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' 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 Touissant, 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.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

WHY I READ MYSTERY STORIES, AND WHY I BLOG

I read the books I do for enjoyment. I don't read them or write about them to promote them, though it seems like a little bonus if I help lead someone else to a book I enjoyed.

I blog, not so much to be read as to focus my own thoughts about my reading. I've been that way all my life. I think in writing. I don't fully formulate my thoughts unless I write them down.

Maybe some of the rest of you are like that too. For me to think something through, I have to write it down. Also, writing is among the most enjoyable things I do.

So that's what this blog is about, formulating my own thoughts. As I've gotten older, I find myself having to refresh my memory about something I read a while ago. My brief writings help me do that.

Every once in a while, it is good to remind myself what I am about. I'm not about having a lot of people read what I write. I'm not about trying to impress anybody (when I do that, I always fail). I'm about writing for myself, and if people happen to look in, they are always welcome. --Joe Barone.


Monday, May 16, 2016

THE SEA DETECTIVE by Mark Douglas-Home








Mark Douglas-Home's The Sea Detective weaves together three good stories.

Edinburgh, Scotland, police catch Caladh McGill trying to plant strange plants in the gardens of well-known public officials. 

McGill is a climate change protester. The plants are plants from among the few species to have survived the age of the glaciers. McGill plants them in public and private gardens to warn of the second coming glacial age.

With this opening, and a humorous exchange with pompous Detective Inspector David Ryan, Cal McGill, "the sea detective," links up with the police.

McGill is a PhD oceanography student. He studies ocean currents and how they affect flotsam and jetsam.

When police begin to find human feet clad in Nike sneakers washing up on local shores, DC Helen Jamieson, an outcast assistant to the pompous Ryan, thinks to enlist McGill in the investigation.

That the first story.

The second story has to do with human trafficking. Basanti, a 14-year-old Bengalese girl escapes from the brutal pedophiles who have brought her to Scotland. She asks McGill to use his oceanography skills to help her find another trafficked friend.

The third story is the story of McGill's grandfather Uilleam Sinclair and what happened to him on his isolated home island in the WW II.

All the stories are interesting in themselves. They work together wonderfully. 

The Sea Detective has other stories too. McGill's relationship with his divorced wife, and Jamieson's family story are among them.

I skipped other things to find time to read The Sea Detective.

-----------------------------

I learned about this book on an excellent blog--Kittling: Books.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

LET'S HEAR IT FOR THE DEAF MAN by Ed McBain



 




Sometimes I forget how much I like Ed McBain's 87th Precinct series.

I was reading along in Let's Hear It for the Deaf Man, and I found myself thinking, "This is a pretty ordinary book." Then I came to the ending. It was a marvelous ending in what is a good (not nearly the best) 87th Precinct book.

Steve Carella and the other detectives in the 87th work on three major cases--a series of cat burglaries, a gruesome crucifixion-like murder, and an upcoming bank robbery.

Carella's long-term adversary the Deaf Man sends photographs giving clues as to when and where the bank robbery will occur. He challenges the squad to keep him from robbing the bank. And he almost pulls it off. That's where one part of the unexpected ending comes in.

Meanwhile, the cat burglar leaves a kitten at the scene of each robbery. He breaks in without jimmying any of the doors or windows. He seems to know when the tenants are on vacation or away.

And the crucifixion-like murder leads the squad to an unusual murderer.

In the midst of all this, Kling begins a love affair, and someone attacks Carella and his wife Teddy.

Ed McBain is my favorite mystery writer. If I remember right, my favorite of the 87th Precinct books was Eight Black Horses. In that book, the Deaf Man becomes an even more dangerous psychopathic killer. And as always, he toys with Carella and the squad, leading them on.

It has been a while since I've read Ed McBain. I was glad to get back to my favorite mystery writer.