Lauretta O'Connor

By this author

'Mink River'

Once, reading a book on wildflowers, I learned that there was a plant called bastard toadflax. In Brian DoylesMink River, a flawed but wonderful book, the author disgorges such arcane information effortlessly and wholesale, and we learn perhaps more than we want to know about the flora and fauna of the Oregon coast. Yet,Mink Riveris tender, hilarious, original, and outrageous; I loved it in spite of itself. Mr.

Yes, I Plead Guilty

It's time for summer reading, and I plead guilty to loving Frank Langella's Dropped Names: Famous Men and Women As I Knew Them. The book is an enjoyable romp through the lifestyles of the rich and famous, and through an astonishing number of sexual encounters. Langella is candid and gossipy. In addition to being a fine actor, he is a gifted writer, a sharp-eyed observer and interpreter of the human comedy. His celebrated subjects, even those he does not like, are never less than real people for whom we can feel sympathy, admiration, or distaste.

Half-honest Men

I do feel as though I am lowering the tone of this enterprise by writing once again about crime. Robert Lewis's The Bank of the Black Sheep is set in the gray, damp, cold of a Welsh winter, a variation on the theme of the feckless private detective. It's a dark read that deftly combines bleakness with hilarity. The cast of characters--almost all losers--have enough quirky humanity to matter.

Return of the Fat Man

Someday someone will write a book about what swell people real estate developers are, but not just yet. Anne Zouroudi's second book, The Taint of Midas, is another cautionary tale, this time about greed, set on the fictional Greek island of Arcadia.

Music Hath Charms

I grew up listening to opera. Every Saturday afternoon at two, during the season, the Metropolitan Opera of the Air filled our kitchen with music. My mother would raise the volume really high for favorite pieces; at intermission we listened to Milton Cross host the Metropolitan Opera Quiz, with famous guests who knew a thing or two about music.

Native Son

You may disagree, but I believe that the many sleuths, amateur and professional in English crime fiction are also largely the creations of English, or British, writers. In contrast, it also seems to me that the most famous sleuths in Italian crime writing have been created by non-Italians. Guido Brunetti, the urbane, philosophical inspector at the Venice questura, is the creation of Donna Leon, an American. The edgier, less settled character Aurelio Zen, also a Venetian, was created by the late English author, Michael Dibdin.

Darkness and Myth, Greek Style

A fat man wearing a splendidly tailored wool suit and bright white tennis shoes arrives by ferry on the beautiful, remote Greek island of Thiminos. Tourist season is over; winter wind and rain will soon begin to make life miserable for the natives.

Dreaming in Chinese: Henry Chang's Chinatown Trilogy

I could not resist when our local library offered free lessons in Mandarin Chinese but, sadly, I was not an apt student. On the other hand, the lessons led me indirectly to the books of Henry Chang and to an immersion in "otherness" that I have not often experienced.

Schemers & Scammers in Hiassen's Florida

Carl Hiassen's face, as he looks out at you from book jackets, has changed little over the years: he has a few wrinkles and the wavy hair now has a touch of gray, but the warm and friendly smile remains unchanged. Yet, he is the angriest of men. Hiassen's great success as a novelist has only sharpened his indignation at the cheaters and scammers among us, the greedy politicians and businessmen who have turned his native Florida into a theme park. In his books he creates memorable bottom feeders whose comeuppances are nearly biblical in their aptness.

Winging It

Fifty-two years ago I was a starry-eyed English major hired at Commonweal to answer the telephone and to pound outliterallycorrespondence on an old Smith-Corona.Who could have imagined that the ties would still bind so many years later.True, I sometimes feel like the comic relief. Not all writing needs to be Shakespearean, not all movies need the hand of a Bergman or Fellini. Personally, I am an aficionado of well-done fluff. But when I discover a diamond in the dungand a good part of what passes for popular culture today is dungI want to talk about it, to share my opinions.