Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Six Weird Things About Me

"The Naked News" anchor Victoria Sinclair makes me happy.

My sideburns are so ridiculously curly that they have the Latin scientific name - sideburnicus pubicus.

John Lennon is my hero.

I enjoy embarrassing people who don't wash their hands after using the restroom. It's gross and I don't care if mum taught you to go without getting your hands wet! And for the love of God, don't use your cell phone in a bathroom stall.

I love Compact Fluorescent Light Bulbs. I'm not sure if it's the twisty shapes, that wonderfully fuzzy light they make, or that flickering glow when they go out. I've changed out all the lights I possibly can at home.

I drink Diet Coke by the gallon. It's the greatest soft drink ever. Diet Coke makes the world go round. Damn the man who let Pepsi have the vending machine contract where I work. Damn the man who holds us down. Damn we need a Union!

Monday, December 18, 2006

A Three Chambered Heart

"Relative Danger" is a mystery with a three chambered heart. First is Doug Pearce's hunt for answers about a long lost uncle who came to a bad end in a hotel room in 1948 Singapore. Doug is about the least likely sleuth one might ever encounter in the genre. He is an "innocent abroad" with a nice earthen hue. His only credentials are a blood relationship to the victim and (thanks to being laid off from a brewery job) enough free time to look into the case. His dependency on "the kindness of strangers" begins in chapter one with a mysterious benefactor financing his journey overseas. It continues person-to-person to the very end of the story with a timely arrival of Singapore authorities and media. This person-to-person connection makes the figures we meet along the way real, even recognizable.

All points in between Morocco and Singapore are connected in the second beating lobe of this story's heart by a hunt for a blood red diamond that chases through some of the most exotic and interesting places on Earth. The taste, smell and feel of each waypoint is so richly told that a it's hard to resist the urge to check the passport between chapters for freshly inked visa stamps.

The most delicious pulse of this story's heart comes from its third lobe, Aisha Al-Kady, a woman as exotic and sensual as the environment she fills. In Arabic, Aisha means life. In "Relative Danger", Aisha means life AND to have it more abundantly. She's so strongly drawn that dents in her halo are real, the beauty bone-deep, the sex exuberant, and the bullets deadly.

This isn't the kind of story intended to be heady or profound. No, what earns "Relative Danger" its chops is the way it's told. This is a story with compelling prose, a gut-feel reality, an unexpected twist ending, and a delightfully Southern pace. It is an Edgar Allan Poe Awards® 2005 Nominee for Best First Novel By An American Author. It is an impressive first outing for Charles Benoit. I look forward to more.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

How I lost the Great Goose War

This is a Canada Goose. Ages ago evolution stripped the pitchfork, horns and pointed tail off this devil and left behind this grass-chomping poo machine. This demon is swimming happily in my pond. We were at war.

I live comfortably in the city limits of the third largest city in the state. I share my pond with others. We formed a Homeowners Association and are a close community. Everyone enjoys the pond. While only 1/436 of the pond is legally mine, I feel perfectly comfortable walking the trail around the whole of it and communing with its abundant wildlife.

We have a nice assortment of white farm ducks that live on the pond. I'm not sure where these domestic ducks came from, but more seem to show up after Thanksgiving for some reason. Everyone in the Homeowners Association brings the ducks cracked corn and healthy grains to eat. We try not to feed them bread - even though they love it. Children love to feed the ducks and play on the playground equipment we've assembled in the park that we built beside the pond. The Homeowners Association buys cracked corn to feed the ducks to make sure that they get enough to eat every day and to keep them happy and healthy. Wild ducks often stop by and glide through the calm waters of the pond.

One day the devil birds, the Canada Geese, showed up. They are big birds. A full-grown Canada goose can grow up to 40 inches long, with a wingspan of up to 70 inches and can weigh between 7 and 14 pounds. A single bird can produce as much as a pound of feces per day according to the biologists. I think that estimate is conservative. They are aggressive at feeding time, and show no remorse when savaging their smaller cousins, our beautiful ducks.

