Tuesday, August 31, 2010

CBR II (hell for leather edition): See you later, Monster and Master of Murder by Christopher Pike

First off: They’re still good.  Seriously good.

I did a bit of background research on Christopher Pike and discovered very little.  The name is not the author’s real name, he chose it in honour of the first Captain of the Enterprise.  The man’s a geek, I’ll say that for him.  Beyond that, there’s not much, except a quote from one of his few interviews.  ‘I don’t write books for teenagers, I write books that have teenagers in them.’

I think that’s the secret to the longevity of his work.  Although he doesn’t fully explore his concepts, they’re very adult concepts.  To be honest, this superficial treatment of the subject matter is the only difference between this and an ‘adult’ orientated novel.

Okay.  See you later.  The book, I mean.  I’m not signing off just yet.

Mark is a computer programmer who has just graduated high school.  He has a heart condition and a crush on Becky, who works at the local record store.  Becky likes him a lot, but she’s dating Ray.  One day, Mark meets Vincent and his girlfriend Kara.  Vincent is also a computer programmer, and Kara, well, Kara’s obsessed with getting Becky away from Ray and into Mark’s arms.

There are very few truly innocent people in this book.  Actually, there are very few truly innocent people in any of the three books I’ve consumed over the past couple of days.  Kara sets up Ray to cheat on Becky, then tells her about it.  Mark lets her do it, because he wants Becky.  Ray cheats on Becky with Kara.   Even Vincent, who’s the higher evolved and spiritual one, is flawed – he’s so 'spiritual', he’s basically numb and ineffective.  I think this is deliberate, as though Pike is telling us that if there is such a thing as guardian angels, they don’t have to carry a blazing sword, but they do need passion.   

The most spiritual moment in the entire book doesn’t involve balls of light.  It’s when two characters simply remembered when they loved each other.   Kara travelled back in time to direct Becky towards what she thought would be love.  Instead, she relearned the love she’d burned long ago.

As an entirely non-spiritual regression, I have to say some parts of this book have not aged well.  I admit, I very rudely snorted when Mark told Vincent that he should change his program because most computer gamers wouldn’t have 1MB of RAM.

Monster.  (No, I’m not insulting you.  That’s the second book.)

This one is Vampires: For Real.  In Pike’s world, they come from outer space and they don’t use their hypnotic powers to get out of class or get laid, they use them to turn their victims into heartless monsters.   Then they turn them into the blood-eating variety.

The book starts when Mary, Angela’s best friend, bursts into a high school party and shot-guns two of her classmates.  Angela manages to stop Mary from killing a third, Mary’s boyfriend Jim.

Later, Mary tells Angela that she did it because they’d been turned into monsters.  Meanwhile, Jim is putting the moves on Angela, who forgets everything even vaguely related to her sense of decency, and does the nasty with him.  All the while, she’s slowly realising that maybe Mary was actually telling the truth.

I remember this book shocking the hell out of me the first time I read it.  At the risk of spoiling it for everybody, it was the first time I’d read a book where the good guys don’t really win.   I’ve also never been able to look at pictures of our solar system in quite the same way.  That fucking asteroid belt looks a bit worrying now.

Finally, Master of Murder.  

This is the story of Marvin, a high-school senior who also happens to be Mark Slate, a world-famous author of terrifying novels for teenagers.  Marvin’s in a bit of trouble, because the last book in his series about the death of Ann Summers is way past due, and even he doesn’t know who killed her.  He also wants to ask out Shelly, whom he dated five times last summer, before the apparent suicide of the other man she was dating, Harry, ended all chances of them being together.

Confused yet?  This is really two stories in one.  Mark Slate’s tale of how Ann Summers died is a mirror of Harry’s death.  Master of Meta, I mean, Murder, is the tale of how Marvin figures that out.  With lots of fun asides about life as a world-famous author who writes under a pseudonym, and often gives his female characters the middle name ‘Ann’.

With the exception of Marvin’s eleven year old sister, Ann, NONE of these characters are innocent.  They’re barely likeable, although Marvin’s snarky pragmatism is certainly entertaining.  There’s also a hilariously ridiculous amount of sex and double-, triple- and quadruple- crossing.

Overall, I still enjoy Pike’s work, which is not something you can usually say about the things you loved when you were overridden with hormones.

Friday, August 27, 2010

CBRII (Hell for Leather edition): a trilogy of Christopher Pike novels.

