Saturday, October 23, 2021

David R. Slayton

David R. Slayton grew up in Guthrie, Oklahoma, where finding fantasy novels was pretty challenging and finding fantasy novels with diverse characters was downright impossible. Now he lives in Denver, Colorado and writes the books he always wanted to read. His debut, White Trash Warlock, was published in October 2020 by Blackstone Publishing.

Slayton's latest novel is Trailer Park Trickster, the sequel to White Trash Warlock.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. Slayton's reply:
The pandemic has me reading a lot of comfort reads. I’ve been revisiting Gail Carriger’s Parasol Protectorate and Terry Pratchett’s books, especially the ones with Granny Weatherwax like Witches Abroad. It’s not all light stuff though.

Tough times make me crave escape, and great characters are especially welcome. I’ve been diving into C.S. Poe’s Magic and Steam series and Gregory Ashe’s gritty detective novels. They’ve been collaborating lately and I recommend A Friend in the Dark. They do such an amazing job of making New York feel like a character.

I’m also craving more urban fantasy in the vein of K.D. Edwards’ Tarot Sequence. Thankfully the third book, The Hourglass Throne, is due out soon! He does a masterful job of mixing wit and action with a bit more edge than my stuff.

When I’m writing I try to read nonfiction to keep learning new things while avoiding the influence of other authors’ voices so I’ve been working my way through Caitlin Doughty’s books on audio. I’m almost finished with From Here to Eternity and it’s been comforting to ponder our society’s relationship with dying and questioning my own feelings and fears around it.
Visit David R. Slayton's website.

My Book, The Movie: Trailer Park Trickster.

The Page 69 Test: Trailer Park Trickster.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

D.W. Buffa

D.W. Buffa's recent novel is The Privilege, the ninth legal thriller involving the defense attorney Joseph Antonelli. The tenth, Lunatic Carnival, will be published in the spring. He has also just published Neumann's Last Concert, the fourth novel in series that an attempts to trace the movement of western thought from ancient Athens, in Helen; the end of the Roman Empire, in Julian's Laughter; the Renaissance, in The Autobiography of Niccolo Machiavelli; and, finally, America in the Twentieth Century.

Here is Buffa's take on Edward Gibbon’s The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire:
When someone suggested that Thomas Jefferson had borrowed some of the language of John Locke’s Second Treatise on Government in his draft of the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson replied, in what remains the classic defense against a charge of plagiarism, that his responsibility had been “to be correct, not original.” Lincoln thought the Declaration not just correct, but should become our “civic religion,” taught to children so early that it would become a permanent part of their character. Mention the year 1776, we immediately think of the Declaration, but 1776 was also the year in which two of the most important books ever written were published, both of them, like the Declaration, connected with the American experiment.

Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations, demonstrated, once and for all, that the desire for acquisition, if left free of governmental, or religious, restriction would lead to a constant increase in the wealth of the community. Edward Gibbon’s The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire demonstrated how the greatest empire the world has ever seen was destroyed by a religion that taught that the only thing important was not what happened here, on earth, but what happened after death. Everyone has heard of the Declaration of Independence, even if they have never read it; and everyone knows that Adam Smith has something to do with the basic principles of capitalism, but Edward Gibbon? Who but a handful of demented scholars would take the trouble to wade through seven volumes, close to four thousand pages, in the edition of J.B.Bury, published in 1896?

Winston Churchill, for one. When he was a young lieutenant in the British army, dreaming of a political career, he read The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. Theodore Roosevelt did the same thing, and so did John F. Kennedy, who was in all probability the last American president to read it. What did Churchill and Kennedy learn from it? Among other things, the grandeur of the English language, something that becomes obvious the moment you read the first paragraph:
In the second century of the Christian Era, the empire of Rome comprehended the fairest part of the earth, and the most civilized portion of mankind. The frontiers of that extensive monarchy were guarded by ancient renown and disciplined valour. The gentle, but powerful, influence of laws and manners had gradually cemented the union of the provinces. Their peaceful inhabitants enjoyed and abused the advantages of wealth and luxury. The image of a free constitution was preserved with decent reverence. The Roman senate appeared to possess the sovereign authority, and devolved on the emperors all the executive powers of government. During a happy period of more than fourscore years, the public administration was conducted by the virtue and abilities of Nerva, Trajan, Hadrian, and the two Antonines. It is the design of this and of the two succeeding chapters, to describe the prosperous condition of their empire, and afterwards, from the death of Marcus Antoninus, to deduce the most important circumstances of its decline and fall: a revolution which will ever be remembered, and is still felt by the nations of the earth.
Like everything Gibbon wrote, this was not put on paper until he had first written, and re-written, it in his mind; not a few words, not a sentence or two, but the whole, remarkable, perfectly well-balanced, long paragraph; and then, having put it on paper, he wrote it, and rewrote it, again. You can see Churchill, sitting inside the barracks in India during the midday heat, reading Gibbon’s words, learning, and making his own, the cadence, the rhythms, of the best English ever written in a work of history. You can see, years later, a young Jack Kennedy, following Churchill’s example, learning the power language can have.

