Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Holiday Homicide: Rufus King

From the first paragraphs of Holiday Homicide:
A nut, if you care to believe it, was the first reason for Cotton Moon getting mixed up on a New Year's morning with the homicide in which Myron Jettwick, that prize real estate operator and heel, starred as the corpse.
The second reason was money; the pay-off being old Miss Emma Jettwick's check for thirty thousand dollars...
Cotton Moon's fees have always come high. They've got to, if he's to stay in that state in which he has decided to keep himself. Also if he wants to go plowing about the seven seas on his boat Coquilla in search of rare nuts to add to his collection, and sometimes eat.
Cotton Moon has an apartment in a building development called Wharf House, and is allowed to hitch his boat there. Moon and his assistant, Bert Stanley, come upon a young man on the boat landing; he is in pajamas and a dressing gown, standing in the snow. He is distraught because he has found the dead body of his stepfather, Myron Jettwick, and knows that he will be suspected of murder. And thus Cotton Moon gets involved in looking for the solution to the crime.

This is another crime novel that is difficult for me to review. I did not know this was a Nero Wolfe / Archie Goodwin pastiche going in, so I was initially taken aback by the the strong similarities between this novel and the Nero Wolfe novels.  Cotton Moon only works on cases when he can demand a high fee to bankroll his hobbies and other upkeep; the narrator is his smart-aleck assistant, who is often kept in the dark. Moon's unusual hobby is collecting rare tropical nuts; Wolfe's hobby is raising orchids. They both have loyal cooks, and they both deal mostly with the well to do.

Even once I realized that the resemblance was too strong not to be intentional, it still seemed strange to me. This novel was published in 1940, and at that time only seven or eight novels had been published in the Nero Wolfe series.

Ignoring the similarities between this novel and Stout's series, this is an entertaining, though often far-fetched story. The story does differ from most Nero Wolfe novels in that the adventure continues with a trip (via yacht) to Tortuagas. There is a storm and more deaths. The story is never really serious, although not laugh out loud funny either.

I planned to read this book earlier in December because I expected it to be a Christmas mystery (which is what I get for not really paying attention to the picture on the cover, which is clearly New Year's Eve attire). However, the story is only peripherally connected to the holidays. It begins on New Year's Day but that was about it. However, the cover does fit the holiday... so still a good choice.

I don't know how I could have missed this author before; I only purchased this book because of the skull on the cover ... and because it was a Dell mapback edition. Rufus King wrote many other mysteries, some starring Lieutenant Valcour, a French-Canadian detective attached to the NYPD. Murder by the Clock was the first in that series, reviewed here by John of Pretty Sinister Books. John has reviewed two other books by King here and here. There are several reviews of books by King at The Passing Tramp blog. Also see Bev's review of Holiday Homicide at My Reader's Block.

And this is why book blogging is a wonderful thing. Had I read this book in isolation, I would have passed on trying other books by the writer. This book is fine, but not the type I would pursue for future reading. But I do think I will try some of Rufus King's other mysteries when I get the chance.


Publisher:    Dell, 1940
Length:        238 pages
Format:       Paperback
Setting:       New York
Genre:         Mystery
Source:       I purchased this book.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

The Ghosts of Belfast: Stuart Neville

Gerry Fegan is a former killer for the IRA living in Belfast after being released from the Maze Prison. Many of those he worked with while in the IRA have transformed from gunmen (or their bosses) to politicians. After returning from years in prison, Fegan has not made the adjustment to civilian life so smoothly. He is haunted by twelve ghosts of innocent victims that he was ordered to kill or was responsible for their deaths by his actions. The ghosts include: a mother and infant, a schoolboy, a butcher, an RUC constable.

The Ghosts of Belfast (published in the UK as The Twelve) is a revenge novel, with Gerry Fegan seeking some sort of redemption for the deaths and pain he has caused. It is strange to say that a book this dark, filled with violence and death, can be considered an enjoyable read. Yet I found it a compelling read. Even though it is somewhat out of my comfort zone, I didn't want to put it down. One of the downers of the novel is that there are few if any characters that the reader can like. I could have some sympathy with the protagonist, and that is pretty much necessary to any enjoyment of the novel.

There is a very good overview and review of this book at SHOTS Crime and Thriller Ezine by Ruth Dudley Edwards, a historian and author of non-fiction books and crime novels.

Would I recommend this book? If the violence and dark tone doesn't bother you, and if you are interested in a view of life in post-Troubles Northern Ireland, then yes.

