screwball (n): crazy, insane, odd or eccentric, predates the “screwball comedy” of Hollywood. From baseball, a pitch that breaks the other way from a curve ball, invented in the 1890s. (Says You! #1523)
blockhead (n.): 1540s, also block-head – a “stupid person,” someone whose head is impenetrable, from the head-shaped oaken block used by wig-makers and hat-makers, though the insulting sense is equally old.
nincompoop (n.) 1670s, nicompoop; modern form from 1713. Despite similarity [noted by Johnson] to Latin legal phrase non compos mentis “insane, mentally incompetent” (c. 1600), the connection is denied by the OED’s etymologists because the earliest forms lack the second -n-. Weekley thinks first element may be a proper name, and cites Nicodemus, which he says was used in French for “a fool,” or Nicholas. Klein says it is probably an invented word. Century Dictionary has no objection to the non compos mentis theory. (etymonline)
whackjob (n): one whose beliefs are not based in reality, first used in Elmore Leonard’s 1992 Rum Punch. (Says You! #1523)
What We’ve Been Up To
The Broken Spine – Dorothy St. James
I thoroughly enjoyed reading this mystery.
Tru, our librarian heroine, spoke to the not-so-secret rebellious streak housed in my heart of hearts. By not only saving hundreds of books – that her town’s leading lights consigned to the dump for being “obsolete” – then used said books to open a secret lending library! (Can it get any better?) As the aforementioned leading lights, decided to transform Tru’s beloved library into a bookless technology center.
But no good deed goes unpunished.
Just as Tru and her cohorts are spit polishing the brass for the secret opening of their clandestine reading room – one of the driving forces behind this abominable shift in biblio-philosophies is found crushed beneath a shelf of DVDs. And Tru, who didn’t mince any words about his bookless library scheme, is suspect numero uno.
So now, unless she’s willing to rat-out her secret project (Which isn’t going to happen even if it gives her an iron-clad alibi) Tru must figure out who actually did the deed to save her own bacon!
While this is a cozy mystery, it’s not a cute one, and it’s a fine first in series. St. James does a good job in adding layers to her characters and nuance to her plot. If you enjoy reading biblio mysteries, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed with The Broken Spine.
Oh, and did I mention there’s a cat named Dewey that has his paws all over things?
It’s summertime, vacation time, time away from school. So let me drag you back to high school via the inestimable Lisa Lutz. Trust me, even if you’ve been to boarding school, you haven’t been to Stonebridge Academy, a New England prep school with a terrible secret.
Alexandra Witt didn’t really want to teach at Stonebridge, but her famous author dad knew she needed a job after things went sideways at her last teaching gig, and he got her a place at the Academy. Alex takes the job, but with serious reservations; she and her father have a difficult past.
It doesn’t take Alex long to figure out the usual issues: teens with issues and egos, teachers with issues and egos, and an eccentric curriculum designed to allow students freedom of expression, which doesn’t always bring out the best in, well, anybody
But there’s something else going on, and because of Alex’s unorthodox teaching methods, she is soon privy to information she didn’t want to have. With strong-willed students going their own ways, Alex is caught up in a really ugly situation, and getting out of it could be incredibly difficult. And dangerous
The Swallows is Lisa Lutz at her best. It’s dark, true, but her trademark humor is liberally sprinkled throughout the novel, and her pacing is breathtaking Told from several points of view, not just Alex’s, you get a good look at what goes on at Stonebridge Academy, and it’s a testament to Lisa’s talent that each voice is unique. There’s never any doubt as to who is talking.
If I have a complaint, it’s that there are so many people – not narrators, but characters in general – that there were times when, having put the book down because stupid life dragged me away, that I had to figure out who was whom again. But then, I’m getting older. These things happen.
The mere fact that The Swallowsis a Lisa Lutz novel should be enough to recommend it to you, if you’ve read her other work. If you haven’t, then by all means, grab it and dive in. Oh, you’re in for quite a ride, even if you’re back in school during summer vacation!
Around the time the shop was closing, the second novel by Andy Weir was set to be published. I’d loved both the book and the movie The Martian, and had high hopes for this new one Artemis. Over three years later I picked up a copy and have to say it was a disappointment. The science that underlies the fiction, as with The Martian, gives it the foundation of believablility. But the voice of the central character is annoying. The story would’ve been better, sleeker, had it been written in third person. But there you go. If you want a crime story set in the first settlement on the moon, and what the science and physics of it would be, give it a try.
Finally, it will come as no secret that we are no fans of Amazon. In fact, for years we’ve referred to them as SPECTRE due to what we feel is their nefarious practices. Now, with the news that Amazon is in talks to buy MGM for $9Billion, the circle comes around. MGM is the owner of the James Bond movies. If Amazon does buy the entertainment behemoth, SPECTRE will own SPECTRE…
If our counting is right, there were 52 mass shootings in April, 2021. In May – and the month isn’t over as this is typed – there have been 65, more than 2 a day. If it feels as if they’re happening all the time it is because they are.
Ever wonder what Winnie-the-Pooh would do if he found himself embroiled in a mystery? I believe H.F. Heard inadvertently gave us the answer in a Taste For Honey.
Admittedly, H.F. Heard didn’t intend to write an A.A. Milne pastiche. Heard intended A Taste For Honey to enter the Sherlockian canon of works. The driving force within the novel is a mysterious beekeeper who owns a surprising amount of knowledge in a diverse number of fields. And I concede Mr. Mycroft and his bees are intriguing.
HELPFUL HINT if you decide to pick up this title… If you know nothing about this book other than this review and the blurb on the back, I advise you NOT TO READ Otto Penzler’s introduction.
Until after you’ve finished the book.
Unfortunately, within those roman numeral pages, Mr. Penzler unintentionally spoils the biggest mystery in the book and its’ ending by making one fundamental assumption – the reader already knows how A Taste For Honey wraps up. Granted, it’s a reasonable assumption – as A Taste For Honey‘s original publication date was eighty years ago (1941) and is apparently well known in Sherlockian circles. However, if, like me, you’d never heard of this book prior to picking it up – take my advice read the introduction last.
In any case, back to Sydney Silchester – the reluctant companion pressed into service by Mr. Mycroft – who reminded me of that famous yellow bear.
Not only because his singular love of honey put him in the path of both a murderer and a detective. But because of his love of long walks, nature, his own company, and his overall reluctance to get involved with other people. And really, Sydney is a man of very little brains who (if it weren’t for Mr. Mycroft) would’ve become the villain’s second victim.
Undoubtedly, Heard didn’t intend for me to liken his narrator to Edward Bear. However, once it dawned on me, I couldn’t shake the notion! It added an extra layer of humor to an already excellent mystery I’d happily recommend to anyone who enjoys British and/or Sherlockian-style mystery.
(BTW – I’ve no evidence that even hints that Heard intended to mash together Winnie-the-Pooh and Sherlockiana. Though chronologically speaking, Pooh appeared in print (1926) well before A Taste For Honey was written. Additionally, Milne did pen a well-received locked-room mystery in 1922, The Red House Mystery – thereby getting on the radar of mystery readers and writers….so it’s possible, though not probable…right?)
Of course I want you to read the latest Joshilyn Jackson novel. I want you to read ALL of her work, so it’s no surprise that I want you to read this one, and the core reasons are just as compelling.
Can she create complex and believable characters? If anything, they only get better.
Can she tell an amazing and gripping story? Oh my goodness yes, and again, they just get better.
Will you find something to relate to? That’s her special gift.
Bree Cabbat was not raised in wealth. Her single mom firmly believed that the world was dangerous and a deeply scary place. However, Bree has found comfort and happiness in her marriage to Trey, and their two daughters are beautiful and headstrong and as challenging as pre-teens can be. Right now, though, Bree’s six-month-old baby, Robert, is the center of her world.
She figures she imagined the woman looking into her window, but is disturbed when that same strange lady appears in a parking lot, watching her.
And then Robert vanishes. It only takes the turn of a head, a few precious seconds, and Bree’s baby is gone. But Robert hasn’t been taken by some woman who longs for a child. No, Robert is being held hostage, not for money but for Bree to complete one simple task, along with her silence.
Here’s where my foggy brain caught up to my history of reading Joshilyn Jackson’s books. She tells one helluva tale, that’s indisputable. But what I hadn’t realized until Mother May Iis that she shines a powerful spotlight on social issues. The thing is, she does it in such a personal way that it’s easy to overlook how compelling and clever she is because you’re caught up in the sweep of the story.
If you need to have an issue addressed, look at one of Joshilyn Jackson’s books. From racism to privilege to domestic violence to dysfunctional families, she’s got it covered, and in a way that makes it personal but never preachy. She’s brilliant.
So yes, read Mother May I, and anything else by Joshilyn Jackson that you can get your hands on. Do it now.
