Wednesday, July 27, 2022

Dead in the Water: Ted Wood

Reid Bennett is not just the Chief of Police in Murphy's Harbour, a small resort town in Muskoka, Ontario. He is the ONLY policeman in town. There is a man in the office who answers the phones, but he is not a qualified to do police work. 

Bennett ended up in Murphy's Harbour because he was hounded out of his previous job in the Toronto police due to his handling of an attempted rape. As he puts it: "Nothing violent happens here." But when a corpse is found floating in the lake, Bennett's job gets very complicated and it turns out that the small town is not the haven that he thought it would be.

This is a very different police procedural. The case becomes very complicated, and the minuscule police presence in Murphy's Harbour is not meant to handle cases like this. It requires ingenuity for Reid to deal with the workload and the pursuit of the criminals basically alone. He does have his faithful dog Sam, a smart, always loyal German shepherd, by his side.

What did I like?

  • The story is told in first person narration by Bennett, and I liked the character and the narration.
  • Sam the dog is a fantastic character.
  • The Canadian setting, in a small town on the water, and a mix of characters, locals and tourists.
  • The story is not predictable, and moves at a fast pace, with plenty of surprises, especially at the end.

Dead in the Water, published in 1983, is the first book in a ten book crime fiction series starring Reid Bennett. It is a very short novel at 142 pages. The story may have a bit too much violence for me, but I will see how future books pan out.

Check out other more detailed reviews at Kevin's Corner and Paul Bishop's blog


Publisher:   Open Road Media, 2014 (orig. publ. 1983)
Length:       142 pages
Format:      Trade Paperback
Series:        Reid Bennett, #1
Setting:      Canada
Genre:        Police Procedural
Source:      On my TBR pile since 2020.

Friday, July 22, 2022

The Great Gatsby: F. Scott Fitzgerald

In this book Nick Carraway describes his experiences over a summer that he spends on Long Island, getting reacquainted with his friends Tom and Daisy Buchanan and going to parties at Jay Gatsby's mansion. Daisy is Nick's cousin (once removed) and her husband Tom is obscenely rich.

Nick lives in a small house that he rents, squeezed in between mansions on either side of him. Gatsby lives in the mansion to one side of his house. Gatsby seems to throw a huge party every weekend at his mansion, and eventually he invites Nick to come to a party. Most people just show up at the party, but Nick gets a special invitation. It turns out that Gatsby invited Nick because of his connection to Daisy. Gatsby and Daisy were once in love and planning to get married, and he wants to renew his acquaintance.

That is all I want to say about the plot. However, it is hard to say much about what I liked and did not like without revealing too much of the story.

Here Nick describes his first visit to Tom and Daisy Buchanan's mansion:

And so it happened that on a warm windy evening I drove over to East Egg to see two old friends whom I scarcely knew at all.

Their house was even more elaborate than I expected, a cheerful red and white Georgian Colonial mansion overlooking the bay. The lawn started at the beach and ran toward the front door for a quarter of a mile, jumping over sun-dials and brick walks and burning gardens—finally when it reached the house drifting up the side in bright vines as though from the momentum of its run. The front was broken by a line of French windows, glowing now with reflected gold, and wide open to the warm windy afternoon, and Tom Buchanan in riding clothes was standing with his legs apart on the front porch. 

He had changed since his New Haven years. Now he was a sturdy, straw-haired man of thirty with a rather hard mouth and a supercilious manner. Two shining, arrogant eyes had established dominance over his face and gave him the appearance of always leaning aggressively forward. Not even the effeminate swank of his riding clothes could hide the enormous power of that body—he seemed to fill those glistening boots until he strained the top lacing and you could see a great pack of muscle shifting when his shoulder moved under his thin coat. It was a body capable of enormous leverage—a cruel body. 

His speaking voice, a gruff husky tenor, added to the impression of fractiousness he conveyed. There was a touch of paternal contempt in it, even toward people he liked—and there were men at New Haven who had hated his guts.

I was surprised that the story actually spends more time with Tom and Daisy Buchanan than with Gatsby. Tom is an obnoxious man, and I was especially bothered by the fact that the Buchanan's seem to treat their very young daughter more as an object to be paraded around than a real live person with needs. On the surface, Daisy seems to be caught in a life she did not really want.

The story is told beautifully, and the buildup to the conclusion is done well, but I was left feeling empty and uninterested. There were too many people I did not care about, people who cared only for things and money and appearances. So I was disappointed in the book. It may be due to my prevailing mood at the moment, in which I want to read more upbeat stories with happier endings. 

