Sunday, December 9, 2018

Reading Summary, November 2018

I read nine books in November. One book was a fantasy; one book was a nonfiction book about books and reading. The rest were crime fiction. I started three new (to me) series, and all of those were very good.

I did make some progress on Les Miserables, which I am trying to finish by the end of the year. But I am still only about 2/3 done with that book (800 out of 1200 pages, approximately).

Nonfiction:


I'd Rather Be Reading: The Delights and Dilemmas of the Reading Life (2018) by Anne Bogel
I love reading. When I finish one book, I am always excited about picking my next read. I have to have a book with me to read, just in case... So I appreciate reading about other booklovers. Like any other book of essays, not every one of the topics appealed to me. But overall this was a great read that I will go back to from time to time. Suggested at Kay's Reading Life; see her post for more detail.

Fantasy:


Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (2007) by J.K. Rowling
Oh my goodness, I finally finished the last book in this series. It is a whopping 607 pages long. I am glad I read this book, I think it finished the series off very well. I just wish it had been shorter. The last 200 pages were great; the first 400 pages had too much padding. 


Crime Fiction:


The Birthday Murder (1945) by Lange Lewis
Victoria Jason Hime is a successful screen writer and novelist. Her most recent novel has been bought by a film studio and her husband, Albert Hime, is hoping to produce the film. Then, before he gets the chance, he dies of poison and Victoria is the primary suspect. I enjoyed the way the story was told, and the ending was very surprising. My thoughts are HERE.

Entry Island (2013) by Peter May
Entry Island blends historical fiction with a present-day police procedural. Both stories come together in the end, as we expect. I liked what I learned about both settings. The historical focus is on the Highland Clearances which take place on the Isle of Lewis and Harris. The current investigation centers on a death on a small Canadian island (Entry Island, which is a part of the Magdalen Islands). This was an unusual and compelling story.
The Unsuspected (1945) by Charlotte Armstrong
In this impressive, disturbing novel of psychological suspense, Luther Grandison is a famous director of stage plays and movies who holds sway over his two young female wards, one rich, one beautiful. His young secretary, Rosaleen, has recently committed suicide by hanging herself. Rosaleen's good friend Jane has taken the position of secretary to Grandison, as she suspects that the death was not suicide. There is a film version starring Claude Rains as Grandison (which I have not yet seen).

Iron Lake (1998) by William Kent Krueger
This is the first novel in the long running Cork O'Connor series, set in the small town of Aurora, Minnesota near Iron Lake and the Iron Lake Reservation. Cork, the former sheriff, is half Irish and half Anishinaabe. An influential local judge is found dead, an apparent suicide; Cork is the one who discovers the body. A young Indian boy is missing and his mother seeks Cork's help to find him. I loved this book and plan to read more of the series. My thoughts are HERE.

Never Go Back (2012) by Lee Child
This book is the 18th Jack Reacher novel (out of 23). It is the book that the latest Jack Reacher film is based on, which is why I read it now. This is only the third book in the series I have read and I loved it. 

Bruno, Chief of Police (2008) by Martin Walker
The first installment in a wonderful new series (to me) that follows the exploits of Benoît Courrèges (Bruno for short), a policeman in a small French village. This seemed like a fantasy because the life in the village is (at least on the surface) so rustic. That description makes it sound on the cozy side, and it is not that at all. Although this book is heavy on the details of Bruno's past and the setting of the series, I am sure I am going to enjoy more of these books.


Dead Sand (1994) by Brendan DuBois
As the first novel in the Lewis Cole series, Dead Sand also features a lot of backstory on the protagonist, and I liked that.  Cole's place in the community is unusual; he is a journalist who writes a regular column for a magazine but he also gets involved in helping out the local police on a regular basis. Sometimes that help is welcome, sometimes not. There are two mysteries in this book. Who is Lewis Cole and how did he come to Tyler, New Hampshire? And who is behind a series of local deaths?

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Iron Lake: William Kent Krueger

Iron Lake is William Kent Krueger's first novel, starring Cork O'Connor, the former sheriff of Aurora, Minnesota, ousted in a recent recall election. Many residents of the small town still think of him as sheriff and ask him for help when they get into trouble. Cork is also half Irish and half Anishinaabe Indian. The Anishinaabe reservation is near to Aurora, and the town and the reservation share usage of nearby Iron Lake.

This story tells us about Cork's connection to the reservation, and his history with his wife and family. Gradually we learn about the political situation in the town and the disputes between the townspeople and the reservation. I like the way the story is slowly revealed. Although we know from the beginning that a death has occurred, we don't know if it is murder or not for quite a while.

This book has it all. Complex characters. A meaningful plot. Lots of surprises. Very good pacing.

At first I found Cork's wife to be a cipher, I could not connect with her. I don't know that I ever liked her, but in the end she was just as complex as any of the other important characters. Sometimes, I didn't like Cork all that much, but the story explains a lot of his behavior, his background, and I found him admirable in the context of what he had experienced.

The family dynamics are very, very good. He has children that he cares about and he wants to be with them; yet he and his wife are separated, so he cannot be a real part of their lives. The children are at different stages of development and I liked his relationship with them and his patience with them.

Another bonus is that the book is set at Christmas. It is not a traditional Christmas mystery by any means but Christmas does play a part in the plot.

And finally, I enjoyed this book for the setting, which not only included the physical setting  of northern Minnesota but also the proximity to an Indian reservation and the juxtaposition of the Indian culture vs the town culture. Cork's mixed race causes issues on both sides.

I am very glad I finally ready this book. I bought my copy of Iron Lake over 5 years ago and it was first published 20 years ago. I was motivated to move it to the top of my TBR pile by a recent recommendation from Richard at Tip the Wink. His review is here. I want to see how a lot of this plays out for Cork. So I will be reading more of the series.

 -----------------------------

Publisher:  Pocket Books, 1999, orig. pub. 1998.
Length:    438 pages
Format:    Paperback
Series:     Cork O'Connor #1
Setting:    Minnesota
Genre:     Mystery
Source:   I bought my copy.

