Monday, December 31, 2012


My Year in Summary

Kevin in New York
I read 42 books, 365 short stories, 16 plays and 59 movies at a theater. No doubt the short story reading cut at least 5 books off of my usual tally. I actually read more than 365 stories because I didn't finish some of the lousy ones. I doubt I will read a story a day this year because the actual picking out a story every day was time consuming. The movie watching is clearly an expensive hobby for me. But I see at least half of them for $5 at a matinee.Why am I guilty for not reading more books and guilty for seeing too many movies? Goal next year to read at least one book a week. Thirty years ago, I read three books a week.

What about you?I know you all did better than this.

Say Something Good About Detroit: Michigan Science Center

The Detroit Science Center, which went belly-up a year or so ago, has now been replaced with the hopefully more financially solvent, Michigan Science Center. Same location but perhaps better exhibits and more money backing it. The DSC was woefully dark and dreary and too much like your mother's science center.

Its success remains to be seen since the funding is less than what the DSC enjoyed and the staff is less than half of the former's. Wait and see, I guess. But I admire the people who keep trying. 

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Sunday Night Poetry: Carol Ann Duffy

Ventriloquism and Other Scary Pastimes.

This was an odd little documentary about ventriloquist, Nina Conti, who takes the bereaved puppets of her now dead mentor (Ken Campbell) to a convention in Kentucky. Venthaven is the resting place for old puppets and getting me inside such a place would be akin to getting me into a coffin while still alive.

Dummies, as we used to call them, have always been one of my horrors and it probably comes from a Twilight Zone episode where the puppet controlled his master.

Do puppets freak you out? How about animals dressed like humans? Okay, what does?

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Saturday Night Music: The Walkmen

Crime fiction v. Mysteries

I would really like to return to calling crime fiction mysteries. It saves typing or saying two words. And also the general public often thinks I am talking about true crime when I say crime fiction despite the word fiction.

And truthfully doesn't all crime fiction have a mystery in it. It may not be a puzzle to solve.But there is always a mystery as to why someone did it, how will they be caught, where they are, what led to the crime, etc.

Mysteries carries the whole genre with it--it embraces different stories. Crime fiction seems to want to cut off what came earlier.

What do you think?

Friday, December 28, 2012

Friday Night Music: She and Him

The Summing Up, Friday, December 28, 2012

 My review of STARLET is up at Crimespree Cinema.

The Summing Up, Friday, December 28, 2012

Patti Abbott, We Have Always Lived in the Castle, Shirley Jackson
Sergio Angelini, 1954, Donald Hamilton
Joe Barone ,WRACK AND RUNE by Charlotte MacLeod
Les Blatt,Too Many Clients, Rex Stout
Bill Crider, Passage by Night, Hugh Marlowe
Scott Cupp, Roads, Seabury Quinn 
Martin Edwards, Who Saw Her Die, Patricia Moyes 
Elizabeth Foxwell, Crime Hound, Mary Semple Scott    
 Jerry House, Shadows in the Sun, Chad Oliver
Randy Johnson,Getting in the Wind, Harlan Ellison
George Kelley,Desperate Days, Selected Mysteries, Vol 2. Jack Vance
Margot Kinberg, Karin Alvtegen’s Betrayal
Rob Kitchin, Crime at Christmas.CHB Kitchin
B.V. Lawson,Under the Snow, Kerstin Ekman
Evan Lewis,The Crooking Finger, Cleve F. Adams
Steve Lewis,Blye Moon, Peter Duchin and John Morgan Wilson
Todd Mason,Monad, edited by Damon Knight
J.F. Norris,Sunday Pigeon Murders, Craig Rice
Neer,The Jungle, Upton Sinclair
James Reasoner,Private Club, Orrie Hitt
Richard Robinson, The Coroner's Lunch, Colin Cotterill
Ron Scheer,Nevada, Zane Gray
Michael Slind, Clandestine, James Ellroy
Kevin Tipple/Barry Ergang, The Murder's Book, Tage la Cour and Harald Mogensen
Prashant Trikannad ,Atlantic Scramble, Don Pendleton and Gar Wilson
Zybahn, Blood and Water and other Tales, Patrick McGrath

Friday's Forgotten Books: Friday, December 28, 2012

WE HAVE ALWAYS LIVED IN THE CASTLE. -This is an amazing novel on my second reading, decades after my first. Its characters are few, they are pretty much nailed to one spot, and not much action takes places. Its high quality depends on Jackson's ability to create characters that speak and act like real people despite being essentially ghosts. You can easily see the mind that created both THE LOTTERY and THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE in this novel. It was her last novel, written in 1962, three years after HILL HOUSE.

