Friday, April 30, 2010

Calendar Alert: Poetry -- 5/6, Margaret Lloyd, Sarah Browning; 5/16, Maxine Kumin

The Collected Poets Series, Shelburne Falls, MA, welcomes Margaret Lloyd and Sarah Browning on May 6.

Then, in a special guest reading on Sunday, May 16 at 3 PM, Maxine Kumin will be reading at the Shelburne-Buckland Community Center.

First, on May 6th Margaret and Sarah will be reading from their work at Mocha Maya's Coffee House at 7 PM: $2-$5 sliding scale. Mocha Maya's Coffee House, 47 Bridge Street, Shelburne Falls, MA 01370, 413-625-6292. Wheelchair accessible.  See for more information.

Margaret Lloyd’s first poetry collection, This Particular Earthly Scene, was published by Alice James Books and in 2008. Plinth Books published A Moment in the Field:  Voices from Arthurian Legend.  She has also published a book-length critical study of William Carlos Williams’ poem Paterson (Fairleigh Dickinson University Press).   She received a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities for the creation of critical editions and translations of poems written by a medieval Welsh woman. She was the Margaret Bridgman Fellow in Poetry at the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, received the Vachel Lindsay Poetry Award for the best poem published in Willow Springs, and a fellowship to Hawthornden Castle, an International Retreat for Writers in Scotland where she completed her most recent poetry collection.  In 2008, she was granted a writing residency at Yaddo where she wo rked on her forthcoming third book of poems, The Cows of Heaven. She has poem/painting pairs forthcoming in Poetry Wales and Planet:  The Welsh Internationalist.  Lloyd chairs the Humanities Department at Springfield College, Massachusetts.

Sarah Browning is co-director of Split This Rock Poetry Festival: Poems of Provocation & Witness and DC Poets Against the War. She is the author of Whiskey in the Garden of Eden (The Word Works, 2007) and co-editor of D.C. Poets Against the War: An Anthology (Argonne House Press, 2004). The recipient of an artist fellowship from the DC Commission on the Arts & Humanities, she has also received a Creative Communities Initiative grant and the People Before Profits Poetry Prize. She was founding director of Amherst Writers & Artists Institute – creative writing workshops for low-income women and youth – and Assistant Director of The Fund for Women Artists, an organization supporting socially-engaged art by women. She co-hosts the Sunday Kind of Love reading series at Busboys and Poets in Washington, DC, where she lives with her husband and son.

Special Event with Maxine Kumin, Sunday, May 16, 2010
In celebration of Maxine's latest work, Where I Live: New and Selected Poems 1990-2010, she will be joining The Collected Poets Series for a special reading at the Shelburne-Buckland Community Center at 3PM on Sunday, May 16. More on this event soon!

Monday, April 26, 2010

Guest Post: Gerry Boyle, Maine Crime Fiction

A warm welcome to Down East Maine author Gerry Boyle, whose newest book in the Jack McMorrow series, DAMAGED GOODS, was our featured review yesterday. My husband Dave has been collecting Gerry's books "forever" and asked Gerry ....

Dave asked if I’d write a bit about my influences, some favorite mysteries. So I swiveled my chair, reached for the shelf. Books and writers I really like—they get to stay in the study. Others are vanquished to bookshelves elsewhere in this rambling old house.

So what did I come up with? It’s an eclectic mix:
  • The Laughing Policeman by Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo. First published in 1968 by the husband-wife team from Sweden. Their Martin Beck mysteries are solid police procedurals. You can’t go wrong with any of them.
  • Just a Corpse at Twilight by Janwillem van de Wetering. The Zen master of mysteries, van de Wetering wrote mysteries set in Amsterdam. They have a dreamy quality to them that I find beguiling. A brilliant guy, van de Wetering lived all around the world before settling on the Maine coast. He died in 2008.
  • Farewell My Lovely by Raymond Chandler. Enough said. I turn to these from time to time to witness wonderful writing. Every page has a sentence you feel you should remember. This one, picked because that’s where the book fell open. “He lay smeared on the ground, on his back, at the base of a bush, in that bag-of-clothes position that always means the same thing.” Nice.
  • God Save the Child by Robert B. Parker. Chandler’s only true heir. I read the last Spenser, then reread some of this one, his second, published in 1974. I like the early books best. Parker was a gifted writer, known for his dialogue, but his descriptive stuff, which fell away over the years, was very good.
  • Blitz by Ken Bruen. The UK’s master of dark and gritty crime novels set in South London and Galway. Inspector Brant, his amoral London detective, is a masterful creation.
  • The Deep Blue Good-By by John D. MacDonald. I’ve read everything MacDonald wrote and have a collection of his Travis McGee paperbacks with their quaintly lurid covers. A great storyteller, skilled at narrative, powerfully descriptive. “She was a tall and slender woman, possibly in her early thirties. Her skin had the extraordinary fineness of grain, and the translucence you seen in small children and fashion models. In her fine long hands, delicacy of wrists, floating texture of dark hair, and in the mobility of the long narrow sensitive structuring of her face there was the look of something almost too well made, too highly bred, too finely drawn for all the natural crudities of human existence.” Is that good or what?
So these are a few of the influences. Reading the work of writers like these, and spending more than a decade as a newspaper reporter, landed me in this chair. Today I continue with PORT CITY UNDERGROUND, the second Brandon Blake mystery. I’m pondering a character whose biggest flaw is a highly developed sense of right and wrong. Could that flaw be fatal?

