Wednesday, July 10, 2019

My Mother, the Detective: The Complete Mom Short Stories: James Yaffe


I had surgery yesterday; it wasn't very serious and went well. However, my chair in front of my laptop is the only place I can sit comfortably without pain, so I am taking advantage of that to write this short post.


The eight short stories in My Mother, the Detective were originally published in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, between 1952 and 1968. In each story, Dave, a detective in the New York Homicide Squad, and his wife Shirley visit his mother and they discuss one of his cases over dinner. She asks some pertinent questions and solves the case, and he is afraid that his coworkers are going to find out that his success rate with cases is due to his mother's help.

That sounds like a silly premise, but it certainly worked for me. The stories are light and fun. Dave's mother is like a Jewish Miss Marple, using her experiences with people in her neighborhood to draw connections that solve the crimes. She is a very entertaining armchair detective. My favorite stories in the book are the last two: "Mom and the Haunted Mink" and "Mom Remembers."

James Yaffe is a new author to me. He recently came to my attention at Clothes in Books, where Moira focused on the story titled "Mom Sings an Aria."

Yaffe was a very interesting man, who wrote both non-fiction and fiction. Between 1988 and 1992 he wrote four novels about Dave's Mom. I look forward to trying one of those. See these posts to learn more about James Yaffe:


My copy of My Mother, the Detective was published by Crippen and Landru in 1997. Twenty years later, they published an enlarged edition with one extra story, “Mom Lights a Candle,” written in 2002.


 -----------------------------

Publisher:   Crippen and Landru, 1997
Length:      174 pages
Format:      Trade paperback
Setting:      New York City
Genre:       Short stories
Source:      I purchased my copy.

Sunday, July 7, 2019

Reading Summary, June 2019

This has been a pretty good reading month for me. I was concentrating on reading from my 20 Books of Summer List. I also read mostly more contemporary fiction, unusual for me, because my 20 Books list was slanted that way.

Mystery reference

Historical Noir: The Pocket Essential Guide to Fiction, Film & TV (2018) by Barry Forshaw
I know that historial crime fiction is a popular sub-genre now. I enjoy reading that type of novel. But I was surprised at how many authors write that sort of mystery. And the book does not cover every author in that area, of course. My favorite sections cover the early 20th century through the 1950s. There is a good overview of this book at Crime Fiction Lover, if you are interested. And a very interesting post at the Rap Sheet, with lots of details and an interview with the author.

Historical Fiction

Crooked Heart (2014) by Lissa Evan
This is a dark comedy, beautifully told, very moving. Noel Bostock, aged 10, is evacuated from London to escape the Nazi bombardment, shortly after the death of his godmother, with whom he had been living. He is assigned to Vera Sedge, a small time con artist, mostly unsuccessful. 

Transcription (2018) by Kate Atkinson
I wasn't quite sure what category this fits in. I consider it spy fiction; the New Yorker refers to it as a "spy novel." But on Goodreads it is overwhelmingly shelved as Historical Fiction. It doesn't matter. I loved the book, I am sure it will be one of my top reads this year. The story is set in 1940 and 1950, with a brief framing story in 1981.

Post-apocalyptic Fiction

Station Eleven (2014) by Emily St. John Mandel
The apocalyptic event in this story is the Georgia Flu, a strain of the swine flu that wipes out 99% of the world's population. The story is set primarily in Toronto, Canada and northern Michigan. My thoughts on the book are here

Crime Fiction

My Mother, the Detective: The Complete Mom Short Stories (1997)
by James Yaffe
The eight short stories in this book were originally published in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, between 1952 and 1968. They are a lot of fun. Dave, a policeman, visits his mother every week and over dinner they discuss one of his cases. 

Friends and Traitors (2017) by John Lawton
This is the 8th book in the Inspector Troy series, one of my favorite series. The novels are a mix of police procedural and espionage, and are set between 1934 and 1963, with many of them covering multiple timelines. This one is set in 1958, but does have flashbacks to earlier times.


London Rules (2018) by Mick Herron
This is the 5th book in Herron's Slough House series about spies who have been demoted due to some disgrace or screw up in their jobs, and are now working under Jackson Lamb. I have liked each book in the series more than the last.

Out of the Deep I Cry (2004) by Julia Spencer-Fleming
This is the 3rd book in a series featuring Clare Fergusson, an Episcopal priest, and Russ Van Alstyne, the police chief of Miller's Kill, New York. This time the story features two timelines, one in the present and one that starts in the 1920's during Prohibition. This is another series that gets better with each book I read.

