Friday, October 31, 2014

Mysteries in October and Pick of the Month



I cannot believe that October is nearly over and Halloween is here (although by the time you read this it will probably be past). There are only two more months in the year. I like the cooler months better (although it can be very hot here in October and even into November). So the end of the year is a favorite time of year. I was very happy with my reading this month. Everything I read was crime fiction.

Two of the books I read this month were vintage mysteries published in the year 1932. Rich at Past Offenses gathered links to reviews of books published in that year HERE.


I participated in the R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril IX event, hosted by Carl of Stainless Steel Droppings during September and October. That event celebrates reading books of mystery and suspense and viewing films (or TV) in the same area. None of my reading this month was particularly spooky or scary, but The Coroner's Lunch by Colin Cotterill did have elements of the supernatural. 


These are the books I read in October:


Garden of Beasts by Jeffery Deaver
The Saint vs. Scotland Yard by Leslie Charteris
Keeper of the Keys by Earl Derr Biggers
Death is a Lonely Business by Ray Bradbury
Siren of the Waters by Michael Genelin
The German Agent by J. Sydney Jones
The Coroner's Lunch by Colin Cotterill




The Crime Fiction Pick of the Month meme is hosted at Mysteries in Paradise. You can go HERE to see more summary posts for the month and choices for favorite crime fiction reads.

This month, I don't know that I can narrow it down to one novel as my favorite this month. I hope to read more books by all of these authors, and each book had its high points. If I was forced to choose, I would make it a tie between Keeper of the Keys by Biggers and Death is a Lonely Business by Bradbury.



Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Death is a Lonely Business: Ray Bradbury


In Venice, California, 1949, a struggling young author writes tales of fantasy and science fiction for the pulps. His girlfriend is away studying in Mexico, and he is alone and lonely. One night he takes a ride in a red trolley car to the Venice pier and eventually discovers a dead body. The writer is convinced by strange events around him that the death is murder and that the murderer has plans to continue, but has a hard time convincing anyone else, including the police. Eventually, he ends up pursuing the murderer with help from a police detective, Elmo Crumley, and Constance Rattigan, an older actress who had a brief moment of fame.

From the dust jacket copy:
In this, his first full-length work of fiction since Something Wicked This Way Comes was published more than twenty years ago, Ray Bradbury, master of the modern supernatural, works his magic in an entirely new way — giving us a novel that is at once a loving tribute to the hard-boiled detective genre of Hammett and Chandler and a gently nostalgic evocation of a time and place.
This book was published in 1985; I have had the book for eight years and finally got around to reading it. I was not sure how much I would like a mystery written by an author famous for his fantasy novels.  It is a mystery and there are clues, but it is also a very fantastical story, with bizarre happenings and strange characters. For me, it turned out well, but I gather from reviews that some readers have been disappointed. If they have read and loved his sci fi or fantasy books, it may not meet expectations. If they are primarily readers of mystery, the fantasy elements may be jarring.

There are so many things I liked about this book, and many of them had nothing to do with its being a mystery novel. The policeman that the protagonist drags into the hunt for the killer is an aspiring writer. The narrator has only sold a few stories, but he pushes Elmo Crumley into following his dream and actually writing a book instead of just dreaming about it. The unnamed narrator befriends many people in his neighborhood and they help each other out. Bradbury has created characters that I want to keep reading about.

The dedication for the book indicates his love for noir fiction:
With love to Don Congdon, who caused it to happen.
And to the memory of Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, James M. Cain, and Ross Macdonald.
And to my friends and teachers Leigh Brackett and Edmond Hamilton, sorely missed.
Of course, Bradbury writes beautifully. I loved the descriptions of fogbound Venice. Santa Barbara sometimes has similar weather.
    Venice, California, in the old days had much to recommend it to people who liked to be sad. It had fog almost every night and along the shore the moaning of the oil well machinery and the slap of dark water in the canals and the hiss of sand against the windows of your house when the wind came up and sang among the open places and along the empty walks.
    Those were the days when the Venice pier was falling apart and dying in the sea and you could find there the bones of a vast dinosaur, the rollercoaster, being covered by the shifting tides.
And later...
    For about 150 days a year in Venice, the sun doesn't show through the mist until noon.
    For some sixty days a year the sun doesn't come out of the fog until it's ready to go down in the west, around four or five o'clock.
    For some forty days it doesn't come out at all.
    The rest of the time, if you're lucky, the sun rises, as it does for the rest of Los Angeles and California, at five-thirty or six in the morning and stays all day.
    It's the forty- or sixty-day cycles that drip in the soul and make the riflemen clean their guns. Old ladies buy rat poison on the twelfth day of no sun. But on the thirteenth day, when they are about to arsenic their morning tea, the sun rises wondering what everyone is so upset about, and the old ladies feed the rats down by the canal, and lean back to their brandy.
    During the forty-day cycles, the foghorn lost somewhere out in the bay sounds over and over again, and never stops, until you feel the people in the local graveyard beginning to stir. 
Now, Santa Barbara has the same kind of weather, and this is what I love about the area I live in. I don’t miss the sun, and there are not enough foggy days for me. But I can understand the sentiments expressed here; that attitude toward gray days is prevalent with residents of Santa Barbara also.

