Thursday, January 31, 2019

“Loveday Brooke” by Catherine Louisa Pirkis

Sherlock Holmes was the most famous detective of the 1890s and early 1900s, but he wasn’t the only one. His fictional contemporaries included Dr. Thorndyke (by R. Austin Freeman), Martin Hewitt (by Martin Morrison), Max Carrados by Ernest Bramah, and several others. It was a rich age for detectives who solved crimes with their deductive ability.

Another Sherlock Holmes contemporary was Loveday Brooke, the “Lady Detective” created by Catherine Louisa Pirkis. Pirkis was a novelist and short story writer who published the Loveday Brooke detective stories in Ludgate Magazine in 1894. Brooke is a former wealthy society woman who had lost her financial security and must work. And she’s employed by a London detective agency. The seven stories had been republished as Loveday Brooke, Lady Detective by Midwest Classic Press (they are also available on Amazon, but you can get the collection for free at the Midwest Classic link).

Catherine Louisa Pirkis
In “The Black Bag Left on a Doorstep,” Loveday Brooke investigates the theft of a large quanity of jewelry. In “The Murder at Troyte’s Hill,” she’s investigating the murder of a lodge keeper at a large estate. “The Redhill Sisterhood” concerns a nun-like group of women who may (or may not) be the front for a burglary gang. “A Princess’s Vengeance” concerns what happens when love is almost thwarted, and a young girl goes missing. 

“Drawn Daggers” is ostensibly about a missing necklace but soons becomes a case of substituted identities. A blank check is stolen in “The Ghost of Fountain Lane.” And a young girl goes missing in “Missing!,” and the answer for why will be found in the distant past.

Brooke uses her powers of observance and her experience with human nature to see what others miss. Her insights are less spectacular than those of Sherlock Holmes but they are no less effective. 

Loveday Brooke is a window into the historical past of the mystery genre, a window framed by an unusual and unexpected “lady detective.”

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

“Coming Home” – Seven Novellas about Tiny Houses

For the last two years or so, a common publishing event has been a joint work by a group of authors writing on a common subject or theme. It might be Christmas or Valentine’s Day romances, for example, or a group of mystery stories. But I haven’t seen a theme like what I found in Coming Home – a collection of seven short works about tiny houses, those small home constructions often built for homeless people, single people, or people who want to de-clutter their lives.

The stories are primarily romances, and the role played by a tiny house varies by the author. 

In “Love is Sweeter in Sugar Hill” by Ane Mulligan, a hospital RN, who lives in a tiny house, finds herself constantly butting heads with the hospital’s administrator – and a backdrop of medical malpractice. “Kayla’s Challenge” by Linda Yezak begins with an almost-bride in Savannah, Georgia, running away from the altar (with the groom’s approval) and learning to become self-sufficient in the Texas Hill Country. In “If These Walls Could Talk” by Pamela Meyers, two people believe they own the title to an old Victorian home on a Wisconsin island. Romance ensues.

In “First Love” by Yvonne Anderson, an older woman is trying to put her life back together after a divorce and begins living with her dog in a tiny house near her childhood home. “Dash of Pepper” by Kimberli McKay involves a young woman who herself falling for exactly the wrong kind of guy. “Big Love” by Michael Ehret is about a young woman who runs a tiny home construction company that’s part of a family’s larger building company. She’s to be interviewed by a hotshot architectural magazine writer who plans to do a number on her and who lies about who he is at their first meeting. And “The Light Holding Her” by Chandra Smith is about a woman living in a tiny house meeting the missionary guy next door and being stalked by someone who keeps leaving yellow marbles. 

The stories of Coming Home are all entertaining and read quickly. I was surprised by the one I considered the best romance in the group – “Big Love,” the one written by the only man among the writers. I suppose the moral of the tiny house story here is that, yes, men can write romance stories, too.

Top photograph by Geran de Klerk via Unsplash. Used with permission.

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Tweetspeak Poetry Jam: Skywoman Braids Sweetgrass

Tweetspeak Poetry was born on Twitter. Even before a web site existed, poetry jams were being hosted, participated in, and then edited into a kind of official record of the jams. The prompts to spark the jam came from a wide variety of sources – poetry collections, Greek myths, non-fiction works, memoirs, and other works. About the only thing each jam had in common was the length – always kept to one hour.

