Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Ron Walters

Ron Walters is a former journalist, college registrar, and stay-at-home dad who writes science fiction and fantasy for all ages. A native of Savannah, GA, he currently lives in Germany with his wife, two daughters, and two rescue dogs. When he's not writing he works as a substitute high school teacher, plays video games, and does his best to ignore the judgmental looks his dogs give him for not walking them more often.

Walters's new novel is Deep Dive.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. His reply:
I’ve torn through a lot of epic fantasies lately (most recently Joe Abercrombie’s First Law trilogy, which was absolutely stunning), so for my current read I decided to go with something much more contemporary and intimate but just as fantastical and amazing: Swashbucklers, by Dan Hanks. To quote the back copy: “When Cisco Collins returns to his home town thirty years after saving it from being swallowed by a hell mouth opened by an ancient pirate ghost, he realises that being a childhood hero isn't like it was in the movies. Especially when nobody remembers the heroic bits - even the friends who once fought alongside him.”

Like a lot of Gen-Xers I’m a sucker for 80s nostalgia, so this sort of premise is automatically going to hook me. What’s keeping me invested beyond the plot of a reemerging supernatural threat, though, are the relationships between the characters, particularly the relationship between Cisco and his son, George. I’m not a single-parent like Cisco, but in some ways that makes me even more sympathetic to his struggles. I know how hard it is to be a good parent when there are two of you wrangling the kids. People like Cisco who have to parent on their own have so much more on their plate than I’ve ever had to deal with, which makes his successes and failures all the more poignant. I haven’t finished reading Swashbucklers yet, but I am excited to see where the plot and Cisco’s relationship with George takes me. If parent-centric fantasy sounds like your jam, you should definitely check it out.
Visit Ron Walters's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Soraya M. Lane

Soraya M. Lane graduated with a law degree before realizing that law wasn't the career for her and that her future was in writing. She is the author of historical and contemporary women's fiction, and her novel Wives of War was an Amazon Charts bestseller.

Lane lives on a small farm in her native New Zealand with her husband, their two sons and a collection of four legged friends. When she's not writing, she loves to be outside playing make-believe with her children or snuggled up inside reading.

Lane's new novel is Under a Sky of Memories.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
I most recently read The Mother-in-Law by Australian author Sally Hepworth, and I loved it so much that I went straight to the bookstore and purchased the only other novel of hers they had in stock, The Younger Wife! Hepworth has been on my to-be-read pile for some time, and she stood out to me because she’s Australian and because I love following her on Instagram. I also really like to read novels that are completely different to what I write - I adore reading historical fiction, but when I’m in the middle of drafting my own historical fiction, I reach for a different genre. Hepworth’s cast of flawed yet loveable characters and excellent dialogue made me an instant fan of her writing, and she’s definitely an author I’ll be reading more of. I had no idea who had committed murder in The Mother-in-Law, and I love a good page turner like that!
Visit Soraya Lane's website.

Q&A with Soraya M. Lane.

My Book, The Movie: Under a Sky of Memories.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, January 14, 2022

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 published a series that 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, most recently, America in the Twentieth Century in Neumann's Last Concert.

Here is Buffa's take on Edmund Wilson’s Patriotic Gore:
Before appealing to history, those who insist that America is, and has always been, a racist country should have read some. They would have learned, among other things, that one of the most serious complaints the American colonists had against British rule was that the British had introduced slavery and then stopped every effort the colonists made to end the importation of slaves. They would also have learned, if they did not already know, that the American Civil War was fought on a moral issue, an issue which Abraham Lincoln, in the Cooper Union Speech of February 27, 1860, framed with marvelous simplicity:
If slavery is right, all words, acts, laws and constitutions against it, are themselves wrong, and should be silenced and swept away,” insisted Abraham Lincoln in his Cooper Union speech of February 27, 1860. “If it is right, we cannot justly object to its nationality - its universality; if it is wrong, they cannot justly insist upon its extension - its enlargement. All they ask, we could readily grant, if we thought slavery right; all we ask, they could as readily grant, if they thought it wrong. Their thinking it right, and our thinking it wrong, is the precise fact upon which depends the whole controversy.
What did those who fought the war, and those who lived through it, think of slavery as a moral issue, a question of right and wrong? Edmund Wilson, one of the country’s most important literary figures in the twentieth century and without question its greatest literary critic, tries to answer this question in his remarkable book, Patriotic Gore: Studies in the Literature of the American Civil War, published in l962. Wilson writes not about what happened, but what was written about it. He begins with Uncle Tom’s Cabin.

