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Review: Handler’s ‘Couldn’t Miss’ novel is entertaining

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“The Man Who Couldn’t Miss” (William Morrow), by David Handler

On the surface, David Handler’s mysteries about Hollywood ghost writer and novelist Stewart “Hoagy” Hoag, his lovely actress ex-wife, Merilee Nash, with whom he will forever be in love, and Lulu, their vocal basset hound, are a light read, with good plots and no overt violence. But Handler also uses this series to explore heavier situations — celebrity worship, debilitating disease and secrets so precious that some people have no limits on what they will do to protect them.

Those are themes that the mysteries tackle in 2018 and were just as pertinent in 1993, the year in which “The Man Who Couldn’t Miss” is set.

In the series’ 10th outing, Hoagy has joined Merilee at her farm in Lyme, Connecticut. Hoagy and Lulu are staying in the farm’s guesthouse, where he’s working on his next book, joining Merilee for meals and drinks. Merilee is directing and starring in the one-night performance of Noel Coward’s “Private Lives” that will be a fundraiser to save the historic Sherbourne Playhouse. The audience will be filled with “stage and society luminaries” — Katharine Hepburn, Jackie Onassis and her “tall, dark and handsome son,” Neil Simon and Meryl Streep, to name just a few. And the play will be star-studded with four well-known actors.

Hoagy again turns amateur sleuth when one of the male leads is murdered during the play’s intermission. Hoagy already is dealing with a former friend of Merilee who is blackmailing her over an incident that happened more than 20 years ago. Although Merilee is innocent, she knows that even a whiff of scandal can derail her career and ruin her wholesome image.

“The Man Who Couldn’t Miss” moves briskly as the energetic plot also delivers an insider’s view of the work needed to produce a play and why actors, directors and crew are passionate about the theater.

The trio of Hoagy, Merilee and Lulu continues to be the heart of Handler’s series. Despite their divorce, Hoagy and Merilee love each other. A reconciliation — always hinted at — continues to enhance the novels. As for Lulu, she’s just a dog — a good dog, a faithful dog — but just a dog. She doesn’t talk, she doesn’t solve crimes. Her only quirks are she likes cat food and is allergic to a certain perfume.

“The Man Who Couldn’t Miss” doesn’t miss a beat with its entertaining plot.

Hemingway Short Story Published After 62 Years

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The themes and trappings are familiar for an Ernest Hemingway narrative: Paris, wartime, talk of books and wine, and the scars of battle. But the story itself has been little known beyond the scholarly community for decades: A Room on the Garden Side, written in 1956 and set in the Ritz hotel, is being published for the first time. The brief, World War II-era fiction appears this week in the summer edition of The Strand Magazine, a literary quarterly which has released obscure works by Raymond Chandler, John Steinbeck, and others, the AP reports.

“Hemingway’s deep love for his favorite city as it is just emerging from Nazi occupation is on full display, as are the hallmarks of his prose,“ Strand Managing Editor Andrew F. Gulli wrote in an editorial note. Kirk Curnutt, a board member of The Hemingway Society, contributed an afterword for the Strand, saying that “the story contains all the trademark elements readers love in Hemingway.“ “Steeped in talk of Marcel Proust, Victor Hugo, and Alexandre Dumas, and featuring a long excerpt in French from Charles Baudelaire’s Les Fleurs du Mal, the story implicitly wonders whether the heritage of Parisian culture can recover from the dark taint of fascism,“ Curnutt wrote.

Obama, Biden Ride Again

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Bill Clinton may have helped write a crime thriller this summer, but Barack Obama is now the hero of one—along with his trusty sidekick, Joe Biden. Author Andrew Shaffer is out with a new book called Hope Never Dies in which a fictional Obama and Biden team up to solve a mystery, and it’s billed as the first in a series featuring the crime-fighting duo, per this USA Today review. It is, in the words of Thu-Huong Ha at Quartzy, “a deeply silly piece of fan fiction,“ though somehow “readers may find themselves smiling even as they eye roll.“ Over the top? Consider this scene picked out by the New York Times: Obama bursts into the clubhouse of a motorcycle gang carrying a sawed-off shotgun to rescue Biden. “Looks like you all know who my pal is,” Biden tells the startled bikers. “He’s the guy who killed Bin Laden,” one of them responds.

In another, the pair are in a motel room playing POTUS, SCOTUS, or FLOTUS, a game in which they name three female politicians and decide which they’d make president, put on the Supreme Court, or marry. When Biden names Nancy Pelosi, Elizabeth Warren, and Hillary Clinton, Obama responds, “Give me three different names.“ Despite the goofiness, the book is “also at times a surprisingly earnest story about estranged friends who are reunited under strange circumstances,“ writes Alexandra Alter at the Times. Shaffer says the idea began forming when he saw a photo of Biden in mirrored sunglasses. “I thought, that guy looks like an action hero, then he opens his mouth and sticks his foot in it.“ The winning pitch to his agent was succinct: “A cozy mystery starring Joe Biden and Obama, together again, solving a murder at the Iowa State Fair.“

Amid a Trio of Rare Books, a Toxic Find

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If one were to handpick a career that guaranteed a safe work environment, librarian would seem a reasonable choice. A trio of books found at the University of Southern Denmark may have just upended that assumption as researchers discovered a possible toxic avenger from the Renaissance era. Experts were studying the three 16th- and 17th-century books in the university’s library, scrutinizing the books’ covers that Gizmodo explains had been pieced together from recycled medieval manuscripts (a common way to strengthen book bindings then). But Jakob Povl Holck and Kaare Lund Rasmussen were having trouble reading the text thanks to a thick layer of green paint, so they ran the books through an X-ray—and found the paint contained arsenic, a highly poisonous compound. “Could something like this happen in reality? Poisoning by books?“ the two write for the Conversation.

At first the scientists thought the paint was used to make the book more visually appealing, though they soon ruled that out, as only portions of the covers were painted. Their new theory on the emerald-green coating: It was used to keep bugs and vermin from snacking on the books. Holck tells Gizmodo there was “no real danger” to himself or other researchers, as they’d been handling the books meticulously even before they discovered the arsenic. Still, Rasmussen tells Fox News that librarians should exercise caution when working with old books, making sure to wear gloves and to store tomes with green paint in dry, dark places (arsenic can convert to an airborne gas if exposed to light and humidity). These particular volumes are now stored in well-labeled cardboard boxes in a ventilated cabinet, the scientists say.

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