From a Raven's Shelf: March 2023
From a Raven's Shelf
March 2023 Edition
By Sarah Young
Oh, my! The sun is shining, and crocuses are blooming in the yard. Daffodils are shooting up their little waving leaves, and hyacinths are poking noses up into this crisp air. March has arrived, my friends, and with it an overwhelming desire to sit out in the sun with a good book.
These have been interesting weeks of reading. Last month I was telling you about some of the books nominated for Edgar Awards from Mystery Writers of America, Agatha Awards from Malice Domestic, and Leftys from Left Coast Crime Convention. I have a few more of those to talk about here; however, in the interim, The Crime Writers’ Association Diamond Dagger Award has been awarded to Walter Mosley. The Diamond Dagger “recognises [sic] authors whose crime writing careers have been marked by sustained excellence, and who have made a significant contribution to the genre.” The CWA awards are among the most prestigious mystery awards in Great Britain.
Mosley is an American crime fiction icon, a writer of over sixty books, who introduced us to his character Easy Rawlins, a Black veteran of WWII, in his novel Devil in a Blue Dress. Written in a classic American noir style that all you Hammett and Chandler fans will love, Devil in a Blue Dress takes you to the dangerous streets of South Central Los Angeles as Rawlins tries to locate a missing Frenchwoman, whose association with a well-known gangster complicates his search.
Among other award candidates is a nominee in the Edgar “Best Fact Crime” category by crime and mystery writer Daniel Stashower called American Demon: Eliot Ness and the Hunt for America’s Jack the Ripper. (I guess we cannot get enough of legendary Eliot Ness.) In this book, Stashower takes us beyond Ness’s success in his Al Capone investigations to a notorious case of his post-Capone career. Here Ness matches wits with the “Mad Butcher of Kingsbury Run” in Cleveland. He was a mass murderer of a particularly meticulous and gruesome type, whose first known victim of an eventual dozen appeared in 1934. Whew! This is a tough book but well-researched and brilliantly and compellingly written.
Moving back to fictionalized crime but based on historical facts, an Agatha Award nominee for Best Historical Novel is Under a Veiled Moon by Karen Odden. This is the second book in a series that features Scotland Yard Inspector Michael Corravan. (The first is Down a Dark River.) I haven’t read the first one yet, but this one is a corker! If you enjoy nineteenth-century Victorian mysteries, this book should be on your to-be-read pile. In London in 1878, the Princess Alice, a pleasure boat with over 600 passengers that included whole families with children collided with an iron-hulled coal ship, the Bywell Castle on the Thames. Only about 130 passengers survived. The resulting tragedy is clouded in conspiracy and controversy with rumors that the Irish Republican Brotherhood was involved in sabotage of the vessels. Corravan finds himself trapped between his duty to the Home Office and his loyalty to the Doyles, an Irish family that adopted him. Odden has crafted a dandy mystery of scrupulously researched material, and Corravan is a brilliant character. He’s smart and honorable, with just a touch of a disreputable past, a character that I’m going to enjoy getting to know more about.
On a lighter note, the Left Coast Crime nominations for Best Humorous Mystery Novel have a great batch of books that include A Streetcar Named Murder by T.G. Herren. This fun, cozy novel is set in New Orleans, and how much fun is that! Herren is a long-time resident who fills this novel with a deep knowledge of this city’s culture and customs, and he creates a keen sense of place. The heroine, Valerie Cooper, receives a strange letter from a law firm telling her that her late husband’s great-uncle has left her a partnership in a thriving New Orleans antique shop as well as an estate that is going to save her from having to sell her beautiful historic home in the Irish Channel neighborhood of the city. The problem is that she never knew this uncle existed as he had been estranged from his family for decades. Slowly she learns that even her husband didn’t tell her everything, and old rivalries and hurts hurl themselves at her until she finds a local real estate agent (who is her personal nemesis) stabbed to death at a costume party for a women’s Mardi Gras club. First in a new series, this book is a quick, entertaining read with lots of eccentric characters that I hope Herren builds on in the future. Oh, and there’s a yellow cat. Can’t have a cozy mystery without a cat.
