Thursday, November 28, 2013

Planning for the 2014 Sci-Fi Experience

For several years, Carl V. at Stainless Steel Droppings has hosted a science fiction non-challenge in January and February. Last year I joined in for the first time, and added some science fiction to my reading.

This year Carl is making a change. He is beginning the The 2014 Sci-Fi Experience on December 1st, 2013 and it will go through January 31st, 2014. For this event, readers are encouraged to:
a) Continue their love affair with science fiction
b) Return to science fiction after an absence, or
c) Experience for the first time just how exhilarating science fiction can be.

There are no rules really... There are no numbers of things you are required to read or view. This is not a challenge, just an opportunity to experience the wonder of science fiction.

If you are interested, please consider signing up. Check here for more information. There will be a review site where you can post any SF book, television, film or game reviews for things you experience during the months of December and January.

I don't know if I will start my sci-fi reading before the end of 2013, because I have a few challenges I want to finish in December. And I want to read some Christmas books. But I will read at least one sci-fi book in January. I have several I want to read in 2014 so if I don't fit them into this event, I will spread them out through the rest of 2014.

Last year I read Old Man's War by John Scalzi (my review here). In January, I plan to read the second book in that series, The Ghost Brigades.

I also have two science fiction / crime fiction books that I want to read: The Naked Sun (1956) by Isaac Asimov and The Demolished Man (1951) by Alfred Bester.   

Sunday, November 24, 2013

The Last Clinic: Gary Gusick

By the time I was three chapters into this book, I was beginning to dislike the approach. I found that the depiction of the South and its denizens was a little over the top. Maybe flippant, maybe serious, I could not tell. The comments that set the book firmly in the South sometimes seemed too forced. However, by the time I had read about 40% of the book (I was reading via the Kindle app), I was involved in the plot and ready to forgive most of the quibbles I had with the book.

From the description at Goodreads:
Outside the local women’s health clinic, the Reverend Jimmy Aldridge waving his protest sign is a familiar sight. But that changes early one morning when someone shoots the beloved Reverend Jimmy dead. Sheriff Shelby Mitchell knows the preacher’s murder will shock the good people of Jackson—and the pressure to find the killer is immediate and intense, which is why Shelby calls in detective Darla Cavannah.
The Reverend is protesting the women's health clinic because the doctor who runs it is known to do abortions. This book puts the topic of abortion front and center.  Put that together with the fact that I grew up in the South (Alabama), and reading this touched on some hot topics for me. Primarily, judging it as a mystery, I give it very high marks. I did have quibbles in some areas, however.

The strength of this book is in the plot. The story moved forward with a good pace, and there were side stories that were interesting. It kept me engaged.

I liked the protagonist, a woman, and felt like her character was well developed. Darla Cavanaugh has come to the Hinds County Sheriff's Department from the Philadelphia Police Department and is an outsider. Her husband, who was killed in an automobile accident within the last year, was a native of Jackson, and a hometown hero because he was a pro football star.

However, I felt like the remaining characters were either caricatures or not fully developed. OK, I really did like Shelby Mitchell, the sheriff and Darla's boss, even though he chewed tobacco... and "addressed all women, regardless of their name or marital status, as Miss, followed by their first name." So Darla is "Miss Darla", her partner is addressed as Tommy.

Tommy Reylander is nominally Darla's partner on this case, although they are working in different directions and not supporting each other at all. Tommy is a local, and he is an Elvis impersonator. If he was better at it, he would be doing that for a living rather than working in law enforcement.

I found that the depiction of the South and its denizens was a little over the top. However, the author lives in Jackson, Mississippi and I haven't been in that state in decades, so who am I to say? I honestly was not sure how serious the author was when describing attitudes in the South.  And those descriptions made me more than a little uncomfortable at times.

Many reviews say that the book presents both sides of the abortion issue very fairly but I cannot agree with that. To be clear, I am not strongly pro or con the subject of abortion. In this book, the characters who were anti-abortion were primarily portrayed as rednecks or worse. I am sure that in the South there are intelligent thinking persons who are anti-abortion.

So you can see that I liked a lot about the book, but had problems with it too. It is Gary Gusick's debut novel, and I think he has done quite well. At the same time that the book made me uncomfortable, it made me think, and that is a good thing. This book is supposed to be part of a series, and if another is published, I will read it.

