Mary Mary

I have always loved strong female characters, having cut my reading teeth on Nancy Drew, Trixie Belden, Vicki Barr, the Dana Girls, Judy Bolton, and Cherry Ames, just to name a few. As an adult reader of mysteries, two of my favorite series are Elizabeth Peters’ Amelia Peabody series (simply the best) and Donna Andrews’ Meg Langslow series (also a gem of a series); primarily because I love the characters of Amelia and Meg both so very much. They are both fiercely intelligent women with a very dry sense of humor, and are the kind of strong women that everyone around them comes to depend on for support–and droll wit. The death of Dr. Barbara Mertz (who wrote as Peters AND as Barbara Michaels) ended the Peabody series forever, much to my heartbreak; the Meg Langslow series is going strong still, so I am hopeful that I will have years and years of reading pleasure yet to come from Donna.

And then, last year I discovered Mary Russell.

The envelope slapped down onto the desk ten inches from my much-abused eyes, instantly obscuring the black lines of Hebrew letters that had begun to quiver an hour before. With the shock of the sudden change, my vision stuttered, attempted a valiant rally, then slid into complete rebellion and would not focus at all.

I leant back into my chair with an ill-stifled groan, peeled my wire-rimmed spectacles from my ears and dropped tjem onto the stack of notes, and sat for a long minute with the heels of both hands pressed into my eye sockets.

I was already a fan of Laurie R. King from her brilliant Kate Martinelli series, about a lesbian police detective. (If you’ve not read that series, you need to–it’s one of the best of the last thirty years.) I was reluctant to read the Mary Russell series, as Constant Reader may remember from my previous posts about earlier books in this series; for any number of reasons, but primarily not ever really getting into the Sherlock Holmes/Conan Doyle stories. This shifted and changed when I was asked to contribute a Sherlock story to Narrelle Harris’ The Only One in the World anthology; this required me to go back and do some reading of Doyle, and having worked with Laurie R. King on the MWA board, I decided to give her feminist take on Sherlock a go.

And I have not regretted that decision once.

Mary has stepped up to replace Amelia Peabody as one of my favorite on-going series; I love the character–a strong-minded, fiercely independent woman of no small intelligence who is more than capable of going toe-to-toe with Mr. Holmes. Theirs is, despite the age difference, a true partnership of equals; I love that Holmes, in King’s interpretation of him, isn’t quite so misogynistic or incapable of feeling–which I don’t think I’ve ever seen in a male-written version. I like King’s Holmes; the strong female character who is his equal was the perfect solution to whatever misogynistic issues I may have had with other interpretations. I also love that Russell is also pursuing a life of the mind; her studies into theology at Oxford are not just asides to add color and flavor to the character but are just as important to whom she is as a character as the love interest/relationship with Holmes. As I also have an amateur’s curiosity into the history of Christianity and how the faith changed and developed throughout the centuries following the New Testament stories…how that was shaped and influenced by men with not the purest of motives…is something I’ve always been interested in.

I think the first book that challenged Christian orthodoxy in a fictional form that I read–the first time I became aware of the possibilities that the BIble wasn’t actually the pure word of God and had been edited and revised repeatedly in the centuries since Christ ostensibly lived, died and was resurrected–was, of all things, a book by Irving Wallace called The Word (Wallace isn’t really remembered much today, but he wrote enormous books of great length that were huge bestsellers, and the subject matter and style of the books was essentially that they were very bery long thrillers: The Prize was about the maneuvering to win a Nobel; The Plot was about an international conspiracy to kill JFK; The Second Lady was about a Soviet plan to kidnap the First Lady and replace her with a lookalike who was a Soviet agent; etc etc etc). The premise of The Word is simply that a new testament, a document hidden away for centuries in a monastery in Greece, claims that not only did Jesus not die on the cross but went on to live for many decades, preaching his own ministry and even visiting Rome. This, of course, is a cataclysmic document–it would change everything everyone had ever known and believed…if it is indeed authentic.

I’ve always loved a good thriller with a base in theology, ever since; and A Letter of Mary is just that, even if more of a mystery than a thriller. The role of Mary Magdalen has been questioned a lot in the last few decades–not the least reason of which is Holy Blood Holy Grail–an interesting concept if one that has been proven to based in a falsehood in the times since (or was THAT part of the Vatican’s plot?)–which inevitably led to Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code. I don’t find the idea that the Magdalen was a beloved disciple of Jesus–and that she may have been his favorite–a reach; likewise, there’s nothing I’ve ever seen in the actual New Testament that essentially says she was a prostitute, a “fallen woman.”

