“Like a wasp eating marmalade,” whispered Mrs. Havelock.”

 

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Young Katie Steelstock, back in her home village of Hannington from her TV role in London as Britain’s sweetheart, is brutally murdered after a small-town dance. Her lover stands accused but not so fast, as other bodies begin to pile up. One of Gilbert’s grimmer efforts, as in maybe he went one death too far (or maybe I mean one death short), but exquisitely well written as per usual and the scenes in the courtroom are simply superb.

Mrs. Bellamy had brought out a pair of old-fashioned pince-nez glasses, which she perched on her nose, alternately looking through them at her notes and over them at the witness. There was something mesmeric about the bobbing up and down of her head. (“Like a wasp eating marmalade,” whispered Mrs. Havelock.”)

Nobody ever did it better than Gilbert. I’m glad he was so prolific that I’m still discovering books by him I haven’t read.

The British actor had to be hustled out of the country for his own safety.

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Three centuries after Shakespeare died, across the pond New Yorkers rioted over the relative merits of Macbeth as played by a British actor and an American one. The National Guard was called out, people actually died, and the British actor had to be hustled out of the country for his own safety. America had embraced Shakespeare as one of their own, and he was read so extensively and so intensively that audiences from rural Kentucky to the California gold mines could shout out the correct line when an actor in performance stumbled over it.

Author Cliff concludes, “Once a voice carried a people across a continent and helped forge a brave new world. No other writer has been so powerful, and no one ever will be again.” This book includes a survey of 19th century American history, a history of Western theatre, is peopled with great characters and you-are-there settings, and has a quotable phrase on nearly every page.

Is there a post to their apocalypse?

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From APOD:

Explanation: Will either of these galaxies survive? In what might be dubbed as a semi-final round in a galactic elimination tournament, the two spirals of NGC 7318 are colliding. The featured picture was created from images taken by the Hubble Space Telescope. When galaxies crash into each other, many things may happen including gravitational distortion, gas condensing to produce new episodes of star formation, and ultimately the two galaxies combining into one. Since these two galaxies are part of Stephan’s Quintet, a final round of battling galaxies will likely occur over the next few billion years with the eventual result of many scattered stars and one large galaxy. Quite possibly, the remaining galaxy will not be easily identified with any of its initial galactic components. Stephan’s Quintet was the first identified galaxy group, lies about 300 million light years away, and is visible through a moderately-sized telescope toward the constellation of the Winged Horse (Pegasus).

So what happens if there are people on planets in either one of those galaxies? What happens to them? Is there a post to their apocalypse? Are the galaxies so enormous that most of the solar systems therein just slip past each other? Will the gravity of one group of planets pull other planets out of the orbit of their stars? Will some of the planets collide? It will all happen sooooo verrrrry slooooowly, will people who need to have time to make a plan to invent star travel and vacate the premises for a safer place? Would there be a safer place they could get to without FTL travel? And how soon would they know it was happening, and what would the effect be on their populations?

There’s a book someone should write.

“You ranch long enough, you make peace with what you can’t help.”

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It’s 1938, and ranch-raised 19-year old Bud Frazer’s family lost first his sister in a riding accident and then their ranch, and after a couple of years following the rodeo circuit he heads for Hollywood to find work riding horses in Westerns.

There are a lot of different things going on here, just for starters the real life Bud lived on Echol Creek Ranch growing up and the vastly different version that Hollywood commemorates in film.

You never saw a movie cowboy hauling salt up to the high pastures or building fence around a haystack or helping a heifer figure out what to do with her first calf. Those movies were full of bank robberies and stage holdups, feuds, galloping posses, murderous Indians, and claim jumpers–nothing I ever saw growing up.

There is the friendship between Bud and Lily, a budding screenwriter, who meet on the bus to Los Angeles and begin a friendship that despite differences and difficulties lasts a lifetime.

I was used to girls who tried to make you think you were smarter than them even if you weren’t, but Lily never in her life cared whether a boy knew she was smarter than he was.

It’s the story of the Depression and its effect on the lives of people struggling to get by, it’s the story of producers who will do anything to get the shot, including kill horses and the stuntmen who ride them, and it is especially the story of Bud and the guilt he feels over his sister’s death, and trying to atone for that perceived sin. She fell from her horse and Bud spends the next three years falling from horses on the rodeo circuit and in Hollywood. It wasn’t an unconscious choice of profession.

…that last week in Arizona, after the lancer charge, I lay in bed every night seeing, over and over, horses and men falling through a veil of dust and shattered glass, turning over in my head my hatred of Cab, and then in the long hours of darkness coming around slowly to knowing I’d been looking for something like this to happen, a big fall — maybe even hoping for it. And knowing if I’d been hurt or killed I would deserve what I’d been given. A settling of accounts for getting my sister killed.

What I find most compelling about this book is the voice, very similar to the voice Gloss used in The Hearts of Horses. It’s an almost canter-like cadence, a sort of run-on, hypnotic rhythm. I even imagine hearing Bud speaking in a monotone.

