‘Sleeping in the Ground,’ by Peter Robinson

Sleeping in the Ground

I reviewed a previous Inspector Banks novel by Peter Robinson some time back, and my review says I liked it. But I never read another for some reason. I purchased Sleeping in the Ground to try him again. My reaction follows.

On a beautiful day in northern England, outside an ancient church, a wedding party comes under sniper fire. Several people are killed, others injured. Inspector Alan Banks and his team come in to investigate, and soon settle on a suspect – a quiet local man who belonged to a gun club and owned a rifle. When he is found dead in his cellar from a self-inflicted gunshot, the case seems closed.

But it isn’t. Banks’s superior (and others) want to learn why this uncomplicated man – none of whose acquaintances can believe he would kill anyone – could have gone off the rails so. The trail leads to an old murder and a resentment long cherished. Continue reading ‘Sleeping in the Ground,’ by Peter Robinson

How Excessive the Incarnation

I’m not in favor of spending a lot to finance fantasies of Christmas perfection, nor do I endorse the sort of gluttony and the psychological overload of “special moments” that makes us feel as though Christmas is a celebratory marathon to recover from rather than savor. Yet, the basic impulse toward excess is not wrongheaded. In fact, given the theological meaning of Christmas, it’s altogether fitting in its way.

R.R. Reno says the incarnation of God is most expensive, most exorbitant gift ever given. That doesn’t totally justify our modern day Christmas excesses, but it does give them a little room. The problem is less with our excessive celebration and more with how we view our excesses in comparison to God’s.

God does not give himself to us by assembling the good things of life into a giant banquet. Instead, we get Jesus.

A Carol Symphony

Here’s an orchestral work that isn’t played constantly every Christmas season but could easily fit in any holiday concert program. Victor Hely-Hutchinson wrote “A Carol Symphony” in 1927, which was about the mid-point of his life. It hit all the right notes of his London audience at the time, but since then other compositions have crowded it off of our traditional Christmas playlists.

I hadn’t heard of it until today. Have you?

‘Code of Silence,’ by Sally Wright

Code of Silence

The sixth book in Sally Wright’s Christian but not preachy Ben Reese mystery series is a prequel. In Code of Silence, we get to see Ben – university archivist and former World War II Army scout, in 1957, handling his first civilian mystery. We observe him enduring the wrenching loss of his wife in childbirth, and watch as his friend Richard West looks about desperately for some project that will help Ben re-engage with the living.

That project appears in the form of a letter and a package from Carl Walker, a man Ben barely knew. Nevertheless, Carl knew something of Ben’s background, and sent him a letter, books, and the key to a code. Ten years before, Carl had been in love with a linguist who worked for American intelligence. She died, and it was marked down as suicide. Carl was certain that she was murdered by a Russian double agent. Carl knew who the man was, but lacked sufficient evidence to prove it. Now the man has reappeared, and Carl has disappeared.

Suffering from both grief and a head injury incurred early in the story, Ben is nevertheless drawn into the mystery. Before it’s over it will become more than an intelligence cold case, but a race for life to save two innocent people.

I think Code of Silence was my favorite of the entire Ben Reese series to date. Ben’s an interesting character, and the story is suffused with moral indignation over the very real acts of treason performed by a number of known American traitors during the 1950s.

Cautions for mildly intense scenes involving torture. Highly recommended.

Onomatopoeia Are Like Sensual Puns

I just learned Onomatopoeia is the name of a villain in Green Arrow and Batman comics.  Hmpf.

Putting that aside, an onomatopoeia is a word formed from an imitation of related sounds, such as splash, thump, or blink. Wait, blinking doesn’t make any sound, but perhaps it is an onomatopoeia by another name. I don’t know Latin enough to suggest an alternative word.

This writer on Japanese language and culture applies the term to many interesting Japanese words. “A well-cleaned floor shines pika pika, while a light, fluffy futon is fuwa fuwa.” The word for “thorn” is ira and for “annoyed” is ira ira.