On Tuesday, January 15, Tweetspeak hosted another poetry jam on Twitter. This time, the prompts were taken from Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teaching of Plants by botanist and Native American Robin Wall Kimmerer. The book fuses Kimmerer’s scientific training as well as the stories told by flowers, fruit, vegetables, grasses, and other plants. 

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

Monday, January 28, 2019

Poetry at Work, Chapter 3: The Poetry of the Workspace

My first workspace after college graduation was a newspaper copydesk.

I’d been hired as a copy editor at the Beaumont, Texas, Enterprise. The title was grander than the reality of the entry-level job; I was one of four copy editors, and my workspace was a desk pushed against seven other desks to form a squat “H.” We were collaborative and team-based about three decades before it became corporate cool. 

It was a perfectly comfortable space for me. My last semester before graduation, I had worked in exactly the same kind of space for the college newspaper. The space in college and the space at Enterprise required learned deafness; you learned to blot out a lot of sounds – reporters talking with editors; wire service machines; the whirr of pre-fax telephone transmissions; people from page paste-up coming to an editor to trim a story; the sports department on the other side of a wall that was not floor-to-ceiling; and the nearby receptionist who enthusiastically (loudly) greeted visitors, told jokes, and handled incoming telephone calls.

To continue reading, please see my post today at Literary Life.

"Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms: Art, Word, War"

I have a thing for exhibition catalogs. It drives my wife crazy, especially if the exhibition is in another country or city and we’re flying back home. All those books to pack! But I’ll usually buy the book that accompanies an exhibition, especially if it’s something I’ve really enjoyed. Or, I’ll buy the book for an exhibition I haven’t seen but would really like to see, like the current Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms exhibitionat the British Library in London.

The book for the exhibition, Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms: Art, Word, War, is a big one. It’s edited by Claire Breay, head of Ancient, Medieval and Early Modern Manuscripts at the British Library, and Joanna Story, professor of Early Medieval History at the University of Leicester. It includes an introduction and five essays, followed by almost 300 catalog pages tracking the 11 sections of the exhibition.

The essays cover the relationships between Anglo-Saxon England the continent; language, learning, and literature; interactions with Ireland; the emergence of a kingdom of England; and conquests and continuities. The essay authors are all experts in their fields and provide an overall summary of the Anglo-Saxon period.

The catalog section includes origins, or where the Anglo-Saxons came from; the kingdoms that were established and how Christianity gained a position among them; the kingdom of Mercia and its neighbors; the rise of the West Saxons; the emergence of England; language and literature; natural science; reforming the kingdom and the church; music; art; and the conquests of the 11thcentury (the Norman Conquest of 1066 was only the last of several). 

Authors of the period provided some of the best-known works of literature in what eventually developed as the English language. The Venerable Bede finished his Ecclesiastical History of the English People in 731 A.D., and an unknown author created the epic poem Beowulf about a century later. The exhibition manuscripts are few; some 90 percent of the surviving Old English poetry are included (some six documents). But its writings and poetry like these that drove the development of Old English well into the time of Chaucer and influenced Shakespeare and the King James Version of the Bible. 

At least two themes of special note emerge from the essays and catalog descriptions. 

First, while some still refer to this period as the “Dark Ages,” they were anything but that. There were repeated warfare and invasions, and the Vikings helped keep things upended for the last 200 years of Anglo-Saxon history (William the Conqueror and his Normans were themselves descended from Vikings). But a rich literary life was maintained at various palace courts and especially the monasteries; this was the great period of illustrated manuscripts.

Second, the influence of religion was enormous, and likely because it provided some stability in an unstable time. The Roman Catholic Church was the church universal in Anglo-Saxon England, and while kingdoms emerged and disappeared, and Danes and Norsemen and others were always available for sacking and conquest, the church not only lasted but thrived.

Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms is a big, beautiful book, rather lavishly illustrated, displaying important artifacts and manuscripts from a formative period for British history and the English language.


Top illustration: A feasting scene from the Bayeux Tapestry. Bottom illustration: the Domesday Book, the earliest surviving public record in Britain.

Sunday, January 27, 2019

A cry, heard

After Psalm 6

A cry from the heart,
a cry is heard,
the heart’s tears
have flowed into ears,
a cry is heard,
a cry for mercy
unmerited, unjustified,
undeserved, yet
the cry is heard and
Enemies retreat,
sorrows retreat,
anguish retreats
in the balm
of acceptance.