I think if I read this again, knowing the full story, I would enjoy it more. I could enjoy the beautiful writing. This time through I was focused on the characters (who were mostly superficial, with decadent lives) and where they were going, and I did not like where the story took me.

Other reviews: At Reading Matters (Kathy's Corner) and Fiction Fan's Book Reviews.


Publisher:  Oldcastle Books, 2020 (orig. publ. 1925).
Length:      180 pages
Format:      Trade paperback
Setting:      New York
Genre:       Fiction, Classic
Source:      I purchased my copy.

Tuesday, July 19, 2022

Short Story Wednesday: "An Elderly Lady Takes a Trip to Africa" by Helen Tursten

I started reading An Elderly Lady Must Not Be Crossed in early March of 2022, and reported on the the first five stories in the book in late March. (See link here.) There are only six stories in the book, and I finished the last one recently. It is novella length, about one hundred pages in this small format book. 

An Overview of the Book:

Maud is an 88-year-old Swedish woman with an ample income, a loner who is content with her life. But she has no concerns about eliminating anyone who gets in her way. When Maud is presented with a person who is causing problems in her life (or that of her family or friends), she looks for a way to fix that problem, by whatever means available. The solution doesn't always end in death, but she is fine if it does. 

I enjoyed reading the first book of stories about Maud's exploits in An Elderly Lady Is Up To No Good. But for some reason I was less comfortable reading the first five stories in this book. The stories were a bit depressing. 

On the other hand, the writing is very good and the character is interesting. I like the structure of the book. Most of the stories go back to earlier times in her life, her family and especially her sister, who she had to care for after her parents were gone. I think these stories provide some context about how Maud became who she is. The first story is titled: "An Elderly Lady Begins to Remember Her Past."

Specific comments on "An Elderly Lady Takes a Trip to Africa":

Maud has decided to take a luxury trip to Africa:

The group would be accompanied by a Swedish-speaking guide throughout. .... Five-star hotels, fine dining, five nights at an exclusive lodge in the Kruger National Park, including a safari with the promise of seeing the “big five”: lions, elephants, rhinos, leopards, and buffalo. There would be visits to vineyards, plus a trip to the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe to see the Victoria Falls, followed by a cruise along the Zambezi River. The final week would be spent in Cape Town. Maud had been to South Africa twice before, but on those occasions she had traveled alone, as she always did, staying in simple but clean hotels and using buses or trains to get from one place to the next. 

A good portion of this novella is a straightforward story of Maud's trip. We meet the guide and other members of the tour group. The activities have a lot of flexibility and Maud has plenty of opportunities to take side trips alone, which she likes as she is extremely private and avoids social interaction. On this trip, however, she surprises herself by becoming friendly with some other members of the group. 

Before the group begins the cruise along the Zambezi River, there is time for individuals to visit the local area. Maud goes out briefly, and the guide and some others in the group go out for longer walks. When they return, two of the men have injuries, one due to a fall, one bitten by an animal. After the cruise is completed and returns to the starting point, the tour group is delayed for several hours while each member is interviewed by the police, because a crime had occurred in the area they visited. They are released and the tour group goes on to the safari portion of the trip.

When the group arrives in Cape Town, Maud is able to visit areas she had seen on previous trips, and renew an acquaintance with the owner of the small hotel she had stayed at before. On that portion of the trip, Maud witnesses an attempted rape and is able to help out in a solution to that crime. 

This story does have a lovely ending and it left me with an improved opinion about the book as a whole. 

The luxury trip to South Afrika takes place over the Christmas and New Year's holidays, although that doesn't have much impact on the mystery plot. There is at least one other story in the book that is set around Christmas, and features gingerbread cookies. The author has included two recipes for gingerbread cookies, so you could save this book for reading at Christmas (or even give it as a Christmas present).

Saturday, July 16, 2022

16th Annual Canadian Reading Challenge

The Canadian Book Challenge was started in 2007 by John Mutford at the Book Mine Set and hosted by him for its first 10 years. Now the challenge is hosted by Shonna at Canadian Bookworm. Between 2012, when I started blogging, and 2020, I participated in four Canadian Reading Challenges; now I am back for my fifth attempt.

The goal is to read and review 13 or more Canadian books in a one year span: from Canada Day, July 1st, 2022, to Canada Day eve, June 30th, 2023. Reviews posted online are required. That is the hard part for me.

What constitutes a Canadian book?

