"Library Frights" for October

Each day in the month of October, our librarians have selected a book or movie from our collection to share on social media. Some are famous, some obscure, but every one of these titles is full of thrills and chills — perfect for Halloween!

Take a look at our recommendations on Twitter and Facebook (all of the items are available for checkout from the Kansas City Public Library) and let us know what your favorite scary story is.

Just use the hashtag #LibraryFrights to share with us, and have a happy and safe Halloween!

About the Author

Liesl Christman

Liesl Christman is the digital content specialist for The Kansas City Public Library, managing content for the Library's blogs and social media accounts. She is an unabashed enthusiast of comic books, roller derby, and all things food.

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The Hollow Man by John Dickson Carr

John Dickson Carr
One of the sub-genres of the classic mystery genre is the “locked-room” mystery. In its most basic form, a person is found dead from violence in a room that is closed from within, and admits no egress. Though the person has clearly been murdered (there is no murder weapon in evidence), it seems impossible that anyone could have gotten to the victim to kill him (most times, the victim is male). The appeal of such mysteries is as much, if not more, on the ingenious solution to how the murder was committed as on the identity of the killer. We might call these “howdunits.”

The admitted master of this subgenre was John Dickson Carr, who wrote several mystery novels that might be classified as “locked-room” mysteries.

In 1935's The Hollow Man — also known by its American title, The Three Coffins — we have the epitome of the locked-room mystery. Not only is the book the exemplar of the type, but a whole chapter in the book (“Chapter 17: The Locked Room Lecture”) is devoted to a lecture by Carr’s main detective, Dr. Gideon Fell, on the topic of “locked room” murders. The novel is the sixth Gideon Fell novel out of a total of twenty-three.

Gideon Fell is a British scholar, though his area of study is unclear. When first introduced, he is working on an English dictionary (which suggests a nod to the celebrated Samuel Johnson), but in later books, he seems to be working on a scholarly treatment of the beer-drinking habits of the English — a scholarly endeavor many of us could get behind. (Are you listening, Boulevard?) Like Samuel Johnson, Fell seems to be an expert in just about everything, but unlike Johnson, he is morbidly obese, and uses a cane to get around.

One of the conventions of detective fiction, especially the classic form, is for some person in the story to make some statement about how, “in detective stories,” something would play out in such and such a way, thereby suggesting that the story we are reading is not fiction, but real.

In this novel, when one of Dr. Fell’s friends objects to his about to enter upon a lecture upon the locked room mystery, Fell replies that “we’re in a detective story, and we don’t fool the reader by pretending we’re not. Let’s not invent elaborate excuses to drag in a discussion of detective stories. Let’s candidly glory in the noblest pursuits possible to characters in a book.” So, instead of carrying on the charade that his characters are real, we have his main character candidly admit that he is a fictional character, who glories in it. This kind of self-awareness on the part of a fictional character is something we might expect in a book written in the last 20 years, but not in a popular mystery written during the Golden Age of classic detective fiction. Admittedly, once this admission has been made, it not repeated, and the “illusion” of the world of the book continues as if there had not been this brief confession to the reader.

I’m thinking that Carr, who very much loved the form of the locked room mystery, the form in which the very act of the murder seems to have been impossible, felt it necessary to set forth his thoughts on this form, and lay out its possibilities and rules. And one of the suggestions he makes — he stops short of making this a “rule” — is that the world “improbable” should not be uttered in detective fiction, for it is a commonplace that the least likely suspect is often the guilty party, hid in plain sight all along by a clever author, and that authors of classic mysteries should be upfront about such a convention.

As a puzzle, in which there are two impossible murders: the murder of Professor Grimaud in a locked room by an assailant who mysteriously disappears, leaving no tracks in the snow, and the murder of Pierre Fley, an illusionist, who had threatened Grimaud, who is also the most “likely” culprit, in an empty street where two witnesses saw no one but Fley, who fell dead following shots that seemed to come from nowhere. Complicating matters is that Fley seems to have been killed prior to Grimaud himself. As a puzzle, this is quite an excellent one, in that the “impossible” murders are rather simply explained by Fell in the concluding chapter, and Carr did, indeed, demonstrate that he had played fair.

But Carr fails to produce compelling characters. In many ways, even the main characters might be interchangeable, given letters for names as if the whole book were a problem in calculus of several variables. Unlike Christie, or Marsh, or Sayers, who create some compelling characters in their detective novels, Carr, at least in this outing with Dr. Fell, fails to do so.


About the Author

Bernard Norcott-Mahany, a library technical assistant at the Lucile H. Bluford Branch, is our resident connoisseur of classic literature. He is also the leader of the Black Classics and In the Heat of the Night book groups.

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In Memoriam - Phil Kirk, 1937-2014

Many of you will know Phil Kirk as the man for whom we named Kirk Hall at the Central Library. Or as this generation’s downtown Kansas City real estate developer par excellence. Or a genial figure at many of our Library programs and special events.

He was much, much more. His family, and notably his father Jim, were prominent in local business and philanthropy. Jim Kirk's office furniture from Kirk Welding ended up in One North at the Central Library as part of our soft seating there. Mike Kirk, Phil's brother, has been an active supporter of the Library.

Phil's career involved guidance of DST 's redevelopment of the West Side of downtown in partnership with Kansas City Southern, Financial Holding Corporation, State Street, and many others, but the transformation was uniquely his vision.

He was a key part of the civic group that picked the First National Bank building to renovate for the Central Library, and then gave and raised substantial amounts of the Capital Campaign money, after which he was always our tireless champion and advocate.

