Short Story Saturday: Sara Paretsky’s “The Curious Affair of the Italian Art Dealer”

517smtmudul-_sx329_bo1204203200_Sara Paretsky’s “The Curious Affair of the Italian Art Dealer” is the second short story I’ve plucked from the In the Company of Sherlock Holmes collection as one of my Short Story Saturday offerings. The other story I used, Michael Connelly’s “The Crooked Man,” took an entirely different approach in paying homage to Arthur Conan Doyle’s Holmes stories than the approach chosen by Paretsky. Connelly decided to use Holmes-like and Watson-like characters in a modern setting, where Paretsky has chosen instead to use the actual Holmes and Watson characters in their natural setting. She even writes very much in the Doyle style to tell her story.

As the story begins, Holmes is in the midst of one of those dangerous moments when he is bored with life because he cannot find a crime investigation that challenges him, much less one that even sounds interesting. He is content to just stay at home, usually sleeping the day away until rousing himself in the early hours of the new day to annoy his neighbors with incessant hours of sawing away on his violin. And now Watson fears that Holmes’s drug habit is about to rear its ugly ahead again if he can’t find something for Holmes to tackle.

Coincidentally, Watson’s wife Mary has “been called to the bedside of the governess who had been almost a mother to her,” freeing Watson temporarily to move back into his old room inside Holmes’s apartment where he can keep a closer eye on his friend. Watson, though, has regular patients he still needs to see and an arrangement with a local hotel to call him when their guests need medical attention. As it turns out, it is one of those hotel patients, a man who claims to have been accosted in his room overnight, who presents Watson with just the crime mystery that might draw Holmes from his stupor.

sara-paretsky

Sara Paretsky

The hotel guest is an American in the city to have an old family painting authenticated and appraised by a respected London gallery-owner. The family believes the painting to be the work of the sixteenth-century artist Titian, and that it is worth a fortune – a rather large fortune, at that. And now the painting is apparently in the hands of the unidentified thief who pummeled the American in the process of wresting it from his hands during the night. Fontana, the American, remembers Watson saying that he could be found at the Sherlock Holmes residence if any follow-up treatment were required, but when the man shows up on Holmes’s doorstep to ask his help in reacquiring the painting, Holmes smells a rat.

The case turns out to be a complicated one that sees Holmes having to pull out all the stops to solve it, including the use of disguises for himself and Watson and his gang of young “street rabble” to keep tabs of the various suspects. Holmes is even a bit shocked to meet his intellectual and investigatory match in the guise of Miss Butterworth, the godmother of one of the story’s victims.

(As the story notes at the very end, Amelia Butterworth was the detective assistant created by novelist Anna Katherine Green (1846-1935) to aid her detective character Ebenezer Gryce, an investigator who used methods similar to those of Holmes to solve his mysteries. It should also be noted that the first Gryce novel was published almost ten years prior to publication of the first Holmes story.)

My Favorite Recipe Book: The Circle of Useful Knowledge

books

I want to share one of my favorite little books with you today.   Although it is a book of only 255 pages, The Circle of Useful Knowledge contains much of the practical knowledge to be had in the year 1893 when it was published.  I’ve spent several hours wandering around inside this book since receiving it as a gift in 2007, and have even been a little tempted to test some of the suggested remedies for their effectiveness.

According to Charles Kinsley’s preface, “The “Circle of Useful Knowledge” is a system of useful information, and contains hundreds of valuable receipts in the various departments of human effort, which can be relied upon, as they are tried receipts and have been procured from the most reliable sources, many of which have cost the author quite a sum of money for the right to publish them. They tell how to manage a farm, how to cook, all about wines and vinegar, how to fish and tan, how drugs and chemicals are composed, how to be your own doctor and nurse, – in short, everything connected with everyday life is treated of in a concise, clear style that tells what you wish to know.”

And Mr. Kinsely wasn’t kidding. Want to know how teach a horse to follow you? How to free your hands from warts? How to cure ringworms? How to clean silk? How to salt ham? How about the best way to make boots or shoes last three years or how to get rid of mosquitoes without using smoke? It’s all there and more. Mr. Kinsley’s little book is jam-packed with hundreds of tidbits that are still interesting and useful today.

Here’s Kinsley’s “receipt”for getting rid of bed-bugs:

To Clear Your Dwellings from Bed-Bugs

Corrosive sublimate and the white of an egg, beat together, and laid with a feather around the crevices of the bedsteads and the sacking, is very effectual in destroying bugs in them. Tansy is also said to be very effectual in keeping them away. Strew it under the sacking bottom. Common lard, or equal quantities of lard and oil, will destroy or keep them away. The best exterminator is black hellebore pulverized. It is a deadly poison to them. Place it where the bugs will be apt to crawl.

Judging from the marks he made in the book’s Table of Contents, the original owner of this little book, one Mr. Peter R. Fairweather of Toledo, Ohio, seems to have been particularly interested in the sections on “Shaving Soap,” “Shaving Cream,” and “How to Make Red or Gray Hair Glossy Black.” Nothing like a little DIY knowledge for the well-groomed man of the 1890s, after all.

There are recipes for dozens of health ailments, some of them rather ambitious, I suspect, like the ones to cure deafness, lockjaw, consumption, squinting eyes, and gonorrhea.  I know you’re wondering about that deafness cure, so here it is:

Obtain pure pickerel oil and apply 4 drops morning and evening to the ear.  Great care should be taken to obtain oil that is perfectly pure.

I have to assume that his might help to clear the ear canals of built up wax, so maybe the cure really did work.