“It was common for Negro Leaguers – especially those reared in the Southern states – to cherish the unfettered citizenship that Mexico offered them. Its perks were famously articulated by [Willie] Wells, the Devil himself (fondly regarded across the Spanish-speaking nation as El Diablo, which is inscribed on his Texas tombstone), who observed to Wendell Smith of the Pittsburgh Courier that ‘we live in the best hotels, eat in the best restaurants, and can go anyplace we care to. We don’t enjoy such privileges in the United States. We have everything first-class, plus the fact that the people here are much more considerate than the American baseball fan.’ … Monte Irvin, the future Hall of Famer, played only one season in Mexico before he was called away to World War II, but that season made a profound impression. ‘It was the first time in my life that I felt free.’” Irvin was 23 when drafted.
While it was way past time last year for Major League Baseball to incorporate the records of Negro League players into the statistics of those there were not allowed to play with, Lonnie Wheeler‘s new biography of the man reported by all who saw him play – black and white – to have been the fasted man who ever played baseball, points out the problems doing that .
“‘That Cool Papa Bell,’ recalled [Art] Pennington, speaking to Brent Kelley in Voices from the Negro Leagues, ‘I thought I could outrun him. I was young (Bell’s junior by twenty-one years), and Taylor would have us get out and run the hundred-yard dash. We would run, but all at once Cool Papa would walk on by me. And I thought I could fly in those days.'”
Black baseball was never covered with the specificity of white ball. The white papers rarely covered Negro League games and no papers devoted time or space to reliable box scores. Reconstructing Bell’s or any other player’s stats is a fruitless pursuit. So by not being allowed into the Major Leagues, their abilities were not documented as the white players had been, so it is now impossible to do side-by-side comparisons. They were robbed of playing time and then robbed of the proof that baseball uses to measure a player. Wheeler’s title points to this: The Bona Fide Legend of Cool Papa Bell. There are some newspaper stories, the recorded testaments of his contemporaries, and still pictures, but no film of him flying around the bases. Bell scoring from first on a simple base hit was not odd, nor was stealing his was around the diamond. It is a crime that blackball was treated so poorly, but it isn’t a surprise.
Besides the racist cruelty and hatred they had to withstand, they were also relegated to inferior ballparks (one section of the book relates how one ballpark had tracks running through the outfield and play would be suspended for the trains to pass), uncomfortable travel means, and the indignity of outplaying white players in the off season but not being allowed to outplay them in the regular season. And nothing about this is different from what jazz musicians or any other black person confronted then – or now. But through it all, by all accounts, Bell kept his dignity, kept his attire fine, and was a roll model for all who came in contact with him. He loved the game and was not shy or reluctant to freely give pointers to anyone, whether it was on base running or drag bunting. As Wheeler points out as well, when the major leagues were finally ready to accept black players, those who were too old to be brought “up” worked to ensure the younger players’ statistics were stellar. These veteran players held themselves back while playing so as to highlight the younger players stats, and ensure they’d be taken by the white teams. Stylish and selfless that was Bell.
Wheeler’s book is a lively story, told with spirit and no small amount of sadness for what might have been had the black ball players been allowed to play in the major leagues, had their accomplishments been recorded objectively, had America not been so mean and foolish. But then, that’s the story of American, a lively tale mixed with sadness for how great it should’ve been and what was missed. It’s a great baseball book and an honest American tale.
[and this brings us to our last word twister: in baseball, the foul pole is fair…]
eggcorn (n.) “an idiosyncratic substitution of a word or phrase for a word or words that sound similar or identical in the speaker’s dialect. The new phrase introduces a meaning that is different from the original but plausible in the same context… eggcorns are sometimes also referred to ‘oronyms’… The term eggcorn, as used to refer to this kind of substitution, was coined by professor of linguistics Geoffrey Pullum in September 2003 in response to an article by Mark Liberman on the website Language Log, a group blog for linguists. Liberman discussed the case of a woman who substitutes the phrase egg corn for the word acorn, and he argued that the precise phenomenon lacked a name. Pullum suggested using eggcorn itself as a label… An eggcorn is similar to, but differs from, folk etymology, malapropism, mondegreens or puns.” (Wikipedia)
What We’ve Been Up To
Do you need a new addiction? I’m sure you do. On the upside, this habit’s less problematic than Sherlock’s 7% solution. However, it isn’t without cost.
A subscription box that sends you a mystery to solve every month!
So far, I’ve unmasked a stalker, solved a decades-old cold case, foiled a kidnaper, resolved an art heist, and unraveled several murders in Valley Falls. (The small town where these cases are set. You work for a P.I. firm that takes on all kinds of clients.)
One of the best things about each Deadbolt Mystery Society box, beyond the variety of crimes, is the wildly different types of evidence they supply, kinds of puzzles to solve, and suspects/witnesses/victims you meet.
The puzzles of which I write are sometimes sneaky, always challenging, and require a vast array of skills to solve. One time I created a comprehensive timeline in order to cross-reference events against alibis—another time, I widdled down a massive list of addresses to locate a suspect’s abode and played a board game. On top of the logic & math problems, pictograms, cryptograms…The Deadbolt Mystery Society uses such a wide assortment of puzzles across all their boxes; it keeps them from becoming predictable and your wits sharp!
If you haven’t guessed – I’m a fan.
They remind me vaguely of online hidden-object games like the Enigmatis series (I loved them), Yuletide Legends (an excellent holiday-themed game), or Dreamwalker (another I enjoyed playing). In so far as, no matter how urgent your case, you need to solve each and every puzzle provided to move closer to the penultimate solution.
However, unlike the hidden-object games, which use short animated clips to move the story along – Deadbolt Mystery Society employs QR codes.
More often than not, these QR codes send you to password-protected web pages, which require you to input the solution from one of the aforementioned puzzles in order to obtain the next clue! Keeping the investigator honest – as you can’t just guess the answers – you need to know them.
But once you surmount each hurtle, you are rewarded with a witness statement, diary entries, cryptic phone messages, eerie songs…the list goes on, and you never know what you’re going to uncover next – which is great fun!
(BTW – you need either a smartphone or tablet with a camera to solve each case. Otherwise, you’re dead in the water.)
Deadbolt Mystery Society says each case takes anywhere between 2-6 hours to solve, depending on your skill level and the number of people working together. I take my time and usually solve them in a week or two – depending on how much free time I can carve out (unlike books – I don’t rush thru these). I would recommend these for adults or teens working in tandem with an adult, as most of the puzzles are pretty tricky (by design).
Not sure you’re ready to sign up? The Deadbolt Mystery Society also sells individual boxes – if you want to try it out before committing to a subscription!
FYI: While the web pages, photos, and packets don’t explicitly show any gore, the scenarios themselves can have a high body count (this last month featured a serial killer) together with the puzzle difficulty level… I’m not sure I’d be comfortable gifting a subscription to any of my nieces or nephews under fifteen or sixteen.
A Walk on the Dark Side
I haven’t been reading a lot of noir lately, because things are noir enough in real life, even though I have puppies to help liven things up. Oh, and they do!
But as I was unpacking books, I ran into Lono Waiwaiole’s “Wiley” series. Well, the first two anyway. I haven’t unearthed the third one yet. The thing is, I have them, but I never read them. I like Lono as a person, JB and Bill raved about the books, so I knew I’d like them. I just never got around to it.
I just finished Wiley’s Lament. WHY DID I NOT READ THIS EARLIER? Holy cats.
Wiley is just kinda drifting through life. He’s living in a house owned by his old buddy, Leon, and he gambles to pay the rent. When he comes up short, Wiley leaves his home environs of Portland, OR, and wanders up to Seattle, where he robs drug dealers. He has nothing to lose, as far as he’s concerned.
“When I lose, I go to Seattle and find a drug dealer to rip off.”
“Isn’t that dangerous?”
“I like the symmetry of it. Either I get the money, or it blows up in my face and I don’t need any money.”
“It sounds like you don’t really care which one it is.”
“I don’t,” I said. “That’s the key to the whole thing.”
But when Wiley’s estranged daughter is murdered, his interest in things comes sharply into focus. He blames his buddy, Leon, for Lizzie’s death, but it turns out things are much, much more complicated than what Wiley initially thought, and that drive to find out just what happened puts both Wiley and Leon on a dark and dangerous path.
Lono Waiwaiole‘s writing is dark, visceral, and deeply, profoundly human. Wiley and Leon and their associates are not the guys in white hats. They’re flawed and emotionally scarred, and it takes some looking to see the solid and faithful hearts beating underneath. But it’s there, and you care. Deeply.
And of all the characters I wish I could be, among a whole lot of wonderful and memorable people, I want to be Elmer. He’s a total delight to me. Granted, I want to be faster. Maybe I just want his wisdom.
I’m so sorry I took this long to read Wiley’s Lament, and I’ve got Wiley’s Shuffleclose to hand. If you haven’t read them, now is a good time.
Mike Lawson’s books have an subtle thrum to them, a smooth motion that seems to me to hum. They are the finest example of thrillers as, once they start, they don’t slow down. And though DeMarco is a classic reluctant hero, he never fails to see the case finished, even if he has to cut corners.