Sunday, April 25, 2010

A Nose for Trouble: Journalist-Detective Jack McMorrow in DAMAGED GOODS, Gerry Boyle

In some families, it's the economy that pushes the second spouse or partner back into the workforce, even though the children are still young. For Jack McMorrow, totally committed dad to his four-year-old daughter Sophie, the career move comes in response to his wife's pain: A social worker who faces situations where kids are sometimes removed from their abusive parents, Roxanne Masterson comes home from a hellish day, shaken and drained, having been through danger and still wearing a threat over her head from a Satanist father whose children were literally being starved.

And Jack, quick to step up as Roxanne admits she wants out of her emotionally exhausting job, takes out the list of investigative notions he's been building as a return to his freelance journalism work. His editor makes it easy ... but who would have guessed the story he steps into would crowd into his personal life?

Well, actually, Roxanne could have guessed. After all, it's happening to her, too. The crazies are coming after her, even coming into the home that she and Jack share, calling for payback -- you take my kids, I'll take yours. And Jack's "story" has narrowed to a young woman named Mandi (it's clearly not her real name though), who's been supporting herself in the small Maine town by "companionship" offered through the personal ads. No surprise that she'd crossed paths with some nasty characters. She might even be drawing them closer, to Jack and Roxanne and little Sophie as well as to herself.

Soon the tension is pressuring Jack and Roxanne's marriage as well:
I embraced her, and Roxanne said, "I feel like my house is falling down, Jack. All around me. People coming here, my God. It never happens Maybe I'll take Sophie and go away. Go to New York. Take her to the zoo and Central Park, stay in a hotel."
And when the investigating police officer doesn't take action right away, Jack's wife takes her own:
"Bullshit," Roxanne snapped, and she marched to the cruiser, opened the passenger's side door and got in. "Who do I have to call," I heard her say, "to make you take this seriously?" And then she slammed the car door shut.
One of the best parts of Jack and Roxanne's life, though -- after Sophie and the sense of doing some good in their two jobs -- is living next door to Clair and Mary, friends literally willing to risk life and limb for the endangered family. Clair's background as a soldier in Vietnam becomes significant, not just for his ability to take up arms and his willingness to be at Jack's back or front or whatever it takes, but also for his experience with the personal effects of violence, whether done to you or done by you. Sane and strong, Clair helps Jack maneuver and respond to the chaos around him, showing the best of what war can do to a person's thought processes.

But even Clair's skills and Jack's outrage can't defeat evil, and when death does take place around them, it's irreversible. How will all this affect Sophie? And why is Roxanne reacting so negatively to Jack's usual efforts to rescue the helpless, this time in the person of lonely and battered Mandi and her cat?

Boyle's own years as a reporter and experience with both small-town and regional crime give him great assets for this book. But the best tool he has is the well-honed ability to pace the action, let the characters mature, and tangle the knots of threat and shadow, until with hard work Jack McMorrow discovers more truth than he wanted to see.

This is Boyle's ninth novel, and his eighth featuring McMorrow; last year he opened a second series with young Brandon Boyle. DAMAGED GOODS is published by Down East in Maine and is available through Boyle's web site, as well as through online retailers. The web site,, also offers a video trailer for the book, some discussion on why people do and don't want to see trailers, and insight into McMorrow's past. You don't have to read the earlier books to enjoy this one, but once you've emerged from the tension of Jack's confrontation with fear and pain, you'll probably want to gather the others. Here's the sequence:
1993, Deadline
1995, Bloodline
1996, Lifeline
1997, Potshot
1998, Borderline
1999, Cover Story
2003, Pretty Dead
2004, Home Body
The Brandon Blake detective novel, Port City Shakedown, came out in 2009.

Gerry Boyle is touring with DAMAGED GOODS in Maine and New Hampshire this spring, and Vermont in the fall (watch for the date for Kingdom Books in late September). Tomorrow: a guest appearance from Boyle on this blog.