One day I was feeding the ducks. They like it when I broadcast the grain by hand. I was raised on a farm, so I am familiar with the technique and am happy to oblige. A fat Canada Geese stomped up to me and stood on my right shoe. I ignored it and continued feeding the ducks. Then it started honking. I ignored it and continued feeding the ducks. It covered my shoe with poo. I lifted the stupid bird off my shoe and tossed it aside. I continued feeding the ducks. It came back. The Canadian eyed the sack of grain and then my clean left shoe. It flapped its great wings and honked. I caved. I offered it a handful of cracked corn, and the awful beast ate it all from the palm of my hand. Then it stomped off crowing its victory. My hand was wet with goose slobber and my shoe stunk.

I got on the telephone and called the State Wildlife man and complained. He said that there wasn't much that really works to get rid of the Canadian devils - other than hunting. I haven't hunted anything at all since the war, but it was personal now. This goose had violated me. Maybe if I did teach one of the birds as lesson, the others would fear me and respect my pond. I could go to the pond with sweet cracked corn in one hand and a meat cleaver in the other. One quick stroke and I'd be back on top of the food chain. What would I need to make this … legal?

The state wildlife man said the first thing I needed was a state waterfowl hunting license with a Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp. I was certain that I wouldn't need anything like that since the migratory extent of these beasts was from one side of town to the other. I'm sure they don't even know where Canada is anymore. The state wildlife man said "yes, it was stupid, but it was a federal thing with penalties that include fines and/or prison sentences." Given who's running the federal government right now, I could see the logic in just paying for the ridiculous stamp.

The state wildlife man said that the state legislature didn't approve of using a meat cleaver to hunt geese. He suggested a shotgun. I imagine myself dressed up in camouflage, sneaking between trees to the duck pond. There would be a renegade goose gorging on our homeowner's association lawn grass, slickening the footpath with poo, and laughing at our pain. I would lift the gun, breathe steadily, and then hold the last one, relax, lower an aim onto the bird, and squeeze the trigger. The gun would roar and all 436 homeowners in the association would simultaneously call the police. Nope, there had to be a better way.

The state wildlife man said that a bow and arrow were the only other legal method for "taking" a goose. I confess the idea has some appeal. Although I'm no match for Legolas Greenleaf the Elf, I did hit the archery target at summer camp with all three of the arrows they gave me. Of course, I was 12 then and hadn't practiced a bit since. But that target was still and the Canada Goose would be moving, intentionally making his profile as small as possible. What would happen if I merely wounded the bird instead of killing it? It would start screaming, flapping its wings, and then all 436 homeowners in the association would simultaneously call the SPCA.

I needed something manly, mean and silent. Something that would the geese would respect. I had to go Rambo on their feathered butts.

"Do you have to *shoot* the arrow with the bow?" I asked.
"What do you mean?" the state wildlife man stepped through the words like broken glass.
The telephone line crackled. The state wildlife man hadn't a clue.
"What if I just take the arrow and stab the goose?"

** click **
buzz …

This morning I again feed the ducks by hand. This is the Canada Goose that crapped on my shoe. He is still very much alive. The war between us is over. I lost, and as you can see, the only animal harmed in the making of this story was me.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Action, adventure, attitude ... fun

Meredith Fletcher's elemental thriller "Storm Force" is a hurricane that just made landfall at the intersection of action, adventure, and attitude.

Every year wilderness guide Kate Garrett gets to spend the month of July with her children who live with their custodial father. It's a date she wouldn't miss come hell, high water or both. So life gets really interesting when both of those meet belligerent customers, a Cat 5 hurricane, escaped convicts, a fortune in hidden cash, organized crime, and Shane Warren - a strength for strength match for this incredibly complex and interesting heroine. He's handsome, rugged and tough enough, but stands on the wrong side of the line - a line Kate may have to cross to save herself and her children from a storm named Genevieve.

Kate keeps her wits and battles through everything that is thrown at her - which includes the kitchen sink AND the house it belongs to! When it comes to her kids and ensuring their safety, it's personal. Kate's strength, skills, maternal instinct and steadfast determination make her more than a match for her adversaries - it makes her story a compelling and entertaining read.

The connection that forms between Kate and Shane is natural and fulfilling. It grows through language, communication, need and reason. What follows clinches the story and delivers to the very last page.

"Storm Force" is very hard to put down. Count on reading it cover to cover in one satisfying session. You'll be glad you picked up this thriller.