Perfect Gallows (1988) by Peter Dickinson
A story about a murder that occurs in 1944 on an estate in the UK; the estate is occupied by US forces preparing for the invasion of France. See my thoughts here.



Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Perfect Gallows: Peter Dickinson


I have been reading a lot of books set during World War II lately, and Perfect Gallows is one of the best of them.

"About the book" from the author's website:
In 1875 Arnold Wragge left the back streets of Portsmouth for the diamond fields of South Africa. Twenty years later he returned a millionaire, built himself a mansion in the Downs, and sired two daughters and a son. When the son is missing, presumed killed, in the Allied invasion of Italy, he sends for his great-great-nephew Andrew, to come from the same back streets and be inspected as a potential heir.
Andrew isn’t interested. He is set on a career on the stage. One of Sir Arnold’s daughters, his cousin Elspeth, equally stage-struck in her time, persuades him to take part in her proposed amateur production of The Tempest. The park is full of American soldiers preparing for the invasion of Normandy. In the middle of all the activity a stranger appears, claiming to be the missing heir.
Forty years later Andrew, now the famous Adrian Waring, tells the story to his partner and explains his own part in the tragedy that followed.

Peter Dickinson has long been one of my favorite authors, and several of his mystery novels feature dual timelines where the older time setting is during (or around) World War II. This story opens in 1944 with Andrew discovering a death in the dovecote on the grounds of The Mimms, the home of his wealthy uncle. Although the death could be suicide, Andrew can see that it has been faked to look that way. In 1986, Andrew returns to The Mimms for an estate sale, and memories of the death and his part in it return. Most of the novel covers the time in 1944 that Andrew spent at The Mimms leading up to his discovery of the body.

Andrew is young, soon to be conscripted into the military, but even at this age he knows he wants to be an actor and that he is very good at it. Everything he does, every thought he has, is focused on learning more about acting. Every experience is stored in his memory for use in future roles. Many of the activities in the story center around a performance of The Tempest, which is being organized by his cousin, Elspeth Wragge, but referred to most often as Cousin Brown. (Which sometimes makes things confusing.) His association with Elspeth is fortuitous because she sees his talent and can understand his aspirations in the theater.

Since the majority of this novel is set in 1944, in the days leading up to D-Day, the dual timelines are not confusing at all. And the chapters that switch to a new timeline are clearly marked. It is partially the picture of Andrew's life before the war contrasted with the older Adrian (the name he took as he began his acting career) that appealed to me so much. I will note that some readers find the main character an unlikable character and could not get past that.

This novel worked for me both as a mystery and a depiction of Britain during the war, after the US had joined in the war. The Mimms is occupied by US forces gearing up for the invasion of France. This novel is a very interesting look at how that affected the household, both the Wragge family and the servants, and the relationships between the US military and the British in situations like this.

This is what P.D. James had to say about this book:
A new Peter Dickinson novel is a keenly-awaited event for all those aficionados of the detective story who demand a great deal more than an ingenious puzzle. He is the true original, a superb writer who revitalises the conventions of the mystery genre to give us novels present them. He is incapable of writing a trite or inelegant sentence, and he creates characters who are true eccentrics but never caricatures. From the marvellous first chapter of Perfect Gallows when we encounter the hanging body in the dovecote, we know we are once again in the safe hands of a master.
Jo Walton has a wonderful post at Tor.com: Perfect Mystery: Peter Dickinson’s Perfect Gallows.

My favorite book by Dickinson is King & Joker, an alternate history set in an England where George V's elder brother did not die but lived to become King Victor I, and is later succeeded by his grandson, King Victor II.

I am also very fond of his unusual mystery series featuring Superintendent Jimmy Pibble. See my reviews of The Glass-Sided Ants' Nest and The Old English Peep Show.


 -----------------------------

Publisher:  Pantheon Books, 1988. 
Length:     234 pages
Format:     Hardcover
Setting:     UK, World War II and 1986
Genre:      Historical Mystery
Source:    I purchased this book.


Saturday, June 29, 2019

Station Eleven: Emily St. John Mandel

This book got a lot of hype when it first came out, but I did not pay much attention. I prefer to wait and see before trying newer books, whether they have been hyped or not. If my husband had not bought a copy, I might still be waiting to read it.

