ultracrepidarian (adj.) Noting or pertaining to a person who criticizes, judges, or gives advice outside the area of his or her expertise. (fishofgold.net)
What We’ve Been Up To
Liz Ireland – Mrs. Claus and the Halloween Homicide
What do you get when you take Christmas, Halloween, murder, and whiz it up in a blender?
Okay – now you need to trust me on this one.
April Claus married into one of the most famous families in the world, which initially didn’t impact her life a whole lot – as her husband was heir to the mantle of Santa Claus. Sadly, thru a series of unfortunate and murderous events, both she and her husband were thrust into the roles of Mr. and Mrs. Santa Claus on a strictly interim basis. (The details of how this came about are detailed Mrs. Claus and the Santaland Slayings.)
Now having a whole year of Mrs. Claus duties under her belt and being the new blood of the clan April is keen on introducing the elves of Christmastown to another holiday, her (previous) favorite Halloween, an idea which proves somewhat controversial in a town dedicated to all things Christmas.
A small but vocal contingent of elves believes Christmastown should remain a single celebration city. The most vocal critic of All Hallows Eve is Tiny Sparkletoes – who unfortunately – is found dead not long after a greenhouse full of pumpkins is vandalized…
Now I picked up this book based on the mash-up of holidays promised in the title – and it did not let me down. In fact, it utterly beat my expectations! The setting of Christmas town, the entertaining character names, and the reindeer (oh, the reindeer!) are treated so off-handedly that it successfully neutralizes the sweetness that could’ve crept into this narrative. April Claus just happens to live at the North Pole with her husband in Kringle Castle.
No big deal.
It also helps that April finds herself hip-deep in investigating a case of vandalism but a potential murder. Then there’s the problem of her best friend’s creepy boyfriend, drunk reindeer, and a mother-in-law who isn’t ready to cede her status as the numero uno – Mrs. Claus.
Seriously, Mrs. Claus and the Halloween Homicide is a well-paced and surprisingly nuanced themed mystery that will have you turning the pages quicker and quicker to find out whodunit!
HAPPY MERRY JOLLY!
So, how was your holiday season? We spent ours being all trendy, having the newly fashionable COVID Christmas, and it was just as spectacular as you might imagine.
I hope you didn’t participate, and if you did, I hope you’re feeling much better. We are, thank you for asking. That’s very sweet of you, but we’re vaccinated and boosted, so we were just unhappy, not in danger. Mostly we were blearily waiting for Barnaby to solve the Midsomer crime of the day. He’s reliable, is Barnaby. We needed that. Thank you, Caroline Graham!
I didn’t read a lot during this time. Brain fog is a real thing, hence the need for Barnaby to solve the cases. But I did read a YA book that was tons of fun, and perfectly suited my mood – Maureen Johnson’sDevilish.
While I never attended a religious prep school on the East Coast, any high school student will be able to relate to the issues facing Jane Jarvis, who doesn’t quite fit in, is too smart for her own good, and is worried about her bestie, Allison Concord. See, Ally’s changed, and while on the surface it seems to be a good thing, Jane is concerned because the changes in Ally are so radical. I mean, who gets a scholarship that pays for you to go shopping? To change your entire personality and become the Cool Kid? Something is suspicious, and Jane is going to find out what.
What I love about Maureen Johnson’s writing is how very relatable all her people are. While I’ve never been in the circumstances Jane finds herself in – and I’m grateful for that, by the way! – I know her, and Ally, and Owen, and Elton, and even the nuns.
Devilish is a quick read, which is perfect for this time of year, and definitely worth your while. If, however, you decide to save it for a summer beach read, I totally understand. The important thing is that you read it. Which you will, right?
obnubilate (v.): “to darken, cloud, overcloud,” 1580s, from Latin obnibulatus, past participle of obnubilare “to cover with clouds or fog,” from ob “in front of, against” (see ob-) + verb from Latin nubes “cloud,” from PIE *sneudh– “fog” (see nuance). Related: Obnubilated; obnubilating. Middle English had obnubilous “obscure, indistinct” (early 15th C.). (etymonline.com)
obloquy (n.): From the mid-15th C., obloquie, “evil speaking, slander, calumny, derogatory remarks,” from Medieval Latin obloquium “speaking against, contradiction,” from Latin obloqui “to speak against, contradict,” from ob “against” (see ob-) + loqui “to speak,” from PIE root *tolkw- “to speak.” Related: Obloquious. (etymonline.com)
[seriously, we were honest in our belief that it wasn’t worth including stories about Amazon. We’ve waged a war against the behemoth for 20 years and few have paid attention. But the stories keep piling up, sooo…..]
obscurantism (n.): “opposition to the advancement and diffusion of knowledge, a desire to prevent inquiry or enlightenment,” 1801, from German obscurantism, obscurantismus (by 1798); see obscurant + -ism. (etymonline.com)
obreption (n.): “the obtaining or trying to obtain something by craft or deception,” 1610s, from Latin obreptionem (nominative obreptio) “a creeping or stealing on,” noun of action from past-participle stem of obrepere “to creep on, creep up to,” from ob “on, to” (see ob-) + repere “to creep” (see reptile). Opposed to subreption, which is to obtain something by suppression of the truth. Related: Obreptious.
subreption (n.): “act of obtaining a favor by fraudulent suppression of facts,” c. 1600, from Latin subreptionem (nominative subreptio), noun of action from past-participle stem of subripere, surripere (see surreptitious). Related: Subreptitious. (etymonline.com)
What We’ve Been Up To
The Box In The Woods – Maureen Johnson
The Box In The Woods is probably one of the finest transitional books I’ve read – period.
A bold statement, to be sure, but I think an accurate one nonetheless.
The Box in the Woods is a continuation of Johnson’s Truly Devious series.
In that, a brand new cold case reunites Stevie and company during their summer vacation. Even better, if you’ve skipped reading the Truly Devious series and aren’t sure you want to sink in the extra time reading the trilogy (though you really should, they’re great), you don’t need to. Johnson brilliantly catches you up – without ruining the first three books!
Seriously, you don’t know how rare this is.
