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Page 32: Short Takes on Vermont Books

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Seven Days writers can't possibly read, much less review, all the books that arrive in a steady stream by post, email and, in one memorable case, a scurry of squirrels. So this monthly feature is our way of introducing you to five books by Vermont authors. To do that, we contextualize each book just a little and quote a single representative sentence from, yes, page 32.

Inclusion here implies neither approval nor derision on our part, but simply: Here are a bunch of books, arranged alphabetically by authors' names, that Seven Days readers might like to know about.

Roxie & Fred

Richard Alther, Regent Press, 318 pages. $19.95 paperback, $7.19 ebook.

The girls at fifteen were well along in social studies, world geography and history, but Roxie was riveted by the newspaper pictures of war-ravaged families, the wailing, lost children especially.

Roxie is 88, slowing down and enjoying her solitude after a tumultuous life that has taken her around the globe. Fred is 48, a successful painter who leaves his stable married life in the hopes of developing a bold new artistic practice. When they meet in an art class, a third of the way into the book, Roxie impresses Fred with her "unforced vigor" and her unabashed sketch of the male model's impressive equipment. He's intrigued by her frankness, and the pair forges a relationship that encompasses art, philosophy, friendship, sex and much more. Author Richard Alther (The Scar Letters) focuses on interiority, his stylized, alliterative third-person narration often slipping toward internal monologue just as the story slips among different eras in the characters' lives. In this ruminative twist on the film Harold and Maude, age is only a footnote to a meeting of the minds.

— M.H.

Bathory

Robert Buckeye, Amandla Publishing, 53 pages. $15.

On these All Soul's Days families go not only to the cemeteries where their loved ones lie but also where — wherever they might be — their daughters who have disappeared might be...

Robert Buckeye's latest publication, about the infamous 17th-century murderer Elizabeth Báthory, opens with a quote from surrealist scribe Georges Bataille. "Beyond a doubt, mankind as a whole must forever remain in hiding, but human consciousness — in pride and humility, with passion and in trembling — must forever be open to the zenith of horror." The book plainly takes cues from Bataille, rendering a surreal, fragmented and erotic portrait of Báthory's mind during her last years as she lies — and paces and rages and reflects — imprisoned in her castle. Everyone is complicit in her murders and torture, some of which are evocatively described in what can only be called loving terms. And, while that quote certainly leads the reader toward relevant motifs of the work — hidden desires, madness and stream of consciousness — perhaps equally appropriate would be Bataille's famously morbid words: "A kiss is the beginning of cannibalism." That statement, which makes intellectual and sexual intercourse into acts of bloody devouring, evokes the attitude of Bathory in all its intimate and sanguine poetry.

— S.W.

Never Too Late to Die

James M. DiClerico, AuthorHouse, 316 pages. $20.99 paperback, $3.99 ebook.

Stunned by Anne McCracken's revelations, I asked, "What is it you want of me?"

A widow arrives in the office of a Stowe private investigator with a story both chilling and intriguing. She believes her engineer husband, killed by a collision with a boulder as he crossed Smugglers' Notch, was actually murdered. An unexplained cash stash could be the key to the motive. Stowe author James M. DiClerico is a former PR flak just like his fictional P.I., Harley Napoleon, about whom this is his second novel. More thriller than mystery, Never Too Late to Die switches rapidly from first to omniscient third person, taking readers all the way back to the Vietnam War to lay its plot groundwork. Napoleon finds himself embroiled in a conspiracy that spans decades, involving a mobster, a general, a congressman and a CIA agent with a very big grudge. Can he get justice for his client as those dangerous players converge on his idyllic ski town?

— M.H.

Always Darkest

Jess and Keith Flaherty, Crimson Cloak Publishing, 282 pages. $13.99 paperback, $3.99 ebook.

The Holy Father released the young man and said, "It is my pleasure to help you, my son. We'll have your papers for you presently."

The cast of this novel from a Rutland County couple includes numerous angels and demons, Lucifer, an immortal Roman soldier who witnessed Christ's death, a descendant of Mary Magdalene and, yes, the pope himself. But don't expect inspirational fiction, at least not in the usual sense. This is the first installment in a pop-culture-savvy, humor-tinged urban fantasy series reminiscent of the eternally running CW show "Supernatural." Cheeky demon protagonist Ben masquerades as a Burlington student to get close to a half-angel girl who's the subject of an apocalyptic prophecy. Soon he finds himself falling for her — as well as her home. "Vermont ... was full of good food, good booze, well-educated people, and was easy for him to love," the authors write. Seems even hell-spawn appreciate our beer scene.

— M.H.

Trace

Archer Mayor, Minotaur Books, 336 pages. $25.99

Not every case begins with a knife dripping blood.

An uptick in crime is not something Vermonters want to read about in their local newspapers. But fans of Newfane-based author Archer Mayor eagerly await the annual novel that desecrates the state's bucolic, wholesome image. With Trace, the 28th book in his Joe Gunther series, Mayor delivers the deliciously villainous goods. But, as always, the de rigueur elements of detective fiction — a clever plot, the frisson of suspense, a gripping build to climax — are only part of the appeal. What makes his books eminently readable is Mayor's deep dive into the minds of his complex characters, the quartet of seasoned detectives who make up the Vermont Bureau of Investigation. While solving wrongful deaths and other misdeeds, each also works through the puzzles of his or her life.

In Trace, Mayor sends Gunther out of state to care for his ailing mother, temporarily putting loyal sidekick Samantha Martens in charge. Meantime, the misanthropic Willy Kunkle follows an unlikely lead to a military saboteur. And Lester Spinney's discovery of planted evidence upends a long-closed double-homicide case. Mayor deftly layers this trio of plots toward conclusions that come all too soon.

— P.P.


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