Sunday, December 8, 2019

The Hypnotist: Lars Kepler

I read this book for the European Reading Challenge because it is set in Tumba, Sweden. It had been on my shelf of books I might discard without reading, because of length and subject matter, but when I gave it the 50-page test, I just kept on reading all 503 pages. To my surprise, it also turned out to be set around Christmas time. (More about that later.)

The discovery of the body of a teacher, dead, stabbed and mutilated, in the locker room of the high school leads to an even more horrendous scene. Policemen go to his house to notify his family, only to find all of them slaughtered, stabbed and bloody. It turns out that one of the children, a teenage boy, is still alive, and he is rushed to the hospital. Later the police find out that there is an older daughter, and fear that the killer may be after her also.

Detective Inspector Joona Linna takes on the case and requests that the victim be hypnotized, in hopes that he will be able to tell them more about the crime and the criminal. Erik Maria Bark is called in, even though he was disgraced years ago when a patient study he was working on ended badly. Joona feels that Erik is the most qualified to have success with hypnosis in this case, where the young boy is badly injured and barely alive. The results of the experiment are surprising and devastating.

This book had a lot of issues for me. It is fragmented. It goes back and forth in time. The story is told in present tense. It is over 500 pages long. And the story is filled with very creepy villains. It follows two crimes, the multiple murder being investigated by the police, and a kidnapping that may or may not be related to the police investigation. The back story of one of the protagonists is followed in depth. Those aspects can be either good or bad, depending on the reader, but they can also make for a confusing book.

Yet I enjoyed reading the book. I liked both of the main protagonists, even though they are flawed and often irritating. In this book, Erik, a hypnotist whose career was ruined by poor choices, shares the limelight with Joona Linna, the policeman. Erik does not want to get involved with the case, and has promised his wife that he won't ever hypnotize anyone again. The second plot line, which is given a good deal of time, is about a threat to a member of his family.

I also liked a lot of the secondary characters in the book, and I got to know them well enough to care about them. That is one of the advantages of a long book. I really did not mind the narrative in present tense in this one. I stayed interested in the story throughout, even as it jumped around from one group of people to another.

Getting back to the Christmas element, this book takes place in the two weeks before Christmas, and ends on Christmas Eve. Clearly this is not a cozy Christmas tale, but the juxtaposition of the Christmas decorations and celebrations as a background to the investigation for a killer and a kidnapper is effective.

The bad guys in this story are really scary and creepy. From what I have read about the rest of this series, they are not the type of books I usually enjoy reading. So I am in a quandary about whether to continue the series, even though I enjoyed this one very much.

I would only recommend this story to readers who like thrillers and like Scandinavian mysteries, and can get  past the extreme amounts of violence. I found this an easy to read, engrossing book, but the reviews are divided.

I will also note that I read the translation of the book by Ann Long, published in 2011 by Farrar, Strauss, and Giroux. In 2018, there was a new edition by Vintage Crime, with a translation by Neil Smith. Some reviews say that the new translation is an improvement.


Publisher:   Farrar, Strauss, and Giroux, 2011 (orig. publ. 2009)
Translator:  Ann Long
Length:       503 pages
Format:       Hardcover
Series:        Joona Linna, #1
Setting:       Tumba, Sweden
Genre:        Thriller
Source:       Purchased in November, 2012.

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

The Christmas Egg: by Mary Kelly

This book is not a typical puzzle mystery, and even though the main characters in the book are two policemen, Chief Inspector Brett Nightingale and Sergeant Beddoes, it is not a typical police procedural either.

The story starts with the death of an old Russian woman, Princess Olga Karukhin, just a few days before Christmas. She seems to have died in her sleep, but some very valuable jewels and Russian art objects have been stolen from a chest in her room at the same time. Is this a coincidence? Based on the sighting of a green van in front of her building at the time in question, the police link the theft with a gang of robbers who have been working in the area recently. There is also the name of a jeweler left beside her bed. Nightingale and Beddoes follow up on these leads.

I enjoyed the interplay between the two policemen; we spend a good bit of time with them in this story. Nightingale likes his job, but it is not the only thing in his life. His wife is a singer, and he sings in an amateur opera company. Beddoes is ambitious and doesn't hesitate to speak his mind.

Nightingale is searching for a Christmas gift for his wife, which he ends up buying from a jeweler who he is questioning in regards to the theft of the Princess's valuables. At the same time he finds that the Princess also had two records that she planned to sell, rare recordings by Jean de Reszke (real life Polish tenor and opera star) that a collector would be willing to pay a good amount of money for, adding another dimension to the theft.

My experience with this book was very positive. The case the police are focused on relates to robberies, not murder, and the story is more following down clues (and guesses) and tracking the missing jewels in order to find the gang. The story reveals details of life at the time the book was written. There are surprises along the way (at least for me).

Anthony Boucher said: "The book is fascinating as a stage in the development of an important writer, and a pleasing entertainment in its own right." Kirkus Reviews described the story as "more pursuit than procedure" and "fast to follow, with no remission of interest."

