Thursday, December 31, 2009

Gruesome Events, Satisfying Ending: A Classic Leighton Gage Crime Novel, DYING GASP (Soho "2010")

Chief Inspector Mario Silva, grimly aware of the flaws hidden -- or not -- in every part of Brazil, goes international in this newest crime novel from Leighton Gage. Understandably, when the book opens in Amsterdam, with a nasty bit of filming and distribution, the action takes place in a vividly evoked location: The author is nearly global in his own reach, rooted in Brazil but also living at times in Amsterdam and Paris. (Keep that in mind when you look at his blog posts on "Murder Is Everywhere," a nifty collaboration of crime authors from four continents.)

Although Silva is unaware of the European actions at first, he's all too aware of the cupidity and narcissism of his boss, Director Nelson Sampaio. And Sampaio, newly converted to ostentatious Christianity for highly political reasons, wants Silva to solve a kidnapping. A dubious kidnapping at that, where the "victim" has run away before ... and one taking place in Brazil's northeastern region, where just saying that someone lives in Manaus is enough to condemn the person as corrupt until further evidence arises. It's not a normal job for the federal police, as Silva quickly asserts. However, Sampaio figures it's one way to protect and advance his budget. The victim's uncle holds massive power in Brasilia; Sampaio needs the man's vote.
Silva was studying the scrollwork around that one when his boss began to speak. "You know I don't hold with people who apply political pressure for personal objectives, or to obtain favorable treatment," he said.

Silva didn't know any such thing. He regarded the statement as an outright lie.

"But this time," Sampaio continued, "I'll have to make an exception. Not for me, of course, but for the good of the department. ..."
Ironically, Mario Silva's nephew, Hector Costa, is attending a drug enforcement conference in Amsterdam when the police there discover they have an international crime on their hands, rooted in Brazil and responding via the Internet to twisted desires around the globe. Globalism never looked so bad ... especially when Hector and his team realize the criminal mind behind the operation may well be a woman who eluded the Chief Inspector in an earlier grotesque operation.

In classic Gage style, the chapters of investigation alternate with graphic descriptions of what's happening to the kidnapped girl. Yes, she really was kidnapped this time, and her insistence that she has powerful relatives isn't doing any good. Threats multiply, and as Mario Silva and Hector race to cut through the self-centeredness of the Manaus police leaders in time to reach their criminal, before she has wind of their investigation, young Marta Malan is barely holding her own. The clock's ticking faster and the threats are in her face. Literally.

Gage excels in painting the portraits of evil. It's not just violence and murder that qualify; it's also seeing one's career as worth any sacrifice and discounting the value of others. How can one small fragment of a federal police department dodge the endemic corruption around it? At what point will Silva himself find evil seeping into his views and actions? His deliberate positioning of an arrested criminal in a jail cell with active rapists suggests he's more and more willing to "do whatever it takes" to get confessions, capture sadistic criminals, rescue those he sees as the real victims.

DYING GASP was scheduled for January 2010 release, but Gage and Soho Crime brought it out early this month, a good thing for readers of this compelling series. The fourth Silva investigation, EVERY BITTER THING, is now scheduled for December 2010. And meanwhile, earlier volumes (BLOOD OF THE WICKED; BURIED STRANGERS) are available in softcover as well. Keep up with Gage's tour at his web site, -- and join him, and Kingdom Books, in celebrating the announcement that BURIED STRANGERS made the Deadly Pleasures list of the best mystery/crime novels of 2009.

Now that's a happy way to wrap up the year.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Vermont's Archer Mayor Gets High Praise in Toronto

Not only does the Globe and Mail this week salute Archer Mayor's new book THE PRICE OF MALICE, but there's high praise for the entire series. Way to win 'em, Joe Gunther!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Washington Post "Best Books of 2009" Salutes Dave Zeltserman's Newest Noir: PARIAH

Yes, I'm working on a full review -- but for now, join author Dave Zeltserman in celebrating his second year in a row of landing on a Washington Post "Best Books" list! (Pick the tab for "Fiction" and scroll down to "Mysteries.") This time it's for PARIAH; last year, of course, SMALL CRIMES. Got a moment? Stop in at Dave Z's blog and toast the occasion.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Saluting Vermont Book Artist Lucy Swope

I'll be making a lot more noise about this, later in 2010 (can you believe we're almost to the start of the new year?). But right now, I want to post some images of a few of the covers of Lucy Swope's books, created at her Lucky Dog Press in West Fairlee, Vermont. Nope, they're not mysteries -- but they are filled with the spirit of hope and love that lights this part of our year especially.

Exciting News about Chris Bohjalian's 2010 Novel

... it's a mystery!

Full review soon. Check in next week. Wow, what a read!

Calendar Alert: Poetry in Two Languages, Boston Area

From Alex Gomez:


Fri., Dec. 4, 7:00 p.m. – Jamaicaway Books & Gifts
676 Centre Street, Jamaica Plain, MA
A bilingual poetry reading: Argentine poet Luis Alberto Ambroggio and translator Yvette Neisser Moreno read from Difficult Beauty.

Sat., Dec. 5, 3:00 p.m. – Pierre Menard Gallery
10 Arrow St., Cambridge, MA (Harvard Square)
Grolier Poetry Bookshop presents: Russian poet Aleksey Dayen and Argentine poet Luis Alberto Ambroggio reading from new books, accompanied by Spanish translator Yvette Neisser Moreno.

Calendar Alert: Poetry, Thurs. Dec. 3, Shelburne Falls, MA

From Lea Banks comes this reminder that this Thursday, Dec. 3rd at 7:00 PM Mary Koncel and Kate Greenstreet will be reading from their work.

$2-$5 sliding scale. Mocha Maya's Coffee House, 47 Bridge Street, Shelburne Falls, MA, 01370. Weelchair accessible. See for more information.

The Collected Poets Series highlights the work of established and emerging poets. Each event showcases the remarkable local poets of Western Massachusetts and the finest regional, national, and international talent. The series is usually held every first Thursday of the month.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Change Happens: Our Poetry Room Is Closing

After December 10, Kingdom Books intends to only provide mysteries -- our Poetry Room is under contract to leave us, en masse. That means there are just about three weeks to browse and purchase from our poetry collection.

Yes, I'll still offer poetry news and reviews. What can I say, life without poetry would be colorless for me! And who knows, a few current books of poems may slip into our listings from time to time.

It's been great getting to know the poetry lovers who've enjoyed our collection of 2,400 books of contemporary poetry. Our thanks to you all.

Calendar Alert, The Prints of Brian Cohen, Book Artist, Bridge Press

Vermont book artist Brian Cohen announces an exhibit of his etchings and watercolors -- if you're a fine press fan, this is worth a visit, for Cohen's illustrations often contribute significantly to the impact of the books he builds and offers through Bridge Press. The exhibit is at the Putney School Gallery, Michael S. Currier Center, Elm Lea Farm, Putney, Vermont, Dec. 4, 2009, through Feb. 20, 2010. An opening reception will be held on Friday, December 4 from 7 to 9 p.m. For map and directions, click here.

Mysteries Bigger Than a Single Book: Two Significant Suspenseful Series -- Louise Penny and Michelle Gagnon

Here at Kingdom Books, when we introduce a series to someone who hasn't read any of the books by that author before, the first question we hear is, "Do I need to read the books in order?" And if the answer is "no," then the question is either, "What is this author's best?" or "Which one will take me into the series best?"

A couple of days ago, I provided a talk on the Nancy Drew books for a local college women's group. Reviewing the history of that famous series, I found that the contract for writers of the books had given an explicit instruction to mention other "cases" that Nancy had solved -- obviously, to encourage readers to purchase more of the 56 (!) books that eventually went into print for the original group.

On the other hand, this week I also caught up with Nevada Barr's 2009 volumes: one stand-alone psych thriller (13 1/2), and the other, BORDERLINE, the latest in the Anna Pigeon series, featuring the National Parks ranger and her dangerous law-enforcement career. BORDERLINE is a well-crafted page turner that uses the political maneuvers along the U.S./Mexican border to set Anna into several intense chase scenes, provoked by her deep sense of compassion for the helpless and her determination to fight for justice. It also poses a significant question for all female investigators: What happens to you and your career when a baby whispers its way into your life? (Bear in mind that Laura Lippmann has declared that "the day you see a car seat in the back of Tess's vehicle, it's over." Her Baltimore sleuth, Tess Monaghan, isn't going into that one!)