House Standoffis a departure for Lawson, this time playing with the strict rules of a whodunnit. Someone close to DeMarco has been murdered in a distant setting, and he’s not going to rest, as he warns the people he bangs into, until he finds out who pulled the trigger. Mike provides a number of suspects and seeds the stories with red herrings. The book works like a Manor House mystery, set in a small town in the Far West. And then he has the audacity of upend the rules. It is a stunning piece of work.
He buffaloed me. I was sure I’d fingered the killer, but …
There are many series I have re-read many times. I think it is time to start the DeMarcos at the beginning. Sounds like as much fun as can be had between the covers of a paperback. Keep me occupied til he next new Lawson book.
bad penny (n): This proverb has lived long in the language. It derives from the notion that some coins were ‘bad’, that is, they were debased or counterfeit.
The ‘clipping’ of coins was rife in the Middle Ages, long before standardisation of the coinage was reliably enforced. This example from the reign of Edward I shows the degree of ‘badness’ that pennies then endured.
The term ‘bad penny’ was established enough in English by the late 14th century for it to have been used in William Langland’s famous prose poem The vision of William concerning Piers Plowman, 1370-90: “Men may lykne letterid men… to a badde peny.”
to coin a phrase : Coining, in the sense of creating, derives from the coining of money by stamping metal with a die. Coins – also variously spelled coynes, coigns, coignes or quoins – were the blank, usually circular, disks from which money was minted. This usage derived from an earlier 14th century meaning of coin, which meant wedge. The wedge-shaped dies which were used to stamp the blanks were called coins and the metal blanks and the subsequent ‘coined’ money took their name from them.
Coining later began to be associated with inventiveness in language. In the 16th century the ‘coining’ of words and phrases was often referred to. By that time the monetary coinage was often debased or counterfeit and the coining of words was often associated with spurious linguistic inventions; for example, in George Puttenham’s The arte of English poesie, 1589: “Young schollers not halfe well studied… will seeme to coigne fine wordes out of the Latin.”
Shakespeare, the greatest coiner of them all, also referred to the coining of language in Coriolanus, 1607: “So shall my Lungs Coine words till their decay.”
Quoin has been retained as the name of the wedge-shaped keystones or corner blocks of buildings. Printers also use the term as the name for the expandable wedges that are used to hold lines of type in place in a press. This has provoked some to suggest that ‘coin a phrase’ derives from the process of quoining (wedging) phrases in a printing press. That is not so. ‘Quoin a phrase’ is recorded nowhere and ‘coining’ meant ‘creating’ from before the invention of printing in 1440. Co-incidentally, printing does provide us with a genuine derivation that links printing with linguistic banality – cliché. This derives from the French cliquer, from the clicking sound of the stamp used to make metal typefaces.
‘Coin a phrase’ itself arises much later than the invention of printing – the 19th century in fact. It appears to be American in origin – it certainly appears in publications there long before any can be found from any other parts of the world. The earliest use of the term that I have found is in the Wisconsin newspaper The Southport American, July 1848: “Had we to find… a name which should at once convey the enthusiasm of our feelings towards her, we would coin a phrase combining the extreme of admiration and horror and term her the Angel of Assassination.”
shot in the dark: The term ‘shot’ has been slang for an attempt since the middle of the 19th century; for example, this piece from Joseph Hewlett’s comic work Peter Priggins, the college scout, 1841: “After waiting for a little while, Ninny… made a shot, and went so near the mark.”
‘A shot in the dark’ is simply a hopeful attempt to hit an enemy that you can’t see.
George Bernard Shaw seems to have been the first to use it metaphorically, in The Saturday Review, February 1895: “Never did man make a worse shot in the dark.”
Change is a tricky thing. Often uncomfortable, awkward, unsightly, and a difficult thing to manage gracefully. Whether it’s moving to a new house in a new city, purchasing a new car, or adopting a new pet, unexpected complications always seem to creep into the proceedings.
Books series are no different.
Any author worth their salt, who endeavors for a successful string of books knows – eventually – they will need to change things up. Otherwise, the series stales and stalls.
Elizabeth Peter’s efficiently handled this problem by sending Amelia Peabody to a different location in Egypt (generally speaking) for each installment. Patricia Moyes employed a similar tactic by sending her husband & wife team on vacation all over the world. J.K. Rowling sends her famous wizard off to school (or to defeat dark wizards every year.
In the case of Ashley Weaver’s A Deception At Thornecrest, she does the reverse – she sends Amory Ames and her husband Milo home.
And it works beautifully.
Over the past six books, neither member of our dynamic duo has spent much time at Thorncrest – so it’s the perfect place for Weaver to set her transition mystery. By mixing a bit of old with a bit of new, Weaver is all set to send our heroine into new and exciting directions in future books. Even better? She accomplishes this aim with such flawless skill it makes A Deception At Thornecrest a joy to read.
One of the most significant changes in Amory’s life? She’s about to become a first-time mother! A fact which both she and Milo are over the moon about, in their understated way. The only hitch in the giddy-up? During the annual Springtide festival, a stable hand is murdered…Amory, our remarkable amateur sleuth, is discouraged at every turn from investigating because of her “delicate condition”.
Fortunately for Lady Justice and us readers, Amory has zero interest in heeding their unsolicited opinions.
A Deception At Thornecrest was a compelling historical mystery, one which I thoroughly enjoyed reading from beginning to end. Even better, if you’re not interested in reading the previous exploited of our heroine and her husband (but I would highly suggest you do as they are lovely), you don’t have to! Because this is a transitional book, so long as you aren’t starting with numero uno, you can start with this installment and be alright.
Honestly, I cannot say enough good things about A Deception At Thornecrest.
It’s not her latest, but it’s the most recent one I’ve read, and holy cats, does J.T. Ellison have a twisty mind! Just one more reason to love her, honestly, just like you’re going to love Good Girls Lie.
The Goode School is an Ivy League feeder boarding school in Virginia, and there’s a long waiting list of girls hoping to be chosen. The Goode School accepts only 50 girls for each grade level, and each girl is properly and thoroughly vetted before acceptance. You know what I mean, right?
Ash Carlisle is a bit of an exception. She’s British, for starters. She was being considered before her parent suddenly died, and no one can say that the Goode School is without compassion.
However, Ash’s new classmates don’t take to her that well, and Ash has secrets, so she doesn’t want to make a fuss. The resulting dynamic of mean girls, vulnerable girls, and a certain amount of looking the other way by staff members leaves Ash in a precarious position.
Then things start to get really ugly. Even deadly.
J.T. Ellison attended a similar school, although it wasn’t as perilous, so her insights and knowledge about this setting give Good Girls Lie an added edge that, combined with J.T.’s fabulous writing, makes this novel deeply disturbing. And did I mention it’s twisty as all get out? You get to see events through multiple viewpoints, and very little of what everyone sees on the surface is real. Just like most social interactions, I suspect.
You don’t have to have attended a posh boarding school to appreciate Good Girls Lie, although if you have, I bet you’ll recognize some of the people. You’re in for a treat!
The title alone gave me hope that the book would answer some of my questions about why there have been so many serial killers in the last decade. Peter Vronsky is a Canadian with a PhD in criminal justice history. I saw that he’d written a couple of other books on the subject and this new one, American Serial Killers: The Epidemic Years 1950-2000, seems the most promising to address my curiosity.
Why so many? Why now? Why do many not fit the profile we’re always told about? And most strangely, why do some seem to quit?
Vronsky carefully explains what he sees as the roots – fathers who came back damaged from WWI, the great number of desertions by fathers during the Depression, and those effects on families and sons specifically. There were women who really should never have been mothers due to domineering personalities or mental health issues, the frequent element of head injuries and you have a pool ready for the birth of trouble. As youngsters, they were subjected to the social traumas of WWII, the revelations of horrors of the Holocaust, the dawn of the atomic age, and the movement of the population from the smaller towns where everyone was known to one another to the large cities and their anonymity, and evil can erupt. Mix in the interstate highway system… OK, so far I understand.
But he then begins to mix in the proliferation of true crime magazines in the 40s and 50s – when they’d begun in the 20s. I understand that many of the killers in the 60s, 70s and 80s mention them as formative with their lurid imagery. But I don’t see that had there not been these magazines, things would’ve been far different. It strikes me as a cheap target, like Bundy saying it all started with pornography.
Similarly, Vronsky puts blame on film noir and the pessimism and corruption they portrayed. He neatly glides by the fact that film noir was a direct outgrowth of the crime novels of the 20s, 30s and 40s. He doesn’t attempt a connection that the fiends were reading novels about sex and death, just looking at images of it. Municipal corruption was a massive menace well before the killers of the last half of the 20th C., but he gives little attention to the first half. I can make a couple of guesses as to why: killers could still travel around by jumping trains but the journalism may’ve lacked the ability to connect murders in different locales. He often points to the problem with killers crossing jurisdictions and police from one town/city/county/state not communicating with one another. Indeed, it still seems to be a problem – not every facet of law enforcement knew what was going on at the Capitol on January 6th, or 9/11.
