Judy Clemens and the Grim Reaper

Embrace the Grim Reaper by Judy Clemens introduces us to a haunted Casey Maldonado.  Casey’s son and husband died in a car accident that was caused by a defect in the vehicle.  Casey was thrown clear and lived, because, as her traveling companion Death says, it wasn’t her time to die.   Casey took the auto manufacturer to court and got a settlement but the manufacturer’s representatives  seem to be dogging her heels, and she isn’t sure why.  Neither is she sure that the manufacturer is following through on their agreement that they would fix the defect that caused her husband and son to die.   Casey travels around, hitchhiking, staying here and there, not really seeming to care where she ends up, except that when she ends up there, she gets involved in the lives of the local population.

In Embrace the Grim Reaper, Casey, who has a background in theater and who is a competent martial artist, stops in a dying Ohio town where gets drawn into performing in Twelfth Night, replacing a woman who had committed suicide.  The woman’s friends can’t believe she committed suicide; it doesn’t ring true for them, but no one has any ability to prove otherwise until Casey comes along and provides the catalyst for investigating the death.  Needless to say, it was murder.

In The Grim Reaper’s Dance Casey has moved on and, is in yet another vehicle accident when Evan, the truck driver she has hitched a ride with crashes while trying to avoid hitting some construction vehicles.   Death takes Evan, but not before he tells Casey to keep “them” from getting something he has hidden in the cab of the truck.

The first responders to the scene are taken aback that Evan is dying; it is clear that they know him, but they are clearly more interested in obtaining whatever it is that Evan hid.  Casey maintains a low profile, hiding out in the cornfields of Kansas, working with a group of teenagers who help her find out who caused the accident that took Evan’s life, and why.

Death is the side kick here.  The Grim Reaper doesn’t give Casey any arcane help, he sometimes goads her into action but his role is more Casey’s sub-conscience than participant.  It is this more passive role that makes Clemens’s Grim Reaper stories interesting.  Casey is an intriguing personality, she is capable, but not super-capable, and she is haunted and hunted.  She creates much of her own tension, trying to stay below the radar, avoiding the auto manufacturer functionaries who show up here and there.  Clemens isn’t clear about why they are still in the picture and why Casey is avoiding them, but she conveys the message that there is a reason, and I’m waiting for her next book in the hopes that I’ll find out what it is.


Murder Down Under, and a bit ago

My last, “just sit down and read it”, mystery of the winter break is Robin Adair’s, “Death and the Running Patterer: A Curious Murder Mystery”. (2009) Nicodemus Dunne is a paroled convict in Sydney, Australia in 1828. He was transported for a very minor (at least by our standards) offense and shipped off to the penal colony. He had been a police officer in London before being shipped off and, after his parole, took up the job of patterer. He makes his living reading the news to those who can’t read for themselves or for those who simply want a digest of the news without all the bother of having to read the whole paper.
He is drawn into the investigation of a murder by the superintendent of the police, Francis de Rossi (a historic figure in colonial Sydney.) de Rossi knows Dunne and knows his police work and requisitions his assistance. Dunne gets pulled into a series of murders of soldiers, each of which is accompanied and connected by strange clues. His employment has enabled him to meet many of the characters inhabiting Sydney and he gets assistance from numerous citizens, free and convict. He ultimately reveals the killer (of course) but not until after having taken us on a tour of very old Sydney.
Adair is, I believe, a journalist, and one with a a good sense of humor. He knows Sydney and he knows old Sydney. He has a good understanding of the transportation/convict system and he does a good job bringing his characters to life. He has a dry sense of humor and occasionally manages to insert a modern cultural reference into Nicodemus Dunne’s 19th century Australia. The references don’t jar you out of the moment, they make sense and hopefully you’ll find them as amusing as I did. Adair mixes real characters and events with the fictional and manages to make the blend seamless, at least to someone like me (with only a moderate knowledge of Australian history.)
In a bit of serendipity, synchronicity (?), the day I started reading this was the day the New York Times did an article on finding Sydney’s convict past in its modern streets. I found congruence between the NYT article and the book and it created a connection between the then and now that I may not have developed otherwise.
I enjoyed this book. I was able to figure out whodunit fairly early on but if I let that stop me I’d never read another mystery again. Adair has a second book coming out in February, “Ghost of Waterloo”, another Running Patterer book. I’m looking forward to it.
I read this book in Kindle format on my iPad

