Friday, May 29, 2015

Saying Goodbye to Boredom

I've been in the pits recently, overly busy, grouchy and bored. Things are so bad, I just caught myself watching an online cat video. It was Ninja Cat (with haunting music), but still. Enough is enough.

It's time to read something that kicks boredom to the curb. Here are a couple of books that worked this magic for me and a couple I'm reading now. If you're bored and fed up with your usual fare, maybe one of these will work for you too.

Lee Child's Jack Reacher is a 6'5", 230-pounder with blue eyes and dirty blond hair. This rootless ex-Army MP travels around the country with no cellphone or planned destination and only the clothes on his back. When he needs an outfit change, he buys something and throws the old ones away. Sleep happens wherever he lies down. From time to time, his Army past drags him back into action. For all his toughness and cynicism, Reacher knows what's what and how to use his head. In Personal (Delacorte, 2014), Reacher spots an old Army Times personal ad addressed to him by a man he owes a favor. Almost before Reacher knows it, he's on the hunt for a sniper so skilled only a few in the world are possible suspects. One of the possibilities is a man fresh out of prison who swore vengeance when Reacher put him there 16 years ago. Could he be the one who took the unsuccessful shot at the president of France?

The attempted assassination target and the race to capture a sniper are nods to Frederick Forsyth's 1971 classic, Day of the Jackal, and if you haven't read that thriller and seen the movie, do it. With another nod, this time to James Bond-creator Ian Fleming, whose Bond girls always have ridiculous names, Reacher's potential love interest and work colleague is named Casey Nice. Nice and Reacher (I almost said "Easy") are off to Paris and then London, where they rendezvous with their British counterparts and meet people who aren't Nice. (I can't be expected to pass up the chance to say that.) It's not one of the best Reacher books I've read but any Reacher is better than no Reacher.

Any day of the week, a lot of kids would consider Annette Vess a cool mom. She was a storyteller extraordinaire, especially about how she lost one of her two missing fingers––a mean woman got lucky with a knife in a South American jail. Sometimes "Uncle" Paul would appear and Annette, a spy and single mother, would leave for weeks. Three years after her death, her adult children, Dee and Simon, still find their mother mysterious, but there's no doubt Annette loved them and they loved her. As Jamie Mason's Monday's Lie (Gallery Books, February 2015) opens, Dee is following a blue sedan. We follow Dee back and forth in time as she explores growing up with her mother's spycraft games, her close relationship with her brother, Simon, a cop, and a marriage to a conventional man Dee thought was the antidote to her very unconventional childhood.

This is a book I liked, despite some overly elaborate writing, because at its heart is the great relationship between a spy and her two kids. Although Monday's Lie doesn't provoke the anxiety or provide the macabre humor of Mason's first book, Three Graves Full, there are enough twists and turns and the wonderful legacy Annette left to Dee and Simon to make me happy.

Here are two books I'm reading now. The first, Adam Roberts's Jack Glass: The Story of a Murderer, won the British Science Fiction Award for Best Novel a few years ago. It's billed by the publisher, Gollancz, as Golden Age sci-fi meets Golden Age crime. There are three interconnected stories: a prison breakout, a locked-room mystery and a whodunit. It's set far in the future when humankind populates the solar system. The very wealthy occupy Earth while the very poor (the sumpolloi) are housed in orbiting shantytown bubbles.  Roberts's writing is witty and sly. We know the narrator, Jack Glass, is a murderer from the beginning but the reasons for his merciless nature are only gradually revealing themselves after the opening: "This narrative, which I hereby doctorwatson for your benefit, o reader, concerns the greatest mystery of our time."

Imagine yourself shuffling along when a hole to another universe opens suddenly in front of you. I don't know about you, but I would be just as likely to run screaming the other way as I would be to step in. I do, however, love portals and wormholes in fiction. (Think Roger Zelazny's A Night in the Lonesome October). Coldbrook (Titan, 2014), sci-fi/horror by Tim Lebbon, is nothing like that quirky and comic Victorian Age gothic, but I was caught at its beginning: "Six hours after forging a pathway from his own reality to another, Jonah Jones closed his eyes to dream." Dream, schream, it's a nightmare for Jonah and the world. The human-like figure that steps out of that hole at Coldbrook, a secret lab in the Appalachians, is not exactly human, after all, and the lab's workers are soon infected. They and I are headed for a tension- and terror-filled apocalypse. Hard to be bored when that happens.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Review of M. J. Carter's The Strangler Vine

The Strangler Vine by M. J. Carter

I was intrigued and tantalized by The Strangler Vine, by M. J. Carter (G.P. Putnam's Sons, March 2015), which is on the long list for the 2015 Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year award. The reason it caught my eye is that I have been a fan for a long time of grand sweeping sagas that take place long ago in faraway lands.

