Sunday, May 17, 2015

Bad Monkey

I wonder what it's like in Carl Hiaasen's brain, but I'm sure I want to know.  It's clearly a strange place, full of strange crimes, corrupt developers, noble if off-the-rails reporters and policemen, smart women, crooked politicians, and strange fetishes.  And animals, like the titular Bad Monkey.  The monkey, an unruly former co-star of Johnny Depp, doesn't have much to do with the story.  He's Neville Strafford's pet, at least until the Neville hands him over to the Voodoo Queen in exchange for a curse.  But more about that later.

Bad Monkey starts with a Florida Keys tourist on the Misty Momma IV catching a dismembered arm (which, of course, is giving the finger).  It falls to disgraced sheriff's officer Andrew Yancy to bring the arm to the Miami Medical Examiner's Office for identification.  The arm belongs to Nichols Stripling, a medical supply magnate (he specializes in scooter chairs and Medicaid fraud) who apparently died in a boating accident.  The arm's daughter thinks her stepmother was involved, so she asks Yancy (who has by then been demoted to restaurant inspector, due to his assault of his girlfriend's husband in full view of a cruise ship) to investigate.  When a man in an orange rain poncho murders the first mate from the Misty Momma IV, and a doctor involved in Stripling's fraud commits suicide, Yancy follows the trail to the Bahamas.  Once there, he meets Neville who has given the Voodoo Queen Driggs the monkey in exchange for a curse on the developer to whom Neville's sister sold their land (including Neville's house).

If Bad Monkey sounds a bit sane for a Carl Hiaasen book, it's because I haven't explained Yancy's campaign against the developer who's built a monstrosity on the lot next to his house, Drigg's antics, multiple restaurant inspections, or why the Russian mob helps tie up the loose ends.  It's typical Hiaasen in that respect, with several incredible (and incredibly funny) threads that barely manage to make sense but somehow resolve.  Read it - just not in a place where hysterical laughter might disturb those around you.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Would You Like a Drink with That Book?

Welcome to Kidderminster Coffee and Tea.  We have a wide selection of books to go with our drinks and light meals.  Grab a cozy mystery to go with your hot cocoa or pick a book and ask us for a snack suggestion.  Here are today’s specials:
Emma by Jane Austen.  Why not have our habanero quesadilla?  Rich, spicy, and the perfect antidote to Mr. Woodhouse’s bowls of gruel.
Introduction to Thermodynamics.  A large pot of coffee, and free refills.  You’ll need it.
The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexander Dumas.  A Monte Cristo.  Personally, I prefer the sandwich to the book.
Babbit by Sinclair Lewis.  We’ll pretend your coffee is whiskey, but only if you tell us Joe sent you.
The Brothers Karamzov by Fydor Dostoyevsky.  Russian Caravan tea, and a pen and paper so you can keep the character names straight (offer applies to most Russian novels).
Don Quixote by Cervantes.  My mother’s coffee cake, because she’s disappointed that I’ve never read it.  Read it in Spanish, and she’ll adopt you.
Hotel Pastis by Peter Mayle.  A crisp baguette, local cheese, and fresh seasonal fruit.  Or something chosen by our chef (she’s a professional and knows what you really want).
Hot Six by Janet Evanovich.  A cupcake, because you know Stephanie should choose Morelli over Ranger.
The Hunger Games trilogy.  Two sandwiches, a large slice of chocolate cake, and an extra large mocha latte.
The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder.   Iced tea and our summer fruit plate (offer only available when the forecasted high temperature is over 85F).
Anything by Dickens.  A large plate of small cookies.  Read five pages; eat one cookie as a reward (that’s how I got through A Tale of Two Cities).
Dracula by Bram Stoker.  Blood sausages, and a seat away from sunlight.
A Bear Called Paddington by Michael Bond.  Marmalade on toast and a pot of tea (offer only good for Elevenses).

If nothing on our list strikes your fancy, don’t worry.  Our library and menu are extensive enough that by the time you exhaust the potential combinations, a new version of Hamlet will be in preview performances at the primate house.

