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Archive for August, 2013

Mystery Monday – Trent’s Own Case

Monday, August 19th, 2013

Trent’s Own Case by Edmund Clerihew Bentley

 

Review by Thomas F. (hardtack)

 

Don’t you just hate those detectives who walk into a room and, after a few seconds, tell you that the murder was committed by a 5-foot-tall, left-handed, out-of-work, ironworker from Liverpool who had fish and chips for supper two hours before committing the crime? Well, you are not alone. E.C. Bentley, a popular English novelist and humorist of the early twentieth century, felt the same way.

As a protest against Doyle’s ‘Sherlock Holmes” and the imitators who copied Doyle’s formula, Bentley invented ‘Philip Trent,’ an artist and journalist who solves cases on demand for the paper he works for, sometimes without even visiting the scene of the crime.

Unlike Holmes, Trent actually respects his Scotland Yard opposite, although there is some friendly rivalry there. Also unlike Holmes, Trent often jokes during his investigations. And sometimes the joke is on him.

Yes, Trent can tell you who last wore the victim’s shoes, whose fingerprints on the fingerbowl revealed how the killer escaped, and why the victim’s dental plate was left in the water-filled glass. But solve the crime….. Well, you need to decide, for that is the crux of the novel.

Bentley only wrote two novels about Trent. But this, the first, is considered by many to be the first ‘truly modern mystery.” My copy has an introduction by Dorothy Sayers, who praises the book. Agatha Christie called it “One of the three best detective stories ever written.” Published in 1913, Trent’s Last Case was followed by a sequel in 1936 and a series of short stories in 1938.

As I write this, there are at least three copies of Trent’s Last Case posted on PBS, so have at it.

 

 

 

 

History Review – Blood, Sweat and Arrogance

Tuesday, August 13th, 2013

Blood, Sweat and Arrogance: And the Myths of Churchill’s War
by Gordon Corrigan

 

Review by Thomas F. (hardtack)

 

After every war there is a period during which we lionize our ‘heroes’ for ‘leading us to victory,’ while castigating those who were ‘authors of defeat.’ This period may last for decades, but eventually some historians begin to question the general trend and look at the defects of the first and the redeeming qualities of the latter. A good example in American history is the adulation given Douglas MacArthur during and after World War II, when many historians now agree MacArthur should have been relieved for a Philippine disaster that was greater than Pearl Harbor.

On the other side of the world, there was the British Lion: Winston Churchill. I remember once reading that the British military chiefs agreed that they could not have won the war without Churchill, but that if he had let them do it as they were trained to do, they would have won it a lot sooner.

Gordon Corrigan was educated in British military schools and was a regular officer of the Royal Gurkha Rifles, and Member of the British Empire, until retiring in 1998. A successful military historian, he also lectures at the British Joint Services and Staff College. His book, Blood, Sweat and Arrogance, takes a revisionist look at how Winston Churchill ran World War II.

Corrigan begins long before the first shots were fired when he shows that, as Chancellor of the Exchequer, Churchill made decisions that crippled the evolution of the British military and doomed Singapore in World War II.

During World War II, Churchill often either countermanded the orders of his military chiefs or interfered enough to destroy the effectiveness of operations. His decision to recall some surface vessels without first verifying German naval moves in the North Atlantic led to the most horrific destruction of a convoy during the war. His desire to place politics over sound military strategy led to military disaster and losses of life on a grand scale in Greece, Cyprus and Africa. His impatience with his generals when he wanted action often led him to relieve good commanders and replace them with less skilled ones. He may even have been responsible for the Allied defeat in Norway. The list goes on.

Corrigan is by no means the first historian to attack our perception of Churchill as a “great war leader.” However, his 479 pages of text may very well be the most complete compilation of evidence forcing us to view Winston Churchill through other than rose-colored glasses.

Winston Churchill certainly deserves his high standing in history, but interested readers of World War II owe it to themselves to consider the other side of the man who lead Britain to victory.

 

 

 

Mystery Monday – Crashed

Monday, August 12th, 2013

Crashed by Timothy Hallinan

Review by Cheryl R. (Spuddie)

 

Main Character: Junior Bender, a thief who works in the LA area.

Series order: #1

It took me awhile to warm up to Junior Bender. Like, maybe fifteen minutes. Tops.  We’re introduced to him in the act of burgling a house, and while it may seem odd, I dislike thieves in general more than I dislike killers. Killers often have a good reason—or at least a plausible reason—for killing their victim. Thieves…well, they’re just too lazy to get what they want the hard way—by working for a living, and they “work” by taking something that doesn’t belong to them, that someone else HAS worked for…and that gets my goat. I started the book with a bit of trepidation, as Timothy Hallinan is the author of one of my favorite mystery series (Poke Rafferty) and I was afraid Junior would be a sorry comparison. I mean…he’s a thief! But it wasn’t long before I was laughing and finding that Junior is not your garden variety thief. He’s really one of the good guys, even if he’s got an odd way of making a living.