It is a story that “came so suddenly” to Harriet Beecher Stowe, “and seemed so irresistibly to write itself that she felt as if some power beyond her had laid hold of her to deliver its message, and she said sometimes that the book had been written by God.” If she thought it had been written by God, or at least with God’s assistance, it was because, Wilson explains, she assumed “that every worthy person in the United States must desire to preserve the integrity of our unprecedented republic; and she tries to show how Negro slavery must disrupt and degrade this…by tempting the North to the moral indifference, the half-deliberate ignorance, which encourages inhuman practices, and by weakening the character of the South through luxury and irresponsibility that the institution of slavery breeds.”

Everyone, or nearly everyone, has heard of Uncle Tom’s Cabin; no one, or nearly no one, remembers Francis Grierson. But, Edmund Wilson insists in a chapter entitled “Prophetic Visions,” Grierson’s novel, The Valley of the Shadows, gives us more than any other book “the sense of the national crisis for which people daily felt they were being prepared without having been given the power to control it - not so much a storm that was going to burst as a drama, a sacred drama, in which they would have to perform.” Grierson, who as a boy had heard Lincoln and Douglas debate, later wrote Abraham Lincoln, the Practical Mystic, in which he describes Lincoln “as the designated and conscious instrument through which larger forces were working.” Grierson’s account of those larger forces, the sense of destiny that seemed almost palpable, deeper and more profound than the histories that do little more than chronicle events. He writes, “things came about not so much by preconceived method as by an impelling impulse. The appearance of Uncle Tom’s Cabin was not a reason, but an illumination; the founding of the Republican party was not an act of political wire-pulling, but an inspiration; the great religious revivals and the appearance of two comets were not regarded as coincidences, but accepted as signs of divine preparation and warning.”
Lincoln himself felt the force of it. He attended a camp meeting when he was only twenty- three and heard a Methodist preacher declare that “the Dominion of Christ could not come in America until slavery was destroyed.” The sermon lasted three hours and, showing “that a great civil war would put an end to human bondage,” the minister cried out, “Who can tell but the man who shall lead us through this strife may be standing in this presence!” When the meeting was over, Lincoln told a friend, “when the preacher was describing the civil war, I distinctly saw myself, as in second sight, bearing an important part in that strife.”

Lincoln, who spoke about the “mystic chords of memory’ in his second inaugural speech, had foreseen that he would play an “important part” in the Civil War. Elected president, he “had foreseen and accepted his doom; he knew it was part of the drama.” He had for years had a recurring dream - a ship on its “steady way to some dark and infinite shore.” The night before he was murdered, he “dreamed again of the ship approaching its dark destination.”

And what of the South? Frederick L. Olmstead, who before he constructed Central Park in New York, had been a magazine editor, was sent by the New York Times in l852 on a three- month trip through the South. He then wrote The Cotton Kingdom, in which he observed that slavery “not only degrades the slaves but demoralizes the master.” At the big plantations slaves work eighteen hours a day. Poor whites, “who live as badly or worse,” are despised by the other whites and in turn detest the Negro slaves because they cannot compete with them in the labor market. Few newspapers are published and almost no books. Virginia, “has declined from its once brilliant civilization.” The planter class has no interest in literature or art, science or foreign affairs and there is no discussion of slavery.

No open discussion, that is. A number of Confederate women wrote privately about the South’s Peculiar Institution. Kate Stone, living with her widowed mother on a thousand- acre cotton planation worked by a hundred fifty slaves knew as well as any Northern abolitionist that slavery was wrong.

“I always felt the moral guilt of it, felt how impossible it must be for an owner of slaves to win his way into Heaven. Born and raised as we were, what would be our measure of responsibility!” Though the war “swept from us everything,” she never regretted the freeing of the slaves. “The great load of accountability has been lifted.”

Mrs. James Chestnut, whose father had been a leading force in the movement to secede and the first Southern U.S. Senator to resign, published her journal under the title, A Diary From Dixie. She had a horror of slavery. “Like the patriarchs of old, our men live all in one house with their wives and concubines; and the mulattoes one sees in every family partly resemble the white children. Any lady is ready to tell you who is the father of all the mulatto children in everybody’s household but her own.”

Perhaps the most surprising thing is the attitude of Robert E. Lee who led the Southern army. He had emancipated “most of his slaves years before the war, and had sent to Liberia those who were willing to go.” The Virginia legislature had come “within an ace of abolishing slavery in l832,” an attempt which Lee had approved. Lee favored abolition, did not believe there was a constitutional right to secession, nor that there was adequate cause for revolution, detested the boasting of the “Cotton States,” despised “their habitual truculent arrogance and their threats against the ‘Border States’ for their reluctance to go along with them.”