For some insane reason, mystery writers (or I suspect their editors as the more likely culprit) love revealing the ending of a previous mystery in newer installments! A feature that is fantastically frustrating if you accidentally start in the middle of the series. Thankfully, Johnson neatly sidesteps this common transgression.
But I digress.
Another reason why I enjoyed reading this book is Johnson makes use of two very well-known tropes and cunningly freshens them up.
Trope One: The horrors of summer camp as popularized by the Friday the 13th franchise.
Set a month or two after Stevie solved the Truly Devious case, Stevie’s hired to investigate the notorious Camp Wonder Falls murders, a cold case from 1978 where four camp counselors sneak out to hang out one summer night and are found murdered the following morning. Amplifying the horror of the crime is the fact neither the Sherriff nor State Police solved the crime. Leaving Barlow Corners, where Camp Wonder Falls and all four victims called home, in a state of animated suspension.
Amplifying this trope: Stevie and friends are hired as counselors to the newly revitalized (and renamed) summer camp as cover for said detecting.
While writing this review, I began to wonder: Does this trope have any real-world roots, or is it a purely fictional construct?
The answer sent me down an hours-long rabbit hole.
More specifically, I discovered an unsettling case dubbed the Oklahoma Girl Scout Murders. In 1977, Michele Heather Guse (9), Lori Lee Farmer (8), and Doris Denise Milner (10) were raped and murdered during a thunderstorm while attending Camp Scott (which was later shut down).
The Sherriff honed in on an escaped felon and convicted rapist who grew up in the area as his prime suspect. Gene Leroy Hart, said offender, was found not guilty of the girl’s murder in 1979. Other suspects have surfaced over the years, but no convictions have come about. Nor has DNA testing helped, as the biological material has deteriorated enough over the years that finding usable samples has become increasingly difficult.
Hauntingly, two months prior to the three little girl’s murder, a room was ransacked during a counselor’s training session. The perpetrator left a note stating, “We are on a mission to kill three little girls in Tent One.”.
The note, deemed a prank, was unfortunately tossed out.
(Click here if you’re interested in reading Tulsa World’s coverage of the tragedy. Or here for an alternate suspect theory.)
But back to The Box In The Woods.
The second trope Johnson used is one I’ve read at least a dozen times before – yet Johnson disguised it so cleverly I didn’t see it coming. Which I think is the mark of a great author and an excellent book.
Unfortunately, I can’t explain the trope any further. Otherwise, I will ruin the book for you. This is one where you need to trust me – the trope’s there, and it’s well-executed.
Overall, I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys YA detectives (though it is only YA due to the ages of the sleuths and a few hormones) and/or those who enjoy Agatha Christie-esque mysteries.
Honestly, I can’t say enough good things about The Box In The Woods!
The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death – Essay & Photography by Corinne May Botz
Interestingly, the review of the Nutshell Studies is directly linked to The Box In The Woods. When Stevie is first approached about investigating the cold case at Wonder Falls, she knows her folks won’t be keen on the idea, as they don’t understand or entirely approve of her fascination with true crime. So Stevie devises a strategy – which involves using a book filled with photos of the Nutshell Studies – to secure her parent’s permission to become a counselor at the notorious camp.
Intrigued by Johnson’s description, I found the book Stevie was reading.
Whereupon I discovered I’d seen homages to these scaled works in Elementry, CSI: Las Vegas, and Father Brown.
Created by Frances Glessner Lee, the mother of forensic science in the United States, these dioramas are intended to help train investigators on how to approach and analyze crime scenes.
Each scene is a 1-foot to 1-inch scale replica of crime scenes Lee either read about or visited. And much like Dragnet, Lee altered the specifics of each case she used, lest the detectives already know the solution. Though small, these gruesome dollhouses are fully immersive crime scenes where only one of three outcomes were acceptable – accident, suicide, or murder.
Brining us to Botz’s book.
Botz’s photography of these tiny worlds is both haunting, eerily lovely and acquaints her readers with the specter at the feast. All the while keeping true to Lee’s goal for the Nutshell Studies.
And this is where my criticism of this book lies.
Authors and Readers don’t always have the same agenda when beginning a book. And that’s okay. However, it is the duty of the author to set a clear message for their audience – particularly when dealing with such a tantalizing and fascinating subject like the Nutshell Studies.
Because, much like Stevie in The Box In The Woods, I wanted to hone my own critical thinking skills and eye on dioramas meant to do just that.
And this is where the rub of the book lies.
Botz waited until page 220 of 223 in a footnote, no less, to inform her readers she only included the solution to five out of twenty Nutshell Studies. (And one other tiny pet peeve the few provided solutions aren’t listed in the order the cases were presented in the previous chapter.) In any case, the reason for this purposeful omission is due to the fact law enforcement still use the Nutshell Studies as training tools. So they asked Botz not to reveal three-quarters of the solutions.
Which is entirely understandable and isn’t the basis of my quibble.
My objection lies in waiting until the last four pages to finally elucidate this crucial detail – Botz could’ve just as easily placed the footnote in her prologue (which would’ve avoided a great deal of frustration and annoyance).
Admittedly, in Botz’s preface, she does allude to this contentious detail. Stating she set out to photograph the Nutshell Studies, “With the resolve of an investigator at the scene of a crime (yet with no interest in solving it)…” (pg. 12). Additionally, Botz felt a kinship with Lee – which meant Botz kept true to Lee’s intent for the Nutshells, “…they were not supposed to treat the Nutshells as ‘whodunnits’…they are, rather, designed as exercises in observing and evaluating indirect evidence…” (pg. 29).
This obfuscation of information continues with the photographs, as Botz only gives the audience small slices of these miniatures to study. Now, these slices are spectacular in their incredible detail, meticulous craftsmanship, and atmospheric perspective – but they do not afford the same opportunity for the reader as they do investigators.
Happily, Botz does include the background info written by Lee for each diorama. Then provides a crime scene diagram of each overall scene where Botz highlights investigative features, the personal quirks Lee buried within the rooms or just general fun facts. They draw the reader’s eye hither, thither, and yon much like a red herring in a mystery novel.
