The Thirteen Gun Salute; Patrick O'Brian
O'Brian is creating a saga of English men and ships in the period of George III. He weaves the story around two men: Captain Jack Aubrey, a naval officer who was dismissed from service and is trying to get back in the Royal Navy, and his friend Stephen Maturin, a surgeon, naturalist, and intelligence officer. In this book the two wander around the world, Jack gets back his commission in the Navy, and they get involved in a mission in Malay -- where they are marooned at the end of the book. O'Brian has created a stick-type creature in Aubrey, but a somewhat more interesting one in Maturin. His books are replete with arcane terms, nautical jargon, and English slang of the time. He explains almost none of it. The reader encounters more about sailing ships and procedures aboard ship than were ever dreamed of. The stories are in fact very interesting, and probably far more authentic than the other sailing saga: Forester's Hornblower series. However the latter are far more reader-friendly, and their characters are far more developed than those of O'Brian.
Immaculate Deception; Warren Adler
A good murder-mystery, police-procedural, laid in Washington DC, and the latest of several starring Adler's recent detective, Fiona Fitzgerald. Adler is a prolific novelist and a good story teller. Fiona is a non- traditional sort of career cop who is currently involved with a not too likeable lawyer. She and the other characters are off-beat but fairly believable, and come across well to the reader. The villain becomes somewhat obvious near the end, but it is not clear how the book will end. Politics in DC play a large role, but otherwise the locale is of no particular concern.
I.O.U.; Nancy Pickard
This is the sixth or seventh murder mystery that Pickard has written around her character Jenny Cain, who lives in a small New England village. As in the others, the storytelling is excellent, as are the stories. I found this one to be, in addition, a vast surprise. To me it is a powerful story; one that believably involves the powerful emotions of Jenny after the death of her mother in a mental institution, and during her attempts to find out what had gone on in her mother's life so many years before. It is very different from the other stories, and in fact I think that the author structured it in order to be able to move Jenny out of the small town. You will really appreciate its unusualness if you have read any of the earlier ones (highly recommended), although you can appreciate this on its own. I found it fascinating.
False Face; Marilyn Sharp
I reread this after encountering it by accident. It is as I remembered it: a CIA fantasy that is a combination of the Avengers and James Bond, with an unbelievable plot, and lots of action and savoir faire on the part of the male and female super-agents. If you enjoy the genre, this is one of the better ones. She has written others -- similar.
Rumpole A La Carte; John Mortimer
Another volume of short stories about the unorthodox and anti- establishment barrister, Horace Rumpole. Mortimer, an over-achiever if ever there were one, was once a barrister and I suspect that he might have been somewhat like his creation -- Rumpole! In this latest collection, the stories are just as clever, amusing, surprising and well written as ever. Lots of fun.
Rabbit at Rest; John Updike
The last of the series about Harry Angstrom -- Rabbit. You can read it without having read any of the others, and not be handicapped. I read this with the same approach that I read the last several: I really didn't want to get involved again with Rabbit's life, but after a lot of postponement I read it with the same intense feeling of involvement I had with the others. With layer after layer of detail, all of them woven into the brilliant exposition of feeling, and combined in an almost continual flow, one is ensnared by the author. This is realistic fiction. Don't read this or any of the others for light entertainment, rather for the experience of being immersed in the personalities and emotions of the characters -- especially Harry. And they are well worth reading; all the praise that Updike has garnered is justified. Even if this is the only book that you read about him, you will not forget Harry.
Wanda Hickey's Night of Golden Memories (and other disasters); Jean Shepherd
This is a set of hillarious narrations, told in the first person as events that happened to the narrator when he was a young male in a steel town in Indiana in the thirties.[It turns out that there wasn't a heck of a lot of difference between an Indiana steel town, and a Pennsylvania mining town where I grew up!] His father and mother were very different from mine, but everything else rings true. In fact three of the stories that involve the young male and girls -- including the night of the prom -- caused me considerable anguish; they stirred up distressing recollections. I cannot recall any other set of stories that captures so well the difficulties of puberty in the male. Wonderful stories -- with a completely male perspective.
Day of Atonement; Faye Kellerman
This is the fourth murder mystery novel of Kellerman's that features Rina Lazarus, and Detective Sergeant First Grade Peter Decker of the LAPD. Like the others this is an engrossing, beautifully told, unusual story. It is the story of a young boy who vanishes, and the attempt to find him. It builds steadily in suspense as the detective tries to find him. What is different is that the boy is an orthodox Jew, his grandmother is the mother of the detective( she put the detective up for adoption years before, when she became a mother at 15), the detective is on leave and on his honeymoon, and had never before met his mother. The characters are beautifully developed and eminently likeable, and the emotions involved in the meetings of the detective with his birth mother are powerful indeed. You can read this book with pleasure if you have never met these characters before, but you should really start with the first of the series The Ritual Bath, then go on to Sacred and Profane,The Quality of Mercy, and Milk and Honey. Woven through the mystery stories is the world and practice of Orthodox Jewry, and the fascinating story of how the detective comes to grip with it -- and himself. As fascinating a series as you will find. One should note that the author's husband, Jonathon Kellerman, writes very powerful and engrossing suspense/mystery novels with a child psychologist as the hero. Both Kellermans are really first class storytellers. NOTE:1995: add False Prophet, Grievous Sin, and Sanctuary to the list.
