opisthography (n.) “the practice of writing on the back of anything,” 1715, from Greek opisthographos “written on the back,” from graphos “writing” (from graphein“to write” (see -graphy) + opisthen “behind, from behind, at the back,” from opi, a variant of epi “on it, at it” (see epi-). (etymonline)
scrawl (v.) From the 1610s, “write or draw awkwardly and untidily,” a word of uncertain origin, perhaps from a specific use of Middle English scrawlen “spread out the limbs, sprawl” (early 15c.), which might be an alteration of sprawlen (see sprawl (v.)) or crawl (v.). Some sources suggest a contraction of scrabble. Related: Scrawled; scrawling.
The noun in the sense of “piece of unskilled or inelegant writing” is by 1690s, from the verb; the meaning “bad style of handwriting” is by 1710. (etymonline)
chirography (n.) “handwriting, the art of writing,” 1650s, from chiro– “the hand”+ –graphy “writing.” Chirograph “formal written legal document” is attested from late 13c. in Anglo-French, from Latin chirographum, from Greek kheirographia “written testimony.” Related: Chirographer; chirographic. (etymonline)
cacoethes (n.) “itch for doing something,” 1560s, from Latinized form of Greek kakoēthēs “ill-habit, wickedness, itch for doing (something),” from kakos “bad” (from PIE root *kakka- “to defecate”) + ēthē- “disposition, character” (see ethos). Most famously, in Juvenal’s insanabile scribendi cacoethes “incurable passion for writing.” (etymonline)
Ready to retire, four women (of a certain age) are treated to a boat cruise by their former employers as a reward for their exemplary service. A vacation which they enjoy right up until one of the group spots a former colleague on the same boat.
The only problem — Billie, Mary Alice, Helen, and Natalie’s former job title: Assassin.
Deanna Rabourn’s tale is a rollercoaster ride of the first water! Blending together the librarians from Gunpowder Milkshake, the general premise of Burn Notice, and Lana’s origin story from Archer — you’ve now got an inkling of the wild ride between the covers of Killer’s of a Certain Age.
Seriously, I couldn’t put Killers of a Certain Age down.
I’d recommend this book to anyone who needs a fantastic, fast-paced read for the bath or a holiday. Seriously, I love how these women outwit, outmaneuver, and outshine their pursuers using experience their younger counterparts don’t yet possess…
Plus, it was just lovely to sit down for a few hours and read a book from cover to cover — especially when Raybourn penned such a satisfying ending!
Keep an open mind
I had just finished watching the series “Madam Secretary” when I picked up State of Terror. Now, if you were going to write a thriller involving the Secretary of State, and you wanted a fast-paced, well plotted book with intriguing characters, who would you have author it? Be fair, be honest, who knows their stuff?
Hillary Rodham Clinton knows the ins and outs of being Secretary of State. Whatever you may think of her, she knows her stuff.
Louise Penny has proved time and again that she can write a gripping novel filled with real people.
Together, they created State of Terror, and honestly, now is the time to read it.
I want to sit down and talk about this book with you face to face so you can see my enthusiasm. But it’s good that I can’t, because I’d give away spoilers. For our plot purposes here, let me just say that Ellen Adams was a harsh critic of now President Doug Williams during her media mogul days, so it was a huge surprise when he appointed her Secretary of State. Adams handed off her media empire to her daughter and accepted the position, where her first assignment failed miserably. Let’s just say this did not displease President Williams.
But when bus bombs happen in a couple of European cities, Adams and Williams have to work together to figure out where the next target is. One of Secretary Adams’ people in the Pakistan office gets a clue, and the race is on.
“The most amazing thing that has happened in my lifetime is neither putting a man on the moon nor Facebook having 2.8 billion monthly active users. It is that in the 75 years, 7 months, and 13 days since Nagasaki, a nuclear bomb has not been detonated.” – Tom Peters
The more I read this book, knowing HRC‘s insider knowledge of Washington politics and its back door dealings, combined with Louise Penny’s astonishing ability to put you right in the heart of the story, the more terrifying it became. And watching current news cycles both in the US and around the world, this book becomes more relevant every day. I had no idea.
Which is not to say it doesn’t have moments of levity. Some of the characters will jump right into your heart. Betsy Jameson, Secretary Adams’ good friend and counselor is one of them. She’s the “Mrs. Cleaver” below, because she looks so ordinary and friendly.
“Steve Kowalski, Ellen’s head of Diplomatic Security, a longtime veteran of the service, turned in the front seat to look at Mrs. Cleaver as she combined and conjugated words that should never, really, have conjugal relations. The ensuing progeny was both grotesque and hilarious, as she turned nouns into verbs, and verbs into something else entirely. It was a display of linguistic gymnastics the agent hadn’t thought possible. And he’d been a Marine.”
You’ll get chills, and it’s possible that your sleep will be disrupted by this novel – and remember, it is just a novel – and with good reason. The possibilities given here are far too plausible not to be considered, and when a power team like this presents it to you, you pay attention.
Also, it’s a great thriller! Trust me, you want to read State of Terror now.
I was thrilled to find that Rinker Buck had a new book coming out. The Oregon Trail: A New American Journey was one of the best books I read when it came out in 2016. I’ve given away at least a half-dozen copies. In it he builds a canastoga wagon and set off, powered by three mules, across the Oregon Trail. It is an outstanding book, jammed with history and interesting tidbits, and I was ready for a new adventure.
Life on the Mississippi: An Epic American Adventuremirrors that earlier book but this involves first building a flatboat – the sort first used to navigate the Father of Waters – and then float it from the start of the Ohio River and down to New Orleans. Nearly everyone he discusses this plan with tells him he’s going to die. They’re all quiet serious. Perhaps it is hubris, or his own native mule-headedness, but he plunges on. It’s a daunting plan but you know he survived ’cause you’re reading the book.
Along the way you accumulate a flowing history of how the commerce and settlement of the country was enhanced by European-Americans moving West and following the waters. Of course, the current river is nothing like the unfettered highway of 200 years ago – just as the Oregon Trail no longer exists as it was when first blazzed. Buck is aghast at the garbage and trash (it often was, he says sadly, a “floating junkyard”). “And the river has been so contained and shaped so as to stay within it’s bounds that is in no way as wild as it once once. That’s not to say it isn’t dangerous; big storms along any of the rivers that feed it can make it swell and churn, and the commercial traffic is astonishing. Then, too, there are the weekend fools.
Like the junk that float by, so too does the awful history of our country – Buck does not shy from explaining the ways the waters helped to decimate the natives that had ruled and helped to spread slavery further into the landscape. Truly, life on the Mississippi is both a grand tale of human progress corrupted because of the costs that it charges on all who used it.
All Haunting is Regret
Don’t worry if you start Hell and Back and can’t figure out what is going on. Neither can Walt. Craig Johnson puts all of us – readers and characters – in a place that defies explanation and populates it with people who can’t possibly there. In fact, there are so many people from Walt’s past that I stopped reading the new book and re-read the previously three and it helped. It is a book overflowing with mystery and mysticism. It is a book unlike any of the previous Longmires, yet is is easily experienced as another in a long line of Absaroka County stories that are unique and comforting. Because at the center is Walt Longmire and he is trustworthy to all.
