A DARK-ADAPTED EYE by Barbara Vine

Dark Adapted eyeWhat a wowser of a book.  This was written by Ruth Rendell under her pseudonym of Barbara Vine.  She says that Barbara Vine has the softer voice, and a slower pace, is perhaps more sensitive and intuitive.

About the title:  A dark-adapted eye is one that has adjusted to darkness so that it is able to discern objects. In the context of the novel, the title refers to the narrator’s ability, after many years, to examine and analyze her family’s history and its tragedy.

The setting is England, during and after the Second World War. The first person narrator, Faith Severn, is approached by a true crime writer about an event that happened in her family some decades ago.  The book is the recounting of her memories of the story of her aunt,  her father’s twin.  There is a third sibling, a much younger sister, to whom Vera, the aunt, is totally devoted, even to the exclusion of her own son, whom she shuttles off to boarding school, She then provides a home for the sister and her son after the deaths of their parents.  Her husband is career military and almost never home.

After the younger sister joins the WRNS and essentially moves out of the house, Aunt Vera, has a second son, Jamie.  Seeing as how her husband was deployed at the time, and she is giving out that it is a 10-1/2 month pregnancy,  the child is something of a mystery, but Vera is obsessed with this child.  Eventually, the younger sister marries a wealthy man, and decides she wants to adopt the boy, because Faith is obviously unwell and mentally unstable.  Then ensues a terrible custody fight, ending in dire consequences.  I have left out so many of the details because the fun in this book is finding them out yourself.

Not only is this a great soap-opera-y story, the writing is simply delicious, as I think only British writing can be.  It is formal, almost staid, but rolls along in a manner that simply pulls you into the story and won’t let go.

It is a story of dysfunction,  and how family relationships can warp its members for their entire lives.

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AS THE CROW FLIES by Craig Johnson

crowThis is actually the eighth in the sheriff Walt Longmire series, but there was plenty of back references so the reader does not feel lost, and it is not just same old old old with a new detective puzzle, but the growth and development of the main characters of the series.

In this volume, Sheriff Walt whose jurisdiction lies right outside the Cheyenne Indian Reservation, is on the rez with his best life long friend, Henry Standing Bear, to scout out a suitable area for Walt’s daughter’s upcoming nuptials.   While out looking at a really pretty site, to their horror  they witness a young Crow woman plummeting from Painted Warrior’s majestic cliffs. Is it a suicide, or something more sinister?  And to add to the awfulness, Dog, the sherif’s giant …. um, dog, finds a bundled baby not far from where the woman landed.  The baby is still alive, and dog has decided to not leave the child’s side.

A new tribal police chief is on the job, making more enemies than friends, and gets Walt to agree to help in the investigation, even though it isn’t his jurisdiction.

Great plot, love the characters, but what I think just might be the star of the series is the location, the Western feel, the scenery.  Johnson’s ability to describe without boring the reader is enviable.  In Junkyard Dogs,  set in the deep winter, his descriptions of the cold, snow and ice were so on I could feel that winter seeping into my bones as I read.  In this book, he makes you see the panoramic stunningness of the Western landscape.

I think this series is now a Netflix offering.  How would I know?  I don’t have a TV.  But if I did, I would certainly watch it.

PAINTING WITH FIRE by K. B. Jensen

Claudiafire has a roommate named Tom. And it’s not even a roommate with benefits situation.   Claudia is a sort of boring young woman.  She lost her job and has been unemployed for months now, and thank goodness Tom has some kind of job and can pay the rent, as her savings are dwindling at an alarming rate. When he first moved in, he was the unemployed one and he offered her a painting for a month’s rent.   Tom is a painter, and amazingly enough, all of his works seem to look like Claudia.

Tom has secrets, and he says he gets his painting ideas from dreams he has.  Claudia doesn’t quite trust him.  Well, gee.

One winter morning, after a storm, Claudia looks out of her apartment window, and in the plowed snowbank, sees an arm.  She and Tom run down to investigate and it is a man who has obviously been murdered, the back of his head having been split open.

Claudia feels compelled to look into the crime, because it is just possible that someone from her apartment building committed the crime,and anyway she doesn’t have anything else to do,  and thus we come to know the various neighbors, some of whom could very well have been the culprit.

And then there is a growing relationship between Tom and Claudia, but he is so secretive…..

Lots of good twists and turns, so therefore a decent plot, but not the best writing I have ever read,  serviceable enough, although some additional  proofreading and line editing would not have gone amiss.  The author was a journalist, so one would think some of the grammar structure could have been better, but it is her first foray into the exciting world of self-publishing, or something close to it, so we will give her a pass on thinking that DIY means you don’t have to pay for a decent editing service.

OK, so in spite of my catty (meow) observations, it was not a bad mystery, and if she takes the various comments she finds all over the internet to heart, her next effort should be much better.

 

THE BLACK SWAN by Nassim Nicholas Taleb

Black-SwanYou can’t reliably pick the winner of a horse race, you have no clue about what Wall Street is going to do, and go ahead, give me your predictions for  the next war zone.   Future activity based on past performance doesn’t even work for foretelling the outcome of a heads or tails coin toss.

