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.
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….
Mystery power house Otto Penzler gives his list of the 106 best crime films. You may have quibbles of his rankings as we did (The Fugitive is #54 yet Bullitt is #98?!?) but it’s a fun and informative list. Click on each title to get the skinny!
Words of the Month
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)
Kirk Douglas died at the age of 103 on February 5th. There will have been a yuge number of articles about him, his life, career, and personality. They’ll have written about Sparticus and on and on. We’d like to narrow our view to one timeless, classic performance – badman Whit in Jacques Tourneur’s 1947 film noir masterpiece Out of the Past. Along with Robert Mitchum and Jane Greer, the triangle at heart of this clash of love and power is the epitome of noir. If you’ve never seen it, do yourself a favor and see it. ~ JB
February 8: Robert Conrad died at 84. We remember him for his 1959 TV show “Hawaiian Eye” and, with “West, James West”, bringing James Bond to “The Wild, Wild West” in 1965. Great theme song, great opening credits, great train full of gadgets.
fustigate (v.)”to cudgel, to beat,” 1650s, back-formation from Fustication (1560s) or from Latin fusticatus, past participle of fusticare “to cudgel” (to death), from fustis “cudgel, club, staff, stick of wood,” of unknown origin. De Vaan writes that “The most obvious connection would be with Latin -futare” “to beat,” but there are evolutionary difficulties.
What We’ve Been Up To
Finder of Lost Things
I’m working furiously and I’m nearly finished writing Season Two of Finder of Lost Things! Then comes editing and photography so I’m hoping it will be out in the next month or two! I’ll keep you guys posted.
I’m not going to go into a synopsis of the mystery as this is quite literally the fiftieth installment in the ‘In Death’ series.
Suffice to say there’s a murder in New York and Eve’s on the case.
Despite hitting this landmark installment number, don’t look for this book to get mired in nostalgia for Eve and her crew. Golden In Death is a very mystery-centric story uncluttered by unnecessary parties, conflicts, and dramas (aside from the whole murder thing). All of our favorites Mavis, Leonardo, Trina, and Nadine (and her new rocker boyfriend), Peabody’s family – are all included – but in a nebulous and natural fashion. Giving us just a glimpse of what they’re up too, without losing the momentum of the case at hand.
Even better? The standard boilerplate descriptions of Eve and Roake have been rejiggered and reworked, so they feel fresher to the well-indoctrinated eyes of Eve Dallas fans!
I really enjoyed this book. The mystery is one that I found interesting and relevant to this milestone installment. (Which, truth be told, is the real reason why I didn’t write a synopsis – as I did not want to spoil a single twist in this book!) I thoroughly enjoyed reading each page and stayed up well past my bedtime in order to finish it – as once again – I couldn’t help myself.
BTW – if you haven’t started this series yet, because you’re intimidated by the sheer length and breadth of it, never fear. You can start with this book and be just fine. Though if you want to avoid spoilers and giveaways, I’d suggest going back, after finishing Golden In Death and start with Naked In Death. I know there’s a lot of books in between these two – but having read them all already – you have at least two hours* of fun ahead of you!
(*Which is only a rough estimate as I’ve no clue how long it would take to read this series – and I love you guys – but I’m not going to time myself to find out!)
And the mystery is solved! Do you know who did it?
We first met Stevie Bell in Maureen Johnson’s Truly Devious, where we learned about the famous Ellingham Academy – what would you be accepted for? – and the troubles that happened there back in the 30’s. Stevie’s determined to solve the mystery of whatever happened to young Alice Ellingham, but trouble besets her in her current life.
In The Vanishing Stair, things get even more complicated. Stevie’s not even supposed to come back to Ellingham, but fate conspires in her favor. Still, now she has more mysteries to unravel.
Finally, in The Hand on the Wall, Stevie figures things out. But what’s the price? And does she really see a moose?
In this trilogy, Maureen Johnson has created a fabulous homage to the Golden Age mystery writers, especially Agatha Christie, but she’s put a decidedly modern twist on it, and it works perfectly. And of course the Dorothy Parker style poem adds flair! But it takes a special talent to combine the subtle clues and genteelly labyrinthine story with modern day complexities, and there’s no one quite like Maureen Johnson, who takes on this challenge and not only makes it work, but keeps it riveting and thought-provoking.
These are considered young-adult novels, but trust me, you don’t need to be a tween to enjoy this trilogy, and I promise you that you will!
The basics of the book are the story of the movie – the initial conception, the years of work to get it in filmable shape, filming, and its reception. But the book is jammed with so much more.