“Words are important, no matter what the language – they are perhaps one of the most powerful things we have. Words can preserve life or invoke death and should be handled with the same care as any deadly weapon.” Those are Virgil’s words, but the truth is Craig’s.
So starts an entertaining and convoluted story of the hunt for a Soviet mole in the CIA. Scads of books have been written about this hunt, the suspects, the battles over which Russian turncoat to believe, and the destruction and devastation the hunt caused to US intelligence. Blum’s book follows the investigation of Tennent “Pete” Bagley, a retired American spook who lived through that destruction and suffered from it. The circumstances of the mystery sail boat brings him back to the hunt and it unfolds like a well crafted whodunnit. Clues, red herrings, and blind alleys abound and, along the way, you see the Cold War games of both sides of the spy landscape.
If you’re interested in American history, Cold War history, CIA history – or even if you don’t think you are – pick up the books. It’s a great mystery, but all true.
Next up: a book that was released in Feb. but that I just discovered near the end of Sept – Fran has been yelling at me for years to read Joe Ide. So far I haven’t but I will now. To my knowledge, this is the third book the Chandler estate has engaged current authors to pen a new Philip Marlowe novel. First, in 2014, there was Benjamin (John Banville) Black’s The Black-Eyed Blonde, a follow-up to The Long Goodbye. In 2018, Only to Sleep by Lawrence Osbourne was released. In that, Marlowe is 72 and living in Mexico.
It’s one thing to search for new books by a favorite author. I’m not sure how you search for new books about a favorite character!
school (n.): [place of instruction] Middle English scole, from Old English scol, “institution for instruction,” from Latin schola “meeting place for teachers and students, place of instruction;” also “learned conversation, debate; lecture; disciples of a teacher, body of followers, sect,” also in the older Greek sense of “intermission of work, leisure for learning.”
This is from Greek skholē “spare time, leisure, rest, ease; idleness; that in which leisure is employed; learned discussion;” also “a place for lectures, school;” originally “a holding back, a keeping clear,” from skhein “to get” (from PIE root *segh- “to hold”) + -olē by analogy with bolē “a throw,” stolē “outfit,” etc.
The basic sense of the Greek word is “leisure,” which passed to “otiose discussion” (in Athens or Rome, the favorite or proper use of free time), then it came to be used for the place for such discussion.
The Latin word was widely borrowed (in addition to Old French escole, French école, Spanish escuela, Italian scuola; Old High German scuola, German Schule, Swedish skola, Gaelic sgiol, Welsh ysgol, Russian shkola).
The meaning “students attending a school” in English is attested from c. 1300; the sense of “school building” is by 1590s. Sense of “people united by a general similarity of principles and methods” is from 1610s; hence school of thought (by 1848). As an adjective by mid-18th C., “pertaining to or relating to a school or to education.”
School of hard knocks “rough experience in life” is by 1870; to tell tales out of school “betray damaging secrets” is from 1540s. School-bus is from 1908. School days is from 1590s. School board “local committee of education” is by 1836; school district “division of a town or city for the management of schools” is by 1809. (etymonline)
learn (v.): Old English leornian “to get knowledge, be cultivated; study, read, think about,” from Proto-Germanic *lisnojanan (cognates: Old Frisian lernia, Middle Dutch leeren, Dutch leren, Old High German lernen, German lernen “to learn,” Gothic lais “I know”), with a base sense of “to follow or find the track,” from PIE root *lois– “furrow, track.” It is related to German Gleis “track,” and to Old English læst “sole of the foot” (see last (n.1)).
From c. 1200 as “to hear of, ascertain.” Transitive use (He learned me (how) to read), now considered vulgar (except in reflexive expressions, I learn English), was acceptable from c. 1200 until early 19th C. It is preserved in past-participle adjective learned “having knowledge gained by study.” Old English also had læran “to teach” (see lere). (etymonline)
study (v.): Early 12th C., “to strive toward, devote oneself to, cultivate” (translating Latin occupatur), from Old French estudiier “to study, apply oneself, show zeal for; examine” (13th C., Modern French étudier), from Medieval Latin studiare, from Latin studium “study, application,” originally “eagerness,” from studere “to be diligent,” from PIE *(s)teu- (1) “to push, stick, knock, beat” (see steep (adj.)). The notion appears to be “pressing forward, thrusting toward,” hence “strive after.
From c. 1300 as “apply oneself to the acquisition of learning, pursue a formal course of study,” also “read a book or writings intently or meditatively.” From mid-14th C. as “reflect, muse, think, ponder.” Meaning “regard attentively” is from 1660s. (etymonline)
class (n.): c. 1600, “group of students,” in U.S. especially “number of pupils in a school or college of the same grade,” from French classe (14th C.), from Latin classis “a class, a division; army, fleet,” especially “any one of the six orders into which Servius Tullius divided the Roman people for the purpose of taxation;” traditionally originally “the people of Rome under arms” (a sense attested in English from 1650s), and thus akin to calare “to call (to arms),” from PIE root *kele- (2) “to shout.” In early use in English also in Latin form classis.
Meaning “an order or rank of persons, a number of persons having certain characteristics in common” is from 1660s. School and university sense of “course, lecture” (1650s) is from the notion of a form or lecture reserved to scholars who had attained a certain level. Natural history sense “group of related plants or animals” is from 1753. Meaning “high quality” is from 1874. Meaning “a division of society according to status” (with upper, lower, etc.) is from 1763. Class-consciousness (1903) is from German Klassenbewusst. (etymonline)
Sad note: we just learned that Seattle mystery writer Frederick D. Huebner died on December 31, 2019. He was a great writer, a great friend of the shop, and one of the very few people who ever bought one of JB’s paintings. Sorry we didn’t know it at the time to pay tribute then.
recess (n.): 1530s, “act of receding or going back or away” (a sense now obsolete), from Latin recessus “a going back, retreat,” from recessum, past participle of recedere “to go back, fall back; withdraw, depart, retire,” from re– “back” (see re-) + cedere “to go” (from PIE root *ked– “to go, yield”).
Meaning “hidden or remote part” is recorded from 1610s; that of “period of stopping from usual work” is from 1620s, probably from parliamentary notion of “recessing” into private chambers. Meaning “place of retirement or seclusion” is from 1630s; that of “niche, receding space or inward indentation in a line of continuity” is from 1690s.(etymonline)
I gardened, did laundry, baked cookies, made the bed betwixt chapters…and yet, I still devoured the pages in less than twelve hours!
The thing is, Nonna Maria occupies the space between Sherlock Holmes and Miss Marple. Driven by neither cold logic nor the belief in the baseness of people’s motivations — Nonna Maria serves at the pleasure of her fellow islanders. Intervening when asked, she combines island gossip, a decade’s worth of past experiences, and her own leg work to solve whatever problem presented to her — relying on a plethora of friends, a legion of family members, and occasionally the Carabinieri to catch the culprit (and have her back during perilous situations).
I know Barnes & Noble placed Nonna Maria in their cozy section. Probably because there’s not much in the way of on-stage bloodletting…However, there’s still plenty of death, thugs, threats, and mystery to satisfy any reader without relying on a shoehorned in themes like cats, gourds, cookies, Santa, quilting, dumplings, or crafting to generate interest in the story.
