The Gemstone Affair by Ken Turner

It’s summertime again, but beaches and restaurants are closed or have restricted access, and we have been cooped up at home for months. Our attention spans are dwindling, but we still need something to occupy our minds. What’s the solution? The Gemstone Affair by Ken Turner. At 110 pages, this novella (or, ‘noirvella’) is the perfect summer read.

The Gemstone Affair – A Max Goodbrand noirvella

Turner chose the 1940s for the setting of this work. The protagonist is a scotch-drinking gumshoe who is down on his luck, when a mysterious woman appears with a job for him, and a wad of cash he can’t resist. Her request seems straight-forward: to retrieve four gemstones that are rightfully hers, which were smuggled out of Germany in the war.

The situation escalates quickly, and we learn that things are not what they seem. Max awakens to shots through his window, bodies start piling up around him, and the person we know as ‘Mrs. Smith’ makes some startling revelations.

The author stays true to the Dick Tracy-esque tone throughout the story, using words like ‘fellas’ and ‘swindlers,’ and phrases like, “you’ve been double-crossed, doll.” While references to Coca-Cola bottle caps, an Underwood typewriter, and a Walther PPK sidearm are effective ways of transporting us back in time without slowing the pace of the story through lengthy descriptions. Nods to pop culture of the day keep us rooted in the past, as well: Errol Flynn, Lindbergh’s flight to Paris, and the 1932 movie The Mummy, to name a few.

I can honestly say that I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It’s action-packed and atmospheric, full of surprises and witty dialogue, guaranteed to keep you turning the pages. Be sure to read the Afterword for some insights into the inspiration for Max Goodbrand, and a note about the author’s love for this golden age that has captured so many hearts and imaginations. The Gemstone Affair is available from Amazon.ca here, and if you’re ready to kick-start your summer reading, there’s no better way to do it. Enjoy!

Carnegie Libraries: Woodstock

Next stop on our tour of Carnegie libraries in Ontario is the Woodstock Public Library. And what a magnificent one it is!

Woodstock Public Library, built in 1909

I’m ashamed to admit that I had no idea there was such a wealth of history and historic architecture in Woodstock. But there are a great many beautiful and well-maintained buildings in this city, and one of them is the public library. Unlike the other Carnegie libraries we have visited in this blog, the Woodstock Public Library actually began almost a century before its current home was built. According to TourismOxford.ca, a Reading Society was formed in Woodstock in 1835. It was a private group with an annual fee, and it was known as the “Woodstock Subscription Library” by 1836.

Detail of the portico

By 1840, the society had grown to 60 members, and by 1935, there were over 3,300! (WPL – history) In the gap between those years, the Carnegie Foundation provided a grant of $24,000.00, and the Woodstock Public Library opened to the public in 1909. In 1976, it was designated as a historic building.

The imposing entrance showing the characteristic ‘Carnegie stairs’ and ‘Carnegie basement’ that were so often incorporated into these libraries

The WPL has its own Twitter feed, with links to numerous resources on wellness, the promotion of literacy, programming for all ages, and a whole lot more. With all the COVID restrictions in effect lately, this library was closed when I was there, but things are starting to open up again, and we can hope that all our libraries will soon be the thriving community hubs they have always been.

Thanks again for stopping by! Stay tuned for the next installment of our Carnegie Libraries travelogue soon. 💜

Sources:
WPL History: https://www.mywpl.ca/library-history
History of Woodstock PL: www.tourismoxford.ca/listing/detail/ArticleId/12890/History-of-the-Woodstock-Public-Library.aspx
Woodstock Public Library Twitter: https://twitter.com/WoodstockLib

A bookshop to yourself!

On a recent visit to my in-laws in the Windsor, ON area I thought I would do a quick Google search for local independent booksellers. I found the Biblioasis Bookstore, and took a brief tour of their webpage, sad that it was likely closed. But then, I saw that they are offering 30-minute PRIVATE browsing sessions which you can book through their website. You can even request music to browse to! Naturally, I immediately booked myself a session that afternoon, and kept my eye on the clock as time slowly passed until it was time to get in the car and head over.

Detail of the Biblioasis storefront on Wyandotte St.

They provide very clear instructions and information on their website about what to expect: please wear a mask, but if you don’t have your own, one will be provided. Gloves will also be provided if needed. You can touch any book you like, but if you don’t end up purchasing it, you must replace it on a cart so it can be wiped down and disinfected before it gets put back on the shelf.

The welcoming view upon entering the Biblioasis Bookstore

This bookstore was exactly as I hoped it would be: old hardwood floors, shelves full of interesting books, friendly staff, a bright front window, and fun bookish gifts for every bibliophile (cards, puzzles, etc.). They have the usual assortment of fiction and new releases, but also some really neat local interest books. The super-cool part of discovering this book store is that Biblioasis is *also* an independent publisher! You can check out their press at www.Biblioasis.com.

#shelfie

If you’ve read much of this blog, you know I love a good cozy mystery, so I picked up a couple more during my private browsing session – both to do with bookshops!

I was impressed by what a great solution Biblioasis came up with, to resume the retail experience amid the ongoing economic upheaval caused by COVID-19. Imagine: an entire bookstore to yourself! If that’s not a dream come true, I don’t know what is. Thank you, Biblioasis 💖

#BlackLivesMatter

In response to the tremendous upheaval caused by the death of George Floyd, I have not felt it appropriate to post anything here for the past several days.

Now, in honor of this tragic event, and in the hope that true change comes as a result, I wanted to do a post on Native Son by Richard Wright, which I read several years ago.

Especially relevant today, in this time of renewed civil unrest and loud calls for deep change, this book is a searingly accurate social commentary decades ahead of its time. It was originally published in 1940, but has the feel of a modern novel. The main character is a young black man, who accidentally kills a young white woman, and the story quickly escalates from there. At times disturbingly graphic, the story clearly illustrates the systemic racism that prevailed in 1930s Chicago.

Over the years I have recommended this book many times, and if you haven’t yet read it, now is the time to get a copy. I cannot stress what a gripping and convicting book this is, and I guarantee it will cause a lot of thought and discussion, and possibly a change in outlook.

It is absolutely true that all lives matter, and no single group should be seen as more important than others, but right now, we need to stand behind the Black Lives Matter movement. Racism against those of African decent is in the spotlight today, and it must come to an end now, forever. We must hope that with the victories that will surely come as a result of the protests after George Floyd’s death, racism against all ethnicities will become a thing of the past.

#BlackLivesMatter