Wednesday, May 15, 2019

The Iron Gates: Margaret Millar

I especially like Margaret Millar's crime fiction novels because they are different. The focus is on the psychological aspects of crime, and often the characters are strange and quirky (but not in a comical way). Reading her books adds more variety to my reading.

The Iron Gates is the second novel featuring Inspector Sands and one of Millar's earlier novels. Her novels did not feature recurring characters often but the ones I have read appeal to me.

The story starts with Lucille Morrow coming down to breakfast to join her family. She is very pleased and satisfied with her married life. Her second husband, Andrew, a doctor, is devoted to her, but her step-children, Polly and Martin, have never warmed to her, even though they were very young when their first mother died and Andrew and Lucille married. One morning a stranger delivers a package for Lucille, and shortly after that, she disappears. Andrew reports her as missing, and Inspector Sands is assigned to find her. Coincidentally, Inspector Sands also took part in the investigation of the death of Andrew's first wife. We take a circuitous (but rewarding) path to discover why she disappeared.

This is a book of psychological suspense more than a puzzle, but there are mysteries to be solved. What happened to Marian Morrow, Andrew's first wife. Why did the contents of the package drive Lucille to disappear? And more deaths follow. How and why?

Margaret Millar draws very interesting characters. Even small roles are well-defined. Giles, Polly's boyfriend and soon to be husband, extracts himself from the family until he can understand what is going on. He senses unacknowledged emotions buried beneath the surface. Although the police do not have a large role in this story, several of them have interesting back stories, and I really liked the character of Inspector Sands (as I did in Wall of Eyes).

Also of interest is the wartime setting. The book was published in 1945 and is set during the war. Polly's fiancé is in the military, soon to be sent overseas, and, due to the draft, there is a shortage of men available to work on the police force.

Margaret Millar was born, raised, and educated in Canada. Some of her books were set in Canada, and some were set in Southern California, where she lived most of her adult life with her husband Kenneth Millar, also known as Ross Macdonald. This book was set in Toronto, Canada, and uses that setting very well.

From Brian Busby's review in The Dusty Bookcase:
Margaret Millar's sixth novel, The Iron Gates, was the one that really made her. With the proceeds of its sale she bought a house in Santa Barbara, sharing it with her husband Kenneth, far from the cold of Canadian winters past.
See also:


Publisher: Dell, 1960 (orig. pub. 1945).
Length:    222 
Format:    Paperback (D-332)
Series:     Inspector Sands #2
Setting:    Toronto, Canada
Genre:     Mystery, Police Procedural
Source:    I purchased this book in 2015.

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Reading Summary for April 2019

In April, all my reading was related to the crime fiction genre. One non-fiction book about Scandinavian crime fiction. Of the fiction books, four were published between 1985 and 2002, so nothing very recent. One book published before 1900, and two books published in the 1930's.

Mystery reference

Death in a Cold Climate: A Guide to Scandinavian Crime Fiction (2012)
by Barry Forshaw
The book covers the authors thoughts about crime fiction authors whose books have been translated to English from these countries: Sweden, Norway, Iceland, Denmark, and Finland. Sweden gets the most coverage and I suppose that reflects that more Swedish authors have been translated. Most of the coverage is for current authors, although earlier translated works by Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö are discussed. No way to give a good overview of this in one paragraph. I will read any book on mystery reference, and I learned a lot from this one.

Crime Fiction

The Shortest Way to Hades (1985) by Sarah Caudwell
The Hilary Tamar series centers around a group of young barristers who often seek Hilary's help when they run into trouble. This is book 2 in the series. See my review here.
Tarnished Icons (1997) by Stuart Kaminsky
This is the eleventh novel in Stuart Kaminsky's Inspector Porfiry Rostnikov series, set in Russia in the late 1990's. The prolific Kaminsky is one of my favorite authors. See my review here.

Save the Last Dance for Me (2002) by Ed Gorman
This entertaining and nostalgic book takes us back to the summer of 1960, when John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon were running for President. It is the fourth of ten books starring Sam McCain, a young and not very successful lawyer in Black River Falls, Iowa. In need of money, he often works as an investigator for District Judge Esme Anne Whitney, who is rich and influential in their community. As the book begins, McCain is attending a religious service with the local newspaper reporter, Kiley Burke. Unforturnately, the Reverend John Muldaur is poisoned and dies during the service. Judge Whitney wants the crime solved quickly because Nixon will be visiting the town and she will be hosting an event in his honor. 

Free Reign (1997) by Rosemary Aubert
Set in Canada. The unusual protagonist of this story is a homeless man who was once a judge, high in Toronto society. At the point that the book begins, Ellis Portal is about 50 years old and has been homeless for five years, living in a homemade shelter in a ravine in Toronto. See my review here.

