Friday, May 30, 2014

9tail Fox: Jon Courtenay Grimwood

These excerpts from a brief review by Eric Brown at the Guardian describe this novel very well:
In Jon Courtenay Grimwood's previous eight novels, he has examined how the lives of everyday people are warped by the corrupting influences of power. 9Tail Fox explores the same theme while successfully tackling the contemporary thriller, and in Bobby Zha, Grimwood has created his most complex, fully rounded character. The novel opens with Sergeant Zha of the San Francisco Police Department investigating the shooting of an intruder at an exclusive Russian Hill mansion...
Zha is not the nicest of men, but the story of his redemption is expertly handled, as is the seedy, cynical world of police politics. 9Tail Fox begins as detective procedural, hints at becoming occult horror, and finishes triumphantly as a novel of character. 
Going into this novel, I knew that it was a blend of fantasy and police procedural and that the "dead cop must solve his own murder," which is stated clearly on the cover of the edition I read. The subtitle also says "A novel of science fiction" but my son and husband, who had both read the book, felt that it fit in the fantasy genre, and I agree. This is the third book I have read for Once Upon a Time  VIII.

Beyond the facts above, I don't want to describe more of the plot of this book. It is a mystery with paranormal elements. I know that there are readers who don't like their mystery mixed with the supernatural. I do recommend this book to those who are interested in trying a different but still very fulfilling mystery.

This is a noir thriller with brutal elements, and a 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. The story has great pacing. The plot does get very convoluted, with flashbacks to earlier events (Stalingrad in 1942, a flight from New York to San Francisco). The writing was compelling. I did not get the happy ending I wanted but the kind of happy ending I was looking for would not have been consistent or as effective.


Publisher:  Night Shade Books, 2007. Orig. pub. 2005.
Length:  259 pages
Format:  Trade paperback
Setting:  Near future San Francisco, Chinatown.
Genre:  Sci fi / Fantasy / Mystery

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Wartime: Britain 1939-1945

Wartime: Britain 1939-1945 focuses on how World War II affected the populace of Great Britain, using in many cases quotes from letters and diaries written during that time. The emphasis is on what happened in the country itself, not on the war waged in other countries.

It is a superb reference for anyone who wants to know about life in Great Britain at this time. Many, many details of life at the time are covered in the 692 pages of text.  As a resource for research, or just to broaden one's knowledge of the time and the country, it is excellent.

The book gave me a much fuller appreciation of what World War II was like for the people of Great Britain. You can read comments on that topic, or even novels set in that time period, but not truly understand how much it touched all people, every day, in many ways and how many sacrifices were  made. However, I did not find this an easy book to read and it took me nearly a year to finish it. It was full of details, at times more than I was interested in.

One place I slowed down was somewhere in the three chapters (and about 100 pages) about the Blitz. The Blitz is a very interesting subject. I found that I could not read that many pages about the unrelenting horror of the realities of the Blitz. Never knowing what the night would bring. Losing family members and friends or one's home.  I did finish that section but I had to take a rest from it for a while.

Several of the chapters were of special interest to me. In a chapter on the arts and the artists, Gardiner says:
As the blitz spread in the autumn of 1940 it became harder to know where the nation's treasures, like the nation's citizens, would be safe. Britain's artistic heritage had to be protected from destruction.
Before the war began, paintings had been moved from the National Gallery in London to other, safer locations. Other treasures followed. But it was not only the art treasures that were affected, but the lives and work of the artists themselves. There was less money to pay for art and artistic pursuits, supplies were needed for the war, and artists suffered like everyone else.

The next chapter covers how the production of essentials for civilians and war materiel was affected. Men were pulled into occupations that they had not trained for. There was a need for skilled workers but it was difficult to organize the effort to fill the positions. Women were needed to fill many gaps, so that more men could be released for combatant duty.
The National Service (No. 2) Act became law on 18 December 1941. Its terms made Britain the first nation in the world to conscript women.
I knew that they filled many jobs in this period, but I had not known that women were conscripted. Women served in auxiliary branches of the armed services in many positions, including pilots.

