Nordic Noir

Solstorm, by Åsa Larsson, was published in Sweden in 2003. In 2006, it was published in the USA, translated by Marlaine Delargy, as Sun Storm. In 2007, it was published in the UK as The Savage Altar.

The first sentence is: “When Viktor Strandgård dies it is not, in fact, for the first time.

Sun StormRebecka Martinsson is a newly qualified tax attorney, working for Meijer & Ditinger, in Stockholm. She and her colleague Maria Taube are listening to the news on the radio. A well-known religious leader, aged thirty, had been found murdered in his church in Kiruna. The police have no suspects, and the murder weapon has not been found.

Maria notices that Rebecka seems especially upset by this news. The phone rings, and Maria answers it. The caller is from Kiruna, and is asking for Rebecka Martinsson.

Inspector Anna-Maria Mella is called in to investigate the murder of Viktor Strandgård, whose mutilated body was found in The Source of All Our Strength church.

Inspector Mella is in the final days of her pregnancy. She’s supposed to be on desk duty.

Viktor Strandgård had become a religious celebrity after he died in a hospital, following an automobile accident. When he came back to life, he told his followers that he’d been to Heaven, where he met Jesus. His miracle united the area’s churches and formed The Source of All Our Strength church.

Sanna Strandgård had been the first to find her brother’s body in her church. Now she’s hiding out, and has called her friend Rebecka for help.

Returning to Kiruna is not going to be easy for Rebecka Martinsson. There is a lot of history there which she would rather not relive.

Rebecka’s boss, Måns Wenngren, grants her a few days off to visit her friend. Then he wonders what the hell is going on when he sees a news report that Sanna Strandgård had gone to the police station to be interviewed, accompanied by her lawyer, Rebecka Martinsson.

Sun Storm constantly switches point of view and locations. There’s the domestic life in northern Sweden, where Rebecka cares for Sanna’s children, and, as a tax attorney, tries to act as a criminal lawyer. There’s the law firm in Stockholm, trying to figure out what to do about a newly qualified tax attorney who has apparently overstepped her job description. There’s Anna-Maria and her team of Kiruna police officers, running an official investigation. And there’s The Source of All Our Strength church, protecting itself from the evils of the outside world. For a while, I wondered if Rebecka Martinsson actually was the protagonist of this novel. But the story always returns to Rebecka and her journey into her past.

Sun Storm is a classic noir story. It’s a gloomy mystery, centered around a grisly murder, where everyone has something they’d like to hide. It’s a fascinating double-investigation, with Anna-Maria and Rebecka working independently, and often in opposition, trying to solve the same case from two different angles.

The murderer is revealed abruptly – a little too abruptly, I thought. The mystery is solved a little too conveniently. But I enjoyed Sun Storm, and I’d be interested in reading the next book in the Rebecka Martinsson series.

Sun Storm has a strange “About the author” section, in the back of the book, which devotes more words to plugging the book I just read than to telling me about the author: “Åsa Larsson was born in 1966 and lives in the country outside Kyköping. Sun Storm, her debut novel, is a tense thriller with considerable literary merit. Even before publication in Sweden, translation rights had been sold to several countries, including Norway, Denmark and Germany.

Why I chose this book:

I did an internet search for “Nordic noir” and found a list of books, including The Man Who Went Up in Smoke (which I used for “A book by two authors”), and Sun Storm. I did a little research on Sun Storm, and learned that it was written by a former tax attorney from Kiruna, and that the novel is about a tax attorney from Kiruna. I chose this book for two reasons: The protagonist of this crime drama is not a detective (which sounded refreshing), and the author set a crime drama in her home town (which sounded like it could contain some local color).

A Book With A LBGTQ+ Protagonist

Kevin Keller: Welcome to Riverdale, by Dan Parent, Rich Koslowski, and Jack Morelli, was published in 2012.

It is a graphic novel, in the sense that it is a collection of Kevin Keller comics. It’s like a collection of short stories tied together with a central theme.

The first line of dialog is: “Wow! It seems like I just moved to Riverdale!