I could endlessly quote from this novel… For me it was an enjoyable and compelling story; but I am not sure how much I would recommend it to others.

At www.raybradbury.com, there is a description of the book and a short excerpt from the beginning of the book that might help you decide if you would enjoy it.  But it gets much stranger than that at times.

Had I but known that the next book in this series is a Halloween mystery (A Graveyard for Lunatics, reviewed at Tipping My Fedora), I would have sped up my schedule and included it for the R.I.P. Challenge. Since I did not do that I will just point that fact out to readers. I would be willing to bet that you could enjoy that book without reading this one first. However, I am usually a stickler for reading in order, and there is always the possibility that reading book 2 first will spoil the first one. There was also a third book in the series, Let’s All Kill Constance, published in 2003. I will be reading the two other books in the series eventually.

Also see Sergio's review of this book at Tipping My Fedora.

 -----------------------------

Publisher:   Alfred A. Knopf, 1985 
Length:       277 pages
Format:       Hardcover
Series:        Elmo Crumley
Setting:       Venice, California
Genre:        Mystery
Source:       I purchased my copy.


Sunday, October 26, 2014

Midsomer Murders: The Magician's Nephew

My husband and I found this Halloween-themed Midsomer Murders episode to watch for the R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril IX challenge at Stainless Steel Droppings. From Series 11 and first aired in 2008, it stars John Nettles as DCI Tom Barnaby and Jason Hughes as Sgt Ben Jones. The story begins with Joyce, Barnaby's wife, preparing for a Halloween party, and ends with Barnaby dressed as Dracula.  A very fun show, with a decent mystery centering around witchcraft and past and present members of a cult.


This is the description of the episode from Wikipedia:
A children's magic show goes horribly wrong when one of the performers dies during a trick. Barnaby and Jones discover that the victim was poisoned with a rare toxin extracted from Ecuadorean poison frogs - so the hunt is on for a particularly ruthless and imaginative killer. The detectives soon learn that a feud is raging between local occult practitioner Ernest Balliol and famous writer Aloysius Wilmington. While some of the villagers - such as Ernest's daughter Isolde - believe that powerful magical forces are at play, others think the reasons for the bloodshed may have their roots in the distant past.
While watching the show, I was puzzled by the various groups of people and their relationships. But that is one of the many good points of Midsomer Murders episodes. With 90 minutes per episode, there is time to have a realistically complex plot and tie it all togethr in the end.

Wilmington's nephew, Simon, is going through his uncle's library in search of rare books. Balliol's daughter, Isolde, seeks a secret text about dark magic in that same library. His son, Tristan, is a solicitor and cares for his mother, who has mental problems. The group that runs the magic show is linked to the pagan cult called the Temple of Thoth. Very confusing, but gradually it all falls into place.

Even though this was my second viewing of the episode, I was again surprised to find out who the murderer was. There were some wonderful scenes of the Englefield House in Berkshire and its grounds. This episode has a commentary with John Nettles and Jane Wymark (Joyce Barnaby), an unusual extra on a set of Midsomer Murders episodes.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Books of 1932: Keeper of the Keys by Earl Derr Biggers

In Keeper of the Keys, Charlie Chan is working on a case in California. He has been invited to the home of Dudley Ward on Lake Tahoe. Ward was the first husband of the famous opera singer Ellen Landini. Chan arrives at Ward's home along with Luis Romano, opera conductor, and fourth husband of Landini. He finds that he is joining a gathering of all of Landini's husbands, past and present. And Landini just happens to be in Reno, across the border in Nevada, waiting to get a divorce from Romano. An interesting setup, which leads to murder.

This book, the last in the series, has plenty of atmosphere. Much is made of the cold weather and snow, which Charlie has never experienced. Because it was written in 1932, I was surprised to see that a charter airplane and its pilot feature prominently in this book. The picture of the sparsely populated area around Lake Tahoe in the early 1930's is intriguing. Chan takes the train to Truckee; he and other guests are driven to a tavern on the lake, then taken by motor boat to Ward's home across the lake.  His home is very isolated.

