Fiction: “Festival of Deaths” by Jane Haddam

Festival of DeathsI guess I wasn’t really aware that it had been more than two years since the last time I read a Gregor Demarkian mystery. I became aware of that fact when, a couple of months ago, in the process of cleaning the apartment for a Christmas party, I decided to reorganize all of my bookshelves instead of, y’know, dusting. The upside? Although it is nowhere near the universally-accepted Dewey Decimal System, my books are now organized into a rhyme and reason of my own making. So, y’know; “madness.”

The downside is that, even after all of that, I need at least one more bookcase and one more wall for said bookcase. I can get the bookcase; it’s the wall that’s the hard part.

ANYWAY. I was also fairly proud of my ability to time the reading of Festival of Deaths in the same time-space as Hanukkah. But guys, I’m getting better – this time I’m only a month and a half delayed from when I finished the book? And I’ve only got two more books to review for 2015 before I can get into the 2016 titles? So, y’know; better.

I liked this one better than Dear Old Dead because the gang was back together. Dear Old Dead took Gregor out of Philadelphia, and without Bennis and Father Tibor and the backdrop of Cavanaugh Street, Gregor and the mystery became very bland and … well, boring. This book brings the mystery to Gregor in Philadelphia, so Bennis and the rest are able to tag along and offer their insights.

Dr. Lotte Goldman is a talk show host in the vein of Dr. Ruth meeting Oprah. Her topics usually discuss sex, and most of the discussions are either bringing habits that everyone has to the light, or unveiling deviant behavior. Gregor gets involved in two ways: first, Lotte wants him to be on the episode wherein “Sex and the Serial Killer” is discussed (Gregor would be talking about the serial killer aspect, as he worked with the Behavioral Sciences unit at the FBI; Gregor would not be discussing the sex aspect, because Gregor is, above all things, kind of a prude about that stuff). Second, Lotte wants Gregor to help explore the murder of one of the employees of the TV studio.

Festival of Deaths follows very the Gregor Demarkian formula very closely. The initial murder happens, then Gregor gets dragged into it after the fact. Father Tibor tells him he should totally investigate this murder; Bennis wants to help solve it too mainly because other stuff in her life is slowing down – her latest book has been sent to the editor, and now she’s faced with dealing with her empty apartment and the fact that her sister is on Death Row for killing their father. Once Gregor shows up – reluctantly; after all, he is retired – another body surfaces right under his nose, which forces him to get involved. Gregor usually identifies the murderer before the murderer kills a third person, and then in the epilogue Gregor explains to Bennis the murderer’s motive and the method.

I discussed this briefly in a previous title in the series, but the Gregor Demarkian novels are set apart from other mystery series I read in that the novels are told from third-person perspective of multiple characters. The prologue never contains Gregor; instead, Ms. Haddam introduces the cast of characters that will be involved in the mystery. One of them is the murderer; some of them are future victims. It’s an interesting way of tackling the narrative. (It’s also the reason my mother hasn’t read any of these; she started reading Not a Creature Was Stirring, the first novel, and really liked one of the characters. She then skipped ahead [it’s where I get it from!] and found out that the character she liked ended up the murderer. She put it down and never went back.)

When we view the plot from Gregor’s perspective, we learn about his Cavanaugh Street Regulars through his perceptions. We never hear Father Tibor’s inner thoughts; we can guess at Bennis’s thoughts because she’s the type of person to telegraph her every emotion onto her face.

Here are two examples of how we learn more about the supporting cast through Gregor’s perceptions. We have been told through multiple titles in this series that Tibor is a voracious reader of any and all genres. His apartment probably resembles mine, in that every available surface is covered in books. We get that reiterated in this book, along with:

[Gregor] got out of his chair and made his way back across the obstacle course of books, wondering when Tibor got the time to read like this when he spent so much time making Gregor Demarkian’s life resemble one of the wilder plays of Ionesco. [p. 73]

(Ionesco was, along with Samuel Beckett, one of the figureheads of the French absurdist dramatic period.)

