What Kind of Fish Have I Caught?

Now What Am I Going to Do?  by Sheila Maloney

Why did I decide to write a mystery? Let me see.

I was living half way up a mountain, suffering from a serious lack of sensory deprivation. I was surrounded by extraordinary beauty and bored out of my skull. I had read every mystery available in the Kern County Library down the hill. I couldn’t afford anymore Kindle e-books. And I wasn’t aware of digital loans. I could watch TV only if I crashed in somebody else’s living room. Internet connection could be found only at a cafe, which still wasn’t licensed to serve. Anything. Besides the connection was so slow, it took hours just to buffer.

So not a serious writer. Not driven. Just bored.

On the other hand, I had built my long life around narrative, survived by it, studied it, taught it, got withdrawal if I ran out of it. So why not?

My friends in the mountain village, fearing for my mental health, brainstormed the underlying idea – eco-terrorism. Well meaning ecologists driven over the line by ideology. Or not. Three and a half years and eight rewrites later, back home in Toronto, I published Hour of the Hawk, independently as an e-book and POD (print on demand) on Amazon.

Six months later, 300 e-books have been downloaded. Free e-books. Twenty five paperbacks have been sold, 20 to the author, the others to her friends.

So marketing?

David Gaughran who generously shares his experience in independent publishing, helped me – virtually – to publish my first book, a memoir of childhood, Never Tell with his free book, Let’s Get Digital in 2012. Now I turned to his book Amazon Decoded for finer points on accessing Amazon’s best seller’s lists and his newest Strangers into Superfans. Reading and rereading, I slowly began to refine my idea of my ideal reader.

OMG!

She was a cozy mystery reader!

➤ COZY: One of the ironic strengths of this subgenre is the fact that, by creating a world in which violence is rare, a bloody act resonates far more viscerally than it would in a more urban or disordered setting. READER EXPECTATION:
A unique and engaging protagonist: Father Brown, Miss Marple, Kinsey Millhone. The crime should be clever, requiring ingenuity or even brilliance on the hero’s part to solve. Secondary characters can be coarse, but never the hero—or the author. Justice triumphs in the end, and the world returns to its original tranquility.
Writer’s Digest Oct, 2015

A world where violence is rare -Bear Mountain Place, a remote village in Southern California – check
a unique and engaging protagonist –  Joanna, a 78-yr-old who has trouble recognizing faces, Clara, an 85-yr-old who has trouble seeing and hearing, set out to solve the mystery -check
a clever, ingenious even brilliant resolution by the protagonistadd visionary – check
Justice triumphs, order is restored – of course, with two such sleuths on the case – check

So what’s the problem?

In order to find my narrative voice, I had a number of portraits taken and this is what my narrator looked like. (Phillipa C., Dundas W. Toronto)

Not cozy. Smart-mouthed. Occasionally profane. Prone to black thoughts. Convinced of Samuel Beckett’s rule, ‘Despair young and never look back’.

Gaughran told me to look at “Also Boughts’. (In my case, the term ‘bought’ has to be used loosely.) These included several cozy series including the Cupcake Series, (cozy mysteries often include recipes), several historical mysteries like Mona Lisa’s Secret by Phil Phillips, the Undertaker Series (sounds promising) and Everett by Jennifer Buff, a dark psychological suspense novel.

Oh, come on, Joyce, you did include a detailed description of a birthday dinner preparation in Hour of the Hawk. And it’s true  Clara has six cats, named Jazz, Poirot, Tennison, Sherlock and Columbo. It’s also true that Joanna, who is living with her, is allergic to cats and endures a sequence of 27 sneezes early in the book.

You, Joyce, are a terrible snob. Like most English Majors. Look how long it took you to lower yourself to reading mysteries. You were 67 when your friend Anna said she was reading Donna Leone’s Detective Brunetti series set in Venice. (A lot of Italian cooking there) Only then did you admit a reader could not live by Booker Prize alone. Since then you have devoured P.D. James, Ruth Rendall/Barbara Vine, Elizabeth George, Peter Robinson, Ian Rankin, all of the Scandanavian mysteries – even Jo Nesbo, as well as Icelandic, Michael Connelly, Lee Child. Etc. Now you have had to branch out to espionage novels. You have had repeated escapes from truly awful cliched books, some of which you actually undertook to review. Get over yourself. Admit you wrote a cozy mystery.

“Can I still keep the cover? (Jeremy Von Caulert, BLack Sunset) I love the cover. I’ll have to rewrite the blurbs. Okay, Okay, but only if I can call it a cozy mystery, plus.”

Hour of the Hawk  Chapter One: Too Many Bears

The bear came down from the mountain in late afternoon. She wasn’t hungry. She had eaten well, but she was missing the cub.

She turned at the bottom along the well-worn path, picking up the scent of honey in the distance, and closer up, traces of many other bears, including the cub. The cub was old enough to manage on her own now. There would be a new cub in winter. She was almost there when another darker smell stopped her in her tracks. Blood. Bear blood. She took it in. Not just any bear blood, her cub’s blood.

The man got home from work early. He was the boss. He could leave when he wanted. This bear thing had him all upset. All he had wanted to do was help his fellow creatures. They were hungry and starving in this four-year drought.