He was also the primary supporter of our great partnership with Crossroads Academy charter school, and typical of Phil, his last charitable act was to secure funding for their building.

No individual is more responsible for the revival of downtown and the Library's central role in that. We owe him a lot and we will deeply miss him.

Crosby Kemper III
The Kansas City Public Library

A memorial service for Phil Kirk will be held Tuesday, October 28, 2014, at 10 a.m. at Saint Michael and All Angels Church, 6630 Nall Avenue, Mission KS 66202. More information is available in the obituary in The Kansas City Star.


Phil Kirk, a giant in downtown Kansas City real estate, dies at age 76.  The Kansas City Star.

Downtown champion Phil Kirk has died.  Kansas City Business Journal.

Food For Fines Week Returns

Clear up your overdue fines and do good for the community! The Library is partnering with Harvesters for Food for Fines Week, October 13-19, 2014. For each non-perishable food item donated at the Library, you get a $1 credit towards your existing fines.

The most-needed items include canned meat, peanut butter, canned fruit, canned vegetables, and boxed meals. Non-nutritional beverages such as soda and any beverages in glass containers will not be accepted. All the details are below. You can donate at any Kansas City Public Library location through Sunday, October 19, 2014.

What is Food for Fines? Food for Fines is an annual program that allows Library patrons to trade one nonperishable food item for one dollar in existing fines on their Library accounts.

Which fines/fees are forgiven? Non-perishable food items may be used for Kansas City Public Library accounts with existing overdue fines. Only overdue fines are eligible for this program.

Which fines/fees cannot be forgiven? Referral fees, lost or damaged item fees, replacement Library card fee, video and/or DVD rental fees, printing fees, flash drives, ear buds, Friends of the Library books for sale, Friends of the Library memberships, lost items owned by Consortium Libraries, lost items that are Interlibrary Loans.

Which food items are acceptable? Non-perishable food items in cans, boxes, or plastic containers, household and personal care items that are unopened. Pet food in boxes or cans. No glass containers may be accepted. Examples of acceptable items: canned vegetables, boxed dinners, canned juices, peanut butter, soap, deodorant, shampoo, toilet tissue, facial tissues, paper towels, cleaning supplies. Ramen noodles are acceptable. 4 packages of Ramen noodles equals one dollar in fines. Items in multi-packs are acceptable at $1 per item. i.e. A four-pack of paper towels equals $4 in forgiven fines. Bottled water in 8 oz. or greater containers is acceptable. SlimFast and other diet drinks are acceptable. Government issued food, i.e. peanut butter, welfare items, etc. are also acceptable.

Which food items are not acceptable? Perishable food items; glass containers of any kind; soda pop; candy and/or gum; cardboard drink containers; drink pouches; alcoholic beverages; items in damaged/rusty/open containers; items WITHOUT a nutrition label; items with a past due expiration date; homemade or home-canned items. Travel size containers of personal care items, i.e. toothpaste, shampoo, conditioner, hand lotion, etc.

Who gets the food? Harvesters—The Community Food Network

What is Harvesters and what does it do with the food? Harvesters is Kansas City’s only food bank and was organized in 1979. Harvesters provides essential food resources for a network of over 620 charitable agencies such as emergency food pantries, soup kitchens, shelters, day care centers and senior centers in 26 counties. Further information about Harvesters is available at harvesters.org or by calling 816.929.3000.

Can I donate even if I don’t have any fines? Yes.

Can the Library credit my account for future fines? No. Food for Fines is only for EXISTING fines on a Library account.

The President and the Assassin by Scott Miller

At the beginning of the Twentieth century, the United States enjoyed an economic boom along with a rise in the anarchy movement leading to the assassination of a President.

Scott Miller—in The President and the Assassin: McKinley, Terror, and Empire at the Dawn of the American Century—looks at the assassination of President William McKinley as it relates to the events of his presidency. Parallel to the account of the McKinley murder is the life story of Leon Czolgosz who killed the President. The two met on a September afternoon in 1901 at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York to disastrous ends. McKinley had spent a couple of days at the fair and on the last day held a gathering to visit with the general public.

The narrative looks at the United States during the McKinley administration. At the end of the Gilded Age, the country's economic fortunes were improving after the Panic of 1893. The President set a course to encourage growth. Many workers labored for long hours in factories, but saw their pay reduced. Strikes had become common.

During the same time period, the United States had become involved with Spain over Cuba. This dispute led to the Spanish-American War with the result that Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines were added as U.S. territories. The war led the United States to become a major player on the world stage for the first time in its history. The success of the war helped McKinley win re-election in 1900.

The author delves into the life of Leon Czolgosz, anarchist and son of Polish immigrants, who was convicted of the assassination. Czolgosz became interested in the growing anarchist movement of the late Nineteenth century. These agitators thought the best way to bring about change would be to disrupt government. They were also the ones behind much of the labor unrest including the Haymarket riot in Chicago in 1886. Several in the anarchist movement are profiled as well including Emma Goldman and Albert Parsons. Czolgosz read widely the literature published by these revolutionaries, but other anarchists wanted nothing to do with him.

After Czolgosz shot McKinley, the crowd pounced on him while others whisked the President off to the hospital. At first, it appeared that the President would recover from his gunshot wounds. However, infection set in which the doctors could not treat, and McKinley died in the early morning of September 14, 1901. His assassin faced jail and trial in very short order. Czolgosz did not cooperate in his defense and said very little after the assassination. He soon faced the electric chair ending an era of American history. Theodore Roosevelt assumed the presidency vowing to continue policies McKinley had set in place. The nation mourned the third American president to be murdered while in office. The assassination shook the United States but paved the way for its rise as a world power.