But Barr's BORDERLINE, even though its most acute stresses rest on the damage Anna Pigeon took during the events on Isle Royale in the preceding book WINTER STUDY, is easily a read-it-on-its-own book. Barr's smooth presentation of Anna and her inner conflicts is effective and concise. Reading or re-reading WINTER STUDY just before picking up BORDERLINE won't change the crucial understandings of the plot or of the shifts in Anna's grasp of her world.

Absolutely the opposite holds for Louise Penny's Chief Inspector Gamache novels. Set in the Eastern Townships of Quebec, caught in the conflict of French and English heritage and language, and focused initially on a Brigadoon-like village called Three Pines -- it's so out of the way that you only seem to find it, and its endemic peace, when you need it -- the series has already produced an Agatha Award and a New York Times bestseller for Penny, who is a former Canadian broadcasting (CBC) radio journalist.

And the Inspector Gamache books build quietly, one on top of the next, toward an exploration of evil and its effects that can only be noticed, comprehended, and appreciated if you read the books in order. Start with the relatively slow STILL LIFE, which initially appears to be a village "cozy" detective tale; A FATAL GRACE proves that behind the politics of Gamache's superintendent is a lurking menace that threatens to unravel his best work and, in THE CRUELEST MONTH, will attack and damage his family as well. Then Penny enters further darkness of place and soul in her fourth book, A RULE AGAINST MURDER, so that number five, THE BRUTAL TELLING, can prove once and for all that her village setting has nothing to do with coziness, and everything to do with threat and anguish.

Bottom line: The best aspects of Penny's books can only be tapped by reading these five in sequence. [By the way, you'll probably have to buy softcovers of the first one or two in the series -- the hardcover first editions have already become scarce.]

All of this thought brings me to Michelle Gagnon's FBI series, built around Special Agent Kelly Jones, a young woman who has climbed rapidly within the agency because she tackles violent crime with fierce determination. Gagnon positions Jones with two enduring personal crises that affect her investigative capacity: First and foremost, shadows from her childhood both fuel her determination and damage her sense of self. And second, as a vibrant young woman, she's vulnerable to the persistent courtship provided by Jake Riley -- and Riley, in ways that are frustrating and dangerous, can access the FBI's "old boy" network in ways that Jones, as a female, may never be allowed to do. At the same time, Riley's been independent for so long that he rocks each boat politically, while sometimes anchoring, sometimes storming Kelly Jones's life.

Gagnon is a California author with powerful links into the networks of suspense writing. Her debut in THE TUNNELS was greeted warmly by other authors, and I've recommended the book as one of those "paperback originals" that turn out to be a must for a serious collector in the field -- ignore the fact that the publisher is the relatively soft publishing house MIRA. (In fact, if MIRA keeps choosing authors like Gagnon, it will earn a very different reputation. You go, MIRA!) The violent criminal in THE TUNNELS quickly makes his attacks on female college students into a personal attack on Jones. And as the madness of the attacks escalates, a similar disturbing madness creeps out of the depths of Jones's past.

THE BONEYARD drew Kelly into political tangles that complicated and threatened her capacity to prevent serial killings and hostage taking. Written with expert pace and polish, it moved Gagnon onto my personal list of "this author is going to be a must-read from now on." Could you read it without having read THE TUNNELS and still get as much from it? Probably -- at least that was what I figured.

But now Gagnon's third Kelly Jones is available (came out a couple of weeks ago), THE GATEKEEPER. The cover blurb from bestselling suspense author Lee Child reveals that Gagnon's effort to write as powerfully as the top thriller authors has been highly effective. (She also earns review praise from Douglas Preston and Jeffrey Deaver -- see her web site, While she's honed her writing, she's also earned membership in Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America, Romance (!) Writers of America, and International Thriller Writers, and is a weekly contributor (usually on Thursdays) to the hot suspense writing blog The Kill Zone. In other words, as Kelly Jones fights for her successful career as a Special Agent, Gagnon's working just as hard and effectively in the suspense authors field.

When THE GATEKEEPER opens, a nasty kidnap-and-ransom case lands with an unpleasant splat on the desk of Jones's fiancé, Jake Riley. Jake's new investigative office, The Longhorn Group, is primed for this moment -- so with a wince of pain for the victim and her family, but also an undisguised eagerness, Jake plunges into action. He hopes that he may be able to lure Kelly into his operations eventually, if she finds the FBI as ultimately fettering and unsatisfactory as he already has. Meanwhile, he has a former CIA operative as business and investigative partner, and life looks good.

Special Agent Kelly Jones, at the same moment, is already caught in what may be a typical FBI web of government intrigue and misinformation, spun around the gruesome murder and dismemberment of a U.S. senator. Think Arizona, immigration reform, right wing versus left. Add skinheads, border militias, even bikers -- could something, or someone, be drawing the hate groups toward a common goal?

Obligations to the FBI, to the public, and to the battle against evil carry Kelly forward, sometimes impetuously. But it's the disaster of her childhood that drives her to take unreasonable risks. Solid love from Jake strengthens her, and ironically, pushes her more deeply into personal risk. Here's a peek at the conflict underneath, from both views:
(p. 184) Kelly clicked the phone shut, exasperated. She was still trying to process everything Jake had said, something about a kidnapped girl, a mothball fleet and a dead kidnapper. Then the offhand remark that she might have to post bail if things didn't go well. Not exactly a stellar beginnning for The Longhorn Group, she couldn't help thinking. She knew Jake well enough to assume he was glossing over details that might upset her. It was one of the things that gave her pause this ability to play things fast and loose when it suited him.

(p. 242, Jake's point of view) On the way back he reveiwed his last conversation with Kelly, and the reprobation in her voice. He knew they had different philosophies about how to work a case, and that if she joined The Longhorn Group that might become an issue. It could even end up widening the schism between them. But what was the alternative?

Needless to say, there's a lot of action taking place between these two reflections...

So, as for Louise Penny's series, reading Michelle Gagnon's suspense in sequence gives a richer, darker take on what's unfolding in this third volume. Unlike Penny's sequence, Gagnon's books are moving toward a more personal rather than political disaster. But the sense of being forced by one's past, and of struggling for courage and companionship in a career that force-feeds despair and depression to its most successful operatives, is fully present.

Thanks, Michelle Gagnon, for constructing this series and its compelling investigators. Not only do we now have three increasingly exciting books to enjoy -- but you've created a hunger for the next one. I'll be waiting. NOT patiently.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Keith Waldrop Wins Poetry National Book Award

Announced this evening, the National Book Award in Poetry has gone to Keith Waldrop for his book TRANSCENDENTAL STUDIES: A TRILOGY. See the NBA citation page for more information. Congratulations to Keith.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Broadsides: Poetry as a Visual Art Form

We're adding some of our poetry broadsides to our listings on ABE Books (go to and click on Browse & Buy, then use keyword Broadside). Here are photos of four of my favorites. Details on ABE, or drop us an e-mail (

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Calendar Alert: Poet Meg Kearney

Poetry readers may have met Meg Kearney at Pine Manor College in Massachusetts, where she directs the MFA program in writing, or at The Frost Place in New Hampshire, where she's been a long-time board member and participant -- or at other poetry worskhops and events. With a new book just out, HOME BY NOW, she sent us this news of upcoming readings:

Dear Friends,

Consider yourself invited to two poetry events happening in November and December! I'll be reading at the Toadstool in Peterborough on November 14, and giving a short short reading & mingling over refreshments and books with several other poets at Gibson's Bookstore in Concord in December.

It would be great to see you! Details below and attached.


Toad Stool Bookshop
Saturday, November 14, 11 a.m.
12 Depot Square
Peterborough, N.H.
For info:, or call 603-924-3543

Gibson’s Bookstore
Thursday, December 10, 7 p.m.
“Give Poetry for the Holidays” event, featuring short readings by several poets
27 S. Main Street, Concord, NH
For info:


Thursday, November 05, 2009

Calendar Note: Nov. 6 Maxine Kumin Event Canceled

Maxine Kumin's poetry reading at St. Johnsbury (VT) Academy on Friday Nov. 6 has been canceled to the flu pandemic, which has closed the school campus. We hope to reschedule. Stay healthy!

