Friday, September 23, 2016

The Blue Santo Murder Mystery - Margaret Armstrong

I just read and reviewed another book by Margaret Armstrong, Murder in Stained Glass.  I bought The Blue Santo Murder Mystery at the same time, and I've just bought the last of her three mysteries, The Man With No Face.  These are all Kindle books at about $3.99 each.  A very good deal, I think.

This book starts a bit backwards, with the news that the richest woman in America, Mrs. Kearny-Pine has disappeared while vacationing in New Mexico.  The news is shocking.  Then the book moves to Tecos, New Mexico, before Mrs. Kearny-Pine disappears.

The Blue Santo is a hotel, as well as the name of a carved figure over the hotel's mantelpiece.  The local Indians / Native Americans consider it bad luck.  Mrs. Kearny-Pine wants to buy it.  Very badly.

She's not an easy woman to live with, as her younger, philandering husband knows, or to deal with, as her high-living nephew, Algy, or her very nice young cousin, Rosalie, know.  Or as many other people know.  She wants what she wants and she gets what she wants.

But when she disappears from the hotel, everyone is out looking for her.  It's a real puzzle.  She's just vanished.  Everyone has a theory.

Despite some stereotyping of Indians / Native Americans (this was published in 1941), I think the author did a good job with her characters and with describing the landscape, although I have to admit I've never been to New Mexico.  If I'm wrong, tell me.  The plot was good, too, ending with a twist just when I thought I knew everything.

I'm eager to read The Man With No Face.  There don't seem to be any consistent characters in the three books.  I was sorry that Miss Trumbull from Murder in Stained Glass didn't reappear.

While I was trying to find out how many mysteries Margaret Armstrong had written, I found that I probably have some of her books:  she was a highly sought-after designer of book covers and book bindings.  Before I stopped collecting things, I collected what I call illustrated bindings, those gorgeously decorated books that it would be a shame to cover with dust jackets.  Most of her covers were Art Nouveau, a style I particularly like.  Some of her art is in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City and she wrote and illustrated the first book on wildflowers of the American West.  A very interesting woman indeed.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

A Great Reckoning - Louise Penny

I've read all of Louise Penny's books and she never disappoints.  

Armand Gamache is now the head of the Surete Academy (there should be some accents over 'Surete' but if my lap top has them, I don't know where they are), determined to reform the way police cadets are chosen and trained.  It's a difficult job because there's been so much corruption.  He fires many of the professors and replaces them with people he knows to have integrity.  But some of his choices are questioned because they are those very corrupt people.  Gamache has his reasons.

He is also personally checking the applications to the academy, accepting most of the previously reviewed acceptances and rejections.  But when he comes to Amelia Choquet's rejected application, he reverses the decision and admits her.  She seems unsuited for the position:  pierced, tattooed, a rude street girl, who reads ancient Greek and Latin, or so she says.  Why does he seem to have a special relationship with her?  He's questioned about admitting her, but he has his reasons.

An instructor at the academy is murdered.  Gamache, Amelia, and several others are suspected.  As the case is investigated, dark secrets are revealed.  Gamache asks that a high official in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police review the investigation as an outsider since the investigation is being conducted by Isabelle Lacoste, a former member of Gamache's homicide squad and now head of that squad. 

Meanwhile, in Three Pines (where we all want to live), an old map has been found in the walls of the bistro.  It's of Three Pines, which has never shown up on any map before.  Not even now.  Gamache asks four cadets to investigate the map and find out all they can about it.  A couple of the cadets think it's busy work, a waste of time for a police officer in training.  Gamache has his reasons.

It all comes together in the end, the stories, the people, the crimes and their solutions.

And we find ourselves back in the warm circle of friends in Three Pines.

Louise Penny has written a touching Acknowledgements at the end of the book, allowing us into her personal life.  My heart goes out to her.

P.S.  As I post this, I see that there is an update to her Acknowledgements.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Murder in Stained Glass - Margaret Armstrong

This is one of the reissued Queens of Crime mysteries.  Margaret Armstrong is new to me.  I read it on my Kindle.  While I was doing that, I was wondering when it was written.  You know how it is:  on a Kindle, it's not easy to flip to the front or around in the book.  Anyway, it was published in 1939.    It sometimes feels more modern than that.

