Won’t Get Fooled Again

I am classified as a baby boomer because of the year I was born (1961) but I kind of think I am an exception to that rule, or should be, at any rate. My parents just missed being boomers, being born in 1942, but they don’t remember the war, and I think the war is the real defining generational moment. But I grew up around older people (they seemed ancient!) who had served. Our neighborhood in Chicago was a melting pot of various eastern/middle European refugees who came after the war, and for me that made the war seem very real as opposed to a historical event. We saw all the films in elementary school about the war–along with some extraordinary pro-American anti-Communist patriotic propaganda–and as very young children we were exposed to the films of the camps. The Holocaust was real, it was recent, and it was still absolutely horrifying. (We were also taught why using atomic weapons on Japan was the right, moral decision and hey, they started it after all–but that’s a topic for another day.) I remember watching a documentary series on PBS called The World at War, and of course, old war films were being shown on television all the time. (And somehow, Hogan’s Heroes was also on the air when I was a child–and then rerun in syndication for quite a while.) I read a lot of war fiction growing up–From Here to Eternity to The Caine Mutiny to War and Remembrance to The Young Lions to Tales of the South Pacific. I read a lot of World War II books–and there were even more books where it was a major part of the plot but it did affect the story and the characters in some way. (You can even stretch and include The Godfather–both book and movie–because Michael Corleone was a war hero at the beginning.)

I also fell in love with Hawaii the first time I went in 1991; I went every year after that until 1995 (thank you, flight benefits!) and I miss it. I would love to go back again, and I would imagine it’s very different there now than it was the last time I was there. But on one of those trips to Hawaii–I don’t remember which one–I came up with a very basic idea for a book, that would open on December 8, 1941. The wrecks in Pearl Harbor were still smoking and the entire island chain was on high alert. My idea was to then have an Army brass’ wife call the local police station to report a murder: she found the young Japanese man who worked for her doing yard work and odd jobs with his throat cut in her rose bushes. That was as far as the idea ever progressed, and I never have had the time to sit and think it through. But I love that opening idea, and that set-up; even as I type these words now characters are taking shape in my head (KNOCK IT OFF, CREATIVITY)…anyway, so it was a no-brainer that I wanted to to read Five Decembers by James Kestrel the first time I learned of its existence.

Joe McGrady was looking at a whiskey. It was so new the ice hadn’t begun to melt, even in this heat. A cacophony surrounded him. Sailors were ordering beers ten at a go, reaching past each other to light the girls’ cigarettes. Someone dropped a nickel in the Wurlitzer, and then there was Jimmy Dorsey and his orchestra. The men compensated for the new noise. They raised their voices. They were shouting at the girls now, and they outnumbered them. The night was just getting started, and so far they weren’t drinking anything harder than beer. They wouldn’t get to fistfights for another few hours. By the time they did, it would be some other cop’s problem. So he picked up his drink, and sniffed it. Forty-five cents per liquid ounce. Worth every penny, even if a three-finger pour took more than an hour to earn.

Before he had a taste of it, the barman was back. Shaved head, swollen eyes. Straight razor scars on both his cheeks. A face that made you want to hurry up and drink. But McGrady set his glass down.

“Joe,Tip said.

“Yeah?”

“Telephone–Captain Beamer, I guess, You can take it upstairs.

He knew the way. So he grabbed the drink again, and knocked it back. The whole thing, one gulp. Smooth and smoky. He might as well have it. If Beamer was calling him now, then he was going to be pulling overtime. Which meant tomorrow–Thursday–was going to be a bust. Molly was going to be disappointed. On the other hand, he’d be drawing extra pay. So he could afford to make it up to her later. He put three half-dollars on the bar, wiped his mouth on his shirtsleeve, and went upstairs.

I had heard great things about this book–it literally won the Edgar for Best Novel last month–and of course, it’s time and setting (a murder mystery set in Honolulu just before, during and after December 7? Oh hell yeah) made it a must-get. I didn’t read it as soon as I got a copy of course; it went into the TBR stack and moved up quite a few places after it won the Edgar. On the one hand, I’d heard nothing but great things about the book (and it won the Edgar)…but on the other hand, I also was worried about how this Pearl Harbor noir might affect my potential write-sometime-in-the-future-but-before-I-die Pearl Harbor murder mystery; namely, would I simply think oh this is so fucking good I can’t bear to write something that would be compared (unfavorably) to it because mine would inevitably be the weaker of the two? (I know how unhinged this sounds, but I’ve never pretended that anything that goes on inside of my brain is anything other than that.)

Yes, the book is that good, and no, it didn’t leave me thinking that I could never write my own book idea. If anything, it made me think, oh, I should try mine at some point but I am going to have to do a shit ton of research–which was something I already was aware of, to be fair–but its a good idea and could be interesting and fun to work on.

So, yeah, there was clearly no need to wait to read this outside my own neuroses.