Opportunity for Boston-Area Writers

We're passing this along for Pine Manor College, for more details. Nice way to leap into the new year!

PINE MANOR COLLEGE invites local writers to audit
graduate-level creative writing classes

Pine Manor College is pleased to announce that a select number of graduate-level creative writing courses will be open to the public for auditing during the January Residency of its Solstice MFA Program, scheduled from January 1–10, 2010.

One local writer, a post-graduate student, said: “…I think Solstice MFA classes can fill an unmet need for Boston’s writing community —to provide bursts of momentum to working writers who may not want the intensity of instruction found in either an MFA Program or a long-term advanced level workshop, but can benefit immensely from individual master classes.”

Classes are open to serious writers working at all levels; auditors are encouraged to complete the advance preparation requirements for any MFA class they wish to attend.

January 2010 MFA classes that are open to the public include:

Cross genre courses:
An Eye for an I: Lyrical Elements in Poetry — A Gift for the Prose Writer
Narrative Arrival: A Craft Class for All Genres A course on film adaptations of the novel: Is the Book Always Better?
Two classes on creative nonfiction:
Every Word Counts: Crafting Nonfiction That Sings
Maxine Hong Kingston: A Trans-Genre Memoirist
Two fiction courses:
Place in Fiction: Larry McMurtry and Thalia, Texas
Action that Shakes the Page
An in-depth look at poetic structure:
Structure & Artistic Memory
A class on how writers can engage with
their communities:

Higher Ground: How to Enrich Your Community and Make a Difference Through Your Art

January 2010 Classes are now available for registration; the deadline for enrolling as an auditor for the Winter 2009 Residency is December 28, 2009. For course descriptions, our audit policy, and a downloadable registration form, go to:


As an undergraduate institution consistently ranked among the most diverse in the country, Pine Manor College emphasizes an inclusive, community-building approach to liberal arts education. The Solstice MFA in Creative Writing reflects the College’s overall mission by creating a supportive, welcoming environment in which writers of all backgrounds are encouraged to take creative risks. We strive to instill in our students an appreciation for the value of community-building and community service, and see engagement with the literary arts not only as a means to personal fulfillment but also as an instrument for real cultural change.
fiction • poetry • creative nonfiction • writing for children and young adults
400 Heath Street, Chestnut Hill, MA 02467 | 617-731-7697

Monday, November 02, 2009

Calendar Alert, November 5, Poets Stewart, Waldor, Ossmann


Thursday, Nov. 5th, 2009 at 7:30 pm, poets Pamela (Jody) Stewart, Peter Waldor and April Ossman will read from their work. Free. Mocha Maya's Coffee House, 47 Bridge Street, Shelburne Falls, MA 01370, 413-625-6292. Wheelchair accessible. See for more information.

The Collected Poets Series highlights the work of established and emerging poets. Each event showcases the remarkable local poets of Western Massachusetts and the finest regional, national, and international talent. The series is usually held every first Thursday of the month.

Pamela (Jody) Stewart was born in Boston. She received her BA from Goddard College ADP and her MFA from the University of Iowa. Among her publications are four poetry chapbooks and five full-length volumes of poems: The St. Vlas Elegies (L'Epervier Press, l977), Cascades (L'Epervier Press, l979), Nightblind (Ion Books/Raccoon, l985), Infrequent Mysteries (Alice James Book, l991) and The Red Window (University of Georgia Press, l997). A chapbook, The Ghost Farm will be published by Pleasure Boat Studio in the spring of 2010. Jody has been included in the Pushcart Anthologies twice, won American Poetry Review's first prize for Best Poems of l980, and received a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Hawthorndon Fellowship and an MCC grant. She met her current husband Ed Cothey while traveling in Cornwall, UK. They returned to the States in l990 to Hawley, MA and formed Tregellys Farm. Jody is working on a New and Selected volume.

Peter Waldor was born in Newark, New Jersey. He is a graduate of the Iowa Writers' Workshop. For the past twenty years Waldor worked in the insurance business in northern New Jersey where he lives with his wife and three children. Waldor's poetry has appeared in many magazines (both in print and on-line)such as Poetry Daily, Verse Daily, theAmerican Poetry Review, Ploughshares, the Iowa Review and Mothering Magazine.Waldor's book of poetry, Door to a Noisy Room, was published by Alice James Books in January, 2008.

April Ossmann is the author of Anxious Music (Four Way Books, 2007) and has published her poetry widely in journals including Colorado Review, The Spoon River Poetry Review, and Harvard Review, and in anthologies including From the Fishouse (Persea Books, 2009) and Contemporary Poetry of New England(UPNE, 2002). She has won several poetry awards, including the 2000 Prairie Schooner Readers' Choice Award. She is a publishing, writing and editing consultant (, and teaches poetry in private tutorials and at The Writer's Center in White River Junction, VT. She has also taught at Lebanon College and the University of Maine at Farmington and was executive director of Alice James Books from 2000 -2008. She lives in Post Mills, VT.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Reading Michael Genelin, Alan Furst, and Other Dark Thoughts

As generations, we may sometimes be defined by the wars or acts of war that have shaped our thinking. Many of my friends shaped their ideas of life by testing them during the Vietnam War: Is government trustworthy? Are political leaders honest? How responsible does a reader have to be in testing what's in print?

My son's generation, I suspect, is scarred in the same way by the 9/11 Attack Against America -- and the political and cultural responses to America's newly perceived vulnerability.

But these are very much American experiences, American ideas. I don't expect to "see Europe" as my father's generation did, or to explore Asia as my sons do and will. So the mysteries that I read often shape my thinking about those regions and their histories, cultures, and people.

My sense of England's recent heritage (forget Robin Hood and Shakespeare) draws in part from the Great War mysteries of Charles Todd and Jacqueline Winspear, not to mention John Lawton and Christopher Fowler for the grimmer side of things. I always order the newest Donna Leon to sample Venice, and Giles Blunt for northern Canada. I have enough good sense to doubt that Alexander McCall Smith's No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency is more valid than, say, Peter Mathiessen's African travelogues -- but I still enjoy the notion of common people solving human dilemmas through common sense. And I won't even try to talk about the sustained darkness of the current crop of Scandinavian detectives and tales, from Henning Mankell, Karin Fossum, and others.

Way beyond these explorations, though, is the complex and often grim history of Eastern Europe, a region that must have been fiercely present to my father's generation (those who saw World War II firsthand) but has quietly vanished along with the Cold War for today's Americans. Most of the people I know personally who talk about Slovenia or Hungary are tourists, happy to spend American dollars where they seem to buy more.

Alan Furst's review of Kati Marton's ENEMIES OF THE PEOPLE in today's New York Times begins, "The year is 1955; most of the world has taken sides in the cold war." Marton's book explores her parents' desperate lives in Cold War Hungary and "has all the magnetism and, yes, excitement, of the very best spy fiction. But would that it were fiction."

Furst writes this from his position as author of ten fierce and wonderful books of "spy fiction" set in Eastern Europe, most recently THE SPIES OF WARSAW, which went into paperback in June of this year. Like the memoirist, he's lived in the countries where he sets his fiction, although not for long periods of time (Paris is his outside-America home). And he writes from having known the people and cultures that were once behind the Iron Curtain, where the machinations of the Communist Party bred a desperate corruption necessary to sustain life.

It's uncomfortable reading. Although I'm often moved and always, in the end, deeply satisfied with Furst's plots and characters and their efforts to trade what they can afford to lose, for the integrity they desire, these are books that I face seriously. They're not beach reading. They demand that I question my own willingness to sacrifice for ideals like democracy and freedom of the press, as well as for the safety of my family.

Forgive, please, this long approach -- but what the latest mysteries of Eastern Europe demand has slowed me down in reaching a review of Michael Genelin's first two books with Soho Crime: SIREN OF THE WATERS (2008) and DARK DREAMS (2009).

Genelin introduces Commander Jana Matinova, an often lonely investigator on the police force in Slovakia. Estranged from her rebel husband (an outlaw for his political stance, at the very least) and from her daughter, she labors under conditions of post-communist mistrust, betrayal, and a coldness that is more than the subzero wind sweeping through her state-issue coat. Each advance in her cases comes at personal cost.

