Saturday, August 30, 2014

R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril IX

This is the third year that I have participated in R.eaders I.mbibing P.erilThis event is hosted by Carl of Stainless Steel Droppings. It starts in September and goes through October and celebrates "all things ghastly and ghostly" as we move into Fall.

A description of the event:
The purpose of R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril IX is to enjoy books and movies/television that could be classified (by you) as:
Dark Fantasy.
Or anything sufficiently moody that shares a kinship with the above.
There are two simple goals for R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril IX
1. Have fun reading.
2. Share that fun with others.
See this post for ways that you can participate. In addition to books, movies, and television, you can post about short stories or join in a group read. There is a R.I.P. Review Site where participants may post links to any book or screen posts related to this event.

These books are some that I considered reading last time and it would be nice to read one or two of them this time:
Ghost Hero by S. J. Rozan
The Coffin Dancer by Jeffery Deaver
Garden of Beasts by Jeffery Deaver
The Ghosts of Belfast by Stuart Neville
Other books I may include are:
The Coroner's Lunch by Colin Cotterill 
Down Cemetery Road by Mick Herron
Siren Of The Waters by Michael Genelin 
Death Is a Lonely Business by Ray Bradbury
Ghost in the Machine by Ed James
Red Bones by Ann Cleeves
Garnethill by Denise Mina
These are the specific "challenges" I will aim at:

Peril the First: Read four books, any length, that you feel fit (the very broad definitions) of R.I.P. literature. It could be King or Conan Doyle, Penny or Poe, Chandler or Collins, Lovecraft or Leroux…or anyone in between.

Peril on the Screen: This is for those of us that like to watch suitably scary, eerie, mysterious gothic fare during this time of year. It may be something on the small screen or large. It might be a television show, like Dark Shadows or Midsomer Murders, or your favorite film. 

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Books of 1952: The Davidian Report by Dorothy B. Hughes

This is the first mystery novel by Dorothy B. Hughes that I have read. During her career, she wrote 14 mystery novels, most of them published in the 1940's. She was also a critic of mystery fiction, and wrote a biography of Erle Stanley Gardner. She was named a Grand Master of the Mystery Writers of America in 1978.

I wanted to read one of her better known novels first, Ride the Pink Horse or The So Blue Marble. But I decided to go ahead with this one because it was published in 1952. That turned out to be a fortuitous decision.

Rich Westwood at his blog Past Offences (classic crime reviews and news) has challenged readers to blog about a book or movie from 1952 during the month of August. This review of The Davidian Report is another submission for the 1952 book challenge.

From my readings about the novels by Hughes, there is a lot of variety. The first one, The So Blue Marble, is a novel of suspense with fantastical elements and is set in New York.  Other novels are described as noirish, and several are set in the Southwest, in areas where Hughes lived. This novel is a Cold War spy novel, although it doesn't fit that mold perfectly. I found it very enjoyable and was intrigued from the beginning.

When I am reading novels, I like great characters and an interesting plot. Setting (in time or place) is usually third on my list. I love to read about different settings and learn about places or events in history, but if the characters and plot don't hold up, I lose interest. I would say Hughes, in this book at least, is very strong on characters and setting. The plot is fine, but the author is strongest in the other areas.

It is 1952 and both the protagonist, Steve Wintress, and a fellow passenger on an airplane to Los Angeles, Reuben, have recently left Berlin. Steve is fortyish and an agent for some Communist group. Reuben, a soldier in the army, is very young and on leave. Is it coincidence that they both left Berlin at the same time? On the plane trip to LA, a motley group of people is thrown together.  Steve is seated next to Feather, a very young woman who is a dancer looking to advance her career. The airplane is re-routed to another airport because the LA airport is fogged in and Haig Armour, currently with the Justice Department and "former big noise of the FBI", offers to drive them all to LA in his hired car. Naturally, Steve is suspicious but needs the ride so takes him up on it. Once they arrive in LA, Steve and Reuben are roommates, and Haig insinuates himself into Steve's life.

Steve's goal is to find a man named Davidian who will pass on an important report to him. Of course, Steve is not the only one who wants the report. This is the classic case of not knowing who to trust or if anyone is who they seem to be.

