Friday Fiction Feature

FictionReboot2Hello and welcome back to the Friday Fiction Feature! Today’s theme is once again inspired by my own thrilling life, and the Tabatha-centrous theme of the day is “Nooo! Summer can’t be over already!” That’s right dear readers, it’s already back-to-school time. In fact Monday was back-to-school time, today is just the day set aside for trying to come to terms with the sad, sad fact that I can no longer sleep more than the cat, and I will have to use my brain more than twice a day.
And how does a graduate student and teacher cope with the return to working life you ask? With dragons! To make the return to hard work and long days doctors (phd’s that is) recommend filling your spare hours with mythical worlds which have nothing whatsoever to do with your actual work. So, I hope everyone who has also had to head back to campus this week will join me in sitting back, taking a break, and pretending that we are slaying huge dragons to save our imperiled homes and families as a relaxing getaway.

Bob the Dragon Slayer by Harry E. Gilleland Jr.

Bob the Dragon SlayerThe first selection for this week’s escapism is Bob the Dragon Slayera tale of an unexpected hero, impossible tasks, insurmountable odds, and in all likelihood a fair maiden. There is always at least one fair maiden. While the impossibility of Bob’s task suggests that he can only win (gloriously at that), the lawyers and his magical friend Steve let me hope that even if he overcomes it all in a blaze of glorious triumph (because they always do) at least it’ll be funny watching him stumble his way there.

Bob, a mere peasant lad, sets off to see a dragon that is terrorizing a village and soon falls in with a wizard named Stephen. Thereafter, his life is filled with adventures that involve dragons, knights, damsels in distress, castles, a fair lady, friendship, true love, an evil king, civil war, and lawyers. This rollicking tale belongs not to history but to legend. Written with wit and humor, this novella will delight readers from teenagers to octogenarians.

Dragon Slayer by Isabella Carter 

Dragon SlayerThe next book on the list gives us another tale of derring-do, but this time with the formula-plots all mixed up. The Damsel-in-Distress-Who-is-Forced-to-Marry-the-Evil-King has merged with the Unexpected-Hero-Who-Must-Defeat-the-Dragon-and-The-Evil-King and given us our Dude-In-Distress, Ingram. Because all really determined and self-respecting Evil Kings are equal-opportunity-destroyers, and bets with your rival over the right to marry off your offspring are always a bad idea,  Dragon Slayer saves time by making the Unexpected-Dude-in-Distress-Hero overcome insurmountable odds, free himself from his own Evil King, and slay the dragon all in one book. (Talented lad). I would like to see how he manages to carry himself off into the sunset though…

Ingram is a coward and weakling—at least according to his father, the king, and the royal court. He cannot use a sword, he faints at the sight of blood, and even his brilliant abilities as a strategist are not enough to overcome his failings. When his father loses a bet to the notorious Lord Mallory over the matter of a dragon slaying, he pays his debt by ordering Ingram to marry him.
Then his father reveals that he is putting Ingram to a greater purpose, giving Ingram one last chance to prove he is not worthless. All it requires is betraying his new husband.

Dragon Slayer by Kristine Kathryn Rusch

Dragon SlayerAnother Dragon Slayer takes us in a completely different direction, leaving behind the heroic art of dragon slaying, we now enter the cruel world of…dragon slaying. Showing this age-old heroic task from the other side, Dragon Slayer gives the dragons’ side, recasting the heroes as murderers and the dragons as victims of vicious attacks. And what does the victimized species do when murderers run rampant? They develop detectives to find the clues and hunt down the perpetrators. The novel is an entirely new kind of detective story (well really, how many private eye’s can skip the whole judge/jury/jail bit and go straight to pulverizing the neer-do-well with one claw) merging fantasy and mystery and making us reevaluate just what ‘heroics’ are, Dragon Slayer reopens an entire genre for exploration. (Maybe now they’ll leave off with all that foolish physical-activity-kind of heroics, and start valorizing the more thrilling heroes: academics).

Fifteen dragons have died in less than a century.
Rumaad, a different kind of dragon, collects information about the killings the way some dragons collect jewels. So he’s perfectly suited to see the differences in the latest crime scene, the murder of a dragon he knows all too well.
What he sees convinces him something has changed in his world—and not for the best.