I am including quotes from this review at The Guardian because I think it best describes the negatives and positives of the book, for prospective readers:
The Twelve is a brilliant thriller: unbearably tense, stomach-churningly frightening. Fegan and his nemesis, the government double agent Davy Campbell, are magnificent creations: not sympathetic, but never wholly repugnant. And just as haunting as Fegan's apparitions are Neville's stunning reimaginings of the darkest atrocities: the bombs, the beatings, the torture, the point-blank murders. Then there's the farm in south Armagh, setting for the novel's grisly climax, presided over by the almost mythically violent Bull O'Kane, the last bastion of the old guard, unchanged, impenetrable, rooted in the past.
It is impressive indeed to create an entertainment out of such material, but more than that, Neville has boldly exposed post-ceasefire Northern Ireland as a confused, contradictory place, a country trying to carve out a future amid a peace recognised by the populace as hypocritical, but accepted as better than the alternative. This is the best fictional representation of the Troubles I have come across, a future classic of its time. Stuart Neville has finally given Northern Ireland the novel its singular history deserves.
You will note below that this is the first book in a series called the Jack Lennon Investigations. This book seems more like a prequel, since in this book Jack Lennon is a minor character. 


Publisher:   Soho Press, 2009
Length:       326 pages
Format:      Hardcover
Series:       Jack Lennon Investigations #1
Setting:      Belfast, Northern Ireland
Genre:       Thriller
Source:      I purchased this book.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Favorite Reads of 2014

I read lots of books this year, mainly mystery novels as usual. I wish I could read twice as many books in a year. I neglected Agatha Christie and Ed McBain totally this year, and I had wanted to start reading Elmore Leonard and read much more of Len Deighton's books than I did.

I did read many great books by wonderful authors this year. I enjoyed almost all of them and it is hard to narrow it down to the ones that really resonated with me. But here is my stab at a list. I did go over 10 books but not by much.

The Danger Within by Michael Gilbert. 
Published in 1952, it is an exceptional story of men incarcerated in a prison camp in Italy toward the end of World War II. The book also includes a mystery, featuring an amateur detective, a prisoner in the camp who is asked to look into the circumstances of the death of a fellow prisoner.

The Little Shadows by Marina Endicott 
This is a historical novel set in the years preceding and during World War I (and the only non-mystery fiction on this list). It is the story of three sisters, teenagers as the story begins, who travel with their mother to support the family as a vaudeville act. I am very interested in vaudeville, and I don't know as much as I would like about the history of vaudeville. I found this book very readable, entertaining, with interesting characters.

Touchstone by Laurie R. King
This historical novel is set in the UK in 1926 and the story centers around the weeks leading up to the general strike. Harris Stuyvesant is an agent of the United States Justice Department's Bureau of Investigation, and he has arrived in England to track down the man responsible for terrorist bombings in the US.

The Cairo Affair by Olen Steinhauer
A spy thriller, which takes place during the activities of the Arab Spring, in February 2011. Sophie Kohl's husband Emmett is currently working at the American embassy in Hungary, but his previous assignment was in Cairo. Both of them have friends still in Cairo, and when Emmett is killed, Sophie seeks the reasons for his death there. 

Time's Witness by Michael Malone
This is the second book in a police procedural series. Cuddy Mangum is the narrator and the Chief of Police in Hillston, North Carolina. Cuddy is educated, but he is not refined, and to the powerful and rich inner circle of Hillston residents, he is a redneck. The book was published in 1989 and set around the same time period. The story in this book centers on George Hall, a black man arrested seven years earlier for killing a white cop. He is now on death row and supporters are seeking a reprieve or pardon. 

Eleven Days by Donald Harstad
Carl Houseman is a deputy sheriff working the night shift in the small town of Maitland, Iowa. He is sent to the scene of a crime after a 911 call comes in. At the scene, he finds a dead man but the woman who made the call is not found. By the next morning, a second crime scene has been found with three more bodies, and the two crimes seem to be related. The small department, with the help of state investigative agencies, works for the next eleven days to solve the crime.

9tail Fox by Jon Courtenay Grimwood 
This novel is fantasy blended with mystery, and the mystery elements were stronger in this novel than in many cross-genre novels. In addition to the noir thriller elements, this is the story of a journey of a man to understanding himself and his isolation from others. I enjoyed the book as much for the personal story of Bobby Zha as for the mystery.

I Am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes
I am very fond of espionage fiction, so it is no surprise that I liked this. The central character, the spy who has run an elite espionage unit in the past, has had many identities and many code names. Of those who even know of him, he is a legend. But he has reached a point in his life when he has left spying behind and is in a new untraceable identity.  Then several events come together to force him back into the spy game.

World of Trouble by Ben H. Winters 
Book III in the The Last Policeman trilogy, following the activities of policeman Hank Palace in a pre-apocalyptic world. An asteroid is headed for earth, and from the beginning of the series we know that it will be devastating. I also read Countdown City, Book II in the series, this year, and I rated it as highly as this one. In this final book, Hank goes on an odyssey to try to locate his sister before the asteroid hits.

Enigma by Robert Harris
Set in 1943, this book uses Bletchley Park and the code breaking efforts there as a background for a mystery. Tom Jericho had left Bletchley to recuperate in Cambridge after a nervous breakdown resulting from the stress of his work. Now he is asked to return to help in a new effort to break Enigma codes.

Garnethill by Denise Mina
Set in the city of Glasgow, this novel deals with tough topics: incest, patient abuse, drugs, unemployment, dysfunctional families. It is a very dark story. There is an optimistic resolution, but many of the characters in the book are not very pleasant people. Nor is there the possibility for a truly happy ending.