As a fan of the Clothes in Books blog, I have become much more aware of descriptions of clothing in novels. This is the second paragraph in The Davidian Report. Steve is noticing, in detail, the woman in the seat beside him on the airplane.
She was medium size and yellow-haired, her dark green suit was a tweed import; her felt hat was shaped like a riding hat, the kind society girls affect to appear  country; and her suede pumps were the exact color of the darker weft of the tweed. Her purse was large, of good black leather, well rubbed; she protected it against her in the seat. It was big enough to be a formidable barrier between her and a seatmate. She kept her hands gloved, yellow crochet gloves, and she used a five-cent yellow pencil on her book of crossword puzzles. It was a long time since he'd seen anyone as devoted to a crossword puzzle as was this girl.
Clothing can tell you a lot about a person; I love the yellow crochet gloves and the crossword puzzles. In this case, we find that Steve has noted details about all the travelers on the plane. It is just second nature to him.

But the absolute best part was the details about Hollywood and scene on Hollywood Boulevard. The group and various Los Angeles residents they meet up with eat at Musso's.  My husband and I use to go to Hollywood Boulevard years ago, we ate at the Musso and Frank Grill, and I have fond memories of that area. Steve ends up in the neighborhoods around Hollywood Boulevard, which I have never visited. He goes to the Christmas parade. I loved it.

Steve, Reuben, and Feather meet an old flame of Steve's (also from Berlin) at Musso's:
Janni wasn't expensive like Feather. Her raggedy hair was tumbled, her scarlet dress was cheap, and her coat red, the same red coat. She was lucky to have one coat. But she didn't need sleek grooming; she was the quickening of your heart and the racing of your blood.
Janni may be the secret to finding Davidian and his report, if she and Steve can get over their past.

You can probably tell I liked this book. There is much less written about this one than Hughes' other more well known books, so everyone may not have the experience I did.

Some other sources of information about the book and other books by Hughes:

Publisher:  Pyramid, 1964 (Orig. pub. 1952; Also pub. as: The Body on the Bench, Dell, 1955)
Length:  160 pages
Format: paperback
Setting: Hollywood, California 
Genre:  Mystery
Source: purchased my copy

Sunday, August 24, 2014

The Crossing Places: Elly Griffiths

From the back of the paperback edition:
Forensic archeologist Dr. Ruth Galloway is in her late thirties. She lives happily alone with her two cats in a bleak, remote area near Norfolk, land that was sacred to its Iron Age inhabitants—not quite earth, not quite sea. But her routine days of digging up bones and other ancient objects are harshly upended when a child’s bones are found on a desolate beach. Detective Chief Inspector Nelson calls Galloway for help, believing they are the remains of Lucy Downey, a little girl who went missing a decade ago and whose abductor continues to taunt him with bizarre letters containing references to ritual sacrifice, Shakespeare, and the Bible. 
I have come late to this series. But there is one positive to this... I have several more books to read. If the series continues to be as good as many reviewers say, then I have much to look forward to.

I thought this would be an easy review to write and I wanted it to be short and sweet. The story was compelling, both Ruth's personal story and the mystery.  My interest in the book never waned. Yet the resolution of the mystery and Ruth's story was disappointing to me, and I was not sure if I would like future books in the series. This surprised me because I have read numerous reviews of this book and later ones in the series that are extremely positive. So of course I will have to continue reading the series and give at least one more book a try. This will be easy because my husband has the first three books.

This series garners praise for the setting and the characters. Some reviewers liked both these elements in the first book but admitted that the mystery itself was less satisfying. In this book, I did like the development of the two main characters, Ruth and Nelson, and their interactions, but the secondary characters did not do much for me at this point. This is a debut novel, so I should not expect perfection. I did find Ruth's character to be believable and realistic; she isn't perfect and she is not young and strikingly beautiful. She is way more intrepid than me in her work life and her sleuthing, but that is true of almost all female mystery protagonists.

I do not enjoy stories told in third person present tense, but that was a small distraction. As far as how many more books I read in the series, it seems that it comes down to whether they can maintain my interest based on character interactions and story and whether the mystery elements either improve or prove to be less important to me.

Other reviews or overviews are here:  Confessions of a Mystery Novelist, crimepieces, Petrona, Reactions to Reading, View from the Blue House


Publisher:  Mariner Books, 2010 (orig. pub. 2009) 
Length:   303 pages
Format:   trade paperback
Series:    Ruth Galloway
Setting:   Norfolk, UK
Genre:     Mystery
Source:   Borrowed from my husband

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Books of 1952: The Ivory Grin by Ross Macdonald

Rich Westwood at his blog Past Offences (classic crime reviews and news) has challenged readers to blog about a book or movie from 1952 during the month of August. This review of The Ivory Grin by Ross Macdonald is my submission for the 1952 book challenge.

