Thursday, September 30, 2021

"The Cat Saw Murder" by Dolores Hitchens

For several years, the British Library has been republishing classic British crime and mystery stories, under the general editorship of crime writer Martin Edwards. On this side of the Atlantic, a similar program has been underway under the title of American Mystery Classics and published by the reigning dean of the American mystery genre, Otto Penzler. 

One of those classic mysteries is The Cat Saw Murder by Dolores Hitchens (1907-1973). First published in 1939, when Hitchens was using the pen name of D.B. Olson, the novel is one of the earliest mystery series involving cats (today its own sub-genre). This new edition of the story, published this year, includes an introduction by Joyce Carol Oates.


Seventy-year-old Rachel Murdock is called by her niece, Lila, who’s vaguely seeking help. Lila has gotten herself into some kind of trouble but won’t be specific. Miss Rachel decides to visit Lila, who is staying at an apartment house in a California seaside resort town. Lila even arranges for Miss Rachel, as she’s known, to have her own set of rooms. And the elderly lady brings the family black cat, Samantha, with her. The cat has the distinction of being the heiress of one of Miss Rachel’s sisters.


Dolores Hitchens

Miss Rachel, a fan of mystery books and movies, is slightly thrilled to visit her niece. That is, until she’s drugged and the niece murdered in a particularly gruesome way with an ax. Detective Inspector Stephen Mayhew arrives to investigate, and, once she recovers, Miss Rachel finds herself something of a consultant to the inspector. And almost all of the suspects seem perfectly capable of ruthlessly wielding an ax.


The story contains elements of the locked room mystery, and the standard bumbling-detective- aided-by-someone-like-Miss-Marple story. Generally, Mayhew and Miss Rachel arrive at major clues and developments at the same time. And Miss Rachel, despite her age, is still athletic enough to do some attic crawling and even breaking and entering. 


A native of Texas, Hitchens lived much of her life in California. She wrote poetry in college but embarked upon a nursing and teaching career before she became a full-time writer. She wrote numerous mysteries, both standalone stories and in series. The Miss Rachel cat series has 12 books, and Inspector Mayhew is featured in two books apart from Miss Rachel. 


The Cat Saw Murder is a well-written story, even with a couple of late plot developments to bring the story to a close. T times, it seems almost like a contemporary mystery story. Miss Rachel is clearly a self-sufficient woman with a first-rate mind, and she will solve the mystery before the police inspector. 




Why Delores Hitchens’ Less-Than-Glamorous Detective is the Hero We Need – Steph Cha at CrimeReads

Wednesday, September 29, 2021

Early autumn light

Early autumn light
filters through branches
and leaves, parading
itself with shadows 
and patterns, fluid,
changing itself and
being changed by 
a brief puff of wind,
a passing bird sailing
on light-leavened currents,
a cloud.  

Early autumn light,
transient, ever-changing,
is discernible only
when paired with
darkness or shadow
ebbing toward
its wintry death. 
To understand the light,
first understand the dark.

Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Sitting in "Mildred's Garden" with Laura Boggess

Mildred Ruffner lives in a small town in West Virginia, not far from Charleston. She and a food friend are preparing to open a bed-and-breakfast and retreat center, with a highlight being a beautiful garden. The garden provides a respite from a 15-year-old pain – being abandoned by the boy she thought she’d spend the rest of her life wife. 

Sam Gillenwater is a Nashville singer, doing so well that his newest album is considered a top contender for a Grammy. He’s preparing for a tour when his “sort-of” girlfriend Heather overdoses on heroin in Sam’s apartment and is hospitalized. They both had known their relationship, once close, was going nowhere. 

Mildred and Sam had met face-to-face once, at one of Sam’s concerts. But their relationship begins to grow on Instagram, after Sam almost impulsively follows Mildred on the platform, something he reserves for only the closest of friends and family. Something begins to emerge in their posts and messages to each other, and that something is romance. And soon they’ll discover they share something powerful – a national heritage.

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

Monday, September 27, 2021

"The Sea" by John Banville

Max Morden had traveled, perhaps moved, to the small seaside town he and his parents spent holidays when he was a child. They couldn’t afford fancy lodgings, so they generally stayed in what were \called “chalets,” small buildings with no indoor plumbing.  

