Wednesday, October 7, 2015

not a mystery - ORPHAN TRAIN by Christina Baker Kline

Christina Baker Kline’s Orphan Train (2013) is a young adult novel.

Near the end of a series of stays in abusive foster homes, seventeen-year-old Molly Ayer tries to steal her favorite book Jane Eyre. The librarian catches her, and to avoid juvenile detention, Molly has to serve 50 hours of community service.

She ends up helping ninety-one-year-old Vivian Daly organize her attic.

Vivian came to depression era Minnesota on an orphan train. She was one of tens of thousands of orphans sent on trains to the Midwest. Mostly well-intentioned people farmed the children out, often to abusive families.

Through a series of frightening and fortuitous events, Vivian ended up in Spruce Harbor, Maine, where, near the end of her life, Molly came to help her organize her attic.

Molly and Vivian are both orphans. As different as they are (Molly comes from Penobscot Indian ancestors and Vivian from Irish immigrants), they have much in common. And they come to love one another.

Orphan Train is a story of portaging. When the Wabanakis Indian tribe carried their canoes from one river to another, they had to decide what to leave and what to take. They had to travel light but to take with them what they valued.

Molly learns about portaging from a compassionate teacher. It occurs to Molly that both she and Vivian have had to portage, decide what to leave and what to take, along the way. (An especially sad part of the story has Vivian giving up her new born child.)

At one point, Molly tells her boyfriend Jack about what turtles mean to her Native American ancestors. “Turtles carry their homes on their backs. They’re exposed and hidden at the same time. They’re a symbol of strength and perseverance.”

And at another point Molly listens to the tapes of Vivian’s story and understands, “Vivian has come back to the idea that the people who matter in our lives stay with us, haunting our most ordinary moments. They’re with us in the grocery store, as we turn a corner, chat with a friend. They rise up through the pavement; we absorb them through our soles.”

Orphan Train is a hopeful story. Vivian takes Molly in as she escapes the last abuse. And Molly helps Vivian find people she loves.

Christina Baker Kline tells her story in present time laced with flashback chapters.

I came to Orphan Train for two reasons: (1) A book group at our retirement center chose it to read; and (2) I knew an elderly married couple both of whom came to St. Louis as children on an orphan train. My two friends never seemed happy. I always wondered what their stories might be. They were too old and disabled to tell me.

As I read Orphan Train, I found myself thinking about how many of the orphans must have had even sadder stories than Vivian's. For many, there were surely no happy endings.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

ACCUSED by Lisa Scottoline

Lisa Scottoline’s Accused is a mixture of mystery and romance.

A thirteen-year-old heiress hires lawyer Mary DiNunzio of Philadelphia’s Rosato & Associates to prove a convicted murderer didn’t do the crime. Mary’s life is changing. She has just become a partner in the firm. She is newly engaged, but struggling to know if she should continue on the marriage path.

What makes the case strange is not only the age of the client but also the facts of the case. The murderer’s guilt seems obvious.

So Mary and her sidekick Judy Carrier investigate.

Complications ensue. Their client’s family throws the lawyers out of their house. They get their daughter committed to a mental institution. And Mary and Judy end up moving a bee colony into the hive for their institutionalized client.

Mary is working day and night. She and her fiancée grow farther and farther apart. Mary’s family and their friends the Tonys are as dysfunctional as ever. And Mary hits dead end after dead end in the case.

Finally, she and Judy (long-term friends) have a monster row. Judy thinks they are chasing shadows.

But all turns out well. Someone tries to kill Mary, and that helps break the case open. It also helps Mary decide about being married, about becoming part of two loving but dysfunctional families, and about reconciling with Judy.

I bought this book on sale from Amazon Kindle. I had heard of Lisa Scottoline and wondered what she wrote. I found the book humorous in parts but too long. There was too much elaboration on scene and minor details. Otherwise, I liked it.

Obviously the author didn’t write Accused with an old geezer like me in mind, but that didn’t matter. I enjoyed the book.


