Monday, September 1, 2014

World of Trouble: Ben H. Winters

World of Trouble is Book III in the The Last Policeman trilogy, following the activities of policeman Hank Palace in a pre-apocalyptic world. An asteroid is headed for earth, and from the beginning of the series we know that it will be devastating. In the first book, The Last Policeman, Hank was still a detective with the police force, new to the job, and motivated to continue investigating cases. Three months later, in Countdown City, like almost everyone else on earth, he had no job and no prospects, but he took a case for an old friend.  In the final book, Hank goes on an odyssey to try to locate his sister before the asteroid hits. If you haven't read any of the series, you should start at the beginning to get the full enjoyment of this book.

My husband does a good job of covering the essentials in his review at Goodreads:
This bleak volume concludes “The Last Policeman” trilogy and it finds protagonist Henry Palace - in the face of impending planetary doom - still methodical, still by the book, and still never giving up. By now he is a physical and emotional wreck and is using what little of himself and of time that remains to search (still) for his beloved sister. Except for compatriot Cortez, a thuggish man who seems mostly in it all for himself, the world appears to be mostly empty, devoid of people. Most memorably, Palace does encounter an enclave of Amish farmers carrying on as before and a couple seeing out the last days with generator-powered lights and music, home brew, and chickens. This strong trilogy is a mystery, a procedural, and an apocalyptic thriller and should be read in its entirety and in order.
I know that this book will be in my top ten for the year. The trilogy is wonderful, and this is a fitting end to it. It is not a feel good book, but I did not find it depressing.

Some quotes from the book follow. Hank is describing the system that he and Cortez use to describe the state of towns they go through:
We called the towns with color names because of the package of multicolored Post-it Notes that Cortez had; he had them left over from his Office Depot warehouse. When we left a town behind us we would assign it a color, just keeping track, just to keep ourselves amused. All the degrees of dissolution, the differing extents to which each town or city had collapsed under the weight of all this unbearable imminence. Red towns were those seething with active violence: towns on fire, towns beset by marauding bands, daylight shootings, food foragers and food defenders, homes under siege. Only occasionally did we encounter active organized law enforcement... 
Green towns were just the opposite, communities where it seemed like some sort of agreement had been made, spoken or implied, to plug along. Folks raking leaves, pushing strollers, waving good morning. Dogs on leashes or bounding after Frisbees. In Media, Ohio, we were astonished to hear the SpongeBob SquarePants theme song being sung lustily by three hundred or more people in a public park at dusk...
Black towns are empty. Blue towns feel empty, but they're not, they're just so quiet they might as well be. They're empty except for occasional scurrying, nervous souls darting from one place to another, some feeling safer in the day, some at night. Peeking out of windows, clutching guns, measuring out what they've got left.
Some thoughts on the series:

Hank Palace is a character that the reader can grow to love. I did not understand Hank (because my choices would be different), but I liked him and I enjoyed getting to know him. I think the author is gifted at making the character believable and fleshed out.

Every book in the series made me ponder what I would do in a similar situation. I can empathize with wanting to continue to work and do what one is good at. My husband and I are both close to retirement age yet have little desire to retire. Working may be tiring mentally and physically, but it is also fulfilling and we like being out in the world participating. However, in situations like the characters in this trilogy are subjected to, work does lose its meaning, and especially if everyone around you is bailing on jobs and relationships. And the jobs disappear and the infrastructure of society crumbles. What do you do then?

This trilogy has motivated me to seek out other pre- and post-apocalyptic books. I did enjoy World War Z for the same reasons. It is much more about how and why people survived and how the changes affected them than about zombies. (This is true of the book, not the movie.)


Publisher:  Quirk Books, 2014
Length:      316 pages
Format:     Trade paperback
Series:       Last Policeman Book III
Setting:      USA
Genre:       Mystery, Science Fiction
Source:      Borrowed from my husband

Saturday, August 30, 2014

R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril IX

This is the third year that I have participated in R.eaders I.mbibing P.erilThis event is hosted by Carl of Stainless Steel Droppings. It starts in September and goes through October and celebrates "all things ghastly and ghostly" as we move into Fall.

