Saturday, August 29, 2020

Bookshelf Traveling for Insane Times No. 19

I am participating in the Bookshelf Traveling For Insane Times meme. It was originated by Judith at Reader in the Wilderness, but Katrina at Pining for the West is now gathering the blogposts.

I have run out of bookshelves to visit. That is not actually true, but I have no available photos right now. So I am taking a different approach. I am revisiting a post from 2013 and some stacks of books I bought at the Planned Parenthood book sale that year. The following images show several stacks of books I purchased that year. 

I am dismayed and embarrassed that I have only read four of the books in these stacks. A few other books were discarded without reading, but for the most part I have all of these books somewhere in my house (or garage). Some of them are later books in series that I plan to read later, but still ....

These are the books on those shelves that I have read:

Trust Me On This (1989) by Donald E. Westlake

I read a good number of books by Westlake earlier in my life. Most, but not all of them, were humorous stories. This book turned out to be a perfect reintroduction to Westlake. 

Sara Joslyn gets a job at a phenomenal salary at the Weekly Galaxy, a supermarket tabloid newspaper. On her first day at work, Sara drives by the scene of a crime on the isolated road to her new workplace.  A man has been murdered and she is the only witness. His body is half in and half out of the car, in the driver's seat. She thinks she has found her first story and is eager to impress her new employer. But when she arrives at the office no one is interested in a real crime. They want stories on fad diets or celebrity shenanigans or alien invasions. The murder she witnessed comes back to haunt her later.

I have since read another humorous book by this author (Brothers Keepers) and two books in the Parker series, written as Richard Stark.

Death in a Cold Climate: A Guide to Scandinavian Crime Fiction (2012)

by Barry Forshaw

This is a mystery reference book that includes crime fiction authors whose books have been translated to English. It covers writers from these countries: Sweden, Norway, Iceland, Denmark, and Finland. Sweden gets the most coverage and I suppose that reflects that more Swedish authors had been translated in 2012. Most of the coverage is for current authors, although earlier translated works by Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö are discussed. I will read any book on mystery reference, and I learned a lot from this one.

A Capital Crime (2010) by Laura Wilson

I never wrote a full review on this one. It is #3 in the Ted Stratton series and I read it in September 2017. I loved the first two books in the series, The Innocent Spy (US title) and An Empty Death; this one was not quite as good, in my opinion. 

It is the 1950s in London; Detective Inspector Ted Stratton is a widower with grown children. The story begins with the suspected murders of a woman and her child. But it is also about the post-war changes in England and family relationships. The main plot is based on a real case but I knew nothing about it so it didn't affect my reading experience. I found it overly long, but still a good read.

The Black Seraphim (1983) by Michael Gilbert

The description from the back of my paperback edition:

James Scotland, a young pathologist, has come to Melchester on a much-needed vacation. But amid the cathedral town's quiet medieval atmosphere, he finds a hornet's nest of church politics, town and country rivalries. . . and murder. When one of the community's most influential figures dies suddenly (and very publicly), Scotland uncovers some curious alliances among church, state, and big business. Modern forensic pathology, the age-old mysteries of the church, and a bit of unexpected romance all play a part as Scotland unravels the unsettling truth about Melchester.

I liked the protagonist. He is inquisitive, intelligent and a pathologist, so it makes sense that he can tell when something is not right about a death.  Amanda, the Dean's daughter is also a wonderful character, forthright, honest, with high expectations of others. I liked the romance, not sweet and sentimental at all.

Friday, August 28, 2020

Shooting at Loons: Margaret Maron

Earlier this month I revisited a series that I had tried in 2003 but never returned to. I found the third book in the series, Shooting at Loons, to be a lovely story about life on a small island off the coast of North Carolina and the changes caused by tourism and development.

