Saturday, October 31, 2015

Two October Films

Early in October we watched two movies which were perfect for getting into the mood for Halloween. Actually I have never been a great fan of Halloween as an adult, but it does feature skulls and skeletons, so it isn't all bad.

The first one was Arsenic and Old Lace, a very funny, over the top story, set at Halloween, with trick or treaters, and a cemetery nearby. Mortimer, played by Cary Grant, is an author of books about being the perennial bachelor, but has just fallen in love and married the girl next door (Priscilla Lane). She is the daughter of the vicar who lives next door to his aunts; the newlyweds return to her home to get her luggage and go off on their honeymoon.

There are so many riotous events going on throughout the movie. Teddy (John Alexander), Mortimer's brother, thinks he is Teddy Roosevelt and Mortimer has been trying to get him moved to a home because his aunts are getting older. And while Mortimer visits his aunts (Josephine Hull and Jean Adair) he discovers that they have been involved in dispatching unhappy old men to their deaths. He realizes that everyone in his family is insane. And then his evil older brother (Raymond Massey) shows up, with his sidekick (Peter Lorre), a doctor who has performed plastic surgery to change to his appearance. That brief description doesn't come close to covering all the shenanigans going on in this film.

We are big fans of Cary Grant. In my opinion he can do no wrong. One thing I read about this film is that Cary Grant did not like his performance. He felt like it was too over the top. I never questioned his extreme reactions; after all, how would you react to finding out that the two sweet innocent women who raised you were murderers, even if they meant well?

In addition to the main actors, there are several wonderful actors in this film playing small parts. James Gleason, who played the Inspector in the Hildegarde Withers movies based on Stuart Palmer's mystery series, plays a police lieutenant. Jack Carson plays a rookie cop who also has written a play and seeks Mortimer's advice. Edward Everett Horton is the manager of the Happydale Sanatorium that plans to take in Teddy.

Yvette at In So Many Words has done a wonderful post on Arsenic and Old Lace, going into much more detail than I ever could. With tons of pictures included. Please check it out.

The second movie is The Mummy, the 1999 version with Brendan Fraser and Rachel Weisz (which bears no resemblance at all to the original 1932 movie). This is billed on the DVD case as a "nonstop action thriller," with thrills and suspense. I won't argue with that, but the humor is what sets this movie apart for me.

Rachel Weisz plays British librarian Evelyn with expertise in Egyptian artifacts. Her brother (John Hannah) has found one that he hopes is valuable, and it supposedly was found by an American adventurer, Rick O'Connell (Brendan Fraser) in a lost city, Hamunaptra. Rick takes Evelyn and her brother to the lost city and there are many adventures, and some romance, along the way. When they reach the lost city, a mummy is awakened.

Two smaller roles I liked were the curator of the museum that Evelyn works in (played by Erik Avari) and a former soldier who was in the Foreign Legion with Rick (played by Kevin J. O'Connor).

Roger Ebert's review groups this film in with some other "preposterous adventure movies" and gives it a decent review. Jame Berardinelli at Reelviews describes it as "a big-budget, high profile effort in the vein of Sam Raimi's Army of Darkness with less camp and better special effects."

There is a tenuous link between these movies. The original 1932 version of The Mummy starred Boris Karloff. Boris Karloff also played Mortimer's evil older brother in Arsenic and Old Lace in the Broadway production, but was not available for the movie.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Dead in the Morning: Margaret Yorke

Dead in the Morning (1970) is the first book in the Patrick Grant series by Margaret Yorke. Grant is a likable, highly intelligent, but also extremely nosy amateur detective. He is a Fellow and Dean of St. Mark's College, Oxford, and a lecturer in English, and he has insatiable curiosity. In this first book, Grant visits his sister at the same time a death occurs in the small village she lives in. He brazenly insinuates himself into the investigation.

