Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Death in Disguise: Caroline Graham

Death in Disguise is the third in the Inspector Barnaby series written by Caroline Graham. I was motivated to re-read this book after I found this lovely paperback edition at the September book sale. I first read it back in 2002, and fortunately did not remember a thing about the story.

The Manor House of Compton Dando has been taken over by a commune called The Lodge of the Golden Windhorse. The residents of this small commune all have different reasons for joining this group of mystics and come from very diverse backgrounds. They offer seminars and classes in New Age mysticism and crafts to support their group. When not one but two of the group's leaders dies within a few months of each other, Inspector Barnaby and Sergeant Troy of Causton CID investigate. The second death is clearly murder, but was the first?

As Inspector Barnaby investigates, he loses patience with the residents of the commune. The residents vary in their devotion to eccentric belief systems, and some just can't communicate without spouting their beliefs. Some of them are sincere and some are not, and it is hard to tell which. Later he comes to regret that he did not take them more seriously and listen to Sergeant Troy's suggestions and suspicions. I like this humanizing of an otherwise close to perfect inspector.

Some reviewers complained that the story takes a while to get going, with too much exposition preceding the murder and the investigation. Inspector Barnaby doesn't show up until  about a third of the way into the book. I like stories structured like this, setting up the characters and the issues and relationships, so it was definitely my cup of tea.

I also watched the TV adaptation of this book. We have watched all of the episodes with John Nettles, and are going back and re-watching the earlier episodes, so this was perfect timing. In the TV episode some of the relationships are switched around, probably to fit the story into a 90-minute episode.

In the book, much of the plot centers around Suhami, formerly known as Sylvia Gamelin, and daughter of Guy Gamelin, a rich and ruthless business man. She is estranged from her parents and would like nothing better than to never see them again. Then they show up at her birthday celebration at the commune, and death ensues. Much of the book is devoted to fleshing out their background and relationships. The book may go too far in that area, but the episode cuts most of that out, making some of the plot less plausible and confusing. Nevertheless, it is an entertaining episode.

One thing I had forgotten about the books was that Sergeant Troy was a much more self-absorbed and chauvinistic person than in the TV series. In the early shows that are adaptations of novels his aversion and insensitivity to homosexual relationships is obvious, but in later TV episodes he mellows. In the books, Troy is married and he doesn't treat his wife too well. He is, however, an adoring father.

I reviewed the second book in the series, Death of a Hollow Man, in September. My review is here.


Publisher:  Avon, 1994. Orig. pub. 1993.
Length:     368 pages
Format:     Paperback
Series:      Chief Inspector Barnaby, #3
Setting:     UK
Genre:      Police Procedural
Source:     I purchased my copy.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

A Season for Murder: Ann Granger

It is time for a Christmas mystery. I always try to include a few in my reading at the end of the year. As usual in a mystery novel, the occurrence of Christmas and the Christmas events are incidental to the mystery itself. However, this one starts before Christmas and continues up to New Year's Day, and includes plenty of festivities, so it definitely fits the bill.

Say It with Poison (1991) was Ann Granger's first mystery novel and the first book featuring Meredith Mitchell and Alan Markby. A Season for Murder was published in the same year. My copy indicates that this is a Meredith and Markby Mystery, but I have seen it called the Mitchell and Markby Village series also.

In this novel, Meredith Mitchell has moved to a small cottage in a community known as Pook's Common, near to Bamford (a fictional town in the Cotswolds) . She has just returned to Britain from her stint as the British consul of Yugoslavia. After the Christmas holidays she will be starting a home posting in London, following years when she was assigned abroad. Coming into this area, she knows only Chief Inspector Alan Markby, who she met in the previous book in this series when she was visiting family in another town in the area.

According to my copy of this book, Mystery News described the first book in this series as "a solid contemporary English village mystery with good characterization of both people and place." I agree, this is a fine cozy-ish mystery which had police procedural elements due to the presence of Markby but also the elements of an amateur investigator, Meredith, who has more insights into the individuals in the community. Meredith is new to the community but it is a small area and she has gotten acquainted with a few of the inhabitants. Of course, contemporary when the review at Mystery News was written was 1991, and this is a much more traditional mystery than many written nowadays, and is lacking the plethora of technological marvels that are so evident in today's novels.  Since I could do without the prominence of those elements anyway, this was appealing to me.

