Crimes and thrills in Icelandic fiction, more on the JFK assassination, and more of the Thinking Machine: newsletter, September 8, 2023

September 8, 2023 | By Jim Stovall | Filed in: books, fiction, history, newsletter, writers, writing.

This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (3,070) on Friday, September 8, 2023.

I came across this quotation the other day:

When wealth is passed off as merit, bad luck is seen as bad character. This is how ideologues justify punishing the sick and the poor. But poverty is neither a crime nor a character flaw. Stigmatize those who let people die, not those who struggle to live. Sarah Kendzior, journalist and author (b. 1978)

It is good to be reminded occasionally how upside down our world is—how out of kilter it is from what we think it should be.

And it is also good to be reminded that we should be doing something to set the world right.

Have a great and literate weekend.


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The JFK assassination: 60 years of conspiracy theories (part 3 of 3)

The central conclusion of the Warren Commission report on the assassination of President John F. Kennedy—that Lee Harvey Oswald was the lone gunman—offered political cover to President Lyndon Johnson, distraction from the incompetence and mendacity (or both) of the FBI, the CIA, and the Secret Service, and general comfort to the American public.

So, at the end of 1964, the case was closed.

Or was it?

It did not take long for the flaws in the Commission investigation or the gaps in its ability to explain contradictory evidence to become apparent.

And the comfort that the lone gunman theory offered to America was also short-lived. How could just a nobody like Lee Harvey Oswald change the course of American history, and the tenor of its society, in just a few seconds? Surely, there had to be some larger plan or meaning to what happened on that Friday afternoon in Dallas.

Many people wanted to believe the Warren Commission report. Far fewer, including Lyndon Johnson himself, and even some of the commissioners on that blue ribbon panel, actually did believe it.

This began to grow, a garden of conspiratorial delights that has existed in America’s public memory for six decades. Many of the conspiracy theories come not from whole cloth or outer space, but from legitimate evidence that contradicts the easy notion that only one person was involved in the shooting of the president.

In the years since the assassination, the explanations for what happened have revolved generally around the following ideas:

  • There was a second shooter. Americans of all ages instantly recognize the term “the grassy knoll.” That was the part of Dealey Plaza that was almost directly in front of the presidential limousine when Kennedy was shot. Numerous witnesses say they heard shots from that area, or they saw people there who have never been identified. Even some of the autopsy evidence from the examination of JFK’s body raises the possibility that he was hit by bullets from two different directions. The evidence is not conclusive, but it has never been explained away.
  • The Central Intelligence Agency was responsible for the president’s death. Because the CIA had been involved in so many nefarious actions that “the company” did not want the public to know about, the CIA went to extraordinary lengths to hide whatever relationship it had with Lee Harvey Oswald. CIA officials lied to the Warren Commission, they lied to a congressional investigation in the 1970s, and they have continued to lie and to withhold documents about the assassination to this day. Critics have legitimately asked, “Why, after all this time, does the CIA continue its policy of not leveling with the American people?”
  • The mafia put out a hit on the president. This theory comes from the fact that Robert F. Kennedy, the president’s brother, was part of a congressional investigation into the mafia in the 1950s. When he became Attorney General in his brother’s administration in 1961, RFK continued his crusade against organized crime. The mafia, according to this theory, had had enough. The problem with this theory, intriguing as it is, is that while there are bits and pieces of evidence of mafia connections scattered throughout this sorry tale, the dots simply have not been connected in any satisfactory way. Yes, Jack Ruby, the man who killed Oswald less than 48 hours after the president had been assassinated, kept Oswald from telling his own story. And yes, Ruby had mafia connections. But otherwise, the mafia theory simply does not hold up to much scrutiny.
  • The assassination was engineered by a foreign power, such as Cuba or the Soviet Union. President Fidel Castro certainly had no love for the Kennedys. Neither did Russia’s Nikita Khrushchev. Oswald did live in the Soviet Union for a while, and he claimed Marxist beliefs and sympathy with Cuba. But again, there is no evidence that can be conclusively put together to point to either of these governments as being responsible for the assassination.

Thus, we are left with the strongest evidence pointing to Lee Harvey Oswald as Kennedy’s sole assassin. Possibly, he had an accomplice. That accomplice has never been found. Nor has the evidence that could tell us definitively that he or she existed.

