Thursday, February 28, 2019

"Magpie Murders" by Anthony Horowitz

Susan Ryeland is a 40-something book editor for a small but successful London publisher. She edits their top-selling author, Alan Conway, who writes the Atticus Pund mystery series. She begins reading his latest manuscript, Magpie Murders, and we get to read it as well.

That is, we get to read all but the last few chapters. They’re missing. Ryeland talks with her publisher, Charles Clover, about where they might be. Clover gives her a letter from Conway. It’s a suicide note. Conway has jumped from a tower at his home in Somerset.

Or did he?

Ryeland decides to search for the missing chapters. The publishing house may not survive the death of its most celebrated author. She goes to Conway’s home. Not only are the missing chapters not there, there is not a hint of the manuscript on the author’s computer. His diaries are gone, too. Ryeland begins to suspect it wasn’t suicide.  

Anthony Horowitz
She turns herself into an amateur detective and learns that any one of a number of people had a motive in killing the author – the boyfriend, the former wife, the sister, the investment broker next door, and a few others. It turns out Conway wasn’t a very likeable man. And then she realizes that the final manuscript is more than what it seems; it may hold clues to the identity of the murderer.

Magpie Murders by British author Anthony Horowitz, first published in 2016, is a rather dazzling mystery story that exists in three levels. First is the mystery of the last Conway manuscript – and the book includes the full text (and eventually the missing chapters). Second, it is a mystery story in which Ryeland investigates the purported suicide of her author. And third, it is the story of how the author used all of his mystery novels to do something other than tell a story.

Horowitz has written numerous novels, including two Sherlock Holmes stories, Moriarity and The House of Silk. He is perhaps best known as the creator of two television programs popular in both Great Britain and the United States, Midsomer Murders and Foyle’s War.

Magpie Murders wraps its fingers around your throat and doesn’t let go until the last page.


Wednesday, February 27, 2019

“Looking for Justice” by Linda Rodante

Alexis Jergenson is a former practicing attorney who specialized in rape cases. Burned out by the work and still trying to come to grips with her own past experiences with rape, she’s left Atlanta and moved to Tennessee for a teaching job at a Christian college. Technically, she shouldn’t have been offered the job; she’s not a believing Christian. But the college needed a teacher four weeks before the start of school, and she needed to get away.

Luke Stephens is a professor at the college. He is a believing Christian, but he’s still chasing the demons of his war experience and his former wife’s unfaithfulness. The new and attractive professor is exactly what he doesn’t want or need, especially because she looks so much like his former wife. He’s also dealing with what happened to him while he was on active duty – his best friend was killed in the same explosion that caused the loss of Luke’s leg.

Linda Rodante
Alexis and Luke will be pulled together when a student is raped and becomes pregnant. The rapist is the mother’s boyfriend, and he is one despicable and dangerous character who will end up threatening the girl, her mother, and Alexis.

Looking for Justice is book four in the Dangerous Series Christian romantic suspense novels by Linda K. Rodante. The series currently includes seven books: Amber AlertAs Long as You Both Shall LiveSplashdownLooking for JusticeHonor Respect DevotionPursued, and Warrior. Rodante has worked with both crisis pregnancy centers and anti-trafficking groups, and that experience infuses her fiction. She lives in Tennessee.

It’s a sweet story that could have slipped into the formulaic, but Rodante rather neatly avoids it. Instead, Looking for Justice offers a story of two people, both with broken lives, coming together to help a young girl, and finding themselves and each other.

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

In Praise of Reading Poetry

Like most of us, I read poetry – a lot of poetry – in high school and college English classes primarily because it was assigned. I was much more interested in fiction (Dickens!) and noir mysteries (Dashiell Hammett!) than I was in Tennyson, Wordsworth, Coleridge, and the Elizabethans.

My attitude changed with T.S. Eliot and “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.” It was first published in 1915, and Poetry Magazine published it only as a favor to Ezra Pound. The editors were so uncomfortable with it that they placed it at the back of the issue. But it was our first great modernist poem, and it changed poetry forever. A high school senior, I read that poem, and I was mesmerized. I went to the local bookstore and bought a small paperback edition of Four Quartets (I still have it; it’s now more than 50 years old).

It was at work as a corporate speechwriter that I discovered the practical advantages of poetry.

To continue reading, please see my post todayat the ACFW Blog.

Photograph by Thought Catalog via Unsplash. Used with permission.

The T.S. Eliot Prize: “Three Poems” by Hannah Sullivan

The T.S. Eliot Prize for Poetry is an annual award given to the best new poetry collection in the United Kingdom or Ireland. It’s been called the poetry prize that British poets most want to win. The prestige associated with the prize is large; so is the prize money, some 25,000 pounds, or about $32,500 at current exchange rates. 

