03 May 2015

Gone Girl

by Leigh Lundin

Gone Girl
Many months after the film's release, my library finally came through with a copy of Gone Girl three years after the book came out. Now this isn’t a review, this isn’t an erudite analysis, but it’s a commentary and defense of sorts of Gillian Flynn's tour de force, one of the smartest of crime novels, touched upon by Dale Andrews when the tale hit the bestseller list. It’s also one of the most meticulously plotted stories I’ve encountered.

Warning: May contain spoilers.

Melodie Campbell mentioned to me some reviewers were warning readers off the book, saying it had no sympathetic characters. After our conversation, I looked up reviews and many readers complained they hated the characters. Like reviewer Sheila DeChantal, some more subtly said their positions softened against Nick. They became more forgiving when it became clear his wife was incapable of love and Nick became susceptible to a warm outreach and a soft place to fall, not that it justified tumbling into an affair however unsolicited. That affair ruined Nick in the eyes of many and spoiled the reading experience, no matter how essential it was to the plot.

I know what they’re saying– I want characters I can empathize with. I’ve been listening to old-time radio broadcasts from the 1940s-1950s of a popular program called Suspense. Often the narrator is a bad guy, conniving, weak, or doomed in some way, and after daily listening over many weeks, I found a diet of that viewpoint disheartening and depressing.

But I disagree with the negative assessments of Gone Girl for a number of reasons, not least that the author cleverly manipulates our feelings. Although Margo, Nick’s loyal sister is admirable in her own way, I most liked Detective Rhonda Boney. The detective is not only open to an alternate hypothesis regarding Nick, she’s the one person not fooled by Amy’s machinations. (To be fair, one reviewer complained sidekick Gilpin's sole purpose was to make Boney look good.)

I think of Amy as a Hannibal Lector of the mind, a psychological cannibal who preys on the trust of others. The book makes that even clearer than the movie– Amy will go to any length to punish those who offend her in the least way, to teach them ‘lessons’. To bring home the point, the novel includes an unfilmed scene where Amy throws herself down a stairway to implicate a girl who displeased her. Amy is a pure sociopath; others exist only to fulfill her wants.

Do you know as a reader, you can purchase not just books, but third party book reviews for a mere $7-10?

Readers shouldn’t miss the irony of Amy’s parents using make-believe packaging of their precious daughter in their children’s books, Amy is neither their fictional character nor who they think she is. Amy is adept at molding her personality to exploit others. While pretending to embrace the little compromises that make up all relationships, we learn that Amy disdains and despises petty accommodation.

PoV Male

Another feat of the author is how well she wrote from a male point of view. I found only one quibble where my suspension of disbelief wobbled– I didn’t know what a Tretorn was and question how many men would know. But as I said, that’s a mere quibble in a virtually perfect characterization where a masculine viewpoint has to be spot-on. The author gives credit for the male PoV to her husband and others, but ultimately she was the one who assimilated it and made it work.

PoV Ghouls

Another aspect Author Flynn pegged perfectly was the warning Detective Boney gave Nick that some predatory women would come out of the woodwork to ‘console’ him. The writer perfectly understood the type of ghoul, the kind who read the obituaries looking for that next relationship.

PoV Film

The film tracks amazingly close to the book’s story line, although the novel’s ending is subtly different and I, for one, retained the impression that Nick might well be a match for Amy in multiple senses. He’s the one person who truly understands his wife.

The novel contains only one scene I couldn’t recall in the movie, but in one place, the film outdoes the book, where Flynn pulled her punches but the director didn’t. I’m not one who cares for gore, yet Desi Collings’ final scene, glossed over in the novel, will shock movie goers in a way the printed page does not.

It’s worth noting in the novel, the lovelorn Gatsby-like character of Collings is more emphasized and we don’t feel quite so sad for him as we might in the film. Collings’ mother… I can’t quite decide if I vaguely like her or am frightened by her. Again, she’s a well-drawn character.

PoV Writers

Without the least bit of author intrusion, it’s obvious Gillian Flynn is well-read and well-educated. She mentions a number of literary works: Twain, Bradbury, O. Henry, O’Neill, Sarte, Lincoln. In the guise of Nick’s character, she also presents several movie and pop culture references, plus she educates the reader about Punch and Judy.

