The Murder Room, by P.D. James



I recently finished P.D. James’ The Murder Room (2003) beautifully read by Charles Keating. It is a straight-forward detective novel with enjoyable depth, but not really twists and turns. I see The Complete Review has reviewed it more, um, completely than I plan to here.

The story reveals the three siblings who are trustees of a small, unique museum named Dupayne in the London area opposing each other on whether to sign a new lease and allow the unprofitable museum to continue. Several others associated with the museum are walking around, and, of course, someone gets torched. No, it isn’t an accident, even though some characters want to believe it was suicide.

As I listened, I kept thinking about how the second murder yet to come would change the way I interpreted the details. I thought two or three people could have murder the first person, having motive and opportunity, but why would they kill someone else? I didn’t figure it out ahead of time.

I wonder if James’ mysteries have more to offer in the side trails than on the main road. The Murder Room has a warm chapter with the two of the detectives interviewing one of the fringe couples out of routine. It was a young couple with a baby, the husband being connected to a Paul Nash painting in the Dupayne museum. James’ choice of words in this chapter impressed me as geared toward highlighting the life of the child and this poor couple. They had very little, but they were tied to the past by the husband’s father and grandfather’s interest in that painting, and somehow it seeded hope for them. More so, some words appear to be inspire the reader to reflect on what is being aborted when that ugly choice is made.

Detective Inspector Kate Miskin’s wrestling with British class conflicts and arguments about the nature of girl’s education enrich the story as well.

It happened in Holden

I heard an interesting piece of gossip at my class reunion last Saturday.

I don’t think anyone will be hurt by it. The news was more than a hundred years old.

The reunion took place at the farm of one of my classmates (we lived in a small town, and it was a small class. Smaller now). The town is Kenyon, Minnesota, not a famous place, but once a center of Norwegian-American settlement, made conspicuous once upon a time by the story I shall now relate.

Our host told us, “This farm once belonged to the first doctor in Goodhue County, Dr. Grønvold.” That was interesting.

Later another classmate, who knows I’m interested in history, told me, “You know, there was a big scandal here in the 1800s. That farm over there” (he pointed to a brick house about a thousand feet away) “is the Holden church parsonage. The pastor there was gone a lot, and his wife had an affair with the doctor who lived here.”

“B. J. Muus?” I asked. Yes, he said, that was the pastor’s name.

I’d read about the story, but never gave it close study. Now I’d stumbled across the living oral tradition, on the very spot, and it piqued my interest. So I read up about it. Continue reading It happened in Holden

Re: Sausage

So my encyclopedia of word origins has informed me the word sausage comes from the Latin salus, meaning salted or preserved. (Hmm, perhaps that is incorrect. Webster’s online has the Latin word as salsus.) It’s says it was invented by the Chinese (I can’t verify that), and it gives the recipe used to make The Great Scunthorpe Sausage, which was the longest sausage ever made for a long time. It reports the 1998 world record came from Canada for a “continuous sausage” 28.77 miles in length.

The current Guinness World Record, which may not be for exactly the same thing, is measured by weight. The 2008 Guinness report states: “The record for the largest sausage weighed 18.98 tonnes (41,859 lb) and was made by J.J. Tranfield on behalf of Asda Stores Plc, at Sheffield, South Yorkshire, UK on 27-29 October 2000.”

Oh, look. Here’s an entry on “Scandinavian words in English.”

Where Do You Buy Used Books?

Do you prefer to buy used books online or at a store?

We have some good used bookstores in Chattanooga, and I took all of the children to the large one nearest to us, which was still a good drive away. (I don’t know why my favorite used bookstore isn’t on that list, but we didn’t go to it because it was much farther away and may have been closed.)

I wanted to trade a DVD and some books and perhaps find an etymological dictionary (see Mr. Smith’s post linked earlier this week). I walked away with the QPB Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins for $4. There were a couple other books which looked good, but I didn’t now how much I would get in trade and the girls wanted to take books too. I got about $15 in trade and walked out with almost $6 left over.

