Practical Theory - The Origin
The Scholars in CyberEnglish
ToDaY's MeNu - Ted

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Killer Critique by Alexander Campion

Killer Critique by Alexander Campion is the return to work and antics of Capucine and Alexandre. She is a police Commissaire and he a senior food critic for Le Monde.  Another food critic drowns in his soup and it is on film because he was video taping the meal as part of his work. He wasn’t dead when his face fell into the soup. It stayed there and he drowned in his own soup. It raises some questions of why no one helped him.
After two more murders, Capucine has a serial killer to catch. This novel takes a turn to the bizarre as she consults a profiler, Vavasseur, who lives in a very weird place. She knows who the murderer is, but needs evidence. Since food critics are being targeted, Alexandre is always a target in Capucine’s mind. She has discovered the fetish of the killer and merely has to set the trap with the correct bait at the right place and time. This is a more psychological novel than the others and with fewer graphical descriptions of food.  The scenes with Vavasseur are priceless as is our favorite letch, Jacques. This novel has more of a Nordic feel to it, than the French touch of the first two novels. It is of course satiating.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Enon by Paul Harding

The Enon of Enon by Paul Harding is a place. A place where a family lives, a family of many generations. The narrator, the father, begins by telling us about the death of his daughter, the leaving of his wife and if it couldn’t gat any worse his tumbling into despair and the house into disrepair. And that’s juts the first two chapters. How and why to continue you ask?
Charlie, the narrator, relates Enon history and remembers his family’s history. The unidentifiable yellow bird is the magic. The magic is remembering, because sometimes it’s hard to remember. We are treated to his and Kate’s interactions and conversations as she was growing up. Great image of him cleaning, no ravaging, the house.  Along the way, it looks like he is trying to follow her as he is drowning in alcohol and drugs. In his despair he has conversations with his dead daughter. What stuns me is how quickly and easily his wife abandoned him. That is never clear except that was her nature anyway. The constant drumming of the theme, “Life is a gift, we are blessed to be alive,” sets the cadence of the plot. We all should have a Mrs Hale in our lives. I had a Mrs Stone. Grieving isn’t easy. It is not being violent or selfish. For Charlie, it starts with getting sober.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

A Conspiracy of Faith by Jussi Adler-Olsen

A Conspiracy of Faith by Jussi Adler-Olsen is a variation on ‘a message in a bottle.’ This message was written in blood with a heading of HELP in Danish, though Icelandic was first considered. The bottle was found in fishermen nets, on a ship that eventually sunk with all on board, but not before they turned it over to a Scottish policeman who died in a car chase after receiving the bottle. The bottle was eventually picked up about four years later by a curious tech genius who broke the bottle to find the note written in blood. The bottle and note finally arrived in the hands of Carl Morck, a Danish cop with Department Q, the cold case department. To add to their woes, Carl’s offices have asbestos problems so he and his assistants, Rose and Assad have to find new temporary office space in an already overstaffed office building.
We know the note was written by one of two boys being held by a man who was going to presumably kill these lads. The one lad with hands bound and mouth duct taped, somehow wrote this note behind his back in his own blood and forced it into a bottle that was floating in the debris that was around them in the fjord water they were being held. One lad was killed while the other was not returned after a ransom was paid with instructions that the murderer would find them if they told the cops. Their fate and murderer is the subject of this mystery.
Religious cults, rebellious sons, and pay back are the backbone of this devilish plot. The incarnate himself is a master of planning, of observing, and then striking with a wrath equal to none. And with the single purpose of wiping the smile off his father’s face at the expense of others. He is plodding along one God loving soul at a time, while the other is there as a reminder. But even for him it gets complicated.
Chaplin was much funnier than the chaplain’s son.