Civilization or Barbarism; Cheik Anta Diop
I didn't read this; I just skimmed briefly through part of it. First, it is a very fragmented and hard to follow collection of ideas all associated with the idea that the first civilization was out of Africa and was black. This revisionism is primarily attributed to Diop, a scholar from Senegal, and I was immensely curious to see what sort of evidence there was on this. Perhaps one needs to read all of the works of this guy, or perhaps I missed a lot in the current book. Whatever; the man's argument is basically that civilization developed in Egypt and spread to the European area, and since the Egyptians were really black, that means that Europe owes its civilization to black Africa. Both parts are radical revisionism, and take as given that essentially all white historians have been telling lies about history. The other guru of European civilization developing from Egypt is scholar Martin Bernal, who also takes the point of view that Egyptians were black in his works on "Black Athena"( which I have not found). What "evidence" I could find in Diop's book seems tiny, and superficial at best. It is hard to believe that anyone could take this seriously. But some black scholars do. Too bad.
Saviour's Gate; Tim Sebastian
An interesting spy story set in contemporary Russia. In the book, it begins to look as though the growing discontent in Russia will force Gorbechov to flee the country, and this story watches events move in that direction. Information is sought by the Brits via a journalist who has met a highly placed young Russian woman, and the CIA is anxious to get into the act. The story is almost terse in spots, flips back and forth rapidly between scenes and characters, and keeps presenting the reader with bits and pieces of information that are hard to put together, but somehow seem to be gradually coalescing. It is an interesting style of telling this story, and it is effective in this kind of spy story. The spy business is mostly confusion and bewilderment, and this style seems to reflect that sort of thing. It is a good story of its kind.
Baltimore Blues; Lee Moler
A Viet Nam vet has become a private eye, to the distress of his wife who, with their children, has left him till he comes to his senses and goes back to his reliable job. He is hired by a woman to check on her husband, and he finds that the husband is out at night working secretly in a plant that manufactures circuit boards. This leads to encounters with agents of foreign governments and blazing shoot-outs between Viet veterans (good guys using M- 16's and M-79 grenade launchers) and the foreign types using Uzis. It's O.K., but it feels very familiar to the reader. It also bugs me that the writer doesn't seem to know what an M-79 really is, or how it works!
Murder at the Washington Cathedral; Margaret Truman
The latest in her "murder in famous spots in Washington" series. In fact the Cathedral is a neat place to set the murder -- there is a sort of gothic flavor to the event! The story is a good beach read; it is well told, but the plotting seems a little far-fetched, and the characters never quite come alive. Compare with Faye Kellerman above.
Plains of Passage; Jane Auel
This is the latest of the author's tales of our European ancestors of 30,000 years ago. I always read these with mixed emotions. They are sort of terrible novels involving a super-woman cave person who is busy domesticating the horse, taming wolves and cave lions, figuring out how babies come about, and inventing some technology as she goes, while traveling with her male companion who is not only a fantastic lover but also a keen inventor of technology. In this one they walk across most of Europe. There is much description of the flora and fauna of the period. The thing that I don't understand is I really enjoy reading the stories while, at the same time groaning about them. I'm bewildered.
Benjamin O. Davis, Jr.:American; Benjamin O. Davis
A fascinating autobiography. Davis is black, a retired Lt. General in the Air Force, and the man partly responsible for the great reputation of the black airmen of WWII; an effective, competent man of integrity. He recounts his life and career(s). He went through West Point (the first black graduate) under four years of "silence" -- no one would speak to him. He recounts the racial prejudice that he and his wife encountered both inside and outside the military. It is uncomfortable reading. The man never compromised on his goal to bring about integration (he has no use for Black History or the term African-American), and he played perhaps the major role in implementing integration in the Air Force. Some parts of the book are tedious -- where he dutifully recounts social events that went on frequently. His wife comes across as a really remarkable woman -- a wonderful match indeed. It is also really astounding to read of the accomplishments of his father. I was left with the feeling that there is really very little of the author revealed -- except for his views on segregation and integration. The vague impression is that he has spent so much time concealing much of himself and his emotions that it is a dominant way of life. One feels that the writer is always being polite, reserved, and completely controlled -- even when he is angry. At times it is eery.
Race to the Stratosphere:Manned Scientific Ballooning in America;David DeVorkin
DeVorkin is a remarkable over-achiever who is curator at the Air and Space museum, and is a very nice guy as well. This is in a sense a special interest book about specific technology, and I generally don't note those here. However this is also a fascinating history, with interesting lessons that are completely relevant today, and have, for the most part, been forgot. It is possible for most anyone interested to skip over any of the technical parts and still enjoy the read -- I think (I'm a little too close to know for sure). DeVorkin notes, with a clinical eye, the interplay of science, technology and politics in the balloon business of the thirties, the exactly similar interplay in the balloon efforts of the forties and fifties, and again the identical elements in the APOLLO program. In fact, although he doesn't get into it, the same thing is running now with respect to the Space Lab! I enjoyed this book; part of it was finding old friends and acquaintances wandering through the pages.
