Review: A Thief of Time

A Thief of Time by Tony Hillerman
A Thief of Time Tony Hillerman

Title: A Thief of Time
Author: Tony Hillerman
Series: Joe Leaphorn/Jim Chee #8
Published: 1989
ISBN-10:  0060159383
Publisher: Harper & Row

Academic competition is fierce, especially when it’s between colleagues trying to get to the historic pottery remnants first to prove their theory and get published.  Oh, and recognition in their field.

A thief of time is someone who robs graves in order to take something.  In this case, it’s all about the Anasazi, a tribe which mysteriously disappeared around 1200CE.  The ruins left behind appear as though the people planned on coming back, but never did.

The black market for pottery is hot, people will pay exorbitant amounts to own a piece of “authentic” pottery with questionable provenance.  While Jim Chee is trying to chase down a stolen backhoe, Joe Leaphorn is trying to track down a missing anthropologist.

Personal baggage is heavy in this book.  Chee’s relationship with  teacher Mary Landon has hit the skids.  She’s gone back to the midwest to be with her family and go back to school.  In a letter to him, she expresses her deep love for him but sees no way around the white vs. Navajo conundrum they keep bumping against.

Joe Leaphorn is mourning the loss of beloved wife, Emma, who didn’t have Alzheimer’s after all but didn’t survive the surgery to remove a tumor.  My heart sank when I read of her death.  Interesting how easy it is to get caught up in the lives of fictional characters isn’t it?

While working their individual cases, Chee and Leaphorn eventually cross paths and discover they’re working the same case from different angles.  The stolen backhoe is being used to uncover pottery, while a different anthropologist is stealing jaw bones to prove his theory.

A hike to a nearly unknown, unreachable Anasazi ruin, two helicopters converging on the same spot, and the case is solved.  But this one seemed rather convoluted to me as it involved a decades old murder case Leaphorn had worked, a traveling tent show leading Navajos to the “Jesus Way,” and those using Chaco Culture National Historic Park as their base to study the Anasazi.  Too many moving pieces to keep track of, and an unbelievable ending involving the aforementioned helicopters.

But the thing I have always enjoyed about Hillerman’s books is his love of the Southwest and his use of Navajo culture to keep his mysteries from being just another murder/stolen object procedural.  His attention to the cultural differences pulls me in and keeps me there.

Review: What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

What Could Possibly Go Wrong?
Jodi Taylor

Title: What Could Possibly Go Wrong?
Author: Jodi Taylor
Series: The Chronicles of St. Mary’s (#6)
Published: 2015
ISBN-13: eBook
Publisher: Accent Press

Max and those crazy historians of St. Mary’s are back. This installment is almost tame compared to the earlier books. Tame, that is, if you discount the baby mammoth poo all over one of the pods, five trainees being trained by Max, one of the trainees with an agenda of his own having to do with Richard III, and a not so unexpected twist at the end. I mean, I saw it coming from the first time Max complained of being sick.

Yup, I liked it very much and continue to be delighted with the attention Jodi Taylor gives to the history.

Review: Skinwalkers

Skinwalkers by Tony Hillerman
Skinwalkers
Tony Hillerman

Title: Skinwalkers
Author: Tony Hillerman
Series: Joe Leaphorn/Jim Chee #7
Published: 1987
ISBN-10: 0-06-080893-4
Publisher: Perennial Library

A skinwalker is a fearsome thing.  It’s an evil person who can change into any shape, even human.  Skinwalkers use charms  which can include human bone beads launched by blowguns, embedding themselves beneath the surface.

This is the novel in which Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee meet and begin working together.  But when Leaphorn learns that Chee has been shot at, he figures Chee is just a slacker like a lot of other Navajo men.

It isn’t until they discover that the three shots fired contained something similar to human bone, and begin to find the same evidence at three murder scenes that they discover Navajo lore is responsible for the deadly consequences.

Leaphorn doesn’t believe in witchcraft and knows there’s a more earthly explanation.  Chee, on the other hand, is studying to be a singer who heals people and puts them back into harmony with nature.  Between them, the find both the witchy and the earthly reason for these shootings.

The way to combat a skinwalker is to shoot some of its own medicine back into it.  The human bone beads and discs found at each crime scene lead them to a doctor telling lies in order to keep his clinic open.  His patients are open to the suggestion that what is really ailing them is an attack by a skinwalker, and that the only way to survive is to get back at the skinwalker.