Short summary from this review at
Archer is hired by the archetypal mystery client who won’t tell him anything about herself, to find a young woman she won’t tell him much about either. Archer knows from the first moments that he is being conned, but he’s both a little short on cash and a romantic at heart, and he just can’t resist the challenge that goes with the $100.
The book starts with a scene in Lew Archer's office, introducing the client:
I found her waiting at the door of my office. She was a stocky woman of less than medium height, wearing a blue slack suit over a blue turtleneck sweater, and a blue mink stole that failed to soften her outlines. Her face was squarish and deeply tanned, its boyish quality confirmed by dark hair cut short at the nape. She wasn't the type you'd expect to be up and about at eight thirty in the morning, unless she'd been up all night. As I unlocked the door she stood back and looked up at me with the air of an early bird surveying an outsize worm.
Archer finds her behavior very irritating very quickly but finds the $100 for two days' work that she is offering hard to pass up.
Her hard dry glance went over me almost tangibly and rested on my mouth. "You look all right. But you sound kind of Hollywood to me."
I was in no mood to swap compliments. The ragged edge on her voice, and her alternation of fair and bad manners bothered me. It was like talking to several persons at once, none of them quite complete.
As with Raymond Chandler, it is the style of writing that I enjoyed the most. The plot was very complex, and I got lost more than once. The characters are well-drawn, but I did get confused occasionally. I did not guess the resolution to the story, and I thought it was handled well. I don't expect to be able to figure out the plots, but I usually do try, without really meaning to.

The young woman who Lew Archer is seeking is a black woman, but light-skinned enough to have passed for white at times. It was good to read a vintage mystery which handles race relations evenhandedly. There are several black characters, their story is followed throughout the novel, and the characters are portrayed compassionately. This story also contrasts between those who have wealth (or want it badly) and those who are closer to poverty.

I recently read Hardboiled America by Geoffrey O'Brien. That book points out that...
With Lew Archer himself, Macdonald pulls off the neat trick of creating a character largely by negative means. Try to imagine him apart from the structure of the book and he becomes a cipher. We see through Archer's eyes, and react with him, but in the end he is little more than a window through which we perceive the real figures of interest — the people who Archer is investigating. He is the interviewer, the neutral voice that calmly elicits anguished testimony. On one level, he is a brilliant dramatic device, a device that works because of Macdonald's mastery of dialogue.
Possibly this is why I was uncomfortable with the story. I wasn't sure why Archer was continuing his investigation against all odds and with little obvious motivation, other than he felt he had to do the right thing for the people he was now involved with.

A reviewer at Goodreads starts his review of this book thusly:
This, the fourth novel in the Lew Archer series, is very good but not exceptional (at least not according to the standards of this exceptional series).
I hope this is true because I did like this book but was not overwhelmed by his skills, and I want to like his other books. I like the reviewer's comments so I recommend that you go read the whole review.

I have a problem when first reading the icons of mystery; my expectations are too high. I want to be bowled over with brilliance, and if that does not happen, I am disappointed. Often, when I come back to another book by the same author, I enjoy it much more because I now know what to expect.  This book is a fine book, but I was expecting more.

I think I will read The Moving Target next, which is the first book in the series and has been adapted into a film starring Paul Newman, titled Harper. I will re-watch that movie after reading the book.

The author's real name was Kenneth Millar and he was married to crime novelist Margaret Millar. They lived for a while in Santa Barbara, California, although both also lived in Canada when younger.


Publisher: Bantam Books, 1984 (orig. pub. by Alfred A. Knopf, 1952)
Length:  249 pages
Format: paperback
Series:  Lew Archer novels, #4
Setting: Los Angeles, California and surrounding areas
Genre:  Mystery
Source: purchased my copy

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

I Murdered My Library: Linda Grant

From the book description at Amazon:
What happens when you begin to build a library in childhood and then find you have too many books? From a small collection held together by a pair of plaster of Paris horse-head bookends to books piled on stairs, and in front of each other on shelves, books cease to furnish a room and begin to overwhelm it. At the end of 2013, novelist Linda Grant moved from a rambling maisonette over four floors to a two bedroom flat with a tiny corridor-shaped study. The trauma of getting rid of thousands of books raises the question of what purpose personal libraries serve in contemporary life and the seductive lure of the Kindle. ...
Linda Grant is an award-winning novelist and non-fiction writer. Her novel WHEN I LIVED IN MODERN TIMES won the Orange Prize for Fiction in 2000 and THE CLOTHES ON THEIR BACKS was shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 2008 and won the South Bank Show Award.

