One week after… Disappearance of a Scribe, the second Eye of Isis novel, is out there in the real world now (instead of existing just between my ears). A body in Rhakotis sandals gives a nasty shock to passing fishermen, and Cleopatra’s Eye, Tetisheri, is called to the scene to investigate. Thereby hangs a tale of…

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I love the acknowledgements pages in historical novels, like the ones in Jim Benn’s Billy Boyles series. It is where the writing rubber meets the road; i.e., where the writer reveals where fact and fiction diverge (or don’t) in the narrative that precedes them. So here are the “notes and acknowledgements” from Disappearance of a…

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A week and a day away! Publication of the second Eye of Isis novel, that is, aka Disappearance of a Scribe. Barbara Peters calls it “On the Waterfront, Cleopatra style,” which epigram I promptly stole for the book’s tagline. Jimmy Hoffa would feel right at home. Excerpt: “Yes, Timo?” Tetisheri turned her head to see…

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Purgatory Ridge (Cork O'Connor, #3)Purgatory Ridge by William Kent Krueger

Kreuger writes in the voice of his hero, ex-sheriff Cork O'Connor

History...was a useless discipline, an assemblage of accounts and memories, often flawed, that in the end did the world no service. Math and science could be applied in concrete ways. Literature, if it didn't enlighten, at least entertained. But history? History was simply a study in futility. Because people never learned. Century after century, they committed the same atrocities against one another or against the earth, and the only thing that changed was the magnitude of the slaughter.

Amen, brother. In this third in the Cork O'Connor series, Cork and his wife Jo and their son and two daughters are just beginning to put their marriage back together when somebody calling himself the Eco-Warrior sets off a bomb at a lumber mill fixing to cut down and mill an old-growth stand of white pines sacred to the Anishinaabe tribe in northern Minnesota. Unfortunately, the bomb accidentally kills someone, so now it's murder (see "slaughter," above). Cork is drawn pretty willingly into the investigation, despite his now amateur status, and then the investigation gets personal when Jo and Stevie are accidentally kidnapped along with the local timber baron's wife and son.

The descriptions of the Minnesota backwoods are so real you can smell the smoke from the forest fires, and there is a great character in Henry Meloux, the Anishinaabe mide who is also Cork's father figure. I also really like the way Kreuger writes about Cork and Jo's marriage, the sweat equity that goes into a good relationship and the work it takes so you can both come back to it from mistakes made.

Lake Superior, Kitchigami, is an omnipresence throughout the novel and it's only fitting that the novel ends as it begins, on it with a monster storm and page-turning, heart-in-your-mouth action. Good summer read.


I knew whodunnit from the first, and I think the cops, all of them, should have known it, too, or at least suspected it. "You morons!" I kept shouting. They didn't even bother to look in the medicine cabinet! But the point is, I was shouting. Kreuger had me to the last page.

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Half Broke HorsesHalf Broke Horses by Jeannette Walls

Raised on ranches in Texas and Arizona in the first years of the last century, on page 3 Lily Casey Smith saves her younger siblings from a flash flood by shoving them up a cottonwood tree and making them do their multiplication tables all night so they wouldn't fall asleep and fall out. By the time the sun comes up the waters have receded and Lily shepherds her siblings home, where her mother immediately falls to her knees and gives thanks to their guardian angel for their deliverance. Lily thinks

Helen and Buster got down and started praying with Mom, but I just stood there looking at them. The way I saw it, I was the one who'd saved us all, not Mom and not some guardian angel. No one was up in that cottonwood tree except the three of us.

When she's fifteen years old, lacking even a high school diploma, she gets a job teaching in a one-room schoolhouse 500 miles west. She gets there on horseback.

I figured the trip would take a good four weeks, since I could average about twenty-five miles a day and would need to give Patches a day off every now and again. The key to the trip was keeping my horse sound.

After a diversion through Chicago and a marriage that goes bad, Lily, having gotten her high school diploma now, goes back to that one-room schoolhouse in Red Lake, where

I became known as Lily Casey, the mustang-breaking, poker-playing, horse-race-winning schoolmarm of Coconino Country, and it wasn't half bad to be in a place where no one had a problem with a woman having a moniker like that.