The characters are both the strength and the weakness of this novel (and the series?).  It is nice to read a book featuring a woman protagonist with an important, established career having problems with commitment to relationship... instead of the other way around.  From my own point of view, I don't like much romance in mysteries and I get irritated with romances that go nowhere. However, as one reviewer says, you can enjoy the mystery without paying much attention to the relationship between the two protagonists.

The two main characters are interesting. Meredith is in her mid-thirties, and Alan Markby is in his early forties. They are attracted to each other but often interact in antagonistic ways. Meredith is not especially likable at times. This is a not a thriller, no one is put seriously at risk, even though Meredith is living in a very isolated lane with few neighbors. Yet the characters are not syrupy sweet and the relationships seem realistic. Sometimes the relationship between Meredith and Alan Markby is maddening, but never boring. Returning to the Christmas theme, I enjoyed the family scene where Inspector Markby's sister is coercing Markby into joining into her family's Christmas dinner and bringing Meredith along.

Ann Granger wrote 15 novels in this series between 1991 and 2004. She has three other series: the Fran Varady series, which starts out with the heroine jobless and nearly homeless; a Victorian crime series set in the heart of London starring Lizzie Martin, companion to a wealthy widow; and her most recent series, the Campbell and Carter Mysteries, also set in the Cotswolds. Prior to writing mystery novels, the author worked in British Embassies in various parts of the world. As did her husband, whom she met while working in Prague.


Publisher:   Avon, 1993 (orig. pub. 1991)
Length:       247 pages
Format:      Paperback
Series:       Meredith and Markby #2
Setting:      The Cotswolds, UK
Genre:        Mystery
Source:      Purchased at Planned Parenthood book sale, 2006.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

The 2014 Sci-Fi Experience (A Non-Challenge)

Carl V. at Stainless Steel Droppings is again hosting a science fiction non-challenge in December and January. This is the third year I will be joining in.

For this event, readers are encouraged to:
a) Continue their love affair with science fiction
b) Return to science fiction after an absence, or
c) Experience for the first time just how exhilarating science fiction can be.

There are no rules really... no numbers to aim at. I like to join in because I like a little science fiction reading in my year. I do watch a good amount of science fiction movies and TV shows throughout the year with my family. I will probably only read a couple of books for this event, but I love to see what others are reading. And I will do the reading and reviewing in January of 2015 ... most likely.

If you are interested, please consider signing up. Check here for more information. There is a review site already set up where you can post any SF book, television, film or game reviews for things you experience during the months of December and January.

Friday, December 12, 2014

The TBR Double Dog Dare (First Quarter 2015)

The TBR Double Dog Dare is hosted at James Reads Books.  This event has been running for several years but last year was the first time I joined in. As he says, it is NOT a challenge, it is a dare. It is meant to be fun.

The goal is "to read only from your TBR pile between January 1 and April 1. You can still buy books, you just can’t read them until the TBR Double Dog Dare is over." I did buy books in the first three months of 2014, and I did not read them until April or later. For some of them that was very hard.

There are exceptions; bend the rules to make it fun for you:
You can make exceptions for books clubs, arcs, and other things you really want to make exceptions for. The TBR Double Dog Dare is all about having fun. So if you join in for a week or a month, no worries.

You can sign up here.

Personally, I have a few books from NetGalley to read during the first quarter of the year and I will include those. I will make exceptions if I need to acquire a book for the crime fiction of the year meme hosted by Rich at Past Offences, but so far every book I have read for the meme was already in my library. I will have a goal to cut way back on buying books during that time; but I never say never when it comes to buying books, so that is a very loose goal.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

