Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Short Story Wednesday: Stories from Without a Hero by T. Coraghessan Boyle

Without a Hero is a short story collection by T. Coraghessan Boyle, published in 1994. I bought this book five years ago at the annual Planned Parenthood Book Sale. I hadn't read any of the stories until this week, and this was the first time I read anything by this author (more commonly known as T. C. Boyle).

The first story I read was "Big Game." At 22 pages, it was one of the longer stories in the book. It is about a man who has set up a wild animal area near Bakersfield, California, where the rich can pay to shoot exotic animals. The owner, Bernard Puff, buys old or injured animals from zoos and or circuses and allows them to be "hunted" for a fee. The story was hard to read because it was about killing animals and the people who want to kill them, but, ignoring that, it was a good story, and had an unexpected ending.

I also read the next three stories in the book and they were all good reads.

List of stories:

  • "Big Game"
  • "Hopes Rise"
  • "Filthy With Things"
  • "Without A Hero"
  • "Respect"
  • "Acts of God"
  • "Back in the Eocene"
  • "Carnal Knowledge"
  • "The 100 Faces of Death, Volume IV"
  • "56-0"
  • "Top of the Food Chain"
  • "Little America"
  • "Beat"
  • "The Fog Man"
  • "Sitting on Top of the World" 

Of the stories I read, three dealt with the obsessive or excessive acquisition of material things, to a greater or lesser extent. I find that an interesting topic, which is probably why I liked them. The fourth story was about a couple who was very concerned about the extinction of frogs and toads all over the world. 

My first reaction to these stories was that they do not inspire me to read any of T. C. Boyle's  novels, but the more I think about it, the more I think I might try one.  

Have you read his short stories or his novels? And if you have, what did you think of them?

Friday, August 27, 2021

The Art of Violence: S. J. Rozan

This is the thirteenth book in S.J. Rozan's series about private investigators Lydia Chin and Bill Smith, and I have read every book in the series. There were one or two I was disappointed in, but overall I rate the series very highly. After Ghost Hero in 2011, there were no more books in the series until Paper Son in 2019. That book was a change of pace, set in the Mississippi Delta where many Chinese immigrants settled in the last half of the 19th century.

In this book, Lydia and Bill are back in New York. Bill Smith lives in Manhattan; Lydia Chin is an American-born Chinese who lives in New York’s Chinatown with her mother.  They are not officially partners but they have an agreement that they will work on each other's cases if requested. The element that I have always liked about this series is that the narrator of the books alternates. This book is about one of Bill's cases and he narrates this book. Usually books centered on Bill's cases are grittier than the ones about Lydia's cases, and that is true here. That is another element that adds variety to the books in the series.

Description of this book from the dust jacket:

Former client Sam Tabor, just out of Greenhaven after a five-year homicide stint, comes to Bill Smith with a strange request. A colossally talented painter whose parole was orchestrated by art world movers and shakers, Sam's convinced that since he's been out he's killed two women. He doesn't remember the killings but he wants Smith, one of the few people he trusts, to investigate and prove him either innocent or guilty.

NYPD detective Angela Grimaldi thinks Sam's "a weirdo." Smith has no argument with that: diagnosed with a number of mental disorders over the years, Sam self-medicates with alcohol, loses focus (except when he's painting), and has few friends. But Smith doesn't think that adds up to serial killer. He enlists Lydia Chin to help prove it.

My Thoughts

This was a great book in the series. I like the relationship that has grown between the two partners over the series. Bill and Lydia are wonderful characters; neither fits the stereotype of a private eye. Also the secondary characters are well done. Especially Sam Tabor, the client, crazy, irritating, unreliable, but easy to like, and police detective Angela Grimaldi, open to suggestions yet willing to stand her ground when necessary.

The competitive world of art in New York is a large part of the story: not just the artists, but collectors and agents. All of them can be interesting characters, although sometimes abrasive or repellant.