Ever the optimist, the author says that his book will save money for: “lumber manufacturers, lumber dealers, millmen, carpenters, builders, carriage makers, ship builders, cabinet makers, ship brokers, ship carpenters, railroad conductors, engineers, machinists, freight agents, teachers, students, architects, accountants, farmers, housekeepers, stock-raisers, packers, doctors, clerks, gardeners, liquor dealers, druggists, photographers, artists, bakers, confectioners, flour dealers, hairdressers, ink makers, whitewashers, soap makers, bankers, barbers, printers, gilders, painters, shoemakers, clothiers, dry goods dealers, brewers, grocers, hotel keepers, iron workers, plasterers, masons, marble cutters, and many others.”

That should should be the vast majority of people alive in 1893, I suppose, so  I hope the man made a lot of money from The Circle of Useful Knowledge.  At $2.50 a copy in 1893 dollars, this little recipe book was quite an investment.

Movies for Readers: Herman Koch’s “The Dinner”

15797938This week’s Movie for Readers is based upon the 2009 novel from Dutch writer Herman Koch that largely introduced the author’s work to an American audience.  The novel was already well known and successful in much of the world by the time it was finally translated into English by Sam Garrett and published here in 2012.

The Dinner has one of those plot twists that kind of sneak up on you, a twist that suddenly has you questioning your understanding of everything that preceded it.  It is impossible to tell from this trailer whether that set-up and twist is part of the movie script, but I really hope that the film pulls it off nearly as well as the book did.

The movie starring Richard Gere, Laura Linney, Steve Coogan, and Rebecca Hall is set for its national release on May 5, 2017.  Oren Moverman, who wrote the screenplay for The Dinner, also directed it.

I should add that, although I really enjoyed the novel and have read other of Koch’s novels since discovering his work (unfortunately, not all of it is available in translation) that the movie trailer alone would probably not be enough to get me to see the film.  The trailer just doesn’t set the proper tone for Koch’s story.  Here’s hoping that the movie itself does a much better job.

Three Nights in August: Strategy, Heartbreak, and Joy Inside the Head of a Manager

511fb0w0ycl-_sy346_This is just about the perfect time of the year to read a book like Buzz Bissinger’s, Three Nights in August: Strategy, Heartbreak, and Joy Inside the Head of a Manager. As I write this, teams have just reported to Florida and Arizona for Spring Training, beginning the long 2017 baseball season that will ultimately crown one team as the year’s World Series champion. Veteran players now have six weeks to work themselves back into playing shape while a handful of top minor leaguers are hoping to make enough of a positive impression to stick with the big club when camp breaks.

But players and umpires are not the only ones who use Spring Training to work themselves back into regular season form. Managers, already faced with making the tough player cuts required of them every spring, must also get themselves mentally prepared to make all those little game-time decisions that might add up to winning an extra five or six games a season – more than enough to mean the difference between participating in the playoffs and watching them on television with the rest of us.

But what counts, of course, is what happens during the regular season, and that’s what Three Nights in August is all about. The book frames itself around an August three-game series between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Chicago Cubs that was played at a point late in the 2003 season when the Cardinals, Cubs, and Houston Astros were virtually tied for first place. Cardinals manager Tony La Rusa gave Bissinger the kind of access to himself and his team that writers usually only dream about, and the resulting book is an interesting look at what makes La Rusa one of the best managers the game of baseball has ever seen.

The pivotal three games are covered in great detail, so much so that at times it seems as if an entire inning is being replayed pitch-by-pitch as La Rusa tries to out-think Dusty Baker, his counterpart in the Cubs dugout. The two men have known each other for decades and neither of them has any new tricks not already seen by the other. A baseball game between them is akin to watching two chess masters play each other for the five-hundredth time over the course of their two long careers.

But as indicated by the book’s subtitle, Strategy, Heartbreak, and Joy Inside the Head of a Manager, La Rusa was prepared to reveal much more about himself than the strategies he employs against Dusty Baker. The book explores La Rusa’s long managerial career and the sacrifices his wife and children have made in order to make it possible for the manager to achieve what he has. During the season, Tony La Rusa was all about baseball and had time for little else. He is a private man, comfortable with being alone, and even when the Cardinals were playing at home he often stayed in a local hotel rather than sleeping at home – especially when the Cardinals lost a tough game or series.

darryl_kile_stlcardinals_03042000

DK

Love him or hate him, Tony La Rusa has achieved the status of baseball legend now, and that alone makes Three Nights in August an interesting read for baseball fans. But the part of the book I will remember most is the section dealing with the sudden death of Darryl Kyle, the great pitcher who died in his sleep at age thirty-three on June 22, 2002. Cardinal players and coaches (and their fans) were hit hard by such a stunning loss, and that they were able to overcome their grief and hold the season together at all was a fine tribute to the dogged attitude about the game that DK always displayed. (As a side note, fans and players in Houston were equally devastated by news of his death.)

Bottom Line: Three Nights in August is a great way for anxious baseball fans to prepare themselves for the 2017 season, a little “Spring Training” all of our own.

Time Travel Tuesday: Richard Matheson’s “Death Ship”

 

richard-matheson

Richard Matheson

This week’s Time Travel Tuesday story was written by another of the genre’s great ones, Richard Matheson. Matheson began to make a name for himself in 1950 with the publication of his very first story, “Born of Man and Woman,” and he is probably still best known today for I Am Legend and The Shrinking Man, two of his earlier novels.

I have a real soft spot for today’s story because it so reminds me of my teenage years when everything was fresh and possibilities still seemed endless. Back in 1963, Twilight Zone was my favorite television series, and I doubt that I missed more than an episode or two during the several successful seasons the series enjoyed. As it turns out, one of the 1963 shows was an adaptation of “Death Ship,” the Richard Matheson story I am featuring today. The show also featured two of my favorite Twilight Zone actors, Jack Klugman and Ross Martin, so it is one of those that particularly stick in my memory. (I doubt, however, that I noticed at the time that it was from a Richard Matheson story.)

