Friday, July 22, 2016

Peter Bowen, The Tumbler








In Peter Bowen's The Tumbler, money makes a major difference.

When Metis fiddler Gabriel Du Pré hides artifacts from the Lewis and Clark expedition, money causes murder.

A computer billionaire tries to buy the artifacts, first with gifts and then with money. He finally offers fifty million dollars. And the murders begin.

Du Pré doesn't have the artifacts. Benetsee does.

Du Pré's friend Bart is trying to salvage a wayward niece. She and her boyfriend are gymnasts, tumblers. They teach Du Pré's grandchildren (there are a passel of them) to do tricks on the jungle gym. 

The Tumbler is filled with threats, and those threats end in murder. Modern computer-oriented society (which Du Pré despises) comes head to head with what Du Pré calls, "Long time gone."

Two intertwined mysteries make it so that Du Pré has trouble sorting things out.

Along the way, someone attacks and tries to rob Bassman, one of Du Pré musical partners. Between books, Talley, the handicapped accordion player, died of an infection, a testimony to the dynamic nature of these characters. They grow, change, and die.

As always, the music plays a huge part in the story. Also, Metis history echoes through everything Du Pré does. In a sense, he is one of the people's historians with the history preserved, most of all, in the music.

I would have never heard of the Metis were it not for Peter Bowen. Bowen has been a Metis historian for me.

I find these books to be unique. I still have a couple to read to finish the series (in its present form).

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

FATAL PURSUIT by Martin Walker






Martin Walker's Fatal Pursuit is a mixture of history and mystery.

The history wins out.

St. Denis, France, Chief of Police Bruno Courrèges becomes involved in the search for a rare automobile, a Bugatti Type 57SC Atlantic. Bugatti only made four 57SC Atlantics. One was destroyed in an accident, two are accounted for, and the fourth may be hidden somewhere near St. Denis.

Along the way, Bruno solves two murders involving the search for the car, negotiates a family feud, works to save a troublesome young juvenile in St. Denis, and arrests the son of the manager of the area's largest supermarket.

The supermarket manager's son threw rocks and injured a local banker's daughter. So Bruno and his patron, the mayor, find themselves caught in a local political imbroglio.

And of course, there is a love story. Bruno finds another beautiful young lover. (I'm beginning to think Bruno is promiscuous. He seems to hook up with young women who are bound to leave him.)

Walker sets the story in a rural part of France he clearly loves. We see the restaurants, the food stalls, the wonderfully cooked meals, the wine, the mushrooms, and the beautiful cars. We even see Bruno taking part as the navigator in a car in the local rally.

This book (like all the Bruno books) has a unique rustic setting. The usual characters are on hand. Even Bruno's former lover Isabelle shows up, and of course we again get to know Bruno's dog Balzac and his horse Hector.

The story is fiction, but much of the history is accurate. Walker changes a few details for the sake of the story. The Bugatti Type 57SC Atlantic did exist. (It has not been found.) Walker says the famous people involved with the Bugatti, people who gave their lives in the French Resistance, are historically accurate.

If you are a lover of the Bruno Chief of Police stories (as I am), you should find this one to be good reading.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

SHOT IN DETROIT by Patricia Abbott






Why did it surprise me that one of the major characters in Patricia Abbott's Shot in Detroit was the city of Detroit?

Detroit artist and photographer Violet Hart struggles to make her mark in a struggling city.

She ends up photographing black corpses in Bill Fontenel's funeral home. Along the way, she falls in love with Bill; she befriends a bipolar street artist who sets up his creations along the river; and she finds out more about her missing father.

She also learns about herself and Detroit. Both are desperately resilient, struggling to succeed, and in Violet's case, willing to use a taboo subject to create art.

When someone murders her street artist friend, Violet keeps on taking photographs including a photograph of him. It is the only photograph of a white person in her collection.

Violet is not self confident (to use a sort of double negative). She struggles with whether she is doing the right thing. She wonders if love is more important than her art. And she has the sense that tragedy always waits in the wings.

The most interesting part of the story is in how she faces the book's final tragedy, but I will leave that for you to read.

At one point, Violet asks herself, "Did it always have to be about race? If I lived in Seattle or Minneapolis instead of Detroit, would I be free of it?" 

And the answer is, "No. She wouldn't be free of it in some other city. What happened in the United States in the last two weeks confirms that." But Shot in Detroit is about Violet, Bill, and Violet's street artist friend. Most of all, it is about the way they reflect the city of Detroit.

This book is filled with a realistic love of Detroit. It is set in 2011. Abbott is clear in her Afterword. The Detroit of today is not the Detroit of 2011. Detroit is now making what Abbott calls a "recent (and hopefully permanent) resurgence..."

I found myself asking if she could have published this book before the resurgence. She seems to care enough about the city that I wonder if she could have written so openly about the city's struggles before there was a light of hope.