Joe McGrady is the hero of this tale, which does indeed open in late November/December 1941 and finally wraps up the case in December 1945–the “five Decembers” of the title. Joe is ex-military and wound up in Honolulu on the police force, where he is neither liked nor trusted because he didn’t come up through the ranks; the thin blue line in Honolulu considers him to be an outsider. The case he catches while having a drink in the bar involves two bodies found butchered in a hut on a pineapple plantation; a young white male and a young Japanese female, stripped nude and essentially gutted. The case has wider implications other than the apparent (“my god, someone butchered two people in an extremely violent and gory way!”) as the young man is the nephew of Admiral Kimmel, the commander-in-chief of the Pacific Naval Fleet. As tensions between the United States and Japan are heating up to the inevitability of war, the murder of someone related to a person so high up in the chain of command could be espionage, could be any number of things that could have an effect on the security of the country and the Pacific fleet–and we, as readers, are also very aware of what’s around the corner in just a few days. Joe does note that his boss seems a bit weird about the investigation, and he’s paired with a bruiser detective who likes to beat information out of people and confessions out of possibly innocent people. He’s dating a young woman who attends the University, and may even be falling in love with her. We don’t get a lot of backstory on Joe, but the strength of the authorial voice makes unemotional, mostly internal Joe a hero you can root for. The trail of the murders eventually leads to Hong Kong, and Joe sets off on the transoceanic flight, which includes stops at Guam and Wake Island, where he picks up more clues and the trail of the possible killer–and there’s a murder victim on Wake kind of similar to the ones in Hawaii. But once he arrives in Hong Kong he decides not to immediately go to the police department there and ask assistance; rather he decides to follow the trail himself at first…a mistake, as he winds up getting arrested and framed for a rape. He is in the Hong Kong jail hoping that the US Embassy will get him out when the bombs start falling. He is taken to Japan as a prisoner of war, and the case–and the book, take a completely surprising twist and turn once he is there.

Anything else would be a spoiler, so I can’t really talk about the story anymore–but it’s compelling, convincing, beautiful and tragic and sad all at the same time. We see a lot of things through Joe’s eyes–both inhumanity and humanity; the absolute horrors of war (there’s a horrifyingly grim account of the fire bombing of Tokyo), and finally, the war ends, he returns to Hawaii, and is able to at long last close the case in a way that is enormously satisfying.

I really really enjoyed this immersive book which used a hardboiled crime story to talk about the horrors of war and the inhumanity that xenophobic and racist values and beliefs can create. It was riveting and very hard to put down once I started.

Highly, highly recommended.

Spanish Harlem

Friday morning at last, and I am a more than a little happy to see this reentry week put to rest in the archives, if I am being completely honest. Reentry weeks are always a bit of a disruption, and the older I get the weird transition from one side of my life to the other inevitably becomes more difficult. It’s not that I don’t enjoy the different sides so much–I always feel that the day-to-day life, so disparate and different from the “writer” public life–is good for keeping me grounded as well as keeping my ego in check. After all, you could get whiplash going from being on-stage at the Edgars as the executive vice president of Mystery Writers of America back to lower-level clinic employee (although that’s really not a fair statement about my day job; my day job–while not in management or supervision–is actually important and I do help every one of my clients in a positive way every day; it’s just a vastly different enterprise than my life as a writer and/or everything that is involved, even peripherally, with that).

We finished watching Harry Wild, the new Jane Seymour crime series on Acorn and highly recommend it. Seymour is terrific in the leading role, and everyone in the supporting cast is also good. The young Black teenager who originally mugs her in the first episode eventually becomes her Watson, and they are great together. Paul and I, like so many Americans, are absolute suckers for British crime series, and now that we’ve (alas) finished Harry Wild, we’ll probably go ahead and finish Severance this weekend–we’re very close to the end of the first season, and I do find the show to be both interesting and disturbing at the same time; while I can see why the “severance” would be appealing to people–the utter and complete separation of day-job from personal life–at the same time it would seem incredibly weird and unsettling to me; not knowing what I did the rest of the time? It is interesting, and obviously there are deeper questions about morality and bodily autonomy here as well–and given what’s going on in this country at the current moment, it’s very timely.

I have big plans for this weekend. I have some self-care scheduled for tomorrow morning, and I am also doing an interview/event for Spirit of Ink on Saturday afternoon. I want to finish reading my Carol Goodman novel (it really is quite delicious); I need to do some writing; and of course, there’s always cleaning and organizing that needs to be done. We also had some horrific thunderstorms over night–I don’t remember if I woke up during the storms or not; the same thing happened Wednesday night and I do remember waking up to thunder; I think it was Wednesday night rather than last, honestly. I’ve really been sleeping great lately, and it’s marvelous. I still get terribly tired on the days I have to get up early–I don’t think that will ever change, frankly–but I am adjusting. I actually am planning on returning to the gym this weekend as well; I am hopeful that getting my act together and working out again will also help make me feel better, sleep better, and get more done. I’m really tired of carrying around this extra weight and not being in tip-top shape, but also have to recognize that it will take far longer than it used to now that I am older. It would probably go faster also if I started eating healthier…but I think we know how that is going to go, don’t we?

Yeah, not going to happen. I can try, but make no promises. I like fat and grease and breading and so forth too much to put my vanity (and it’s really not about vanity anymore, really) ahead of what pleasures I get from eating, to be honest. My relationship with food has always been skewed–so has my relationship with my body and my appearance, which I really need to write about sometime–and I always have to worry about my tendency to fall into compulsive/obsessive behavior (I really need to try to continue channeling those quirks of my personality into my writing and promotion of my career) when it comes to exercise and eating and so forth.

Ah, Greg’s personality problems and issues.

I turned my story into the anthology yesterday, and also found another (very short) call for submissions for another anthology I’d like to work on something for. I think my story turned out okay; it needs some tweaking and so forth, perhaps, but I am hoping the editors do like it. I also want to get a couple of other stories I’d also like to starting sending out to various markets to see if anyone wants them; it’s been a hot minute since I’ve sent anything out to other markets rather than the occasional anthology submission call. I wrote a story to submit to Land of 10000 Crimes, the Bouchercon anthology I am currently co-editing, but finally decided to not send in anything for the blind read; I made it past the blind reads in the last two anthologies I edited for Bouchercon, but I kind of got the impression (and it could be wrong; I tend to expect people to be critical and snarky of me and my work) that the fact that I made it past the blind reads on the anthologies I personally edited might look weird and/or suspicious to people on the outside–suuuuuuuure you made it through the blind read–but at the same time, I didn’t help myself by never submitting stories to the Bouchercon anthologies I wasn’t editing. But my story in Blood on the Bayou was a Macavity Award finalist, and my story in Florida Happens was an Anthony finalist, so that sort of makes it seem like my stories were worthy of being published?