I received a free copy of this book for review via NetGalley. 

Info about the author that was supplied at the end of the e-book copy I had:
Gary Gusick is a retired advertising executive with more than thirty years experience as a copywriter and creative director. He is a multiple winner of virtually every national and international award for creative excellence in advertising. Gary is married and lives with his wife in Jackson, Mississippi.
Some other reviews:
At The Novel Pursuit
At Writing To Be Read

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Crime Fiction Alphabet 2013

2013 was the second year I participated in the Crime Fiction Alphabet meme, sponsored by Kerrie at Mysteries in Paradise.

This year, I did have a theme for my posts. My theme was authors or books in the sub-genre of police procedurals. At Wikipedia, this is broadly defined as "a subgenre of detective fiction which attempts to convincingly depict the activities of a police force as they investigate crimes."

I was aware that I have a preference for mysteries where the detective is in the police force, but I was surprised to find how many mysteries I own that feature such detectives. And after finishing the Crime Fiction Alphabet I still have a lot left to read.

A is for...The Stately Home Murder: Catherine Aird

B is for Earl Derr Biggers (review of The Chinese Parrot)

C is for Chinatown Beat by Henry Chang

D is for The Dark Winter by David Mark

E is for Except the Dying by Maureen Jennings

F is for A Fatal Grace by Louise Penny

G is for Luiz Alfredo Garcia-Roza 
(Review of The Silence of the Rain, set in Brazil. First published 1997 in Portuguese, translated into English by Benjamin Moser in 2002.)

H is for Cynthia Harrod-Eagles (review of Fell Purpose)

I is for Viktor Arnar Ingólfsson
(Review of House of Evidence, set in Iceland. Translated by Andrew Cauthery and Björg Árnadóttir.)

J is for J. Robert Janes (review of Kaleidoscope)

K is for Jim Kelly (review of Death Wore White)

L is for The Last Policeman by Ben H. Winters

M is for Ed McBain (reviews of The Mugger and The Pusher)

N is for Håkan Nesser
(Review of Mind’s Eye. Author is Swedish. Translated by Laurie Thompson.)

O is for Open Season by Archer Mayor

P is for Plots and Errors by Jill McGown

Q is for A Question of Identity by Susan Hill

R is for Roseanna by Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö

S is for Skulduggery by William Marshall

T is for Helene Tursten
(Review of Detective Inspector Huss, set in Sweden. Translated by Stephen T. Murray.)

U is for Unholy Ground by John Brady

V is for ... Seeking Whom He May Devour by Fred Vargas

W is for ... The White Trilogy by Ken Bruen
(compiles A White Arrest, Taming the Alien, and The McDead)

X is for ... The Devotion of Suspect X by Keigo Higashino

Y is for ... The Yard by Alex Grecian

Z is for Aurelio Zen
(Review of Vendetta by Michael Dibdin)

My absolute favorite read of these books was The White Trilogy by Ken Bruen. I loved all three books in the trilogy, but especially Taming the Alien and The McDead.  

Plots and Errors by Jill McGown was a re-read but still was another top read in this group. Also The Silence of the Rain by Luiz Alfredo Garcia-Roza.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

The Midas Murders: Pieter Aspe

The Midas Murders (1996) is the second book in a long series of police procedural novels by Pieter Aspe. Aspe is a Belgian author and the books were originally published in Belgium. This is only the second novel in the series to be translated into English and published in the US and the UK.

The first book in this series, The Square of Revenge, ended on an up note, with Commissioner Van In's prospects on the job improving, and his relationship with Hannelore Martens of the Public Prosecutor's office going well. Thus I was surprised to find that Van In was having problems in this book. Problems with women, alcohol, and depression. His health is not good and his finances are suffering.  To top it off, he is behind on the payments for the beautiful house that he loves, and he cannot convince the bank to give him time to catch up on payments.

Van In is called in on two cases. A German business executive is found dead in the snow. At first it seems to be the result of an accident, but they begin to suspect foul play very soon. And very shortly after that, there is a bombing of a historic statue to be investigated.

