Sunday, January 25, 2009

Guest Blog – Death Cap by June Thomson

During the extremely icy and snowy first weeks of this month, I returned all of my library books and did not check out any others. Because of that I had to resort to going through the old paperbacks around my house. When I do that, I frequently find books I have read before but can remember nothing about. This time I picked up an unknown author, June Thomson. Thanks to the internet I have been able to discover that she was born in 1930 and published a new novel as recently as 2006. Death Cap was her second mystery and it was published in 1971. As I was browsing the Internet, I kept coming across information saying that she has written mystery novels about Sergeant Tom Boyce and Detective Chief Inspector Jack Finch. Well, DCI Finch did not feature in the novel that I read but Death Cap was there clustered among those with presumably these two leading characters. Finally I came across a site that explained the conflict. Apparently for some reason Finch became Rudd in the novels when they were published in the United States. At the time the novels flew across the Atlantic, was Jack Finch a well known name in other circles? I don’t know.

Death Cap typifies the cozy English novel. It has all of the elements of a good “home by the winter fire” read. Small town. Just a handful of suspects. In fact I have realized that there is very little difference between a cozy mystery written in 1971 versus one written in 1931. Technology had yet to burst upon the scene. Is it the 1990s before DNA testing and computers and cell phones changed how every mystery would be written? I love mysteries but am not an expert in the genre. Even at that, do you realize that 1990 was almost 20 years ago? I think that mysteries will never be written the same as the days when Dorothy Sayers and Agatha Christie were writing.

Death Cap is the investigation into a seemingly accidental death from eating a poisonous fungus mixed in with mushrooms. The tedious police procedural is well defined. It becomes apparent that it was no accident that the amanita phalloides found its way into the farmer’s field of mushrooms, but is there any way to discover who is responsible for putting them there or of finding enough evidence to arrest that person? That is the real mystery in this novel. Thomson manages to produce a very satisfying ending to this bucolic puzzle.

Although there were times when I felt that the novel was moving slowly, I will be checking to see if some of Thomson’s more recent mysteries are in my local library. I will also be interested to find out whether it is Finch or Rudd who is the DCI.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Guest Blog - Dewey

At first glance Dewey may appear to be a book that only cat lovers and owners would enjoy. However, the book is more than the biography of an orange cat who came to live in the library. Vicki Myron with Bret Witter also tells the story of her own life with its many challenges and successes. Besides her story and Dewey’s, she relates the struggles of small towns and family farmers in the Midwest.

On a cold morning in January 1988, Myron and a co-worker found an abandoned kitten in the metal book drop box of their library in Spencer, Iowa. He was a fragile little animal with frost bitten paws and so filthy they had no idea that he was a long haired marmalade cat. The staff of the library decided to keep this tiny stray and soon called him Dewey (as in the library numbering system) Readmore Books. It also is a good question for a librarian to ask.

Since the Blogger happens to be a librarian, I found it interesting to read about Myron’s own journey to become a librarian and to read about her strong feelings about what role a library should play in a community. For example, she told about a neighboring town whose library loaned cake pans in different shapes and forms. You could check out a pan that looked like Garfield or a school bus, I suppose. Dewey himself turned out to be a draw that brought people who had never visited into the library. In fact he turned into a national celebrity.

Even though I knew the outcome of this story (after all cats rarely live to be twenty), I enjoyed following Dewey’s and Myron’s progress through the years. I also appreciated the intimate look at the demise of farms, small schools and even small towns as the nation moved from a rural society to an urban one. I have traveled past cornfields and sunflowers for as far as the eye can see while crossing our nation by automobile, but I have never got out to really look at the corn. Myron says it grows to be ten feet tall in Iowa.

By the way, we happen to have two cats. One we rescued from a shelter. The other is a throw away cat that no one wanted. They have very different personalities. One is a bully who nips at me. The other is a snuggler who touches his nose to mine. Dewey reminded me a lot of the cats I have known in my life. Thank goodness none of them had an addiction to eating rubber bands as Dewey did. You’ll have to read this feel good book to discover more about him. This is not a classic but I think you might enjoy it.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Guest Blog – Secret Santa: A Novel

About two years ago I read several Christmas stories. I read John Grisham’s Skipping Christmas, David Baldacci’s The Christmas Train and Robert Tate Miller’s and Beth Polson’s Secret Santa: A Novel. By far the story that I most enjoyed was Secret Santa. It is the story of a young reporter who constantly ends up doing the fluff pieces for the newspaper. More than anything Rebecca Chandler wants to be taken seriously as an investigative reporter. When her dreams of the future and for Christmas fall through, she sets out to prove that she can unearth the truth behind a small town’s secret Santa. Every Christmas for several years someone has given a much needed gift to a town resident during the holiday season.

As Rebecca tries to unearth the identity of the town’s benefactor, she falls under the spell of the little community and the kind people who live there. I will not be a spoiler and tell you how the story ends. That is part of the mystery. As I read the novel, I felt certain that eventually she would find out who the generous individual was, but the question was what would she do with that knowledge. I will just tell you that Miller and Polson do not disappoint. They keep the Christmas magic going until the last page.

I recently had the chance to see the television production of Secret Santa and was not disappointed. On the only review said that it was apparent who the Secret Santa was early in the show. I did not have the same experience reading the book. The end was a delightful surprise.

Now that Christmas is over, I guess I will have to put my decorations and seasonal story books back into their boxes. I feel a little sad about doing so. There is nothing I enjoy much more than a good holiday story. Now where did I put that mystery I put aside at the beginning of December?