Murder at the Olympic Games

I foolishly tried to resist getting caught up in the fervor, but it’s no use: once again my attention has been totally dominated by the Olympic Games. Such is the case for many of our patrons if the small talk at our service desk is any indication. There’s also been a run on all of our books about the Games, but there are some great mysteries and thrillers out there that feature the Olympics in various ways. Here’s a taste:

  • Find Lindsay Davis' See Delphi and Die in the Seattle Public Library catalog.See Delphi and Die, by Lindsay Davis. One of the best entries in this excellent series featuring sardonic ancient Roman detective Didius Falco, who in his 17th case investigates the mysterious deaths of two tourists at the ancient games.
  • A Game of Lies, by Rebecca Cantrell. In her third outing, journalist Hannah Vogel returns to Berlin under the  guise of reporting on the 1936 Olympic Games, but in truth to smuggle a mysterious package out from under the Nazi’s noses. For other fine thrillers involving the Berlin games, see Jeffery Deaver’s Garden of Beasts, Jonathan Rabb’s The Second Son, and David John’s Flight from Berlin.
  • Goldengirl, by Peter Lovesey. This curious early title of Lovesey’s about a physiologist who chemically engineers his adopted daughter into an Olympic champion anticipates the doping scandals and tiger mothers of today.
  • Find Shane Maloney's Nice Try in the Seattle Public Library catalog.Nice Try, by Shane Maloney. Called in to help manage Melbourne’s ill-fated bid for the 1990 Olympic Games, cynical arts minister Murray Whelan finds himself in the middle of a racially-charged murder investigation when a black triathlete turns up dead.
  • Private Games, by James Patterson. A crazed madman who will stop at nothing has a bizarre scheme to devastate the glitzy London Olympic ceremonies and restore the ancient glory of the Games. Private detective Peter Knight races the clock to foil his nefarious plans. This is Patterson’s second bid for Olympic gold, after his 1979 title See How They Run, aka The Jericho Commandment, in which Dr. David Strauss follows a trail of blood to the Moscow Olympics.

London Calling: a Reading List.

“London itself perpetually attracts, stimulates, gives me a play & a story & a poem, without any trouble, save that of moving my legs through the streets… To walk alone in London is the greatest rest.”   ~ Virginia Woolf, Diary, March 28, 1930.

Image of Sunset over Parliament courtesy of MSH via Flickr.So you say your tickets to the London Olympics got lost the mail? Yeh, mine too, and I couldn’t be more disappointed. London is one of my cities – one of those distant places we return to and develop a kinship with. Having visited London countless times in my mind, it has also been my pleasure to stroll her streets, seeking and finding all manner of treasure. I’ve searched in vain for 84, Charing Cross Road  or traces of The Old Curiosity Shop amidst the beguiling bookstalls, lost rapt hours in the British Museum and walked up and down the Thames under the changing weather, gazing at a mackeral sky or sighing over a Waterloo Sunset. G.K Chesterton – who created his own surreal versions of London once wrote that “London is a riddle. Paris is an explanation.” I’ve never felt Down and Out in either, but of the two London’s just the riddle for me.

  • Capital, by John Lanchester. The various residents of posh Pepys Road each receive a postcard reading, simply, “We Want What You Have.” A smart, stylish contemplation of getting and spending.
  • London, by Edward Rutherfurd. If you like your history fictional, this epic novel covers an entire millennia. British Michener, if you will.
  • The Sexual History of London, by Catharine Arnold. A different take on 2,000 years of carnality and illicit intimacies from the Roman brothels to Soho smut shops.
  • The London Scene, by Virginia Woolf. Six essays bring to vivid life London in the 1930s. Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway also brims with London life.
  • The Lodger Shakespeare, by Charles Nicholl. Explores a curious historical artifact – a recovered deposition of Shakespeare from a 1612 court case – to offer a rare window into the real life and art of the great playwright.
  • The Buddha of Suburbia, by Hanif Kureishi. Karim Amir samples the various kinds of Nirvana on offer in South London, circa 1970.
  • A Week in December, by Sebastian Faulks. Fast forward to 2007: this thick slice of London life follows a diverse cast of characters who worry about terrorists while being fleeced by bankers.
  • Neverwhere, by Neil Gaiman. In this richly imagined urban fantasy, there is not one London, but two, each wonderful in its way.
  • Portobello, by Ruth Rendell. A random act of kindness becomes a target for evil in this keen work of psychological suspense, filled w/ London broodiness.

