The New Blog Tour

Reading to Impact Your Writing (And Can Watching Movies Be a Business Expense?)

 

This is the first in a six-week blog tour series for the Northwest Independent Writers Association. I will be hosting five other indie writers here, introducing you to their thoughts about their craft, the books they’ve written, and their websites.

 

Most writers I know read voraciously, pausing only when they are in the final throes of getting their next work published—editing and re-editing, hiring beta readers, formatting and re-formatting to please our Kindle Direct Publishing masters, trying to figure out what the error message “Your fonts are not properly embedded” means. The list seems to go on forever. But until that point, writers READ.

Sometimes we read in our own genre, “to check out the competition.” I remember that once I had created the fictional Oregon coast town of Driftwood for my mystery novels, a friend said I should read Scott William Carter’s The Gray and Guilty Sea. I did, and I came away thinking, “Wow! He nailed it. I hope I can write like that when I grow up.”

At a book signing not so long ago, I shared a table with Chris Patchell, who also writes mystery and suspense novels. I bought her book, In the Dark, and was blown away by the breathless quality of her prose. I decided I wanted that in my stories as well.

We often read other genres, especially with an eye toward pacing, character development, and style of writing. We make decisions about what to emulate and what to avoid, what works and what doesn’t, how best to show, rather than tell, making conversation sound natural, and managing point of view.

Sometimes the books we read have an unconscious effect on our writing. Remember Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch and her sentences that went on for a half-page and more? I was busy with a volume of short stories at the time, and when I went into editing the second draft, I was aghast at how long the sentences were in my story, “The Porthole.” That had not been intentional and I was thankful to have caught it before I published it.

Reading can have another, long-lasting effect on our writing, one not so much stylistic or structural, as “constitutional.” The reading I did in my late teens and throughout my twenties changed the way I think. Back then, I had immersed myself in existentialism, devouring books by Camus and Sartre, and their precursors, Kierkegaard, Dostoyevsky and Nietzsche. Those philosophical works have shaped me, for better or worse, and influence the way my characters think and move. Acts of will, decision-making, spiritual and ethical motivations are a part of my characters and make them more real (I hope!).

While we’re at it, what about movies and how they impact our writing? I love movies, all kinds of movies, from dainty, art-house oeuvres to slam-bang shoot ’em ups. It’s a vice I swear I inherited from my mother. And the effect? I want my stories to be visual. I want my readers to say, “Reading your book was like watching a movie, except I could feel it and smell it and taste it, too.” The challenge becomes involving all the senses in the story, so the descriptive parts are not just atmospheric, but transporting. I find myself thinking in terms of scenes, rather than chapters, listening to my characters as they strut their stuff, wondering what they’re going to do next. Yes, often I don’t know what my characters will say or do next, and before you decide to call a shrink because I’ve gone over the edge and need a psychiatric evaluation, stay tuned for a future blog when I will talk more about my approach to the writing process.

“I am not crazy!” he insisted to no avail, as the EMTs strapped him onto the gurney and wheeled him out to the waiting ambulance…

 

Watch for the next post in this series by me:

“Advice for New Writers” — at https://conniejjasperson.com/

 

Next week I’ll be hosting Joyce Reynolds-Ward, who will be sharing her thoughts on “Self-Editing, Grammar, and Beta Readers.” Stay tuned!

 

A Teaser for the New Novel

I’m still hoping to publish Dungeness and Dragons by the end of April. Here’s the first chapter:

 

1. The Wreck of the Johnny B. Goode

 

MONDAY, JANUARY 7, 2019. The first storm of January had begun in earnest. Although the sun had not appeared all week, today the roiling black clouds seemed to suck even the faint remaining light from the late afternoon sky, creating a premature twilight. In the darkness, the twelve-foot swells were liquid mountains, rushing headlong toward them, indifferent to the boat bobbing on the surface, unforgiving of any mistakes the three-man crew might make. Even with the howl of the wind and the slashing of the rain, the men could hear the whistler buoy astern, moaning like the soul of a drowned fisherman.

“Are we having fun yet?” Derek Lea shouted to his crew mate Rick Perrins over the roar of the wind. The rain smacked his bright yellow foul-weather gear with a ferocity that seemed bent on shoving him overboard. Waves thundered over the bow, drenching him with walls of water. His mouth filled with the briny taste of the sea. Even through his layered clothing, the cold was leeching the warmth from his body.