In May 2014, Moira at Clothes in Books featured this Kindle Single on her blog. In July, Col at Col's Criminal Library read and reviewed the essay also, sharing his thoughts about keeping books and culling books.

Then my husband read it and here is his review at Goodreads:
Fascinating account of growing up shy and in love with books, of building a library and mercilessly purging it, of patronizing favorite book stores and seeing them vanish, of moving from printed books to e-books in a world that reads less and less. This eloquent work - at less than 30 pages - is really much too brief.
Knitters and crocheters have their yarn stash, I have my book stash. The majority of the books I own are unread -- my TBR books on bookshelves, in stacks, or even in boxes in the garage. I have kept some books that are special to me. Specific authors that are favorites or authors that I can see rereading some year, and these two sets of authors may overlap. I also hold on to books with great covers that I cannot bear to part with. I even collect books with certain covers to a limited extent, but they are only a small fraction of the books I own. (My husband owns more books than I do, and more of his books are already read, so we have no arguments about the validity of owning a lots of books or hanging on to them.)

Linda Grant's essay was an enjoyable read. As I went through highlighting the parts I liked or that spoke to me especially, it was interesting to find the highlights that my husband had added. I am an indiscriminate highlighter when reading Kindle books, but as in other areas, my husband is much more restrained. We both highlighted this area:
I am the adult outcome of the shy, awkward only child who, instead of running around in the garden or clambering on slides and swings or slapping bats against balls or skipping down muddy lanes, preferred, above all else, as I still do, to stay indoors and read. Only children are no good socially.
I do take issue with this statement about small houses:
Now, in an apartment on the Mediterranean, the same authors were being dumped because no one wanted to read them. They are the detritus not just of the digital revolution but of disposable living and small houses.
I have lived in small houses and apartments and condos all of my life. The only time I lived in a large house, I had few books and was very unhappy. Since then, I have amassed books in the small places I have lived, with husband and son. Every room except the kitchen is filled with books. All of the walls of the small dining room are covered with book cases. I have books in stacks on the floor, on tables, even in place of plants on plant stands. And the overflow is in boxes in the garage.

I have no objection to culling books. My culling is gradual and voluntary, not forced. If we compare my culling and Linda Grant's ... she is talking about getting rid of a lot of books she has read and treasured and kept as a kind of legacy. Now she hits a point in her life where she has to cut back drastically and it hurts. It is painful to make decisions like this.

Grant also talks about bookstores, and getting books as a child. My family could not afford to buy books when I was a child. Almost everything I read came from the library. It wasn't until I had a job in my late teens that I could afford to go to a bookstore and purchase a book. And I did not do it much then. It was not until I met my husband that I changed from borrowing books from the library to buying books to keep. So, although Linda Grant and I are around the same age, she has been acquiring books for a couple of decades longer than I have.

I do love bookstores, and if I could turn back time, that is what I would want to return to. The area I live in has never had loads of bookstores, either independent or chains. The population does not support them. We used to have a Barnes & Noble and a Borders, but both were closed. We used to have more independent bookstores and some that were specifically for children's books and even one bookstore that specialized in crime fiction. The one bookstore that has always been my favorite is Chaucer's Books; it has been at different locations over the years, but is still in existence, in a great location. And it has a wonderful crime fiction selection.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

The Frozen Dead: Bernard Minier

Excerpt from summary at the publisher's website:
Saint-Martin-de-Comminges is a small town nestled in the French Pyrenees. The kind of place where winters are harsh and unforgiving and where nothing ever happens.
Until the winter morning when a group of workers discover the headless, flayed body of a horse, hanging suspended from the edge of a frozen cliff.
On the same day the gruesome discovery takes place, Diane Berg, a young psychiatrist starts her first job at a high-security asylum for the criminally insane, just a few miles away. 
From the beginning, this book had two strikes against it. It starts with the gruesome death of an animal and it is nearly 500 pages long. I have been doing better with very long books lately, but I would never choose to read one on an e-reader. As my son reminded me, I didn't do proper research before choosing this book to review through NetGalley. Now I am glad I did not, because I did enjoy reading the book. Had I known more about it in advance, I probably would have rejected it.