Know what started this of?
The fucking Twilight effect.
In case I'm the only one who's noticed, there's eleventy fucking billion books for young adults out there about vampires right now. Imagine my suprise when I discovered that three of those books comprise all six novels of Christopher Pike's 'The Last Vampire' series. Partly, I was suprised because, frankly, it's like he dropped off the face of the earth sometime around my 15th birthday, after (figuratively) beating the ever-living hell out of any delusions R.L. Stine had at being a horror writer. I was also surprised because I thought Pike had only written two books in that series. Opps.

No, I'm not reviewing The Last Vampire. But seeing those books got me thinking. Reminising about how much I loved his work when I was a teenager. And, as has already been noted, I'm insanely behind on this cannonball read. What more reason do I need? Fortunately, because I'm one of those people who are probably going to end up on Hoarders one day, I still had all my Pike novels lined up like old friends in a corner of my bookcase. Well, I thought I did. I'm actually missing a few. Opps again.

Regardless, I've chosen three. Guess what I'm doing this weekend? Taking a horror-edged trip down memory lane. I'm actually kind of excited about it...

Thursday, August 26, 2010

CBRII Book 30: Love walks in by Marisa de los Santos

A recent comment diversion on Pajiba asked 'What's your go-to movie?' Basically, what movie do you watch, over and over again, whenever you need the distraction, mood-adjustment or excuse to wallow?

Love walks in
is one of my go-to books. Obviously, a go-to depends on your mood, and in this case, the category is 'charming distraction'. It's practically designed for reading in the bath after a long day, or while snuffling under a blanket when you're too sick to move. And, I confess, I have a thing for the glamour of old movies and this books feeds it to an obscene level.

It's written from two perspectives: Cornelia Brown, a cafe manager with the mind of a librarian, the spirit of a bohemian and the body of Audrey Hepburn. She's dating Martin Grace, a witty, debonair businessman who looks exactly like Cary Grant.

The other perspective is Clare, Martin's eleven year old daughter. Not quite so much estranged from her father as utterly ignored, it's just her and her mother, the beautiful Viviana. Here, the tale turns from 50's repartee to modern fairy tale. Clare, like a reverse Cinderella, goes from joyful princess to desperate housekeeper in a bid to hide her mother's descent into severe mental illness.

When her mother vanishes, Clare seeks out her father. He, being utterly clueless (when she was born, he decided he ‘wasn’t cut out to be a father’ and left), brings her to Cornelia’s cafĂ©. Cornelia, who isn’t clueless, basically adopts her.

This covers roughly the first quarter of the book, and I find myself reluctant to give away the rest of the plot. Let's just say Cornelia rides of into the sunset with the man of her dreams, and Clare gets the life of her dreams, too. They just might not have been the dreams they started the book with.

de los Santos published her poetry before writing this, her first novel, and it shows. Her style is so rhythmic that the words are more like song lyrics. It's so potent, you can practically hear the backing music. The book is an ode to old movies and fairy tales disguised as a love story. It gives you an overwhelming desire to raid Netflix for everything starring Grant, Stewart or either of the Hepburns.

It's also deliciously self-aware. When you might sneer at the cliches, Cornelia gets in first, sheepishly explaining herself like a snark-monster confessing their softer side. About when you're realising that Clare's ridiculously perfect, she brats up just enough to be believable, while remaining in character.

This is a love story for movie lovers. Admittedly, if you're in possession of a Y chromosome, it'll probably drain you of testosterone (allow me to submit as evidence, your honour: my version of the book has praise from Sarah Jessica Parker on the front cover. No futher questions? Didn't think so).

But it's still one of my go-to books.


I just did the maths, and unless I've fucked up somewhere, I've got roughly 9 weeks to read 23 books.

For at least four of those weeks, I'll be doing a great honking smoke study. Thrice daily exposures, time I'm actually allowed to spend reading novels at work.

So I'm going to be going hell for leather, here. I'm apologising in advance for how crap the reviews are going to be.

Have to go read now.

CBRII: Bachelor Kisses by Nick Earls

I read this book in conjuction with The Brain that Changes itself. This one is a kind of 'dick lit'. Instead of a twenty-something woman looking for love and a career among her wacky friends, you have a 25 year old man looking for love and a career amongst his wacky friends.

Nick Earls, the author, is a doctor and researcher, and his protagonist, Jon Marshall, is a doctor taking his first fumbling steps into melatonin research. It seems that even when chosing books based purely on their bright covers and claims of humour, I end up reading about brain studies performed on animals (in this case, hamsters).