Monday, October 21, 2013

The Lowlands by Jhumpa Lahiri

The Lowlands by Jhumpa Lahiri is a history lesson with two brothers, Udayan and his slightly older brother Subhash, the protagonists.  The boys are growing up in turbulent times in Calcutta, India in the 1960’s. It is post Partition, riots in Naxalbari in the Darjeeling District (nothing has changed), and at the time of global student unrest.
The brothers are following different paths. Udayan is adventurous and rebellious; while Subhash is quiet, studious, and American bound to a Rhode Island University. Change is in the air as chaos reigns around the world and youth is at the center of this change. This novel also reads like a documentary. The author is telling and interspersing dialogue to support the narrative of a documentary. It is a beautifully told narrative, but lacks the passion that the story should evoke. This is a sad story that is bereft of the crying. There is happiness without the joy.
The world must be confusing for Bela with the difference between Rhode Island and Calcutta, as well as with her parents. Also for Subhash who once snuck into a club that he is now accepted in. It’s about the lies, so reread Montaigne.
About Subhash: “Already there was a pill to lower the cholesterol, another to raise his potassium, a daily aspirin to promote the passage of blood to his heart through his veins. He stored them in a plastic box with seven compartments, labeled with the days of the week, counting them out with his morning oatmeal.” Is this where we all end up?
As a parent we can only help our children with their choices. As teachers we can only help them with choices. Our choices are ours and we own them. This novel is about choices and owning them. It is also about relationships. It is a simple story of two brothers and the choices they each make in difficult times.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Black Skies by Arnaldur Indridason

Black Skies by Arnaldur Indridason opens with Erlendur still on leave in the country. In the last novel, Elínborg worked alone and the story was all about her. This time it is about Sigurdur Óli. He has been approached by a classmate to help his sister-in-law who got involved with “swinging” and is now being blackmailed.
Just as the last novel was a study in rape, this is a study in pedophilia and child porn. Many discussions of intimacy serve as the backbone of this novel. We first hear about swinging couples and then some more about individuals in these couples. We hear about a drunk who is reliving his childhood abuse and filming by his stepfather and now his sudden discovery of his stepfather. Sigurdur’s relationships with his mother and his old schoolmates. Finally we have the relationship of Sigurdur and his now divorced wife, Bergthóra. The title is perfect as all of these relationships are under black skies.
The murdered lady was a swinger, a married woman who slept around, as did her husband, and a blackmailer. And of course what wouldn’t make an Icelandic novel more complete than corrupt, bad mannered, pompous, greedy bankers before their fall. Most of the action is in Reykjavik with a stroll and discussion about the symphony center, Harpa, which is under construction in this novel. It is complete now and is very controversial.
There is a great deal packed into these 330 pages. Erlendur has been gone a fortnight out east presumably looking for traces of his long lost brother. In that time we have been entertained to two great novels about his fellow detectives, Elínborg in the last novel and Sigurdur in this one. We now know a great deal of all three of these interesting Icelandic detectives and about Iceland. I can’t wait till the next novel is released.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

The Grave Gourmet by Alexander Campion

The Grave Gourmet by Alexander Campion is the debut of the Capucine Culinary Mysteries. Capucine is a newbie on the rise with the police while her husband, Alexander is a star in the food circles of Paris since he is an elite food critic. A Friday night patron’s body is found in the food locker Monday at a three star restaurant. Capucine luckily catches this case since she was in the right place at the right time and because of her husband. A great scene about oysters introduces the chemistry between these two early in the novel and series. Chemistry also plays a big role in the creation of food. We are wined and dined from the get-go as we get recipes and enjoy a meal with the duo and others.
The case is all about a fuel injector being built by Renault. The injector will make the car more fuel-efficient. Capucine has stumbled over American spies, Korean spies, and too many romances to count all the while consuming large quantities of fine food and better wine. A particular sommelier provides some fun as he finds wine more important than food. He may be right, haha. Capucine’s cousin, Jacques, who works for the French equivalent of the FBI is introduced and his dirty old man character is humorous, especially since Capucine knows how to handle him, so we are entertained. Then there is a scene simply described as “Adam and Eve meet the Untouchables.” Very funny, laugh out loud hilarious.
Glasses clink in the end of an EXTREMELY delicious series debut.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Compound Murder by Bill Crider