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Six Degrees of Separation from A Christmas Carol to Mr. Ive's Christmas


The Six Degrees of Separation meme is hosted by Kate at booksaremyfavoriteandbest. The idea behind the meme is to start with a book and use common points between two books to end up with links to six other books, forming a chain. Every month she provides the title of a book as the starting point.

The starting point this month is A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, thus this is a perfect first post for December. I am sure I have read this story long ago, but then maybe I am just familiar with film adaptations. (My favorite is Scrooged with Bill Murray.) I do have the illustrated edition pictured here, and I will be reading it this month.

For my first link I will make the obvious connection, another book with a Christmas theme.


The Shortest Day by Jane Langton is set in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where Homer and Mary Kelly are teaching a class at Harvard University. Mary is participating in the annual Christmas Revels when a young singer in the event dies in an automobile accident. When other deaths follow, Homer resists getting involved, even though he was once a homicide detective.


I next link to another book featuring an academic setting ... Murder is Academic by Christine Poulson. The UK title is Dead Letters. This is the first book in Poulson's Cassandra James series. Cassandra becomes the Head of the English department at St. Etheldreda's College at the University of Cambridge, after the former Head, a close friend, dies. This is one of my favorite academic mysteries.

I move on to another book set at the University of Cambridge, The Cambridge Theorum. The main character, Derek Smailes, is a police detective assigned to investigate the death of an undergraduate. It is a combination of a police procedural and an espionage novel.


My next choice would be The Becket Factor by Michael David Anthony, which also includes elements of espionage with another subgenre, this time a clerical mystery. Published in 1990, politics, local and national, are also touched on. The main setting for this book is a cathedral, Canterbury Cathedral, and its surroundings, which leads me to another book set in a Cathedral close.

Close Quarters by Michael Gilbert was my first exposure to life in a Cathedral close, which made it doubly interesting. That book was published much earlier, in 1947, and is very much a traditional puzzle-type mystery.


My last book in the chain has even more of a religious emphasis, and takes us back to the Christmas theme. Mr. Ive's Christmas by Oscar Hijuelos is a novel that tells the story of a man's life and the grief he suffers when his son dies in a senseless robbery a few days before Christmas. Mr. Ives' religious beliefs and faith are at the center of this book, but family relationships and friendships are also stressed.

My chain this month began and ended with Christmas stories, and in the middle there were books with academic or ecclesiastical settings. I look forward to seeing the direction of other Six Degrees posts.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

And Be a Villain: Rex Stout

This book, the 13th in the Nero Wolfe series, is the first in a trilogy that features Wolfe's archnemesis, Arnold Zeck. This is a re-read for me, of course. In this story, the characters include a radio talk show host, Madeline Fraser, and her entourage. A guest on the show dies from poisoning, and Wolfe investigates. An enjoyable read, as always.

From the dust jacket...
Motivated by money alone, Nero involves himself in a crime which has been broadcast over a great national network. A leading lady of the microphone interviews a racetrack tout and a professor of mathematics. In the course of the interview, as a plug for one of the sponsors, a noted soft-drink manufacturer, each guest is served a bottle of the beverage. To the astonishment of the radio public, the embarrassment of the soft-drink manufacturer, and the annoyance of the New York Police Department, the racetrack oracle instantly drops dead of cyanide poisoning. How did cyanide get into the drink? And how could anyone be sure that the tout would receive the fatal bottle? Or, for that matter, was the poisoned bottle intended for him at all? 

Nero Wolfe's usual approach to detecting is to work only when he needs money. He often charges so much to work on a case that he can pick and choose when he wants to work. Occasionally he will be motivated by friendship or a feeling of responsibility to investigate, but this is one of those times that he has run out of money and wants to persuade the central figures in the case to hire him. In And Be a Villain, he has multiple clients: the radio personality, and the many sponsors of her show, all of whom want this incident far behind them.

And this is one case where Wolfe really has to work for his money. There are no easy answers, and the perpetrator is very, very clever. The investigation involves a lot of leg work, which Wolfe never does and is even more than Archie can handle. Wolfe tries (somewhat successfully) to use the police to follow up on clues he has found.

As mentioned above, this book is part of the Arnold Zeck trilogy. The two other books that feature that villain are The Second Confession (1949) and In the Best Families (1950). In this book, Wolfe only encounters Zeck at the very end, more like a cameo to whet our interest. The next two novels in the series include more involvement with Zeck. All three were published together in an omnibus, Triple Zeck.

Many fans of this series consider these three books to be some of the best in the series. I do like this one a lot. Usually it is Nero Wolfe's "family" (Archie, his legman; Fritz the cook and Theodore, the gardener; and the stable of freelance investigators) that I enjoy reading about. This time, Madeline Fraser and her employees, sponsors, and devoted fans provide the entertainment, until the deaths continue to mount up. Stout often likes to poke fun at big businesses like the marketing and advertising industries, and he gets a lot of opportunities here.

An interesting tidbit that I had not noticed before:

In the Book Club Edition I read this time, the beverage in question was called Starlite. In later editions, it was called Hi-Spot and that is the name that I remember. I actually did not notice the difference at all until it was pointed out in a review on Goodreads. That review is very good and has lot of insights, other than the issue of the drink name, but it does get into detail about the story, so keep that in mind if you read it.

I found this Wikipedia page that discusses the issues with the different wording for the drink and it appears that the title of the drink went back and forth over various editions:
1948 Viking FE – Hi-Spot;
1948 Viking BCE – Starlite;
1949 Wm. Collins, Crime Club (Great Britain) – Starlite;
1950 Bantam Paperback – Hi-Spot;
1950 Viking BCE/Full House Omnibus – Starlite;
1974 Viking FE/Zeck Trilogy – Hi-Spot;
1975 Severn House (Great Britain) – Starlite;
1994 Bantam Paperback – Hi-Spot

The two different sources give different reasons for the name changes but either way, it was interesting.