There are six novels featuring Charlie Chan, and many movies. Most of the movies are not much like the novels, but they are a lot of fun. And in the movies, Charlie Chan is known for his pithy sayings. The first book, The House Without a Key (review here), is set in Hawaii. Charlie Chan does not show up until later in the book, and he seems to be in the background during most of the investigation. He doesn't speak English very well, and does not use the aphorisms for which he is known in the movies. In the second book, The Chinese Parrot (review here), Charlie is on a special case for a friend in California. In that one, he does use aphorisms, but sparingly. By this last book in the series. Charlie is spouting aphorisms very frequently and just about as much as in the movies. Each motto fits the scene though; they are not just there for effect. Some may even contain clues.

I found that of the three books I have read, each is very different. The first one involves a romance, and Charlie plays a smaller part. The second one seems more to be a classic puzzle plot. This book does fit the traditional mystery form, and there are clues. But this one was more entertaining for me than the second one, which was set in the desert. Maybe it was the location or the different set of characters involved. Although Charlie is a policeman in Hawaii, in most of the books he is outside of Hawaii working for an individual.

Charlie is easygoing and pleasant, but he never loses sight of his goal, to catch the murderer and prevent further crimes. In this book he is working in tandem with the sheriff. The rustic sheriff makes this clear:
It's going to be pretty unpleasant for all of us, I guess. I'm Don Holt, sheriff of the county, and I don't aim to cause no innocent person any unnecessary trouble. But I got to get to the bottom of this business, and the shorter the route, the better for all of us—well, most of us, anyhow. I've asked Inspector Chan, who's had more experience in this line than I have, to give me a hand here, an' I want to say right now, that when he asks, you answer. That's all, I reckon.
Don Holt is a nice guy and he and Charlie work together well. All in all, a very enjoyable book.


Two years ago I read my first Charlie Chan book, and I read it for the first R.I.P. event that I participated in. I submit this review for R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril IX. This book is also for the Books of 1932 challenge at Past Offences.

 -----------------------------

Publisher:    Academy Chicago Publishers, 2009 (orig. pub. 1932)
Length:        251 pages
Format:       Trade Paperback
Series:        Charlie Chan, #3
Setting:       Lake Tahoe, California
Genre:        Mystery
Source:       I own a Dell Mapback edition but I read my husband's reprint edition.


Monday, October 20, 2014

Death of a Hollow Man (TV episode)

This episode of Midsomer Murders centers around the amateur theatrical group in Causton, of which Joyce Barnaby, wife of Inspector Tom Barnaby, is a member. The members of the group are a motley group, and seem to be very true to the types who take part in amateur theatricals. These individuals have known each other so well and so long that there are petty resentments and misunderstandings simmering. All of this builds up to murder while working on the current play, Amadeus. Barnaby has done volunteer work for this group over the years, so he knows all the suspects well.


I recently reread the book that this episode is based on and my review is here. I enjoyed it just as much this time around.

The episode is faithful to the book, for the most part. It includes the preparations for the play, the in-fighting among the various members of the theatrical group, the performance of the play itself. Some of the characters in the book have been cut and relationships changed. The adaptation also differs in that there is a murder that occurs at the beginning of the episode. Personally I did not find that this added anything to the story. Initially it is unclear what the link is between the Causton Amateur Dramatic Society and this death. Caroline Graham wrote the screen play, so she must have felt theses changes were needed or at least beneficial for adaptation as a TV episode.

The TV adaptations don't have the same depth of dissection of English village life as the books did, but I enjoy them all the same. I love the characters, even the boorish Sergeant Troy. The book spends much more time explaining why Joyce has given up her budding career as a singer to be the wife of a policeman. This is just one example of how the character development can have more depth in a book. But each entertains in its own way.

Only five of the seven books in the Inspector Barnaby series by Caroline Graham were adapted for television. Death of a Hollow Man was the second book in the series and the fourth episode in the TV series. The episode first aired in 1998. It stars John Nettles as DCI Tom Barnaby and Daniel Casey as Sgt Troy. Joyce is played by Jane Wymark. Cully Barnaby (Laura Howard) plays a significant part in this episode, as she does in the book.

This TV adaptation is submitted for the 2014 Book to Movie Challenge at Doing Dewey.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Planned Parenthood Book Sale, Part 3

My son purchased 14 or 15 books at the book sale. Most of them were in the fantasy or sci fi genres. He was lucky to find all the books in one trilogy and some books from series he had already started.

Two of the books he found were cross-genre mysteries. The PI in these books is a zombie. Unfortunately, he found books 2 and 3 and wants to read book 1 first.


