His Majesty’s Dragon (Temeraire #1) by Naomi Novik 

His Majesty's Dragon (Temeraire #1)Shifting views once again His Majesty’s Dragon proposes an alternate view of history, explaining the real story behind Napoleon’s fame and defeat. Little did we know, Napoleon’s famous strategies depended heavily on the skill and influence of his dragon fighting-force (they played-up the naval aspects because at the time huge wooden tubs holding hundreds of people and weaponry sounded cooler than plain old dragons. That’s the version of history I’m sticking to anyways).

Aerial combat brings a thrilling new dimension to the Napoleonic Wars as valiant warriors ride mighty fighting dragons, bred for size or speed. When HMS Reliant captures a French frigate and seizes the precious cargo, an unhatched dragon egg, fate sweeps Captain Will Laurence from his seafaring life into an uncertain future – and an unexpected kinship with a most extraordinary creature.
Thrust into the rarified world of the Aerial Corps as master of the dragon Temeraire, he will face a crash course in the daring tactics of airborne battle. For as France’s own dragon-borne forces rally to breach British soil in Bonaparte’s boldest gambit, Laurence and Temeraire must soar into their own baptism of fire.

How to Slay a Dragon (The Journals of Myrth #1) by Bill Allen 

How to Slay a Dragon (The Journals of Myrth, #1)We at the Friday Fiction Feature always try to be helpful. This generally means giving any extra hints and tips we can to make sure you are not left out of whatever theme we choose, and today is no different. We know it’s no fun to hear all about dragon slaying and not be able to join in yourself, so to cap off the list we present How to Slay a Dragon. You can learn all the basic techniques to dragon slaying as you read the story of an unfit warrior lost in a world of magic, mayhem, dragons, and, worse yet, angry princesses.

Ruuan is a very large dragon. Twelve-year-old Greg Hart can’t slay a dragon. He’d be lucky to win a fight against one of the smaller girls at school.
Now the magicians of Myrth have mistaken him for a legendary warrior, so they’ve yanked Greg into their world of sorcery and danger. Nothing will stop the people of Myrth from believing Greg will rescue King Peter’s daughter from Ruuan the dragon. After all, Greg has been named in a prophecy, and no prophecy has ever been wrong before.
Until now.

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MedHum Monday: The Medical Heritage Library’s “Never-Ending Work in Progress”

Is from Plexus Vol XV No 12 (1909), the publication of the College of Physicians and Surgeons, Medical Department of the University of Illinois, Chicago. From the University of Illinois Chicago Library of the Health Sciences Special Collections Department.

From Plexus Vol. XV No 12 (1909), the publication of the College of Physicians and Surgeons, Medical Department of the University of Illinois, Chicago. From the University of Illinois Chicago Library of the Health Sciences Special Collections Department.

Happy Monday, everyone! Those of us at the Daily Dose send best wishes to those beginning the new school year today — as students, teachers, parents, etc. Amidst the Monday chaos, today’s MedHum Monday post resumes our series of contributions from lovely individuals who work at medical history museums and libraries. Hanna Clutterbuck is here to share how the Medical Heritage Library takes the printed or filmed history of medicine and makes it available digitally for a much wider audience. Welcome, Hanna!

I work with the Medical Heritage Library, an online digital collaborative of leading medical libraries, including the Francis A. Countway Library at Harvard University, the United States National Library of Medicine, the Wellcome Library in the UK, and the College of Physicians of Philadelphia (a full list of our partners and contributors can be found on our website).

Our collection includes a wide variety of materials that all fit under the large ‘history of medicine’ umbrella. We have deliberately kept our scope large and we have monographs, journals, and audio/video items covering a wide variety of topics including the history of dentistry, plastic surgery, neuroscience, balneology, phrenology, physiology, psychiatry, psychology, the development of surgical technique, the history of anesthesia, and nursing history.

Continue reading

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Friday Fiction Feature

FictionReboot2Hello and welcome back to yet another Friday Fiction Feature! Tabatha back again with more mystery, intrigue, and fluffy dogs. That’s right folks, this week we’ll be featuring mystery stories, but not just any mystery stories (and really, by now I’d be disappointed if you let me get away with just listing a few mysteries). This time we’ve got mysteries featuring some very unexpected detectives. Don’t get me wrong, dear readers, I like a good Poirot conundrum, but today we’re outdoing the little Belgian with some savvy librarians, cooks, and…dogs. Because what fun is it if I can’t inspire some very odd looks as you get caught laughing at murder mysteries.


