‘The Awful Truth About Forgetting,’ by L. Jagi Lamplighter

The Awful Truth About Forgetting

I’ll confess right here that I feel a little embarrassed following a Christian Young Adult fantasy series starring a girl character. But the Rachel Griffin series is delightful, rewarding, and uplifting. The Awful Truth About Forgetting is just as good as its predecessors.

In this episode, Rachel returns to the Roanoke Academy of the Sorcerous Arts after a visit home, following the traumatic battle that ended Rachel and the Many-Splendored Dreamland. Rachel, as you know if you’ve been following along, lives in an alternate world where magic is real and neither Judaism or Christianity has ever been heard of. She is one of the “Wise” – those who see and understand magical things, as opposed to the “Unwary” – ordinary folks who know nothing of Rachel’s world. In other words, Muggles. Rachel is the daughter of an English duke who is also a top law enforcement agent in magical matters.

Rachel has an eidetic memory – she remembers everything, which makes learning easy. But she’s in an odd situation now, since false memories were implanted in her mind after her recent traumas (for her own protection). This means she has a double set of memories. She can fool the people who gave her the false memories by pretending those are all she has, but then her friends – who do remember what she’s supposed to have forgotten – would know something was wrong, and they might get drawn into the whole mess. But she has the help of a very powerful supernatural protector, which also comes in handy when the school comes under magical attack.

There’s also a lot of typical school story material here, about who’s best friends with whom, and how different friendships are ranked against each other. And boyfriend stuff, and a new attraction.

But what I love about the Rachel Griffin books is that there are Narnia moments. Not only moments of homage to those books (“Jack” even gets a mention), but scenes that evoke the feelings I get from Narnia stories. That’s what really makes this series shine.

Recommended for teens and up – except that there’s a lot of magic and wizardry and mythological stuff which some Christian families will find unacceptable.

The Author May Be Dead But He Continues to Publish

Here’s a list of new books from dead authors, including an Umberto Eco essay collection taken from L’Espresso magazine, Chronicles of a Liquid Society. Eco “sees with fresh eyes the upheaval in ideological values, the crises in politics, and the unbridled individualism that have become the backdrop of our lives—a ‘liquid’ society in which it’s not easy to find a polestar, though stars and starlets abound.”

Also, Sleep No More: Six Murderous Tales by P.D. James. These are not unpublished stories, but stories written as far back as 1973 that have never been collected.

‘Glade Jul’

I’m between book reviews tonight, so I thought, “Hey, I can post Christmas videos now.” And what do I discover on YouTube, but a Sissel video I haven’t seen before? This one’s a treasure, because it shows her just when she was beginning to be famous in Norway. You’ll recognize the song as “Silent Night,” as they sing it over there. “Glade Jul” means “Happy Christmas.”

This is the young Sissel I modeled the character of Halla after, in The Year of the Warrior.

Miscellanea of the day

C. S. Lewis

Today is C.S. Lewis’s birthday. He was born in 1898 in Belfast, Northern Ireland. I didn’t commemorate the date of his death (Nov. 22, 1963) this year, as is my usual custom. This year, I’d rather think about births than deaths.

My debt to “Jack” Lewis, as a reader and a fan-boy, is beyond calculation. His work was an instrument of God’s to bring me to the faith I have today.

You may celebrate or mourn that, as you like.

How do I feel about all the sexual harassment allegations rising about us like zombies in a bad movie? I’d be lying if I didn’t admit there’s considerable schadenfreude in seeing one after another sanctimonious liberal, all of whom have excoriated conservative Christians as sexists for years, getting their sheep’s clothing yanked off their backs.

This, by the way (especially in Hollywood), is an ironic fruit of the long-standing blacklisting that has kept conservatives out of the business (unless they keep very, very quiet). It may be that conservatives would have acted equally badly if they’d had the same kind of power. But we’ll never know, because they were excluded at the gate.

I’d like to think that all this would bring a return to traditional, Judeo-Christian sexual morality. But it won’t, of course. What will happen is that feminists will gain increased power. More and more male executives will be edged out and replaced by women who, having no better values, will act exactly the same way. Men will find it increasingly difficult to get promotions, and will more and more be relegated to “menial” jobs. And the already draconian regime of the Human Resources sensitivity police will come to rival the KGB.

