slow-witted person” is recorded from 1936. (thanks to etymonline)
bellicose (adj.) from the early 15th C., “inclined to fighting,” from Latin bellicosus“warlike, valorous, given to fighting,” from bellicus “of war,” from bellum “war” (Old Latin duellum, dvellum), which is of uncertain origin. (thanks to etymonline)
fear (n.) From Middle English fere, from Old English fær “calamity, sudden danger, peril, sudden attack,” from Proto-Germanic *feraz “danger” (source also of Old Saxon far “ambush,” Old Norse far“harm, distress, deception,” Dutch gevaar, German Gefahr “danger”), from PIE *pēr-, a lengthened form of the verbal root *per- (3) “to try, risk.”
Sense of “state of being afraid, uneasiness caused by possible danger” developed by late 12th C. Some Old English words for “fear” as we now use it were fyrhto, fyrhto; as a verb, ondrædan. Meaning “feeling of dread and reverence for God” is from c. 1400. To put the fear of God (into someone) “intimidate, cause to cower” is by 1888, from the common religious phrase; the extended use was often at first in colonial contexts:
“Thus then we seek to pu ‘the fear of God’ into the natives at the point of the bayonet, and excuse ourselves for the bloody work on the plea of the benefits which we intend to confer afterwards.” – Felix Adler, The Religion of Duty, 1950
I’m so sorry about last month. We’re moving from Washington State to New Mexico, which would be hectic at any time, but during COVID has been especially challenging. I can’t even begin to discuss the sheer volume of paperwork!
But my 60 boxes of books are packed, so there’s that. And I unearthed books from my To Be Read pile that honestly I’d forgotten about, which brings me to Kate Morton’s The Clockmaker’s Daughter. It came out in 2018. I may be behind but I’m sincere in my efforts.
The Clockmaker’s Daughter spans time from about 1850 to 2017, with stops along the way. Our narrator is Birdie, also sometimes known as Lily Millington. She’s been around for a very long time. The other person we’re following mostly is Elodie Winslow, in 2017. Obviously their paths intertwine, but it’s how and why that is so fascinating.
Birdie, as Lily, was the model for an up and coming painter in the late 1800’s, Edward Radcliffe. She was and is a highly intelligent and curious and free-spirited young lady, with a shady past. Elodie archives records and memorabilia surrounding a different 1800’s person, James Stratton, as well as dodges her soon-to-be mother-in-law whenever possible.
How these two women’s lives overlap, along with so very many other people, is at the heart of the story, but make no mistake, this is a murder mystery. Frances Brown was murdered at Edward Radcliffe’s house in 1862, and everyone believes they know what happened.
They’re wrong. Almost no one does. And finding out what happened will keep you reading, I promise. Kate Morton is an accomplished author, and she manages the different voices skillfully and deftly. This is an absolutely lush novel, and I think it would be a gorgeous movie, but no film could ever capture the depth, the insights, the myriad layers of personality and history that are encompassed in this book.
As the weather darkens and the year winds down, I really do recommend The Clockmaker’s Daughter as a great fireside read on a blustery day!
While he’s written a ton a great books, I’ve always thought The Poet is Michael Connelly‘s best book. Granted, I’ve not read it in a couple of decades but it has stuck with me as singular – and I plan to re-read it very soon.
So I was excited to learn that his newest book, Fair Warning, brings back reporter Jack McEvoy and eager to read it.
While the plot is, as always, original and interesting, this was a boring read. A dud. (Even the cover is bad – his publisher put a raven on it and there is zero plot connection to the earlier McEvoy novels.) The writing was flat and uninteresting, McEvoy struggles with and inability to make intimate relationships work with women – as most of Connelly’s male characters do – and I finished it just to see how it’d end. I hadn’t read any Connelly books in years and I should’ve kept it that way. A sad comment about a favorite author and nice guy.
On the other hand – – –
“It was rampaging imbecility, and possibly unstoppable.”
“The boy looked up from the canal bank to see what he’d snagged, dialed 911, cut his
line with a knife, and walked away. It was the third dead body he’s found while fishing, but such was the reality of a childhood spent outdoors in Florida. It was a testament to the teen’s passion for angling that he’d never considered getting a new hobby”. Fiction or memory?
Not only is this about the usual insanity of Hiaasen’s Florida home state, it’s the insanity of the current year: covid, the election, the current occupants of the White House, MAGA fans who call themselves the Potussies (because these decadently wealthy women find “POTUS pussies” might risk their cherished places on the social registry), stripper poles in beach cabanas, tanning beds that must be test run, record-length pythons, violent texts about immigrants and howling mobs, and even a certain ex-governor. Oh, and fabulously expensive conch pearls.
