‘A Fragile Thing,’ by Kevin Wignall

A Fragile Thing

“I worry about you, that’s all. And I want you to be happy.”

He smiled, but said no more because he didn’t want to lie to her again, not about something so unimportant.

There is a class of authors whose work just flies over my head. I don’t get them. I accept their greatness based on the testimony of readers smarter than I.

Kevin Wignall is an author I sometimes don’t understand, but I like him anyway.

A Fragile Thing is a challenging book presented in disarmingly simple form. I enjoyed it, but I’m not sure how to evaluate it.

Max Emerson is an international money man, and fabulously rich, living in Italy. He invests money for some of the wealthiest, most powerful, and most evil people in the world – dictators, crime lords, drug kingpins, human traffickers. He tells people (frequently) that he never breaks the law. And that’s technically true. But he has facilitated and turned a blind eye to a number of crimes. Now he’s under pressure from the FBI, and hackers are threatening his records.

Max is alienated from his older brother and sister, and their families. His brother in particular is ashamed of Max’s reputation. This makes family events awkward, and Max generally visits his parents, in their Swiss mansion, only when his siblings aren’t around.

But when his parents are killed in an accident, and Max gets a posthumous letter from his mother, saying that if they die suddenly they’ve probably been murdered, Max is the one family member with the knowledge and resources to hunt down and punish the killer. Which he does, in a very surprising way. Continue reading ‘A Fragile Thing,’ by Kevin Wignall

‘Time and Tide,’ by Peter Grainger

Time and Tide

As you’ve probably noticed, I have a fondness for British police procedural mysteries. Of all the series I’ve sampled, I think I like Peter Grainger’s DC Smith mysteries best.

It’s probably mainly the central character I enjoy. Detective Sergeant D.C. Smith is a curmudgeon, an older cop who conceals an essentially kindly nature behind a crusty exterior. He uses his dry sense of humor as a tool to keep his opponents – both professional and criminal – off balance. He’s nearing retirement as Time and Tide begins. Police work is changing. He’s never warmed to the use of the computer (though he’s happy to have his underlings take advantage of them), and recent force reorganizations have played hob with his carefully trained and organized team. Although he’s only a sergeant (he rejected promotion; it would confine him behind a desk), he’s effectively the leader of that team.

In Time and Tide, a body is discovered floating in the sea off the Norfolk coast by a party of seal-watching tourists. The deceased was a large, tough-looking specimen dressed in an expensive suit, without any form of ID. In time he’s identified as a London businessman, once a gangster but now “legitimate.”

DC Smith is (or feels himself to be) as much hampered by the police bureaucracy as by the villains. He has a new detective inspector over his head, and he happens to be a man who once questioned Smith in connection with a murder. On the civilian side, he faces the challenge of a small community looking after its own – confident it can take care of its own problems, and resentful of official interference. And in the background, there’s a mysterious elderly woman of great natural beauty, a one-time pop star who has been living in obscurity on the coast for decades.

There’s a valedictory quality to Time and Tide. Smith has given his resignation and named the date of his retirement, and everything happens in the shade of that deadline. But there’s a couple months left, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if author Grainger doesn’t find a way to squeeze one or two more mysteries into that window of time.

Some people may find this book slow, because it’s pretty realistic about the amount of time and effort paperwork and legwork take up in any investigation. But I enjoyed it immensely. Only mild cautions for language and mature themes.

They Weren’t Stories

Every published writer is the beneficiary of luck. Among my good fortune was the fact that editors began to treat me as if they were my aunts. They were all women, of course. There were no men in the fiction departments. On one of my visits to New York, three or four editors from different magazines sat me down in the Algonquin, plied me with manhattans, and discussed my career. It was now three years since my big resolution. I was selling stories regularly. One year I sold more stories to Redbook than anyone else ever had, using several pen names. It was the consensus of the group that I was ready for more. I needed an agent.

Ralph M. McInerny, author of the Father Dowling series, wrote about his career many years ago in First Things.

“What I thought were stories piled up on the workbench. With time I began to see why they were rejected: They weren’t stories.”

Heist

A Danish scholar, Christian Jürgensen Thomsen, is considered one of the fathers of the modern field of archaeology. He was the first curator to arrange artifacts according to the materials from which they were made, helping to develop the concept of historical ages – Stone, Bronze, Iron.

Scandinavian archaeology suffered a serious blow recently, when thieves entered the University Museum of Bergen, Norway, by way of a repair scaffold. Inventory still has not determined the entire extent of losses, though I’ve seen pictures of missing items posted on Facebook, with alerts to watch out for them on the antiquities market. It appears a number of Viking Age items are among those missing.

More Evidence Facebook Is Evil

“An artificial intelligence system being developed at Facebook has created its own language,” reports Digital Journal. “It developed a system of code words to make communication more efficient. Researchers shut the system down when they realized the AI was no longer using English.”

