The World As It Appears in December 2013

The post office is a sad place now.  Only a year or two ago, lines, especially at this time of year, would be snaking out the door.  People would be coming to blows over parking spaces.  Self hated the feeling of being entrapped in a confined space, along with someone loudly sniffling or coughing.  Now, she breezes in and out in five minutes.  Five minutes!  Who knew?

The other thing about now is that, only after experiencing Hunger Games mania “for reals” (as opposed to just reading the books because Niece G said they were good, so much better than the Twilight series), self has finally come to an appreciation of what the literature of YA means:  it means, specifically, no sex scenes (In the Mockingjay epilogue, Peeta and Katniss do things that evoke “hunger” — years later, they gambol in a field of dandelions with their two children).  It also means, no four-letter cuss words (How Jena Malone got away with her piece in Hunger Games: Catching Fire is a story in itself).  And for the first time, self does not think of YA as a sub-category of literature.  Suzanne Collins, you are genius!

Self is back to reading the Wall Street Journal.  She started reading it regularly several years ago, because she liked Joe Morgenstern’s movie reviews.  She also liked the book reviews.

In the Wednesday, Dec. 11, 2013 issue, there is a fascinating review of a book called Skull in the Ashes, by Peter Kaufman.  It is the story of an actual crime that occurred “on a freezing February night in Iowa in 1897.”  Iowa!  Well, let’s have at it, WSJ book reviewer!

On the night in question, “a fire razed the general store in the small settlement of Walford.”  It is about a murder that would never have been solved if it were not for “the county attorney, a sharp young Irishman named M. J. Tobin,” who “used the latest forensic techniques to establish that the skull belonged to a local farm laborer,” and not to the ostensible victim:  widely thought to be the store owner, Frank Novak.  It turned out that just before the fire, Novak “had recently taken out the huge sum of $27,000 in life insurance.”  Novak, it turned out, “was massively in debt, with a serious gambling habit.”

The insurance companies hired a detective, “its most hardened tracker . . .  a veteran of the Apache Wars,” to pick up Novak’s trail.  The detective traced Novak (who had been traveling under a series of assumed names) all the way to Juneau, Alaska, and down the Yukon River.  Finally, in Dawson City, “an anarchic settlement dominated by saloons, brothels and gambling dens where wealth and debauchery rubbed shoulders with treachery and despair,” he got his man.

The next part of the book is about Novak’s trial.  Since “there were no witnesses to the alleged murder and no traces of his presence at the crime scene,” it was left to the county attorney “to create a chain of facts so robust that only a deliberate homicide by Novak could account for them.”  His opponent was Thomas Milner, “a brash, attention-seeking character . . .  who advertised himself in the local newspapers as ‘seldom licked, never surrender.’ ”

Sounds like a very fascinating book!  You’ll have to read it to find out how the trial turns out!

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

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