The tone of these murder mysteries is different from most English-language mysteries I read. They seem to have a lighter, less serious tone, but definitely not cozy-ish. Sex and risque language, but not a lot of violence. I like the differences.

I found the effects of the strains and stresses of Van In's job to be realistic, although we get little background on why he has spiraled into the state he is in. Hannelore and his friends at work support him and the relationships seem realistic. Even though one wonders why Hannelore is so forgiving, I bought it, and I like the relationship. I found the whole story -- the mystery, the investigations, and the background relationships -- intriguing.

I have not even mentioned the setting which is the beautiful city of Bruges. That is another plus for this novel.

This book was provided for review by Open Road Integrated Media via NetGalley. 

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Hard Currency: Stuart Kaminsky

Hard Currency (1992) by Stuart Kaminsky is the 9th book in a series featuring Inspector Porfiry Rostnikov, a police investigator in Moscow, and the team that he works with. When the series started, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) was still in existence. This book, published in 1992, and the previous one, Death of a Russian Priest (reviewed here) address the changes in Russia following the dissolution of the USSR, and specifically how this affects this police team.

This book is especially interesting because Rostnikov and one of his staff, Inspector Elena Timofeyeva, go to Cuba to investigate a murder. Or, in reality, the goal of their trip is to find that the Russian citizen accused of the murder is in fact the murderer. To rubber stamp what has already been decided both in Cuba and Russia. This, of course, does not sit well with Rostnikov.  And the situation gets more complicated once they are in Cuba.

Meanwhile, there are two other investigations going on in Moscow, carried out by the remainder of Rostnikov's team: Emil Karpo, a very scary, very serious man nicknamed the Vampire; and Sasha Tkach, a younger member of the team. One case is related to the death of a visiting foreign minister from Kazakhstan. The other is a very difficult case involving a serial killer. At this time in Russian history, those in power do not want to admit the possibility that such a criminal exists in their country. Thus, for a long time, there were no attempts to tie the crimes together, which could have helped solve the crime. By the time all the data is available, it is hard to find any pattern in the killings.

I find these books most enjoyable for the development of the characters. The cases are interesting, but are not as compelling for me as the relationships and the setting. Secondary characters are also well defined.

In this series, we get a picture of the backgrounds of all of these characters without their personal lives overpowering the plot. I have read all the books in this series to this point, and I plan to read the rest in order. However, as far as this book goes, it could be read as a standalone.  The background provided is enough to prevent any confusion in following the characters and their relationships.

I cannot speak from firsthand knowledge about how accurate the depiction of either Russia or Cuba at this is, but this is what Ed McBain had to say about the book: "Kaminsky gets Russia right, and Cuba right, but best of all he gets his superb cop Rostnikov altogether right yet another time. Bravo!"

Kaminsky was a very prolific writer. He is known for several long-running series of mystery novels and other non-fiction titles and stand-alone novels. My earlier post featuring two of his books has some more information on his other series.

You can see a list of his novels at Stop, You're Killing Me!

There is a brief bio at Mysterious Press.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The Big Sleep (film)

The Big Sleep is a classic film based on the novel by Raymond Chandler, directed and produced by Howard Hawks, and starring Humphrey Bogart as Philip Marlowe, a private detective. It also starred Lauren Bacall, who was married to Bogart by the time this film was released. Several other actors with smaller roles were: Martha Vickers, Dorothy Malone, Regis Toomey, and Elisha Cook Jr.

I have a hard time reviewing a film that I have watched many, many times. I have always liked films of this era and Bogart and Bacall are among my favorite actors, so I always get a lot of pleasure out of watching this movie. The story is set in Los Angeles, and there is murder, blackmail, sex, homosexuality, drugs, and pornography.

Philip Marlowe is working for a wealthy man, General Sternwood, with two beautiful daughters, and he can buy just about anything he wants. Most of the people in the story are corrupt. It is the story of a moral man working in a corrupt society.

The plot of the movie is just as complex as the plot of the book. Maybe more complex. But like the book, the movie is more about the characters and the setting, and doesn't have to make a lot of sense.  A lot of the dialogue sounds like it is straight out of the book.  The plot of the movie sticks fairly close to the plot of the book, but some characters are different. The oldest daughter of General Sternwood is played by Lauren Bacall, and she has a much greater role in the movie. Other than that, I won't go into details. If you haven't read the book or seen the movie, I don't want to spoil it for you.

