Monday, August 29, 2016


One of the first female Sheriffs before the vote.
Jesus Christ in the body of a boy detective 
A lover who contemplates his wife's garden

LADY COP MAKES TROUBLE by Amy Stewart (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Sept.) is the sequel to GIRL WAITS WITH GUN, a book I completely enjoyed. Based on the life of Constance Kopp,one of the first female sheriffs in the U.S., the debut novel introduced the three Kopp sisters, who had lived on an isolated farm, in an era where women didn't vote, have jobs outside the home, or live independent of male relatives. These sisters were different. Norma, the farmer, who also raised carrier pigeons, was the domestic one. Teenage Fleurette made ingenious dresses and dreamed of a public life. The narrator is the eldest, Constance, a large dynamic woman with an instinct for justice. When their buggy was run down by a powerful factory owner in a motor car, she pursued damages, despite threats that escalated to gang warfare with bricks, bullets and fire. The sisters and the local sheriff, jointed forces and Constance worked to bring her attackers to justice. She also found her vocation as a Sheriff's Deputy.

The second book, LADY COP MAKES TROUBLE, which is also based on newspaper clippings covering Constance in 1914-15, takes place less on the farm than in Sheriff Heath's Hackensack jail, where Constance is employed as a "women's matron." (Seems a Deputy cannot be female, since the candidate must be able to vote). Yet when a dangerous convict escapes, Constance finds herself doing both jobs. The convict must be found!  The stakes are high and personal--her and the sheriff's futures in law enforcement. Stewart's tale takes Constance to an exclusive New York City women's hotel, tenements of the near-destitute, an abandoned asylum in suburban Passaic, and Fleurette's musical debut. Constance and her sisters begin to emerge from reclusive farm life into public life of their era.  I look forward to the third installment.

J.Bradley (Pelekinesis Press) has imagined a detective with a miraculous skill set and a uniquely strange situation in THE ADVENTURES OF JESUS CHRIST, BOY DETECTIVE. The release summarizes: "Trapped in the body of boy detective extraordinaire Timmy Hightower, Jesus Christ is forced by his father to solve mysteries no mortal should ever solve. With the help of Timmy's uncle, a fourth generation circus knife thrower/acquitted serial killer Leopold Franz, they search for answers and for a way home." In this extraordinary adventure on a brutal gangster-style earth, JC has to battle cosmic card sharks, the Devil, an infamous fallen angel and his earthly surrogates, among others. He also has to take orders from his Father yet be his own man. While in constant explosive action, JC explores the existential "Why Am I here?' question, the meaning of The Garden of Eden, and works with Peter to find a way back to his source.  The story is bizarre, oddly familiar and entertaining,

Janyce Stefan Cole's THE DETECTIVE'S GARDEN: A Love Story and Meditation on Murder (Unbridled Books,September) introduces Emil Milosec, a retired detective  and lover. Much of this novel he contemplates his deceased wife and their life together, secluded in the beautiful garden she created. The garden is his refuge from the hot Brooklyn waterfront of 1995, full of clashes between developers and residents, old-timers and hipsters. It is also a place to grieve for his beautiful wife, whom he met in post-war Slovenia. Though deceased a couple years, the letters she wrote to him have remained unopened. Emil, whose loss is undiminished by time, sees his wife's hand in every facet of the garden. Yet his analytical detective's mind notes discrepancies in her planting of a tree and a pepper patch. There is also a supposedly friendly neighbor's oblique references to Elena that differ from his memories. Emil begins to read her notes for clues, as an unsavory item is unearthed in the perfect garden. As his enshrined memories are called to question, he begins to investigate the garden's secrets and those of his beloved wife. The woman who emerges proves very different from the wife of his memories. And, as Emil's understanding accommodates reality, his grief is excised and he finds a way forward in his life. This is a mystery of subtle emotional shifts that add up to a climactic change.

Like Graham Greene's heroes, Emil is totally enmeshed in an emotional state, unable to resolve an external mystery until he addresses the internal one. And whether he can separate the two is a question, as well as the huge personal cost. There's also a similar noir style and religious overtones, but deliverance for Stefan-Cole's detective is more of a possibility. The human condition is aligned with his garden.