Compound Murder by Bill Crider is another Dan Rhodes Mystery. Ah domesticity, Rhodes lives in a zoo. An English teacher gets killed in Texas, glad I’ve retired. Quoting the Dean, “it’s always something with the English teachers.”
Sheriff Dan Rhodes always seems to have his days filled with hair robbery from the solon, cooper wire theft from air conditioners and abandoned houses, hogs running amuck in houses and murder.  One of the college students suspected of being involved with the murder of his English professor lives and was brought up on a Waco type compound. He, however, wants out, which is why he is going to the local college. Rhodes has a quite, thoughtful demeanor, despite what his deputy thinks. He is also the model for a fictional heroic sheriff. He doesn’t disappoint in the end. As he sets out to solve the murder of the English teacher he proves to them he is no country bumpkin, he knows things that shock them. His house has one more rescued animal, a cat this time.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Stranded by Alex Kava

Stranded by Alex Kava is a “Criminal Minds” kind of story. We have a serial killer who hunts at highway rest stops and buries, after disemboweling the victims, in one place. The killer, who is taunting the FBI, has sent a map of the burial site to the FBI investigators, Maggie O’Dell and Tully. The personal interest part of the story is about a man who rescues dogs and trains the to be corpse finders is the brother of a young girl who went missing many years ago. He is seeking closure, one way or the other.
The plot gets creepy quickly in a Patricia Cromwell sort of way as her forensic scientist character, Kay Scarpetta, becomes entangled with the killers in her investigations to the point some are killed in her house. In Stranded, the killer becomes a narrator, has bought Maggie and her crew a round of drinks, unbeknownst to anyone, after the FBI discovered the burial ground. When she can’t find her FBI cap, she ignores it. That cap is what sets off his next killing when his victim recognizes it on the head of the killer. He is stalking Maggie; they are kindred spirits in his head. As I said it gets creepy quickly.
In spite of all the skills the agents command, it is always amazing how we/they miss the obvious. Understanding our instincts is crucial, as we always have to consider fight or flight. We have another story with dogs who play an important role. A reminder that love to children is very very important in their development.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Asheville Breweries

I drove to Asheville, NC to do a brewery crawl with my daughter, Caitlin and her husband George. I arrived at the cottage we rented for the weekend at 4:30 and they arrived an hour later.  We had dinner reservations for 8 at Cucina24. After dinner we went to Jack of the Wood to sample some local brews and to hear two Appalachian bands.
On Saturday we visited eight breweries and had dinner at Table.  Our goal was to sample their beers by ordering flights at each brewery. After breakfast we headed east to Lookout Brewery. This was a fun stop. The brewery opened on May 1st and had some very fine brews. The brew master gave us a taste of some future releases, which were good. Their amber and Jive Turkey were superb. Our next stop was Pisgah Brewery. This was a very impressive brewery with lots of space and a fantastic stage. We sampled a dozen of their beers. The most intriguing was the “wet” hops beers. The hops were grown right there. We had lunch and then drove on to Oscar Blues Brewery in Brevard. This was a wild place with great atmosphere, but the beer was disappointing. Dale’s Pale Ale was the only beer to merit mention IMHO. Our next stop was Brevard Brewing Company. Another new brewery like Lookout, but not with the signature taste. We were 50% as we headed back to Asheville and Highland Brewery before dinner at Table. Bingo we hit the jackpot. A spacious brewery with a great stage and music. The highlight was their Rye beer. Dinner was fabulous. After dinner we walked to three more breweries in Asheville. Our first stop was Lexington Ave Brewery (LAB). My favorite was their Rye. We drove to our next stop, which would include two breweries and a club with great music. The first brewery was Asheville Brewing which was a pleasant surprise. Everything on the flight was very good especially the Fire Escape. We sauntered over to Hi-Wire Brewing, which was another very satisfying brewery with a very good rye beer and IPA. We closed the evening around the corner at Ben’s Tune Up restaurant that had a fabulous band.
Woke up Sunday with no fog and warmer than yesterday. Because everything opened later today we hung out. We started the day in Asheville at Wicked Weed Brewery. A large establishment with a tasting room downstairs and a restaurant upstairs. The standout were their saisons. We then walked to Curate Tapas House for lunch before heading out west to continue our brewery crawl. We headed for Hendersonville and Southern Appalachian Brewery and enjoyed their flight and especially their autumn ale and Copperhead Amber. Heading bvack to the outskirts of Asheville found us at French Broad Brewery and their dogs. They had a particularly good Rye beer. In the neighborhood was Green Man, which was out of most beers except their delightful Rainmaker. Almost around the corner and down by the river was the most enjoyable family oriented Wedge Brewing Company. Good beers but a better ambiance and a brewery I would frequent often if I lived here. Closing out the tour at another family oriented neighborhood brewery, The Altamont Brewing Company was packed and offered a grand selection oftheir own beers as well as some other brews form other NC breweries farther from Asheville, which gave us a chance to taste beers we couldn’t get to, what a bonus. Completely exhausted we headed home for some cheese and crackers before dinner at The Admiral. Out of town, this quiet former dive bar has become a favorite haunt of locals for extremely fine traditional food done in unique ways.
We had a fantastic time in Asheville and plan to return in the spring to see how the seasonal beers then taste. We will visit breweries we missed this trip, visit some we saw now, and enjoy the food from other restaurants, which rank with those we did eat at. Next time the National parks will be open so we can do some hiking which we missed this time, GRRRR.
Bottoms up.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Unleashed by David Rosenfelt

