Thursday, May 24, 2018

“Spider Woman’s Daughter” by Anne Hillerman

Between 1970 and 2008, Tony Hillerman (1925-2008) published 19 mystery novels featuring Navajo policeman Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee. Set mostly in the Navajo lands of northeastern Arizona and northwestern New Mexico, these mystery novels introduced Navajo culture and history in a very accessible way to a broad American readership.

I loved the Leaphorn and Chee mysteries. Hillerman not only told a great story; he also communicated his love and respect for a people and culture too many people simply called “Indian.” Through Hillerman, his readers learned the sacredness of Navajo geography, and how a mountain or canyon wasn’t simply a topographical feature; how the Navajo people related to each other as clans and relations, and why; how the art and culture – pottery sand paintings, woven rugs, and more – reflected deeply held spiritual beliefs; and how the old religion was being kept alive. 

Five years after his death, Hilleman’s daughter Anne Hillerman talked to his publisher and decided to try to extend the Leaphorn and Chee stories. She had collaborated with her father on non-fiction books related to the mystery series but had never written a mystery herself. Spider Woman’s Daughter (2013) was the first of what is now four books in the continuation of the series. 
Joe Leaphorn is now retired from the police and working as a private detective, including doing some insurance work. He still meets some of his former colleagues for a weekly breakfast, and it is there the story starts. Jim Chee is elsewhere, but his wife and fellow Navajo police officer, Bernadette Manuelito, is there. Leaphorn has just taken his leave and walked to his car. Bernie is on her mobile phone talking to Chee, when she sees a hooded figure walk up to Leaphorn and hoot him in the head. She rushes outside but is too late to stop the assailant; instead, she cradles what looks to be a dying Leaphorn. The other officers rush outside to help.

Because she’s a witness and because of the strong personal connection to Leaphorn, Manuelito is put on a week’s leave by her supervisor, although everyone, including her husband, know she won’t be able to be not involved. The investigation takes Chee and Manuelito to Leaphorn’s home, to outlying residences in the area, and eventually to Santa Fe and Albuquerque. The attack at first looks like some kind of revenge by a criminal Leaphorn helped to arrest. But it soon takes on additional dimensions.

Anne Hillerman
The characters as familiar, as is the landscape. Anne Hillerman sticks closely to the “how” of her father’s novels, but she adds her own signature, particularly in that most of the story is told from the viewpoint of Manuelito. She’s also as adept as her father in portraying the clash of the Navajo and Anglo-American cultures, co-existing in the best of times as an uneasy truce.

Spider Woman’s Daughter both extends the legacy of Hillerman’s father and adds the author’s own stamp to the series. That’s not an easy to pull off, but Anne Hillerman did it. And did it well. 

Top photograph: Tségháhoodzání, the "Window Rock,” on the Navajo reservation, by Ben FrantzDale via Wikimedia.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

“Return to Paradise” by Tim Speer

David Martin, a young man in finance working his way up, is driving from Dallas to St. Louis for a homecoming weekend at his alma mater. From there, he’ll spend a few days with his parents in his hometown of Farmington, about an hour south of St. Louis. But as he enters Missouri on the interstate, he has to take a secondary road, and along that road he meets, or almost meets, a cow. He does swerve off the road and discovers he has four flat tires.

A local man driving by gives David a lift into the small town of Spring River. He gets his car towed but getting four replacement tires for his Mercedes is going to be difficult if not impossible over the weekend. David’s going to miss his homecoming. What he finds in Spring River is a town whose surrounding farms are going to be sold by an unscrupulous banker, a priest in the local Catholic church, and a young woman named Sarah Nichols. 

David quickly sizes up what is happening with the banker, does a bit of research, and then has to let the townspeople believe he’s trying to get control of the farms himself. Everything is going to go extremely well or it’s going to go extremely badly.