The willingness to believe things like this is not what surprises or upsets me.  No, what surprises and upsets me is the willingness and eagerness to exploit those beliefs for private gain.  Yes, it’s common as dust, and completely unsurprising these things happen.  But I still get upset.

Skinwalkers is a book about the consequences of the exploitation of believers.  And, eventually, Joe Leaphorn comes to respect Jim Chee, which sets us up for many fine mysteries to come.

Review: Dead Set

Dead Set
Richard Kadrey

Title: Dead Set
Author: Richard Kadrey
Published: 2013
ISBN-13: 978-0-06-228301-6
Publisher:  Harper Voyager

When I think of horror, I think of Freddy Krueger or Nightmare on Elm Street or Stephen King, even.

If I were to categorize Richard Kadrey’s books, they would be urban fantasy, which also have a dark twisted underbelly to them.

But many have categorized Kadrey as horror, and since I’m not big on quibbling about labels, I’ll just say “‘Kay.”  Because what it all comes down to is story.  What is the story and how is the story told?  That’s what makes a great read for me.

Dead Set is the story of Zoe and how her teenaged life got derailed after her father dies.  The only thing good she can count on is visits with her dream brother, Valentine, when she goes to sleep.  But then, (good stories always have a but then) …

But then, a black dog starts appearing in her dreams.  And she meets a guy at a record shop storing records with souls captured on them.  For a seemingly small price, he’ll let Zoe commune with her father.

And then, Zoe actually goes to her father and nothing is even close to how she imagined it might be.

Kadrey’s stories are creepy, that’s for damned sure.  But they’re also interesting, well-thought out and entertaining.  In Zoe’s story, he captures that heart-ache of a teenage girl trying to fit into her own life, and make sense of the changes that have happened.  It’s the story of a girl longing to re-connect with the love she once felt from both her parents, and to use her teenage rebellion for something other than just being a rebel.

I love the Sandman Slim series.  Love it.  In Dead Set, we have a quieter protagonist whose world is almost as dangerous as Slim’s.  And I loved it just as much.

Review: Death on a Dime

Death on a Dime
Baer Charlton

Title: Death on a Dime – ebook
Author: Baer Charlton
Series: Southside Hooker #1
Published: 2014
ISBN-13: 978-0984966653
Publisher: Charlton Productions

This first paragraph got my attention.  There’s something about a guy driving a fork into another guy’s hand at a diner which will make me sit up.  Especially if the guy with the fork thinks he’s protecting someone else.  And then, it turns out, he’s misjudged.

The other thing which caught my attention is that Death on a Dime is set in my neighborhood.  Not one I used to live or work in, but the actual neighborhood my apartment is in.  Down to street names.  “This is going to be interesting,” I thought.  I wanted to read on to see if Charlton got it right, and kept it right.

Yup.  Almost every street and turn Hooker and his revved up tow truck, Mae West, took was familiar to me.  Those not familiar to me either don’t exist anymore or are in a part of the Bay Area I’ve not gotten to yet.

My subjective nits are this:  the description of the tow truck, its construction, its makeup and all those gears got boring.  It might have gear heads enthralled, but it meant nothing to me and did little to move the story forward.  The neck nuzzling grossed me out.  Any man trying to do that to me is sure to get an elbow to the belly.

As I said, those are subjective .  I doubt Baer Charlton needs me to be his story editor.  The only objective nit is the number of typos and grammatical errors I kept encountering in this ebook.  Chaplin is the name of an actor named Charlie, not the person who gives spiritual guidance to people in hospitals.  That would be a chaplain.

Death on a Dime really picked up steam in the latter half with a clever plot device.  I lost a lot of sleep reading because I really wanted to know what the deal was with a person who seemed to be randomly killing cops and has Hooker in sight.

A few chapters in, I was thinking Hooker was another unrepentant bad ass like Richard Kadrey’s Sandman Slim.  Nope, I was wrong.  Hooker’s tough all right, and he’s young and surrounded by a family of choice which makes up for the terrors of his childhood.  We should all be so lucky.  Hooker’s bad ass veneer covers  the vulnerability of someone who knows how tough life can be, and how easy it is to give in to the terror.

The cast of characters Charlton gives us is diverse.  All hardened by one thing or another, but still alive enough to find joy and whimsy.  The scenes with Hooker’s Uncle Willie are something to be admired.  A man who wears dresses and works on cars is a hard thing to carry off.