The Blackwood family lost four of its members six years earlier. Since then Mary Katherine, a teenager, her older sister Charlotte and the elderly and ill Uncle Julian haven't strayed farther than the country store. Uncle Julian lives completely in the past, reliving a specific day in time. Charlotte spends her time cooking, canning and hiding. And Mary Katherine (Merricat) dreams and devises spells to protect them. The townspeople thinkCharlotte got away with murder and Merricat's trips into town incite their rage and amusement at the Blackwood's fate. When Cousin Charles comes to stay with them, he sets events into motion that send the family even farther into isolation. He is a villain you can really hate.

The writing in this novel is sublime. Jackson creates a world that is both seductive and frightening. I read this as a teenager but I think it takes an adult to appreciate what strong characters Jackson created.
Jackson died at age 48. What a loss. I can only imagine the novels she might have written if she had lived longer.

Todd Mason will collect the links next Friday. 

Sergio Angelini 
Joe Barone ,
Les Blatt,
Bill Crider,
Scott Cupp,
Martin Edwards,
Elizabeth Foxwell
Jerry House
Randy Johnson,
George Kelley,
Margot Kinberg, 
Rob Kitchin
B.V. Lawson,
Evan Lewis,
Steve Lewis,
Todd Mason,
J.F. Norris,
James Reasoner,
Richard Robinson
Ron Scheer,
Michael Slind, 
Kevin Tipple/Barry Ergang
Prashant Trikannad ,

Thursday, December 27, 2012

My Life in the Theater: A Little Night Music

Strangely enough this is the first Sondheim production I have seen and we saw it last week at the Performance Network in Ann Arbor. It was terrific. Now I am keen to see more. Music and lyrics by Sondheim, book by Hugh Wheeler based on a Bergman film SMILES OF A SUMMER NIGHT.

Is radio a big part of your life?

At one time, radio filled in my day. Not so much music as Tiger games and various radio talk shows (but not political ones). In the car, it was always on. Even five years ago, I listened to NPR most of the day at work.
Now, not so much. I tend to cart around my boombox and listen to audio books.
Where did my love of music on the radio go? Why do most radio stations play music that I don't like now when I can find lots of great music on the NPR site for instance.
Why are all the general interest radio shows gone?

Do you listen to the radio much?

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Opening Credits: Grease


What are some of your favorite books that are set in Southern California? We have a few Robert Crais and Michael Connelly. What else other than Chandler era writers? 

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Monday, December 24, 2012

Movie Themes" How the Grinch Stole Christmas

Forgotten Movies: COMFORT AND JOY

COMFORT AND JOY is a 1984 Scottish film starring Bill Patterson and directed by Bill Forsyth that concerns the misadventures of a radio DJ who loses his girlfriend and become involved in a feud between to rival ice cream vans. You have to be a lover of the small films, but I am one of those people.

Have a very Merry Christmas.

