Book Review: The Tuesday Club Murders by Agatha Christie
Author Raymond West has what he thinks is a smashing idea. A series of Tuesday night gatherings where the six people present discuss mysteries they’ve run across, particularly juicy murders. In addition to himself, there’s an artist, a lawyer, a clergyman, a retired Scotland Yard commissioner, oh, and his Aunt Jane. She’s a darling maiden aunt who has seldom left her home village, and is obsessed with knitting, but she might have an insight or two. But he needn’t have worried about her falling behind, for Miss Marple knows a thing or two about human nature.
Agatha Christie’s beloved elderly lady of detection first appeared in these short stories beginning in 1927. The collection of them in a book (originally titled The Thirteen Problems) didn’t happen until 1932, so The Murder at the Vicarage (1930) is the first Miss Marple book. The format of the first six stories is the Tuesday night meetings, beginning with “The Tuesday Night Club” and ending with “The Thumb Mark of St. Peter.” Then Sir Henry Clithering, the retired Scotland Yard man, gets Miss Marple invited to a dinner party where six more mysteries are told, from “The Blue Geranium” to “The Affair at the Bungalow.”
The last story, “Death by Drowning” has Miss Marple ask Sir Henry to look into a young woman’s apparent suicide–she’s figured out what actually happened, but has no proof.
Miss Marple’s primary method is finding analogies. Although she has seldom left her largish village of St. Mary Mead, Aunt Jane has had a long life and a keen interest in the people around her (and an ear for gossip.) Thus she can almost always find something in her past that is reminiscent of the case at hand, and gives her the clues she needs.
Despite the title, not all of the stories involve a murder; “Ingots of Gold” for example is about a robbery. Some of the tales may be more difficult for a reader to unravel due to them becoming dated; one relies on older British slang, while another requires a knowledge of obsolete work practices. On the other hand, one of the tales has a trick ending of the type that made Ms. Christie’s work famous. There’s some period sexism and classism, and one story involves domestic abuse.
While not Agatha Christie’s best work, and Miss Marple would have some character development in later books, (she’s kind of smug here) these are fun short mysteries that are very much of a time and place.
Book Review: Classic American Short Stories compiled by Michael Kelahan
This book is more or less exactly what it says in the title, a compilation of short(ish) stories written by American authors, most of which are acknowledged as classics by American Lit professors. The stories are arranged by author in roughly chronological order from the early Nineteenth Century to the 1920s to stay safely in the public domain.
The fifty-one stories included begin with Washington Irving’s “Rip Van Winkle”, a tall tale about a henpecked husband who drinks ghostly beer and sleeps for twenty years, right through the American Revolution. The book ends with “Winter Dreams” by F. Scott Fitzgerald. A young man from Minnesota finds great success in the laundry business, but heartache when the woman he loves cannot settle for just him. In between are ones that are very familiar to me, like “The Telltale Heart” by Edgar Allen Poe (a murderer confesses his crime in an effort to prove his sanity) and stories that were new to me, like “The Revolt of ‘Mother'” by Mary E. Wilkins Freeman (a New England woman, tired of an unkept promise, takes matters into her own hands.)
There’s a wide variety of genres represented, from “realistic” slice of life stories through mystery and fantasy to outright horror. The chronological order highlights the changing social attitudes depicted in the stories, particularly the two Edith Wharton stories about divorce. Women are reasonably well-represented, and there are a couple of writers of color as well.
Of course, just because a story is “classic” does not mean it will appeal to everyone. I found Henry James’ novella “The Aspern Papers” (literary buff infiltrates the household of a famous poet’s ex-lover in an effort to gain any memorabilia she might have of him) tedious and predictable. I am not alone in this, but many other readers have found it fascinating.
Content issues: Many of these stories have elements of period racism, sexism and classism; sometimes it’s dealt with within the story itself, but other times it pops up as a nasty surprise. “Paul’s Case” by Willa Cather, about a boy who wants the finer things in life without the tedium of putting in decades of hard labor to get them, deals with suicide.
This is a Barnes & Noble collector’s edition, and is quite handsome and sturdy, with a leather binding, gilt-edged pages and a silk bookmark for a reasonable price. However, the fact that it has a “compiler” rather than an editor is telling. There are scattered typos; I do not know if they were caused by errors in transcription, or if the sources were not scrutinized carefully enough. The author bios at the end are not quite in alphabetical order, and miss out Washington Irving altogether.