From the synopsis at the author's website:
One snowy night a famous Hollywood actor slumps over and dies onstage during a production of King Lear. Hours later, the world as we know it begins to dissolve. Moving back and forth in time—from the actor's early days as a film star to fifteen years in the future, when a theater troupe known as The Travelling Symphony roams the wasteland of what remains—this suspenseful, elegiac, spellbinding novel charts the strange twists of fate that connect five people: the actor, the man who tried to save him, the actor's first wife, his oldest friend, and a young actress with the Traveling Symphony, caught in the crosshairs of a dangerous self-proclaimed prophet.

The apocalyptic event in this story is the Georgia Flu, so named because it started in the Republic of Georgia. The famous Hollywood actor is Arthur Leander, feeling his age and about to divorce his third wife. Although he dies at about the same time the apocalyptic event starts to affect Canada and the United States, much of the story follows his life and the people who were important to him. Another focus is the Travelling Symphony, how they function, and how they have survived. One character in that group is Kirsten, a young actress who had a small part in the play Arthur was performing in at the time of his death.

Station Eleven is a post-apocalyptic story, and I do like that sub-genre. But the book has many other characteristics I like. The state of the world without the internet, travel by automobile or airplane, electricity, and many other things we take for granted is an important factor in this book. But it is the story of the interconnections of people and how they adapt to changes in their lives that makes it special.

What did I like?


  • The story was unified by two strands, Arthur's story and the Travelling Symphony. I loved the way the story moved about in time, how the relationships are interwoven and how the characters connect in the end.
  • I liked the author's style; I had a hard time putting this book down. I read it in two days, which was pretty fast for me, especially this month. 
  • I liked the contrast between the older people who have memories of life before the flu and the young people who had no memories of the different ways of living.
  • This is not a long book (333 pages) and it follows quite a few characters but there are several characters that we get to know quite well. Arthur and Kirsten are pivotal characters. Others are Javeen Chaudhury, an EMT in training; Clark, Arthur's best friend since college; Miranda, Arthur's first wife.


See other reviews ...



 -----------------------------

Publisher:   Alfred A. Knopf, 2014
Length:       333 pages
Format:      Hardcover
Settings:     Starts out in Toronto, where Arthur is performing in a play. 
                   Some scenes are in Hollywood. 
                   The Travelling Symphony travels along Michigan's northern coast.
Genre:        Post-apocalyptic fiction
Source:       My husband passed this book on to me.


Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Monkey Justice and Other Stories: Patricia Abbott


This is another wonderful book of short stories by Patricia Abbott. The 23 stories in this book were published earlier under a similar title but only in e-book format. This is a reissue, making the book available in trade paperback and e-book.

Many of the stories in this book fit within the crime fiction genre and most of them look on the darker side of life. Often misfits or small-time criminals are central to the story. But some of the stories have a humorous side too.

Here are brief descriptions of my favorites in the collection:

  • In “Georgie," Rufe and his friend take care of a problem for Rufe's mother. Lucky for Rufe, Georgie is very resourceful although he is fourteen and still in grade school in a "special" class.
  • The title story, “Monkey Justice," is about a man who gets two women pregnant; they both deliver their babies on the same day in the same hospital. No crime in that story, but an unusual premise.
  • “On Paladin Road” is a haunting story about the  ravages of old age. Two men have lived in the same subdivision for years. Donald is 85, Martin is 65. They have an ongoing disagreement about some borrowed tools.
  • "What Happened Next" is a sad story about a mother coming to visit her grown son; she has not seen him since he was five. 
  • “The Tortoise and the Tortoise” is a fantastic story about a man in a nursing home who has been very popular, but gets pushed out of the top spot when a new male resident arrives. 
  • “Girl Of My Dreams” is about a very bad boss getting his just desserts. 
  • “Raising the Dead” is a short story featuring Violet,  a photographer, and Bill Fontenel, her boyfriend, characters in Abbott's second novel, Shot in Detroit. I enjoyed that brief look at those two characters again.

There are many more great stories in this book and I will be revisiting them all.

I highly recommend this book and others by Patricia Abbott. She has written two novels, Concrete Angel and Shot in Detroit, and a book of short stories, I Bring Sorrow.

Also see these reviews...
at Crime Time
at Kevin's Corner

And an interview at In Reference to Murder.


 -----------------------------

Publisher:   Down & Out Books, 2019
Length:      247 pages
Format:      Trade paperback
Setting:      Varied
Genre:       Short stories
Source:      I purchased my copy.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Cards on the Table: Agatha Christie

Cards on the Table is the 15th Hercule Poirot book and it is another novel in that series with a unique 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, Mr. Shaitana is killed. The four sleuths take it upon themselves to solve the crime.