I cannot recommend Nonna Maria and the Case of The Missing Bride highly enough. Set in sun drenched Southern Italy, this mystery is everything I didn’t know I wanted to read over and over again this August!
Louise Penny isn’t afraid of tackling difficult subjects. She never has been, even before her collaboration with Hilary Rodham Clinton, about which I’ll write in another post.
But in The Madness of Crowds, she delves much deeper into a dark place that most of us would really rather avoid. I don’t want to get into specifics because of spoilers, but she taps into a collective awareness that no one wants to look at, but of which we have all glanced at.
All the regulars are back, and this is really not a stand alone. To get the full impact, you need to have read all the books that have come before, beginning with Still Life. There are new, compelling characters here, ones who will remain with you forever, and there are the ongoing delights. Rosa has expanded her vocabulary, and is teaching it to the children, much to their parents’ dismay. There is laughter and humor, compassion and passionate humanity, and all of it stems from people being people, in the best and worst possible ways.
I really cannot recommend Louise Penny’s writing strongly enough. They do need to be read in order, and once you have experienced the world of Three Pines, even if you’re not a fan of police procedurals, you’ll want to visit this village time and again, I promise.
Finally, finally, after toooo many decades, I read Fredric Brown’s The Fabulous Clipjoint. Published in 1947 – and winning the very first Best Novel Edgar – it’s a lively and raucous story of a young man and his uncle who undertake an investigation into a murder – the young guy’s father and his uncle’s brother.
This is the first in a series to feature Ed and his uncle Am (short for Ambrose). Am is a carny and the pages are jammed with the hardboiled jargon of the late 40s AND carnival lingo. Am also makes for a good investigator. His years sizing up “marks” at the carny give him an edge when talking to those involved.
Here’s one line that I found particularly sharp. Uncle Am says to his nephew, “I’m not worried about going to hell, Ed, but I begrudge the money the ticket costs.”
A bonus is the introduction by Lawrence Block who takes you on a tour of his reading as a young man.
A year or so before the shop closed, a man came in one afternoon and introduced himself: James Grady. Now, maybe you have to be a “certain age” to have reacted as Fran and I did. Six Days of the Condor was published in 1974, which means I probably read the paperback in 1975 when it came out. The movie version, Three Days of the Condor was released around the same time. I’d read a number of his books over the years, Old Dogs was one that stands out.
We chatted awhile and he explained that he had an idea for a thriller that took place on a train going from Seattle to Chicago and was in town to start his research. We talked about the long history of train mysteries and showed him our list in the Yellow Notebook that we refereed to when people came in asking for one. I kept my eyes alert for his book, and it’s out now.
James Grady’s This Trainfeatures an odd cast of characters who first see one another in the Seattle train station. At first, they’re “named” by their visual shorthand. As the trip progresses, you learn names and details. You can tell that some are a bit shady but, if you’ve been reading thrillers as long as I have, you know that anything is possible from any one character.
The fun, of course, is finding out who is who and if you’re suspicions were correct. You find that the short-hand descriptors from the start – the guy in the camel-colored cashmere coat or the young woman with the intense red hair – are also accurate descriptors of their personalities.
And then, or course, why are all of these people on this one train and what about the SWAT team, and the guy who always lugs around the beat-up satchel? Well, find out yourself. It’s a great ride!
This debut by Dwyer Murphy got great reviews. The New Yorker promoted it, and the cover carries a one-word rave by Walter Mosely. As a bonus, An Honest Living is billed as a bibliomystery and who isn’t looking for the next John Dunning? So I got a copy right away.
This is very much a New York Novel. The lawyer who narrates the story is certain to tell you what street he’s on, where he turns, where he eats or drinks, details about the neighborhoods, and so on. In that, it reminded me very much of the Scudder books by Lawrence Block. The City itself is a character.
The time frame was a bit puzzling. At one point, he looks someone up on-line and mentions Gawker – stopped publishing in 2016 but recently re-started- so I was unclear about when the book was set. Of course, that shouldn’t really matter, but when I first read that name it popped me out of the story. And that’s not a good thing.
And I can’t point to any good things. He writes well, the characters were interesting…
Overall, it was a very easy book to put down. I have no particular fascination for the minutia of NYC when it is a major component of the story. It read as if it was filler, in place of a plot – because the mystery, and the bibliomystery element, aren’t there. I don’t even think it is fair to call it a mystery for a number of reasons but I can’t tell you those and not ruin the story. Go ahead, give it a try.
nonsense (n.) “that which is lacking in sense, language or words without meaning or conveying absurd or ridiculous ideas,” 1610s, from non– “not” + sense (n.); perhaps influenced by French nonsens. Since mid-20th C., non-sense, with the hyphen, has been used to distinguish the meaning “that which is not sense, that which is different from sense,” not implying absurdity.
falderol (n.)also falderal, falderall, folderol, etc., 18th C. nonsense words from refrains of songs; meaning “gewgaw, trifle” is attested from 1820.
What We’ve Been Up To
A Bride’s Guide to Marriage and Murder — Dianne Freeman
Familiarity breeds contempt…and when it’s your family?
Things can get explosive.
And explode they do (though not literally). When a murder, accusations of infidelity, thugs, and rivalries all come to a head at and after France and George’s much-anticipated wedding.
Seriously, if your looking for a light-hearted historical murder mystery that never takes itself too seriously — the Countess of Harleigh Mystery series is the one for you! Freeman does an excellent job of blending the time period, manners, and societal rules into an excessively readable mystery.
What I love the most about the Countess of Harleigh Mysteries (BTW – Frances is said Countess) is their funny. Not a slap you on the back hardy-har-har kind but wry, sly, and observational humor that one can relate to – especially if you’ve ever tried planning a wedding with the “help” of your family and/or in-laws.
Now, you don’t need to read them in order….However, there are only four predecessors, so starting at numero uno, A Lady’s Guide To Etiquette and Murder isn’t too much of a stretch, and hopefully, you’ll laugh (or at least smile) as much as I did whilst turning the pages.
Okay, so hear me out
I don’t have a review, but I have a really good explanation. A couple of ’em, if I’m being honest. And one is legit book stuff!
The mother of a dear friend of mine passed away, and she lived near me. Her son and his wife, both of whom are great friends of mine, asked me to assess her books to see if there was anything worthwhile in there. We all figured probably not, but hey, you never know, right? And she was a pack rat, as was her late husband, so treasures were possible.
There were a couple of catches. One was that she lived near where we had originally moved to in New Mexico, which is now an hour away from where I now live, but is certainly much closer than the five hours away where Bill and Kate live. I have time and am certainly willing to help, so that was just a minor thing.
The bigger issue is that, while I’m pretty good at mysteries, I’m not so well versed at Southwestern history.
Like not at all. And it’s been educational.
There have been books, and pamphlets, and cookbooks, and all manner of things. Including Hillermans and Jances, which were easy enough. But mostly it was Southwestern stuff.
Boxes and boxes of books. It’s kept me busy, and it’s been immense fun.
But that’s why I haven’t reviewed anything.
Well, that and the fact that I’ve been diagnosed with Parkinson’s. But that’s not really a good reason. Assessing books, however, really is.
