Charles (Caroline) Todd at Left Coast Crime

Mystery authors are materializing out of the Monterey mist here at the Left Coast Crime conference. New authors each had a minute to summarize and promote their stories over breakfast, but my favorite close encounter came last night at the opening reception. As I munched my hummus cucumbers and sipped some California wine, I noticed the solicitations of a younger man to a well-dressed elderly woman seated at my table. I wondered if he was her publisher? her escort? her lover, plying her with food and drink? When introduced, all my assumptions were dismissed: he was her son, and the duo – Charles and Caroline Todd- write the Inspector Ian Rutledge mystery series, set in Scotland Yard after World War I.

I’ve downloaded “A Test of Wills” -the first Inspector Ian Rutledge book, and hope to start a relationship with a new author(s) and a compelling character. I’m told that as a fan of Downton Abbey, I will immediately connect to Inspector Ian Rutledge—a British World War I veteran who suffers from shell shock as he returns to investigating London crimes.

Have you read any of the Todd mysteries?

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Mermaid Rhymes and Tails

Meeting the author is always exciting – the chance to get your book signed, the possibility of asking about the inspiration, the moment to bask in the glow of creativity – hoping some will rub off.  Anita Benson Bradley is an accomplished artist, relocated to Hawaii from Monterey, California.  Bradley’s watercolors and acrylics have won awards – my favorite is her Beach Girl (Sue) - check it out on her website.

In Mermaids Rhymes and Tails, Benson connects her art with sassy rhymes to entertain children as well as her “whimsical” adult friends.

Some poems tease with references to “fish breath” and “seaweed hair”; others offer magic and water play. Bradley sprinkles her lively sketches throughout, ending with two pages of black and white “underwater sketches done with squid ink.”  Since Anita Bradley is an avid snorkeler, it’s possible those sketches really were outlined underwater.

Sweet Thursday in Steinbeck Country

Asilomar beach walk

Just returned from Monterey, California – inspiration for Steinbeck’s Tortilla Flat, East of Eden, and Cannery Row. Steinbeck wrote The Pastures of Heaven in Pacific Grove – not far from Asilomar, where I was enjoying the company of friends.

Asilomar Deer at Sunrise

The Pastures of Heaven is a collection of short stories, written before Steinbeck’s more famous books; many of the stories foreshadow themes Steinbeck extends in later books. One tells about a family made to feel poor through the charity of others; another echoes Lennie Small in Of Mice and Men.

Steinbeck won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1962, but most of his early success was in the thirties and forties.  One of his later books, Sweet Thursday, published in 1954, is the one I targeted for my plane ride home.

Not a fan of Steinbeck – I only read Grapes of Wrath because it was required for English 101 – I was pleasantly surprised by the funny sarcasm woven into the philosophy of Sweet Thursday. Sweet Thursday is the day that follows lousy Wednesday – haven’t you had a lousy Wednesday like this…

“Some days are born ugly. From the very first light they are no damn good whatever the weather, and everybody knows it. No one knows what causes this, but on such a day people resist getting out of bed and set their heels against the day. When they are finally forced out by hunger or a job, they find that the day is just as lousy as they knew it would be.

On such a day, it is impossible to make a good cup of coffee, shoestrings break, cups leap from the shelf by themselves and shatter on the floor….This is the day the cat chooses to have kittens and the housebroken dogs wet on the floor.

Oh! It’s awful, such a day! The postman brings overdue bills. If it’s a sunny day it is too damn sunny, and if it is dark who can stand it?”

Steinbeck’s characters are feisty and live the hard life in the real world – as in most of his writing – but in Sweet Thursday, life gets better.  Steinbeck reintroduces Doc from Cannery Row; he’s returned from the war, and cannot get back to the way things were – mostly, because nothing will ever again be as it was.   The story revolves around his discontent, his attempt to write a scholarly paper about octopus emotions, and finally finding an unlikely soul mate in Suzy, the hooker.

Others conspire to help Doc become fulfilled and happy – each having a different, sometimes hilarious, plan that will keep you smiling and nodding knowingly:  Flora, renamed Fauna, the madam of the local brothel; Hazel (male), whose fortune reading by the Seer predicts Hazel will be president; Joe Elegant; Wide Ida; Mack, Joseph and Mary, and on it goes.

Luckily, lousy Wednesday is followed by sweet Thursday – a day when Doc cooks sausages with chocolate and everything seems to go as planned – or better.  Then, the aftermath on “waiting Friday,” wondering what Saturday will bring.  Each chapter is titled with foreshadowing of the event to be described, and Steinbeck seems to be channeling Mark Twain at times, but the delivery is much more irreverent.

monarch butterfly

For Pacific Grove fans, Steinbeck includes a chapter on the famous butterflies in one of his two  “hooptedoodle” chapters – interesting to read but nothing to do with the plot.

In the end, Doc gets the girl and his research, and drives off into the California sunset – funny and satisfying.

If you have a hankerin’ to revisit a classic writer, Steinbeck’s Sweet Thursday is  a sweet read.