The Woman in White (1859) by Wilkie Collins
I had resisted reading this book for years. Even though it a well-known crime fiction classic, I did not think I would enjoy the old-fashioned story (how wrong I was!). Even then I might have tried it if it had not been so long (600-700 pages).  Finally I overcame my prejudice when Judith at Reading in the Wilderness blogged about how much she enjoyed it.
This book is one of the first sensation novels.  It tells the story of a young woman who marries unwisely and the man who loves her and tries to rescue her from the clutches of an evil. It has multiple narrators, which I really like. William Hartright, a young drawing teacher, starts out the story and is one of the major players, but at times he is only on the fringes of the story.

Death Sends a Cable (1938) by Margaret Taylor Yates
Anne Davenport McLean, better known as "Davvie", is a Navy officer's wife who is living in Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. Her husband is a doctor; she is an ex-Navy nurse. Recently a young officer on the base has committed suicide; both his wife and Davvie insist that the death was not suicide. Eventually his death is investigated and that leads to other crimes and discoveries. This was the second book by Margaret Taylor Yates in a four book series featuring Davvie as the sleuth. John Norris introduced me to this book at his blog, Pretty Sinister Books, and kindly offered to send me his copy to read. I enjoyed the book, both the mystery and the picture of life in the Navy in this time period. A post with more of my thoughts on the book will follow soon.

Cards on the Table (1936) by Agatha Christie
This is another Christie novel with a different approach. A strange and somewhat disconcerting man, Mr. Shaitana, has invited Hercule Poirot to dinner. When he arrives, he learns that three other sleuths have been invited: Colonel Race, Superintendent Battle and Ariadne Oliver. (Mrs. Oliver is actually a mystery writer, but in this case she tries her hand at detecting.)  After dinner, two foursomes play bridge. At one table are the sleuths, the remaining four guests play at the other table. During the bridge game, some one dies. This was the first appearance of Mrs. Oliver and I enjoyed meeting her. I always love it when Colonel Race shows up. So this was a fun read for me.

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Evil Under the Sun: Agatha Christie

In this story, Hercule Poirot is on a holiday at the Jolly Roger Hotel, on Smugglers’ Island, Leathercombe Bay, off the coast of Devon. A beautiful, shallow, and self-centered actress, Arlena Marshall, is killed and the murderer must be one of the guests on the island. First the actress's husband is suspected. Arlena has been obviously dallying with a younger male guest. Or maybe it is the younger man's wife, mousy and pale compared to Arlena. There are many possibilities among the guests at the Jolly Roger Hotel, and Poirot works with the local police to solve the crime.

As usual for an Agatha Christie novel, this is a clever and entertaining story. There is a huge cast of characters and it is easy to get confused. The solution to the crime reveals a complex plan which surprised me. This was not one where I even had a clue who was guilty. I had plenty of favorite characters who I did NOT want to be the culprit.

I did like the plot of this book, and the holiday setting and the closed environment, but the emphasis was more on the puzzle than the characters or the psychology. I don't think it will be in my list of top-rated Poirot stories.

I read this particular Hercule Poirot book out of order because we had purchased the film adaptation starring Peter Ustinov as Poirot, and I wanted to read the book first. Ustinov is not my picture of the ideal Poirot but I still enjoyed him in the role. Several other noteworthy actors and actresses are featured in the film, including James Mason, Roddy McDowall, Diana Rigg, and Maggie Smith. The film version keeps to the basic story but does change some things from the novel. The main difference I noticed was that Poirot is pretty much the only investigator, at least at the beginning. The plot moves fairly quickly and dispenses with a few of the secondary characters from the book.

We bought the film of Evil Under the Sun in a set of three movies based on books by Agatha Christie. The other two movies were Death on the Nile (also starring Peter Ustinov as Poirot) and The Mirror Crack'd. My husband preferred Evil Under the Sun to the other two, and my favorite was Death on the Nile. Neither one of us was very impressed with The Mirror Crack'd, although it had some good actors playing many of the roles.

There are plenty of reviews and other opinions of this book available. I found the TV Tropes page for this novel (and the 1982 movie) very interesting. Spoilers are omitted but some of the tropes may point to the solution, so you might enjoy it more if you have already read the book.


Publisher:  Pocket Books, 1963. Orig. pub. 1941.
Length:     183 pages
Format:     Paperback
Series:      Hercule Poirot, #23
Setting:     UK
Genre:      Mystery
Source:     Purchased at the Planned Parenthood Book Sale, 2017.

Sunday, May 5, 2019

Six Degrees of Separation: from The Dry to Bluffing Churchill

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 The Dry by Jane Harper. I know very little about this book except that it is a crime fiction book that was incredibly successful for a debut novel. And it is set in Australia.