The death occurs at Pantons, the home of Mrs. Ludlow, the overbearing matriarch of a family firmly under her thumb. Her daughter and granddaughter live with her. Her two sons live not too far away. Mrs. Ludlow is known for treating her children badly, so when the housekeeper is found dead, some wonder if it should have been Mrs. Ludlow.

The focus was on the family and their dynamics. Mrs. Ludlow's favorite son had recently married in haste and has just arrived home from his honeymoon. His daughter from a previous marriage lives with Mrs. Ludlow. His sister, Phyllis, cares for her mother; the other son has a more normal family life, with two grown sons, but there are hints of discord.

Stories featuring amateur sleuths are not my favorite, by a long shot, but this one entertained me, once again proving that it is the quality of the writing and plotting that determine enjoyment of a book. Patrick constantly inserts himself into the families get-togethers and is allowed a lot of leeway by Inspector Foster, who is in charge of the investigation. That part of it is unrealistic, but it did not bother me.

Even though the murderer is not known until the very end, it gradually becomes fairly obvious who it is. It is not obvious why, though, and that is the real mystery.

The books in the Patrick Grant series are not considered to be Yorke's best work; there were only five books in the series. I enjoyed this one, though; it inspires me to read more of her books.

Dead in the Morning, published in 1970, was the first mystery novel that Margaret Yorke wrote, but she had written several other novels earlier. In 1974 she published her first non-series mystery, No Medals for the Major, which gained favorable critical attention. She wrote many more mysteries in the following years; her last mystery novel, Cause for Concern, was published in 2001.

This post at Mystery Fanfare lists all of her books.


Publisher:   House of Stratus, 2012 (orig. pub. 1970)
Length:      160 pages
Format:      Trade paperback
Series:       Patrick Grant #1
Setting:      small village in the U.K.
Genre:        Mystery
Source:      I purchased my copy at Chaucer's Books.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Ghost Hero: S. J. Rozan

Macmillan describes the Bill Smith/Lydia Chin novels as:
Bill Smith is a 40-something white private investigator who lives in Manhattan; Lydia Chin is a late 20-something American Born Chinese private investigator who lives with her mother in New York’s Chinatown.  They are occasionally professional partners on a case, with complicated (and mostly separate) private lives.  A critically acclaimed, award-winning series, which has won nearly all the major crime fiction awards (the Edgar, the Anthony, the Shamus, the Nero, the Macavity, and the Barry).
The element that I have always liked about this series is that the narrator of the books alternates. The first book was narrated by Lydia Chin; the second book was narrated by Bill Smith; and so on. With that approach, each book reveals more about the personality and the backstory of the two protagonists.

Ghost Hero is told from Lydia's point of view and adds a new investigator to the mix: Jack Lee: art expert, and, like Lydia, American Born Chinese. Lydia has been asked to investigate the reported sighting of new paintings by Ghost Hero Chau, talented and celebrated ink painter. However, Chau has been dead for twenty years, killed in the 1989 Tianamen Square uprising. Jack Lee has been approached by someone else to find out about the rumors that have been spread.

I like this series a lots, yet this book was a disappointment for me. It is much more light-hearted in tone than previous books, and the relationship between Bill and Lydia is almost totally overshadowed by the inclusion of a new PI in the mix. Such a big change in tone and direction threw me out of the story from time to time. Many other reviewers noticed this, although some reviewers liked the changes much more than I. 

There was a lot of dialogue, when Bill, Lydia, and Jack get together to discuss the case, and when one or more of them is gathering information from various sources. Realistic but not my favorite story telling technique. One reviewer commented on the witty dialogue. Another found the dialogue to remind them of teenagers, and I agree. Thus, this novel is a great example of the enjoyment depending on the audience.

The story gives us a picture of the art scene in New York's Chinatown and the politics involved. That aspect of the story was very interesting. Publishers Weekly gave Ghost Hero a starred review, and says: "Engaging characters, crisp dialogue, intelligent storytelling, and a minimum of violence add up to another winner for Rozan."

