5/27/22

MUSEUM OF INTERNATIONAL FOLK ART: PART I

MUSEUM OF INTERNATIONAL FOLK ART: PART I

One Museum Hill

Santa Fe, New Mexico

[Clicking on individual photos = larger display]

 

If you visited our home, you’d find masks on several walls and small carvings and statues scattered among the things most people use to decorate their dwellings. Part of this has deep roots–Emily’s great uncle was a whittler and I love Inuit carving–but a lot of our objects d’art were inspired by having known the regal Miriam Usher Chrisman, an important advisor during my early graduate studies. She loved to invite grad students to her home, which she and her husband Donald filled with wonders gathered during their travels. As Miriam told the story, when they were younger and raising their children, they lacked the money to collect painting, sculpture, and other items associated with the (elitist) term “fine art.” So, they collected folk art instead.

 

It will thus come as no surprise when I tell you that Santa Fe’s Museum of International Folk Art (MIFA) is one of our favorite museums anywhere in the world. We’ve been there three times, but it’s so chockful of delights large and small that you could visit daily for a year and would probably still miss something grand.

 

The MIFA has expanded since our first visit and now has wings for special exhibits, not to mention an entrance corridor for assemblages such as saint medallions, etchings, and hangings. But the main attraction is its warehouse-like maze of folk art fashioned from wood, ceramics, clay, fibers, dried plants, and glass. It is true to its handle in that it is truly international in scope.

 

Among the marvelous things about folk art is that genres meld into one another and it’s impossible to judge any of it. By definition, most folk artists are untrained. As such the stories and cultural values embedded within objects take priority. Perhaps we can look at two pieces and see that artist A was a more skillful wood carver than B, but that in no way means you or anyone else will prefer one over the other. The MIFA has some themed displays, but often it doesn’t. For example, cases of ceremonial masks are hung willy-nilly and unless you grab the laminated card for individual cases–objects are numbered rather than placarded–you won’t know for certain if a mask is Amazonian or Ghanian.

 

You would exhaust yourself in short order if you tried to ID every object and the cool thing is that you don’t need to do so. The MIFA is a place to feel the magic of human creativity and it simply doesn’t matter who created, when, or why.

 

I could fill my blog with a month’s worth of pictorial postings but instead, here’s a Part I sampler. When I know something about the photo, it is so labeled. Otherwise, do what I did and take a casual meander to see what catches your eye.

 

Rob Weir

 


Mermaids abound, sirena in Spanish.




 

Mexican villages are a major theme of MIFA




 

Subtle commentary on anthropologists and tourists

West African, I think

Amazing. This large hanging is yarn pressed into warm wax!

African, but I forget where.

 

5/25/22

Liane Moriarty on Tennis, Regret, and Secrets

 

 

APPLES NEVER FALL (2021)

By Liane Moriarty

Macmillian Australia, 516 pages.

★★★★

 


 

 

 Recently I reviewed the movie King Richard, so how about a follow-up tennis novel? Apples Never Fall is the latest novel from Liane Moriarty of Nine Perfect Strangers fame and it bears passing resemblance to King Richard in that it deals with an Australian version of a tennis-obsessed family, a great champion, and adjustment fallout when one’s coaching days are over.

 

 Stan and Joy Delaney once ran a tennis school in Sydney, but Stan is now 70 with bad knees and Joy is 69, sick of Stan’s slovenly ways and moaning, and in need of something more in her life than Stan and the travails of her four children: Amy (39), Logan (37), Troy (35), and Brooke (29). To paraphrase a famous movie line, each of them could’ve been a contender, but none reached their potential and Stan lost the student who actually became a champion when Harry Haddad moved on to a different coach and won three majors before he got injured and retired.