I had been looking forward to reading this book for a while, and it was an engaging and pleasurable read. Again in this novel Poirot emphasizes psychological analysis in searching for the murderer. As the sleuths investigate, we learn more about the suspects, their backgrounds, and their connection to Mr. Shaitana. I had no clue who did it, and Christie did a super job of misleading me, misdirecting my attention.

It was an added bonus to have Superintendent Battle, Ariadne Oliver, and Colonel Race working together with Poirot. I have enjoyed both Battle and Race in previous books. This was the first appearance of Mrs. Oliver in the series, and the first book I have read with her in it, so I enjoyed meeting her.

Even though I know nothing about bridge, I enjoyed that element of the story. I can see how familiarity with bridge could help solve the crime in this situation. There was a drawing depicting each suspect's score card.

I highly recommend this book; Christie's writing always entertains me. I have said this before, but it bears repeating: In the first few novels I read featuring Poirot, I found Poirot to be smug and irritating. After reading more books in the series, I now find him charming, and am glad I have many more to read in this series.

 -----------------------------

Publisher:  Berkley Books, 1984. Orig. pub. 1936.
Length:     226 pages
Format:     Paperback
Series:      Hercule Poirot, #15
Setting:     UK
Genre:      Mystery
Source:    Purchased at the Planned Parenthood book sale, Sept. 2007.


Monday, June 17, 2019

The Wolves of Winter: Tyrell Johnson


The Wolves of Winter is an apocalyptic novel, and the Canadian setting made it the perfect choice for me. The story has a relatively small number of characters. A family group has moved from Alaska further north into the Canadian Yukon to live after nuclear war and a deadly flu have killed a large portion of the population on earth. Other than one other man who settled near them, they haven't encountered any other humans for years, and then they meet a lone male traveler and a small group of traders.

The family consists of Gwendolyn (or Lynn, as she prefers to be called), her mother and brother, her uncle  and a young man whose father died. Lynn was 16 when they left Alaska, but had been taught hunting and wilderness skills by her father when she was younger. The story starts seven years later. The group survives by hunting and planting what crops will survive. It is a very basic existence, and mostly very cold.


None of the main characters are perfect, they all have their flaws. The most well defined character is Lynn, who tells the story, but we get to know most of the family group pretty well, understanding their motivations. By no means is this a crime story, but there are evil, manipulative characters and it has thrillerish elements. Also there is the element of mystery–pieces of Lynn's background that have been kept from her. So the story was just my type of reading.

The pacing of the story kept me interested, and I enjoyed the descriptions of what the people had to do to survive in that environment. The first quarter of the book is more about setting the background of the story, how the wars and the disease started. I loved Lynn's lists of what was different, what she missed, what she did not miss. The remainder of the book is about learning more about the world outside of the family's small settlement, and is full of action.

Some reviewers compared this novel to YA novels. I don't read many YA novels so can't speak to that, but it did not seem to be aimed at a younger audience to me. And if it was, I still enjoyed it. This is Tyrell Johnson's debut novel. I am hoping the author has another book coming out soon.

Part I of the book begins with this Walt Whitman quote.
"I have heard what the talkers were talking,
the talk of the beginning and the end,
But I do not talk of the beginning or the end.
There was never any more inception than there is now,
Nor any more youth or age than there is now,
And will never be any more perfection than there is now,
Nor any more heaven or hell than there is now."
I found this book via Judith's blog, Reader in the Wilderness. Her review is here.


 -----------------------------

Publisher:   Scribner, 2018.
Length:      310 pages
Format:      Trade paperback
Setting:      Canadian Yukon
Genre:        Science Fiction, Post-apocalyptic
Source:      I purchased my copy.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

The Dusty Bookcase: Brian Busby

The Dusty Bookcase is a literary exploration of Canadian books, especially those that have been forgotten, neglected, or suppressed. As the author, Brian Busby, tells us in his introduction:
We should read the forgotten because previous generations knew them well. My father read the works of Ralph Connor, as did his. Reading Connor myself has brought me a better understanding of the times these men experienced.
We should be curious about the ignored because recognition is so often a crapshoot; too much depends on publisher, press, and good fortune. 
We should read the suppressed for the very reason that there are those who would deny us the right.
Brian Busby blogs on this same topic at The Dusty Bookcase, and the book gathers information from his posts over the years. I read this book straight through, over a few weeks, and I will dip into it again and again.