Kerrie of Mysteries in Paradise is collecting lists of  top crime fiction reads for 2014. Check them out HERE.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

2014 Global Reading Challenge Wrap Up

The goal of the 2014 Global Reading Challenge is to read one or more fiction books set in each of the seven continents. To make it easier, the Seventh Continent can be Antarctica or a "place" of your choice. It is hosted by Kerrie of MYSTERIES in PARADISE.

This year I opted for the Easy Level, just one book for each continent. In most cases I read more than one book for a continent, but it took me awhile to decide on a book from South America.

These are the books I read for each continent:

Africa: The Cairo Affair by Olen Steinhauer (Egypt)
Asia: Slicky Boys by Martin Limón (South Korea)
Australasia: A Few Right Thinking Men by Sulari Gentil
Europe:  The Collini Case by Ferdinand von Schirach (Germany)
North America:  Sleep While I Sing by L. R. Wright (Canada)
South America:  December Heat by Luiz Alfredo Garcia-Roza (Brazil)
The Seventh Continent (outer space): The Naked Sun by Isaac Asimov

Friday, December 26, 2014

Slicky Boys: Martin Limón

Corporal George Sueño and Sergeant Ernie Bascom of the US Army return in Martin Limon's second book set in 1970's Seoul in South Korea. Sueño and Bascomb deliver a message from a Korean woman to a British soldier in the UN forces. Later, he turns up dead and they could be in trouble, to the extent of being dishonorably discharged. They have to investigate the murder without revealing their involvement with the victim. The "slicky boys" are ruthless black marketeers operating in Seoul who may be involved in the killing.

This book was a joy to read. I say that despite the fact that it features plenty of violence. I like Martin Limon's writing style and I like the story he has to tell of the military in South Korea in the 1970's. The plot is very complex and our heroes don't always operate within the law. The story is told in first person by Sueño, who is the more controlled and logical member of the pair. Bascomb often lets his emotions take over and wreaks havoc.

The two main characters are very interesting. The narrator relates his story in a compelling way.
My name is George Sueño. My partner Ernie Bascom and I are agents for the Criminal Investigation Division of the 8th United States Army in Seoul. We work hard—sometimes— but what we're really good at is running the ville. Parading. Crashing through every bar in the red-light district, tracking down excitement and drunkenness and girls.
Ernie and I were both grateful to the army.
What was I grateful for? For having a real life, for having money coming in—not much, but enough—and for having a job to do. I was an investigator and I wore suits and did important work. A status I never thought I’d reach when I was a kid in East L.A.
My mother died when I was two years old, and my father had taken off for Mexico shortly thereafter. ...
I was brought up by the County of Los Angeles-in foster homes. It was a rough existence but I learned a lot about people, how to read them, how to hide when it was time to hide, and how to wait them out. The mothers were all right. It was the fathers you had to watch out for. Especially when they were drunk.
I enjoyed Ernie's comments on growing up in L.A. and the contrast with being in the military and working in South Korea.

I could go on and on about what I love about this writer and this series, but I can't say whether others will enjoy it or not. At nearly 400 pages, it is an investment of time. For me it was worth it.

Per the publisher, Soho Press, "Martin Limón retired from military service after twenty years in the US Army, including ten years in Korea." J. Sydney Jones interviews the author at Scene of the Crime. Jones describes the series: "Part police procedurals, part thrillers, Limón’s novels, as Michael Connelly noted, 'take you away to a brand new world.' " There are nine books in the series.

This post at Detectives Beyond Borders has more great quotes from Slicky Boys.


Publisher:   Soho Press, 2004 (orig. pub. 1997)
Length:       387 pages
Format:      Trade paperback
Series:       George Sueño and Ernie Bascom #2
Setting:      South Korea, 1970's
Genre:        Police procedural, thriller
Source:      I purchased this book.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Rest You Merry: Charlotte MacLeod

Description of the book at Amazon:
Each December, the faculty of Balaclava Agricultural College goes wild with Christmas lights. The entire campus glitters with holiday decorations, save for one dark spot: the home of professor Peter Shandy. But after years of resisting the Illumination festival, Shandy snaps, installing a million-watt display of flashing lights and blaring music perfectly calculated to drive his neighbors mad. The horticulturalist flees town, planning to spend Christmas on a tramp steamer, but soon feels guilty about his prank and returns home to find his Christmas lights extinguished, and a dead librarian in his living room.
Charlotte MacLeod is a mystery author known for her unconventional characters and outrageous plots. Rest You Merry, published in 1979, was her first mystery novel. It was followed by nine more in the Peter Shandy series, ending in 1996. While she was writing that series, she had three other series going. The Sarah Kelling and Max Bittersohn series was published under her own name. Under the pseudonym of Alisa Craig she wrote the Grub and Stakers series and a series featuring Detective Inspector Madoc Rhys of the Royal Canadian Mounties.

I really enjoyed this book when I first read it back in the eighties. I read the next two or three in the series and I read several of the Sarah Kelling series. Before that I had read comic mysteries by Donald Westlake. My propensity for humor in fiction must have disappeared along the way, because I don't seek that sub-genre of mystery out much and generally don't enjoy it when I do.