“This is nuts!” his partner yelled back. They could barely hear each other, but each knew what the other was thinking. Long familiarity with the hazards of the Pacific made them almost telepathic. Perrins shivered in the onslaught and spat onto the deck. “What are we doing out here?”

“Earning a living, numb nuts!” He drew his hood tighter over his head.

“There’s gotta be an easier way!”

“Of course there is! But everything else is boring!” With the deft hands of years of practice, Lea gaffed the line from a crab pot resting on the sea bottom in fifty feet of water. He looped it over the block, a circular winch at the end of a stainless steel arm, bent at the elbow over the side of the boat, its hydraulic muscle ready to haul the heavy pot out of the water. The pots or traps were round disks about three feet in diameter and a foot high. Metal grates were wrapped around steel frames, making cylindrical cages. One-way doors on opposite sides of the traps allowed crabs to crawl in toward the bait, but not back out.

He engaged the block. The line tightened and came thrumming in. When the three white marker buoys shaped like artillery shells reached the winch, he flipped them away from the gear and back out into the water. As the pot broke the surface, he hit the lever on the gunwale, and the arm of the block extended upward and swung toward the boat, lifting the pot within easy grasp of the two men.

“Heave ho!” Perrins opened the door on top of the trap and the fishermen spilled its contents into a trough between them. They were greeted by a mass of flailing legs and claws as the Dungeness crabs struggled to right themselves and take shelter. The men tossed the large ones into the hole that dropped into the live tank under the deck. Perrins put a gauge across the shells of the smaller ones to make sure they were of legal size, tossing those too small and any females over the side. In moments, he was attaching a new bait bucket filled with frozen squid and sardines inside the pot. Lea disengaged the line from the block, and the men heaved the trap back into the water. The entire operation took less than two minutes.

“There were some big ones in that bunch!” Lea reached for the boat hook again.

“Current’s getting stronger,” his partner complained. “It won’t be long before it pulls our buoys under and we won’t be able to find them until the tide changes.”

“We’ll fall off that bridge when we come to it. Let’s just get the next one.”

The men had been working the Johnny B. Goode for five years. It was a good ship, 48 feet long with an 18-foot beam, used to rough seas. The large wheel house at the forward end held all the living space, including bunks for the crew and a modest galley. Before launch, 250 crab pots had been carefully stacked in the stern of the craft, the lines for each in serpentine coils on top. The Johnny B. Goode was all business.

The men’s fathers and their grandfathers before them had been crab fishermen, and it was all they knew. “It’s in our DNA,” Lea was fond of saying. Neither had ever given a thought to doing anything else, despite the dangers of their chosen profession. Each was a family man, Lea with two sons, ages 12 and 14, and Perrins with three daughters, 5, 10, and 13. On the upper deck of the wheelhouse sat their skipper, Carl Hamisu, piloting the craft and minding the electronics. He spoke little, but he knew the ocean. Widowed five years before, catching crabs was his way of managing his grief.

Lea stretched over the side of the boat to gaff the line just as the ship rose high on a large swell. His feet slipped on the wet deck. He grabbed for the gunwale and caught himself.

“Don’t talk about falling off just yet, big guy!” Perrins laughed.

“Not funny, wise ass.” He drew the line in, looped it on the block, and engaged the machine. The line grew taut but stopped.

“Shit! It’s sanded!” Strong currents sometimes buried the pots in the sand, making them impossible to retrieve. Played by the gale-force winds, the tight line began to whine like the string of a violin.

“Look out!” Both men averted their faces as the nylon line snapped with a sound like a gunshot. The broken line whistled by them, barely missing Perrins’s face. He had not been so lucky last year, and he still bore a scar on his right cheek as mute testimony to the bite of the line. He gathered the loose cord and threw it on the deck until he could coil it later.

“That’s the fourth one this trip. It’s starting to cost us.”

“What?” shouted Lea. “My teeth are chattering so loud I can’t hear you!”

“You crazy sonofabitch! I’m telling the skipper we need to haul ass back to port. It’ll be pitch dark soon and I hate going over the bar at night.”

“We’ve done it a hundred times. What are you scared of?”

“Not scared. Just trying to be smart. This storm has only just begun. It’s gonna get a whole lot worse before it’s over.”

“Hurry back, buddy. Duty calls.”

Perrins made his way forward to the wheelhouse, slowing down through the worst of the swells to maintain his balance. He climbed the stairs and entered the enclosure, pulling the door closed behind him, relishing the sudden warmth now that he was out of the wind.