This film was completed in 1944 but not released until 1946. The release of the film was initially delayed because the war was ending and Warner Brothers wanted to get films related to the war out before the end of the war. There were also concerns related to the scenes shot with Lauren Bacall in the early version. Since the film had been delayed already, her agent lobbied for Howard Hawks to re-shoot some scenes to enhance her role.

The DVD version I watched had both the 1946 theatrical version of film and the original pre-release version. I have not watched the original version, and don't know if I want to. The disc also includes a short documentary with Robert Gitt of UCLA, who provided the information on the differences between the two versions of the movie, along with other background on the movie.

The screenwriters for the film are William Faulkner, Jules Furthman, and Leigh Brackett. William Faulkner is very well known for his novels and short stories and won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. Jules Furthman wrote screenplays for many, many other films, including  Mutiny on the Bounty, Only Angels Have Wings, To Have and Have Not, and Rio Bravo. But the most interesting story is that Howard Hawks hired Leigh Brackett based on the dialogue in her first novel, No Good from a Corpse, and, based on her name, he thought she was a man. Leigh Brackett is well known for writing many science fiction novels and short stories, and wrote a few other mystery novels. In the late 50s and early 60s, she wrote screenplays for several other Howard Hawks films. Robert Altman also hired her to write the screenplay for The Long Goodbye (1973), based on another Raymond Chandler book.

This is the third movie I have watched and reported on for the Book to Movie Challenge 2013, hosted by Doing Dewey.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Read Scotland 2014

Peggy from Peggy Ann's Post is sponsoring a reading challenge and I cannot pass up the temptation to join in. 

The goal of the challenge is this: Read and review Scottish books -any genre, any form- written by a Scottish author (by birth or immigration) or about or set in Scotland.

A Summary of the Guidelines
(Go here to sign up and get more details. There are links to suggestions, if you need them.)
  • Challenge runs January 1 to December 31, 2014.  
  • Books you read may count for other challenges. 
  • You don't have to have a blog to participate.
Because I am not going to overload myself with reading obligations this year, I am aiming at the lowest level:      Just A Keek (a little look): 1-4 books read

This is a list of authors and books I am interested in.

Ann Cleeves
Red Bones
Blue Lightning
A. D. Scott (profiled by Peggy here) 
A Small Death in the Great Glen
A Double Death On the Black Isle
Beneath the Abbey Wall
Brian Ruckley
The Edinburgh Dead
Ed James
Ghost in the Machine
Devil in the Detail

Saturday, November 9, 2013

The Big Sleep: Raymond Chandler

Raymond Chandler is a very well-known and highly regarded author of hard-boiled mysteries featuring Philip Marlowe. He was also major influence on future writers in that sub-genre.

In The Big Sleep (1939), Philip Marlowe, a private detective in 1930's Los Angeles, is working on a job for General Sternwood, a very old, very sick rich man with two wayward daughters. The case involves blackmail but quickly evolves into a much more complicated situation. The story shows us the seamy side of Los Angeles, with the story involving gambling, pornography, and mobsters.

Chandler's writing in this book is beautiful. This was Chandler's first novel and many readers say it is not his best book. I enjoyed every minute of it. I have to be honest and say that viewing the movie may have influenced my enjoyment. I have watched the movie many times, but it had been at least a decade since I saw it last. I knew the basic story very well though.

The descriptions of Marlowe, his interactions with others, and the snappy dialog was great. I liked the plot too, but that could have been because I am so familiar with the movie. I look forward to reading more books by this author to see if my enjoyment continues (or even increases).

The book has a wonderful opening paragraph:
It was about eleven o'clock in the morning, mid October, with the sun not shining and a look of hard wet rain in the clearness of the foothills. I was wearing my powder-blue suit, with dark blue shirt, tie and display handkerchief, black brogues, black wool socks with dark little clocks on them. I was neat, clean, shaved and sober, and I didn't care who knew it. I was everything the well-dressed private detective ought to be. I was calling on four million dollars.
A Chandler quote:
The most durable thing in writing is style, and style is the most valuable investment a writer can make with his time.
Which may be why the style seems to be utmost in this book. And kept me reading eagerly.