My first link is to another book set in Australia, On the Beach by Nevil Shute. I just finished reading that book last night, and it was a fantastic read. This is a post-apocalypse story, a sub-genre I do enjoy reading now and then. The book was published in 1957 and was set just a few years later than that.

My next book in the chain is another apocalyptic story, but this time with a contemporary  setting. The Last Policeman is the story of a policeman, Detective Hank Palace, pursuing a homicide case in a pre-apocalyptic world. It has been confirmed that an asteroid heading towards earth and human life on earth will end. In a world where many people are abandoning their jobs or changing their entire lives, Hank is stubbornly investigating an incident that every one else thinks is suicide.

That book leads me to another book with a similar title.  Dangerous Davies: The Last Detective by Leslie Thomas is about an alcoholic, bumbling detective, who is assigned a cold case that he pursues with determination. Davies lives in a boarding house, where his best friend Mod also has a room. Davies' wife also lives there but they are in different rooms. Davies has a dog (large, old and cranky), that lives in the back seat of his car. It is a very weird and humorous story, published in 1976.

There are many other mystery series that feature a detective and his dog, but I have read none of them. However, in Started Early, Took My Dog by Kate Atkinson, Jackson Brodie rescues a dog from a man who is abusing him. I read this one back in 2011 and don't remember a lot of the story, but there are several threads that come together in the end.

My next book is by the same author: Life after Life. This book, published in 2013, is not a mystery, and it has an unusual structure. Ursula, the heroine, lives her life over and over. Sort of like the plot of the film Groundhog Day, but not. Ursula is born in 1910 and the book continues to some point in the 1960s; thus, the reader experiences the Blitz and Germany under Hitler.

My final book in the chain is Bluffing Mr. Churchill by John Lawton, set in 1941 London during the Blitz. This fourth book in the Inspector Frederick Troy series combines espionage and World War II. Published as Riptide in the UK.

So my chain took me from Australia to London, England during World War II, by way of two post-apocalyptic novels. And two books in the chain were not crime fiction, so a little variety.

Next month the starting book for the chain will be Murmur By Will Eaves.

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

The Tin Flute: Gabrielle Roy

The Tin Flute is a classic Canadian novel, first published in French as Bonheur d'occasion. The book tells the story of the Lacasse family in the St. Henri area in Montreal, during World War II. They are poor, and only the oldest daughter, Florentine, is working. Eugene, the oldest brother, has joined the military. It took me a while to get into the story, but about halfway into the book it took hold of me and I could not stop reading.

This is how the story begins:
Toward noon, Florentine had taken to watching out for the young man who, yesterday, while seeming to joke around, had let her know he found her pretty.
The fever of the bazaar rose in her blood, a kind of jangled nervousness mingled with the vague feeling that one day in this teeming store things would come to a halt and her life would find its goal. It never occurred to her to think she could meet her destiny anywhere but here, in the overpowering smell of caramel, before the great mirrors hung on the wall with their narrow strips of gummed paper announcing the day’s menu, to the summary clicking of the cash register, the very voice of her impatience. Everything in the place summed up for her the hasty, hectic poverty of her whole life in St. Henri.
The story centers around Rose-Anna, the mother, and Florentine. With eight children in the family, Rose-Anna is again pregnant. Her youngest child, Daniel, is in very ill health. The father, Azarius, is usually unemployed, a dreamer, always leaving one job for a "better" opportunity and spending most of his time away from home talking with a group of men, young and old, about the state of the world.

Florentine is a waitress in a restaurant in the back of a Five and Ten store in her neighborhood. She meets Jean Lévesque, a customer, and falls for him, although he is arrogant and aloof. She is desperate to escape from her life in poverty. Later she meets Emmanuel, a friend of Jean's, who loves her while she is still obsessed with Jean.

The story is beautifully written. In the first portion of the novel I was impatient with the slow pace and the introspection of the characters. As I became more involved in the pain and sadness and frustrations of the family members, I was pulled into the narrative.

This is a story of war and those who are affected, the Canadian home front, and the pain of poverty. There is so much more to this book than I can describe here, but not without revealing the later parts of the story, and I think each reader should discover all of it on their own.

I found the story depressing although I am sure not everyone would feel that way. Yet, I am very glad I read this book and I highly recommend it.

The Tin Flute was Gabrielle Roy's first novel. Nine more novels followed, published between 1950 and 1982.

Brian Busby of The Dusty Bookcase introduced me to this book, suggesting it two years ago for a World War II reading challenge. I did not get to it until this year. I am grateful that he mentioned it.


Publisher:   McClellan & Stewart, 2009 (orig. pub. 1945)
Length:      400 pages
Format:      Trade paperback
Translated by:  Alan Brown
Setting:      Montreal, Canada, 1940
Genre:       Fiction, Classic
Source:     I purchased this book.