This book begins with Russell despairing over her research only to receive a letter that she and Holmes are going to be receiving a visitor–someone they met during their time in the Holy Land some time earlier–glossed over in The Beekeeper’s Apprentice but apparently explored more deeply in O Jerusalem! The visitor, an older heiress of no small means who is fascinated with archaeology and has been funding digs in the Holy Land, presents the pair with a gift as well as an ancient letter, unauthenticated, which is ostensibly a letter from Mary Magdalen some years after the death of Christ, written to a sister as the city of Jerusalem falls under seige by the Romans during the Jewish Wars, around 70 AD, that saw the sack of the city and the start of the diaspora; which makes it very clear that, if authentic, the Magdalen was one of the disciples and heavily involved in the ministry of the Christian church. Their guest returns to London, and is killed when she is stuck by a car the following day. Holmes and Russell sniff around the crime scene and find evidence that the old woman was murdered…but by whom? Why? Is this about the letter from Mary?

King always tells a great story–you never can go wrong with one of her books, really–and the characters are so well-defined, so real, that even if she didn’t tell a great story, you want to read about those characters more, get to know them better, and cheer them on to their successes and sympathize with their failures. Her writing style is also a joy to read; the Mary Russell voice is so different and so clearly distinct from Kate Martinelli that you can’t not marvel at her mastery.

The next book in the series is The Moor, and I am really looking forward to it.

I Think I Love You

I actually slept until ten o’clock this morning. I cannot remember the last time that happened, or that I stayed in bed so long. I’ve been exhausted since the power went on–physically, emotionally, mentally–and so I am relatively certain the extra sleep was completely and totally necessary, but…whether to identify that sleep as perhaps a problem or as a necessary first step in getting better? THAT remains to be seen.

Monday I am going back into the office for the first time since–well, it’s been a hot minute, has it not? I was on vacation (stay-cation, the time I took off for Bouchercon) when Ida developed and came roaring at us; then there was the week without power, the long weekend in Alabama, and then the week of working at home because the office didn’t have power. I need that routine back, so even though we aren’t seeing clients, I am going to start going back into the office effective Monday to get a sense of stability again after the last few weeks. I think that will help, and I think it’s a necessary first step for me. I’m not going to lie, my mind has gone to some really dark places over the last few weeks, and I need something to grasp onto in order to help my life get on solid ground again. I have a prescription to pick up today from CVS, and since I am going that way I will pick up the mail and possibly stop by the grocery store–I haven’t really decided yet–and I think I am going to go by the gym this afternoon as well.

My primary focus over this weekend is to get a grip, a better handle, on my life and everything I need to be doing right now and what things have slipped through the cracks in the meantime; what needs to go onto my calendar (but isn’t there yet–bad Greg, bad Greg) and start sketching out my plans for the final quarter of the year–which is going to be rolling up on us before we even think about it, before we realize it–one morning we’ll wake up and it will be OCTOBER already–and then what do we do? LOL. Deal and move forward, undoubtedly, but at the same time there will be obvious concerns about lost and/or wasted time.

We watched the US Open last night–an impressive win by Novak Djokovic, who is a slightly more than a little bit problematic champion, in four sets, in his quest to become the first man to win the calendar year Grand Slam in the Open era; this will go a long way to proving his claim to be the GOAT in men’s tennis; not only will he have the calendar Slam should he win the Open, but that will give him nineteen Slam titles over all; one behind the record holders, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, who have twenty each. Whatever one thinks of Djokovic (the anti-vaxxing nonsense, the COVID denial, etc.), you cannot take his accomplishments away from him. I’ve always liked him, despite his personal beliefs and occasional diva-like moments; I do admire the focus, the skill, and the hard work ethic that have taken him to heights greater in the sport of tennis than anyone other than Federer and Nadal–and how terrifically lucky tennis fans have been to have three of the greatest of all time playing at the same time? While at the same time on the women’s side we’ve been blessed with the sublime Williams sisters, Venus and Serena? The next stage of tennis–when these five have all decided to retire and do something else with the rest of their lives–isn’t going to be nearly as interesting or fun to watch, methinks and fears.

We watched this week’s Ted Lasso after the US Open, which was wonderful and heart-warming, as it always is; Paul and I marvel at the only comedy series we’ve ever seen that makes up both tear up at least once per episode–which is no small feat. I am already dreading the end of this season, to be honest–not having an episode to watch every Friday night is going to be sad again.

