The First Saint Omnibus; Leslie Charteris
This was a REAL re-re-read nostalgia flip. About the time I was 8 or 9, Charteris began his tales of the Saint: a young Englishman, dedicated to bringing lawbreakers to justice via means outside the law -- and making a profit in the course. Simon Templar, The Saint, was my one of my early heros in the thirties (Tarzan was another). He has remained one since then! True: he sort of exudes vigilante justice; true: he is essentially Superman; true: he is a male fantasy come true; true: there is a lot of repetition in the fifty+ books that Charteris wrote about the Saint. But he was MY hero. Although I have become more critical in my older age, I re-read (for at least the fourth time) all the stories in this book with residual delight. It was like experiencing good parts of my childhood all over again. These are no-brain- involvement fantasy tales in which the good guys win, and the bad guys lose. And at the age of 73, in a world where the bad guys win, and the good guys lose, I find it a wonderfully nostalgic set of tales!
Point of Impact; Stephen Hunter
* Hunter writes bang-up action-suspense yarns, and this is one of them. It is sort of the ultimate macho yarn: expert rifle marksman and Viet Nam sniper is a loner, but gets enticed into dealing with a very shady adjunct of the government, ends up doublecrossed by them, and framed for an assassination. Shrugging off a bullet fired through his chest, he finds out that his dog was killed -- and that REALLY makes him mad. So with a little help from a fired FBI agent, and a good woman, he takes on the FBI, the supersecret agency, assorted police departments, an infantry squad of 150 men etc., and manages to kill all the bad guys, and to clear his name. Every male's fantasy! It is a rattling good yarn about a super-hero. I liked it very much, despite what may seem like snide comments above. Maybe I'll learn to shoot a rifle.
Heat; Stuart Woods
Woods is a very good story teller, and his stories are all different: he does not tell the same story again and again; nor does he use the same set of characters. This one is not as good as others. I think because this one is somewhat less believable than the others. The protagonist was once a cop ["heat" in the jargon used here], was framed for murder and theft, and is serving a LONG unpleasant term in a federal pen when we meet him. He is given the chance to get out of prison by going to work for the Feds as an undercover agent. He agrees. His task is to infiltrate a religious cult (which essentially runs a town), find out what is going on, and set up the leaders for arrest -- if they are indeed guilty of lawbreaking. Two other undercover types have vanished. It is an action/suspense novel, and it is a good one, although it seems to me to be a somewhat off-hand piece of work for this author. The hero is a semi-superhero, adept at picking locks, using weapons, flying airplanes, hand to hand combat, killing people (bad guys), using explosives, setting up military tactics, safecracking, etc. - - all good manly things. I enjoyed the story; but Woods can do better. See"The Chiefs" for example- his first.
Crooked Island; Victoria McKernan
This is the third of McKernan's mystery/suspense novels starring Alex Sanders, ex-FBI, ex spook, and Chicago Nordejoong [how's that for a name!], and centered on the sea. Chicago owns a boat, and is an expert diver. Alex, an accomplished diver also, is living with her on the boat. In this story, they are hired to dive on an old shipwreck, which presumably contains a coffin that holds the remains of a body that may upset the British monarchy! McKernan has seamlessly threaded imaginary events into real British history of the period around the beginning of the 18th century. It requires some careful reading to understand the historical thesis; it has a young girl who struck THIS reader as somewhat creepy; it requires a little suspension of reality; but with that, it is an interesting suspense story. According to the jacket, the author is a scuba diver and boat bum -- just like her heroine! I have a great weakness for this type of story that invokes an attempt to find some crucial artifacts of the past, which may alter the future.
Body of a Crime; Michael C. Eberhardt
It appears that most members of the legal profession are busy writing courtroom novels in which lawyers come across triumphant (what else?). I have started to skip most of them, but picked up this one because I was short of reading material. It is the account of an attorney's defense of a defendant accused of murder in a "no body" crime -- i.e. the prosecution has no body. It is a good story of the type, and has an interesting twist at the end. The jacket notes that the author is a defense lawyer who has successfully defended in a "no body" crime.
The Old Man Who Read Love Stories; Luis Sepulveda
This is a small sized book, and is only 130 pages long. It is translated from Spanish, and there is no way the reader could tell that. Sep£lveda has lived and worked in the Amazon jungle, and that is where this brief tale is laid. The old man in the story is comfortable in the jungle, and loves it, and is appalled by what is being done to it -- like the author. One meets him, learns his history, sees vividly his surroundings, and accompanies him on a search for a man-killing ocelot. It is somewhat reminiscent of Hemingway's 1952 book "The Old Man and the Sea." I was interested in it, moved by it, and I liked it very much. It is a seemngly simple story, but has depths well worth probing.