What really happens is there is an extreme impact of certain kinds of rare and unpredictable events  and humans have a  tendency to find simplistic explanations for these events retrospectively. This theory has since become known as the black swan theory.  The way you deal with this is not by trying to predict when the black swan will glide into view, but by building a way to survive the negative black swans, and take great advantage of the positive ones.

This is essentially a long, one-note essay, on basically diversifying, not putting all your eggs in one flimsy hopeful basket.  He examines the concepts of cause and effect, or rather, cause and what we cheerfully believe is effect because we are hardwired along those lines for survival in the jungle/desert/plains, but in today’s world, the cause of any given effect is not always clear, and the effect of what we might think would be a cause is not always, if ever, what would be expected.

It is a screed against smugness, and the phenomenon of unintended consequences.  It is a clear presentation of our arrogance in our beliefs about immutability and the law of averages, and how we humans tend to create a narrative — a story — around everything, so have to need to have a beginning and an ending, a cause and an effect, and how we dislike very much the idea of randomness, and will do all that we can to avoid dealing with that concept.   It is a treatise on the improbable and what we tend to do about it.

The term black swan was a Latin expression: Its oldest reference is in the poet Juvenal expression that “a good person is as rare as a black swan” (“rara avis in terris nigroque simillima cygno”.   Catchy, no?  It was a common expression in 16th century London as a statement that describes impossibility, deriving from the old world presumption that ‘all swans must be white’, because all historical records of swans reported that they had white feathers.

Good read.  Kind of long, if one is sliding into one’s Golden Years,  because I grasped the principle early on.  Well, hell, he tells you right out what the book is about:

The central idea of this book concerns our blindness with respect to randomness, particularly the large deviations:  why do we, scientists or nonscientists, hotshots or regular Joes, tend to see the pennies instead of the dollars?  Why do we keep focusing on the minutiae, not the possible significant large events, in spite of the obvious evidence of their huge influence?  And if you follow my argument, why does reading the newspaper actually decrease your knowledge of the world?

You will see that, contrary to social-science wisdom, almost no discovery, no technologies of note, came from design and planning — they were just Black Swans.

If you want to know more about why you suck at being said hotshot, give the book a go.  Easy reading style, thoughts nicely lined up in easily graspable reach, marching neatly down the length of the book to a properly defined conclusion.  I like properly defined conclusions.

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JUNKYARD DOGS by Craig Johnson

Junkyard dogsOK.  I just fell in love.  This is my new fav crime/detective/western locale series.  It is the Sheriff Walt Longmire series, and where have I been since they started?   This is the sixth in the series, so as usual, I am a little late to the party, but it´s OK – I BMO beer.

Walt Longmire is a Sheriff in a region right outside a Cherokee Indian Reservation on the boundary of Wyoming and Montana.  His life long best friend is Henry Standing Bear, he has a Basque deputy, and a Philadelphia born and bred woman as his other deputy.

Now here is why I love this writer:

I tried to get a straight answer from his grandson and granddaughter-in-law as to why their grandfather had been tied with a hundred feet of nylon rope to the rear bumper of the 1968 Oldsmobile Toronado.

… The chimney of the big house gets stopped up in the winter, so we dip a mop in kerosene and force it down the flue to clean it out.  Grampus´s agile.  He can climb out that top window on the gable end and get ahold of the gutter and swing a leg up onto the roof.  It´s slippery up there with the ice, so he tied it to his waist and slung it over the peak and I tied ér off onto the Classic.  Gina come around the house and said she was going to the store and then she left.

Got the picture?  They had tied the rope to the car, Gina left in the car not knowing it, and pulled Grampus off the roof.  His forward motion took out the mailbox at the end of the driveway.  When Gina thought she heard something and stopped the car, he kept going and slid into the back of the car.

I figured this was going to be a fine tale.  And it was.  All about a junkyard that a developer of nearby land wants moved farther way from his property where he plans to build multimillion dollar houses.  The owner of the junkyard — that would be the sliding Grandpus — finds a finger — a thumb specifically – in a cooler among the junk, and thus sets off the beginning of the search for the owner of the rest of the thumb, and the deaths of Grampus as well as the property developer.

You will be smiling to learn that the names of the eponymous  junkyard dogs are Butch and Sundance.  and that one of them takes a bit out of the sheriff’s butt.  There.  That should make your day.

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FLYING LESSONS by H. Lovelyn Bettison

flying lessonsWhat a lovely, amiable story, about friendship, love, change, and letting go, with just a soupçon of fantasy thrown in.

Henry, a retired widower, and his 30 year old daughter, Chandra, are just marking time, getting through the days, going through the motions.  Chandra meets a shy jazz piano player and they find they enjoy each other’s company.  He introduces her to meditation, and tells her he can fly.

Meanwhile, Henry has finally made more of an acquaintanceship with the neighbor lady two doors down.  They do a lot of things which her husband does not care to do,  and she is somewhat constrained in activities because her husband doesn’t like this or that.  Turns out her husband died two years ago, which Henry knows, so he is quite bemused with the constant references to the guy as if he were still living.

Chandra has experiences of her dead mother, and the blurry line of reality and non-reality, living and dead, is gently examined in this charming tale.

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