Serious Moonlight (How to be Dead) by Dave Turner

CORRECTION: I said in an earlier version of this review that this book was last in the series. I am overjoyed to learn that it’s not.

 

Publication Date: December 31, 2018

 

Dave Marwood and his girlfriend, Melanie, are due for a bit of a break in the country after saving the City of London from destruction. It’s a bit of a worry that Death, the last standing Horseman of the Apocalypse and Dave’s employer, is having a bit of an existential crisis and Dave has been acting as his flip-flopped toy scythed stand-in, but a relationship needs tending. The break, however; is not the peaceful time away the couple anticipates when they find themselves beset by ghosts and the people seeking them.

Serious Moonlight by Dave Turner is the fifth book in the How to be Dead series.

 

Part of my life’s work is finding books that give me the feeling I got when I first read the works of Douglas Adams, Terry Pratchett, and Jasper Fforde. The beautiful humor and massive creativity of the aforementioned authors are qualities shared by the great Dave Turner. The wealth of imagination is staggering and the experience of the reader is one of fun and time truly well spent. 

Once again in Serious Moonlight world collide with Dave and Melanie heading off for a weekend break in the country at an inn that touts itself as being haunted. Dave and Melanie are bonding on the drive up when they come across a ravaged animal that spooks them both a bit. There’s always a logical explanation, right? Readers get a lot of relationship-building in Serious Moonlight. We see the playfulness of the characters and a depth to their connection. There’s an intimacy and a natural awkwardness so fitting for both of the people we’ve come to know.

Serious Moonlight takes place in the English countryside with all of the characters that readers of Stella Gibbons novels (Cold Comfort Farm) would expect to see but they all have a surprising edge. The book is cognizant of its Dad humor and is riddled with it. One of my favorite things is the frequent callback to the sinkhole opening in London in the previous Dave book. Very smoothly presented, people offer platitudes while expressing their opinions on how it might have happened. From the start of the book when we join Dave in ferrying a jogger who died of a heart attack, it comes up and it’ss almost seems a relief to Dave to be upfront with someone. He later fights back and urges just to be the one who cracks the world and the reality of their strange life. He’s living and in that moment, and readers will just feel his pain bonded by this journey we’ve all been on together.

The How to be Dead novels are technically novellas but there are no shortcuts in Turner’s work. The stories are whole, realized and as resolved as installments in a series will be. The flow is beautiful and I can’t speak for anyone else, I am entranced. I recently re-read Four Horseman and it was just as brilliant the first time. More brilliant than the first time as I’m convinced Esuries needs to be a Dr. Who villain.

Serious Moonlight is fifth in the series but can easily stand alone, but you are missing most of the story if you start with this final installment. Start with How to be Dead and read as languidly as you can. Relish them. Cherish them. When you’ve finished the fifth book join us in aching for more.

The sixth book in the How to be Dead series, Near Life Experience will be out soon.

If you’re looking for the perfect Halloween read, pick up the How to be Dead series. If you’re looking for a Christmas gift for the Jasper Fforde lover in your life. If you just want to be entertained, pick this series up today.

 

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The Burning: Massacre, Destruction, and the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921 by Tim Madigan

Publication Date: February 1, 2003

 

The Burning: Massacre, Destruction, and the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921 by Tim Madigan takes place in 1921. On June 1, 1921, an estimated 10,000 white citizens of Tulsa, Oklahoma, destroyed the black Greenwood neighborhood known at the time as America’s Black Wall Street. The actual number of casualties is unknown, but the cruelty and indiscriminate horror of the attack lived in the minds of the survivors, who lived in a community whose only crime was a success.

I will never know what it is like to be Black in America. In history, it has always seemed like being one of Henry VIIIs’ wives. He would put up with them as long as they were pretty and docile without opinion, and if they in any way displeased or bored him, they might lose their head. That, it seems, is a trivialization and I am sorry for making that comparison. It seems in history and now, there is burning hate and dangerous unrest in the white community. This work shook this reader. The Burning: Massacre, Destruction, and the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921 should be required reading in every high-school history curriculum. I write this review with horror knowing there was no real recrimination for this vile event where the true number of casualties will never be known. Tim Madigan postulates the secrecy may be due to the fear of being very appropriately charged with murder. The least that can be done is for this horrible event to never again be an open secret. For it to be taught and treated with the same abhorrence of the awful, tragic and cruel events in history.