I’m going to try to have a review next month, but I’m planning on putting these books up for sale, and honestly, that may take a lot of time, so we’ll see what next month brings.
Oh, but it’s exciting!
After catching up on my Haller, Bosch, and Ballard, I picked up another from my always growing To Be Read Pile – Stephen Hunter’s Game of Snipers from 2019. Burned through it in two days, as one does with a thriller of this quality (please note I chose to not writer “of this calibre”. Swagger books are reliable fun. I don’t know about anyone else, but I skip over the nitty-gritty details of the guns in play and stick with the action. This one is as if one put the Day of the Jackal in the US with Swagger part of the team hunting the sniper. And thanks to David G. for keeping me supplied!
We’ve been watching a number of series that I’d recommend: “Dark Wind”, the adaptation of Tony Hillerman’s The Listening Woman, “Reservation Dogs”, “Obi-Wan Kenobi” with a wonderfully guilt-ridden Obi-Wan, “DB Cooper Where Are You”, and “Under the Banner of Heaven”. After watching that, I bought a copy of Jon Krakauer’s book on which it was based and burned through it. First of all, the series is quite accurate when it says “inspired” by the book. While the series is a good police procedural, it is largely fiction. Written in 2003, it is a deep dive into the Mormon faith and the fundamentalist offshoots. True it does center around a vicious double murder but it really is about people blinded by their faith and incapable or unwilling to look at the real world before them. While Krakauer does make a few faint parallels to Isis and other foreign “tribes”, the book felt more relevant to me when matched to Trumpism, and the true believers who know that they know to be truth and everyone else is just wrong.
Now, what I expect to be the last “major” book on Watergate (at least this year) is out: Jefferson Morley’s Scorpion’s Dance. I’d looked forward to this, as I thought his book on James Jesus Angleton, The Ghost, was quite good. But I found this book focusing on the lethal dance between President Nixon and CIA Chief Richard Helms to be oddly light. I suppose I was expecting something of the heft of Waldron’s or Graff’s and I found it short on depth. For instance, during the heat of August 1973, he glides over the details of the Saturday Night Massacre in one small paragraph and doesn’t use that weighted term. I certainly followed along because I knew the details and was hoping for new revelations. There was little of it. I would not recommend this to someone not familiar with that crucial and sordid history.
Yet there were a few bits new to me that I found interesting:
~ After his arrest, James McCord directed his wife and a neighbor, who was also a CIA officer, to burn papers and copies of transcripts of the DNC wiretaps. The damper in the fire place was closed, they filled the house with smoke, and had to explain what was going on to the fire department.
~ He never points to a specific rationale for the Watergate break-ins, but does repeatedly write about the salacious recordings that the bugs provided. It is the supposition of some – like Stanford – that a call girl ring was being run out of the DNC office and the bugs were to get dirt on the Dems. Indeed, the office of Larry O’Brien, the head of the DNC, never was bugged.
~Helms quoted a Nixonian threat as having a “devious, hard-nosed smell”
~ Sometimes it is just the way he phrases things: “In this perilous situation, Helms had one advantage that Nixon did not. For the president, it was illegal to conceal of destroy material evidence, suborn witnesses, or dissemble to law enforcement. Helms, not so much… As CIA director, Helms had discretion to hide certain activities from law enforcement. As the duly sworn president, Nixon did not. And that would make all the difference in determining who would fall first.”
~ I had not known that like JFK, LBJ, and Nixon, Helms had recording equipment in his office. Those recordings and transcripts were destroyed damn fast. Likewise, the day after Nixon’s resignation, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who had been recording and transcribing their meetings since the end of WWII, destroyed all of those records.
~ After his fall, Helms was stunned by how Washington had deserted him. “‘ It was unthinkable that the Establishment would turn against Dick Helms’… He could not understand with all these powerful friends and with all these connections and with all these people who he had helped and become socially close to them and that retained positions of influence and power, that this could nonetheless be done to him…” This brought to mind the disbelief in the intelligence world after Philby defected to the Soviets. He was one of them, he was from their schools, they socialized and ate dinner and drank in the same clubs – this “Old Boy” network was the rot at the center of the post-war Free World. Those who belonged to it were deluded and took us down with them.
~ At Helms’ sentencing, the judge threw down the wrath of the bench at him: “If public officials embark deliberately on a course to disobey and ignore the laws of our land because of some misguided and ill-conceived notion and belief that there are earlier commitments and considerations which they must first observe, the future of our country is in jeopardy.”
What would that Judge, Barrington Parker, an African-American Republican appointed by Nixon, think of January 6th and The Big Lie that won’t die????
Bug (n): An “insect, beetle,” 1620s (earliest reference is to bedbugs), of unknown origin, probably (but not certainly) from or influenced by Middle English bugge “something frightening, scarecrow” (late 14th C.), a meaning obsolete since the “insect” sense arose except in bugbear (1570s) and bugaboo (q.v.).
bug (v.1) “to bulge, protrude,” 1872, originally of eyes, perhaps from a humorous or dialect mispronunciation of bulge (v.). Related: Bugged; bugging. As an adjective, bug-eyed recorded from 1872; so commonly used of space creatures in mid-20th C. science fiction that the initialism (acronym) BEM for bug-eyed monster was current by 1953. (etymonline)
May 7: A Crime Beyond Belief: A Harvard-trained lawyer was convicted of committing bizarre home invasions. Psychosis may have compelled him to do it. But in a case that became a public sensation, he wasn’t the only one who seemed to lose touch with reality.
bug (v.4) “equip with a concealed microphone,” 1949, earlier “equip with an alarm system,” 1919, underworld slang, probably a reference to bug (n.1). Bug (n.) “concealed microphone” is from 1946. Related: Bugged; bugging. (etymonline)
The premise of the book is this: “….a chemical is not intrinsically good or bad, it’s just a chemical. What differs is the intent with which the chemical is used: either to preserve life — or to take it.” (pg.7)
Bradbury forwards this Shakespearean inspired theme (from Hamlet‘s line: “There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”) by detailing the beneficial and lethal qualities of each of the eleven chemicals included in A Taste For Poison. By describing the underlying science of how said chemical kills on a cellular level, he conversely covers the knowledge we’ve reaped from sussing out their methods.
Now, don’t let the science scare you off. Bradbury’s explanations are clear, concise, and easily understood. (Even with fuzzy recollections of high school biology classes.)
Augmenting the science are true crime cases featuring said substances. While a number of the crimes covered are quite famous, due to A Taste For Poison‘s firm focus on the chemical itself, these well canvassed cases find new life (so to speak). Thereby making the book a pleasure to read.
Balancing out this chilling subject matter is Bradbury’s sly sense of humor. Which not only generates wry observations, it keeps the book moving smoothly onward and from sinking into its own morbidness.
Seriously, A Taste For Poison is a fascinating read. One I would recommend to any mystery reader with a curious mind as it celebrates neither crime nor criminal. Rather, it demonstrates how these substances have been misused by a few and have helped the many.
