Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Mount TBR Challenge Check-in: 2nd Quarter

In the first quarter of 2015, I read 20 books from my TBR shelves, stacks, and boxes. I was pretty happy with that. In April, May, and June, I have only read 8 books that count toward the 2015 Mount TBR Reading Challenge.

My goal for the year is 48 books -- Mt. Ararat. So I am now at 58.33% of my goal. I will have to pay more attention to my reading choices in the next two quarters. The challenge is run by Bev at My Reader's Block

For this quarter's check-in, Bev asked us to write about one of three topics. This is the one I chose:

B. Tell us about a book on the list that was new to you in some way--new author, about a place you've never been, a genre you don't usually read...etc.

The most unusual book in my list of TBR books this quarter was White Heat by M. J. McGrath. The setting is what makes it unique. The story is set on Ellesmere Island, a location in Canada that I did not know existed. Ellesmere Island is considered part of the Queen Elizabeth Islands. The protagonist is Edie Kiglatuk, half-Inuit and a hunting guide and school teacher. In the first few chapters, I was put off a lot by the descriptions of the food (igunaq, fermented walrus gut; seal- blood soup; fried blubber). By the end of the book, I was getting used to that.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

See Also Murder: Larry D. Sweazy

In 1964, on a farm in North Dakota, Erik and Lida Knudsen are found murdered in their bed, their throats slit. Their two sons—Jaeger and Peter, ages 19 and 20—heard nothing while asleep in their rooms. Sheriff Hilo Jenkins visits Marjorie Trumaine immediately after he leaves the crime scene. He has found an amulet clasped in Erik’s hand. Because Marjorie is considered the smartest person in the area, he asks her to investigate the amulet, which has unusual markings. She suspects that the markings are from Norse mythology, partly because of the many people with Norwegian ancestry in the area. And because Hilo is a close friend, she agrees to get involved, although they both know that his request is very unorthodox.

I liked so many things about this book, it is hard to know where to begin. Let's start with my favorite part. The main character is an indexer, a person who creates the index for non-fiction books. She does this work freelance and she is doing it to make money that she and her husband badly need. They own a farm in North Dakota in 1964, they are financially strapped as was common at the time, and her husband has become an invalid due to an accident on the farm. She became an indexer before her husband's accident, but now the money is even more necessary to their ability to hold onto the farm.

I love indexes in books. I think I always have. I used the library a lots as a child and learned to write research papers with footnotes and references when I was in elementary school. When I worked for a publisher (of historical serials and reference books), I was exposed to indexing from the technical side of it. We had a system called SPindex that "spun" or rotated a set of index terms so that they all were listed together in the index in a string, for each indexed term. And I still look at the index in any non-fiction book before I look at anything else.

So the book had me as soon as I read the summary on the back. My husband, who also worked for the same publisher for many years, found the book for me and pointed out that the main character was an indexer. We both thought it was the perfect book for me, and I hoped it would live up to my expectations.

The setting in 1964 was appealing. I was a teenager in 1964 and my home in the deep South in a big city was nothing like a farm in North Dakota, but I could picture the cars and remember what life, and especially the life of a woman, was like at that time. The story makes the daily work of a farm feel real; the requirements of tending to the farm cannot be ignored while Marjorie investigates per Hilo's request. Marjorie loves the farm and life on the farm, even though her father had hoped she would go to college.

This is a gritty crime story; there is violence but it is not graphic and does not overwhelm the story. Other murders follow; for a small rural community where everyone knows everyone and frequently depends on their help, this is an unheard of occurrence. I did not come close to guessing the ending, and as soon as the culprit was revealed, I realized I should have. The author did a great job of misdirecting me, while leaving plenty of clues.

See Also Murder exceeded my expectations. There is a lot of depth to this story. Marjorie has an antagonistic relationship with her cousin, who is a professor at a college in the nearby town, and looks down on Marjorie because she is not college-educated. She is content with her life (as much as she can be in the circumstances), but her love of books and learning leaves her with cravings that are fulfilled by the indexing jobs. Beyond the tension of the continuing crimes,  there is the emotional strain of needing to keep up with both the farm work and the indexing work, which is on a deadline for publication, because she needs the money and can't afford to antagonize the publisher she is working with.

The story is told from Marjorie's point of view, in first person. Marjorie is a wonderful character. Her life has taken some very bad turns, but she takes things in stride and gets on with what needs to be done. She isn't perfect, but she is a strong person that we can believe in. The relationship with her invalid husband is very well done; they are still in a partnership in making decisions about the farm, but she is the one who has to manage it all.

