Monday, January 16, 2017

FADE AWAY by Harlan Coben






Harlan Coben’s Fade Away (1996) reminds me of how much I’ve changed.

When I was reading these back in the 1990s, the sexism and shallow values of many of the characters didn’t bother me. Now it does.

But still, I liked the book.

At first, the book seemed dated to me. Then it occurred to me that it is me who changed.

One of the characters nails it. “Folks always talking about the price of fame, but you wanna know the real price? Forget that privacy shit. So I don’t go out to the movies as much. Big fucking deal--where I came from you can’t afford to go anyway. The real price is you ain’t a person anymore. You’re just a thing, a shiny thing like one of those Benzes out there.” (T.C. Collins, New Jersey Dragons’ basketball superstar.)

The New Jersey Dragons part owner Clip Arnstein hires Myron Bolitar to find a missing star player Greg Downing. To cover up what is happening, Bolitar signs to play with the team.

Bolitar finds the body of a murdered woman, a 1960s left wing radical, who was blackmailing Downing. So now the question becomes who committed the murder? What is Greg’s part in all this?

Along the way, Bolitar learns about himself. He gets the full story of the devastating injury that ended his career. He learns a terrible secret. And he starts to face up to a truth he has avoided for years.

I still remember Esperanza, Big Cyndi, and Win, three defining characters in these books. And I still admire the way Coben keeps me reading (and guessing) to the end.

I checked out this book as a Kindle book from our local library. Also, I found out there are new Myron Bolitar books. (I thought the series ended years ago.)

So I will probably be checking in with Myron Bolitar again.

Friday, January 13, 2017

THE RETURN OF THE RAVEN MOCKER by Donis Casey






“That’s the thing [Mama] finds most blameworthy in the world, to not try, even if you know you’ll likely fail.” --Martha McCoy talking about her mother Alafair Tucker.
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Strong women.

In Donis Casey’s The Return of the Raven Mocker, the women of Boynton, Oklahoma, work together to fight the 1918 flu epidemic. Many of the men (including both of the town’s doctors) are away fighting the war.

The Raven Mocker is the Cherokee witch who searches out the sick and old and causes them to have painful, tormented deaths. Alafair Tucker learned of the Raven Mocker from her grandmother in Arkansas.

In 1918, it seemed that the Raven Mocker had come to Boynton.

The women worked together to fight the epidemic. They formed a Red Cross chapter to tend the sick. They did as Alafair Tucker did. They tended to family and protected the children.

They used all their folk remedies to try to save their loved ones and the others around them. And they even sometimes listened to the college-professor doctor sent to help them.

The battle between folk medicine and science raged until, finally, at least for Alafair, there came to be a kind of truce between the two.

The women’s courage flowed through generations. Alafair and Shaw Tucker’s twelve-year-old daughter Sophronia ran from the safety of the isolated farm to come to town to be with a school friend whose mother died. 

Alafair was furious though she herself had come into the epidemic-filled town to tend her flu-ravaged daughter and her husband.

Into all of this, there comes a murder. A poisoning.

Alafair’s testimony causes her cousin Scott, the town constable, to arrest the wrong man. The book opens with Alafair telling the prosecutor the mistake she made. Then she explains. We hear the story.

What a strong book. 

I think Donis Casey’s Alafair Tucker novels are underappreciated. They seem to be regional mysteries, stories of one large family in a fairly isolated place, but they are so much more. 

Boynton ‘s men help fight the nation’s wars. Boynton’s men, women and children fight an epidemic which spreads to many places in the nation. Boynton’s citizens are like people everywhere--strong and weak, courageous and corrupted, honest and sometimes murderous.

If you have not done so before, you might want to give Donis Casey’s Alafair Tucker novels a try.

Monday, January 9, 2017

AN OWL TOO MANY by Charlotte MacLeod






Sometimes it amazes me how much I like Charlotte MacLeod’s Peter Shandy books. They are so way out and unbelievable.

In MacLeod’s An Owl Too Many, the owl too many is a decoy meant to lead Thorkjeld Svenson’s owl counting group into a murder trap. Svenson is president of Balaclava Agricultural College. His group is part of the traditional annual Balaclava County owl count.

As it happens, the wrong person gets swooped up in a net and murdered. And the whole thing goes back to Associate Professor Winifred Binks’ inheriting millions from her now-deceased, certifiably crazy grandfather.

