Saturday, June 25, 2016

So what is a cozy mystery, anyway?

     







 This is a relatively new term to describe a mystery story that has a focus on deduction and character development as opposed to blood and guts.   Perhaps I exaggerate.    But people who read cozy mysteries, much as they enjoy suspense, prefer that the murder take place off-camera.    The perpetrator is no hideous serial killer with unnatural appetites.   Instead he or he lives next door or works down the hall from you.   The murder is 'out of character' and came about only because of a specific set of random occurring circumstances.  The victim may be someone that few liked.

     The reader follows the storyline through the eyes of the amateur sleuth whose innate talent and natural curiousity and intuition compel them to try to solve the crime.   The clues are casually strewn yet at the conclusion it should be possible to trace back the hints and innuendos to the inevitable conclusion.

      It goes without saying that it is totally unfair for the writer to make a transitory character, one makes a brief and unmemorable appearance, as the murderer.   No, in a cozy mystery there must be several potential suspects each with the requisite motive and opportunity.   Television programs, with their budgetary constraints have been known to skimp on this, to their detriment.   After you discount the regular cast members, it quickly becomes apparent that the new arrival to town is the guilty party.

       I prefer to read . . . and write . . . cozy mysteries.   I could blame my weak stomach and that's certainly true for the movies and televisions shows I pass on due to their graphic visuals.   It also seems, at times, that graphic violence and cut action sequences are substituted for storyline and character development.   That rarely ends well.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Sometimes there's no alternative but to hang on

                                                                   
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On first consideration, hanging on can seem only a slight improvement on giving up.   Or it is the final stage before you admit defeat.   A person is hanging on by their fingernails  or hanging on by the skin of their teeth.


It can be tempting to think of defeat as inevitable.


I prefer to think that instead of hanging on, the protagonist, character, or next door neighbour is taking a brief pause in their fight against a disease, a difficult financial situation, or a family crisis.   The pause is to gather your resources, gird your loins (as the old saying goes).   On a side note, this expression comes from the days when men and women wore long flowing robes on a daily basis.   In preparation for battle, or fleeing an invasion, the robes had to be tucked up to facilitate speedy movement either towards or away from the action.   Hanging on is the modern equivalent of girding your loins.  

Or perhaps be inspired by Winston Churchill's closing remarks in his
well-known commencement speech:

Never give in. Never give in. Never, never, never, never--in nothing, great or small, large or petty--never give in, except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force. Never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.



Sunday, June 5, 2016

Third 'When Bees Die' Preview






Preview of third book in When Bees Die trilogy:



Chapter 1


Rafe could feel the driver's eyes boring into the back of his neck.  Maybe no one had ever before refused  the accommodation offered by the government prison, even if it didn't  look like one.  No bars, no guards apparent, and nowhere to run to.    Those placed there, without charge or trial, could presumably count on  food and a roof over their heads. 

Rafe walked on, neither dragging his feet nor sprinting away but he wouldn't give the driver--his guard-- the satisfaction of looking back.   No doubt it would be reported back to whoever had discovered his real identity that the fool kid had walked off into the desert to his certain death.   Let them think that.

What had happened to Tony?   Had Judy's interest or maybe  even infatuation with Tony protected his friend?  They'd both known what they were getting into and Tony would have to look out for himself now.   He'd always been a smooth talker;  maybe that would stand him in good stead now.   Rafe knew he was avoiding thinking about Lisa.   Even their short time together had been electric  in a way that he couldn't explain.   At least he would be able to tell his best friend, Kas--if he ever saw him again--that his sister, Lisa was doing okay and seemingly able to take care of herself.   The fact that she had been at the conference representing her supervisor from her section of the pollen farms showed that she was valuable to them.  Rafe would make himself believe that, anyway. 

He'd walked far enough now to feel comfortable taking a quick glance over his shoulder.   Not that there had been any danger before.   His driver/guard hadn't carried any weapon that Rafe had seen.   But somehow Rafe had wanted to convince the driver . . . and himself . . . that he wasn't afraid.   There was nothing to see other than the squat square building ground into the desert soil, the straight road leading away from it, back to the conference, back to Tony and Lisa.   Too bad there was no way to get a message to them.   He was on his own now, the clothes on his back and a bottle of water in his pocket.