A brief description of the series at TV Tropes:
A horror-comedy detective series by Kevin J. Anderson, chronicling the cases of Dan Chambeaux, private investigator in the Unnatural Quarter. Shot dead while seeking his girlfriend's murderer, Dan returns to "life" as a zombie: one of countless "unnaturals" spawned by the supernatural upheaval of the Big Uneasy.
The series is also described at The Thrilling Detective Web Site.


Some of the other books he found:


One book that intrigues me is The Case of the Toxic Spell Dump by Harry Turtledove. I have not read anything by this author and this is also the first time my son has tried a book by Turtledove.

Three of the books my son purchased were in the Monster Blood Tattoo trilogy. They have beautiful covers. Description of the first book in the series on Wikipedia:
Foundling is the first book of Monster Blood Tattoo, a children's/young adult's fantasy trilogy written by Australian author, D.M. Cornish. It tells the story of Rossamünd, a boy unfortunately christened with a girl's name, who has lived his entire life in a foundlingery (kind of an orphanage) before he is chosen to become a lamplighter in a far away city. The book's action takes place entirely on the Half-Continent, a Dickensian world run by arcane science and alchemy, and plagued with deadly (and not-so-deadly) monsters. It also won Best Young Adult Novel at the 2006 Aurealis Awards.
I personally don't go much for young adult fiction, but the best young adult fiction is enjoyed by all ages, so I may give this series a try one day. My son has read the first in the series, Foundling, and did like it. You can see from the photo above that the books get longer as the series continues, but each book has a good portion of back matter to explain the world and the terminology. There are also some very nice illustrations by the author sprinkled throughout the books, 

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Books of 1932: The Saint vs. Scotland Yard by Leslie Charteris


The first book featuring the Saint, Meet the Tiger! by Leslie Charteris, was published in 1928. The Saint vs. Scotland Yard, published in 1932, is the eighth book published in the series. I found this book recently at a book sale. Serendipitously, it fit perfectly into the Books of 1932 challenge at Past Offences.

The Saint, aka Simon Templar, is not new to me. I have read books about the Saint and I am sure I have watched various adaptations over the years, but I don't remember a lot about any of them. So I was surprised at what I found in this book. I honestly don't know what I was expecting. This book consists of three novellas, so was a perfect re-introduction to The Saint.

The book was originally titled The Holy Terror, and that is exactly what the Saint is. The stories are lighthearted, sprinkled with songs written by the Saint. He has a female side-kick and lover in this book, Patricia Hall, who fully participates in the shenanigans. And that is how I would describe the Saint's adventures in this book. He doesn't seem to take himself too seriously. Throughout the novellas in this book, the Saint is feuding with Claude Augustus Teal, Chief Inspector of the C.I.D.

The bottom line is I enjoyed these three novellas, and I want to read more of the earlier books. John's review of The Avenging Saint at Pretty Sinister Books motivated me to look for books in the Saint Series. Sergio at Tipping My Fedora reviewed a later book of short stories, The Saint in Europe, and also covered the TV adaptations of those stories.

Quote from the introduction to this book, titled "Between Ourselves":
Then come with us.... the Saint and I will inspire you.
     We will go out and find more and more adventures. We will swagger and swashbuckle and laugh at the half-hearted. We will boast and sing and throw our weight about. We will put the paltry little things to derision, and dare to be angry about the things that are truly evil. And we shall refuse to grow old.
     Being wise, we shall not rail against the days into which we have been born. We shall see stumbling blocks, but we shall find them dragons meat for our steel. And we shall not mourn the trappings and accoutrements of fancy dress. What have they to do with us? Men wore cloaks and ruffles because they were the fashionable things to wear; but it was the way they wore them. Men rode horses because they had nothing else to ride; but it was the way they rode. Men fought with swords because they knew no better weapons; but it was the way they fought. So it shall be with us.
     We shall learn that romance lies not in the things we do, but in the way we do them. We shall discover that catching a bus can be of no less adventure than capturing a galleon, and that if a man loves a lady he need not weep because the pillion of his motor-cycle is not the saddlebow of an Arab steed. We shall find that love and hate can still be more than empty words. 
Some biographical facts from www.saint.org:
Born Leslie Charles Bowyer Yin in Singapore (then a British colony) on May 12, 1907, Leslie legally changed his name by deed-poll to Leslie Charteris in 1926. He died in Windsor, England on April 15, 1993 at age 85. His father, Dr. S. C. Yin was a wealthy Chinese surgeon, a direct descendant of the emperors of China during the Shang dynasty; his mother was English.
In 1952, Leslie Charteris married an actress, Audrey Long. The couple remained married until he died. She died recently, on September 19, 2014. Long had roles in many movies between 1942 and 1952. See this post at The Hollywood Reporter for more information.

