There is something annoying, something unsettling, something demoralizing about a story in which all the women are either murder victims, embittered but useless mothers, faithful, ineffectual wives, or sexually charged students with dancers’ bodies. Annoying, too, is witnessing an entire small town turn against an innocent man and his brainy wife, both outsiders, neither one well-liked. Into this remote and stupid Wisconsin town drives a detective from Naples, with one earring, spiky hair, a trust fund, (but no lap top), whose actress mother taught him that “if someone was moving their lips in Los Angeles, they were probably lying.” This assemblage of unpleasantness doesn’t stop one from wanting to find out who done it.
When she catches some of her wealthy highschool students plagiarizing their English papers, Carly wants to fail them. Instead, the School Headmistress tells her that she is being vindictive, and that Carly must overlook the “childish lapse in judgement” and give them another chance. It is on that very same morning that Carly is told that her grandmother has died, that she has inherited a house in Tulula, Mississippi.
It is not obvious that an educated single woman would want to leave San Francisco for a tiny little Southern town where little old ladies go to buy antiques and collectibles. And yet, Carly is charmed. She is also willful, pragmatic, resourceful, and a good cook. She does not look in a mirror in order to describe herself to us. She does not go shopping for shoes. She does not think about clothes, or boys. She buys books. She thinks about her white trash mother and her insecure childhood. She longs for a family she does not have. She wants to be useful, helpful, economic.
Perhaps the will to be economic is taking the place of the will to be free, for this type of woman, this type of American, in this type of century.
A Bruegellian world of busy little people working very hard and magical children repeating absolutely useless gestures: marvellous Maeve Binchy.
Eddie’s dressmaker mother is surrounded by patterns and perpetually draped in some nearly finished garment as she sews and listens to the radio. “Let’s just agree that he didn’t keep his part of the bargain, he didn’t look after his wife and son, he doesn’t deserve our interest.” It is said that his father left in a spectacularly noisy manner: “there was nearly as much noise as the night Ted Barton was thrown out” and “it will be another case of Ted Barton, with the suitcase flung down the case after him”.
For his tenth birthday Eddie gets a game of blo football “because his mother had heard from the Dunns in the shop that it was what every child wanted this year and she had paid it off over 5 weeks”. Eddie plays it on the floor of his bedroom because the table downstairs is needed for the sewing machine, even though he “secretly thought it was silly and tiring,and that there was too much spit trying to blow a paper ball through paper tubes, it got chewy and soggy.” Eddie wonders about his father.
“That night Eddie wrote a letter to his father. He told about the day and the pressed flowers…he told his father that there was a big wedding in the next town, and that his mother had been asked to do not only the bride’s dress but the two bridesmaids and the mother and the aunt of the bride as well….And that his mother said it came just in the nick of time because something needed to be done to the roof and there wasn’t enough money to pay for it. Then he read that last bit again and wondered would his father would think it was a complaint… He didn’t want to annoy him now that he had just found him. With a jolt Eddie realized that he hadn’t found his father. He was only making it up…. He crossed out the bit about the roof costing money and left in the good news about the wedding dresses… He thought that maybe his father might be in England. Wouldn’t it be marvellous if he met him by accident over there in a good job with prospects?…
Eddie writes his father often that year: about Bernard Shaw, who just died, and who his teacher told him was a great writer but had been a bit against the church, and asks him why someone would be against the church.
His father didn’t answer of course because the letters were never sent. There was no where to send them to.
At St. Alban’s Church there is a stained glass window picturing a Roman soldier with a halo dressed as a Priest. The Roman soldier was Alban. When the Priest who converted him was sentenced to death, Alban switched clothes with him and died in his place.
A soldier disguised as a priest describes in some sense the Rector herself, an ex-army helicopter pilot, who turns up at crime scenes, and helps the Chief of Police solves crimes in a small snowy parish about 2 hours drive from Albany.
Read this series by Jan Karon about a diabetic Episcopalian rector in a small town in North Carolina whose fat happy female parishioners cant stop baking him pies cakes and cookies. Very very funny scenes with neglected husbands eating unthawed church sale cakes the minute their wives aren’t looking, a big dog who settles down only upon hearing Scripture, a bossy secretary with a drawer full of Little Debbies, a perky wife-artist who likes to move the furniture around, and a parish full of souls in need of interference…
An adulterous wife, a cracked small town doctor, a crooked partner, and a handful of gun-nuts, rednecks and vets are trapped inside this book like 5 men and 4 cowboy hats in a trailor.
Another silly and lovable murder mystery written by an out of work real estate agent? Well, let’s see: Dixie Hemingway is a 32 year old ex-deputy living Sarasota, Florida, with her brother, the fireman, and his lover, Pablo, an undercover cop. She is a certified and insured and licensed Cat sitter. She is paid $20 to feed a cat and change the litter once a day; $60 for an over night visit. She also walks dogs and hugs them goodbye. She takes pets seriously and avoids humans. She is, like most Floridians, recovering from humans. Like fat, mad mothers of suicidal children, or overpampered party girls who have aged into overpampered divorcees. Dixie is different. More cat than human; both more curious and curiouser.
Good defense attorneys are familiar with the figures of vulnerability: the good father of a mad, ungrateful daughter, the young grieving widow, the secretary who knows too much. And they are familiar with the figures of corruption: the oversexed politician, the narrow-minded small town sheriff, the power hungry prosecutor, the greedy pharmaceutical executive. Vulnerability and corruption, however, are not enough. There must also be a reason, a lesson, a moral, and a story something a first year law student can outline and articulate and reference. Not too bloody, not too sexy, not too sad. Just long enough to make us want a fair and happy ending. Which we get.
Venice is an old small town of old small sins. The Venice, that is, of Commissario Guido Brunetti, who may want no more of life than to read Xenophon and wait for his wife to come home from the Rialto with soft shell crabs. It is a Venice of officials, of officialism, and of greed. For Venetians learned very early to acquire, and to hoard.
There are many different kinds of greed. Consider, for example, the beautiful, intellectual greed of Paola, Guido’s wife of more than 20 years, who for a period of more than a month deserted her husband and family…
…in order to systematically read her way through, at his count, eighteen sea novels dealing with the unending years of war between the British and the French.
Or the greed of the tourists who pack the Rialto.
Why do they go to Rialto? Don’t they have markets where they come from? Don’t they sell food?
And then there is the greed of an emotional, protected, inefficient, aging political system and the customary ways it has worked itself into the persons and personalities of a Venetian type.