March 3rd, 2014
Woo-hoo, it’s a humdinger of an opening scene. Returning from a business trip in Florida, lawyer Scott Jordan enters his New York City apartment. On his couch he finds a scantily-clad blonde, listening to his radio and sipping brandy from snifter. But Scott smells a rat and bundles the boozy beauty into a taxi. The honey turns up dead, embroiling Scott with iffy lawyers, snarky cops, dense bully boys, a rich girl that wants to be a Broadway star and her sleazy singing coach, a drunken bon vivant and his angry wife, a smooth villain, and a snow bunny. Scott also finds the love of his life. As if the cast of scores was not enough to grab and hold our interest, the episodic action includes poisoning, a fatal car accident, shootings, and assorted fisticuffs.
A contemporary critic summed up this novel with this telegram of a review, “Fast and tough by rote but played so effectively that it slips past the eyes.” This is true. Like a noir movie from the same period, this mystery is simultaneously realistic and implausible. The hard-boiled characters strike familiar poses and their capers are pretty zany. The reader gets the feeling that in this first novel, the writer is jamming in every character and plot twist he can think of, in the most shiny prose possible. It’s appealing as a glittering, fast-moving story. I won’t remember it after a month.
Probably because I read two novels by Raymond Chandler before this one, I felt Chandler’s influence on Masur. For example, Masur takes up Chandler-like dazzling expressions – “Broadway had pulsed into neon-glaring night life. Swollen throngs milled restlessly with a rapacious appetite for pleasure. Box-office windows spawned long queues, and the traffic din was a steady roar in your ears.”
Released in the same year as the notorious I, The Jury, this best-selling novel is regarded as “a cut above many of the American detective novels churned out at the end of the Second World War.” Masur later wrote nine mysteries starring lawyer Scott Jordan. Masur once described Jordan: “The series character, Scott Jordan, a New York attorney, was first conceived to fall somewhere between Perry Mason and Archie Goodwin . . . with the dash and insouciance of Rex Stout’s Archie.” Therefore, readers that like the novels of Rex Stout and Erle Stanley Gardner would like Masur’s work.
February 25th, 2014
I am a reader, an avid reader at that. Ask anyone who knows me and they will tell you. If I could, I would have walls lined with all of my books. But of course, that is in my fantasy world. In the real world, I have no room to keep the books I have when I get new ones. This is why I joined PaperBackSwap. My beloved books would get sent to a new owner to treasure them, and in turn I get the opportunity to discover new books. It’s a great win-win situation for any reader.
Now I’ve been a member for quite a while. I’ve sent out and received my fair share of books in all sorts of packaging. There is the classic “two sheets for a small paperback”, or a white envelope cut to fit a larger book. I’ve even seen people take recycling one step further and send me books in envelopes they had received books in previously, and I have a tendency to ask for paper bags at the grocery store to send out brown paper-wrapped books. But last week, I received a book from a member that takes recycling to a whole new level.
The book was “Raw: A Love Story”, and it had been on my Wish List for a while. However, I had no idea what it was when I first opened my mailbox. What I saw was a strangely colorful, patterned package staring back at me. Despite my confusion, I picked it up and looked at the back. There, staring back at me, was Kentucky. Not just a picture of my home state, but a detailed map of Kentucky.
Now there are quite a few reasons I was excited about this package. It was a new book, of course, and one that I had wanted for a while. But here is was wrapped in a map of my own state. Some member, Lynda G. in fact, took the time to see where I lived before wrapping the package. Oh sure, she bundled it up to protect it from the elements better than any wrap job I have seen. But as I looked at it all I could think was about all of the places I was seeing on this package that I had traveled to.
I’m sorry, fellow PBS swappers, you won’t be getting this book from me. No, Lynda G. took too much time and effort to personalize this package and make it seem really special to me. That, and it is completely awesome.
February 24th, 2014
This inverted mystery was made into two movies, The Big Clock in 1946 and No Way Out in 1987. It was a best-seller when it was released in 1946 and has morphed into a cult classic since the late Forties, so the New York Review of Books published it in 2006 as one of its well-regarded re-issues.
