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.