I also recommend the earlier books in the series. The eighth book in the series, Winter and Night, was published in 2002 and won the 2003 Edgar Award for Best Novel. I recommend reading them in order because of the character development, but others say to just jump in anywhere. That is particularly true of the last three in the series, The Shanghai Moon (2009), On the Line (2010) , and this one. Each of those could stand alone.


Publisher:  Minotaur Books, 2011.
Length:      325 pages
Format:      Hardcover
Series:       Lydia Chin / Bill Smith, #11
Setting:      Chinatown, New York
Genre:       Mystery
Source:      I purchased my copy.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Skulls and Skeletons (Book Sale Part 4)

In the spirit of Halloween, which is fast approaching, here are the skull and skeleton covers I acquired at the book sale.

The Mr. and Mrs. North Mysteries in the Pocket Books editions often have nice skeletons adorning the covers.

Having very little experience with the mysteries of Arthur Conan Doyle (at least in written form), I was not even aware of the existence of this volume of non-Sherlock Holmes stories, Tales of Terror and Mystery. Lovely cover, and I will certainly give them a try.

The skull cover for The Hound of the Baskervilles is a little less impressive (as skull covers go), but very atmospheric. And I have added to my available Sherlock mysteries to try.

In 1991, Julie Smith was the first American woman to be awarded the Edgar for Best Mystery Novel since 1956. The winning book was New Orleans Mourning, and was the first in a series starring Skip Langdon, a female police officer.

The Axeman's Jazz is the 2nd book in the Skip Langdon series. I have a copy of the hardcover edition which is much better because the skeleton is not obscured as much.

And now we get to my favorite cover of the lot... at least as far as cover art goes. The Straight Man by Roger L. Simon. I don't know how well the cover fits the story. Moses Wine takes on a case for his psychiatrist, in the fifth book in the series. Set in West L.A.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

The Old English Peep Show: Peter Dickinson

This month I read the first two books of the Superintendent James Pibble series by Peter Dickinson. My review of The Glass-Sided Ants' Nest, is here. Reading the second of the Superintendent Pibble stories, I continue to be besotted with Peter Dickinson's style of writing and his storytelling. And Pibble continues to be the character that enchants me.

At Peter Dickinson's website, The Old English Peep Show (also published as A Pride of Heroes) is described very briefly:
Pibble investigates the apparent suicide of a servant in a great English country house being run as a theme park, complete with lions, by two retired WWII heroes.
Dickinson calls his book "a baroque spoof." The San Francisco Chronicle said it was "a bit crazy, harrowingly suspenseful, surprising." And it is all of that. The thing that surprised me was that with all the elements of humor and caricature, the later part of the book still has definite thriller elements.

Pibble is an unusual protagonist, a middle-aged man with a wife who bullies him "into reading the Elsa books." (They figure into the story, of course.) He is sent off by Scotland Yard to handle the investigation of the loyal servant, Deakin, at Herryngs, not far from London. The two war heroes are twin brothers who have turned their home into "Old England" with tours and enactments of duels in order to keep it going financially. Shortly after Pibble arrives he senses that the family is hiding something.
I am being conned, he thought. I am a tiny figure in some larger drama of theirs, simply here to be gulled and sent home, more momentary and peripheral even than loyal old Deakin. I must do my duty by God and the Claverings, certify this suicide, touch my cap, and depart. Anyway, it is a certifiable suicide, not quite unfakable but as near as makes no difference.
Most of the characters outside of the Clavering clan are either devoted friends or servants, or dependent upon the family for their livelihood. Even the examining doctor and the son-in-law were participants in the raid that made the two brothers' famous and revered. So Pibble has difficulty finding anyone who does not follow the party line, even though he senses that something is amiss. And he keeps poking at things until he uncovers several layers of deception.

