Do You Hear What I Hear?

What I am hearing is that Donna Andrews is a master of writing about Christmas.

It’s incredibly easy to become cynical about Christmas; American capitalism’s infection of the holiday has made such cynicism almost de rigueur. The commercialization of what is supposed to be a religious holiday has been a concern for decades–A Charlie Brown Christmas was, after all, produced in 1965–and it is has even been politicized for the last thirty or so years (war on Christmas, anyone?). And while the argument over whether one should say “Merry Christmas” rather than the more inclusive “Happy holidays” has always struck me as particularly stupid (in a multi-cultural society where one cannot easily identify which particular holiday a stranger might celebrate, why would anyone want to risk giving offense? I really don’t understand this modern sensibility that good manners no longer matter), it becomes easier and easier to become tired of the entire thing and want to wash one’s hands of it all.

But Donna Andrews’ Christmas mysteries hit precisely the right chord, and can revive that holiday spirit in even that most cynical of hearts and souls, my own; so much so that I may even revisit the books every December as a necessary reminder of what this season is really supposed to be about.

“Cow manure?”

I was talking into my cell phone, but my friend Caroline Willner, who’d just popped into the kitchen with an armload of brightly wrapped presents, must have thought I was talking to her.

“Is this part of the whole not-swearing-in-front-of-the-boys thing?” she asked. “And what did I do to deserve–oops!” Her voice sank into a whisper. “Sorry! I didn’t realize you were on the phone.”

Although I could see her curiosity was aroused.

“We have access to a variety of manures–cow, horse, sheep, goat, and llama,” I said into the phone. “Much of it’s even organic. Is there a particular reason you want cow manure?”

“Well, any of those would be acceptable,” my caller said. “Especially the organic ones. I just don’t want chicken manure.”

“Of course not,” I said. “It’s so apt to be infected with salmonella. Give me your address and let me know when I can drop by–would sometime later today work? If you can show me the area you want fertilized, I can figure out how much manure is required and how many volunteers we’ll need to spread it.”

It is, as one can assume by the cover and title of this particular Meg Langslow mystery, Christmas time in Caerphilly again, and as always, Meg has her incredibly capable hands full with everything that is going on that she needs to make sure gets taken care of (her competence, list-making, and multi-tasking are all things that I aspire to, and inevitably always fall short on). Caerphilly’s Interfaith Council has, this particular year, come up with an amazing idea to help people out called “Helping Hands for the Holidays”–in which those in need of help can ask for assistance, and Meg and her group will find volunteers to get things taken care of for those in need. It’s an absolutely lovely idea, and who better than mayoral assistant Meg to take charge of such a program as part of her official duties? A Caerfully Christmas, which has become a major source of tourist revenue for the small town, is also in full swing; her house is filled with relatives; and she is hoping, for once, to have a relatively peaceful Christmas.

But that is not to be. One of the projects involved helping Harvey Dunlop (aka Harvey the Hoarder) declutter and de-hoard his home. Harvey’s neighbors loathe him because of his hoarding tendencies (the town has already helped him declutter his yard to mollify his neighbors), and naturally he is suspicious of the de-hoard assistance he is being offered at first, but with so many people willing to chip in and help out–with Meg there to assure him that the purpose isn’t to get rid of everything, but to help him sort and decide what to keep, as well as moving it all out so the house can get some much-needed repairs, Harvey begins to slowly come around. It would be easy to make Harvey the butt of many jokes here, and a lesser writer would probably do so. However, Andrews completely humanizes Harvey, and as we the reader get to know him better, understand his loneliness and sadness and how the hoarding has so completely overwhelmed him…we can’t help but root for him. The lovely people of Caerphilly even throw an impromptu holiday party for Harvey in the warehouse his things are being stored in (honestly, my bitter old cynical self would love to live in this marvelous lovely town full of kind, caring people who look out for everyone), and Harvey actually begins to come out of his shell, has a lovely evening, and everything is look up for him…

..until later that night when he is brutally attacked, and later dies in the hospital.

This was, for me, a complete and total shock. I had suspected that Harvey–with his hateful neighbors and even more hateful relatives–was going to be the murder victim at the heart of this story, but kept hoping he would be the suspect whom Meg would have to clear instead, and as the book progressed and I came to like him as a character more and more, finding so much joy in the way everyone in Caerphilly was working with him to make his life better and the way he was responding to the kindnesses he was being shown, it was a horrible shock to me…which, of course, is yet another testament to Andrews’ gifts as a novelist. I mean, I was seriously upset that he was murdered.

So upset, in fact, that I grimly looked forward to the murderer being caught and thinking of the most horrible ways for them to be punished, and as I kept reading to find out who this monstrous villain was, I was actually angry and outraged and was certain that whatever their fate might be, it wouldn’t be horrible and gruesome enough to satisfy the bloodlust I was feeling.

