All posts by Lars Walker

‘Deadly Still,’ by Keith Moray

West Uist, the fictional Hebrides island that provides the setting for Keith Moray’s Torquil McKinnon mysteries, suffers from Midsommer Syndrome. It’s a remote and bucolic place, filled with a population divided among the inoffensive and the eccentric, and yet it keeps throwing up murders. The latest involves the age-old tradition of illegal whisky distillation on the island.

As Deadly Still begins, Police Sergeant Morag Driscoll is off for a morning jog when she discovers a local teenager wandering blind in the heather. She and two friends had been celebrating completing their final tests with peatreek (the Scottish equivalent of moonshine) in an abandoned World War II bunker. Now she can’t see, one of her friends is unresponsive, and the other has disappeared entirely.

At about the same time, a local businessman is found dead. It looks like the result of a drunken fall, but laboratory analysis will show that he’s been imbibing the bad peatreek as well.

Except that the level of methyl alcohol in this stuff is way higher than is probable in ordinary home distilling. Someone has a grudge and an agenda, and Inspector Torquil McKinnon (who already had his hands full with his wedding plans) will need to stop that person before anyone else dies. And what happened to the missing girl?

I always come back to the Torquil McKinnon books with pleasure. I like the setting, I like the characters. I don’t rank Deadly Still as the best in the series – I had trouble keeping the characters straight in this one, but maybe that’s just because I’m getting old.

Recommended, like the whole series.

‘The Saboteur,’ by Andrew Gross

In 1965, an English/American film called The Heroes of Telemark was released. It starred Kirk Douglas and Richard Harris as Norwegian saboteurs attacking the German “heavy water” (deuterium oxide) production facility at Rjukan in Telemark during World War II. Heavy water was a necessary buffering agent in the German program to split the atom, presumably to produce an atomic bomb.

The film took a highly cinematic approach to the story, compressing all the action into a couple weeks and replacing the actual participants with fictionalized and combined characters. It found a mixed response in Norway, where people who’d been through the war complained that it took Kirk Douglas two weeks to do by himself what it took a whole team two years to accomplish in real life.

I kept thinking of that film as I read The Saboteur, Andrew Gross’s similarly (though not so thoroughly) fictionalized account of the same clandestine operations.

Kurt Nordstrum is a Norwegian engineer who leaves his career to join the Resistance – with tragic consequences in his personal life. When an engineer at the Norsk Hydro facility in Rjukan tells him and a comrade that they need to get some microfilm to the English immediately, they hijack a coastal steamer and – just barely – manage to escape to Scotland. Then he and his friend join Company Linge, the Norwegian commando unit, and are eventually airdropped back in Norway. Their mission, from which they do not expect to return alive, is to destroy the Heavy Water production facility. Kurt’s father used to tell him, “A true man goes on until he can go no further… and then he goes twice as far.” And that’s precisely what he and his team will be called on to do before it’s over.

Honestly, I found this a hard book to read, but I’m not sure it’s the book’s fault. I knew this story pretty well already, and so was preparing myself emotionally for the unpleasant parts. Author Gross anticipates those expectations to an extent by making small changes in the story. Kurt Nordstrum (who is essentially standing in for real saboteur Knut Haukelid but has a very different back story), is enabled by his imaginary status to do stuff, and get into dilemmas, that Haukelid never did. I found some of those stuff and dilemmas somewhat implausible, but I can’t deny I was moved by the entirely imaginary heroics at the end.

I was bothered all through by the fictional changes, especially the handling of the characters. Several of the saboteurs here are real people, others are fictional (including an entirely imaginary Norwegian-American). I understand the narrative freedom that gave the author (as mentioned above), but it kind of nagged at me.

I suppose I shouldn’t complain too much about the spelling of Norwegian names and places. It’s pretty hit and miss, but I probably should be thankful for the effort.

What it comes down to, I guess, is that I can recommend The Saboteur to those who aren’t already familiar with the Heavy Water mission. But after you read it, you’ll want to read Neal Bascomb’s The Winter Fortress or something like that to get the actual facts.