Friday, December 21, 2012

The Summing Up, Friday, December 21, 2012

Patti Abbott, A Little Maid of Philadelphia, Alice Turner Curtis
Sergio Angelini  A Closed Book, Gilbert Adair
Joe Barone , The Body in the Library, Agatha Christie
Les Blatt, Laurels are Poison, Gladys Mitchell
Bill Crider, World of Weird, Leo Marguilies, editor
Scott Cupp, Roads, Seabury Quinn
Martin Edwards, Who Saw Her Die, Patricia Moyes
Curt Evans, Smoke Screen, Christopher, Hale
Randy Johnson, Tha Accused, Harold R. Daniels
George Kelley, The Original Hardy Boy Series, Franklin W. Dixon
Margot Kinberg, Maisie Dobbs, Jacqueline Winspear
B.V. Lawson, Christmas Anthologies
Evan Lewis, Nightmare Town, Dashiell Hammett
Steve Lewis, Murder on Ince, Alina Adams
Todd Mason, Who Fears the Devil, Manly Wade Wellman
Terrie Moran, Dangerous Women, ed. Otto Penzler
J.F. Norris, The Sunday Pigeon Murders, Craig Rice
Neer, Mura and the Mahatma, Sudher Kakar
Juri Nummelin, The Eighth Circle, Stanley Ellin
Deb Pfeifer, The Flight of the Falcon, Daphne du Maurier
David Rachels, City of Refuge, Kenzo Kitakata
James Reasoner, This Is It, Michael Shayne, Brett Hallday
Richard Robinson, A Gladiator Dies Only Once, Steven Saylor
Gerard Saylor , Plays of the 60s, Volume 3, ed. Katherine Brisbane
Ron Scheer, Trooper Tales, Will Levington Comfort
Michael Slind, The Problem of the Wire, John Dickson Carr
TomCat , The Tell Tale Clock Mystery, Jesse Carmack
Prashant Trikannad , Ten Vintage Books for Christmas
Zybahn, Unthology 2 ed. Robin Jones and Ashley Stokes

Friday's Forgotten Books

THE FLIGHT OF THE FALCON by Daphne du Maurier
(Review by Deb)

This is one of Daphne du Maurier’s lesser-known works and, I would venture, one of her hardest to classify.  The novel’s Italian setting and the gothic, somewhat supernatural air might remind readers of her famous short story, “Don’t Look Now,” but the plot and characters couldn’t be more different.  There are extended flashbacks throughout the book and a very strong parallel between a city’s Renaissance past and its mid-1960s present.  I’ve read most of du Maurier’s work and I really can’t find an appropriate comparison between FALCON (published in 1965) and anything else she wrote.

The story concerns two brothers, Fabbio, the narrator, and his older brother, Aldo.  (There is a mild twist involving Aldo fairly early in the book, which I won’t spoil for those of you who haven’t read it. However, it is telegraphed rather clumsily, so few will be surprised when it occurs.)  Fabbio is employed as a guide for a company that provides package tours (which were just becoming popular at the time the book was written).  Although he performs his job with professional competence, Fabbio is a rather muted young man, lacking the passion and gusto for living often associated with the cliché of Italian manhood. When he is not working, Fabbio spends much of his time remembering his childhood during World War II in the town of Ruffano where his beautiful mother safeguarded her family by having affairs with first a German and later an American officer.  For many years, Fabbio has stayed away from Ruffano and its memories, but the murder of a former family servant in Rome leads him reluctantly back to his birthplace.

The town of Ruffano (which is entirely the product of du Maurier’s imagination, although it could be based on a number of cities in the alpine areas of Italy) possesses a mountainous geography and Renaissance architecture that make it both hauntingly beautiful and darkly ominous.  Some of the books best passages are du Maurier’s descriptions of the area’s buildings and terrain.  A palace built high in the mountains dominates the town; its highest point is a small balconied room (perhaps at one time a private chapel) which contains a 15th century painting of Christ being tempted by Satan to leap from the balcony and fly over the city.  At one point in Ruffano’s history, a mad Duke, known as the “Falcon,” actually jumped from the tower in an attempt to prove his divine nature. This rather heavy foreshadowing, coupled with the title of the book, will leave few readers guessing what the climax of the story will involve!

Fabbio’s brother, Aldo, a pilot during the war and a much more powerful and vibrant presence than his younger sibling, has established himself as a leader of the university students in Ruffano, gathering around him young people who he leads in a sort of cult of personality.  Aldo’s brand of leadership is looked upon with concern by the town’s authorities who have sharp memories of what happened to Italy during the war under the leadership of another charismatic personality. With the passion (and, some would say, the heedless self-righteousness) of the young, those under Aldo’s direction have formed a secret society that has been known to attack town leaders and people who have opposed their way of seeing things, although nothing can be tied directly back to Aldo. There is concern about an upcoming city-wide celebration and what the secret group might be planning to disrupt the proceedings.  This forthcoming event looms large over the rest of the story.

