Tag Archives: Sara Paretsky

Culture keeps us going

I don’t know about you, but writing is harder now. And it’s not as if I live off writing, or anything. But I know people who write, and they find they can’t, or at least not their usual stuff.

Sara Paretsky was bemoaning how she couldn’t get stuck in with writing, when she came across something Toni Morrison had said:

“I am staring out of the window in an extremely dark mood, feeling helpless. Then a friend, a fellow artist, calls to wish me happy holidays. He asks, ‘How are you?’ And instead of ‘Oh, fine — and you?’, I blurt out the truth: ‘Not well. Not only am I depressed, I can’t seem to work, to write; it’s as though I am paralyzed, unable to write anything more in the novel I’ve begun. I’ve never felt this way before, but the election…’ I am about to explain with further detail when he interrupts, shouting: ‘No! No, no, no! This is precisely the time when artists go to work — not when everything is fine, but in times of dread. That’s our job!'”

Morrison adds, “This is precisely the time when artists go to work. There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, no room for fear. We speak, we write, we do language. That is how civilizations heal. I know the world is bruised and bleeding, and though it is important not to ignore its pain, it is also critical to refuse to succumb to its malevolence. Like failure, chaos contains information that can lead to knowledge — even wisdom. Like art.”

I’m hoping now that Sara will be able to get started. Because we need her words, we need V I.

Within minutes of reading the above, I found myself watching a flash mob thing on YouTube that someone had linked to. It was a group of opera singers belting out Funiculì, funiculà in a Waitrose food hall. It was wonderful! I listened twice, and felt very cheered. I could tell it wasn’t recent, because people were standing too close, but it didn’t matter. I’ve since discovered it was from 2013, and had something to do with pasta sauce, but it was still joyous and fun.

I came to the conclusion that we perhaps appreciate these things more for being short and near and unexpected. Something to brighten up everyday life.

That bit of deep thinking reminded me of something the volunteer organist in church once said. Jan Wallin played double bass for the Liverpool Philharmonic for a living. It seems he, too, doubted whether what he was doing was of any use, when a doctor friend pointed out that it was hearing music like that, which made life bearable for people like him.

In short, we need ‘fripperies’ like culture to survive. Or, to feel better while surviving. Jan didn’t only play for the philharmonic and in church; he also wore the exact same shoes as Father Christmas.

Dead Land

Sara Paretsky’s latest crime novel, Dead Land, is another triumph for V I Warshawski. This time V I gets drawn into a dangerous crime through her goddaughter Bernie. And there is a third dog. Not for keeps, but Bear does help solve the crime.

As always – and I hate how this sounds normal – it’s greed that is at the bottom of what happens. This time, greed in Chicago, but there is also a tie to Chile, with some of the action harking back to the coup against Allende. To my mind there’s not been enough written about this and it’s high time more people learn about what the US was up to back then.

Not only is V I’s current love interest brand new (from the last book), but we have a new police detective for V I to pit her investigation against. I do hope we’ll see more of Sergeant Pizzello.

Kansas isn’t always as flat as it’s made out to be, and it offers plenty of action, even for a Chicago PI. And one of these days V I will have to learn – and remember – that she’s not as young as she was, and take things more easy. But I doubt she will.

I, on the other hand, will always feel safe in her company. And Sara’s.

In the post

Isn’t this wonderful? Two special books arriving on the same day, and so much looked forward to. I like my postman!

I also ‘quite like’ Meg Rosoff and Sara Paretsky. Meg’s new book is YA, and out this summer. Sara’s is the latest V I Warshawski, out in late April. Here’s to The Great Godden, and Dead Land!

Now, which to read first?

No granite for me

All I needed to do was keep that one day in February clear. Not too hard a task, you’d think. But as with the unavoidable snow two years ago, I had this lurgy, and I could see it’d last too long. I didn’t want my event with Sara Paretsky to have a The Mirror Crack’d kind of scenario. If the woman was willing to travel all this way from Chicago, I didn’t have to go to Aberdeen to infect her and her fans with anything.

But you’d think a cold could be satisfied with a week of me.

