Wednesday, December 2, 2015

FIVE BOOKS FROM THANKSGIVING WEEK

Thanksgiving week was a week away from the computer. I read five books in that time. Here are brief summaries, not as complete and my comments often are, because some of these books are more than a week old in my mind.

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Ian Fleming’s Casino Royale is the first James Bond book.

I am almost embarrassed to summarize such a well-known plot.

Briefly, M assigns Bond to try to bankrupt a Soviet agent Le Chiffre at Casino Royale’s baccarat table. M knows Le Chiffre is trying to replace money he has embezzled from a labor union he manages. If he cannot do that, his own handlers will kill him.

So the book breaks down into one of the longest gambling scenes I’ve ever read, a torturous scene in which Le Chiffre brutalizes Bond, and a final section where Bond works out his relationship with his female sidekick Vesper and decides to spend his life attacking the Soviet Secret Service.

I read all the Bond books almost 50 years ago when I was in graduate school studying English and American literature. I needed something to get me away from Ben Jonson’s plays and other such esoteric reading.

I don’t remember the details of the Bond books, but I suspect Casino Royale is among the best. Bond is a na├»ve beginner. He makes two potentially fatal mistakes. And he is not the invincible hero I remember from later books and movies.


Right now, Amazon has the Bond books on Kindle specials. I’m glad I picked this one up.

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If you are looking for a Christmas mystery that emphasizes the mystery more than the Christmas, you might try Jill McGown’s Redemption. (St. Martin’s Press first published Redemption in 1988. Some editions use the name Murder at the Old Vicarage.)

On Christmas Eve, someone bludgeons to death the abusive husband of the vicar’s daughter.

At first, Acting Chief Inspector Lloyd and his assistant Detective Sergeant Judy Hill have three suspects--the vicar, his wife, and their daughter. Later another suspect comes along.

Every suspect is lying. The vicar lies to protect his wife and daughter. He tries to cover up a slightly philandering relationship. The mother lies to protect her family, and the daughter withholds portions of her story. Even the outside suspect withholds information until she is pressed.

How do you sort through a web of lies? One minor character tells the truth, and early on she describes what is happening.

In a way, Redemption is a closed room story. Someone locked the family out of the vicarage. The murder occurred in one room, but no one agrees about who could have gone into that room and when. And even when the suspects leave the vicarage, Lloyd and Hill have to try to decipher where those people went and why.

Add to all this the love affair between Lloyd and Hill, and you have a complex and emotional mystery. Lloyd wants Hill to divorce her husband whom she does not love.

I came across this book through PatriciaAbbott’s Friday’s Forgotten Books. Someone on that blog reviewed a Lloyd and Hill mystery. I could not find that book, but I found McGown’s three-book compilation, A Trio of Murders. That led me to Redemption.

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Nancy Atherton’s Aunt Dimity’s Christmas is about PTSD.

Lori Shepard finds a homeless man passed out beneath her lilac bushes. (It is not this man who has PTSD.) 

Lori, her husband Bill, Bill’s father William Sr., and Lori and Bill’s two small twins live in Aunt Dimity’s cottage near Finch in England. Lori talks with the spirit of Aunt Dimity through Dimity’s journal. Dimity uses her clearly identifiable handwriting to converse with Lori.

The dying tramp destroys Lori’s plans for an idyllic Christmas.

As the man lies comatose in the hospital, Lori works with the Catholic priest who operates the local homeless shelter. Father Julian and Lori identify the man and trace his family. They find a painful legacy of love and bitterness.

One of the most terrible episodes of WWII haunts the dying man. His story helps Lori relearn what Christmas means.

Aunt Dimity’s Christmas is a traditional story. There is a small town manger scene reenactment of the sort you’d find in Barbara Robinson’s The Best Christmas Pageant Ever. Lori still depends on her stuffed animal Reginald. The comatose man has his own stuffed animal. And we finally learn why the homeless man was trying to make his way to Dimity’s cottage.

So, what did I think of the book? The core story moved me. I would have ended the book right there. I found the long concluding chapters too happy-Christmassy. I recommend the book because of  its powerful backstory. 

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I read the last two books more than a week ago, so they get short shrift.







Andrea Camilleri’s A Beam of Light follows a familiar pattern. Sicily’s  Inspector Montalbano falls in love with a beautiful gallery owner. Meanwhile, his long term relationship with Livia continues to be fraught with misunderstandings. The issue is:  Will Montalbano throw Liva over for a new love?

At the same time, Montalbano and his team investigate a kissing bandit. The man stole money from the wife of a prominent market owner. He kissed her and then made his getaway.

This investigation leads to gun runners and other more serious crimes.

And Montalbano’s connection with the gallery owner leads him to discover how she is being used in art theft and fraud.

The story ends with the inspector having to make a decision about Liva. He decides because of an experience they share, a relationship from an earlier book. His choice is the most real thing about A Beam of Light.

As always, the inspector eats scrumptious meals and lives life large.

Almost until the end, I found A Beam of Light repetitive. In regard to his women problems, sometimes I wish  Montalbano would finally learn. He keeps making the same mistakes again and again.

A tip of the hat to Stephen Sartarelli whose translations make it possible for me to read and enjoy Andrea Camilleri’s  books about Inspector Montalbano.

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R. Allen Chappell’s Ancient Blood: A Navajo Nation Mystery deals with an archeological dig to determine what caused the sudden end of the Anasazi culture in the Four Corners area.

The Four Corners Monument sits where Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, and Arizona join.

Locals Charlie Yazzie and Thomas Begay help Professor George Armstrong Custer as he leads the dig. Yazzie and Begay end up dealing with three murders and assorted other violence.

For me, the strength of this book was in what it told me about the terrain, history, and traditions of this place and these people. 

2 comments:

Mathew Paust said...

An eclectic collection of which I've read only one. As a huge Tony Hillerman fan, the Navajo mystery I definitely want to read. Not heard of it, so thanks for the intro.

Joe Barone said...

Mathew, I got this book as a bargain book from Amazon. I liked the book (didn't love it). Nobody writes like Tony Hillerman.