The next chapter, titled 'OVER HERE', describes the influx of foreigners into the UK during the war. Italian and German prisoners of war were brought in as another solution to the demand for manpower in agriculture and industry. Servicemen from many countries came to the UK to join the fight. The largest numbers came from Canada and the US.

This chapter provided very interesting facts about how the US troops were prepared to come into the UK, and the impact their arrival made there.

I was most struck by the descriptions of how black GIs were treated in the military. A caption for a photo of two black soldiers says:
A 'Jim Crow Army' comes to Britain. US policy was not to 'intermingle' black and white enlisted men, and the 100,000 black GIs in Britain were in segregated units, often doing manual work, until high casualty rates by late 1944 meant they too were sent into battle.
She also says:
The British government did not want black GIs to come to Britain. As far as its own Black Dominion troops were concerned, the Foreign Office had already made it clear that 'the recruitment to the United Kingdom of coloured British subjects, whose remaining in the United Kingdom after the war might create social problems, is not considered desirable.'
Other subjects covered were: conscientious objectors, fascists in Britain, criminals and crime during wartime, and internment.

At the site, Juliet Gardiner's background is described:
She is an acclaimed social historian of the Second World War who has made a special study both of the Blitz and of the impact of the arrival of American soldiers in wartime Britain.
At that link, you can find interviews with Gardiner on World War II topics.

Wartime: Britain 1939-1945
was published in 2004.  Gardiner has written a book about the Blitz that has been published more recently, in 2010.


Publisher: Headline, 2004
Length:  782 pages, including endnotes, bibliography, and index
Format:  trade paperback
Genre: Non-fiction

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Skeleton in Search of a Cupboard: Elizabeth Ferrars

From the description of the book on the front flap of the dust jacket:
The luncheon-party in honour of Henrietta Cosgrove's eightieth birthday had gone very well. Her five stepchildren had gathered to celebrate in her lovely old thatched house and to enjoy the food prepared by Freda, the narrator/wife of one of them. Suddenly Henrietta dropped a bombshell. To shore up her dwingling income, she proposed to have valued with a view to selling two landscapes by a painter whose work had recent appreciated. The more practical suggestion that she should sell the over-large house instead threw the Cosgroves into confusion, for it was a suggestion to which several of them were violently opposed. That night the house burned down...
It looks like a case of arson, and that is the first mystery. But the fire reveals more mysteries hidden in the house, and starts a very uncomfortable series of events for the Cosgroves.

As noted above, the story is narrated by Freda, the wife of a younger son in the family, Peter. Henrietta's husband and the father of the five children, Raymond, had two sets of children by his previous two wives. Three children by the first wife and two children by the second. Peter is much younger than his siblings by the first marriage so there is less of a bond. It gets very complicated.

A lot of exposition is provided on the history and the relationships, and I enjoyed all of that. I am partial to books with first-person narration, and Freda's place in the family gives her the perfect perspective (vantage point) to tell the story without being privy to all the background.

I enjoyed this story and found it suspenseful and entertaining. There were several mysteries to follow but I did not get lost in the complexity. There is no real sleuth in this story.  Detective-Superintendent Beddowes investigates the house fire and related issues, but he is not involved directly in the story. If anyone at all is trying to figure out all the mysteries, it is Freda's husband, Peter, but Freda is not always privy to his actions. I would compare it to some of Robert Barnard's stand alone novels, and to a certain extent like Ruth Rendell's non-Wexford novels (although I haven't read a lot of those). The story definitely does not have the uncomfortable tension of Rendell's novels.

This book came to me via Moira of the Clothes in Books blog. Knowing that I collect books with skeletons on the cover, and that I wanted to try a book by Elizabeth Ferrars, she kindly sent me this book for my collection. I am so very grateful to her. Both the cover and the title are wonderful. I think it is a great example of Ferrars' writing and it has enticed me to try more books by the author.