Anyway, what I’m doing instead of seeing Sara with Denise Mina in Aberdeen, is trying not to pass the cold on to a whole different host of people, travelling, when I perhaps shouldn’t. I hope they have fun without me.

I will think back on my snowy journey to Nottingham all those years ago, and my subsequent trip to Glasgow to see Sara talk to Denise, also ‘some’ years ago. One can learn to be satisfied with what one has already had.

Besides, Sara recently admitted to having killed Mr Contreras. I mean, she didn’t, because her heroic husband threw himself in front of the bullet, and Mr Contreras lives. But still…

Sara on ICE

Isn’t it odd how people read books written by authors whose – sometimes strong – opinions they don’t share?

Whereas I am all for reading anything that appeals, in whatever way – if only to be able to throw the offending book into the fireplace, George Mikes style – I don’t get why I’d annoy myself by reading an annoying book.

I think I’ve seen something similar from Sara Paretsky earlier, but a couple of weeks ago she reported on an email from a ‘fan’ who thought Sara was too negative about ICE in her most recent novel, Shell Game. I believe Sara is negative about the actions of ICE, but even if she isn’t, it would still be appropriate in fiction about the state of things today, to say bad things about the bad things that occur.

Sara wrote this after taking part in a rally in Chicago, ‘to highlight opposition to the U.S. government’s detention policies and methods. One person had brought photographs of the children who’ve died in these border prisons, most of them alone, separated from their parents.’

We have to be grateful we have authors who care about these things, and who can put some of that which is wrong into fiction, making it known to more ordinary people. She hopes her writing is a bit like that of Mrs Gaskell’s. I believe it is.

And with every move my adopted country takes in the wrong direction, I am glad we have people who will speak out like this.

A is for Alibi

You can tell I’m a little behind, can’t you? Only by 33 years, but still. Sue Grafton was only known to me as the woman who wrote the alphabet crime novels. For years I didn’t know if they were good, quality, or just light crime. And when one day I came across A is for Alibi in a charity shop, I decided this was the right book to start with.

And then a few more years passed. When Sue died, not long ago, Sara Paretsky said some lovely things about her peer. And more recently she said some more, and someone else whom I respect also mentioned how important these books were to her, and I got the A book down from my bookcase.

How things have changed! Published in 1986, it is almost a lesson in modern history, what with phone messenger services, and typewritten case notes stuffed in desk drawers.

I enjoyed this tale about the ghastly man who was murdered, and whose second wife was believed to have done it. Now out of jail, she wants PI Kinsey Millhone to find out who really did kill him.

My instincts were right. Partly. The whole case was more complicated than was first obvious, and with a few more killings, Kinsey had a lot to look into.

Loved her comment at the start, that the police believe ‘murders are committed by those we know and love, and most of the time they’re right – a chilling thought when you sit down to dinner with a family of five. All those potential killers passing their plates.’

Also loved that Sue began by plotting to kill her ex-husband, but decided to write a book instead. Good idea.

What shall we do without Kerry?

Yesterday the Bookseller delivered the unwelcome news that my favourite publicist is retiring. Yes, Hodder’s publicity director Kerry Hood is hanging up her, well, I don’t know what she’s hanging up. But something. Her not being one of those 27-year-olds, I did realise this time would come, but I pushed the thought away and hoped for the best.

Because that’s what Kerry has given me; the best PR help and some of the bestest authors. (I’m sure the woman cherry-picks…)

We first met eleven years ago, when I forced her to bring me Sara Paretsky. Seriously, I had no idea people were so easy to force. Nor did I know that publicists could speak, I mean type, like normal people, which is why when I got this email I’ve treasured it all these years, ‘Crikey! Yep – that’s you!’ (It refers to an unexpected appearance by me on Sara’s website.)

Hodder's Kerry

The next time was in that maze they call Nottingham, and I will link to the whole blog post here, because it shows so clearly how Kerry provided 110% book & author experiences.

More recently I have had thoughts such as, ‘that looks like Peter Robinson over there! I wonder where Kerry is?’ I’ve not had enough time to be a Peter Robinson fan, but his choice of publicist is certainly a recommendation.

