An intriguing but dry homicide account.

A MURDER IN SEARCY

A true-crime book focuses on the murder of a small-town physician’s wife.

Call it Arkansas noir. In September 1974, Fern Rodgers, the estranged wife of a small-town, septuagenarian doctor, was found shot to death in her Searcy, Arkansas, home. After a few weeks, law enforcement cracked the case, arresting an unlikely trio of suspects—the physician, Porter Rodgers; his 21-year-old mistress, Peggy Hale; and Berry Kimbrell, a friend of Hale’s whom the doctor agreed to pay $6,000 for killing Fern. Nall and Allen capably deliver this tale of greed, sex, and betrayal. The book’s most compelling character is Porter, who, after building a successful practice in Searcy, bought the local hospital and renamed it for himself. But “there were rumors around town that Doc Rodgers had an eye for the ladies,” and his marriage to Fern crumbled amid mounting debts and his gambling habit. Often, Porter “would leave his office at 5:00 p.m., would fly from Little Rock to Las Vegas, and then would be back at work by 9:00 a.m. the following morning,” police reported. By 1974, he had moved into a Searcy motel and become infatuated with Hale, whom he met when she was working as a waitress and hired as his secretary. “The only reason I can explain Fern’s killing was because I was hungry for Peggy Hale,” he told police in his confession. The authors deftly cover the entire arc of the case through the trial of Porter, who was convicted of first-degree murder in 1975, quoting extensively from police reports and trial transcripts. But Nall and Allen fail to supplement the documentary record with vivid details from secondary interviews, missing opportunities to provide context, color, and nuance that might have helped their book stand out in the true-crime crowd. Both the prosecution and defense in Porter’s trial, for example, referred to “social position” being a motivation for Hale, but the authors never explore class or social structures in Searcy or portray the physician’s paramour as anything more than a low-rent femme fatale. Nall and Allen present the story in such a bland, one-dimensional way that it may only appeal to the most fanatical of true-crime aficionados.

An intriguing but dry homicide account.

Pub Date: N/A

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 489

Publisher: Self

Review Posted Online: March 14, 2021

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A virtuoso performance and an ode to an undervalued medium created by two talented artists.

A WEALTH OF PIGEONS

A CARTOON COLLECTION

The veteran actor, comedian, and banjo player teams up with the acclaimed illustrator to create a unique book of cartoons that communicates their personalities.

Martin, also a prolific author, has always been intrigued by the cartoons strewn throughout the pages of the New Yorker. So when he was presented with the opportunity to work with Bliss, who has been a staff cartoonist at the magazine since 1997, he seized the moment. “The idea of a one-panel image with or without a caption mystified me,” he writes. “I felt like, yeah, sometimes I’m funny, but there are these other weird freaks who are actually funny.” Once the duo agreed to work together, they established their creative process, which consisted of working forward and backward: “Forwards was me conceiving of several cartoon images and captions, and Harry would select his favorites; backwards was Harry sending me sketched or fully drawn cartoons for dialogue or banners.” Sometimes, he writes, “the perfect joke occurs two seconds before deadline.” There are several cartoons depicting this method, including a humorous multipanel piece highlighting their first meeting called “They Meet,” in which Martin thinks to himself, “He’ll never be able to translate my delicate and finely honed droll notions.” In the next panel, Bliss thinks, “I’m sure he won’t understand that the comic art form is way more subtle than his blunt-force humor.” The team collaborated for a year and created 150 cartoons featuring an array of topics, “from dogs and cats to outer space and art museums.” A witty creation of a bovine family sitting down to a gourmet meal and one of Dumbo getting his comeuppance highlight the duo’s comedic talent. What also makes this project successful is the team’s keen understanding of human behavior as viewed through their unconventional comedic minds.

A virtuoso performance and an ode to an undervalued medium created by two talented artists.

Pub Date: Nov. 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-26289-9

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Celadon Books

Review Posted Online: Aug. 31, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2020

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A sweet-and-sour set of pieces on loss, absurdity, and places they intersect.

HAPPY-GO-LUCKY

Sedaris remains stubbornly irreverent even in the face of pandemic lockdowns and social upheaval.

In his previous collection of original essays, Calypso (2018), the author was unusually downbeat, fixated on aging and the deaths of his mother and sister. There’s bad news in this book, too—most notably, the death of his problematic and seemingly indestructible father at 96—but Sedaris generally carries himself more lightly. On a trip to a gun range, he’s puzzled by boxer shorts with a holster feature, which he wishes were called “gunderpants.” He plays along with nursing-home staffers who, hearing a funnyman named David is on the premises, think he’s Dave Chappelle. He’s bemused by his sister Amy’s landing a new apartment to escape her territorial pet rabbit. On tour, he collects sheaves of off-color jokes and tales of sexual self-gratification gone wrong. His relationship with his partner, Hugh, remains contentious, but it’s mellowing. (“After thirty years, sleeping is the new having sex.”) Even more serious stuff rolls off him. Of Covid-19, he writes that “more than eight hundred thousand people have died to date, and I didn’t get to choose a one of them.” The author’s support of Black Lives Matter is tempered by his interest in the earnest conscientiousness of organizers ensuring everyone is fed and hydrated. (He refers to one such person as a “snacktivist.”) Such impolitic material, though, puts serious essays in sharper, more powerful relief. He recalls fending off the flirtations of a 12-year-old boy in France, frustrated by the language barrier and other factors that kept him from supporting a young gay man. His father’s death unlocks a crushing piece about dad’s inappropriate, sexualizing treatment of his children. For years—chronicled in many books—Sedaris labored to elude his father’s criticism. Even in death, though, it proves hard to escape or laugh off.

A sweet-and-sour set of pieces on loss, absurdity, and places they intersect.

Pub Date: May 31, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-316-39245-7

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: March 11, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2022

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