Out of Range by C.J. Box and other Mysteries

J writes…

I ran into our good reader friend Sue Q at the South Street Library the other day.

As you know, that’s not a library you go to if you’re looking for something specific. It’s more of a haven for readers. A brief escape to spend time among books.  A clean well lighted place, Hemingway might call it (though no grappa is served there).

I run into Sue Q a lot at the library. Not just the one on South Street. We’re both library habitué’s. Even when I bump into her outside of one, which I do on occasion, we trade book titles and recommendations.

This time when we met up we were both empty-handed. “What should I read?” we asked each other. Sue lead me to the B’s and filled my arms full of C.J. Box detective stories. “This guy’s great. It’s about a Game Warden out in Wyoming who solves mysteries.” As we walked on towards the C’s I pulled a Jackie Collins off the shelf…remember Poor Little Bitch Girl? I handed it to Sue Q. “It’ll definitely entertain you for an afternoon,” I told her.

So we traded.

Tit for Tat.

Or, in our case, Tit for Tetons.

UnknownOut of Range by C.J. Box: It’s like comfort food. It’s meatloaf for the brain. You get what you expect. First, you meet Joe Picket, the sleuth. He doesn’t mean to find trouble. The problem is, it seems to always find him. He’s made some enemies in the past. These adversaries, and the brief summaries of the stories that came before Out of Range, are briefly described and woven into the text early on. New opponents are introduced, and the current situation explained. Things are looking up for Joe and family. After –the last book scenario here—, he and his wife and kids are on solid ground, until—the new situation here—and now things are just going to go wrong until Joe can make them right again… or die trying. And he comes close to dying. But then he doesn’t. Along the way, readers are given clues and red herrings as they try to solve the mystery along with Joe.

As far as this type of genre goes, C.J. Box is pretty good. He’s engaging and writes well. His love for the northwest part of Wyoming shows through in beautiful descriptions of the land that pepper each chapter.

I like the formulaic mystery once in a while, though I rarely read two in the same series back to back.  As many variations exist as there are readers. But they all work from a similar blueprint. Diane Mott-Davidson is one of my favorites. Her P.I. is a caterer and she throws in recipes every few chapters. Delicious!


The Puzzle Lady Mysteries (Parnell Hall), about a crime solving cross word puzzle editor, provides readers with a cross word every so often. There are Sudoku mysteries too (Kaye Morgan). Today I came across the Tea Shop Mysteries, a series by Laura Childs, wherein each who-dunnit comes with tea recipes and teatime tips.

735092                     kayemorganjuly1                      AgonyLeaves

You can find a crime-solving kitties (Lilian Jackson Braun’s, The Cat Who…), a private dick priest (Ralph McInerny’s Father Dowling), a sleuthing professor (Dan Brown’s Robert Langdon), a nosey couple (The Thin Man series by Dashiell Hammet)…and on and on. For the anal-retentive murder mystery consumer, there’s even a detective who solves crimes in alphabetical order (Sue Grafton’s novels starting with A is for Alibi through W is for Wasted).

Unknown-1         Unknown-2         Unknown-3         Unknown-5        Unknown-8

I was thinking about crime novels. Is there any walk of life that hasn’t already made the scene as a gumshoe? What can you come up with?

How about a Chemist by vocation, budding mystery writer by avocation, each crime committed with deadly compounds only he can determine.

Or an Executive Consultant who travels constantly for work and leisure finding intrigue wherever she goes. This one comes complete with mini travel logs offered every few chapters.

What about a Development Director/bird enthusiast, birdlike in his habits and intelligence, who spies more than just birds through his binoculars.

Comfort food for thought, Scramblers…



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Silly Love Songs

“Be easy to approach and difficult to know.” I can’t remember where I heard this phrase about comportment, but I always loved it. Most of the really fascinating people I have ever met fit this simple description. While I don’t necessarily think of the phrase consciously when I’m meeting someone new, I do often reflect on it afterward. I suppose I mostly come up short at executing my own advice to be both approachable and – what? Deep? Mysterious?

Maybe I am just not deep.

For certain, I am sentimental. That trips me up a lot. Not that I am especially sentimental about things, (though I surely am sentimental about some things – oh, man.) It’s more that I am sentimental about people. It’s a trait that makes me predictable – and less interesting.

My wife Judy is difficult to know. I often try and fail to predict her. On this one point, though, she is pretty predictable: she is not very sentimental about most things or about occasions. She wants her birthday to be remembered – don’t get me wrong. But she doesn’t want a couple dozen roses on our wedding anniversary. Another example: Yesterday she asked if I want to do something with some friends this Friday evening. I said sure. She said, “It’s Valentine’s Day.” I said, “Oh, right. We could do something for it.” She said, “No. I don’t need to celebrate manufactured holidays.”