Photograph by Vinicius Amano via Unsplash. Used with permission.

Saturday, January 26, 2019

A World Changes

“My world has changed, Zena,” Josh said. “I need to move out.” He paused. “And I want you to be my wife.”

Her eyes widened.

“My time in San Francisco with Michael and Sarah made me realize that you and I are more than just two people living together and sharing a bed,” he said. “We are a life together, and I want it to be an official life together, recognized by God and man.”

“Have you talked with Michael about this?” she said.

“No, I haven’t,” he said. “I haven’t talked with him about my finding faith, either. Although I think he suspects.”

“And now I’m truly stunned,” she said. “Stunned speechless.”

-      From Dancing King 

Photograph by A.L. via Unsplash. Used with permission.

Saturday Good Reads

One day, we’ll look back on last week’s events in Washington and New York and realize that it may well have been the moment when we as a nation crossed a line, when we realized that “we as a nation” isn’t going to work anymore. I told my wife that this feels more and more like the nation’s business, cultural, media, and political elites are waging war on the rest of us and our children.

Especially the children. 

In Washington, it was the Covenant Catholic eruption, aided and abetted by a fake Twitter account linked to some 20 anonymous accounts. The media swallowed it whole, led by CNN, Buzzfeed, and the elite journalists on Twitter. So did everyone else who hates Donald Trump. What happened tells you far more about the media and the people who hate Trump than it does about any of the players at the Lincoln Memorial. 

Once “other information” started to emerge, we’ve never seen such a wholesale deleting and rewriting of tweets, Facebook posts, apologies, and corrected new articles. Even conservatives had joined the mob – National Review, March for Life, William Kristol, and a lot of my conservative friends on Facebook. And it was Jake Tapper of CNN who started waving his arms and telling people this wasn’t the whole story. My conservative friends need to think about that. We should all remember that a lot of the elite journalists on Twitter were unrepentant, because even if their facts were wrong, "There was a larger truth."

Read Julie Irwin Zimmerman’s “I Failed the Covington Catholic Test” at The Atlantic. Read Doug Spurling’s “The Red Sea Crossing.” Read Travis Thrasher’s “1-22-19.” Read Martha Orlando's "Surrounded." Read Caitlin Flanagan’s “The Media Botched the Covington Catholic Story” at The Atlantic. And especially read Andrew Sullivan's "The Abyss of Hate Versus Hate" at New York.

And New York legalized abortion up to the day of birth. And celebrated. Joe Carter at The Gospel Coalition points out that there's really nothing new in what New York did, but that it does point the way to where the fight over abortion is headed. This action in New York -- as barbaric as it is -- is exactly what Planned Parenthood said it do would last fall.

Good Reads

Art and Photography

Process – Susan Etole.

Life and Culture

Confessions of a Feminist Heretic – Abigail Favale at Church Life Journal.

The Marvel of the Human Dad – Anna Machin at Aeon.

A Yankee Franco and the Long Defeat – Rod Dreher at American Conservative.

Bright, Dark Lights – Samuel D. James at Letters & Liturgy.


The Dive – Chad Abushanab at Literary Matters.

I Will Wait – Martha Orlando at Meditations of my Heart.

Altarpiece – Amit Majmudar at Image Journal.

Writing and Literature

Merton in Alaska : A short story – Matthew Boedy at Fathom.

The House of Usher & the House of Poe – Sean Fitzpatrick at The Imaginative Conservative.

Love and Stuff – Jake Lee at Very Much Later.

How English became English – Cameron Laux at BBC.

American Stuff


Life of a Purse Snatcher – Doug Spurling at Spurling Silver.

The Tenors: Forever Young

Illustration: Old Man Reading a Book, ca. 1628, by Rembrandt van Rijn.

Friday, January 25, 2019

The groaning

After Psalm 6

My bed bobs in the sea,
a sea of tears, my own,
flooding me, threatening
to drown me as I sink
in my groaning, as I drench
myself in tears, my own,
the tears of knowledge, my own, 
the tears of brokenness, my own,
the tears of recognition, my own,
the tears of sorrow, my own,
as foes surround me,
foes including my own heart,
the tears flowing from sorrow,
the sorrow that brings weakness,
the weakness flowing from my eyes.
In my weakness am I found.

