Review: Irish Mysteries

When one thinks of mysteries set in the British Isles,* great detective novelists of the twentieth century come to mind: Agatha Christie, P.D. James, Dorothy Sayers, Ngaio Marsh, Margery Allingham.  You picture little cottages in tidy villages, perhaps on the sea coast, or London flats and townhouses.  Today, in honor of St. Patrick’s Day on Saturday, I propose to examine two authors who write about sleuths in Ireland.    Benjamin Black and Tana French both use Dublin and the surrounding countryside as their scenery, but work their plots in utterly different eras.


Benjamin Black’s (pseudonym of Man Booker-winning author John Banville) protagonist, Quirke, is a pathologist at a Dublin hospital in the 1950’s.  An orphan adopted by a rich man, he has a twisted family life and severe problem with alcoholism.  The novels are bleak and gritty, rather different from what I’ve from him as Banville.  Class divisions, rigid societal hierarchies, prejudice, and the seamy sides of Dublin’s crème de la crème are rife.  I accidentally read a book from the middle of the series first, and it stood alone well. These are fast reads; they take me about a day to finish.


Tana French’s contemporary novels do not have a single, consistent main character or a specific sequence their plots follow. Instead, the protagonists are all drawn from her fictional “Dublin Murder Squad.”  Past occurrences coming back to haunt characters is a recurring theme, whether from childhood, adolescence, or prior undercover assignments.  French is still quite dark, but there are more glimmers of possible brightness in her books, humorous spots, and lighter sides to the characters themselves. Unlike Black, who switches between characters, she keeps to one point of view throughout.  I generally spend 2-4 days on one of these.

I love both of these authors (it seems I rarely write about things I dislike, doesn’t it?) Any of these would be good if you like P.D. James, Wallander, and the like. Reading is not advised for people like my mum, who prefer a tidier end, and well, not “happier” crimes and murders, but certainly less gloom and despair.

Both Benjamin Black and Tana French have new volumes due out this summer!

*I am aware Ireland is not part of Great Britain, but it’s geographically included in the phrase, if not politically.


Review: Blue Nights

image by http-mart

Didion, Joan. Blue Nights. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2011.

I had several reasons to seek out this book, both to read and review. (I read much more than I can write about; I don’t feel that I am qualified enough to do very much critiquing, that I have anything particularly original to say about things I read, or that people wish to hear about a lot of it.) About a year ago, I read The Year of Magical Thinking.  I was coming out of a rather rough patch, and I had seen it recommended somewhere (The Happiness Project, perhaps?)  I found it poignant and thought-provoking and I enjoyed Didion’s writing style.

When I heard that another book was forthcoming, this time dealing with the loss of the author’s daughter shortly after her husband, I wrote it down on my to-read list, but didn’t actively seek it out.  Then, a few weeks ago I was at a dinner that included somebody quite dear to me who lost her daughter to a lengthy battle with Multiple Sclerosis a little over a year ago and was having a rough time.  I mentioned The Year of Magical Thinking, which she had read, and Blue Nights, which she hadn’t heard of yet.  I decided that investigating the book on her behalf was just the impetus I needed to read it for myself.

In Blue Nights, Joan Didion explores what it was like to lose her daughter, Quintana Roo, but also her journey as a parent, adoption, and her own aging process.  In a way, I would say she writes about struggling with identity, and the changes that take place in it: within the space of a few years she stopped being a wife, then a mother, and started to keenly feel her own age and infirmity, something that she had at some level acknowledged would occur, but mostly perceived as something that happened to other people.

Didion’s recollections of Quintana are interspersed throughout the book: receiving her from the hospital, the adoption process, her adolescence, a recurring revisitation of her wedding day, and the torturous period of her hospitalization and decline.  Her love and grief come through beautifully.

Personally, despite my youth, I found the passages about infirmity and ill health really spoke to my personal experiences and fears.  Overall, this book is moving, and has good prose and imagery, including the titular “blue nights” surrounding the summer solstice, when the evening is a lengthy, deep blue.  I would most decidedly recommend it to anyone.

Bad Business Bodice-rippers

It all started with the comment “‘Let me distract you with my PowerPoint’ is the first sentence of a very disturbing romance novel.”

Four of my friends and I were having a Skype date from our various homes across the country and, as we are wont to do, we got carried away.  A. continued with a blurb for this hypothetical book’s cover: “In a world where business contacts are all that matters … Two people attempt a more personal connection. Synergize will take on a whole new meaning in … TEAM BUILDING EXERCISES.”

From there, it got progressively sillier and dirtier, but in the end these are the business romance novel titles we came up with (some are perhaps better suited for adult films.)