I liked that. She knows it’s Valentine’s Day – but it isn’t a thing. And that is mostly the way such occasions have gone for us. Over time, there has also been the organic effect of us naturally trying to make each day special in some way, rather than saving up “specialness” for mandated times and dates.

Still, it is nice to have a little something to give for certain occasions, even manufactured and mandated occasions. Being both sentimental and kind of cheap, mix tapes provided a great way through the years to turn over some mental space and think of just the right songs for Judy around certain occasions.

These are some songs that I am extra sentimental about. Maybe you can sprinkle them on to your own mix tape/playlist for Valentine’s Day or some other occasion:

I Only Have Eyes For You by The Flamingos.

A perfect song.

A perfect song.

I had surely heard this song many times before I was in college, but until then, I hadn’t really listened. It was during college in the mid-1980’s that my friend Bob Bennett had me listen to The Flamingos version again. Bob said this version of the song was perfect. I think he is right. It fairly drips with yearning in every second. There is the gently driving piano, the weird and dreamy reverb, the tender lead vocal, the echoing guitar, and the lyrical poetry. There is intimacy and ‘spareness’ to this song that is so winning.

This pretty song might make you want to dance together – slowly, slowly –
I Only Have Eyes For You by The Flamingos (7” single, 1959): http://bit.ly/Nyz8Wc

English Rose by The Jam.

Paul Weller was only 20 when he wrote and recorded this exotic and romantic masterpiece. It is about devotion. With his voice and quiet guitar, he captures the painful promise of youth, and also the mature willingness to become weary just from the plain and complicated act of loving.

This song might make you want to lie on the floor together – hold hands and just stare at the ceiling –

English Rose by The Jam, (from All Mod Cons, 1978.) http://bit.ly/1g2qY03

Maybe I’m Amazed by Paul McCartney.

I am absolutely baffled by my good fortune to be loved. (And I am often confused by a good number of other things.) Here, Paul McCartney brilliantly captures the bewilderment that life can cause and that love can help to assuage. And he lets you know how lucky he feels about that.

Cherry juice or blood - what will life serve you?

McCartney, 1970.

Life is not a bowl of cherries. Sometimes it is more like a bowl of blood. If you are very lucky, you will have someone with whom to face the bowl of blood –
Maybe I’m Amazed by Paul McCartney, (from McCartney, 1970.) http://bit.ly/1aRrG2s

For the Love of Big Brother by Eurythmics.

Really great songs can transport you in time. They can make everything melt away. They can distill feeling. Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart succeed here. This sultry song is about the mysterious and transcendent ability of love to help overcome even the worst obstacles and the bleakest times.

Love is transcendent.

Love is mysterious and transcendent.

Thirty years old, this dark but hopeful tune has not aged a second – 
For the Love of Big Brother by Eurythmics, (from 1984, 1984.) http://bit.ly/1g1lk0D
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Cat on Cat’s

I have wrestled with how to write about Cat’s Cradle for a long time now.  I wanted to deliver something wonderful and insightful to The Scramble because this book deserves that. So here’s a small spoiler alert for Cat’s Cradle: every few pages the reader finds an immaculately written paragraph or a memorable ha-ha or a bit of imagination that skirts up against reality so closely you have to think twice about whether it could possibly happen or has happened already and was simply re-phrased  by  Vonnegut so neatly that it now reads utterly new.  But when it comes down to it and I am faced with page after page of Vonnegut’s smart and lively voice all I can honestly say in this review is: read it. Read Cat’s Cradle.  It was written in 1963 and it remains a clear-headed portrait of us.  Like all things Vonnegut, the book is a bit funny, a bit sad, and wise from start to finish.  That’s my review.   Below are the options I considered for the review but this book doesn’t need any of the fancy contortions I was considering.

