Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Dupe: Liza Cody

This is the first book in the Anna Lee Mystery series by Liza Cody, published in 1980. It won the CWA's John Creasey award for best first novel and was an Edgar nominee for Best Novel. There are five more books in this series; Cody's next crime fiction series was about a female wrestler, Eva Wylie.

Description at goodreads...
Anna quit the London police force because it was a dead end for women, but her job with Brierly Security isn’t a whole lot livelier. Her boss doesn’t much approve of female investigators, and her assignments tend toward the frustratingly genteel. The Jackson case doesn’t look like a big improvement. Ambitious, unpleasant young Deirdre Jackson has died, the apparent victim of a car accident on a lonely stretch of highway, and her parents want to know what their black-sheep daughter was up to in her last few months. Anna’s job, she knows, is to ask a few questions, write a report, and collect the Jacksons’ check. But the more questions she asks about Dee’s life, the more questions arise about her death.
Unlike other female private investigators who were introduced in the early 1980's (by Sue Grafton, Marcia Muller, and Sara Paretsky), Anna Lee works for a security company and is not her own boss. She is the only female investigator in the office, and doesn't get the best assignments.

Some modern readers complain that the story is dated. That is what I like about reading a story written at this time, so no complaints from me in that area. The story centers around a group that produces black market films and Anna works undercover briefly as a projectionist, which I found interesting. Also, I worked in those times, and I know how women were treated in the workplace (not in all circumstances of course).

This is not an action-packed story although Anna was beaten up and loses a few teeth because she won't give up looking into the case. That is one of her best characteristics... she is obstinate in pursuing a case, although realistic. If her boss won't keep the case open, she knows she cannot continue on her own.

I enjoyed this book, and have ordered the 2nd one in the series. Long out of print, affordable copies are now available at Amazon.com.

The female authors I mentioned above have had very nice things to say about Liza Cody. In a list at Pan Macmillan, Sue Grafton names Anna Lee as one of her top five fictional detectives (the other four are men). In a Guardian article, Sara Paretsky names Liza Cody as her favorite living author in her field. Marcia Muller wrote a very complimentary review of Dupe in 1001 Midnights, edited by Muller and Bill Pronzini.

In Martin Edward's review of Dupe:
This was one of those books I read in the eighties, and from which I sought a bit of inspiration, when I was thinking about what it took to write a fresh new mystery series. I liked Cody’s crisp, economical style of writing, the plausible way in which Anna and her colleagues were depicted, and the evocative way in which she depicted Anna Lee’s London.
I like how Liza Cody explains the process of writing this novel (at her website)...
At the very beginning all I wanted to do was to avoid my freezing, uninsulated studio, and look busy by the fire. 
I hadn't read a lot of detective fiction - just Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett and Ross McDonald - but I'd enjoyed the pace and the writing. I did, however, have very serious doubts about their views of women. On top of that part of the attraction was the US itself, which seemed like an exotic location where gunplay and casual violence were plausible; not at all like England which breeds a different kind of nastiness altogether. 
It made me wonder what would happen to an ordinary, competent English woman who happened to be a detective; someone who went unarmed, used the Yellow Pages a lot and got hurt when she was hit.
So I started small: I fitted an ex-police woman, Anna Lee, into a small detective agency on Kensington High Street and gave her an unimportant case. Then, sort of like a reader, I waited to see what happened. 
I'm a feminist and I tend to believe that ordinary, competent women can change the world if they want to. But back in the late '70s, early '80s it was as if they had to wait for male permission. 
Anna was a woman who was somewhat damaged by living and working in a man's world; she probably wouldn't have called herself a feminist - she would've just worked twice as hard and tried to be twice as good as the guys in order to be thought of as not quite equal.  
So the book, Dupe, as it developed, was never intended as a polemic. But it was intended to be a feminist story: to show the slights, insults and restrictions that ordinary, competent, intelligent women faced every day, especially those who worked in what at the time was seen as a man's world - a detective agency.

 -----------------------------

Publisher:   Bantam Crime Line, 1992 (orig. publ. 1980)
Length:       235 pages
Format:      Paperback
Series:       Anna Lee, #1
Setting:      London
Genre:       Mystery
Source:      I purchased this book, in November 2005.