(I attended a wedding in France where the families set up entertainment for children in a barn, which included a Punch and Judy show. I thought that charming!)

PoV Readers

Beyond the readers who dissed the movie for lack of a likable personality, some sought to understand the various characters. One or two suggested that forgiveness is at the core of a loving relationship, the one thing Amy was incapable of, despite her professing to forgive Nick.

One reader suggested the sequel should be titled Run, Nick, Run.

Presumed Innocent

I highly regard Gone Girl for the brilliant way the author laid down clues. It favorably compares with Scott Turow’s Presumed Innocent, one of the best modern mysteries.

It occurs to me they have a lot in common, though Presumed Innocent is a clever fair-play mystery and Gone Girl is different, more a howdunit than a whodunit. Both feature wives who set out to punish husbands who strayed. Not just any wives, but brilliant, unscrupulous perpetrators willing to go to great lengths to prove their point. These are not women squeamish about biological byproducts nor the taboo of killing. The word ‘scheming’ seems a loaded word in this context, but my emphasis is on the painstaking planning in these crimes, where no step can be considered too small or too large.

Final Analysis

My description of a Hannibal Lector devourer of thoughts and emotions may not change the mind of anyone dead set against reading the novel, but Gone Girl exemplifies outstandingly detailed plotting. I highly recommend it to other mystery writers and readers as well.

Ruth Rendell
Ruth Rendell
Ruth Rendell

Ruth Rendell, one of my favorite authors of mystery classics, died yesterday.

I’ve enjoyed her books but I'll never forget one story about the lady. In her early career, she worked as a reporter for a county newspaper in southeastern England writing up less than scintillating topics. She managed to get herself fired by failing to do two critical things: (1) failing to attend a club dinner she was reporting on and (2) failing to mention the dinner speaker died during his speech.

Blessed be Ruth Rendell.

02 May 2015

Pace Yourself

by John M. Floyd

In his book Story, screenwriting teacher Robert McKee says:

"Because a story is a metaphor for life, we expect it to feel like life, to have the rhythm of life. This rhythm beats between two contradictory desires: On one hand, we desire serenity, harmony, peace, and relaxation, but too much of this day after day and we become bored to the point of ennui, and need therapy. As a result, we also desire challenges, tension, danger, even fear. But too much of this day after day and again we end up in the rubber room. So the rhythm of life swings between these poles."

We all know that in a short story or a novel, the proper pacing is vital to its success. And in the case of mystery/crime fiction, the pace has to be fast. Nobody likes being bored, and nothing is so boring to a reader as a story that drags along and doesn't do something.

Ideally, this building of suspense has to happen throughout the narrative. A good, exciting opening is always important, but the challenge is then to keep up that pace afterward as well. Personally, I'd almost rather read a story or novel that starts slowly than one that starts strong and then bogs down in the middle; if it has a poor beginning I can at least stop reading sooner. As I've said before, there are too many good books and stories and movies out there for me to waste my time reading one or watching one that doesn't hold my interest.

So yes, good pacing is essential. But--as the little boy said to the magician--how do you do it?

At the risk of oversimplifying, here are three ways that we writers can control the pacing of our fiction.

1. Style

- Dialogue speeds things up; description slows them down

- Short, simple sentences speed things up; long, complex sentences slow them down (think Hemingway vs. Faulkner)

- Action verbs speed things up (sprinting vs. running, slamming vs. closing, gulping vs. eating, stomping vs. walking)

- The overuse of certain kinds of punctuation (commas, ellipses, parentheses, etc.) slows things down

- Active voice speeds things up; passive voice slows them down

- Short scenes/chapters speed things up; long scenes/chapters slow them down (think Patterson vs. Michener)

2. Action

As mentioned earlier, the best way to keep the reader interested is to make things happen--preferably exciting things and preferably often. There should be plenty of confrontations, obstacles, and setbacks. Internal struggles of course create tension, but in genre fiction the conflicts should be external as well. According to Jessica Page Morrell in her book Thanks, but This Isn't for Us: "If too many scenes in your story feature a character alone, the story won't work. Especially if in most of the scenes the character is thinking, musing, recalling the past, or sighing. Especially sighing."

