Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Feast of Murder: Jane Haddam

Description from the back of the book:
Wall Street wizard Jonathan Edgewick Baird has some very good reasons for hauling friends, family and flunkies out for a Thanksgiving week cruise on his lovingly crafted duplicate of the good ship Mayflower, not the least of which are the fortuitous death of an embarrassing business associate and his own recent release from prison for insider trading. But why did Baird invite former FBI agent Gregor Demarkian, a noted murder specialist, along for the ride?
I had a sudden impulse to reread this book set at Thanksgiving, so this is my offering for Thanksgiving Day. The story doesn't have a lot of Thanksgiving spirit, but we get a good amount of background on the Mayflower and the conditions that its passengers had to endure in the trip to a new world.

Gregor Demarkian is a ex-FBI agent, a widower who has retired and is living in a community of Armenian-Americans in Philadelphia. After retirement, Gregor has been called in to consult with police departments, so he has a reputation in this new role. This year he and his friend Bennis Hannaford are heading to a Thanksgiving on a replica of the Mayflower, to avoid the traditional Thanksgiving in the neighborhood. Not because they don't enjoy being with their friends but because their friends are trying to nudge them into matrimony, and neither of them are ready to even think about that. Gregor is 56, Bennis is 20 years younger and an author of fantasy fiction.

However, if they had known how uncomfortable the Mayflower cruise would be, both in dealing with a second death, and the privations of living on a ship with few amenities, they might have stayed at home.

Each Gregor Demarkian book starts out with several brief chapters featuring the characters that the reader will be following in the story. In this book the particular set of characters are all rich and all connected with the company owned by Jon Baird. And almost all of them are unlikable. As the story opens, Baird is still in prison and looking forward to  getting out and getting on with the merger of his company with Europabanc. This prologue is unusual in that the section title is "The Death of Donald MacAdam." Often the death comes later in the book, after a good bit of set up.

I have read 24 of the 29 books in the Gregor Demarkian series. That pretty much indicates that I find Jane Haddam an author worth reading. The first book in the series, Not a Creature Was Stirring, is one of my favorite mystery novels. That one I highly recommend. The Gregor Demarkian books follow a format, but the series changes as it goes along. The earlier books were lighter, cozyish, and holiday-themed (to a certain extent) and the later books, maybe starting with Skeleton Key (#16), are darker, more serious, and less cozy. Also the later ones usually center on some social issue, although personally that doesn't pull me out of the plot. The books have well-defined characters and the stories have good pacing. The point of view switches from character to character, although not in a disorienting way, keeping the reader guessing.


Publisher:   Bantam Books, 1992 
Length:       306 pages
Format:      Paperback Original
Series:       Gregor Demarkian, #6
Setting:      Begins and ends in Pennsylvania
Genre:       Mystery
Source:      I purchased this book.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Northanger Abbey: Jane Austen

Northanger Abbey was the first book written by Jane Austen, but it was not published until after her death, along with Persuasion. This book was a total unknown to me. Of Jane Austen's six novels, I knew Pride and Prejudice very well, and had some familiarity with Emma and Sense and Sensibility. I had seen the film adaptation of Mansfield Park but just barely remembered it. I had no experience with Northanger Abbey or Persuasion. I am now aware that this novel is a parody of Gothic romance novels, but to be honest, I am not familiar enough with that genre to have noticed while reading the book.

The story is basically this:

Catherine Morland is one of ten children in a middle class family; her father is a country clergyman. A wealthy couple living nearby invite her to join them on a trip to Bath during the winter ball season. She meets a young woman who befriends her, Isabella Thorpe. Isabella's brother, John, a friend of Catherine's elder brother, becomes interested in Catherine. She, in turn, falls for Henry Tilney, and develops a friendship with his sister, Eleanor. Things become complicated when John Thorpe begins to force himself on Catherine and tries to thwart her friendship with the Tilneys. Then Catherine is invited to visit for several weeks with the Tilneys at Northanger Abbey, which she imagines as a dark and frightening but exciting place to live.

My thoughts on this book:

I enjoyed Catherine's character as a naive young woman with little experience. I did not find her laughable as some readers do. Not many teenagers today would be quite as naive as she is, but I certainly was very inexperienced at her age, very concerned about what people thought of me, and just as much interested in attracting a boyfriend. I was impressionable and emotional at that age.

Another interesting character is General Tilney, James and Eleanor's father. He is overbearing and controlling with his children, yet befriends Catherine and invites her to their home. And then there is the contrast of Catherine's two new friends, Isabella and Eleanor, one self-serving, one genuinely a friend.

I have said it in other reviews, but I love that Jane Austen was writing from her experience as a woman in the late 1700s into the early 1800s, and that she was putting the focus on issues that affected her, but most important, that the themes she discussed then are still relevant. Sure, both women and men have a very different life now and many more options, but love and marriage and finances (or the lack of those things) still affects a person's life and happiness.

