‘A Killer’s Mind,’ by Mike Omer

(Sorry about the internet silence the last couple days. I’ve been down with some kind of stomach bug, and not much use for anything. I think I’m coming back now.)

Here’s an example of a book that had some flaws, but still earned my thumbs up through its various virtues. A Killer’s Mind, by Mike Omer had (in my opinion) some plotting problems, but the characters and the writing carried the project through.

Zoe Bentley is a psychologist who works as an FBI consultant, mostly profiling. She lives in Virginia, but is sent to Chicago to help the police with some serial killings. Assigned to accompany her is FBI agent Tatum Gray, a hunky fellow who immediately rubs her the wrong way.

In Chicago, someone is kidnapping young women, strangling them to death, and then embalming them and leaving them in posed positions in quiet spots. Zoe struggles to try to comprehend the mind of such a criminal, and it leads her to break the rules and earn the anger of the Chicago cops. But that brings her and Agent Gray closer together as they slowly learn to get inside this guy’s very twisted head.

What I especially liked about A Killer’s Mind was the characters. Zoe is an interesting main character – no super-cop, she’s a damaged personality with a shocking back story. In social situations she comes off as distant and curt, but she is not actually a cold person. She’s in fact so naturally empathetic that she has to raise emotional barriers to keep her sanity. Also I like stories where a man and woman hate each other at first sight, and then warm to one another. This is that kind of story.

What I had problems with was how Zoe’s character worked into the plot. We’re supposed to believe that an accomplished, adult professional woman would withhold what she believes to be material evidence in an ongoing homicide investigation, because she’s afraid of a repeat of childhood embarrassment. Author Omer works to make this plausible, but I never really bought it.

Still, all in all I liked A Killer’s Mind, and I’m likely to read the next volume in the series.

Go Podcast, young man

Everyone is podcasting these days. Your aunt is probably planning one if she can only get Clippy and Bob to show her how to record it. There are over 630,000 podcasts available today on just about everything. True crime is a popular topic. For months I’ve daydreamed about the details of a mock crime podcast that could use the song above as a theme, present itself in the tone and rhythm of true crime shows, but actually tell a story about nothing at all. If I could find one or more colorful Southerners who tell jokes and funny stories for hours, I would have material for a great recurring segment. I’d probably be the only one who thought it was funny though.

Podcasting has been taken up by both professionals and amateurs, like anything on the Internet. A couple of my favorites are “The World and Everything in It,” the news show from World News Group. It is the best news out there. I recommend playing the show from your desktop, if you don’t do podcasts in a mobile-like devicy kind of way. (You might ask Alexa to play “The World and Everything in It” and see what you get. I have no idea.) Also I’m new to a show that has been around since 2009, “The Sporkful,” a show about food for the rest of us. It’s a ton of fun. A recent episode on southern BBQ in Chicago made me want to get out and try things (which I won’t do, of course, because budgets mean something in my house.)

That may lead you to ask, has podcasting been around ten years already? Yes, it began in 2004. The first how-to book came out in 2005. Even before that, we had audioblogging in some capacity.

The way I listen to my handful of shows is through one ear while driving. I don’t want to plug both ears in case I need to hear something, so with road and wind noise in the background I need podcast audio to be clear with a steady volume. I know I’m usually behind the tech curve, so I wonder if my listening experience is typical, but I encourage the podcasters out there who are recording their conference calls in hopes of landing a better book contract to listen to those recordings with plenty of outside background noise. If you can’t hear what’s been said, neither will I.

Why We Read Fiction?

We suffer from a worldly sickness engineered by the Enlightenment project, a misapprehension of reason as the highest faculty and as dislocated from our imagination. Such an assumption leads us to consider literature as unwarranted; Novels and poems play with our emotions, we think, and clutter our pure reason. But what if our emotions help us register our humanity, guiding us in moral decision-making? C. S. Lewis argues as much in The Abolition of Man. How we imagine God, the world, and our place in relation to both transforms how we act. Great literature trains the moral imagination.