To continue reading sample https://www.facebook.com/joyce.howe.75

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‘Am I in your book?” – The Worst Kind of Thief

The mountain village of PMC in Kern County California, which served as the prototype for Bear Mountain Place.

Awake, I lack imagination. Asleep, I dream whole new worlds. Unfortunately, I do my writing awake. And so, I identify with Sheryl Crowe’s ‘worst kind of thief’.

In her song, The Book, Sheryl Crowe (from her 1996 self-titled album) sings that she read the book and discovered she knew that girl in it ‘a little too well’. She’ll always remember three days in Rome. She got “written down, sliced around, passed down among strangers’ hands”. She ‘laid her heart out, laid her soul down’. She learned that ‘the love you once made/can’t be undone’. ‘Will I get revenge?’ Well yes. By writing this song.

I longed to find proof that this was autobiographical. It seems too heartfelt to be fiction. But I didn’t.

Why do I care? I “carry a pen and a paper” and “no words I waste”.

I started writing my mystery Hour of the Hawk, when I spent several months in a California mountain village waiting out a family problem. My amateur detectives are two elderly women who set about finding out who is terrifying the town with acts of ecological terrorism, which steadily grow more deadly. I modeled one of them on a friend.

Clara was a disarming little old lady, cute, with flashing blue eyes and a lovely smile.  She had a great schtick. She could seem charmingly helpless-a girl just out in the world, or alternately, a slightly confused elder. The first week she was in Bear Mountain Place, a woman stuck $10 in her purse and told her to buy herself a decent meal.
“Why did she do that?” Clara asked me.
“Generosity,” I said. “But next time tell her you need $20 for a decent meal up here.”

I shamelessly stole other identities as well. Two of these people read the manuscript, and, although they both offered advice, neither objected to the theft. ‘Clara’ still had not read the book when I published it as an e-book on Amazon. Since she didn’t have a tablet, she still couldn’t. Then in February, I published Hour of the Hawk through Amazon’s Print on Demand. Now she could read it.

I’m such a coward that I tried the indirect approach. None of her close relatives would hazard a guess about how she’d react. Fictional Clara is hard of hearing and sight, so much so that the villain of the piece – or one of them at any rate – is able to sneak past here while she is watching television. Real Clara has had her vision corrected, but has also fore-sworn her hearing aids on the grounds that elderly fingers can’t handle tiny, tiny batteries. Would my friend resent these handicaps being used for humor?

The other amateur sleuth, Joanna Hunter, can’t recognize faces, a disability I am familiar with.

So I found my courage and wrote Clara a long letter, explaining my concern and enclosing a sample or two.

Then Jesus, the cable guy, arrived.
His card read Jesus Morales, Direct T.V. He pronounced it for me, Hesus.
“Hesus, Hesus,” I kept repeating to myself. I wasn’t used to Jesus as an ordinary name. I wasn’t used to Hispanic accents. I could understand Chinese or West Indian accents, and, of course, South Asian, but not Spanish.
He wasn’t used to Canadian accents. He didn’t understand ‘rooof’, so I had to say ‘ruf’. We kept asking each other to repeat. I held the record. I just didn’t get Hesus.
“Sit down. Why don’t you sit down?” Reg/Doug called to me.
Clara could tear herself away from them only for a moment. “Joanna can show you whatever you need,” she told Hesus.
He turned on the new 70-inch television set. It hung on the wall in front of the couch where Clara and her company sat. We were all jammed into a ten-foot wide space, crowded with unpacked boxes. When the sound came on, Clara cried out, “I’ll never be able to hear that.” So Jesus turned the volume up and up, until Clara was satisfied. The screen told us the volume was 87. Then she and the ‘boys’ resumed shouting.
Jesus showed me his work sheet, and began to ask questions. A bald guy on the screen was yelling about the shoddy workmanship on a renovation. Jesus was shouting questions at me. The boys and Clara were splitting their sides at some long ago anecdote. I grabbed the remote control, and turned down the volume.
“It says one box here,” said Jesus.
“No, no. We were promised two,” I said. “There’s another set in a bedroom. Colin talked to the company several times. There are to be two boxes.”
Then I moved Jesus over near the utility room, so I had access to the landline.
“Oh, Jesus-with a J-God, I’m going to lose my mind,” I thought.
Once I’d got hold of Colin, I handed the handset to Jesus, and locked myself in my bathroom.
It didn’t work. I had to come back out into the din. Jesus called.
When I came out, he assured me everything was all right now. The bedroom set was working as well. I dragged Clara away from the boys, explained what had been done, and asked her to sign her name. Suddenly, she decided she should take charge, and began to ask questions that had been answered an hour ago. Jesus tended to mutter in his thick accent.
“Do I have two boxes? Colin said I would get two boxes.” She went into my bedroom and came out. “There’s just this tiny thing in there, no real box.”
Jesus began to reassure her that both sets worked, independently of each other
“You’ll have to speak louder,” I told him.
He started shouting. I searched frantically for the remote control, found it at last on top of a pile of boxes and pushed mute. I gestured at the boys who were laughing with each other. Now there were only two voices shouting.

It took a week for the letter to escape the confines of Canada Post and the U.S. Mail and end up being released into Clara’s California post office box. Yes, she wanted to read it, I heard. A mutual friend handed her a print copy. I waited for her verdict.

“I’m so flattered,” she said when she called.