This book features reading and books a lot, and I enjoyed that. The heroine reads Gothic novels, and various books are discussed by the characters throughout the book. Catherine's reading choices have influenced her outlook on the world, and she believes (or wants to believe?) that life is much like a Gothic novel.

So far, Pride and Prejudice tops my list of novels by Jane Austen. Emma and Mansfield Park are running neck and neck right behind P&P. I haven't decided where Northanger Abbey fits. It is shorter and thus moves much faster than the longer novels by Austen. It is divided into two halves: the trip to Bath and learning to navigate the social scene there, followed by Catherine's visit to Northanger Abbey, each half interesting in its own way. Overall, I like the characters in this book better than those in Emma and Mansfield Park. They act more like normal people, and even the self-centered and manipulative characters are more interesting.

I would like to recommend the edition of Northanger Abbey that I read. It includes Lady Susan, The Watsons and Sandition, which I may never read, but are nice to have. It was the few pages of Explanatory Notes at the end that I especially appreciated. I don't find reading Austen difficult, but there were many terms that I would not have understood fully without the notes.

I read Northanger Abbey this month as a part of the Jane Austen Read All A-Long at James Reads Books. I read Pride and Prejudice in August, Mansfield Park in September and Emma in October. I will be reading Persuasion in December. 


Publisher:   Oxford University Press, 1990 (Northanger Abbey orig. pub. 1818)
Length:      205 pages
Format:      Trade paperback
Setting:      UK
Genre:        Literary fiction
Source:      I purchased my copy at this year's Planned Parenthood book sale.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Murder on the Blackboard: Stuart Palmer

Hildegarde Withers, a third-grade teacher in New York City, finds the dead body of an attractive young music teacher, Anise Halloran, in the Teacher's Cloakroom. Miss Withers calls in her friend Inspector Piper, but by the time he arrives, the body has disappeared. And then, when he goes looking for the body, he gets cracked on the head and ends up recuperating in the hospital.

This is the third book in Stuart Palmer's series featuring Hildegarde Withers and Inspector Oscar Piper. Quite by accident they worked together to solve a murder in their first case, The Penguin Pool Murder. And this time, the crime takes place in the school where Miss Withers teaches.

Although Inspector Piper does not feature as prominently in this mystery, here is the introduction we get to that character before he is bashed over the head and banished to a hospital bed:
Let me explain to those of my readers who are having their first introduction to Oscar Piper, Inspector of Detectives, that he is a leanish, grayish man of somewhat indeterminate age, with a pugnacious lower lip and a pair of very chilly bluegray eyes. A badly-lighted cigar usually hangs from one corner of his mouth, and his speech, perhaps because he has risen from the ranks and is proud of it, smacks a little of Broadway, West Broadway. 
Even with Inspector Piper incapacitated, Miss Withers wastes no time in investigating the mystery. As the author tells us:
She had little respect for the intelligence of the police when Oscar Piper was in charge of a case, and none at all now that he lay on the operating table in the emergency ward at Bellevue.
Although Miss Withers initially gets involved in crime investigation accidentally, by this point she has a reputation for being helpful to the police. In fact, the principal of her school asks her to act on behalf of the school in her investigation, at least initially.

These were my favorite aspects of this story:

  • The Hildegarde Withers stories are humorous, but they are not written exclusively for laughs. There is a serious story and Miss Withers is serious about her investigation.
  • I enjoyed the depiction of life in the 1930s. The book was published in 1932 and Prohibition ended in 1933, and bootleg liquor figures into the story. Also, the workings of a big city elementary school at that time was interesting.
  • Miss Withers is bossy, opinionated, and not afraid to speak her mind. She is a prime example of the spinster sleuth, although she isn't really that old (in her forties).

We also watched the film adaptation of this book starring Edna May Oliver and James Gleason. They are both perfect in their roles as Withers and Piper. Although the story in the film is very close to the plot of the book, Piper's role does change. In the movie, one of Piper's subordinates is the one knocked on the head and injured severely so Miss Withers and Inspector Piper do work together more than in the book. Miss Withers does take the initiative to go off on her own a bit. As usual, I prefer the book, but the movie is a lot of fun too.

There were six films based on Hildegarde Withers novels, and Edna May Oliver starred in the first three. Later she was replaced by Helen Broderick and Zazu Pitts.

See Also...

This post is submitted for Friday's Forgotten Books at Patti Abbott’s blog


Publisher:   Bantam Books, 1988 (orig. pub. 1932)
Length:      185 pages
Format:      Paperback
Series:       A Hildegarde Withers Mystery #3
Setting:      New York City
Genre:        Mystery
Source:      I purchased my copy.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

A Patient Fury: Sarah Ward

Detective Inspector Francis Sadler gets a call to come to the site of a burning house, which indicates that there is a suspicious death related to the fire. He calls Detective Constable Connie Childs, recently back from extended sick leave, to join him. Later it is determined that there are three dead bodies, a father, mother, and young son; the evidence indicates that the mother killed her husband and son, and then herself.

