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September 9, 2014

Felony of the Week: Arabesk, by Barbara Nadel

Arabesk, by Barbara Nadel

I was visiting some friends over Labor Day weekend, and they have a marvelous set-up that allows them to stream music from their computers over speakers in various rooms of the house. Offered for our listening pleasure was the “Harry Belafonte” station on Pandora, which didn’t seem to have a massive amount to do with Mr. Belafonte, but was a line-up of pretty much everything I want to hear. We segued from “Mambo Italiano” to “The Way You Look Tonight” to “Sing Sing Sing” to “The Sloop John B” to “Jamaica Farewell,” and my but I was a happy woman.

I feel almost as sorry for people who don’t love music as I do for people who don’t love books. What an enormous amount of joy they’re missing out on! A natural-born glutton, I like as much pleasure on my plate as possible, so though I don’t like to read while music’s playing – the two experiences cancel each other out – I love to play music in my head as I read, bopping along to the soundtrack that, in my imagination, animates the plot. Readers of our blog know that we often create “playlists” for our books, offering our take on the music that the characters might hear on the radio or sing around the piano.

We’re hardly alone in this endeavor: George Pelecanos, for instance, has gone so far as to include CDs with some of his mystery novels. And F&M’s own Sarah Rayne has talked at length about the extent to which music is a silent player in many of her gorgeously spooky reads: Ghost Song, which revolves around an abandoned London music hall, is practically hummable.

The book of ours that is most thickly laced with music, though, is Arabesk, the third in Barbara Nadel’s atmospheric series set in contemporary Istanbul. In a musical context, “Arabesk” refers to a genre that is passionate, massively popular, massively overwrought and somewhat déclassé: It’s like an entire radio station that plays nothing but Mariah Carey. One of the main characters is obsessed with Arabesk’s throbbing chords and aching melodies; they make him feel alive to his own feelings in a way that gives him great pity (and contempt) for the higher-class Inspector Suleyman, with his elite musical tastes.

You may not love Arabesk music – I don’t – but I do love the book, and the music enriches it to an extraordinary extent. Trust me, if you’re a music lover, take a chance on Arabesk, on sale this week at 25% off. And before you dive in, give a listen to Ibrahim Tatlises, one of the giants of the genre:

There’s an aphorism I once heard, something to the effect that “They deny it, but in their hearts men love fat women, sweet wine, and the music of Tchaikovsky.” I suspect that the Turkish version would substitute Arabesk. Spend a little while with Ibrahim – or with Ferdi Tayfur

or Sibel Can

and see if you don’t find yourself yearning, just a little, for an ice-cold bottle of Blue Nun.

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September 8, 2014

Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper


Can it be? Has science actually produced an answer to one of the most enduring, captivating mysteries of the past two hundred years? If in fact DNA analysis has succeeded in proving the Ripper’s identity – after more than a century of Holmes-style deduction has failed – it is at least gratifying to know that the perp was on Scotland Yard’s short list. The good guys, in other words, were on the right track.

There will of course be scores of Ripper-enthusiasts, known as “Ripperologists,” who will not be pleased by this latest development: They have their pet theories, and will no doubt make a fair amount of noise in defense of their own, hand-picked suspects. We would expect novelist Patricia Cornwell to be among the most eloquent of noise-makers: Her 2002 work of non-fiction, Portrait of a Killer: Jack the Ripper Case Closed pointed the bloody finger at Walter Sickert, a well regarded, influential artist known in part for his paintings of prostitutes. That’s ok, Patsy: We still love Kay Scarpetta.

Science does appear, here, to have trumped the little grey cells, but in reading the article in the Daily Mail – a newspaper that does love the gory details – my favorite gory details concern not the DNA analysis but that bloody bloody shawl. First, the copper took this grisly, bloodstained shmatte home as a present for his wife? Thanks awfully, but you never heard of flowers and chocolates? Second, the family shoved the thing in a drawer without washing it and kept it in all its yucky, stained nastiness for generations – sufficiently convinced of its importance to hold onto it, apparently (and hold onto those stains as well), but somehow not sufficiently convinced to, say, bring it in to the local police station: “I dunno if anyone’d be interested, like, but this shawl, see, it got soaked in the Ripper victim’s blood…” I mean, really, has nobody in that family ever seen “Cold Case” or “Crimesolvers”?

And finally, still on the shawl, I desperately want the name of their dry-cleaner. That thing looks pristine. A hundred-plus years stuffed in a drawer, stiffening with arterial blood and semen and kidney cells, nibbled by the kind of critter for whom that sort of glerp makes the ideal snack, and look at it now! They even ironed it. Leave aside the provenance, and you’d pay $200 for it at Bloomingdale’s.

Or would you? Are you a Ripperologist? What do you think of this latest twist in one of our favorite never-solved whodunnits?

August 25, 2014

Felonies of the Week: The “Nina Fischman” series, by Marissa Piesman

Unorthodox Practices, by Marissa Piesman

I recently read an article in the Guardian about what kind of stuff AirBnB clients tend to stow in their hosts’ refrigerators. (Can you tell I was trying to avoid working?) Scandinavians need pickles, apparently, to feel at home, while Germans opt for liver sausage and the French require nothing but champagne. The article didn’t mention American guests, but based both on its level of stereotyping and Guardian readers’ assumptions about U.S. eating habits, I’m going to guess that we stand accused of hauling industrial-size containers of high-fructose corn syrup, hydrogenated fats, and bad coffee across the Atlantic, and then griping about how little space there is for them in the tiny fridge.

As is usually the case with this sort of (non)article, the comments section proved a livelier read. Guardian readers are nothing if not contentious, so there was one contingent that wanted to talk about how AirBnB and related offerings put millions of hotel-employees out of work, and another group that was all high-dudgeon-y about the pathetic traveler who is so wimpishly attached to the foods of his homeland that he can’t stand to be separated from his pickles and liver sausage.

In truth, though, neither the article nor the response held much of interest, no stories about guests who brought in really bizarre foodstuffs, or ate the host’s child’s science project, or created Babette’s Feast and then decamped without cleaning up. But I have rented flats (through AirBnB and other facilities) a number of times. For years I traveled with a bag of fresh-ground coffee, because I am a screaming java-snob and so many places specialized in ancient tins of Maxwell House. Other than that, I have never brought edibles along.

But I have found some.

They have ranged from lovely to mysteriously awful. A previous guest at a flat in London left a mayonnaise jar filled with something that wasn’t mayonnaise, along with a box of PG Tips teabags pasted with a yellow sticky note on which was scrawled “KEEP YOUR CRAP TEA!” I arrived at a B&B in Provincetown to find a box of chocolates next to the bed, which would have been charming except that several of the chocolates had very clearly been nibbled and put back. On the other hand, my delightful landladies in Boston left me a cheese-plate in the fridge, along with two chocolate croissants for breakfast. The best find, though, was at a second flat in London. There was no food in the fridge, but on a little bookshelf, next to the TV set, was a small stack of books. THREE of them were Felony books, bound together with a rubber band. And tucked under the band was a note reading “Great fun. I hope the next reader enjoys them as much as I did.”

In honor of our wonderful, anonymous fan, we’d like to offer a special deal this week on the books she liked so much: 25% off on Marissa Piesman’s deliciously giggly series featuring Nice Jewish Girl Nina Fischman, and Nina’s mother, Ida – who would kvetch mightily about the billing. Are you taking a little break for Labor Day? Anonymous Reader would tell you: Vacation reading doesn’t get much better than Unorthodox Practices, Personal Effects, and Heading Uptown.