Whether the AI agents were actually saying anything of consequence is another matter. If they weren’t, this is just an interesting story of robot slang, which is a natural way to use language. But it’s still evil, natch. Robots talking among themselves in a language they developed themselves? That’s the definition of evil.

Why Do People Defend Modern-Day Slavery?

A big story in the news this week is the return of an old story. People are rallying to remove monuments of Confederate soldiers, which remind them of our country’s disturbing history, a slave industry that continued to oppress long after its dismantling.

But slavery still exists in the sex industry and is defended by some of the very people calling for the removal of monuments (as well as some of those supporting the monuments). Brothels in Nevada, surrounded by barbed wire, imprison women, if not girls as well, who supposedly living free and fulfilled lives.

One of the most disturbing discoveries I made was that the loudest voices calling for legalisation and normalisation of prostitution are the people who profit from it: pimps, punters and brothel owners. They have succeeded in speaking for the women under their control. The people who know the real story about the sex trade have been gagged by a powerful lobby of deluded ‘liberal’ ideo-logues and sex-trade profiteers.

… why on earth do human rights campaigners and so many on the left support prostitution as a ‘job’ for women, and a ‘right’ of men? It all begins with the emergence of the campaign against HIV/Aids.

(via Prufrock News)

‘Dead Eyed’ by Matt Brolly

Dead Eyed

This one runs counter to the trend I observed (or thought I observed) a few days ago – that English mystery writing is tending toward rural and small town settings. Dead Eyed, by Matt Brolly, is a fully urban mystery, dividing its time between London and Bristol.

Michael Lambert is a London detective chief inspector. For several years he has been part of a secretive special division, but now he’s on compassionate leave following the death of his young daughter. He originally went into police work in the wake of the torture murder of a college friend, one of a series of such murders that remain unsolved.

Now, about 15 years later, another man is found murdered the same way – his eyes cut out of his head, and a Latin phrase meaning “The eyes are the windows of the soul” carved into his chest. Although he has no official standing, Michael pulls strings to be allowed to participate in the investigation. It’s not only a matter of closing a cold case; it’s perhaps an opportunity to exorcise some personal devils. The killer is extremely clever, always a step ahead of the investigators – and the murders are continuing.

Dead Eyed is an example of a book that was well done in many ways, but was clearly not for me – in the sense that the author doesn’t want people like me for readers. Author Brolly (what a perfect English name!) approaches the world from a very modern perspective. Abortion is morally neutral. Homosexuality is absolutely laudable. And religion is an aberration, a weird activity catering to a few weak-minded people, largely bigots.

The writing is good, the characters interesting, the dialogue professional. I thought the resolution of the book a little disappointing – the killer’s motivations are never really explained. But it’s a good novel, especially considered as a first novel. Recommended on its merits, but not really meant for Christians.

The strenuous life

It was quite a weekend. By an old bachelor’s standards, anyway. I take some pride in having got through it with my natural force unabated.

Saturday was the big event at Camp Ripley (believe it or not), Little Falls, Minn., for the 75th anniversary of the activation of the 99th Infantry Battalion (Separate), the US Army’s Norwegian “foreign legion” in World War II. The festivities actually began the day before and continued through the evening, but I was only there Saturday afternoon. (That doesn’t mean I wasn’t invited to do more; I was. But I had to get home and unload my car for the following day’s exertions.)

Saturday afternoon was the public event. Besides us Vikings, there was an informational booth explaining about the unit’s history. There was also a small encampment of World War II reenactors:

[A photo belongs here, but our account doesn’t seem to allow posting from Photobucket anymore.]

Nice guys. Had some interesting conversations. These are history people, and Vikings were not outside their range of interest. Continue reading The strenuous life

‘Cold Land,’ by John Oakes

Cold Land

Another mystery set in Minnesota. I keep buying these things. Was John Oakes’s Cold Land more satisfying to me than the previous suspects? Read on and learn…

Jake Adler is a proud Texas Ranger. But he loves his wife, who left him, taking their two daughters, to go home to Minnesota. So Jake bit the bullet and drove north, lured by a job opening in Minnesota’s Bureau of Criminal Apprehension.

But this isn’t the elite, professional BCA so many of us know from John Sandford’s Prey novels. The BCA in this novel is a moribund organization, crippled by budget cuts. Just a few agents wander its empty office building, and those are mostly low achievers dumped by other agencies. This shocks Jake, but what’s worse is that he’s told his application (despite his credentials) will have to go in the queue with others, and he must wait a couple weeks for a decision.

But there’s a secretary in the center of the wreck of BCA, one of those indispensable, competent women who keep organizations afloat. She tells Jake, confidentially, that if he goes along to help Jerry Unger, a veteran agent, with a petty fraud case, she thinks she can find a way to get him hired. So Jake accompanies Jerry on that not-very-promising assignment. Only they discover a body, which makes it a murder investigation, and Jerry and Jake are now competing with other cops to thwart what gradually is revealed to be a major hijacking plot. Along the way, Jake will make shocking personal discovery.