Unleashed by David Rosenfelt is another mystery novel in a series. The title has many meanings. The main characters are a couple. Andy Carpenter is an independently wealthy criminal lawyer who doesn’t like cases and his wife, Laurie, a former cop turned investigator for him. Cases come to him rather than the other way around and he is more interested in make up sex, going away sex, returning home sex, than law cases. But when he takes on a case, well he is all in with a crew that would put the A-Team to shame. Oh and money is no object. Oh yeah, dogs seem to play a prominent role in the Andy Carpenter series. His dog Tara is headlined and in Unleashed a new dog is Crash because he was found or rather hit by one of his friends, Sam, who works for Andy. Crash has powers.
It is good luck to pet Crash as we learn throughout this novel. The tale starts out with a drone strike in Pakistan that promises revenge and retaliation. It involves lots of money and the key money man discovers his involvement and tries to stop it only to die. His death begins a cascading number of deaths and accusations of his murder. It’s about paying attention to details and having a guy like Marcus on your side because Marcus is Marcus. He is better than the FBI as we see and appreciate. Andy and Laurie aren’t too bad either with their octogenarian researchers. We all need a Crash and a Marcus.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Death of a Chef by Alexander Campion

Death of a Chef by Alexander Campion begs the question, why would someone kill a chef? Let’s find out shall we. While in Paris I saw one of the coolest methods of moving someone in or out of an apartment in a walkup building. It was an escalator type of ladder. The furniture was strapped on and up or down it went with ease and wear and tear on the people doing the moving. But for one antique portemanteau filled with a dead chef, the movers were wondering why it weighted so much. 

Campion is much like Martin Walker in that food; very good food is devoured during the investigation of a murder. Wine is also consumed. In this series, Capucine is the ‘head of detectives’ and her husband, Alexandre, is not only a good cook in his own right, but is also a renowned food critic in Paris. Recipes from three star restaurants appear on the author’s website as they do on Walker’s. Both authors go into great detail about cooking; how it is done so the reader could actually reproduce some of this food, which includes some irreproducible dishes as well as some very traditional and classic French cuisine.
In the case of the murdered chef, Capucine has her detectives scouring all over Paris as well as making sorties into the country. In addition to being a fine gourmet’s delight it also serves as a good travelogue. Reading this novel makes me hungry and wanting to return to Paris. What we often see in these mysteries is a connection to the past and this one is a doozey and a young girl is in the middle of it.
The fun of this off beat mystery is that we go from kitchen to kitchen, be it a three star restaurant or in someone’s house or apartment. During the preparing and cooking our detectives also do police business and then over a fine meal and a proper wine they discover something about the murder while we only get hungry. But I am learning something and for me it is more tarragon.
Alexandre and Capucine are a modern day Nick and Nora Charles of sorts as they banter about things always over a drink and food and at a nice restaurant. But the scene-stealer is always cousin Jacques. The comic element is always furthered by an exchange like this: “Isabelle, remember that phrase from Sherlock Holmes I always like to quote. Let the facts dictate your theory. Don’t try to force them into your preconceived notion.”  “Commissaire, this isn’t some mystery novel. This is the real world, where there are no coincidences.”
What we have here is a fine book on culinary delights liberally sprinkled with murders. Bon Appétit.