Wednesday, November 30, 2022

THE SEISHI YOKOMIZO PAGE: First English translations two of four Detective Kosuke Kindaichi novels, THE HONJIN MURDERS & DEATH ON GOKUMON ISLAND

(tr. Louise Heal Kawai)
Pushkin Vertigo
$14.95 trade paper, available now

Rating: 4* of five

The Publisher Says: One of Japan's greatest classic murder mysteries, introducing their best loved detective, translated into English for the first time.

In the winter of 1937, the village of Okamura is abuzz with excitement over the forthcoming wedding of a son of the grand Ichiyanagi family. But amid the gossip over the approaching festivities, there is also a worrying rumour - it seems a sinister masked man has been asking questions around the village.

Then, on the night of the wedding, the Ichiyanagi household are woken by a terrible scream, followed by the sound of eerie music. Death has come to Okamura, leaving no trace but a bloody samurai sword, thrust into the pristine snow outside the house. Soon, amateur detective Kosuke Kindaichi is on the scene to investigate what will become a legendary murder case, but can this scruffy sleuth solve a seemingly impossible crime?



My Review
: In a very Sherlock's-Watson fashion, the events of this premarital murder are narrated to us after the fact; we know, by this very technique, that the mystery is one that can be solved if we're game to follow the clues. Which clues? Well, the mystery-writer narrator and I are glad you asked:
When I first heard the story, I immediately racked my brain to think of any similar cases among all the novels I’ve read. The first that came to mind were Gaston Leroux’s The Mystery of the Yellow Room and Maurice Leblanc’s The Teeth of the Tiger; then there’s The Canary Murder Case and The Kennel Murder Case, both by S.S. Van Dine; and finally, Dickson Carr’s The Plague Court Murders. I even considered that variation on the locked room murder theme of Roger Scarlett’s Murder Among the Angells.

You really can't get a lot more fair-play than that, can you, giving the reader the crib sheet from which the author made choices and still, not to make it too easy by telling the reader *what* was cribbed from the Greats of the Golden Age. I found it endearing. I was very amused by the conceit, and by the writer/narrator following in the footsteps of the wildly disheveled amateur detective. Now...keep in mind this is a story written in the late 1940s and set in the 1930s. The idea of a Japanese man presenting himself as less than polished and perfect is damned near heretical. There was no beatnik, or proto-hippie, movement in Japan. It is a culture of Face, something I equate with my mother's endless mantra, "but what will People Think?" It's very, very important not to insult your neighbors, or your betters, by deciding to be different, to wear your Otherness on the featuring someone who's indifferent to Face in this mystery series is quite a powerful statement of value and intent on the author's part.

What's important for your pleasure in an amateur-sleuth read? An aura of verisimilitude? A relatable cast of characters? An evocation of a place and time? I'd venture to say that no one would behave the way the characters in this mystery do...but I could be any rate, the point for me wasn't the verisimilitude (never is with amateur-sleuth mysteries, pace all you true-crime podcasters) but the delicious evocation of the time and the place:
A honjin was a kind of inn in feudal Japan where daimyo lords and other important officials would stay on their way to or from paying attendance on the Shogun in the capital, Edo—the old name for Tokyo. Ordinary members of the public were not permitted to stay at a honjin. A family who owned such a high-class lodging house were also members of the elite, and so it followed that this was a place where the rules of high society were closely adhered to.

The author, or more likely the editor and translator, gives me such a full and satisfying sense of the place with this simple paragraph. I wanted to feel transported and I well as catered to, told a story to, and one that really did leave me guessing until the end. Very satisfying that Anglophone readers are getting this series (it has SEVENTY-SIX MORE VOLUMES!!) at long last...the author's only been dead since 1981. No rush, guys.

The things I wasn't quite so pleased to read were the class-conscious snobberies of the groom's family, presented without apparent or, to my mind, appropriate negativity cast on them. This being a thing that bothers me now, in the 21st century, I can't even try to guess if I'd even have noticed it had I read the book around the time the author died...almost forty years after it appeared. The snobbish tone is grating on old-man me, anyway. And the last chapter, number 18, is such a Golden-Agey thing...the way the guilty party is dealt with, the careful recounting of the places the clues were was both what I wanted, and a hair too much to swallow in one draft.

If your mystery-story shelves are a touch too light, this is a good, solid, entertaining crotchets aside.


(tr. Louise Heal Kawai)
Pushkin Vertigo
$15.95 trade paper, available now

Rating: 4* of five

The Publisher Says: Kosuke Kindaichi arrives on the remote Gokumon Island bearing tragic news – the son of one of the island’s most important families has died, on a troop transport ship bringing him back home after the Second World War. But Kindaichi has not come merely as a messenger – with his last words, the dying man warned that his three step-sisters’ lives would now be in danger. The scruffy detective is determined to get to the bottom of this mysterious prophesy, and to protect the three women if he can.

As Kosuke Kindaichi attempts to unravel the island’s secrets, a series of gruesome murders begins. He investigates, but soon finds himself in mortal danger from both the unknown killer and the clannish locals, who resent this outsider meddling in their affairs.

Loosely inspired by Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None, the fiendish Death on Gokumon Island is perhaps the most highly regarded of all the great Seishi Yokomizo’s classic Japanese mysteries.


My Review
: This 1971 publication is the second case for Kosuke Kindaichi by internal chronology. I'm going by that order because it makes the most sense to do so for my little orderly brain. we go!...there's a lot wrong with this read. It's a cultural thing, permaybehaps, but any time women are victims of crime by virtue of their femaleness, I check out. I don't like or want that kind of imagery in my head. The way the author presents this heinous tontine by accident of birth as...a puzzle, a problem to solve. He goes about the solution methodically, and of course murder is wrong, but...there's a sort of "well, they were just women, after all" lackadaisicalness to the proceedings that truly got up my nose.

But I kept reading. Because there is a deeply unpleasant truth I must face in reviewing this book: I love a puzzle so much that, when I'm offered it wrapped in enough sweetly seductive mystery, I will just keep reading and ignore my squicked-out "but this is appalling!!" responses to see where we're going.

Ew. True, but ew.

The merest tinge of remorse, it seems to me, was plastered like a too-small figleaf over the fact that the whole crime...the entire murdering spree, ending three innocent women's lives...could easily have been prevented by a simple consultation with a living man's moral compass long before the events became inevitable. As it was, that crucial step now, with their deaths accomplished, the detective suffers agonies of self-reproach...they're still dead, dude. The blame's not really his, in all honesty. It's properly placed on the planner of the crimes and the idiots who blindly follow orders.

It's a solidly atmospheric piece, which I know won't surprise you as it's the fruit of twenty-three years' practice of his craft. The translator's still giving us subtle hints about the cultural context and slyly explaining objects we in the West haven't a single clue about. The temple bell's cultural resonance...the island's peculiar patriarchal culture...the delicately handled, and odd, romantic strand that would've passed by me unremarked without the translator's quiet nudges...all beautifully handled.

Culturally intriguing, nicely constructed puzzle, all get big ol' tick-marks. The last-minute application of regret, even though I think the whole story's revoltingly misogynistic, does at least gesture at some sense of the trope's wrongness. You should make your readerly decisions based on your personal tolerance for unpleasant-to-you subject matter.

