World Enough and Time: Booked up
What is booked up? Normally, the Friends of the Shawnee Library would’ve had a huge book sale by now, but that didn’t happen.
Why not? Moving books from storage requires a team of young men and women—normally from the Shawnee High School Honor Society—working very close to one another to get boxes into and out of a small moving van. Then we rely on the youths and many senior volunteers to arrange and set up books on the tables. We decided not to risk it.
As a result, our storage facility is “booked up.” It is filled with boxes, so many that we’ve started filling a second storage unit.
When we do have a book sale—post-vaccine?—, we will probably need a much larger space to display everything.
So this column will be largely about new books you might want to read. All are available from your library, some in digital form, some in paper form to be ordered online and picked up at the convenient drive-through downtown.
I was lucky to be able to score the library copy of Tana French’s new novel, “The Searcher.” French is one of those rare mystery writers who gets inside somewhat ordinary people as they slide into crime, usually murder. Featured are family members, children, college students, girls at a residential secondary school, most without a sense of guilt. Her investigators, often Dublin detectives, are often compromised by sympathy for the likable suspects.
I wrote a negative review of her first stand-alone novel, “The Witch Elm,” which features a traumatized, but whiny narrator for too many pages before it gets down to a cold case murder. “The Searcher,” on the other hand, carefully builds characters and tensions in a rural West Ireland setting, combining a theme of growth with a missing person investigation carried out by an American who recently moved to the area. Very satisfying.
Once I finished most of Lee Childs’ Jack Reacher series, I was happy to discover C. J. Box’s Joe Pickett series, which also makes use of American locales—in his case, Wyoming. A game warden who stumbles into much more than hunting and fishing violations, Pickett has a wife who does much of the internet investigation for him, three daughters who grow up during the series, and a mother-in-law who sheds husbands once she finds a prospect who is richer. Eventually she is accused of killing the richest one and chaining him to a rotating wind turbine in “Cold Wind.” He also has a good friend, ex-special forces, who is sought after both by Federal authorities and independent operators for his lethal skills. He hunts with falcons and eagles.
Underlying the plots that mix investigation with thriller action, is an enduring tension between state or local authorities and the intrusions of Federal law enforcement, between local sportsmen and changing rules about access to Federal land. (In one novel, Box inserted a graphic showing how much land in Western states is owned and managed by the U.S. Government—in Wyoming, roughly 75%.)
In his most recent novel, “Long Range,” Box deals with hi-tech rifles, which together with spotting scopes, make for accuracy on targets almost invisible to the naked eye, up to 1200 yards. What if such rifles were used for homicidal purposes? In the same novel, we confront the fact that some grizzlies are behaving strangely, charging humans without any apparent reason.
All of Box’s novels are available in one form or another from the Pioneer Library System. Much as I love them, I am happy I haven’t had to buy a single one.
On the lighter side, Oklahoma’s own Carolyn Hart continues her late career series of Bailey Ruth novels, unique in that BR comes from Heaven, sent by the Department of Good Intentions to rescue mortals from their mistakes, typically connected with a crime they could be accused of. Technically, Bailey Ruth is a ghost, though she doesn’t like to be called that. In the spirit of Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple series, BR investigates and intrudes. She repeatedly crosses the line when she accidentally makes her presence known. She may be able to whisk herself from place to place, materialize to seem a living being to ask questions, and go invisible, but she tends to forget that objects she picks up are still visible, seeming to float on air. So what you have is a traditional mystery plot with a sometimes bumbling, good intentioned investigator. “Ghost At Work” establishes her and her locale, Adelaide, Oklahoma, a small college town north of Oklahoma City. It involves a busybody church elder found dead on the pastor’s back porch.
Hart’s latest, “Ghost Ups Her Game,” involves the other main institution in town, the college. An administrator in charge of fund raising is found dead from a blow to the neck. Of course, faculty will be among the prime suspects. Complicating matters, the faculty member who first discovers the body can see the invisible Bailey and tells her to go back where she came from because they will be able to handle matters just fine without her. Typical of faculty, I’d say.
All nine of the “Ghost” titles, as well as Hart’s more conventional “Death on Demand” series, set on a small East Coast island, are available from the library. Fun reads.
Finally, I want to recommend a classic—“Beowulf.”
I know, I know; I can hear you say, “Retired teachers should leave the Old Reads back in the classroom where they do less harm to young students who often don’t read them.”
But wait: this is a new, prickly translation by Maria Headley that reads like rap in places. It preserves the alliterate beat and uses some language that would probably render it unfit for tender young ears. But, after all, how would today’s warriors talk when facing a monstrous or monster enemy? This translation will help you understand Grendel and his mom better too, human-eaters that they are. Even the dragon, at the end, obeys a code.
An e-book version is available from Pioneer.
So, even though you haven’t been able to buy Friends’ sale books at ridiculously low prices this year, be reminded of how many reads there are for free! Check them out.
Bill Hagen is a retired OBU professor. He lives in Shawnee with his cat. Contact him at email@example.com.