That being said, this was a fine mystery, even if the story was a tad more unrealistic than I remembered. There is a romance and I loved it; I usually have the opposite reaction. Peter Shandy is a wonderful protagonist; one of the characters is a librarian and books figure into the solution. I bought a copy of the 2nd book in the series at the same time I got this one and I will read it sometime soon.

MacLeod's mysteries are mentioned in this interesting article on comic crime fiction at the website of the Whodunit? Mystery Bookstore:
MacLeod specialized in over-the-top characters with funny names, operating in strange situations. Her humour was very broad, hardly subtle, or to everyone’s taste. There were ten novels set in Balaclava College (beginning in 1978), an educational institution of higher learning in New England which bore no resemblance to any real operation I ever knew. Then there were twelve Kelling books, set in Boston and environs and featuring a very gutsy heroine with the most incredible cast of relatives it is possible to imagine. 
Between the two series, this first book in the Peter Shandy series is my favorite of the Charlotte MacLeod books, but the Sarah Kelling series appealed to me more overall. I haven't tried the series written as Alisa Craig, but I may try the one featuring the Royal Canadian Mounties.

Other resources

  • Les Blatt describes this novel as "a very amusing, very cozy mystery" in his review at Classic Mysteries.
  • Margot Kinberg of Confessions of a Mystery Novelist puts the Spotlight on the second book in the Sarah Kelling series, The Withdrawing Room.


Publisher:   Avon Books, 1978
Length:       215 pages
Format:      Paperback
Series:       Peter Shandy #1
Setting:      US
Genre:       Cozy mystery
Source:      This copy purchased at the Planned Parenthood book sale, 2014.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

"Christmas Party" by Rex Stout

There were 74 mysteries in the Nero Wolfe series: 33 full-length novels and 41 novellas. Most of the novellas were published first in magazines, then published in sets of 2, 3 or 4 in books.

This story, "Christmas Party," is one of four novellas in the book And Four to Go.  This novella was first published in Collier's, January 4, 1957, as "The Christmas-Party Murder".

Nero Wolfe is an eccentric private investigator who only works when he needs money to pay for his hobbies (orchids and food) or to support his household. All of the Nero Wolfe mysteries are narrated by Archie Goodwin, a private investigator who also serves as Wolfe's secretary when a case is not going.

The story starts with Archie refusing to accompany Wolfe to a meeting with a well-known horticulturalist. He reminds Wolfe he already has plans to attend a Christmas party at a ex-client's business, as a guest of one of the employees. As we can guess, a death occurs at the party.

This one is not especially satisfying as a mystery. More attention is paid to the relationship of Archie Goodwin and Nero Wolfe, which is fine with me because that is what I enjoy most about the Nero Wolfe mysteries. With such a short story I don't want to tell more but I do recommend it, at least for those who enjoy the interplay of Wolfe and Archie.

The reviewer at considers this the weakest story in the book. I have not re-read the other stories in the book, so I won't comment on that. He does note that it "may be more appealing to someone who has read a lot of Nero Wolfe." But I really like what he has to say about the series in general:
Wolfe mysteries, to note, are not the sort where the reader is given all the evidence and can try to solve the mystery before the investigators. Usually, Wolfe goes into the final confrontation with only a tactic to discover the murderer, not the final understanding of the mystery. These stories are about the process, and about Wolfe's thoroughly enjoyable speeches and Archie's infuriation of the police.

The three other novellas in this book are:
  • "Easter Parade"
  • "Fourth of July Picnic"
  • "Murder Is No Joke"

Since two of them are set around holidays, I decided to save them for those holidays. Let's just hope I remember. The introduction by Jane Haddam in the Bantam Crime Line edition is also very entertaining.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Books of 1971: Firecrest by Victor Canning

Firecrest by Victor Canning is both a hunt for missing documents and a psychological study of a man who is very hardened to killing people (just in his line of work, as he sees it) but is seeking revenge for the murder of his lover. The story is primarily told from his point of view, and the reader learns of his childhood influences and how he became a member of the Department.
The Department was an offshoot of the Ministry of Defence. Its existence had never been officially acknowledged. Its functions – proliferating under the pressure of national security – were as old as organised society. Its work was discreet and indecent. Security and economy demanded that certain people and certain situations had to be handled, organised, dispatched or suppressed without the public being disturbed or distressed by any awareness of the mostly unmentionable stratagems that, in the interests of the national welfare, the Department was given an ambiguous mandate to employ. Murder, blackmail, fraud, theft and betrayal were the commonplaces of the Department.
A scientist, Dilling, has developed a project that could be very useful to the government. He is negotiating with the Department to sell this information when he dies of a heart attack. Not trusting the people he is negotiating with, he has hidden the documents and told no one where they are. Grimster has been assigned the task of persuading the girlfriend of the scientist, Lily, to reveal where the papers have been hidden. She has no knowledge of the transactions or the hiding place, but those seeking the information are sure that she has clues to the location. Grimster and Lily are the characters we get to know the best, and the reader is never sure how they will fare until the end.

