Bruce’s Reading Round-Up: Picture Books for Lovers of Libraries, Ballet, Gardeners and Girls with BIG IDEAS…

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Cheerio me hearties!  I’m a little bit behind on my review schedule this week, so apologies that you had to wait two extra days for this round up of worthy picture books.  Since there’s no time to waste we’re going to ride straight in – yaa!

The Night Gardener (Terry & Eric Fan)

*We received a copy of The Night Gardener from Allen & Unwin for review*

Two Sentence Synopsis:

 

William looks out his window one night to discover that the hedge in the yard has been sculpted into a beautiful owl shape.  As the days continue, more hedge shapes appear around the town until William discovers the secret and begins to share in the work of the night gardener.

Muster up the motivation because…

…this is an atmospheric picture book with a story that unfolds through the imagery as much as the text.  Not to be confused with Jonathan Auxier’s middle grade novel of the same name, this book contains many visual cues and clues for the keen-eyed reader to collect on the way to a charming finish.  The palette of deep greens and blues, alternating with sepia page spreads highlights both the sense of mysterious night-time gardening and the historical setting of the characters.  The colour palette changes as the story progresses and we are treated to the glorious browns and golds of autumn, the sweeping whites and greys of winter and the bright, busy colours of spring and summer by the end of the tale.  The mini-fleshlings were mildly interested in the story of William discovering the identity of the night gardener and taking on the secret himself, but were entranced by the illustrations.  This edition came with a dust jacket featuring the cover image above, that hid a beautifully etched drawing of leaves and lawn tools on the hardback cover, and some gorgeous line-drawn endpapers.  The Night Gardener is a visual feast and will bring to life the sense of adventure that goes along with discovering a secret for your mini-fleshlings.

Brand it with:

Terrific topiary; hedging one’s bets; walks in the moonlight

Lucy’s Book (Natalie Jane Prior & Cheryl Orsini)

*We received a copy of Lucy’s Book from Hachette Australia for review*

Two Sentence Synopsis:

 

Lucy loves visiting the library and always checks out her favourite book.  When Lucy tells her friends about the book, they check it out too and take it on all sorts of adventures…until the book is no longer able to be borrowed.

Muster up the motivation because…

…this is one for the book lovers, the library lovers and the lovers of unexpected discoveries that stay with us forever.  If you’ve ever had the experience of finding a wonderful book at the library and have had to come to terms with the fact that other people are also allowed to borrow it, take it away and – gasp! – possibly damage it, you will definitely relate to Lucy here.  As well as the immense joy that Lucy gets from sharing her favourite story with her friends, and thus multiplying the level of joy she finds in the book, there is also the lingering sense of irritation that she doesn’t get to have the book with her all the time.  When Lucy arrives at the library one day to find that the book is no longer in circulation, and subsequently, out of print – oh the horror! – Lucy discovers that while other books and stories may temporarily fill the gap in Lucy’s bookshelf, nothing will ever plug the special story-shaped hole in her heart that the disappearance of her favourite book has left.  I won’t spoil the ending for you, but it will restore your faith in the support found in the bookish community and have you believing the claptrap that The Secret tries to have us believe.  This is definitely one for the mini-fleshling of your acquaintance who has that special appreciation of time spent with a favourite story.

Brand it with:

Lost and found; Try Abebooks; Neverending book club

Little People, Big Dreams: Marie Curie (Isabel Sanchez Vegara & Frau Isa)

Little People, Big Dreams: Agatha Christie (Isabel Sanchez Vegara & Elisa Munso)

*We received copies of both of these titles from Allen & Unwin for review*

Two Sentence Synopsis:  

 

These two books are from a series of narrative nonfiction picture books about the lives of famous women.  Other books in the series focus on the lives of Maya Angelou, Emilia Earhart, Ella Fitzgerald, Audrey Hepburn, Frida Kahlo and Coco Chanel.  You can check out the full list of titles at Goodreads here.

Muster up the motivation because…

…these little gems are the perfect way to introduce mini-fleshlings to the biography format and the lives of some truly inspirational ladies in an engaging way.  I originally requested the Agatha Christie one for obvious reasons, but was sent both and I am highly impressed by the quality of information and the gorgeous illustrative styles. Each book seems to be illustrated by a different person, so while the books are part of a series, each book has its own individual style.

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Little People, BIG DREAMS: Agatha Christie by Isabel Sanchez Vegara and Elisa Munso.  Published by Allen & Unwin, 22nd February 2017.  RRP: $18.99

 

Agatha Christie’s edition relies heavily on black and white with splashes of red and a certain Deco flair.  I particularly enjoyed the page recounting the number of books Christie wrote, accompanied by an image of the lady herself looking over a field of tombstones – each carved with the name of a victim from her novels!  Marie Curie’s edition is awash in shades of blue, green and brown and cleverly, yet subtly, highlights the struggles of Curie as a woman making her way in science.  I actually learned a lot from this little picture book.  I knew the basics of Curie’s life of course – her work in discovering radium and so forth – but expanded my general knowledge in discovering that she is the only woman to have so far won two Nobel Prizes in two separate subjects – Chemistry and Physics.  Each book also includes a short timeline at the end featuring actual photos of the women along with some important dates in their lives and a quick overview of their lives in traditional non-fiction style.  If you have a mini-fleshling about the place who is interested in nonfiction (or even one who isn’t, because these don’t read like your typical nonfiction picture books), you should definitely leave some of these lying around in plain sight.

Brand it with:

All the awesome ladies; little people, big brains; narrative nonfiction

Where’s the Ballerina? (Anna Claybourne & Abigail Goh)

*We received a copy of Where’s the Ballerina? from Allen & Unwin for review*

Two Sentence Synopsis:  

wheres-the-ballerina

Where’s the Ballerina? Find the Hidden Ballerina in the Ballets by Anna Claybourne and Abigail Goh.  Published by Allen & Unwin (HardieGrantEgmont), 25th January, 2017.  RRP: $19.99

If you have been waiting for the day when information about classical ballets is combined with a search and find picture book, then wait no longer!  This book retells the stories behind famous ballets from around the world along with fun search and find scenes related to each ballet.

Muster up the motivation because…

…as well as a fun search and find book, this book cleverly provides brief, illustrated retellings of famous ballets from around the world.  From Swan Lake and the Nutcracker to India’s La Bayadere and Spain’s Don Quixote, each ballet is retold in a beautiful double page spread, and followed by an eye-popping double page illustration in which mini-fleshlings are encouraged to find particular characters.  The double page illustrations bring to life the colours and settings of each ballet, so young readers can clearly see the differences in each story and come to understand that not all ballet involves pink tutus and dying swans.  This would be a fantastic gift book for a young one who is entranced by dance and wants to know more about ballet in particular, while enjoying a fun activity at the same time.  Similarly, this would be a great book for a classroom library, to trick  entice youngsters in with a search-and-find activity before they realise they are actually learning something.

Brand it with:

Dance like someone’s scrutinising every page; international ballet; fun with tutus

Clearly you will forgive my lateness in posting given how stunning these titles are and I will graciously accept that forgiveness and promise not to get behind on my schedule again.  Until the next time I have too many books and not enough time.

Tally ho my friends!

Bruce

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Eye of the Reindeer: Snow, Sanity and the Search for Self…

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We readers know that it is super important to make sure you have the right book for the holiday season.  Something that won’t be over too quickly, that will take you on a journey (even if you have to stay at home) and will plunge you right into a new and unexpected world.  Today’s book does all of those things and more in an epic journey toward freedom of body and self, spanning more than 30 years.  We received The Eye of the Reindeer by Eva Weaver from Hachette Australia for review and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Shortly after her thirteenth birthday, Ritva is sent away to Seili, an island in the far north of Finland. A former leper colony, Seili is now home to ‘hopeless cases’ – to women the doctors call mad. But Ritva knows she doesn’t belong there. As biting winter follows biting winter, she longs to be near to her sister, and wonders why her father ever allowed her to be taken to this desolate place.

Hope arrives in the form of Martta, a headstrong girl who becomes Ritva’s only friend. Martta is a Sami, from the north. All through her childhood, Ritva’s mother told her wonderful Sami legends and tales – of Vaja the reindeer, the stolen sealskin, of a sacred drum hidden long ago. When Ritva and Martta decide to make their escape, this is where they will head.

So begins an odyssey over frozen sea and land towards a place where healing and forgiveness can grow. This is a story about friendship, about seeing the world through a different perspective, and the stories and tales that can make up a life.