Tim Speer
Published in 2015Return to Paradise by Tim Speer isn’t a typical kind of Christian novel. David is Catholic, one who’s serious about his faith. He’ll have discussions with both the priest and Sarah Nichols about his faith and what he believes; Sarah is herself a Baptist. Second, the imagery is subtle, but this is a story about redemption – the farmers get caught in a financial vise partly of their own making and partly because of the banker; there’s no way out except by the young man who comes to town. Third, there’s not a lot of deep romance that can happen in a long weekend, but there’s enough to suggest that one’s going to happen.

Speer is also the author of Seventy Times Seven, a novel published in 2016. He lives in Midland, Texas.

Return to Paradiseis a charming story, simple, straightforward, and enjoyable. It’s the story of a young man who decides that if he’s serious about his faith, he has to live it.

Top photograph by Bunny & Norm Lenburgvia Flickr.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Can Poetry Help You Understand the Bible?

In 2010, I attended a writer’s retreat at Laity Lodge in the Hill Country of Texas. I was part of the poetry seminar, led by poet and professor Scott Cairns. Our overnight assignment was to write a poem about a Bible passage we found troublesome.

I chose Joshua 5-12.

One of the main themes in that section is herem, a Hebrew word meaning destruction of essentially everything. In that section, before a number of battles, God tells Joshua and the Israelites to commit herem when they defeat the foe. That means killing every living thing – men, women, children, domestic animals and livestock. 

The command is given several times, and the Israelites obey (one tries to hold on to some treasure and gets death for him and his family as a result). At Jericho, only the prostitute Rahab and her family are spared, because she had protected the spies. Every other living thing in the city is put to the sword.

The passage is clear. God told the Israelites to do it. 

To continue reading, please see my post today at Christian Poets & Writers.

Photograph by Watari by Unsplash. Used with permission.

Poets and Poems: Susan Lewis and “Zoom”

I step out of the carriage, walk up the steps, and I can already hear the music. I enter through the wide doorway, and the music becomes louder. It is Susan Lewis’s language ball. I’m not sure if it’s a fancy-dress ball or a masquerade; I quickly realized I better be prepared for either, or both. 

It’s called Zoom: Poems, and zoom you will, as you hurtle down made, partially made, and remade hallways of words, metaphors, images, and familiar phrases made unfamiliar by the substitution of expected words with the unexpected. Zoomis a romp, some 57 poems of a romp that confuses, bewilders, and ultimately entertains as you understand what the hostess of the ball is up to. She’s celebrating an honored guest.

To continue reading, please see my post today at Tweetspeak Poetry

Monday, May 21, 2018

“Out of Sorts” by Aurelie Valognes

Ferdinand Brun is a rather miserable old man. He’s 83; his younger wife left him for the mailman; his daughter moved to Singapore with his grandson. He lives in a Paris apartment house, monitored closely by the apartment manager and surrounded by other residents who would like nothing better than to drive him away and preferably into a retirement home where he’ll be even more miserable.

His one joy in life is his Great Dane, Daisy. That is, she’s his one joy until she’s killed, apparently by an automobile. Ferdinand decides to join her; what else does he have to live for? And so, he steps in front of a bus – and wakes up in the hospital with only minor injuries. Life is so miserable it won’t even allow Ferdinand to leave it.

He begins to plan his suicide again, when he’s interrupted by the arrival of a new family, including a baby who cries at night and a schoolgirl named Juliette who decides to take Ferdinand on as a kind of project of redemption. She’s remarkably insightful and smart, and she doesn’t put up with any of his usual guff. And one of the residents, a widow even older than Ferdinand, begins to smother him with kindness.

Very slowly, Ferdinand begins to discover that life may not be so miserable after all.

Aurelie Valognes
Out of Sortsis a novel by French writer Aurelie Valognes. The book was published in 2016 and helped catapult Valognes into the top ranks of French popular fiction. Her second novel, Will You Ever Change?, was published in 2017 and sold more than 600,000 copies in France.

Valognes was born and raised near Paris. She studied management and worked for a number of American companies as a brand manager. When she and her husband moved to Italy for an international assignment, she began to write fiction, and Out of Sortswas the result. She and her family live in Milan. 