And I will include an extract with clothing descriptions...
'Of course, if I'd known you were all coming, I'd have dressed for the occasion,' she went on. 'Here I am in my old blouse and skirt and all of you looking so smart....'
Her blouse and skirt, both of a soft lavendar shade, might be old, but she looked very trim in them. Beryl's new two-piece was dark green, which went well with her reddish hair. I had put on a jersey dress of coral colour, and Peter had been coaxed into his one good suit which he could normally be cajoled into wearing only when he had been invited to drinks by some of our more elderly acquaintances in the village, who might be put out if he appeared in a sweater and corduroys. His hair, luckily, was at the stage when it was neither too short nor too long and he was looking, I thought, remarkably handsome.
But even I, deeply though I loved him, could not persuade myself that he was as handsome as his half-brother, Martin.
At this point the narrator goes on to describe everyone else in the room, their looks, their clothes, their demeanors and quirks. It is a good introduction to the characters we have not met already. There is a large cast of characters to keep track of throughout the book.

From what I have read, online and in my mystery reference books, this book is not typical of all of Ferrars' novels. Ferrars wrote a lot of novels (see her Fantastic Fiction page for a list); I counted approximately 45 stand alone novels and 30 series novels (5 different series). Her first book was published in 1940, the last in the 1990's. The earlier books are said to be fairly-clued mysteries.  I am guessing there was a lot of variety in the types of mysteries she wrote. There are several others I plan to try.

Links to posts on other novels by Elizabeth Ferrars:


Publisher:  Collins Crime Club, 1982
Length:  181 pages
Format:  Hardcover
Setting:  English village
Genre:  Mystery

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Whispers Under Ground: Ben Aaronovitch

Introduction at Goodreads:
It begins with a dead body at the far end of Baker Street tube station, all that remains of American exchange student James Gallagher—and the victim’s wealthy, politically powerful family is understandably eager to get to the bottom of the gruesome murder. The trouble is, the bottom—if it exists at all—is deeper and more unnatural than anyone suspects . . . except, that is, for London constable and sorcerer’s apprentice Peter Grant. With Inspector Nightingale, the last registered wizard in England, tied up in the hunt for the rogue magician known as “the Faceless Man,” it’s up to Peter to plumb the haunted depths of the oldest, largest, and—as of now—deadliest subway system in the world.

It has been a pleasure to read each of the first three books from the Rivers of London series. I agree with this reviewer:
This is really a 4.8 star book. Not quite perfection, but much better than "really liked it." Firstly, I must say that Aaronovitch checked off my "do not rehash for those too lazy to read the earlier books" box. I loathe spending important book time with awkward monologues re-telling the plots of earlier books.
I too gave this four stars on Goodreads, and I did not want to bump it up to five stars. But it is very far above most other four star books. I use the rating system on Goodreads for my own use, to remember how I felt about it, but I feel like enjoyment of a book is very subjective and often depends on frame of mind or the weather. I sometimes re-evaluate my rating (usually in the week or so after reading the book).

So, why did I like it so much?

This book is definitely on the light and humorous side, although not laugh out loud funny. Although it may be for readers in the UK, who may get a lot more of the humor than I do. Yet, humorous though it is, it is not lacking in disgusting corpses or action-packed investigations. And the two elements balance each other out.

Lesley, another Police Constable, is back again. She featured a lot in the first book, but had a lower profile in the second book. I am glad to have her back. She is a strong female character, which is important, because Peter can be a little "sexist" or, at the least, clueless about the opposite sex.

I noted in the review of the second book in the series that there was more sex in that book than I was comfortable with. It just wasn't necessary. This one has very little of that... and both books were equally entertaining. I think this one is less violent too, though as I have said, lots of action. Feels like a thriller with fantasy elements. And we even have visitors from the USA taking part in the investigation.

But, the absolutely best thing about these books is how they are told, through Peter, our apprentice wizard. I start reading Peter's first person account, and I am completely entertained and entranced until I am done with the book.