3. Reversals

I'm a big fan of plot twists--and by that I don't just mean O. Henry-type surprise endings. I love it when the story takes a sharp and unexpected turn at any point, even near the beginning. It keeps me guessing and therefore keeps me reading. (Or watching. Reference the shower scene in Psycho.) I can't remember who said it, and I'm paraphrasing here, but if you're the writer and you think things might be moving too slowly, that's a good time to have someone burst through the door holding a gun.

Those are just a few thoughts--please feel free to contradict them or to add to the list.

Finally, no discussion of pacing would be complete without at least mentioning the concept of "scene and sequel." Scenes are units of story action, and sequels (in terms of writing) are breaks in the action--rest periods when the hero/heroine takes a timeout to think about what just happened and to consider what might happen next. Properly alternating scenes and sequels is a pacing mechanism, to allow the reader to--along with the protagonist--catch his breath and calm down a bit before facing the next challenge.

If you want to read some really fast-paced mystery fiction, I suggest stories and novels by the following authors: Lee Child, Harlan Coben, Robert B. Parker, Janet Evanovich, James Patterson, Jack Ritchie, Joe R. Lansdale, and Elmore Leonard.

It won't take you long.

01 May 2015


by R.T. Lawton

Positioned northeast of Venezuela and southwest of St. Vincent lies the island of Grenada, also known as the Island of Spice. They have nutmeg, mace (made from the outside of the nutmeg seed), cinnamon, clove, ginger and cocoa. Nutmeg was introduced to the island in 1843 when a merchant ship bound for England from the West Indies left some nutmeg trees behind to start production in competition with the Dutch who controlled the world market for mace and nutmeg at that time. During the 17th and 18th centuries, the island changed hands several times between the French and British before the British got ownership in the Treaty of Versailles.

Clint saves the day
In 1974, Grenada was granted independence from the Crown with Eric Gairy as Prime Minister, but opposition to his rule soon broke out in the form of the New Jewel Movement, a leftist-leaning organization which favored Marx and Lenin. Five years after the island's independence, the NJM's leader, Maurice Bishop, launched a paramilitary attack on the government. Bishop then installed himself as Prime Minister, suspended the constitution and established relations with Cuba, the USSR and other communist countries. Over the next few years, other high ranking members of the New Jewel Movement, to include Deputy Prime Minister Bernard Coard, a hardline communist, did not think Bishop was moving the island fast enough into a communist type of government, so they led their own revolution backed by the Grenadian Army. Bishop was put under house arrest, but soon escaped. When he tried to regain power, Coard's regime put Bishop and seven other Bishop officials, to include the pregnant Minister of Education, against the wall in Ft. Rupert and shot them. Not really a strong selling point for American tourism at the time.

U.S. Marine helicopter near abandoned Soviet
anti-aircraft weapon during the invasion
A military government was formed and the army declared a four-day curfew. Anyone violating the curfew by leaving their house would be shot. This government lasted six days. Seems that this particular way-to-the-left government caused President Ronald Reagan to have some grave concerns. The fact that the newly-built, extra-long runway the Cuban engineers had just constructed could be feasible for communist military activities inside the U.S. hemisphere didn't help the situation. Operation Urgent Fury went into action and as we all know from the movie Heartbreak Ridge, Clint Eastwood as Gunny Highway, won the war and rescued the medical students. The United Nations General Assembly was not impressed, calling the action a violation of international law. In the end, the Grenada constitution was restored, 17 members of the New Jewel Movement were incarcerated in Richmond Hill Prison and the ugly Americans went home, now returning on cruise ships to boost the island's economy.

Interesting Grenada Facts

Don't confuse the pronunciation of Grenada with Grenada. While the spelling is the same, the island country is pronounced Grenade-ah, while the city in Spain is pronounced Gra-nah-dah.

And, there's a couple of local slang terms you might enjoy knowing. One is "going up to the mahoganies" and the other is "liming."

