DEATH ROE: A WOODS COP MYSTERY
This book reminds me that I ate caviar when I was a child – on Ritz crackers. It was served at resorts in northern Michigan and Wisconsin, as it was plentiful in the region in the late 1940s. Now I know a lot more about the industry, the Russians, and the little black eggs of sturgeon fished from rivers and lakes around the Great Lakes, and the red eggs of salmon. Today caviar can cost $2,500 a pound. No wonder, then, that there is international trafficking involved, and several more kinds of fish found in the U.S. In 2013 seven men were arrested for taking paddlefish eggs in Missouri.
This fictional account of trafficking is straight environmental history, but the focus of this plot is on corruption in just about every agency accountable. I find pleasure in the weirdness of the population of Grady’s turf. This time, the CO acts on information he gets from Limpy Allerdyce, a local poacher whose wife Honeypat is available to other members of his elusive clan. His persistence takes him from the U.P. to Lansing, to New York, and to Costa Rica.
The Woods Cop series might be classified as “buddy lit” though many readers believe women would like it. I do – but that’s because in my childhood I lived in Upper Michigan, and with the conservation ethic. In these pages I can enjoy revisiting woods and lakes and trout streams in lieu of actually returning at my advanced age. A line like, “A sloppy vee of geese passed…” is deeply satisfying.
Otherwise, Joseph Heywood has delivered pretty much a matter of male fantasy: His hero is super-trained, tough, more righteous than your average man. He attracts women like flies. When he actually falls in love, by the miracle of a large bequest he is able to do nice things for everyone he cares about. Also, he doesn’t ever retire, at least he hasn’t yet. You can stay with him from fairly young man into “almost past it,” which gives you a lesson in recent U.S. history. I have read just two of the books but will return when I have more time (they are fairly long).
What seems remarkable to me about the author is that he can make local and state politics and commerce and corruption every bit as exciting as anything based on international intrigue. He shows respect for those respectfully in service (perhaps that is the point of the hero’s name) – and never talks down to the reader or to most of the characters, no matter how clueless people might be in the small towns that provide his canvas. In spite of the testosterone gloss on this series, I really like Joseph Heywood as a person. He’s an accomplished writer, a teacher, a moral guide. He reminds me of my dad.
HOME SWEET MURDER
TALES OF A TENACIOUS HOUSESITTER
by Theresa M. Jarvela
Meggie Moore is one silly woman. Working part time in a gift shop is not enough for her. The typically energetic Minnesotan leaves her husband Walter at home to house sit, attracted by the extra income, even though there have been two burglaries on the lake where she will be alone in a cabin. With only a flashlight and a cell phone – both of which have pretty good chances of running out of juice – she goes snooping and slipping and sliding around Spirit Lake after burglars — and murderers.
The story involves a wealthy Spirit Lake family whose house is broken into after she arrives at the Browns. The wife does not survive. It’s not clear why. You’d think at this point Walter would insist Meggie come back to town, and maybe even give her a little pin money to make up for it, but he doesn’t. Instead it is her most annoying friend, Shirley, who comes to help her out when she is in danger, or perhaps she wants to join in the fun. Fortunately, the two plucky dames know how to kayak and seem to be in pretty good shape, considering that they spend an awful lot of time eating cookies and muffins.
Reading this cozy by Theresa Jarvela brought to my mind all the hours I spent with my nose in books about Nancy Drew and Judy Bolton in the 1940 and 50s. What is it about being an amateur sleuth that is so attractive to girls? Some people think that the relative boredom of female lives drives us to fictional adventures. Girls back then were not often allowed out of the restricted time frame and geographic location prescribed by proper parents. In fact young women and housewives of the 1950-60s were kept on a tight leash. I suddenly remembered that when I was watching The Bletchley Circle on television recently. You obeyed your husband, and you kept your innermost thoughts from him, and wrote your brilliant ideas in a journal or poem. The Bletchley girls, code-breakers in World War II, were of course very bright and had exciting careers; they just couldn’t talk about them.
Meggie Moore had a bit of that spirit. She keeps her husband at a distance so she can do what she wants to do. It is a real throwback to old times – which Meggie would have known. I can’t help but wonder how often women, when they reach an advanced age, decide share-and-share-alike is “for the birds.”
