Today we have the mystery of Brian Freeman’s monster, a dragon’s head stolen from Michael Mallory and the heartwarming memoirs of a woman who cares for 600 animals and uses her winged and four-legged friends to teach children love and compassion.
“The Ursuline” by Brian Freeman (Black Stone Publishing, $28.99)
I only saw it for a second, but I had never seen anything like it. It was definitely not a bear. He walked on two legs like people do, over seven feet tall, with a thick orange-brown shaggy fur coat. He looked at me straight when he saw the light, and I saw the reflection of his eyes like two blood-red suns.
If there’s a contest for best book of 2022 so far, Brian Freeman’s “The Ursulina” is near the top.
Freeman, an award-winning author of psychological thrillers, including the popular Jonathan Stride series, has won a 2021 Minnesota Book Award for his standalone book “The Deep, Deep Snow.” This book featured Deputy Sheriff Shelby Lake.
“The Ursulina” is both a prequel and a sequel to “The Deep, Deep Snow”.
Set in 1984, the story is told by Rebecca Colder, a Northwoods Black Wolf County sheriff’s deputy, in the form of letters to her daughter, Shelby, asking for forgiveness for why she abandoned her only child. (Baby Shelby was found abandoned in the cold winter in “The Deep, Deep Snow” and rescued by a stranger.)
Rebecca lives in the town of Random, where the myth of the Ursuline, a kind of Bigfoot, is alive and well. The murders, years apart, bear the mark of the beast – long claw marks that gutted the victims with “I am the Ursuline” written in their blood on the walls.
What Rebecca never told anyone was that she briefly saw the creature when she was 10 years old while on a camping trip.
Two of the beast’s victims – thugs locked in a trailer – had died years earlier. Now the Ursuline has returned to kill a lawyer representing the local mine in a sex discrimination lawsuit brought by women who worked there.
That would be enough for most writers to juggle, but Freeman adds human touches that enrich the story, including two scared, closeted gay boys and Rebecca’s relationship with her horrible husband, Ricky, a controlling and cruel man who spends the clearer of his time drinking at the local dirty dive bar.
Lonely and contemplating divorce, Rebecca meets Tom, a sweet man who instantly attracts her.
When Rebecca finds out she’s pregnant, she doesn’t care whether Ricky or Tom is the father. Her baby, Shelby, is all to herself. The passages in which she writes to her daughter about the happiness of their two weeks together are so loving, so moving that a reader thought these scenes could only be written by a woman.
Female readers will also sympathize with Rebecca as she sits in on an interview while in labor. You don’t get much harder than that.
As usual in Freeman’s books, there are twists and turns as the residents of the small town are interviewed by Rebecca and her older partner, Darrell, trying to make sense of the return of the beast.
And the end. No, you won’t find any spoilers here. Just – be prepared to be shocked by the Ursuline.
“Slaying the Lost Dragon” by Michael Allan Mallory (BookLocker, paperback $16.95)
Bear witnessg two top practitioners applying their skills fascinated her. Wing Chun kung fu was famous for its aggressive close range fighting style. Janet had never seen a fighting art with such dazzling and efficient hand and arm work. Henry moved with the fluidity of a dancer as he moved from position to position.
Michael Mallory’s new police procedural was released in December and didn’t get the attention it should have. Mallory brings us an interesting detective from Minneapolis in Henry Lau, who is partnered with his niece, Janet.
The murder of an art appraiser leads the team in search of a rare missing antiquity – the head of a bronze dragon, built in the 18th century, one of 12 such figures from the great Haiyantang fountain.
The problem with partners is that not everyone who buys high-end art in the Twin Cities, including several businessmen, can be trusted. The gorgeous, confident woman who claims to represent the Chinese government and wants the country’s treasury returned to her can’t either.
Underlying the story is Henry’s superb ability in Wing Chun kung fu, which the author studied and taught. Her graceful yet deadly moves move the story forward when things go wrong. Along the way, the reader learns just enough about Wing Chun to understand why Henry’s personality and character make him the best man in school. Who knew there were so many types of kung fu?
Janet, meanwhile, is trying to fit in as a newcomer to the department, dealing with “jokes” about Asians and women.
The story ends with a jaw-dropping contest between Henry and a woman who matches him in kung fu skills. And at the end – this is not a spoiler – a small dog helps Janet and Henry in their search for the dragon.
There will be a meet and greet with the author from noon to 2 p.m. on Saturday, February 26, at Once Upon a Crime, 604 W. 26th St., Mpls.
“Funny Farm: My Unexpected Life With 600 Rescue Animals” by Laurie Zaleski (St. Martin’s Press, $27.99)
If it seems like the world is a miserable place these days, it’s a good time to pause and revel in a happy and loving story.
Like the one Zaleski recounts in this memoir of humans and animals. From a wild childhood in the woods around his mother’s crumbling home at Funny Farm, home to 600 rescue animals in New Jersey, the author mixes humor and tough times.
At a very young age, Zaleski lived in a wealthy family. His mother was an impeccable hostess whose parties were chronicled in the social pages. They didn’t have to follow the Joneses, she wrote. It was the Joneses. His father, a university professor, was the king of the hill district. But sometimes the teacher’s temper would go wild, and the children would be tied up with his belt, and then their mother would serve as a punching bag.
When his father nearly killed his mother, Zaleski’s mother left with her three children and only their clothes. She found a trash can, surrounded by acres of woods and fruit trees, and tried to make a home out of it. Laurie and her siblings had space to roam, play and go wild.
Much of the book is a tribute to the author’s mother, Annie McNulty, who somehow worked multiple jobs, saw her children fed, and took in many animals that she brought home afterward. having cleaned the cages of the local animal control center. She also endured her husband’s harassment, including shooting Laurie’s favorite horse.
Zaleski, who founded a successful graphic design business, always promised his mother that she would buy him a farm. And she did, buying the acres that would become Funny Farm.
Annie didn’t live long enough to see the farm her daughter bought her, but her spirit clearly dominates the place, home to rescue pigs, goats, horses, dogs, cats, chickens, an emu and a skunk. Most roam freely and interact with other species, forming strange friendships like Debbie Da Goose who joined the dog pack and fell in love with the delivery driver. The story was picked up by the media and the driver’s wife thought Laurie was in love with her husband. Awkward.
There is the famous Stinky, the skunk, who always comes out of his house to greet young visitors. And Lorenzo, the llama, best friend of Jethro, the donkey.
When Zaleski was asked to bring some animals to the local school, she was accompanied by a cow and the diva chicken who insisted on living in the house. She felt like a rock star as the children surrounded her and the animals.
Realizing how important animals were to children, Zaleski decided to open the farm a few days a week to the public. More than 100,000 visitors are welcomed free of charge at the farm each year. Zaleski discovered that children could learn to live a good life despite disabilities, as some of her animals did, and she started her kindness program, offering anti-bullying and special needs programs in the schools.
If you need to cheer up, hang out at the Funny Farm. You will leave smiling.
Zaleski will discuss his book virtually at 7 p.m. on March 1, presented by the Mark Twain House in Connecticut. to register, go to: marktwainhouse.org.