Book Bag: ‘Chasing the Case’ by Joan Livingston; ‘Ring of Fire’ by Yenna Yi

Friday, May 11, 2018

by Steve Pfarrer


By Joan Livingston

Crooked Cat Books


Isabel Long is having a bad day — actually, a sequence of bad days.

Isabel, the narrator of Joan Livingston’s “Chasing the Case,” is a veteran reporter and editor in western Massachusetts who loses her job when the local newspaper she’s worked for for 31 years is bought by a chain that starts cutting staff. That comes less than two weeks after the death of her husband, Sam.

Isabel is also looking after her mother, Maria, who’s moved in with her in her home in tiny Conwell, population 1,000. Mom is 92 but still quite sharp — she even drives. But with her unemployment checks running out, Isabel has to find another job to help support them both, so she takes a part-time bartending gig in a Conwell tavern.

It’s here, listening to the locals talk, that Isabel gets interested in solving a cold case she wrote about nearly 30 years ago for her old newspaper: a woman, Adela Snow Collins, disappeared without a trace from Conwell at age 38. Soon Isabel is spending time hanging out at the town’s general store and, like the reporter she used to be, picking up information through careful observation and listening.

In particular, she spends time at the store chatting with a bunch of elderly men she christens “The Old Farts” as they do a bit of gossiping, figuring they’re as likely as anyone to know some of the backstory of Adela’s disappearance.

The old-timers give Isabel a bit of guff, but they also like her and appreciate that’s she’s reinvestigating a mystery that everyone else, including the cops, gave up on long ago. “Keep up the good detective work,” one says. 

That work will eventually lead Isabel down some surprising paths, including an affair with Jack, the Conwell tavern owner. As her investigation deepens, Isabel discovers Jack may have had a past connection to Adela — and she wonders what he might be hiding from her. And what if Adela didn’t just disappear? What if she was murdered?

Livingston, who lives in Shelburne Falls and has written three previous books, brings much of her own life experience to “Chasing the Case.” She was a longtime reporter, then an editor and columnist, for the Gazette, covering Hilltown news in particular. She and her husband lived in Worthington for many years before moving to northern New Mexico in 2006, where she did freelance writing and was also the managing editor of the Taos News, a weekly paper.

Now back on the familiar ground of western Massachusetts, Livingston has mined that turf to create a realistic portrait of small-town life in these parts. “Chasing the Case” is also the first in a series of mysteries she plans to set in western Massachusetts.

Joan Livingston will read from “Chasing the Case” Saturday at 4 p.m. at the Worthington Library and on May 23 at 6 p.m. at Boswell’s Books in Shelburne Falls.



By Yenna Yi


From South Korea to western Massachusetts is a long trip in and of itself. But in her memoir “Ring of Fire,” Colrain resident Yenna Yi recounts some even more dramatic journeys: how she and her husband, Steve Lobb, built a 48-foot catamaran and, over two decades, sailed with their two sons across the Pacific Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea.

It’s a story of adventure and a peripatetic existence that saw the family living in and visiting many places — Hawaii, various Pacific islands, New Zealand, the Netherlands — and traveling along the Ring of Fire, the part of the Pacific Ocean basin known for earthquakes and volcanoes.

Yi, who today is a psychotherapist, was born in South Korea a few years before the Korean war began and spent much of her childhood in a one-room house with her “hulmonie” (grandmother) and “oma” (mother). She would meet her future husband, an American studying in the Netherlands, in Europe in 1967.

Her story is not just one of epic travel (including many black and white photographs) but of watching her two sons grow up partly at sea, where they learned to navigate and fish and trim the sails of the catamaran. It’s also a story of loss: divorce and the death of loved ones, including one of her sons, who died while attending Amherst College in the early 1990s.

“The sadness of loss lingers,” Yi writes. “At the same time, I have had the privilege to sail in and out of the Ring of Fire with my family for years. I have two wonderful grandchildren … I have taken chances, felt free to move around the earth, loved my family, and had marvelous adventures.”

Steve Pfarrer can be reached at spfarrer@gazettenet.com.