Odder still, he spends an unnecessary amount of time and gory detail on crimes of Jeffrey Dahmer while mentioning that many others have been ignored in the study of serial killers. If we’ve never heard of them, he’s missed his chance to inform us.
But I could also guess that many killers in the century from 1850 to 1950 had easy outlets for their murderous ways – they had the Civil War where murder could easily be disguised as warfare, they had the Wild West where murder was cheap and easy, and they had the growth of Organized Crime where there were always opportunities for hired killers.
Over all, the book was interesting but frustrating. For an academic, he was flippant at time, snarky at others, and those instances felt out of place. It is one thing to be casual and entertaining. It is another to sound off key.
My largest question – why do some seem to stop – was answered in one quick paragraph about Gary Ridgeway: the thrill was gone. Really? That doesn’t feel adequate to explain why a monster who killed dozens of women would simply cease doing it. I hope to get an answer to that some day from a future author.
“This whole arduous process began with a monumental failure by the keepers of the public memory – the government and the press. Their failure remains with us. Over the past half century, this case has been filled with bitter arguments and wild conspiracy theories; government bodies papering over significant failures; junk science and ’eminence-based’ conclusions; sober, tenacious research and trumpeting blowhards. But over these same decades and despite many mistakes and reverses, a partial truth has been brought to light. That truth, however, leaves open many of the questions that should have been answered fifty years ago and in all likelihood cannot be answered now. Principally…who did it, and why?”
Another book that had great promise yet fell slightly short was Josiah Thompson‘sLast Second in Dallas. The philosophy professor who left academia to become a private eye in San Francisco had released one of the seminal books on the JFK assassination in 1967, Six Seconds in Dallas. It’s always been hailed as a scholarly work on the shooting and, while he stayed connected tangentially with the case, he’d published nothing else in the nearly 55 years since.
His new book is in the form of a re-examination and memoir. He situates his arguments amongst the developments in his life and the assassination evidence that has come out over the decades. He admits when he had something wrong and corrects it. It’s a fascinating thing to track.
Thompson has always focused on the evidence, the “what” of the case, not the “who” of the case. As the titles say, he’s focused on the seconds of gunfire in Dealy Plaza, not those who organized the crossfire or pulled the triggers. This narrow view allows him to delve deeply into what is known and can be proved and he does a masterful job of it.
“There is, however, one fact about assassination that has not changed in fifty years. It is its most obvious feature – the brutal effectiveness of crime… In this whole narrative, what was clear in 1966 is even clearer now. This was a highly sophisticated, devastatingly effective assassination: who bullets to the head and one to the back. Its very audacity is the most compelling feature. And speculation as to who did it and why must at least start with that fact.”
However, within those seconds of shots, he does allow some questions to go unanswered. He’s got four shots being fired. What accounts for that shallow wound in Kennedy’s back that didn’t penetrate far? The Dallas doctors could feel the end of the tract with their little fingers. What of the bullet or fragment or chip of cement that nicked James Tague? Tague and his wound are not mentioned by Thompson even as he has bullet fragments bouncing around the inside of the limo. Other than the gunman behind the picket fence, he’s non-committal about the location of the other shooters – one in the depository, the other… perhaps, like the identity of the participants, he’s leaving those questions to others. He also condescendingly dismisses the Garrison investigation, which was, after all, about the “who”s. That sounded unfair, tone-deaf, and short-sighted.
Still, Last Second in Dallas is a fascinating book and a worthy addition to my shelves of books on the assassination.
foe (n): Old English gefea, gefa“foe, enemy, adversary in a blood feud” (the prefix denotes “mutuality”), from adjective fah “at feud, hostile,” also “guilty, criminal,” from Proto-Germanic *faihaz (source also of Old High German fehan “to hate,” Gothic faih “deception”), perhaps from the same Proto-Indo-European source that yielded Sanskrit pisunah “malicious,” picacah “demon;” Lithuanian piktas “wicked, angry,” peikti “to blame.” Weaker sense of “adversary” is first recorded c. 1600. (etymonline.com)
zombie (n.) From 1871, of West African origin (compare Kikongo zumbi “fetish;” Kimbundu nzambi “god”), originally the name of a snake god, later with meaning “reanimated corpse” in voodoo cult. But perhaps also from Louisiana creole word meaning “phantom, ghost,” from Spanish sombra “shade, ghost.” Sense “slow-witted person” is recorded from 1936. (thanks to etymonline)
bellicose (adj.) from the early 15th C., “inclined to fighting,” from Latin bellicosus“warlike, valorous, given to fighting,” from bellicus “of war,” from bellum “war” (Old Latin duellum, dvellum), which is of uncertain origin. (thanks to etymonline)
fear (n.) From Middle English fere, from Old English fær “calamity, sudden danger, peril, sudden attack,” from Proto-Germanic *feraz “danger” (source also of Old Saxon far “ambush,” Old Norse far“harm, distress, deception,” Dutch gevaar, German Gefahr “danger”), from PIE *pēr-, a lengthened form of the verbal root *per- (3) “to try, risk.”
Sense of “state of being afraid, uneasiness caused by possible danger” developed by late 12th C. Some Old English words for “fear” as we now use it were fyrhto, fyrhto; as a verb, ondrædan. Meaning “feeling of dread and reverence for God” is from c. 1400. To put the fear of God (into someone) “intimidate, cause to cower” is by 1888, from the common religious phrase; the extended use was often at first in colonial contexts:
“Thus then we seek to pu ‘the fear of God’ into the natives at the point of the bayonet, and excuse ourselves for the bloody work on the plea of the benefits which we intend to confer afterwards.” – Felix Adler, The Religion of Duty, 1950
I’m so sorry about last month. We’re moving from Washington State to New Mexico, which would be hectic at any time, but during COVID has been especially challenging. I can’t even begin to discuss the sheer volume of paperwork!
But my 60 boxes of books are packed, so there’s that. And I unearthed books from my To Be Read pile that honestly I’d forgotten about, which brings me to Kate Morton’s The Clockmaker’s Daughter. It came out in 2018. I may be behind but I’m sincere in my efforts.
The Clockmaker’s Daughter spans time from about 1850 to 2017, with stops along the way. Our narrator is Birdie, also sometimes known as Lily Millington. She’s been around for a very long time. The other person we’re following mostly is Elodie Winslow, in 2017. Obviously their paths intertwine, but it’s how and why that is so fascinating.
Birdie, as Lily, was the model for an up and coming painter in the late 1800’s, Edward Radcliffe. She was and is a highly intelligent and curious and free-spirited young lady, with a shady past. Elodie archives records and memorabilia surrounding a different 1800’s person, James Stratton, as well as dodges her soon-to-be mother-in-law whenever possible.
How these two women’s lives overlap, along with so very many other people, is at the heart of the story, but make no mistake, this is a murder mystery. Frances Brown was murdered at Edward Radcliffe’s house in 1862, and everyone believes they know what happened.
They’re wrong. Almost no one does. And finding out what happened will keep you reading, I promise. Kate Morton is an accomplished author, and she manages the different voices skillfully and deftly. This is an absolutely lush novel, and I think it would be a gorgeous movie, but no film could ever capture the depth, the insights, the myriad layers of personality and history that are encompassed in this book.
As the weather darkens and the year winds down, I really do recommend The Clockmaker’s Daughter as a great fireside read on a blustery day!
While he’s written a ton a great books, I’ve always thought The Poet is Michael Connelly‘s best book. Granted, I’ve not read it in a couple of decades but it has stuck with me as singular – and I plan to re-read it very soon.
So I was excited to learn that his newest book, Fair Warning, brings back reporter Jack McEvoy and eager to read it.
While the plot is, as always, original and interesting, this was a boring read. A dud. (Even the cover is bad – his publisher put a raven on it and there is zero plot connection to the earlier McEvoy novels.) The writing was flat and uninteresting, McEvoy struggles with and inability to make intimate relationships work with women – as most of Connelly’s male characters do – and I finished it just to see how it’d end. I hadn’t read any Connelly books in years and I should’ve kept it that way. A sad comment about a favorite author and nice guy.
On the other hand – – –
“It was rampaging imbecility, and possibly unstoppable.”
“The boy looked up from the canal bank to see what he’d snagged, dialed 911, cut his
line with a knife, and walked away. It was the third dead body he’s found while fishing, but such was the reality of a childhood spent outdoors in Florida. It was a testament to the teen’s passion for angling that he’d never considered getting a new hobby”. Fiction or memory?
Not only is this about the usual insanity of Hiaasen’s Florida home state, it’s the insanity of the current year: covid, the election, the current occupants of the White House, MAGA fans who call themselves the Potussies (because these decadently wealthy women find “POTUS pussies” might risk their cherished places on the social registry), stripper poles in beach cabanas, tanning beds that must be test run, record-length pythons, violent texts about immigrants and howling mobs, and even a certain ex-governor. Oh, and fabulously expensive conch pearls.
