Wednesday, June 19, 2024

D.W. Buffa

D.W. Buffa's newest novel to be released (July 2024) is Evangeline, a courtroom drama about the murder trial of captain who is one of the few to survive the sinking of his ship.

Buffa is also the author of ten legal thrillers involving the defense attorney Joseph Antonelli. 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 America in the twentieth century, in Neumann's Last Concert.

Here is Buffa's take on Hermann Hesse's Demian:
Thomas Mann and Hermann Hesse both won the Nobel Prize for Literature. Both were born in Germany, and both became citizens of other countries. There was something else these two remarkable writers had in common: their greatest works would not have been possible had Friedrich Nietzsche never lived.

In the introduction to Hesse’s novel, Demian, Thomas Mann wrote:

The electrifying influence exercised on a whole generation just after the First World War by Demian…is unforgettable.” Unforgettable because, “With uncanny accuracy this poetic work struck the nerve of the times and called forth a grateful rapture from a whole youthful generation who believed that an interpretation of their innermost life had risen from their own midst - whereas it was a man already forty-two years old who gave them what they sought.”

Hesse had written Demian over a few months in l917, the third year of the war. It was published just after the war, in l919, the same year he wrote an essay entitled “Zarathustra’s Return” in which he acknowledged “his enormous debt to and reverence for” Nietzsche. The debt could not have been greater. In Steppenwolf, Hesse’s most famous novel, Harry Haller turns his back on what the l9th Century has produced - the bourgeois, Nietzsche’s “last man,” - with as much disgust as Flaubert expressed in Madame Bovary. Through the French Revolution and the forces of industrialization, the world had been turned upside down. Money, comfort, work - everything looked down upon by the aristocracy - was now looked up to as man’s greatest achievements. The noble sense of a scale of rank and values had been replaced by the demand for equality and the right of everyone to their own, uninstructed, opinion. The sense of reverence for the customary, the established way - the morning prayer, as Nietzsche had put it - had been replaced by the morning paper - the daily report of whatever was new. Everyone had become an actor, showing others what they thought others wanted to see, and then, believing what others thought about them, thought that was who they were.

The bourgeois, according to Steppenwolf, which is the name Harry Haller has given himself, is incapable of giving himself entirely either to God or to the flesh. The “absolute is his abhorrence.” He will never follow one path or the other; he always seeks the safety of a middle ground. “He may be ready to serve God, but not by giving up the fleshpots.” The bourgeois is the very definition of mediocre: “a creature of weak impulses, anxious, fearful of giving himself away and easy to rule. Therefore, he has established majority for power, law for force, and the polling booth for responsibility.”

The choice of the name Steppenwolf is not accidental. Haller has both a “tamed or sublimated nature” and the raw nature of a wolf, a savage creature for whom cruelty has no meaning. But, as Nietzsche taught, the self is not divided between these two natures, a rational and an irrational part as the ancients understood it, but a “hundred or a thousand selves.” In a not completely veiled allusion to what happened to Nietzsche, the madness that put him in an asylum, Steppenwolf writes that if someone of “unusual powers and unusually delicate perceptions sees that the ‘self is made up of a bundle of selves’” the majority “puts them under lock and key, calls science to aid, establishes schizophrenia and protects humanity from the necessity of hearing the cry of truth from the lips of these unfortunate persons.”

Steppenwolf is not a novel in the usual sense. It does not attempt to trace the development of the various characters of a story through their relationships; it is a report of what Steppenwolf has written down, his reflections on the disordered times in which he has the misfortune to live. Reading Steppenwolf is like reading what an intelligent student might write about what he had learned from a teacher who had himself studied under the one of the most remarkable minds of the last two hundred years; it is like reading what someone with an unusual gift for literature might write about what he had learned from reading Friedrich Nietzsche.

Harry Haller - Steppenwolf - suffers from the loneliness of his knowledge, his understanding of the fatal deficiencies of what Europe has become: a “cemetery where Jesus Christ and Socrates, Mozart and Haydn, Dante and Goethe were but the indecipherable names on mouldering stones…,” a civilization where the bourgeois are prevented by the very machinery that controls their time measured existence from “recognizing the stupidity and shallowness, the hopeless tragedy and waste of the lives they lead.” This includes especially the scholar who “believes in the value of more knowledge and its acquisition, because he believes in progress and evolution.” Haller, the Steppenwolf, can see the future: the next war “will be a good deal more terrible than the last.”

Like Steppenwolf, Demian is a very short novel, barely a hundred fifty pages, but every page holds your attention. This, in part, is because you know in advance, as it were, the effect it had, that “electrifying influence” Thomas Mann writes about in his introduction. Everyone knows that Nietzsche, though he despised both German anti-semitism and German nationalism, had something to do with fascism as it took form in Europe. But for every person who read Nietzsche, hundreds, and more likely, thousands, read Hermann Hesse. Demian had an effect that no other novel had on young Europeans since Goethe’s The Sorrows of Young Werther, nearly a hundred years earlier. Werther led more than one young man to commit suicide out of his own feelings of love lost despair; Demian helped lead an entire generation to the Third Reich and the suicide of Europe.

The story of Demian is told by his young friend, Sinclair, who was drawn to him when Demian, new to the school Sinclair attends, gives him his own interpretation of the Biblical story of Cain and Abel. When Cain kills his brother, he is “awarded a special decoration for his cowardice, a mark that protects him and puts the fear of God into all the others, that’s quite odd, isn’t it?” What really happened, Demian explains, is that “a strong man killed a weaker one and all the weak became afraid of him. Cowards, afraid to fight, they say that God has put a mark on him and that this is the reason - not their cowardice - that they don’t do anything about it.”

The distinction between the strong and the weak, and the way the weak conceal their weakness and weaken the strong, are the central elements of the story, the explanation of everything that is wrong in Europe and the prescription of what needs to be done to make things right again. Everywhere, Demian insists, you see the “reign of the herd instinct, nowhere freedom and love.” It is what the 19th Century has done. “For a hundred years or more Europe has done nothing but study and build factories! They know exactly how many ounces of powder it takes to kill a man but they don’t know how to pray to God, they don’t even know how to be happy for a single contented hour.”

