Boy's Life; Robert McCammon *
McCammon writes novels of the Stephen King type that involve evil and the supernatural, and tend to be somewhat complicated. This is another, but it is an unusual one. When I was a lad, there was a magazine called "Boy's Life", and I suspect that is where the title came from. As I read this book with utter fascination I tried to recall what it reminded me of. There are elements of Stephen King, but McCammon is a better story teller than King. Finally I realized that it was like the storytelling of Ray Bradbury -- that marvellous teller of science fiction/fantasy. I was not surprised therefore to find at the end, in one of the most delightful Acknowledgements that I have read, that Bradbury was a indeed a "special influence". There are also elements of the Twilight Zone, and indeed Rod Serling is also acknowledged. It is a first person narrative, told by a thirteen year old boy, about his life in a small southern town in Alabama in the mid sixties. The story, which is essentially a mystery story, trots along in a wonderful world of reality, and then, casually, segues into essential and believable magic, the supernatural etc. then returns to reality, and so on back and forth. You have to flow with the scene. If your life has no place for fantasy you will not like this book. Otherwise I think you will. The statement is conditional because it may be that it is really an old man's book. It appeals much more to me than the other two of his that I have read. Some of it is indeed poignant nastalgia, but I think it is more than that. But I don't know what. Anyway, I really enjoyed it. I plan to buy it.
Wallflower; William Bayer
This is an excellent version (with a different twist) of a popular genre of murder-suspense stories: the tracking down of a psychopathic serial killer who uses gruesome trademarks, by a single policeman who does things by intuition rather than the book. In this one the author again puts Lieutenant Frank Janek on stage, with the added and key fact that his loved goddaughter is one of the victims. The book is essentially in three parts. Janek encounters the death of his goddaughter and interrupts an idyllic time in Venice to take up the hunt, and the hunt is described. Then the reader is immersed in the first person reveries of the psychopath -- a certifiable nut case indeed. Finally the identify of the psychopath becomes clear to Janek -- with some detective work as well as instinct, and he has to prove it. A very good story of the type.
Passion Play; W. Edward Blain
This is a very good murder/suspense story, in which the author does a first rate job of making the situation and the characters very believable -- which adds greatly to the effectiveness, because the reader cares about the characters. It is a case of serial murders, most of which take place in a very posh private boarding school in Virginia. It is indeed about passion, and the author uses the play Othello in a very cogent way. Nice piece of work by an author I have not heard of before; this may be his first novel.
The Walled Orchard; Tom Holt
This is the follow-on novel to his "Goatsong", a story that I have not yet read -- but plan to. The narrator is Eupolis of Pallene, a writer of Comedy Drama in Athens in the fifth century BC. I found the book to be a wonderful experience. It is funny, sad, incisive, philosophical, and a good tale, with people that I came to care about -- and some that I came to hate! Eupolis is drafted to join the war against Syracuse -- this is toward the end of the Peloponnesian War -- and his recounting of the land battles, and the famous sea battle are from a very different perspective than that of Thucydides in his History. It is an absolutely authentic portrayal of battlefields (ask anyone who has been on one): confusion, stupid mistakes, faulty plans, dumb strategy and worse tactics, poor leadership, cowardice, heroism, dumb luck .... nothing has changed in 2500 years. Eupolis makes the whole thing sound like the Keystone Kops with tragic tones -- a really brilliant insight, because MOST land and sea battles are just that. It is as though Holt were there. The narrator escapes from the Walled Orchard through no doing of his own -- not many Athenians escaped -- and he and Aristophanes (yes, THE Aristophanes) hoof it across Sicily, thence back to Athens where our hero is accused of treason, and tried. Wonderfully snide portrayals of the famous men of the time, and the society of Athens. I shall never again be able to read Aristophanes without some level of personal dislike -- even though I know absolutely that this calumnious portrayal of the man has no vestige of validity in fact! [ A while ago I would have enthusiastically recommended this book to my friends, but I shall no longer make such recommendations. I have discovered that some of my most enthusiastic recommendations have been for tales that left friends cold --and probably started them wondering about the health of my cerebral arteries. So I have a new policy -- no more recommendations. I shall try to note here only my own reaction to the stories that I read. Period. Some I shall make available to friends.]
A Dance at the Slaughterhouse; Lawrence Block
This is a brutal and sometimes grisly hard-boiled book. The first person narrator is an alcoholic (in remission) unlicensed investigator whose (best?) friend is an alcoholic criminal known as the "Butcher" -- he occasionally kills people as well as robbing them. The narrator's girl friend is a hooker. He spends a lot of time at AA meetings. Here he takes on a case in which a man's wife was brutally murdered, and the wife's brother wants him to prove that the husband did it. He also gets involved in a situation that involves a couple that carry out torture/recreational murder as a hobby. If you can stand this story it is a very good one of the type. The author takes you into the fringe world, and the criminal world, and a situation where killing seems to be appropriate. He tells a mean story very well, and actually makes the characters worth knowing -- no mean feat. It is certainly not for everyone, but is is very good storytelling.