The story is very complex and has very few if any characters that I found likeable. That did not deter my enjoyment. My only (very tiny) quibble was that sometimes I wanted the action to progress more quickly and there might have been too much laboring over motivations. It is not an overly long book, at 252 pages. There are twists and revelations throughout the book. Because of the subject matter, it is a dark book but does not leave one with a feeling of hopelessness.

This is my first experience reading Victor Canning. I noticed some books of his in reprint editions at Arcturus Publishing and Ostara Press. Then I found a great series of articles by Nick Jones at Existential Ennui, which pointed me to resource at The Victor Canning pages by John Higgins.

Firecrest is the first book in a series called the Birdcage books, described in this post at Existential Ennui and at The Victor Canning Pages (here).


Publisher:   Award Books, 1974 (orig. pub. 1971)
Length:       252 pages
Format:      Paperback
Series:       Birdcage books #1
Setting:      UK
Genre:        Espionage fiction
Source:      Purchased at Planned Parenthood book sale, 2014.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

December Heat: Luiz Alfredo Garcia-Roza

Summary at Fantastic Fiction:
A sultry December night in Rio de Janeiro. A retired policeman spends a typically alcohol-filled evening with his girlfriend, a prostitute. When he wakes up the next morning, his wallet and car key are missing, his girlfriend has been murdered, and he can remember none of the events of the previous night. Called in to investigate is Inspector Espinosa, veteran detective and friend of the ex-cop. It's a seemingly open-and-shut case, but Espinosa is convinced there's more here than meets the eye, and when other bodies begin turning up, he finds himself not only racing a killer but falling in love.
December Heat is the second novel in the Inspector Espinosa series. The story is told from various points of view: Espinosa; Vieiro, the suspect; Flor, friend of the victim; and a young homeless boy. The deaths in this book are of marginalized members of society. No one (except Espinosa and Vieiro) really cares if the crimes are solved. Vieiro wants to clear his name. He also was a very close friend of the prostitute. He is retired, but he feels that once a policeman .... always a policeman.

Espinosa is not portrayed as a hero; he is an ethical policeman, which appears to be unusual in the Brazilian police. Espinosa often operates alone, and he has no partner. He can draw upon other policemen within his precinct, but he must choose carefully to find one he trusts.

Quote from author's description of the character:
Espinosa is a common man. He is not a hero, he is not always fighting against dangerous criminals, and he does not get all the beautiful blondes and brunettes that cross his path. He is a public employee, a middle-aged person, and a solitary man. He could be our neighbor. However, at the same time, he has a critical mind and a romantic heart; he feels he is an eccentric in the police world and out of place in general. He is a contradictory common man, if this makes sense. Above all, Espinosa is an ethical man. Two decades before the birth of the character Inspector Espinosa, Brazil was still under a military regime, which had ruled for a very long time, and the police were conceived as a repressive force and not as an investigative apparatus. Besides, several divisions were corrupt. Therefore, the image of Brazilian police at that time was not good, and that bad impression has persisted until the present time. Nowadays, after more than two decades of full democracy, we still have a police force contaminated by the past. With Inspector Espinosa, I intended to create a character that provided the image of an ethical policeman, not as a utopian ideal but as a real possibility.
Although the novel is set in December, there are only a few references to preparations for Christmas, the crowds, the shopping. Espinosa is not much interested in Christmas.
He remembered more clearly the Christmases he had spent with his grandmother, in the years they'd lived together. She'd made an effort so the day wouldn't be sad. After her death, except for the few years of his marriage, he had never again celebrated Christmas. He lacked the faith, and the people.
Overall, I would say that this is a very different crime fiction novel. It is the exploration of the characters that makes it a compelling read. It is dark but not depressing. 

Other resources:

Publisher:  Henry Holt and Company, 2003 (orig. pub. as Achados e perdidos, 1998)
Length:      273 pages
Format:      Hardcover
Series:        Inspector Espinosa #2
Setting:       Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Genre:        Police Procedural
Translated:  From the Portuguese by Benjamin Moser
Source:       I purchased my copy.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Death in Disguise: Caroline Graham

Death in Disguise is the third in the Inspector Barnaby series written by Caroline Graham. I was motivated to re-read this book after I found this lovely paperback edition at the September book sale. I first read it back in 2002, and fortunately did not remember a thing about the story.

The Manor House of Compton Dando has been taken over by a commune called The Lodge of the Golden Windhorse. The residents of this small commune all have different reasons for joining this group of mystics and come from very diverse backgrounds. They offer seminars and classes in New Age mysticism and crafts to support their group. When not one but two of the group's leaders dies within a few months of each other, Inspector Barnaby and Sergeant Troy of Causton CID investigate. The second death is clearly murder, but was the first?

As Inspector Barnaby investigates, he loses patience with the residents of the commune. The residents vary in their devotion to eccentric belief systems, and some just can't communicate without spouting their beliefs. Some of them are sincere and some are not, and it is hard to tell which. Later he comes to regret that he did not take them more seriously and listen to Sergeant Troy's suggestions and suspicions. I like this humanizing of an otherwise close to perfect inspector.