Sunday, November 27, 2016

An American Spy: Olen Steinhauer

An American Spy (2012) is the third novel in a spy fiction trilogy written by Olen Steinhauer. Milo Weaver works in the Department of Tourism, a division of the CIA that most people don't know about. An agent in that department is a perpetual tourist, with no home, sent on mission after mission, doing whatever job they are given, with no explanation. And many times the assignment is to kill someone. In each of the books in the series, Milo's goal is to stop working as a Tourist, but still he does not reject the need for department itself. However, in each book he is pulled back into the work due to circumstances beyond his control.

Summary from Olen Steinhauer's website:
After the dissolution of the Department of Tourism, Milo’s old boss, Alan Drummond, grows obsessed with revenge against the man who’s destroyed his life: the Chinese spymaster Xin Zhu. When Alan disappears in London, having traveled around the planet, to reach the UK, clues are few and questions numerous. 
In China, Xin Zhu tracks evidence of a conspiracy against him (and his young wife) as he tries to survive the intrigues of Beijing politics. 
In Germany, Erika Schwartz comes across signs that Tourism may not be as dead as it seemed to be. 
In the center of it all is Milo Weaver, trying to stay alive and protect his family in Brooklyn.
In the first book, The Tourist, Milo has acquired a wife and a step-daughter. Since family life and the job of a Tourist cannot coexist, he has a desk job and works as a support person in the department. Throughout the series, his main goal is to keep his family safe. He would be happy to leave the CIA behind and become a normal citizen, but the Department of Tourism is hard to break away from.

The plot centering around Xin Zhu in China was one of my favorite parts. I also enjoyed the inclusion of Milo's father and his estranged half-sister in this book, exploring the importance of family connections in a different way. Milo's father is a former Russian spymaster and U.N. official, and he has ties to many people in the espionage community. He first shows up in the 2nd novel, The Nearest Exit. Although the fact that his father was a spymaster explains some factors in Milo's life and personality, it was an element that seemed a little over the top in that novel. In An American Spy, that story line seems to work better.

These books are full of action. I do prefer quieter, more cerebral spy novels, but it does keep the pace up. The plots border on the unbelievable, but that is fairly common in spy fiction, and I have no problem suspending my disbelief. I like the depth of the characters and the exploration of the conflicts in their lives within this framework.

Steinhauer's spy fiction has been compared to that of Graham Greene, Len Deighton, and John le Carré. I haven't read enough of Greene to speak to that. I would say he is closer to le Carré if we must make comparisons. On the other hand, in Deighton's Bernard Samson series, Bernard's family, especially his two children, are always his main concern. But, the point here is that if you like the writings of Deighton or le Carré, you definitely should give the Tourist trilogy a try. It is best if the books are read in the order published.

If you shy away from spy thrillers, you might find Steinhauer's other series a better fit. Some of those novels do have some of the elements of espionage fiction, but are historical fiction as well. The author describes them as "five novels that traced the history of an unnamed, fictional Eastern European country during its communist period, from 1948 until 1989, one book for each decade. The novels began as crime fiction, morphing gradually into espionage." There is not one main character but the characters are linked from one book to another.

The titles are, in order of publication:

The Bridge of Sighs
The Confession
36 Yalta Boulevard
(The Vienna Assignment in the UK)
Liberation Movements (The Istanbul Variations in the UK)
Victory Square

See these reviews:


-----------------------------

Publisher:   Minotaur Books, 2012
Length:      386 pages
Format:      Trade paperback
Series:       The Tourist trilogy #3
Setting:      US, UK, China, Germany
Genre:        Espionage fiction
Source:      I purchased my copy.