This is a good book about American history at the start of the Twentieth century. I felt there were parallels with recent history and the Occupy movement in the labor unrest of the time. The story about the assassination of President McKinley took me back to reading about the murder of President James Garfield in Destiny of the Republic. Both murdered leaders have not been covered to the extent that assassinated Presidents Kennedy and Lincoln have been, even though both left their marks on United States history. The United States was coming into its own and this books helps set the stage for future events of history in the Twentieth century.

About the Author

Judy Klamm is a reference librarian in Central Reference. She has written book reviews for Library Journal and various Presbyterian publications.

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Young Friends Present Booktoberfest

I became a “beer guy” in 1995. That was when I discovered Boulevard Wheat and my eyes were opened to the idea that there were more than two flavors of beer – regular and light. A year later I took a trip to Colorado and visited a rapidly expanding restaurant chain called Old Chicago Pizza & Taproom that advertised more than 100 different beers. At that point, there was no going back.

I have spent the last 18 years — wow, 18 years — exploring the wide world of craft beer. Boulevard was a blessing for Kansas City. It produced a fantastic product and made Kansas City a big-time player in the craft beer revolution. Unfortunately, for a long time, it was the only Kansas City player. But if you are going to have only one, it might as well be the George Brett of craft brewing, right?

In recent years, things have changed. Boulevard is still there — the anchor that ensures Kansas City will always be mentioned whenever anyone anywhere talks about great craft beer communities — but others have joined the party.

So when the Young Friends of the Kansas City Public Library settled on Booktoberfest (a novel beer tasting experience) as their first fundraising activity, I was delighted. Here was a chance to promote reading, the Library, and Kansas City’s great craft beers.

Booktoberfest is not your typical beer-tasting event. There are not 50 breweries from all over the country. There will be no huge crowds. You will not pay for admission and then have to buy food.

We made a conscious decision to keep it small. We wanted the emphasis to be on showcasing the Library and the great craft beers that are being produced in our community. We partnered with four small, true micro-breweries that are doing some pretty exciting things in Kansas City.

I should point out here that I am not an expert on the subject of beer. I cannot identify types of hops by scent. I know nothing about the brewing process. I can’t even always remember the names of the styles of beer I am drinking. I’m just a guy who knows what he likes in a beer, and I like to think that I have pretty good taste.

Participating breweries include:

KC Bier Company
Located at 310 W. 79th Street in Waldo, KC Bier Company is the largest brewery featured at Booktoberfest. While many American breweries shy away from German-style beers because they’re too similar to traditional North American lagers, KC Bier Company embraces them. Much like my experience with Boulevard Wheat all those years ago, KC Bier Company is helping people realize that just because a beer looks like something you’d pour out of a domestic bottle doesn’t mean it can’t be a great craft brew.

Rock & Run Brewery
Located at 110 E. Kansas Street in downtown Liberty, Rock & Run Brewery features a combination of traditional beers, less common styles, and experimental offerings. It was here that I developed a real taste for smoked beers – the barley dried over an open flame to give it a distinctive, smokey flavor.

Cinder Block
Located at 110 E. 18th Avenue in North Kansas City, Cinder Block is one of my favorite locations. Off the beaten path, the taproom has a very industrial feel. It emanates cool. And the beer is top notch. The Block IPA is a favorite of many, but my personal favorite is Cultivate Saison, a big beer that rivals my all-time favorite in that style – Boulevard’s Tank 7.

Crane Brewing Company
While not yet open to the public (it hopes to open soon in Raytown), Crane places an emphasis on sour (another one of my favorites) and wild beers. I tried the brews from Crane for the first time in the lead-up to Booktoberfest. I was a fan of its Marcel, a dry-hopped saison, but the one that created the most buzz around the office was Ruby, an eye-catching red cream ale brewed with beets.

We hope to make Booktoberfest a more civilized beer tasting event.

The event takes place on Friday, October 10, at the Central Library (14 W. 10th Street). Free parking is available in the Library district parking garage at 10th & Baltimore. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. At that time, people will be able to check in and enjoy hors d’oeuvres provided by Cosentino’s Downtown Market and pizza from Milwaukee Delicatessen.

Tickets are $35 or two for $50 and are available at booktoberfestkc.eventbrite.com. Booktoberfest is co-presented by Recommended Daily.

All proceeds will benefit the Young Friends of the Kansas City Public Library in support of the Library’s efforts to make Kansas City a community of readers.

We will assign every ticketholder to a small group, and at 7 p.m. a “tour guide” will escort the groups to their first tasting station. The groups will get to spend about 30 minutes at each station, sampling beers, talking about their breweries, and experiencing the beauty of the Central Library. Of course, we couldn’t do an event that night without first ensuring that attendees can follow the Royals’ American League Championship Series opener against Baltimore. It will be shown on large screens at each tasting station.

To wrap up the evening, we will congregate on the Library’s rooftop terrace for cookies from Swoon Cookies and pretzels from Farm to Market Bread Company and to watch the end of the Royals game.

I hope you can join us Friday night for an evening of books, beer, bites … and baseball.

- Steve Woolfolk, Assistant Director of Public Affairs

The Holy or the Broken by Alan Light

I read an excerpt from Alan Light's The Holy or the Broken online recently and decided to pick up the book from the Library on impulse. Like most people of my generation who know it through Jeff Buckley, I love the Leonard Cohen song "Hallelujah."

And then it sat in my "To Read" pile for some weeks while I decided whether or not I really wanted to bother reading it. Honestly, how much is there to say about one song? How compelling can a whole book about it be?

As it turns out: Quite a lot, and very compelling.