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Follow Her Home: Steph Cha

Follow Her Home is the first of three books featuring Korean-American Juniper Song. I read this book in August 2018, but never had time to write a post about it. I liked the book so much I decided to do one now.

From the book cover:
Juniper Song knows secrets–how to keep them and how to search them out.  As a girl, noir fiction was her favorite escape, and Philip Marlowe has always been her literary idol. So when her friend Luke asks her to investigate a possible affair between his father and a young employee, Juniper (or "Song" as her friends call her) finds an opportunity to play detective. Driving through L.A.'s side streets, following leads, tailing suspects–it all appeals to Song's romantic ideal of the noir hero. 
But when she's knocked out while investigating a mysterious car and finds a body in her own trunk, Song lurches back to the real L.A., becoming embroiled in a crime that goes far beyond role play. What's more, this isn't the first time Song has stuck her nose in other people's business. As she fights to discover the truth about her friend's family, Song reveals one of her own deeply hidden secrets, something dark and damaging, urging her to see the current mystery through, to rectify the mistakes of her past life.
This book is hard to describe. It starts out seeming light, even frothy, contrary to the description of "L.A. noir" on the cover. It takes a long time to turn darker but when it does it gets very dark, very quickly. I don't think this switch in mood and style mid-way into the story would work for everyone but it did for me.

Philip Marlowe has always been Song's hero, and she models her "detecting" on his adventures. I did not initially like the idea of the amateur sleuth modeling herself after Philip Marlowe in Raymond Chandler's books, but it actually did work well in the end. (Although the Philip Marlowe books are hard-boiled, not noir.  I think the description of "noir" gets thrown around a lot where it doesn't really apply.)

There is a secondary story of Song's relationship with her depressed sister. That part of the story is important to the whole, but the process of the story going back and forth from the present to Juniper's earlier days with her sister threw me off at times.

There are two main themes throughout the book: family relationships and the experience of being Korean American and a woman. I enjoy reading about families, so this was right up my alley. And I liked reading about a female protagonist who keeps pushing to find the answers to questions, no matter what.

In the end: 

I loved this book. I have the next two books in this series, and I just found out that Steph Cha has another book coming in October 2019 (not part of the Juniper Song series).


Publisher:   Minotaur Books, 2013
Length:      278 pages
Format:      Hardcover
Series:       Juniper Song #1
Setting:      Los Angesles, CA
Genre:       Mystery
Source:     I purchased my copy.

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Free Reign: Rosemary Aubert

The unusual protagonist of this story is a homeless man who was once a judge, high in Toronto society. Ellis Portal was born to a poor family but through education and perseverance has raised his status in life. He was born Angelo Portalese but tried to hide his origins by changing his name. When he graduates from law school a fellow graduate calls together five friends, including Ellis, and gives them rings to commemorate their connection. The rings bind them by allowing each member of the group to extract one favor from each of the others, no question asked. From that point the five lawyers proceed with their lives and ambitions, except  for one who dies in a tragic car accident shortly afterward.

Ellis becomes a judge, marries and has children, but later in his life, the pressures of his job get to him; he has a breakdown and suffers from anger management issues. He ends up in jail, then in a mental institution, then becomes homeless.

At the point that the book begins, Ellis has been homeless for five years and lives in a homemade shelter made from a packing crate in a ravine in Toronto. He finds the severed hand of a black male  in the garden area he has planted, and that hand has one of the five rings on the finger. He begins to investigate but things get very complicated. Being homeless, he is not healthy, not well fed, and can't go into the downtown area without a great effort to clean himself up. He works with a female reporter he knew in his previous life to look for clues, but along the way discovers other mysteries to solve.

I liked this book quite a bit. The first person narrative from Ellis keeps us focused on his story and allows many facts to be hidden from us. He shares little of his history, which is frustrating at times but fits his character. I was engaged in the story throughout.

One element of this book is the interesting look at the life of a homeless man, in this case one who avoids shelters and lives in isolation. The ravine system in Toronto, which spans several parks, is also very intriguing.

The characters were also well done. Ellis feels very real, and is shown with plenty of faults, but still sympathetic. Some of the secondary characters are homeless people. Others are friends or acquaintances that have kept tabs on Ellis over the years even though Ellis has rebuffed them and their overtures.

Some reviews complain of a fairy tale happy ending and the unbelievable revelations and events that resolve the mysteries that Ellis has been investigating. Those accusations are true, to a certain extent, but I enjoyed the whole book and had no problem with any part of the ending.

Aubert writes with sensitivity about several topics: homelessness, prostitution, homosexuality. I enjoyed getting to know the main character and the gradual revelation of what had led to his current status. I will be reading the second book just to see what happens next in Ellis Portal’s life.