The author, Larry D. Sweazy, is an indexer and has been doing that work for many years. He also has written several Western novels, which I intend to try. See his website for more information.

See also reviews from other sources:


Publisher:  Seventh Street Books, 2015.
Length:      250 pages
Format:      Trade paperback
Setting:      North Dakota
Genre:        Mystery
Source:      I purchased my copy.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

The Case of the Dotty Dowager: Cathy Ace

Summary from Goodreads:
Meet the Women of the WISE Enquiries Agency. The first in a new series.
Henry Twyst, eighteenth Duke of Chellingworth, is convinced his mother is losing her marbles. She claims to have seen a corpse on the dining-room floor, but all she has to prove it is a bloodied bobble hat.

Worried enough to retain the women of the WISE Enquiries Agency one is Welsh, one Irish, one Scottish and one English. Henry wants the strange matter explained away. But the truth of what happened at the Chellingworth Estate, set in the rolling Welsh countryside near the quaint village of Anwen by Wye, is more complex, dangerous, and deadly, than anyone could have foreseen.
I should start this review by saying that I enjoyed reading this book a lot and I will be continuing on with the series. It took me a while to get into it, so I think I need to say that up front.

I initially thought this book was going to be too cozy for me. It really depends on how you define "cozy" of course. The protagonists are four women who have banded together to form the WISE Women Enquiries Agency. They chose this name because they hail from different areas in the UK. Carol is from Wales, Christine is from Ireland, Mavis is from Scotland, and Annie is from England. They all now live and work out of London. For this case, Carol, the computer wizard, stays in London to coordinate the investigations, and the other three women go to Wales to investigate.

I would say it took me close to half of the book before I was hooked. Then, boom, I was engrossed in the story and the characters. It may be that the story seemed slow at first to me because the author had to introduce the four main characters and their relationships and that slowed down the pace for me.

I wasn't the only reader who had this problem (see this review from the Galesburg Public Library) and I am pointing this out so that readers will keep reading... It gets really interesting in the second half.

I liked the portrayal of the characters, primary and secondary. Some of them felt like stereotypes in the beginning, and later were fleshed out and seemed more realistic and believable. I was quite fond of some of the secondary characters and most of them turned out to be more than their initial portrayal implied.

This article at Publisher's Weekly confirms that the series is continuing:
The series—for which Ace has already written the second book, The Case of the Missing Morris Dancer (coming out next year), and sketched out the third—is character driven first and foremost and offers a “fascinating look at the way these women from very different backgrounds can work together, not so much despite their differences but because of their differences.”
See these reviews:
Cathy Ace has also written a six books series starring a Welsh-Canadian professor Cait Morgan. Like the protagonist of that first series, Cathy is Welsh-Canadian, born and raised in Swansea, South Wales, and now a Canadian citizen.


Publisher:   Severn House, 2015
Length:      244 pages
Format:      e-book
Series:       A WISE Enquiries Agency Mystery, #1
Setting:      UK
Genre:        Mystery
Source:      Provided by the publisher for review.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Death of a Ghost: Margery Allingham

Summary from the The Margery Allingham Society website:
John Sebastian Lafcadio, one of the greatest painters of the Edwardian period, left twelve pictures to be exhibited, one every year, after his death. But there is an unexpected event at the unveiling of the eighth painting -- murder. Albert Campion must employ all his tact as well as his formidable intelligence to trap the killer. The author's observation of the art world, both aristocratic and bohemian, ensures that Death of a Ghost is a remarkable novel as well as a compelling mystery.
I was tentative about rereading Margery Allingham's books, because I reread Sweet Danger several years ago and wasn't as taken with it as I had been the first time around. Still, I had decided to start from there and reread all of the books up to The Tiger in the Smoke, and the choice of 1934 for the Crimes of the Century meme  was the perfect motivation to get started on that.

I needn't have worried about liking this book. I liked the story and the way Allingham tells it. Campion is an old friend of Belle's, thus he is present when the first murder occurs at the unveiling of the painting when the crime occurs. And of course he brings in his friend Stanislaus Oates of Scotland Yard and gets involved in the investigation.