This is the third DC Childs mystery, written by Sarah Ward.  The series is set in the Derbyshire Peak District where the author lives. I have been a fan of the series since it started and this book did not disappoint.

Connie has a history of disagreeing with the general consensus of how a crime investigation should be handled, and she doesn't mind striking out on her own to investigate. This has put her at odds with her boss and coworkers before (and, as a reader, irritates me a bit).

In this case, Connie really breaks with the group. She doesn't follow orders, she doesn't follow up on leads she has been assigned, and she does investigate areas that she has been told are off limits. It was hard to understand why she went to these lengths, but also hard to understand why others in the group were not interested in following up all avenues. This book explores the psychological burdens that police officers of all ranks bear and how it affects their work.

Other members of the police and support staff are present again in this book: Superintendent Llewellyn, pathologist Bill Shields and his assistant Scott. Detective Sergeant Damian Palmer has a lesser role in this book, and DS Carole Mathews is added to the team.

Sarah Ward's books all concentrate to some extent on families and their bonds and relationships. This book delves into the secrets and pains of Julia and George Winson, the adult children of the man who was murdered in the fire. Complicating the situation is a past incident in their family; their mother disappeared 40 years earlier. There are brief flashbacks to events in the family's past throughout the book.

The characterization is superb and the story is riveting; I stayed up way later than I should have to finish the book. The book was a bit darker than I expected, and I was very unprepared for the ending. Yet I think this could be the best book in the series so far.

Can this be read as a standalone? I would say yes. Having read the previous books, In Bitter Chill and A Deadly Thaw, I was familiar with the continuing characters up to a point, but having to wait a year to read the next book, a lot has been forgotten. The author provides enough background to keep the reader informed without reading the earlier books and there is definitely nothing spoiled in previous books if you read this one first. However, this is a great series to read in order to see the development and the motivations of the characters.


Publisher:   Faber & Faber, 2017
Length:       392 pages
Series:        DC Childs #3
Format:       Hardcover
Setting:       Derbyshire, UK
Genre:        Police procedural
Source:      I purchased my copy.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Brothers Keepers: Donald E. Westlake

I loved this book, and I only hope I can convey exactly why I enjoyed it so much. At this point in the year, I can say for sure it is one of my favorite books of the year. Although it's author, Donald E. Westlake, is primarily known for his crime fiction, this is not a crime story. It is somewhat of a caper novel, and there is some detecting, so I did not really notice the absence of a real crime as I was reading it.

Brother Benedict is a member of the Crispinite order, numbering only 16 monks, which has occupied a building in midtown Manhattan, built by the original monks on leased land.  Brother Benedict discovers in the newspaper that the building that they are housed in will be demolished along with the rest of the block they live on. This order has a prohibition against travel unless absolutely necessary; thus the brothers are disturbed that they will have to leave the home they love. They believe that they have a legal right to stay, based on their lease, but the lease is missing. This is highly suspicious. They search for ways to prevent the demolition of the block, but they are thwarted everywhere they turn. In the midst of the effort to keep their home, Brother Benedict visits the landlord, traveling all the way to Puerto Rico, and falls in love with his daughter.

Even though this story is about a fictional order, I enjoyed reading about the details of life in the Crispinite order and the quirky members of the order. Brother Benedict treasures his life in the order and knows he is blessed to have found the perfect fit for him. And then he falls in love with a rich, self-centered divorcee who also falls for him, and Westlake makes this believable.

This is a charming, light, comic novel with a happy ending, even though it seems that there is no way it could end well.

This story is covered in depth at Clerical Detectives.


Publisher:  Mysterious Press, 1993. Orig. pub. 1975.
Length:      261 pages
Format:     Paperback
Setting:     New York, Puerto Rico
Genre:      Comic caper
Source:     I purchased my copy. 

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Reading Summary for October 2017

It felt like I read fewer books in October, but it wasn't that bad, it just took me 18 days to finish two of the books, Emma and Strangers on a Train. Whiteout was also read during that time but it doesn't really count because even at 128 pages, a graphic novel doesn't take that long to read.

My project through December of this year is to read one book a month by Jane Austen, as a part of the Jane Austen Read All A-Long at James Reads Books.  In August I read Pride and Prejudice (a re-read)  and in September I read Mansfield Park. October's Austen book was Emma, and as I said, it took me a while. I did enjoy the book but it was slow going. My thoughts on the book are HERE.

I did not realize until I had listed all the books I read this month that four of my five crime fiction books were written prior to 1960. That surprised me because lately I have been reading a higher percentage of contemporary novels.

