Groth, Janet. The Receptionist: An Education at the New Yorker.

Chapel Hill, NC: Algonquin Books, 2012.

I’ve been a regular reader of The New Yorker for close to fifty years (having been hooked in college by the high-quality cartoons), so I was delighted to learn about this recently published reminiscence. Unfortunately, it’s not really what I had hoped for.

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Published in: on 30 April 2014 at 6:28 am  Leave a Comment  
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Lovesey, Peter. Bloodhounds.

NY: Mysterious Press, 1996.

Detective Superintendent Peter Diamond is back in charge of the murder squad in Bath after a couple of years on the sidelines (due largely to his own abrasive personality), and he’s itching for a good murder case. Unfortunately for him, Bath isn’t a hotbed of homicide.

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Published in: on 24 April 2014 at 5:27 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Pratchett, Terry. Raising Steam.

NY: Doubleday, 2013.

I grew up around trains and switchyards and turntables, thanks to a couple of railroading grandfathers in the ’50s, and even though I haven’t ridden in a cab or spent the night in a sleeping car in nearly sixty years, it’s not an experience I’ve ever forgotten. Railroads, in the early days especially, were romantic in a way that cars and the Interstate never were and never can be.

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Mechner, Jordan. Templar.

NY: First Second, 2013.

It’s always nice to discover a graphic novel that’s actually a “novel” and not just a rebound comic book series. This one runs more than 450 pages and it could as easily have been written and produced as a text-only work of historical fiction.

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Rankin, Ian. Set in Darkness.

NY: St. Martin, 2000.

It’s 1998 and Scotland is about to have its own parliament for the first time in three centuries. What this means for the property development industry in Edinburgh, of course, is publicly funded construction and lots of it, plus all the new commercial office space and luxury flats the new Members of Parliament are going to demand. And much of this is taking place in the professional territory of DI John Rebus, whose patch includes Holyrood House.

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Spark, Muriel. A Far Cry from Kensington.

Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1988.

Muriel Spark isn’t much read these days, despite numerous awards and an OBE, except perhaps for her most famous work, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. That’s a shame, because Spark is a master of the character portrait. In fact, plots take a back seat in her stories to the people who inhabit them.

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Published in: on 12 April 2014 at 7:38 am  Leave a Comment  
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Lippman, Laura. Butcher’s Hill.

NY: Avon, 1998.

Tess Monaghan, ex-newspaper reporter in Baltimore, spent the first two installments in this enjoyable series living over her Aunt Kitty’s bookstore and trying to scrounge a living however she could before she finally edged into doing investigative work for a lawyer friend (who also is her rowing coach). Now, in this third time out, she’s finally made the leap to doing private work full-time.

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Published in: on 9 April 2014 at 5:37 am  Leave a Comment  
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Rankin, Ian. Dead Souls.

NY: St. Martin, 1999.

Detective Inspector John Rebus of the Edinburgh CID has been a copper for a long time and has reached the point in his career, and in his life, where he’s not entirely sure he wants to keep doing this stuff any longer. His daughter is in a wheelchair now, his city is changing beyond recognition, and society seems not to be getting any better.

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Doolittle, Sean. Lake Country.

NY: Bantam, 2012.

Doolittle has published half a dozen novels now and has made a name for himself as a writer of wry noir crime stories leavened with humor. This one begins after Wade Benson, a successful Minneapolis architect who works too hard, makes a terrible mistake. One night, he drowses off while driving home late and his SUV destroys the much smaller car of college student Becky Morse, who is killed. Benson gets five years’ probation (with an interesting twist) but the incident leaves him with a heavy psychological burden — especially since Becky’s brother was killed in Iraq a couple days later and their father committed suicide the day after that.

Then we have Darryl Potter and Mike Barlowe, both of whom had served in the Marines with young Pvt. Morse. Five years later, Barlowe has a plastic knee, a diagnosis of PTSD, and a deep revulsion against guns and violence. Darryl has a Bad Conduct Discharge, a drinking problem, and a job as a collector for a nerdish young bookie. Darryl also thinks Benson got off way too easy. Maybe he’ll do something about that. Finally, there’s Maya Lamb, reporter for News7, whose first big story on her arrival in the Twin Cities was the death of Becky Morse and who is now facing early burnout.

Darryl’s kidnapping of the architect’s daughter, Juliet — now the same age Becky was when she died — starts events rolling that no one can control, with Mike determined to rescue his friend from his headlong self-destruction, and the Vietnam-era ex-Marine who runs the bar where Mike and Darryl hang out getting sucked in against his better judgment, and the young bookie’s bail-bondsman uncle lending him a psychopathic bounty hunter who wants the posted reward, and Maya trying to decide whether she really cares enough anymore to cover this riff on her earlier story.

Doolittle is very good at characters with problems and even better at crisp dialogue that brings the speakers even more sharply into focus. The action is nearly non-stop this time and it’s clear this would make an excellent film. Doolittle has earned a place on my “automatic” list.