Tuesday, August 31, 2010
Monday, August 30, 2010
Sunday, August 29, 2010
For whatever reason, I like books set in the 50's and 60's. (I like MAD MEN, too. I worked in a place in the early sixties populated by 'mad men' types, so much so, the series makes me laugh inappropriately sometimes.) Maybe because I was a kid during those years, well, kid into young adult anyway, references to the manners, music and food make me smile. Not that I wish it would all come back, but it's nice to remember - some of it. Of course it all depends on the particular writer and story.
Prolific author Ed Gorman's Sam McCain series is set just then. McCain is a mid-western, small town nebbish trying to get along, a nice enough short guy (he will often tell you about the heartbreak of height) looking to find romance, help his parents (his elderly father is in failing health) and, oh yeah, when he gets the chance: put a few murderers in jail. A not too successful lawyer and investigator (almost by default), McCain works for Judge Esme Anne Whitney, aka Her Most Sacred Excellency, a mover and shaker in the town of Black River Falls, Ohio, where she is high muckymuck and Sam a mere schlep.
The often funny but nasty prejudices of small town society are very well delineated by author Gorman, especially in the interchanges between Sam and the judge and Sam and the intellectually challenged (laughably so) sheriff, Cliffie Sykes. There is a cast of characters, some recurring, some not, who, by turns help to make Sam's life a heaven or hell. There are many laugh out loud moments, and some not so much. Each book is a good balance of drama and comedy (especially in Sam's wisecracks and observations of small town life), underscored by dark undercurrents swirling beneath the surface.
The series is ten books old now, each title bearing the name of a song from that era. Beginning with the first book: The Day the Music Died which takes place during the aftermath of the death, in a plane crash, of rock music icon Buddy Holly. Some of the other titles are: Wake Up Little Susie, Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow? (some of us believe this is the greatest rock and roll song ever written), Save the Last Dance For Me, Breaking Up Is Hard To Do, well, you get the idea. I've read them all and can recommend them, some more highly than others. But on the whole, this is a terrific series, probably not as well known as it should be. Gorman has the knack for making small town particularities come to life in a very humorous way.
There are two kinds of relationships that get the most attention in Black River Falls. Divorces and the dissolution of business partnerships. The first is always juicier, because most of the time there is an extra lover involved. You get to scorn somebody and feel morally superior. That's hard to beat.
Business partner break-ups rarely involve sex, but they do sometimes involve extralegal activities such as fraud and embezzlement. Even without breasts and trysts being mentioned, such nefarious business practices can get pretty interesting. Three years ago, two men who owned the same bar got into a fight after hours, and one killed the other with a tire iron. That's not as good as the high-school teacher who impregnated one of his students her senior year, but it'll do on a slow night.
Saturday, August 28, 2010
Friday, August 27, 2010
Experienced readers know the foods they shouldn't eat while reading. Don't have to tell you what they are. Here's a hint: spaghetti with thick sauce = disaster. Have you ever brought a book home from the library only to find the middle pages stained with greasy, bright orange smears of sauce? I know, say no more.
Thursday, August 26, 2010
Wednesday, August 25, 2010
To read the poster, click on picture for larger view.
Monday, August 23, 2010
Bruno - Chief of Police is the story of Benoit Courreges, nicknamed Bruno, the very French, very charming (though stalwart) lone police officer of the rural village of St. Denis in the historic Dordogne area of France. Bruno is a veteran of the tragedies of the Bosnian war, happy to have found his peaceful niche. Village life agrees with him - the rhythm of the countryside agrees with him.
Bruno probably kissed a hundred women and shook the hands of at least as many men each market-day morning. First this morning was Fat Jeanne, as the schoolboys called her. The French, who are more attuned to the magnificent mysteries of womanhood than most, may be the only people in the world to treasure the concept of the jolie laide, the plain or even ugly woman who is so well at ease in herself and so cheerful in her soul that she becomes lovely. Fat Jeanne was a jolie laide of some fifty years, almost perfectly spherical in shape. The old brown leather satchel in which she collected the modest fees that each stallholder paid for the privilege of selling in the market of St. Denis thumped heavily against Bruno's thigh as Jeanne, squealing with pleasure to see him, turned with surprising speed and proffered her cheeks to be kissed in ritual greeting. Then she gave him a fresh strawberry from Madame Verniet's stall, and Bruno broke away to kiss the roguish old farmer's widow on both wizened cheeks in greeting.
Author Martin Walker (who lives in the southwest of France part of the year) seems to take pleasure in revealing the delights of small town French life where, apparently, brutal crime is something that takes place far away in another time and place.
But when a truly horrendous murder disrupts the routine of the village and captures the glare of the press and the entire country, Bruno knows that life in St. Denis may never be the same again. The victim is an elderly Arab veteran, a recipient of the Croix de Guerre and grandfather to a well liked, long established local family. At first labeled a 'hate crime' by the authorities from Paris who descend on the village, it becomes apparent to Bruno fairly soon that the hate involved may instead be an ugly remnant from a time most Frenchmen would rather forget: the dark, treacherous days of WWII.
They went back into the room that looked like a slaughterhouse and was beginning to smell like one. The firemen were clearing up the equipment and the room kept flaring with light as a gendarme took photos. Karim kept his eyes firmly away from his grandfather's corpse and pointed to the wall by the side of the fireplace. There were two nails in the wall but nothing hanging on either one.
"It's gone," Karim said, shaking his head. "That's where he kept it. He said he was saving it to give to his first grandson. The medal's gone. And the photo."
"What photo?" Bruno asked.
Author Martin Walker has fashioned a quietly paced yet gripping thriller, a roman policier which bares the heart and often secretive soul of small town village life. And in Bruno he has created an intelligent, charming, in many ways typically French, hero who may grow to equal the great Maigret in fame and acumen. If you love France, dream about France, long to visit (as I do) or have visited often and have plans to go back (lucky you), then this book is for you. It's also for you if you just like a gripping tale of vengeance and murder peppered with good food and drink.
The second in the series, The Dark Vineyard (A Mystery of the French Countryside) is already available and as I said, I think this is the start of a beautiful friendship.
Sunday, August 22, 2010
Saturday, August 21, 2010
Friday, August 20, 2010
I've discovered that some book blogs use Friday as a day to remind readers of 'forgotten' books deserving of more than just a desultory look the first time around. What with so much being published all the time, so much to read and so little time to really play catch-up, it's often easy enough to overlook a good book lost in the shuffle of time. I posted earlier about some other forgotten books and listed some of my favorites then (you can check the Older Posts if you like, for They Died in Vain), but when I learned of 'Forgotten Friday' I liked the idea and thought I'd join in. I'm not sure if I have to officially notify anyone, but if I do, I'll figure it out. In the meantime, here's my 'forgotten' nominee for today, Friday, August 20th.
Thursday, August 19, 2010
To learn more about Iris Apfel, check here.
Wednesday, August 18, 2010
Tuesday, August 17, 2010
Since I seem to be in the minority in my lack of affection for the Stieg Larsson trilogy, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest and The Girl Who Played With Fire, I can't claim to be overjoyed at the casting news. But I do like Daniel Craig (to me he is the ultimate James Bond), so I may see the films eventually.