And then there is Lydia's mother, Chin Yong-Yun. Although she usually plays a small part in each novel, she is one of my favorite characters, and has starred in several of Rozan's short shories. See this post. In The Art of Violence, she plays a very important part at the end of the story.

I usually reject books about serial killers, but this one did not have the standard aspects of serial killer thrillers that I dislike (creepy serial killers who share their thoughts, for one). 

I loved the ending.

This series does not have to be read in order, but for me, reading the series in order worked best.

There is a new Lydia Chin / Bill Smith book coming out in December, Family Business. I will be getting it as soon as it is available.


Publisher:  Pegasus Books, 2020.
Length:      275 pages
Format:      Hardcover
Series:       Lydia Chin / Bill Smith, #13
Setting:      New York, New York
Genre:        Mystery
Source:      I purchased my copy.

Tuesday, August 24, 2021

Short Story Wednesday: The Vintage Anthology of Science Fantasy, 1966

In the last few days, I have read six stories from The Vintage Anthology of Science Fantasy, edited by Christopher Cerf. The last of those was a novelette, and those six stories covered 108 pages.

Rick Robinson at Tip the Wink read some stories from this book in July, see his post here. Once he finished reading the anthology, he sent me his copy to read, for which I am very grateful. 

I enjoyed all of the stories, some more than others.

Here are brief notes about the stories:

"The Great Automatic Grammatisator" by Roald Dahl

First published in Someone Like You, Knopf 1953.

Adolph Knipe is a genius computer programmer who figures out how to create a giant computer to generate short stories, and then later full novels. He really wants to write short stories but cannot get them published. He figures out an algorithm to include all the elements publishers are looking for, and even molds short stories specific to magazine publishers' preferred types of stories. I assume this is poking fun at book publishing. I liked this story and found the ending interesting.

"An Egg a Month from All Over" by Idris Seabright 

First appeared in the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, Oct 1952.

This one I liked most for the title. It seemed to be a horror story. I liked the writing and the atmosphere but it did not seem to go anywhere.

However, Rich Horton at Blackgate liked it much more than I did and tells why in this post about three stories written by Idris Seabright. “Idris Seabright” was a pseudonym used by Margaret St. Clair, and the post tell more about her also.

"There Will Come Soft Rains" by Ray Bradbury 

From The Martian Chronicles, 1950.

A sad story of a dead city after a nuclear holocaust, focusing on the one house left standing. Clearly an antiwar story, which cites a poem by Sara Teasdale that starts with the title of this story.

"And Now the News..." by Theodore Sturgeon 

First published in the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, Dec 1956.

Another depressing story, about a man who is addicted to the news. He has a job and a family but when he is reading or hearing the news he ignores everything else that is going on. Over time he recedes from normal life and his wife tries to break the cycle. Very well written.

"No-Sided Professor" by Martin Gardner 

First appeared in Esquire, Jan 1947.

A fantastical story using mathematical theory as a basis. A lot of fun to read.

"Random Quest" novelette by John Wyndham

From Consider Her Ways and Others, 1961.

TV Tropes calls this an Alternate History Romance Novelette. Clifford Trafford has been trying to find a woman named Ottilie Harshorn, whom he meets in an alternate reality which he finds himself in after an accident. When he returns to his reality, he meets Dr. Harshorn, who has relatives with that name but both are dead. This is a very complex story, my favorite in the book so far. The differences between the two realities he was in are interesting.

So the first six stories were interesting and a pleasure to read. I read some authors that were new to me and some that I had read before. Based on these stories, I will enjoy the rest also.

Sunday, August 22, 2021

Their Eyes Were Watching God: Zora Neale Hurston

Published in 1937, Their Eyes Were Watching God tells the story of Janie Crawford, a  black woman who has finally found the love of her life in her third marriage. Janie returns to the town she lived in, 18 months after leaving with a much younger man. He does not return with her and the townsfolk gossip about her, with only her best friend Pheoby defending her. She tells Pheoby her story, including the background of her youth and her two earlier marriages. 