I've continued the series, so clearly it's not a deal-breaker for me. I really thought it would be.

Monday, November 28, 2022

THE LEIGH RUSSELL PAGE: JOURNEY TO DEATH, first Lucy Hall procedural & GIRL IN DANGER, the second


Thomas & Mercer
$2.99 Kindle edition, available now (non-affiliate Amazon link)

Rating: 4* of five for suiting my exact mood

The Publisher Says: Lucy Hall arrives in the Seychelles determined to leave her worries behind. The tropical paradise looks sun-soaked and picture-perfect—but as Lucy soon discovers, appearances can be very deceptive. A deadly secret lurks in the island’s history, buried deep but not forgotten. And it is about to come to light.

As black clouds begin to gather over what promised to be a relaxing family break, Lucy realises that her father stands in the eye of the coming storm. A shadow from his past is threatening to destroy all that he holds dear—including the lives of his loved ones.

A dark truth is about to explode into their lives, and that truth is going to hit them right between the eyes.


My Review
: The wages of sin are paid by those born of it. This is the first of a new series starring the woman who will pay for hte sins of the past. It definitely kept me going as we start the book following George in the 1970s...a time of terrible political crises and much violence, as any of us who lived through it remember. Despite the terrible things happening, we're moving at a dream-like kept me from being fully immersed and presented a problem for me throughout the read.

Landing in the Seychelles for a family vacation, Lucy, George's twentysomething daughter, is ready for a complete change because she's just broken her engagement to a man whose idea of marriage isn't like hers. Because we do hear a LOT about that subject, I was about to skip the rest of the read. I kept going because the descriptions are fully and completely involving. I can't really extract one to show you, sorry...the problem with reading a DRC is that I can't copy-and-paste the way one can with normal Kindle books.

What I found ironic is that ever-so-betrayed Lucy's mother, put in jeopardy by her husband lying by omission, doesn't seem ready to snatch some passing policeman's gun and shoot him dead. I assure you that, were my Young Gentleman Caller to whisk me off to a beautiful foreign destination where he (searching for a lost love) got me kidnapped, you would need one sheet of blotting paper and a whisk broom to clean up what was left of him once I was free.

Anyway, I love reading about tropical places, I enjoyed Lucy's complete unwillingness to accept anything told her at face value no matter whose face was uttering it, and I wanted just this level of readerly demand. It's not perfect, it's not fast-paced, but it is lush and it gives you plenty to think about. Recommended!



Thomas & Mercer
$3.99 Kindle editon, available now

Rating: squeaks to 4* of five on its mood-suiting qualities

The Publisher Says: Chasing a story, reporter Lucy Hall plunges into a desperate fight to save her own life.

Lucy Hall’s first summer in Paris promises to be idyllic. She’s fallen in love with the city and enjoys her new job as an investigative reporter. When her friend Nina comes to stay, the girls look forward to a wonderful summer. But Paris is a city of contrasts and Lucy is about to experience its dangerous side.

When an anonymous source promises her a scoop, Lucy can’t resist the chance to make her name. The deeply unsettling meeting with her informant indicates that there may be more at stake than she’d suspected. Returning home with questions instead of answers, Lucy finds her apartment ransacked and Nina gone.

Lucy knows her friend is in danger, but the police are unwilling to help. When her informant is found dead, she realises she may be next. Lucy has something the killer wants and he’ll do anything to get it back…


My Review
: Another case of feeling the scenery is a co-star in the read and might deserve a cut of the royalties. This time it's set in a place I've been! So I felt even more connected to the locales.

Another situation where I wonder how the bloody hell the woman got is a twenty-four-year-old going to get an investigative journalist's position in a city she's not from, and barely speaks the language? And what journalist's boss would chastise her for pestering people for story ideas? That is the literal definition of her job.

Well, no matter, I wasn't asked to fact-check the MS so I let it go.

I totally bought that Lucy, knowing she's dealing with a dreadful underworld figure, would go to the police the second her visiting gal-pal vanishes and her apartment gets ransacked; I also totally bought that the police, knowing what they are bound to know of the criminal in question, basically shrugged and said "come back after forty-eight hours, kthxbye" because the young visitor will either arrive back confused from being lost or in Ziploc baggies piece by piece to scare Lucy away from being a journalist investigator. Either way the police don't really need to do much.

A little harder to buy is Lucy teaming up with Alain Michel (Alan Michael, the author didn't spend much time researching names), the proverbial P.I. with a Past; of course he Knows Stuff. It's a pearl-clutcher, this level of suspense. I will say that the author makes a serious effort to add some physical danger to this entry (largely theoretical last time), but most does this with details of the aftermath of violence and that doesn't have the same effect long-term.

But as I thought these dismissive thoughts I realized I was more than half-way through the read. What?! How did that happen? It happened because the prose is direct, well-formed, and the plot is familiar enough to make few demands and still involving enough to require that I finish the read. I enjoyed the sentimental journey to Paris, I liked the resolution of the plot, and found myself exactly the right read for a sloppy Sunday in this series.

Saturday, November 26, 2022

PUNISHMENT OF A HUNTER, Soviet historical thriller & DEAD AND GONDOLA, cozy cozy cozy series debut

(Christie Bookshop #1)
Bantam Books
$17.00 trade paper, available now

Rating: scraped up the goodwill of the season so 4* of five

The Publisher Says: When a mysterious bookshop visitor dies under murderous circumstances, the Christie sisters and their cat Agatha call on all they’ve learned about solving mysteries from their favorite novelist in this new series debut.

Ellie Christie is thrilled to begin a new chapter. She’s recently returned to her tiny Colorado hometown to run her family’s historic bookshop with her elder sister, Meg, and their friendly bookshop cat, Agatha. Perched in a Swiss-style hamlet accessible by ski gondola and a twisty mountain road, the Book Chalet is a famed bibliophile destination known for its maze of shelves and relaxing reading lounge with cozy fireside seats and panoramic views. At least, until trouble blows in with a wintery whiteout. A man is found dead on the gondola, and a rockslide throws the town into lockdown—no one in, no one out.

He was a mysterious stranger who visited the bookshop. At the time, his only blunders were disrupting a book club and leaving behind a first-edition Agatha Christie novel, written under a pseudonym. However, once revealed, the man’s identity shocks the town. Many residents knew of him. Quite a few had reason to want him dead. Others hide secrets. The police gather suspects, but when they narrow in on the sisters’ close friends, the Christies have to act.

Although the only Agatha in their family tree is their cat, Ellie and Meg know a lot about mysteries, and they’re not about to let the situation snowball out of control. The Christie sisters must summon their inner Miss Marples and trek through a blizzard of clues before the killer turns the page to their final chapter.


My Review
: Meg and Ellie Christie, bookshop owners of Last Word, Colorado's, The Book Chalet, mystery solvers when a man who bumbles into their shop's séance turns up dead one gondola over from theirs on the funicular, and charming women trying to bring their worlds into agreement.

