‘Tin City,’ by David Householder

Tin City

I felt as if I were committing four of the seven deadly sins just by walking with her.

I’m sticking with Rushmore McKenzie, private eye character created by Minnesota author David Householder, even in spite of the liberal virtue-signaling he seems compelled to inject into his stories. So far the stories have been worth the annoyance. So far.

In Tin City, Rushmore “Mac” McKenzie, gets a request for help from a friend. That’s what Mac does, after all. He came into a lot of money and no longer needs to work as a cop. So he helps friends. This friend is his late father’s best friend, a man who helped to raise him. Mr. Mosley is a beekeeper out northwest of Minneapolis, and he wants Mac to help him find out why his bees are dying off. It’s not the usual kind of mystery Mac investigates. It certainly doesn’t look to be very dangerous. But he wants to help Mr. Mosley.

Little does he know. Soon people are shooting at people, and people are getting raped and kidnapped and killed, and Mac finds himself in the center of converging whirlwinds of criminal and law enforcement plans and plots. And the price to be paid will be high indeed.

One thing I like about the McKenzie novels is that author Householder generally avoids the common trope of the Great Secret Conspiracy. He understands that big conspiracies don’t work very well in the real world, and what looks like some master plan generally turns out to be half-ignorant people making assumptions and stumbling against each other in the dark.

Cautions for language, violence, and mature themes. There’s a church and a pastor in the book, and they get treated pretty well.

‘A Hard Ticket Home,’ by David Housewright

A Hard Ticket Home

After Minneapolis author David Housewright wrapped up his Holland Taylor detective series (temporarily, as it turned out) he moved on to create another Minneapolis PI with a slightly more Travis McGee flavor – Rushmore McKenzie, former St. Paul police detective. “Mac” didn’t leave the force because of a traumatic experience or a principled conflict with the brass. He recovered several millions of embezzled money, and the insurance company paid him a 50% finder’s fee – but only after he’d resigned. Now he lives in a big house and, like Travis McGee, just “does favors for friends.” Unlike McGee, he doesn’t care about being paid. Hard Ticket Home is the first book in the series.

The Carlson family of Grand Rapids, Minnesota needs a favor. Their youngest daughter is dying of leukemia and has to have a bone marrow transplant. They think their older daughter Jamie might be a compatible donor – but Jamie ran away several years ago. Mac agrees to try to find her.

This leads him to walk into – and partly set off – a murderous crime spree involving some of the most successful people in Minnesota – people hiding a very dark secret. They have dangerous associates who don’t like private eyes snooping around, and some of them have no scruples about killing Mac – or the people he cares about.

I enjoy Housewright’s stories very much, and I always relish a Twin Cities setting. My only concern is that as he goes on he comments more and more on politics. He’s fairly mainstream, but I think he hits the right harder than the left.

But he hasn’t lost me yet. Cautions for language, very ugly violence, and mature themes.

A peg-legged legend

Long John Silver

It be our fashion to honor “Talk Like a Pirate Day” here at Brandywine Books, and I’d be a Dutchman if I failed in my bounden duties in that regard. So here’s a tale for ye, mateys, from a book called The Pirates, by Douglas Botting, published in 1978 by Time-Life Books:

The lead-up: In August 1720, an East Indiaman called the Cassandra (an ill-fated name if ever I heard one) was set upon by two pirate vessels commanded by Edward England and John Taylor, off the island of Johanna near Madagascar. The Cassandra’s skipper was James Macrae. Macrae ran his ship aground to escape the attackers, and after ten days in hiding returned to try to negotiate with the freebooters. The pirates were divided in their opinions as to whether to kill the captain or to spare him on account of his bravery.

At a critical moment a fierce-looking, heavily whiskered pirate seaman, with a wooden leg and a belt stuffed with pistols, stomped up the deck swearing like a parrot; taking Macrae by the hand he swore that he knew the captain, he had sailed with him once, and was very glad to see him. “Shew me the man that offers to hurt Captain Macrae,” he roared, “and I’ll stand to him, for an honester fellow I never sailed with.” This unnamed member of Taylor’s crew was to gain immortality many years later as the inspiration for Treasure Island’s Long John Silver.

The pirates allowed Macrae to go free….

Captain Macrae’s savior, however, was not the sole inspiration for “Barbecue” Silver (who used a crutch, not a wooden leg). Author Robert Louis Stevenson told the poet and editor William Ernest Henley, author of “Invictus” (who had one leg), that he was the original.

Why Read James Fenimore Cooper’s Books?

American author James Fenimore Cooper was born September 15, 1789. He died September 14, 1851. Daniel Webster said the following year, Cooper’s work was “truly patriotic and American, throughout and throughout.”