‘Mockin’bird Hill’

I still haven’t finished reading the book I’ll review next. It is a mark of my desperation for material that I’m going to post a music video that represents an utter betrayal of my younger self.

What you see here is a clip from the old Lawrence Welk TV series. It features the popular singers, The Lennon Sisters, doing “Mockin’bird Hill,” a song popular in the 1950s. Patti Page had a big hit with it. I remember that my mother and her sisters were fond of it.

What nobody told me at the time was that it’s a Scandinavian song – arguably Norwegian. It was first recorded by a Swedish accordionist named Carl “Calle” Jularbo in 1915, but it sounds suspiciously similar to a Norwegian folk tune, “Norska Bondvals” (Norwegian Farmer’s Waltz). In the clip, the accordionist introducing the song is Myron Floren, a Norwegian-American who was a regular on the Welk show. He was the single major star at Norsk Høstfest in Minot for many years until his death, which was years before I ever attended.

I like the song, but still hate myself for posting it in this incarnation, because of my childhood. My parents loved Lawrence Welk, and my brothers and I despised him (and all his works and all his ways, as we Lutherans say). We had a conspiracy to blind our parents to the program’s existence. It was broadcast on Saturday evenings in our area, but there was another channel that showed Tarzan movies at the same time. My brothers and I loved Tarzan. So when the folks fired up the Remote Control (which consisted of having one of us change the channel for them), we would zip past the channel showing Welk, hoping they wouldn’t notice.

Sometimes it worked.

Now that I’m old, I rightly ought to be learning to appreciate Lawrence Welk’s oeuvre. Sometimes they run his programs on the public television station. I’ve long been a confirmed fuddy-duddy. I ought to appreciate them now.

But honestly, I can’t. I’ll admit that some of the girls are pretty. But that “Champagne Sound” (Welk’s personal trademark) just leaves me cold. Too processed. Too polka-based. And those obligatory, rictus-like smiles on all the performers, who were known to be paid minimum union scale regardless of their popularity with the audience.

Too much ancient bitterness there. Too much blood shed, to wax hyperbolic.

I don’t even like Tarzan that much these days.

The deadly dream airport

Photo credit: Digby Cheung@dbyche1016

I remember a dream I had last night, which is a rarity for me. I remember it because it disturbed me enough to wake me up.

I was in an airport. A ticket agent (or somebody) had just directed me toward the gate I needed, and I had to hurry. So I rushed along the walkway, toward a descending stairway ahead of me.

But as I approached the stairway, I had the sudden conviction that this wasn’t a stairway. It was an edge. Beyond that edge there was just open space.

I suddenly dropped on my face, and peered over the edge. Sure enough, I was at the end of a sort of mezzanine floor without a guard rail – a dangerous arrangement no real-life airport would contemplate.

But as I looked down, I suddenly heard someone (a young person, male or female, I’m not sure) running up behind me. They were going very fast, and I had no time to warn them before they shot over the edge and plunged to the floor below. Not necessarily a fatal fall, but surely injurious.

Then I woke up.

I have theories about what that dream meant, but I’ll let you speculate.

I applied for a job today. I won’t tell you what it is, except that it involves editing. But it seemed (in some ways) ideal for my skills and personality, so I took a chance.

I was half way through the application when I saw that they wanted me to link to a Google Doc of some of my editing work. And I thought, “Forget this. I don’t have Google Docs.”

And my brain replied, “Wait, haven’t you used Google Docs before? You have an account. Check it out.

I checked, and behold, I do have a Google Docs account. I created the link.

I’m rather proud of myself for not chickening out (for once). But boy, I make this hard for myself.

Language comparison: The Lord’s Prayer

Today I am distracted, or at least I’m pretending to be. Did two high-stress things — saw the dentist to repair the wisdom tooth I broke on Sunday evening (popcorn, if you must know), and then I paid my Minnesota sales tax online.

That, I figure, ought to give me an excuse to be lazy. (In fact, both worked out better than I feared.) Back when I was a school kid, there were days when the teacher would roll a projector into the room and show us some educational film, usually a generation old. Innocent that I was, I figured this was part of some highly strategized educational plan. Nowadays, I’m given to understand that it often meant the teacher wasn’t feeling up to it, and just needed to coast.

