Saturday, August 30, 2008

Summer's End

There seems to be a rising tide of tension among the mystery community.
Shorter tempers, less tolerance for jokes and careless asides. There’s also a noticeable effort by various newsgroup mavens to clamp down on the amount of “unnecessary” cyber space taken up with repetitious messages and tails. I wonder why that is? Unless of course there is a charge being levied for the amount of space being taken by the Internet messages. And, if that’s the case, wouldn’t a better ploy be to help hunt down and root out the massive spammers who take up far more space than do a few unfortunates like me who forget sometimes to edit the messages we’re responding to?

Maybe it’s my age but I find the restrictions on the quoting of messages to be often so restrictive that unless I am able to follow threads from the beginning—and I am not, having another rich and time-filled life—the truncated messages become impenetrable.

There are a lot of complaints about local and national campaign negativity. More attacks and fewer thoughtful explorations of “issues.” I spent an interesting hour with Science Friday, an NPR program, I commend to your attention, in which a discussion of the psychology of persuasion was deeply dissected. Turns out we humans react much more strongly to negativism. We remember it more and negative criticism of opponents has a much more lasting effect. Must be why attack ads and stories particularly in political campaigns are so persistent.

But I have to say, today’s campaigns are a faint and soft shadow of past and bygone eras. If you want some laughs and a chance to admire some really creative insults, read Shakespeare and then look at some of the treatises from political campaigns of the early eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

August 30,
Labor day arrives, signaling the end of another summer. After we rebuilt our deck, I installed a couple of outdoor speakers so now on nice days like this one, I can sit in the sun or breezes and work while listening to some good jazz on the radio. It’s a relief from the incessant drum beating of poorly conceived political advertising.

And while I think of it, WARNING rant follows.
I worked in television for many years. I’m almost embarrassed to admit it after the crappy and abysmal coverage of the Democratic convention in Colorado. You just watch, there will be more of the same when the Republican Convention comes to Saint Paul. I asked a radio news producer about that. “We can’t turn our air waves over to the politicians,” he said indignantly.

Well, first, it isn’t his air waves. Broadcasting air space belongs to the people. That was firmly established in the last century. And second, why should the politicians not have a chance to speak to the body politic without filters? Especially since those talking heads have so little of substance to say! Who, you may ask. Here’s a list, in case I miss somebody, omissions are not deliberate. I did watch and listen. I’m a political junky, among other things. In no particular order: NBC, CBS, ABC, NPR, MPR, Fox, CNN, MSNBC, who’d I miss?

Coverage, in a word, was appalling. What we got from Charlie, Jim, Rita, Ben, Wolf, George, Cindy, Gwen and the others was mostly blather. Childish squabbles, phony attempts to hype non-events or issues. Interruption after interruption. Long explanations of insignificant issues, endless speculation about wisps in the wind. A good deal of the coverage was Blitzerized, that is, offered in wide-eyed breathless cadence.

Meanwhile, a political leader of some group was speaking to the convention. But nobody outside the hall knows what they said. I was appalled and embarrassed. The arrogance was frightening. Apparently the suits in charge of the media in this nation think we can’t interpret things for ourselves after hearing political presentations. Apparently they think the American Public is ignorant and functioning at a pre-school level. Sorry, didn’t mean to insult pre-school children.

So, just remember when you settle down to watch the Republican convention next week and some fool interrupts the chair, or the president or the mayor of Minneapolis to tell you something you’d already figured out or didn’t need to know anyway, I told you so.

Some years ago, there was a first class sports announcer working in the Upper Midwest. Ray Scott was his name. Why, when he called play-by-play for college or professional football on television, he’d let a whole play go by saying nary a word. I guess he figured viewers could make out what was happening on the field. We got names and commentary between plays. Made it sorta almost like being there.

It’s a really fine novel by Don Winslow. An interesting sidelight is that a thousand years ago there used to be a radio drama called Don Winslow of the Navy. One of the episodes was titled “The Dawn Patrol.”

That has nothing to do with the novel. This is a surfer novel. That is to say its about a small clique of surfers, all with serious jobs, careers even, except for the main character, ex-cop Boone Daniels. He works just enough to maintain his surfing-oriented lifestyle in Pacific Beach, California. Then this hard-ass female lawyer turns up and hires Boone to find a missing witness in an insurance case. This assignment eventually involves Boone with almost every skel or righteous character in the county in some way, And what is so intriguing about this well-written novel is not just the way Boone’s friends become enmeshed, but the effects on the Dawn Patrol.

I’ll have a longer review of The Dawn Patrol at The Mystery Morgue before long. I strongly recommend this novel.

Speaking of things mysterious, did you know The Minnesota Crime Wave has just released an audio version of its anthology, RESORT TO MURDER. It was done in cooperation with a classy outfit called Holton House Audio.