Some reviewers complained that the story takes a while to get going, with too much exposition preceding the murder and the investigation. Inspector Barnaby doesn't show up until  about a third of the way into the book. I like stories structured like this, setting up the characters and the issues and relationships, so it was definitely my cup of tea.

I also watched the TV adaptation of this book. We have watched all of the episodes with John Nettles, and are going back and re-watching the earlier episodes, so this was perfect timing. In the TV episode some of the relationships are switched around, probably to fit the story into a 90-minute episode.

In the book, much of the plot centers around Suhami, formerly known as Sylvia Gamelin, and daughter of Guy Gamelin, a rich and ruthless business man. She is estranged from her parents and would like nothing better than to never see them again. Then they show up at her birthday celebration at the commune, and death ensues. Much of the book is devoted to fleshing out their background and relationships. The book may go too far in that area, but the episode cuts most of that out, making some of the plot less plausible and confusing. Nevertheless, it is an entertaining episode.

One thing I had forgotten about the books was that Sergeant Troy was a much more self-absorbed and chauvinistic person than in the TV series. In the early shows that are adaptations of novels his aversion and insensitivity to homosexual relationships is obvious, but in later TV episodes he mellows. In the books, Troy is married and he doesn't treat his wife too well. He is, however, an adoring father.

I reviewed the second book in the series, Death of a Hollow Man, in September. My review is here.


Publisher:  Avon, 1994. Orig. pub. 1993.
Length:     368 pages
Format:     Paperback
Series:      Chief Inspector Barnaby, #3
Setting:     UK
Genre:      Police Procedural
Source:     I purchased my copy.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

A Season for Murder: Ann Granger

It is time for a Christmas mystery. I always try to include a few in my reading at the end of the year. As usual in a mystery novel, the occurrence of Christmas and the Christmas events are incidental to the mystery itself. However, this one starts before Christmas and continues up to New Year's Day, and includes plenty of festivities, so it definitely fits the bill.

Say It with Poison (1991) was Ann Granger's first mystery novel and the first book featuring Meredith Mitchell and Alan Markby. A Season for Murder was published in the same year. My copy indicates that this is a Meredith and Markby Mystery, but I have seen it called the Mitchell and Markby Village series also.

In this novel, Meredith Mitchell has moved to a small cottage in a community known as Pook's Common, near to Bamford (a fictional town in the Cotswolds) . She has just returned to Britain from her stint as the British consul of Yugoslavia. After the Christmas holidays she will be starting a home posting in London, following years when she was assigned abroad. Coming into this area, she knows only Chief Inspector Alan Markby, who she met in the previous book in this series when she was visiting family in another town in the area.

According to my copy of this book, Mystery News described the first book in this series as "a solid contemporary English village mystery with good characterization of both people and place." I agree, this is a fine cozy-ish mystery which had police procedural elements due to the presence of Markby but also the elements of an amateur investigator, Meredith, who has more insights into the individuals in the community. Meredith is new to the community but it is a small area and she has gotten acquainted with a few of the inhabitants. Of course, contemporary when the review at Mystery News was written was 1991, and this is a much more traditional mystery than many written nowadays, and is lacking the plethora of technological marvels that are so evident in today's novels.  Since I could do without the prominence of those elements anyway, this was appealing to me.

The characters are both the strength and the weakness of this novel (and the series?).  It is nice to read a book featuring a woman protagonist with an important, established career having problems with commitment to relationship... instead of the other way around.  From my own point of view, I don't like much romance in mysteries and I get irritated with romances that go nowhere. However, as one reviewer says, you can enjoy the mystery without paying much attention to the relationship between the two protagonists.

The two main characters are interesting. Meredith is in her mid-thirties, and Alan Markby is in his early forties. They are attracted to each other but often interact in antagonistic ways. Meredith is not especially likable at times. This is a not a thriller, no one is put seriously at risk, even though Meredith is living in a very isolated lane with few neighbors. Yet the characters are not syrupy sweet and the relationships seem realistic. Sometimes the relationship between Meredith and Alan Markby is maddening, but never boring. Returning to the Christmas theme, I enjoyed the family scene where Inspector Markby's sister is coercing Markby into joining into her family's Christmas dinner and bringing Meredith along.

Ann Granger wrote 15 novels in this series between 1991 and 2004. She has three other series: the Fran Varady series, which starts out with the heroine jobless and nearly homeless; a Victorian crime series set in the heart of London starring Lizzie Martin, companion to a wealthy widow; and her most recent series, the Campbell and Carter Mysteries, also set in the Cotswolds. Prior to writing mystery novels, the author worked in British Embassies in various parts of the world. As did her husband, whom she met while working in Prague.