But this is Caerphilly, and Donna Andrews, and a Christmas book. There are some major twists along the way to the final denouement, and as always, there was a most satisfying conclusion to the mystery and the book, which enabled me to close it with a happy sigh, again reminded of what the season is truly about, and wishing the world was more like the fictional one that exists in this magical series.

Love to Hate You

Working at home today, but heading into the office this afternoon to get my booster shot. Yay, booster shot!

It’s hard to believe that Halloween is this weekend. WHERE THE HELL DID OCTOBER GO? Granted, when I think back to the summer or spring (let alone the winter) it does seem like it was a million years ago; time seems to slip past very quickly but when looking back, I don’t think, “wasn’t it just Labor Day?” This year has certainly been something–but I much prefer 2021 to 2020, any day of the week, and maybe, just maybe, 2022 will be better than 2021.

Fingers crossed, at any rate.

This has been a strange week. My fuse has been shorter than usual; I don’t know what that is about because I’ve been sleeping really well and have been productive, but at the same time I’ve not actually been writing, and that always causes trouble for me in the long run; if I don’t write, my mood darkens (something I always seem to forget). I’ve not been tired this week–at least not until I get home from the office, at any rate; I generally have been running out of steam around six or so in the evening, which means neither writing nor reading anything; although I’ve been going over my edits in the evenings and will probably do my proofing in the evening as well. I want to step away from the book for a few days anyway; there have been so many drafts and so many changes that I was slowly beginning to not completely trust my memory for the edits (I couldn’t remember if something was in the current draft or I was remembering a former one; I eventually gave up on my memory and trusted that my editor was getting things right because there was no way I could be certain….this memory thing is really becoming problematic).

The memory thing is becoming enough of an issue that I may need to end the Scotty series because I can’t remember what has happened in the past books…I keep meaning to make a series Bible–even took the time to go through a set of the series with little post-it notes, color-coded by character and location…just never got around to extracting the information. Maybe one of these days when I am really tired, or really bored…it probably wouldn’t be a completely terrible idea to reread the entire series from beginning to end, either. Sigh. I really don’t like rereading my own stuff because inevitably I will always find things I want to fix or correct and revise…and of course, it’s too late.

Last night we had the most terrifyingly powerful thunderstorm. The thunder sometimes seemed it wasn’t going to end, and there was more of a downpour than we had during Hurricane Ida. I mean, I was watching television (Paul had gone to the gym) and if I notice that it’s raining–if I can hear it–that means it’s literally getting close to time to build an ark. I actually wondered if I should move the car…and am still a little nervous about getting into it later to drive to the office for my booster to find out it flooded or something. It ended before Paul came home from the gym, but I was worried about him–the lightning and thunder was so intense, and the downpour so strong…it was pretty bad in the parishes so damaged by Ida, too, particularly in Lafourche and Terrebonne.

Louisianans don’t get near enough credit for toughness and resiliency, methinks.

I started watching Foundation again last night, and am really glad I did, as the action and story begin to seriously pick up in episode 4. There’s a weird gap of time between the second and third episodes–definitely a risk by the producers and writers–which isn’t really explained; episode two ends on a major cliffhanger and when the third episode begins, it’s like thirty or more years later, with no explanation or follow-up to the second episode–which was jarring to me as a viewer. But enough happens in episode four that I started to finally get sucked into the story, and episode five was spectacular; I am definitely all-in on the show now. It’s incredibly well-done; visually it’s gorgeous and stunning and epic in design, and it also expands heavily on the original stories. (I read the Foundation trilogy–it was originally a trilogy–back in my brief scifi/fantasy period of the 1980’s; I also read all the follow up Foundation novels, and loved them all. I don’t remember an awful lot of the books, but I do remember being very impressed by them and the universe they created; I loved them so much I went back and read much of Azimov’s past science fictions–the robot books, the Lije Bailey/Daneel Olivaw novels–and really came to an appreciation of Azimov as a visionary writer.)

We also watched the most recent episode of Dopesick, and what a stunning indictment of our capitalist system it is. The fact that the Sackler family’s greed resulted in our current opioid crisis and I don’t even know how many deaths and addictions and crimes…and the fact they are going to not only get away with it but keep most of their ill-gotten gains is sickening and disgusting to me. Sure, Purdue Pharma is bankrupt and going out of business, but the real evil here is the family that owned it–and the fact they are not going to have anything happen to them other than losing a few billion (out of over a dozen)–gosh, how will they fucking sleep at night? The Sacklers certainly make me understand why people so fervently believe in hell.

And on that note, it’s back to the spice mines with me. Have a lovely day, Constant Reader, and I will check in on you again in the morning.