In the same way, when I post a YouTube video, it’s not unlikely that I’m loafing.

Last night, in my book review, I referred to Old Norse (Viking) words that have made their way into English. I thought there must be a video or two on that subject.

The selections weren’t as good as I hoped. There were a few, but they were either very short, or hosted by annoying young hipsters whom I hated on sight (or both). Jackson Crawford, who can usually be counted on for interesting stuff on Old Norse, had nothing.

But there is this, posted above. The Lord’s Prayer in Modern English, Old English, Old Norse, and modern Icelandic.

Pay attention. This will be on the test.

‘Murder at the Meet,’ by Bruce Beckham

‘We did a project on it when I was at primary school. The Vicious Vikings. Although most of the settlements’ names are quite innocuous. Applethwaite, Brackenthwaite, Crosthwaite – quite often you can work it out.’

DS Leyton looks rather bemused.

‘So, what – did they speak English?’

DS Jones giggles as though she thinks he must be joking. But then she responds. ‘No – we speak Old Norse.’

It’s one of the charms of Bruce Beckham’s Inspector Skelgill novels (for me) that there are occasional allusions to the history of the Cumberland region where Skelgill operates. In the passage above, our detectives, Skelgill, DS Jones (female) and DS Leyton (male) are talking about local farm names, which often contain the element “thwaite,” which is related to the Norwegian word “tvedt.” Both mean “field.”

But that’s not what Murder at the Meet, the latest Skelgill novel, is mainly about. More than 20 years ago, a young wife and mother named Mary Wilson disappeared during the annual Shepherd’s Meet. As it happens, that was the same year a teenager named Dan Skelgill won the Fell Runners’ race, setting a long-standing record. At the time, the police employed brand-new technology, DNA testing, matching it to the one discovered piece of evidence, to try to identify her attacker or abductor (assuming she didn’t just run off). But without success.

Now Mary’s bones have been found, by archaeologists in a local cave. Skelgill and his team start interviewing surviving witnesses and family members, and discover – as you would expect – a number of old secrets and personal grudges. And all the while Skelgill does his own eccentric thing – applying his knowledge of local geography, biology and weather, along with the sensibilities of a fisherman.

It’s all enjoyable and familiar for the Skelgill fan. I did think this effort was a little unfair to the reader, as we were denied the information that finally unlocks the puzzle until after the climax – and so we didn’t know what all the urgency was about. That reduced the suspense for me.

But that aside, Murder at the Meet was an enjoyable read, and is recommended.

Friday Night Fight: Macbeth vs. Macduff

We used to have a tradition of posting “Friday Night Fights” here, showing videos of Viking reenactors going at it with blunt blades. Some of them were friends of mine; occasionally I was involved. We haven’t done that for a while, but I’ve decided to share this clip I found. It involves two fighters doing Macbeth’s death scene from Shakespeare’s play, while fighting with period swords and armor.

It’s not as good as I’d like it to be, and not only because the acting sucks. Macbeth wears a mixture of mail and lamellar (small plates) armor, and lamellar is not generally approved by serious reenactment groups nowadays. Macduff wears some kind of pelt, which is pretty much a Hollywood costuming thing, and they both wear greaves, which are also a faux pas among reenactors.

The fight isn’t bad – it’s quite good in places, certainly better than what you’ll see in movies. Though I’m not sure what it’s about when they both lose their shields and then reclaim them. Still, it’s interesting from a combat point of view.

Why this video? Well, I’ve had Macbeth on my mind lately. I’m strongly inclined to include him in my next Erling book. He was about 17 at the time the story starts, and there’s no reason he couldn’t have been in Norway then. His Scottish Highland home was definitely part of Erling’s world. I have an idea that throwing him into the story might enhance some of the themes I’m developing.

But I haven’t decided yet how to portray him – as a budding villain, as Shakespeare paints him, or as a virtuous and pious young man, which the actual historical record would indicate.

We’ll see. The story will tell me how it wants me to treat him.

‘The Truth About Murder,’ by Chris Collett

There’s a lot of good to be said about Christ Collett’s new stand-alone mystery, The Truth About Murder. But I also found it somewhat aggravating.