The herd instinct can be overcome, or, rather, there are some, always a few, who are different from the herd. “Those who are too lazy and comfortable to think for themselves and be their own judges obey the laws. Others sense their own laws within them; things are forbidden to them that every honorable man would do any day in the year and other things are allowed to them that are generally despised.” It is the struggle, the life and death struggle, that the individual has with himself. At one point, Demian insists that the only reality is the one that is contained within ourselves, and this is the reason why each man has one vocation - to find the way to himself, to discover his own destiny and “live it out wholly and resolutely within himself.”

Finding the way to our true self is not easy. “Every god and devil that ever existed…are within us, exist as latent possibilities, as wishes, as alternatives.” How to choose, how to know what is better, what is worse; how to decide this, or anything, if you are, like Sinclair, an unusual boy of eighteen who frequently considered himself a genius, and just as frequently, crazy? When he enrolls in the university, he lives in an old house near the town hall. On his table are a few volumes of Nietzsche, volumes with which he becomes intimately familiar: “I lived with him, sensed the loneliness of his soul, perceived the fate that had propelled him on inexorably; I suffered with him, and rejoiced that there had been one man who had followed his destiny so relentlessly.”

Believing in what Nietzsche had written, he believes Demian is right that, “The world, as it is now, wants to perish - and it will.” And when it does, the will of humanity, what Nature wants for man, what is written in the individual, as “it stood written in Nietzsche,” will “come to the fore again.” There is only one task for Demian and Sinclair and others like them: to represent an “island in the world,” to wear again the sign of Cain, to be “considered ‘odd’ by the world; yes, even crazy, and dangerous.” Humanity, for those who bind themselves and their opinion closer to the herd, is something complete that must be maintained, but for those who wear the sign humanity is a distant goal. And then, repeating Nietzsche’s prophecy that the Twentieth Century would be more warlike than any other time in human history, Demian says of the war he sees coming: “People will love it. Even now they can hardly wait for the killing to begin - their lives are that dull!” This is only the beginning. The new world has begun, and it will be “terrible for those clinging to the old.”

And, like nearly every prophecy Nietzsche made, the prophecy came true. The war came, and it was even more terrible than he, or Hermann Hesse, could have imagined. Leo Strauss, who lived through it, once remarked that those were fortunate who preferred the novels of Jane Austen to those of Thomas Mann. He could have said the same thing about the novels of Hermann Hesse.
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.

Third Reading: Patriotic Gore.

Third reading: Anna Karenina.

Third reading: The Charterhouse of Parma.

Third Reading: Emile.

Third Reading: War and Peace.

Third Reading: The Sorrows of Young Werther.

Third Reading: Bread and Wine.

Third Reading: “The Crisis of the Mind” and A Man Without Qualities.

Third reading: Eugene Onegin.

Third Reading: The Collected Works of Thomas Babington Macaulay.

Third Reading: The Europeans.

Third Reading: The House of Mirth and The Writing of Fiction.

Third Reading: Doctor Faustus.

Third Reading: the reading list of John F. Kennedy.

Third Reading: Jorge Luis Borges.

Third Reading: History of the Peloponnesian War.

Third Reading: Mansfield Park.

Third Reading: To Each His Own.

Third Reading: A Passage To India.

Third Reading: Seven Pillars of Wisdom.

Third Reading: The Letters of T.E. Lawrence.

Third Reading: All The King’s Men.

Third Reading: The Roman History of Ammianus Marcellinus.

Third Reading: Naguib Mahfouz’s novels of ancient Egypt.

Third Reading: Main Street.

Third Reading: Theodore H. White's The Making of the President series, part I.

Third Reading: Theodore H. White's The Making of the President series, part II.

Third Reading: Thus Spoke Zarathustra.

Third Reading: Fiction's Failure.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, June 12, 2024

Kimberly S. Belle

Kimberly Belle's new novel, The Paris Widow, “continues the author’s winning streak” according to Publishers Weekly. Her previous novels include The Marriage Lie, a Goodreads Choice Awards semifinalist for Best Mystery & Thriller, and the co-authored #1 Audible Original, Young Rich Widows. Belle’s novels have been optioned for film and television and selected by LibraryReads and Amazon & Apple Books Editors as Best Books of the Month, and the International Thriller Writers as nominee for best book of the year. She divides her time between Atlanta and Amsterdam.

Recently I asked Belle about what she was reading. Her reply:
Gothictown, a 2025 release by Emily Carpenter, a story about a family who moves to Juliana, Georgia to start over after the pandemic and gets way (way!!) more than they bargained for. I’m a huge Carpenter fan, so when she offered me an early read, I happily accepted and am gobbling the story up. It’s creepy in the best possible way.

I’m also just starting Ruth Ware’s One Perfect Couple. Ruth is one of those authors I don’t care what the book is about; I just know I want to read it. She’s also an upcoming guest of the Killer Author Club, a bi-weekly author interview series I host along with fellow authors Heather Gudenkauf and Kaira Rouda (for schedule, see killerauthorclub.com). I’ll definitely be fangirling!
Visit Kimberly Belle's website.

The Page 69 Test: Dear Wife.

Q&A with Kimberly Belle.

The Page 69 Test: My Darling Husband.

The Page 69 Test: The Paris Widow.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, May 30, 2024

Eva Gates

Eva Gates, also known as 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-five 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 Catskill Summer Resort mysteries for Penguin Random House, the Tea by the Sea mysteries for Kensington, the Sherlock Holmes Bookshop series for Crooked Lane Books, and the Lighthouse Library series (as Eva Gates) for Crooked Lane.

Delany is a past president of the Crime Writers of Canada and co-founder and organizer of the Women Killing It Crime Writing Festival. Her work has been nominated for the Derringer, the Bony Blithe, the Ontario Library Association Golden Oak, and the Arthur Ellis Awards. Delany is the recipient of the 2019 Derrick Murdoch Award for contributions to Canadian crime writing. She lives in Prince Edward County, Ontario.

