Every now and then we lose a member of the SMB family and, though they are perhaps not well known to you, we want to note their passing –
Jim Norman recently died. Hard to say exactly when he moved into the orbit of the shop but it certainly was way back in the days of our Jance events at The Doghouse. Jim was a HUGE Jance fan and he and his first wife Carol created and gave a J.A. Jance tour to show other fans places where key events in Judy’s books occurred. Carol was killed in a collision with a drunk driver and the tours ended.
Jim was a loyal customer for at least a couple of decades and was always ready with a large smile to match his big frame and followed it with caring questions in his deep, soft voice. We got to know his second wife, Lynne, at later Jance signings and when she’d stop by to pick up books for him after he retired to the Olympic Peninsula.
Jim had a big life. He was in law enforcement in California, and owned a bookshop at one point. That gave him a special fondness for Bill’s bookshop, and sympathy when we were having a hard time.
Our hope is that Jim and Bill have found one another and are sharing laughs and a meal in a booth at The Doghouse in the sky.
Soul Assassin: The Brief Life and Death of Jerome Johnson. In 1971, somebody hired a young Black man to assassinate an Italian mafia boss. Five decades later, the mystery continues.
Smorgasbords Don’t Have Bottoms – Publishing in the 2010s (obviously written before the news of the downtown B&N closed)
Words of the Month
auld lang syne : the good old times
From “Auld Lang Syne”:
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And auld lang syne!
Robert Burns never actually claimed to coin the phrase “Auld Lang Syne”—he said it was a fragment of an old song he’d discovered—but scholars credit him with the song we hear every New Year’s.
(Thanks to Merriam-Webster for the definition!)
Sold: Pierre de Coubertin’s Blueprint for the Olympics. The 14-page speech is now the world’s most expensive piece of sports memorabilia.
Bookshop.org hopes to play Rebel Alliance to Amazon’s Empire (not sure how this is not a repeat of Indiebound, but more power to ’em!)
Other Forms of Fun
The Year in Sherlock Holmes A Sherlockian Review of 2019
February 3: Clyde Ford, Powells 7:30pm
February 12: Joe Ide, Third Place/LFP, 7pm
February 13: Joe Ide, Powell’s 7:30pm
February 27: Charles Finch, Powell’s, 7pm
February 28: Charles Finch in conversation with Mary Anne Gwinn, UBooks, 6pm
Words of the Month
Apricity: the warmth of the sun in winter
This word provides us with evidence that even if you come up with a really great word, and tell all of your friends that they should start using it, there is a very small chance that it will catch on. Apricity appears to have entered our language in 1623, when Henry Cockeram recorded (or possibly invented) it for his dictionary The English Dictionary; or, An Interpreter of Hard English Words. Despite the fact that it is a delightful word for a delightful thing it never quite caught on.
(Thanks to Merriam-Webster for the definition!)
Links of Interest
January 3: “One Last Job, Then I’m Out…”: Broken Resolutions in Classic Crime Films A brief history of broken promises in noir.
January 8: Why We Love Untranslatable Words
January 9: Did The Trojan War Really Happen?
January 12: Night rider: 21 years sleeping on a London bus
January 13: The True Crime Story That Changed My Life
January 14: Billie Eilish to sing the new James Bond theme
January 15: James Bond’s greatest hits – and biggest misses
January 15: The accidental Singer sewing machine revolution
January 16: Golden Age Hollywood was Full of Ex-Cons
January 22: Burglar traps himself in Vancouver store
January 24: The secret life of Yakuza women
January 27: Philip Pullman calls for boycott of Brexit 50p coin over ‘missing’ Oxford comma. Critics fume over the omission of Oxford comma from phrase ‘Peace, prosperity and friendship’ as new coin enters circulation
January 27: Man Sentenced to Probation Despite Stealing More than $1 Million From Dr Pepper (JB swears it wasn’t him…)
January 29: Ken Harmon’s “Fatman: A Tale of North Pole Noir” to come to the screen (One of Amber’s favorite comic mysteries!)
Words of the Month
forensic (adj.) “pertaining to or suitable for courts of law,” 1650s, with -ic + stem of Latin forensis “of a forum, place of assembly,” related to forum “public place” (see forum). Later used especially in sense of “pertaining to legal trials,” as in forensic medicine (1845). Related: Forensical (1580s). [thanks to etymoline]
What We’ve Been Up To
Finder of Lost Things – I am furiously working on the end of season two! So please be patient!!!! On the upside you’ve now got time to catch up if you’ve fallen behind!
Shelley Noble – Tell Me No Lies
Lady Dunbridge is back, and her second stab at detection doesn’t disappoint! Her reputation for being of assistance in a crisis is growing. So much so, that when a man is found murdered (and ignobly shoved into a laundry shute) after a debutante’s ball – the host comes to Phil (our Lady Dunbridge) for help.