First of all, full marks for originality in giving us a new kind of investigative hero – Stefan Greaves is a lawyer in the (fictional, I presume) middle English town of Charnford. From the beginning, it’s clear that Stefan suffers from some kind of disability, but author Collett (annoyingly, in my view) puts off naming it until nearly half-way through the book. I’ll risk spoiling it by telling you that he has cerebral palsy. To reduce associated muscle tension, he smokes pot regularly. Because social interactions are difficult (he has trouble being understood when he talks) he sees an “escort” regularly.

Stefan gets a visit from a local nurse, who is concerned about mortality rates in the neonatal ward where she works. Not long afterward she disappears, and when her body is found in the river, the verdict is suicide – though her daughter insists she was a Catholic and would never do that.

Investigating the disappearance and death is Mick Fraser, a local cop. Mick is concerned about his partner, whose time has been monopolized by their commander lately. He’s been secretive, and Mick begins to suspect him of corruption. In fact, it’s far worse than that…

As the plot thickens (rather slowly I thought, and with too much reliance on coincidence) Stefan and Mick are drawn together to uncover a sinister and heinous plot that threatens the whole country.

I never fell in love with The Truth About Murder, or with Stefan Greaves as a character. (He shares, with many fictional detectives, a gift for having attractive women throw themselves at him constantly, in spite of his disability. I complain of this trope often in my reviews, and if you think that means I’m jealous… well, I am.)

However, the book’s themes pleased me greatly. Without spoiling it for the reader, I’ll just say that it involved controversial issues of medical ethics. Author Collett seems to be unaware of (or is avoiding) the fact that the evil in view here is more associated with the Left than the Right in our time. But that may be a strategic choice intended not to alienate readers. I don’t know Collett’s politics, but if he’s conservative I salute his strategy, and if he’s liberal I salute his moral sense.

I can’t give The Truth About Murder my highest recommendation, but it’s worth reading. There’s a suggestion that this might be the start of a new series. I’m not wholly enthusiastic about that prospect.

Retro movie review: ‘5 Card Stud’

Hard as it might be to believe, I’m still lacking a finished book to review tonight. I’m finding my current read a little slow, I guess – though it’s gaining interest as I proceed. It’ll probably be ready tomorrow.

What else to talk about? Today lacked the pulse-pounding social interactions of yesterday. I watched the last half of a movie I’m fond of last night, though. I can gas about that.

5 Card Stud (1968) is not a great movie, but I find it endlessly entertaining, and generally watch it whenever it shows up. Its attractions are many.

Dean Martin in the lead. Dino was the archetypal Italian-American and seems an odd choice as a western star. But he loved westerns, and excelled in roles where he could play breezy, wisecracking types. By all accounts he was a nice guy too, and faithful to his wife, at least for a long time. Similarly, he joked about drinking a lot, but didn’t actually… until the time came when he did. Here he plays Van Morgan, a gambler who tries to stop fellow card players from lynching a cheater, but fails. Later the participants in the game start being murdered, one by one.

Robert Mitchum plays Rev. Jonathan Rudd, a mysterious preacher who comes to town and starts tweaking the surviving players’ consciences. Mitchum, I was interested to learn a while back, was half Norwegian. His mother was Norwegian.

It’s odd when I think back, but I can recall as a young boy thinking that Dean Martin and Robert Mitchum were the same guy. I guess tall, dark guys like that weren’t very common in my world and they all looked alike to me.

But the big draw in 5 Card Stud is Inger Stevens, who plays a prostitute named Lily Langford. It has been my contention for many years that Inger was the most beautiful woman to show up on the public scene in my lifetime. (My friend Mark Goldblatt calls her the “ultimate shiksa.”) She was a Swedish immigrant, but had assimilated to the extent that she had to re-learn her accent when she got the title role in the TV series, The Farmer’s Daughter. An unhappy woman, they say, a little like Marilyn Monroe in forever searching for fulfillment in a man’s love and never finding it. She would die just two years later, in 1970, probably a suicide.

But what beauty! At once regal and impish.