 

It’s hard to put that behind you when you learn that Harry is trying to make a comeback. It’s also a bitter pill to swallow when the kids have seemingly made a hash of their respective lives. All four won college tennis scholarships, but three turned them down. Amy has three flatmates, is in therapy a lot, and has part-time gigs as a taste tester and in market research. Logan—who once beat up Harry–has just broken up with his longtime girlfriend that Joy hoped would produce a grandchild, Troy is once-divorced and remarried to a (gasp!) Yank, has become (double gasp!) a money-obsessed commodities trader, and quit playing tennis in college (quell horror!). Poor Brooke suffers from migraines, runs a failing OT clinic, and worries that her marriage might also be crumbling.

 

Collectively they are prone to blame their parents for their struggles though Joy imagines, “All four of her children each fervently believed is separate versions of their childhood that often didn’t match up with [her] memories, or each other’s for that matter.” After all, Stan and Joy can’t possibly be to blame for much; everyone agrees they have a “perfect” marriage. The only blemish–other than losing Harry—is that Stan is so conflict-adverse that he walks away from troubling things and sometimes stays away for several days. And, no, there’s no mistress or other such secret involved.

 

Stan and Joy get a jolt when a young woman shows up on their doorstep, claiming she is fleeing from domestic abuse. Stan thinks she’s not their problem, but Joy invites her in. Before you can say love-40, Savannah has moved in. You don’t have to be Sigmund Freud to figure out that Joy sees her as a granddaughter substitute or to predict her presence will make Stan uncomfortable. Savannah is content to be a live-in Jill-of-all trades: gardener, cleaner, chef, chauffer…. At this stage of the novel we wonder if we are moving into Single White Female terrain. Is Savannah as advertised, or is something sinister lurking behind her fa├žade? The siblings, especially Troy, are convinced of it. When Logan watches a TV show and hears exactly the exact words he heard Savannah use to describe her backstory, he’s convinced as well. Both daughters are also on edge for various reasons. Jealous brats or parental guardians?

 

Another crisis occurs when, this time, Joy disappears. After 17 days, foul play is suspected and that’s all you’re getting out of me. This is one of those novels that hinges on appearances, deceptions, excuse-making, over-active imaginations, and legitimate concerns. In tennis, love equals zero. Likewise, in both tennis and relationships double faults, and things that are out of bounds are bad.  But the ultimate question is what is at stake. There’s a world of difference between losing a point and losing a match point. I leave it to readers to discover how this match plays out.

 

Rob Weir

5/23/22

Camera Man: New Look at Buster Keaton

 

CAMERA MAN (2022)

By Dana Stevens

Atria Books, 393 pages + back matter

★★★ ½ 

 


 

 

Most agree that Charlie Chaplin was early cinema’s king of comedy. Then it’s a tossup between Harold Lloyd and Buster Keaton. Dana Stevens, a film critic and podcast cohost for Slate, makes a strong case for Keaton. She is an unabashed Keaton fan.

 

As Camera Man’s subtitle suggests—The Dawn of Cinema and the Invention of the Twentieth Century—Stevens has ambitious things in mind that go beyond a blow-by-blow look at Keaton films. Not that the latter is even possible; some of his one-reel films are considered lost. Stevens situates Keaton within deeper connections between popular culture and its historical context, a strategy that sometimes drops Keaton from the limelight and into the background of events that helped define the twentieth century, including social problems, reform movements, vaudeville, World War One, technological change, anti-Antisemitism, racism, the Roaring Twenties, the power of print media, surrealism, and the triumph of big business. In like fashion, Keaton takes his place among others synonymous with the shift from Victorianism to modernism: D. W. Griffith, Mack Sennett, Henry Ford, William Randolph Hearst, Ernest Hemingway, Louis B. Mayer, Mary Pickford, Mabel Normand, Irving Thalberg, Bert Williams….