My husband has a wonderful old edition of this novel.  It is a motion picture edition, published June 1946, with photos from the movie with Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall.

This book counts for the Vintage Mystery Reading Challenge for the category Size Matters.

I watched the Bogart and Bacall movie based on this book last night and will be writing a post on it soon.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Vintage Mystery Challenge 2014

This is the third year that I am joining in the Vintage Mystery Challenge. For 2014, Bev at My Reader's Block has decided to have a Vintage Bingo challenge. The bingo challenge will include a lot of categories similar to the 2013 challenge, but the goal will be scoring a Bingo. That will mean completing categories that result in 6 across, 6 vertical, 6 diagonal or a special 4 corners Bingo.

For me the most exciting news is that there will be two levels. The range of Vintage books will be broken into "Golden" and "Silver" Age books, with a separate Bingo card for each level. The Silver Age books cover the thirty years following the Golden Age books, and that is a period with lots of mystery authors that I like.

Per Bev's rules:
Challengers may play either the Silver Age or Golden Age Card—or both.  For the purposes of this challenge, the Golden Age Vintage Mysteries must have been first published before 1960. Golden Age short story collections (whether published pre-1960 or not) are permissible provided all of the stories included in the collection were originally written pre-1960.  Please remember that some of our Golden Age Vintage authors wrote well after 1959--so keep an eye on the original publication date and apply them to the appropriate card.  Silver Age Vintage Mysteries may be first published any time from 1960 to 1989 (inclusive).  Again, Silver Age short story collections published later than 1989 are permissible as long as they feature stories first published during the declared Silver Age years and include no stories first published later than 1989.
Here is an example of the bingo card. The cards for Gold and Silver have the same categories.

There are other rules and guidelines. Check them out and sign up HERE.

I plan to join both challenges, Golden Age and Silver Age. I don't have a plan. I have been participating in a perpetual Agatha Christie reading challenge and aiming at reading one Christie mystery a month, so probably I will have more books by Christie than by other authors. 

Several authors I want to read more of are: Rex Stout, Elizabeth Daly, Erle Stanley Gardner, Ed McBain, Anthony Gilbert, Stuart Palmer, Raymond Chandler, Ross MacDonald. I could go on and on. Some of these authors wrote books beginning in the Golden Age and moving into the Silver Age.

As for Silver Age authors...
Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö wrote in the 60's and the 70's. William Deandrea wrote in the late 70's and the 80's. Howard Fast's mysteries written as E. V. Cunningham were written in the 70's and the 80's. Also, Janwillem van Wetering, Nicolas Freeling, and William Marshall wrote many of their books in that period. And how could I forget two of my favorite authors, Emma Lathen, whose first book was published in 1961, and Patricia Moyes, whose first book came out in 1959.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Bones and Silence: Reginald Hill

Bones and Silence (1990) by Reginald Hill is the eleventh book in the Dalziel and Pascoe police procedural series. The series has a total of twenty four books, so I have many more to read, and I am glad of it.

Bones and Silence has two mysteries. The first is a death witnessed by Andy Dalziel while he is still more than a bit soused after a night of drinking. He sees the event through the back window of an adjoining house in his neighborhood. To him, it looks like murder. The witnesses, one of whom he insists is the murderer, say it was suicide.  The second thread is Pascoe's quest to find a woman who is threatening suicide. This woman has chosen Dalziel as her confidant, via letters, but Dalziel is not interested and Pascoe feels that he must follow up.
As usual in this series, the reader follows some events in the detectives lives. Pascoe's wife is involved in an arts production, an outdoor presentation of the Medieval Mysteries. Her gorgeous, statuesque friend, Eileen Chung, wants to dragoon Dalziel into playing an important role. Pascoe has just been made a Chief Inspector, and is getting used to the new rank and responsibilities.

In this series, the partners are neither buddies nor antagonists. There is mutual respect, and they lean on each other to benefit from their individual strengths. Dalziel is intelligent but coarse; Pascoe is educated and a family man.

Detective Sergeant Wield has a large role in this investigation and I like him as a supporting character. He is everything you want in a policeman; hard working, honest, loyal. He is also gay and trying to fit in with his co-workers and do a good job.

