The Whole She-Bang
on Dec. 03, 2012
The Whole She-bang
Reviewed by Dorothy Johnston
What a great initiative for Toronto Sisters in Crime to have produced this collection. The Whole She-bang provides a treat for all lovers of crime fiction, with humour, sadness and a great deal of drama packed into 220 pages.
It’s extremely difficult to write a short story that contains the unravelling and solution to a crime, interesting characters and a moral challenge, and is satisfying in ten pages or less; but all the stories in this collection are polished and assured, and none leaves the reader hanging, with the feeling that the author had run out of words.
Amongst my favourites are: ‘A Ring for Jenny’, by Tracy L. Ward, which introduced me to Dr Peter Ainsley, defying his father’s wishes to work as a surgeon in Victorian England. Ainsley is immediately likeable, as well as being observant and intelligent. Not only does he solve the mystery of how Jenny died, but has the compassion to return what must have been a treasured possession.
A very short and very funny story is Lynne Murphy’s ‘The Troublemaker’, where a group of female residents at the Cottonwoods Condo find a way to outwit a very annoying busybody. Peter Kruger is fond of climbing into the Condo’s dumpsters to make sure the residents are recycling properly, and savaging plants under the pretext of pruning them. A planned ambush goes awry, but the women keep their cool.
‘Dying With Things Unsaid’ by N.J. Lindquist is a complex story about the secrets within families and between husbands and wives that can be kept for decades, to the keeper’s detriment. A secret of this sort rears up to confront Mary Kline at a time when she is dying of cancer, but mercifully the mystery is solved in time for a reconciliation.
‘Jackie’s Girls’ by Linda Niken is another humorous story about a group of former prostitutes meeting for a weekend and the way a plan to double cross backfires, while ‘Big Brother’ by Elizabeth Hosang ends with a well-engineered surprise twist.
All in all, a very readable collection.
*Dorothy Johnston is an Australian author of both literary and crime fiction, including a trio of detective novels set in Canberra, Australia’s national capital.
Beginnings : Where A Life Begins
on Jan. 17, 2014
Beginnings: Where A Life Begins is an ambitious, multi-layered novel about the workings of genetic memory through many generations of women. The novel deserves a wide readership not only because of its original and audacious premise, but because each historical episode is vividly imagined, and the female characters, linked in ways they recognize but do not fully understand, are remarkable inventions in themselves.
The novel is predicated on the controversial idea that Mitochondrial DNA, transmitted from mothers to daughters, is understood, by certain outstanding women of their times, as an accumulated heritage. These women know the line they come from even if they cannot explain this knowledge; it gives them courage and it makes them proud.
Many of the women Heilbronn portrays as young, athletic warriors, but the main protagonist, Maria, a Basque refugee from Franco’s Spain, is of a different type. She suffers the tumultuous war years, having barely escaped across the border into France, and wishes only to remain unobtrusive and unnoticed by those who have the power to do her and her daughter, born shortly after her arrival, harm. The story moves in a wide arc, returning to Maria and Anna at various points. It is while Maria is giving birth to Anna – in a kind of trance – that the first return to deep genetic memory is accomplished, to the Cantabrian Mountains in about 10,000 BC. Other sections include ‘Coming of the Phoenicians’, Siege of Saguntum, (in the third century BC) and the Spanish Inquisition in the fifteenth century. Each is conveyed with an eye for detail, while the forward momentum of the story is maintained. Mt favourite section tells of the coming of the Phoenicians to the northern coast of Spain. The many differences between the indigenous people and the Phoenician traders, the troubles in which they find themselves, and in particular the character of Hannh, the young female warrior, made me want this section to continue.
At the end of the chapter describing Maria’s escape, readers are introduced to ‘an original, ornate dagger’ which, like the characters’ elusive yet crucial memories, has been handed on through thousands of years and will continue to play its own part in the story.
In an afterword, Heilbronn gives an account of the historical and scientific background to his novel, with particular reference to the meaning of genetic links in people like the Basques, ‘whose ethnic identity and genealogy have been insulated and isolated through millennia.’ Beginnings is complex and full of intriguing concepts and characters, yet at the same time emotionally vivid and fast-paced. Heilbronn has the ability to carry his readers along no matter if the scene is set in Palaeolithic times or the 1950s, with the rise of the Basque separatist movement. I highly recommend this book and look forward to its sequel.
The Art of the Possible
on Dec. 02, 2015
'The Art of the Possible' is a comic novel in the tradition of Gert Loveday’s previous books: 'Crane Mansions' and 'Writing is Easy'. It is hilariously funny and at the same time quietly philosophical, with a warmth and humanity I have come to expect from the author. This new book certainly does not disappoint.
Bearer of the gentle philosophy in 'The Art of the Possible' is doctor turned medical administrator, Frank Owlbrother, a lover since his childhood of Sagaworld comics and heroic Norse legends. From the start of the novel, Frank is at the mercy of his boss, a bully who takes medical newspeak to ridiculous heights; his wife; even his office cleaner. Then there are the Oldies, a political force to be reckoned with since the introduction of Optiviva, a wonder drug that makes people over 60 vigorous and increasingly aggressive. Hospital staff, the Oldies and their youthful opponents, cabinet ministers and even the Prime Minister, become involved in a dramatic tussle to win supporters and discredit one another.
Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately for Frank, he doesn’t recognize himself in this job description: ‘Possessing excellent stakeholder management skills, you are a proven performer who enjoys driving strategic capability initiatives within a framework of dynamic management philosophies and paradigms.’ Frank is mildly but determinedly resistant to all those who would mould him to suit their own ends, including his wife, the hospital hierarchy, even a charismatic Russian who has transformed the lives of elderly people without the use of drugs. Towards the end of the story, Frank discovers the joy and release of free running.
Gert Loveday’s satire is often sharp, yet Frank’s misadventures are perfectly plausible when you’re in the midst of them. For those who know Gert Loveday’s books, this one will be a pleasure; those who don’t have a triple treat in store.