In SIREN OF THE WATERS Matinova investigates human trafficking, a commerce of flesh and power that roots in the poverty left behind by uncaring governments. Fear, urgency, and a prevailing sense of being sold out dog her movements. It's hard to say whether she's most at risk from the criminals she chases or from her own colleagues in their equal desperation. How can we like this woman who lies when necessary, sacrifices her family, then abruptly gives up her self-respect in order to save others?

The threads pulled loose from this weave of threat and determination become ragged edges about to unravel in Genelin's sequel, DARK DREAMS. Martinova's career and family, even her life, balance on a knife edge. Her own childhood friend, Sofia, entangles her in bribery and corruption scandals; killings multiply. Soon even her colleagues mistrust her: "Everyone assiduously avoided mentioning Jana's involvement as a possible suspect. They went about their business and, when they had contact with Jana, avoided any topic other than the one at hand. Things were stiff and overly polite, but it could have been much worse. ... Jana used the time to go over her notes."

As crime fiction goes, these stand toward the dark side, not so much for brutality or gore as for the certainty that "home" is a place of danger and loss.

But they are utterly convincing, and I wouldn't miss them for anything. If we are to understand the force of history and the passions of the present in Eastern Europe, Genelin, like Furst, is a valuable guide. And Jana Matinova's courage, and her willingness to keep trying for justice, generate a heat and light worth valuing.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Halloween Treats!

We've pulled out from the shelves three salutes to Halloween, that favorite holiday of creative kids. One is a Vermont classic: PASSING STRANGE: TRUE TALES OF NEW ENGLAND HAUNTINGS AND HORRORS, by Joe Citro. Our copy is the hard-to-find first edition hardcover brought out by Chapters in 1996.

Second, Knopf recruited master of dark illustration Michael McCurdy for its 2005 volume of Edgar Allen Poe's TALES OF TERROR. Not only is the 90-page book crawling with creepy art, but it includes a CD narrated by Edward Blake, reading aloud "The Masque of the Red Death" (so appropriate as H1N1 flue spreads among us), "The Cask of Amontillado," "The Black Cat," and "The Tell-Tale Heart."

Third is a delicious signed picturebook we just nabbed: Chris Van Allsburg's THE WIDOW'S BROOM. Van Allsburg dated his signature 10-17-92 -- just a couple of weeks before Halloween, seventeen years ago. A gem.

These are all listed at our part of ABE Books (click on and then choose Browse & Buy to drop straight into our listings). If you'd like a photo or scan to help your decision, all you need to do is ask (

Tonight! Louise Penny, Norwich, Vermont, 7 p.m.

If you missed listening to and meeting Canadian mystery author Louise Penny last night in Montpelier, there's still time (if you're in northern New England) to get to her other Vermont event -- tonight at 7 p.m. at the Norwich Bookstore. Penny mentioned last night that she is in contract talks for her sixth through ninth books in the Chief Inspector Gamache series (originally labeled Three Pines mysteries, for the fictional Eastern TOwnships village where they mostly take place). The fifth book, hot this fall, is THE BRUTAL TELLING; Penny's first book is already nearly unavailable in hardover first edition.

Friday, October 23, 2009

God May Be Silent, But Not Poet Franz Wright

Franz Wright's reading last night at Plymouth State University (NH) celebrated his new collection, WHEELING MOTEL. From the wonder and exhaled prayer of "Kyrie" to the delicious humor of "The Soul Complains" and the ironies of "Professor Alone During Office Hours," the collection continues Wright's portraiture of happiness as it arrives almost as a surprise, after years of loss, anguish, and despair.

He prefaced the poems with two new prose works, one set on a Rhode Island beach, the other titled "Paul's Song" -- these are from one of two new collections he's just completing (the other is poetry). Those will bring the total for this decade of his writing to six books, an amazing output.

Because of his willingess to be frank, bear exposure, and take audience questions seriously, Wright enchanted the group last night. Don't miss the chance to hear and see him as he tours for this book. In the meantime, Knopf is offering a link that will give you readings of two of the poems "Wheeling Motel" and "Day One."

Calendar Alert, Thurs. Nov. 4, Poet Kevin Young

If you think November fits the northern New England saying of "no sun, no snow, no-vember" there's a perfect poetry event coming up to light the season: On Thursday November 4 at Plymouth State University (Plymouth NH, exit 25 from I-93) meet the blues head-on with poet Kevin Young, at 7 p.m.; reception and signing follow.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Archer Mayor, THE PRICE OF MALICE: A must-have Joe Gunther Police Procedural

The twentieth Joe Gunther crime novel slipped quietly into the spotlight yesterday, as Minotaur Books released THE PRICE OF MALICE a few days before its scheduled "October" debut. Hurrah! This is the one we've been waiting for -- not just because it's number 20 in the series, not just because once you get acquainted with Joe and his team you've got to get the next book, and not just because it's a good swift read. Here's the best part: THE PRICE OF MALICE builds on number 19, THE CATCH, and spins intensity and sense out of the situations that Archer Mayor set up in that Maine-oriented story.

It will come as no surprise to Gunther fans that Joe is having trouble with his intimate relationship again, as THE PRICE OF MALICE opens. His mellow and promising times with barkeeper Lyn Silva sailed onto nasty rocks during THE CATCH, as Joe's drug and murder investigations led him to exhuming part of Lyn's family history. Discouraged and distanced, Lyn's left Brattleboro without telling Joe. It makes a tough platform for this Vermont Bureau of Investigation (VBI) chief -- how can you trust yourself and your judgment, when the people you most care about keep walking out of your life?

The opening chapter steps inside another relationship, one that's kept Joe and his readers intrigued: the offbeat but pretty successful domestic partnership of foul-mouthed and stubborn Willy Kunkle and hard-working Sammie Martens, the lone woman on Joe's team. You can see what ties them together when the mention of "homicide" in a middle-of-the-night phone call cheers them both and sends them scrambling for their clothes. And the discovery that the victim is a suspected child predator makes them more satisfied, as it suits their sense of justice. The trouble is, they're also determined to catch the murderer, even if he or she had a darned good reason for turning to crime.

When Joe's efforts to steer his team are repeatedly interrupted by a lingering drugs and border manipulation and his girlfriend starts taking risks that involve him, the VBI chief lets down his team by being in all the wrong places at the moments when their complex hunt turns dangerous. Archer Mayor spins the scenes sharply and intensely, and keeps both Joe and the action on the run.

If you like THE CATCH, you'll love what this sequel does with what you absorbed from that one -- and if you weren't sure you wanted to adapt to Joe Gunther pursuing criminals off the coast of Maine, THE PRICE OF MALICE will convince you that the wider pattern adds up to quite a tale.

Check for author events; Mayor will be racing around for this one!

Calendar Alert: Poets Annie Finch and Lisa Olstein, October 1, Shelburne Falls, Mass.

Thursday, Oct. 1st, 2009 at 7:30 pm, poets ANNIE FINCH and LISA OLSTEIN will read from their work, kicking off the Collected Poets Series' new season.

Free. Mocha Maya's Coffee House, 47 Bridge Street, Shelburne Falls, MA 01370, 413-625-6292. Wheelchair accessible. See for more information.

Annie Finch (left-hand photo, above) is the author or editor of fifteen books of poetry, translation, and criticism. Her books of poetry include Eve, Calendars, The Encyclopedia of Scotland, and the forthcoming Among the Goddesses: A Narrative Libretto. Her music, art, and theater collaborations include two operas. Her poems appear in anthologies, textbooks, and journals including Agni, Fulcrum, Kenyon Review, Paris Review, Prairie Schooner, and Yale Review, and her books on poetics include A Formal Feeling Comes, An Exaltation of Forms, The Ghost of Meter, The Body of Poetry, and the forthcoming A Poet’s Craft. Annie's book of poetry, Calendars, was shortlisted for the Foreword Poetry Book of the Year Award and in 2009 she was awarded the Robert Fitzgerald Award. She has performed her poetry across the U.S. and in England, France, Greece, Ireland, and Spain. She earned a BA from Yale University, a MA in Creative Writing from the University of Houston, and a PhD in English from Stanford University. Annie lives in Maine where she directs Stonecoast, the low-residency MFA program of the University of Southern Maine.