The books are police procedurals, with autopsies and crime scene analysis, and the usual following up on leads. Here is Peter's description:
This is police work: you go from point A to point B, where you learn something that forces you to schlep back to point A again to ask questions that you didn't know to ask the first time. If you’re really unlucky you do both directions in the worst snow since written records began and with Zachary Palmer offering you driving advice while you do it.
Later, they have moved on to another area of London. The descriptions of London landmarks is another plus in this series. The author and Peter both clearly love the city:
Onward to Point C - in this case Southwark, the traditional home of bearbaiting, whorehouses, Elizabethan theatre and now the Tate Modern. Built as an oil fired power station by the same geezer who designed the famous red telephone box, it was one of the last monumental redbrick buildings before the modernists switched their worship to the concrete altar of brutalism. The power station closed in the 1980s and it was left empty in the hope that it would fall down on its own. When it became clear that the bastard thing was built to last, they decided to use it to house the Tate’s modern art collection.
There is a quote on the Rivers of London book cover by Diana Gabaldon: "what if Harry Potter grew up and joined the fuzz?" I don't see the similarity between the books myself (I have read the first six Harry Potter books), and I find that description misleading. It would make me avoid the series. Of course, the quote is about Harry Potter grown up, but I really think Harry Potter as an adult would be much different from Peter. Oh well, my point is really that this quote should not keep anyone from trying these books.

I have also seen comparisons between the Rivers of London series and the Harry Dresden series by Jim Butcher. Based on reviews, I had rejected that series. Not that the reviews were bad, but that the elements of the stories did not appeal. I think I should reassess that decision, and give the first book in the series a try.

In parting, I would say that these books are best read in order. As noted above, the author does not waste the reader's time on rehashing the back story. But, several reviewers said that the first book they read was this one, and they liked the book just fine. So, you can probably go either way. As many reviews say, once you read this book there are spoilers for the first two. But you could probably enjoy reading any of them as stand-alone books.

This is my third submission for Once Upon a Time VIII. My reviews for the first two books are  here. and here.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

In the Shadow of the Glacier: Vicki Delany

Summary at Poisoned Pen Press:
Trouble is brewing in the small, bucolic mountain town of Trafalgar, British Columbia. An American who came to Trafalgar as a Vietnam War draft dodger has left land and money to the town. But there's a catch. The money must be used to build a garden to honor draft dodgers. This bequest has torn the close-knit, peaceful town apart. Then the body of a leading garden opponent is found in an alley, dead from a single blow to the head. Constable Molly Smith is assigned to assist veteran Detective Sergeant John Winters in the investigation.
Because Winters' usual assistant is out for a while, Molly is given the opportunity to work with him on a murder investigation. She is thrilled, and wants desperately to do well. Winters, on the other hand, finds her brash and impulsive, and takes a while to get used to working with her. At times it was confusing (to me) why Molly would be allowed to work on the case. On the one hand she has insider knowledge of the community that Winters does not have; on the other hand she is closely involved with various persons who could be suspects.

There were a lot of elements to the story: draft dodgers moving to Canada, ecological issues associated with a resort development, treatment of women in police departments, the complexity of family relationships and working relationships ... maybe too many. I like a book that covers a wide range of topics while solving a mystery, but in this case I was distracted at times. I had a hard time getting into some of the characters. I liked and warmed to the main characters: Molly "Moonlight" Smith, a rookie policeman, and Sergeant John Winters, who has taken this job in a small town after a very unpleasant case in a previous job. I liked getting to know their fears and family issues, while they work on the investigation. There were a host of other characters and some of those I had a hard time getting into.