M. M. Kaye's The Far Pavilions was my first taste of Indian history in the days of the British Raj. The title refers to a vision of the mighty Himalayas as seen from a distance. This is a romantic tale of exciting adventures in a backdrop that spans almost the entire Indian subcontinent during a time of great unrest. This was in the late 1850s, just after the Sepoy rebellion.

The conflict began as a mutiny of Indian soldiers against the East India Company's army and it led to the final dissolution of the East India Company and to the British reorganization of the army, the financial system and the administration of India. Rumors that the British were out to destroy the religions of the Indian people was the spark that ignited what turned into a blaze of death and destruction.

Ashok Pelham Martin, a boy born in India of British parents, masquerades as a native until he is grown, and then joins the military. He falls in love with a princess and conspires to save her from certain death.

Kaye, who was born in India and spent much of her early life there, tells her stories with authority. Her father, grandfather, brother, and husband all served the British Raj. Another of her novels, Shadow of the Moon, is about a young British heiress who returns to India and meets her protector, a British military man, who tries to help her during the tumultuous war times of World War II, when the empire is about to topple. Kaye, who followed the drum during her marriage, also has a series of murder mysteries in locations such as Kenya, Cyprus, Berlin, and Kashmir. These are all places she lived in for a while.

If you want to lose yourself in another time and place, you couldn't do better than taking a dip into Paul Scott's Raj Quartet. This I did long before it became a television mini-series.

Beginning with The Jewel in the Crown, Scott tells the story of the final years of the British Raj in India. The epic begins in the year 1942, around the time Mahatma Gandhi was calling for the British to cede this particular part of the British Empire, the jewel in the crown as Queen Victoria called it, back to the Indians. These novels look at the many facets of life in India from the points of view of all the players: the British, the Hindus, the Muslims and the Anglo-indians. It is a fascinating series with a wealth of ambience and history.

Carter's The Strangler Vine takes place almost a century before in 1837, during the days when the British East India Company was at the peak of its power. It leads up to the time of the first rebellion of the Indian soldiers.

The East India Company was formed as early as the 1600s in order to promote trade with the East. Over the next two centuries, it built up its own private army and began to rule and control large parts of India. The company gained power and wealth by levying taxes and by creating a monopoly in the opium trade with China.

The narrator of The Strangler Vine is young William Avery, an ensign in the East India military. He has recently come from England to Calcutta and is fiercely homesick on the one hand and getting himself into a life of dissolution and debt on the other. He is quite naïve, believing everything he is told about the great East India Company, despite the evidence of his eyes. He is actually rather thick and very judgmental.

One of his strong points is a love of reading. His favorite author is Xavier Mountstuart, who had been living in and writing about India for some years. Mountstuart's most recent work is raising a lot of official eyebrows, as it suggests that certain important people in the company are leading disgraceful lives. His work in progress is about the cult of the murderous Thugees, ritual mass murderers who worship the Goddess Kali, she of the many arms and necklace of heads around her neck.

The problem is that Mountstuart has disappeared. The military authorities have asked a certain Jeremiah Blake, a former member of the army who has gone native and who shows little respect for the powers that be, to find him. Avery is promoted to Lieutenant and told to accompany Blake and to keep an eye on him. They travel as rapidly as possible to the heart of northern India, where the author was last seen.

Once there, they find a conspiracy of silence. Blake, who is a polyglot as well as a master of disguise, speaks several Indian dialects as well as Persian, so he is able to gather information from all quarters.  He can sense the discontent and the anxiety of the locals and the distrust of the East India Company wallahs, who want the farmers to grow opium and indigo when the fear of famine is all too real. Avery, on the other hand, speaks nothing but English and is oblivious. He is more concerned about Blake's drive to complete his mission in the face of the disapproval of the territories' military commanders.