This book is the third of three mysteries featuring Brett Nightingale. I am interested in the previous books and they are available online in used copies at reasonable prices so I will pursue them soon. The later books written by Mary Kelly were standalone mysteries and many critics have preferred those later books.

Martin Edward's introduction to this British Library edition is excellent, giving the reader more information about the author.


Publisher: British Library, 2019 (orig. pub. 1958).
Length:    219 pages 
Format:    Trade Paperback 
Series:     Inspector Brett Nightingale #3
Setting:    London
Genre:     Mystery
Source:    Borrowed from my husband.

Sunday, December 1, 2019

November 2019 Reading Summary

In November, I read only crime fiction novels. And a good number of the books I read were related to Christmas (three books set at Christmas, and one following Christmas into the New Year). Two books were published before 1960, four were published between 1961 and 1999, and two were published after 2000.

These are the books I read:

Death After Breakfast (1978) by Hugh Pentecost
I read the Pierre Chambrun novels by Hugh Pentecost years ago, and remember them fondly. Chambrun is the manager of a luxury hotel in New York and the stories are narrated by Mark Haskell, the hotel’s public relations director. Per Goodreads, this is the 13th in the series of 22 books. My thoughts here

Motherless Brooklyn (1999) by Jonathan Lethem
This was my first experience reading anything by Jonathon Lethem and this book is certainly different. It is described as a "riff on the classic detective novel." Leonard Essrog works for Frank Minna at a limo service / detective agency. When his boss is killed, he decides he will find out who did it. The catch is that he has Tourette's Syndrome and communication with others is challenging. I liked the book and want to try other books by this author.

The Hunting Party (2019) by Lucy Foley
A group of friends from Oxford vacation together at an isolated luxury hunting lodge in the Scottish Highlands, continuing a New Year's tradition that started ten years ago. The estate is beautiful but during inclement weather it can be cut off from the world. The friends all have secrets, as do the manager, the gamekeeper, and the caretaker. As we expect, this is a recipe for disaster. The dilemma of being snowed in is a standard Christmas mystery trope. This book was an engrossing read although sometimes I was confused by the multiple narrators.

Nothing Lasts Forever (1979) by Roderick Thorp
The film Die Hard (1988) was based on this novel. If anything, the book has more violence than the film, and the book is definitely darker. The story is set at Christmas, and much of the action is very similar, but characters and relationships are different. Regardless, I liked the story very much. As usual, the novel reveals more about the characters and their background than the film.

The Christmas Egg (1958) by Mary Kelly
This is a "seasonal mystery" published by the British Library in its Crime Classics series. The author was new to me and she did not publish very many mystery novels. It was different, and concentrated on interesting characters, which I liked. I do hope to find more books by this author.

Off Minor (1991) by John Harvey
This month I returned to the police procedural series starring Charlie Resnick, written by John Harvey. This is the 4th book in the series; I read the first three books in 2008 and 2009. This one is about child abductions, not a pleasant subject, but a good entry in the series. 

The Black-Headed Pin (1938)
by Constance and Gwenyth Little
Leigh Smith's father died and she was left with no money at all. After moving to a big house in the country, miserly Mrs. Ballinger offers her a job as companion and housekeeper, or as "Smithy" puts it, "general slave." The fun begins when Mrs. Ballinger invites her young relatives to a house party for Christmas. The authors were sisters, born in Australia; their family later moved to East Orange, New Jersey. Their books were all standalone mysteries. This is a very funny mystery and I will be looking for more books by these authors.

Magpie Murders (2016) by Anthony Horowitz
This is a book within a book, and in this case we get two mysteries for the price of one. The first book starts with Susan Ryeland, an editor, reading a mystery by one of her clients for the first time. That story is set in the late 1950s in a small town in England, and features a private detective somewhat like Hercule Poirot. I liked this book, it was a page turner, and both parts of the story were entertaining on many levels. 

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Killed in the Ratings: William L. DeAndrea

William L. Deandrea is an author I have been planning to read for years. Finally I have read one of his books and I will be reading more.

Description at The Mysterious Press:
This Edgar Award–winning debut novel introduces Matt Cobb, vice president of special projects at a large television network—where “special projects” means anything sensitive, or even fatal, that the company wants to keep quiet.
Cobb’s no stranger to following mysterious orders, so when he receives a telephone call asking him to visit a hotel room he obliges. The invitation, however, means a dead body, a sharp blow to the head, and suspicion from the police that he committed the crime. And while one of the detectives put on the case has known Cobb since he was a child, the other is convinced of his guilt.
It turns out that the dead man that Matt discovers in the hotel room was the ex-husband of Matt's old flame, Monica Teobaldi.  And he was also the person in charge of ARGUS, a computer that compiles the ratings for TV shows. So the case he is involved in mixes his personal life and his business responsibilities.

Here is Matt's description of the department he works in:
Special Projects is the guerrilla band of broadcasting. We wait in the weeds until some incident pops up that could harm or embarrass the Network. For example, if an important congressman has a favorite show, we'll find out what it is and whisper to the programming department not to cancel it until after the licensing bill is dealt with. We'll follow the kleptomaniac star around and pay for what she stole. We do everything that's too touchy for Public Relations, and too messy for the legal department.