Once back in Ruffano, Fabbio (or “Beo”—“blessed”—as his childhood nickname would have it) is reunited with his brother.  Although he is supposed to be investigating the murder of the family servant, Fabbio is persuaded to quit his job as a tour guide and work in the university’s library helping to catalogue some very old books.  (For long stretches of the book, the murder that brought Fabbio back to Ruffano seems utterly forgotten.)  The library books, and the centuries-old documents found hidden within their pages, will play a role in the story as the past of the mad “Falcon” and the future of Ruffano (with Aldo as leader?) intertwine.  Aldo’s ease in manipulating his younger brother and Fabbio’s apparent passivity in the face of that manipulation will play out over the course of the novel especially in regards to two female characters:  Signora Butali, a married woman who Fabbio reverently regards as being Madonna-like, but who the reader infers is having an affair with Aldo, and Carla Raspa, a university teacher who is interested in Fabbio, who, in turn, is repulsed by Carla’s more aggressive personality and sexual experience.

The book has an odd subtext: Both homoerotic and homophobic at the same time.  There’s an obvious dominance-submission dynamic between Aldo and Fabbio, starting in their youth; several flashback passages describe the rather strange games the brothers played together—nothing of an actual sexual nature, but with a distinct erotic element.  Fabbio’s excessively uncritical admiration for and obsession with his older brother make it impossible for him to develop a mature relationship with a woman.  And yet, a minor gay character receives short shrift from Fabbio, who expresses disgust at the man’s orientation and lifestyle.  A most peculiar dichotomy—and perhaps indicative of du Maurier’s (and the era’s) own ambivalence toward the subject. It does, however, date the book badly and make it much more of a “time capsule” than many of her other books.

Eventually, the day of the celebration arrives. Various strands of the plot come together and the climax, hinted at throughout the book, takes place.  In some respects, the forces of order and civility triumph, but we’re not sure how Fabbio will eventually come to terms with what has happened.  THE FLIGHT OF THE FALCON is not one of du Maurier’s more successful novels:  The foreshadowing is heavy-handed and, despite some beautifully-descriptive passages of the Italian landscape and architecture, I would certainly not recommend it to someone unfamiliar with her work.  However, for someone who has read a number of her better-known works (such as REBECCA, MY COUSIN RACHEL, and THE BIRDS) and wants to read something completely different from the same author, THE FLIGHT OF THE FALCON would not be a bad choice, if only to show that even the most talented writer won’t hit one out of the park every time they’re up to bat.
This is one of theperhaps the two dozen books I have saved from my childhood. The book is dated 1924 and was published by Penn Publishing Company in Philadelphia. I am not sure how I came upon it (probably from some neighbor or relative) but I remember reading others in the series from our local library.

Alice Turner Curtis set this series of books, which took place during the Revolutionary War, in the thirteen colonies. (A Little Maid of Province Town; A Little Maid of Bunker Hill, A Little Maid of Old New York, etc.) Each of the Little Maid books is the story of an American girl during the Revolution, Miss Curtis tells us in the introduction. She goes on to say that "Children in 1778 were much like girls of today and they were fond of dolls, pets, games and little plays." I guess she wanted to assure potential readers that the books would not be too dry. There are some illustrations. The book seems to be written for girls between 6-10 although the language is more sophisticated than you might expect.

Curtis also set another series on the frontier and another during the Civil War. Altogether she seems to have published more than three dozen books.(Perhaps with some help).

I could find almost nothing about her online although some of these books are now available as ebooks.

Anyone out there remember these? I guess the American girl dolls are similar but in those days, the story was enough.

Sergio Angelini
Joe Barone 
Les Blatt
Bill Crider
Scott Cupp
Martin Edwards
Curt Evans
Randy Johnson
George Kelley
Margot Kinberg
B.V. Lawson
Evan Lewis
Steve Lewis
Todd Mason
Terrie Moran
J.F. Norris
David Rachels
James Reasoner
Richard Robinson
Gerard Saylor 
Michael Slind
Prashant Trikannad

Thursday, December 20, 2012

My Life at the Theater: A Skull In Connemara

Nice little prologue here courtesy of I don't know who but thanks.