 -----------------------------

Publisher:   Charter, 1980 (orig. pub. as The Holy Terror, 1932)
Length:       274 pages
Format:      Paperback
Setting:      London
Series:       The Saint
Genre:        Mystery
Source:      Purchased.


Sunday, October 12, 2014

Planned Parenthood Book Sale, Part 2




My husband bought eleven books at the book sale. He is much more in control of his book buying impulses than I am. But he was very happy with most of the books he got. This is a sample.

Whispering Bodies by Jesse Michaels

About the author:
Jesse Michaels is an artist, musician and writer from Berkeley California. Over the years he has played in bands, created fanzines and illustrations, and written fiction. He was the singer of the punk bands Operation Ivy, Big Rig, Common Rider and Classics of Love. He has created art for Neurosis, Green Day, Christ on Parade, Filth, The Criminals, Spencer Moody, Pretty Girls Make Graves and many others.
Description of the book at the author's website:
Whispering Bodies is a comic novel which employs a mystery frame to tell the story of a reclusive man who must leave the safety of his isolated world to clear the name of a woman he has fallen for.
A comment on the back of the book suggests this book is like The Third Policeman by Flann O'Brien, so Glen picked up a copy of that one also.


Unfortunately, Glen did not enjoy that book at all. Here is his review at Goodreads:
The unnamed narrator of this book is a failed farmer and pub keeper who finds himself increasingly under the thumb of John Divney, a hired man who - over time - considers himself part owner of the farm and pub. Divney needs money and his solution is to enlist the (very passive) narrator in murder and robbery. The murder takes place and so far so good. Then the book decides it will be an "Alice and Wonderland" - with a quest for a box possibly filled with loot, nonsensical and surrealistic dialog, a visit to eternity, and endless discussions on bicycles - and it is then that it becomes a slog (and only 206 pages!) for me. Many readers really (really!) like this book but I'm afraid I found it a great struggle to finish.

London After Dark

From Kirkus Reviews:
Addenda to his earlier Fabian Of The Yard fills in the picture of crime in England and works its way from general exposition on various types of illegalities to specific cases. From night haunts, guarding royalty, gambling, dope, sex, perverts, unlawful pictures and satanic practices, he goes on to the crooks themselves, the informers, the rackets, and winds up with 14 examples of the painstaking police activities that untangled varying iniquities. This dossier has a very moral tone to its yarning, and its expertising, by an ex-superintendent of the Yard, offers solid, dependable -- and interesting material for the true crime fancier.


Ghosts by Gaslight


From a review at Deseret News:
Ghosts by Gaslight: Stories of Steampunk and Supernatural Suspense edited by Jack Dann and Nick Gevers, is a collection of all new ghost stories, inspired by the likes of Edgar Allen Poe and Arthur Conan Doyle. The stories, by established authors, infuse a modern fascination with old-fashioned technology into a Victorian setting in a genre called steampunk. While not every contributing author is a short story specialist, each story has some unsettling or haunting aspect to it.
From the reviews I read, the biggest criticism of this book was that not all stories had steampunk elements. As in any collection of short stories, some are better than others, and this depends on the reader's taste.



Blackmail by Parnell Hall
This is the ninth book in the Stanley Hastings series.

From Goodreads:
Complications arise when Stanley Hastings handles a blackmail payment involving pornographic pictures. Not only does he fail to stop the blackmailer, but everyone he talks to dies.
“Every page quivers with comic frustration and the result is an absolute joy.”—Kirkus (starred)
“Parnell Hall succeeds in making Stanley Hastings one of a kind …. BLACKMAIL is pleasantly reminiscent of an earlier era, when detectives like Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin brought some humor to their chores.”—The Wall Street Journal 






The Girls of Atomic City by Denise Kiernan

The description below is from Boing Boing. There are also lots of photos at that post of WW II workers in Oak Ridge, Tennessee.
At the height of World War II, Oak Ridge, Tennessee, was home to 75,000 residents, consuming more electricity than New York City. But to most of the world, the town did not exist. Thousands of civilians — many of them young women from small towns across the South — were recruited to this secret city, enticed by solid wages and the promise of war-ending work. Kept very much in the dark, few would ever guess the true nature of the tasks they performed each day in the hulking factories in the middle of the Appalachian Mountains. That is, until the end of the war—when Oak Ridge’s secret was revealed.
Drawing on the voices of the women who lived it—women who are now in their eighties and nineties — The Girls of Atomic City rescues a remarkable, forgotten chapter of American history from obscurity.


Friday, October 10, 2014

New (to me) Authors: 3rd Quarter 2014

At the end of every quarter, Kerrie at Mysteries in Paradise hosts a meme for the best new-to-me crime fiction authors. Check out other posts for this quarter.

