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NEW SPECULATIVE FICTION FOR FALL AND WINTER AT THE FIELD

One of the best things about speculative fiction is that it gives us a different perspective on our present lives, sometimes by taking a trend or development that already exists and extending or expanding it, sometimes by creating a different world which mirrors ours in some ways and differs in others.  We have some fascinating new speculative fiction here at the Field, so come in and get a new look at our world.

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Would it be a good thing to be totally connected to all the people you care about, 24/7?  While it may seem, these days, that we’re already there, Connie Willis, in her latest book, Crosstalk, demonstrates that there still might be more connectivity available to us, and that it might not be a good thing.  We may already have gone too far in our need to be connected to each other. In Willis’ world, there’s a simple outpatient procedure that couples can do that is supposed to give them greater empathy for each other, and of course it’s massively popular.  Briddey Flannigan’s fiancee suggests they undergo this procedure, and she thinks it’s a great idea, except that it doesn’t quite work out the way it’s advertised.  She discovers that she’s not sharing more emotions with her fiancee. Instead, she’s hearing the thoughts of someone else entirely, a tech nerd in her office, and she can’t seem to shut him out or get herself back on track. And that’s just the beginning of her problems.  The world of Crosstalk isn’t so far removed from ours after all; just a slight change of technology and we, too, could be facing the problems, not of failure to communicate, but excess of communication.  Or are we already facing that?

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What if there were an anti-aging lotion that started to mess around with your DNA?  What if, instead of making you look younger and more beautiful, it made you change into a different person? Would the company that developed such a product bring it to market even knowing that there were these very odd and not-as-advertised side effects?  Of course it would, and thereby hangs a tale, specifically the plot of Extreme Makeover by Dan Wells.  Not only does the company, New Yew,  think it’s a beauty breakthrough, but there are other players who see this new lotion as a potential weapon, and the scientist who developed the lotion in the first place wants to destroy it entirely.  It’s not every day that a health and beauty company has the power to destroy the world, but this may happen in Extreme Makeover.  After all, it is called extreme, right?

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The story of the starship leaving Earth to explore strange new worlds and new civilizations is an old trope in speculative fiction, and there are all kinds of ways authors ring changes on this situation, but Emma Newman, in After Atlas, takes a different tack. Instead of following the ship, Atlas, away from earth to find truth among the stars, she focuses on the people left behind on earth, and sees how they were affected by the ship’s departure.  Specifically, the protagonist, Carlos Moreno, lost his mother when she left on the ship Atlas, and in a way lost his father to despair as well.  When the ship left earth, the religious cult known as the Circle, led by Alejandro Casales, began to rise in power.  Now, forty years after the departure of the Atlas, Casales has been found dead in his hotel room, and Carlos is the officer called upon to investigate his death.  He’s supposed to keep his personal feelings from influencing his investigation, but that proves to be more difficult than he would have thought, and the question of who would kill Casales now leads him into all kinds of other questions, about Atlas, about why the ship left and what was really going on, what is still really going on here on earth.

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LATE FALL MYSTERIES AT THE FIELD

Stressed out by the holidays?  Exhausted by family obligations?  Why not take a break and lose yourself in some new mysteries and thrillers here at the Field Library, to help take your mind off your ordinary stresses?

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Robert Harris is famous for his historical and alternate historical novels, including Fatherland (a book starting with the premise that the Nazis won World War II) and a trilogy of novels set in ancient Rome (Imperium, Lustrum and Dictator), but he’s also quite skilled at writing different kinds of suspense novels.  His newest book, Conclave, takes the notion of a thriller in a different direction: looking up close at the machinations and deliberations necessary for the selection of a new pope. He makes clever use of the restrictions imposed on the cardinals by centuries of tradition (no outside influences of any sort, no newspapers, no radios, no television, no computers or phones, no contact with anyone but other cardinals and the nuns and priests who serve them in the conclave) and lets us watch as different factions form and combine and split, as the cardinals struggle with the question of who should be the next leader of the Catholic Church.  As the deliberations go on longer and longer, the stresses on the cardinals increase, and the suspense of the book grows.  If you’ve ever been curious about how exactly the smoke at the Vatican turns from black to white and what leads up to that, Conclave is the next best thing to an insider’s report.