“He possessed the power of amusing,” he said, “and of enlightening readers among the younger classes of the country, without injury to their morals or any solicitation of depraved passions.”

But that was then. Do we still need to read The Last of the Mohicans or The Leatherstocking Tales today? Kelly Scott Franklin of Hillsdale College says we should. “For all his long-windedness, Cooper is the master of light and shadow; his American landscape is surreal, rugged, beautiful, and dangerous.” (via Prufrock News)

I’d Rather Ye Saw on the Ship Knees Than Mine.

September 19 is Talk like a Pirate Day, so here’s a selection of dialogue from Walter Scott’s The Pirate.

“The lads,” he said, “all knew Cleveland, and could trust his seamanship, as well as his courage; besides, he never let the grog get quite uppermost, and was always in proper trim, either to sail the ship, or to fight the ship, whereby she was never without some one to keep her course when he was on board. — And as for the noble Captain Goffe,” continued the mediator, “he is as stout a heart as ever broke biscuit, and that I will uphold him; but then, when he has his grog aboard — I speak to his face — he is so d—d funny with his cranks and his jests, that there is no living with him. You all remember how nigh he had run the ship on that cursed Horse of Copinsha, as they call it, just by way of frolic; and then you know how he fired off his pistol under the table, when we were at the great council, and shot Jack Jenkins in the knee, and cost the poor devil his leg, with his pleasantry.”1

“Jack Jenkins was not a chip the worse,” said the carpenter; “I took the leg off with my saw as well as any loblolly-boy in the land could have done — heated my broad axe, and seared the stump — ay, by — ! and made a jury-leg that he shambles about with as well as ever he did — for Jack could never cut a feather.”2

“You are a clever fellow, carpenter,” replied the boatswain, ” a d—d clever fellow! but I had rather you tried your saw and red-hot axe upon the ship’s knee-timbers than on mine, sink me!

Continue reading I’d Rather Ye Saw on the Ship Knees Than Mine.

‘Another One,’ by Tony Faggioli

Another One

I’m ambivalent about the “naturalistic” school of Christian fiction. There’s a small group of Christian authors – and make no mistake, they are brave souls – who’ve decided that the gospel is badly served by the sugar-coating and bowdlerizing so common in Christian fiction. They believe it’s time to drop the taboos, because how can we expect people to believe what we say about heavenly things when we don’t tell the truth about earthly things?

I salute their courage and honestly, and I’m not entirely sure they’re wrong. I try to steer my own fiction closer to that line than many, so I’d be kind of hypocritical to condemn them. But I can’t deny they make me a little uncomfortable. It may be just because I’m old.

Tony Faggioli is the author of Another One, the first in a trilogy of supernatural crime novels starring Evan Parker, a Los Angeles police detective. The book is presented from multiple viewpoints, following Parker (an Iraq War veteran with PTSD) as he and his partner investigate the murder of a Hispanic gang member shot to death in a Korean neighborhood. We follow Father Bernardino Soltera, who is trying to help a young girl who has gotten pregnant by her gang member boyfriend, and is contemplating abortion. And Hector Villarosa, a gang leader just released from prison. He finds that his girlfriend has taken up with another man, and is contemplating revenge even as he struggles with guilt over setting his own cousin up to be murdered.

These men are bound together, not only by intertwined crimes, but by the visions they see – beings of good and beings of evil who respectively promise to protect or to kill and damn them. Continue reading ‘Another One,’ by Tony Faggioli

Daniel Krauthammer on Finishing His Father’s Book

Charles Krauthammer’s son, Daniel, has written a touching paragraph on his father’s final project.

When his health crisis struck a year ago, my father was in the advanced stages of work on a new book. And when his health deteriorated and the end of his life was approaching, he entrusted me to bring it to completion on his behalf.

Read the rest here.

The book, The Point of It All: A Lifetime of Great Loves and Endeavors, will be released in December.

‘Superheroes Can’t Save You’ by Todd Miles

There is no hint that Batman is anything other than an incredible human being (with seemingly unlimited amounts of cash). Though such qualities and skills are never found in any one real human being (that is what makes him Batman, after all), they are just human qualities and skills. He may be the most remarkable human being in comic lore, but in the final analysis he is just a human being.

And some people feel the same about Jesus.

Todd Miles, professor of theology at Western Seminary in Portland, Ore., spent most of his allowance on comic books for many years back around the time each book cost a quarter. He would browse the drug store rack weekly, reading most issues while in search of the few he would redeem with his not-so-hard-earned dollar. Many years later (after the experiments of a mad scientist would ruin his ambition to become the first man to circumnavigate Mars in a weather balloon), he connected his theological training to his comic lore fascination to make this conclusion: “Every bad idea about Jesus can be illustrated by a superhero,” at least the biggest bad ideas can. He ran with that idea in a Sunday School class, later a youth retreat, and with much encouragement wrote a book on it.