Overall, most of these stories are worth reading at least once, and many are worth rereading over the years. Highly recommended to people who don’t already have their favorites from this collection in a physical book, or are curious about the stories they haven’t read yet. It’d also make a nice gift for your bookworm friend or relative.
Book Review: Slow Dancing Through Time by Gardner Dozois in collaboration with Jack Dann, Michael Swanwick, Susan Casper and/or Jack C Haldeman II.
The art of collaboration is an interesting one; two authors (rarely three) blending their skills to create a story neither could produce individually. Ideally, the reader should be able to see the fingerprints of the collaborators, but not the seams between them. Gardner Dozois wrote a number of fine collaborations in the 1970s and 80s, before taking on a full-time job as editor for Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine.
This volume reprints fourteen of those stories, along with essays by the collaborators on the collaboration process, and afterwords for each story written by Mr. Dozois. (It also has a list of his other collaborations if you want to hunt them down.) The stories cover science fiction, fantasy and horror, with a couple of them on the edge between genres.
The first story is “Touring” (with Jack Dann & Michael Swanwick), in which Buddy Holly gets a chance to perform with Elvis Presley and Janis Joplin. It’s a Twilight Zone type story, although the language is saltier than Rod Serling would ever have been allowed to air. The book ends with “Down Among the Dead Men” (with Jack Dann), a chilling tale of a vampire trapped in a Nazi concentration camp. It was quite controversial at the time, and still packs a punch, despite where the horror genre went during the Nineties.
Standouts include “A Change in the Weather” (with Jack Dann), a bit of fluff about dinosaurs that hinges on the last line (and provided the endpaper illustration), “Time Bride” (with Jack Dann) about the use of time travel to emotionally abuse a girl (and with a downer ending as the cycle continues), and “The Clowns” (with Susan Casper & Jack Dann), another chiller featuring a little boy who sees clowns that no one else can.
Some of these stories may be hard to find elsewhere, such as “Snow Job” (wth Michael Swanwick.) This tale of a con artist and a time-traveling cocaine addict first appeared in High Times, which can be difficult to find back issues of.
Overall, the quality of the stories is good, but budding writers may find the essays on collaboration more useful to them. Recommended to speculative fiction fans.
Book Review: Headaches Can Be Murder by Marilyn Rausch & Mary Donlon
Charles “Chip” E. Collingsworth III was supposed to become a neurosurgeon like his father and grandfather before him, but wasn’t suited to being a doctor, so dropped out of medical school. Three failed marriages later and with his trust fund depleted, Chip wrote a crime novel about famed neurosurgeon John Goodman investigating “the Cranium Killer” with the FBI, and casting two of his ex-wives as victims. To his surprise, he found an agent willing to represent the manuscript, and it turned into a best-seller.
On a cross-country trip, Chip stumbled across an abandoned farmhouse in Turners Bend, Iowa, and decided that this would be a good place to write his second book in. Except that he’s run out of ex-wives he wants to murder (his first wife was much nicer) and that means he’s out of ideas. Until one day he falls off a shed, and the ensuing bump on his head gives him a painful inspiration for a possible plotline. As his real life and novel intertwine, can Chip survive long enough to finish the manuscript?
The gimmick in this book, the first in the Chip Collingsworth series, is that there are two stories unfolding simultaneously. Chip lives his life in rural Iowa, and as things happen around him, he incorporates versions of them into Dr, Goodman’s quest to find out whether microchips inserted into people’s brains are turning them into killers. Chip meets an attractive veterinarian, and Dr. Goodman meets an attractive FBI agent. Chip adopts a golden retriever, and Dr. Goodman does as well. Not all the things happening in Turners Bend are so benign, however, and Chip winds up doing some investigating himself.
One thing that amused me was Chip constantly being given suggestions on what kind of characters should be in his next book, which just happened to match the persons who suggest them.
The twin narrative approach is fun, but means that each story gets less character development. I noticed quite a few spellchecker typos, which would be acceptable in the “fictional” chapters as Chip writes his drafts, but not so much in the “real world” ones.
There are a couple of sex scenes, and a bit of torture in the Goodman section.
Recommended for those wanting to read mysteries with an Iowa connection.
Book Review: Jewish Noir edited by Kenneth Wishnia
Many of the themes of noir fiction, alienation, hostile society, darkness and bitter endings, resonate with the experience of Jewish people. So it’s not surprising that it was easy to find submissions for an anthology of thirty-plus noir stories with Jewish themes. (Not all of the authors are themselves Jewish; see if you can guess which ones.)