Saint Thomas’ Day

Erling Skjalgsson's Death

For a change, I’m going to write a day-specific post the day before, so that if you read it tonight, it can depress you all day tomorrow.

December 21 is Saint Thomas’ Day, the shortest day of the year (though they didn’t know that in the Viking Age. They always figured St. Lucia’s Day, December 13, was the shortest of the year. I’m not sure why. Centrifugal force, maybe).

The death of Erling Skjalgsson (“hero, as you know,” he said, “of my Viking novels”) at the sea battle of Boknasund (Soknasund in the sagas, but that’s probably a scribal error) on December 21, 1028, is one of the earliest datable events in Norwegian history. The earliest is another event in which Erling was involved, the battle of Nesjar, on Palm Sunday (March 25) 1016. Erling didn’t come out too well on either occasion, though the defeat at Nesjar was hardly his fault. Jarl Svein Haakonsson was his commander in that battle, and Svein did not distinguish himself against their enemy, the wily Olaf Haraldsson (later Saint Olaf).

Erling fell victim to a ruse the day he died, again fighting against Saint Olaf’s men. I won’t go into the details; suffice it to say that Erling died with honor and Olaf went away frustrated, soon to flee the country altogether.

Before you ask, yes, I’m toiling away at my next Erling book, which still lacks a final title. As I’ve told you before, it’s a hard book for me to write. I think there are two reasons.

One, Erling’s nemesis, Olaf Haraldsson, appears in this book. This is the beginning of Erling’s long final struggle, a Game of Thrones-like political duel with the young, arrogant Olaf. I like Erling, and do not look forward to depicting his fall.

Two, I’ve gotten into the habit of thinking, “I’ve got to finish the Erling books before I die.” I don’t expect to die any time soon, though the actuarial tables are beginning to catch up with me. But I think I have the subconscious idea that once I do finish the Erling books, I will die. Which is nonsense, but that’s the way my mind works. I’m a fantasy author.

So remember Erling Skjalgsson tomorrow, on the 989th anniversary of his death (think Davy Crockett at a maritime Alamo). Or if you’re doubtful about that, you could remember Saint Thomas the apostle.

‘A Fatal Deception,’ by P. F. Ford

A Fatal Deception

The eleventh entry in P. F. Ford’s Slater and Norman series has recently been released. Ford wrote, in an e-mail to his fans (which I received) that the publication date had been delayed due to certain family problems. Sad to report, the problems show in the book, A Fatal Deception.

The last book was pretty much all English detective Dave Slater, with almost no appearance by his former partner, Norman Norman, who is now a private investigator. In recompense, this book follows Norman (with his new partner, Naomi Darling) as they search for Jenny Radstock, Dave’s former girlfriend. Jenny has been living off and on in hiding, as a homeless person, for some time, and Norman and Naomi travel to the town where she was last seen. What they find is pretty ugly.

I remain a fan of this good-hearted mystery series, but A Fatal Deception shows all the signs of a rush job. There are a number of grammatical errors (though Ford has always been weak in that department). Bits of dialogue are rehashed twice or even, sometimes, three times. In our introduction to one character, we are treated first to a description of his personality, and then a scene where he demonstrates that description point for point. Which makes the initial description entirely redundant.

And not only was the conclusion a downer, but threads were left untied. As if author Ford couldn’t be bothered to finish the story properly.

Ford makes up for the short length of the novel by appending a novella devoted to Norman Norman celebrating a lonely Christmas. This story was more satisfactory, and left behind a pleasant, heartwarming feeling. So I don’t feel entirely cheated.

But A Fatal Deception is not up to the usual standards of a series more memorable for its likeability than for its literary qualities in the first place.

How Widely Should One Read?