Madigan tells us that people that moved the area soon after, were surprised to hear of the event at the time he was writing the book. 

Madigan paints an alarming picture in The Burning: Massacre, Destruction, and the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921 by just reporting the facts. So how did it start? A black male shoeshine operator fell into a white elevator operator when the elevator made a sudden move. She called for help and he was jailed. Word started going around Tulsa that a lynch mob was gathering. When word reached Greenwood, seventy-five black men gathered arms and made their way to the jail in order to protect the accused. The Sheriff convinced the men that no one would reach the accused and when they started to leave. One of the white men that had gathered tried to disarm one of the black men and shots were fired, leaving several men, mostly white, dead. 

What followed seems to have been more organized than perhaps a group of men could have come up with on the spur of the moment. At first, the black community was holding its own, but a large group of people that entered buildings and killed those they found, wholly destroyed the community. Shots rang from the sky, from airplanes flying overhead, and while the author doesn’t make a definitive judgment, he certainly points out that the men seemed to be receiving instruction from someone.  

The stories that Madigan relates are disturbing. Honestly, everyone should read this book. The attackers were no discriminators of people. They killed children and just anyone they met not their color. White men died too but approximately 75 percent of the casualties were from the Greenwood community. In the aftermath, a commission was put together to examine the events on that day, and in recent years reparations were ordered for the community. Madigan is a reporter and relates events in a very factual manner, but the nature of the event is just devastating. Madigan does pose in his narrative that this was Jim Crow America. In 1921, the most popular Halloween costume was to dress up as a Klan member. They were respected and revered and so wrong. We know where the hate comes from, but the cruelty is just not something I can comprehend.

I am aware that this is less a review and more a reaction piece. The work flowed well. The author is a professional writer. I think his attention to detail speaks in the impact on the reader of the piece. Madigan reached out to the victims in his research as well as those in Tulsa at the time (really, the perpetrators have kept their involvement a close secret for years). I don’t think there could be a more complete work covering this horrible event.

Pick this book up today. I don’t know about you, but I am going to work against hate in my community. For those of us who live internationally, please do not see this as an American problem. We all have hate in our communities and we can all work for change.

Read an excerpt and buy The Burning: Massacre, Destruction, and the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921 by Tim Madigan on

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For more information about Tim Madigan and his work, visit his website. You can connect with her on Goodreads, Facebook and Twitter @tsmadigan.

And Now for Something Completely Different — Podcast Recommendation

I’m going to do something a little different for this Towel Day and make a recommendation of a podcast that has been around for years, but I’ve only recently started downloading.

Most Notorious is a true-crime podcast hosted by author and historian, Erik Rivenes. In each episode, Erik examines a certain moment, both well known and obscure, of history by interviewing the authors who have written books about the event. Erik and his guests strip the mythology of the bygone eras away and get to the hear of. His linear style of guiding the conversation through the event discussed is engrossing. Since discovering this podcast my “to be read” pile has grown exponentially.

In an early episode, Erik interviews author Harold Schechter whose work of non-fiction Hell’s Princess: The Mystery of Belle Gunness I reviewed last year (to read that review click here). The interview with Erik Rivenes focuses on Schechter’s book Fiend, the subject of which is America’s youngest serial killer, Jesse Pomeroy (to check out the book’s Amazon page, click here). They discuss the recorded and likely reasons that the 14-year-old sexual sadist chose his victims and what became of him after his conviction and the many years he spent in isolation. In another early episode, Erik interviews E. Don Harpe with a focus on his book The Harpe’s Last Rampage, the True Story of America’s First Serial Killers (to check out the book’s Amazon page, click here). E. Don Harpe, a descendant of the Harpe brothers, digs deep into his subject matter and opens up about the connection he felt to his ancestors when he visited the site of their hideout. In another episode, Erik and J.D. Chandler, author of Murder and Scandal in Prohibition Portland, discuss the Torso Murder and the police’s lack of action to find a missing woman who may have been more of a danger to local law enforcement officials than they might have liked. Why was the disappearance never investigated? Is the Torso found in the local river that of the missing woman? Will the recent reopening of her disappearance yield any results?