Eyes of Prey; John Sandford
Sandford is a good storyteller and this is a good story. The police hunt for a killer who cuts out the eyes of his victims. There is no mystery about the killer(s), rather the suspense is when, where, or whether the detective will find out. There is a mystery however, and the reader is jolted by it at the end. This is the psychotic killer hunted by the disturbed policeman type of yarn, and it is a very good one of the type. This is the third such novel by Sandford; they all end in the word "prey".
The Sun in the Morning; M.M. Kaye
Molly Kaye is an accomplished and well known storyteller, with a variety of different novels to her credit. "The Far Pavilions" may be the one that she is best known for at this time. In this book she has chosen to write part of her autobiography -- to cover her girlhood in India. She was born in Simla, lived in India till she was 10, and returned when she was 18. The book ends with her return. Her story is of a typical English family during what has become known as the Raj -- the period of British rule in India. Her father, whom she dearly loved, was in the military, in Intelligence in fact, and was a remarkable man in many ways. Her mother was 18 years younger than her father and was essentially a social butterfly. As you read you realize that the author adored her father (the book is a paean to him) and tried hard to avoid hating her mother in later years. But over it all she loved India, and she really communicates this to the reader. The reader will suffer with her when she is forced to leave and ends up back in England -- without either parent; with her sister however. The book is a wonderful picture of a vanished way of life: a vanished Indian culture and a vanished English culture. If you simply look at the pictures you will be unable to keep from reading the book -- and that is good. Read it.
Sam Walton:Founder of Wal-Mart; Vance H. Trimble
An unauthorized biography, written under friendly conditions. An interesting picture of a very unusual man. Walton was, until several years ago, the richest man in the country -- by a long shot. Nine billion dollars. Then he split up his money with his children, so now he only has a couple of billion. He drives a beat up old truck, dresses in clothes from Wal-Mart, and lives in a small town in Arkansas. He is probably the best entrepreneur in the country, and works like a demon. His demands on his managers are crushing, and he is unable to let go of his empire -- which is still growing at a great rate. He has been shrewd, lucky, and has built his empire on team work and the belief that the customer is ALWAYS right. An interesting man -- and book.
The Cat Who Knew a Cardinal; Lilian Jackson Braun
This is the latest in about a dozen mysteries that are sort of solved by a Siamese cat that belongs to an ex- newspaper man who has inherited a vast fortune and lives with his two cats in a small town, some where in the north midwest. Originally these were fun to read, and clever at times. This one doesn't work very well. I think that the author is getting tired of his character, or running out of ideas, or is trapped by the situation that he let his character get trapped in. If you are familiar with the series, then you can read it to keep up with the characters. If you are not; then read some of the earlier ones rather than this one.
Pacific Beat; T. Jefferson Parker
A riveting, suspenseful, complicated murder mystery, told with great skill. There is a key thing that is a sort of deus ex machina event, and seems to me to detract from the final solution. However, you will be able to forgive the author -- it is such a good piece of story telling. The protagonist, a former deputy sheriff and now a diver, returns home to find his sister (who's married to a policeman) ecstatically happy because she is pregnant. She and her husband had given up hope after many years. That night she is murdered by multiple stab wounds, and a wino says the murderer drove off in a police car. The brother, a friend, & the sister's husband, set out to find the murderer, for vengeance;gets more & more tangled!
Blank Check:The Pentagon's Black Budget; Tim Wiener
"Black" programs are very secret, covert programs, and the "black" budget is the money to pay for the programs. These budgets are not explicit, and are concealed in other appropriations. For instance, the whole overhead reconnaissance program is "black", the CIA serves as a cover for the implementing agency that is actually concealed in the Pentagon (really), and the whole budget is "black." This book is about some of the secret programs and expenditures of the military, although not the overhead program. It is a very scary book that should be read by every single voter in the country. These programs are run with almost no control and no review, utter stupidity at times, and a complete disregard for law and the constitution. The working motto is "if it is secret than it is legal." The reader will be very distressed; this reader was -- and I knew something about some of these things. And the programs discussed in this book are not the only ones by a long shot. The book is all true; read it.
The Burden of Proof; Scott Turow
I avoided this book for some time; it seemed to me that a book that started with the suicide of the wife of the main character was one that I could do without. A friend convinced me to try it. It is a good story, albeit not always pleasant. The lawyer character finds his wife a suicide, at the same time that his brother-in-law runs afoul of the FBI. It is a compelling story, and one worth reading. I had the feeling however, that it wasn't quite hammered together. There are a number of elements of mystery, but a key one is somewhat transparent to the reader, and the author is not able to suggest why the main character should not see the thing too. Picky. A good story.
Where The Mind Meets The Body; Harris Dienstfrey
A very interesting book indeed, and not quite what I expected. I expected it to be an enthusiastic description of how the mind could be made to exert control over the body, by a person who has a vested interest in promoting the idea. It is, instead, a very readable and very interesting discussion of a number of the well known approaches to mind-body interactions. The author makes them clear, and indicates the status of the ideas. I learned of one bizarre set of experiences that had escaped me: a very careful set of experiments that produced very definite positive results, could not, later, be reproduced by the original experimenter or anyone else. An informative book.