The Decline and Fall begins with the peak of the Roman Empire; it does not begin with, nor does it concern itself with, the peak of the Roman republic. There is nothing about the founding of Rome, nothing about the Roman republic, nothing about how Julius Caesar took power, nothing about how and why he was killed. It is not a history of Rome; it is an inquiry into what caused the Roman Empire to fall from the pinnacle of its achievement, the rule of one hundred twenty million people, “the most numerous society that has ever been united under the same system of government.” The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire begins with Augustus.

After the victory at Actium, Rome was under an imperial government, “an absolute monarchy disguised by the form of a commonwealth.” Augustus understood “that mankind is governed by names; nor was he deceived in his expectation that the senate and people would submit to slavery, provided they were respectfully assured that they still enjoyed their ancient freedom.” Provided with bread and public entertainment, the people of Rome did not mind, and perhaps did not notice, that they had lost more than their independence. “This long peace, and the uniform government of the Romans, introduced a slow and secret poison into the vitals of the empire. The minds of men were gradually reduced to the same level, the fire of genius was extinguished, and even the military spirit evaporated.”

The rule of Augustus was, in all its essentials, absolute; absolute in a sense it is difficult for us to understand. The separation of church and state did not exist. Government was more than the making and enforcing the rules of secular existence; government was control over what every citizen was taught, and required, to believe. Augustus was not just head of state; Augustus, and the emperors who followed him, was Supreme Pontiff and Censor. “By the former he acquired the management of the religion, by the latter a legal inspection over the manners and fortunes of the Roman people.”

In a single sentence, Gibbon explains the state of religious belief: “The various modes of worship which prevailed in the Roman world were all considered by the people as equally true; by the philosopher as equally false; and by the magistrate as equally useful.” This changed when, instead of the martial virtues that had made Rome great, Rome became addicted to private pleasure and private wealth. Life became meaningless, everyone a slave, if a willing slave, to Augustus and then to his successors. In a reaction to the helplessness of their condition, greater and greater numbers of Roman citizens embraced a faith, a religion, that gave them something worth dying for. Christianity became Rome’s fatal weakness.

With their “intolerant zeal” and their doctrine of a future life, the number of Christians spread rapidly, and with that, the decline and fall of Rome had begun. It is an interesting question when Gibbon thought the Roman empire finally came to an end. The seventh, and concluding volume, ends with the fall of Constantinople to the Muslims in 1461 A.D., but Gibbon ended the first half of his work with the conquest of Rome by the barbarians a thousand years earlier, in 476 A.D. In the most serious sense the fall of the Roman Empire happened a century earlier, with the death of the Emperor Julian. More than half of the second volume, more than three hundred pages, of The Decline and Fall is devoted to Julian. Julian held power for only twenty-two months, but in that short space of time he almost succeeded in destroying Christianity and restoring the ancient gods of Rome.

Gibbon has a real appreciation for how remarkable Julian was, but he mistakes what Julian professed for what Julian believed. He thinks that Julian had “a devout and sincere attachment to the gods of Athens and Rome,” and that this “constituted the ruling passion of Julian….” It did not. Julian believed that only the restoration of the gods of Rome would bring the Romans back to their belief in the importance, the supreme importance, of Roman greatness, a belief that Christianity had started to destroy. Julian’s own belief was what Plato and Aristotle believed: that there is an unchanging order in the world and that the gods were, all of them, imaginary.

Gibbon had a sense of this when he described what happened after Julian was killed in battle: “The philosophers expressed a very reasonable wish that a disciple of Plato might have reposed amidst the groves of the academy: while the solders exclaimed in bolder accents that the ashes of Julian should have mingled with those of Caesar, in the field of Mars, and among the ancient monuments of Roman virtue.”

Julian’s ashes were buried, and so was Julian’s name. Julian, who had he lived would have been the greatest emperor Rome ever had, became Julian the Apostate, an enemy of triumphant Christianity; a name no one was allowed to mention, and for more than a thousand years, until Edward Gibbon wrote his history, no one dared to praise.
Visit D.W. Buffa's website.

Third reading: The Great Gatsby

Third reading: Brave New World.

Third reading: Lord Jim.

Third reading: Death in the Afternoon.

Third Reading: Parade's End.

Third Reading: The Idiot.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, September 29, 2021

Vicki Delany

Vicki Delany is one of Canada’s most prolific and varied crime writers and a national bestseller in the U.S. She has written more than forty books: clever cozies to Gothic thrillers to gritty police procedurals, to historical fiction and novellas for adult literacy. She is currently writing four cozy mystery series: the Tea by the Sea mysteries for Kensington, the Sherlock Holmes Bookshop series for Crooked Lane Books, the Catskill Resort mysteries for Penguin Random House, and the Lighthouse Library series (as Eva Gates) for Crooked Lane.

Delany's new Catskill Resort mystery is Deadly Summer Nights.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Delany's reply:
I normally like a good bit of variety in my reading but for some reason this has been my summer of psychological suspense.