The action switches back and forth between the investigation, mostly taking place in town and in the surrounding areas, and the asylum. The story is told mostly from the point of view of Commandant Martin Servaz from the nearby town of Toulouse and the new psychologist at the asylum, Diane Berg. Diane serves as a clever way to provide the reader with information on the asylum, but some of her activities in an institution full of very scary criminals are a tad unbelievable. Yet, many stories of this type depend on the curious, intrepid character to move things along.

It was interesting getting a look at how French investigative departments work. In this case, the civilian police  force and the gendarmerie are cooperating, with a primary investigator from each group. The investigators feel that their time is being wasted. They think they should be working on homicides, not the death of an animal; they are only assigned to the case because the animal belongs to a rich and powerful man.

Soon enough there are equally gruesome murders of humans to be dealt with. Although the crimes are violent and depraved, they are not dwelled upon too much. Partly due to the types of inmates at the asylum, partly due to evidence found at the crime scenes, there is a distinct possibility that someone at the asylum is involved, either inmate or employee.

The main investigator, Servaz, is divorced and has a teen-aged daughter that he is worried about. Throughout the book there are hints of potential romances but for various reasons those do not go anywhere, which I liked because I don't usually care for romances in mysteries. There were many well defined secondary characters, and the author kept me guessing as to what the solution to the crimes was. The plot is complex, with more than one mystery to be solved, and I was surprised with the ending.

This book was almost too thrillerish for me, but I found the action to be believable and the twists and turns of the plot kept me interested through all 497 pages. I even stayed up late to finish the book. As far as the level of gritty, graphic depictions of crimes (after the fact), the book did not exceed my threshold in that area.

Marina Sofia has reviewed this book at Crime Fiction Lover. I first read about this book at Marina Sofia's blog, findingtimetowrite.


Publisher:  Macmillan, 2014 (orig. pub. as Glacé, 2011)
Length:  497 pages
Format:  e-book
Series:  1st book in a new series
Setting:  France, Pyrenees
Genre:   Mystery, Thriller
Translated:  From the French by Alison Anderson
Source:  Provided a copy for review by publisher, via NetGalley.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Loot: Aaron Elkins

Extract from summary at Goodreads:
April 1945: In the last convulsive days of World War II a convoy of Nazi trucks loaded with Europe's greatest art treasures winds its way through the Alps toward a cavernous Austrian salt mine. With the Allies closing in and chaos erupting, a single truck silently disappears into a mountain snowstorm with its cargo of stolen masterpieces.
Fifty years later, in a seedy Boston pawnshop, one of the truck's paintings surfaces at last, pawned for $100 by a smalltime Russian thug. The next day, the shop owner, Simeon Pawlovsky, himself a Nazi death camp survivor, is dead, the life brutally beaten out of him. The painting is gone.
Once he examined the painting, Simeon suspected that it was a masterpiece, and called in art historian Benjamin Revere for advice on how to proceed. After Simeon's death, Ben ends up on an international hunt for the rightful owner of the painting and along the way runs into the Russian mafia. He is just a regular guy who knows a lot about art and especially the plundering of art during World War II. He isn't a hero but he doesn't give up easily, and he has a conscience. He feels responsible for Simeon's death, and feels he must do what he can to find out who murdered him.

I am currently reading Monuments Men by Robert M. Edsel.  (And previously had watched the movie by the same name and the documentary The Rape of Europa.) So this topic is very much in my mind right now. I have had this book for about eight years and this was the perfect time for me to finally read it.

It is a shame I waited this long to read the book because it was highly entertaining. The characterization is great; Ben is sharply drawn, and this is also true of many of the lesser characters. There is a romantic interest, and that is well done. The story is told in an entertaining way with just the right amount of humor. The eventual resolution is not obvious at all.

In the acknowledgments, Aaron Elkins thanks Lane Faison, "a young lieutenant in the three-man OSS Art Looting Investigation Team" for answering questions about the German looting of art objects. Although Faison does not feature heavily in Monuments Men, the author of that book tells a moving story about inteviewing Faison at the age of 98 in the Author's Note.