North Star Press, 2012
ISBN 978-0-87839-587-3 (print) and ISBN 978-087839-869-0 (e-book)
CAPTURES THE REAL SANTA FE
Where the Devil Doesn’t Show
Minotaur Books, 3013
Christine Barber was nurtured by the Tony Hillerman writing community, and is a journalist, so it is no surprise that her depiction of northern New Mexico is perfect.
In Gilbert Montoya, she presents a true to life hero, brave but not always right. More to the point, he is a family man, interrelated with many of the people he protects. Celebrities and rich retirees aside, this iconic town in the Southwest has been settled for generations by people just trying to get by. Barber highlights an exception, the bright scientists of Los Alamos, a settlement just north of Santa Fe that was created in World War II to design bombs. Now someone is torturing and killing one after another and there seems to be no explanation. It doesn’t help that people who work at the National Laboratory must be tight-lipped as a condition of employment.
The series characters are hard-working and honest. Joe Phillips is Gil’s sidekick, a lonely joker. Lucy Newroe (like Barber) has two jobs, reporter and EMT. Liz Hahn unflinchingly recovers bodies for the Medical Examiner. They are dealing with some desperate people, as gangs, in and out of prison, who rule the drug trade have no humanity, and their victims, mostly Pueblo Indians, do. The land is rugged, filled with dangers, and mostly dry. The weather is extreme, as Barber shows in this story which takes place at Christmas time. Appropriately, there are children to protect. There are traditions to maintain. This skillful writer weaves a landscape of terror and beauty, as she brings her readers along on a perilous and honorable ride.
ABOUT MY WEEKEND READS….
UP IN FLAMES: A Casey and Catt Mystery (#1)
“Having parents who were out of their heads concentrated Casey’s wonderfully.”
Casey, one of the two detectives in this fascinating first-in-a-series, has a mom and dad still hung over from Beatles tours. That they had dragged their only child to India and left him on his own would have been tragic, but it prepared him to understand what was going on in his English market town when Chandra Bansi is found burned to death with her infant daughter. For starters, he wonders what an Asian woman was doing living in a flat alone. The mystery deepens when he meets her parents, brother, sister-in-law, and grandparents, all living nearby in suburban comfort.
Will Casey’s senior, Thomas Catt, is an orphan. His superintendent is a slave to political correctness. Thus he is pretty much on his own following his instincts and using knowledge from his time in a place “that knocked your socks off – and then offered to wash them for you.” There’s a Sherlockian moment when he smokes with the aged hippies and his mind clears.
Geraldine Evans is well established as author of the humor-filled Rafferty and Llewelyn series, which I have not read and probably wouldn’t choose, but I think she has something really important here. Her underlying question, “Do we know who we are?” applies not only to people struggling to reconcile two cultures, but to all of us who are reeling from unanticipated cultural change in our lifetimes. The burgeoning immigrant populations of Britain have moved beyond cosmopolitan London, and the results have been documented by other writers, first and foremost John Waddington-Feather, whose Inspector Hartley solves cases in Yorkshire, with the aid of his Asian Sergeant Ibrahim Khan. These novelists go beyond genre entertainment to make us think about real and complex lives.
COINCIDENCE? I discovered UP IN FLAMES on Omnimystery News. I can’t help but notice that in the last couple of weeks I have also found THE BURNING (Jane Casey); SMOKE (Bruce Rubenstein) and SMOKING RUIN (D.R. Martin).
CAPABLE OF MURDER; A Belinda Lawrence Mystery
Endeavor Press 2013
This is an old-fashioned English village murder of an elderly aunt with a secret she never gets to tell – perhaps more riveting in 2001, when it was first published. Still, if you like stories about a young woman uncertain who to trust of her two eager suitors, with mysterious figures lurking in shadows, and a stumbling chase in a tangled, overgrown garden, this could be a thriller. I liked it for the garden history and the houses, in their settings near Bath. I didn’t like the lead characters saying “Shut up!” to one another; this doesn’t seem English, and as it turns out Belinda is from New Zealand. Maybe that’s why she felt free to temp as a charwoman, a gimmick that got her inside houses to overhear phone conversations.
I did like clumsy Jacob accidentally spilling flower seeds on her in the train. It was a kind of foreshadowing of historic diagrams and a night of sex. Otherwise, it was a rapid page turner in the worst sense. I just wanted to find out who did it.
Now if you are really interested in garden history, there’s THE LOST GARDENS OF HELIGAN, by Tim Smit, which chronicles the discovery and restoration of a vast botanical treasure left abandoned and neglected in Cornwall when its gardeners went off to The Great War. I’ve read that it is now open to visitors.