Judge Deborah Knott is on Harker's Island off the coast of North Carolina for a week, staying in the home of old friends while they are away. She is not there for a vacation; she is substituting for another judge in Beaufort who is in the hospital. She is familiar with the area, and has spent some of her childhood visiting on the island. But she finds that things are changing. There are rivalries between local fishermen wanting to stick with the old ways and developers and ecologists who want to impose rules and limits. And she discovers a dead body  almost as soon as she arrives. 

Margaret Maron's first novel in this series, Bootlegger's Daughter, won the Edgar, Agatha, Anthony, and Macavity awards for 1992. I read that novel and the second one in 2003, and I did not care for them. Seventeen years later I don't remember exactly why, but I have blamed it on the Southern atmosphere that brings up too many memories. I don't think I cared for the concerned older brothers and father trying to run Deborah Knott's life.

But this book I really enjoyed. The mystery element is light, but the book provides a good picture of a specific area in North Carolina. That is not to say that the mystery is not evident and we are not provided with suspects, motives, etc. It is just that the focus is not so much on the search for the culprit as in other mysteries I have read. The story is told in first person by Deborah Knott. There is plenty of subtle humor. We are privy to her thoughts and inner dialogues. 

There were some scenes with food that evoked fond memories. Especially about eating hush puppies, which is the food of the gods. If you are not familiar with them, hush puppies are small balls of seasoned cornmeal batter, deep-fried and traditionally served with fried catfish (another delicious Southern specialty). 

In some ways this reminded me of a book I read recently by Sharyn McCrumb. In both books there is a murder, but the investigation is mostly behind the scenes. And in both books, environmental concerns play a large part. In this book, it was endangered species; in The Hangman's Beautiful Daughter, it was pollution of a river and the water supply by a large corporation.

I love the cover illustration on this edition. I looked up the artist (Gary Kelley) and he has done some very nice cover illustrations, but not many for mysteries that I could find.

Margaret Maron's first mystery series was the Sigrid Harald books set in New York City. I have read only three of those but I am a big fan of that series. Harald is a NYPD homicide detective, so the mystery in those books is front and center. But there are always side issues going on in Harald's life, too, and she is an interesting character. A good example is Death in Blue Folders.


Publisher:  Mysterious Press, 1994. 
Length:      229 pages
Format:     Hardcover
Series:      Judge Deborah Knott #3
Setting:     North Carolina
Genre:      Mystery
Source:     On my TBR pile for over 15 years.

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Mystery Series I Read (or want to)

 Last year I was inspired by a post at Read-warbler that listed series Cath reads. In April of this year, she updated the list and here it is. Since then I have been working on my own list of series. I do read mostly mystery series, and it always seems difficult to keep up with them. Some fall by the wayside, some get picked up years later. Another great post on reading mystery series can be found at Rick Robinson's Tip the Wink.

Some of these series I am actively, currently reading. Others I have made some progress on but haven't gotten back to in a while. It is easier to keep up with a series if I already have a good number of books on hand. And more iffy if I have to go looking for a title.

There are lots of series that I have read only the first book in the series AND really want to continue on. But for the most part I left those books off the list, until I actually read another book in the series. 

Most series I will only read in order, but some I just read the books I can find. That applies mostly to older mystery series where the order really did not matter. I would like to use this post to spur me to keep up with these series, although realistically I don't know if that will work.

And here's the list:

  • Catherine Aird – Inspector C.D. Sloan (6 of 25 )
  • Kate Atkinson – Jackson Brodie (4 of 5)
  • W.J. Burley – Chief Superintendent Wycliff (1 of 22)
  • Sarah Caudwell – Hilary Tamar  (2 of 4)
  • Raymond Chandler – Philip Marlowe (3 of 7)
  • Henry Chang – Detective Jack Yu (2 of 5)
  • Lee Child – Jack Reacher (5 of 25)
  • Agatha Christie –  Miss Marple (6 of 12)
  • Agatha Christie – Hercule Poirot  (13 of 33)
  • Bill Crider – Sheriff Dan Rhodes (5 of 25)
  • Ruth Dudley Edwards – Robert Amiss  (2 of 12)
  • Tess Gerritsen – Rizzoli and Isles (4 of 12)
  • Elly Griffiths – Ruth Galloway (4 of 13)
  • Jane Haddam – Gregor Demarkian (24 of  30)
  • Steven F. Havill – Posadas County Mysteries (2 of 24)
  • Mick Herron – Slough House series (6 of 7)
  • Mick Herron – Oxford series (2 of 5)
  • Reginald Hill – Dalziel and Pascoe (13 of 24)
  • J. Robert Janes – St-Cyr and Kohler (4 of 16)
  • Stuart Kaminsky – Inspector Rostnikov (13 of 16)
  • Philip Kerr – Bernie Guenther (6 of 14)
  • William Kent Krueger – Cork O'Connor (2 of 17)
  • Ross Macdonald – Lew Archer (3 of 18)
  • Ed McBain – 87th Precinct series (5 of 55)
  • Peter May – Lewis Trilogy (1 of 3)
  • Stuart Palmer – Hildegarde Withers (3 of 13)
  • Louise Penny – Armande Gamache  (7 of 16)
  • Ellis Peters – Brother Cadfael  (1 of 20)
  • Anthony Price –  David Audley  (5 of  19)
  • Bill Pronzini series – Nameless Detective (25 of 41)
  • S. J. Rozan – Lydia Chin and Bill Smith (12 of 13) 
  • Walter Satterthwait – Joshua Croft (2 of 5)
  • Martin Cruz Smith – Arkady Renko  (6 of 9)
  • Julia Spencer-Fleming – Reverend Clare Fergusson (3 of 9)
  • Helene Tursten – Inspector Irene Huss  (4 of 10)
  • Patricia Wentworth – Miss Maud Silver (5 of 32)

This is a list of series I have completed (and may reread from time to time):

  • Margery Allingham – Albert Campion 
  • Carolyn Graham – Inspector Barnaby
  • P.D. James – Adam Dalgliesh
  • P.D. James – Cordelia Gray
  • Emma Lathen – John Putnam Thatcher
  • Jill McGown – Lloyd and Hill
  • Ruth Rendell – Inspector Wexford 
  • Dorothy Sayers – Peter Wimsey
  • Rex Stout – Nero Wolfe 
  • Josephine Tey – Inspector Grant 

Friday, August 21, 2020

A Morbid Taste for Bones: Ellis Peters

 This is the first book in the Brother Cadfael mystery series, set in Medieval times, and I think this is the earliest time period I have read about in a historical mystery. This particular book is set in 1137. 

A group of men from Brother Cadfael's religious order have been sent to Gwytherin, a small parish in Wales, to acquire the bones of a saint and bring them back to Shrewsbury Abbey in England.  Cadfael is included because he is Welsh and can translate for them. The people of Gwytherin must agree to let the bones of the saint be moved, but then a prominent man in the village is killed. The murder must be resolved before the parish will release the bones. 

Quote from the first paragraph of the book:

On the fine, bright morning in early May when the whole sensational affair of the Gwytherin relics may properly be considered to have begun, Brother Cadfael had been up long before Prime, pricking out cabbage seedlings before the day was aired, and his thoughts were all on birth, growth and fertility, not at all on graves and reliquaries and violent deaths, whether of saints, sinners or ordinary decent, fallible men like himself. Nothing troubled his peace but the necessity to take himself indoors for Mass, and the succeeding half-hour of chapter, which was always liable to stray over by an extra ten minutes. He grudged the time from his more congenial labours out here among the vegetables, but there was no evading his duty. He had, after all, chosen this cloistered life with his eyes open ...

I surprised myself by enjoying this book so much. For years I had avoided the series because of the period (1135 - 1145) and I could not picture a monk as a sleuth. You would think I would learn to ignore my prejudices, at least in the area of mystery novels. My enjoyment of a book more often depends on the skill of the author's writing and plotting rather than the subject matter.