Carl Hamisu sat in his chair, his signature captain’s cap perched far back on his head, his eyes riveted to the array of instruments before him. His features were a mixture of Asian and Native American.

“Skipper, we need to beat feet outta here. It won’t be long before we can’t see our buoys anymore, and the storm is only growing stronger.”

Hamisu looked up, nodding his head. “Agreed. New weather report says this howler may reach 65 mile per hour gusts in the next couple of hours. I say we head home and come back out tomorrow.”

“Thanks, Carl. I’ll let Derek know. We’ll stow our gear and batten down the hatches.”

He stepped outside. The frigid cold struck him like an icy slap as he made his way back to his friend. The boat pitched as another wave surged into its bow, and he grabbed the gunwale. The spray soaked him.

“Skipper says we’re going home,” he yelled. “Shut it down.”

“Fine by me. I could use a cigarette and a drink.”

When the deck was secure, the two men went forward into the galley. Once out of the roar of the wind, they could hear each other again. They sat on opposite sides of the small wooden table.

“Your lips are the color of the blueberries my little Dakota picked last summer from our garden.”

“It’s cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey. Let’s goose this heater.”

As the temperature rose, they shed their hooded coats but left on the rubberized pants and boots. Lea grabbed two cigarettes from the pack in the overhead cabinet, lit them both, and handed one to his partner.

“Let’s think warm Hawaiian thoughts.”

Perrins exhaled a large plume of fragrant tobacco smoke as the boat heaved hard to port. “He’s gotta turn this baby fast. Glad he’s so good at it.”

“You and me both.” Lea pulled at the long black beard on his face, wringing water from it. “What I wouldn’t give for three fingers of Irish whiskey right about now.”

“Skipper runs a tight ship. No alcohol while we’re working.”

“I know. Just saying.” He relished the kick of the nicotine after hours without it. “Sure am looking forward to my warm bed tonight. Holly will make me all toasty.”

Perrins smiled and nodded his head. Heidi would do the same for him. Friends often asked them if it was strange being married to sisters, but each had always denied it. Instead, it seemed to make their own friendship stronger. “A hot shower first. Wash this ocean off of me.”

“Amen, brother.”

Suddenly, Perrins leaped from his bench. “What was that?”

“What?”

“That…nothing.”

And then Lea heard it, too. The absence of the constant drone of the diesel engine, the sound to which each had grown so accustomed that it only drew attention to itself when it stopped.

“The goddamn engine quit! Christ almighty!”

They ran from the galley to the upper deck. They found Hamisu frantically scrambling over the electronics, searching for the cause of the failure, trying to get the diesel restarted. “Get on the horn to the Coast Guard! Now!”

Perrins picked up the radio. “May Day! May Day! Johnny B. Goode. Engine died.” He looked toward the Skipper. “Where are we at?”

“Just outside the Driftwood Bar.”

“We’re just off the Driftwood Bar,” he called into the radio. “Need help fast.”

Johnny B. Goode, this is Coast Guard Cutter Thomas Jefferson. We are just off your stern. Get you pronto. Hang tight.”

Perrins put the radio down. “Hang tight, he says? Hang tight? If we turn broadside in this shit, we can kiss our sorry asses goodbye!”

 

Aboard the Thomas Jefferson, Captain John Hartford was barking orders. He ran his hand over the charts spread before him. His face screwed into a frown. “Regents, get outside with the lights and see what we’ve got. Brady, keep your eyes on the radar. If their engine is down, they have only minutes.”

“Skipper, what are those damn fools doing out on a night like this? Jesus!”

“I know Carl Hamisu. He’s a good man. He must have his reasons. But he’s too careful to let his engine die on him. That’s what I don’t understand. He’s been around this ocean a lot more years than I have.”

On the deck, Regents tried to peer through the wind-swept curtain of rain, made dazzling by the bright glare of the search lights. He could just make out the fishing boat ahead, a dark shape bobbing helplessly in the onslaught. He held tight to the rail as the cutter crashed through the waves toward the crippled vessel. The wind and the waves and the rain shrieked in protest.

“Shit! Shit! Shit!” Regents shouted. In the glow of the lights, he caught the shadow of a massive wave bearing down on the Johnny B. Goode. The mountain of moving water pounced over the bow of the hapless boat, flipping it broadside like a toy. With an animal roar, it rolled the boat over and swallowed it.

Regents clambered back inside as quick as a cat. “She’s capsized, Sir! Took one amidships and went over!”