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If a bunch of elderly religious men dealing with the burdensome choice of who’s going to be the next Pope isn’t exciting enough for you, why not turn to the story of a serial killer stalking a new victim, with a depressed cop racing against time to try and stop him?  That’s the premise of Bernard Minier’s new thriller,  Don’t Turn Out the Lights.  Christine Steinmeyer is the host of a radio show who finds an odd suicide note in her mailbox, saying “You did nothing.” She has no idea what it’s about and assumes it was dropped there by mistake.  However, the man calling in to her radio show has other ideas, and bit by bit strange things start happening to her until her whole life is falling apart and she’s living a nightmare.  Meanwhile, Officer Martin Servaz, on leave from the police force due to depression caused by the loss of his sweetheart to a serial killer, is contacted by someone who seems to want him to start investigating again.  Could the same man who killed Servaz’ girlfriend be the person who’s stalking Christine?  Can Servaz save her in time?  An edge of your seat thriller.

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Or, if you’re interested in putting yourself in the hands of a master mystery writer, you’ll be delighted to hear that Val McDermid has a new novel out, Out of Bounds.  Karen Pirie, a detective, is brought into a case involving a teenage joyrider who stole a car, crashed it and ended up in a coma.  A routine DNA test reveals a link to an unsolved murder case from twenty years before.  It should be easy to wrap up that old case with the new information, but it turns out to be much more twisted and complicated than Karen imagined.  Not to mention that she’s drawn into another cold case that she shouldn’t have anything to do with, a twenty year old case of domestic terrorism, where nothing is as it seems and this, too, becomes extremely complicated.  A cross between a political thriller and a police procedural, Out of Bounds grabs you by the throat and doesn’t let go.  And if you like this book, be sure to look into McDermid’s older books as well.

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CHRISTMAS IN DECEMBER: NEW CHRISTMAS BOOKS AT THE FIELD LIBRARY

So now that we’re in the end of November, are people a little more in the mood for Christmas books? Here at the Field Library we have a number of new Christmas novels, worth checking out as we get closer and closer to the holiday season.

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Mary Alice Monroe continues her Lowcountry Summer series with A Lowcountry Christmas, a heartwarming story of the bonds of family and love overcoming difficult circumstances.  The ten year old protagonist, Miller McClellan, starts out certain that this is going to be the worst Christmas ever: family finances are really tight, his mother is working two jobs, and his parents tell him he’s not going to get the dog he’s dreaming of for Christmas.  Even the longed-for return of his older brother from the war is overshadowed by his brother’s Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, making the holidays even more stressful for everyone in the family.  When Troy, his brother’s service dog, arrives, Miller’s really bummed that even the dog is for his brother and not for him. But with the arrival of Christmas, the family pulls together and Miller discovers that this might not be a bad Christmas after all.

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In A Baxter Family Christmas by Karen Kingsbury, another family faces the aftermath of tragedy and pain, of a different sort.  Two years ago, Erin Baxter, her husband, and three of her four daughters were killed in a car accident.  This year, Erin’s father, John, has invited the recipient of Erin’s heart for Christmas, over the objections of his other family members, who are concerned about the effect on the one surviving member of that family. Kendra, the guest, is trying to put her life together and appreciate the amazing second chance she’s been given, and together the Baxter family and those connected to them come together in healing and hope.

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Those who know Anne Perry from her mystery series — William Monk,  or Thomas and Charlotte Pitt, or her World War I series — might not immediately see her as a Christmas story author, but they would be underestimating her range.  For several years now, Anne Perry has been writing Christmas mystery stories, and this year her latest is A Christmas Message. Set in her familiar Victorian world, it begins with a wonderful Christmas present Victor Narraway gives his wife, Vespasia (don’t you love those Victorian names?): a trip to the Holy Land for the two of them.  On their way, they meet a charming man with a curious old parchment, and when the man is killed because of the parchment, their pilgrimage turns into a different kind of quest, complete with danger and excitement and ultimately a revelation about the nature of that parchment

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Richard Paul Evans is famous for his Christmas stories, and his newest book, The Mistletoe Secret, follows in the tradition of his other bestsellers. A lonely 29 year old woman, Kelly Arrington, starts a blog called The Mistletoe Letters, after the street on which she lives, and signs each painful entry LBH, which stands for Last Breaking Heart. Meanwhile, Tyler Richards, a New York writer, has been following the blog and, moved by her posts, sets out to find the mysterious LBH.  He thinks those are the initials of the writer, and he enlists the aid of one Kelly Arrington to help him find this writer.  If you know Richard Paul Evans, you can guess how the story is going to end, but that doesn’t make the journey any less fun.

