Thursday, October 15, 2020

A Necessary End: Peter Robinson

This is the 3rd book in the Inspector Banks series.  I read the first two books in this series before blogging, thus at least 8 years ago. It was a good book to pick up the series with, giving some background on Banks' family and his reasons for moving to Eastvale. 

From the description at Goodreads:

A peaceful demonstration in the normally quiet town of Eastvale ends with fifty arrests—and the brutal stabbing death of a young constable. But Chief Inspector Alan Banks fears there is worse violence in the offing. For CID Superintendent Richard Burgess has arrived from London to take charge of the investigation, fueled by professional outrage and volatile, long-simmering hatreds.

Richard Burgess is a policeman that Banks had worked with a few times in London, before he transferred to Eastdale. He is sometimes referred to as "Dirty Dick" Burgess, and Banks has found him a hard man to work with. He is a recurring character in this series, showing up in three later books in the series.

Burgess focuses some of his investigation on a group of people living at Maggie's Farm in a commune-like setting. The author provides excellent characterizations of that group of people and their relationships. The reasons behind the death of the constable are gradually revealed. I like the way Peter Robinson tells the story and also how we get some idea of Inspector Banks' personal life without it intruding on the story.

In my opinion, this book can be read as a standalone; you don't need to start at the beginning of the series. And I have read other reviews where the readers had hopped around in this series. I would rather read in order but when a series has been around this long (with a total of  26 books now), it is good to have other options.

I enjoy books set in the 1980s and 1990s, before so much technology in society and detecting. Also, there are several mentions of the music that Banks enjoys throughout. I am not a big music fan but I do think such information can give you a better picture of a character.

The author is Canadian (born in the UK, but emigrated to continue his education in Canada) but the series is set in Yorkshire, England. Five of the novels in the Inspector Banks series have been awarded the Arthur Ellis Award for Best Novel.


Publisher:  Avon Books, 2000. Orig. pub. 1989.
Length:     340 pages
Format:     Paperback
Series:      Inspector Alan Banks, #3
Setting:     UK
Genre:      Police Procedural
Source:    I purchased this book in 2011.

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

"The Adventure of the Egyptian Tomb" by Agatha Christie

 I recently read three of the short stories from Detective Stories (chosen by Philip Pullman). They were:

"The Speckled Band" by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

"Cold Money" by Ellery Queen

"The Adventure of the Egyptian Tomb" by Agatha Christie

I enjoyed all of those but today I will talk about the Agatha Christie story. We have been watching adaptations of the Hercule Poirot stories in Agatha Christie's Poirot, starring David Suchet. I don't know why it took me so long to try the adaptations of the Hercule Poirot stories, although at some point it was probably because of having no access to them. Now we have Brit Box via Prime and can watch all the seasons. We have not gotten to this episode which is fortunate, because I would rather have read it first. I am enjoying the series and David Suchet's version of Poirot. He is perfect in the role. "The Adventure of the Egyptian Tomb" is the first episode in Season Five and we have watched most of Season Three. 

In "The Adventure of the Egyptian Tomb," Hercule Poirot is requested to investigate the death of Sir John Willard, who died after the discovery and opening of the tomb of King Men-her-Ra. Several other deaths of members of the expedition involved in that event have also died, and there is much talk of a curse related to the opening of the tomb.

Lady Willard, Sir John's wife, is concerned that there will be more deaths, and her son is now continuing the excavations at the tomb. After some investigation of the related deaths, Poirot decides he and Hastings must travel to Egypt, even though he hates the thought of traveling by sea.

And in the end, of course, Poirot solves the mystery of the many deaths connected to the opening of the Egyptian tomb.

I love Hastings' narration. When I began reading the novels in 2012, I was disappointed that Hastings did not narrate all of them.

Hastings describes their arrival in Egypt:

The charm of Egypt had laid hold of me. Not so Poirot. Dressed precisely the same as in London, he carried a small clothes-brush in his pocket and waged an unceasing war on the dust which accumulated on his dark apparel.