Even though browsing the book-lined aisles can be fun, I usually don’t like it. I can’t remember what I wanted to look for, or worse I can’t find it. Last night, I tried to hunt down something by Frederick Buechner. Where should I look for his non-fiction, memoir-like stuff? I didn’t see a memoir section. Maybe non-fiction essays? Will I find something by that other guy I’ve tried to find before, what was his name–Joseph Epstein?

I’m usually disappointed at this place because I can’t find what I want and after a while everything looks cheap. What about you?

Another helping of link sausage

Just a couple links from me tonight.

I just got my membership card today from the Friends of the Viking Ship, the society devoted to saving and preserving The Viking, the replica of the Gokstad ship that was sailed from Norway to America for the Columbia Exposition in in Chicago, in 1893. Nowadays replica Viking ships are fairly commonplace, but this was the very first, and no one was entirely sure it could even be done.

A few of you are Viking aficionados, so I thought I’d just mention that they’re always looking for support. It’s far from the most important cause in this sad old world, but it would be a mournful thing to be told the old ship has crumbled with no one to care.



Speaking of this sad old world,
the always thoughtful Theodore Dalrymple has a profound article up at City Journal. It’s called Modernity’s Uninvited Guest. The subject is theodicy (the question of how a good God could create a world full of evil), and he relates it to the utopian fantasies of the Left, by way of Dr. Samuel Johnson’s 18th Century critique of a book of theology.

The superficiality of this argument requires, from a modern standpoint, little commentary. But even Doctor Johnson—a man with a delicate sense of personal imperfection who once stood several hours bareheaded in the rain in the Uttoxeter marketplace, in penance for having been disrespectful a half-century earlier to his father, who had run a bookstall there—did not criticize it strongly. Both he and Jenyns were a world away from our modern concerns about evil. Accustomed to our comforts and our delicate sensibilities, we would find their world unbelievably harsh; yet their notion of evil strikes us as naive and almost innocent. Despite the violence of Johnson’s review of Jenyns, the two men agreed more than they differed. They lived on the cusp of the Enlightenment but were both, at least in their treatment of evil, pre-Enlightenment in outlook. The burning question for them was not “Why do men behave evilly?” but “Why is there evil at all?”

That’s it for tonight. Tomorrow—scandal and passion among Norwegian pioneers!

Ten Rules for Writing Fiction

Earlier this year, the Guardian asked several writers for ten rules for the craft, similar to the ten rules Elmore Leonard published this year. I abide by this particular rule of Leonard’s, which was taught me by my journalism professor:

Never use a verb other than “said” to carry dialogue. The line of dialogue belongs to the character; the verb is the writer sticking his nose in. But “said” is far less intrusive than “grumbled”, “gasped”, “cautioned”, “lied”. I once noticed Mary McCarthy ending a line of dialogue with “she asseverated” and had to stop reading and go to the dictionary.

Here’s another good one, this time from Geoff Dyer:

Beware of clichés. Not just the ­clichés that Martin Amis is at war with. There are clichés of response as well as expression. There are clichés of observation and of thought – even of conception. Many novels, even quite a few adequately written ones, are ­clichés of form which conform to clichés of expectation.

This is good stuff. Care to argue over any of these? They aren’t all golden.

Hey, hay!

It occurred to me during my walk tonight that we’re well into haying season, and I don’t think I’ve ever told you about haying.

My brothers and I didn’t do a lot of heavy farm work growing up, but the one labor-intensive time of year was haying season (straw baling too, but the tolerances were greater with straw. Also it was much lighter to lift).

Up until sometime in my childhood, my dad used to make hay more or less the old-fashioned way, cutting it and drying it in the field, and stacking it loose, either in the barn or in a shed, or (when space ran out) on the ground under a tarpaulin. We had an undersized barn, and so usually ended up stacking some hay outside. This is not a good thing. Wet and vermin get in. You always use the outside hay first, because it goes bad first.

Here’s my dad and my grandpa, some time before I was born, working on a hay wagon.

Continue reading Hey, hay!

Why Can’t Black Men Think On Their Own?

Anthony Bradley, author of the book Liberating Black Theology, writes about how difficult it is to be respected as a black man and an independent thinker. “Independent black thinkers are expected to ‘groupthink’ in ways that usually lead to rejection and isolation by multiple communities,” he says. For example:

To point out the unchallenged racism in some socially conservative circles renders the charge, “angry black man.” Pointing out that big government has never really helped black communities in the long-term while promoting economic empowerment within the context of markets as a sustainable mechanism for socio-economic mobility, invites the charge of being “a sell-out.”