I spent a year doing clinical research in a cardiac ward, so many elements of this book are familiar to me. Even the characters remind me, very vaguely, of people I know. The bright but socially inept flatmate who's looking for a 'dating formula' reminds me a little of a man I did much of my undergraduate with. Jon's other flatmate is a sexually confident woman working on her thesis. While she isn't exactly like people I know, yeah, there's some similarities.

The book is written from Jon's POV and without quotation marks, with everybody else's speech written in italics. It works surprisingly well, creating a very stream-of-consciousness style that comes across as sincere, almost intimate. It could have been one of those irritating wank-fests involving a man having a lot of sex with women you just can't fathom desiring him, but because you're drawn so completely into Jon's thoughts, you're bewildered as well, instead of contempteous.

All in all, Bachelor kisses is clever, funny, and you'll never look at a jam jar in quite the same way again.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

CBRII: The Brain that Changes Itself by Norman Doidge.

As a science-loving geek, I was absorbed by this book, especially the first few chapters. Doidge has put forward a remarkable argument in favour of brain ‘plasticity’, even into adulthood.

For some time, science has held the theory that brains are all 'set up' during the first year or so of life, and for the most part, every person's is arranged the same way. You’ve probably seen the cartoons, with the ‘language’ section and the ‘gross movement’ area set out and coloured in like a child learning to keep inside the lines. According to this theory, damage to the brain will essentially kill off whatever function that part of the brain looks after. You have a stroke that damages the ‘hearing’ part of your brain, you’re hearing impaired for the rest of your life. Plasticity advocates, on the other hand, claim that your neurons have a ‘use it or lose it’ policy, and any that are not utilised are ‘repurposed’ for a different use. The mind does ‘map’ functions to specific locations, but, according to Doidge, the regions are fluid, and the borders are blurred.

Doidge begins his book with woman called Cheryl and a researcher called Bach-y-Rita. Cheryl suffered a rare side-effect of the antibiotic gentamycin, the degeneration of the vestibular apparatus, the delicate arrangement of three tiny organs behind the ear that control our sense of balance. Cheryl became a ‘Wobbler’, and so severe were her symptoms that she literally could not stand still and steady. It was worse in darkness – if you turned out the lights, she would immediately fall to the ground.

Bach-y-Rita designed a hat to replace the complex with signals sent to, of all things, the tongue. If Cheryl leant forward while wearing the hat, she'd feel small bubbles at the front of her tongue. If she leant to the left, she’d get bubbles on the left side, and so on. While wearing the hat, Cheryl could jump, dance, and simply stand still. The idea was to eventually replace the bulky hat with something small and discrete, something like an under the tongue version of a hearing aid.

Only something odd happened to Cheryl. She discovered that she retained her balance after the hat was removed. Initially, the residual effect lasted one-third of the time she was wearing the hat. When she wore the hat for 20 minutes, the residual effect expanded to three times the wearing time, and increased with each session. On the day that Doidge witnessed the experiment, twenty minutes with the hat resulted in over three hours of residual effect. Eventually, Cheryl was no longer a Wobbler, and was able to return to work, and much of her old life. The theory was that her damaged vestibular apparatus was still sending warped signals to the brain, effectively overloading it. By providing the brain with a new input for balance, it recalibrated, utilising the few remaining healthy signals, and possibly some ‘underlying’ mechanisms.

How the brain changes itself is filled with stories like this. My personal favourite is the explanation of the phenomenon of phantom limbs. As I said before, the brain maps during development, assigning places according to use and related activities (the area for the thumb, for instance, is next to the nerves that control your index finger, because when grasping an object, these two digits work together). And, of course, it’s ‘use it or lose it’. If somebody loses a limb, the neuronal real estate responsible for that limb is quickly repurposed for use by the areas around it.

With phantom limbs, there’s a kind of crossed signal – the brain nerves are still active, despite the absence of the periphery nerves, which leads to the sensation of the limb still being there, moving, or even itching. Two ways of getting around this were presented.

Firstly, that neuronal repurposing may mean that signals received from the areas that took over the amputated limb’s neuronal space will affect the phantom limb. A man who experienced chronic itching in his phantom limb found that it was relieved by scratching his face (the nerve map placed the face nerves next to the area that used to control his arm).