Wednesday, November 23, 2016

The Labyrinth Makers: Anthony Price

David Audley is an unlikely spy. True, he works for England's Ministry of Defence, but strictly as a back-room man, doing meticulous research on the Middle East. This new assignment, then, comes as something of a surprise: A WWII-era British cargo plane has been discovered at the bottom of a drained lake, complete with the dead pilot and not much else. Why are the Soviets so interested in the empty plane and its pilot--interested enough to attend the much-belated funeral? And why has Audley been tapped to lead the investigation? 
As Audley chips away at the first question, he can't stop asking the second. Could he possibly have been given the assignment in order to fail, to preserve the decades-old secrets at the bottom of the lake? If that's the case, someone's made an error. Audley's a scholar by training, temperamentally allergic to loose ends. And the story he unravels is going to make some people very uncomfortable indeed.
This introduction to the story is taken from the back of my Felony & Mayhem edition.

I first read about Anthony Price and his series of esponage novels featuring Dr. David Audley at Nick Jone's blog, Existential Ennui. I was hooked in by his review of War Game, book 7 in the series. Now that I finally got around to reading this first book in the series, I am forever grateful. This is just the type of spy fiction I like: a quiet book, a lot of talking and thinking and not a lot of action.

The characterizations are very good. Audley and the daughter of the dead pilot are the best characters in this book, but there are secondary characters here that will be featured in later books. I liked the author's writing style. I started re-reading portions for this review, and I noticed lovely descriptions of the area (the South Downs) that I had missed in my first read through. And on top of that, each book may center around another person that Audley works with. Although Audley is always involved to some extent, this should indicate that there will be variety in the series.

The only negative is that I want to read the rest of the books and there are eighteen more. I have now ordered the second book in the series, The Alamut Ambush.

In Encyclopedia Mysteriosa, William L. DeAndra notes that a characteristic of each novel in this series is that it hinges on some piece of history.
Anthony Price writes spy novels as no one ever has. The interwoven adventures of Dr. David Audley of British Intelligence and his associates combine haunting characterization, complex plots, history, international intrigue and pure detection to an extent rare in the genre.
Jo Walton also wrote an article at Tor.com on the aspects of history in this series, titled History Informs the Present: Anthony Price’s Audley series. So if you like learning about history, this is a good series to try. Walton's article also points out four novels in the series that could be good starting points.

Other resources...



-----------------------------

Publisher:   Felony & Mayhem, 2005 (orig. pub. 1970)
Length:      287 pages
Format:      Trade paperback
Series:       David Audley #1
Setting:      UK
Genre:        Espionage fiction
Source:      I purchased my copy.



Sunday, November 20, 2016

The Mike Shayne series by Brett Halliday

When I was at the book sale this year I ran into a box full of vintage paperbacks. That has never happened in all the decades I have been attending the sale. There may be occasional boxes of paperbacks with one or two vintage paperbacks in them on the tables. This box was tucked away under a table. There were lots of Mike Shayne mysteries and a good number of Perry Mason or Bertha Lam / Donald Cool mysteries. Today I concentrate on the Mike Shayne series by Brett Halliday.

I could not have passed up these books because most of them had covers by Robert McGinnis. Luckily this was identified on the back cover of the books, because even though I have two books about McGinnis's book covers and art in general, I cannot identify them without help. He does have a distinctive style but there were other cover artists with similar styles. The books were not in great condition but the cover illustrations are still lovely and the text is readable which is a big plus.

I had no idea if I would want to read these books or just have them for my collection of vintage book covers. When I got home I started investigating and discovered that his books will be well worth reading, or at least sampling them to see what I think.

At Mysterious Press:
Miami-based Michael Shayne is at once a hardboiled private eye and a methodical, Nero Wolfe-esque classical detective. In the early books in the series, his tightly-plotted investigations are complemented by humorous episodes involving his wife, offering some relief as he tangles with all sorts of criminals, be they blackmailers (The Private Practice of Michael Shayne), scammy realtors (The Uncomplaining Corpses), or murderous politicians (Bodies Are Where You Find Them).

The first thirty novels in the series were written by Davis Dresser, using the pseudonym Brett Halliday. The remaining novels (there were over 70) were written by other authors. Many were written by Robert Terrall; Dennis Lynds (a Santa Barbara resident) and Ryerson Johnson also wrote a few. I will have more on Robert Terrall in a later post.


