Death Comes for the Fat Man by Reginald Hill

April 9, 2007 at 1:02 pm (Book review, books)

Those in the know have long rated Reginald Hill very near the summit of writers in the genre of crime fiction. Certainly his rapier-like wit, elegant writing, memorable characters, and splendid sense of place more than justify the high regard in which he is held. So why is he not better known and appreciated in the U.S.? Hard to say. For one thing, I have seen no evidence that his publisher actively promotes his books here. The clamor for attention is so great at this point , the field so crowded, that individual authors really need an extra push in order to stand out. Up until a few years ago, the great Ruth Rendell was in a similar situation. She then switched publishers to Crown, where she was promised increased exposure through advertising and other means. They were as good as their word, and she now has a much larger readership here than she had hitherto. It helps, of course, that she is such a superb writer. Well, so is Reginald Hill. Get on it, HarperCollins, or switch publishers, Reg!

DEATH COMES FOR THE FAT MAN, the latest in Hill’s Dalziel and Pascoe series, delivers as promised: great story , fascinating characters, super snappy dialog. Although “Fat Man” Andy Dalziel (pronouced Dee-all) is put out of commission early in the novel by being rather too close to a powerful explosion, other entertaining and intriguing dramatis personae rush in to fill the gap (the rather large gap!) and succeed beautifully. This is an unusually topical novel for this series: terrrorism is the engine that drives the plot. But it is actually a kind of reverse terrorism, in which the purported terrorists are themselves terrorized. By whom? Therein lies the mystery, which Detective Chief Inspector Peter Pascoe struggles to solve almost singlehandedly, all the while desperately hoping that his boss, the Fat Man himself, will emerge from a comatose state to once again regale his friends and colleagues with his coarse, north country humor and sage (or seemingly sage) pronouncements.

A rare treat – don’t miss it!

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Poem – Those Winter Sundays, by Robert Hayden

April 8, 2007 at 4:31 pm (Eloquence, Poetry)

Sundays too my father got up early

and put his clothes on in the blueblack cold,

then with cracked hands that ached

from labor in the weekday weather made

banked fire blaze. No one ever thanked him.

I’d wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking.

When the rooms were warm, he’d call,

and slowly I would rise and dress,

fearing the chronic angers of that house,

speaking indifferently to him,

who had driven out the cold

and polished my good shoes as well.

What did I know, what did I know

of love’s austere and lonely offices?

Most great poetry speaks for itself; certainly this piercingly beautiful poem does just that. I want to add a comment, though, and say that the last line is just amazing, conveying so much depth of feeling and that same time turning this painful recollection into a prayer.

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Letter from Joseph Severn, who tended John Keats during his final days

April 3, 2007 at 11:55 am (Eloquence)

Rome, 27 February 1821

My Dear Brown,

He is gone – he died with the most perfect ease – he seemed to go to sleep. On the 23rd, about 4, the approaches of death came on. ‘Severn – I – lift me up – I am dying – I shall die easy – don’t be frightened – be firm, and thank God it has come!’ I lifted him up in my arms. The phlegm seemed boiling in his throat, and increased until 11, when he gradually sunk into death – so quiet – that I still thought he slept. I cannot say now – I am broken down from four nights’ watching, and no sleep since, and my poor Keats gone. Three days since, the body was opened; the lungs were completely gone. The Doctors could not conceive by what means he had lived these two months. I followed his poor body to the grave on Monday, with many English. They take such care of me here – that I must else have gone into a fever. I am better now – but still quite disabled.

The Police have been. The furniture, the walls, the floor, everything must be destroyed by order of the law. But this is well looked to by Dr. C.

The letters I put into the coffin with my own hand.

I must leave off.

J.S.

This goes by the first post. Some of my kind friends would have written else. I will try to write you every thing next post; or the Doctor will. They had a mask – and hand and foot done – I cannot go on.