Murder is Binding (Booktown Mystery #1) by Lorna Barrett

Murder is BindingFirst on the list, is another book to prove what I keep trying to tell you: academia is killer! (Ba dum chi!) Murder is Binding brings us into the competitive, demanding, and quite literarlly cut-throat world of small town bookshops. Our intrepid investigator the mystery vendor finds herself caught up in the dangerous world of used book sales as the search for a good cookbook gets out of control and murder is just the icing on the cake (buckle up folks, the puns are just getting started!).

The streets of Stoneham, New Hampshire are lined with bookstores…and paved with murder.
Stoneham, New Hampshire, was a dying town until community leaders invited booksellers to open shop. Now, its streets are lined with bookstores – and paved with murder…
When she moved to Stoneham, city-slicker Tricia Miles was met with friendly faces. And when she opened her mystery bookstore, she met with friendly competition. But when she finds Doris Gleason dead in her own cookbook store, killed by a carving knife, the atmosphere seems more cutthroat than cordial. Someone wanted to get their hands on the rare cookbook that Doris had recently purchased – and the locals think that someone is Tricia. To clear her name, Tricia will have to take a page out of one of her own mysteries – and hunt down someone who isn’t killing by the book …

Drizzled with Death (Sugar Grove Mystery #1) by Jessie Crockett 

Drizzled with Death (Sugar Grove Mystery, #1)Continuing the cookery theme, Drizzled with Death presents something of a sequel: what happens when someone does get their hands on a cookbook worth killing for (I understand they were much more valuable back before you could web search for 4,296 bad recipes for brownies). Leaving behind all that killing to get the recipe nonsense, this killer has decided to simply kill with the goodies themselves, and poisoned syrup pulls our detective into a very sticky situation. This sleuth has even farther to go, without even a career of reading detective novels, this unexpected investigator has to work with the investigative skills she has picked up from a lifetime of…making maple syrup.

Meet Dani Greene—a fourth-generation maple syrup maker dealing with a first-class troublemaker…
The annual pre-Thanksgiving pancake-eating contest is a big event in Sugar Grove, New Hampshire. It’s sponsored by the Sap Bucket Brigade, aka the firefighters auxiliary, and the Greene family farm provides the syrup. But when obnoxious outsider Alanza Speedwell flops face first into a stack of flapjacks during the contest, Greener Pastures’ syrup falls under suspicion.
Dani knows the police—including her ex-boyfriend—are barking up the wrong tree, and she’s determined to pull her loved ones out of a very sticky situation. The odds may be stacked against her, but she’s got to tap the real killer before some poor sap in her own family ends up trading the sugar house for the Big House…

Bark of the Covenant by Vicky Kaseorg

The Bark of the CovenantOur next selection gives us our most unusual detective yet: dogs. Bark of the Covenant mixes mystery, romance, and spirituality with the tale of a very talented canine who helps uncover a local mystery. And get some scratches behind the ears while he’s at it…it’s important to keep priorities straight after all.

A lonely, discouraged woman is beckoned to a small town to care for her dying, despicable father. At the same time, the town is reeling from the first murder in a hundred years, devastating their peaceful community. In this inspiring story of redemption, a pack of wild dogs of an ancient and rare breed bring about healing, and a surprising solution to the murder mystery. A book for dog lovers, God lovers, and mystery lovers alike, with a hint of romance for everyone else.

Gone With the Woof (A Melanie Travis Mystery) by Laurien Berenson

Gone With the Woof (A Melanie Travis Mystery)The next book on our list brings the pooches back with more puns per page than even I can manage. Showing us yet again how dangerous a life with books can be, Gone with the Woof begins with a house full of dogs and a writing job, and quickly turns deadly. Even though (or maybe because) she has a house full of puppies and toddlers, this impromptu detective sets out to investigate the murder, clear her name, and, most important of all, finish working on her book!