I’m looking forward to reading more of this series, especially to find out how this odd family keeps ticking.

Review: The Ghostway

The Ghostway
The Ghostway< /br>Tony Hillerman

Title: The Ghostway
Author: Tony Hillerman
Series: Joe Leaphorn/Jim Chee #6
Published: 1985
ISBN: 0-380-70024-7
Publisher: Avon Books

The Ghostway is a five or nine day sing meant to restore a Navajo to harmony after breaking a taboo about the dead.

In this book, Jim Chee gets caught up in the mystery death, mistaken identity, and murder.  In order to solve the case, he must break the taboo of entering a hogan in which Hosteen Ashie Begay is thought to have died.

It is nuances like this which keep me entertained with Hillerman’s mysteries.  Chee knows there are parts of the rituals which have not been kept and uses that to untangle a trail that leads to Los Angeles, 900 miles to the west.

Chee’s discomfort in LA, while searching for answers, is also quite interesting.  Here, the reader is shown precisely how different the large urban center filled with white ways is from the rural, harmonious ways of the Navajo.  Chee has quite a time of it, eventually winding up in a hospital after a “debt collector” gives him a concussion.

The contrast is also revealed in the relationship between Chee and Mary Landon, the white teacher he met in People of Darkness.  They’re in love, that much is obvious, but it’s clear that Chee is torn between his love of his people and the need to help them, and his  desire to be with Mary.

The Ghostway‘s central mystery got convoluted, with too many characters to really make sense of what started as a shooting in the parking lot of a laundromat in Shiprock, wandered through Navajo territory, at least two trips to Santa Fe and a drive to Los Angeles in search of a dislocated Navajo clan and answers to the death and murder of members of that clan.

Jim Chee is smart, and methodical, dedicated to doing his job and helping his people.  Hillerman makes Chee’s conflicts apparent, making me want to sit Jim down and tell him to just make a decision already.  But maybe he would just consider me another impatient white woman.  And so it goes.

 

Review: Devil Said Bang

Devil Said Bang
Richard Kadrey

Title: Devil Said Bang
Author: Richard Kadrey
Series: Sandman Slim #4
Published: 2012
ISBN-13: 978-0-06-209457-5
Publisher: HarperCollins

Satanists make junior high school Goths look like NASA.  (p. 143)

I’ve been taken with Sandman Slim from the very beginning.  Not only is he a mostly unrepentant badass who embraces that part of him.  He uses it to try to make life better for those he loves, and the world in general, although were the world to be aware of Slim, they wouldn’t thank him for his efforts.

At the end of Devil Said Bang, Slim is the only person to have escaped Hell twice.  This is quite an accomplishment, given that no one is supposed to escape ever, especially if you’re a gladiator expected to fight to the death the first time you’re there.

Kadrey shakes the notions of Heaven and Hell, God and Satan, around a lot in his Sandman Slim books.  His notions match mine that all is not so cut and dried as Christians would have us believe, there’s a lot of grey area.  And to shake that notion even more, it’s revealed in the first book, Sandman Slim, that Slim, aka Stark, is a nephilim.  This part angel, part human thing makes just about every supernatural being mad.  To say Slim’s home life was screwed up wouldn’t even begin to cover it.

It is also the conjunction of many celestial mythologies which make the Sandman Slim books so interesting.  Along with other supernatural beings you might not expect to mix with creation and destruction myths.

Devil Said Bang suffers from mid-series dementia.  Something often found in other series by other authors.  There’s just something about the fourth or so book in which is messy.  Kevin Hearne’s fifth book in the Iron Druid series, Trapped, suffered from this.

And I will say the same thing about Devil Said Bang as I did about Trapped, there’s too much information being thrown at us.  Too many characters and too many machinations.  I couldn’t keep up.

With that out of the way, what I like about this book was the continued battle Slim has with himself.  He knows that maybe he could do better, but there are times when he just wants to break stuff.  It’s what he knows best.

There are always interesting characters with “interesting” hobbies, which turn out to be some sort of key to the plot.  In Devil Said Bang, it’s Teddy Osterberg and his collection of cemeteries.  Yes, collection.

For generations, Teddy’s family has been moving cemeteries from their original plot of land to the family land outside Los Angeles.  There’s a lot of detail about the supernatural aspects of the cemeteries, but it comes down to Osterberg as caretaker of the more “special” cemeteries.  It is from this the scary little girl with the curved knife, who is running around killing people, comes.

