Saturday, August 31, 2019

What I read in August 2019

I had a good reading month in August. I read mostly mysteries, although I read one excellent classic novel. I completed my 20 Books of Summer reading list. I read books from three more countries for the European Reading Challenge.

Classic Fiction

Cold Comfort Farm (1932) by Stella Gibbons
This book is a parody of rural novels written in the early 1900s. I had heard so much about it I had to try it, but I was hesitant. Flora Poste moves in with her country relatives, the Starkadders of Cold Comfort Farm. I loved it, from the first page. Introduction by Lynne Truss.

Crime Fiction

If The Dead Rise Not (2009) by Philip Kerr
The 6th book in the Bernard Gunther series. The series jumps all over the place in time. The first four novels are set  between 1936 and 1949, then the fifth book is set in Argentina in 1950. This book takes the reader back to 1934 Berlin. At the beginning of the story, Bernie has resigned from his job as a policeman, and is working as house detective at the Adlon. Berlin has been chosen as the site for the 1936 Olympics and there are illegal maneuverings by powerful men to make money out of that situation. Later, the novel hops to Cuba in 1954. Coincidence brings the same players from the first part of the book together but the story has an interesting ending.

Death Knocks Three Times (1949) by Anthony Gilbert
This is the second book I have read featuring Arthur Crook, criminal lawyer. I liked this one a lot, even with its complicated plot and plethora of characters. See my thoughts here.

Champagne for One (1958) by Rex Stout
I enjoy rereading the Nero Wolfe mysteries. Here Archie is invited to attend an annual dinner party and dance for unwed mothers, and one of the mothers ends up dead. This is one of my favorite books in the series.

City of Shadows (2006) by Ariana Franklin
A rich Russian emigré in 1922 Berlin believes he has discovered Anastasia, the last surviving heir to the murdered czar of Russia. (Or at least sometimes he does.) His secretary, a poor Russian emigré, helps him, unwillingly, as they prepare to announce her identity. Very complicated and interesting story. See my thoughts here.

Innocence; or, Murder on Steep Street (1985) by Heda Margolius Kovály
Set in the 1950s in the early days of Communist Czechoslovakia, this novel portrays the paranoia and pain of that time when no one knew who to trust, and policemen and State Security agents were looking for traitors at the slightest excuse. See my thoughts here.

Death in Amsterdam (1962) Nicolas Freeling
This a police procedural where we see less of the detective than we do of the suspected murderer, who is being held in jail. The novel was originally published in 1962 in the UK with the title Love in Amsterdam. See my thoughts here.

The Axeman's Jazz (1991) by Julie Smith
Skip Langdon, a police detective in New Orleans, is new to her job, uncertain of her skills, and eager to prove herself, and she gets her opportunity when a serial killer names himself after the historical serial killer, the Axeman. The New Orleans setting is very well done. This is the second in the series, following New Orleans Mourning.

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Death in Amsterdam: Nicolas Freeling

Death in Amsterdam is the first book of the Van der Valk series by Nicolas Freeling. The novel was originally published in 1962 in the UK with the title Love in Amsterdam and is better known under that title.

The story opens with Martin in custody in a jail cell in Amsterdam. His ex-mistress, Elsa de Charmoy, has been murdered and he is being held for questioning. He has been there two weeks. There is no real evidence to prove that Martin is the killer but there is plenty of circumstantial evidence and no other viable suspects.

This book was not at all what I expected. I thought it would be a fairly conventional police procedural but it was quite different. Martin is the focus of attention for much of the book. The detective, Inspector Van der Valk, is only shown in conversations with Martin, and all we know about the investigation is relayed to us during these conversations.

Since Martin is in jail for a good bit of the story, he spends a lot of time thinking about his past with Elsa, and his relationship with his wife. This introspective aspect of the story may not appeal to all crime fiction readers. But I liked this approach.

Per the Kirkus review:
The comparison to Simenon is inevitable. The pace, the investigatory technique, the relationship that builds up between investigator and suspect -- all are here.
I have not read any books by Simenon for years so I cannot say if that is true, but I thought it was an interesting comparison.

I also enjoyed learning about the judicial system in The Netherlands at the time the book was written.

The story seemed like it would make a good movie, and it was made into a British film titled Amsterdam Affair in 1968. Inspector Van der Valk is featured in twelve more novels and there was a British TV series titled Van der Valk that aired in the 1970s and the early 1990s, starring Barry Foster as Inspector Van der Valk.


Publisher:  Ballantine Books, 1964. Orig. pub. 1962.
Length:     188 pages
Format:     Paperback
Series:      Van der Valk, #1
Setting:     Amsterdam
Genre:      Police Procedural
Source:     Purchased at the Planned Parenthood book sale, 2016.