Wowsers, what an epic!  I had absolutely no idea when I started reading this book that it would span such a long time period and feature an unbelievable journey, both in foot miles and in growth of characters.  Ritva is a young woman in 1913 when she is shipped off to Seili, an asylum set on an island in the freezing north, and home to women that have been deemed (correctly or incorrectly) difficult cases.  The daughter of a pastor, Ritva has long experienced strange dreams and visions, and it is only when she meets Martta, a young Sami woman imprisoned with her, that she discovers that her dreams may be related to legends of the Northern Sami people.  After a daring escape, Ritva and Martta are caught up in a journey toward physical freedom from Seili, and the emotional journey of dealing with family history, sexuality and who they really want to be.

The book is broken into a number of parts that correspond with certain legs of the journeys that the girls – and then later on, women – take.  The story begins with Ritva’s time on Seili and we are given certain glimpses into her past and the reasons why her father may have had her committed in the first place.  This family mystery continues throughout much of the book until it is brought to a shocking, yet satisfying conclusion about two-thirds of the way through.    After this, Ritva tries to carve out a place for herself to belong and untangle the pressures of expectation and desire that have weighed her down.

I haven’t read a book like this in quite a long time, if ever.  The Eye of the Reindeer is totally focused on Ritva as she faces incredible challenges throughout her life.  The pace is quite slow, despite the fact that the story begins in Ritva’s adolescence and ends after her middle age, and yet I found each section totally absorbing while I was reading it.  I think my favourite part of the book was Ritva and Martta’s escape from Seili, their unconventional modes of transport and the suspense of potential recapture set against such a hostile environment.  The setting in Scandinavia and the lands at the top of the world was so well described as to almost be a character in itself and I was fascinated by the details relating to the indigenous people of this region – the Sami – and their way of life.  The author leaves some notes after the story is finished about the Sami and their current predicament for those who wish to find out more.

This book certainly won’t be for everyone, given the depth in which it explores difficult subjects like abuse, abandonment and betrayal, and the slow unfolding of the narrative, and certainly isn’t one that, had I known in advance how hefty the story would feel, I would probably have ever picked up.  The atmosphere is quite tense in some parts and particularly gloomy in others, but for the most part there is an undercurrent of hope and determination that spurred me on to find out how Ritva’s story might end.  Overall though, I am so happy to have read Ritva’s story and was completely absorbed in her life as it unfolded.

If you have a space in your schedule in the next few months which could be filled with a vast, sprawling landscape and a young woman slowly picking her way towards truth over the course of an incredible life, then I would definitely recommend you have a go at The Eye of the Reindeer.

Plus, the author has a rhyming first and surname.

That’s always a bonus.

Until next time,

Bruce

Utopirama: Hygge – Living the Danish Way

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If ever there was a time that needed a bit of added cosiness and sheltering from the winds of doubt and division, I think we can all probably agree that that time is now.  We see ourselves as contributors to the peace and unity of the world here on the Shelf and to that end, allow me to introduce you to Charlotte Abrahams new offering, Hygge: A Celebration of Simple Pleasures, Living the Danish Way.  Don’t be alarmed though, for this is not another quick-fix, self-help, de-clutter-and-you-will-be-happy sort of book – quite the opposite in fact – but an exploration of the Danish concept of hygge and how it may contribute to the fact that Danes often top polls about the happiest nations on Earth.  We received a copy from Hachette Australia for review, and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Candlelight is hygge; the smell of freshly brewed coffee is hygge; the feel of crisp, clean bed linen is hygge; dinner with friends is hygge. ‘Hygge’, pronounced ‘hoo-ga’, is a Danish philosophy that roughly translates to ‘cosiness’. But it is so much more than that. It’s a way of life that encourages us to be kinder to ourselves, to take pleasure in the modest, the mundane and the familiar. It is a celebration of the everyday, of sensual experiences rather then things. It’s an entire attitude to life that results in Denmark regularly being voted one of the happiest countries in the world.

So, with two divorces behind her and her 50th birthday rapidly approaching, journalist Charlotte Abrahams ponders whether it’s hygge that’s been missing from her life. Is it a philosophy we can all embrace? In a society where lifestyle trends tend to centre on deprivation – be it no sugar, no gluten, no possessions – what does cherishing yourself actually mean? And will it make her happy?

In Hygge, Charlotte Abrahams weaves the history of hygge and its role in Danish culture with her own attempts, as an English woman, to embrace a more hygge life. In this beautifully written and stylishly designed book, she examines the impact this has on her home, her health, her relationships and, of course, her happiness.

Light a candle, pour yourself a glass of wine, and get ready to enjoy your more hygge life.

hygge

Quick Overview:

Hygge is simple, hygge is person-centred, hygge is conscious enjoyment of things we find life-giving.  Hygge dispenses with guilt and deprivation in favour of full enjoyment of an experience while it is happening.  Given that this is a book exploring the Danish concept of comfort, cocooning and design that contributes to a happier life, I can only think that the author and publisher must consider it a success that I found the reading experience to be remarkably hyggelige indeed!  Even the cover of the book, which features some delightfully tactile felt trees reflects the mindset that happiness involves enjoying the moment – and if the moment you are in currently involves reading a book, why not make that book inviting to hold, to physically demonstrate how a simple, everyday thing can be turned into something special and pleasurable?

Abrahams is an Englishwoman researching the concept and lifestyle of hygge and therefore is an outsider, looking in on a practice and mindset that is intrinsic to being Danish (it appears), yet foreign to the rest of us.  In that respect, she has done a wonderful and accessible job in laying out the ideas behind hygge and its physical manifestations, given that we don’t even have a word for the conceptual whole she is describing in the English language.

The book is divided into a series of sections relating to the different aspects of hygge, beginning with the people-centred design behind many Danish objects – from furniture to lampshades to public spaces – and moving on to ways in which hygge manifests in peoples’ social connections and guilt-free indulgences.  In between examples of the ways in which Danes create hygge in various situations are interludes in which Abrahams examines her own life and describes her attempts to make small changes here and there to bring about a cumulative and conscious experience of heightened happiness.

Given that the Danes experience weather that is practically polar opposite (literally, I suppose) from that found in Queensland, some parts of the book relating to cosiness and retreat from raging frost and snow seemed a bit unattainable for Australian climates (which is probably why Australians didn’t come up with the concept of hygge), however Abrahams has done a great job of laying out the concept in a way that allows the reader to apply it to their own situation.

As I mentioned, reading the book – slowly, chapter by chapter – felt really hyggelig to me.  Even though reading multiple books is something I do every day, I don’t necessarily take the time to consciously note and enhance my reading experience if I happen to enjoy a book.  Inspired by Abraham’s small efforts, I ended up finishing this book while swinging in a hammock on the deck of a Queenslander, while jacarandas bloomed in front of me and a light breeze ruffled my stony ears.  Hygge! Australian style!

Utopian Themes:

Guilt-free experience

Mindfulness

Shelter from the storms of life

Companionship

Equal Participation

Protective Bubble-o-meter:

protective bubbleprotective bubbleprotective bubbleprotective bubbleprotective bubble

 

 

 

 

 

Five out of five protective bubbles for the liberating experience of telling deprivation-freaks to sod off; that you’re ditching the ascetic, paleo, fun-free dinner out for a glass of whatever you fancy and time spent with people you actually like

Until next time,

Bruce

Picture Book Perusal: The Patchwork Bike

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picture book perusal button

Today’s picture book is an homage to all the creatives out there who can’t see a bit of household flotsam without imagining how it could be better used in the pursuit of fun.  We received The Patchwork Bike by Aussie Afro-Carribean author Maxine Beneba Clarke and street artist Van T Rudd from Hachette Australia for review and here’s the blurb:

What’s the best fun in the whole village? Riding the patchwork bike we made! A joyous picture book for children by award-winning author Maxine Beneba Clarke.

When you live in a village at the edge of the No-Go Desert, you need to make your own fun. That’s when you and your brothers get inventive and build a bike from scratch, using everyday items like an old milk pot (maybe mum is still using it, maybe not) and a used flour sack. You can even make a numberplate from bark, if you want. The end result is a spectacular bike, perfect for going bumpity-bump over sandhills, past your fed-up mum and right through your mud-for-walls home.

Now doesn’t that bike look like every bored kid’s dream machine?!