See Rick Robinson's excellent review at The Broken Bullhorn.


Publisher:   Felony & Mayhem, 2009 (orig. pub. 1997)
Length:      306 pages
Format:      Trade paperback
Series:       Ellis Portal #1
Setting:      Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Genre:        Mystery
Source:      I purchased my copy.

Saturday, April 20, 2019

The Classics Club Spin #20

One of the events offered by the Classics Club is The Classics Club Spin and this month is Spin #20.

Members who participate list twenty books from their classics list that they have not read. I am new to the club and have never participated but I am finding I need a push to get me reading from my list.

So, here is my list of 20 books from my list. On April 22nd, a number will be announced and the goal is to read that book by May 31st. That seems doable.

  1. Things Fall Apart (1958) by Chinua Achebe 
  2. Jane Eyre (1847) by Charlotte Bronte 
  3. The Master and Margarita (1967) by Mikhail Bulgarov
  4. The Postman Always Rings Twice (1934) by James Cain
  5. Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1958) by Truman Capote
  6. And Then There Were None (1939) by Agatha Christie
  7. Cold Comfort Farm (1932) by Stella Gibbons 
  8. Our Man in Havana (1958) by Graham Greene
  9. The Talented Mr.Ripley (1955) by Patricia Highsmith
  10. In A Lonely Place (1947) by Dorothy B. Hughes
  11. We Have Always Lived in the Castle (1962) by Shirley Jackson 
  12. A Wrinkle in Time (1962) by Madeleine L'Engle
  13. A Kiss Before Dying (1953) by Ira Levin
  14. Beast In View (1955) by Margaret Millar
  15. The Pursuit of Love (1945) by Nancy Mitford
  16. The Moviegoer (1961) by Walker Percy
  17. Much Ado About Nothing (1598) by William Shakespeare
  18. Frankenstein (1818) by Mary Shelley 
  19. On the Beach (1957) by Nevil Shute 
  20. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (1943) by Betty Smith

Several of these books are from my list for the Back to the Classics Challenge 2019. I am hoping that the number for one of those will be picked but any one of the books on the list will be a nice read.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

The Shortest Way to Hades: Sarah Caudwell

The Hilary Tamar series centers around a group of young barristers who often seek Hilary's help when they run into trouble. Hilary is a Law professor and former tutor of one of the group, Timothy Shepherd.

This story is about an heiress, who is trying to avoid excessive estate taxes by an amendment to her grandfather's will. Her family all cooperate, except for one cousin who demands a large sum to agree to the changes. And shortly after that, the cousin is dead. But why, Hilary wonders, is she the one who died, and not the cousin who will inherit all the money?

I loved this quote from the book:
There are days on which Julia does not open letters. She is overcome, as I understand it, by a sort of superstitious dread, in which she is persuaded that letters bode her no good: they will be from the Gas Board, and demand money; or from the Inland Revenue, and demand accounts; or from some much valued friend, and demand an answer. If a letter arrives on such a day as this, she does not open it but puts it carefully away, to be dealt with when she feels stronger. After that, I had always supposed, it is never seen again.
Julia is the barrister who had advised the cousin who is now dead. And if she had opened the letter from this woman a few days before her death, she might not have died.

One notable thing about this series is that Hilary Tamar's gender is never identified. I am one of those readers who was shocked to hear this. I have only read the first book prior to this one, but I had definitely pegged Hilary as female. Another reviewer had decided on the opposite sex.

The characters are quirky, sometimes flaky. The prose is full of humor and wit. Many people read these books for the entertainment factor solely, the relationships of Hilary Tamar and her friends and the method of telling the story. In this case a portion of the story was told through letters. I found the mystery in this book satisfying, and I did not find the legal explanations boring. I could have done without the lengthy coverage of a cricket game.

I did not fall immediately in love with this author and her series when I read the first book, as many do. But I was persuaded to return and try another book after seeing many enthusiastic reviews. The lovely covers adorned with illustrations by Edward Gorey also helped. And I was happy to find that I did enjoy this one. Still a bit too humorous for me, but well worth the read.

Other resources:


Publisher:  Dell, 1995. Orig. pub. 1985.
Length:     314 pages
Format:     Paperback
Series:      Hilary Tamar, #2
Setting:     London; Greece
Genre:      Mystery
Source:     I purchased my copy.

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Entry Island: Peter May

Entry Island blends historical fiction with a present-day police procedural. Both stories come together in the end, as we expect. The historical focus is on the Highland Clearances which take place on the Isle of Lewis and Harris in Scotland. The current investigation centers on a death on a small Canadian island (Entry Island, which is a part of the Magdalen Islands, in the province of Quebec). This was an unusual and compelling story.

