309 stories

Invented writing systems: Levert Banks and journaling the unfiltered mind

1 Share

Sometimes the arrangement of coincidence changes a life. Imagine this scene: the flight is in the air, carrying hundreds of souls. In first class, Count Basie, his band is flying coach behind him. He rings the call bell to summon the flight attendant.

The attendant assigned to him, and who was sitting in the galley, was a young man named Levert Banks. He was writing in his journal when the light came on and he was called to work. Banks had been a daily journaler since being inspired to capture his feelings after the Dallas Cowboys trounced the Broncos in the 1977 season Super Bowl about a decade earlier. It was an epic rivalry, where Roger Staubach demolished former teammate and rival Cowboys' quarterback Craig Morton.

Since then? Banks told me: "I write every day. I don't write well every day, but I write every day. A day doesn't go by when something just erupts."

So he was writing in the back of the plane — on long transcontinental or international flights there was always some downtime to journal — and the buzzer went off. He tucked his book away on a shelf and got up to attend to Basie.

Job handled, Basie sated, Banks was walking back down the aisle when he sees Basie's composer. He had sheet music out and he was composing, right there on the plane, right there on his tray table.

This abstract calligraphy that, for one who knew the method, could make music from marks on paper. What a wonder! "Still, to this day, I've never seen anything as beautiful as someone writing music," Banks said.

Continuing his way through the plane, Banks stopped to chat with another passenger on this flight: Attallah Shabazz, Malcolm X's eldest daughter. She was writing in Arabic, and Banks was taken with the elegance and beauty of the calligraphy. Just the form of the text was gorgeous, like the sheet music. But more than that, it had great meaning to her. "She told me that her father had spoken Arabic and this is the way that she feels connected to him."

"So there's a very personal thing that comes with being able to express what's in your musical head, or your heart of longing, and to do it in a way that a person passing by, like me, just sees it as beautiful and can't really know what it is but knows that it's special."

With those two encounters foremost in his head, Banks returns to the galley at the back of the plane to find his journal being read by his crew. They were reading his most personal thoughts, stories of encounters and people, feelings about his job and his life. It was like they suddenly gained the ability to look into his mind and read him.

"Privacy equals don't let anyone find it. You end up not really writing the way you genuinely feel when you've shielded yourself from incrimination, or whatever else.

"It always frustrated me that being able to write what I really felt, which is the whole point of journaling in my opinion, was restricted by this security issue. So I had spent a lot of effort not letting people find it. You do put it under lock and key, hiding under your mattress."

Diaries have locks for a good reason, after all. Parents, or spouses, read other's journals for good reason, after all, however deceptive the practice — there is no faster way to learn the complex interior of someone else then if they are honest with the page, and you can access it. You either find a way to hide or lock your words up — or, perhaps, you think of a more novel way to disguise your writing.

Because you have to choose: be transparent in the journal and risk being found, or hide yourself from yourself for fear of being found. Banks knew which he would choose:

"The point [of journaling] is that it opens a space in a person as a writer that is so personal. It informs my external world. I seek out relationships where I can have honesty, like can we really just talk here, you and I? I don't know that very many people get to experience that."

So Banks made the choice to start writing in a way that could obscure his words. If Shabazz could do it through Arabic, and Basie's composer could do it through music, maybe Banks could to it, as well. Maybe he could develop a system.

Starting that day, Banks began writing in code.

"It began as a one-to-one connection between random symbols and letters of the alphabet, and then, eventually, I saw vowel groupings, common consonant groupings, articles of speech, conjunctions, prefixes and so forth represented by single unified symbols.

"I wrote all the letters of the alphabet and I erased portions of it. I had to come back and make some refinements because of the physical structure of the way letters are written. I had to make some modifications and different treatments to make sure every character was unique.

"You're going to get tired of writing '-th', or '-ing', or 'the'. Pretty quickly it starts morphing, and a different kind of elegant form comes through. You're like 'okay, maybe I could improve that design a little bit.'

