Fearless Ivan and his Faithful Horse Double-Hump: A Russian Folk Tale
By Pyotry Yershov, retold by Jack Zipes. (University of Minnesota Press, 88 pages, $18.95.)

Fairy tales, Jack Zipes has said, have for eons been a means of conquering fear through metaphor. His new retelling of the classic Russian folk tale “Konyok-Gorbunok” (“The Little Humpbacked Horse”) by 19th-century poet Pyotry Yershov, is rich with metaphor and near-death experiences but carries a hopeful message: Kindness begets kindness.

The story of the hapless Ivan, youngest sibling to two conniving brothers, is told in three parts. In the first part, Ivan outwits his scheming brothers and becomes the royal groom to the tsar. He brings with him three horses — two gorgeous jewel-encrusted steeds, and one homely, broken-down big-eared horse with a hump back.

You can probably guess which of those horses is the most valuable.

In the second and third parts, Ivan outwits a scheming government minister who is jealous of Ivan’s position with the tsar and is determined to destroy him.

Ivan is not a conniver. His favorite thing to do is sleep. He is naive and trusting. He is, in other words, the perfect patsy. But because he has befriended the homely magical horse, things go well. The horse gets him out of jam after jam, and Ivan’s sweet nature keeps the horse loyal. The stories are not only about the importance of kindness, but are also a damning condemnation of the blustering incompetence of tyranny and bureaucracy. The book is a joy to read.

Zipes, a world-renowned expert on fairy tales, is professor emeritus at the University of Minnesota. His version of the story is told in classic fairy-tale style and illustrated with 30 color postcards by Russian artists.

Event: 5 p.m. Oct. 14, Magers & Quinn, 3038 Hennepin Av. S., Mpls.

LAURIE HERTZEL

 

Holy Ghost
By John Sandford. (G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 373 pages, $29.
)

The identity of the villains usually is revealed early in John Sandford’s books, with the story becoming a race to see if the good guys can stop the bad guys before they strike again. “Holy Ghost” breaks that pattern. This is a straight whodunit in which neither the reader nor Minnesota detective extraordinaire Virgil Flowers knows whom he’s chasing.

The 11th book in the Flowers series, the story takes place in a small town where a sniper is taking potshots at people. When Virgil arrives on the scene, none of the victims has been hit badly enough for it to be fatal, leaving him to ponder whether the shooter is a good shot who is intentionally only wounding his targets or a bad shot gradually refining his aim until it becomes deadly. Fearing it’s the latter, Virgil is frustrated by the repeated dead ends his investigation encounters. Never has he been forced to admit so often that he’s completely stymied.

The book’s title comes from a subplot about an apparition of the Virgin Mary that appears on a wall of the town’s struggling Catholic church. The priest is convinced that it’s a hoax intended to force the diocese to keep the church open, and Virgil agrees: The woman spoke with a Minnesota lilt and, although wearing a dark wig, made no attempt to conceal her blond eyebrows. But, Virgil explains to the priest, unless he finds evidence that this is connected to the sniper, he’s got other priorities.

We learn right away who’s behind the scam, but it was such a laughable attempt that it wouldn’t have generated suspense, anyway. On the other hand, Sandford does an excellent job with the mystery surrounding the sniper. He plays fair, in whodunit terms. The reader has exactly the same information — no more, no less — as Virgil. This book becomes a race between the reader and the detective to see who can solve the case first.

Events: 7 p.m. Oct. 10, Barnes & Noble Har Mar Mall, Roseville; 12:30 p.m. Oct. 1, Barnes & Noble Galleria, Edina; and 7 p.m. Oct. 11, Once Upon a Crime Bookstore, 604 W. 26th St., Mpls.

JEFF STRICKLER