There are many other eccentric characters to enjoy here. Belle, Lafcadio's wife, is central to the story. I loved her goodness, the way she felt responsible for the women who live with her and others who have cottages on the grounds of Little Venice, her home. They all depend on her generosity to live in comfortable circumstances. There is Donna Beatrice, who was a model for Lafcadio and sees herself as more important to his work than she was. There are the Potters, an artistic couple, and Fred Rennie, the man who made Lafcadio's secret paint recipes.

Max Fustian is the art dealer who represented Lafcadio before his death and was commissioned, along with Belle, to handle the exhibition and sale of each of the twelve pictures. He is another unusual character, affected and self-important.

The plot is complex, but in a good way. This did not feel like a whodunnit. For almost half of the book, the killer is known to Campion and Inspector Oates. However they can find no proof. And they both fear that more deaths will occur if they cannot unmask the murderer.

I like what Patrick of At the Scene of the Crime says about Allingham's books and their reception:
It seems that, of the traditional “Crime Queens” (Christie, Sayers, Marsh, and Allingham) Allingham provokes the most extreme reactions. It seems that half the people who approach her books absolutely love them, and the other half despise them and wonder how anyone could enjoy them. I personally belong to the first camp: I really like Allingham, but not for her plotting ability (which is limited). No, I tend to read Allingham for her style, her characters, and her writing.
Other reviews of this book:

As noted above, this book is my submission for Past Offences' monthly Crimes of the Century feature. This month the year chosen was 1934.


Publisher:  Bantam, 1985. Orig. pub. 1934.
Length:     206 pages
Format:     Paperback
Series:      Albert Campion, #6
Setting:     UK, mostly London
Genre:      Mystery
Source:    I purchased my copy. 

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Hope: Len Deighton

From the book's dust jacket flap:
Deighton ... deftly re-creates the internecine squabbling and self-preserving panic that characterized spying in the months before the Berlin Wall crumbled and the Eastern Bloc dissolved. With cold war loyalties shifting in the freezing wind, Bernard is forced back into the "game", this time without the moral sureness that evil lies exclusively on the other side of the Iron Curtain. Caught between his job and his ethics, his past and his future, and the two women he loves, trapped in a maze of deception and danger where nothing is what it seems, Samson undertakes a mission that leads from rural Poland to the heart of London Central.
The previous four books in the series were set in 1987, and as far as I can tell, this book follows closely on the last one. The plot revolves around the death of Bernard's sister-in-law, Tessa Kosinski. Tessa bequeathed her apartment in London to Fiona, Bernard's wife, so they are now living there. Tessa died in Germany and her body has never been returned to her husband, George. George has disappeared, and Bernard and his boss are trying to track him down in Poland. George's family still lives in Poland. So, lots of international intrigue. Lots of revelations about characters. And along with all of that, the continuing saga of Bernard's home life.

As I get closer to the end of the nine book series about Bernard Samson, it is even more difficult to review each book, especially without telling too much that has gone before. For this series, I am a firm believer in reading in order, although Deighton has said in his introductions to the books that he wrote each one to stand alone. So I will make this post more a set of quotes from other sources, with some of my thoughts on the entire series.

Several reviewers who have read all of the Bernard Samson novels found this to be one of the weakest in the series. It may be, in comparison to the previous novels in the series, but I still found it better reading that most other spy fiction I read.  My passion for Bernard Samson's story may have influenced my opinion.

Simon at Simon's Book Blog says:
...what I have said about several of the others applies with more force here: start at the beginning with Berlin Game and you will want to read the whole Bernard Samson story; do not start in the middle or near the end. [emphasis is mine]
Robert Latona has written a long post at Open Letters Monthly about a reread of the nine Bernard Samson novels. (Latona's article does include spoilers for the series.)  He notes that the novels in a large part are about relationships, and that is what I love about the series.
I have been on a re-reading binge and find all nine novels to be aging quite nicely, perhaps because they are only secondarily “about” Cold War intrigue, though they have got plenty of that. “Human relationships” are his real subject, Deighton once stated, and he is skillful enough to make British Intelligence work for him as the Church of England did for Trollope, as the framework on which the hidden professional and personal agendas of his characters enter into conflict with one another.
Now I have only one more book to read in the series, and I am sad about that. On the other hand, I could start rereading the series with Berlin Game as soon as I finish the ninth book, so I have that to look forward to.

Another great resource is the website, The Deighton Dossier. It covers all subjects relating to Len Deighton, and here is a page with an overview of the Bernard Samson series.

This is a list of the books in the series, with a link to my review if there is one.