But I can certainly get why it’s for the best that I didn’t submit anything to the anthology. But I also really like my story, “The Sound of Snow Falling,” and I’d like to get that out for submission; it’s pretty close to being finished and perhaps maybe one more go-round with it could be in order. There are a few others I’d also like to get out for submission as well–“Death and the Handmaidens” is certainly one of those–and so I am going to add that to my weekend to-do list; look at the some of the almost-completed stories I have on hand, and see which ones can be sent out next week. It’s never a bad idea to keep my hand in, you know.

And now that I am sort of feeling like myself again. I might as well ride this train as far as it will take me before it goes off the rails again.

Have a happy Friday, Constant Reader..

Don’t Pull Your Love

Ah, New York.

The travel day wasn’t bad at all, really; I didn’t allow anxiety to seize control of my day OR my mood, and everything went smoothly. We had an open seat in between us on our flight, our bags came right off the plane, and the only really problem was our car service was late picking us up and bringing us to our glorious hotel on Times Square. I did manage to read Ernest Hemingway’s To Have and Have Not on the trip (do not recommend, but am willing to give one of his better works a shot, although there was plenty of reasons in this particular volume to make me never read Hemingway again ever)–I am certain there will be more about that later–and I think I am going to dig into Raquel V. Reyes’ Mango, Mambo and Murder next; I also brought along Curtis Ippolito’s Burying the Newspaper Man , L. C. Rosen’s Jack of Hearts, and the divine Carol Goodman’s The Lake of Lost Languages. I won’t probably get to all of them on this trip, but I should make a significant dent into this traveling TBR pile while I am here. I do have some other things to keep my busy–I really need to finish writing that short story this week, and I am doing a ZOOM thing about Ira Levin’s Deathtrap for the Jefferson Performing Arts Center tomorrow, between going into the MWA office to work as well as then meet some folks later for drinks.

Nonstop action in New York, y’all.

I was very tired when I got here yesterday, and by the time we were all checked into our hotel and unpacked, we just ordered room service and chilled in our room. I got about two chapters into Mango, Mambo and Murder before the words started swimming in front of my eyes and I had to put it down and go to sleep. The bed was very comfortable, and I slept really well–if off and on; but compared to Albuquerque it was like getting the sleep treatment in Valley of the Dolls–so I at least feel very rested this morning. I am about to get into the shower and walk down Broadway to the MWA office to do some last minute work pre=banquet (I still am not entirely sure what I am going to say about there, but one thing I do know for sure is I am not going to get up there and try to wing it; but I am not nearly as stressed about this as I was at Left Coast for some reason–maybe my decision to try to tamp down the anxiety is working? I managed to remain calm and relaxed all throughout my travel day yesterday, and I am not really stressing much about the banquet itself.

After all, there’s plenty of time for me to freak out about it tomorrow, right?

Well, I need to get a move on, so have a lovely Wednesday, Constant Reader!

Never Can Say Goodbye

Today is the day: New York bound in a few hours for the Edgars. I dread the traveling part–the drive to the airport, the waiting for boarding at the gate, claiming luggage and finding the car service, the ride into Manhattan–but later today I will be in the city for something truly exciting. Paul’s birthday is the night of the Edgars, and then we are flying back home on Saturday. Last night wasn’t bad. At first I was stressed and anxious and freaking out a little bit–the norm the night before a trip–but at some point I decided to stop being ridiculous and relax. I made a list of what I needed to pack, and gathered everything and then packed the suitcases. When Paul got home he packed. And I just relaxed, didn’t stress about anything, and then went to bed. I didn’t sleep well last night–of course, which I assumed was excitement about the trip as well as my mind punishing me for not getting anxious and letting my anxiety take over and make me completely miserable. It was actually lovely to not be stressed about the trip; likewise this morning I am relaxed and calm and not allowing myself to get stressed about getting to the airport and taking Scooter to the kitty spa and so forth.

I wonder how long this will last…but it’s lovely, frankly.

I am still obsessing about Heartstopper; I am not prepared quite yet to blog about both the show and the graphic novels (both of which I absolutely adored) as I am still processing it all. I may watch the show again once we get back from New York; it really was that good and enjoyable, and all eight episodes add up to about four hours of television. I’ve also fallen in love with Heartstopper Mixtape playlist on Spotify, which is essentially the soundtrack of the show (which really used music perfectly; I particularly love the song “What’s It Gonna Be” by Shura; it’s the song that plays during the rain scene–and there’s a lyric that keeps running through my head: if you let me down let me down slow. I suspect that’s going to wind up being a story title or the theme of something I write in the near future; there’s just something about the heartbreak in that line that touches something inside of me the same way the lyric “promises in every star” from ’til Tuesday’s song “Coming Up Close” haunted me for years before I wrote a story with that title). I mean, it really is the sweetest show; it even moved my bitter brittle heart, and I happy cried a few times watching it–no small feat to pull off, right?