I don’t want to risk spoiling this unique noir mystery with a plot description. Suffice to say, this “whodunit in reverse” provides plenty of surprising plot twists. What really sets this novel apart is the mild satire of corporate conformity. In the late Forties and early Fifties many social critics, malcontents, and beatniks were expressing their distaste for the Organization Man. Fearing gets in his whacks, as a character describes the ideal writer for Futureways, a take-off on a Time-Life type of weekly magazine:
First place, you’ve got to believe you’re shaping something. Destiny, for example. And then you’d better not do anything to attract attention to yourself. It’s fatal to come up with a new idea, for instance, and it’s fatal not to have any at all, see what I mean? And above all, it’s dangerous to turn in a piece of finished copy. Everything has to be serious, and pending. Understand?
Another interesting theme is existentialism, another intellectual fad after WWII. The narrator of most of the chapters is George Stroud. Like a character in a Simenon novel set in the Fifties, he leads a routine tepid existence, not stunted but not contented either. Rejecting the illusion that life gives a “big prize,” he thinks, “The big clock ran everywhere, overlooked no one, omitted no one, forgot nothing, remembered nothing, knew nothing. Was nothing. “ Wanting to beat the big clock, he takes the usual Simenon way out by having an affair. When his adventuress-mistress is murdered, George finds himself facing that darn old hostile universe.
This is an excellent novel that I’d recommend to any reader into vintage mysteries.
February 19th, 2014
Review by Cynthia F. (frazerc)
The aliens came to us and let it be known they were willing to give Terrans a chance to prove that they were up to the challenge of a wider universe. Only 2000 would be chosen, people with specialized talents and skills that the Alliance felt would be best suited to adjust to their new situations. The contract was simple – training would be provided but Volunteers must make their way in the stars and prove that they could live, love, and adapt by being successful. They could not return to Earth, ever. They could not mate with another Terran. They must provide an heir of their body by one of the alien races. And they must produce five Champions who were judged to be the best their race had to offer. This series is the stories of those who were declared Champions…
I rate her stories pretty consistently as either 4s or 5s. Frequently there is sex – alien sex of course – and some very weird aliens they are but all seem to accomplish the ‘insert tab A into slot B’ thing to the delight of all concerned.
Additional interest is provided when we discover that many Earth legends were actually visitations of alien species. In this series we meet the Dhemons and the almost extinct Admarians (elves – both dark and light) – but other entries include Enjels and Vimpyrs and Dragons… The common thread to these 5 stories is Negotiator Tyrell, who, as we find out in Haldis Imperium, is also a Terran.
This author is prolific. Really, REALLY prolific – and that’s a good thing because I enjoy her stuff. Note: these are short story/short novella sized works that share a common universe – related series are the Sector Guard, Tales of the Citadel, the Rune series, Terran Times, and she has just started a second series similar to the Terran Times – only this deals with the Volunteers who have come out to the stars in the second wave. Seems like the whole Terran experiment is working out!
Deal with a Dhemon
Marks of Admar
February 12th, 2014
Review by Mirah W. (mwelday)
I had no idea what ‘Cutting for Stone’ was about when I added it to my Wish List on PBS. I saw it on some online book lists and found out some book clubs were reading it. One day my wish was granted and ‘Cutting for Stone’ made its way to my bookshelf. When I finally got around to reading it and it was not what I was expecting.
I think based on the cover image I thought it was going to be about some exotic life story of a man in India. Hmmm…lesson learned (again) not to judge a book by its cover. What I got instead was a story of twins set in Ethiopia with a mix of religion, love, grief, betrayal, danger, confusion, and medical journaling thrown in.
Marion and Shiva Stone are twins born in Ethiopia to (surprisingly to all around her) an Indian nun. Their mother dies as a result of complications in childbirth (I’m not giving anything away here, this is known at the start of the novel) and their father is unknown to them. They grow up in the hospital compound where their mother served prior to her death and become two distinctly different individuals. Told from Marion’s perspective, the reader is taken on the tumultuous journey of their lives.