The story is about three future space explorers (way up in 1997) whose mission it is to find other planets upon which humans might survive. They are in the process of doing a low-altitude scan of a potential planet when a sudden flash catches the eye of one of the men. Deciding to land near the spot of the flash in order to see what caused it and to collect the usual surface samples, the men are about to get the shock of their lives.

ceb2368756bf31a3ee472b9a70dc7f4a

They discover that the flash of light that earlier caught their attention was a reflection from what seems to be the remnants of a crashed space vehicle much like their own. They are certain that no one could have survived the kind of impact that pushed the rocket’s main structure some fifteen feet below the surface of the hard ground they are standing on, but decide to explore the wreckage anyway. But almost miraculously, they find that the main cabin is still largely intact and manage to pry open its twisted door – where they find three dead crewmen.

Although all of this happens in the first six pages of this twenty-page story, I am going to end my plot summary here so as not to risk spoiling the story for those who have not yet read it. The remainder of the story focuses on the efforts of the three space explorers to understand the meaning of what they have discovered on this nameless planet. As the men consider several theories and the possible personal repercussions of each, the reader has to wonder right along with them as to what it all means.T

So is this a Time Travel story, or is it something else? You’ll have to read “Death Ship” (or watch Twilight Zone) to know the answer to that one.

Our Souls at Night

1101875895-01-_sx450_sy635_sclzzzzzzz_Our Souls at Night, coming in at only 179 numbered pages, is a little book that packs a big wallop. As it turns out, the 2015 novel is also the last one written by author Kent Haruf who died a few months prior to its publication. That alone is enough to make this a special book.

Let me begin by saying that for such a short book, Our Souls at Night tugged along a wide range of my emotions, all the way from joy to anger to sadness – and pretty much everything in between.

Louis Waters was surprised early one evening to receive a visit from Addie Moore, one of his neighbors. After all, despite living on the same street for decades, the two of them had not socialized in years – and not at all since the deaths of both their spouses. He was even more surprised, almost shocked speechless, by the proposal that Addie had come to make:

“I’m listening, Louis said.

I wonder if you would consider coming to my house sometimes to sleep with me.

What? How do you mean? 

I mean we’re both alone. We’ve been by ourselves for too long. For years. I’m lonely. I think you might be too. I wonder if you would come and sleep in the night with me. And talk.

He stared at her, watching her, curious now, cautious. 

You don’t say anything. Have I taken your breath away, she said.

I guess you have.

I’m not talking about sex. 

I wondered.”

This deceptively simple passage from page five of Our Souls at Night is indicative of the style used throughout the rest of the book by Haruf, but don’t let it deceive you into thinking that this book has little or nothing to say. Our Souls at Night is, in fact, a sensitive study of what life is like for those living in their seventh or eighth decades of life after having lost their life-partners. And what happens next is simply beautiful.

Louis surprises himself, and probably Addie, by accepting her offer. At first, Louis tries to make sure that no one sees him entering and leaving Addie’s home, but Addie is quick to set him straight. She tells him that neither of them have anything to be ashamed of because they are doing nothing wrong, they are hurting absolutely no one, and what they do together is no one’s business but their own.   And after the almost-nightly conversations they have allow Addie and Louis to get to know each other better, they find that they genuinely like and enjoy each other’s company – and that they still have a whole lot of the rebel in them. They even sometimes feel so radical that they dress in loud colors when they go out in public so that all the wagging tongues around town will be sure to spot them.

images

Kent Haruf

In my favorite section of the book, Addie’s small grandson comes to live with her when his parents separate while they consider divorcing. Watching Louis work his magic on the confused and terrified little boy is wonderful. Before long, Louis has introduced him to his first baseball glove, outdoor camping, and his first dog (a shelter acquisition that has lost most of the toes on one of her paws and has to wear a special boot when she goes outdoors). The bond that forms between the seventy-something Louis and the little boy is one that neither of them is ever likely to forget.

But as much as I regret to report it, those in the real world are not always prepared to accept this kind of relationship between the elderly, especially their suspicious adult children – and those children have a nuclear weapon in their arsenal: control of access to the grandchildren. This is the point in the story where anger was the chief emotion I was feeling as I read – and if that feeling of anger has somewhat lessened now, it is only because it has been replaced by my sadness for Louis and Addie.

Bottom Line: Our Souls at Night is a must-read for everyone, regardless of age. It is simply a beautiful little book, one that will be long remembered by those lucky enough to discover it.

A Visit to Washington-on-the -Brazos, Texas: Where the Republic of Texas Was Born

Today I enjoyed what has recently become a relatively rare Saturday with no prior commitments, a day made for wandering around on the open road until I figured out exactly how I wanted to spend the free time.  Eventually, I found myself stopping by the Texas State Historic Park about 75 miles from my front door called the Washington-on-the-Brazos State Historic Site.

The site is an especially important one in Texas history because it encompasses the very spot where the Texas Republic began, including a reconstruction of what Texans call Independence Hall, the building in which a prominent group of Texas settlers was meeting when it received Travis’s letter informing about the hopelessness of his position at the Alamo unless they immediately sent help to him. The Texans decided not to send reinforcements to the Alamo and the Mexican siege ended on March 6 with the deaths of every Texan there.

Sam Houston and the others meeting here in Washington did, however, declare independence from Mexico on March 2, 1836 and adopt the Texas constitution on March 17 before fleeing to escape the advancing Mexican Army.  Sam Houston and his men regrouped in time to defeat Santa Anna’s army at San Jacinto on April 21, 1836 in a final battle that resulted in the Republic of Texas becoming a reality.

