‘Murder Solstice,’ by Keith Moray

Murder Solstice

We’ve come to volume three in Keith Moray’s Torquil McKinnon semi-cozy police procedural series, set on the fictional island of West Uist in the Hebrides. I find the books unchallenging, but entertaining. Inspector McKinnon, motorcycle rider and champion piper, has had tragedies in his life, but overall he’s cheerful and optimistic, as are his colleagues. That makes a nice change in the mystery genre.

In Murder Solstice, the laird’s manor on West Uist, which has gone through three hands in as many books, is now home to a New Age cult group. The group anticipates some form of spiritual enlightenment in connection with being present at the Hoolish Stones, a local henge, during the spring solstice. They’ve attracted the attention of national television, but also of a local historian who is livid at their leader’s theories about the stones. Also suspicion is rising that some local farmers are running a dog-fighting operation.

Meanwhile, the police force has been lumbered with a new officer, sent by a resentful and devious chief superintendant on the mainland. But she’s young and attractive, and Torquil possesses certain skills that may help win her over to his side.

Murder Solstice won’t change your life, but it’s an interesting and engaging mystery novel. I enjoyed it. Cautions for mild sexual content and mature themes.

‘Les Bicyclettes de Belsize’

When spring comes, I generally think of this song. It came out about the time I graduated from high school, and followed me into college, performed by various artists. But this is the original version, from the short film of the same name, “Les Bicyclettes de Belsize.”

The film (which I’ve never actually seen) is about a young man in London who falls in love, in rather improbable fashion, with a fashion model. Why is the title in French? I have no idea.

Hernando’s Once Great Library

Like the hierophants of search-engineering, Hernando wanted readers to have an infinitely searchable database ‘that would allow people to wander in places they did not know, perhaps had not even dreamed existed’. Like him, the webmasters have failed to give us that degree of liberation: cyber ghettoes prevail. ‘We are in danger of hemming ourselves into ever smaller enclaves, increasingly oblivious to the infinite … worlds that we simply no longer see.’

Hernando Colón, son of Christopher Columbus, gave us the story of his father’s great adventures, making much of the man and little of the missteps. He built a library with the intention of housing everything long before Ripley tried his hand at a tawdry version of it. The Biblioteca Colombina (pictures) has been a marvel in the past but only about 4,000 of the original 15,000 items remain.  Felipe Fernández-Armesto paints a picture of it in his review of Edward Wilson-Lee’s Harnando biography. (via Prufrock News)

‘The Sandman,’ by Lars Kepler

The Sandman

I took a chance on another Scandinavian Noir novel which looked to be a little different from the usual run. The Sandman, by Lars Kepler, is certainly different.

Joona Linna is a police detective in Stockholm (his exotic name is Finnish). 13 years ago, he faked the deaths of his wife and daughter, and sent them away so that he would have no knowledge of them again. He did this to save them from Jurek Walter, a serial killer who scares him to death, even though he’s confined to the mental ward of a high security prison.

Joona was the one who arrested Walter, when he found him exhuming a living woman from a grave where he’d been keeping her prisoner, with just a minimum of air and water. That is Walter’s modus operandi – to kidnap the loved ones of people who have offended him, and bury them alive. Walter promised to do the same to Joona’s family – and Joona believes him, in spite of his being locked up.

Now another of Walter’s victims, the son of a famous novelist, is found stumbling, disoriented, over a railroad bridge on a winter night. He is malnourished, freezing, and sick. Joona and his team are given the opportunity to investigate, and Joona jumps in. If he can figure out Walter’s crimes and locate his victims, maybe he can settle things and contact his family again.

But is Jurek Walter just a flesh-and-blood psychopath? Or does he possess supernatural powers? How is it that people have seen him looking in their windows at night, even though he’s in prison? Why are his guards warned never to speak to him, for fear that he’ll gain power over them just through a conversation?

