John Morgan Wilson, A Rhapsody in Blood.
Needing a rest from writing his memoirs, our hero, Ben Justice, former ace Los Angeles reporter, is invited to visit a movie being shot on location by his best friend, Alexandra Templeton. Alex is writing a story related to the film’s plot. The film is based on a bestselling work of nonfiction about the murder of an actress in an isolated resort hotel frequented by Hollywood glitterati of a bygone age—a place called Eternal Springs.
Famous actress Rebecca Fox was murdered and a black handyman lynched for the crime on the Ides of March 1957. On March 15, 1981, her daughter, whose movie career was failing, committed suicide in the same room. In the meantime the spring has dried up and the place renamed Haunted Springs. Indeed, ghosts and spirits may still be hanging around. Principals who were there when Rebecca was murdered are back on site for the shoot, as well as the director, a petulant child star, THE male/female couple de jour, a rapper turned actor, and (to everyone’s concern) an infamous gossip columnist.
The columnist is found murdered, again on the Ides of March and in the same room. Floods then wash out the only bridge to the outside world. Ben must work to solve the puzzle as the number of deaths grows. There is a nod here to one of Agatha Christie’s more famous novels. Suffice it to say, Ben gets little rest.
This memoir thing of his has been going on for several novels. His has been an interesting life: killing his policeman father with his own gun as he abused Ben’s mother and sister, the loss of a lover to AIDS, winning and losing a Pulitzer, years on the bottle, and the brutal rape that left Ben with HIV. But when will he finish the damned thing? Another mystery!
Larry Niven, The Draco Tavern.
If there is anything gay in this series of short stories it must be hiding between the lines, but it’s one of the best books I’ve read this year. The author is a Washburn-educated science-fiction writer, best-known for his Ringworld series. In 1974 he began a series of short stories about a Siberian tavern at a space port that grew up around a landing field after aliens appear in orbit around the moon “say two years from whenever you are reading any given story.” The bar-owner/narrator is Rick Schumann . This concept might seem like a scifi cliché except that the first of these stories predates Star Wars.
Niven uses the stories to examine eternal questions of mankind, and sometimes the answers are not the ones we want. When a Catholic priest and an alien get into a discussion of life after death, we learn of a civilization that found out something for sure about the subject, and the result. Or a great civilization that arose on Earth hundreds of millions of years ago that was wiped out when photosynthetic algae arose poisoning the air with oxygen. The alien species known as the Bricks live so slowly they might enjoy a visit to Niagara Falls to watch it erode its way toward Lake Erie over eons. And if you think providing disabled human bathroom facilities is a major problem, imagine plumbing for a dozen species!
George Robb, Why Not?
This is a self-published work by a gay man who loved his wife. It is an extremely personal work containing short stories, a brief autobiography, photos, and a CD of the author/composer’s music professionally performed. What is of greatest interest and importance of this work is the picture it provides of a closeted, married, gay man born in 1921. He came to Kansas City in the mid-1940s to work as an engineer with General Motors. Married in 1954, he became a father and lived what appeared to be a normal life of a family man of the period. His wife, who passed away in 1981, learned of his orientation after their marriage. After his wife’s death and his retirement he began to come out.
The bulk of this 540-page work is taken up by short stories. The author tells us that “the main theme wending its way throughout all of the Why Not? short stories is the pursuit of happiness.” And yes, it is. There is little of the self-loathing often found in gay authors of that generation. Many of the stories are interesting, with the plot twists and dialog of a writer not without talent, though they would have been better with the services of a professional editor.
The music on the CD is worth the price of the book. Mr. Robb is a talented amateur composer, who probably could have had a professional career in the field. (Though frankly, working for General Motors was probably more lucrative!) Above all, this is a memorial to his late wife, and a personal memoir.
John Morgan Wilson, Rhapsody in Blood. St. Martin Minotaur, 2006. $24.95
Larry Niven, The Draco Tavern. Tom Doherty Associated LCC, 2006. $24.95
George Robb, Why Not? Leathers Publishing, 2005. Available from the publisher and author, see www.georgerobbsamericana.com for more information. $29.95