By Mary Rogers
People often ask what I’m reading and what I’d recommend. I do the same. There’s nothing like word-of-mouth suggestions to help uncover a good read. I focus on books that have just come out or are about to, but an interesting book is worth the time no matter its publication date.
Doug Renfro, president of Renfro Foods, creator of Mrs. Renfro’s salsas, dips and sauces, tipped us off to Homicide at Rough Point by Peter Lance, a five-time Emmy Award-winning journalist.
Renfro typically dives into nonfiction reads. But believe me, the excerpts of this true-crime story read like fiction. I don’t know how I missed it when it came out in 2021, but the book is on my bedside table now.
In 1966, tobacco heiress Doris Duke was behind the wheel of a station wagon when she ran over her confidante and art collection curator, killing him.
It was, she says, a terrible accident. Eduardo Tirella, a World War II veteran with movie-star good looks, was opening the gate of Rough Point, her historic Rhode Island estate, when, Duke said, she hit the gas pedal rather than the brake. The car rocketed forward, crushing him and smashing into a tree across the road.
Police backed up the story. Soon, Duke began donating millions to the town of Newport to help restore some 70 colonial-era homes and transform the place into a tourist destination.
Eduardo, in his early 40s, had given Duke his notice that night. He was making a name for himself in Hollywood as a set designer, and he was determined to follow that dream. Witnesses said the two had argued loudly earlier in the evening. Was his death the result of jealousy and vindictiveness, fear or anger? Was it an accident or a murder?
The author, an investigative journalist, says he has the answers, along with more than 100 photos.
Fort Worth Zoo champion, conservationist and Texas rancher Ramona Bass has many interests, and that’s true in her book selections, too. She’s an avid reader with an appetite for history and historical fiction, among other genres.
She recently finished What the Ermine Saw: The Extraordinary Journey of Leonardo da Vinci’s Most Mysterious Portrait by Eden Collinsworth and was impressed. This title came out in spring and opens the door to the world of grandeur and intrigue that was the Renaissance.
More than 500 years ago, a young Leonardo da Vinci was commissioned by Ludovico Sforza, the duke of Milan, to paint a portrait of his 16-year-old mistress, Cecilia Gallerani. The duke later married someone else, but Cecilia was already pregnant. She lived in the family castle until the duke’s wife insisted she and her son leave. Apparently, the painting made the journey with them from one castle to another.
When she died, the artwork began a longer journey. During World War II, it was concealed behind a bricked-up wall by a woman who defied Hitler’s demand that it be added to the Nazi treasures.
Even now, this portrait captures the imagination of those who see it, spooling them back over the centuries to the day a young woman and an artist captured a moment in history worth preserving.
My friends Kitty and Cleve Lancaster are Fort Worth natives involved in art, gardens, historic preservation and more. They love Texas books, too. I recently told them about a work of fiction with a Fort Worth connection that they might like. The Iron Orchard by Tom Pendleton first dropped in 1966, but in 2019, it was reissued by TCU Press/Texas A&M University Press.
Upon publication, this novel about the early petroleum industry was praised for its authentic representation of the denizens of the oil patch. Tom Pendleton is a pen name for Fort Worth native Edmund Pendleton Van Zandt Jr. (1916-1972), a member of one of the city’s most influential founding families.
With degrees from TCU, SMU and the University of Texas at Austin, this World War II vet worked as a roustabout, an oil scout and as a foreign oil concessions negotiator. He joined Fort Worth National Bank in the 1960s.
His book was a co-winner of the 1967 Texas Institute of Letters Jesse H. Jones Award for Best Work of Fiction along with Larry McMurtry’s The Last Picture Show.
If you like books about Texas, this one is worth seeking out and adding to your collection.