The Sandman reminded me of nothing so much as The Silence of the Lambs. It had the same creepy fascination, the same quality of depicting a villain so freakishly intelligent that everyone else is always two or three moves behind him. The book kept me fascinated, and it sucked me in. If I don’t read any more books in the series, it’s just because I don’t care much for horror.

Recommended, if this is your kind of story. Cautions for language, sex, and violence.

By the way, “Lars Kepler” is the pseudonym of a husband-wife writing team, Alexandra Coelho Ahndoril and Alexander Ahndoril.

Writing update

I missed blogging on Friday, because I was caught up in… something. I forget what all. Part of it was working on the novel, though.

Tonight I had an obligation at work, and had to stay late.

But I’ve dropped in to tell you that I finished the first draft of my new Erling book, provisionally titled The Elder King. I had feared that the translation work would interfere with the book, but it was not so in the event. In fact, the discipline I’ve had to summon up to produce paying work on the translation seems to have “translated” into remembering how to work when I don’t have a bilingual project going. Thus, I’ve made steady progress on the book.

Now you recall, if you’ve been reading this blog, my dictum that “First drafts are meant to be dreck. Just write it. Worry about making it good afterward.”

That’s where I am now.

But I’ll say this — as I wrote the climactic scene, I got the old thrill. My heart beat faster. I was in the zone. I remembered that writing could be fun.

The Mississippi Writers Trail

Mississippi has a big presence in the birth of American culture,” said Malcolm White, executive director of the Mississippi Arts Commission. “The biggest asset is our cultural story, and literature and writing is part of that.”

This history will be spotlighted a newly developing Mississippi Writers Trail with historical markers throughout the state, directing biblio-tourism to sites of interest to Mississippi authors, such as William Faulkner, Jesmyn Ward, Richard Wright, Eudora Welty, Margaret Walker Alexander, and Richard Ford. One could get started right away with this multi-state website already published. (via Prufrock News)

TV review: ‘Bosch, Season 4’

Bosch, Season 4

The fourth season of Amazon Prime Video’s Bosch series was released recently, and I continue to like it a lot. Many changes have been made from the original books – some of which are pretty old now – but the spirit of the novels flies high, in my opinion.

Season 4 is based on the first Bosch novel I read, Angels Flight. Angels Flight is the name of a quaint funicular rail line in Los Angeles, and this mystery concerns the death of a famous, headline-hungry defense lawyer, who is found shot to death on board the car one night. (The operator has also been killed.) Racial tensions in the city immediately spike, because the lawyer had been on the brink of going to court with a case of excessive police violence against a black man. Harry Bosch is named to head a special task force to identify the killer. The obvious suspects are the cops the attorney was going to accuse – but Harry suspects the killer is someone with deeper motives.

There’s a subplot involving Harry’s ex-wife Eleanor (Sarah Clarke), who has a gambling problem but is trying to get reinstated with the FBI through going undercover and into danger. Their daughter Maddie (Madison Lintz) plays a major role in the story.

I don’t watch much TV anymore, but Bosch is a must for me, at least so far. The best part, as before, is Titus Welliver’s portrayal of the main character. He has Harry down cold – the impassive face, the world-weary, disillusioned attitude that doesn’t stop him from fully investing in every case.

Recommended, with cautions for language and violence. Not for the kids.

‘Jack Frost,’ by Christopher Greyson

Jack Frost

I’ve been following Christopher Greyson’s Jack Stratton mystery series with great pleasure. The latest entry, Jack Frost, is exciting and entertaining.

Private eye Jack Stratton and his fiancée/business partner Alice are hired by an insurance company to investigate the death of a sound man on a popular reality show. The show’s premise is that the contestants have to compete in survival games on a treacherous mountain. But there have been accidents, the worst of which killed a sound man. The insurance company won’t underwrite another season without someone undercover to keep an eye out. That will be Jack, who has climbing experience. Alice will have to stay home with their dog – which she hates. But there’s work for her to do too, mainly background research on the contestants. On top of that, she just learned that her childhood trauma, the death of her parents in an auto accident, may not have been accidental after all.