Publisher:   Avon, 1993 (orig. pub. 1991)
Length:       247 pages
Format:      Paperback
Series:       Meredith and Markby #2
Setting:      The Cotswolds, UK
Genre:        Mystery
Source:      Purchased at Planned Parenthood book sale, 2006.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

The 2015 Sci-Fi Experience (A Non-Challenge)

Carl V. at Stainless Steel Droppings is again hosting a science fiction non-challenge in December and January. This is the third year I will be joining in.

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... no numbers to aim at. I like to join in because I like a little science fiction reading in my year. I do watch a good amount of science fiction movies and TV shows throughout the year with my family. I will probably only read a couple of books for this event, but I love to see what others are reading. And I will do the reading and reviewing in January of 2015 ... most likely.

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

Friday, December 12, 2014

The TBR Double Dog Dare (First Quarter 2015)

The TBR Double Dog Dare is hosted at James Reads Books.  This event has been running for several years but last year was the first time I joined in. As he says, it is NOT a challenge, it is a dare. It is meant to be fun.

The goal is "to read only from your TBR pile between January 1 and April 1. You can still buy books, you just can’t read them until the TBR Double Dog Dare is over." I did buy books in the first three months of 2014, and I did not read them until April or later. For some of them that was very hard.

There are exceptions; bend the rules to make it fun for you:
You can make exceptions for books clubs, arcs, and other things you really want to make exceptions for. The TBR Double Dog Dare is all about having fun. So if you join in for a week or a month, no worries.

You can sign up here.

Personally, I have a few books from NetGalley to read during the first quarter of the year and I will include those. I will make exceptions if I need to acquire a book for the crime fiction of the year meme hosted by Rich at Past Offences, but so far every book I have read for the meme was already in my library. I will have a goal to cut way back on buying books during that time; but I never say never when it comes to buying books, so that is a very loose goal.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

The Jasmine Trade: Denise Hamilton

Introduction to the novel at the author's web site:
Everything was set. Marina Lu had even ordered designer dresses for the eight bridesmaids who, in several months' time, would have preceded her down the aisle at her painstakingly planned, storybook wedding. But Marina lies dead, alone in her shiny status car, a two-carat diamond engagement ring refracting nothing but another abruptly shattered Los Angeles dream. Was her death merely a carjacking gone bad? Or is there more to the story? 
Marina is Los Angeles Times reporter Eve Diamond's chilling introduction to "parachute kids," the rich Asian teens who live alone in California while their parents run businesses in Hong Kong. Delving into the mysteries surrounding Marina's life and death, Eve stumbles upon a world of unmoored youth and an even more tragic subculture where young immigrants live in virtual slavery.
I initially had some problems with this book. The first half was too slow. I consider the themes very interesting, yet the story was not grabbing my interest. In addition, I don't usually enjoy mysteries featuring amateur sleuths, and journalists fit into that sub-genre in my opinion.  I haven't read a lot of series with journalists as heroines or heroes, so I was trying to broaden my horizons.

Yet, when I hit the midpoint of the book, the story picked up and I got more comfortable with the characters. I liked the picture of Los Angeles and the San Gabriel Valley. Hamilton does an excellent job of depicting the cultural diversity of the area and how it affects life in Southern California. Especially in a big city like L.A.

I read one review that liked the story over the development of character; another reviewer stressed that the characters were good but the plot was lacking. So I guess it depends on who is reading the book. I felt that both improved toward the end of the book and that it was a fine effort for a debut novel. There are four other books featuring Eve Diamond. I will be continuing the series to see where it takes her.

This novel also get extra points for being a mystery novel written by a woman with a strong female protagonist. Denise Hamilton is clearly drawing on her own experiences as a journalist for the LA Times; see this essay at her web site.

This post by Maxine at Petrona gives a good overview of Denise Hamilton's books and suggests three other authors with series that feature journalists.


Publisher:   Scribner, 2001 
Length:       279 pages
Format:       Hardcover
Series:        Eve Diamond #1
Setting:       Southern California
Genre:        Mystery
Source:       I purchased my copy.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Book to Film: Eleven Favorites Plus One

Inspired by this post at Clothes in Books, I came up with a list of favorite books with film adaptations. I do love it when a book is adapted, and I am on a mission to read and watch as many as I can. This list includes many that I read and watched years ago. Listed in no particular order.

The Pelican Brief by John Grisham

I must have seen the film first. We like thrillers, and I like Julia Roberts. Denzel Washington and Julia Roberts, what more can you ask for? (I know there are those who would disagree.) I liked the film very much, so decided to read the book. The only book I have read thus far by John Grisham. To be honest, even though I have read the book twice, I don't remember how much the book and film align. But I liked both of them so they have to be on the list.

The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler

Another one where I saw the film (many times) before I read the book. Although the book and the film end differently, it could be said that both are so confusing plot-wise that it doesn't really matter. Except for the ending, reading the book is very much like seeing the film and vice versa. My book review here; my film review here.

Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie

This is one of my favorite Christie novels. I love novels or films set on a train. The only adaptation that I have seen is the one starring Albert Finney as Poirot, and I am very fond of it. My post on the book and the film is here.

The Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett

Adapted into a film starring William Powell and Myrna Loy. The original film was followed by five sequels, some of which had a screenplay written by Hammett. I had seen the film many times before I read the book. The film is a very entertaining murder mystery, light and fun. The book is much darker and grittier, although not as dark and gritty as Hammett’s other novels (I hear). Nick and Nora drink just as much or more in the book as in the films. My book review here; I reviewed the film and its sequel, After the Thin Manhere.

The Hunt for Red October by Tom Clancy
I am not a big Tom Clancy fan but I am a fan of this book and its film adaptation. I have watched the film multiple times. It has been a good while since I saw the film or read the book, so I don’t remember how closely they align, but I don’t care. Sean Connery is wonderful as the Russian captain, even with his Scottish accent. Other favorite actors in this are: Alec Baldwin, Sam Neill, Scott Glenn, James Earl Jones, Joss Acklund, Tim Curry, Jeffrey Jones, and Fred Dalton Thompson. And Courtney B. Vance as “Jonesy.” Director John McTiernan also directed Die Hard, another family favorite.

A quote from the review at DVDTalk:
Connery was a last-minute replacement for his Never Say Never Again costar, Klaus Maria Brandauer. Brandauer would have given a more ambiguous performance, perhaps, but Connery has exactly the right leadership charisma the character needs. One hardly notices or cares about that thick Scottish accent.

The Great Train Robbery by Michael Crichton

The novel is a fictionalized retelling of a famous train robbery in England in 1855. The film stars Sean Connery, Donald Sutherland and Lesley-Anne Down and was directed by Michael Crichton, who also wrote the screenplay. It is a heist story, which is a favorite in our household. I love watching the planning, the rehearsals to check the timing, and the surprises along the way.

Enjoy a review of the film at Sergio's blog, Tipping My Fedora. (He did not like it as well as I do.)

In the Heat of the Night by John Ball

I saw the film long before I read the book. I liked the story and the actors, especially Sidney Poitier and Rod Steiger. I did not read the book until this year. The book was published in 1965, and the film was released in 1967.

The basic story of the book and the film are the same. The book was set in Wells, South Carolina; the movie is set in Sparta, Mississippi. The detective, Virgil Tibbs, is from Pasadena, California in the book, and has a much milder manner. In the movie he is from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and is much more confrontational. I note other differences between the two in my film review. However, both were very good and each had its own strengths.

My review of the book is here.

The Longest Day by Cornelius Ryan

The book was published in 1959, and tells the story of D-Day, the first day of the invasion of Normandy. The film was released in 1962. I did not see it then, but I remember a friend going to see it with her father, who had participated in D-Day. I read the book years ago, probably around 1990. We love watching the movie, with its ensemble cast.

One of my favorite parts of the movie is the assault on the Pegasus Bridge near Caen. It is especially interesting because Richard Todd participated in the British airborne operation. He was among the first British officers to land in Normandy as part of Operation Overlord. He later met up with Major John Howard on Pegasus Bridge. In the movie, Richard Todd played the role of John Howard.

Casino Royale by Ian Fleming

The first book in the James Bond series. I had read books in this series years ago but it has been long enough that I want to revisit them. After watching the 2006 film version starring Daniel Craig, I decided to check out the novel and see how the two compared. I was surprised that the book and the novel were very close. And I enjoyed both of them.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

The Millenium Trilogy features Lisbeth Salander (a researcher and computer hacker) and Michael Blomkvist (a journalist). In this first book, they work together to find out what happened to Harriet Vanger, niece of Henrik Vanger, retired head of a large corporation. Each book in the series was very long (over 600 pages each) and had an extremely involved plot. There were two adaptations of the first book, and both were quite good. I prefer the Swedish adaptation directed by Niels Arden Oplev and starring Michael Nyqvist and Noomi Rapace. There were Swedish adaptations of all three novels in the trilogy and I liked them all. This one was the best of the three.

And one more…

The Light of Day by Eric Ambler (filmed as Topkapi)

The Light of Day was the winner of the Best Mystery Edgar in 1964. The narrator of this book, Arthur Simpson, is a thief and a con-man. He isn't as smart as he thinks he is, and ends up being forced to cooperate in a heist. It was also made into a movie, Topkapi, in 1964. That film is a favorite in our household, and I had seen it many times before I read the book. The movie does differ from the book substantially, but they both have their good points. If you have a choice, read the book first. The movie is great, although it feels dated now, but the book is better.

My post on the book and the film is here. Two things that make the film so entertaining: The film was shot on location in Istanbul, Turkey. And the actors: Melina Mercouri, Peter Ustinov, Maximilian Schell, and Robert Morley.

Honorable mention: Kiss Kiss Bang Bang

This movie is a mixture of genres: a noir thriller with comedy and romance, with allusions to Raymond Chandler's books and based partly on Brett Halliday's novel Bodies Are Where You Find Them.

The chapter titles in the movie are all taken from Raymond Chandler novels or stories: "Trouble is My Business", 2. "The Lady in the Lake", 3. "The Little Sister", 4. "The Simple Art of Murder", and the epilogue, "Farewell, My Lovely".

The poster for Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is from enigmabadger via Flickr.