"Now you're back in second grade and it transitions to what is a 't'? What is an 'h'? What is an 'a'? I'm just putting it down because I have an idea. It happens really fast.

"And then when you get to the layer of obfuscation. I tested it with people who said, 'Okay, well, that was something, and this looks like a whatever and that looks like the word blank.

"I go back, machine it a little more and I'm like, “Thank you for that.” I never came back to that same person. I always went to the next person, and over time that's the obfuscation.

"Then, how did I treat double letters? How do I treat numbers? What am I gonna do about punctuation and contractions? Well, I've gotten rid of 99% of all punctuation, you'll never see a question mark."

"Then it said it's finished; like art work, there's a point where the canvas pushes back at the brush and says, 'I'm good.'"

Since that day in 1988, Banks has been writing in, and over the years developing, his created language. He calls it Colan (Koh-lahn), an abbreviation of "coded language". He's taught his grown sons to read it, so that they can have access to his life when he's gone. "Well, I mean, one of my favorite movies of all time is probably Bridges of Madison County," he says.

He's also been going through the thirty years of Colan journals, and the ten that came before that in plain English, and has been working on a memoir.

I asked if he's taught anybody besides his sons to write in his language, and he tells me, no, but he's taught two people how to create their own. I say that my problem with the codes and ciphers I played with as a kid was that I could never remember them.

"Yes, but if you created it, I think, it would have worked. If you have to learn Colan, it might be difficult because you have to learn my rationale or my justification for this or that. But if I taught you how to do it yourself...?"

Colan is a reflection of Levert himself, it has a style and panache that came from his own curious, seeking mind. And it freed him to write his clearest thoughts unfiltered, which allowed him to keep an unexpurgated story of his life. He may not have published, but Banks has written more than most professional published writers.

All because of a chance encounter with Count Basie, his composer, Attallah Shabazz, and some very nosy coworkers, all lined up and flying across the country that one day back in the 80s.

Read the whole story
1917 days ago
Share this story


1 Share

I guess it’s easy to want to be                                black,
when everything is the new black,

shiny as LP spinning at 33 rpm
                in the hipster owned record store
                                on the formerly black block
                                                in the formerly black neighborhood

but do you know what comes back
around for        black? that needle scratch
leaves grooves
                                deep                as the river

don’t nobody want the old                black —
people want the Jimi Hendrix black,
the psychedelic star spangled banner by your own rules black

the sparkled glove, moonwalking, grammy winning black,
not the dark skin, big nose self hating                black

not the Jim Crow                black, segregation                black,
poll tax payin, separate but equal                black,

the happy smile shuffling tap dance black,
not the minstrel show, burnt cork black-face                black,
not the yessir boss                black,

not the whistle at a white girl
and end up cautionary tale                black

when black folks all around you fought
to gain a piece of the real estate
that’s been redlined
and sold off
and sold off
and sold off                for centuries

when the folks that lay claim
to its legacy got that shit on layaway,
but don’t ever get to put more than a bit
                of change down each month
                                and interest rates ain’t no joke
                                                cuz don’t nothing change

then I guess being                black
is like putting on a pair of snow pants
to brace against the cold when
you’re already fully dressed

and you just love your accessories,
                been sliding on                kimonos and                dashikis
                                and                headdresses and                dreadlocks
                                                for Halloween and theme parties

like characters
you can switch                in                and                out                of
like accents,

like a downpour
of a storm

except you get to decide
when it’s time to come in
and take shelter out of the rain

Read the whole story
2394 days ago
Share this story

Yes, Virginia, ‘Die Hard’ is a Hanukkah Movie

1 Share

Eight reasons the 1988 classic is a miracle for the Jews.

‘Die Hard’ is the Best Christmas Movie Ever Made!!

This cheerfully contrarian notion has become so pervasive that the film often airs in December alongside such acknowledged classics as It’s a Wonderful Life, Miracle on 34th Street, and A Christmas Story. But let’s be honest, other than the fact that it takes place on Christmas Eve and includes a few winking nods to the holiday (“NOW I HAVE A MACHINE GUN HO-HO-HO”), there’s really no justification for granting Die Hard a seat among the gods atop our cinematic yuletide Olympus.

