My heart speeds up on news that Donna Leon’s got a new police procedural, because I love her Guido Brunetti. Not in a romantic way, of course—I must respect his deep fidelity to his wife Paola, an expert on Henry James and Italian cooking—but because it’s another blissful chance to follow Brunetti through Venice, watch him navigate the internal politics of the Venice Questura, and think with him as he solves a murder. Another murder.
Leon invites us in by using Brunetti’s point of view, letting us share his reflections and observations.
Barely computer literate, he relies for key financial and personal investigations on the astounding internet skill of Signorina Elettra Zorzi, secretary to his adversary and boss, Palermo native Vice-Questore Patta. Brunetti thinks of Zorzi as “quick-witted, radiant—the other adjectives that presented themselves all suggested light and visibility.” Neither we nor Brunetti question how she manages to get her…
Alice Almendarez has lived a nightmare few can fathom.
Imagine celebrating a holiday with a loved one, enjoying the simple pleasure of a family gathering, the demands of daily life slowing down for this brief moment.
Now imagine that your loved one disappears without a trace.
This is the pain Alice endured when her father disappeared after spending Father’s Day with her family in June of 2002. One moment he was with them, and then he was gone.
Alice went to the Houston police to file a missing persons report. She followed the instructions of what she was told to do, but adult missing persons cases can be challenging in many ways. Law enforcement officers explained that her father was an adult and that it wasn’t a crime to go missing. In her heart, she knew her father would never walk out on his family in such a way, but small doubts haunted her. What if he had left them? It is a horrible burden to carry as a child.
Alice searched for twelve long years before she would learn the fate of her father.
She later discovered that his body had been found a few weeks after his disappearance, floating in the Buffalo Bayou in Houston, just a few minutes from his childhood home. Early on, she had gone to the morgue asking if they had any bodies matching her dad’s description and was turned away, only to later find out he had been there during the time she was looking for him. The truth had been close and she had no idea.
The one consistent support Alice’s family received was from NamUs, whose mission is to “bring people, information, forensic science and technology together to resolve missing, unidentified and unclaimed persons cases throughout the United States.” Alice reached out to NamUs and was able to identify her father’s remains through their database. NamUs works with coroners, medical examiners, law enforcement and families to create comprehensive case files that can help identify remains previously unidentified. It can provide answers to families who have waited years without word of what happened to their loved ones.
One of the most surprising things to learn is that many law enforcement offices and counties don’t use NamUs. Many don’t even know it exists. NamUs was established in 2007 with the help of the Department of Justice and has grown into a comprehensive resource available at no charge for law enforcement agencies.
There is currently no national law, or law in Texas, that requires any type of law enforcement or coroners offices to report unidentified remains to any database.
This is a huge challenge for families of the missing because there are often important pieces of information that would lead to the discovery of a missing person if only they had been submitted to a central database. Many families have lived the same horrific process once a family member disappears. A missing persons report is filed with the police in the city that they live in but if the body of that person is found in another county, there is no guarantee that this information will be shared or communicated. So many connections are never made, leaving the remains of family members unidentified for years or decades.
If a person goes missing in Dallas and his body is found in San Antonio, the NamUs requirement would help make this connection. If one agency enters the unidentified body into the database but the missing persons report isn’t also entered, the chances of identifying them are greatly reduced. All sides must work together and be connected.
This past Saturday, Alice stood before a crowd at the Missing in North Texas Event at the NamUs headquarters at the University of North Texas and announced her intent to pursue legislation in Texas requiring all law enforcement to enter all missing persons cases into NamUs after 30 days if remains have not been identified. Similar legislation has already passed in Arkansas, Illinois, New Mexico, New York, Tennessee and Oklahoma.
Using NamUs would not only benefit the families of unidentified missing–it would also benefit law enforcement on several levels. More cases could be closed and counties would no longer spend excess money on burials because remains went unidentified. A potter’s field is no place for someone’s father, someone’s child, someone’s sister–not when there are resources available to help them return those remains to loved ones. No one should have to wait decades for answers because a valuable resource like NamUs isn’t being used. This law would help change that.