In closing, here’s an article from Mental Floss on how to treat your books. Guaranteed to flood you with existential guilt.

‘Dark Suits and Sad Songs,’ by Denzil Meyrick

Dark Suits and Sad Songs

I’m liking Denzil Meyrick’s series of DCI Jim Daley mysteries more and more. Dark Suits and Sad Songs could have gone badly off course, in my opinion, but author Meyrick brings it in to port with the sure hand of an old pilot.

Jim Daley is a Glasgow police detective who’s been put in charge of the station at Kinloch, a beautiful town on the Kintyre peninsula. The idyllic, old-fashioned community is beset by a continuing problem with drug smuggling, and its past chief inspector was found to be corrupt. But Jim has suspicions that he’s been sent to Kinloch for less obvious, more sinister reasons. And he’s right.

The trouble starts when a senior civil servant douses himself with gasoline on a local dock and commits suicide by immolation. Then a couple local drug dealers are found murdered in vicious ways characteristic of foreign drug cartels. Closed circuit TV reveals that a well-known international assassin is in town. And – oh yes – UFOs have been sighted.

Meanwhile, Jim is worried about his marriage, and whether it’s worth saving. His wife has given birth to a son, but he has reason to doubt whether the child is his. Also his best friend, DCS Scott, has been sent to help him out, but is largely useless, as he’s been traumatized by a gunshot wound and has crawled into a bottle for comfort.

The action of the story becomes fairly cinematic toward the end, which means plausibility suffers. But it’s exciting anyway, and some important ongoing narrative threads get tied up at last (though the series goes on). I had a good time reading Dark Suits and Sad Songs, and I recommend it. Read the books in order for the best effect.

Cautions for language, violence, and gore. No attacks are made on Christianity, which is always nice. And the CIA shows up, and for once is not the bad guy.

Why Does Halifax Send Boston a Christmas Tree Every Year?

On the morning of Thursday, Dec. 6, 1917, the captain and crew of a French munitions ship called Mont-Blanc were eager to reach the safety of Halifax Harbour, and with good reason,” writes John U. Bacon for The Boston Globe. The ship was chock-full of explosives for use against Germany. But before it could reach the harbour, you might say mistakes were made.

The ship exploded at in dock at a force estimated to be one-fifth that of the first atomic bomb.

About two hours after the explosion, Governor Samuel W. McCall sent a telegram to the mayor of Halifax: “Understand your city in danger from explosion and conflagration. Reports only fragmentary. Massachusetts ready to go the limit in rendering every assistance you may be in need of. Wire me immediately.”

‘Watches of the Night,’ by Sally Wright

Watches of the Night

I find, as I work my way through Sally Wright’s Ben Reese series of mysteries, that I enjoy the books that center on Ben himself most of all. Watches of the Night, the fifth of them, set in 1962, is one of those.

Ben is having some trouble at work as the story starts (after a flashback to World War II). His university’s integrity-challenged new president is putting pressure on him to collude in an illegal act. His immediate boss, the chief librarian, is aiding and abetting the president.

Meanwhile, in Scotland, Kate Lindsay, a widow to whom Ben is attracted, receives a shocking package in the mail. It’s the eye of her late husband, killed nearly 20 years before in combat. Ben is planning a trip to Europe on archive business anyway, so he agrees to talk to her. Little do they know that they’re uncovering the secrets of a powerful, ruthless man, who will stop at nothing to keep his past covered. Before they’re done there will be murder and Ben will face a nightmare out of his own past.

I was particularly impressed by the treatment of war scenes in Watches of the Night. One doesn’t expect (because “one” is a famous sexist) that a female writer will handle battle situations well, but I found those parts in this book (and there are many in flashbacks) extremely good.

Also Ben’s and Kate’s cautious courtship passes a milestone this time out, which is nice.

Mature themes, but no profanity. Recommended.