“The whole place smelled like the exhaust vent at a Burger King”
The winter White House on Palm Beach island – Hiaasen has dubbed it “Casa Bellicosa” – is the scene of most of the action after Kiki Pew Fitzsimmons vanishes from a fundraiser. Soon we’re into a hunt for her involving the Secret Service, the local chief of police and a young woman who removes creatures from buildings and returns them to the wild. Angie used to be a wildlife agent but was sent to prison for feeding the hand of a poacher to an alligator. The only regret she had was that the poor alligator had to be shot.
Hiaasen does not lower himself to use the actual names of the President and First Lady – he used Secret Service code names of “Mastodon” and “Mockingbird” but he is otherwise scathing in his portrayal of the recognizable Leader of the Free World. As you might imagine. “Up on the TV screen, Mastodon wearing a vast beet-colored golf shirt that hung on his upper frame like an Orkin termite tent. His long-billed cap had been yanked down tight to keep his hairpiece moored to its Velcro moonbase during gusts of wind.”
The First Lady is treated with respect – though he gives her a fondness for a “a specific massage oil – eucalyptus and bacon mint”. She actually comes off as the only sane one in family. She may’ve even found true love!
I frankly didn’t care if the other passengers on the plane looked oddly at me for laughing out loud while consuming the book. How could you not?
A little something different in this months Words of the Month
Hanlon’s Razor: Never attribute to malice what can be explained by stupidity. The sentiment has been attributed to many other minds. (thanks to Says You!, episode 2412)
The shop’s e-mail filter has snagged a number of messages as nefarious. They’re supposedly from US sources and the subject lines say something like “Only The U.S. Presidential Team Will Save United States from Doomsday Ahead” or “The Exceptional Benefits of The United States Presidential Team”. Makes me wonder if these are attempts by “outside actors” to influence the election. Usually, we just get sunglasses brags or Nigerian princes’ pleas in Spanish…
This is probably one of the most fun (only surpassed by the detective’s agency) and detailed builds I’ve finished so far in Lego’s mains street builds. With trees, flowers, a backyard garden and books – what more can you ask for?
Lego categorizes this as an Creator Expert build – so unless you have a kid with large builds under their belt or can follow instructions well – I’d work up to this set.
Charles Leerhsen‘s new biography, Butch Cassidy, was great fun. It’s full of interesting details – Etta’s first name was really Ethel but a typo in the Pinkerton’s file has forever changed that, and Sundance played the guitar well – who knew? I had not heard that Sundance’s mother’s maiden name was Place and that’s likely where Etta/Ethel got it. In fact, it may be we really don’t know her birth name.
I had not heard of the collapse of beef prices during the blizzard called the The Big Die-Up of 1886-87 (a 15-inch snowflake still holds the world record for size from that storm) and that massive affect on the Old West. I had not realized the size of hauls the Wild Bunch got from banks and trains, and, as staggering as those numbers are, it is astonishing how they were always out of money. “You could go broke in the Wild West being a bandit.” And I had not realized just how far and how often they’d travel, whether by horseback or, one assumes, train.
What Leerhsen does best it draw portraits of the outlaws and juxtaposes those against what we all expect from the famed movie. Indeed, while haunted and hunted by the law, they still did quite a bit of straight work – cowboying on ranches all along the eastern Rockies. He does a similar job relating their years in South America. Again, I had not understood how long they were there. Hollywood, again. But Leerhsen points all of that out, even to the degree which screenwriter William Goldman purposefully didn’t research Cassidy and Sundance and still he got their personalities and era right.
With a light and amusing style, he sets down things that you know about in a new way. About the massive explosion in the train heist in Wilcox, WY – so well destroyed a second time in the movie, the author tells us: “When Woodcock came to, he was pleased to realize that the crimson splotches all over his clothes came from a shipment of raspberries that the blast had turned into flying jam. The red stuff now coated everything in sight – and would later make the stolen bank notes and coins easier to identify”. Later, one of the gang would be arrested after spending one of the stained notes.
There are many, many amusing passages in the book. Wish I’d kept better track of them!
But there are a few flaws to the book. For one, it’d’ve been a great help to have a map of their locations in the Eastern Rockies and in South America. Much more useful than the usual photos that are not new. They road hundreds of miles, worked at this ranch or that ranch, circled back to this one – where was that one again? He also remarks often about how Butch’s fame as an outlaw grew but he doesn’t match that but noting how many bank or train robberies there were. From what he includes, Butch seems to be an occasional outlaw, not a desperado with a national reputation.
But that leads to one glaring fault of the book. Maybe he didn’t feel the need to present anything comprehensive due to the large number of books about Butch. Indeed, time and again he mentions the authoritative or exhausting book that Richard Patterson or Kerry Ross Boren, or the work of Daniel Buck and Anne Meadows. Maybe the helpful maps are in one of those books…
At any rate, I highly recommend this book. There’s lots about the time period and what their Old Wild West was really like and, best of all, as Leerhsen seems to agree, there are no intrusive, annnoying Burt Bacharach songs.
sibylline (adj.): From the 1570s, from Latin sibyllinus, from sibylla (see sibyl: “woman supposed to possess powers of prophecy, female soothsayer,” c. 1200, from Old French sibile, from Latin Sibylla, from Greek Sibylla, name for any of several prophetesses consulted by ancient Greeks and Romans, of uncertain origin. Said to be from Doric Siobolla, from Attic Theoboule “divine wish.”) thanks to etymonline
“Las Vegas was better off when it was run by the mob.” Mobbed Up: The Fight for Las Vegas, an 11-part true-crime podcast series produced by the Las Vegas Review-Journal in partnership with The Mob Museum, chronicles the mob’s rise and fall in Las Vegas through the eyes of those who lived it: ex-mobsters, law enforcement officials, politicians and journalists. [JB recommends]
July 16: Homicide at Rough Point: In the fall of 1966, billionaire Doris Duke killed a close confidant in tony Newport, Rhode Island. Local police ruled the incident “an unfortunate accident.” Half a century later, compelling evidence suggests that the mercurial, vindictive tobacco heiress got away with murder.
Need a good summertime read that will take you back to all the awkward moments of childhood? No? How about a book that takes you back to some of your best memories as a kid?
Sounds better right?
Remembering all those good times you had with your best friend at skating parties, talking on the phone for hours about nothing, summer vacations, or that one time you needed to exorcise a demon from your best friend’s soul? Yeah…not something everyone can relate to…but that’s precisely what Abby needs to do to save her best friend…
This book is an intensely fun read.
While it’s occasionally awkward and cringe-worthy (but in the best possible way), this uncomfortableness generated by the author adds a whole other layer to the horror/mystery/friendship story unfolding on the page. Seriously, I don’t know how Grady Hendrix did it – but episodes (minus the exorcism, demon, and animal sacrifice) feel as if he pulled them from my own experience – both the terrific and the embarrassing.
If you’re looking for a book to read under the covers with a flashlight, in the middle of the night – that will on occasion make the familiar nightly squeaks, creaks, and groans of your home sound new and strange… My Best Friend’s Exorcism is the book you’re looking for!
(P.S. Did I forget to mention it’s set in the eighties? In all, it’s spectacular Madonna influenced glory…)
Do you like getting mail? Do you relish writing letters? Do you enjoy mysteries? Have you ever dreamed of being an armchair detective? Now’s your chance! With a mail-based mystery series called Dear Holmes.
I’ll let Mr. Holmes explain your new employment (as he’s more succinct than I):
It is my pleasure to welcome you to Dear Holmes, and your new career as a consulting detective.
For the next few months, I will be handing some of my most challenging cases to you. My associates from around the world will write you each month with a challenging new mystery in need of solving.
Every week you will receive another letter with new details on the present mystery, bringing you closer and closer to the solution. I or Dr. Watson will receive the same letters, and reach out to the client to ask probing questions on your behalf.
Since we tend to receive some more peculiar cases, I will also make the knowledge of my network of experts available to you at times, to help shed light on some of the more perplexing details of the cases we encounter.
Your challenge is to solve the mystery before I do. Once I solve the case (at the end of the month), I will write you to share how I solved it. I sincerely hope you beat me to the task.
Are you ready to put your deductive skills to the test?
The game is afoot!”
Now you can email the solution to Mr. Holmes for his perusal – but in the monthly Featured Detective contest – people who post their solutions thru the mail are given extra points! (Plus it gives you an excuse to purchase some top drawer stationary!)
This is a fun and creative game that tests not only your deductive powers but your critical reading skills and the knowledge, you as a reader, have acquired of the era from which Holmes & Watson sprung.
I’ve only been a consulting detective for a month and I’m already hooked!