The volume opens with “Devil for a Witch” by R.S. Brenner. A man caught embezzling for what he thinks are good causes has his death faked by the FBI so that he can go undercover in the Klu Klux Klan. The title comes from an old saying about trading a known danger for an unknown one, and this assignment turns out to be perilous indeed. The author bio mentions that this is an excerpt from an upcoming novel.
Most of the stories in this collection are appearing for the first time, but two are not. “A Simke (A Celebration)” by Yente Serdatsky was first published in Yiddish in 1912, and this is its first publication in English. It’s a melancholy tale of a woman whose refusal to conform to the social norms of Russian-Jewish immigrants made her popular in her youth, but isolates her now that she is middle-aged. Harlan Ellison® contributes a story first published in 1960. “The Final Shtick”, about a comedian returning to the small town he had good reason to flee, and his feelings concerning this.
As one might expect, several of the stories concern Nazis, neo-Nazis and/or the Holocaust. “Feeding the Crocodile” by Moe Prager is perhaps the strongest of these–a writer tells stories to a death camp commandant in hopes of surviving just a bit longer. But the crocodile gets greedy.
There’s a fairly wide variety of protagonists in these stories. Good people who do bad things, bad people who try to do good things, evil people who sink even lower, men and women, religious Jews and secular ones, Jews of different sexual orientations and skin colors. Ethnic slurs and antisemitism are peppered throughout, and there is mention of child sexual abuse, suicide and rape.
“The Golem of Jericho” by Jonathan Santlofer is on the borderline with supernatural stories. A bullied boy and his grandfather build a golem, which may or may not have killed the bullies; it’s certainly a mysterious coincidence.
The weakest story is “Her Daughter’s Bar Mitzvah: A Mother Talks to the Rabbi” by Adam D. Fisher which is just one long kvetch. (My spell checker doesn’t flag that word, interesting.) No crime, no hopeless ending, just complaining.
It should be noted here that this volume published by PM Press has no connection to the series of regional noir anthologies put out by Akashic Books despite the very similar presentation and book structure.
Most of the stories are good; recommended to noir fans who are willing to stretch their focus a little.
It is a couple of generations into the future, and both reasonably-priced space travel and techno-magic have come into existence. Large swaths of Earth’s population has gone to space, with the remaining people either enjoying life in small country villages or struggling in the remaining big cities. Of course, just because your parents like living in a small town doesn’t mean you do, and five boys have made a compact to escape their podunk village and go to the top of the space elevator they can see in the distance.
Their more or less leader is Touta Konoe, a physically adept fourteen-year-old who’s good with a sword. The mayor has set a condition that in order to leave, the five boys must defeat Touta’s guardian and their homeroom teacher, Yukihime, in battle. Since she’s an excellent combatant with years of experience and possibly knows how to use magic, that isn’t happening any time soon.
Until one day another of the schoolteachers offers the boys an equalizer. Naturally, he isn’t being entirely honest about his motives. In the ensuing crisis, we learn that Yukihime is actually an immortal vampire, and to save Touta’s life, she must make him one as well. With her identity exposed, Yukihime and Touta must leave the village so that it is not attacked by vampire hunters. And so they set out on the adventure of a long, long lifetime!
This manga turns out to be a distant sequel to Mr. Akamatsu’s previous series, Negima! Yukihime is one of the supporting characters from that story under a different name. One of the panels seems to indicate that Touta is the descendant of another character from that series, who is now dead. However, flashback panels indicate that Yukihime has been lying to everyone about just how Touta’s parents died, so that character may show up later.
Touta’s a fairly standard shounen protagonist, a loud-mouthed, overenthusiastic messy-haired boy who is shockingly unaware of basic facts about the world. Yukihime plays the cynical, jaded mentor, and provides most of the fanservice in the first volume. (She may care less about this because her body is largely an illusion.) More atypical is the new friend they make along the way, Kuroumaru Tokisaka, an extremely pretty boy (Touta keeps thinking he might actually be a girl) who also happens to be a vampire hunter. As he can’t return home until he kills Yukihime, and she’s too many tiers above him for that to happen, he’s hanging around for the foreseeable future.
