Books of the Week:
- Rasputin, Douglas Smith
- I’ll Be Gone in the Dark, Michelle McNamara
- The Gatekeeper, Kathryn Smith
- Who is Conrad Hirst?, Kevin Wignall
- The Wolf Lord, Ann Aguirre
- Tricks for Free, Seanan McGuire
- The Outsmarting of Criminals, Steven Rigolosi
Still trying to clear off the corner of my desk I reserve for books I want to talk about. Then I have to work on the opposite corner, where a pile of things I’m reading for a judging process are stacked. Someday all four corners of my desk may be liberated.
Since the legacy of Rasputin is an important factor in my new series (AN EASY DEATH, the first book, will be out in October), the gift of Douglas Smith’s new biography of the holy man who brought down the tsar’s regime was a very timely one. So here’s what I learned: Rasputin was not a true priest or monk in the Orthodox church, and the stories of his death (in the legend he was shot, poisoned, beaten, and drowned) were somewhat exaggerated by the aristocrat who pretty much made his living on his murder of Rasputin. The low-born holy man was charismatic, loved the ladies, and had a dramatic personality. This is a fascinating book.
Michelle McNamara died before I’ll Be Gone in the Dark could be completed or published. It was finished by two other people who knew her and her material very well, and seen through the publication process by her husband, Patton Oswalt (the comedian). McNamara must have been an extraordinary person. I never followed her blog about true crime, but she is an interesting writer, obsessed with detail and determined to follow every clue in her search for the Golden State Killer. That the search was not concluded doesn’t make the depth of her achievement any the less. This is a gripping book.
The Gatekeeper was written by a friend of mine from yesteryear, Kathryn Smith. When I knew Kathryn, she was a reporter in South Carolina. I was so glad to meet up with her again a couple of years ago and delighted to receive a copy of her book about Missy LeHand, the right hand of president Franklin Delano Roosevelt. LeHand was clearly an extraordinary woman, and whatever the truth of her exact relationship with FDR, she was a capable and resourceful woman who helped him to function as president for three terms.
Since it’s clear from the number of Kevin Wignall’s books I’ve mentioned that I’m a fan, I won’t say too much about Who is Conrad Hirst? Hirst, a young and broken man, is a contract killer much valued for his cold efficiency. Gradually, Hirst comes to find out that everything that led him to his current path is untrue.
I was very enthusiastic about the first two books in Ann Aguirre’s Ars Numina series, and I’m equally pleased with The Wolf Lord. Raff Pineda, leader of the wolves, is known as a crowd pleasing party guy, and it is with great reluctance that Princess Thalia Talfayen makes an offer of marriage to the wolf leader. She needs an alliance desperately, because she’s the target of other claimants of the Eldritch throne. Their marriage of convenience changes in dramatic ways as they get to know each other, and Raff begins to rise to his leadership position and assume responsibility just as Thalia begins to thaw out of her self-inflicted isolation.
Seanan McGuire is one of my favorite writers, so you can take it as read that I loved Tricks for Free, in which Antimony Price hides in an amusement park very much like Disneyland . . . if demons ran it.
The Outsmarting of Criminals requires a little more explanation. Miss Felicity Prim, a lady of a certain age, decides to retire from her job in a doctor’s office in New York City to live in Greenfield, Connecticut, in a small home she purchases. Miss Prim, who lives in a world none of us have ever experienced, does not believe in computers, treats everyone with courtesy, and packs a Laser Taser 3000 after she is mugged. With the requisite curious and interesting neighbors in Connecticut, and coworkers who miss her terribly in New York, Miss Prim is kept quite busy, especially after she finds a body in her concealed basement. There is a little hole here and there, and you may have trouble believing in Miss Prim’s world, but this is really a delightful read.
When our landline rings, nine times out of ten it’s a charity calling, or a cause, or a vacation resort. Lately, my cell phone has been plagued with calls like this, too.
I have nothing against saving people from hunger or homelessness, animals from euthanasia, reproductive rights from legislation, or any of the causes that are close to my heart. Let me make it clear: I give to causes I believe in. But I begin to react badly to being surrounded by extended hands. I begin throwing appeals in the trash basket and not answering the phone. I know this isn’t rational, exactly, because fundraisers can’t know who else I’ve heard from that day, or that it’s the third or fourth appeal I’ve had in a row.
However, I find it unbearably irritating to be constantly hit up. And it galls me — the waste of the postage (and the trees) for mail I toss, the salary of the fundraisers who call me and won’t stop talking no matter what I say. I don’t like to be rude, but sometimes hanging up is the only way to make them stop. I would hate to have such a job, and for a long time that gave me sympathy with the people who had them. But not any more.
Charity burnout is a first world problem, I guess, and I try not to get sour about yet another worthy cause wanting a check. I just don’t know the answer, but if anyone has a good solution, I’m open to hearing it.