Yellow Dog Party; Earl Emerson
An interesting, somewhat disjointed, mystery story that doesn't quite work. The first person male narrator is an investigator who works for a very attractive female lawyer with whom he has a completely platonic relationship. She persuades him to take on a search requested by four fairly successful men. Each wants to locate a woman that he knew in the past, and get to meet her. Somehow this goofy (and somewhat pimpish) task doesn't work as a story, even though it is necessary for the plot. In fact the situation becomes fairly transparent to the reader well before it does to the narrator. There are some intersting periods: e.g.the narrator gets hanged in the first chapter! I have not run into that before. There are better stories.
Spotted Cats; William G. Tapley
About ten novels back, Tapley created his lawyer/sleuth Brady Coyne. This is Coyne's latest adventure. All of these stories are good beach reads. The characters are interesting, the stories are interesting, and the story telling is good. They are usually a little off- beat, and that adds to the interest. This one is no exception. Coyne has an irascible, crippled, nasty client who posesses seven, almost priceless, gold pre- Columbian artifacts. While Coyne is visiting him the statues are stolen, and his client is injured to the point of death. He sets out to find the answers. Good story.
Murder on the Iditarod Trail; Sue Henry
Certainly a different locale for a murder mystery. You spend your time with Sgt. Alex Jensen trying to figure out a series of killings on the Alaskan dog-sled race [SURELY you have heard of the Iditarod]. For me, this doesn't quite work. It did not get me involved in either the characters (the Sgt. and a female "musher" in the race) or the murders. I'm sure the locale is correct, and the details of the race are also -- but it wasn't that great for me.
The Space Telescope; Robert W.
Another technical specialty, of the type that I usually do not note here. This one however is a really fascinating (but very detailed) account of the biggest gruesome BIG SCIENCE project that has so far been executed -- the Hubble Telescope. You may recall that the space telescope doesn't work very well because the designers really screwed up on the testing -- the thing is out of focus! This book was written before that fact was known; but that doesn't make any difference. This is a story of how the giant project was instigated, and pushed till it came about. It is of special interests, politics, coalitions, bad management, poor decisions, lying, ....etc. All of which led to a stupid expenditure of money [this technical opinion is mine!]. I enjoyed reading about old friends. I almost threw up over the rest -- as a nauseated taxpayer!
The Gold Bug Variations; Richard Powers
I found this to be a remarkable and entrancing book that is not one that I can classify. It is a compilation of brilliant language, fascinating play on words (the title is one), gobs of random knowledge, a textbook of genetics and molecular biology, discourses on code-breaking, lectures on the underlying structure of Bach's famous "Goldberg" variations, the story of two love affairs, an account of virtuous computer terrorism, a realistic delineation of scientific research and the mind and attitude of a brilliant scientist, and other goodies. It is as if the book were compiled by a mixture of Francis Crick and Douglas Hofstadter, with some input from Barbara Courtland. It moves back and forth in time, changes viewpoints with essentially two characters, one of whom is a wonderful young female research librarian, and mixes first and third person narrative. It is dense with science, full of details about the structure of Bach, and alive with ideas that are often nearly (but not quite) stream of conciousness. It involves two touching love stories, and some tragedy. The characters are unusual but real; you really get to care about them. The whole setting is almost unreal, yet it is completely acceptable. Gradually you get the feeling that the author is developing the story in some fashion analogous to the way Bach structured some of his remarkable interlaced musical structures. It is slow going (and might be considered hard going), and a remarkable tour de force. The closest thing I have read to it is in fact Hofstadter's "Metamagical Themas" -- which is not a novel of course. I wonder how this fascinating novel would seem to someone who had no science background. I THINK one could skim over the technical biology (I skipped most of it), the musicology, and the computer jargon to get the flow of this wonderful novel. I hope so.
The Adventures of Amos'n'Andy; Melvin Patrick Ely
This is subtitled: "A Social History of an American Phenomenon" and that is exactly what this interesting book is. It strikes me that those who are not old enough to remember the radio show will find the phenomenon described to be somewhat unbelievable, and well-nigh incomprehensible. The book works on the problems of explaining the phenomenon that this show became the most popular radio show in the country, and does a very good job. It is a very interesting history, certainly for this reader, who was once glued to the radio set to hear the show. Several years ago I played several audio tapes of the later radio shows, and my reaction was about that of the friend to whom I gave them: "My God", he said grimly after listening,"I used to think that was very funny stuff." A reader of this book who does not have first hand experience of either the radio or the TV show would profit greatly from listening to one of the audio tapes of the radio show during the course of reading the book.
Beauty; Sheri S. Tepper
Tepper writes wonderful fantasies and science fiction. Each one that she has written differs markedly from the others. This is no exception. Beauty is the heroine of this one. She is half mortal and half fairy (on her mother's side), and when we meet her (in this first person narrative) she is living in a castle in England in the fourteenth century, and she is almost sixteen. She discovers that as an infant she was "cursed" by one of her mother's fairy aunts, and was destined to fall into a long sleep when she pricked her finger on a shuttle on her sixteenth birthday. Sound familiar? Yep; this is the original sleeping Beauty and the story of her life -- except that it is not what she or the reader expects. To start with, it is not she who falls into an enchanted sleep, it is a look-alike friend, and with that Tepper is off on an enchanted story. Before the book ends, Beauty has visited the 22nd century, the land of faery, and a host of other places. She encounters a number of situations familiar to her -- and the reader -- as fairy tales (what else!). For example, it gradually dawns on her that in one situation she is participating in the Cinderella story, and is in essence cast as the fairy godmother! Tepper is a very good teller of tales, and this is a delightful fantasy. Be aware however that this is not all fun and games. There are tragedies and horrors. But Beauty overcomes all.