Along the way, our hero Peter Shandy and his friend Professor Binks end up in a life threatening situation. (You'll have to read about it to appreciate it.) Only President Svenson’s mastery of an ancient Swedish art can save them.

No matter that when you think about it logically, the motivation for the crime in this story seems convoluted at the least. All the good people of Balaclava County are on hand, and that in itself, is enough to make An Owl Too Many funny, mostly straight-through-readable, and good.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

POSTING COMMENTS

I appreciate your comments.
 
Blogger has changed the way it tells me there are pending comments. I missed posting several comments the last two weeks. I now know what I am doing and will check for comments every day. There is so much spam that I have no choice but to moderate. 


Monday, January 2, 2017

Peter Shandy Mysteries by Charlotte MacLeod

The Curse of the Giant Hogweed (1985)
Something in the Water (1994)
Exit the Milkman (1996)

VANE PURSUIT by Charlotte MacLeod






Charlotte MacLeod’s cozy stories are unique.

In her Vane Pursuit, a gang is stealing Balaclava County, Massachusetts' Praxiteles Lumpkin-created antique weather vanes. Then the culprits burn the now-historic buildings to which the weather vanes are attached.

One weather vane has sold at auction for six figures.

Balaclava County  librarian Helen Shandy is photographing and documenting the weather vanes. She has come to think each theft/arson occurred right after she took her pictures. Someone may be following her and using her to locate the weather vanes.

Helen and her husband, Balaclava Agricultural College Professor Peter Shandy, investigate.

Helen and two friends end up having a life-threatening adventure. I'll not describe it. You need to enjoy it for yourself.

Peter Shandy and Cronkite Swope, intrepid young reporter for the Balaclava County Fane and Pennon, do likewise in a different, but still life-threatening, way.

Peter and Cronkite meet a sane, self-sufficient woman who lives down a rabbit hole.

The wife of one of Peter’s long-term friends is clearly involved in the thefts.

And the whole thing comes back to a local perpetrator.

If the book sounds interesting but silly, it is. Charlotte MacLeod’s books always are. And almost always, they are funny.

As I said at the first, Charlotte MacLeod’s cozy stories are unique. I am glad a fellow blogger led me to start reading Charlotte MacLeod.
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P.S. One little side note. More than with any other writer, I have to have a dictionary handy when I read MacLeod. She revels in using unusual words.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

THE WOMAN IN BLUE by Elly Griffiths






I found Elly Griffiths’ The Woman in Blue flawed and chilling.

It was flawed because the plot was too complicated for me. But it was chilling because it contained the kind of religious fanaticism which causes me to see fundamentalist religion as dangerous.

Detective Chief Inspector Harry Nelson and his team investigate the murder of a mysterious woman in a white gown and blue cloak. Late at night, Cathbad, Ruth Galloway’s druid friend, had seen the woman visiting an eerie white gravestone in the cemetery of St. Simeon’s Church.

According to the legend, the Virgin Mary visits the cemetery. At first, Cathbad wonders if he has seen the Virgin.

At the same time, Ruth’s friend Hillary Smithson asks Ruth to look at some threatening letters. Hillary left her PhD position in anthropology to become a priest in the Church of England.

To quote one letter: “. . . I will never accept your right to call yourself a priest. ‘Man and Woman Created He Them’ (Genesis 1:27). Men and women are different, Doctor Smithson. Not better or worse. Different. I am not a misogynist, as you women academics would have me. I simply believe that men and women have different tasks in the world. Women have the privilege of bearing children. Men are the appointed protectors of the family. And Jesus appointed men to be the protectors of his church.”

Further letters threaten Hillary’s life. Is there a connection between the murder of the woman in blue and the threatening letters to Hillary? 

Then, someone murders a woman priest.

Suspects abound. The story involves The Sanctuary, a “private hospital specialising in drug rehabilitation.” It takes us back into the personal histories of several of the characters. The assailant attacks beautiful blond women.

The book climaxes during the annual Good Friday passion play in the small village of Walsingham.

The relationship between Ruth, Harry, and Harry’s wife Michelle becomes even more complicated.

So there’s a lot of story here.

As always, I see much to recommend this and all the Ruth Galloway books.