In earlier years, mahogany trees were planted on both sides of the road leading up to Richmond Hill prison on the top of a ridge overlooking the harbor town of St. George. Thus when someone was being sent to prison, it was said that he was going up to the mahoganies. Those trees are all gone now, but the prison buildings still remain.

As we drove inland through mountain communities, we would often see from one to five men lounging against a building. This activity on Grenada is called "liming" and since the unemployment rate runs about 30%, we saw several instances of liming, usually around a rum house where moonshine was made. The official definition is any leisure activity entailing the sharing of food and drink and the telling of tall stories, jokes and gossip, providing the activity has no explicit purpose other than itself. Some say the term came from the old days when British sailors, known as limeys, stood around outside of rum shops while on shore leave.

French capture Grenada from the land side
Lastly, Grenada has a backwards facing fort. Seems that in one of the early battles for possession of the island, French forces came into St. George from the land side, over the mountains rather than sailing into the harbor. Since the British were expecting a naval attack, their cannons were facing the wrong way. Learning from their easy victory, the French then built Fort Frederick up on the mountain ridge as a backwards facing fort where their cannons were aimed inland while a different fort down slope covered the harbor.

30 April 2015

Useful and Necessary Knowledge

by Janice Law

I just finished a novel, always a satisfying moment, even if the product never quite lives up to the initial inspiration. Novels begin in careless rapture with hints of genius, run into complications toward the middle, and end, if one is lucky, somewhere in the realistic realm of ‘good enough.’

But this one, being set in the 1920‘s, got me to thinking about how one gets information for historical novels and the differences in what is needed for history, on the one hand, and a story, on the other. In my opinion, it comes down to minutia, and while I don’t like to criticize historians, whose ranks I’ve joined on occasion, they usually skimp of the day-to-day details that are the blood and bones of any novel.

Money, in particular, is always tricky. Not only did earlier eras have different coinage – the UK went decimal within living memory – but it is extremely hard to determine equivalents in today’s money. You don’t need to be a Jane Austen or a Karl Marx to feel that lacking a grasp of how much and what value leaves a gap in a manuscript.

Of course, historians venture into the realm of economics, but they tend to like the big scale and the overall trend. Only occasionally do they include the price of a modest lunch or the cost of a subway ticket or a ride on a mail coach. What would a woman pay for a dress and how much would her seamstress clear? These are often hard to determine.

Consider Weimar, the ill fated Republic and its rowdy capital, Berlin, where I’ve recently been spending time in the service of the very young Francis Bacon. It’s easy to find statistics on everything from housing to political preferences, but I really had to struggle to find out what was served in the local bars, where I’m afraid Francis spent a lot of time. Fortunately a memoir came to the rescue with the menu: pea soup, sausages and beer. Memoirists are notoriously unreliable about their personal history, but I think they’re probably trustworthy on fast food.

Memoirs, particularly Christopher Isherwood’s, were useful in another way, because Berlin suffered extensive bombing damage during the war. It was then divided by the wall, and ,when the wall came down, reintegrated with the east. All this has meant buildings lost, areas redeveloped, old haunts vanished except in the mind of the memoirist who helpfully resurrects forgotten districts and seedy cafes. Sometimes, though, one must finesse a problem. I read whole books on the so called combat leagues, the groups of political activists that slid from providing bodyguards to fueling street warfare. Their motives, their sociological backgrounds, their financial support, their aims, their resentments were all laid out in neat columns. But what about the colors of their shirts? Except for the Brownshirts, no dice.

Of course, occasionally one comes across a volume that seems written with other writers in mind. I can recommend two. Mel Gordon’s Voluptuous Panic, the Erotic Worlds of Weimar Berlin is beyond lurid but the vocabulary and the venues, not to mention the goings-on of the notorious sex trade, are all usefully laid out. With pictures. Want to know who patronized the Cozy Corner, the “boy bar” beloved of Auden and Isherwood? Care to take a gander at the Eldorado, the great transvestite club and cabaret? Gordon has the info and the illustrations. A picture really is worth a thousand words in this case.