***********************************

This letter was quoted in the novel THE OTHER SIDE OF YOU by Salley Vickers.

John Keats died of tuberculosis at age 26.

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The Other Side of You

April 2, 2007 at 6:54 pm (Book review, books)

I had never heard of Salley Vickers when I began her novel THE OTHER SIDE OF YOU several days ago. David McBride, a psychiatrist living in the south of England, has a thriving practice, a beautiful wife, and a congenial circle of friends and colleagues. As the novel opens, he is attempting to get a particular reticent patient, Elizabeth Cruikshank, to open up to him. Elizabeth has recently attempted suicide. What could have driven this ordinary-seeming woman approaching early middle age to take such drastic action? McBride finally achieves a breakthrough with this patient, but as her story unfolds, its ramifications have a huge and totally unexpected impact on McBride himself, both professionally and personally.

This is a novel about profound love and even more profound loss; it is shot through with a sadness tinged with ruefulness and resignation. I am reminded of a phrase in Latin that appears near the conclusion of Penelope Lively’s luminous novel The Photograph: “lacrimae rerum.” It is from The Aeneid and has been variously translated as, There are tears for things, tears attend trials, tears are everywhere, the pity of things, the tears of the world – well, you get the idea. Ther characters reach out desperately for consolation, and do find some, in the world’s great art – especially in the paintings of Caravaggio – and in the Bible.

This is Ian McEwan caliber writing from Salley Vickers. I urge you to read it!

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Best of 2006 – Part One

April 1, 2007 at 7:22 pm (books)

Books discussed in this post:

The Emperor’s Children by Claire Messud

An Imperfect Lens by Anne Roiphe

Intuition by Allegra Goodman

The Lambs of London by Peter Ackroyd

The Minotaur by Barbara Vine

The Old Wine Shades by Martha Grimes

Restless by William Boyd

Archie and Amelie by Donna M. Lucey

The Monsters: Mary Shelley and the Curse of Frankenstein by Dorothy and Thomas Hoobler

Andy Grove by Richard S. Tedlow

In its March/April 2007 issue, Bookmarks Magazine took lists of best books from various publications and online sources and came up with a handy graph showing the forty most frequently cited titles that were named by these sources. THE OMNIVORE’S DILEMMA , discussed in Best of 2006 – Part Two, came in at number six. Number one is THE LOOMING TOWER: AL QAEDA AND THE ROAD TO 9/11, by Lawrence Wright. I have seen much praise of this undoubtedly worthwhile book, but I doubt I will ever read it. THE EMPEROR’S CHILDREN by Claire Messud occupies the second slot on the list, and I am delighted to see it there. The best reading I had in 2006 was in mystery and suspense novels, and nonfiction, but Emperor’s Children was probably the single best novel I read last year. It concerns a circle of friends who had originally met one another while attending Brown University in the early 1990’s. Ten years on, they find themselves living in New York City struggling to make a go of things, both professionally and personally. The father of one of them is a media darling and tastemaker; his words – and actions, for that matter – have a crucial affect on the lives of his daughter and her friends.

Okay – time to whip through some additional “best” titles of 2006 and then put this topic to sleep. I mean, April is upon us, after all! So, here goes:

Fiction

In AN IMPERFECT LENS, author Anne Roiphe transports the reader to Alexandria, Egypt, in the 1880’s. A cholera epidemic has the city in its grip, so Louis Pasteur sends scientists from his famous institute to see if they can isolate the microbe that causes this devastating illness. To this heady mix of exotic locale and medical menace, Roiphe adds a poignant love story. This novel, small in size but large in scope, is based on a true story.

In Allegra Goodman’s INTUITION, gifted scientists and graduate students working at an elite research laboratory in Cambridge, Mass. are plagued by backbiting, envy, and outright deception. The results of crucial research are compromised, and other dire consequences follow.