Brother Cadfael is a wonderful character. He entered the cloister later in life, after being a soldier and a sailor. He is a herbalist and cares for the garden. I found him believable as an amateur sleuth due primarily to his intelligence and ingenuity. The book has a slow pace, but that worked well for me because I enjoyed reading about details of life at that time and about the religious community and the politics within that group. 

This was a very educational and fun read for me, and I will continue reading the series. 

See reviews at Read-warbler and Mysteries Ahoy!


Publisher:   Fawcett Crest, 1985 (first published 1977)
Length:       256 pages
Format:      Paperback
Series:       Brother Cadfael #1
Setting:      UK, Shrewsbury, Wales
Genre:       Historical Mystery
Source:      Purchased at the Planned Parenthood Book Sale, 2006.

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Young Bess: Margaret Irwin

Young Bess is the first book in a trilogy about Elizabeth I of England, written by Margaret Irwin and first published in 1944.  It covers her life from the time she was 12 until she was about 20, including Henry VIII's death, his son Edward VI's years as king (from age 9 to 15), and Elizabeth's relationships with her brother Edward and Princess Mary, her sister. A large part of the story is about her living with her stepmother Catherine Parr and Tom Seymour, who married Catherine after Henry VIII's death. While Tom was married to Catherine he pursued Elizabeth, a teenager at the time, and she was also attracted to him. So a very awkward and potentially damaging relationship develops. 

I was interested in this book because I had read good reviews and wanted to learn more about Elizabeth I, what happened to her between the time her mother died and the time she  ascended to the throne. For those who know Elizabeth's history backward and forward, it is probably old hat but for me it was a revelation.

Elizabeth's teenage years were very interesting. As the daughter of Anne Boleyn (referred to as Nan Bullen in the book), she was labeled the Little Bastard by her father. At times her father was friendly, at other times he sent her away. I was surprised by the education she was getting and the amount of time she spent with her tutors. She was learning six languages and was eager to learn. She could translate passages from English into Italian, Latin, and French at the age of 12. She knew she was second in line to the throne and was determined to be prepared if that happened. The politics were incredibly complex, and I was amazed at the scheming and treachery. (I know, I am very naive.)

The story was beautifully written, vividly describing details of the life at that time. I learned a lot, I was entertained, and I enjoyed reading the book. What more can you ask for? I am very eager to continue the trilogy. The next two books are Elizabeth, Captive Princess and Elizabeth and the Prince of Spain.

The Wikipedia article on Thomas Seymour points out that he is a character in three historical mysteries by CJ Sansom (Revelation, Heartstone, and Lamentation); that will be interesting when I read those novels. 


Publisher:  Sourcebooks Landmark, 1998 (orig. publ. 1944)
Length:     381 pages
Format:    Trade paperback
Setting:     England
Genre:      Historical Fiction
Source:     Purchased in 2020.

Monday, August 17, 2020

Bookshelf Traveling - August 17

 I am participating in the Bookshelf Traveling For Insane Times meme, created by Judith at Reader in the Wilderness. I had no idea it had been so long since I had written a Bookshelf Traveling post (the last one was on July 24th). Maybe it was because the times have been so insane, with the numbers for Covid-19 cases and deaths going up so much, here and abroad. And other distractions, political and otherwise. 

So here I am with another shelf. The built in bookshelf is supposed to be books that I want to read soon (relatively), keeping them in easy reach and accessible. But somehow it doesn't work that way. I have had some of the books here for many years, and for the most part don't know why I haven't read them.

On the far right is Bangkok 8 by John Burdett. This book was passed on to me by my husband after he read it. The book was published in 2003 and I would say it has been on this shelf about 12 years?

Description at Crimereads in an article about Bangkok's expat crime fiction scene:

Bangkok 8, which has its surreal, seemingly drug-induced, moments, was the first in a series featuring Detective Sonchai Litpleecheep, a Thai cop whose mother was a prostitute and father was an American soldier during the Vietnam War (Bangkok was a major R&R destination for US soldiers during that conflict).

