Sunday, October 28, 2018

Farewell, My Huckleberry Friend

Annamaria in Japan*

Some of you know that my husband of forty-four years has been suffering from Alzheimer's disease for more than fourteen years.  Lately, the devastation has been so acute that he was robbed of all but the merest vestige of his formerly bright, witty, vibrant self.

Word came to me here in Japan, just a few days ago, that he had died peacefully in his sleep--an event anticipated, but not expected at the time.  I found myself half a world away from him.  But, truth be told, it had been many, many years since he had been a part of the world we all live in.  Arrangements were in place.  My brother was on call, just in case.

What to do?  Should I rush back to New York to deal immediately with the aftermath of this event?  I was at a loss to know.  My darling friend Susan was here with me.  She listened sympathetically while I tried to understand my own feelings.

We were in Kyoto.  Our next planned destination was a sacred mountain, a centre of peace and spiritual renewal for a millennium and a half.  It seemed clear to me that fate was sending me to a place where a person might find enlightenment.  I chose to make that journey.

With Susan as my dear and understanding, wise and knowledgeable companion, I spent the next days visiting temples and shrines.  Walking the paths of serenity and peace.

Brought up a devout Catholic, I had for many years separated myself from the religion of my youth. In Koyasan, prayer once again became natural and comforting for me. Especially in Ukunion. 


At the shrine within the cemetery precincts, pilgrims light candles and burn incense in memory of the departed.  As the smoke from the incense rose, a realisation came to me, that David's soul was free, returned to its pure and original state, without the scars inflicted by his miserable childhood.  Just him, his kind, sweet, and funny, energetic and curious self.

In Koyasan, there is also a shrine that Susan describes like this:
The Otake Jizo is one of the largest cast copper statues on Koyasan. The statue takes its name from Mrs. Take Yokoyama, a woman from Edo (now called Tokyo) who donated this Jizo to Koyasan in May of 1745. According to an inscription on the base of the statue, the Bodhisattva Jizo appeared to Mrs. Take in a dream while she was staying at the nearby Fudozaka-guchi nyonindo and praying for the soul of her deceased husband. Upon awaking from the dream, Mrs. Take had the idea to commission and donate a statue of Jizo to Koyasan. The Otake Jizo has remained on display at this location since that time.
Known as Kṣitigarbha in Sanskrit, Jizo is a bodhisattva—a compassionate being who attains Buddhahood but remains compassionately attached to this world for the purpose of helping other souls in need. Jizo is a protector and patron of travelers, children, and those in need, including the souls of the deceased. He is often portrayed as a Buddhist priest with a halo around his head. His left hand holds a wish-fulfilling jewel, while his right hand wields a staff with which he forces open the gates of hell to help imprisoned souls escape. 
If ever there was a place for a woman to contemplate a loss like mine, this must be it.

So my journey continues.  

Here, along with the photo at the top, are a few of my dearest images of David at his happiest.

7 September 1974

 Farewell my boon companion, my Huckleberry Friend.

* In consideration of the nature of my news, Susan has kindly offered me her slot for Sunday in addition to mine on Monday.  

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Guest Blogger Tim Hallinan: Who Cares Whodunnit? (Part Two)

 I feel as if I’m playing second fiddle to Jascha Heifetz and Itzhak Perlman, which I guess isn’t a bad thing when you come right down to it. Perhaps even a bit propitious, since Heifetz once lived on Mykonos not far from where I live today.  But the bottom line truth is that my fiddler analogy is a guilt-ridden effort on my part to justify my shameless piggybacking on the hard work of two other maestros, purely for the purpose of giving me more time to pack for my return to the States tomorrow after five months away. 
The guy in the photo at the top of this post goes by the name Tim Hallinan, and he’s written a seminal two-part dissertation on the timeless Hatfield and McCoy-like feud obtaining between arbiters of all things literary and the crime writing community.  Each of us has our stories of run-ins on that subject, but Tim ties it all together.  Then there’s maestro Stanley Trollip of Michael Stanley fame, who posted Part One of Tim’s work here on Thursday, together with a introduction that I dare not attempt to duplicate. Instead, I wholeheartedly recommend that if you haven’t yet read Part One and Stan’s introduction you do so now, before reading any further.
Don’t worry, we’ll be here patiently waiting for you to get back…though Tim might be tapping his foot a bit until you return.
Welcome back.  Here’s Tim.
Tim's new Junior Bender, coming in November
As the title suggests, this post is sort of a sequel. If you haven’t read Part One and think you might like to, it’s back there somewhere.
When I ran out of steam last time, I was getting into two of the things I blame for the low esteem with which some people regard mysteries and thrillers. One was the universal human need to find someone or something to look down on The other is the term “whodunnit” and what it implies.