Meg, single mother of fourteen-year old Rosie, and her younger, newly unmoored sister Ellie, are invited by their retiring parents to come home and run the family's bookstore in their ski-resort hometown with her. It's a set-up that's an evergreen for a plays on the familiarity of a native place while still allowing the returned native a chance to "catch up on" the time they've been away. It also establishes the family's relations to each other, in that one would get a whole different idea of Meg had she seemed grudging or reluctant to accept younger, single Ellie to join the business. I think one is immersed in the sense of a happy family from the second their Gram comes onto the pages, knowing she has been their rock throughout life. That, too, sets a facet of the family's character as a system in addition to demonstrating the cozy-series bona fides Ann Claire is seeking to establish.

I'm a sucker for bookstores in fiction going back to the first mystery series set in one that I fell in love with: Claire Molloy's Book Depot in the Farberville, Arkansas, set humorous cozies by the late, lamented Joan Hess. This debut is joining a long and belovèd lineage. I am delighted to report that this is a happy meeting of fantasy (bookstores require *huge* amounts of labor and run on the slimmest of margins) and storytelling. The ski resort setting is nice, in that I'd always rather read about cold, snowy places than hot ones, but not outstandingly detailed. I suppose this is all a matter of what one wishes to have in a series-starting story...the sense of possibility is there in this story so there's plenty of room for additions and expansions.

Rosie annoyed me. She's fourteen, of course she was going to, but really this is a trope I can do without, the adolescent eyeroller. Anyway. At least she wasn't a bookstore cat, those horrible, misery-making Agatha C. (for "cat" ickshudder) Christie. I mean, *obligatory warning of sexist stereotyping to come* I know I'm not a woman so I don't really get the appeal of cats *end sexist stereotyping*, but can there be a bookstore without a cat in mysteryworld now? Please?

WHat's right about the read far outweighs my grumbles about details. None of them ruined my reading experience. I am sure Author Ann Claire (also known as Ann Myers and/or Nora Page) knows her craft from practicing it for quite some time across several series. I expect a high level of polish from such an author and was not let down in this read. Recommending a book such as this is always touchy...what causes a series to soar is so often alchemical symmetry between author and reader...but consider this: I read this entire book that features a cat as a most deeply beloathèd animals!...and am here writing a positive review.

This is an author with chops. Trust her, follow her through this story, and I predict a lot of y'all will have a new series to enjoy.


(The Leningrad Confidential series #1) (tr. Ruth Ahmedzai Kemp)
Pushkin Vertigo (non-affiliate Amazon link)
$16.95 trade paper, available now

Rating: 4.5* of five

The Publisher Says: The debut of the ultimate noir detective series: set in Stalinist Russia, riddled with corruption, informers, and purges that takes paranoia to the next level

1930s Leningrad. Stalin is tightening his grip on the Soviet Union, and a mood of fear cloaks the city. Detective Vasily Zaitsev is tasked with investigating a series of bizarre and seemingly motiveless homicides.

As the curious deaths continue, precious Old Master paintings start to disappear from the Hermitage collection. Could the crimes be connected?

When Zaitsev sets about his investigations, he meets with obstruction at every turn. Soon even he comes under suspicion from the Soviet secret police.

The resolute detective must battle an increasingly dangerous political situation in his dogged quest to find the murderer―and stay alive.


My Review
: This is a newly translated series-starting thriller. I'm eager for the second one to appear, so go buy this one now.

Seriously. The only way the publisher knows there's a market is if there are sales, so go on now.

What do you mean, "but why should I?" Oh very well. Look at this image, of the same title as the book:
Doesn't that simply say it all in artistic form? And the painting's in the Hermitage collection in Russia, too.

The 1930s were a scary, scary time to be a Soviet citizen. The surveillance state's apparatus was risibly primitive by comparison to today's hypercapitalist surveillance model, but it was effective. Like those old Hitchcock movies where men in slouch-brimmed hats smoked on streetcorners by your apartment, the pervasive atmosphere was paranoid and terrified. (Our {great-}grandparents had more sense than we complacent and indifferent acquiescers do.) To be a policeman in a state-sponsored terrorist society, to be studied minutely as one tries to achieve the ever-elusive goal of bringing justice to transgressors while avoiding the political pitfalls of society's mad/badness, adds a layer of suspense to thrillers.

Author Yakovleva does a truly creditable and credible job with Zaitsev, her sleuth. He doesn't miraculously float above The System somehow, nor does he set out to provoke The System's minions to make his points. He falls victim to the excesses of the times (CW for torture!) and he still stubbornly insists on doing the right thing by the victims of personal violence. It is very much in the vein of the "lone truth-seeker" genre of thriller. I think those stories can go wrong quickly, turning into libertarian screeds against any and all forms of government by equating them with oppression. This book dodges that bullet by being about, explicitly taking as its subject, that nightmarish oppressive government and its warped and broken victim/citizens. I wish more libertarians would read this kind of historical take because it puts into a cold, unfriendly light the mild checks on their worst selves that so chafe them.

Author Yakovleva is ably assisted in telling her story by Translator Ruth Ahmedzai Kemp. There are bursts of informative explanatory things in the text that I'm sure are her one in modern Russia likely needs as much explanation of the role of the OGPU, for example (the domestic secret police, like the FBI or latter-Soviet-days KGB). That this information, among so much other information needed by Anglophone readers not Russophone ones, was woven into the text pretty darn seamlessly is a testament to Translator Kemp's grasp of and skill at presenting the reader the best version of the original text.

What makes it a perfect book to get your thriller reader giftee, or your thriller loving self, is that very thing: It's the best version of what was, if my Spidey-senses do not deceive me, a top-quality read from the get-go. Translations are often serviceable, telling the story as it was told in the original and not grasping, or conveying at any rate, whatever special sparkle the original had. It sounds weird to tell you that the cold, grim, gray landscape of Stalinist-Purge era Leningrad, peopled with terrorized victims and subjected to psychic violence, physical violence, and sensory deprivation on an industrial scale, has a sparkle to it. But it does.

Not a joyous resolution to the weird, theatrically staged and colorfully over-the-top crimes committed here...but a resolution I believed and I supported with my whole readerly heart. More of Zaitsev, please, Pushkin Vertigo. We need this kind of "history as sly social commentary" Russian fiction; we in the Anglophone West need the warning klaxon of what *real* oppression feels like, why it does to its victims, so we will stop our loud, pointless whinging.

Friday, November 25, 2022

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year: #BOOKSGIVING!

As holiday celebrations go, few rival Yule (Christmas, Noël, Wiehnacht, Solstice celebrations all) in the economic reach. The reason today, the Friday after US "Thanksgiving", is called "Black Friday" is not just an acknowledgment that retail workers are in a justifiably horrible mood today but because their corporate masters are "in the black" with the sales rung up today. Later additions, like "Cyber Monday" and the like, are also based around the consumers of the country getting their shop on.

Gift-giving is a joy, at least when it's done from a full-hearted and heartful place. I enjoy giving people things whenever I'm able to. I'm far from alone in that. It's a solid chunk of the reason we have a gift-giving holiday in the first place, after all. what's so delightful about the Jólabókaflóð is it's *not* about ritual exchange of stuff, property; it's about the community-reinforcing act of sharing companionship, being together, and reading instead of staring at moving images. You can make the moving images in your brain! Isn't that what a story is when it's in a book? It's words that create images and feelings and evoke the reader's full participation! (Ideally, anyway.)

