Sunday, June 27, 2010


I'm not finding a memorable first paragraph or pithy quote... I just know that I really like this book--a book written early days by Ian Rankin, before the John Rebus series made him any serious money. He needed more of an income and his publisher liked releasing just one Inspector Rebus book a year. His small family had just moved to the Dordogne in France--the cheapest French country home they could find--and renovations were required.

Rankin decided to write under a pseudonym, choosing his son's first name and his wife's maiden name--Jack Harvey. I like that he explains that falling in the middle of the alphabet Harvey insured that book shoppers would more likely find his books. There were three Jack Harvey books before the Rebus series began requiring more time and yielding more of an income. Witch Hunt is the first of the three.

Interestingly, there is not one main detective character in this novel--one could argue for Dominc Elder, but really there are several almost equally strong characters--Joyce Parry or Michael Barclay or John Greenleaf or even Hardman Doyle. Elder is the one who comes with a back story.

Early on I make several guesses regarding twists in the story--thinking that Joyce will be uncovered as Elder's ex-wife and that Witch will be their long-lost daughter. I'm wrong on both, never guessing the actual twists Rankin has interwoven.

These days Ian Rankin is the #1 best selling mystery writer in the United Kingdom, so no need for pseudonyms or extra income.

From the Forward:

The  female of the species is more deadly than the male.
Rudyard Kipling
The Female of the Species

If woman had no existence save in the fiction written by men, one would imagine her a person of the utmost importance; very various; heroic and mean; splendid and sordid; infinitely beautiful and hideous in the extreme; as great as a man, some think even greater.
Virginia Wolf
A Room of One's Own

A woman's desire for revenge outlasts all other emotions.
Cyril Connolly

Thursday, June 24, 2010


I AM ABOUT TO BUY A HOUSE IN A FOREIGN COUNTRY, I wrote as I began my memoir Under the Tuscan Sun. A simple, declarative sentence--but for me crux and crucible. From such easy words, fate branches and transforms. Bramasole, an abandoned country house beneath the Etruscan city wall of Cortona, became home. And more than home--bull's eye, heart's needle, center of my private universe.

At the moment I turned the heavy iron key in the door and stepped into my Italian life I could not have pictured myself here, two decades later, could not have foreseen the pleasure, the complexity, hassle, frustration, joy, or my intense love for Bramasole, a place in time that took over my life.
Every Day in Tuscany
Frances Mayes

Listening to the unabridged audio version of this book made our drive from Omaha seem a short one. CA and I are loving every word, friend, meal, event depicted. We've only barely been in Italy, but Frances Mayes is truly Italy's finest ambassador. We'll visit Italy and especially Tuscany soon.

Saturday, June 19, 2010


A year after they had rented the farmhouse with loose brown aluminum siding on Whitefeather Road, Saul began glaring out the west window after dinner into the unappeasable darkness that pressed against he glass, as if he were angry at the flat uncultivated farmland for being farmland instead of glass and cement. "No sane Jew," he said, "ever lived on a dirt road." Patsy reminded him of Poland, Russia, and the nineteenth century. then she pointed down at the Scrabble board and told him to play. To spite her, he spelled out "axiom" over a triple-word score, for forty-two points...
Saul and Patsy
Charles Baxter

... Something about her facial expression does not match what she is saying; her glance has become shrewd and inquisitorial, almost gleefully full of hatred. She is a woman who knows how to exploit her unattractiveness and unhappiness. She has all the considerable resources of the weak: the rags, the incompetence when dealing with catastrophe, the unendurable face, the incorrect tone, the addictions, the cluelessness, the echoing footsteps out of the ravaged town.
pg. 172

Charles Baxter... Can that man write! First The Feast of Love and now I'm reading Saul and Patsy. I look forward to reading everything he's written.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010


Mike saw it happen. There were two doors next to one another. One of them seemed to be permanently ajar by about an inch, except when someone pushed at its neighbor. As each liveried waiter brought trays of canapes into the salesroom, the effect was the same. One door would swing open, and the other would slowly close. It said a lot about the quality of the paintings, Mike thought, that he was paying more attention to a pair of doors. But he knew he was wrong: it said nothing about the actual artworks on display, and everything about him.
Doors Open
Ian Rankin

I'm loving this very clever, non-John Rebus book. I loved John Rebus--more his spiritual searching, possible redemption years than his last few. But, as John grew tired and disillusioned I think he drew me down with him. He was ready to go, at least for a time. Ian Rankin is obviously a very, very talented writer. He's imbued Mike Mackenzie with a very winning personality. I'm rooting for him, even if he is a morally-compromised semi-bored wealthy, white man.