This is a fun police procedural, somewhat on the cozy side. I like the setting and learning a little bit of history of the draft dodgers in the US that I had not been aware of. Trafalgar is a thinly disguised version of Nelson, British Columbia. Per Wikipedia, it is true that draft dodgers from the US settled in Nelson. "During the Vietnam War, many American draft dodgers settled in Nelson and the surrounding area. This influx of liberal, mostly educated young people had a significant impact on the area's cultural and political demographics." I will continue reading this series not only because I am curious about the development of Molly and her partnership with Sergeant Winters, but also because I think that learning more about this city and its surroundings will be interesting.

Margot at Confessions of a Mystery Writer... has written two posts featuring Delany's books: a spotlight on In the Shadow of the Glacier and Introducing: Vicki Delany, where she also talks about her other series.


Publisher:  Poisoned Pen Press, 2007.
Length:  302 pages
Format:  e-book
Series:   Constable Molly Smith series
Setting:  British Columbia, Canada
Genre:  Mystery, Police Procedural

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

The Malcontenta: Barry Maitland

The Malcontenta is the second book in the mystery series featuring Kathy Kolla and David Brock. Kathy has been seconded to the Family and Juvenile Crime unit in the Kent County CID to get additional training and experience. This doesn’t seem to be working out too well for her. All of her assignments so far have been routine. She is finally assigned to a death at a naturopathic facility (an apparent suicide). The medical examiner finds evidence which indicates that the death was not suicide, and she is eager to follow up on it. Then, all of a sudden, her superior officer removes her from the investigation and the death is declared a suicide. Kathy feels strongly that the death was suspicious, and consults Brock on how to proceed.

I liked the structure of this novel, which I think must be different from most of the books in this series. The first portion of the book is the story of the initial investigation, which Kathy is in charge of. This is followed by a section where Brock works alone to follow up on her concerns once the investigation is cancelled. Towards the end Kathy and Brock join forces to finish the investigation.

The story examines sexism and corruption within a police department. Kathy Kolla and David Brock are exemplary officers with their quirks and flaws, but many other characters (both in the police department and at the health facility) are taking advantage of their positions to manipulate the situation. This is an unusual story, not a typical police procedural, because Kathy and Brock are often working outside of the system.The series goes on for a total of twelve books (so far), and it seems in this book that Kathy and Brock are still getting used to each other and are not officially working together.

Interesting comments on the series from the author:
As the stories have continued, the relationship between the two detectives has gradually evolved, with Kathy becoming more self-confident and Brock more dependent on her insights and tenacity. Both Brock, divorced, and Kathy, single, have had relationships with other people during the series, which also features a number of other regular characters both within and outside the police force, but it is the bond between the two main players which provides the central dynamic of the stories.
Each book is set in a different part of London and its surrounds, where I grew up and which I now return to as a partial stranger. I like to think of the detectives waiting for us at the start of each story, ready to lead us into a new and maybe unexpected part of the city. I have always loved the strong part that atmosphere and a sense of place play in crime fiction, and my architectural background contributes to that. The buildings and laneways are, for me, another set of characters in the books.
Now that I have gotten back to this series I will continue reading the books. I found the story to be fast paced and it kept me guessing. I have several more books in the series.


Publisher: Penguin Books, 2001; orig. pub. 1995
Length:  348 pages
Format: mass market paperback
Series:  Brock and Kolla
Setting:   England
Genre:  Mystery, Police Procedural

Sunday, May 11, 2014

A Few Right Thinking Men: Sulari Gentill

An introduction to the book at the publisher's site:
In Australia’s 1930s, the Sinclair name is respectable and influential, yet the youngest son Rowland - an artist - has a talent for scandal.
Even with the unemployed lining the streets, Rowland lives in a sheltered world... of wealth, culture and impeccable tailoring with the family fortune indulging his artistic passions and friends... a poet, a painter and a brazen sculptress.
Mounting political tensions fueled by the Great Depression take Australia to the brink of revolution. Rowland Sinclair is indifferent to the politics... until a brutal murder exposes an extraordinary and treasonous conspiracy.
I was drawn to this book for several reasons. I enjoy historical mysteries that take place from the end of World War I through the years of World War II. A Few Right Thinking Men is set in Australia, and I know very little about that country and its history. It is set in the 1930's, and I knew I would enjoy learning more about Australia during this period.