Todd Matthews, Director Case Management & Communications at NamUs, told me, “I’ve seen Alice resurrect herself from total devastation into a powerful advocate for change. As a father myself – I am positive that her father would be more proud that she can even imagine. His passing and her resilience was a catalyst for change.”
Alice has been kind enough to share her story with me in the hopes of bringing awareness to the plight many families of missing people are experiencing as they go through each day without answers. She knows this pain personally and deeply and still carries it today.
“I know the guilt of feeling a moment of happiness, for celebrating a birthday, for celebrating anything when our loved one is no longer here,” Alice said. “My commitment now is to help families who have experienced what I have endured and hopefully pass a state law that will give more families answers.”
“After all, tomorrow is another day.” Recognize that book quote? They’re the five favorite words of Scarlet O’Hara in Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind. A great line to live by if you need to move on from a tragedy, but not very motivational when it’s time to write another blog!
I am in awe of the memorable lines written by different authors. Several changed how I look at life.
“I am not afraid of storms, for I am learning how to sail my ship.” This quote from Little Women by Louisa May Alcott helped me discover my own strength in the time of challenge–a sense of control when surrounded by chaos.
“Sometimes the Bible in the hand of one man is worse than a whiskey bottle in the hand of (another).” This line from Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird pointed out that not every…
On his twenty-first birthday, Simon Ashby will become a rich man. He’ll inherit both his mother’s fortune and Latchetts, the estate left by his parents on their accidental death eight years ago. In the interim, his aunt Bee has, by skillful management, built Latchetts into a profitable farm and riding stable.
The other Ashby children—Simon’s sisters, nineteen-year-old Eleanor and nine-year-old twins Jane and Ruth—look forward to his becoming master of Latchetts. Bee’s pleasure is marred only by the memory of Patrick, Simon’s twin, who shortly after their parents’ death disappeared, a presumed suicide.
Six weeks before Simon’s birthday, however, a stranger calling himself Brat Farrar appears and claims to be the long-lost Patrick. He looks like Simon, remembers everything Patrick should, has a reasonable explanation for his long absence, and—a striking distinction—knows and loves horses. Initially skeptical, Bee is yet open to the possibility of Brat’s being her missing nephew…
I was inspired to read The Ebony Swan after reading Kay Hudson’s, Remembering Phyllis A. Whitney, a master of the mystery genre.
I’d forgotten how much I’d enjoyed her stories, years ago, and I hadn’t read all of her works, which added up to an impressive 77; the last three or four when she was in her nineties—Wow! What an inspiration to us all. Her numerous works included 39 Adult mysteries; 4 On Writing; 20 in Juvenile Fiction, and 14 YA.
Whitney was not only a prolific writer but also a force for advancing women’s recognition in the mystery genre. In the late 1980’s she wrote an open letter to Mystery Writers of America, admonishing them for their refusal to take women in the genre seriously. She pointed out that in their forty-one-year existence only seven women had been awarded the Edgar for best novel. Yes. It…
One thing I like about being in a book club is that I get a chance to read books that I hadn’t heard of. And since I hadn’t heard of Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s story, The Secret Lives of Cats, I’m glad that it came to my attention and I had a good excuse to read it.
Amazon describes it as: Winner of the Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine Readers Choice Award for 2008, this Anthony-nominated story was one of the most talked about stories of the year.
I can believe it. I was drawn in by its first sentence. “Homer Ziff didn’t believe in old adages, but after his long and eventful spring, he couldn’t help but think that whoever put the words “curiosity,” “cat,” and “kill” in the same sentence had to be onto something.”
I like curiosity, cats, and of course crime fiction. So I’m there! You got me. (And look at this awesome cover. I love it.)
