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Category Archive for 'US Regional'

Though all Martin Clark’s books have an analytical approach to right and wrong, The Substitution Order is, by far, the most “legalistic” of his novels so far, focusing on Kevin Moore, a brilliant lawyer who, for three months of his life, lost control, made some terrible choices, and now must pay the penalty. Almost no one believes in his innocence. Through flashbacks, the author brings disgraced lawyer Kevin Clark fully to life. Now living in a small, unincorporated community in rural Patrick County, near the North Carolina border, Kevin has fully recovered from a three-month addiction to cocaine and alcohol and has stayed clean, though he is disbarred, with another court appearance and jail sentence still pending. When a slick scammer approaches him to participate in a plan to bilk an insurance company, he refuses, then finds out the real meaning of someone “making an offer he cannot refuse.” Things go from worse to worst as Kevin takes things into his own hands.

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In Melville House Publishing’s Last Interview series, Billie Holiday’s own words define her and and reflect her difficult life through eight interviews. The first is given on November 1, 1939, published in Downbeat Magazine, and the last is twenty years later, published in October, 1959, in Confidential Magazine, an interview she granted two days before her death in a New York hospital at age forty-four. Born in Philadelphia, she grew up in Baltimore, the daughter of Clarence Holiday of the Fletcher Henderson Orchestra, with whom she had little contact after the age of ten. According to Khanya Mtshali, who wrote the substantial Introduction to this book, Billie was raped at around age ten and sent to a Catholic reformatory school for about two years, but was released “with the help of relatives” and later moved to New York with her mother, “where they began engaging in sex work to make ends met. Holiday was only fourteen.” In the the book’s first interview by Dave Dexter, with Downbeat Magazine on Nov. 1, 1939, she talks about those early years when she and her mother “were so hungry we could barely breathe.” Then at fifteen she got her chance singing in a “joint” in New York. Eight years later, at twenty-three, she was a giant in the music world. This book describes her ascent, and her difficulties, in her own words.

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In this assured and evocative debut novel set in rural Kentucky, author C. E. Morgan comes closer to conveying the essence of life, as she sees it, than do most other novelists with generations more experience. Writing about an area in which she lived, Morgan recreates the bare bones lives of subsistence farmers who are irrevocably tied to the land, a land which is sometimes fickle in its ability to sustain those who so lovingly tend it. Interminably long days and aching physical labor are not always rewarded here, and despair is often the prevailing mood of whole communities when droughts or floods play havoc with man’s efforts. Yet each spring offers new opportunities and hope as the resilient farmers renew their back-breaking connection to the land once again. Orren Fenton is just out of college when his mother and brother are killed in an accident, leaving him the sole survivor of the family and the inheritor of the family’s Kentucky tobacco farm. He invites his girlfriend Aloma to join him in restoring the farm that had belonged to his grandparents. The work is brutal, their love is tested severely, and both learn, as does the local pastor. Insightful, philosophical, and mature, this portrait of three characters trying to understand themselves and their roles in the world as they face the hardships of everyday life in rural Kentucky is accomplished, moving, and insightful.

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Written in 1936 and out of print for thirty years, A Puzzle for Fools has now been resurrected as part of Otto Penzler’s American Mystery Classics series – and what a classic it is, with one of best and most surprising conclusions ever. The novel – hugely successful when it was initially published – established “Patrick Quentin” as a popular writer, quite different from some of his contemporaries in that he was more interested in the psychology of his characters than many of his contemporaries, who were still following a predictable formula for their plots. For Quentin, a pseudonym for Hugh Callingham Wheeler, in collaboration with Richard Wilson Webb, this is the first of nine novels featuring main character Peter Duluth, a Broadway director whose wife died in a fire at the theatre, and who became an alcoholic as a result. Admitting himself to a sanitarium to dry out, he becomes involved in the search for a patient who has been tormenting other patients in their sleep. Eventually, he is involved in searching for a murderer. One of the best and most surprising conclusions ever.

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Erle Stanley Gardner, a man who found his metier early in life, bridged the gap between pulp and literary fiction during the 1940s and 1950s, and THE CASE OF THE CARELESS KITTEN is one of his best. A lawyer for fifteen years, he has said that while he enjoyed litigation and the development of trial strategy, that he was bored by the day-to-day work in the office. He soon began writing stories for pulp magazines, setting as his writing goal over a million words per year, and using some of his cases as inspiration. Beginning in 1933 with his first novel, he eventually developed the Perry Mason series, which, alone, consists of eighty novels. Gardner quickly developed a style which fit his legal experience and interests, and modern readers discovering him for the first time, and older readers who have not read him in years, will be intrigued by the obvious formula which governs his work. In every case, the characters are introduced briefly, and their upcoming roles in the book are quickly established. Gardner is interested in the facts and has no interest in developing personal psychologies or complex motives. He keeps the character list simple and the action moving quickly. Ultimately he creates a puzzle, rather than a plot: Something terrible happens, and the reader is supplied with every piece of information s/he needs, along with a few red herrings, leading to a grand climax in which the evil-doer is revealed as a surprise. The reader’s objective is to figure out the guilty party ahead of the author’s revelation.

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