January 15, 2008

Booksmart - Book Reports

“T” is for TrespassBy Sue Grafton. G.P. Putnam’s Sons; 387 pgs., $26.95.    “‘T’ is for Trespass” is the 20th installment in Sue Grafton’s “Alphabet Series” of mystery novels, which follows the professional and personal life of female private investigator Kinsey Millhone. The story is set in December 1987/January 1988 in the fictional town of Santa Teresa, a representation of one of Grafton’s residences — Santa Barbara, Calif. Her other residence is in Louisville, where she was born and raised; she has a degree from the University of Louisville.    She tries a different approach with this novel, with the perspective transitioning between the first-person narration of protagonist Millhone into third-person omniscient following the actions and thoughts of Solana Rojas, a sociopath whose name comes from one of many stolen identities. Rojas becomes a live-in nurse for Millhone’s 89-year-old neighbor, Gus Vronsky. Rojas systematically isolates Vronsky to take full advantage of his vulnerability and assets. Meanwhile, Millhone and her landlord begin to suspect Rojas of abuse.    The mystery is obviously not “whodunnit,” but rather whether Rojas will outwit Millhone, or vice versa. You don’t need to have followed the “Alphabet Series” to grasp the storyline or have a feel for the characterization of Millhone — Grafton makes a natural CliffsNotes version of Millhone’s life that doesn’t come off as exposition. The plot keeps it interesting and doesn’t merely focus on the Rojas-Vronsky situation, examining Millhone’s other cases around Santa Teresa — from bad tenants to a hard-to-track witness in an automobile accident. —Claudia OleaCountry Music OriginalsBy Tony Russell. Oxford University Press; 258 pgs., $29.95.    It need not be said that stardom in entertainment comes at the end of a road littered with corpses. Every Garth Brooks and Faith Hill has had to step over the bodies of colleagues too weak or unconnected to prevail. Tony Russell celebrates these unheralded artisans. Russell, a veteran country music journalist, remembers the stars right alongside the has-beens and never-weres.    And so in these pages we learn about Roy Acuff and Gene Autry in the same context as antique, mid-level legends like Uncle Dave Macon and Riley Puckett. The real meat of the book, though, is its loving and painstakingly sincere treatment of country music’s true outsiders, the old-timers with whom not even rabid fans are familiar. In most cases, these are men and women who recorded a handful of songs (or less) and whose work survives mainly on rare foreign compilations (or not at all). In this category, we find hidden treasure on every front porch and behind every outhouse.    Here we have Buell Kazee (the subject of a recent LEO cover story) as “the Yodeling Barber.” Then there are the Callahan Brothers, Mac and Bob, Patsy Montana and Blind Alfred Reed, the author of “How Can a Poor Man Stand Such Times and Live?” (recently covered by Bruce Springsteen, among others). There are more artists sketched in these pages than can be listed. Reading this book is an almost instant education in pre-war hillbilly music. Russell helpfully includes info on how to locate nearly all the hard-to-find recordings he references. —Paul Kopasz