The latest Eva Gates Lighthouse Library mystery is The Stranger in the Library.

Recently I asked Delany about what she was reading. Her reply:
Summer is my best reading time. Nothing I love more than sitting in the sun by the pool with a good book. But, before the Great Canadian Summer gets into full swing, here’s what I’ve been reading lately.

The Hunter by Tana French. Easily one of the best books I’ve read in a long time. French is Irish and the book (follow up to The Seeker) is set in a small, rural patch of Irish countryside where the people are not exactly accepting of strangers, and definitely into following everyone else’s business. The plot is interesting, the atmosphere perfect, the characters well drawn and fascinating, but the best part, to me, is French’s skillful use of the Irish accent and idioms that cleverly give the English speaking reader a taste of the dialect without making it something you have to parse through to understand. When local words are used, they’re well placed in context so you understand without having to look them up. Highly, highly recommended.

The Lantern’s Dance by Laurie R. King. I’ve been reading this series about Mary Russell and her mentor/husband Sherlock Holmes since the publication of The Beekeeper’s Apprentice thirty years ago. The series sagged a bit in the middle, but I kept on reading because I love the characters so, and I’m glad I did as this latest is as good as ever. In particular, I love the Russell character, every bit Holmes’s equal in every way. The Russell and Holmes books have a prominent place in my own virtual bookstore, The Sherlock Holmes Bookshop and Emporium which I write under my own name of Vicki Delany.

All the Seas of the World by Guy Gavriel Kay. I am not much for reading fantasy (with some exceptions) but for some reason I thought I’d give this one a try. I didn’t even finish. I was interested in the characters and their story but when it got all wound up in the intricate politics of the world, which became nothing more to me than a jumble of made up words and names, I decided not to continue.
Follow Eva Gates on Twitter and Facebook, and visit Vicki Delany's website.

The Page 69 Test: Death By Beach Read.

Writers Read: Eva Gates (June 2022).

The Page 69 Test: Death Knells and Wedding Bells.

Writers Read: Eva Gates (June 2023).

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, May 28, 2024

D.W. Buffa

D.W. Buffa's newest novel to be released (July 2024) is Evangeline, a courtroom drama about the murder trial of captain who is one of the few to survive the sinking of his ship.

Buffa is also the author of ten legal thrillers involving the defense attorney Joseph Antonelli. 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 America in the twentieth century, in Neumann's Last Concert.

Here is Buffa's take on Fiction's Failure:
In the middle of the last century, before everyone had a kindle, or some other small electronic device to keep them entertained, when millions of commuters rode the bus or the train sometimes more than an hour to work, the introduction of the paperback novel revolutionized the reading habits of Americans. Instead of expensive hardcover books, paperbacks, some of which cost less than a dollar, gave the seat-bound commuter four or five hundred pages of page turning fiction, an escape from the crowd around her and the thought of her dull, tedious, and often thankless job. The books were thick, the covers sometimes lurid, the prose, though nothing like as graphic as it is today, fast-moving and easy to understand. A number of writers made a great deal of money writing books like this, but no one was better at writing what the critics, with some justification, called trash, than Harold Robbins, about whom a better novel could be written than any novel he wrote himself.

Harold Robbins loved booze, loved women, and hated writing, hated it so much he had to be locked in a room before he would even start. It is true that it was not a bad room; it was, quite often, one of the most expensive rooms in one of the most expensive hotels in New York. But Plaza suite or jail cell, confinement, as they say, concentrates the mind. The difference was that what they did to Robbins in a New York hotel, no Georgia county sheriff would ever have been allowed to do. The hotel or, rather, Robbins’ friend and agent, who gave direction to the hotel staff, would not send in food. Not until, each day, Robbins had written the requisite number of typed pages.

Among his other contributions to American fiction, Robbins wrote The Carpetbaggers. Based loosely on the life of Howard Hughes, the book was an enormous best-seller when it came out in paperback. Robbins got richer still when Hollywood made a movie out of it, a movie in which the girl who was about to marry the Howard Hughes character, asked what she would like to see on her honeymoon, replied, “Ceilings.” The audience was properly shocked and could not wait to tell their friends. Like everything Robbins wrote, The Carpetbaggers followed the time tested formula of a powerful, ruthless, and yet somehow vulnerable man involved with two kinds of women: the kind you would like to take home to meet your mother, and the kind you would like to take to the Plaza Hotel, if she had not, at some point earlier in her life, been there, working, on her own.

Working all day, banging out his stories of sex and redemption, becoming more hungry with each page he finished, Robbins would pass under the door what he had done. His friend and agent would check to make sure Robbins had not cheated on his daily quota, and only then allow room service inside. Finally, after weeks of cold sober writing, the novel would be finished, and Robbins and his agent would again have all the money they needed. They did what any serious writer and literary agent would do: they got falling down drunk, and stayed that way, delirious with happiness in an alcoholic haze, a party that lasted as long as there was money to spend and women to help spend it. Then, broke again, Harold Robbins would plod back to his typewriter and his locked room at the Plaza Hotel and punch out another enormously successful novel. Every writer has his routine.

Graham Greene, who wrote much better fiction, including such one-time classics as The Power And The Glory and Our Man In Havana, had a peculiarity of his own. He wrote every morning the same, exact, number of words, five hundred, not one word less, not one word more. And it did not matter where that word was, the first, the last, or in the middle, of a sentence; five hundred words, he was done for the day. What was never quite clear was how long it took to get to that final five hundredth word. Was it two hours, an hour, less than that? Five hundred. The number, not the time, was all that counted. Anthony Trollope, like Greene a British writer, but one who lived and wrote in the twilight of the Victorian Era and whose Palliser Novels continue to be read, measured both words and time, and did it with an astonishing, mechanical, regularity.

