Friday, August 30, 2019

FFB: BLACKWATER, Kerstin Ekman

Blackwater, Kerstin Ekman

Long before the Scandinavian surge of crime fiction of today, a few Swedish writers caught my attention and one in the 1990s was Kerstin Ekman. In face, I think I came across this one the year we lived in England.

The plot centers on teacher and mother, Annie Raft, and is set in the 70s, and focuses on events surrounding, and following a double murder at the Blackwater lake in Sweden.

The victims of the murder are two tourists visiting Northern Sweden to explore its forested wilderness. They are discovered by Annie Raft, herself new to the region, as she and her young daughter Mia scrabble through the forest, searching for the commune where her lover awaits and where they are to start life anew away from the turmoil of their lives in Southern Sweden.

Things also deteriorate in the commune. Paradise is not what it seems, nor is Annie's lover. It is years later when this story concludes.

Ekman explores the degradation occurring to the environment at the same time she sets up this plot. The darkness of the land mirrors the darkness of the people who inhabit it. She also examines the animosity between Swedes and Laplanders in the region. From reviews on amazon, I see that this book was too dark for many readers, but we both enjoyed it at the time.

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Movies, movies, movies. And the best of them was TOY STORY 4. Truly. But I also liked REMEMBER MY NAME, which was a doc about David Crosby. I can't believe his voice is still great at 76. I also can't believe he has lost all of his friends.
Lovely weather in Michigan. But the mold is killing me from all the rain earlier in the summer.
Kevin was here Saturday night and between us we managed to lose the sound on the TV. I have a new cable box and remote and have not mastered it yet. We finally fixed it and proceeded to watch six episodes of THE OFFICE. I understand board games are undergoing a revival and I should pick up a few.
As always thanks to my friends for keeping me busy. If it was not for them....
Reading THE HOUSE OF BROKEN ANGELS by Urrea, about a Mexican family in San Diego. Pretty impressive.
Watching SUCCESSION, the funniest show about a horrible family. Great writing. Also MINDHUNTER, which is very good but very scary.  Have watched four episodes of ELEMENTARY, which is not bad but probably best watched one show a week.
What about you?

Friday, August 23, 2019


MY COUSIN RACHEL, Daphne DuMaurier

The story takes place in the 1840s in Cornwall. Philip's whole life centers around his Uncle Ambrose, his guardian, and their life in the country. When Ambrose begins to suffer health problems, he goes to Italy where he falls under the spell of Cousin Rachel. His letters home to Philip begin as odes of love but over time become dark. When he suddenly dies, Philip goes to Florence to ascertain the reasons for his death.

Initially suspicious of Cousin Rachel, Philip soon falls under her spell and alters his inheritance to make her the primary beneficiary of his uncle's estate. It is unclear for much of the book as he goes from complete suspicion, to devotion, to suspicion again whether he is falling ill from the same brain fever or disease that took his uncle or whether Rachel has a hand in both of their fates. (Much of her time is spent fooling with herbs and medicinal plants).
Is this a book about jealousy, disease or evil? I think you will come to your own conclusion by the end, but it may not be the same as mine.

This is a masterpiece of suspense. The type of book you will think about for many days following its ending.

Monday, August 19, 2019


A friend has invited me to share an apartment with her on Treasure Island (FL) for a few weeks in Feb-March, which is very nice and I am certainly considering doing that. Getting out of Michigan that time of year is great. We have spent a lot of time together in Traverse City so we know we are compatible. We are both movie-goers, concert lovers and readers and walkers. I have even got her reading Jussi Adler-Olsen after seeing a movie from his work in TC.

Saw LUCE and really admired it. So seldom a movie tries to confront as many issues as this one did. Naomi Watts is such a great actress. I am reminded of my favorite movie with her, THE PAINTED VEIL.

Started MINDHUNTER on Netflix and am not sure I am interested enough. It seems even more like a documentary this year. And sadly these serial killers don't differ much one from another.

Has anyone watched ELEMENTARY? Is it worth the seven seasons?

I have a great brother who is helping me decide what to do with a pretty large amount of money. I was ready to invest it but last week changed my mind.  There is no point putting money in the market just as it is about to go down. Jeff is about all the family I have from my generation. And now it turns out we are only half-siblings so even nicer of him to help me.

Having lots of allergy-sinus problems. Instead of being nasal it goes to my sinuses. And then I am dizzy and now that I am alone here, I have to be more careful that I don't fall and crack my head or hip on all the stone floors. The police here suggest you install a box outside your house with a house key and your medical cards in it. Has anyone done this?

Great weather here. The first half of the summer it rained but the last six weeks or so has been terrific. 

What are you guys up to?

Friday, August 16, 2019


Richard Wheeler passed away in February. Events caused me to first miss it and then neglect to post it on here. Richard would write to me every so often about music he loved and the books he thought I might like. None of them were crime novels.  He liked uplifting stories.
Here is his obit.  
What a great career he had!!  The Western Writers of America honored him with six Spur Awards, the 2001 Owen Wister Award for lifetime achievement and a 2015 induction into its Hall of Fame.
And this bio of Max Perkins is one of my very favorite bios. 
Richard S. Wheeler was the author of more than eighty contracted or published novels that largely deal with the American West. These include historical novels, biographical novels, and traditional western fiction. In recent years he's been writing mysteries, including some set in the upper Midwest, under the pseudonym Axel Brand. He also has written numerous short stories.