Jessica Hooten Wilson, “In Praise of Useless Reading,” TGC, Jan. 25

‘Ivory Vikings,’ by Nancy Marie Brown

As I write this review, I have beside me an exact-sized, museum-authorized replica of one of the kings from the Lewis chessmen. Because as I read this book, I felt I just had to have one.

The Lewis chessmen are one of the most famous, and intriguing, archaeological treasures in the world. They’re surrounded by mystery – we know they were discovered on the island of Lewis in the Hebrides in 1831, but by whom, and exactly where, are the subjects of contradictory tales. They are 93 objects (one an ivory buckle), which include elements from several chess sets – including, probably, non-chess pieces. And in themselves they’re fascinating objects. Like the contemporary Icelandic sagas, they speak to us across the centuries with almost a modern voice. Each piece is a distinct individual, and their postures and gestures seem to be telling us something – though we can’t be sure we can read them across time and cultures.

Nancy Marie Brown’s Ivory Vikings: The Mystery of the Most Famous Chessmen in the World and the Woman Who Made Them, was not exactly the book I expected from the title. And that’s good. Over the years, in my amateur historical reading, I’ve come up again and again against books that take one small piece of evidence, build a huge framework of supposition on top of it, and then declare that they have “proved” some radical new theory. This book is not like that. This is a good work of history with a somewhat grandiose title.

Author Brown examines the Lewis chessmen by category – Rooks, Bishops, Queens, Kings, and Knights. First she describes the pieces, and relates how their functions changed over the centuries, and how they worked under the rules of the 12th Century (when they were probably carved). Then she relates those functions to the history of what might be called the Norwegian Sphere of Influence during the early Middle Ages. We are treated to a pretty good overview of Scandinavian/North Atlantic history in that period, with an emphasis on Iceland and Norway.

In recent years the prevalent scholarly view has been that the Lewis pieces were carved in a workshop in Trondheim. Author Brown makes a good argument that the pieces were in fact carved by an Icelandic woman mentioned in the saga of Bishop Pall Jonsson of Skalholt: “Margret the Adroit.”

Her case for Margret is not watertight, but it’s a good, plausible one, worthy of attention. And in the course of the argument, she provides us with an excellent history lesson.

I enjoyed Ivory Vikings, and recommend it.

Scott Sterling, Comic gold

Witness comic genius in these two skits about the epic Yale athlete Scott Sterling and his ability to block the ball. The first video featuring soccer penalty kicks came out in 2014 (though before this weekend I thought it was much older than that). It’s one of the funniest videos of the decades, only made better by the follow-up volleyball video released in 2016. The execution and pacing of these videos sells the comedy marvelously.

The unstoppable Scott Sterling, soccer goalie
The unstoppable Scott Sterling, volleyball team captain

Like the man said, when Armageddon comes I want to be in a bunker made of that man’s face.

A little tour of Avaldsnes

From time to time I talk to you about the parish of Avaldsnes in Norway, where my great-grandfather was born, and where one of the most dramatic events in Erling Skjalgsson’s career occurred.

They’re very aware of their Viking heritage at Avaldsnes, as you can see by viewing the short video below. This is the Viking farm they’ve built on the nearby island of Bukkoy. I’m not sure why they identify the naust (boathouse) as a great hall — except that that’s how it’s used in the TV series Northmen, which is filmed there. But still, this video will give you some idea of the place.

…but Christians can’t do science!

From Hillfaith, (tip, Instapundit):


Meet J. Warner Wallace. No, Wallace is not a former congressional investigator, but he is one of the world’s most respected experts at solving the toughest crime cases, the ones that have gone unsolved for years.

Read the rest here.

He’s NBC’s “Cold Case Detective,” and he’s a Christian. Author of, among other works, Cold-Case Christianity.

Lewis: Not Jack, but chessmen

I’m continuing to read (and enjoy) Nancy Marie Brown’s Ivory Vikings, about the Lewis chessmen. In spite of my enjoyment, I’m making slow progress in reading. So I have embedded the short video above to give you some background, if you’re interested.

Fun fact from Brown’s book: The Lewis chessmen are the oldest we have with “bishops.” Earlier sets used other figures in that position. So they may mark a point of departure in chess history.

