“The Lonely Detective Solves ‘Murder at Snow White'” by Charles Schwarz

"The Lonely Detective Solves 'Murder at Snow White'" by Charles Schwarz — Kimia Wood Lord Peter Wimsey, in one of Dorothy Sayers’ novels, calls detective fiction the “highest form of literature we have.” The essence of detective fiction is the conflict of good and evil…the idea that a crime (a murder) breaks the world, and the core of a hero is in solving it (bringing the evildoer to justice).

Thus it’s hardly surprising that Ms. Sayers is one of, if not the, best mystery writers of all time. Her novels are entertaining yet educational, tricky yet profound – grounded on a firm grasp of human nature, and grappling with how the very universe groans for the blood of the innocent to be repaid.

I’m not here to talk about her work. I’m here to talk about the short stories of Charles Schwarz – stories billed as “hilarious” and sarcastic murder mysteries…that probably ended up being more educational than entertaining for me.

(Incidentally, what first caught my eye was the cover. Something about it just looks sarcastic – and who doesn’t love that?)

Alert: SPOILERS Possible Continue reading

“And Then There Were None” by Agatha Christie

"And Then There Were None" by Agatha Christie — Kimia Wood Ten strangers lured to an island. A phonograph accuses them each of murder. One by one, they start dying.

Who will be left standing? And just who is the murderer?!

As the author’s note explains, Agatha Christie wrote this because it would be hard…and she certainly pulls off a spine-chilling whodunit stuffed with questions about morality and “the perfect murder.”

Characters and Voice

Ten characters. Ten unique personalities and voices?

Yes and no. A couple of the characters die off so soon we don’t really get to spend much time with them, although they do get painted in general strokes.

Mrs. Christie breaks all kinds of writerly rules – but hey, she’s Agatha Christie! Whether she’s writing from the perspectives of most of the different characters, or using stereotypical short-hand to quickly clue us in to the character types at the story’s start, she goes against what your author “guru” on the internet probably told you to do…but still weaves an edge-of-your-seat thriller.

We are introduced to all the characters at the start of the book. Thus, we have a working knowledge of each of them and what makes them tick before they start dropping like flies.

But each and every one of them has a deep, dark secret hidden in there, too – from the young governess-turned-schoolteacher to the soldier-of-fortune, from the ex-policeman to the star surgeon with a drunk past.

As more secrets unravel step by agonizing step, we begin wondering if we can root for any of these people…and yet we can’t help rooting for them after “riding in their head” through this harrowing adventure. (That’s part of Mrs. Christie’s theme – more on that later.)

Suspense

I’ve been struggling to read over the past few months, but I finished this little classic in just a few days. To be frank, I should have put it down earlier in the day, because that night I tossed and turned with half-dreams of these characters I had bonded with facing mysterious death.

With zero gore and very little detail of the actual act of dying, or the dead bodies, Mrs. Christie still paints a picture of horror and encroaching dread where the characters question their grip on sanity.

I ask you, can any modern torture-porn horror author claim to have written something as chilling yet lasting as And Then There Were None?

The Onion of Mystery

Unlike a Robert Ludlum spy book, there’s no deep conspiracy here (which is what I’ve meant by “onion” in the past) but there is a “mad” killer on the loose on this rocky, isolated island.

Who is the killer? Which of the men and women in this lonely house could be capable of this elaborate, even artistic death-trap?

Mrs. Christie admitted it was hard to write, but she pulls it off. I didn’t guess the killer at all (partly because I was hamstrung by a Get Smart episode with a false assumption), but once it’s revealed it makes sense.

And that is the mark of a great mystery writer: to string the audience along until the big reveal, then have them cock their heads and nod and say, “Oh, yes, I see how that makes sense, now.”

Justice and Murder

This book bears a very similar theme to Murder on the Orient Express. There, the victim was a well-known gangster and murderer. Here, all ten of the characters are accused of murder.