And if you want to know about Bennis Hannaford and how she deals with people, there’s this paragraph:

What she got for herself was another cigarette, long and slim and taken from the sterling-silver Tiffany cigarette case her brother Chris had given her for her birthday a few years back. Bennis never took cigarettes from that case. She had a crumpled paper pack of Benson & Hedges Menthols in the pocket of her shirt. Gregor could only conclude that she had taken a dislike to Sarah Meyer equal to the one Sarah had taken to her. Bennis was pulling out all the stops. [p. 155]

Look, I don’t smoke, but that’s definitely one of the better ways to show people how much you absolutely hate them without saying a word. Luckily, I’ve perfected my withering glare; it’ll have to do.

Finally, the relationship between Gregor and Bennis is brought up again. Throughout the series thus far, Gregor and Bennis have maintained they are just friends. The rest of Cavanaugh Street is convinced that they should get married, but to date, there hasn’t even been the hint of any romantic love. This book takes about a page wherein Gregor reflects on his relationship with Bennis, and this is the first inclination the reader gets that Gregor may think about Bennis more than just platonically:

Even Gregor and Bennis didn’t have conversations of any formal kind. When he went down to visit her, or she came up to visit him, they talked about his work or hers or Cavanaugh Street, but mostly they talked about each other. Gregor knew everything about Bennis’s latest Zed and Zedalia novel. […] He didn’t know anything at all about the young man who had taken Bennis to dinner last week and didn’t want to know. Bennis knew all about Gregor’s last case – he always filled her in when the cases were over; he didn’t want her trying to be an amateur detective, but he did like to hear her comments once the coast was clear – but nothing about his visits to [his wife’s] grave. Gregor didn’t know if that was all right with her or not. Sometimes he worried that he didn’t do more talking to Bennis in the way men usually talk to women they are close to because he was afraid to. What would he talk about, if Bennis insisted? The fact that they now spent more time with each other than most people who were married? The fact that except for one minor technicality, they might as well be married? On second thought, that technicality wasn’t so minor after all. What was also not minor was the fact that he seemed to have wound his life around an extremely rich, extremely pretty, extremely impetuous, relatively young woman on whom he had no real hold at all. [p. 200]

I continue to enjoy these books – which is good, because I’ve got a lot of them. I will try to not let more than a few months go between this one and the next title in the series, but, y’know; no promises.

Grade for Festival of Deaths: 3 stars

 

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Fiction: “Dear Old Dead” by Jane Haddam

deardeadNormally, I’d feel a need to apologize to my readers (small population that you are) for not being current on my reading material. But because I have such a small viewership (which is totally fine, bee tee dubs, being famous isn’t exactly something I’m interested in being, and being famous on the Internet is a whole ‘nother slice of that pie that I don’t think I’m hungry for; though if anyone wants to pay me for this, hey, I’ll shut up and take your money) and, y’know, some semblance of a life (today is a day off! And I have another one tomorrow! What?), the book reviews have taken a backseat to other things, like seeing Guster in concert, almost meeting Guster after the concert, and sleeping.

So I’m not going to apologize, because this is my blog, and I’m doing it for free and for the spambots out there, and they’re not paying me either, so … suck it.

Anyway. The book I finished reading after Gilligan’s Wake was the next book in the Gregor Demarkian series, Dear Old Dead. Since it’s been a while since I’ve read one of this series, let me take a moment to remind y’all that the series is known as the Gregor Demarkian Holiday series, so that should lead you to believe that this book is about Father’s Day.

The only thing about Father’s Day in this book is that it takes place near Father’s Day.

The dead guy Gregor is called in to investigate is Charles … Something. Look, today’s laziness will know no bounds: the book is on the table, right there, but I’d have to really stretch to get it, and it’s like that scene in Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle where the buddies are halfway down the hall and Kumar realizes he’s left his phone in the apartment, and Roldie asks him if he wants to go back for it, and he thinks about it, and then responds, “No, we’ve gone too far.” This book is too far for me to stretch, so Charles Something is all you’re getting today, world.

Anyway, Charles dies of strychnine poisoning. The main suspect is Dr. Michael Pride, who runs the Something Free Clinic deep in the heart of Harlem. He protests that he’s innocent and there’s not a lot of evidence, and because the Something Free Clinic is also co-sponsored by the Archdiocese of New York and the Cardinal knows Gregor, Gregor gets involved.

