‘The Spike,’ by Matthew Iden

The Spike

Another Marty Singer novel by Matthew Iden. I liked this one particularly, since it revisited some themes from the first and best novel in the series, A Reason to Live.

At the beginning of The Spike, Marty is a witness to the murder of a businesswoman in a DC Metro station. He tries and fails to chase the murderer down, but the victim’s family hires him to find the killer. Prospects of success seem slim. The woman worked in real estate and seemed to have no particular enemies.

But as he investigates, Marty learns more than he wants to know about the seedy side of Washington real estate, a world of sweetheart deals where politicians and developers profit and poor people lose their homes. It gets increasingly difficult to tell the good guys from the bad guys.

What I liked best about The Spike was that the themes of Marty’s cancer treatment and his relationships return to play a larger part than in the last couple stories. The theme of politics shows up this time around, which worried me (author Iten doesn’t say much about politics but I suspect his are to the left of mine), but I think it was handled pretty evenhandedly. The only corrupt politician whose party is mentioned is Republican, but on the other hand the majority of the political sleazebags are Washington, DC civic officials – and we all know what party those people would be.

So I happily recommend The Spike to the reader. Cautions for the usual.

Damning Praise for Alexander Herzen

Tolstoy thought Herzen (1812-70) was one of the finest prose writers of his time, and so did Turgenev and Dostoyevsky. He was also an editor, a political activist and a scathing and ironical polemicist, castigating equally the Russian despots in Petersburg and his fellow socialists in exile in London, Geneva and Paris. In the years between the European-wide revolutions of 1848 and the czar’s brutal suppression of the Polish insurrection of 1863, he was one of the most provocative revolutionary minds of his time. When he was buried at Père Lachaise in Paris in 1870, a mourner exclaimed: “To the Voltaire of the 19th century!” That is not how he has been remembered.

Michael Ignatieff reviews a book on Herzen that offers reasons for remembering the old Russian author in more welcoming terms than someone whom Lenin praised. (via Arts & Letters Daily)

‘One Right Thing,’ by Matthew Iden

One Right Thing

Another day, another Marty Singer book by Matthew Iden. I’m zipping through them pretty fast. I expect I’ll miss them when I’ve run out.

One Right Thing begins with a seemingly irrational act on the part of Marty Singer, retired Washington, D.C. cop and cancer survivor. He’s driving down a Virginia highway when he sees a billboard with a man’s picture on it. The message says that the man, J. D. Hope, was murdered, and offers a reward for clues. Marty turns his car around and heads to the town where the murder happened.

He’s not playing knight errant, righting wrongs from the back of a metaphorical white horse. Back when he was a detective, Marty helped convict J.D. Hope of a crime he probably didn’t commit. His partner planted evidence, and Marty suspected but let it pass. Hope was a career criminal, after all, and was bound to go to prison sooner or later. But he’s ashamed.

In the man’s town, Marty clashes with a strangely passive local police department as he uncovers a ring of crystal meth producers. J.D. Hope, he learns, was making an attempt at redemption when he died, and Marty has his own redemption to pursue.

One Right Thing is an excellent mystery, well written, with a solid moral center. Recommended. Cautions for language. The violence isn’t too extreme.

Praying Audaciously as Moses Did

Any man who seeks God’s calling should pray the way Moses prayed. We should ask God to give us intimate knowledge of him. The things we do will be successful only if God is in them. Whenever we do something that God has called us to do—whether it is serving in our singleness, learning how to be married, working at a job, or getting involved in ministry—we need to pray that God will show us his way to go about things.

Philip Ryken, “2 Audacious Demands We Are to Make of God

‘Blueblood,’ by Matthew Iden


This is the second in the Marty Singer mystery series by Matthew Iden. I didn’t love Blueblood as much as the first book, A Reason to Live, but it gave full value for money.

Marty Singer, as you may recall from my previous review, is a retired Washington D.C. cop, going through chemotherapy for colon cancer. He has now semi-adopted a young woman who was involved in two of his cases, and she’s helping him open his heart to new experiences and attitudes. Though he’s physically weaker, his life is suddenly richer than it’s been in a long time.

In Blueblood, he’s approached by a police detective involved in an inter-departmental task force, investigating drug crimes in the various, often overlapping, jurisdictions around Washington. Several men have been tortured and murdered recently, and what the public doesn’t know is that they were all undercover police officers. He thinks that Marty, with his amateur status, might be able to turn something up without tipping off possible moles in the forces.

Marty starts talking to people, turning over evidence the police already have. What he ultimately discovers involves corruption, betrayal, and retribution from directions he never suspected.

This is a good detective procedural, with well-drawn characters. Also, author Iden knows how to turn a memorable phrase. My only disappointment is that there was less of the personal rebirth element than we found in the previous book. But that’s almost unavoidable in a series – no character can believably change profoundly again and again.

I liked Bluebloods, and recommend it. Cautions for language and some intense situations.