I'm a small town person. I can't understand exactly what Patricia Abbott understands about Detroit, but I saw her commitment to the city in almost every word she wrote.


Fair warning--If you are looking for a cozy type book, this is not the book for you. But if you are looking for an excellent book by someone who loves her struggling city and who sees it with clear eyes, you will want to read Patricia Abbott's Shot in Detroit.

Monday, July 11, 2016

BUSY AT OTHER THINGS






I've not been reading as much lately. I'm taking the Harvard edX courses on religious scripture. I audit the courses online for free and have found them enlightening. But they do cut into my reading time. I'll be back to reading more books in a few weeks. 

I will probably continue to read about a book a week. Occasionally I read books about which I do not write.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Peter Bowen's Montana Mysteries

Peter Bowen
Gabriel Du Pre
12. Stewball (2005)
13. Nails (2006)
14. Bitter Creek (2015)

BADLANDS by Peter Bowen






Peter Bowen's Badlands has a different ending.

When a cult-like group buys the Eide ranch close to the badlands near Toussaint, Montana, they seem benign at first. Then seven of their members end up murdered.

The murders occur in various places a long way from Toussaint, but they coordinate with what is happening at the Eide's ranch.

To make things worse, the cult, led by a man called the White Priest, sells the ranch's cattle. They bring in buffalo. Buffalo are hard to control. They pose a risk to all the fences and cattle in the ranches around.

And cult members start trying to kill the badlands' wild horses (Gruillas). Gruillas go back to the time when the Spanish tried to occupy the area.

Metis fiddler Gabriel Du Pré can't take killing the horses. He risks his life to save them. Then he works with the FBI (three hilarious recurring characters) to try to find out what is happening at the ranch.

Du Pré goes to the holy man Benetsee for guidance. Like always, Du Pré sees in riddles. He knows he has a part in all this, but he doesn't know exactly what it is.

Along the way, Du Pré tries to extricate a woman and her children from the cult. He watches the suicide of the group who did the original killings, and all this leads to the strange ending of the book.

Bowen's Montana Mysteries always seem to tie in to the present. At one point,  Du Pré and one of the FBI agents Harvey "Weasel Fat" Wallace are talking about religious killings. Harvey says, "Yeah, things folks will do when they really believe."

I couldn't help but think about that quote in these weeks when we've had at least three religiously involved mass killings world-wide.

Badlands is different. Some may find the ending unsatisfactory. And, as always, you have to wade through the dialect and terse writing, something I especially enjoy.

If you like Peter Bowen's Montana Mysteries, you should like Badlands.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

ASH CHILD by Peter Bowen






"Old Man," said Madelaine, "I am some mad, you. You tell me, do this, you don't tell me how."

Benetsee laughed, an ancient cackle.

"I, me, cannot do ever'thing for you. You plenty smart woman, you listen, the old ones, it will be all right," he said.
-----

Peter Bowen's Ash Child is Madelaine's story.

Madelaine hears Benetsee's singers. Benetsee tells Madelaine that she is to solve the case. Madelaine even sees Benetsee perform magic Gabriel Du Pré has never seen before.

Severe drought hits the Wolf Mountains near Toussaint, Montana.

Fires, some of them intentionally set, ravage the mountains. Someone murders an iconoclastic old lady. And two goggle-eyed in-love teenagers end up murdered on the burning mountain.

 Du Pré can't stay out of Madelaine's case. He goes against Benetsee's instructions. He ends up almost being killed.

As always, these books have humor, strong recurring characters, a powerful sense of place, a loving retelling of French-Indian Metis history, and a plot that stresses the tensions between environmentalists and ranchers.

I am working my way through all of Peter Bowen's Gabriel Du Pré books. I read some of them years ago and loved them. But you know how it is? Work and other things got in the way of reading them all. Now retirement lets me have the time.

Ash Child is one of the better Gabriel Du Pré books so far.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

CRUZATTE AND MARIA by Peter Bowen








In Peter Bowen's Cruzatte and Maria, Gabriel Du Pré investigates the murders of canoers on the Missouri River.

It is coming upon the bicentennial of the Lewis and Clark expedition. Tourists and filmmakers want to document their travels. They want come to the most remote remaining part of the river. The Montana cattle ranchers who live there don't like it.

One documentary film maker hires Du Pré to play Cruzatte, the Metis fiddler who made the original trip with Lewis and Clark. Du Pré's daughter Maria ends up playing Sacagawea. Maria's fiancée directs the film.

Thanks to the holy man Benetsee, Du Pré finds historical artifacts including a ghost fiddle that is more important to him that any non-Metis could understand.

The history is in the music. The story of the trip plays out around the search for the killer. And as it turns out, the killer is someone with whom Du Pré has sympathy.