I did finish my CV yesterday and it wound up being eleven pages long. I’ve written more novels than I’ve been giving myself credit for, as well as more short stories. The articles/columns/essays section is underreported; it ends in 2001, and I know I’ve written a lot more pieces than what I’ve recorded in the CV; someday when I get a wild hair (or want to avoid writing) I’ll go up into the attic and get the file box with all my copies of the articles/columns etc. and get it filled in, which will be kind of fun. It’s just nice to have the damned thing finally caught up with the fiction, frankly (eleven pages! JFC!) and it’s nice to have on hand. I should update it every once in a while when I think about it; but I certainly am never going to let it go fifteen years between updates (and to be fair, when I originally started putting it together back in 2007, I never completed it in the first place, so having it in some sort of order now is enormously satisfying) again.

I’ll take my victories where I can get them, you know?

I feel very calm this morning, which is unusual, and I think it’s because I am not letting myself get freaked out or anxious or stressed about this trip. It’s kind of nice, actually.

And on that note, tis time to head into the spice mines. Have a lovely Tuesday, Constant Reader, and I will probably check in with you again tomorrow morning.

Brown Sugar

Wednesday morning and today is my work-at-home day. I have data to enter and condom packs to stuff; and of course, household chores to do when I need to back away from the computer for a moment or two. I’ve sort of gotten caught up on my chores around the house–it’s also Pay-the-Bills Day, hurray–but there’s always something that needs to be done around here. There are dishes in the dishwasher that need putting away, and laundry as well, the bed linens didn’t get their weekly laundering on Friday because I was out of town, and so forth. I slept deeply and well last night and feel incredibly well rested this morning–for the first time since leaving, really; yesterday was merely an improvement on Monday because this is supposed to be how I feel when I get up. I’m a bit groggy, but the coffee will undoubtedly help with that, and I’ve already done Wordle–I am finding that to be very helpful in kicking my mind back into gear again in the mornings–and now I just have to finish writing this entry. I also have entries to do on Mia Manansala’s Arsenic and Adobe and Wanda Morris’ All Her Little Secrets, and I am getting close to finishing Catriona McPherson’s A Gingerbread House, which I am really enjoying.

I came straight home from work yesterday and did some chores when I got home, which included putting away the stuff in the dishwasher and folding clothes, before settling in to read some more of Catriona’s book. Scooter climbed into my lap and turned into his usual contented purr-ball self (we think we have a new outdoor kitty; Guzman has also come back and isn’t skittish anymore; and Tiger has resurfaced as well), and when my mind finally became too fatigued to go on reading, I started watching some videos on Youtube (I started watching another one about the inbred Spanish Hapsburgs, but turned it off when it failed to note that Charles V had also married a first cousin on his mother’s side, adding to the inbreeding coefficient dramatically; the Iberian royal houses of Castile, Aragon and Portugal had already been inbreeding for centuries) and then Paul got home. I’ve also discovered a new wonderful channel on Youtube about music, “Todd in the Shadows,” and I really enjoy his lengthy looks at one-hit wonders (last night I watched his videos about “Mickey,” “I Touch Myself,” “Missing,” and “What is Love”–I’ve watched quite a few of these in the past and while I don’t always agree with his opinion about the song itself, it’s interesting to hear the backstories of the artists and the songs themselves, as well as what they tried to do to follow up the success of their one hit wonder. And of course, when Paul came back downstairs, we binged the rest of the fifth season of Elite, which we both greatly enjoyed and might be one of the best seasons thus far; certainly it was stronger than season 4. I think this deserves its own entry, frankly; so I think I am going to go ahead and do one at some point. And then it was off to bed and I fell asleep almost immediately, which was lovely, and slept deeply and well through the night, which was also pretty amazing.

Huzzah!

And hopefully, once I am done with my work-at-home duties, I can work on finishing that short story. I really need to get it finished and turned in before I leave for the Edgars in two weeks. Woo-hoo! (Although yes, I am terribly worried about sleep once I am in New York, too. Fortunately I will have at least one night to get used to sleeping in a new bed before the banquet.

It looks kind of cloudy outside this morning, and the crepe myrtles–which are getting more full since the butchery last year–are swaying in the winds. I should probably check the weather to make sure this isn’t going to be another one of those “potential tornado” days–we’re all a little jumpy after that one a few weeks ago–and it looks like it could be another one of those days. Heavy heaving sigh. I also need to make a to-do list; the one I am working off is from before the trip to Left Coast Crime (so much fun!) and is, therefore, dated.

Sigh.

I also need to get some other stuff done–the Bouchercon anthology needs more organizing, I need to start planning Mississippi River Mischief, and I also got, ordered on-line, another copy of William J. Mann’s Behind the Screen: How Gays and Lesbians Helped Shape Hollywood, which I already have a copy of somewhere but it was simply easier to order a new copy than go through every fucking box in storage to find it, and is going to be important research for Chlorine. I was planning on writing a draft of Chlorine in May, but I may push that back a month and do another first draft of something that has drawn some interest from another potential publisher; it’s something I’ve also been wanting to write for some time but have never gotten around to, so we shall see. The day job is changing a bit, so that’s also going to have some impact on my writing schedules and so forth. Heavy heavy deep heaving sigh.

It’s always something.

And on that note, I am going to make another cup of coffee, pay the bills, and get started on my day. Have a lovely Wednesday, Constant Reader, and I will talk to you tomorrow.

96 Tears

I thought today’s title was rather appropriate for a Monday morning, don’t you?

Yesterday I got my desktop iMac functional again, which is absolutely lovely. I really need the big screen–laptops work as a last resort–but it feels nice to have it working again, frankly. It still gives me the spinning wheel every once in a while, and at some point I may invest in more RAM (or whatever it is) to make that stop happening. But again–very lovely to have my desktop back, and even lovelier to not have to buy a new one. HUZZAH!