I have started writing the second Joanna Hunter mystery and Clara, who will soon be 90, will be part of it.

joycehowe.com

The e-book version of Hour of the Hawk is free to download on Mother’s Day May 13/18 and May 14/18. If you decide to read it, please leave a review on Amazon. The print edition is also for sale.

 

 

Kindle and the Red Top-Down (The Hawk flies again)

So the red top-down went missing. It wasn’t as if I could call the police. Not that I had left the keys in the ignition. The trouble was it was an imaginary 1963 red MGB. I found it  myself in the word document titled Hour of the Hawk v.8 for Vellum, put it back where it belonged between Chpt. 4 “Too Many Kids” and “The Sitter” which had got promoted to Chpt. 5. O.K. done!

But no!!! One hundred and four people had already downloaded my mystery Hour of the Hawk. (joycehowe.com) Without that clue-filled chapter, they wouldn’t understand the vision of the car at the bottom of the cliff. They wouldn’t understand why Xiao Yu ended up in a mental ward. They wouldn’t understand why Joanna Hunter’s life was in danger. They would think I was a terrible writer or that they were stupid.

Both J. and M. went for the latter. Thank God, C. who had listened to me talking about the plot, said, “Do you describe the flood?” OMG. Of course I do. Where was it?

That was Sunday, Dec. 31.

I don’t want you to think I did all this calmly and quietly. I could barely remember how to turn the computer on, and I wasted a good deal of time staring at the Kindle upload page, which I could not now comprehend. I felt as if I had never seen it before.

I shook of course. I had a dry mouth. My fingers blundered.

Well, that’s what got the red MGB lost in the first place. As I went through the Vellum version the umpteenth check, I saw the heading “Chapter Five”. It didn’t need to be there. Right below it was “5. The Red Top-Down”. I went to the tools and clicked “hide in book”. The tool did its job all too well. I didn’t. I didn’t do one more sweep as I should have.

At first, a KIndle employee, K, working late on Sun, New Year’s Eve, answered reassuringly, saying they would review the change and if it was a serious error, they would forward a link to buyers so they could get the chapter.

Serious, yes, serious! I shot back.

On New Year’s Day, I bought new versions for 5 friends I knew had downloaded it. Kindle wouldn’t let them “buy” the book twice. Somehow I managed to get myself and my sister, Georgia, the updated version. I e-mailed the chapter to the others.

The terrible thing was, except for C., they hadn’t missed it.

Then I waited. Not quietly. I sent Kindle ever more hysterical e-mails. A. responded with increasing empathy. Once she used the word ‘noble’. No, strictly venal. But it was up to K and the Star Chamber that would examine the book for quality.

It was a quantity problem, I replied.

Publishing a book, like giving birth, is a jarring experience. What was once a comforting inner presence is now out there in the world causing problems. I cried at any and all TV shows. Talk about baby blues.

Finally last night, I lost it. I wrote an e-mail lamenting my destroyed reputation and subsequent breakdown. I felt as if I were praying to an absent God. But still I was careful.  You don’t want to piss God off too much. Then I went to bed and read Fire and Fury – on KIndle.

This morning, dear heaven, I got an e-mail. I had passed the audition. Word would go out to all 104 readers telling them how to get a new version.

Vellum is a formatting program, recommended by Joanna Penn in her blog. “Why I changed from Scrivener to Vellum.” It formats your book in about 10 seconds in 8 different formats, including Print On Demand. It’s way too easy to use. See above.

Oh, my children used to call our green 1963 MGB the top-down.

 

Where Did You Go Joe Dimagio? part 2

The bear came down from the mountain in the late afternoon. She wasn’t hungry. She had eaten well, but she was missing the cub.

Thus I began my mystery in the summer of 2014. I was temporarily marooned in a hot hotel room. I could see the mountain from my balcony so why not weave it into my mystery. I wrote and wrote. Various things happened. I found myself writing in widely different rooms with different scenery and colder temperatures. I ended up in another place I never expected to be, on the 14th floor of an apartment building. In a suburb of Toronto! There I discovered I was ready to publish my second book.

So, find an agent, find a publisher. I had the tools: books that told me how to write a killer query letter and three kinds of synopsis. An almost up-to-date copy of Jeff Herman’s comprehensive list of both. It’s a fat book, so the  one before that and the one before that, etc. had gone into the recycle bag.

Somewhere I still have a collection of rejection letters for my previous book, most formulaic, but at least one from an agent called Victoria dissecting my character. So self-publishing again, an ebook but now, hurray, a paperback, print-on-demand.

Things had changed since 2012. My nephew is now capable of designing a cover and a website. (Sorry Stewart Williams) I can now format my own book using Vellum. (Sorry 52 Novels) I can now use Twitter to access help self-publishing. I am following  half a dozen companies that gave me advice and offer to publicize my work. Among them is Book Marketing Tools, more than generous with free information and advice.

Helpfully, they inform me that 6,500 books are published every day. What do I care? Last year I declared an income of $120 from my writing, with a net loss of only $571 (all figures Cdn). Clearly, I’m on a roll.

I had looked at Book Marketing’s time-line for how to prepare for a book launch earlier, but now I downloaded an up-to-date one and set about reading it in front of that floor to ceiling window on the 14th floor.

