PaperBackSwap Blog


Mystery Monday – Down in the Valley

July 6th, 2020

Down in the Valley by David M. Pierce

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

 

Born in Montreal in 1932, David M. Pierce was a poet, actor, and songwriter for Alice Cooper (among others). Pierce was also, because the performing arts gives way too many chances to rest between gigs, bartender, truck driver, reporter and sales agent for furniture and magazine companies.

So he brought to the six mysteries starring PI Victor Daniel varied professional experience and his copious reading — we hardcore mystery readers who also read everything can always tell from vibrant word play when a writer has read everything from Shakespeare to Dickens to Pound.

This novel is the first mystery featuring PI Victor Daniel, published in 1989. For us of a certain age in 2020, the nostalgia factor is strong with his Apple II computer, Adidas kicks, and on the radio Maureen McGovern. Daniel is over six and half feet tall, wears loud Hawaiian shirts, and does about any kind of job that comes his way.

While there is a modicum of a plot involving fighting the dope problem at a high school, strung together are incidents of various cases he has boiling. These incidents are peopled with a wide variety of characters: a one-legged vet, a riot grrl, and a police detective in heliotrope suits and burgundy shoes, just to name a few. The dialogue is always engaging, the word choices apt, though there are some spots where not much seems to happen and lapses of taste and crudeness of attitude to show how hard-boiled Valley People are.

Apparently, even though the author wrote five additional novels in this series, they never really caught on and are only remembered by true connoisseurs of mysteries. In the 1990s, recall, really long and really dark mysteries became the thing and these novels, under 300 pages and madcap, are not long and dark. Maybe the writer had trouble with the publisher promoting the books in the right way. Pierce passed away in 2016 of complications due to a stroke.

But the work lives on and it’s up to us hardcore mystery readers to read Pierce so he’s not as unjustly forgotten as Mignon Good Eberhart.

 

 

Mystery Monday Review – Independent Witness

June 29th, 2020

Independent Witness by Henry Cecil

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

The English judge Henry Cecil (1902 – 1976) wrote comic legal fiction. Think of John Mortimer’s Rumpole stories, though more gentle and less acerbic, just as clever, funny, and enjoyable. Cecil will call to mind P.G. Wodehouse in that Cecil uses stock characters like the dumb colonel, the obsessed widow, the silly young person, etc.

This novel from 1963 describes a hit and run case in which a member of Parliament is accused of not only hitting a motorcyclist but fleeing the scene. Cecil has a variety of comic characters take the stand. The dialogue-driven cross-examinations should be read slowly and savored. While this is not a typical whodunit, I still recommend it to mystery fans since there is a traditional surprise at the end.

Cecil’s humor is very English, wise, and humane and not as silly or zany as Wodehouse’s jesting is. Mercifully, to my mind, but different strokes. Cecil’s comedy is smart, with lucid prose, dazzling dialogue, and difficult legal points explained gracefully and comprehensibly. Cecil was a barrister and high court judge himself so his views on evidence, judges, juries, lawyers, and clients are worth listening to. The eager reader doesn’t mind his digressions on topics such as the thought processes of ordinary people who are would-be jurors or lawyers and judges who talk too much.

His legal fiction from the Fifties and Sixties is still in print, because his wit, style, intelligence, and deft plotting still provide much interest and sheer reading pleasure.

 

Happy National Leon Day!

June 25th, 2020

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

By Joy L. (vintagejoy)

 

There are things we hear and see throughout our lives that just seem to stick in our memories. One thing that I remember is from a Christmas TV spot on the series ‘Home Improvement.’ (Tim the Toolman Taylor? Quite a few years ago) It’s about a Christmas program that the Taylor children were participating in. They were each to hold a letter of the alphabet to spell ‘NOEL.’ Well, they got mixed up about where they were supposed to stand and spelled it backward to reveal ‘LEON.’ This struck me as being very hilarious for some reason. Over the years – especially during the Christmas holidays I remember that show and ‘Leon.’

Now I would like to be the very first to wish you on June 25:

Very Happy National Leon Day!

It has finally been proclaimed!

Which brings up another thought; why on earth does everything have to be a national day of something or other?