The Game of Thirty; William
Kotzwinkle, a prolific and well known writer, has produced a dandy private-eye mystery/suspense yarn. The Game of Thirty is an ancient board game played at least as early as the first dynasty in Egypt, and it appears in this book as both a real game and a metaphor. The private detective is really an expert on security, but gets involved in a murder case at the request of an old friend. The case involves murder, theft (10 million bucks worth ), attempted murder, child abuse and pornography, multiple personalities and other goodies that the author has neatly (if a little far-fetchedly) woven into a well told yarn. The private eye is unusual in that he actually seems to be well heeled, and running a very profitable business! He also knows all sorts of absolutely essential experts on both sides of the law. I thoroughly enjoyed it. But he will end up sorry that he ever took up with the female chiropractor.
Gone Quiet; Eleanor Taylor Bland
Bland writes police stories that star a black female detective -- widowed Marti MacAlister -- the only black police detective in Lincoln Prairie, Illinois. In this story, the death of an elderly black man leads MacAlister and her Polish male partner into a detailed exploration of family relationships in the black community. It is an interesting story, and well told. It revolves around the sexual abuse of children, which is becoming the "in thing" in police and detective stories, it seems.
Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe; Fannie Flagg
* What a wonderful novel. It is a story of a small area of rural Alabama, and the people who lived there. It covers the period from 1924 to the present, with narrated reminescences of earlier periods. It is in the form of unumbered chapters, which are headed with a place and a date. It is important to note the date, because the "chapters" bounce around in time, from past to present. This really should not work very well, but to my great surprise it does. Flagg presents a cast of people who are real, and with whom I laughed, cried, mourned, hated, and suffered. It is realistic, sentimental, nostalgic, funny, serious, heartwarming, and tragic in spots. Mostly, I think, it is about love in all its manifestations. It is a tour de force, and engrossing. I will not soon forget the characters who revolved around the Whistle Stop Cafe.
Once Upon a Time; John Barth
As always with Barth, it is a little difficult to decide what this book is. It is, however, different from his others. He opines it is a novel that describes A life of John Barth -- not THE life. The jacket describes it as a "performance", and it certainly is that. He mixes time and space to recount, lyrically and brilliantly, a complicated and re-entrant version of a possible life story of John Barth. One is led into this somewhat unawares. He begins with what appears to be a (relatively) straightforward account of how he and his wife take a sailboat out into Chesapeake Bay. He decides to sail into a tropical storm, and proceeds to write a starkly terrifying account of the experiences of sailors in a small boat in a hurricane. If you have never been in a small boat in a bad storm -- this will provide the experience! They are lucky enough to find shelter in a small creek in a marsh. The reader is as relieved as they. Then, the next day, in a foggy world, with no operating instruments, they try to find their way to the Bay, only to find they are in a maze. The reader begins to be frightened again. The author leaves his spouse, to explore one of the channels, and then cannot find her. He is trapped in a labrynth. Then the yarn suddenly segues into REAL fantasy (forgive the oxymoron!), and in it he wanders disjointedly back in time, and recounts his life. About halfway through, I realized that I thought I knew what is really going on. Barth is now about seventy, and I think that he has realized that he is mortal. This is his version of nostalgiac reminiscence; the reminiscence of an aging man who wishes to partly relive his life by recalling it - albeit with imaginary episodes! (The clues are many, but the real tip-off comes when his persona notes that this is his last book!). I'm currently involved in somewhat the same thing, for the same reason! We even overlap in another way - - we overlapped in REAL time at the Johns Hopkins University; and his descriptions of the Hopkins, its professors, and its courses brought back warm memories. This is a complicated story, and one I enjoyed. The literary, critical, metrical analysis of the nursery rhyme "Jack and Jill" is almost worth the price of admission!
The Wandering Soul Murders; Gail Bowen
A gripping murder/suspense story laid in Canada. The first person narrator is a university instructor with a newly adopted young daughter, a 14 year old son, a nineteen year old son, and a daughter who is engaged to be married. Her daughter finds a body behind her shop, and the woman who had been engaged to her oldest son drowns mysteriously. The narrator finds, to her amazement, that the drowned woman -- whom she hardly knew -- has been listing her as next of kin, and telling people how the narrator served as a surrogate mother. She feels she must find out about this mysterious woman, and that leads to unraveling a complicated pattern of evil. The narrator and her family come across real; the reactions to tragedy are real; other emotions are real; and the story builds considerable suspense very well. It is a very good tale
Theory of War; Joan Brady
A remarkable, unusual and riveting novel. It is a true fact that Joan Brady's grandfather was essentially a slave, although he was white, not black. He was sold, as a child, to a midwest tobacco farmer after the Civil War. He was terribly abused, and ran away, and thus escaped from bondage when he was sixteen. His emotional scarring was so great that it affected his children -- 4 out of 7 of them committed suicide, the author's father among them -- and his grandchildren are also suffering. Brady says she has written this novel in an attempt to understand what her grandfather might have felt. It is about someone like him -- presumably with fiction thrown in -- and alternates between the recounting of the man's life, and current interactions and discussions of his descendants; the latter are recounted in the first person. It is, in a strange way, like the recent book of Barth's (Once Upon a Time)-- the reader does not have the faintest idea what is fact and what fiction. It is a tragically fascinating novel, and a very good one.
