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September 22, 2014

Felonies of the Week: Rainaldi Quartet & Paganini’s Ghost

The Rainaldi Quartet, by Paul Adam

We got an email from one of our readers, recently, asking why we hadn’t published more of the delightful “Gianni and Guastafeste” books by Paul Adam. I feel her pain: I would love to publish more books in the series, one of my quirky favorites, but the truth is, Mr. Adam hasn’t written any. The nerve! Gives one a renewed sympathy for Kathy Bates.

The good-ish news is that Mr. Adam has said that he would like to write more adventures of the dynamic duo, an oddball pairing of the local chief of police in this Italian town, and his well-into-middle-age sidekick, an expert in violins, a restorer of violins, and only very, very occasionally a forger of violins. We are now attempting to persuade Mr. Adam to pick up his bow again. If we’re successful, that would be good news indeed.

Why do we love this series so? For starters, the violin-lore is fascinating, and it’s clear as the sound of a G-string that Mr. Adam knows and loves it, that he has a deep, rich pool of stories and mythology and aracana to draw from. Then there’s the fact that he began his career with thrillers, which has given him a sense of pace and a mastery of the kind of intricate plots and switchbacks that many more academic writers lack. (Let’s face it, lots of writers may know buckets about music or history or art, but they often know beans about writing mystery fiction, and the result is never as enthralling as one might like.) Finally, there’s our two protagonists, the young lothario and the old geezer with more than a few dances left in him. As I head toward geezer-hood myself, I am particularly pleased to see Gianni get a romantic life, and not with some young twinkie, either!

And finally, finally, there’s Italy. Who wouldn’t like a vacation there, even if it’s the kind that comes between two covers? So, all told, we would be thrilled to publish a third book in the series. And if you’ve missed the first two, grab’em at our special price: The Rainaldi Quartet and Paganini’s Ghost, this week only 25% off.

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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.

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?