This is a wonderfully fast-moving picture book that celebrates the rebellious, the inventive and the just plain entertaining spirit of kids who are left to, rather than on their own devices.  There is not a screen in sight here, yet the girl and her brothers seem to have plenty of ways to make their surroundings a fun place to be.  There’s the sandhill for sliding, the tree for climbing and jumping and, of course, the epic bike they have patched together from bits and pieces that have been left unattended.  The bike may not be the prettiest creation ever (although the tree-branch handles certainly have an earthy design charm all their own), but it does the job and deftly delivers the three adventurers from one end of the village to the other in style.

The text features plenty of rhythm perfect for reading aloud, as well as some fantastic examples of onomatopoeia that bring the bike and the riding experience to life.  The illustrations are so unusual; a cardboard-looking background with bits of printed text glinting through thick smears of coloured paint and old bits of sticky tape suitably reflect the patchwork nature of the bike (and perhaps even the village?), while our proud protagonist is so super-cool in her reflective shades that it would be impossible to be unmoved by stirrings of envy on seeing her fly past on her fantastic creation.  The other characters are also beautifully fleshed out in the illustrations, with the “crazy” brothers first seen dancing on what appears to be a police car, while the mum really does look fed-up, although perhaps not necessarily at the antics of her children.

One can’t fail to notice that this story is not set in an urban environment and this will no doubt arouse some curiosity in young readers.  The exact location of the village (in terms of country) is never mentioned and this might open up conversations about how others live and what non-urban living might be like.  This would also be a great pick for early years classes looking for inspiration around creating functional objects out of unexpected materials.  I can picture the classroom creation station or cardboard box and bits tub suddenly becoming hugely popular after a class reading of The Patchwork Bike.

All in all this is a fun and engaging story that will speak to the adventurer in all of us and have younger readers planning, designing and rummaging through your recycling bin before the back cover is closed.

Until next time,

Bruce

Darktown: Extract and Giveaway!

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darktown

If you are looking for a realistic and gritty read that goes beyond your basic crime and detection novel and explores the underlying injustices in 1948 US society, with startling echoes for today’s social disquiet, then you’ve definitely come to the right place.  Thanks to Hachette Australia, I am able to offer one of my Australian readers (sorry internationals!) the opportunity to snag a copy of new release historical police drama, Darktown by Thomas Mullen.

Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Atlanta, 1948. In this city, all crime is black and white.

On one side of the tracks are the rich, white neighbourhoods; on the other, Darktown, the African-American area guarded by the city’s first black police force of only eight men. These cops are kept near-powerless by the authorities: they can’t arrest white suspects; they can’t drive a squad car; they must operate out of a dingy basement.

When a poor black woman is killed in Darktown having been last seen in a car with a rich white man, no one seems to care except for Boggs and Smith, two black cops from vastly different backgrounds. Pressured from all sides, they will risk their jobs, the trust of their community and even their own lives to investigate her death.

Their efforts bring them up against a brutal old-school cop, Dunlow, who has long run Darktown as his own turf – but Dunlow’s idealistic young partner, Rakestraw, is a young progressive who may be willing to make allies across colour lines . . .

Despite this being a historical novel, the institutional racism and societal division presented here by Mullen is so topical that I can’t help but feel that a very similar story could easily be penned using a contemporary setting.  Aside from being a murder mystery and police procedural, of sorts, Darktown drills down on human relationships – those between the African American police and the white police, those between the police and the people they are charged with policing, and those between people with power and people with none.  The mystery element is a bit of a slow burn as the setting, time and protagonists are thoroughly introduced, along with their motivations, flaws and redeeming features.

As well as being an engaging time period and setting, I found this to be remarkably uncomfortable reading.  Although I intellectually know about racism and its existence, both historically and as a phenomenon happening right this moment, reading about the way it permeates every facet of the lives of these characters – both black and white – felt a bit like being smothered.  Mullen has done a brilliant job here of highlighting the twin reaction towards racism of a society steeped in division: outrageous and appalling, yet insidious and ingrained.

Aussie Readers! Here’s your chance to WIN a copy of Darktown by Thomas Mullen:

This giveaway is sponsored by Hachette Australia and hosted by The Bookshelf Gargoyle.  The giveaway is open to Australian residents only and will run from now until midnight on October 17th, 2016 Brisbane (non-daylight savings) time.

To enter, click on the Rafflecopter link below:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Good luck!

If your interest has been piqued by this book, here’s an extract to draw you in even further!


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It was nearing midnight when one of the new lampposts on Auburn Avenue achieved the unfortunate fate of being the first to be hit by a car. Shards of a white Buick’s headlight fell scattered across the sidewalk below the now-leaning pole.

Locusts continued their thrum in the thick July air. Windows were open throughout town, the impact no doubt waking many. The lone pedestrian on that block, an old man on his way home from sweeping floors at a sugar factory, was no more than ten yards away. He had stepped back when the car jumped the curb but now he stopped and watched for a moment, in case the pole should come crashing the rest of the way down. It didn’t. At least not yet.

The Buick reversed, slowly, the front wheel easing off the curb. The movement caused the pole to lean the other way, too far, and then back again, a giant metronome.

The pedestrian could hear a woman’s voice, shouting. Something about what on earth do you think you’re doing, just take me home, that sort of thing. The pedestrian shook his head and shambled off before something worse might happen.

Whether or not the lampposts were new, exactly, was a matter of perspective. It had been a few months now, but considering how many years it had taken the leaders of Atlanta’s colored community to convince the mayor to install them, and considering the many, many years in which Negroes had walked down even their busiest and most monied street in darkness, the celestial presence of those lampposts still felt new.

None of which was known to the Buick’s driver. He had been attempting to turn around in the middle of the other-wise empty street but had misjudged his turning radius, or the width of the road, or general physics. He also perhaps hadn’t noticed that two blocks away were two Atlanta police officers.

Five minutes earlier, Officer Lucius Boggs finally confronted his partner, Tommy Smith, about his limp.

“You did not hurt yourself playing baseball. Own up.”

“It was a hard slide,” Smith said.

“But you told McInnis you were rounding third.”

At roll call, Smith had assured their sergeant, McInnis, that his knee was fine, just a tweak he’d felt in a game he’d played with some buddies. You know how those sand lots are, sir, no traction. McInnis had listened to this stone-faced, as if experienced enough at hearing colored flimflam but deciding the truth of this matter was not worth prodding into.

“I fell out a window,” Smith now admitted to Boggs. They were standing on Hilliard Street, three blocks from the Negro YMCA whose basement served as their makeshift precinct. At that hour the sun was long gone but it had left more than enough heat to last until it felt like showing up again. Both officers had sweated through their undershirts, and even their uniforms were damp.

“Yours?”

“What do you think?” Boggs folded his arms and couldn’t help smiling.

“And who was the lady you were impressing with your acrobatics?”

“I was in the middle of entertaining her with my acrobatics, matter of fact. When her man busted into the apartment.”

“Are you crazy?”

“She’d told me he’d left her, pulled up stakes for Detroit. She talked about needing some lawyer to do her divorce papers or something.”

Atlanta police officers were ordered to abide by a strict moral code— no drinking, even at home, and no womanizing—but that had not entirely sunk in with Tommy Smith. The Negro officers dutifully avoided alcohol, as they knew all too well that a witness could report them and get them suspended, but for Smith the idea of suddenly becoming a chaste man was altogether too much.

“You’re going to get yourself killed.”

“I do not go after the married ones.”

“Except for her, and the girl who did that thing with the candied pecans, and—”

“That’s different, she and I went way back.”

They started walking again.

“So then what happened?”

“What do you think? Pulled on my britches and jumped out the window.”

“What floor did she live on?”

“Third.”

“No!”

“One of them places with no fire escape. I’d say I’m walking remarkably well, considering.”

“What happened with the husband?”

“I did not linger around to eavesdrop.”

“Aren’t you at least worried?”

“She struck me as the kind of gal knew how to handle herself and think on her feet.”

Boggs was the son of a minister, and though he had chosen not to follow in his father’s footsteps, the idea of tomcatting across town the way his partner did was utterly foreign to him. His own experience with women had been limited to innocent dates with well-mannered, wellraised young ladies of the Negro intelligentsia, and he was coming off a recent broken engagement to a girl who’d finally told him that the stress of knowing her fiancé might be shot or beaten on any given night was too much for her constitution to handle.

A squad car approached, the headlights strangely off. Hilliard had neither lampposts nor sidewalks. They stopped talking and stood there, each wondering if they should back up a few steps, or would that look weak.