There are regional variations all over the world now. There are starter kits. There are explainers and, of all things, a Jólabókaflóð Kickstarter!

I've used the hashtag #Booksgiving because, at least to my own eyes, it's easier to scan than the Icelandic version. I do love the idea of the Yule Book Flood, whose origins are in wartime scarcity, but realistically if *I* can't say it, who not fluent in either Icelandic or Old English could?

What I do for the rest of the giving season is tag reviews "#Booksgiving" all over the blog. They're the books I think merit your consideration for giving purposes...books I especially like, I found extraordinarily compelling, or simply know that there's a reason someone would love to open up as their celebratory reading.

At the bottom of this post, you'll see the "#Booksgiving" on it, and the latest reviews tagged with it will show up. All of them, from the six years I've used this custom, will appear...anything I've reviewed...and I heartily recommend them.

May the Jólasveinar, Iceland's thirteen Santas (known in English translation as the Yule Lads), leave you books in your stockings or shoes or other present-receiving receptacles and not an old potato or lump of coal (where would they even find one of those nowadays?).

Sunday, November 20, 2022

November 2022's Burgoine Reviews & Pearl Rule Reviews

Author 'Nathan Burgoine posted this simple, direct method of not getting paralyzed by the prospect of having to write reviews. The Three-Sentence Review is, as he notes, very helpful and also simple to achieve. I get completely unmanned at the idea of saying something trenchant about each book I read, when there often just isn't that much to I can use this structure to say what I think is the most important idea I took away from the read and not try to dig for more.

Think about using it yourselves!


Winter Haven by Athol Dickson

Rating: 3.5* of five

The Publisher Says: Thirteen years after Vera Gamble's little brother ran away from their Texas home, his body washes ashore on the remote island of Winter Haven, Maine. Vera goes to claim the corpse and discovers the impossible: her brother hasn't aged a day since last she saw him. Determined to uncover what happened, she is confronted by unearthly fog, disturbing locals, and stories of lost colonies and a vengeful witch.

Beyond the forest where no creature dares to live, her only hope is the mysterious owner of a dilapidated mansion on a rocky cliff. But will this solitary man assist her, or is Vera Gamble doomed to disappear forever into yet another Winter Haven legend?


My Review
: In my ongoing, possibly misguided, quest not to die above the neck before I do below it, I asked Bethany House for an ARC of this author's latest (in 2008) christian-themed mystery. I don't know why they said yes, but they did, and then I never reviewed it. Sinful wicked shame on me!

There was a time in the early Aughts that I made a concerted effort to believe in the whole christian malarkey-fest. (I was pursuing a most callipygian, but Jesusy, guy.) It was a complete and abject failure on every level, since he didn't give up the goodies despite my going to church with him! The nerve! But I found some very interesting books....

Supernatural shenanigans? Teased; not delivered. Much depends on the voice the author creates when reading a first-person narrative. Vera Gamble is a ninny, the spit-and-image of a Mary Sue. Hanging the story on her was not satisfying. The death of her brother seems to me to be a weirdly xianized form of fridging. The entire story resolves into an address to the Problem of Evil. It is, as I am sure you've already twigged by now, utterly unconvincing as such. (I've never read anything, even straight-out apologetics, that resolve the Problem of Evil.)

There is a great deal of cartoonishly overstated Wickedness imputed to the townspeople of Winter Haven. It is, peculiarly enough, this over-egging of the pudding that gave me the "in" to this book's successful level: Gothic fiction is heightened, exaggerated, and therein its charm. It's a feature, not a bug, of the Gothic tropes that they're over every kind and sort of top. Without that the story would collapse under the weight of its silliness. Once I got that spark to light the brain-fuse I began to enjoy myself. I read the christianizing bits as irony, though they were decidedly not meant that way. It gave me a way to derive enjoyment from what was otherwise a truly dreary slog.

A Kindle edition is $3.99 if you follow this non-affiliate AmazonSmile link.


The Golden Hour by T. Greenwood

Rating: 3* of five

The Publisher Says: On a spring afternoon long ago, thirteen-year-old Wyn Davies took a shortcut through the woods in her New Hampshire hometown and became a cautionary tale. Now, twenty years later, she lives in New York, on the opposite side of a duplex from her ex, with their four-year-old daughter shuttling between them. Wyn makes her living painting commissioned canvases of birch trees to match her clients’ furnishings. But the nagging sense that she has sold her artistic soul is soon eclipsed by a greater fear. Robby Rousseau, who has spent the past two decades in prison for a terrible crime against her, may be released based on new DNA evidence—unless Wyn breaks her silence about that afternoon.

To clear her head, refocus her painting, and escape an even more present threat, Wyn agrees to be temporary caretaker for a friend’s new property on a remote Maine island. The house has been empty for years, and in the basement Wyn discovers a box of film canisters labeled “Epitaphs and Prophecies.” Like time capsules, the photographs help her piece together the life of the house’s former owner, an artistic young mother, much like Wyn. But there is a mystery behind the images too, and unraveling it will force Wyn to finally confront what happened in those woods—and perhaps escape them at last.

A compelling and evocative novel with an unsettling question at its heart, T. Greenwood’s The Golden Hour explores the power of art to connect, to heal, and to reveal our most painful and necessary truths.


My Review
: I am sad to say that this pretty well-written story is the one that tipped my dislike of the woman as obligatory victim trope into a hard and fast opposition to it. Wyn's long-ago rape and violent assault was the reason this story existed. (Perpetrated by a man, of course, and a lying sack of shit without a moral in his entire body.) Her logical way to cope is to run away and bury its trauma. Well, okay. I get it. But...really, is there anything less appealing than spending a few hours with a character whose first response is to run away? It's a common response but reads like this character is, now and always, leaning in to her victim status by allowing it to overtake every other thing in her life.

There's a lot of occupational therapy in here. Wyn is an artist. At her new hidey-hole, there are canisters of undeveloped film. The author goes bonkers focusing on these images, on the art Wyn (isn't) creating, her artist ex-husband's...oh look, let me just say it plainly: In a thriller or a mystery, the *issue* should take the focus (!) of the storytelling. Wyn's attacker's retrial? Run away! The perpetrator of the attack from long ago? Offscreen always. The revelations that do come along the way, the identity of the perpetrator, the way in which the character opts to cope with all the changes required by the revelations (spoiler: not), all conspire to leave me with a terrible taste in my mouth. Author Greenwood joins a select company of mysterians named Greenwood whose books just do not work for me. That pernicious, disempowering victimization of women/girls trope in both the Greenwood writers' ouevre just does not work for me.

It's $6.99 on Kindle at that non-affiliate AmazonSmile link.


The Blade Between by Sam J. Miller

Rating: 3.5* of five

The Publisher Says: From Nebula Award winner Sam J. Miller comes a frightening and uncanny ghost story about a rapidly changing city in upstate New York and the mysterious forces that threaten it.

Ronan Szepessy promised himself he’d never return to Hudson. The sleepy upstate town was no place for a restless gay photographer. But his father is ill and New York City’s distractions have become too much for him. He hopes that a quick visit will help him recharge.