A description of the event:
The purpose of R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril IX is to enjoy books and movies/television that could be classified (by you) as:
Dark Fantasy.
Or anything sufficiently moody that shares a kinship with the above.
There are two simple goals for R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril IX
1. Have fun reading.
2. Share that fun with others.
See this post for ways that you can participate. In addition to books, movies, and television, you can post about short stories or join in a group read. There is a R.I.P. Review Site where participants may post links to any book or screen posts related to this event.

These books are some that I considered reading last time and it would be nice to read one or two of them this time:
Ghost Hero by S. J. Rozan
The Coffin Dancer by Jeffery Deaver
Garden of Beasts by Jeffery Deaver
The Ghosts of Belfast by Stuart Neville
Other books I may include are:
The Coroner's Lunch by Colin Cotterill 
Down Cemetery Road by Mick Herron
Siren Of The Waters by Michael Genelin 
Death Is a Lonely Business by Ray Bradbury
Ghost in the Machine by Ed James
Red Bones by Ann Cleeves
Garnethill by Denise Mina
These are the specific "challenges" I will aim at:

Peril the First: Read four books, any length, that you feel fit (the very broad definitions) of R.I.P. literature. It could be King or Conan Doyle, Penny or Poe, Chandler or Collins, Lovecraft or Leroux…or anyone in between.

Peril on the Screen: This is for those of us that like to watch suitably scary, eerie, mysterious gothic fare during this time of year. It may be something on the small screen or large. It might be a television show, like Dark Shadows or Midsomer Murders, or your favorite film. 

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Books of 1952: The Davidian Report by Dorothy B. Hughes

This is the first mystery novel by Dorothy B. Hughes that I have read. During her career, she wrote 14 mystery novels, most of them published in the 1940's. She was also a critic of mystery fiction, and wrote a biography of Erle Stanley Gardner. She was named a Grand Master of the Mystery Writers of America in 1978.

I wanted to read one of her better known novels first, Ride the Pink Horse or The So Blue Marble. But I decided to go ahead with this one because it was published in 1952. That turned out to be a fortuitous decision.

Rich Westwood at his blog Past Offences (classic crime reviews and news) has challenged readers to blog about a book or movie from 1952 during the month of August. This review of The Davidian Report is another submission for the 1952 book challenge.

From my readings about the novels by Hughes, there is a lot of variety. The first one, The So Blue Marble, is a novel of suspense with fantastical elements and is set in New York.  Other novels are described as noirish, and several are set in the Southwest, in areas where Hughes lived. This novel is a Cold War spy novel, although it doesn't fit that mold perfectly. I found it very enjoyable and was intrigued from the beginning.

When I am reading novels, I like great characters and an interesting plot. Setting (in time or place) is usually third on my list. I love to read about different settings and learn about places or events in history, but if the characters and plot don't hold up, I lose interest. I would say Hughes, in this book at least, is very strong on characters and setting. The plot is fine, but the author is strongest in the other areas.

It is 1952 and both the protagonist, Steve Wintress, and a fellow passenger on an airplane to Los Angeles, Reuben, have recently left Berlin. Steve is fortyish and an agent for some Communist group. Reuben, a soldier in the army, is very young and on leave. Is it coincidence that they both left Berlin at the same time? On the plane trip to LA, a motley group of people is thrown together.  Steve is seated next to Feather, a very young woman who is a dancer looking to advance her career. The airplane is re-routed to another airport because the LA airport is fogged in and Haig Armour, currently with the Justice Department and "former big noise of the FBI", offers to drive them all to LA in his hired car. Naturally, Steve is suspicious but needs the ride so takes him up on it. Once they arrive in LA, Steve and Reuben are roommates, and Haig insinuates himself into Steve's life.

Steve's goal is to find a man named Davidian who will pass on an important report to him. Of course, Steve is not the only one who wants the report. This is the classic case of not knowing who to trust or if anyone is who they seem to be.