The Jasmine Trade: Denise Hamilton

Introduction to the novel at the author's web site:
Everything was set. Marina Lu had even ordered designer dresses for the eight bridesmaids who, in several months' time, would have preceded her down the aisle at her painstakingly planned, storybook wedding. But Marina lies dead, alone in her shiny status car, a two-carat diamond engagement ring refracting nothing but another abruptly shattered Los Angeles dream. Was her death merely a carjacking gone bad? Or is there more to the story? 
Marina is Los Angeles Times reporter Eve Diamond's chilling introduction to "parachute kids," the rich Asian teens who live alone in California while their parents run businesses in Hong Kong. Delving into the mysteries surrounding Marina's life and death, Eve stumbles upon a world of unmoored youth and an even more tragic subculture where young immigrants live in virtual slavery.
I initially had some problems with this book. The first half was too slow. I consider the themes very interesting, yet the story was not grabbing my interest. In addition, I don't usually enjoy mysteries featuring amateur sleuths, and journalists fit into that sub-genre in my opinion.  I haven't read a lot of series with journalists as heroines or heroes, so I was trying to broaden my horizons.

Yet, when I hit the midpoint of the book, the story picked up and I got more comfortable with the characters. I liked the picture of Los Angeles and the San Gabriel Valley. Hamilton does an excellent job of depicting the cultural diversity of the area and how it affects life in Southern California. Especially in a big city like L.A.

I read one review that liked the story over the development of character; another reviewer stressed that the characters were good but the plot was lacking. So I guess it depends on who is reading the book. I felt that both improved toward the end of the book and that it was a fine effort for a debut novel. There are four other books featuring Eve Diamond. I will be continuing the series to see where it takes her.

This novel also get extra points for being a mystery novel written by a woman with a strong female protagonist. Denise Hamilton is clearly drawing on her own experiences as a journalist for the LA Times; see this essay at her web site.

This post by Maxine at Petrona gives a good overview of Denise Hamilton's books and suggests three other authors with series that feature journalists.


Publisher:   Scribner, 2001 
Length:       279 pages
Format:       Hardcover
Series:        Eve Diamond #1
Setting:       Southern California
Genre:        Mystery
Source:       I purchased my copy.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Book to Film: Eleven Favorites Plus One

Inspired by this post at Clothes in Books, I came up with a list of favorite books with film adaptations. I do love it when a book is adapted, and I am on a mission to read and watch as many as I can. This list includes many that I read and watched years ago. Listed in no particular order.

The Pelican Brief by John Grisham

I must have seen the film first. We like thrillers, and I like Julia Roberts. Denzel Washington and Julia Roberts, what more can you ask for? (I know there are those who would disagree.) I liked the film very much, so decided to read the book. The only book I have read thus far by John Grisham. To be honest, even though I have read the book twice, I don't remember how much the book and film align. But I liked both of them so they have to be on the list.

The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler

Another one where I saw the film (many times) before I read the book. Although the book and the film end differently, it could be said that both are so confusing plot-wise that it doesn't really matter. Except for the ending, reading the book is very much like seeing the film and vice versa. My book review here; my film review here.

Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie

This is one of my favorite Christie novels. I love novels or films set on a train. The only adaptation that I have seen is the one starring Albert Finney as Poirot, and I am very fond of it. My post on the book and the film is here.

The Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett

Adapted into a film starring William Powell and Myrna Loy. The original film was followed by five sequels, some of which had a screenplay written by Hammett. I had seen the film many times before I read the book. The film is a very entertaining murder mystery, light and fun. The book is much darker and grittier, although not as dark and gritty as Hammett’s other novels (I hear). Nick and Nora drink just as much or more in the book as in the films. My book review here; I reviewed the film and its sequel, After the Thin Manhere.

The Hunt for Red October by Tom Clancy
I am not a big Tom Clancy fan but I am a fan of this book and its film adaptation. I have watched the film multiple times. It has been a good while since I saw the film or read the book, so I don’t remember how closely they align, but I don’t care. Sean Connery is wonderful as the Russian captain, even with his Scottish accent. Other favorite actors in this are: Alec Baldwin, Sam Neill, Scott Glenn, James Earl Jones, Joss Acklund, Tim Curry, Jeffrey Jones, and Fred Dalton Thompson. And Courtney B. Vance as “Jonesy.” Director John McTiernan also directed Die Hard, another family favorite.