The narrator, a Miss Trumbull, goes to stay with an old school friend, Charlotte Blair, in the village of Bassett's Bridge, Connecticut.  She says she doesn't "enjoy visiting - most spinsters like their own homes better than other people's".  I'm not a spinster, but I like my home better, too.  Charlotte has always been a bit strange and she seems to have become stranger, birdwatching at night and having  odd spells, when she stays in her room for days.  The villagers think she's bizarre.  But her young cousin, Phyllis, who is staying with her, is charming and lively.

Anyway, Miss Trumbull, after making all sorts of excuses, goes to Bassett's Bridge and gets wrapped up in a murder.  A famous stained glass artist, Fredrick Ullathorne, works in the village.  He's currently working on a window for a New York City cathedral.  They all go to take a look.  And then he disappears, and bones and a false tooth of his are found in the ashes of the kiln in his studio.

Miss Trumbull needs to know what happened, especially when suspicion falls on Charlotte and on Phyllis's fiance, Leo, the artist's son.  She figures it out and is almost murdered herself.  There's quite a twist at the end.

I liked Miss Trumbull and I liked the description of the life she and her friends led, going to plays and the opera and teas in the city.  I believe there is one mystery that didn't get solved, but, on the whole, this is a satisfying and nice mystery.

Moby Dick - Herman Melville

I was beginning to wonder if I would ever write this post.  I started to read Moby Dick last summer.  Actually, at the suggestion of a couple of fellow bloggers, I simultaneously read and listened to it, using the Moby Dick Big Read site.  That was helpful.  When my mind started to wander, the reader's voice brought me back.  Most of the time.

Moby Dick could have been two good books:  one, the exciting adventure of Ahab, the captain of a whaling ship, obsessed with revenge on Moby Dick, the unusually vicious white whale that caused him to lose his leg;  the other, a fascinating and detailed look at the anatomy of whales and the intricacies of whaling  -  for those interested.

Interspersed between the chasing and killing of whales (which was hard for me to read, especially since we now know how intelligent and social whales are), are chapters that are deadly dull.  Do you think that Melville used this technique to reflect the voyage of a whaling ship?  They went to sea for three years at a time, seldom making land, floating around for days or weeks waiting to encounter whales.  Dull, dull, dull, excitement!

Moby Dick is so well known, but is it widely read?  I think it's a difficult book, because of the boring parts, so I suspect that even though many people know the story, they haven't read the book.  Truthfully, I didn't know what the ending was.  I'm sure I've seen the movie, starring Gregory Peck, but even so, I didn't know who won.  I was disappointed with the ending.  The last three chapters are exciting, but I wanted a more dramatic ending.  I wanted Moby to swim off while chomping on Ahab.

I made some notes while I was reading, but I'm not sure you want to read them all.  "..sin that pays its way can travel freely, and without a passport;  whereas Virtue, if a pauper, is stopped at all frontiers", "since Christian kindness has proved but hollow courtesy", "... a man's religion is one thing, and this practical world quite another".  He laments the killing of old, blind whales to light the lamps of churches that preach compassion.  He and I both have a problem with churches and hypocrisy.

Melville encourages conserving the use of whale oil lamps, fearing for the lives of whales because people don't make the connection between lamps and whales.  (Like people often don't make the connection between lamb chops and the slaughter of baby sheep.)  In Chapter 65, he made me wonder if he was a vegetarian because he castigated those who eat animals, wondering why  'civilized' society reviles cannibals when they're no better, and even mentions (the) 'enlightened gourmand, who nailest geese to the ground and feastest on their bloated livers in thy pate-de-fois-gras."  Hmmm.  Just sayin'.

There is some nice writing, sometimes bordering on the Dylan Thomas-esque, but a lot bordering on religious wailing ("Then hail, for ever hail, O sea, in whose eternal tossings the wild fowl finds his only rest", etc.).  Surprisingly, there were parts what were pretty funny.  I giggled when the sailors reefed their jackets into the sails and had to hang there until they sorted it out.  I admit that there were many times when I had no idea what he was trying to say.  There are probably books interpreting Moby Dick, but I'm done.  I got out of it what I wanted to get out of it.

(For Katrina, Ishmael was a Presbyterian.)