The secret to this book is that it isn't just about a song. It's a meditation on pop culture over the past few decades. Because "Hallelujah" traced arguably the most unusual and unique path of any pop song during that period, it offers us a singular perspective through which to view recent history and the changes wrought in our culture.

Because the song has endured through so many changes and found its place in so many different circumstances for so many different reasons, it says a great deal about who we are and what's important to us.


Because it resonates with us in ways that are so unexpected, it serves as a very different sort of mirror onto ourselves.

This song is difficult, it refuses to yield easy or obvious answers about its meaning or intent. This song is endlessly layered and adaptable, but it's built on a core of stark simplicity. Exploring how this song has been used, by whom and for what, is fascinating.

I sometimes feel that modern culture does everything in its power to avoid confronting the mysterious, dangerous, complex and unknowable aspects of our existence. We value comfort and convenience too much to allow true mystery into our lives.

Ancient cultures, by contrast, had no choice but to confront such mystery head-on.


Existence is still mysterious, dangerous, complex, and unknowable, whether we're comfortable acknowledging that or not. By drawing on ancient tales from the Old Testament as his inspiration for "Hallelujah," Cohen threw open a window that shows us this unadulterated truth — he brought an ancient awareness of it into the modern era, and made it human and fragile, eternal and enduring.

That ancient awareness still speaks to us, still moves us, as powerfully as ever.

About the Author

John Keogh

John Keogh is the Digital User Specialist for the Digital Branch of the Kansas City Public Library. He grew up in Fargo, ND, (too small) and lived in Chicago for several years (too big) before he moved to Kansas City. He calls KC his "Goldilocks town" because it's just right.

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Banned Books Week: September 21−27

Alison Bechdel

Held annually in September, Banned Books Week allows libraries across the country to celebrate the freedom to read and discuss the books that have been subjected to bans or had their presence in schools, bookstores, and library collections challenged.

In Article III of the American Library Association’s Library Bill of Rights states that “Libraries should challenge censorship in the fulfillment of their responsibility to provide information and enlightenment.” It’s a directive we take seriously here at the Kansas City Public Library.

In 2014, Banned Books Week focuses on comic books and graphic novels. As a medium, comics have faced increased scrutiny due to their visuals and the erroneous assumption that they are only for kids.

This is nothing new. Fredric Wertham, in his 1954 book Seduction of the Innocent, asserted (through long-discredited research) that comics were encouraging juvenile delinquency and criminal behavior.

Join us as we wrap up
Banned Books Week with Celebrating the Freedom
to Read

Saturday, Sept. 27, 4pm
at the Plaza Branch

Special guests include the Collins family, who recently drew international attention to their efforts to keep a Little Free Library in their Leawood, Kansas, front yard.

This led to Senate hearings and the institution of a self-regulatory “Comics Code” to avoid government regulation. The Code wasn’t fully abandoned by publishers until 2011.

Challenges to comics continue to this day. Jeff Smith’s award-winning series Bone was the 10th-most challenged title, according to the American Library Association in 2013. Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis has also faced recent bans. Last year, Chicago Public School administrators ordered that copies of the book be removed from some school libraries and classrooms, though officials quickly backpedaled after facing protests.

And recent MacArthur Genius Grant recipient Alison Bechdel often has faced attempted censorship of her work. Her graphic memoir Fun Home — winner of the Eisner Award, Lambda Literary Award, GLAAD Media Award, and a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award — was cited as one of the titles that led the South Carolina legislature to temporarily cut funding to two state colleges that had included the book in their required reading for freshman students.

So join us this week in celebrating these books, and increasing awareness of attempts to ban and remove these works of literature from bookshelves everywhere.

Banned Books Week Resources:

Books Banned or Challenged in Kansas and Missouri (KC Library Pinterest Board)
American Library Association: Banned & Challenged Books
Office for Intellectual Freedom
Comic Book Legal Defense Fund: Banned Books Week

About the Author

Liesl Christman

Liesl Christman is the digital content specialist for The Kansas City Public Library, managing content for the Library's blogs and social media accounts. She is an unabashed enthusiast of comic books, roller derby, and all things food.

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Guns of August Still Reverberating

One hundred years later, the "great war" leads to a great discussion.

(This article first appeared in The Kansas City Star on August 29, 2014.)

After a special tour of the National World War I Museum at Liberty Memorial, FYI Book Club readers gathered recently to discuss The Guns of August, the classic nonfiction work by Barbara W. Tuchman.

The group was equally divided between participants who had previously read the book and those who read it for the first time. All agreed that Tuchman's special gift was in bringing the history to life in a dynamic way.

"I really liked that she included photos, maps and other enhancements," said James Warner of Olathe. "It helped me understand the trajectory of the war."

Some readers wished that Tuchman had included a more detailed discussion of the events that led to the start of the war.

But Nancy Cramer of Raymore, a Liberty Memorial docent, said Tuchman makes it clear from the beginning that isn't the purpose of the book. Cramer suggested Tuchman's "The Proud Tower: A Portrait of the World Before the War, 1890-1914" for readers who want an in-depth analysis of those events.

For a book that covered only one month of the "war to end all wars," readers especially enjoyed the way Tuchman presented the era's historical figures.

Linda Rives of Kansas City said the way Tuchman used personal documents helped craft a more "accurate, human portrait of the people involved in the strategic planning of the war. Just because it's war doesn't mean everyone's on the same page."

David Klose of Kansas City was especially struck by "the interactions and relationships between the generals and the hard-heartedness of their strategy," he said. "There were so many inflexible reactions. I have a newfound respect for plucky Belgium."