Dead on the Island; Bill Crider
A mystery story laid in Galveston. The first person narrator is an investigator who got out of the business because he could not find his sister who vanished suddenly in Galveston. He is asked to find another woman by a boyhood friend whose family was Mafia. The villian becomes a trifle obvious to the reader, and a bit later to the hero. It is a good beach read.
Native Tongue; Carl Hiaasen
Hiassen writes environment-oriented tales laid in Florida. One of the recurrent characters is a former governer of the state who lives alone in the swamps and subsists on road kills! The stories involve characters and situations that are exaggerated -- deliberately. In the present one for example: the action is laid in a successful Disney World clone, which is owned by an ex-mobster who is in the witness protection program, and who has hired crooked ex-cops as security people. The head of security is a steroid-gulping strong man, also a former crook. The latter is ultimately drowned by a sex- crazed dolphin. The motherly head of the local environment group is given to hiring thugs, and shooting people with her 22 cal. automatic pistol. Nothing is very believable, because the author is writing a somewhat black-tinged fantasy. It is interesting to read however, although one is left with a feeling of being preached at via a satirization of a lot of contempory activities.
Searoad; Ursula K. LeGuin
I did not finish this book. It appears to be a collection of short stories, although there is some connection between them -- at least in the latter part of the book. One of my personal quirks is that I can't stand collections of short stories, and this seemed to me to be one. The other factor is that I am familiar with LeGuin as the talented teller of fantasies, and science fiction tales, and this is neither; it is as "straight" as they come. But the several I read were -- for me -- depressing. LeGuin has always had some degree of dark side in her writing, and it seems to me that in these stories she has succumbed to it. But I have not read more than a quarter of the book, so I may be incorrect. I just read a review (by a female) who had never read any other of LeGuin's books, and thought this one was wonderful. I did not. It is true that I prefer not to struggle vicariously with modern trials and tribulations -- the real ones are trouble enough -- and that certainly distorts my perceptions of modern writing. I'm allowed!
Night of the Ice Storm; David Stout
Good murder mystery. Good plot, and good story telling. In the first chapter is the recounting of an impulsive killing on the night of the ice storm, and one meets the killer -- who is not identified. Twenty years later the killer has to kill again to keep his identity a secret, and a dogged policeman re-opens the investigation. I am a sucker for the "old-crime- reopened-and-solved-by-dedicated-cop" type of story, but in addition this is a good yarn. And I will bet that you do not guess the identity of the killer! True, the writer is not "fair" -- the general unwritten rule is that the vital clues are to be disclosed to the reader, who is then able (in principle) to solve the crime. The writer here hides the clue, but that is ok because the story is somewhat more than just a standard who-dunit.
A Scandal in Belgravia; Robert Barnard
My faulty memory does not reveal that I have read any earlier murder/mystery novels by Barnard. But I will. This is a good one. It is a first person, British, urbane, literate, and well-told story. It is of the many- years-later-by-chance-reinvestigation-of-a-murder genre. It is a wonderfully precise, somewhat low-key, wicked- one-liners-larded narration that one can really believe was written by the second-league political type that the writer is supposed to be. He is a very likeable person, who gets (after retirement) obsessed (understandably as presented) with the 20 year old murder of a friend of his. The young man was a homosexual (the teller was not), and that fact seems to dominate the story. It is an interesting -- and tragic -- fillip that the fact is ALMOST completely unrelated to the crime! The teller does indeed solve the crime. I do not think that one need be an anglophile to enjoy this; it helps, but it really is an interesting but not hair-raising story. Good show!
The Sum of All Fears; Tom Clancy
There is a very good story hidden in this book. With responsible editing about 1/3 of the book could be pruned away to reveal it. Unfortunately Clancy doesn't have such an editor, and the book suffers by comparison with what it could be. There are places where the excellent story-teller that Clancy is, shows through; at other places he is lost in extraneous details, marginal subplots, and unneeded insights into arcane mysteries. The book is about the explosion of a nuclear weapon in the USA by terrorists who have as their aim a war between the USA and Russia. The plot almost works, thanks in part to an incompetent National Security Adviser (female) and an ineffective President (male), but is thwarted by dumb luck and a competent CIA deputy director (male), who has been the hero of Clancy's last some novels. Good story. He has done better.
Paramour; Gerald Petievich
This is a spy story, and it is interesting and well told. It will, however, seem familiar to the reader familiar with the genre. This is the "mole in high places" type, with vast disinformation plots to keep the mole safe. In this one, the hero is not a spy; rather he is a Secret Service Agent assigned to the White House detail. The author was once employed in that capacity, so the novel is also one of those that reveals all sorts of intricate "inside" details, in this case about how the Secret Service works to protect the President. The hero gets caught up in what seems to be one thing which then turns out to be another, and finally decides that there is no one whom he can trust in the government! He has to get directly to the President. Good spy romp.