Books are cheap these day, if they are made of ether. The E-letter Omnimystery News has daily offers of free and cheap titles, and some of them are really good. I can’t resist trying two or three a week. Here are my latest selections:
Conger Road Press, 2012
This is very smart writing.
I was E-trolling for bargain books when it caught my eye for the locale, the Twin Cities in Minnesota. The private eye is tough-but-not-too-tough, a tall, blondish woman with a good appetite and dirty hair, who drives her father’s old Mercury Marquis, and has two men in love with her. Marta Helm has that Minnesota can-do spirit and the keenest wit I have come across. You have to love a female who says: “He…stared at me like I might’ve stared at my plumber” and “I hated to think of how many black cows died to furnish this place,” “I was surprised he didn’t stick his fingers in his ears and start loudly singing, ‘LA-LA-LA-LA’,” and “nasty stuff, social responsibility.” It is, of course, winter, and she describes the weather well: [The cops] “looked like cartoon dragons, with gushers of steam coming out of their mouths.”
The plot revolves around the murder of a successful entrepreneur whose ad agency may get a lucrative but controversial account, to push a cigarette toward minors. The agency employs a number of people with even deeper motives. There’s a lot of nasty business to feed a reader’s suspicions, but it is still impossible to guess. For me, the plot would not be enough, but D.R. Martin’s settings and characters are vivid, and the familiar landmarks are reassuring. I wish this were not Marta Helm’s only case. Her creator usually writes sci-fi and kids’ fantasy adventures.
THE DANTE CONSPIRACY
Endeavor Press, 2013
A professor is murdered but had no enemies at all. What was his secret?
Italian detectives Silvio Perini and Cesare Lombardi investigate. It seems to have something to do with Dante’s “Divine Comedy.” While they try to puzzle it out, two more teams of investigators — on the wrong side of the law — are moving toward the answer and the prize. This is a clever plot, a race, with just the right amount of humor and intrigue. Good and efficient dialogue helps to keep up the pace. Architecture matters.
I have long enjoyed mystery series featuring Italians, as the culture is so — well, colorful. Michael Dibden introduced Aurelio Zen who knows his country’s darkest corners, but is made more human by his devotion to his elderly mother, and consternation in a long-distance romance. My husband and I are reading Donna Leon’s latest, The Golden Egg, a slow-paced unraveling of a mute man’s murder, interrupted by Brunetti’s three-course meals at home, prepared by the wise Paola, and livened by two teenagers. Then there is Andrea Camilleri’s Inspector Montalbano, a sensation in Italy, but not so interesting to me. I think Tom Kasey stands out because he is less meandering than some of the better known. Apparently the author himself is better known writing thrillers under another name.
TWO WIDOWS AND THE REST HOME MENACE
These women deserve another chance.
Millie Mahoney, a middle-aged widow who doesn’t miss her husband, has a lively mother (age 72) who misses hers – but nonetheless has attracted a rich boyfriend, who has set the two up in business as investigators. The mom, Margaret Cisneros, is invited to join The Grey Ladies, an elite cadre of volunteers who visit elderly residents of nursing homes. It comes to the attention of Millie and Margaret that late-life marriages are taking place in the homes at a frequency not known to the world outside. This raises questions: Who are The Grey Ladies, and what is their real purpose in life?
I found the novel fun but predictable. It is the second book in this apparently self-published series that I have read, and I think the other one, Two Widows and the Misdirected Message, was more interesting, as it involved racial prejudice and white supremacists. In both, Millie shows her compassion and determination to do the right thing. The author, in my opinion, needs a bit more spit and polish, but the idea is a good one for a time in which we are living usefully to be 100.
In my search for mysteries featuring seasoned-yet-sharp minds, I have found mostly “capers,” usually in or around retirement homes. Someone goes missing; someone else is seen darting in and out of others’ apartments at night; a neighbor drowns in the bathtub and the daughter buys a new house – that sort of thing. This morning I opened an E-book starring a bunch of old ladies who live in a hotel owned by a 31-year-old sleuth. It’s bound to be comic, but it’s not my idea of fun.
In dealing with more serious crimes, occasionally an older person, typically a busybody, assists the police in their inquiries. I read one recently that pivoted on the observations of a “busybody” who had nothing to do but sit in her window all day. Age has its advantages.