I picked up The Other Black Girl by Zakiya Dalila Harris because I’d heard a lot of high praise about it, and I was not disappointed. It’s set in the modern American publishing world, and what writer doesn’t want to know the insides of the business they are so dependent upon yet so distant from. At first the plot seems predictable – Woman One meets Woman Two who she expects to be her ally at work but it doesn’t quite turn out that way – and then it takes a very unexpected turn. I loved the plot, the characters, and the writing, but I also loved that it gave me some insight into lives I’m not familiar with. I’m a white Canadian woman living in a rural part of Canada, so there are not (as in none) many Black people in my personal life.

A long time ago, I was a keen reader of British author Robert Goddard. He’s been called “the master of the triple cross” because of his complicated plots and unexpected twists. Somehow, he fell off my radar about fifteen years ago. His name cropped up recently when I saw the title of his newest book, The Fine Art of Invisible Detection. It’s about a Japanese woman who works as an assistant to a private detective. When he’s killed, she takes up his latest case. Sounds pretty predictable but it’s full of the trademark Goddard twists. As long as I was reading Goddard, I went back to see what he’d done lately that I’d missed and found several books.

I particularly liked Fault Line, from 2012. The book travels back and forth in time, following the protagonist as his life is entwined with the neighbouring rich family. Twists and turns, and secrets, plenty of secrets, both past and present.

I have to add, that I wonder why modern thrillers have such mundane, totally interchangeable titles. Fault Line could be the title of a hundred other books (and it probably is). The Other Black Girl and The Fine Art of Invisible Detection stood out for me initially precisely because of the originality of their titles.

Another mundane title is The Woman in the Mirror by Rebecca James, although a book I also enjoyed. Who doesn’t love a true gothic novel – mysterious isolated house, strange children, the friendless and family less governess, the handsome brooding man of the house, the dour housekeeper with her warnings, and (maybe) a resident ghost who does not mean the governess well. Perfect summer fare.
Visit Vicki Delany's website, Facebook page, and Twitter perch.

The Page 69 Test: Rest Ye Murdered Gentlemen.

The Page 69 Test: A Scandal in Scarlet.

The Page 69 Test: Murder in a Teacup.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, September 24, 2021

D.W. Buffa

D.W. Buffa's latest novel is The Privilege.

Here is Buffa's take on Dostoevsky’s The Idiot:
We have all heard, though usually in a bad movie or in a bad book, that your whole life flashes before your eyes in the moment you are about to die. But what really happens, what does someone really think about, in the moments before death? Is it about the past, about the life that is about to end, or is it, strange as it may seem at first, about the future? In one of the great, if largely forgotten, Russian novels of the 19th Century, Fyodor Dostoevsky describes what went through the mind of a man moments before his execution. He describes what had actually happened to him when, in l849, he was arrested with thirty others for crimes against the state and taken to St. Petersburg to be shot.

Dostoevsky stood there, his hands tied behind his back, while the firing squad was assembled and everything made ready. The soldiers took their positions and, at the order, aimed their rifles, the commander raised his arm ready to give the order to fire. And then…nothing, not a sound, until the firing squad was ordered to lower their rifles and the prisoners were informed that their death sentences had been commuted to exile in Siberia.

There is a marvelous line uttered by the marvelous Dr. Johnson in the l8th century: “Tell a man he is to be executed in the morning, it concentrates his mind wonderfully.” Tell a man, a man who will become one of the world’s great writers, that as soon as the firing squad is ready he will be shot to death, it produces a sensitivity, an insight into the meaning of existence, that twenty years later will allow him to write The Idiot and to create in Prince Lyov Nikolayevich Myshkin a character unique in world literature, a young man everyone thinks an idiot and everyone knows is wise.

Dostoevsky has Myshkin tell Dostoevsky’s own story, the story of a man who with others is led to the scaffold to be shot for “political offenses,” and then, fifteen or twenty minutes later, given a reprieve. “Yet in the interval between those two sentences…he passed in the fullest conviction that he would die in a few minutes.” The condemned, according to Myshkin, “remembered it all with extraordinary distinctness.” He remembered how they were all led out to the courtyard, how they were tied up, how the priest came to each of them in turn with a cross, how, with only a few minutes left, he still felt that he had “so many lives left in those few minutes that there was no need yet to think of the last moment,” but what was really “dreadful” was the “continual thought, ‘What if I were not to die! What if I could go back to life - what eternity! I would turn every minute into an age; I would lose nothing. I would count every minute as it passed. I would not waste one!’ He said that this idea turned to such a fury at last that he longed to be shot quickly.”

It did not happen. The condemned man did not treat every moment as an age. He discovered that it was impossible to live like that. Myshkin, for his part, “somehow can’t believe” that it cannot be done; he believes that it should. Someone asks if he thinks he “will live more wisely than anyone?” “Yes,” he replies, “I have thought that too sometimes.” And then admits that he has “lived less than others” and “knows less of life than anyone.”

