by Sukey HowardMarch 2008
What's the matter with Kansas?
Sara Paretsky has taken a break from her acclaimed, wonderfully nuanced V.I. Warshawski mysteries to set her new novel in the Kaw River Valley in Kansas, where she grew up. The title, Bleeding Kansas, refers to the violence between pro- and anti-slavery forces in the Kansas territory during the mid-1850s, but it's not a bad description of the nasty culture wars now raging in this rural part of the Midwest. Paretsky zeros in on the disturbing intolerance and bigotry that never seems to go away and does it by intertwining the stories of the Grelliers, Freemantles and Schapens, whose ancestors came as antislavery pioneers and who have lived together, for better or worse, all these years. When a distant Freemantle relative, a lesbian Wiccan from New York no less, moves into the old homestead, all hell breaks loose. She sends the bitter, ferociously fundamentalist Schapen matriarch, her vindictive policeman son and bullying grandson into paroxysms of holier-than-thou hate, but intrigues Lara Grellier, a super-appealing teenager, and her passionate, cause-embracing mother. Timely social commentary and a marvelousmingled yarn. Performed by Susan Ericksen.
IT TAKES A VILLAGE
So, have a wee listen to Patrick Taylor's sequel to An Irish Country Doctor and if you're not charmed by the lives, loves and longings of the feisty folks of Ballybucklebo, County Down, Northern Ireland, I'll eat my hat, so I will. Read in a beguiling brogue by John Keating, An Irish Country Village, opens in the 1960s, as keen, curmudgeonly, cauliflower-eared Dr. Fingal Flahertie O'Reilly invites young Barry Laverty to join his practice at Number One Main Street. Barry is all for it and we're all for him as he finds his way among the villagers, winning their trust with his medical ministrations, falling head over heels in love with his "shining girl," civil engineering student Patricia Spencer, and fending off a possible malpractice lawsuit that would wreck his career. Taylor peoples thatched-roofed Ballybucklebo with quirky characters, including Mrs. "Kinky" Kincaid, the doctors' wise and wisecracking housekeeper; greedy Bertie Bishop who must be dissuaded from turning the Black Swan pub, aka "the mucky duck," into a tourist trap; and Arthur Guinness, a beer-loving black lab. 'Tis a grand place, one I hope we'll have many occasions to revisit.
Kinsey never seems to get any older and it's still the 1980s in T is for Trespass, Sue Grafton's 20th Kinsey Milhone mystery, but the subject matter is of the moment and important. We usually see things through Kinsey's eyes and hear her voice, but Grafton adds a second, subtly sinister voice here. Solana Rojas, an identity-shifting sociopath who preys on the elderly as though it was her right, talks to us and we get to see the world her way. Kinsey crosses paths with Rojas when her crotchety old neighbor Gus Vronsky falls and needs care. His great-niece flies out from New York and hires Solana, with only a cursory background check by Kinsey. From then on, the tension builds as, little by little, Kinsey and her spry octogenarian landlord, Henry, begin to suspect Solana of taking for more than care of Gus. Particularly distressing is the ease with which Solana manipulates the system, covering up her criminal elder abuse—you can't help but wonder how often this really happens. Vintage Grafton with a strong message, made the more emphatic by Judy Kaye's pitch-perfect performance. "T" is for Terrific—don't miss it.
Michael Pollan's In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto, fascinatingly fleshes out his basic philosophy— "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants." Read by Scott Brick.