The books starts with a section on several books by Grant Allen, a Canadian author of both nonfiction books and novels written from the 1970s until his death in 1899. Allen was a friend of Arthur Conan Doyle, who finished his last book, Hilda Wade. A new author to me and one I will try out.

The last book covered in The Dusty Bookcase is I Lost It All in Montreal by Donna Steinburg, my favorite title in the book.

In between, he covers books by the Millars – Kenneth Millar, also known as Ross Macdonald, and Margaret Millar. Also several pulp novels, including some written by Brian Moore, a well-known author I don't know much about. And I will be seeking out books of his to read.

Here are the titles of some of the chapters:

  • Dicks & Drugs
  • Erotica, Porn, Perversion, & Ribaldry
  • Pop & Pulp
  • Romance
  • True Crime
  • War
  • The Writing Life

Lots of variety, and a lots of information to ponder.  Outside of the section on the Millars, Pop & Pulp was my favorite group of articles.

Busby discusses these books in a very personal way, and each article is readable and interesting. Some of them are hilarious. I love the premise of this book, and I highly recommend it as an informative and entertaining read.

 -----------------------------

Publisher:   Bibioasis, 2017
Length:       364 pages
Format:      Trade Paperback
Genre:        Reference, Books about books
Source:       I purchased this book.

Sunday, June 9, 2019

Reading Summary for May 2019

As I look at the books I read in May, I am surprised to find that out of ten books, only four of them were crime fiction novels. Another one was mystery reference, and most of the stories in Patti Abbott's Monkey Justice fall in the realm of crime fiction and noir.

In addition to books related to crime fiction, I read one non-fiction book about books provided to US soldiers during World War II, a wonderful book about Canadian books by Brian Busby, and two post-apocalyptic novels.

It was a very good month of reading.

Mystery reference

Euro Noir: The Pocket Essential Guide to European Crime Fiction, Film & TV (2014)
by Barry Forshaw
The book covers crime fiction books written by European authors, set in their own countries (in most cases). Most of the coverage is for current fiction. There are two longer chapters on Italy and France. Other countries included are Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Spain, Portugal, Greece, the Netherlands, Poland, and Romania. Although Scandinavian crime fiction has been covered in depth in two other books by the author, there is a chapter on those countries regarding more recent fiction from that area. Films and TV for each area are also noted. No book of this type will satisfy every reader, but since I enjoy reading any kind of book on mystery reference, it suited me.

Nonfiction / History

When Books Went to War (2014) by Molly Guptill Manning
This book is perfect for someone like me who likes to read about World War II and likes to read about books. The emphasis was on the process of getting the books to the soldiers and about the positive effect the books had on the soldiers, but there were interesting facts about many of the books also. I was very surprised at the types of books that got a lot of attention from the soldiers.



Nonfiction / Books about Books

The Dusty Bookcase: A Journey Through Canada's Forgotten, Neglected, and Suppressed Writing (2017) by Brian Busby
The subtitle gives a pretty good summary of this book. Brian Busby blogs on this same topic at The Dusty Bookcase, and the book gathers information from his posts over the years. I read this book straight through, over a few weeks, and I will dip into it again and again. Full of interesting tidbits and in-depth information, and very entertaining.


Post-apocalyptic Fiction

On the Beach (1957) by Nevil Shute
A post-apocalyptic novel that I enjoyed immensely. Also adapted in a film starring Gregory Peck, Ava Gardner, Fred Astaire, and Anthony Perkins. See my thoughts here.


The Wolves of Winter (2018) by Tyrell Johnson
I found this book via Judith's blog, Reader in the Wilderness. I do like post-apocalyptic novels, and the setting was intriguing... the Canadian Yukon. The story focuses on a family group that has been in the Yukon for seven years. The protagonist and narrator is a young woman who was 16 when they moved up to that area. This was the author's debut novel, and I liked it a lot. I would definitely try another book by this author.

Crime Fiction

Spook Street (2017) by Mick Herron
This is the fourth book in the Slough House series about spies who have been demoted due to some disgrace or screw up in their jobs. I loved this book and I will be reading the next in the series, London Rules, sometime in June.

The Iron Gates (1945) by Margaret Millar
Margaret Millar's novels focus on the psychological aspects of crime, and have interesting but strange characters. This one is set in Toronto and features Inspector Sands. See my thoughts here.