I didn’t enjoy this mystery as much as I would have hoped. First of all, Bennis Hannaford, Gregor’s best friend and confidante this side of Father Tibor Kasparian, was left back in Philadelphia with the rest of the Cavanaugh Street Irregulars. I prefer the stories where Bennis and Gregor work together to solve the cases, because I think Bennis brings a lot to the table as a character: she’s smart, quick-thinking, funny, and fearless. Gregor is more methodical and quiet in his thinking, so he acts as kind of a cipher when Bennis isn’t there. We watch him interact with the other characters, and we know he’s solving the crime, but without Bennis there to ask about his process, we just have to kind of glide along until the third body almost shows up.

Oh Lord, that makes it sound as if Bennis doesn’t have any agency. If you haven’t read those books, the description of Bennis that I’ve written up there makes her sound as if she’s just there to provide exposition to the readers, or to act as a sounding-board for Gregor, and that’s not her at all. She is a forty-plus woman, unmarried, no kids, doesn’t want kids, an acerbic wit and an unending pack of cigarettes (this was clearly written before the Truth campaign), and completely independent. She is a millionaire, and not from old money (not sure if I’ve explained Bennis’s history before, as she is introduced in the first book, and that predates That’s What She Read – anyway, Bennis is one of the daughters from a very moneyed Bryn Mawr family on the Main Line outside of Philadelphia) – Bennis earned her millions by writing a very successful fantasy series.

Guys. She’s a writer. A fantasy writer. That’s awesome!

And she doesn’t tag along on Gregor’s adventures for no reason; she tags along because she’s bored, or she gets invited to some fancy shindig and Gregor goes with her because he’s bored, but mostly, if she’s along for the mystery ride, Gregor doesn’t really want her to be there. Because he has some chivalrous feelings towards her that the long-standing widower can’t identify, but he knows ‘protective’ is in there somewhere, and when dead bodies start to fall, he doesn’t want Bennis involved (potentially because he’s afraid it may bring up residual feelings left over from the investigation wherein he met Bennis, but that may be besides the point).

Ugh, that’s a lot of words. Anyway. Don’t think that Bennis plays the part of ‘dumb female sidekick.’ Hopefully the next Demarkian mystery uses Bennis more effectively and I can explicate her awesomeness further.

As for Dear Old Dead: I enjoyed it, but I don’t think I’d return to it again unless I decided to reread the entire series. What I like about the Demarkian novels is that you could, potentially, read them out of order, but because I’m OCD in that fashion, I feel that I have to read them from the beginning. The overall plot is about money: who’s going to get it, can I have some, Gobias some coffee — oh wow, and if you actually read the book, you’ll find out that I just made a helluva pun right there — and there are some family squabbles and churchy squabbles and Gregor pretty much comes in, sees what’s going on, and deduces almost immediately who the killer is, and then the remainder of the book is trying to catch him or her in the act.

Overall, it’s an okay book. Not horrible by any means, but not a favorite. For die-hard Gregor Demarkian fans only, I guess.

Grade for Dear Old Dead: 2 stars

Fiction: “Murder Superior” by Jane Haddam

So yesterday was a magnificent day: in the first time in forever, I was able to finish two books on the same day. Crazy, right? This is the first one I finished — which, in a way, the finishing sucked: I had ten pages left in the entire damn book, and my lunch break ended. And all I wanted to do was finish it! But I had to go back to the floor! Why is my job so mean! oh wait …

ANYWAY. This was my “lunch break book,” to hide the fact that I was reading a tawdry romance novel (see the next entry). I hadn’t realized it had been over a year since I’d read the last in the Gregor Demarkian series, and I wanted to get back into it.

