Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Dark Passage: David Goodis

This is a dark novel about a man in prison for life for the murder of his wife, which he did not commit. Vincent Parry manages to escape from prison and returns to San Francisco and the neighborhood he lived in to try to prove his innocence. A young woman befriends him and helps him hide from the authorities.

He knows he must move on, that he cannot stay with her for long. She wants to buy him some clothes as all he has are some old clothes that he stole.
When he came back to the bedroom she was opening the paper boxes. 
It amounted to almost a wardrobe. Four shirts, three white and one grey. Five neckties, three grey and two on a grey-violet theme. Five sets of underwear and a stack of handkerchiefs. Six pairs of grey socks. A grey worsted suit with a vertical suggestion of violet. A pair of tan straight-tipped blucher shoes. And grey suspenders. 
There were other things. A military brush and a comb. A toothbrush and a jar of shaving cream and a safety razor. 
...  His hair was still damp from the shower and it moved nicely under the brush and comb. He had on one of the white shirts and a grey-violet tie and he put a white handkerchief in the breast pocket of the grey worsted suit. He felt very new and shining
The story is not told in first person narration but much of the story is revealed through the main character's internal dialog. His frustration and the build up of anger at his situation is portrayed in a realistic way. It was very well done.

The twists and turns are many and have a feeling of unreality at times, but it is a very compelling story. And I liked the ending. Shortly after that we watched the film adaptation. In both the book and the film, the San Francisco setting is used well.

This a very effective noir novel, but it isn't one that leaves you feeling entirely hopeless, and I was grateful for that.

David Goodis claimed that the TV series The Fugitive was based on Dark Passage. An article at Mystery*File discusses Goodis’ suit against United Artists TV in detail.

Comments on the movie...

The movie was very faithful to the book, but there is no way that a film can convey the protagonist's inner turmoil as effectively. I still enjoyed it a lot, and it has tremendous atmosphere and the wonderful San Francisco setting. And with two talented stars like Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, how can it not be worth watching? It isn't their best movie together but it is very good. Agnes Moorehead also stars as the woman who testified against him at the trial.

See these reviews. Many of them also comment on the movie. 
Barry Ergang's review at Kevin's Corner


Publisher:   Library of America, 2012 (first published 1946)
Length:       190 pages
Format:       Hardback collection
Setting:      San Francisco
Genre:        Mystery
Source:       I purchased my copy.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

The Big Over Easy: Jasper Fforde

This is the first book in the Nursery Crime series by Jasper Fforde, who also wrote the Thursday Next series. DCI Jack Spratt and Sergeant Mary Mary investigate crimes within the world of nursery rhymes. In The Big Over Easy, they investigate the apparent suicide of Humpty Dumpty. The book is a fantasy / mystery crossover with lots of humor, puns, and satire.

To give you a taste of Jasper Fforde's prose and the wackiness of the story, here is an excerpt. Mary Mary has just been transferred to the city of Reading in Berkshire, England.
Reading wouldn't have been everyone's choice for a transfer, but for Mary, Reading had one thing that no other city possessed: DCI Friedland Chymes. He was a veritable powerhouse of a sleuth whose career was a catalog of inspired police work, and his unparalleled detection skills had filled the newspaper columns for over two decades. Chymes was the reason Mary had joined the police force in the first place. Ever since her father had bought her a subscription to Amazing Crime Stories when she was nine, she'd been hooked. She had thrilled at "The Mystery of the Wrong Nose," been galvanized by "The Poisoned Shoe" and inspired by "The Sign of Three and a Half." Twenty-one years further on, Friedland was still a serious international player in the world of competitive detecting, and Mary had never missed an issue.
However, Mary does not get assigned to work with DCI Chymes. She is assigned to the much less attractive Nursery Crime Division, headed by Jack Spratt.