I wish I could say that it left me laughing. I wish I could say I didn’t go for the Alan key to remove the locks that kept my windows from opening more than 4 inches. Evidently, I should have started marketing this book long before it became a gleam in my eye. Ideally, the week I was born.

Book Marketing sets off its timeline a year before the book launch. It  continues with a list of tasks to perform at  3-4 months, 2 months, one, etc., climaxing with a book launch party. The list assumes I have many friends. I have maybe 6, several of them relatives, two even older than me, several living many thousand miles away. One of my friends refuses to read the book, which focuses on eco-activists, because an animal dies-off-stage and before the action starts. Only my niece and my son-in-law stuck with me through the endless revisions, and even son-in-law could do so only because I read it aloud into iTalk and put it in a shared dropbox. (He has a long commute.) I am extremely grateful for the excellent advice I got. But…

There’s a strategy that’s been around for 20 or 25 years. Artists are encouraged to draft their friends into their marketing process. Thus I was instrumental in getting a friend a show hung in a club I belonged to. I thought I had already done my bit by buying more of her canvases than I needed. Then I found I was also expected to serve refreshments.

Exactly why would anyone from that group of six people want to become my ‘street marketers’? And are they actually expected to knock on doors?

I am called upon to seek endorsements from other writers. “Dear Margaret Atwood, You don’t know me but I am a young beginner novelist and I would like you to take four or five hours to read my mystery. I expect you to do this because I have read all your books and taught Surfacing to my Can. Lit. class…” Dear Peter Robinson, You don’t know me, but we both live in the Toronto area and my ex-husband came from Yorkshire, (where your Inspector Banks does his sleuthing). And I make an excellent Yorkshire pudding. I could drop one by, but it would be better if I came to your house for fear of it falling. I could bring my new mystery..” “Dear Mar Preston, You met me once in the lobby at the Pine Mtn. Club. I have set my mystery  Hour of the Hawk in the same town as your book The Most Dangerous Species and there are striking coincidences, although honest, I wrote my book before I read yours…”

How am I doing?

But this is mean. Book Marketing Tools just wants to help – and possibly to sell me advertising space on Twitter.

Agents demand to know if we indie writers are up to editing, proof-reading, printing, publicizing, all those things a real publisher does. Well, yes, if Book Marketing Tools has anything to say about it?

 

 

Of Geniuses and 800-year-old Hips.

geniusOn Sunday at 2:15, I have an appointment with an Apple Genius at Sherway Gardens. I bury my late-rising self in the Saturday papers for too long, and when I raise my head civil war breaks out.

Hips demand exercise. Sorry, Hips, I say, I’ve done Feet. No time for you. I need to spend that half hour on Mind and its buddy Computer. I’ll get back to you later this afternoon. Then I stand up.

“See,” yell Hips. “We’re all seized up. You should stretch one minute for every year of your life.”

“Like I’ve got an hour and a half every expletive day!”

“Look, we’re structural, we’re the foundation. Mind is just electrical.”

Mind, tyrant that it is, does what it wants, and uses up the half hour.

So I arrive at the Genius line more or less knowing what my computer problem is.

In front of me is a beautiful boy. He has apparently tagged along with his parents, probably bored out of his mind. But no, the adults go off with their Genius, and the boy remains. Is he 12? Maybe a young-looking 13? The next Genius leads him away, asking,”What do you want to work on this time?” The boy begins a lengthy answer, not a word of which I understand.

My Genius shows up. I ask him to repeat his name. It is Chinese and sounds like the French word for yes.

I haul out my Mac Air Book-3 years and 6 months old, no longer covered by that expensive extended warranty. “I have been leaving it on because it takes so long to reboot, but it shuts off while it’s sleeping. When I go back to it, it won’t turn on until I plug it in. The battery still has a charge, so that’s not the problem. Then it takes forever to boot up again.”

He starts tapping keys. “First of all, you need to turn it off as often as possible. We’ll get rid Rapport. I know your bank told you to run it, but you don’t really need it. The bank site is secure enough. I find people who have it complain their computers run slow. Then we’ll take out this. I’ll leave this window open and when you get home, plug the computer in and click “Turn off file vault.” I check it out. Who knew I was encrypting my files.

“We’ve only got 15 minutes, so we need to use out time wisely,” he says.

Okay. We must have used 3 already.

He reboots the thing. It’s already faster and no longer black and white when it asks for my password.

“So, I tried to save my photos on iCloud, but..”

“ICloud isn’t really for photos.” He grabs my iPad, plugs it in and in a trice loads my photos there as backup. “I’m like a car mechanic. I fix things. I’m not really a teacher. Come to classes where the teacher is good at that. Here’s the screen for quitting File vault again.” Then he adds, “I suppose you don’t turn the iPad off either.”

“Isn’t it off now?”

“No, it’s sleeping.”

Okay, I wonder, does he want me to turn off my iPhone as well? I don’t ask. I give him my humble thanks. I figure he just came out ahead by at least 5 minutes, kind of a slam, bam, thank you situation.

As he departs backstage, I rise from my high stool. My bags are on the floor. How did they get so far away? “See,” yell Hips. “You need to do a full set of Tai chi, not just the exercises and not just those stupid Yoga stretches.” Stooping is not going to work.I creak forward in a deep bend from the waist. Central Back screams. I stagger down the aisles of people, some of them four-years-old, playing with chained-down devices.