If you want to learn more about this series, see this post at Killer Covers:
The Corpse Came Calling, by Brett Halliday
There I learned that Davis Dresser was also a resident of Santa Barbara. I was also reminded that one of my favorite films, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, was based partly on Brett Halliday's novel Bodies Are Where You Find Them.

At this post by J. Kingston Pierce of the Rap Sheet, there are many links about Brett Halliday and the Mike Shayne series, plus illustrators of book covers for that series.

The Thrilling Detective website is a wonderful resource for fictional private eyes. See the page there for Mike Shayne.


























Wednesday, November 16, 2016

The Dreadful Lemon Sky: John D. MacDonald


I took advantage of the Crimes of the Century meme for November, hosted at Past Offences, to get back into reading the Travis McGee series by John D. MacDonald. This month the year chosen was 1975. The 16th book in the series, The Dreadful Lemon Sky, was published in that year.

For readers not familiar with the Travis McGee series, McGee is essentially a private detective, although he describes himself as a "salvage consultant." He has also been described as a knight errant. He only takes jobs when he needs money; the rest of the time he spends in "retirement."


This story starts when a friend shows up in the middle of the night on Travis McGee's house boat, the Busted Flush. Carrie Milligan met McGee when she was very young (18), and got married shortly thereafter. He loaned her the Busted Flush for her honeymoon. Now, six years later she is back, having divorced her husband three years earlier. She brings with her around 100,000 dollars and asks McGee to hold it for her for a few weeks. If she returns for it, he gets $10,000 for keeping the money safe for her; if she doesn't, he still keeps the $10,000, but his job is to deliver the money to her sister. After some quick checking to satisfy himself that the money is actually hers, he agrees; two weeks later she is dead. McGee takes the Busted Flush to the small town on the Florida coast where she lived and worked .... to see if he can find out what happened.

This is pretty much the standard plot of the books in the series. McGee is approached by a woman needing help. He takes a break from his retirement to provide aid. Most of the books are set in Fort Lauderdale, Florida or other coastal towns.

What makes the books so good is MacDonald's storytelling. I was rereading sections of this book after the first read through, and they are just as good the second time around. There is a quiet humor in the writing.

The characters in the books are well developed and interesting. His male characters are better than the women. The women characters, at least in this book, don't seem to have much depth and are very similar. Besides McGee and his sometimes sidekick Meyer, an economist who also lives on a boat in the harbor, in this book there is also a sleazy but very convincing politician and a very cynical policeman.

Also the setting and sense of place is very well done. I have never been to Fort Lauderdale, but I have been to Florida many times (in the sixties and the seventies). Mostly I visited the Gulf Coast so not exactly the same area and I was too young to see it in the same way he did. MacDonald was very concerned about the commercialization of the area and the damage to the environment.

The books have a good bit of social commentary and philosophy thrown in. I am sure this one of the aspects that attracted me when I first read the series, but some readers grow tired of this. In this book that aspect is not overdone.
I found a shopping center and found that they had left some giant oaks in the parking lot. This runs counter to the sworn oath of all shopping center developers. One must never deprive thy project of even one parking slot.
Does this book reflect life in the US in 1975? I would say yes. McGee attends a memorial service for Carrie. He describes some of the people at the gathering:
...I realized anew that there is a new subculture in the world. These were mostly young working people. Their work was their concession to the necessities. Their off-work identities were contra-establishment. Perhaps this was the only effective answer to all the malaise and the restlessness and the disbelief in institutionalized life, to conform for the sake of earning the bread and then to step from the job into almost as much personal freedom as the commune person.
When I read that paragraph, it took me back to my first job out of college. I worked and socialized with people like that. Amazing that he got it just right.

One of the elements of the books is that McGee usually (always?) ends up having sexual relations with at least one of the women that feature in the plot. I have read at least three reviews or analyses of this series that discuss the "sex as therapy" element in this series, so I feel I must mention it. I did not dislike that element in this book but I will admit to a bit of discomfort. In this particular case the woman involved with McGee was not so young, and she was using him as much as he was using her. McGee's attitude toward women is a lot like James Bond's, except that McGee often expounds on his attitude towards women, which may be the problem. To be clear, at least in this book, the sex is not graphic or offensive, in my opinion.