A Private Venus (1966) by Giorgio Scerbanenco
This is such an interesting story but hard to describe. The protagonist is a medical doctor, Duca Lamberti, who was imprisoned for several years, and can no longer practice medicine. His first job after release from prison is to guard the son of a wealthy man and cure him of his disease, alcoholism. He soon discovers that his drinking problem is caused by a traumatic event in his recent past; Lamberti begins to look into that problem.


The Dogs of Riga (1992) by Henning Mankell
I read the first book in the Kurt Wallander series in 2011. I hope it doesn't take me another 8 years to get to the third book, The White Lioness. In this book, Wallander goes to Latvia to follow up on an investigation that started in Sweden, when two dead Latvian men washed up on the shore in a raft. I enjoyed the story and I liked reading about Sweden and Latvia in 1991.


Monkey Justice (2019) by Patricia Abbott
Monkey Justice was published earlier (2011) in e-book format by Snubnose Press. Now Down and Out Press has published the stories again in a new e-book and in trade paperback.  The book has 23 of Abbott's earlier stories; many fit within the crime fiction genre and most of them are on the dark side. I am glad to see more of Abbott's stories available in book form (again).


Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Save the Last Dance for Me: Ed Gorman


Years ago, in 2006, I read the first three books in this series and now I have returned to it with book #4, Save the Last Dance for Me.

My favorite part of these books is the historical setting in the 1950s and 1960s. The first book, The Day the Music Died, is set in 1958, and starts the day before Buddy Holly was killed in a plane crash. This book is set in the summer of 1960, when John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon are running for President.

Sam McCain is 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.


Here is a sample of the narration that sets up the story...
I guess I should do a little scene-setting here.
The date is August 19, 1960. The town is Black River Falls, Iowa, pop. 20,300. The pretty, red-haired young woman I'm with is Kylie Burke, ace reporter for The Black River Falls Clarion. Only reporter, actually. She isn't writing the story—her boss is doing that—but she thought it’d look good on her resume (in case the New York Times calls someday) to say she did background on a group of Ozark folks who moved here after getting kicked out of every state contiguous to ours. Seems these folk incorporate rattlesnakes in their services and that is a violation of the law. And after all the rain we had this past spring, there are plenty of timber rattlers to be had in the woods.
Kylie’s a bit uneasy about visiting these folks, as am I, so we’re here together.
My name is Sam McCain. I’m the youngest and poorest attorney in town. I’m also an investigator for Judge Esme Anne Whitney, the handsome, middle-aged woman who presides over district court. At the age of twenty-four, I earn more from Judge Whitney than I do from my law practice. I’m here tonight because I was summoned by Reverend John Muldaur, the hill-country man who procures the rattlers and oversees the services.
Very shortly there is a death. Judge Whitney is concerned about the crime being solved quickly because Richard Milhous Nixon is going to visit the town and she will be hosting an event in his honor. She doesn't want him thinking that the town is full of "a bunch of rubes."

I love the first person narration by Sam McCain. He has his problems, he is far from perfect, but he has integrity and cares about people. Sam is unlucky in love, and there is a good bit of focus on this. I also like the portrayal of Judge Whitney, who is domineering and determined to get her way in everything. There are many other outstanding characters throughout the book.

Also see:

Matt Paust's review at Crime Time

Tom Nolan's review at January Magazine


 -----------------------------

Publisher:  Worldwide, 2003 (orig. pub. 2002).
Length:    252 pages
Format:    Paperback
Series:     Sam McCain #4
Setting:    Iowa
Genre:     Mystery
Source:   I bought my copy.


Friday, May 31, 2019

20 Books of Summer 2019



This is my fourth year of joining in the 20 Books of Summer reading challenge. It is very flexible. You can go for 15 Books of Summer or 10 Books of Summer if 20 is too much to commit to. Books can be substituted along the way. And that is fine.

The event is hosted by Cathy at 746 Books. The description is here. This is her list.

This year, for this event, summer starts June 3rd and ends September 3rd. I finished my list last summer so I will go into this optimistically. Of course, part of it is reviewing the books and I did not get all of them reviewed last year, but still, I enjoyed reading them all.

Here is my list:


The Keeper of Lost Causes (2007) by Jussi Adler-Olsen
Set in Copenhagen, Denmark. The first book in the Department Q series.
Pearls Before Swine (1945) by Margery Allingham
The twelfth book in the Albert Campion series. I am rereading this series in order.
 Transcription (2018) by Kate Atkinson
I like this author's books. I don't know a lot about this book (and I want to keep it that way) but it does involve espionage, a favorite subject of mine.
Perfect Gallows (1988) by Peter Dickinson
Peter Dickinson is one of my favorite authors. This book takes the reader back to a death in World War II, with a framing story set in 1988.