One of the best things about these books (so far) is how seamlessly Noble has taken the traditional English Manor House mystery and plunked it down in historic NY City amongst; the Great Stock Market Crash of 1907, Teddy Roosevelt’s recent departure as the head of NY Police Commissioner’s Board (thus leaving a vacuum and allowing dirty cops free reign again), and the Gilded Age of the NY City elite (partying in full swing).
Well, those who didn’t lose their shirts in the aforementioned crash…
Another reason why I enjoy this burgeoning series is the number of mysteries Nobel packed betwixt the cover of her books!
Not only do we have the murder at hand to enjoy watching Lady Dunbrige solve…We also have the continuing mystery of Phil’s maid Lily. To whom Phil hasn’t a clue what her real name is, where she comes from or her history. What she does know is Lily keeps a stiletto strapped to her ankle at all times, knows her way around locks, and speaks several languages.
Lily’s worked hard under the supervision of Phil’s butler Preswick learning her new trade as a lady’s maid – but the question is, can Phil really trust Lily?
Then there’s MR. X, a man who Phil possesses even less data on than Lily (including what he looks like). However, it’s his motivations that are the true mystery. Why is he footing the bill for her year-long lease at the Plaza? Why does he want her at the ready should he need her talents (social position, connections, and brains) to help solve murders (so far…)? Even more important are they working on the same side of the law?
Both of these carried over questions, which Noble does a great job of dropping bread crumbs to keep her readers following her questionable characters, are only the tip of the iceberg of curious people and tangled motivates present in her two books.
If you enjoy nearly bloodless, fast-paced, smart, witty historical mysteries, you’ll find the Lady Dunbrige Mysteries well worth your time.
Though, as my colleague below has pointed out – you need to start with the first book first! Ask Me No Questions. Otherwise, the second installment won’t have nearly the depth of flavor!
Now onto a Television Show Review!
If you perused our Best of the Decade book lists we compiled and published in January, then you know The Rook by Daniel O’Malley was at the top of my pile. So let me tell you I was really excited when I learned, back in May, STARZ had optioned it into a television series! (Unfortunately, because I’m disinclined to sign up for yet another streaming service, I had to wait until January before it became available on iTunes. Hence why I am reviewing it now.)
Here’s the thing.
(There’s always a thing with adaptations.)
When I first started watching The Rook, I needed to squint my eyes and look at it sideways to see the original text on the screen.
Not only does the show delete several beloved (well maybe not beloved but definitely interesting) Court members.
If you’re looking to see the Chevaliers Eckhart & Gubbins (metal manipulation & contortionist extraordinaire), Bishop Alrich (vampire) or Lord Wattleman (who sunk a submarine while naked in WWII and never had his powers really explained – that I recall) striding across the screen – you’ll be in for a disappointment.
It’s also missing the incidents with the purple spores & all the chanting, the cube of flesh bent on absorbing people, The Greek Woman, the dragon, a rabbit, and well quite a bit more besides.
The screen writes also futzed, which is a rather tame word for utterly reworked, the plot. Oh’ there’s still plenty of intrigues, infighting, and backstabbing – never fear.
But the villains of the piece have shifted dramatically.
To say the on-screen adaptation bears only a passing resemblance to the book and lacks much of the original wit and whimsy is an accurate assessment.
This is the thing.
If you think of books, television, movies, plays, and musicals as different universes – creating an artistic multiverse if you will – then it should be accepted that what happens in a book won’t translate exactly onto a television screen.
This is what happened with The Rook.
Both versions occupy different parts of the multiverse, and both versions contain strengths and flaws…
…and I love them both.
Much of what I love about the book is utterly impractical for a television (or computer) screen. If they’d tried, I fear we would’ve end up with something like The Hobbit. Where Peter Jackson used so much CGI, the movie felt more like a cartoon and lost a lot of the charm the original Lord of the Rings trilogy contained.
So the writers needed to edit, manipulate, and rework the plot.
And where they ended up is not only relevant, it shines a bright light on an under-addressed problem in the world today – Human Trafficking.
The specter haunting the Chequy employees isn’t the Grafters and their flesh manipulation techniques… But Vultures, like Peter Van Suoc, who hunt down and kidnap EVA’s (acronym for Extreme Variant Abilities). Then take them to the Lugate organization to be auctioned off to the highest bidder.
It makes sense. It’s compelling. It moves the story along. It is different.
Our other narrative mover and shaker Myfanwy Thomas – still wakes up in the rain surrounded by people wearing latex gloves, she still loses her memory, she still has a choice between the red & blue keys, she still writes her new self letters and she still pursues the questions of who she is & who stole her memory.
Perhaps the television version is bleaker than its counterpart in the book universe – but is that such a bad thing? The adaptation strays much farther into grey areas than the book ever did. Mainly by asking the question – what really separates the Vultures & Lugate from the Chequy at the end of the day?