The sufferings of ‘S’

In this strange life I’ve stumbled into, I spend a lot of time living inside a foreign language. I think I’m beginning to develop a slight empathy for what foreigners encounter when they try to learn our very bizarre English tongue.

What struck me the other day was the way we use (or torture) the letter S.

At the end of a word, “s” can mean one of three different things in English:

  • It can mean a simple plural: “dog” becomes “dogs.”
  • If we precede it with an apostrophe, it means a possessive: “Edward’s” (except in the case of “its,” an unfortunate and confusing side effect of the very problem I’m complaining about).
  • Finally, when used with a verb, it means present tense: “This is the product Acme makes.”

This is all the result of bad table manners on the part of the English people – bolting down a Germanic language and Old French without chewing them properly (Old Norse for dessert).

Norwegian is much more rational (a final “s” means possessive. That’s all). I’ll bet Chinese is too.

And pretty much any other language you could name.

But I love English. It’s kind of like one of those exclusive neighborhoods with the winding, poorly marked streets: “Welcome to Pretentious Heights, Minnesota. If you can’t find your way around, it’s probably because you don’t belong here in the first place.”

It’s not you, Jane. It’s me.

I can only attribute it to mental failure resulting from my advanced age. I thought I was doing a pretty good job keeping the brain nimble by doing challenging mental work.

But if that’s true, how do I explain being unable to read Jane Austen’s Emma?

I’ve read Austen in the past. I recall enjoying Pride and Prejudice quite a lot. I made it through Sense and Sensibility, which I’m told is not the author’s best. Everyone speaks well of Emma.

But I couldn’t bear it. It bored me sick. I didn’t find much to like in any of the characters, except perhaps Mr. Knightly – and he isn’t around that much in the first fifth of the book, which is as far as I got. I especially disliked Mr. Woodhouse. Since I subscribe to the Law of Perverse Criticism (a theory of my own invention, which says that anything that really irritates you is probably something you do yourself), that indicates I’m probably a lot like that fussy old man.

I hereby turn in my Literary Snob card. I hang my head in shame.

Now I’m reading a book about the Lewis Chess Men. That one’s keeping my lowbrow interest.

Voice, opportunity, and other Benefits of blogging

Tim Challies, the grandfather of godbloggers (or should that be godfather), who has been blogging for years (And Pharaoh said to him, “How many are the days of the years of your life?”  And he said to Pharaoh, “Can’t count that high, dude.”), has a good post on the benefits of blogging. He encourages his readers to write steadily on topics of their interest, doing their best while understanding every post can’t break the Internet.

He contrasts what a blog could be against what articles submitted to one of the big ministry websites usually are.

If you only ever submit articles for consideration at the ministry blogs, you’ll become obsessed with the quality of each article. To borrow a baseball analogy, you’ll only ever swing for the fences. So much of life, and ministry, and writing is hitting singles, and learning to be okay with hitting singles, and learning to appreciate how God so often uses those singles to incrementally advance his causes. . . . There’s also this: we vastly overestimate our ability to predict which of our articles will resonate with people and make a difference in their day or in their life. 

These are just two of seven good points he makes on the value of blogging. These apply in some ways to podcasters and vloggers, who could do all of this in another medium.

THE TURN THAT REVEALS

In this universe God made, streams run to the sea; salmon swim upstream; monarch butterflies, at winter’s coming, fly 5,000 miles in search of warmth; objects tossed into the air return to earth—and doings among men are subject to “the turn.” The yearning for justice is as engrained as yearning for the last note on a scale to be played, and godly souls feel ill at ease till it’s complete.


Andrée  Seu Peterson, “The Turn”

‘If looks could kill’

Happy Friday. I’ll kick off the weekend with another Erik Werenskjold illustration of a moment in the life  of Erling Skjalgsson, hero of my Viking novels. This is an event I plan to describe, not in my next book (which is being prepared for publication), but in the one after that. It must have been the most satisfying event in Erling’s life, though its ultimate consequences were bloody and tragic.

I won’t tell you the whole story. If you’re familiar with Heimskringla, you know it already. If you’re waiting for my book, I won’t spoil it for you.