A rich businessman, James Cowell, who lives on Entry Island has been murdered. Sime Mackenzie, a homicide detective with the Sûreté in Montreal, is attached to the police team sent to the island solely because he is an English speaker and the inhabitants of the island speak English. When they arrive they find that the man's wife, Kirsty Cowell, is the most likely suspect. Entry Island is very small, with only 130 residents. No one believes that Kirsty Cowell is innocent, except Sime.

There are many tensions in Sime's life. Simes marriage has ended; his ex-wife is also on the police force and taking part in this investigation. He has suffered insomnia since the end of his marriage, affecting his health. He is a loner, and as an English speaker in Quebec, he doesn't fit in.


My favorite thing about Peter May's books is the background on each book's setting and its history. In this case there are two settings (in Scotland and in Canada) and I learned a lot about each. In addition to that, the book provided some insight into Quebec and the tensions in that area due to the change to French as the official language. I am seeing that a lot in Canadian fiction set in this area.

I find it interesting that various reviewers differed on which story line they found the most compelling. I thought they were blended very well, even though the connections are almost too coincidental and stretched my ability to suspend disbelief. Regardless, I was impatient to find out the resolution to each part and it was an enjoyable read. 


To learn more abut the Highland Clearances and the relationship of the Magdalen Islands off the coast of Canada, see these two resources.

I wish I had read that last article before reading the book, because it explains that the main character's name, Sime, is a corruption of Sim, the Gaelic for Simon, which is pronounced “Sheem”.


Publisher:   Quercus, 2015 (orig. publ. 2014)
Length:       448 pages
Format:       Trade paperback
Setting:       Scotland and Canada
Genre:        Police Procedural
Source:       I purchased my copy.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Tarnished Icons: Stuart M. Kaminsky

This is the eleventh novel in Stuart Kaminsky's Inspector Porfiry Rostnikov series, set in Russia in the late 1990's. Many things have happened in Rostnikov's life since the end of Blood and Rubles. Since suffering an injury to one leg during combat in World War II, he has had difficulty walking and the condition was worsening. He now has an artificial limb and is getting used to it.

Rostnikov and his team in the Office of Special Investigations have a new boss, Igor Yakovlev, formerly of the KGB. And Rostnikov's son, Iosef, has decided to join the police and is working with Rostnikov's team. There are continuing changes in the lives of other members of the team. There have been tragedies, changes for the better, and challenges in their lives.

As usual, the team has several cases going at one time. The Office of Special Investigations is given the most difficult cases. Rostnikov's wife is Jewish and thus his son, Iosef, is half-Jewish. In Russia, this has sometimes causes problems in their lives. Now Rostnikov is asked to find out who is killing Jews in Moscow. In the most recent occurrence, three men from a new synagogue were gunned down. Other cases the team is investigating are a serial rapist who is called "the Silent One" and a bomber who is protesting the unsafe use of nuclear power.

This is a another series where the lives of the police team are just as interesting as the solution to the crimes. In Tarnished Icons, we get more background on all of Rostniknov's team. The crimes and their solution are interesting, but more in the context of the changes in Russia at the time.

Rostnikov is the do-it-yourself type. During the course of this story, in addition to hunting down the killers, Rostinikov helps the rabbi of the synagogue put heating ducts in. He is good at fixing things and teaching himself how things work. He is a self-taught plumber, and he  finds the work relaxing. He handles all the plumbing problems in the building he lives in. And there are many.

The nature of life in post-communist Russia as depicted by Stuart Kaminsky is grim. Crime is more common and bureaucracies and power struggles make a policeman's job difficult. The challenges of earning enough money to live and getting adequate housing, for example, are constant thorns in the side of the people  Sometimes the books have left me a bit depressed, although Rostnikov always has a positive approach to life. But this book left me with a very good feeling, and I look forward to the next one.


Publisher:   Ivy Books, 1997
Length:      277 pages
Format:      Paperback
Series:       Inspector Rostnikov, #11
Setting:      Moscow, Russia
Genre:        Police Procedural
Source:      I purchased my copy.

Sunday, April 7, 2019

Reading Summary March 2019

I read thirteen books this month, including three graphic novels, one science fiction novel, one non-fiction book, and eight crime fiction novels.

Science Fiction

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (1979) by Douglas Adams
Most people will have heard of this book and its author, even if they haven't read the book. Arthur Dent is protesting the demolition of his house to make way for a bypass. Coincidentally, Arthur's friend, Ford Prefect, is an alien who has learned that the earth is about to be destroyed to make way for a galactic freeway. They are picked up by a giant spaceship from a different galaxy and their adventures begin. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy started out as a radio series,  broadcast by the BBC, and later became a novel. It has also been adapted as a TV series and a 2005 movie starring Martin Freeman. The book was a fun read. It is clearly science fiction, but not serious at all.


