Awareness of time is heightened at two periods of our lives. When we are very young, time appears to move at a glacial pace, especially as we approach birthdays or holidays like Christmas. Nothing seems to make it go faster. When we reach a certain age, often in our mid-to-late-60s, we notice that time is accelerating and seems to be approaching the speed of light. Nothing seems to slow it down.
Poet Thomas Colquith plays with time. That’s not “play” in the sense of amusement, relaxation, and entertainment, but more in the sense of understanding, experimentation, and speculation. The 52 poems of his latest collection Let Our Memories Escape are meditations on time, the past, the present, and what might have been, but wasn’t.
It’s 1957, and the Soviet Union and just launched Sputnik. The Shapiro family lives in Los Angeles and operates the Paradise Palms Hotel, a once-regal property that is aging something less than gracefully.
Max Shapiro is the family patriarch, a rough-and-tumble sort who grew up in rough-and-tumble Chicago on the border between legality and gangsters. His four grown sons are Aaron, married with three children; fraternal twins David and Leo, both unmarried; and Rudy, the baby of the family who has never quite seemed able to grow up. David is the family caretaker and de facto leader; hotel staff bring problems to David, not Max.
The story opens at the funeral of Marta, Max’s wife and mother of his four children. That Max had brought his girlfriend explains a lot about Max. That the girlfriend is named Kitty Kay explains a lot about her. Max and Kitty live at the hotel, as do David and Leo.
A new family wrinkle is added with the appearance of Rae, an attractive black woman who happens to be Max’s daughter from a liaison with a maid. To Max’s credit, he accepts her; he’s provided for her since her birth. The sons are thrown, and initially only Leo accepts his half-sister.
What the four sons and Rae begin to find is that Max and Kitty are entangled with the mob, and the mob is closing its fists around the Paradise Palms. It wants that property for what it’s worth is the high-flying real estate market of Los Angeles in the late 1950s. And the question they, and especially David, face is to what lengths they’re prepared to go to protect their father, the hotel, and the family.
Paradise Palms by Paul Haddad is the story of the Shapiro family and the hotel, the incursions being attempted by the mob (including a historical figure or two), and how the personal lives of the sons begin to enter into the entire family and hotel dynamic. It’s a fascinating story told well. (It is also a story that includes rough language and a number of scenes of violence.)
Haddad, a native of Hollywood and Los Angeles, has had an extensive career in television and film. He first published book was nonfiction, High Fives, Pennant Drives, and Fernandomania: A Fan’s History of the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Glory Years, 1977-1981 (2012). He’s also published the novels Skinny White Freak and Aramid, and the nonfiction book 10,000 Steps A Day in L.A.: 52 Walking Adventures. He lives in Los Angeles.
Paradise Palms takes the reader in unexpected direction but always remains faithful to the core story of a family and the lengths it’s prepared to go to protect itself.
You might think it was a story from The Babylon Bee or The Onion, but a writer for New York Magazine (we’re not talking conservative media here) took a look at the major news coverage of Afghanistan and discovered that the media are biased and routinely insert editorial judgments into their news stories. My question is, where has he been for the last 20 years?
Philip Caputo has written numerous novels, memoirs, and non-fiction books (including one that won the Pulitzer Prize); one of his best-known works is A Rumor of War, about Vietnam. He was among the last people evacuated from Saigon by helicopter in 1975. Caputo considered Kabul in 2021 and realized it was no Saigon. It’s worse.
Hilma Wolitzer lost her beloved husband to COVID-19. She did what many do when they experience a tragedy and try to make sense of it – she wrote a novel about it. Wolitzer is 91.
William Kent Krueger has written a long-running mystery series as well as several coming-of-age novels (I’ve reviewed three of them). Writing for CrimeReads, he explains that he doesn’t consider himself a mystery or crime writer, but a storyteller.
Thomas Hughes, a retired businessman living in early 1960s Oxford, dies in what looks like a tragic Guy Fawkes Day fireworks display. Retrieving some of the fireworks supplies from his shed, a spark ignites what’s stored in the shed, and Hughes dies in the resulting explosion and fire. The coroner’s court verdict, presided over by Dr. Clement Ryder, finds death by misadventure – an accident.
Then a reporter with an agenda publishes a story suggesting that the death might not have been accidental after all, and the police are pressured to re-investigate. Who better to assign to the investigation than 20-year-old WPC Trudy Loveday, just off her two-year probationary period and with some fame from helping solve previous cases?
Loveday, however, is having symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. She loves her police job, but that last case (A Fatal Secret) nearly did her in – literally. She plows ahead and meets with Dr. Ryder, her partner in (solving) crime. They discover that virtually no one liked the deceased, and even each of his own adult children and his sister might be considered suspects.