A quote from the review at DVDTalk:
Connery was a last-minute replacement for his Never Say Never Again costar, Klaus Maria Brandauer. Brandauer would have given a more ambiguous performance, perhaps, but Connery has exactly the right leadership charisma the character needs. One hardly notices or cares about that thick Scottish accent.

The Great Train Robbery by Michael Crichton

The novel is a fictionalized retelling of a famous train robbery in England in 1855. The film stars Sean Connery, Donald Sutherland and Lesley-Anne Down and was directed by Michael Crichton, who also wrote the screenplay. It is a heist story, which is a favorite in our household. I love watching the planning, the rehearsals to check the timing, and the surprises along the way.

Enjoy a review of the film at Sergio's blog, Tipping My Fedora. (He did not like it as well as I do.)

In the Heat of the Night by John Ball

I saw the film long before I read the book. I liked the story and the actors, especially Sidney Poitier and Rod Steiger. I did not read the book until this year. The book was published in 1965, and the film was released in 1967.

The basic story of the book and the film are the same. The book was set in Wells, South Carolina; the movie is set in Sparta, Mississippi. The detective, Virgil Tibbs, is from Pasadena, California in the book, and has a much milder manner. In the movie he is from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and is much more confrontational. I note other differences between the two in my film review. However, both were very good and each had its own strengths.

My review of the book is here.

The Longest Day by Cornelius Ryan

The book was published in 1959, and tells the story of D-Day, the first day of the invasion of Normandy. The film was released in 1962. I did not see it then, but I remember a friend going to see it with her father, who had participated in D-Day. I read the book years ago, probably around 1990. We love watching the movie, with its ensemble cast.

One of my favorite parts of the movie is the assault on the Pegasus Bridge near Caen. It is especially interesting because Richard Todd participated in the British airborne operation. He was among the first British officers to land in Normandy as part of Operation Overlord. He later met up with Major John Howard on Pegasus Bridge. In the movie, Richard Todd played the role of John Howard.

Casino Royale by Ian Fleming

The first book in the James Bond series. I had read books in this series years ago but it has been long enough that I want to revisit them. After watching the 2006 film version starring Daniel Craig, I decided to check out the novel and see how the two compared. I was surprised that the book and the novel were very close. And I enjoyed both of them.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

The Millenium Trilogy features Lisbeth Salander (a researcher and computer hacker) and Michael Blomkvist (a journalist). In this first book, they work together to find out what happened to Harriet Vanger, niece of Henrik Vanger, retired head of a large corporation. Each book in the series was very long (over 600 pages each) and had an extremely involved plot. There were two adaptations of the first book, and both were quite good. I prefer the Swedish adaptation directed by Niels Arden Oplev and starring Michael Nyqvist and Noomi Rapace. There were Swedish adaptations of all three novels in the trilogy and I liked them all. This one was the best of the three.

And one more…

The Light of Day by Eric Ambler (filmed as Topkapi)

The Light of Day was the winner of the Best Mystery Edgar in 1964. The narrator of this book, Arthur Simpson, is a thief and a con-man. He isn't as smart as he thinks he is, and ends up being forced to cooperate in a heist. It was also made into a movie, Topkapi, in 1964. That film is a favorite in our household, and I had seen it many times before I read the book. The movie does differ from the book substantially, but they both have their good points. If you have a choice, read the book first. The movie is great, although it feels dated now, but the book is better.

My post on the book and the film is here. Two things that make the film so entertaining: The film was shot on location in Istanbul, Turkey. And the actors: Melina Mercouri, Peter Ustinov, Maximilian Schell, and Robert Morley.

Honorable mention: Kiss Kiss Bang Bang

This movie is a mixture of genres: a noir thriller with comedy and romance, with allusions to Raymond Chandler's books and based partly on Brett Halliday's novel Bodies Are Where You Find Them.

The chapter titles in the movie are all taken from Raymond Chandler novels or stories: "Trouble is My Business", 2. "The Lady in the Lake", 3. "The Little Sister", 4. "The Simple Art of Murder", and the epilogue, "Farewell, My Lovely".

The poster for Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is from enigmabadger via Flickr.