Lee resigned from the Union army and fought for the South because, Wilson believes, of an “instinctive emulation of his ancestors, the manifestation of a regional patriotism more deeply rooted than loyalty to the United States,” the “same sense of honor and independence which stimulated Virginia to stand up to the Crown.” At the end of the Civil War, Lee said that, “So far from engaging in the war to perpetuate slavery, I am rejoiced that slavery is abolished. I believe it will be greatly for the interests of the South. So fully am I satisfied of this, as regards Virginia especially, that I would cheerfully have lost all I have lost by the war, and have suffered all I have suffered, to have this object attained.”

Ulysses S. Grant, who led the Union armies and accepted Lee’s surrender, wrote a record of his campaigns which Mark Twain believed was the most remarkable work of its kind since the Commentaries of Julius Caesar. Like Uncle Tom’s Cabin before the war, Grant’s Personal Memoirs sold three hundred thousand copies. He said of Lincoln: “He was a great man, a very great man. The more I saw of him, the more this impressed me. He was incontestably the greatest man I ever knew.” Grant understood why the war had been fought. Traveling to Europe, Grant met Bismarck who expressed the opinion that the American Civil War had really been about preserving the Union rather than ending slavery. Grant told Bismarck that he was wrong, that the war was about doing both. The moment “slavery fired upon the flag it was felt, we all felt, even those who did not object to slaves, that slavery must be destroyed. We felt it was a stain to the Union that men be bought and sold, like cattle.”

Lincoln had understood it from the beginning, that slavery was the sin of the whole nation, and that it was necessary, in the words of another author, to “emancipate the American republic from the curse of slavery, a curse which lay upon both races, and which in different ways enslaved them both.”
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.

Third Reading: The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.

Third Reading: The Scarlet Letter.

Third Reading: Justine.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, January 9, 2022

John Birmingham

John Birmingham is the author of Emergence, Resistance, Ascendance, After America, Without Warning, Final Impact, Designated Targets, Weapons of Choice, and other novels, as well as Leviathan, which won the National Award for Nonfiction at Australia’s Adelaide Festival of the Arts, and the novella Stalin’s Hammer: Rome. He has written for The Sydney Morning Herald, Rolling Stone, Penthouse, Playboy, and numerous other magazines.

Birmingham's new novel is The Shattered Skies, the sequel to The Cruel Stars.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. Birmingham's reply:
When John le Carré died last year I realised that I’d never read any of his novels. A bit of an oversight, really, because I quite like spy novels, and le Carré was undoubtedly the foremost author of literature set in that shadow world. I seem to recall, and I'm not even going to check Google here, that he passed away around about the time his penultimate novel Agent Running In The Field was released. I had a free Audible credit at the time so I grabbed it up.

The first surprise was that the author read his own work. To be honest, that was a bit hard to get past, because when he recorded the book le Carré was a very old man, close to his own death, and his voice although beautifully modulated did not match the narrator of the story, a washed up agent in his mid 50s. Nonetheless, I got past it because the writing was just so good.

I remember reading somewhere that le Carré books were not just the greatest spy novels of the last 100 years, they were among the finest works of literature, and thus some of the most exquisite observations of the human condition. It was not an exaggeration.

Agent Running In The Field was possessed of all of his usual, exacting detail about life as a spy, amazing really when you think about it, because he had been out of the game for nearly sixty years by that point. But it was also a master class in the use of the English language to reveal deeper and deeper layers of human frailty.

I read it at first simply because it felt like the right thing to do given that the man had passed away and would write no more. (As it turned out, he published another title posthumously). Having finished the novel, however, I was so impressed I decided to spend the rest of the year reading his famous ‘Karla’ trilogy, the triptych detailing the decades-long battle between the British spymaster George Smiley and his Russian counterpart, known simply as Karla. The first of these, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy has long since entered the canon of modern literature – probably because it seemed to so accurately capture the reality of the Soviet’s penetration of British intelligence in the 1950s and 60s before we understood just how complete that penetration was.

A number of things struck me when reading the novel, foremost among them the squalid reality of life in the early 1970s. There was no James Bond glamour in these books, even though some of the spies do spend their professional lives jetting around the world, staying in nice hotels, and hooking up with early 1970s hotties. Mostly everything is grimy, low tech, squalid and demeaning. The past is another country, and it really sucks back there.