Despite a toddler and a house full of Standard Poodles, Melanie Travis can’t pass up an opportunity to help legendary dog breeder Edward March pen his life story. But her enthusiasm flags when the breeder’s angry son Andrew demands she stop working on the book. Why becomes imperative once Andrew is killed by a seemingly intentional hit-and-run and Melanie becomes Suspect #1. To get herself out of the dog house, Melanie sniffs out every possible clue, only to run into dead ends as fast as she’s running out of time. And the longer the killer stays unleashed, the sooner she may end up in the dog house for good.

Whiskey with a Twist (A Whiskey Mattimoe Mystery #5) by Nina Wright

Whiskey with a Twist (A Whiskey Mattimoe Mystery, #5)Last but certainly not least, I give you Whiskey with a Twist the story of a very unfortunately named detective who uses her very specially trained dog (I imagine a purse-snatching pooch is a very valuable asset) as cover when she investigates her fellow dog breeders (apparently it’s just as dangerous to own a dog as it is to settle down for a seemingly uneventful life in academics). Armed with little more than a smelly canine friend to help her sniff out the clues, Whiskey sets off for some derring-do in our last dog-eared mystery.

Whiskey Mattimoe’s Afghan hound Abra has many talents: stealing purses, consorting with criminals, and farting, to name a few. Now, Abra’s been chosen to participate in the prestigious Midwest Afghan Hound Specialty in Amish country . . . as a Worst-in-Show example of how not to train an Affie.

Suddenly, a prize-winning pooch disappears, an owner is murdered, and a handler turns up dead. The sleepy community’s rustic charm is replaced by ruthless threats. Then Abra vanishes, too. Back at Whiskey’s office, suspicious e-mails circulate. Could her colleagues be involved in the canine crimes? Something doesn’t smell right—and this time it’s not the dog.

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MedHum Monday presents: Spectacular Anatomy–The History of Human Dissection

DailyDose_darkstrokeWelcome back to MedHum Monday at the Daily Dose! Today we present a guest post by Julia Balacko, BA, MA, from Case Western Reserve University. An anthropologist and humanities scholar, Julia gives us the fascinating history (and anthropology) of anatomy and public display.


The History and Anthropology of Human Dissection, Public Display, and Criminality

Male figure, anterior view showing blood vessels, liver heart and bloodletting points.  Woodcut circa 1530 - 1545

Male figure, anterior view showing blood vessels, liver heart and bloodletting points.
Woodcut circa 1530 – 1545

Towards the end of my stint studying English literature, my research posed the following question: what happens whenever human bodies, and the dissection of bodies, becomes a spectacle or form of entertainment? What if the bodies themselves have unique relationships with their audiences in numerous venues? These were less bioethical questions than anthropological ones, in that instead of pondering the moral dimensions of anatomical display, I wanted to know how different audiences responded to anatomy and to displays of human bodies.

I had been trained in my undergraduate and Masters degree programs in early modern English theatre (Shakespeare and his contemporaries, publishing their works in the late 16th and early 17th centuries.) I studied age-old revenge tragedies that were marked with violent scenes of war and capital punishment that mirrored what was happening at the time in English history: when public executions served as popular entertainment and when the preserved, decapitated heads of criminals were displayed on bridges above the river Thames. It was an era in which common people were exposed to bodily violence on a daily basis in numerous capacities, and a time when anatomical science was entering its golden age, spurred by the work of Vesalius and Leonardo da Vinci.

At the jointure of these two cultural movements was a troubled relationship between public entertainment, capital punishment, and human dissection. Bodies of criminals killed on the scaffolds in London were subsequently given to surgeons and physicians for anatomical study after Henry VIII passed a law permitting the legal use of executed felons for this purpose. However unlike today, convicts were scarcely anonymous, with tales of their crimes circulated both in oral retellings and popular print. The people who attended executions knew the criminals’ stories, and they also knew (and often heartily protested) the use of the people whose bodies were employed for dissection, both because they sometimes viewed the criminals as storied antiheroes and because they believed dissection barred a person from entering heaven in the afterlife (an unfair punishment beyond execution.) The public acceptance of human death as spectacle in early modern England is complicated by the fervent response against anatomical study in that period.