Just returned to Russia from Germany where he was treated for a long, debilitating illness, Prince Myshkin has neither wealth nor any immediate family. None of his distant relatives want anything to do with him until, inheriting a fortune, they cannot get enough of him. His intense emotional nature, his willingness to speak his mind honestly, openly and without regret, is dismissed as nothing more than the inexperience of youth. When he remarks that children “understand everything,” and can give “exceedingly good advice,” it is all the proof needed that he is, himself, still a child. A child they quickly come to like when he explains that he had been ill, so ill that he “really was almost like an idiot;” a child a few of them begin to suspect more grown up than the others around them when he adds, “But can I be an idiot now, when I am able to see for myself that people look upon me as an idiot?”

Everything in The Idiot is, one way or the other, connected with the absolute importance of every moment of time. Everything of real importance, everything right and true, is known, or rather felt, immediately; everything else, all the ordered duplicity of civilized society, the misguided conventions of a world filled with corruption. No one understands this better than Nastasya Filippovna, a woman of astonishing beauty who does not hide her disdain for all the poor fools willing to sell their souls to have her.

“Everyone is possessed with such greed nowadays,” she announces with a glittering smile to a gathering in which Myshkin sits as a kind of disinterested observer; “they are all so overwhelmed by the idea of money that they seem to have gone mad.” In front of everyone, she tells Gavril Ardalionovitch, who wants to marry her for the money she has acquired through her relations with other men, that he is a “shameless fellow! I’m a shameless woman, but you are worse.” And then, turning to Prince Myshkin, whom she has only just met, asks with all the pride and contempt of which she is capable, “Would you take me as I am, with nothing?” Myshkin does not hesitate. “I will, Nastaya Filippovna.”

Some think Myshkin like Don Quixote, a fool, an idiot, willing to idolize a fallen woman and worship her as the incarnation of pure beauty. Others have the vague feeling of something they had once been taught, the lost memory of what Christian love was meant to be. Taking Myshkin at his word, Nastasya Filippovna dismisses his offer, and does it in a way that suggests a depth of feeling, a knowledge of her own fatal flaw, that only Myshkin understands.

“You may not be afraid, but I should be afraid of ruining you, and of your reproaching me with it afterwards.”

She turns to a villainous character, Rogozhin, so desperately in love with her he would rather see her dead than with anyone else, and asks him for a hundred thousand rubles. She throws it into the fire and with hatred in her eyes tells Gavril Ardalionovitch, who wanted to marry her for her money, that he can have it all if he can get it out before it burns. And then, just before she leaves, she tells Myshkin he should marry someone else, the young girl Aglaia Epanchin, instead of her.

The frenetic, half-crazed conversation of Nastasya Filippovna, the strange, demented confessions of what she thinks about herself and everyone else, is not some brief digression, a single stand alone psychological study of a woman in distress; it is what goes on through six hundred closely printed pages. One intense conversation after another, one long disquisition on what some tortured soul wants the world to know and then, later on, what someone else decides he or she has to say, do not just move the action forward; they are the action of the story, action that holds the reader in its grip from the first page to the last. There is a reason why Friedrich Nietzsche thought Dostoevsky without equal in the ability to lay bare the deeper workings of the human soul and the twisted imaginings of the human mind.

Aglaia Epanchin, the youngest of three sisters, is so beautiful, Myshkin tells her, “that one is afraid to look at you.” She treats him as if he really is an idiot, mocking him, behind his back and to his face, but still tells him things she would never have told anyone else. After a young man, dying of consumption, tries to shoot himself in front of people he knows despise him for his poverty and radical ideas, but fails because he forgot to load the gun, she admits to Myshkin that she had “thirty times…dreamed of poisoning myself, when I was only thirteen, and writing it all in a letter to my parents. And I, too, thought how I would lie in my coffin, and they would weep over me, and blame themselves for having been too cruel to me…. Why are you smiling?”

Aglaia “asked rapid questions, talked quickly, but sometimes seemed confused, and often did not finish her sentences.” She was in love with him, but the question was whether she would have been if he had not been “looked upon by every one as an idiot.” That her family was upset by her feeling about him was a joy to her. What she felt and why she felt it was a mystery, what Dostoevsky calls, “the fantastic strangeness of the human heart.”

Prince Myshkin may be an idiot, but he is still a prince, a member of the Russian aristocracy, and, through inheritance, a wealthy man. Aglaia’s family invites the most important people they know to meet him. Most of the people who come to meet Myshkin are “empty-headed people who were themselves unaware, however, that much of their superiority was mere veneer, for which they were not responsible indeed, as they had adopted it unconsciously and by inheritance.” Myshkin tries to explain to them what they are lacking, and how serious their ignorance.

There is no “idea binding mankind together today,” he insists. The belief in progress, in western ideas of material improvement, in the greatest good of the greatest number, is nothing but a vast charade. “And don’t try to frighten me with your prosperity, your wealth, the infrequency of famine, and the rapidity of the means of communication. There is more wealth, but there is less strength. There is no uniting idea; everything has grown softer….”