Yvette, at In So Many Words, is a big fan of Aaron Elkins, and especially this book. She goes into a lot of detail about the book and its background here.

Aaron Elkins has written other series, and I have read a few of the ones about forensic anthropologist Gideon Oliver. The current covers of the books for this series all feature skeletons, so I have copies of almost all of the books, and will read more eventually. My son has read more of those books than I have, and enjoyed them a lot.


Publisher:   Avon, 1999.
Length:       376 pages
Format:       paperback
Setting:       Boston, Massachusetts; St. Petersburg, Russia; Budapest, Hungary
Genre:         Mystery, art history

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Motherhunt (Nero Wolfe Mystery TV series)

It has taken me a while to write up a book to movie post on Motherhunt for many reasons. I love the Nero Wolfe series by Rex Stout and The Mother Hunt is one of my favorite books in the series. I enjoyed every episode in the Nero Wolfe Mystery series shown on A&E in 2000-2001. Thus it is hard for me to step away from the experience of watching them and evaluate them.

The Nero Wolfe series was written between 1934 and 1976 and each book was set in the time that the book was written. The characters did not age over the time the series was written. Each of the episodes of the Nero Wolfe Mystery series is set in the 1950's, so some of the adaptations in this series may be a bit different from the book just because of the time setting. In the case of The Mother Hunt, this probably makes no difference, since the year of publication was 1963. I have given an overview of the Nero Wolfe mysteries in book format and the TV series in this post, so I won't repeat all of that here.

It may be that this series would be most enjoyed by those who already are familiar with the Nero Wolfe mysteries. Each episode emphasizes the quirks of Wolfe's household, especially the adaptations of the full-length books. The orchids that Wolfe spends many of his waking hours tending, Fritz's cooking and Wolfe's obsession with food, Wolfe's reluctance to leave the house or, for that matter, to even work on a case.

In The Mother Hunt, Wolfe's client is Lucy Valdon. She has been caring, temporarily, for a baby that has been left in her vestibule. She has approached Wolfe to find the identity of the mother and determine if her husband was the father of the child. The hunt for the mother starts a series of events leading to a murder that Wolfe must solve.

For some reason, The Mother Hunt was given the title Motherhunt in the TV series. This adaptation was shown as two parts on TV, but is combined into one long episode on DVD. I had missed watching it the first time we viewed the episodes on DVD because the disc it was on was damaged. After reading the book in June, we rented the disc from Netflix and watched the episode. It was a faithful adaptation, although I felt that Penelope Ann Miller played the Lucy Valdon part a bit frothier than she was in the book. I will note that my husband (who has not read the books) liked her in the role. She was very appealing, and the overall mood of the adaptation was appropriate.

Here is a good example of how the TV series picks up some of the quirky behavior of the novels. This is a quote from the book:
"Do you like eggs?"
She laughed. She looked at me, so I laughed too.
Wolfe scowled. "Confound it, are eggs comical? Do you know how to scramble eggs, Mrs. Valdon?"
"Yes, of course."
"To use Mr. Goodwin's favorite locution, one will get you ten that you don't. I'll scramble eggs for your breakfast and we'll see. Tell me forty minutes before you're ready."
Her eyes widened. "Forty minutes?"
"Yes. I knew you didn't know."
The TV adaptation includes this scene where Wolfe cooks breakfast for Lucy and Archie and shows her how eggs should be scrambled. Maybe boring to some, but absolutely enchanting to me.  (I actually learned how to cook scrambled eggs this way in a Home Economics class in elementary school and they are delicious.)

In addition to Penelope Ann Miller, there were other roles I enjoyed. Of course, Maury Chaykin as Wolfe and Timothy Hutton as Archie are wonderful. Chaykin may overplay his role a bit, but Wolfe is larger than life and he puts that over well. Bill Smitrovich plays the recurring role of Inspector Cramer. Saul Rubinek, one of my favorite actors, plays Lon Cohen (a newspaperman) in this episode and others. Griffin Dunne and Carrie Fisher play smaller but crucial roles.

This movie review is submitted for the 2014 Book to Movie Challenge at Doing Dewey.

Motherhunt (2002), A&E Network
Cast: Maury Chaykin, Timothy Hutton, Bill Smitrovich, Colin Fox, Saul Rubinek
Director:  (as Alan Smithee)
Adapted by:  

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Countdown City: Ben H. Winters

In July, I read three books that I borrowed from my husband, and two of them dealt with apocalyptic events. Countdown City deals with how people react when an asteroid is hurtling toward the earth and certain to do a lot of damage. The other one was World War Z, which was about the world after it has been overrun by zombies. Both lead to equally horrific consequences, although in Countdown City the reader witnesses the impending doom of the approaching asteroid and its very negative consequences.

