Like to Die
By David Housewright. (Minotaur Books, 310 pages, $26.99.)
Award-winning Twin Cities author David Housewright delivers another charmer in his latest McKenzie light-crime franchise with “Like to Die,” which continues the escapades of a likable, self-effacing cop-turned-millionaire who just can’t stay out of the detective business — or anyone else’s business.
McKenzie (at the 15th installment, we’re beyond first names here) is a former St. Paul detective who recently left “the job” to take millions in insurance reward money for helping to recover millions more in stolen funds. This life choice made him a pariah to some former crime-fighting colleagues and an envied hero to others. His sharp and beautiful girlfriend, Nina, owns a music nightclub, and in this story is rarely around except to act as a sounding board for McKenzie’s next ill-advised move, but his fidelity to her adds to his charm and gives him something to lose as he sticks his neck out again and again.
This episode opens with a congenial game of poker among McKenzie and his best buds. His better judgment weakened both by alcohol and pathetic card-playing, McKenzie agrees to step in to help the girlfriend of one of the poker buddies find out who is sabotaging her up-and-coming Salsa Girl food venture. The target, Erin, is lovely and mysterious, but hardly a damsel in distress (until she wants to be), and McKenzie gets deeper and deeper into the intrigue of her checkered past as he tries to help save her St. Paul business.
As fans know from earlier installments, McKenzie rarely listens to his inner voice, but we get to. Readers are treated to his witty, self-conscious thoughts as he weighs the next dangerous step or tries to talk himself out of a bad move. He usually does it anyway.
As is his signature, Housewright strikes a tone that is light on crime and grit but loaded with lighthearted exploits and peppered with Twin Cities references to keep us connected. A pleasure to read.
Events: 7 p.m. June 19, Once Upon a Crime, 604 W. 26th St., Mpls.; 7 p.m. June 20, Barnes & Noble Har Mar Mall, Roseville; 6:30 p.m. June 21, Hop & Barrel Brewing, 310 2nd St., Hudson, Wis.; 7 p.m. June 28, SubText Bookstore, 6 W. 5th St., St. Paul; 2 p.m. June 30, Valley Bookseller, Stillwater.
Something Wonderful: Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Broadway Revolution
By Todd S. Purdum. (Henry Holt, 400 pages, $32.)
Isn’t it handy when a book’s title could also be a mini-review? With a jacket illustrated with a classic Al Hirschfeld cartoon of the dual biography’s subject, “Something Wonderful” is a thoroughly researched and chatty, if not quite dishy, study of the pair who gave musical theater lovers “South Pacific” and “Oklahoma,” among many other shows that worked their way from Broadway to community theaters to high schools and back again. (A revival of their “Carousel” just opened in New York and “The King and I,” a song from which gives the book its title, is on a national tour that visited Minneapolis last year.)
Beginning with brief sketches of their successful careers before the two collaborated, “Something Wonderful” quickly gets to the early 1940s, when an ampersand first linked Rodgers & Hammerstein as they created “Oklahoma.” There’s not a ton of new reporting, since even most of the people who knew the pair are dead. But author Todd S. Purdum makes elegant use of candid correspondence between the two and others, as well as previously published material, to make us feel like we’re waiting in the wings while masterpieces are created and staged. Although Purdum concentrates on the theater world, he does take side trips to cover the movies, highlighted by the rocky path of “Oklahoma” to the screen.
The pair’s lasting impact on musical theater is made most vivid in the no-holds-barred comments of Stephen Sondheim (mostly from previous interviews or Sondheim’s books, although Purdum’s Acknowledgments indicate he interviewed the living legend via e-mail). Now 88, Sondheim met the pair when he was 12 and, as the book makes clear, his career would have gone a very different way if he hadn’t been in on the creation of several R&H masterpieces.