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Finally, if you want some variety and some quirky humor in your Christmas reading, give Jeanette Winterson’s Christmas Days a read.  Every year, Winterson’s been writing Christmas stories, and this year she’s brought twelve of them together in one volume, along with a personal story of her own Christmas memories.  She brings us trees with mysterious powers, a talking tinsel baby, philosophical fairies, flying dogs, and even a haunted house, all infused with the magic of the Christmas season.  These are not your ordinary Christmas stories, but if you’re in the mood for something a little different, to read before the fire or to read aloud to family, Christmas Days is just what you’re looking for.

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JANUARY BOOK GROUP SELECTION: A FINE BALANCE

The holiday season is upon us, so in the interests of making it easier for people to participate in the Field Notes Book Group, we are skipping our December meeting and instead meeting on the third Saturday in January, January 21, at the usual time (11:00 to 12:30), with the usual snacks (donuts and coffee — this month we had some great homemade muffins as well).

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To make up for skipping a meeting, we’re going to be reading a longer than usual book. The next selection is A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry. A book nominated for the Man Booker prize and a selection of the Oprah Book Club the year it came out, A Fine Balance is a portrayal of the lives of four ordinary people living in an unnamed city by the sea in India during the late 1970’s.  Dina is a widow surviving by renting out part of her house to Maneck, a former college student here to learn air conditioning, and two tailors, both “untouchables”, Ishwar and Om.  During the state of emergency declared by then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, these four people, who would seem to have little in common, become more than just strangers sharing space but something like a family, pulling together in extreme circumstances. It’s a book with all the sweep and historical detail of a saga with Dickensian attention to the lives of the poor and disregarded.  

There are copies to be checked out at the Field Library now.  Come on in and get your book for January, and prepare for a deep and moving experience for January 21.

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THE UNDERGROUND RAILROAD: 2016 NATIONAL BOOK AWARD WINNER FOR FICTION

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Now, I’m sure the people judging the 2016 National Book Awards are not in Oprah Winfrey’s pocket, nor did they consult with her in deciding on what the winner of this year’s fiction award was, but it just so happens that the winner of the 2016 National Book Award for fiction is one of Oprah’s Picks: The Underground Railroad, by Colson Whitehead, which, coincidentally or not, we have here at the Field Library in both regular and express forms.

If you’re the kind of person who runs out and reads whatever Oprah picks, I don’t need to tell you anything about this book because you undoubtedly already read it in September when it first arrived on the shelf.  If, on the other hand, you’re one of those people who assumes that all Oprah books are the same stories of triumph against odds, you might want to reconsider and look into The Underground Railroad. It might surprise you.

This is not an ordinary historical novel (not that I have anything against ordinary historical novels, of course!) but a kind of alternate history look at the institution of slavery in America.  The protagonist, Cora, is a young African American woman enslaved on a plantation in Georgia at the beginning of the book, worried about her future as she enters puberty and is afraid of what’s going to happen to her.  She meets another slave who tells her of the legendary Underground Railroad and the two of them decide to escape together on the Railroad.  However, this is not the Underground Railroad we’ve grown up reading about: Whitehead has taken what was a metaphor and turned it into a real train, that really travels under the ground, with stops in various places that are, in some ways, more unreal than the train itself.  In the same way that Gulliver’s Travels showed readers different views of life in 18th century Europe through the Lilliputians and Brobdingnags, The Underground Railroad shows us different aspects of slavery and race relations over the centuries by vivid depictions of the stops Cora takes on her desperate trek to freedom.  The book has been described as hallucinatory and surreal in places, but it’s a bestseller (thanks to Oprah, no doubt) and now it’s the National Book Award winner for the year.  Congratulations to Colson Whitehead, and if you’re at all curious about what the fuss is about, come to the library and take it out for yourself.

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A NEW AND DIFFERENT SHERLOCK HOLMES: IQ

I’m a great fan of Sherlock Holmes, the original stories (the canon), various later takes on the characters in fiction and film and even television (both the BBC Sherlock and the American Elementary).  There are times when a new take on the classic characters and stories can be silly, even annoying (I’m not going to name names here), but when it’s done right, a different setting and a different approach to Holmes and Watson and the cast of characters can bring wonderful new insights.
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Enter IQ, by Joe Ide, a refreshing new version of Sherlock Holmes.  He’s a young black man living in a rough neighborhood in Los Angeles  whose past is not necessarily something he’s proud of (one of the storylines in the book shows his past, giving us a sense of where he started and what he had to overcome to develop into the man he is during the main plot).  Like Sherlock Holmes, he’s had to train his intellect and develop his other abilities in order to solve mysteries and make a living as an investigator. His real name is Isaiah Quintabe, but everyone in his neighborhood refers to himself as IQ.