These are the books by authors that are new-to-me this quarter:



All of these authors wrote books that I enjoyed reading, and I will continue to read books by most of them. Often when I do these summaries for three months worth of reading, the most recently read books are the most memorable.

Most enjoyable was:

The Wine of Angels by Phil Rickman. This novel combines a mystery and the supernatural. The characterization is wonderful. All of the main characters are well fleshed out. The characters are realistic; all have flaws. They are mostly likable but far from perfect. Very, very long, though.

Not so enjoyable, but a very good book:

Lie in the Dark by Dan Fesperman. This book is a police procedural set in the midst of the siege of Sarajevo during the Bosnian conflict. It describes the daily life of homicide inspector Vlado Petric as he tries to do his job. The siege has been going on for two years, and Petric's wife and child have escaped to Germany. His job seems to be useless in times of war when so many are dying and suffering.

Quotes from the book:
    The same two motivations which had kept him going before the war could still sustain him. Or at least he hoped they could.
    One was the small, slender promise that beckons to all homicide detectives-that someday, something worthy and noble would come of his work. For the clever and the persistent, perhaps something larger lurked behind the daily body count. In the way that an epidemiologist knows that a single autopsy can provide the key to a pandemic, Vlado clung to a belief that, now and then, one murder offered a portal to machinations far greater than the pulling of a trigger or the plunging of a blade.
    But could this still be true in wartime? ...
    Yet Vlado couldn't help but marvel at the enduring popularity of murder. He knew from his history texts what war was supposed to do to people. In Stalingrad they ate rats and burned furniture to stay warm, but they stuck together. Even in London, fat and soft London, suicides dropped and mental health soared. But now he wondered if it hadn't all been some great warm lie of wartime propaganda. Because, if anything, people succumbed more easily now to the passions that had always done them in. And as the siege grumbled on, spurned lovers still shot each other naked and dead, drunks stabbed other drunks for a bottle, and gamblers died as ever for their debts.
This is not the darkest book I have ever read, but it is not a fun read or uplifting.


Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Lie in the Dark: Dan Fesperman


Dan Fesperman's novels are geopolitical thrillers. Per his author page at Goodreads:
Dan Fesperman’s travels as a writer have taken him to thirty countries and three war zones. Lie in the Dark won the Crime Writers’ Association of Britain’s John Creasey Memorial Dagger Award for best first crime novel, The Small Boat of Great Sorrows won their Ian Fleming Steel Dagger Award for best thriller, and The Prisoner of Guantánamo won the Dashiell Hammett Award from the International Association of Crime Writers. He lives in Baltimore.
Lie in the Dark is a police procedural set in the midst of the siege of Sarajevo during the Bosnian conflict. It describes the daily life of homicide inspector Vlado Petric as he tries to do his job. The siege has been going on for two years, and Petric's wife and child have escaped to Germany. It is a relief to Petric that they are safe, but his daughter is very young, and growing up not knowing her father. That is only one of the many ways that Petric's life is painful and depressing each and every day.

He stares out his window in the morning and watches grave diggers bury the dead.
He began the day, as always, by counting the gravediggers out his front window. There were nine this morning, moving through the snow a hundred yards away in the middle of what used to be a children's soccer field. They stopped to light cigarettes, heads bowed like mourners, the shadows of stubble faintly visible on hollowed cheeks. Then they shed their thin coats and moved apart in a ragged line. Backs bent, they began stabbing at the ground with picks and shovels.
...
Vlado had come to depend on the gravediggers' punctuality. He knew they liked to finish early, while the snipers and artillery crews of the surrounding hills were still asleep in the mist, groggy from another night in the mud with their plum brandy. By midmorning the gunners would also be stretching muscles and lighting cigarettes. Then they, too, would bend to their work, and from then until nightfall the soccer field would be safe only for the dead.
Vlado wondered sometimes why he still bothered to watch this morning ritual, yet he found its arithmetic irresistible. It was his daily census of the war. 
In Sarajevo, food is hard to get and often barely edible. People walking in the streets are vulnerable to being shot by snipers, and their homes may be shelled. Windows and walls that have been knocked out are covered with whatever materials can be found, but are really no protection from the fighting. Everyone lives in fear everyday.

And in the midst of this, Petric's job has been reduced to trivial, routine matters. The Interior Ministry’s special police have taken over investigations of all serious crimes. Then, Petric is assigned a new case, a policeman that appeared to have been killed by a sniper's bullet. The special police cannot investigate because the victim, Esmir Vitas, was the leader of their group, and they want it to appear to be a fair investigation.

After  being led in many different directions, Petric uncovers a conspiracy revolving around the theft of artistic treasures in Sarajevo, and finds that it is linked to Esmir Vitas. He puts himself in grave danger to find more information. He makes mistakes, trusting those he should not trust.