In other exciting news, the Box o’Books of Bury Me in Shadows arrived yesterday, and I have to say the books look marvelous–although I really have no idea where to put them. My personal “books by Greg” bookcase is already filled and overflowing; as is the cabinet where I hide the ones that already don’t fit into it. But this is one of my favorite covers and one of my favorites of my own books–trust me, you will get very tired of me talking about this book as launch day, 10/12, slowly and inexorably draws nearer and nearer. I was very pleased the books arrived, because it was an indication that the mail service–never the best since the current postmaster general took over–is moving again; things are getting through again. Ink I ordered for my printer before the storm have also arrived; I’m still waiting for my new Rachel Howzell Hall novel to arrive–it should have been here last week but obviously that didn’t happen–and the new Colson Whitehead should also be arriving in the coming week, which is also terribly exciting. I do intend to spend some time reading today; I should have finished Velvet was the Night days ago–the knowledge the new Rachel Hall will be in my hot little hands soon was just the push I needed to decide to get back to reading this novel WHICH I AM ENJOYING, which makes the inability to read it that much harder to deal with. And I still owe this blog entries for Dead Dead Girls and A Letter of Mary….perhaps today.

And on that note, I think I am going to head back into the spice mines. I’m playing the weekend pretty much by ear other than the errands and the gym–so we’ll see how it all turns out in the end, won’t we? Have a lovely weekend, Constant Reader.

Umbrella Man

And just like that, it’s once again Friday. I think over the course of this weekend, things will start to readjust to some semblance of normality again; I will probably, most likely, go into the office on Monday in an effort to readjust and reestablish some sense of being normal–or whatever passes for that–again. I am going to swing over there this morning to drop some things off that I’ve been working on, and just check things out in general. I also have to swing by and get the mail today as well, and I am going to go to the gym for a resurrection of Leg Day after I am finished doing my work today. Yay?

There still has been no trash pick-up in my neighborhood since before Ida, and our cans, with all that ruined food rotting in the early September heat, are beginning to smell quite ripe. There’s still a lot of debris on our sidewalks and along the gutters. Over all, not really much to complain about, and given so many people have lost everything, or have nowhere to live, or are still suffering without power in the heat…it seems like parsing and pinching things in order to find something to complain about. I’d forgotten that aspect of hurricane recovery–that sense of you can’t complain because other people have it far worse than you do rings in your ears every time you start to even slightly feel bad for yourself about your situation, or start the downward spiral of stress and aggravation and frustration. It makes adjusting and mental health integrity that much harder; one of the lessons from Katrina, really–knowing that it’s okay to complain and be frustrated and aggravated at the situation, while still recognizing your own good fortune (even if it seems like it’s a backhanded gift of a sort).

Last night, Paul and I got caught up on The Other Two, Archer, and Titans. I’m still enjoying the shows–even if the latter two aren’t quite as good as they were earlier in their run–and I think The Other Two is probably one of the better, most undervalued comedies airing on streaming right now. It’s certainly fun watching the gay brother–and the show is touching on comedic aspects of being gay I’ve really not seen covered anywhere else. As I was stripping condoms out of condom packs and doing other, various, “busy work” (it still needs to be done–these things would need to be done if the clinic was open and I was seeing clients three days a week, like pre-Ida) yesterday and watching television (I did watch this week’s Real Housewives of Beverly Hills–I am going to have to devote an entire entry to my reality shows at some point, particularly about how they are slowly starting to lose their appeal to me); although I cannot really remember what else I watched yesterday? Oh yes, some documentaries from the Smithsonian Channel, even if I cannot remember which particular ones, and I also rewatched the Brendan Fraser The Mummy–the original, which I realized I’d never actually seen; I’ve seen the sequel, but never all the way through from start to finish, which I may rectify today.

I am hearing noises from the street that sound like a garbage truck–the only inconvenience we are really experiencing at the moment is the stench of the cans when I walk out to the car–so the return of garbage pick-up would certainly serve as another indication that New Orleans is slowly coming back to what passes for normal around here.

I’m also finding it difficult to want to read again, which is weird. I’ve not written anything since Ida, and I’ve not read anything since we left town to find relief from the heat in Greenville, Alabama. I’m hoping this will change over the course of this weekend, but then…you never know. Maybe I read too much while we didn’t have power and I sprained the reading muscle in my brain. Stranger things have happened, after all. I don’t want to give the impression that I wasn’t enjoying Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s book, because I most definitely was; there’s just something off with the creative side of my brain–reading and writing both have been struck down by whatever this malaise is; but it’s more along the lines of being unsettled and not feeling like I have a strong foundation under my feet–this weird not knowing the day/date thing was very disorienting; and of course, there was all that tightness and tension built up in the muscles of neck, shoulder and back (which, oddly, going to the gym cleared up completely; obviously I am hoping going over there today after work will also be a great experience physically for me). I also still have two blog entries to write about books I read during the outage (Dead Dead Girls, A Letter of Mary) which I hope to get around to this weekend, and maybe–just maybe– I may do some writing. I know, I know, stranger things have happened, but I really need to figure out where I am with things and how much time is left in this year and when the deadlines for things are.