The apparent theme of the story is immortality, and how the various kinds of immortals cope with their long lives for better or worse. Towards the end of the first volume, we learn that the series is titled after an organization of immortals. (“UQ” sounds like the Japanese word for “eternity”>)
Mr. Akamatsu is an experienced manga creator, and it shows in the well-constructed fight scenes (warning: there’s some gory mangling!) and plot pacing. This does, however, point up how pandering much of the fanservice is, clearly aimed at immature teenage boys.
If you liked Negima! or Love Hina you are likely to enjoy this series as well. But be prepared to be infuriated if the backstory kills off or “ruins” your favorite character from those precursors.
Comic Book Review: Oddly Normal Book 1 by Otis Frampton
Life is not good for Oddly Normal (who was named after her great-aunt.) As the product of a human/witch marriage, her green hair and pointed ears make her stand out in her small town elementary school. She’s constantly bullied and treated as a freak. Worse, her parents seem oblivious to just how miserable she really is.
This comes to a head on Oddly’s tenth birthday, when none of the kids her parents made her invite bother to come, only using the moment to further bully her. And then her parents refuse to understand the situation, coming up with excuses for how this isn’t actually happening. It’s no wonder that Oddly makes a wish that they would both disappear. It’s slightly more of a wonder that the wish seems to work, as she’s never shown any magical aptitude before.
While trying to work out what actually happened, Oddly’s aunt takes her to Fignation, the “imaginary” world Oddly’s mother came from. She enrolls her niece in Menagerie Middle School, and Oddly thinks that maybe here she won’t be treated like a freak. Small hope of that–though there do seem to be some kids who aren’t completely horrible. Of course they’re the unpopular, uncool ones. Worse, at least one of the teachers seems to be out to get Oddly for reasons that aren’t exactly clear.
This Image comic book series is by one of the people who creates the How It Should Have Ended webtoons. The first volume collects the first five issues, out of six published as of this writing.
A lot of kids will identify with Oddly; feeling like they’re persecuted for their minor differences; and quite a few older readers will remember the same feelings. It’s made Oddly a somewhat surly loner who’s only sympathetic because she’s the underdog. Given some power, she could easily turn Carrie on her peers. (The sixth issue shows that Oddly has more in common with her mother in that respect than she might have guessed.)
The other characters are fairly stock, with no one really stepping outside their stereotypical roles yet. The series is also suffering from considerable decompression, and the first five issues feel less than a complete story, or even a full five chapters.
I’d say that it would be a good idea for Oddly to succeed at something soon, or show some useful skills or personality traits. As is, she’s just a victim and pinball, bouncing from one miserable event to the next.
The art isn’t bad, but the writing needs to step up. Keep an eye on this series, and if it improves come back and read this.
Comic Strip Review: The Complete Little Orphan Annie Volume Ten: The Junior Commandos by Harold Gray
Little Orphan Annie was one of the all-time great comic strips, debuting in 1924. The story centered on a plucky orphan girl with curly red hair (which was considered unattractive at the time) and her attempts to get by in a cruel world with the aid of her dog Sandy. Early on, she was taken “on trial” by the unpleasant Mrs. Warbucks, whose husband Oliver “Daddy” Warbucks took an immediate shine to Annie.
The strip’s formula depended heavily on finding ways to separate Annie from “Daddy” for long periods, or giving him financial troubles so they could go on the road together. The device of having one of them believe the other was dead was used repeatedly for melodrama. Mrs. Warbucks eventually relented and made friends with Annie, only to permanently die shortly thereafter. (There was a second Mrs. Warbucks who was also hostile to Annie, and who Daddy may have murdered offscreen.)
Eventually, the strips added Daddy Warbucks’ exotic servants Punjab (a giant of a fellow with mystic abilities) and the Asp (a East Asian with a mysterious past and no given name.) Harold Gray had strong conservative views, which often featured in the strips, both as story themes and character dialogue. He was a big believer in hard work and honesty as ways to get ahead, and sometimes showed huge blind spots about the flaws of capitalism.
This volume covers stories from 1941-1943, and is strongly influenced by the events of World War Two. While Daddy is testing a new bomber plane (he is after all a munitions manufacturer), he and the group are forced to land somewhere in the midwest. Annie is injured in an automobile accident, and narrowly escapes the ministrations of quack Dr. Eldeen. Instead, she is placed under the care of Doctor Zee, a friend of Daddy’s he met in Spain (presumably during the Spanish Civil War), who has become a recluse.