Peter De Vries

Peter De Vries

The other day I recalled – for no reason I can state – a movie I saw in my college days. It was Pete ‘n Tillie, starring Walter Matthau and Carol Burnett. Some friends and I saw it cheap at a second run theater somewhere in Minneapolis. I didn’t like it much.

And yet, having thought of it, I looked it up on Wikipedia. I discovered, to my surprise, that it was based on a novel called Witch’s Milk, by Peter De Vries.

And that reminded me of Peter De Vries. He was a prominent novelist back in those days. A Dutch Calvinist from Chicago, he had served in the OSS in World War II (very hush-hush), and eventually went to the work for the New Yorker, at the invitation of James Thurber.

His Wikipedia article quotes James Bratt, who called him “a secular Jeremiah, a renegade CRC missionary to the smart set.” However, this interesting article from Image Journal describes him as essentially an atheist.

De Vries dwelled in familiar settings because he wanted to dismantle the belief systems that struck him as too smug or self-sufficient. Religion was his enduring target, but he also mocked modern medicine, psychoanalysis, feminism, academia, and the advertising industry.

I’m not really qualified to pass judgment on him. I only read one of his novels, The Glory of the Hummingbird, which left a lasting impression on me, but did not inspire me to read more of his books. He was one of those authors I didn’t feel qualified to grapple with.

The Wikipedia article says all his books were out of print at the time of his death in 1993. I am happy to report that some are now available in Kindle form (like the works of that other brilliant but neglected author, Lars Walker). The Blood of the Lamb is the most famous.

‘Out of the Ruins,’ by Sally Wright

Out of the Ruins

Book four in the Ben Reese mystery series by Sally Wright is Out of the Ruins, a venture into Southern Gothic. In this episode, archivist Ben has returned to his university in Ohio from Scotland, but is taking some sabbatical time to travel to the South, to evaluate a collection of art being donated to his school. While there he gets a call from an old friend named Hannah Hill, who owns a large estate on Cumberland Island, Georgia. Hannah suffers from MS, and is confined to her bed. She is concerned about local attempts to acquire her estate for development, or for a national park. Also, she has had “dreams” about a masked figure coming into her room at night and spraying things with a spray gun.

By the time Ben arrives, Hannah Hill is dead, apparently of pneumonia. Most suspicious. He enters a world of old family feuds, greed, and hypocrisy, in which Hannah’s heir – a young female opera singer – is the target of long-simmering, murderous hate.

Out of the Ruins was not my favorite book in this series. I found the action of the climax kind of hard to follow. And author Wright, though generally a good writer, has one bad habit that annoys me. When writing telephone conversations, she employs what I call “TV phone call writing.” You know how it goes on TV – you only hear one side of the conversation, so they have to have the character on screen repeat everything the character on the other end says, even though people don’t do that in real life (Bob Newhart did some great comedy routines in that format back in the ‘60s). There are only two ways to handle phone conversations in a novel, in my opinion. Either leave the reader uncertain about what the unheard party is saying (this could be useful in a mystery), or just give us both sides of the conversation.

But Out of the Ruins was generally entertaining, and I enjoyed reading it. Recommended.

‘The Last Witness,’ by Denzil Meyrick

The Last Witness

I relished the first Detective Daley mystery by Denzil Meyrick, Whisky from Small Glasses, which I reviewed not far south of this post. I got just as much pleasure from the second book in the series, The Last Witness.

This outing finds DCI Jim Daley relocated from Glasgow to the location of the first novel, the fictional town of Kinloch on the Kintyre peninsula. He’s grown to like the town and its easy sense of community. Even his marriage seems to be improving.

Meanwhile, in Australia, a former criminal now in the British equivalent of witness protection is brutally murdered, along with his wife. What raises red flags in Glasgow is that the killer’s face is clearly seen on closed circuit TV – and he is plainly a man who’s supposed to be dead. James Machie was the godfather of Glasgow organized crime, and the dead man had testified against him, before Machie was sentenced to prison and then murdered.

Another witness, also under protection, lives near Kinloch. On top of that, Daley’s friend and subordinate, DS Scott, participated in Machie’s arrest – and Machie vowed vengeance on him as well.