Ryder and Loveday discover a family uninterested in possible foul play and a reporter who’s seeking revenge. And Ryder is still dealing with the (so far minor) symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease, while Loveday is finding herself dangerously attracted to the reporter who wants to use her.
A Fatal Truth is the fifth in the Ryder and Loveday mystery series by British author Faith Martin. A calmer story than its predecessor, it centers on a case where the identity of the murderer can be determined – but finding the actual evidence is next-to-impossible.
In addition to the Ryder and Loveday novels, Martin (a pen name for Jacquie Walton) has also published the series she’s best known for – the DI Hilary Greene novels, as well as the Jenny Sterling mysteries. Under the name Joyce Cato, she has published several non-series detective stories. Both Cato and Martin are also pen names for Walton. (Walton has another pen name as well – Maxine Barry, under which she wrote 14 romance novels.) A native of Oxford, she lives in a village in Oxfordshire.
A Fatal Truth is another excellent entry in this series of a 50-something surgeon-turned-coroner and a young policewoman who faces prejudice and discrimination for being among the first women on the force. It’s Dr. Ryder who realizes Trudy Loveday’s potential.
Walker Thompson is the foreman for a ranch in Utah. He lives there with his nine-year-old son Michael. Walker has been a widower for six years, since his beloved wife Libby died from cancer.
Walker regularly does volunteer work with Tess Wagner, a widow whose husband died in a work accident. She moved to the area with her now seven-year-old son Graham after her husband’s death and her own fight with breast cancer.
Walker and Tess like each other as friends, they enjoy working together as volunteers, and their boys are good friends. Both lost spouses they dearly loved. It would seem almost inevitable that they might develop a relationship, but that hasn’t happened. Until now.
Brush Creek Cowboy by Liz Isaacson is the story of Walker and Tess, how they kindle a relationship, how it goes awry, and how it might come back together again. Walker carries a lot of baggage about the death of his first wife, and he is almost single-mindedly focused on raising his son.
Isaacson is the author of numerous western romance stories, many set in Utah and published as series. These include the Three Rivers Ranch series, the Horseshoe Home Ranch series, the Grape Seed Falls series, the Brush Creek series, the Steeple Ridge series, and several others. She also publishes the Possession series under the pen name Elana Johnson.
Brush Creek Cowboy is novella in length and serves as the introduction to the Brush Creek series. It could easily have been a longer story; events happen very quickly to keep the short form romance moving. And it doesn’t end the way the reader might have expected. It’s a happy ending story, but it gets there only after several unexpected turns.
Iain Thomaswas a writer and poet before Instagram, but it was that social medium that brought him to the attention of a lot of people. As in millions around the world.
Thomas has published several books and poetry collections, including Every Word You Cannot Say, I Wrote This for You, I Wrote This for You and Only You, Intentional Dissonance, 25 Poems for the NSA, 300 Things I Hope, I Am Incomplete Without You, How to Be Happy: Not a Self-Help Book (Seriously), and [Dis]Connected. He combines prose, poetry, and art to make a powerful impression, and he’s been read and quoted by people like Steven Spielberg. Not to mention a reading of his work in front of the British Royal Family.
When it opened in 1938, the playOur Townby writer and playwrightThornton Wilderreceived surprisingly mixed reviews. I say “surprisingly” because the play would become a theater success, receive the Pulitzer Prize, and define what was meant by “small-town America” for generations. Yet some critics were concerned, especially with its structure, becauseOur Townsomewhat deconstructed what serious drama had been like.
The play tells the story of Grover’s Corners, New Hampshire, just over the state line of Massachusetts and with a population about 2,400. Specifically, it concerns two families who live next door to each other – the Gibbs and the Webbs. Doctor Gibbs is the town’s physician, and Mr. Webb is the newspaper editor. The play’s three acts happen in 1901, 1904, and 1913, three snapshots in time of two families. The story is especially about young George Gibbs and Emily Webb, their initial understanding of “a relationship,” a wedding, and a funeral.
What was unusual about Our Town is the character of the Stage Manager, who is the main character in the play. He is the narrator, the minister, the drug store soda fountain operator, and several other roles. He informs, explains, and foreshadows. In Act I, for example, we’re told that Mrs. Gibbs will eventually visit family in another state, catch pneumonia, and die there, her body returned to Grover’s Corners for burial in the Gibbs’ family plot. Yet she’s with us through most of the play.