He keeps hoping he will be moved up and out to a position in Programming or Production, but is probably stuck in his current job because he is very good at it.

What did I like about this book?

  • To start with, Matt Cobb is a very engaging narrator. I usually enjoy stories told in first person. It does mean that the reader gets a limited view of the story, but it also means that we get to know the narrator pretty well. And more than one reviewer noted that Matt is similar to Archie Goodwin (Nero Wolfe's assistant).
  • Another thing I loved was Matt's obsession with word usage and grammar (which also reminded me of the Nero Wolfe series). Don't get me wrong, this book is not at all like the books in Rex Stout's series, but it does have the same light, not too serious, feeling. 
  • I also like books written and set in the 1970s and 80s before computers and technology were so pervasive in our daily lives.
  • There is  a lot of action in this book and the characters are fun. Many of them (especially at the top of the corporation Matt works for) are unlikable and corrupt, but still interesting. 

I first became aware of William L. DeAndrea when he wrote a column ("J'Accuse") in The Armchair Detective magazine. He wrote eight books in the Matt Cobb series. He also published three other series, including an espionage series, and several standalone mysteries. A collection of short stories was published posthumously by Crippen & Landru. DeAndrea's books are easy to find in eBook format.

He was married to mystery writer Jane Haddam (pseud. of Orania Papazoglou), and died in 1996, at age 44. DeAndrea was awarded three Edgars.  One (as mentioned) for this book. One for The Hog Murders, his second novel, for Best Paperback Novel. The third was for Best Critical/Biographical Work in 1995, Encyclopedia Mysteriosa.

See Also:


Publisher:   Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc., 1986 (orig. publ. 1978)
Length:       243 pages
Format:      Paperback
Series:       Matt Cobb #1
Setting:      New York City
Genre:        Mystery
Source:      I purchased my copy in 2005.

Sunday, November 24, 2019

The Keeper of Lost Causes: Jussi Adler-Olsen

Carl Mørck has returned to work as a homicide detective in Copenhagen, after being on leave following his last case, which ended badly, leaving him nearly dead. Another policeman was killed and the third was left paralyzed. Mørck feels guilty and responsible, has lost his  edge, and is not keeping up with his work. Not only that, but he is not well-liked in his department. He is a very capable detective, but he alienates other detectives in his department, seeing their work as shoddy and letting them know it. Thus, his boss plots to put him in charge of a new department to follow up on high profile cold cases and funnel the majority of the funds for the new department to shore up the main Homicide area.

Carl's office for the new Department Q is located in the basement and has few amenities. He gets an assistant, Assad, a Syrian immigrant, who is really supposed to clean and organize but ends up being an asset to the tiny department. Carl doesn't much care where he works, and initially gets little real work done.

Soon his boss has to show results for the new department, so he pushes Carl to name a case he is currently working on. By chance, he and Assad start looking into the case of Merete Lynggaard, a rising politician who went missing during a ferry crossing and is assumed dead. Her handicapped younger brother, Ulle, was initially charged with her murder but the charges were dropped.

I found this to be a very compelling mystery. I enjoyed every part of the story. The narrative goes back and forth between Mørck's present life and the current investigation, Merete's story, starting 5 years earlier, and the disastrous incident which led to Mørck's change in responsibilities. I will point out, for those who love puzzles, this is not really that type of mystery. It is pretty easy to figure out, and the story is more about following the process of the investigation.

Many of the secondary characters, more than I can mention here, are very well-developed. The protagonist has an unusual living arrangement, with an almost ex-wife living nearby, her teenage son living with Mørck, and a tenant who cooks and cleans. Assad, the assistant, is a fantastic character. Carl is very much a flawed detective, but with all the other interesting threads going on in his life, I can forgive that.

Jussi Adler-Olsen is a Danish author of crime fiction novels. This was the first book in the Department Q series, and was published in the UK as Mercy. I intend to continue this series.

Other reviews...


Publisher:   Dutton, 2011 (orig. pub. 2007)
Translated by Lisa Hartford.
Length:      395 pages
Format:      Hardcover
Series:       Department Q #1
Setting:      Denmark
Genre:       Police procedural
Source:     I purchased this book in 2013.

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Wicked Uncle: Patricia Wentworth

I started reading Miss Silver mysteries again, after a long hiatus, in November 2017. This is only the third I have read, but I have noticed some similarities. Miss Silver shows up later in the books, not at the beginning, and each one featured a romance to some extent. In this one the romance was more prominent and for a while that bothered me, but I ended up liking that element too.

Summary on the back of my edition:
Gregory Porlock had brought them together... the dithering Mrs. Oakley and her rich businessman husband... nouveau riche Mr. and Mrs. Tote, still uncomfortable hobnobbing with the hoity-toity... the Mastermans, a brother and sister raised above genteel poverty by the timely death of their aunt... Leonard Carroll, actor and clever man-about-town... Moira Lane, sophisticated society beauty... Justin Leigh, her escort... and the innocent Dorinda Brown, young social secretary with an older man in her past.
A group of house party guests with apparently nothing in common ... until their host, the oh-so-charming and "wicked" Gregory Porlock is found with a knife in his back and blackmailer as his epitaph.