Now, with all this being said – and I know my criticism is rather long – I would still highly recommend reading this book. Although, with the caveat, the cases may leave you a bit frustrated with not knowing the answers…In any case, the sheer precision and accuracy of Lee’s dioramas is astonishing, and Botz’s photography elevates the Nutshell Studies to a whole new level. Making Botz’s book The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death deserving of your time and energy. Because I bought this book several months back, and I still find something new each and every time I reread it.
Boy, if there’s a Word of the Month that fits us itis this:
gallimaufry (n.)“a medley, hash, hodge-podge,” 1550s, from French galimafrée “hash, ragout, dish made of odds and ends,” from Old French galimafree, calimafree “sauce made of mustard, ginger, and vinegar; a stew of carp” (14th C.), which is of unknown origin. Perhaps from Old French galer “to make merry, live well” (see gallant) + Old North French mafrer “to eat much,” from Middle Dutch maffelen [Klein]. Weekley sees in the second element the proper name Maufré. Hence, figuratively, “any inconsistent or absurd medley.” (etymonline)
absurd (n): “plainly illogical,” 1550s, from French absurde (16th C.), from Latin absurdus “out of tune, discordant;” figuratively “incongruous, foolish, silly, senseless,” from ab– “off, away from,” here perhaps an intensive prefix, + surdus “dull, deaf, mute,” which is possibly from an imitative PIE root meaning “to buzz, whisper” (see susurration). Thus the basic sense is perhaps “out of tune,” but de Vaan writes, “Since ‘deaf’ often has two semantic sides, viz. ‘who cannot hear’ and ‘who is not heard,’ ab-surdus can be explained as ‘which is unheard of’ …” The modern English sense is the Latin figurative one, perhaps “out of harmony with reason or propriety.” Related: Absurdly; absurdness. (etymonline)
paradox (n): From t he 1530s, “a statement contrary to common belief or expectation,” from French paradoxe (14th C.) and directly from Latin paradoxum “paradox, statement seemingly absurd yet really true,” from Greek paradoxon “incredible statement or opinion,” noun use of neuter of adjective paradoxos “contrary to expectation, incredible,” from para- “contrary to” (see para- (1)) + doxa “opinion,” from dokein “to appear, seem, think” (from PIE root *dek- “to take, accept”).
Originally with notions of “absurd, fantastic.” Meaning “statement that is seemingly self-contradictory yet not illogical or obviously untrue” is from 1560s. Specifically in logic, “a statement or proposition from an acceptable premise and following sound reasoning that yet leads to an illogical conclusion,” by 1903. (etymonline)
preposterous (adj.): 1540s, “contrary to nature, reason, or common sense,” from Latin praeposterus “absurd, contrary to nature, inverted, perverted, in reverse order,” literally “before-behind” (compare topsy-turvy,cart before the horse), from prae “before” (see pre-) + posterus “subsequent, coming after,” from post “after” (see post-).
The sense gradually shaded into “foolish, ridiculous, stupid, absurd.” The literal meaning “reversed in order or arrangement, having that last which ought to be first” (1550s) is now obsolete in English. In 17th C. English also had a verb preposterate “to make preposterous, pervert, invert.” (etymonline)
canard (n.): An “absurd or fabricated story intended as an imposition,” 1851, perhaps 1843, from French canard “a hoax,” literally “a duck” (from Old French quanart, probably echoic of a duck’s quack); said by Littré to be from the phrase vendre un canard à moitié “to half-sell a duck,” thus, perhaps from some long-forgotten joke, “to cheat.” But also compare quack (n.1). (etymonline)
Until I cracked the spine of Mango, Mambo, and Murder – I hadn’t realized how very long it’s been since I’ve started a new series. Or, in fact, a series that didn’t feature a mystery writer, bookshop owner, or librarian as the sleuth. So why you ask, are these careers important? Reading about true or fictional crime does generally give bookish detectives a leg up in their investigations.
However, in Mango, Mambo, and Murder, our investigator is Dr. Miriam Quinones-Smith, a Food Anthropologist, mother of one, and the newest resident of Coral Shores, Miami. All outstanding life achievements – but not ones that prepared her for investigating a murder. However, this is precisely what Miriam needs to do when her best friend Alma is accused of murder.
And she makes mistakes. Lots of mistakes. Because she’s quite literally an amateur sleuth trying to solve her first case – the first one I’ve read in a very long time.
She did a good job.
However, the cream of the first book in A Caribbean Kitchen Mystery series is how Reyes (our author) seamlessly works food into her mystery. The dishes Miriam cooks add layers and nuance to the book without detracting from the unfolding story because food is the cornerstone upon which Mirium’s life is built, therefore making it a cornerstone of the book.
But it’s still very much a mystery…with delicious sounding Cuban food on the side.
The one and only criticism I have for the Mango, Mambo, and Murder is that the very last chapter is just a hair overly sweet. But as it is a first novel – which gives a slightly unusual but satisfying wrap -up the murder mystery – I can forgive this very small foible.
Overall, I would recommend this mystery to anyone who enjoys reading cozy mysteries, culinary mysteries, and/or culturally diverse mysteries. Raquel V. Reyes did a great job creating a new exciting character, who I am looking forward to meeting again.
(BTW – Thanks to JB who emailed me about this great book!)
Craig Johnson’s new Longmire, Daughter of the Morning Star is a puzzler. I don’t mean that due to it’s mystery and crime and whodunnit elements. I mean it from the point of view of “where is this going”?
Walt spends the book up in Montana, helping the locals search for a missing Indian woman. The issue of missing and murdered Indigenous women is a real and frightening problem but Walt is the sheriff of the largest county in WY, he doesn’t have a huge staff (is the Powder River annex still manned? Was it rebuilt after it was torched? Has his Basque deputy been replaced?) Who’s running the place? While the hunt for the missing girl is the plot, the story is more about Walt’s continued brush with Native American spirituality, what it means to him, how he deals with it – or not – and how the Spirits deal with Walt. There are a number of Mallo wrappers in the story and if you’ve been reading the books you understand their significance.
There’s a lot of basketball, not enough Vic, and the oddity of Dog shying away from Walt after a Spirit encounter but then everything is normal between them with no explanation.