I do have an issue with the cover on my paperback edition. On the one hand it has a skull on the cover, on a hundred dollar bill. On the other hand, it shows a helicopter against a lemon yellow sky. I remember nothing about a helicopter in this story. An airplane yes, and it has a lot to do with the plot. I have even read a review that indicates a helicopter is used. I don't want to quote the passage that establishes it is a plane, not a helicopter, because it could be considered a spoiler. But still, why the helicopter on the cover?

 -----------------------------

Publisher:   Fawcett Gold Medal, 1988 (orig. publ. 1975) 
Length:       272 pages
Format:      Paperback
Series:       Travis McGee, #16 
Setting:      Florida
Genre:        Mystery
Source:      I purchased this book.


Saturday, November 12, 2016

Past Tense: Margot Kinberg

When bones are discovered buried at a construction site on the Tilton campus, of course Joel Williams, a professor in the Criminal Justice department and former policeman, is interested. The case turns out to be from the past; the bones have been buried at least 40 years. And the first step for the police is determining who went missing at about that time. Once the victim is identified as Bryan Roades, a journalism student, the police look for people he knew at the time of his death. Luckily some of them are still around in the area and available to question. Others who were close to him begin to surface on their own and provide more information.

Joel Williams is the continuing character in Margot Kinberg's series set at Tilton University. He becomes more actively involved in this case when he is the one to discover another body. The crime may be related to Bryan's death, maybe not. Joel is an amateur sleuth in one sense because he is a professor, but his background in the police gives him expertise and access to the police department. In this book, there are two detectives assigned to the case and the reader follows their progress in the investigation. So this novel could be considered a hybrid mix of amateur sleuth mystery and police procedural.

The discovery of the first body is made during finals week, but the investigation continues into the summer break. As the detectives talk with the people who were involved in Bryan's life at the time of his death, they gradually get a picture of what he was doing at the time that could lead to his death.

I liked that the reader gets to know both the investigators and other people involved in the investigation. We get enough background on Bryan's associates to form a developing picture of the situation at his death. Everyone has their quirks and seem like real people. The detective pair are addicted to coffee, and I loved this because I always have to have enough caffeine in my day. I prefer tea as my source of caffeine, but I could sympathize with that habit. It was a nice touch. Also the senior detective in the pair was sometimes resentful of the new guy jumping in on the investigation, but they worked out their relationship amicably.

The pacing was very good. My interest was maintained from beginning to end and I read the book in two days, very quick for me with the amount of time I have for reading. The mystery plot is handled well also, with enough clues and just enough red herrings.

I read the print version and it has 421 pages. However the print is a good size and the spacing on the page is generous, so it is a good reading experience and not as long as some books with the same page count. So don't be put off by the length, this is a nice, entertaining read and you don't want to miss this traditional mystery.

This is the third Joel Williams mystery. I reviewed the first book, Publish or Perish; I read B-Very Flat recently, liked it a lot, and will be reviewing it here later.

See other reviews by:
Moira at Clothes in Books
Bernadette at Reactions to Reading
Kerri at Mysteries in Paradise

-----------------------------

Publisher:  Grey Cells Press, 2016.
Length:      421 pages
Format:      Trade paperback
Series:       Joel Williams #3
Genre:       Mystery
Source:      I purchased this book.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

The Honourable Schoolboy: John le Carré

The Honourable Schoolboy is the middle  book in the Karla Trilogy. After unmasking the mole in Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, Smiley is now after his opponent in the KGB, Karla. John le Carre's website gives this description of the book:
George Smiley has become chief of the battered British Secret Service. The betrayals of a Soviet double agent have riddled the spy network. Smiley wants revenge. He chooses his weapon: Jerry Westerby, ‘The Honourable Schoolboy’, a passionate lover and a seasoned, reckless secret agent. Westerby is pointed east, to Hong Kong. So begins the terrifying game…..

Another very long book by John le Carré. I have yet to read a book by this author that I did not enjoy, so the length is not an issue. But this one did go more slowly for me. I love the characterization in his novels and he writes so beautifully. I did get involved with the characters and I wanted everything to turn out well; of course it doesn't. At least in this story, some of the characters appear to be make choices about their futures.