Then the car accelerated, and each of them did indeed take a step back onto the small plot of grass and weeds that served as someone’s front yard. The squad car feinted toward them, swerving a bit, then screeched to a stop.

They caught glimpses of two white officers whose faces they didn’t recognize—cops from other beats who just happened to be driving through, apparently.

The white cops yelled, “Oooh-oooh-oooh!”

“Aaah-aaah-aaah!”

Monkey sounds and orangutan sounds and maybe some gorilla thrown in.

“Woo-woo-woo-boogga-boogga!”

“Watch your asses, niggers!”

Then the squad car sped off, the white cops laughing hysterically.

You couldn’t show fear. They acted like it was all a harmless prank, even when they gunned their engines at you when you were crossing the street, even when they nearly grazed against you. More than once Boggs had stood in the road to flag down a squad car, needing assistance for an arrest, when the car had accelerated toward him until he’d had to leap out of the way. Laughter in its wake. Surely, if the day came when they actually did run over one of the colored officers, they would insist it was an accident.

Neither Boggs nor Smith felt like telling stories anymore as they reached the corner of Auburn, the night silent but for the almost mechanical churn of locusts and the call-and-response of crickets. The marquee over Bailey’s Royal Theater was off, as were the lights of the jeweler and tailoring shops; someone had left on a third-floor office lamp at Atlanta Life Insurance Company, but other than that and the streetlights, all was dark. Then they heard the crash.

They turned, each half-hoping to see that the squad car had hit a fire hydrant or perhaps a brick wall. Instead they saw a white Buick two blocks away, on the curb, and the light pole dancing almost, or at least swaying drunkenly. They watched as the light flickered once, then again, just as each of their homes’ electricity did during thunderstorms.

The Buick backed up. They couldn’t read the tags from so far away. Then it started driving toward them.

They had been police officers for just under three months now, walking the beats around Auburn Avenue (the neighborhood where both had lived all their lives save the war years) and the West Side, on the other side of downtown. Although Atlanta’s eight Negro officers had not yet been entrusted with squad cars, they did have uniforms:  black caps with the gold city crest, dark blue shirts on which their shiny badges were pinned, black slacks, and black ties (Smith being one of two cops on the team who went with the bow-tie option, which he found rather dapper). Their thick belts were weighed down by a heavy arsenal of weapons and gear, including firearms, which terrified a number of white people in Atlanta and beyond.

Boggs stepped into the road and held out a palm. The white cops may have enjoyed trying to run over their colored colleagues, but civilians were another matter. Or so he hoped. The Buick was driving slower than was normal, as if ashamed. Its headlights glinted off his badge.

The Buick stopped.

“He’s not turning his engine off,” Smith said after a few seconds.

Boggs walked over to the driver’s door, Smith mirroring him along the sidewalk and stopping at the passenger door. The soles of Smith’s shoes hardly made a sound because the cement had been meticulously swept by someone that very morning, not a twig or cigarette butt in sight.

The glare from the streetlights had prevented the officers from getting a good look in the car until now. All they had been able to discern were silhouettes of a driver with a hat and a passenger without.

Boggs opened his mouth and was about to ask for the driver’s license and registration when he saw that the driver was white.

That he hadn’t expected. What he had suspected, that the driver was drunk, was correct. Boggs was bathed in alcohol fumes as the portly white man gazed at him with something between annoyance and contempt. “May I have your license and registration, please, sir?”

White people were not often found in Sweet Auburn, the wealthiest Negro neighborhood in Atlanta—possibly in the world, boosters liked to say. Adventurous whites looking for gambling or whores in the darker parts of town would normally troll along Decatur Street, by the railroad tracks, a half mile to the south. Or they’d find one of the other, more nefarious areas that the colored officers patrolled. This fellow was either lost or so drunk and stupid that he figured any colored part of town offered the vices he craved, when in fact this neighborhood mostly held churches, real estate firms, banks, insurance companies, funeral parlors, barbershops, and the sorts of restaurants long closed at this hour. A couple of nightclubs did grace the streets, yes, but they were respectable places where respectable Negroes gathered, and they only opened their doors to whites on Saturdays, when Negroes weren’t allowed in.

The driver’s gray homburg was tipped high, as if he’d been rubbing sweat from his forehead. Which he needed to be doing more of, because his skin was still shiny. Hair light gray, blue tie loosened, linen jacket wrinkled. He seemed sweatier than a man driving a car should be, Boggs thought. Like he’d just been doing something strenuous.

On the other side of the car, Smith visually frisked the man’s passenger. She wore the kind of yellow sundress that always made him so thrilled when spring came along, and even here in the depths of summer he was not a man to complain about the kind of heat that allowed the women of Atlanta to walk around half naked. She was short enough to cross her legs in the front seat, the hem above her knee. Light glinted off a small locket that looked stuck to the dampness at the small of her throat.

She made eye contact with Smith for only the briefest of seconds, just enough for him to gather a few facts. She was light-skinned and young, early twenties at most. The right side of her lip looked a shade of red that didn’t match her lipstick. Red and slightly puffy.

Although Smith could not yet see the driver, he divined the man’s race based on the subtle change in Boggs’s voice when asking for the license. Not exactly deferential, but more polite than was otherwise warranted.

The driver answered, “No, you may not.”

Boggs was cognizant of the fact that the man’s right hand was at his side, on the seat, and therefore out of view. Boggs decided he need not comment on this yet. Hopefully Smith could see it. The man’s left hand casually rested on the steering wheel, the engine still running.

“You hit a light pole, sir.”

“I mighta glanced against it.” Not even looking at Boggs.

“It’s leaning over and will need to be fixed, and—”

“You’re wasting my time, boy.”

Nothing but a crescendo of katydids for a moment, and only then did the white man deign to look at Boggs. Just to check out how that had registered on this uppity Negro’s face.

Boggs tried not to let it register at all. His face, he knew, was very good at being blank. This had been commented upon by parents, schoolteachers, girlfriends. What are you thinking right now? Where are you? Penny for your thoughts? He’d always hated those questions. I’m right here. I’m thinking thoughts, any thoughts, who knows. And no, you can’t buy them.

Normally you weren’t supposed to look white folks in the eye. But Boggs was the police. This was only the third time he and Smith had dealt with a white perpetrator. Colored officers only patrolled the colored parts of town, where whites were infrequent visitors.

“I need to see your license and registration, sir.”

“You don’t need to see anything, boy.”

Boggs felt his heart rate spike and he told himself to stay calm.

“Please turn your car off, sir,” he said, realizing he should have started with that.

“You don’t have the power to arrest me and you know it.”

On the other side, Smith took this as the proper time to beam the backseat. He didn’t see anything there, other than a road atlas on the floorboards. The car was prewar but in good condition, the vinyl shining. Smith aimed his light at the front seat, where the woman had been staring ahead, her hair blocking his view. He had hoped the light would startle her into looking at him, so he could better study her injury and look for others, but she turned farther away.

Smith, unlike Boggs, had a good view of the space between driver and passenger. He saw that the man’s right hand was resting protectively atop a large brown envelope.

“I do have the authority to issue you a traffic citation, sir, and I intend to do that,” Boggs said. “I also have the ability to call white officers here, should your arrest be required. I wouldn’t have thought that necessary for something as minor as a traffic violation, but if you want to push things up the ladder with your tone, then I can oblige you.”

The white man smiled, entertained.

“Oh. Oh, damn. You’re one of the smart ones, huh?” He nodded, looking Boggs up and down as though finally laying eyes on a new kind of jungle cat the zoo had imported. “I’m very impressed. Y’all certainly have come a long way.”

“Sir, this is the last time that I’ll be the one asking you for your license and registration.”

Still smiling at Boggs, still not moving.

On the other side of the car, Smith asked, “What’s your name, miss?”

“Don’t you talk to her,” the white man snapped, turning to the side.

All he could have seen from his vantage was Smith’s midsection, his badge (yes, we really are cops, sorry for the inconvenience), and perhaps the handle of Smith’s holstered gun (yes, it’s real).

“Are you all right, miss?” Smith asked the woman. Let’s see how the white man likes being ignored. Her face he still couldn’t see, though her breaths occasionally made her hair move just enough for him to see the right, bruised side of her lips. Yet she refused to turn.