The Trip to Jerusalem; Edward Marston (paper)
Marston has written several mystery stories that are quite different from the ususal run of such things. They are laid in Elizabethan England, and center on a troupe of "players" -- i.e. a professional group that presents plays. The author is fascinated by the world of Elizabethan professional actors, staff, and stagecraft, and does a good job of getting across some idea of the everyday life in those turbulent and interesting times. The mysteries are interesting, but the real reason to read these fairly well told stories is for the picture of the times, and a glimpse of the history. If you are an afficionado of live theater, then they are doubly interesting. In this one, the troupe decides to go on tour from London in order to escape the "plague" [bubonic], and finds competition on the way to York, as well as some involvement with the Catholic/Protestant politics of the time.
Starseed; Spider and Jeanne Robinson
This is a science-fiction sequel (sort of) to an earlier science fiction story "Stardance". It is a good yarn. It is possible for humans to enter into a symbiotic relationship with a sort of red fungus that is found on one of the moons of Saturn. The individual becomes telepathic, almost immortal, and able to survive in deep space. (This sounds ridiculous in one or two sentences, but it is acceptable as presented; the background was laid in the first book.) In this one we meet Rain McLeod, a famous dancer, who is now in her forties, and can no longer dance very well because of her aging body. She decides that perhaps in space, with no weight, she can once again dance creatively. So she takes off from Earth to an orbiting space station to prepare for the symbiosis. She encounters love, danger, and tragedy. There is a certain amount of mysticism in these yarns, and emphasis on the wonderful communication possible via art -- that was not in the stories written by "Spider" before he began collaborating with his artistic [dance] wife. Still, it is a good science fiction yarn, with interesting quotations at the start of each chapter. One surprised me, because when I heard it several years ago from an old friend who had just won the Nobel prize in Chemistry (I thought he had made up the remark.) He was being required to move his laboratory for the second time, and he said glumly: "Two moves equals one fire". I find from this book that in fact that is a quotation from Mark Twain!
Second Chance; Jonathan Valin
Valin tells good first-person, mystery/detective stories that involve private investigator Harry Stoner. This one involves the search for the missing daughter of a psychiatrist. It gradually gets more complicated strand by strand. Stoner finds that the problems involved have roots in the past, and both he and the reader are increasingly enmeshed in a maze of events and facts. The problem of course is to find the villain. Stoner does. I didn't. I keep telling myself that the reason is the author made the story too complicated. Maybe. Good private-eye story.
Final Cut; Eric Wright
Wright's hero is Charlie Salter, now a fifty- something Staff Inspector, and now head of the Special Affairs Center in the Toronto police department. These stories (and this must be about the sixth or seventh) are good stories, with an interesting hero. It seems to me that this is somewhat more a routine police story than many of the others, in which we got more involved with Charlie and his wife and emotions. In this one there is a film company shooting in Toronto, and they are having sabotage problems, and Charlie's job is to find out what is going on. This is a satisfactory story, but many of the others have been better.
Maximum Bob; Elmore Leonard
A very characteristic Leonard yarn. Good terse story telling; tough characters who are somewhat off- beat. The title refers to a judge in Florida, who can hand out tough sentences. The story involves him, his wife who is at times "possessed" by the spirit of a little "colored" girl; a female probation officer, a cop, and a local nasty who is comfortable killing people. As usual, there is not a lot of plot, just unusual characterization and actions.
Pastime; Robert B. Parker
Another Spenser yarn laid in Boston. This one is long on talk and filler details. Private Eye Spenser spends a lot of time telling his ladyfriend -- and the reader -- all about his childhood. Early on in this series, Spenser undertook a case in which he ended up pretty much becoming the guardian and role model for a boy. It was a very good story. In this one, seven or eight years have passed, and the boy's mother has vanished. Paul, the grown-up boy wants Spenser to find her. He does. Much psychological and sensitive muttering. Poor story.
Prince of Chaos; Roger Zelazny
This is noted as the "new AMBER novel". Zelazny has written some of the most interesting and wonderful fantasy and science fiction that has come along, and gave it up a while ago when he got stuck in his latest fantasy world. This is the tenth in a series about the world Amber, and if you have not read the others this will be almost incomprehensible. It is not all that good even if you have read the others! The wonderful story teller that Zelazny used to be has vanished somewhere in the murky Shadows of his current set of worlds. I guess there is nothing to do but wait for him to reappear. He doesn't in this one. Read his early "Lord of Light."
The Mandeville Talent"; George V. Higgens
This pleased me more than any of the other Higgens books that I have read. The storytelling is wonderful, the characters are slightly unusual but highly believable, and ones whom the reader can enjoy, and the story is interesting -- and the ending is a happy one! I am a sucker for crime stories that involve the re-opening of cases that are decades old; and when the author combines this with archival detective work done by appealing characters, and lets the good guys win -- what more could I ask for. The ending is rushed. The story unfolds liesurely with wonderful character development, and then Higgins rushes it all to an end. Still, I enjoyed it very much.
In Defense of Judges; A.W. Gray (paper)
Perhaps it was unfortunate that I read this story immediately after the one above by Higgins. It certainly suffers greatly by comparison. However it is not all that good on an absolute basis. The hero of this book is an attorney, and he is maintained to counsel a federal judge who is about to be indicted. The characters are all cardboard despite the attempts of the author to imitate the styles of several other successful tellers of such tales. This one does not work for me.