Dorinda Brown is the focus of the story; she is invited to the house party because she works for the Oakleys. I liked her because she did not have much money and was self-supporting, very independent and responsible.

The detectives are Frank Abbott and Chief Superintendent Lamb, who have worked with Miss Silver before. They bring Miss Silver in on the case because she helped out Dorinda when she was accused of shop lifting on a trumped up charge. They discover that what the guests have in common is being blackmailed by their host, which leaves almost everyone under suspicion.

I enjoyed the post-war setting, and I liked the way the relationships were important to the solution. I was surprised at the ending, because it seemed a bit obvious to me. But still a good read overall.

Wicked Uncle was published in England under the title Spotlight.


Publisher: Warner Books, 1991 (first publ. 1947)
Length:    264 pages
Format:    Paperback
Series:     Miss Silver Mysteries #12
Setting:    UK 
Genre:     Mystery
Source:    I purchased my copy at the 2010 Planned Parenthood book sale.

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Les Misérables: Victor Hugo

This book was quite a challenge to read in its entirety–1230ish pages in my edition–but it was a journey worth taking. The translator, Norman Denny, has written an introduction to the book, explaining the liberties that he has taken in translating the text. Two appendixes (one about convents, one about argot) were removed from the text and banished to the end of the book but they are not that long, so I read them too.

Description from the edition I read:
Victor Hugo’s tale of injustice, heroism and love follows the fortunes of Jean Valjean, an escaped convict determined to put his criminal past behind him. But his attempts to become a respected member of the community are constantly put under threat: by his own conscience, when, owing to a case of mistaken identity, another man is arrested in his place; and by the relentless investigations of the dogged policeman Javert. It is not simply for himself that Valjean must stay free, however, for he has sworn to protect the baby daughter of Fantine, driven to prostitution by poverty.
A compelling and compassionate view of the victims of early nineteenth-century French society, Les Misérables is a novel on an epic scale, moving inexorably from the eve of the battle of Waterloo to the July Revolution of 1830.
Les Misérables is more than a story about Jean Valjean and the orphan girl he takes on as his responsibility; it also functions as a history of those times and a look at the social issues that concerned Hugo. And for me, both aspects of the book succeeded. I did not mind at all the side excursions into the Battle of Waterloo and convent life, etc.

However, the book is very long and it was hard to stay focused on it. I started reading it on January 1, 2018, as part of a chapter a day challenge. The book in its long version has 365 chapters, many of them quite short. But that approach did not work well for me and I was reading it in e-book format. About a third of the way through I switched to a paperback copy, but that still did not keep me from reading in fits and starts. I will admit that parts of the book were a slog to read. Worth it in the end, of course. By the beginning of December 2018 I still had only read 800 pages. At that point I could not give up so I read the remaining 400 pages and finished at the end of January 2019.

Some parts of the story just flew by, and I was emotionally gripped by the story. The parts that diverted from the story and showed us a picture of France at the time were there for a reason and sometimes provided necessary background for the story. Yet they were slower to read and broke the momentum.

The last 150 pages of the book was a very emotional section of the book, pulling it all together, and I am glad I read the book. I don't recommend it to everyone, for the reasons I have mentioned above, but I will say that if you are interested, the book is worth trying and it has a lot to offer.

There are different translations of the unabridged book, and if you are interested in the differences, Brona's overview covers that very well.


Publisher:  Penguin Books, 1982 (orig. pub. 1862). 
Length:     1232 pages
Format:     Trade Paperback
Setting:     France
Genre:      Fiction, Classic
Source:    I purchased this book.
Translation from French by Norman Denny.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Death After Breakfast: Hugh Pentecost

I read the Pierre Chambrun novels by Hugh Pentecost years ago, and remember them fondly. Chambrun is the manager of a luxury hotel in New York. The narrator of the stories is Mark Haskell, the hotel’s public relations director.  He is devoted to Chambrun, as is the rest of the upper level staff.

Summary from the back cover of my paperback edition:
Something was terribly wrong. Pierre Chambrun, manager of the elegant Beaumont Hotel, was late for breakfast–an ominous sign for a man whose schedule ran with the precision of a fine Swiss watch. What's more, he was nowhere to be found.
But that was just the start. Suddenly a beautiful socialite is found dead in her suite. Suddenly the most prominent guests are under suspicion. Chambrun's loyal staff must find him and the missing piece in a deadly puzzle before ... a sadistic killer strikes again.
The problem with reading this particular story as my re-introduction to the series is that Chambrun is missing for a good bit of the story. Thus this is not typical of the series. Although Pierre Chambrun usually does the sleuthing in this series, in this story, Mark Haskell and the hotel's security chief, Jerry Dodd, are in the spotlight.

There really is not a lot of tension about whether Chambrun will be rescued, but there is the mystery as to who would abduct him and why. I actually did begin to suspect the reason as the plot progressed but that did not spoil the fun for me. And there is the complication of the murder of the hotel guest to solve.