See other reviews at:
Bill Crider's Pulp Culture Magazine
Clothes in Books
Noah's Archives
The Passing Tramp
In So Many Words...    (covers all three Arnold Zeck books)


 -----------------------------

Publisher: Viking Press, 1948 (book club ed.)
Length:    216 pages
Format:    Hardcover
Series:     Nero Wolfe
Setting:    New York City
Genre:     Mystery


Sunday, November 25, 2018

Joining the Classics Club

Back in 2016, I posted a list of classic books I wanted to read. At the time I was in the mood to have a loose goal, an open-ended personal project to read more "classics." Since then I have read 10 of the books on that list and written about 8 of those.

Recently I decided I wanted to revise the list, and make it official by joining The Classics Club, an online group that focuses on reading classics and posting about books read. The main requirements are to create a list of at least 50 classic titles that I plan to read and blog about within the next five years.

So here is the new list, now with about 70 titles.  Since I am posting this on November 25, 2018, my goal date to have finished all the titles is November 25, 2023.

Chinua Achebe – Things Fall Apart (1958)
Louisa May Alcott – Little Women (1868)
Margery Allingham – Tiger in the Smoke (1952)
Isaac Asimov – Foundation (1951)
Jane Austen – Sense and Sensibility (1811)
Vicki Baum – Grand Hotel (1929)
Nicholas Blake – The Beast Must Die (1938)
Ray Bradbury – The Martian Chronicles (1950)
Ray Bradbury – Fahrenheit 451 (1953)
Anne Bronte – Agnes Grey (1847)
Charlotte Bronte – Jane Eyre (1847)
Mikhail Bulgarov – The Master and Margarita (1967)
James Cain – The Postman Always Rings Twice (1934)
Albert Camus –  The Stranger (1942)
Truman Capote – Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1958)
Lewis Carroll – Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1865)
Willa Cather –  My Ántonia (1918)
Raymond Chandler – The Long Goodbye (1953)
Agatha Christie – And Then There Were None  (1939)
Roald Dahl – Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (1964)
Charles Dickens – Bleak House (1853)
Charles Dickens – A Christmas Carol (1843)
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle – The Sign of the Four (1890)
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle – Adventures of Sherlock Holmes  (1892)
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle – The Hound of the Baskervilles (1902)
Daphne du Maurier – Rebecca (1938)
John Meade Falkner – The Nebuly Coat (1903)
Edna Ferber – Giant (1952)
Edna Ferber – Show Boat (1926)
F. Scott Fitzgerald – The Great Gatsby (1925)
Ford Madox Ford – The Good Soldier (1915)
Kenneth Grahame –  The Wind in the Willows (1908)
Stella Gibbons – Cold Comfort Farm (1932)
Graham Greene – Our Man in Havana (1958)
Graham Greene – The Quiet American (1955)
Dashiell Hammett – Red Harvest (1929)
Robert A. Heinlein –  Stranger in a Strange Land (1961)
Patricia Highsmith – The Talented Mr.Ripley (1955)
Dorothy B. Hughes – In A Lonely Place (1947)
Victor Hugo  – Les Misérables (1862)
Zora Neale Hurston – Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937)
Christopher Isherwood – Goodbye to Berlin (1939)
Shirley Jackson – We Have Always Lived in the Castle (1962)
Madeleine L'Engle – A Wrinkle in Time (1962)
Ira Levin – A Kiss Before Dying (1953)
Carson McCullers – The Heart is a Lonely Hunter (1940)
Margaret Millar – Beast In View (1955)
Nancy Mitford – The Pursuit of Love (1945)
Walker Percy – The Moviegoer (1961)
J. D. Salinger – Catcher in the Rye (1951)
J. D. Salinger – Franny and Zooey (1961)
Dorothy l. Sayers – The Nine Tailors (1934)
William Shakespeare – Much Ado About Nothing (1598)
Mary Shelley – Frankenstein (1818)
Nevil Shute – On the Beach (1957)
Betty Smith – A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (1943)
Dodie Smith – I Capture the Castle (1948)
Muriel Spark – The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1961)
John Steinbeck – Cannery Row (1945)
Robert Louis Stevenson – The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1886)
Bram Stoker – Dracula (1897)
William Thackeray – Vanity Fair (1848)
James Thurber – The 13 Clocks (1950)
Leo Tolstoy – Anna Karenina (1878)
Anthony Trollope – The Warden (1855)
Kurt Vonnegut – Slaughterhouse-Five  (1955)
H. G. Wells –  The Invisible Man (1897)
Eudora Welty – The Optimist's Daughter (1972)
Oscar Wilde – The Picture of Dorian Gray (1890)
Virginia Woolf – Flush (1933)

The definition of a classic is pretty much up to the person creating the list. My list is still primarily works of fiction that were published over 50 years ago that have "stood the test of time." I removed some titles, adding more titles. I did add one title that was published in 1972, so not quite 50 years old. Because the number of titles is greater, I also increased the number of classic crime fiction, science fiction, and fantasy books.

The club acknowledges that readers may want to change the list around over time, and it is allowable to "switch up the titles on your list after you post it, at any time during the duration of your challenge."

How to join the Classics Club



Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Blood and Rubles: Stuart M. Kaminsky

The Inspector Rostnikov series began in 1981 when Russia was still part of the USSR; the 16th and  last book in the series was published in 2009. I am now at book 10 in the series. The protagonist is a metropolitan police detective in Moscow. Per the description on the dust jacket:
Crime in post-communist Russia has only gotten worse: rubles are scarce; blood, plentiful. In the eyes of Inspector Porfiry Rostnikov and his metropolitan police team, newfound democracy has unleashed the desperation that pushes people over the edge, and has emboldened those already on the path to hell. ...A trio of nasty cases confirms their worst fears.
The major case involves a Mafia shoot-out at a cafe; several innocent bystanders are killed or injured, and one of the dead is someone important to Inspector Emil Karpo. An American FBI agent, a Black man who can speak Russian, is assigned to the team to observe and help with this case. The second assignment involves three young boys who are robbing and beating people in their neighborhood, and another member of the team works on the disappearance of valuable artifacts.