The host’s ease with his guests and his knowledge of each subject keeps the subject moving and really makes washing dishes and cleaning the bathroom in this time of isolation a delight. As with any true-crime podcast, the subject gets heavy at times but the style of the host imbues a lighter tone while not robbing the bad that happened of its gravity. That is not to say, that all of the episodes involving bloody and horrible crimes (Nazis in America with author Arnie Bernstein was entertaining and will give listeners a new perspective on journalist, Walter Winchell).

Most Notorious is my new favorite podcast and if, like me, you love history and maybe tend to run a little bit behind the times, check it out. I think you’ll love it too. I am rapidly plowing through the 162 episodes currently uploaded and unlike some of my other podcasts, no break needed. I’m spending a ton of books and there are no regrets. Check it out today!

To check out the Most Notorious podcast go to their website.

The Reporter Who Knew Too Much: The Mysterious Death of What’s My Line TV Star and Media Icon Dorothy Kilgallen by Mark Shaw

Publication Date: December 6, 2016

 

On November 8, 1965, 52-year-old investigative reporter and television personality, Dorothy Kilgallen, is found dead of an apparent overdose in her New York City home. Her files are missing and the air conditioning is running. She has been investigating the Kennedy assassination and has told people she is poised to crack it wide open. Was she the reporter who knew too much?

 

Before he started investigating the Jack Ruby trial, Mark Shaw remembered Dorothy Kilgallen as a panelist on the syndicated CBS game show, “What’s my Line.” Digging into the records, Kilgallen’s name kept coming up and her interest and dedication to cracking the case sparked Shaw’s interest in the enigmatic and talented reporter and her mysterious death. Research for The Reporter Who Knew Too Much: The Mysterious Death of What’s My Line TV Star and Media Icon Dorothy Kilgallen took Shaw 12 years and justice for Kilgallen has become his calling. Continue reading The Reporter Who Knew Too Much: The Mysterious Death of What’s My Line TV Star and Media Icon Dorothy Kilgallen by Mark Shaw

Good Omens (2019)

Good Omens is based on the novel by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett. Aziraphale (Michael Sheen) and Crowley (David Tennant) are an Angel and Demon who are quite fond of humanity and, grudgingly, of each other. They have had off the books meetings for centuries and have perhaps each influenced the other in a way that their supervisors wouldn’t condone. When Crowley is called upon to deliver the Antichrist, he knows the end is near. The demon and angel agree to each stay close to the child and try to influence him but what happens when it’s the wrong child? And what happens when Heaven and Hell are both willing to do whatever it takes for the ultimate face-off to happen?

 

Neil Gaiman wrote the screenplay and worked in the role of showrunner for the production and it shows. I think this may be the truest translation of novel to screen that I’ve seen. From the perfect casting to joyful irreverence, this show is a pure pleasure to watch. I’ve seen it three times all the way through and have plans to watch a fourth time and am willing to bet that I’ll see a host of things of hidden jokes and sly references. A demon and an angel who have lived long among the humans and developed an affinity for humanity have a crisis of divine purpose vs what they really want. Early on there are two great scenes. In the first great scene, the Archangel Gabriel (Jon Hamm) finds Aziraphale in a sushi restaurant and question why he’d want to foul his mortal shell with ickiness. In another scene, Crowley roars up in his classic car to take delivery of the baby Antichrist and his fellow demons go over their accomplishments in securing souls. Crowley gives this off-hand high tech explanation of his mass frustration of humanity as they stand there dumbfounded. The humor in both scenes is pure Pratchett. Tongue in cheek, setting up the beings with whom we’ll spend the length of the miniseries and highlighting their hesitance to give up the comfortable lives they’ve established.

Good Omens is a complex story. In part it’s about the Prophesies of Agnes Nutter and her descendants carrying on her tradition, in part it’s the story of an impending war between heaven and hell and it’s also part the story of a great friendship of opposites formed outside of the gates of the Garden of Eden as two immortals ponder God’s ineffable plan. Narrated by God herself (voiced by Frances McDormand), it’s a mostly linear story that bounces through time. Aziraphale and Crowley do their best for the little Antichrist but, in the end, their efforts are pointless.