Myshkin is not talking about national greatness or national power; he is talking about the Russian, and perhaps not just the Russian, soul. There is “a spiritual agony, a spiritual thirst, a craving for something higher,” that has to be satisfied. Myshkin, who like Dostoevsky himself, suffers from epilepsy, finds that meaning, that lesson, in what happens, not when he is facing his own imminent death, but what happens to his mind and heart when, during an epileptic fit, he feels “the direct sensation of existence in the most intense degree.” In that one moment, “worth the whole of life,” he seems “somehow to understand the extraordinary saying that ‘there shall be no more time.’”

Lyon Nikolayevich Myshkin did not believe what everyone else believed; he did not believe in what the world thinks important. He believed in the importance, and the integrity, of the human soul. Myshkin was an idiot. Would that more of us were fools like him.
Visit D.W. Buffa's website.

Third reading: The Great Gatsby

Third reading: Brave New World.

Third reading: Lord Jim.

Third reading: Death in the Afternoon.

Third Reading: Parade's End.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Louise Guy

Louise Guy has enjoyed working in marketing, recruitment and film production, all which have helped steer her towards her current, and most loved, role – writer.

Her passion for writing women's fiction is a result of her love of reading, writing and exploring women's emotions and relationships. Women succeeding through hard work, overcoming adversity or just by owning their choices and decisions is something to celebrate, and Guy loves the challenge of incorporating their strengths in these situations into fiction.

Originally from Melbourne, a trip around Australia led Guy and her husband to Queensland's stunning Sunshine Coast where they now live with their two sons, gorgeous fluff ball of a cat and an abundance of visiting wildlife - the kangaroos and wallabies the most welcome, the snakes the least.

Guy's novels include Her Last Hope.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Guy's reply:
I usually have two books on the go, one on audio and the other on my kindle. I’ve just finished The Marriage by K L Slater and Her Last Words by Kim Kelly.

Full of lies and deception, I’m always drawn into the worlds K L Slater creates, and The Marriage was no exception. Why on earth would you marry your son’s killer? That’s the story's premise and one that kept me ruminating throughout as to what the real motive could be. Full of twists and turns, this story kept me guessing right up until the end, which is why I love this author’s works. When I read a K L Slater I find myself totally engrossed in the story when I’m reading but also when I’m going about my normal day, sifting through the what ifs? And could that person be responsible for this, and a million other questions.

I have also just finished the audiobook of Kim Kelly’s Her Last Words. Set in Australia, this story is full of contrasting emotions. From love to grief, from betrayal to hope. The characters are wonderfully relatable, and as a secondary storyline, the insights and commentary on the publishing industry were hilarious. This was my first Kim Kelly book and it was the narrator, Caroline Lee, that had my try this author. I saw a Facebook post recently where somebody said they could “listen to Caroline Lee narrate the phone book” and I agree. Her narration takes a story to a whole other level.
Visit Louise Guy's website.

The Page 69 Test: A Life Worth Living.

My Book, The Movie: A Life Worth Living.

Q&A with Louise Guy (November 2020).

My Book, The Movie: A Winning Betrayal.

The Page 69 Test: A Winning Betrayal.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, August 27, 2021

Avery Bishop

Avery Bishop is the pseudonym for a USA Today bestselling author of over a dozen novels including the newly released One Year Gone.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. Bishop's reply:
Like many writers, I'm often reading several books at the same time, and I often like to read in many different genres. Usually I'm reading a book on my Kindle, an ebook on my phone, a hardcover or paperback, and listening to an audiobook when I'm driving or shopping or walking the dog.

On my Kindle: Night Boat to Tangier by Kevin Barry. A short novel, not even 45,000 words, but it's dark and gritty and has a lyrical quality to its prose. I'm currently halfway through and really enjoying it.

On my phone: The Cipher by Isabella Maldonado. A thriller about an FBI agent who got away from a serial killer when she was just a girl, and now the killer is back and targeting her. I'm only a few chapters in and so far I'm enjoying it. (Usually the books I read on my phone lean toward the thriller end of the spectrum: fast-paced with short chapters that I can leave for a few days and jump back in at any time.)

Hardcover: The Push by Ashley Audrain. I just started this one but am already loving it. The prose is tight and smooth and compulsive. I'm a huge fan of second person POV (see A Prayer for the Dying by Stewart O'Nan), and this novel uses it well, though it's more the narrator utilizing it as she speaks to her ex-husband as opposed to the second-person narration by the protagonist.

Paperback: Unclean Jobs For Women and Girls: Stories by Alissa Nutting. I love short story collections but often take my time with them, reading a story here and there as opposed to consuming a collection within a few days. Nutting's stories are quirky and dark and very entertaining.

Audiobook: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by JK Rowling, read by Jim Dale. I've been slowly moving through the whole Harry Potter series. For a time I'd taken a break and am now trying to finish. The books are fun, of course, but I'm finding this one to be a bit bloated. However, an audiobook narrator can make or break the entire experience, and fortunately Jim Dale is an amazing narrator so I'm happy to be along for the ride.