Series detectives kept alive by success have to age sometime, don’t they? Often, the only way you know is by the ages of their children. My husband and I are reading Donna Leon’s newest, The Golden Egg, in which the Commissario’s offspring, Raffi and Chiara are growing into adulthood. Still, the youthful vitality in the parents’ marriage is sustained, it seems, by Paola’s verve, supported by her aristocratic ancestry. My husband recalls: “Didn’t Brunetti have a thing for Senorina Elettra?” Some books ago. It appears now that Guido is past the dangerous age.
I struck gold in “The Two Widows” series, where mother and daughter, both attractive to men, hang out their shingle in Seattle, to conduct private investigations. Millie, the younger, is 50; her mother Margaret is thus 70-75. Mom is the one who does a lot of canoodling with a boyfriend. Millie’s big thrill is dressing in disguise. In “The Misdirected Message” she infiltrates a white supremacist group by pretending to be dumpy “Verna.”
After getting off to a slow start, what I liked best about “The Misdirected Message” is the way the author, Ruth Ross, developed the relationship between the two women. Millie, recovering from a bum ride with a cad, has grown accustomed to having her widowed mom around again, but the mom is being courted by a gentleman named Mitch. Mom represents her own generation – she has hardly ever been independent. Now she must find a way to satisfy her own desires without leaving her daughter in the dust. Luckily, Mitch has money and puts the two in business together. What’s his motive? His gray-haired love might be sliding into dementia, and he wants to keep his eye on her.
This is the new family, or at least one kind of new domestic arrangement. It could just as easily be Margaret who, like the younger Paola, has the money to bail her man out of misery.
Another thing about older heroines: they can be very wise. Millie says, “There is nothing more invisible than a middle-aged woman.” That’s a downer. But she also says, “There’s nothing quite as fragile as high school dreams….” — and that’s gender-free.
I wrote this review for www.BookPleasures.com and decided it is an important enough book to share with visitors to my own blog.
DON’T CALL ME MOTHER (New Edition)
Linda Joy Myers
She Writes Press, 2013
A friend once told me, “Your mother is your first best friend.” This is irrevocably true, even if she becomes your worst enemy. What Linda Joy Myers found and shares is a darker truth: Even the worst mother stays with you, though she has tried hard to shake you loose and you have tried to shake loose from her.
DON’T CALL ME MOTHER wheedles its way inside the reader’s heart and brain, but the details are no more important that the reason this author wrote this story. It is a memoir and therefore a journey for the writer. The most painful image that emerges is a train leaving the station with a mother who is glad to leave a child behind; and the most hopeful image is a girl with her mother on a train heading toward the future. These conflicting ideas haunt the life of “little Linda” as she is shifted around in a landscape of relatives. After realizing her grandmother, her rescuer, also is abusive, Linda found strength within herself through music (a rewarding form of self-discipline), religion (later, a broader sense of spirituality), and periodic visits with what seemed like warm, welcoming, extended family. Her sense of her own future shining on the horizon, cutting through a fog of despair, kept her going toward a positive resolution. She expected her mother to change.
It wasn’t until she was a mature adult that Myers seriously sought ways to free herself from the destructive emotional clutches of three generations of women, possibly more, who were rejecting and abandoning their daughters, a behavior she finally learned was due to manic-depressive disorder. She turned to writing. All of these short chapters are vivid recollections, fragments of a bigger story. They are written in the present tense. As she pursues additional information over several years, the memories become linked in a panoramic narrative that starts before her time. It’s not a pretty picture, and without her intervention, it could end badly.
Thus Myers’ account of her healing amounts to more than her personal story; it’s a demonstration, for the author is a psychotherapist who gravitated into the field by a desire to help people, to break the tradition of abuse in her lineage. As she explains in her epilogue, there were many therapies she leaned on along the way, but writing became central. With a colleague she established that writing has a positive impact on the immune system. She developed memoir-writing professionally, as a therapeutic technique, and founded the National Association of Memoir Writers. She now guides others through workshops, teleseminars, and blogs.
Myers shows that it is the process that matters, the miles of track, peeling off layers of confusion through contacts with the demons of her past.
FOR TIPS ON MEMOIR WRITING, GO TO memoriesandmemoirs.com where you will find out what other tools are available to you.
Do you find gardening too much of a chore? Does cleaning up winter clutter hurt? You could move into a retirement home where you don’t have to do those things. Another possibility: live with your kids. Oooppps! How about co-housing, which brings you together with people who are adventurous but willing to share household tasks?