P.S. We were out of town for a while. That explains the gap in my postings.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Jonathan Latimer’s The Dead Don’t Care (1938) is clue-driven humorous noir.

A wealthy Key Largo, Florida, family hires two alcoholic detectives Bill Crane and Thomas O’Malley to find who is sending them ransom notes.

The vague notes, signed “The Eye,” appear in impossible places. Several appear on the threatened man’s pillow when he wakes up in the morning in his locked bedroom. 

Finally, The Eye carries out his threat. He kidnaps Camelia Essex, the twenty-three-year-old major heiress in the family.

Crane and O’Malley investigate. They go to casinos to gamble. They drink at local bars. They become entangled with a Key Largo mobster.

A rival gang assassinates the mobster, probably because of a dispute about slot machines. Along the way, The Eye kills another person in a hard-to-explain way. And, using his well-disguised intelligence, Bill Crane rescues the maiden and explains it all.

Jonathan Latimer fills The Dead Don’t Care with humor. The book opens with Crane and O’Malley nearly fighting a flamingo.

Crane buys O’Malley Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations. He tells O’Malley he’s not uptown enough for these high class digs. O’Malley needs to learn quotations.

For the rest of the book, O’Malley uses exotic quotations in the right circumstances. Finally, Crane tires of hearing the quotations. He buys the book back from O’Malley at five times what Crane paid for it.

Crane and O’Malley are wise-cracking detectives, especially Crane.

The Dead Don’t Care has a little of everything. The notes and the second killing are closed room mysteries. The story ends as a cozy would, with a gathering of the suspects and Crane’s explanation of the clues. And the book has adequate violence and hard-boiled-detective-stuff to make it noir.

As with most of these books, the cover on the earlier editions promises a racier book than the book is.

I learned of this book by reading Patricia Abbott’s blog feature called “Friday’s Forgotten Books.”

Sunday, September 13, 2015


Arthur W. Upfield’s The Mystery of Swordfish Reef puts Australia’s Inspector Napoleon Bonaparte (Bony) in an unfamiliar setting--the sea.

Bony investigates the loss of a fishing boat off the south-eastern coast of Australia.

The fisherman, his boat, and his two guides disappear. The fisherman is a prominent retired law officer.

When another fishing boat finds the man’s bullet-punctured skull in one of its nets, it is time to call in Bony.

Others have failed. Bony’s skills are particularly suited to the sands of Australia. He can read a hidden trail or see subtle land-locked clues. He knows how the natives and the white settlers think. But can he work on the beautifully described shifting sea?

Using two who know the sea well, Bony maps the movements of the missing boat and all who saw it. And his maps lead him to a rather obvious solution.

At one point Bony says: “I hope, at a later date, that from my papers you will clearly see how important it is to reconstruct the crime and its background. Even on unstatic water objects can be traced and their movements established.”

But there is more to the story than this. Bony catches two huge swordfish, one a near record-breaker, and a Mako shark. He becomes addicted to fishing for swordfish.

He makes a crucial mistake which almost costs him his life. And he attacks and tries to kill a man.

At one point, Bony questions whether he has lost the civilized part of his nature, whether he has become a savage. He is on the verge of despair.

So The Mystery of Swordfish Reef is different. But it still has the same Bony. It also has his wonderful allies, especially Jack Wilton and Joe Peace, the two who run the fishing boat Bony uses.

I enjoy reading about Bony.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

THE PATRIARCH by Martin Walker

Bruno is becoming ordinary.

Martin Walker’s The Patriarch opens with the seemingly natural death of a French WWII hero.

St. Denis Chief of Police Bruno Courrèges suspects foul play. He interviews witnesses and friends. He collects evidence to use when he can pursue the murderer.

The murdered man is the Patriarch’s son’s best friend. The Patriarch is a legendary WWII pilot, one of Bruno’s boyhood heroes.

Why does the Patriarch’s family open its doors to him? He isn’t part of that social milieu. Bruno watches the manipulation occur, but he keeps on investigating.