Kathy Lindsey of Overland Park, a first-time reader of the book, said she was "surprised to learn about all the strategy and planning that went into the war and how misguided so much of it was."

Linda Marcusen of Prairie Village agreed, noting the many conflicts that drove Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany.

"He was erratic, certainly blew hot and cold on the many war-related issues," she said.

"When you look up 'loose cannon,'" said Phil Royer of Kansas City, "there's a picture of Kaiser Wilhelm."

Readers were fascinated with the many maneuvers that didn't go as planned.

"The widespread incompetence was fascinating," said Steve Hargrave of Prairie Village. "Even the British looked incompetent."

Leigh Blackman of Prairie Village summed up the book this way: "Tuchman showed how decades of plans for war didn't pan out. This one specific month, August of 1914, explains the entire war to come for readers. I changed my mind about the contributions made by every nation involved in this sad, sad war."

Jenny Weber of Kansas City told book club members about her trip last year to European battlefields.

"It's devastating what happened to these villages," she said. "There's nothing there. Tuchman makes the reader understand the regular people caught up in these extraordinary circumstances.

"What do you do when war shows up in your front yard? At your front door? It's incredible what's been left behind after 100 years, and it still affects us today."

The Kansas City Star and the Kansas City Public Library present a "book of the moment" selection every six to eight weeks and invite the community to read along. If you would like to participate in a book discussion led by the library’s Kaite Stover, email kaitestover@kclibrary.org.

About the Author

Kaite Stover

Kaite Mediatore Stover is the Readers Services Manager at the Kansas City Public Library. She is a regular guest on KCUR's Book Doctors segment and moderator of The Kansas City Star’s FYI Book Club. She can tap dance, read tarot cards, and doesn’t bite.

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Book Review: Gideon’s Fire by John Creasey

John Creasey

Just as Hilary Waugh and Ed McBain aimed at writing police procedurals that reflected police work in the United States as it really was (as opposed to the police/classic amalgam that had been in effect prior to their work), John Creasey in England was trying to do the same thing.

His first foray into police procedurals involved Inspector Roger West of Scotland Yard (beginning with Inspector West Takes Charge [1942]), a series that ran through the 1970s in over two dozen titles. Creasey wrote several other series, involving detectives both professional and amateur.

His most famous police procedural series involved Inspector George Gideon of Scotland Yard, beginning with Gideon’s Day (1955), written under the pseudonym J.J. Marric. That first novel covered a single day in the life of Inspector Gideon as he marshalled the forces under his wing to bring to a close several open cases. The next two novels in the series, Gideon’s Week and Gideon’s Month, likewise make use of a fixed timeframe to organize the narrative. Gideon’s Fire, the 7th in the series, won the Edgar Award for Best Mystery Novel of 1962.

In this outing, Commander George Gideon of Scotland Yard has to deal successively with news of a mass murderer, a depraved maniac, and the deaths of a family in an arson attack on an old building south of the river, and a person likely guilty of embezzlement. All this leaves little time for Gideon to pay attention to any troubles developing at home.

Creasey presents Gideon as a master of the machinery of law enforcement. To a much greater degree than the McBain novels, where we are put in the squad room with the detectives investigating the case, here we see the workings of the mechanism of law enforcement through the eyes of a manager. When we first meet Gideon in this novel, he is running late for work. It seems that he and his wife very much enjoyed their evening together (no details are provided – typical British reticence, you know), and he overslept, and, consequently, is in a rush. A similar rush to get to work occurs in Gideon’s Day. In both cases, this departure from Gideon’s usual efficiency is presented as unusual and amusing, for it seems that the ever-efficient Scotland Yard man is quite unskilled and easily flustered when it comes to driving.

A flustered Gideon is something his fellows at the Yard rarely see. Joe Bell, who works with Gideon, is witness to Gideon’s working method on a daily basis (and has been for 20 years), and it is always a wonder to him to see Gideon under deadline. On the first morning of this novel, Gideon has little over an hour to get a dozen or so investigations moving forward. As Creasey tells us, “Gideon in a hurry was an experience in itself.” He successfully moves all the work along, and Creasey tells us “with each of these [problems] Gideon dealt unhurriedly, and yet in the minimum of time,” getting everything done ten minutes ahead of schedule.

Gideon handles the management of the cases in this novel with dispatch. Some cases are whodunits – the case of the sexual assault and murder of a girl, and the case of arson, for instance, while others are howcatchems (we know the identity of the businessman guilty of embezzlement, and the likely killer of several young women). In the case of the businessman, and of the arsonist, we also get a view into their hearts and souls, something not always present in procedurals, which generally focus the investigation from the police’s side only, at least until the criminal is caught and interrogated. Each of the cases in this book has its own detective in charge, and we mainly see the investigation through the investigating detective’s eyes. But over it all, we see Gideon deploying resources coolly and efficiently.

In his Gideon novels, we are shown some of Gideon’s home life, and how his strenuous work at the Yard sometimes comes at a cost to his family life (in this book, Gideon misses the signs that his son—about to take exams for Oxford—may be in trouble, noticing it only after his wife makes it clear to him, whereas his hectic day is likely to cause him to miss his eldest daughter’s violin recital in Gideon’s Day).

The Gideon novels are unlike Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct stories. Where McBain gives us a sense of the squad, and a sense of the city (Isola, modeled on New York), Creasey focuses mainly on the orderly machinery of the Yard. Though the crimes in this novel are terrible, we do not get the sense of menace that we find in McBain’s stories; rather we are struck by Gideon’s sure leadership at the Yard, and of the professionalism of his men. In some ways, the Gideon novels, though set in London, are rather like Waugh’s Last Seen Wearing than like police procedurals set in urban America. And one gets a sense that the home life of Gideon, though well-described, runs counter to how Creasey wants the book to go. They are obligatory glances at the personal world of the detective; it is at work that Gideon and the books really come alive.