Ah, well, it's over at last.  I think I should celebrate.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Lament for a Lady Laird - Margot Arnold

Dr. Penny Spring is invited to the Highlands by an old school friend who has recently found herself an heiress.  She is now a 'lady laird'.  When Penny arrives at the remote estate, she finds her friend scared out of her wits.  The house is haunted.  Or someone is trying to frighten her off.

Penny believes it's the latter.  She gets to know the locals, their history, and their tangled relationships.  There are the lovers married to other people, the jealous homely wife, people who resent outsiders.  Then there are the murders.

Penny asks her sidekick, Sir Toby Glendower, to come and help her solve the mystery.  Which they do.

I like this series because most of them involve archeology and because I like the characters.  There's not much archeology in this one, other than an unexcavated long barrow.  But it was still a fun book.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Please Don't Let This Happen

Please sign up to sign on-line petitions.  Please call your congress people about this.  Donate if you can.  Every bit helps.  This is a betrayal of a responsibility.  It's money over right.  It's wrong.

We have breaking good news, and, unfortunately, bad news of the utmost urgency.
First the good news: Earlier today, the BLM informed AWHPC and The Cloud Foundation that it was cancelling plans to proceed with the mare sterilization experiments that we have been fighting since January. The agency stated that its decision to drop these dangerous and cruel experiments was a direct response to our First Amendment lawsuit to uphold the public's right to observe and document this government operation.
There is no time to celebrate this victory sparing 200 mares from invasive experiments that would have endangered their lives and the lives of their unborn foals.
That's because also today, the BLM National Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board passed an “emergency” resolution calling on the BLM to “euthanize” captured wild horses in holding facilities. Only one member – our friend and colleague Ginger Kathrens, Executive Director of The Cloud Foundation – dissented.
That’s right, this “citizen” advisory board wants the BLM to kill up to 45,000 innocent wild horses and burros! And the BLM will be only happy to comply….if it can convince Congress to lift the current ban on destroying healthy horses.
The move to kill captured wild horses is the culmination of the BLM’s deliberate creation of a crisis -- both on the range and off the range -- by refusing to use the proven PZP fertility control to humanely manage wild horse populations, and by failing to adequately reduce livestock grazing throughout five years of drought in the West.
Now the agency wants these American icons to pay the price for its willful and decades-long mismanagement.
In the coming weeks, we will be sharing actions you can take to fight this pending tragedy. Meanwhile, please donate as generously as you can as we double down on our grassroots and legislative work to prevent the mass killing of wild horses and burros.
This is a do or die moment... Thank you for being on our team as we fight for the future of our mustangs and burros.  
In Freedom,
Suzanne Roy, Executive Director

Friday, September 9, 2016

Hot, Hot, Hot!

We had a few days of cool weather with lovely breezes, thanks to Hurricane Hermine.  But the hot, humid weather is back.

This morning, I picked up Sybille Bedford's book A Visit to Don Otavio.  On page 6 of my edition, she describes this weather much better than I ever could.

     "It was steaming like a Chinese laundry, the heat hit us on the head like a club.  Summer in the large American cities is an evil thing.  It is negative, relentless and dead.  It is very hot.  The heat, radiated by concrete and steel, is synthetic, involuntarily man-made, another unplanned by-product of the industrial revolution.  The urban heat grows nothing;  it does not warm, it only torments.  It hardly seems to come from the sky.  It has none of the charm and strength of the sun in a hot country. It is neither part of nature nor of life, and life is not adapted to it and nature recedes.  In spirit and in fact, in architecture and habits, the eastern seaboard of the United States remains harshly northern, a cold country scourged by heat.
     Through the day a grey lid presses upon the city of New York.  At sunset there is no respite.  Night is an airless shaft;  in the dark the temperature still rises;  heat is emanating invisible from everywhere, from underfoot, from above, from the dull furnaces of saturated stone and metal.  The hottest point is reached in the very kernel of the night:  each separate inhabitant lies alone, for human contact is not to be endured, on a mattress enclosed in a black hole of Calcutta till dawn goes up like a soiled curtain on the unrefreshed in littered streets and rooms.
     This kind of suffering is quite pointless.  It does not harden the physique, it just wears it out.  Yet it goes on.  Clerks dream of deep cold lakes, of a camp in the Adirondacks, a fishing shack in Maine where, the myth goes, you have to sleep under a blanket."

Yes, that's just what it's like.