The Kennedy assassination remains one of the great mysteries in American history. A young, vibrant president was killed for reasons that we do not understand. History was changed in ways that we simply cannot imagine. Those who were alive on that day have carried sadness and regret for all of our lives.


The Prolific Reader. Kill the Quarterback is listed there along with some other great mysteries.”


Ragnar Jonasson and his colleagues in the Icelandic thriller genre

Ragnar Jonasson had an unusual start to his writing career. He didn’t write a novel or a short story. Instead, he translated 14 Agatha Christie novels from English into his native language, Icelandic.

After that, Jonasson started writing his own books. His first novel, Snowblind, was published in 2015. Since then he has published more than one novel per year.

He has done this in addition to getting a law degree, being an investment banker, and teaching law at Reykjavík University in Iceland. This month, Jonasson will achieve yet another unusual feat. He and his co-author will publish a novel, titled Reykjavík: A Crime Story. His co-author is none other than Katrín Jakobsdóttir, who just happens to be the Prime Minister of Iceland.

Meanwhile, Jonasson continues to work on his own books. They include a series of six novels in his Dark Iceland set that features Ari Thor, a young policeman solving crimes in Siglufjörður, Iceland’s northernmost city.

For those novels and his writing in general, Jonasson has achieved international fame and critical acclaim. His novels have been translated into 25 languages, have sold more than three million copies, and have gathered numerous awards, including an Edgar Award, and the Crime Writers of America Gold Dagger Award.

Jonasson is the co-founder of the Reykjavík international crime writing festival, Iceland Noir. If you are seeking to take your crime and mystery fiction reading abroad, Jonasson’s Iceland might be a good place to start.


Iceland is one of the most crime-free countries in the world. Last year there were fewer than five homicides there. But the land is full of writers of crime fiction. Here are some of Iceland’s best known thriller and crime fiction writers in addition to Ragnar Jonasson:

  • Arnaldur Indriðason: Indriðason is the most famous Icelandic crime writer of all time. His books have been translated into over 30 languages and have won numerous awards. He is known for his dark and atmospheric novels, which often feature his signature character, Erlendur Sveinsson, a veteran detective with the Reykjavík police.
  • Yrsa Sigurdardóttir: Sigurdardóttir is another hugely popular Icelandic crime writer. Her books have been praised for their suspenseful plots and complex characters. She is known for her standalone novels, as well as her series featuring Detective Inspector Hulda Hermannsdóttir.
  • Eva Björg Ægisdóttir: Ægisdóttir is a rising star in the Icelandic crime fiction scene. Her books have been praised for their atmospheric setting and their exploration of social issues.
  • Lilja Sigurðardóttir: Sigurðardóttir is a unique voice in Icelandic crime fiction. Her books often feature strong female characters and explore themes of violence and abuse. She is known for her series featuring Detective Inspector Sonja Moertel.
  • Sólveig Pálsdóttir: Pálsdóttir is a versatile writer who has written both crime fiction and literary fiction. Her books are known for their atmospheric setting and their exploration of human nature. She is known for her series featuring Detective Inspector Eva Lind.
  • Viktor Arnar Ingolfsson: Ingolfsson is a relatively new writer on the Icelandic crime fiction scene, but he has quickly made a name for himself. His books are known for their suspenseful plots and their complex characters. He is known for his series featuring Detective Inspector Ari Thór Arason.

These are just a few of the many talented Icelandic crime writers who are making waves in the international literary scene. If you’re a fan of thrillers and crime fiction, I highly recommend checking out their work.


Group giveaways for September

Kill the Quarterback, Point Spread, and Murder Most Criminous are part of several group giveaways this month:

Point Spread by Jim Stovall

Unmask the Mystery: Thrilling Giveaway of Gripping Suspense!

September Mystery, Thriller & Suspense Giveaway

Fall into Free Thrilling Reads this Fall

A Thrill a Minute Book Giveaway (Sept. 11-Oct. 2)

Free Mysteries (Sept. 11-Oct. 15)

Each of these giveaways includes more than 20 books of various sub-genres. You can download any or all of them in exchange for your email address. The email address will be shared among all authors participating in the giveaway. The purpose of these giveaways is to get books into the hands of readers and to increase email lists for the authors.


