17 October 2014

Book: The Lost Ancestor

Something a little different ...
The Lost Ancestor. By Nathan Dylan Goodwin. http://www.nathangoodwin.co.uk/, 2014.

Since I regularly critique mystery and crime fiction novels, I agreed to review―with a tiny bit of apprehension―Nathan Goodwin's The Lost Ancestor after receiving his direct marketing appeal.

I'm aware that the occasional genealogical colleague ventures into writing mystery fiction starring a genealogist as the detective. While I've not sought out examples, the few I've seen were not what I considered successful. No doubt most of us can come up with numerous juicy plot ideas from exposure to myriad ancestral problems that we've been asked to solve over the course of a career. But not only does a genealogist as protagonist need adequate knowledge of the subject and credible work habits; the novel itself requires good writing and structure. Readers with historical and genealogical experience also look for value-added, telling details.
  
Goodwin's novel is a dilly that sucked me right in (it's the second in a planned series after Hiding the Past). That's not an easy thing to do with my predilection for Scottish noir and Swedish perverse. Based in East Sussex, England, forensic genealogist Morton Farrier gets a dream job: find out what happened to the missing sister of an ancestor one hundred years ago. Mary Mercer was learning the ropes as third housemaid in an upper-class mansion (Downton Abbey fans will love the minutiae of Edwardian service life); she suddenly disappeared, leaving a hole in a family tree.

Straightforward assignment? Where would you look for her?

Family historians will recognize many of the sources Morton uses but some may surprise you. You might say certain unusual documents coincide rather conveniently to drive the plot, but Goodwin skillfully builds credibility. Check out Morton's elaborate mindmapping! Identity is only one issue as a strange, twisting scenario unfolds. 

I doubt that the research elements are intrusive for a non-genealogist reader, quite the contrary. Even better is how the author carefully paralleled Morton's progress with Mary's own story, a challenging device handled admirably. Dialogue and characters integrate naturally―a pet peeve of mine when it fails―with just the right touch of our hero's domestic life and a sense of his own family problems. There's more: someone is prepared to kill Morton to stop his meddling research.

Morton's methodology can scarcely be faulted although a few quibbles arise in sources or editing. A reference is made to a street address in Ontario as if Ontario (a province over four times the size of Great Britain) were a town. A passport was unnecessary for a British citizen to travel to Canada (but let's not kvetch on a minor point). Overly-long paragraphs can be a drag. Nevertheless, The Lost Ancestor is a winner in my books ... more, please!

Goodwin has found an engaging, lively "voice" in Morton Farrier. See if you agree with me. I'd love to receive some comments here.

[The Lost Ancestor was self-published on CreateSpace, an Amazon "independent publishing" unit. Paperback copies can be ordered on Goodwin's website; the Kindle version is currently only available in the UK and the US.]

© 2014 Brenda Dougall Merriman. All rights reserved.

10 October 2014

Giving Thanks

Monday, 13 October 2014. Second Monday of October. Thanksgiving Day in Canada.

An important thing for a genealogist to be celebrating with profound thanks is the discovery of new cousins. And yes, the growing list includes DNA matches being studied. This post is partly so my own extended family gets an inkling of the networks that develop, to which we all ultimately belong.

Yours truly has been blessed by the exchange of information with people I've never met. Another strange manifestation of the family history syndrome―probably bemusing to those with quite different preoccupations. All in a day's work for family historians (sounds good, but usually years of work).

Fellow bloggers know what I'm talking about, the "cousin bait" aspect of blog posting. Although some of my un-met cousins waaay precede the advent of blogging and most of them live waaay far away from me. Sometimes we grapple with finding a common language to communicate. Some of the shyer ones I still can't put a face on.

Not only am I delighted to share ancestral connections and research but the experience can go deeper. We discover that we share similar attitudes or values. We become penpals, friends. We attach family photographs. We discuss life. We worry when we don't hear from each other.

Cousins―some of you come with a whole support group of researchers, past and present. Not each and every one is even necessarily related but the enthusiasm is infectious. All I can say is WOW, the thrill continues.

So this is for you, my networking kin living all over the world―in Latvia, Estonia, Sweden; Scotland, Australia, Netherlands, England; the USA and Canada. A heartfelt thanks for your contact, your information, your encouragement, your friendship. May we continue to clear the ancient pathways and keep our roots strong.

