nonsense (n.) “that which is lacking in sense, language or words without meaning or conveying absurd or ridiculous ideas,” 1610s, from non– “not” + sense (n.); perhaps influenced by French nonsens. Since mid-20th C., non-sense, with the hyphen, has been used to distinguish the meaning “that which is not sense, that which is different from sense,” not implying absurdity.
falderol (n.)also falderal, falderall, folderol, etc., 18th C. nonsense words from refrains of songs; meaning “gewgaw, trifle” is attested from 1820.
What We’ve Been Up To
A Bride’s Guide to Marriage and Murder — Dianne Freeman
Familiarity breeds contempt…and when it’s your family?
Things can get explosive.
And explode they do (though not literally). When a murder, accusations of infidelity, thugs, and rivalries all come to a head at and after France and George’s much-anticipated wedding.
Seriously, if your looking for a light-hearted historical murder mystery that never takes itself too seriously — the Countess of Harleigh Mystery series is the one for you! Freeman does an excellent job of blending the time period, manners, and societal rules into an excessively readable mystery.
What I love the most about the Countess of Harleigh Mysteries (BTW – Frances is said Countess) is their funny. Not a slap you on the back hardy-har-har kind but wry, sly, and observational humor that one can relate to – especially if you’ve ever tried planning a wedding with the “help” of your family and/or in-laws.
Now, you don’t need to read them in order….However, there are only four predecessors, so starting at numero uno, A Lady’s Guide To Etiquette and Murder isn’t too much of a stretch, and hopefully, you’ll laugh (or at least smile) as much as I did whilst turning the pages.
Okay, so hear me out
I don’t have a review, but I have a really good explanation. A couple of ’em, if I’m being honest. And one is legit book stuff!
The mother of a dear friend of mine passed away, and she lived near me. Her son and his wife, both of whom are great friends of mine, asked me to assess her books to see if there was anything worthwhile in there. We all figured probably not, but hey, you never know, right? And she was a pack rat, as was her late husband, so treasures were possible.
There were a couple of catches. One was that she lived near where we had originally moved to in New Mexico, which is now an hour away from where I now live, but is certainly much closer than the five hours away where Bill and Kate live. I have time and am certainly willing to help, so that was just a minor thing.
The bigger issue is that, while I’m pretty good at mysteries, I’m not so well versed at Southwestern history.
Like not at all. And it’s been educational.
There have been books, and pamphlets, and cookbooks, and all manner of things. Including Hillermans and Jances, which were easy enough. But mostly it was Southwestern stuff.
Boxes and boxes of books. It’s kept me busy, and it’s been immense fun.
But that’s why I haven’t reviewed anything.
Well, that and the fact that I’ve been diagnosed with Parkinson’s. But that’s not really a good reason. Assessing books, however, really is.
I’m going to try to have a review next month, but I’m planning on putting these books up for sale, and honestly, that may take a lot of time, so we’ll see what next month brings.
Oh, but it’s exciting!
After catching up on my Haller, Bosch, and Ballard, I picked up another from my always growing To Be Read Pile – Stephen Hunter’s Game of Snipers from 2019. Burned through it in two days, as one does with a thriller of this quality (please note I chose to not writer “of this calibre”. Swagger books are reliable fun. I don’t know about anyone else, but I skip over the nitty-gritty details of the guns in play and stick with the action. This one is as if one put the Day of the Jackal in the US with Swagger part of the team hunting the sniper. And thanks to David G. for keeping me supplied!
We’ve been watching a number of series that I’d recommend: “Dark Wind”, the adaptation of Tony Hillerman’s The Listening Woman, “Reservation Dogs”, “Obi-Wan Kenobi” with a wonderfully guilt-ridden Obi-Wan, “DB Cooper Where Are You”, and “Under the Banner of Heaven”. After watching that, I bought a copy of Jon Krakauer’s book on which it was based and burned through it. First of all, the series is quite accurate when it says “inspired” by the book. While the series is a good police procedural, it is largely fiction. Written in 2003, it is a deep dive into the Mormon faith and the fundamentalist offshoots. True it does center around a vicious double murder but it really is about people blinded by their faith and incapable or unwilling to look at the real world before them. While Krakauer does make a few faint parallels to Isis and other foreign “tribes”, the book felt more relevant to me when matched to Trumpism, and the true believers who know that they know to be truth and everyone else is just wrong.
Now, what I expect to be the last “major” book on Watergate (at least this year) is out: Jefferson Morley’s Scorpion’s Dance. I’d looked forward to this, as I thought his book on James Jesus Angleton, The Ghost, was quite good. But I found this book focusing on the lethal dance between President Nixon and CIA Chief Richard Helms to be oddly light. I suppose I was expecting something of the heft of Waldron’s or Graff’s and I found it short on depth. For instance, during the heat of August 1973, he glides over the details of the Saturday Night Massacre in one small paragraph and doesn’t use that weighted term. I certainly followed along because I knew the details and was hoping for new revelations. There was little of it. I would not recommend this to someone not familiar with that crucial and sordid history.
Yet there were a few bits new to me that I found interesting:
~ After his arrest, James McCord directed his wife and a neighbor, who was also a CIA officer, to burn papers and copies of transcripts of the DNC wiretaps. The damper in the fire place was closed, they filled the house with smoke, and had to explain what was going on to the fire department.
~ He never points to a specific rationale for the Watergate break-ins, but does repeatedly write about the salacious recordings that the bugs provided. It is the supposition of some – like Stanford – that a call girl ring was being run out of the DNC office and the bugs were to get dirt on the Dems. Indeed, the office of Larry O’Brien, the head of the DNC, never was bugged.
~Helms quoted a Nixonian threat as having a “devious, hard-nosed smell”
~ Sometimes it is just the way he phrases things: “In this perilous situation, Helms had one advantage that Nixon did not. For the president, it was illegal to conceal of destroy material evidence, suborn witnesses, or dissemble to law enforcement. Helms, not so much… As CIA director, Helms had discretion to hide certain activities from law enforcement. As the duly sworn president, Nixon did not. And that would make all the difference in determining who would fall first.”
~ I had not known that like JFK, LBJ, and Nixon, Helms had recording equipment in his office. Those recordings and transcripts were destroyed damn fast. Likewise, the day after Nixon’s resignation, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who had been recording and transcribing their meetings since the end of WWII, destroyed all of those records.
~ After his fall, Helms was stunned by how Washington had deserted him. “‘ It was unthinkable that the Establishment would turn against Dick Helms’… He could not understand with all these powerful friends and with all these connections and with all these people who he had helped and become socially close to them and that retained positions of influence and power, that this could nonetheless be done to him…” This brought to mind the disbelief in the intelligence world after Philby defected to the Soviets. He was one of them, he was from their schools, they socialized and ate dinner and drank in the same clubs – this “Old Boy” network was the rot at the center of the post-war Free World. Those who belonged to it were deluded and took us down with them.
~ At Helms’ sentencing, the judge threw down the wrath of the bench at him: “If public officials embark deliberately on a course to disobey and ignore the laws of our land because of some misguided and ill-conceived notion and belief that there are earlier commitments and considerations which they must first observe, the future of our country is in jeopardy.”
What would that Judge, Barrington Parker, an African-American Republican appointed by Nixon, think of January 6th and The Big Lie that won’t die????
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.