Sherman's March; Cynthia Bass
In October of 1864, Cump Sherman wrote and implemented his Special Field Orders 119 & 120, which called for what has become known as Sherman's March to the Sea -- the foraging in, and sometimes devastation of territory between Atlanta and Savannah in Georgia, by Howard and Slocum in two parallel columns.[Yes, this was the O.O.Howard who later founded Howard University!] This is a story of the consequences of those Special Orders; and is the author's first novel. It is told in the first person by three "speakers" - General Sherman, Union Capt. Nicholas Whiteman, of the XIV Corps; and Annie Baker, a Confederate widow, and refugee. I found it to be a powerful, thought provoking book. Baker has obviously read Sherman thoroughly, and has read much about him. To the point that I had the eerie feeling that I really was listening to Sherman, when he is the speaker. The author is very good. And the problem that Sherman faced, and all other war-makers have faced since then, has not changed. Sherman's justification for his "March" was simple - it was to end the war. It is the same argument that later led to the Dresden fire- storm bombing, Hiroshima, and Nagasaki. It is a valid concept, leading to a ghastly moral question about an immoral subject - war.. It is brought to a point in the story by Whiteman, at the end, in a poignant encounter with Sherman. He essentially believes in the "officer and gentleman" concept, and it turns out that Sherman does not -- if it gets in the way of his aim. I was impressed and distressed (again) by the book, not the least because I fear that Sherman was essentially right! It must be noted that Sherman's approach was a "war of terror" -- but VERY saving of human lives. Not the approach of Atilla the Hun. He saw it as a way of ending war without fighting battles, and losing lives. His main opponent, Confederate general Hood was, by contrast, a butcher, despite the recent revisionist biography. The debate continues.
And All Our Wounds Forgiven; Julius
This is a powerful and moving novel, written by a prolific and talented author. He has again written about the civil rights movement in this story about a black civil rights leader (with strong elements of Martin Luther King), the white woman he loved, the wife he had (and loved), and the chief lieutenant he had in the field. It is told in the first person by these people-- despite the fact that the leader had been asassinated years before this, and that his wife is currently in a coma. The leader's wife has suffered a stroke, and this brings about the vivid remembrances that are interwoven in this novel. It is a touching story, and I suspect nostalgic for Lester, one of those involved in the struggle for rights. Note the distress of the these fictional pioneers when, as really happened, the black movement swung away from Martin King, and integration, towards black racism, and voluntary re- segregation. I knew a white man who was bewildered, and really crushed, when he was told that the black group, with which he had worked devotedly, and for which he had been jailed, no longer wanted him because he was white.
From the Teeth of Angels; Jonathan Carroll
Strange book. Carroll has written eight novels, the jacket says, but this is the first of his that I have read. It is a dark fantasy, in which several people meet the person of Death; first in dreams, then face to face - - but of course the face of Death differs for each person. Then gradually it appears that perhaps it is not Death but the Devil, or Lucifer, or maybe all of them -- but likely the Prince of Lies in some guise. Strangely enough, the being seems to be anthropomorphic enough to like some people, and dislike others. The ones he dislikes he causes to suffer in emotionally anguishing ways -- with extreme cruelty. It is a fascinating, if disturbing, book; and the reader is left confused by ambiguities. My end feeling is that (as the Bible suggests) the feelings and motivation of such supernatural beings are not to be understood by mortals. Yet it ends on somewhat of a triumphant note, as one of the victims does, in fact, nail down an overriding, very mortal feeling, of the being: centered on the fact that the reason Lucifer was REALLY ticked off at God was because God ordered it to worship man; and that there is a very great limitation of the being's power. That recognition suddenly, essentially, shrinks the power of the malevolent being. And the victim wins! (In one sense, at least).
Terrible Innocence: General Sherman at War; Mark Coburn
I have noted reading a novel about Sherman's march to the sea. There were several things in it that raised some questions, and I thought I would go back to Sherman's memoirs. I entered the library computer system with the name Sherman, and asked for essentially a Boolean search (I do not know why; normally I would just enter the title. The Library Angel again). At any rate, the computer tossed up this book (as well as the memoirs). To my surprise I saw that it was published in 1993, so I got it as well as the memoirs. The author calls this a "personality sketch", and has focused on one year May 64 to April 65. It is very worth reading if you are interested in that very interesting man, Cump Sherman. I think that Coburn has portrayed well the man and his philosophy of terrorism. I got some new insights. This is a very interesting sketch.[ The author has a wonderful sentence at the beginning of his very valuable section called "Suggested Reading", viz: "The Civil War will consume as much of your life as you care to sacrifice."]