Kevin Keller Wecome to RiverdaleKevin Keller is an army brat. He was born in England, and has lived all over the world. He has a big, loving family. He plans to follow in his father’s footsteps someday, and have a military career. The Keller family is now living in Riverdale.

Kevin goes to Riverdale High, where he has been elected Class President. He’s active in the ROTC and the Chess Club. He hangs out with his friends Archie Andrews, Jughead Jones, Veronica Lodge, and Betty Cooper.

Kevin and Veronica are best friends. Veronica has a crush on Kevin. She looks at him with her chin resting in her hands, while little hearts orbit her head. However, Veronica has (mostly) accepted that she and Kevin are never going to be anything more than pals. Kevin Keller is openly gay.

In Chapter 1, Kevin speaks directly to the readers, breaking that fourth wall. He tells us that this story contains a lot of firsts for him: It’s his first week as Class President, his first article has been printed in The Riverdale Times, and he’s won his first journalism award. He’s also “freakin’ out”. He’s been asked out on his first date. Hilarity ensues.

In Chapter 2, Kevin and Veronica plan the prom together. They decide, with the help of Kevin’s family, on a 1970s disco theme. Conflict arises. Who should Archie ask to the prom: Betty or Veronica? Should Kevin ask Veronica, or the secret admirer who’s been leaving notes in his locker?

In Chapter 3, the school year has ended and the Riverdale gang heads for the beach. Kevin needs to save some money for college, so he’s landed a job as a life guard. (At least he’ll be near his friends while he works.) All the girls swoon over Kevin, the dreamy new life guard. Suddenly, the snobs from Pembrooke show up. Their private beach is closed, and they want to use Riverdale’s beach. There’s not enough room for everyone, so Kevin suggests a winner-take-all surfing competition. The kids from Riverdale and Pembrooke prepare for a friendly competition. However, Sloan, the jerk from Pembrooke, is not above using some homophobic taunting, and outright cheating, to win.

In Chapter 4, the Riverdale gang is hanging out in Pop’s, watching an ad for the 2012 Olympic Games in London. Kevin announces to his friends that he’ll be there, in London, because his father will be a torchbearer. Veronica asks to go along, and the Keller family is thrilled to have her join them. In London, Kevin shows Veronica his old neighborhood, and introduces her to his longtime friends. The Olympic torch run doesn’t go as planned, however. Mishaps include a stuck tube train, Veronica’s new dress, and a cup of water.

I started reading Kevin Keller: Welcome to Riverdale, knowing that I wasn’t going be getting into complex stories with deep, philosophical allegories. I knew the artwork wasn’t going to be especially inventive. I got what I was expecting, and that was fine with me. There are times that I enjoy silly entertainment just for the sake of entertainment.

There isn’t much drama, aside from a sabotaged surfboard, or many surprises.

The Riverdale gang acted pretty much like I expected them to act – just like they’ve probably been acting since the 1940s. Betty gives Kevin dating advice and immediately realizes that her advice has yet to help her land Archie. Jughead loves enormous hamburgers, which is something he and Kevin have in common. Reggie is his typical sarcastic, bad boy self. Veronica is lovely and glamorous, and fully aware that she is. Archie, however, doesn’t do a whole lot in any of the four stories. (He can’t be the center of attention when the stories are about Kevin Keller.)

I enjoyed this collection of comics. It was a fun read.

Why I chose this book:

Kevin Keller: Welcome to Riverdale was in the same Humble Bundle folder as The Infinite Loop. I’d heard of Kevin Keller, Riverdale’s first openly gay citizen, but I knew nothing about The Infinite Loop.

I started reading The Infinite Loop, and chose it as my “book with a LBGTQ+ protagonist”. I was almost finished with it when I remembered that there was also a category named “a book about time travel”. So The Infinite Loop changed categories. Sorry, Kevin, but you were the runner-up who got picked because the winner dropped out.

A Book Mentioned In Another Book

Never Tell Our Business to Strangers, published in 2010, is a memoir by Jennifer Mascia. It was mentioned in the novel Turtles All the Way Down, by John Green.

The first sentence is: “I was five when the FBI came for my father.