As so often happens in the Bruno books, The Patriarch has a touching local story. A sad woman opposes deer hunting. She turns her property into a no-hunting preserve. The deer strip the land and destroy the trees. They cause auto accidents.

When Bruno tries to do his relational magic, helping people work together to solve the problem, things turn tragic.

The Patriarch has all the usual things--great local color, somewhat-more-sketchy-than-usual descriptions of wonderful meals, a complex historical backstory, and Bruno’s bedding an of alluring young woman.

But this time, Bruno seems promiscuous. It is time for Bruno to settle down and find a wife.

I was disappointed in this Bruno book, But . . .

. . . The Patriarch was still better than many books I read. 

So, I have hope. Maybe in the next book (or the one after) Bruno will get his life together, begin to court someone he can marry, and once again use more of his wonderful relational skills to solve the local problems of St. Denis. 

Tuesday, September 1, 2015


“It’s only October,” said the vicar’s wife plaintively, “No one should be allowed to mention Christmas before the first of December.”


OK. So I broke the rules.

After a couple of hard reads, I was looking for something light. And lo-and-behold! Kindle offered a special on M.C. Beaton’s Kissing Christmas Goodbye.

Agatha Raisin receives a letter from a woman who expects to be murdered during the Christmas season. Christmas is about the only time her children come to visit her.

Her children hate her. She has bullied them and held them hostage using her wealth to keep them on the string. And now she plans to give her land and wealth away to build a technical school named for her late husband. She is about to change her will.

When Agatha and her new assistant Toni Gilmour go to the old woman’s mansion, they find a hateful old lady. Her murder (using Hemlock) seems appropriate though a daughter-in-law hires Agatha to find the murderer.

The people in the town hate the old lady. She owns everything, charges low rents, but bullies them too. They know that if she gives the land and village away, they will lose their homes, their very roles in life.

Many people have motives.

One thing is different about this Agatha Raisin. We see a side of Agatha we don’t often see. She takes the abused 17-year-old Toni under her wing.

Of course Agatha uses Toni’s talents as an intuitive detective. Toni solves an earlier murder.

Kissing Christmas Goodbye ends in a riotous, unbelievable Christmas party where Agatha learns she no longer cares for her ex-husband James Lacey. Agatha gives up on her illusions about having the perfect Christmas.

The story is unbelievable, but after all, that's what you expect from an Agatha Raisin. 

Kissing Christmas Goodbye has the expected characters. (I especially like Mrs. Bloxby.) It has the usual ditzy but determined Agatha. And it has occasional laugh-out-loud humor.

Christmas doesn’t usually come in September, but this time, for me at least, M.C. Beaton’s Kissing Christmas Goodbye filled the bill.

A SHORT STORY--"A Market Tale" by Martin Walker

Martin Walker’s “A Market Tale” is a heartwarming short story.

Kati, a Swiss tourist, finds the love of her life in the market at St. Denis, France.

The market is, as always, stalls filled with luscious food, crafts, and other items to sell to the villagers and tourists.

The problem is, the love of Kati’s life, a widower who lost his leg in the auto accident that killed his wife, has a hateful sister. His sister tries to short circuit the growing relationship, and Bruno, Chief of Police, intervenes.

I have always loved the St. Denis part of the Bruno stories. I like watching the market work, and I like Bruno’s sensitive approach to the people. These people are his friends and neighbors.

“A Market Tale” has no murder, just an attempt to sabotage a budding relationship and the way Bruno intervenes to make things better.

“A Market Tale” is a short story sold as a stand-alone in e-book format.

Sunday, August 30, 2015


Sometimes characters make the story. Louise Penny’s The Nature of the Beast seemed that way to me.

When someone kills Laurent Lepage after the boy tells another unbelievable story about a big gun in the woods, former Chief Inspector Gamache investigates.

He and his team find the weapon. It has a picture from Revelation’s Second Coming etched on it. They track its history and learn it has a reason to be connected to Three Pines.

So does the chilling serial murderer John Fleming. He ties in with the massive weapon too. He wrote a mysterious play. The director of the local playhouse attempts to conceal the author’s identity to try to get the play produced in Three Pines.