I found similarities between this book and The Last Policeman by Ben H. Winters. That book is about a pre-apocalyptic event that is affecting the fabric of life in a similar way to a city under siege. There seems to be no reason to investigate murders when the future of life is so uncertain. In this case, coworkers, friends and relatives die everyday or lose their livelihoods as the city is damaged and lacks necessary supplies. Like everyone else, Petric is just surviving from day to day until this case comes along.

As many reviewers have noted, this book is as much a picture of life in a war zone as it is a mystery thriller. To be honest, I know very little of the history and background of the breakup of Yugoslavia. The author reported from Sarajevo on the Bosnian War, so I assume his depiction of this aspect of it is close to reality.

I did like this book a lot. It sounds like a depressing book, and it is very bleak. No matter what the resolution of this story is, there have been too many people irretrievably harmed by the conflict. The ending of the novel may have been a bit unrealistic, but it did not mar my enjoyment of the book at all. there are so many facets to this book.

If the topic and setting sounds interesting to you, I recommend this book. The author wrote a second book about Petric, The Small Boat of Great Sorrows. I have that book, and three stand-alone novels by Fesperman.

 -----------------------------

Publisher:   Soho Crime, 2012 (orig. pub. 1999)
Length:       276 pages
Format:       Trade Paperback
Series:        Vlado Petric, #1
Setting:       Sarajevo
Genre:        Police Procedural
Source:       I purchased my copy.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Garden of Beasts: Jeffery Deaver


Description from the author's website:
Paul Schumann, a German-American living in New York City in 1936, is a mobster hit man known equally for his brilliant tactics and for taking only “righteous” jobs. But when a hit goes wrong and Schumann is nabbed, he’s offered a stark choice: kill Reinhard Ernst, the man behind Hitler’s rearmament scheme, and walk free forever—or be sent to Sing-Sing and the electric chair.
The instant Paul sets foot in Berlin his mission becomes a deadly cat-and-mouse chase, with danger and betrayal lurking at every turn. For the next forty-eight hours, as the city prepares for the coming summer Olympics, Schumann stalks Ernst, while a dogged criminal police officer and the entire Third Reich security apparatus search frantically for the American.
I have only read one other book by Jeffery Deaver, The Bone Collector, which is the first book in the Lincoln Rhyme series. Deaver's books are primarily thrillers.  This book is a standalone historical thriller, set at the time prior to World War II that Germany was building toward rearmament. The author spent a lot of time researching the period. There are three pages at the end where Deaver explains who and what really happened as described in the book and how various details differed from real life. He also includes sources he used in the Acknowledgments section.

This is one of those books that is hard to describe without revealing some of the twists and turns that make it an enjoyable read. The situation is not as simple as it initially appears.

I liked the slow reveal of the primary characters, both their background and their motivations.  Some of the characters seemed too much like stereotypes, but I felt like at the end they had been fleshed out to be more realistic. The story shifts between Paul Schumann, the hit man who is coerced into working for US intelligence; Willie Kohl, the policeman who is investigating a murder in Berlin; Rheinhard Ernst, Schumann's target; and other minor characters.

My favorite character is Willie Kohl. He is a Kripo inspector not associated with the SS or the Gestapo. Most of the resources of his department have been taken over by the other groups, but he has learned to work around that when necessary. It is hard doing a good job investigating crimes in the environment he is working in, but he carries on.

In an interview at his site, Deaver picks Otto Webber as his favorite character.
He’s a small-time crime boss and operator in Berlin. He’s funny, lives life to the fullest and forms an improbable friendship with Paul.
Paul plans to take his landlady out for dinner. She has lost her job as a teacher for saying the wrong thing in the classroom, and her circumstances are drastically reduced.  This describes her transformation:
Thirty minutes later, a knock on the door. When he opened it he blinked. She was an entirely different person.
Käthe was wearing a black dress that would have satisfied even fashion goddess Marion in Manhattan. Close fitting, made from a shimmery material, a daring slit up the side and tiny sleeves that barely covered her shoulders. The garment smelled faintly of mothballs. She seemed slightly ill at ease, embarrassed almost to be wearing such a stylish gown, as if all she’d worn recently were housedresses. But her eyes shone and he had the same thought as earlier: how a subdued beauty and passion radiated from within her, wholly negating the matte skin and the bony knuckles and pale complexion, the furrowed brow.
I liked the book a lot and would recommend it to those who like thrillers set in this period, and who don't mind the length. I did have a few minor quibbles. There was a love interest that seemed to be thrown in unnecessarily, but in the end that part of the story did fit in OK. Although the story kept me interested and entertained the entire time, there are big twists around page 400 (in a book of 536 pages). Twists are good, and I really liked that the author had me fooled, but up until that point I felt like the book was not anything special. After more is revealed I was very impressed with the book.