I do think it is the setting of a luxury hotel, and the behind the scenes look at how it runs, that appeals the most to me.  Of course if the characters were not interesting, that might not be enough. I enjoyed reading this book, it was very nostalgic for me. I will read one or two more to see if the quality holds overall in the series and continues to entertain.

About the author:

Hugh Pentecost was a pseudonym used by Judson Philips. Philips wrote many, many mystery novels (over 100?), including standalone books and series about John Jericho, Uncle George Crowder, Luke Bradley, Pierre Chambrun, Julian Quist, Grant Simon, Dr. John Smith, and Peter Styles. But it is only his Pierre Chambrun series that I have read. Twenty two books in that series were published between 1962 and 1988.


Publisher: Dell, 1980 (orig. pub. 1978).
Length:    208 pages 
Format:    Paperback 
Series:     Pierre Chambrun
Setting:    New York City
Genre:     Mystery
Source:    I purchased this book at the Planned Parenthood book sale, 2019.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

The Woman in White: Wilkie Collins

This book is one of the first sensation novels. First published in 1859, it tells the story of a young woman  (Laura Fairlie) who marries unwisely and the man (Walter Hartright) who loves her and tries to rescue her from the clutches of an evil man.

First sentence:
This is the story of what a Woman's patience can endure, and what a Man's resolution can achieve.
And a few paragraphs later, the author tells us how the story will be told:
When the writer of these introductory lines (Walter Hartright by name) happens to be more closely connected than others with the incidents to be recorded, he will describe them in his own person. When his experience fails, he will retire from the position of narrator; and his task will be continued, from the point at which he has left it off, by other persons who can speak to the circumstances under notice from their own knowledge, just as clearly and positively as he has spoken before them.
Thus, the story here presented will be told by more than one pen, as the story of an offence against the laws is told in Court by more than one witness...

Walter Hartwright is seeking a job, and his good friend Pesco suggests a position that will fit him perfectly – drawing instructor to two young women. He seeks and gets this position. The two women he will be tutoring are half-sisters, Laura Fairlie and Marian Halcombe; they live with Frederick Fairlie, Laura's uncle and owner of Limmeridge House in Cumberlands.

One night before he leaves for his new position, Walter meets a mysterious woman in white who has a strange connection to Limmeridge House.  Once he arrives at his new home, he seeks more information about this woman, with little initial success.

That is the set up for the story and I did not even know that much when I started reading the book. I liked going into the story with little knowledge, so I will not elaborate on the plot any further.

I enjoyed this novel, very much more than I expected to. I had resisted reading The Woman in White for years. Even though it is a well-known crime fiction classic, I did not think I would enjoy the old-fashioned story (how wrong I was!). Even then I might have tried it if it had not been so long (in various editions, 600-700 pages).  Finally I overcame my prejudice when Judith at Reading in the Wilderness blogged about how much she enjoyed it.

As noted above, the story is told from various points of view, and that includes some incidents described in diary entries. I liked that approach. William Hartright starts out the tale and is one of the major players, but at times he is only on the fringes of the story.

My favorite character was Count Fosco, an Italian man with a mysterious past, and a close associate of Laura Fairlie's fiancé. Marian Halcombe is a very strong character, determined and loyal. I really hated Laura's uncle, Frederick Fairlie, who lived in his own private world and cared only for his own wants and needs. The author was successful at evoking strong reactions to the characters and their actions.

I liked the edition that I read, published by The Modern Library. There was an introduction by Anne Perry, which I read after I finished the book. The notes by Chris Willis were very useful to me.


Publisher:   Modern Library, 2002 (orig. pub. 1859)
Length:      643 pages
Format:      Trade Paperback
Setting:      England
Genre:       Classic Mystery; Sensation novel
Source:      I purchased my copy.

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

The Manual of Detection: Jedediah Berry

My son bought this book at the book sale last year. We both read it recently, and we both enjoyed it. But it is very hard to describe. It is very, very odd.

Charles Unwin works in a large organization, each department having one function (detecting, clerking, watching, archives, etc.). Unwin is a clerk to a detective, Travis Sivart, that he has never met. He reads the detective's reports on cases, researches them, and edits them before filing them away. Two of the well-known cases are titled "The Oldest Murdered Man" and "The Man Who Stole November Twelfth." One day, out of the blue, Unwin is promoted and he discovers that Sivart is missing. He begins pursuing the case of the missing detective, and finds out more about the huge detective agency he works for than he ever wanted to know.

In many ways this book was perfect for me. It mixes both mystery and fantasy, the story is dark but with a good bit of humor, and I liked the ending. I also liked the plethora of female characters. Some were evil, some were good, and some were a mix, and I never was sure which was which and what their motivations were. At times it seemed like an espionage story, where you never know who to trust.

There were a few detractions. At times I was frustrated with this book, at times I had trouble keeping track of the characters, and most if the time I had no idea where the book was going, but at all times I enjoyed reading it. So it was a winner for me.