Unlike the last few in the series I’d read, this murder takes place conveniently in Philadelphia. That means that, in addition to the characters introduced especially for the murder plot, there are also some great interactions between Demarkian and his Cavanaugh Street cohorts. The holiday in question this time is Mother’s Day, and there’s a nun convention in town. It’s the same company of nuns that appeared in A Great Day for the Deadly, and they’ve invited Gregor to speak at their convention on the Brigit Ann Reilly case. The other important information is that there is a huge feud between two nuns: Mother Mary Bellarmine, and Sister Joan Esther. Joan Esther used to work for Mother Mary Bellarmine, and Mary Bellarmine is what you and I would call a heinous bitch (the other nuns would most likely call her ‘tempestuous,’ but even that is being too generous with Mary Bellarmine’s nature).

Bennis accompanies Gregor to the convention thingee. Prior to Gregor’s speech, there is a luncheon, including ice sculptures of all the mothers superior in the order. There is a procession of nuns, carrying the different ice sculptures and presenting them to the mothers superior, and Sister Jane Esther randomly gets the sculpture assigned to Mother Mary Bellarmine. Inside the sculpture, there is a small ball of chicken liver pate, which each mother superior takes and eats on a cracker, beginning the luncheon.

Except that the cracker that Sister Jane Esther is laced with fugu, which — as illustrated by this clip from The Simpsons — is either a delicacy, or extremely dangerous:

“Poison … poison … tasty fish!”

The difficulty around this particular mystery for Gregor is that by the time the police arrive, he’s already figured out the solution. Except that the lead detective is a prick of the highest order, and refuses to have Gregor’s assistance, and the detective pretty much accuses one of the sweetest nuns of murder, and the way the evidence points is that it looks like someone had been trying to murder Mother Mary Bellarmine because the chicken liver pate that did Sister Joan Esther in was from Mother Mary Bellarmine’s ice sculpture. Everyone believes that someone would want to murder Mother Mary Bellarmine, but everyone also agrees that no one would have the balls to do it.

Here’s what Gregor thinks about Detective Androcetti, and more importantly, how Gregor views the local constabulary:

If Jack Androcetti had been a halfway decent policeman, Gregor wouldn’t have spent the next two hours wandering around the back garden and along the strip of grass that allowed passage from the back garden to the sidewalk at the front. Androcetti knew Gregor had caught the body as it fell. Any policeman worth his service revolver would have taken that and run with it. Gregor had never liked the kind of detective story where the police were made to look like absolute idiots. To his mind, they exhibited a particularly obnoxious form of class snobbery and a total disregard for reality. Even the Nero Wolfe books — which he liked because Wolfe was fat and proud of it — annoyed him because of their portrayal of the police. What he was supposed to do with a case where the police really were idiots, he didn’t know. He consoled himself with the knowledge that Sergeant Collins at least seemed to have a brain in his head. How much good that was going to do anyone, Gregor didn’t know. [170]

For the first time in ever (and even Gregor remarks on this), the mystery is actually solved within 24 hours of the crime happening. There is also the one body, whereas I know I’ve said in past Demarkian mysteries that the bodies usually pile up one on top of another throughout the book. In a way, I liked the fact that there was only one body and the mystery was solved so quickly; in another way, however, I was disappointed. As I’ve explained, the Demarkian mysteries begin with a Prologue, in which Jane Haddam introduces all the characters that will be central to the mystery. In this entry in the series, I felt that she really didn’t need to spend all that time on some of the characters, because those particular characters (for example, Father Stephen Monaghan and Sarabess Coltrane) didn’t really interact that much with the plot, and are removed as possible suspects simply from the nature of their being. And due to the lack of development and the loss of possibilities, I am giving this entry 2 stars.

The other point of interest I had in this book is that there are actual hints that Gregor may have different feelings for Bennis besides friendship. Of course, Gregor being Gregor, he refuses to acknowledge them (and probably writes them off as heartburn), but I still think it’s interesting:

[…] but Bennis was already gone, her bare feet slapping carelessly against the wooden floor of her foyer, on the way to the privacy of her shower. Gregor wondered suddenly if Bennis felt that she needed privacy from him — and then he shoved that away, because it made him feel a little crazy. In fact, everything about his relationship with Bennis made him feel a little crazy lately. It was as if, after years of running along on a track on which they were both comfortable, an invisible hand had thrown a switch that got them both off course. he had even started to dream about her. [67]

Of course, he represses that emotion and moves on to try and solve a murder. I felt that this quote adequately captures the true relationship between Gregor and Bennis:

“It’s easy,” Gregor said pleasantly. “All you have to know is not only who is dead but who was supposed to be dead.”