Sadly, most of the films she did that show up on TV from time to time are ones I don’t want to watch. Not even Hang ‘em High, with Clint Eastwood, which is pretty good for the most part, but includes a multiple hanging scene that I, wimp that I am, just can’t handle.

Anyway, 5 Card Stud is a mystery without much actual mystery, and the acting is sometimes over the top. The dialogue can be weak too, though the script was written by Marguerite Roberts, who would write the great True Grit a few years down the line. (However, it should be noted that True Grit follows Charles Portis’s novel very closely, so not a lot of creativity was required. Anyway, Roberts was a Commie.)

But it’s a treat to watch Martin, Mitchum, and Stevens go through their paces. And Dean sings the title song.

Self-promotion for passive-aggressives

Photo credit: Maarten van den Heuvel @ mvdheuvel

Nothing to review today. My reading has slowed in the last couple days, which is not all bad. I’m trying to reduce my book spending, due to the current cutbacks.

Which will be exacerbated by the plumber’s appointment I had today. My kitchen faucet succumbed to the corrosive water we enjoy in Robbinsdale, and had to be replaced. I got the cheapest model they offered, but still… ouch.

Then out into the wide world and chill air, for a breathless visit to the drug store and the grocery store. Had my prescription filled at CVS. Later in the day, a somewhat pathetic e-mail showed up. Would I take a minute to fill out a form for them? Specifically, to indicate on a scale of one to ten how likely I am to recommend their enterprise to friends and family?

I don’t really want to fill it out. Because the truth would be cruel. I am somewhere between zero and one on that scale. Not because I dislike their stores. But because I can’t recall ever discussing drug store choices with any friend or family member. For some reason it just doesn’t come up. Maybe we’re atypical.

And in the back of my mind, the constant nagging voice of my inner publicist whispers: “This is what you should be doing, kid. If a big industry like CVS can send out plaintive appeals for affirmation, you can occasionally bug your fans about plugging your books and posting reviews on Amazon.”

Shut up, Nagging Publicist Voice. In these parts, we consider fishing for compliments a mark of weakness.

Then off to the grocery store. At checkout, the lady in front of me in line noticed I’d bought a Marie Callender Honey-Roasted Turkey meal. “Is that good?” she asked. “My husband and I eat a lot of that kind of meals, but we’re looking for something less bland than what we’ve been having.”

I told her I like it quite a bit, and don’t find it bland at all. (“Of course I’m Norwegian,” I should have added.)

Oddly enough, I had a similar conversation some years ago, at the same store, with a guy who told me how much he enjoyed that very same frozen meal. I agreed with him, and we shared a moment of social harmony, then went our separate ways.

In my world, that’s how promotion ought to be done. Not by intrusive tub-thumping, but by people just recommending things they like to each other, in the natural course of things. Even, unlikely as it seems, drug stores.

So when you plug my books, pretend it’s just natural. Thank you.

‘The Unknown, by Brett Battles

Jonathan Quinn and his team of international agents return in The Unknown, the 14th book in the series. Regular readers will know what to expect, and author Brett Battles delivers.

On a winter night in Austria, a very important scientist named Brunner is traveling under the protection of bodyguards provided by the Office, the private security firm our heroes work for. It should be a routine mission, but they are attacked, there is loss of life, and Brunner is expertly extracted by kidnappers. This is bad news for the Office, which has only recently reconstituted itself as a business, so their operational chief contacts Jonathan Quinn. Though ostensibly a Cleaner, a wiper of evidence after “wet” operations, Quinn has a well-earned reputation for effective and efficient field work. He summons his regular team, including his wife Orlando, his old partner Nate, and a couple East Asian friends. As a concession, they allow Kincaid, the failed bodyguard, to come along. He has something to prove.

They face well-organized, efficient, and well-financed opponents, but Quinn always finds a way. This time out they are assisted in particular by Jar, a minor character in previous books. Jar is a Thai computer genius, a woman. She is obviously autistic, but is learning to deal with illogical normals. She provides a surprisingly charming addition to the cast.

They also get unexpected – and suspicious – help from a source they neither understand nor trust, though it seems to be leading them in the right direction.