And on that note, tis time for me to head back into the spice mines. Have a lovely Friday, Constant Reader, and I will talk to you soon.

I’m on the Road

We tried to stick it out, ever hopeful that Entergy would pull off a miracle, but today we cracked and couldn’t take it anymore. We were also out of food, and while some stores are indeed open (without power), it was incredibly ridiculously hot today; I’ve not really slept since the power went out Sunday morning; and we decided to go today. With it being the Thursday before Labor Day weekend, I knew–between Louisiana evacuees and “last holiday weekend at the beach” people, there was no point in following I-10 East and trying to find anywhere to stay. I only had a half-tank of gas, and wasn’t sure we’d be able to get any if we went north or west, so we headed east on I-10. We got gas near Biloxi (yay!) and once we hit Mobile we turned north. I knew we’d be able to find a pet friendly room somewhere between Mobile and Montgomery, and I was correct. Paul, Scooter and I are now checked into a motel in Greenville, Alabama. We’ve both taken our first hot showers since before the power went out, and are relaxing in the air conditioning (on high and full blast) while the US Open plays on the television. Everything is currently charging. Scooter isn’t sure what to make of this, as he has never stayed anywhere besides our house or the Cat Practice in the last eleven years, but he was great in the car and just slept…which is his usual state. I am looking forward to tonight’s sleep–you have no idea, Constant Reader, how much I am looking forward to finally getting some sleep. We have the room until Sunday–we’ll either go back to New Orleans or decide what to do next then. I’ll worry about it tomorrow.

It was very weird how quickly this storm came together–we barely had space to breathe or even think, and then it was already too late to go. I had to turn in my edits on #shedeservedit by the first; there were rumblings Friday morning that we were in trouble, and I had to power through the edits to get them done just in case (a wise decision, for once). I had to have my teeth cleaned Friday morning, and after I got home from that I just worked on the edits, finally finished about half an hour before I was due to meet my friend Ellen Byron for dinner at Red Gravy on Magazine Street. (The dinner and the conversation was marvelous.) Saturday morning I got up and by the time I was coherent–I overslept a bit, as did Paul–it was too late, really. I-10 in both directions a parking lot; I-55 and I-59 north both the same. We left very late for Katrina–and the crawl across the twin spans with the beginnings of the system starting to come in was not something I ever wanted to live through again. We just kind of looked at each other, and decided to ride it out and hope for the best–figuring if we made it through, we could leave afterwards. We watched a lot of television Saturday night, went to bed relatively early, and then of course, Sunday morning the power went out around eleven. I grabbed a book–I had started Megan Abbott’s The Turnout last week, and so I read for the rest of the day.

The storm was terrifying. The entire house rattled and shook, and there were times when I thought–I would swear to God this is true–I felt the house shifting before settling back to where it was once the gust had finished. I kept waiting for the windows to blow out–I moved my computer away from the windows–and finally, it was over. I never want to ride out a storm like that again, frankly; once was more than enough. And then we settled in to wait for the power to come back on, with no Internet and very very VERY spotty (did I say VERY) cell phone service, we were essentially cut off from the rest of the world. My friend Alafair texted me at some point and I asked her if the levees held; we literally had no idea what was going on, not only in the rest of the world, but in our own city–let alone our neighborhood. The weather was hot and humid but bearable–it was miserable, but it could have been much worse; had Monday been like today we would have left then.

I did manage to read a lot–I finished The Turnout and moved on to Yes, Daddy by Jonathan Parks-Ramage (loved it!), Dead Dead Girls by Nekesa Afia (also recommend); A Beautiful Crime by Christopher Bollen; Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng; and A Letter of Mary by Laurie R. King. I started rereading Paul Monette’s The Gold Diggers, and also started Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s Velvet Was the Night, which came with me to Alabama. I am going to do blog posts on all of these books at some point–it was a week of amazing reading, frankly–and I also thought a lot about things I am working on and things I want to be working on, so it wasn’t a total loss of a week. I cleaned and organized in the kitchen some, and of course today I had to throw away everything in the refrigerator and the freezer, which was sad–all that money into the trash–but better to clean it out now rather than let it sit in there rotting and then come home to it. (A valuable lesson from Katrina.)