Felt, again, like a bridge book – taking the series somewhere but not going very fast. Still, anytime with Walt and Henry is time well spent.
After becoming frustrated with the commercials during BBC’s airing of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, I turned off the TV and started re-reading the book. It has to be at least 20 years since I first read it. I was struck – again – by how well crafted it is as a mystery/thriller/crime novel, how assured it was as a first time work of fiction, and how serious Stieg Larsson was about addressing the violence done to women. Re-read all three. Great trilogy!
ATTENTION MUST BE PAID: From the introduction to Craig’s new Longmire:
“The plight of missing an murdered indigenous women is so great that I had to reassure my publisher that the statistics contained in this novel are accurate. The numbers are staggering, and they speak for themselves. What if I were to tell you that that the chances of a Native woman being murdered is ten times the national average, or that murder is the third leading cause of death for indigenous women? What if I told you that four out of five Native women have experienced societal violence, with having experienced sexual violence as well. Half of Native women have been stalked in their lifetime, and they are two times as likely to experience violence and rape than their Anglo counterparts. Heartbreakingly, the majority of these Native women’s murders are by non-Natives on Native owned land.
“The violence is being addressed, but there is so much more to do. Jurisdictional issues and a lack of communication among agencies make the investigative process difficult. Underreporting, racial misclassification, and underwhelming media coverage [emphasis from us] minimize the incredible damage that is being done to the Native communities as a whole.
rougarou (n.): “Rougarou” represents a variant pronunciation and spelling of the original French loup-garou. According to Barry Jean Ancelet, an academic expert on Cajunfolklore and professor at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette in America, the tale of the rougarou is a common legend across French Louisiana. Both words are used interchangeably in southern Louisiana. Some people call the monster rougarou; others refer to it as the loup-garou. The rougarou legend has been spread for many generations, either directly from French settlers to Louisiana (New France) or via the French Canadian immigrants centuries ago. In the Cajun legends, the creature is said to prowl the swamps around Acadiana and Greater New Orleans, and the sugar cane fields and woodlands of the regions. The rougarou most often is described as a creature with a human body and the head of a wolf or dog, similar to the werewolf legend. (wikipedia)
soucouyant (n.): The soucouyant is a shapeshifting Caribbean folklore character who appears as a reclusive old woman by day. By night, she strips off her wrinkled skin and puts it in a mortar. In her true form, as a fireball she flies across the dark sky in search of a victim. The soucouyant can enter the home of her victim through any sized hole like cracks, crevices and keyholes. Soucouyants suck people’s blood from their arms, legs and soft parts while they sleep leaving blue-black marks on the body in the morning. If the soucouyant draws too much blood, it is believed that the victim will either die and become a soucouyant or perish entirely, leaving her killer to assume her skin. The soucouyant practices black magic. Soucouyants trade their victims’ blood for evil powers with Bazil, the demon who resides in the silk cotton tree. To expose a soucouyant, one should heap rice around the house or at the village cross roads as the creature will be obligated to gather every grain, grain by grain (a herculean task to do before dawn) so that she can be caught in the act. To destroy her, coarse salt must be placed in the mortar containing her skin so she perishes, unable to put the skin back on. Belief in soucouyants is still preserved to an extent in Guyana, Suriname and some Caribbean islands, including Dominica, Haiti and Trinidad. The skin of the soucouyant is considered valuable, and is used when practicing black magic. Many Caribbean islands have plays about the Soucouyant and many other folklore characters. Some of these include Trinidad Grenada and Barbados. Soucouyants belong to a class of spirits called jumbies. Some believe that soucouyants were brought to the Caribbean from European countries in the form of French vampire-myths. These beliefs intermingled with those of enslaved Africans. (wikipedia)
manananggal (n.) The manananggal is described as scary, often hideous, usually depicted as female, and always capable of severing its upper torso and sprouting huge bat-like wings to fly into the night in search of its victims. The word manananggal comes from the Tagalog word tanggal, which means “to remove” or “to separate”, which literally translates as “remover” or “separator”. In this case, “one who separates itself”. The name also originates from an expression used for a severed torso. The manananggal is said to favor preying on sleeping, pregnant women, using an elongated proboscis-like tongue to suck the hearts of fetuses, or the blood of someone who is sleeping. It also haunts newlyweds or couples in love. Due to being left at the altar, grooms-to-be are one of its main targets.The severed lower torso is left standing, and is the more vulnerable of the two halves. Sprinkling salt, smearing crushed garlic or ash on top of the standing torso is fatal to the creature. The upper torso then would not be able to rejoin itself and would perish by sunrise. The myth of the manananggal is popular in the Visayan regions of the Philippines, especially in the western provinces of Capiz, Iloilo, Bohol and Antique. There are varying accounts of the features of a manananggal. Like vampires, Visayan folklore creatures, and aswangs, manananggals are also said to abhor garlic, salt and holy water. They were also known to avoid daggers, light, vinegar, spices and the tail of a stingray, which can be fashioned as a whip. Folklore of similar creatures can be found in the neighbouring nations of Indonesia and Malaysia. The province of Capiz is the subject or focus of many manananggal stories, as with the stories of other types of mythical creatures, such as ghosts, goblins, ghouls generically referred to as aswangs. Sightings are purported here, and certain local folk are said to believe in their existence despite modernization. The manananggal shares some features with the vampire of Balkan folklore, such as its dislike of garlic, salt, and vulnerability to sunlight. (wikipedia)
Chonchon (n.) The Chonchon is the magical transformation of a kalku (Mapuche sorcerer). It is said only the most powerful kalkus can aspire to master the secret of becoming this feared creature. The kalku or sorcerer would carry out the transformation into a Chonchon by an act of will and being anointed by a magical cream in the throat that eases the removal of the head from the rest of the body, with the removed head then becoming the creature. The Chonchon has the shape of a human head with feathers and talons; its ears, which are extremely large, serve as wings for its flight on moonless nights. Chonchons are supposed to be endowed with all the magic powers of, and can only be seen by, other kalkus, or by wizards that want this power. Sorcerers take the form of the chonchon to better carry out their wicked activities, and the transformation would provide them with other abilities, such as drinking the blood of ill or sleeping people. Although the fearsome appearance of a chonchon would be invisible to the uninitiated, they would still be able to hear its characteristic cry of “tue tue tue”, which is considered to be an extremely ill omen, usually predicting the death of a loved one. (wikipedia)
Your Guide to Not Getting Murdered in a Quaint English Village is exactly what it claims to be – a guide. Elucidating all the things a tourist needs to know about a quiet English village in order to navigate it and the inevitable undercurrents successfully (i.e. not get murdered).