Ah, but the certainty. Even when the protagonists, particularly the Englishmen, have good reason to question the morality and efficacy of their work, they’re never allowed to lose sight of the fact that their enemy is monstrous. And in a way they are trapped by this, because they can see no way to defeat the monster that doesn't lead to them becoming monstrous themselves. It is a wonderful meditation on the sorrows of a politically engaged life that you can probably trace all the way back to the first Greek tragedies.

Reading the trilogy, which continued with The Honourable Schoolboy and concluded in Smiley’s People, it was possible and sort of wonderful to watch le Carré’s talents develop over a decade or so. He proved himself a writer of the first order in 1963 with The Spy Who Came In From The Cold. But by the time we get to Smiley's People he's just handing out master class lessons like M&M's. I was highlighting certain passages as I went through the book, mostly to do with tradecraft so that I could go back and study them for my own spy novels at some point in the future. But in the end, I was so completely swept away by his skill that I gave up on trying to learn anything in the moment and just gave myself over to the pleasure of reading a grand story told by one of the great artists of the written word.
Follow John Birmingham on Facebook and Twitter, and subscribe to his column.

My Book, The Movie: The Cruel Stars.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, December 29, 2021

William Boyle

William Boyle is from Brooklyn, New York. He’s the author of five novels: Gravesend, which was nominated for the Grand Prix de Littérature Policière in France and shortlisted for the John Creasey (New Blood) Dagger in the UK; The Lonely Witness, which was nominated for the Hammett Prize and the Grand Prix de Littérature Policière; A Friend Is a Gift You Give Yourself, an Amazon Best Book in 2019 and winner of the Prix Transfuge du meilleur polar étranger in France; City of Margins, a Washington Post Best Thriller and Mystery Book of 2020; and, most recently, Shoot the Moonlight Out. All are available from Pegasus Crime. He lives in Oxford, Mississippi.

Recently I asked Boyle about what he was reading. His reply:
Without a doubt, the best book I read this year was Agota Kristof's The Notebook, The Proof, The Third Lie. I’d heard of this trilogy of novels somewhere along the line—I’d written down the titles in a notebook—but it must not have been a substantial lead because I didn’t follow through until recently. An absolute masterpiece. Can’t remember the last time I gulped down 500 pages so hungrily. The bones of a dark fable or fairy tale. Dissects the inhumanity of humankind, the ravages of war, the small lives lost in all the destruction, identity, memory, reality, truth, storytelling, borders, the depths of perversion and depravity and despair, and ways of surviving in a fucked-beyond-repair world. Grim, strange, jagged, haunting, elemental, full of real pain and heart and yearning. Prose that’s like drinking cold, clean water from a sacred spring. Just incredible. Should be said that this book features some of the most horrifying stuff I’ve ever read, and it’s all rendered in the most direct and detached language, which somehow makes it even more emotional and affecting. Fascinating to read this the same week I watched another Hungarian masterwork, Lili Horvát’s film Preparations to Be Together for an Unknown Period of Time, which also questions what happens to the fabric of reality in times of trauma (in that case, love is the source of trauma). Anyhow, this is one of the most challenging, moving, and thought-provoking books I’ve ever read. Bummed it took me so long to find but thankful I found it now.
Visit William Boyle's website.

Q&A with William Boyle.

The Page 69 Test: Shoot the Moonlight Out.

My Book, The Movie: Shoot the Moonlight Out.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, December 21, 2021

Kimberly Belle

Kimberly Belle is the USA Today and internationally bestselling author of seven novels, including the newly released My Darling Husband and The Marriage Lie, a Goodreads Choice Awards semifinalist for Best Mystery & Thriller. Her books have been published in more than in a dozen languages and have been optioned for film and television. A graduate of Agnes Scott College, Belle divides her time between Atlanta and Amsterdam.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Belle's reply:
Woman on Fire by Lisa Barr

Any story set in the Netherlands is an automatic draw for me, and when I heard Woman on Fire centered around the high-stakes world of art theft, I was sold. Part thriller, part World War II epic, this novel follows a gutsy journalist as she chases a Nazi-looted masterpiece through the darkest and most dangerous streets of the international art world. Barr’s descriptions are top notch, making this a fast-paced stunner that’s as vivid as the painting it’s based on
Visit Kimberly Belle's website.

