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Wednesday, June 15, 2022

Just Finished Reading… A-List For Death by Pamela Hart. Sydney: HarperCollins, 2022.


If you haven’t read the first book in this series, Digging Up Dirt, reviewed here, it probably won’t matter too much, though you will probably go back and read the first one after reading this. 

Poppy McGowan works for the ABC doing a children’s TV program on various different themes which she then has to research before writing them. As a result, she knows quite a bit about a lot of subjects, such as “People Who Help Us: Police.”. 

She also seems to have a knack for finding dead bodies and solving the crime. In the first book, the body was an unpleasant archaeologist found in Poppy’s own home that was being renovated. In this one, the body is found in the corridor of a retirement village. 

That, however, happens about halfway through the book, after Poppy’s aunt Mary’s best friend Daisy is found bleeding to death in her bathroom. Fortunately she is taken to hospital in time, but Poppy has to deal with Daisy’s family, including her rock star son Jonathan and her stepdaughter and her son Oscar. There are some issues about a family mansion in England, but it’s not the obvious one about a will…

Despite the murder this is very much a cheerful cosy. My favourite scene is when Jonathan has disappeared in the streets of Sydney and his fans are alerted via social media. Suddenly the streets are overflowing with searchers and people taking advantage of the crowds to sell them stuff, including sausages.

Reading the line “Where five or more Australians gather, there shall be a Sausage Sizzle. It may even be a law” I couldn’t stop laughing. It means more to Aussies, of course, because of the famous “democracy sausage” sold at election polling booths as a fundraiser, but if this doesn’t mean anything to you, you might think about Terry Pratchett’s Ankh-Morpork, where people do exactly this when a crowd gathers, for whatever reason.

Poppy’s own issue is raising money herself to go on a dig in Jordan with her gorgeous archaeologist boyfriend, Tol - and try solving the mystery, because Tol is a suspect.

If you enjoy Kerry Greenwood’s Corinna Chapman novels, this is the series for you.

Both books are now available in all the usual places, including Book Depository. 

They are also available in ebook, both in Apple Books and Kindle. I’m giving you the Australian link, but it’s available on the US Amazon site as well, and certainly other Amazon sites. 

Tuesday, June 14, 2022

Celebrating A Biblical Heroine - Ruth!


A couple of weeks ago, we celebrated the Jewish festival of Shavuot. It is traditional to eat dairy products during this time, so I made cheese blintzes for Mum and me, as I was at her place at the time. I made crepes filled with cottage cheese and sultanas, then baked them in the oven. They turned out well, given I hadn’t made them in years.

This festival is about receiving the Torah, but the Biblical book connected with it is the Book Of Ruth, which mostly takes place during the barley harvest in Bethlehem. 

The story is one I’m fond of, and it has been made into a novel and a film. 

The Biblical tale is very short, and goes as follows. Mum and Dad, Elimelech and Naomi, and their two boys, Mahlon and Chilion, migrate from Bethlehem in Judea to the pagan kingdom of Moab, to escape a famine. The boys grow up and marry two lovely local girls, Orpah and Ruth. Unfortunately, Dad and both boys die and Naomi decides to go back to her home town.

“Girls,” she says, “you have been amazing wives who made my sons happy. Go back to your parents and find other husbands and I hope you are happy again, you deserve it.” 

Orpah gives her a kiss and leaves. Ruth refuses. Naomi protests that this is plain silly, she can’t supply Ruth with another husband. But Ruth insists on staying with her ma-in-law and the two women go back to Judea, where they settle in Bethlehem and gossip soon spreads that Naomi is back, with a daughter-in-law. 

The barley harvest is on and, as widows, they are entitled to glean the fields. Ruth gets to work. The land owner Boaz, a relative of Elimelech, comes out to check his fields and is told about Ruth. He has heard about what happened and is only too pleased to look after the young widow during the working day. He leaves orders that she is to be looked after and supplied with lunch and tells Ruth that she absolutely must stay only in his fields.

The harvest is over and the community gets together for the  threshing and a party. Everyone sleeps on the threshing floor afterwards. On Naomi’s instructions Ruth lays herself down at Boaz’s feet when he is asleep. And then, the Bible tells us, he wakes up during the night and sees this woman lying at his feet!

I’m assuming this is a marriage proposal from her. There is a law under which the closest male relative of a dead man must marry the widow if there are no children, and hopefully father an heir to the deceased.

Boaz says he would love to marry her, but there is a closer relative of Elimelech - he will see what he can do.

Next day, he meets the man, who is okay with giving up any claim on her, and hands him a symbolic shoe - no, I have no idea why a shoe! 

So Boaz and Ruth live happily ever after and give Naomi a little cutie called Obed to make her happy. Obed becomes the father of Jesse, the father of King David.

It’s a sweet story, but I don’t think of it so much as a romance as the story of two women of different generations who love and look after each other. Ruth didn’t have to leave her country and family, but she did it - for her mother-in-law! Not mother, mother-in-law. And she makes that famous speech: “Where you go, I will go, where you live, I will live, where you die, I will die and there will I be buried. Your people shall be my people and your God my God.”

The romance is an extra. Boaz has heard what Ruth had done and admires her for it. 

The novel The Song Of Ruth, by Frank G. Slaughter, probably out of print, but worth finding (on ABEBooks, perhaps), focuses on the romance element. In it, Ruth is a Moabite priestess of the god Chemosh, to whom children are sacrificed. She falls in love with young Judean Mahlon and it goes on from there. But Tob, the closer relative, isn’t keen to give her up, so Ruth and Boaz have to think of a way to get him to give up the claim.

Film poster. Fair use.

Slaughter wrote a screenplay for the film version, which came out in 1960 as The Story Of Ruth, but someone else rewrote it. However, it is very recognisable if you have read the book, which I have.

It has an impressive cast. The title role was played by Elana Eden, a young Israeli actress whose first film it was. She didn’t become famous, but was a successful jobbing actress afterwards.

The others are perhaps better known. Stuart Whitman, who played Boaz, did a lot of acting work; apparently he did well enough that he didn’t have to continue acting. He did, anyway. Look him up on IMDB for details of his many other films.

Tom Tryon, who played Mahlon, the first husband, did give up acting for a very successful career as a horror novelist on the lines of Stephen King, except his novel Harvest Home came out when King was just getting started. His first novel, The Other, came out in 1971, after he had been inspired to write horror fiction by the film Rosemary’s Baby. I do recommend Harvest Home, by the way. I’ve read the book and seen the mini series and it is scary

You will probably know Peggy Wood, who played Naomi, better as the Mother Abbess in The Sound Of Music.

The King of Moab was played by John Banner, whom you will definitely know best as Sergeant “I know nothing! Nothing!” Schultz in Hogan’s Heroes

The film has aged a bit, but the score - by famous film composer Franz Waxman - is lovely, and it’s worth finding a copy if you can, as an example of 1960s Biblical movies(I suspect the budget was a lot smaller than those for the Charlton Heston films of the period!). I found a DVD very cheaply, along with another Bible epic, Esther And The King, starring Joan Collins in one of her few non-bitch roles.

Or you might consider going back to where it started - the Bible!