If you get a chance, check out John Ford’s 1958 film Gideon of Scotland Yard (based on Gideon’s Day) starring the redoubtable Jack Hawkins as the Scotland Yard inspector. Currently this is only available as part of a boxed set in the United States, and no local libraries currently carry a copy. It is possible to find the item for download as a rental or purchase on Barnes and Noble or as a purchase on Amazon.

About the Author

Bernard Norcott-Mahany, a library technical assistant at the Lucile H. Bluford Branch, is our resident connoisseur of classic literature. He is also the leader of the Black Classics and In the Heat of the Night book groups.

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Book Review: Through the Woods by Emily Carroll

Emily Carroll (Illustrator)

Already well-known as a webcomic creator, Canadian author Emily Carroll makes her print debut with Through the Woods – a collection of five short illustrated stories of horror.

If you loved reading Alvin Schwartz’ Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark when you were a kid, this is your book. Carroll's comics are just disturbing enough to keep you reading but with an expressive style of illustration that is both simple and beautiful.

Among the subjects of Through the Woods:

 · A group of rural sisters, left alone by their father, who disappear one by one at night.
 · Two young friends who conduct sham séances until one is haunted by a very real apparition that only the other can see.
 · A young girl who meets her brother's bubbly and energetic new fiancée for the first time and discovers his paramour is far more sinister than she appears.


Each story in this collection reads like a fairy tale, set in a historic time and place that you just can't quite put your finger on. "His Face All Red," the only previously released story in the collection, earned Carroll the 2011 Joe Shuster Award for outstanding webcomic creator.

Of the five stories, "A Lady's Hands are Cold" strikes me as the weakest if only because it shows its inspiration too easily: Mix together the folktales of "Bluebeard" and "The Juniper Tree" and add a dash of "The Tell-Tale Heart." But even with that flaw, the story is a gorgeous piece of visual storytelling.
With the exception of the fairy-tale flavor, I think Carroll's writing style reminds me most of horror manga author Junji Ito – featuring open-ended story conclusions and consistently creepy undertones, though Carroll's illustrations are less visually disturbing than Ito's work. (I truly mean that as a compliment; Ito’s drawings left me with a few too many nightmares in my younger days.)

Simon and Schuster has marketed Through the Woods as a teen book. But in the vein of much of the young adult literature published nowadays, Carroll's stories are easily accessible to people of all ages and will be a quick and unsettling read for adults and teens alike.

You can read more of Emily Carroll's comics on her website, emcarroll.com.

The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

Madeline Miller

I was astounded by this book. Madeline Miller's achievement with The Song of Achilles cannot be overstated. Here's a novel that's absorbingly readable for a modern audience, but that still has the poetry of Homeric sagas. What's most impressive to me is the balance she finds between exploring the universality of human nature throughout the ages and maintaining the innate alien-ness that I experience every time I read The Iliad - the culture of archaic Greece was so very different from this world we live in today. She lets the truth of that age live and breathe without trying to tame or update it.

And yet, I recognize myself in this story.

Far more than any of that, though - of all the authors I've read who've attempted to tackle The Iliad, Ms. Miller is the only one who almost managed to make Achilles a likeable character in my eyes.

I know this sounds like qualified praise, but for me this is an astounding achievement. The Iliad is my favorite work of literature. I continually come back to it, to revisit its Bronze Age world of war and violent heroism.

That being said, I've never felt anything but contempt for Achilles. He may be the "Best of the Greeks" - but at the end of the day, he's petulant, whiny, self-absorbed, and childish.

Yes, I understand that honor was a Really Big Deal in the Bronze Age and that Achilles was truly insulted by Agamemnon; and yes, Agamemnon is imperious and overbearing - but Achilles is selfish and petty in equal measure. I can't find within me any respect for a man who cares more about a perceived insult to his person than about saving the lives of thousands of people.

That's a part of the alien-ness of ancient Greece, I suppose. Given the depth and strength of my antipathy for Achilles, it's amazing to me that, for most of The Song of Achilles, I genuinely like the guy. I have real sympathy for him. There are moments when I feel like I finally understand why he acted as he did at Troy (his Homeric hissy fit). There are moments of true revelation, when I feel like I can begin to see how he might have been justified.

Of course, ultimately, he has to do what he does in The Iliad, which means he must take it too far. The story can't happen without it. Which means that, ultimately, he loses my sympathy again. But I've never been so close to finding my way past my dislike of this character. I'm thankful for this journey.

Checkout a copy of The Song of Achilles from the Library or download it as an eBook using your KC Library card.


About the Author

John Keogh

John Keogh is the Digital User Specialist for the Digital Branch of the Kansas City Public Library. He grew up in Fargo, ND, (too small) and lived in Chicago for several years (too big) before he moved to Kansas City. He calls KC his "Goldilocks town" because it's just right.

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Book Review: The Drop by Dennis Lehane

Dennis Lehane

Looking for an interesting new book to add to your fall reading list? Then consider The Drop by Dennis Lehane.

Set to be released on September 2, 2014, The Drop is part love story, part crime novel, part mystery, and part faith-based fiction. Add in a lonely bartender, the Chechen mafia, an abused puppy, a vengeful ex-con, a rogue cop, a sketchy bar owner, and a mentally unbalanced woman and your picture of The Drop begins to form.