I thought about bringing manuscripts to edit with me, but then decided not to–I have the electronic files, after all, and I have enough paper around as it is. I started purging books again too–and I spent a lot of time, as I mentioned, thinking about things and life in general and what my priorities should be going forward–there’s nothing like a catastrophe to make you sit down and think about what is and isn’t important–and I am going to probably make some changes going forward. I hate that this disruption came when I was on a roll–with my writing, with the gym, with the reorganization of the apartment–but I am glad that it did happen in some ways; I was kind of letting myself drown again and a reset was kind of necessary. I also don’t know how long this particular disruption is going to last, either.

So, I am going to relax, enjoy hot showers and air conditioning and having access to the Internet again–and read and write and try to dig out from under.

And now I am going to take a doll and go to sleep.

Til tomorrow, then.

Shake it Up

Well, I wrote the timeline for Bury Me in Shadows last night–lame as it was; I am waiting for my editor to write me back and say, um, you could have made more of an effort on this. But it’s done, and I am well relieved to be out of those woods–for now, at any rate. I am kind of mentally fatigued; two books back to back like this will tend to do that to one–although I used to do it all the time; book after book after book. But I also didn’t used to have to get up at six three days a week, either, nor did I ever have the insomnia issues like I do these days. Last night was another of those nights where Morpheus chose to not visit my bed, but I feel relatively okay at the moment, as I swill my first cappuccino. I am sure I will hit a wall later today. Tonight is also supposed to be a gym night, but…we’ll see how that goes.

I’ve decided to put aside the Thomas Perry novel for now. It’s very well done, but I am not connecting with it, which is more my problem than Perry’s; I am just not in the mind space right now for a hired killer thriller. I’ll come back to it at some point, I am sure; so it goes back into the TBR pile rather than into the donation box. I’ve actually gone on a tear with buying ebooks on sale (or for free) lately, and I’ve also gotten some wonderful e-galleys stored in my iPad–including this year’s titles from Laura Lippman and Alison Gaylin, not to mention some sparkling debuts and some wonderful classics. Yesterday I finally figured out how to sort my ebooks (I am such a Luddite) in the iPad by title, so I could see how many duplicates there were–and there were quite a few, so I deleted all the duplicates to free up space as well as make it easier to find things in there. I think when I go visit my parents, I may just take my iPad instead of books with me to read–although I am taking the hard copy of From Here to Eternity with me–that way I can read through take-off and landing…although I suppose one could just put the device on airplane mode but I still think they make you power it down. It’s been so long since I’ve flown anywhere, it’s hard to remember. I just ordered some more books with points from credit cards that should be arriving this week–yes, yes, I know; I shouldn’t continue buying more books when I still have massive TBR piles–but I’ve cleaned out so many books over the past few months that I thought why not use the points and get some new titles, as well as the Laurie R. King backlist. I am still planning on reading something else before treating myself to A Letter of Mary–I just haven’t decided what just yet. I am torn between She Who Was No More by Pierre Boileau (which Les Diaboliques was based on) and The Cook by Harry Kressing, which was filmed as Something for Everyone with Michael York and Angela Lansbury–a classic and bizarre queer film from the early 1970’s–it’s on Youtube.

Or…maybe something else.

We watched another episode of The Innocent last night; this show is so damned good and full of didn’t-see-that-coming plot twists! Of all the Harlan Coben shows on Netflix, this is my favorite so far–not really surprising, since Paul and I have fallen in love with Spanish-language crime shows (cannot WAIT for season 4 of Elite to drop)–we talked about this last night, and Paul said–and I agree–this particular show wouldn’t be as good in English, or if it was set in the US or England or France.

Of course, hot Spanish and/or Mexican actors might play a part in our thought process. Just sayin’.

I also have a story in yet another anthology that is dropping in June and can be preordered now: Unburied, edited by Rebecca Rowland, from Dark Ink Press. My story is “Night Follows Night”; which I wrote an original draft of years ago for an MWA anthology–I think–that didn’t get accepted. I revised and rewrote it a number of times, and when this call for submissions was forwarded to me by Felice Picano (thanks, Felice!) I thought, well, “Night Follows Night” loosely fits this call, and sent it off–and was very delighted to hear back from Rebecca that she loved it and wanted it. Yay! This was the same period last year where I sent off five stories in one day and sold three of them within 24 hours–which was exactly what I needed to have happen at the time, as I was going through one of my malaise periods…nothing like selling three stories in less than twenty-four hours to get you past that hump (the other two were rejected, but that was expected; they were long-shots to begin with).