Some of the photos taken while walking the grounds of the park on this wonderful “spring” day are below:

img_0900

Independence Hall, Washington-on-the-Brazos, Texas

img_0905

Small Amphitheater in Washington-on-the-Brazos Historic Park Site

img_0903

At Ferry Site on Brazos River Where Texas Settlers Crossed in Flight as Santa Anna’s Army Passed Just to the South of Here

img_0904

Pecan Tree from the 1830s, a Variety of the Pecan Tree Whose Nearest Relative Is Over 900 Miles Away in Mexico

img_0902

Brazos River Site of Original Ferry Landing (1830) Used to Carry Passengers and Goods into Washington

img_0901

Monument Beside Independence Hall Erected by Texas Schoolchildren in 1899

img_0899

Independence Hall, Washington-on-the-Brazos, Texas

Short Story Saturday: Ruth Rendell’s “A Dark Blue Perfume”

508925

The Rather Ominous Cover of Collected Stories

This week’s Saturday Short Story is from a favorite author of mine, Ruth Rendell, who died very suddenly in May 2015. “A Dark Blue Perfume” was part of Rendell’s 1985 short story collection The New Girl Friend, but it can also be found in the really wonderful compilation of her work titled Ruth Rendell: Collected Stories that was published in the U.S. in 1987. That collection encompasses the short stories from four previous Ruth Rendell collections: The Fallen Curtain, Means of Evil, The Fever Tree, and The New Girl Friend (38 stories in total).

“A Dark Blue Perfume” is the story of a man who, for over forty years, has been obsessed by the woman who left him for another man. Hardly a day has gone by that he has not relived the moment that his young wife came to him and told him that she was carrying another man’s baby. Now he is sixty-five years old, recently retired back to England, and finds that he cannot get the woman out of his mind even though he has not spoken to her since their divorce.

Should he surprise her with a phone call? Is she even still alive? What about the man she married – is he dead now? Where does she live? These are the thoughts and questions that dominate his days, and a simple check of the local phone book covering the area of the last address he remembers for his ex-wife answers some of them. Not only is she still alive, she is living in the same house she and her second husband first moved into, and the phone is listed in her name only, giving him hope that her husband is now dead.

Unable to resist the pull of that home address, he discovers a wooded area behind her house that includes a trail used by commuters to get from the local train station to their front doors. Already teetering on the edge of insanity, he sits himself down on a bench conveniently placed along the trail to see if she might come along one day. And she does. Or does she?

ruth_rendell_rex_features

Ruth Rendell

“A Dark Blue Perfume” is typical of Ruth Rendell’s crime fiction in the sense that she was always more interested in what makes a criminal do the things he does than in the crime itself. In this story, the author places the reader firmly into the head of a man who can think of only one thing: being rejected for another man by the only woman he ever really loved. The rejection may have occurred four decades earlier, but the pain he feels is as fresh today as the day it happened to him all those years ago. The reader senses that something has to give, that the man is on the brink of doing something crazy that he will regret, but we are just along for the ride he takes us on.

This little nine-page story has all the makings of a movie from another master of psychological suspense, Alfred Hitchcock. It would have been a good one.

Assassins

1627040358-01-_sx450_sy635_sclzzzzzzz_Mike Bond’s Assassins is a political thriller with an attitude. But who would expect less from Bond, an author whose books are never afraid to take on the tough issues of the day while directly pointing fingers at those who pull the strings from the shadows?

This time around, Bond tackles the entire thirty-year history of the bloody war still being waged by radical Islam against the countries of the West. Each of the novel’s seven sections (Afghanistan, Pakistan, Lebanon, Paris, Desert Storm, Baghdad, and ISIS) covers a specific moment in the evolution and growth of the Islamist terrorism threat that is so familiar to the world today. And every step of the way, one man – a member of the “military ops” division of the Home Office – has been doing his best to limit the damage inflicted upon the West.

From the moment in the book’s opening pages when Jack and his men drop into a mountainous region of 1982 Afghanistan in order to offer support and weapons to the Afghani clans fighting the Russian invaders, to the book’s last pages describing the commando’s experience with ISIS terrorism in Paris, Assassins packs one thrilling punch after the other. But equally important in making the novel an especially memorable one, are the numerous supporting characters Jack encounters as he wages his one-man battle against radical Islam. Particularly intriguing are the French woman doctor working in Afghanistan and her Russian soldier lover; Jack’s Afghani blood brother and that man’s corrupt warlord brother; and the female British reporter who is much more than she seems at first glance to be.

408468_833162-mike-bond-hedshot

Mike Bond

Assassins dares to ask the hard questions about who and what provoked the rapid rise in radical Islamist terrorism, and some of the thought provoking answers expressed by the book’s main character and others may surprise some readers – and some others, I suspect, not so much. To what degree was the Saudi government involved in the planning and financing of the 9/11 murders? Did the Bush administration deliberately let Osama bin Laden escape from his Afghanistan hideout as part of the justification process for invading Iraq? Did President Obama’s pre-announcement of the exact day he would abandon Iraq to its fate spur the growth and worldwide success of ISIS?

And finally, we come full circle back to the book’s title, Assassins. Let’s just say that the “assassins” referenced by Bond in the title are not whom you might at first believe them to be.

Bottom Line: Assassins is a first-rate thriller that delivers a painless history lesson – and a whole lot to speculate and argue about over a beer or two with friends.

Movies for Readers: Lion (based upon the memoir A Long Way Home)

unknownThis week’s Movies for Readers was released in the U.S. last November and should be relatively easy to find now. Lion is based upon Saroo Brierley’s 2014 memoir A Long Way Home in which the author tells his story of becoming lost as a five-year-old and making the terrible mistake of climbing into an empty train car to rest.  Two days and 1800 miles later, the boy found himself wandering the streets of Calcutta unable to remember the name of his hometown – or even his own surname.  Within a few weeks, he had been rescued from the streets by the agency that eventually adopted him out to an Australian couple.

Twenty-five years later Saroo would experience flashbacks in which he could picture his original family and home.  The movie and the book recount his remarkable quest to find  those left behind.