But this doesn’t mean that Die Hard isn’t a fantastic holiday film. We’ve just been connecting it to the wrong winter holiday. With a nod to the eight candles on the menorah, here are eight reasons why Die Hard is actually The Best Hanukkah Movie Ever Made.

1) ’Tis the Season

Die Hard takes place on Christmas Eve, and Christmas often overlaps with Hanukkah (like this year, for example). Seasonally, Die Hard is just as much a Hanukkah movie as a Christmas one.

2) Jingle tells

Die Hard is framed by two pieces of influential holiday music, both with Jewish connections: At the movie’s end, as bearer bonds drift over L.A. like snowflakes, the song playing in the background is “Let It Snow,” which was written during a 1945 California heat wave by Jewish songwriters Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne. In the opening scene, the limo driver Argyle blasts Christmas in Hollis. Although this track was written and recorded by the (non Jewish) members of Run-DMC, it was produced by Rick Rubin, the Jewish co-founder of Def Jam Records, and inspired by their Jewish publicist, the legendary hip hop journalist Bill Adler.

Adler, who “grew up in a family of mouthy Jews” told the story on Rap Genius’s “Outside the Lines” podcast:

“I thought, let the guys write a new song, something that speaks to their lives, their neighborhood, and the ways in which they celebrate Christmas.”

The end result is a song that feels just as at home around a plate of latkes as a serving of collards. As Darryl “DMC” McDaniels puts it:

“I think the importance of food is a big part of the reason why that song was able to touch so many people…So not only does that record touch black people in the hood. It touches Jewish people, German people. It touches people all over the world.”

3) Schieß dem Fenster!

Hans Gruber is a member of the fictional radical group Volksfrei — a name that invokes the infamous Nazi slogan, Arbeit Macht Frei (“Work Makes You Free”) which adorned the gates to Auschwitz. And while Gruber is no Nazi, this movie features the most gleeful dispatching of German bad guys since Castle Wolfenstein, and not seen again until Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds. And when Gruber orders his henchman to “shoot the glass!” he causes John McClane’s bare feet to suffer through their own personal Kristallnacht.

4) A Tale Told By A Jewish Scribe

I asked Steven E. deSouza, the screenwriter who co-wrote the screenplay to Die Hard, about his Jewish identity, and his thoughts on DHITBHMEM. deSouza confirmed he is a “practicing Jew,” who lights candles, supports his local synagogue, and sent his kids to Jewish day school. Then he told me about his ancestors, who were Spanish and Portuguese Jews that fled the Spanish Inquisition and settled in Jamaica in the 1600’s. Among them was Moses Cohen Henriques, whom deSouza describes as “a Jewish pirate who was an associate of Henry Morgan, and who particularly (and for obvious reasons) relished targeting Spanish ships.”

And there were other elements of deSouza’s family history that informed his penchant for penning action-packed thrillers:

“My father was a US naval officer in the Pacific theater in WWII…[He] taught me to use firearms when I was a teenager as what seemed to him a normal rite of passage…And in fact I gave my son a rifle for a Bar Mitzvah present, and only the reaction from other parents made me realize, hmm, apparently this seems strange in a Jewish family (but boy does this familiarity make all my gunfight scenes authentic). My youngest grandchild is named after a great-great grandfather on my Ashkenazi mother’s side, who was a prize fighter and actor in (fellow Jew) Bronco Billy Anderson’s silent westerns. So unlike many other Jewish families, I heard no direct stories about the Holocaust, or relatives lost to it. Instead, [I heard] stories about ancestors who were swashbuckling.”

So there you have it — Die Hard was written by a bad-ass Jamaican-American Jewish descendant of pirates and action heroes.