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Innocence; or, Murder on Steep Street: Heda Margolius Kovaly

Innocence; or, Murder on Steep Street is set in the 1950s. It is the early days of Communist Czechoslovakia, a time when no one knew who to trust, and policemen and State Security agents were looking for traitors at the slightest excuse.

This novel focuses on Helena Nováková, an usher at a cinema in Prague. Her husband is in prison, accused of espionage, based on a map he drew for friends coming to visit them. She hopes for his release, hates living alone, and is very depressed. She has lost her job working at a publishing house and has had to move to a smaller apartment. As the story starts she is going to her job as an usher at the cinema.

Some of the story is told in first person from Helena's point of view. Other chapters give the reader glimpses of the lives of the other ushers at the cinema. The cinema and its employees are being watched because the authorities know that some information is getting out of the country through someone there. This sounds like a very depressing story and certainly it is not upbeat at any time. But there are surprises at the end and I found it well worth the time spent on it.

The story is semi-autobiographical. The events in Helena's life were close to those in the author's past. Heda Margolius Kovály first published this book in 1985 in Germany. There is a very illuminating Introduction by Ivan Margolius, son of Heda Margolius Kovály.

I was very glad I read this book. It gave me more insight into that time in Czechoslovakia. I would recommend it to those interested in the setting, and those who like a blend of espionage and crime fiction, although this is not your normal rendition of those genres. I found it a brief and engaging read, and wished I could have finished it in one read.

For more detail and further insights, see these reviews:


Publisher:   Soho Crime, 2015 (orig. pub. 1985)
Translator:  Alex Zucker
Length:       231 pages
Format:       Trade Paperback
Setting:       Prague, Czechoslovakia
Genre:        Mystery / Espionage
Source:       Purchased at the Planned Parenthood book sale, 2017.

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Behind That Curtain: Earl Derr Biggers

Although there were many Charlie Chan movies released in the 1930's and 40's, there were only six novels in the series, published between 1925 and 1932. This one is set in San Francisco, and Charlie meets a retired Inspector from Scotland Yard, Sir Frederic Bruce, who has come to the US to continue the investigation of a case he was never able to solve. Unfortunately, Sir Frederic is killed at a dinner party and Charlie Chan must find his murderer.

I found San Francisco to be a more engaging environment than the California desert, the setting for the previous book in the series, The Chinese Parrot. Throughout this book, Charlie is eager to return to his home in Hawaii where his eleventh child, a son, has been born. Yet he feels a responsibility to see the case through before he leaves. And it is a complicated case, with many suspects.

This is the third book in the series, and the fourth that I have read. Earl Derr Biggers is a wonderful story teller and he always keeps me entertained. I find his characters engaging and enjoyed the romance in this one, which does not overshadow the plot.

My reviews of other books in the series:

Other reviews of this book at Vintage Pop Fictions, The Broken Bullhorn, Classic Mysteries, and Mystery*File.


Publisher:    Academy Chicago Publishers, 2009 (orig. pub. 1928)
Length:        279 pages
Format:       Trade Paperback
Series:        Charlie Chan, #3
Setting:       San Francisco, CA
Genre:        Mystery
Source:       Borrowed from my husband.

Saturday, August 17, 2019

City of Shadows: Ariana Franklin

City of Shadows is set mostly in Berlin, starting in 1922 and then picks up the story again in 1932. I find Germany in the years between World War I and World War II  a depressing place to read about, and this book doesn't gloss over any of the horrors of that time, but I learned a lot and the story was told beautifully.

From the book description on my trade paperback editon:
A cultured city scarred by war. . . . An eastern émigré with scars and secrets of her own. . . . A young woman claiming to be a Russian grand duchess. . . . A brazen killer, as vicious as he is clever. . . . A detective driven by decency and the desire for justice.
. . . A nightmare political movement steadily gaining power. . . .
This is 1922 Berlin.
One of the troubled city's growing number of refugees, Esther Solomonova survives by working as secretary to the charming, unscrupulous cabaret owner "Prince" Nick, and she's being drawn against her will into his scheme to pass a young asylum patient off as Anastasia, the last surviving heir to the murdered czar of all Russia.

Esther Solomonova and Nicholai Potrovskov are both Russian émigrés in Berlin. The difference is Prince Nick is rich and Esther is very poor and a Jew. Thus Esther does not want to give up her secretarial job working for Nick, even if his dealings are illegal and immoral.  Their connection to Anna Anderson, who says she is Anastasia, brings them to the attention of a murderer who has been hunting her for years. Enter Inspector Schmidt when the murderer makes a violent attack on one of Nick's clubs. Esther and Schmidt are immediately attracted to each other but they are from two different worlds, and the Inspector is married.