I had mixed feelings about the characters in the book. Most of the characters are from the richer or more influential families in New Sound Wales. Although I often enjoy reading about the upper classes, it was hard to sympathize with their attitudes and their lack of knowledge of the difficult life of the lower classes. As an artist, Rowland has gathered about him friends who have less money and is supporting them, which does not endear him to his family. Having these disparate groups come together does provide a picture of both sides and I think that is done very effectively.

As I  read the book, I did not know how true to life the story is, so I found it somewhat unrealistic. And at times I was irritated with Rowland at risking his own life and well being and that of his friends and family as he searches for a murderer. It took a while to get into the story, but about halfway in I was hooked and enjoyed it to the end.

The author discusses her research at the end of the eBook version that I read, and I really enjoyed her notes about her process of writing.
   The events and timelines are also pretty accurate. I may have tampered with the date of the Bong Bong Picnic races but otherwise the rallies, riots, trials etc occurred on the dates stipulated in the novel.
    I found I didn’t need to fictionalise the events of the era ... the facts were fascinating and ludicrous enough. What I did do was write the personal story of Rowland Sinclair (who is a product of my imagination) into the extraordinary events of the early thirties.
I also liked this comment by the author:
I think if there is any message in the book, it is about the earnestness of the men on all sides of the extremely divided political spectrum.
I found this to be a very good read (and educational, a bonus) and I plan to continue the series. The books are available in the US only on the Kindle. I won't usually pay so much for a Kindle edition, but, since I cannot get the books in paper at a reasonable amount, these are worth it.

Per Wikipedia, this is the order of the books:
  1. A Few Right Thinking Men (2010)
  2. A Decline in Prophets(2011)
  3. Miles Off Course (2012)
  4. Paving the New Road (2012)
  5. Men Formerly Dressed (2013)
Please see these reviews:

Margot Spotlights the book at Confession of a Mystery Novelist...
Two reviews at Fair Dinkum Crime, Kerrie's and Bernadette's.
Rob Kitchin's review at The View from the Blue House.

Publisher: Pantera Press, 2010
Length:  368 pages
Format: eBook
Series:  Rowland Sinclair
Setting: Australia
Genre:  Historical Mystery


Thursday, May 8, 2014

The Golden Spiders (TV movie)

In 2000, A&E adapted Rex Stout's The Golden Spiders into a TV movie. This was followed the next year by a series of one hour episodes starring the same actors.

Per Wikipedia:
A&E initially planned that The Golden Spiders would be the first in a series of two-hour mystery movies featuring Nero Wolfe. The high ratings (3.2 million households) garnered by the film, along with the critical praise accorded Maury Chaykin as Nero Wolfe and Timothy Hutton as Archie Goodwin, prompted A&E to order a weekly one-hour drama series — A Nero Wolfe Mystery — into production.
The Nero Wolfe mystery series, written by Rex Stout, features two detectives. Wolfe is the eccentric armchair detective who depends on Archie Goodwin to be his leg man. Wolfe is naturally lazy and has to be goaded into taking a case. Often this is necessary because the bank account is decreasing and Wolfe needs to support his household, which includes an orchid expert who helps him tend to his orchid collection, and a cook, Fritz. Faithful readers of the Nero Wolfe novels are familiar with every room in Wolfe's New York brownstone, and all of his quirks. He only leaves his home when necessary; he is overweight and sedentary. Archie is Wolfe's secretary when there is no case, and narrates all the stories.

The TV movie of The Golden Spiders includes all aspects of the story, as fans of the books would expect. The movie is set in the 1950's as is the book. The trouble with watching any adaptation of a book is that the impression of the characters that the reader has come up with may clash with the interpretation in the adaptation. No one could perfectly match my picture of Archie and Wolfe, but Timothy Hutton and Maury Chaykin come very close. Chaykin is more blustery and loud than I picture Wolfe; but he plays an intelligent eccentric detective very well. If I could have chosen someone to play Archie, Timothy Hutton would have been my pick.