 

Stevens begins her tale in earnest when young Joseph Frank Keaton—dubbed Buster to differentiate him from his father Joe—began performing in vaudeville at the age of three with Joe and his mother, Myra. Theirs was an act that would shock those of delicate sensibilities. Laughs were milked by Joe’s hurling of Buster across the stage with such force that Buster was dubbed “the boy who can’t be damaged.” When alarmists sought to end such endangerment, an outraged Joe Keaton told his detractors, “He’s my son and I’ll break his neck any way I want to.” Eventually, though, things did get out of hand; Joe Keaton descended into alcoholism, Myra briefly left him, and Buster read the tea leaves correctly and realized a new entertainment platform doomed vaudeville: motion pictures.

 

Buster’s movie career took off when he befriended Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle. Count Stevens among those who believe Arbuckle was a wronged man when actress Virginia Rappe died at a 1921 party at Arbuckle’s home. Arbuckle was accused of rape and manslaughter and, after three trials, was acquitted though his career lay in tatters. Keaton fared better. The years 1920-28 saw Keaton make silent films that established him a star. Three—Sherlock Jr. (1924), The General (1926), and Steamboat Bill (1928)—are considered silent film masterworks. Stevens argues that Keaton’s move to MGM in 1928 was a misstep and I agree.  Camera Man, the 1928 film that lends its name to the book, is practically unwatchable.

 

Unlike Stevens, I only partly blame MGM. Film fans know that “talkies” took off in 1927. Keaton made several more silent films before shifting to talkies, but Stevens and I part company on Keaton’s post-1928 movie career. Keaton was a brilliant physical comedian who did outrageously funny things far more dangerous than being hurled across the stage—watch him ride backwards in a driverless motorcycle in Sherlock Jr.­ or stand in the door of a house falling down in Steamboat Bill Jr.­—that could have maimed or killed him. He was so nonchalant that he dubbed the “Great Stoneface.” Like many great comics, this sort of comedy had its season. The 1930s would belong to verbal comics and Keaton couldn’t top what he did in the 1920s.

 

Stevens correctly notes that Keaton tried to adapt. He was also a “camera man” because he became a producer and director, but was he funny? Keaton wrote gags for others, but even erstwhile friends such as the Marx Brothers found his shtick shopworn. His film work in the 1950s and 1960s was largely confined to cameo roles, as were his incessant guest turns on television from 1949-65, and as a product pitchman until his death in 1966. This work was extensive, but not artistically brilliant, though Stevens is right to give him credit for again identifying how popular culture was shifting.

 

Keaton’s deeper problem could be labeled “like father, like son.” Stevens details Buster’s own descent into alcoholism and attendant problems, including two failed marriages. I enjoyed this book, especially Stevens’ balance of analysis and snark. I wish, though, that she had more control over her fandom. Like it or not, the 1920s were not only Keaton’s high-water mark; they gave him license to be merely okay for the next 36 years.

 

Rob Weir

5/20/22

New Music: Piazzolla, Jess Jocoy, Angie Goeke, Watershed Band

 

 


Astor Piazzolla (1921-92) is a renowned figure in Argentine music. It wasn’t always that way; some felt he tinkered too much with tradition. He was, however, the leading figure in nuevo tango, meaning he took classical orchestral-based tango, stripped it down, and merged it what he learned about dissonance and counterpoint from composers such as Stravinsky, Gershwin, and Bernstein. Ten years after his death, his widow set up a foundation dedicated to his music. An offshoot is Quinteto Astor Piazzolla whose Operation Tango takes the maestro to new levels. Pablo Mainetti now mans the bandoneon (a full-sounding concertina) and like Piazzolla, melds it with melancholy piano, sorrowful violin, guitar, and double bass. Other selections, such as the title track, are filled with big drama in which we can definitely hear Gershwin’s influences even as you reach for your sexy duds and dancing shoes. Every piece on Operation Tango will make your heart break or leap, depending. Alas, it’s hard to find selections for viewing. I recommend viewing parts of this concert. If you like it, you’ll love the new record. The five members are faithful to the style Piazzolla pioneered for more than a decade and take full advantage of improvements in sound technology to make the maestro’s compositions sound even richer. ★★★★★