Colourful Death and conferences

Well my conference is done, a week’s worth done, and I finally got to finish Carola Dunn’s, Cornish mystery, A Colourful Death.  It was tough.  The conference was on Intergroup Dialogue and lest you think me insane, I must tell you that is was the best organized and most useful conference I’ve ever attended.  I learned a lot.  I also made the mistake of commuting which was a problem on two counts, no one to process with at the end of the day and an hour and a half commute either way.  By the time I got home at night I was too tired to read and that almost never happens.

That being said,  I must disclose, I like English cozies, and this is an English cozy.  Eleanor Trewynn, the protagonist, has traveled and seen the world under less than privileged circumstances so she has a realistic perspective about people and life, not a dark perspective, just realistic.  She is willing to believe well of others but doesn’t seem surprised when they misbehave.

This is the second in what I hope is a series of Cornish Mysteries.  (I have now put Cornwall higher on my list of PLACES TO GO.  It has always been up there, along with Wales, but so far, when I get to that neck of the woods,water(?), I get stuck in Scotland or Ireland or Canterbury.)  I will be purchasing the first in the series when I venture out of the cornfield this week but there is just enough back story in Colourful Death that you understand the relationships between the characters (and don’t ruin the unread stories for yourself.)

Death is Colourful in this story because it involves artists and art and a body lying in a shockingly red pool of … well what is a body usually lying in?  Ms Dunn introduces the drama of unrelated people living and working together in a communal setting when one of their own is murdered.  Eleanor’s niece becomes involved when the police division she works in is brought in on the crime and the tension between the professionals and amateurs (Eleanor and company) never gets beyond levels of believability.

There was one note of discord for me, but it is more of a social question and verges into the reality/unreality of story telling.  Part of the storyline deals with difficulties Megan Pencarrow, Eleanor’s niece, faces in being a woman in the Cornish police force.  I kept wondering if the level of  the problems faced by DS Pencarrow was a current reality or a literary reality.  I guess I’ll just have to do some research.

The killer became apparent to me fairly early on but the how, and the why, that was not so easy to adduce.  Ms Dunn laid a trail to follow but always stayed at least one step ahead, which is the difference between a book one doesn’t want to  put down, no matter how good the conference you are attending is, and a book you close easily and finally.

I’m off in search of Manna from Hades, the first book in the series.  Dare I hope the manna is spicy, given the geography?  Then, I think I will start in on the Daisy Dalrymple mysteries and see how I like them.

Forbidden Fruit, Hare Wombats

Forbidden Fruit, a Corinna Chapman Mystery from Kerry Greenwood, by way of Poisoned Pen Press, brings new meaning to Christmas in July.  The book happens to be my introduction to Corinna Chapman, a baker in Melbourne Australia, who lives and works in a building that could be considered an alternate universe in and of itself.  Corinna’s partner in life,  Daniel, an investigator, takes a job searching for an unmarried, pregnant, teenage girl who has run off with the gardener’s son, assumed to be the father of her child.  This all takes place around Christmas time in Melbourne, so the plot seems tailor-made for a rather clichéd denouement.  Don’t hold your breath.  Greenwood throws in Madrigal singing fanatic vegans, rose addicted donkeys, vengeance seeking Rom, and Hare Wombat chanting Freegans (I love Freegans.)  Nothing is as it seems and Greenwood manages to make you feel just as hot and sweaty as Corinna and company in Melbourne suffering in the Big Dry as Corinna and Daniel search the city for the young couple.