Daddy Warbucks and his associates are reported missing, presumed dead, shortly thereafter, stranding Annie in the large town. Dr. Zee, one of the few sympathetic characters in the history of the strip with progressive views, is brought out of his shell by Annie, and by reconnecting with a childhood friend who has become known as “Crazy Kate.” Zee starts a low-cost medical practice that clashes with both Dr. Eldeen (who runs a private clinic for not particularly sick wealthy people and uses heavy drugs to keep them under control) and Dr. Dubb, a mediocre physician who owns the town hospital.
Eventually, it is learned that one of Dr. Eldeen’s patients is a scientist called “Zaney” who has developed an explosive formula vital to national security, which Eldeen wants to sell to the Nazis. This plot fails, and Eldeen has to go on the run. Daddy Warbucks and crew reappear alive, but now enlisted in the military of “an allied country” so they can fight the Axis menace. (Gray didn’t have them enlist in the U.S. Army as then they’d have to obey regulations instead of getting straight down to killing the enemy.)
Determined to do her bit to help win the war, Annie organizes the town kids into “Junior Commandos” who sell War Bonds and collect recyclables for the war effort, performing many helpful functions for soldiers and war workers. Rather suddenly, the town is near the seacoast so that Annie and a new friend can sink a Nazi submarine. Shortly thereafter, the town takes in a war refugee nicknamed “Driftwood” who has lost his family to “the invaders.”
Doctor Zee enlists in the military, so Annie and the supporting cast move in with a Mrs. Sleet, a seemingly chilly wealthy woman who Annie helps deal with the loss of her husband and son, and who becomes a sponsor for the Junior Commandos. Daddy Warbucks and his men are reported killed in the fighting, and Dr. Zee returns minus an arm. But Annie and a female surgeon, Dr. Clover, help Dr. Zee recover his will to be a healer, and after some mild love triangle shenanigans, Zee marries Katie, his childhood friend. (There’s also a lot of other action going on in the meantime.)
The Nazis become convinced that Daddy Warbucks (now revealed as surviving) left a copy of Zaney’s formula with Annie, and come up with an elaborate plot to get it from her. This involves impersonating a reclusive writer, Malcolm Mitt, another of Daddy’s old friends, and inviting Annie to a castle built by an eccentric Spanish immigrant to await her guardian’s return. The castle is full of secret passageways and tricks, as well as Nazi spies and a submarine harbor. Annie’s able to recruit the local Junior Commandos and Serbian immigrant “Big George” (formerly a spy on the Germans for twenty years) to help her clean out this nest of rats.
But it’s not until Daddy Warbucks finally shows up for real and Punjab uses his disappearing trick that the situation is fully resolved. The war’s still on, though, and Annie ends the volume being shipped off to live with another of Daddy’s old friends…
Annie’s tough and wise beyond her years, and a natural leader, but we do see moments of her still being a child, as when she exclaims in glee over a new doll. The strip openly mocks the idea of protecting children from the knowledge of war; Driftwood is all too aware that the war does not spare anyone because of age or innocence. That said, this is not a children’s story as such, but a family one–parents should read these strips along with their kids to aid in understanding the context.
Violence is rife in this story, and Annie, while not directly killing anyone, has to dodge a question on the subject of whether she hasn’t disposed of some enemies permanently. (It’s also noted that in his backstory, Daddy Warbucks once snapped a man’s neck like a toothpick.) Don’t let anyone kid you that violence in the media is a modern decline!
One interesting tidbit is the appearance of George, an African-American child, who is afraid he won’t be allowed into the Junior Commandos. Annie assures him he is welcome, and George swiftly proves his worth, getting a promotion. He only appears in one Sunday strip (and is mentioned on Monday) but black readers strongly appreciated the interlude. A Southern newspaper publisher wrote to warn Mr. Gray that he might lose readers in the South for showing “race-mixing.” Mr. Gray’s response was to the effect that while he fully supported the South working out its own issues, a lot of “colored” people bought newspapers too, especially in the large Northern cities.
The “Nazis in a castle” story isn’t as good; the introduction notes that the artist had recently lost his father, and may have been distracted from his work; also, he was becoming disenchanted with the U.S. government’s handling of the homefront of the war, which would really show up in the next story.
Still, this volume is a good introduction for kids to what life was like on the homefront in World War Two, with proper parental guidance. Highly recommended to fans of older comic strips.
Magazine Review: Infernal Ink Magazine January 2014 edited by Hydra M. Star
Disclaimer: This magazine came to me through a Goodreads giveaway on the premise that I would review it.