Never Tell Our Business to StrangersWhen Jennifer’s father was arrested the first time, her cousin explained they were just filming a movie. When he was arrested a second time, a few months later, her cousin tried to keep Jennifer distracted in the bedroom, but the “filming a movie” story couldn’t be used a second time.

Jennifer and her mother traveled from Irvine, California to the correctional facility in New York to visit her father. Then Jennifer and her mother moved to Miami Beach, Florida, where Jennifer was told her father was in a different kind of facility – one where Jennifer couldn’t visit.

Jennifer had been told that her last name is Cassese. Then she was told her last name is really Mascia. She was told that her father’s first name was no longer Frank, and that people will be calling him John. Later, she was told that her father had been arrested by mistake – the FBI had been looking for another man named John Mascia.

Jennifer was warned by her parents: “Never tell our business to strangers.”

Jennifer and her parents moved frequently, across Florida, California, and New York. They always rented an apartment wherever they lived. They kept to themselves, trusting only family and a few close friends. As she got older, Jennifer began to notice some unusual behavior, like the fact that her mother and father were both using someone else’s Social Security numbers.

When Jennifer pressed her mother for the truth, her mother told Jennifer that her father had been in prison before Jennifer was born. He served a twelve-year sentence for racketeering with a criminal organization. When he was arrested, back when Jennifer was five years old, it was for a minor violation of his parole.

When Jennifer Mascia was 22 years old, her father was diagnosed with lung cancer, and was given a year to live. In that same year, Jennifer discovered, by chance, that records of past and present convictions were available online at the New York Department of Correctional Services web site. That’s how Jennifer discovered that her father had served a twelve-year sentence, not for racketeering, but for murder. (This isn’t a spoiler. This information is given on the inner flap of the book jacket.) This happens on page 139 of this 380 page book.

Jennifer confronted her mother with what she’d discovered. Her mother told her the truth: John Mascia shot a man who had planned to inform on the crime organization. Jennifer’s father didn’t want to kill anyone, her mother told her, but he’d been ordered to do so. John Mascia was arrested and went to trial at a time when there were no degrees of murder. There was only the crime of murder, and the only penalties were life imprisonment or execution. He pleaded guilty only to avoid the death penalty.

While John Mascia was serving his life sentence, laws were written to include degrees of murder, and he was paroled after serving twelve years in prison.

John Mascia died in 2001.

Four years later, Eleanor Mascia (Jennifer’s mother) was diagnosed with lung cancer. Shortly before she died, she told Jennifer the rest of the story. (That’s also included on the inner flap of the book jacket.) That happens on page 230. Jennifer Mascia learned the story behind all the secrecy, the moving, and why they never told their business to strangers – and the book still had 150 pages to go.

During all the lies and half-truths, and finally the truth, it’s clear that Jennifer Mascia loved her parents, and that her parents loved her, through it all.

Never Tell Our Business to Strangers didn’t grab me.

I’ve made a rule for myself that I will finish every book I start for the Reading Challenge. (It is a challenge, after all.) I had a tough time sticking with this book, but I did finish it.

There’s a fascinating story in this memoir, but I felt it would have made a better magazine article than a book. I wanted to read John Mascia’s story – that’s what made the memoir unique. I didn’t want to read about Jennifer’s boyfriends, or her jobs, or her apartments, or how much her rent was. I didn’t want to read chapter-long tales of medical treatments, and entire conversations with doctors.

Why I chose this book:

“A book mentioned in another book” is a tough category for me. I don’t know the best way to find such a book. Internet searches haven’t been successful.

I stumbled into this same category last year, when a mention of For Whom the Bell Tolls showed up in the pages of All the Bright Places. And, just like that, I also stumbled into this category this year.

This is a passage from page 116 of Turtles All the Way Down, by John Green. Aza Holmes is reading notes from the missing billionaire’s phone.

It went on like that for pages, just little memos to himself that were inscrutable to anyone else. But the last four notes in the documents interested me:
Maldives Kosovo Cambodia
Never Tell Our Business to Strangers
Unless you leave a leg behind
The jogger’s mouth

Aza does some research on these notes. The first item is a list of three countries with no extradition treaty with the United States. The second item is the title of a memoir by a woman whose father was on the run from the law. A search on the third item leads her to an article about how white-collar criminals live on the lam – the quote is referring to how difficult it is to fake your own death. A search on the last item leads to photos of joggers with their mouths open. Aza doesn’t know what that last item means.