Checking the List: Harlan Coben, CAUGHT

I love discovering great new authors of crime fiction and mystery, and that includes noticing the ones just starting out and getting better in leaps and bounds. There are authors who've been around longer, though, and who make my "must read" list as soon as a new book comes out -- like Michael Connelly, Laurie R. King, Garry Disher, Martin Limón, Charles Todd. Sure, some of their books won't suit my taste, but most have, in some way. Newly added to the list for me: Walter Mosley, Karin Fossum, John Harvey. Others I know I'll catch up with, like S. J. Rozan -- I just enjoyed finally getting to her Shanghai Moon, although I happened to read it in the British trade paperback form, which uses the title Trail of Blood. (Honestly, I liked the American title better on this one; it's a good Lydia Chin Chinatown detective novel. Collectors will also want it in their Judaica/Holocaust sections.)

Typing up the New York Times popular mysteries list the other day pushed me to get around to the new Harlan Coben, CAUGHT. Odds are always in favor of Coben's work being first-rate. And this one, his seventeenth novel, takes the world of catch-them-at-it television, and pairs it with the two-way life ruins surrounding sexual predation (it sometimes seems close to impossible to protect our kids; it's also close to impossible to protect the innocent from innuendo, or to make sense out of sentencing regulations). The ensuing plot is so swiftly tangled that sometimes TV reporter Wendy Tynes isn't sure whether she's a good person or a bad one. Funny thing is, her co-workers aren't sure, either.

I couldn't put it down. Each time I thought I had the threads sorted out, bang, another door would slam open or shut. Check the red door on the cover -- highly significant. It's a great read, and Coben again earns his place on the popular list. Warning: If you have teens at home, you might want to wait a few years before you let this one into your brain.

David Downing, STETTIN STATION: new from Soho Press

Did you purchase the British first edition of Stieg Larsson's third book, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest  -- because you couldn't wait for the later U.S. printing of the final book of the series?

Get that UK purchasing system ready for action, because David Downing's newly released book STETTIN STATION is likely to push you in that direction again.

The third in his sequence set in Nazi Germany and featuring Anglo-American journalist John Russell, this book is already being compared -- inevitably -- with Alan Furst's crime fiction summoning the dark clouds of Europe in the 1930s and the crackle and threat of the oncoming storm of war. To the extent that anything related to World War II becomes part of this genre, yes, Downing's ZOO STATION, SILESIAN STATION, and now STETTIN STATION can sit on the same shelf.

Yet the differences are more significant. Furst amasses detail and stands at a short but tense distance from his characters; Downing instead nests within them, one hand resting on John Russell's heart, the other dangling in the coldly seething mess of fears and resentment tapped so well by Adolf Hitler.

A journalist still being allowed, within the censors' scissors, to post reports back to America and England, John Russell walks a depressing route between increasing awareness of what's happening to the Jews, and inability to write about it for his readers because of the political iron fists around him. His longtime girlfriend Effi, a German movie star, lives under increasing risk because of Russell's position and her own clear-sighted awareness of Hitler's Reich. And raising the risks further for John, his son Paul has mixed feelings about him, and can be threatened by the intelligence forces that maneuver Russell's actions.

Twists of plot, emotional verity, and of course the reader's awareness of what's ahead in the larger sense increase the tension and the compulsion to turn the pages in STETTIN STATION. Downing lays out a vivid and pounding tale, and Russell's situation at the end is nearly unbearable.

And that's why the desire to snag the fourth in this series, POTSDAM STATION, may overwhelm many readers. It's scheduled for UK release in July from Old Street Publishing.

A final note about release dates: Soho Press officially releases STETTIN STATION for May 1, but the book is already available through online dealers. Grab it now, and you'll have time to decide whether to undertake an international route to the sequel.

Crime Fiction? A DEAD HAND, A Crime in Calcutta, Paul Theroux

Over the winter I read Paul Theroux's marvelous journey tale, DARK STAR SAFARI, which captures the paradoxes of being a midlife explorer: regrets about leaving family behind, physical challenges, and yet the compulsion to see what's across the next border or down the next railway line. I couldn't put it down, even though I thought the ending lacked some craft. It felt like a worthy successor to those long-ago classics that Theroux gave us, THE GREAT RAILWAY BAZAAR and THE OLD PATAGONIAN EXPRESS. Theroux doesn't apologize for living in a "developed" country and doesn't overanalyze the differences between his home life and what he encounters on the road -- and he welcomes difference in all its color and aromas. He's a marvelous guide.

I wish he'd written A DEAD HAND as an exploration of Calcutta, with its rich and desperately poor, its nuances of religion and ecstasy, its haunted beauty and its bacteriological dangers. (Two people about whom I care very much are haunted for life by the results of parasites acquired in India.) Probably I would have enjoyed that book more than the one he actually delivered. A cover-to-cover erotic adventure with dark twists of control and submission, its images haunt in unpleasant ways. Moreover, its subtitle promises that it will be a mystery, yet the book fails to deliver for the genre because its narrator and villains lack insight, and the key "twist" is broadcast too far in advance and fails to surprise or enlighten or wound.