Every morning at precisely five-thirty, Trollope would begin to write; every morning at precisely seven-thirty, he would put his pen aside and stack together the sheets of paper on which he had written, without exception, precisely two thousand words; words written in a way that would have brought cheer to the face of an army drill sergeant or a sadistic dance instructor. With his pocket watch open on his desk, Trollope, as meticulously as the perpetually repeated motion of the watch itself, would write every fifteen minutes exactly two hundred fifty words. If you read Trollope’s novels, and they are worth reading, stories that give a better sense of the lives of the British aristocracy than anything else written at the time, you begin to become aware that your eyes are moving with the same mind-numbing efficiency as the author’s hand, one line to the next, one paragraph, one page, one chapter, to the next, like the endless movement of a metronome.

There is an important difference between writers who think in terms of how much they can write, and writers who want to write what deserves to be read. And if it is a difference that has gone missing, all the better to remember great writers and the different way they worked. Flaubert wrote fewer novels, and far fewer pages, than Anthony Trollope, or the other two popular writers mentioned, but what Flaubert wrote will be with us as long as there are still serious readers. No one had to lock up Flaubert to get him to write, he did not count how many words he had written or keep a watch next to him to tell him how long it had taken to write them. He once spent three days in the struggle to find the one perfect word he needed. Another great writer, James Joyce, replying to someone who complained how difficult it was to read Finnegan’s Wake, said with cruel indifference that it had taken him sixteen years to write it and he did not care if it took that long to read it.

Friedrich Nietzsche understood what the emergence of a mass market meant for the future of literature: “When everyone learns to read, no one will know how to write.” This, to the modern, democratic, eye, seems to make no sense at all. What difference does it make if everyone, instead of only a small minority, knows how to read? As it turns out, all the difference in the world. When reading was limited to those who had the time to read and think about what they read, when, instead of a source of entertainment, a thoughtless diversion, a book was expected to say something, and say it in a way that was, in every sense of the word, memorable, an author who could not write well was considered no author at all.

The distinction between the kind of writing required to reach a mass audience and the kind that appealed to an educated reader with the time, and the ability, to reflect on what he read, is itself a pale imitation of a distinction drawn when reading and writing first became available to people who were neither the rulers, nor part of the priesthood, of an ancient city or nation. There was first the fear that writing would weaken, and perhaps eventually destroy, the ability to remember what we hear; the fear that, by writing everything down, the memory of what someone said would be lost. If Homer is raised as an objection, the Iliad and the Odyssey among the few great works that have been read for more than two dozen centuries, it needs to be remembered that Homer was not read in ancient Athens. His two long stories were recited in public by rhapsodes, men who committed Homer’s words to memory.

The other, more serious, objection was that it was dangerous to put in writing what could be used against you by those in power, whether the tyrant, always quick to murder, or the demos, always quick to condemn anyone out of step with the majority. The problem was how to write in a way that would reach those capable of understanding without raising the alarm among those who could make sure you could never write at all. The answer, beginning with Plato, was to write in a way that, appearing to agree with what everyone believed, or claimed to believe, suggested a deeper meaning, a secret teaching somehow hidden in plain sight. The first words of Plato’s Republic - “I went down to the Piraeus’ - would seem, on first impression, nothing more than a brief, straightforward description of where Socrates was going, until, later, you discover, or you remember, that the Piraeus, the port of Athens, was the heart of the Athenian democracy and the place where different ways of life were brought from different parts of the world. And then, remembering that, the careful reader might wonder what it means that Socrates goes down, i.e. looks down, on the Athenian regime.

The need to disguise the meaning of what one writes made writing a form of art. A story, any story, was not interesting unless it was written well. Among those who wrote for a popular audience, no one understood this better than Shakespeare. In Hamlet, he has Ophelia explain, “Now, this overdone, or come tardy-off, though it makes the unskillful laugh, cannot but makes the judicious grieve; the censure of which one must in your allowance overweigh a whole theatre of others.”

The question whether to make the unskillful laugh or the judicious grieve has now, in our time, been answered in a different way. The judicious reader has all but disappeared. There are still some left, but not enough to determine how a larger audience wants to spend its time. The real question, the question that will decide if literature, and therewith civilization, can be saved, is whether, in an age of mass produced entertainment, there will still be writers who believe what, among others, Joseph Conrad and Ford Madox Ford believed, that writing about the human condition is the most serious thing a writer can do. The prospect seems doubtful.
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.

Third Reading: Patriotic Gore.

Third reading: Anna Karenina.

Third reading: The Charterhouse of Parma.

Third Reading: Emile.

Third Reading: War and Peace.

Third Reading: The Sorrows of Young Werther.

Third Reading: Bread and Wine.

Third Reading: “The Crisis of the Mind” and A Man Without Qualities.

Third reading: Eugene Onegin.

Third Reading: The Collected Works of Thomas Babington Macaulay.

Third Reading: The Europeans.

Third Reading: The House of Mirth and The Writing of Fiction.

Third Reading: Doctor Faustus.

Third Reading: the reading list of John F. Kennedy.

Third Reading: Jorge Luis Borges.

Third Reading: History of the Peloponnesian War.

Third Reading: Mansfield Park.

Third Reading: To Each His Own.

Third Reading: A Passage To India.

Third Reading: Seven Pillars of Wisdom.

Third Reading: The Letters of T.E. Lawrence.

Third Reading: All The King’s Men.

Third Reading: The Roman History of Ammianus Marcellinus.

Third Reading: Naguib Mahfouz’s novels of ancient Egypt.

Third Reading: Main Street.

Third Reading: Theodore H. White's The Making of the President series, part I.

Third Reading: Theodore H. White's The Making of the President series, part II.

Third Reading: Thus Spoke Zarathustra.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, May 14, 2024

Peter Colt

Peter Colt was born in Boston, MA in 1973 and moved to Nantucket Island shortly thereafter. He is a 1996 graduate of the University of Rhode Island and a 24-year veteran of the Army Reserve with deployments to Kosovo and Iraq. He is a police officer in a New England city and the married father of two boys.