And on that note, tis off to the spice mines with me. I hope I have enough energy to make it through this day–I was planning on going to the gym tonight, but the lack of sleep for two days running means that probably won’t happen….

Run

Monday morning, and we had some amazing thunderstorms last night. I didn’t sleep great–I had hoped, being worn out from the gym, on top of the thunderstorms, would have done the trick but no such luck, of course. I don’t feel terribly tired or exhausted this morning–at least, not yet–but I am also not exactly bouncing off the walls or hanging from the ceiling, either.

Sigh. Just another day to get through, really.

I’m glad that I got the revisions finished and turned in–note to self: get timeline typed up and sent in today–and I think the book is fairly decent, not bad at all, really (I actually had worried my mind would change on that score after a day or two but no); and now on track for the fall release, which will be lovely. I also have an out-of-control inbox again this morning (as always) and am desperately going to try to get that under control again, or at least make it manageable, by the end of today.

I read The Butcher’s Boy for a while yesterday, but it’s not terribly compelling; it’s interesting, and I like Mr. Perry’s writing style, but at the same time it’s not really a page turner–or I haven’t gotten to the part where the story kicks heavily into gear yet; which is fine. I’d hoped to finish reading it over the weekend, but if I spend some time with it every night for a few hours, I should be able to dive into Laurie R. King’s A Letter of Mary without guilt this weekend. I am also going to try to get a short story revised and/or finished this week; I simply haven’t decided which one. Who knows? I may not ever even pick one–my mind is always such a sieve these days.

We started watching Harlan Coben’s The Innocent last night on Netflix, blowing through four episodes (halfway done), with episode four ending with a massive plot twist/cliffhanger. It’s a Spanish show, and the lead actor is incredibly, almost ridiculously good-looking (Mario Casas), and the show is very well-cast, well-written, and full of almost constant surprises. It’s much too complicated to try to do justice, but the lead, Mateo, accidentally kills someone in a fight outside a bar, goes to jail for manslaughter for four years, and then comes out and falls in love…flash forward a few years and his girlfriend has mysteriously disappeared, someone is trying to kill him, and a nun commits suicide….all of these disparate threads are inevitably connected….which is the big surprise at the end of Episode 4.

Cannot wait to dive back into it tonight.

Ah, the caffeine and the coffee cake are starting to kick in; the question remains how long will this last? Hopefully long enough to see me through this Monday. Can you believe, Constant Reader, that is already May? Where did the first third of this year go already? #madness. It just astounds me how endless 2020 seemed, and now 2021 is running through my hands like mercury. But I still hope to get my novellas and short stories and some other things done this year…FOCUS, Greg, FOCUS.

And on that note, tis back to the spice mines with me. Have a fabulous day, Constant Reader.

Liar

Good morning, Edgar Thursday!

Yes, that’s right–today Mystery Writers of America is presenting the Edgar Awards, live on our Facebook page. I always love when the Edgar nominations come out and when the winners are announced; I just think it’s really cool, and it’s also a connection back to the early days of the organization, back in 1945. The first Edgars were presented in 1946, making this the 75th anniversary of the presentation of the awards, which is also incredibly cool. I am a bit of a geek about this sort of thing; historical connections and so forth. I remember the first time I went to an MWA board meeting in New York–ten years or so ago (!!!)–and how awed I was when I walked into the meeting room. I could feel the ghosts of Erle Stanley Gardner and Rex Stout and Ellery Queen and the Lockridges and Dorothy B. Hughes and Anthony Boucher hovering in the room–even though it was certainly not the same room they all gathered in when they founded the organization.

I’m kind of silly that way.

Yesterday was a pretty good day; for one thing, it was Paul’s birthday. I stopped at the store on the way home from work and got a sampler cheesecake as a birthday treat (well, for us both) and we got dinner from Hoshun–what can I say, I love noodles, and Paul would eat shrimp for every meal if he could–and it’s kind of a nice, relatively inexpensive treat we both enjoy from time to time. We’ve been together for so long–this July will be our twenty-sixth anniversary–that our special days (birthdays, anniversary, etc.) have evolved into nice, quiet times where we prefer to just be with each other and enjoy each other’s company. It’s nice being married to your best friend, really.

There’s nothing I enjoy more than just kicking back with Paul and Scooter, having a nice meal, and watching something we are enjoying on television. (Yes, we finished the third season of Line of Duty last night, and it was quite excellent.)