There is a trio of operatives that often work with Wolfe and Goodwin on cases throughout the books. Those operatives show up in this film and I think the choices of actors to play the roles were very good. My favorite was Saul Rubinek as Saul Panzer, but that may be because I like Rubinek in every role I have seen him in (most recently in the Jesse Stone TV movies, a few episodes of Leverage, and a starring role in Warehouse 13).

This adaptation is stylized; the characterizations are exaggerated. The clothing and set design is gorgeous. The story is not identical to the novel, but very close. As a confirmed fan of the Nero Wolfe books who has read each multiple times, I cannot judge how someone unfamiliar with the stories would enjoy the adaptation. I was very happy with the results.

This movie review is submitted for Katie’s 2014 Book to Movie Challenge at Doing Dewey.

The Golden Spiders (2000), A&E Network
Cast: Maury Chaykin, Timothy Hutton, Bill Smitrovich, Colin Fox, Saul Rubinek
Director: Bill Duke
Adapted by: Paul Monash

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Reading Very Long Books: The Chunkster Challenge

I had decided not to join the Chunkster Reading Challenge this year. Last year I did join the challenge and I did not read one book over 450 pages in length. I began reading one very, very long book (non-fiction, 692 pages) in May 2013 and I just finished it yesterday, nearly a year later.

But I have now read three novels with over 500 pages in 2014 (Touchstone by Laurie R. King, The Little Shadows by Marina Endicott, and Time's Witness by Michael Malone). And I have enjoyed them all. So I am thinking I should join the Chunkster Reading Challenge for 2014.

As defined by this challenge, a chunkster is an adult or YA book, non-fiction or fiction, that’s 450 pages or more. The challenge is hosted by Vasilly at 1330V; the sign up and rules are here. This year there are no levels and those who join can aim as low or as high as they please.

My personal goal is to read one Chunkster a month, which would total 11 since I did not read one in January. But my official goal will be a total of six books, so I will read at least three more this year.

These are books with over 450 pages that I really would like to read this year:

Garden of Beasts by Jeffrey Deaver  (2004)

The Crow Trap by Ann Cleeves (2001)
     Vera Stanhope series

A Capital Crime by Laura Wilson (2010)
     Ted Stratton series

The Coffin Dancer by Jeffery Deaver (1998)
     Lincoln Rhyme series

The Darkest Hour by Katherine Howell (2008)
     Ella Marconi series

Nemesis by Jo Nesbo (2002)    Harry Hole series

Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows by J. K. Rowling (2007)

The Meaning of Night by Michael Cox (2006)

Between Summer's Longing And Winter's End by Leif G.W. Persson (2002)

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Eleven Days: Donald Harstad

The protagonist of Donald Harstad's novel, 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.

It is made clear from the beginning that murder doesn't occur that often in this rural area.

This is what Publisher's Weekly had to say:
The first half of Harstad's good-natured debut may read like Fargo meets Dragnet, but this police procedural turns downright explosive once deputy sheriff Carl Houseman gets to the heart of the strange murders that are tearing apart his small Iowa farming town.
The comparison to Dragnet is apt; the first person narrative by Carl is a very matter-of-fact, no frills delivery. There are some funny moments. I would compare it to the humor of Reginald Hill. You laugh because you sympathize or have been there, but the situation itself is not laugh out loud funny.

The characterization is very good. Although we don't get to know each person working on the case, the descriptions and interactions make them feel like real people with real foibles and biases. This may be due to Harstad's background. He was a policeman in the Clayton County Sheriff's Department in northeastern Iowa for many years and draws on his own experiences.

I also liked that there were interesting female characters. The protagonist is male, but very open-minded. Many of the men he works with have difficulty working with women, and express it. There is a female dispatcher who takes the initial call on the crime in progress, and ends up working with the police throughout the story. State special investigator Hester Gorse is called in to work with the local force; she is professional and competent and she has no problem dealing with any harassment.