Nop's Hope; Donald McCaig
Some years ago, McCaig wrote that wonderful paean to the working border collie: "Nops Trials." This is also good, but it is different. The world of the sheep dog involves the dog and the handler, and McCaig is a marvel at telling of that relationship. In this story, the emphasis is on the handler. The dog is Hope, sired by Nop. The handler is Penny Burkholder, daughter of Lewis Burkholder, the owner of the aging Nop. Penny has lost her husband and her young daughter in an accident, and overcome by grief, has taken to the road with Hope to enter field trials. It is the only way she can get away from her grief. The story revolves around her, two men she meets, her parents, and of course the dogs. Nop has to make one last try at a major field trial in the course of the story. Interestingly enough, although the story is mostly about Penny, the reader is left uncertain about her fate after a catastrophic experience with Hope. I wonder if the author is paving the way for another book. It is nice if you understand the intricacies of sheep dog herding trials, but it is not necessary to enjoy the story. McCaig loves the border collie, and working the dogs, and it shows through. In an afterword he repeats the warning in the first book: border collies are not pets, they are working dogs. They NEED to work. To make only a pet of one is to court sorrow. Someday I will go to a trial.
The Homeless; Christopher Jencks
Jencks is an extremely well known sociologist, and his last book was published by the Harvard Press -- two reasons (for me) to be very suspicious of whatever he says on the subject. I was surprised. This is a very dispassionate, analytical examination of the subject, and contains some persuasive, but unexpected conclusions. The statistical data are pervasive, scholarly, and mind- numbing. One may readily skip those -- by assuming that the author is intellectually honest; and of that I have no doubt whatsoever. What remains is quite interesting, and often surprising. It had never occurred to me that the proliferation of shelters might well be increasing the number of homeless! I was left with the feeling that the subject could be visited more deeply, but I learned a lot. And a lot of what I learned was that a lot of what I thought -- is wrong!
Thank You For Smoking; Christopher Buckley
A while back Buckley wrote a wickedly funny satire called "The White House Mess." This is another. The hero is Nick Taylor, chief spokesman for the tobacco industry. His two close friends are respectively spokespersons for the gun lobby and the alcohol lobby. The three call themselves the MOD squad -- for "merchants of death". Buckley manages to skewer the various lobbies as well as their opponents. This is a light weight good read.
Perfect Justice; William Bernhardt
O.K., this is the last lawyer story I will read for quite a while. It is actually a little different -- the dependent is not convicted, but what goes on in the courtroom has nothing to do with the matter! Has to do with hate crimes, and the hatred of those who hate the haters. It does not quite hang together in spots. There are better lawyer stories -- if you really want one.
The Red Scream; Mary Willis Walker
A very good mystery/suspense novel. The heroine, Molly Cates, is a crime reporter who has just published a book about a true crime committed by a serial killer who confessed to the crime. The murderer is to be executed for that crime. Suddenly Cates gets pressure to write no more about the matter. Then it begins to look as though the confessed murderer might not have done the crime, and in fact he announces that his confession was a lie. Several other murders occur, and the reporter is caught up in present danger and past lies. Good story, good story telling.
Bones: A Forensic Detective's Notebook; D.Ubelaker&
Ubeleker is a physical anthropologist/forensic anthropologist at the Smithsonian, and Scammell is the writer of the book. It contains far more than I ever wanted to know about the subject -- even though the subject is interesting. Like most real notebooks, it is somewhat disorganized, and in places very technical. Some of the cases are quite interesting, but after a while it seems to be just too many of much the same. I suspect that it would hold up better if only a little at a time were read; one can overdose quickly on this. And some is fairly gruesome. If the subject is sort of interesting to you, better you should look to the world of fiction. Look for a fictional anthropologist named Gideon Oliver, who lives in the mind and books of an author named Aaron Elkins; and enjoy Oliver's mystery adventures in old bones.
Elvis, Jesus, & Coca Cola; Kinkey Friedman
Friedman writes hip novels that are somewhat interesting, sometimes amusing, but eminently forgettable. This is another. It is a murder mystery, told by Friedman (as the hero) in the first person, and involving some real people as characters as well as imaginary ones. The final thesis is so difficult to swallow that the reader is justified in thinking it is a joke of the author. Oh yes: the title comes from a story by an anthropologist about a very isolated tribe that had retained only three things from its rare encounters with civilization.
Wildcat: The F4F in WWII;(2nd ed) Barrett Tillman
A specialist's book. This history first appeared on my horizon when I was looking for details of the Grumman F4F Wildcat (Mod 4) flown by that remarkable man, John S. Thach, (then Lt. Commander; later Admiral) off YORKTOWN, on the first day of the battle of Midway. That day was the first time that "Jimmy" Thach executed his famous "Thach Weave" in battle*. This book gave few details that I wanted, but it is a fascinating, brief history of the battles in which the aircraft (Mods 3 & 4) played a role. And those were ALL the fighter encounters in the Pacific from Dec 7 1941 through 1942, and most of the ones to mid 1943. One thing that I THINK I learned, was that whereas all the writers refer to John Thach as "Jimmy" (actually his brother's name, which John Thach responded to) Thach himself spelled the name "Jimmie"! That I conclude from examining Thach's autograph on a photo reproduced in the interesting set of pictures in the book. To my great surprise I found a new copy of this book in a great remainder bookstore in Martinsburg, West Virginia -- a town noted for the bookstore, and for the loveliest granddaughter under the age of three (had her picture on the front page of the paper!). If you are interested in the carrier war in the Pacific, in WWII, this is required reading. If you are interested in the granddaughter -- get in touch with Bette. * This was a brilliantly conceived formation of two aircraft, guaranteed to protect the aircraft from enemy fighters, and to kill any attacking fighters (assuming the pilots were skilled in deflection shooting -- which Navy pilots were). By the time of the Viet Nam war the maneuver had been forgot by active fighter pilots, and was re-invented by some clever new-age pilots. An old- age, retired Navy fighter pilot pointed out the original inventor!