As stated, this is my first exposure to Greenwood’s Corinna Chapman.  I’m going to have to backtrack now and start at the beginning of the story arc  in order to satisfy myself.   Greenwood does a great job with developing characters and she has a nice eye for the eccentric without taking it over the top.  Many times, Christmas stories get a bit schmaltzy, regardless of genre, but Greenwood managed to put enough of a twist into her story to make Forbidden Fruit a Christmas story best told by the pool with cold ice tea.

The end of term

My last class was Friday.  The semester went well.  My students really were engaged for the most part.  I had one very annoying student who was in most of my classes but we coped.  It was wonderful to watch them deal with theories they disagreed with and writings they found difficult.  They persevered and thought through it all and, in the end, moved forward, which, I think, is what any educator hopes for.  Now to complete the work I need to do to finish up my own work (why did I do this?) and to finish grading.  I’ will be so happy when I finish at Western but the only way that will happen is if I get it done.  So, that being said, time to motivate.  I’ll write a couple of reviews a little later as a reward.

Martha Grimes and The Black Cat

Just finished reading The Black Cat, Martha Grimes’ newest in the Superintendent Jury series.  It’s like catching up with old friends and acquaintances.  Jury is getting older and lonelier and Carole Anne is getting wackier.  Melrose Plant stays oddly eccentric.  The rest of the crew from Long Piddleton appear mostly in cameo but they are alive and well.  Any book that involves three black cats and Mungo the dog and manages to confound Harry Johnson even if he can’t be arrested ends well.  It was a quick read but a fun read.  I don’t want to write much more about the plot right now as it is so newly published and I don’t want to spoil the fun.

I look at the weirdly wonderful characters in books like these and I realize that there are people like this in the world. I’ve met folks like this in passing occasionally.  I wonder if I looked at the people I know with different eyes, whether I would see characters like this in my life.

I forgot Molly

I forgot, when writing of books I read to meet the history mystery challenge, that I had also read Rhys Bowen’s latest Molly Murphy story, The Last Illusion.  Molly’s relationship with Daniel is heading closer towards marriage (I hope it doesn’t get there) and he is, as usual urging her to leave her dangerous job as a private investigator and take up more “womanly” tasks until the time comes when he and she live in wedded bliss.  (Like that can ever happen.)  Molly gets involved with Harry Houdini and his wife and the world of illusion and spies and her work begins to put strains on her personal relationships, (especially those I, emphasis on the I, please note, think are important) with Sid and Gus and the obnoxious Daniel.  This one started off a little slow but Bowen soon got into her usual flow as Molly began to wile her way into answers to questions no one else thought worth asking.  As usual, fun and worth reading but I am worried about how Bowen is going to handle Daniel’s conservative attitudes and Molly’s need to snoop should she actual consummate the relationship in legal matrimony.   Hah!  What am I worried about, it’s fiction, and it opens all sorts of new avenues for story line.

As an aside, I enjoy Bowen’s historical mysteries a lot.  Her, Her Royal Spyness  series is very funny and of course Molly Murphy is terrific but I wish she would continue with the Evan Evans series as well.  We’ve seen nothing new there since 2006 and I did enjoy those characters.

Ah well, Happy Easter to you who celebrate, happy spring to all non-curmudeons, we shared a delightful brunch today with friends at their farm and I was amazed at the number of people to who they are related.  Wow.  I wonder if I’m related to that many living bodies at this time on this planet.  It was a true midwestern brunch, complete with a jello dish and cheesy potatoes.  I have come to really, really like cheesy potatoes.  There was a wide range of easter eggs for kids from barely walking to well, barely walking.  Us olders got gift certificates for Louie’s doughnuts in our eggs and let me tell you, those of you who do not live near Marshall, Michigan.  Gift certificates for a doughnut or some other doughy delight from Louies are not to be sneered at.  They are to be cherished and to be used!

Off to the jardin, to cut down the dead Butterfly bush and the dead “tall strange weird plant that nobody knows what it is but it grows back each year and looks cool”.   Then, on to Live Journal to read student reflections.  I had them read some real live feminist hard core theory this week and I think it totally torked off a couple of the the men so it will be interesting reading.  Ahhhhh, Spring.