The story told contains the sense of LA at the time, the impact of the Manson murders on LA and Hollywood, where the various participants came from, and how they came together to make this remarkable movie. It then tells the story of the movie making and how each participant moved on from there. And, really, how this was the height of a creative period in Hollywood that was supplanted by the era of the blockbuster and the takeover of the studios by money people interested more in return than film making, than in “art”.
Overall, this is a melancholy book, itself a story that ends badly, like all noir must. There are Robert Towne’s battles to get the thing written and then seeing it overtaken by Polanski. There are Polanski’s experience of horrors – the loss of his mother in Auschwitz and the murder of his wife. There are Robert Evans’ battles with those above him who wanted something different, something better, out of the movies he was producing. There was Nicholson who was dealing with personal nightmares throughout the period and whose dream of a fabled trilogy of Gittes films never came to pass.
But it is a story of lightning in a bottle. That all of these figures came together at this time and managed to create this singular movie is a demonstration of the odds against such a thing happening at all.
Wasson’s book is well crafted and informative, and never fails to surprise and never fails to show the entire period with all of its faults, ugliness, astonishments, and creativity. And, like all true noir, no one leaves the story unmarred. In the end, we are all left with a stunning work of art, a movie that shows what can emerge out of human minds, out of human suffering.
I was so proud of myself! I got my Best Of for the decade done, and down to a total of 10! I’ve NEVER done that before, so I was strutting!
Granted, a bunch of them were series, and that means ALL of the series, so it’s not like I read only ten books over the decade. We know me better than this. And the series are, in no particular order:
Louise Penny’s “Inspector Gamache” series. I came late to this party, but I am fully onboard!
Anne Bishop’s “The Others” series, including the follow-ups after the original five.
Ben Aaronovitch’s “Rivers of London” series. I think I’ve read the entire thing seven times.
Everything by Christine Feehan except the vampire and leopard series. Everything else. And I haven’t gotten to those yet, so stay tuned.
Carolyn Hart’s “Death on Demand” series. Seriously, I need these books.
William Kent Krueger’s “Cork O’Connell” series. They’re family to me.
Maureen Johnson’s “Truly Devious” series. And that’s going to spill over into this decade.
And then I had a few individual titles. But then, see, I remembered all the books I hadn’t thought of, not because they were bad, but because a decade is a really long time in the book world, and I hadn’t really given the whole ten years – which included the shop being open for most of it.
So I’m going to throw out authors and titles, and if you have questions, just ask. Because this is gonna be a LOT longer than just 10! Ready? Here we go:
Joshilyn Jackson – I love all of hers, but The Almost Sisters is my favorite. So far. Until she writes the darned phone book.
Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One, which has its own cult following, and I’m so pleased!
Seanan McGuire’s “Toby Day” series, along with everything else she writes.
Speaking of series I forgot before, Mike Lawson’s “Joe DeMarco” series. Now and always!
AND Tim Maleeny’s “Cape Weathers” series! Holy cats, I want more!
How could I overlook Craig Johnson’s “Longmire”? I don’t know what I was thinking.
John Connolly’s “Charlie Parker” series. More on that later.
Daniel O’Malley’s The Rook. Amber’s recommendations must be heeded.
Everything by Ben Winters (including grocery lists, I imagine) but especially Golden State.
Toni McGee Causey’s Saints of the Lost and Found.
Seriously, anything by J. T. Ellison and Hank Phillippi Ryan. I love them both so much!
Alan Bradley’s “Flavia de Luce” series, as well as Ian Hamilton’s “Ava Lee”. Nothing in common except brilliant writing, and cultural appreciation.
Can I throw in here Amber’s “52 Weeks with Christie”? Because wow. And her new blog, The Finder of Lost Things, is going to find a publisher soon, I’m positive.
To those of you whom I’ve missed, I’m so sorry! I really do love you! Blame it on my cold.
I’m going to stop here, but now it’s up to you. What did I recommend to you over the last 10 years that you loved? Or hated? I’m always interested where I missed as well as where I might have accidentally gotten it right.
A decade’s a really long time, y’all, especially when you read! Happy New Decade!
This book/series is so brilliant it deserves a second review!
Don’t forget to check out my other blog – Finder of Lost Things! This week Phoebe winds up in another shed waiting for a man about a boat on the way to the gang’s group vacation!
Maureen Johnson – The Vanishing Stair
Now Fran reviewed this book back in March’s Newzine -but I must add my own words to the wonderfulness that is this book! So read her excellent review (click here then scroll down or reread the whole newzine – your choice), then read mine.
Because we both agree you need to start this series posthaste!
Maureen Johnson should sideline as a magician.