Ronan reconnects with two friends from high school: Dom, his first love, and Dom’s wife, Attalah. The three former misfits mourn what their town has become—overrun by gentrifiers and corporate interests. With friends and neighbors getting evicted en masse and a mayoral election coming up, Ronan and Attalah craft a plan to rattle the newcomers and expose their true motives. But in doing so, they unleash something far more mysterious and uncontainable.

Hudson has a rich, proud history and, it turns out, the real estate developers aren’t the only forces threatening its well-being: the spirits undergirding this once-thriving industrial town are enraged. Ronan’s hijinks have overlapped with a bubbling up of hate and violence among friends and neighbors, and everything is spiraling out of control. Ronan must summon the very best of himself to shed his own demons and save the city he once loathed.


My Review
: Whale ghosts.

Seriously. Whale ghosts! Go get the book already! What's that about the plot? Oh, okay: Ronan, our out and queer protagonist, comes home to Hudson, New York. He was roundly hated for being his gayboy self, but Things Have Changed and, well, I myownself call someplace homophobically stuffed turning into Boystown-meets-the-Tenderloin a Martha-Stewart level Good Thing. The whale ghosts, um...they are...weird, as expected. That was okay with me, too, since I like the cli-fi elements of the read.

We parted company when Ronan gets involved with his married ex-lover. I've been in that car crash and I do not like that trope.

No matter, it's a well-written book, a delightfully weird story, and is available for $12.46 in hardcover. (non-affiliate Amazon link)


A Court of Thorns and Roses (A Court of Thorns and Roses #1) by Sarah J. Maas

Rating: 2* of five

The Publisher Says: When nineteen-year-old huntress Feyre kills a wolf in the woods, a terrifying creature arrives to demand retribution. Dragged to a treacherous magical land she knows about only from legends, Feyre discovers that her captor is not truly a beast, but one of the lethal, immortal faeries who once ruled her world.

At least, he’s not a beast all the time.

As she adapts to her new home, her feelings for the faerie, Tamlin, transform from icy hostility into a fiery passion that burns through every lie she’s been told about the beautiful, dangerous world of the Fae. But something is not right in the faerie lands. An ancient, wicked shadow is growing, and Feyre must find a way to stop it, or doom Tamlin—and his world—forever.

From bestselling author Sarah J. Maas comes a seductive, breathtaking book that blends romance, adventure, and faerie lore into an unforgettable read.


My Review
: Romance? Really? This is what you're telling young women Romance is all about? I don't know, but to me this sounds like a Bad Thing.

Lots of damsel-being-rescued stuff, seriously squicky "I'm so dumb" self-talk, The Beast is mostly just a brat who needs a spanking, and in the end there's little or nothing in this fairy-tale retelling that adds a whit to the Disneyfied version of the story it's based on.

I do not like it. I would not recommend it to parents concerned about their daughter's internalizing pervasive misogyny. The writing is deft, but that even takes on a sinister cast because the message is just yuck-ick-ptui from giddy-up to whoa.

If you must get it by special demand, the Kindle edition's only $6.65. (non-affiliate Amazon link)


The Blue Macaw (Detective Valarie Garibaldi #1) by Ricky Ginsburg

Rating: 3* of five

The Publisher Says: Officer Valarie Garibaldi, cancer survivor and heir to her cop father’s legacy, seizes an opportunity to fulfill his dream and earn her gold detective’s badge. A vacancy in the Ft. Lauderdale Police Department’s Homicide Unit is the twenty-six-year-old’s chance to prove to herself that she’d made the right choice between college, the beach, and the police academy. Partnering with veteran Detective Deesay Becerra, their first case together starts with a dead macaw–stuffed with millions in diamonds, and a murdered hooker–filled with heroin balloons. The body count ratchets up with the killing of two Miami Dolphins players, leaving the detectives no choice but to use one of their suspects as bait.


My Review
: I don't think men should write sex scenes from women's points of view. We do not know what it's like. This was very obvious to me, again, and not a great start to my experience of this story. Add in a dead-in-a-gross-way female sex worker, a macaw that's been taxidermied by an amateur, and stakes I simply could not be less interested in, and this would've been a Pearl-Rule for me had it not had some silly, snappy dialogue...just enough to convince me to keep on.

Barely enough. But enough.

The Kindle edition's $6.99 but I'd use my Kindle Unlimited on it if I had suchlike nonsense.


Reader, I Murdered Him by Betsy Cornwell

Rating: 3.5* of five

The Publisher Says: In this daring tale of female agency and revenge from a New York Times bestselling author, a girl becomes a teenage vigilante who roams Victorian England using her privilege and power to punish her friends' abusive suitors and keep other young women safe.

Adele grew up in the shadows—first watching from backstage at her mother's Parisian dance halls, then wandering around the gloomy, haunted rooms of her father's manor. When she's finally sent away to boarding school in London, she's happy to enter the brightly lit world of society girls and their wealthy suitors.

Yet there are shadows there, too. Many of the men that try to charm Adele's new friends do so with dark intentions. After a violent assault, she turns to a roguish young con woman for help. Together, they become vigilantes meting out justice. But can Adele save herself from the same fate as those she protects?

With a queer romance at its heart, this lush historical thriller offers readers an irresistible mix of vengeance and empowerment.


My Review
: First, read this:
“Why do you think, when women tell the stories of their lives, they end with marriage? It is not a happily ever after, cherie, only the end of happiness?”

In its bitter essence, Jane Eyre is a terrible, horrifying account of a cruel and controlling man's determined efforts to get the twisted things he most desired from the women he surrounded himself with. They had little choice in the matter. He exerted a charm, I'm told, in his "masterful" handling of them. I don't see it, myownself...Bertha or Jane, makes little difference, he was an archetypal narcissist in pursuit of minions.

I honestly forgot Adèle's existence in the original. Not a single scintilla of memory creased my cranium about typical...and thus, when I got this book, I was in essence introduced to her for the first time. Her story is very affecting. I think it's a great shame that Adèle came into my awareness as a victim. Yes, she uses her victimhood to achieve something good as the Villainess, righter of wrongs and leveler of abusers. But there's a passage where her treatment of a loving soul, and her response to a shocking and disgusting betrayal, that just...rang so hollow to me. Her drive was always mitigated by her fears, as whose is not?, but her behavior is hard for me to mentally count as redemptive.

The resolution of the story is condign. It didn't hit the wrong notes so much as it simply played them too fast, too loud, and failed thus to distract me from my edge of unbelief. It's a fine book to give to your feminist granddaughter or romantically challenged niece.

There's a raft of editions for this new release. If this idea excites you, pursue it without hesitation.


Underdogs (Underdogs #1) by Geonn Cannon

Rating: 3.25* of five

The Publisher Says: Ariadne Willow is a private investigator with a secret weapon. She’s a canidae, a person with the ability to transform into a wolf at will. Using her heightened senses to track and her shapeshifting to follow people without being seen, she’s made a decent business for herself and her associate Dale Frye.