People are going to die, seemingly murdered by a ghost, and a network of lies and betrayals will be brought to light. The Last Witness works up to a thundering climax at sea, and when you think all the mysteries have been solved, new twists appear.

Above the basic plot, an overarching meta-plot is winding its way through these stories. I’m eager to learn what comes next. Cautions for language and mature themes. Christianity, though not a major element in the book, seems to be handled with respect.

Probably the only feminist post you’ll ever see from me

All of a sudden, it seems old cases of sexual abuse are being dragged out into the light. Almost all at once. As if there’s been a massive sea change in our society. Perhaps that’s true. There comes a moment when the dam breaks, when the worm turns, when the last straw sends the camel off to the chiropractor.

But I’m inclined to think of it as chickens coming home to roost.

I’m fairly sure there’s lots of political maneuvering going on at the moment. I’m certain there are plenty of slimy things still hiding under a lot of rocks. Both sides are firing warning shots, to remind their opponents that this is a game any number can play.

That’s because of the place we’re at in history.

Any man (and yeah, we’re talking mostly about men here) who’s alpha enough to have achieved political power (or Hollywood power, for that matter) by our present decade was probably coming into sexual maturity in the 1970s, or at least in the 1980s which were the residue of the ‘70s. And that was the age of the Sexual Revolution. We had at last shucked off the carapace of Puritanism (or Victorianism) and discovered the Prime Truth: Sex Is Good.

I remember the propaganda. Sex is Good. Always good. Morally good. Good for you. Good for society. Sex good. Experimentation good. Marriage bad.

What nobody mentioned was the tremendous pressure this put on young women. “Come on baby, I know you want to. Hey, you’re not repressed, are you? You’re not one of those hung-up bourgeois, are you? You want to smash capitalism, don’t you? You want to end the Vietnam War? Then get with the program, girl! Here, ingest this.”

And of course they couldn’t complain. Didn’t want to be square. Didn’t want to be one of those God Squadders.

Today, at long last, women are starting to feel free to tell the stories. And alpha males everywhere are suddenly very worried.

‘Whisky from Small Glasses,’ by Denzil Meyrick

Whisky from Small Glasses

As he adjusted his belt he heard a stream of expletives issuing from two youths who were seated in front of him. The young men were not being intentionally offensive; in the west of Scotland punctuation was gradually being replaced by curses. He and Liz had recently spent a weekend in York, and he remembered being surprised by the absence of swearing.

Detective Inspector Jim Daly works for the Strathclyde Police in Glasgow, under a superior who used to be his friend but has now become a perfect political animal. When a woman’s body washes up near the scenic small town of Kinloch on the Kintyre peninsula, Jim is sent to lead the investigation. The woman had been tortured before being strangled, and when another woman is found also tortured to death, it looks as if a serial killer is at large. But the two women had ties to the local drug trade as well, and that proves to be a bigger operation the closer they look.

That’s the premise of Whisky from Small Glasses, an impressive first novel by Denzil Meyrick. The book has many virtues – an obvious love for the Kintyre scenery, lively, often humorous, dialogue (though much of it is in dialect which some Americans will find it hard following), and very interesting, layered characters. Jim Daly is mostly a good man and a good cop, though he has trouble with his temper and is insecure about his weight and his relationship with his beautiful wife, whom he adores in spite of known unfaithfulness. His friend and colleague Scott is a drunken, profane man raised on the streets, but a good cop and a loyal friend. His superior, Donald, seems fairly slimy, but sometimes shows moments of genuine wisdom. However, he also gives us glimpses of something far darker.

The minor characters also bubble to life. I was particularly pleased with the genuine affection for small town life that’s on view – it’s an easy, cheap shot for writers to condescend to village folk, but author Meyrick is having none of that. The townspeople are a canny lot, and infuriating in their ability to know everybody’s business almost immediately, whether the police want it kept quiet or not. There’s also an amusing old fisherman with the second sight, to make cryptic predictions.

Serious, funny, and occasionally touching, Whisky from Small Glasses is a superior, rewarding crime novel. Cautions for language (as the excerpt above suggests) and mature, often gory, subject matter.

Book Reviews, Creative Culture