Her grandmother, who had raised Janie, forced her to marry an older man when she was 16. Logan Killicks owned 60 acres and would provide for Janie. But Janie was not happy with Logan. So when she meets Joe Stark, who talks nicely to her and has plenty of money, they go off together and get married on the way to a new town comprised only of African-Americans that Joe wants to help establish. Life in Eatonville with Joe promises to be better but in the end she remains under Joe's thumb at all times. She is not allowed to express her own feelings without being put down by Joe. However she settles down and accepts the status quo, although not happily. When Janie is in her late thirties and Joe in his late forties, he dies of an unnamed ailment.

After Joe's death, Vegible Woods, also known as Tea Cake, comes into her life. He is 15 years younger than Janie and a free spirit. The citizens of Eatonville are shocked that she is going out with Tea Cake, and predict that it won't work out. Nevertheless, Janie and Tea Cake go off together to Jacksonville, Florida, where they get married. Then they move to the Everglades and for the first time she has a real companion in life. Unfortunately their happiness together is cut short.

My thoughts:

This was an amazing depiction of the life of one black woman in the South in the early 1900s. The story is told partially in the vernacular of the area. I thought this might bother me, but it felt natural and easy to read. It also has many lyrical passages. These are the first two paragraphs of the book:

Ships at a distance have every man’s wish on board. For some they come in with the tide. For others they sail forever on the horizon, never out of sight, never landing until the Watcher turns his eyes away in resignation, his dreams mocked to death by Time. That is the life of men. 

Now, women forget all those things they don’t want to remember, and remember everything they don’t want to forget. The dream is the truth. Then they act and do things accordingly.

This book is sad in part, but the ending is upbeat. You know that Janie is not beaten by life, she is in her forties with plenty of years left, and she will forge on and do what she wants to with her life. 

The setting is Florida, and I especially enjoyed the depiction of life in the Everglades. Having grown up in Alabama, I visited Florida several times before I moved to California, but mostly limited to Pensacola and Panama City. There is a lot of Florida I am not familiar with.

The town that Janie and her second husband move to is based on a real town. Eatonville, Florida, is the oldest black-incorporated municipality in the United States, established in 1887. Zora Neale Hurston grew up in Eatonville, which allowed her to have a childhood free of the prejudices and restrictions of other towns in the state. In the book, Eatonville is not an idyllic town at all. It doesn't turn out to be a haven for Janie.

Some people have called this a romance, and there is that element, but I see it as more about the journey of one woman's life in a hard world, and a quest for love and true companionship. There is much more to this story than I can include here, and I think it is a worthwhile read. However, for some readers it just won't be their cup of tea. 

The edition I read has a Foreward by Edwidge Danticat, and Afterword by Henry Louis Gates, Jr., a Selected Bibliography, and a Chronology of Hurston's life.


Publisher:  Amistad, 2006 (orig. publ. 1937)
Length:      193 pages
Format:     Trade paperback
Setting:     Florida, USA
Genre:      Fiction, Classic
Source:     I purchased my copy

Tuesday, August 17, 2021

Short Story Wednesday — Silver Bullets: The 25th Anniversary of Crippen & Landru Publishers


From the back of my edition of Silver Bullets, published by Crippen & Landru in 2019:

Twenty-five years of the best mystery short fiction from Crippen & Landru.

In 1994, publisher Douglas Greene opened the doors of Crippen & Landru Publishers with the release of a John Dickson Carr radio play, Speak of the Devil. In the subsequent two-and-one-half decades, Crippen & Landru has produced more than 100 single-author mystery short story collections by some of the most recognized current practitioners as well as some of the most beloved writers in the history of the mystery genre.

This book opens with an Introduction by Douglas Greene, which describes how he started his publishing house, Crippen & Landru. Fourteen short stories follow, plus an Afterword by Jeffrey Marks, who assumed the role of Publisher in 2018.

Each story has a brief introduction; some of those include the author's personal experiences with Douglas Greene and Crippen & Landru.