 -----------------------------

Publisher:   Pocket Books, 2005 (orig. pub. 2004)
Length:       536 pages
Format:       Paperback
Setting:       Berlin, Germany
Genre:        Historical mystery
Source:       I purchased my copy.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Mount TBR Challenge: Third Quarterly Check In


This quarter I have read 13 books that count toward the 2014 Mount TBR Challenge. Combined with the 25 books I read in the first two quarters of 2014, I have read a total of 38 books for the challenge (out of my goal of 36 books -- Mt. Vancouver).

I am pretty sure I will continue to read books from my TBR piles in the next three months. In fact I have a list of at least eight that I intend to read before the end of this year. So I will extend my goal to 48 books -- Mt. Ararat.



The books I read this quarter were:

100 Must-read Historical Novels by Nick Rennison
Hard Boiled America by Geoffrey O'Brien
The Crow Trap by Ann Cleeves
Faith by Len Deighton 
Loot by Aaron Elkins
Season of Darkness by Maureen Jennings
The Moving Target by Ross Macdonald
The Ivory Grin by Ross Macdonald
Epitaph for a Spy by Eric Ambler
The Davidian Report by Dorothy B. Hughes
The Count of Nine by Erle Stanley Gardner
                                 (writing as A. A. Fair)
Coffin Scarcely Used by Colin Watson
Lie in the Dark by Dan Fesperman



Bev at My Reader's Block, who hosts this challenge, asked us to answer some questions using books we have read for this challenge:

A. Who has been your favorite character so far? And tell us why, if you like.
There have been many wonderful characters in the books I have read for the TBR challenge, but my favorite has to be Bernard Samson from Faith by Len Deighton. Bernard is a British agent featured in a nine book series which started in the early 1980's. 
Bernard Samson is my favorite spy. I like the series because the story is (usually) told in first person, by Bernard, and he is very entertaining. Bernard is an intelligence officer in the British Secret Intelligence Service, originally working in Germany, now working out of the London office. Family relationships and interactions feature just as much as the political intrigues.





B. Pair up two of your reads using whatever connection you want to make. Written by the same author? Same genre? Same color cover? Both have a main character named Clarissa? Tell us the books and what makes them a pair.

There are several pairs in the books I read this quarter.
  • The Davidian Report by Dorothy Hughes and The Ivory Grin by Ross Macdonald were published in the same year, 1952. They are very different books but both reflect the times.
  • The Count of Nine by A. A. Fair and Coffin Scarcely Used by Colin Watson were both published in 1958. Both told a story with humor, but also very different books. 
  • Lie in the Dark by Dan Fesperman and Loot by Aaron Elkins both featured stories related to the looting of art objects during war.



Friday, October 3, 2014

Reading in September and Pick of the Month


In September I read less books than usual, only six books, all mysteries. One reason for the low number (although there is nothing at all wrong with reading 6 books in a month) is that I started the month with a really long book (The Wine of Angels) and ended it with another really long book (Garden of Beasts by Jeffrey Deaver, which I finished Oct. 2).

Two of the books I read this month were vintage mysteries published in the year 1958. Rich at Past Offenses gathered links to reviews of books published in that year here. I also read two books from the Inspector Barnaby series by Caroline Graham; that series was adapted for television as Midsomer Murder episodes.

The books I read this month...

The Wine of Angels by Phil Rickman
The Count of Nine by Erle Stanley Gardner
                                 (writing as A. A. Fair)
Death of a Hollow Man by Caroline Graham
Coffin Scarcely Used by Colin Watson
Lie in the Dark by Dan Fesperman
Death in Disguise by Caroline Graham

The Crime Fiction Pick of the Month meme is hosted at Mysteries in Paradise. You can go HERE to see other posts and choices for favorite crime fiction reads.



I initially thought it would be hard to pick a favorite. I enjoyed all the books I read but none of them blew me away. The two vintage mysteries I read were fine books but not the best examples of the authors (based on what I have read). 

I was torn between The Wine of Angels by Phil Rickman and Death of a Hollow Man by Caroline Graham. The book by Caroline Graham was a reread, but I was so impressed on a second reading of that book that I read another book by that author very soon after. I heartily recommend Caroline Graham's books if you haven't read them. 

The Wine of Angels is my Pick of the Month. I like novels that combine a mystery and the supernatural, if they don't overdo the supernatural. This one provided an interesting mystery with a great story about a woman priest who is a single mother of a teenage girl. It is a Very Long Book, nearly 600 pages.