It was on one of these vacations, when Max was 12, that he met the Graces, Carlos and Connie with their twins Chloe and Myles. Accompanying them was Rose, who served as a kind of babysitter. Chloe and Myles are close, as might be expected of twins, but Myles always seems younger, possibly because the boy has never spoken. Max grows close to the family and falls in love with Chloe, after a brief and unspoken infatuation with her mother.


Max has returned to the seaside, to escape from and make sense of the death of his wife Anna from cancer. He’s taken a room in the house the Graces occupied, and the house is both familiar and foreign. No longer occupied by a family as a summer residence, the house in now something of a boarding house, with residents in generally a state of permanent residence. Max has also taken to drink.


Slowly, the story of Max’s wife and her illness become intertwined with the story of that childhood summer, the last Max would spend there. Early one, we know that summer involved a death, much like Max’s present has involved a death. Gradually, we learn what happened in both cases, and how Max tries to make sense of all of it.


John Banville

The Sea
 by Irish writer John Banville was published in 2005 and won the Man Booker Prize. It’s a beautifully written novel, almost elegiac, reflecting a love for language as much as a love for telling a story.


In addition to his work in literary journalism (The Irish Press and The Irish Times), Banville is the author of numerous works of fiction, including novels, short stories, and novellas. Under the pseudonym Benjamin Black, he’s also written several crime novels. His fiction has received numerous awards, including the Franz Kafka Award and the Irish Pen Award for Outstanding Achievement in Irish Literature.


The Sea is a story and a metaphor for trying to find one’s way. Max Morden has lost his way, and he knows he’s lost his way. And he learns that it’s only by returning to to the past that we can begin to find himself again.

Sunday, September 26, 2021

Pilgrimage I

After Isaiah 9:6 and Psalm 121

When I say I lift

my eyes up

to the hills,

I speak on the road

to the city,

the city on a hill,

the city in these hills,

the home of where

we worship.

I am on the road,

on the pilgrimage,

because the sound 

in my heart requests,

in my heart requires, 

this journey

to the hills. 

When I lift 

my eyes up

to the hills,

I see the source

of what sustains,

of what sustains me.


Photograph by Damien DUFOUR Photographie via Unsplash. Used with permission

Saturday, September 25, 2021

Saturday Good Reads - Sept. 25, 2021

Anthony Doerr, author of All the Light We Cannot See, has a new book coming out this week. He talks with The Guardian about it, about writing, Netflix’s adaptation of All the Light, and why his new novel is partially set in medieval Constantinople.  

Former Saturday Night Live comedian Norm MacDonald died recently from cancer. Surprisingly (for a SNL comedian), MacDonald was a Christian, as Matthew Walther at The New York Times points out (that’s something of a surprise, too). Anne Kennedy at Preventing Grace looks at two deaths that happened on Wednesday – MacDonald’s and that of John Shelby Spong, the Episcopal bishop who said he was embarrassed by the gospel.


Sean Wilentz is a historian known for his left-wing views. In a very long essay in Opera Historica (so long it’s a pdf), he writes about the 1619 Project. And he says that as soon as he started reading the introductory essay in The New York Times Magazine that launched the project, he knew that, whatever else it might be about, it wasn’t about history. 


More Good Reads




It Has to Be Dark Before We Can See – Tim Challies.


Grace, Works, and Raducanu – Andrew Wilson at Think Theology.


What the Seasons Say – Glenna Marshall.


Stewardship in a Consumption Culture – Will Costello at The Cripplegate.


Note Taking in Worship – Persis Lorenti at Reformation 21.


Life and Culture


The Miracle of Imagination – Sharon Monzingo at Story Warren.


The Post-Pax-Americana World – Bret Stephens at Commentary.




“Actor” and “Girl Disappointed in Love” – Karol Wojtyla at Kingdom Poets (D.S. Martin).


An Interview With Leading Poet and Petrarch Translator A.M. Juster – Evan Mantyk at Society of Classical Poets.


The Song of Streams – Seth Lewis.


Celebrating Silence – Joseph Pearce at The Imaginative Conservative.


American Stuff


Remaining Anonymous When You’re the First President of the United States – Nathaniel Philbrick at Literary Hub.


Writing and Literature


The Death of Gandalf – Gerrit Scott Dawson at Desiring God.


Joseph Loconte on War, Friendship, and Imagination – John Murdock at Front Porch Republic.




Velázquez and Teresa of Ávila: The Lord Along Pots and Pans – Charles Scribner III at Church Life Journal.


“Paris is Paris. There is But One.” On Van Gogh’s Painterly Relationship to France – Gloria Fossi at Literary Hub.