Like most of Dickinson's mystery novels, this won't appeal to everyone. I found it entertaining and a good puzzle, and it did succeed at thrilling me while examining class distinctions and politics and a multitude of other topics.

Many of Dickinson's novels are available as e-books at Open Road Integrated MediaAnd if you prefer print copies, as I do, you can get this book, The Glass-Sided Ants' NestSleep and his Brother, and King and Joker at Felony and Mayhem.

This book is my submission for 1969 for the Crimes of the Century meme at Past Offences.


Publisher:   Felony & Mayhem, 2007 (orig. pub. 1969)
Length:      199 pages
Format:      Trade paperback
Series:       James Pibble #2
Setting:      UK
Genre:        Police procedural
Source:      I purchased my copy.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Planned Parenthood Book Sale 2015 (Part 3)

Today I feature books purchased by my husband and son, providing a bit more variety. My husband likes and reads mysteries, but he reads a lot of non-fiction also. My son reads non-fiction, science fiction and fantasy, with an emphasis on fantasy. They are also much more controlled in their buying than I am.

From my husband's book haul:

From the book flap:
From one of our leading film authorities, a rich, penetrating, amusing plum pudding of a book about the golden age of movies, full of Hollywood lore, anecdotes, and analysis. 
My husband is reading The Star Machine right now and these are his thoughts on the book:
Jeanine Basinger's long and - in the best sense - rambling work is less a history of golden age Hollywood star making machinery than it is the stories of a select group of actors who were created (although some came to it of their own efforts) and maintained by this machinery. Nearly everyone of star level in 1930s-40s Hollywood gets mentioned (at least in passing) but great attention is lavished on ten of varying types (for it was types that Hollywood excelled at creating): Tyrone Power, Lana Turner, Errol Flynn, Deanna Durbin, Jean Arthur, Loretta Young, Irene Dunne, Norma Shearer, Charles Boyer, and William Powell. Of these, Basinger seems especially interested in (and thrilled with) Tyrone Power and Deanna Durbin, two huge stars of their time who also come off particularly well as people. A good read but perhaps - at over 550 pages - too long.

Five Came Back: A Story of Hollywood and the Second World War by Mark Harris

In Pictures at a Revolution, Mark Harris turned the story of the five movies nominated for Best Picture in 1967 into a landmark work of cultural history, a book about the transformation of an art form and the larger social shift it signified. In Five Came Back, he achieves something larger and even more remarkable, giving us the untold story of how Hollywood changed World War II, and how World War II changed Hollywood, through the prism of five film directors caught up in the war: John Ford, William Wyler, John Huston, Frank Capra, and George Stevens.

From the Feral House website:
DOPE MENACE collects together hundreds of fabulously lurid and collectible covers in color, from xenophobic turn-of-the century tomes about the opium trade to the beatnik glories of reefer smoking and William S. Burroughs’ Junkie to the spaced-out psychedelic ’60s. We mustn’t forget the gonzo paranoia brought on by Hunter S. Thompson in the ’70s, when anything was everything.
Author Stephen J. Gertz is a well-regarded authority on antiquarian books and contributor to Feral House’s Sin-A-Rama, an award-winning visual history of sleaze paperbacks from the sixties.
Brian Busby at The Dusty Bookcase covers this book in a post titled Dope, Danger, and Dolls.

Summary of The Intern's Handbook by Shane Kuhn at the author's website...

John Lago is a very bad guy. But he’s the very best at what he does. And what he does is infiltrate top-level companies and assassinate crooked executives while disguised as an intern.

