Dear TCL Readers:
I got my first dose last Friday at the racetrack. I don’t gamble and even if I did I wouldn’t bet on horses and so I’d never visited the Aqueduct Racetrack in Queens before. (Here’s why I was eligible, by the way.) So this pandemic anniversary already feels different, and not “oh, it’s March again.” I see the end, differentially distributed and still horrifically unequal. I suspect more of you have received first doses, maybe even second doses, and that will only increase over the next month.
After the vaccination — simple, efficient, friendly, if acoustically challenged, also Pfizer — I sat around waiting for an allergic reaction that never showed up. One of the security guards wandered by and, unprompted, said: “if you wait for another 15-20 minutes you can see the horses go by.”
Maybe I will when I go back in a few weeks.
I won’t send out a newsletter to announce each new NYTBR column, but since it’s still early in my tenure, here is the latest one, reviewing new books by Sarah Langan, Rio Youers, Nalini Singh, and Allison Epstein. Thank you first and foremost to the readers, whom I hope these reviews (and in many cases, recommendations) are helpful. Thank you also to all the publicists who have auto-approved me on NetGalley and who have been judicious and careful in their pitches. For what it’s worth: I’m reading late spring/early summer titles now, and generally work several months ahead of schedule.
Some other freelance pieces landed over the past couple of weeks. I reviewed Tori Telfer’s Confident Women for AirMail. Telfer’s work is a mix of storytelling and reporting, and I enjoyed it immensely (especially the essays where she did a significant amount of reporting on little-known con artists, though the better-known stories were well done, too.) And for InsideHook, I wrote a career retrospective on Robert Littell, America’s emeritus (and, to my mind, greatest living) espionage novelist.
It was such a pleasure to read all of his books — The Company (2002) is his masterwork, but my favorite is The Sisters (1986) which seemed exactly what I needed in the runup to the 2020 election. But I did discover some surprises:
After the piece ran, I heard from Littell himself. He enjoyed the piece, which was gratifying to hear, and said he had just completed a new novel, “set in 1990-91 when the Soviet Union was being swept into the dustbin of history and a post-Soviet state had not yet put down roots.” He also wanted to know how I’d discovered the various bits of information about his family, and specifically that his father, Leon, changed his name from Litzky to Littell, sharing a story (which he’s given permission for me to quote) of how that change came to be:
My father had to give a reason to the judge in order to change Litzky to Littell. The reason he gave: he was being held up to endless humiliation because of the similarity of his name, Leon Litzky, to that of a Russian Menshevik who lived in New York for three months before the Bolshevik Revolution named Leon Trotsky. The judge must have smiled when he granted my father permission to change the family name.
In addition, there are two events coming up next week. On Tuesday, March 9 at 6:30 Eastern/5:30 Central, I’ll be part of an all-star panel for Elon Green’s Last Call: A True Story of Love, Lust, and Murder in Queer New York (read an excerpt here!) hosted by Left Bank Books and sponsored by Crimereads. Elon and I will be joined by David Grann and Bob Kolker, with Benjamin Dreyer as moderator. Here’s the link to register.
And on March 11 at 7 PM Eastern, I’ll be moderating a panel on Dark Academia featuring Amy Gentry (Bad Habits) Elisabeth Thomas (Catherine House) and Micah Nemerever (These Violent Delights). McNally Jackson is hosting, and you can register here.
Finally, some of what I’ve been enjoying that aren’t books:
I just started listening to Connie Walker’s new podcast for Gimlet, Stolen: The Search for Jermain. It is, as expected and hoped for, excellent, and exactly what true crime podcasting should be, and too often is not.
Terry Castle on Patricia Highsmith, her life and biographies, is a delight.
Deb Perelman has been my and many others’ cooking spirit guide throughout the pandemic and I loved this profile of her.
The 1963 murder of Chicago politician Ben Lewis ought to have been solved years ago, and the reasons why are infuriating, if not altogether surprising.
And where did all the figure skaters go?
I hope this month, and going forward, you are all kind to yourselves. It’s been the hardest year, and there is no getting around that.
Until next time, I remain,
The Crime Lady