Did I mention Sandman Slim is dark?

Not only am I fascinated by the mythology Kadrey uses, the machinations and politicking also fascinate me.  How do people think like that?  How do they know how to find that piece of information which will allow them to manipulate others?  How do they think three, four, five steps ahead of the others?  Reading Slim play off the others who think they have one up on him in Hell is fascinating.  As are all the new and inventive tools used to kill the nasties for whom a shotgun isn’t enough.

Richard Kadrey’s books are not for the squeamish, or for those who hold their mythology dear.  I find them very entertaining, if sometimes gross, and I always learn something new about mythology; especially Christian mythology.  Kadrey sends me scurrying into the stacks to look up information, and gives me things to think on deeply which allows me space to reframe what I think I already know.

 

Too Much, Too Much

DEATH: Terry Pratchett and the Discworld Paul Kidby (Official Ilustrator):
DEATH by Paul Kidby

There’s been too much death this year. I suppose there’s always too much death any year.

But now comes word that my friend, Eric Weaver, has died.  According to his daughter he was on his way home from work and had a hypertensive heart attack.  He was a year younger than I.

I suppose it’s to be expected as we enter our 50s.  I suppose.

Eric was one of the patient, kind, good guys who lived in my world of geekiness.  We met when we worked at WhoWhere?  I knew we would be friends because he named one of the servers Ridcully.  We both had a fondness for Luggage and Death too.

We both rotated around Don too.  Eric’s mind worked in ways mine didn’t, and we both puzzled over how he could so easily pick up coding, while I looked at most of it as gibberish.  Even with a translator like Eric, I never got the hang of it.

We exchanged quite a bit of email as I settled into my job at the Computer History Museum.  Always pleased that I had found such a unicorn of a workplace, in complete agreement that Don would have also been pleased, and convinced they will eventually hire me.

I’ll always remember his goofy giggle, his uneven smile and those silly fanny packs he wore.  I’ll also always remember his friendship and our fondness for Terry Pratchett characters.

Eric, I’ll miss you greatly.  I hope you and Don are up to no good.  I hope I remembered to tell you how grateful I was we were friends.

Coming Clean

I’ve been using the excuse of working to not write daily.

“Oh, I’m too tired when I get home to even turn the computer on.”

“My computer is so slow, it’s not worth turning it on during the week.”

Truth is, those are just excuses.  I got stuck on an article for a client, and have been using work, the holidays, etc. as excuses to not just do it.

And it has been bothering me.  A lot.  Especially recently.  I tell people I made the commitment to write every day, but then I got a part-time job I love and stopped.

But I find I keep telling stories.  I’m just not writing them down any more.  Or, writing them here anymore.

I don’t really know what I’m hiding from aside from the fact I am stuck on an approach for this article.  My client has been very understanding.  She’s happy I’m working again with steady money at a place, and with people, I adore.  Truth be told, I feel like I’ve let her down.  I haven’t told her I can’t figure out an approach to the article she wants.

The holidays are always a mess.  They’re a really handy excuse to not do anything except be depressed and feel sorry for myself.  Except that’s not working anymore either.

Thanksgiving was a mess.  A literal mess because while attempting to fix the toilet, it overflowed.  Yuck was all over the floor.  I threw my hands up, threw some towels down and walked away for the night.

Christmas was better somewhat.  New Year’s was its usually noisy self with fireworks all around me.  Living in a Mexican neighborhood, which is also not far from a Vietnamese neighborhood, makes any holiday noisy with fireworks.  Fire crackers go off at all hours of the day.

After the debacle a year ago with the roof leaking, and the ensuing repair, the roof started leaking again.  My home doesn’t feel like home.  There are buckets and towels on the floor, tarps on the roof, and plastic over some of my shelves.  Especially the books.

Things kinda went sideways a little at work.  Just a tiny bit, but I was convinced I was about to lose my job.  How could I be expected to come home and write under any of those circumstances?

Books pile up after I read them, waiting for me to review them.  Once I get caught up, I promise I’ll review each one after I’ve read it.  But it doesn’t happen.

I know this is not unusual behavior for anyone, most especially creative people.  We live in our heads a lot.  We lead with our hearts.  We feel big, and we take everything seriously.  At least I do.  From what I know of other writers, I suspect this is true for them too.

I’ve known for several months that I was at what’s called an inflection point.  In business it means, “a time of significant change in a situation; a turning point.”  I can feel the changes.  Actually see things are going in a different, better direction for me.