Inspector Rostnikov is the center of each novel. He has a leg injury suffered during military service, which causes him pain and inconvenience in his job. He reads Ed McBain novels. His wife is Jewish, which has also caused problems with his job. His grown son is fighting in Afghanistan when the series begins.

There are several police colleagues on Rostnikov's team who have recurring roles. Their relationships play a part in each novel.


Inspector Emil Karpo, known as "the Vampire," is cold and forbidding, almost robotic in his behavior. He has always supported Communism and still does, even after the change in government in Russia after the breakdown of the Soviet Union. As the series progresses, he  becomes more human and thus a more interesting character.

This series is intriguing because of the picture of life in Russia during this interesting period. Rostnikov's strongest characteristic is his support of his staff in the face of the continuing changes in Russia and his ability to get the best out of them. He recognizes their differences and their gifts.

For me, the criminal plots are less important than the interactions of all the characters, yet each subplot is interesting, if sometimes depressing.

This series is best read in order; the characters grow and their lives change from book to book.

Stuart M. Kaminsky (September 29, 1934 – October 9, 2009) was an American mystery writer and film professor. He was a very prolific writer, and he is known for four long-running series of mystery novels. Two of the series feature police detectives, the Inspector Rostnikov series and the Abe Lieberman series. The other two series are about private detectives; the Toby Peters series is set in 1940's Hollywood and the Lew Fonescu series is set in Florida. The Toby Peters series is the longest and those mysteries are humorous; the other series are more serious in tone, sometimes dark. Kaminsky received the 1989 Edgar Award for Best Novel for A Cold Red Sunrise, the fifth novel in the Inspector Rostnikov series.

Many of Stuart Kaminsky's books are available through MysteriousPress.com/Open Road in e-book format or in trade paperback.

 -----------------------------

Publisher:  Fawcett Columbine, 1996
Length:      257 pages
Format:     Hardcover
Series:      Inspector Rostnikov, #10
Setting:     Moscow
Genre:      Police Procedural
Source:     I purchased my copy

Sunday, November 18, 2018

The Water Rat of Wanchai: Ian Hamilton

Ava Lee is a forensic accountant and this story finds her working for a family friend, usually referred to as Uncle. Together they track down large sums of money for their clients. In The Water Rat of Wanchai, Uncle has contracted with the nephew of an old friend to recover five million dollars that has gone missing after he provided financing for a seafood company's operations.


Goodreads currently has a very detailed overview for the Ava Lee series. From that overview:
Methodical. Resourceful. Courageous. Determined. Strong. Confident. 
Ava Lee is a young Chinese-Canadian forensic accountant who specializes in recovering massive debts that aren’t likely to be recovered through traditional methods. 
In the first book of the Ava Lee series, The Water Rate of Wanchai, her character takes shape through learning about her traditional Chinese upbringing, her family dynamic and the people that are most important to Ava.
I am always surprised when a male author does a good (and thorough) job with clothing. Here Ava meets the sister of the new client at a dim sum restaurant in Toronto:
She was tall for a Chinese woman, and made taller still by stiletto heels that looked as if they were made from the finest, most supple red leather. The silk blouse was worn with a pair of black linen slacks and a gold belt with the Chanel logo on the buckle. Her eyebrows were plucked into two thin lines and her face was caked with makeup. And even from a distance Ava could see the jewellery: enormous diamond stud earrings, two rings — one looked like a three-carat diamond, the other was carved green jade surrounded by rubies — and a crucifix encrusted with diamonds and emeralds. The only thing that marred the picture of a perfect Hong Kong princess was her hair, which was pulled back and secured demurely at the nape of her neck with a plain black elastic. 
Ava stood and waved in her direction. The woman’s eyes settled on her, and in them Ava read — what? Disappointment? Recognition? Maybe she hadn’t been expecting a woman. Maybe she hadn’t been expecting one dressed in a black Giordano T-shirt and Adidas track pants.
I haven't said a lot about the story. It is complex, and tracking the missing money takes Ava to many different countries. She spends time in Hong Kong, Thailand, Guyana, and British Virgin Islands. Each place that she spends any significant amount of time in is described in great detail. In this book, Guyana is depicted as an incredibly unattractive place to visit or live. I hardly knew its location, let alone the living conditions in the country. (I am incredibly lacking in knowledge of geography, but eager to learn more.)

Petite Ava Lee is the last woman one would expect to be able to "kick ass" but looks are deceiving. She has training in the martial arts, and can take care of herself. I love a strong female character; Ava Lee is capable and intelligent. I found the history of the large Chinese population in Toronto especially interesting; also the comparison of Ava's role within her family vs. the dynamics of her job.

As far as the plot, the story was a bit over the top but it engaged me so much I will be coming back for more. Action-packed and fast-paced.

This is my first book for the 12th Annual Canadian Book Challenge.

See other reviews at Mysteries and More from Saskatchewan and Confessions of a Mystery Novelist...


 -----------------------------

Publisher:   Picador, 2015 (orig. publ. 2011)
Length:       390 pages
Format:      Trade paperback
Series:       Ava Lee #1
Setting:      Toronto, Canada
Genre:       Thriller
Source:      Purchased at the Planned Parenthood book sale, 2018.


Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Death on the Nile: Agatha Christie

Death on the Nile is the 15th novel in the Hercule Poirot series. I have been reading the books -- within each series -- in order when possible, but this time I skipped ahead three books to this one so I could watch the movie version (from 1978).

From the back of my paperback edition:
Linnet Doyle is young, beautiful, and rich. She's the girl who has everything--including the man her best friend loves. Linnet and her new husband take a cruise on the Nile, where they meet the brilliant detective Hercule Poirot. It should be an idyllic trip, yet Poirot has a vague, uneasy feeling that something is dangerously amiss...
The first section of the book (very brief) sets up the story, introducing the varied group of people who will end up taking a cruise on the Nile.