Other resources:


Publisher:  Penguin Books, 2010 (orig. pub. 2009). 
Length:     278 pages
Format:     Trade Paperback
Setting:     An unnamed city
Genre:      Mystery / Fantasy
Source:     Borrowed from my son.

Monday, November 4, 2019

What did I read in October 2019?

Another good month for reading. Mostly crime fiction, but I also read some non-fiction and a classic novella. And eight of the books were from my TBR piles, so that is good too.

Mystery Reference

American Noir: The Pocket Essential Guide to US Crime Fiction, Film & TV (2017)
by Barry Forshaw
I have read several mystery reference books by Barry Forshaw in the last few months, and this is my least favorite. There are some decent overviews of some very well-known authors, and the TV and movie coverage is good, but the other books he authored provided better coverage for specific geographical locations (the UK and Scandinavia) or types of mysteries (historical). Most of his mystery reference books, including this one, focus on contemporary, living crime writers.

Nonfiction / Self-help

The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning (2017) by Margareta Magnusson
The subtitle of this book is: How to Free Yourself and your Family from a Lifetime of Clutter. The book is full of humor and useful hints on how to cut down on possessions. I enjoyed it, and it is brief and not cutesy.


Breakfast at Tiffany's (1958) by Truman Capote
Read for the Back to the Classics challenge and for the Classics Club Spin #21. See my thoughts here.

Crime Fiction

Dissolution (2003) by C.J. Sansom
I don't usually read historical mysteries just to learn about the time period. But in this case I could, the time period in this book is so interesting and I know so little about it. King Henry VIII is in power and is working to eliminate Roman Catholic monasteries in England. Matthew Shardlake, an attorney who works for Thomas Cromwell, is sent to look into, and resolve, a murder at a monastery in Scarnsea. Luckily the writing is very good, the characters are engaging, and the merging of historical facts and characters blends well into the story, so this is a good read all around.

Killer's Choice (1957) Ed McBain
I finally got back to reading the 87th Precinct series after four years. This is the 5th in the series. See my thoughts here.

Wicked Uncle (1947) by Patricia Wentworth
#12 in the Miss Silver series, also published as Spotlight. Many of the novels in this series feature a romance, to some extent. This one is heavy on the romantic aspect, and Miss Silver shows up only briefly toward the beginning and then comes in to help with the solution to the crime towards the end of the story. Actually I  liked these aspects of the story, but somehow this one did not impress me as much at the two previous Miss Silver books I had read. The post-war setting was very good, though.

Killed in the Ratings (1978) by William L. DeAndrea
This is an author I have been planning to read for years, and I finally did it. I have several of his books, from different series. Killed in the Ratings was DeAndrea's first novel, and he won the Edgar for Best First Novel. The novel's protagonist is Matt Cobb, who works in the TV industry as a troubleshooter. I will be reading more books by this author.

Bitter Recoil (1992) by Steven F. Havill
I read my first book in Steven F. Havill's 24-book series about Undersheriff Bill Gastner in September. I loved it so I promptly found a copy of this second book in the series, and I enjoyed it just as much. So now I am looking for book #3. This is definitely a series I recommend. 

Charlie M (1977) by Brian Freemantle
This is the first book in the Charlie Muffin espionage series, and I have been wanting to read it for years. It did not disappoint, and I already have the 2nd one so I will continue the series. 
The Hypnotist (2009) by Lars Kepler
#1 in the Joona Linna police procedural series. This book has many elements I don't care for: tons of violence and gore, much above the level I find acceptable; very long, 503 pages; characters behaving in ways I don't understand. But I did enjoy reading the book, and that is what counts. I will read another from this series when I happen upon a copy. Translated from the Swedish by Ann Long.

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Some Favorite Authors from the Book Sale

Between September 20 - 28th of this year, we attended the Planned Parenthood book sale four times. I always get too many books, and you would think I would slow down. Not this year. Again I bought an insane amount of books, but I am happy with all that I bought.

Today I am featuring some books by forgotten authors that I found at the book sale.

I have become enamored with Anthony Price's David Audley espionage series and have had difficulties finding decent copies at a reasonable price. On the very last day of the sale I found five paperbacks by Anthony Price. What a treasure trove!

The  books in the series (19 in all) were written during the Cold War and are about an intelligence organization functioning at that time. A New Kind of War (1987) takes the reader back to a younger David Audley in Greece in 1945.

The other four books in this series that I bought are:
October Men (1973)
Our Man in Camelot (1975)
Sion Crossing (1984)
Here Be Monsters (1985)

Blood and Judgment (1959) by Michael Gilbert is the first novel featuring Patrick Petrella. He was also in a good number of short stories and one other novel. I have been looking for this novel for a while, so it was another wonderful find.

I have only read 4 novels by Michael Gilbert, but I liked them all. Plus one book of short stories about Calder and Behrens, British counter-intelligence agents (Game Without Rules). So I am thinking I will like the Patrick Petrella series also.