 


 

 

I was tempted to spotlight Jess Jocoy as my artist of the month as I really liked where she is heading. Let There Be No Despair showcases a maturing voice with deeper patina that gives contrast to her higher tones. The title track sentiment says it all. Jocoy’s response to the Covid lockdown and other worldly traumas has been to accentuate the positive and replace gloom with hope. To do this, she put herself in other people’s shoes and assumed the role of a storyteller. “I Will Be Glad” is an ode to the small joys we are given. In a simple line such as I’m with my mother every day and I wear the traits more than ever, she projects into the future–even returning to the dust from which she came–and suggests we should be grateful for small moments of bliss. She imagines herself as a deserted barren woman in “The Gardner”: My body couldn’t do her sacred duty as a woman. But instead of wallowing, Jocoy’s protagonist tends a garden in the unforgiving climate of Montana, a substitute way of making and preserving life. My favorite track is “Living in a Dying Town,” a bittersweet take on returning to a town where everything’s changing and there’s no reason to stay. Yet she also honors those who put down roots and remain. There’s good songwriting throughout, but a few things make Let There Be No Despair fall short of a career-altering album. First, the arrangements are similar and cries out for a signature song that makes you want to sing along or dance. Jocoy is Nashville-based and hopes to make it in country music, but too much of the album is reflective in ways more in accord with folk music. She could also benefit by becoming more of a song interpreter and tamping down her desire to impress. She has chops and range, but she is often overly dynamic and doesn’t articulate clearly. A few good hooks and more variety would push Jocoy to the next level. ★★★★     

 


 

 

Angie Goeke grew up in an Austin, Texas, church-going musical family and counts Ella Fitzgerald and Willie Nelson among her musical influences. This tips us off that her blend of Americana will fall on the jazz/bluegrass/country side of the ledger. Her debut full release If I Were Honest reflects that, if we toss in a bit of folk music as well. Goeke is trying to work things out, not preach. “So I Pray” is a fragile song in which she warbles to Kaitlyn Raitz’s cello as she catalogues … Lies and betrayal …. The fear, the fights, the shattered wine glass on the wall/Everyday those dark shadows come to call/So I pray. If anything, it’s too pained, as it’s often hard to make out the lyrics, but we get it. What might be harder to get though, is where Goeke wishes to position herself in the musical world. There’s nothing wrong with being eclectic, but the risk on a debut is being claimed by everyone or no one. She compares herself to the liquid in “Whiskey in a Teacup,” fiery with a kick and the song is a country rocker, yet “Leftovers” is more music hall than country. The piano-based title song trends toward torchy songbird and “Fly Baby Fly” is a sweet supportive song about her kids. See a pattern? I’m not sure if producer (and country artist) Mary Bragg did Goeke any favors by allowing her to spread her wings too broadly. ★★★

 


 

 

The Columbus, Ohio-based Watershed Band has released Against the Grain, their 10th full-length album. If you’ve never heard of them and wonder why, it’s probably because they formed when several band members were still in middle school, and because they are not a conventional rock band in any sense. Lead singer/lead guitarist Colin Gawel owns a coffee shop and bass player Joe Oestreich is an English prof at Coastal Carolina University when he’s not on the road with the band. They also sound more like a bluegrass/country/soft rock ensemble than the sort of outfit that blows you away with crunchy loud electric solos. “Someday” has a decided bluegrass helter-skelter feel and “Bluebird” a slice of folk rock. Much of “King of Spades,” especially its harmonies, evokes The Beach Boys, and “Fire Catcher” opens with a bit of banjo for a song that merges grass with some rock-style vocals. Since they are mostly on rock’s quiet end on this album, why not a love song like “You?” ★★★

 

Rob Weir

5/18/22

Art Road Trip: New Mexico I


 

Museum of Albuquerque

Albuquerque, New Mexico

[Click images for bigger file size]

 

One of the joys of traveling for art fans is that it provides opportunities to see works you seldom see in your own backyard. The Albuquerque Museum (MoA) is less visited than it should be, perhaps because it’s a hybrid that also tries to spotlight some of the city’s history and its people, but it’s mostly an art museum.