‘And my boots,’ he wailed. ‘Regard them, Hastings. My boots, of the neat patent leather, usually so smart and shining. See, the sand is inside them, which is painful, and outside them, which outrages the eyesight. Also the heat, it causes my moustaches to become limp—but limp!’

This was my favorite of the three stories I have read so far in Detective Stories. And it is the first Hercule Poirot short story I have read. It did not disappoint.

Saturday, October 10, 2020

Bookshelf Traveling #22: Travel Books

I am participating in the Bookshelf Traveling for Insane Times meme. It was originated by Judith at Reader in the Wilderness, but Katrina at Pining for the West is now gathering the blogposts.

This time I have a shelf of my husband's travel books. 

Of these books, his favorite is Chasing the Monsoon by Alexander Frater. Frater was, at the time this book was published, the chief travel writer for the London Observer

From the dust jacket of my husband's edition:

For two months, Frater followed the Indian monsoon–as closely as storm-driven or -hindered transportation would allow–along its unpredictable course through the country: from the "burst" on the beaches of the tropical city of Trivandrum...through inundated or parched landscapes and towns...through sweltering, impatient Delhi, to Calcutta, for his first meeting with the monsoon's eastern arm...across the flooded expanses of Bangladesh... and finally to the storm's grand finale in Cherrapunji, where the stories Frater had heard as a child came to life in an amazingly sodden reality.

The book on this shelf that I am most interested in is Last Train to Toronto by Terry Pindell. Pindell has written other train travel books (including Making Tracks: An American Rail Odyssey, which is also on this shelf). 

From the back of the trade paperback Owl Book edition:

Crossing North America on Canada's transcontinental railways has long been among the travel wonders of the world. But, in 1990, government cutbacks forced the remarkable Canadian to make its last run from Vancouver to Toronto over the tracks that founded the nation. Amid political controversy about the future of Canadian unity that raged during the last years of the route's existence, author Terry Pindell explored the thousands of miles of Canadian rails. In this memoir-travelogue, he recounts from a unique perspective not only a journey but a land and a culture.

Another book I may try someday is The Big Red Train Ride by Eric Newby. That book is about the author's trip across the USSR on the Trans-Siberian Railway, accompanied by his wife, an official guide and a photographer. 

Some reviews indicate that this book is tedious because Newby was not allowed to talk to many people in the USSR and many cities were not open to foreign visitors. I think I would enjoy it anyway. This sounds much like Michael Palin's North Korea Journal. I did not find Palin's book tedious at all, but Palin's access to North Koreans and some areas in North Korea was limited.

Thursday, October 8, 2020

#1956Club: The Keys of My Prison

This book is my second submission for the 1956 Club hosted by Simon at Stuck in a Book and Karen at Kaggsy's Bookish Ramblings. The Keys of My Prison by Frances Shelley Wees is a novel of domestic suspense set in Toronto, Canada, and this was the first book by that author that I have read.

As the story opens, Julie is keeping vigil at her husband's bedside, nearly two weeks after he was in a terrible car accident. Rafe Jonason has been in a coma since the accident, but seems to be getting better. Rafe and Julie have been married 15 years and have an infant son. Julie was born with a disfiguring birthmark on her face, which affected how she was treated by people and her own self-image. The birthmark was removed after her marriage to Rafe, but she still bears the mental scars of its effects.

When Rafe awakens from his coma in the hospital, he doesn't know where he is or who Julie is, and his behavior is rude and vulgar. On his return to their home, he doesn't recognize it and he turns to drink and cigarettes, which are habits that Rafe never indulged in all the time that Julie knew him. He seems to have amnesia, but his personality is completely different. Julie doesn't know where to go from there. 