The film stars Dev Patel, Nicole Kidman (as his adoptive mother), David Wenham (as his adoptive father), and Rooney Mara (as his girlfriend).  It was directed by Garth Davis and received numerous Golden Globe, Oscar, BAFTA, SAG, and Critics Choice award nominations.

Saroo Brierley with his Australian and Indian families:

unknown-1saroo-brierley-with-family

 

Developing ADD in My Seventh Decade: Is That Even Possible

hyperkid

I wonder if it’s possible to develop an Attention Deficit Disorder even as you approach completion of your seventh decade on Earth. Don’t scoff, because I really think it’s happening to me. These days I flit from one activity to the other to a degree I can’t remember ever doing before.

It seems as if I can’t concentrate on a single activity for much more than ten minutes at a time, and that most often, I’m trying to do two or three things at the same time. I can read for maybe ten minute straight – sometimes longer if a passage really grabs me – but then I start wondering what I’m missing on the news, or on Facebook, or on Twitter, or on…well, you get the idea. And because there are only so many waking hours in a day, and I don’t want to miss anything, it’s either multi-task or decide what I have to give up for the day.

I started noticing the problem around November when my pages-read-per-day numbers began to nosedive, a trend that has continued right up to this week and may not have yet bottomed out. That means, of course, that I’m reading fewer books than in the last bunch of years – and that means that I’ve got fewer books to review and talk about on Book Chase. Part of the drop in books completed results from the fact that I read and review two short stories a week now (one literary and one of the time travel variety), but the short stories are only a symptom; they are not the problem.

So where does all my time go? In no particular order, these are my regular daily activities: the gym, Facebook, reading, writing for and maintaining Book Chase, Twitter, watching news and commentary programs, talk radio, and running errands. Throw in the every-few-days activities like Netflix, Amazon Prime, PBS shows, listening to music, and I think you see the problem. Too many temptations. Period.

And it’s about to get a whole lot worse because my two favorite seasons of the year are just about to kick off simultaneously: Baseball and Bluegrass Music Festivals. The festivals only claim two or three weeks a year of my time because I have to drive quite a distance to get to any of them, but baseball (the way that I do it) takes a ton of hours every week. I follow high school, college, minor league, and major league baseball; I try to see as much live baseball as I can get to; I follow the players closely and I am a statistics nut who crunches his own numbers; and the baseball season is every bit of seven months long, so I don’t stand a chance.

Oh, well…First World problems are not really problems are they? They are mostly just a bunch of lucky-as-hell people whining about how tough they have it. I admit it.

But I swear I’m ADD afflicted like never before.

Time Travel Tuesday: Ray Bradbury’s “A Sound of Thunder”

maxresdefault

This week’s Time Travel Tuesday story is a true classic from the pen of Ray Bradbury. Bradbury wrote fantasy and science fiction stories for more than fifty years and, as evidenced by his Grand Master Award, he is considered to be one of the finest writers ever to work in that genre. “A Sound of Thunder” first appeared in the June 28,1952, issue of Collier’s magazine and later was included in Bradbury’s story compilation The Golden Apples of the Sun (1953).

Time Safari, Inc. is ready to take its patrons back as far into the past as they need to go to bag the animal of their choice – and that includes all the way to back when dinosaurs dominated the earth. So when Eckels shows up prepared to pay ten thousand dollars to shoot a T-Rex, the game is on. It’s a bit of a celebration for Eckels because he is so happy that the country has just elected another president who believes in democracy, rather than the potential dictator the new president was running against. Even after being warned that twelve hunters and six guides have been killed on time safaris in just the past year, Eckels can’t wait to get started.

ray-bradbury-zen

Ray Bradbury

And then he gets his first look at the Tyrannosaurus rex that has been chosen especially for him – the guides already know it is going to die in just two minutes anyway when a huge tree will fall on it. This is also the moment that Eckels discovers that this animal is just too much for him, that he has more than met his match – and panic ensues. Without even realizing it, Eckels does the main thing he is forbidden to do; he steps off the floating hunter’s path and walks toward the jungle, crushing plant life all the way as he sinks into the muddy earth.

Can, as the guides of Time Safari, Inc. fear it can, the future be changed by something as minor as killing a few plants or insects while traveling sixty million years into the past? For his own sake, Eckels had better hope not, but now it’s time to see what awaits the hunters when they get back to 2055.

The Wrong Side of Goodbye

0316225940-01-_sx450_sy635_sclzzzzzzz_Ex-LAPD detective Harry Bosch, his lawsuit against the Los Angeles police for wrongful termination still undecided, has pretty much resigned himself to the idea that he is now a private detective rather than a cop. Harry, though, manages to keep himself in the game by spending several days a week working as a volunteer detective (as in unpaid) for the tiny San Fernando police department. It should be noted that Harry’s personality and idea about what constitutes effective policing has not changed – meaning that, hard as one might think it to do, Harry has in just a few months put himself in danger of being fired even from this job without a paycheck.

Harry’s understanding with the San Fernando police is that his volunteer hours will be worked around the time required for his private investigations, so when a Southern California billionaire wants to hire him, Harry is quick to accept the case. The never-married and supposedly childless Whitney P. Vance is now an old man justifiably worried about what will happen to his fortune upon his death. He hates the idea that management of his personal fortune might fall to his company’s Board of Directors. But when he was just eighteen years old, Vance got a young Mexican girl pregnant, and now he wants Bosch to determine whether or not she actually aborted that baby. If she did not, Whitney Vance might have a living heir or two – and that’s where he wants his money to go.

unknown

Michael Connelly

In the meantime, Bosch’s hunch that several relatively recent San Fernando rapes are the work of the same man proves true, meaning that the community has a serial rapist on its hands, a major crime requiring the level of investigation the understaffed police cannot possibly handle without Bosch’s fulltime support. Now Bosch has to find a way to keep both investigations moving without letting either slow down the other – and when things go crazily wrong in both cases, he has to deal with a self-imposed guilt trip.