We saw this at the Abreacht Theater in September, 2012. I am a sucker for Irish plays and this little theater put on a good production. Martin McDonagh is the playwright.  For one week each autumn, Mick Dowd is hired to dissenter the bones in a local cemetery to make room for new arrivals. As the time comes for him to dig up the bones of his dead wife, rumors begin to circulate about her sudden death seven years before. Really nice production.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Opening Credits: Zombieland

What Movie's Charms Elude You? LOVE ACTUALLY

I have watched this movie several times in an effort to understand why people are so bonkers about it? Call me a grinch but it but it doesn't work for me at all. Too many story lines that all seem underdeveloped and manipulative. And this is surprising because I love the cast. Maybe the third time will be the charm.

What movie, widely loved, eludes you? (Not necessarily Christmas films).

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Tuesday Night Music: Bonnie Raitt

Do Your Real Life Friends Believe in Your Online Friends?

Saturday night, at a dinner party, I mentioned someone I know online and everyone at the table looked at me as if I were crazy. This has happened many times over the years. People think I am imagining all of you.
This time however I was lucky enough to have a couple with me that had met an online friend (Brian Busby) in Canada this summer. So they were able to confirm that I was not crazy and these people actually existed. And these online friends were very nice normal people and not specters or weirdos.
Today another oddity. A woman with a popular blog died and many people wrote tributes to her. Most of them had never met her in person. And yet, they were extremely sad about her loss and wrote poignant memorials. She had extended her circle of friends enormously through her blog.
I suppose there were people in the past who only knew each other through letters as in that Charing Cross story, but on the whole, this is a new phenomenon. 

Do your friends react with horror or disbelief if you mention having online friends. I am not talking about writing a blog so much as having friends you met online. Do you think we are all odd to communicate this way? Now that I have met a few dozen of the people I knew first online, I have to say none of them are weird as much as my real life friends enjoy thinking it.

Forgotten Movies: SEND ME NO FLOWERS

This may not be the most romantic of the Doris Day and Rock Hudson movies, but it is one of the funniest. And it is more Rock's movie than Doris'. Made in 1964 it was the final film they made together and it was directed by Norman Jewison. A lifelong hypochondriac, Rock wrongly believes he is dying. Tony Randall lends his usual helping hand as Rock suffers from his misconception but still tries to do right for the soon to be widowed Doris. A very nice performance by Rock in this one. And Doris is always perfect.

Monday, December 17, 2012

TV Themes: Dr. Who

Congratulations to My Good Friend, Kieran Shea

Titan acquires dystopian debut

Titan Books has bought American author Kieran Shea’s dystopian debut novel Koko takes a Holiday, set in a “strange and brutal hyper-commercialised future world”.
Fiction editor Cath Trechman secured world English rights from Stacia Decker at the Donald Mass Agency, for a five-figure sum. Both a paperback and e-book are to be published in 2014, while the two-book deal will see the novel's sequel, Koko the Mighty, published the following year.
Described as a sci-fi, crime hybrid with a "touch of tenderness and savage charm", the book brings to life a world of “corporate violence, religious hypocrisy, environmental chaos, mercenary friendship and sometimes despite it all, love”.
Trechman said: “Koko Takes a Holiday had me hooked right from the start. Crazy, violent, witty and warm, Koko is a captivating heroine and Kieran’s energetic and stylish writing brings her irresistibly to life.”
Maryland based-Shea has already seen his work published in numerous specialist magazines and crime fiction anthologies including Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, Thuglit Word Riot, Plots with Guns and Needle: A Magazine of Noir.
Crazy, violent, witty and warm, that about sums up Kieran too. It couldn't happen to a nicer guy.

Say Something Good About Detroit: Shaw Books

Shaw Books is located about three miles from my house and I never knew of its existence until last week when I saw a flyer for a sale pinned on the vacant Borders store down the block.
Part of the reason is that Shaw's is only open on Saturdays and by appointment. And the name is not very visible from the street. Two thirds of the shop is in Detroit, one third in Grosse Pointe Park.