It takes so little to make me happy, really.

Yesterday was nice and relaxing. I got the computer functioning again (I did have to make a call to Apple Support with one question, which resulted in a twenty minute phone call; why is it so hard to simply say “Yes, Greg, you can stop the migration without worry and do it manually”?) and did some cleaning up around here. Paul and I tried to watch a documentary series and gave up during the first episode, then moved on to Hacks (Jean Smart is incredible in this, just as she is in Mare of Easttown, and it’s laugh out loud funny on top of that), and then watched the first episode of Shadow and Bone on Netflix. It didn’t really suck me in, but I am willing to keep going with it; fantasy shows have to get more than one episode in before you can really decide whether or not it’s worthwhile to continue. I do find the Russian influence on it–at least many character names are Russian-sounding, and one of the countries has a Russian-sounding name to it–kind of interesting. Pretty good production values, as well. We also watched a movie which was entertaining enough, but over-all not very good (I won’t name it, because I try not to call out anything as bad unless it’s unwatchably bad), and it was disappointing because it could have been so much better than it was.

The trip to visit my family is in a few days, and it will be the first time I’ve flown since January 2020 and my trip to New York for the MWA Board retreat. While traveling is something I have done less and less over the years–looking back to some heavy travel years, it stuns me that I did so much and went so many places over the course of a few years, given how I have grown to hate traveling–it is still unusual that I’ve traveled so little in the last year and a half. I had planned on going to Bouchercon in Sacramento last year, and various other conferences, and of course there was no board retreat in New York this year nor were there Edgar banquets this year or last to go up there for. I do miss New York; one of the perks of serving on the national board was the several times per year trips to my second favorite city in the United States, and I have so many friends there! Well, perhaps if this pandemic is indeed coming to an end–I personally don’t believe it is, but that’s just my natural cynicism and negativity coming into play, but I do hope that it’s coming to a close–I want to make several trips during the rest of this year and during the next. I have, for example, never been to Left Coast Crime, and I want to rectify this next year–which means needing to save vacation time and fewer three day mental health weekends.

There’s also some more things I need to do before I leave on Thursday morning; I can’t really leave the apartment in the condition it’s currently in–although the shedding of books and beads this past weekend has helped dramatically with cutting back on the living room clutter–but it shouldn’t be terribly difficult to take care of that before Thursday morning. I slept decently last night, which was lovely, and tonight when I get home from work I should be able to get some of this mess around my desk cleaned up, organized, and put away. We’ll probably continue with Shadow and Bone tonight, as well as this week’s Mare of Easttown, and of course I need to get to bed early this evening because tomorrow is another get up before the sunrise morning (every day this week, in fact, until I get to my parents’). I’m getting used to getting up this early–I should be by now, right? It’s been going on since last June or July, and now even on my days off I am opening my eyes around six-ish in the morning, but staying in bed. It’s really more about going to bed early than getting up early, to be honest; I hate cutting my evening short at ten pm.

Whine whine whine.

But it’s supposed to be yet another rainy week here in New Orleans–which is why the dawn light is so gray this morning, I suppose–and I really don’t mind. It’s May, and this is usually when the termites are swarming, but I’ve seen nothing about that anywhere this month and I’ve not seen any–knock on wood–so far this year. This could mean any number of things–there aren’t any swarms this year; there are, but not as bad as usual; or everyone is so used to them now they don’t bother commenting on their appearance. I suspect it’s the latter two, frankly; I can’t believe the scourge of the Formosan termite swarms are a thing of the past, especially given how wet it has been this year.

I still want to write a story that opens with this line: “The termites were swarming.”

And on that note, it’s off to the spice mines. Have a lovely Monday, all.

Spooky

I’ve decided to launch a new reading project for this year: one in which I tackle rereading middle-grade mysteries. I am not going to limit myself to merely the series books I loved (although they will play a big role in the project), but will also include other mysteries I have, either in one of my reading apps or an actual hard copy, that do not belong to the series. My childhood memories aren’t as clear as I would perhaps like; then again, that period of my life was around fifty years ago, so it would be more of a miracle if I did have stronger memories.

The first two series books I ever read were not from either the Nancy Drew or Hardy Boys series; they were from the Trixie Belden series (The Red Trailer Mystery) and The Three Investigators (The Mystery of the Moaning Cave). Both series wound up being favorites of mine once I eventually got back to them and remembered them; I remember buying five Trixie Belden books at a store at the Ford City mall in Chicago, and I got my first five Three Investigators books from a Toys R Us, I think in the Chicago suburb of Berwin? The two series weren’t as ubiquitous or available as Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys; which made finding more of them a kind of triumph for me. I’ve already blogged about The Secret of Terror Castle, which was the first Three Investigators book in the series, so I won’t cover that one again. But recently I sat down and reread the second book in the series, The Mystery of the Stuttering Parrot, and remembered again why I love this series so much.

“Help!” The voice that called out was strangely shrill and muffled. “Help! Help!”

Each time a cry from within the mouldering old house pierced the silence, a new chill crawled down Pete Crenshaw’s spine. Then the cries for help ended in a strange, dying gurgle and that was even worse.

The tall, brown-haired boy knelt behind the thick trunk of a barrel palm and peered up the winding gravel path at the house. He and his partner, Jupiter Jones, had been approaching it when the first cry had sent them diving into the shrubbery for cover.

Across the path, Jupiter, stocky and sturdily built, crouched behind a bush, also peering toward the house. They waited for further sounds. But now the old, Spanish-style house, set back in the neglected garden that had grown up like a small tropical jungle, was silent.

“Jupe!” Pete whispered. “Was that a man or a woman?”