The Wrong Side of Goodbye is classic Michael Connelly and that means that it is classic Harry Bosch. The LAPD really stepped in it when they forced Bosch’s resignation, because the man has barely lost a step. Thankfully for Harry – and his thousands of fans – the little San Fernando police department appreciates the man and wants to put him on the payroll. Hopefully, this means that there are many more Harry Bosch books in the pipeline.

Note: As in The Crossing, which preceded The Wrong Side of Goodbye, Bosch’s half-brother Mickey Haller (aka The Lincoln Lawyer) makes an appearance in this one to work in partnership with Bosch on one of the two investigations.

Short Story Saturday: “Red Eye” from Michael Connelly and Dennis Lehane

unknown

Michael Connelly

This week’s Short Story Saturday entry was co-authored by two of my favorite detective fiction writers: Michael Connelly and Dennis Lehane. “Red Eye,” as published in the 2014 short story compilation FaceOff, centers around the premise that Connelly’s Harry Bosch and Lehane’s Patrick Kenzie find themselves simultaneously searching for the same bad guy.

FaceOff is a collection of eleven co-authored short stories that was published as a fundraiser benefitting the International Thriller Writers group. Because the group’s almost three thousand members are bound by contract to a variety of publishers, and the publishing rights were a little complicated, this one reminds me a bit of what sometimes happens when recording artists from different labels are allowed to collaborate on a single project.

By the time of this story, Harry Bosch is an elder statesman (although some who know Harry would not use such kind words to describe his relationship with the department) of the LAPD. Harry, with retirement staring him in the face, spends his days working cold cases that now have a chance of being solved because of new technology, such as DNA testing, available to the police. Meanwhile, young Patrick Kenzie is doing his thing as one of Boston’s many private detectives. (Note: Lehane’s Kenzie and Gennaro series, although abandoned by the author in 2010, is still missed by those Lehane fans who consider the six books to be his best work.)

200px-dennis_lehane_bbf_2010_shankbone_crop

Dennis Lehane

Fate draws the two detectives together when Bosch decides to run some old fingerprints through the various crime databases again, and comes up with a match that did not happen when an old murder was first investigated. Bosch is always determined to close any cold case he works on, but because this one involves the murder of a young girl, he is even more determined than usual to get his hands on the person responsible. So, with a name and an address in hand, Bosch arrives in Boston with high hopes that he is about to catch a murderer.

Bosch is so anxious, in fact, to check out the last known address of the man whose prints he carries that he drives to the address even before his mandatory check-in with the Boston cops. And then, after an hour or so of watching the man’s house from his car, Bosch notices that someone else is doing the same thing from just down the street – or is he watching Bosch? This, of course, turns out to be one Patrick Kenzie, who is desperately searching for the abductor of different young girl who disappeared three days earlier.

The case worked jointly by Bosch and Kenzie turns out to be a rather straightforward one, but the real fun of “Red Eye” is in watching these two very different detectives bond as they get to know each other. Bosch is more than a generation older than Kenzie and he is an experienced big city cop; Kenzie is still in his mid-twenties and generally makes his living working the kinds of cases the Boston police don’t have time to take on. The two men may have very little in common, but by the end of the day each has earned the respect and friendship of the other. It’s easy to envision these two checking in with each other for many years to come.

The International Thriller Writers “FaceOff”

m1011-c2

Kangaroo Skin Boot

I spent much of today driving between Spring and the little town I grew up in but left for good way back in 1972. It’s a round-trip of about four and one-half hours that I hardly every make anymore, but my brother-in-law operates a little shoe shop down there that I depend on to keep my boots in good repair so I still need to make the drive at least once a year. And since my two favorite pairs of boots (a pair of the softest kangaroo-skin ropers imaginable and a pair of Mexican-style leather cowboy boots) were ready for pick-up, this was the day to hit the road.

I really don’t mind the drive, although the fog was especially thick this morning just before daybreak, because I always make sure to have an audible book or two with me to help kill the time. One of the ones I brought along today, FaceOff, was produced as a fundraiser by the International Thriller Writers group in 2014, and is based on a rather brilliant premise: compile eleven short stories, each one co-written by a pair of the group’s more prominent members. The icing on this cake is that each writer agreed to feature his own most “beloved character” in a head-to-head meeting with the other writer’s most beloved character.

51ibw2l6nul-_sx326_bo1204203200_There is, for example, a story co-written by Dennis Lehane and Michael Connelly in which the Patrick Kensie and Harry Bosch characters work together to solve simultaneously a cold case and a current child-kidnapping case. Another story, this one co-written by Ian Rankin and Peter James, features Scottish detective John Rebus and Jame’s Brighton detective Roy Grace (along with each of the men’s sidekicks) working together to verify a man’s supposed death-bed confession.

I listened to the first two discs today – encompassing three stories – and enjoyed each of the stories. It is particular fun to watch two fictional detectives I’m already familiar with work together to solve a crime, so the Lehane/Connelly story is my favorite so far. Other FaceOff collaborations include:

R.L. Stine / Lincoln Child                              M.J. Rose / D.D. Warren

Steve Martini / Linda Fairstein                   Jeffery Deaver / John Sandford

Heather Graham / F. Paul Wilson              Steve Berry / James Rollins

Raymond Khoury /Linwood Barclay          Lee Child / Joseph Finder

John Lescroart / T. Jefferson Parker

I plan to feature the book’s Dennis Lehane / Michael Connelly story in my Short Story Saturday feature this weekend, so be looking for that post in a couple of days.

