Evidence, by Jonathan Kellerman

Evidence Kellerman

You’re probably tired of my reviews of paperback mysteries, especially ones by the small string of my favorite authors, among whom Jonathan Kellerman is not least. So this will be more an appreciation than a review.

In brief, Evidence is a well-crafted, compelling police procedural, in which psychologist Alex Delaware is mostly along for the ride, as his buddy Detective Milo Sturgis investigates the murder of a couple, found posed in a sexual position, in an unfinished beachside mansion. The investigation leads to a secretive, extremist environmentalist plot.

Much of my enjoyment of this book was strictly partisan and ideological. I don’t know Kellerman’s politics, but he throws conservatives some red meat. First of all, he balances the fact that Det. Sturgis is gay (the least “gay” man possible, in terms of stereotypes), by throwing in Det. Sean Binchy, an open evangelical. Sean has a small part in the book, but he’s smart, decent and hard-working.

Note to Hollywood—I accept token characters. I embrace them. I’m shamelessly gullible in this regard.

Also, the things said in this book about certain elements (certainly not the majority) of the environmentalist movement shocked me. If green terrorism is indeed as common and deadly as this story suggests, the press has a lot of covering up to answer for. The enviro-nuts in Evidence act the way pro-lifers usually act in Hollywood movies and TV shows. Which is saying, pretty darn bad.

So I had a great time with Evidence. Recommended, with the usual caveats for language and adult subject matter.

Part of the History of the World

The History of the Medieval World by Susan Wise BauerSusan Wise Bauer has a new world history book out. This is the second one, The History of the Medieval World: from the Conversion of Constantine to the First Crusade. Howling Frog Books has a good review, noting this is world history, not western civilization history. She writes:

Medieval history and literature is a favorite subject of mine, so it was a bit dismaying to realize how ignorant I am about nearly all of it. I particularly appreciated the chapters on Korean history, which is probably not very well-known to most people outside Korea–certainly not to me. The history of the Chinese empires and the great influence they exercised over so much of the east is fascinating. The many ever-changing kingdoms of India are terribly complex and difficult to follow, and I admire the effort that must have gone into making them comprehensible.

Many more reviews of this book are linked from a post on Dr. Bauer’s blog.

The dogs in the night-time

Two Dobermans sitting on patches of grass

“Is there any point to which you would wish to draw my attention?”

“To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time.”

“The dog did nothing in the night-time.”

“That was the curious incident,” remarked Sherlock Holmes.

(“Silver Blaze,” by Arthur Conan Doyle)

I always think of Silver Blaze when I recall one of the few actual murder mysteries I’ve ever gotten close to. I wasn’t actually all that close, but it presented one or two points of interest, as S. Holmes might have said.

Years ago, I was pretty well acquainted with a particular couple, who lived in a suburban community. They socialized quite a lot with their neighbors, most of whom they enjoyed knowing.

There was one exception.

I met the man once, I think, when I was visiting this particular couple. He wandered in through the back door, uninvited, somewhat drunk, and proceeded to monopolize the conversation for an hour or so. I remember that he made fun of the shirt I was wearing. My friends told me they put up with him for his wife’s sake. He was a self-appointed sergeant-major, the kind of man who always had to be in charge of everything, and always knew what to do better than everyone else. His wife smiled tensely, and endured.

The neighbors suspected he hit her from time to time.

And one night, he was murdered. Continue reading The dogs in the night-time

Pray for Michael Spencer

I didn’t know this until just now (Thanks to Jared Wilson). Michael Spencer, the Internet Monk, has advanced cancer and has been told not to anticipate remission. His wife, Denise, gives some details on his blog.

She says, “Day by day I continue to see the Holy Spirit at work in him, molding him, softening him, giving him a more childlike faith than I believe he has ever known. When the moment comes, I am assured Michael will be ready. I am the one who doesn’t want to let go.”

Michael has a book coming from WaterBrook Press this September, titled Mere Churchianity: Finding Your Way Back to Jesus-Shaped Spirituality.

Decider, by Dick Francis

Several of you encouraged me to try Dick Francis’ mysteries when I posted following his recent death. I took your advice. Thank you. Decider was my first Francis, but it won’t be my last.

The hero of this novel is Lee Morris, an architect and builder who specializes in converting ruined historic buildings into habitable homes and usable places of business (which serves very well as a metaphor for his activities in the story).

He’s a strong, independent, honest man, but no plaster saint. He lusts (passively) over younger women, and his marriage, to a beautiful woman he once loved passionately, has now gone cold. He’s terrified his wife will leave him, though, because he loves the life he’s made, and the six (!) sons she’s given him.

When he’s approached by the managers of the Stratton Park racecourse, asking him to try to influence the board of directors, he’s not much inclined to help. He’s owned shares in the racecourse since his mother’s death, as she was once married to a member of the aristocratic Stratton family. He has little interest in horse racing, and none at all in a closer association with the Strattons, of whom his mother had traumatic memories. Still, for reasons of his own, he gets involved with the family dispute—some Strattons want to tear the course down and sell it, some want to rebuild and modernize the grandstand, and others want to change nothing. A few of them are rather nice, more of them are passive and ineffectual, and a couple are dangerous loons. Before long a spectator has been killed in a steeplechasing accident, and the grandstand has been blown up, nearly killing Lee and one of his sons. The Stratton family, like all aristocratic families in fiction, has dangerous secrets, and there are those who will go to any lengths to keep them covered up. In the end, Lee’s life and those of his sons depend on his ability to solve the mystery.

