Book Bag: ‘Checking the Traps’ by Joan Livingston; ‘Boston’s Twentieth-Century Bicycling Renaissance’ by Lorenz J. Finison 

Published: 4/11/2019 4:35:40 PM


By Joan Livingston

Crooked Cat Books

Newspaper reporter and editor, freelance writer, novelist and children’s author — Joan Livingston has covered a lot of ground in her career.

And in the last few years, the Shelburne Falls author, who used to live in Worthington, has introduced something new: a mystery series narrated by a former small-town reporter, Isabel Long, who’s now a private investigator.

In “Checking the Traps,” Livingston’s third book in the series, Isabel is back at her part-time job tending bar at the Rooster Bar and Grille, the only tavern in the tiny town of Conwell in western Massachusetts. She’s working one-handed at the moment since her left arm is in a sling, courtesy of a broken collarbone from her previous case.

She gets a strange phone call from a local drug dealer, Gary Beaumont, who harassed her when she worked on a previous case but now wants to hire her. He’s convinced his half-brother, Cary Moore, didn’t kill himself several years ago by jumping off a bridge known in the area as a suicide spot: He thinks Cary was pushed.

“There’s no [expletive] way he would’ve done somethin’ like that,” says Gary. “He had a wife who liked him and a kid on the way. He had somethin’ to live for.”

It’s not the first time Isabel has heard this story. Digging back through her old newspaper files, she finds an obituary for Cary Moore, as well as notes she took during a phone call from Gary Beaumont, who insisted then, too, that Cary had not killed himself. And Isabel learns that Cary, who worked on a highway crew, was also a poet, which seems unusual: “My interest in this case definitely has been sparked.” 

Soon Isabel has flung herself into that case, seeking clues from some of her sources, like the “Old Farts,” as she calls them — the elderly men who hang out at Conwell’s general store — and the owner of the Rooster Bar and Grille, Jack, who also happens to be Isabel’s boyfriend. As she did in her previous cases, Isabel also bounces ideas off her “Watson”: her 93-year-old mother, who lives with her.

As she investigates further, Isabel begins to wonder if Cary might have been killed by one of Gary’s “business associates” — drug dealing having its violent side — or a guy she refers to as the “Big Shot Poet,” a local writer who’s won an award for a poetry collection in which he appears to have plagiarized some of Cary’s work.

As book notes put it, Isabel during her journalism career met regularly with her sources for stories, a process she called “checking the traps.” Now she follows the same procedure as a PI — but she has to make sure she doesn’t get caught in one herself.

Joan Livingston will read from and sign copies of “Checking the Traps” on Saturday at 4 p.m. at the Worthington Library and on Sunday at 2 p.m. at Floodwater Brewing, 40 State St. in Shelburne Falls.


By Lorenz J. Finison

Bright Life/University of Massachusetts Press

In what he calls the “great sweep” of bicycling history in the United States, Lorenz J. Finison points to a huge surge of interest in two-wheeled travel in the 1880s and 1890s when the bicycle was first introduced, followed just as quickly by a huge drop for much of the 20th century when cars became popular (bike use saw a modest increase during WWII when gas was rationed).

But just as bicycle wheels keep spinning, bikes began making a comeback in the U.S. in the 1970s due to concerns about pollution and Americans’ lack of exercise. Since then, bicycles — at least in some places — have become a regular and increasing part of American life, used for recreation, commuting, road and off-road racing and charity rides. Bikeways and bike lanes, meantime, have been added to many cities and towns.

In his new book, “Boston’s Twentieth-Century Bicycling Renaissance,” by University of Massachusetts Press, Finison looks at Boston’s bicycling history to measure the larger trends and changes in bicycle use. He uses a wide-angle approach, looking at a variety of stories — how women broke into male-dominated professions by becoming bike mechanics and messengers, for instance, or how environmental activists made bicycling an important part of their message.

In fact, he begins his book with an account of how cycling activists in Pittsfield set off in October 1972 to Boston in a Pedal Against Pollution (PAP) ride; they were joined in Northampton by riders from the city and from Springfield and, near the end of their trip, by Massachusetts Senator Edward Brooke, wearing a suit and tie as he pedaled along.

Also on the ride (with her father), on a specially designed tandem bicycle to accommodate her short legs, was six-year-old Bonnie Harris, who Finison says jumped off her bike in Boston at the end of the ride, shook Brooke’s hand and announced “Cars are no good.” 

Finison, who has written previously about cycling and been involved in various biking organizations and projects in the Boston area, highlights many of these individual stories as he traces cycling’s resurgence in Boston in the later 1900s, such as the construction of the Minutemen Bikeway in Lexington.

There’s continued room for growth, he writes, from new technologies such as e-bikes and docked bike-sharing (such as was introduced in the Valley last year) to improvements in road design and rebuilding that encourage bicycling. “Cycling has the potential for a big collaborative effort to improve its prospects and the nation’s personal and environmental health — the public health.”

Steve Pfarrer can be reached at  








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