And these are the five crime fiction books I read in October:

Whiteout (1991), a graphic novel written by Greg Rucka, illustrated by Steve Lieber
This is a mystery / thriller set in Antarctica featuring Carrie Stetko, U.S. Marshal. The story has been adapted into a movie of the same title, which I have yet to see.
Strangers on a Train (1950) by Patricia Highsmith
This is a fairly well-known novel, and also has a movie adaptation, directed by Alfred Hitchcock. The basic story is that two men meet on a train, and one of them suggests a murder pact. If they each murder a person that the other wants to get rid of, then they can get away with the perfect crime. A very good novel, but a disturbing read. Peggy at Peggy's Porch very kindly sent me this book, which I have been planning to read for years. 

Murder on the Blackboard (1932) by Stuart Palmer
Another book that has been adapted into a film. Oh no, a trend. It was not exactly deliberate, but I have had the Hildegarde Withers Mystery Collection from Warner Archives for quite a while, and wanted to read the book first.
Hildegarde Withers, a third-grade teacher in New York City, finds the dead body of an attractive young music teacher, Anise Halloran, in the cloakroom. Miss Withers calls in her friend Inspector Piper, but by the time he arrives, the body has disappeared. This is a complex mystery with a large cast, which also was a lot of fun to read.

Landed Gently (1957) by Alan Hunter
Another mystery novel with a large cast that confused me, and a lot of red herrings. But that was OK, because I found the hero, Inspector Gently, very charming and I liked that there were multiple investigators. Gently is visiting with the Chief Constable, Sir Daynes Broke, to get a chance at some pike fishing over Christmas, when a visitor at nearby Merely Hall is murdered. Being a guest of the Chief Constable, Gently cannot officially investigate the crime.

Envious Casca (1941) by Georgette Heyer
A country house mystery, with a corpse in a locked room, and a smallish set of residents and guests who are almost all suspects. I read a few of Georgette Heyer's mystery novels decades ago, and liked them well enough, but I was very surprised that I enjoyed this book so much. In a month of very good reading, this was easily my favorite read. Another one set at Christmas.

Friday, November 3, 2017

My Husband's Book Sale Purchases

Continuing on with our purchases at the annual book sale...

My husband found more books at the book sale this year, and was happier with the selection overall. His focus is primarily history, nonfiction, and photo books, although he always helps me look for mysteries and has several mystery series he always looks for. These are a few of his picks. 

Train: Riding the Rails That Created the Modern World — From the Trans-Siberian to the Southwest Chief by Tom Zoellner

From the book review in the New York Times:
Zoellner sets off on a series of railway adventures — across America, India, Spain, Russia, Britain, China and the Peruvian Andes — that provide him with ample opportunities to contemplate the railways’ influence on everything from pop culture to dietary habits to national identity.

The Late Great Creature by Brock Brower

From The Overlook Press:
Brock Brower's National Book Award-nominated novel traces the making of a horror movie in Hollywood. Simon Moro, a 68-year-old star, is making his last picture, a low-budget remake of Edgar Allan Poe's The Raven. Moro, infuriated by the bland horror movies of his day, sees his own career — even as it ends — as an ongoing effort to wallop the public with an overwhelming moral shock. ... Brock Brower has taken the horror film in all its gory glory to create a book that recycles pop material into literature, creating a Dickensian tale of America.
The author lived in Carpinteria, California (very near to Santa Barbara) when this book, originally published in 1971, was reissued by The Overlook Press in 2011. See this article at The Santa Barbara Independent for more on the book and the author.

The Dead Fathers Club by Matt Haig

Summary from the Buffalo & Erie County Library:
Eleven-year-old Philip Noble has a big problem. It all begins when his dad appears as a ghost at his own funeral and introduces Philip to the Dead Fathers Club. Philip learns the truth about ghosts: the only people who end up as ghosts have been murdered. So begins Philip's quest to avenge his dad.

The Buckingham Palace Connection by Ted Willis

From the dust jacket:
An exciting and wonderfully imaginative story of how George V., King of England, tries to save his cousin Tzar Nicholas II from the Reds during the Russian Revolution in 1918. James Tremayne is secretly commissioned to mount the rescue expedition. In Vladivostock, Tremayne joins forces with a White Russian general, Kasakov, and an American construction engineer, Jim Story, an expert on the Trans-Siberian Railroad.

The Highly Effective Detective Duo by Richard Yancey

This is an omnibus containing The Highly Effective Detective and The Highly Effective Detective Goes to the Dogs.

This description of the first book in the series is from Cozies: 22 Core Titles at Library Journal:
Theodore “Teddy” Ruzak of Knoxville, TN, is the bumbling but determined detective in Yancey’s entertaining debut. Overweight and unschooled, Teddy quits his job as a night watchman to set up his own detective agency with a small inheritance. For his first case, Teddy is hired to track down a hit-and-run goose killer. Before long, however, the case turns decidedly homicidal. Endearing and colorful characters, suspenseful plots twists, and witty dialog make for a fun read.

Penguin 75: Designers, Authors, Commentary (the Good, the Bad…) by Paul Buckley (ed.) and Chris Ware (Foreward)

On the occasion of Penguin’s 75th anniversary, Paul Buckley, the publisher’s US art director, chose 75 book covers that represent the best work produced by the company over the last decade. 