The problem, on a platter

“Whodunnit?” when you think about it, isn’t a very complicated question. It can usually be answered with a single character’s name, unless you’re reading Agatha Christie’s “Murder on the Orient Express,” in which case the answer is, “everybody.” (Sorry about the spoiler.
And I’ll go out on a limb here and say that I think “Murder on the Orient Express” is a perfect book of its kind, and that I don’t actually like books of its kind. And by that, I mean books in which “whodunnit” is actually the most important thing in the story. Books in which a puzzle, rather than people, is what matters.

The usual suspects
A murder―any act of violence―needs to be taken seriously. These deeds affect people – obviously not just the victim, but those who loved the victim, who hated the victim, who envied the victim, who had his or her hopes pinned on the victim. Ultimately, since such acts have a ripple effect, people who never heard of the victim.

Add captionA world-changer
An act of violence is an interruption of everything we planned for, all the assumptions we depended on. It disrupts the world. It makes it apparent that our hopes are predicated on expectations that may not be fulfilled, on rules that some people don’t follow, on an instinctive belief in a prevailing underlying justice that may not actually exist. An act of violence, a murder, creates a crisis. And what happens in a crisis is that character reveals itself.
I would argue that the revelation of character, of holding a human being up to the light to see how he or she works – where she is strong or weak or admirable or loathsome or flexible or rigid or holy or profane – is the primary function of fiction.
What’s most interesting to me about all this is that murder and violence – physical or emotional violence – have been used to reveal character and propel events forward in literature all over the world, from the very beginning. What’s Homer writing about? War and survival. The Book of Genesis takes us straight to a murder, Cain’s killing of Abel, and its repercussions. The greatest of Sophocles’ plays, “Oedipus Rex,” is a detective story with a twist, which is that the central character turns out to be the murderer. When Agatha Christie did precisely that in The Murder of Roger Ackroyd in 1926, it caused a minor sensation even though Sophocles had already pulled it off almost 2400 years earlier. To look at the Middle Ages, Beowulf is a straight-ahead thriller, a portrait of a society suspended, being held for ransom by violence until someone—some hero—will step forward and take action.
A classic example of serious literature using murder as the microscope for character is “Hamlet.”