After another murder, Gamache and his team work through to a solution.

My problem was, I saw no convincing reason the facts had to lead to the solution they led too. Several people could have committed the murder. I couldn’t help but think of the Gamache story where Gamache nailed the wrong person. (Penny rectified Gamache’s mistake in a later book.)

I found the premise too fantastic. True, Penny says in her Afterword that such a weapon and plans for its larger prototype existed. That part of the story is one of those fictions loosely based on fact.

But that didn’t much matter to me. What mattered were the characters--Gamache’s wife Reine-Marie (who plays a large part in solving the crime), the poet Ruth, the bookstore owner, the grocery owner, the bistro owners, Laurent’s mother, and all the rest. They made the story for me.

And I had one other thought. I wondered about how art begets art, a major theme in the Gamache books. The Nature of the Beast seems to be built around William Butler Yeats’ poem “The Second Coming.”

As with all the Gamache stories, creative people play a large part. Ruth took ten years off from writing poetry after writing a few lines about a horrific experience in her life. The great painter Clara struggles to paint a portrait of her husband after his horrific death (which showed who he really was). One suspect does skillful line drawings and writes great music with terrible lyrics.

At one point, Gamache says of John Fleming’s seemingly innocuous play, “It has everything to do with him. If John Fleming created it, it’s grotesque. It can’t help but be. Maybe not obviously so, but he’s in every word, every action of the characters. The creator and the created are one.”

When I talk about how I wish Louise Penny would write something lighter sometime, my wife says (paraphrase), "She won’t. That’s not how her mind works."

So be it. Though I didn’t think The Nature of the Beast was her best book, I still see Louise Penny as a particular blessing for mystery lovers.

Sunday, August 23, 2015


What happens when police procedures fall apart? A serial killer thrives.

In F.H. Batacan’s Smaller and Smaller Circles, the year is 1997. Once each month, someone leaves the mutilated body of a pre-teen boy in Manila’s Quezon City dump.

The killer has stripped off the victim’s face, cut out the victim’s heart, and cut off the victim’s genitals.

The police don’t know the serial killings are happening. They have no central database. They keep inadequate reports. They make no effort to look for the common characteristics in recurring crimes.

The murdered boys are ragpickers, people who search the dumps for food and items to sell. The victims count for nothing. All the cops care about are high profile, easy-to-solve cases. And even with those, they don’t care if they get it right as long as they get good publicity.

Two Catholic priests, Father Gus Saenz (a highly trained forensic anthropologist), and his younger friend Father Jerome Lucero (a psychologist), set out to collect the data and solve the crimes.

The two priests are incensed at the Catholic church. The church has evidence against an influential clergyman who abuses young boys. The hierarchy moves the abuser from parish to parish leaving him in charge of an orphanage. He has access to an endless number of victims.

Smaller and Smaller Circles seethes with rage. Near the end of the book, one character says,

“You tell a few rich people that a priest is abusing children? They may care, but they’re unlikely to do anything about it. But you tell them that same priest is stealing their money? Sit back and watch how fast they move.”

At one point, a chapter heading quotes Mark 7:6-9-- “And he said to them, ‘Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, “These people honor me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.” You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.’” (I used the book's punctuation of this quotation.)

Fathers Saenz and Lucero have at least two allies, the interim director of the national police and a local TV reporter.

The two priests solve the crime by going back and reconstructing as much of the neglected police procedure as they can.

According to its Wikipedia entry, Smaller and Smaller Circles won the Carlos Palanca Grand Prize for the English Novel in 1999, the Philippine National Book Award 2002, and the Madrigal-Gonzalez Award 2003.

I found the book to be excellently written, disturbing, and, in some places, so brutal that it was hard to read.

Monday, August 17, 2015


Last week, I read four books. Here are quick summaries of the four--

I stand by what I wrote during my first reading of Jeffrey Siger’s Mykonos After Midnight.

The murder of a prominent Mykonian nightclub owner leads Chief Inspector Andreas Kaldis to unearth seething corruption on the tourist island.