Lisa Olstein (right-hand photo, above) is the author of Lost Alphabet (Copper CanyonPress, 2009), Radio Crackling, Radio Gone (Copper Canyon Press, 2006), winner of the Hayden Carruth Award. Cold Satellite, an album of songs based on her poems and lyrics, is forthcoming from singer-songwriter Jeffrey Foucault. She is the recipient of a Pushcart Prize and fellowships from the Massachusetts Cultural Council and Centrum. Her poems have appeared in many literary journals including The Iowa Review, American Letters & Commentary, Denver Quarterly, Fairy Tale Review, and elsewhere. A contributing editor of jubilat, with Dara Wier and Noy Holland, Lisa co-founded the Juniper Initiative for Literary Arts & Action at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, where she is Associate Director of MFA Program for Poets and Writers.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Vermont Police Procedural: THE ERRAND BOY, Don Bredes

The third Hector Bellevance police procedural THE ERRAND BOY releases next week, and it's an intriguing addition to the world of Vermont crime fiction. Don Bredes isn't just targeting the leftover back-to-landers and close-to-the-border drug handlers that populate his fictional state -- he's also laying out the conflicts of jurisdiction that take place so often in a rural region, where local police get brushed aside by county or state investigators. And heaven help us all when the federal agents step in.

But Hector Bellevance, town constable, knows Tipton better than any outsider could. When a youthful driver, Sebastian Tuttle, careens out of control toward Hector and his pregnant wife Wilma (yep, the same one he had such a hard time courting in Cold Comfort and The Fifth Season), Hector manages to push Wilma out of the way just in time, and takes the glancing impact of the car on himself. But -- disastrously -- Wilma lands with her head on a concrete slab and the impact does enough damage to put her into a coma.

When Hector, half crazed by the injury to his wife, tracks down the driver and his brother, murder cuts into the mess. Soon the proximity of the Canada border, the nastiness of factory farming (picture thousands of confined chickens, laying eggs and depositing, er, manure), and competition for breaking open a drug cartel complicate the life that Hector and Wilma and their 11-year-old daughter Myra have, where harvesting the beans and raspberries and getting them to market has to take priority over anything, yes, anything else. But now Hector is minus Wilma's help, and Myra takes to sitting at the hospital trying to get her mom to respond. So Hector's first level of panic is purely practical, local, and rural:
Myra hadn't brought in a quarter of the beans. Eighty feet of spinach needed cutting or it would bolt. The early raspberries would be dropping off the canes in another downpour. I had a round of deliveries to make tomorrow -- the beans and lettuces and spinach, plus trays of arugula, mesclun, basil, broccoli, dill, beet greens, and chard, none of them picked. And the raspberries. I had tomatoes to mulch, and asparagus, beets, leeks, onions, cabbages, and carrots to weed.

I had to find help.

Neighbor Hugh Gebbie steps up in the crisis, and also keeps Myra company as Hector drives around looking for the criminals and uncovering their network. But Hugh's laid-back caretaking doesn't prevent Myra being kidnapped, and that's about all it takes to push Hector into acting like a rogue police officer as he races to rescue his daughter.

Of course, he has folks he knows to ask about shady dealings. It's just a pity that he's trusting Kandi Henderson. She keeps showing that she's not the person he's always wanted her to be. Will he see her clearly enough, before innocent people are added to the criminals dying in the crisis?

Bredes has crafted a tightly plotted crime novel with local color that's vivid and often poignant, and his handling of Hector's midlife parenting and job-blending rings painfully true. Perhaps some officers would spend more time with an unconscious, hospitalized wife, or would keep their young daughter further away from the tasks of community policing -- yet Hector's choices reflect the character he's shown in the two previous novels, and when the strands of tension finally crest and resolve, the risks and losses are well balanced with what Hector and his friends and family can achieve.

Hurrah for this long-awaited Vermont tale!

[Looking for more info on Bredes? Click here.]

Monday, September 14, 2009

Calendar Alerts: Poetry

Pine Manor College announces that the application deadline for the spring 2010 semester of the Solstice Low-Residency MFA in Creative Writing Program is November 16, 2009 (not a postmark date; materials must be received by our offices before or on November 16). The spring 2010 semester begins with our winter residency, January 1 to January 10. For detailed program information and a downloadable application form, go to:

Fiction writer and Solstice MFA writer-in-residence Dennis Lehane will be appearing (along with Solstice favorites Andre Dubus III and Tom Perrotta and a host of other luminaries) at the Boston Book Festival, scheduled for Saturday, October 24 in Copley Square, Boston. NOTE from Kingdom Books: The ONLY poet scheduled for the festival so far is Robert Pinsky.

Pine Manor MFA Director and poet Meg Kearney’s latest book, Home By Now, is available for preordering from Amazon and will be available in stores starting October 15. She will be giving readings throughout the fall, beginning with a reading on Sunday, September 27 at 3 p.m. at Del Rossi’s Trattoria, RR 137, Dublin, NH. 603-563-7195.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Calendar Alert: Poet Rita Dove, Vermont, Sept 25

Passed along for Major Jackson:

THE WRITERS' WORKSHOP & the Burlington Book Festival 2009 present
A Reading by Poet Laureate of the U.S. ('93-'95) and Pulitzer Prize Recipient, Rita Dove

8:00 - 8:45: Poetry Reading

About Sonata Mulattica

Sonata Mulattica is a book-length narrative poem, which follows the real career of the violin prodigy George Augustus Polgreen Bridgetower (1780–1860), a former pupil of Haydn, as well as the grandson of an African prince, or so his promoters and teachers in England said. Moving to Vienna during the Napoleonic Wars, the violinist met and befriended the famously moody Beethoven, who was prepared to dedicate his famously difficult Kreutzer Sonata to Bridgetower until a rivalry for the same woman drove them apart. Rita Dove tells Bridgetower's story, and some of Beethoven's and Haydn's, in a heterogenous profusion of short poems, some almost prosy, some glittering in their technique. In quatrains, a double villanelle, what looks like found text, short lines splayed all over a page and attractive description, Dove renders Bridgetower's frustrated genius and explores the history of classical music and the changing meanings of race.

from The New Yorker
Dove’s verse sequence re-creates the life of the biracial violinist George Bridgetower, best remembered for being the first performer, and the initial dedicatee, of Beethoven’s “Kreutzer” Sonata. (Beethoven replaced his humorous dedication to the “lunatic and mulatto” after quarrelling with him, apparently over a woman.) A virtuosic treatment of a virtuoso’s life, the poems use all registers—nursery rhymes, diary entries, drama—and are stuffed with historical and musical arcana. Yet the book remains highly accessible, reading much like a historical novel. Dove is fascinated by Bridgetower’s life as a black musician and occasionally implies parallels with the world of jazz and rap, but the issue of race does not predominate. She is concerned equally with the status of musicians in a world of precarious patronage—even Haydn, at the Esterhazy estate, has “no more leave / to step outside the gates / than a prize egg-laying hen”—and with “the radiant web” of music itself.


Dear Friends & Colleagues:

I am delighted to announce the appearance in Vermont of Pulitzer-prize poet Rita Dove, former Poet Laureate of the United States and author of nine volumes of poetry including her latest collection Sonata Mulattica, published by W.W. Norton this year.

Ms. Dove will read on Friday, September 25, shortly after the opening ceremony and festival dedication, which begins at 7pm in the Film House of the Main Street Landing Performance Arts Center. Rita Dove's visit is part of the Writers' Workshop Reading Series, which is sponsored by the James and Mary Brigham Buckham Fund and the Department of English.

About the Author

Rita Dove published the poetry collections The Yellow House on the Corner (1980), Museum (1983), Thomas and Beulah (1986), Grace Notes (1989), Selected Poems (1993), Mother Love (1995), On the Bus with Rosa Parks (1999), American Smooth (2004), a book of short stories, Fifth Sunday (1985), the novel Through the Ivory Gate (1992), essays under the title The Poet's World (1995), and the play The Darker Face of the Earth, which had its world premiere in 1996 at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and was subsequently produced at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., the Royal National Theatre in London, and other theatres. Seven for Luck, a song cycle for soprano and orchestra with music by John Williams, was premiered by the Boston Symphony Orchestra at Tanglewood in 1998. For "America's Millennium", the White House's 1999/2000 New Year's celebration, Ms. Dove contributed — in a live reading at the Lincoln Memorial, accompanied by John Williams's music — a poem to Steven Spielberg's documentary The Unfinished Journey. She is the editor of Best American Poetry 2000, and from January 2000 to January 2002 she wrote a weekly column, "Poet's Choice", for The Washington Post. Her latest poetry collection, Sonata Mulattica, published by W.W. Norton in the spring of 2009.