So if you can wrap your mind around an artistic multiverse, I would highly suggest watching The Rook. Not only is the story compelling – but watching the treatment Gestalt received at the hands of both the writers and the actors – is brilliant.
I’ve been deep in series-itis for as long as I can remember, and I’ve told you about these three before, so I’m not going to go into plot details because either you know already or I might reveal spoilers, so I’m just going to talk about them kind of generally.
Mind you, I LOVE THESE SERIES, so I’ll also remind you which is the first one in case you’ve been looking for a new series to read. They’re best read in series order, although with the first two, if you pick up the one I’m talking about, it’ll stand on its own, but won’t have the impact you’ll get if you read them in order.
Read them in order, dammit.
First off, J.D. Robb’s Vendetta in Death.
Eve Dallas and company are back chasing a serial killer who is dealing out her perception of vengeance against men who have done awful things to the women who love them. She goes by the name “Lady Justice”, and her method of handing out said justice is brutal.
I know a lot of people dismiss Nora Roberts/J.D. Robb since she’s primarily known as a “romance” writer, but there’s quality in what she does.
“I was witness to grace and strength, and for some reason it scraped me raw.” That one sentence sums up so much.
Start with Naked in Death.
Secondly, Ian Hamilton’s latest Ava Lee novel,
Mountain Master of Sha Tin knocks it right out of the park. Hamilton’s come up with the most off-the-wall protagonist in a long time in Ava Lee. Who expected a Chinese-Canadian lesbian forensic accountant to be the star of a thriller series? And yet, here we are.
I really recommend having read all the books before this, because Mountain Master of Sha Tin kicks you in the gut, especially if you’re as invested in these folks as I am. And Ava Lee in love is much more vulnerable than you might think. Besides, you won’t necessarily understand all the triad position names unless you do.
And you won’t be as excited as I am to know that Ian Hamilton’s started a series that tells Uncle’s back story!
Start with The Water Rat of Wanchai.
And now for the hat trick.
John Connolly. Charlie Parker. A Book of Bones. That’s really all I should have to say, honestly.
“This world, Quayle said, would continue almost exactly as before, except for those who understood where, and how, to look. They would see shadows where no shadows should be, and forms shifting at the periphery of their vision. As for the rest, they would watch the rise of intolerance, and the subjugation of the weak by the powerful. They would witness inequality, despotism, and environmental ruination. They would be told by the ignorant and self-interested that this was the natural order of things.
But in their hearts they would know better, and feel afraid.”
A Book of Bones is, in many ways, the showdown we’ve been waiting for, and we are not disappointed. It almost feels like things are wrapping up.
And then John Connolly ends the book with a twist that had me staring blankly into space, calling him a right bastard, and admiring the brilliance of the twist.
This series you have to read in order; you can’t just pick up A Book of Bones and hope to know what’s going on. Besides, you don’t want to miss the dynamics between Louis and Angel. Trust me here. For hardened killers, they’ll steal your heart, as will Charlie’s daughters, but for quite different reasons.
Start with Every Dead Thing.
We’ll talk again after you’ve caught up, say about the time Golden in Death, The Diamond Queen of Singapore, and The Dirty South are out and devoured. Honestly, I can’t wait!
Two bookshop dreams:
First one is harder to recall but I was trying to reassemble bookshelves. Can’t remember why they were unassembled but it was crazy trying to fit bolts into boards and match the holes so that nuts could go onto the bolts, I’m on my knees with my nose about four inches from the floor, my glasses were falling off, I was trying to dodge the feet of customers…
The second one was that I was expecting one of my old sales reps to come over so we could have lunch. David was one of our reps for Random House. But the guy who showed up was a young rep, a new rep, and he was expecting to take an order for books in a new set of catalogues! He didn’t know that the shop was no longer active. He walked back to his car and then I realized that I needed those catalogues so that I could finish the next newsletter… To make it weirder, the house were all of this took place was the house I grew up in, not my current home. I think these newsletter dreams happen when it is getting closer to posting these newzines.
Three shows to recommend:
On Netflix, “The Confession Killer”, a documentary about Henry Lee Lucas and his confessions to hundreds of murders. At that time, back in the late 70s and early 80s, he was thought to be the serial killer with the most victims. Then it all fell apart. This documentary is more about the way it all fell apart – the internal warfare within law enforcement – than the murders. Very well done.
Also on Netflix, “Killer Inside: The Mind of Aaron Hernandez”, a three-part look at this man who was such a talented athlete but whose internal monsters – whatever their source – drove him to destroy it all. Very well done.
Lastly, from HBO: “The Outsider”, an adaptation of a Steven King novel about an awful murder and the people who are destroyed by it – and then it gets weird. Very well done.