The second technique was more effective in people who, for various reasons, had their limb restrained for some time before amputation. With these people, a feeling of ‘deadness’ often remains, like a neuronal ghost, and they reported some relief thanks to a bit of smoke and mirrors. Literally. Put the ‘good’ limb in a mirrored box that created the illusion of two healthy limbs, then tell the patient to lay their phantom limb over the reflected image. Moving the good limb could fool the mind into believing the phantom limb was moving, and ‘reset’ the trapped ‘un-moving’ signal.

I’m using a lot of quote marks in this review. Frankly, I could be using a lot more. Although the science-loving geek side of me loved this book, the trained scientist was not so excited. There’s a lot of pseudo-science in this book, especially the later chapters, which tend to dissolve into vague, untested theories and conjecture. It’s as though Doidge has fallen into the trap of, having made believers out of us, going on to make whatever claim springs to mind. I actually cringed when Doidge used a scene from a work of fiction as an example, weakly justifying it with the author’s ‘years spent on college campuses’. There are plenty of legitimate studies on pornography and college-aged men, there’s really no need to reference My name is Charlotte Simmons. Yes , those legitimate studies won’t produce a phrase as evocative as ‘cum-dumpsters’, but that’s what happens when you step away from artistic licence.

Of course, this book was written for the layperson and perhaps those evocative but inaccurate references were included to avoid boring them. Whatever the trained scientist thinks of the ‘proof’, there’s no doubting the breadth of Doidge’s research. He has chapters on everything from learning disabilities to pornography. There’s so much information that I’m not sure it wouldn’t have worked better as two books containing more specific explanations and studies. Then again, according to Doidge, that feeling could simply be due to a lifetime of media influence severely shortening my brain’s ability to maintain attention.

Ultimately, read this book for the fascinating experiments and an insight into just how amazing our brain actually is. Read it because there will be at least one chapter that will apply to you in some way, even if only to confirm that PETA were always underhanded. But while I whole-heartedly recommend this book, I feel compelled to add that outside of the fascination factor, it is, at best, a source of hope and a good reason to try something completely new for the sake of the grey matter, not a Bible for Better Brains.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

In which I babble on in a self-obsessed manner...

I got married last Sunday.  It was wonderful, and so much fun.  I don't think I stopped smiling all night.  I think I learned a few things, though.

1. Weddings are not that serious, or important.  They really aren't. The important parts are the years that follow the wedding. The wedding is just a big party for all the people who love you, and want you to be happy.  That's not serious, that's a source of joy.

2. Always remember that the people you're paying to assist you are the experts.  Treat them accordingly, and they will do incredible things.  My dress-maker turned my ill-fitting dress (don't ask) into a masterpiece.  The lady we spoke to about our cake arranged for two gluten-free cupcakes to be made for my mother and best friend, and had them decorated to match the main cake.  The jeweler we bought the wedding rings from polished my engagement ring, the ITGeek's engagement watch and his grandmother's seventy year old necklace by hand, and when I asked her how much she wanted for it, she replied, 'Nothing.  It's our wedding gift to you'.  This one seems obvious to me, but judging from things we were told by quite a few of the people we dealt with, it's depressingly uncommon behaviour. 

3.  A wet weather plan is your best friend.  

3a.  If you hire umbrellas as part of your wet weather plan, it will not rain.  It might be cold as hell, but it won't rain.

4. Have something warm to wear.  I wore a full-length blue velvet cloak which I renamed 'the elegant Snuggie', made me look like someone from Lord of the Rings, and fulfilled my inner-child's desire to be a princess (actually, she wanted a sword, because that's her idea of a princess, but we settled on the cloak).  

5. Tradition is nice, being yourself is nicer.  Your guests know you're a tragic geek, they're not going to sneer if your recessional music is from Final Fantasy VII, they're going to laugh and nod.  Likewise, your father is not going to worry if the groom is wearing Star Trek cuff-links, he's going to try to abscond with them (Yep, the Geeking is inherited).

6.  Ideally, your bridal party should consist of a) somebody to look after the bride, b) somebody to look after the groom and c) somebody to lighten the mood.  They should also, ideally, get along brilliantly and when not keeping the bride and groom sane, will be joining forces to merrily take the piss out of them.

7. Give your guests boxes of LEGO to play with at the reception.  I was stunned at how successful this was. If they don't know the other people at the table very well, they will within a few minutes.  If they all know each other, you'll end up with the most creative and bizarre war in human history (or Lego men in the soup.  But I'm told that was a genuine accident.  Making Lego spoons and eating with them wasn't, though). They'll also be way too busy to get drunk, which wasn't my intention, but made the reception venue very, very happy.