Colt's new Andy Roark mystery is The Judge.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. Colt's reply:
I am currently reading Robert Mazur’s excellent book The Infiltrator: The True Story of One Man Against the Biggest Drug Cartel in History. Mazur’s story is a riveting look inside his complicated and dangerous undercover assignment to infiltrate the Medellin Cartel in the 1980’s. Mazur used his business and family background to pose as money launderer. He simultaneously got close to high-ranking members of the cartel as well as corrupt banking officials at Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI). The book, which I bought for research, reads like a spy novel. It is a must read for anyone interested in the 1980’s drug cartels or daring undercover operations.

I also just finished reading Yesterday’s Spy by Len Deighton, which is a classic, cold war era spy novel. It is Deighton, doing what he does best, weaving a tail of espionage, tradecraft, and betrayal. The two protagonists are bound to each other by their past working with the French resistance and find that their shared past has bearing on their present-day mission. Like all of his books, Yesterday’s Spy is effortlessly entertaining but not as serious (or as good) as the outstanding Bernie Sampson novels.
Visit Peter Colt's website.

My Book, The Movie: Back Bay Blues.

The Page 69 Test: Back Bay Blues.

Q&A with Peter Colt.

The Page 69 Test: Death at Fort Devens.

My Book, The Movie: Death at Fort Devens.

My Book, The Movie: The Ambassador.

The Page 69 Test: The Ambassador.

The Page 69 Test: The Judge.

My Book, The Movie: The Judge.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, May 8, 2024

Clea Simon

Clea Simon is the Boston Globe-bestselling author of three nonfiction books and thirty-one mysteries, including World Enough and Hold Me Down, both of which were named “Must Reads” by the Massachusetts Center for the Book.

A graduate of Harvard University and former journalist, she has contributed to publications ranging from Salon.com and Harvard Magazine to Yankee and The New York Times.

Simon’s latest mystery is Bad Boy Beat, which kicks off a fast-paced amateur sleuth series starring Em Kelton, a Boston crime reporter with a nose for news.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Simon's reply:
This is such a great topic because, of course, writers are first and foremost readers first. The problem comes when I’m asked to name just one book. Like a lot of us (I suspect), I’ve always got a couple of books going.

I recently finished Caroline Leavitt’s new Days of Wonder and I’ve been dipping into Philippa Gregory’s Normal Women, a massive history of the half of humanity that’s been left out of 800 years of English history.

But the books I keep coming back to these days are Deanna Raybourn’s. I had not thought myself interested in her – too romance-y! Too soft! But after devouring her Killers of A Certain Age, I realized she was one of the smartest writers in any genre! Now that I’ve read through her Veronica Speedwell series, I’m devouring her Lady Julia Grey books. Yes, they are historical mysteries with a heady dash of romance (thanks to the infuriating Nicholas Brisbane), and they’re just wonderful! I’m currently out on the windswept moor with Silent on the Moor and loving it.
Visit Clea Simon's website.

The Page 69 Test: To Conjure a Killer.

The Page 69 Test: Bad Boy Beat.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, May 5, 2024

Nolan Chase

Nolan Chase lives and works in the Pacific Northwest.

A Lonesome Place for Dying is his first book featuring Ethan Brand.

Library Journal's (starred) review said “Chase debuts his lonesome, reflective lawman with this well-written, complex case. Fans of Craig Johnson’s Longmire will enjoy.” Publishers Weekly's (starred) review called A Lonesome Place for Dying a “standout procedural ... Chase throws a lot of balls in the air, and he juggles them like a seasoned pro, managing to carve out a distinctly memorable protagonist in the process.”

Recently I asked Chase about what he was reading. The author's reply:
Post Captain by Patrick O’Brian

The Aubrey-Maturin novels great fun, and O’Brian evokes the period with knowledge, wit, and a violence which is both startling and entirely appropriate to the setting. They’re not easy reads, relying on a knowledge of nautical and medical jargon, Latin and Greek, geography and natural history and classical music. But they’re worth the effort for the camaraderie of the characters and the author’s storytelling prowess.

Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen

Coming from the mystery genre, Austen’s world can seem small, but she turns that to advantage by creating characters who bump up against that claustrophobia. Money, family, gender roles, politics and fate all play important parts, and the marriages aren’t so much happy endings but peculiar arrangements of fate which the characters have to work for and sometimes adapt themselves to.
Visit Nolan Chase's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, April 27, 2024

Seraphina Nova Glass

Seraphina Nova Glass is an Edgar Award-nominated author. Her fifth and latest book is The Vacancy in Room 10.

Named a New York Times Book Review Summer Read and an Amazon Editor’s Pick in Mystery & Thrillers, her last book, On A Quiet Street, earned her #1 bestselling status in the Thriller category on Amazon. It was also hailed by Bustle as one of “10 Must-Read Books” and one of “10 Top Thrillers To Read On Your Summer Vacation” in the Boston Globe.

Publishers Weekly has named her “a writer to watch” and Emmy-nominated producer Michael Terence quoted her writing as “page-turning and cinematic.”

Glass is currently working on her sixth novel, The Oleanders, and is also an Assistant professor and Playwright-In-Residence at the University of Texas, Arlington.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Glass's reply:
I think everyone expects me to answer this question with a thriller title, but I haven’t read a thriller in a long while. My go-to in the past was often literary fiction, but these days I have fallen in love with personal development books like The Power Of Now by Eckhart Tolle and The Seven Spiritual Laws Of Success by Deepak Chopra. These books that have taught me to find the present moment and live in gratitude are the reads I spend my time with as of late and they have been transformative.

I’ve also recently read Malcolm Gladwell, Vishen Lakhiani, BrenĂ© Brown, and I’m currently re-reading You Are The Placebo by Joe Dispenza.
Visit Seraphina Nova Glass's website.

Q&A with Seraphina Nova Glass.

My Book, The Movie: The Vacancy in Room 10.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Samantha M. Bailey

Samantha M. Bailey is the USA Today, Amazon Charts, and #1 international bestselling author of Woman on the Edge, Watch Out for Her, and A Friend in the Dark.