A boy and his skull
“Hamlet” presents a classic setup: a man has been killed, and the job of finding the murderer and punishing him falls to the victim’s son. In fact, this situation has been used so often that it’s become a trope, one modern definition of which is “a story concept that the audience will recognize and understand instantly.”
But in Shakespeare’s hands, the murder investigation leads us into all sorts of issues: the primacy of kings, the relationship between mother and son, the betrayal of friendship, the immeasurable value of honest friendship, the fragility of young love, the soul-sickness of the murderer, the eternal question of what sometimes keeps us from doing what we need to do even when the path seems clear.
At two points, Claudius’s failed prayer and the “To be or not to be” soliloquy, it takes us into regions like the silence of God, the relationship between God and the human soul, and the uncertainty of the afterlife. Big stuff. And all of it arises naturally from fascinating, deeply felt characters who are responding to the old-testament blunt weapon of murder.
And after Shakespeare has put us inside these characters’ hearts and souls for hours―so deeply that Elsinore Castle becomes―the whole universe, at the end, when everyone is dead or dying, he brings in someone new and untouched by the mystery, Fortinbras, to survey the dead, frown at the disorderly throne room, assert a shaky claim to authority, and order that the word of these terrible events be spread far and wide, and now let’s get to work. We’ve got a country to run.
Fortinbras rolls up his sleeves and dusts off his crown
.At that precise moment the bodies on the stage – Hamlet, Gertrude, Claudius, the others – who have been our world for hours, are just litter to be cleared away to make room for the new orde
We’re witnessing the restoration of order, which was Shakespeare’s great theme, whether the play is a comedy, tragedy, history, or one of the very complex late works that scholars, for lack of a better term, call “problem plays.” Whatever genre (there’s that word again) the play represents, in the first act we learn what’s wrong with the world it depicts, and the end of the fifth act, order has been restored
And that is absolutely what happens in a crime novel, whether it’s a thriller or a mystery. The reader enters a world that’s about to be broken or has just been broken. It’s out of kilter. It’s stopped working the way we believe our world should work. The characters of the people on the page are being stretched thin enough to become transparent; motives and enmities and love are suddenly made visible. The primary course of action of a mystery or a thriller is repairing that broken world and exploring those exposed characters, restoring both to some kind of acceptable balance. It may be retribution, it may be the revelation of the truth. The denouement may be thrilling or comic or tragic. Depends on the book. But at the end of the story – unless it’s noir – there will be some form of restoration.
Question mark or fish hook?
The reason that kind of exploration and illumination work so well in the whodunnit and the thriller is that each of them plants a question mark at the very beginning – in “Hamlet,” the opening words are “Who’s there?” called out by a terrified guard who’s asking the question that’s really being asked throughout the play. Who’s behind that mask? Who’s beneath that crown? Who’s wearing that smile? Who is that man who was pretending to love me?
The whodunnit and the thriller take that question mark and plant it right there in the first act. It may or may not be a coincidence that a question mark looks like a fish hook, because what the question mark does is hook the reader and pull him or her across 100,000 words or so to see what the answer is, and—more important—what happens as we get closer to it.
And that fish hook has to drag the reader upstream because as he or she sits there, nose to the type, the real world is flowing by. People take a break from their lives to read, and writers should never forget that. A reader with the book open is like a rock in a stream: life is flowing past, carrying with it lots of things that compete for the reader’s attention, and some of them will only go by once. I think we owe the reader something in our book that makes that commitment of time and energy and attention worthwhile.
So that means the books have to be about something that goes beyond whodunnit. On a purely personal note and from a writer’s perspective, I can testify that there’s probably not a theme in the world that can’t be explored in a thriller or a whodunit, not a society, not a culture, not a business.

 These are essentially investigative forms – there’s almost always a character whose primary function is to ask questions, and in such a story there’s pretty much nothing you can’t open up and put a microscope to. In a modest way, when I attempt to frame such a story I feel that I’m following in the tracks of hundreds and hundreds of talented writers who sat down day after day to write the best book they possibly could – to make the reading experience worthwhile for the people who open the book – in both literary fiction and genre fiction. Detective fiction and thrillers have deepened and broadened to include characters who are deeper than the page, predicaments that are more than puzzles, revelations that reflect our own lives. I believe that some of the best writers of the past century have worked and are working in what’s still called genre fiction, and they know that the question is not, and never really has been, “whodunnit?” It’s “what happened?” and “to whom?” and “what does this show me about my world?”
Far as I’m concerned, those are real books.
So there.

Tim—in for Jeff

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Who Cares Whodunnit? (Part One)

It is a great pleasure to welcome back Tim Hallinan - a past Murder is Everywhere blogger, a great writer, and an insightful and prolific Facebook commentator. He needs no introduction to long-time readers of our blog, but for those who are new here, a brief introduction is necessary.

It was through The Queen of Patpong, the fourth of the Poke Rafferty series, that I started following Tim. I was immediately struck by how well he had woven social commentary into an entertaining story using an interesting protagonist, Poke Rafferty, and his not-to-be-forgotten family. The eighth in the series, Fool's River, came out in November 2017.

Totally different, but equally appealing, is the Junior Bender series. As Tim writes on his website:
"Junior Bender is a Los Angeles burglar deluxe-a thief's thief. But he also has a sideline: he works as a private eye. For crooks. When someone commits a crime against a crook, odds area that the crook isn't going to the cops. He or she is going to Junior Bender."
The seventh Junior Bender book, Nighttown, will be released next month.