Meanwhile on the mountain, Jack endures the indignities of his cover job – gopher to the technical crew – as one after another “accident “ occurs. Before long people start dying, followed by a monster blizzard, which puts him and the cast and crew in a genuine Agatha Christie “and then there were none” situation.

The Jack Stratton books aren’t the best written novels out there, but they’re well above average, especially for books where the heroes pray without embarrassment. Author Greyson builds interesting characters and puts them in exciting peril. I enjoyed Jack Frost very much, and recommend it.

Can’t Make a Living Writing Songs

You can’t be a songwriter without having a spare job,” [Andre] Lindal, 41, tells [Pacific Standard magazine], sounding downhearted as he rummages around his Los Angeles home—a home that Lindal can only afford thanks to his other jobs on the marketing and management side of the music industry. “It’s awesome to be working with great people. But it stinks that you’re not going to be able to get paid for what you do. You can only be a fan for so long.”

Lindal had a #3 song performed by Justin Bieber in 2013 with 34 million plays on YouTube, four million more on Pandora. Those YouTube plays earned him $218 due to regulations established in 1941. Songwriters used be able to draw on sheet music, album, and download sales, but streaming services are outside of those schemes. (via Prufrock News)

“Give people a story!”

Defeating Jihad

Met with some students at the Bible school again today for lunch. What we’ve done is start a weekly “Inklings” group, to talk about writing, mythopoetics, theology, etc. It’s an appropriate time to schedule it, as the social branch of the Inklings used to meet at noon on Tuesdays at the Eagle and Child (Bird and Baby) pub in Oxford. We’re exactly like them, except without the beer and the smoking. And with more females present.

Today the subject was “stories.” When they asked me for my input, I quoted something I heard from Dr. Sebastian Gorka, who guest hosted for Larry Elder on his radio talk show yesterday.

Gorka said (as I recall it) that when he’d finished his book, Defeating Jihad, he showed the manuscript to his wife. Her response was, “Is this all there is?”

I’m sure that Gorka – like all the rest of us writers – had been hoping for a response more along the lines of “This is the most wonderful thing I ever read! I laughed, I cried, I wanted it to go on forever!”

But she explained. “You’ve got to give people a story. Nobody will care unless you tell them a story.”

So, he says, he added a long preface, telling the story of his father. His father was in the anti-communist underground in Hungary, during the Cold War. He was betrayed (by the noted Judas, Kim Philby), and sent to a political prison. During the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 he was released, and he decided to flee to the West. A friend asked him to take his 17-year-old daughter along with him, so she could live in the free world. They managed to escape (crawling through a mine field at one point), and eventually settled in England. He and the girl married, and Dr. Gorka is their son.

“Whenever anyone talks to me about my book,” Gorka said, “they never talk about the body of the thing. They want to talk about that preface – the story.”

Confederacy “founded upon exactly the opposite idea”

I have learned April is Confederate history or heritage month. I didn’t grow up with any conflict over this part of the history of the Southern states. The culture and even language of the South was formed in part by our close association to  that “peculiar institution African slavery,” as Confederate Vice President Alexander H. Stephens put it, but both can still be separated from our current lives. Also I was encouraged, though I don’t remember exactly how and when, to see the war between the states as a conflict over states’ rights.

The war was over states’ rights, but the fundamental right the Confederate states fought for was the right to build their economy on slavery. So any Confederate history month should look at the whole picture, not some lost cause of glamorized Southern noblemen whose Christian ideals made our country great.

In 2016, Jemar Tisby made a month of posts for April to spotlight some points of history that may be overlooked by those celebrating the Confederacy. One of them linked to Alexander Stephens’s speech in Savannah on March 21, 1861. I will quote from it a bit more than he did.

