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.