You’ll find many more titles in Eternal London: in fact and fiction, a reading list in our library catalog. We’ve only just scratched the surface of this many storied city. What are your favorite London books?

Crime: If You Like Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch series.

In his 1950 essay The Simple Art of Murder, Raymond Chandler outlined the character of the modern detective, in words fit to quote at length:

“…down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid. … He must be a complete man and a common man and yet an unusual man. He must be, to use a rather weathered phrase, a man of honor — by instinct, by inevitability, without thought of it, and certainly without saying it. He must be the best man in his world and a good enough man for any world. He is a lonely man…”Lost Light, the 9th Harry Bosch novel (one of my favorites), by Michael Connelly

From that day to this, hardboiled fiction writers have offered variations of this theme, some memorable and some not so. When an author gets it right, he brings us a character with such enduring pathos that we will follow him to the ends of the earth, to hell and back, for years on end. Chandler himself did it with Phillip Marlowe, Ross MacDonald did it with Lew Archer, and Michael Connelly has followed in their footsteps with his maverick detective Harry Bosch, sometime of the LAPD, and admired by millions.

We admire the stoic integrity with which Bosch grapples with the morally compromised world which it his endless job to make a little bit better, or at least more just. We identify with his own doubts and fears, and are moved by his sacrifice as he gives up some part of his soul to the unforgiving business of meeting evil, day in and day out, settign aside his own happiness to rescue others, or to try. We sympathise with his frustrations as he struggles against the banalities and bureaucracies of  modern life.

And when we have read all his books and are waiting for the next, we look about for another hero who we can believe in half as much. Here is a list of some excellent hardboiled mysteries featuring heroes with a lot of the same appeal as Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch. Can you think of any other great hardboiled detectives that have the same feel and appeal?

What we were listening to in 1962

On the 50th anniversary of the Seattle World’s Fair, we look back at that year’s popular books, music, movies and TV shows.

This week: what we were listening to in 1962.

I like to be in America! If we could travel back in time to a random Seattle living room circa 1962, chances are good we’d hear this exuberant cry emanating from the hi-fi.  Although it was originally released in 1961, the West Side Story soundtrack (from the 1961 film starring Natalie Wood)  was the monster hit of 1962, reaching #1 on the Billboard album charts on May 5 and remaining at the #1 spot for 53 weeks, a record-setting run.

Elvis Presley continued to dominate the pop charts, with “Return to Sender,” “Good Luck Charm” and “Can’t Help Falling in Love With You” all among the top ten singles of the year. The Twist, first popularized by the 1960 Chubby Checker hit, was still America’s number one dance craze, as a slew of 1962 Twist songs including Sam Cooke’s “Twistin’ the Night Away,” the Isley Brothers’ “Twist and Shout” and  “Peppermint Twist” by Joey Dee & the Starliters demonstrate. However, it faced some competition from “The Loco-Motion” (a #1 hit for Little Eva), “The Mashed Potato” (name-checked in “Do You Love Me?” by the Contours), and even “The Monster Mash” by Bobby “Boris” Pickett (it was a graveyard smash!).

Yet newer sounds were also emerging. Ray Charles fused gospel, jazz, R&B and country in his crossover hit album Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music. Girl groups like The Crystals (“He’s a Rebel”) and The Shirelles (“Soldier Boy”) encapsulated the joys and heartbreak of teen romance. Soul music expanded its horizons with the hard-charging rhythms of Booker T. & The M.G.’s instrumental “Green Onions.” And on the West Coast, surf rock exploded with the guitar stylings of Dick Dale (Surfer’s Choice) and the sun-drenched harmonies of the Beach Boys (Surfin’ Safari). Perhaps the most unusual hit single of the year was “Telstar,” a space age instrumental written and produced by eccentric producer Joe Meek and performed by The Tornadoes. This otherworldly song sounds like it was beamed in from outer space and transmitted to Earth via the Space Needle.