Smith glanced up at his partner over the car roof. Both of them would have loved to see this blowhard arrested, but they weren’t sure if Dispatch would bother sending a white squad car for an auto accident whose only victim was an inanimate object. And Atlanta’s eight colored officers hated calling in the white cops for any reason whatsoever. They did not appreciate the reminder that they had only so much power.

Smith leaned back down and said, “Your friend isn’t very friendly, miss.”

The white man said, “I told you not to talk to her, boy.”

“Sir,” Boggs said to the back of the man’s hat, trying to regain control (had he ever had it?), and annoyed at his partner for escalating the situation, “if you do not show me your license and registration, then I will call in—”

He didn’t get to finish his pathetic threat, the threat he was ashamed to need and far more ashamed to use, because in the middle of his sentence the white man turned back to face the road and shifted into gear, the Buick lurching forward.

Both cops stepped back so their feet wouldn’t be run over.

The Buick drove off, but it didn’t even have the decency to speed. The white man wasn’t fleeing, he simply had tired of pretending that their existence mattered.

“ ‘Stop or I’ll call the real cops’?” Smith shook his head. “Funny how that don’t work.”

Atlanta, Georgia. Two parts Confederate racist to two parts Negro to one part something-that-doesn’t-quite-have-a-name-for-it-yet. Neither city nor country but some odd combination, a once sleepy railroad crossing that had exploded due to the wartime need for matériel and the necessities of shipping it. Even after the war, all those factories and textile mills and rail yards were still churning, because normalcy had returned and Americans were desperate for new clothes and washing machines and automobiles, and the South was very good at providing cheap, nonunionized labor. So Atlanta continued to grow, the trains continued to disgorge new residents and the tenements grew more crowded and the moonshine continued to be driven down from the mountains and the streets spilled over with even yet more passion and schemes and brawls, because there on the Georgia piedmont something had been set loose that might never again be contained.

*

Twenty blocks away from Boggs and Smith, Officer Denny Rakestraw was dividing himself in two again.

Standing in an alley off Decatur Street, a colored section of town, though he and his partner were white. Staring up at the sliver of moon above him, perfectly framed between the tops of the two brick buildings. Listening to the sound of an approaching westbound freight train slowly, slowly trudge its way from the downtown yards. Then looking at his shiny cop shoes. Then turning to look behind him at the squad car they had left on the side of the road, lights not blinking because his partner, Lionel Dunlow, said he didn’t want the attention.

Dunlow hit the Negro again. “I said, did you hear what I said, nigger?”

The Negro was trying to say something, Rakestraw could tell, but Dunlow was holding him too tightly around the throat.

Then the sound of soles scuffing, and Rakestraw’s attention was drawn to the mouth of the alley again. Two silhouettes were watching them.

“Dammit, clear that out,” Dunlow instructed his young partner. Rakestraw took a step toward the two silhouettes. They were either young men or teenagers, tall but slight, hardly a threat. Drawn here by the sound of the beating, not any desire to intervene.

“Beat it!” Rakestraw yelled in his lowest register, bass notes practically shaking dust from the mortar in the brick walls. The shadows beat it. Then another swing from Dunlow and the Negro was on the ground.

“Thought we didn’t want attention,” Rakestraw said.

This constituted a significant workout for Officer Dunlow. Sweat ran down his cheeks, and his cap was askew. His belt was strained by his forty-some-odd-year-old belly, and he was panting even though he’d thrown only five or six punches. Failed physicals were in his immediate future.

Rakestraw hadn’t thrown a punch himself, had in fact barely moved, yet beneath his uniform his skin, too, was slick. Not from exertion but the opposite, the stress of holding himself back, the anxiety of watching this again.

“You’re right,” Dunlow said, catching his breath. He stepped closer to the loudly breathing mound that, minutes ago, had been a Negro walking alone, a man Dunlow suspected of bootlegging moonshine. Dunlow looked down at the mound. “We come to an understanding, boy?”

This was a phrase Rakestraw had heard his partner use so often now that it echoed in his sleep. Dunlow and perpetrators came to an understanding, Dunlow and witnesses came to an understanding, even Dunlow and the judges before whom he testified came to an understanding. The man seemed confident that he possessed a vast reservoir of knowledge, which he in his goodwill shared with those around him.

“Yeah, yeah. I unnerstand.” It sounded funny because some teeth were missing.

Rakestraw saw that flicker in his partner’s eyes, something he’d seen a few times now. It foretold very bad things indeed. So Rakestraw stepped forward and put a hand on his partner’s shoulder. Dunlow was taller by two inches; that and the age difference made this feel uncomfortably like a son trying to coax his drunk daddy back from the brink of slapping Ma around some.

“Dunlow,” Rake said.

Dunlow looked back at Rake like he barely recognized him for a second, like maybe he’d actually expected to see a son and not his partner.

Dunlow did have sons, two of them, in their teens and by all accounts hell-raisers who lacked rap sheets only because of their father’s occupation. The veteran cop’s eyes were fiery and he appeared on the verge of taking a swing at this junior interloper, the way he probably had numerous times to his sons. Then he recognized Rake and returned to where he was.

Rake said, “Made yourself clear, I think.”

“Yeah.”

But not before a final kick in the gut for emphasis, and the lump on the ground hissed a long inhalation, then silence, like he was afraid to let it out. By the time he exhaled, the two cops were gone from the alley.

Rake chose to believe that his partner’s extreme response to the bootlegger was due to a passionate desire to enforce the city’s alcohol ordinances. He chose to believe a lot of things about Dunlow. Such believing took work, not unlike religious faith, the devout belief in things that could not be proven. Because in the case of the not-terriblygodlike Dunlow, there often was strong evidence to the contrary. In the weeks since Rake had taken his oath, he had seen Dunlow beat at least a dozen men (usually Negroes) rather than arresting them, had seen him instruct a few men on what to say if and when they needed to stand witness at a trial, and had seen him take a handful of bribes from bootleggers and numbers runners and madams.

There was a lot that Rake was learning about his new occupation. He had survived against steep odds for years in Europe as an advance scout, had been alone for long stretches and had wisely figured the difference between threats and opportunities, collaborators and spies. Back home in Atlanta, however, he was finding the moral territory more difficult to chart than he’d expected.

Rake wondered if there was a particular reason Dunlow had beaten this Negro, a particular message he’d been sending, and, if so, was it any more nuanced than the message Rake’s own dog sent whenever he lifted his leg on the neighborhood walk. In such cases, Rake rationalized that his job was just to hold on to the leash, hold on to the leash.

So Rake stood there and tried to divide himself in half. One half of him would hold tight to his moral compass, that small wobbly thing that prevented him from beating a stranger without cause. The other half of him would learn everything he could from Dunlow and his fellow officers, the surprising and often counterintuitive pieces of advice on how to survive in Darktown.

“I’ll drive,” Rake said, opening the driver’s door before his elder could object.

Dunlow sat in shotgun and peeled off his gloves, sucking in his breath.

“Y’all right?” Rake asked.

“Bastard had a hard head.”

“Sounded like it.”

“You know the average nigger skull is nearly two inches thicker’n ours?”

Rake wasn’t the type to indulge such comments. But he didn’t feel he had much choice around Dunlow, so he went for the neutral, “I did not know that.”

“Read it in a journal. Phrenologists.”

“I’ve been reading the wrong journals, I guess.”

“I ain’t surprised, college boy.” Dunlow called him that even though Rake hadn’t graduated, doing only two years before the war changed everything. Fluent in German thanks to an immigrant mother and two years of courses at UGA, his skill had been prized indeed. “Anyway, explains a lot, don’t it? Not just the lack of room for a fully evolved brain, but, you know, your basic hard-headedness and all.”

“His skull looked plenty malleable to me.”

Dunlow made a fist, then extended his fingers. He had doublejointed thumbs. He could extend them all the way back to his wrists, a gruesome circus trick—he liked to surprise newcomers by doing that after opening a bottle of Co-Cola, crying in pain for a moment, receiving a horrified reaction from the witness, and then he’d bust a gut laughing. He bragged that he’d been the greatest thumb wrestler in his elementary school, which was exactly the sort of bizarre accomplishment only he would boast about.

It also meant that, when wrapping his hands around someone’s throat, he had an extra couple of inches of grip, an advantage which he’d just employed.

Dunlow made a fist again. Rake heard a tendon pop.

“Ah, shit. That’s better.”

 Then Dispatch came over the radio, mentioning how Negro Officer Boggs was reporting a traffic violation, and did any real cops feel the need to assist? Dunlow picked up the mike and said he’d love to.