Photograph by Kat Love via Unsplash. Used with permission.

Thursday, January 24, 2019

“The Case of Jennie Brice” by Mary Roberts Rinehart

My introduction to the mysteries of Mary Roberts Rinehart was via television. In the early to mid-1960s, one of the local television stations had a program of showing mystery and horror movies on Saturday night. One such show featured the 1959 movie “The Bat,” starring Agnes Moorehead and Vincent Price. 

Rinehart (1876-1958) was a prolific writer of plays, mysteries, short story collections, non-fiction, and essays. A stock market crash in 1903 forced her to find income, and she began to write short stories. In 1907, her novel The Circular Staircase made her famous across the United States. The Batfirst appeared as a play in 1920 and published as a novel in 1926. 

Born in Allegheny City, Pennsylvania (not part of Pittsburgh), Rinehart published The Case of Jennie Brice in 1913, which uses Allegheny City and Pittsburgh as its setting. Specifically, it is a flood (inspired by the actual river flooding of the area in 1907) that inspires the story. Reprinted many times over the years, the novel has now been republished by Midwest Classics Press

In the story, Mrs. Pitman operates a boardinghouse in Allegheny City, I a relatively poor, run-down area prone to river flooding. Her boarders include a couple, the Ladleys. Mr. Ladley is unemployed; Mrs. Ladley is an actress with the stage name of Jennie Brice. During the 1907 flood, Miss Brice disappears, and Mrs. Pitman is convinced her husband has killed her.

Mary Roberts Rinehart
Much of the story focuses on the investigation and eventual murder trial, and how significant details only gradually come to light. But the story is also about Mrs. Pitman herself, and how she had eloped years before, been disowned by her sister, and how she quietly follows (and helps) a niece.

The Case of Jennie Brice is very much a period mystery novel, but it has an urgency about it that makes it seem farm more contemporary. It’s an enjoyable story, providing a window on Pittsburgh (and its rivers) in the first decade of the 20thcentury.

Top photograph: Downtown Pittsburgh during the Flood of 1907, via the Heniz History Center.

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

“Where the Fire Falls” by Karen Barnett

Olivia Rutherford is a young artist determined to succeed. It’s 1929, and if making herself presentable to the art-buying wealthy means dying and bobbing her hair and wearing flapper dresses, so be it. But Olivia is also carrying secrets – about her father, her family, and her fear of Yosemite National Park. And her name really isn’t Rutherford; it’s the more prosaic “Rudd.”

But commercial success and possible fame beckon, and Olivia finds herself commissioned to paint scenes from Yosemite. Accompanied by a wealthy couple who are clients for her paintings, Olivia arrives in the park. Assigned to the group for the duration of their stay is a trail ride leader named Clark Johnson, who’s carrying some secrets of his own, like being a former minister driven from his church.

Where the Fire Falls by Karen Barnett tells the story of Olivia and Clark. It’s romantic suspense, the suspense coming from a series of escalating acts of vandalism directed at Olivia and the unwanted attentions she’s experiencing from the husband in her group. And then false stories begin appearing is a gossip newspaper.

Karen Barnett
Where the Fire Falls is the most recent novel in Barnett’s Vintage National Park Novel series, which includes The Road to Paradise and Ever Faithful. She’s also published three novels in The Golden Gate Chronicles Series. She received the Writers of Promise Award from Oregon Christian Writers in 2013, a Cascade Award for her debut novel Mistaken in 2014, and Writer of the Year from the Mount Hermon Christian Writers Conference. She lives in the Pacific Northwest.

The story has an interesting premise, even if we know that romance will triumph in the end. And the descriptions of the scenery inspire the desire for a visit.

Top photograph: A waterfall in Yosemite National Park by Laurel Balyeat via Unsplash. Used with permission.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

The Book of Joshua: Understanding What We Don’t Like

The story is often told about how Thomas Jefferson, dissatisfied with the New Testament gospels as they had been handed down over the centuries, took a pen knife to the texts to remove the passages he didn’t like, the ones thought contrary to reason, or the ones believed untrustworthy. He believed all of the gospel writers were untrustworthy, so I suppose it made the excising easier. Generally, what Jefferson did was remove the references to miracles and the resurrection of Jesus (he kept the crucifixion and death). He entitled his new book The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth.