The Woman in Blue takes place in the small village of Walsingham about which Elly Griffiths writes in her Acknowledgements, “. . . I have made the real Walsingham into my own fictional version of the place. . . .”

I checked out this book as a Kindle book from our local library.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

THE LABOURS OF HERCULES by Agatha Christie






“In the period before his final retirement [Hercule Poirot] would accept twelve cases, no more, no less. And those twelve cases would be selected with special reference to the twelve Labors of ancient Hercules. Yes, that would not only be amusing, it would be spiritual.”   --From the Foreword of Agatha Christie’s The Labours of Hercules
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Twelve short stories, twelve labors. 

Agatha Christie’s The Labours of Hercules chronicles twelve cases of Hercule Poirot. They range from finding out who kidnapped a dog the kidnapper has already returned to saving the reputation of a friend.

My favorite story was a clever con story.

In each of the stories Christie somehow ties Poirot’s case to a mythical labor. For example, as Poirot tracks down rumors, Poirot comments, “Rumor is indeed the nine-headed Hydra of Lernea which cannot be exterminated because as fast as one head is chopped off two grow in its place.”

I checked out this book from our local library in a Kindle edition. I thought it would be fun to read because I had not read it before. 

Thursday, December 15, 2016

AN AUTHOR BITES THE DUST by Arthur W. Upfield






Arthur W. Upfield’s An Author Bites the Dust (1948) is a wonderfully crafted story.

The motive for murder is literary, and Upfield himself surely had a lot invested in what he wrote.

At one point in the story, Australia’s Detective-Inspector Napoleon Bonaparte (Bony) asks an intelligent friend about a popular novel. She says of the author, “He can paint word pictures and tell a story, but he lacks the gift of taking pains.”

She says a gift with language, the ability to tell a story, and enough dedication to take the pains to write a good story are three things needed for great literature.

In this book, Bony investigates the murder of a critic who failed as a novelist. His death appears to have come about because of natural causes. He is a man who spent his life attempting to destroy commercial writing, well-written popular writing.

In the end, his snobbery was his undoing. In exposing the murderer, Bony reveals the victim’s hypocrisy.

All this has to do with literature. What is great literature? Can commercially successful books also be great literature? And is there a band of snobbish critics who promote poorly written non-selling books over best sellers? (Surely the popular author Arthur W. Upfield had strong feelings about all this!)

The murderer in An Author Bites the Dust has a literary motive. The murderer’s method is unusual, but Upfield assures us that such a method does exist.

As the story unfolds, the murderer kills a second man. Then the murderer attempts to murder Bony.

Bony uses his tracking skills, even in this mostly non-rural setting in Victoria near Mt. Donna Buang.

An Author Bites the Dust has Upfield’s usual detailed descriptions of nature and of inside settings.

I’ve said it before, and I will say it again. I always enjoy reading about Bony.

Monday, December 12, 2016

EDGAR ALLAN POE AND THE LONDON MONSTER by Karen Lee Street







Karen Lee Street’s Edgar Allan Poe and the London Monster is a book for Poe fans. 

Poe narrates the book. Someone is attacking him because of his grandparents’ involvement with the mysterious London Monster.

The Monster assaulted women in the late 1700s. He stabbed them in their derrières destroying their beautiful dresses and wounding them.

Authorities finally caught, convinced, and executed a man for the crimes, but likely that man was innocent.

Poe’s grandparents were somehow involved, and Poe gets the blame. Poe’s tormentor sends letters his grandparents wrote about the attacks. Those letters form roughly alternating chapters of the book.

In 1840, Poe meets with his fictional detective C. Auguste Dupin in London. They try to find Poe’s attacker. They also confront the man who framed Dupin’s parents and caused their execution.

Poe meets Madame Tussaud whose wax museum portrays the execution. During the investigation he sees mysterious ravens, hears hearts beating from beneath the floor of his hotel room, and is otherwise inspired to write his later stories. 

Edgar Allan Poe and the London Monster seems meticulously researched. Karen Lee Street writes the book in Poe’s style. Poe and Dupin end up in séances, crypts, and other monstrous situations. It is all very Poe-like.

Edgar Allan Poe’s 18th-century style slows down the pace of the book, something I had to get used to, but all in all, the story was fun. It ended with the clear indication that Street plans to write another Edgar Allan Poe book.