“You mean you think it was supposed to be Mother Mary Bellarmine who was killed after all?”

“I mean I hear police sirens.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“It’s supposed to mean that one of my suspects seems to have called Lieutenant Androcetti. I’ll talk to you later, Bennis.”

“But –”

“I’ll talk to you later.”

“If I had a penny for every time you promised to tell me later and didn’t, I’d be richer than my father was.” [249]

I will of course continue to read these, even though I felt that this one was a little less than what it could have been. At one point, I had read up through Skeleton Key, and there are about ten titles after that one now. Oh, that reminds me, I need to get on getting through the Kinsey Millhone Alphabet — by the time I really get into that again, she’ll have finished whatever Z will be for.

Grade for Murder Superior: 2 stars

Fiction: “A Stillness in Bethlehem” by Jane Haddam

If you were to ask me why I keep reading these novels this year, I couldn’t answer. I mean, looking back on the past two years (wow, it’s almost been two years I’ve been doing this?), my reading has been very scatterbrained, for lack of a better term. Unorganized. That’s probably a better term. But seriously, from humor to mystery to midwestern philosophy to a treatise on writing to a biography of the zero concept and back to humor, I am pretty much all over the map. But lately I’ve been returning to Jane Haddam (and romance, but that’s ending for a while – I can only take too much brain sludge before my brain turns into sludge). I dunno. I think it’s weird.

Anyway. I am not here to discuss why I read certain books, but why you should read this book (or something – I’ve never been very clear on my mission statement).

A Stillness in Bethlehem continues shortly after we left off in the Gregor Demarkian series [Feast of Murder]. Upon his and Bennis’s return to Cavanaugh Street, they found their priest friend, Tibor Kasparian, not doing well. Tibor had heard about the town of Bethlehem, Vermont, which puts on a three-week Celebration of the Nativity every December. Gregor and Bennis decide to bring Tibor to Bethlehem for a week so he can watch the Play, which is a production the likes of which no other small town has ever seen. In fact, due to the large tourism draw of the Celebration, the townspeople never have to pay taxes – everything the town could ever hope for (including a state-of-the-art mobile crime unit) is available to them.

This causes a slight problem for Tish Verek, a “flatlander” who moved to town a few years ago with her husband, Jan-Mark. Not a huge problem, mind you – Tish just likes causing trouble. Along with writing a manuscript about a series of true crime incidents where children killed adults pathalogically, she decides to file a lawsuit putting an injunction (or something) on the Celebration, as it no longer has any separation between Church and State.

And then Tish gets killed in her driveway.

This iteration of the Gregor Demarkian novel is different in that Gregor just happens to be in the right place at the right time. He wasn’t solicited by local authorities to assist – he just kinda showed up, by coincidence. Because Gregor is now a minor celebrity of sorts, the town had reported on his coming for the Celebration, so of course the Sheriff does ask him questions, but it’s not as formalized as it was in Feast of Murder or even A Great Day for the Deadly. He just happens to be there.

The book follows the same structure as the other Demarkian novels, where certain chapters delve into the minds and actions of the townspeople Demarkian interacts with. What I noticed this time reading (and now I’m going to pay close attention to the further Demarkian novels I read where I can’t remember whodunit) is that the murderer is still given those pages, but the murderer never thinks about the murder. At least in this novel, the murderer thinks of other things pertinent to his/her backstory/storyline, but thoughts of the murder or, specifically, who could have done the murder never show.