Canadian books can include any genre or form (picture books, poetry, novels, non-fiction, plays, anthologies, graphic novels, cookbooks, etc). They can be written by Canadian authors (by birth or immigration) or about Canadians.

See the FAQ sheet for more information. 

What will I read?

I have already read one book for this challenge, Dead in the Water by Ted Woods, which I plan to review soon. I am currently reading The English Wife by Adrienne Chinn.

Other books I plan to read are:

  • Kelley Armstrong – A Darkness Absolute
  • Louise Penny  – The Long Way Home
  • Stef Penney – The Tenderness of Wolves
  • Alexandra Pratt – Lost Lands, Forgotten Stories
  • Robin Spano – Dead Politician Society
  • Michael van Rooy – An Ordinary Decent Criminal
  • L. R. Wright – Fall From Grace 
  • Iona Whishaw – A Killer in King's Cove

Other Canadian authors I have on my shelves are:

  • Vicky Delany
  • J. Robert Janes
  • Maureen Jennings
  • Dietrich Kalteis
  • Margaret Millar
  • Sam Wiebe
  • Eric Wright

Tuesday, July 12, 2022

Short Story Wednesday: Murder in the Rough

A few weeks ago I featured two stories from Murder at the Foul Line, an anthology of short stories assembled by Otto Penzler  with a basketball theme. Since then, I read some stories from Murder in the Rough:  Original Tales of Bad Shots, Terrible Lies, and Other Deadly Handicaps from Today's Great Writers. These stories focus on golf. The stories were all published for the first time in this anthology in 2006.

These are a few of my favorite stories so far: 

"Welcome to the Real World" by Lawrence Block. 

Kramer is a man of routine. When he retires, he established plans for each day of the week, Monday through Friday. Mondays and Thursdays he has a specific exercise routine; Tuesdays he goes to a batting range; and Wednesdays he practices at a shooting range, keeping three of his own guns at the gun club.  On Fridays he plays golf, practicing different shots at a driving range for most of the day. He likes his routine and sees no reason to change it, until he gives into some good-natured ribbing from a former co-worker, Bellerman, and actually plays a real game of golf. This story has a slow build-up and a great ending.

"The Man Who Didn't Play Golf" by Simon Brett

Leonard Wensam cheats on his wife, Amanda, with another woman every Thursday. He says he is playing golf at the golf club but instead he is meeting his lover. One week, Amanda accidentally finds out about this arrangement. She meets the club professional, who has never heard of her husband.  She then plans her revenge.

"A Good **** Spoiled" by Laura Lippman

This was another variation on a married man using golf as an excuse for being away from home with his mistress. It is very different, humorous, and an excellent story. But I don't want to spoil it by saying any more about the story.

"Unplayable Lies" by William G. Tapply

This was an excellent story, narrated by a young man who often caddies for a member of the Mafia, Big Paulie Mazza. I have never read a book by Tapply but reading this story makes me want to.

I was surprised at how much I enjoyed these stories set in the world of golfing, but I think the game of golf, with the setting and the long walks, lends itself to crime stories. There are a lot of mystery novels with a connection to golf. At the end of this book there is a seven page list of golf mysteries.

Monday, July 11, 2022

Murder on the Trans-Siberian Express: Stuart M. Kaminsky

Murder on the Trans-Siberian Express is a fictional ride on the Trans-Siberian Express. It is part of a series by Stuart M. Kaminsky, set in Russia under Communist rule (to begin with) and later in Russia, following the breakup of the USSR. The books were written between 1981 and 2009. 

This is the 14th book in the series and the series protagonist, Chief Inspector Porfiry Rostnikov, works in the Office of Special Investigation, reporting to its director, Igor Yaklovev, the Yak. He has a group of detectives who work under him; they usually work on multiple cases in each book. In this one, the Yak sends Rostnikov to recover a valuable historic document that is in transit on the Trans-Siberian Express. He does not share with Rostnikov what is in the package. Rostnikov has to identify the person who will pay for the package, and intercept both the package and the payment when the exchange takes place.

In one of the secondary cases, the kidnapping of a heavy metal rocker is investigated, and given a high priority because the victim's father is an important figure in the government. The other subplot focuses on attacks on men at various subway stations while people wait for their trains. 

This series is intriguing because of the picture of life in Russia during this interesting period. There were books written before and after the break up of the Soviet Union, and the series reflects the changes in Russia over those years, including specifically how this police team is affected.