1. Berlin Game (1983)
2. Mexico Set (1984)
3. London Match (1985)
4. Spy Hook (1988)
5. Spy Line (1989)
6. Spy Sinker (1990)
7. Faith (1994)
8. Hope (1995)
9. Charity (1996)


Publisher:  HarperCollins, 1995.
Length:      295 pages
Format:      Hardcover
Series:       Bernard Samson
Setting:      1987, London, Berlin, Poland
Genre:        Spy fiction
Source:      I purchased my copy.

Friday, June 19, 2015

"Freud at Thirty Paces" by Sara Paretsky

Continuing on my journey with the Deal Me in Short Story Challenge, this week I drew the Jack of Hearts and thus read  "Freud at Thirty Paces" by Sara Paretsky.  The story was first published in 1st CULPRIT: A Crime Writer's Annual edited by Liza Cody and Michael Z. Lewin in 1992. I have discovered, in only the few stories I have thus far encountered in the Crime Writer's Annuals, that the stories are all written by crime writer's but not all the stories are crime fiction. This one is humorous and it is interesting, with a substantial story, but it is not about a crime.

What I found very curious about this story is that is was also published a year later in The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror Seventh Annual Collection edited by Terri Windling and Ellen Datlow. As far as I can tell, the story is neither fantasy or horror. It is not strictly realistic, but I can't see it classified as any kind of fantasy. I would love to know why it was included in that volume.

The short introduction to the story in that volume (written by Terri Windling) describes Sara Paretsky as "the acclaimed bestselling author of the V.I. Warshawski mysteries. Her work is informed by a keen ear for dialogue and a sly sense of irony, yet retains a strong humanity. Vic, as only her friends may call her, works Chicago, where Paretsky lives."

The one sentence summary of the story is:
"Freud at Thirty Paces" is a hilarious account of two men at war with each other whose weapons are theory, Freud, and their own enlarged egos.
I cannot think of anything to add to that. I enjoyed the story, it was entertaining, and it was not the story I expected.

Every other week I draw a random card to determine what short story I will read. My list of short stories for the Deal Me In Short Story Challenge is hereJay at Bibliophilopolis hosts the challenge.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

A Wizard of Earthsea: Ursula K. Le Guin

A Wizard of Earthsea is widely considered to be a classic of fantasy literature. I found the history of how this book came to be very interesting. This is from a review at No Wasted Ink.
In 1967, Herman Schein, the publisher of Parnassus Press and husband to Ruth Robbins, the woman who would later illustrate the book, asked Le Guin if she would consider writing a book “for older kids”, leaving the concept and subject free of her own choosing. A Wizard of Earthsea followed the next year and was published by Parnassus Press. Le Guin based the novel on a pair of short stories she had published in 1964, The Rule of Names and The Word of Unbinding. In these short stories, she explored the concept that wizards were always portrayed as old and wise figures in literature. The author wondered where the wizards might have learned their magic before they gained their wisdom. These two stories served as the groundwork for the Earthsea trilogy that would follow.

The first paragraph of the book provides a perfect introduction to the story:
The island of Gont, a single mountain that lifts its peak a mile above the storm-racked Northeast Sea, is a land famous for wizards. From the towns in its high valleys and the ports on its dark narrow bays many a Gontishman has gone forth to serve the Lords of the Archipelago in their cities as wizard or mage, or, looking for adventure, to wander working magic from isle to isle of all Earthsea. Of these some say the greatest, and surely the greatest voyager, was the man called Sparrowhawk, who in his day became both dragonlord and Archmage. His life is told of in the Deed of Ged and in many songs, but this is a tale of the time before his fame, before the songs were made.
The story is told very simply. There are not a lot of characters. The main character is a young, dark-skinned boy who will become a great wizard. The story is about part of his journey to becoming a "dragonlord and Archmage." His name is Druny at the beginning, later he is given other names. His character is almost the only one with any depth in the story. Yet, regardless of its simplicity, the fairy tale quality, and the lack of characterization, I found it a captivating read.

The trade paperback reprint I read included the original illustrations by Ruth Robbins.

Two more books followed A Wizard of Earthsea, The Tombs of Atuan in 1970 and The Farthest Shore in 1972. The three books are referred to as the Earthsea Trilogy. In 1990, Le Guin published an adult book set in Earthsea  titled Tehanu. I believe there have been other books published since then. I plan to read books two and three of the original series and then perhaps read some of the related short stories.