Interns are invisible. That’s the secret behind HR, Inc., the elite “placement agency” that doubles as a network of assassins for hire who take down high-profile targets that wouldn’t be able to remember an intern’s name if their lives depended on it.   At the ripe old age of almost twenty-five, John Lago is already New York City’s most successful hit man. He’s also an intern at a prestigious Manhattan law firm, clocking eighty hours a week getting coffee, answering phones, and doing all the grunt work actual employees are too lazy to do. He was hired to assassinate one of the firm’s heavily guarded partners. His internship provides the perfect cover, enabling him to gather intel and gain access to pull off a clean, untraceable hit.   Part confessional, part DIY manual, The Intern’s Handbook chronicles John’s final assignment, a twisted thrill ride in which he is pitted against the toughest—and sexiest—adversary he’s ever faced: Alice, an FBI agent assigned to take down the same law partner he’s been assigned to kill.

Some of the books my son picked up at the book sale:

From a review at the Postmodern Mystery website:
Our story takes place at an undetermined date in the
future, when police functions have been taken over by public inquisitors, but a few P.I.s—private inquisitors—are still allowed to represent clients and do their gumshoe trade. Our hero Conrad Metcalf learns in the opening pages that his latest client, a prominent doctor, has been murdered in a sleazy motel. But here’s some consolation: he soon finds a new person seeking his services—the man who is being set up by the Inquisition as the fall guy in the crime.
I was already interested in this book, but after looking into it further, I am definitely going to read it.

Description of Jennifer Government by Max Barry at the author's site:
The world is run by American corporations; there are no taxes; employees take the last names of the companies they work for; the Police and the NRA are publicly-traded security firms; the government can only investigate crimes it can bill for.
Hack Nike is a Merchandising Officer who discovers an all-new way to sell sneakers. Buy Mitsui is a stockbroker with a death-wish. Billy NRA is finding out that life in a private army isn't all snappy uniforms and code names. And Jennifer Government, a legendary agent with a barcode tattoo, is a consumer watchdog with a gun.

I have yet to find a brief description of Railsea by China Mieville that adequately describes the book. From what I can glean, it borrows from Moby Dick by Herman Melville and references works by other authors. It is sometimes billed as a YA book, although many say it is for readers of all ages. It is definitely in the fantasy genre with elements of steampunk.

From a description at Goodreads:
On board the moletrain Medes, Sham Yes ap Soorap watches in awe as he witnesses his first moldywarpe hunt.
The giant mole bursting from the earth, the harpoonists targeting their prey, the battle resulting in one’s death and the other’s glory are extraordinary. But no matter how spectacular it is, travelling the endless rails of the railsea, Sham can't shake the sense that there is more to life. Even if his philosophy-seeking captain can think only of the hunt for the ivory-coloured mole she’s been chasing – ever since it took her arm all those years ago.

My son and I have both been interested in trying the Nightside books by Simon R. Green. Something from the Nightside is the first in the series.

Description from a review at
John Taylor, the protagonist of 'Something from the Nightside" is the classic, struggling P.I., a loner with a dark past, tough and romantic, working and living in a seedy office complete with opaque glass door, peeling paint, second-hand furniture and girly calendar. ...
The "Nightside" is the dark and malevolent netherworld of London ("London is the smoke, Nightside is the fire') where the evil, the wanton, and the weird live in a strangely beguiling world of perpetual darkness and glaring neon. Taylor's gifted with a special ability to find things, a third eye he calls his "private eye" (I kid you not) that serves him and saves him in this fantastic netherworld. The quest is an Indiana Jones meets Farscape romp down streets that are not only mean, but streets that sometimes completely disappear, complete with aliens, time warps, time travel, people-eating houses and really creepy bugs.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

The Glass-Sided Ants' Nest: Peter Dickinson

I think this quote from Ross Macdonald is the best way to introduce this book:
Peter Dickinson has turned in a highly original first performance. The ants' nest of the title is a tribe of New Guinea aborigines transported more or less intact to London where their chief is murdered. Their observer and investigator, Superintendent Pibble of Scotland Yard, is a man of refreshing intelligence. Mr. Dickinson's anthropological invention and sociological wit, his humanness persisting stubbornly in the teeth of our instantaneous McLuhan world, give his novel real distinction.
--Ross Macdonald
I have a hard time reviewing books by Peter Dickinson. I love his writing so much that I tend not to see any flaws. This book is very strange. The story is bizarre and the writing is playful. The characters are far from normal. But not all of his books are this strange, so if you don't find something to like here, try another of his mysteries.