I like the premise. Ziff wonders where his cats go during the day so he attaches a small camera to each cat’s collar. The camera takes still photos, not video. (This was written when GoPro was still new and incredibly expensive.) Every day he downloads and saves many of the photos to see where they go. He notices that they go to a place where other cats congregate and sit there. Are they looking at something? What are they doing? He’s fascinated and after several days it becomes apparent that what they are looking at are bones, human bones.
He calls the police. “When the operator answered, he said, “I think there’s a dead body in my neighborhood.” And that brought the detectives to his door.”
He has to explain to them that the cats have found a dead body, but he doesn’t know exactly where it is. And he has to do this without sounding crazy or guilty. Fortunately for him, one of the detectives understands right away.
I’ll let you read the rest of the story to find out what happens. I thought it was a full-length book so I was a little disappointed that it was a short story, only 33 pages long. I wanted more! I liked everything about it, the characters, the descriptions, and the plot. I thought it moved right along.
I highly recommend this short read and I’ll definitely be reading more by Kristine Kathryn Rusch. I was curious to see what else she has written and was thrilled to find that she also writes a lot of sci-fi. I’ll confess that I’m a bit of a Trekkie so I was tickled to see that she’s written a few ST books too! (Insert The Original Series music here. Ah, ah, ah, ah, ah, ah, ahhhh.)
In her 2001 collection Rereadings, Anne Fadimanchallenged writers to revisit books they read before they were twenty-five, and still re-read. Contributor Arthur Krystal (his favorite re-read is a boxing book, Witwer’s The Leather Pushers), quotes George Orwell: “The books one read in childhood, and perhaps most all bad and good bad books, create in one’s mind a sort of false map of the world, a series of fabulous countries into which one can retreat at odd moments.”
On August 25, 2017, Hurricane Harvey tore through the heart of Port Aransas, hitting with such force that several longstanding homes and businesses ceased to exist. Harvey scattered boats like leaves—in front a beloved coffee shop, in a nearby neighborhood, beached on a random patch of grass. The town has been left to rebuild without the benefit of ongoing media attention. This community takes care of its own, and people from other cities have rallied with physical and financial support in an effort to help this island town regain its rightful claim as one of the most beloved vacation spots in Texas. However, one important landmark that has yet to return to proper service is the Ellis Memorial Library. Despite the diligent work of assistant Library Director Toby De La Rosa, volunteers and Port Aransas local officials, the library is still closed to the public and unable to provide important services to its community.
Port Aransas needs its library back.
Austin Mystery Writers has committed to supporting the Ellis Memorial Library by choosing to donate proceeds from its latest anthology, Lone Star Lawless, to this important cause. In addition to featuring stories from award-winning Austin Mystery Writers Gale Albright (who passed away unexpectedly before the anthology’s release) VP Chandler, Kaye George, Laura Oles and Kathy Waller, it includes submissions from some of today’s top talent in crime fiction. Gripping tales from Alexandra Burt, Janice Hamrick, Scott Montgomery, Mark Pryor, Terry Shames, Larry D. Sweazy, George Wier and Manning Wolfe are sure to keep you turning the pages. You’ll find compelling tales about cons gone wrong, cowboys and criminals, grifters and girlfriends, morticians and motel clerks… And best of all, each copy purchased benefits the Ellis Memorial public library. It’s our small way of showing support for this important and much-beloved island institution.
Those of us who love our local libraries know how much they bring to our communities. We understand the powerful ways a good book touches us, stays with us, invites us to share it with others. Libraries serve this need in a way that no other entity can.
If you’d like to make a donation to the Port Aransas Library, you may do so by sending check to: Friends of the Ellis Memorial Library, PO Box 11, Port Aransas, Texas 78373. In addition to these efforts, I have been working with some wonderful neighbors who have been collecting quality books to donate to Ellis, and we will be delivering them once they are in a position to receive them. It’s a big delivery, and special recognition goes to Trisha Taylor, who spearheaded an incredible book donation drive.