Shaw’s Books is a buyer and seller of collectible books and ephemera in most subject areas. The 2,000 square foot book shop is located at 14932 Kercheval in Grosse Pointe Park, Michigan. The shop maintains an inventory of approximately 20,000 volumes. Although Shaw's is generalists relative to categories, they are especially strong in such areas as: Americana, Antiques & Collectibles, Art, Automotive, Aviation, Cookbooks, Decorative Arts, Fine Bindings, Golf, Great Lakes History, Illustrated, Literature, Maritime, Michigan History, Military, Performing Arts, and Sporting of all sorts. Sadly, not crime fiction. If you are interested in any of these categories, see below.

The business was established in 1983 by Hank Zuchowski and he is still proprietor.

It is a lovely collection of gorgeous books in congenial surroundings.

Did you ever run across a book store you didn't even know existed in your town. Amazing.
                                 Shaw´s Books
                               14932 Kercheval
                    Grosse Pointe Park, MI 48230
      Telephone: (313) 824-0816 or (313) 824-4932

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Sunday Night Poetry: Frank O'Hara

What is the best novel or anthology of stories dealing with Christmas?

Probably we are not thinking of A CHRISTMAS CAROL or the Dylan Thomas piece here, but one from the crime fiction, fantasy, western or science fiction community. Or just not the usual choice.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Saturday Night Music: The Shirelles

There may have never been a group I loved more than the Shirelles at age 14. 

A Christmas Gift for me from me?

Be honest now. Have you ever while hunting for gifts for others, bought one for yourself? I have been tempted to do this many times, especially with books I see while shopping online and crave. Right now I am debating ordering the Patrick Melrose collection. So far I have resisted but my library doesn't own it and no one knows I want it so its not likely to turn up under the tree.

Or a CD sometimes. I may do it this year. Or I can pretend to order it for someone and just keep it.

I did it. I ordered a Charlotte Armstrong omnibus. Her name came up one time too many for my self-control.  How about you?

Friday, December 14, 2012

The Summing Up, Friday, December 14, 2012

A review of LINCOLN is up on Crimespree Cinema. 

The Summing Up, Friday, December 14, 2012

Patti Abbott, Blue Heaven, C.J. Box
Sergio Angelini  Murder at Cambridge, Q Patrick
Joe Barone, Rest You, Merry, Charlotte MacLeod
Les Blatt , The Westing Game, Ellen Raskin
Brian Busby , Murder in the Rough, Leslie Allen
Bill Crider, When the Killing Starts, Ted Wood
Scott Cupp  Trouble in Bugland, William Kotzwinkle
Martin Edwards, The Imposter, Helen McCloy
Curt Evans , The Ferguson Affair, Ross Macdonald
Jerry House, The Blank Wall, Elizabeth Sanxay Holding
Randy Johnson, The Aluminum Turtle, Baynard Kendrick
Nick Jones , The Deep Blue Goodbye; Nightmare in Pink, John D. MacDonald
George Kelley, Titus Cros, Brian Lumley
B.V. Lawson , Ambush for Anatol, John Sherman
Evan Lewis , Lost Adventures of the Continental Op, Dashiell Hammett
Steve Lewis Follow as the Night, Patricia McGerr
Todd Mason  WHAT REALLY HAPPENED TO THE CLASS OF '65? by David Wallechinsky and Michael Medved
J.F. Norris, Death on a Ferris Wheel, Aylwin Lee Martin
Deb Pfeifer, The Widower, Georges Simenon
James Reasoner, The Complete Color Terry and the Pirates Vol. 1, Milton Caniff
Richard Robinson. Roscoes in the Night, Robert Leslie Bellem
Gerard Saylor, Holmes on the Range, Steve Hockensmith
Ron Scheer, Agnes Christina Laut, The Freebooters of the Wilderness
Michael Slind, The Long Embrace, Judith Freeman
Kevin Tipple?Barry Ergang The Jugger, Richard Stark
TomCat, Holiday Mysteries
Zybahn , Song of Kali, Dan Simmons