And then there's the Simeon Grist series, which Tim had relegated to limbo many years ago. Until Simeon, the protagonist, realises he is in limbo, that he is a fictitious character written by someone else. The series came alive again with Pulped.

Today Tim gives us the first in a two-part blog on a topic that gets under the skin of every mystery writer.

Please welcome back Tim Hallinan.

I’m here today to air a grievance. And to do it at some length. In fact, in two parts.
I write whodunnits. I work hard at it. I do the best I can every single day and usually wind up tossing half of my work. I am perpetually faced with something I have no idea in the world how to write, and I write it anyway. Once in a while, I think, I do it reasonably well.
But, like everyone who writes crime fiction, I know that there are those who look down upon me. As far as these folks are concerned, I’m a “genre” writer. I practice my craft in a downscale literary ZIP code where people park on the lawn and the houses lean a little and the children usually have stuff on their upper lip. Anddespite the fact that I wash my car and park it over at the Walmartmy stories, even the best of them, according to certain people, are not . . . actually . . . books.

The crime fiction ZIP code. You can’t see our beat-up cars because the banks foreclosed on our lawns.

Some of the people who write, edit, publish, and criticize so-called “literary fiction” regard themselves as members of a different species than people like me. We’re not quite real writers. They see themselves atop the high, white marble towers of literature in which they and their readers live, raising knowing eyebrows at each other and tossing off quips while we genre mutts drag ourselves around in the mud on our elbows, grunting at each other and squabbling over chicken bones and the occasional shiny bead.
If you’re a reader of crime fiction, you’ve probably encountered this attitude, too. There are people in my life (and probably in yours) who, when they ask what you’re reading and learn that it’s a “whodunnit,” pause for a second, make a sort of Downton Abbey vowel like, “Euhhh,” and then ask, “Is it interesting?” As though (a) it would be a waste of time to come up with a better question for someone on your reading level, and (b) it can’t possibly actually be interesting. In any serious way, that is. For a serious person.

A seriously stupid question

These people try to build literary fences around us, as though our books might somehow cohabit with their books and accidentally make them, you know, interesting. Nonfiction and literary fiction receive serious and relatively frequent newsprint, but genre fiction is reviewed in a modest little column that appears on odd-numbered Thursdays in months without an “R” in their name.
They restrict our books to their own little ghettos in bookstores, too – the aisles of which I’m happy to say, often have more customers in them than some other aisles I could name. Because that’s the dirty little secret. A medium-selling mystery outsells a medium-selling lit-fic novel, and genre fiction has a really uncomfortable way of taking out longterm leases on the top rungs of the bestseller lists. But you, know, that’s because ordinary people buy them.
Defiantly ordinary reader

Those of us who write thrillers and whodunnits can get a little . . . defensive about being classified as literary invertebrates. For one thing, we write an awfully broad and complex spectrum of books to be crammed into a one or two-word description. We write, for example, the kind of classic puzzles, dependent on clues and timetables, that marked the so-called “Golden Age.”
We write hard-boiled private eyes. We write cooking mysteries like Murder In the YeastorChili Con Carnage. Or craft mysteries like The Dropped Stitch of DeathOr elaborate, amazingly literate mysteries set in the Louisiana bayous, like those of James Lee Burke. Or character-steeped police procedurals like Henning Mankell’s. Or flawed half-villains and their sometimes treacherous friends, like Patricia Highsmith’s characters. We write night-black noir, like Jim Thompson and Ken Bruen. We cover much of the known world, like the writers on this very blog.