A prominent businessmen and his allies frame Kaldis, putting him in a situation like the one that caused his father to choose to commit suicide.

As always, Greece (and its different areas and islands) come off looking beautiful and corrupt.

The Andreas Kaldis books help me understand the recent meltdown in Greece. But more than that, Siger writes compelling stories I enjoy reading.


Jeffrey Siger’s Sons of Sparta is Yiannis Kouros’ story.

Chief Inspector Andreas Kaldis plays a supporting role, as do the other major characters (Maggie, Tassos, Kaldis’ wife Lila, and others).

Kouros returns to his home region, The Mani Peninsula in the southernmost part of Greece's Peloponnese. He listens to his uncle explain his plan to save their people. Then he returns later to investigate his uncle’s murder.

Kouros’ people (the Mani) are sons and daughters of Sparta, a fiercely loyal group willing to kill even family members who betray tradition. Kouros’s uncle had been trying to change that.

The question is: Was the murder family-oriented, was it caused by outsiders against the uncle’s plans for Mani, or did it happen for other reasons?

Sons of Sparta ends with a hair-raising attempt to rescue one of the major characters.

Again, I enjoy Jeffrey Siger’s books. They teach me about Greece and keep me reading.


In Elly Griffiths' The Ghost Fields, a bulldozer uncovers a buried WWII airplane.

The body in the pilot’s seat could not have been the person flying the plan.

As things turn out, someone murdered the victim. He had a single bullet hole in the middle of his forehead. He is a member of the Blackstock family.

The Blackstocks have lived in their now rundown Norfolk castle for generations.

The pilot ran away to America, went into the armed services, and then ended up buried in the downed airplane in a recently sold part of the Blackstock estate.

How did that happen?

Chief Inspector Harry Nelson calls in forensic archaeologist Ruth Galloway to find out.

Readers of previous books know that Nelson is the father of Ruth’s child. They had an affair in an earlier book.

Nelson’s family story continues. Nelson’s wife is dissatisfied with her marriage, on the verge of seeking a divorce to marry another man.

The Ghost Fields are plots of land laid out to look like airfields. English and American forces built them to draw fire away from their real landing areas.

As the story continues, we have a strange visitor at the airman’s funeral, an eccentric Blackstock son who is a local pig farmer, and another murder. The pigs ate the second murdered man.

As in another Ruth Galloway story, a TV crew is in town to film Ruth’s work.

For me, the story of the airfields was the interesting part.

I liked the previous Ruth Galloway stories better than this one, but I enjoyed the mixture of history, archeology, and unusual characters.


In Martin Walker’s Bruno, Chief of Police, novel The Children Return, Bruno fights terrorists.

Bruno investigates a terrorist assassination. Three assassins tortured, burned, and knifed the man to kill him.

Bruno receives word that Sami Belloumi, an “autistic savant” from Bruno’s village of St. Denis is trying to return home from Afghanistan. (The book continually reminds us that words like “autistic savant” are vague descriptions. Every person is unique. Sami, who barely speaks, is a genius at electronics.)

Terrorists attempt to kidnap Sami’s father. Bruno saves the man, but the terrorists leave Bruno injured.

Sami knows too much for the terrorists to let him stay alive. He remembers the times, places, and people who forced him to build bombs. The terrorists need to kill him and his family at the very least. The terrorists endanger the whole village of St. Denis.

Sami gives officials important information on how the terrorists communicate.

In two other threads, Bruno’s friend Dr. Fabiola is struggling with the psychological scars of rape. She is faced again with her attacker, now a prominent psychologist.

And a wealthy elderly Jewish woman is coming to St. Denis to set up a memorial to the people who hid her and her brother from the Germans during the Holocaust.

All this comes together in a crashingly brutal battle. The battle ends with Bruno’s new love interest (maybe), wounded and on the edge of death.

So, a lot happens in this book.

As usual, Bruno cooks wonderful meals, and we see much of the life of St. Denis, France.

I prefer the Bruno books that center more on the small town, but aside from that, Walker tells the story in The Children Return as well as always.