I liked the focus on Jerry Westerby in this book. He is an interesting character, a spy called on to do Smiley's bidding. He had been put "out to grass" because he was no longer useful, with the possibility that his identity had been blown by the mole.

There was just enough of Smiley in this novel for me. Smiley seems to be more ruthless than he was in earlier novels, which seems realistic, if he wants to achieve his goal. Along the way I began to feel that Smiley and those working for him were being set up for failure. Spying is dirty work (like politics). Of course, knowing that this is part 2 of a trilogy gave me some hope that things will work out in the end, although it is unusual for a novel by le Carré to have a feel good ending.

I loved reading the reviews of this book. So many people panned this novel as a bore and not up to the rest of le Carré's work and just about the same number said it is one of their favorites by le Carré. Some say it is a slog; others say it is exciting. Maybe it is all up to whether one enjoys the scenes in Southeast Asia, which do tend to go on. I fall in the middle. I did enjoy it, I would have no problem rereading it because I know I would understand more the second time around. But it did have less of an impact than Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and it was more depressing in the end. I can't speak for Smiley's People, as I haven't read that one yet.

List of  'Smiley' Novels (with links to my reviews)

1. Call for the Dead (1961)
2. A Murder of Quality (1962)
3. The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (1963)
4. The Looking Glass War (1965)
5. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (1974)
6. The Honourable Schoolboy (1977)
7. Smiley's People (1979)
8. The Secret Pilgrim (1990)

Other resources:


-----------------------------

Publisher:   Penguin Books, 2011. (Orig. pub. 1977)
Length:       606 pages
Format:      Trade Paperback
Series:       Karla Trilogy, #2
Setting:      UK, Cambodia, Hong Kong
Genre:        Espionage fiction
Source:      I purchased this book.


Sunday, November 6, 2016

Reading in October 2016

I cannot believe I read 10 books in October. That many books in one month is almost unheard of for me and I wasn't even trying.  And in addition to that I read two graphic novels, although one was a reread.


One of the graphic novels was The Secret Service: Kingsman by Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons. I had read it early in the year, then watched the movie. I keep hoping to review it so gave it another read. It is pretty short and a fast read. Entertaining but lightweight.

The second graphic novel was Superman for All Seasons by Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale. Longer and not at all lightweight. I have been reading Superman comics now and then since I was a kid, so it was very nostalgic.

The problem is that of the ten books I read I have done a post on only one. I will blog about all of them eventually but for now I will give brief notes or descriptions. I was trying for one sentence summaries but apparently I am not capable of that.



The books I read in October:

The Coffin Dancer by Jeffery Deaver
(This is the second book in the Lincoln Rhyme series about a quadriplegic who is skilled at forensic investigations, usually working as a consultant to the police department. A thriller about finding an assassin who is targeting witnesses to a killing. Plot twists abound.)

Strong Poison by Dorothy Sayers
(A reread. This is the sixth book in the Peter Wimsey series and the one that introduces Harriet Vane. I wasn't sure how it would hold up on this reread, but I enjoyed this very much. It has much to offer: a budding romance, Miss Climpson investigating...)

All the Lonely People by Martin Edwards
(Martin Edward's debut crime novel, published in 1991. Harry Devlin is a lawyer whose estranged wife returns to his apartment for a short stay. Soon she is dead and he is the obvious suspect. All the titles in the series are taken from hit songs in the 1960s.)

Boobytrap by Bill Pronzini
(The 25th book in the Nameless Detective series about a private detective. The series began in 1971; over the years the character has aged, matured, and changed his lifestyle. In this book, Nameless is on a solo fishing trip, using a cabin on a river loaned to him by a friend. He just happens to be there at the same time a bomber is seeking vengeance on the people who sent him to jail.)

B-Very Flat by Margot Kinberg
(An academic mystery set at Tilton University in Pennsylvania. Serena Brinkman, a talented violin major in the music department, dies unexpectedly a few hours after winning a major competition. Joel Williams, a former policeman on the faculty, gets involved with the case.)

