Welcome to Murder by the Book's blog about what we've read recently. You can find our website at www.mbtb.com.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Raised in a bookstore ...

Tin House, Issue 73, Fall 2017, paperback, $15

Jordan Foster is the daughter of MBTB's store manager. I would say former store manager, but in our hearts MBTB still exists, although the doors were closed many years ago. (Sob!) Jordan spent many, many days in the store, reading, reading, always reading.

Beginning when she was four years old(!) to adulthood, Jordan has been surrounded by crime books. She was precocious then, and now she can run conversational rings around anyone on the subject of crime. She has written about crime, is writing about crime, and has met and mingled with the creators of both tragic and comic criminous stories.

This "Tin House" issue is subtitled, "True Crime." Jordan's article isn't about true crime, per se, but about being embedded in crime stories, quilted in crime stories, and swallowed whole by the atmosphere and grit of crime stories.

Congratulations, Jordan!

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Under an Orange Sun …

Someone set off a firework. And now a beautiful forest is burning. It’s threatening Oregon’s iconic Multnomah Falls. The haze in the air makes the sun orange. It’s pretty. If you don’t think about why the sun is orange. There is ash falling on us from fifty miles away. The air smells like you want to get out your s’more makings. If you don’t think about why it smells like a campfire. It’s best to stay indoors, read, and occasionally rail against stupidity.

Here are two books that kept me company.

Mightier Than the Sword by K. J. Parker

Subterranean, 136 pages, $40 (a collectible edition only for now)

Fantasy fans probably discovered K. J. Parker decades ago. His first book appeared in 1998 (“Colours in the Steel”). After seventeen years, it was revealed that he is really British author Tom Holt. I’m sorry to say that I had to serendipitously stumble across K. J. Parker and have never heard of Tom Holt. But after I began reading his biography, I learned that Holt is the son of Hazel Holt, the author of the Mrs. Malory cozies that MBTB carried on its shelves forever.

“Mightier Than the Sword” is not a murder mystery in the traditional sense, but there is a bona fide mystery that lies at the heart of the story.

It’s the Middle Ages and a “game of thrones” is about to happen, as an emperor lies dying and the successor-aspirants are many. Wait, you say, “emperor”? Middle Ages? It’s fantasy. It’s comparable to the real Middle Ages in terms of clothes, food, castle construction, war, monasteries, monks bent over copy desks. But the geography is Parker's invention.

Worthy of note: There are no zombies, dragons, incest, magic, direwolves, or obvious dwarves.

An unnamed main character, a representative of his aunt and uncle, the empress and emperor of the realm, undertakes a mission on behalf of Their Highnesses. Pirates are raiding monasteries up and down the coast. They are killing everyone and burning the monasteries and attending villages to the ground. Some of them are poor establishments, so it’s not clear what the goal of the pirating is. That’s the mystery.

The tale is told with panache and humor. “Unnamed Hero” is gallant, brilliant, and flawed. Since this is a first-person tale, “Unnamed Hero”’s wry humor comes shining through. This was a short, enjoyable tale, albeit a little expensive at the moment.

P.S. It features one of the most briefly described major battles in the history of writing.


The Shape of Water by Andrea Camilleri
Translated by Stephen Sartarelli

Penguin Books, 224 pages, $16

Those in the know have known about Inspector Salvo Montalbano since 1994, if they read the series debut, “The Shape of Water,” in the original Italian, “La forma dell’acqua.” It’s been in English since 2002. Sicily has never been grittier.

Montalbano is one of the few honest cops, Camilleri would have you believe. So he is the one who is called when a potential political brouhaha emerges after the adventurous death of a politician. He was found with his pants down in a car in The Pasture, the local remote hangout for whores and their clients. The politician’s widow knows about her husband’s little l’amores, but she claims he would never be so indiscreet as to visit The Pasture.

Montalbano must determine why and how the politician died, and in the process we get a glimpse of Sicilian life, humor, compassion, and double-dealing.

There’s an eh-so-what? tone to some of the goings-on that a reader might not find in a book written by an non-Italian author. Or at least it would be presented differently. (Thank goodness, I am not being called to rigorously defend my lazy, presumptuous statements.)

There are currently twenty-two books in the Montalbano series, most of which have been translated into English.