Here are three quotes, illustrating the fact that Gregor Demarkian isn’t so much a genius detective, but more of an unwilling detective:

Gregor hummed “The First Noel” to himself and packed the legal pad away inside the folds of his newspaper. He didn’t want Bennis to see it and get silly ideas. Bennis was always getting silly ideas. Her silliest and most persistent one was that his life was just like the lives of her favorite fictional detectives — Hercule Poirot, Nero Wolfe — and if she could just catch him living in it she could share the excitement of it. Gregor didn’t think his life was exciting at all. His feet hurt. [202-203]
 

If he was going to go tramping around the countryside, he ought to have the proper attire to do it in, but he never believed he was going to go tramping around the countryside. It wasn’t the sort of thing he used to do much when he was head of the Behavioral Sciences department for the FBI. It wasn’t the sort of thing he’d ever imagined himself doing much of. If he had to pick one of Bennis’s fictional detectives to be, it would definitely come down to Nero Wolfe, who sat in a chair all day and ate. [207]Stuart had been ready to walk out — into what, or where, he had no idea, but out, away from here, away from the kind of people who could shoot rifles at women sitting in half-filled bleachers and threaten a man for no other reason than that he was mentally retarded. Now Stuart felt as if it all fit into something larger, a western movie with common sense in the white hat and hysteria in the black, and if he just put his mind to it, he could be part of it. It was silly, of course, but that was the way Demarkian made him feel. Stuart had had a sergeant like that in the army.

Sometimes, Stuart had a terrible feeling he was that sort of man himself. [306]

And finally — and I think this is why I have been so into these books again: I’ve heard rumors that, eventually, Gregor and Bennis get together (all together now: whaaaat) — some of that rumor-mongering:

“Don’t worry,” [Gregor] said. “I’m taking Bennis out for dinner on New Year’s Eve. I’ve got that sweater I bought that I showed you, with the reindeer on it. I’m going to give it to her. It’ll soften her up. Maybe I’ll get her to talk.”

“You are taking Bennis to a restaurant on New Year’s Eve?” Tibor looked interested. “Just the two of you? Alone?”

Gregor Demarkian nearly choked. “Now Tibor,” he warned. “Behave yourself.”

“I do not know what you are talking about, Krekor [sic]*. I am a priest. I always behave myself.”

“Tibor–”

“I think this is a very good thing,” Tibor said. “You and Bennis, alone in a restaurant, on New Year’s Eve. If you are intelligent, Krekor, you will pick one with not much light and a great many candles.”

Tibor.” [338-339]

*Many of Gregor’s friends from Cavanaugh Street ‘speak’ with the Armenian inflection. Hence, Krekor for Gregor.

Oh, and before I leave, I should warn that this book may have some trigger issues: one of the characters is physically and sexually abused by her husband (and there are some scenes depicting the abuse, however, good news: she does escape, and brilliantly at that), and the murderer’s root of his/her problems was child sexual abuse.

Grade for A Stillness in Bethlehem: 3 stars

Fiction: “Feast of Murder” by Jane Haddam

Well, I managed to fulfill one of my goals for this vacation: I wanted to finish one of the three books I was reading. This one won (beating out Chuck Klosterman’s IV and yet more adventures of Sherlock Holmes).

Feast of Murder is the sixth book in the Gregor Demarkian Holiday series, directly following A Great Day for the Deadly, and I can thankfully say that snakes were nowhere to be found in this one. The Feast refers to the great American tradition of Thanksgiving. Can I first talk about the title? This is easily one of the cheesiest titles in the entire series. Honestly: Feast of Murder? It sounds like something Rick Castle would make jokes about. “It’s a feast! … Of murder.” Come on.

Thankfully, the plot is only thisside of ludicrous, but nowhere near as outlandish something Castle would dream up. (I may not have mentioned previously: I really kinda dig the TV show Castle.) The plot: Gregor Demarkian is invited to an authentic Thanksgiving feast aboard the Pilgrimage Green, an authentic replica of the Mayflower. Why is Gregor invited, you ask? Well, he’s kind of brought along with the invitation to his friend, Bennis Hannaford, but it turns out that she was only invited to get him to come, and the premise has something to do with investigating leaks in a financial situation. But really, that is just a premise: financial situations take a backburner to what is really going on.

In the prologue (the part where we, the reader, are introduced to all of the possible suspects), Donald McAdam dies (ack! Spoiler alert! Oh wait, it’s in the first 50 pages, that’s not really a spoiler) by ingesting cocaine with strychnine. Or so we’re led to believe. Anyway, Baird Financial was buying McAdam out of his contract on the day he died. Jon Baird, head of Baird Financial, is the one who invites Gregor onto his authentic replica of the Mayflower for the aforementioned Thanksgiving feast. Jon Baird was recently released from prison following him pleading guilty to insider trading. Again, backburner. Baird’s entire extended family and heads of his financial departments are on board the Pilgrimage Green, and yes, there is a feast, and yes, there is a murder.