The neighborhood in which he lives, East Long Beach, is a high crime area. The L.A.P.D. can barely keep up with the major crimes, and murders go unsolved, missing children disappear and are never recovered.  IQ is willing to take on the cases the police can’t or won’t touch, and, for the people in his neighborhood, he’ll accept whatever they can afford as payment, even if that’s just a pie or a homemade casserole or a set of tires. But in order to make his house payments and keep food on his table, sometimes he has to take on cases because the client can pay actual money.  

Which is how he ends up taking on the case of a rapper who’s been receiving death threats. This wasn’t IQ’s idea, but something pushed on him by his ex-roommate, Juanell Dodson, with whom Isaiah has had some serious issues.  Still, they have to work together to try to protect this rap star, and along the way they run into the rapper’s vengeful ex-wife, an attack dog named Goliath (who definitely deserves the name), a bunch of cutthroats and a hit man who’s so scary even other hitmen are afraid of him and think he’s a lunatic.  The case turns out to be more dangerous and far-reaching than any of them could have suspected, but IQ and his partner end up dispensing justice in a satisfying way,

If you’d like to see a new twist on Sherlock Holmes that’s as respectful of intelligence and the power of brains over brawn as the originals, without the Victorian setting and Victorian limitations on various characters, check out IQ, which is, according to the publisher, already being optioned for a television series.

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GET ‘EM WHILE THEY’RE HOT: NEW BESTSELLERS AT THE FIELD

Well, it’s the beginning of the month, and that means it’s time to look ahead and see which of your favorite bestselling authors are coming out with new books this month, so you can run in to the Field Library and either take them out (often we have them on express, so you can get them for a week) or put them on hold.

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Let’s start with Michael Connelly and his bestselling series about Detective Harry Bosch.  His newest book in the series, The Wrong Side of Goodbye, the nineteenth starring Bosch, finds our protagonist working as a private investigator after all his years in the L.A. Police Department. He’s involved in two investigations.  In one, at the behest of a dying rich industrialist, he is attempting to track down the woman who once got pregnant by the rich man and then disappeared, to find out whether or not she had the baby and if so, what happened to it. In the other investigation, he’s helping out a local police department and tracking down a serial rapist who may turn out to be the most dangerous and baffling foe Harry has ever encountered.

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Jack Reacher returns in Lee Child’s newest book, Night School, a sort of prequel to the series. It’s set in 1996, and Jack is still in the army.  Having just received a medal, Jack is sent to night school, with two very different classmates, one an FBI agent, one a CIA analyst, both tops in their field and none of them with any idea of what they’re doing there.  Then the three discover the reason they’ve been thrown together: there’s a Saudi courier who just visited a jihadist sleeper cell in Hamburg, Germany, with a cryptic message: the American wants a hundred million dollars.  Their mission: find the American in question, stop whatever operation is underway.  If they fail, they may be facing an epic and terrifying act of terrorism.

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Jeffrey Archer presents the seventh and final book in his Clifton Chronicles series with This Was a Man, which starts with a bang, literally: a shot is fired, and the question is, who pulled the trigger?  Who lives, who dies? Multiple plot lines interweave and continue the stories of the characters we’ve come to know through the earlier books: Giles Barrington discovers his wife’s other life, Emma Clifton is offered a job by Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, Lady Virginia is on the verge of fleeing the country to escape her creditors, and a shocking diagnosis throws everyone’s lives in disorder.  High level British soap opera, written by a someone who knows what he’s talking about: anyone who’s a fan of series like Downton Abbey should give the Clifton Chronicles a try.

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Special Agent John Puller, protagonist of three previous David Baldacci books, has a new and personal case in No Man’s Land: the possible murder of Puller’s mother, thirty years before.  Her disappearance when he was just a child affected Puller’s whole life, but now he has a more immediate need to face that past tragedy: a group of military investigators has come to accuse Puller’s father, a former general now sinking into dementia, of murdering his wife.  As John enlists the help of his brother, Robert, and a shadowy CIA operative, to dig into the past and save his father’s reputation, a monster, formerly a man known as Paul Rogers, is also heading for the place where Jackie Puller disappeared, though his motives are very different, and only John Puller stands between him and atrocities.