Out of curiosity, I did a search on my own. I was surprised to discover that Never Tell Our Business to Strangers is an actual memoir, and not just an invention of the author (like An Imperial Affliction was, in The Fault in Our Stars). I realized then that I’d once again stumbled into “A book mentioned in another book”.

A Book About Time Travel

The Infinite Loop, written and lettered by Pierrick Colinet, and illustrated and colored by Elsa Charretier, was published in 2015. It is a graphic novel.

The first line of dialog is: “We’re doing today what someone did yesterday, and another will do tomorrow.

Infinite LoopTeddy is a professional time traveler. Her job is to hunt down anomalies and preserve the natural order of time. Every grain of sand must come back to its exact position. The infinite loop of events must not be broken.

As the story opens, Teddy is driving across the Nevada desert in 1964. She just got back from 1809. Teddy and her teammate Ulysses are protecting the world from time-forging terrorists.

Out in the desert is a stash of time anomalies stored away, waiting to be suppressed: a phonograph from 1889, a bird cage from the near future, a light saber from a long time ago and far far away, a T-Rex, and so on. That’s Teddy’s job.

Meanwhile, Ulysses has a crush on Teddy, but she rebuffs him.

In 1970 New York, near Christopher Street, Teddy finds another sort of anomaly: A beautiful, mysterious, purple-haired woman who calls herself Ano. Teddy knows she should do her job and suppress the anomaly. But she can’t seem to do it. Teddy wonders if she has fallen in love.

By failing to suppress the anomaly, Teddy suddenly becomes wanted as a suspected time terrorist.

Poor Ulysses is torn between protecting his friend and doing his job, all while dealing with the jealousy of seeing his crush in the arms of someone else.

The Infinite Loop is a story about lovers on the run, forming a forbidden relationship. It’s also a complex tale of time loops and paradoxes.

It’s a story about universal civil rights across time.

Infinite Loop panelI loved the artwork. It’s simple, with just enough detail to get the point across. The colors are vibrant. The page layouts are inventive and interesting. Action is shown in surprising ways.

There’s a flow chart on one page in which you can determine if you’d survive a fight with a T-Rex. When Teddy faces a decision, the page splits down the middle, vertically, and becomes a mini “Choose Your Own Adventure”, with one side leading to “The End” and the other instructs you to continue to the next chapter.

The weak part of this story, for me, was the characters. I never really connected with anyone. Teddy is devoted to doing the right thing, but even when it’s shown that she has a dark side, her decision to break the law for the sake of love didn’t feel like she was making that tough of a decision. Ulysses, when he was dealing with his feelings versus his duty, was interesting, but then he settles into a predictable pattern and sort of disappears. Tina is given enough of a back story to give her a very good reason to be a bad guy, but she is ultimately the standard power-hungry “annihilate them all!” bad guy. And Ano is just there, having trouble keeping her clothes on.

There is nudity in The Infinite Loop.

So, this is my impression of The Infinite Loop: I loved the artwork, I liked the story, and felt okay about the characters.

Why I chose this book:

I chose it entirely by chance.

There is a folder on our computer that contains some eBooks that Phillip bought from Humble Bundle a long time ago. I’ve never really explored these eBooks because I simply forget they’re there. Even in times when I’ve been looking for something to read, I don’t think to look in the Humble Bundle folder.

Recently, something made me remember that folder. I picked The Infinite Loop at random, knowing nothing about it, and uploaded it to my Kobo Mini eReader – just to have it there in the future. It turned out to be a graphic novel. My Kobo Mini does an excellent job of displaying text, but it’s not suited for graphic novels, because of its size, and the fact that it displays only black and white. So, I downloaded Calibre to our computer. Of course, I had to test out our new toy. I read the first few pages and realized that The Infinite Loop fit at least two categories in the Challenge. So I kept reading.

Two Libraries

I looked into why Seattle and King County have separate library systems. That’s what I do when I have a question: I look it up.