Deal Breaker by Harlan Coben
(Book 1 in the Myron Bolitar series. Sports agent Myron Bolitar is about to get a big break when his client Christian Steele, a rookie quarterback, is offered a very big deal. Unfortunately at the same time a tragedy in Christian's past comes back to haunt both of them.)

The Labyrinth Makers by Anthony Price
(The first book in a series of spy novels featuring Dr. David Audley, a British Intelligence analyst. Published in 1970. A Dakota aircraft assumed lost at sea after World War II ended has recently been discovered in a lake bed. The Russians are also very interested in this aircraft, and Audley must discover why.)

The Penguin Pool Murder by Stuart Palmer
(This is the first book in the Hildegarde Withers series, published in 1931. Miss Withers is a schoolteacher who helps Detective Oscar Piper with his investigations. I was VERY surprised at the ending of this one.)

Cold Mourning by Brenda Chapman
(Kala Stonechild, a First Nations police officer with a troubled background, arrives in Ottawa for a new job just a few days before Christmas. She has no time to find a place to live in a new city before she is working on an important and puzzling case. And as an aboriginal woman she encounters racism on many levels. First of four books in a series.)

Sleeping Dogs by Ed Gorman
(The first in a series of five novels about Dev Conrad, a political consultant. In this novel, the reelection campaign of an Illinois Senator  runs into major problems with dirty tricks, blackmail and murder. Reviewed HERE.)

Every one of these books was a great read and I will be reading more books by these authors. The only one I am not eager to read more of immediately is the series by Jeffery Deaver. I think I need to take those books at a slow pace, due to the subject matter and the thriller aspects. But still a good, fast, and mesmerizing read.

Until I put this all together I had not realized that six of the ten books I read were first books in a series. This was good for discovering new series but bad since I don't need more books to read. And, without even realizing it, I added one more mystery onto my USA Fiction Challenge. Sleeping Dogs by Ed Gorman is set in Illinois.


Note that Margot Kinberg, of the Confessions of a Mystery Novelist... blog, has written a third book featuring Joel Williams, Past Tense, which was just recently released and is available in print or e-book version. I will be reading that one soon.


From Margot's web site:

Past and present meet on the quiet campus of Tilton University when construction workers unearth a set of unidentified bones.
For former police detective-turned-professor Joel Williams, it’s a typical Final Exams week – until a set of bones is discovered on a construction site…

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Vertigo: Boileau-Narcejac


This book was originally published in France in 1954 as D'entre les morts; in 1956 it was translated to English and published as The Living and the Dead. It was the basis for Hitchcock's film, Vertigo. There are significant differences between the book and the film but the basic story is the same.

The book opens with Paul Gévigne asking Roger Flavières to watch over his wife and protect her from herself. Gévigne's wife, Madeleine, is acting strangely and he is afraid she will disappear or hurt herself. Gévigne, a wealthy shipbuilder, and Flavières, a lawyer, were once in school together, which explains why Gévigne makes this strange request and why Flavières gives in against his better judgment.

Flavières does start following Madeleine, watching her behavior. Eventually he sees her try to commit suicide by jumping into a river. He saves her and then becomes obsessed with her, continuing to see her and developing a relationship.

All of this takes place in France shortly before the German occupation of France during World War II. The book is a story of obsession and deceit. The plot has many twists and turns after this point and I don't want to reveal any more. If you have seen the movie you can guess some of the plot points... but not all. And if you haven't I don't want to spoil either the book or the movie.

I am very glad I decided to read this book. It was unusual to read a book after I have watched a movie so many times. But having already seen the movie did not spoil the experience because  of the variations in the setting and the mood. A book almost always provides more depth into what is going on with the characters than a film. However, Hitchcock changed the characters and their involvement with each other to present the movie he wanted, so that the movie and book seem very different even though they tell the same basic story. Both are very very good.

Hitchcock's film based on this book is set in San Francisco and he uses that setting with great effect. San Francisco was chosen for the setting early in the screen writing process. The development of the screenplay and the decision on locations to film are discussed at the Alfred Hitchcock Wiki.