A Son of the Circus; John Irving
I thoroughly enjoyed this 600 page account of Dr. Farrokh Daruwalla, a likeable sixty year old orthopedic surgeon (and secret writer of succcessful Indian films), born in India, schooled in Austria, and living in Canada. He is a foreigner in Toronto, and a foreigner in Bombay. Yet he keeps returning to India where he spends time with circus people because (he thinks) he is medically interested in dwarfs.* The book has lots of characters -- many of them strange -- many stories, various locales, and several plots. There is a serial murderer, a clever detective, reunion of twins separated at birth, circus life, racism, dead pan humor, AIDS, Keystone Kops behavior at times, bigotry, etc. It is a thoroughly delightful three- ring performance. Initially I was irritated because I felt that the author was looking down on Dr. Daruwalla, but that changed as I read on. Whether any of present-day India is like the small portion described in the book I do not know. I suspect that even Irving might have the outsider's trouble of trying to get inside even a small bit of the complex world that is India. Regardless; a very satisfying book indeed. *An interesting sidelight: the medical interest of Daruwalla in achrondroplasic dwarfs was an attempt to determine a genetic defect that caused the abnormality. He was not successful. However, the Institut Necker in Paris has just located the defect - a single DNA code error in one gene! NOTE: I later read a review of this book by an Indian novelist. My impression is that he agrees there is lots of action, but he really does not like Dr. Daruwalla, nor the India that Irving presents. Humm......
Furious Gulf; Gregory Benford
Bedford is a physicist/astrophysicist of considerable stature, and a famous science fiction writer to boot. He is writing a series about human development and discovery, and this is the fifth in the series. He says the next one will be the last. You lose something in this series if you have not read at least the preceding book in the sequence. Currently, a group of humans are on the run from a widespread "civilization" of "mechanicals" (sentient machines) whose main aim in "life" seems to be exterminating humans, and who are pretty well along in the task. The human Bishop "tribe" occupies a space ship headed toward the center of the galaxy and escorted by a few alien allies. They end up pursued by the Mechs, and take refuge in a place where space-time takes on a new profile. The key character is young Toby, son of the ship captain; it turns out the Mechs badly want to find Toby who is pursued through wild combinations of space and time. The book is an episode in a space-opera, with lots of advanced science -- even though the humans have lost most of their knowledge of the science they use. O.K if this is your first one ; but better if you are familiar with the past of this series: In the Ocean of the Night; Across the Sea of Suns; Great Sky River; & Tides of light.
School For The Blind; Dennis McFarland
A few years ago this author wrote as a first novel a hypnotically compelling book "The Music Room", which was an emotionally gripping experience - albeit not pleasant. This novel, which I like much better that the first, has also been an emotional experience for me, and I am not sure of all the reasons. I suspect that the main one has to do with the fact that the two main characters, brother and sister, are old, and that I identify with them. At any rate I found this a powerful, brilliantly written novel by an author who is an expert in the use of language to evoke images and emotions. The man is a retired photographer, who has come back to live in the town where he grew up. His sister is there too, living in the house that was their parent's. The two are pushed into examining the past. The man finds bones that lead to the discovery of the murder of two women from a local school for the blind. It is not a murder mystery. In fact I am not sure what it is, but it is an effective and affective piece of storytelling. I got caught up in the lives of these people, and suffered with them, and understood them. I would love to know how the book is perceived by a younger reader. Bette notes that she did not like it, and would not recommend it to anyone!
Inches; William Marshall
This is a new "Yellowthread" mystery, about the tenth, laid in Hong Kong. The last one was written six years ago. This series always has fascinating stories with elements of surrealism. There are really strange events that seem inexplicable, only to have the author casually produce an eminently reasonable explanation. For instance: in this book, the entire staff of a bank is found in the bank dead of ingesting cyanide, apparently simultaneously. The reason -- well, perhaps I shouldn't tell.In another instance, people seem to keep trying to leap from a tall building for no reason at all -- except that they might be deranged in some way from a sort of virtual-reality experience provided by some mental health practitioners. Marshall writes really original stories -- and good ones at that, even if they seem a little spacey at times.