Publisher:   Bantam Books, 2004 (orig. pub. 1968)
Length:      182 pages
Format:      Trade Paperback
Series:       Earthsea Cycle
Setting:      The fantasy world of Earthsea
Genre:        Young Adult Fantasy
Source:      Purchased my copy at the Planned Parenthood book sale, 2014. My son has a copy of the mass market boxed set of the Earthsea Trilogy. That set was what first enticed me to try the series.

Monday, June 15, 2015

State Street Nationals Car Show

In my family, we all love to look at classic cars. Every year in Santa Barbara, on the third Sunday in May, there is a car show called the State Street Nationals that takes over several blocks of State Street in downtown Santa Barbara.  We stumbled on the show a few years ago when a friend came through town on a Sunday and we ate together downtown. We have returned faithfully every year  and the show has gotten bigger. This year it was 11 blocks of cars. My husband walked eight of those blocks, my son and I stopped after about four blocks.
You can imagine how much I loved this truck with the skeleton passenger.

There are many more photos at the event website and also at this site.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Death Was the Other Woman: Linda L. Richards

Introduction from the dust jacket flap:
As the lawlessness of Prohibition pushes against the desperation of the Depression, there are two ways to make a living in Los Angeles: join the criminals or collar them. Kitty Pangborn has chosen the crime-fighters, becoming secretary to Dexter J. Theroux, one of the hard-drinking, tough-talking PIs who pepper the city's stew. But after Dex takes an assignment from Rita Heppelwaite, the mistress of Harrison Dempsey, one of L.A.'s shadiest—and richest—businessmen, Kitty isn't so sure what side of the law she's on.

Richly satisfying and stylishly gritty, Death Was the Other Woman gives a brand-new twist to the hard-boiled style, revealing that while veteran PIs like Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe spent their time slugging scotch and wooing women, it may well have been the Girl Fridays of the world who really cracked the cases.
Quote from Megan Abbott, author of The Song is You and Queenpin:
Sharp, vibrant and crackling. One chapter into Linda L. Richards’ sparkling 1930s Los Angeles mystery, Death Was the Other Woman, and we’d follow her smart, resourceful, spirited heroine, Kitty Pangborn, down any dark alley, any mean street.

I enjoyed this historical mystery with a new approach to the hard-boiled PI story. The protagonist and narrator is not the damaged shamus but his secretary, who has problems of her own.

The story is set in 1931 Los Angeles. Kitty Panghorn was rich and well taken care of in evey way before her father lost his money in the depression. All of a sudden she is alone; her father has taken his life, and she is living with the chauffeur and the housekeeper who had worked for her father for years.

I am not an expert on Los Angeles in the 1930's, but I think Richards got it down pretty well. Kitty lives near Angel's Flight and rides up and down the hill most days to go to and from work. There are lots of details about clothing of the period. She mentions the smell of oil that pervades the air due to the presence of oil derricks.

Kitty describes Rita Hepplewhite's entrance:
She stood framed in the doorway, doing her best damsel-in-distress. Her coat was open, and the dress beneath it was as red and tight as the skin on an apple. Did she practice all that bosom heaving in front of a mirror? I figured she’d have to. If I tried a stunt like that, I’d look like I had just run a block to catch a bus. And the sight of me wouldn’t have caused Dex Theroux’s jaw to go all slack and his eyes to lose focus either. As things were, I wanted to cross the room and slap some sense into him. What kind of client, I wondered, would want to hire a detective who looked at her the way a dog looks at meat?
I didn’t slap him though. Instead I just said, “Let me know if you need anything, Boss.”
I liked the way the story was told and the secondary characters that appeared along the way. The author gives us just enough background on each character but the backstories don't intrude into the mystery plot. This is a whirlwind of story, with plot twists galore.

I am especially fond of strong female characters, and I found Kitty's character to be believable and charming without being cloying. Kitty has had to make the journey from a young lady who had things done for her to a woman who has to take care of herself and consider the needs of others. Her voice and the way she handles herself throughout the story was the best part of the book for me.

Linda L. Richards has lived in Los Angeles and Munich but was born in Vancouver, Canada, and now lives in Canada. She is the founding editor of January Magazine, the online literary review site. The Kitty Pangborn series continues with Death Was in the Picture, and once more in 2013 with Death Was in the Blood. She published an earlier three book series featuring Madeline Carter, set in contemporary times.