The San Francisco locations for scenes in this film are featured in Footsteps in the Fog: Alfred Hitchcock's San Francisco by Jeff Kraft and Aaron Leventhal. There are over 90 pages devoted to this film, including many historical and contemporary photos. It is a treasure trove of information for those who love this film and the city of San Francisco.

Per the back of my paperback edition, "Boileau-Narcejac is the nom-de-plume of Pierre Boileau (1906-89) and Thomas Narcejac (1908-98), one of France's most successful writing duos." Pushkin Vertigo has published another title by these authors: She Who Was No More.

Other reviews at:

Col's Criminal Library
the crime segments
His Futile Preoccupations
Tipping My Fedora
A Crime is Afoot
JacquiWine's Journal
Vintage Pop Fictions
Fiction Fan

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Publisher:   Pushkin Vertigo, 2015 (orig. pub. 1954)
Length:      189 pages
Format:      Trade paperback
Translated by:  Geoffrey Sainsbury
Setting:      France, World War II
Genre:       Mystery
Source:     I purchased this book.



Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Sleeping Dogs: Ed Gorman

Ed Gorman (November 2, 1941 – October 14, 2016) was an American writer and short fiction anthologist. I know him primarily for his work in the mystery field, but he has also published Westerns and horror stories.

I have been a fan of this author for a long time, since I first started subscribing to Mystery Scene magazine. Gorman was the founder of Mystery Scene along with Robert J. Randisi, but by the time I subscribed the magazine had been acquired by the current editor, Kate L. Stine, and Brian Skupin. I have back copies that were published while Gorman was the editor, and he continued writing columns for the magazine. He was well known for being supportive of other authors and he alerted readers to the blogs (ten years ago) that were getting out the word on mysteries of all types.

Ed Gorman also put together mystery reference books, such as Speaking of Murder and Speaking of Murder, Volume II. He edited many short story anthologies. The one I have is The Deadly Bride and 21 of the Year's Finest Crime and Mystery Stories, which he edited with Martin H. Greenberg. He started out writing short stories and his first novel was Rough Cuts, published in 1986.

Moving on to Sleeping Dogs, I want to start off saying that I loved this book. I had read a few novels by Ed Gorman and I expected to like the book, but I wasn't thrilled about reading a novel about politics right now. I should have known better.

Sleeping Dogs is the first in a series of five novels about Dev Conrad, a political consultant. In this novel he is working for an Illinois Senator who is running for reelection. The previous political consultant had a major difference of opinion with the candidate and left the campaign. Six months later, he commits suicide. At about the same time, the campaign runs into major problems with dirty tricks and blackmail.

The attitude towards politics in this novel is very cynical. That goes right along with my attitude towards politicians and elections so it worked for me. There are no demons here. The main character, Dev Conrad, truly wants his candidate to win because he believes he is the better choice of those available, but he does not see one side as bad and the other as good.

As Ed Gorman says in this piece at Patti Abbott's blog, Pattinase:
In Stranglehold, as with the other two Dev Conrad books, I attempt to show that there are very few heroes on either side of the aisle. What we tend to forget is the primary rule followed by virtually every person ever elected to congress--get yourself re-elected. Every other consideration is secondary. And again, this applies to both sides. As Bob Dylan once wrote, "Money doesn't talk, it swears." And money is just about all that matters in politics
Dev Conrad is a great character. Human, not perfect, but he cares about people and about his work. The people working on the campaign appear to be a close-knit, fun-loving group but not everyone is what they seem. The story's ending worked very well. It was logical and made sense but was a surprise to me.

I will look for other novels in this series. I have also read the first three novels in the Sam McCain series and plan to read more of them. Read about the Sam McCain series at The Thrilling Detective.

Other Resources...

An interview from 2014 at Gravetapping
An interview from 2013 at The Rap Sheet

Tributes at 'Do You Write Under Your Own Name?' and at Gravetapping

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Publisher:   Minotaur Books, 2008
Length:       238 pages
Format:      Hardcover
Series:       Dev Conrad, #1
Setting:      Chicago, Illinois
Genre:       Mystery
Source:     I purchased this book.