See this article at Creative Review which includes five extracts from the book.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Smallbone Deceased: Michael Gilbert

Just last week I posted my thoughts on the first book in the Inspector Hazelrigg series, Close Quarters. Smallbone Deceased, considered Micheal Gilbert's masterpiece by many, is the fourth book in that series.

In both books, Inspector Hazelrigg is the investigating officer in a murder case, and in both of them his role is not central. He is important in the story and to the solution of the crime, but there are other important characters in each book. And I like it that way.

In this book, Henry Bohun, new solicitor in the firm of Horniman, Birley and Craine, does a good bit of the investigating. He actually does it at the behest of Inspector Hazelrigg, who knows of his reputation from another policeman, Bobby Pollock, who was a major character in Close Quarters. Bohun is uniquely fitted to this assignment because he came into the firm after the murder had taken place.

So, a brief summary:
Shortly after Bohun joins the firm, a deed box containing important documents is opened, and inside the box there is a dead body, instead of the expected papers. The body is found to be Marcus Smallbone, who was a trustee, along with Abel Horniman, of the Ichabod Stokes Trust. Although Abel Horniman is also dead, he is the main suspect. Over the next two weeks, Hazelrigg, Detective Sergeant Plumptree, and Bohun track down the clues in the investigation.

For me, the main attraction of Michael Gilbert's books is his writing style, clever and witty. The legal office setting in this book appears to me to be very realistic and the detail of the office interactions are fascinating. Add to that the wonderful character of Henry Bohun and the other interesting and somewhat quirky employees at Horniman, Birley and Craine, and the story is just about perfect.

At the end there is a brief chapter (titled "The Bill of Costs is Presented") explaining how and why the culprit did it and why some of the other suspects did not. Usually I don't like those kinds of rehashing of previous facts and clues, but this one was not overly long and was quite entertaining.

Many readers think of this as Michael Gilbert's best novel, but I will have to read a few more of his books before I can see how this one ranks in comparison. I am already exceedingly fond of the Mr. Calder and Mr. Behren's books, but those are a series of short stories.

Other reviews can be viewed at Pretty Sinister Books, Reactions to Reading, Clothes in Books, Past Offences, and In so many WORDS.


Publisher:  Penguin, 1981 (orig. publ. 1950).
Length:      208 pages 
Format:      Paperback
Series:       Inspector Hazelrigg, #4
Setting:      UK
Genre:       Mystery
Source:      I purchased my copy.

Monday, October 30, 2017

My Son's Book Sale Purchases

I am totally unrestrained at the annual book sale, but the rest of the family have much more control, usually buying somewhere between 10 and 20 books apiece. My son is mostly there for fantasy and science fiction. These are a few of his picks. With awesome cover art.

The Shotgun Arcana by R. S. Belcher
Goodreads summary:
R. S. Belcher’s debut novel, The Six-Gun Tarot, was enthusiastically greeted by critics and readers, who praised its wildly inventive mixture of dark fantasy, steampunk, and the Wild West. Now Belcher returns to Golgotha, Nevada, a bustling frontier town that hides more than its fair share of unnatural secrets.

Wolfhound Century by Peter Higgins
From the back cover of the book:
Investigator Vissarion Lom has been summoned to the capital in order to catch a terrorist --- and ordered to report directly to the head of the secret police. 
A totalitarian state, worn down by an endless war, must be seen to crush home-grown insurgents with an iron fist. But Lom discovers Mirgorod to be more corrupted than he imagined: a murky world of secret police and revolutionaries, cabaret clubs and doomed artists. 
This novel is a blend of fantasy, science fiction and thriller, set in an alternative Russia. Just my kind of book.

Skullduggery Pleasant: Death Bringer by Derek Landy
The best description of this young adult fantasy series was at Wikipedia:
Skulduggery Pleasant is a series of fantasy novels written by Irish author Derek Landy. The books revolve around the adventures of the skeleton detective, Skulduggery Pleasant, and a teenage girl, Stephanie Edgley/Valkyrie Cain, along with other friends.
The series appears to be very popular, and not just with kids. Death Bringer is the sixth book in the series.

Bonesy by Mark Rigney
When Reverend Renner's mentor gives him a brass rubbing of a skeleton, a chain of calamity. The skeletal image, nick-named Bonesy, breaks free from its frame and begins a violent, chaotic search for--what? It's up to Renner and his investigative partner, ex-linebacker Dale Quist, to uncover Bonesy's spectral motives.

Gestapo Mars by Victor Gischler
From the back cover of the book:
Carter Sloan is a trained assassin—the best there is, pulled out of cryogenic sleep whenever an assignment demands his skills. So when he’s kept in the deep freeze for 258 years, he’s seriously pissed off.
My son has finished reading this book already, and he liked it. I read the first chapter in this book and it was great. I want to read it.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Annual Book Sale Purchases, Part 1

This year was the 43rd Planned Parenthood Book Sale, which goes on for approximately 10 days. We attended the first Friday (I always take the day off from work and this year my husband did too), Saturday and then both Saturday and Sunday of the next weekend. Each year is a bit different, at least in the mystery section, but on the second Saturday several boxes of older vintage paperbacks appeared and I picked up quite a few of those.