First off, I highly recommend the new Netflix series “The Lincoln Lawyer”. Yes, there was a 2011 Matthew McConaughey movie by that name, but while it is about the same character, this series is a whole, new deal. Mickey Haller is an LA defense attorney who works mostly out of his car (hence his nickname). But this new 10-episode series comes from The Brass Verdict, the second book in the series by Michael Connelly. And, no – Bosch is not in the series due to SPECTRE having those rights. [Come to think of it, is the reason McConaughey does Lincoln car commercials because he was in The Lincoln Lawyer? Just occurred to me…]
Second off (I know that isn’t what you say but why not??”), I highly recommend “The Offer”, a series about the making of The Godfather. Great cast with a story told by mixing in famous lines from the movie, reminiscent of how Shakespeare in Love used motifs from the theatre. The series is on Paramount+.
Third off, if you want to get a true history of what Ukraine has been through in its past, and if you have a strong soul, read Timothy Snyder’s Bloodlands. It is NOT an easy read. Be warned that there will be times you have to put it down. It covers the years 1930 – 45 and what happened in the territory that now encompasses Poland, Ukraine, and the Baltic states, and the 14 MILLION humans murdered by Stalin and Hitler. Strong stuff and important stuff to know.
Last off, everyone should read Michael Lewis’s ThePremonition. All of his books are gems. I started with Moneyball. The Premonition deals with the disparate people who were pulled together by events to fight pandemics in the US and what happened when The Big One (covid) hit. It’s a fascinating story of smart people trying to do the best thing constantly thwarted by people in power who couldn’t, or wouldn’t, understand. And while I’m at it, I’d recommend his podcast ” Against the Rules”. Like his books, he focuses on the “referees” (ie people with power) in the world who don’t know what they’re doing. A particularly stand-out episode is “The Overconfidence Game”, about idiot men explaining things they don’t understand to women who do. Sad and funny...
One of the shop’s great old (length of time, not chronological age) customers was a Pat, a gentleman collector with a vast, VAST collection of books, mostly paperbacks. He kept track of them all with a notebook that had grid paper marked up to note what he had, what he needed to upgrade in quality, and where the holes in the collection were. Here are some photos he sent me of just four of the groups. If you think you have too many books, rest easy…
Many Thanks to Pat for sharing some views of his impressive collection.
astonish (v.): c. 1300, astonien, “to stun, strike senseless,” from Old French estoner “to stun, daze, deafen, astound,” from Vulgar Latin *extonare, from Latin ex “out” (see ex-) + tonare “to thunder” (see thunder (n.)); so, literally “to leave someone thunderstruck.” The modern form (influenced by English verbs in -ish, such as distinguish, diminish) is attested from 1520s. The meaning “amaze, shock with wonder” is from 1610s. (etymonline)
confound (v.) c. 1300, “to condemn, curse,” also “to destroy utterly;” from Anglo-French confoundre, Old French confondre (12th C.) “crush, ruin, disgrace, throw into disorder,” from Latin confundere “to confuse, jumble together, bring into disorder,” especially of the mind or senses, “disconcert, perplex,” properly “to pour, mingle, or mix together,” from assimilated form of com “together” (see con-) + fundere “to pour” (from nasalized form of PIE root *gheu- “to pour”).
From mid-14th C. as “to put to shame, disgrace.” The figurative sense of “confuse the mind, perplex” emerged in Latin, passed into French and thence to English by late 14th C. The Latin past participle confusus, meanwhile, became confused (q.v.). The meaning “treat or regard erroneously as identical” is from 1580s.
confounded (adj.) as an intensive execration, “odious, detestable, damned,” 1650s, past-participle adjective from confound in its older sense of “condemn, curse,” which came to be considered “a milder form of imprecation” [OED]. It is perhaps a euphemism for damned. The sense of “put to mental confusion” is recorded from mid-14th C. [etymonline]
confusion (n.) c. 1300, confusioun, “overthrow, ruin,” from Old French confusion “disorder, confusion, shame” (11th C.) and directly from Latin confusionem (nominative confusio) “a mingling, mixing, blending; confusion, disorder,” noun of action from past-participle stem of confundere “to pour together,” also “to confuse” (see confound).
Meaning “act of mingling together two or more things or notions properly separate” is from mid-14th C. Sense of “a putting to shame, perturbation of the mind” (a sort of mental “overthrow”) is from c. 1400 in English, while that of “mental perplexity, state of having indistinct ideas” is from 1590s. Meaning “state of being mixed together,” literally or figuratively, “a disorderly mingling” is from late 14th C.
confuse (v.) From the 1550s in a literal sense “mix or mingle things or ideas so as to render the elements indistinguishable;” from mid-18th C. in the active, figurative sense of “perplex the mind or ideas of, discomfit in mind or feeling,” but not in general use until after c. 1800. From 1862 as “erroneously regard as identical.” It took over these senses from its older doublet, confound (q.v.).
The past participle confused (q.v.) is attested much earlier, in Middle English (serving as an alternative past tense to confound), evidently an adaptation of Old French confus or Latin confusus, “with the native ppl. ending -ED and the present stem a much later inference from it” [OED]. (etymonline)
puzzle (v.) 1590s, pusle “bewilder, confound, perplex with difficult problems or questions,” possibly frequentative of pose (v.) in obsolete sense of “perplex” (compare nuzzle from nose). To puzzle (something) out “resolve or discover by long cogitation or careful investigation” is by 1781. Puzzling (adj.) “bewildering, perplexing,” is from the 1660s. Bepuzzle (v.), to “perplex,” from the 1590s, from be- + puzzle. (etymonline)
boggle (v.): 1590s, “to start with fright (as a startled horse does), shy, take alarm,” from Middle English bugge “specter” (among other things, supposed to scare horses at night); see bug (n.); also compare bogey (n.1), boggart. The meaning ” hesitate, stop as if afraid to proceed in fear of unforeseen difficulties” is from 1630s; that of “confound, cause to hesitate” is from 1640s. As a noun from 1650s. Related: Boggled; boggling; boggler (from c. 1600 as “one who hesitates”). [etymonline]
amaze (v.)”overwhelm or confound with sudden surprise or wonder,” 1580s, back-formation from Middle English amased “stunned, dazed, bewildered,” (late 14th C.), earlier “stupefied, irrational, foolish” (c. 1200), from Old English amasod, from a- (1), probably used here as an intensive prefix, + *mæs (see maze). Related: Amazed; amazing. (etymonline)
bamboozle (v.) “to cheat, trick, swindle,” 1703, originally a slang or cant word, of unknown origin. Perhaps Scottish from bombaze, bumbaze “confound, perplex,” or related to bombast, or related to French embabouiner “to make a fool (literally ‘baboon’) of.” Wedgwood suggests Italian bambolo, bamboccio, bambocciolo “a young babe,” extended by metonymy to mean “an old dotard or babish gull.” Related: Bamboozled; bamboozler; bamboozling. As a noun from 1703. (etymonline)
There are many reasons why Murder Maps makes an excellent read. One of which is the selection of crimes featured in the book. Namely, most cases highlight a new forensic technique, first conviction using said technique, and/or new methodology police use to catch the perpetrator. We take techniques like fingerprinting, crime scene photography, and criminal profiling for granted – however, they aren’t nearly as old as one might think!