Jupiter shook his head. “I don’t know,” he whispered. “Maybe it was neither.

The Three Investigators cases often began this way; with two of them (sometimes all of them) landing smack dab in the middle of something mysterious; whether it was the sight of a weird ghost as they walk past an abandoned house being demolished (The Mystery of the Green Ghost) or biking past an enclosed estate (The Mystery of the Laughing Shadow) or simply riding in the gold=played Rolls Royce limousine and almost getting into an accident (The Mystery of the Silver Spider). Many of their other cases begin with them being hired to find a lost pet, which turns into something more complicated and complex: The Mystery of the Coughing Dragon and The Mystery of the Whispering Mummy fall into this category….while the majority of their cases come by way of referrals from Alfred Hitchcock himself (and why has no one ever done a book about the licensing of the Hitchcoc name, and all the products the great director attached his name to? It’s far overdue.). The Mystery of the Stuttering Parrot combines all three: the boys were referred by Hitchcock to a friend whose recently purchased parrot has either been stolen or gotten free; they are on their way to visit Professor Fentriss to talk to him about the missing parrot–which stuttered–when they hear the cries for help coming from within the house. They are confronted outside by a man with a revolver (he is described here, and throughout the book, as a fat man–even by Jupiter, who hates being called fat), who claims to be Mr. Fentriss and that the bird has returned; he also claims that Hitchcock had called him to say the boys were on their way over. As they are leaving they realize that the house had no telephone wires (which used to actually be a thing, before cell phones), so they go back. Indeed, the man they met was an imposter and Mr. Fentriss is also tied up in his home. They rescue him, discover that he bought the missing parrot from a sickly Hispanic man selling the birds (there were others) out of his donkey cart, and that his friend Irma Waggoner sent the peddler to them. (Note: the man is described, and referred to, over and over as a Mexican; he actually is Mexican, so it’s not necessarily problematic–other than the fact that no one knew he was Mexican at first; referring to all Latinx/Hispanic people as Mexican when they may not actually be Mexican is problematic. In an update they would undoubtedly change it to Hispanic–as he did speak Spanish as a first language and his English isn’t good–which we see when the boys find him later in the book.) Miss Waggoner’s parrot has also disappeared; it also spoke, as did Mr. Fentriss’. (I kept thinking as I read it for the first time but parrots don’t stutter; he would have to be taught to do that. Very early on Jupiter also mentions this; I always feel inordinately proud of myself every time I read Jupiter saying this) Eventually, it turns out that the man who taught the birds special speeches had a masterpiece painting in his possession, and each parrot speaks a clue to the location of where he hid it when he realized he was dying–so the boys not only have to find all the parrots to get all the messages, they also have to decipher the clues and find the painting. Eventually they do–while also trying to avoid a flamboyant international art thief and his thugs–in a spooky, abandoned graveyard in the fog. A little bit of luck, and the boys solve the mystery–but despite that piece of luck, the entire case is actually solved by deductions based on the evidence presented thus far, with Jupiter revising his theories whenever new evidence is presented.

I love this series, and the books still make for compelling reading today. Some of the story is dated of course–no cell phones, no computers for research (Bob does all their research at the library, where he works part time), the casual racism of the time–but many of the books still hold up. Hitchcock’s death obviously impacted the series, but I’ve never understood why The Three Investigators never became as popular as–if not more so–than Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys. The three boys have distinct personalities–you know Pete will never want to investigate anything complicated, but will inevitably prove how courageous he actually is; Bob is studious and not as easily excitable as Pete, and he’s the one who usually follows Jupiter’s train of thought while Pete always gets confused; and Jupiter himself is a young Sherlock Holmes. Robert Arthur, who wrote the original series up through number 11, The Mystery of the Talking Skull (someone else wrote number 10, The Mystery of the Moaning Cave, which also ironically is the first of the series I actually read). Arthur won two Edgars from Mystery Writers of America for his radio plays; he also ghost edited some of the Alfred Hitchcock Presents anthologies I remember from my childhood. The Three Investigators are no longer in print, because of legal disputes between the Arthur estate and Random House about who owns the characters and so forth; it’s a shame. The books are still in print in many different languages–and are especially popular in Germany–where two of the books were actually filmed.

Most of my series books are in storage, but there are some still in the Lost Apartment–and I think when I am too tired to read something new, I may just get down a series book as an homage to my childhood and revisit some of these kids’ series.

Silver Bells

Still aglow from the big LSU win Saturday night.

Sadly, the Tigers clearly used up all of Louisiana’s football juju, because the Saints played terribly against the Eagles and lost yesterday afternoon. It did occur to me that one of the reasons I dislike the NFL–at least in comparison to college–is because players I rooted against can wind up on the Saints, and LSU players are drafted to other teams and play against the Saints. It’s hard for me to root against LSU players. And while Jalen Hurts wasn’t a Tiger–he played against us several times and I rooted for him to lose each time–I was a fan of his; I could recognize ability and talent on the field, and I also thought how he handled the whole Tua situation at Alabama was pretty damned classy. So, while I wanted the Eagles to lose, I also wanted to see him play well, and he did, and then I felt like a traitor and I do not have these kinds of conflicts watching college football damn it.

Well, at least not so much anymore. The LSU-Auburn game was a tough one for me until Katrina. After that, I was all in for LSU.