5) Tower of Power

In both Die Hard and the Hanukkah story, there is a building at the center of the story. In the Hanukkah story, the climactic moment comes when Judah Maccabee and his small band of guerrilla warriors defeat the mighty Greek army and reclaim the Holy Temple in Jerusalem from its villainous invaders. Likewise In Die Hard, Nakatomi Plaza must be reclaimed by our hero and cleansed of its villainous invaders.

6) Light and Miracles

Hanukkah celebrates bringing light into a world of darkness. In Die Hard, Hans repeatedly strives to snuff out the lights — first, by shooting out the police search lights during the siege, and then by darkening an entire city block in order to override the electromagnetic seal on the last of the seven locks in the Nakatomi vault (which deSouza told me reminded him of the Temple’s inner sanctuary). Hans values material wealth above human life, and so for him, this darkening leads to a perverse sense of the miraculous. As Hans gloats, “You asked for miracles, Theo, I give you the F.B.I.”

7) The Importance of Being J-Mac

Like John McClane (the other J-MAC), Hanukkah hero Judah Maccabee was outnumbered and outgunned, but he was able to use his homemade sling to pick off his enemies and turn the Greek’s superior firepower against them (“NOW I HAVE A SWORD AND CHARIOT HO-HO-HO”).

8) Alexander Wept

Here’s the deeper connection between Die Hard and Hanukkah — as much as they are stories about a victory against outside invaders, they are also meditations on an internal clash of cultures, and the struggle of the “good guys” with ambivalent feelings towards a world that is rapidly shifting under their (bloody) feet.

In the first third of Die Hard, the greatest source of tension isn’t a looming terrorist takeover of Nakatomi Plaza. It’s lifelong New Yorker McClane’s palpable anxiety at the prospect of living in L.A. With his signature puckered smirk, Willis greats every signifier of California living with a helpless mixture of bemusement and contempt. “Fuckin’ California!” is his rallying cry long before “Yippee-Ki-Yay, Motherfucker!” To make matters worse, he sees how his wife Holly is slipping away from him and into this new way of life — her name, her status, her job, her driven boss and her cokehead coworkers. And Holly resents John’s selfish, possessive attempts to blame their failing marriage on her desire to pursue success on the west coast. BUT: the focus of their battle quickly shifts when both Holly and John are faced with a much larger existential threat from an external invader. They must quickly decide what values they share (loyalty, love, survival) and which they can jettison (jealousy, pride, materialism).

The arrival of Greek culture in ancient Palestine presented similar challenges to the more traditional segments of the indigenous Jewish population, and the Hanukkah story begins with the Jewish people fighting viciously amongst themselves — farmers vs. urbanites, fundamentalists vs. assimilationists, Hellenists vs. zealots. As with the Die Hard story, it is only when confronted with an external threat (the draconian anti-Jewish decrees of King Antiochus IV) that all these Jewish factions finally band together to fight for a common cause: their very survival!

So yes, Virginia, in ways both large and small, Die Hard is a Hanukkah movie. Go ahead and watch it with your latkes instead of your Chinese food, and as you gather around the candles, take Sergeant Al Powell’s words to heart: “Light ’em if you got ‘em!” Yippee CHAI Yay, Menorah-lovers!

Yes, Virginia, ‘Die Hard’ is a Hanukkah Movie was originally published in The Awl on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Read the whole story
2629 days ago
Share this story

On Lionel Shriver and cultural appropriation in fiction

1 Share

In a keynote speech at the Brisbane Writers Festival, novelist Lionel Shriver said, “I am hopeful that the concept of ‘cultural appropriation’ is a passing fad.”

Shriver listed a number of instances in which students on college campuses were offended by acts they deemed to be cultural appropriation. You are probably familiar with at least some of these examples; they’ve been employed ad nauseam by pundits and Facebook posters who want to rail against “coddled millennials” or “PC culture run amok” or whatever it is they’re mad about today.