There was, then, tremendous tension between who had access to bodies and in what capacity. Why was it acceptable in the public view to watch people be executed, but not permissible for anatomists to dissect the bodies? In my MA thesis, I suggested that part of this public concern came from how limited access to anatomical learning was in that time for the majority of people. While Renaissance dissections have traditionally been called “public,” in that many people assembled to watch one lecturer and one anatomist dissect a cadaver, they were not openly accessible to the general populace. Dissections were uncommon and therefore only frequented by medical students, surgeons, and the educated or wealthy elite. The public did not have the same level of exposure to anatomical inquiry as they did to other forms of bodily violence. Nor was their relationship with the bodies being dissected the same as it must have been for the anatomists, who viewed the bodies as scientific objects. The public tended to see the executed as prisoners who once lived a daring life of crime and who deserved, perhaps, at least some sympathy by not defacing their bodies via dissection.

For anthropologists and cultural historians, understanding issues regarding the disposal and usage of human bodies and the relationship between anatomy and criminality in various fashions continues to be pressing. The popular Body Worlds exhibition poses difficult questions about whether or not non-clinicians should have access to dissected bodies, and whether or not it is acceptable for them to be entertained by such a display. It has also returned scholars to a debate about the ethics of displaying criminal bodies, as enormous fears that the cadavers in the exhibit were those of executed Chinese prisoners permeated many early discussions about the exposition. Likewise, tales of body snatching for anatomical study, and the use without consent of harvested organs such as in the Alder Hey case, still haunt the cultural presence of medical learning. And, of course, such discussions ask us about the democratization of knowledge: who has the right to observe anatomical specimens? Is it wrong to deny the public access to human cadaveric specimens, even if they are observed not out of a need to acquire scientific information? Is anatomy on display more unethical than other forms of publicly viewed violence or destruction?

As scholars, knowing the historical trajectory of anatomical learning from the past up to today sheds light on how and why such issues are present. It is the prime context for investigating where tensions surrounding human dissection derive from, and how they have changed– as well as for reminding us of the cultural impact that our predecessors had on shaping our relationship to anatomical science.



Julia Balacko holds a BA in English Literature summa cum laude from W&J College and a MA in Humanities from the University of Chicago. She is currently a PhD student in medical anthropology at Case Western Reserve University. Her research explores the history and cultural dimensions of anatomical learning and human dissection in American medical education.

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MedHum Monday Presents: A Review of Skeleton Crew

FictionReboot2Welcome back to MedHum Monday! Today we present a review of Skeleton Crew by Deborah Halber, science writer for MIT. Taking a good look at forensics history, but also at how technology today helps to re-open unsolved cases, the book invites us to question what counts as expertise in a modern, digital world.


Deborah Halber’s The Skeleton Crew: How Amateur Sleuths are Solving America’s Coldest Cases (2014, Simon & Schuster)
Review by Danielle Nielsen

indexDeborah Halber’s The Skeleton Crew: How Amateur Sleuths are Solving America’s Coldest Cases (2014, Simon & Schuster) explores the networks of part-time Internet detectives who use databases, missing person reports, and often gut instincts to identify decades-old unidentified bodies. Alongside these part-time sleuths are the law enforcement agencies and officers, from local police to coroners to state forensic anthropologists, saddled with the remains but often hesitant to work the public to solve these cases.

Halber’s interest in the Skeleton Crew stems from a May 2010 news story in The Boston Globe that included a sketch of the Lady of the Dunes, a young, unidentified female victim, found in the mid-1970s in Provincetown, Massachusetts. In her own Internet research about the Lady of the Dunes, Halber discovered a network of websites populated by photographs, drawings, and clay and digital re-creations of unidentified bodies and their faces, networks that Halber deemed “a Facebook for the dead.” Halber’s driving question of the book, “Who, I wondered, would go out of their way to create or peruse an Internet morgue?” led her to discover those people, the Skeleton Crew, who spend their available hours perusing these Internet morgues looking to identify these bodies.

Through fifteen chapters, a prologue, and epilogue, Halber deftly interweaves stories about unidentified bodies and the civilians or citizen-investigators who have helped identify remains. The framing narrative for Halber’s investigations is Tent Girl, a young woman whose body was found in eastern Kentucky on May 17, 1968, by Wilbur Riddle, a local well driller. She was wrapped in a tarp and dumped next to a major highway with no identification. Tent Girl would not receive a name or be returned to her family until April 1998 after Todd Williams, a Tennessee factory worker and Riddle’s son-in-law, devoted years searching for clues about Tent Girl’s identity. It was not, however, until the advent of the Internet and easily accessible and searchable databases that Williams would be able to solve the case.