The 2018 prize winner was Three Poems by British poet, writer, and professor Hannah Sullivan. The collection is indeed three poems: “You, Very Young in New York;” “Repeat Until Time;” and “The Sandpit After Rain.” These aren’t three poems that go on and on for pages; they have breaks, and even numbered subheads like “2.3” and “Hospital Windowsills.” Thematically, however, the collection is three poems. 

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

Monday, February 25, 2019

Poetry at Work, Chapter 7: The Poetry of PowerPoint©

I’ve been blogging for almost 10 years. Mostly, I blog about books and poetry. Occasionally I talk about art and work. For years, the blog post that held the record for the most number of visits was work-related: I Hate PowerPoint. That is, until another post overtook and surpassed it: A Sign of the Apocalypse (at the Office), which was also about PowerPoint. 

It turned out that I wasn’t alone in my dislike of PowerPoint. 

Actually, the problem wasn’t (and isn’t) PowerPoint. It’s how speakers and presenters misuse PowerPoint. “We treat it like the canvas for Homer’s Iliad,” I wrote in Poetry at Work, “when we should instead treat it like the backdrop for a haiku.”

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

"Dominion" by Peter Ackroyd

You might want to call this “everything you wanted to know about British parliamentary history in the 19thcentury, and then some.”

British author Peter Ackroyd is beginning to approach the end of his multi-volume history of England. Each of the first four volumes has a one-word title (followed by a long subtitle): FoundationTudorsRebellion, and Revolution. The single words of the titles serve as both descriptions of the content and summary themes. 

The fifth and most recent is Dominion: The History of England from the Battle of Waterloo to Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee. It covers most of 19thcentury British history. If there is a primary focus to the volume, it is the push and pull and British politics and parliamentary changes that occurred during the century. 

We follow, in detail, the rise and fall and occasional resurrection of all of the prime ministers and the governments. We see the considerable amount of political activism that occurred during the period, like the Chartist movement that sought, among other things, universal male suffrage. We read about the political protests, often fueled by the industrial and technological changes, that sometimes ended in bloodshed. Dominionalso includes succinct accounts of the significant wars Britain experienced during the Victorian period – the Crimean War, the rebellion in India, and the Boer War.

Ackroyd writes with a comprehensive view and a rather sparkling (and witty) style. A history like this one and its cohorts is not an easy thing to write; in a sense, the author has to hold together all of the information being covered even as he’s writing about a specific event or month or year. 

But Dominion is different from its predecessors. The difference is both significant and surprising, and it lies in what is not included. The previous volumes have covered literary and cultural history, in addition to political, technological, and military events. Dominion has a few scattered quotes from Charles Dickens, William Makepeace Thackery, George Eliot, and a few other literary figures, but that’s all that’s included. To get two-and-a-half pages on a music hall performer and essentially ignore what Victorian England produced in literature is not a minor omission. The previous volumes included literary history.

Peter Ackroyd
So what you will not find in Dominion, except for the occasional quotation, is Dickens, Thackeray, Tennyson, Thomas Hardy, George Eliot, the Brontes, and others. Dickens fares slightly better than the rest, but only slightly. Even popular culture is shorted, with a single reference to Gilbert and Sullivan and none at all to Arthur Conan Doyle and his Sherlock Holmes stories.

The author is one of Britain’s most prolific popular historians. In addition to his history of England series, he’s also written biographies of Charles Dickens and the artist J.M.W. Turner, among several others; a history of London (and a history of London beneath the streets); and many other works. 

Dominion stands as an in-depth and lively summary of 19thBritish political history. In that regard, it is comprehensive and well-written. But it is disappointing that Ackroyd didn’t turn his keen eye to the literature of the period as well.


Top illustration: Queen Victoria, who gave her name to the period.

Sunday, February 24, 2019

The question of the question

After Luke 12:13-21

A sermon, a lecture,
a teaching, with crowds
listening, taking notes
on their hearts, when he stood
when he stood up
drawing attention and
interest and asked
his question that had
nothing to do with the teaching,
the lecture, the sermon, nothing, 
but he asked his question 
burning his heart in anger
and it was the important thing,
the most important thing,
so important that he made
himself a spectacle, or perhaps
he was just irregular
whatever the motivation, but
he asked it and received
an answer unexpected
an answer unwanted
an answer appropriate.

Photograph by Priscilla Du Preez via Unsplash. Used with permission.

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Saturday Good Reads

Another week, another hate crime hoax that the news media embraced hook, line, and sinker. Scott Adams (Dilbert) may be right – the only people who benefit from these hate crime hoaxes are – the news media. Hate sells newspapers, catches eyeballs on TV, and prompts clicks. Hate separates us into tribes. It pushes us into our bubbles. It’s one reason that I stopped looking at Apple News on my iPhone – I realized it had become nothing less than curated outrage. 

The Covington high school boys, Jussie Smollett, and the seven-year-old black girl in Houston who wasn’t shot by a white man are a reminder that isn’t just the Trump deplorables who swallow fake news. Highly educated and otherwise intelligent people are equally capable of doing the very things they accuse Trump supporters of doing. On Facebook, I’ve seen Christians leap into this pit as well. 