Kerry has not only facilitated meetings with authors of interest, but she has gently pushed me in the direction of others that she just knew would be my kind of author. And there have been so many books, usually dispatched with that admirable hands-on technique that I – well – admire. Everyone should be like that.

I have so many great Kerry-related events that I can’t link to them all. Hence Nottingham. I know I’m not alone in this fan behaviour. Just mentioning her name leads to others admitting they love her too.

Daughter and I met Kerry’s dog when we were in London. I had no idea that having your dog in the office could work so well.

I hope there will be another lovely dog for Kerry’s retirement, if that’s what she wants. And maybe the odd appearance at book events? Please? Or just call in for tea.

Total Recall

Total Recall is one of my Sara Paretsky gold nuggets; picked up second hand and kept until such a time as I needed more Warshawski to read. This last week was it, and I was struck by how Sara introduced her story with a mention of Oxford (just as I was leaving that place) and the Resident IT Consultant’s old college.

Sara Paretsky, Total Recall

The book is almost twenty years old, and deals with two things. First the crime, which is insurance crime in Chicago, and I couldn’t help noticing how it pre-dates the things we are so concerned with today. You can put a few bad guys in prison, if they survive their brush with V I, but they don’t run either the local police department, or the country. People’s lives are in jeopardy, and their money, but there is less of the wholesale fear for your existence that we see today. And mobile phones were not what they are now.

So I enjoyed the crime, if one can say that. It seems that lightning can strike in the same place twice.

The second topic of the book, which underlies all that happens, has to do with Lotty Herschel’s past in Vienna and her time in London after being evacuated. Anything that goes back to the Holocaust is harrowing, but in some way I see Lotty’s current suffering as being more that of anyone looking back to a point in their childhood and youth. It’s the child’s fears, and the lack of control you had as a young person when things happen.

Partly told in Lotty’s own words, we learn many new facts about her and Max, and others previously mentioned in these books. (This makes me wonder how it works when an author starts writing. Sara couldn’t have known everything about the characters she put in the first story. And as the author makes new facts, and then more new facts, it’s fascinating how it all fits in, and makes that person more of who she or he is.)

There are many wise words and sentiments about loss and death and guilt and all those bad things we sometimes believe in. I hope Sara can remember them for herself, but then we are always our own worst enemy, as proven by Lotty in this book.

Tweet tweet

It’s just as well I get emails to prod me into looking at Twitter. Not that one can’t live without Twitter, but sometimes it’s fun. I don’t look often, though.

Discovered this at the weekend:

Tweet

Interesting in its own right, I was interested, and surprised, to see that Sara Paretsky follows Son. On Twitter; not in some stalky way. I was even more surprised to see I don’t follow Sara. I should, and now I do. But I suppose while there are obvious people to follow, you can’t really sit down with a complete Twitter once-and-for-all shopping list.

Some of the responses to Son’s question were more serious than mine. As the mother lite I only managed a Ziva David quote, although I think it’s quite as likely to be the correct answer as any of the others.

Or you could argue that the Scandi lit scene is rather limited… 🙃

Courtenay Wright, aka Mr Sara Paretsky

One of ‘my’ dear authors, Sara Paretsky, lost her husband, Courtenay Wright, on Thursday. I was very sorry to hear about this, having felt honoured to have been able to read various bits of news about him, and the dogs, which Sara has shared over the years. You feel you get to know people you’ve never met.

The first I ever heard of him was that he’d served with Eisenhower in WWII, and my immediate reaction was that this wasn’t possible, and followed that by thinking ‘he must be really old, then.’

Yes, thankfully Courtenay got to be quite old. He was 95 last month, on the same day as Sara’s latest book was published, and he was treated to a book launch-cum-birthday party. What’s more, he looked happy and chirpy, and that pleased me very much.

When Sara shared her sad news on social media this morning, she linked again to the recent piece on her blog, where she talked about Courtenay and what he’d meant to her, first published after a second 95th celebration, with colleagues at his old university. It’s the kind of speech that makes you want to have met him even more.

He was clearly a remarkable man.