This book introduces Superintendent Jimmy Pibble, who often gets saddled with the unusual cases. In this case, a tribesman has been murdered in the large London home where the tribe has lived for twenty years. The death appears to be motivated by differences between members of the tribe over the future plans for the group. Yet, it also appears that all members of the tribe have an alibi.

I did not realize it until I read it in a review, but all of the story takes place in one day. Sort of like one of the CSI episodes where they have the crime solved in one shift. Except this is much more fun and less bloody. I guess if you are as focused as Jimmy Pibble you can do it all in one day.

The events leading up to the relocation of the tribe to London occurred during World War II, when all other members of the tribe were killed by the Japanese. Brief flashbacks to that time in World War II to explain current relationships are also included. Even though they were not a large part of the story, and the mystery is definitely rooted in the present situation, I did enjoy that part of the story a great deal.

However my favorite aspect of this book is Jimmy Pibble. He deals with an unusual and trying situation admirably. He is respectful of all the people he interviews, and he is open to new ways of looking at things. A wonderful character.

Peter Dickinson is the author of childrens books and young adult fantasy books, but this book is not a fantasy. Dickinson uses a lot of imagination in setting up this tribe in a London building and developing the characters of the tribe members and the Londoners who live around them, but there is nothing supernatural about the story. It is original and very different, but still a good detective story with clues and a solution that makes sense.

The Glass-Sided Ants' Nest was Dickinson's first adult novel, and it won the Gold Dagger award for 1968. The second book in the Jimmy Pibble series (A Pride of Heroes in the UK, The Old English Peep Show in the US), published the next year, also won the Gold Dagger award.

Please see John's detailed review at Pretty Sinister Books.

Many of Dickinson's novels are available as e-books at Open Road Integrated Media.

And if you prefer print copies, as I do, you can get this book, The Old English Peep Show, Sleep and his Brother, and King and Joker at Felony and Mayhem.


Publisher:   International Polygonics, 1991 (orig. pub. 1968)
Length:      186 pages
Format:      Trade paperback
Series:       James Pibble #1
Setting:      London
Genre:        Police procedural
Source:      I purchased my copy.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

New Purchases (Book Sale Part 2)

More books from the Planned Parenthood Book Sale, held from September 18 - 27. This selection is mostly based on hardback or trade paperback covers I love.

Description of Goodbye Mickey Mouse (1982) by Len Deighton from a post about a new edition at The Deighton Dossier blog:
The story follows a group of American fighter airmen based at Thaxted in East Anglia, flying escort missions over Germany in 1943-4 at the height of the air war when the Americans were bombing during the day, at great cost to their men. Central to the novel are two contrasting characters - the reserved Captain Jamie Farebrother and cocky yank Lieutenant Mickey Morse. It is his Mustang Fighter -Mickey Mouse II with the cartoon mouse on the cowling - which gives the novel its title...
That is all I know about this book at this point and all I want to know before I read it.

There is more on the book and the cover for the edition I have at The Deighton Dossier website.

Stephen Greenleaf wrote a series of P.I. novels featuring John Marshall Tanner. At MysteryFile, Ed Lynskey describes the series:
Like Greenleaf, Tanner was also a lawyer and a member of the California bar. Clocking in at fourteen novels published from 1979 to 2000, the PI Tanner series enjoyed a solid, if not spectacular, run of critically well-received entries. Though the Tanner books didn’t grab big commercial pots, devoted mystery fans hold them in exceptionally high regard.
And Book Case...
Number seven in the series was Book Case, which appeared in 1991. This is a first-rate biblio-mystery. Tanner’s client this time is Bryce Chatterton who runs Periwinkle Press, a regional press financed by his wealthy wife Margret. A manuscript entitled Homage to Hammurabi arrives at their offices, “a thinly disguised expose that will blow the lid off some of Cow Hill’s sexiest secrets,” and it is a veritable blockbuster. PI Tanner’s quest is to track down the anonymous author. Excerpts from Hammurabi prefacing each chapter also tell a story as Tanner’s search takes him into darker crimes.
I also have the first book in the series and I will read it first.

