Category Archives: Fiction

The Tin Roof Blowdown, by James Lee Burke

James Lee Burke is a superior mystery writer. He writes in the tradition of high craftsmanship and sensitivity that characterizes the best Southern literature. I found The Tin Roof Blowdown brilliant and moving.

And I probably won’t read any more by him.

But first, a synopsis.

The setting for The Tin Roof Blowdown is New Orleans and its environs, during and immediately following Hurricane Katrina. The conflict is set off by a group of young black men who steal a motorboat (thus dooming a number of trapped people to drowning), break into a rich man’s house, and discover a treasure trove of drugs, cash and diamonds. That same night one of them is killed and another paralyzed by a bullet fired by someone in the neighborhood. Suspicion falls on a neighbor, whose daughter (by a strange coincidence) was recently gang-raped by some of these same young men.

Although investigation of his death is technically a federal matter (under 1960s laws dealing with deprivation of civil rights by murder), the bulk of the investigation is elbowed off (due to heavy case loads) to Dave Robicheaux, a sheriff’s deputy in New Iberia Parish and hero of a number of mysteries by Burke. He is unofficially assisted in his investigation by his friend Clete Purcel, a former cop and present skip tracer. Continue reading The Tin Roof Blowdown, by James Lee Burke

The Man Who Invented Florida, by Randy Wayne White

I like Randy Wayne White’s Doc Ford books, but I don’t love them. I think The Man Who Invented Florida is my favorite.

Marion “Doc” Ford is the hero of the series—a big, bespectacled marine biologist with a shadowy background in covert operations for the government. Periodically he finds himself investigating a mystery or carrying on his own private operation to rescue somebody. The Man Who Invented Florida, however, is barely a mystery at all. There is the puzzle of two government surveyors and a fishing show host who disappear in the Everglades, but it turns out (I hope this isn’t too much of a spoiler) to be less than meets the eye.

This book is, in fact, a farce. The real center of the narrative is Ford’s uncle Tucker Gatrell, the kind of man for whom the word “colorful” was coined. A former cowboy, fishing guide, gun runner and moonshiner, he’s devoted to his nephew, but his nephew hates his guts (for reasons that become dimly apparent toward the end). Tucker’s best friend is the Indian (don’t get riled; that’s what he calls himself) Joseph Egret. Joseph is the last of the Calusa, the original Florida Indians, to whom the Seminoles and Creeks are newcomers. As such he’s an outsider both among the Indians and the Whites. But he likes Tucker, because Tucker despises everybody all the same. Continue reading The Man Who Invented Florida, by Randy Wayne White

“We Cannot Do Without Myths”

Professor James A. Herrick (I’m sorry. The academic title is the Guy Vander Jagt Professor of Communication at Hope College), author of Scientific Mythologies: How science and Science Fiction Forge New Religious Beliefs has written for Christianity Today on certain sci-fi authors’ tendency to spiritualize their materialist or secularist stories:

Science fiction is important to scientists interested in transcendent themes such as the design and purpose of the cosmos and the future of humanity. Dyson, a devoted reader of Stapledon, writes, “Science is my territory, but science fiction is the landscape of my dreams.” Ironically, the universe that science stripped of the supernatural is being resupplied with deities and redemptive purposes by science fiction writers and moviemakers. Apparently, we cannot do without myths.

… The church must attend more diligently to the presentation of her true myth in public settings. The biblical account of human origins and purpose, of our predicament as well as our redemption, and of the nature and purpose of the cosmos we inhabit, is emotionally, spiritually, and rationally more satisfying than modern myths featuring aliens, starships, divine evolution, hidden knowledge, and biomechanical post-humanity.

Short, short story: The Credit Counselor

(The following little scene occurred to me yesterday, and it amused me in my simpleminded way.)

Waldo Pfennig had just finished checking his e-mail, and was ready to start work when a man and a boy walked into his office. The man was tall and lean, his face dark and weathered. He looked like a cowboy in a movie, even to the coarse blue shirt, jeans, and flat-brimmed black hat, which he carried in red, cracked hands. Waldo couldn’t help checking to see if the man was wearing western boots. Nope. High top work shoes.

The boy was the man’s image, but shorter and less sharp at the edges. His fair hair stood up at one side, as if he’d slept on it badly. His face was hard to see, since his gaze was fixed on the floor.

“My name is Adonijah Fell. This is my son Jonas,” the man said. “This is… Credit Assistance Corporation?”

“That’s right, Mr. Fell,” said Waldo, getting up to reach across his desk and shake the man’s hand. “I’m Waldo Pfennig. Please have a seat, both of you. What can I do for you?” Fell had a grip like slamming your hand in a car door. He sat cautiously, as if it were an unfamiliar exercise. The boy slumped in the chair beside him, head down, elbows on his knees.

“You help people with debt problems, right, Mr. Pfennig?” asked Adonijah Fell.

“Yes sir. No matter who let the dogs out, we’ll pen ’em up again.” Waldo grinned. He was proud of that little joke. It always helped to relieve the tension.

Adonijah Fell just stared at him, puzzled. “I don’t get it,” he said. “I didn’t come about dogs.”

“No, no. It’s just a little joke. You know the song? ‘Who let the dogs out?’”

“Can’t say as I recall it.” Continue reading Short, short story: The Credit Counselor

Northfield, by Johnny D. Boggs

We’re experiencing a warm and rainy interval here right now, which is a blessed change.

Not changed is the climate in the library, where everybody wears a sweater or a jacket all the time (myself included, though my office is generally a little better than the circulation room).