Across the way is a Pottery Barn outlet. Maybe I could just saunter around it. Who knew Christmas shopping started before Remembrance Day? I sidle through the crush. I never shop in stores now. See Hips above. But I spot red lunch plates, only $9. I really really want lunch plates to go with the Fiesta Ware I received when I turned 70, but have you see the prices?. $40 later, I have a huge box of plates. I get to the outside door, but before I press the button to open it, I go back to the store to ask for a bag. Carrying the heavy box has threatened to tip me forward.

Starbucks is jammed, but a welcome rest stop.

I am parked on the deck, way out beyond civilization, past construction. I see there is a yellow hatching on other side of the road for pedestrians, complete with barriers. Cars without parking spots are cruising nose to tail slowly around blind corners. Pedestrians on the other side are flattening themselves against hoardings as I did on the way in. The walkway I’m on is more roundabout, but finally, it leads me across the road between cars to a seven inch curb painted yellow. Okay. There’s a low wall on the left. I put one hand on it to balance and step up, ignoring Hips who are crying out in agony. I glance right. A good-looking young man is looking at me. He smiles his congratulations. I’ve made it.

Good-looking young men used to check me out for a different reason.

Hips and Feet, with a little help from Legs, approximate walking all the way back to the little red Yaris.

 

Gabaldon on Forgiving the Rapist

drums of autumn

Okay, now I’m taking moral advice from a romance novel and me a philosophy major!

The novel in question is Diane Gabaldon’s Drums of Autumn, the fourth in her Outlander series and the subject in question is forgiveness, specifically forgiveness for a rapist.

I’m nearing the end of this book and shamefully already plotting to order the fifth on my iPad. I used to have such refined tastes in reading. This book is not just a bodice ripper. It’s a skirt ripper and a shift ripper. Drawers or underwear are just removed and so require no mending. Mending is a big deal in the 18th century. Clothes are frequently reduced to rags and then replaced miraculously by a rich and generous, usually new-found relative. (How come I never find mine?)

But enough levity, now to the serious moral question.

Jamie, now in his 40s and living in 1760s North Carolina has a heart-to-heart discussion with a time-traveling woman on the subject of rape and whether vengeance or forgiveness is the appropriate response.

Both have some experience of rape as a good many of Gabaldon’s readers do, no doubt. Either she does or she has done good research. Since we are dealing here with the Highland clan warrior culture, killing the assailant is presented as an option. Those of us reared in the Christian tradition, even if lapsed, don’t leap to that as the answer, but hang on, Jamie is Catholic. Maybe it’s more a personal response.

This series is long and over the years, Jamie has discovered that time takes its own revenge and forgiveness is the better option.

Here is where the Gabaldon’s insight comes in: Jamie says that it is an on-going process that has to be renewed each day. I have noticed that myself and forgiveness comes harder some days.

Some days the whole terrible episode gets re-experienced in vivid detail, as it does for Jamie after that conversation, as it may well do for some readers after they read this part of the book.

On such a day, you can feel raw, as if you have no protective skin. No use even aiming for forgiveness then. Best to sit on a porch swing listening to the pine trees purr, watch the flitting birds, raise your eyes to the mountain ridge. Do something peaceful and healing wherever you are. Forgive yourself for hurting.

 

Jo Nesbo’s Cockroaches

cockroachYesterday I heard a friend describe her first apartment in New York City in the early 80s, shared with two other dancers, set amidst abandoned buildings south of Houston. She slept on the floor of the pantry. She would come home, turn on the lights and actually hear the cockroaches scuttling away.

One of life’s great philosophical questions is – to squash or not to squash. Squashing entails cockroach juice. What’s that trick with boric acid along the baseboards?

When Harry Hole (holeh) arrives in his tiny apartment in Bangkok, he observes a cockroach as big as his thumb with an orange stripe on its back. He notes there are a three thousand different types and that that for every one you see, ten more are in hiding from the vibrations of your feet. For the moment, he regrets his sobriety.

Jo Nesbo published Cockroaches in 1998, his second book after The Bat, set in Sydney, Australia and before Redbreast. It has just been translated and published in English. The comments on Goodreads range from ecstatic to so-so.

My sister, Georgia, collected all the Nesbo books, except Cockroaches and gave them to me one Christmas, suggesting I start with Redbreast. When I got around to reading The Bat, I thought I could have started with it. The real hook is the developing character of Harry Hole and my only problem was that I hate reading about drunks. I was happiest with the books where he pulled himself together at least a little. Which he does in Cockroaches much to the dismay of the government in Oslo.

Hole has been selected to go to Thailand to investigate the death of the Norwegian Ambassador in a Bangkok brothel, partly because of his international success in Australia, but mostly because he is back to drinking. He has forsworn Jim Bean to make do with beer at Schrøders, where he can down nine, and still mess with Wooler, walk home and turn up sober for work next day.

Dagfinn Torhus, Director of Norway’s Foreign Affairs doesn’t even know why it is so urgent to keep all news of Atle Molnes stabbing death under wraps. Bjorn Askilden, Secretary of State, may know, having been briefed by the prime minister’s office. As the Police Superintendent bullies Bjarne Moller, head of the crime squad, into supporting the choice of Hole as lone investigator, we learn only that trust in the P.M. is all important. His centrist government of the Christian Democrats  supports family values, is anti-gay, anti-civil union and prone to wearing yellow suits. Moller has kept Hole out of trouble more than once and seriously doubts the wisdom of choosing him to go to Thailand, but clearly this is a political decision.

