Tuesday, November 18, 2014

A short story--"Ruth's First Christmas Tree" by Elly Griffiths

Elly Griffiths “Ruth’s First Christmas Tree” is a delightful short story.

Aware that her daughter Kate (now almost two years old) will want a Christmas tree, forensic archaeologist Ruth Galloway breaks down and buys one.

As an adult, Ruth has shied away from any Christmas celebrations.

Ruth leaves the tree with the seller to pick up later in the day. When she returns, the seller has skedaddled.

Ruth and Kate end up with an inferior Christmas tree. Then Kate dismantles it, decorations and all. Their friend Cathbad shows up to make Christmas special.

Ruth’s first Christmas tree ends up embodying traditions more ancient than the time of Jesus.

This little story has a small mystery in it too. Someone stole an archeological artifact. Ruth finds it and arranges for it to be returned.

The story has many of the regular characters, even a distant appearance on the part of Ruth’s fundamentalist parents.

I ran across "Ruth's First Christmas Tree" as a free offering from Kindle. Amazon still had it listed as free on the day I posted these words.

Oddly, the story seems to have two titles--“Ruth’s First Christmas” and “Ruth’s First Christmas Tree.”

Sunday, November 16, 2014

CARIOCA FLETCH by Gregory Mcdonald


In Gregory Mcdonald’s Carioca Fletch (1984), Fletch attends the Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Carinival.

Along the way, he meets a woman who believes Fletch murdered her husband. Then he meets another woman who thinks Fletch is the reincarnation of her murdered husband who died more than forty years ago. And finally, he becomes involved with a group of crazy carnival dancers.

Fletch helps the dancers dispose of a dead body by making it look as if the man drowned in a boat accident. He finds the man who murdered the second woman's husband, and he reconciles with the first woman.

The story seems disjointed because Fletch’s experience is disjointed. Nothing about what happens to him makes sense to people who think like me. 

But that’s the point of it all. The wild described-in-detail carnival atmosphere transforms Fletch.

It took me a while to get into this book, but when I did, I found Carioca Fletch funny and readable.

I used to enjoy reading the Fletch stories. When I ran across this book in our local used book store, I bought it. (The book is also available as an e-book.)

Monday, November 10, 2014

RISKY UNDERTAKING by Mark de Castrique

The Buryin’ Barry Clayton books have changed.

The earlier ones were about a small town undertaker who solves murders. 

Mark de Castrique's Risky Undertaking, the new Buryin’ Barry book, is about a small town deputy sheriff who is an undertaker on the side.

Someone kills a Cherokee activist Jimmy Panther. Panther disrupted a funeral to protest what he claims is the desecration of Cherokee burial grounds.

Is the murder related to the protest, or is it related to casino issues in and around Gainesboro, North Carolina?

Panther’s murder appears to be a mob hit. Buryin’ Barry (now primarily a sheriff’s deputy) investigates. He tries to find out if a Boston hit man in town for a poker tournament committed the murder.

Along the way, someone kidnaps a well-thought-of Cherokee youth. The “risky undertaking” of the book’s title has to do with whether Barry and his cohorts can save the child. 

Risky Undertaking is well-plotted. It is interesting to read for that reason alone. The characters are as unique as always. But I miss the old Barry Clayton, the undertaker functioning in that role.

Sometimes I read books because they have different settings or unusual types of characters. The Buryin’ Barry books have changed. Now Barry is a cop. He is doing what cops do.

I wanted to dislike this book. I wanted Barry to be different. But the book is so well-plotted, I liked it in spite of myself. I recommend Risky Undertaking.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

THE OUTCAST DEAD by Elly Griffiths


Elly Griffiths The Outcast Dead was a hard book to read.

The book dealt with murdered children. Archeologist Ruth Galloway found what she thought might be the bones of Mother Hook, alleged to be a Victorian era child-murderess.

At the same time, DCI Harry Nelson investigates the deaths of three infants. Officials had listed their deaths as accidental.

Then to top it off, there are child kidnappings.

Amidst all this, Ruth becomes involved in filming a TV documentary on Mother Hook. Along the way she meets a potential love interest.

As always, the continuing characters fascinate. The Druid Cathbad has run away from his true love, a married woman. Circumstances force him to return. (For those not familiar with this series--The main characters have intricate relationships. Ruth, for example, has a child by the married DCI Nelson.) 

So much child murder was hard for me. We have small children we love dearly.

For several years I served on the Child Fatality Board of my county. The state-mandated board (convened by the corner and involving a representative of the county child abuse agency, the county prosecutor, the sheriff, the police, the highway patrol, and a local pastor) reviewed the deaths of all minors in the county. We were trying to make sure that “accidental” or “natural” deaths were indeed that.

So reading about the deaths of children is hard for me.

Also, I found the filming of the TV show, the jockeying for position, especially by Ruth’s boss, true to life but boring. I have trouble relating to those kinds of false values.

Still, I find the Ruth Galloway series fascinating. This book was as interesting as the Ruth Galloway books always are.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

TO LOVE AND BE WISE by Josephine Tey

In Josephine Tey’s 1950 book To Love And Be Wise, Scotland Yard Inspector Alan Grant tries to decide whether what appears to be an accidental drowning actually is.

The first third of the book sets up the story. 

American photographer Leslie Searle shows up at a sophisticated party.

Author Lavinia Fitch invites Searle to Salcott St. Mary, a small town that has become an artists’ colony.

While there, Searle teams up with a minor national celebrity Walter Whitmore to write a book on the area. Whitmore will write the text and Searle will take the pictures.

Searle also seems to be in competition for Whitmore’s fiance.

Searle falls into the Rushmere River and drowns. And the story goes from there.

What happens is socially complex. The story ends with a surprise. 

To Love and Be Wise is what I would call a novel of manners, a mystery involving social and family intrigue.

The title comes from Sir Francis Bacon’s quote, “It is impossible to love and be wise.”

I was surprised that I liked the story. It made me think about the nature of clue-driven mysteries. (To Love and Be Wise is a combination police procedural and clue-driven, Agatha Christie-type story.)

At one point, this dialogue occurs-- 

“Have you ever seen a lady sawn in half, sir?”

“I have,” Bryce said, eyeing him with a wary disapproval.

“It seems to me that there is a strong aroma of sawn-lady about this case,” Grant said.

Are stories like To Love And Be Wise magic tricks? Or is there something more to them?

I found something more to Josephine Tey’s To Love and Be Wise.