Where Echoes Live; Arcia Muller
Muller has written about a dozen mysteries starring Sharon McCone, an investigator who works in San Francisco for a non-profit organization. If you have read others in the series you will know all the details of the organization, and McCone's friends there and elsewhere, and be interested in their reappearance; but that is absolutely unessential to the story. In fact, that is true of all of the stories. A very interesting thing that I would think is hard to do. This strikes me as one of the most interesting of the books, but mainly because of development in the heroine's emotional make up. Part of the development comes from a surprising situation involving her mother. In this story Ms. McCone signs on to investigate an environmental problem involving land use in the northern California desert. Good story.
The Difference Engine; William Gibson
& Bruce Sterling
This is a fascinating novel of a particular kind, and probably not of interest to everyone. I suppose it is science fiction; the only reason for the doubt is an uncertainty about what science fiction is these days. The bulk of the story takes place in England in 1855 -- but not the England that we know. This is what in the genre is called an "alternative time line". There are familiar names (some misplaced in time), but they are not doing what we know them for. Byron is Prime Minister (Victoria is the Queen), Disraeli is a man- about-town journalist, and John Keats is a "clacker", to mention only a few. A "clacker" is what we would call a computer expert (a hacker!), because you see, the society uses steam-driven mechanical versions of Charles Babbage's "difference engine"! In this ALTERNATE world the machine was successful (in OUR world, Babbage never got his machine to work. There was nothing wrong with the concept, the precision construction for his mechanical computer was almost beyond the time, and he ran out of government funding!). So in the world of this novel there are large and small steam-powered computers! Programmed by Jacquard punch cards! The story is almost a continuous series of happenings rather than a well plotted novel, set in a persuasive Victorian London - - dirty, contaminated, and polluted -- with police computers and intelligence agencies keeping dossiers on citizens. In fact, you gradually realize that in this distorted version of history you are sort of living through a version of our own society! It is a rich, suspenseful, imaginative book that I enjoyed very much.(There are a few things that make sense only if you have some knowledge about computers, but they will generally cause no problem) I was tickled by the fact that in the book Babbage, whose mechanical computers worked, died an old man who was ridiculed for trying to create an electrical computer with "condensers and resistors"! In our world, he died an old man ridiculed by many for having tried and failed to create a mechanical computer! There is far too much to tell here -- it is a complicated tapestry that might well have been woven on a Jacquard loom!
Synchronicity:Science, Myth, and the Trickster; Allan Combs
and Mark Holland
This is a book about the phenomenon that the psychiatrist Carl Jung felt he had encountered, and which he named. It is about coincidence that Jung felt was meaningful. The authors attempt to expand on this idea. I found it to be disappointing and a bit irritating. They try to convince you that the subject is important, but they adduce only trivia. They cite stories like the "hundredth bird" phenomenon about the learned skills of birds, only to be betrayed by the fact that the phenomenon is not real! They admit that, but go on as though it were! They also believe in extra-sensory perception, and probably in flying saucers. If you are interested in Jungian psychology you can try the book. It would be better to read Jung!
Brain Sex:The Real Difference Between Men And Women; Anne Moir
& David Jessel
This is, for me, an absolutely fascinating book that is certain to be very controversial. It basically argues that men and women are very different, and the difference is intrinsic. This will drive the feminists bananas. The book cites a wealth of research data that suggest that the causative factor is an intrinsic difference in their brains, and that this difference is engendered by the hormonal balance around the brain of the fetus at various stages in development. The environment, and the nature of the child's upbringing are essentially unimportant. This will drive all the social engineers bananas! Yet the whole thing feels absolutely right -- to me, at any rate. This is a very thought provoking book. It should be read whether or not you accept the thesis of the authors -- there are a great many (including biological researchers) who do not.
The Belgariad; David Eddings
This is really five separate novels in a series that is called by the title I have used above. They are:Pawn of Prophecy, Queen of Sorcery, Magician's Gambit, Castle of Wizardy, and Enchanter's Endgame. It must be obvious that the series is of the fantasy genre known in the trade as "Swords and Sorcery". Such stories are always sited in some society that is essentially equal to medieval Europe, but which also contains REAL magic, monsters, mysterious prophecies, and FORCES OF DARKNESS -- which must be overcome, of course. They are full of adventure and swordplay. Eddings is easily among the best writers of such yarns. He is a first class story teller. This was a reread for me, brought about by reading the last book of yet another series that involves the same characters that are in this series, and wishing to renew some forgotten knowledge about the first set.. Yes friends, he has written a sequel SERIES. I thoroughly enjoyed this first series. The sequel series (The Malloreiad) can be read for the fun of meeting old friends, but it is, I think, not quite as good as the first, even though it is just about the same story told all over again. I have only one reservation about these stories: all the events are essentially preordained, and gradually one can come to feel that the characters are simply helpless puppets of fate -- the title of the first volume is indeed prophetic. Despite that, they are fun tales. [Note that the film series Star Wars is essentially a story of this same genre -- it is simply placed in the future, and the swords seem to be lances of energy! Perhaps the vast appeal of the type is why Star Wars is so popular]
Camp-Fires on Desert and Lava; William T. Hornady
The book was written in 1908 about a semi- scientific exploration trip from Tucson, Arizona, across the border into the northern Mexico Sonoran desert -- at that time an unmapped area.[Today it is possible to drive the approximate route from Tucson through Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument into Sonoita in Mexico, but a lot of the area beyond Sonoita is still fairly inaccessible] The book was reissued in 1967 as part of a large series of outdoor books reprinted for Abercrombie and Fitch, and I found it on the throw-away shelf of the Museum (American History) library. It is a first person narrative that has faint echoes of Teddy Roosevelt and Richard Halliburton; and for anyone familiar at all with the Sonoran desert, or who loves any desert, the book is entrancing -- despite the word usages that stamp it as a turn-of-the-century tale, and an unconscious but clear belief in the supremacy of white men. I have spent so much time in the desert that I am unable to surmise how the story will strike the non-experienced reader. I found it to be wonderful, and I decided that I'd like to retrace the route someday. I think I felt homesick!