Superheroes Can’t Save You covers seven of the most popular heresies about the person of Christ Jesus, tying each of them to memorable superheroes. The chapter on the Trinity ties to Ant-Man, arguing against the idea that God manifests himself in one of three modes: the Father, Son, or Holy Spirit. The chapter on Jesus’s full humanity connects to Superman, explaining how Jesus, as God, did not merely pose as a man (as Kal El did in taking the alias Clark Kent) but became a man completely.

While each chapter is not evenly paced, they do follow a pattern. Miles begins with the comic lore, segues into the heresy, takes a moment to explain who commits the heresy today, describes the biblical truth, and then offers reasons for the importance of these truths. I think in every case, the key problem with the heresy is the undermining of our salvation. The Bible offers a clear logic for salvation, why we need it and how it is accomplished. With humor and careful writing, Miles tells his readers these alternate concepts of Christ don’t work in that logic. Thor can’t save us. Neither can a savior like the Hulk with all of his incredibleness. Only the living Jesus can save us.

I said each chapter is not quite even, because some of them dive into the comic storyline more than others and some swim through history more than others. Miles’s explanation of each heresy in a modern context brings the history forward, so it doesn’t remain as weird ideas from the past. Casual readers can discover liberals commit the Batman heresy and ways we teach about the Trinity easily lead people into the Ant-Man heresy (Oneness Pentecostals teach that heresy explicitly).

In the chapter on the Green Lantern heresy, Miles’s dive into Christ’s humility as Paul puts it in Philippians 2:5-8 had me in tears. Christ Jesus is awesome. He is the only one who can save us. But from who? Luthor? Bane? Magneto or Doctor Doom? No, the real life treat we face is ourselves. We have forged our own destinies, followed our own dreams, and would pour dust upon dust forever if the Lord God, our Creator, refused to intervene.

‘Darkness, Sing Me a Song,’ by David Housewright

Darkness, Sing Me a Song

I’m not sure why author David Housewright decided to resurrect his Holland Taylor detective series after turning his attention to a much longer series with another character. But so he did, just this year, six years after the previous installment. I liked Darkness, Sing Me a Song, though I was a little annoyed by the addition of politics to a series that had been pretty evenhanded up to now.

Things have changed since Dearly Departed (reviewed below). Minneapolis detective Holland Taylor has broken up with his girlfriend, and is instead seeing a married woman, off and on. He moved out of his house, into an apartment. He now has a partner in his private investigations business.

His work is mostly dull, and he’s not complaining. But one of his best clients, a high-powered law firm, asks him to help with the legal defense of Eleanor Barrington, one of the richest women in the state. She is accused of shooting her son’s fiancée, Emily Denys, to death. She denies guilt, though she does not hide her contempt for the young woman.

Investigation reveals that Emily Denys did not exist – her identity was false. Trying to trace her true name leads Taylor to a small Wisconsin town, where feelings are running high on both sides of the (fracking-related) sand mining business. Taylor will also uncover very dark secrets about the Barrington family. There’s a “surprise” twist near the end, which didn’t surprise me at all, nor do I think it will surprise many seasoned mystery readers. However – it must be noted – it’s not the surprise itself but the original twist author Taylor puts on the surprise that makes the book work in the end. And it does work.

I enjoyed Darkness, Sing Me a Song, but not quite as much as the previous books. Recommended, with cautions for language and mature themes.

Oh yeah, at one point he says that the city of Shakopee is southeast of the Twin Cities. It’s actually northwest. Weird.

‘Dearly Departed,’ by David Housewright

Dearly Departed

I put the older man at sixty. Hard. You could roller skate on him.

The saga of Holland Taylor, Twin Cities PI, continues with Dearly Departed. I like the way author David Housewright puts fresh spins on old plot themes. Dearly Departed, a story in the tradition of the movie “Laura,” was my favorite in the series so far.

Hunter Truman is the sleaziest of ambulance-chasing lawyers, a man unesteemed even in his own profession. He sued Holland Taylor once. And yet here he is, asking to hire Taylor to look for a missing woman. Taylor wants nothing to do with him – until he looks at the fascinating photograph of Alison Emerton. Truman plays him a tape Alison left behind, in which she states that if anyone hears this, she will be dead, and her ex-boss is the killer.

Alison has disappeared without a trace. All her possessions are still in her house. She must be dead, but Truman’s clients want to know exactly what happened to her.

Against his better judgment, drawn by the visceral appeal of the photograph and the voice, Taylor agrees to look for her. His hunt will take him to a resort town where residents are at each other’s throats over the question of a new Indian casino. There’s a plot twist that isn’t much of a surprise, but that just sets the stage for further surprises.