I enjoyed the last Poirot book that I read, Death in the Clouds, but I liked this one even more. It was a good bit darker. The death occurs on the cruise in an enclosed environment, and Hercule Poirot, along with his old friend Colonel Race, must solve the mystery.

What did I like?


  • I have a fondness for Colonel Race (in The Man in the Brown Suit, which also involves a luxury cruise) and I liked that he has a significant role here. 
  • In Death in the Clouds, Poirot talks about the psychology of crime and that is also a big element here. 
  • There was a large cast of interesting characters, thus lots of suspects. I did figure out who did it way in advance but still Christie kept me wondering ... all the way through the book. I love the way she does that.
  • There were many mysteries beyond just the normal whodunit. A lot of the relationships and the reasons for people taking the trip were questionable and had me wondering. A perfect mystery in that respect.



I think the Poirot books are just getting better and better. I look forward to getting back to the three I skipped:  Murder in Mesopotamia (1936); Cards on the Table (1936); and Dumb Witness (1937), aka Poirot Loses a Client. But sometime soon I will also move ahead to Evil Under the Sun, because I want to watch the movie based on that book.

The Film Adaptation


I watched the 1978 film with Peter Ustinov as Poirot. I think he is a fine Poirot. The back cover (above) shows the most prominent stars in the cast, which include: Maggie Smith, Angela Lansbury, Bette Davis, Mia Farrow, Olivia Hussey, David Niven, George Kennedy and Jack Warden. Some of the main roles are played by actors I was less familiar with but they were good in their roles: Lois Chiles as Linnet and Simon MacCorkindale as Simon, her husband.

I preferred the book over the movie because of the depth of the characterizations  and the details of relationships in the book, even though Christie did keep some of the motivations vague in order to heighten the suspense. In the movie, some of the minor characters changed or disappeared from the story entirely. But the movie was very entertaining and I liked all the actors and how they portrayed the characters.

See reviews at A Crime is Afoot (with lots of links to other reviews), Classics Mysteries, Vintage Pop Fictions, and Clothes in Books.


 -----------------------------

Publisher:   HarperPaperbacks, 1992 (orig. pub. 1937)
Length:       313 pages
Format:      Paperback
Series:       Hercule Poirot #15
Setting:      Egypt
Genre:       Mystery
Source:      I purchased my copies.



Saturday, November 10, 2018

The Polish Officer / Lumen

Two Novels set in Poland in World War II


In February of this year I read two novels set in Poland: The Polish Officer by Alan Furst, published in 1995, and Lumen by Ben Pastor, published in 1999. Both covered roughly the same time period, 1939 - 1941.

The Polish Officer


The Polish officer of the title is recruited into the Polish underground after Poland is invaded by
Germany in 1939.

This is the summary at Alan Furst's website:
September 1939. As Warsaw falls to Hitler’s Wehrmacht, Captain Alexander de Milja is recruited by the intelligence service of the Polish underground. His mission: to transport the national gold reserve to safety, hidden on a refugee train to Bucharest. Then, in the back alleys and black-market bistros of Paris, in the tenements of Warsaw, with partizan guerrillas in the frozen forests of the Ukraine, and at Calais Harbor during an attack by British bombers, de Milja fights in the war of the shadows in a world without rules, a world of danger, treachery, and betrayal.
As you can see from that description, a lot of the book takes place in other countries, and especially in France.

I was surprised by this book. It was drier than the first two books in the Night Soldiers series, and it felt more like a history than fiction. I liked the story but the characters did not grab me, not even the main character. Furst is very strong on research and the story feels very authentic.

Many fans of Alan Furst's books consider this their favorite, so I think I am in a minority in my opinion. It doesn't deter me from moving on to the next one in the series, though. I plan to read the whole series of historical espionage novels that he has written. (They are only loosely a series. There are some recurring characters and some books are connected, but most of them are stand alone stories.)

Lumen 


Immediately after reading The Polish Officer, I started reading Lumen. The books were a perfect pair. I learned a lot about Poland during the time period from Alan Furst's book, and that knowledge made this an easier and more interesting read.

The protagonist of Ben Pastor's novel is a Wehrmacht captain in Intelligence, Martin Bora, stationed in Cracow during the Nazi occupation of Poland. He is tasked with investigating the death of a nun. Father Malecki is in Cracow to investigate Mother Kazimierza's prophetic powers. He is ordered to stay and assist in the inquiry into her killing. Thus the two men must work together. The story is about solving the mystery of her death, but also is about much more, including the treatment of the citizens of Poland during the occupation. 

Reading a book set during World War II with a German officer as the protagonist is challenging. Bora has doubts about some of the atrocities carried out by other groups of soldiers, but he is committed to the Nazi cause. At times the story seems fragmented because of the focus moving from murder investigation to war time activities, but that is realistic. I was more interested in the picture of the times, seeing the activities from a different point of view, than I was in the mystery plot.

I will definitely take the opportunity to read the second book in this series, should I find a copy. I found it very good reading and I always like to read about the events of World War II. But this book stands alone pretty well.

Further reading on these books:




Wednesday, November 7, 2018

The Birthday Murder: Lange Lewis

I got the idea for a birthday-related post from Richard Robinson at Tip the Wink. Two weeks ago, he posted a review of The Happy Birthday Murder by Lee Harris on his birthday. Because my birthday was earlier this week, I decided to follow up by reading and reviewing The Birthday Murder by Lange Lewis.


Victoria Jason Hime is a successful screen writer and novelist. Her most recent novel, Ina Hart, has been bought by a film studio and her second husband, Albert Hime, who is a producer for B films, may get the opportunity to produce the film version, which will be quite a coup for him.

The afternoon we meet Victoria, she has three visitors at her lovely home in Beverly Hills. The first is Moira Hastings, an actress who very much wants the title role in the new film. Victoria thinks she is much too young for the part.