Rafe was determined to survive;  he'd already made up his mind about that.   At nineteen, he figured he had a lot of life left.  No less important was the information he had obtained on this undercover operation, posing as technical support to two high placed executives  from Rossville.   He'd been able to download most of the files in Judy's computer as well as information that Lisa had brought.   As important were the overheard conversations and discussions.   Rafe was convinced that the crisis from the death of the bees in the state, if not engineered by the state or federal government, was quickly adopted for the purposes of a few of the elite.  There was no real attempt being made to re-introduce bee populations so that the small insects could re-commence their important work.   Why would that matter?   The rich were getting richer and the rest of the population was kept fearful and ignorant and in a state of carefully managed deprivation.   Not hungry enough for revolution, not weak enough that they were unable to work and keep the system functioning . . . sort of.   And a never-ending supply of almost free labour in the form of cowed ten year olds.   It all seemed to obvious now.

In the distance, maybe ten kilometers away, Rafe could see the slowly rotating white wings, the first in a series of stark and modern windmills marching as far as his vision.     Would it be his salvation?



                                                                           * * *

I'll be on blog hiatus for a couple of weeks while changing residence.   Catch you later!

Sunday, May 29, 2016

FAST FASHION

         





I found this post describing research showing that most items of clothing are only worn seven times before they are discarded to be appalling.   When did we become such a wasteful society?   If it was only the fashionistas' budget that suffered it would be one thing, but the environment as well as many women who are virtual wage slaves in developing countries are suffering as well.

It can't be more than a couple of generations from the times when clothes were kept for years, if not decades.   The trend was to have a dressmaker makeover a quality garment with new sleeves or collar  so that the item could be worn longer.  Thrift shops or charity shops were not common because people kept their clothing until it was truly worn out.

During World War II, the phrase  Use it up, Wear it out, Make it do,  or Do Without  became a mantra and even appeared on posters.   After the war  it was understandable that many people wanted to make up for years of deprivation but  seventy years later it seems the pendulum has swung too far in the other direction.

It can be compared to the amount of waste of food produced for human consumption, according to  the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, described  here.

It seems that at the retail level, large quantities of food are water due to quality standards that over-emphasize appearance.    Even produce feels the need to conform to beauty standards.  I can only hope that the situation moderates at some point in the not to distant future.   For all our sakes.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

You can't hold back progress . . . ?

                                                                                 
   


       I hear this from others but I don't utter it myself.   A pleasant, uncrowded neighbourhood or area, full of leafy trees, fresh air, scurrying squirrels and fuzzy brown rabbits evolves inevitably.   First come the green signs signifying the nature of the development that is to take place.   Somehow, the two acre lot that held a small family home with a surrounding green buffer is going to become the living area to ninety-five townhouses.   Looking at the space, it doesn't seem possible.

        I have ceased to wonder why residential development can speed along with considerable changes from week to week, whereas the building of a new and desperately need elementary school manages to consume three years.   The next stage involves clearing the land, the better to squeeze in the maximum number of housing units.    Although the City has a tree by-law, it can be circumvented depending on the type of tree (some are considered weed trees and are expendable).  A fine or fee can be paid to remove a tree that is deemed to be in the way of construction.    Usually a few trees in an obscure corner are preserved and carefully fenced in, again with orange tape and plastic fencing, all the better to shout, "See developers do care about the Environment." 

         Now come the road or lane closures.   Garish orange cones and flag people with matching vests begin to clutter the landscape surrounding what once was the charming abode.  (It is true that the home may have been run down or even abandoned, the owners now departed with two or more million in their pockets).   I try to seek alternate routes, at first to avoid the traffic delays and later the flat tires from the enormous construction nails that inevitably work their way onto the roadway.  Even the Michelin Man can't keep those from entering my tires.

            Before long the project is complete.   Ninety additional housing units with a couple of hundred extra cars on the surrounding roads and fifty to a hundred school children to be housed in hastily delivered portables at the already full neighbourhood school.   If this was a one-time occurrence adaptation could be made but this is one of dozens of  developments on just one long road.    