And yet, the law can’t touch them. One man ran over some kids while speeding…another kicked a pregnant girl out of her boarding house, and the girl committed suicide (understandable given the culture of the time).

Thus, the Big Bad assumes he/she’s justified in killing these people because they are “murderers” beyond the reach of the law.

And yet…is he/she really right to take the law into his/her own hands even though the others are supposedly “guilty”? (And without a true trial, can we be sure that they are guilty?)

The answer of the Bible is manifestly: no! The king is appointed to punish the wrongdoers (Rom. 13:3-4), and we are not to stand on our rights (Phil. 2:5-8) or take matters into our own hands (Rom. 12:17-20).

But a person determined to construct the “perfect crime” is understandably not concerned with Biblical morality. The whole situation is orchestrated to baffle the police and gratify the perpetrator (and vicariously the readers, who will devour this safely contained horror of a puzzle box).

I realize I can’t say more without giving spoilers, but I was intrigued to realize Mrs. Christie has explored these themes on two different occasions…especially as I had connected it with a more “modern” trend in detective fiction of adding grey to both detective and criminal, thus rendering the contrast less black-and-white.

But I guess trying to validate the evil-doer is nothing new.

Gather the Survivors for the Revelation of the Culprit!

Agatha Christie is the culprit. She wrote this.

I was the victim. I fell under the spell of this book, and thoroughly enjoyed every spine-chilling, stomach-twisting moment.

You are the detective. Read this book, and see if you can figure out who the murderer is…before it’s too late!


And Then There Were None is available on Amazon (Kindle, paperback, hardback, or audiobook), Barnes&Noble (paperback, hardback, Nook, and audiobook), Kobo (also offers audiobook), and the Book Depository (free worldwide shipping).

Subscribe to Kimia Wood’s mailing list for a FREE e-copy of her post-apocalyptic adventure novella Soldier! You’ll also receive periodic updates on her latest reading and writing adventures!

“Transmutation of Shadow” Chapter 1

"Transmutation of Shadow" Chapter 1 — Kimia WoodCheck out the first chapter of my upcoming action-adventure Transmutation of Shadow! Meet Eric Kedzierski, psionic human and assassin extraordinaire…and, yes, his last name is very “long, ugly, and Polish” (his words).

Subscribe to the mailing list to be alerted as soon as it’s ready for publishing! (We’re currently waiting on beta reader feedback…)


Business As Usual

In which I kill somebody.

I eyed the two-lane country road, twenty yards below me.

“Target is four minutes out,” came Oscar’s voice through the plug in my ear.

“Roger,” I said, low toned.

Combat mics are designed to pick up soft voices. Of course, I was the only human being in about two miles of the spot. I’d made sure of that when I first arrived.

I double-checked my handiwork on the tree. It was already dead, leaning slightly toward the incline and the road. A storm had recently passed through, as the lightening-scorched poplar a hundred feet to my right showed, so the set-up was more believable.

I had weakened the base of the dead tree with a focused energy lance, and now all it would need was a concentrated mental shove. The age of the tree, and the lightening in the area, would both discourage anyone from analyzing for psionic scorches.

“Target three minutes out,” said Oscar.

I knelt at the base of my tree, the better to see the road through a gap in the foliage. My form-hugging combat suit protected my knees from the damp grass.

“Any word on the escort?” I asked.

“Armored SUV, three bodyguards, one driver,” said Oscar, from the data pulled up on his computer screen in the command center at Langley. “Chase vehicle about eight minutes behind, looks like, so you’ll have to hustle.”

I nodded to myself. The branches I had tossed onto the curve of the road fifty yards away would look like storm debris, and would make the car slow down.

“Three bodyguards,” I muttered. “Oil sheiks are paranoid, huh?”

“I think anybody who makes it onto our list is paranoid,” Oscar answered. “After all, it’s not just the United States he’s ticked off over the years. I’m sure there are some rival oil kings who’ve lost minions or trade deals to him. Maybe he’s responsible for that ambassador we lost in the Middle East. I don’t know; they don’t tell me these things.”