Suffice it to say: college students have always experimented with the idea of what it is to be an adult, and adults have always yelled at college students for being young. That adults are now yelling at college students for erring on the side of sensitivity says more about the failings of adults, to my mind, than it does about the failings of the students. If you’re arguing against an inclusive world, if you’re calling for less empathy in the universe, you’re wrong.

I have no doubt that some students have been so eager to create safe spaces that they inadvertently called for censorship. And censorship, even in the context of safety, is bad. But there is a difference between “demanding censorship” and “requesting that people be more considerate of others’ feelings,” and critics are too quick to confuse the latter for the former. And even when a student does go too far, using that student as an example of why a whole generation is bad and worthless does not contribute anything to the conversation.

Anyway, Shriver argues that the kids these days, with their sensitivity toward cultural appropriation, are hurting fiction. And then she finally gets to the ax that she wants to grind:

My most recent novel The Mandibles was taken to task by one reviewer for addressing an America that is “straight and white”. It happens that this is a multigenerational family saga – about a white family. I wasn’t instinctively inclined to insert a transvestite or bisexual, with issues that might distract from my central subject matter of apocalyptic economics.

While reading this essay, I was very confused about why Shriver was so upset until I got to the part about The Mandibles, and then it became clear to me: novelists will go a fair distance out of their way in order to pick a fight with a critic who they believe has wronged them.

Anyway, to hear Shriver say it, if she made a character in The Mandibles bisexual or a “transvestite,” that would “distract from my central subject matter.” In other words, anything that is not straight or white would be a distraction. So by Shriver’s math, if you want to publish a story about a serious issue, you’d better make your protagonists straight and white. Otherwise, those characters will taint the story with their otherness — their race, their sexuality — and distract you from making your point about economics or macramé, or whatever it is you really want to talk about.

This is an argument from a place of unexamined privilege: when you are categorized in society’s default position, every other position is an inconvenience, or a distraction, to you. Shriver warns that novelists might eventually become afraid to write about other perspectives:

Thus in the world of identity politics, fiction writers better be careful. If we do choose to import representatives of protected groups, special rules apply. If a character happens to be black, they have to be treated with kid gloves, and never be placed in scenes that, taken out of context, might seem disrespectful.

And she says the conclusion that writers should do a good job of representation is facile, and it’s asking too much of writers: “Efforts to persuasively enter the lives of others very different from us may fail: that’s a given. But maybe rather than having our heads taken off, we should get a few points for trying.”

The funny thing about this part of Shriver’s speech is that it very nearly rubs up against another common complaint against Kids These Days: the alleged “Everyone Gets a Trophy” culture that’s turning Kids These Days into Oversensitive PC Crybabies. Any novelist asking to be exempt from criticism should earn a raised eyebrow in response. Why wouldn’t a critic point out an author’s awkward approach to race, or gender?

The truth is, there are plenty of writers out there who write about people from cultures other than their own, and many of them do it well. In her comic Ms. Marvel, Seattle’s G. Willow Wilson, a white American woman, writes about a teenage Pakistani-American superhero, and that character has become a beloved icon in real-life Pakistani-American communities. This is because Wilson did due diligence: she talked with people who shared a background with her character. She engages them in conversations, she listens to them, and she reports back on what she hears in her stories.

Good fiction always has an element of journalism to it. Most good novels spring from an author’s curiosity. What’s it like to do that job? What was that historical figure like in real life? What would happen to the Earth if the moon exploded? What if an astronaut got stuck on Mars? Authors should always wonder what it’s like to be another person. And good authors do more than just imagine: they ask. They research. They talk. They learn. Novels are engines of empathy and to create them, writers have to be more empathetic than most.

So say you’ve done all the research you can do. Say you’ve talked to people who are unlike you, and you’ve done your best to represent them in your book. And say someone doesn’t like your book. Say they complain about it in a review. Or they ask you about it in a reading, or on Twitter. Say a few people agree with their complaint. What then?

Well, I guess then you’re a writer who wrote something that someone doesn’t like. That’s okay. There are plenty of those in the world. It happens. Other people get to not like your writing, and they even get to tell other people about it. It’s called freedom of speech. As a writer, you should celebrate it, not spend thousands of words whining about it at a keynote address in Brisbane. But then, I guess that’s your right, too, isn’t it?