We have our own version of this today, although it doesn’t involve a President (past or present). A few months ago, Andy Stanley, pastor of a large church in Atlanta and the son of Charles Stanley, published a book and gave a few sermons about the need to “unhinge” the Old Testament from the Christian faith. I’m not going to respond to this; a lot of other people with more theology and Biblical history in their heads than I do have already done that. Stanley wrote an article for Christianity Today in which he tried to explain and clarify what he said, but I don’t think he quite succeeded. 

What we think the point here is the Old Testament’s teaching on sexuality. It makes a lot of people uncomfortable that the teaching is so at odds with the prevailing culture. The problem that Stanley didn’t address was that, if sexuality is the concern, it’s not only the Old Testament that has to be unhinged from Christian faith. Quite a bit of the New Testament would have to be excised as well. 

If I want to deal with “problem” passages in the Old Testament, I need look no farther than the Book of Joshua. I reread it recently, and I’m still struck by the unequivocal instructions given to Joshua and the Israelites for conquering the Promised Land. It’s clear: God tells Joshua to kill every man, woman and child, and often includes farm animals and anything that lives or breathes. 

The mind boggles. The mind boggles even more when Joshua and the Israelites did it. The specific chapters in the book are five through twelve. After the land is conquered comes an extended discussion of how it was divided up for the various Israelite tribes. That division of the land is an easy one to skim and skip, but it’s worthy of its own study, starting with the question of why the division is so incredibly detailed.

But the killing part, what’s called herem in the Hebrew, is stark and troubling. It’s not genocide of specific ethnic groups; it’s genocide of all of them. 

More than eight years ago, I used that section of Joshua for a poetry workshop. Our assignment was to use poetry to explore a troublesome verse, story, or section of scripture. I chose Joshua, specifically because it made me so uncomfortable. It still makes me uncomfortable. (My account of that workshop can be found in three parts: Part 1Part 2, and Part 3.)

But here’s the difference between me and Andy Stanley. Just because it makes me uncomfortable, or because it so conflicts with contemporary sensibilities and beliefs, doesn’t mean I think the Book of Joshua should be unhinged from the Old Testament, the Bible, or my faith. It would have made things a lot easier from a human perspective if the Book of Joshua had never been written or never included, perhaps covered with “And Joshua and the Israelites conquered the Promised Land as instructed by God” with the details omitted.

What we have instead is the whole story, with all its gory details. That’s true for a lot of the stories in the Bible. We’re not shielded from the hard and difficult things. Of course, we’re not shielded from the hard and difficult things in life, either. We’re not shielded from the reality that all of us are sinners. The Old Testament, far from being “something that Jesus set aside,” is an account of full array of human sin and depravity. 

But then, the New Testament doesn’t shy away from that either. That is point of why Jesus came in the first place. Only one thing would propitiate human sin, and that was a sacrifice like had never been seen or experienced before. 

Top photograph by Hasan Almasi via Unsplash. Middle photo by Jeremy McKnight, also via Unsplash. Both used with permission.

Poets and Poems: Aisha Sharif and “To Keep from Undressing”

For Aisha Sharif, life took an abrupt turn when her upper-class Memphis-born African-American father found the stability he was looking for in Islam. She was a child, with two sisters and two brothers. Their mother came from a strong Roman Catholic family in St. Louis. The family converted to Islam. From wearing shorts and twirling the baton of a junior majorette, Sharif discovered white leggings under blue jumpers and silk-scarf hijabs. 

She had to learn the Muslim faith and the Muslim life. And she had to learn that faith and life in America. 

To Keep from Undressing is Sharif’s first collection of poetry. It tells the story of becoming Muslim in America, the story of a black woman becoming Muslim in America.

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

Monday, January 21, 2019

Poetry at Work, Chapter 2: The Poetry of the interview

It was the strangest interview I’ve ever participated in – on either side of the table.

A friend had talked me, or conned me, into interviewing for a job with St. Louis Public Schools – the director of communications. 

The school district was in chaos – an outside management firm had been brought in to run the district, schools were being consolidated and closed, services were being outsourced, central office layoffs had emptied more than half of the headquarters building, and protests by parents, students, employees, former employees, teachers and the teachers’ union were daily. School board factions were fighting each other through the news media. The news media was already showing up early each morning at the district’s administration building – knowing there would always be a new crisis to report.

And I wanted to insert myself into that?

To continue reading, please see my post today at Literary Life.