                It's called City Planning but it doesn't seem like there's a plan.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

AH, MOVING . . .




MOVING

Surrounded by boxes I ponder my fate,
Did I really want to leave or should I wait?
The constant decisions; to keep or to toss,
Either way, it feels like a loss.

New adventures await me
My life will be free
So much to arrange

It all feels so strange.

After decades as resident, I’m leaving my home
No explanations needed, there’s nothing to condone
I’m more than mere possessions that flash,

The things gathered ‘round  me are more than just trash.

Onwards or upwards or some inspiring verse
Keeps my heart from despair and my lips from a curse.
New horizons prevent getting old,

At least that's what I’ve been told.

This complicated life makes me long for a tent
To pick up and go and never pay rent
No one to notify, no one to tell
Do I really want the bills to follow me as well?

This empty house is only a space
That now seems to barely show a trace
Of the time that was spent with those I hold dear
The memories will accompany me, of that I have no fear.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

PETS ARE GREAT!





There have only been a few times in my life when I haven't had a pet in my life.   I've come to realize how much I -- and many others -- consider their pets when planning a vacation, choosing a home or even a spouse.   It's a question of 'love me, love my dog!

Here's an excerpt from  If Llamas Could Talk . . .  (A Jaswinder Mystery) that considers an atypical, but still loved pet, a llama named Henrietta.