Other resources:


Publisher:   Minotaur Books, 2008
Length:      261 pages
Format:      Hardcover
Series:       Kitty Pangborn #1
Setting:      Los Angeles, California
Genre:        Historical Mystery
Source:      I purchased my copy.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Callahan's Crosstime Saloon: Spider Robinson

Callahan's Crosstime Saloon is only peripherally science fiction, although several of the short stories in this book first appeared in Analog magazine. In fact, by my personal definition, this is science fantasy; most of the stories have some element of science fiction or fantasy. On Goodreads, the majority of readers tag this book as science fiction, but a good number call it humor and about the same number call it fantasy. There is a huge element of humor in all of the stories.

Ben Bova wrote the introduction to this book. It was published in 1977 and he bought Spider Robinson's first story for Analog in 1972. The title of the introduction is "Spider Robinson: The SF Writer as Empath." This is how he describes the author:
It just might be that Spider Robinson represents the newest and strongest trend in science fiction today. He's a humanist, by damn. An empath. He's sensitive to human emotions: pain, fear, joy, love. He can get them down on paper as few writers can.

The narrator is Jake. The owner and bartender is Mike Callahan. There are other regulars: Doc Webster, Tom Flannery. Strangers wander in and out and the stories are mostly about them. I can't really describe the stories and they might not be to everyone's taste, but you have to experience them firsthand to know.

The first story, "The Guy with the Eyes," introduces the saloon, some of the regular characters, including some of Jake's backstory, and there is an encounter with a very strange alien.

The second story, "The Time Traveler," is not science fiction or fantasy. It is a fairly long story, and shows some reactions to the Vietnam war at the time. The stories may seem dated to some, but that is one of the things I enjoyed most. I like to get a look at historical events from the times they occurred. Of course, I was around at the time, so maybe that is why it was interesting to me.

One night a week at Callahan's Saloon is Punday, and there is a punning competition. That appealed to me because my father loved puns. These stories often contain a lot of puns.

See this review at The Little Red Reviewer.

Spider Robinson was born in New York City but has resided in Canada for many years, and is now a citizen of Canada.


Publisher:   Ace Books, 1977
Length:      170 pages
Format:      Paperback
Series:       Callahan series, #1
Setting:      Suffolk County, Long Island
Genre:        Science Fiction short stories 
Source:      My son gave me this copy.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

White Heat: M. J. McGrath

Introduction at the author's website:
Nothing on the tundra rotted . . . The whole history of human settlement lay exposed there, under that big northern sky. There was nowhere here for bones to hide.
On Craig Island, a vast landscape of ice north of the Arctic Circle, three travellers are hunting duck. Among them is expert Inuit hunter and guide, Edie Kiglatuk; a woman born of this harsh, beautiful terrain. The two men are tourists, experiencing Arctic life in the raw, but when one of the men is shot dead in mysterious circumstances, the local Council of Elders in the tiny settlement of Autisaq is keen to dismiss it as an accident.
Then two adventurers arrive in Autisaq hoping to search for the remains of the legendary Victorian explorer Sir James Fairfax. The men hire Edie – whose ancestor Welatok guided Fairfax – along with Edie’s stepson Joe, and two parties set off in different directions. Four days later, Joe returns to Autisaq frostbitten, hypothermic and disoriented, to report his man missing. And when things take an even darker turn, Edie finds herself heartbroken, and facing the greatest challenge of her life . . .
I will start off by saying I liked this book a lot. Initially I enjoyed it most for the setting and learning about Ellesmere Island, a location in Canada that I did not know existed. The story did start out slow for me. It took a long time to build up momentum, and then towards the end it almost turns into a thriller. I have been reading a lot of books with this tendency lately, and I am wondering if authors are encouraged to make their books more thrillerish.

I did not warm up to Edie or any of the characters immediately. I had very little understanding of the culture and it was hard to empathize and feel immersed in the story. I hate to say it, but I was put off a lot by the descriptions of the food (igunaq, fermented walrus gut; seal- blood soup; fried blubber) and it did affect my ability to enjoy the book at the beginning. All of these comments so far sound like I did not like this novel, but really I did.

Edie has problems dealing with others in the community because she doesn't fit in and she is outspoken but reluctant to cause trouble, a conflict she has to deal with throughout the story. At times this book seemed to cover so many issues about this Arctic area that I could not keep up with them: effects of global warming, corrupt officials, placid policemen, Russian oil men, energy companies attempting to gain a foothold in the area. Yet, in the end, I was pulled into the story and had adjusted to the cultural differences. Overall, I found the book interesting and an enriching experience.

