December 2021

A Word for the Wet November

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)

10 Perfectly Plotted Murder Mysteries That Take Place During Christmas [she missed Criss Cross by Tom Kakonis]

10 Thrillers You Forgot Take Place During Christmas [left out was Lethal Weapon!]

Is your Christmas present spying on you? How to assess gifts’ privacy risks

Engraved on a tombstone almost 2000 years ago, this is music’s oldest surviving composition

Remember when the Grateful Dead did a 12-minute freestyle based on “The Raven”?

Murder Isn’t Easy: The Forensics of Agatha Christie by Carla Valentine review – science and skullduggery

Who will buy the extremely rare concept art book for Jorodowsky’s unproduced Dune?

Rare Einstein Papers Containing Early Relativity Calculations Fetch $13 Million At Auction

Bishop Who Left Clergy for Erotica Writer Accused of Being ‘Possessed’

Dubbing ‘A Fistful of Dollars’ to spread the Navajo language

Huge Roman Mosaic Depicting Scenes From the ‘Iliad’ Found Beneath U.K. Field

On the only mystery novel written by A.A. Milne, creator of Winnie-the-Pooh

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)

Serious Stuff

What is the ‘international’ hand signal to indicate you are in danger and where does it come from?

A parent wants to criminally prosecute librarians for sharing a book about a genderqueer kid.

Conservatives Are Just Openly Endorsing Book Burning Now

Burning books: 6 outrageous, tragic and weird examples in history

We’re Preparing For a Long Battle.’ Librarians Grapple With Conservatives’ Latest Efforts to Ban Books

Fairfax schools will return 2 books to shelves after reviewing complaints over content

A woman murdered every month: is this Greece’s moment of reckoning on femicide?

Two men convicted in assassination of Malcolm X to be exonerated

Denver area worst in U.S. for porch pirates, study suggests

Local Stuff

The Monsters of Maple Falls

‘Case of the century’: Lawyers, judges and journalists reflect on case of Kevin Coe, Spokane South Hill rapist, 40 years later

Powell’s Books survived Amazon. Can it reinvent itself after the pandemic?

What About Ann Rule? An ode to the original queen of true crime, who focused on victims, not perpetrators; lessons, not details; and loss, not violence.

Seattle pair charged with stealing $1 million in jobless benefits, small business loans

Nancy Pearl, Seattle’s most famous librarian, looks back on a lifetime of books

In a Confessional Book, a Nike Exec Omits the Name of the Man He Murdered

Omak Library may close if anti-mask aggression continues

BookTree in Kirkland entices with new and used books; here’s what its customers are reading

The 10 Weirdest Revelations from the FBI Files on D.B. Cooper for the 50th Anniversary of His Escape

Odd Stuff

Is Superman Circumcised? favourite to win Oddest book title of the year

‘Plastic and Lies’: Murder Charges Expose Vast Underground Butt-Injection Operation

Michael Corleone, Role Model

Quentin Tarantino is selling Pulp Fiction all over again – this time as art

Of Course True Crime Fans Are Guilty: For Fyodor Dostoevsky, that was the point.

SPECTRE

[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…..]

Bookshops thrive as France moves to protect sellers from Amazon

Interview: The Every is about an all-powerful monopoly that seeks to eliminate competition’: why Dave Eggers won’t sell his new hardback on US Amazon

Elizabeth Warren’s concerns over COVID book sold on Amazon draw Seattle lawsuit

In the supply chain battle of 2021, small businesses are losing out to Walmart and Amazon

Amazon takes its war to get products to our door to the high seas

Amazon push for lower prices could be bad for shoppers everywhere

Tom Morello Signs Open Letter Denouncing Amazon’s Palm-Scanning Concert Tech

Forget Amazon. The Best Gifts Are Closer Than You Think

Amazon Will Face Black Friday Strikes and Protests in 20 Countries

Amazon agrees to pay $2.5M to settle pesticide sales lawsuit

How Amazon may change America’s chicken economy

Higher prices on Amazon cause a retail ripple effect

Words of the Month

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)

Awards

Here are the winners of the 2021 National Book Awards

National Book awards: Jason Mott wins US literary prize for ‘masterful’ novel Hell of a Book

Book Stuff

Texas School District Tells GOP Rep to Shove His Silly Book Burning Crusade

Justice Dept. Sues Penguin Random House Over Simon & Schuster Deal

Authors Guild calls for DoJ to block Bertelsmann’s S&S purchase

The Century-Old Russian Novel Said to Have Inspired ‘1984

James Bond: Kim Sherwood to write trilogy as first female 007 author

Sally Rooney novels pulled from Israeli bookstores after translation boycott

Paul Newman Will Tell His Own Story, 14 Years After His Death

What Agatha Christie’s Novels—And Life—Have to Teach Today’s Crime Writers

Lisa Lutz, Author and Secret Sharer

Andrew Pettegree and Arthur der Weduwen on the History of Libraries

Hollywood Loves Books… And authors are cashing in big-time

Code Blue: Ballard, Bosch and a City in Crisis in Michael Connelly’s The Dark Hours

In the Middle of Infrastructure Talks, Joe Manchin Has Pursued a Book Deal

Bob Eckstein Illustrates New and Renovated Bookstores and Libraries from Around the Country

A Case for Football as the Most Literary of American Sports (Baseball Has Reigned Long Enough, Says Corey Sobel)

WATCH: Bill Fitzhugh on Finding Satire in the Serious

Getting It Wrong: How Thomas Perry Learned to Live With His Books’ Errors

Luis Soriano Had a Dream, Two Donkeys, and a Lot of Books

When the Heart of a Beach Town Is an Indie Bookstore

How a Cairo bookshop beat the odds to write its own story

Persephone Books: Finding Space for Women Writers For Two Decades

Making Good out of Murder: On Gwen Bristow and Bruce Manning, Crime Reporters and Crime Writers

Neal Stephenson recommends 6 books on information manipulation

Ann Patchett on Creating the Work Space You Need

Inside story: the first pandemic novels have arrived, but are we ready for them?