I note that Yuri Nosenko just died. He was a Soviet agent who spied for the US and eventually defected. Our response was to take all he could give us and clap him into solitary confinement, lights on 24, almost no human contact, etc. Sound familiar? There was a man high in the CIA who was sure Nosenko was really spying for the Soviets.
Eventually, after three years of abuse we released him to resettlement somewhere in the southern part of the US, belatedly given money and a new life. Nosenko had access to important Soviet records and is principally responsible for providing evidence that convinced most people that Lee Harvey Oswald was not a Soviet agent. Just before his death he was recognized by this nation for his contributions to our counter-intelligence operations. Nosenko was 81.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

New Reviews

Some of these books were published several years ago, but they should not be forgotten


By Jane Finnis

ISBN 1590581938

Pub 2005 by Poisoned Pen Press

338 pages, Hard Cover $24.95

This is Jane Finnis second historical adventure set in the Britannia of Roman times. It is another winner. We are in the first century of modern dating. The location is set near Eboracum, a Roman town that evolved over the years into the city of York. The story concerns the family, workers and slaves, of a local innkeeper named Aurelia Marcella, her younger sister Albia, and her much-traveled and somewhat undisciplined older brother, Lucius.

The time of the year is December and the Roman citizens are preparing for their winter celebration, called Saturnalia. As anyone who has planned large celebrations knows, one hopes for appropriate weather, decent guests and a minimum of unplanned uproar. As soon as Lucius arrives from the garrison town one frigid night, Aurelia’s flee like geese in the thrall of an autumn day. Lucius arrives at about midnight. In those times wandering about the countryside after dark was often dangerous and was looked on with great suspicion. Lucius bring unsettling news. He is fleeing an irate husband. He was discovered dallying with the wife of an important official stationed in Londinium. Now there are suspicions that the family Marcella is plotting with others to overthrow Caesar.

That there are plotters scattered across Britain is undeniable and Lucius has been sent by his superiors to go deep undercover to discover who the plotters against Caesar may be. Is there a connection between Lucius affair and the slander against his family and his new assignment? There is more to be discovered and while Aurelia worries about her brother, combats the scandal mongers, and prepares for Saturnalia, a quarrelsome group of guests arrive to stay at the inn.

It’s almost all too much for the bright and intrepid Aurelia. But this is after all, a novel and we know Aurelia will solve the mystery. She has too, because the author’s growing audience wants to read more adventures of this charming, intelligent and witty innkeeper.

Jane Finnis has suggested that those who consider history as a dead topic are in error, and here is ample evidence of the charm, the wit and the fascination any reader can find in these novels of ancient Roman times.



BY Mary Anna Evans

ISBN: 1590580567

Poisoned Pen Press

May, 2003


A thriller with an angst-ridden interesting female protagonist.

The protagonist in this interesting novel, Faye Longchamp, is a mixed-race single female who can usually pass in either camp, yet is clearly uncomfortable in either. Moreover, neither camp is welcoming. Consequently, Faye Longchamp, bright, ambitious, wary of entanglements, generally goes her own way.

She’s technically a squatter, living in the ruins of her ancestral home on a small island on the western coast of Florida, an area known as the panhandle. Title to the land is in question and her situation constantly grows more desperate as she tries to find the money to pay taxes and living expenses. She’s a pothunter as well as an experienced and well-trained archeologist. These conflicting elements of her life, as well as her personality and background, even more than her racial composure, raise conflicts and a considerable amount of angst on an almost daily basis. Then she unearths a body and two young interns on the professional dig where she is working are murdered.

The deaths close down the site and leave Faye without a job and without income. Clever plotting takes the reader inside Faye’s life, inside her family history and through a compelling history lesson. Archeology is far more than the simple antiseptic study of old bones and former generational trash. Author Evans infuses vibrant life to the history of the region and the nation through the circumstances of one family. Her illumination of the region and its special characteristics is excellent. The story lines move with vitality and good pace.

Although there are a few to many coincidences in the plot for some readers, the lively characters, unique and fascinating locale and the competent writing carries us through.


Baltimore Blues

by Laura Lippman

Publisher: Avon Books, Inc.

ISBN: 0-380-78875-6

pub. date: February, 1997

290 pages, paper

This author has become an important voice in the mystery genre. ( I wrote that line ten years ago) Lippman’s observant eye, her skill with the language, and her sense of pace and timing are all on exhibit here. If Tess Monaghan, ex-newspaper reporter, is not the most unusual lead character readers may have encountered, many of the other characters are unusual enough to satisfy our needs. Moreover, as a character that shines and sometimes dominates in these pages, the city of Baltimore is a star.

This excellent first mystery presents us with Tess’ buddy and fellow rower, Darryl Paxton, accused of the murder of a prominent Baltimore attorney. Out of work anyway, Tess agrees to help Paxton’s attorney build a defense. In her sometimes emotional and mistake-ridden efforts to help Paxton, Tess encounters several off-beat characters ranging through the many levels of Baltimore’s social structure. Some of them are ordinary, and some are fascinating, and some threatening.

Lippman writes with economy and verve, and if Monaghan spends a little too much time in internal communication, it’s a small price to pay to be present at the beginning of what will become a strong mystery series.