Also, you can pick up a copy of Lone Star Lawless from your favorite independent bookstore (such as BookPeople in Austin) or online. You can find it here: https://amzn.to/2YTbhpD
For those who know and love Port Aransas, you know it is returning better and stronger than ever. Showing your support through donations, vacations and other methods of bringing people and commerce to its businesses and community are so very appreciated. And when packing for your next trip, remember to bring a book for the beach. It’s beautiful this time of year.
Hey! Hey! Holy Mackerel! The Cubs are on the field!
Baseball’s back, and I’m celebrating with a return to one of
my favorite subjects—The Chicago Cubs. Yes, I am a huge Cubbies fan, so much
so, I wrote a book about it, THREE DAYS AT WRIGLEY FIELD.
Why? Easy. Chicago Cub blood runs in my veins. And I come by it honestly. Blame my father, Ed Gabel.
Born on Chicago’s northside in 1920, Dad was a lifelong Cubs
fan. In his lifetime he never saw his
team win the World Series. Oh, they went
a few times, but no World Championship.
That never stopped him from rooting for the Cubs. I swear his DNA had Cubbie blue genes in it,
and I inherited those beautiful blue chromosomes. I was a Cub fan from conception.
Wrigley Field was only six years old when my dad was born,
so you could say the two grew up together.
I remember he talked about how, during the depression, Mr. Wrigley let
the neighborhood kids come in and sweep down the stands after games. Their payment was a free ticket to the next
day’s game. Dad did a lot of sweeping back then.
When he was seventeen (i.e. 1937) Wrigley Field underwent a
few renovations, enlarged for more seating, and put up the huge, iconic,
hand-operated centerfield scoreboard. (Which is still in use!) And Bill Veeck (who started out with the Cubs) planted the
bittersweet ivy along the outfield wall.
Yep, my dad loved the Cubs, and he passed that passion on to
me. Sometimes a curse, but mostly a
blessing. Hey, it’s taught me that
success has many faces, and that it’s a cardinal sin to be a fair-weather fan. (And
yes, that’s a direct dig at that team from St. Louis).
I wrote THREE DAYS AT WRIGLEY FIELD before the Cubs won the 2016
World Series. My favorite review from Publishers Weekly Booklife Prize called
it “a love letter to baseball and
powerful page turner.” A love letter to baseball. Yes, that’s exactly what
Then came 2016, and my Cubbies won the World Series. As I
watched play resume after that nineteen minute rain delay in the ninth inning,
I thought of my father. Although he was long gone, I felt I was watching the
unbelievable come true—but not just for me, for my dad as well.
To capture that soul-filling love in a book is humbling and exhilarating. I invite you to experience that love with me. Give THREE DAYS AT WRIGLEY FIELD a read.
Last week, Fran Paino described how family obligations can keep a writer from writing. My post describes an experience that happened several years ago. It’s similar to Fran’s–and at the same time, very different.
In her book The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron introduces the Artist’s Date–a weekly solo “adventure to feed the soul and allow for continued creativity.” In other words, artists–including writers–need to play. At a writers’ retreat in Alpine, Texas, author Karleen Koen led students through a whole week of play. Returning home, I vowed to incorporate the Artist’s Date into my writing life.
But having just had a week-long Artist’s Date, I chose to start with a Writing Date instead.
Here’s how it went:
I woke at a reasonable hour and dressed to leave for my coffee shop/office.
Downstairs, doling out cat food, I realized I’d seen no cats. That was troubling. William usually slept late, but Ernest was an early riser. He often climbed onto my pillow and swatted my face, making me an early riser, too.
So I called, ran upstairs, searched, called some more. William, draped across his pagoda, opened his eyes and blinked but offered no help.
I ran downstairs, called, searched, dropped to my knees and peered under furniture. I ran back upstairs. Etc.
Finally dropping in the right place, I found Ernest under the bed, sitting in that compact way cats have, with all his feet nearly tucked in. His eyes were not warm and welcoming. When I tried to pull him out, he wriggled loose and ran into the hall and thence into the guest room and under that bed–a sure sign of a sick cat.