I liked so many things about this book:

  • The author's writing is very good, convincing. She writes about serious subjects, but with humor.
  • The characters are vividly portrayed and feel real, including secondary characters who recur throughout the story. And we see how each of them is affected as Hitler gains more and more power.
  • Along with an interesting story, we get a picture of what it was like to live in Germany in the years after World War I, with inflation getting worse and worse. Even Inspector Schmidt and his wife cannot afford adequate food.
  • There is an unexpected twist at the end of the book which makes you go back and rethink much of what happened. 
  • I liked the use of real people as characters in the book. None of them have large roles, but it put some of the story in context for me.

Ariana Franklin was the pen name of British writer Diana Norman.  In addition to writing historical novels under her real name, she also wrote the Mistress of the Art of Death series, featuring Adelia Aguilar, a forensic specialist in the twelfth century.


Publisher:   Harper, 2007 (orig. pub. 2006)
Length:       419 pages
Format:      Trade Paperback
Setting:      Berlin, Germany
Genre:        Historical Mystery
Source:      I purchased my copy.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Death Knocks Three Times: Anthony Gilbert

This is the second book I have read featuring Arthur Crook, criminal lawyer. The author of the series is Anthony Gilbert, a pseudonym of Lucy Beatrice Malleson.

As the story  begins, Crook is driving home to London, over an isolated moor in a pelting rain, and the road is becoming impassable. When he sees a light he turns off the road down a drive to a large old house, inhabited by Colonel Sherren and his retainer, Bligh, both very old men. Colonel Sherren allows Crook to stay overnight, and Crook leaves the next morning. Colonel Sherren's nephew, John Sherren, is coming to visit that same morning, but he doesn't stay long either. A day or two later, Crook learns that the Colonel has died and both he and John Sherren are required to attend the inquest. Only Bligh was around when the Colonel died, and he does inherit all his money. The inquest returns a verdict of death by misadventure, with no evidence of anyone being responsible.

The rest of the story focuses on John Sherren and his other older relatives, who seem to have a habit of dying shortly after he has visited.  And everywhere John goes, he runs into Arthur Crook in the same place. John is an author, and although he doesn't make much money at it, he does love to write. He hopes to eventually inherit money to supplement his small income so he can continue writing.

What did I like about this story? Just about everything.
  • There were lots of quirky characters. And all of them were very-well developed. Some of them were not so likable, but still interesting to read about. So many good characters: Bligh, Miss Pettigrew. Arthur Crook doesn't show up that much, just here and there. But I liked him in this book and he and John Sherren held the story together.
  • The story was paced well and kept me interested. I was always wondering where the book was going and what the solution was. I was surprised at the end but it did make perfect sense. 
I did not go into lots of detail here, but here are lots of other blogger's thoughts on this book...

See reviews at A Hot Cup of Pleasure, My Reader's Block, Beneath the Stains of Time, Pretty Sinister Books, Do You Write Under Your Own Name?, Clothes in Books, crossexaminingcrime, and Mysteries Ahoy!

I have also reviewed two other books by Lucy Beatrice Malleson:
Portrait of a Murderer  (writing as Anne Meredith)
A Case for Mr. Crook  (writing as Anthony Gilbert)


Publisher:  Random House, 1950 (orig. publ. 1949)
Length:     244 pages
Format:    Hardcover
Series:     Arthur Crook series
Setting:    UK
Genre:     Mystery
Source:    I purchased my copy

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Books from the TBR piles

Earlier this year my husband took these photos of books I got at last year's Planned Parenthood book sale, so I thought would share them with you. Three of these are crime fiction, one is historical fiction, the other two are non-genre fiction.

I haven't read any of them yet. Hopefully I will get them read in the next few months.

I Hear Sirens in the Street by Adrian McKinty
Book 2 in Adrian McKinty's Sean Duffy series. I liked the first book, The Cold, Cold Ground, and intend to continue the series which features Detective Sean Duffy of the Royal Ulster Constabulary. The books are set in Belfast, during the Irish Troubles, and Duffy is a Catholic cop in a primarily Protestant police force.

The Dry by Jane Harper
I was surprised and thrilled to find a copy of this at the book sale last year (at a good price), because it had only been published in the US in early 2018, and it normally would be higher priced. I haven't read anything by this author yet, but looking forward to reading this one. This book is crime fiction, set in Australia, featuring Federal Agent Aaron Falk, and there is a second book in the series.