Read the whole story
2721 days ago
Share this story

204. Ashleigh Gardner on Muslim Romances at Wattpad, Plus 200th Episode Messages

1 Share

Sarah chats with Ashleigh Gardner from Wattpad, who has been a guest of the podcast previously, about Muslim romance on Wattpad. They discuss the growing collection of romances by and about Muslims that are tremendously popular, and some of the very familiar tropes and plot hooks being explored – converting the bad boy, arranged marriages, surprise encounter with a rock star, etc. They also cover other trends that aren’t represented much in mainstream publishing that are growing exponentially inside this community, and what happens when readers say, “I don’t see me, so I’m writing me.”

Plus! Your email messages and voice mail recordings helping us celebrate our 200th episode by talking about the books that made each of us into romance readers.

Listen to the podcast →
Read the transcript →

Here are the books we discuss in this podcast:

We also mentioned the following stories on Wattpad:

If you like the podcast, you can subscribe to our feed, or find us at iTunes. You can also find us at PodcastPickle and on Stitcher, too. We also have a cool page for the podcast on iTunes.

Thanks to our sponsors:

More ways to sponsor:

Sponsor us through Patreon! (What is Patreon?)

What did you think of today's episode? Got ideas? Suggestions? You can talk to us on the blog entries for the podcast or talk to us on Facebook if that's where you hang out online. You can email us at sbjpodcast@gmail.com or you can call and leave us a message at our Google voice number: 201-371-3272. Please don't forget to give us a name and where you're calling from so we can work your message into an upcoming podcast.

Thanks for listening!

This Episode's Music

Blackhouse Album over - a lit ball of lights against some dark rocks

Our music is provided by Sassy Outwater each week. This is the Peatbog Faeries brand new album Blackhouse. This track is called “The Ranch.”

You can find their new album at Amazon, at iTunes, or wherever you like to buy your fine music.

Podcast Sponsor

New York Times bestselling author Victoria Danann introduces the unique and delightful Witches of Wimberley series, a contemporary paranormal romance about witches living among humans in the small and magical town of Wimberley, Texas. WILLEM is a bright and lighthearted read featuring a reluctant groom, a beguiling heroine, and, above all, lots of fun.

Willem is an out of work actor. He gave himself ten years to make it and never got a single paying job. While waiting for what would probably be his last audition ever, the guy standing behind him in line gave him a card with a phone number on it and said, “If you’re really quitting, try the witches.”

Without knowing what he’s getting into, Willem calls the number, enters the competition and wins a witch, who turns out to be his fantasy woman. As he gives himself up to the dazzling world of the witch colony at Wimberley, the new love of his life gives him everything he’s ever wanted and more. But he knows it can’t last.

Willem is model-gorgeous, sexy and lovable, but sometimes he’s his own worst enemy. While adjusting to the luxuries and oddities of a new supernatural lifestyle, he wages a tug of war between head and heart that threatens an ultimate test of true love. If he’s not careful, it could cost him everything.
Get your copy of WILLEM today. When you’re done, you’re gonna wish you live in Wimberley, too. 

Remember to subscribe to our podcast feed, find us on iTunes, via PodcastPickle, or on Stitcher.
Read the whole story
2773 days ago
Share this story

Megan Casey reviews Tarnished Gold by Ann Aptaker

1 Share


I can’t think of a better time to post this review because Tarnished Goldthe second book in Aptaker’s Cantor Gold series—has just been named the co-winner of the 2016 Golden Crown Literary Award in the Mystery category. It was previously named co-winner of the Lambda Award, making it the only book ever to have won both awards.

Tarnished Gold finds the dapper art smuggler Cantor Gold in trouble not only with the police, but with the New York mob as well. It seems that her client, for whom she recovered a Dürer landscape  painting from a Nazi in Europe, was brutally killed shortly after Cantor made the delivery. A mob boss is suspected, so to stop the cops from nosing around his business, he wants Cantor to find the killer—or else.