Other books by Michael Gilbert that I found:
Be Shot for Sixpence (1956)
After the Fine Weather (1963)
Flashpoint (1974)
The Killing of Katie Steelstock (1980)

And a short story collection:
Mr. Calder and Mr. Behrens (1982)

Hugh Pentecost was a pseudonym used by Judson Philips. Philips wrote many, many mystery novels, including standalone books and series about John Jericho, Uncle George Crowder, Luke Bradley, Pierre Chambrun, Julian Quist, Grant Simon, Dr. John Smith, and Peter Styles. But it is only his Pierre Chambrun series that I have read. Twenty two books were published between 1962 and 1988, although I am sure I did not read all of them. Chambrun is a hotel manager and I think it was that setting that was so fascinating when I read them years ago.

This year at the book sale I found Death after Breakfast (1978), Murder in High Places (1983), and Nightmare Time (1986) by Pentecost.

Another favorite author is Victor Canning, I discovered his books, especially the Birdcage series, at Existential Ennui. (Nick Jones also introduced me to Anthony Powell's series.) I found this lovely paperback copy of The Mask of Memory (1974), which is the next book in the series that I have been waiting to read.

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Breakfast at Tiffany's: Truman Capote

The story takes place over a year or two in New York, during World War II. A young man, an aspring writer, is the narrator.

The first paragraph of the book:
I am always drawn back to places where I have lived, the houses and their neighborhoods. For instance, there is a brownstone in the East Seventies where, during the early years of the war, I had my first New York apartment. It was one room crowded with attic furniture, a sofa and fat chairs upholstered in that itchy, particular red velvet that one associates with hot days on a train. The walls were stucco, and a color rather like tobacco-spit. Everywhere, in the bathroom too, there were prints of Roman ruins freckled brown with age. The single window looked out on a fire escape. Even so, my spirits heightened whenever I felt in my pocket the key to this apartment; with all its gloom, it still was a place of my own, the first, and my books were there, and jars of pencils to sharpen, everything I needed, so I felt, to become the writer I wanted to be.
This young man soon meets Holly Golightly, a free spirit, who has had a hard life (and she is only eighteen). She also lives in the brownstone, in a larger apartment; she has no job and spends most of her time socializing with wealthy people (mostly men) who give her money and presents. During the time the young writer and Holly are living in the brownstone, she  gradually reveals more about her past and herself. She always calls him "Fred" after her brother who is stationed overseas during the war.

I have seen the movie with Audrey Hepburn and to me it was depressing. I also found the story it is based on to be very sad. The portrait of Holly Golightly is even darker. But regardless of the mood it put me in, reading this book was a good experience. Truman Capote's writing is beautiful. The story is very well told, although I can hardly think of a character that I really liked.

Do I recommend this book? Yes, because it is worth reading Capote's writing. And it is short, just a novella. This edition also contains three stories: 'House of Flowers', 'A Diamond Guitar' and 'A Christmas Memory'. Which I have not read yet but plan to.

Here are some other opinions:


Publisher:   Vintage International, 2012 (orig. pub. 1958)
Length:       84 pages
Format:      Trade paperback
Setting:      New York City
Genre:       Fiction
Source:      I purchased my copy.

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Paper Son: S. J. Rozan

The Lydia Chin / Bill Smith mystery series is one my favorite contemporary mystery series; the 11th book in the series was published in 2011.  After eight long years, another book has been published. I had no idea she was even working on it and as soon as I saw it, I purchased it and read it.

Paper Son is one of the best in the series. This book earned a starred review at Publishers' Weekly and I was glad to read the praise for the book and the author there and at Kirkus Reviews.

Summary from S.J. Rozan's website:
The Most Southern Place on Earth: that’s what they call the Mississippi Delta. It’s not a place Lydia Chin, an American-born Chinese private detective from Chinatown, NYC, ever thought she’d have reason to go. But when her mother tells her a cousin Lydia didn’t know she had is in jail in Clarksdale, Mississippi—and that Lydia has to rush down south and get him out—Lydia finds herself rolling down Highway 61 with Bill Smith, her partner, behind the wheel.
Other than being set in Mississippi, which is very different from New York, the big surprises here are that Lydia's mom, who has always disliked Lydia's profession, has requested that Lydia go help out a cousin in Mississippi, and that she insists that Bill Smith go along to help. She has also resisted Lydia's partnership with Bill for years.

The strongest point in previous books in the series is the characters. Lydia and Bill each have their own opinions and strengths. Each book also features other characters, such as Lydia's mom, that stand out and are interesting. The setting is often New York City's Chinatown, where Lydia lives and works. And, in addition, the mystery element is handled well.

Another joy in this book was reading about Lydia in a new environment and one I am pretty familiar with. I grew up in Alabama and I had relatives in the small town of Batesville, Mississippi. I visited them often in my childhood, and my husband and I made a special trip to Mississippi to visit them right before we got married.

This is a pretty good look at the South, without being over the top, not that I have spent a lot of time there in the last few years. Bill lets his southern roots show in this story, and I know exactly how that is. As soon as you are back in the South, a good bit of your Southern accent comes back. Lydia's reaction to sweet tea was humorous; the relative she and Bill stay with has a pitcher available at all times. I personally was never a fan of sweet tea and did not even have any until I was in college, but it is clearly popular throughout the South.