Stephens said Jefferson was right when he said the institution of slavery was the “rock upon which the old Union would split,” but he was wrong on how he viewed that rock. “The prevailing ideas entertained by him and most of the leading statesmen at the time of the formation of the old constitution, were that the enslavement of the African was in violation of the laws of nature; that it was wrong in principle, socially, morally, and politically. It was an evil they knew not well how to deal with,” but believed it would pass away over time. To confront it directly was too costly, so our founding fathers hoped it would be washed away though the natural course of civilization over the next few decades.

Continue reading Confederacy “founded upon exactly the opposite idea”

‘Record of Wrongs,’ by Andy Straka

Record of Wrongs

In another stand-alone novel, departing once again from his Frank Pavlicek detective/falconer books, Andy Straka has produced Record of Wrongs, and it’s quite good.

Quentin Price is a black man, convicted of raping and murdering a young white woman. After ten years, DNA evidence sets him free. The day he leaves prison, he’s surprised to find someone waiting to give him a ride home – it’s the mother of his supposed victim.

She’s an alcoholic and her life is generally in disorder, but she has the idea that Quentin might want the same thing that’s holding her together – to identify the real killer, and set all the questions to rest.

At first Quentin doesn’t want to get involved. He just wants to rebuild his life. But the girl’s father, who was a cop and is now a private investigator, does not believe in Quentin’s exoneration. He’s determined to prove Quentin guilty, and he’s willing to go outside the law to do it. Quentin will have to look for answers just to save his own life and freedom. Maybe the special investigator sent by the state attorney general can help too – if he believes in Quentin’s innocence.

And there’s one other thing. Quentin has a secret. He hasn’t told anyone what really happened the night the girl died.

Record of Wrongs is a well-conceived and executed mystery. It’s not in the top rank, but Andy Straka is learning his craft. Christian readers will be disappointed to note that the Christian elements he usually includes are soft-pedaled (though not entirely left out) in this story, and that Straka has decided to include a little profanity for verisimilitude (something he hasn’t done before).

Recommended. I’ll keep watching Straka. He seems to be a writer with a future.

Translators throw down

Through a discussion in comments over at Threedonia, a blog I frequent, an article from Christianity Today on a dispute between N.T. Wright and David Bentley Hart over how the New Testament ought to be translated:

Wright’s primary concern seems to be Hart’s understanding and use of language—both Greek and English. Hart claims his translation will in many parts be “an almost pitilessly literal translation,” intending to “make the original text visible through as thin a layer of translation as I can contrive to superimpose upon it.”

While Wright seems to respect what Hart is trying to accomplish, he nevertheless argues that instead of making the original text visible, Hart may actually be obscuring it by trying to render Greek syntax and idioms in English. “Greek and English, as Hart knows well, do not work the same way,” Wright argues. “… The strange English here has nothing to do with a cultural clash between the first Christians and ourselves.”

For the record, as a minor translator myself in a different language field, I’m pretty much on Wright’s side. As I told some seminarians recently, “The translator has two targets to shoot at — accuracy and faithfulness. They are not the same targets. In general, I opt for faithfulness.”

Recommended Reading, Listening on African American Evangelical History

Some months ago, I listened to two moving lectures from Thabiti Anyabwile which compared and contrasted some of the life and teaching of Jonathan Edwards (part 1) and the next generation preacher from the other side of the tracks Lemuel Haynes (part 2). I recommend these lectures to you as biblical messages on two godly American men and a difficult issue that continues to reverberate.

In this vein, Thomas Kidd recommends five books on African American Evangelical History. Anyabwile’s book on Haynes is one of the recommended titles. Here’s a quick glance at the list.

  1. Albert Raboteau, Slave Religion: The ‘Invisible Institution’ in the Antebellum South
  2. Mary Beth Swetnam Mathews, Doctrine and Race: African American Evangelicals and Fundamentalism Between the Wars
  3. Thabiti Anyabwile, May We Meet in the Heavenly World: The Piety of Lemuel Haynes 
  4. Jon Sensbach, Rebecca’s Revival: Creating Black Christianity in the Atlantic World
  5. Paul Harvey, Through the Storm, Through the Night: A History of African American Christianity

Book Reviews, Creative Culture