What I learned is that it’s not uncommon for a major city to have a separate library from its surrounding county. Everett has a public library system, while Snohomish County has a public library system. Chicago has a public library system, while Cook County has a public library system. I had been mistaken in thinking my city was an anomaly.

Before Phillip and I got our King County Library cards, we both saw that there was an option on our Seattle Public Library accounts to link our (then non-existent) King County Library accounts. Neither one of us knew what linking our accounts would mean.

After we came home, last Sunday, with our new cards, we took turns logging on to our Seattle Public Library  accounts and clicking the Link Accounts button. We filled in our account information, and our city/county accounts were linked. But we still didn’t know what we’d done.

This morning, I went to the Seattle Public Library web page to check on a hold. I noticed a new button in the upper right. It said “Switch Library Account”. Next to it was the King County Library logo. I clicked it.

This is what linking my accounts means: I can now see what I have checked out, what’s due back soon, and what’s on hold, at one library system, and then see the same information at the other library system – without logging out or logging on, and without switching web sites.

This is awesome.

What’s even more exciting to me is that my “For Later” shelf (the list of books I’ve lined up for the Reading Challenge) stays with me across both library systems. I can check on the availability on a book in Seattle, then quickly check on the availability of the same book in King County.

This is cool.

Last night, I finished reading a library book on my phone. There was a partially completed library book on the coffee table in front of me. There was a partially completed book on the computer. And there was a partially completed book in my eReader. A book I’d placed on hold was in transit to the Capitol Hill Library.

I had an impulse to download another book to my phone, but I decided to slow down a bit.

A Book Involving A Heist

Heist Society, by Ally Carter, was published in 2010. It is the first book in a series.

The first sentence is: “No one knew for certain when the trouble started at the Colgan School.

Heist SocietySomeone put the headmaster’s mint-condition 1958 Porsche Speedster on top of the school fountain, right in the middle of the quad. Things like that never used to happen at Colgan School. The school used to have standards.

Now, sophomore Katarina “Kat” Bishop has been called in front of the school’s Honor Board, facing expulsion for the Porsche stunt. Kat pleads innocent.

Ordinarily, the headmaster would review Kat’s records, except that she’s been at Colgan for only three months. Her records from one of her previous schools burned in a mysterious fire. Her records from another school were destroyed in a computer crash. So, all the Honor Board has to go by is the evidence.

Kat’s ID card was used to exit the dorms past curfew that night. Someone looking just like her was seen on security cameras that night. The Porsche’s license plate was found in Kat’s dorm room.

Kat isn’t that stupid. She knows where all the security cameras are, and how to avoid them. She knows how to leave the dorm without using her ID card. She knows exactly how she would have done it – if she had done it. She’s also smart enough to avoid saying any of that to the Honor Board.

So, Kat is expelled from Colgan School.

Kat soon finds out who framed her, and why.

Kat Bishop doesn’t want to go back into the family business. That’s why she conned her way into a boarding school in the first place – to get away from the thievery life. But, now that she’s been expelled from Colgan School, she has no choice.

Someone has stolen five paintings from a powerful mobster. All the evidence points to Kat’s former partner in crime, her father. The mobster has sent out a warning: If his paintings are not returned in two weeks, there will be retaliations.

Kat’s father claims to have a perfect alibi: He was stealing paintings in Paris at the same time the mobster’s paintings were being stolen in Italy.

Teenage Kat Bishop, with the help of her teenage billionaire friend W.W. Hale the Fifth, has two weeks to locate the stolen paintings, steal them again, and then return them to the mobster’s heavily guarded villa. This is no ordinary job. They’ll need a team of the best thieves they know  – their heist society – to pull this off.

I enjoyed this book a lot. Heist Society is a fun, globe-hopping tale of adventure and mystery. It’s a tale of plans being made and cons being played. The story flowed well and the characters were interesting.

Although it is the first in a series, the story in Heist Society is self-contained. At the end, the main characters make it clear that they will be back for more adventures.

Why I chose this book:

I did an internet search for “books involving a heist” and found a nice, long list of books to choose from. I read down the list and stopped when I saw Heist Society. I immediately put it on my “For Later” shelf at the library, without knowing anything about it, because it seemed perfect that a book involving a heist would have the word “heist” in the title.