Harry has troubles of his own. His mentally challenged Sis has been raped and had an abortion, but the police have dropped the case. He agrees to fly to Bangkok, only if he will be allowed to re-open the case when he returns.

He flies drunk. But with Vitamin B in his bag. He was able to get sober in Sydney by using it and although he doesn’t acknowledge it, he has made a decision for sobriety again.

In Bangkok, he meets the police team he will be working with, headed by a very tall, completely bald half-American, Liz Crumley. The rest of the team are Thai, Nho who is young, Sunthorn, baby-faced and the oldest, Rangsan, always hidden behind a newspaper but spouting key ideas.

The back story of prostitute Dim, who discovered the body, actually opens the book. She plies her trade posing as Tanya Harding -“Skates go on after panties come off.”

Harry soon meets his nemesis Woo – a freakishly large enforcer- and according to custom, Woo throws Harry off a balcony.

The murder weapon is a very old knife embedded with coloured glass but greased with reindeer fat. Obviously the murderer is Norwegian. Is it the unsatisfied wife, Hildes Molnes, or even possibly the ambassador’s seventeen year old, one-armed daughter. Is it the victim’s Chargé d’affaires, Tonje Wiig? Is it his receptionist Miss Ao? Is it his seemingly loyal chauffeur, Sonphet? Is it the loan shark who holds the ambassador’s $100,000 gambling debt? Is it Roald Bork, spiritual shepherd of the  Norwegian community? Is it Ova Klipra, the wealthy contractor who lives in a former Buddhist Temple and who can’t be found. He finds you. Is it the ex-intelligence officer Ivar Loken, known as LM (living, morphine)? Is it Jens Breeke, currency broker for Barclays Thailand? And what does all this have to do with photos of a man having sex with a child, taken through a window?

We learn a good deal about the sex industry in Bangkok, including Dim’s enrty into it. Brekke treats Harry to a rundown on katoy, trans-sexual prostitutes -a head too tall, a touch too provocative, too aggressively flirtatious and too good looking – including the drawback of surgically constructed vaginas.

We learn a good deal about currency trading and how to make a bundle.

We are treated to a bloody, no-holds-barred boxing match as well as a cockfight and yes, only one cock survives. (You have to admire the lengths Nesbo goes to in his research.)

Most of all, we learn about paedophiles. Disgusted by the photographs, Harry calls home. He calls home much too often for Torhus and Moller’s liking for they are alarmed at his zeal in solving the crime. This time, Harry talks to Dr. Aune, his therapist. There are two kinds of paedophiles, he is told: preference conditioned and situation conditioned. Both may have been abused as children, but the former starts in his teens, adapting to the child’s age, although sometimes playing the role of kindly father. (My own father fitted this category.) The situation conditioned paedophile is primarily interested in adults and chooses the child as a substitute for an adult he is in conflict with.

So, huuuum, what do the cockroaches symbolize? Are they good after all, as Runa asks? And do you ignore them as Oslo wants, arrest them or squash them?

(I bought Cockroaches on iTunes $15 !!! and read it on my iPad.)

 

 

Never Let Me Go

never let me goWhen I finished reading Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel Never Let Me Go, I sat still on the sofa and thought about it. I felt unbelievably moved. What is it really about? Is it about our inhumanity to each other? Certainly, there is that.

Set in an alternative 1990s Britain, Never Let Me Go depicts Hailsham, a boarding school where children are encouraged to be creative and are given frequent medical examinations. They don’t go home for holidays. Hailsham is their home. Are they orphans? Gradually, as they grow older we learn as they do that they have been cloned to become donors, organ donors.

The novel was short-listed for the Booker prize in 2005, but I steadfastly refused to read it  because I was too squeamish. Being stuck on a mountain made me less choosey and, having more or less enjoyed Ishiguro’s When We Were Orphans, I downloaded Never Let Me Go on my iPad mini. Whereas the stilted voice of the detective in When We Were Orphans irritated me, the humane voice of Kathy in Never Let Me Go drew me in immediately. Very soon I loved the three main characters, Kathy, Ruth and Tommy.

They are being raised outside of normal society so when they are released into it to live out their abbreviated lives, they can only guess at how it actually works. For much of the time, they are equally in the dark about the donation process. Mercifully, so is the reader, although we do eventually see Ruth and Tommy in recovery between donations. Kathy is their carer supporting them through the process. Four donations seem to be the limit, during or after which, donors complete. Kathy is about to finish her years as a carer and start being a donor. Is it possible that there really is a way to get a deferral if donors can prove they are in love?

The book had a cathartic effect on me. Like a Greek tragedy, it incited “pity and terror”. No doubt this had to do with the fact that I had spent much of the last few days sitting by a loved one with a serious illness – a very heart opening if fearful experience. A never-let-me-go experience.

At the same time, Peter L. Bernstein’s book about risk Against the Gods came to my attention. Bernstein contends that people are not so much risk averse as they are loss averse. He quotes Amos Tversky who says that “the human pleasure machine is much more sensitive to negative than to positive stimuli”. We can imagine a few things that would make us feel better, but “the number of things that would make you feel worse is unbounded.” And some losses we know we could never recover from.

