Staff Picks: Suspense, Private Life and Murder

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Jack of Spades

If you are always looking for something to read – or even if your To Be Read list has no end – you will enjoy these diverse recommendations from our Technical Services staff.  Our Tech Services staff works behind the scenes to bring library materials to you. They purchase, catalog and process the new items being added to the collection. They also work their magic on scratched CDs and DVDs, torn pages and broken spines to keep our collection in good shape for you. Here are a few of their recommendations.

 Jack of Spades: a Tale of Suspense by Joyce Carol Oates

I absolutely loved Jack of Spades by Joyce Carol Oats.  If you are looking for  well written, suspenseful,  quick read of a book, nothing gory, sometimes comical, then Jack of Spades is your book.  I know some people are not a fan of Joyce Carol Oates, since  she has written some controversial and disturbing stuff.  Jack of Spades, however, should appeal to a wider audience.  Jack of Spades is written in the voice of the main character, Andrew Rush.  Everyone knows him as this respectable nice mystery writer, but he has a  dark side that writes, anonymously under a Pseudonym Jack of Spades, disturbing mystery books.  This book really delves into the mind of a writer, especially when that writer has two personas.  I had flashes of Stephen King’s book The Dark Half and she does make references to Stephen King.  Andrew Rush is known as the nice Stephen King while Jack of Spades is too disturbing for Stephen King himself.  What’s most interesting is that Joyce Carol Oates also has published under several pseudonyms such as, Rosamond Smith and Lauren Kelly.  So, bottom line, checkout Jack of Spades even though you’re not a fan of Joyce Carol Oates.  Maybe Jack of Spades is the nice Joyce Carol Oates.

Debbie, Technical Services Associate, Warrenton central library 

At Home: A Short History of Private Life by Bill Bryson

A great book for fans of shows like The History Channel’s “Modern Marvels” is At Home: A Short History of Private Life, by Bill Bryson. Having never before read a Bryson book, I was not quite sure what to expect when I checked this one out­­—my best guess was a chronicle of domestic innovations. What I got was a fascinating collection of historical miscellanea that merely used the author’s 19th-century rectory home in England as a thematic framework (pardon the pun). The book is structured as a room-by-room tour of the house, but rather than presenting straightforward history of the function of each room, Bryson uses it as a launching point for a broader topic related to our private lives.

For example, the chapter about the room called the Study begins with a personal anecdote about frequent mouse captures, which segues into a selective history of household pests, from devastating Rocky Mountain locust invasions of the 1870s to the United States’ military attempts to weaponize bats during World War I. The chapter about the Wardrobe isn’t about our walk-in closet spaces, but about the ridiculous lengths our forebears went in the name of fashion. The chapter about the Fuse Box is a brief history of how electricity came to be harnessed for human utility. Through the course of the book it becomes clear just how many different threads of history—natural, scientific, cultural, social, and political—are woven into our everyday lives at home, from the spice-driven Age of Exploration to the cholera outbreaks in Victorian London that gave rise to modern epidemiology.

It deserves mention that the history covered is very focused on England and America in the past 150 years or so. This is, of course, a matter of practicality—expanding the scope could easily result in a book far too long and unwieldy for even the most dedicated fans of eclectic history. It is also a matter of relevance, as the author’s own house is the representative example from which all the chapters are inspired.

Bill BrysonI listened to this book on CD while driving to and from work and found myself looking forward to learning interesting new tidbits each commute. The Book on CD version  is read by the author, Bill Bryson. While his voice is softer and less enunciated than that of professional performers, it has a cozy quality that is easy to listen to, like that weird but always interesting relative you want to be seated next to at Thanksgiving dinner because he tells the best stories.

Elizabeth, Cataloger, Warrenton central library

The Art of the English Murder by Lucy Worsley

Fascination with true crime has a long history in England.  Lucy Worsley, Chief Curator of the Historic Royal Palaces, follows a blood-stained trail of how British law enforcement and crime solving evolved. Attributing  Thomas de Quincy’s 1827 essay “On Murder Considered as One of the Fine Arts”  as the first written recognition of murder as a source of lugubrious  entertainment, she explores a handful of real-life crimes beginning with the 1811 Ratcliffe Highway Murders.

The first two parts of the book explains how new techniques such as  fingerprinting, scene of crime procedures, forensic evidence developed and public protection measures moved  from night watchmen, to Peelers, aka Bobbies, to Scotland Yard. Well-known writers  such as Wilkie Collins, Charles Dickens and, of course, Arthur Conan Doyle, anticipated sounder investigative methods through their writings which often came to be incorporated into actual procedures. Be ready for  some  gruesome and unsavory details  about crime museum artifacts.  The last part of the book, The Golden Age discusses how Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers and members of the “Detection Club” established the conventions of classic British detective novels that led to what we now refer to as the “cozy” mystery genre.

Fran, Collection Services, Warrenton central library

For more recommendations, check out our weekly Staff Picks, or stop by the reference desk at your local library.

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