Like all the Jonathan Quinn books, The Unknown was fun. It wasn’t deathless literature, but it offered interesting interactions and a fast pace. Recommended.

Thursday thoughts, including Inspector Thursday

I need to write something extra-good tonight, because there’s a good chance I’ll be absent tomorrow. Being retired, I can usually figure on my schedule being pretty open, but tomorrow I have two long meetings . (Both, alas, meetings unconnected with the earning of money.)

But I’m short on subject matter. I drained my brain last night; I’m fresh out of profound thoughts.

Fended off a Facebook con artist this morning. Got a friend request from a young woman in another state, suspiciously attractive judging by her picture. But we had a mutual friend, and she had the right kind of links posted on her home page, so I gave it a shot. It was but the work of a moment for her to message me and tell me she was looking for a boyfriend. I did give her a fair chance, telling her politely that I was much too old for her. When she told me she didn’t care about that, I severed our association. I may be a fool, as Lord Peter Wimsey once said, “but I’m not a bloody fool.”

I guess I can be proud I’m still sharp enough not to fall for such things.

I’m also a little sad that I’m old enough to have lost all illusion in the area.

The sixth season of Endeavour is now streaming on Amazon Prime. Six seasons already? How did that happen?

I keep waiting for Shaun Evans to acquire that mark on his temple that his older self has.

I liked the original Morse series very much, but I’m strongly tempted to like this prequel even better. It’s a good recreation of the era when I came of age (though Morse was a little older than me) and it’s more character-driven, I think. The Morse series concentrated mostly on the interplay between Morse and Lewis – and that was excellent. But Endeavour has a larger continuing cast, characters about whom we have come to care. For my part, I particularly like Inspector Bright, who reminds me of a number of older men I’ve known in church work. He came in pretty unsympathetic, but we’ve come to see his finer qualities since then.

The first episode had a character I immediately marked as the Culprit, simply on the basis of established contemporary TV stereotypes. I was delighted to be wrong.

Maybe things will work out all right in the world.

Anti-intellectual thoughts

How shall I put this delicately?

I’m going to start by talking about a very private bodily function… in the vaguest possible terms. Because I’m a sensitive soul. Then I’ll go on to make a vapid point.

I clicked on an article that showed up on the Book Full of Faces a little while back.

It was about the aforementioned Private Bodily Function. This is a function performed frequently by every person, saint or sinner, male, female, or delusional. The headline informed me that I was finishing up this function “THE WRONG WAY!”

Out of curiosity, I read the article. When I was finished, I thought, “It appears that the author of this article has never actually performed this bodily function.”

Which I find somewhat unlikely.

Then I noticed who published it. When I saw that the article was aimed at college students, all became clear. An academic wrote it. And academics, as you’ve probably noticed, literally don’t know… many things.

It takes an academic to analyze a commonplace physical act and declare that all mankind has been doing it wrong from time immemorial. The whole scam of modern higher education is based on taking what is known and understood, deconstructing it, and rendering it mysterious and in need of expert intervention.

There was a time in history when the purpose of education was to learn the higher mysteries, the beauty and wisdom concealed behind the commonplace.

That changed (I think) some time around the Enlightenment. The Enlightenment decided there were no higher mysteries, and turned its energies to deconstruction and demythologizing. Instead of learning what we’d never known, the modern student is meant to unlearn what everybody already knows.

I was reminded of the first line of Alan Bloom’s book, Love and Friendship (quoting from memory because I can’t locate my copy at the moment). Describing Rousseau, he writes, “A Swiss told the French they were bad lovers, and the French believed him.”

That was just the beginning.

‘Crimes of the Levee,’ by John Sturgeon

It seems to me one of the tragedies of our current literary situation (which I pray is transitional) that authors who have something to say and good author’s instincts often lack the “school of hard knocks” experience and editorial hoop-jumping that forced us old guys to learn our craft. John Sturgeon, author of Crimes of the Levee, strikes me as having that problem.