The authors who have stories in this book are: Kathy Lynn Emerson, Liza Cody, Brendan DuBois, Amy Myers, Jon Breen, Edward Hoch, Edward Marston, Terrence Faherty, Peter Lovesey, Bill Pronzini & Marcia Muller, HRF Keating, Carolyn Wheat, Jeremiah Healy and Michael Z. Lewin.

I read the first three stories in the book and all three were good reads. I look forward to reading the rest of the stories. All of the stories are new to me as are some of the authors.

"Mistress Threadneedle's Quest" by Kathy Lynn Emerson

This is a story set in London, 1562. Mistress Threadneedle's neighbor has been killed by a lightning strike, while standing at his window during a storm. No one else questions whether this was natural death, but our narrator (Mistress Threadneedle) does. The outcome was a total surprise to me.

"Mr. Bo" by Liza Cody

This story is set at Christmas and I have a soft spot for Christmas stories. A mother and her nine year old son reunite with her sister several days before Christmas. The story is mostly sad but the ending is more upbeat. 

"A Battlefield Reunion" by Brendan DuBois

A private detective story set in Boston. This story was not what I expected based on the title, but the story I did get was very good. Another historical fiction story, this time set nine months after the end of World War II. Both the private detective and his clients are veterans and have bad memories of their experiences in the war. The client wants to find a newspaperman who was a war correspondent attached to his company during the fighting. The results of the investigation are unexpected.

Sunday, August 15, 2021

Lockdown: Peter May

 From the cover of my edition of Lockdown:

London, the epicenter of a global pandemic, is a city in lockdown. Violence and civil disorder simmer. Martial law has been imposed. A deadly virus has already claimed thousands of victims. Health and emergency services are overwhelmed.


At a building site for a temporary hospital, construction workers find a bag containing the rendered bones of a murdered child. ... D.I. Jack MacNeil, counting down the hours on his final day with the Met, is sent to investigate. His career is in ruins, his marriage over and his own family touched by the virus. 

Peter May wrote this book about 15 years before it was published. At that time, he could not find a publisher; the story was deemed to be an unrealistic portrayal of London in lockdown. After the Covid-19 outbreak began, it seemed to be the time for this book, and it was released in April 2020. The pandemic in Lockdown is caused by the H5N1 flu, or bird flu, which is much more serious than Covid-19, with a higher mortality rate. 

D.I. MacNeil is pretty much investigating the crime by himself, given the shortage of police officers due to the pandemic, but he does have the help of the forensics staff. Dr. Amy Wu is working on a facial reconstruction, to help in identification of the victim. Both elements of the story are very well done, but I found Amy's work on the reconstruction more interesting and her backstory is good. MacNeil is a dedicated cop, working to finish the case before he is no longer employed as a policeman, and he is portrayed as tough as nails and with the typical problems with alcohol and family relationships. 

In other books by Peter May that I have read, I liked the use of setting more than I liked the mystery / crime investigation. This time I thought the mystery was very good, suspenseful and compelling, but the setting of a pandemic in London did not work so well for me. I cannot put into words exactly why but I just wasn't impressed with that element of the story. The pandemic does affect the investigation in many ways, and that is interesting.

There are some serious, scary bad guys in this story. They don't want the dead child to be identified, and anyone who has information harmful to them is a threat. The buildup of suspense is very good. The ending is a bit of a downer, although I was  expecting something like that to happen.

One of the things I especially like about Peter May is that he writes very good articles that give background on the setting of his novels and why he wrote them. Check out this article at Shots Crime and Thriller Ezine for his thoughts on writing Lockdown.


Publisher:   Quercus, 2020
Length:       399 pages
Format:       Trade paperback
Setting:       London, UK
Genre:        Police Procedural
Source:       I purchased my copy in 2020.

Tuesday, August 10, 2021

Short Story Wednesday: stories from Damn Near Dead 2, edited by Bill Crider

A few months ago, I purchased a copy of Damn Near Dead 2, edited by Bill Crider and published by Busted Flush Press in 2010. The book had come to my attention when I was looking for a copy of "Chin Yong-Yun Takes a Case" by S.J. Rozan, and I decided to buy it when I saw a list of the authors with stories in the book. So this week I read a few stories from the beginning  of the book. 