Its’ also one of the funniest books I’ve ever read.
Aimed at the lovers of classic manor house and/or English village mysteries (think the Queens of Crime, Georgette Heyer, Francis Duncan, Patricia Wentworth) it takes the stock characters, architecture, and events found within those pages and gives them an irreverent, rib-tickling, and on the nose descriptions.
There’s even a quiz at the end to test your prowess.
I died twice…on the same page.
What I love even more – is how many of the people, places, and things Johnson describes in Your Guide to Not Getting Murdered that I recognize either from reading them or from watching tv shows like Father Brown, Death In Paradise, and Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries.
I would recommend this book to anyone who loves classic mysteries and has a very good sense of humor – Your Guide to Not Getting Murdered will not let you down!
This is not a political post, but the book I’m talking about has its roots in politics, specifically the 2016 election. When the results were tallied, many people were upset, and out of that visceral reaction a new publishing house was born, Nasty Woman Press, the Creative Resistance.
Spearheaded by the glorious Kelli Stanley, Nasty Woman Press, a 501(c)(4) non-profit, decided to use literary creativity to bring awareness and aid to those who are struggling. To quote Kelli, “Our plan is to publish anthologies of captivating fiction and thought-provoking non-fiction, each built around a general theme – the theme itself tying in to the non-profit for which the book is raising money.”
That’s right. The profits from the sale of each book go to a cause. In the case of the the debut anthology, Shattering Glass, the theme is empowered women, and the profits go to Planned Parenthood.
Now, I know that a lot of you don’t like short stories, but here’s where you trust me. The fiction is amazing, and not all the authors are female. Anyone who says that men can’t write accurately about women needs to read some of these stories. Men can and do understand women, and know how to write them as believable characters.
But it’s not just the stories. One of the essays, written by Jacqueline Winspear about women firefighters, has stayed with me since I read it, and even as I type this, California is on fire, and I want to sit down with Jackie over a pot of tea and listen to her, because she knows her stuff.
The opening essay by Valerie Plame – yes, THAT Valerie Plame, outed CIA spy turned politician and novelist – is definitely thought provoking and erudite. I’ve read it a couple of times now.
But in the end, you’re going to love this anthology and come back to it. Parts of it will leave you aching, sometimes you’ll be so pissed you want to throw things, and at other times, you’re going to laugh out loud at the audacity. You will not remain unmoved. And that’s because these people can Write.
Who, you might ask? Well, I don’t want to spoil surprises, but if you like the writing of people like Cara Black, Catriona McPherson, Anne Lamott, Joe Clifford, Senator Barbara Boxer, Jess Lourey, and Seanan McGuire, you’re in for a treat.
Pickup up a copy of Scott Turow’s The Last Trial. It’s one of those many books by favorite authors that I missed after the shop closed. It’s all that you’d expect from Turow – no one else plots such stunning and sinuous legal thrillers. But the wonderful part of the book, for me, was spending time with defense attorney Sandy Stern. While the lawyer is described differently, it’s impossible for me to not picture and hear Raul Julia as him, and since it is likely to be the last book with Stern and Julia’s sadly dead, it was so nice to be in their company one last time.
There are words authors use that are too fancy for the stories they’re telling. In a way, it’s showy. It’s proving you have a large vocabulary. “Verdant” is one. It is almost always out of place. And, please – PLEASE – can we retire “plethora”!
But, having blurted that out of my head, I am here to HIGHLY RECOMMENDBlacktop Wasteland by S.A. Cosby. A new book is out now in hardcover. It’s getting high praise. I thought I’d go back and start with his first and – man – the guy can not only write beautifully but plot a tight, thrilling story.
“That was the things about his mother. She could be emotionally manipulative one minute then making you laugh the next. It was like getting hit in the face with a pie that had a padlock in it.”
Beau is a young guy whose stuck in a thicket of bills – mortgage on his garage, his dying mother’s healthcare is a mess, his youngest daughter needs money for starting college. He’s turned his back on his past livelihood – get-away-driver. His father was a noted driver and Beau doesn’t want to follow that path. “But when it came to handling his responsibilities we both know Anthony Montage was about a useful as a white crayon, don’t we?”
But the bills are demanding and off we roar into a series of sharp turns and dead ends that threaten everything he cherishes. Danger is his passenger and worse follows. “Reggie jumped like a demon had spoken to him.”
This is great noir, a great crime novel. I believe it is a stand-alone. I don’t think his books are connected. And I look forward to reading more. Cosby writes with a fluid, memorable style. How can you not want to read an author who comes up with a line like this: “She was wearing a tank top and shorts so tight they would become a thong is she sneezed.”
But it’ll have to wait ’til I finish the new Longmire.
The new James Ellroy, Widespread Panic, is everything you’d expect from an Ellroy book – literately lurid, speedily sleazy, and full of film faces. The narrator is real-life reprobate Fred Otash, a former cop, LA fixer, and all-around asshole. He’s into everything, everyone and everywhere. The book takes the form or a sort of memoir, a look back on a set of years in the 1950s. Naughty and nefarious nostalgia.