The second reason why I loved reading this book was the crimes Dr. Grey decided to detail. Of course, the covered period 1811 – 1911 includes the notorious crimes of H.H. Holmes, Crippen, and Jack the Ripper. However, rather than sticking to the stock descriptions of these heinous crimes, Dr. Grey includes often overlooked details. Including the five other possible victims of Jack the Ripper, the pioneering techniques the police used during the Ripper’s spree, and their failures.
Besides coving the most notorious crimes and culprits, Murder Maps also includes all kinds of other murders, including examples I’ve read repeatedly in fiction but never imagined having a real-life counterpart! Such as this old trope: an innocent actor unwittingly wields a real weapon instead of a prop and kills a fellow actor while on stage during a performance….
Speaking of the crimes detailed in Murder Maps, it reminds me of one of my favorite podcasts, The True Crime Files. The book gives you just enough details of the crime: who the victims were, where it took place, if/how it was solved, and how the judicial system dealt with the perpetrators (if they were, in fact, guilty). So if, for one reason or another, one of the crimes sparks your interest, you’ve enough information at your disposal to look it up for yourself.
Then there are the maps.
Each entry in Murder Maps, no matter how big or small, contains at least one illustration (usually from one newspaper or another) or photo (mug shots and/or crime scene photos), a brief description, and a map. Now, I must admit (for me), the maps containing only a single point (where the crime occurred) were only somewhat helpful. However, the maps where Dr. Grey put multiple features of interest, such as where the killers lived, worked, or were born in relation to where the victims were worked, attacked, or found – provide a wealth of information.
I can honestly say it’s been a very long time since I’ve enjoyed a piece of true-crime writing as much as I’ve enjoyed Murder Maps.
I would highly recommend Murder Maps to anyone who would like to dip their toes into the genera or to an aficionado looking for a new case to obsess over, new details/perspective on an old fave, and/or appreciates a well-laid-out book.
Seriously, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.
A Touch of Home
Since we moved back to New Mexico, I’ve been drawn to re-reading some of the authors that made New Mexico home. I know, you’re thinking about Tony Hillerman, and you should since he was fantastic, and I hope you’ve followed his daughter, Anne’s career.
But looking at these mountains out my front door has led me down more non-traditional paths.
So I decided to read some Walter Satterthwait. Granted, his Joshua Croft books are set in Santa Fe, which this absolutely is not, and there’s a definite rivalry between northern and southern New Mexico, but for a good, solid story, Walter Satterthwait is spot on.
“But outside town, the countryside is still spare and uncluttered, the sunlight still reels down from a clear blue silky sky, the mountains and the buttes still soar wild and reckless from a landscape so nonchalant about its lean rugged beauty, so indifferent to the passage of time, and the passage of man, that it takes the breath away. Driving through this country can be, should be, an exercise in humility; and that may be one of the very best exercises possible.“
One of the things that I like about Joshua Croft is that his cynicism extends to himself. He questions everything, including his own impressions of people and events, and that is brilliantly showcased in The Hanged Man, where Croft is asked to investigate the murder of a man who just paid an undisclosed but enormous amount for a single Tarot card.
The cast of characters and suspects is just as colorful as any Tarot deck, and the delight of Satterthwait’s writing is that the people come close to being cartoonish, almost caricatures, and then he brings them back down to earth in some commonplace way that resonates.
The Hanged Man was written in 1993, and the delight of it is that, while much of New Mexico has urbanized and changed, the bones are still the same. I know these dusty roads, and back ways, and the way that people here can seem more open when they’re really quite secretive.
Maybe it’s the sun, maybe it’s the heat, maybe it’s the fact that you can trust a rattlesnake to be more honest than a human being half the time, but whatever it is about living in New Mexico, and about looking into the shadows, Walter Satterthwait is well worth your time.
~For the record, we miss doing our annual April Fool’s message ~
Words for the Month
pseudepigrapha (n.) “books or writings of false authorship,” 1620s (implied in pseudepigraphical), especially of spurious writing professing to be Biblical in character and inspired in authorship, from Modern Latin use of Greek neuter plural of pseudepigraphos “with false title,” from pseudos “a lie” (see pseudo-) + epigraphē “a writing” (see epigraph).
fable (n.) c. 1300, “falsehood, fictitious narrative; a lie, pretense,” from Old French fable “story, fable, tale; drama, play, fiction; lie, falsehood” (12th C.), from Latin fabula “story, story with a lesson, tale, narrative, account; the common talk, news,” literally “that which is told,” from fari “speak, tell,” from PIE root *bha- (2) “to speak, tell, say.”
Restricted sense of “animal story” (early 14th C.) comes from the popularity of Aesop’s tales. In modern folklore terms, defined as “a short, comic tale making a moral point about human nature, usually through animal characters behaving in human ways” [“Oxford Dictionary of English Folklore”]. (etymonline)
pseudo-: Often before vowels pseud-, word-forming element meaning “false; feigned; erroneous; in appearance only; resembling,” from Greek pseudo-, combining form of pseudēs “false, lying; falsely; deceived,” or pseudos “falsehood, untruth, a lie,” both from pseudein “to tell a lie; be wrong, break (an oath),” also, in Attic, “to deceive, cheat, be false,” but often regardless of intention, a word of uncertain origin. Words in Slavic and Armenian have been compared; by some scholars the Greek word is connected with *psu- “wind” (= “nonsense, idle talk”); Beekes suggests Pre-Greek origin.
Productive in compound formation in ancient Greek (such as pseudodidaskalos “false teacher,” pseudokyon “a sham cynic,” pseudologia “a false speech,” pseudoparthenos “pretended virgin”), it began to be used with native words in later Middle English with a sense of “false, hypocritical” (pseudoclerk “deceitful clerk;” pseudocrist “false apostle;” pseudoprest “heretical priest;” pseudoprophete; pseudofrere) and has been productive since then; the list of words in it in the OED print edition runs to 13 pages. In science, indicating something deceptive in appearance or function. (etymonline)
warlock (n.) Old English wærloga “traitor, liar, enemy, devil,” from wær “faith, fidelity; a compact, agreement, covenant,” from Proto-Germanic *wera- (source also of Old High German wara “truth,” Old Norse varar “solemn promise, vow”), from PIE root *were-o- “true, trustworthy.” Second element is an agent noun related to leogan “to lie” (see lie (v.1); and compare Old English wordloga “deceiver, liar”).
Original primary sense seems to have been “oath-breaker;” given special application to the devil (c. 1000), but also used of giants and cannibals. Meaning “one in league with the devil” is recorded from c. 1300. Ending in -ck (1680s) and meaning “male equivalent of a witch” (1560s) are from Scottish. (etymonline)
OK – we have to note two things about author our author events listing:
1 – it’s been so long since we last listed any that we don’t remember our format!
2 – it’s been so long since the shop closed that we might be missing some authors because we don’t recognize their names. we urge you to do your own searching to catch what we miss!