Not related to Weimar but useful for anyone who cares to dip into the Victorian world is Daniel Pool’s What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew. Divided up by topic ranging from transportation to marriage to money to etiquette, it can help you distinguish a barouche from a victoria, and a ladies maid from a housemaid. A useful volume indeed.

But sometimes there are no useful memoirs or frivolous historians. Then the writer must improvise.

Soon after we moved to eastern Connecticut, I was asked to write a local history, and wanting to do something a little different, I came up with the idea of ending each chapter with short blurbs like what’s for dinner? what did they do for fun? travel time to some local town or attraction? how were they educated? and how did they die?

You can probably guess which ones were easy to discover, New England being proud of its education and mortality being popular with medical historians. Travel was another matter. I wound up checking with a local cross country coach to estimate how long it would take a tribal runner to cover rough ground and with the university equestrian center for the time it would take a decent horse to make a ten mile journey on dirt roads.

Historians need the big picture, bless them, but novelists have – or should have – their own big, or little, picture in mind. What we need are the details, the minutia and the ephemera that allow us to conjure the ghosts of the past.

29 April 2015

The Golden Age of Murder

A special treat today.  I lucked into an advance copy of a terrific nonfiction book and when I realized the official release date was this week I invited the author to tell us about it.  Martin Edwards is the author of eighteen novels, and eight non-fiction books.  Plus he's edited two dozen anthologies.  He has won the Crime Writers' Association Dagger and the Margery Allingham prize for short stories.  I highly recommend his book, which has taught me a lot about the writers of the so-called Golden Age, and especially WHY they wrote what they did. — Robert Lopresti

The Golden Age of Murder

by Martin Edwards

Crime fans know better than anyone that appearances can be deceptive. And that idea is at the heart of The Golden Age of Murder, my just-published study of the British crime novelists who dominated the genre between the two world wars. There’s a widely held view that those writers were cosy, conventional folk who wrote cosy and conventional books. But the more I researched the men and women who wrote the best Golden Age mysteries, the more I became convinced that the truth was rather different – and much more enthralling.

I write crime novels set in the here and now, but I’ve always loved the ingenious traditional murder mysteries. Like so many other people around the world, my introduction to adult fiction was through the books of Agatha Christie, a writer whose work I still love. From her I graduated to Dorothy L. Sayers, and then other great names of the era, such as Margery Allingham, Ngaio Marsh, and Anthony Berkeley.

Later I discovered that those writers, and a good many others whose books I enjoyed, were members of the Detection Club, a select and rather mysterious organisation which exists to this day. Led by Berkeley (who founded the Club) and Sayers, members yearned to raise the standard of crime writing, and strove to ensure that their own work was fresh and inventive.

Sayers, for example, wanted to take the genre in a new direction, and with a fellow Club member, Robert Eustace, she produced The Documents in the Case, an ambitious book in which Lord Peter Wimsey did not appear.  Writing as Francis Iles, Berkeley became the standard-bearer for the novel of psychological crime – the first Iles book, Malice Aforethought, remains a genre classic, and the second, the dark and deeply ironic Before the Fact, was filmed by Alfred Hitchcock. But Club members also remained true to the game-playing spirit of the times. They collaborated in “round-robin” mysteries such as The Floating Admiral, each writing a chapter in turn. The book enjoyed critical and commercial success, which was repeated when it was republished recently

I became fascinated by the relationships between the writers – long before the days of blogs, Twitter and Facebook, the Detection Club was a remarkable social network. Seven years ago, I was elected to membership of the Club myself, and was asked to look after the Club’s archives. But since very little had been retained over the years, really I had to become a detective, finding out about the Club’s history. I talked to experts across the world, and travelled around, tracking down descendants of those early Club members.

Fresh mysteries kept arising, crying out for a solution. The Club’s members obsessed about their personal privacy, and many of them hugged dark and disturbing secrets. One pioneering novelist even made diary entries in an unbreakable code, so nobody could decipher what was in his mind. Clever people, well-versed in the art of mystification, Detection Club members deployed their skills to obscure the trail for anyone seeking to learn more about them. Agatha Christie’s controversial eleven-day disappearance in 1926 is by far the most high profile of the numerous disasters that befell Club members, and affected their writing as well the future course of their lives.