As an aside, I'm trying to read more translated works, especially thrillers. A few weeks ago I read Heatwave by Victor Jestin. It's billed as a novel but it's only 25,000 words long. Still, it holds quite a punch, and the writing is great. In terms of the story, the 17-year-old narrator is on vacation with his family and one night he comes across another boy his age who's asphyxiated by the ropes on a swingset. The narrator, feeling culpability for some reason, decides to hide the body, and as you can imagine, things spiral out of control from there. (It's no surprise it's being compared to Albert Camus's The Stranger.)

A few other translated works on my TBR pile include Central Park by Guillaume Musso, Confessions by Kanae Minato, and The Others by Sarah Blau.
Visit Avery Bishop's website.

Q&A with Avery Bishop.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, August 22, 2021

Chris Nickson

Chris Nickson is the author of Brass Lives and eight previous Tom Harper mysteries, seven highly acclaimed novels in the Richard Nottingham series, and two Simon Westow mysteries. He is also a well-known music journalist. He lives in his beloved Leeds.

Recently I asked Nickson about what he was reading. His reply:
I tend to have a few books on the go at once. As a rule (though not always) it’s non-fiction downstairs, and a novel for bedtime.

Currently, I have Tracy Borman’s biography of Thomas Cromwell on the couch. I’d loved the Hilary Mantel trilogy and the TV series of Wolf Hall. This gives the real man, yet it also emphasizes the difference between fiction and biography: a good novel can take you deeper into the person than most biographies that are shackled by facts. The further you go back in time, the truer that becomes, and with someone like Cromwell, where much of his early life is shadowy…well, he was made for the novelist. Still, it’s a fascinating book and portrait of a man.

I also have Sailor Song by Gerry Smyth, a book of and about sea shanties. I’ve had a fascination with folk song for much of my life, and I’ve used it in books. Shanties come under the folk song umbrella, although I know little about them. Once I’ve read this, I hope I’ll know a little more. On first glance, some great illustrations, too.

Upstairs, it’s re-reading The Cartel by Don Winslow, the second in his Border trilogy. A big, masterful book. With these, he really found his voice, and takes us into a world so few of us know. Once I’ve finished that, next on deck is Love, the new one by Roddy Doyle, one of my favourite novelists. It’s impossible to read his dialogue and not hear it in an Irish accent, which is a remarkable achievement.
Visit Chris Nickson's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, August 19, 2021

D.W. Buffa

D.W. Buffa was born in San Francisco and raised in the Bay Area. After graduation from Michigan State University, he studied under Leo Strauss, Joseph Cropsey and Hans J. Morgenthau at the University of Chicago where he earned both an M.A. and a Ph.D. in political science. He received his J.D. degree from Wayne State University in Detroit. Buffa was a criminal defense attorney for 10 years and his Joseph Antonelli novels reflect that experience.

The New York Times called The Defense "an accomplished first novel" which "leaves you wanting to go back to the beginning and read it over again." The Judgment was nominated for the Edgar Award for best novel of the year. The latest Joseph Antonelli novel is The Privilege.

D.W. Buffa lives in Northern California.

Here is Buffa's take on Ford Madox Ford’s Parade's End:
Winston Churchill described the Victorian Age, which ended, not with the death of Queen Victoria, but in l914 with the First World War, as a time when “the world belonged to the few, and the very few.” Thirty years later, in l944, the fact that the pilots who fought the Battle of Britain had not been the sons of the British aristocracy who attended Cambridge or Oxford, but the sons of the British middle class, showed Churchill that the few, the very few, had lost the moral authority to govern the nation. It had been a very long time since they had been able to rule themselves.

The last one who knew, not just how to rule himself, but what it meant, may have been Christopher Tietjens, the central character in the four novels that together are known as Parade’s End, the extraordinary attempt by Ford Madox Ford to describe England as it really was when the world decided to destroy itself. The first novel, Some Do Not…, was published in l924; the second, No More Parades, a year later, in l925; the third, A Man Could Stand Up—, the year after that. The fourth and concluding volume in the quartet, The Last Post, came out in 1928. They were published together as Parade’s End in l950 by Alfred Knopf in a volume that runs a little more than eight hundred pages. The novels, either individually or combined into one long consecutive story, would never be published today.

Parade’s End is too far outside the normal experience. It is a novel about war and sex in which there is not any violence, and there is not any sex. There is not, in the way we have, at least most of us, learned to understand things, any action at all. Or so we think at first. But then, suddenly, somewhere in the back of our mind, we remember that while everything, every word, has to advance the story, conversation, what people say to other people, what they say to themselves, is the most compelling form of action there is. And then we begin to realize that Parade’s End captures, like nothing else we have ever read, a vanished civilization, what life was like before the First World War, the Great War, destroyed the last vestiges of what the world once thought decency and honor.

Parade’s End is a love story in which sex becomes more a human failing, love’s poor substitute, for those who never learn love’s meaning. It is a novel in which nearly everyone hates the novel’s main character, precisely because the main character is so much better than themselves. He makes no sense to them, and half the time he makes no sense to himself. In all of English literature, Christopher Tietjens is unique. Considered by some to be the most brilliant man in England, his wife, Silvia, one of the most beautiful women anywhere. They were married because she was pregnant; Tietjens is almost certain she was pregnant by another man.