You get the impression from some corners that if you want to write a publishable book you should read many, many other books in and out of that genre in order to give you the experience you need to contribute to the pool of published books. The truth is, in order to publish a book or story, you need a solid, well-executed concept. Reading widely can help you get there, but it isn’t the only path, and as Jason Guriel explains “most writing isn’t worth consuming.

Here’s hapless omnivore Aleksandar Hemon, a novelist and critic who will eat anything: “I read compulsively—preferably a book of my choice, but anything would do. I’ve read, with great interest, nutritional information on cereal boxes. I regularly read wedding announcements in the New York Times.”

This begins to tread into fasting territory. Silence and reflection will likely help Hemon more than constant reading. What do you think?

Sentimentalists Make God Into Santa

Taking a page from J.B. Phillips’s Your God Is Too Small, Ulrich L. Lehner pushes back the warm commercial holiday blanket to argue the living God is not Santa.

Why do I find the nice view of God not only unsatisfying, but also politically and morally dangerous? A nice God props up the status quo. Whatever you do, there is no failure because God is on your side. The nice God plays to our narcissism. Since whatever I feel is right, and good feelings are from God, I am always justified without recourse to tradition or reason.

‘The Last Closet,’ by Moira Greyland

The Last Closet

…Of my parents, he [my father] was the kinder one. After all, he was only a serial rapist. My mother was an icy, violent monster whose voice twisted up my stomach.

Very rarely, I need to begin a book review with a caution. This is one of those cases. Moira Greyland’s The Last Closet: The Dark Side of Avalon is a shocking and deeply troubling book. It recounts horrors that will haunt you, and many readers will simply not be able to handle it. The occasional profanity is the least offensive element.

But it’s an important book to read, for those who can bear it.

Moira Greyland is the daughter of the late bestselling feminist fantasy/sci fi author Marion Zimmer Bradley. Her father was Walter Breen, a world-renowned authority on numismatics (precious coins). Both of them were geniuses, and both had suffered horrific abuse as children. In a just world, both of them would have been institutionalized. They were delusional and barely capable of taking care of themselves, let alone children.

Both were homosexual, but they stretched a point to conceive Moira and a brother. It was all part of a master plan, her father’s Grand Vision – to raise superior (high IQ) children who would be diverted from the “perversion” of heterosexuality at an early age through incest. This would bring them onto the “natural” path of homosexuality, and position them to help to usher in a utopian future world order. Continue reading ‘The Last Closet,’ by Moira Greyland

At least one new Lewis essay

Over at Christianity Today, Stephanie L. Derrick presents the news that she has found two previously forgotten articles, at least one of which is certainly by C. S. Lewis. Both were printed in The Strand, a preeminent English magazine famous for being the first publisher of most of Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories. The first article, “A Christmas Sermon for Pagans,” is certainly by Lewis. The second, “Cricketer’s Progress” is signed “Clive Hamilton,” one of Lewis’s known pseudonyms, and has certain Lewisian qualities. However, Lewis’s oft-stated complete apathy toward anything having to do with sports makes me doubt the attribution.

How did these articles remain unknown so long? Derrick explains:

Part of the reason that I found these articles in 2013 is timing. Soon after Lewis died in 1963, his posthumous editor Walter Hooper cataloged all of the Lewis publications he could find (Lewis not keeping a record of his own). The Strand, however, wasn’t indexed until 1983, well after Lewis’s official bibliography was published.

A Christian’s Final Rest

Today rebroadcast of Renewing Your Mind asks, “What is the blessed hope? Today, R.C. Sproul explains what we can expect when we reach our ultimate destination.”

UntitledFrom Ligonier’s Flickr Photostream (2010)

BTW, several short books by Dr. Sproul are still available for free for Kindle and audio. They are his Critical Question series, great tools for sound teaching that won’t overwhelm you. Titles include What is Repentance?, What is the Trinity?, How Can I Develop a Christian Conscience?, and Does Prayer Change Things?

Book Reviews, Creative Culture