Just a warning: There are some extremely mutilated bodies and gruesome descriptions of them. This was not overdone, in my opinion. The crimes are possibly linked to Satanism and the subject matter is at times distasteful.

At the publisher's site, there is a link to an excerpt from the beginning of the novel.

Please see these reviews:

Publisher: Bantam, 1999; originally pub. in hardback by Doubleday, 1998
Length:  337 pages
Format: mass market paperback
Series:  Carl Houseman
Setting:  Iowa, USA
Genre:  Mystery, Police Procedural

Friday, May 2, 2014

The Night the Gods Smiled: Eric Wright

In some ways, this is the perfect type of mystery for me. To a certain extent, it is a straight novel about a man going through a mid-life crisis and having difficulties with his job. His job just happens to be a police detective and he wants to be investigating serious crimes, not sitting at a desk. However, sometimes I did find that the story was too slow, too quiet. I kept expecting it to pick up and waited for the twists and turns in the plot. (I do wonder if I have been reading too many "exciting" books.)

Eric Wright is a Canadian author of mystery novels. He was born in 1929 in South London, England and immigrated to Canada in 1951. He is an academic; he taught English at Ryerson Polytechnic University, Toronto from 1958  to 1989. Two of his novels have been awarded the Arthur Ellis Award for Best Crime Novel. This book received that award, and also Britain's John Creasy Memorial Award for first books by previously unpublished writers.

This book gives us some insight into the relationship between the French areas of Canada and the English speaking areas. Toronto police detective Charlie Salter is assigned as liaison to a case of murder that takes place in Montreal, because the victim is from Toronto. It is the kind of case that his department doesn't have the time or inclination to deal with, so it is passed down to him. He is thrilled to get it. He works with Sergeant Henri O'Brien from Montreal, and they develop a nice relationship along the way.

The victim in this book is a professor of English at a small college in Toronto, so Wright has drawn on his own experience and we get an accurate picture of a group of colleagues at the college affected by this professor's death. This group was visiting Montreal for a conference when the death occurred.

In retrospect, I may not have been fair to this book as I read it. Maybe too much going on in my life while reading it. Maybe not so interested in male mid-life angst. And regardless of my initial reactions, I do hope to continue reading the series, should I find further books available.

When I went back and reread the first chapter, I was overwhelmed at the beauty of some of the passages. Charlie is in a loving marriage, and has two teenage boys; his wife is from a rich family on Prince Edward Island. Here he describes the feeling of an interloper married into a rich family.
Annie's family were well-bred, tactful, and keen to include Annie's choice in the clan. They absorbed Salter's family into their world of fishing, sailing, riding and perpetual lobster suppers as if he had paid dues. Most of the time Salter was happy to enjoy their world. Occasionally, impatient and constricted by it, he felt like the lone Christian in-law in a family of Jews, conscious of his uncircumcised state, his slightly albino look, and of the determination of his relatives never to make him feel like an outsider.
There is quite a bit about Salter's family life and relationships and mid-life adjustments. For some readers, that might be a distraction. I was fine with that, especially Charlie's introspective musings, I just felt that the whole story moved too slowly.

In Encyclopedia Mysteriosa (1994), William L. DeAndrea describes the Charlie Salter novels as "low-key, but finely crafted and sharply observed police procedurals." He also says:
A policeman with real-life problems and emotions, Toronto Inspector Charlie Salter is reminiscent of Helen Reilly's Inspector McKee in that although his cases are procedural in form, they don't usually take the protagonist down any particularly mean streets. Shrewd observation of the middle classes is Salter's specialty.
This book is very much like some Golden Age mysteries, with less violence and a slower pace.

Publisher: Signet, 1985; originally pub. in hardback, 1983
Length:  254 pages
Format: mass market paperback
Series:  Charlie Salter
Genre:  Mystery, Police Procedural