That moniker introduces her to her future husband, Big Jim, and eventually they manage a ranch in western Arizona, or they do until the ranch's British investors pull the rug out from beneath their feet. Along the way there are wonderful descriptions of the scenery. After a rainstorm ends a drought

...the plateau turned bright green, and the next day the ranch was covered with the most spectacular display of flowers I had ever seen. There were crimson Indian paintbrushes and orange California poppies, white mariposa poppies with their magenta throats, goldenrod and blue lupines and pink and purple sweet peas. It was like a rainbow you could touch and smell.

and then there's Christmas, Arizona-style, circa 1939

For the most part, pioneers and ranchers didn't have the time or money for gift giving and tree trimming, and they tended to treat Christmas like Prohibition, another eastern aberration that wasn't of much concern to them. A couple of years back, when some missionaries were trying to dazzle the Navajos into converting, they had a gift-bearing Santa Claus jump out of a plane, but his parachute didn't open, and he landed with a thud in front of the Indians, convincing them--and most of the rest of us, too--that the less we had to do with jolly old Saint Nick, the better off we'd be.

But she keeps moving forward, because that's what Lily does. And ya gotta love the hearse.

I read this book in one sitting. Lily's voice is very strong, a tribute to the author, who is her granddaughter. Because you understand Lily through her voice, maybe you can forgive how she raises her children. She was certainly a product of her time and place, all hard work and no whining. Okay, I'm with her there, but I finished this "True-Life Novel" deeply grateful that Lily wasn't my mother.

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Speaking of more fun things writers get to do– The Pratt Museum here in Homer has invited all the local writers, of whom there are many, into the museum to select one object and write 250 words about it for their newsletter. The short term goal is to alert newsletter subscribers to all the cool…

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A comprehensive overview of the history of agriculture and agribusiness across the world, beginning with the startling (to me, anyway) assertion that large-scale agriculture was what gave rise to the caste system in every society. There were the people who owned the land, and the people who farmed it for them, and so it remains, which farm owners being supplanted by international agribusinesses.

Bittman's concern for the survival of our species is evident on every page, from the introduction

A dictionary definition of "food" reads something like "a substance that provides nourishment." And until a century ago, we had two types of food: plants and animals. But as agriculture and food processing became industries, they developed a third type of "food," more akin to poison--"a substance that is capable of causing illness or death." These engineered edible substances, barely recognizable as products of the earth are commonly called "junk."

on to the Irish Famine, which he puts down not just to the Irish farming only potatoes

Not only were many of the Irish growing only potatoes; they were growing only one type of potato.

on to the government by way of the USDA historically subsidizing junk food and the production of junk food to the benefit only of the agribusiness producers, never the health of consumers

The playbook for junk food in general, and sugar in particular, was almost identical to that of tobacco...Ninety percent of Americans...use caffeine daily, whether in sugar-laced drinks like soda, iced tea, a variety of "sports" and energy drinks, or coffee, which had increasingly become a fat-and-sugar bomb.

A Caramel Ribbon Crunch Frappuccino, anyone?

If he didn't have all the evidence right there on every page this book might feel like a rant, but it is and is also utterly convincing. Next trip to Safeway, I'm going to buy a bag of brown rice and see how it cooks up in my rice cooker. [Update on 9/18/20--Yuk.]

However, as an Alaskan who watches the container ships do what their pilots call "Carry the milk to Anchorage" multiple times each day, importing fully 85 percent of Alaska's consumer products, including food, I wonder how my state gets to a place of food security for all. One small, traditional farm at a time, Bittman would reply. I hope he's right. I would have said that Alaska Natives, with a ten-thousand year history of subsistence living behind them, had a leg up on the rest of us, but the chum salmon run on the Yukon River completely crashed this year, so extensively that even elders are saying they've never seen anything like it. Self-reliance is a worthy and, I would agree with Bittman here, necessary goal but for some communities it may be simply unachievable. With makes this a very scary book.

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Disappearance of a Scribe, the second novel in the Eye of Isis mystery series, publishes in January 2022. I’ll be launching it at the Poisoned Pen Bookstore in Scottsdale on Saturday, January 15th, at 2pm. Click through the image below to pre-order your copy of the first edition hardcover, personally signed by moi. And here’s…

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