It was a call to arms’: Jodi Picoult and Karin Slaughter on writing Covid-19 into novels

UK officials still blocking Peter Wright’s ‘embarrassing’ Spycatcher files

Other Forms of Entertainment

Alan Cumming Answers Every Question We Have about Goldeneye

It’s a wonderful life? The darker side of James Stewart’s screen persona

Blaxploitation Considered Anew In Exhibition at Poster House New York

Dexter Always Gets His Man. Even When It’s Michael C. Hall.

Please Stop Asking How I Wound Up in Fargo

Columbo’s First Case: How One of TV’s Most Iconic Detectives Got His Start

Why ‘Narcos: Mexico’ Is Ending With Season 3

When The Mob Gets a Podcast

A New ‘Thing’ Comic by Walter Mosley Should Inspire ‘The Fantastic Four’

10 Underappreciated American Noirs of the Late 1950s and the 1960s

Nice Heists: Movies Where the Big Score Basically Goes According to Plan

Sopranos Lorraine Bracco Disliked Dr. Melfi’s Final Exit

Yellow, Stranger: The Color Theory of Zodiac

‘No Way Out’ and the Best of “Social Message” Film Noir

Words of the Month

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.

RIP

Oct 28: Peggy York dies; first woman LAPD deputy chief, inspiration for TV’s ‘Cagney & Lacey’

Nov 5: JoAnna Cameron, an Early Female Superhero on TV, Is Dead at 73

Nov 9: Dean Stockwell, “Quantum Leap” and Blue Velvet actor, dies aged 85

Nov 14: Wilbur Smith dead: International bestselling author dies aged 88

Nov 15: NPR books editor Petra Mayer has died at 42

Links of Interest

Nov. 2: The Manhattan ‘Madam’ Who Hobnobbed With the City’s Elite

Nov 3: Locusta of Gaul: Rome’s Imperial Poisoner and Possibly the World’s First Serial Killer

Nov 3: A Painting Stolen in East Germany’s Biggest Art Heist May be an Unknown Rembrandt

Nov 4: Bones in the Backyard: How Police Cracked a Grisly Cold Case

Nov 7: Italian Mafia: ‘Ndrangheta members convicted as Italy begins huge trial

Nov 9: What lies beneath: the secrets of France’s top serial killer expert

Nov 10: The Great Age of the Celebrity Crime Reporter

Nov 10: A solar firm owner is sentenced to 30 years over a billion-dollar Ponzi scheme

Nov 10: Fate of Al Capone’s former home uncertain after new owner hires an architect

Nov 11: Father and Daughter Tortured and Killed Over Valuable Stradivarius Violins, Prosecutor Says

Nov 11: The Rise of the London Police and the 1877 Scandal That Nearly Shut Down Scotland Yard

Nov 11: The Never-Ending Hawaiian Lawsuit and the Search for Yamashita’s Gold

Nov 12: The Real Stories That Inspired ‘Casino Royale’

Nov 14: After a 52-year chase, authorities ID the man behind an infamous Ohio bank heist

Nov 14: How the Mob Made Pinball Public Enemy #1 in the 1940s

Nov 14: The Story of Espionage Is (Often) the Story of Incompetence

Nov 15: A Utah company says it revolutionized truth-telling technology. Experts are highly skeptical.

Nov 16: New York ethics board rescinds approval for Cuomo’s book deal

Nov 17: The Story of the Jonestown Massacre Is About Much More Than Jim Jones. We’ve Been Fighting to Tell It for Decades

Nov 17: Wikipedia and Google Identified Wrong Man as a Serial Killer for Years

Nov 18: Tiny Gold Book Found in English Field May Have Ties to Richard III

Nov 18: ‘Everybody’s Absolutely Horrified’: High Society Is Bracing Itself for Ghislaine Maxwell’s Trial

Nov 19: The Mark Twain House Is America’s Best House Museum

Nov 19: Rare First Printing of the U.S. Constitution Is the Most Expensive Text Ever Sold at Auction

Nov 20: South Carolina Residents Find Elderly Neighbor Dead—Then Learn He’s One of FBI’s 15 Most Wanted Fugitives

Nov 20: Two hundred years later, a long-lost document sheds light on the purchase of Liberia

Nov 20: Candy Rogers Was Murdered in 1959. Cops Finally Know Who Did It.

Nov 20: A Woman’s Quest to Solve Her Grandma’s 40-Year-Old Motel Murder

Nov 21: California Nordstrom Pillaged in 1 Minute by Gang of Thieves

Nov 22: What Bob Dylan Does—Or Doesn’t—Know About the Assassination of JFK

Nov 22: Crime Fiction Is Ridiculous. We Might As Well Have Fun With It.

Nov 23: Man detained more than 2 years because of mistaken identity sues Hawaii

Nov 23: Doctors Declared This Man Dead. He Came Out Alive From a Freezer 6 Hours Later

Nov 24: After 40 years, the man wrongfully convicted of Alice Sebold’s rape has been exonerated

Nov 25: Teen Accused of Rigging School Contest Faces Decades in Jail

Nov 26: ‘Zodiac Killer’ Gary Francis Poste led posse of ‘thrill kill’ assassins

Nov 29: Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Detection Dogs

Words of the Month

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

Amber

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.

BEST OF THE NEW YEAR TO ALL

MAY WE ALL HAVE THE

HOLIDAYS WE DESERVE

BUY SMALL ~ SUPPORT SMALL