Beware, Beware is the second of three crime fiction books by Steph Cha featuring Korean-American Juniper Song. I loved the first book in the series, Follow Her Home (reviewed here), and was happy to find the other two books in the series at the book sale.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
I don't know much about this book. It is set in January 1946 as London emerges from the Second World War and the story is told through correspondence, mostly letters. The setting is enough to interest me. See the review at Mysteries and More from Saskatchewan.

More Tales of the City and Further Tales of the City
by Armistead Maupin
I read Tales of the City for the first time in 2018, forty years after it was first published. It amazes me that I missed it when it came out in 1978, since I was living in California at the time. That was a transitional time in my life so I guess other things were on my mind. The book is set in San Francisco, California, and it was originally published in newspaper columns. I am hoping to enjoy the second and third books in the series as much as the first. I love the covers.

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Colonel Butler's Wolf: Anthony Price

This is the third book in the David Audley / Colonel Butler series, a cold war espionage series set in the UK and usually featuring some historical element (in this case, Hadrian's Wall). David Audley is the central character throughout the series, but each book is different and in this book he has a smaller but very significant role.

From the description on my paperback edition:
The Russians are looking for a few good men...
...and they're doing most of their looking within the British university system. It's a ploy which has served them well in the past, but now there's a difference. As Dr. David Audley discovers very quickly, the aim of the Soviets is not simply to recruit, but lay the groundwork for destruction.
From the dim, comfortable reading rooms of Oxford to the bleak moors stretching away from Hadrian's Wall, Audley searches for the Russian wolf in don's clothing. What Audley can't know is that the agent has been forbidden to fail...on pain of death! 

So far, each book in the series has had a different point of view character, even though the cast has included a common set of characters. Colonel Butler was a secondary character in the first two books, but this one is told from his point of view. David Audley is an academic, working as a research analyst for the Ministry of Defence. The main character in the second book was RAF Squadron Leader Hugh Rothskill, but he is injured and unavailable as this book begins, so Colonel Jack Butler is called out of retirement to help with the current problem.

Butler doesn't really get along with Audley, and he resents and distrusts his methods, but in the end they get things done. I enjoyed the different point of view, and I love the way the plot is slowly revealed and all the different types of people Butler meets as he gathers information. He spends a good portion of the story with historians and students visiting Hadrian's Wall.

Anthony Price wrote novels with complex plots and well-developed characters, focusing more on the intellectual than on action and adventure. I will keep working my way through the series and see where it takes me next.

I had just purchased this book when I learned that the author, Anthony Price, had died recently, at the age of 91. See Nick Jones' tribute at his blog Existential Ennui with additional links. And also his review of this novel.

Jo Walton has written a post at about the series, pointing out four books that are good places to start reading the series. The first three books in the series are in chronological order but some of them go back to earlier points in time, thus reading them chronologically rather than in order of publication can work. And, of course, she has re-read all of them many times.


Publisher:  Mysterious Press, 1987. Orig. pub. 1972.
Length:      224 pages
Format:     Paperback
Setting:     UK
Genre:      Espionage fiction
Source:     I purchased my copy. 

Sunday, August 4, 2019

My Reading in July 2019

I read a lot of books in July. Of the fifteen books I read, ten were crime fiction, although one of the graphic novels could be placed in that genre and the nonfiction book I read was mystery reference. Two graphic novels, both very good. And two older straight fiction books.

Mystery reference

Hardboiled, Noir and Gold Medals (2017) by Rick Ollerman
The subtitle of this wonderful mystery reference book is "Essays on Crime Fiction Writers from the '50s Through the '90s." Rick Ollerman has written several introductions to omnibus editions of works published by Stark House, and he shares several of them here, along with other essays or articles written for his book. Authors covered include: Peter Rabe, Donald Westlake, Ed Gorman, James Hadley Chase, Wade Miller, and Charles Williams. An entertaining and informative book.


A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (1943) by Betty Smith
This is a well-known and enduring classic story of poverty in the Williamsburg slums of Brooklyn. The story of Francie Nolan, her parents, and her brother Neeley begins in 1912.  While reading When Books Went to War, I was surprised to learn of this book's huge popularity when distributed as an Armed Services Edition. I am very glad I finally read this book but I found it very hard to read.

Benighted (1927) by J.B. Priestley
This book is sometimes described as horror or psychological terror, but it is not very horrific. It is atmospheric and a good read. And short. Benighted was adapted to film by James Whale, as The Old Dark House in 1932. Introduction by Orrin Grey. My thoughts are here.