I guess the portrayal of Minnesota is only fair. In so many novels, we see the south through northern eyes, and get an endless vista of gap-toothed, inbred rednecks. In this book, we have Minnesota viewed through southern (Texan) eyes, and the prospect is no more appealing. Minnesota seems to be full of trailer trash too. In fact we see little of the state here besides blighted neighborhoods, and the weather’s cold to boot.

I didn’t take these descriptions personally (though I wondered what Oakes has against Anoka, for which he reserves special derision. I always thought Anoka kind of a yuppy, arty place). I also found the plot a little hard to follow (which may be only a comment on me).

My real problem was with the tone of the thing. The book has a sort of a black humor voice, with serious crimes yoked to light dialogue. John Sandford finds a balance when he writes this kind of story, but Cold Land didn’t entirely gel for me. The various plot elements seemed to work against each other.

But author Oakes shows promise. I think he’ll improve with time. Cautions for the usual stuff. Some themes seemed conservative to me, but a couple shots were taken at Christians.

Catch me if you can

As previously announced, I’ll be at Camp Ripley, near Little Falls, Minnesota tomorrow, for the 75th anniversary of the activation of the 99th Infantry Battalion (Separate), the special commando unit created by the US Army for the possible invasion of Norway in World War II. The event is at the Military History Museum, and is open to the public from 1:00 to 5:00 p.m.

The address is 15000 Hwy 115, Little Falls, Minn. 56345.

‘To Live Like the Women of Viking Literature’

Die Walkurie

When Dave Lull sent me a link to this article from Literary Hub, I was a little uncomfortable. Articles on women in the Viking Age, like anything having to do with male/female relations written nowadays, tend to be, shall we say, “pregnant” with sociopolitical baggage. But the linked piece by Linnea Hartsuyker is accurate in every detail as far as I can tell. I could find no fault with it.

And you know I tried.

Women warriors were a potent literary fantasy, especially in a hyper-masculine medieval world where honor and avoidance of effeminacy were key motivators of male action. In narratives that contain women warriors, it is often the role of the male hero to turn them into wives and mothers, and their submission thus enhances the male hero’s virility. Women warriors, at least in the surviving literature, are never the central heroes of the tales, but ambivalent figures to be wooed and conquered.

You Can’t Say ‘Hello’ Without ‘O’

Callie Feyen writes about James Thurber’s The Wonderful O, in which a sailor named Black hates the letter O. She says it’s terribly funny.

Despite Black’s efforts, the people of Ooroo bring O back. They do it by speaking the names of characters in beloved stories: Romeo, Robin Hood, Shylock, and Captain Hook. Black scoffs at their efforts; these characters, he says, are mere creatures of fantasy, made of ink, and “ink can be destroyed . . . books can be burned.”

(via Prufrock News)

‘Dead Hill,’ by John Dean

Dead Hill

In the previous John Dean novel I read, To Die Alone (reviewed south of here), I came away kind of cool to the main character. Detective Inspector Jack “Hawk” Harris operates in a fictional small town in northern England. He seemed a fairly garden variety literary detective in the Inspector Morse mode – eccentric, poorly socialized, and rude to everyone (including his superior). His chief virtue was his love for animals, especially his black Labrador, Scoot, who accompanies him pretty much everywhere.

In this novel, Dead Hill (actually an earlier installment in the series), I got a better opportunity to know Inspector Harris, and I liked him better. He’s even admirable at times.

A man is found dead at the bottom of a cliff in an old quarry. However (as Harris immediately suspects) the man did not fall by accident. He was struck on the head and pushed, according to the medical examiner. Suspicion falls on a couple of visitors in the area, shady types out to steal the eggs of golden eagles for collectors. But witnesses report a third man with them – though they deny that.

A lot of people are telling lies about a lot of things, and Harris’s investigation leads him back into his own past. Many of the villains in this complex case were fellows he went to school with as a boy – and he himself came within an inch of following on their path. But he didn’t know them as well as he thought he did, and he will see many of his memories and assumptions turned upside down before all is done.

Harris’s moral character is more on display here than in the last book I read, and that improved the story immensely for me. I enjoyed it quite a bit and recommend it. With mild cautions, of course, for language and disturbing themes.

Good Talk with Writer Trevin Wax

The Calling podcast has a good talk this week with Trevin Wax. He talks about his love of books and his calling as a writer in ways they don’t drip with sap (such as you may or may not read in other places). Here’s one quote lifted off the podcast page.

On writing’s challenges: “The biggest struggle is bouncing back and forth between pride and humiliation. If you’re not careful, that mix can paralyze you. If you take praise or criticism too personally, it’s bad for heart. It’ll shut you down.”

I would subscribe to The Calling, if my podcast app would cooperate with me, but it’s showing me the hand this week.

Book Reviews, Creative Culture