Description of Les Robert's P.I. series at The Thrilling Detective website:
Cleveland's the stomping ground for tough, likeable, blue collar private eye MILAN JACOVICH ...  He's an ex-football player, well-educated, and fiercely proud of his Slovenian heritage, his working class roots and his hometown.
Author Les Roberts was born and bred in Chicago, but currently lives in Cleveland Heights, Ohio. He moved there from Hollywood where, among other things, he produced The Hollywood Squares and wrote for The Andy Griffith Show and The Man from U.N.C.L.E.
A Shoot in Cleveland (1998), the ninth book in the series, is about a Hollywood film that is being shot in Cleveland. This is doubly interesting to me because my husband is from Ohio and I like books about film sets. 

I am not familiar with William Boyd, the author of Restless (2006). I now recognize his name as the author of Solo, a James Bond continuation novel. My husband found the book at the book sale and thought I might like it, considering the time period it covers and that it is espionage fiction.

Description from Boyd's website:
It is 1939. Eva Delectorskaya is a beautiful 28-year-old Russian émigrée living in Paris. As war breaks out she is recruited for the British Secret Service by Lucas Romer, a mysterious Englishman and under his tutelage she learns to become the perfect spy, to mask her emotions and trust no one, including those she loves most. Since then Eva has carefully rebuilt her life as the very English wife and mother Sally Gilmartin — but once a spy, always a spy.
This book has been adapted for TV in the UK.

I found the perfect description of Queenpin (2007) at the author's website. Brief, and just enough information. 
A young woman, hired to keep the books at a down-at-the-heels nightclub, is taken under the wing of the infamous Gloria Denton, a mob luminary who reigned during the Golden Era of Bugsy Siegel and Lucky Luciano. Before she knows it, she's ushered into a glittering demimonde of late-night casinos, racetracks, betting parlors, inside heists, and big, big money.
The review by James Reasoner at Rough Edges has this praise for the book and the author:
What it comes down to is that Megan Abbott is just a damned fine writer. Short, fast, and mean, like good noir fiction is supposed to be ...
And it is there that I found out that several of her covers were illustrated by Richie Fahey. Check out the post on Megan Abbott's covers at The Casual Optimist.

I have heard so many good things about Sycamore Row (2011) by John Grisham that I want to read it. But first I want to read A Time to Kill, because Jake Brigance features in both books. Last year I could not find a copy of Sycamore Row at the book sale; this year there were lots of them.

Summary from the hardback edition:

Seth Hubbard is a wealthy man dying of lung cancer. He trusts no one. Before he hangs himself from a sycamore tree, Hubbard leaves a new, handwritten, will. It is an act that drags his adult children, his black maid, and Jake into a conflict as riveting and dramatic as the murder trial that made Brigance one of Ford County's most notorious citizens, just three years earlier.

The second will raises far more questions than it answers. Why would Hubbard leave nearly all of his fortune to his maid?

I purchased Chance (2014) because I had heard about Kem Nunn's books AND it has a great cover. Set in San Francisco. What could be better?