Her novels have sold in twelve countries. She lives in Toronto, where she can usually be found tapping away at her computer or curled up on her couch with a book. Bailey is currently working on her next domestic suspense, set to publish in March 2025.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Bailey's reply:
One of the best things about being an author is when I’m asked to blurb upcoming books from writers I love and admire. One of these exceptional authors is Laurie Elizabeth Flynn, whose latest suspense, Till Death Do Us Part, releases on August 13th . I just finished devouring it, and it’s outstanding. Set in the wine-soaked Napa Valley, this masterful novel ignites in the first paragraph, catching fire until the explosive conclusion. It’s brilliantly written, bravely weaving in issues of family, identity, love, and loss. Through every genius twist and turn, Flynn had me in a chokehold, unable to put the book down until I ripped through every delicious page. Seductive, addictive, and penetrating, this domestic thriller will set you ablaze. I highly recommend it, along with Flynn’s equally scorching, bestselling adult debut, The Girls Are All So Nice Here.
Visit Samantha M. Bailey's website.

Q&A with Samantha M. Bailey.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, April 20, 2024

Jo Perry

Jo Perry earned a Ph.D. in English, taught college literature and writing, produced and wrote episodic television, and has published articles, book reviews, and poetry. In 2019, Perry was the first female writer invited to speak at the venerable Men of Mystery Event. Her short story, "The Kick The Bucket Tour" made the Distinguished Mystery Stories of 2018 list in The Best Mystery Stories.

Perry lives in Los Angeles with her husband, novelist Thomas Perry.

Her new novel is The World Entire.

Recently I asked Perry about what she was reading. Her reply:
These are a few of the books I’m reading, all from independent publishers–U.K.’s Head Shot and Fahrenheit Press and Run Amok Crime in the U.S.

Matt Phillips’s latest, A Good Rush of Blood (Run Amok Crime) delineates delicate, complicated and sharp-edged persons and places in a stark, sexy thriller about family estrangement and liberation, trust and betrayal, and the search for the mirage we call freedom in a world as unnourishing and beautiful as the desert Phillips conjures to life. It’s no surprise that AGROB is a 2024 Thriller Award finalist. Phillips also has an excellent podcast, Roughneck Dispatch.
…Creeley managed to punch the address into her map app while she kept her eyes on the big rig in front of her. She had forty-five minutes to go and as she tossed the phone aside, she saw the looming fingers of the turbines up ahead. Their frames were illuminated by the blinking red signal lights along their top––momentary warnings for helicopters. Like eyes in the night. The sight took her back to the night she hopped the train west and rode it until it headed north. She remembered sliding through a dark sandy night, past the looming San Jacinto peak. She saw the mountain now, a jagged pyramid reaching so high that she couldn’t see the peak from her drivers’ seat. She remembered watching the mountain recede and, after a long time, vanish…
According to Mark by H.B. O’Neill (Fahrenheit Press) is an anatomy of Robert-ness. Disoriented and dissolving after a shattering break-up, Robert guides the reader through his life as Mark Twain guides him–– via signs and whispers––through his.

According to Mark demonstrates that consciousness is both liberation and captivity, and that humanness under pressure and the identity-squeeze of isolation and brokenness terrorize and exhilarate. Robert’s precision-calibrated, mood-shifting, rising and plunging narrative proves that nothing is more insistent, convincing, or powerful than the dazzling darkness that is our fearful awareness of ourselves.
And now Mark Twain is whispering in my ear.

And he’s reminding me of what he’s told me numerous times before, what he’s been telling me almost every day since the day that Rebecca told me that she. . .with him...

And Mark Twain’s argument is powerful, convincing and insistent tonight.


“Suicide is the only sane thing the young or old ever do in this life.”
Hacker (Fahrenheit Press) is the third in Duncan MacMaster’s inventive mystery series, which––though it exhibits a dearth of “elite ninja killers” ––has an irresistible hero, Jake Mooney––a courageous, semi-pudgy finally-successful hack writer whose slyness––like his creator’s––is born of brilliance.

Hacker is fast, inventive and seriously funny. Mooney sometimes feels “weirdly fictional like [he] only [lives] on the pages of some other hack” while he is a visiting lecturer on a quiet, idyllic private college campus where shit happens and then keeps happening: A spectacular murder-by-arrow that lofts the victim’s eyeball into Jake’s until-then- garnish-free Coke, a to-the-death-wrestling match inside a moribund water park’s frozen water slide, audacious cons, arsons, and the bombing of a bakery owned by a beloved Black family. Mooney–bruised, tired, and often “running for [his] life and [from] blood loss” –is ready for anyone and anything not because he has a method or a schtick–but because he’s observant, practical, improvisational, is allergic to bullshit and is “always grateful for a sandwich.” MacMaster’s delicious take-down of “elite” colleges includes one of the best explanations of what makes writing good I’ve ever read.

A Punch To The Heart, a collection of Andrew Humphrey’s short crime fiction (Head Shot Press) gets my heart going. I’ve just begun reading and my reaction is Wow. Humphrey’s prose is sure, unforgiving, and supernaturally lean, and the stories are machines for unmasking the Immutable Catastrophic Thing–in us or in someone else–perhaps six small words–that transform a life-story into a crime-story:

From “Anyway”:
‘Affairs? No. Not on my part.’ Not for want of trying, I think. And Julie, he says.

I falter and he sits up straight, pushing the pad to one side.

Take your time, Phillip.

‘Yes, Julie did . . . see someone else for a while.’ Six words. Jesus.

I’ll need the details. Names. Dates.

May as well run a blade across my balls, I think, but I smile and speak some words in a certain order. Each word a nail, each sentence a hammer. ‘But we’re fine now,’ I say eventually. ‘Water under the bridge and all that.’

He stops writing and looks at me…
And from “Bad Milk”:

“I go for a walk in the grounds before anyone else can collar me. It’s early evening and the light is draining from a clear sky. It’s spring. The air is soft and warm. It’s been a good day to bury one’s only brother.”
Visit Jo Perry's website.