The Page 69 Test: My Darling Husband.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, December 19, 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 a series that 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 Lawrence Durrell’s Justine:
Lawrence Durrell, quite on purpose, wrote Justine, the first of four novels that together became known as The Alexandria Quartet, like a “spiral staircase,” each step taken changing the perspective of how things are seen. “I have escaped to this island with a few books and the child — Melissa’s child,” he writes on the very first page. At night, when “the wind roars and the child sleeps quietly in the wooden cot,” he thinks about Justine and Nessim, Melissa and Balthazar and about the city, Alexandria. Alone with the child on the island, he will try to reorder reality, to show what was most significant.

He sees all this, he is determined to see all this, the way that each of us sees things in our own remembered past, not as the sequential events they were when they unfolded, but as we first come to learn about them; the way, for example, we learn, much later than it happened, a friend’s, or a lover’s, betrayal.

He will “record experiences, not in the order in which they took place — for that is history — but in the order in which they first became significant for me.” It is only here, on the island, “that I am at last able to re-enter, reinhabit the unburied city with my friends…. Here at least I am able to see their history and the city’s as one and the same phenomenon.”

Justine, the novel, is about Alexandria, the city, because Justine, the woman, is “only an extension of the spirit of the place.” With “five races, five languages,” and “more than five sexes.” Alexandria is different than other places. Everyone knows everyone, or knows something about everyone; everyone knows about Justine, married to Nessim, a man so rich that he cares nothing about money, and indeed is “possessed by a positive distaste for it.” Stranger still, Nessim “appeared to be quite faithful to Justine — an unheard of state of affairs.” Justine, however, is not faithful to him. Durrell does not approach her; she approaches him.

Durrell is not married, but shares his bed at regular intervals with Melissa, a dancing girl, of whom Purswarden, a well-known writer, said after watching her dance that he would propose marriage to her, “But she is so ignorant and her mind so deformed by poverty and bad luck that she would refuse out of incredulity.” The difference between the two women could not be greater, or more tragic. Melissa loved “my weaknesses because there she felt of use to me; Justine brushed all this aside as unworthy of her interest.”

Justine has so many theories about herself that it is never quite possible to trust her conclusions. She is always searching for something, something that will tell her what, and who, she really is. Durrell, her lover, is driven to the same search. It is the question, the central concern, of everyone who knows her, or tries to know her. Everyone wants her, and if she does not go so far as indiscriminate promiscuity it is only because before she gives her body she has already sufficiently imagined the act. Almost before their affair has begun, she remarks that, “This intimacy should go no further, for we have already exhausted all its possibilities in our respective imaginations.”

When Melissa tells Durrell that he is falling in love with Justine, he tells her that it is worse than that — “though I could not for the life of me have explained how or why.” He realizes later that it has something to do with “the curiously ingrown quality of love which I have come to recognize as peculiar to the city rather than ourselves.” Much of what he learns about Justine comes from a book, a diary, written by her first husband, Jacob Arnauti, a story of Alexandrian life seen by a foreigner in the early thirties. The author is engaged in research for a novel he wants to write. One of the characters, Claudia, is like Justine. “She gave herself to me with such contempt,” he writes, “that I was for the first time in my life surprised at the quality of her anxiety; it was as if she were desperate, swollen with disaster.”

Durrell comes across a line that seems to explain everything. Claudia — really Justine — admits that “I hunt everywhere for a life that is worth living…. The doctor I loved told me that I was a nymphomaniac.” The author would like to write a book about her, one “powerful enough to contain the elements of her...: It would have to be a “drama freed from the burden of form. I would set my own book free to dream.” Which, we now understand, is precisely what Lawrence Durrell is trying to do.

If everyone is fascinated by Justine it is perhaps, at least in part, because Justine is so fascinated with herself. She has reason to be. Clea, a friend of Durrell’s, tells him: “The true whore is man’s real darling — like Justine; she alone has the capacity to wound men.” But, then, Justine “cannot be justified or excused. She simply and magnificently is…. Like all amoral people she verges on the Goddess.”

Clea has little interest in love, and even less interest in men. The only experience that “marked” her was one with a woman, who, unsurprisingly, was Justine. Clea tells Durrell that Justine had been “raped by one of her relatives,” and “from this time forward she could obtain no satisfaction in love, unless she mentally recreated these incidents and so re-enacted them.” A line from Arnaud’s diary comes back to Durrell: “There is no pain compared to that of loving a woman who makes her body accessible to one and yet who is incapable of delivering her true self — because she does not know where to find it.”