Dearly Departed drew me in and kept me fascinated. I enjoyed the characters and was fascinated by the mystery. I appreciated the examination of men’s perceptions of women, realistic and delusional.

Cautions for language and mature situations. Recommended.

‘Practice to Deceive,’ by David Housewright

Practice to Deceive

I felt about as big as a period at the end of a sentence.

The second book in the highly enjoyable Holland Taylor series by David Housewright is Practice to Deceive. I liked it as much as the first book.

When Taylor’s parents invite him to visit them in Florida, they have an ulterior motive (their relationship is awkward). His father introduces him to Mrs. Gustafson, a friend who’s been swindled out of all her money by a slick Minnesota investment counselor. Can Taylor do anything to help her get it back?

At first he resists. It’s not his kind of case; he doesn’t understand these matters. But when his father explains exactly what the investment counselor did – getting her power of attorney, then investing her funds in a risky real estate project after she’d suffered a stroke and was expected to die – he’s outraged and agrees to look into it.

Since the counselor has technically not broken the law, Taylor decides to take a more high school approach to the problem – harassing him, hacking his online accounts, working juvenile practical jokes. And it almost works – until somebody kills the counselor and steals the money he was going to pay Mrs. Gustafson back with. Suddenly the game is deadly serious, and Taylor’s own life is on the line.

Great fun. Although there’s plenty of traditional detective stuff, Housewright can take very unconventional approaches to his plots, turning old situations fresh. Cautions for language and mature situations, including some fairly creepy scenes involving a transvestite. And some hard-boiled irony.

‘Penance,’ by David Housewright

Penance

All in all, it’s a great time to be a private investigator: Nobody trusts anybody.

Sometimes – rarely, of course – I surprise myself with my ignorance. Discovering a “new” detective author whom I would rate on the level of John Sandford and (before he went full PC) Robert B. Parker was a surprise. Finding out he’s a local (Minneapolis) author amazed me. But so it is. David Housewright is a very good hard-boiled writer, and I’m enjoying his Holland Taylor series a lot.

At the opening of Penance we find former police detective, now private eye, Holland Taylor in an interrogation room, being grilled by two policemen. He was surprised to be arrested, but not surprised when he learned the reason. The drunken driver who killed Taylor’s wife and daughter, recently released from prison, has been murdered. Taylor is the obvious first suspect.

As suddenly as he was arrested, Taylor finds himself released, and he returns to his current case, which involves a beautiful, dark horse, third-party gubernatorial candidate who is being blackmailed. Eventually he learns there’s a link between the first case and this one, and things get convoluted and deadly. In the end the revelations he unearths will be genuinely shocking.

The plot’s more complex than it needs to be, with too many characters and plot lines. But the story gripped me and the narrator was fascinating. Widower detectives have gotten to be a trope (because the situation offers lots of scope for female companionship, and an excuse for not bonding), but author Housewright handles the trope well. I was hooked, and I’ve been scarfing these books up one after another. More reviews to come.

The stories are a little dated, being written back in the 1990s (though a fourth in the series came out this year). The usual cautions for language and mature situations apply. The politics are hard to nail down – which is just fine by me.

‘Laughing Shall I Die,’ by Tom Shippey

Laughing Shall I Die

And what this means for us is that if you come across headlines – as these days you very often do – which say something like ‘Vikings! Not just raiders and looters any more!’ then the headlines are wrong. If people weren’t raiding and looting (and land-grabbing, and collecting protection money), then they had stopped being Vikings. They were just Scandinavians.

The trouble with reading a book that really excites you is that you end up highlighting passage after passage. Then it’s hard to pick one out to put at the head of a review. I finally chose one from near the beginning, but there were many others.

I’ve posted an excerpt previously, because I did find Laughing Shall I Die: Lives and Deaths of the Great Vikings, by Tom Shippey an intriguing and exciting book in my favorite historical field. It’s been a long time since I’ve read one more intriguing. I don’t necessarily agree with all of it. In some ways Shippey’s thesis supports “my” work (Viking Legacy, which I translated), in some ways it contradicts it. I have praised Anders Winroth in a previous review (though disagreeing with him at many points). Shippey essentially discards Winroth as one who misses the whole point.

The point being that the word “Viking” is routinely misused in our day. “Viking” means a seaborne warrior – a pirate. If you write about early Medieval Scandinavians in all walks of life and re-label them Vikings, you’re confusing the matter.

To put it bluntly (again), most scholarly books with ‘Viking’ in the title turn out not to be about Vikings, because Vikings aren’t popular among scholars. This book is different: it really is about Vikings.

Continue reading ‘Laughing Shall I Die,’ by Tom Shippey

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