7a.  Also, stick a box of breath mints, band-aids, headache tablets, deodorant, safety pins, and anything else people might need in a minor emergency in the bathrooms.  They probably won't use it, but they'll appreciate it.

8.  Dance, especially with the slightly drunk/excitable cousins who drag people onto the dance floor.  But if your dress has a train, sit out 'Zorba the Greek' and don't even attempt the fancy version of the Nutbush.  Even the excitable ones will understand.

8a.  On second thoughts, avoid dresses with trains.  Yes, they look awesome, and yes, I survived.  But only just.  Oh, and if your dress has a bodice you're tied into, somewhere around the main course, you're probably going to discover that the current combination of ties, food and your internal organs is not a great one, and something will have to give.  At that point, grab your bridesmaid and loosen the fucking ties before your spleen explodes.

9. An awesome photographer is a gift from God.  An awesome photographer with an assistant willing to contort into bizarre poses to get you a good shot is a gift from Godotopus.

10. Throwing a teddy bear with a couple of flowers around its neck instead of the traditional bouquet means that everyone (not just the unmarried women) can be involved, and when you hurl the poor thing straight into an overhead beam, it'll bounce back surprisingly well.

All these are just ideas for a good wedding day.  But if you want a guaranteed perfect wedding day, the trick is to marry someone who makes you light up, and whom you, somehow, light up in return.  You'll spend the entire night in a bubble of happiness.  You won't even notice if something goes wrong because you've managed to find the most right thing you could ever experience, possibly more right than you deserve.  That's a perfect wedding, right there.  

Saturday, August 14, 2010

With Spirit and Courage: The extraordinary life of Paul Featherstone by Paul Featherstone and Ian Heads

In 1997, two chalets at Thredbo Ski resort in New South Wales collapsed due to a landslide, causing three and a half tonnes of building, snow, trees and 'debris' to slide down the mountain .   It's one of those events that echoes in people's minds, in no small part because, after over two days, a living survivor was found.  Stuart Diver was buried three metres down, under (among other things) a piece of concrete about 300m long that used to be the carpark.   In the first hour or so of his entrapment, he watched his wife drown.  In the end, he was there for 65 hours, most of that utterly alone and in complete darkness, in a space so narrow you could barely fit your hand between the concrete and his chest.

But for the final eleven and a half hours, he had Paul Featherstone, a paramedic.  And what a paramedic. Paul was one of the first paramedics in NSW, and the instigator of an specialist branch (SCAT) that focuses on getting aid to people in dire circumstances - those who'd fallen off a cliff, gotten lost for three days in bushland, or ended up in the ocean on a very bad day.  Or, in Paul's most famous case, trapped under a few tonnes of former ski resort.  Whatever the situation, 'Feathers' will do his best to get you out alive.  

This book is Paul's story.  He's had a hell of an interesting life.  Aside from Thredbo, he also attended one of NSW's other gut-wrenching disasters: the Granville train smash.  A packed commuter train derailed and crashed into a bridge, which then collapsed on top of two carriages, crushing the occupants.  83 people lost their lives, and Paul, who spent 36 hours at the site (against the wishes of his superiors, who'd decided that the then newish paramedics weren't needed) describes the inside of the most-damaged carriage when the bridge was pulled off it - dozens of dead people, still sitting in their seats, coffee and papers in their laps.

There are several chapters dedicated to Thredbo, and between that and the foreword written by Stuart, you find yourself in the middle of mutual admiration society.  Paul has nothing but praise for Stuart's strength, both physical and mental.  He describes the intense bond that formed between them, and, without going into detail, some of the topics they covered, including the loss of Sally, Stuart's wife.

This should be a horrifying book.  In some parts, it is.  But overall, it's actually quite uplifting.  Not long after describing the horror of Granville, Paul speaks of the 'unknown rescuer', a local construction worker who, almost asleep on his feet, was still carving up chunks of the bridge with his own jack-hammer.  Trapped in that hellish coffin of debris, Paul told Stuart Diver thousands of people who were working to free him.  When Stuart was finally freed, Paul describes telling him 'mate, the world is cheering for you' as those people created a 'grand-final like cheer', and passed Stuart, bound in his stretcher, hand over hand, down the slope to the medical centre. 