Unlike other Demarkian novels, there’s only the one additional body — usually there are two. The second body dies much in the same way as McAdam: death exacerbated by strychnine. The only true impediment is that the second death occurs on the Pilgrimage Green. While they’re out to sea, floating between Virginia and Massachusetts. And Gregor wants to keep the body on board until they can contact the Coast Guard, but there are no radios on board because it’s an authentic replica of the Mayflower. There is a distinct air of a Locked Room mystery about the plot, where it seems as if all the characters/suspects are involved in the murder together in some way, but the ending is both predictable, yet not.

Because Bennis is working closer with Gregor in this entry than in A Great Day for the Deadly, I can begin to explore some of the dynamics. As I’ve said before, Gregor and Bennis live on Cavanaugh Street in Philadelphia, in the same apartment building. Bennis has never been married; Gregor is a widower. Bennis moved to Cavanaugh Street after meeting Gregor in the first Demarkian novel, Not a Creature Was Stirring, which involved the Hannaford family. Bennis and Gregor are friends, and Gregor and Bennis are highly resistant to the idea of being more than that. Their friends on Cavanaugh Street (namely, the women of Cavanaugh Street) are hoping more come of that. When Bennis and Gregor are accidentally given the same cabin, funky sleeping arrangements must be made:

“Don’t you think we ought to do something about this? About where we sleep, I mean.”

“Do what?”

“Well,” Bennis said slowly. “I’ve been thinking about it. You really can’t take the other bunk, Gregor, and neither can I. No adult human being would fit. So I thought, you know, that maybe what we ought to do is bundle.”

“What do you mean, bundle?”

“It was a form of courting in Colonial New England,” Bennis said, “which seems entirely appropriate to me. Not the courting part, Gregor, the part about Colonial New England. Anyway, what you do is, the woman […] gets in bed and gets wrapped up in the sheets like a mummy so she can’t move, and then the man does the same thing, and then they sleep together. No hanky panky. Lots of conversation. It was supposed to be a great way for two people to get to know each other.”

“Get to know each other,” Gregor repeated stupefied. “Bennis, are you out of your mind?”

“According to you, yes.”

“Bennis, listen to me. Do you realize what would happen, if we do what you’re suggesting and it got out on Cavanaugh Street?”

“How would it get out on Cavanaugh Street?”

“You’d tell Donna Moradanyan. Donna Moradanyan would tell her mother. Marie would tell Lida Arkmanian — how do you think it would get out on Cavanaugh Street?”

“Now, Gregor —”

“And you think you’ve got problems now with them trying to match make us together,” Gregor said. “I’d come home from the library one day and find the church decked out with flowers and old George all ready to give you away. They’d probably have you chained to the church door so you couldn’t bold. What’s the matter with you?” [209-210]

I’m not going to tell you where Gregor does end up sleeping. Regardless, the idea of other people thinking he and Bennis are an item tends to unnerve Gregor (even while the idea of Bennis with Tony Baird, Jon Baird’s son, tends to unnerve Gregor as well. He never gives a name to it, but it’s obvious to the reader that Gregor feels threatened and definitely jealous of Tony, even when there’s nothing between either man and Bennis. Very eeeeinteresting.)

Other points that are made: you get a somewhat clearer picture of Gregor’s life in the Bureau. It’s referenced a couple of times in this book that Gregor wasn’t a very physically active agent: his physicality was exhibited by his mind powers. Not to say at times physicality isn’t warranted or desired:

He really was exasperated beyond all measure. What he wanted to do was kick the door in and shout, “This is a raid!” at the top of his lungs. He’d never in his life done anything even remotely like that. He’d never sprung into firing position and shouted “Freeze!” either. He thought it would be good for his soul. [248]

But what comes through repeatedly with Gregor and his life at the Bureau is how logical his thinking processes are. Logical and philosophical:

It was comforting to realize that the world still operated on logic, even if it pretended not to. [74]

More likely, it was just plain human nature, seen more clearly in the raw than it once had been. Whatever it was, it suited Gregor’s purpose very well. Spectators were never mere spectators. They were always reviewers as well. They liked to talk. [182]

I may come back to this quote later.