  1. I was going to suggest literary genetics. I was going to compare Tarrantino’s writing with Vonnegut’s.  I wanted to posit that Vonnegut was really Tarrantino’s father and you could prove it by conducting a side by side comparison of their writing.  But that didn’t work out so well when I found a Tarrantino interview where T. claimed he was inspired by Elmore Leonard and Raymond Carver.  No mention of Vonnegut.
  2. I was going to compare Cat’s Cradle’s sparse and clear writing to another book I had just finished, Dora: A Headcase, which was a horrid meaningless little book that aspired to be the 21st century version of Catcher in the Rye.  Overwritten.  Vonnegut doesn’t  overwrite.  I was going to compare paragraphs from the two books.  And I was going to conclude that simplicity and directness is what distinguishes great writing.
  1. I was going to write about Bokononism which is the religion that Vonnegut develops in Cat’s Cradle.  But a person could get bogged down in covering Bokononism. Let me share a tidbit or two about Bokononism: the religious texts are written in the form of calyposos.; Ambrosia wrote “Nice, Nice, Very Nice” inspired by one of the calypsos in the book; and my friend Webb, who I haven’t spoken to in years and with whom I have never discussed Cat’s Cradle,  wrote on his Facebook page “I love my Karass” and I knew exactly what he meant.  Vonnegut keeps us tied together in his secret language.
  2. I was going to write about what may be my favorite passage of fiction of all time and compare it to my friend Foster’s favorite fiction passage.  And then I thought we could have a Scramble challenge and let people post their “favorite/best paragraph” from fiction.  That could be darn fun.   Anyway, I’ll end this review of Cat’s Cradle with a piece from the book, which I think may be one of the most wonderful passages of fiction of all time.
  3. ssage.  And then I thought we could have a Scramble challenge and let people post their “favorite/best paragraph” from fiction.  That could be darn fun.   Anyway, I’ll end this review of Cat’s Cradle with a piece from the book, which I think may be one of the most wonderful passages of fiction of all time.

“The trouble with the world was,” she continued hesitatingly, “that people were still superstitious instead of scientific.  He said if everybody would study science more, there wouldn’t be all the trouble there was.”

“He said science was going to discover the basic secret of life someday,” the bartender put in.    He scratched his head and frowned.  “Didn’t I read in the paper the other day where they’d finally found out what that was?”

“I missed that,” I murmured.

“I saw that,” said Sandra.  “About two days ago.”

“That’s right,” said the bartender.

“What is the secret of life?” I asked.

“I forget,” said Sandra.

“Protein,” the bartender declared.  “The found out something about protein.”

“Yeah,’ said Sandra, ‘that’s it.”

Nice, Nice, Very Nice.


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Why I Stopped reading this book on Page 72

The Book:
A Killer in the Wind by Andrew Klavan

Why I stopped reading this book on page 71:

Reason 1. You didn’t have me at Hello.
I often skip over the acknowledgements when they’re at the beginning of the book.
I almost always read them when they’re at the back.
Especially when I like the book.
A little dessert to help you digest what you’ve just read.
This time they were right up front.
The last line caught my eye:
“And thanks beyond words to my wife Ellen Treacy, whose worth is far above rubies.”
At first, I thought this was a nice gesture of gratitude.
Then I started thinking about it.
Is Ellen satisfied that her worth has surpassed that of rubies?
Is she worried at all about where she fits in with the other gemstones?
What is she actually worth?
Would she have gotten an acknowledgement if she was worth less?

Does Andrew really love her as a person?
Surprisingly, these thoughts continued to trouble me as I continued on in my reading. 

Reason 2. Get Real.

First some background on the plot:

Our purported hero, Dan Champion, is a former NYPD undercover cop.
He broke the big Emory case, but wound up killing Emory.
In cold blood. Skipped that whole Miranda business.
He doesn’t remember doing this.
He doesn’t remember a lot of things.
He’s kind of a mess.

A few years go by.
He gets it together – to some extent.
Now he’s a small town detective.
But will his troubled past catch up with him?

I don’t know – I didn’t get to that part.


As an NYPD undercover vice cop, this guy is so creeped out by the existence of a child prostitution ring that he can’t sleep. I don’t want to overgeneralize, but the New York City cops that I’ve run into don’t seem like the kinda guys that would lose too much sleep over underage hookers. But this guy? He has to self-medicate. HEAVILY. A couple
glasses of scotch and a sleeping pill? Nope. A little weed? Nope. Booze, weed, Xanax? Nope. He needs a highly dangerous, extremely powerful, illicit street drug to get a little sleep. Nothing else will work! Nothing. This drug leaves him nearly incapacitated during his waking hours.


I’m pretty good at suspending disbelief, but my limits were severely tested here.

Strike 3. He’s in love with his own hallucination?

“I thought of Samantha as I lay in the dark with Bethany soft beside me. Bethany’s cheek against my chest. Bethany’s hair against my cheek, Bethany’s skin against my hand. I thought of Samantha. More than three years had gone by since the Emory case. You would think that was time enough to get over a drug-induced hallucination. You would think so.
But I never really had.”