© 2014 Brenda Dougall Merriman. All rights reserved.

06 October 2014

The Book of Me (17)

Bring it on, Julie (founder of The Book of Me and our weekly prompter). I'm awash in prompts, embracing them. So how many prompts can I superficially seamlessly mess up collate this time.

School Trips (Prompt 54)
Easy. None. Some kind of underprivileged urchins we must have been. Sunday crocodile lines don't count, I suppose; the lines went two by two to church on Sundays ― รก la Ronald Searle's St. Trinian girls ― Westminster (United) for half of us and St Lukes (Anglican) for the other half. The second half had a much more interesting time in my opinion because they got to cross a bridge on their walk and the church interior was much more appealing to daydream in.

Movies (Prompt 55) 
I could go to town on this, but couldn't we all? I lost track of how many times I've seen The Red Shoes after counting twelve or thirteen (-serious-). Vicky Page was my fantasy alter ego.

On the Waterfront was a distant second with about six times but the childish crush on a once-magnetic Marlon Brando died a natural death. I haven't counted how many times viewing Jesus Christ Superstar but suffice to say I and my children can sing and act out every word of the entire film. Speaking of prompts (should unlikely circumstances arise), that could be me you hear, emoting "Everything's Alright" or "I Don't Know How to Loooove Him."

Obviously I'm a sucker for musicals. All of 'em. My brilliant dentist and I recently had a marvellous hour's exchange on the subject while he expounded on his Lincoln Centre subscription, Bob Fosse, Gene Kelly's notorious temper, and whether revivals of The King and I and Flower Drum Song are still dated. I of course offered grunts here and there with several appliances in my mouth. We did agree on some things. 

The Sound of Music doesn't count at all because it's everywhere and sorry I can't say the same for Oliver! ... You must know Fagin's (actor Ron Moody) brilliant "Reviewing the Situation" and "You've Got To Pick a Pocket or Two" but most underrated are the heartbreakers "Where is Love?" and "As Long as He Needs Me."

This is not to disparage any other movie genre because of course I am into thrillers and harried cops and louche detectives and courtroom drama. If only I could remember titles. And the names of each new crop of actors.

Clubs and Societies (Prompt 56)
Aahhh, good thing this came along, breaking away from movie world. Okay, I'm thinking. Well, The Health and Study Club was a loosely defined organization of my teenage years, given its title by the guy who could do the best Finland accent. Members of this fine club shall be nameless and faceless lest their grandchildren suffer grievous disenchantment with an image of staid, comforting, grandparently figures (it's a cover-up, kids).

Health? We drank a lot of beer and purple jeesus and partied every summer. We raced around in boats and cars. Nutritional snacks like trail mix and pizza and sushi weren't invented then. Or craft beer. Study? We made fun of our jobs or university programs or the business world and hardly ever got into trouble except with our parents. Some of us engaged with our future partners right then and there. Others experienced the cutting angst of teenage love.

One time we had an Opening of Navigation party which was a big deal at the Lakehead ― the opening, not the party ― but it did not become an annual event because it turned into an Al Capone-era party, the correlation or significance of which is entirely lost now, of course, and that was the night I discovered a guy hiding in my closet who scared me half to death, so we couldn't encourage more of that. (Sorry, practising for the run-on sentence competition.)

Other societies and clubs, later, were quite grownup. A list of professional organizations (genealogical, historical) would bore the pants off you. Somewhere in there I remember a poetry-writing club, a Russian movie club, a Winnipeg ex-pats club, a wine club, book-of-the-month club (ha ha), oh, and very briefly, the Temple Reef Yacht Club. Finishing number last in every race was frowned upon.

What am I forgetting? ... The Thunder Bay Autosport Club, I suppose. Rallies were okay but fiercely competitive; the logic of winter ice racing escaped me as the damage mounted. Then the hillclimbs and omg, the car I'd just sold was fit for the fibre-glass scrap heap. The driver ever after chose to wear a beard to hide the scar on his face. 

It looked like this. The car, not the scar.

On that note, ending this episode of the Book of Wretched Me.

© 2014 Brenda Dougall Merriman. All rights reserved.