It’s back in the fifties today, and we are in a “high wind alert”–gusts up to 35 miles per hour until around seven, which is fortunately around when I have to get in the shower before heading to the office. It doesn’t feel all that cold this morning in the Lost Apartment, which is interesting; usually when it’s that cold outside it’s even more cold inside, but while I did have to put a ski cap on this morning because my head was cold, other than that it’s not so bad this morning. I slept pretty well (obviously, didn’t want to get out of bed at any point once the alarm started going off) and so feel pretty good this morning. I wound up not going to the gym yesterday, which means having to go this evening (which is fine; I’ll be reluctant and tired, undoubtedly, when I do go) but that’s all right, I can deal.

Yesterday I fully intended to work on Chapter 18, but realized that it probably needs to be mostly tossed and completely rewritten from the start, which is something I was really afraid of having to do–and tossing and starting over means I have to redo the ending of Chapter 17–which I actually realized on Saturday night, while I was thinking about it during the LSU game; the ending of that chapter doesn’t make sense, rendering the eighteenth chapter was completely off the rails, which is going to delay my completion of the revision more than just a little bit. I spent most of yesterday trying to figure out how to redo the chapter, and I think I have it down now–we shall see when I get home from the gym this evening, won’t we?

John Le Carre died yesterday–or rather, his death was made public, at any rate–which came as a surprise to me because I had figured he had already died. It was strange that he died around the time I finally got to read The Spy Who Came in From the Cold, but deepest sympathies for his family, friends, and professional colleagues. Truly a great writer, the book won an Edgar for Best Novel and Le Carre himself was named a Grand Master in 1984; deservedly so. He was nominated three other times–The Little Drummer Girl was nominated for Best Novel; he was nominated for Best Short Story for “Dare I Weep? Dare I Mourn?” in The Saturday Evening Post in 1968; and for Best TV Feature or Miniseries for A Murder of Quality. I am really looking forward to exploring more of his work in the years to come; I am still reeling a bit from the brilliance of The Spy Who Came in From the Cold–and have been assured by others whose opinions I respect that the other novels are just as brilliant and well written. I’m only sorry it took me this long to get to his canon.

And so another week dawns; another week of seeing clients and getting writing done and going to the gym and hoping against hope that I will stay rested and motivated and fresh all week to get everything done.

Have a happy Monday, Constant Reader.

I’m Only Me When I’m With You

Operation Scooter is going well so far. He doesn’t run away when we get out the syringe, he’s eating the wet food–although he’s not eating enough, I don’t think–and we’ve successfully convinced him his tartar control dry food (which is what he used to eat) are treats. We’ve also noticed behavior change in him since we started the insulin; he seems more alert, more active, and his fur is softer and sleeker than it was. He’s also more affectionate than he has been for a while–he’s never been much of a “hey let’s play” cat; he just wants to cuddle and purr. He also doesn’t seem to be drinking as much water as he was–that was when we noticed the change; he was drinking more water and his litter box became insane to deal with–and so I’m pretty happy about the whole situation now. It doesn’t phase me anymore to get the syringe ready or give him the shot. We’re hoping he’ll do so well with the change in diet and with the insulin now that he won’t need the shots anymore in a few months.

I’m so glad this is going so well. As I mentioned before, we’re very close to the ten year anniversary of when we lost Skittle and Scooter rescued us, and losing him around this time would have been rough. It’s going to be whenever it does happen, regardless, but I’m delighted we are going to be able to enjoy Scooter cuddles for a while longer.

The weather–and daylight–have definitely changed around here now; last night it dipped into the sixties (I could tell; I slept deeply and well, and my bed was so warm and comfortable this morning I didn’t want to get out of it). I feel very rested this morning. Yes, I certainly could have stayed in bed for longer than I was able to, but the summer weather has definitely broken and we are now in our beautiful, marvelous, gorgeous fall. (It’s very dark outside my windows this morning)

I finished reading Patrick Ness’ Release last night, and it was quite marvelous. I am looking forward to putting my thoughts together about it into a blog entry–it definitely made me think, and rethink, a lot of what I knew, or thought I knew, about writing for the young adult market. I think next up on my reading is going to be John Vercher’s Three Fifths, which was an Edgar finalist for Best First Novel this past spring, and I’ve heard a lot of truly terrific things about it. I also got two Kindle books for a ridiculously low sale price–John Ball’s In the Heat of the Night (which the Oscar winning film was based on, and I think it won an Edgar Award) and V. M. Burns’ The Plot Is Murder, which looks absolutely delightful. I should really read more of the books on my iPad book apps, shouldn’t I? There are quite a few of them, and I keep acquiring more, and since I’m not traveling at all….

I also managed to get a lot of my email cleared out yesterday, which was not only productive but felt amazing. I don’t feel sleepy-tired today, either, which means I should have yet another productive day. Yay! I had a lovely day at the office yesterday–all of my clients kept their appointments, and that’s really my favorite part of my day job, helping people–even if it’s just in the small way that I can through my work. I enjoy those interactions with my clients; and I miss seeing clients every day. I’m not sure when or if I will ever be back to full time counseling, but I really do hope it’s sooner rather than later.

Paul didn’t get home until late last night, after I had already gone to bed–he’s working on grants and proposals–and I have to admit, I was plenty tired when I got home from work yesterday, which was why I read my book rather than doing any cleaning or writing or revising. Hopefully, he will be home at his usual time tonight–I just let music videos stream endlessly on Youtube on the big television while I read, and thought about Bury Me in Shadows some more. I pitched both it and the Kansas book to my publisher yesterday–biting the bullet and realizing the stress of a deadline is what I need to finish pushing through them and getting them both finished–so hopefully they will agree to take both books and I can get the contracts signed and the deadlines set relatively soon. I’ve still not heard back on the Secret Project, but I still have hope an offer might come through; although the longer it takes the less confidence I have that one will be forthcoming.