Graphic Novels

Aetheric Mechanics (2008) by Warren Ellis (Writer),  Gianluca Pagliarini (Artist)
This is really a graphic novella at only 40 pages. It is a wonderful mish mash of mystery (Sherlock Holmes style), alternate history, science fiction. The line drawings by Gianluca Pagliarani are lovely.
Ignition City (2009) by Warren Ellis (Writer),  Gianluca Pagliarini (Artist)
This could also fit right into the crime fiction section, although it is also science fiction. Mary Raven is a grounded space pilot who finds out that her father has died in Ignition City. She goes there to find out who killed him. Ignition City is a spaceport filled with thinly disguised versions of older space heroes.  I enjoyed this one a lot, even I didn't get a lot of the references. I was surprised that the illustrator was the same as for Aetheric Mechanics, since the artwork is completely different. 

Crime Fiction

Might as Well Be Dead (1956) by Rex Stout
This is a Nero Wolfe novel, published in 1956. The case starts as a search for a missing person, then later turns into a hunt for a murderer. This time Nero Wolfe solves the case from the brownstone, while  Archie Goodwin and the freelance investigators do the legwork. My review here.

Pearls Before Swine (1945) by Margery Allingham
This is the 12th book in the Albert Campion series, also published as Coroner's  Pidgin. This one is set in wartime London, towards the end of the war. Campion has just returned from years on an assignment, and gets pulled into a very strange case. My review here.

The Keeper of Lost Causes (2007) by Jussi Adler-Olsen
Carl Mørck has returned to work as a homicide detective after being on leave following an incident which ended badly, leaving him nearly dead. Another policeman was killed and the third was left paralyzed. Moerk feels guilty and responsible, has lost his  edge and is not keeping up with his work. His boss plots to put him in charge of a new department to follow up on high profile cold cases and use most of the funds for the new department to shore up the main Homicide area. This is the first book in the Department Q series, and was published in the UK as Mercy. Set in Denmark. Carl and his assistant Assad are both unusual characters and I hope to continue the series.

Allmen and the Dragonflies (2011) by Martin Suter
This is an unusual crime fiction novel set in Switzerland. Translated from German by Steph Morris. I enjoyed it very much. My review here.

China Lake (2002) by Meg Gardiner
Evan Delaney series, book #1. I bought this book because it was set in California and a large portion of it takes place in  Santa Barbara. I had also heard good things about the author. The book was a page turner but it was too much of a thriller for me and I had problems with the characters. I still have Mission Canyon, the 2nd book in the series, and Mission Canyon is the part of the Santa Barbara area that we lived in the first six years in California. So I am sure I will read that one too.
Broken Harbor (2012) by Tana French
The fourth book in Tana French's Dublin Murder Squad series features Mike "Scorcher" Kennedy, who had a minor role in Faithful Place, and his new partner, rookie detective Richie Curran. See my thoughts on the book here.

Colonel Butler's Wolf (1972) by Anthony Price
I had just purchased this book when I learned that the author, Anthony Price, had died recently, at the age of 91. This is the third book in the David Audley / Colonel Butler series, a cold war espionage series set in the UK and usually featuring some historical element (in this case, Hadrian's Wall). Colonel Butler was a secondary character in the first two books, but this book is told from his point of view. David Audley is the central character throughout the series, but each book is different and in this book he has a smaller although significant role. I am truly enjoying this series.
The Disciple of Las Vegas (2011) by Ian Hamilton
Ava Lee series, book #2. This book is similar to China Lake by Meg Gardiner, also read this month. Both books are thrillers, and focus on action and pacing. They both have interesting settings (at least for me). The difference is the characters. In The Disciple of Las Vegas, the main characters are interesting, professional, low key -- highly focused on the job at hand. I enjoyed the book throughout and look forward to continuing the series. However, I will admit to being bothered by some distasteful and graphic violence.
The Summons (1995) by Peter Lovesey
The third book in the Peter Diamond series, set mostly in Bath, England. The series started in 1991, and the 18th book was published this year. Goodreads describes Peter Diamond as "a modern-day police detective in Bath". In the early books he is most definitely not interested in modern day techniques, and I look forward to seeing how that changes. In this book, he has not been working as a policeman for a while, and Bath CID is forced to ask him to return to help with a case.
Dance Hall of the Dead (1973) by Tony Hillerman
This book was my introduction to Hillerman's series of books featuring Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee. The first three books featured Joe Leaphorn, the next three books were focused on Jim Chee, and the remaining books were about both of them. This is the 2nd book in the series and I am glad I started the series here. This was one of my favorite reads this month.