Movies for Readers: “My Life as a Zucchini”

336085

This week’s Movie for Readers is based on French writer Giles Paris’s book Autobiographie d’une Courgette (Autobiography of a Zucchini), although both the English and French versions of the movie have been rechristened with the more memorable title My Life as a Zucchini. The movie has received such high marks from critics and the general audience that it has recently been nominated for an Academy Award in the category of Best Animated Feature Film.

ma_vie_de_courgette_ver2The movie tells the story of a nine-year-old orphan and what happens to him when he moves into an orphanage for the first time. The original French dialogue has been overdubbed by English dialogue that (at least in the attached movie trailer) does not seem to be at all annoying.

The 2016 movie will be released in the United States for the first time on February 24, 2017.  The film does appear to be a little dark, so parents may want to consider whether or not their children are quite ready for it.  I did get a bit of a kick when I saw that My Life as a Zucchini is coming with a warning label from the movie industry that it contains “partial nudity” as the result of a scene in which several children lower their shorts a little and expose the upper portions of their “butt cracks.”  OK…

unknown

The Color of Lightning

05b85e1d5015dc0593134525741444341587343I only discovered the novels of Paulette Jiles this past February when I attended her presentation of her 2016 novel News of the World at the San Antonio Book Fair. That novel went on to become a Book Chase Top Five at the end of 2016, and it is a novel I still think about from time to time. Jiles is an adopted-Texas writer who writes the kind of serious western fiction that I’m always hoping to find, so I knew I had to read more of her work.  I am pleased now to report that 2009’s The Color of Lightning is another high quality western with an unusual plot based upon a real life figure from Texas history.

Britt Johnson and his family left Kentucky for Texas in 1863 with Moses Johnson, the man who owned all of them. By the time they arrived there, Moses had signed their manumission papers and the family was free. Britt and Mary brought their children to the western edge of settled North Texas country, to Young County (approximately fifty free blacks were already living there) where Britt planned to raise cattle and Mary hoped to start a school for the county’s children. But the Comanche and Kiowa warriors who considered all of Texas theirs to raid and exploit any time the spirit moved them to do so, would have plenty to say about what kind of life Britt and his fellow Texans would be allowed to enjoy.

It didn’t take long for things to go very, very wrong for Britt and Mary because, while all the settlement’s men were in Weatherford buying supplies, a 700-man army of Kiowa and Comanche warriors rushed into the Elm Creek community and virtually destroyed it. By the time Britt made it back to his little ranch, his eldest son was dead and the raiders had taken the rest of his family captive.

And Britt would not rest until he got them back or made someone pay for their ultimate fate, whatever that fate might prove to be.

0000000218539_p0_v1_s244x185

Paulette Jiles

Jiles largely tells her story from three points of view: the women and children who have been taken captive; Britt Johnson as he searches for his wife and children; and Samuel Hammond, the prominent Philadelphia Quaker sent west to assume the role of agent of the Office of Indian Affairs. As she recounts Britt’s patient struggle to reclaim his wife and children, Jiles exposes the utter brutality of life in much of Texas during the 1860s and 1870s, a period during which two very different cultures, neither of which understood the motivations and desires of the other, claimed the same homeland as its own.

The historical fiction of Paulette Jiles often includes rather incredible plots, but the most incredible thing about those plots is that they are based upon Jiles’s meticulous research of real life historical figures. Britt Johnson really was a man whose family was, for all practical purposes, destroyed by a raiding army of Comanche and Kiowa. The traveling newspaper reader and central character of News of the World (who makes a cameo appearance here in The Color of Lightning) was a real man who made his living traveling from community to community reading the latest newspapers he could get his hands on. Jiles’s books are an entertaining blend of fact and fiction that, in the end, provide a realistic picture of what “the good old days” were really like.

If you haven’t already discovered the work of Paulette Jiles, you really need to fix that.

Time Travel Tuesday: Steven Utley’s “Where or When”

utleysteven

Steven Utley

This week’s Time Travel Tuesday story is from Steven Utley, an American writer who died from a brain tumor in 2013 at the age of sixty-four. Utley was a prolific storyteller whose work was often found in magazines such as The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, Analog Science Fiction and Fact, Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, and Galaxy. “Where or When,” today’s story, is part of a series of time travel stories started by Utley in 1976 featuring a method of time travel he called “chronopaths.” This 1991 story first appeared in Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine and was also included in Where or When, the 2006 compilation of the chronopath stories.

As implied by its title, “Where or When” tells of a time travel trip that went wrong for two travelers right from the start. The two travelers, (one man, one woman) were part of a group expecting a soft landing in 1851 London, but after somehow getting separated from their fellow travelers, the pair experienced a rude crash landing in the middle of a thick forest. Now they no longer have any idea where they are – or, for that matter, when they are. What they do know is that two huge armies are fighting a pitched battle just a few hundred yards from where they are hiding amidst the thick trees.

wild03Our lost travelers are not at first particularly concerned about their predicament because they know that their guide will almost certainly be able to track them down as soon as he notices that they are no longer part of his group. But when bullets start scarring the trees near them, they realize that it is time to run for their lives – despite their guide’s instruction not to wander if they ever find themselves lost. And when the whole forest starts to burn (Civil War amateur historians will now know exactly where the lost travelers have landed), they can only hope it’s not too late to save themselves.

Despite the horrors of battle Utley describes in “Where or When,” the story is not without its humorous moments, especially the scene in which the male traveler is trying to extract the female traveler from the small tree into which she has crash-landed. The woman, already unhappy about the period undergarments she is wearing, is not feeling particularly cooperative at this point:

“Who in eighteen fifty-one’s gonna get to see what I wear under my dress?

“Well, you just never know do you?” and I gave her a wryly apologetic grin that absolutely failed to endear me to her, took out my trusty pen-knife again, and got around behind her. View from that side, she rather resembled an enormous blossom. Her legs, sheathed in long, lace-trimmed drawers, were the stamens, and her numerous petticoats, the petals.