Divorced, with a teenage daughter who is the apple of his eye, Junior moves around from one long-term hotel to another in an attempt to stay ahead of the police. He tempers everything he does by asking himself what his daughter would think if she found out. The art heist he’s in the middle of at the beginning of the book ends up being a trap, and he finds himself in a cage with a nasty blackmailer holding the key. This notorious crime boss wants him to essentially babysit a former child star who is now about to star in her first porn movie, produced by none other than the blackmailer. Junior is obviously reluctant, but if he doesn’t cooperate, the tape of him burgling the house goes to the cops. The problem is, Thistle Downing is so strung out on drugs she doesn’t know if she’s on foot or horseback, and isn’t really even aware of just what she’s gotten herself into. Junior ends up being more of a protective father figure for her and tries to scheme a way to keep her from doing the movie.

Meanwhile, an old friend of Junior’s whom he’s hired to watch Thistle when he’s busy (or sleeping) ends up dead—murdered–in his surveillance car near her apartment—and then it becomes personal. Junior plots some devious steps to not only save Thistle from herself, but to discover his friend’s killer and get back at his blackmailer as well. And, he hopes, to come out looking good in his daughter’s eyes too….if she ever finds out.

The book is written in Hallinan’s usual likable and easy-to-read style. There’s plenty of humor but always a certain seriousness and poignancy behind the story that shines through at just the right time. By the time the book is finished, Junior feels like an old friend, and the cast of characters that come with him are very well fleshed and realistic too. Hallinan definitely has a second winner series here, I think—and I’ve already purchased Little Elvises, the second in the series. Hats off, Tim!

 

 

 

 

Free Book Friday Winner!

Sunday, August 11th, 2013

 

 

 

The winner of the book, Bones of Faerie by Janni Lee Simner is:

Melissa (readermuse)

 

 

Congratulations! Your book will be to you soon!

 

 

Thank you to everyone who commented on the Blog!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Free Book Friday!

Friday, August 9th, 2013

 

Today’s Free Book is:

 

 

Bones of Faerie by Janni Lee Simner

 

It has been 20 years since the war between faeries and humans destroyed everything. Liza, a teenager living in what was once the Midwest, has always been taught that magic kills. When Liza’s mother gives birth to a faerie baby with hair clear as glass, her father abandons the infant on a hillside to die; Liza’s mother then runs away, and Liza begins to have magical visions of her own.

Petrified that her powers might cause death, Liza flees into the woods with her friend Matthew, only to be attacked by deadly trees and rescued by a woman with magic. The plot quickens as Liza realizes that the woman is connected to her mothers past, knowledge that propels Liza into a dangerous journey into the land of Faerie, in search of her mother.

Hardcover, ISBN 9780375845635

 

 

We will choose one winner at random from comments we receive here on the Blog from PBS members.

 

 

You have until Sunday, August 11, 2013 at 12 noon EDT, to leave a comment.

 

Good Luck to everyone!

Note: All the books given away on Free Book Friday are available in the PBS Market. We have thousands of new and new overstock titles available right now, with more added hourly. Some of the prices are amazing – and you can use a PBS credit to make the deal even better!

Remember, every new book purchase supports the club and helps keep membership free!

 

 

Cozy Mystery Review – Laced with Poison

Wednesday, August 7th, 2013

Laced with Poison by Meg London

Review by reacherfan1909

 

Series: Sweet Nothings, Bk 2 – books do not have to be read in order to follow storyline

Published: July 2013

 

Cozy mysteries have a long and honored history.  Agatha Christie is usually the first name that leaps to people’s mind, but Josephine Tey, Ngaio Marsh, and Dorothy Sayers all made it possible.  Yes, there are far more female cozy writers that male, but some, like Jeffry Allen are showing real potential.  The cozy market is now attracting writers like the Regency Romance market did 20 years ago.  And like Regency Romance, there are a LOT of so-so books out there that people just rave about.

 

In her second outing with Emma Taylor and her well-traveled Aunt Arabella, the bottom line of the chic lingerie shop, Sweet Nothings, was still bleeding.  The broken plate glass window would just add to the red ink despite the increase in sales.  Emma returned to Paris, Tennessee to help manage the shop when her aunt asked for help in saving it.  Who knew saving it would be so difficult?  Then an opportunity is offered to them on a plate – a trunk show of their vintage designer lingerie at the luxurious home of Deirdre Porter.  The Porter’s are one of the leading families of Paris and Deirdre has just the kind of friends who would love the exquisite pieces in their collection.

 

The trunk show is a big success – right up until and loud and abrasive Jessica Scott of the Sunny Days Retirement Community keels over after eating a flower topped cupcake.  When she dies in the hospital, Emma starts getting involved because she knows the cupcake baker and her edible flower supplier is Emma’s best friend from high school, Liz.  And sure enough, the new detective shows up at Liz’s house while she’s there.  Despite the fact Liz had no foxglove in her own garden, not with her young children around, there is some in the neighbor’s yard.