Translated from the French by Wendeline A. Hardenberg, Out of Sortsis funny, sad, and often moving. These characters may be French and Parisians, but it’s easy to see ourselves in their plots and prejudices. The novel is an entertaining, insightful read.

Photograph by Alessio Lin via Unsplash. Used with permission.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Abel or Cain II

After I John 3:11-24

We are to love
without condition,
because we are told
to love, that this is who
we are and how we will
be known, becoming
Abel to the world’s Cain,
the world that can kill
without physical death but
kill with words, demean
with actions, ridicule
in self-righteousness,
it is all a killing, a murder.
We are not to be surprised
for it is the natural way
when the hatred comes as
a wave never ending. It is
the natural order for the hatred
to come because we are
representatives of the very first love.
The hatred comes because
we offer the lamb.

Photograph by Tim Marshall via Unsplash. Used with permission.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Saturday Good Reads

Today is the royal wedding for Harry and Meaghan. Spitalfields Life has a story about another royal wedding dress – the one worn by Queen Victoria in 1840. She didn’t do the expected. 

It is the image of our times – a person, any person, anywhere, bent over as if in prayer, while reading a smart phone. Tim Challies saw it for what it was and found a way to break his addiction. 

Eleanor Parker, aka The Clerk of Oxford, writes about her favorite movie – A Canterbury Tale (1944). Stacy Horn considers New York City’s old, and infamous, workhouses. Annie Holmquist compares high-school reading lists of 1922 and today; today does not compare well. Aaron Earls describes the oldest and most ignored social media command.

The photography: a winter sky in Bath, a street and a park lodge in St. Louis, spring emerging in the woods, and spring emerging in a garden. And the poetry. And more. A final note: in all the years I've been doing the Saturday Good Reads, I've never included one of my own posts. And I'm still not doing that. But I am posting the KSDK-TV interview with me about my novels and the royal wedding as the featured video. My wife said I had to.

Life and Culture

The Oldest, Most Ignored Social Media Command– Aaron Earls at LifeWay Social.

High-School Reading Lists: 1922 vs. Today– Annie Holmquist at The Imaginative Conservative.


Are you my god?– Richard Chess at Image Journal.

Spring Blossoms– Chris Yokel.

On Creation– Robert Hudson via Kingdom Poets. 

Writing and Literature

How Crime Writing is Like Music– Emma Viskic at CrimeReads.

In the #MeToo Moment, Publishers Turn to Morality Clauses– Rachel Deahl at Publishers Weekly.

On Full and Empty Nests– Laura Boggess.

Art and Photography

Winter Evening Sky, Bath, U.K. – Tom Darin Liskey via Facebook.

Botanical AvenueandSouth Entrance Lodge, Tower Grove Park– Chris Naffziger at St. Louis Patina.

Did You See?– Tim Good at Photography by Tiwago.

Look at the Flowers– Susan Etole via Facebook.


Influencing the Culture through All the Spheres of Our Lives– Hugh Whelchel at the Institute for Faith, Work, & Economics.

American Stuff

New York City’s Infamous Workhouses– Stacy Horn at CrimeReads.

British Stuff

The Pilgrim’s Way– Eleanor Parker at History Today.

My interview with KSDK-TV on my novels and the royal wedding

Painting: Portrait of Edmond Duranty, oil on canvas by Edgar Degas(1879); Glasgow Museums and Art Galleries.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Abel or Cain I

After I John 3:11-24

It is a story, to be sure,
a story as old as the time
it comes from, near the beginning,
a story of two brothers, one
with his lamb and one
with his harvest offering,
and it’s puzzling because
at first glance the two offerings
seem roughly equivalent,
don’t they, and yet they’re not,
one being acceptable
and the other being less so,
and so one kills the other,
strikes the other down
in anger, in pain, in shame,
in jealousy, a hatred
that left a mark, that
always leaves a mark.

Photograph by Bonnie Kittle via Unsplash. Used with permission.