This came home to me last Friday when something happened which was incredible to me.  Something I never expected to happen.  Something I wasn’t even looking for.  I had a date.

It went well.  I enjoyed myself very much.  I like to think he did too.  We talked, sharing horrible landlord stories.  Somehow, my writing came up.  And I realized that while I wasn’t exactly lying to him about having made the commitment to write every day, I hadn’t told him that book reviews were mostly what I wrote.  And not every day.

I’ve been very emotional for the past few days.  I suppose it’s normal dating roller coaster riding.  “Will he call me again?”  “Will we really go out again?”  All that sort of stuff.

Let me be clear.  I’ve had relationships in the past.  None of them worked for various reasons.  Mostly because of me seeking fulfillment from them, and attracting men who didn’t deserve my time.  And giving it to them.  Not all of them, mind you.  But most of them.

Since the last one, I’ve spent a great deal of time and effort working on myself.  Becoming comfortable in my own skin, loving me, loving who I am, learning to take care of me.  And, most importantly, finding fulfillment from within.

Last August, I knew I was there because I walked in like the badass I know I am.  Things have been wobbly from time to time, but overall I am pleased with my work and attitude.  And so are people who have the influence to hire me when the time comes.

It was the same way when I met my date.  I was just being me.  Snarky, sarcastic, book in my hand me.  And, things went from flirting to my inviting him to dinner.  To us actually going to dinner and sitting and talking.  It was fun.

But, as with all change, things are unnerving.  I’ve been thinking about my writing more, and thinking about keeping true to myself in the throes of all this change.  The weekend wasn’t easy for me.  I could feel change, and I haven’t been handling it with as much grace and aplomb as I wanted.

Several things have come out of this.  One of which is my writing.  At least two different people have told me that to not write would be false to myself.  It’s my heart and soul.  Aside from loving the job, and the (not enough) steady money, I need to write.  And I keep denying myself that.

I’m not openly declaring a re-commitment.  But I am openly declaring an attempt for every day.  Because, apparently now, more than ever, I really need to write.

Review: The Dark Wind

The Dark Wind
The Dark Wind
Tony Hillerman

Title: The Dark Wind
Author: Tony Hillerman
Series: Joe Leaphorn/Jim Chee #5
Published: 1990
ISBN: 0-06-100003-5
Publisher: Harper Paperbacks

The typical Hillerman mystery involves Navajo culture;  either an action meant to look Navajo or something which disturbs the Navajo Way of harmony with the universe.

There’s always conflict between the White people (men) who have strict rules and believe they know what’s best for everyone, especially the Native Americans.  They are usually portrayed as arrogant buffoons who know absolutely nothing about the case or the people against whom the crime was committed.

Sometimes, there’s conflict between two Indian tribes, which is usually resolved by being respectful.

In The Dark Wind, Jim Chee is handed three cases, which all become entwined with a fourth.  The fourth is a small plane crash right in front of Chee while he’s on stakeout waiting for the vandal of the windmill, part of a complicated political gesture by the BLM towards the Hopi Nation.

The plane crash is most decidedly not assigned to Chee, the white FBI, and his captain, make that clear.  He is to stay away from it.  So as he goes about his days driving long distances to chase down clues, he does his best to not get involved in the crash and what turns out to be missing cocaine worth about $15M.

It becomes obvious that the federal agents are up to no good and keep trying to set Chee up for the fall over the missing drugs.  The brutality of these thugs made me wince as they tossed Chee’s small travel trailer he calls home and smack him around.  At first, I thought they were just stupid, prejudiced white men.  Later, it’s revealed that’s only part of their makeup.

While trying to identify a Navajo John Doe discovered by some Hopi men gathering sacred spruce for a ceremonial, Chee encounters the trading post’s owner, Jake West.  West performs magic tricks, which Chee mulls over throughout the book, trying to solve how they’re done.  This proves to be a crucial key to the solution of the missing drugs and the dead bodies which keep piling up.

What keeps me re-reading Hillerman’s mysteries (this is at least my second time through) is the use of Navajo culture and sensibilities to solve the crimes which are jurisdictionally complex.  I read them to re-visit a part of my life in which I was surrounded by Native Americans of several nations, and maybe for a better understanding of my own life.

I also read them because they expose me to other ways of thinking, relating and solving problems.  The Navajo Way is explained as keeping in harmony with the universe, and making course adjustments as necessary.