Balthazar, another main character, makes his first appearance only when the story is nearly half over. He is “one of the keys to the city,” someone Durrell took “very much as he was in those days and now in my memory I feel that he is in need of a new revaluation. There was much that I did not understand then, much that I have since learned.” Balthazar, a physician who is often found in bed with a sailor, or some other man or boy whose name he never knew, understands the city in ways others do not. Alexandria “is really a city of incest — I mean that here the cult of Serapis was founded. For this etiolation of the heart and reins in love-making must make one turn inward upon one’s sister. The lover mirrors himself like Narcissus in his own family: there is no exit from the predicament.” Incest has a deeper meaning than what, on a first reading, this might suggest, and perhaps more meanings than one.

With women, with men, with her own haunted fantasies of violent abuse, Justine makes those who are brought within the sphere of her sexuality begin to change places, to become the very person they have betrayed. Nessim, betrayed by Justine, begins to love Melissa; while Melissa “would hunt in him for qualities which she imagined I must have found in his wife.” This is not as strange as it seems, or perhaps stranger than it seems: “One always falls in love with the love-choice of the person one loves.” Incest is everywhere. The four of them: Nessim and Melissa, Justine and Durrell, “were unrecognized complementaries of one another, inextricably bound together.” Nessim and Melissa, both of them betrayed, “talked now as a doomed brother and sister might…. In all their sympathy an unexpected shadow of desire stirred within them, a wraith merely, the stepchild of confession and release.”

Justine, at the end, finally leaves Nessim, but she does not run off with Durrell; she simply disappears. A world war is coming. When Clea gets a card from Justine, who is working on a kibbutz in Jerusalem, the story seems over, but there is an unresolved problem, not about Justine, but about Melissa, or rather, the child she has had with Nessim. There is an incestuous connection even in this. Justine had had a child of her own, years earlier, a child who had been kidnapped and never found. It all makes sense to Balthazar: “I look at it this way: by one of those fearful displacements of which only love seems capable the child Justine lost was given back by Nessim not to her but to Melissa.”

Melissa is in the hospital, and when she dies, Durrell promises to take the child if Nessim does not want her. And then, following the spiral staircase of the story, we are back where we started, the child sleeping peacefully in the wooden cot while Durrell, alone on the island, begins to write what he remembers about what Alexandria and its more than five sexes had been.
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.

Third Reading: The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.

Third Reading: The Scarlet Letter.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, December 14, 2021

Meghan Holloway

Meghan Holloway found her first Nancy Drew mystery in a sun-dappled attic at the age of eight and subsequently fell in love with the grip and tautness of a well-told mystery. She flew an airplane before she learned how to drive a car, did her undergrad work in Creative Writing in the sweltering south, and finished a Masters of Library and Information Science in the blustery north. She spent a summer and fall in Maine picking peaches and apples, traveled the world for a few years, and did a stint fighting crime in the records section of a police department.

Holloway's latest thriller is Hiding Place.

Recently I asked the author about what she reading. Her reply:
My nightstand has held some great reads recently, and there are more in the queue. Here is what I have been reading in the last month:

The Searcher
I love Tana French’s writing style. Her descriptions are so rich and embodied that the settings take on a life of their own. The way she stages a scene, the depth and layers of her characters, and her use of dialogue is something I find endlessly inspiring.

The Magpie Murders
A friend recommended this book to me. I find Anthony Horowitz’s writing so clever and wry. He captures the overtones of Agatha Christie so perfectly that his stories feel like such classics. He writes a whodunnit perfectly.

State of Terror
Political thrillers are not normally something I seek out, but when I saw Louise Penny had written one with Hillary Clinton, I wanted to check it out. I love the Armand Gamache series, and while this has not held the charm of Three Pines, it is an entertaining read that feels like a juicy “insider” story.

The Best of Friends
The final story is a book club read, and it is a compelling one about secrets, grief, and the bonds between a mother and child. I am finding it doubly interesting knowing the author, Dr. Lucinda Berry, is a psychologist. I love in depth studies of characters who do the wrong thing for the right reason, and I was intrigued to see how she explores the ferocity of motherhood when I attempted to tackle the same dynamic in Hiding Place.

There are, of course, the other research books I am reading for my current work in progress along with Stanley Tucci’s Taste: My Life Through Food. Who else is ready for season two of Stanley Tucci: Searching for Italy?

What is on your Kindle or nightstand? Send some recommendations my way.
Visit Meghan Holloway's website, and follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Q&A with Meghan Holloway.

The Page 69 Test: Hiding Place.