Rita Dove is Commonwealth Professor of English at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. Ms. Dove served as Poet Laureate of the United States and Consultant to the Library of Congress from 1993 to 1995 and as Poet Laureate of the Commonwealth of Virginia from 2004 to 2006. She has received numerous literary and academic honors, among them the 1987 Pulitzer Prize in Poetry and, more recently, the 2003 Emily Couric Leadership Award, the 2001 Duke Ellington Lifetime Achievement Award, the 1997 Sara Lee Frontrunner Award, the 1997 Barnes & Noble Writers for Writers Award, the 1996 Heinz Award in the Arts and Humanities and the 1996 National Humanities Medal. In 2006 she received the coveted Common Wealth Award of Distinguished Service (together with Anderson Cooper, John Glenn, Mike Nichols and Queen Noor of Jordan, and in 2008 she was honored with the Library of Virginia's Lifetime Achievement Award.

Ms. Dove was born in Akron, Ohio in 1952. A 1970 Presidential Scholar, she received her B.A. summa cum laude from Miami University of Ohio and her M.F.A. from the University of Iowa. She also held a Fulbright scholarship at the Universität Tübingen in Germany.

She lives in Charlottesville, Virginia with her husband, the writer Fred Viebahn. They have a grown daughter, Aviva Dove-Viebahn.

Poets With Book-Length Manuscripts: Do You Know About the Colrain Conference?

I'm passing this info along for Ellen Doré Watson, a fine teacher, poet, and merry-hearted person. As the Quakers say, "If it speaks to your condition ..."

Next Colrain Poetry Manuscript Conference: October 23-26

The Colrain Poetry Manuscript Conference provides the faculty, connections, and method necessary to set poets with a completed manuscript or manuscript-in-process on a path towards publication. Includes workshops, consultations with press editors, evening poetry readings, editorial panel Q&A, and an after-conference strategy session. Faculty includes conference founder, Joan Houlihan, as well as Ellen Dore Watson, Director of the Smith Poetry Center, Fred Marchant, Director of the Suffolk Poetry Center, Jeffrey Levine, Publisher and Editor of Tupelo Press, and Martha Rhodes, Director of Four Way Books. For details on location, requirements and cost, please visit:

You may also...
Call: (978) 897-0054
Write: Colrain Poetry Manuscript Conference
c/o Concord Poetry Center
40 Stow Street
Concord, MA 01742

Joan Houlihan, Director

Food for Thought: Stieg Larsson/Carol O'Connell

After setting aside ALL else this summer when the second Stieg Larsson Salander novel came out in the US (The Girl Who Played With Fire; a great sequel to The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo), we're not posting a review just now -- there are so many already out there, and all the praise is well earned, right down to the terrific work in translating this series already well known in Sweden.

But a mention at Larsson's website compares Lisbeth Salander to Carol O'Connell's Malory, and I think it's a top-notch parallel. We've got lots of O'Connell, so I may backtrack to these in order to fill the longing for more Salander, until the final volume of the trilogy appears next year.

Titles To Read: Award Winners and Short Lists at the Crime Writers' Association (UK)

Speaking of Colin Cotterill ... he took one of the "Dagger" awards from the CWA in July:
The Crime Writers’ Association is delighted to announce the winners of the Dagger in the Library, International, Short Story and Debut Daggers:

Colin Cotterill has won the Dagger in the Library; writer Fred Vargas and translator Sîan Reynolds have triumphed in the International Dagger for the third time in four years; Sean Chercover has won the Short Story Dagger and Catherine O’Keefe the Debut Dagger.

See the CWA web site for more info.

Newly announced by the CWA last week, and also on my reading list for the fall (although I've read a few already):
The books shortlisted for the CWA Gold Dagger are When Will There Be Good News? by Kate Atkinson, In the Dark by Mark Billingham, Hit and Run by Lawrence Block, A Whispered Name by William Brodrick, The Coroner by MR Hall and Dark Times In The City by Gene Kerrigan.

The books shortlisted for the CWA Ian Fleming Steel Dagger are The Brass Verdict by Michael Connelly, Dark Places by Gillian Flynn, The Last Child by John Hart, Calumet City by Charlie Newton, Moscow Rules by Daniel Silva, The Tourist by Olen Steinhauer, and The Interrogator by Andrew Williams.

The books shortlisted for the CWA John Creasey (New Blood) Dagger are Sweetsmoke by David Fuller, Bad Catholics by James Green, No Way To Say Goodbye by Rod Madocks, Old City Hall by Robert Rotenberg, Echoes from The Dead by Johan Theorin and The Blood Detective by Dan Waddell.

PS: Calendar Alert, Louise Penny

Just so you know WHY Dave and I have been on a Louise Penny reading kick: She's coming to Vermont in October. Meet her at Bear Pond Books on October 27 or at The Norwich Bookstore on October 28.

Cozy or Cruel? Reflections on Good Crime Fiction

Dave and I have been on a binge of reading the mysteries of Louise Penny. Set in a Canadian village, and at first resembling a Miss Marple "village mystery" where everyone knows everyone else's business, they've been labeled "cozy" (even among the blurbs on the books!). But -- they're not.

Okay, that's a pretty bold assertion. The thing is, Dave and I completely agree about this. He won't read cozies unless there's an overwhelming "other" reason (he does collect the Harry Kemelman series, because he likes the subjects). And he struggled through the first fifty pages of Penny's STILL LIFE because of this. But suddenly he was declaring, "This is NOT a cozy," and making eager sounds as he turned the pages.

I enjoyed STILL LIFE, with its bizarre personalities and poigant cruelties. There, that's a word you won't find in a description of a cozy mystery: cruelties. In fact, Penny's second book, A FATAL GRACE, has me stalled at page 25, because the cruelties have already piled up to a level that raised the tension too high for my weekend. (Don't ask; if you've ever lived in a rural area at harvest season, you might have a guess at what my list of kitchen tasks is like just now...) In other words, if the level of vicious, nasty, twisted stuff being exposed in a mystery or suspense thriller gets in your face to the point where you think the characters are more and more likely to want a stiff drink or a well-tailored escape plan -- it's not a cozy. Nothing that Alfred Hitchcock directed was a cozy. Is this making sense?

So, with this long lead-in, I'm back to reconsidering Colin Cotterill's offering from this August, THE MERRY MISOGYNIST (Soho Crime). Here's what I wrote about Cotterill's series, last April:
So here's Colin Cotterill, providing a series about an elderly coroner working on disrespected remains in his confused and often corrupt city of Vientiane, Laos. It's 1978 and the "novice socialist republic" is squeezing the fun and color out of life. Dr. Siri Paiboun and his assistants, Nurse Dtui and the tongue-tied Mr. Geung, become increasingly stubborn about seeking justice for the deceased. And readers of the series know that Dr. Siri and the noodle seller Madame Daeng are waking up to an affectionate and humorous relationship that lets each of them be whole, and give wholly.

So why isn't THE MERRY MISOGYNIST a cozy, with so much affection and humor among the protagonists? I maintain it's because the crimes revealed in the book are actions of enormous cruelty.

Some of the chapter titles make this clear: Five Dead Wives; Dancing with Death; A Honeymoon in Hell. Siri and Inspector Phosy investigate a series of deaths that appear to be the work of a sexual sadist. Stopping the sequence requires the ability to think like a sadist -- and get ahead of the action. Complicating the sequence are appearances by the spirit of Siri's dead dog, Saloop. Although the dog and man had an affectionate relationship in life, Saloop isn't coming for friendly visits -- he's coming as a warning.
Siri had learned to observe rationally. There were times when he braved nightmares like a confident swimmer, knowing he'd end up on the bank unscathed. There were malignant ghosts like the Phibob of the forest who hounded Yeh Ming's spirit. They constantly hummed around him like vindictive wasps, waiting for a moment of weakness when they could sting. Had it not been for a sacred amulet at his neck, Siri would certainly not have made it to his second marriage. But the vast majority of spirits were harmless.

Siri sat on the saddle of his Triumph and shook his head as Saloop rose creakily on his dead legs.

