Winter Reading, or How I Got Through Knee Replacement Without Losing My Mind…

Darcy Scott again, here to report that in mid-December, after having put off the inevitable for a number of years, I had knee replacement surgery. Good timing, I figured, as it would get me out of all that last minute shopping and pre-holiday running around (no driving for six weeks), not to mention the long hours of cooking—my sister and husband being more than happy to pinch-hit. Besides, our kitchen, lovely as it is, hardly lends itself to hobbling about on a walker.

During my über-organized, pre-op planning phase, I recognized a window of opportunity for undertaking a number of projects that had long been on my list—including throwing myself into the research for my new novel and making a start on those piles of books gathering dust beneath my bedside table. 

A truly sucky plan, as it turned out. The first few weeks post-surgery, I was so exhausted and loopy I was incapable of the focus necessary to read let alone write, and forget anything requiring organization. Hell, I barely made sense when I spoke—the whole thing weirdly reminiscent of my mother’s illness a number of years back. “Who let the frogmen in the living room?” I remember her asking our startled assemblage one night at dinner. “And why the yellow goggles?” 

Relax, my medical team suggested when I complained about the boredom and inactivity, the three-month injunction against virtually all physical exercise including my beloved yoga. Take advantage of the downtime to rest and convalesce, they advised—a quaint term bringing to mind languid afternoons spent lounging on the porch of some elegantly decaying plantation house, lavender-infused ‘kerchief draped over the eyes. Not easy for a woman used to being constantly on the move. Eventually though, as I weaned myself off the drugs and slowly got to know my new cobalt and chromium body parts, I found a few trickles of interest beginning to sneak in along with just enough focus to allow a start on those stacks of books I mentioned. Something—anything, I figured—to keep me from losing my ever lovin’ mind. 

I started light. Long a fan of Carol O’Connell’s quirky Kathleen Mallory mysteries, I pulled out It Happens in the Dark (the 11th book in that series). This proved just the ticket. A bit of backstory for those otherwise unaware. At the start of book one, Mallory, an 11-year-old wild-child, petty thief, and budding sociopath living on the streets of New York City, is rescued by police detective Louis Markowitz who ends up raising her as his own. After his murder a number of years later, Mallory—by this time a ferociously intelligent detective with the NYPD Special Crimes Unit, whose own criminal tendencies are only minimally kept at bay by the combined efforts of her long-suffering police partner and a brilliant criminal psychologist unlucky enough to have fallen for her—continues her adopted father’s fight for right, with a decidedly dark twist. Excellent stuff, this.

Next up were two terrific mysteries by Texas writer Rachel Caine: Wolfhunter River and Bitter Falls (books three and four in her Stillhouse Lake series). More riveting narrative and dialogue here, the edge-of-your-seat tension almost too much at times. In this series, a shy Midwestern housewife’s happy (read “clueless”) existence is shattered when her husband’s secret life as a serial killer is revealed and the families of his victims turn on her. A word, gentle reader: to set yourself up for these later books, be sure to start with books one and two (Stillhouse Lake and Killman Creek).

Wouldn’t you know, all this murder and mayhem suddenly had me feeling better, so I picked up Furious Hours: Murder, Fraud, and the Last Trial of Harper Lee by Casey Cep—one of the best reviewed nonfiction books of 2019. This story recounts the life of an Alabama serial killer and the true-crime tell-all that Harper Lee worked on obsessively (and ultimately unsuccessfully) in the years after To Kill a Mockingbird was published—this in hopes of creating a non-fiction saga along the lines of Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood (for which Lee did much of the research). Furious Hours has it all: multiple murders, high courtroom drama and the racial politics of the Deep South, as well as a moving portrait of one of the country’s most beloved author’s struggles with her fame.

In his NY Times book review, Michael Lewis describes what makes Furious Hours so good. “It’s in her descriptions of another writer’s failure to write, that [Cep’s] book makes a magical little leap, and it goes from being a superbly written true-crime story to the sort of story that even Lee would have been proud to write.”

Now that I’d sunk my teeth into some serious crime writing, I was ready for The Border, the 700-plus page finale of Don Winslow’s sprawling, intense, and thoroughly excellent Cartel trilogy (The Power of the DogThe Cartel). This was a deliciously complex, unabashedly violent read, breathtaking in its scope. Crime Reads called it “One of the most ambitious works in modern crime fiction, an epic narrative of the ill-fated War on Drugs.”

By this time, I was making my way through all the grueling, post-op physical therapy that knee replacements require, and feeling massively sorry for myself in the bargain, so I opted for a little mind candy in the form of Blue Moon—the 24th installment in Lee Child’s Jack Reacher series. In case you’ve been living under a rock for the last 25 years or are otherwise unaware of this prolific writer, his mystery/thriller series follows the adventures of a retired (except when he’s not) Army MP who wanders the country righting wrongs and falling for all the wrong women. I’ve read every one of these books—a guilty pleasure that’s about to come to a screeching halt, it appears, as Child recently announced his intention to hang up his authorial pen. Bummer. It seems even authors who sell zillions of books eventually grow tired of the characters they create. Then again, could be that a knee replacement did him in. I’ve asked Siri, but so far she’s refused to comment.

Darcy Scott (Winner, 2019 National Indie Excellence Award; Best Mystery, 2013 Indie Book Awards; Silver Award, 2013 Readers Favorite Book Awards; Bronze Prize, 2013 IPPY Awards) is a live-aboard sailor and experienced ocean cruiser with more than 20,000 blue water miles under her belt. For all her wandering, her summer home and favorite cruising grounds remain along the coast of Maine—the history and rugged beauty of its sparsely populated out-islands serving as inspiration for much of her fiction, including her popular Maine-based Island Mystery Series. Her debut novel, Hunter Huntress, was published in Britain in 2010.

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