This was the second book in a trilogy, following the activities of a former policeman, Hank Palace, pursuing a missing person case in a pre-apocalyptic world. In the first book of this trilogy, Hank was still a detective with the police force. He was new to the job, and enjoying having attained his dream job before the discovery of the asteroid. Now, three months later, like almost everyone else on earth, he has no job and no prospects.

This is a thought-provoking novel. It is impossible not to think about what you would do in similar circumstances. Or even think about how life can change in just a moment. And along with this intelligent story of the destruction of the civilization that we take for granted we get a mystery story. Not a police procedural like the first one. This one is more similar to a private detective novel.

My husband's excellent review at Goodreads:
In this, the second volume of "The Last Policeman" trilogy, Hank Palace has been asked to locate the missing husband of an old friend. The unraveling of a world rather than the search is really the point here and Palace, no longer even a police detective, seems to be running on sheer hard-wired devotion to the job.
I found this volume different in tone from the first (very fatalistic vs. somewhat hopeful). More people have purposely gone away or simply vanished. Of those that remain some seem to be planning for a rescue from the end of the world and others are just carrying on. Here we also see a shadowy and brutal military presence.
Overall, an excellent continuation of the story. Can't wait to see how this concludes in the third volume.
Other reviews:
At In Search of the Classic Mystery Novel.
At Crimepieces.


Publisher:  Quirk Books, 2013
Length:       316 pages
Format:      Trade paperback
Series:        Last Policeman Book II
Setting:       New Hampshire, USA
Genre:         Mystery
Source:       Borrowed from my husband

Monday, August 4, 2014

World War Z: Max Brooks

I do not like zombies. I do not like books or movies about zombies. So why did I read World War Z? Mainly because my husband recommended it, and based on his description, I was curious. The subtitle is "An Oral History of the Zombie War," and that describes the book pretty well.

This is the first paragraph in the book, which introduces us to the catastrophic events that have happened:
It goes by many names: “The Crisis,” “The Dark Years,” “The Walking Plague,” as well as newer and more “hip” titles such as “World War Z” or “Z War One.”  I personally dislike this last moniker as it implies an inevitable “Z War Two.”  For me, it will always be “The Zombie War,” and while many may protest the scientific accuracy of the word zombie, they will be hard pressed to discover a more globally accepted term for the creatures that almost caused our extinction. Zombie remains a devastating word, unrivaled in its power to conjure up so many memories or emotions, and it is these memories, and emotions, that are the subject of this book.
The book is presented as a compilation of interviews with survivors of the Zombie War. It is divided into sections covering different time periods in the conflict, starting with Warnings. That section has interviews with people from China, Tibet, Greece, Brazil, the West Indies, Israel and Palestine, all talking about first occurrences or encounters with the zombies.

Although each section covers some time frame in the Zombie War, what the reader really sees is what life is like in the present, ten years after the population of earth has been largely destroyed. It is clear that the threat is not totally gone, just under control enough to allow people to return to some semblance of a normal life.

Some reviewers found this book unsatisfactory because there is no continuing story, with characters that you can get to know. That is a valid point, but my take was that was what made the book so fresh and engrossing. It is true that each section was fairly short and just as you were getting into the story, it was over and I wanted to know more, to hang around.

This is my husband's review from Goodreads:
Zombies are the perfect nightmare villain. They are relentless, they can't be influenced, and in the case of this book, they number in the tens of millions.
This work, consisting entirely of interviews with survivors of the Zombie War, is so engrossing that it could have gone on for twice its length and never lost my interest.
Maps would have been a welcome addition (as in any history of any war) but that is a very minor quibble.
You can see that we both enjoyed the book, even though he likes zombies and I don't.

I haven't included many facts about the book other than the structure. I prefer to let the reader discover for themselves the good and the bad. However, I will point you to a good review at SF Site, if you want more details.  Also, another useful review at Atomic Spud.

And how was the movie?