*

After the white man had driven away, Boggs and Smith had walked to the nearest call box, requesting a squad car to make an arrest. Dispatch had mercifully refrained from commentary as he relayed the information over the wires, and a white squad car, D-152, had immediately called in to say it was coming. Smith and Boggs were surprised— usually the white cops took their sweet time responding to anything the colored officers requested. D-152 must have been mighty bored that night.

Five minutes later, they were walking a few blocks south of Auburn, approaching the National Pencil Factory and its ever-present smell of wood shavings, when they saw the Buick again. It was actually stopped at the end of the next block, obeying a stop sign. It lingered there.

“What’s he doing?” Boggs asked. “Circling around for something?”

Boggs imagined himself shooting the Buick’s tires. Which of course would get him fired, or worse. No colored officer had yet discharged a firearm in the line of duty.

“Maybe he’s given up?” Smith asked. He hurried toward it, not quite running but moving fast enough that his injured knee was very displeased.

He and Boggs were only ten feet away when they saw the white man hit the girl. Even through the back windshield it was unmistakable, the white man’s gray sleeve lashing out, the passenger’s long hair flailing to the right. The whole car seemed to jump.

Then the Buick drove on again.

“Let’s keep after it,” Boggs said.

The Buick was moving south, and in two blocks they would be near another call box. They could at least update Dispatch as to the car’s location, in case D-152 really was on its way.

They ran. The Buick still wasn’t going a normal speed, as if it was on the prowl for something. Clearly the driver didn’t see the two cops giving chase.

Smith’s knee was giving him a rather clear and unadulterated warning that this whole running business had best stop soon. After another block they reached the intersection with Decatur Street, just north of the train tracks. Again the Buick obeyed a stop sign.

Then its passenger door opened. The woman darted out, her yellow sundress a tiny flame in the dark night until she vanished into an alley.

The Buick stayed where it was, the door hanging open like an unanswered question. Then the white man leaned over, his pale hand appearing outside the car and grasping drunkenly for the handle. He closed the door and drove on.

“Chase him or follow her?” Boggs wondered aloud as he and Smith stopped.

They could have split up. Smith could have pursued the woman and Boggs could have continued his chase of the Buick. But Sergeant McInnis had warned them many times against separating themselves from each other. Apparently, the Department felt that a lone Negro officer was not terribly trustworthy, and that a second Negro officer somehow had a restraining influence on the first. Or something. It was difficult to discern white people’s reasoning.

“I want to see the son of a bitch written up,” Smith said. “Or arrested.”

“Me, too.”

So although only one of them had seen her face, and that just for a second, they let her disappear into the night, which would never release her.

*

Boggs sprinted east on Decatur. A half mile ahead of him, the downtown towers were dark. Nearby he could hear freight cars being hitched and unhitched, other behemoths wearily making their way through the night. Smith kept after the Buick, which was headed south now, driving into the short tunnel that cut beneath the tracks. He was losing it. Rats darted in either direction as the Buick splashed a stagnant puddle from that afternoon’s twenty-minute storm. Smith was just about to give up when he heard the familiar horn of a squad car.

He ran through the tunnel and into a scene strobed by blue lights: the tracks curving away to his left, garbage loose on the street and sidewalk, and a squad car pulled sideways to block the path of the Buick, which had finally pulled over.

The white cop who’d been driving jumped out of the car, left hand held high, right hand lingering on the butt of his holstered pistol.

“It’s Dunlow,” Smith said when Boggs made it beside him.

Dunlow ranked high on Boggs and Smith’s list of most hated white officers. Not that there was an actual list. And not that there were many white cops who did not rank high. Maybe it wasn’t so much that Dunlow was worse than the others; the trouble was that he was an everpresent problem. The colored officers were only allowed to work the 6–2 shift, and there were only eight of them, so white officers still had occasion to visit what was now the colored officers’ turf. No white cops had ever had Auburn Avenue as a beat before, they’d simply dropped by the neighborhood when they needed a Negro to pin a crime on, or when they felt like taking out their aggressions on colored victims. Otherwise, white cops had avoided the colored neighborhoods. Dunlow, however, seemed to feel rather at home here, though the residents did not feel nearly so warmly toward him.

“Let me handle him,” Boggs said. He was the more diplomatic of the two, a notion Smith did not like to acknowledge. Even if he knew it to be true.

They adjusted their caps and ties, made sure their shirttails hadn’t come out, and straightened their postures as they slowly walked up to the white Buick.

Dunlow arrived at the driver’s door, trailed by his young partner, Rakestraw. Dunlow seemed to look at the driver longer than necessary before speaking. Perhaps he thought this was intimidating. The days when his bulk had been mostly muscle were gone, but he was still a man accustomed to cutting quite a wake.

“License and registration, please.”

Boggs had spent his entire life giving such white men as wide a berth as possible. Now he had to work with them.

So Boggs concentrated on Dunlow’s partner. He walked up beside Rakestraw and leaned into his ear. If Rakestraw was offended at the proximity, he did not show it. They didn’t have much opinion on Rakestraw, who tended to hide in his partner’s long shadow. He likely would prove to be as much of a bastard as Dunlow once they got to know him.

“He had an adult Negro female in the car with him. She fled on foot, at the corner of Hilliard and Pittman. He’d hit her in the head a block earlier.”

“You saw it?”

“They’d been circling around. It just happened a minute ago.”

Rakestraw offered a neutral expression and the slightest of nods, which could have meant Interesting and could have meant Who cares? and could have meant that he would recommend to the colored officers’ white sergeant that Boggs and Smith be reprimanded for not pursuing the woman.

The driver handed Dunlow his papers and joked, “They got you babysitting the Africans?”

“Understand you fled the scene of an accident,” Dunlow replied.

“Wasn’t no accident. You hear any other car complaining ’bout an accident?”

“It was a lamppost on Auburn Ave,” Boggs said.

Dunlow glared at Boggs. He did not seem to appreciate the colored officer’s contribution to the conversation. He extended the paperwork to Rakestraw, who walked back to their car to call in the information. Then Dunlow said to the colored officers, “That’ll be all, boys.”

Boggs glanced at his partner. Smith was dying to say something, Boggs could tell, but was holding himself back. They hadn’t yet told Dunlow about the assault they’d witnessed. The victim was gone, sure, but a crime is a crime.

Boggs opened his mouth. He tried to choose his words carefully. But before he could do so, the driver chimed in again, in a drunken singsong, “Back to the jungle, monkeys!”

Dunlow cracked a smile.

That approval was all the driver needed: he launched into a rousing chorus of “Yes! We Have No Bananas!”

Dunlow was grinning broadly at the performance as Boggs met his eyes. Boggs held the look for a moment, hoping that he was passing on silent messages but knowing, despite all his effort and anger, that those messages would not be received.

The song was getting louder. Boggs couldn’t even look at his own partner, as he would see the rage there, would see the reflection of himself, and he could not abide that.

Boggs and Smith walked away. The flashing blues painted the top of an eastbound freight train on the crossing.

“Son of a bitch,” Smith cursed.

Boggs spat on the ground. A cockroach half as long as his shoe scuttled across the sidewalk.

“Two bucks says they don’t even ticket him,” Smith said.

Boggs would not take that bet.

*

A six-year-old boy named Horace was three blocks from his house when he saw the lady in the yellow dress running. She was pretty, he thought, even though he couldn’t much see her face. Then why did he think she was pretty? He would wonder that, later, when thinking back to this moment.

He was walking alone late at night because his mother had woken him up and commanded him to. She was very sick and needed the doctor. She’d given Horace careful directions. He had to hurry, for her sake and because if he took too long, he might forget the directions.

The lady was banging on someone’s front door.

Horace watched her as he passed, and she must have heard him because she turned and looked at him. Looking at him and then not looking, the way adults do when they realize you’re just a kid and they can forget about you now.

He walked on. She stopped knocking.

At the next corner, he looked both ways to cross the street. Then he decided to turn around and see what that lady was up to. He saw her step off the front porch and walk around to the backyard, at which point he couldn’t see her anymore.

He looked both ways to cross again. This time a car was coming, so he waited.

The car pulled up to the curb, right where Horace was standing. The door opened on the opposite side, the engine still on, the headlights still too bright in Horace’s face.

A thin white man walked up to him, a white man in a light gray suit. “Hello there, son. What are you doing out at this hour?”