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A new Stephanie Plum is always worth looking forward to, her combination of professional ineptitude, messy personal life and bizarre family (my favorite character: Grandma Mazur, who goes to wakes to pick up widowers), together with her New Jersey attitude, making for an entertaining read. In Janet Evanovich’s Turbo Twenty-Three, once again her bounty hunting job is peculiar, a thief who skipped bail on a charge of hijacking an 18 wheeler filled with bourbon.  Virgil, the target, has once again stolen an 18 wheeler, but this time it’s filled with ice cream and a dead body, frozen solid.  While she’s looking for Virgil, Stephanie is also called to work with Ranger on an effort to discover who’s been wiping out his people and sabotaging his business. We don’t know how this is all going to resolve, but with Stephanie involved, it’s certain to be complicated and funny.

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Naturally there’s a new James Patterson book this month, this time in the Alex Cross series, called Cross the Line. Alex Cross begins investigating what looks like a road rage killing on Rock Creek Parkway, discovering that it’s bigger than that, but he is immediately pulled into another, higher profile killing: the DC Chief of Detectives.  Alex’s wife, Bree, is tapped to take over as Chief, but instead of this turning into a good thing for the couple, it leads to a marital crisis because Bree’s and Alex’s instincts on these high profile cases clash.  The mastermind behind all the murders is plotting something very big, which only the two of them, working at their highest level, have a hope of preventing.  

If you want to read the hottest new books, come on down to the Field Library this November and pick them up.

Historical-Fiction

VOICES FROM THE PAST: NEW HISTORICAL FICTION AT THE FIELD

Whether you’re interested in Ancient Egypt, or the nineteen-teens, or pre-World War II Europe, we’ve got you covered with new historical fiction at the Field Library.  Come in and take a look!

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Ancient Egypt is the setting of Wilbur Smith’s new book, Pharaoh, which continues the series he began with Desert God and River God. The former slave, Taita, has risen to the rank of general in the army of Pharaoh Tamose, now mortally wounded and close to death. As the book begins, Egypt is under attack, and Taita has to use all his cleverness and resource to save the critical city of Luxor.  When he manages to call in allies to defeat the enemies of Egypt, he might reasonably figure he’s in good shape, except that Tamose has died and been succeeded by his weakling son, Utteric. Utteric is jealous of Taita’s influence in the palace, and brands him a traitor, throwing him in prison.  Utteric’s younger brother, Ramose, is placed in the position of leaving Taita to his fate or standing up against his brother, the new Pharaoh, but, being the kind of man he is, it’s not really a question: Taita must be released and Utteric opposed.  For people who love stories of battle, intrigue, blood and passion (I’m looking at you, fans of Game of Thrones), Wilbur Smith’s Egyptian series should be right up your alley.

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Across the ocean and across the centuries, come to a younger, more innocent America in the aftermath of World War I in Rita Mae Brown’s Cakewalk.  Set in Runnymede, the same Maryland area as Brown’s former bestseller, Six of One, the book revels in small-town life and the relatively low level issues and problems the people in the town face: a rich young man who “has to” marry the mother of his illegitimate child, a well-to-do woman trying to take care of the man she loves without making it so obvious his pride gets hurt, the wild doings of the Hunsenmier sisters who are free spirited, free thinking and out to upend the social conventions of their town. Rita Mae Brown is talented at creating vivid and lively characters, and the Runnymede books are based, loosely, on the doings of the author’s mother in that era, so you can expect a good time with plenty of accurate period detail.

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Of course everybody knows, at least in general outline, the story of Albert Einstein, creator of the theory of relativity.  But very few people know about his first wife, Mileva Maric, and the extent to which she might have contributed to Einstein’s understanding of the universe.  Here to rectify that lack is The Other Einstein by Marie Benedict.  Mileva was born with a hip defect, and assumed from an early age that she would never marry, so she devoted herself to physics, in which she believed she saw the hand of God in mathematics.  Her father, unusually for this time (the late 19th century), supported Mileva’s desire to learn science, and sent her to the Swiss Federal Polytechnic, in Zurich.  There, she had to fight to be taken seriously by her fellow students and professors, with the exception of one disheveled young man, Albert Einstein, who insinuated his way into her heart and her life. When the birth of their daughter and her subsequent marriage to Einstein caused her to lose her place in the university, Mileva hoped to continue working in the field of physics, collaborating with her brilliant husband and trusting — unwisely as it turned out — that he would acknowledge her contributions to his theories. Mileva is a fascinating character, a brilliant mind in her own right, caught up in the contradictions of her time and place, and the question of how much she was responsible for the theory of relativity is still an open, and controversial one.  