It becomes clear that Blake, Avery and their small group of five are in danger and the only way to survive is to trust each other. But unless the scales fall from Avery's eyes, they are doomed.

Okay, so more than once I wanted to smack Avery upside his head or shake some horse sense into him. Some critics have suggested that there is a Sherlock/Watson partnership going on here. But Watson was never this slow to see the obvious.

The title of this novel refers to a vine, which grows in among the trees and chokes the life out of them. It is a metaphor in this case for the way the British East India Company infiltrated a country and tried to obliterate customs, religions and behaviors they considered uncivilized by choking them off.

This is a gripping story––no pun intended.  The tension slowly grows and I experienced a desire for the smugly self-righteous to be taken down several pegs. Knowing the  historical outcomes doesn't take away from the drama, dread and fear as it builds to an exciting climax. I read that there is another installment of the Blake and Avery adventures due out this year, so Ill be looking for it.

Monday, May 18, 2015

When You're Too Tired to Sleep

What do you do when you fall into bed exhausted and then can't get to sleep? After rejecting ideas too masochistic (scouring out the bathtub, ironing) and even worse (lying there and making a mental list of where you've gone wrong since first grade, pondering our current US Congress), you should reach for a book or a DVD and the remote. Which one all depends on how you feel.

Morgan Freeman and Tim Robbins
If work has you feeling imprisoned and you've got a life sentence with those in bed beside you: your spouse, snoring and snorting in his sleep, and your dog, who won't stop licking his privates: Break out with George Clooney in O, Brother, Where Art Thou?, if you're hankering for a Coen brothers movie with bluegrass music, or Out of Sight, if you're more in the mood for an escaped Clooney pining after Jennifer Lopez, who plays a dedicated US marshal in a movie based on the Elmore Leonard novel. Perhaps you like the idea of the prison being a World War II German POW camp, and your thoughts about the escapee run to the more the merrier, and include Steve McQueen on a motorcycle; if so, fire up The Great Escape. You could watch a cult favorite, The Shawshawk Redemption, featuring unconventional prisoner Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins), and his buddy, the prisoner/entrepreneur, Red (Morgan Freeman).

Or, crack open Michael Robotham's Life or Death (Mulholland, March 2015), for a look at another enigmatic prisoner, Audie Palmer, who climbs out of a Texas prison the night before he's due to be paroled. Audie had admitted his involvement in an armored truck robbery that led to the deaths of four people. He was sentenced to 10 years, but the missing $7 million was never recovered. Weaving in and out with Audie's back story are the efforts to find him by pint-size FBI Special Agent Desiree Furness; the sheriff, who as a deputy shot Audie in the head during the robbery; and a prison buddy named Moss. Aussie author Robotham's storytelling kept me turning pages, but some British substitutions for their American counterparts (such as bank "queue" rather than "line") were a little distracting. More distracting are the length of Audie's sentence (c'mon, this is Texas, not Scandinavia), the fact Audie even survived in the joint, given the particulars, and the ease with which he escaped; however, these quibbles weren't enough to keep me from enjoying it. This isn't one of those pulse-pounding thrillers; it's the kind that makes you want to know what happened in the past and how things would end, and, no, I didn't peek.

For when you're so tired, you're feeling less than human––in fact, you're wondering if you're lower on the mammal totem pole than your dog: Empathize with Jax, a mechanical servitor who longs for freedom in Ian Tregillis's The Mechanical (Orbit, March 2015), a hybrid of steampunk, fantasy, and alternate history set in the early 1900s. The book opens with the public execution of some Catholic spies and the destruction of a rogue mechanical man. In the 17th century, the work of scientist Christiaan Huygens led to the development of a Dutch army of automata powered by alchemy and clockworks. These "Clakkers," capable of independent thought, but enslaved through a built-in hierarchy of obligations called "geasa" to their masters and the Queen on the Brasswork Throne, allowed the Netherlands to become the most powerful nation in the world.