Words of the Month
latebrous (adj.) “full of hiding places,” 1650s, from Latin latebrosus, from latebra “a hiding place,” from latere “to lie hidden” (see latent). Hence latebricole “living or lurking in holes” (of spiders, etc.), from Latin latebricola “one who dwells in lurking places.” (etymonline)
lie (v.1) “speak falsely, tell an untruth for the purpose of misleading,” late 12th C., from Old English legan, ligan, earlier leogan “deceive, belie, betray” (class II strong verb; past tense leag, past participle logen), from Proto-Germanic *leuganan (source also of Old Norse ljuga, Danish lyve, Old Frisian liaga, Old Saxon and Old High German liogan, German lügen, Gothic liugan), a word of uncertain etymology, with possible cognates in Old Church Slavonic lugati, Russian luigatĭ; not found in Latin, Greek, or Sanskrit. Emphatic lie through (one’s) teeth is from 1940s.
lie (n.1) “an untruth; conscious and intentional falsehood, false statement made with intent to deceive,” Old English lyge, lige “lie, falsehood,” from Proto-Germanic *lugiz (source also of Old Norse lygi, Danish løgn, Old Frisian leyne (fem.), Dutch leugen (fem.), Old High German lugi, German Lüge, Gothic liugn “a lie”), from the root of lie (v.1). To give the lie to “accuse directly of lying” is attested from 1590s. Lie-detector is recorded by 1909. ‘In mod. use, the word is normally a violent expression of moral reprobation, which in polite conversation tends to be avoided, the synonyms falsehood and untruth being often substituted as relatively euphemistic.‘ [OED] (etyomonline)
false (adj.): Late Old English, “intentionally untrue, lying,” of religion, “not of the true faith, not in accord with Christian doctrines,” from Old French fals, faus “false, fake; incorrect, mistaken; treacherous, deceitful” (12th C., Modern French faux), from Latin falsus “deceptive, feigned, deceitful, pretend,” also “deceived, erroneous, mistaken,” past participle of fallere “deceive, disappoint,” which is of uncertain origin (see fail (v.)).
Adopted into other Germanic languages (cognates: German falsch, Dutch valsch, Old Frisian falsk, Danish falsk), though English is the only one in which the active sense of “deceitful” (a secondary sense in Latin) has predominated. From c. 1200 as “deceitful, disloyal, treacherous; not genuine;” from early 14th C. as “contrary to fact or reason, erroneous, wrong.” False alarm recorded from 1570s. False step (1700) translates French faux pas. To bear false witness is attested from mid-13th C. False prophet “one who prophecies without divine commission or by evil spirits,” is attested from late 13th C. (etymonline)
By good fortune, I found a new Culinary Mystery series at my local bookstore – A Tita Rosie’s Kitchen Mystery.
Our heroine, Lila Macapagal, has moved back to her hometown of Shady Palms, Illinois, to lick her wounds after catching her fiance in bed with a couple of her neighbors. So instead of pursuing her dream of opening her own cafe in Chicago, she’s working on saving her Tita’s (Auntie’s) restaurant….an endeavor which becomes even more challenging when a notoriously finicky food critic and Lila’s ex-high school sweetheart drops dead face first in a bowl of ginataang bilo-bilo. Even worse? Someone poisoned the dead man’s food! And Lila’s No. 1 on the detective’s suspect list!
There are several reasons I love this book. Chief amongst them is the hook of Tita Rosie’s Kitchen series – the food. Now, I’m not very knowledgeable about Filipino cuisine. So reading a mystery, where it’s front and center, helps me learn something about it from Mia’s descriptions. Plus, the well-written recipes in the back of the book helped me cook some of the dishes myself. (Even more exciting, Lila’s a baker, and there’s an ube crinkle cookie recipe I’m dying to make!)
Another aspect of this book I enjoyed was Lila herself. She’s a complicated woman trying her best to balance her familial obligations with her own dreams and totally understands the chances of making her family happy while following said dreams are slim. Yet, this knowledge doesn’t make her bitter or the book dour – it adds layers.
Now I won’t say this is a flawless first book. However, it’s a very good one and well worth the reading time. If you need a further endorsement, directly after finishing the last page of Arsenic and Adobo, I not only ordered Mia’s second book (Homicide and Halo-Halo) – I pre-ordered her third (Blackmail and Bibingka)!
But seriously, if you enjoy culinary mysteries and want to read one set in a small family-owned restaurant filled with delectable scents and colorful characters, this is the series for you!
The Real Deal
Okay, I was absent last month, but in my defense, I was moving. Again.
“But Fran,” I hear your frowned concern as you ask, “didn’t you just move? From Washington to New Mexico? Like eighteen months ago?”
Yes, yes, I did. And now we’ve moved again. If I never see another moving box, it’ll be too soon. And I’ll go into detail with pictures later on. Right now I’m hiding from moving by talking books with you.
Specifically one book. It’s no secret I’m a fan of Glen Erik Hamilton. His debut, Past Crimes, swept award nominations and justifiably. If you ever want to get a solid feel for Seattle, Glen captures it there, and is protagonist, Van Shaw, is simply fabulous, flawed and funny and filled with resolve. I love him.
In Mercy River, Van leaves Seattle for a small town in Oregon where his buddy, Leo Pak, is arrested for murder. Van ends up in the small town of Mercy River just as a three-day event celebrating Army Rangers is beginning. With his background, Van fits in just fine, but because he’s there on Leo’s behalf, he rubs townfolk the wrong way right off the bat.
Of course Van doesn’t care. Why would he? But he is curious as to why Leo’s been accused, and something is decidedly off. With his typical resourcefulness and attention to detail, Van discovers there’s more going on than anyone really suspects.
As always, it’s the people who get to me. I fell for Van from the beginning, and wondered how he was going to change and grow as the series progressed. Let me tell you, Glen Erik Hamilton is stellar. Things in Van’s life change, and that affects him. The guy we met coming in on the bus at the beginning of Past Crimes is still the guy pulling into Mercy River, but now you can see the scars, and I don’t mean the ones on his face.
I also love the dynamics. Van’s relationship with Leo, with the General, with the townspeople, with Luce (remember her? She’s back), all change and grow. Not everything works out happily, because of course it doesn’t, and that’s as it should be.
If you haven’t read Past Crimes, you can pick up Mercy River and be just fine. But you won’t want to. Glen Erik Hamilton is a crazy good writer, and you’ll want to spend quality time in the world he’s created for Van. Trust me
“An irony of Watergate is that the once secret plot to subvert American democracy now stands as one of the most documented and covered stories in American history; anyone seeking to understand the story of Richard Nixon’s secrecy and subterfuge drowns in information.” So why need another one? Because new stuff is always coming out.
Garrett M. Graff’s Watergate: A New History was full of facts and figures – the facts often interesting and funny, some bizarre, and figures who almost never come off looking good.
~ The Watergate complex was built by an Italian outfit to be DC’s answer to NYC’s Lincoln Center; culturally active and a swanky place for the swells to live. Things didn’t work and the furnishings were, well – “Martha Mitchell lamented how ‘this place was built like low-income housing'”. It was supposed to be very safe with state-of-the-art security systems. Yet in 1969, while overseas with the presidential party, Rose Mary Woods “returned to find her condo burglarized and a suitcase of jewelry stolen.”
~ Tony Ulasewicz, the private eye tasked with making calls and delivering payoffs to the Watergate burglars, carried so much change for the pay phones that his pants’ pockets wore out. He got the kind of change maker that bus drivers used to use.
~ “Nixon spent nearly 200 days in San Clemente during his first term, another 150 in Key Biscayne – a full year away from the confines and structures of the White House.”