Without going into the erotic passages, here's a fairly typical paragraph from what ought to have been a revelatory moment in the book, and that shows the mingling of Theroux-as-gifted-narrator and Theroux as inefficient plotter of crime:
"I am well, uncle. Thank you."

He had a soft but certain voice, and he stood very straight, his head erect, his arms at his sides in a posture of obedience. From his shallow breathing and the shutter-blink of his eyelashes I could see that he was nervous, yet he had been so schooled in manners that he knew how to stand his ground. He was posed as a dutiful underling is posed. He knew better than to slouch; he was alert, polite, watchful without seeming worried. And somehow his anxiety only enhanced these traits, because for all his frailty he showed courage. Though he might have been older, and he seemed serious, even careworn, he didn't look more than ten or eleven -- a small unswerving soldier. And I like being called uncle.
Interestingly, though, this is also a bibliomystery, with one of its pins being the narrator's deadening case of writer's block. And with that in mind, I'll admit that maybe this was the only framework in which Theroux felt he could convey his experience of Calcutta and of India as a whole.

That said, it's not a book I'll read a second time. Too much work, for not enough delight.

When Poetry Rings True, True, True: HOME BY NOW by Meg Kearney

I spent a couple of years working on the board for The Frost Place (Franconia, NH) with poet Meg Kearney. She didn't drop lines of verse in public, and rarely brought up her enormous experience in the business side of writing (Meg is director of the Solstice Low-Residency Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing Program at Pine Manor College in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts, as well as director of Pine Manor’s Solstice Summer Writers Conference; she was also associate director of the National Book Foundation (sponsor of the National Book Awards) in New York City). And her presence at poetry events at The Frost Place was often muted, focused more on her three-legged dog and regular companion Trooper, with warm conversation with the people who were drawn to the dog.

Her collection HOME BY NOW reached me "late" (months after publication) so I didn't hurry to make time for it. Unlike mysteries, poetry reviewing calls for at least three read-throughs: one to meet the slap of the words and their suprises with a fresh face, one to burrow into layers, one to consider how the collection is formed and shaped. Finally, I made time for Meg's book -- and almost instantly knew it would anchor my thinking about women's revelations, the climbs so many of us make out of dark places, and how to braid our lives into our words. I'll be giving copies of this book to others, and mentioning it to strangers. Yes, it's that good.

Take the opening poem of the collection, "Carnal," which begins:
I suppose squirrels have their hungers, too,
like the one I saw today with the ass end of a mouse
jutting from its mouth. I was in the park;
Kearney goes on to describe being fascinated by her dog's attentiveness to the sight, so that the two of them, dog and woman, became gawkers together. Then, with swift strokes of pen (or sword), she pulls an "ex" into the comparisons and ends,
... pointed like a stubby finger,
accused me of everything I'd thought
I'd wanted, and what I'd killed to get it.
Deftly weaving voice and persona, Kearney allows no easy confesssions: These are poems, not necessarily autobiography. They root in New York City, and a bedroom window view of the smoldering Twin Towers, with a decision to leave the city and go north. But they also root in the embers of girlhood, in comparing breast, tasting liquor, being children on bicycles and in playgrounds while also exploring sexuality that's enflaming. I like the poem "Virgin," which captures this multiplicity of naive wondering and hormone-fed longing and eagerness.

Amazing to me is the long-lined poem "First Blow Job":

Suddenly I knew what it was to be my uncle's Labrador retriever,
young pup paddling furiously back across the pond with the prized
duck in her mouth, doing the best she could to keep her nose in the air

so she could breathe. She was learning not to bite, to hold the duck
just firmly enough, to command its slick length without leaving marks.

These lines capture sensations I'd never dreamed of trying to put into words, and in a just world, this poem would turn up on every AP English exam -- to confirm for teens that we really do know what they're either going through or contemplating. But I'd also love to see the poem in collections for women looking back on their lives with curiosity and pleasure. And there may be men also who seize this marvel of senses, and say "Yes, that's what it is/was!"

At nearly the center of the collection is a powerful narrative piece, nearly four pages long, in snugly metered quatrains, layered with points of view and memory and sharply packaged moments. It's from the (woman) bartender's point of view, titled, "So This Grasshopper Walks Into a Bar." I'll let the poem set the scene, then provide some of the gems that follow:
The trick is to pay close attention to that vodka
you're pouring, and lie: Nope, haven't heard
that one. ...

It's only nine o'clock, and already the smoke eater's
snapping like a wet towel. ...

... Each time
you come here you're struck by how the cigarette reek

in your hair mixes with the musk in your turtleneck
and it doesn't smell bad. ...

Lugging out that case you know the local boys think
you're tough -- yeah, you can fake it as well as Linda

can fake she's sober -- that is, up to a point. ...