Posession: A Romance; A.S. Byatt
This is the winner of the 1990 Booker prize. I do not know exactly why I set out to read this, because I avoid prize-winning novels like the plague. I think it was because this was touted as a Romance, not a Novel, but mostly because the cover illustration grabbed me, and because the jacket blurb explained that it concerned research efforts of two academics. And that it does. For a while I was charmed by a feeling that, for a change, the Booker committee seemed to have approved a really neat story that moved along smoothly. I should have known better. It really is, in fact, a neat story, but it requires a lot of determination on the part of the reader; (more than I have; I skipped a lot of poems and stuff!). It is a complicated, multi-level story revolving about two people who are trying to unravel a mystery concerning two literary-historical figures. It is really two stories, one about the two people of today, and the other about the two Victorian people whose secrets they are trying to uncover. The library research, and other bits of literary detective work I found to be stimulating, and the characters are, to me, mostly quite believable. But you are exposed to not only a narrative of the search, but also to the text of ALL the source documents that they uncover, from page after page of letters through long (dare I say tedius?) poems! In a sense, you are invited to do the research with them. The result is a bogging down of the reader at times, and a certain frantic hope that the author will get back to the narrative. I found it to be a fascinating story, albeit frustrating and even irritating at times. It was a great deal of good work on the part of the author, and it requires a good amount of work on the part of the reader. It is worth the trouble, and a wonderful surprise envelops the reader at the end -- one that sent me back looking for a clue that was missed. I'm glad I read it.
Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets; David Simon
The streets are the streets of Baltimore in 1988, and this is not a novel. I guess one calls it a documentary. Simon is a reporter, and he spent a year with one shift of the Homicide Division of the Baltimore police. This is his detailed report on the men, the officers, the cases, the politics, the stresses -- and everything else. It is a gritty book that is absolutely gripping. It tends to be slow going, and there is a lot to assimilate; it is worth it. There are times when you sort of lose track of what the book is, and mentally slip into the attitude that you are reading a very authentic police- procedural, and you wait for the startling solution of a particular killing -- and wait, and wait. In fact, I was left a little angry because at the end of the book they hadn't solved one particular crime that very carefully ensnares the reader's concern. This is a unique picture (warts and all) of a group of very disparate, dedicated, and hard working detectives. They don't get paid nearly enough to be -- in the jargon of the squad room -- "a police."
Beast; Peter Benchley
Benchley, who wrote "Jaws" has rewritten it, with a shark replaced by a super-giant ocean squid. It is a pretty good yarn as a matter of fact, and includes a bunch of lectures on conservation and the despoiling effect of man. The scene is laid in Bermuda, where a giant squid develops a taste for people -- because all the rest of the life in the surrounding ocean has been fished out by man.(The latter is in fact true; the "fresh catch" you get in Bermuda has been delivered frozen to the Islands!). It also likes to crush large yachts with its giant tentacles. Gosh! I was going to say that it is a good beach read -- but that does seem a tad out of place. Like Jaws? Read this
Thunder of Erebus; Payne Harrison
You have read this before -- in essence. It is what is becoming known as a "techno thriller", made popular by Casey in his second book:"Red Tide Rising". Rare chemical, discovered in Antarctia, is absolutely essential to both the USA and the Soviets (this is laid some years in the future of course). The Soviets invade the American Base, and a limited high tech war breaks out. The action takes place in many places, and the book is chopped up into several-page episodes, each of which is labled as to location so you'll know where you are. The reader is to be impressed by all the wonderful super secret weapons, and the complicated warfare. It is a good yarn of the type -- but it certainly feels like you've been there before. Not really worth the effort.