~ An early investigation of the various crimes was by the House Banking committee headed by Wright Patman. “Patman had come into Congress six months before the Crash of 1929: by the time the Watergate investigation rolled around, the seventy-nine-year-old has served in the US House of Representatives for a fifth of the entire history of his country.”
~ Unlike how it has normally been portrayed, Deep Throat’s true identity was accurately guessed early on, both in the press and in the Oval Office.
~ The Special Prosecutor’s office had so much paper in so many file cabinets that the flooring had to be re-enforced from the floor below.
~ Even Sam Ervin, who I had always revered from his helming of the Senate Watergate Committee, is noted for being a contradictory Dixi-crat: “A self-proclaimed ‘country lawyer,’ he held an intense interest in constitutional rights and civil liberties, as well as possessing a sharp legal intellect that he’d regularly deployed in the fifties and sixties to protect Jim Crow laws and segregation.”
It can be safely stated that few of the huge number of figures involved in the Watergate quagmire had anything good to say about one another. Case in point, J. Fred Buzhardt, brought in to be the White House legal counsel on Watergate issues. One former colleague remarked that “He’s the kind of guy who could steal your underwear without ever disturbing your pants.” Another claimed “If you need a job done with no traces< Fred Buzhardt is your man. He can bury a body six feet under without turning a shovelful of dirt.”
It is a fascinating story that Graff tells well. He’s a smooth writer and the story unfolds like the slow-motion catastrophe that we know it will become. It was not only a third-rate burglary, it was also a clown-car of crimes, often capturing the clowns without them being aware of what they were doing – and most were lawyers!
“As time would make clear, the actions around the Watergate scandal were certainly criminal, and there was without a doubt a conspiracy, but labeling it a ‘criminal conspiracy’ implies a level of forethought, planning, a precise execution that isn’t actually evident at any stage of the debacle. Instead, the key players slipped, fumbled, and stumbled their was from the White House to prison, often without ever seeming to make a conscious decision to join the cover-up.”
One odd thing about the book is Graff’s omission of the “Cuban Dossier”, the reported object of the Plumbers. The dossier detailed the CIA/Mob attempts to assassinate Castro, as well as other covert CIA activities in the Americas. Bear in mind that the burglaries were in 1972 and the world would not learn of the Agency’s “family jewels” for another three years with the revelations of the Church Committee. So Nixon, who was up to his jowls in the Cuban schemes and ties to the Mafia, desperately wanted any copies of the dossier found and destroyed and he believed the DNC’s office at the Watergate had one. Bear in mind that most of the burglars and those running the operation were CIA.
Still and all, I cruised through Graff’s book, shaking my head through most of it, laughing out loud at parts. It’s an important piece of American history and well worth your time.
Should you want to read more about Watergate, I highly recommend Lamar Waldron’s Watergate: The Hidden History. He exhaustively details Nixon’s mob ties, his involvement in the CIA/Mob schemes against Cuba, and how many figures from those plans were then involved in Watergate. It’s masterful.
GALL (n.): brazen boldness coupled with impudent assurance and insolence (Merriam-Webster)
gall (v.)”to make sore by chafing,” mid-15c., from gall (n.2). Earlier “to have sores, be sore” (early 14c.). Figurative sense of “harass, vex, irritate, chafe the spirit of,” is from 1570s. A past-participle adjective gealled is found in Old English, but OED says this is from the noun. Related: Galled; galling. (etymonline)
OK, just had to get that outta our systems – – – –
weird (adj.): c. 1400, “having power to control fate,” from wierd (n.), from Old English wyrd “fate, chance, fortune; destiny; the Fates,” literally “that which comes,” from Proto-Germanic *wurthiz (source also of Old Saxon wurd, Old High German wurt “fate,” Old Norse urðr “fate, one of the three Norns”), from PIE *wert– “to turn, to wind,” (source also of German werden, Old English weorðan “to become”), from root *wer– (2) “to turn, bend.” For sense development from “turning” to “becoming,” compare phrase turn into “become.”
The sense “uncanny, supernatural” developed from Middle English use of weird sisters for the three fates or Norns (in Germanic mythology), the goddesses who controlled human destiny. They were portrayed as odd or frightening in appearance, as in “Macbeth” (and especially in 18th and 19th century productions of it), which led to the adjectival meaning “odd-looking, uncanny” (1815); “odd, strange, disturbingly different” (1820). Related: Weirdly; weirdness. (etymonline)
jibber-jabber (v.) From 1728, “to talk gibberish,” reduplication of jabber (q.v.). Related: Jibber-jabbering. As a noun from 1813, also gibber-gabber. Compare gibble-gabble “idle talk, chatter” (c. 1600). Jibber (v.) is attested from 1824. (etymonline)
jibe (v.) To “agree, fit,” 1813, gibe, of unknown origin, originally U.S. colloquial, perhaps a figurative extension of earlier jib, gybe (v.) “shift a sail or boom” (see jib). OED, however, suggests a phonetic variant of chime, as if meaning “to chime in with, to be in harmony.” Related: Jibed; jibes; jibing.
gibe (n.) A “a taunt,” 1570s, from gibe (v.) “speak sneeringly” (1560s), of uncertain origin; perhaps from French giber “to handle roughly,” or an alteration of gaber “to mock.”(etymonline)
Ever since learning about the Nutshell Studies – I’ve wanted to learn more. Hence my rare delve into 18 Tiny Deaths. A book which I thoroughly enjoyed reading…after I made my way past the first chapter or two. The chapters, while necessary to set the scene – so the reader both understands who Captain Lee was, where she came from, and why her relentless pursuit was so important – are a tad dry.
But then you make it to chapter four and discover the slight slog was entirely worth it. 18 Tiny Deaths does an excellent job of presenting what forensic science was like back in Lee’s day and what inspired her to take up her’s life work. Work which extended far beyond the creation of her famous Nutshell Studies and earned her the title of the Mother of Modern Forensic Science.
Seriously, I could go on and on about the impact Lee had on investigative procedures – but then I’d be robbing you of the pleasure of this read. Though, to be warned, The Nutshell Studies themselves only play a small part in this book, as she created them as study aids for her seminars. So it doesn’t go into excruciating detail about their creation – instead, 18 Tiny Deaths focuses on the whole of Lee’s contributions to forensic science.
I would highly recommend this read to anyone who enjoys reading about interesting women who, through charm and single-minded determination, get things done and enjoy reading about investigative side crime. (It’s also a great book to read alongside or before The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death by Botz.)
This is just a little blurb for those of you who are still working on needlecrafts while binging television shows like Nancy Drew, You, How To Get Away With Murder, Death In Paradise, and Father Brown…(BTW – I recommend all the aforementioned series.)
In any case, back to my main topic.
Creepy Cross-Stitch contains some unique patterns, which, like the front cover, includes patterns for friendly little ghosts, a grave, fun vintage Halloween themes, and a skull bell jar pattern.
All of which are fun to stitch.
(For edification’s sake – it does not contain Ouiji, palmistry, or witchery flavored designs or embroidery. If you’re looking for those designs – try Stitch Craft by Gayla Partridge. Another book I’d recommend checking out.)
futz (v.) To “loaf, waste time,” 1932, American English, perhaps from Yiddish. Related: Futzed; futzing. (etymonline)
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?
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….