Infernal Ink is a horror fiction and poetry magazine aimed at ages 18+. As such, it contains sex, violence, sexualized violence (Trigger Warning for rape) and crude language. As of the 01/2014 issue, it is accepting advertisements for suitable businesses.
The cover (which might make this a poor choice to read in public) is by Dave Lipscomb, who also contributes “Demonic Visions”, a selection of his black and white pieces; and “The DaveL’s Music” which reviews albums, in this case, Motorhead’s latest.
There are several gruesome poems; all are modern poetry, so I cannot speak to their quality.
“Amazon Goddess of Doom” is an interview with Saranna DeWylde, who writes both horror and erotica, and helpfully gives us a look at the difference. Her nickname turns out to come from her day job as a prison guard.
All the fiction is very short.
“The Devil’s in the Details” by Robert Lowell Russell: A woman can have a new lease on life if she convinces someone else to go to Hell for her. Quick and twisty, with no innocence to be found.
“Going Viral (Pop Culture Apocalypse)” by Bosley Gravel: After the zombie plague, late-night television looks a little different, though just as cut-throat. Funny if you like your jokes gross.
“A Kiss to Die For” by Giovanni Valentino: Two guys in a bar compete over an attractive woman. Fairly predictable, but a nice last line.
“The Pope’s Dildo” by Peter Gilbert: The title object is stolen, and it’s up to the Vatican’s top agent to retrieve it. Very juvenile.
“The Ripsaw Floor” by Shaun Avery: A one-hit wonder meets the woman who inspired that song at his school reunion. I liked the female lead in this one.
“Flow the Junction” by Roger Leatherwood. A gross-out tale about a woman with constant menstrual flow and her objectification. Very unpleasant.
“Xenophobia” by Michael C. Shutz-Ryan: New neighbors next door present new opportunities for a lonely man who talks to his Buddha statue. Another fairly predictable story.
“Fey” by Robin Wyatt Dunn: A relationship with an otherworldly creature. Dreamlike and hard to follow.
“Add Me” by Rob Bliss: A small twon stalker may have bitten off more than he can chew–or maybe this is what he wanted all along. A bit longer of a story, so it has an actual build-up to the reveals.
All of these could use some polishing, but I most liked the Gravel and Avery stories. There are some spellchecker typos, and a couple cases of what might be that or odd vocabulary choices. Hydra M. Star might need to take a firmer hand as editor.
Mildly recommended to fans of the horror/erotica conjunction; everyone else can safely skip.
Book Review: Limestone Gumption by Bryan E. Robinson
Disclaimer: I received this book as a Goodreads giveaway on the premise that I would review it.
When Big Jake Nunn, former football star and big man around the sleepy town of Whitecross, Florida dies while diving the limestone caves of the Suwannee River, suspicion naturally falls on the man who was supposed to be diving with him, psychologist Brad Pope. Brad, only recently returned to his hometown after years away getting an education and a reputation, had a motive for killing Big Jake, but he’s pretty sure he’s not the killer. Could it be his stubborn Grandma Gigi and her Women’s Preservation Club, who definitely have something secret going on? Or is it one of the other eccentric townsfolk?
This is the first fiction book by Mr. Robinson, but he’s written quite a few non-fiction books, and it shows in how polished the writing is for a first novel. The story flows well, the characters are interesting (a couple of them perhaps a little too colorful, but I’ve certainly met people like them before) and there were a couple of twists I didn’t see coming.
Brad Pope manages to be a quirky protagonist without going over the top; like many psychologist characters, he has a number of issues from his past, and secrets of his own, not all dark. The WPC take up a lot of the story with their eccentric ways, not the least of which is calling themselves “sisterfriends.” Several reviews have mentioned humor; I found relatively little of that, except perhaps of the observational type, plainly writing down the foibles of the neighbors.
I need to issue a Trigger Warning for rape and physical, verbal and emotional abuse in the backstory. One of the themes of the book is how the law enforcement around Whitecross has failed people, especially women. (Though the protagonists wind up taking advantage of the same sort of thing by the end.) There’s also some racism, including by the protagonist, to his shame when he realizes what he’s done.
The title refers to one character’s philosophy of life, which is first stated in a frontispiece to the story, but repeated several times within. There are several recipes, supposedly from the Women’s Preservation Club, in the back, along with some guided questions for book club use.
Some readers might find the eccentric small town characters a bit thick, but I quite enjoyed the book. Recommended for “cozy” mystery fans.