You'll cash out, slam a shot, pour the tip jar into your
purse, elbow the light switch, turn the key in the door
and set the alarm.
Those quick turns of vivid language, "snapping like a wet towel," "elbow the light switch": As much as her courage to name the realities that we grow through, I savor those phrases in Kearney's work. Like a hybrid of Emily Dickinson with Bruce Springstein, she's telling the truth, and I'm listening. And tapping one foot, getting ready to get up and dance.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Gerry Boyle: Review Plus Guest Blog Post

Two days of Gerry Boyle and Jack McMorrow ... starting tomorrow.

Mystery Fans in 2010 Are Reading These ...

The New York Times announced last week that this year's top mysteries in terms of readership, though April 9, have been:

Shutter Island, Dennis Lehane
Look Again, Lisa Scottoline
Fantasy in Death, J. D. Robb
Caught, Harlan Coben
Split Image, Robert B. Parker
First Rule, Robert Crais
How to Wash a Cat, Rebecca M. Hale
Complete Sherlock Holmes Vol. 1, Arthur Conan Doyle
Long Lost, Harlan Coben
Plum Spooky, Janet Evanovich

Shutter Island purchases are clearly credited to the Martin Scorsese-directed film version of the book, released early this year and starring Leonardo Di Caprio. The NYT writer, Shelly Freierman, went on to say that "Many of the top 25 books feature the adventures of popular detectives." She also mentioned Elizabeth George's This Body of Death, available this week and the 15th to feature Scotland Yard Detective Inspector Thomas Lynley.

For writers who wonder whether to invest in a series, or strike new ground with stand-alones, this list suggests that the market strongly favors series titles, when the detectives appeal to readers. I'm reminded of those happy years of working through one "Nancy Drew" book after another, savoring the mix of familiarity and new twists of plot.

I'd like to hear from some of you: Do you purchase (or borrow) your mysteries more often from established writers with existing series? How often do you look for a new character or country or tension? And how do you decide when and how to explore authors who are new to you?

Sunday, April 18, 2010

David Carkeet, FROM AWAY: How the story began...

David Carkeet's visit to Kingdom Books yesterday opened some great windows into his choices in writing his new crime novel, From Away. I especially liked his explanation of how he chose the opening moment of the book, when Denny Braintree, a model railroads fan "from away," slides off a highway during an April snowstorm (and yes, we had snow here for the past two days -- but for those who asked, the daffodils did survive, as shown for this week in our big photo above).

"I chose April because I wanted both winter and a bear," Carkeet revealed. Only in that so-called spring month in Vermont could he package the two conditions.

Actually, "From Away" started as an attempt at nonfiction by Carkeet and his wife, a couple of years after their 2003 move from St. Louis, MO, to a Vermont town close to the state capital of Montpelier. Their learning curve was steep and sometimes hilarious: figuring out whether to hire someone to plow the driveway in winter, managing wood acquisition/storage/burning for heat, confronting annual invasions of ladybugs, finding out that mice invade the car -- one popped up in the cabin as Carkeet was driving! -- and how to ban them, and mastering some of the local lingo. Carkeet is himself a linguist and taught the pleasures of language at college level, so even the phrase "from away" delighted him ("where's the noun, the verb?").

But this long-time novelist found the rigors of nonfiction less enjoyable than he'd expected, and as the abrasive but ultimately likeable character of Dennis Braintree formed, he kidnapped his own title and ran off with it to the landscape of this mostly merry caper novel. Much of his commentary around reading from the book yesterday reflected on the possibility of change for the socially sad Braintree. And the book lovers here responded enthusiastically to the humor and warmth of this author and his work.

Carkeet said he's not working on another novel just yet, but enjoying touring with From Away and meeting readers. That's good -- it gives us all time to catch up on collecting 30 years of his fiction. He said a bit wistfully that he almost wished he had stayed entirely with mysteries, from his 1980 classic mystery, Double Negative, until now. But, he reflected, "That's just not me."

However, he's back to the genre now, and bringing it the maturity and complexity of someone who savors life and its ironies, coincidences, and fresh phrases. It's good to have that trained set of Carkeet ears exploring Vermont now -- and playing with this distinctive region within his mysteries and his take on what it is to be human. I thought of Carkeet as a neighbor of mine paused to say hello today and noted, standing in a puddled driveway under the cloudy sky: "Nice morning. It's not snowing."

Friday, April 16, 2010

Ya Gotta Be Tough in Vermont's Spring!

Today's daffodils hung their heads but kept on blossoming, despite the wild April weather! Fear not, we're sure that the white stuff will have melted away in time for tomorrow's 11 a.m. event with crime fiction author David Carkeet.