However, this post is concentrating on a few of the more contemporary books I picked up.

The Torso (1999) by Helene Tursten

From the review at Publishers Weekly:
In Swedish author Tursten's outstanding second police procedural to feature Irene Huss of the Göteborg Violent Crimes Unit (after 2003's Detective Inspector Huss), the discovery of a dismembered corpse initiates a frustrating chase for a wily serial killer.
I don't like books about serial killers, but I want to read more of this series set in Sweden. This book was the 2nd published in English, but Night Rounds precedes it and I have a copy of that so I plan to read that one sometime soon.

Ah, the confusion of foreign language series being published out of order. Such fun.

A Beautiful Place to Die (2008) by Malla Nunn

Now we move to South Africa. From the publisher's site:
Award-winning screenwriter Malla Nunn delivers a stunning and darkly romantic crime novel set in 1950s apartheid South Africa, featuring Detective Emmanuel Cooper -- a man caught up in a time and place where racial tensions and the raw hunger for power make life very dangerous indeed. 
In a morally complex tale rich with authenticity, Nunn takes readers to Jacob's Rest, a tiny town on the border between South Africa and Mozambique. It is 1952, and new apartheid laws have recently gone into effect, dividing a nation into black and white while supposedly healing the political rifts between the Afrikaners and the English. Tensions simmer as the fault line between the oppressed and the oppressors cuts deeper, but it's not until an Afrikaner police officer is found dead that emotions more dangerous than anyone thought possible boil to the surface... 

Adios Muchachos (2001) by Daniel Chavarría

From the Akashic website
The first suspense novel in English-translation by internationally acclaimed Uruguayan mystery writer Daniel Chavarría, Adios Muchachos is a dark, erotic, brutally funny romp through the sexual underworld and black-market boardrooms of post-Cold War Cuba. Seen through Chavarría’s compassionate but uncompromising eyes, present-day Havana is a crossroads for petty hustlers looking for an easy mark, two-time losers looking for a fresh start, and high-rolling international speculators looking to take advantage of them all.
This may be outside of my comfort zone, but I will find out and let you know.

Stormy Weather (2001) 
by Paula L. Woods

From the AudioFile site:
Detective Charlotte Justice of the LAPD investigates the peculiar death of African-American film director Maynard Duncan against a backdrop of Hollywood glamour, greed, and lost opportunities.
I read Inner City Blues by Woods earlier this year and was glad to find two more books in the series at the book sale.

In this series, Charlotte Justice is a black female policewoman in Los Angeles in the 1990's. Themes of how women and especially black women are treated in the police force are explored in Inner City Blues. I look forward to finding out what the remaining books cover. 

The Sirens Sang of Murder (1989) 
by Sarah Caudwell

Description from Goodreads:
Young barrister Michael Cantrip has skipped off to the Channel Islands to take on a tax-law case that's worth a fortune–if Cantrip's tax-planning cronies can locate the missing heir. But Cantrip has waded in way over his head. Strange things are happening on these mysterious, isolated isles.
Third in Sarah Caudwell's series about Professor Hilary Tamar, who is friends with four young London barristers. I have read the first book and I have copies of all of the books, but this hardcover copy appealed to me.

The Mistletoe Murder and other stories (2016) by P. D. James

From the dust jacket of the book:
As the acknowledged queen of crime, P. D. James was frequently commissioned by newspapers and magazines to write a special short story for Christmas. Four of the best of these are collected here for the first time. Swift, cunning murder mysteries (two of which feature the young poet-detective Adam Dalgliesh) that together–to borrow the author's own description–add up to a delightful "entertainment."

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Close Quarters: Michael Gilbert

The Close at Melchester Cathedral has been plagued with anonymous letters accusing the senior verger, Daniel Appledown, of misconduct. The Dean is very concerned and is lucky enough to have a nephew, Bobby Pollock, who is a Detective Sergeant at Scotland Yard. The Dean invites him to visit and quietly investigate. After Pollock proceeds with interviewing some of the residents of the close and getting to know more about the community, Appledown is murdered. Now the investigation becomes official, and DS Pollock asks his boss, Inspector Hazelrigg, to come down and help the local police.

This is the first book in a series of six books featuring Inspector Hazelrigg. The fourth book in the series is Smallbone Deceased, which is considered by many to be Michael Gilbert's best novel. Before reading that, I wanted to get a taste of Inspector Hazelrigg, so I started with this book.