Bronze Mirror; Jeanne Larson
Larson is a poet, a sinologist, and knowledgeable about Chinese literature. No mean trick. A while back she wrote a book --"Silk Road" -- that I could not finish for reasons that escape me now. I simply could not get involved in it. It was thus with some misgiving that I tackled her latest. This is another story (or several interlocking stories) placed for the most part in medieval China. My clumsy disclaimer is used because part of the story takes place outside of time, and involves the Yellow Emperor and his Court, and these are a peculiar set of Chinese immortals; one of them invents writing -- during the course of the story! The Court gets involved in creating a story, and that is the other part of the book -- the story of Pomegranate, a young girl who becomes maid to a Chinese woman of caste and wealth. The author weaves a complicated path between the Court, involved in creating the story, and the story, which takes on a life of its own. There is some level of poetic mysticism, and involvement with a great deal of Chinese legend (adapted a bit by the author I think). I found it to be a subtle and enchanting tale. However she did it, the author got me thoroughly caught up in her several worlds of the imagination. Of course what the Yellow Emperor and his Court fail to realize is that in creating the story, they are actually creating the world of the story, and in the end they are all forced into that world, and into time! [Somewhere else I have run across the current conceit: the creation of a story by a group of Gods, and the presentation of both sides. I do not recall where it was]
A Year in Provence; Peter Mayle (paper)
Mayle and his wife left England to live in Provence, in France, and this is the story of the first year that they spent there -- at least as bona- fide residents. One suspects that they had been there before. It is an absolutely charming account of the vast gulf between the cultures of the Brits and the happy souls of Gallic Provence. There is little of substance in this collection of anecdotes, but that is not required. It is purely delightful.
The Murder of Sir Edmund Godfrey; John Dickson Carr
Carr is, of course, the unequaled English writer of baffling, faintly gothic, faintly supernatural- seeming mysteries, and the world's authority on the "locked room" mystery. [some of his work has been under the name of Carter Dixon] He is also a keen student of English history, and has written several mystery stories laid in an England of the past. This is different. In the thirties, as a young man, Carr examined a famous unsolved English murder -- that of Sir Edmund Godfrey in 1678, at the time of the great "Popish Plot" as "revealed" by the infamous Titus Oates. Carr, using the voluminous English records, writes of the murder as the unparalled teller of murder mysteries, and presents it as a case to be solved by devotees of murder mysteries. His identification of the 1678 murderer is not unique; the presumed responsible individual had been suggested in 1924 by J.C. Muddiman. Carr believed Muddiman's idea was right, and at the unbelievable (to me at 70) age of 29, in 1936, expanded on the idea in this fascinating book. The current book has introductory and ending remarks by a well-known English-history specialist: Douglas Greene. This of course is attractive to me because of my fascination with the "murder-case- examined-at-a-much-later-date". This is really MUCH later!
The Tongue Set Free; Elias Canetti
Canetti is the 1981 Nobel Laureate in Literature. He writes in German. This book is the first volume of his autobiography, and is translated from the German. I haven't read the German, but even in the translation this book is a beautifully told and powerful tale. And a very distressing one -- it seems to me. With the brilliance that probably made him worthy of the Nobel prize [I keep having doubts about literary prizes of any kind!] Canetti flips forth, in the first page, the root of the book's title by relating his very early experience when a boyfriend of his fifteen year old "nanny" had him stick out his tongue, and vaguely threatened to cut it off with an open blade laid on the tongue. The boy understood clearly that he was not to talk of the meetings of his "nanny" and the man. The rest of the book relates (with a tongue set free) his memories of growing up from his birth in 1905 until 1921. His family was Sephardic Jews. His father died when he was seven -- and that was a terrible trauma for the child. Then he describes his developing emotional relationship with his mother, and the reader keeps thinking what a great time Freud would have had with that. By current standards he had a very abnormal childhood (albeit absolutely no child abuse as we know it), and this male reader squirmed in many places. (Don't misunderstand me; this book is not some expose of abnormal sexual activities. The narrator was essentially ignorant of sex throughout the narrative period. The reason is because his mother assured him that what his playmates had told him was not so; and he believed her implicitly.) It is a very complicated emotional and psychological tale.
Xenocide; Orson Scott Card
This is the third science fiction story that involves Andrew Wiggen -- the Ender of the wonderful stories:"Ender's Game" and "Speaker for the Dead". Read them in that order if you like the genre. You actually can read this one without the other two -- but don't. If you have read the others, then know that this continues the story of Ender and the humans on the world Lusitania. The latter contains two other sentient species: the "piggies", the indigenous species with a remarkable life cycle indeed; and the "buggers" that Ender saved from extinction and moved to the world. The world also contains an almost sentient virus that is necessary for the piggies, and an implacable deadly enemy of all other species. "Jane", the wide-spread computer intelligence is again present. This time another world --Path -- plays a key role. The book is too complex to outline here, but a great deal of it revolves around some really interesting ethical questions about genocide.