Saturday, June 12, 2010


The resonse to my invitation was overwhelming. One after another, in e-mails, on the phone, and in person, in a matter of weeks, two dozen fiction writers said yes, they wanted to contribute to this anthology. Some days I would hear from two or three or four people, saying yes, count me in. Of course, I was delighted--and slightly flabbergasted by the wellspring of enthusiasm. I seemed to have hit a nerve.

Several knew right away whom they wanted to write about--Mary Gordon on Elizabeth Hardwick and Janice Thaddeus, Jay Cantor on Bernard Malamud, Lily Tuck on Gordon Lish, Jim Shepard on John Hawkes....
from Introduction
Mentors, Muses & Monsters
Elizabeth Benedict

Friday, June 4, 2010


When all else fails, I cook. Some people go out after a god-awful day and slam a tennis ball around, or jog their joints to pieces on a fitness course. I had a friend in Coral Gables who would escape to a beach with her folding chair and burn off her stress with sun and a slightly pornographic romance she wouldn’t have been caught dead reading in her professional world—she was a district court judge. Many of the cops I know wash away their fears with a bear at the FOP lounge.

I’ve never been particularly athletic and there wasn’t a decent beach within reasonable driving distance. Getting drunk never solved anything. Cooking was an indulgence I didn’t have time for most days, and though Italian cuisine isn’t my only love, it has always been what I do best.
Patricia Cornwell, or maybe Patricia Cornwell as Kay Scarpetta
Food to Die For

You can't read Patricia Cornwell without getting hungry--even with death, murder, and mayhem. Kay relaxes with cooking and she always has a well-stocked larder. It's such fun to have a compilation of the recipes. And, each chapter quotes from the particular book and context where the recipe occurs.

Thursday, June 3, 2010


So. My head will keep on racing throughout this, I have no doubt.
Racing and running away.
Going a game with itself.
Which may well be a sign of weakness. Before I turned up I did need to consider my weaknesses and strengths, how best they'd be accommodated. In here I will have to be able to second guess myself, but that won't be a problem--I've been doing it for years, because it is the key to any comfort.
Given that I want a happy time.
What Becomes, stories
Saturday Teatime
A.L. Kennedy

Wednesday, June 2, 2010


There is no one who comes here that does not know this is a true map of the world, with you there in the center, making home for us all.
Brian Andeas

Louis and I see you nearly at the same time. In the woods, through the bee trees whose heavy, sweet smell will forever remind me of this day, I see flashes of your pink summer nightgown that you wore to bed last night. My chest loosens and I am shaky with relief. I scarcely notice your scratched legs, muddy knees, or the chain in your hand. I reach out to gather you in my arms, to hold you so tight, to lay my cheek on your sweaty head. I will never wish for you to speak, never silently beg you to talk. You are here. But you step past me, not seeing me, you stop at Louis’ side, and I think, You don’t even see me, it’s Louis’ deputy sheriff’s uniform, good girl, that’s the smart thing to do. Louis lowers himself toward you, and I am fastened to the look on your face. I see your lips begin to arrange themselves and I know, I know. I see the word form, the syllables hardening and sliding from your mouth with not effort. Your voice, not unsure or hoarse from lack of use but clear and bold. One word, the first in three years. In an instant I have you in my arms and I am crying, tears dropping many emotions, mostly thankfulness and relief, but tears of sorrow mixed in. I see Petra’s father crumble. Your chosen word doesn’t make sense to me. But it doesn’t matter, I don’t care. You have finally spoken.
The Weight of Silence
Heather Gudenkauf

Mama, can this lady write! I am looking forward to her next book. I totally recommend this. I could hardly stand to put it down.