My thoughts:

My son read this first and recommended the book, and I enjoyed it very much. This book requires that you step into another world peopled by Nursery Rhyme characters, aliens, and mythical creatures... and suspend disbelief. I am not so good at doing that so it took me a third of the book before I was comfortable with the premise.

In this world, it is at least as important to be able to write up the results of the crime to be published (and made into prime time documentaries), as it is to actually solve the crime. In fact policemen are willing to stretch the truth to fit those requirements, and will compete to take over a case that may be "good copy." They then become stars of publications like the Amazing Crime Stories journal. That seems ridiculous on the face of it, but in today's world maybe not so much so. If you can just sit back and accept that it all makes sense in an alternate world, then it is a lot of fun.

I am not a fan of funny names in mysteries, but it works here so I accepted it. Sometimes the humor in mysteries escapes me, as I noted when I read reviews after finishing the book, but even my failure to get many of the jokes did not hamper my enthusiasm or enjoyment.

I will admit I had a problem with too many characters to track and getting confused by the characters and their relationships to Humpty Dumpty. But that happens in a LOT of mysteries I read. On the other hand, I liked the characters, I enjoyed following the story, and I thought the plot and writing were well done.

If you are a fan of humor and satire in your mysteries, and can handle fantasy elements, then this book is definitely worth a try.

TV Tropes has a nice page about the Nursery Crime series, and they describe it as "Shrek meets the Police Procedural."


Publisher:  Penguin Books, 2006 (orig. publ. 2005).
Length:      383 pages 
Format:      Trade Paperback
Series:       Nursery Crime series, #1
Setting:      Reading, UK
Genre:       Fantasy / Police Procedural
Source:      My son bought this at the Planned Parenthood book sale and loaned it to me.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Death in the Clouds: Agatha Christie

This Hercule Poirot mystery was published in 1935. A woman is killed on an airplane during a flight from Paris to Croydon. Her death isn't discovered until well into the flight. Hercule Poirot is a passenger on the airplane but he slept through most of the flight. Once the airplane lands, Inspector Japp is on the case and of course invites Poirot to work with him on the investigation. Since the flight is between France and England and the passengers come from both countries, Inspector Fournier of the Sûreté comes over to take part too. As the investigation proceeds, Japp is working in England, Fournier is working in France, and Poirot goes back and forth wherever the clues lead him.

I found this a different type of Poirot story and very entertaining. A closed environment, somewhat similar to Murder on the Orient Express but even more contained. The victim is killed with a dart from a blowpipe but no one on the flight sees the crime take place. Eleven suspects, twelve if you count Poirot, which he insists should be done. But no one takes that seriously (except the jury at the inquest, initially).

I do always love a map or a diagram, and the one supplied here was very useful.  It was a diagram of the seating in the section of the airplane where the victim and the suspects were seated. If I had had to rely on the descriptions of seating placements in the text I would have been lost. Also it was fun to read about flying at that time, the size of the airplane, the stewards, etc.

This  time I suspected someone early on, but dismissed them as unlikely. Then it turns out that person was the murderer. This has happened to me multiple times when read Christie's books. I think she is very clever with her diversions and her books are such fun to read. I used to get really irritated with Poirot; now I am used to his idiosyncracies and enjoy them.

I have been looking for an edition of this book with the cover illustration by Tom Adams but so far have not been successful. Then I remembered that Moira of Clothes in Books sent me this postcard with the same illustration, so I am sharing it here. Isn't it gorgeous? I am still going to find one with that cover some day.

Another book I read with an airplane flight playing an important part was The Puzzle of the Pepper Tree, a Hildegarde Withers mystery by Stuart Palmer, also written in the 1930's. A Dragonfly Seaplane arrives at the island of Santa Catalina off the California coast with a dead passenger on board.