Two books over from that is Past Imperfect by Julian Fellowes. My notes indicate that I must have had this book for at least 10 years. 

Description at Macmillan:

"Damian Baxter was a friend of mine at Cambridge. We met around the time when I was doing the Season at the end of the Sixties. I introduced him to some of the girls. They took him up, and we ran about together in London for a while…."

Nearly forty years later, the narrator hates Damian Baxter and would gladly forget their disastrous last encounter. But if it is pleasant to hear from an old friend, it is more interesting to hear from an old enemy, and so he accepts an invitation from the rich and dying Damian, who begs him to track down the past girlfriend whose anonymous letter claimed he had fathered a child during that ruinous debutante season.

The search takes the narrator back to the extraordinary world of swinging London, where aristocratic parents schemed to find suitable matches for their daughters while someone was putting hash in the brownies at a ball at Madame Tussaud's. It was a time when everything seemed to be changing—and it was, but not always quite as expected.

Towards the left side of the shelf is a relatively new acquisition, Killing Me Softly by John Leslie. 

This is the first book in a series of four, and it was published in 1994. From the description on the book cover:

As Raymond Chandler did with Los Angeles, and Dashiell Hammett with San Francisco, John Leslie re-creates the town of Key West through the jaded sensibilities of an unforgettable P.I. – in this case, Gideon Lowry, a Conch with a penchant for rum and soda, inhabited by his own poignant sense of the past.

A Conch is a Key West native (in this context). There is a good post about this series at Black Gate.

Have you read any of these books? What is your opinion?

Thursday, August 13, 2020

Tripwire: Lee Child

This is an early Jack Reacher novel, #3 in the series, published in 1999. In this book, Reacher becomes involved in a search for a Vietnam War veteran who was reported missing in action. From the prologue, we learn that the man, Victor Hobie, is still alive, has avoided detection for many years, and is willing do anything to keep from being discovered. 

I have now read 5 books in the Jack Reacher series. I read the first two in the series, and two later books, the books that had been made into film adaptations. This is the first one I have reviewed, and unfortunately, it is the one I liked the least.

Until now I have been happy with the Jack Reacher books. I would not want a steady diet of them or other books of this type, but they have a lot going for them. They move fast, and Reacher is an interesting character. He is a real loner, with no attachments, and an unusual lifestyle. (I just wonder what he does with himself when he isn't having an adventure.)

Let's start with the good aspects of this book.

This book felt very different from the other books I had read in the series. At this point after his separation from the army, Reacher is still trying to figure out what to do with his life. Here he is offered a house and could settle down in some way, and he spends some time thinking about what that would mean, how it would change his life. This story also picks up on a relationship from his past. 

To follow up on the problem in this story, Reacher does a lot of research into a Vietnam soldier who was reported killed in action (with no remains). There is a department that does that. At the time the book was written it was the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command. That organization searches for remains or for some way to verify the death if there are no remains. Reacher visits the Central Identification Laboratory–Hawaii to gather information. I enjoyed learning about how this is done, and the continuing effort to resolve such issues.

I have not gone into the details of the plot, but one element was a company that was failing, and the efforts of the owner to keep it going. The owner's wife, Marilyn Stone, is a fantastic character. She has a relatively small role but she really improved that part of the plot. There were other secondary characters encountered along the way that were interesting and portrayed very well.

The Bad?

So what was my problem with this book? There was too much torture and ugly senseless violence, described in detail. At one point I considered not finishing the book, which is very rare for me. In the end, I decided that the rest of the book would not have that level of violence (I was right) and that I really wanted to know how it all ends.


Overall, this is a good story, and a plot that keeps you guessing. There were some very interesting secondary characters. I like Jack Reacher and his adventures. I suspect it is better not to read these books too close together, but I would like to know what happens in the next one.