Crimes of the Levee is set in Chicago in 1905. “The Levee” is a vice district, where prostitution, gambling, and drug use are endemic (some of these things, like prostitution, are actually legal). Patrick Moses is a police detective who works there. He is a practicing Catholic, but embittered by the deaths of his wife and children. His chief friends are the prostitute he dates; his partner, a German-American named Gunter; and the priest who was his father figure when he was growing up in an orphanage. But he keeps them at a distance. When the pain gets too great, he drinks or uses opium.

He and Gunter are public heroes as the book starts. They arrested Simon Kluge, a serial killer who has just been executed. Now they are asked to hunt for a missing woman – the niece of the Italian ambassador, who is rumored to have been kidnapped by white slavers and put to work in the Levee. At about the same time, fabled merchant Marshall Field summons Patrick personally, asking him to investigate the death of his son. Supposedly, Marshall Field, Jr. shot himself while cleaning his gun, but the father doubts that story. To his puzzlement, Patrick finds that the old man himself seems to have organized the cover-up.

To top it all off, women are being murdered again, in the very same way Simon Kluge killed his victims. Was the wrong man executed? Or did Kluge have an accomplice?

Crimes of the Levee, taken as a story, is a pretty good “mean streets” sort of tale. There’s a good sense of place and atmosphere. However, I had trouble figuring out the story’s final resolution – I think I may have puzzled it out, but it seemed to me too subtle by half.

But my big problem with the book was the writing itself. Author Sturgeon has problems with basic spelling and punctuation – he has trouble with verb tenses. He uses question marks where they’re not wanted and leaves them out where they are. He employs redundancies, as in this passage: “This Sunday, I had hoped for rest, peace, and quiet. What I got was conflict, and this took away from everything else.” He confuses homophones, such as “vial” for “vile.” At one point the hero breaks an arm, but the author barely considers the problems that would create for a man living alone – such as in tying a necktie.

The author seems to have done a fair amount of research for this book, but some subtleties pass him by – for instance, he doesn’t seem to know that, up until the 1970s, unmarried women were addressed as Miss and married women as Mrs. He uses “Ms.,” which in those days was nothing more than a regional mispronunciation. And the diction was generally was too modern, something that diminished the atmosphere for me.

Still, this was a pretty non-objectionable book considering its subject matter, and there are no digs at Christianity. I recommend it conditionally, with my criticisms in mind. I probably won’t read the next book in the series, though I’ll admit I am mildly curious.

‘Tahoe Deep,’ by Todd Borg

I got a free deal on Todd Borg’s Tahoe Deep, Book 17 in the Owen McKenna series. Not a bad read, though I have quibbles.

Back in 1940, a legally blind teenager named Danny Callahan overheard and saw enough to know that his beloved sister murdered her boyfriend, leaving his body on the SS Tahoe, a lake steamer about to be scuttled and sunk. Today he is a curmudgeonly old man, surviving in his own home with the help of a kindly neighbor, Mae O’Sullivan. When Danny is attacked in his home and beaten up, Mae goes (against Danny’s wishes) to private eye Owen McKenna. She hopes he can somehow fight through Danny’s misanthropic shyness to identify and stop the people trying to extort information from him. When the same criminals try to murder Mae, Danny starts cooperating. He has a strange story to tell, but he still doesn’t understand what he has that the criminals want.

Lake Tahoe detective Owen McKenna makes a pretty good hero, in the cheerful Spenser tradition. Owen is healthy and positive-minded, and has good relationships with his entomologist girlfriend and his gigantic Great Dane dog. His investigation stirs up conflict and danger, but he will not be intimidated until the mystery is solved and the criminals are stopped.

I liked the characters in Tahoe Deep, and the plotting was pretty good. But I saw again the problem that shows up over and over in contemporary novels – sloppy proofreading, enabled (I assume) by self-publishing. In particular, misspellings and homophone confusion. Also author Borg can be weak with his dialogue. When his characters go into exposition, they often drop into Encyclopedia Mode, talking like a (fairly dry) book.

Also, there seems to be an anti-gun thing going on here. McKenna never carries a gun, he proudly proclaims, and the author’s attempts to invent exciting non-gun action leads to occasionally far-fetched scenarios.

But not bad, all in all. No notable cautions that I can recall.