Max Perkins: Editor of Genius, by A. Scott Berg

I've finished rereading Scott Berg's great biography of Maxwell Perkins, which won the National Book Award in 1978. It is a massive book and took a week to get through. I've often wondered why it is my favorite book, and why I return to it with renewed thirst and joy, every little while.

For a long time, I thought it was because I had been a book editor and found common ground with Perkins. Or perhaps it was because my family is rooted in New England, though I grew up in the Midwest. There was something in Max Perkins' shy, awkward, introspective nature that rang bells in me.

The truth of it is that I have no idea why that book stands above all others in that place of the heart where I build altars. It is largely a description of the way Perkins, a Scribners editor, nurtured several wayward authors and the result was the most sublime period in American literary history. The list of those he encouraged and published is too long for this posting, but they include Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Thomas Wolfe, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, Ring Lardner, Edmund Wilson, Erskine Caldwell, Sherwood Anderson, John P. Marquand, S. S. Van Dine, Taylor Caldwell, Alice Roosevelt Longworth, Alan Paton, and James Jones. No other editor has even come close to discovering and publishing a list like that.

Scott Berg writes tenderly. He had his hands full, because of the acrimony, the disappointments, the bitterness, the craziness, the hurt, that he was chronicling. Somehow Perkins managed to nurture each of his authors, supplied the specific criticisms that lifted their books to new heights, all the while trying to remain anonymous because he felt that editors should not take credit or be known to the public. He often said that a book belongs to the author, and it is the editor's task simply to bring out the best in the author and the book.

This great work by Berg shaped me. It deeply affected how I think about literature. It changed what I aspire to in my writing. I am not the same person I was before this book entered the place of honor on my shelf. I lost my father, whom I loved and admired, when I was young. All those authors he nurtured lost a father when Max Perkins died.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Forgotten Movies: DON'T LOOK NOW

Eesh-that will wake you up.

Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie star in Nicholas Roeg's 1973 adaptation of Daphne DuMaurier's story. Venice has never looked less lovely, filmed almost entirely at night or on rainy days.

A couple loses a child in a drowning. Sometime later they go to Venice where the man is restoring a church. The woman meets two older women who seem to have psychic gifts and are in touch with the lost child.

The man, a non-believer in otherworldly information, is at risk again and again. A warning seems to come from the lost child.

This is a frightening movie from start to finish. Other than an extended sex scene, there are no happy minutes. Everyone seems vaguely threatening including the police, the priest, the hotel keeper, the two sisters. And yet only the final scene has any real violence in it. So cleverly done.

Monday, August 12, 2019


Enjoyed ONCE UPON A TIME...IN HOLLYWOOD although the final scene in retrospect is strange. Don't want to ruin it, but he evokes some sympathy for the Manson girls by ending it the way he does.
Did not think much of THE FAREWELL. It was a nice enough movie but it was threadbare beyond its basic concept. There was not enough plot. Plus Awkwafina's glum, one-note performance was annoying.And how little we learned about the characters beyond their dislike of giving or getting bad news.A wedding banquet scene lasted as long as most banquets and I was reminded of Ang Lee's THE WEDDING BANQUET, which was a wittier and far better movie.
Reading a book about the Flint water crisis for my book group. I don't think it is a good discussion book. It will just lead to all of us bemoaning the state of our government, which has only got worst in the last two years.
Thanks to my friends I have been able to get out of the house every day this week. As long as I keep moving, I survive. Thoughts of the coming winter are frightening.
What about you?

Thursday, August 08, 2019

Friday's Forgotten Books: A WIDOW'S STORY

This is the second time I have read this. The first time it was just because of its good reviews.
More than Joan Didion's book on her loss, JCO's book spoke to me. I think we were both married to men who excelled in taking care of us. Her loss was sudden; mine was long, but both had a lot in common otherwise. Living largely in the academic world, much of it was so familiar. And her early years were in Detroit, which resonated.

She struggled with insomnia, depression. She realized after Ray's death there was a lot of Ray hidden from her. I would agree with this. Do men keep more of their past to themselves than women. I am not sure.

JCO would  marry again within a year, but now her second husband has died. I can't help but wonder if the second time is easier for her. Has the first experience lessened or worsened the second?
And will she write about it? Of course.

Traverse City Film Festival 15

The festival continues to be better organized every year. You can park your car outside of town and take a shuttle (they run every 15 minutes) from venue to venue or restaurant to restaurant. The quality of the films continues to impress. And there are panels on most film-related topics if you need a break. Seven venues show films six times a day. There are hundreds of films, heavy on the docs but that seems to be what most of the movie goers like. Lily Tomlin was the special guest this year and lots of the directors and actors were there to introduce their films.

People come from all over the country, hungry to see movies but also to talk to like-minded people. I saw 15 films--not all were great but none were awful. My favorites were MOTHER'S INSTINCT (a Hitchcockian Belgian film), THE PURITY OF VENGEANCE (a film based on the Danish Jussi Adler-Olsen novel), C'EST LA VIE, ( a French film about a wedding planner), BALLOON, a German film about an escape from East Germany) and ROSIE, an Irish film about a homeless family. Two films I missed--one because Michael Moore talked so long at another venue it had already begun when I got there and the seats were gone. 

So clearly I go for the foreign films. We were lucky enough to be able to stay with friends or the cost would be exorbitant. The weather was great-mostly in the seventies although it was in the forties one night. Lots of good restaurants. A good time was had by all.