Ai Weiwei: “Artists’ aren’t able to defend human values anymore” – Jose da Silva at The Art Newspaper.


Last Christmas – Emilia Clark

Painting: A boy reading, possibly Nicolaes Hals, oil on canvas by Frans Hals (1580-1666)

Friday, September 24, 2021

Adjectives and verbs

After Psalm 19: 7-11

It’s an assembly,

adjectives and verbs

joined together

to describe, succinctly,


of the indescribable.

The law: perfect.

The law: revives the soul.

The testimony: trustworthy.

The testimony: makes wise.

The precepts: right.

The precepts: rejoice the heart.

The commandments: pure.

The commandments: open the eyes.

The fear: clean,

The fear: endures forever.

The rules: true.

The rules: righteous.

All off the above:

more desirable than gold,

sweeter than honey,

serving as a warning,

for to keep them

is the great reward.


Photograph by Mikhail Pavstyuk via Unsplash. Used with permission.


Thursday, September 23, 2021

"Summary Justice" by John Fairfax

William Benson is not your typical British barrister. In his early 30s, he has a philosophy degree. He comes from a family of fishermen. Never married, he lives by himself with a cat on a houseboat on one of London’s canals. He’s also a convicted murderer. 

Summary Justice by John Fairfax is the first in the William Benson legal thriller mysteries, and it keeps the reader wide-eyed at how all of this happened, the murder case Benson’s defending, how he’s managed to practice law after serving 11 years of a life sentence in prison, and how he’s managing to continue working despite the opposition of the legal establishment, a leading member of Parliament, and the family of his alleged victim, who are not above acts of petty harassment, vandalism, and even physical attacks. 


The case Benson is the defending attorney for involves the murder of the owner of a transport company. A woman working for the company is accused of the murder, and it looks like an airtight case. Her DNA was even found on the murder weapon, a broken bottle of beer. She had motive, opportunity, and was seen at the scene of crime. The evidence seems seriously stacked against her. 


John Fairfax, aka William Brodrick

What Benson sees, however, is the similarities to his own murder trial, and a successful defense may help vindicate his own experience, at least in his own mind. How the author weaves the past and the present together is one of the hallmarks of this first-rate mystery novel. And he adds to the narrative blend with Tess De Vere, the woman solicitor who is working with Benson. De Vere is a member of one of London’s most reputable legal chambers, and she faces intense opposition to her work with Benson. She’s also learning that Benson isn’t what she first thinks he is.


John Fairfax is the pen name for British writer William Brodrick, the author of the Father Anselm mysteries. Under the Fairfax name, he’s also published Blind Defence and Forced ConfessionsBrodrick was a friar in the Augustine order before he became a barrister and a writer. The Father Anselm mystery A Whispered Name won the Crime Writers’ Association Gold Dagger Award in 2009. Brodrick lives in France. 


Summary Justice becomes one of those books that is difficult to put down – until it becomes impossible to put down. Fairfax/Brodrick had a different sleuth altogether in his previous novels – a former lawyer who became a monk. In this series, he has a different kind of monk – a convicted murderer. It’s a crackerjack story.




My review of The Day of the Lie by William Brodrick.


My review of Brodrick’s The 6th Lamentation.


My review of The Gardens of the Dead by William Brodrick.


My review of A Whispered Name by William Brodrick.


My review of The Discourtesy of Death by William Brodrick.


My review of The Silent Ones by William Brodrick.

Wednesday, September 22, 2021

"The Only Way Home" by Jeanette Minniti

It’s 1933, the pit of the Great Depression. Fifteen-year-old Robert has left his home with his best friend Johnny in Elmhurst, Illinois, near Chicago, to try to find work to earn money for their families. Robert’s father had died from cancer; his mother is struggling to make ends meet for herself and the rest of the children. They’ve had to leave their home and live in a much smaller place, and only then through the generosity of others. Robert’s mother has even sold his beloved violin to buy food. 

Robert’s transportation from Chicago to points south is what it was for thousands of others during the Depression – hopping a train boxcar. He and Johnny move from state to state, city to city, always watching out for railroad detectives and other people searching for work; many of the people they’d meet couldn’t be trusted. It’s a discouraging time. Johnny decides to return home, while Robert continues to look for work.