Reviewing Never Let Me Go in the Guardian, M. John Harrison said that the novel “isn’t about cloning or being a clone”. I think he is right. The donors endure, fulfilling their role as it has been laid down for them. The novel is about life as we all experience it. Harrison ends his review: “It’s about why we don’t explode, why we don’t just wake up one day and go sobbing and crying down the street, kicking everything to pieces out of the raw, infuriating, completely personal sense of our lives never having been what they could have been.”

 

 

 

 

 

Summer Reading: for remote places

summer readin 1When the cable and satellite fail, what to read?

No it’s not hurricane season or even ice storm season and my bills are being paid on time. To get into this situation, I had to find myself a fairly remote mountain village with no AT&T service and a hotel room with no internet and an analogue television set without even bunny ears. If that sounds like heaven to you, leave a message and I’ll tell you where to find it. But you may have the same problem at a summer cottage.

My packing was sudden and fast, most of it done by others. I did manage to grab 4 books from the unread pile in my den. When they ran out, I found myself momentarily in Los Angeles where I bought 3 more from the mystery section at Barnes and Noble. Then I discovered the Kern County Library in Frazier Park just down the mountain, which has lots of hard cover Elizabeth George and P.D. James mysteries. A friend sent me 2 books from iTunes and this led me to go down to Santa Clarita to buy a mini iPad.

Here’s what desperation has led me to read.

Two books by Gillian Flynn who wrote the best seller Gone Girl and which I will eventually buy for the iPad. I read Sharp Objects first. Camille Preaker, girl reporter, is sent by her boss at a minor Chicago paper to investigate the murders of two preteen girls in her home town, Wind Gap, Missouri. The boss thinks this is just the ticket to get her back on her feet after a stay in a psych hospital. Camille is not so sure since budget limits mean she has to stay with her mother whose first question is ‘When are you leaving?’ Flynn’s female protagonists tend to be strange. Camille is not encouraged to have sharp objects in her possession. Momma locks the knives up at night. Camille is given to long sleeved tops and pants. If that seems strange, the condition of the young girl’s bodies is odder still.

In Gillian Flynn’s Dark Places, the protagonist is Libby Day, 4ft 8in., one of two survivors of her family’s massacre. The other one, her older brother has been in prison for years for the murders of his mother and two sisters. Libby is non-functional, but she has survived for years on the outpouring of sympathy and cash from the public. Now she’s older, other younger pathetic victims are getting the cash and Libby is reduced to having to earn something. She does so by answering a request from a murder club that wants to have the brother exonerated. Since 7 yr-old Libby was the chief witness against him, it is a hard if necessary job to accept. It is doubtful that you will be able to guess who is to blame or why the brother is content to be in jail. But maybe you’re more observant than me.

Nicci French’s (Nicci Gerrrard and Sean French) novel Blue Monday is A Frieda Klein mystery, Frieda being a psychologist working in London. She finds herself treating a man who longs for a red-headed son, he himself being of that colouring. Then a child like that is kidnapped. Should she report this to the police? The kidnapping has striking similarities to the kidnapping of a 5 yr-old girl 20 years ago. But why would the kidnapper wait so long to strike again. And is the patient living two lives, unable in either to remember the other. Frieda teams up with DCI Karlsson in an attempt to rescue both victims.

The last of the 4 books, I brought from home was a Christmas gift, Denise Mina’s Field of Blood. Hinging on the murder of a 3 yr-old by a couple of 11 yr-olds, this was not a book I would have chosen to read, but it was all I had. Paddy Meehan really is a girl reporter, barely 18, from an Irish Catholic family settled in Glasgow. There’s enough ethnic strife to make an interesting book all by itself. Really Paddy, who bears the name of a notorious traitor, is a copy ‘boy” in the early 1980’s, not an easy role in a newsroom full of leering, hardened, alcoholic, male journalists. She sets out to the prove that the children are not solely responsible, and this leads her into the investigation of a much older child murder as well. Young as she is, Paddy has her own idea  of how she wants to live. Her family is strict Catholic, but Paddy can’t see the point. After being shunned by her family, she skips one Sunday. The next Sunday, she gives in to her mother’s pleas: the adult children go to please mother, mother goes to please father and father goes as a role model for his children.

In Los Angeles two weeks after I arrived, I bought Donna Leon’s Willful Behavior, Lee Child’s Tripwire and Elizabeth George’s In Pursuit of the Proper Sinner.