The Stormy Petrel; Mary Stewart
This is a puzzle. The author is a wonderful story teller of great romantic mysteries as well as Arthurian romances. In this short novel, the protagonist first person narrator is a writer who tries to find an ivory tower away from the hustle bustle of her life, but gets caught up in a slight mystery on a lightly populated island. I get the feeling that Stewart wrote this novel as an escape from her usual story telling. Although engagingly told, it almost seems like an outline for a better story, that got truncated somewhere about 1/3 along, and was then rushed to conclusion. It comes nowhere near her vintage stories of some years back.
The Sunflower Plot; John Sherwood
Some half dozen mysteries ago Sherwood created Celia Grant, who runs a plant nursery in England, and who solves murder mysteries on the side. It was an interesting conceit, and the novels are fun to read. This one seems a little less so. It may be me, or possibly the author is getting a little tired of Celia. While this is a pleasant read, it doesn't have -- for me -- some of the zip in earlier ones. If this is your first one, go back and also try one of the first three or so.
Exceptional Clearance; William J. Caunitz
Caunitz is a retired NYC detective who is a good story teller of police procedurals. This one involves a serial killer who is both nutty as a fruit cake and out after revenge. The killer has a very unusual method of killing. The killer is hunted by a team that is headed by a recently widowed detective. About half way through the book, the reader finds out who the killer is, but the police have to do it the hard way. If you read this sort of fiction, the story will seem sort of familiar. There is a psycho serial killer, the hunting team is headed by a first rate detective who is in the official dog-house, is a loner, who has a great intuition, and who is traumatized by the recent death of his wife, and we watch the team gradually piece together the little clues with the help of a friendly newsman and a helpful FBI agent. Nevertheless, it is a good story of the type.
"I Love Paul Revere Whether He Rode or Not"; Richard Shenkman
Shenkman is a professional debunker of American History. The title is a quotation from Warren Harding who was told that in fact Revere never made his legendary ride. The book is a series of chapters in which the legends of history are put forth, and their factualness discussed. An interesting if lightweight read. I didn't know that the shoes that Dorothy wore in the book "The Wizard of Oz" were silver colored, and that in fact that color had an underlying significance to the parable being told by the author as a fable. Hollywood, which didn't have a clue about the parable, gave Judy Garland red shoes -- because of Technicolor; and that is the color almost everyone remembers. That's what you remembered I'll bet.
I'm Getting Killed Right Here; William Murray
This is about the fifth or so mystery involving Lou Anderson, "Shifty" to his friends. The nickname comes from a technique used by magicians, because Anderson is a magician who makes his living by prestidigitation. Anderson is also addicted to horse racing -- flat racing -- and the books revolve around that part of his life. In this book Anderson is the new owner of a filly that has been bequeathed to him (see an earlier book) and must find someone with money to go into partnership with him. Boarding and training horses in California costs about two thou per month, and Shifty doesn't have that kind of dough. His partners turn out to be a man and his startlingly beautiful wife. Shifty gets romantically involved, and deep into trouble. The story is good, although the plot depends heavily on a remarkable series of coincidences, and the ending is somewhat emotionally unsatisfactory -- although probably realistic. The stories continue to be good. May 1992 It has been five months or so since I wrote the last entry above. I had decided not to continue this, because the dear friend for whom I started this effort died, and it seemed pointless to continue, and the effort brought back all too poignant memories -- and regrets. I have almost got over the grief, and found to my great surprise that after reading a recent book, I felt the urge to make some notes on it. So, although Amy will not read these, I think I will make some more notes. It may even be therapeutic.
Southern Ghost; Caroline Hart
My prediction above has come to pass. Hart has realized the she had trapped her heroine, and herself, in a dead-end situation, and in this book she has (temporarily) moved her heroine (and the heroine's husband) off the tiny island, and away from the bookstore that over-specializes in mysteries. (See "The Christie Caper" above). She has moved back toward her earlier efforts in this semi-gothic -- "maybe a real ghost" -- story. It will seem familiar to voracious readers: old southern family has unusual deaths in the past, and suddenly someone is opening up the past. It is a somewhat light- weight mystery, but the author is a good story teller. She has done better; but this is better than her last.
J. Edgar Hoover: The Man and the Secrets; Curt Gantry
Should be read by every U.S. citizen, and perhaps everyone else. The author is not an admirer of Hoover, but the book is a relatively non-biased account of the strange, egotistic, vindicative, and almost meglomaniacal man. Hoover, a supreme master of bureaucracy, and an egoist par excellance, was not a likeable person. He was a bigot, an opportunist, a totalitarian by instinct, and a fanatic. The account of the man and the distorted organization that he developed is terrifying. May produce some restless nights.
Two Lives, One Russia; Nicholas Daniloff
A fascinating book. Daniloff, a journalist of Russian ancestry, and able to speak fluent Russian, tells of his time in Russia, on assignment, and of the life of an ancestor of his -- one of the Decemberists (titled Russians who plotted against the Tsar, and who were exiled to Siberia). Daniloff spent a lot of time unearthing the history of his ancestor, and relates the detective story well. Like his ancestor, Daniloff was arrested by the Russian secret police -- and he tells of that too. Eminently readable.