The Grass Dancer; Susan Power
Power is a member of a Sioux tribe, and I suspect an overachiever first class. She has written short stories, but this is her first novel. I found it impressive. It is a magical account of generations of Dakota indians, full of almost painful realism, and lyrical mysticism. It moves in time, and spends time with myths, spirits, and witches. Some is told in the third person, some in the first person. One needs to be a little careful to note the time and the place and the speaker. It is all worth it -- especially if you like magical mystery. Great first novel it seems to me.
Fallen Into The Pit; Ellis Peters
This is the first of Peter's English mystery stories starring detective George Felse. It was written in 1951, and has not been available in this country until this 1994 reprint. It is a dandy story; Peters at her best. It has wonderful description, believable people, and an interesting plot. It also has some pointed and cogent philosophy, and on page 199, one of the most insightful seven sentences that I have ever read about parent and child. It is 1950 or so in a little Schropshire village, edged with surface mining operations. A German, a former Nazi, is working for the mining company, and is disliked in the village. He is murdered, and found by Felse's young son. The village is essentially pleased that the man died (as will be the reader), but the death begins to pull apart the village -- because it is clear that someone in the village is the murderer. Peters describes the developing social rent very well. Felse's son, and his nifty 13 year old female companion, Pussy, continue to prowl around, profitably, but to the distress of his father (not so much his mother!). Then a second murder occurs, and the son gets even more involved. Very satisfactory story. NOTE: Peters is a pseudonym of Edith Parteger, and there are a large number of very good historical novels under the latter name.
Away; Jane Urquhart
This is a multigenerational saga of women in an Irish family. The first use of the term "away" is when it is applied to Mary, who lived near the sea ,in the mid 1800's, in Antrim. She encounters a dying sailor after a violent storm, and becomes strangely "away" -- not quite connected to the world. The folk and the priest KNOW it is supernatural. She marries however, and the book follows her to Canada, as she and her family emigrate to escape the potato famine, and it then follows her female descendants. The story is being told by her great granddaughter. As the story progresses, other senses of the term "away" appear. I really do not care for family sagas, especially ones that consist of only tragic events strung together, but I must admit that this is beautifully told. The writer is good with words. After I finished, I discovered that it was a prize winner (well, co-winner). I KNEW that there was some problem with it!
New Orleans Requiem; D.J. Donaldson
This is the fourth book about a New Orleans medical examiner, and his assistant, a female criminal psychologist (that's what she is called!). Serial murders take place during a national convention of Forensic Scientists. The reader will rapidly conclude the murders were committed by a Forensic Scientist -- well before the experts do. I found this to be surprisingly uninteresting; I had found an earlier one to be well worth reading. It appears that in mystery stories, medical examiners and forensic stuff are hot items these days -- along with child abuse.
Homemade Sin; Cathy Hogan Trocheck
This is the third book starring Julia Callahan Garrity: former cop, current private eye, and owner of "House Mouse", a house cleaning business in Atlanta. The character is an interesting one. I have read an earlier one, which I enjoyed, but this one did not seem as good. I was happy to finish.
Silent Travelers:Germs,Genes,and the "Immigrant Menace";
Alan M. Kraut
Kraut is an historian who has constructed a detailed examination of the interaction of immigrants and public health in the United States; health, disease, medicine and immigration. It is a detailed book, heavily footnoted. I read this rapidly; far more rapidly than it warrants. I had neither the time nor sufficient interest to peruse the vast set of interactions. My impression from this rapid reading is that the author has written a somewhat politically correct history, of the type that the Smithsonian scholars are cranking out these days. Essentially he sees any restriction of individuals in the name of public health as bad, takes such restrictions as indicaters of xenophobia, and finds no excuse for the various fears that the country has had about the possibility of immigrants contributing to disease in the country. Mind you the history is good, and the interaction of immigrant concerns and public health policy is well done. But it is all done with a strong bias against public policy, public officials. Even those who displayed compassion and real concern about immigrants are usually put down with snide comments about motivation, or assumed attitudes. He seems unaware that his detailed analysis of some immigrant groups in fact suggests that some of the public health concerns -- and beliefs -- proved to be quite valid! In the debate about the balance of human rights and the rights of US citizens to restrict immigration because of health concerns, the author is strongly on the human rights side. Nevertheless, it is an interesting history, Just be careful!
Hotel Pastis; Peter Mayle
Mayle wrote a delightful book: "A Year in Provence", followed it with "Toujours Provence" -- cullings from his compilation for the first book, and has now produced this novel about a rich, successful, and bored London advertising man, who resigns from the company he heads, and undertakes to convert an old building in Provence into a luxury hotel. It is a very lightweight story, a pleasant beach read, and strikes me as very similar to many novels published in the thirties.
NOTE: I just read a newspaper article that noted Mayle no longer lives in Provence -- at least not in the place he wrote about in his first two books -- and that the inhabitants of the place are glad that he is gone!