When one of the richest women in Seattle wishes to hire her, Ari and Dale think their ship has finally come in. All Ari has to do is observe the client’s tabloid-friendly daughter, fresh out of rehab, and confirm that she’s truly clean. Ari thinks the case will be a piece of cake, but a moment of shocking violence changes everything. Soon Ari finds herself backed into a corner with no way out, forced to either run or risk losing everything she holds dear by fighting an enemy with unlimited power and resources. With Dale refusing to leave her side, Ari decides to make a stand to remind her enemies that there’s only one rule in betting...


My Review
: The fun part of taking advantage of NetGalley's "Read Now" collection is there is always some hidden pleasure or another to discover. A one-sitting canidae (werewolf to the tediously traditional readers like me) led urban fantasy chase story, this meets lots of my expectations. I was really amused and drawn to the very first pages' freshening-up of Little Red Riding Hood in particular...bringing to it that little something extra that comes from an eyewitness account of a crime as opposed to a polished and practiced witness-stand testimony via the Brothers Grimm. Much new information comes to light.

In general, I'm a lycanthropy fan. In this explicit case, I'm on a spiky fence because I question some of the judgment calls an author must always make...there seemed to me to be a peculiarly removed vibe to this fun take on a lesbian private eye-cum-werewolf urban fantasy. It's clearly an authorial choice, I must say, because it's in the structure of the sentences that're written in passive voice. It isn't, however, alienating to me as a reader. Honestly this surprised me because, under most every circumstance, I am hate-reading passive constructions in short order. So that was a surprise but was it a good one? I can't decide.

What made me finish the book in that one sitting mentioned above was the clarity of the conflict between Ari, our wolf sleuth, and her nemeses. If I can feel the pull of the story despite a narrative construct I'm not fond of, then there's something extra to this writer's storytelling chops. Kudos for that!

And let's face it...$2.99 on your Kindle ain't a lot to ask a reader to risk. (non-affiliate Amazon link)


This space is dedicated to Nancy Pearl's Rule of 50, or "the Pearl Rule" as I've always called it. After realizing five times in December 2021 alone that I'd already Pearl-Ruled a book I picked up on a whim, I realized how close my Half-heimer's is getting to the full-on article. Hence my decision to track my Pearls!

As she says:
People frequently ask me how many pages they should give a book before they give up on it. In response to that question, I came up with my “rule of fifty,” which is based on the shortness of time and the immensity of the world of books. If you’re fifty years of age or younger, give a book fifty pages before you decide to commit to reading it or give it up. If you’re over fifty, which is when time gets even shorter, subtract your age from 100—the result is the number of pages you should read before making your decision to stay with it or quit.

So this space will be each month's listing of Pearl-Ruled books. Earlier Pearl-Rule posts will be linked below the current month's crop.


Caspian's Fortune (Infinity's End #1) by Eric Warren

Pearl Ruled at 20%

Rating: 3-ish disappointed stars of five

The Publisher Says: He needs a payday. He’ll settle for payback.

Betrayed and left to rot on the edges of the galaxy, Caspian Robeaux is deep in debt and stuck flying courier missions in an old rustbucket he can barely keep afloat. His only friends are an annoying robot named Box and a bottle of booze.

It’s a far cry from his once-promising military career, but Cas stopped caring a long time ago.

Things start to look up, though, when a stranger arrives and offers a lucrative job that Cas can’t refuse, with a payday big enough to change his fortunes permanently. His luck gets even better when Cas learns that the job might offer him the one thing he wants more than his next drink: A chance to clear his name.

But nothing in his life is ever that simple, and for a man trying to buy his way out of debt, the price of redemption might be too steep.


My Review
: There is a Serenity-shaped hole in my heart and I eagerly search for things to stuff into it. I loved the scruffy, "howinahell do we get outta this corner?!" vibe; I absolutely related to the search for the next payday just to keep the lights on and "keep flyin'" is a mantra I think most of us can relate to.

What turned me off was, in the end, I felt Cas was not particularly kind.
"I'm an engineer, I know how stuff works." He turned and made his way down the hallway, leaving her standing there. "But thanks for getting me out of my contract and for the repairs." He tickled the air with his fingers at her as he sauntered off in search of the nearest bar.

This woman tried to cheat him, and that merits a blow-off. But the whole vibe came across as unkind and that is something Mal never was. I stopped reading-reading at 20%, then, and skipped around to see what was going to happen. I checked out the Epilogue and, let's just say that I'm really, really glad I didn't read all the way through or I'd be incandescent and incoherent with outrage.

If you're okay with people abandoning their supposedly deeply-held principles, it's $3.99 on Kindle but...really? (non-affiliate Amazon link)


The Camel Driver (Iron City #3) by Leonard Krishtalka

Rating: 3* of five

Pearl Ruled at 15%

The Publisher Says: Paleontologist turned private investigator, Harry Przewalski, excavates the dirty underbelly of people's lives, unearthing sexual betrayals, treachery, fraud and murder buried beneath the science of petrified shards, skin and bones. Ultimately, he must face a brutal killing in his own past, when he fled to a desert war and came back with a gun and a license to detect.

A famous, 140-year-old museum diorama is vandalized—it depicts the ferocious attack by two lions on a North African courier crossing the Sahara on a dromedary. The belly of the taxidermied camel has been sliced open and a bundle removed, shedding bits of flesh from a child. Harry is hired to investigate the macabre history of the exhibit. The taxidermist has a grisly past: a sexual affair, a lover's betrayal, a lurid trial, and graves in Botswana and Tunisia plundered for human dioramas. The camel driver's skull and skin are mounted under his clothing. In a Paris museum, a dead archaeologist, a bloodstained journal, and the theft of a Neanderthal child's skull and teeth lead Harry to the stolen bundle—a scientific bombshell worth killing for in a murderous race for fame.


My Review
: First, read this:
I knew the end had begun. I knew she had conceived in the night, that hours after our uncontrollable pleasure the milky seed would plow its inexorable route, intent of consummating the act.

I don't even care what comes after this. It can not justify my continued eyeblinks.


The Finder of the Lucky Devil (Lucky Devil #1) by Megan Mackie

Pearl Ruled at 18%

Rating: 2.5* of five

The Publisher Says: Rune Leveau has a magical Talent for Finding things and a mountain of problems. Those problems get worse when she is approached by a charming, but dangerous cybernetically-altered corporate spy. When he says he wants her to help him find a wanted criminal called Anna Masterson, who went missing six years ago, it should be easy for a woman who's only special gift is finding things? The problem is Rune has a dangerous secret. She IS Anna Masterson, and the spy isn’t taking no for an answer.

St. Benedict has searched for the last six years for the Masterson Files, a computer program that is rumored to do the impossible, cast magic spells. Such a program would reshape the world. For his own reasons, he's determined to be the first to find it and the mysterious woman connected to it, Anna Masterson. Having exhausted his other options, he is left with a new hope that this Finder of the Lucky Devil can lead him to the prize he has sought for so long. But the Finder is proving difficult and he isn't going to take no for an answer.

Set in an alternate Chicago, where technology and magic are in competition with each other, this fast paced Cat-and-Mouse chase makes The Finder of the Lucky Devil a welcome addition to your urban fantasy/cyberpunk library.