Night Over Water; Ken Follett
Follett is a good story teller. This story is not as good as some of his others, but he tells it well. He seems to be (as I am) taken with the Boeing 314 -- the unique plane built for PanAm, and which became its famous "Clipper" series (only twelve were built, and none survive) -- and he has written a tale that centers on the people and the events associated with an overnight flight out of England to the United States just after the outbreak of WWII. It is of the "High and the Mighty" type, or "Grand Hotel", or ....: a disparate group of people, with a variety of problems (some overlapping) are congregated by chance in a restricted locale, and the story recounts their interactions. Follett has written a mini soap-opera, and there are a lot of somewhat improbable events and a few improbable people. The improbable story is told with dash, and is in fact fun to read. Simply suspend belief and read it for fun; and mourn the short life of the 314 series!
The Great California Game; Jonathan Gash
This is about the eighth or tenth novel that Gash has written about the adventures of an English, small-time antiques dealer, Lovejoy. Lovejoy is a somewhat unscrupulous character with a gimmick: he is a "divvy" -- someone who is a diviner in the world of antiques. He knows immediately whether an antique is real or a forgery. When you add this gift to an almost encyclopediac knowledge of antiques, it is hard to understand why Lovejoy is always on the edge of poverty. He would, one thinks, be running Christies. In this story Lovejoy is in the USA for the first time -- still broke. During the course of the book he gets involved with organized crime, and introduces the Mob to the money to be made in the world of antiques. The first few Lovejoy stories were absolutely wonderful. Then Gash ran into the problem that authors have when they begin a character in a small-town environment, and wish to continue a long series of tales. The situations and the mileau are too restricting. So he began to expand the circumstances surrounding Lovejoy, and I think the stories have suffered. The vast quantity of information about antiques remains however. It is just that this book is completely unbelievable -- or perhaps I am jaded. Try some of the early novels about Lovejoy -- before he went international and amoral.
Doomed to Die; Dorothy Simpson
Simpson writes very good English police stories, laid in the country, and starring Inspector Luke Thanet -- and his family. This book is just as good as her others, and the regular reader meets again old friends, and learns of the continuing home-life of the Thanets. The mystery is an interesting one, although the perceptive reader will have a good inkling of the villain, despite the author's concealment of some of the key evidence from the reader.
Mayhem in Parva; Nancy Livingston
Half a dozen mystery novels back, Livingston invented A.G.D.H. Pringle, retired from Inland Revenue (the British equivalent of the IRS), and his lady love , widow Mavis Bignell, who owns and operates a pub in London. The stories are delightful. The characters are pleasing (at least to us of somewhat advanced years), and there are funny episodes, told with great wit -- and sometimes sharp-edged wit. In this, Pringle goes into the country to seek his "roots" in a small English village. Livingston draws a devastating picture of the place and its inhabitants, while involving Pringle in a murder. Mavis comes up to help, despite her vast distrust of the country -- it aint London! Good light fun.
Cutting Edge; John Harvey
This is the first I have read of Harvey's British police procedurals starring Inspector Charlie Resnick -- a Pole by birth. This is a gritty, somewhat dark story. All of the police you meet are in the throes of intense emotional problems. The story flashes from character to character, and there is a jerky feeling to it -- at least until the reader gets the characters and the situations sorted out. It is a good story. It is not light fun reading.
Quiller Bamboo; Adam Hall
Hall writes novel after novel about Quiller, a member of a supersecret British "executive" spy group. The British term goes back to WWII of course, and indicates a group devoted to covert action. If you have read one of the stories, you have a pretty good idea of all of them. Quiller is always dispatched into some almost impossible situation, to perform an almost impossible task, with almost no assistance, and frequent let-downs or betrayal from his London controllers. The first few stories were good. The rest are repetitious; and in this one Hall has had to shift away from his traditional opposition -- the Russians. Naturally he shifts to the Chinese. Hence "Bamboo". O.K. if you like Quiller, or haven't read many of the others.
Death Qualified; Kate Wilhelm
Wilhelm is a writer of science fiction who has written here an essentially "straight" novel. The blurbs imply that there is a "science" element; in fact the subtitle says "a mystery of Chaos." Chaos is a current glamour field of science. In fact the book has essentially nothing to do with Chaos -- except to throw around a few terms of its jargon, and implicate some variations of recursive graphical Chaos-type programs as a key factor in the story.I found it to be a very good suspense novel, combined with a good murder-trial story. Actually, there are two intertwined stories: a murder mystery and another mystery. The protagonist is a woman attorney, "death qualified". The "science" element is slightly strange, but not much. The story is a good one, but I was surprised by the sudden dark ending.
The Mind's Sky: Human Intelligence in a Cosmic Context; Timothy Ferris
An interesting book in three parts. The first is about the search for extraterrestrial intelligence; the second about the human mind; and the third is three essays on three different subjects. The first part is O.K. The second part is fascinating; and the third part is very interesting. There are some very original and provocative ideas in this book. It is an intellectually stimulating, and relatively easy to read book.
Raw Data; Sally Chapman
The book is subtitled "A mystery of computers of computers and Silicon Valley." The author works for a Silicon Valley software firm, and this is her first novel -- a fact which is readily apparent. The first person narrator is a young woman who is head of the research division of a computer development firm. She is head of a super- secret project. The book starts with a murder and then with the information that the Russians are receiving detailed progress reports on the project. The latter is impossible, because the data are in a computer which is completely secure. The book is an amateur effort, and it is interesting to watch the writer actually improve somewhat as the story goes on. But it is not THAT interesting. A skippable book.