The first story is “Sleep, Creep, Leap” by Patricia Abbott. I had read this story earlier in a collection of Abbott's stories, Monkey Justice. Bob Mason is an older man, in his early seventies (my age). His next door neighbor, Lillian, dies and her house sits empty for over a year. The neighborhood is going downhill, no one wants to buy in the area. Then, a younger woman, newly divorced, moves in. She is not the ideal neighbor, with a barking dog and a nasty boyfriend. When Bob thinks that she is being abused and tries to help out, things don't go well. This is an excellent story, dark and sad, with a lot of character development for its length.

I loved the title, which is referring to the way some perennial plants grow, the “sleep, creep, leap” effect. The first year they sleep, the next year they creep (grow more), and in the third year they leap, or reach their full potential. This is discussed as he plants hydrangeas between the two houses, noting in the second year that they will be getting bigger and bloom more. Not having much experience with perennials until the last couple of years, this phrase was new to me.

The second story is "The Last Long Ride of El Canejo" by Ace Atkins, which was also very good. Patricia Abbott discussed this story at her blog,  Pattinase, so you should check out her review there. 

The third story was “Stiffs” by Neal Barrett, Jr. That one is a science fiction story, set on the Moon, about a group of assassins who are very, very old  and are competing to be the oldest living assassin. It was confusing, but I liked it anyway, confusion and all.

“The End of Jim and Ezra” by C. J. Box is a Western story set in the 1800's in Wyoming. Two old trappers are snowed in up in the mountains and run out of food. Everything that Ezra does is driving Jim crazy. I did not love the ending but overall the story was good and it provided a good picture of that time and the brutal weather.

I read a total of eight stories from the book, and the last one I read was “Flying Solo” by Ed Gorman. Two cancer patients, who are getting chemo treatments at the same time, become friends and decide to take the law into their own hands to help out some of the nurses. Very well done and somewhat more upbeat than the others. Based on another book I read that talked about chemotherapy treatments, that part of it was accurately described.

The theme here is "geezer noir" and the overall result is dark stories, and often very sad ones. I haven't read all the stories yet, and I know that the story by S.J. Rozan is neither noir nor sad, so maybe I will find a few others that are not so dark. Not that I mind reading dark stories.

Sunday, August 8, 2021

Reading in July 2021

No wonder this felt like a weird reading month. I only read three mystery novels, although two other books I read were nonfiction related to mysteries. Five of the fiction books read were from my 20 Books of Summer list, the sixth was from my Classics Club list.

Nonfiction / Mystery reference

Southern Cross Crime (2020) by Craig Sisterson

This book is subtitled "The Pocket Essential Guide to the Crime Fiction, Film & TV of Australia and New Zealand," and that describes the contents pretty well. I have been hoping someone would publish this type of mystery reference for those areas, and Craig Sisterson is definitely the one to do it. 

Nonfiction / Memoir

Poirot and Me (2013) by David Suchet and Geoffrey Wansell

Having read almost all of the Poirot novels, and watched ALL of the Poirot TV episodes, I was ready to read this book by Suchet which functions as a memoir of the years that the Poirot series aired. I enjoyed all of it. He includes interesting facts about the various episodes and the parts he played in the years when Poirot was not being filmed. Also discussed is how decisions were made on the portrayal of Poirot and the time setting for all the TV episodes. I found this to be very entertaining and fun to read.

General Fiction / Classic

Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937) by Zora Neale Hurston

This was my book chosen for the Classics Club Spin. It was a wonderful read, although I had misgivings before I started reading because much of it is written in dialect.

Historical Fiction

H.M.S. Surprise (1973) by Patrick O'Brian

This the third book in O'Brian's Aubrey & Maturin series. The novel was not that long but took me a while to read. I enjoyed it immensely and I am sure I will be reading all 20 of the books.

Science Fiction

Foundation (1951) by Isaac Asimov

Foundation is a science fiction classic, the first part of a trilogy. My review here.