This is the sixth in the Dr. Siri series, written by a London-born teacher and writer who now lives in Thailand. It's well worth visiting Cotterill's web site, too -- check out the results of a person who balances the dark side of crime fiction with a strong and well-aimed determination to do some good in Laos.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Claire Van Vliet, Black and White: Selected Works 1952-2009

Maple Ridge Gallery opened an exhibit today of the black-and-white works of Claire Van Vliet, the book artist whose Janus Press has transformed elegant paper into works of striking beauty.

Van Vliet's work in black and white, which is not part of her Janus collection, is most striking when she portrays the complexity of the natural world. From storms over the nearby hills, to windcaves in New Zealand, to the revelations of an Irish peat bog as the sea chews away the accumulation of centuries, the forms and their magic emerge in these prints -- some of them intaglio vitrographs the size of a window, summoning the forms of stone and sky.

I liked the way that the rocks became intricately layered as if they had grown with rings of age the way trees do. And I marveled at the brilliant white spaces set within the shadows and darkness.

Another facet of the show is Van Vliet's Kafka series.

Nancy Reid at Maple Ridge will continue the exhibit through November 9. Gallery hours at 1713 Maple Ridge Road, Newark, VT are Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, noon to six -- and by appointment (802-467-8400,

In the photo above: Claire Van Vliet, left, with gallery owner Nancy Reid.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

POEMS FROM THE WOMEN'S MOVEMENT: The book, the reading (Sept 16, Amherst MA)

Poems from the Women’s Movement, a reading at Amherst College, on Wednesday 9/16/09, 7:30 pm, Cole Assembly Room in Converse Hall

There will be an event celebrating Poems From the Women’s Movement, edited by Honor Moore and published by the Library of America, now in its second printing. Poets Joan Larkin and Honor Moore will read their poems and the work of others in the book. Several students from the Five Colleges will join them in reading poems from the anthology.

“What would happen if one woman told the truth about her life? / The world would split open.” These lines by Muriel Rukeyser epitomize the spirit that animated a whole generation of women poets, from the 1960s to the 1980s, who in exploring the unspoken truth of their lives sparked a literary revolution.

Poems From the Women’s Movement, selected by O Magazine, is number 15 on Oprah’s Book Club summer reading list.

Joan Larkin’s newest book, My Body: New and Selected Poems (Hanging Loose Press), received the Publishing Triangle’s 2008 Audre Lorde Award. Honor Moore’s recent memoir The Bishop’s Daughter was a finalist for a National Book Critic’s Circle Award.

The reading will be followed by a reception and booksigning. Sponsored by the Amherst College English Department and Creative Writing Program. Community co-sponsors include the Massachusetts Review, the Poetry Center at Smith College, Perugia Press, The Everywoman’s Center at the University of Massachusetts, and the Smith College Program for the Study of Women and Gender

Poet Marge Piercy in Vermont

Here are two opportunities to meet and hear this extraordinary activist poet while she's in Vermont: tonight (Wed. 9/9) at 7 p.m. at the St. Johnsbury (VT) School, and tomorrow (Thurs. 9/10) at the Vermont Studio Center in Johnson, VT. Always call to confirm VSC readings -- usually at 8 pm in the lecture hall on Main Street, but often changing in terms of date, time, location (802-635-2727).

Monday, September 07, 2009

Billy Boyle Becomes a Top Mystery Series: James R. Benn's World War II Crime Fiction

Congratulations to Soho Crime author James R. Benn, whose newest Billy Boyle crime novel hit the ground running yesterday with an enthusiastic review from Marilyn Stasio in the New York Times.

If you haven't read the preceding three volumes, here's my take on them: Yes, this is a series that I think is best if you start at the beginning. But EVIL FOR EVIL, this year's volume, could be jumped into right away, for all the great material especially on Northern Ireland. At any rate, here are the other three, and maybe it will give you enough background to plunge directly into number four.

The series begins with BILLY BOYLE (2006). Consider Billy's situation -- he's a young Irish-American cop from Boston, following in the family business, and already the heir to plenty of his dad's stories about how things get done (good and bad). He knows that you use connections; that you accept a bit of grease for the wheels now and then; and that if you take too much, you won't be able to live well with the shame of it. Thanks to family connections, as World War II breaks out, Billy scoots off to office candidate school and expects a cushy stateside job in the office of his "Uncle Ike" -- not quite his uncle, but close enough, and better known at the time as Dwight D. Eisenhower. What neither Billy nor his family could have guessed, though, was that "Uncle Ike" would be suddenly picked to command the US Army forces in Europe. Ike sees Billy as his personal private investigator, able to track down criminal activity that could otherwise cripple operations -- and willing to keep it quiet and turn over the results to Ike for discrete and rapid action.

Billy's police background is real and potent, even though it's short; soon he's advising a buddy, Kaz, about how to question people and look for guilt, which is quite different from shock:
Guilt. I turned down a path in the garden, white roses hanging damp and heavy from thick shoots spiked with sharp thorns. Guilt will out, Dad used to say. Guilt will out, except if you're dealing with a crazy person. Normal people just couldn't keep guilt from showing, and all you had to do was know where to look for it. That was the hard part.
"Guilt has its own special look and sound."
"Sound? What do you mean?"
"A catch in the voice, an uplift in tone. You can hear it all the time if your listen. It doesn't even have to do with crime. It can be emotional." ...
"Are these the things a Boston detective thinks about on a case? Self-deception, guilt, the knife in the back?"
"Cops always look for things that are out of place. Very little things, which sometimes lead to bigger things, like why a knife in the back."

But there isn't a lot of time for talk, because Billy and Kaz are in the midst of plans for espionage and invasion. "It struck me how close I was to the center of everything, the historic first strike against the Nazis," Billy reflects as he finds out some of the unfolding plans. "I felt like I was ... important." Of course, most of the people around him don't agree -- he's a "kid" in all this, along with all the boys arriving from the States. Still, something inside him warms up to the adventure:
I was hooked. Just like I was hooked the first time I worked a homicide. I knew then that I was different from everyone else, set apart from the concerns of everyday life that swept everyone else forward, on a river of errands, work, dates, drinking, eating, and sleeping. I was going in a different direction, toward revelation and retribution, and there were damn few of us headed that way.

A few pages later, Billy inspects a body for signs of rigor mortis, explores clues, and discovers that he's got to become a successful spy catcher, or else let down Uncle Ike -- unthinkable.
But catching a spy will turn out to be far more direct an action than working through the complications of falling in love. Between Billy and Kaz, and two courageous British sisters, love and suspense become a fearsome tangle with tragedy hovering in the winds. This is war, after all. Billy may be able to solve the crime, but he can't prevent death and destruction from exploding all around him.

Brace for a swift change of geography and climate as Benn's second Billy Boyle unfolds in THE FIRST WAVE (2007): The scene is Algeria in North Africa, and the Vichy French are the wild card: As the US forces arrive and battle Rommel's Afrika Corps, will the French put their weight with the "liberators" or with the Nazi-led occupation? For Billy, the tasks of serving at the front are complicated hugely by the presence of Diana Seaton, the woman with whom he's deeply in love. When Diana is abducted, Billy's priorities take a forceful twist away from orders. He admits readily:
There's nothing like a corpse to put things into perspective. I was tired, but Jerome was dead. ... I would have thought he was still asleep except for his eyes. ... They seemed to seek me out, as if Jerome had a last message to pass one. All I got was a shover up my spine as I reched down and closed them. ... Two brothers dead for what they believed in when they both could have sat it out and played it safe.

Playing it safe isn't Billy's way, although it takes a war to help him realize this. He has friends to assist, and a rescue to mastermind. And even if he pulls of the rescue, will Diana already hate him for not arriving in time to protect her from humiliation, degradation, and powerful evil?

Yes, Diana, who is also a special agent, will re-appear in the third book, BLOOD ALONE (2008). But this time, Billy has a long way to go before he even remembers who she is and where he has left her: He's lost his memory, awakening in a field hospital in Sicily with a post-concussion amnesia. Long before he can even pull together his name and rank, or be sure of which side he's fighting on, he's a target of assassins. Why? What mission was he assigned to? And which group of deadly Sicilians is after him now? He's handicapped in part by how readily he sees even foreign people as like his own:
A wave of sadness passed over me. This village was awash in death, an everyday occurrence. Not from the war, but from a lifetime of killing labor and poverty. This was what my family had left Ireland to escape. This was what Sciafani couldn't escape, even with his position and education. The life of suffering of the peasant. It had descended upon him as he walked into the village, apologizing for the smell. It is better when it rains.