As with any Ellroy, when finishes, it is difficult to remember if there were any good people in the story. As with any Ellroy, the story is stocked with actual people. How does he get away with it without being sued out of his bowtie? Elizabeth Taylor in a three-way romp? James Dean, Nick Adams, Nicholas Ray and many others as reprehensible souls involved in rampant raids, reprobates riding roughshod over rights! None are alive now, but….
sucker (n.) A “young mammal before it is weaned,” late 14th C., agent noun from suck. Slang meaning “person who is easily deceived” is first attested 1836, American English, on notion of naivete; but another theory traces the slang meaning to the fish called a sucker (1753), on the notion of being easy to catch in their annual migrations (the fish so called from the shape of its mouth). As a type of candy from 1823; especially “lollipop” by 1907. Meaning “shoot from the base of a tree or plant” is from 1570s. Also the old name of inhabitants of Illinois. (etymonline)
folly (n.): From the early 13th C., “mental weakness; foolish behavior or character; unwise conduct” (in Middle English including wickedness, lewdness, madness), from Old French folie “folly, madness, stupidity” (12th C.), from fol (see fool (n.)). From c. 1300 as “an example of foolishness;” sense of “costly structure considered to have shown folly in the builder” is attested from 1650s. But used much earlier, since Middle English, in place names, especially country estates, probably as a form of Old French folie in its meaning “delight.” (etymonline)
We’re eliminating this section of the newzine. What’s the point? They are into everything and will soon own everything. The windmill has won…
rube (n.): From 1896, reub, from shortened form of masculine proper name Reuben (q.v.), which is attested from 1804 as a conventional type of name for a country man… As a typical name of a farmer, rustic, or country bumpkin, from 1804. The Reuben sandwich of corned beef, sauerkraut, etc., on rye bread, an American specialty (1956) is the same name but “Not obviously connected” with the “country bumpkin” sense in rube [OED], but is possibly from Reuben’s restaurant, a popular spot in New York’s Lower East Side. Various other Reubens have been proposed as the originator. (etymonline)
August 29: Ed Asner, the Iconic Lou Grant on Two Acclaimed TV Series, Dies at 91 [Asner was born in Kansas City and his brother Ben owned a record store just across state line in Missouri called Caper’s Corners. It was the place we all went to get concert tickets and buy LPs. Later it was revealed that Ben Asner was one of the biggest fences in the city.]
con (adj.): “swindling,” 1889 (in con man), American English, from confidence man (1849), from the many scams in which the victim is induced to hand over money as a token of confidence. Confidence with a sense of “assurance based on insufficient grounds” dates from 1590s. Con artist is attested by 1910.
What We’ve Been Up To
A Noodle Shop Mystery (series) by Vivien Chien
One of the pitfalls of no longer working in a bookshop is that one occasionally falls behind in a series. Which I must confess – I don’t really mind. Why? Because when I eventually recall the temporarily neglected author, I’ve a backlog to zip my way thru! Thus allowing me to dive headlong and immerse myself in the world of an old friend and catch up with them…
This awkward phenomenon occurred most recently with Vivien Chien’s Noodle Shop Mystery series. Where over a week, I devoured Fatal Fried Rice – where Lana’s cooking instructor winds up dead and lands Lana in very hot water. Killer Kung Pao – where the sourest business owner in the Asian Village is accused of murder, and her sister asks Lana to clear her name. And Egg Drop Dead – during Noodle House’s first catering gig, for the owner of the Asian Village, one of the owner’s staff ends up dead, and Lana’s detective skills are pressed into service.
I reveled in every word I read.
Here’s what I love about this series: Chien does a great job in varying motives, methods, investigative techniques (as Lana learns or stumbles onto new strategies), and culprits. Thus giving each of her books a sense of freshness, variety, and surprise – a feature often missing from other cozy mysteries. Another reason I enjoy this series is the fact the book’s solutions make sense. As in, I don’t need to suspend my disbelief in thinking an amateur sleuth could stumble onto the truth. Which, again, is a nice change of pace.
Above and beyond these aforementioned attributes – these books are witty, fun, and intelligent reads.
Okay, so the titles are punny – but I can assure you that’s where the cloying coziness ends. Lana just happens to manage her family’s noodle shop – it is the backdrop for the books, not the central theme. I promise.
I would recommend this series to anyone looking for a new cozy-ish series to immerse themselves in.
(BTW – I did make an entry in my phone’s calendar to remind me Chien’s new book, Hot and Sour Suspects, is out in January 2022 – so I didn’t accidentally forget again….)
Dorothy Uhnak was a real police detective in New York in the Sixties, when being a female detective was only marginally accepted. She turned her experiences into stories, several of which were turned into movies.
Victims wasn’t made into a movie, but it should have been, and honestly, still should be. Loosely based on the brutal murder of Kitty Genovese (you remember her, right? She was murdered and over 30 people heard it but did nothing), Victims follows the investigation into the murder of a young woman while people in the neighborhood watched but did nothing because they all thought it was “the Spanish girl”.
Victims is set in the 80’s – which, sadly, I’ve lately heard called “vintage”, which I find appalling because it was just yesterday, dammit – but the only thing that differentiates the setting between then and now are cell phones and digital capabilities. It’s a solid police procedural, but with a twist.
As Miranda Torres investigates the murder of Anna Grace, journalist Mike Stein investigates the lack of response by the neighbors with an eye to a searing expose of the witnesses. Technically, they are not at cross-purposes, and for some reason, Stein has been allowed access to all of NYPD’s findings. Torres is meticulous, observant, and wickedly smart.
Between them, the two find out a great deal, but since their final goals aren’t the same, neither are their investigations.
Dorothy Uhnak brilliantly captures the delicate and pervasive racism, favoritism, back-room dealing, and political chicanery that invades all areas of society, and she makes it personal. I’ve always been a fan of her Christie Opera series, and you should read them, but Victims hits home with a gut punch that lingers.
When you finish it, if you aren’t mad as hell, you haven’t been paying attention!
There are series that I’ve read more than once, and there are series that I’ve read many times, six or more. This series I have read, I think, twice, and some of the books more than that. I like re-reading. It’s time spend with favorite characters, favorite voices. And now and then I still read a sentence that stands out. I’m not sure how I’ve not noticed it before. Maybe I did but this time it captured my eyes. “My thoughts struggled in my brain like exhausted swimmers.”
Maybe it locked me because it is how I’m feeling these days. I find myself having difficulty focusing on things – long books, long movies, even a ball game. It’s not those things, it’s my concentration. That’s when re-reading comes in handy. I don’t have to worry too much about tuning into the pages as I’ve been there before. That’s another reason why that line hooked me; I wasn’t looking for something remarkable and new, and it fit my present self.