What you see above is a gathering at the royal farm at Avaldsnes (which was the scene of the snippets I posted recently). The short man you see through a gap in the ranks on the left is (Saint) Olaf Haraldsson. The tall man near the door of the hall on the right is Erling, elevated by the height of his schadenfreude. He has just outmaneuvered Olaf, who wanted to hang the young man in the hat on the right, and is about to humiliate him.

You can’t see much scenery in this picture, but Werenskjold has taken a chance in including a tree in the background. There’s some dispute among historians as to whether Karmøy island (where Avaldsnes is) had any trees at all in the Viking age. The place was denuded by sheep grazing for a very long time. But I think a few trees, especially around the royal farm, is a reasonable assumption.

‘The Good Farmer’

I’m going to be a while reading Jane Austen’s Emma. So in the meantime, I must think of things to write about that are consistent with the purposes of this blog – whatever those are.

I thought I’d share a few noted illustrations featuring Erling Skjalgsson, hero of my Viking novels. These pictures come from the classic edition of Heimskringla, the Sagas of the Norwegian Kings, by Snorri Sturlusson.

In 1900, the Norwegian Parliament authorized a new translation of Heimskringla. This was not a politically neutral act, as the stories in Heimskringla were the basis for many arguments used by activists agitating for independence from Sweden. The book came to be about as common as the Bible and Luther’s Small Catechism in Norwegian homes, the three of them often constituting the whole family library. (I have a copy.)

Especially for this edition, the government authorized a series of woodcut illustrations to be done by prominent Norwegian artists. Among them was Erik Werenskjold (1855-1938), who is perhaps most famous for a series of remarkable illustrations he did, along with Theodor Kittelsen, for collections of Norwegian fairy tales by Asbjørnsen and Moe.

Werenskjold did many of the illustrations for the section of Heimskringla containing the story of Erling Skjalgsson.

The picture above is perhaps the most famous picture of Erling ever done. It pictures him as Snorri describes him, as a “good farmer,” directing his thralls in the fields. We know from the saga that these men are working for their freedom, and will all be free in three years at most. Werenskjold did some research to make this picture authentic. The landscape is what Jaeder looks like – I expect the location could be identified, with some work. I’m guessing that’s Hafrsfjord in the background. The spades the thralls are holding would be made of wood. Up until recent times, farmers in Jaeder routinely used such spades to turn the earth before planting – they didn’t use plows, because the extremely rocky ground would break them. Erling looks as tall and handsome as, by all accounts, he was.

‘Winter Moon,’ by Dean Koontz

The November sky was low, a uniform shade of lead gray, like an immense plastic panel behind which glowed arrays of dull fluorescent tubes.

Every Dean Koontz book raises the question: What will he try this time? His work spans sub-genres, and even entire genres. In Winter Moon, he switches into Lovecraftian mode, with an eldritch, evil, invertebrate monster – though probably not as ancient as Cthulhu.

In a near-future Los Angeles gradually sliding into entirely predictable chaos, Officer Jack McGarvey is nearly killed in a bloody shoot-out. After a long recovery and rehabilitation period, he works hard to maintain his native optimism – he assures his wife Heather and his son Toby that everything will be fine. But it’s hard to see how.

Then – an unexpected legacy. A man he hardly knows has willed him a ranch in Montana. When they visit, it seems like Paradise – a mountain retreat, far from the dangers and dysfunction of the big city. They happily move in and look forward to an idyllic life there.

But there’s something they don’t know. In the mountain woods, an Entity lurks. It is utterly alien – it has no understanding of people or even of terrestrial biology. And it doesn’t care. Its sole compulsion is to possess and absorb everything not itself.

Winter Moon scared the bejeebers out of me. Because this was Koontz and not Lovecraft, I was pretty sure it wouldn’t end in universal misery and perdition – and I was greatly relieved when the family acquired a Golden Retriever, always a good sign in a Koontz book. But I couldn’t figure out how the family could possibly escape. Which makes for high suspense.

Highly recommended, with cautions for the sort of thing you’d expect in this kind of novel.

I’m reading a Jane Austen book now. I felt like I needed a change.

Book Reviews, Creative Culture