CHAPTER 6

For a moment nothing seemed to register for Jaswinder.    Henrietta ears lay back on her head and her head itself began darting up and down as though she was stretching her neck.   Jaswinder held tight to the halter and tried to figure out what was the best thing to do.  Much as she disliked Kyle, she couldn’t just walk away.  
What could have happened?  She studied him closely for a moment.   He wasn’t dead, was he?   Drunk, most likely.  She noticed blood on the front of his head where his hair met his forehead.  Could he have fallen from somewhere?   She looked up.   There was a half hayloft above under the roof beams at the top of the barn but how would anyone get up there?    Looking around, Jaswinder saw a steep wooden ladder over by the side wall.  Why would Kyle have climbed up there?
 It came to her all of a sudden.   He was the one who had put the earbuds in Henrietta’s ears.   He was always walking around listening to music and a rich kid like him probably had several ipods, replacing older technology with newer.   The mp3 player was last year’s product.   But why?  Why would he do something like that?   It was just plain mean.  Henrietta was no competition to Frederick III.   It wasn’t even the same type of camelid.  While Jaswinder stood frozen, Henrietta started making a strange noise, first groaning and then gurgling.  Wasn’t that what the llama expert this morning had said that they did just before they spit their stomach contents and bile at you?   Should she duck?
   Jaswinder started to back up and led Henrietta back into her stall.   Why didn’t someone else come in?   After a few meters of walking backwards, Henrietta suddenly let go of a huge spitball in the direction of Kyle or was that Kyle’s body, landing on one of his jean clad knees and splashing up onto his shirt.  Kyle showed no reaction.  Jaswinder could feel her heart pounding under her sweater.    If ever there was a time to scream, this was it.   If someone didn’t come into the barn within the next two minutes, she was going to start yelling.   Now that she thought of it, she decided not to wait.
  “Help!  Help!   I need help in here.   Somebody, please!”  Jaswinder waited for a few seconds, feeling the sweat rolling down her back.   Henrietta had gone back to her position at the back of the stall, as far as possible from where Kyle was lying.   Jaswinder noticed, without thinking about it really, that her ears had come back to a more normal position.   She reached out and patted her a few times.
  She decided to try it one more time, then, she would have to leave Henrietta and go for help.
  “Help, help!   In the barn!   I need help.  Right now!”  Finally, Jaswinder heard boots approaching.
  “Is that you, Jaswinder?”   What’s happened?”  Bev strode into the barn, followed by her friend from the knitting booth.    She took one look at Henrietta and moved quickly into the stall.   “Jaswinder, are you all right?   You look like you’re going to pass out.   Here, sit down on the bale of hay here.”   She led Jaswinder over by the arm.  Her friend, Beth, stood just outside, looking anxiously in.
  They had no idea, Jaswinder realized, and she took a couple of deep breaths.   “Bev, Beth, go out and check on the floor over there.”   She gestured towards the middle of the barn.   “Something’s happened.   You need to call an ambulance . . . or something.”
   Craning her neck to look in the direction Jaswinder had gestured, Beth took the few steps to where Kyle was lying.   “Oh, my God.   What’s happened?   Who is this?    Is he . . . is he dead?”
  Bev turned from trying to console Henrietta and looked up, a shocked expression on her face.  “Dead?   One of the llamas is dead?  What has been going on here?   Where’s Ernie?   He’s supposed to be here to keep an eye on things.”
  Her friend crouched over Kyle and placed her hand on the side of his neck for a few seconds.  “He’s dead, Bev, but not for long.   His body is still warm.”  She looked up with a puzzled expression.   “Do you know him, Bev?   He doesn’t look very old.  It looks like there’s been some sort of injury to his forehead, see where there’s some blood?”
  Bev looked over the stall railing and reached for the cell phone in her pocket two seconds later.  Jaswinder leaned back on the bale of hay and took another deep breath.   Someone else was here to help, that was the main thing.   The way her legs were shaking she didn’t think she could do anything right at the moment.   She certainly wasn’t going to be able to present Henrietta in the show ring even if Henrietta was in any kind of condition to be shown.
 Beth got up and walked over to Henrietta's stall.  Bev had headed outside; something about getting better reception.   Jaswinder felt a hand on her should and opened her eyes and looked up into Beth’s sympathetic eyes.
“It’s a shock, I know.  At the hospital you get used to death but it still gives you a start when it’s unexpected and in someone so young.”
Jaswinder felt grateful that someone understood.    Her head felt like it was stuffed with tissue and she couldn’t think straight.     What had Henrietta seen?   Or what had she done?  Was it possible that she . . . Jaswinder choked off that thought.
“Did you see the mp3 player on his chest, Beth?”
“Yeah, it must have fallen out of his ears when he fell backwards.”
Jaswinder started to explain and stopped.   She felt like she couldn’t say anything to anyone and hoped no one would press her.   Just outside the barn, Bev still explaining on her cell phone.
“It’s called a holding barn.”  Bev appeared to be listening for a few seconds.  “That’s right.   You can’t miss it.  No, no, it’s the large building at the south end of the field.”   Silence again.    “There’s a lot of livestock here, maybe turn off the sirens before you pull in or they might start to stampede.   Okay, okay, I’ll wait out here at the entrance to the barn.”  She clicked off her cellphone and turned into where Jaswinder and Beth were watching her.
Jaswinder stood up as she approached, her legs steadier now.   She avoided looking over at Kyle’s body.   “I was thinking . . . do you think . . . should we take Henrietta back to Camelot.   There are going to be a lot of strangers and a lot of noise in here soon and she’s not very happy.”   She looked over at Beth.   “I don’t know if you noticed, Beth, but Henrietta spit or threw up onto Kyle.    It happened so quickly before I realized what was going on.”
“Yeah, I noticed something slimy and smelly on his stomach.   I wondered what that was,” Beth said.  “Why would she have done that?   I mean, are llamas sensitive to the smell of death?   Bev, what do you think?”
“I don’t know, I just don’t know.    She’s never done that before.”   The sound of sirens approaching became increasingly loud.   A couple started to enter the barn but Bev walked back to the entrance and told them that the barn was closed for the time being.  Jaswinder felt a sudden urgency to explain about the mp3 player.  She walked over to barn entrance and saw the ambulance turning into the driveway.   “Bev . . . Bev, someone had put mp3 earphones into Henrietta’s ears just . . . just . . . sometime this afternoon.   The music was blasting really loud into her ears.   I . . . I just yanked it out . . . I was so shocked.   I threw it over the railing before . . . before I knew Kyle was lying there.”
Bev turned from watching the approaching ambulance.  “What?   What are you saying, Jaswinder?”
Jaswinder took a deep breath to launch into the explanation again but the ambulance had turned in and the paramedics got out of the ambulance as Bev waved them towards her.   The repetition of the explanation could wait.

                           * * *