As one would expect from the cast, the acting in Good Omens is outstanding. Micheal McKean as Witchfinder Shadwell is just comic genius. Jack Whitehall as Newton Pulcifer/ Adultery Pulcifer is just probably the best performance this actor has turned out. Sam Taylor Buck as Adam Young (the Antichrist) is convincing in fighting his dangerous side. The scenes with Adam and his group of friends are as interesting as the playful byplay between the more seasoned Michael Sheen and David Tennant. These young actors have great futures ahead of them.

Good Omens is simply amazing. To say too much would involve spoilers. I know that there’s been some backlash against the production because it’s considered blasphemous and, if you’re religious, I’m sure it is but only in the best way. How nice must it be to be so absolutely sure that things that are unseen in life exactly as you think they are. That God is a long-haired white dude and not some cheery lady with an American accent and a sly sense of humor. This is fiction, it’s not literal and I’ve always been of the opinion that if you don’t like it, don’t buy it, but that’s me.  It is tongue in cheek and clever. The rare talent that comes along in literature and thank goodness for Neil Gaimon translating it to the screen because it was the production was just a joy. To see some of the best scenes from the book acted out and exactly as one would have pictured them is just delightful. Agnes Nutter throwing open the door and facing Adultery Pulcifer was just beautiful.  Will there be more? I don’t know but given that Pratchett died after the publication of this first novel, I can’t see Gaiman going back to that well. Gaiman is an author that seems to respect the legacy and as talented as he is, I would think that Gaimon would hesitate to continue without his original co-author’s cooperation.

See Good Omens. See it now. It is wonderful, amazing and fully worth binging over and over.

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The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde

Publication Date: May 1, 2009

 

In The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde, it’s 1985 in the fictional world that is parallel to our own. Someone is kidnapping literary characters. It’s the job of Thursday Next, the occupant of our world but the detective in the Literary Detective Division, to find the culprit and stop them before it’s too late.

 

Every book claims to be like the work of a bestselling author. They’ll up the ante saying that the work is by an author who is the modern version of the author to whom they’re likened. Usually, they could not be less like the author whose name they use to promote themselves. In the case of Fforde, it would be in no way inaccurate to liken him to Douglas Adams. It would also not be inaccurate to say that they are nothing alike. Fforde and Adams share a well-defined imagination with a lightness of being. Their worlds are intricate. Fforde is extremely well-read. The characters created by others in his story are wholly within character. The description of the fictional world is beautiful and complete. Continue reading The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde

The True Face of Sir Isaac Brock by Guy St. Denis

Book Launch

On February 24, 2019, at 2 p.m., author and historian Guy St. Denis launched his latest book, The True Face of Sir Isaac Brock. The fully reserved event was held in the lovely Interpretive Centre of the Duff-Baby House located at 221 Mill Street in Windsor, Ontario.

 

 

Duff-Baby House, 221 Mill Street Windsor, Ontario

Windsor, Ontario may seem an odd place to launch a book about Sir Isaac Brock, but the author felt the General’s connection to the area, and especially to the place St. Denis chose for the launch, was strong. The Duff-Baby House is thought to be the oldest building in Upper Canada and the author believes that given the historic home’s strong military connection, especially to the War of 1812, that Sir Isaac Brock visited at least twice.

The first visit likely took place in 1810 and the second in 1812. Though St. Denis did not locate a definitive primary source that would validate the hunch, his expert opinion of the stature of the visiting military official that his visiting a home, so important in military history would have been a given.

 

St. Denis holding a confirmed picture of Sir Isaac Brock painted when the future military hero was 15 or 16 years old.

