Monday, February 23, 2015


Last week this email from my friend Steve arrived sandwiched between his weekly review of the latest "Castle" episode, and another newsy note. I offer it here for your consideration - pasted totally on the assumption that had I asked permission, Steve would have granted.

...found this on the first page of Olen Steinhauer's Victory Square and had to stop and catch my breath....

Set up sentence from preceding paragraph:  In the cold wind blowing through from the Adriatic, a basic truth came back to me: Old men die every day.

They submit in overstuffed chairs across from blaring televisions, slip in the bathtub, sink deep into hospital beds. They tumble down the stairwells of barren apartment blocks and face heart failure in swimming pools and restaurants and crowded buses. Some, already sleeping on the street, go quietly, while others take care of it themselves, because that’s the only power left to them. Their wives are dead and their friends as well; their children have fled from the stink of mortality. 
Sleeping pills, razors, high terraces and bridges. Usually, old men go alone.

Powerful stuff, right?  Sometimes we don't have to consume page upon page to find that one kernel that bursts with truth and dignity.  Too often I skim lengthy narrative passages deeming them time consuming, throw away bits offering little to move the plot along.  A self preservation technique I developed in college or grad school, I guess. After reading the above, I promised myself that whatever book I chose next would be read with care - line by line - word for word - no skimming, skipping or accidental page turning.  

There, on page 27 of Isabel Allende's Ripper I found the most inviting sensory passage.

She catalogued people by scent: her grandfather, Blake - smelled of gentleness - a mixture of wool sweaters and chamomile; Bob, her father, of strength - metal, tobacco, and aftershave; Bradley, her boyfriend, of sensuality, sweat and chlorine; and Ryan smelled of reliability and confidence, a doggy aroma that was the most wonderful fragrance in the world.  As for her mother, Indiana, steeped in the essential oils for her treatment room, she smelled of magic.

This is not the Allende I remember from the House of the Spirits or the bits of Paula that I read years ago.  Amanda, nerdy, intelligent, wise beyond her years, plays an on-line game favored by loners called "Ripper".  Bored with the fiction of the game, but fascinated with Scandinavian crime novels, Amanda proposes that the group take their sleuthing into the real world.  Using their honed skills of observation, deduction and common sense, and aided by information skillfully culled from bits and pieces of conversations with Amanda's chief of homicide father, the group sets out to solve a string of murders in the San Francisco area.  

Nope, this isn't simple Nancy Drew stuff.  Although Allende drifts from her usual magical realism, feminist fare with undeniable autobiographical elements, her lush style shines. The title hints at gore, that's for sure, but so far, it's the characters and the artistry that take the lead.  More next week....after I have read every single word.

Thanks for stopping by.