Olsson's Book Bits

by Greta Olsson

Six Novels by Alexander McCall Smith
The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency
Tears of the Giraffe
Morality for Beautiful Girls
The Kalahari Typing School for Men
The Full Cupboard of Life
In the Company of Cheerful Ladies.

Copyright 20O2 First Anchor Books Edition

My recommendation is to read the books in order. There is a main story line running through all of them.

McCall Smith was born in Zimbabwe but has spent most of his life in Scotland, where he lives now. "He worked for a time as a law professor at the University of Botswana and still returns to that country regularly."

Glenys Ingram, a math major at Bedford College in the 195O's, phoned me recently from England. She answered my question as to whether she liked mysteries by putting me onto Alexander McCall Smith's series about the Ladies No. 1 Detective Agency. "I'm reading them all," she said. "Start with No.2: Tears of the Giraffe."

Our small library in Port Townsend did indeed have a copy of her favorite, but the Ass. Librarian told me they also had No 1, and since it was so good, I must start The No.1 Ladies Detective Agency. I'm so glad that she came on so strong. I preferred the first in the series because it describes life in Botswana (a fictional account). Precious Ramotswe is sensible and cunning. Her case that stuck with me involved a girl whose father did not want her to date. He found a note which she had addressed to Jack, proving that she was too interested in boys. Ramotswe discovers that the girl made up her romantic adventure and convinced the father to give the girl a bit more freedom. The end of the story is amazing. One character says only one word and that one word reveals volumes. I was so impressed that the final word took my breathe away.

I'm now in the middle of my third volume, and like Glenys, will read the entire series. It is such a pleasure to read something that is very clever and not all blood and gore. I can certainly recommend the start of the series.

Lelanhi is an organic deli and coffee shop with a few tables on the sidewalk. I was reading one of my three ladies detective books when two pleasant, well dressed women walked by. I smiled at them, and recognizing my book, one beamed at me, "Isn't it marvelous? I'm going to read the entire series."

On another day one lady glanced at The Tears of the Giraffe and exclaimed that she had heard of it; did I like it? "Marvelous, I answered. I do recommend it." Why did it take a friend from England to clue me into McCall Smith when evidently several women from Port Townsend know about his delightful writing? Thank heavens for Glenys.!

The Actress
by Elizabeth Sims
St. Martin's Press
Copyright 20O8
Hardback, 39O pages
ISBN-13: 978-0312-37727-4

While having my usual cup of organic coffee in front of Lehani's sidewalk cafe, a very pleasant lady noted my book, a powerful true crime one. She asked me whether I'd ever read Elizabeth Sims, especial1y her most recent work: The Actress. Although fiction, the book's plot is intriguing. I got a copy and read it immediately.

An out of work actress, who is almost running out of money, meets a lawyer who hears her tell a story at a local library. He is impressed with her warmth and her ability to arouse sympathy for her characters. He is at that moment handling a big case in which his client, a defendant, is far too cold to be likab1e. He wants to hire the actress to teach the young mother, who is accused of murdering her baby, to come across in a less stilted way.

"He needs the jury to believe not only her words but also the subtle cues of body language, facial expressions, even vocal style." Rita, the actress, knows that she can train the accused and therefore makes this attempt. The story delivers "a fresh behinds the scenes look at Hollywood's high society at its lowest."

The actress agrees, but being a young mother herself, begins to wonder what really happened to the child. She turns into an investigator.

The Actress does have some very sweet notes. The small town doesn't wish to offend God by picking too ostentatious a name for their town. They feel he would approve "Durability" as being both modest and proper. Another age, I believe, another age!

Although the heiress is an ice woman, don't read her tale immediately after The Ice Man. It can't compete. I found Sims' book very mild in comparison. However, many people who would never read such a factual account as Philip Carlo's description of murder might thoroughly enjoy Sims' work.

The Ice Man: Confessions of a Mafia Contract Killer
by Philip Carlo
Paperback, 4O4 pages
St. Martin's Press
ISBM-13: 978-O-312-37465-5

Richard Kuklinski, who worked on the team who killed Paul Castellano, was the coldest and most prolific serial killer of all time: probably doing away with 200 people or more, a contract killer for the Mafia, able to work for various families (there are five infamous surnames: Lucchese, Columbo, Genovese, Bonanno - and the best known - Gambino, of who Castellano was the head until John Gotti had him killed and then Gotti took over as head of this family. Kuklinski, of Polish descent, not Italian, and thus unable to be "made", could take contracts from the various Mafia families.

I believe that this volume is the best true crime story that I have ever read. I believe that Richard Kuklinski had not only an Intertel I.Q. but could have joined the various groups above this one. Until the end of his 3O year career as a contract killer, he was flawless in his work and constantly looked for unusual ways both to kill and then get rid of the bodies of his victims.

Richard must have been bipolar, a fact that the author touches upon lightly toward the end of his book. Richard combined a coldness that puzzled Richard himself with normal behavior. He could not understand why he could not feel the revulsion that other men did. This fact is combined with his seeming warmth and charm as a most devoted family man, and very popular neighbor, generous to fault. He was a great father to his daughter who was ill, and to whom he brought many gifts - not only to her but to the children in her section of the hospital where she had to stay many times. This daughter loved him best and always forgave him for whatever he did. She was his favorite.

Why did people like Richard so much. He received a lot of pub1icity through HBO. "People demanded to know why HBO was 'lionizing a cold-blooded killer.'" Gaby Monet's answer was that Richard Kulinski was "so unique, spoke about violence and murder with such candid sincerity and authority, that it would be, in a sense, a public disservice not to let the world get a glimpse into his life..." Also Richard felt nothing negative about what he did.

"Geraldo Rivera went to the prison to interview Richard. Richard refused to see him. Oprah Winfrey tried to get him to appear on her show; Richard refused." When women sent him letters and even nude photos of themselves, he got quite turned off. He was a sexual prude, really loved his wife, and was totally faithful to her. He wanted no one else. Cheap women really disgusted him. He never bragged or boasted about his accomplishments.

It's true that Richard had a horrible childhood with a father whom he learned to hate with a passion. His one regret in life was that he did not kill him when he had a chance. Was Richard's "ice" something that he was born with, or did his father make him that way? He felt nothing negative at viewing scenes that would make the rest of us feel sick or vomit. He was never repulsed, never thought about what he did. It was this nothingness that Richard himself did not understand. But let a driver cut him off in traffic, or a man rape a woman or hurt a child, and Richard experienced enormous anger and would kill that person without mercy. If anything Richard felt good, felt greatly relaxed after some murders.

For him, murder was like a good drink. He enjoyed his work, and he did it carefully and slowly and very well. He was always relaxed afterwards. He did what so many of us would like to do, even might fantasize doing. Maybe that's why he comes across as attractive: always a gentleman, always polite in public. He did what none of us would dare to do, and he got away with 200 plus murders in 30 years. It was his solution to any problems. He always slept well afterwards.

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