As a fan of the Clothes in Books blog, I have become much more aware of descriptions of clothing in novels. This is the second paragraph in The Davidian Report. Steve is noticing, in detail, the woman in the seat beside him on the airplane.
She was medium size and yellow-haired, her dark green suit was a tweed import; her felt hat was shaped like a riding hat, the kind society girls affect to appear  country; and her suede pumps were the exact color of the darker weft of the tweed. Her purse was large, of good black leather, well rubbed; she protected it against her in the seat. It was big enough to be a formidable barrier between her and a seatmate. She kept her hands gloved, yellow crochet gloves, and she used a five-cent yellow pencil on her book of crossword puzzles. It was a long time since he'd seen anyone as devoted to a crossword puzzle as was this girl.
Clothing can tell you a lot about a person; I love the yellow crochet gloves and the crossword puzzles. In this case, we find that Steve has noted details about all the travelers on the plane. It is just second nature to him.

But the absolute best part was the details about Hollywood and scene on Hollywood Boulevard. The group and various Los Angeles residents they meet up with eat at Musso's.  My husband and I use to go to Hollywood Boulevard years ago, we ate at the Musso and Frank Grill, and I have fond memories of that area. Steve ends up in the neighborhoods around Hollywood Boulevard, which I have never visited. He goes to the Christmas parade. I loved it.

Steve, Reuben, and Feather meet an old flame of Steve's (also from Berlin) at Musso's:
Janni wasn't expensive like Feather. Her raggedy hair was tumbled, her scarlet dress was cheap, and her coat red, the same red coat. She was lucky to have one coat. But she didn't need sleek grooming; she was the quickening of your heart and the racing of your blood.
Janni may be the secret to finding Davidian and his report, if she and Steve can get over their past.

You can probably tell I liked this book. There is much less written about this one than Hughes' other more well known books, so everyone may not have the experience I did.

Some other sources of information about the book and other books by Hughes:

Publisher:  Pyramid, 1964 (Orig. pub. 1952; Also pub. as: The Body on the Bench, Dell, 1955)
Length:  160 pages
Format: paperback
Setting: Hollywood, California 
Genre:  Mystery
Source: purchased my copy

Sunday, August 24, 2014

The Crossing Places: Elly Griffiths

From the back of the paperback edition:
Forensic archeologist Dr. Ruth Galloway is in her late thirties. She lives happily alone with her two cats in a bleak, remote area near Norfolk, land that was sacred to its Iron Age inhabitants—not quite earth, not quite sea. But her routine days of digging up bones and other ancient objects are harshly upended when a child’s bones are found on a desolate beach. Detective Chief Inspector Nelson calls Galloway for help, believing they are the remains of Lucy Downey, a little girl who went missing a decade ago and whose abductor continues to taunt him with bizarre letters containing references to ritual sacrifice, Shakespeare, and the Bible. 
I have come late to this series. But there is one positive to this... I have several more books to read. If the series continues to be as good as many reviewers say, then I have much to look forward to.

I thought this would be an easy review to write and I wanted it to be short and sweet. The story was compelling, both Ruth's personal story and the mystery.  My interest in the book never waned. Yet the resolution of the mystery and Ruth's story was disappointing to me, and I was not sure if I would like future books in the series. This surprised me because I have read numerous reviews of this book and later ones in the series that are extremely positive. So of course I will have to continue reading the series and give at least one more book a try. This will be easy because my husband has the first three books.

This series garners praise for the setting and the characters. Some reviewers liked both these elements in the first book but admitted that the mystery itself was less satisfying. In this book, I did like the development of the two main characters, Ruth and Nelson, and their interactions, but the secondary characters did not do much for me at this point. This is a debut novel, so I should not expect perfection. I did find Ruth's character to be believable and realistic; she isn't perfect and she is not young and strikingly beautiful. She is way more intrepid than me in her work life and her sleuthing, but that is true of almost all female mystery protagonists.

I do not enjoy stories told in third person present tense, but that was a small distraction. As far as how many more books I read in the series, it seems that it comes down to whether they can maintain my interest based on character interactions and story and whether the mystery elements either improve or prove to be less important to me.