I liked the characterizations in this book. Not only the main characters but also the secondary characters are well defined and interesting. Julie is supported by both her Aunt Edie and the family doctor who was treating Rafe. Robin, a lawyer and close friend of the family, seeks help from a psychologist associated with the police, Jonathan Merrill. Once Rafe comes home, Henry Lake, a policeman who works with the psychologist, takes an undercover position at Julie's home for both her protection and to observe the situation. Merrill and Lake have been compared to Holmes and Watson, or Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin, in reviews I have read. The Wolfe / Goodwin comparison seems more apt to me, since Henry Lake takes a very active part in the case.

A major theme is identity. Not just Rafe's identity, but Julie's. Rafe is belligerent and swears he would never have married Julie. Julie is tense, scared, wonders what the future holds. Since their marriage, Julie has depended on Rafe's love and emotional support; now he is rejecting her, and showing a side of his personality that she has never seen. Did he every love her? What does her future hold?

Per the introduction by Rosemary Aubert in the Vehicule Press edition, the 1966 reprint edition was billed as "A Gothic novel of suspense." Not my usual type of reading, but I enjoyed it. The author takes a while setting up the situation but at no time did my interest lag. As the story played out I liked it more and more. The final resolution was interesting and handled well, although a lot of my questions were left unanswered.

I first heard about this book when Brian Busby discussed it at his blog, The Dusty Bookcase. He compared Wees's writing in this novel to Margaret Millar's, and I agree with that assessment, as Millar's book mainly focus on the psychology of relationships and behavior. A few years later, Brian was able to bring out this new paperback edition of the book as a part of the Ricochet Books imprint at Vehicule Press. 

The introduction by Rosemary Aubert is an excellent analysis of the book, but it reveals more of the story than I would want to know before reading the book. I saved it until after I finished the book.


Publisher:  Vehicule Press, 2017 (orig. pub., 1956)
Length:    187 pages
Format:   Paperback
Setting:   Toronto
Genre:    Domestic suspense
Source:   I purchased this book.

Monday, October 5, 2020

#1956Club: Voyage into Violence

I read this book for the 1956 Club hosted by Simon at Stuck in a Book and Karen at Kaggsy's Bookish Ramblings.

Voyage into Violence is the 21st of 26 mysteries featuring Mr. and Mrs. North. Amateur sleuths are not my favorites, but Pam and Jerry North usually work with a New York City homicide detective, Bill Weigand. So the cases are really solved by the police, with their help. It seems that in the ones I have read recently, Pam is the sleuth in the family, but her contribution is often more intuitive than actual sleuthing.

The main characters in this series are very likable. If I remember correctly, Pam and Jerry are directly involved in a murder in the first one, and that is how they meet Bill Weigand. In the early books, Dorian is Bill's girlfriend and the two couples become friends. By the time of this mystery, Bill and Dorian are married and the two couples have gone on a Caribbean cruise together. 

Very shortly, a murder occurs and the Captain of the ship calls in Bill to help out. Dorian is not happy about this at all, but resigned to the inevitability of it all. Pam and Jerry are of course glad to help out.

The people involved in the crimes in these books are usually upper middle class. Jerry North is a book publisher and comparatively well off. Weigand is a police officer, but has money from other sources. And in this case, they are on a cruise, among other people with enough money to take a cruise. Definitely not something my parents were thinking about doing in 1956.

I enjoyed the depiction of a cruise in 1956, and the investigation that ensues when a dead body, clearly murdered, is discovered onboard. The limitations that Weigand has to deal with in his investigation are interesting. Communications between the ship and the mainland was more difficult at that time. 

I noted lots of smoking, in fact the cruise ship has a smoking lounge. And a lot of imbibing of alcohol. In my review of an earlier book in the series, Murder within Murder, I compared Pam and Jerry to Nick and Nora Charles, although that is only in relation to their drinking and the light tone of the stories. Nick Charles is clearly a sleuth where Jerry North is more in a supporting role, especially in this novel. The novels about the Norths are light, with humor, but not laugh out loud funny.