While some criticized the play’s “sentimentality,” Our Town maintains a strong appeal to the emotions. This is what we often continue to understand as “the real America,” not the artifice and facades of the big cities growing bigger but the farms and small towns, the places where traditional values not only matter but are lived and breathed like oxygen. It’s nostalgic, to be sure, but part of the appeal of nostalgia is the elements of truth and shared experience it contains.
In high school, I saw a production of Our Town at what was then the New Orleans Repertory Theatre. The school’s junior class attended via buses from our suburb to downtown New Orleans; we were reading the play in English classes that year. What I remembered was George and Emily talking to each other at night from their respective bedroom windows, and the actors perched on ladders (the sets in the play are rather simple and stark). Rereading the play 50 years later brings back more memories of that production, especially the graveyard scene.
Wilder was a prolific writer. He wrote novels like The Bridge of San Luis Rey, The Eighth Day, and Theophilus North; plays and shorts plays, and essays. Two plays remain his best known – Our Town and The Matchmaker, better known under its Broadway and Hollywood musical name of Hello, Dolly!
Our Town remains a classic American play, a reminder of who we are as a nation and where we came from.
Top photograph: Frank Craven as the Stage Manager, Martha Scott as Emily Webb, and James Craven as George Gibbs in the original Broadway production.
A large part of my career centered on executive speechwriting. Even when I was officially doing other things, somehow, I slipped back, or was slipped back, into writing speeches.
Most corporate speechwriters read and watch as many speeches as possible, including those by elected officials, candidates, academics, CEOs, and other leaders. And we watch many, many televised addresses by presidents. They are always good learning experiences for a speechwriter. You will inevitably be asked by colleagues and the CEO you write for, “What did you think of the President’s speech?”
I retired six years ago, and I’m no longer asked that question. But I watched President Biden speak Monday for two reasons. One, because like so many other Americans, I wanted to hear the President speak to the terrible events unfolding in Afghanistan. Two, I watched as a former speechwriter.
These kinds of speeches are highly stressful for the speaker; every word, every gesture, and every facial expression will be mercilessly analyzed. These speeches are also highly stressful for the speechwriter. If a speech goes well, the speaker gets the credit. If it goes badly, the speechwriter gets the blame, usually behind the scenes but sometimes publicly.
I listened as an American, and I listened as a speechwriter. As an American I was surprised, stunned, and dismayed by what the President said. As a speechwriter, I cringed. I physically cringed. It got so bad that I couldn’t keep looking at the television screen. I listened to the end, hoping for something else. Something else didn’t happen. I was looking for leadership; what I heard was finger pointing and blame assignment. I was left with “Yes, it’s a disaster, but it wasn’t my fault.”
When CEOs or a presidents face a very bad situation partially or entirely of their own making but that they regardless have responsibility for, that speech Monday is one speech you never, never give. As a speechwriter, it is one speech you never, never write.
It looks like a traffic accident involving a truck and a passenger car on a rainy night. Three people have died in the crash and resulting fire. Tragic but not unusual – except one of the people in the car, an elderly man, was already dead before the accident. He’d been smothered.
DCI Brendan Moran, still recovering from his last experience with criminals (The Enemy Inside), looks to be a sideline role in the investigation. Except the lead, DI Charlie Pepper, has to go to Scotland to coordinate with police there on what looks like similar deaths of elderly men. While she’s gone, Moran takes charge of the Thames Valley investigation.
It’s an investigation where nothing is straightforward. No witness seems to want to tell the full truth, at least all at once. The truck driver turned out to be from Rotterdam, and evidence recovered includes a gun underneath his seat, traces of the explosive Semtex, and a partially destroyed credit card bearing the name of the government agent who disappeared in The Enemy Inside. Moran uses his weekend off to go to Amsterdam, unaware that one of his own policeman is being compromised by similar government agents. Or is it the Russians?
When Stars Grow Dark is the seventh in the DCI Brendan Moran stories by British author Scott Hunter, and it’s a non-stop roll of mischief, lying, mayhem, deception, and murder.
The “Irish Detective” series includes Black December, Creatures of Dust, Death Walks Behind You, A Crime for All Seasons, Silent as the Dead, Gone Too Soon, The Enemy Inside, When Stars Grow Dark, and The Cold Light of Death. Hunter has also published the novels The Trespass, The Ley Lines of Lushbury, Long Goodbyes, and The Serpent & the Slave, and the memoir Rattle and Drum. In addition to writing fiction, Hunter is an IT consultant and musician. He lives with his family in England.
It helps to have read The Enemy Inside, the sixth story in the series, before tackling When Stars Grow Dark (advice that the author includes at the beginning). It’s a grand sweep of a story, stretching from Scotland and England to the Netherlands and involving government agents and serial killers. Hunter ties it all together into one satisfying mystery novel.