I did some searching around and found the following days to be quite intriguing;

Jan 3 National Drinking Straw Day – Wait, what?

Jan 28 National Kazoo Day – O, please No!

Mar 25 National Waffle Day – Cue up IHOP & Waffle House!

Apr 15 National Tax Day – This is not amusing at all.

Apr 17 National ‘Nothing Like a Dame’ Day – Really??

May 9 National Lost Sock Memorial Day – Let’s just take a minute……

June 1 National Go Barefoot Day – it is a good thing this is not the same day as:

June 2 National Rocky Road Day – emergency room visits would be way up if it was
the same day.

Dec 5 National Bathtub Party Day – this will probably need to be canceled this year
as it would be impossible to maintain social distancing in a bathtub.

Let’s just have a National Anything Day and be done with it! 🙂

 

 

Mystery Monday Review – A Back Room in Somers Town

June 22nd, 2020

A Back Room in Somers Town by John Malcolm

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

 

This mystery – the first book in the Tim Simpson series – was published in 1984. Simpson starred in 15 books, with the last one being Rogues’ Gallery, in 2005, when the author apparently retired.

In this debut novel, Simpson is called in by an art dealer, Willie Morton, to look at paintings by Walter Richard Sickert and follower Mary Godwin. Amazed at such unusual finds, Tim and Tate art expert Sue are later attacked by an unknown assailant at the scene of Willie’s death by stabbing. The paintings have vanished. As the case goes cold for the cops, Simpson is sent to Sao Paulo, Brazil for some unfamiliar atmosphere, where 40 years ago (put on your making-allowances caps) women seemed to enjoy menfolk being grunting male chauvinist porkers.

The hero Tim Simpson himself is an ex-rugby player. Though not afraid of a tussle, he is diplomatic and tactful enough to work as a marketing and management consultant for a London merchant bank. He gets on well with his manager, the upper crust Jeremy White. They share an interest in arts and antiques. For the sake of building a rep for elegance and panache, Jeremy persuades Tim to turn his hobby into a work skill and become the full-time in-house art investment specialist. It tickles Jeremy to be catering to select clients because it will drive his fogey relatives, who run a bigger White’s bank, crazy. Jeremy is an appealing character: he’s a spoiled rich guy but fun-loving and generous, a welcome change to the stereotypical rich guys we often suffer in both fiction and the news.

The author, whose real name is John Andrews, is one of those Renaissance Englishman. An expatriate kid in South America, he learned Spanish and benefited by living in another culture. An expert on art, he wrote many books and articles and edited a magazine about antique collecting. He also worked as an engineer and business consultant. He brings this diverse knowledge and experience to his writing.

I recommend this one. Though short, the plotting is elaborate without being confusing and the settings of snowy London and tropical Sao Paulo provide a diverting contrast for us shut-ins. The writer then inserts seamlessly material about artists and their work, art collecting and collectors, banking, and business. The intelligent and smooth writing is about what we expect from a cultured English writer, comprehensible and unpretentious.

 

 

 

Fiction Review – Nine Perfect Strangers

June 18th, 2020

Nine Perfect Strangers

Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty

Review by: Mirah W (mwelday)

 

Liane Moriarty is one of my favorite contemporary authors. I have read all of her books and look forward to each new story she has to tell.  Her latest, Nine Perfect Strangers, was quite a read.

Nine people make their way to spa resort for a 10-day retreat that is supposed to change their lives.  Each person is coming to Tranquillum House for different reasons, including escape, grief, depression, marriage troubles.  Waiting for them at Tranquillum House is a secretive staff led by mysterious and charismatic Masha.

What begins as an interesting mystery and captivating read in the first half of the book goes off the rails in the second half and just can’t seem to get back on track.  In the first half, Moriarty slowly introduces the characters and why they made the decision to go to Tranquillum House. Like peeling back an onion, layers and layers of character development take place and then the plot seems to become far-fetched and it was difficult for me stay engaged.  I could see where the divergence from what was expected could appeal to some readers, but I thought it was too drastic of a shift.