Silvia, according to her own mother, “hates her husband,” and, though she may have slept with a number of them, regards all men as “repulsive.” At the very beginning of the novel, Silvia has left Tietjens to go abroad with another man. She has been gone for four months when, one day at breakfast, Tietjens receives a letter from her asking, “without any contrition at all, to be taken back.” Asked by a friend, if he will do so, he replies simply, “I imagine so.” When his father asks him if they might divorce, he replies, with what today would be thought utter madness: “No! No one but a blackguard would ever submit a woman to the ordeal of divorce.”

Tietjen’s father may be the head of Groby, a baronial estate that for centuries has been part of the established order, but, though the youngest but one of his children, Christopher is the one who has that order, that sense of duty and obligation, in his bones. He does not read novels, because nothing worth reading has been written in England since the l8th century, “except by a woman.” An old woman who happens to be the mother of Valentine Wannop, a suffragette, a pacifist, and, in her twenties, a woman who still believes that somewhere, far away from the dismal necessities of men who “over-ate and neighed like stallions, there were bright colonies of beings, chaste, beautiful in thought, altruist and circumspect.”

Instead of the world she dreams of, the world she lives in has entered upon the Great War, a war Tietjens has predicted and which he believes will do nothing but bring “unnumbered deaths.” If he stays in England, he will be one of those planning and directing the war, and rather than do that, he will go to France as a soldier. His conscience will not let him use his “brain in the service,” but he has “a great hulking body,” which he is willing that his country should use. As he explains to Valentine, he has “nothing to live for: what I stand for isn’t any more in the world.” He is an idealist, and idealists “must be stoned to death. He makes the others so uncomfortable.”

Tietjens tells her this, and more; he tells her that he will “put to you things I have put to no other human soul.” They are drawn to each other. Ford describes this in a way that makes you believe something like this was then really possible, and makes you wish that it still was: Valentine, he writes, had “beautiful inclinations toward Tietjens, for she could not regard it as anything more…” And Tietjens, she knows, has “beautiful inclinations toward her.” And still, underlying it all, is a passionate longing made all the more intense by the fact of its suppression. All Tietjens had to do was “approach her to make her feel as if her whole body was drawn toward him….The moon so draws the tides.” The word love was never mentioned; every word they spoke confessed it.

Tietjens has one night left before he goes to France. He asks Valentine to be his mistress, and she says yes. “But we didn’t. We agreed that we were the sort of persons who didn’t. I don’t know how we agreed. We never finished a sentence. Yet it was a passionate scene.” For Valentine, “abstention not only strengthened her in her predilection for chastity; it restored to her her image of the world as a place of virtues and endeavours.”

Tietjen’s wife, Silvia, is waiting for him when he comes home at two in the morning. He had “never been spoken to with such hatred.” Not because he had been unfaithful, but because he had not. She wanted him to sleep with Valentine, because that “might satisfy my affection for the girl…and feel physical desire for her….But she knew, without my speaking, that I had not….” Silvia threatened to ruin him, to drag his name “through the mud….I never spoke. I am damn good at not speaking. She struck me on the face and went away.”

Later, after suffering shell shock and losing, for a time, half his memory, he again goes to France, now certain that he will be killed. Before he goes, he has another scene with his wife, who blames him for everything that has happened.

“If you had once in our lives said to me: ‘You whore! You bitch!….May you rot in hell!….’ If you had only once said something like it…you might have done something to bring us together.” Worse than his failure to call her the names she deserved, which would at least have shown some real feeling for her, is his near perfect rectitude. He has never done a dishonorable thing in his life. In “the name of the Almighty, how could any woman live beside you…and be forever forgiven? Or no: not forgiven; ignored!”

In France, waiting for death, Tietjens tries to write down, to get straight in his no longer reliable mind, a clear account of what had happened. He has no doubt that he has developed "a sympathetic, but not violent attachment for Miss Wannop,” a feeling she returns. However, and this is a measure of how much the world has changed, “Neither Miss Wannop nor myself being persons to talk about the state of our feelings, we exchanged no confidences.” He saw Miss Wannop sometimes at his mother’s house or on social occasions. “No expressions of affection on the part of either of us ever passed. Not one. Ever.”

Shortly before he left for France this second time, Tietjens was walking along a railing above some tennis courts. For a few brief moments, he watched white clad players who look like “marionettes practising crucifixions.” And with those three words, Ford Madox Ford captures perfectly the scenes of slaughter in which millions, an entire generation, the best of England, did what those who held the strings of power told them to do, and in the fields of Flanders played their final deathlike game. Quite willing to be one of them, Christopher Tietjens somehow survives the war. What he and Valentine feel for each other survives as well, but nothing else is the way it was. Whether for the better or the worse is a question that, whatever you and I might think a hundred years later, Christopher Tietjens would not have had the slightest doubt how to answer.
Visit D.W. Buffa's website.