Talking Mysteries; Tony Hillerman
& Ernie Bulow
This small book defies classification -- it is a pot pourri. There is a monologue by Bulow -- who seems to be a friend and somewhat snotty adviser (about indian things) to Hillerman, who is the famous author of the wonderful mysteries set in the Navaho country with Indian policemen; there is an interesting monologue by Hillerman; there is an informative interview of Hillerman by Bulow; three biographies, author unknown but seems to be Bulow; a bunch of not-very-good line drawings by an Indian artist (the third person in the biography piece) who the other two guys think is really great; and a mini- story by Hillerman, starring one of his policemen: Jim Chee. In fact, I suspect that this guy Bulow wanted to produce a book, and was the driving force behind this; there is very little other excuse for it. However, although very disjointed, and somewhat repetitious, it is a very interesting book -- but probably only if you like the Hillerman stories; and you certainly should!
Sky Masters; Dale Brown
I couldn't read it! I tried. I just absolutely couldn't read another techno-thriller. Brown is an ex Air Force bombardier who writes bomb-em-up stories in which B- 52's keep winning little wars. In fact, he is a good story teller, and I have enjoyed several of his earlier books. But I seem to have reached my limit with gadgetized warfare, complete with all the "technically authentic" nomenclature and jargon. Also, this one starts off as though it will never get off the ground. I skipped to near the end to read about the thrilling U.S. techno war with the Chinese (well who did you expect -- the Russians are GONE), and he tells these bits well. I didn't finish, but I'll bet the U.S.Air Force wins.
Neuromancer; William Gibson
In 1984 this hard-core science fiction won every science fiction award. In keeping with my general approach -- I avoided it. The juxtaposition of a new paper back acquisition by the library, the woeful absence of any other interesting looking books, and the seven intervening years, enticed me to pick it up. It is one of the high-tech novels of the future, where the protagonists live on the edge. The reader is dumped into a seedy drug-using fringe of a high-tech society that has perfected intricate neuro surgery that permits people to "jack in" to a world-wide computer matrix. Sort of a TRON thing. Our hero is recruited for some extra-legal information- banditry by an ex-military type who is working for an Artificial Intelligence. The reader is initially almost overwhelmed by the unexplained jargon, situations, and mores of this gritty future. Many of the things gradually become understandable -- it is a learning experience! It is in fact an exciting and good story -- however not three major awards worth (in my opinion). Very worth reading -- if you are a REAL fan of science fiction.
Mao II; Don DeLillo
Very strange, interesting, somewhat disquieting novel. A lot of it is essentially fascinating stream-of- conciousness, told by a very competent writer. It seems almost plotless. It concerns a famous writer who has become a recluse in a house inhabited by three people: himself, a dedicated friend who runs all the daily and business chores, and a female Moony -- whose group marriage is the first chapter. The famous author, after agreeing to be photographed for the first time in decades, abruptly moves out into the world, into the fringes of the world of terrorism, with no explanation or notification to his two housemates who are baffled by his departure. It is an emotional structure as much as a novel, and an interesting experience.
King Solomon's Mines; H. Rider Haggard
At long intervals I re-read Haggard's wonderful Victorian adventure yarns laid in darkest Africa in the last quarter of the 19th century. Haggard lived in Africa, and authenticity shows everywhere. The current equivalent to his stories is perhaps the screen adventures of Indiana Jones. The fascination with such yarns persists! (Dover reprinted the famous three: this one, SHE, and ALAN QUATERMAIN, in one volume. Worth having)
The Art of Survival;A.E. Maxwell (paper)
One of several private-eye novels written by this author; this is the first that I have read. The protagonist (Fiddler) is very rich, likes old cars (has a 450 Shelby Cobra!), has an artist's soul (wanted to be a great violinist, hence:Fiddler, I suppose), and loves/hates his ex-wife who is also his investment banker. Certainly different! And in fact a pretty good yarn. A very good beach read.
The Talbot Odyssey; Nelson Demille (paper)
A 1985 novel about a Soviet plan to take over the USA on the fourth of July by means of advanced technology and a very highly placed mole. The plans are thwarted by a secret intelligence organization made up of lots of old OSS types left over from WWII. These guys just KNEW that the Russians were going to be our enemy, and that someone would have to stop them. So they formed this large, well-heeled organization that continually recruits younger believers. The story is complete with psychotic turn-coat given to torturing people, and an allout assault on the Russian stronghold in this country, and THREE moles not one! It can be easily skipped.
An Acceptable Time, Madeleine L'Engle (paper)
A time-travel sort of fantasy that seemed to be pretty childish. When I looked closer I saw why: the author writes books for children. This is one. Don't give it to children to read. There are lots of better ones.
Heavy Time; C.J. Cherryh
Ms. Cherryh writes good science fiction, but I personally couldn't finish this book. That is my fault more than hers I suspect. However part of the problem is that this is one more in a LONG list of SF books laid in the "Belt" ( the asteroid belt, which is always being mined by a large ruthless industrial corporation, which is being fought against by rugged individualist miners....etc). The same ingredients are here. In addition, this particular version caused me some sort of negative reaction -- I have not sought to analyze myself. I just quit reading the story. I did read the last few pages to see how it ended -- it wasn't a happy ending.