I am conflicted about giving this book a rating.  It started out so great, full of interesting characters and I wanted to know more about them.  I felt like this was going to be another 5 star book by Moriarty.  And then I felt like the twist took things in a weird direction that didn’t really seem to fit with the first half of the book.  I would say if a reader enjoys off-the-wall plots, this might be one to read.  If a reader likes more streamlined plots, I would recommend Three Wishes (you can see my review here).

 

 

 

Historical Spy Novel Review – The Spies of Warsaw

May 27th, 2020

The Spies of Warsaw by Alan Furst

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

Pre-World War II Warsaw becomes an arena of intense international rivalry. In almost every embassy, friendly and hostile, an intelligence cell operates. Secret agents assigned to Warsaw create an extremely colorful society. Poles, French, Germans, Russians – everyone knows that in the war is coming and that you have to prepare for it or be destroyed. Everyone believes that by their intelligence activities they will save their country from being occupied or that they will ensure victory for the homeland.

Our hero Jean-François Mercier, the French military attaché, also knows that armed conflict is inevitable. At 46, he has already participated the Great War and the Polish-Bolshevik war of 1920. He has had a long and dedicated service, and he would like to leave for a well-deserved retirement, but a sense of responsibility for the fate of millions keeps him on post. He skillfully navigates in a narrow diplomatic world, but does not avoid a direct, even painful clash, with an opponent. His strength is certainly increased by the warm feeling of a beautiful French-Polish woman working for the League of Nations that he met at a boring official reception. Mercier discovers that first of all he is not so old, and secondly – that he is not only ready for retirement, he is ready to go to extremes.

The book details Mercier’s activities in episodes. He runs agents and even saves one from being kidnapped and forcibly repatriated to a certain death in Germany. He sneaks into Germany to observe tank exercises. On his travels, in hotels and restaurants, a foreboding comes over him, “What is going to happen to these people after war comes.” He meets ordinary people who are fighting the forces of evil – literally – because it is the right thing to do.

The settings all have evocative details of Silesia and the countryside of Poland (think rural New Jersey). Furst is also effective at getting across the mundane details of ordinary people doing their best in trying circumstances – something we in the pandemic can connect to, for sure. We readers need the romantic angle as a break from the suspenseful intrigue and tension of Nazi cruelty. We readers also know what the characters do not: Poland is doomed to Nazi occupation and will be the most damaged country staggering out of World War II.

 

 

 

Fantasy Review – The Empire’s Ghost

May 26th, 2020

The Empire's Ghost: A Novel

The Empire’s Ghost by Isabelle Steiger

Review by Mirah W (mwelday)

I don’t often read fantasy adventure novels, but I was looking for a new series and the synopsis for The Empire’s Ghost was unlike anything else I’ve read so I decided to give it a try and I am glad I did!

The Empire’s Ghost is an epic fantasy adventure that centers around various kingdoms seeking control over neighboring lands, but with magic and cunning rulers, who will have the upper hand and who will be victorious? As I read, I became partial to Prince Kelken, who is the underdog in this story, but who knows if I will still like him later in the series.

The imagery is quite exquisite throughout the novel and the locales seem to become characters themselves.  There are a lot of characters to remember, especially since characters are referred to by more than one name or title, but after sticking with the novel, they became clearer in my mind and I could picture each one in every scene. The characters slowly reveal more and more about themselves as the novel progresses to provide more depth and understanding to their choices and actions. Magic and the use of magic is a thread throughout the plot, but does not control or distract from the plot.  The ending is definitely not a conclusion but, rather, an opening to another book set in this epic world.

I am giving The Empire’s Ghost 4 out of 5 stars. My reasons for the 4 star rating are primarily the amount of time it took for me to get invested in the novel and the difficulty I had following some of the intricacies of the plot.  The second half of the book definitely seemed to come together more solidly than the first half.  The action was easier to follow and the characters easier to delineate. I think a multi-faceted novel like The Empire’s Ghost would have benefited from a map and character list/tree at the beginning to give the reader some perspective. For a debut novel, I think Steiger created an amazing story with memorable characters. If you are looking for a sweeping, epic fantasy to transport you to a different world, The Empire’s Ghost is the novel for you.