I have never read a book by Reginald Hill that I did not like. And he can do no wrong in the Dalziel and Pascoe series in my estimation. Although Reginald Hill was awarded the Gold Dagger for this book, the eleventh in the series, it is not my favorite so far. My favorites are the second, An Advancement of Learning, in which Pascoe meets his wife, and the seventh, Deadheads

Also reviewed at Crime Scraps, Mystery*File, and Celebrating Reginald Hill

Sunday, November 3, 2013

R.I.P. VIII Wrap Up Post

The R.I.P. event (a non-challenge) is done. Carl at Stainless Steel Droppings reports: 

"R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril VIII had nearly 200 participants this year and we read and reviewed nearly 500 books, short stories and films/tv shows. I’m sure there were many more things read and viewed that were not reviewed."

I read a lot of books for the challenge. A few were outside of my comfort zone, but mostly my standard mystery fare:
  1. Unholy Ground by John Brady
  2. Murder at Hazelmoor by Agatha Christie
  3. Seeking Whom He May Devour by Fred Vargas
  4. The Broken Shore by Peter Temple
  5. The Devotion of Suspect X by Keigo Higashino
  6. The Infernal Detective by Kirsten Weiss
  7. The Yard by Alex Grecian
  8. Vendetta by Michael Dibdin
  9. The Mystery of the Blue Train by Agatha Christie
  10. Frantic by Katherine Howell
  11. Raven Black by Ann Cleeves
  12. White Nights by Ann Cleeves
  13. Dark Star by Alan Furst
  14. The Man in the Picture by Susan Hill
Two of my favorite books for this event were by the same author: Raven Black and White Nights by  Ann Cleeves. They were moody and slow, and focused a lot on the location and the time of year.

The Shetland Islands is a very different setting from any I have read about before. Per Wikipedia, the Shetland Islands "is a subarctic archipelago of Scotland that lies north-east of mainland Britain." The largest island is known as "Mainland." The action in both these books takes place on that island, although in different parts of it.

Raven Black involves the murder of a teenage girl in an area where a much younger girl disappeared a few years earlier. This first book takes place in the cold winter when winter fire festivals take place. The Up Helly Aa festival plays a part in the plot.

The second book in the series, White Nights, centers around the death of an outsider, a visitor to the islands who no one appears to know. That book is set at the time of year (mid-summer) when it never really gets dark, a phenomena it is hard for me to imagine.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Mysteries in October and Pick of the Month

I read seven mysteries in October, plus one ghost story (novella).

The ghost story was The Man in the Picture (2007) by Susan Hill. Reading a ghost story was an experiment, since I don't remember if I have ever read one, but it did not go well. Just not my cup of tea.

Below is my list of mysteries read in October.
  1. The Mystery of the Blue Train (1928) by Agatha Christie
  2. Frantic (2007) by Katherine Howell
  3. Raven Black (2006) by Ann Cleeves
  4. White Nights (2008) by Ann Cleeves
  5. Dark Star (1991) by Alan Furst
  6. Dead Before Dying (1996) by Deon Meyer
  7. The Big Sleep (1939) by Raymond Chandler

All of the mysteries I read were very, very good. Katherine Howell and Deon Meyer were new authors (to me) and I was impressed with both of them. Howell's books are set in Australia and Meyer's are set in South Africa. Reading about countries I am unfamiliar with was an added bonus. I read the first two books in Ann Cleeves' Shetland mystery series, and plan to read more in that series. Espionage novels have always been a favorite and Dark Star by Alan Furst was an enjoyable read, slowly paced but a good story.

Two of the books were vintage mysteries. It is amusing that the author of one of them, Raymond Chandler, was very critical of the other author, Agatha Christie. I am a fan of both authors.

My pick of the month is The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler, which I have not reviewed yet. I know what I liked so much about it... The writing is beautiful. It was his first novel and many readers say it is not his best book, but I was mesmerized by the writing. I like the plot too, but that could have been because I am so familiar with the movie. I don't think this is the first time I have read a book by Raymond Chandler, but it has been many years and my memory of the books I read in my early years has faded. I was happy to see that this book exceeded my expectations.