Baltimore, murders, the Yards, history

Books Of The Region

June 13, 1999|By James H. Bready | James H. Bready,Sun Staff

Guidebooks and tourists come, tourists and guidebooks go. "Wish You Were Here: A Guide to Baltimore City for Natives and Newcomers" by Carolyn Males, Carol Barbier Rolnick and Pam Makowski Goresh (Woodholme, 448 pages, $19.95 paperbound) stands out as the most recent such book, probably the most comprehensive one, and the first to include online addresses.

The authors begin by going overboard on flapdoodle (hon, 'dos, Bawlmer, Elvis worship) but rescue themselves with solid treatment of geographic areas, architecture and the arts, museums and parks, hotels and restaurants, monuments, sports, shopping.

Males, Rolnick and Goresh not only draw on previous books about this city but mention them; they print no ads but boldly mention one retail outlet while omitting another. The hardest part about selectivity is perhaps churches and synagogues -- the old predictables appear, but not the interesting newer ones.

In general, the recommendations are detailed and sound (though calling Poe "one of the strangest writers . . . ever" is sophomoric; and Mencken frequented Schellhase's, not the Peabody Bierstube and not Maria's.

This guidebook is good on African-American sites, tours and memories. It gives the American Visionary Arts Museum more space than the Baltimore Museum of Art; Cafe Tattoo more space than Maison Marconi. Never straying beyond the map line, "Wish You Were Here" is pure Baltimore.

Baltimore is, of all things, moving up in the incidence of virtual crime. A great place, this, for the murder-minded; home to either the keyboard-tapping plot-contriver or the fictional cast, or both. Recently, Baltimore women have been in the news as national-honors winners, but they should glance about. Blair S. Walker is coming on strong.

His milieu is African-American modern -- people of attainment. His hawkshaw, Darryl Billups, is a Pulitzer-nominated assistant editor at the daily Baltimore Herald (one of Walker's strengths is the authenticity of his news-speak). In "Hidden in Plain View" (Avon, 229 pages, $22), an outbreak of bizarre serial murders and the death of a friend on the homicide squad prompt Billups, formerly a reporter, to go back on the street. Soon he himself is being stalked.

Walker employs a device: he begins picturing the murderer, too, in different-tense chapters. For these two main figures, a high-noon showdown? Well, yes and also no. Read the Herald.

Almost 40 years went by before there was a book about Memorial Stadium ("The House of Magic," by Robert W. Brown et al). Now, in the eighth year of Oriole Park at Camden Yards, its book total is at least three: Janis Rettaliata's photographic "The Baltimore Ballpark Project"; Peter Richmond's "Ballpark" and, currently, "Home of the Game: The Story of Camden Yards," by Thom Loverro (Taylor Publishing, 256 pages, $24.95).

Loverro, a former Sun sports reporter, now works for the Washington Times and lives in Columbia. Able to cite post-1992 construction elsewhere in the major leagues, he can enlarge on everyone's good feelings about our warehouse and its adjoining lawn: he can assert that, following Baltimore's overturn of standard design, not just baseball but professional sports and "the fate of American cities" have "entered a new era."

Indeed, several sets of voters have said yes to new, single-sport, downtown structures. Not all.

Who rightly shares in this glory? Peter Richmond bestowed wreaths (and slapped a few faces); Loverro discards him. Now the top hero is Larry Lucchino -- long gone; and, by some, ill-remembered -- with Don Schaefer close behind. Loverro does not just duplicate what Baltimore newspaper readers were told at the time; yet he cites no documents, simply interviewing higher-ups whose polished recollections incline as much to sweetness as to light.

The kid who is the title figure in "The Reappearance of Sam Webber," by Jonathon Scott Fuqua" (Bancroft. 237 pages. $23.95) has transferred into Robert Poole School, in Hampden -- the crude, proletarian, pre-boutique Hampden. Sam is a small, fearful kid whose father has disappeared, whose mother is weepy and whose lifestyle has suddenly gone downhill. When teachers are cold and bullies torment him, does Sam go for a gun?

No, he makes friends with Greely, a black school janitor. Humanity wins out, for Sam at least. This first novel is realistic in its depictions of neighborhood grunge and blue-collar shlock; sometimes it implants adult sensibilities in an 11-year-old boy.

Earl Arnett's imagination was under constraint, in his years as a lead feature writer at The Sun and later while working on "Maryland: A New Guide to the Old Line State." But now he can cut loose, and does so in a tale of contemporary Maryland, "Lovely Lady" (ENE Productions, 191 pages, $10 paperbound).

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