In addition to the Lady of the Dunes and Tent Girl, we meet other unidentified persons and their Internet champions, and Halber chronicles the stories of the Doe Network, one of the most well-known sleuthing communities, the National Missing and Unidentified Missing Persons System, or NamUs, a site for which Todd Matthews now serves as an administrator, and dead sites like the Missing Persons Cold Case Network, Websleuths, and ColdCases.

Halber speaks not only only with the citizen-sleuths, but she also interviews government employees and law enforcement agents like Dr. Marcella Fierro, Virginia’s chief medical examiner and early pioneer and advocate for the unidentified; Mathew Hickman, a statistician for the Bureau of Justice Statistics tasked with determining the number of unidentified remains in the United States; and Mike Murphy, the Clark County, Nevada, coroner.

Home of Las Vegas, Clark County recovers ten thousand bodies every year, a number of which remain unidentified. In his role as coroner, Murphy posted the first government-issued website with photographs or drawings of the unidentified housed in the Clark County morgue, encouraging other states and municipalities to do so and allowing the Skeleton Crew to more effectively match missing persons with unidentified remains.

Part detective non-fiction, part ethnography, Halber introduces readers to a community that is not without its own internal drama. By the final chapters, we learn of the internal fights within the Doe Network over procedures concerning the ability to contact families and law enforcement officials. We understand the suspicious nature with which some law enforcement officials view members of the Skeleton Crew, both named and unnamed. We also see Todd Williams, an administrator for both Doe Network and NamUs overthrown at the Doe Network and banned from the community, as well as others rejected by their community members.

A science writer for MIT, Halber tells the story of these fascinating web sleuths, both humanizing the searchers and the unidentified remains, some of which, like the Lady of the Dunes, remain unidentified by the book’s end, and the scientific research and clear explanations resonate with a general audience. Halber’s Skeleton Crew reveals often unnoted or unnoticed citizens who devote countless hours to skimming missing person boards, looking through photographs and drawings, and using their instincts and research skills to make connections and return these bodies to their families.

About the Reviewer:
Danielle Nielsen is Assistant Professor of English at Murray State University where she teaches courses in composition and rhetoric, professional and technical writing, and British literature.

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Friday Fiction Feature

FictionReboot2Hello out there and welcome back to the Friday Fiction Feature. Tabatha is back, and ready to take you on a tour through one of my favorite genres: noir. By now you should know that we at the FFF think half the fun is in mucking around with the genres & themes we highlight, and accordingly this week’s noir selections all feature the generic PI’s, dangerous cities, and dark underbellies as the structure for stories about magic, kangaroos with automatic weapons, and ballroom dancing. Hopefully you all find these novels as intriguing as I do, and will join me on our jaunt through the worlds of crime, danger, and chevaux fatales. 

L.A. Confidential by James Ellroy

L.A. Confidential (L.A. Quartet, #3)We’ll begin with a true-to-type noir with L.A. ConfidentialThis book, third in the LA Quartet series, has also inspired one of my favorite movies. The book shows the seedy underside of Hollywood as it explores the city’s crime, its dirty cops, and the would-be-starlets whose dreams did not quite pan out. This modern look back at noir stays true to  the genre, delving deeper into the mystery without the classic noir’s limitations.

Christmas 1951, Los Angeles: a city where the police are as corrupt as the criminals. Six prisoners are beaten senseless in their cells by cops crazed on alcohol. For the three LAPD detectives involved, it will expose the guilty secrets on which they have built their corrupt and violent careers. The novel takes these cops on a sprawling epic of brutal violence and the murderous seedy side of Hollywood. One of the best (and longest) crime novels ever written, it is the heart of Ellroy’s four-novel masterpiece, the LA Quartet, and an example of crime writing at its most powerful.