Escape to different times and places and get absorbed in the wonders of historical fiction.  Check them out at the Field!

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POSTHUMOUS P.D. JAMES: THE MISTLETOE MURDER AND OTHER STORIES

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The late great writer, P.D. James, is no longer with us, which is a shame for anyone who’s read and enjoyed her mystery series featuring Adam Dalgliesh or Cordelia Grey, or her stand-alone books which ranged from speculative fiction (The Children of Men, made into a movie) to historical fiction (Death Comes to Pemberley, a mystery sequel of sorts to Pride and Prejudice, made into a British television series).  However, if you miss her excellent psychological insights and her tricky mysteries, you’re in luck.  A posthumous collection of her shorter stories, The Mistletoe Murder and Other Stories, has just been released and is available here at the Field Library.

For those of us who have long wondered what Adam Dalgliesh was like when he was first a detective, James has a story of one of his first cases in this collection, when he was a young man, before he made his reputation, in a case that he himself describes as “pure Agatha Christie.”  The young inspector, investigating the brutal murder of an older man which first seemed like suicide, impresses his superiors (and the readers) with a dozen clues that point to the identity of the murderer.  And there’s another Dalgliesh story, from later in his life, in which he investigates a closed case at the request of his godfather.  The older man is going to inherit a substantial sum, but he wants to make sure that he’s not actually inheriting the fruits of an earlier poisoning.

There are two non-Dalgliesh stories as well.  The title story is told by an elderly mystery author, remembering a murder of an obnoxious holiday guest back in 1940. The list of possible suspects was very short, so it wouldn’t seem as if it would be hard to figure out who did it, except that this is P.D. James we’re discussing, so there are some surprises at the end of the story.

More unusual and more disturbing is the story, “A Very Commonplace Murder,” which is P.D. James’ first short story.  Of course there’s a murder, but the focus of the story isn’t on the detectives solving the case but on a most unpleasant main character who witnessed the events but isn’t sure he wants to come forward and  help exonerate the man wrongfully charged with the death.  Our protagonist is a file clerk who’s also a pornographer and a voyeur, who’d been watching the trysts of this couple until one day one of them ended up in murder.  The only thing commonplace about this story is the title.

These aren’t the only P.D. James short stories not yet published in book form, so while we’re waiting for the others to emerge, treat yourself to The Mistletoe Murder and Other Stories and once again enjoy the pleasures of reading a “new” P.D. James.

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QUIRKY BOOKS FOR OCTOBER

This month, for those of you with, shall we say, quirky tastes in literature, we have a couple of new books you may find intriguing and worth a read.

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Back in the day, the television show Twin Peaks, created by the very weird David Lynch (Eraserhead, Blue Velvet, The Elephant Man, Mulholland Drive, among others), was a cult classic.  The story of an investigation of a murder in a bizarre town, with a somewhat quirky investigator in the lead, the series kept people asking questions and arguing about what was really going on.  Now, in preparation for the upcoming Showtime tv series that continues where the original series (and its one sequel) left off, we have a new novel in the world of Twin Peaks, called The Secret History of Twin Peaks, written by one of the two writers of the series, Mark Frost. The book is NOT for people who have no knowledge of the TV series, as it really does go into the history (all the way back to the Lewis and Clark expedition), complete with footnotes (there’s something I’ve always found charming about the inclusion of footnotes in novels), in an almost obsessive focus on all the minutia of the series. The book is presented as a report by an unnamed investigator, so it doesn’t read like a normal novel, but if you’re into the series and looking forward to the new season, this is a must-read.

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If you’re not into weird television shows but still like books that take you off the beaten track, you should check out Mister Monkey by Francine Prose. The characters are all associated, one way or another, with a long-running (maybe TOO long-running) off-off Broadway children’s musical about a larcenous but playful pet chimpanzee called Mister Monkey.  Margot, the main character, has been playing the humiliating role of the monkey’s lawyer for so long she’s convinced her acting career will never survive this musical, until one day she gets a letter from a mysterious anonymous admirer, and something happens between her and Adam, the 12 year old heading into adolescence who plays the monkey of the title, on stage that shakes her and everybody else up.  From actors on stage to the author of the books on which the musical is based to members of the audience to the Monkey God himself, everybody has a take on what the musical is really all about, and very few of them can be trusted as narrators. Francine Prose has a way with images: you can see and hear and even smell the theater where the musical is being held, and the characters come to vivid life as their prospects and present lives collide and fall apart around them.