I adjusted my goggles, switching to thermal vision to make sure no stray cars were coming. The last thing I needed at the moment was a civilian blundering in to the set-up.

“Not my problem. I don’t make the big decisions,” I said.

My handler of many years said nothing. It’d been a standing inside joke between us: we don’t get paid enough to decide who should die. That’s for the bureaucrats who run the Agency to do. Got a complaint? Go talk to Congress.

Car engine. With a directed psionic ping, I received feedback in one of my goggles for movement telemetry.

Sure enough, they were moving around the corner. They slowed at the tree branches, and lumbered carefully around the curve.

“American car,” I whispered to Oscar.

“Huh?”

“It’s a GMC. Are you sure –?”

“Look, the spooks have been tracking them for weeks. Yes, it’s the right car. Go for it!”

The SUV cautiously picked up speed. The driver was being careful, given the hilly terrain.

Digital overlays in my goggles gave me the timing. With all the technology, this job was hardly a challenge —

I lanced the tree, giving it an energized shove with my hand for good measure. The tree crashed into the road, and the SUV plowed into it, squealing as the driver tried to apply the brakes.

As I sprinted down the hill from my hiding place, I was already feeling out the lock. Very standard stuff…I mean, couldn’t a corrupt Arab tyrant invest in a little more complicated door lock?

At the touch of my finger, an electrical pulse overrode the car’s computer, and I yanked the rear door open.

My other hand cracked the top on the vial, and nonlethal gas blew into the car. My glance flitted between the unconscious faces

“Target ID?” I hissed, checking with another psionic pulse that every heart was beating.

“Guy in the middle. Chase car is picking up speed; hurry.”

“Did you do a biometric –”

“It’s the guy in the middle, Shadow! I know my job.”

Holding my breath, I leaned into the car and un-clicked his seat belt. Touching – Ruthless Oil Despot was imitating American culture, with a very nice tailored suit.

With an energized heave, I flung him through the windshield. A psionic pulse, and my Heads Up Display flashed a confirmed death.

I relocked the door and sprinted back up the hill. There was nothing left to do. The tree left no traces. The car lock was un-breached.

And there were no collateral deaths.

“All right, Shadow. HUD says we’ve got a confirmed target elimination.”

I started the hike back to my car, pulled off the road and hidden on the other side of the hill. As I forged deeper into the trees, I heard the chase car’s engine purring around the corner.

“I guess the Middle East will be safer, now,” I said. “Though I can’t help wondering that they’d stage his death on American soil.”

Oscar said nothing for a moment. “Politics isn’t my game,” he said at last. “Especially foreign politics. It’s not our problem.”

Again, I nodded to myself, raising my goggles to see the variegated greenery around me unobstructed. A chipmunk popped its head out of a fallen log, stared at me, and ducked back in again.

With thermal vision, I’d be able to see his heat signature. But what would be the fun of that?

Besides, sometimes chipmunks and I both had to hide.


"Transmutation of Shadow" Chapter 1 — Kimia WoodKimia Wood was raised by an aspiring author, so spinning words and weaving plots is in her blood.

She currently lives with her family somewhere in the American midwest, bracing for the collapse of society by knitting, baking, writing, hobby-farming, and reading as much Twitter as possible before the web goes dark.

Subscribe to the mailing list for a FREE e-copy of her post-apocalyptic adventure novella, Soldier! You’ll also receive periodic updates on her latest reading and writing exploits!

“Time and Again” by Richard Elkins

"Time and Again" by Richard Elkins — Kimia Wood — missionary Missionary autobiographies are one of those things. Memoirs aren’t really my cup of tea, so you can understand why I might approach Time and Again: God’s Sovereignty in the Lives of Two Bible Translators in the Philippines with trepidation.

But…my grandparents gave me the book, it’s written by and about a good friend of theirs, and, well, is it really that bad to sit and listen to the “old folks” tell some stories?