In the same way that Jane Austen’s novels are comedies of manners, this book is a mystery of character. Not merely the well-drawn, vivid characters author Francis sketches, but the idea of personal character and integrity. Lee Morris among the Strattons stands out by virtue of his decency, his sanity, and his human caring. A passage from a friend’s old diary, which he reads (with permission), gives a hint at the theme:

More rumors about Wilson Yarrow. He’s being allowed to complete his diploma! They’re saying someone else’s design was entered in his name for the Epsilon prize by mistake! Then old Hammond says a brilliant talent like that shouldn’t be extinguished for one little lapse! How’s that for giving the game away? Discussed it with Lee. He says choice comes from inside. If someone chooses to cheat once, they’ll do it again. What about consequences, I asked? He said Wilson Yarrow hadn’t considered consequences because he’d acted on a belief that he would get away with it….

I found Decider a most satisfying book, on several levels. Highly recommended.

Honest Coffee Lovers of the U.S., Unite!

This is what browsing the InterWebs will do for you: introduce you to a vintage advertisement demanding high quality of coffee in America in 1960. “The time has come to take a stand!” insists the League of Honest Coffee Lovers. “More coffee in our coffee or fight!”

The Pan American Coffee Bureau (PACB) was soliciting citizens to insist on pure or purer coffee from the coffee growers of the world, and I gather coffee growers wanted to comply if it weren’t for dropping global prices. Farmers in Africa and Latin America were straining to make ends meet, so they didn’t mind U.S. drinkers having weaker brew while paying the same price, but the PACB wouldn’t have it. They urged Life magazine readers and others to insist on a standard coffee measure for their coffee.

The campaign went nowhere except to be fodder for Mad Magazine writers who published a satire for the fictitious League of Frightened Coffee Growers, who had “java jitters” over the impending coffee drinker crusade.

(Source: Uncommon Grounds: the History of Coffee and How It Transformed Our World By Mark Pendergrast)

New University Center for Writing Named for Walker Percy

Loyola University in New Orleans, Louisiana, will open the Walker Percy Center for Writing and Publishing next Wednesday, March 10. The center intends “to foster literary talent and achievement, to highlight the art of writing as essential to a good education, and to serve the makers, teachers, students, and readers of contemporary writing by providing educational and vocational opportunities in writing and publishing.”

Percy taught at Loyola and had a heart for new and struggling writers.

The holmgang duel, part 3

Holmgang 3

As you will learn in the article below, a genuine holmgang did not look like this. Photo credit: Emily Chesley.

We have discussed the importance of the judicial duel in Viking society as a method of limiting violence in a community with no police protection. And we have looked at the preparations, including the laying out of a limited fighting space marked by a barrier, outside of which the participants might not step, and into which the onlookers dared not trespass.

If one participant failed to show up for the duel, he naturally lost his honor. This meant more than a loss of reputation. A man without honor — a niðing — lost important legal rights.

Before the fight started, it was the obligation of the challenger to recite the rules of the duel. Although there were generalized rules for a holmgang, the duelists might make special rules for this particular engagement, if both agreed. The summary that follows comes from the best information we have concerning the customary procedures. Continue reading The holmgang duel, part 3

The holmgang duel, part 2

Holmgang 2

Photo credit: Emily Chesley

The Vikings lived in an honor-based culture. A man’s self-image was based, not on what he knew about himself, but on what others thought of him. Reputation was everything.

In a culture like that, social life is a minefield. Say the wrong thing, do the wrong thing, and your neighbor may take deadly offense. An apology is not an option, because that would diminish you in the eyes of your neighbors. And an offense against any man is taken personally by his kinsmen and friends.

Thus do feuds begin. And feuds are a sad waste of energy and resources for any community, not to mention a drain on much-needed manpower.

So how are quarrels to be settled without metastasizing into feuds? For small offenses, the assessment and payment of a fine will do. But for greater offenses, it’s impossible to keep trained warriors, in a society without police, from resorting to their weapons.

This is where the judicial duel comes in. The judicial duel — the “holmgang” in Viking Scandinavia – is intended to release the pressure of the quarrel by permitting — while at the same time limiting — the violence. Continue reading The holmgang duel, part 2

The holmgang duel, part 1


Two “Vikings” (me and my friend Ragnar) face off for a duel. Photo credit: Emily Chesley.

[I recently wrote a series of articles on the Viking judicial duel–the holmgang–for the newsletter of my Sons of Norway lodge. I offer them now for you here, in three installments. lw]

“By law shall the land be established, and by lawlessness laid waste,” says the title character in the Icelandic Njal’s Saga. Historian Magnus Magnusson writes, “I can never resist reminding my sceptical friends that it was these allegedly pitiless savages [the Vikings] who introduced the word law into the English language.”

Anyone reading the sagas will soon realize the extreme importance of the idea of law to the Norse. And it’s in the context of this importance that the judicial duel, the holmgang, must be understood.

The Vikings had laws and courts, as we do today. What they did not have was a police force. Delegating the use of force to someone else would have seemed shameful to any free Norseman. Continue reading The holmgang duel, part 1

Looking for the Beautiful

Mr. Silva is blogging about seeing beauty in life.

The current state of publishing has me thinking about the future.

It’s hard not to these days. Everywhere you look there’s another announcement of the electronic squashing print. I imagine this big trash-can-head robot stomping books into the mud and I have to set down my quill and cry a little into my ink-stained tea mug.

(Imagine people wanting to move to the space station on Mars just to get away from the disturbing technological society we’ve created on Earth. It isn’t so far fetched to consider–the sci-fi writers are all wondering why I’d even bring it up.)

Book Reviews, Creative Culture