I said, “Good God, how many petticoats are you wearing?

“Eighty or ninety.”

“There’s enough silk here for a parachute battalion”

 Steven Utley was a talented fantasy and science fiction writer, and “Where or When” is a good introduction to the author’s work. Utley managed to pack a whole lot of plot into this thirteen-page story that I have not touched upon here – curious readers can perhaps find the story most easily in the more recent (2013) compilation from Tor titled The Time Traveler’s Almanac.

Paradise Sky

0316329371-01-_sx450_sy635_sclzzzzzzz_I have been a fan of Joe Lansdale’s work for a number of years and still consider his 2012 “hillbilly noir” novel Edge of Dark Water to be one of my all-time favorites. I mention that one here because Paradise Sky reminds me of Edge of Dark Water in tone, its bigger-than-life characters, and a generally outlandish plot that keeps the reader on the edge of his seat for several hundred pages.

Paradise Sky serves as the fictional autobiography of Nat Love, an African-American cowboy who after winning most of the events in a Deadwood, Dakota Territory, rodeo was given the nickname Deadwood Dick by his friends (taken from the already popular dime novel character of the same name). The fictional Nat Love of Paradise Sky, in fact, becomes the hero of a series of dime novels all his own (but as a white cowboy and not as the black man he really is), but points out on Paradise Sky’s first page that he is here “to set the record straight.” It will be up to each reader to decide just how “straight” Nat then proceeds to tell his story. But what a story it is.

It all begins a few years after the Civil War when twenty-year-old Willie, while running a town errand for his ex-slave father, lets his eyes stray for precisely the wrong moment in time. Before he knows what’s hit him, Willie is running for his life, his father has been murdered, and the family home is burning to the ground. Thus begins the great adventure that will transform Willie from ex-slave to one of the most famous cowboys in the country.

220px-natlove2

The Real Nat Love

Along the way, Willie (who takes to calling himself Nat Love after this man) will stumble upon the white man who becomes a second father to him; spend some time fighting Indians as a Buffalo soldier; twice meet the woman of his dreams; befriend Will Bill Hickok, Calamity Jane, and Charlie Utter; become a U.S. Marshall working out of Ft. Smith, Arkansas, a railroad porter, and finally, a writer. But no life story runs in a straight line, and Willie’s is no exception.

There is, however, one constant in Willie’s story: the white man who one day imagines that he catches Willie staring at his wife’s generous rear-end as the woman strains to hang their wet laundry out to dry. When he first ran for his life, Willie believed that this insanely-jealous man would loose interest in him soon enough, and that he would be allowed to make a new life for himself as long as he never returned to his East Texas home. But that is not what happened – and by the time Willie figures out that the chase will end only with his death or that of his persecutor, it is almost impossible for him to protect himself from the madman.

Bottom Line: Paradise Sky, a bit reminiscent of Larry McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove (the highest compliment I can pay it), is a rousing western adventure that from page-to-page is equally likely to have the reader laughing out loud as shedding a tear or two. This one is great fun.

The Blue Light Security Service / ADT Security Installation Experience from Hell

frustration

I have been using the past several Sundays as a time to relax by doing some of the things I don’t have enough time to get to during the rest of the week. I read from a dozen or so book blogs that I follow regularly, decide which book will be started next, spend some time with my elderly father; that kind of thing. Most Sundays I don’t even get around to posting anything at all on Book Chase.

But this weekend has been trashed by the security system installer from hell – and part of it is my fault for giving him the benefit of the doubt. The guy showed up on Friday afternoon raring to go, and then discovered that he had about half the equipment he was going to need to install the system. We have twenty-one windows in this house, not nine. We have three doors, not two. We have a wired system, not a wireless system. This meant that the installer had to drive all the way back to his downtown warehouse to get the proper kit – a round trip that took him almost two hours to complete. And then when he got back here, he found that the “transmitter” he had just picked up from the warehouse was designed for a different system than the one we want installed.

Well, by then the warehouse was closed for the day, so now we are talking Saturday installation. And of course now we have to be added to his Saturday schedule, meaning that we are dead last for the day, so he didn’t even get back here until almost six p.m. Finally, by nine-thirty, he seemed to have everything in place, had checked out the system with the offsite monitor, and it looked as if we were done.

No such luck. About thirty minutes after he left the house, we noticed that the landline telephone was dead as a doornail. No phone, of course, means that the new security system cannot be monitored offsite, essentially turning it into nothing but a loud noisemaker.

I had managed to catch the guy on his rush out the door to remind him that he had not left me with any manuals or the normal welcome package that includes phone numbers and the like, but when I looked at what he left me, I found that it was only the instructional manuals for setting and operating the security panel, etc. There were no phone numbers, local or otherwise, by which I could alert someone about the problem we are having. Luckily, though, my cell phone had captured the installer’s personal number when he contacted me on Friday, and I was able to get hold of him that way.

So here I sit. It’s closing in on eleven a.m. as I write this, and the guy promised to be here at ten. And there is no sign of him. The topper is that the alarm system just locked up and is telling us that a window is open, keeping it from being ready to arm. There are no open windows in the house – none.  Now that means that the installer is going to have to figure out the solution to another problem.  God help us.

And there is still no word from the Blue Light Security Service installer that ADT Security uses for installation of their systems. I’m trying here, I really am, to look at this as just another of life’s little jokes – but the sheer incompetence and rudeness involved here is so representative of every experience I’ve had with service people, sales clerks, doctor’s offices, and the like, in recent months that it is really starting to bother me.  The world is filled with people who simply cannot, or will not, do their jobs anymore, and they are forcing customers to respond in kind with the same degree of rudeness and demands. Otherwise, nothing gets done.

And somehow they still manage to make me feel like the bad guy because I expect things to get done correctly the first time around.