Gun, with Occasional Music by Johnathan Lethem

Gun, With Occasional MusicOur next entry has just made it onto my must-read list out of sheer curiosity. While maintaining the dark, brooding, crime-riddled noir sense, Gun, with Occasional Music plunges into Science Fiction and drug fantasy along the way to noir without pausing to look around. Lethem has integrated sentient animals as citizens in his city, apparently establishing their person-hood by showing the alacrity which which they have adopted violence and weapons into their new civilization. If only to see how an angry kangaroo is able to wield a gun (I should think it’s legs were weapon enough), I encourage you to join me in this unusual vision of the future. (Also I hear there’s a mystery involved).

Gumshoe Conrad Metcalf has problems-there’s a rabbit in his waiting room and a trigger-happy kangaroo on his tail. Near-future Oakland is a brave new world where evolved animals are members of society, the police monitor citizens by their karma levels, and mind-numbing drugs such as Forgettol and Acceptol are all the rage.
Metcalf has been shadowing Celeste, the wife of an affluent doctor. Perhaps he’s falling a little in love with her at the same time. When the doctor turns up dead, our amiable investigator finds himself caught in a crossfire between the boys from the Inquisitor’s Office and gangsters who operate out of the back room of a bar called the Fickle Muse.
Mixing elements of sci-fi, noir, and mystery, this clever first novel from the author of Motherless Brooklyn is a wry, funny, and satiric look at all that the future may hold.

Storm Front by Jim Butcher

Storm Front (The Dresden Files #1)In another stunning example of noir’s versatility (who says it has to be just 1940’s private eye’s?) Storm Front is indeed the tale of a private investigator trying to unravel a complicated mystery in a dark city (but that’s mostly because the investigator keeps sleeping all afternoon and only gets to work at night). But Harry Dresden is more than the average investigator, he is (with a nod to Pat Novak) a wizard for hire. Shockingly this is not a very popular job, and Dresden works on the most confusing (and physics-defying) mysteries the big city has to offer, going up against powerful mythic beings (who can get a bit cranky after a few millenia locked in a lead box), other wizards, and (worst of all) the normal people who don’t believe him and keep poking their noses (and vital bits) into dangerous magic. With witty lines and excellent writing Butcher’s series takes the noir into a new realm (literally) and shows us a world where magic is not exactly going to save the day, and that there are much worse things for a brooding private-eye to face down than a gun.

Lost items found. Paranormal Investigations.
Consulting. Advice. Reasonable Rates.
No Love Potions, Endless Purses, or
Other Entertainment.
Harry Dresden is the best at what he does. Well, technically, he’s the only at what he does. So when the Chicago P.D. has a case that transcends mortal creativity or capability, they come to him for answers. For the “everyday” world is actually full of strange and magical things — and most of them don’t play well with humans. That’s where Harry comes in. Takes a wizard to catch a — well, whatever.
There’s just one problem. Business, to put it mildly, stinks. So when the police bring him in to consult on a grisly double murder committed with black magic, Harry’s seeing dollar signs. But where there’s black magic, there’s a black mage behind it. And now that mage knows Harry’s name. And that’s when things start to get… interesting.
Magic. It can get a guy killed.

Queenpin by Megan Abbott

QueenpinOur fourth selection continues the trend of groundbreaking changes. So far we have seen noir altered by talking animals and magic, but now Queenpin gives the genre something even stranger: women. In charge. More than the femmes fatales or victims, Megan Abbott’s novel shows us women who can take charge and outdo any boring old Kingpin. Let’s see what kind of money and mayhem you get when the ladies take over the criminal empire. (And don’t anyone dare say it’ll be a “fashionable” empire. I can hear you thinking it.)

A young woman hired to keep the books at a down-at-the-heels nightclub is taken under the wing of the infamous Gloria Denton, a mob luminary who reigned during the Golden Era of Bugsy Siegel and Lucky Luciano. Notoriously cunning and ruthless, Gloria shows her eager young protege the ropes, ushering her into a glittering demimonde of late-night casinos, racetracks, betting parlors, inside heists, and big, big money. Suddenly, the world is at her feet;as long as she doesn’t take any chances, like falling for the wrong guy. As the roulette wheel turns, both mentor and protege scramble to stay one step ahead of their bosses and each other.