Book Artist Lucy Swope at the Vermont State House, March 31

How wonderful to see the Legislature recognize the lifelong work of this talented Vermonter! Lucy Swope and her husband Stan Yarian were joined by many members of their family to hear the state resolution honoring Lucy's work be read in the House Chamber at the Vermont State House in Montpelier. See our other posts for samples of Lucy's work and how to contact her.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Q & A for Crime Fiction Author David Carkeet

We're looking forward to David Carkeet's visit to Kingdom Books on Saturday April 17 at 11 a.m. Because the group gathering here often includes local authors, Mr. Carkeet is already expecting questions about his writing process and route(s) to published work over the years, as well as exploration of his newly released FROM AWAY and his reissued classic mystery, DOUBLE NEGATIVE.

If you'd like to e-mail questions ahead of time, I'll be glad to list the responses here on the blog after the event. Hope to see you in person if possible!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Mining for Murder: Dana Hand, DEEP CREEK

The daffodils are about to open, and it's time to turn the soil in the vegetable garden. Each morning there are tracks of deer along the edge of the road, and if I look carefully, I find them also on the garden path. Over the past few months, I've learned to recognize the call of the pileated woodpecker, which hammers its way to breakfast each morning.

But even among all this turning of season and occasion, there's time to reflect. I've spent the past six weeks or so mulling over an unusual book that came my way as winter faded: DEEP CREEK, by Dana Hand. "Dana Hand" is actually a pair of authors, Will Howarth and Anne Matthews, better known for history and literature in the past. And it's tempting to guess that the quick windows of narrative in their murder mystery reflect changes of pen hand -- but I've come to see the style of this book as a deliberate mimicry of what it's like to live in a rural landscape among people you rely on, but may not know, in the sense of knowing someone's past, in detail. One moment you assume the person is much like yourself; the next week, you notice a habit or you ask a question and something strange and wild spills out.

Joe Vincent is a married Idaho lawman, a police judge with a wife and children and a role in a growing town in 1887. As he fishes with his 12-year-old daughter, the girl discovers a corpse in the water. And soon Joe himself is also hooked, snagged, entangled with an investigation of the deliberate deaths of more than thirty Chinese  gold miners. Hired by a representative of the Sam Yup Company, Joe takes Lee Loi to the raw Idaho/Oregon countryside, along with a local guide -- not the one Joe thought he'd hired, but instead the reserved and very capable Grace Sundown, a métis woman in trousers, skilled in more ways than Joe can comprehend and very, very angry with him. That's already rough news, as the trio enters the Snake River canyon. And Joe isn't aware of Grace's deepest waters:
Grace Sundown lay awake, gazing at Orion. Joe and Lee Loi had again set their bedrolls on either side of her. She did not protest their chivalry, although Lee, unconscious, looked about six. He'd done well, everything considered. She shut her eyes, but then she saw far too many rocks, rapids, and close calls.

Oh, how she'd lied, back at the Lewiston docks ... Six days on the river, and still sleep would not come. She turned her head. Joe was watching her. Grace went back to admiring the Idaho stars. The Snake allowed no reprieves, nor did she.
The tensions in the threesome are dwarfed by the dangers they face, for the murderers are close by, led by a sociopath who enjoys the fears of those he preys upon. Will the deaths of the Chinese satisfy him? Not a chance. All too soon, Joe is dodging the man named Evans. Joe's friend Henry Stanton tells him bluntly what he's up against: "The man is a natural predator. ... He enjoys their fear. Inside, Evans is cold, dark, and hollow. He sees the whole world as a threat and strikes first. Doctors call it moral alienation. In layman's language, born bad."

And here is the classic pairing of a good man with good friends -- Joe Vincent, whose biggest character fault may be his committed generosity -- and a "born bad" man whose bent for evil is even more powerful because it isn't rooted in insanity, but instead in choice and desire.

What Joe knows and what Grace can do are mysteries revealed in short bursts of action and risk. If your idea of a "historical mystery" is something quiet and mannered, this rough Western pursuit of crime and justice will shake you and awaken you to the fierce reactive power of lust and greed in a landscape once believed to be threaded with enough gold to make its people all wealthy.

But here, from a time when the case begins to crack, is a glimpse inside Joe Vincent's thinking. And how familiar it is, after all, in terms of the most determined sleuths of crime fiction to date:
The only way he could know a case was to put it on paper. Fact pursued and captured, stacked in lists, circled and underlined. Meaning distilled to pattern, pattern locked into summary, every summary indexed. The smartest lawyers he knew could cit and quote with never a glance at the page. Joe needed a blueprint, root cellar to roof beam. He needed his notes. For the Snake River case, he needed a whole new ledger. In a Portland stationery shop, he ran a finger down the shelf, considering, and chose one in pale buff paper, lined, with fine black rules, left and right, and dark blue page numbers. Sturdy dark red covers, no label. A harvest book, the clerk said, for farmers and ranchers. Joe liked that kind of company. He was looking to plant and gather himself.
There are scenes of lingering brutality here, balanced with deep seams of discovery and determination. It wasn't an easy book to read -- I argued with the form, I felt wrenched among Joe and Grace's histories, and I ached for the racism and brutality revealed -- but it was emphatically worth it. And Joe's solution to the murder case becomes a law-and-order episode with shattering ramifications.