Why? She has some serious skill in sleight of hand!
Like any skilled magician, she draws her audiences eye in one direction – while the real trick is occurring someplace else – leaving her readers to sit in awe of her skill.
By the end of The Vanishing Stair, Johnson gives us the answers we were looking for at the end of Truly Devious; who the pair in the picture were, who kidnapped Ellingham’s wife and daughter, what happened to the missing student and many other solutions besides.
But our author is tricksy.
While giving us the answers we crave – Johnson gives us more questions, complicated questions and subtly unravels a case we thought neatly sewn up at the end of Truly Devious. All without her readers fully realizing what’s happening until the final chapter’s finished.
Seriously this book is excellent.
If Johnson’s aiming for a trilogy, then this is one of the best, outstanding and brilliant middle books I’ve read in a very long time. In fact, it’s just a clever mystery on its own – but you have to read the first book first thus making this a superb middle mystery.
What’s even better? I have a sneaking suspicion Johnson’s sleight of hand doesn’t end in this installment – I think both our cold, unraveled & current cases link together to form something far more sinister than we currently suspect. Something which will impact Stevie (our heroine) in ways that she and we cannot yet foresee.
I cannot wait to see where exactly the next book leads us!
If you enjoy supernatural mysteries/thrillers check out the Netflix original The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, Russian Doll & The Umbrella Academy! They are all dark and addictive series that will leave you with more questions than answers & wanting more. I Love Them All!
petard (n.): From the 1590s, “small bomb used to blow in doors and breach walls,” from French pétard (late 16th C.), from Middle French péter “break wind,” from Old French pet “a fart,” from Latin peditum, noun use of neuter past participle of pedere “to break wind,” from Proto-Indo-European root *pezd– “to fart” (see feisty). Surviving in phrase hoist with one’s own petard (or some variant) “blown up with one’s own bomb,” which is ultimately from Shakespeare (1605):
For tis the sport to haue the enginer Hoist with his owne petar [“Hamlet” III.iv.207].
tenebrous (adj.) “full of darkness,” late 15th C., from Old French tenebros “dark, gloomy” (11c., Modern French ténébreux), from Latin tenebrosus “dark,” fromtenebrae “darkness” (see temerity). Related: Tenebrosity. (thanks to etymonline)
Necropolis – especially: a large elaborate cemetery of an ancient city; Cemetery – 1st known use was in 1819
With its —polis ending, meaning “city”, a necropolis is a “city of the dead”. Most of the famous necropolises of Egypt line the Nile River across from their cities. In ancient Greece and Rome, a necropolis would often line the road leading out of a city; in the 1940s a great Roman necropolis was discovered under the Vatican’s St. Peter’s Basilica. Some more recent cemeteries especially deserve the name necropolis because they resemble cities of aboveground tombs, a necessity in low-lying areas such as New Orleans where a high water table prevents underground burial.
Entomology/History – Borrowed from Late Latin, “cemetery,” & from Greek Nekrópolis, literally, “city of the dead,” name of a large cemetery in a suburb of ancient Alexandria, from nekro –NECRO- + -polis-POLIS
Don’t forget! Check out my mystery blog! This last week we’ve discovered who our Pink Lady is and almost met the Librarian Extraordinaire Mrs. Schmit! Tomorrow Beatrice & Wood help Phoebe move the rest of her stuff into the shed in penance for their friendly early morning torture…
The newest Eve Dallas mystery, Connections In Death, came out on February fifth! What wasn’t so great was the fact I’d started a completely different book prior to its release. Then attempted to continue reading it while my favorite guilty pleasure sat on top of my to-be-read pile…
Needless to say, I caved.
It was snowy! I needed something fun to read while watching the drifts pile up…That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it!
In any case, this installment of the In Death series was everything you’ve come to expect from Eve and her team, starting with a murder dressed up to look like an overdose which connected back to Crack and his new lady whom Eve met just the night before…
Now I must place a slight caution – not on the writing or storylines (all of which were great) – but you need to have read the last couple of books in the series to fully appreciate every event Eve finds herself attending. As there are subplots in this book which link back to previous cases and if you’re not up on them – you’ll miss some of the significance of the action unfolding in the pages of this book. You won’t get lost mind you – but Robb doesn’t use any of her usual boilerplate catch-ups in this book (thank goodness for us long-time readers), she ‘s assuming you’ve read and remembered her previous books.
I would recommend this book to any of the Eve fans out there! This book went flat out from the first page and didn’t stop until its last. Even if you missed the previous book or two, you wouldn’t be lost, but you’ll want to go back and read them – because Nadine won a huge award which makes Eve both happy (for her friend) and irritated (as a cop) at the same time!
