Before there was virtual reality, there was historical fiction. As lovers of this genre know, its best representatives offer an experience akin to time travel, making the cultural ambiance and physical details of another era almost magically vivid and immersive. One certainly feels this with the work of Michael Downs. He is a native of Hartford, Connecticut, born in 1964, but in each of his works set in that city, he leaves the convincing impression that he might have lived there in other periods, other lives.
I’m a terrible sleuth. I was once pranked by someone hiding all of my belongings in a different dorm room and it took me 10 years to figure out that the person who told me about it was the culprit. This is why I read mystery novels. I need to have faith that someone out there can solve these brain teasers, be it Hercule Poirot, Sam Spade or the protagonist in Sujata Massey’s latest novel, The Widows of Malabar Hill, Perveen Mistry. They and the writers behind them affirm that we’re not all clueless.
Long-time Baltimore resident and Johns Hopkins Writing Seminars graduate Massey sets her lush new mystery in Bombay in the 1920s. It follows Mistry as she moves from the office of her father, a Parsi lawyer, to her adventures. Following an inspection of a client’s will, she discovers irregularities with how the client’s three widows—all of whom live in purdah, or seclusion—have signed away their respective inheritances to charity.
“In June of 1992, I left Boston for France with everything in front of me.” So begins the first story in The Balcony, debut fiction from Jane Delury, a professor in the MFA program at the University of Baltimore.
In Baltimore, Tim Kreider is known primarily for two things: his comic strip in the City Paper, The Pain: When Will It End?, which ran for fifteen years, and an essay called “My Own Private Baltimore” that he published in The New York Times. For the former, he is beloved. For the latter, the reaction was more complicated. (Sample sentence: “Ernest Hemingway famously described Paris as a moveable feast; Baltimore is more like a permanent hangover. Once you have lived there, you will never be entirely sober again.”)
Laura Lippman wanders downy shore.
If you love Laura Lippman, as so many Baltimore readers do, she’s kept you busy in the seventeen years since she left her job as a reporter at “the Sunpaper” and devoted herself full-time to fiction. Her series featuring detective Tess Monaghan debuted in 1997 with “Baltimore Blues.” “Hush, Hush,” the twelfth in the series, came out in 2015. Her latest book, “Sunburn,” is the tenth of her off-series novels; many of these have hit the New York Times bestseller list in a big way. Just released this week, “Sunburn” may be heading there to join them; starred pre-pub reviews are now joined by raves all in the daily papers and on websites.
Kill Me Now, by local author Timmy Reed, is the journal of a skateboarder named Miles Lover kept over the summer between 8th grade and high school. Miles has divorced parents who live on opposite ends of Roland Park, younger twin sisters, and no friends — though he does see a fair bit of his pot dealer, whom he calls the Beaster Bunny. Midway through the summer, he develops a relationship with an old guy from the neighborhood named Mister Reese, along with his health aide, Diamontay, and their giant boa constrictor, Tickles.
A couple of years ago, my colleagues and I at the University of Baltimore Creative Writing MFA program watched with pride as D Watkins published The Cook Up and The Beast Side, a memoir and a collection of essays from two major publishing houses, and quickly became recognized as a major voice of his generation of African-American writers. D had just graduated from our relatively young program, and his level of success was a first for us.
Here’s a preview … don’t miss the launch on June 22, 7 pm, at Bird in Hand.
According to the bio on the back of his fifth book, Lonesome Lies Before Us, Don Lee “splits his time between Philadelphia and Baltimore.” I laughed when I read this. Don’t most two-city authors split their time between San Francisco and Paris? Or New York and Rome?
I’m sitting here trying to recover from reading Madison Smartt Bell’s new novel, which is quite unlike most anything else (except previous books by MSB – I’d recognize the ferocity of the prose style anywhere). I’m a little shaken, I’m spent, and I truly feel like I have been Somewhere Else.
Baltimore Writers’ Club is an occasional series introducing new books from Baltimoreans.
Jessica Anya Blau fans — a significant voting bloc in Baltimore —will be found on their pool lounges this summer with another of her high-spirited, racy novels in hand. As usual, it’s a triple fudge sundae with sex, drugs, and money on top. This time, we’re at a fictional East Coast private school called Ruxton Academy, where guidance counselor Lexie James, 33, has gotten herself in a heap o’ trouble.