He reminded me of a get-well card I once sent to a great-aunt. On the front was a drawing of an orange tabby with a bored, Morris-like expression on his face, and the words, “Feeling poorly? Do as I do.” Inside it said, “Crawl under the porch.”
Ernest didn’t have a porch so he crawled under the next best thing.
I put batteries in the flashlight and girded my loins. Negotiating the guest room is not for the faint of heart. The bed is built low to the ground, and there’s stuffin there.
Again on my hands and knees, and practically standing on my head, I located Ernest lying in a corner near the wall. I stretched out on the carpet, reached as far as possible, and scratched his ears. He didn’t protest, but the look in his big green eyes said I’d better not make any sudden moves.
Ernest is mostly muscle. Talons tip his twenty toes. He has a mouthful of teeth.
Like Barry Goldwater, he believes extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice.
I believe in keeping my all blood on the inside of my skin.
But I also believe extremism in the pursuit of getting sick children to the doctor is a necessary evil.
And I had a pretty good idea of what had occurred.
Ernest suffers from what might be termed a sluggish constitution, aggravated by his habit of swallowing objects that aren’t food, like bits of string, thread, ribbon. We don’t leave it lying around, but he finds it anyway. The vet says cats are drawn to elongated things. Something about mouse tails, I guess.
The first time he hid under the bed, two years before, I had to authorize X-rays, ultrasound, and a simple procedure he really, really didn’t like. We refer to it as the $400 enema. Swallowing string can cause serious problems for a cat. So I had to get him some help before a minor problem became major.
I found his jingly collar, the one he refused to wear, lay down again, and jingled at him. He gnawed on the collar and purred. Then he flopped over onto his back so I could rub his belly.
After a couple of minutes the dust bunnies keeping Ernest company attacked. I began sneeze. Ernest doesn’t care for sneezing–it scares him–so I went back downstairs and sneezed till my throat was raw. Then I coughed. And coughed. And coughed. I couldn’t find cough drops or unexpired cough medicine, so I poured out the dregs of some extremely aged Jim Beam (my mother had bought it to baptize her Christmas applesauce cakes thirty years before), and added the only sweetener we had, David’s hummingbird sugar.
While I was resting, sipping medicine from a spoon, Ernest waltzed down the stairs. He sashayed past me and headed to the kitchen. I heard crunching. Then he sashayed back.
Sneak that I am, I lured him into my lap, applied a full nelson, stuffed him into the waiting crate, lugged him to the car, and hauled him to the vet. He protested. When two big dogs in the waiting room charged up to his crate to pant hello, he shut up.
First stop was the scale: seventeen pounds. No surprise. My back muscles were already crying for the massage therapist.
Then the vet poked and prodded and determined Ernest had indeed ingested something he shouldn’t have, probably something the shape of a mouse tail.
I had three choices: take him home, give him meds, and watch him for twenty-four hours; leave him there for meds and the procedure he really, really didn’t like and pick him up at five p.m.; or be referred elsewhere for X-rays, because our vet’s office was in process of being moved down the street and his X-ray machine was in pieces.
He said choice #1 would have been fine for his cat, but I chose #2. If I left Ernest there, I knew he would come home unclogged. If I took him home, he would run under the bed and I’d never see him again. I hated to leave him, but it was, after all, his fault.
Anyway, at five p.m., David and I retrieved Ernest and a tube of Laxatone for maintenance. Ernest recovered and, after a time, forgave me. Everything returned to normal, till the next time he ate thread.
And that is the story of what I did the day I didn’t write.
I’m still trying to decide if it qualifies as an Artist’s Date.
Note–and this is how I understood the veterinarian’s explanation, not to be taken as medical advice: Some foreign objects will biodegrade in a cat’s GI tract. String, thread, ribbon, and things of that type, even if they’re biodegradable, sometimes catch in the back of a cat’s mouth when he swallows. As food travels through the GI tract, the thread straightens out and becomes taut and can cut the cat’s intestines, necessitating surgery (if the problem is diagnosed in time). Laxatives can worsen the condition. A visit to a veterinarian is desirable.