The Bone Collector, Jeffery Deaver’s first book with forensic anthropologist Lincoln Rhyme, was made into a 1999 film staring Denzel Washington as Rhyme and Angelina Jolie as the young cop who becomes his “legman”. Rhyme is a quadraplegic and needs Amelia Sachs to visit the crime scenes. The books are a true updating of the armchair detective story – it’s a great series. Now, starting Friday, Jan. 10, the book comes to the smaller screen when ‘Lincoln Rhyme: Hunt for the Bone Collector’ debuts on NBC. As they say, check your local listings!
Ignis fatuus: a light that sometimes appears in the night over marshy ground and is often attributable to the combustion of gas from decomposed organic matter ora deceptive goal or hope.
Ignis fatuus is a Latin term meaning, literally, “foolish fire.” In English, it has come to designate a hovering or flitting light that sometimes appears in the night over marshy ground that is attributable to the combustion of gas from decomposed organic matter. Other names for this light are jack-o’-lantern and will-o’-the-wisp—both of which are connected to folklore about mysterious men, Jack and Will, who carry a lantern or a wisp of light at night. A Scottish name for ignis fatuus is spunkie, from spunk, meaning “spark” or “a small fire.” It has also been told that ignes fatui (the Latin plural form) are roaming souls. No doubt these stories spooked listeners by candlelight, but in time, advancements in science not only gave us electricity to dispel the darkness but proved ignis fatuus to be a visible exhalation of gas from the ground, which is rarely seen today.
‘But thou art altogether given over, / and wert indeed, but for the light in thy face, the son of utter / darkness. When thou ran’st up Gadshill in the night to catch my / horse, if I did not think thou hadst been an ignis fatuus or a / ball of wildfire, there’s no purchase in money. O, thou art a / perpetual triumph, an everlasting bonfire-light! ‘
terroir: the combination of factors including soil, climate, and sunlight that gives wine grapes their distinctive character. First known use was in 1863. From Old French tieroir, from Vulgar Latin *terratorium, alteration of Latin territorium. (thanks to Merriam-Webster) [what a difference and “i” makes…]
vamoose (v.): “to decamp, be off,” 1834, from Spanish vamos “let us go,” from Latin vadamus, first person plural indicative of vadere “to go, to walk, go hastily,” from Proto-Indo-European root *wadh- (2) “to go” (source also of Old English wadan “to go,” Latin vadum “ford;” see wade (v.)). (thanks to etymonline)
What We’ve Been Up To
Finder of Lost Things
This coming Friday we come to the last post for series one! Can you believe it? And we will see how Phoebe and Joseph cope with the after effects of the Woman In White’s attack.
Series Two – will drop in about two-ish months. I will give you guys plenty of warning when I’m going to start posting! Though on the upside if you haven’t started reading my story yet – this is the perfect time to catch up!
The second book in the Heirs of Chicagoland series is a fun, fast-paced romp that is stronger than its predecessor by a factor of five. While a few of the original cast make their presence felt, they only enter into the narrative when necessary. Rather than making gratuitous and/or distracting appearances – which is really lovely.
The mystery presented in the second installment is also solid. Part of the Pack living in Northern Michigan is experiencing problems…and that’s putting it mildly. So Connor Keene, heir apparent to his father’s position as Apex, is sent to figure out what exactly is going on.
What he finds is a hornet’s nest.
Into this mess of resentment, issues, and anger Conner’s also brought, Elisa Sullivan. Because if things aren’t already stressful enough, let’s bring along the girl you’re more than just a little interested in and see how the pack reacts.
Elisa is more than capable of staring down a few shifters – katana in hand.
Then we get to the murder…and the other murder…and bad magic.
Seriously this book was a whole lotta fun to read. Neill introduced us to a quasi-new character named Alexei Breckenridge – who next to Lulu and Elisa’s cat Eleanor of Aquitaine (who will exact revenge if called by anything less than her full title) – is my favorite thus far. Mostly due to his dry sense of humor, the fact he enjoys needling Elisa by continuing to sneak up on her and the fact you never know where any of his sentences will take you.
If you are looking for a new-ish shifter/sorcerer/vampire mystery series to read, without needing to go back and read the original Chicagoland series (which honestly you should because it was great), you should start with Wicked Hour!
I’ve been trying to figure out how to sell M. R. Carey‘s post-apocalyptic thriller THE GIRL WITH ALL THE GIFTS (Orbit) to myself, if I was still selling books. Because on the surface, I’d have turned it down, despite the whole post-apocalyptic thing. I guess it’s a “Trust me” book.
See, it’s written in present tense, and we all know how weird I am about that. But worse, it’s about zombies. I really don’t like zombies. Bleah. I know lots of people do love them, and they’ll jump all over this book, but I find them boring.
However, I really do like the TV series “Lucifer”, and M. R. Carey is the writer behind that. He creates amazing, three dimensional and compelling characters, and I’m a sucker for great characters! And twisty, well told stories. He does those brilliantly.
Oh, short synopsis, yeah. In this devastated future in a military base in England, children are strapped into wheelchairs, arms, legs and heads. Then they’re wheeled into classrooms where they’re taught all the things school children learn. Melanie is about ten years old, and her favorite teacher is Miss Justineau. Miss Justineau makes learning fun, and she really interacts with the children. Melanie loves Miss Justineau, the other teachers not so much.
However, outside the base, things are bleak. A fungus, Ophiocordyceps, has mutated – or has been mutated – so that it no longer just infects ants, and has taken over mankind. Well, most of mankind. And the fungal infection moves quickly, thoroughly, no chance of recovery ever, and makes the new hosts mindless and hungry.
I don’t want to say too much more because THE GIRL WITH ALL THE GIFTS takes off at breakneck speed, and it really doesn’t slow down. M. R. Carey understands timing and plot and tension, but he also understands how complicated people are, and how powerful love can be.
So yeah, this is a “Trust me” book, but I really do want you to trust me on it! The science is disturbingly cool (I kind of want to watch the David Attenborough documentary about the ants, but I’m afraid it’ll just creep me out), the story revolves around a teacher and her pupil, and the writing is simply brilliant.
Shop dream on the morning of Xmas Eve: what I remember was looking into a box of books, a shipment all jumbled together, and realizing that reserves hadn’t been pulled so I was digging through the books and flipping pages in the reserve book, trying to match up authors to lists of customers who wanted a copy. The books in the box were in no special order, so I was flipping back and forth in the reserve book as I fished out a hardcover, for some reason not taking all the books out first and organizing them… Where do these dreams come from !
Could there be a better way to end the year, and to relax over a few days away, that to catch up on a favorite author’s book you’d missed???? I doubt it, I really do.
I had ordered what I thought was his latest book last Spring to take on a trip back to KC but it ended up being the story from the year before. What the hell – I read it again on the trip, the books are that good. So it had always stuck in some shadowed part of my brain that there must’ve been a DeMarco from this year that I’d not read. Finally, I started to wonder when there’d a be a new one next year and that’s when I finally cleared to mush from my cabasa and got a copy of House Arrest.
It’s a very different DeMarco story, even while it is another great DeMarco story.
Arrested for the murder of a congressman in the Capital, DeMarco sits in jail with a target on his forehead. In many ways, this is Emma’s book, as she swings into action to prove he was framed. To do that, she’s gotta provide the FBI with the real killer. So she relies on her years of training and work and those she’s gotten to know to save DeMarco. Why? She abhors his love of baseball and golf, thinks his wardrobe is ridiculous, and is pained to know he works for a man she detests but, really, Emma likes DeMarco. She appreciates his spirit, his ethic, and his willingness to put himself in the line of fire to help someone – as he has with Emma a couple of times.
There are big changes in DeMarco’s life mandated by publicity of the arrest and I have no idea where Mike will put him. It could be the end of the series – any of books could – but I think he has freed DeMarco to do other things.
myrmidon (n): One of a warlike people of ancient Thessaly, legendarily ruled by Achilles and accompanying him to Troy, c. 1400, from Latin Myrmidones (plural), from Greek Myrmidones, Thessalian tribe led by Achilles to the Trojan War, fabled to have been ants changed into men, and often derived from Greek myrmex “ant” (from Proto-Indo-European *morwi– (see Formica (2)), but Watkins does not connect them and Klein’s sources suggest a connection to Greek mormos “dread, terror.” Transferred sense of “faithful unquestioning follower,” often with a suggestion of unscrupulousness, is from c. 1600. (thanks to etymonline)
Calliope : 1. the Greek Muse of heroic poetry 2. a keyboard musical instrument resembling an organ and consisting of a series of whistles sounded by steam or compressed air
With a name literally meaning “beautiful-voiced” (from kallos, meaning “beauty,” and ops, meaning “voice”), Calliope was the most prominent of the Muses—the nine sister goddesses who in Greek mythology presided over poetry, song, and the arts and sciences. She is represented in art as holding an epic poem in one hand and a trumpet in the other. The musical instrument invented and patented in the 1850s, played by forcing steam or compressed air through a series of whistles, was named after the goddess. Because its sound could be heard for miles around, the calliope was effective in luring patrons to river showboats, circuses, and carnivals, which is why the instrument continues its association with such attractions today.