There is now an uneasy truce between the Netherlands and the remnants of its opposition in New France (in Canada). In the capital of Marseilles-in-the-West, spy-in-charge Berenice Charlotte de Mornay-Périgord has her hands full with a dangerous Game of Thrones-like situation. Meanwhile, in the Netherlands, her small espionage network is disappearing. One of her spies, Luuk Visser, a Catholic priest working undercover as a Protestant pastor, gives Jax an errand and then, oh man, you really must read this book for yourself. Everyone is passionate and scheming away like mad. I've never read anything quite like this cinematic novel, and I bet we'll see it eventually on the big screen. It tackles free will, what it means to be human, identity, loyalty, the meaning of faith and religious freedom, and revenge and redemption. Tregillis doesn't shy away from harming his characters, so you can't assume anyone is safe. Some people may find Berenice's foul mouth offensive, and there are a few scenes I found genuinely disturbing. Some scenes drag a little bit, but these flaws are minor. I'm glad there are two more coming in the Alchemy Wars trilogy because this book was great reading on a sleepless night.

If you'd rather watch a robot than read about one, there are the Terminator movies with our former California governator, Arnold Schwarzenegger, as a cyborg sent back from a future in which machines rule the world. I'm telling you, Schwarzenegger was born to play this role. Blade Runner, based on the Philip K. Dick novel, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?features Harrison Ford as Los Angeles cop Rick Deckard, who is called back to duty in 2019 to track down and kill rogue replicants. James Cameron's Aliens has a cyborg on hand when Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver was born for this one) returns to the planet of Alien. Paul Verhoeven's 1987 movie, Robocop (forget the re-make), is about a Detroit cop, killed in action, who returns to the force as half-human/half-robot. (And they say Humpty Dumpty couldn't be put back together again.) There are many more of these movies worthy of the time it takes to pop corn and wash it down with a Coke, such as the charming animated flick, The Iron Giant; Star Wars, Episode IV: A New Hope (thank goodness there's no Jar Jar Binks)....

Say you're in that half-asleep/half-awake state when your identity feels like a mirage, so you could really get into something to do with spies: Of course, you can't go wrong with another viewing of The Third Man, set in Allied-occupied Vienna and starring Joseph Cotten as pulp western writer Holly Martins and Orson Welles as his childhood friend, Harry Lime. We could argue whether it's the best-ever espionage movie. In Éric Rochant's 1994 film, Les Patriotes (The Patriots), Ariel Brenner (Yvan Attal) leaves his home in France for Israel on his 18th birthday. There, he joins Mossad and loses his idealism in a morally fuzzy world. Naval commander Tom Farrell (Kevin Costner) takes up with Susan Atwel (Sean Young), the mistress of US Secretary of Defense David Brice (Gene Hackman), in 1987's No Way Out. Susan's murder cues the spinning of a web of deceit. This is a re-make of a terrific 1948 movie, The Big Clock, with Ray Milland, Charles Laughton, and Maureen O'Sullivan. In the German movie, The Lives of Others, it's 1984, and Stasi agent Gerd Wiesler (Ulrich Mühe) is compelled to launch an investigation of the celebrated East German playwright Georg Dreyman (Sebastian Koch) by a man who has designs on Dreyman's girlfriend. Don't you love wheels within wheels? 

Make sure you leave the butter off your popcorn if you decide to watch your spies on the page instead of on the screen. Don't waste time piddling around when you're tired; go straight to the British novels. What is it about MI5 and MI6 that makes seeing them under the microscope so diverting? We'll think about that while we cringe at some of these British writers' disdainful depictions of the CIA "cousins" as demanding and inept, throwing around cash, bigfooting joint operations, and screwing them up because they think about short-term payoffs rather than long-term consequences.

I kept a stiff upper lip about the cousins and enjoyed Charles Cumming's A Colder War (St. Martin's Press, 2014). It's the second series book about Thomas Kell, an MI6 agent disgraced during the Witness X affair, whom we first met in the 2012 Steel Dagger winner, A Foreign Country (see review here). Kell has now once again been hauled out of the cold, this time to investigate the death of Paul Wallinger, head of the SIS station in Turkey, in an airplane crash. MI6's Amelia Levene thinks three recent intelligence disasters point to a mole in the SIS or the CIA.