They Shoot Horses Don’t They? by Horace McCoy

They Shoot Horses, Don't They?Our final selection for the day is a true mystery. I present to you an enigma wrapped in a “What the heck?!” I say this for the very simple reason that while I am very intrigued by They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? I also have no idea what to make of it. The title alone would grant it inclusion here (our more regular readers know a title that makes me laugh often merits inclusion as the final entry) but it is the description of dancing with a dark underside (apparently somehow linked with equestrian violence) that  launches this noir into the realm of the truly mysterious. I do hope you enjoy this last entry (and tell me what it’s all about!).

The marathon dance craze flourished during the 1930s, but the underside was a competition and violence unknown to most ballrooms–a dark side that Horace McCoy’s classic American novel powerfully captures. “Were it not in its physical details so carefully documented, it would be lurid beyond itself.”–Nation

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Friday Feature and Reboot Review: John Lescroart’s The Keeper

KeeperJohn Lescroart’s THE KEEPER
Review by Tabatha Hanly


The story begins when Hal Chase enlists the help of lawyer Dismas Hardy. Hal’s wife Katie has disappeared from their home only a few days before, and when the case is transferred from Missing Persons to Homicide, Hal finds himself the prime suspect and the police and Katie’s family are prepared to believe the worst. Dismas recruits the help of an old friend, Abe Glitsky to work the case from the assumption that Hal is innocent; an unpopular view to say the least. Jumping at the chance to get back to work, sets to work, trying to ignore the old cop instinct screaming that the husband almost always did it.

The more Glitsky investigates the worse it looks for Hal. There is no physical evidence tying Hal or anyone else to the disappearance, and so the case falls back on motive and opportunity, and Hal’s motives just keep piling up. Then Katie’s body is discovered near the house and there doesn’t seem to be anybody who could want her dead except her husband, until Glitsky stumbles into another possibility. Hal works in the notoriously corrupt county jail where there have been a few too many ‘accidental’ deaths. Perhaps Katie’s death was linked to institutionalized corruption at her husband’s workplace. Perhaps she had found the evidence they needed to take action. Perhaps she was just one more victim on the jail’s list of ‘unfortunate occurrences.’

But all these possibilities mean little for Hal, who is in prison awaiting a trial that seems already decided because everyone except Dismas Hardy believes he killed his wife.

One of the best and most brilliant features of The Keeper is Abe Glitsky. As the novel’s primary investigator, Glitsky holds our attention for most of the novel. Glitsky is a former police officer who has set out on his own to investigate what looks like a hopeless case. But don’t let that mislead you, Glitsky is not noir’s jaded and dark private investigator who only works alone, chump. Nor is he the tough guy with personal demons who attracts every dirty-dealing woman in a ten-mile radius. Abe is an old cop, recently retired from his position as the head of Homicide, and afflicted with what looks like a terminal case of cabin fever. He does not set out on his own because he is a loose-cannon-cop who doesn’t play by the rules, he does it because he’s bored sitting at home. Glitsky reads like a real person: he has a wife he talks to regularly, he has children who must be picked up from school, and he has to wear an apron over his button-down shirt when he makes the family breakfast in the morning because a syrup-splattered investigator does not inspire much confidence. Real. Life.

Despite one or two thin characters, it is the real-people feel of the cast which engages the readers and keeps the book from becoming just another murder mystery. Of course the plot helps too. The book leaves behind the typical hunt-for-evidence-until-the-violent-showdown plot in favor of a character-driven and broader investigation. Glitsky’s witnesses are also more human than is convenient for a murder mystery: they have this nasty habit of forgetting details, not documenting their movements every day, and feeling uneasy in the presence of an investigator, even when they didn’t do it. So with a dearth of femmes fatales, nervous ticks, and ‘killer’s stares,’ the case has to progress by legwork and by following every avenue Glitsky can dig up.

It is through one of those avenues that Glitsky finds the most dangerous aspect of the case. He begins poking around in the jail’s unsavory records and unwittingly triggers a new round of deaths. Fighting against the bureaucracy which demands proof for what the entire city government knows, the jail’s administrators who don’t want anyone looking to closely, and his own instincts which tell him to charge ahead into danger, Glitsky is walking a dangerous path. And he still has to figure out who killed Katie Chase.

The Keeper is an engaging story with twists, turns, false alleys, and an unexpected solution! Recommended!

Tabatha Hanly is a graduate student at Winona State University. She works as series editor for the Fiction Reboot and as graduate teaching assistant for the WSU English Department.

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