Crooked Heart  (2014) by Lissa Evans
Historical fiction about the homefront in the UK during World War II. Ten-year-old Noel Bostock is evacuated from London to escape the Blitz.
Out of the Deep I Cry (2004) by Julia Spencer Fleming
Third book in the Reverend Clare Fergusson/Russ Van Alstyne series. Clare Fergusson left her job as a military helicopter pilot to become an Episcopal priest in the small town of Miller's Kill, New York. Russ Van Alstyne is the police chief. An interesting combination.
City of Shadows (2006) by Ariana Franklin
Set in 1920s and 1930s Berlin, Germany. Features a policeman, Schmidt, and Esther, a Jewish refugee from Russia.

Death in Amsterdam (1962) by Nicholas Freeling
First novel in a mystery series set in Amsterdam, The Netherlands. Main characters are Piet Van Der Valk, a police inspector, and his wife Arlette, a gourmet cook.

Broken Harbor (2012) by Tana French
Fourth book in the Dublin Murder Squad series set in Ireland. Each book features a different detective in the squad.
China Lake (2002) Meg Gardiner
The author is originally from Santa Barbara, California; the female protagonist of this novel, Evan Delaney, is a lawyer in Santa Barbara. So I have to give the series a try.
Cold Comfort Farm (1932) by Stella Gibbons
From the description at goodreads: "Winner of the 1933 Femina Vie Heureuse Prize, COLD COMFORT FARM is a wickedly funny portrait of British rural life in the 1930s."


Death Knocks Three Times (1949) by Anthony Gilbert
Anthony Gilbert (pseudonym of Lucy Beatrice Malleson) was an English crime writer. The Arthur Crook series is comprised of over 50 novels, and this one is #21.

The Disciple of Las Vegas (2011) by Ian Hamilton
The second book in the Ava Lee series, starring a young Chinese-Canadian forensic accountant.

London Rules (2018) by Mick Herron
The fifth book in the Slough House espionage series; I read Spook Street in May, loved the book, and am eager to get to the next in the series


Innocence or, Murder on Steep Street (1985)
by Heda Margolius Kovály
Mystery novel set in Prague, Czechoslovakia in the 1950s.

Friends and Traitors (2017) by John Lawton
I read the seventh book in this series in 2012. Now I want to read the most recent novel in the series.

The Summons (1995) by Peter Lovesey
The third book in the Peter Diamond series. 


Station Eleven (2014) by Emily St. John Mandel
I read two post-apocalyptic novels in May, now I want to read another one. 

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (1943) by Betty Smith
An American classic about a young girl growing up in Brooklyn in the early 20th century.

The Axeman's Jazz (1991) by Julie Smith
The second in Smith's Skip Langdon series. Set in New Orleans.

Allmen and the Dragonflies (2011) by  Martin Suter
I don't know much about this book except that it is about an art heist set in Switzerland.


Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Death Sends a Cable: Margaret Tayler Yates


This is a mystery novel published in 1938, set on the Naval base at Guantanamo, Cuba. The main character is Anne Davenport McLean, better known as "Davvie", an ex-Navy nurse now married to a Navy Doctor, Hugh McLean. As the story opens, a young officer has committed suicide; his wife denies that he would do this and enlists Davvie to convince the authorities to investigate. No immediate evidence is found, his death is declared a suicide, and his wife returns to the states. However, she is soon able to convince the higher ups in the military to pursue the investigation.

First I have to make it clear that I loved this book. I think what won me over were the main characters: Davvie; her husband, Hugh; Babs van Born (the niece of another officer); and an undercover FBI agent. But especially Davvie, who tells the story. I enjoyed this look at the U.S. military before World War II has begun. The focus is on the Navy officers, their wives, and the community. I found the interactions in the base housing community to be very realistic. (In the early 70s I was an Air Force officer's wife and lived on base. That was thirty years later, but not much different, I assure you.) Margaret Tayler Yates was married to Navy Commander R. R. Yates and thus had experience as a Navy officer's wife.

Like many mysteries of that time, the story was very complex with a surplus of characters that I had a hard time keeping up with. Yet in the end it all came together. Davvie gets involved in the investigation of the earlier deaths, working with the undercover FBI agent on base to determine what is going on, which sounds strange but actually works within the context of this story. She is resourceful, determined, and not shy at all.