Uh-Oh; Robert Fulgham
Fulgham is the jack of all trades -- including the ministry -- who wrote that delightful series of essays "All I Really Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarden". This is his latest collection, and it seems to me to be more uneven in aim, content, and writing than the others. However, it contains several pieces that are absolutely required reading. One is on the presentation of "Cinderella" by a school class, and the other is another of his absolutely memorable wedding stories. Perhaps I was in the mood for it, but that is the first piece that has caused me real belly laughs since about 1970. I laughed till tears came.See if it is that funny for you. Don't buy the book, but read it for sure. I plan to Xerox the marriage bit!
Senator Love; Warren Adler
Another good mystery and police procedural laid in Washington, and starring a senator's daughter who is a homicide detective. The somewhat sexually liberated detective seems to have dumped the slimy lawyer boy friend in an earlier book (Immaculate Deception), but otherwise the characters are generally the same; a little off the wall, but believable. This too is a good story, but I would be interested in how the main character comes across to a female reader. There seems to me to be some slightly wrong characterization, but it doesn't detract from the yarn.
Threat Case; J.C. Pollock
A good specific type. It is the type of yarn made famous by "Day of the Jackal". An assassin is hired by drug lords to kill the President of the USA, and the story is of the increasing ferreting out of the plan and the hunt for the assassin by various government agencies, and the eluding of the agencies by the potential killer. Lots of "inside" details on how a bunch of secret agencies work. Good yarn of the fox and hounds type.
MAMista; Len Deighton
Not what I expected. This seems to me to be a dark, gritty exploration of the interaction of slimy Washington executives, CIA politics, and Latin American revolutionaries (the MAMista of the title). There is little point to the story, which is probably the point that Deighton is trying to make. The story drags for a long time, until the main characters start a trek through the jungle. Then the story teller in Deighton shows his stuff. But all the people you have come to know die pointless deaths, and the sleaze-balls triumph. A grim story indeed.
Hard Tack; Barbara d'Amato
A really good beach read -- and not just because it is a locked-room murder mystery that takes place on the water! "Cat" Marsala is a not-rich female writer who takes an assignment to spend a week on a luxury sailing yacht with rich folk, in order to write a story about sailing. If you get past the ludicrous idea that the "rich folk" would agree to such a thing, you are embarked on a very good yarn. There may be more about sailing than you want to know, but the author is stuck with having to get the reader "on board" because the events have to take place on a boat! Clever and interesting story.
Chameleon; William X. Kienzle
Kienzle is an ex Catholic priest who writes murder mysteries with a priest, Father Koesler, as an amateur sleuth who helps the cops solve the murders. He generally writes pretty good mysteries whose solutions are usually related to peculiarities of Roman Catholic church structure and practices. I have enjoyed his books, but I did not particularly like this one. I don't dislike it; but I don't like it. I think the reason is that I feel that in this one he has let bitterness toward the Church show too strongly. It is actually a fairly grim book, with a lot of lectures about the Church and its priests, and about how badly things are going -- for everyone -- and how much better things would be if only priests could marry and still function as priests. And the murders in the book are in fact traceable to Church dicta.
The Christie Caper; Carolyn G. Hart
Hart writes lively murder mysteries that center on the young female owner of a bookstore that is dedicated to mystery stories and is located on an island. I suspect that shortly she will find that she has her heroine in a box, and will have to extricate her from the island. I get the feeling that she had to push on this one. The plot centers around a symposium celebrating Agatha Christie, and the jarring presence of a loathsome character who certainly deserves to be murdered; except that others seem to get the axe instead. The book is replete with conversation, references, and sidebars that have to do with murder mysteries. The stories are a way of letting the author display a truly amazing knowledge of mystery fiction, but it can get a little tiresome. It seems more so now than in her first books; perhaps I am getting jaded. One gets the feeling of puppets cavorting rather than people living. If you try this book as the first, don't quite give up. Try her "Something Wicked." She's a good story teller.
Highgate Rise; Anne Perry
Several novels back, Perry, a British writer with good story-telling skills, started a series of murder mysteries laid in Victorian London. The detective, Inspector Thomas Pitt, is a policeman married to a young woman from an affluent and titled family. In marrying Pitt, Charlotte married well below her social position, and outside her experience -- making a home for a working policeman on his salary is a completely new experience. Perry mixes detective work with an exploration of the social strata, mores, and morality of Londoners of the period. The author is really more interested in Charlotte than her husband I think, because she is the one entangled in the social conflicts. She also has Charlotte play a major role in the solving of her husband's cases; she roams through the Victorian social world to get clues which her husband would not be able to find. The current story takes place during Jack the Ripper's rampage -- but has nothing to do with it! It is about a crime that is inextricably mixed with slum landlordism, and in the course of the story the reader -- and the protagonists -- are led through the slums and the underside of the city. A good story.
Sacrifice; Andrew Vachss
This is the sixth hard-boiled novel about Burke, a tough ex-con. Burke has a number of VERY strange friends, all of whom are denizens of the depths of the world on the fringe of society and the law. Burke is an "expert" on "freaks", as he calls child molesters and other sex offenders, and spends his time tracking down and often killing them; sometimes for money, but mostly to get rid of them. I think that Vachss is a good example of the type of author who writes his fantasies into novels. In real life the author is an attorney specializing in juvenile justice and child abuse, and I bet that Burke is how his fantasy finds a way of being judge, jury, and executioner when it comes to those who abuse children. In fact, if you are not too squeamish, these are really good yarns of the kind. I like the stories; the ACLU probably wouldn't. In this one, Burke ends up again working with a very tough young female assistant prosecutor, and both of them face the problem of a youngster who posesses multiple personalities -- one of which is a killer! There is much concern in these stories with what is called these days "bonding", and in some way the author makes his characters fairly real despite the fact that they are really strange -- to me at least.