So I called the maintenance guy and told him, “The thermostat says 70°, but no way this is 70°.”

He comes in with a fancy electronic thermometer, and gets 70° for a read-out. Everywhere he checked.

I don’t comprehend this. I keep my house at 68° when I’m in residence, and my house is far, far more comfortable than the library.

I blame trolls.

I’ve never been a big reader of western novels. I went through a very pleasant Louis L’Amour stage, in which I read pretty much his entire canon (and learned a lot of geography), but no other western writer ever earned my amour.

One kind of western that does tend to raise my interest, though, is the well-researched novel based on actual historical events. Loren Estleman’s Bloody Season is a good example, but I believe that Johnny D. Boggs’ Northfield is even better. Continue reading Northfield, by Johnny D. Boggs

The horror! The horror!

Our friend Loren Eaton writes about the horror genre today over at his blog, I Saw Lightning Fall. He argues that conservatives ought to embrace the genre, quoting Stephen King saying that horror is intrinsically conservative. He also embeds a trailer for a horror film that seems to have a pro-life message (it appears to have been out since August last. Has anyone heard of it? Did it go straight to DVD, as one would expect would happen to a conservative flick?).

Now, as you know, I don’t care for horror at all myself, largely because I’m a fraidy-cat. Life is already scarier than I like; why should I pay somebody to make me afraid?

But you folks out there; normal people–what do you think about horror?

The Road to Vengeance, by Judson Roberts

The Road To Vengeance is Book Three of Judson Roberts’ Young Adult Strongbow Saga, whose previous volumes I’ve reviewed already. The series continues strong; indeed, I think this is the best so far.

The hero of the books is Halfdan, a young Dane living in the 9th Century. Born a thrall (slave), the illegitimate son of a chieftain, he was freed after the deaths of both his parents, and trained as a warrior by his half-brother in Book One, Viking Warrior. But his entire new family was massacred by a greedy stepbrother and his Viking crew. Halfdan escaped and swore vengeance; but in order to achieve that he needs to acquire wealth and powerful friends.

This he has done by joining an invasion of France (based on an actual historical expedition in 845). Book Two, Dragons From the Sea, told how Halfdan went on a scouting expedition, which ended with his near escape from the Franks, bringing back with him a hostage, a young Frankish noblewoman who is a novitiate nun. Continue reading The Road to Vengeance, by Judson Roberts

Scarlet, by Stephen Lawhead

Stephen Lawhead’s Scarlet, a sequel to his novel, Hood, begins with Will Scatlock (otherwise known as Will Scarlet), the narrator of much of the book, lying wounded on a pallet in a prison cell, awaiting a date with the hangman. A Norman priest has been assigned to write down his “confession,” and Will tells his story.

The action takes place in “The March,” a border region between England and Wales, and the time is the reign of King William Rufus, successor to William the Conqueror. As we learned in the previous volume, King Bran, the rightful king of Elfael, has been displaced by the Normans and has taken refuge in the forest with other victims of their tyranny. The Welsh call him Rhi Bran y Hud (King Bran [or Raven] the Enchanter), but the Normans tend to call him Riban Hood. Will is a displaced Englishman who has traveled west to join King Bran.

The outlaws he finds are not quite the “merry men” of legend. They are a pretty desperate and miserable bunch, living a life of subsistence in a forest hideaway where food is always scarce. A number of women and children are also with them, and among them Will finds a woman he wants to marry. But their wedding is delayed repeatedly, because King Bran has discovered a conspiracy that reaches to the very top of the Norman English government, and his attempts to turn what he learns to his advantage lead to desperate risks and Will’s capture and imprisonment. Continue reading Scarlet, by Stephen Lawhead

A Year of Work in the New Yorker

Those who write for The New Yorker apparently believe in the abysmal boredom of life outside their city. Max Magee writes: “In revisiting all of the stories, one major over-arching theme emerged for me, the conflict between stories that center on what I call ‘suburban malaise’ (born out of ‘The Swimmer’ and ‘What We Talk about When We Talk about Love’ among many others) and those that don’t.”

The 47th Samurai, by Stephen Hunter

“It’s a war thing. I’m a war guy, he’s a war guy. His dad, my dad, war guys. Us war guys, we’re all connected. So I picked up an obligation. It’s something ancient and forgotten and not in existence no more. Lost and gone, a joke, something from those silly sword-fight movies. Something samurai.”

The 47th Samurai, Stephen Hunter’s latest Bob Lee Swagger novel, centers on probably the most ridiculous premise I’ve ever encountered in a thriller.

I loved it.

I think this may be my favorite Bob Lee Swagger book in the whole series. Which is saying a lot.

What do you do if you’re out working in your meadow, and a car approaches, and out comes a Japanese gentleman, a military veteran, who informs you that, judging from the records, your father probably killed his father at Iwo Jima? And he asks your help in locating his father’s military sword, which disappeared at the same time?

Well, if you’re Bob Lee Swagger, you start rooting through your father’s effects, and then make a series of phone calls and visits, until you’ve located the thing. And you carry it back to Japan personally, as a surprise for your new friend.

And what do you do if your new friend and his family are then brutally murdered?

You go to the crime scene, make a spectacle of yourself trying to give information to the police, and get yourself expelled from the country.

Then you hole up for a while, watching old samurai movies and reading everything you can find about Japanese tradition. You go back again with a false passport. And you learn to use a sword. Continue reading The 47th Samurai, by Stephen Hunter