The movie adaptation of World War Z stars Brad Pitt as a former employee of the United Nations who gets called back to his old job when the world is overrun with zombies. The movie bears little resemblance to the book. The movie is an action thriller, with zombies invading all countries of the world. In the movie, the zombies move very fast (different from most zombie movies I have seen, although I am far from an expert). In the book, the zombies are slow. That does not prevent them from overrunning the world, however. There are many, many other differences between book and movie and it is pretty safe to say that they basically just used the same title.

Brad Pitt's character, Gerry Lane, is a reluctant hero; he has left his job to spend time with his family and has no desire to go on expeditions to find a cure for the zombie problem. When it is clear that he and his family will lose their protected status if he does not cooperate, he gives in. And a plus is that he is not a superhero with no vulnerabilities. He is pretty much a normal guy, just clever and motivated to find some solution to the problem.

We watched the movie twice. The first time was before I had read the book, the second was after. The movie was enjoyable both times, but I liked it even better the second time. It has its flaws, but whether you will like it or not depends on what you are looking for. It is not a typical zombie movie, and that is what the viewer wants, it could be disappointing. It is a decent action flick.

I said at the beginning that I don't like zombie movies. I have watched and enjoyed two silly, humorous takes on zombie movies, Shaun of the Dead and Zombieland. I don't like the blood and gore in those movies, but they are fun movies if you can get beyond that. I did appreciate in this movie that there was no blood and little gore. The concept of zombies with no blood does agree with the book.

In this interview, Max Brooks talks about the book and the film.


Publisher:  Crown Publishers, 2006
Length:      342 pages
Format:      hardcover
Setting:       worldwide
Genre:        science fiction, apocalyptic
Source:       Borrowed from my husband

Max Brooks wrote an earlier book about zombies in 2003, The Zombie Survival Guide. I have not read that book, but I understand that it is a parody of survival guides. He is the son of director and producer Mel Brooks and actress Anne Bancroft. I did not know this until after I read the book and watched the movie twice, so it had no bearing on my decision to give the book a try.  The author only mentions his father in the acknowledgments to World War Z in this way: "and Dad, for 'the human factor'." His website does not mention his parents, so he is not trading on their fame. The acknowledgments also include "a final thank-you to the three men whose inspiration made this book possible: Studs Terkel, the late General Sir John Hackett, and, of course, the genius and terror of George A. Romero."

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Reading in July and Pick of the Month

In July I read nine books. Seven of the books are crime fiction books. I started the month with a Very Long Book: The Crow Trap by Ann Cleeves. 

I did read one book in the science fiction genre (blended with horror):  World War Z by Max Brooks. I will be writing a book to movie post sometime soon. And along those lines, I am way, way behind on reviews. I have energy to read but not to write and work at the computer (and do my job all day). But I have a plan to catch up. Just hope it doesn't take too long.

I also read a mystery reference book: Hardboiled America by Geoffrey O'Brien. The subtitle is "Lurid Paperbacks and the Masters of Noir" and that is a good description. Since I love paperback covers, this was a great book for me.

Here is a one sentence description at Goodreads:
In Hardboiled America—lavishly illustrated with 135 paperback covers, and expanded with new material on Thompson, Goodis, and others—Geoffrey O'Brien masterfully explores the art, history, and ideas of the American paperback.
These are the crime fiction books I read in July:

The Crow Trap by Ann Cleeves
Double for Death by Rex Stout
Faith by Len Deighton
Countdown City by Ben H. Winters
Death Has a Past by Anita Boutell
Loot by Aaron Elkins
The Crossing Places by Elly Griffiths

The Crime Fiction Pick of the Month meme is hosted at Mysteries in Paradise. Bloggers link to a summary post for the month, and identify a crime fiction best read of the month.

Possibly you can see why I would have trouble picking a favorite. There are so many good books in my list. The Crow Trap, Faith, Countdown City, and The Crossing Places would all be contenders.

This time I will settle on one book: Countdown City by Ben H. Winters. This was the second book in a trilogy, following the activities of a former policeman, Hank Palace, pursuing a missing person case in a pre-apocalyptic world. Asteroid 2011GV1 is heading toward earth, and the prognosis is not good. 

About a year ago, I picked the first book in the trilogy, The Last Policeman, as my Crime Fiction Pick of the Month. That book is set about three months earlier than this one. In a world where many people are abandoning their jobs or changing their entire lives, Hank is stubbornly investigating a death that every one else thinks is suicide.

Both books are riveting and provocative. If you haven't already read The Last Policeman, start there.