The Concrete Blond; Michael Connelly
This is an absolutely engrossing murder/police procedural / suspense story. It is the third (and the best) in a good series. It is probably best if one starts with the first:The Black Echo, then goes on to The Black Ice, but it is not necessary. The stories stand by themselves; the connecting link is the detective. He is pretty much a loner, he is persistent, and he is not overawed by police rules and regulations. He is Harry Bosch. Actually his first name is Hieronymus (his mother LOVED 15th century painters), and indeed the story has parts that would seem to come directly from the center and right panels of the triptych:"The Garden of [Earthly] Delights." In this story Bosch is in an LA court, defendant in a police-brutality civil-damages suit brought by the wife of a man whom he had killed four years before -- presumably a serial killer: "The Dollmaker." The female lawyer for the plaintiff is overwhelmingly effective; Harry is going to lose, it seems sure. During the trial, the police receive a note suggesting that they dig up a concrete floor to find a body, and the note appears to be just like the ones they used to get from The Dollmaker. The blond body, encased in concrete, has all the hallmarks of the Dollmaker's other victims. Perhaps the Dollmaker is still alive, and Harry killed the wrong man four years ago, just as the plaintiff's lawyer claims! The book alternates between the trial, and Harry's efforts to resolve the mystery and solve the new case. It is a beautifully constructed story, guaranteed to keep the reader up at night to finish it.[It must be that Connelly (a master of the unexpected) planned all three books at the same time. They are classic examples of the genre.]
Mallory's Oracle; Carol O'Connell
Another first class story! It is hard to believe that this is a first novel. O'Connell has written a dandy murder mystery, and has created one of the most unusual and fascinating police officers you will ever meet -- Kathleen Mallory -- green- eyed, golded haired, a computer genius, an accomplished amoral thief with an interesting set of rules of conduct, a dead shot, a former child of the streets (not totally socialized), a self-described hard case, and the foster daughter of NYPD police lieutenant Louis Markowitz. Markowitz is killed at the beginning of the book, and Kathleen is on hand at the start of the investigation, at the scene of the crime, even though her job is a desk one. Kathleen is placed on compassionate leave -- and sets out to avenge Louis, which means first finding his killer, who is also a serial killer of very rich old women. It is an engrossing and tricky story, and the ending is a tad unusual, but completely in line with the central character. I will buy this one. For a (maybe) more balanced viewpoint: my wife is not that thrilled by it, although she says she has not read anything like it.
Roadwalkers; Shirley Ann Grau
An interesting, pretty much plotless account of two black women, mother and daughter. We meet the mother first as Baby, an abandoned child, during the Depression. She is a "walker" -- a homeless, almost feral child, in the rural South. She is "captured" in the woods by a white farm manager, and is sent to a black Catholic orphanage in New Orleans, where she is given the (appropriate) name Mary Woods. She displays artistic talent, but years later runs away when told she is to return to the farm. We meet her next through her daughter, Nanda, who recounts her own childhood, and growing up. The major shock to Nanda is being thrown into a totally white Catholic school on the east coast. She learns how to cope -- in a way different from her mother. A fascinating book.
All Fall Down; Lee Gruenfeld
This is a techno-type thriller that isn't all that great either as techno or thriller. Someone figures out a way to screw up (remotely) the instruments on aircraft so as to endanger the aircraft on approach. That someone arranges to extort money from the government in order to prevent disasters. The techno covers the gimmicking of the aircraft (impossible), and the method of payment -- interesting, and perhaps possible, but mostly a gimmick. Since the reader KNOWS that the US air control system is not going to fail, there is less thrill than expected. Plot: techno threat; hard-ass ex NTSB boss puts together a team to handle the problem; old WWII P-51 pilot wanders through the story, and ultimately saves the situation -- by chance! Don't bother.
Flesh and Blood; James Neal Harvey
Harvey has written several well received police stories starring Ben Tolliver. This one is not so great. The plot is hackneyed: sterling police detective is assigned to investigate the death of a very rich, politically powerful, ex-senator, and is expected to sign off on the investigation with no questions. Since something seems wrong, he doggedly pursues the case, fighting the police department, the political world, etc. -- justice should triumph. It does.About the same characterization as that in "The Concrete Blond" above, but the latter is a far better yarn indeed.
"K" is for Killer; SueGrafton
I missed "J" -- Grafton is working through the alphabet with her heroine Kinsey Millone - a good character. This "K" is another story, not as good as earlier ones. Kinsey is hired to look into an old murder by the victim's mother. The action is pretty much standard for the series, except for the appearance of a mysterious heavy-weight player who wants to know what Millone finds about the killer. Straightforward detecting, and then a prickly resolution - - in which Millone crosses over the moral? ethical? edge (with the probable approval of the reader).