‘Cutting for Stone’ was difficult for me to read at times. There is little doubt of Verghese’s medical background. There were sections I merely scanned because it was packed full of medical jargon, treatments, and procedures. I just don’t have the stomach to read all of that. But between those areas that merely got my eye skim were pages of really deep emotional turmoil and extreme happiness. There were moving moments when Marion experiences clarity in his understanding of his life and circumstances. These moments are the ones that powered the story forward and encouraged me to keep reading.
I would say my overall rating of this book would be 4 stars. There was a complete ending that answered the questions I had, realistic character development, and a variety of themes that made it interesting. However, the medical component tended to get too long-winded at times and the flow of the story was disrupted. So am I glad that my PBS wish was granted and I received ‘Cutting for Stone’? That answer would be yes…and I’ve already passed it along to someone else and my willingness to do so indicates I think it’s worth reading.
February 10th, 2014
The Case of the One-Eyed Witness opens with so much antique Americana that we readers wonder if this is some post-modern author overdoing the period detail: movie theaters full on week-nights, drugstore-soda fountains, nickels for a pay-phone, and an LA night club with a live orchestra, a floor show, a hat-check girl, a photograph girl, and a cigarette girl. People sport retro names like Medford, Myrtle, Clark, Arthman, and Carlton. They use retro expressions “in a blue funk,” “thimblerig,” “look all over hell’s half acre,” and “You’ve got a lot of crust to….” As in Mad Men everybody smokes; in fact, Mason smokes Raleighs.
It’s not all cheesy nostalgia. In The Case of the One-Eyed Witness Perry and Paul’s investigation uncovers a racket engaged in human trafficking, a problem that has hardly gone away. They also expose a con that depends on the mark’s racism and fear of discrimination, two sides of prejudice still among us. The criminal justice issues Gardner raises plague us yet, particularly over-reaching on the part of the cops and prosecutors. Other issues that still burn include improper police procedures, eyewitness misidentification and incorrect understanding of circumstantial evidence. Recall, it is a system that is staffed by human beings, entities that have not reached the state of perfection since I last checked.
To end on a positive note, during her confirmation hearing to become a Supreme Court justice, Sonia Sotomayor said that the TV series starring Raymond Burr as Perry Mason awakened her to the vital role of the law in our society. Many lawyers of a certain age will cite Perry Mason and Atticus Finch (To Kill a Mockingbird) as their inspirations to become attorneys.
February 6th, 2014
Andrea Sachs has finally gotten what she wanted. She is the editor of her own wedding magazine, The Plunge, which she started with her former adversary, Emily. She is married to the son of a media mogul, Max. Max is also the biggest investor in Andy’s magazine which has now caught the eye of Andy and Emily’s old boss, the devil herself, Miranda Priestly.
From the beginning the reader knows this is going to be a bit dramatic, especially if you read the first book. It starts with Andy’s wedding when she finds a note from her husband’s mother urging him not to marry Andy (that has to suck finding out your mother-in-law hates you) and that he ran into his ex during his bachelor party. What does Andy do about this…obsesses…forever. Then Andy discovers she is pregnant.
Her pregnancy is enough for Andy to stall Emily from selling to their former boss but the time is coming to end and Andy must make a decision. About her magazine and about her “perfect” life. She does not want Miranda back in their life and she doesn’t understand why Emily is obsessed with having Miranda as a boss again.
This is when the story takes another weird twist and since I don’t want to spoil for those haven’t read it yet I will keep it minimal in details. Let’s just say all of a sudden someone that seems supportive is now the villain and friendships all around start to deteriorate…fast.
Not one of my favorite books I will admit. At times it was entertaining (especially when Miranda was on scene) and at other times I just found Andy needed an attitude adjustment. She usually just made the situation worse. All in all it is an entertaining read and if you enjoyed The Devil Wears Prada you will enjoy this one too.