The Children Return is current, exciting, and well worth reading.

Sunday, August 16, 2015


I was away from the computer for a week. I am back now. I should have brief reports on the four books I read while I was gone. I look forward to getting back to this regularly now. 

Thursday, August 6, 2015

LAZARUS by Morris West

Morris West’s Lazarus (1990) is the third of his Vatican novels.

Pope Leo XIV faces open heart surgery. He is a strong-headed old man. But he is changing.

He has begun to feel his ultra conservatism has not been best for the church. If he survives the surgery, he will lead in a different way.

When he does survive, Leo faces two obstacles. One is a radical group, the Sword of Islam. They want to assassinate him.

The other is the church itself.

In some ways, the church is the greater enemy. At one point, one of Leo’s enemies says, “Does the Church change when a pope changes his mind or his heart? The inertia is too great. The whole system is geared against swift movement. Besides--and this is the nub of the matter--the Church is so centralised now that every tremor is magnified to earthquake scale.”

Leo comes up against the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and its affiliated bodies.

Along the way, many of Leo’s natural allies fall away. Some of them leave the priesthood.

Leo befriends his Zionist surgeon and the surgeon’s non-believing lover with her brilliant but handicapped daughter. Personal forces push Leo one way; church forces push him the other.

And then there is the Sword of Islam. Their intention is clear and violent. The issue is whether they will finally succeed in killing Leo.

Morris West was a best-selling writer, mostly of Catholic-oriented books, if I remember correctly.

I learned of this book from a friend who knows my interest in religious fiction which involves mystery or intrigue.

In Lazarus, West seems mostly interested in the structure of the church. He writes long sections describing the councils and politics of the church. At least to an ex-Catholic like me, his descriptions aren’t flattering.

My friend mentioned Pope Francis when he recommended the book.

Lazarus is a book for religious aficionados. West downplays the terrorist threat against Leo until the end.

Does Pope Francis have a chance with even the moderate reforms he seems to be embracing? This book (written in 1990) might make you wonder.

THE CASE OF THE LATE PIG by Margery Allingham

In Margery Allingham’s The Case of the Late Pig (1937), Pig dies twice. At least it seems that way.

“Pig” is the nickname of a man Albert Campion knew as a schoolyard bully. When Lugg, Campion’s butler, reads him Pig’s obituary, Campion decides to attend the funeral. He hadn’t seen the man since their school days.

From there Campion ends up investigating at least two murders including Pig’s second death.

The first-person story unfolds slowly. It is both macabre and humorous. Campion is interested in a young woman, but he is so incompetent at courting that he loses her.

Allingham fills The Case of the Late Pig with strange characters--a greedy uncle, an odd young woman who forces herself on Campion, an unexplained young male visitor, and the local doctor who pushes into the investigation.

One strong thing about the book is it concept of small towns. At one point, a local police official says,

“Don’t you see, my boy, a terrible thing is happening. It’s the strangers who are getting killed off. The field’s narrowing down to our own people. Good God! What’s to be done now?”

Allingham’s story is incredibly complex. It involves mixed identities, mania, and an interestingly difficult backstory.

Campion’s tragic mistake makes for a hair-raising ending.

According to what I read, The Case of the Late Pig is the only Albert Campion story Allingham wrote first person from Campion’s point of view.

I learned of this book from the Pattinase blog’s “Friday’s Forgotten Books.” On Fridays, Patti lists links to blogs which feature “forgotten” books of all kinds.

Others help Patti with the “Friday’s Forgotten Books,” sometimes taking over the listings to give her that day away.

In any case, I have found so many good books from this source. I recommend it highly.

This is my first Margery Allingham. I’ve heard a lot about her, but I had never read a book she wrote.

If you like complicated cozies (or semi-cozies), you might like the Albert Campion books.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

A NOTE FROM JOE--I've been off line.

We had computer problems and have been off line for several days. I should have one or two new posts tomorrow.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

GREEN HELL by Ken Bruen

Ken Bruen’s Green Hell has several psychopathic killers, and none of them is Jack Taylor.