“Sweet Mother!” The Captain wiped the sweat from his brow and took the measure of his men. “OK, every man we can spare, get out there now. Get all our lights on her. Find those men! Carlson, you hold us steady.”

The men scrambled out into the storm. Hartford did a quick mental calculation of how long a man could survive in 49-degree water before lethal hypothermia snatched his life. And that didn’t take into account waves that could gobble a man whole. He cursed under his breath. How long before they could no longer call this a “rescue” operation?

Sometimes he hated his job.

 

The next day, the sun briefly peeked through the cloud cover at the horizon before disappearing again, but the sky remained an eggshell white, nothing like the inky black of the day before. As ferocious as the storm had been, it was gone by morning, leaving only its unquiet sea behind. Ten-foot swells rolled toward the shore in a lazy, regular rhythm. The wind had died to a mere breeze, barely able to keep the scrounging seagulls aloft. Their cries were a welcome greeting after the howling crescendo of yesterday. The beaches were swept clean, with the exception of a few great logs half-buried in the sand.

Alongside the bay, a bearded cameraman and a young female reporter in a hooded red overcoat were setting up shop. A 4:00 A.M. tip to the newsroom in Portland had sent them scrambling to the little seaside town for the story.

“Hurry, Barry. It’s almost time. How do I look?”

“Laurel, you look little red riding hood, only cuter. Now let me concentrate on this equipment.”

The woman touched her earpiece. “Here they come. Are we ready?” She saw the red light on the camera and looked into the lens. “Good morning, Julie. I’m standing here by the bay in Driftwood, in front of two rows of upright pylons, all that’s left of the Driftwood boardwalk after it was destroyed by the famous fire of 1967. Now look behind me. Just look what yesterday’s storm did.”

The camera panned around behind the reporter. A small group of early morning beachcombers were staring upwards.

Impaled like a giant insect on one of the stanchions of the burned-out boardwalk was the Johnny B. Goode. A pillar had pierced its hull and protruded above the main deck, just aft of the wheelhouse.

“The Coast Guard reports that this commercial crabbing boat, the Johnny B. Goode, capsized last night in heavy seas and was hurled up here into the bay by the storm surge. The rescue boat Thomas Jefferson was unable to reach them in time. The body of the fishing boat captain, Carl Hamisu, was found on the beach this morning by a woman walking her dog. The crewmen, Derek Lea and Rick Perrins, have not been found, but are presumed dead.”

The camera returned to the reporter’s face.

“The tight-knit community of Driftwood is mourning the tragic loss of favorite sons, heads of families who had made their livelihoods here over several generations. They were well-known and well-liked, and two of the men leave behind grieving widows and young children. If you’ll come with me now, we’ll speak with some of the people who are beginning to gather here.”

She turned and walked toward the group near the water’s edge, her cameraman following dutifully behind. As she approached, two men separated themselves from the group and began to walk away. Both were wearing knit caps pulled over their ears against the cold. She found it difficult to determine their ages, since the faces of both looked leathery, etched by long exposure to wind and weather. One had a long black beard beginning to show streaks of gray. The other was clean-shaven. She thought they might be brothers.

“Excuse me,” she called, as she extended the microphone before her. “Please wait. Did you know these men?”

Both looked uncomfortable, unwilling to speak. After a moment of silence, the bearded one said, “Yes, we knew them. Good men. Tragic. Tragic what’s happened. They shouldn’t have gone out in that storm.” He swung his head in both directions, reminding her of an animal in a live trap, looking for an escape. As other people from the small crowd drew near, the two men slipped away.

“We knew them,” a woman hollered, raising her hand to be seen above the others. “Good men. Good families. Terrible loss.”

The newswoman returned to the camera. “I’ve been told that Darby Gallaway, owner of the local Reef Coffee Shop, will be starting a GoFundMe page to benefit the stricken families. Memorial services are being planned for later in the week.

“Now back to you, Julie.”

As he turned off the camera and lowered it, Barry said, “Nice job, hon. Shall we interview some of the others for the evening spot tonight?”

Laurel pulled some gloves from her pocket and put them on. “Good idea. That woman in the crowd seemed pretty eager to talk. Then we’ll walk around the town and take a look. Driftwood’s been out of the news since that club fire last year. What was it? Chaos? Anyway, let’s see if there’s been any changes.” As she turned back to the onlookers, she whispered, “Let’s milk this story for all it’s worth.”

