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