Kennedy’s Avenger: Assassination, Conspiracy, and the Forgotten Trial of Jack Ruby by Dan Abrams and David Fisher was a compete waste of $27.99. I knew it from the first few pages when the authors started from the position that Oswald was the lone assassin. While Melvin Belli’s defense tactics were amusing, I quit reading before 50 pages. A waste of paper, printer’s ink, shipping, human efforts and, as I said, money.
I bought James Lee Burke’s A Private Cathedral the week it appeared in hardcover in the Summer of 2020. Just got to it now – and now it is in trade paper. I can’t quite explain why the long wait as I love the Robicheaux series. Doesn’t matter, really.
This is an odd one on two fronts. On one, it is set in the past, as if it makes any difference to Dave and Clete. Alafair is still in college and Helen isn’t the chief of police until the end, so maybe a ten, fifteen years? The other oddity is that this one deals more with the “electric mist” and it isn’t just Dave seeing figures out of time. It is almost fair to call this one a ghost story. Certainly the main characters are spooked by what they experience.
Still, for these differences, it was a great book.
dreadnought (n.): Literally (one who or that which) “fears nothing,” from the verbal phrase (drede ich nawiht is attested from c. 1200); see dread (v.) + nought (n.). As a synonym for “battleship” (1916) it is from a specific ship’s name. Dreadnought is mentioned as the name of a ship in the Royal Navy as early as c. 1596, but the modern generic sense is from the name of the first of a new class of British battleships, based on the “all big-gun” principle (armed with 10 big guns rather than 4 large guns and a battery of smaller ones), launched Feb. 18, 1906. (etymonline)
Murder Is My Business: In the true crime genre’s latest iteration, writers, reporters, bloggers, documentary filmmakers, and podcast hosts have taken a soiled brand and turned it into a collective exercise in retributive justice, recording and correcting the history of sexual violence.
daredevil (n.): 1794, “recklessly daring person, one who fears nothing and will attempt anything,” from dare (v.) + devil (n.). The devil might refer to the person, or the sense might be “one who dares the devil.” Compare scarecrow, killjoy, dreadnought, pickpocket (n.), cutthroat, also fear-babe a 16th C. word for “something that frightens children;” kill-devil “bad rum.” As an adjective, “characteristic of a daredevil, reckless,” by 1832. (etymonline) [The Marvel superhero first appeared in April, 1964.]
The third installment of the Heirs of Chicagoland was a fast, fun and enjoyable read!
I mean, what’s not to love when you’ve got vampires, werewolves and everything in-between? Even better, Shadowed Steel finally sees our heroes and heroines emerge from their legendary parent’s shadows (and plot lines) to explore the mysteries and problems facing their Chicago.
(If you’re not acquainted with the series – the characters in Heirs are the kids of the original series – Chicagoland Vampires. You don’t have to read the original series to understand the new one – but I highly recommend it as they’re brilliant and add extra layers of nuance and fun to the newer books!)
It’s the writing, you see
I’ve mentioned before how much I love Rennie Airth’s writing, and if you’ve read his work, I know you get it.
If you haven’t, start with River of Darkness, and just keep going with John Madden’s investigations. You’ll be immersed in post-WWI life, and all the repercussions of the Great War.
I just finished The Decent Inn of Death, and it’s got some lovely surprises. Not whodunnit, at least not for me. But like every book by Rennie Airth, it’s not the surprise at the end but the whole journey. And here he takes us to visit Agatha Christie. Not literally, but The Decent Inn of Death definitely reminded me of Mousetrap.
One of the surprises is that, for the most part, the story doesn’t follow John Madden. Instead, we’re following his old chief and friend, former Chief Inspector Angus Sinclair, who goes to visit friends while the Maddens are away, and who gets caught up both in a mystery and a snowstorm, where there’s definitely something suspicious going on. And Angus has a murder to solve, but his health isn’t good, and these are stressful times.
It occurred to me while I was reading The Decent Inn of Death that I really like how Rennie Airth writes women. They’re strong, opinionated, forceful, and each woman is an individual character. They’re never cookie-cutter. And often, they’re surprising.
For example, Lucy Madden, John and Helen’s daughter, says this about marriage:
‘The trouble is I can’t see myself tied to any one man.’ She sighed. ‘The shine wears off so quickly. What I’d really like is to be one of those sultans who had scores of wives and kept them in a harem. I could probably manage with four or five – husbands, I mean. It would be so nice to be able to say, I’ll have you today…No, not you…you.’
‘You’re joking, of course.’
‘Am I?’ She sent a sly glance his way.
There are several women whom you will meet during your visit at The Decent Inn of Death, and each one is unique and, in her own way, perfect, although they have all manner of flaws. But you won’t become confused as to who is whom; Rennie Airth really does write women well!
Bill Farley always said that they weren’t Stouts but it was always nice spending time with old friends. Robert Goldsborough’s Trouble at the Brownstonekeeps up that trend. In his latest Nero Wolfe novel, the group on West 35th is disturbed when master gardener Theodore Horstmann is found nearly beaten to death. Only recently had he moved out of the brownstone into his own apartment and so the questions of where and how it happened are multiplied. All hands are called in to help and even Insp. Cramer is working with them – grousing a bit, of course, but everyone is working hard to find the culprit even as Horstmann remains in a coma. The solution may be unsurprising but is still satisfactory.
Stephen Hunter moves into a new world with Basil’s War. The book is set during WWII, the central character is an upper-class, cheeky and glib Brit, and the action is as speedy as the plot is convoluted. It is all about getting a clue to who is the Soviet spy in British intelligence not to expose them but so that information can be slipped to them that will convince Stalin to do what the Brits need him to do. They’re certain that if they just ask, he’ll think it is a devious plot and refuse, so they concoct this elaborate scheme to nudge him. Got it? Don’t worry, you’ll see once Basil’s carried out his mission. It’s a delightful book – none are exactly who you assume them to be…well, maybe van Boch of the SS. It is a very different turn from Hunter but its every bit as imaginative and serious as any of his other books, but this one is topped with a deceptive icing of nonchalant, even sporty, wit.
