Thursday, November 02, 2017

MN ORCHESTRA CONCERT MOVING, BRILLIANT AND TROUBLING

Privileged today (Thurs. 11/2) to attend the Minnesota Orchestra concert in recognition of the beginning of the Protestant Reformation 500 years ago with Luther's 95 declarations nailed to the church in Wittenberg. The concert began with a series of J.S. Bach pieces that featured marvelous flute work by Adam Kuenzel. Then we moved on to Felix Mendelssohn's Symphony #5, the Reformation. Never have I heard this symphony performed with such wide dynamic range The subtle nuances called forth by the able baton of Osmo Vanska was wide-ranging and very moving. Finally, with the aid of the Minnesota Chorale enhanced by students of Saint Paul's Concordia University, the orchestra performed the difficult and very modern Sebastian Currier Reformation commission, titled Re-Formation. The piece is highly reflective of the state of our nation today; its polyphonic tonalities, multiple rhythmic shifts and fragmented use of Luther's hymns calling out the concerns we all have about life on this planet. All in all it was a relevant, moving and thrilling experience.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

LIFE BLOOD BEATS WITH MYSTERY AND QUIRKY CHARACTER



Life Blood                 
By Penny Rudolph
326 pages, Hard Cover
Poisoned Pen Press, 2007
ISBN: 9781590583463

Another episode in the messy, odd and delightful life of Rachel Chavez, an LA parking garage owner/operator. She’s a hard-nosed softie, a vulnerable surprisingly naive woman who’d had more than her share of disappointments and hard knocks. She lives in a small apartment near the top of the multi-storied garage with a cat, and she hangs out from time to time with a self-styled witch of a bag lady and a wise and practical woman who runs a crew of nighttime office cleaning employees.

Rachel Chavez is a recovering alcoholic with a father who can’t stay away from the poker tables.  She’s in love with a married but divorcing water quality engineer named Hank.  Hank loves Rachel but he’s somewhat put off by Rachel’s willingness to jump into the middle of strange and mysterious goings on in a nearby hospital.  Rachel finds a pair of children locked in an abandoned van in her garage.  One is already tragically dead and the other promptly disappears from the hospital.  This sets Rachel on a rutted and twisting path to find the missing boy.  The results of her nosiness lead to Hank being shot, and Rachel being arrested for stealing Oxy-Contin from the hospital.

Written in a competent and straight-forward style, the author lets her quirky characters speak for themselves and carry the story.  Everybody runs.  Bad guys swirl in and out of scenes, Rachel persists in poking into places she has no business being, and several of her friends become increasingly exasperated with her sometimes thoughtless actions.

It all works out in the end, of course so we’re assured Rachel Chavez will be back for  more off-the-wall and cleverly constructed adventures.  Rudolph writes a good story and even if nobody here comes away with really clean hands, Rachel is a character one cottons to and if her motivations are sometimes weak and questionable, Rudolph carries if off with solid writing, pace and plot.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

KILLER INSTINCT, A KILLER OF A MYSTERY NOVEL



Killer Instinct                
by Marilyn Victor and
Michael Allen Mallory
ISBN: 978-1-59414-894-1
A 2010 Gale/Cenage release
Hard cover, 297 pages

“Snake” Jones, a roaming geologist for the Minnesota Zoo has her film crew up north at the Minnesota Wolf Institute. Her friend Gina Brown, a staff member at the Institute, welcomes her for a little girl-girl re-connection. Snake’s scouting mission and their reunion are rudely interrupted by the discovery of the carcasses of four murdered wolves. DNR and the Wolf Institute set out to find the killer or killers with Snake involved. Their efforts are disrupted the next day when a cranky local citizen, Ivar Bjorklund is found shot to death next to the school bus he drove. A leafy twig clutched in his dead hand may be a clue to his killer.

Complicating the dual investigations into the wolf killings and that of Bjorklund are the surreptitious efforts of what appears to be a seriously radical group of unknown individuals called Save Our Superior or SOS. As the investigations proceed in the dense north woods of Minnesota, Snake comes to worry more and more about her friend Gina who appears to be going off the deep end in her expressed anger and even hatred at whoever was responsible for the death of the wolves.
Soon, of course, Snake finds herself the target of dark and mysterious forces of evil. This second book in what looks to be an ongoing series of environmentally issue focused novels of crime fiction, is well laid out. Crucial information is presented in bits nicely timed to peak readers’ interest.
Though there are times when it appears the authors have never met a metaphor they didn’t like, it’s a small price to pay for this fine story. The novel is well written and peopled with several interesting and unusual characters. While the writing styles of the two authors may be different, the novel is seamlessly blended so it’s impossible to discern who wrote what, or any real difference in style or vocabulary. I am confident this writing duo can have a long and fruitful collaboration and will find a loyal and growing audience.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

ARTIFACTS, A FINE NOVEL WITH AN UNUSUAL PROTAGONIST



Artifacts                                 
By Mary Anna Evans
ISBN: 1590580567
A 2003 release from
Poisoned Pen Press

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 both. 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 therefore 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
to a satisfactory conclusion.