Alrighty then, I’m about to ask you to follow another link for a moment, but first I gotta tell you that the second book in the Maureen Johnson “Truly Devious” trilogy is out – The Vanishing Stair (Kensington) – and ohmygoodness you have to read it, but you absolutely have to have read Truly Devious first.
If you’ve forgotten about it, see if this jogs your memory: Click here
You have to scroll down, but you’ll recognize it by the cut-and-pasted threatening note. Of course, re-reading the whole newzine is perfectly okay, but remember to come back here.
Okay. So here we are, back at Ellingham. Sort of. See, Stevie’s parents have pulled her out because of that horrible mess at the end of the last book, and the only way she can get back is to make a deal with the devil. At what point do your wants overcome your morals? It’s a tough question at any age, and Stevie is seriously torn.
Again, we jump between the two time periods, 1930 and now, and again both are riveting. We learn about the story behind that chilling note. If you thought it had a Dorothy Parker flavor, you’re right and it was intentional. The imagery is deliberate and perfect, but then it would be since Maureen Johnson is a brilliant writer, and she picked the highly talented Sarah Weinman’s brains and gaspingly deep knowledge of that time period. I must admit I squeed a bit when I discovered they consulted for this book. If you haven’t read any of Sarah’s writing, you’ve been remiss. Fix that, but after you’ve read The Vanishing Stair.
Make no mistake, though. The 21st century has much to offer in Johnson’s capable hands. And she ties the two eras together perfectly.
“Detection has many methods, many pathways, narrow and subtle. Fingerprints. The lost piece of thread. The dog barking in the night.
“But there is also Google.”
So yes, once again I am stalking you across the shop floor, eyes gleaming madly, shoving this book in your hand and insisting you read it. I’m pushy like that, but I have my reasons, and once you’re immersed in this strange academic world, you’ll understand why.
And, on a personal note to Maureen, congratulations on your marriage to Oscar! And deepest condolences on the loss of your beloved rescue dog, Zelda. You embrace both joy and tragedy so profoundly, and I am in awe.
I blame one of our customers, Helen T., for this one. Yes, Helen, it’s all your fault, and I’m not sure if I’m deeply grateful or want to rough you up. In the nicest possible way, of course. I mean, there I was, reading the first in one of her series, and Lillian walked past, stopped, stared for a moment, then asked, “Are you reading a bodice ripper?”
Yes. Yes, I am.
And I’m loving them.
Which ones, you ask? And you’re giving me that side eye, aren’t you? Tough.
Helen told us how much she loved Christine Feehan’s books. I figured I needed some mind candy, so why not? I’ll tell you why not. They’re bloody addicting. Seriously, I reached the end of a series and thought, “Wait, no more Feehan in the house? That’s not acceptable!” I’ve really got it bad.
It’s her characters, because you know I’m all about the characters. There’s a mystery in all of them, but the damsels do a lot of the rescuing, which I like. Granted, all the men are broodingly handsome and the women are gaspingly beautiful, and there’s lots of steamy stuff (which I skip, ‘cause I always do in every book, including JD Robbs. Just not my thing but I imagine these are well done. Dunno. Don’t care), but the subjects Feehan tackles are often timely and bitterly dark, which I love. There’s lots of violence and death, and our heroes often are the recipients. So far, every one of our protagonists is damaged in some way, and frequently it’s the ladies to the rescue. And not just with “steamy” solutions. Asses are frequently kicked.
Christine Feehan has seven series, and I’ve read two all the way through. Learn from my mistakes – you want to read the “Drake Sisters” series first, and in order, then go to the “Sea Haven” series. After that, you can go to the “Torpedo Ink” series. They all tie together. The “Shadow” series stands on its own.
It was in the “GhostWalker” series (15 books so far) that I came to truly admire Feehan’s talent. One of the books had a couple I didn’t much care for. They just didn’t click for me. But I devoured the book anyway, because I still cared what happened to them. And I’m realistic enough to know that she writes for her, not me, and others are going to adore this book and dislike others. Doesn’t matter. I haven’t tackled the “Leopard” series (only 11), much less the “Dark Series” which is her largest – so far there are 33 there, but I’m kinda vampired out for the moment. But at least I have plenty to keep me occupied! Christine Feehan is really, really good at writing paranormal romance, and I’m grateful.
I think. *studies bookshelves looking for more space*
While walking my dog Parker one recent, snowy afternoon, I glanced across a street to see a duplex, both having the same street number but were differentiated by a letter after the numbers. Got him thinking – – who lived at 221A Baker Street????