I got this recently published book as a Kindle book from the local library. I hadn’t heard of it until I ran across it there.

Sunday, December 4, 2016






Has Agatha Raisin changed? In M.C. Beaton’s Pushing Up Daisies, at first it seems that way, but by the end of the book, Agatha is as lonely and insecure as ever.

That’s how I see Agatha. Lonely and insecure. Always seeking another man, always wanting to be at the center of attention, always wanting to be more attractive and compelling than anyone around her.

But she solves mysteries. In this case, a man’s son hires her to investigate his father’s murder. The father was a titled landowner whose land has plots devoted to small community gardens.

Local townspeople plant the gardens as they have done seemingly forever.

When the man decides to sell the land for development and do away with the gardens, someone kills him.

Along the way, two other people die, and Agatha and her detective agency bump into two semi-related murders and a kidnapping.

All this happens in Cotswold village of Carsley and the towns around.

Agatha competes with her best friend the vicar’s wife Mrs. Bloxby to be noticed by a young man Agatha sees as an Adonis.

And of course, Agatha is just successful enough in her pursuit to be hurt again.

Pushing Up Daisies has all the usual characters, Agatha’s ex husband, her other men friends, the detectives at her detective agency, and even her two cats.

I find the Agatha Raisin books sad, humorous, well-written, and a joy to read. Every time I pick up one, I remind myself that Beaton wrote the book for an audience other than old men like me. But then I read about and enjoy Agatha Raisin anyway.

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I checked out this Kindle book from our local library.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

CHRISTMAS CAROL MURDER bvy Leslie Meier








Leslie Meier’s Christmas Carol Murder is a cozy reworking of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.”

Someone sends a letter bomb to a hated realtor who is foreclosing on many of the houses in Tinker’s Cove, Main.

Almost everyone in town is among the suspects. People are losing their homes and businesses. In some cases, medical bills swamp already-foreclosed families.

Lucy Stone, intrepid part-time reporter for the local newspaper The Pennysaver, investigates the murder.

Lucy’s college-age daughter becomes part of a group protesting the foreclosures. Lucy’s husband becomes a member of the board that is laying off town employees because town revenues are down. And Lucy herself takes on the role of Mrs. Cratchit in the town production of “The Christmas Carol.”

After contentious meetings, personal attacks (including Lucy’s husband getting his truck tires slashed), and an attack on the niece of the murdered man’s real estate partner, Lucy risks her life to confront the murderer.

The story ends with the Scrooge-like real estate partner of the murder victim having a terrifying experience and a change of heart. He comes up with ways to help Tinker’s Cove’s struggling people.

For me, Christmas Carol Murder was just what it sounds like, a light, almost TV episode-like cozy to help pass a few hours in the Christmas season.

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I checked this out as a Kindle book from our local library.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

SANTORINI CAESARS by Jeffrey Siger






“Is there anyone anywhere in our government who actually cares about our country? Our families? I’m sick and tired of one politician after another, all focused only on what puts money in their pockets and nothing else.” --Andreas Kaldis’ pregnant wife Lila.
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In Jeffrey Siger’s Santorini Caesars, Chief Inspector Andreas Kaldis and his crew end up with a huge surprise.

When assassins kill a general’s daughter during a government demonstration, Kaldis wonders why.

Someone targeted the young woman. She wasn’t a random victim.

And the killers themselves are easily identifiable. It is not that they could be named. It is that they appeared to have come from the military. They seemed to be professionals.

Are the generals fighting among themselves? Was the killing a way send this particular general a message? Is the military planning a coup? And do  those plans tie in with a meeting of generals (including the up-and-coming young generals known as the Caesars) on the Island of Santorini?

As with all the Kaldis stories, the economic/political chaos in Greece plays a huge part. Kaldis and his investigative team can’t tell who is plotting against whom.

Then the story takes a strange turn. With the investigative help of the young Santorini woman at the center of the book’s major love story, Kaldis learns of an unexpected possibility.

As always with the Kaldis books, Santorini Caesars is an excellent police procedural complicated by the political and economic collapse of Greece. Everyone is at risk. Kaldis and his crew are different. They act ethically in their mostly unethical world. Kaldis’ team works through what is happening in a systematic way until the whole thing climaxes in violence.

