The Song: "Let's Be Kids Again," Howling Bells. Words & Music by Howling Bells (Glenn Moule, Brendan Picchio, Joel Stein, Juanita Stein). Track 5 of Radio Wars, 2008.
How/when acquired: Gift CD, 2009
This CD was part of a birthday present last year; Howling Bells are an Australian band that should be better known in the United States.
A lot's going on this week, and I'm dealing with anxieties both real and imaginary. In the absence of a more thoughtful post, it's been almost two months since I posted a reading list.
Good Books I've Read This Fall
Peter Quinn, THE MAN WHO NEVER RETURNED. Peter Quinn wrote one of my all-time favorite books, a novel about the New York conscription riots called BANISHED CHILDREN OF EVE. This book, a sequel to his detective novel THE HOUR OF THE CAT (which I haven't read), is nowhere near as ambitious. Twenty-five years after the disappearance of Judge Joseph Crater, a magazine publisher hires PI Fintan Dunne to reopen the investigation. Quinn does a great job of recreating 1950s New York, and lays out the history in fascinating detail. But the Crater case is only one of the book's mysteries, and its solution is more satisfying than the book's larger puzzle, which felt a little far-fetched.
Clare O'Donohue, THE DOUBLE CROSS: A Someday Quilts Mystery. An above-average amateur sleuth mystery that manages to avoid most of the genre's usual pitfalls: the crime is taken seriously, and the sleuth has a plausible reason to be involved. Quilt-shop owner Nell Fitzgerald and her customer/friends go upstate to a bed-and-breakfast owned by a couple with an old connection to one of the quilters; Bernadette had once been engaged to George, but he married her best friend, Rita. Good characters and strong plotting, though one important figure undergoes a radical character change for no apparent reason about 2/3 of the way through the book.
Cammie McGovern, NEIGHBORHOOD WATCH. Librarian Betsy Treading gets out of prison after 12 years, when new evidence clears her of a neighbor's murder. She needs to figure out what really happened, and her search uncovers not only secrets she didn't know but things she had deliberately forgotten. Compelling but ultimately unsatisfying, maybe because of the narrowness of the narrator's point of view. What's here is great, but I wanted MORE; it all feels undeveloped, and the book ends with too many questions unanswered.
Graham Moore, THE SHERLOCKIAN. An impressive debut that moves back and forth between the present-day story of a hunt for Arthur Conan Doyle's legendary missing journal and the story of the months in Doyle's life that journal covered. Bram Stoker plays a key role, and the ghost of Oscar Wilde hangs low. The novel's ambitions exceed the author's skills, but Moore announces himself as a writer to watch.
Robert Love, THE GREAT OOM: The Improbable Birth of Yoga in America. Fascinating material about the compelling figure of Pierre Bernard, who more than anyone else brought yoga to middle-class America, and reinvented himself half-a-dozen times as spiritual guru, sports promoter, animal trainer and country gentleman. Bernard is part of a great American tradition of spiritual showmen, but the author never seems completely clear on what he believed or what he wanted.
Tom Franklin, CROOKED LETTER, CROOKED LETTER. A teenaged girl disappears without a trace, and the prime suspect is her shy classmate Larry Ott, who was the last person known to have seen her. Twenty-five years later, Larry is a recluse, permanently suspected of a crime that may not even have happened, and another girl goes missing. The town constable, Silas Jones, has secrets of his own, not least of which is an old, strange friendship with Larry. A gripping, heartbreaking, ultimately redemptive story about the power of old secrets. One painful revelation follows another in a way that feels not just right but inexorable, and Franklin manages a complex structure like a master. One of the best books I've read this year.
Spencer Quinn, TO FETCH A THIEF: A Chet and Bernie Mystery. Another great entry in this truly unique series, hardboiled detective novels narrated by Chet the Dog. This time out, Chet and his human partner, Bernie, investigate the disappearance of a circus elephant and her trainer. I always learn things about my own dog from these books, and they are genuinely suspenseful crime novels, with a real edge.