Close Quarters is very much a traditional puzzle-type mystery, with a list of characters at the beginning of the book, and a map of the close, illustrating the neighborhood, and a crossword which was worked out by two of the characters. I was very envious of the solvers, as that type of crossword drives me crazy and is utterly beyond me, although I love words and have worked the US type of crossword all my life.

This book is quite good, told with subtle humor and wit. Pollack has established fairly early on that the crimes must have been done by an insider, one of the members of the community living within the cathedral close. For the most part, the residents of the cathedral close form a genial and friendly community, but as Pollock and Hazelrigg investigate, a lot of secrets and surprises are revealed. The only problem I had with the book was the number of  characters; I always get confused with a big cast.

Also see posts on this book at Noah's Archives, Confessions of a Mystery Novelist, and A Hot Cup of Pleasure.

I read Smallbone Deceased immediately after finishing this book, and I will be posting my thoughts on that book soonish.


Publisher:  Rue Morgue Press, 2007 (orig. pub. 1947)
Length:     191 pages
Format:     Trade Paperback
Series:      Inspector Hazelrigg #1
Setting:     England
Genre:      Police procedural
Source:     I purchased this book.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Emma: Jane Austen

Jane Austen's novel, Emma, is a book about a rich, beautiful, and somewhat spoiled young woman who spends most of her time trying to manipulate the lives of others. Yet she does not do this maliciously or uncaringly. Everything she does is to help others, at least from her point of view. Emma, the protagonist, can be very annoying, yet I liked and sympathized with her throughout, while at the same time wanting her to wake up and grow up.

This is my third Jane Austen book in three months, and I am enjoying them all very much, more than I expected to. Some books I like more after I have finished them and considered them for a few days, and that is the case with Emma.

In general, what I like about Austen's novels is that she gives us a picture of life (at least from her point of view) at the time the books were written, and also that she is pointing out the foibles of society at that time. (Not that society at this time is any piece of cake to deal with.)

Emma's story is told primarily from her point of view, though not in first person.
“She was the youngest of the two daughters of a most affectionate, indulgent father; and had, in consequence of her sister's marriage, been mistress of his house from a very early period. Her mother had died too long ago for her to have more than an indistinct remembrance of her caresses; and her place had been supplied by an excellent woman as governess, who had fallen little short of a mother in affection.”
Miss Taylor is the governess who had been Emma's friend, almost as close as a sister, until she left the household to marry Mr. Weston. So as the book begins she is Mrs. Weston, and the loss of her constant companionship is what leads Emma to find a new friend who becomes her protege, Harriet Smith. Harriet is clearly not at Emma's social level, and not as clever, but is well-mannered and genial. Emma determines that she will find a husband for Harriet that meets Emma's criteria as worthy.

In addition to Emma, the Westons, and Harriet, the important characters in this novel are

Mr. Woodhouse
"He was a nervous man, easily depressed; fond of everybody that he was used to, and hating to part with them; hating change of every kind. Matrimony, as the agent of change, was always disagreeable; and he was by no means yet reconciled to his own daughter's marrying..."
I love the character of Mr. Woodhouse, Emma's father. He wants everything to remain the same forever. He sees the marriages of his eldest daughter and Emma's governess as misfortunes because they left him to pursue their own lives and needs and he cannot see them everyday, any time he wants. Many readers see Emma as self-centered and narcissistic, but Mr. Woodhouse more truly fits that description. He is focused on his own needs, and wants the universe to continue to revolve around him and cater to his needs. Emma is a loving daughter, treats him respectfully, and tries to get him out and about at times.

Mr. Knightley, a close family friend and the brother of the husband of Emma's older sister, is another important character. He is seventeen years older than Emma, and he is the only person who points out her flaws to her when she makes mistakes. Emma and Mr. Knightly  are valued friends but often at odds with each other.

Frank Churchill is the son of Mr. Weston by a previous wife, who was raised by his wealthy aunt and uncle, the Churchills. It is obvious that the Weston's would like Frank Churchill and Emma to get together (to the reader, but not to Emma, who is not interested in marriage and happy to live with her father).

Jane Fairfax comes to live with her aunt and grandmother, Miss Bates and Mrs. Bates, her only living relatives. Emma and Jane are about the same age, and although Jane is not socially Emma's equal, Emma feels threatened by her talents (singing and playing the piano).

What I like about this novel specifically is the portrayal of Emma. She may be irritating, at times infuriating, but she sees herself as independent and is not focused on her own marriage plans, which is refreshing. I found it funny that Emma is extremely aware of distinctions between the classes and whether or not she should mix with certain groups of people, but she ignores all of this when she schemes to make a match between Harriet and various men, all not of Harriet's class.

As the book progresses we see Emma's gradual (very gradual) realization that she should not be so judgmental and should stop messing with other people's lives. She learns to be more careful and considerate in her behavior and opens up to a relationship she did not realize was important to her.

My biggest complaint about this book (and so far about Austen's novels in general) is the length. She spends so much time on details and building up portraits of people and situations and, at times, loses the reader along the way. This isn't enough to deter me from reading Austen, however. The pros far outweigh the cons.