 

Like many museums that can’t or simply don’t give into the temptation to launch expensive blockbuster shows, the MoA had assembled a small but innovative special exhibit when I visited in April. In this case, it was to a color: indigo. The blue pigment, which ranges from near black to purple, originally came from plants. (Today a lot is synthetic.) The very word is linguistically linked to India, since Europeans often imported it from there. Here are a few items from the show.  

 

Sashiko Farmer's Coat (Japan)





 
Laura Anderson Barbata "Little Jaguar"

 

If you’re an Easterner such as I, another striking feature of the MoA is noticing how the aesthetics of art produced in the West differs from those of the East. There is, for instance, art made by Native Americans. Much that one sees at the MoA is of recent vintage, but rooted in older forms. It was my first immersion into the work of the talented Jaune Quick-to-See Smith (b. 1940), a Native-American woman enrolled in three Western tribes. (Ironically, her BA is from Framingham State in Massachusetts.)  She is an activist who works in numerous media and has a cheeky sense of humor and a modernist sensibility. Spend some time looking at “Herding” (1985), as it takes a few moments for its lines and symbols to come into focus. Nor is her “Albuquerque” (1998) the first thing that springs to mind when you hear that word.

 

"Herding"       

 

"Albuquerque"

 

Names can be deceptive in the West, given centuries of intermarriage. Fritz Scholder has links to California’s Luiseno peoples, hence his “Man in White Suit” (1983) is not a form of cultural appropriation. The same is true of Alan Hauser, an Apache. His “Mountain Spirit Dancer” (1993) is an eye-catching small sculpture that differs from much of his largescale work one sees in Santa Fe galleries. 

 

"Man in White Suit"


 


 

New Mexico was where the atomic bomb was first developed and tested. It played a big role in defeating Japan, but it’s important to remember the effects it had one those living downwind of Los Alamos. Tony Price wasn’t an Indian, but his metallic “Atomic Firebird” (1994) is a subtle reminder of literal fallout. In a more amusing vein, but packed with the suggestion that Natives are often so marginalized they might as well be aliens, is potter Diego Romero (Cochiti Pueblo), whose “Mayans from Mars” (1995) makes you chuckle and consider. 

 

"Atomic Firebird"



 

"Mayans from Mars"

 

The West is just flat out big, thus it’s hardly surprising to see how humans represent the land, the elements, and surviving in their midst. Carl Von Hassler gave us adobe, laundry, and dust in “New Mexico Landscape” (1920) and Carl Redin “Village in Moonlight” (1920s). Peter Hurd offered commentary on the precariousness of humans in that big landscape in his “A Shower in a Dry Year” (1969).

 

Von Hassler





 

Redin  

Hurd
 

As you might have surmised, sculpture is well represented at the MoA, both inside and out. Paul Suttman was from Connecticut, but his sculpture at the MoA with the catch-your-breath title “Braque Visited by the Conquering Venus Armed with Apples of Discord” (1991) is either a cool mashup of modernist sensibilities or a parody thereof (your choice). I also quite liked Ron Cooper’s “Labyrinth of Gravity (1990).”

 

Suttman  

 

Cooper

 

If, after a while, you get homesick for the East, Andrew Wyeth will cure it. The MoA has a painting from his “Karl” series, this one from 1948.

 

Andrew Wyeth

 

 

 

Rob Weir


5/16/22

All the Frequent Troubles of Our Days Reconstructs a Tragedy

 

ALL THE FREQUENT TROUBLES OF OUR DAYS (2021)

By Rebecca Donner

Little, Brown and Company, 576 pages.