 

 

 

Christmas Letter 2019

Christmas 2019

 

Dear Family and Friends,

 

Truth be told, I didn’t want to write a Christmas letter this year. As you know, 2019 has been a terrible year for me. My son died suddenly, at the age of 42; my dear son-in-law’s father died after a long, debilitating illness; my former mother-in-law, the mother of the mother of my children, died. A Trifecta of tragedy.

I know St. Paul tells us not to grieve as do those who have no hope, but I have found that very hard to do. I’ve raged at God for many weeks. In fact, I may not be finished with that yet. I’ve read books on grief. (They didn’t help.) I confess that I rather liked one book for its raw honesty: Everything Happens for a Reason (And Other Lies I’ve Loved), by Kate Bowler.

I haven’t really prayed or worshiped much in the last six months. I cry or get choked up every day. When Sharon isn’t home, I’ll scream a string of profanities to the empty house. I do read a chapter of Scripture daily, and I attend church every Sunday. I tell myself it’s for the discipline, but maybe it’s just an old habit. That said, I’ve found the messages during this Advent season to be profoundly disturbing. More than once, I’ve heard the pastor encourage the congregation (and me—right between the eyes) to let go of anger and bitterness, to surrender the rage and confusion and doubt. Then last Sunday, I was reduced to tears just before the communion service.

I’m not schizophrenic (at least, not yet!), and I don’t usually hear voices, but it felt as though God were speaking to me. “You had your son for 42 years. My son had only 33.”

I suddenly realized something that’s quite cliché, but that I had never really appreciated before. Everything—all our relationships and all our possessions—are on loan to us. Spouses, children, grandchildren, parents, siblings, friends are on loan to us, and we don’t know the term of the loan. As a pastor friend told me at breakfast last Tuesday, “Do you want to be bitter about the years you won’t have with your child, or rejoice in the ones you did? Choose now.” I want the latter, but it’s an excruciating, uphill battle. And as I write this right now in the Red Fox Bakery in McMinnville, I’m reminded of the origin of the term “excruciating”—”from the cross.”

So if you’ve left for work, and you had an argument with your spouse on the way out the front door, stop now. Turn around and go back home. Kiss him or her and open your heart. If you’re not on speaking terms with a sibling or a parent or had a shouting match with your son or daughter, fix it before you do anything else. It’s your last chance. After all, we never know when the term of the loan is coming due…

I raise a cup of coffee to you now—and later today, a glass of wine—to family and friends near and far. In tears of sorrow and joy, Sharon and I wish you a blessed Christmas and a better New Year in 2020.

Book Review: The Party House: Texas Gulf Coast Schemes and Dreams, by L.Wade Powers

I was hooked (as in “hook, line, and sinker”) by the end of the first page: “There were memorable characters in the inside world in those days and some of them need to be protected, I suppose. Some of them don’t deserve to be, but my lawyer said to go easy and change the names. She also said to be free and loose about the facts and not too heavy on history or memoirs, at least not to the extent that people would recognize themselves and file papers. We don’t want that, do we? So, if you happen to be reading this, which I doubt, and recognize yourself or someone you think you know, well that’s just too damned bad. Oh, I mean, it’s probably just a coincidence and it ain’t you at all.”

It’s the early 1970s, and Peter Gilbert has come to Port Tarpon on Mustang Island (where there are no mustangs), to conduct field research on the behavior of fiddler crabs for his doctoral dissertation. Against the advice of his academic colleagues, he gets inducted into the gang of misfits who frequent The Party House, a tavern with an indelicate reputation. Before long, he is tending bar part-time for extra cash, seduced by the lure of the hard-drinking and hard-loving locals. What follows is a droll, sometimes hilarious, sometimes heartbreaking exploration of the quirkiest characters and relationships in recent literary memory.

Powers is a master of his craft. His characters are fully alive and draw on our sympathy, even when they do the most outrageous things. Their adventures become the stuff of personal legend—stories I’m sure the narrator will tell to his friends over and over again decades later. I still find myself laughing when I recall “The Great Barroom Bicycle Race” or the launch of “The Good Ship George Dewey.” And who couldn’t cheer for a south Texas softball team that calls themselves “The Armadildos?”

There is sorrow here as well—relationships that misfire, love that grows cold, the intrusion of “reality” into the hijinks and carousing. Ultimately, time wins every battle. The capriciousness of youth gives way to the sobriety of age, and something vital is lost along the way. And there’s no going back.