As always, the charts don’t tell the whole story. 1962 was also a significant year for two obscure musical acts who would become the voices of an entire generation. In New York, a young folksinger released his first album to little fanfare. And “across the pond” in England, four lads convinced their doubtful producer to let them record their own material for their first commercial single.

For other musical landmarks in pop, jazz, country, R&B and more, check out this list of the tunes that were on our turntables and AM radios in 1962. And don’t forget Freegal, where you can download songs from the West Side Story motion picture soundtrack, Ray Charles, Elvis and more artists from 1962!


What we were reading in 1962

On the 50th anniversary of the Seattle World’s Fair, we look back at that year’s popular books, music, movies and TV shows. This week: what we were reading in 1962.

Find Katherine Anne Porter's Ship of Fools in the Seattle Public Library catalogAlthough it was a forward-looking time, the single bestselling novel that year was a glance backwards: Katherine Anne Porter’s Ship of Fools, an allegorical novel set aboard a cruise ship bound for Germany as it teeters on the brink of fascism. Porter had set pen to paper way back in 1940, so this was a much anticipated release and opinions differed widely on the book, some lauding it as a masterpiece while others called it a disappointment. A Book-of-the-Month club selection and easily the most talked-about novel that year (Betty Draper read it), it has remained steadily in print from that day to this.

Time has not been as kind to the most popular non-fiction title that year, Dr. Herman Taller’s Calories Don’t Count, and the runners up fared little better. Anyone remember Virginia Happiness is a Warm Puppy, by Charles Schultz: we bet your family had a copy!Hudson’s Oh Ye Jigs & Juleps!, #4 bestseller in 1962, holding steady at #5 for 1963? Perhaps Happiness is a Warm Puppy is more familiar, if only for the Beatles’ twist on this title six years later. Far more lasting was the impact of Rachel Carson’s watershed title Silent Spring, which exposed the devastating effect of pesticides — most notably DDT — on our environment, awakening millions of Americans to the fragility of our world and its ecosystems.

On a lighter but no less influential note was Helen Gurley Brown’s smash hit, Sex and the Single Girl. With chapters advising women about how advance Find Sex and the Single Girl by Helen Gurley Brown in the Seattle Public Library catalogthrough the ranks at work, turn men on, and get what they want out of an affair on their own terms, this runaway bestseller was the opening volley in the sexual revolution, redefining the rules of play for American women and later providing an inspiration for such series as Sex and the City and Mad Men. 1962 also saw the publication of Doris Lessing’s landmark feminist novel The Golden Notebook, which explored women’s struggle to integrate their various roles and masks into an authentic whole, and suggested that the real revolution would be between men and women.

So much was the nascent women’s movement in the air that even that pinnacle of unreconstructed masculinity Ian Fleming got in on the act, creating Viv Michel, his first and only female Find The Spy Who Loved Me, by Ian Fleming in the Seattle Public Library catalognarrator, in the tenth James Bond thriller. Not that The Spy Who Loved Me is a feminist tract; Viv is prone to such observations as “All women love semi-rape. They love to be taken. It was his sweet brutality against my bruised body that made his act of love so piercingly wonderful.” Critics and fans hated this Bond Girl Speaks twist, but the next year Sean Connery stepped onto the silver screen in Bond’s cinematic debut Dr. No, and all was forgiven. For a 1962 thriller that feels as fresh today as the day it was written, try The Hunter, the very first of Richard Stark’s 24 relentless thrillers featuring tough guy antihero Parker.

1962 was a big year for books, from Beats to blockbusters, utopias and dystopias, kid’s books and coming-of-age stories: We’ve barely scratched the surface here so check out this list of the books on our nightstands and coffee tables in 1962. Stay tuned for new lists of the music, movies and TV of 1962 in the weeks to come.