My Review
: Average-to-indifferent prose, stock characters, and absurdly overblown punctuation...seriously, never use double-exclams in a book ever...conspired to make this flimsily "altered" Chicago not worth the eyeblinks. In a publishing landscape where I can read Libriomancer by Jim C. Hines or absolutely anything by Ilona Andrews, there's nothing making this a good value proposition. Very disappointing to say, since more is better in urban-fantasy publishing only when it's good.

Friday, November 18, 2022

MURDER ON MONTE VISTA, 1st Mason Adler post-WWII mystery & MURDER IN UNION STATION, 2nd of the series

(Mason Adler Mysteries #1)
Bold Strokes Books
$9.99 Kindle edition, available now

Rating: 3.75* of five

The Publisher Says: It’s 1946, and on a hot spring night in Phoenix, Arizona, things are only beginning to heat up at the Monte Vista Road home of flamboyant decorator Walter Waverly Wingate.

Private detective Mason T. Adler isn’t thrilled to be turning fifty, and the party Walter throws him makes him even more uncomfortable. Walter has arranged a special birthday present for Mason: a private hour with the handsome, young Henry Bowtrickle in Walter’s upstairs bedroom. But the night turns deadly when his birthday gift turns up murdered.

The room was locked, no way in or out, and only Henry and Mason were inside. Mason Adler is on the case, but he is also a suspect, along with the other assorted party guests who were all downstairs at the time of the stabbing. Or were they?


My Review
: What I expect from a first-in-series mystery is simple: Let me know what this world is about; let me in to the characters' interrelatedness; and tell me what kind of crimes we're going to be dealing with.

Can't say I didn't get all those things...a little bit too much of 'em.

The story is of Mason Adler, newly fifty gay man, and his social circle: gal-pal Lydia, long-term frenemy Walter, and cop Emil. Various peripheral people step a measure before us, but no one else really matters. The main thing about a series mystery is the series, not the mystery, and that very much comes true here. By the halfway mark there's no body worth mentioning. Things are slowly unfolding, and the tensions of Mason Adler's life are lying before us prior to a murder accelerating the plot.

Possibly one of the most mean-spirited murders I've ever encountered, spite and envy fueling the circumstances that enable the murder to take place, and then the dead body comes in for a lot of muffled amusement because of how the whole plot evolved. There wasn't much to recommend the dead one, but there was little enough to recommend a lot of these people.

Phoenix, Arizona, is a place I've never, ever wanted to be the few times I've been there. I dislike deserts. I was transported to Phoenix circa 1946 with the author's major characters. It was darn near told in real-time vignettes. I got the sense of the oppressive, horrifying heat, the blasting, battering sunshine, the dreadful helplessness of life in this kind of nightmare before home air conditioning was ubiquitous in the US. (Even with air conditioning I don't want to be in Phoenix or any other desert city. Or town. Or hamlet. Or structure. Or outdoor space.)

So there was that going against the read. The pluses were the economy of the author's characterization. He needn't linger over loving descriptions because he chooses the details that actually matter and doesn't linger on them. He also doesn't clutter up my mental landscape, choosing instead to focus on the telling details. It was a way of bringing me a vivid, textured experience without using a lot of words to do it.

But at the end of the read, I was the murder's cruel, appalling conception. (Murder will never not be cruel! I'm going on about the *circumstances* not the act.) The person whose life was taken didn't get, in life or after, near enough sympathy. Then there's the person whose idea erected the framework for the murder...I truly do not ever want to see that person in this series again.

I'll certainly move on to the next entry in the series. I won't be likely to revisit this one, though.


(Mason Adler Mysteries #2)
Bold Strokes Books
$9.99 Kindle edition, available now

Rating: 3.8* of five

The Publisher Says: Phoenix, May 6, 1946

At close to midnight in the Union Station baggage room, the air is hot, still, and thick. The eleven forty-five Golden State Limited to Los Angeles is approaching rapidly when the baggage handler, Alfred Brody, notices a stray hound dog sniffing around one of the steamer trunks. The horrific discovery of a body inside the trunk can mean only one thing: there’s a murderer among them.

The young woman was certainly murdered, but who did it, and why? Suspects and motives abound as Private Detective Mason Adler investigates. He soon realizes that nothing, and no one, are what they seem to be as he races to uncover the truth and bring the real murderer to justice without becoming the next victim.


My Review
: Oh damn. Walter's back. *shudder*

After the nasty stunt he pulled in the first book, I really don't want to believe it's going to go well for him vis-a-vis this series, if we're going to keep seeing Walter. But the good part is the mystery Author Pederson chose this time is one ripped from the century-old headlines! I was really curious to see what would happen next.

What happens is the requisite amount of banter, a close friendship between a straight woman and a gay guy, bitchy-queen Walter being a complete cow when he wasn't being a tedious crook, oh let's, Emil the cop being bested by Mason again like Perry Mason beats Hamilton Burger in every murder was done in vain as no one gets away with anything in these books.

I don't think this one took quite as long as the first one, but these aren't propulsive "...and then what happened?!" reads. They're going to take you down the path the detective treads with him, and cause you to get your helper's badge on your efforts and merits. I particularly liked the detail of Mason's car being a 1939 Studebaker Champion, famously a cheap-to-run and stodgy vehicle. The kind of car Uncle Dale drives to Thanksgiving and parks in front of the house despite everyone urging him to take the bus.
By the standards of the day, a real plain-jane-mobile though I myownself would love to have one.

The unmaksing event that Mason stages is very interesting, and not something I expected. Let's just say that Lydia is a useful gal-pal indeed. I was very interested in the book from giddy-up to whoa, and will certainly seek out the next Mason Adler mystery to check in on everyone, make sure they're doing okay.

Wednesday, November 16, 2022

OUTSIDE, Ragnar Jónasson's non-Dark Iceland thriller & DEVIL TAKE THE HINDMOST, 1920s London noir about lost innocence

(tr. Victoria Cribb)
Minotaur Books
$27.99 hardcover, available now

Rating: 3.5* of five

The Publisher Says: Four friends. One night. Not everyone will come out alive . . .

When a deadly snowstorm strikes the Icelandic highlands, four friends seek shelter in a small, abandoned hunting lodge.

It is in the middle of nowhere and there's no way of communicating with the outside world.

They are isolated, but they are not alone . . .

As the night darkens, and fears intensify, an old tragedy gradually surfaces - one that forever changed the course of their friendship.

Those dark memories could hold the key to the mystery the friends now find themselves in.

And whether they will survive until morning . . .


My Review
: Short, intense, and darkly atmospheric novella by one of Iceland's most valuable exports.

This honestly feels like a climactic scene from a longer novel that Ragnar didn't think was working, but it was just too darn good to let go to waste. We join the dramatis personae in medias res, we experience the building tension of a climax, and then...that was it...? Abrupt ending that doesn't do a lot of explaining, at least to me. It makes the whole exercise of reading the book just a bit frustrating to invest in the idea of this kind of pressure-cooker plot and then...stop.

I think everyone over 21 knows that we're defined by our worst moments, our biggest lapses of judgment. (If there are kids in your life, you *really* know this!) And we all know there are people in our lives whose place is more theirs by habit than by any desire on your, often nor their, part. People change and when we're young we think that won't matter. It's only as the weight of coping with our own lives becomes more and more demanding that we realize the weight of carrying someone whose place in our life is no longer a good investment of our energy.