I hope the writing team of Dana Hand will dip again into the shock and shiver of the cold cases of our past. And I look forward to discovering their next form, along with their powerful sense of crime and justice.

Calendar Alert: Poetry, Blevins & Haug, April 15

The Collected Poets Series announces:
On Thursday, April 15, 2010, The Collected Poets Series will host Adrian Blevins and James Haug reading from their work. Admission is $2-$5, sliding scale. Mocha Maya's Coffee House, 47 Bridge Street, Shelburne Falls, MA 01370, 413-625-6292. Wheelchair accessible.  See for other information.
The April 15 reading begins at 7:00 pm (new time), with poets Adrian Blevins and James Haug  reading from their books as well as new poems. 

Adrian Blevins’s The Brass Girl Brouhaha (Ausable Press, 2003) won the 2004 Kate Tufts Discovery Award. Blevins is also the recipient of a Rona Jaffe Writer’s Foundation Award, a Bright Hill Press Chapbook Award for The Man Who Went Out for Cigarettes, and the Lamar York Prize for Nonfiction. A new book, Live from the Homesick Jamboree, was released from Wesleyan University Press in the fall. Blevins teaches at Colby College in Waterville, Maine.

James Haug’s Legend of the Recent Past was published last year by the National Poetry Review Press. His previous collections are Walking Liberty (Winner of the Morse Poetry Prize, Northeastern University Press) and The Stolen Car (University of Massachusetts Press). His chapbooks include Fox Luck, which won the Center for Book Arts chapbook competition, and A Plan of How to Catch Amanda, published by Factory Hollow Press. In Fall 2010, Tarpaulin Sky Press will publish his latest chapbook, Scratch.

Haug’s poems have appeared in such journals as American Letters & Commentary, American Poetry Review, Bateau, Conduit, Crazyhorse, Field, Gettysburg Review, notnostrums, Open City, and Ploughshares. He’s received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Massachusetts Cultural Council. He is a Visiting Lecturer in the MFA Program for Poets and Writers at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, and serves as an editor for UMass Press’ Juniper Poetry Prize. He lives in Northampton, Massachusetts.

Monday, April 12, 2010

When the Nightmare Escalates: Rick Mofina, THE PANIC ZONE

Ottawa thriller author Rick Mofina's third series braids three forms of terror in THE PANIC ZONE (Mira, July 2010), into a fast-paced and frightening exploration of how bad things can get. This is Mofina's second venture with investigative reporter Jack Gannon, whose debut came in VENGEANCE ROAD -- and it's Mofina's third series, with skill and pace honed and sharp.

Emma Lane, doting mother of a "miracle baby," spotted a suspicious car following her small family while on a long weekend meant to be a break from her husband Joe's intense work schedule. But Joe brushed off her concern -- a serious misjudgment on his part, because tragedy erupts. What could be worse for Emma than being in a car crash where her husband and baby son are killed and she survives?

This: the haunting suspicion that her child didn't die in the crash, but was instead abducted, while Emma and Joe lay pinned in the automobile as it burst into flames. And who on earth will believe her, when the coroner has already certified the child's death?

Investigative reporter Jack Gannon knows nothing about Emma or her situation. But he knows he's going to get dumped by the metropolitan news service that's hired him if he can't spin a really big story, really soon. So he's eager to fly to Brazil, where a journalist's death has rocked the news service. But eagerness and inexperience soon add up to vulnerability and a snowballing set of attacks on Jack himself, in ways he'll never recover from.

Mofina outlines danger and despair adeptly, as in this moment when Emma tries to return to her home, where everyone who cares about her is determined to "help her" give up her delusion about her missing son:
Aunt Marsha got her a glass of water and pills rattling in a plastic bottle.

"The doctor said these would help, Emma."

"No pills now."

Emma finished the water and sat motionless for a long time, listening to the clock ticking above the mantel, before she found herself walking through her home, room by room, expecting Joe and Tyler to be there.

Wanting them to be there.

Aching for them to be there as she touched Joe's work shirts and thrust her face into Tyler's blanket, muffling her screams. Bring them back. Please bring them back. She lay down on Joe's side of the bed and questioned the distant snow-capped mountains.

Why was God punishing her again? What had she done?
In the same way, Mofina outlines the pain Gannon has landed in:
Everything was intact.

Except Gannon.

He couldn't stop shaking. Tears filled his eyes.