Respected independent scholar Jonathan Marshall is also an award-winning journalist. The reviews of his new book, Dark Quadrant: Organized Crime, Big Business, and the Corruption of American Democracy piqued my interest. It’s a fascinating book, beginning with FDR and moving forward through the growth of the Federal government, the Mob, the military-industrial complex (we really need to use Eisenhower’s original choice of “military-industrial-congressional-complex” all the time), and the parasites who affix themselves to all concerned. He brings it forward into the Trump administration and few come out of the book not covered with filth. Many of the names you’ll know – Roy Cohn, Howard Hughes, Tommy the Cork, Robert Maheu, Joseph McCarthy, Meyer Lansky, J. Edgar Hoover, Sam Giancana, Richard Nixon, on and on. Congressmen, Senators, CEOs and appointees. It’s all about greed and power, without an ounce of loyalty or civic responsibility. Talk about a shadow government… The depth and scholarship of his indictment is staggering. It’s simply staggering.
Granted, his tale is takes up nearly a century, and the players weave themselves deep into the country’s government and fabric, surfacing here and there through the decades and, following the money, entwine themselves with a variety of public figures from different facets of power. But it was disarming to continually run into his notes of “See chapter X” throughout the book, from the beginning chapters to the final ones. It gives the book a disjointed feeling, as if you’re to stop in chapter 2 to go to chapter 9 or go back from chapter 10 to chapter 5. Don’t, just keep plowing through sordid history of disgusting muck. It is an infuriating read due to subject and due to his scholarship. It’s an important subject and therefore an important book.
Finally, we’ve run into “issues” with WordPress. They’ve changed the way the program works making it less user friendly. To top it off, there was some sort of glitch and I lost reviews and links that I’d added. It’s been very frustrating. If this newzine seems thinner and less packed with goodies, that’s why.
screwball (n): crazy, insane, odd or eccentric, predates the “screwball comedy” of Hollywood. From baseball, a pitch that breaks the other way from a curve ball, invented in the 1890s. (Says You! #1523)
blockhead (n.): 1540s, also block-head – a “stupid person,” someone whose head is impenetrable, from the head-shaped oaken block used by wig-makers and hat-makers, though the insulting sense is equally old.
nincompoop (n.) 1670s, nicompoop; modern form from 1713. Despite similarity [noted by Johnson] to Latin legal phrase non compos mentis “insane, mentally incompetent” (c. 1600), the connection is denied by the OED’s etymologists because the earliest forms lack the second -n-. Weekley thinks first element may be a proper name, and cites Nicodemus, which he says was used in French for “a fool,” or Nicholas. Klein says it is probably an invented word. Century Dictionary has no objection to the non compos mentis theory. (etymonline)
whackjob (n): one whose beliefs are not based in reality, first used in Elmore Leonard’s 1992 Rum Punch. (Says You! #1523)
What We’ve Been Up To
The Broken Spine – Dorothy St. James
I thoroughly enjoyed reading this mystery.
Tru, our librarian heroine, spoke to the not-so-secret rebellious streak housed in my heart of hearts. By not only saving hundreds of books – that her town’s leading lights consigned to the dump for being “obsolete” – then used said books to open a secret lending library! (Can it get any better?) As the aforementioned leading lights, decided to transform Tru’s beloved library into a bookless technology center.
But no good deed goes unpunished.
Just as Tru and her cohorts are spit polishing the brass for the secret opening of their clandestine reading room – one of the driving forces behind this abominable shift in biblio-philosophies is found crushed beneath a shelf of DVDs. And Tru, who didn’t mince any words about his bookless library scheme, is suspect numero uno.
So now, unless she’s willing to rat-out her secret project (Which isn’t going to happen even if it gives her an iron-clad alibi) Tru must figure out who actually did the deed to save her own bacon!
While this is a cozy mystery, it’s not a cute one, and it’s a fine first in series. St. James does a good job in adding layers to her characters and nuance to her plot. If you enjoy reading biblio mysteries, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed with The Broken Spine.
Oh, and did I mention there’s a cat named Dewey that has his paws all over things?
It’s summertime, vacation time, time away from school. So let me drag you back to high school via the inestimable Lisa Lutz. Trust me, even if you’ve been to boarding school, you haven’t been to Stonebridge Academy, a New England prep school with a terrible secret.
Alexandra Witt didn’t really want to teach at Stonebridge, but her famous author dad knew she needed a job after things went sideways at her last teaching gig, and he got her a place at the Academy. Alex takes the job, but with serious reservations; she and her father have a difficult past.
It doesn’t take Alex long to figure out the usual issues: teens with issues and egos, teachers with issues and egos, and an eccentric curriculum designed to allow students freedom of expression, which doesn’t always bring out the best in, well, anybody
But there’s something else going on, and because of Alex’s unorthodox teaching methods, she is soon privy to information she didn’t want to have. With strong-willed students going their own ways, Alex is caught up in a really ugly situation, and getting out of it could be incredibly difficult. And dangerous
The Swallows is Lisa Lutz at her best. It’s dark, true, but her trademark humor is liberally sprinkled throughout the novel, and her pacing is breathtaking Told from several points of view, not just Alex’s, you get a good look at what goes on at Stonebridge Academy, and it’s a testament to Lisa’s talent that each voice is unique. There’s never any doubt as to who is talking.
If I have a complaint, it’s that there are so many people – not narrators, but characters in general – that there were times when, having put the book down because stupid life dragged me away, that I had to figure out who was whom again. But then, I’m getting older. These things happen.
The mere fact that The Swallowsis a Lisa Lutz novel should be enough to recommend it to you, if you’ve read her other work. If you haven’t, then by all means, grab it and dive in. Oh, you’re in for quite a ride, even if you’re back in school during summer vacation!
Around the time the shop was closing, the second novel by Andy Weir was set to be published. I’d loved both the book and the movie The Martian, and had high hopes for this new one Artemis. Over three years later I picked up a copy and have to say it was a disappointment. The science that underlies the fiction, as with The Martian, gives it the foundation of believablility. But the voice of the central character is annoying. The story would’ve been better, sleeker, had it been written in third person. But there you go. If you want a crime story set in the first settlement on the moon, and what the science and physics of it would be, give it a try.
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.