The problem for me, in reading this chilling short take, is that these emotions are so common to all adults that to see them turned into a justification for chillingly, cruelly premeditated murder is asking me to go a bit farther than I'm generally prepared to go. The murderer in this piece is so coldly obsessed with a terrible event that no other thing can be allowed to enter their mental sphere.

Sociopaths aren't delightful company, and the ugliness of the murderer's interior is too much the focus of the story for me to get anything I wanted in the way of understanding out of the read. I left as revolted as I entered, and that's not a good reult for me.



Freight Books (non-affiliate Amazon link)
$9.59 trade paper, available now

Rating: 3.5* of five

The Publisher Says: A gripping historical noir set during the amphetamine-fuelled craze for velodrome racing which took London by storm in the late 1920s.

Into this world stumbles Paul, a bewildered Scottish farmboy running away from home. Powerfully built with a fierce passion for cycling, he is taken under the wing of Silas, a local loan shark, and from there enters a world he is ill-equipped to survive.

As the races get harder, the bets get larger, and the terrifying Mr Morton starts to take an interest in Paul's career. For fans of Peaky Blinders and Brighton Rock, Devil Take the Hindmost is a thrilling ride through a historical London that is rarely visited.


My Review
: So, you've read the synopsis. You've seen the way the parade's headed. And, you clever thing, you've seen my rating. Why isn't it up to a four?

Because it was a very good story that didn't need to make Silas, the intermediary between the owner and the athlete, have a queer passion for the athlete to make its point.

It's not like it never happens. There's an entire subsection of M/M romances based around this plot. But those are *reciprocated* queer feelings. These, with the best will in the world, are not. I hasten to say this isn't ever promised to us. It's never even said out loud in the story's description. It's still there, though, one gets the little tickle behind the eyeballs that means either excess pollen or gay subtext is in the blurb's air.

Then we get to the story itself. To the author's credit there isn't a lot of dishonesty in the presentation of the gay subtext. It's there, it's known...just nothing comes of it. So, though I found this oft-told tale well done, and the author's gift for dialogue pretty darn decent, this story suffers from the same thing that My Policeman suffered from: Yes, in the 2010s; not so much in the 2020s.

What led to a whole star-and-a-half going back onto the rating is the way the athlete, a raw innocent from the nowhere that was Scotland in the 1920s, simply doesn't care about the man who's in love with him being a man. I mean, it's not for him, but it's also not a problem because they're really good friends and that's what he values the most. The ending, which did not surprise me one bit, did satisfy me. I was completely comfortable with the way Author Froden sent these characters off into the world to meet their destinies. Why? Because, in every case, there was a powerful sense of each one grabbing the power to *create* that ending. Win, lose, or draw, each characted earned their destiny.

Nothing whatever wrong with a revenge story, in my book at least.

Tuesday, November 15, 2022

KIBOGO, latest treat from Scholastique Mukasonga AND A FINALIST for the National Book Award—Translated Literature!

(tr. Mark Polizzotti)
Archipelago Books
$12.99 ebook editions, available now


One of LitHub's 38 Favorite Books of 2022!

Rating: 6* of five It's my annual six-stars-of-five read!

The Publisher Says: In four beautifully woven parts, Mukasonga spins a marvelous recounting of the clash between ancient Rwandan beliefs and the missionaries determined to replace them with European Christianity.

When a rogue priest is defrocked for fusing the gospels with the martyrdom of Kibogo, a fierce clash of cults ensues. Swirling with the heady smell of wet earth and flashes of acerbic humor, Mukasonga brings to life the vital mythologies that imbue the Rwandan spirit. In doing so, she gives us a tale of disarming simplicity and profound universal truth.

Kibogo's story is reserved for the evening's end, when women sit around a fire drinking honeyed brew, when just a few are able to stave off sleep. With heads nodding, drifting into the mist of a dream, one faithful storyteller will weave the old legends of the hillside, stories which church missionaries have done everything in their power to expunge.

To some, Kibogo's tale is founding myth, celestial marvel, magic incantation, bottomless source of hope. To white priests spritzing holy water on shriveled, drought-ridden trees, it looms like red fog over the village: forbidden, satanic, a witchdoctor's hoax. All debate the twisted roots of this story, but deep down, all secretly wonder--can Kibogo really summon the rain?


My Review
: Come and sit down. Settle in for a winter afternoon's pleasure-reading of someone else's culture's stories. This novella-in-stories is, in under 150pp or about three hours'-worth of reading, going to tell you about Rwanda. Not the country that threw itself a genocide in 1994. The foreign colony undergoing coerced christianization, the colonizers whose need for men and food to fight a war on another continent was the only thing they saw, the people of Ruanda-Urundi whose bodies and souls were the raw material and the means of production but never just themselves. What happens when Nature decides to withhold her usual munificence and deny Mankind her fecundity is always very, very educational to the mass of the people.

What Kibogo does, then, is tell you the stories of the people. They're funny, they're poignant, they're sometimes befuddlingly different from our Global Northern expectations. But they are alive, they sing on the pages of this book, they make their world felt and heard and seen through Author Scholastique Mukasonga's careful, gentle, unsparingly honest eyes. Translator Mark Polizzotti comes in for a heap of praise as well. I could hear Author Scholastique speaking to me, and he is the reason I wasn't slugging through the book with La Petite Larousse ten centimeters from my elbow at all times.

Kibogo is a god, a divine creature whose rule over Ruanda's people is challenged by the Catholic priests. If you know anything about that religion, the focus of worship is what they start with changing...Jesus, not Kibogo...while syncretizing as much of the pre-christian myth structure and storytelling architecture as possible. In the event, who's the god isn't always comes down to the name one calls when one is in extremis...and that name can surprise even the caller.

The worst part of believing in a super-natural being, a creature above the natural world we must perforce inhabit, is that there is always, always a loose end to tuck in, a wrinkled page to smooth out and make readable. When a man works to make this his life's gift to the world, he neglects the woman whose gift the world is in: No birth happens without a man and a woman agreeing to make it happen. The issues for the Ruandan god's bride and the Catholic church's groom grow urgent. Both seek a spirit, see a world for what it has and can be made into; the world, meanwhile, just Is. How can this end except in tears? Watch and learn, people without belief.

Or just follow Author Scholastique as she, seeming as bemused as the rest of us, watches the borning Rwandan African attempts to put flesh on the hollow bones of ancestral skulls. It is here that I felt the sting of tears as, not free of sarcasm, Author Scholastique offers up the flesh of a bumbling, pompous Western world in sacrifice to the simple, bright, carnivorous land we all must share. The land is the only god worth worshiping because it is the only god we can touch and who responds to us, who feeds our families and accepts our worn-out remains for its eventual reuse, recycling what can not be reduced more than it is by the myriad eating mouths and excreting guts of Life.

This was a rare, perfect reading experience for me. It came exactly when I wanted and needed it. It answered some call I made, unknowing, as I looked for a reason for winter's cold and brilliance not to weigh me down. Thank you for it, Author Scholatique, Translator Polizzotti, and Archipelago Books via Edelweiss+. Gifts of this great value come when they're most needed.