Friday's Forgotten Books, Friday, December 14, 2012

Not exactly a forgotten book since C.J. Box's BLUE HEAVEN won the Edgar in 2009. But I have been meaning to read it and since I did, here is my review. This is a masterful book that manages to tell a fairly complex story in a completely lucid way. There is no fat in the story. It takes place over 48 hours and you can feel those hours ticking by at breakneck speed.
Two kids in northern Idaho watch the murder of a man, see that they've been spotted and are immediately on the run. They are lucky enough to find themselves in the barn of Jess Rawlins, a rancher who is one of the few good men left in his neck of the woods. He is also a hardluck guy who has lost almost everything. But Jess must hide the kids, figure out if their story is true, and determine just who the murderers are and why. Can he trust that what they think they saw really happened. And is it fair to keep the kids away from their worrying mother.
Blue Heaven is a term for the part of northern Idaho that is now a haven for ex-policeman. And some of those ex-policemen have taken over Jess's town for their own purposes. The is an exciting read and a nice introduction to this part of the country. Not a false step in the story and Box creates great villains and great heroes. Not an easy thing to do.

THE WIDOWER by Georges Simenon
(Review by Deb)
“He had just learned too much of the truth, all at once.”  --From THE WIDOWER
As much as I enjoy Simenon’s work, I occasionally find myself wishing he had spent more time developing the characters and expanding the action in some of his books.  He wrote at an incredibly fast pace and, as a result, sometimes his books seem abbreviated, ending abruptly without resolution.  THE WIDOWER (first published in 1959) is actually a case where the rapid-fire forward motion of the plot works in the book’s favor, because it gives the reader a sense of how reality is ceaselessly bombarding a man who has spent much of his life retreating from that very thing.  The book’s rat-a-tat-tat delivery, piling up of newly-uncovered facts upon facts, and the ambiguous ending perfectly reflect what is happening to the main character, a man who lacks the wherewithal to analyze or completely understand the devastating trauma that has taken place in his life.
At six in the evening on a busy Paris street, a commercial artist named Bernard Jeantet walks home in a very deliberate fashion (we later learn that one of his legs is shorter than the other and he walks with great care to hide it).  When he enters his apartment, he discovers that his wife, Jeanne, is not there.  His anxiety at her absence seems at first excessive—but, as he questions the concierge of his apartment building and an upstairs neighbor, we begin to understand that it was not only unusual for Jeanne not to be home when her husband returned from work, it has in fact never happened in the eight years of their marriage.  We also come to realize, as Bernard does not, that other people seem to know more about his wife’s movements than he does.
The very title of this book lets us know right away that Jeanne will not be walking back through the door to alleviate her husband’s growing panic.  Indeed, she is already dead—having committed suicide earlier in the day in a room at a luxe hotel known for its accommodation of trysting couples.  But neither Bernard nor the reader is aware of this and we follow Bernard’s efforts to locate his wife over the next few days (including reporting her missing to the police) while we learn in flashbacks of how the stolid Bernard and the pretty, decade-younger Jeanne came to meet and be married.
Eight years before, Jeanne was working as a prostitute in a run-down hotel across from Bernard’s apartment building.  From his window one evening, Bernard sees her being beaten and slashed by a pimp and comes to her rescue—literally picking her up from the gutter and bringing her to his tiny apartment to recuperate.  During Jeanne’s convalescence, the couple develops a (mostly non-sexual) relationship and eventually they marry.  A local police inspector, Gordes (possibly a Maigret stand-in, being described as rather large and a pipe smoker, with a somewhat cynical outlook), warns Bernard that marriage to a former prostitute will not be successful, but for eight years Bernard believes it has been.
After he marries Jeanne, not wanting to expose her to questions from others about her past life, Bernard cuts off most of the already limited contact he had with his family; and there is no indication that, apart from work colleagues, he ever had a close friend either before or after his marriage.  Jeanne does develop a friendship with the older woman who lives upstairs, but for the most part the couple lives in quiet solitude in the small apartment.  Gratitude on Jeanne’s part for Bernard’s kindness and concern on Bernard’s part that even the slightest disruption in their everyday routine would cause problems lead them to an extremely circumscribed existence.  Simenon carefully shows us what Bernard apparently can’t see—that he has effectively smothered and imprisoned his wife in a two-room apartment.
Bernard’s disabled legs are symbolic of his life:  Although he has learned to walk in a deliberate way that hides his disability, he still has damaged legs; much as while he navigates the elements of “normal” life, he is still a detached man whose only aspiration, beyond making sure that every day transpires just like every other day, is to create a new typeface that he will call the “Jeantet.”   Much of his spare time is spent on the development of this typeface and the apartment walls are covered with Bernard’s prototype letters—and not a single photograph of Jeanne.  Other than shopping for groceries, cooking meals, cleaning the apartment, and spending time with the upstairs neighbor, we do not know what Jeanne does with her time—and neither does Bernard.  It is enough for her incurious husband to know that Jeanne will be there, in the apartment, waiting for him, every evening when he returns from work.
When Jeanne’s body, clad in a white negligee upon a bed strewn with rose petals, is eventually discovered, Bernard feels compelled to understand what has happened—although he still does not see how any action on his part might have driven his wife back to her previous way of life, to a point where eventually she believed she had no other alternative than to kill herself.  As Bernard navigates the complex French bureaucracy for notifying the authorities of Jeanne’s death and arranging for her funeral (Simenon’s description of this overly-complicated procedure is incredibly detailed and feels utterly authentic), he encounters hostility from Jeanne’s money-hungry parents and almost everyone else he meets who is connected in any way to Jeanne.  Bernard doesn’t question the cause of their hostility any more than he responds to the kindhearted condolences offered by his boss.  Bernard’s desire to know what has caused Jeanne’s suicide is at odds with his inability to process information that forces him to look at life in a different way.  As Inspector Gorges notes, Bernard cannot cope with things that “failed to fit in with reality as he knew it.”
With some “unofficial” help from Gorges, Bernard eventually pieces together enough of Jeanne’s story to come to acceptance of her suicide—as to coming to an understanding of it…well, that’s another thing altogether.  (We discover on the book’s last page that no one, including the reader, will ever know Jeanne’s entire story.)  Oddly enough, through Jeanne’s death, Bernard is reunited with his brother and sister-in-law; there is also a hint that Bernard might try to see his mother and his sister again.  He even seriously considers the possibility of providing a home for a young orphan boy being fostered by the upstairs neighbor—although the neighbor has qualms, as does the reader.  Yes, Bernard has changed somewhat as the result of his wife’s suicide; but if he will ever be able to connect with anyone in a meaningful way—that is left for us to decide.