Originally created as the short story "Animal Rescue," which appeared in the 2009 anthology, Boston Noir, Lehane turned the story into a screenplay before ultimately developing it into a novel.

The Drop begins a few days after Christmas. Bob Saginowski is a dead-end bartender at Cousin Marv’s, a mafia-owned drinking establishment in a gritty Boston neighborhood. Outside of going to mass every morning, where he mysteriously refuses to take communion, Bob has no social life, no friends, and no prospects for the future.

All that changes one night, however, when Bob discovers a severely beaten puppy in a trash can on his way home from work. He also meets Nadia, a mysterious woman who volunteers to help him care for the injured canine.

Things are going good for Bob until the puppy’s abuser, a crazy ex-con, hunts Bob down and demands the dog back. To make things worse, Cousin Marv’s Bar, which is used as a location for funneling gangster money known as “drops,” is robbed, and the local mafia boss shows up demanding to know what really happened to the cash.

From here, the book builds quickly in intensity to its climax on Super Bowl Sunday - when the bar is scheduled for the year’s biggest drop, and the lives of all the characters converge for a dangerous and surprising conclusion.

Overall, The Drop is an entertaining read. It is short, just over 200 pages, which doesn’t allow it to have quite the character or plot depth of other Lehane novels like Mystic River or Gone, Baby, Gone. It does, though, have just enough meat on its bones to satisfy most readers, probably because Lehane’s engaging writing style and ability to connect readers with his offbeat characters are still clearly recognizable in this suspenseful and occasionally darkly humorous story.

Lehane's screenplay for The Drop has also been turned into a major motion picture, due to be released in September. The movie stars Tom Hardy and James Gandolfini, which sadly was Gandolfini’s last film before his untimely death in 2013.

The Drop was recently recommended by the Library’s Director of Readers' Services Kaite Stover on Fox 4 KC’s morning news, along with several other great selections.

Check out the video:

About the Author

Amy Morris

Amy Morris is a senior library technical assistant at the Westport Branch. She earned a B.A. in English, with an emphasis in creative writing, from Avila University. Besides reading and writing, Amy enjoys traveling, art, being creative, playing the piano and spending time with her family. She also writes her own blog at livingkansascity.blogspot.com

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Book Review: The Long Goodbye by Raymond Chandler

The Long Goodbye (1953) is the sixth of seven mystery novels by Raymond Chandler featuring Los Angeles P.I. Philip Marlowe. Some see it as the pinnacle of Chandler’s career as a mystery author, while others see it as less powerful than The Big Sleep and Farewell, My Lovely, two early novels.

Whatever its power, it may be the most personal of Chandler’s novels, or at least we get a more personally engaged Marlowe here. Much of the novel involves Marlowe trying to help out an unlikely friend, a wealthy drunk, Terry Lennox. Earlier Marlowe novels do not show Marlowe getting emotionally involved with clients or with anyone else. He has a friendship with a man in the DA’s office named Bernie Ohls, but that is more of an acquaintanceship than a friendship.

In a letter to his editor, Bernice Baumgarten, which accompanied a draft of the novel, Chandler expresses his growing dissatisfaction with the formulaic nature of detective fiction, a genre he had become weary of. A paragraph here is significant:

“It has been clear to me for some time that what is largely boring about mystery stories, at least on a literate plane, is that the characters get lost about a third of the way through. Often the opening, the mise en scene, the establishment of the background, is very good. Then the plot thickens and the people become mere names. Well, what can you do to avoid this? You can write constant action and that is fine if you really enjoy it. But alas, one grows up, one becomes complicated and unsure, one becomes interested in moral dilemmas, rather than who cracked who on the head. And at that point one should retire and leave the field to younger and more simple men.”

I cannot help but think that the final swipe was aimed at people like Mickey Spillane who had become quite popular in the 1950s, while the more cerebral Marlowe had lost some steam as Chandler’s own disenchantment in the genre, disgust with life in Hollywood, and continued dependence on alcohol took their toll.

As a mystery novel, The Long Goodbye is not as sharply written as his first novels, The Big Sleep and Farewell, My Lovely. At times, you get the sense of Marlowe as some guy just hanging around waiting for something to happen. But we do have Marlowe’s attraction for Terry, a friend for whom he is willing to take risks. Marlowe’s fondness for Lennox is peculiar — there is nothing about Lennox that seems to justify such loyalty as he elicits from Marlowe and others. The book opens with Marlowe reminiscing over his first meeting with Lennox, the way a person in love would recall that first meeting. Marlowe also has a chance at romance with a Linda Loring, a woman tangentially involved in the investigation of Lennox’ past. So we have Marlowe getting close to two people, where no such closeness was evident in earlier adventures of this lone knight riding down the dark streets of LA, the city of fallen angels.

The relationship with Lennox does not develop, and there is only a hint that the relationship with Loring may develop. Linda Loring reappears in Chandler’s next and last novel, a weak effort called Playback, and shares the bill with Marlowe, now her husband, in the unfinished Poodle Springs. It is intriguing to wonder how Chandler might have played with the idea of a lonely man in a committed relationship, had death not cut his efforts short. I think that Chandler was largely played out when he got to this novel, and that he envisioned The Long Goodbye (as the title suggests) as his own farewell to the genre. But Linda Loring seems to give the cynical Marlowe, vulnerable and wounded, hope for the future, and perhaps her relationship with Marlowe would have turned the tide for Chandler. We’ll never know, as Chandler died a few years after the publication of The Long Goodbye. It was only with the help of Robert B. Parker, the author of the Spenser novels, Chandler’s more romantic follower, that the married couple of Mr. and Mrs. Philip Marlowe come to life.