Coffee with a Canine: Jo Perry & Lola and Lucy.

My Book, The Movie: Dead is Better.

The Page 69 Test: Dead is Better.

My Book, The Movie: Dead is Best.

The Page 69 Test: Dead is Best.

My Book, The Movie: Dead Is Good.

The Page 69 Test: Dead Is Good.

The Page 69 Test: Dead is Beautiful.

My Book, The Movie: Dead is Beautiful.

My Book, The Movie: Pure.

Q&A with Jo Perry.

The Page 69 Test: Pure.

The Page 69 Test: The World Entire.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Edward Ashton

Edward Ashton is the author of the novels Mal Goes to War, Antimatter Blues, Mickey7 (now a motion picture directed by Bong Joon-ho and starring Robert Pattinson), Three Days in April, and The End of Ordinary. He lives in upstate New York in a cabin in the woods (not that Cabin in the Woods) with his wife, a nine pound killing machine named Maggie, and the world’s only purebred ratrantula, where he writes—mostly fiction, occasionally fact—under the watchful eyes of a giant woodpecker and a rotating cast of barred owls. In his free time, he enjoys cancer research, teaching quantum physics to sullen graduate students, and whittling.

Recently I asked Ashton about what he was reading. His reply:
I've been spending a lot of time on airplanes recently. Downside? Deep vein thrombosis. Upside? Lots of reading time! Travel is stressful, though, so I tend towards comfort reads when I'm flying. For me, that often means re-reading books that I first grew to love when I was a child.

On my most recent trip, for example, I brought along City, by Clifford D. Simak. This book is a classic--I mean, all of Simak's books are, but this one holds a special place in my heart. It's a collection of eight separate but interrelated stories chronicling the decline and fall of man and the rise of doggish civilization over thousands of years, told through the eyes of the Webster family and their associated dogs, robots, martians, and other assorted hangers-on. Each tale is preceded by a snippet of scholarly discourse among doggish scholars arguing over whether the stories are meant to be taken literally or figuratively, and whether "man" is meant to refer to an actual creature that once lived, or is simply a part of dogs' origin myths. As someone who loves dogs, scholarly discourse, and Simak in roughly equal measure, this book is pretty much tailor-made for me.

When I'm not on the road and I'm able to read things that actually require me to pay close attention, I tend to bounce between newer SF and the wackier edge of contemporary fiction. An example of the former is Corporate Gunslinger, by Doug Engstrom. This overlooked gem from a few years back takes modern capitalism to its logical endpoint, at which any problems you might have with our corporate overlords can only be addressed by facing a customer service representative with guns drawn at twenty paces. The book follows the career of one such representative, a debt-drowned theater major who takes a gig as a professional duelist to avoid being literally repossessed by her creditors. This book has tons of action, a fair amount of violence, and a surprisingly touching ending.

On the contemporary side, I just finished Tim O'Brien's new book, America Fantastica. I first met O'Brien through Going After Cacciato when I was in college, and I believe I've read everything he's ever written in the interim. There are certain elements that you find in every O'Brien book--a deeply traumatized protagonist, wacky side-characters, a plot that often flirts with and sometimes crosses over into surrealism, and a biting critique of society in general and American culture in particular--and this one has all of those in spades. I described it to one of my friends as probably the most Tim O'Brien book that Tim O'Brien has ever Tim O'Brien-ed, and I stand by that assessment. It's funny and poignant and cringe-inducing by turns, and I could not put it down.
Visit Edward Ashton's website.

The Page 69 Test: Mickey7.

Q&A with Edward Ashton.

The Page 69 Test: Antimatter Blues.

The Page 69 Test: Mal Goes to War.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, April 13, 2024

D.W. Buffa

D.W. Buffa's latest novel is Lunatic Carnival, the tenth legal thriller involving the defense attorney Joseph Antonelli. 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 Friedrich Nietzsche's Thus Spoke Zarathustra:
When someone told Friedrich Nietzsche that he had not understood a single word of Zarathustra, Nietzsche replied that “this was perfectly in order: having understood six sentences from it - that is, to have really experienced them - would raise one to a higher level of existence than ‘modern’ men could attain.” It was no better with those who claimed they understood what he had written. “Whoever thought he had understood something of me, had made up something out of me after his own image.” Nietzsche did not expect to be understood. “The time for me hasn’t come yet: some are born posthumously.” The confidence that he would eventually be understood was, at least in part, based on how he could write. After reading him, he insisted, “One simply can no longer endure other books, least of all philosophical works.” The right reader, someone “related to me in the height of his aspiration will experience veritable ecstasies of learning: for I have come from heights that no bird has ever reached in flight, I know abysses into which no foot ever strayed.”

What had Nietzsche learned from the heights he had reached and the depths he had explored? What had he written that no one then living could understand? That Europe, that is to say, the West, was being destroyed by its own history, or, rather, by what had become a wholesale dependence on what history - history with a capital H - was understood to mean. This was because of Hegel, who had tried to make sense out of all the wars and revolutions, all the chaos and misery, of human history, by showing that, instead of a ‘tale told by an idiot signifying nothing,’ history was really the struggle, the conflict, that, through the final stage of the French Revolution and the emergence of Napoleon, had brought history to an end. Everyone would now have equal rights and the promise of a comfortable existence.

Hegel thought this a triumph; Nietzsche thought it the end of civilization and the beginning of the age of barbarians. The end of history meant the “last man,” the man who has no aspirations, who spends his days acquiring wealth and his evenings seeking entertainment, the man always in a hurry, never satisfied, who thinks nothing more important than to live as long as possible the only life he has known. The end of history meant that everyone would live like an American.