Sergio Angelini
Joe Barone
Les Blatt
Brian Busby
Bill Crider
Scott Cupp
Martin Edwards
Curt Evans
Jerry House
Randy Johnson
Nick Jones
George Kelley
B.V. Lawson
Evan Lewis
Steve Lewis
Todd Mason
J.F. Norris
James Reasoner
Richard Robinson
Gerard Saylor
Ron Scheer
Michael Slind
Kevin Tipple

Thursday, December 13, 2012

My Life in the Theater: Cymbeline

We saw this production at Lincoln Center in 2007. It's a difficult play and not performed very often. It was truly a star-studded cast but not my favorite play and it was a bland production. A strike on Broadway was just ending and this was one of the few plays up and running. Ah well. 

What Book Has Been Waiting for You the Longest?

I was reading Will Schwalbe's new book, THE END OF YOUR LIFE BOOK CLUB and in it he mentioned that he had been meaning to read CROSSING TO SAFETY (Stegner) for years.

Now I have read that one twice but there are one or two or ten books I have had on my shelf since we married 45 years ago.

They tend to be Russian novels mostly, but the one I don't understand not reading is THE HEART OF THE MATTER, since I like Graham Greene a lot. But every time I pick it up, some new fellow catches my eye and I put it aside.

What book has been on your shelf unread the longest?

Wednesday, December 12, 2012


My Favorite Supporting Actor

Although he had had the occasional leading man role (BLUE CAR) David Strathairn is basically a supporting actor. In the recent film, Lincoln, his was my favorite performance. What supporting actors are memorable to you? Am I the only Strathairn fan?