There are lots of interesting passengers on the cruise: a group called the Ancient and Respectable Riflemen, led by Captain Folsom; a well-known private investigator, now retired, J. Orville Marsh; Olivia Macklin, traveling with her daughter. And all of these people seem slightly shady to me.

I read a good number of the Mr. and Mrs North books decades ago and enjoyed them. Of course, at the time I was reading them, they were not set so far in the past; these books may not appeal to younger mystery readers.


Publisher:   J. B. Lippincott, 1956
Length:       191 pages
Format:       Hardcover 
                  (book club edition)
Series:        Mr. & Mrs. North, #21
Setting:       On a Caribbean cruise.
Genre:        Mystery
Source:       I purchased my copies.

Saturday, October 3, 2020

Reading Summary for September 2020

I am having a hard time believing that we are already into October and I am summarizing my reads for September. My reading changed a lot this year. It was partially due to Covid-19, I am sure but not only because of that. I think some of my challenges that I started the year with are not going to be completed and I doubt if I will push myself in the last three months to catch up. 

This month I read seven books. Four of the books were vintage mysteries, published in the 1930s, 40s, and 50s. Two of them were spy fiction, although they were very different books. And one of the books was science fiction. All of them were very good reads.

Science Fiction

The Last Emperox (2020) by John Scalzi

This is the last book in the Interdependency trilogy. The first book was The Collapsing Empire, which I reviewed here. I liked the 2nd and 3rd books in the trilogy even more than the first one.

Crime Fiction

The Way Some People Die (1951) by Ross Macdonald

This is the third Lew Archer book, and Lew is trying to find a missing woman for her mother. He tells the mother that this type of case is for the police; she doesn't want the police involved. The plot is very convoluted and the characters are great. My review here.

The Arms Maker of Berlin (2009) by Dan Fesperman

I could not decide whether this was spy fiction or just a thriller. Certainly intelligence agents are involved, and the thrills are low key. A history professor who specializes in German resistance during World War II gets mixed up with the FBI when his former mentor is arrested for stealing important documents. His work leads to exposure of wartime secrets and deceit, and includes visits to Bern, Switzerland and Berlin, Germany. I loved this book; it did have a slow start, but there is lots of action towards the end.

The Beast Must Die (1938) by Nicholas Blake

This is the 4th book in the Nigel Strangeways series. Frank Cairnes is a writer of detective fiction, a widower, and cannot accept that his only son is dead and the hit-and-run driver has never been found. The book starts with a journal where Cairnes describes his plans to find and kill the person who killed his son. Strangeways doesn't show up until about halfway through the book. My review here.

Laurels Are Poison (1942) by Gladys Mitchell

This is the 14th book in the Mrs. Bradley series, a series which totals 66 books. In this one, Mrs. Bradley is serving as Warden of Athelstan Hall at Cartaret Training College. She is there to investigate the disappearance of Miss Murchan, the previous Warden. I read this as part of a group read, hosted at Jason Half's blog. I enjoyed the book and will be reading more in this series.

American Spy (2019) by Lauren Wilkinson

This is a debut novel. It can be classified as spy fiction, but it is not only focused on espionage. The protagonist, Marie Mitchell, is black and female, and has been working for the FBI in the New York office. The story is set partially in New York, and partially in Burkina Faso, and it has an unusual structure, told in the style of a journal written for her young sons. It is an exploration of family dynamics and influences, and how the past shapes us. There are many flashbacks to Marie's childhood, her motivation for being a spy, and why she fits in that job so well. 

Voyage into Violence (1956) by Frances and Richard Lockridge

This is the 21st of 26 mysteries featuring Mr. and Mrs. North. I consider these mysteries to be light, fun reads. I don't want a steady diet of them, but they are great for mixing in with more gritty or serious reading. Over the course of the series, Pam and Jerry North have become good friends with Bill Weigand, New York City homicide detective, and his wife Dorian. In this book the two couples are taking a Caribbean cruise to Havana. A man is murdered and Bill is called on to investigate.