Other reviews at Clothes in Books, crossexaminingcrime, In Search of the Classic Mystery Novel, and A Crime is Afoot (with links to several other posts)


Publisher:  Berkley Books, 1984. Orig. pub. 1935.
Length:     230 pages
Format:     Paperback
Series:      Hercule Poirot, #12
Setting:     UK, France
Genre:      Mystery
Source:    Purchased at the Planned Parenthood book sale, Sept. 2017.

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Reading Summary for July 2018

I cannot believe it is August. And hot and muggy in Santa Barbara. I read ten books in July.  Seven of them were on my list of 20 Books of Summer.

I read two books that were not in the crime fiction genre. Although one of them was strongly related to crime fiction.

Charlie Chan: The Untold Story of the Honorable Detective and His Rendezvous With American History (2010) by Yunte Huang
This non-fiction book is a blend of many things. It covers much of Earl Derr Biggers' life and it talks about most of the books he wrote, including the success of Charlie Chan in novels and on film. It also provides some background on the history of racism in the US.  
It was a very readable book; I often have problems with non-fiction writing but this one was informative... without being boring or dry.
The Night Watch (2006) by Sarah Waters
The second was a historical novel, set in the 1940's in the UK, one of my favorite times and places to read about. This novel has an unusual structure, with three sections, one set in 1947, the next set in 1944, and the last in 1940. The book never returns to 1947 so we know the ending early on, so to speak. I did not find it totally successful, but I am glad I read it.
The crime fiction books I read this month are:

They Do It with Mirrors (1952) by Agatha Christie
In this fifth Jane Marple book, Jane visits Carrie Louise Serrocold at her Victorian mansion, Stoneygates, at the request of an old friend. The US title is Murder with Mirrors. My thoughts on the book are HERE.

Gasa-Gasa Girl (2005)  by Naomi Hirahara
This is the 2nd book in a crime fiction series featuring Mas Arai, a Japanese-American gardener in Los Angeles. Mas is seventy years old and the book starts as he arrives in New York City on his first visit with his daughter and her family. Mas and his daughter have not gotten along for many years, but now she is asking for his help. I enjoyed it very much.

Moskva (2016) by Jack Grimwood
I have read two of this author's books published as John Courtenay Grimwood and I was very impressed with them, so when I heard he had written a cold war spy thriller set in Russia, I had to read it. I was not disappointed, but there was more violence and sex in the novel than I was prepared for.

The Diggers Rest Hotel (2010) by Geoffrey McGeachin
Set in post-World War II Australia, the hero is Charlie Berlin, who rejoins the Melbourne police force after the war. This book won the 2011 Ned Kelly Award. I look forward to reading more of the series, although affordable copies are not easy to find.

Night Rounds (1999) by Helene Tursten
The second book in Helene Tursten's series featuring Inspector Irene Huss, set in Sweden. I enjoyed this book; it covers social issues in Sweden and sexual harrassment in the police department. My full review (and links to other reviews) is HERE.

The Woman Who Married a Bear (1992) by John Straley
This first novel about Cecil Younger, unofficial private investigator, is set in Sitka, Alaska, a port city on the Alaska Panhandle. I found Cecil to be a very unusual character that I grew to like. This book was winner of the 1993 Shamus for Best First P. I. Novel.
A Study in Scarlet (1887) by Arthur Conan Doyle
I have finally read a novel in the Sherlock Holmes series. This very short novel introduces both Sherlock Holmes and his friend Dr. John H. Watson. I did enjoy reading A Study in Scarlet, but it was not at all what I expected.

Queenpin (2007) by Megan Abbott
I did not know quite what to think about this book but I do rate it very high. The tension that builds wore me out when I was reading it, similar to when I was reading Strangers on a Train by Patricia Highsmith. The two books are very different; Highsmith's book centers on two men, this one centers on two women. Set in the 1940s or 50s, in the world of gangsters and gamblers. In 2008, Abbott won the Edgar Award for Best Paperback Original Novel for Queenpin.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

White Sky, Black Ice: Stan Jones

This series stars Nathan Active, an Alaska State Trooper, and in this first book he is living in the remote village of Chukchi. Although he is Inupiat, and was born in Chukchi, his mother gave him up to white parents who raised him in Anchorage, so his experiences have been very different than the Inupiat people who live there. He doesn't really like his assignment and hopes eventually to be reassigned to Anchorage. When he encounters two suspicious suicides in a week, he decides to check for indications that the victims were murdered.