Donna Leon is an American writer living in Venice and writing short mystery novels set there primarily and featuring Commissario Guido Brunetti, a man who is very fond of his professor wife’s cooking three times a day and possibly a glass of something after his mid-morning espresso. In Willful Behavior, his wife who teaches 19th century English literature, especially Henry James, to a roomful of uncomprehending louts, asks him to help a student clear her deceased grandfather’s name. Next thing, the poor girl is dead and Brunetti is caught up in historical crimes: trafficking in Jewish-owned art during the war. A friend of mine had a great idea, write a cook book featuring recipes for the meals Brunetti eats. Too late. Someone already did. http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/7233570-brunetti-s-cookbook

I thought I had read all the Lee Child books, featuring tough guy Jack Reacher, but I was wrong. Tripwire is the second Reacher thriller. The retired army major has earned commendations and medals in the Military Police, but he spends his retirement travelling by bus or hitch-hiking across the U.S., sleeping in cheap motels, his only possession the clothes on his back and a folding toothbrush. Trouble finds him easily. This time he is digging swimming pools in the Florida keys when a private investigator comes to find him and ends up murdered. Reacher travels to NYC to find out why. There Hook Hobie, a disfigured vet with a hook for a hand, waits warily for his tripwires, one in Hawaii and one in Vietnam to warn him to shut down his scam and leave town. But there’s this one last score….. This adventure takes Reacher back to a woman that he first fell in love with 15 years when she was 15. Now he can finally admit that to her. Or can he?

Elizabeth’s George’s In Search of a Proper Sinner was well underway when I left it in my grandson’s home. I frantically texted -using a borrowed Verizon phone. The reply was, “Is there anything unusual you want me to do with it?” It arrived back up the mountain a few days ago, but since I haven’t finished it, I will write about it and George’s novel Deception on His Mind in a 2nd summer reading post. Coming soon. I will also describe another early Lee Child novel, Running Blind.

Here we are my reading companion and I in yesteryear. (Not.)  Just when I think the Lee Child books is too hardcore, I discover she can’t put it down. That was no lady. That was a reader.

summer reading 2

To e-read or not to e-read: again

It was the First World War that made me realize the limitations of present day e-readers. I had loaded Margaret MacMillan’s The War That Ended Peace onto my Kindle before I went to Brussels for Christmas. Just the place to read about the causes of that war, I thought. Of course, the season and my brother’s open house policy prevented such serious reading. I was lucky to sneak in two John Grishams. The Michael Connelly, the Lee Child and the Margaret MacMillan had to wait until my return. I got through the first two of those fast enough and once I had read the new Ian Rankin and Louise Penny, I started some serious reading about the early twentieth century.

Immediately I knew I was in trouble.I had to read much more slowly. There was a large cast of characters, which I couldn’t keep track of. Who exactly was the “doomed Fredrich Wilhelm”? I knew MacMillan had told me already, butI couldn’t just look in the index without losing my place – at least not on my aging Kindle. I couldn’t flip back until the name jumped out at me. Finally, I went on-line and found out he was the father of Kaiser Wilhelm II who died less than a year after ascending the throne. Bad luck since he was liberal and pro-British unlike his Prussian-loving son. Fredrich was just the first of many puzzles. Plus the pictures were weird. Their descriptions turned up on the next page and I had to keep flipping back and forth, counting group photos, for example, to see which was Edward IV and which Tzar Nicholas. Turned out being cousins, they were all but identical. And the maps made me crazy.

So after yet another doctor appointment, I rewarded myself by stopping at one of our few remaining bookstores, a giant outfit called Chapters/Indigo, I forked over almost $40 for a hard copy, hard-covered and complete with dust cover. (The e-copy had cost about $15.) As I waited to pay for it, I chatted with the woman behind me and we agreed -you can’t read a serious book on an e-reader.

I try to indicate in my book reviews whether I read the book on my Kindle. I see that I have done that for a Lee Child novel, a Jo Nesbo, and a Ruth Rendall. Even so, I remember realizing that I had loaned the other Jo Nesbo books to a friend when I wrote the post on  The Police. I was thrown back on the internet for forgotten details. When I wrote about Kate Atkinson’s books, I actually went out and bought a hard copy of Behind the Scenes at the Museum when the on-line search didn’t work. Besides I couldn’t do without that book on my shelf.

What about the argument that a real reader wants to have a real book in hand for its sheer tactility. Well sure, but is that practical at a certain point? I am no longer a book collector. Once I had several thousand books, which required their own room and left barely enough space for a table and chair. It was twenty years ago, but I was able to hop on that earlier real estate meltdown and lose my house. The solution was to move in with my sister Georgia and while I would have a den of my own, I would have to downsize my library. I made several trips to a second hand book dealer. I didn’t get paid. In fact I would have paid him to find new homes for my beloveds. After that, I weeded as I went. Each book had to pass a stringent test in order to stick around: was I likely to use it as a reference or to want to reread it. Otherwise, it was off to a charity book sale. True, every so often, I discover I have exiled a book that I desperately need RIGHT NOW.

The Kindle is good for urgent book needs. You want a book and as often as not, you can download it in a few minutes. John Le Carré books were the exception last time I looked. Another great advantage of the e-reader is that it saves on luggage. Years ago when we travelled in Europe for the summer, our cases were so heavy with books that we spent a lot of time in laundromats. This year, I kept under the one bag, 23 kilo rule by taking my Kindle.

And e-readers are getting better. Georgia’s iPad is easier to read than my old e-reader, brighter, whiter, more like paper. Previously, she needed a little attachable lamp to read her old e-reader in the dark.

No doubt, it will soon be possible to search a downloaded e-book the way you can now search a document for a name. Perhaps it is already and I just don’t know it. What would be most helpful is a meaningful way of keeping track of page numbers. Knowing that I am at 85% or locations 1975-82 of Christopher Hitchen’s Thomas Jefferson, doesn’t work for me.

Pending these improvements, I will buy hard copies of difficult books.