A friend recently introduced me to the terms lentic and lotic, referring to stagnant and fast-moving bodies of water, respectively. My Lenten series has so far been very lentic, as I’ve been distracted by life’s goings-on. I have done a little reading, though: The Ground Beneath Us, followed by Agatha Christie’s The Body in the Library. I’m nearly done with my first Lenten read, on fasting.
“What I feel is that if one has got to have a murder actually happening in one’s house, one might as well enjoy it, if you know what I mean.”
I obviously had to try Christie’s original after reading The Bodies in the Library, which played with its premise as well as its title. We open on a country estate, where the maid has just discovered a bottle-blonde in a cheap dress, lying in repose in the library. She’s unknown to everyone in the house, and some investigation by both Miss Marple (a friend of the family) and the county constable reveal that she’s a missing dancer from a hotel some thirty miles away. Although there are a handful of suspects, none of them have opportunity or much motive, and the truth-seekers are flummoxed until a second body is discovered – this one a young girl, left in a burning car. Although there’s no direct evidence, the investigators have a hunch that both of these senseless deaths are related, and from their reading of the facts and of human nature, the truth comes out. I found The Bodies in the Library much more entertaining than say, Hallow’een Party, with some choice quotations and a good curve at the end.
Before that, I thoroughly enjoyed The Ground Beneath Us, which proved far more varied than the expected book on the rich life of the soil. The author, Paul Bogard, has produced a fascinating piece of reflective journalism mixing history, science, nature writing, and culture together, a work so varied it almost stymies an effort to offer a general summary. As the reader would suspect, there’s plenty of material in here on the health — or rather, the dismal state of — our soil. The author offers the opinion that countries throughout the world have, on average, sixty harvests left before things are exhausted. We visit several places in this theme, including the Alaskan frontier, where melting permafrost is allowing methane previously trapped in the soil to seep into the atmosphere and accelerate global warming. But Bogard’s approach isn’t purely scientific; we spend considerable time in the Southwest, exploring Anansi religion, ponder Civil War battlefields and the concept of hallowed ground, and even visit Treblinka, a site made eerie both by the amount of death carried out there and the fact that the Nazis almost got away with concealing its existence completely; as they retreated, they carefully disassembled everything and destroyed the evidence as best they could. Such a measure is doubly disturbing, for it reveals the Nazis knew of the moral horror of their ‘work’, in the care they took to conceal it. Although Ground Beneath Us doesn’t pack as much scientific weight as I would have liked, its writing and variety of content carry their own enormous attraction. Quotations to follow tonight!