The First 39, Interviews and chickens coming home to roost

As the Baltimore Examiner's crime fiction columnist I've started a new series of reviews called The First 39. I review the first 39 pages of a book and determine whether or not the writer has done their job by successfully hooking the reader. If you follow the link, you'll see the first one went up last week, followed by a two-part interview with Robert Gregory Browne.

I decided to do this series because it seemed like the best way to work through the growing piles of review copies we have to wade through. Thirty-nine pages is also about 10% of the average book crossing my desk these days. Readers all have arbitrary lines, a point they'll give up by, and this review series was inspired in part by Maddy's Detesto Tests on 4MA.

In short, I needed a way to work through the books and try to find the gems. I'm tired of reviewers who let the push from publicists alone dictate what they give coverage, and I don't want to just add to the mounting piles of reviews for books that are being reviewed everywhere unless I'm genuinely enthusiastic about the product. I want to give coverage to as many books as possible, and this is a way to do it.

In some cases, I'll read to the end and do a full review on BSC Review or for Spinetingler. Those reviews may be a few months after I review the first thirty-nine pages, but they'll come eventually, so books that win me over will get more coverage.

I will say that so far, I've made the review for KILL HER AGAIN available, am working on one for WHERE THE DEAD LAY, and have done the rough for WAIT UNTIL TWILIGHT, a book that will be coming out in August. I'll try to time the reviews to coincide with their release dates when possible, but will also work through a pile of May and June books that had to wait because of our recent move.

And by the way, if you follow me on The Examiner you'll always know when I've posted something new there, and I get paid per visit...

And on a more personal note...

I don't want to rehash all the personal details of our lives on the blog, so I'm going to try to give just enough for this to make sense. I'm anal about safety with children. That comes with the territory when you work in education or as a child care professional - and I've done both.

The kids have been living with us full-time for several months now, but for a while last year we had joint custody. We were aware that their mother's boyfriend was driving with them in the front seat from when they were five and six years old, and without car seats. You can throw in my loathing of smoking in cars with kids, who are innocent victims subjected to toxins in close quarters. You can toss in the fact that I'm not a speed demon on the road. I'm not saying I haven't sped. I'm just not an aggressive driver. And don't even get me started on people who drink and drive.

So, about a year ago I was fuming (privately to Brian) over the total lack of regard some people seemed to have for our kids' lives, and I recall saying something to the effect that if certain assholes wanted to drink, drive, speed and not wear their seat belt, that was their funeral.

This week, it will be. The ex-boyfriend of the kids' biomom died yesterday after he lost control of the vehicle he was driving. Police have confirmed he was speeding and not wearing a seat belt.

Death has a way of covering a multitude of sins for the living. CS Lewis described it well when he said that you eventually mourn someone who never existed, because you forget all their flaws and shortcomings and you embellish all their wonderful qualities in your memories.

Eight days ago, after a weekend visit with their mom, the kids both expressed anger at the ex-boyfriend, because he'd apparently promised to come to celebrate one of their birthday's, and didn't show up. That's their last living memory of him - being angry because he'd let them down, again. Now, I find I'm in a weird place, because while I'm not happy that he died, I am relieved that this didn't happen when the kids were driving with him. I'm relieved I never have to worry about them ever being in a car with him again. And I'm relieved that after about four years of the on-again, off-again, on-again, off-again, on-aga-oops, no off-again status that the kids don't have to deal with the revolving door relationship anymore and all the disappointment that went with it. Hell, I'm glad we don't have to deal with the relationship anymore, because the kids have always told us how they felt about stuff and it's frustrating to know something's hurting them, but there's nothing we can do to help them in the situation.

Last year, I posted on my blog about how frustrated I'd been, worrying about the kids whenever they weren't with us because of safety concerns, and I vented my anger in private conversations with Brian. Yesterday, we had to sit down with the kids and tell them that their mother's ex-boyfriend - someone they spent a fair bit of time with last year - was dead, and that rant I'd had last year was running through my mind.

I'm not happy he's dead, but I'm not upset about it either. I'm calling it pragmatism, being able to emotionally separate yourself from the natural consequences of bad choices that someone made, but I can't deny it seems wrong to admit the truth about how I feel. Or, perhaps in this case I should say how I don't feel.

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