It was the kind of voice that adults who aren’t used to talking to kids use.

Horace mumbled something about his mother.

The man squatted down so his eyes were almost at Horace’s level. His eyes were very blue. His hat matched his suit.

“Slow down, son, and enunciate those words.”Horace had felt mostly confused when the man had stepped out of the car. Now he felt mostly scared. Something about those eyes, and the man’s waxy white face, and the way he looked at Horace.

Like he was very interested in Horace. “Mama’s sick. I’m fetching the doctor.”

A loud banging sound, like a garbage can falling over a block away, and then the laughter of coyotes.

“I’m sorry to hear that. Now, I have another question for you, son. Have you seen a colored lady out here tonight, with long hair? In a yellow dress?”

Horace nodded. The man smiled. His teeth were like the drawing in a magazine.

“She went into that building over there, didn’t she?”

“She knocked but couldn’t get in, sir.” He remembered to say “sir.” He had forgotten earlier. “She went ’round back instead.”

*

Rakestraw sat in his squad car, calling in the license and registration and watching as his partner chatted with the driver. What were they talking about? It seemed more conversation than would normally be taking place right now.

The driver’s name was Brian Underhill and he was forty-three years old. The license listed a Mechanicsville address a short drive away.

Dispatch radioed back that Mr. Underhill did not have any record, warrant, or probationary status. Rakestraw was about to jot out the ticket when he stopped himself. He wasn’t clear on how his partner wanted to proceed. So he stepped out of the squad car and walked toward the Buick.

Dunlow had been saying something, but he stopped as Rake handed over the papers.

“Thank you,” Dunlow said. “I was just telling Mr. Underhill here to be more careful about his driving.”

“Yes, sir, Officer.” The driver seemed slightly amused by something. So did Dunlow.

“All right,” Dunlow said. “You have a good night.”

Underhill turned his Buick back on. After it was a block away, Rake asked, “No ticket?”

“Me and him came to an understanding.”

“That understanding involved us not ticketing him for being drunk and knocking down a city light pole?”

“What light pole? You see any light pole?”

“Boggs and Smith say they saw it.”

“Don’t recall the darkies saying they actually witnessed it. Though they may have. Even so, it’s one less light in Darktown. Practically a civic service the man performed for us.”

Dunlow walked back to the car, taking the driver’s side this time.

“Wonder who the girl was,” Rakestraw said as he got in, trying not to sound too accusatory.

“Again, I myself do not recall seeing any girl. Darkies say they did, I’m sure they’re sniffing around the bushes for her right now.”

Dunlow probably believed that the colored cops did indeed possess such heightened powers of smell. Among other powers.

“And when Boggs and Smith file a report about it?” he asked.

“They’re dumb, but not that dumb. Niggers know if they step on my toes, I kick hard.” He turned on the car. “Let’s patrol a more respectable area of our fair city.”

*

The white man in the light gray suit had been smiling at Horace for longer than felt normal.

“You’re a good little boy, aren’t you?”

“Yes, sir.” Horace’s mother had warned him about white people, that he should never speak to them unless they spoke first, and that if he did, he needed to say “sir” and “ma’am” and not be rude but to get away as quickly as he could before they did something terrible.

She had refused to say what it was people like this did that was so awful. Horace figured they ate colored people, or at least colored children.

What else had his mother said? That’s right, not to look into their eyes.

Yet Horace had looked into the man’s eyes the moment the man had crouched down, and he could not look away. They were so blue and empty he felt himself being pulled in more deeply to fill that void. Horace shifted on his bare feet.

The man reached out and patted Horace’s head. Once, two times. The second time, the hand lingered there. Then it moved, slowly, to the base of Horace’s neck.

Horace flinched.

The man’s hand slipped behind Horace’s right ear, then reappeared again. Between the man’s forefinger and thumb was a shiny dime.

“You can pay the colored doctor with that.”

Horace realized he should be reaching out with his hand, so he did, and the man placed the coin in his palm. Then the man stood, and without that eye contact it was like he vanished.

Horace hurriedly crossed the road.

He was still clutching the coin and had walked another block when he realized that he had indeed forgotten his mother’s directions to the doctor’s, and he was lost now, and so very tired.


Until next time,

Bruce

Mondays are for Murder: Magpie Murders…

5

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I’m bringing out the big guns for our sojourn into humanity’s dark underbelly today, with the much-anticipated new release Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz. We received our copy from Hachette Australia for review, and while the blurb is intriguing enough, it’s nothing compared to the twisty-turny-ness that goes on in the pages.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

When editor Susan Ryeland is given the tattered manuscript of Alan Conway’s latest novel, she has little idea it will change her life. She’s worked with the revered crime writer for years and his detective, Atticus Pund, is renowned for solving crimes in the sleepy English villages of the 1950s. As Susan knows only too well, vintage crime sells handsomely. It’s just a shame that it means dealing with an author like Alan Conway…

But Conway’s latest tale of murder at Pye Hall is not quite what it seems. Yes, there are dead bodies and a host of intriguing suspects, but hidden in the pages of the manuscript there lies another story: a tale written between the very words on the page, telling of real-life jealousy, greed, ruthless ambition and murder.

From Sunday Times bestseller Anthony Horowitz comes Magpie Murders, his deliciously dark take on the vintage crime novel, brought bang- up-to-date with a fiendish modern twist.

magpie-murders

Plot Summary:

It’s going to be quite difficult to tell you much about the plot without disturbing the intended reading experience, so I’ll keep this bit brief.  Susan Ryeland is an editor at a semi-successful publishing house that is kept from going under mostly due to the best-selling titles of one Alan Conway.  Conway writes the wildly popular Atticus Pund detective series, and while he is a complete pill to work with – demanding, selfish and generally unpleasant – he nevertheless delivers on providing his manuscripts bang on time.  It is after Conway has dropped off the manuscript of the ninth book in the series, Magpie Murders, to Cloverleaf books, that life begins imitating art and secrets that have the potential to shed a whole new light on the books and Conway himself are both revealed and kept back.  Even though Conway’s books are keeping her in a job, Susan wishes she had never laid eyes on Conway or Atticus Pund.

The Usual Suspects:

Okay, this section isn’t going to work particularly well for this novel because in essence you are getting two mysteries for the price of one.  You see, one section of the novel is devoted to the manuscript – yes, the entire manuscript – of the ninth Atticus Pund novel, so the reader gets to experience a vintage-style, golden age of crime, sleepy English village mystery, written by Conway, as well as a contemporary amateur sleuth mystery, narrated by Ryeland.  Incredible value for money, when you think about it!  I can tell you that the Pund manuscript features all the usual suspects you would expect from a Christie-esque mystery: the Lord and Lady of the Manor, various lackeys in the form of housekeepers, groundsmen and their families, the village doctor, the sister of the Lord of the Manor, a Johnny-come-lately store owner, a shady Reverend and his wife, a young couple trying to make a go of things…

The Hunt for the Murderer/s:

Once again, there are two separate, but intertwined mysteries going on here, so I will focus on the Atticus Pund manuscript.  Again, this follows exactly the formula of a vintage British crime novel.  Atticus Pund is essentially Poirot, but German (indeed, Poirot, Marple and various other crime writers are mentioned throughout the contemporary part of the novel, and the reader is supposed to get the sense that the Atticus Pund series has been deliberately written in this style).  The detective and his young assistant come into town and question the appropriate people, Pund smugly lets on that he knows the answer to the mystery, the mystery is revealed in the typical fashion.

Overall Rating:

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Four poison bottles for the utter bewilderment of trying to solve two mysteries simultaneously

I’m finding it hard to really get to the nitty-gritty of this novel and express what I thought about its quirks and twists, because I don’t want to give anything away. There are two major plot points that I think would really detract from the reading experience if you were to find them out before reading the book, so if you know any reviewers who are fond of spoilers, it might be best to steer clear until you’ve read it.  Suffice to say that if you are a fan of murder mysteries of the contemporary or historical variety, you should definitely give this a go and see what you think, because the format will most likely be different to anything you’ve read before in this genre.

The story itself has layers upon layers, with puzzles and sideways references hidden throughout.  In terms of solving the mystery/s along with the characters, it is decidedly tricky to do because there are so many clues that are given piecemeal, or only make sense in the context of information that is revealed later.  Having said that, I certainly came across a few clues that had me thinking “Yes! I’ve got it!”.  I was proved wrong, of course, but not in the way I was expecting.