Monday, May 11, 2015

The Intrigue at Highbury (or, Emma's Match)

I don't like Emma Woodhouse.  She's shallow, manipulative, and a bit of a snob.  I don't like Mr. Knightly either - he's condescending and I can't get past the thought that 25-year-old John Knightly picked 12-year-old Emma out as his future spouse at their siblings' wedding.  Emma, however, has grown on me over the years, and I'm more sympathetic toward Miss Woodhouse.  Wealthy and with a married sister in London, she's the only Austen heroine who can expect a season or two and yet she stands with Fanny Price as the only ones not to spend time in London or Bath.  Smart and capable, she's run a household and managed her agoraphobic, hypochondriac father's neuroses since her early teens, but she's still stuck in a dull backwater with few contemporaries of her social strata.

I wouldn't expect Emma to get along well with Elizabeth Darcy, and Carrie Bebris probably didn't either.  The Darcys are on the way to visit newlyweds Col. and Anne Fitzwilliam (engaged at the end of The Matters at Mansfield) when a young, injured woman stops their carriage.  As they attend to her, someone steals a case containing an heirloom ring and layette.  They're near Highbury, so they report the crime to Mr. Knightly, the local magistrate.

Mr. Knightly, however, has other matters on his mind.  Edgar Churchill, Frank Churchill's uncle, died during a dinner the Knightlys held in honor of Frank and Jane Fairfax's wedding.  Mr. Woodhouse, of course, thinks rich banquet food is the culprit, but no Edgar had been poisoned.  Since Mr. Knightly and Mr. Darcy have a mutual acquaintance, they set off to solve the mystery.

It's not much of a mystery, really - I solved "who" too easily and "why" seemed slapped together.  The Intrigue at Highbury, however, works as Jane Austen fan fic.  Emma's marriage has not stopped her matchmaking, or her competition with Mrs. Elton - and both come into play as the two women try to find a husband for loquacious Miss Bates.  There's also a visit to Harriet Martin (nee Smith), an apparently high-born but mysterious peddler, a return of the gypsies from whom Mr. Knightly rescued Harriet, and Mr. Woodhouse offering Lizzy gruel to cure her convenient but fictional headache.   Bebris hit her stride with The Matters at Mansfield, and even though her mysteries aren't particularly satisfying, her novels are entertaining.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

The Others on the Prairie

How and why did Miss Bell come to live in DeSmet? I've read all of the Little House books too many times to count, but I never thought about Miss Bell before this week.  How did a young, single woman end up as a dressmaker in 1883 Dakota Territory?  How is such a tiny town even large enough to support a dressmaker?

Well, I can answer the last question.  Although Laura Ingalls Wilder never describes the physical town after The Long Winter, she mentions how quickly DeSmet grows in both Little Town on the Prairie and These Happy Golden Years.   The school expands from a dozen students to upper and lower schools (maybe 50-60 students in all), and someone had to live and work in those buildings Pa helped build every spring.  We only meet those who are important to Laura's story, because extraneous characters could become confusing.

But I wonder about Miss Bell.  Laura describes her as young, so she's not a spinster or childless widow trying to make a living.  She's a businesswoman, though, so not as young as Laura, and there's no mention of her family.  Is she the oldest child of a family that went west to stake their claim?  Or did she strike out on her own, deciding that a depot town, even in a remote area, would attract enough residents to support a dressmaker?

As I ponder the question of Miss Bell, I wonder whom else we don't know in 1885 DeSmet.  The school expands, but Florence Wilkins is the "big girl" joins Laura, Mary Power, Minnie Johnson, Ida Brown, and Nellie Oleson in the years spanning the last two books.  I can believe that Laura, Minnie, and Mary were, at 13, the oldest girls in school during The Long Winter because the town was so small then, but did none of the new families send their 15-year-old daughters to school?  We know there's a bank (Mary Powers's new beau works there), and a hotel (one of the first buildings in town), several stores, and two bars.  There's a printer, so there must have been at least a basic newspaper.

I could answer these questions with a little research.  A few hours on Google will bring me links to census data and personal histories.  Do I really want to know, though?  Or would I rather speculate on what would drive a young woman to start a dressmaking business in a frontier outpost.