Many of us “of a certain age” may recall from childhood our parents reading to us from Tales of Shakespeare by Charles and Mary Lamb. (This would be an especially vivid memory if you had a brainiac parent like my mother!) Until recently, I believed that Charles and Mary were husband and wife. They were, actually, brother and sister. I also tended to think of them as innocuous authors of children’s literature. Charles Lamb was actually a renowned essayist, but as for Mary Lamb…Ooh, Mary, what a wicked thing you did!! I shall not say another word about it: read THE LAMBS OF LONDON, a delicious entertainment by Peter Ackroyd, and find out for yourself.

Mystery and Suspense

Barbara Vine, a.k.a Ruth Rendell, has provided us with yet another wonderfully creepy tale in THE MINOTAUR. When Kerstin Kvist, a levelheaded young woman from Sweden, comes to England and enters the employ of the Cosways, her primary task is to help the family care for son John, who is mentally disabled. It doesn’t take Kerstin long to determine that for all his problems, John may be the the only sane member of an extremely eccentric household.

Martha Grimes is back in rare form with THE OLD WINE SHADES. A man walks into a wine bar…So begins the strange tale that one Harry Johnson relates to Detective Inspector Richard Jury. A woman, her son, and their dog disappear. One year later, the dog, an animal of seemingly preternatural intelligence, returns minus his human companions. What gives??!! (I absolutely love the way Grimes writes about animals; watch out for the incredibly mischievous Cyril the cat, who lives, of all places, at police headquarters!)

I was especially delighted by William Boyd’s RESTLESS, the first novel of espionage I’ve read in some time whose plot I could actually follow! Sally Gilmartin believes that someone is trying to kill her. Daughter Ruth Gilmartin is bewildered by this apparently irrational fear. Little does Ruth suspect that she will soon learn the whole stunning truth about the mother she thought she knew. In addition to a plot blessedly free of Byzantine twists and turns, RESTLESS features flesh and blood, three dimensional characters about whose ultimate fate the reader is made to care – and care deeply.

Nonfiction

In ARCHIE AND AMELIE: LOVE AND MADNESS IN THE GILDED AGE, Donna M. Lucey tells the story of the disastrous marriage of John Armstrong “Archie” Chanler and Amelie Rives. Archie was heir to the Astor fortune; Amelie was a beautiful Southern belle with some decidedly odd proclivities. This book is yet another proof that truth can be stranger – and frequently one heck of a lot more fun – than fiction.

I have always had a general idea of the circumstances in which the novel Frankenstein was written. Dorothy and Thomas Hoobler have greatly enriched and deepened my knowledge of this subject in THE MONSTERS: MARY SHELLEY AND THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN. In particular, the authors’ retelling of what happened on that fateful night at the Villa Deodati in Switzerland is mesmerizing. In addition, the reader gleans fascinating facts about the lives of Mary and Percy Shelley, the heedless Lord Byron, the sad John Polidori, and the scheming Clare Claremont. These people lived lives almost totally free of of the restraints of conventional society. Mary Shelley’s story is a sad and poignant one; of the four children she bore, only one lived to adulthood. As for Byron, despite a streak of sadism a mile wide, he was what today we would call a “babe magnet.” Pity the poor victims of his careless, brutal charm! Not for nothing was he known as the most dangerous man in Europe.

In 1956, Andy Grove fled his native Hungary, and came to America armed only with high hopes and tremendous intelligence. He went on to take part in the founding of Intel Corporation; under his leadership, the company became one of the most important, powerful and successful enterprises in the ruthlessly competitive world of Silicon Valley. With engaging gusto, Richard S. Tedlow tells the story of this extraordinary man and the world in which he triumphed. The book is aptly titled ANDY GROVE: THE LIFE AND TIMES OF AN AMERICAN.

[In the interest of full disclosure: Richard Tedlow, I am pleased to say, is my brother.]

[ If Part Two is not displaying, click on “March 2007” in Archives, in the column to the right and near the top.]

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