My Book, The Movie: Hiding Place.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, November 29, 2021

Darcie Wilde

Darcie Wilde is the award-winning author of the Rosalind Thorne Mysteries, a Regency-set historical mystery series inspired by the novels of Jane Austen.

The new book in the series is A Counterfeit Suitor.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Wilde's reply:
As I’m writing this, fall is turning to winter, a time of year that’s about burrowing under covers and being cozy, and for me, about reading favorites, whether that’s favorite authors, or favorite themes.

Now, I have a confession. I have a deep and abiding love for “deal with the devil” stories. I don’t know why, but it’s been a life-long fascination. So, I was delighted to find two new books that take the deal as the premise, and both of them excellent.

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab begins with the classic premise that you should be very, very careful what you wish for. Addie wishes for time, and gets it, but it comes in the form of a highly problematic immortality. She also, like the clever peasant in the fairy tale, thinks she can outsmart the darkness she’s tied herself to. And maybe she will. Eventually.

Ryka Aoki's Light From Uncommon Stars also features a literal deal with a literal devil, or at least a demon. It also geeks out on violins, music, and all kinds of food. It’s also about love, found family, and acceptance. Oh, and there’s a family of intergalactic refugees who run a doughnut shop in L.A. (as one does when one is an intergalactic refugee). This is one of those books that really should not have worked, but it does, and it does so beautifully.

John le Carré also writes about deals with devils. His are not literal, but his very human spies, and those near them do make plenty of bargains and compromises they will come to regret. LeCarre died last year, but he left behind one last novel. Silverview by John le Carré is as much about family, love and reinvention as it is about spies. It’s not le Carré’s absolute best, but it is full of what I love about his books — that is his ability to show such deeply human characters caught up in events that they can’t control, and might never fully understand.
Visit Darcie Wilde's website.

Q&A with Darcie Wilde.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, November 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 a series that 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 Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter:
The uninstructed reader, that is to say, all of us raised in the age of television and celebrity, may wonder on first reading The Scarlet Letter how adultery, however much some might think it wrong, could have been made a crime, and not just a minor crime, but an offense punishable by death. The reason for our confusion is that while we were taught that the English colonists who first settled New England came to escape religious persecution, we were not told that they came to practice a religious persecution of their own.

The Puritans who founded Salem braved the hazards of a three month voyage across the Atlantic, and then braved life in an uncharted wilderness, because they knew, knew with every fiber of their being, that everything they did, everything they had to do, was commanded by God. These were people, Hawthorne tells us, “among whom religion and law were so thoroughly interfused, that the mildest and the severest acts of public discipline were alike made venerable and awful.” That was why they were waiting outside the jail for Hester Prynne, convicted of adultery, to be taken to the scaffold. That was why the women in the crowd were angry with what they thought the leniency of men.

“‘At the very least,’ said one, ‘they should have put the brand of a hot iron on Hester Prynne’s forehead.’” A young wife, holding a child by the hand, insisted that “‘let her cover the mark as she will, the pang of it will be always in her heart.’” Another woman, “the ugliest as well as the most pitiless of these self-constituted judges,” gave voice to what most of them felt when she said Hester Prynne should die. “‘Is there not law for it? Truly there is, both in the Scriptures, and the statute-book. Then let the magistrates, who have made it of no effect, thank themselves if their own wives and daughters go astray!’”

Holding her three-month-old daughter, Hester Prynne steps out of the jail, and with “a burning blush, and yet a haughty smile, and a glance that would not be abashed,” looks around at her neighbors and townspeople. On the breast of her gown, “in fine red cloth,” with “fantastic flourishes of gold thread,” and a “gorgeous luxuriance of fancy,” blazed the scarlet letter, signifying her crime. Everyone was “astonished, and even startled, to perceive how her beauty shone out, and made a halo of the misfortune and ignominy in which she was enveloped.”

And thus begins The Scarlet Letter, perhaps the greatest American novel ever written. Hester Prynne’s husband who, two years earlier, had stayed behind in England to put his affairs in order, was presumed lost at sea. The question was who the child’s father had been, and on that question Hester Prynne preserves a complete, unbroken silence. Her secret, however, is shared with you, the reader, who from the beginning knows everything, and knows it in a way you have seldom known anything before, and all because Hawthorne has achieved what Ford Madox Ford would later say every serious author should aim at in a style: “something so unobtrusive and so quiet - and so beautiful if possible - that the reader should not know he is reading, and be conscious only that he is living in the life of the book….”

