Table of Contents

Spring 2009

From The Editor

Letter from Jack Getze

Short Stories

Patrick Whittaker

9:03

Anthony Rainone

Fall to Pieces

Phil Beloin

Late, After Dinner

Jake Nantz

Midnight on the Links

Stephen D. Rogers

Queen Anne's Lace

Mike Sheeter

Blue Fugazzi

David Moss

The Sleepy Pines Nursing Home

Fiona Kay Crawford

Successful Surgeon

Graham Powell

The Ins and Outs

John Towler

The Fall

Damien Seaman

Thursday Night Blowout

Matthew Acheson

Writing on the Wall

Interviews

Sandra Ruttan with Russel D. McLean

Declan Burke with Brian McGilloway

Jim Napier with Phyllis Smallman

Brian Lindenmuth with Craig McDonald

Reviews by:

P.A. Brown

Mexican Heat

Gloria Feit

Friend of the Devil

Theodore Feit

Death Was in the Picture

A Beautiful Place to Die

Night and Day

Claire McManus

The Hanged Man

The Poisoner of Ptah

My Sister, My Love

The Cruelest Month

Jim Winter

Trigger City

The Fourth Victim

TKO

Bookspot Review Roundup

Book Excerpt

The Big O
by Declan Burke

Featured Article

Passing of the Torch - Celebrated crime novelist dies
by Jim Napier

The Hanged Man

Our book club's book for January 2009 (first of the new year!) was THE HANGED MAN, by David Skibbins.  We choose our books in different ways each month, and we chose this one based on a few ideas that were floating around.  First, we wanted to try something that had a flavor of the paranormal or occult without being the type of book where vampires skulk around and protoplasm floats through the air.  Also, we've been having an ongoing discussion about series books and what they're all about, so we decided we wanted to read a book that's part of a series but NOT the first one, because we have been trying to figure out if picking up a series in mid-stream makes any difference to the reading experience.  Not that such a question could even be answered, being sort of a paradox in and of itself.  But as always the group vote prevailed, which is how we ended up with THE HANGED MAN instead of Marcia Muller's ASK THE CARDS A QUESTION or Dorothy Gilman's THE CLAIRVOYANT COUNTESS (and there were many other suggestions as well).
 
The interesting thing about this book is that it's branded as a "Warren Ritter" mystery, but it's not quite right to say that Ritter is main protagonist.  Rather, it's more of an ensemble cast composed of Ritter himself (a tarot card reader living off the grid in Berkeley, CA), his girlfriend (a bisexual with multiple personalities), and precocious teen Heather.  There are a lot of elements to the book, but the basic mystery revolves around the death of a highly successful dominatrix.  To get to the bottom of the mystery, Warren himself has to be schooled in the ways of S&M/bondage and domination, and fully enter that world.  As a side plot, he's trying to keep a valuable, ancient tarot deck out of the hands of someone unscrupulous who is going to great lengths to steal it. 
 
We had mixed feelings about the book.  We all agreed that the pacing is excellent...it is a real page turner, and the story just flies by and keeps your interest.  We also thought that the S&M details were handled with great panache, even sensitivity.  It was a very effective look at the many sides of that dark world.  The subject matter could easily have been exploited, but it was done in a very human way that is not exploitive or pornographic.  (Squeamish readers should be warned, however, that the details are quite explicit in places.)  Without getting into spoilers, it's Warren's entry into this world that leads to a really excellent (and psychologically tense) plot turn at one point.
 
On the less positive side, there is really a lot going on in the book, and much of it doesn't come together.  There's a strong tarot angle that's pretty good but also a lot of numerology stuff that just feels like filler.  Warren Ritter himself, despite his background, doesn't have a very strongly defined personality; he's actually not very dynamic as a character.  Sally (the bipolar/multiple personality) paraplegic girlfriend is more interesting, but her plot culminates in a not very believable denouement.  And the Heather situation seems sort of cobbled from the old movie Angel, about a teenage prostitute who sets out to find the killers of her gay father figure and lesbian mother figure.  She's probably the least believable character in the book, and there are some real "characters" in there to begin with!
 
And this is where the interesting question of place in series comes in.  This is the fourth in the series.  Would we have understood the connections between the various plot points better if we'd read previous books?  But this only reminded us that a writer can't take it for granted that the reader has read the previous books.  Which of course then puts him or her in the strange position of possibly boring people who HAVE read previous books by giving details they already know.  It must be a tough situation for a writer, but this is one case where only about half of us felt that we wanted to read other books in the series.  So, all told, an enjoyable escapist read with some fine moments, but not fully held together as a novel.
 



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