Jeanette Minniti

The Only Way Home
 by Jeanette Minniti is Robert’s story and the story of the people he meets and the places he goes. It’s a dark time in America; hunger stalks the land. People are suspicious, often with good reason, of itinerants and hoboes. But what Robert also finds are people who help, even if they can’t offer work. And he meets a new friend, Tucker, who’s beent old by his father they can no longer afford to feed him.


Minniti received a M.A. degree on journalism from the University of Colorado at Boulder. The Only Way Home is her first novel. She lives in Monument, Colorado.


The Only Way Home tells a well-researched story of what happens in a crisis or disaster, how it affects individual people and families, and how crises bring out the best and the worst in people.

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Poets and Poems: Peter A and "Art of Insomnia"

In Art of Insomnia, the poet Peter A, and that’s the name he goes by, as in Peter A Writer, has created a chapbook of some 22 poems that are introspective and yet outward-focused. That’s a trick to pull off. Introspective poets tend to dwell on the self. Peter A casts himself in the context of others, both other people and other relationships. 

And the relationship that occupies the center in this collection is that of Peter A and his wife. 


The poems suggest that it is something far deeper than a broken relationship. Instead, they tell a story of the pain of physical separation, of loss, and perhaps even of death. 

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

Monday, September 20, 2021

“Mr. Nicholas” by Christopher de Vinck

Jim is a reporter for The New York Times. He and his wife Anna, an artist, live in nearby New Jersey. Jim is very focused on his career; he was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize once and is determined to win one. He also likes sports. What he doesn’t seem to pay much attention to is his wife.  

Trying to draw Jim closer, Anna gets pregnant and has a child, a boy. He’s named JB, and he has Down’s Syndrome. Jim is so appalled that he can barely look at his son. Instead of drawing them closer, the child has driven them, and especially Jim, further away. Anna finally insists on a separation and counseling. JB is now 10, and shuttles between the two. Counseling is not going well; it’s hard to imagine that a person who’s supposed to be a reporter and ferret out real stories is missing the story of his own family. 


Christopher de Vinck

Jim lives near a hardware store run by Mr. Nicholas. It’s an unusual store in that it has everything. If a desired item is not readily apparent, Mr. Nicholas heads to the basement, and soon the product appears. People are always amazed. And a little suspicious. Children love Mr. Nicholas, but he’s so strange might there be something wrong with him?


Mr. Nicholas by Christopher de Vinck tells the story of what happens one Christmas with Mr. Nicholas, Jim, and JB. It’s a small story with a large-as-your-heart theme. The reader understands what’s going on, and JB certainly does, but what will it take for Jim and even Anna to understand?


De Vinck is the author of numerous novels and non-fiction works, including AshesThe Power of the Powerless: A Brother’s Legacy of LoveHeart Speaks to Heart: Three Gospel Meditations on JesusNouwen Then: Personal Reflections on HenriThe Book of Moonlight, and several others. He received his Ph.D. degree from Columbia University and spent 40 years in public education. He’s also published essays in The New York TimesThe Wall Street JournalChicago Tribune, and other leading publications. 


Mr. Nicholas catches the personality of a hard-bitten reporter exactly right. It captures the wonder and innocence of a boy who doesn’t know he’s not like anyone else, including his father. It shows the breakdown of a marriage, and its slow yet still miraculous rebuilding. And it tells a heartwarming story of Christmas and why we celebrate it.

Sunday, September 19, 2021

The telegram

After Isaiah 9:6

The telegram comes

seven hundred years

or so early, a herald

and the promise

of the promise

of a child to be born / stop /

a son to be given / stop /

and more to come / stop /

carrying the government

upon his shoulder / stop /

and given four names / stop /

Wonderful Counselor / stop /

Mighty God / stop /

Everlasting Father / stop /

Prince of Peace / stop /.

He will be 

the promised one,

he will be

the promise.


Photograph by Sandra Tan via Unsplash. Used with permission.

Saturday, September 18, 2021

Saturday Good Reads - Sept. 18, 2021

Memory can be powerful, and memories lead the list of Saturday Good Reads today. Brian Miller at The South Roane Agrarian considers
the sounds of his recently deceased father. David Murray at Writing Boots shares a poem about an old ballplayer. 

Vladimir Alexandrov at CrimeReads has a fascinating story of a Russian revolutionary who defied everybody: “The Russian Revolutionary Who Opposed the Czar and Defied the Bolsheviks.” 

You may think you know the story of Pinocchio, but you may only know Pinocchio as told by Walt Disney. John Hooper and Anna Kraczyna at Literary Hub have the original story: Is the Original Pinocchio Actually About Lying and Very Long Noses? 