The mystery of The Scarlet Letter goes much deeper than the identity of the child’s father. The father is the young Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale, who had come from “one of the great English universities, bringing all the learning of the age into our wild forest-land.” Standing on the scaffold with Hester Prynne, he instructs her “‘to speak out the name of they fellow-sinner and fellow-sufferer!’” He urges her, and there is no doubt he means it, to “‘Be not silent from any mistaken pity and tenderness for him…. What can thy silence do for him, except to tempt him - yea, corrupt him, as it were - to add hypocrisy to sin?’”

“‘Never!’” she replies, with a fierce, determined look.

Hester keeps her secret. She will bear her shame alone. The question is why? She does not have to stay. She can leave, return to Europe and live a normal life. No one will stop her. But she stays. Hawthorne tells us that the place had “given color” to her life, “a fatality…a feeling so irresistible and inevitable that it has the force of doom.” There is another reason. Arthur Dimmesdale was here, “one with whom she deemed herself connected in a union, that, unrecognized on earth, would bring them together before the bar of final judgment, and make that their marriage altar, for a joint futurity of endless retribution.”

In his own way, Arthur Dimmesdale suffers more than she. Time after time he resolves to tell the congregation that he is “utterly a pollution and a lie!” And he does! He tells them that he is “the worst of sinners, an abomination, a thing of unimaginable iniquity.” And what happens? - They revere him all the more. “He had spoken the very truth, and transformed it into the veriest falsehood.” But “he loved the truth, and loathed the lie, as few men ever did. Therefore, above all things, he loathed his miserable self.”

And Hester Prynne? Her suffering has a different effect. The life of an outcast has allowed her - forced her, if you will - to assume “a freedom of speculation, then common enough on the other side of the Atlantic, but which our forefathers, had they known of it, would have held to be a deadlier crime than that stigmatized by the scarlet letter.” Like Eve, Hester Prynne has learned to think, and, her mind liberated by her isolation, she makes a bold suggestion to Arthur Dimmesdale when they meet by chance one day in the forest. Go back to Europe, she tells him. “‘There is happiness to be enjoyed! There is good to be done! Exchange this false life for a true one….’” He lacks the courage, but Hester is unafraid. “The scarlet letter was her passport into regions where other women dared not tread.” Their love, “aroused from a deathlike slumber,” brightens their eyes and settles the question: they will leave Salem together.

But later, when Arthur Dimmesdale is all alone, he confronts the reality of what he has done. What few today would think worth troubling themselves about, the young Reverend Dimmesdale thinks the only thing worth consideration. “It was an age,” Hawthorne tells us, “when what we call talent had far less consideration than now, but the massive materials which produce stability and dignity of character, a good deal more.” Days after meeting Hester in the forest, days after agreeing that would leave their sin, and their country, behind, Arthur Dimmesdale preaches his last sermon.

When he finishes, and the procession has left the church, he turns toward the scaffold and, pale and tottering, calls Hester and their daughter to join him. Announcing to the “‘People of New England’” that her scarlet letter “‘is but the shadow of what he bears on his own breast,’” he tears away “the ministerial band from before his breast,” and tells Hester that God has proved his mercy, “‘by giving me this burning torture to bear upon my breast.’”

As he lay dying, Hester asks: “‘Shall we not spend our immortal life together? Surely, surely, we have ransomed one another with all this woe?’”

He tells her that it is not to be, because when “‘we forgot our God, - when we violated our reverence each for the other’s soul - it was thenceforth vain to hope that we could meet hereafter in an everlasting and pure reunion.’”

After Arthur Dimmesdale’s death, most of those who had witnessed it said that they had seen a scarlet letter, ‘imprinted on the flesh.” Some thought he had inflicted it on himself; others thought that someone working for the Devil had made it appear. Still others thought it had been produced by the remorse growing from within, “and at last magnifying Heaven’s dreadful judgment by the visible presence of the letter.”

Hester’s daughter lived, a young woman, in another land, but Hester never leaves. She becomes a source of counsel, especially for women, telling them “of her firm belief, that, at some brighter period, when the world should have grown ripe for it, in Heaven’s own time, a new truth would be revealed, in order to establish the whole relation between men and women on a surer ground of mutual happiness.”

And yet, we somehow know that Hester Prynne had known that unrevealed truth all along, known it from the moment she met Arthur Dimmesdale and they together conceived a child, and, knowing that, knew something else as well, that Arthur Dimmesdale had been wrong and that they would “meet hereafter in an everlasting and pure reunion.” The just and merciful God whose existence they had never doubted would make sure of it.
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.

Third Reading: The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.

--Marshal Zeringue