"This will occur for some time," the doctor said in accented English.
Because neither Gannon nor Emma will give up, though, the threats against both of them keep rising. And a powerful, wealthy, and ruthless form of terrorism appears to bind the two situations, in a horrible maneuver that's aimed as much at baby Tyler as all the rest of the world.

Mofina's own career in Canadian journalism feeds the reality that underpins his writing, and if the manic violence of his criminals sometimes feels beyond belief, there's too much going on for doubts to linger. Global domination by the wicked and callous pales compared to the graphic pain of both the desperate reporter and the frantic mother in THE PANIC ROOM. And that's the pain close enough to us all for the threats of this thriller to cut cleanly, raising the ante at each turn of the plot.

If you're planning your summer beach reading, this will time out just about perfectly, with its July 1 release. Add it to the list.

PS -- Looking for more info on Mofina's other books, or his tour? See his web site:

Driving Directions!

Directions to Kingdom Books:

From I-91, take exit 19 onto I-93 and get off 3 miles later at EXIT 1. At the end of the exit ramp turn LEFT and go to the bottom of the hill, where you turn RIGHT onto Route 2 east.

(OR: From New Hampshire, take I-93 to Vermont exit 1 and turn RIGHT at the end of the exit ramp and go to the bottom of the hill, where you turn RIGHT onto Route 2 east.)

Go 1 mile and you’re in the tiny village of East St Johnsbury; there’s a mouse-brown post office crouching on the right. Just past the post office, turn RIGHT across the cement bridge and bear right onto East Village Road.

We are half a mile up, 283 East Village Road, a blue (INDIGO! as of Aug. 2012) house on the left with a BOOKS sign on the carport.

If you’re coming from downtown St. Johnsbury instead (which you'll do if you come across Vermont from Montpelier on Route 2):

Find Dunkin Donuts on Railroad Street – the bridge across from it is Portland Street/Route 2 east. Take Route 2 east for 3.5 miles and you come to a major junction (gas station in front of you; signs pointing to I-93).

STAY with Route 2 east for 1 mile further and you’re in the tiny village of East St Johnsbury; there’s a mouse-brown post office crouching on the right. Just past the post office, turn RIGHT across the cement bridge and bear right onto East Village Road.

We are half a mile up, 283 East Village Road, a blue (INDIGO! as of Aug. 2012) house on the left with a BOOKS sign on the carport.

Beth and Dave Kanell
Kingdom Books
283 East Village Rd
Waterford VT 05819

Saturday, April 03, 2010

e-Reading: A Light-Hearted Opinion

Looking for a giggle on this hot topic? Check out Beth's guest post today on the National Book Critics Circle blog, as the iPad releases ...

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Poetry + Fine Printing = Outstanding Beauty

Greg Joly at Bull Thistle has crafted another gorgeous title by Vermont poet/publisher Bob Arnold -- the Bull Thistle volume is pictured here, and comes in various Himalayan papers for the wrap.

For more news from Bob Arnold, we pass along the following:
"Yesterday Was Today and Tomorrow"
Here is a conversation with Bob Arnold by Kent Johnson in Jacket 39 (Australia) ~

And here are poems that go with this conversation by Bob. It's the complete book of poems HIKING DOWN FROM A HILLSIDE SKY in Jacket 39 ~

For more information, please visit: A Longhouse Birdhouse:

The Frost Place: Poetry All Summer

At the hillside smallholding owned by Robert Frost when he hit his poetic stride, centered on his white farmhouse and modest utility barn, is The Frost Place, a center for poetry in Franconia, New Hampshire. This summer the center offers three programs worth considering -- and all have an application deadline of May 15, so it's time to look them over and make choices. Here they are:
Conference on Poetry and Teaching
June 27 - July 1
Baron Wormser, Director
The Frost Place Conference on Poetry and Teaching brings together hard-working classroom teachers and highly skilled poet/teachers to share their experiences of how poetry is most effectively presented in the classroom. Faculty will present specific techniques for teaching poetry including sample exercises and prompts that teachers will be invited to try out and then discuss.

Festival and Conference on Poetry
July 8 - 14
Martha Rhodes, Director
The Festival and Conference on Poetry is a daily immersion in listening, reflection, and conversation about the writing and reading of poetry. The program will offer lectures, talks and craft panels by faculty throughout the week. Fifteen hours of workshops during the week: each workshop will have its own particular slant, the focus of your week together will be on your poems and on developing your poetic skills.

The Frost Place Advanced Seminar
August 8 - 13
Jeanne Marie Beaumont, Director

Spend five days with a select community of poets exploring your artistic work in the context of our enormous and complex literary tradition. This is a unique opportunity for dedicated poets to delve inensely into the poetic process. Seminar participants will have their poems-in-progress given generous and focused attention and will be invited to think in new ways about what can be accomplished in revision.
For general information and some great images and poems, check out

Authors Plead for Brad Meltzer to Stop Writing!

A must-read on today!