Next is Bernice Saxe, who has been Victoria's closest friend for many, many years, since they were in school together. This afternoon Bernice is seeking counseling for her relationship problems. She wants to leave her husband for a man who cannot support her and isn't really interested in a relationship. Victoria, of course, tries to dissuade her from that course.

Later Sawn Harriss, Victoria's first husband, shows up out of the blue, ten years after their divorce. One gets the feeling that he would like to take up where they left off, but he had not realized that she is currently married.

In the evening, Albert and Victoria share a dinner that the maid, Hazel, has prepared in advance. This is a Thursday ritual, because it is Hazel's day off. They have a pleasant evening alone. And the following day will be Victoria's 35th birthday.

Unfortunately, Victoria wakes up on the morning of her birthday to find her husband dead in his bedroom. The cause of death is ant poison, and this mirrors the plot in Victoria's novel. Lieutenant Tuck investigates the crime, but takes nothing for granted. His partner is E. Byron Froody, devoted to following up on details, the perfect legman.


I enjoyed this story immensely, and especially the setup, getting to know the characters. The story is revealed primarily from Victoria's point of view, as she takes in what has happened in her life and realizes that the evidence points to her as the murderer. But each character has issues and prejudices that affect the outcome, although we don't get really close to anyone else in the story. The book felt very modern to me, possibly because there were many surprisingly current attitudes expressed.

The ending totally surprised me, but was consistent with the story and the clues. Although a lot was made of where the poison had come from and who had opportunities and such, it was really all of the interactions of the various characters that kept me engaged with the story.

I had forgotten that Lange Lewis was a pseudonym for Jane Lewis Brandt. She wrote four other mysteries and I believe they all feature Lieutenant Tuck. See other reviews at Clothes in Books, Tipping My Fedora, and Ed Gorman's Blog.

My paperback edition is a wonderful copy; it is a Dell mapback AND the front cover features the hand of a skeleton.


 -----------------------------

Publisher: Dell, 1945.
Length:    192 pages
Format:    Paperback
Series:     Lieutenant Tuck
Setting:    Los Angeles, California 
Genre:      Mystery, Police Procedural
Source:    I purchased this book in 2014.

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Reading Summary, October 2018


I read eleven books this month. One book was a re-read. One book was a fantasy, the rest were crime fiction. About half the books I read were vintage mysteries. I started one new (to me) series, and continued a few more recent series that I am glad I returned to.

FANTASY FICTION


The Halloween Tree (1972) by Ray Bradbury
This book is described as being both as fantasy and horror fiction. I would  categorize it more as spooky, not so much horror. I was initially attracted to this book because of it cover. It is a  charming children's book that I can see myself re-reading every Halloween. My thoughts are here.

CRIME FICTION reads in October:


Behind That Curtain (1928) by Earl Derr Biggers
My first book in October was a return to the Charlie Chan series. Although there were many Charlie Chan movies released in the 1930's and 40's, there were only six novels in the series. This one is set in San Francisco, and Charlie meets a retired Inspector from Scotland Yard, Sir Frederic Bruce, who has come to the US to continue the investigation of a case he was never able to solve. My husband and I are both fans of this series.  

The Case of the Weird Sisters (1943) by Charlotte Armstrong
I picked up quite a few books by Armstrong at the 2017 Planned Parenthood book sale, but I had not read any of them. Colm Redmond's review at Clothes in Books motivated me to read this one. I remember Armstrong's books as being just a bit more creepy and weird than I like but this one was "pleasantly creepy" as described on the cover.
The Book of the Dead (1944) by Elizabeth Daly
I remember Elizabeth Daly as one of my favorite authors from the 1940's, but it had been a long time since I had read one of her books. I was glad to find that I still enjoy her writing. My review here.
The Mirror Crack'd (1962) by Agatha Christie
This is a Miss Marple mystery and I always enjoy a visit with that elderly sleuth. This time Miss Marple is really feeling her age, which made me sad. But her wits are just as sharp as ever and I liked the picture of the changing times in St. Mary's Mead, with a new housing development and more modern shops.
The Water Rat of Wanchai (2011) by Ian Hamilton
This is the most current book that I read this month. Ava Lee is a forensic accountant who works for a family friend, Mr. Chow, who she calls Uncle. Ava is Chinese-Canadian, living in Toronto, but Uncle is based in Hong Kong. Together they track down large sums of money for their clients. I found this story to be a bit over the top but it engaged me so much I will be coming back for more. A book by a Canadian author with a setting initially in Toronto, but later the action moves to many other parts of the world. 
And Be a Villain (1948) by Rex Stout
This book, the 13th in the Nero Wolfe series, is the first in a trilogy that features Wolfe's archnemesis, Arnold Zeck. This is a re-read for me, of course. In this case, the characters are a radio talk show host, Madeline Fraser, and her entourage. A guest on the show dies from poisoning, and Wolfe investigates. An enjoyable read, as always.
His Burial Too (1973) by Catherine Aird
This is the fifth installment in the Inspector C.D. Sloan book series by Catherine Aird. The novels are set in the fictional County of Calleshire, England, and also feature Sloan's assistant, Detective Constable Crosby. Although Sloan usually tries to avoid working with Crosby because he is generally inept. There is always an element of humor in the stories, although it is not prominent. I must mention here that this is a locked room mystery, since I forgot to say that in my review.
A Colder Kind of Death (1994) by Gail Bowen
The fourth mystery in the Joanne Kilbourn series. This book won the Arthur Ellis award for Best Novel in 1995. At this point in the series, Joanne is a widow, with older children, but now raising an adopted child, the daughter of a close friend who died. She is an educator who is deeply involved in politics. In this book, the man who killed her husband a few years earlier has been shot and killed while in prison, and the fallout from that event reveals secrets and surprises for Joanne. Another book by a Canadian author, set in Saskatchewan.
The Shortest Day (1995) by Jane Langton
The 11th book in the Homer Kelly series. This story is set in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where Homer and Mary Kelly are teaching a class at Harvard University. Mary is participating in the annual Christmas Revels when a young singer in the event dies in an automobile accident. When other deaths follow, Homer resists getting involved, even though he was once a homicide detective. This book centers around the production of the Revels and an activist group seeking housing for the homeless; the author illustrated the story with her own pen and ink drawings. 
Blood and Rubles (1996) by Stuart M. Kaminsky
The Inspector Rostnikov series began in 1981 when Russia was still part of the USSR; the 16th and  last book in the series was published in 2009. I am now at book 10 in the series. The protagonist is Moscow detective, Chief Inspector, Porfiry Rostnikov. Per the book cover: "Crime in post-communist Russia has only gotten worse: rubles are scarce; blood, plentiful. In the eyes of Inspector Porfiry Rostnikov and his metropolitan police team, newfound democracy has unleashed the desperation that pushes people over the edge, and has emboldened those already on the path to hell. ...A trio of nasty cases confirms their worst fears."