A Book By An Author Of A Different Ethnicity Than Me

Blackass, by A. Igoni Barrett, was published in 2015.

The first sentence is “Furo Wariboko awoke this morning to find that dreams can lose their way and turn up on the wrong side of sleep.

Blackass

Furo Wariboko wakes up one morning to discover that he has turned white. (Or, as they say in Nigeria, “oyibo”.) He has no idea how or why this has happened. His mother is pounding on his bedroom door, reminding him that he’s scheduled for a job interview. Furo doesn’t dare open the door.

Furo needs money for bus fare. He knows his sister would be willing to loan him some money, but he can’t figure out how to ask her without her seeing him in his present condition. So he walks to the interview, forgetting to take his cell phone.

Lagos, Nigeria, is a city of about 20 million people. It’s not uncommon to see white businessmen driving through the more affluent parts of the city. It’s rare to see a white man – an oyibo – in Furo’s neighborhood, and you never, ever see an oyibo walking in Lagos. As he walks to his interview, people stop to stare or point at him.

The job Furo Wariboko has applied for is a sales position. There’s one opening, and at least forty applicants. Nigeria has a 50% unemployment rate. The interviewer is furious with Furo – this white applicant is obviously not Nigerian. This white applicant has presented him with a false resumé. A second interviewer takes over, and once it’s proven that Furo is, indeed, a Nigerian with white skin, Furo is offered a great job, with fantastic benefits. The job starts in about a week.

Everything is now different for Furo Wariboko. He has a steady job. He’s oyibo. (Actually, though, as the book title suggests, not all of Furo’s body has turned white.)

Furo doesn’t dare go home. He’s not sure he’s actually the same person anymore, so how could he ever convince his family that he’s the same son and brother who left for an interview that morning? And if they did believe him, could they handle all the medical investigations and the media frenzy?

Blackass is a story about race, racism, and privilege – in many surprising ways. (Furo finds that once he’s white, taxi drivers want to charge him four times the usual rate, because he looks like he has money.) It’s a story about personal identity.

Blackass is a story about Lagos, Nigeria. The city becomes a major character, with its speech patterns and street slang. It shows us its street food and shopping malls. It shows us nearly constant go-slows (traffic jams) and officials with varying degrees of corruption.

Blackass opens with a quote from Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis. Blackass is a story about transformations – a new skin, a new identity, a new life, and at least one unexpected transformation.

My one quibble with this novel is the sections in which an author named Igoni appears. He meets Furo briefly, and then the novel switches to the author’s point of view as he finds and contacts Furo’s sister, who is gaining Twitter fame as she looks for her missing brother. These sections abruptly change the tone of the story. It’s all Furo’s story, except when Igoni jumps in. (Note that this is the same name as the author of the book.)

But, aside from the author’s sections, I enjoyed this novel a lot. It was enigmatic and mesmerizing.

Why I chose this book:

As I thought about the many ethnicities of authors around the world, it occurred to me that I don’t read many books by authors from African countries, and that I didn’t know why. (The 2018 Reading Challenge is a nice education for me.) I did an internet search for “the best novels by African authors”. That’s how I found Blackass. It looked interesting and fun, and it was available from the library with only a short hold line.

A Book By A Local Author

The Bamboozlers, by Michael de Guzman, was published in 2005.

The first sentence is: “Albert Rosegarden raced through downtown Mountain View, Idaho, on his bicycle like his tail was being snapped at by a fork of lightning.

The BamboozlersTwelve-year-old Albert is racing home on his bicycle so that he might be able to tell his mother his side of the story before the school calls to tell her that Albert has been suspended.

Albert and his mother, Elly, live in a rented trailer. Elly wishes she had enough money for them to live someplace nicer. Albert wishes he had enough money to send his mother on a vacation.

Albert doesn’t make it home in time. His mother already knows that Albert was suspended for telling his teacher that she has a head shaped like planet Earth.

It wasn’t Albert’s fault. It never is.

Before Elly has a chance to be mad at Albert, she has someone else to be mad at. Her father, Wendell, the grandfather Albert never knew he had, has suddenly arrived.