The story is part mystery, part adventure/thriller, with some espionage thrown in. I was at least as interested in the military community and the interactions with the employees of the All America Cable Company than the mystery itself, but I liked that part too. My only complaint was that the villains were a little too obvious, but the emphasis was on figuring out what was behind the murders.  At least that was my focus while reading.

I would love to read more of the series. This is the second book of four, and I am especially interested in the two later stories. Copies are not easy to find, and especially not at a desirable price. Nevertheless, I have ordered the last book in the series, Murder by the Yard.

John Norris introduced me to this book at his blog, Pretty Sinister Books, and kindly offered to send me his copy to read, and I am very grateful  for that. Please see John's review, which is more detailed than mine and full of interesting information.

The Spy Guys and Gals site has a page for Davvie McLean.


  ----------------------------------
Publisher: Macmillan, 1938
Length:    276 pages
Format:    Hardback
Series:     "Davvie" McLean 
Setting:    Guantanamo Bay, Cuba
Genre:     Mystery
Source:    This was a gift.



Wednesday, May 22, 2019

On the Beach: Nevil Shute

About On the Beach, from the back of my paperback edition:
Nevil Shute’s most powerful novel—a bestseller for decades after its 1957 publication—is an unforgettable vision of a post-apocalyptic world.
After a nuclear World War III has destroyed most of the globe, the few remaining survivors in southern Australia await the radioactive cloud that is heading their way and bringing certain death to everyone in its path. Among them is an American submarine captain struggling to resist the knowledge that his wife and children in the United States must be dead. Then a faint Morse code signal is picked up, transmitting from somewhere near Seattle, and Commander Towers must lead his submarine crew on a bleak tour of the ruined world in a desperate search for signs of life. Both terrifying and intensely moving, On the Beach is a remarkably convincing portrait of how ordinary people might face the most unimaginable nightmare.


I enjoy reading apocalyptic fiction. There are many different takes on that genre and I enjoy all of them. This one was especially interesting because of when it was written, at a time when the fears of the cold war were prevalent. I was a child when it was written and a teenager during the Cuban Missile Crisis. I don't have specific memories of the tensions of that time, just general impressions.

The story centers around several men who are assigned to the last functioning American nuclear submarine, the USS Scorpion: the captain, Dwight Towers; the Australian liaison officer, Peter Holmes; and an Australian scientist, John Osborne, assigned to monitor and research the radiation levels. The men are sent out on cruises to check out areas around the United States and further to the north. The novel tells us about these trips but also about their lives when they return to Melbourne, where the submarine is based.


Particular attention is paid to Dwight Towers and his friendship with Moira Davidson, a friend of Peter Holmes and his wife Mary. Moira is in her early twenties and is bitter about missing the experience of marriage and having children and the opportunity to see more of the world. Dwight had a wife and two children in the US and knows that he will never see them again, but sometimes his actions belie this, as he looks for gifts for them.

There is a focus on the somewhat mundane, daily activities of the characters as they continue on with their lives as if they will be around later when the garden that they are planting has bloomed. It may be surprising to think that people would continue in their normal lives, but I think it emphasizes that sometimes it is the small things we do in life that are most important.

The book is a look at how people might handle this impending doom and carry on their daily lives until the end. I like that the story is told simply, without a lot of details about what has happened on other continents. I also liked the combination of some technological aspects of how the situation was addressed, versus the daily lives of the people affected. Some people knew that the end would come but chose to live as they had before. Others were in denial. And a few followed up on dreams that they had, while still carrying on in their jobs.

Reading this story did not affect me emotionally as much as I expected. I read it as one look at what could happen, and it made me think afterwards about how a family with younger children would handle the approaching end of life. It does address families and individuals at different stages of life, taking a deeper look at people in their 20s, 30s, or 40s and what they would miss because of this disaster. I found it more thought-provoking than sad.

In reading about this book and the author, I discovered that Nevil Shute was an aeronautical engineer and that some of his books used that knowledge as a part of the story. I will be looking for some more of his books to read. Suggestions are welcome.

See these reviews, at Pining for the West, Brona's Books, and My Reader's Block.

 -----------------------------

Publisher:   Vintage International, 2010 (orig. pub. 1957)
Length:       312 pages
Format:      Trade paperback
Setting:      Melbourne, Australia
Genre:       Apocalyptic Fiction
Source:      I purchased my copy.

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 Tayler 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.