Well, reading the description of the book, I am not so sure:
A dark tale involving psychiatric mystery, sexual obsession, fractured identities, and terrifyingly realistic violence—Chance is set amid the back streets of California’s Bay Area, far from the cleansing breezes of the ocean. Dr. Eldon Chance, a neuropsychiatrist, is a man primed for spectacular ruin. Into Dr. Chance’s blighted life walks Jaclyn Blackstone, the abused, attractive wife of an Oakland homicide detective, a violent and jealous man.
But it is set in San Francisco, and my husband wants to read it too. So worth taking a chance on.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Die With Me: Elena Forbes

Description from the book flap:
When fourteen-year-old Gemma Kramer's broken body is found on the floor of St. Sebastian's Church, the official ruling is that she jumped to her death from the organ gallery. But then a witness claims to have seen Gemma kissing a much older man before the two disappeared into the church together. After the toxicology report comes back showing traces of GHB in her system, a full-scale murder investigation is launched.
At the helm is DI Mark Tartaglia, a stubborn detective known for following his hunches. It's Tartaglia's first time in charge, and he walks right into a political minefield as the murder squad turns up three more suspicious deaths -- all involving vulnerable young women falling from strange places, all initially ruled suicides.

DI Mark Tartaglia and DS Sam (Samantha) Donovan are straightforward investigators with no overriding hangups or addictions. There are relationship issues within the department, but that is about as complicated as it gets, and I liked that. I don't mind it when a book focuses on a policeman who is damaged or recovering, but sometimes I like a straight police story. Unfortunately this one is also about a serial killer and that is not my favorite story line.

This book is the first in a series of four books. Although the books are billed as the Mark Tartaglia series, DS Sam Donovan also gets plenty of involvement and attention in this one. At one time she was attracted to Mark, but decided early on that wasn't going to work. There is also a focus on the new head of the group, DCI Carolyn Steele, who is brought in to take over the investigation when it begins to get more attention. Mark resents this but handles himself well in the situation. We get a look at the personal lives of several of the detectives, but not to the extent that it takes over the main story.

For readers who like serial killer novels or don't have a bias one way or the other, I can say that this is a good police procedural and I highly recommend it. The detectives are not overly flawed; they have the normal amount of problems that anyone would have. None of them are perfect; none are know-it-alls. The detection is realistic and there is sufficient action and tension to keep one interested, without any graphic violence.


Publisher:  MacAdam/Cage Publishing, 2007.
Length:      341 pages
Format:      Hardcover
Series:       Mark Tataglia, #1
Setting:      London
Genre:       Police Procedural
Source:      I purchased my copy.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Crime Fiction Reading in September

In September I read six crime fiction books. Five of those books were by authors I had read before; one book was the first novel by its author. All six were a pleasure to read. Thus, it was a very good reading month.

The books I read were:

From Bruges with Love by Pieter Aspe
King and Joker by Peter Dickinson
Ask for Me Tomorrow by Margaret Millar
The Con Man by Ed McBain
In Bitter Chill by Sarah Ward
Ghost Hero by S. J. Rozan

Amazingly, I have reviewed almost all of the books I read in the last month. (That means that there are several from August that still have not been reviewed.) The only book that I read in September and that I have not reviewed is Ghost Hero. That book is the latest in a series about two private detectives based in New York's Chinatown. As often happens (to me) in a series, this later book was not as much to my liking as the earlier ones, but many reviewers preferred it over previous entries. Review coming soon.

It is easy to decide on my Crime Fiction Pick of the Month for September. Although King and Joker is one of my all-time favorite books, I don't think the crime fiction element is the best part. Thus, I would choose In Bitter Chill by Sarah Ward as my Pick of the Month.

In Bitter Chill has everything I look for in a mystery novel. I love a good police procedural, but I want more than just an investigation. I was interested in the characters and they were believable. The reader sees the story from the investigator's viewpoint but also gets a picture of the lives of those affected by the crime. And the story is told without excessive violence. On top of all that, the writing pulled me into the story from beginning to end.

Here are a couple of reviews for In Bitter Chill that came out after I posted my review:

The Crime Fiction Pick of the Month meme is hosted at Mysteries in Paradise. Bloggers link to summary posts for the month, and identify a crime fiction best read of the month. Check out the link here to see the other bloggers' picks.