The House of Crime

It this genre were a single house, it would need rooms for Sherlock Holmes, Philip Marlowe, Mike Hammer, Harry Bosch, Nero Wolfe, Miss Marple, Father Brown, Kinsey Millhone, Commissario Brunetti, Arkady Renko, Sam Spade, Easy Rawlins, Jack Reacher, Lew Archer, Lydia Chin, Flavia de Luce, Precious Ramotswe, V.I Warshawski, Inspector Maigret, Lord Peter Wimsey, Dave Robicheau, Rabbi David Small, Brother Cadfael, Father Brown, and literally thousands of others. The house would need a lot of bedrooms, and it’s hard to imagine the conversation at the dinner table, because these people don’t really have much in common. (In the interest of maintaining some threadbare semblance of neutrality I've omitted the varied and fully rounded characters created by the writers on this forum.)
I’ve barely scraped the surface, and I could go on all day. If this is a “genre” it’s so broad and varied that the people who chose the word need to go back and come up with another.
And if you doubt that the word is pejorative, a few years ago J.A. Jance, a writer who has sold more than twenty million books, called the college from which she graduated and volunteered to put in a month working (for free) in their writing program. She was told, and this is a quote, “Oh, no, we don’t do anything with GENRE fiction; we only do LITERARY fiction.”
Why the negative judgment? What is it about so-called genre books, including whodunnits, that gets the literary highbrows’ knickers so twisted?
Untwisted knickers

My first theory is that it’s just another manifestation of the eternal human fact that everybody needs someone to look down on. Obviously, this thought isn’t original with me, but I defy anyone to make the case that this isn’t a universal and instinctive desire. It’s why the few all-first-class airlines, like MGM Grand, all went broke. The problem wasn’t that there weren’t enough people who could afford the tickets. The problem was that there was no tourist class for the people in the front of the plane to feel superior to. What’s the joy of stretching out in first class with your foie grasif there aren’t a bunch of grunts in back, folded up like paper clips, eating K-rations and envying you? What’s the fun of boarding the plane first, if no one is boarding second?
So here’s my second theory.
The term whodunnit.
I’ll get to that in Part Two, which will appear on Saturday in Jeff Siger's spot..

The everyday Bobby

There are many reason why I still do the job I do, and  the  vast array of people and stories that pass through ( or under ) my hands every day is a huge part of that.
I was chatting away to a patient about the Dali exhibition in St Petes and how I was spurred on to go and see the Glasgow Dali again. It’s one of those things that I always intend to do but there’s never ending emails to send, another chapter to write or the weather is good and the dog wants out. The St John Of the Cross lives about ten miles from my house so why did I wait until I was in St Petes before I went back to see it?
I wanted to read again about the way it was painted and how Dali hired a circus acrobat to hang like that so he got the muscles of the shoulder anatomy correct as they strained under that degree of tension.  Chatting to that patient, he said that it was his pal at uni’s Dad who had brokered the deal that brought the painting to Glasgow! And he had just, in past few months tried to get back in touch with that friend via Facebook, only to find that he had passed away late last year. The son (the grandson of the man who did the deal) got in touch so a kind of reunion took pace. One thing he did say was that Dali, on hearing the St John was going to a museum of the people, also gave the people of Glasgow the copyright to the painting.
Another fine character I see often is Bobby, his name has been changed as well all locations  to keep him anonymous and to protect the secret society of fine whisky tasters.                                              
Picture him as a rather odd little character, he dresses in a t shirt and Bermuda shorts in Glasgow,  in winter. He has rather long salt and pepper hair and his bright blue eyes are now rimmed white and glazed over with cataracts. He says he will get them seen to when he has the time. He’s in his late eighties. He runs three miles every day, now on a treadmill as he can’t see where he’s going and falls off the pavement. In his spare time he is a world renowned breeder of …. Guinea pigs and the stories he tells of the world of professional guinea pig breeding would make your hair fall out. It is a fertile ground for crime fiction with the inbreeding, clawing, back biting and that’s just the contestants.
When he was in his mid fifties, Bobby saw the London marathon on the tv for the first time so he thought he’d have a go. Glasgow held its first marathon the following year so he ran that. In three hours ten minutes. He told me that he ran his best 10k when he was in his mid-fifties, thirty seven minutes, god that’s impressive I said, well he cocked his head, it’s not quite true. It was thirty six fifty one.  As if that was less impressive.