May 17

Constitution Day parade in Hamar, Norway. Photo credit: Torstein Frogner. Our celebration tomorrow will doubtless look exactly like this.

I will not be posting tomorrow, as I’ll be participating in my Sons of Norway lodge’s Syttende Mai (May 17) celebration. We’ll host a meal of Norwegian open-faced sandwiches and I’ll give a lecture on the history of the holiday.

What confuses people about Syttende Mai is that it’s Norway Constitution Day, not its independence day. It seems illogical to put the constitutional cart before the independence horse, but that’s what happened in the land of the midnight sun. The constitution was drafted as part of an abortive independence effort in 1814, and over the following 90 years or so, the Norwegians stubbornly celebrated the day just to aggravate their Swedish overlords. By the time independence came in 1905, Constitution Day was deeply ingrained in the national psyche. All other holidays, even Independence Day, take a back seat.

Have a good one!

‘A Reason to Live,’ by Matthew Iden

A Reason to Live

And what became clear to me in that infinite moment is that, ironically, a man with cancer has more options than one that doesn’t. Having already stared my own mortality in the face, I couldn’t really be threatened with death.

What a pleasure to find a new author to follow, and a new series to pick up! And the Kindle prices are reduced right now!

A Reason to Live by Matthew Iden is the story of Marty Singer (also the narrator), a detective for the Washington D.C. police department, retired. He didn’t retire willingly. He felt obligated leave the job to when he learned that he had colon cancer and was in for a course of chemotherapy. He’s middle-aged, divorced, and has no very close friends. Life seems bleak, hardly worth the trouble of fighting his disease.

Then he’s approached by a young graduate student named Amanda Lane. Marty remembers her, all too well, as the daughter of a woman who, years ago, was killed by a uniformed cop who was also a stalker. Marty worked hard to put the creep away, but somehow the case fell apart and the perpetrator walked. Numerous fingers pointed blame in every direction, and Marty came in for his share. He’s felt bad about it ever since.

Amanda has tried to put the past behind her, but now she’s convinced the killer has returned – for her. He used to leave cheap carnations when he showed up, and now she’s started getting the same floral gifts.

Marty doesn’t need an unauthorized private investigation in his life just now… and yet that’s exactly what he needs. Suddenly he has someone he cares about more than himself, something other than his own disease to think about, and a new reason to go on.

Well written, vividly characterized, A Reason to Live is an excellent mystery in the hard-boiled vein. Highly recommended. Cautions for language and mild sexual situations.

Rejecting the Roots of Science Fiction

I know, I know, I am a broken record about this stuff. But it never ceases to amaze me (in an unhappy way) how the so-called writers of Science Fiction, seem to be in such a huge hurry to run away from the roots of the field. I’ve read and listened to all the many arguments — pro and con, from both sides — about how Campbell rescued the field from the Pulp era, but then New Wave in turn rescued the field from the Campbell era. So it might be true that we’re finally witnessing the full maturation of SF/F as a distinct arena of “serious” literature, but aren’t we taking things too far? Does anyone else think it’s a bad idea for the field to continue its fascination with cultural critique — the number of actual nutty-bolty science types, in SFWA, is dwindling, while the population of “grievance degree” lit and humanities types, in SFWA, is exploding — while the broader audience consistently demonstrates a preference for SF/F that might be termed “old fashioned” by the modern sensibilities of the mandarins of the field?

Brad R. Torgersen, “The Martian and Mad Max

Singing with English Nightingales

NightingaleEnglish Nightingales don’t actually exist. They are migrants from Central Africa up in the north country for a bit of holiday. Most of them go to Europe, but some come from families that have always holidayed in England and they aren’t going to upset Grandma by suggesting the Black Forest or the Provence Alps (especially not after Freddie ran off with that scarlet thrush last autumn; Grandma’s barely gotten over that).

Musician Sam Lee holds special performances in the woods of southeast England where the nightingales sing around this time of year.  “Lee’s show presented an opportunity to focus, fully, on what a nightingale actually sounds like, miles from the nearest road,” writes Sam Kinchin-Smith. “Much to my surprise, its stop-starting, self-counterpointing quality reminded me of nothing so much as James Brown’s ‘get on up’ scat.”

Hear that sound and read more about nightingales in Kinchin-Smith’s LRB piece.

Shakespeare’s Illustration of the Eucharist

In Act 3, Scene 3 of The Tempest, several ‘strange shapes’ bring in a banquet, on which Alonso proposes to feed. But Ariel, by means of a ‘quaint device,’ causes it to vanish and confronts them with their own sin: ‘But remember/(For that’s my business to you) that you three/From Milan did supplant good Prospero’ (3.3.68–70). The prospective feast becomes an act of remembrance, restoring a memory of themselves that disbars participation until that memory has restored them to repentance.

Peter J. Leithart spells out some of the details, drawing on David Aers and Sarah Beckwith essay on Holy Communion in Cultural Reformations.

Book Reviews, Creative Culture