My only criticisms are petty ones: I wish the Kindle version had a table of contents so I could more easily navigate to favorite chapters and re-read them. I also wish the author had kept the whole novel in the first person, told by Pete. A couple chapters are in the third person and they caught me off guard.

That said, I give this book my highest recommendation. It’s a funny, poignant, bittersweet masterpiece, and it will haunt me for a long time to come. Kudos, Mr. Powers!

Here’s the link: The Party House

Movie Review: Joker

How to describe a movie I found so disturbing it was hard to talk with my son as I left the theater? Joker is a grim and unrelenting descent into darkness by a man who strives unsuccessfully to manage his mental illness in an unforgiving world. To call it a “comic book movie” does it a disservice. It is a harrowing meditation on the roots of violence and the nihilism it spawns. As such, it is definitely not for everybody (NBC News and The New York Times hated it). It is dark, somber, and cringe-worthy at times. The first two-thirds has the slow pacing of an art-house film, until it erupts in violence. Then all hell breaks loose. By the end of the film I was reminded of the anarchist riots we have endured here in the Pacific Northwest.

But if you want to see a performance by an actor at the top of his game, you might want to consider it. Joaquin Phoenix is on the screen for the entire running time, and he is outstanding. Slam-dunk Oscar nomination. But be warned: it is not a movie I would even think about bringing my wife to see—and I’m not being sexist in saying that. The movie’s bleak portrait of humanity may leave you desperate for an antidote. If that’s the case, go see The Peanut Butter Falcon, which will leave you smiling and grateful to be human. Or re-watch Yesterday.

Book Review: Coming to Terms by K.D. Girsch

K.D. Girsch has created that elusive holy grail of literary novels: a story that captures in simple but elegant prose the complexity of human emotions and relationships. Her protagonist Ellie suffers devastating losses and struggles to come to terms with what life can possibly mean when, as she says, “Everyone who loves me dies.”

But as excruciating as Ellie’s grief and despair are, they are not the whole story. With painstaking care, the support of a new love, and the wisdom of a compassionate therapist, Ellie begins to heal and rebuild her life. A sliver of hope enlightens her darkness. Beyond denial and distraction, she finds ways of integrating her losses into the new future she is creating for herself.

I do have two minor criticisms, but they may be too idiosyncratic to be entirely valid. Rage is conspicuously absent from Ellie’s panoply of emotions. I would have expected Ellie to be furious at what Camus called “the benign indifference of the universe,” an indifference that could allow such tragedies to occur. Instead, she seems almost too stoic.

My other observation is that the novel does not seem to be as anchored to place as it is to person and time. We know that Ellie’s story happens in the Finger Lakes region of upper New York, New York City, London, and on a Yorkshire farm, but the descriptions of those places are so sparse I felt I had to invent them myself. I may be too cinematically oriented, but at times I felt the characters were acting before a “green screen,” with the environment to be added later by the reader.

That said, I don’t wish to quibble, and I cannot diminish Ms. Girsch’s accomplishment. She has written a lucid, luminous novel, and I give it five enthusiastic, well-earned stars. It is truly excellent—and just short of transcendent. Here’s the link: Coming to Terms

Book Review: Moon Over London by Shawna Reppert

It’s back to Victorian London for the second outing of the Werewolves and Gaslight series, with the unlikely sleuthing trio of Detective Inspector Royston Jones, Catherine Fairchild (a.k.a. Dr. Charles Foster), and Richard Bandon. Jones is the bastard son shunned by his wealthy family. Fairchild is a champion of women’s rights but finds that her society makes her practice alchemy under the guise of a man. Bandon is an aristocratic scion who must keep his true identity as a werewolf secret or be expelled from his family.

This is a society where the class to which you belong means everything, and the lowest class is werewolves—often denied employment and their most basic rights, seen by many as sub-human.

Now werewolves are disappearing at an alarming rate. Jones suspects they are being abducted, experimented upon in ghastly ways, and murdered. He enlists his colleagues in a frantic quest to apprehend the culprits before more victims are lost.

The setting in old London, the vocabulary and pacing, all lend authenticity to the writing. But don’t be mistaken. This is not merely a steampunk, urban fantasy take on the Conan Doyle/Sherlock Holmes archives. As in the first book in the series, A Hunt by Moonlight, Reppert has crafted an allegory for our current day, critiquing the way we treat our most marginalized citizens. Both entertaining and thoughtful, I give this novel an enthusiastic five stars. Here’s the link: Moon Over London