Hopeful Monsters; Nicholas Mosley
Mosley appears to have been writing a series of what he calls "Catastrophe Practice" novels. This is the latest, and concerns two people Max an Englishman, and Eleanor, a German Jew, both born circa 1910. The book is structured as a series of first person narratives, written by the protagonists to each other, and alternating between them. The narratives are chronological, and each narrative picks up where the preceding one by the same character left off. Such flip-flop structure can be distressing, and there is a little of that here. But I found this somewhat unusual novel to be absorbing; much of that may be due to the close involvement of the story with the physics of the years. Certainly not for everyone -- I think.
McNally's Secret; Lawrence Sanders
Again the author has put together a slightly off- beat, eminently readable, crime story. The first sentence is a wonderful grabber, and a setup for an obvious joke, and the element of lightheartedness runs through the story. It is a first person narrative, and a pleasant story. Sanders is a really good spinner of yarns, and has yet to miss -- at least in the ones I have read.
Bad Blood; Anthony Bruno
Bruno writes crime thrillers that center around the activities of two very unlikely FBI agents. Let's say that J. Edgar Hoover's organization would never have put up with them for a moment. And since the FBI has changed relatively little since then, they remain unlikely. The concept is basically a comparison between the non- conformist agents, and the ultra-conformist organization. The stories are imaginative, and slightly on the dark side, with a good dose of violence. The storytelling is good. In this one, Japanese yakusa(gangsters) and the Mafia join forces to operate what is essentially a slave labor pool. Good read.
"I" is for Innocent; Sue Grafton
Grafton continues through the alphabet with her heroine, Kinsey Mallone. She gets involved in investigating an old murder for which a man has been tried for and acquitted of the murder of his wife. Now a civil suit is underway, and her employer wants to get enough evidence to persuade a new jury that the husband was in fact the murderer. No, it turns out this is NOT double jeopardy! She has to take over when the PI doing the work died. Strange things keep happening, and a nice little murder mystery evolves. Good tale.
The Circle; David Poyer
Poyer is a Naval Academy graduate who is writing books about the present navy, warts and all. This one is about a brand new Ensign from the Academy, who reports for duty on an old WWII class destroyer. The Ensign's learning process concerning the Navy, ships, men and command is detailed, against a detailed background of life aboard a ship, replete with arcane procedures and terminology. I found it to be a gripping story, but I know a fair amount about ships. I do not know how someone else would find it. It is a measure of the storytelling that even the formal courtmartial proceedings, and the long memorandum of the findings hold the reader's attention -- this one at least. It is ironic that I read, on page 423, the most powerful summing up of command authority and responsibility that I have ever read, just about the time that TAILHOOK and other scandals seem to suggest that the doctrine as stated in the novel is no longer considered very important. I felt that the ending was not quite right, but this is a powerful and moving book.
Goatsong: A Novel of Ancient Athens;Tom
This is the prequel to the story "The Walled Orchard", and I note that it is identified as volume one in The Walled Orchard Series. Holt's funny, tragic, somewhat off-the-wall novels are absolutely delightful, and the two in this series are no exception. This story (like the second in the series) is narrated -- in his old age -- by Eupolis of Pallene, comic playwright in Athens at the time of Aristophenes, Pericles, Euripedes etc. He is a waspish old man, full of snide remarks about the great men of the time, the Athenians in general, democracy, Thucidides(un-named), and anything else that comes to mind. He started as a goatherd, and this is the story of his boyhood, his growing up, his remarkable marriage, and his life as a writer of comic verse in Athens. It is hilariously funny, ghastly grim, tragic, and a delightful experience. Holt really puts you back in the Athens of the period -- you can almost smell it. The last paragraph is almost perfect as the end of a rambling account by an old teller of tales. It is difficult to read this and "The Walled Orchard" and not have a sneaking suspicion that there really was a Eupolis of Pallene, and that Holt is his reincarnation.
Grass; Sherri S. Tepper
A science fiction story by one of the best story tellers around. Tepper is an absolute genius at creating very unusual societies, making them completely plausible, populating them with people who come to matter to the reader, and developing several layers of plot -- and meaning. I found this no exception. An incurable plague is slowly killing all the people in the galaxy except possibly on the unusual planet Grass -- aptly named for the vegetation forms that predominate. Grass does not care for outsiders, and has developed a two-tier social structure: wealthy, upper-class, male- dominated families who are ensconsced on isolated tracts, and a middle class sort of almost conventional people who live in a settlement that has developed around the planetary spaceport. An upper-class family from another planet is sent to Grass to learn what gives with Grass and the plague -- sent by an authoritarian religious group that seems to be a perversion, or possibly extension, of the Church of Latter Day Saints. The family is chosen because they are excellent at riding and experienced at the hunt, and the major concern on Grass is the Hunt -- where mounted riders follow the hounds hunting a fox. They and their horses get to Grass, and the mysterious world gradually involves them. They find, to their dismay and puzzlement, and terror, that on Grass the hounds are not dogs, the mounts are not horses, and the fox -- well read and see. A complicated, slow developing, but riveting story, a wonderful heroine -Marjorie Westriding,