Crime Fiction

A Killing Spring (1996) by Gail Bowen

This is the 5th book in a mystery series about Joanne Kilbourn, a political analyst and university professor who gets involved in criminal investigations. The setting is Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada. I keep coming back because I like the setting, and they are certainly not boring. My review here.

On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1963) by Ian Fleming

This is the 11th book in the James Bond series, and in my opinion, one of the best in the series. There are three books in the James Bond series that feature the villain Blofeld of Spectre, and this novel was the second one, following Thunderball. I enjoyed the book. I loved it when I first read it because the heroine's name was Tracy and at the time I did not know many girls named Tracy. So it was a nostalgic read for me. The film version stars George Lazenby as Bond and Diana Rigg as Tracy; we watched it back in 2018, and now we will watch it again.

Women with a Blue Pencil (2015) by Gordon McAlpine

This novel is set in 1941, at the time when the attack on Pearl Harbor takes place. A Japanese-American man has written a novel with a Japanese-American protagonist, but after the attack, his editor can't publish it and asks him to change the story. The story is told via two parallel narratives (a version of the original story and the version suggested by his editor), interlaced with the letters from Maxine, the editor, cajoling Tamiko into continuing the new version of the novels. I loved the story, especially when it all came together. My review here.

Reading Next?

I have five books left on my 20 Books of Summer list, and I am having a hard time deciding what to read next. Possibly The Grand Sophy by Georgette Heyer or Way Station by Clifford D. Simak or The Turquoise Shop by Frances Crane. Those books were all published between 1941 and 1963.

The photo at the head of this post is a Rudbeckia plant in a bed in the front. The photo immediately above shows flowers from two Mandevilla plants in the back patio area, one pink and one dark red. Both photos were taken by my husband. They were planted in the last month and we will have to see how they do over the next few months.

Monday, August 2, 2021

Gordon McAlpine: Woman with a Blue Pencil

This is a very unique novel. Its structure is complex but I did not find it confusing, after I settled into reading it. 

Takumi Sato, a Japanese-American man in California, has written a novel with a Japanese-American protagonist, Sam Sumida. Sumida's wife, Kyoko, was killed earlier in the year. He has left his job as a professor and is devoting his time to finding her killer.  The police have given up on the case but he refuses to. 

Takumi Sato's story has been sold to a publisher and his editor Maxine Wakefield is communicating with him via letters as he sends chapters to her. The story begins in early December 1941.

On December 7, 1941, the attack on Pearl Harbor takes place, and all of a sudden a book with a Japanese-American man as protagonist is no longer acceptable. Maxine gives Takumi the option of returning his advance check or rewriting the novel with suggestions from her. The new novel she suggests is the story of a Korean-American man who becomes a spy for the US government; his mission will be looking for Japanese spies in America.

The novel has three threads: (1) excerpts from a rewritten version of the original novel (titled "The Revised") that follows Sam Sumida as a character who has been erased from the story and no longer exists to the people who knew him, worked with him, or his friends; (2) the new novel that follows Korean-American spy Jimmy Park (The Orchid and the Secret Agent); and (3) the letters from Maxine, the editor, spanning the years from late 1941 through 1944. I know that sounds like it would be hard to follow using but really it isn't.


In addition to being a good mystery, Woman with a Blue Pencil provides commentary on the treatment of Japanese-Americans after the war against Japan is declared, the internment camps that the Japanese-Americans are forcibly moved to, and prejudice against Asians in general. 

I loved everything about this book. I admit that, about halfway through the novel, I was wondering how the author was going to pull it all together. But at no time was I bored. In the end the plotlines come together brilliantly. This was a fascinating story. 

The novel is brief, a quick read, under 200 pages.

Also reviewed by John Grant at Noirish and Kevin Burton Smith at Mystery Scene.


Publisher:  Seventh Street Books, 2015.
Length:      189 pages
Format:      Trade paperback
Setting:      California
Genre:       Historical Mystery
Source:      Borrowed from my husband.