John Horvat at The Imaginative Conservative writes that, with the Covington High School blowup, American crossed a Rubicon, and there may be no going back. Rod Dreher at The American Conservative looks at the Jussie Smollett case, and says we are the enemy, and each of us is fully capable of evil – no matter whom we voted for in the last election.

More Good Reads


The Ruined Saint – Jack Stewart at Image Journal.

Art and Photography

The Art of Book Covers (1820-1914) – The Public Domain Review.


The First Mexican Protestant Loved the Bible – Eric Rivera at Christianity Today.

Writing and Literature

8 Things to Do While You’re Waiting – Rachelle Gardner, Literary Agent.

News Media

The Cairncross Review admits what America won’t about journalism – Emily Bell at Columbia Journalism Review.

A Witch-Hunt on Instagram – Katherine Jebson Moore at Quillette.

American Stuff

A Baptist Abolitionist Appeal to Thomas Jefferson – Thomas Kidd at The Gospel Coalition. 

The Man Who Wasn’t Gershwin – Terry Teachout at Commentary.

The Newby Family Fights for Freedom – Jon-Erik Gilot at Emerging Civil War.

Apollo 11’s Journey to the Moon, Annotated

Painting: Man reading a letter to a woman, oil on canvas by Pieter de Hooch (1629-1684).

Friday, February 22, 2019

The Book of Ours

After Luke 12:13-21

It’s not the possession
it never is
it’s the motive,
the inspiration, the impulse:
as if we earned it
we paid for it
we own it
and it’s our rock
it’s our insurance
our security our hedge
not the least of which,
because we earned it
and we want more,
because it’s never enough
we want more
we need more
we earned it
it’s ours
our Book of Ours.

Photograph by Marie-Sophie Tekian via Unsplash. Used with permission.

Thursday, February 21, 2019

3 Shorts: A Novella and 2 Short Stories

Sometimes I need to read things that are short and relatively light or entertaining. I read a lot of poetry collections, which are usually short, but they require close, often intense reading. Or I’ll read a biography or other non-fiction work, and those, too, have to be read closely (and they are usually not short). Novels come in all sizes; some are entertaining and escapist, and others have to be read slowly. Even mysteries can be involved; I’m reading one right now that’s almost 500 pages long. 

I’ve come to appreciate shorter works that offer a break from normal reading fare.

In the novella Falling for Grace by Janet Ferguson, Grace Logan works for an Atlanta lobbying firm. She’s still not over her divorce, and the hurt is magnified when she sees that her former husband has married her former best friend. Her boss sends her to Florida, to do some work but also to enjoy a little R&R at the beach. The boss’s house there is definitely not a condominium. 

Next door, Seth Gibbs is getting over his own divorce that followed the death of his baby son from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. When he sees Grace slip and fall near the beach (Grace is prone to slipping and falling), he comes to the rescue. And while he’s attracted, he’s not interested in any kind of new relationship.

Soon Grace and Seth discover their mutually attracted, but there are problems, on both sides. The reader knows the story has to end well (it better had end well!), but the fun and interest in Falling for Grace is seeing how it’s going to end.

Good Deeds & Bad Intentions is a short story by Irish writer Caimh McDonnell. Set in New York City at Christmas, it’s about Bunny McGarry, a self-appointed vigilante who watches out for women who are actual and potential victims of abuse. (McGarry is also the detective in several crime novels by McDonnell.) Since it’s Christmas, he’s disguised as Santa Claus, and he’s especially interested in a woman and her young son who are the targets of the woman’s ex-husband, recently released from prison.  

McGarry employs a small network or people to help him and follow both the intended victims and their would-be assailants. At times the story becomes almost a comedy with how McGarry deals with the bullies, not to mention a kind of Christmas Eve break-in at a toy store.

Jonathan Dunsky is an Israeli writer of noir mystery novels, sent in post-Independence 
Tel Aviv (1948-1949) and usually featuring his private detective Adam Lapid. However, Lapid is not the protagonist of the short story The Favor. That honor belongs to Mickey, an hourly worker and former prison inmate who is still good friends with his old buddy Paul. Paul has happened to strike it rich when his software firm is bought. Despite the difference in circumstances the two still meet for drinks. 

Paul’s problem is that he’s insanely jealous about his trophy wife and is convinced she’s cheating on him. Mickey devises a plan to put Paul’s wife under surveillance; the plan, however, includes targeting an innocent man as the would-be lover and then taking care of the “problem” for Paul, this earning a huge hunk of Paul’s money for the fee. Or blackmail. What could go wrong? As it turns out, plenty. And Dunsky does it with a contemporary twist. 

Short reads make nice breaks.


Top photograph by Gaelle Marcel via Unsplash. Used with permission.