No. It is not that bad!

Quick-Reading

The whole book is pretty slim, which encourages reading. Each chapter or anecdote is usually pretty short, making it less of a commitment to “just read one story”.

And best of all, this is not a “kitchen sink” type of autobiography, where every memorable event from third grade onward is recounted. This book has an explicit purpose, stated in the sub-title…

Witness to God

The theme running throughout the pages is the provision of God and work of God in the lives of the Elkins. As missionaries and Bible translators living deep in the unreached Philippine jungle (living in thatched houses; learning the natives’ customs and trying to follow them; learning new languages and creating dictionaries, then New Testaments, for them), the Elkins had many opportunities to see God’s hand at work in direct or indirect ways.

The most touching account is where Mr. Elkins describes visiting a tribe deep in the forest – a tribe that could only be reached by a three-day hike over the mountains.

When he shared the gospel with them – comforting their fears about God’s judgement and sharing the joy of forgiveness in Jesus Christ – I had tears in my eyes.

[I said,] “Those first ancestors of ours, Adan and Eba, disobeyed, and we, like them, have also disobeyed [God].”

The datu [tribal leader] nodded. “That is true. I wonder why we always seem to do what is wrong and not what is right?”

“I have read in [God’s] Book that one day he is going to punish the people in the world who have disobeyed him.”

“We know about that, too, and it frightens us.” He thought for a moment. “You know, you Americans live way out on the edge of the earth, and we Matigsalug people live right here in the center. When [God] comes to punish, he will get to you first. Will you come quickly here and tell us so we can get ready?”

I looked into his eyes. “That’s the very reason why we came.”

Fear leaped into his face. “You mean that [God] is right now on his way to punish us?”

“No, I have better news than that. [God] has a “big breath” (great love) for all people. So he sent someone special to rescue us so we will never be punished.…”

Missionary Life

If you’ve never been exposed to tales of the missionary life, this is a good short-and-sweet introduction. Find out about the “good old days” when multi-day hikes through rugged terrain, native-built houses without plumbing, and short-wave radio communication were the norm.

In one chapter, Mr. Elkins describes how they rushed their son to medical treatment via porter, then truck…and God provided every step of the way.

Or how about when their native translation assistant chose to help finish preparing the Bible, instead of fencing off his field? His crop was destroyed by wild pigs, but he praised God as God provided over and above what he expected.

A Testimony

This would be an excellent book for introducing your children to the lifestyles and challenges of missionaries, with stories that emphasize at every point the power of God in the every-day…and how even the “super-obedient missionary saints” need the strength of Jesus to obey, to learn, and to overcome their own selfishness and arrogance.

In fact, it could be a useful book for anyone.


Time and Again is available on Amazon, at Barnes&Noble, Kobo, and the Book Depository (free worldwide shipping).

Subscribe to Kimia Wood’s mailing list for a FREE e-copy of her post-apocalyptic adventure novella Soldier! You’ll also receive periodic updates on her latest reading and writing adventures.

“A Newbery Christmas”

"A Newbery Christmas" — Kimia Wood — Christmas story Christmas is…an interesting topic.

What do you think about when you hear the word? What does a “Christmas story” mean? It forms an entire genre of fiction…but defining that genre is in the eye of the beholder.

Besides which, for some of us Christmas has the deeper purpose of celebrating Christ – the Anointed One – the Eternal God taking on flesh and walking the earth in the form of a human.

This collection of “Christmas” stories, penned by fourteen different Newbery Award-winning authors, was interesting on a number of different levels. Not only did the tone and style change depending on the attitude of the author, but also their view of Christmas (and what it means) was remarkably varying.

So, what is a “Christmas story”?

The “Just So” Fable

Some of them recalled the roots of Christmas. Theses stories have the flavor of a “fairytale retelling” as they relate the basic story elements – Mary giving birth to a special baby in a stable – and sprinkle it with their own twists.