What is more impressive is that he had to do his national service and in these days he was sent to a place that  was very cold indeed and stationed there for two years as part of the engineer core.  So far so good, until the day there was an incident between vehicles, Bobby was trapped, not expected to survive. They eventually got him out, he was hospitalised for six months- and much of that was in a coma, walking that a fine line between life and death.  He has no real idea exactly what went on while he was in there but he never says much. One lung,  five ribs less, three cracked vertebrae, one broken shoulder and half a hip bone…. So his trousers never fit right and he always has to wear a belt to give him a waistline.
He’s never lost a day’s work one he came back onto the job market, and obviously the cardiac capacity and gas exchange in his remaining lung is truly remarkable.
And then, both his son and his daughter in law were killed in an incident in London, leaving  three children, including a six week old baby who Bobby and Mrs Bobby have brought up. He  hints that at times, it was  financially difficult as things ‘were different then’.
Oh and what does he put his incredible fitness down to? He's a member of some secret society who taste whisky from very small distillers. I believe he does a lot of sampling….

caro ramsay 26 10 18

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

The Taj's Triumph

Sujata Massey

On a hot Saturday afternoon in early October, I was in the Mumbai Harbour, taking the slow tourist boat back from the cave temples on Elephanta Island. The water journey had been almost two hours, and I had only a few drops of water left in my bottle. I was overjoyed to spot a tall rounded red tower appear over the waves. I knew that if I could see part of the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel, I wasn't so far away.

The Taj is a city hotel, but it was designed with its turreted front facing the sea, which was very unusual for 1903.  The hotel's sea-facing facade also offered its earliest guests a wonderful view from their bedroom windows. This philosophy of focusing on a guest's views--rather than a hotel's prestigious appearance on a cityscape--was a new way of thinking.

The Into-Saracenic showpiece was conceived of and built at a cost of 500,000 Pounds Sterling. Not by the British, who ruled India at the time; by an Indian.

Jamshedji Tata, a brilliant Parsi entrepreneur, had the idea of building the Taj after a devastating bubonic plague epidemic in the 1890s caused many to lose faith in the city. He also created a nondiscriminatory policy of admission to all races, although some of the city's best hotels and private clubs in the city prohibited Indian entry. He named his hotel after the spectacular historical tomb in Agra, the Taj Mahal, knowing it conjured exquisite beauty in the minds of tourists.

A bust of Jamshedji Tata oversees the hotel's historic staircase

An early Taj menu cooked by French chefs

The rooms, restaurants, halls and Turkish bath were spectacular. The hotel was the first building in Bombay to have electricity in the rooms and electric lifts imported from Germany. The Taj Hotel became the icon of fine hospitality in a country already world-famous for its hospitality. Interestingly, the chefs were French because even though the hotel's owner was Indian, local dishes weren't considered sophisticated enough. He also made sure to hire butlers and desk clerks who were European.

When India became independent in 1947, a Christmas Eve menu cover showed a maharaja atop an elephant, with a groom holding the green, white and saffron flag of the new democracy. It's a strategic image that recognizes the importance of the hotel's past royal customers who had agreed to join with the new nation rather than keep their former princely states separate.

For people who live in Mumbai, the Taj is mainly about meeting for meals, attending weddings, and shopping in the arcades. I've met more than one married couple who got engaged in the hotel's Sea Lounge. My stepfather fondly remembers delicious lunches with friends at the hotel during school holidays. My mother, who's been traveling on vacation Mumbai with him for thirteen years, has a friendship with a charming elderly jeweler in the Taj's shopping's impossible for her to leave the Taj Hotel without something sparking in a small velvet bag.

The Taj's glory was almost its downfall. When ten Lashkar-e-Taiba terrorists from rural Pakistan targeted 12 sites in Mumbai on November 26, 2008, four its young men raided the Taj intent on killing international guests, Indians, and staff. This mass attack also included the Trident-Oberoi Hotel, the Chhatrapati Shivaji train terminus, Cafe Leopard and Chabad House. The terror in Mumbai lasted 68 hours and resulted in 164 civilian and police deaths, with more than 300 people wounded. Nine of the terrorists were killed during the police response, and the one man caught alive was hung a few years ago in an Indian prison.