History, Hegel’s History, had somehow to be replaced with a different understanding. In one of the first things he wrote, The Use And Abuse Of History, Nietzsche took aim at the catastrophic consequences of trying to judge the past from the point of view of the present. There is a line, more than one, that Nietzsche wrote that is impossible to forget. Nietzsche writes in a way that no one, certainly no philosopher, had written before, or that anyone has written since. When he criticizes the attempt of the present to judge the past, he does not simply say that the contemporary understanding of history is incorrect, he thunders, “Who compels you to sit in judgment?” You have to stand higher than those who came before you if you are going to judge them, but instead of standing higher, “you merely came after them.” When the present judges the past, “it only brings the past down to its own level.”

The kind of history Nietzsche was attacking is, we need to remind ourselves, the kind that is taught everywhere today, that kind that judges the past by what the present thinks important. Everything about the past, including especially those whose names are still famous, is examined to see how close, or how far, they were from what we believe, or, rather, know with absolute certainty, is morally right or morally wrong. For most of our present day historians, and others who try to teach about the past, this means equal rights for everyone and the absence of every kind of prejudice. Everyone today agrees that slavery is wrong; anyone who owned a slave in the past must have been a monster and a villain, even if, or perhaps especially if, they were, like Thomas Jefferson, devoted to the cause of human freedom and tried, in their lifetime, to abolish slavery in the states where they lived.

Nietzsche understood this, and condemned it for its obvious tendency to discredit any kind of human greatness. Instead of trying to diminish what a Caesar, or an Alcibiades, or a Julian, had done, to name three great men Nietzsche singled out, history should tell their stories. History should become, in a phrase he used, “monumental history.” What was important was the possibility of human beings who could become again great creators, men and women with the power to do great things. If you read the history of great men or great events, then, and only then, is there a chance that you will try to do something great yourself.

This concern with history and the various ways of understanding it, led Nietzsche to go back in history to the Greeks and how they understood the world. This attempt changed everything. Europe, the West, had not been advancing toward a higher civilization for the last two thousand years, as Hegel had insisted. It had been, with rare exceptions like the Renaissance, in a continual state of decline, a free fall from the height of the Greek experience. The Greeks had lived within a limited horizon, a closed universe, the sun, the stars, fixed in place; the earth, at the center, the home of the human being who, in the best case, developed his own specific excellence, his reason, to contemplate and understand the world in which he lived. Everyone is connected to everyone else in a city that honors those who have contributed to its greatness, a city in which no one thinks life worth living when they are no longer able to do their own, proper, work as a citizen. Rome, first as a republic, then as an empire, lost much of what Athens had. There was nothing like the same freedom of the citizen or the independence of human thought, but there was still the same belief that the world was the only important place for both gods and men.

Modern science changed all this. The world was no longer the only place there was. The earth was now seen as just one of an uncountable number of planets in a universe of no determinate size. Instead of dominant creatures whose lives were, or could be, of eternal fame, we were nothing but the temporary spectators of our own ephemeral dreams, unless of course we shared the belief in a heaven where, after death, we lived forever. The Christian belief, however, had vanished, even, and perhaps especially, among those who claimed it for themselves. The morning prayer, according to Nietzsche, had been replaced by the morning paper. There was no more reverence for the unchanging, the eternal, only an endless desire for whatever was changing, whatever was new.

The question was what could be done? How, as someone who studied Nietzsche with more than the eye of a scholar once put it, could antiquity be retrieved from the emptiness of modernity? Nietzsche’s answer was the “eternal return of the same.” He mentioned it first in that early writing of his, The Use And Abuse Of History, in a passing reference to Pythagoras, but that passing reference is the beginning, the foundation, of what would become the central teaching Nietzsche wanted to leave the world. According to the Pythagoreans, when an identical constellation of the heavenly bodies occur, identical events - down to individual, minute details - must repeat themselves on earth as well. Everything that happens, happens again. Julius Caesar will again be murdered, Christopher Columbus will again discover America, everything repeated, over and over again, the eternal return of the same endless repetition. What I am writing now I have written timeless times before, and will write timeless times again. Nietzsche develops this thought through the most important of his later writings, including especially Zarathustra, which he considered his greatest work.

The eternal return of the same changes everything. The world becomes again what it once was, the closed world of the ancient Greeks. Instead of infinity, endless time and endless space, the world is limited to the time of each of its same time repetitions, and the human being is again the central character in the comedy and tragedy of the world’s constantly replayed drama. Existence is no longer meaningless. This was Nietzsche’s great achievement, his message to the present and the future as to how the past should be understood. No one took it seriously, perhaps because no one really understood it. Nietzsche was aware of this. He did not expect anyone to believe what he was teaching. He did expect that, in time, perhaps another century or so, others, a few others, would discover, or rediscover, what he had written, and know how to read him the way he meant to be read. They would understand, as none of his contemporaries could, the real meaning of that marvelously seductive, and daringly mysterious, suggestion that he was one of those extraordinarily rare human beings who have been born posthumously.
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.

Third Reading: Patriotic Gore.

Third reading: Anna Karenina.

Third reading: The Charterhouse of Parma.

Third Reading: Emile.

Third Reading: War and Peace.

Third Reading: The Sorrows of Young Werther.

Third Reading: Bread and Wine.

Third Reading: “The Crisis of the Mind” and A Man Without Qualities.

Third reading: Eugene Onegin.

Third Reading: The Collected Works of Thomas Babington Macaulay.

Third Reading: The Europeans.

Third Reading: The House of Mirth and The Writing of Fiction.

Third Reading: Doctor Faustus.

Third Reading: the reading list of John F. Kennedy.

Third Reading: Jorge Luis Borges.

Third Reading: History of the Peloponnesian War.

Third Reading: Mansfield Park.

Third Reading: To Each His Own.

Third Reading: A Passage To India.

Third Reading: Seven Pillars of Wisdom.

Third Reading: The Letters of T.E. Lawrence.

Third Reading: All The King’s Men.

Third Reading: The Roman History of Ammianus Marcellinus.

Third Reading: Naguib Mahfouz’s novels of ancient Egypt.

Third Reading: Main Street.

Third Reading: Theodore H. White's The Making of the President series, part I.

Third Reading: Theodore H. White's The Making of the President series, part II.

--Marshal Zeringue