I read Emma this month as a part of the Jane Austen Read All A-Long at James Reads Books. The readalong started with Sense and Sensibility in July and continues through Persuasion in December. I read Pride and Prejudice in August and Mansfield Park in September. I will be reading Northanger Abbey in November and Persuasion in December. 


Publisher:   Book of the Month Club, 1996 (orig. pub. 1816)
Length:      437 pages, including about 35 full page illustrations
Format:      Trade paperback
Setting:      UK
Genre:        Literary fiction
Source:      I purchased my copy.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

The Nightrunners: Michael Collins

I love the beginning paragraphs of this book... They set the story up so well.
It was the kind of house that made my father feel small–a nobody, nothing. Three stories, nearly thirty rooms, and half hidden by its own tall trees on some ten acres of Connecticut woods. A rolled lawn still green in November before the first snow, and a triple garage, with rooms above, that had been a coach house when the country was young. Not the Rockefeller mansion, no, but you knew that the people who lived here were someone.
My father had looked at houses like this one and talked about being no one. Not when I was small, but later, just before he disappeared. When I was small he'd been proud of being a New York City cop,  but later he watched important men in big cars driving out of big houses and talked about not even existing.
In this ninth book in the series, Dan Fortune has been summoned by Wallace Kern, President of Kern Laboratories, to find Kern's brother, William, a gambler who has disappeared. Fortune succeeds in this mission, but soon realizes that there is more to the story, and continues investigating. This story has twists and turns I did not anticipate, and not only in the mystery plot. Primarily set in New York, there are also side trips to Southern California and Mexico.

Fortune has only one arm, and he feels this makes him depend on his common sense and intelligence. Not much is said here about how he lost his arm. I enjoyed getting to know Dan Fortune and I liked the author's writing style. In this book, there is less action and gun play, and more emphasis on brains and persistence. Dan doesn't like to give up on a case. I will be going back to the beginning of the series to see the character's development, but also because the first novel in the series, Act of Fear, was very highly acclaimed.

Michael Collins was a pseudonym for Dennis Lynds. Lynds was from New York like his protagonist, but he moved to Santa Barbara when he was 41 and several of the books in the Dan Fortune series are set there. In Santa Barbara, Lynds became friends with Ross Macdonald (Kenneth Millar),  who "wrote a letter of introduction on Collins’ behalf to his old editor Ray Bond at Dodd, Mead paving the way for Act of Fear’s publication.  Macdonald also hooked Collins up with literary agent Dorothy Olding." (See this interesting article and interview at Mystery*File).

See Barry Ergang's review at Kevin Tipple's blog, Kevin's Corner.


Publisher:  Robert Hale, London, 1979 (orig. pub. 1978)
Length:      216 pages
Format:     Hardcover
Series:      Dan Fortune, #9
Setting:     New York
Genre:      Mystery, Private Investigator
Source:     I purchased my copy

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Deep Water: Christine Poulson

Description from Christine Poulson's web site:
When patent lawyer Daniel Marchmont agrees to act for Calliope Biotech, he doesn’t know what he’s getting into. The first lawyer on the case is dead, and a vital lab book is missing. Daniel and his wife Rachel are hoping biotechnology will also provide a cure for their daughter Chloe, who suffers from a devastating genetic disorder. Then the unimaginable happens, and they face a moral dilemma that threatens everything.
Meanwhile young researcher Katie Flanagan suspects something is very wrong in the lab. But knowledge is dangerous when someone is playing a perilous game . . .
I had never thought about the many aspects of pharmaceutical research and development. There are those who need the drugs, to improve their lives or maybe even save them. There are the researchers, who are fighting for time and money to complete their research. And the companies who fund the research with the hope of high return on the investment. I liked how this novel showed that all of these wants and needs can lead to misunderstandings, battles for power, and greed... and possibly murder.

There are a lot of characters, but the novel centers around Daniel Marchant's family and Katie Flanagan's research mishaps, and I had no trouble keeping the other characters straight. Daniel's involvement is complicated because the lawyer that he replaces on the case against Calliope Biotech was his ex-wife. Katie ends up living on Rachel Marchant's boat when she loses her flat. The  main characters all have their problems and the personal issues add to the story rather than detract.

There is a good level of tension throughout and the pacing is terrific. The setting is very nice too. The biotech industries are located in Silicon Fen in the area around Cambridge, England.

Poulson's next book, Cold Cold Heart, a sequel to Deep Water, is due out in the UK in November and in the USA in January 2018.  I am excited about the setting: an Antarctic station and I will be getting my copy as soon as it is available.

See also Moira's review at Clothes in Books and a review and interview at Promoting Crime Fiction.


Publisher:  Lion Hudson, 2016
Length:      250 pages
Format:     Trade paperback
Series:      Katie Flanagan, #1
Setting:     UK
Genre:      Medical thriller
Source:     I purchased my copy