The Minimalist Home: A Room-By-Room Guide to a Decluttered, Refocused Life (2018) by Joshua Becker
This is similar to the KonMari Method, but the two systems take different approaches. Marie Kondo suggests a different order to eliminating things, going by types of objects and emphasizes doing it all at once. Joshua Becker goes from room to room, and expects the process to take a while. Both are motivational if you want to make some progress in this area, but I can probably accept Becker's approach more easily. The major flaw in this book is repetition, but I see this in most self-help literature.

Understanding Comics (1994) by Scott McCloud
This is a comic about comics. I have read comics all my life, but I do have problems comprehending some contemporary graphic novels and I thought this might help. I did find some of it very useful for me, all of it informative and enlightening, and McCloud's enthusiasm for the subject makes it very interesting.

Graphic novels

The Umbrella Academy: The Apocalypse Suite  (2008) and
The Umbrella Academy: Dallas (2009)
by Gerard Way (Writer),  Gabrielle Bá (Artist)
I bought these two graphic novels before I heard about the adaptation of The Umbrella Academy on Netflix. The story is about a dysfunctional family of adopted children, all born at the same time (in different locations all over the world) to mothers who showed no signs of pregnancy.  The adoptive father, Reginald Hargreeves, takes the children to the Umbrella Academy and trains them to be superheroes. 

Crime Fiction

The Tears of Autumn (1974) by Charles McCarry
This is a spy fiction novel by Charles McCarry, the second book in the Paul Christopher series. McCarry is one of my favorite authors and I have read most of his books. 
See review here.

Extraordinary People (2006) by Peter May
The Enzo Macleod Investigation series, Book #1. I have read several books by Peter May, and I learn a lot from each of his books. He often includes information about the setting and its history in the stories, and that is true in this case. Macleod, half-Scottish and half-Italian, is a forensics expert and a university professor in Toulouse, France. In this book, Macleod spends a good bit of time looking for clues in the catacombs under Paris.
Turncoat (2002) by Aaron Elkins
It is very difficult to describe this book in one sentence, so I will just send you to my review if you want to know more. The story, the premise, and the writing grabbed me immediately. The story begins in November 1963 in New York but soon moves to France, where the narrator, a professor of history, is trying to locate his wife, who has disappeared. 

Remembered Death (1944) by Agatha Christie
This non-series book by Agatha Christie was published in the UK as Sparkling Cyanide. Beautiful Rosemary Barton dies from drinking cyanide-laced champagne at her own birthday party while celebrating at a nightclub in London and the police assume that her death was suicide. My review here.

Smoke Detector  (1984) by Eric Wright
Smoke Detector is the 2nd Charlie Salter mystery, set in Toronto, Ontario. Salter is a member of the Metropolitan Police. In this story, he is assigned to an arson / homicide case. My review here.

Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency (1987)
by Douglas Adams
This book is almost as hard to describe as The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. It is a bit less weird, it is set in the UK, and many strange things do happen. It is a mish-mash of science fiction and fantasy and a detective story. I enjoyed it but it took a while before I had any sense of where it was going.

The Silkworm (2014) by Robert Galbraith (AKA J.K. Rowling)
The second book in the  Cormoran Strike series. Strike is an ex-Army private detective, and his young secretary Robin wants to learn to be an investigator also. This book focuses on the publishing industry. A woman asks Strike's help in finding her husband, an author who has been missing for several days. There is a lot to like about this series and the main characters.

What Never Happens (2014) by Anne Holt
This is the second book in the Adam Stubo and Johanne Vik series. The setting is Oslo, Norway. My main attraction to this series is the two main characters. Adam is an inspector in the Criminal Investigation Service and Johanne has worked with the FBI as a profiler. See my review here.

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Remembered Death: Agatha Christie

Beautiful, charming Rosemary Barton dies from drinking a glass of cyanide-laced champagne at her own birthday party at a nightclub in London. The assumption is that her death was suicide, but as six of those close to Rosemary think back to the details and events leading up to the event, some of them begin to question that verdict.

The book's structure is different from other Agatha Christie novels I have read. It is divided into thirds, roughly. The first third consists of six chapters, each featuring one of the people at Rosemary’s birthday dinner. The first chapter centers on Iris, her younger, quieter sister. That part of the story I especially liked because we get to know those six people  and realize that they all had motives to kill her.

In the middle section, George Barton, Rosemary's husband, plans to re-stage the dinner party at the Luxembourg nearly a year after her death, hoping to catch her murderer. And the third section follows the events at that second dinner.