It’s impossible to say just how or when the number thirteen got its bad reputation. There are a number of theories, of course. Some say it comes from the Last Supper because Jesus was betrayed afterwards by one among the thirteen present. Others trace the source of the superstition back to ancient Hindu beliefs or Norse mythology. But if written references are any indication, the phenomenon isn’t all that old (at least, not among English speakers). Known mention of fear of thirteen in print dates back only to the late 1800s. By circa 1911, however, it was prevalent enough to merit a name, which was formed by attaching the Greek word for “thirteen”—treiskaideka (dropping that first “e”)—to phobia (“fear of”).
October 17: Paul Dano to play the Riddler in The Batman(briefly mentioned in the story is this gem: “He’s also attached to The Power of the Dog, the new film from Jane Campion that will also star Kirsten Dunst and Benedict Cumberbatch.” !!!
Scaramouch: 1.a stock character in the Italian commedia dell’arte that burlesques the Spanish don and is characterized by boastfulness and cowardliness 2: a cowardly buffoon
In the commedia dell’arte, Scaramouch was a stock character who was constantly being cudgeled by Harlequin, which may explain why his name is based on an Italian word meaning “skirmish,” or “a minor fight.” The character was made popular in England during the late 1600s by the clever acting of Tiberio Fiurelli. During that time, the name “Scaramouch” also gained notoriety as a derogatory word for “a cowardly buffoon” or “rascal.”
Today not many people use the word (which can also be spelled “scaramouche”), but you will encounter it while listening to Queen’s ubiquitous rock song “Bohemian Rhapsody,” in the lyric “I see a little silhouetto of a man / Scaramouche, Scaramouche, will you do the fandango?”
When you start this mystery, there are a few things you should keep in mind.
One, Miss Pinkerton reads differently than most modern mysteries. Due in large part to the had-I-but-known writing device, Rinehart is credited with founding. Meaning? Sprinkled here and then in the narrative are tantalizing hints of what’s to come — placed there by Rinehart to keep her readers turning the page late into the night.
By today’s standards, this method of storytelling is considered old fashioned. But it makes sense as most of Rinehart’s work was initially serialized in magazines, so she used this style of foreshadowing to hook her readers into buying the next edition of said publication. Initially, until I read enough to understand her style, it felt very staccato. But now that you’ve been forewarned, this shouldn’t be a problem for you!
(I didn’t find out any of this background information until after I finished the book – because I don’t read introductions until I finish said story, due to the shocking number I’ve read which contained inadvertent spoilers for veteran readers.)
Second, Rinehart not only was a novelist but a trained nurse as well. This hands-on experience allows Rinehart to infuse nurse Hilda Adams with some real depth, allowing our amateur detective to rise above her cookie-cutter counterparts in other mysteries of a similar vintage.
Not unlike Agatha Christie’s Superintendent Battle, who uses his police uniform to dupe the unsuspecting into thinking him dull and slightly stupid. Miss Adams uses her crisp white uniform to fade seamlessly into the background of a household to become a police detective’s ‘man on the inside’ and help solve a murder or two.
Third, similar to Georgette Heyer mysteries, Rinehart adds several different types of love/romantic entanglements to her story. Each fitting well into the narrative, they add extra layers to the story and the characters.
This touch of romance didn’t bother me in the least as Rinehart wove it into the text seamlessly. However, I know this isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, so I’m letting you know. (BTW – it isn’t sappy and provides motive – so if you’re on the fence never fear it only adds layers.)
Overall I enjoyed reading this book.
In fact, the byplay between Miss Adams and her police counterpart intrigued me enough I’m going to hunt down the rest of the Miss Pinkerton mysteries! Because I’d really like to know where Miss Adams’ story started and where it ends since Rinehart provided just enough hints to make me want to find out.
I know, I know, you’re going to say, “Oh look, Fran’s touting a book by William Kent Krueger. So what? She always does.” It’s true. I do.
But wait, hear me out! STOP SCROLLING, DARN IT!
Desolation Mountain (Atria) is somewhat different from the rest of the Cork O’Connor books, and in an intriguing – if dark – way. Now I’ll grant you, I’ve spent several years poking around the North Country with Cork and his family, so in the first chapter I knew who the two people talking were even before I read the names. And what’s exciting about Desolation Mountain is it taps into something Kent is really good at: coming-of-age stories.
Stephen is really growing up, and I can see him eventually taking Cork’s place as an investigator, even though that’s not his path. But in addition to becoming a Mide, Stephen has a powerful need to know, to understand. And he has to learn who he is first, hence the coming-of-age bit. Granted, he’s 20 now, but sometimes I still think he’s 6. It’s been a delight watching Stephen grow up under William Kent Krueger’s skillful hands, and he’s becoming a powerful character on his own, which is fantastic.
But the other seriously cool aspect to Desolation Mountain is that Kent brought in a character from his stand-alone book, The Devil’s Bed. Bo Thorsen is involved in the same investigation as Cork and Stephen, but he’s not necessarily their ally. It makes for some off-the-charts tension.
So yeah, I’m pushing a book by William Kent Krueger, and it’s not a surprise, but the book itself, Desolation Mountain, really is! And if you haven’t read any others and pick this one up to start with, like my wife did, you’re gonna want to go back to the beginning and start with Iron Lake.
Note from the real crime world – I’ve been reading a lot of police reports in my job, and I can now definitively say that every crime, every last one, is made infinitely worse when you read, “The suspect was wearing a clown suit.”
Rachel Maddow wondered why Putin would risk messing with the 2016 US election. In hindsight, we know they did and, to some point, it was worth it – but it clearly wouldn’t have been a sure bet. Had Clinton won, the full weight of the US government would’ve been pointed at Russia in retribution. So why the risk? It is an interesting question.
“The meek may inherit the earth, but the bold could certainly screw it up in the interim.”
And that’s where the book goes. Along with way, she provides a succinct and entertaining history of the oil industry and the birth of fracking. She overlays it with the growth of Exxon/Mobil, the corporate rise of Tillerson, the political rise of Putin, the growth of Russia’s kleptocractic state, and the economic pit Putin drilled for himself and his country.
And the center of it all is Ukraine. The Ukraine of Crimea, and Manafort, and the crippling sanctions affixed by the Obama administration due to Russia’s interference in Ukraine and its elections, and their military incursions. Ukraine remains in the center of things, now thanks to Drumpf and his quid pro quo, Giuliani and his buddies, and, of course, Putin’s schemes. Power, money, oil, natural gas, and more power.
“Putin and his techno-warriors figured out what differences and disagreements and prejudices were corroding the health and cohesion of American society. They found the most ragged faults and fissures in our democracy: immigration, race, religion, economic injustice, mass shootings. Then they poured infectious waste into them.” Putin just hack America. She adroitly shows he fracked us.
It’s a book with a broad topic but written with confidence and comedy – that which makes no sense is not spared her wit and scorn. What is or was farce is clearly shown to be. You hear her voice in her words as clearly as if she was sitting at your side reading it to you.
Blowout is a gusher of info and a barrel of fun. It is also a serious work.
A while ago, I wrote a couple of posts about a trip to San Francisco and taking the Dashiell Hammett Walking Tour. It took me a couple of weeks but I hunted down a copy of Don Herron’s out-of-print book about it. It is great fun. It provides an entertaining and informative biography of Hammett as the tour proceeds around the city, telling you what he did when he lived at this address or that address, why this building or that building is mentioned in The Maltese Falcon and what the support of that conclusion is (the late PI and crime writer Joe Gores plays a hefty part in the opinions), and includes photos and maps of the routes. If you find a copy, and it is the 30th Anniversary edition with forwards by Hammett’s daughter Jo and by crime writer Charles Willeford, snag it.
Lastly ~ My Latest Seattle Mystery Bookshop Dream!
Bill Farley and I were some kind of contractors, doing painting in someone home (certainly affected by my current work in a hardware store). We walked into the bookshop – which was in a dingy area of town but not on Cherry St, I don’t think, the street was level – and it was clear it had just moved into this smaller space. Empty bookshelves were stacked to the left side of the door in front of a big window. There were also some that were jammed with books – I think it was the beginning of the alphabet. There were shelves lining the walls and Amber was busy loading books into them. There weren’t very many people in the shop at that moment but more began to come in. I stepped behind the register to ring someone up and there was suddenly a long line of people plus a cranky old woman who wanted to ask question NOW. Then the space was much smaller and it was hard to move around the shelves that cluttered the space. and the jam of customers.