St. Denis has spent a decade wading through the hosts of portraits painted after the death of Brock at the Battle Queenston on October 13, 1812. A military hero, artists and, historians after the death of Brock would accept the image of the hero. St. Denis, a lively and entertaining speaker, regaled the packed house with the story of his search for a true image. The cover image of The True Face of Isaac Brock, while perhaps the well-known image of Brock is not actually a picture of the late General. The young, handsome, noble image is actually that of Lieutenant George Dunn. While St. Denis insisted to his publisher that no one should pretend the cover photo is actually Brock, it’s really the point of his research, isn’t it? A librarian way back when saw the image of the young and handsome Dunn and thought, “That’s what Brock should look like” and suddenly he gets a historic makeover. Why the portrait is cut off is a mystery to the author but makes for a book that will catch the eye of any history buff walking by a bookstore shelf.

St. Denis spoke for around 40 minutes about his book and future projects and he was such an engaging speaker that time flew. The question period following was brief but imbued with laughter as one savvy attendee asked if Brock would be “someone he would like.” St. Denis, who is also writing a biography of Brock, shed some light on what he considered the General’s “humanity,” and while he wasn’t initially a fan of the Six Nations, believed that opinion changed when the General met Tecumseh for whom he had great respect. A statue of the pair stands at a newly constructed roundabout leading from the east to Olde Sandwich Towne, the oldest area of Windsor.  Les Amis Duff Baby provided coffee and baked treats including a lovely cake featuring an image of the book’s cover. If only I’d been able to get a picture. I purchased a book which the author signed and must say, I can’t wait to start reading. The author’s next project is a study of the court-martial of General Henry Procter.

Les Amis Duff Baby hosted a lovely and well-organized event. To join them in their quest to preserve and educate, visit them on their Facebook page and send a message to the administration. Guy St. Denis is pursuing a Ph.D. in history at the University of Western Ontario. You can connect with him on Goodreads.

Author and Historian Guy St. Denis

You can buy The True Face of Sir Isaac Brock by Guy St. Denis on

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Hell’s Princess: The Mystery of Belle Gunness by Harold Schechter

Publication Date: March 1, 2018

In Hell’s Princess: The Mystery of Belle Gunness by Harold Schechter, Belle Gunness was a serial killer who operated between 1884 and 1908. She killed at least 14 people (including her own adopted daughter) but possibly as many as 40. Detected in 1908, she apparently died in a house fire with her remaining three adopted children, and though a man went to trial for the arson and murder, not everyone was convinced.

Let me say right from the start, Hell’s Princess: The Mystery of Belle Gunness is one of the most compelling books I’ve read in a long time. Not a generally well-known serial killer today, Belle Gunness was a Norwegian-American who operated out of La Porte, Indiana. Her victims appear to have been exclusively her fellow Norwegian immigrants. She’d advertised in the Norwegian papers located in Chicago for a handyman and then would operate a love scam quite a lot like we see today online. Continue reading Hell’s Princess: The Mystery of Belle Gunness by Harold Schechter

No Way to Treat a Lady by William Goldman

Noted novelist and screenwriter, William Goldman, died today at the age of 87. Goldman’s first original screenplay was Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1967) which he followed with some of his well-known scripts that include The Princess Bride (1973) and Marathon Man (1974), which were originally novels. One of my favorite Goldman novels is No Way to Treat a Lady (1964), so I’ve chosen that work to share with you. If this novel doesn’t appeal to you, look into this very diverse author’s body of work. There is something out there perfectly suited for your tastes.

Publication Date: 1964

 

No Way to Treat a Lady by William GoldmanNo Way to Treat a Lady was originally published under the name Harry Longbaugh and written over a two week period, No Way to Treat a Lady imagines that there were two Boston Stranglers who were aware and deeply jealous of each other and follows the investigation to track them down.

Continue reading No Way to Treat a Lady by William Goldman

Brett Enters the Square Circle by David D’Aguanno (author) and Henry Travis Carter (narrator)

Publication Date: April 12, 2018

 

Stacey Ashton has disappeared. While Melanie Foster thinks she may have run off with Melanie’s husband. It soon becomes clear that there’s a good chance that she was murdered. But by who? Can suave, handsome, best-butt-in-the-nation, man-for-the-ages Brett Cornell solve the case Brett Enters the Golden Circle is the fifth book in the Brett Cornell series.

 

 

Continue reading Brett Enters the Square Circle by David D’Aguanno (author) and Henry Travis Carter (narrator)