One of the strange things that I experienced, that most readers probably won’t have to contend with, is the fact that I was reading an uncorrected manuscript of an uncorrected manuscript, so I was trying to find clues where no clues were intended! My review copy was an ARC (or advanced readers copy, or uncorrected proof copy for the uninitiated) and therefore contained minor errors – typos mostly, and in one case, the wrong name assigned to a character – and as the Atticus Pund manuscript within the novel also contains minor errors (deliberately, I suspect, to make it look like a first draft manuscript), I was thinking that the errors in the contemporary bits might have some hidden meaning.

They didn’t.

But it certainly made reading the book a bizarre, code-cracking experience.

Horowitz has done a brilliant job of creating two complete mysteries within the one novel.  I enjoyed the Atticus Pund manuscript very much, given that it is in the vintage style that I prefer.  In fact, Horowitz has done such a good job with making Pund like Poirot that I wish he had been given charge of the new Poirot stories, rather than Sophie Hannah.  The contemporary part of the novel was a little bit slow for my liking, mostly because we have already been presented with what is essentially an entire book within the greater story, so I just wanted to hurry things along and get to the dual reveals.

Horowitz has proved once again what a fantastic mastery of writing he has with Magpie Murders.  We on the Shelf have long been fans of his work,  and although there were some parts of the book overall that don’t sit quite right with me on reflection, Magpie Murders is a wonderful, quirky and unexpected addition to the murder mystery section of the shelf that will have readers trying to puzzle out clues within clues.

Highly recommended.

Until next time,

Bruce

Bruce’s Reading Round-Up: The “New Release Picture Book” Edition…

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Following on from yesterday’s theme of visual stunnery, today I have four new release picture books for you.  I must warn you, one of them features guinea pigs dressed up as Victorian-era orphan boys.  On that note, let’s saddle up and get into it.

Oi Dog! (Kes Gray & Jim Field)

*We received a copy of Oi Dog! from Hachette Australia for review*

Two Sentence Synopsis:  oi-dog

In this thrilling sequel to Oi Frog!, Frog decides to change things up a bit.  But what on earth will the animals sit on now?

Muster up the motivation because…

…if you loved the word-twisting, rhyme-busting, sit-a-thon that was Oi Frog!, you will definitely appreciate the humour (and the fairness of the new rules) presented in Oi Dog!  Without giving too much away, this is essentially the exact same story as the earlier book, with animals coerced into sitting on objects that rhyme with their name, capped off with a funny, off-beat twist at the end.  I had forgotten how funny the facial expressions of the various ill-seated animals are and that provided a good laugh throughout.  If you are planning to read this one aloud, make sure you have a good lung capacity (or a ventolin inhaler to hand), because some of those compound sentences will really give you a vocal workout.  The mini-fleshlings loved this book and since it has been a while since we borrowed Oi Frog! from the library, they didn’t particularly twig that the humour and style was the same as a book they had read before.  Apart from the poor animal that has to sit on smelly pants (can you guess which?), the funniest part of the book for the youngest mini-fleshling was to be found in the endpapers, wherein resides a tiny picture of the dog on the cover passing wind.  The book was asked for repeatedly just so the mini-fleshlings could point and laugh at said flatulent dog, so really, it could be said that every inch of this book has something to enjoy.

Brand it with:

Seating arrangements; animal stories; challenging the status quo

The Sisters Saint-Claire (Carlie Gibson & Tamsin Ainslie)

*We received a copy of The Sisters Saint-Claire from Allen & Unwin for review*

Two Sentence Synopsis:  

The Sisters Saint-Claire by Carlie Gibson & Tamsin Ainslie.  Published by Allen & Unwin, 28th September 2016.  RRP: $19.99

The Sisters Saint-Claire by Carlie Gibson & Tamsin Ainslie. Published by Allen & Unwin, 28th September 2016. RRP: $19.99

A family of mice love to go to market every week, but Cecile, the youngest, is just too small to go along.  She is also a dab-hand at making pies – could these be the key to the family’s fortune?

Muster up the motivation because…

…this delightful little tome is as cheery and uplifting as a successful trip to a boutique artisan makers market in the south of France.  It may surprise you to know then, that it was actually cooked up by an Aussie author.  Everything about this book screams charm and whimsy, from its sweet little protagonist family of mice, to the dreamy, old-fashioned illustrations.  The rhyme and rhythm of the text is absolutely spot-on, which will be a blessed relief to those reading aloud (although you may want to test-drive the few French words in your head first!) and the story feels just a touch longer than your average picture book, so this is a great pick for the 5 to 7 year olds.  The text is broken up with plenty of individual illustrations, and this, combined with the full page spreads, mean that there is plenty of imagery to examine for those who like to spot cheeky little details going on out of sight of the main illustrative action.  To top off the satisfying and cheerful ending, the author has included a recipe for Croque Monsieur, so that budding little foodies can whip something up with their grown-ups and extend the story further.  I’d recommend this to young readers who like gentle, colourful stories that demonstrate how little people can do big things.

Brand it with:

Le mice!; farmers markets; royal seal of approval

A Guinea Pig Oliver Twist (Tess Newall & Alex Goodwin with Charles Dickens)

*We received A Guinea Pig Oliver Twist from Bloomsbury Australia for review*

Two Sentence Synopsis:  guinea-pig-oliver-twist

It’s Oliver Twist with guinea pigs.  What’s not to like?

Muster up the motivation because…

…if you can’t find something to like in a book replete with cloth-capped and lace-bonneted rodents acting out scenes from one of the most-loved pieces of literature in the English-speaking world, then I truly weep for your loss.  Really, who can’t go past a bit of guinea-pig related silliness? Not I, that’s for sure.  As the first few pages and A5 format suggest, this is an abridged retelling of Dicken’s classic, Oliver Twist, featuring guinea pigs photographed in front of teeny replicas of Victorian streets.  The book begins with a very handy image of the cast of characters, helpful if you want to keep your Fagins and your Dodgers straight, and I couldn’t help but have a giggle at the appropriately surly and common-looking guinea pig that had been selected to play the scoundrel Bill Sikes.  I am quite surprised, in fact, by the lengths that the authors have gone to in selecting guinea pigs that embody the natures of the characters that they are representing.  Mr Bumble is chubby and just a bit unkempt, as one would expect, while Mr Brownlow (played ably by one “Molly”) has a regal sort of bearing.  The guinea pig version of Fagin even has black markings across his face, making him (her, actually) look appropriately sly and conniving.  The story is divided into sections, relaying Oliver’s travels to, and outside of, London, and there are no more than two paragraphs of text on any page, making it easy to get through quickly.  I will admit that I much preferred the end of the musical, in which Fagin and the Artful Dodger skip off into the sunset, singing jauntily, to the end that Fagin meets here, but I suspect it might be tricky to photograph guinea pigs in full dance mode, given that guinea pigs are not known for their high-kicking abilities.  If you are a fan of guinea pigs, or indeed Oliver Twist, this will be a quirky and cute addition to your collection.

Brand it with:

Rodents of Victorian London; classic literature (with rodents); bonding with your pets

The Pruwahaha Monster (Jean-Paul Mulders, Jacques Maes & Lise Braekers)

*We received a copy of this title from the publisher via Netgalley*

Two Sentence Synopsis:  pruwahaha-monster

A boy and his father go to play on the swings; the boy’s favourite activity.  Will he be safe when the Pruwahaha monster spots him through the trees?

Muster up the motivation because…

…this is an unusual tale that isn’t what it seems.  I wasn’t entirely sure what to make of the story once I’d finished reading it, but overall I think it hits just the right note of mystery and adventure.  The illustrations are gorgeously creepy and eerily simple, with a sense of movement that captures the atmosphere of the weather and the mood of slight danger that accompanies the boy as he swings.  The text is short and matter-of-fact, and as the monster creeps closer to the boy, it looks as if all will be lost in a quick snip-snap of monster jaws.  There is a twist at the end that will allow readers to make their own interpretations of how the story goes, which is a good thing to see in books for this age group as it requires young readers to construct their version of the story based on what they can pick up from the illustrations and the text.  All in all, I think this is one that will be asked for again and again, as readers will want to go back to the beginning and see if they can spot clues that they might have missed the first time around.

Brand it with:

childhood pastimes; fathers and sons; if you go down to the woods today

I refuse to believe that amongst these gems there is not at least one that you wish to hunt down and make your own.  Which of these beauties do you have your eye on?

Until next time,

Bruce