★★★★

 


 

 

Rebecca Donner faced a problem I have known. How do you write history based on family lore, fragmentary evidence, and lacunae? The answer is to start with what you know for certain, fill in where possible, and make logical inferences where sources fail.

 

The topic of Donner’s work of non-fiction, All the Frequent Troubles of Our Days, is embodied in its subtitle: The True Story of the American Woman at the Heart of the German Resistance to Hitler. That woman was Mildred Fish Harnack (1902-43), who was Donner’s great-great aunt. She was the only American woman executed via Hitler’s direct order.

 

Mildred was born in Milwaukee, the daughter of lower middle-class parents. She obtained degrees in English literature from the University of Wisconsin, where she met a German national, Arvid Harnack, a Ph.D philosophy student. They married in 1926 and made the fateful decision to move to Berlin in 1930, she to teach and to work on her own Ph.D. The Harnacks were idealistic and allied with socialist groups. Their political values–feminism, women’s suffrage, worker rights, and anti-fascism–were safe enough in 1930, but became increasingly dangerous when Adolf Hitler became chancellor in 1933 and began to dismantle whatever democracy remained in Germany’s post-World War I Weimar Republic. The Harnacks were among the first to warn that Hitler was an existential threat, not just a loud-mouthed buffoon.

 

The Harnacks tried to play it safe whilst quietly building domestic opposition to Hitler to undermine him. What came to be called The Circle was a loose organization of dedicated idealists like Mildred and Arvid plus various diplomatic personnel that offered clandestine support. Caution aside, The Circle proved no match for the Gestapo. Moreover, some of their contacts, including those in Josef Stalin’s NKVD, proved so incompetent they mentioned names in cables without encrypting them or using aliases. The upshot is that the Harnacks were arrested while trying to flee from Germany in September 1942. Arvid was executed and Mildred was sentenced to six years of hard labor, a sentence vacated by Hitler. On February 16, 1943, she was guillotined.

 

These are the bare facts, pieced together from snippets in archives, mentions in official documents, newspaper reports, diary slivers, and ephemera. Missing are most of Mildred’s letters, which were burned by her older sister. Those lost sources are tragic from a historical point of view, but perhaps not from a literary one. Donner’s reconstructed history reads like a novel, albeit a sometimes disjointed one. Donner had to range far afield to give context for inferential leaps, thus a wide array of characters appear, many of whom are not household names. For instance, one of Mildred’s most effective couriers was Donald Heath, Jr. the young son of an American consul/spy in Berlin. He came to Mildred to be tutored and left with documents to be passed to contacts. We also meet Martha Dodd, the gadfly daughter of the American ambassador, who spied for the Soviet Union.

 

There are so many others that, when added to a narrative that is often non-linear, can seem confusing. Don’t worry about all the names. Instead consider Donner’s succinct account of how the Nazis came to power with blitzkrieg speed and how they undermined democracy via methods distressingly similar to Donald Trump’s tactics: rambling digressions, eliminating non-loyalists, manufacturing internal and external enemies, and justifying repression in the name of making Germany great again. (You could even find parallels between the 1933 Reichstag fire, Kristallnacht, and the storming of the U.S. Capitol.)

 

I found Donner’s subtitle overly dramatic. One could easily argue that The Circle was more a figment of idealistic imaginations than a conspiracy capable of taking down the Nazis. The Circle was effective for a time as a spying operation and in aiding a small number of Jews, but the Harnacks were as a reckless as they were restless. They were correct in their dire warnings and brave in mien and action, but the overall impression is that of a dedicated band of amateurs up against a machine too powerful for their ilk.

 

But let us give credit to Donner for assembling a thrilling collage. If you had any doubt that Hitler and Stalin were monsters, Donner will dispel them in simple (though not simplistic) language. More’s the pity Hitler wasn’t eliminated earlier and that it took six years of war and more than 70 million deaths to accomplish what the Harnacks could not.