This is another case where I have fallen for the main character, and want to know where these books will take him. As Nathan Active is a State Trooper, this is a police procedural, and Nathan is a determined investigator, relentless in seeking the truth. I guess you could describe this story as moving at a slow pace, but that worked well in this case.

The description of daily life in the isolated city of Chukchi is intense, sometimes depressing.

The weather is severe, difficult to endure; it amazes me that anyone can survive there.
There were many things he had come to detest about Chukchi since the Troopers had posted him there eighteen months before. But it was probably the west wind he detested most. 
It was the west wind's toothache-like persistence. God help you if you had to go gloveless in it, changing spark plugs on the Suburban or working an evidence camera. It gnawed at your hands and sprayed grit in your eyes. Inside a house at night you could hear it scratching bushes and weeds against the wall. You could feel it suck warm air out the cracks around the windows and push cold air under the door and through the electric sockets.
Stan Jones is a native of Alaska. He has worked as a journalist and a bush pilot. His descriptions of the setting and the challenging environment were convincing.

I have kept my comments on the book brief but if you are looking for more detail, there are several good reviews at:
Reactions to Reading
Mysteries and More from Saskatchewan
An In the Spotlight post at Confessions of a Mystery Novelist...
The View from the Blue House


Publisher:   Soho Press, 2003 (orig. pub. 1999)
Length:       264 pages
Format:      Trade paperback
Series:       State Trooper Nathan Active #1
Setting:      Alaska
Genre:       Police procedural
Source:      I purchased this book.

Saturday, August 4, 2018

Six Degrees of Separation from Atonement to The Coffin Dancer

The Six Degrees of Separation meme is hosted by Kate at booksaremyfavoriteandbest. The idea behind the meme is to start with a book and use common points between two books to end up with links to six other books, forming a chain. Every month she provides the title of a book as the starting point.

The starting point this month is Atonement by Ian McEwan.  It sounds like it would be my kind of book, based on the time periods it covers, but it never appealed. I do have a copy and it is on my "maybe someday" list to read.

The link to my first book is by author name... first name. In the last few years, I have read a lot of the James Bond books by Ian Fleming, and my favorite so far is From Russia With Love. James Bond is a serious spy, and Fleming modeled him after people he knew in the Secret Service, but the novels are sometimes more adventure stories than spy fiction and sometimes verge into fantasy. In every book James Bond romances one or more women.

From James Bond I move on to Funeral in Berlin, a novel about the nameless spy created by Len Deighton. The nameless spy, known as Harry Palmer in the movies based on the books, is more of a common, everyday person than the James Bond type of spy; sure, he visits exotic locales, and he deals with dangerous situations and dangerous people, but he is just a working-class guy, doing a job, and has a girlfriend from the office.

I discovered Len Deighton's books in 2012, and since then have read many of his books. Another favorite is Winter: A Berlin Family 1899-1945. This story of one family in Germany shows the rise of the Nazi party, how it affected Germans and how they dealt with the changes in their society. The focus is on two brothers, both born around the beginning of the twentieth century. Their mother is from a wealthy American family, the father is a well-to-do German industrialist. Both grow up in Germany, and they fight on the German side in World War I.  Between World War I and World War II they take different paths.
Another book related to Germany  between the two world wars is In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler's Berlin. This is Erik Larson's non-fiction account of the years from 1933 to 1937 when William Dodd was the American Ambassador to Germany. He and his family lived in Berlin and took part in society functions there. An extremely interesting book.