The pinto whirled and reared up, pawing the steep slope, and I pulled my hand back and the horse came too high–I saw it was too high. I slipped off his tail end, my right hand still clenching the reins which might be why the horse came above me, looming dark. I landed on my feet and tried to throw myself to the side, but I lost my footing on the slope. The ground or the horse rose up and hit me–a white flash behind my eyes–and then we were both sliding downhill, a long slid it seemed at the time, but maybe not more than thirty or forty feet before I hit a bit of flat shelf and the horse rolled over me–incredible red-hot wires of pain flashing through my hips and my legs. The pinto kept going all the way down the hill and came to his feet at the bottom without a goddamn mark on him.

See? The drama of these events is all in the reader’s mind. Bud is just telling his story here. Despair is Bud’s constant companion and it feels that much more agonizing when told in this emotionless, matter-of-fact way. As his father says

“Things just happen and it’s nobody’s fault.” After another pause, he said, “You ranch long enough, you make peace with what you can’t help.”

Highly recommended.

The History of Kate Shugak in 20 Objects – 18

Warning: Spoilers spoken here.

 

Though Not Dead

winner of the 2012 Nero Award

Man, I havered over this one. My pick going in was the secret drawer, or drawers, the one in Auntie Joy’s armoire that contained the manuscript, the one in Jim’s father’s writing desk that held the clue to his true parentage, and of course the one in Old Sam’s compass, which Kate probably wouldn’t have found if Jim hadn’t found the one in his father’s writing desk first. You could even include where Old Sam hid the map, not exactly a drawer but a pretty efficient hidey-hole for anyone who didn’t know him as well as Kate did.

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The secret drawers are of course emblematic of all the secrets held by the Shugak family in the Park, the Bannister family in Anchorage, Jim’s family in California, maybe by all families everywhere. You have a family. You know the ones. Google images for secret drawers; you’ll find a million of ’em. Secret drawers aren’t exactly a secret. Secrets never are, either.

But then Ginger said

I love where Old Sam hides the map and that Kate knows how he would have hidden it once she saw the the special hiding place in her aunts china cabinet that Old Sam made for her.

and Megan agreed, and so did Mary and Jody and Helen, and then Arlene practically wrote a dissertation about all the possible objects, concluding

the more I thought about it, the more it came to me that the manuscript encompassed everything: the icon, the nugget, Old Sam’s history, Auntie Joy’s history, the map, even if some of them are not explicitly mentioned in it…and all those things, one way or another, went toward making Kate who she is, even if she only learned about them in the course of this book.

This was a tough one.

I’m sticking with the secret drawers. After which I can be found hiding out under my bed.

Though Not Dead is my favorite of all the books I have ever written. I got to tell the last hundred years of Alaskan history through the eyes of a single character, something I’ve always wanted to do, and I got to send Kate on a scavenger hunt, which was a lot of fun, and then after I sent Jim off to California to get him out of the way he up and had an unexpected life of his own, which is always a gift from the writing gods. And then there is one of my favorite Kate scenes ever

The SUV was the second car back from the corner, behind the same electric pink Cadillac Seville that Kate had slipped in front of when it stalled out.  It was driven by a woman with big hair who wore a sparkler on her right hand that gave out a series of blinding flashes as she tapped her hand on the steering wheel to Van Halen.  She was still talking on her cell phone.  The bass reverberated all the way back to the Subaru.  The arrow was red but she was looking left at oncoming traffic, waiting for a gap to pull into.
    Kate looked left and willed the driver of the white Bronco to look her way before the light turned green.  He, too, was talking on his cell phone.  She rolled down her window.  “Hey!  Hey, mister!”
    He looked up and then over at her.  She gave him her most dazzling smile and goosed the Subaru ahead a couple of inches, nodding at the lane.
    He responded with a scowl and pulled up to within a whisker of the chrome bumper of the ancient Buick Skylark in front of him.
    The light turned green.  The electric pink Cadillac Seville started to turn, the SUV snarling bad-temperedly right behind it.
    She looked back at the man in the Bronco, who was watching at her with a smirk on his face.  He was still talking on his cell phone.  Hell, every second person at this intersection was talking on their cell phone.
    Kate grabbed the hem of her T-shirt and yanked it up to her neck and this time didn’t bother with the smile.
    The smirk vanished.  His cell phone dropped from his hand and his foot slipped off the clutch.  The Bronco lurched and stalled.  An older man in a panel truck in the lane next to him had seen the whole thing and was laughing so hard he had tears streaming down his face.  She threw him his very own spine-melter of a smile as she pulled her T-shirt back down and slipped in behind the Skylark, which was already put-putting up to the light.  She made it onto Tudor just as the light changed back to red, six cars behind the SUV.

Kate knows how to get the job done. Okay, enough with the bragging.

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Next month, an object from Restless in the Grave, the nineteenth Kate Shugak mystery and the return of Liam and Wy. Please put your suggestions for said object in the comments below, and thanks!