Great Concert with Peterson, Peters, and Concerning Lions

My wife and I caught a wonderful benefit concert with Andrew Peterson, Eric Peters, and Concerning Lions last Saturday. I wish I could share some of it with you. I saw a couple video clips of the Chattanooga-based Concerning Lions on their site, I believe, and you should be able to catch songs from the other great musicians through The Rabbit Room and elsewhere on the inTerweb. I wanted to introduce myself to Mr. Peterson and shake his hand and if possible bless him in some way (Mr. Peters too, who looked like he could use a shot in the arm) but I didn’t take the opportunity. I didn’t want to talk about myself for 30 seconds, and what else would I talk about.

The concert was to raise money (and attention I suppose) for a very good counseling center in our city, Richmont Community Counseling Center, which is dedicated to helping those who cannot afford counseling from other sources. If you can’t tell from the website, they do some great work. May the Lord continue to bless them and others through them.

Bearing the Saint, by Donna Farley

Anyone with an interest in the Vikings knows of the island and monastery of Lindisfarne. The start of the Viking Age is generally dated to 793, when a devastating and unanticipated raid from Scandinavia brought about its sacking. After centuries as a place of sanctuary, the island became from that day on a target, getting hit again and again by plunder-hungry Northmen. In 875 the entire Lindisfarne community, monks, priests, and lay folk, packed up the monastery treasures, including the remains of Saint Cuthbert and a holy book (thought to be the Lindisfarne Gospels), and set off to find a safer place.

They wandered the land like the children of Israel until 882, when a new monastery site was found (it was relocated to Durham some time after).

Bearing the Saint by Donna Farley is a young adult novel dramatizing the adventures and sufferings of that company during its period of homelessness. As the story begins, the hero, a boy named Edmund, is mourning the loss at sea of his fisherman father. Soon he has much more to worry about as he becomes part of the exodus. Over the years that follow he grows up, becomes one of the bishop’s official “saint bearers,” suffers hunger and exposure, has adventures, falls in love, and comes to terms with Danish rule in Northumberland.

I found the book’s pace a little leisurely for my taste. It was episodic, but that’s the nature of this kind of story, so I can’t call that a criticism. The narrative engaged me, but I wouldn’t call it compelling. It did educate me on an aspect of the history of the Danelaw with which I hadn’t been much familiar.

The book is published by Conciliar Press, an Orthodox publisher, and was sent to me by an Orthodox friend. Considering that fact, along with the monastic elements of the story, I would have expected there to be a lot more promotion of monasticism in it than there is. In fact, none of the main characters becomes a monk or a nun in the course of the story, which surprised me. Evangelical readers won’t find the sacramental aspects offensive, I think (unless the idea of saints’ miracles offends them).

I’d say Bearing the Saint is a good, wholesome book that might be especially useful to homeschooling parents who want to teach their children some history.

DVD Review: The Whole Wide World

Here’s a remarkably fine, distinctive film, the victim of criminally bad distribution, which ought to be better known.

In 1933 Novalyne Price, a young schoolteacher and aspiring writer in Cross Plains, Texas, met the most famous man in town, the pulp magazine writer (and creator of Conan the Barbarian), Robert E. Howard. They liked each other, and Novalyne wanted to learn about writing, so they dated for a time (she was his only known girlfriend). Eventually they broke up due to Howard’s volatile personality. In 1936 she went to college in Louisiana and never saw him again. He committed suicide that same year.

But thankfully for fans and scholars, Novalyne had taken up the Boswell-like discipline of writing down conversations she overheard or participated in, including those she had with Howard. She kept these journals for many years.

In the 1970s and ’80s, after Howard had been rediscovered by fans and critics alike, she grew irritated with the amount of armchair psychoanalysis that was being done on her old friend. She organized her journals into a memoir called The Man Who Walked Alone, which came to the attention of filmmaker Dan Ireland. And so the movie The Whole Wide World came to be. Continue reading DVD Review: The Whole Wide World

Book Reviews, Creative Culture