As noted in the New York Journal of Books:
Ms. McGrath writes about the Arctic with authority. An award-winning journalist, she is also the author of The Long Exile: A Tale of Inuit Betrayal, a nonfiction work which tells how, in 1953, the Canadian government forcibly relocated three dozen Inuit from their flourishing home on the Hudson Bay to the barren, High Arctic desert of Ellesmere Island. 
That incident is mentioned in White Heat. It was the most interesting fact I gleaned from this book, and there were many.

Here is the opening paragraph of White Heat, setting the stage, and showing Edie's skill as a guide...
As she set a chip of iceberg on the stove for tea, Edie Kiglatuk  mulled over why it was that the hunting expedition she was leading had been so spectacularly unsuccessful. For one thing, the two men she was guiding were lousy shots. For another, Felix Wagner and his sidekick Andy Taylor hadn’t seemed to care if they made a kill nor not. Over the past couple of days they’d spent half their time gazing at maps and writing in notebooks. Maybe it was just the romance of the High Arctic they were after, the promise of living authentically in the wild with the Eskimo, like the expedition brochure promised. Still, she thought, they wouldn’t be living long if they couldn’t bring down something to eat. 
I will be reading any further books in the series, if only for the setting, and it will be interesting to see how Edie's story develops.

See reviews at The View from the Blue House, Ms. Wordopolis, It's a Crime, and Petrona. Some of them are very positive and some are negative.


Publisher:   Penguin Books, 2012 (orig. pub. 2011)
Length:      381 pages
Format:      Trade Paperback
Series:       Edie Kiglatuk, #3
Setting:      Ellesmere Island,  Canada
Genre:        Mystery
Source:      I purchased my copy.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

"The Specialty of the House" by Stanley Ellin

Deal Me In Short Story #11

This week I drew the Five of Spades, and I read another story with a food theme from Murder on the Menu. The story was written by Stanley Ellin, known both for his short stories and his mystery novels. Per Wikipedia, "He was awarded three Edgar Allan Poe Awards (Edgar Award). His first Edgar was for the short story "The House Party" in 1954, then for the short story "The Blessington Method" in 1956, and his third for the novel The Eighth Circle in 1959."

"The Specialty of the House" was first published in 1948 in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, then published again several times in various anthologies. It is about two men who become addicted to an exclusive restaurant and spend every evening dining there. It is a story with a twist, but most readers will guess what it is early on in the story. That is intentional, I am sure, and heightens the tension. The story was adapted as a TV episode for Alfred Hitchcock Presents in 1959 and then again in 1987. I can see that it would be perfect for that show.

This isn't a standard mystery story (if there is such a thing). This one is really a horror story. That is what I was thinking as I read it, and my opinion was confirmed by the title of one of the books it is compiled in: The 3rd Fontana Book of Great Horror Stories. It is not going to be my favorite short story ever. I am not fond of horror and the subject was icky. But... it is very clever and very readable, and it was the first short story that Stanley Ellin published. That is pretty impressive.

Moira at Clothes in Books wrote a very entertaining post recently about another Stanley Ellin short story, "The Corruption of Officer Avakadian". Just based on the title, that one sounds good.

I was so impressed with this story that I rushed to order a copy of The Specialty of the House and Other Stories: The Complete Mystery Tales, 1948-1978, published by Mysterious Press in 1979.

Every other week I draw a random card to determine what short story I will read for the Deal Me In Short Story challenge. My list of short stories is here. The challenge is hosted by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Ride the Pink Horse: Dorothy B. Hughes

Introduction from the Mysterious Press site:
It takes four days for Sailor to travel to New Mexico by bus. He arrives broke, sweaty, and ready to get what’s his. It’s the annual Fiesta, and the locals burn an effigy of Zozobra so that their troubles follow the mythical character into the fire. But for former senator Willis Douglass, trouble is just beginning.
Sailor previously worked as an assistant to Douglass (the Sen) and is the only one who knows what happened when the Sen's wife died in an apparent robbery at their home. He has come to Santa Fe to extort money from the former senator, who has political ambitions at the state level. Also in town is MacIntyre, a cop. All three have come by different routes from Chicago. MacIntyre wants Sailor's help in taking Douglass down.