Mother of Storms; John Barnes
This is somewhat straight science fiction. The qualifier occurs because two crucial bits of science are not extrapolations, they are impossible as we know science, and will most likely stay that way. One supposes that it is possible to tap into and broadcast the feelings of an individual; the other is that it is possible to disincarnate a mind, and have it function in an electrical network. Of course neither of these is original. The story is essentially one of unbelievable global disaster, about 30 years from now. The world of then is not as we know it, either technically or politically. The thesis is that the explosive destruction of an Arctic nuclear arms dump causes a vast release of energy, and the liberation of vast amounts of methane. Consequent temperature unbalances spawn a truly gigantic hurricane, CLEM, which in turn throws off other gigantic storms. The mother of storms would seem androgynous -- at least the name is not clearly female! One meets a cast of characters, follows them through physical and political turmoils, watches truly vast hurricane disasters, and sees the remnants of Earth's peoples saved by two God-like disincarnate minds, who see a wonderful future ahead. The author is an authority on computer modelling of hurricanes, and it shows through; this is really a somewhat technical, hurricane disaster story. There are a number of better hurricane stories; (Storm, and Slattery's Hurricane come to mind) -- albeit the storms are not NEARLY so great!
Jim Dandy; Irvin Faust
In the old-time minstrel shows (with real negroes no less) there were two sets of characters seated horizontally across the stage. Most were shabbily dressed, and were "Jim Crows"; the man in the middle -- Mr. Interlocutor -- and sometimes several others on either side of him were, by contrast, very nattily dressed, usually in formal dress. They were "Jim Dandys." In Faust's new book we meet the son of a minstrel "Jim Dandy", and a Jim Dandy in his own way: Hollis Cleveland. It is the mid thirties, and Hollis, black, very well read, and fluent in five languages, is skimming large amounts from his boss in the Harlem numbers racket. He has to flee the country. The book chronicles his adventures, which come across as a fantasy. He ends up in Africa, meets with another unreal black adventurer, and the two revolve around the troubles in Ethiopia and Liberia. Interesting, but a jerky and unconvincing yarn. Must be a metaphor.
Confession; Nancy Pickard
Pickard writes good mystery stories about a young woman named Jenny Cain, who lives in a small Massachusetts town, and is currently married to a police lieutenant. Originally these stories were pretty straight forward whodunnits, and it seemed to me that the author would gradually find the small town too confining for the series. Her last one, I.O.U. was a very good story, and a departure from the earlier format; I thought the author was setting the scene to move Jenny out of the small town. Not so. In this somewhat disjointed story she is still there, and answers the door one day to find a teenager who says that her husband is his father. He wants her detective husband to prove that the man he had called father had not, in fact, killed his mother, and then committed suicide. What the author has done is found a neat emotional situation that fits in well with the small town locale, and has (as in the last one) invested a great deal of the book into examining strong emotions. It is not entirely satisfactory it seems to me, although it is a good tale. Not much detective work is involved, a very bizarre family with weird confessional rites is invoked, and the final solution appears abruptly, and grattuitously.
Ambition & Love; Ward Just
A prolific writer whom I have not previously read. He has written here mainly of a woman artist, but also some of the artist's male friend -- an author. Both have left the USA to live in Paris. I found it difficult to relate to the characters, although the woman's feisty rejection of a meretricious Hollywood situation had me cheering. The woman's ambition is to be independent, and an artist. She becomes both, but she falls in love with (and gets impregnated by) a hack piano player, and that removes her independence (which she doesn't realize has gone), and it is never clear that she has become a good artist -- albeit she has done several good things. She has also become a drunk. The man's ambition was to go to Paris and write stories that he was inhibited from creating in Winnetka. The stories he writes -- quite successfully -- are pretty much hack detective stories laid in Paris. This book doesn't work for me -- unless that is what the author intended!
The Mortician's Apprentice; Rick DeMarinis
The author is a multiple prize winner, and teacher of creative writing. Despite that, I read the book. My initial negativism was correct! This is a story laid in the fifties, in southern California, and deals with two young people, and the angst of being a teenager. It has all been done much better by others -- although I do not recall another situation where working for a mortician entered. It doesn't help. I did not care for either of the two shallow people, and I am not sure of the purpose of the story.
Scandal in Fairhaven;Carolyn G. Hart
Hart has quit writing about her bookseller sleuth, and has created a new female sleuth: Henrietta O'Dwyer Collins, a former journalist. In this one, Collins ends up in a town called Fairhaven, in Tennessee. The nephew of a friend is charged with murdering his wife, and Collins decides he has been framed, and sets out to find the killer among the wealthy socialite group the deceased belonged to. It is a pretty good story, but the detailed deductive ratiocination gets a little much.Interesting but not a great one.
Firm Ambitions; Michael A. Kahn This is the latest in Kahn's stories about attorney Rachael Gold. They are not "lawyer" stories, in that the courtroom plays essentially no role in them. Rather they are mystery stories, with the attorney acting as detective. This is a good tale, that, for me, is marred by what seems excessive gratuitous vulgarity. The seventh word in the book is "fellatio" and it goes down hill from there. In the previous books I wondered about the heroine's best friend Benny Goldberg, described as "fat and crude and gluttonous and vulgar," and this books baffles me even more about their friendship. The stories are taking on some of the characteristics of Goldberg, and I shall probably skip further novels in this series.
cience, and will most likely stay
that way. One supposes that it is pos-