The mystery plots are well done, although I personally get more involved in the people and how they deal with the problems in their lives (whether they are related to the crime or personal) than the crimes and solutions. The characterization is excellent.

Rostnikov's strongest characteristic is his support of his staff in the face of the continuing changes in Russia and his ability to get the best out of them. He recognizes their differences and their gifts.

One thing I really liked about this specific entry in the series is the way that the prologue and the epilogue tie together. So often prologues to mystery books appear to me to be useless, not informative. And I learned a lot about the building of the Trans-Siberian railroad while reading this book.

This series is best read in order; the characters grow and their lives change from book to book. However, I think this book can work as a standalone because background on the continuing characters is provided in a way that doesn't interfere with the flow of the story.


Publisher:   Mysterious Press, 2001
Length:       277 pages
Format:       Hardcover
Series:        Porfiry Rostnikov, #14
Setting:       Russia
Genre:        Police Procedural
Source:       On my TBR pile since 2007.

Monday, July 4, 2022

Books Read in June 2022

In June I read seven books, six of them from my 20 Books of Summer list. I enjoyed all of them, so it has been a good reading month.

And here are the books I read...

General Fiction

Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine (2017) by Gail Honeyman

I loved this book. Most reviews talked about how funny it was; I found it much more serious. It is about a woman who is socially awkward, in this case as a result of traumatic events in her past. It was set in Glasgow, and I felt that the setting was used very well.

Historical Fiction

The Assault (1982) by Harry Mulisch

This was a great read, brief and straightforward. Set in the Netherlands, it starts with a horrendous event that occurs near the end of World War II in the Netherlands. This novel takes that one event and shows how it affected the people who were involved.  It continues up to 1980. The story is based on a real event that happened during the war. My full review here.


Lincoln in the Bardo (2017) by George Saunders

I am not very comfortable describing this book as fantasy, I think it is more a blend of historical fiction and magical realism. And it is full of supernatural elements. But that is the problem with labeling books and a topic for another day. The story is set in 1862 in the first year of the Civil War in the US. President Lincoln's eleven-year-old son, Willie, has died and Lincoln visits his body at the crypt several times. As I understand it, one definition of the bardo is a transitional stage between death and rebirth. I liked reading the book, but I am sure I missed a lot and much of it mystified me.

Crime Fiction

The Long Goodbye (1953) by Raymond Chandler

We recently purchased a Blu-ray version of The Long Goodbye starring Elliott Gould, and I wanted to read the book before watching the film again (after 20 years). This is one of the best books in the Philip Marlowe series; I liked it nearly as well at The Big Sleep. It is the sixth book in the series and it seemed more aimless than the other three I have read. Marlowe is more cynical and there is more social commentary. All of which I enjoyed. And the writing is beautiful.

Some Die Eloquent (1979) by Catherine Aird

This is the eighth book in Catherine Aird's police procedural series; I enjoyed all the previous books in this series and this was no exception. This one is about a chemistry teacher who has died at 59 of complications from diabetes. The police get involved when they realize she has just come into a lot of money. Of course there are plenty of suspects, mostly family members. (And I love this cover. Look at the colors of those gorgeous flowers.)

A Quiet Life in the Country (2014) by T. E. Kinsey

This is a historical mystery series with a lot of humor. I was attracted by the premise of a lady and her maid solving mysteries, but I was not sure how that would work given the class differences in England in 1908. Lady Hardcastle and her maid Flo are more friends than mistress and servant, and each has skills that complement the other. The early 1900s is a time that I haven't read much about (in fiction or nonfiction). I really like the characters. Cath at Read-warbler recommended this book, and I am so glad I read it. I have already started reading the second book in the series. 

A Pitying of Doves (2015) by Steve Burrows

The second book in the Birder Murder Mystery Series. The protagonist is DCI Domenic Jejeune and the setting is the Norfolk town of Saltmarsh. At this point, DCI Jejeune is still new to the area. He originally came from Canada, then worked in London. He clashes with his immediate superior quite often. So not a lot different from the usual police procedural series except for the emphasis on birding and the beautiful surroundings. I will be continuing this series.

Currently reading

At this point in July I am reading:

  • The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • In the Market for Murder by T. E. Kinsey
  • Agatha Christie: A Mysterious Life by Laura Thompson

None of those are on my 20 Books of Summer list. The Great Gatsby is my Classics Club Spin book.

The photos at the top and bottom of the post are of chalk paintings at the I Modannari Italian Street Painting Festival at the Santa Barbara Mission this year. Click on the images for best viewing quality.