Yes – I would think so. Three years? Maybe three hours. Three or four days, tops.

This guy falls in love with his own subconscious image of the perfect woman and now he can’t get over her. He knows for certain that he can never commit to any other lover?

C’mon, man. Bethany is hot! Bethany is worthy of your love.
Maybe she’s not up there in ruby territory, but she’s got it goin’ on.

But our hero is gonna stick with dream-girl.
I hope they’re both very happy.
I’m moving on.
And not to page 72.

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The Seduction and Romance of Faulty Memory, Part Two: Every time she turns around my mother is forgetting something

Every time she turns around my mother is forgetting something. She may pick up and look with pure delight at an inexpensive bauble then set it down. Five seconds later she’ll pick it up again with renewed wonder – unable to remember she’d only just looked at it. “Isn’t this pretty!”

She might look at the same photograph of a newborn child half a dozen times in the span of a couple of minutes and each time ask through a sincere, squinty smile, “Who is that baby?”

New information won’t stick. For another example, here is a sample exchange I might have with mom and my sister, Beth:

Me: “We just went out for lunch.”

Mom: “Yes, it was really good.”

Beth: “Oh, cool. What did you have for lunch today, mom?”

Mom: “I had lunch?”

Shuffle and deal.

Shuffle and deal.

But old information – much of that has stuck. We will frequently sit around the dining room table and play cards. Mom still likes to play – she plays well and often wins. Even though much of her winning comes from maddening luck, there is still skill and experience in her game. She has played since she was a very little girl, and her family’s main social activity was playing games of pitch, cribbage, gin rummy, and pinochle. Thousands of hours spent playing cards has made the activity automatic, but it’s still fun for her.

My folks - Philip and Florence in October 1949.

My folks – Philip and Florence.
Autumn 1949.
Mom could tell you what happened that day.

Lots of other old information sticks, too. While playing cards she might take a chance glance at an heirloom ring on someone’s finger and launch an elaborate story about its origins in our family’s history. She might look at a photo taken 65 years ago and passionately recount stories laying out the happenings of the whole day the photo was taken. My sisters are good about encouraging and seizing upon these types of opportunities. They are great about getting her bubbling up stories from her girlhood in the 1930s and 40s.

Movies are a big part of her history, too. When she was very young, and then into her late teens, my mother, my aunt LaVina, and my great-aunt Florence used to walk to a theater and see a movie every day, often two on a weekend day. I like to get my mom talking about old movies and musicals. It makes her happy to talk about her favorite movie star, Dennis Morgan. He was a singer and good-looking actor and it is easy to know why my mom liked him so much – he made almost 80 films and never played a villain – always a good guy. In his off-screen life, there were no scandals and he was married for 61 years to his only wife.

Always a good guy, Dennis Morgan pictured with Ginger Rogers.

Always a good guy, Dennis Morgan pictured with Ginger Rogers.

Q: “Mom, what was the story of Kitty Foyle?” (A film that starred Dennis Morgan, and for which Ginger Rogers won the 1940 Academy Award for Best Actress.)

A: “OOH, that was Dennis and it’s a REALLY good one,” she will say. “I’m sure I saw that with Vina and Aunt Florence.” Then, she’s off to the races, “Well, Kitty is a working class girl in New York or Pennsylvania and she falls in love with Dennis Morgan’s character – but he’s an east coast socialite and his rich family doesn’t approve of her. Well, they marry anyway, and…”

She could recount that 1940 movie plot for you with no problem. And, although they were very close, (they lived next door to one another most of their adult lives,) now my mother needs a note as a reminder that her sister has passed away last year.

Mom with Aunt LaVina.

Mom with Aunt LaVina.

Vina died and is in heaven with Jesus now.

Vina died and is in heaven with Jesus now.

Because of my mom, movies became a big part of my life, too. Animated musicals were a good introduction, and it was really a treat when she took me downtown to the beautiful Grand Theater to see re-released Disney classics when I was very young. I would have been in kindergarten when we saw Pinocchio (re-released 1971), and first grade when we saw Dumbo (re-released 1972).

I have something in common Dumbo with Timothy Mouse - big ears.

I have something in common Dumbo with Timothy Mouse – big ears.