Yeah, looking for a mole is nothing new, but Cumming does a good job with it. He takes his time; there are close to 400 pages. Notable are the clarity of the writing, use of locations, and the charm of the descriptions. It was a pleasure to learn what Tom is reading and to see what's on his shelves. Cumming once worked for MI6, and I liked his knowledge about how the agency works (the extent to which personal relationships affect spying is interesting) and his familiarity with spycraft. The life of a Cumming spy definitely isn't for everybody. Their careers ruin their family relationships and make keeping their stories straight––to themselves, as well as everyone else––almost impossible. They are betrayed by ass-covering superiors and ambitious colleagues, and they need a good night's sleep and sweet dreams as much as anybody. At least a gorgeous young woman falls into bed with Tom, a lonely man in his mid-40s. You might roll your eyes at this, but, hey, while Tom's no James Bond, he's not John Gardner's cowardly Boysie Oakes of The Liquidator fame, either. I'm looking forward to seeing Tom again on a night I can't sleep.

Friday, May 15, 2015

The Friday Fishwrap

We had Town Meeting this week and I've been obsessed for the last couple of months with putting together information and getting out the vote so that our library would be funded. We got the funding, but not without a struggle. We also had a huge debate about whether to adopt a pay-as-you-throw trash program.

Even though it doesn't get too awfully heated at Town Meeting, during the slow bits I always think Murder at Town Meeting would be a great plot for a New England mystery. I can visualize one of the more cantankerous types taking a bathroom break, stopping at the Historical Society's hallway table for a cup of coffee and a homemade brownie, then dropping stone dead 15 minutes later in mid-harangue. Was it a stroke, a heart attack, or was he actually––cue portentous music here––murdered?

During my recovery from Town Meeting, I let art wash over me in the form of one of my favorite caper movies of all time, How to Steal a Million, featuring Audrey Hepburn and Peter O'Toole during their most youthful, chic and charming stage of life. The flick is set and was filmed largely in Paris in the 1960s. Audrey plays Nicole Bonnet, the entirely Givenchy-clad daughter of Charles Bonnet, a famed art collector. What nobody but Nicole knows, though, is that behind the false back of an upstairs wardrobe is an art studio where her beloved Papa (played by the extravagantly eyebrowed Hugh Griffith) forges Impressionist paintings, following in the footsteps of his father, who faked sculptures, like the prize of Bonnet's collection, the Venus statue, ostensibly carved by Benvenuto Cellini.

Hugh Griffith as Charles Bonnet
When Bonnet agrees to allow the Cellini Venus to be exhibited at the Kléber-Lafayette Museum, he doesn't realize that by signing the associated paperwork, he has also agreed to have it examined by an art expert. Cue that portentous music again! Somehow, the Venus needs to disappear before it's examined.

Nicole's first thought is to ask Simon Dermot to steal the statue. Why? Well, she thinks that's Simon’s profession. Her assumption makes sense, when you consider that she first encounters him, at the beginning of the movie, when she finds him in her living room in the dark of night, apparently lifting a valuable painting. She wings him with an inadvertent shot from an antique pistol, he charms her into giving him a ride "home" to the Ritz Hotel, and there's that "meet cute" that every romantic comedy needs.

The Bonnet house on rue Parmentier
Simon, who is actually a lawman charged with identifying art forgers, is naturally puzzled by Nicole's request and asks why she needs to have this particular piece of art stolen. Her answer: "You don't think I'd steal something that didn't belong to me, did you?" Simon: "Excuse me, I spoke without thinking." Without revealing his true profession to Nicole, Simon comes up with the most comically elaborate theft scheme ever. It's an inspired bit, and a genius melding of caper and romantic-comedy seduction. As Simon hands Nicole a museum cleaner's costume, points to the bathroom and orders her to take off her clothes, she asks: "Are we planning the same sort of crime?"

It's an exuberant movie, filmed in eye-popping color-saturated CinemaScope and filled with witty repartée and chemistry to burn between Hepburn and O'Toole. I could watch it again right now. Or maybe I should pull out my DVD of that other Audrey Hepburn classic caper, Charade, with Cary Grant. What to do?

Are you wondering if I'm ever going to talk about any mystery books? Well, frankly, I'm behind on my reading. I'm listening to Christopher Fowler's Bryant & May and the Burning Man when I walk the dog. It's fantastic, but it's currently only available in the US on audio, so I'll save a full review for a date closer to the publication of the US print and ebook versions.