Wendell is a professional con-man. He swears he’s reformed. Elly tells Albert to not believe a word Wendell says. Albert welcomes his grandfather with open arms, giving him half of his dinner, and a place to stay the night.

The thing Albert can’t figure out is why he has a black grandfather. Wendell explains that he’s “half African American, half Native American, and half Caucasian”.

Wendell carries a violin case. He says it contains a Stradivarius violin, but that no one is ever allowed to look at it.

The next morning, Elly receives a phone call from Albert. He and Wendell are in Boise, at the Anne Frank memorial. Elly demands that they return home immediately. Wendell explains that he merely wants to show Albert some cultural sites before he has to return to school on Tuesday. He plans on taking Albert through Oregon and Washington, and to Seattle. Elly says that if they’re not home by Monday afternoon, she is going to call the police.

Albert and Wendell set off on a road trip in Wendell’s camper bus. Along the way, they meet members of Wendell’s colorful circle of friends. A large man named Big Royal loans Albert a pocket-sized, three-legged dog named Hollywood for the trip.

All along the way, people keep asking Wendell, “How’s the Stradivarius?”

Albert Rosegarden has never been to a city as large as Seattle, Washington.

The Bamboozlers is a sweet little story. It’s a road trip and it’s a mystery. It’s a comedy of slightly exaggerated situations. Part of it takes place in a fictionalized version of Seattle.

I could have read this 167-page book in a single day.

I enjoyed it.

Why I chose this book:

Rebecca is a member of Writers’ Group. She’s more of an illustrator than a writer. She brings her artwork to the group, including book covers she’s designed for a local author named Michael de Guzman. I became curious about whatever is inside Mr. de Guzman’s books, and decided to read one for this category.

I discovered, as I picked up the book from the library, that Rebecca did not design this cover of The Bamboozlers. It was designed by Jim Cooke. I decided to read it anyway.

A Book With Alliteration In The Title

The Haunting of Hill House, by Shirley Jackson, was first published in 1959.

The first sentence is: “No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream.

The Haunting of Hill HouseDr. John Montague is a doctor of philosophy, with a degree in anthropology. He feels that his true vocation is that of an investigator of “supernatural manifestations”. He has gone to considerable expense to rent Hill House for three months, because Hill House is supposedly haunted. Dr. Montague hopes to recoup his experiences with a paper he will publish on his findings while living there.

He sends out twelve letters to carefully chosen people who might wish to stay with him in Hill House and help him observe unusual occurrences. Those twelve letters receive four replies. To those four, he sends detailed instructions, with the time, location, and so forth. Of those four, two people arrive at Hill House: Eleanor and Theodora.

Eleanor Vance is 32-years-old. She’d spent the past eleven years caring for her invalid mother. This is partly why she has no friends. She was chosen by Dr. Montague because when she was 12-years-old, following the death of her father, stones fell from the sky for three days.

For Eleanor, a three-month stay in Hill House is her chance to be free, to assert herself, and to become her own person.

Theodora (who doesn’t use a last name) signs her artwork “Theo”. She’s an outgoing, flamboyant, free spirit – the opposite of Eleanor. She was chosen by Dr. Montague because of her demonstrated psychic ability.

Luke Sanderson is a petty thief. His aunt owns Hill House. Someday, Luke will inherit Hill House, but didn’t think he’d ever live there. He’ll be staying at Hill House only because his aunt had insisted that, because of the nature of Dr. Montague’s proposed work, a legal clause be added to the rental agreement stating that a Sanderson family member be on the property while Dr. Montague is there.

The caretakers, Mr. and Mrs. Dudley, refuse to stay in Hill House after dark.

Hill House is an eighty-year-old Victorian mansion build among hills. It is overly large, with an over-abundance of towers, turrets, and Gothic decorations. It is a maze of hallways and rooms-within-rooms. It was built in ways that purposely disorient its occupants.

The Haunting of Hill House is a classic haunted house story. Four people stay in a creepy, dark, old mansion with a disreputable history. Things go bump in the night.

(“God God – whose hand was I holding?” is one seriously creepy line.)

