Sunday, July 19, 2009

"Just Another Shade of Blue" and "Casualty Crossing" , by Kevin Hughes

Kevin Hughes has a Superman job and a Clark Kent job, although there may be disagreement as to which is which. He's a Dane County Sheriff's detective with a 30+-year career, and he also writes mystery novels.

"Just Another Shade of Blue" was Hughes' debut novel. It was based on the real-life homicide case of Doris Ann McLeod, which he investigated. The novel achieved the almost impossible task of finding justice for the murder victim by setting forth the circumstances of her tragic life. From childhood onward she had been so isolated and exploited, so uniformly betrayed, that when she disappeared nobody reported her missing. A mutilated corpse was found, but its identity remained a mystery for many months. The actual McLeod case was solved, in the end, by the strangest of flukes: a toddler happened to lisp a few words, chilling ones, that a detective realized were a description of the victim's terrible last moments. In Hughes' book, Detective Toby Jenkins finds a solution every bit as harrowing and odd.

Hughes' second novel, "Casualty Crossing," begins by describing the abusive home life of 14-year-old Billy: "He was the kid who ate lunch alone, who chose to sit in the back of the room. In the locker room, eyes were blind to the bruises on his back as he quickly changed outfits. Those bruises weren't small; it was just that nobody noticed the wallflower of a kid or had any reason to care." Billy has a confrontation with his violent, repulsive slob of a stepfather, Virgil--and it has to be said that Virgil is so evil, most readers will want to somehow jump into the book and knock his head off. Billy flees in terror, the book follows him on a desperate odyssey without ever pausing for breath, and so do we.

Hughes gets so many things right in these books. He has the storytelling instinct which drives action ahead--not always gracefully or smoothly, but then, these are mystery novels, not ballroom dances. The dialogue, especially between T.J. Jenkins and his colleagues, is the tough real deal: it jumps back at you with raw candor. And it's a pleasure to make the acquaintance of T.J., although he isn't one of your glamorous pretty-boy detectives, consulting wine lists, and combing society nymphets out of his hair. He's defiantly rough around the edges. He has an alcohol problem, is on terms of mutual contempt with a boss, his divorce left him with little more than the shirt on his back, and he's often rude, crude, and unkempt. (The grimly hilarious first scene of "Casualty Crossing", which has a hungover T.J. frantically smelling garments in his scruffy wardrobe to find the least gamey for a court appearance, demonstrates the last.)

In one scene, T.J. describes his world as "shitty," and himself as a buffoon. But the reader sees much more. T.J. is honest to the bitter end. He's loyal to friends, and he has a tremendously cranky but real dedication to his job. He has skills: in the crunch and at his absolute best, he can see like a deaf man and hear like the blind. He's committed to hunting bad guys, and he protects and serves the innocent. He gets the important things right.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Defanging The Vampire Bully

"Never allow yourself to be bullied into silence. Never allow yourself to be made a victim. Accept no one's definition of your life. Define yourself.
Harvey Firestone

"A bully is a big a--hole with a little bit of man attached."
Mickey Rourke, actor

"I was the kid who used to get shoved into lockers by school bullies. Because of that, I have never felt like a star in my life."
Winona Rourke, actor

"I paid a worker at New York's zoo to open it just for me and Robin (Tyson's then-wife). When we got to the gorilla cage there was a big silverback gorilla there just bullying the other gorillas. They were so powerful but their eyes were like an innocent infant. I offered the attendant $10,000 to open the cage and let me smash that silverback right on the snotbox. He declined."
(As a young child, Mike Tyson had been savagely abused.)

"A bully is an emotionally retarded vampire. He is not entitled to your blood."
Marlena de Blasi, writer

"Stalking is bullying. One of the hardest jobs a cop will ever face is getting it through the head of a true sleazebag that he can't dog, stalk, threaten, and otherwise torment a woman he wants, who won't have anything to do with him. He thinks it's in his Slimeball's Bill of Rights somewhere."
Officer Billy Leo

"All bullying should be met by steel."
Gypsy saying

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Crunchy Glory Fried Chicken

"It's not any good unless it's got some grease in it."
Tina Turner

This was my family's favorite chicken recipe. The dish first became popular in the 50's, when people became fascinated by the culinary possibilities of the potato chip. Maybe it should be called Tina Turner Fried Chicken. It's sumptuously greasy, but if you MUST pump up the health factor, substitute extra virgin olive oil for the peanut oil.

Pour most of a bag of Lay's potato chips, the ridged kind, into a sturdy plastic bag. The chips should be fresh, not the kind that have been mellowing on top of your refrigerator in a gaping bag for three months. Take your rolling pin and whale away at the chips until they're ground small. Put them into a bowl.

Dry your cut-up chicken pieces on paper towels. Next, roll them in vegetable oil (peanut oil is best, but corn will do) and then in the ground chips. Make sure they're very well coated all over. Place them skin side up, in a shallow pan big enough so that the pieces aren't crowded. Bake at 375 degrees for somewhere between an hour and an hour and a half, depending on the doneness you prefer. I like to bake chicken until I KNOW that hen won't scratch no more. There's nothing more disgusting than seeing blood and raw tendons on a nasty, undercooked bird. At 90 minutes the pieces will have reached a deep, crusty, delicious mahogany brown. Let them cool slightly, then have at it.

This is so good it's ridiculous. Even if you've eaten half the bird, you'll still want to scrape the crispy bits out of the pan. Sweetened iced tea is nice with this; or you might try a favorite picnic drink of the 50's: a tall glass filled with half grape juice, half 7 Up, and ice. And to round out the 50's theme, and make your heart and eyes glad, you might serve the meal on one of those lovely vintage tablecloths: crisp cotton that you've ironed, with a design of berries and green vines and rosy flowers...