For instance: Mary giving birth without making a sound…animals being given the gift of speech so as to relate the events from a thousand years ago…and Catholic saints traveling through time and space to get a peek at the manger scene.

For some people, this is what makes a “Christmas story” — Saturday Evening Post-type nostalgia mixed with church traditions.

The “Santa” Paradigm

The Newbery Award is for children’s literature, so the stories in this anthology are naturally geared toward children.

Some children view Christmas solely in the context of the presents they get. Older children are usually concerned about the presents they give away, also.

A good author captures the attitudes and thoughts of her viewpoint character.

But there is a line between accurately portraying a child’s limited worldview, and structuring your narrative with only these materialistic elements that reenforce the limited worldview. Sometimes, that line is very hard to find.

Is a “Christmas story” about giving gifts? Is it about discovering that what you really, really want is not as important as what you need?

Perhaps. For some people, that’s what they mean by a “Christmas story”.

My Personal Favorite

My favorite story is the selection by Madeleine L’Engle (ironically enough).

While not an “orthodox” Christian, she does a good job giving readers a sense of the “true meaning of Christmas” (as the clichés call it). Not only does her story follow a family celebrating the holiday with church, food, and snow – it gives a realistic portrayal of Christians acting in a way consistent with the character of God: with love, grace, and peace in the face of unexpected stress.

What is a “Christmas Story”?

To borrow Andrew Klavan’s explanation, a “Christmas story” is the tale of a character exchanging their value set. As in Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, when Ebenezer Scrooge exchanges his own value set (selfishness and money) for a more “heavenly” value set (generosity, legacy, and community) his motivation, actions, and lifestyle change.

He is transformed. He is a “man who learns better” because of the new values that descend on his life (and once he accepts them, his behavior changes).

This mirrors the original “Christmas” story, where our paradigms of self-centeredness, self-righteousness, and selfishness are confronted by God’s system.

That system being that we could do nothing to rescue ourselves, but God in His grace came down to earth (wearing human flesh and bone) and gave Himself to us…not only showing us the example for perfect love and kindness, but also making it possible for us to live in a way that pleases Him (through His Holy Spirit setting up shop without our own hearts and changing us from the inside out).

This strikes me as a good, understandable explanation of what makes a “Christmas story”.

Does something count as a “Christmas story” if it’s a peppermint-flavored romance set in December? According to this paradigm, only if they focus on the protagonist’s value set being exchanged for a “higher” one.

How about all the stories that wrap around a child getting exactly what they want for Christmas? Well…is the point that they don’t get what they want, but rather what they need? That focus on receiving a fresh values set would make it a Christmas story under this definition.

(For what it’s worth, Mr. Klavan says that Holly in Die Hard is in a Christmas movie, because the system she uses to evaluate and measure the world is challenged and replaced…but John from Die Hard is in an action movie, instead. Having never seen the movie, I can’t appraise his appraisal.)

But This is Actually a Review

What do you expect from a “Christmas anthology”? What are you looking to get out of it?

A couple of these stories are thought-provoking or emotionally resonant. A few of them are short and quippy, or more geared toward kids.

So…to resolve your itch for “Christmas genre” stories, or to give your kids something short and easy to read, it would work. Also works as a Christmas-themed coffee-table gift.

These stories probably won’t change your life. But it’s all a matter of expectations.

So, what does “Christmas” mean to you?


A Newberry Christmas features fourteen stories, by fourteen different Newberry-winning authors from Ruth Sawyer and Rachel Field to Lois Lenski, Eleanor Estes, and Madeleine L’Engle. It is edited/compiled by Martin H. Greenberg and Charles G. Waugh.

It is available on Amazon.

Subscribe to Kimia Wood’s mailing list for a FREE e-copy of her post-apocalyptic novella Soldier, plus periodic updates on her latest reading and writing adventures.

“Nomad of the Emirates” by E.B. Dawson

If we met aliens, could we relate to them?

This story is short, but still explores some fascinating concepts.