The stories are vibrant, sad, and terrifying; the music still is thrilling. Frugal, my mom would pop popcorn at home and sneak it into the theater in one of her enormous purses. We’d split a Dr. Pepper (with no ice) from the fountain. For a nickel you could get a Styrofoam cup filled with Good and Plenty or Mike and Ike candy from gumball style machines that stood in the fancy lobby.

he stories are vibrant, sad, and terrifying; the music still is thrilling. Frugal, my mom would pop popcorn at home and sneak it into the theater in one of her enormous purses. We’d split a Dr. Pepper (with no ice) from the fountain. For a nickel you could get a Styrofoam cup filled with Good and Plenty or Mike and Ike candy from gumball style machines that stood in the fancy lobby.

Among my family, my mom is an admitted and notoriously poor singer, so perhaps it is natural that great singers were a marvel to her. She liked the musicals of actors who came from theatre like Gordon MacRae. She seemed to gravitate toward extremely sentimental songs and stories. Though in her real life at home, even among the high emotions of movie musicals, she strived to keep our family lives normal, fairly bland, and mostly stripped of emotion.

Here’s a nice example: He had such power – listen and watch ‘Soliloquy’ from Carousel (1956), performed by the masterful Gordon MacRae: http://bit.ly/1jvZXXU

Dancing Bear was so graceful he enchanted my Mom.

Dancing Bear was so graceful
that he enchanted my Mom.

Dancing fascinated my mom. She could even be impressed and transported by dancing that one wouldn’t expect. For instance, we watched Captain Kangaroo together pretty much every weekday when I was young and she would be positively rapt watching Dancing Bear. 

Such glamor - Cyd Charisse.

Extraordinary glamour.
Cyd Charisse.

Later, when we had cable television in the mid-1970s, the mornings were dominated by syndicated cartoons from the 1940s, 50s, and 60s, and also by feature movies from those same years. That also meant a lot of music and a lot of dancing. Movies introduced an extraordinary amount of glamor into an unglamorous home.

Another beautiful example: Hold on to your doggone hat! It’s Cyd Charisse and Fred Astaire together in The Band Wagon (1953): http://bit.ly/1b5MiCi

I can remember that around ages 12 and 13 I felt I should think that those old stories and musicals were corny and stupid. But I didn’t. Instead, I began to think of myself as a person who was probably born out of his time – that I would have fit in better if I had been born in, and lived in an earlier era. Watching some of those old movies with my mom also helped me to get a picture of her as someone other than just my mom. Because movies meant so much to her, she would talk about them, revealing some of her feelings that might not otherwise have come to light. She was a person with her own dreams and her own past – not just someone’s mom.

On cable one day you might see a wonderful classic like Casablanca (1942). (Trivial note: What a different movie that could have been. IMDb reports that Dennis Morgan was originally cast to play the role of Rick Blaine that was made so famous by Humphrey Bogart.) The next day you might see something that had mostly been forgotten like The Dolly Sisters (1945) with Betty Grable. (Trivial note: At age 18, my father sailed from New York to Le Havre, France, in August of 1945. He was part of a massive swap of young non-combat soldiers who headed to Europe for an Army of Occupation. World War Two combat veterans would return on the same vessels back to the U.S. On each of the ships were several popular film reels that, one supposed, contained a number of different movies meant to provide a glimmer of entertainment variety for the men as they crossed the Atlantic. Many of dad’s fellow soldiers were like him, small-town kids who had no inkling of what awaited them in war-ravaged Europe. The movies were meant to give them a little bit of home and normalcy on each evening of their journey. Instead of packing five or six different films on my dad’s ship, and five or six different films on the each of the other transport ships that were also making the crossing, someone packed five copies of The Dolly Sisters on my dad’s ship. He said, “The Dolly Sisters with Betty Grable. It would have been nice to see a few other movies, but we watched it every god damned night.”)

Phil Harvey, U.S. Army, 1945.

Phil Harvey, U.S. Army, 1945.

Movies were an indulgence that my mother could live with. So even as I got a little older, I was eager to make room for musicals like The Wiz (1978), (for which my mother did not share my enthusiasm,) and Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas (1977), (for which she did share my enthusiasm.) All of this was truly formative – around the same time that I was opening up from listening to mostly Top 40 music to begin experiencing the wonderful weirdness of Talking Heads and the B-52s.

And as square as that was, I didn’t care. All That Jazz (1979) fascinated and confused me – I loved that movie so much. It has a place in the formation of my musical and aesthetic tastes that rivals The Beatles. Oh, I could go on and on, but I already have. You get the picture.

And in case I forget, thanks Mom, for teaching me to like movies and musicals.

This is an inspiration – ‘An Actor’s Life for Me’ from Pinocchio (1940), performed by Walter Catlett: http://bit.ly/1gdk2SF

29 jan 2014

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