I’m a sucker for historical mysteries, so the fact that this book is set in 1950 already makes it a plus for me. But to keep on my right side, it has to sound like it was written in 1950 in addition to being well written and having interesting characters. Well, fear not, this book has all those. It may not be as good as Deborah Powell’s two novels about Hollis Carpenter, set in the 1930s, but it is well on the way. What it reminds me most of, though, is Therese Szymanski’s When the Dancing Stops, whose main character, Brett Higgins, also operates on the wrong side of the law.

Cantor Gold, like Brett, is a pretty unlikable character. For one thing, her face gets so continually banged up that many people’s first reaction would be to wince (she is, in fact, the Tarnished Gold of the title). She is intelligent, but selfish and she treats her women poorly. Her devotion to Sophie—a missing ex-girlfriend—may be sweet and honorable, but not at the expense of others who deserve better. As Cantor herself says, “I was always mystified by what Sophie saw in me.” Well, join the club. She also says, “I can be a cad and I know it.” But having a louse for a main character doesn’t mean a whole lot when the author is able to wield a keyboard as well as Aptaker does. In fact, it seems that she enjoys pointing out Cantor’s flaws.

When her woman-of-the-moment, Vivienne Parkhurst Trent, takes her to task for her ill treatment, Cantor agrees, although silently: “I’m speechless now, as if my tongue’s been cut out with the sharp blade of truth.” It is this kind of self-realization—and this kind of poetic writing—that puts this book in the way-above-average category. And Aptaker is a wiz with a simile. A police squad car—which Cantor loathes—is described as having “a chrome grill that looks like a mouth ready to spit.” It also“hugs the curb in front of my building like a rat claiming territory.” Not only are these descriptions vivid, but they are appropriate both for the time period and for Cantor’s mindset. It’s hard to get any better than a simile that works on three different levels.

I’ve already mentioned Szymanski’s book, but Tarnished Gold also reminds me of the fine novel by Lisa E. Davis, Under the Mink. The protagonist, Blackie Cole, is a 1940s nightclub singer who sometimes finds herself to the left of the straight and narrow. Like Cantor, she dresses mannish—so much so that she is always frightened that her place of business will be raided by the police and that she will be arrested for impersonating a man. The same holds true with Cantor and her friends—and the police in Tarnished Gold are not exemplary representatives of New York’s finest. The main cop in the story, Lieutenant Norm Huber, would do virtually anything to put Cantor in prison or in a psych unit. His vitriol is so palpable that we get the idea that he would gladly kill Cantor just to get such a pervert off the streets. I mean, it was bad in those days. Real bad.

Cantor, with her sidekicks Rosie the cab driver, Judson the information gatherer, and Red the tugboat skipper, have to delve into the very depths of New York’s criminal society to try and find out who is killing people and stealing their paintings. There are several more characters that increase the enjoyment of the story. One of them is Esther “Mom” Sheinbaum, a fence who seemingly can find out info on every piece of stolen goods in New York City. She reminds me much of Mrs. Sucksby, from Sarah Waters’ excellent Fingersmith. Sorry to drop so many names into this review, but I love it when an author pays homage to those who have gone before.

The novel has a few flaws (some of which I have communicated privately to the author), but nothing to bring it down to less than a 4.

Note: I read the Advanced Review Copy of this novel which was kindly provided by the publisher through Netgalley in e-book form.

For 200 other Lesbian Mystery reviews by Megan Casey, see her website atchttp://sites.google.com/site/theartofthelesbianmysterynovel/  or join her Goodreads Lesbian Mystery group at http://www.goodreads.com/group/show/116660-lesbian-mysteries

Filed under: Lesbrary Reviews Tagged: ****, 1930s, Ann Aptaker, art, historical mystery, lesbian mystery, New York City
Read the whole story
2778 days ago
Share this story
Next Page of Stories