Earth has sent an emissary to the alien society called “the Emirates” – but a human is already living there. Is it possible the grass-roots free market has bested extensive government training at its own game?

The Opening

The narrator opens in the heart of an alien harvest, watching the new Earth emissary (the “Captain”) as she watches the harvesting operation.

However, we quickly jump into the narrator’s head, a cheerful, self-deprecating human who has forged a place for herself in this alien culture. Through her experienced eyes, we can plunge into this differently-colored world full of complex greeting ceremonies without losing our footing. Continue reading

“Coffee Cake Days” by Amanda Tero

"Coffee Cake Days" by Amanda Tero — Kimia Wood This story is short enough to read in less than an hour. It feels very much like a personal anecdote that just got written down.

Perhaps this is especially true because I could easily picture the homeschooling, Bible reading, five-children family where it took place. How well I remember those days doing school at the dining room table while toddlers played underfoot!

That’s Meg’s problem, too. Although she’s graduated, she wants to spend time in God’s word…but her chores and her siblings keep getting in the way.

Ever had something you wanted to do “for” God, but it seemed things kept not working out? Maybe you were working up to sharing the gospel with a coworker, who ended up being off that day? Maybe you were studying to be a missionary, but then your mother got sick and you had to take care of her? You might even wish you could give more money to charity, but the sickness of a child drains all your spare funds.

Meg has the same problem. She wants to be like Mary, sitting at the feet of Jesus! Then why does life keep turning her into Martha, swallowed by cooking, cleaning, and serving? Desperate to read through and memorize more passages of Scripture, she steals moments here and there, and snaps at her family when they intrude on her devotional time.

Might her problem relate to our own?

My singular quibble is about the shortness of the story. Not that I think it needs to be longer; no, I loved being able to zip right through it, and all necessary details are included. But as a stand-alone file, many readers might be expecting more than this…especially if they’ve paid actual money for it. If I were the author, I might bundle this with some other, similar stories and charge for the collection…possibly even making this lone story perma-free to tempt people to plunge into the larger volume. That’s a marketing decision, and I can’t exactly claim expert knowledge of marketing principles.

To avoid making my review longer than the story itself, I’ll just say one more thing. The struggle between reading what God wants and practicing what God wants is real…in the same way that reading twenty Bible chapters and learning what those chapters have to teach you are two different things.

This story is an exploration of that…another little picture along the journey of life to prove we’re not alone in our struggles. Jesus taught in stories — well, here’s another one.

Read. Learn. Then apply. ‘Cause that last one is the part that always gets us…and is most important.


Disclaimer: I received a free ebook copy of the book during a promotion. I was not required to write a review, positive or otherwise.

You can read my interview with the author here, or find more on her website here.

Coffee Cake Days is available on Amazon, and as of this reading was available to read free via Kindle Unlimited. The book includes a recipe for the coffee cake on the cover.

“The Reluctant Godfather” by Allison Tebo

 Cinderella doesn’t have a fairy godmother – but a fairy godfather. And he’s not old, frumpy, and cheerful…he’s young, grumpy, and prone to losing his temper.

For this fairy godfather, who only has two wards – the prince and a girl named Ella – it seems the perfect solution for them to fall in love and make each other happy, thus freeing him to devote himself to cake-baking for the rest of his life. But can he pull it off in just one ball?

This story caught my eye during one of the Indie Christian Author sales, and when I got the chance to pick up a review copy as part of the re-launch blog tour, I jumped on it.

TL;DR— I recommend this cute little story for anyone into romance, and anyone who’s been wishing someone would turn this classic fairy tale on its head. Continue reading

“Over the Waves” by Marianne Olson

 The year is 1918, and Joel wants to be a newspaper reporter – not a tailor in his father’s shop. When his mother decides to visit her family back in Sweden, Joel gets the chance to accompany her – and prove that he’s responsible enough to choose what he wants to do in life.

On top of the normal dangers of a steamer voyage, the Great War breaks out, stranding them on the wrong side of the ocean! Continue reading