Third reading: The Great Gatsby

Third reading: Brave New World.

Third reading: Lord Jim.

Third reading: Death in the Afternoon.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, August 11, 2021

Sarah Warburton

Sarah D. Warburton lives in the mountains of Southwest Virginia. For ten years she was the lead writer for the monthly magazine UpClose. She has studied writing with Pam Houston at the Taos Writers Workshop and with Justin Cronin in Houston. Her work has appeared in the Southern Arts Journal, Women on Writing, Embark Literary Magazine, and Oyster River Pages.

Warburton's first novel, Once Two Sisters, was a Publishers Weekly pick of the week, a Crimereads recommended debut, and a PopSugar featured title.

[My Book, The Movie: Once Two SistersQ&A with Sarah WarburtonThe Page 69 Test: Once Two Sisters]

Her new novel is You Can Never Tell.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Warburton's reply:
I always have a few books going at once. While I drink my morning coffee, I actually like to read culinary memoirs. Right now I’m rereading Buttermilk Graffiti: A Chef's Journey to Discover America's New Melting-Pot Cuisine by Edward Lee. Each chapter takes Lee to a different part of the United States known for a (sometimes unexpected) immigrant cuisine. The writing is beautiful and it’s a luxury to travel vicariously. Lee’s also generous with his own personal story, so that it’s easy to understand why people open up to him. And he includes recipes at the end of each chapter that put his own personal spin on the food he’s experienced.

As a member of five book clubs, I’m always either reading or supposed to be reading a book for one of them. I listened to Being Mortal by Atul Gawande on audio, but have bought that one to read again and pass on. It’s the most uplifting book on a dark subject: how we’ve medicalized the experience of aging and what we do with the elderly. Gawande uses the personal stories of individual people to create the same kind of empathy novelists hope to inspire through their characters.

I’m almost done with One by One by Ruth Ware. This one is sheer fun for anyone who loves a locked room, Agatha Christie-style mystery. From the first page, we know four people won’t make it and as the avalanche comes and the power goes out, the tension builds. I’d actually been saving this one as a treat, and it’s delivering!

And while I’m saving Dream Girl as my next treat, I am reading Laura Lippman’s book of essays, My Life as a Villainess. Love her Tess Monaghan novels, love her stand-alones, love her Twitter feed, and I love these essays. Despite the difference between fiction and narrative nonfiction, I think there’s a recognizable voice throughout. Good reminder that you don't have to be nice and you don't have to be thin to like how you look. Smart, sometimes snarky, and so relatable.
Visit Sarah Warburton's website.

Q&A with Sarah Warburton.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, August 7, 2021

Ellen Byron

Ellen Byron is the Agatha Award-winning author of the Cajun Country Mysteries. The USA Today bestselling series has also won multiple Best Humorous Mystery Lefty awards from the Left Coast Crime conference. She also writes The Catering Hall Mysteries (under the pen name Maria DiRico), and will launch the Vintage Cookbook Mysteries (as Ellen) in June 2022.

Byron’s TV credits include Wings, Just Shoot Me, and Fairly OddParents. She’s written over 200 national magazine articles, and her published plays include the award-winning Graceland. She also worked as a cater-waiter for the legendary Martha Stewart, a credit she never tires of sharing.

A native New Yorker who attended Tulane University, Byron lives in Los Angeles with her husband, daughter, and rescue chi mix, Pogo. She still misses her hometown - and still drives like a New York cabbie.

Byron's new Cajun Country Mystery is Cajun Kiss of Death.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
The other day I found myself short on reading material, which is kind of ridiculous because I have tons of physical books in my house and e-books on my Kindle Fire. But I think I was propelled by the urge to do something denied to me during the pandemic – pay a visit to my local library and browse its shelves. As I scanned the books, I came across the Ian Rutledge series written by the mother-son duo that goes by the pseudonym Charles Todd. I adore historical mysteries. It may be my favorite genre. I read and loved the Todd’s series in the past because it features a British WW1 veteran-turned-Scotland Yard inspector who suffers from shell shock, which we now know as PTSD. I’m fascinated with WW1 because no matter how often someone tries to explain to me what triggered it, I don’t understand. I also have an odd fascination with trench warfare. (For the best description of that, I recommend Robert Graves’ autobiography, Goodbye to All That.)

Back to the Todds. I checked out their 2019 release, The Black Ascot. The title refers to the first Ascot horse races after the death of King Edward VII, when attendees all dressed in black from head to toe, eschewing their usual colorful outfits and chapeau. I’ve just begun the book, which revolves around a man who may or may not have committed a murder shortly after the Black Ascot, and then disappeared. Ten years later, Inspector Rutledge hears a rumor of a sighting and sets out to find the man and possibly absolve him of the charge. I’m in my happy place when I’m reading one of the Todd’s fine historical mysteries.
Visit Ellen Byron's website.

Coffee with a Canine: Ellen Byron & Wiley and Pogo.

Q&A with Ellen Byron.

--Marshal Zeringue