 

Rob Weir   

5/13/22

The Darkest Game: Weak Title, Smart Book

 

THE DARKEST GAME (2022)

By Joseph Schneider

Sourcebooks/Poison Pen Press, 354 pages

★★★★

 


 

 

We are told not to judge a book by its cover. Still, were I involved with Joseph Schneider’s Tully Jarsdel mystery, I’d change the title. It’s certainly plenty dark, but so many books with “dark” and “darkness” in the title are paint-by-the-numbers offerings.

 

There’s little that’s formulaic about The Darkest Game. How many detectives do you know who speak Farsi (and is working on his fifth non-English tongue), dropped out of a history Ph.D. program, has two fathers, and can recognize valuable sculptures at a glance? We find Tully teamed with Oscar Morales in what is certainly the odd couple of detectives. Oscar is Tully’s hardboiled opposite, a heavyset Latino family man whose idea of culture is television. He’s also at ease with cop banter, protocol, grab-and-go cuisine, and mugs of beer. Tully was raised by two professors–his biological father is ill with lung cancer–who have never made peace with his decision to become a homicide detective but schooled him in proper grammar, academic research, wine, film, and upper-middle class values. They only thing they haven’t taught him is the circumstances under which his “Baba,” Professor Darius Jahangir, left Iran after the Islamic revolution of 1979.  

 

Tully and Oscar investigate the murder of Dean Burken, a museum conservator also in charge of deaccessioning for the prestigious Huntington Library and Museum in Greater Los Angeles. A lot of Burken’s colleagues disliked him, but that doesn’t make them killers. As Jarsdel applies logic and Morales more conventional police legwork, a prime suspect emerges, no thanks to the Huntington staff which seems far more interested in the institution’s reputation than solving Burken’s murder. One small problem: The suspect also becomes a corpse. On Santa Catalina Island, no less, some 22 miles offshore.

 

Jarsdel and Morales are sent to Catalina to investigate if there is a link between the two murders. They initially treat it as an expense-account vacation because it’s a proverbial longshot that there’s any connection between Burken’s brutal murder and the suspect’s death. Still, some things are weird in Avalon, the town that contains 3,700 of the island’s population of less than 4,100. The local sheriff, Captain Ken Oria, is cloyingly welcoming and he and his assistant Ledbetter, who plays the bad cop role, are intent on blaming everything that goes wrong locally on a weird bunch called the Natty Boys, a mashup of Pirates of the Caribbean, survivalists, libertarians, and a rough-stuff motorcycle gang. Plus, there’s Pruitt, the island’s resident developer/club owner/restaurant proprietor, who strikes Tully as a pompous jerk.  

 

This may sound like a variant of a standard mystery cast but if anything, Schneider’s plot suffers from being overly complex. Before the two central deaths are resolved and a third occurs, The Darkest Game delves into things such as the whereabouts of a 19th century diary, the disposition of art works, a perplexing map, a real estate plan, detours into California history, half-truths and lies, a Ruger .38, a musket ball, and a show down.

 

Schneider overlays the action with the sometimes-tense interactions between Jarsdel and Morales, plus Tully’s quest to unravel his Baba’s life in Iran. The latter could have been saved for another book and somehow woven into a plot. Though it adds depth to Tully’s character, it isn’t germane to an ideas-packed narrative and slows a novel that’s already leisurely paced. Some readers might also think that Schneider drops in too many red herring suspects. It’s not a bad idea to jot down some notes to help keep characters straight, but I’d rather read a book open to charges of being too complicated than one that’s as obvious as a hobo at a black-tie dinner. I did work out the murderer, but Schneider led me places I did not expect to visit.

 

Thanks to #NetGalley and #PoisonedPenPress for an advance copy of this book.

 

Rob Weir