Even late Marlowe such as this retains some of the vinegary bite of the early stuff. Marlowe, in two separate passages takes aim at modern symphonic music and its aficionados. In a catalog of blondes, which begins, “There are blondes and blondes, and it is almost a joke word nowadays…”, Marlowe snidely dismisses the “brainy” blonde, who reads “The Waste Land or Dante in the original.” “She adores music and when the New York Philharmonic is playing Hindemith she can tell you which one of the six bass viols came in a quarter of a beat too late. I hear Toscanini can also. That makes two of them.” And later, unable to sleep because he’s pondering a case, he notes: "At three A.M. I was walking the floor listening to Khachaturyan working in a tractor factory. He called it a violin concerto. I called it a loose fan belt and the hell with it."

Some say that The Long Goodbye is too loosely constructed, and too sentimental, and they may be right. But Chandler was never much for tight plotting, but could scarcely be beat in setting up a scene and for the crispness of his language, an ability he still demonstrates in the penultimate work of his career.

If you want to check out Marlowe on video, I’d recommend Howard Hawks’ The Big Sleep with Bogart as Marlowe, Edward Dmytryk’s Murder, My Sweet with Dick Powell as Marlowe, Robert Altman’s The Long Goodbye with Elliot Gould as Marlowe, and for a truly bizarre viewing experience — I watch it every Christmas as part of my Christmas ritual — Robert Montgomery’s The Lady in the Lake with Montgomery as Marlowe.

About the Author

Bernard Norcott-Mahany, a library technical assistant at the Lucile H. Bluford Branch, is our resident connoisseur of classic literature. He is also the leader of the Black Classics and In the Heat of the Night book groups.

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Community Builders: FYI Book Club

FYI Book Club dives into Laura McHugh"s "brilliant" first novel, The Weight of Blood

(This article first appeared in The Kansas City Star on July 11, 2014.)

A masterful first novel challenges readers.

Regional author Laura McHugh's debut, The Weight of Blood, has received much acclaim since publication last March, and FYI Book Club readers praised it as a "brilliant first novel."

And a challenging one: McHugh, who lives in Columbia, moors her story in the voices of two strong characters, a mother and daughter who never knew each other.

Lucy's mother, Lila, vanished when Lucy was still an infant; years later, as Lucy probes the disappearance of one of her classmates, she learns there may be ties to her own mother's disappearance.

"McHugh gives us the epiphany in the first chapter," said reader Catherine Morris of Kansas City at the recent meeting of the club, "and now the reader must go along to discover what it is."

Participants were eager to discuss the dual narration from Lila and Lucy, the author's interesting choice to start the story with Lila's contemporary voice and then move backward to Lucy's.

Carla Norcott-Mahany of Kansas City said she liked having both women's viewpoints written in the present tense.

"It seemed as if their experiences were happening concurrently, even though we knew they were years apart," she said. "This technique keeps the suspense high as we watch both women's stories play out."

Morris didn't quite agree.

"This may have been the author's intent, but it didn't quite work for me," Morris said. "McHugh could have solved this time shift by including dates along with the chapter headings."

Laura Patton of Overland Park felt the dual voices were "a good anchor for keeping track of the shifting of the time periods. What I did find confusing at first was when certain characters appeared in both Lucy and Lila's lives."

"There were people from the same family, sometimes the same people, but at different points in their own lives," Patton said.

"It was like solving a jigsaw puzzle to see how all the community members fit together and what was their significance in each young woman's life."

Readers enjoyed delving into the complexity of the supporting characters, particularly the two primary male characters, brothers Crete and Carl.

Kathie Newell of Kansas City, Kan., asked participants if they felt Carl was a strong or weak character.

"He succumbs to so many of his brother Crete's demands, too many in fact," Newell said. "Carl needed to rebel in some way to show Crete he couldn't exert this much control over Carl's life forever."

Kristen Zane of Overland Park admitted that she didn't find many redeeming qualities in the secondary characters.

"I had no sympathy for Crete," Zane said. "He was too creepy, and this pervaded the novel's tone."

But Norcott-Mahany said she liked seeing characters who she felt weren't completely good or evil but flawed and realistic.

"Even Crete wasn't completely slimy," she said. "He loved Lucy, and while he appeared threatening, he never hurt her. And Carl is a master at juggling his emotions regarding Crete. Even Jamie, the town druggie, isn't totally bad. He's a bit of a hero at the end of the book."

Readers mentioned the supporting female characters of Ransome and Birdie.

Zane felt that Birdie was a bit too eccentric and cliched as a rural character. Marilyn James of Kansas City felt Ransome was the most conflicted of all the women.

"She was indebted to Crete, and she knew he was doing something wrong," James said, "but she wouldn't be any help to anyone if she didn't keep herself alive. She tried to make amends when she gave Lucy the baby quilt she made from Lila's clothes."

Patton summed up the discussion praising the beauty of McHugh's writing: "She did a lovely job of getting inside the psychology of ordinary people — their brains, their hearts and the remorse they feel when they are the survivors."

The Kansas City Star and the Kansas City Public Library present a “book of the moment” selection every six to eight weeks and invite the community to read along. If you would like to participate in a book discussion led by the library’s Kaite Stover, email kaitestover@kclibrary.org. Watch for the next selection, The Guns of August by Barbara Tuchman, to be introduced in FYI.

About the Author

Kaite Stover

Kaite Mediatore Stover is the Readers Services Manager at the Kansas City Public Library. She is a regular guest on KCUR's Book Doctors segment and moderator of The Kansas City Star’s FYI Book Club. She can tap dance, read tarot cards, and doesn’t bite.

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