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

The Halloween Tree: Ray Bradbury

I was alerted to this book by Scott Parker at Do Some Damage. And if you know how much I love skulls (and skeletons) on book covers, you will understand what drew my attention. The illustration by Leo and Diane Dillon on the dust jacket is just gorgeous. I was familiar with the Dillons as illustrators of children's books, but I was amazed to see how many adult books had cover illustrations by the couple. The interior illustrations are by Joseph Mugnaini, who was also responsible for the cover illustration of the first edition of this book.

The book has an unusual history. Bradbury wrote a script for MGM at the request of Chuck Jones, for a planned animated film. The film was not produced so Bradbury wrote a novelization of the script and published it in 1972. Then, in the early 1990's, an animated film based on the book was released  by Hanna-Barbera. And up until ten days ago, I had never heard of the book or the film.


Eight boys go out trick-or-treating on Halloween, but their friend Pipkin is not feeling well enough to join them. He promises to meet them at a haunted house where they instead encounter an odd man, Carapace Clavicle Moundshroud. And a huge tree filled with pumpkins. The story is a combination of two quests:  a journey through several countries to see different versions of the Halloween story and to find Pipkin, who keeps eluding them. I especially like that the last country visited is Mexico and El Dia de Los Muertos. Before that they visit mummies in Egypt, Rome, Greece, medieval Britain, and gargoyles at Notre Dame in Paris.

I am sure that I am not the first person to wish that this book had included some girls. But that is a minor complaint; I suppose it was a product of its times? Although, in 1972 I was just out of college and planning to have a career, and even then I would have wanted some girls in the book. The adaptation decreased the number of children to three boys and a girl. But I have never seen the film.

The writing in this book is often like poetry and the story would make a great read-aloud for adults and children. This is not a perfect book, but it is a lovely way to celebrate Halloween.


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

Publisher:   Alfred A. Knopf, 2007 (orig. publ. 1972)
Length:       145 pages
Format:       Hardcover
Genre:        Fantasy
Source:       I purchased this book.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

12th Annual Canadian Book Challenge

I am joining the 12th Annual Canadian  Book Challenge. I participated in the 6th Canadian  Book Challenge in 2012-13, the 7th in 2013-14, and the 8th in 2014-15. Now I am back to read more of the Canadian books on my shelves. And now the challenge is hosted by The Indextrious Reader.

What is the Canadian Book Challenge?

Created by John Mutford at the Book Mine Set and hosted by him for its first 10 years, the Canadian Book Challenge is an annual online reading challenge in which participants from Canada and around the world aim to read and review 13 or more Canadian books in a one year span: Canada Day to Canada Day. Reviews must be posted online and participants are asked to share links to their reviews with other participants.

What constitutes a Canadian book?

Canadian books can include any genre or form (picture books, poetry, novels, non-fiction, plays, anthologies, graphic novels, cookbooks, etc), can be written by Canadian authors (by birth or immigration) or about Canadians. Ultimately, participants must decide for themselves whether or not something fits the description of Canadian.

See the FAQ sheet for more information.

I dithered over whether to join in, hence I am joining in the 4th month of the challenge. As noted above, this challenge does require reviews, because one of the points of the challenge is to bring  attention to Canadian books. This may be my downfall because getting a review out in a timely manner is sometimes a problem, but I hope not.

One of the nice things about this challenge is that it runs from July 1 (Canada Day) of the current year to June 30 of the next year. Thus when other challenges are ending, this one still has 6 months to go.

I have a lot of Canadian books already in my TBR stacks to read. In September, I found a Canadian book I have been looking for at the Planned Parenthood book sale, and I have already read it (The Water Rat of Wanchai by Ian Hamilton). This month I also read the fourth book in Gail Bowen's  Joanne Kilbourn series. So I have a two book start once I get my reviews written.

And the challenge gave me a push toward finding a copy of a book I have been wanting to read for two years now: The Tin Flute by Gabrielle Roy. I have ordered a copy and it is on the way to me. I have several mysteries by Margaret Millar I want to read, and three novels from the Ricochet series of vintage noir mysteries published by Véhicule Press: The Long November by James Benson Nablo, Hot Freeze by Douglas Sanderson; and The Keys Of My Prison by Frances Shelley Rees.

All of the books mentioned in the previous paragraph were recommended by Brian Busby, editor of Ricochet Books and author of the blog: The Dusty Bookcase (A Journey through Canada's Forgotten, Neglected and Suppressed Writing).

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

His Burial Too: Catherine Aird

Richard Tindall, of Strothers and Tindall (Precision, Investigation, and Development Engineers), is missing. He wasn't in his bed when his daughter got up and it looked like he never returned home the night before. He isn't at his office. And then a body is found in a church tower under the wreckage of a huge sculpture which had been temporarily stored in the tower. And thus begins a mystery with a very complex solution.