Along the way, you learn the history, especially the unheralded part played by the Metis. You learn about the fight to preserve a ranching way of life that many see as having destroyed the land and its original purpose. And again, you learn about the music.

The Gabriel Du Pré Montana mysteries are a mix of history and mystery. Peter Bowen's Gabriel Du Pré Montana mysteries are among the best books I read.

INNOCENT CHILDREN






Recently I listened to someone argue that if we raised our children right, we would have world peace. Children are basically innocent, this person seemed to say. We corrupt them.

Immediately I thought of the Apostle Paul, "...for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God..."

Of course, Paul is the consummate salesman. He is trying to sell Jews and Gentiles on his vision of Jesus. (I am not a great fan of the Apostle Paul, by the way.)

I also thought of William Golding's Lord of the Flies. Innocent children, indeed!

It is not my purpose to argue this issue. But great books remind us, things aren't as simple as we think they are.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

WHEN BOOKS WENT TO WAR by Molly Guptill Manning








Did you know that when Germany burned hundreds of thousands of books before World War II, books by Helen Keller were among them? I don't know why, and she didn't either, but it might have been because she was physically imperfect.

The Germans burned Helen Keller's books. That's one thing I learned from Molly Guptill Manning's When Books Went to War. 

I also learned about Armed Services Editions (ASEs), pocket-sized books sent by the millions to the troops wherever they were. I learned about the book collections which went before.

I learned about which books were most popular with the soldiers. (Are you surprised at Forever Amber or the most popular book of all, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn?)

The book publishers, librarians, and others who ran the program fought censorship. They asked soldiers what they would like to read (hence Forever Amber, which was banned in Boston). They fought Republican attempts to severely limit what soldiers could read. (Republicans feared that the ASEs included books that encouraged Roosevelt's reelection.) And they printed educational books to help prepare soldiers for when they would return to civilian life.

Soldiers, loved and used ASEs. They passed them around until they wore out.

ASEs brought about new ways of publishing, ways to save paper and make books more accessible. ASEs were precursors to the wide distribution of paperback books in the US. They plowed the ground for the GI Bill. They gave some GIs who had not read books before a lifelong introduction to reading books.

And as you might suspect, the program's benefits left out Blacks and women. Women in the service did not routinely receive ASEs. And because of segregation, Blacks could not take advantage of educational opportunities ASEs brought after the war.

All this was happening in my early childhood years. Until I read When Books Went to War, I knew nothing about ASEs. 

This is a short book. It appears much longer than it is because its various Afterwords contain the full list of books sent, and other information about ASEs.

For those of us who love to read and those who write books for others to read, When Books Went to War is a great book. It tells something about a time when the U.S. government helped a whole generation come to love reading books.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

THE STRANGE DEATH OF FIONA GRIFFITHS by Harry Bingham







Few books keep me up past my bedtime, but Harry Bingham's The Strange Death of Fiona Griffiths did. Way beyond, actually.


In the third book in the Fiona Griffiths series, Cardiff, Wales, Detective Constable Fiona Griffiths goes undercover.

After the brutal murder of a software specialist who has been planting malware on corporate computers, police start investigating.

Meanwhile, Fiona is one of the few graduates of the hard-assed police school for undercover agents. (The author assures us in an Afterword that this school does exist.)

When Fiona finds another woman who died a horrible death as the result of the scam, police decide to plant Fiona in a compromised corporation. As a payroll clerk, she will see how the scam works. Maybe she will find its source.

Police can easily catch the underlings. Finding the person who has funded the plan is almost impossible. You can shut down the operation for a while, but it comes back in a slightly different form somewhere else.

So Fiona risks her life, goes undercover, and finds herself in the same place as the head honcho himself, but she never sees him. She does learn that when the whole scam is put in operation, it will steal hundreds of millions of pounds and probably bankrupt huge corporations.

Also, if the malware ring senses they are about to be caught, they can activate a software program to clean out the payroll accounts and immediately bankrupt many of the corporations.

So there is much at stake. But it doesn't end there. The crime ring kidnaps another undercover agent put in place to direct attention from Fiona. This man has a young wife and small children.

Fiona continues to try to find out about her own identity. She is the adopted child of a former local mob boss.

She continues her love affair with a fellow cop.

Fiona begins to like her assumed identity more than she likes herself. She does, after all, have a major mental illness the symptoms of which still come and go.

There is much more in this book, but I've probably told you too much already. The book ends with Fiona acting desperately. By the end of the book, she makes a life-changing decision, one of special interest to readers' of the series.

The Fiona Griffiths books are a continuing story. If you have not read the series but think you might like to, the first book is Talking to the Dead.

I very much enjoy the Fiona Griffiths books. No doubt, there are (or soon will be) more of them to make me put off my bedtime.