 

But Emma has an inside source at Sunny Days.  Sylvia, an elderly lady who helps at the shop with fittings and repairs just got moved there by her concerned son.  Seems Jessica was a bully to everyone, not just her hapless and helpless secretary.  But just before she had that fatal cupcake, Jessica told a story she got from one of their elderly patients, a former maternity nurse, about babies being switched in a hospital when a poor wife of a farmer who already had too many children and the wife of the wealthy town leader having her first child after years of trying, swapped her stillborn son for the healthy farmer’s son.  Thanks to a massive accident and an overwhelmed hospital, only the 3 women knew.  All towns have stories like those.  Kind of like ghost stories.

 

So Emma turns her sights on trying to track that story down and learn more about what’s happening at Sunny Days, and Sylvia will help.  Maybe.  Because she’s being accused of stealing by another resident and Sylvia might just get thrown out.  Then an attempt is made on the life of an elderly patient in the full nursing care part of the facility and Emma is sure her answers are there.

 

Though the characters are pleasing and the pacing is good, there is one major flaw.  A fatal one for any mystery.  If you can’t figure out who did it and why by page 50, you’ll lose your Nancy Drew card for sure.  I kid you not, the ‘clues’ all but have neon signs on them.  While a pleasant enough read, with the usual assortment if quirky characters, the mystery plot was so uninspired it was dead in the water.  As a gentle and pleasant read, fine.  Some good characters and the writing, while bland and lacking the sharp wit I favor, is still very readable.  Dull for me, but readable.  For any real mystery fan, it’s a bust.

 

I know I’m bucking the trend on Amazon, but Laced with Poison gets a C- (2.8*) from me.  It has all the right elements for a cozy, except tension in the plot.  And one unfortunate hint of yet another potential  love triangle with Emma, Brian, and the new police detective.  Let us all hope this series does not commit that over-worn trope in this series too.

 

I have a 3 and out rule on new series.  If the first book shows potential, I’ll try book two.  If that show improvement, then I’ll try book 3.  But if by three I still think the series is treading water, it’s done.  Unfortunately, cozy mysteries are overrun with generic plots and characters and the writing, while not bad, tends to uninspired. A lot of series get kicked off my lists by book 2.  A few stand out and I’ll offer them below as better reads than this bland bit of nothing.

 

Recommended Instead:  The Mall Cop series by Laura DiSilverio; Library Lover’s series and Cupcake Bakery series by Jenn McKinlay (though I didn’t like that last Cupcake Series book); Stay at Home Dad series by Jeffery Allen; and the White House Chef mysteries by Julie Hyzy.

 

 

Mystery Monday – A Letter of Mary

Monday, August 5th, 2013

A Letter of Mary by Laurie R. King

Review by Thomas F. (hardtack)

 

I am continually surprised by my discovery of new, at least to me, authors who abducted Sherlock Holmes into new adventures. Some of these stories are light and short, others are humorous and some are deeply intellectual. I believe Arthur Conan Doyle would respect, if not actually like, the latter.

 

Laurie King has 13 such novels in a series that begins with The Beekeeper’s Apprentice. This series might outrage some devoted Holmes and Watson fans, as Watson is replaced by a young girl. The now-retired Holmes meets 16-year-old Mary Russell on the moor and is intrigued by her. Russell reminds Holmes of himself at a younger age and he is delighted to find that she has many of his deductive skills. However, Russell, like Holmes, has some baggage. She is the sole survivor of a car accident that killed her family, and has the physical and mental scars to prove it. Plus, she has a detested aunt who, appointed her guardian, covets the wealth Russell inherited. This first book spans a number of years during which Russell matures as a detective and also enters Oxford to read for her degree. The plot thickens as it becomes apparent that someone is out to kill both of them.

I just finished A Letter of Mary, which is the third book in the series. Doyle’s fans might be further annoyed that Russell and Homes are now married. They did so after the second book, A Monstrous Regiment of Women. Holmes is now in his 60s, while Russell is in her early 20s and still studying at Oxford, as she makes time between murder mysteries. And both are masters of disguises.

 

Laurie King has threads running though her novels that tie the series together. For example, in A Letter of Mary Holmes and Russell investigate the death of a woman they met in Palestine during the first book, when they were forced to flee England for their lives. While in Palestine they also did some work for Mycroft, Holmes’s brother, who still conducts mysterious business in support of  the British Empire. Mycroft pops up in the first three books, and I suspect others. The Baker Street Irregulars, now grown up and with their own families, make their appearance in the books, still doing errands for Holmes, and now Russell too.

 

There is a very decided feminist thread in the books, as England has emerged from its Victorian Era and women are striving for a greater role in a society much changed after World War I. This especially becomes apparent in the second book and is a strong plot device in the third. In fact, resistance to this new role of women may form the motive for a murder in the third.

 

Those who like to consecutively read all the novels in a series, might want to reconsider that practice for this series. I found the Holmes and Russell novels to be much more intellectual than most cozies, and reading even two back-to-back might tire the brain cells. I found I enjoyed them more when I read several lighter mysteries or other genres in between.

 

If finding Holmes married to a much younger woman, whom he acknowledges as his equal, is unpalatable to you, then just read the first one—The Beekeeper’s Apprentice. Russell is still very much Holmes’ protégé in the first book, and both of them have to deal with an unfinished chapter from Doyle’s adventures that threatens them. And that is all I can tell without spoiling it for you.