The siege of The Taj was the longest of all the battles during the 26/11 attacks. Twenty-two staff perished, as well as fourteen guests. Yet more than 300 guests were saved by the Taj staff, who stayed rather than evacuated.

I think there are a number of reasons for this. The motto for the hotel is "Guest is God;" I've heard it when I stayed at another Taj property. Also, the Taj training for staff is reputed to be quite intense, with people taking great pride in their relationship with the hotel, many of them hoping for lifetime employment. And these employees know the huge hotel's layout. It is a a complex labyrinth with many interior elevators and storerooms added over the years. There is even a private club, Chambers, that was not marked on tourist maps. This is where many of the guests led by staff from public spaces waited until police arrived. Other guests who had been relaxing in their rooms hid in place for days until firemen could put ladders to the windows and bring them down. This was a complicated process, because not only does the hotel have a six-story historic mains structure, but there is also a modern high-rise tower.

The Taj was secured by the police on November 29, utterly devastated by gunfire, with many areas burnt from grenade explosions and fires. Yet less than a month after the attack, the hotel re-opened for business.

In January 2009, I was in Mumbai on vacation with some family members. It was six weeks after 26/11. We stayed at our usual home-away-from-home, the Royal Bombay Yacht Club, just around the corner from the Taj. On the last night of this wonderful trip, we had a light dinner at the Taj's Shamiana coffee shop, which sits near the hotel's main entrance. Looking around, we saw the Taj's rebuilding had been swift and was immaculate. A monument with the names of the hotel's martyred employees was already erected in the lobby. We learned that the Tata Company, the original family business that still owns this hotel, pledged to pay college costs for all the slain employees' children and would give their family members who'd lost breadwinner support jobs. The hotel had also paid for damages suffered by many freelance souvenir sellers in the area who lost business for months after the attack.

The goal of Lashkar-e-Taiba might have been to kill the Taj Hotel and other places that invoke the spirit of Mumbai--but that did not happen.

As the ten year anniversary of the Taj's triumph over terror approaches, I've been revisiting the Taj long distance. One way is through a suspenseful true crime book published in 2013, The Siege: 68 Hours Inside the Taj Hotel by Cathy Scott-Clark and Adrian Levy. I'm also delving into the Taj's happier, older history in the form of a 415-page anniversary magazine, The Centenary Taj: 100 Years of Glory. This magazine, published in 2003, is the source of the charming photographs of old advertisements and Taj interiors that I've shared in this blogpost. Look for the whole magazine at antiquarian booksites, if you want a picture of Bombay history, art, food and culture.

My connection to the Taj Mahal Palace continues through my books. In my 1920s Bombay series, protagonist Perveen Mistry is a young woman lawyer whose grandfather was friendswith Jamsetji Mistry when the two old Parsi businessmen were alive. Perveen's family's pre-engagement meeting with a groom's family is at the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel!

I won't tell you how that engagement turned out, but Perveen must return to the Taj again in Book 3, when dangerous riots make travel home impossible. Who knows, maybe I'll sleep over one night, too.

Sujata takes part in a multi-mystery author event at the Miller Branch of the Howard County Public Library in Ellicott City, MD, at 1 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 3. From there she goes to Italy! On December 4-5 she will speak on panels at Noir In Festival in Milano. Ciao!

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

near Jardin du Luxembourg

So walking from 'home', my friend's father's apartment near Montparnasse, to meet Rae - she organized SF Bouchercon - the light fell in such an amazing way.
 A shot through the lion's legs to le Senat
 And this unexpected swoop from a pigeon
 Here's Rae in the 5th where she likes to stay near the Sorbonne
 Walking back past the Pantheon
Stopping at Penelope's bookstore the Red Wheelbarrow which she opened two months ago - it's at 9 rue de Medicis just across from the garden. I've known her for years - since our kids were little - and we had so much fun trying to figure out how to Instagram this photo while greeting customers
 Returning I saw a light in le Senat....someone was working late!
 And a couple walking down the narrow rue where I defenestrated someone in Murder in Saint Germain
Yes, this was F. Scott and Zelda's place for a while in Paris.
Cara - Tuesday