Other reviews or overviews are here:  Confessions of a Mystery Novelist, crimepieces, Petrona, Reactions to Reading, View from the Blue House


Publisher:  Mariner Books, 2010 (orig. pub. 2009) 
Length:   303 pages
Format:   trade paperback
Series:    Ruth Galloway
Setting:   Norfolk, UK
Genre:     Mystery
Source:   Borrowed from my husband

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Books of 1952: The Ivory Grin by Ross Macdonald

Rich Westwood at his blog Past Offences (classic crime reviews and news) has challenged readers to blog about a book or movie from 1952 during the month of August. This review of The Ivory Grin by Ross Macdonald is my submission for the 1952 book challenge.

Short summary from this review at
Archer is hired by the archetypal mystery client who won’t tell him anything about herself, to find a young woman she won’t tell him much about either. Archer knows from the first moments that he is being conned, but he’s both a little short on cash and a romantic at heart, and he just can’t resist the challenge that goes with the $100.
The book starts with a scene in Lew Archer's office, introducing the client:
I found her waiting at the door of my office. She was a stocky woman of less than medium height, wearing a blue slack suit over a blue turtleneck sweater, and a blue mink stole that failed to soften her outlines. Her face was squarish and deeply tanned, its boyish quality confirmed by dark hair cut short at the nape. She wasn't the type you'd expect to be up and about at eight thirty in the morning, unless she'd been up all night. As I unlocked the door she stood back and looked up at me with the air of an early bird surveying an outsize worm.
Archer finds her behavior very irritating very quickly but finds the $100 for two days' work that she is offering hard to pass up.
Her hard dry glance went over me almost tangibly and rested on my mouth. "You look all right. But you sound kind of Hollywood to me."
I was in no mood to swap compliments. The ragged edge on her voice, and her alternation of fair and bad manners bothered me. It was like talking to several persons at once, none of them quite complete.
As with Raymond Chandler, it is the style of writing that I enjoyed the most. The plot was very complex, and I got lost more than once. The characters are well-drawn, but I did get confused occasionally. I did not guess the resolution to the story, and I thought it was handled well. I don't expect to be able to figure out the plots, but I usually do try, without really meaning to.

The young woman who Lew Archer is seeking is a black woman, but light-skinned enough to have passed for white at times. It was good to read a vintage mystery which handles race relations evenhandedly. There are several black characters, their story is followed throughout the novel, and the characters are portrayed compassionately. This story also contrasts between those who have wealth (or want it badly) and those who are closer to poverty.

I recently read Hardboiled America by Geoffrey O'Brien. That book points out that...
With Lew Archer himself, Macdonald pulls off the neat trick of creating a character largely by negative means. Try to imagine him apart from the structure of the book and he becomes a cipher. We see through Archer's eyes, and react with him, but in the end he is little more than a window through which we perceive the real figures of interest — the people who Archer is investigating. He is the interviewer, the neutral voice that calmly elicits anguished testimony. On one level, he is a brilliant dramatic device, a device that works because of Macdonald's mastery of dialogue.
Possibly this is why I was uncomfortable with the story. I wasn't sure why Archer was continuing his investigation against all odds and with little obvious motivation, other than he felt he had to do the right thing for the people he was now involved with.

A reviewer at Goodreads starts his review of this book thusly:
This, the fourth novel in the Lew Archer series, is very good but not exceptional (at least not according to the standards of this exceptional series).
I hope this is true because I did like this book but was not overwhelmed by his skills, and I want to like his other books. I like the reviewer's comments so I recommend that you go read the whole review.

I have a problem when first reading the icons of mystery; my expectations are too high. I want to be bowled over with brilliance, and if that does not happen, I am disappointed. Often, when I come back to another book by the same author, I enjoy it much more because I now know what to expect.  This book is a fine book, but I was expecting more.

I think I will read The Moving Target next, which is the first book in the series and has been adapted into a film starring Paul Newman, titled Harper. I will re-watch that movie after reading the book.

The author's real name was Kenneth Millar and he was married to crime novelist Margaret Millar. They lived for a while in Santa Barbara, California, although both also lived in Canada when younger.