Worst case scenario: it’s turned down and I use the plot for another Scotty book. Worse things have happened.

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

Generic Jingle

Phyllis A. Whitney is one of my all-time favorite authors.

I first discovered her, as Constant Reader is probably already aware, when I was a kid looking for mysteries in the school library. I distinctly remember that day in the fourth grade when I found The Mystery of the Hidden Hand on the shelves at the Eli Whitney Elementary School library; this was during my period of fascination with the ancient world (I was getting the Time-Life series Great Ages of Man; and had just gotten the volume Classical Greece). The description on the back of the book told me it was set in Greece, and had to do with antiquities and Greek history; that was all I needed and I signed it out. (I have, in the past, mistakenly identified The Secret of the Tiger’s Eye as my gateway drug into Whitney’s novels; I remembered incorrectly.) I enjoyed the book tremendously; I returned it and checked out The Secret of the Tiger’s Eye. I went on to read many of her children’s mysteries; she won two Edgars for Best Juvenile and was nominated twice more. After we’d moved to the suburbs, Signet started reissuing her children’s mysteries, and I started buying them at Zayre’s: The Mystery of the Angry Idol, The Secret of the Spotted Shell, The Mystery of the Black Diamonds, The Mystery of the Golden Horn, The Mystery of the Gulls, and numerous others. (I started collecting them again as an adult, thanks to eBay.)

I won’t tell the story again of how I rediscovered Whitney as a romantic suspense writer for adults; I’ve told that story any number of times, and I read almost everything she wrote for adults–but with The Ebony Swan I noted a decline in the quality of her writing, and never read anything she published after that. (I do intend, at some point, to read the ones I’ve never read–it’s the completist in me.)

ea0a5236e1de7732223993bee68f37c8

Cunningham’s department store is quiet again now. Sylvester Haring still puts his head in the door of my office whenever he goes by, to call out “Hi, Linell!” and perhaps to linger and study the pictures on my walls, to speak briefly of the past. But his days are given over to the humdrum of catching shoplifters and petty thieves, instead of trailing a murderer.

He never mentions that one picture we hunted down together, or the tragic denouement to which it led. But now and then we cock an eyebrow at each other because we are conspirators and know it.

Not that the law was in any way defeated. Payment in full was made for all those terrible things that happened. But still, Haring and I know what we know and the case as it broke in the papers told only half the story.

There are still things about Cunningham’s that make me shiver. I can never cross that narrow passageway that leads past the freight elevators into the display department without a feeling of uneasiness. I cannot bear the mannequin room at all, and I will go to any length to avoid setting foot in it. But most of all I am haunted by the symbols that came into being during the case.

The color red, for instance. I never wear it anymore, because it was the theme of those dreadful days. It ran beneath the surface of our lives like a bright network of veins, spilling out into the open now and then to accent with horror. And there are the owls. Sometimes in my dreams that eerie moment returns when I stood there in the gloom with all those plaster creatures crowding about me, cutting off my escape.

Nor will I ever again breathe the scent of pine without remembering the way the light went out and those groping hands came toward me. Strange to have your life saved by the odor of Christmas trees.

But the worst thing of all is when I imagine I hear the strains of Sondo’s phonograph. For me, those rooms will never be free of ghostly music and I break into cold chills in broad daylight whenever a radio plays Begin the Beguine.

And while there are some romantic aspects to The Red Carnelian, it’s probably one of the least romantic suspense-like novels she published (Skye Cameron, The Quicksilver Pool, and The Trembling Hills were not mysteries, at least not that I recall; but they were also early in her career and once she hit her stride, she became enormously successful). It’s a straight-up murder mystery, told in the first person point of view of Linell Wynn, who works at Cunningham’s Department Store on State Street in Chicago, writing copy for advertising posters, ads, and so forth. When the story opens, the entire store is on edge, because the window display manager, Michael “Monty” Montgomery, is returning to work that day from his surprise honeymoon; he and Linell had been a thing before his sudden elopement caught everyone by surprise. He’d married Chris Gardner, whose father Owen ran the luxury floor–the 4th–evening gowns and jewelry and furs. Linell claims that she and Monty were cooling things off when he suddenly eloped; I’m not entirely convinced that’s not something she claims to salvage her damaged pride. Naturally, later that day Monty is murdered, and of course, Linell finds the body; a fact which she, on the advice of Bill Thorne (one of the store’s vendors) keeps quiet from the police. He was killed near one of the window displays, by a golf club; Linell found the broken end of it in the window before she finds the body and put it back in the golf bag, thus handling the murder weapon. She also finds a piece of stone, a red carnelian, in the window display and puts it in her smock pocket and forgets about it.

Linell, of course, immediately becomes suspect number one–but it doesn’t take long for her, her store detective buddy Sylvester Haring, and new love interest Bill (who she does suspect from time to time) to find out almost every single person working in the store who’s a character in the book has a reason for hating Monty and wanting to see him dead. Linell of course also finds herself targeted from time to time by the killer–who never actually kills her (obviously)–as she sort of starts figuring out the who’s and what’s and why’s of the story.

It’s quite a good read; the characters are very well fleshed out, and the writing itself is pretty good. Whitney always wrote in a more Gothic style, in her books for adults; a style that seems a little dated now as well but still manages to hold your interest. I also would imagine a teenager reading the book today would have to look up what a “phonograph” was–although its usage makes it fairly clear to me what it is; but of course I grew up with phonographs and vinyl records and needles and all the accoutrement that goes along with them.

I’d recommend it as a gateway to Whitney’s other, more romantic suspense type work; it works very well as a stand-alone cozy type mystery novel.