“The whole place smelled like the exhaust vent at a Burger King”
The winter White House on Palm Beach island – Hiaasen has dubbed it “Casa Bellicosa” – is the scene of most of the action after Kiki Pew Fitzsimmons vanishes from a fundraiser. Soon we’re into a hunt for her involving the Secret Service, the local chief of police and a young woman who removes creatures from buildings and returns them to the wild. Angie used to be a wildlife agent but was sent to prison for feeding the hand of a poacher to an alligator. The only regret she had was that the poor alligator had to be shot.
Hiaasen does not lower himself to use the actual names of the President and First Lady – he used Secret Service code names of “Mastodon” and “Mockingbird” but he is otherwise scathing in his portrayal of the recognizable Leader of the Free World. As you might imagine. “Up on the TV screen, Mastodon wearing a vast beet-colored golf shirt that hung on his upper frame like an Orkin termite tent. His long-billed cap had been yanked down tight to keep his hairpiece moored to its Velcro moonbase during gusts of wind.”
The First Lady is treated with respect – though he gives her a fondness for a “a specific massage oil – eucalyptus and bacon mint”. She actually comes off as the only sane one in family. She may’ve even found true love!
I frankly didn’t care if the other passengers on the plane looked oddly at me for laughing out loud while consuming the book. How could you not?
A little something different in this months Words of the Month
Hanlon’s Razor: Never attribute to malice what can be explained by stupidity. The sentiment has been attributed to many other minds. (thanks to Says You!, episode 2412)
The shop’s e-mail filter has snagged a number of messages as nefarious. They’re supposedly from US sources and the subject lines say something like “Only The U.S. Presidential Team Will Save United States from Doomsday Ahead” or “The Exceptional Benefits of The United States Presidential Team”. Makes me wonder if these are attempts by “outside actors” to influence the election. Usually, we just get sunglasses brags or Nigerian princes’ pleas in Spanish…
This is probably one of the most fun (only surpassed by the detective’s agency) and detailed builds I’ve finished so far in Lego’s mains street builds. With trees, flowers, a backyard garden and books – what more can you ask for?
Lego categorizes this as an Creator Expert build – so unless you have a kid with large builds under their belt or can follow instructions well – I’d work up to this set.
Charles Leerhsen‘s new biography, Butch Cassidy, was great fun. It’s full of interesting details – Etta’s first name was really Ethel but a typo in the Pinkerton’s file has forever changed that, and Sundance played the guitar well – who knew? I had not heard that Sundance’s mother’s maiden name was Place and that’s likely where Etta/Ethel got it. In fact, it may be we really don’t know her birth name.
I had not heard of the collapse of beef prices during the blizzard called the The Big Die-Up of 1886-87 (a 15-inch snowflake still holds the world record for size from that storm) and that massive affect on the Old West. I had not realized the size of hauls the Wild Bunch got from banks and trains, and, as staggering as those numbers are, it is astonishing how they were always out of money. “You could go broke in the Wild West being a bandit.” And I had not realized just how far and how often they’d travel, whether by horseback or, one assumes, train.
What Leerhsen does best it draw portraits of the outlaws and juxtaposes those against what we all expect from the famed movie. Indeed, while haunted and hunted by the law, they still did quite a bit of straight work – cowboying on ranches all along the eastern Rockies. He does a similar job relating their years in South America. Again, I had not understood how long they were there. Hollywood, again. But Leerhsen points all of that out, even to the degree which screenwriter William Goldman purposefully didn’t research Cassidy and Sundance and still he got their personalities and era right.
With a light and amusing style, he sets down things that you know about in a new way. About the massive explosion in the train heist in Wilcox, WY – so well destroyed a second time in the movie, the author tells us: “When Woodcock came to, he was pleased to realize that the crimson splotches all over his clothes came from a shipment of raspberries that the blast had turned into flying jam. The red stuff now coated everything in sight – and would later make the stolen bank notes and coins easier to identify”. Later, one of the gang would be arrested after spending one of the stained notes.
There are many, many amusing passages in the book. Wish I’d kept better track of them!
But there are a few flaws to the book. For one, it’d’ve been a great help to have a map of their locations in the Eastern Rockies and in South America. Much more useful than the usual photos that are not new. They road hundreds of miles, worked at this ranch or that ranch, circled back to this one – where was that one again? He also remarks often about how Butch’s fame as an outlaw grew but he doesn’t match that but noting how many bank or train robberies there were. From what he includes, Butch seems to be an occasional outlaw, not a desperado with a national reputation.
But that leads to one glaring fault of the book. Maybe he didn’t feel the need to present anything comprehensive due to the large number of books about Butch. Indeed, time and again he mentions the authoritative or exhausting book that Richard Patterson or Kerry Ross Boren, or the work of Daniel Buck and Anne Meadows. Maybe the helpful maps are in one of those books…
At any rate, I highly recommend this book. There’s lots about the time period and what their Old Wild West was really like and, best of all, as Leerhsen seems to agree, there are no intrusive, annnoying Burt Bacharach songs.