I'm not entirely sure if this kind of response is simply an Australian thing, and it feels incredibly condescending to claim that it is.  But our country is relatively unpopulated for its size, and frankly, between the animals and the landscape, we're well aware that we're outnumbered.  As a result, there's a huge culture of volunteering here.   Our coasts are guarded by surf-life saving clubs, our homes protected by the State Emergency Service and Country Fire Authority.  There's organisations like St Johns Ambulance and the Salvation Army (and Paul pays particular credit to the 'Sallies') who patch up the bumps and pick up the pieces.  Even if you aren't a formal volunteer, if something goes wrong, inevitably, you pitch the fuck in and help.

Paul's a big fan of this attitude.  He's also a huge fan of 'mind, body and spirit', and keeping all three in balance.  I was slightly surprised to learn that he's good friends with Kerry Packer, one of the richest men in Australia (when Packer went overseas for a heart operation, Paul took time off work to go with him).

If I have a flaw with this book, it's that the involvement of a second (ghost?) writer can make this a little too much like a carefully-constructed interview.  I have absolutely no doubt that Paul Featherstone is an incredible man, and remarkably modest, given his achievements, but an autobiography can be quite illuminating in ways the author may not realise, and I think I would have liked to have been able to read a little more between the lines.  I suspect Paul might be the kind of guy who regularly pisses off his superiors, and might take chances they don't approve of, but through a combination of not being stupid and perhaps a little luck, he's managed to avoid the usual major fuck-ups.

This is, basically, the story of a Top Bloke ('Top Bloke', as recognised by my Ocker Aussie core, is the highest praise that can be bestowed upon a man).  When doing a bit of background research to find out what he'd been up to since the book was written, I discovered that he'd helped Brant Webb and Todd Russell, who were trapped for two weeks following a mine collapse. It seems he's become a bit of an expert in the rare field of 'getting poor buried bastards out alive and sane'.

I will add, though, that this is probably not the best book to read when honeymooning along a picturesque but treacherous road, just after some particularly excited storm activity.  You might end up just a bit paranoid.

Monday, August 2, 2010

CBRII: Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood

This is the first Atwood book I've read, and I understand now why she's so well-regarded.  The book is told from two perspectives - the first is Grace Marks, imprisoned for the murder of her boss and his housekeeper when she was their 16-year old maid.  Her version of these events has always conflicted with that of the other murderer, who was hanged for the crime.  The second perspective is Dr Simon Jordan, the psychologist studying her.  He's not so much interested in the truth behind the murder as in building his reputation.  There's a very somnolent quality Grace's voice, a world of dream-like imagery and simple routine.   Dr Jordan's voice is more energetic, tinged with frustration and impatience, like he's living the nightmare of battling enemies that just won't die.

Sometimes, with a Serious Work of Fiction like this, I wonder if authors carefully include their Symbolism, or if they just write a damn story and let somebody with an arts degree decide what it means.   Given that I had half the periodic table of the elements percolating in my body when I read this book, I'm not going to embarrass myself by trying to decipher the deeper meaning of the peonies and the patchwork quilts.  Besides, I think, if I had a reputation as an author of Serious Works of Fiction, I'd just repeatedly reference some random item, like a lint-roller or a kitchen timer shaped like a cheeseburger, just to see what kind of Symbolism people attach to it. 

It's difficult to discuss the story itself without giving away a major plot point.  So, without further ado:


Was Grace possessed by the spirit of Mary Whitney, or was she just an incredibly intelligent manipulator, creating a brilliant cover-story?  

I'm edging towards Grace being a master manipulator.  That said, I'm not entirely sure that the truth of that murder didn't fall somewhere in the middle of 'He did it all, I'm totally innocent and I blacked out,' and 'She's a sexual predator and she put me up to it'.  I wonder if she said some things in anger that she really shouldn't have to a man with a very short fuse and a desire to impress her (and a lot of other desires as well), and then couldn't handle the consequences.  But, being smarter than most of the people around her (including the good doctor), and possibly inspired by the peddler who turned into a respected psychologist with just a little word-play, she made herself a path out.  I'm not entirely sure if she wanted Dr Jordan to be part of that, or if she wanted to get rid of him before he figured her out.  I think the fact she kept writing to him indicates the first - she did like to play with the man, just a little.  


My only regret is that I read this book while very sick and was subsequently very distracted (I was later told by the doctor that I should have got my wheezing arse to the hospital, but fuck that.  No harm was done and I got to stay home and read books on my recliner instead of sitting on plastic bedding in an emergency room, waiting for an available bed).  So it's very likely I missed a small but significant item that would clear up all my questions.  To be honest, though, I'm hoping I'm not meant to know the truth.  I like some ambiguity in my stories.