  •   Sequel to Team Building Exercises : Trust Building Exercises  
  • Can’t Tax Love
  • An Audit of the Heart
  • Personal Allowances
  • Her Employee’s Not Withholding
  • The Bedd-er Business Bureau
  • Bedchambers of Commerce
  • Naughty Networking
  • Stocks and Bondage
  • Sex Sigma Blackbelts
  • Seduction at Schwab
  • Normal Deviation
  • Working Lunch
  • Off the Clock
  • Under the Table Practices
  • On the Clock
  • Back-room Negotiations
  • Informal Negotiations
  • Confessions of a Coffee Girl
  • The Cocky Consultant
  • She Drives a Hard Bargain
  • A Stalemate in Negotiations
  • After Hours
  • Dildos and Dividends
  • Multiple Offers
  • Return on “Investments”
  • She Wore A Scarlet Powersuit

Sadly, nobody was inclined to attempt to write any of these. Sigh.

Much thanks to J., P., A., and K. for the hilarious collaboration!


I’ve been a bit neglectful the past two weeks; I am in the process of applying to graduate school, and I had two programs come due on Wednesday.  Being a bit of a procrastinator on occasion and horribly embarrassed by the idea of requesting recommendations, I had a lot to accomplish in a short time on top of being a bit under the weather and having some chronic health issues re-emerge. Alas.

But anyway, here are some interesting words to chew on this weekend:

  • dysthymia: noun: persistent mild depression.
  • eschatology: noun: the part of theology concerned with death, judgement, and the final destiny of the soul and of humankind.
  • janissary: noun: a member of the Turkish infantry forming the Sultan’s guard between the 14th and 19th centuries
  • sophistry: noun: 1. the use of clever but false arguments, especially with the intention of deceiving; 2. a fallacious argument.
  • anchorite: noun: a religious recluse.

all definitions taken from the Oxford Dictionaries Online


Stockpile: this week’s links

Where's the signal

Happy International Fetish Day! Go get your freak on in any way you find enjoyable! From my cozy cabin on the frigid plains, here are some interesting and entertaining things I have run across in my internet ramblings:

One of (in my opinion) the most handsome, charming men around for 1883 Magazine:

1883MAGAZINE – HIM Promo (with Tom Hiddleston) from YEAST London on Vimeo.

No explanation needed, except for “E.B. White” and “rapping”:

The Elements of Style from Jake Heller on Vimeo.

Henceforth, I establish a feature here on The Dedicated Dilettante called “Words of the Week,” which is precisely what it sounds like.  Since I was small, I’ve had a love affair with words, the more unusual, the better.  When I was three years old, I came home from my grandparents and told my mom, “Grammy says I have something called a vocabulary.”

  So, I’m sharing my fondness for unusual bits of language with all of you, on a regular basis! Suggestions are always welcome, of course.

Shall we begin? Jolly good.


  • meretricious: adj: 1. apparently attractive but having no real value; 2. archaic relating to or characteristic of a prostitute.
  • aphasia: noun: inability (or impaired ability) to understand or produce speech, as a result of brain damage.
  • folderol: noun: 1. trivial or nonsensical fuss; 2. dated a showy but useless item.
  • liminal: adj: 1. relating to a transitional or initial stage of a process; 2. occupying a position at, or on both sides of, a boundary or threshold.
  • bivouac: noun: a temporary camp without tents or cover, used especially by soldiers or mountaineers; verb: to stay in a bivouac


I must admit, I’ve never seen that second use of meretricious before.

all definitions taken from the Oxford Dictionaries Online

image from the author's website

Ackerman, Diane. One Hundred Names for Love: A Stroke, a Marriage, and the Language of Healing. New York: W. W. Norton &, 2011. Print.

This weekend, I finished One Hundred Names for Love, author Diane Ackerman’s account of the struggle she and her husband endured after he suffered a debilitating stroke.  I am definitely one to appreciate life’s cruel ironies, such as the fact that Ackerman had recently written The Alchemy of the Brain, and possessed a fresh knowledge of what had physically happened to Paul, and how strongly the odds were against them.

Prior to his stroke, Paul West was a master wordsmith, playing with language like a child with a toy. Tragically, the stroke damaged the Broca’s and Wernicke’s areas of his brain, leading to a loss of language.

It was interesting and simultaneously very moving to read how Ackerman and West learned to work around his diminished capabilities, and the unique and creative ways they used to communicate and rehabilitate.  To someone with no such experience, the way both spouses are forced to deal with fundamental changes in their lives and personalities is touching and heartbreaking; how does one move forward knowing what is lost, mourning for someone, a relationship, that is still there?

Ackerman touches upon these questions, as well as the trials that caretakers undergo when a loved one is incapacitated.  She also skillfully interweaves scientific explanations for conditions her husband experiences, though those of a less scientific bent may find them distracting from the overall narrative.

I would recommend this book, particularly to fans of Ackerman’s prior work, and to people who may have enjoyed Joan Didion’s memoir, The Year of Magical Thinking.

This unconventional love story is perfect for a cozy weekend inside, or perhaps a sick day.

And the one hundred names? Those are endearments by which West calls Ackerman, post-stroke, a list of which is included in the back of the book.


Not as in-depth as the last one, I’m afraid. I’m off to return this to the library and get some more goodies, before it snows tonight.  Someday I’ll get the hang of this whole “blogging” thing.