I would like to share this quote from The Irresponsible Reader:
Rozan’s at her strongest when in addition to the mystery, she’s using the circumstances around it to have Lydia and/or Bill explore another culture/sub-culture. She’s displayed this strength when helping her readers understand the Jewish refugees in the 1930’s who fled to Shanghai (The Shanghai Moon), Hong Kong (in Reflecting the Sky), Small Town High School Football (Winter and Night), the Contemporary Chinese Art scene (Ghost Hero), and so on. Here we get a Yankee perspective on Mississippi black/white relations (and a glance or two at how it differs from neighboring states), as well as a fascinating look at the Chinese in the Mississippi Delta in the late Nineteenth Century (which left me almost as shocked as Lydia). You give us that kind of history and commentary while delivering a solid mystery? It’s hard to ask for more.
If you are already a fan of this series, I highly recommend this book. If you haven't tried the others, I would read a couple of the earliest books in the series first, just to get a feel for Lydia and Bill's relationship in the early books. There is a definite progression of the partnership and their relationship in the series but each book can stand alone.


Publisher:  Pegasus Books, 2011.
Length:      312 pages
Format:      Hardcover
Series:       Lydia Chin / Bill Smith, #12
Setting:      Mississippi
Genre:       Mystery
Source:      I purchased my copy.

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Annual Book Sale: My Son's Books

At the Planned Parenthood book sale that we attend every year, my son usually concentrates on the science fiction and fantasy books, plus graphic novels. He often finds books for me, by authors I especially like, such as Terry Pratchett and John Scalzi.

Here I am featuring eight of the books he bought for himself this year, and you will notice that a number of them are cross-genre, with a mystery element.

To see a larger view of the covers, click on the images.

A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab is the first book in the Shades of Magic series. The story is set in four parallel worlds with four parallel Londons. Only some magicians can travel back and forth between the worlds. Sounds like an interesting premise. My son is reading this book now and liking it.

Charles de Lint is an author I have heard of but know little about. Per Fantastic Fiction, he is a full-time writer and musician who makes his home in Ottawa, Canada. He has written more than seventy adult, young adult, and children’s books, and I believe that he primarily writes in the fantasy genre. Widdershins is the 11th book in the Newford series.

The Kirkus review says of Westside: "Akers’ debut novel is an addictively readable fusion of mystery, dark fantasy, alternate history, and existential horror." It is set in an alternate 1920s Manhattan. 

The Diviners is the first in a young adult fantasy series by Libba Bray. The setting sounds very interesting: 1920s New York City. It is also nearly 600 pages, which is not unusual for fantasy books. describes Fortune's Pawn as an "action-packed space romance" in this excellent overview. It is the first part of a series by Rachel Bach.

No Dominion by Charlie Huston is the 2nd book in the Joe Pitt series, set in New York City. Joe Pitt is a private investigator and vampire. There are five books in the series. 

Weird Detectives: Recent Investigations is an anthology of short stories featuring paranormal mysteries. I am always willing to try out some short stories, so I will probably borrow this one sometime.

Hard Magic by Larry Correia is another alternate history set in the 1920s and 1930s. Jake Sullivan is a private detective with magical abilities. There are two more books in the Grimnoir Chronicles Series and some short stories.

Saturday, October 19, 2019

Annual Book Sale: My Husband's Books

September 20th was the first day of the Planned Parenthood book sale that we attend every year. We go multiple times, and I always get too many books. My husband and son are more restrained. But we look forward to it each year and we always find unexpected treasures.

In this post I am highlighting some of my husband's purchases at the book sale. He looks for books in many genres: photography, history, social histories, mysteries, science fiction, and more. These are some of the mysteries and social histories that he found.

To see a larger view of the covers, click on the images.

My husband found seven mysteries in British Library Crime Classics editions.  The four pictured here are Death on the Riviera, The Cheltenham Square Murder, and The Lake District Murder by John Bude  and Murder in Piccadilly  by Charles Kingston.

John Bude wrote thirty crime novels between 1935 and his death in 1957. He worked in the theatre as a producer and director. Six of his books have been reissued by the British Library, and my husband found copies of all of them. There is a very good overview of John Bude's mysteries at Promoting Crime Fiction.

At the New York Journal of Books, D. R. Meredith describes Murder in Piccadilly as "a humorous mystery that will entertain the modern reader as much as it did at the time of its original publication in 1936." See full review here.

The DKA Files series by Joe Gores features a group of investigators who work for Daniel Kearny Associates, a firm specializing in repossessions of vehicles whose owners have defaulted on their loan payments. The setting is in and around San Francisco. These two books, 32 Cadillacs and Contract Null and Void, are the 4th and 5th books in the series. I have read the first novel in the series, Dead Skip, and enjoyed it very much.

And we conclude with two social histories. I think both will be very interesting.

  • An Elegant Madness: High Society in Regency England by Venetia Murray covers upper-class life during the years 1780-1830. 
  • The English Country House Party by Phyllida Barstow English gives an account of country house entertaining, from the death of Prince Albert in 1861 to the outbreak of World War I.