I always look forward to Siger’s books. They tell me much about Greece. Siger fills his books with all-too-human characters. (The continuing characters are ones I love.)

If you have not yet come upon Jeffrey Siger’s Andreas Kaldis books, you might want to look them up. They are well worth reading.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

A VOICE IN THE NIGHT by Andrea Camilleri






Andrea Camilleri’s A Voice in the Night is a Sicilian police procedural.

Inspector Montalbano and his crew investigate the “suicide” of a grocery store manager. A powerful Mafia group owns the store.

As if that weren’t enough, they also investigate a brutal murder. Someone murdered the lover of the son of a powerful politician.

Both the Mafia and the politicians use media and government to smear Montalbano and his crew. So Montalbano lies, manipulates the evidence, and enlists his own media allies.

Along the way, he worries that he is growing older. He continues to have telephone contact with his lover Livia, though his contacts are not so contentious as in some of the other books. And he eats huge meals with richly described food.

Always there is food in these books.

A Voice in the Night is not the best of the Montalbano books. Camilleri wrote it several years ago, and it is just now being published. Camilleri mentions this in his afterward.

The book interested me because of the way it portrayed the public as sometimes duped and the police as often having to manipulate the evidence.

At one point Montalbano and his radio announcer friend have this conversation:

Montalbano says--“I don’t think popular will or public opinion has any concrete effect on things anymore.”

“So, in your opinion, the press and television serve no purpose? Don’t they serve to shape public opinion?”

“Nicolo, the press--that is the newspapers--are useless. Italy is a country with two million illiterates and thirty percent of the population that can barely sign their names. Three-quarters of those who buy newspapers read only the headlines, which often--and this is another fine Italian custom--say the opposite of what the articles themselves say. The few remaining people have already formed their opinions and buy whatever newspaper reflects what they already think.

Sound familiar? Except that maybe in the U.S. we might apply some of what he says to the Internet and TV too.

A Voice in the Night wasn’t the best of the Montalbano books. Still, the book had enough to keep me reading.
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Again, my thanks to Stephen Sartarelli. His excellent translations make it possible for me to enjoy these books. 

Monday, November 21, 2016

THRICE THE BRINDED CAT HATH MEW'D by Alan Bradley








In Alan Bradley’s Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew'd, Flavia de Luce acts completely out of character.

On her return from boarding school in Canada, Flavia lets her family keep her from seeing her father who is critically ill in the hospital. She goes day after day without going to see him.

I can’t visualize Flavia doing that. She takes her beloved bicycle Gladys and peddles around to the connecting villages. She finds the body of an arthritic wood carver strung up in the apparatus he invented to stretch his aching back. She even peddles to the train station and goes to London to find clues in the murder.

But she can’t peddle to see her father no matter who tries to keep her from doing so. That's just not Flavia.

Flavia interviews the witch across the street from the house where she found the corpse. She untangles the strange history of the woodcarver and his family. She figures out how the cat which mewed to come into the room with the corpse gives her a major clue. She even puts up with a new member of the family. But she doesn’t go to see her father.

In case you can’t tell, that bothered me.

Aside from that, I found Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew'd to have everything I admire about the Flavia de Luce books. The book has her chemical brilliance, her reference to all kinds of literary works, her way with words, and her strong determination.

It also has wonderful passages to quote, as these books always do. Here are a few--

“...the perfect crime is extremely rare, [and] so is the perfect solution. In real life, we are never able to dot every i, cross every t, or tease out every last strand of what we think of as evidence.”


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“It’s amazing what the discovery of a corpse can do for your spirits.”

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“Brains, in reality, do not go clickety-clickety-click from A to B to C to D and so forth, rushing like a train along the rails, until at the end, with a happy “Toot-toot!” they arrive at their destination, Z, and the case is suddenly solved. Quite the contrary. In reality, analytical minds such as my own are forever shooting wildly off in all directions simultaneously. It’s like joyously hitting jelly with a sledgehammer; like exploding galaxies; like a display of fireworks in which the pyrotechnic engineer has had a bit too much to drink and set off the whole conglobulation all at once, by accident.”

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And finally, “Real life is messy, and it’s probably best to keep that in mind. We must learn never to expect too much.”

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I could go on quoting from there. But the last quote says a lot about this book. Even the best books are imperfect. Real life is messy and tragic. And so was Alan Bradley’s Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew'd.