Or do you just love where you live? The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) has announced its CAPS program has now qualified 5000 members of the building and design professions. CAPS stands for Certified Aging-in-Place Specialist. Over the past ten years, in recognition of a survey conducted by AARP, which concluded that most people looking forward to retirement would prefer to stay in their own homes, NAHB has encouraged its members to look at that as a solid market opportunity.
The chair of the CAPS board, Joseph Irons, says: “We want to help consumers make their house their home for a lifetime, even when their needs and abilities change.” Their focus is on modifications to accommodate illness or age.
Let’s back up a bit. As I recall (and I have this documented somewhere), the survey AARP conducted that inspired CAPS interviewed people 45 to 50 years old. I can’t help but wonder if many of those respondents, still working, were dreaming of a future in which they would be tripping over rugs or unable to climb stairs. But let’s say they did have a glimmer of what is to come, perhaps watching their parents, probably then in the 65-75 age range. Those parents likely would have owned their homes for many years. It’s pretty hard to give that certainty up for the unknown. It was also hard for children to insist the old folks move, even if property taxes were on the rise and houses were selling for a lot more than what the folks paid for them.
What a bind! Costs for congregate living were escalating, some using the point system, so if you had to move in, and you couldn’t walk your dog, do laundry, or write checks, an assist would add a certain number of points/dollars added to your monthly bill of, say (conservatively) $2500. And living with a bunch of strangers was not appealing. Co-housing was an innovative alternative, but usually expensive.
So is remodeling. But let’s go back to the idea of moving in with the kids. We insisted my mother move in with us, and we even bought a roomier house, with her financial help. She got $125,000 for her house, about the same amount she and Dad paid for it in cash just five years earlier when they downsized. She had decorated it her way for, I’m guessing, another $5,000-10,000. So, let’s assume the sale of her house put $100,000 in her bank account. For her two years with us she paid $600 a month for rent, which included the master bedroom, her own bathroom, a private porch, and the run of the place. (She would sit in the living room in the most proprietary location.) Plus we built a patio in the front, just because she and Dad always loved watching their neighbors walk by. Oh, yes, she had a dog.
In addition to the rent, Mom paid for the CAPS part of some remodeling, about $15,000, mostly her bathroom. Multiply $600 by 26 months that she lived. That would be $15,600. Of course there were other costs, such as moving and storing her furniture, some of which we integrated, so she would feel more at home. Still, in no way did the total amount add up to even half of $100,000. There was enough left for her to have in-home services (companions) 9-5, five days a week. She lived comfortably on her monthly income. And we didn’t have to drive somewhere to check on her.
Decisions about senior housing depend so much on health and personality. My mom, at 84, would have felt like we’d abandoned her in “an old folks home,” and there was the dog. When my brother and I briefly considered group living for her that was always the bête noir: you could have a pet only if you could take care of one and it didn’t become a “problem.” As it happened, her dog died first, and his ashes are buried by a tree he liked. Hers are, too.
NOTE: Someone considering having a parent move in definitely should consult a lawyer about Power of Attorney and the amounts allowable for rent and remodeling. For information on CAPS, go to www.nahb.org.
We spent two nights at Rancho de la Osa, just two miles from the Mexican border. We could see the fence, once it was pointed out to us. In my camera lens, it looked like another mountain range. The Border Patrol had waved us through the checkpoint on our way.
This was my second visit to the historic dude ranch, which has an international clientele. The first time, in 2005, I was with the Realtor who had been contracted to sell the place. She didn’t. Owner Veronica Schultz said that she and Richard now are set to stay for the rest of their lives. No one else wants to take a chance, though there has been just one time that Veronica thought illegal immigrants might be crossing their land.
The place is quiet. We read book, took naps, and went to meals. Veronica took us on a tour one morning and told us of history-making guests: John Wayne, Joan Crawford, Margaret Mitchell, Adlai Stevenson, Hubert Humphrey, Lyndon Johnson. Before it was a dude ranch, the place was a stop for cattle drivers to dip their animals. Arizona was then a remote Territory. The ranch hands were Mexicans. Members of Mexican families have worked there through two centuries, until the fence was erected. Now the ties are broken. The facilities manager is a Lockheed engineer who lost his job. The woman in charge of the horses splits her time between Arizona and Colorado. A chef travels to Oregon to see his elderly mother. The Schultzes, who were lawyers, have no children to inherit the ranch. Other dude ranches in the area have folded their tents as their regular visitors grew old and unable to return.
Monday, February 4, 2013