It’s a character-driven novel. The book spends a long time introducing the characters – especially Eleanor – before anything scary occurs. Dr. Montague, Eleanor, Theodora, and Luke all become instant friends, and treat their visit like some elaborate cocktail party. Mrs. Dudley provides comic relief for everyone except herself, with her strict adherence to the food schedule.

Soon into the story, it becomes clear that The Haunting of Hill House is Eleanor’s story, more than anyone else’s. She and Theodora become great friends (and maybe more? This was 1959, and I suspect there’s some coded language in the novel). With Theodora, Eleanor finds the first real friend she’s ever had, and wants to continue the friendship beyond their stay at Hill House. Theodora loves Eleanor, but sees their friendship as nothing more than a fling.

I absolutely loved this book. It has a little bit of everything. It’s creepy and scary and funny and touching, and it all blends in well. It’s wonderfully written. I loved the story, and I loved Shirley Jackson’s style of telling it.

Why I chose this book:

Before I found a book with alliteration in the title, I had to learn what “alliteration” means. I found the definition, but it seemed so simple that I wasn’t entirely sure if I understood it fully. With that out of the way, I did an internet search for “book with alliteration in the title”, and found lists containing books like Doctor Dolittle, Black Beauty, and Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. I stopped searching when I found The Haunting of Hill House, because it was the first book title I came across with a triple alliteration (that’s not actually a term, I later learned). Plus, it was by Shirley Jackson. I’d read Jackson’s The Lottery and We Have Always Lived in the Castle, and loved them both, so I welcomed the chance to read something else by her.

A Book By Two Authors

Mannen som gick upp i rök, by spouses Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö, was first published in 1966. It was translated into English by Joan Tate as The Man Who Went Up in Smoke, in 1969. It was the second book in the “Martin Beck Mystery” series.

The first sentence is: “The room was small and shabby.

The Man Who Went Up in SmokeThe first chapter is amazing. It begins with detailed descriptions of a crime scene. The victim lies dead on the floor. Then it’s revealed that these are descriptions of photographs of a crime scene. The photographs are being examined by Inspector Martin Beck. He and the rest of the Stockholm Homicide Squad are discussing convicting the suspect on technical evidence. Martin Beck enters the interrogation room just as the suspect begins confessing to the crime. What seemed, at first, to be the beginning of a murder mystery is actually the conclusion of one. The first chapter ends on page 8 with Martin Beck leaving on his month-long vacation.

Martin Beck takes a ferry out to an island in the Stockholm Archipelago, where his wife and family have already started their vacation. Less than one day into his vacation, Martin Beck is called back into Stockholm, where Chief Inspector Hammar tells him to meet with a man at the Foreign Office.

The man at the Foreign Office tells Martin Beck that a journalist named Alf Matsson vanished ten days earlier, while on assignment in Budapest. The magazine that employed Alf Matsson doesn’t want an official investigation, in order to kept its exclusive rights to the story. The Foreign Office is afraid of the impact from a story about a Swedish journalist disappearing while in Hungry. Martin Beck is offered the assignment of working for the Foreign Office, just long enough to discreetly find Alf Matsson. Of course, he’d have to postpone his vacation.

Over the angry objections of his wife, Martin Beck cuts his vacation short and accepts the impossible task of finding a man who went up in smoke. He doesn’t care about the assignment, and he doesn’t care about Alf Matsson. Martin Beck accepted the assignment only because of his “policeman’s soul”.

The Man Who Went Up in Smoke is a good, old-fashioned mystery. While Martin Beck is in Budapest, undercover, claiming he was looking for a missing friend, it also felt a little like an international espionage thriller. It’s a story of detailed clues and observations.

I enjoyed this book a lot. I had no trouble jumping into the series, while not having read the previous book.

Why I chose this book:

I found this novel while I was doing an internet search for “Nordic noir”. I found a lot of choices, including The Man Who Went Up in Smoke. I’d never heard of Maj Sjöwall, Per Wahlöö, or Martin Beck. It was obvious that finding Nordic noir would be a lot easier than finding a book with two authors. This book was the first one I put on my “For Later” library self, for the 2018 Reading Challenge, and the search for Nordic noir continued.