Publisher: Bantam Books, 1984 (orig. pub. by Alfred A. Knopf, 1952)
Length:  249 pages
Format: paperback
Series:  Lew Archer novels, #4
Setting: Los Angeles, California and surrounding areas
Genre:  Mystery
Source: purchased my copy

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

I Murdered My Library: Linda Grant

From the book description at Amazon:
What happens when you begin to build a library in childhood and then find you have too many books? From a small collection held together by a pair of plaster of Paris horse-head bookends to books piled on stairs, and in front of each other on shelves, books cease to furnish a room and begin to overwhelm it. At the end of 2013, novelist Linda Grant moved from a rambling maisonette over four floors to a two bedroom flat with a tiny corridor-shaped study. The trauma of getting rid of thousands of books raises the question of what purpose personal libraries serve in contemporary life and the seductive lure of the Kindle. ...
Linda Grant is an award-winning novelist and non-fiction writer. Her novel WHEN I LIVED IN MODERN TIMES won the Orange Prize for Fiction in 2000 and THE CLOTHES ON THEIR BACKS was shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 2008 and won the South Bank Show Award.

In May 2014, Moira at Clothes in Books featured this Kindle Single on her blog. In July, Col at Col's Criminal Library read and reviewed the essay also, sharing his thoughts about keeping books and culling books.

Then my husband read it and here is his review at Goodreads:
Fascinating account of growing up shy and in love with books, of building a library and mercilessly purging it, of patronizing favorite book stores and seeing them vanish, of moving from printed books to e-books in a world that reads less and less. This eloquent work - at less than 30 pages - is really much too brief.
Knitters and crocheters have their yarn stash, I have my book stash. The majority of the books I own are unread -- my TBR books on bookshelves, in stacks, or even in boxes in the garage. I have kept some books that are special to me. Specific authors that are favorites or authors that I can see rereading some year, and these two sets of authors may overlap. I also hold on to books with great covers that I cannot bear to part with. I even collect books with certain covers to a limited extent, but they are only a small fraction of the books I own. (My husband owns more books than I do, and more of his books are already read, so we have no arguments about the validity of owning a lots of books or hanging on to them.)

Linda Grant's essay was an enjoyable read. As I went through highlighting the parts I liked or that spoke to me especially, it was interesting to find the highlights that my husband had added. I am an indiscriminate highlighter when reading Kindle books, but as in other areas, my husband is much more restrained. We both highlighted this area:
I am the adult outcome of the shy, awkward only child who, instead of running around in the garden or clambering on slides and swings or slapping bats against balls or skipping down muddy lanes, preferred, above all else, as I still do, to stay indoors and read. Only children are no good socially.
I do take issue with this statement about small houses:
Now, in an apartment on the Mediterranean, the same authors were being dumped because no one wanted to read them. They are the detritus not just of the digital revolution but of disposable living and small houses.
I have lived in small houses and apartments and condos all of my life. The only time I lived in a large house, I had few books and was very unhappy. Since then, I have amassed books in the small places I have lived, with husband and son. Every room except the kitchen is filled with books. All of the walls of the small dining room are covered with book cases. I have books in stacks on the floor, on tables, even in place of plants on plant stands. And the overflow is in boxes in the garage.

I have no objection to culling books. My culling is gradual and voluntary, not forced. If we compare my culling and Linda Grant's ... she is talking about getting rid of a lot of books she has read and treasured and kept as a kind of legacy. Now she hits a point in her life where she has to cut back drastically and it hurts. It is painful to make decisions like this.

Grant also talks about bookstores, and getting books as a child. My family could not afford to buy books when I was a child. Almost everything I read came from the library. It wasn't until I had a job in my late teens that I could afford to go to a bookstore and purchase a book. And I did not do it much then. It was not until I met my husband that I changed from borrowing books from the library to buying books to keep. So, although Linda Grant and I are around the same age, she has been acquiring books for a couple of decades longer than I have.

I do love bookstores, and if I could turn back time, that is what I would want to return to. The area I live in has never had loads of bookstores, either independent or chains. The population does not support them. We used to have a Barnes & Noble and a Borders, but both were closed. We used to have more independent bookstores and some that were specifically for children's books and even one bookstore that specialized in crime fiction. The one bookstore that has always been my favorite is Chaucer's Books; it has been at different locations over the years, but is still in existence, in a great location. And it has a wonderful crime fiction selection.