In The Golden Age of Murder, I’ve set out to solve the mysteries of the writers who in many ways were responsible for inventing the modern detective novel. It’s been an engrossing quest, and my greatest hope is that it will encourage people who have, in the past, been dismissive of traditional detective fiction to think again. Of course, plenty of bad books were written in the Golden Age, as in every age, but the best work of the time was exhilarating, innovative - and unforgettable.

28 April 2015

All This Has Happened Before

by Jim Winter

Last night, I watched about an hour of CNN to see what was going on in Baltimore. I did like how police officers and community activists comported themselves when interviewed. However, two of the reporters discussed, without irony, how the constant coverage of rioting and burning after recent incidents starting with Ferguson might be fanning the violence each time. I say without irony because, while everyone spoke, CNN kept running video of fires.

Baltimore burning

Yeah, I'm sure that's helping calm things down.

They did this when Ferguson erupted. And in 2001, even the local news had round-the-clock coverage of the riots here in Cincinnati. Yes, my adopted hometown has been through this. That should give you some hope. We got through this. I won't kid you and say everything's fine here, but it's been a lot less heated in Cincinnati for years now than it has been in Baltimore of late.

But I also remember how opportunistic the Cincinnati Enquirer was in the months that followed. The normally conservative paper openly turned the police into its personal punching bag. It had less to do with any shortcomings of the police and more to do with selling papers. It did no service to race relations in Cincinnati. The local (and national) media did nothing to resolve the situation, only milked it to sell Toyotas.

Eventually, things calmed down. The police made efforts to reach out to the community. It's not all Kumbaya, but there's not this sense of rage that was palpable in the months leading up to the riots.

The spark that lit the explosion was the shooting of a Timothy Thomas, a 19-year-old black man, by Officer Stephen Roach. The confrontation? It was over traffic citations. So an unarmed man ran because of traffic tickets. And the officer shot him as he ran away.

That was the match tossed into the powder keg.

I had a part-time job at a pizza place at the time. Many of my coworkers were high school students from Withrow High School, a predominantly black school. I occasionally gave some of them rides home. One guy, who had moved into assistant management when he graduated, told me he was worried because many of his classmates were getting harassed by cops. Being a pizza delivery guy, I also interacted with a lot of cops. And they were getting frustrated because they did not think they were getting much support from the city. Yeah, tempers were getting ready to blow. It would only take one incident to set off the whole works.

When the riots subsided, there was a boycott. There were police reforms. And eventually, peace returned to the city. If Cincinnati can get past it, so can other cities. I'm under no illusion that it can't happen here again. But things go in cycles. If you want the cycle to end, you have to work at it.

That's what Cincinnati did. There's no reason other cities can't. Might be nice if the media would help, but that might not sell enough Coca-Cola.

27 April 2015

What Are You Reading?

by Jan Grape

Jan Grape
As soon as I saw my fellow SleuthSayer, Dale C. Andrews post for Sunday, I knew I was on to something. I'd been wracking my brain for days to come up with something to write about today. Suddenly, I found myself staring at a stack of books on the lamp table next to my perch on the sofa. I'll tell you my reading pile this week and you tell me yours, Okay?

First, I often read a hodge-podge of titles in the course of a week. Sometime only a book or two and sometimes a stack of six or more. This week, I haven't felt the best so my reading has been limited. Much easier to watch old TV shows. I just got  HBO free for three months. I never have any movie channels so often just watch reruns or old movies, but a large part of the time I watch old NCIS or Law and Order reruns. Mainly for the noise. I've seen a lot of them, but often can't remember  whodunnit. I'll realize about 15 minutes into the show that I have seen it, but can't for the life of me remember what happened to who or when. I'm not going to complain about old age because I'm still on this side of the dirt.

Back to the reading scenario. Here's a bit of what I've been reading lately. Harlan Coben's PLAY DEAD. I've known Harlan for years and really enjoyed his Myron Bolitar books. His suspense/thrillers are a different kettle of fish and they are very fine books. Harlan writes an author note at the beginning admitting that he wrote this book years ago when he was but a fresh face lad in in twenties. He admits that when he looked at it, there was great temptation to edit, rewrite, change or at least pass it off as new, but he couldn't. He does say in the first sentence of his author note that if is the first Harlan Coben book you are going to try, STOP. Put it down, that it won't make him mad.