Publisher: Jove Books, 2000 (first publ. 1999)
Length:    401 pages (of tiny print)
Format:    Paperback
Series:     Jack Reacher #3
Setting:    US, Florida Keys, New York, and more 
Genre:     Thriller
Source:    Purchased at the Planned Parenthood book sale 2019.

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Classics Club Spin #24: the Selection

Sunday, August 9, the spin number was selected, and it was 18. Number 18 on my list is: The Beast Must Die by Nicholas Blake. 

This is the 4th book in the Nigel Strangeways series and is considered by many to be a crime fiction classic. The author was British Poet Laureate (1968-72) and novelist Cecil Day Lewis, writing as Nicholas Blake. A young boy is killed in a hit-and-run accident. His father plans to discover the identity of the driver and get his revenge.

I had just blogged recently about wanting to read this book soon, so now I will get my chance. The "deadline" to read and review the book is September 30th, so I will probably wait until September to start reading it. I want to focus on my 20 Books of Summer list until the end of August.

Monday, August 10, 2020

Top Ten Tuesday: Books I Loved but Never Reviewed

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl.

This week's Top Ten Tuesday topic is Books I Loved but Never Reviewed.

Vanishing Act (1995) by Thomas Perry

I have loved every book I have read by Thomas Perry (I have only read three so far). But I have a hard time reviewing them. Vanishing Act is the first in a series about Jane Whitefield, a Native American guide, who helps people in trouble find new identities and disappear. 

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. This book was a page turner and both parts of the story were entertaining on many levels.

Not All Tarts Are Apples (2002) by Pip Granger

This book was nominated for the 2002 Agatha award for Best First Mystery Novel. There is a mystery to the story but I would not categorize it that way. The central character is Rosie, seven years old, who has been taken in by friends of her mother. The couple live over a Soho café that they run during the day. It is 1953, the year of the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, and that was fun to read about. I enjoyed all of it, the story, the characters, the narration by Rosie.

The Silkworm (2014) by Robert Galbraith (AKA J.K. Rowling)

The second book in the  Cormoran Strike series. Strike is an ex-Army private detective, and his young secretary Robin wants to learn to be an investigator also. This book focuses on the publishing industry. A woman asks Strike's help in finding her husband, an author who has been missing for several days. There is a lot to like about this series and the main characters.

Skull Mantra (1999) by Eliot Pattison

Shan Tao Yun  is a Chinese investigator from Beijing who was denounced and sentenced to hard labor because he criticized the regime. Assigned to a prison work gang in the mountains of Tibet, he is called upon to investigate when a headless corpse is found on a mountainside. I enjoyed this book as much for the view of Tibet under Chinese occupation as for the mystery. 

The Last Voice You Hear (2004) by Mick Herron

The second book in Mick Herron's series starring Private Investigator Zoë Boehm, set in Oxford, England. I loved the first book, and this one was just as good. Zoë is a strong female character, intelligent and resourceful. 

Metzger's Dog (1983) by Thomas Perry

The second book in this list by Thomas Perry. Chinese Gordon and his friends Immerman and Kepler break into a lab at the University of Los Angeles to steal some pharmaceutical cocaine, worth a lot of money. But Chinese also takes some papers a professor has compiled for the CIA, which include a blueprint for throwing a large city into chaos. The CIA decides that a band of terrorists has stolen the papers... and go overboard in their attempts to rectify the situation. Very funny at times, entertaining, with a wonderful ending.

Crooked Heart (2014) by Lissa Evan

Historical fiction set during World War II. This is a dark comedy, beautifully told, very moving. Noel Bostock, aged 10, is evacuated from London to escape the Nazi bombardment, shortly after the death of his godmother, with whom he had been living. He is assigned to Vera Sedge, a small time con artist, mostly unsuccessful. 

All the Old Knives (2015) by Olen Steinhauer

A standalone book by one of my favorite authors of spy fiction. This book has an unusual format, taking place during a dinner between two people who used to work together at the CIA station in Vienna. Henry is following up on an investigation into the hijacking of an airliner that occurred when he and Carol worked together. During the dinner they both think back to that event and we gradually learn how it turned out. 

