So moving forward I will be posting some of my thoughts on writing and the things I am reading here. Normally, I will do so one at a time, but I have a couple of reviews stored up.
Today is your twofer.
Midnight Crossroad by Charlaine Harris
This story made me feel like I was back in fourth grade during story time, which is a good thing. It isn’t an intellectual story full of abstract ideals or PhD level dissertations on magical theory, but what it does do is tell a solid story about characters that are distinct and identifiable. By the end of the story I couldn’t get the idea of lemonade on a hot afternoon out of my head and so in honor of this story I had to make myself a couple of adult lemonades with some oven baked fried chicken with a side of Asian influenced coleslaw. (Recipes to follow)
We move into Midnight, Texas alongside Manfred Bernardo, phone and internet psychic extraordinaire. We never really learn why Manfred moved to the middle of nowhere beyond some suggestion he needed somewhere new. That fogginess is par for the cast of Midnight that includes a vampire, witch, and an assortment of other oddfellows that may or may not be supernatural. It is certainly possible the origin story is more clear in the Harper Connelly series where the character originated, but I have not read that series, though that may change. The central axis of the story is the missing girlfriend of one of the longtime residents and the mystery that unfolds from there. Suffice to say there are hints of romance, fantasy, and mystery tossed in for flavoring. Harris manages some very slick point of view transitions, sometimes too slick, as the break in storytelling was sometimes like missing the baton pass in a track and field event.
I’ve had very mixed feelings in the past about this author, but if what you are looking for is some good old-fashioned west Texas characters then this may be for you. It is true that the characters aren’t always as complex as they could be and the characterization of the gay and minority characters wasn’t very progressive, but given the fact that I know a gay couple that runs an antique store and I certainly wouldn’t mind owning one I can’t be too upset. I’ll leave it to you to decide how you might feel about this little piece of Texas.
*This is only for those of you of age.
1 Shot dandelion wine
8 oz Lemon-lime soda
1 Tablespoon lemon juice (or more, as I like my drinks pretty tart)
Over Friend Chicken
Chicken thighs (I went ahead and made the frozen bag from Trader Joe’s and we’ve used the rest for chicken tacos)
6 cups Red Curry & Pepperoncini flavored Kettle Brand chips
½ Cup Mae Ploy Sweet Chili Sauce
2 Tablespoons Honey
1 teaspoon olive oil
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
I used a food processor to decimate the chips and then used them as breading for the chicken, the bits that fell off onto the pan tasted like the best fried potatoes ever. I dredged the thighs in the combined chili sauce, honey, and olive oil before putting them into the chips and then popping them in the oven for about 17 minutes (give or take based on your oven and fear of salmonella. 165 degrees being the suggested internal temperature to avoid food borne pathogens.)
The Devil’s Detective by Simon Kurt Unsworth
As much as I love all the derivative fanfiction that makes up stories about Heaven, Hell, angels, and such it is hard for most to pull off a take, message, or staging that hasn’t been done better. Clive Barker jumps to mind and Faith Hunter for her Rogue Mage Series. Before you get too sad though, I think Unsworth did a great job.
Hell is a place of crippling hope and uncertainty, where there is enough of each to keep you going, but only until the next demon comes along and wants some lunch. Thomas Fool is an Information Man, one of Hell’s bureaucrats punished with investigating Hell’s endless murders, rape, and violence. Most of the cases end up stamped DNI, Do Not Investigate, just one more crime in a place full of sinners who can no longer remember their sins and where the path to Elevation is obscured by bureaucracy and random chance. Into this mic Thomas is tracking down a killer that rends the souls from the flesh, something clothed in flame and old. Relying on Gordie and Summer, fellow Information Men, to help him track down a single killer in a place where souls are fished out of an endless sea and life comes and goes cheap isn’t easy.
Hell’s Bureaucrat would probably be a more accurate title, but Unsworth does a good job producing red herrings and introducing a cast of characters that are more complex than their jobs or situations require, but in a way that draws you in further and doesn’t distract from the plot. I have to say that the twist at the end was not one I saw coming, which is always a pleasant surprise. This isn’t a feel good book or ending, but there are some deep thoughts about the trials of modern society and questions raised about where we are going underlying the realities of Hell. I don’t think the book is heavy-handed though and handles the question of Hell and its sinners with new and interesting twists while leaving you with complicated feelings about the whole mess.