THE NINE TAILORS (1934)

The moment I realized Dorothy L. Sayers’ THE NINE TAILORS was a special sort of murder mystery novel was when I encountered one passage and thought: “Wow, she’s really leaning hard on the details of this old church’s bells.” Ten pages later: “Cripes, I never knew that I wanted to know this much about bell-ringing!”

Sayers is best-known for her murder mysteries, specifically her Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries, featuring a rich, compassionate, gregarious but astute man who often finds himself surrounded by death. GAUDY NIGHT (the tenth Wimsey story, published in 1935, one a year after THE NINE TAILORS) is perhaps her best-known, but sadly, nowadays unless you’re attending an Edgar Awards afterparty, you’re probably unlikely to hear her name or accidentally stumble over a visual adaptation of any of her novels.

This is a shame — and something The Dorothy L. Sayers Society is trying to rectify — because, as THE NINE TAILORS exemplifies, she’s exceptional at weaving a engaging world, one dense with intriguing and idiosyncratic individuals, where actions are richly detailed, and each work is ornately penned to soothe even the most high-minded snob. In her hands, the murder contained in THE NINE TAILORS almost fades away as we’re drawn into this small town and its denizens.

In other words: THE NINE TAILORS is the complete package. It’s thrilling, it has depth, it goes unfathomably deep into the world of bell-ringing in ways that manage to be highly entertaining, and it sticks the landing in an amazingly satisfying way. It’s an absolute classic, one that should certainly not be overlooked by any mystery fan.

Read here: https://archive.org/details/in.ernet.dli.2015.512291

THE NIGHT WATCH (2006)

Sarah Waters often traffics in thrilling historical lesbian romances, which is obvious by the names of her earlier novels, such as TIPPING THE VELVET (1998) and FINGERSMITH (2002).

THE NIGHT WATCH (2006) is a bit of a detour, as it’s far more Dickensian — in spirit, not time as it takes place in various times before, during, and after World War Two in London — and far more of an ensemble, which features not only a lesbian couple, but also a straight couple, and one jailed man whose sexuality is slightly more complex. (There are additional supporting characters, but those are the major players.)

If that description sounds maddeningly vague, it’s by intent. THE NIGHT WATCH is incredibly restrained with doling out character particulars, and jumps around in years to intentionally provoke intrigue and drama, but also serves to contrast how these characters have coped with wartime and recovery.

In that sense, it feels remarkably relevant in this age of COVID-19, as you read how the characters shelter-in-place, experience how they put themselves at risk by venturing out into the world, tales of first responders, and the like. More than anything, it’s about living with an invisible threat while also living a hidden life, and yes, it’s just as loaded as it sounds.

While all of the characters are richly drawn, I can’t help but wish that Waters had dialed back the scope a bit, as I found myself drawn to the queer relationships lived by Helen, Kay, and Julia, as opposed to the straight and male romances lived through Viv, Reggie, and Duncan, all of which felt like their relationships were hitting the same notes, but with less-satisfying results.

Regardless, Waters is an expert at balancing literary storytelling while also penning extraordinary steamy content, and it’s worth reading THE NIGHT WATCH solely for the more tantalizing passages and the relationship dynamics that she details.

Favorites of 2021: Books

I straddle a number of release years while reading so I rarely read as many contemporary texts as I’d like, but here are my favorite 2021 works:

DREAM GIRL – Laura Lippmann

“[DREAM GIRL] is peppered with all sorts of references to old-school noirs and detective fiction, novels like THE DAUGHTER OF TIME, references to her friend and author Megan Abbott, […] so many riffs on classic Hollywood and horror films, and even a quick moment with Tess Monaghan herself. In other words, it was tailor-made for me, but there’s also a lot to appreciate about the novel from a structural standpoint. [Laura Lippman is] exceptional at setting everything up so that, right before the reveals come, the curtains fall from your eyes, and you can’t help but appreciate the breadcrumbs she’s strewn through the prior pages.”

THE FINAL GIRL SUPPORT GROUP – Grady Hendrix

“THE FINAL GIRL SUPPORT GROUP goes above and beyond [horror tropes], and is a surprisingly brilliant example of what the genre is capable of.”

GIRL ONE – Sara Flannery Murphy

“[A] very inventive and engrossing take on, not only, the Frankenstein tale, but also witch folklore.”

GLAMOUR GHOUL – THE PASSIONS AND PAIN OF THE REAL VAMPIRA, MAILA NURMI – Sandra Niemi

“[A] classic Hollywood tale, but not the classic Hollywood tale most want to hear.”

IT NEVER ENDS – Tom Scharpling

“[As] amusing [of a memoir] as you’d expect from Scharpling, [and] far more interesting and deeper than you’d suspect.”

NIGHTBITCH – Rachel Yoder

“Nightbitch goes through one hell of a journey and, while it’s not nearly the horrific transformation tale I expected to read, it is a very satisfying one.”

NO ONE IS TALKING ABOUT THIS – Patricia Lockwood

“Patricia Lockwood’s novel — which is primarily concerned with self-reflecting on being extremely online, until it isn’t — may come across as utterly obnoxious to anyone who isn’t familiar with the litany of terms, memes, and bluntness that being ‘extremely online’ entails, but I’d like to think that her artful prose and peculiar framing supersedes the need for that sort of knowledge.”

THE SECRET TO SUPERHUMAN STRENGTH – Alison Bechdel

“[A] tremendous accomplishment, one that I look forward to revisiting.”


2021 pieces waiting for my attention:

GIRLY DRINKS – Mallory O’Meara


DEATH AT GREENWAY – Lori Rader-Day

NIGHTBITCH (2021)

I blindly bought NIGHTBITCH, Rachel Yoder’s debut novel, knowing only that it sounded like a maternal, early-middle-aged version of the teen girl werewolf-as-puberty film GINGER SNAPS: the struggles of a woman trying to reconcile her life as a stay-at-home mom tending to her toddler son, having abandoned her artist life and career, her loving-but-simple engineer husband bringing home the bread, while also thinking she is turning into a werewolf.

While GINGER SNAPS leans on filmic horror conventions and tropes, NIGHTBITCH relies more on dark literary fairytales and lore and mystery, but they both get to the same place: underscoring and subverting what is perceived to be a woman’s place in society, of suburban ennui, of letting loose a howl, of diving into the dirt and grime, to take yourself off of this cultural leash and not give a shit about the repercussions.

NIGHTBITCH is singularly focused on interiority. The mother, the son, and the father are never explicitly named (although the mother does eventually refer to herself in her head as Nightbitch), and dialogue blurs into internal thoughts. The bulk of the novel is the mother examining and evaluating her life in the here-and-now and is thrilling and leaves you wondering what this is leading up to, which utterly flummoxed me while I was reading it, but I was delighted as to where it ended up. Nightbitch goes through one hell of a journey and, while it’s not nearly the horrific transformation tale I expected to read, it is a very satisfying one.

https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/665285/nightbitch-by-rachel-yoder/