Joe Country (2019) by Mick Herron

The second book in this list by Mick Herron, another author that has never disappointed me. This is the 6th book in Herron's Slough House series about spies who have been demoted due to some disgrace or screw up in their jobs, and are now working under Jackson Lamb. Amazingly, this is one series I have kept current with. I love the writing, the characters, and the plots get better and better. 

Saturday, August 8, 2020

Triple Zeck, Books 2 and 3

Between 1948 and 1950, Rex Stout published three novels featuring Arnold Zeck, a powerful crime boss in New York and Nero Wolfe's archenemy. The novels have been published in an omnibus titled Triple Zeck. I reviewed the first book in the trilogy, And Be a Villain, in November 2018. 

I put off rereading the second and third parts of the Zeck trilogy for a good while because I thought that I would not enjoy them. I have always had reservations about The Second Confession, and I thought I knew the story for In the Best Families backwards and forwards. But I was wrong. I enjoyed both of them.

In The Second Confession, a rich industrialist, James Sperling, hires Wolfe to prove that his daughter's boyfriend is a member of the Communist Party. Wolfe takes the case, and Archie is scheduled to spend a weekend at the Sperling's country place near Chappaqua, New York, to get a look at both the daughter, Gwenn, and the boyfriend, Louis Rony. Soon Archie discovers that Rony could be  connected to Arnold Zeck, but Wolfe declines to drop the case because of that.

From that point the case gets very complicated. There is a murder, Archie is a suspect, and Zeck wreaks havoc on Wolfe's household. One of the high points is the investigation of the death by the police in Westchester County, where Archie and Wolfe have made enemies.

I have always been uncomfortable with the use of membership in the Communist Party as a major plot point in The Second Confession. But these feelings come from my perspective looking back at that issue many years later, and also I don't think Stout himself was clearly pro or con on the subject. 

This book is similar to other Nero Wolfe stories, and includes many characters I enjoy: Wolfe's freelance private investigators (Saul, Fred, and Orrie plus a new one, Ruth Brady); Lon Cohen, the newspaperman who sometimes helps out; and Lt. Con Noonan of the State Police, Archie's special enemy.

In the Best Families brings the Zeck / Wolfe rivalry to a close. Mrs. Barry Rackham hires Wolfe to find out where her husband is getting money to support his lavish lifestyle. It isn't normally Wolfe's kind of case, but he needs the money. In order to meet her husband, Archie is invited to Calvin Leed's home to investigate a dog poisoning. Leeds is Mrs. Rackham's cousin and his home is on the grounds of her estate. There is a death, and Archie again must deal with the Westchester officials. 

This book has the biggest changes of any of the series from the standard formula, and I don't want to get specific about what happens past this point. If the reader is new to the book, it is much better not to know further plot points. I liked the book because it was different and it was a good story. But one huge plus is that Lily Rowan has a significant role, and I always enjoy a book that includes Lily.

The trilogy is best read in publication order, although it is doubtful that I read them in order when I first read them. I would have been gettting most of my books from the library back then, reading from what was available on the shelves, and did not have easy access to lists of all the books in a series. 

Also see:

Yvette's post on Triple Zeck at In So Many Words

Moira's post on Rex Stout and Politics at Clothes in Books

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Classics Club Spin #24

One of the events offered by The Classics Club is The Classics Club Spin. Spin #24 has just been announced. A number will be announced on Sunday, August 9, and the goal is to read, review and post about that book by September 30, 2020.

Members who participate list twenty books from their classics list that they have not read. I am mostly using my list for the previous spin, with a few changes. I was aiming to include mostly long books, since there is so much time to read the book, but I discovered I don't have that many long classics left on my classics list

So, here is my list of 20 books for the spin.