Tell you what, though. Since we're talking about humorous crime, how about a list of the 2014 books up for the Last Laugh (humorous crime novel) Award at this weekend's CrimeFest international crime fiction convention in Bristol, UK? Here you go:

Lawrence Block: The Burglar Who Counted the Spoons
Declan Burke: Crime Always Pays
Christopher Fowler: Bryant & May and the Bleeding Heart
Shane Kuhn: Kill Your Boss (published in the US as The Intern’s Handbook)
Chris Pavone: The Accident (This was supposed to be humorous? That might explain what I was missing when I read it.)
L. C. Tyler: Crooked Herring  (winner)

I hope you all have a wonderful and caper-filled spring weekend, even if your capers are just in a piccata sauce.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

The Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year Award

Most of the crime fiction book awards are named after famous authors, characters or movers and shakers involved in the mystery or thriller genres. I have always been intrigued with the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year Award not only because of its intriguing name, but because it is named after a beverage.

This award was created to recognize the best British, Irish and Scottish crime novels published in paperback. To be eligible for the 2015 award, a paperback must have been published between May 1, 2014 and April 30, 2015. These are my kind of books. And for a change I have even read some of the 18 books on the longlist below:

M. J. Arlidge: Eeny Meeny (Michael Joseph) is a serial killer tale featuring troubled DI Helen Grace.

Belinda Bauer: The Facts of Life and Death (Black Swan), another great novel from last year's winner (for Rubbernecker), will have women looking over their shoulders for quite a while after they read it.

Parker Bilal: The Ghost Runner (Bloomsbury) features Sudanese private investigator Makana, who works in Cairo to solve the murder of a teenage girl.

M. J. Carter: The Strangler Vine (Fig Tree) is a mystery set in India during the early days of the Raj, the East India Company and the Thuggee. It is the first in a series of caper novels introducing the Holmes and Watson duo of Jeremiah Blake, a special inquiry agent, and soldier William Avery.

Ray Celestin: The Axeman's Jazz (Mantle), set in 1919 New Orleans and inspired by a real crime, is the first novel by former scriptwriter Celestin.

Lee Child: Personal (Bantam), a thriller, has some reviewers claiming aliens have taken over Jack Reacher's body. That would be exciting!

Mason Cross: The Killing Season (Orion), a first novel described as fast paced and exciting, features a Reacher-esque protagonist who will give your pulse a workout.

Christopher Fowler: The Bleeding Heart (Bantam), a Peculiar Crimes Unit series book with London detectives Arthur Bryant and John May, is reviewed here.

Elly Griffiths: The Outcast Dead (Quercus) takes the reader back to prehistoric times with forensic anthropologist Dr. Ruth Galloway.

Sophie Hannah: The Telling Error (Hodder and Stoughton) may require the reader to keep a defibrillator nearby.

John Harvey: Darkness, Darkness (Arrow) may be Charlie Resnick's last case 25 years after his first appearance.

Sarah Hilary: Someone Else's Skin (Headline) is a compelling debut, meant to chill and thrill while twisting the reader into knots.

Antonia Hodgson: The Devil in the Marshalsea (Hodder and Stoughton) is historical fiction set in an infamous London debtors' prison in 1727, where crimes take on different guises.

Peter May: Entry Island (Quercus), a non-series book, is reviewed here.

Anthony J. Quinn: Disappeared (Head of Zeus) makes a case for Irish Troubles that have never ended.

Ian Rankin: Saints of the Shadow Bible (Orion) features John Rebus out of retirement and back on the Edinburgh force. Who has been involved in more investigations: Lee Child's Jack Reacher or Rebus?

Tom Rob Smith: The Farm (Simon & Schuster) is Smith's fourth, but it's a standalone. What list of crime fiction would be complete without a Scandinavian connection?

Louise Welsh: A Lovely Way to Burn (John Murray) is the first in this Scottish writer's apocalyptic Plague Times trilogy.

The shortlist will be announced on June 15th, and the winner of the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year Award will be announced on July 16th at the festival in Harrogate.

I couldn't help myself. I picked up the Elly Griffiths, the M. J. Carter, the John Harvey, and the Ian Rankin to entertain me during certain lulls in the Little League schedule. These books are a Mother's Day gift to myself because there has been scarcely a ball caught or hit well for entire games. The tots are young. It does me good to see a high school game now and then to remind me that things will improve.