Once again, Fran wasn’t in the dream. Not sure what that means…
We’d like to note that, as this is posted on October 1st, yesterday was the second anniversary of the end of business at the Seattle Mystery Bookshop. We locked the door at the end of regular business hours on September 30, 2017. Hard to believe it’s been that long while at the same time it feels as if it was yesterday. So it goes…
Words of the Month
impeach (v.): formerly also empeach, late 14th C., empechen, “to impede, hinder, prevent;” early 15th C., “cause to be stuck, run (a ship) aground,” also “prevent (from doing something),” from Anglo-French empecher, Old French empeechier “to hinder, stop, impede; capture, trap, ensnare” (12th C., Modern French empêcher), from Late Latin impedicare “to fetter, catch, entangle,” from assimilated form of in- “into, in” (from PIE root *en “in”) + Latin pedica “a shackle, fetter,” from pes(genitive pedis) “foot” (from PIE root *ped- “foot”).In law, at first in a broad sense, “to accuse, bring charges against” from late 14th C.; more specifically, of the king or the House of Commons, “to bring formal accusation of treason or other high crime against (someone)” from mid-15th C. The sense of “accuse a public officer of misconduct” had emerged from this by 1560s. The sense shift is perhaps via Medieval Latin confusion of impedicare with Latin impetere “attack, accuse” (see impetus), which is from the Latin verb petere “aim for, rush at” (from PIE root *pet– “to rush, to fly”).The Middle English verb apechen, probably from an Anglo-French variant of the source of impeach, was used from early 14th C. in the sense “to accuse (someone), to charge (someone with an offense).” Related: Impeached; impeaching.thanks to etymonline.com
Dylan Meconis, Oct. 11, 7pm, Third Place/Ravenna ~ “cartoonist, writer, and illustrator who created the graphic novels Family Man, Bite Me!, and Outfoxed, which was nominated for a Will Eisner Comic Industry Award”, AND she’s the daughter of Charlie Meconis, one of our long-time customers, friend of the shop, Tigers’ fan, and all-around hip fellow!
A New Word added to Merriam-Webster Dictionary in September 2019! Their comment: “Although Hollywood releases and dictionary updates are not coordinated, even for publicity purposes, this entry hits your screens within weeks of the premieres of both It Chapter Two and Joker.”
“NO MATTER YOUR RACE, CREED, SEXUAL ORIENTATION, OR POLITICAL AFFILIATION, WE PROTECT AND SERVE, BECAUSE YOU COULD GET DEAD.” The sign in Lieutenant Eve Dallas’s bullpen should also include a phrase, ” …OR CHARACTER, WE PROTECT…” Because once again Dallas, Roarke, Peabody, Feeney, and McNabb must stand for victims that are far from innocent.
Vendetta In Death takes the Me Too movement and deftly combines it with an unstable personality which ends up creating a vigilante. A serial killer bent on cleansing New York of the men who perpetrate crimes against women. Rather than making sure they face actual justice our vigilante, calling herself Lady Justice, bestows her own in a very public fashion. Now it’s up to Dallas and her team to find the killer before she strikes again.
This is a fast fun read. Perhaps not as dense as some of the installments in the In Death Series, it is still satisfying. Even better, it furthers the storylines of a couple of the regular cast members, which is always fun to read.
(Robb also dispenses with the boilerplate introductions of her characters in this book! Which I must say moved the book along better and for us, long-time readers it was a fantastic improvement to the story!)
Have I told you how much I enjoy reading this series?
Chien’s culinary-themed mystery should be the way every mystery of this genera should be written. I’m not joking. Chien works her food theme into the mystery flawlessly where it is both ever-present but NEVER detracts from the mystery itself.
That is some serious skill.
Our heroine Lana Lee is flawed, fearless, and fun. She’s also slowly learning what it means to be an amateur detective: stepping on toes, accidentally offending people, getting repeatedly told to stay out of things, donning a disguise, and deducing. All while managing her family’s noddle shop and balancing the twin insanity of her new hostess and her family!
In Wonton of Terror Lana runs into some old family friends who, as it turns out, have some serious problems. When their food truck blows up, killing one of the owners, Lana finds she isn’t short on suspects or motives!
I would suggest this book/series to anyone who enjoys a good cozy read every now and again. Don’t let the foodie cover fool you this book is all about the mystery!
We all know how damaging lies can be, right?
So, what if telling a lie was illegal? Any lie? Think about it for a moment.
That’s the premise of Ben H. Winters’ latest bit of speculative fiction, Golden State(Mulholland), and it makes for some fascinating and disturbing reading, which is only made more relatable due to Mr. Winters’ incredible talent.
Something has happened outside the Golden State, and whatever it is was Unknown and Unknowable, but the fine folks of the Golden State have sealed themselves off from everyone else. Within their society, everything rumbles along as usual. If you steal the petty cash and it’s discovered, the cops will come haul you away where you’ll stand trial, and the punishments are pretty much what you’d expect.
But if you lie about it, in public much less in a court of law, well then things become exponentially worse for you. Your petty crime has just been superseded by the felony you just committed. Because telling a lie is the absolute worst thing you can do.
Ah, but how will anyone know if you lie? How does anyone really know? In this fairly dystopian setting, the Unknown and Unknowable Event has left some people with the ability to see lies. To hear them. To notice a shiver in the air, a bending of the atmosphere, and they know. These people are trained to be members of the Speculative Service, an elite force that takes very seriously their charge to determine if an untruth has deliberately been uttered.
Not that you could get away with it anyway, since everything is being recorded at all times. And I do mean everything. If you have nothing to hide, you don’t need privacy. All the logs will simply go into storage, where they’ll be kept forever. Right?
Lazlo Ratesic is a veteran agent for the Speculative Service. He’s been guardian of the Objectively So for decades now, and he’s used to doing it alone so when he’s saddled with a rookie, he’s understandably grumpy. But she’s smart and has a greater talent for discerning the truth than he does, and if that isn’t annoying enough, she’s intense and thorough. He can’t wait to shove her off onto someone else.
Golden State is classic noir with a speculative twist. It’s compelling, it’s thought-provoking, and it’s very, very human. Lazlo Ratesic has faint echoes of Ben Winters’ other protagonist whom I adore, Hank Palace, but he’s completely his own person. Imagine an odd but powerful mash-up of The Maltese Falcon and Fahrenheit 451, if you can.
It’s hard to believe that the man who wrote Golden State also wrote fabulous children’s books, but there you go. Didn’t I say Ben H. Winters is talented?
It’s April in Absaroka County. Walt’s been back a month and his wounds have not yet healed. Not only are his physical wounds bothering him, his psychological ones worry him and everyone around him. He’s chagrined to find out he has “minders”.
“It is difficult to confront madness, because insanity is a stranger to reason and any reasonable response would be insane.” Henry’s approach to the world is sometimes difficult for Walt – and us – to follow. But the questions of reason are real in Land of Wolvesbecause Walt has been surrounded by wolves for so long. Some have been circling him. Some, like one in his book, appear to be watching him. And then there is Walt’s unease that he himself has become a predator. He tells Vic he feels “disconnected”. I think he’s always feared that he would, or had, become a wolf. “‘So, what is it I’m so damned terrified of, Doc?’ ‘Why Walter, I would’ve thought it was obvious.’ He smiled his sad, worldly smile. ‘Yourself.'”
By the end of the book, he’s come to understand that he’s a shepherd, one who guards against the wolves. He needn’t have worried.
Entwined in this search for a human wolf, Craig Johnson plays with his cast to lift the dark questions Walt keeps under his hat. They worry about Walt but also gig him about his condition. And due to Walt’s lackadaisical approach to signing what Ruby puts on his desk, he now has a computer on that desk. It’s a source of great amusement. “An entirely new screen appeared, and I could see an abbreviated version of my email response boxed in the left-hand corner. I shouted to the outer office. ‘It worked!’ Ruby’s voice came back in response. ‘We’re all so proud of you, Walter.'”
In tone, the book reminded me of Another Man’s Moccasins. While the over-all story is a search for a killer, it’s the under-story that captures your attention.
And pay attention to Craig’s acknowledgements. That’s the true beginning of this tale of wolves.
One last thought ~ as if I needed another reason to stop by the Red Pony for a Ranier, it ends up that Henry has “A Night in Tunisia” by the Jazz Messengers on the jukebox. ‘Nuff said!
And while we’re on the subject of predators, I finally got to a book I’d picked up months ago. I’d heard the sad story of Michelle McNamara, how she’d spent so long investigating the wolf she tagged the Golden State Killer, started writing I’ll Be Gone in the Darkbut died before she finished the book and, even more frustrating, before he killer was arrested.
McNamara was a wonderful writer. She was able to make analogies that give the book color and convey a sense of the dread felt by people of the time and places. One of the most effective was writing about a scene from The Creature from the Black Lagoonwhere the woman swims while the creature moves along below her, unseen until the end of one claw brushes against her foot. That captures the evil that roamed California in the form of the GKS and the many other names hung on this fiend during his different phases, leaving people uneasy knowing that this evil was out there, just below their calm, suburban surface. And his disturbing ability to move through houses and neighborhoods – and, seemingly, time – brought echoes of the Manson family creepy-crawling homes while people slept.
I have to admit that the structure of the book was bothersome. It hops around in time and that makes it difficult to follow the monster’s path. But the book fit in well with my current immersion in true crime. I inhaled it.