That frank disclosure said, he adds that this book is exactly the same as when he wrote it long ago. Takes courage to do that. But Harlan has established his place in the annuals of best-selling quite some time ago. PLAY DEAD was mostly a fairly good book. Much better than my first. There's no way I'd ever let anyone read my first unpublished novel. In fact, I have a feeling mine is lost forever.

PLAY DEAD features a beautiful, young and famous model, Laura Ayars and her equally handsome basketball star fiancé named David Baskiff. A marriage made in heaven as the tabloids say. These two get married and are in Australia for their honeymoon, when the tragedy hits. David disappears while swimming. Disappears totally. No body. No explanation. No husband. Grief stricken and devastated Laura returns home where life becomes more complicated and full of questions. Is David really dead? And who are all these people who have come out of the woodwork to help? Including David's brother Stan. Do yourself a favor and read this one, but as Harlan says, if this is your first Coben book, read another one or two first.

Another paperback to grace my lamp table and in my hands is Lee Child's RUNNING BLIND. All right, I'll admit that I'm a huge Jack Reacher fan. In case you're wondering, No, I did not go see Tom Cruise ruin the image in my mind of Reacher. No way ever could I ever accept that image.  It's a bit like when Sean Connery came out as James Bond. I could take it because it many ways Connery fit my mind's eye of Bond. The dark hair with the curl that rested on his forehead sometimes. Connery was fit and suave and sounded British. I didn't care for the way they camped up the stories in the movies. The books were excellent stories so I never could figure out why they had to make them way over the top, but Connery somehow pulled it off. Those other guys not so much. Oh, yeah, Pierce Brosnon was fine and the guy who plays him now is fine but Connery was BOND. Through and through.

Tom Cruise is an okay actor, I guess. Can't really think of anything he did other than Jerry McGuire and that Officer and Gentleman movie. But the guy is too short, too small, too handsome for Child's Reacher. Jim Caviezel from Person of Interest is my ideal actor to play Reacher.

Okay, I'm off topic. I read RUNNING BLIND. And it's quite a ride as usual. Reacher has a girlfriend but across the country women he used to know are being killed and Reacher is the one person who know how to commit a "perfect murder." If there is such an animal. But if you've read about Reacher before you know he's got the intelligence, the know how, and the animal instincts to murder someone and not leave a trace. He even has been known to leave an area with police watching and casually get back on the road. He travels light. He thinks every step of the way and now he's running. He knows he has to run until he can prove he really is innocent.

You may not believe it, but I do read books besides thrillers or private eye stories. A book that I'm about half-way into is 1960s AUSTIN GANGSTERS by long-time friend Jesse Sublett. These are the true stories of how organized crime, with smooth-talking criminals who rocked, Austin, the capitol of the state of Texas. All this was going on in Texas during the 1960s when other folks were living on communes and smoking that funny tobacco and singing about peace.

This is a historical non-fiction book that reads almost like fiction, in my mind, a bit surprising because I was living in Fort Worth and visiting my dad and bonus mom in Austin fairly often. Of course, I was also becoming a mom myself, working as a diagnostic radiographic technician and my visits to Austin were just fun and family time. I do wish my Dad and Ann were still around so I could ask what if anything they knew about the dirty dealings that were going on at that time. They both worked for the state at the Texas Employment Commission (as it was called then) and I can imagine they heard about such crime, but maybe never thought about it as Organized Crime. This is a fascinating look at my state and the city that I always considered my second home. Jesse has done a great job researching this book and has wonderful photos from his collection, from Austin's History Center and from people he met along his research travels. I highly recommend it.

And one more item, a book my daughter gave me a while back and it's much fun to look at and get a laugh from most anytime. WOMEN OF SUBSTANCE a collection of Estrogen-rich cartoons by Revilo. I especially like the duct tape diet. And the fact that if you keep adding fruit to cheesecake it's not really a dessert.

So what are y'all reading? Anything besides David Dean's STARVATION CAY?