Moving away from recent mysteries, here’s a throwback recommendation. Here in town, Theatre Lawrence is opening its production of Murder on the Orient Express, one of Agatha Christie’s most beloved mysteries featuring Hercule Poirot. . .and his mustache. This play is an adaptation by Ken Ludwig of Christie’s novel, and I’m reminded of what an excellent story this is. As is the case for many authors who have multiple successful series, Christie readers sometimes are either Team Miss Marple or Team Hercule Poirot, or they eschew her series characters altogether and prefer her stand-alone mysteries. But most people agree that Orient Express is a classic in all respects. Have you read it recently? If you have only seen the movie versions (many of which are very good), pick up the book. You will lose yourself in it in no time at all.
Here's another way-back-throw-back: Are there scenes, dialogue, or images from novels you read years ago that just never leave your head? I woke up one night this month thinking about several scenes from Benedict and Nancy Freedman’s classic story Mrs. Mike. I just felt compelled to go back to it, so I listened to the audiobook. (You can find it on Libro.FM, wonderfully narrated by Kirsten Potter.) Written in 1947, this romance-adventure story is about a young Irish girl from Boston who is sent to Canada as a cure for her pleurisy. There young Katherine Mary O'Fallon meets Mike Flannigan, a Mountie, whose territory takes him to the farthest, remotest areas of the North Country. While we are charmed by their romance, this is really an accounting of how Kathy adapts to the adversities of life in the North. This is a beautiful but brutal world into which Flannigan takes his young bride, and some vivid scenes are ones that will stay with you for a long time. Mrs. Mike is based on a true story, but in the Freedmans’ hands it is a novelistic retelling of Kathy Flannigan’s life. I have heard people who read Mrs. Mike as young adults speak of its profound effect on them; perhaps you were one of those people. I certainly was. It’s worth a reread.
I’ll end today with a return to my garden. It’s coming close, my friends. . .planting time! If you are a gardener or want to be a gardener or enjoy reading about gardening, I highly recommend The Garden Primer by Barbara Damrosch. Trees, vegetables, flowers, herbs, lawns, and more, Damrosch has advice on all aspects of gardening. There are sections covering basic tools you need and types of garden beds you can create. If you are thinking of a wildflower garden, native plant cultivation, or sustainable agriculture, you can find sections devoted to those practices as well. The garden methods are thoughtful and organic and will inspire all your green thumbs.
Get out there and soak up some sunshine and a good read.
Devil in a Blue Dress (30th Anniversary Edition): An Easy Rawlins Novel (Easy Rawlins Mystery #1) (Paperback)
The first novel by “master of mystery” (The New York Times) Walter Mosley, featuring Easy Rawlins, the most iconic African American detective in all of fiction. Named one of the “best 100 mystery novels of all time” by the Mystery Writers of America, this special thirtieth anniversary edition features an all new introduction from the author.
New York Times bestselling author and Edgar Award-winner Daniel Stashower returns with American Demon, a historical true crime starring legendary lawman Eliot Ness.
Boston had its Strangler. California had the Zodiac Killer. And in the depths of the Great Depression, Cleveland had the Mad Butcher of Kingsbury Run.
In the tradition of C. S. Harris and Anne Perry, a fatal disaster on the Thames and a roiling political conflict set the stage for Karen Odden’s second Inspector Corravan historical mystery.
In the vein of C. S. Harris and Anne Perry, Karen Odden’s mystery introduces Inspector Michael Corravan as he investigates a string of vicious murders that has rocked Victorian London’s upper crust.
Blackmail in the Big Easy turns to cold-blooded murder in this debut cozy mystery perfect for fans of Jane K. Cleland.
THE MOST WIDELY READ MYSTERY OF ALL TIME—NOW A MAJOR MOTION PICTURE DIRECTED BY KENNETH BRANAGH AND PRODUCED BY RIDLEY SCOTT!
“The murderer is with us—on the train now . . .”
A classic and wholesome romantic tale that has enchanted millions of readers worldwide, Mrs. Mike brings the fierce, stunning landscape of the Great North to life—and masterfully evokes the tender, touching moments that bring a man and a woman together forever.
The indispensable one-volume reference guide to gardening simply, beautifully, and well"—now 100% organic.
Jam-packed with useful information, old-fashioned common sense, and a lifetime's worth of experience, The Garden Primer is a classic, thoroughly revised and expanded to be 100% organic in its recommendations.