The basics of forensic analysis, the search for clues and motives, the revealing of how death is stalking its victims alongside the wholesale slaughter of war, these are Billy Boyle's tools, along with the sense of himself that he's brought along from Boston. Sure, these three volumes include great details of World War II, and of Eisenhower's work in the Allied command -- but they are first and foremost a deeply satisfying set of detective novels, with the sense of inner mystery and longing that enhances the best crime writing anywhere.

Kudos to James R. Benn, a librarian and media specialist and long-time World War II buff. By painting the human heart, he's opened the war to any reader who longs for a good story of "redemption and retribution."

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

"It's Always Who You Know": Italy and the Crime Fiction of Donna Leon and Magdalen Nabb

Reading a crime fiction series creates a familiarity that can be either profoundly irritating or deeply comforting -- much like the experience of being with "family." Though the details of any given day are unknown in advance, you have a good idea ahead of time of what your mother will expect from you, what your brother is going to crow about, which parts of the day your spouse will re-tell for your attention. In the same way, to read a later volume in a series where you've already consumed the earlier ones is to know what to expect in terms of how bruised the souls of the novel are likely to be and become, and what level of redemption may be possible. Or -- how depressed you're likely to feel at the end ...

So, when I wanted to give myself a mini-vacation this summer, I picked up the 2009 Venice volume from Donna Leon, ABOUT FACE. From Leon's Commissario Guido Brunetti, I expect some familiar patterns: that he will agonize over his responsibilities as superior officer in his police job at the Questura; that his wife Paola will challenge his perceptions, bringing him the viewpoint of an intelligent and loving feminist; that he will be forced to reconsider his roles as husband and father; and that the peculiarities of Venice as a city of water, where even the public transportation floats, will shape the crimes that confront him and the routes toward their solution. And oh yes, there will be some delicious moments that reveal how the administrative assistant in the office, Signorina Elettra, really manages almost everything there, especially the stream of information that only she is capable of dipping into.

ABOUT FACE covers most of these, while going unexpectedly deeply into the issues of violence against women, as well as international crime that profits from waste disposal. The title can be read in several ways, but one that leaps out immediately is that Guido confronts the frozen, overly "lifted" face of Franca Marinella, a close friend of his mother-in-law. How can he "read" from this face? What does this woman want from him, and how should he handle the sense of companionship that she evokes in him through discussion of books?

Brunetti's wife Paola watches him struggle, and periodically cuts into his path with insight and sometimes anger. At first, she compares her husband to one of her favorite authors, Henry James, defending the similarity of the two men by saying, "You want to understand things, Guido. It's probably why you're a policeman. ... But you also want other people to understand those things. ... Just as he did."

Because Paola's parents are immensely wealthy and socially powerful, Brunetti's stance toward them has long been a struggle to present a sense of dignity, in spite of his workaday career in the detective force. In ABOUT FACE, for the first time, both the Comte and his wife want, even need, something from Brunetti -- each very differently. Is it even possible to consider rising to the level of friendship with the aging, lonely Comte? And how much pain will Brunetti share with Paola's mother at the point when, inadvertently, he calls her "Mamma" for the first time in the years of his marriage?

Bringing criminals to justice is only half of the labor here; the other half is learning about himself and the people he cares about. Leon lingers in the moments of realization, letting the drifting snow matter intensely, as the lonely sense of being isolated from others grows:
Brunetti lay on the sofa, sipping at his grappa, waiting for Paola to come home, and thought about Saint Rita di Cascia, who protected against loneliness. 'Santa Rita,' he prayed, 'aiutaci.' But whom, he wondered, was he asking her to help? He set his empty glass on the table and closed his eyes.

When the Commissario finally sees beyond the faces he has taken for granted, the solution is as sad as a winter day, and in another sense almost sweet, like coming home to tell the truth about something terrible, to someone who cares.

So -- sure, the plotting is tight, the crimes merit attention, the co-workers and their stakes are impressive. Most of all, Leon creates connection with the characters that she nurtures.

Soho Crime blessed us this summer with two softcover editions from the work of the late lamented Magdalen Nabb -- also set in Italy, but in Florence, strained by heat and drought and the desperation of the disenfranchised. And although Salvatore Guarnaccia, Marshal-in-Chief of the Carabinieri at the Pitti Palace Station, is married, his wife Teresa rarely comes forward as he sweats his overload of crimes to solve and people to trust -- or not.

THE MARSHAL AT THE VILLA TORRINI first came out in 1993. It could as easily have been set in 2009: A woman whose prestigious writing career is dwarfed by her issues at home is dead, in a bathtub. But what caused her death, and who will benefit from it? Worst of all, the pathologist can't find a reason for Celia Carter to have drowned "like a baby" in her own tub. It's a serious setback for the Marshal:
The Marshal had himself driven back to Pitti without saying a word. He'd been too complacent, sure that his autopsy would show up a murder which would have cleared his path for a thorough investigation of Forbes. Well, he'd been wrong, and having been wrong he'd wasted time. He should have been looking for the other woman, finding out what the man inherited, establishing a motive. He should have been doing all this in any case, so that, if the autopsy results had been useful, he'd have been ready ...

But the Marshal is off balance at each turn, and the reason is squarely his own problem: He is dieting. And, of course, cheating on the diet when all else fails to comfort him in the midst of his sorrow.

Here again, it's the emotions of the detective that press the plot shifts to higher significance. When the Marshal grieves, the scene offers sorrow and loss, and little respite. Not until the truth is excavated will there be a chance to escape the guilt that dogs this investigator. But his is an echo of the guilt and shame in the family he's investigating, where none of the emotions ring true, and every person hides their pain and anger until the Marshal can find a way to lance the illness.

VITA NUOVA was published after Nabb's 2007 death, and moved into softcover this year. In its placement of the relatively humble, working-class investigator against the terrors of the wealthy family where a young single mother has been killed, the crime novel recalls an older series: that of Don Camillo, an Italian priest whose feet never left the dust of his homely village. Marshal Guarnaccia struggles in a city, and the crime is braided around prostitution and the trafficking of young girls, but Guarnaccia tackles the sophisticated crimes with a lens that sees family and relationships and the battle to survive as primary.

Again, it's the sense of knowing the detective, of aching with him -- diet or not -- through the humiliations that come with his job and the sorrows of meeting death, that drives the book toward revelation. Nabb paints tragedy as vividly as the Italian painters. But she frames it within the human longing for love and clarity, and gives us a man to care about.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Kingdom Books on the Road: Concord, NH, Sunday Aug. 16

After a couple of years of staying "home," we're taking the cream of the collection -- signed mysteries, poetry, broadsides, children's picturebooks, and a few eccentric offerings of graphic novels, comic books, and railroad material -- to Concord, New Hampshire, this weekend. Here are the details -- hope to see you at the show!

Sunday, August 16, 2009
10:00 a.m. to 4 p.m.

70 Antiquarian Booksellers

At the Everett Arena
Concord, New Hampshire
Just east of I-93 (Exit 14)

Randy Wayne White, David Baldacci, John Sandford, Mark Billingham, Cara Black, Philip Kerr, Diane Liang: Crime in the City

A couple of clicks will pull you into interviews with all these authors, thanks to the stunning National Public Radio Series "Crime in the City." Locations, respectively, are Florida, Washington DC, St Paul (MN), London, Paris, pre-war Berlin, and Beijing. What a treasure trove...

Petroglyphs: Follow-Up to Eliot Pattison's Visit

When crime fiction author Eliot Pattison (at right, above) visited Kingdom Books on August 2, every seat was filled, and discussion ranged from Pattison's Inspector Shan series set in Chinese-occupied Tibet (he presented the newest in this series, THE LORD OF DEATH) to the rock carvings in America created by Native Americans -- known to explorers as petroglyphs. Pattison talked about the startling number of petroglyphs in his home state of Pennsylvania. To follow up on this, check the article from the Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission, as well as; the topic applies to Pattison's second series, which began last year with Bone Rattler and continues in January 2010 with Eye of the Raven. Below: a petroglyph photo from the article. Yes, there are petroglyphs in Vermont, too -- the best known are at Bellows Falls.