I slept pretty well last night, and am looking forward to a nice day of working at home–I can watch the Edgar presentation while making condom packs–and while I may not have slept as deeply and well as I would have preferred last night (honestly), I feel pretty good this morning and keep looking around at my horribly messy kitchen and sigh deeply–I didn’t even make dinner last night–and the organizing and filing that needs to be done, and sigh. I did manage to get some work on the book done last night after Paul went to bed–I stayed up a little later, thinking I can’t let a day pass without making some progress on it–and I will probably do some more after work tonight. Bury Me in Shadows is starting to come together, and yes, I still think I was being much too hard on myself. The character and the story work; and the sentences/paragraphs are far easier to fix than character issues or holes in the plot, after all. I think it may just be something I’ll be proud of when it is finally finished.

I also picked up two books yesterday: Laurie R. King’s third Mary Russell novel, A Letter of Mary, and Christopher Bollan’s A Beautiful Crime, which was a finalist for the LA Times Book Award in the mystery category. I haven’t had a chance to dip back into The Butcher’s Boy, but once I finish and turn in the revision of my own book, I suspect my free Sunday will be spent reading. That would actually be my ideal for a weekend; spend one day writing and cleaning and doing errands, and then Sunday relaxing and reading.

A sixty year old can but dream…

And on that note, these condoms aren’t going to pack themselves. Have a lovely Thursday, all–and good luck to all the Edgar finalists today!

Salvation Theme

Reading has always been my escape from the realities of the cruel, cold world. As long as I can remember, I found solace in books–I could always open a book and escape from realities I didn’t want to participate in, or when the world became too much, there was always the comfort of a story about other people and another world where I could go to get away from it all.

When I was a kid, I was more interested in stories about women and girls than I was in stories about boys; I couldn’t really relate to boys as easily as I did to girls. This was, I think, a part of the strict gender divide in the society and culture I was born into; there were specific and clear differences between things for boys and things for girls. Girls played at housekeeping and mothering; boys were supposed to be outdoorsy and adventurous and active. I was not an outdoorsy, adventurous, active little boy; all I wanted to do was be left alone with a book–and the more my parents tried to get me interested in boy things the harder I stubbornly resisted. I never understood why it was so wrong that all I ever wanted to do was read.

I think that part of the reason I’ve always preferred books by and about women are because I can relate to them more, if that makes sense. As someone who never became vested in what society viewed as what masculine behavior is, those behaviors–not always necessarily toxic, but certainly steeped in it–inevitably make me lose interest in the character and their story.

Likewise, one of the reasons I preferred Mary Stewart to Victoria Holt and Phyllis A. Whitney (still love Holt and Whitney, though) is because her heroines weren’t passive; they didn’t sit still for being victimized or playing the victim but rather took charge of the situation and were just as capable as any man. This is why one of my favorite fictional series characters of all time were those created by the great Elizabeth Peters: Jacqueline Kirby and Vicky Bliss were also take-charge characters who didn’t suffer fools gladly, and of then there’s her creation who may be my favorite series character of all time: Amelia Peabody. God, how I love Amelia Peabody. Peters’ death was a blow for me; knowing there would be no more books with Peabody and Emerson and Ramses and Nofret and Walter and Evelyn and David….

But then I had the enormous good fortune to discover Mary Russell.

I sat back in y chair, jabbed the cap onto my pen, threw it into the drawer, and abandoned myself to the flood of satisfaction, relief, and anticipation that was let loose by that simple action. The satisfaction was for the essay whose last endnote I had just corrected, the distillation of several months’ hard work and my first effort as a mature scholar: It was a solid piece of work, ringing true and clear on the page. The relief I felt was not for the writing, but for the concomitant fact that, thanks to my preoccupation, I had survived the compulsory Christmas revels, a fete which ha reached a fever pitch in this, the last year of my aunts controls of what she saw as the family purse. The anticipation was for the week of freedom before me, one entire week with neither commitments nor responsibilities, leading up to y twenty-first birthday and all the rights and privileges pertaining thereto. A small but persistent niggle of trepidation tried to make itself known, but I forestalled it by standing up and going to the chest of drawers for clothing.

My aunt was, strictly speaking, Jewish, but she had long ago abandoned her heritage and claimed with all the enthusiasm of a convert the outward forms of cultural Anglicanism. As a result, her idea of Christmas tended heavily toward the Dickensian and Saxe-Gothan. Her final year as my so-called guardian was coincidentally the first year since the Great War ended to see quantities of unrationed sugar, butter, and meat, which meant the emotional excesses had been compounded by culinary ones. I had begged off most of the revelry, citing the demands of the paper, but with my typewriter fallen silent, I had no choice but crass and immediate flight. I did not have to think about y choice of goals–I should begin at the cottage of my friend and mentor, my tutor, sparring partner and comrade-in-arms, Sherlock Holmes. Hence my anticipation. Hence my trepidation.