Sailor has come to town unaware of the Fiesta celebration. He cannot find a room to stay in, not even the cheapest, rattiest room. MacIntyre and Douglass have been in Santa Fe for a week. For the next few days after Sailor's arrival the three keep running into each other, the Sen trying to avoid Sailor and Sailor trying to avoid Mac.

Sailor is befriended by an old man who runs the merry-go-round. He calls him Pancho Villa.
'This is a spic town. Why'd the Sen pick a spic town?' He didn't know he'd spoken aloud until the brigand answered. 
'Spic?' He said it 'speec' like a spic. 'Spic? I do not know that spic?'
Spic. Hunkey. Mick. Kike. Wop. Greaser. Sailor felt for translation. 'Mex,' he said.
Pancho was solemn. Big and sweaty and shapeless, he was dignity. 'No,' he said. 'This is not a Mex town. This is an American town.'
'Then why does everybody talk—' He halted at the word. He supplied, 'Spanish?' 
Pancho was no longer offended. 'It is Spanish-American. The Fiesta, it is Spanish. It tells of my people who come so long ago and conquer the Indian. So long ago.' His sigh wasn't unhappy now. It was the leaf falling.
Sailor in turn befriends a young Indian girl, treating her to a ride on the merry-go-round.
Pila walked to the horses, put out her hand to one, to another. He saw beyond her the old withered man encasing his fiddle. He dug for another dollar. 'With music. Gay music.' Sailor called to Pila. 'Ride the pink one.' 
He felt like a dope after saying it. What difference did it make to him what wooden horse an Indian kid rode? But the pink horse was the red bike in Field's, the pink horse was the colored lights and the tink of music and the sweet, cold soda pop. 
In my review of the first book by Hughes that I read, The Davidian Report, I noted that the best parts of the book were the characters and setting. This book was the same for me. Dorothy Hughes lived and worked in New Mexico, so I assume the depiction of the area is authentic.

I liked the story, although it is at no point a happy story. It is not really a whodunit, more of a character study, following Sailor through his journey. I kept hoping for a "happy" ending but was pretty sure I was not going to get it.

I also enjoyed the depiction of Fiesta in Santa Fe. Santa Barbara also has a Fiesta celebration for a week in August. It started in 1924. Per the Old Spanish Days website, the mayor declared Fiesta week "one of festival and gaiety, during which period, which shall be known as 'Old Spanish Days,' the spirit of old Santa Barbara shall be lived again and again..." I experienced most of the Fiesta festivities in our first years in Santa Barbara, but we avoid the crowds that Fiesta brings nowadays.

Kate Laity has this to say in her review:
This is a gritty and atmospheric novel that showcases Hughes skill at rendering lost men struggling to find their way without the traditional cultural handholds. As usual, she’s brilliant as she allows the downward spiral to snake all the way down.
The longer version of her review is here.

There is a lovely Dell mapback edition but the only copy I had was a later Dell paperback that was falling apart.  I am going to have to get a better copy so I can reread it later.


Publisher: Dell, 1958 (first published 1946).
Length:    223 pages
Format:    Paperback
Setting:    Santa Fe, New Mexico
Genre:      Mystery
Source:    Purchased at Planned Parenthood Book Sale, 2010.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Reading in May and Pick of the Month

In May I read six books, five mystery novels and one book of short stories in the science fiction genre. My reading included three books written by Canadian authors, as I was working hard to complete thirteen books by Canadian authors before the end of the 8th Annual Canadian Book Challenge on June 30th, 2015.

The mystery novels I read in May are:

Ride the Pink Horse by Dorothy Hughes
Tainted by Ross Pennie
Partners in Crime by Agatha Christie
Trouble in Triplicate by Rex Stout
The Case of the Dotty Dowager by Cathy Ace

The book of sci fi short stories was Callahan's Crosstime Saloon by Spider Robinson. Robinson was born in the US but has lived in Canada since 1973 and has dual citizenship in Canada and the US. The other two books I read for the Canadian Book Challenge were Tainted, which I have reviewed, and The Case of the Dotty Dowager, which has been published in the UK but will not come out in the US and Canada until July 1, 2015.

My Pick of the Month is Rex Stout's Trouble in TriplicateTrouble in Triplicate (1949) collected three of Rex Stout's novellas featuring Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin.  I found that all of these novellas were strong in plot and full of interesting characters. Each has some relationship to World War II, although only one of them takes place before the war ends. 

The Crime Fiction Pick of the Month meme is hosted at Mysteries in Paradise. See this month's post for links to other Picks of the Month.