Before I get to the “It’s all about Alaina” segment, I’d like to point out some funny bits. This was a letter Gregor was delivered by a very young FBI agent (like, to-the-agency-young, like, so young Gregor could spot Newbie Agent a mile away):

He opened the envelope, pulled out a square of what was closer to cardboard than paper, and read:

Gregor. I know, I know. I couldn’t help it. I was swamped and I didn’t have any other choice. Be nice to the boy. I need the information. Steve.

[70]

And this made me laugh out loud:

“Did you talk to Calvin Baird today?” he asked Bennis.

Bennis made a face. “Of course I did. Everybody’s talked to Calvin Baird today. He’s been wandering up and down the boat, behaving like the ancient mariner of certified accounting.” [207]

I can just imagine Calvin Baird roaming up and down the halls with an albatross around his neck. (Oh, the benefits of being an English Lit minor – the random references and images you come up with!)

So, back to me now. Let’s start with this and then finish with that quote from above. Gregor’s reading the FBI file on Jon Baird, and this comes up:

As in any FBI report, there were lists of many things, some of them so arbitrary you had to wonder why the list maker had bothered. Gregor always imagined them being put together by a little man with an eyeshade who lived in a vault deep in Bureau headquarters, and who wrote lists for secular sources, like The Book of Lists, in his spare time. [214]

I feel that this is a book I could write. A Book of Lists. I mean, I am so great at making lists! To do lists (that never get completed), lists of movies I own (versus the movies I’ve seen, versus the movies I’ve bought intending to watch but never do), lists of TV episodes-slash-movies I can quote verbatim (“Pier Pressure”, “Afternoon Delight”, Die Hard, Back to the Future), lists of geek t-shirts I own, lists of books I’ve read and how they affected me — oh, wait.

Seriously, oh, wait: that first quote, about spectators never being mere spectators, but reviewers as well. I think this is even more apparent today than in 1992 when Feast of Murder was published. With the internet being so prevalent in everything we do, anyone with a blog becomes a reviewer. I am a structured reviewer: I review books, as I read them. But on my other, completely private, never-been-published-on-the-Internet-so-don’t-go-looking-for-it journal, I’m a reviewer there, too. Not necessarily of structured items (books, movies, music, etc.), but of human nature. Like the story of the lady who came to my place of business thinking she had a tick bite her, when really, it was just a flea. Or my co-workers, and the crazy-assed things they do which amuse me to no end (really, Brad, you want to bitch about the schedule when I’m carrying the Large Pokey Stick of Doom?). Or my sister, who I maintain is even funnier than me.

If you have an IP address and a blog, chances are, you’re a reviewer of something. And, going with that logic, if you’re a reviewer, and a consolidator of information (like Gregor Demarkian), you can be a private detective-cum-consultant, too.

Which is what I really want to be when I grow up.

Grade for Feast of Murder: 2.5 stars

Fiction: “A Great Day for the Deadly” by Jane Haddam

great dayI  went on vacation earlier this month. The best part of vacations that include cross-country plane trips? I can totally read three books in a week, which is unheard of in what I like to call ‘normal time.’

I began my vacation by finishing the fifth book in one of my favorite series, the Gregor Demarkian Holiday series by Jane Haddam. Gregor is an Armenian-American retired FBI agent who helped create the Bureau’s Behavioral Sciences Department (which sounds like a precursor or a synonym for Criminal Minds‘s BAU). He lives on Cavanaugh Street in Philadelphia, and in almost every other novel in the series, that plays a role as a B-plot for Gregor – as it’s his childhood home that has lately seen a resurgence, his crazy neighbors are actually friends he went to school with, and his interactions with them are very rounded and sweet. In this novel, however (with the sole exception of the Epilogue), Gregor is working a case by himself outside of Philadelphia with little interaction with his friends.

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