Inspector C.D. Sloan is sent to investigate, and takes along Detective Inspector Crosby, who often (always?) features in these stories. Crosby is generally inept and not much help in the investigation; he is good with cars but that is about all. Sloan is unusually grumpy with Crosby's foibles in this book, or so it seemed to me.

I found the story especially interesting because Tindall's company is involved in research and development in the scientific area, there are other businesses competing to buy the company, and the staff is somewhat eccentric. There are many suspects and red herrings. I did not catch any clues to the killer but I did have an inkling who it was, probably just because I read so many mysteries.

The writing itself is not spectacular but I enjoyed the story all the same. It must be the characters, her way of developing the plot, and the humor that keeps me coming back for more.

There were some good clothes descriptions also, that tell the reader something about the characters. Here Inspector Sloan meets Fenella, Richard Tindall's daughter, for the first time.
There was something a little unexpected about her appearance—almost foreign. ... 
It was high summer in England and this girl was wearing brown. Not a floral silk pattern, not a cheerful cotton, nor even a pastel linen such as his own wife, Margaret, was wearing today. And dark brown. It was a simple, utterly plain dress, unadorned save for a solitary string of white beads. 
He was surprised to note that the whole effect was strangely cool-looking There was the faintest touch of auburn in the colouring of her hair which was replicated in the brown of the dress. A purist might have said that her mouth was rather too big to be perfect but ...  
Sloan wasn't a purist. He was a policeman. On duty. He took a step forward. 

I have now read five of the Sloan and Crosby series by Catherine Aird, and I can say that she is one of my favorite mystery writers. Some of the books in this series are more serious, although they all have elements of humor. I would put Henrietta Who? and A Late Phoenix in that category. Also The Religious Body which I read before blogging. For that book, see this Spotlight by Margot at Confessions of a Mystery Novelist... This book and The Stately Home Murder are more on the lighter side,  emphasizing the wit and humor more.

See other reviews at Clothes in Books, Tipping My Fedora, and Classic Mysteries.

 -----------------------------

Publisher:   Rue Morgue Press, 2009 (orig. pub. 1973)
Length:      159 pages
Format:      Hardcover
Series:       Inspector Sloan #5
Setting:      UK (Calleshire, fictional county)
Genre:       Police procedural
Source:      I purchased this book.


Wednesday, October 17, 2018

1944 Club: The Book of the Dead by Elizabeth Daly


I am a long-time fan of the mystery novels of Elizabeth Daly. She wrote 16 books in a series starring Henry Gamadge, an expert in rare books and manuscripts. Over the past few years, I finally found copies of the last three books of hers that I had not read. The Book of the Dead, 8th  in the series, was one of them.

The story is set in the summer of 1943, and New York City is experiencing a heat wave. In the first chapter we meet a very sick man, Howard Crenshaw, who is being cared for by Pike, a man he met in Vermont when settling his uncle's estate. He has recently found out that his illness is fatal and he will die soon.

In the next chapter, a young woman, Idelia Fisher, visits Henry Gamadge and asks if he can help her find out what was once scribbled in the margins of an old edition of some plays of Shakespeare. That edition belonged to Howard Crenshaw; he had brought it with him on his visit to Vermont, and Crenshaw and Idelia had struck up a friendship while he was there. When he left Vermont without saying goodbye to Idelia and she found the book in his house, she wanted to return the book to him. Although she has no real reason to be worried or suspicious about the situation, she wants to know what was erased from the pages of the book.

Gamadge is glad to help Idelia and the steps they take lead to him getting involved with a case of murder. He ends up going to Vermont to check out Crenshaw's actions while he was there.

This book was published in 1944 and as such shows us some of the culture and life in the US in wartime. The war is not mentioned a lot in the book. Gamadge is doing "war work" and his assistant is off in the Marines. Gas is scarce and cars are not used so much for transportation due to the shortage. Other than that, we just get a very good picture of the times. Women wearing hats; doctors who make home visits.

And, since I have mentioned 1944, I will note here that this book is submitted for the 1944 club, hosted by Kaggsy at Kaggsy’s Bookish Ramblings and Simon at Stuck in a Book. Also, for Friday's Forgotten Books at pattinase, Patricia Abbott's blog.

My reactions to the book:

As I mentioned above, many years ago I had read 13 of the Henry Gamadge books and I liked them a lot. Coming to more of Daly's books after so many years, I wondered if I would still like the series. I must have read most of the Elizabeth Daly books in the 1970s and 1980s, and at that time the 1940's did not seem so long ago. I think I enjoyed reading about New York and the life of the upper class characters, something I knew nothing about. And in this reading, I still found Gamadge and his investigations good reading.

In this book, Gamadge has a definite idea of what is going on but keeps it to himself. I find that somewhat irritating (in general) but as long as the story is interesting and entertaining, it is not a deal killer for me. (Rex Stout does that sometimes in the Nero Wolfe stories, and I love all of his books.)

I like the author's writing style and the characters she has created. Gamadge is a very likable person and there are many interesting secondary characters. Gamadge is very prominent in this story; hardly anyone else has a large role, yet he carries the story very well. And he is determined to solve the crime.

I was very surprised at the ending of the story, the resolution to the crime and how it was carried out. I think there must have been clues, because I kept feel like something did not make sense to the story, but I never noticed them. I don't mind that kind of story; solving a puzzle myself is not my primary goal when reading mysteries. I can enjoy just following the thread of the story and watching out for red herrings, of which there are plenty here.

So, all and all, a very pleasurable reading experience. I have two more books to read (Deadly Nightshade and Murders in Volume 2) before having completed the series, then I will reread the other books.

Other resources:


This book has been reprinted by Felony & Mayhem in trade paperback and is available in e-book format.


 -----------------------------

Publisher:  Bantam Books, 1948. Orig. pub. 1944.
Length:     185 pages
Format:     Paperback
Series:      Henry Gamadge, #8
Setting:     New York, Vermont
Genre:       Mystery
Source:     I purchased my copy.