  1. Things Fall Apart (1958) by Chinua Achebe   [209 pages]
  2. Jane Eyre (1847) by Charlotte Bronte   [452 pages]
  3. The Postman Always Rings Twice (1934) by James Cain
  4. The Sign of Four (1890) by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle 
  5. Anna Karenina (1878) by Leo Tolstoy  [over 800 pages]
  6. The Quiet American (1958) by Graham Greene   [180 pages]
  7. The Talented Mr. Ripley (1955) by Patricia Highsmith
  8. In a Lonely Place (1947) by Dorothy B. Hughes
  9. Foundation (1951) by Isaac Asimov  
  10. A Wrinkle in Time (1962) by Madeleine L'Engle
  11. Beast In View (1955) by Margaret Millar
  12. The Pursuit of Love (1945) by Nancy Mitford
  13. The Moviegoer (1961) by Walker Percy   [200 pages]
  14. Much Ado About Nothing (1598) by William Shakespeare
  15. Frankenstein (1818) by Mary Shelley    [273 pages]
  16. Sense and Sensibility (1811) by Jane Austen   
  17. Dracula (1897) by Bram Stoker    [420 pages]
  18. The Beast Must Die (1938) by Nicholas Blake
  19. The Invisible Man (1897) by H.G. Wells
  20. We Have Always Lived in the Castle (1962) by Shirley Jackson

I have no favorites on this list, but some would be easier to read than others.

Monday, August 3, 2020

What did I read in July 2020?

I read 7 books in July. One nonfiction book about the influenza pandemic of 1918, one science fiction book, and five crime fiction novels. I read three books for the Canadian Reading Challenge. Now I just have to write reviews for them. I am not doing so well on the 20 Books of Summer Challenge.


The Great Influenza: The Epic Story of the Deadliest Plague in History (2004)
by John M. Barry
This is the second book I have read this year about the influenza pandemic of 1918. This book did go more into the events of the spread of the flu from 1918 through 1920 than Flu by Gina Kolata. It is also much longer with about 460 pages of text and another 100 of notes and references. There is also an emphasis on the state of medicine, science, and research in the US in the 19th century, leading up to the outbreak of the flu, at the same time that the US was getting involved in World War I.

Science Fiction

Dragonflight (1968) by Anne McCaffrey
This is the 2nd book I have read in the Dragonriders of Pern series but the first book that McCaffrey wrote in the series. Pern is a planet colonized by people from Earth; the society has a low-technology agrarian lifestyle. Every two hundred years the planet is threatened by an alien fungus that falls from the skies in threads, and the dragons and the dragonriders fight that threat. That summary doesn't do the book justice, but I will be doing a post on the book soon.

Crime Fiction

The High Window (1942) by Raymond Chandler
#3 in the Philip Marlowe series. My review here.

A Trick of the Light (2011) by Louise Penny
#7 in the Chief Inspector Armand Gamache series and my first book for the Canadian Reading Challenge. Gamache is a likable character, a dedicated policeman yet compassionate. His team is interesting and we learn more about them in each book. This was a good entry in the series, and I enjoyed returning to Three Pines in Quebec.

Detour (1939) Martin M. Goldsmith
This is a noir novel published in 1939, and made into a film starring Tom Neal and Ann Savage in 1945. My review here.

A Necessary End (1989) by Peter Robinson
#3 in the Inspector Banks series; second book by a Canadian author. I read the first two books in this series before blogging, thus at least 8 years ago. It was a good book to pick up the series with, giving some background on Banks's family and his reasons for moving to Eastvale. I enjoy books set in the 1980s and 1990s, before so much technology in society and detecting. 

City of the Lost (2016) by Kelley Armstrong
#1 in the Rockton series and my third book by a Canadian author. Rockton is a town hidden in the Yukon where those who need to disappear can go (if accepted). Casey Duncan and her friend Diana need to escape their problems and are accepted because Casey was a homicide  detective in her former life. Although the book was gritty and disturbing at times, I enjoyed it and intend to continue reading the series.