Mrs. Pargeter's Package; Simon Brett
Brett is well known for a pleasant series of murder mysteries about a somewhat run-down actor Charles Paris. They are good stories, but this is not one of that group. One novel back he created another protagonist -- Mrs. Pargeter. She is a widow. Her husband was a widely known, and much traveled businessman, whose business Mrs. Pargeter was very careful to avoid knowing anything about. One begins to realize what it must have been by the large, widely scattered number of his ex-associates, who posesss super skills, such as forging passports, burglarizing houses, hacking into secret computer data banks, printing counterfeit money, etc. All of these people were immensely fond of Mr. Pargeter, and are always anxious to provide any sort of assistance to his widow. In this story Mrs. Pargeter finds herself in Greece, and discovers that her traveling companion has been murdered, and the authorities are engaged in covering it up. She decides to do something about it, and invokes the help of the network of available friends of her husband. Lots of romping around, and lots of fun.
The Expansion of Everyday Life 1860-1876; Daniel E. Sutherland
This third-in-a-series is a detailed look at middle class Americans in the period during and after the Civil War. It was a period of vast change, and this is a fascinating, and sometimes surprising view of life and customs during those times. It is a specialty-history, and I found it very interesting.
"H" is for Homicide; Sue Grafton
Grafton writes good detecting stories with an engaging woman, Kinsey Millhone, as the central character. She also has a gimmick: she is working her way through the alphabet for titles. "A" is for Alibi was the first. This is the latest. I guess technically this is a murder mystery -- there is a murder at least -- but it is really a suspense story, and a good one at that. Millhone is an investigator who does some contract work for an insurance company, investigating questionable claims. In this story she becomes an unwilling undercover operator, involved in both a murder and a large insurance scam.
Sleep of the Innocent; Medora Sale
Sale is a Canadian writer of police mysteries that involve her police inspector John Sanders, and his significant-other, Harriet Jeffries, a free- spirited independent photographer. The storytelling is very good. In this one, the Inspector and his friend are off on a long vacation when the murder occurs. Although they return after a while the action really revolves around the other cops at home, and one in particular who becomes fascinated by the prostitute apprehended at the murder scene. She escapes police custody, and the cop sets out to find her. A suspenseful, well told story, with a somewhat different twist.
The Nutmeg of Consolation; Patrick O'Brian
The latest in the saga of the Royal Navy in the days of George III. When we last met Jack Aubrey, who had regained his Navy commission, and Stephen Maturin, naturalist and intelligence agent, they were marooned in Malaysia after the wreck of their ship. The saga continues. The author is still unsparing of the reader in his use of sailing jargon and English slang, and Aubrey is still (I think) a two dimensional character, but I must say that I found this story much more interesting than the last (The Thirteen Gun Salute). Perhaps because the fighting starts early and keeps going for a while, but I think it is more than that. I enjoyed this volume of his continuing story. You wondered about the title? Rest easy, it is the name of a ship!
Second Sight; Charles McCarry
This is the final volume of the seven part story of Paul Christopher and his family that McCarry has been writing for about 20 years. It is eminently readable even if you have never read any of the earlier novels. I hope that you have however, because McCarry is one of the best storytellers dealing with the subject of espionage. His US spy organization (The Outfit) is essentially one that sounds like and acts like Donovan's OSS cowboys with some elements of Britains SIS (vintage WWII), is an imaginary structure ( preceding a CIA type organization), so there is an element of unreality to the stories, which only seems to make them better. This story attempts to recapitulate the others (with new material of course) so it is episodic in time and place; you have to read carefully to keep track of where and when. It is all worth it. Don't miss this one if you like espionage yarns. Try the others -- except that this one will tip you off to some of the surprises in the earlier ones.
The Relic; Evelyn Anthony
This is another in the type of story that postulates a Russian relic of great historical importance, which has been lost for decades, and is of such great importance that it can change history. In these stories there is a chase after the relic, with the good guys (or gals) trying to bring about the great change, and the bad guys trying to stop them. The structure in this is fairly typical of the genre, but I suspect that the writer spends most of her time writing "romances". Bette thought it was a great yarn. I think not that good!
Flight of a Witch; Ellis Peters
An interestingly different novel by Ellis Peters, written 27 years ago and just published here for the first time. It is a somewhat moody, introspective story, with more emphasis on character examination than mystery. But that tends to be somewhat true of a lot of her writing. The "witch" is a strikingly beautiful young woman who walks off into the hills of Schropshire and vanishes. Five days later she is met, returning, by a party of searchers. She says it has only been several hours that she has been absent. However it begins to look as though she was in a nearby city very near the location of a muredr/robbery. Inspector Felse has to figure it out. A good story.