I first encountered Mary Russell last year when I read the first of her adventures with Holmes, The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, which took place over several years and was really a loosely connected series of different stories that showed the growing bond between the teenaged girl and the retired detective. Her wit, her style, her fierce intelligence–and her refusal to be a sidekick or passive made me fall madly in love with her–despite my long-held antipathy towards Sherlock Holmes. (I have since read more of Doyle, and find the antipathy I once felt fading; in no small part, I think, because last year I had to write my own spin on Holmes and Watson, which really changed everything I thought, felt, and believed about them.) I’m not sure what made me select the second Mary Russell to read recently; I do intend to read them all, of course, but there are sixteen or so (!) of them, and then there are King’s stand alones, and I’d also love to revisit her Kate Martinelli series, which is how I first came to read King in the first place. But I digress.

A Monstrous Regiment of Women is, of course, a terrific title; and I knew, of course, the source for it: the tedious Scot religious bigot John Knox’s 1550’s pamphlet primarily attacking Queen Mary I of England (aka Mary Tudor), “The First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstrous Regiment of Women,” in which he blamed the sad state of Christendom at the time at the irreligious and unprecedented amount of women in power at that time in Europe–and, as I have said many times before, the sixteenth century had more powerful women running countries than any century before or since (and I’ve always wanted to write a history of that century, focusing on those women, and using that very same title King used here). So, going into the book, and knowing that Mary was studying theology at Oxford in the latter half of the first book, I assumed (correctly) that this book would have religion, and women, at its heart, so I sat down with the book rather eagerly.

It did not disappoint.

The book opens, as noted above, around Christmas time, just before Mary finally achieves her majority and comes into the inheritance her benighted aunt/guardian has been enjoying herself with since Mary’s family perished in an auto accident when she was fourteen. Rather the celebrate the holiday with her aunt and the aunt’s hangers-on, Mary escapes the house and goes in search of her old comrade, Holmes. This leads her to London and an encounter with a friend from earlier in her education at Oxford, which in turn leads her to the New Temple of God and its leader, Margery Childe–charismatic, suffragette, and also a religious mystic. (I was put in mind of Aimee Semple McPherson, who has always fascinated me and I’ve always kind of wanted to write about.) But there’s something unholy going on at the New Temple, and perspicacious Mary can’t quite put her finger on what’s wrong there–but it intrigues her and she gets deeper and deeper into what’s going on there.

There’s also a switch-up in the dynamic between her and Holmes in this book, but it is also to King’s credit that the groundwork for this was laid almost from the very beginning of The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, and it neither seems out of place or untoward, either for the story or the characters–and despite the awkwardness this change-up creates between the two of them in their all-too-brief encounters in the story (for make no mistake about it; this is clearly Mary’s story, and Holmes no more than a supporting player on this stage), it makes sense and it also answers one of the questions the first book aroused in me; how can King keep writing about this opposite-sex pair through an entire series without the question of chaperoning and so forth not coming up, or them simply remaining good friends while the deep and growing affection between them is so plainly right there on the page?

The writing is masterful and intelligent, and the story–with its interesting twists and turns, along with some exciting ventures along some of the more disreputable sections of London–is so well paced and plotted that you simply cannot put the book down. I was, quite literally, only on chapter three when I picked the book up again yesterday morning; within moments I was a captive of King’s magic and completely incapable of putting the book down–to the point that I resented having to take breaks to get coffee or go to the restroom or feed the cat. I had decided, when I sat down with the book, that I had to stop reading at noon so I could get back to my own manuscript. Noon came and went, and still I kept reading. At one I flipped to the back to see how many more pages were left, and decided that it was ridiculous and incomprehensible to stop reading so close to the end, and I wouldn’t be able to completely focus on my own while I was so worried about how Mary was going to escape the peril in which King had placed her. So…rationalizing if I don’t finish my own editing today I can always finish tomorrow I plowed forward.

And–without spoilers–I will say King did an incredibly accurate and chilling depiction of how drug addiction takes hold of people.

She also explores the question of women’s role in the Christian religion beautifully, weaving these theological questions and issues seamlessly into the narrative. Each chapter begins with a quote about just that–either from the Bible or the great Christian philosophers, exposing the vicious misogyny that has poisoned that faith almost from the very beginning.*

I loved this book, loved loved loved it, and am really looking forward to the next, A Letter of Mary.

If you’ve not yet started this series, wait no more.

*I also made note of these quotes so I can shamelessly use them myself!