The "garden of beasts" referred to in the title is Berlin's central park, the Tiergarten; the Dodd family lived in a home on the edge of the park. Another book with a similar title is also set in Berlin, Garden of Beasts by Jeffery Deaver. This book is a standalone historical thriller, set at the time prior to World War II that Germany was building toward rearmament. The protagonist is a German-American mobster hit man who is forced to take on the assignment of killing Reinhard Ernst, the man behind the  rearmament effort.

Moving away from Berlin and earlier times, my final stop is another book by Jeffery Deaver, The Coffin Dancer, the second book in the Lincoln Rhyme series. Rhyme is a quadriplegic who is skilled at forensic investigations, usually working as a consultant to the police department. Here he is looking for an assassin who is targeting witnesses to a killing. I read this book nearly two years ago and never reviewed it. It was very suspenseful, kept me entertained throughout, but had too many twists and turns at the end... and too long. On the other hand, a lot of the subject matter relates to flying airplanes and aviation, and if Deaver isn't an expert on the topic he did tons of research because it is very realistic in that area.

My chain covered mostly earlier periods in history but ended up with a thriller. It was a lot of fun. Check out the other chains, the links are always interesting.

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Thunderball: Ian Fleming

I started reading the James Bond books in 2016, in order, skipping Casino Royale because I knew that I had read that one. In 2016 I read 4 of them, in 2017 only one of them. This year I read Goldfinger and Thunderball. I skipped the eighth James Bond book, For Your Eyes Only, because it is four short stories and I was eager to move onto the three books involving SPECTRE. I have a lovely reprint edition titled The Blofeld Trilogy which includes Thunderball, On Her Majesty's Secret Service, and You Only Live Twice.

Thunderball is the ninth James Bond book.  Ernst Stavro Blofeld, head of the criminal organization SPECTRE, makes his first appearance. Two other interesting characters are Emilio Largo, Blofeld's main henchman, and Domino, Largo's mistress. Felix Leiter of the CIA works closely with Bond on this one, and I always like his presence in the Bond novels (and films).

The story starts at an expensive health clinic near Brighton where M has sent 007 to detoxify. He stumbles onto a sinister plot engineered by SPECTRE, although he doesn't realize its importance immediately. When a bomber carrying two nuclear bombs disappears over the Atlantic, a demand is sent to the British and US governments, demanding a large amount of money, Bond and M make the connection. This is where Felix Leiter comes in, and he and Bond are sent to the Bahamas to investigate.

As in most of the other Bond novels I have read, this one includes a good bit of sexism; if you can get past that, it is an enjoyable book. On the plus side, this was more of an adventurous spy novel, with less of the fantastical elements that are in some of the earlier novels in the series. More believable, but with lots of underwater scenes, which I did not care for.

We recently watched the film adaptation. Thunderball was the fourth of the James Bond films, starring Sean Connery as James Bond, Adolfo Celi as Emilio Largo, and Claudine Auger as Dominique "Domino" Derval. Blofeld stays in the background in the book, and also in the fim. He is a presence, but we don't see his face.

This not one of my favorite Bond films starring Sean Connery. A lot of the same thoughts on the book hold for the movie. Too many long underwater scenes. The lengthy section in the book about the health club is pared down, which is good, but then some of the action doesn't make as much sense in that section. Overall the story in the book and the movie is about the same, unlike some of the adaptations which pretty much ditched the plot in the novel.

I enjoyed having Felix Leiter in the movie, even though it is a different actor playing him each time. Domino's role in the film was not as good as in the book, where she is stronger and purposeful.

See these excellent reviews of the novel. Some of them comment on the conflicts related to the publication of this novel. They also feature some lovely covers.


Publisher:  Penguin Books, 2010 (orig. publ. 1961).
Length:      226 pages 
Format:      Trade Paperback
Series:       James Bond, #9
Setting:      UK, Bahamas
Genre:       Espionage fiction
Source:      I purchased my copy.