More Good Reads

 Life and Culture 

The Face of Education – Jon Schaff at Front Porch Republic. 

Brilliance and Blind Luck: How Did Medieval Europe Invent the Concept of Quarantine? – Edward Glaeser & David Cutler at Literary Hub. 


On a Maundy Thursday Walk – Margaret Avison at Kingdom Poets (D.S. Martin). 

Mancunian Insomnia – Spangle McQueen at Burning House Press (H/T: Paul Brookes). 


The Song I Sing in the Darkness and The Death of Porn – Tim Challies. 

Talitha Cumi – Nathan Eshelman at Gentle Reformation. 

What Does Ecclesiastes Teach Us About Work? – Russell Gehrlein at the Institute for Faith, Work, & Economics. 

The Ends and the Means – Seth Lewis. 

Writing and Literature 

Colson Whitehead on Why He Wrote a Heist Novel to Tell the Story of New York – Dwyer Murphy at CrimeReads. 

Great British Novels – Joseph Pearce at The Imaginative Conservative. 

American Stuff 

Aftermath of Battle at Gettysburg’s Spangler’s Spring – Jon Tracey at Emerging Civil War. 

“A brave, active, and sensible officer:” James Monroe in the Revolution – Mark Maloy at Emerging Revolutionary War Era. 

Morricone: Nella Fantasia – Mari Samuelson & Sylvia Schwartz


Painting: Woman Reading, oil on canvas by Edouard Vuillard (1868-1940).

Friday, September 17, 2021

The old soldier seeks help

After Ephesians 6:10-24

Living in a prison cell,

the older soldier seeks help,

not rescue or supplies, but

help of a different kind,

the help of the right words

placed in his mouth,

the help of courage

to speak boldly the truth

he carries, the truth he’s

carried since the light

in the road, the blindness

in the road, the scales

dropping from his eyes.

He carries it still,

even in this cell, 

which is not to say

his spirit never falters;

he’s human, after all,

prone to doubts and fears.

But he knows what

feeds him, not the food

delivered by the jailer’s

hands, but the sustenance

delivered by the prayers

of the faithful. He is

an old soldier, veteran

of many battles veteran

of many wars, and he knows

what always takes

the battlefield.


Photo by Eric Ward via Unsplash. Used with permission.

Thursday, September 16, 2021

"A Fatal Affair" by Faith Martin

It’s 1962. The village of Middle Fenton, seven miles from Oxford, is preparing for the annual May Day celebration. In the early morning of the big day, the body of the May Queen is found tied with ribbons to the Maypole. The young woman has been strangled. The victim is young, attractive, and with the kind of presence and personality that attracts men of all ages and offends women. 

The Oxford police investigate but leads and clues are few. Then the young woman’s boyfriend, a student at Oxford, is found hanging in the barn of a family he’s known since childhood. It looks like a case of suicide, either for remorse of the lost girlfriend or guilt for having killed her. The coroner’s jury at the inquest takes 10 minutes to return a verdict of suicide.


But the boy’s father, who happens to be the superintendent of the Oxford police, isn’t buying it. He turns to the coroner, Dr. Clement Ryder, and Women’s Police Constable (WPC) Trudy Loveday. The aging coroner and the young constable are an unlikely pair, but they’ve worked together to solve several murders, including crimes that looked like murder but weren’t. Loveday’s commanding officer isn’t pleased, but what can you do when your boss says just do it?


And progress is slow. It looks for all the world like what it appears to be – the young man killed his girlfriend and then took his own life. But if that were the case, why was he conducting his own investigation if the girl’s death?


Faith Martin

A Fatal Affair
 by Faith Martin is the sixth in the Ryder and Loveday mystery series, and it’s every bit as good as its predecessors. It’s clever to create a team of an older man trying to hide the symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease and a young woman who’s brighter than her boss and her colleagues but finds herself (it’s the early 1960s) assigned to filing, making coffee, and patrolling for purse snatchers. 


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.


Ryder and Loveday sometimes solve the crime (and crimes) at hand through smart deduction. Sometimes it’s legwork. And sometimes it’s stumbling into the truth. A Fatal Affair combines all three into one satisfying story.




A Fatal Obsession by Faith Martin.


A Fatal Mistake by Faith Martin.


A Fatal Flaw by Faith Martin.


A Fatal Secret by Faith Martin.


A Fatal Truth by Faith Martin.