Tag Archives: fiction

           THINGS IN JARS  by Jess Kidd

            (Published in rinewstoday.com on 1/09/2021)

Author Jess Kidd demands your total concentration, but rewards your effort.

Her third novel, Things In Jars is her most ambitious and complex work. Set in London the action flits back and forth between 1863 and 1841. In 1863 a strange six year old child, Christabel, who lives secluded in her father’s English manor, is kidnapped. During the abduction she bites one of her kidnapper’s hand and he experiences a garish and painful death. Christabel may be a marrow; part human, part mermaid in Irish folklore.

Christabel’s father hires Mrs. Bridie Devine to find his child. Bridie is a self proclaimed Domestic Investigator who specializes in forensic exploration and, quietly, does minor surgery as a sideline. In vocation and attitude Bridie is an early feminist for the Victorian era. She stuffs her smoking pipe with Prudhoe’s Bronchial Balsam Blend tobacco. We are told, “… You add lots of Prudhoe’s Blend for colorful thoughts and triple that amount for no thoughts at all.”

Bridie’s pursuit of the absconded Christabel leads her into the strange world of scientist, actors, rouges, and a vague society of “collectors” who take joy in acquiring oddities of life; animal, plant or even human. Many of these anomalies of nature are preserved and showcased in jars. The cast of characters which also includes a carnival barker, a seven foot tall maid (Cora) and a ghost are fully fleshed out by Kidd’s stunning command of language and fertile imagination.

Scenes of pure dread are leavened by her tart humor………………………………………

Chapter 41 begins, “The servants of Albery Hall are having a trying day. Cora Butter has been rounding them up as and when they cross her path – the cook, assorted maids, and a weeping valet have now joined the butler in the cellar. The butler has uncorked several bottles to treat the shock subsequent to being corralled into a windowless dungeon by a seven-foot-tall housemaid armed with a poker.”

Bridie’s near constant companion is Mr. Ruby Doyle a nearly naked phantasmagoric ghost who has tattoos which transform themselves depending upon his mood. He is a mysterious connection to Bridie’s miserable childhood spent as an impoverished helper to a graveyard resurrectionist in the poorest section of London. There are whiffs of a fanciful Dickens in Kidd’s description of Bridie’s early life when she was a waif known as Bridget.

Legends, spirits, murders, mayhem and suspense are brilliantly swirled together by Jess Kidd to produce an intoxicating tale.

Kidd, who is 47 and lives in London, calls her work magic realism. Let’s hope the magic continues with more wondrous works like Things In Jars.

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A time for mercy

   A TIME FOR MERCY - JOHN GRISHAM 
   Review published - rinewstoday.com on 1/2/2021

John Grisham had an amazing streak of twenty eight novels consecutively reaching number one on the best seller list. Nine of his works have been made into successful movies. He is, obviously, one of the most popular writers of our time.

A majority of Grisham’s books are courtroom related as he mines his own experiences from a decades long career as a trial lawyer. His latest novel, A Time for Mercy, returns to very familiar territory. It is the third story featuring Jake Brigane, a lawyer in the fictional town of Clanton, Mississippi.

In A Time for Mercy Jake attempts to juggle two cases simultaneously; one criminal murder case and the other a civil suit involving a tragic train/car accident. The cases are unrelated other than the financial stress placed on Jake and his family in pursuing the expensive litigation against the railway company.

Grisham’s practiced eye and skillful writing introduce us to a plethora of small town characters with their tics and foibles, although at times the author veers into lazy stereotypes. As early as page 1 the main miscreant is described as follows, “ Stuart Kofler was a sloppy, violent drunk. His pale Irish skin turned red, his cheeks were crimson, and his eyes glowed with a whiskey lit fire…” And, of course, Ozzie Walls, the popular black sheriff in a mostly white town, was a local football star whose NFL career was ended by an injury.

One of the challenges for all mystery/thriller writers is to create both foreshadowing of true events and feasible “red herrings” to keep readers off balance as to the actual outcome. Grisham has been a past master of this difficult skill, but in A Time for Mercy the feints and dodges seem too obvious.

Perhaps the burden of creating two parallel plots waters down the impact of the main story. For a 464 page book, which will be blurbed as another “Grisham courtroom novel”, it is a problem that the reader does not reach the actual trial until page 357. Now that’s a very long prelude.

Besides Jake Brigane, many of the characters here were featured in Grisham’s first novel A Time to Kill published in 1989. Incidents of rape and murder ignite both works but there was a much heavier emphasis on Southern racism in the debut work as the accused was black. Themes covered by the new A Time for Mercy include juvenile defenders and capital punishment. Grisham served as a Representative in the Mississippi House from 1984 to 1990 and has long been an opponent of capital punishment. One could speculate that the title, A Time for Mercy may be Grisham’s homage to the powerful 2014 expose of the Deep South’s capital punishment record, Just Mercy, penned by Bryan Stevenson.

After finally placing us into the courtroom, the author deftly, but briefly, describes the ordeals of witnesses, advocates, the defendant and jurors as the tale reaches its conclusion.

However, the real mystery is how Grisham, a writer with great talents, seemed to run out of steam and left so much unresolved. Perhaps another Jake Brigane book is in the works which will tidy up the many loose ends.

The final question is whether Grisham, a noted baseball fan, has lost his fastball.

The jury is still out.

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Contact:jraftus@aol.com

ANXIOUS PEOPLE (Book review)

    ANXIOUS PEOPLE   (BOOK REVIEW)

Swedish novelist Fredrik Backman’s newest novel Anxious People captures the angst of modern life through the lens of a botched bank robbery, an accidental hostage taking and a single day going really, really sideways. Oh, possible suicides also hover.

It is a comic novel for folks with neurosis.

Backman’s earlier works, such as A Man Called Ove and Britt-Marie Was Here, have a claustrophobic vibe to them. Their main characters are eccentric loners slowly forced to interact with others. In Anxious People the protagonist, whose name is never revealed, ignites the plot with a singularly foolish, desperate act.

Backman uses repetitive scenes told from the perspective of eight characters to reveal lives in varying degrees of folly, flux, promise and contentment. This elliptical approach and the circular dialogue mimics Joseph Heller’s work in Catch – 22. Both are stories which flit back and forth in time with one tale being told numerous times with comedic insight.

In interviews Backman has been forthright in discussing his time in therapy attempting to overcome bouts of anxiety. He knows the landscapes of uncertainty and self doubt and the affects they can have on lives.

His cast of characters in Anxious People include; a father/son police team, a young lesbian couple about to have their first child, a retired couple trying to limp to the finish line and a desperate parent doomed into making the very bad decision which for several hours disrupts all their lives. The manner in which the bad decision throws this eclectic group together forces them individually, or as couples, to examine their relationships and priorities. Backman handles these revelations with wit, charm and great compassion.

The author shows a deft talent for sharing the quirkiness of commitments and the serendipity of life. The unnamed protagonist received, as a seven year old, this advice from an alcoholic mother, “if you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans.” With such counsel it is no wonder one makes such bad decisions later in life.

Backman’s dedication for Anxious People reads, “This book is dedicated to the voices in my head, the most remarkable of my friends. And to my wife, who lives with us.”

Book lovers can only hope those voices keep feeding the imagination of this talented, versatile writer.

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