Jack Taylor plans to kill a serial murderer, a well-known professor at the University of Galway.

The man lures young women students into his web. He rapes and kills them. Because the professor is influential, the Guards ignore the killings.

Jack takes a young American man, a Rhodes scholar Boru Kennedy, under his wing.

Kennedy writes the first half of Green Hell. Then Kennedy betrays Jack, becomes involved with a young woman, and ends up imprisoned for her murder.

The story goes from there. It involves Jack saving a puppy from a murderous beating, meeting a haunting young woman, and starting the process of avenging Boru Kennedy.

But Jack Taylor commits no avenging murders. They happen in another way.

I’ve been intentionally vague about the details. I leave those for you.

This story is the equal of the other Jack Taylor books. It is brutal, well-written, and deceptively well-plotted. Events seem random, but they come together.

Some of the Taylor books stand out, but they are all excellent.

And one other comment. Ken Bruen uses many literary, music, TV, and other cultural references. At one point, Jack explains:
“I read an author during Christmas you know, the critics crap him off because they say. . .”


“. . . Get this. He uses too many cultural references, pop music, crime writers in his books. Now, see, you know what I think of them? I might hazard . . . not complimentary?”

Big grin, then,

“Yeah, bollix to them. Because for me, it grounds the story in stuff I know, that I can relate to. One fuck said he was for people who don’t read. How fucking insulting is that to readers?”

The pint was good. I sank a quarter, said,

“Thing is, Sean, critics are God’s excuse for why shite happens.”

Friday, July 17, 2015

THE BONE IS POINTED by Arthur W. Upfield

Arthur W. Upfield’s The Bone is Pointed (1938) is the best Bony book so far.

Someone kills a troublemaker at Karwir station in the Australian outback. Detective Inspector Napoleon Bonaparte (Bony) travels there to solve the crime.

Early on, Bony knows what happened. His challenge is to survive to prove it.

The Kalchut tribe “bones” the detective, puts him under an aboriginal curse. Because Bony’s mother was aborigine, the curse takes hold, and Bony begins to waste away.

If Bony survives the curse and exposes the killer, he endangers the tribe, makes it so they will be forced into civilization and changed forever.

The tribe had cursed him, not for their own reasons, but to protect a settler who is helping them survive. All of this also involves the old man who owns Karwir station and his beautiful daughter.

What interested me about the book is Bony’s reaction to the curse. He knows it is happening. He knows it will kill him unless he gives up and leaves the area immediately. But he refuses to give up.

At one point, he explains himself to his ally Sergeant Blake--

“No, Sergeant, I couldn’t bear failure. Being what you are, you could never clearly understand what I am. You have no conception of what I am, what influences are ever at war within me. Once I failed to finish an investigation, I could no longer hold to the straw keeping me afloat on the sea of life, beneath the surface of which the sharks of my maternal ancestry are forever trying to destroy me...

“Don’t for one moment think that I despise my mother’s race. At a very early age I was offered a choice. I could choose to be an aboriginal or a white man. I chose to become the latter, and have become the latter with distinction in all but blood. To fail now would mean to lose everything for which I have worked, and the only thing which enables me to cling to what I have is my pride.

“You can’t know of the eternal battle I fight, to lose which means for me and mine what we should regard as degradation; my family and I should fall to that plane on which live the poor whites and the outcast aborigines. Failure! No. Surrender to the fear of death by boning! No. The white man might say, surrender. My wife, who understands, would say no. And so, Sergeant, I must go on. I must for the first time triumph over the absence of my greatest asset [his willingness to take however much time it takes to solve a case]. I must work against time as well as against the insidious mental poison now beginning to be administered.”

In other words, his record of never having failed in an investigation is important to his survival. It is more than an unbroken record. It is who he is and who he sees himself to be.

As always, Upfield’s descriptions are breathtaking (including a description of a massive rabbit migration).

The Bony books are almost impossible to describe. If you haven’t tried one, you might want to consider reading at least The Bone is Pointed.