What I liked:

  • The unusual structure, including the reminiscences of those who attended the dinner party, was a plus for me. 
  • There is a romance, and Agatha Christie usually handles those very well. We never know how they will end. Actually there were several romances and each was interesting.
  • I was completely fooled, never suspected who the murderer was. And how the murder was carried out was very clever, and believable, although depending on a bit of luck.
  • Most of the characters are well-fleshed out and distinctive. And with all of that background on the characters I still couldn't guess who did it.
  • Colonel Race is an old friend of George Barton, and calls him "young George". I have enjoyed all the novels that include Colonel Race, and I am happy that I still have one left to read: Cards on the Table, an earlier novel.

This book by Agatha Christie was published in the UK as Sparkling Cyanide.

See these reviews at:

In Search of the Classic Mystery Novel


Clothes in Books


Publisher:  Pocket Books, 1986. Orig. pub. 1945.
Length:     194 pages
Format:     Paperback
Setting:     UK
Genre:       Mystery
Source:     I purchased my copy.

Sunday, March 31, 2019

What Never Happens: Anne Holt

Anne Holt is a Norwegian author of crime fiction, and this is the second book in her Adam Stubo and Johanne Vik series, set in Oslo. Adam is an inspector in the Criminal Investigation Service and Johanne has worked with the FBI as a profiler.

In the first book in the series, What is Mine, Adam requested Johanne's help in a case of child abduction. She resisted, as she was not currently working in that area and did not want to get involved with such a crime. There were other complications, but eventually they do work together on the case.

In What Never Happens (alternate title is The Final Murder), Adam and Johanne are married; she has recently given birth to their daughter. As the story opens, they are both taking leave from their jobs, but Adam goes back to work shortly because of a big case related to the death of a television personality. Johanne is on extended maternity leave and is dealing with the stresses of a new baby and lack of sleep. Clearly her help as a profiler in the current case would be useful, and when two more well known personalities are killed, she does get involved.

I loved the first book in the series, and this book did not disappoint either. I like the two protagonists and their relationship; there is a big age difference, Adam is a grandfather (from a previous marriage) and Johanne is much younger with a disabled daughter when they meet. The family dynamics and the back story of Adam and Johanne add interest to the story.

The secondary characters are also well developed, both those in the CIS and the suspects. The story shows how the lives of those close to the victims are also disrupted as the result of a crime.

This is a serial killer story, but with a difference. The reveal of the killer was very surprising and effective, and I liked the ending a lot.

See also these reviews:


Publisher:   Grand Central Publishing, 2008 (orig. pub. 2004)
Translator:  Kari Dickson
Length:       385 pages
Format:       Hardcover
Series:        Adam Stubo and Johanne Vik, #2
Setting:       Norway
Genre:        Mystery
Source:       I purchased this book.

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

A Killing in Quail County: Jameson Cole

This is a terrific mystery narrated by a teenage boy, Mark Stoddard, growing up in Oklahoma, living with his older brother, Jess, after their parents die in an accident.

From the summary on the book cover:
There's not much danger evident in Bob White, Oklahoma, in 1957. In a small town where doors are left unlocked at night, everyone knows your name, and alcohol is strictly forbidden, it's difficult even for a fifteen-year-old boy to get in trouble. 
But Mark Stoddard has his ways, and with the help of his best friend Ferret and Ferret's newly arrived tomboy cousin TJ, Mark is determined to spice up his summer – and win the respect of his older brother Jess, the local deputy sheriff, by catching a local bootlegger, an evil old man with a deadly grudge against Jess

This story is narrated by a teenager, but it is also a mystery with adult themes. Mark is optimistic in his goal of looking for the local bootlegger, but there are inevitably complications and it is more dangerous than he expected. In addition to this, there are undercurrents in the small town that he doesn't understand. Life is not as simple as it seems.

There is a stranger in town that many people resent because they assume that the man is homosexual, based on his attire and behavior. When this stranger is found dead, Mark assumes that the bootlegger had something to do with it, but things may not be that simple. There are a lot of assumptions going on in this small town.

I liked the first person narration by Mark; the reader knows the story only from his experiences and point of view. Mark is having a hard time adjusting to losing his parents and being ignored at times by his brother, but Jess is having to handle a demanding job and acting as a parent/guardian to his brother at a young age.

The teenage characters are depicted especially well. Mark's friend Ferret has a female cousin, TJ, about the same age as the two boys, visiting from Baton Rouge, Louisiana. She is living with Ferret's family for the summer because her father and mother are getting a divorce. The relationships and personal problems of the teenagers are a part of the story, but the mystery is the main focus.

I found this to be a thought-provoking story and a page-turner. I wish more people would discover this novel. I learned about A Killing in Quail County from Richard Robinson's review at Tip the Wink, and he generously gave me his copy of the book to read. It is a lovely book, and I am glad I read it.


Publisher:   St. Martin's Press, 1996
Length:      306 pages
Format:      Hardcover
Setting:      Oklahoma, USA, 1957
Genre:       Mystery
Source:      A gift.