When One Book Leads to Another

Hey all. Gerry Boyle here, lifting my nose out of a a couple of books. That I’m reading, I mean, flipping back and forth like the two works were one.

I don’t know how you read (feel free to fill me in in the comments section below), but I’m in the midst of one of those serendipitous book occasions where I’ve found myself reading, quite by chance, two books that illuminate each other so well that the sum of them is greater than the parts.

Book one: All Standing: The Remarkable Story of the Jeanie Johnston, the Legendary Irish Famine Ship by Kathryn Miles. This is history, a great job of research and anecdote, and a dramatic recreation of a time that fascinates me as an Irish-American.imgres-1

I was halfway through All Standing, reading about the Jeanie Johnston and how it’s owner, captain, and crew managed to transport hundreds of Irish from the port of Tralee to America and Canada without losing a single passenger. In the age of coffin ships—and the exploration of this tragic period in the mid-19th century is sobering— this was a remarkable feat. As Miles eloquently describes, thousands of Irish escaped starvation only to die at sea of disease or drowning. It was a sad time, one that Nathaniel Hawthorne (who Miles quotes) described this way:

“At every two or three steps, a gin shop; also filthy in clothes and persons, ragged, pale, often afflicted with humors, women, nursing their babies on dirty bosoms; men, haggard, drunken, care-worn, hopeless, but with a kind of patience, as if all this were the rule of their life.

Not for long, at least for some, including Axie Muldoon, the creation of  author Kate Manning, who’s written a remarkable historical novel called My Notorious Life, whose acquaintance I made recently.  Based on a true story, the book is about an Irish immigrant who girl who is tough and smart and turns an apprenticeship to a doctor to a career as a notorious (in some circles) female physician. This was rare for any woman, never mind a kid from New York’s immigrant ghettos, and Manning gets deep inside Axie’s head. The girl is a remarkable character and kids are hard to do well.images

Here’s a moment when 9-year-old Axie is being inspected by a man interested in adopting her:

—Stand, said the b*****d. —Turn around.

I did. 

The geezer chewed something as he made the tour of me. His lips were stained brown, his teeth dark in the cracks, and his mouth appeared like it was leaking mud.

—You’re a fine young lady, said he. —So’s your sister.

He was squinting, sucking his lips. —I want to see about your teeth. Open your mouth, say ahhh.


Her new daddy? Axie doesn’t think so and takes a chomp out of the guy’s arm. Take that.

I recommend both books if you like history and the people who lived it. Or if you just like to read about remarkable people whose lives aren’t like your own. And while these aren’t works of true crime or crime fiction, there’s plenty of crime in the the worlds they depict. This was a time when life was cheap and people were desperate and crime naturally follows. The slums of American cities in the 19th century were places where you could get your throat slit and your pockets emptied.

Quaint they weren’t.

But the point is—Ah, the point. Could you feel it coming?—that crime novelists don’t just read crime novels. I always feel a little bad when someone at an event asks what I’ve been reading. They expect the latest in mystery fiction. I end up talking about books like, well, these two. I usually ask them about their favorites. Read a good mystery lately? I’m all ears.

In fact, I’d love recommendations for any sort of reading: nonfiction, novels, classics, bestsellers, history, biography. As we all know that there are so many good books—crime or otherwise— and so little time.

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6 Responses to When One Book Leads to Another

  1. Gram says:

    I usually have 4-5 books going at once. Fiction, mystery, poetry, non-fiction. I always have read this way. My better half reads one at a time. I like the sound of Kate Manning’s book and will check my library. Thanks.

  2. Gerry, I, too, feel disloyal when asked what I read at an event and I answer something other than a crime novel! I’m re-reading Cold Mountain right now and loving it, also reading a nonfiction book about raising poultry and a few others! There is not enough time in my world to read everything I want to…I suspect you feel the same way.

    • Gerry Boyle says:

      Disloyal, Vicki, and uneducated. I meet people at events who are so versed in crime fiction that they make me feel like I’m the dumb kid in the class. Have you read … What did you think of … I have to admit I sometimes cringe when I hear those questions coming. Last time it was Elizabeth George, I think. I’m going to try her books next, after I finish a couple of older Henning Mankells. Working my way through the stack.

  3. Kate L. says:

    Gerry – thank you for the mini-review of “All Standing”. I had seen it recently at my local library branch and made a note of it; as an Irish-American with an interest in maritime history for my non-fiction reading, it struck a strong chord. I am happiest when I have a non-fiction read in progress concurrently with the crime fiction, and will move this one higher up ‘the list’ as a result.

    And let me strongly recommend A Great Deliverance when you’re ready to try Elizabeth George. It’s a strong, award-winning start to her series, and whether you enjoy it or not, I hope you’ll be able to see why her fans enjoy her books so much.

    Thanks again!

    • Gerry Boyle says:

      Thank you, Kate. I’ll note that title and move it up on “the list” myself. If you like things Irish and maritime, most definitely try
      All Standing. The Manning novel is powerful in a very different way.

  4. mary deland strain says:

    Picky, picky. Apostrophe alert! Fourth paragraph its. Love to read your stuff.

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