Jacques Futrelle: The Problem of the Stolen Rubens

This week we resume the presentation of some of the rivals to Sherlock Holmes that came to life in the pages of books and magazines during the late 19th and early 20th century. One of the best was from the American writer Jacques Futrelle, and his The Problem of the Stolen Rubens shows his “Thinking Machine” character at his best.

MATTHEW KALE made fifty million dollars out of axle grease, after which he began to patronize the high arts. It was simple enough: he had the money, and Europe had the old masters. His method of buying was simplicity itself. There were five thousand square yards, more or less, in the huge gallery of his marble mansion which were to be covered, so he bought five thousand square yards, more or less, of art. Some of it was good, some of it fair, and much of it bad. The chief picture of the collection was a Rubens, which he had picked up in Rome for fifty thousand dollars.

Soon after acquiring his collection, Kale decided to make certain alterations in the vast room where the pictures hung. They were all taken down and stored in the ballroom, equally vast, with their faces toward the wall. Meanwhile Kale and his family took refuge in a nearby hotel.

Continue reading The Problem of the Stolen Rubens


Check out last week’s newsletter

Phyllis P.: I love Sherlock and I have read the complete collection. The audiobook performed by Stephen Fry is also excellent. The line connecting Holmes to literary detectives after is a straight one. 

Glenn S.: Re: the JFK assassination:

The way the story of the shooting in Dallas was first reported tells us everything about the way technology has transformed the news business.

I am a member of a couple of forums for former UPI journalists, and the way the agency’s Merriman Smith was able to so thoroughly beat The Associated Press on the JFK assassination still draws comment and admiration. “Smitty” won a Pulitzer Prize for his performance.

In brief, Smith and the AP’s Jack Bell were riding in the presidential motorcade’s “wire car,” which was equipped with an AT&T “radio phone.” As the shots rang out, Smith grabbed the phone and dictated information to UPI’s Dallas bureau. With Bell beating him on the back in an effort to get a turn at the phone, Smith kept it to himself as the motorcade sped toward Parkland Memorial Hospital. UPI was transmitting Smith’s reporting to the world while the AP was waiting for information from Bell.

Smith continued to dominate the breaking story at the hospital as JFK was declared dead.

Can you imagine one reporter so dominating a story today about the assassination of a president in such a public event as a motorcade through a major American city?


Vince V.: I was not aware of the quote by Harvey Firestone, but he has it right. If we get right  down to it, the good old days really weren’t all that good. We just dealt with a different set of issues. There’s no going back to a simple life. We should concentrate on an examined life.

Finally . . .

This week’s watercolor: Cole’s General Store

Best quote of the week:

The heart of a mother is a deep abyss, at the bottom of which you will always find forgiveness. Honoré de Balzac, novelist (1799-1850)

Pray-as-you-go podcast

If you are looking for a quiet, meditative, non-theological but scriptural podcast to start or close your day, try The podcasts are 10-12 minutes long, and they feature beautiful music, a scripture reading, and a very short devotional. It’s a great respite from an otherwise all-too-noisy world.

If you are interested in reading scripture, either the Old Testament, the New Testament, or both, you might be interested in the videos, commentary, and podcast of the The people who work on this site have done some deep and thoughtful reading of the Bible, and the videos they have produced (generally shorter than 10 minutes) are both entertaining and enlightening. They view the Bible as a single entity with a single purpose, and their approach is both delightful and refreshing.

Helping those in need

Earthquakes in Turkey, fires in California, freezing weather in Texas, hurricanes on the Atlantic Coast, tornados in Tennessee: disasters occur everywhere. They have spread untold misery and disruption. The people affected by them need our help.

It’s not complicated. Things happen to people, and we should be ready to do all the good we can in all of the ways we can. (Some will recognize that I am paraphrasing John Wesley here).

When is the last time you gave to your favorite charity? The United Methodist Committee on Relief ( is my favorite charity. Please make a contribution to this one or to yours.

Keep reading, keep writing (especially to me), and have a great weekend.


Jim Stovall

You can connect with Jim on FacebookTwitterLinkedin, and BookBub.

His Amazon author page is where you can find more information about his books.

Last week’s newsletter: Britain’s secret assassination squads, more on JFK, and journalists covering crazy statements: newsletter, September 1, 2023



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