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Archive for September, 2013

Mystery Monday – Playback

Monday, September 30th, 2013

Playback by Raymond Chandler

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

 

Critics, readers and profs regard Raymond Chandler as the co- founder of hard-boiled detective fiction, along with James M. Cain and Dashiell Hammett. This final novel starring Phillip Marlowe, one of the world’s most famous fictional PI’s, has its strengths. However, its weaknesses make me warn novices to read The Little Sister, The Long Goodbye, The High Window or Farewell, My Lovely if they want to read Chandler for the first time.

One strong point in Playback is an evocative feeling for place (tawdry Southern California). As usual, Chander uses language with flair: “The subject was as easy to spot as a kangaroo in a dinner jacket.” Chandler parodies snappy talk in noir novels and directs well-aimed smacks at the Mickey Spillane School of Hard Knocks and Violent Socks.

Some interest is generated by tangents. A beautiful receptionist demonstrates her broad-minded views of the relations between the sexes in a couple of hot chapters. I’m not complaining too hard but the “good parts” don’t advance the plot or reveal more about our hero Marlowe. One geezer gives a monologue about the filthy rich and another codger goes on about love, death, and god-concepts. We duffers into stoic philosophical systems may wonder if these characters are stand-ins for Chandler. But, to repeat myself like old jossers will, the monologues don’t advance the plot or deepen characterization.

Even tolerant readers who don’t hold whodunnits to the same literary standards as novels may be disappointed. The weak mystery doesn’t provide narrative interest. The reveal is easy to figure out, given the small cast of characters. The lack of plot obviously shows that this was written first as a filmscript and later fleshed out, probably under pressure of illness or time or stress. Chandler was widowed and lonely, timeworn, ill, alcoholic, and hard-pressed when he wrote this novel. The flaws reminded me of Erle Stanley Gardner’s last novel, All Grass isn’t Green (1970), written when he was 80 and battling what folks used to call “The Big C.”

So, Playback is only for readers who like to read everything by an author. I’m glad I read Playback, because it made me respect Chandler more than I had previously. I hadn’t read him since I was in my twenties (in the 1970s). With the snottiness of youth, I had dismissed him as not as serious as Ross Macdonald and rather pretentious and not reliable at tying up loose ends (who killed the chauffeur in The Big Sleep?). I was wrong. I mean, even at near the end of his career, at less than his best, Chandler was still very much aware of language, getting the right words the right places. And he was still creatively experimenting with technique. He was still thinking hard about somber themes. I have to respect a writer with so much grit, so much soul.

 

 

 

 

 

Historical Paranormal Fiction Review – The Taker

Wednesday, September 25th, 2013

 

The Taker by Alma Katsu

Review by Kelsey O.

 

With her blend of history and fantasy, Alma Katsu comes blazing out of the gates with her first novel. The best aspect of this novel is the fact that the fantasy part of the story is very obtuse. You don’t really know what the main character, Lanny McIlvrae is except that she is immortal. With Lanny’s beginnings told in flashbacks to Dr. Luke Findley, the reader is drawn into this story of doomed love and dark desires.

 

Dr. Luke Findley has hit rock bottom. His wife has left him and he feels trapped in the small Main town of St. Andrews. When he clocks into his night shift he never dreamed he would find himself on the run with a mysterious woman named Lanny who was brought in by the police as a murder suspect. As Lanny explains her life, from her humbled beginnings to why she murdered the only man she has ever loved, Luke finds himself falling for this petite damaged woman.

 

Even though this story says it is a love story, I didn’t feel there was much romance between these pages. This love story is what I stated above, doomed love. From Lanny’s childhood crush on Jonathan that turns into an obsession to her dark tormented relationship with Adair, the man that gave her immortality. Lanny’s life is full of darkness and sadness.

 

I would definitely recommend this story to anyone that liked Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles. The world building is exceptional and has the potential to be an amazing trilogy. It will consume the reader until the very final pages and leave you desiring the next installment. I am so glad that I took the advice of my local bookstore employee and picked this one up. I think I found a new author to add to my favorites list!

 

 

 

 

 

 

WWI History Review – The Remains of Company D

Tuesday, September 24th, 2013

The Remains of Company D: A Story of the Great War
by James Carl Nelson

 

Review by Thomas F. (hardtack)

 

So what happens after the shooting stops and the flags are furled? Most people just go back to their lives. But for many others, their lives stopped; sometimes permanently, sometimes for weeks, months and years, when their loved ones were killed in the fighting.

The author is one of those who went ‘searching for the bodies’ and the stories, decades after the end of Would War I.  He tried to discover why his grandfather was so emotionally distant. So after his grandfather’s death, he went looking for experiences in a war that shaped his grandfather’s life. While on that ‘trip’ he also discovered the stories of the men who fought and died within the same company. He also discovered the stories of men who tried to find their sons and brothers, and mothers who never gave up hope that their sons would be discovered, or at least their bodies recovered.  In many cases, the author follows the men from their lives as civilians before the war, to their adventures after enlisting and in training camps, and then their mind-numbing experiences in combat.

World War I is mostly forgotten now. I believe the last American WW I veteran died recently. As a former Marine and a Civil War reenactor, I am familiar with the stories of casualties in numerous wars. But I have never been able to understand the terrible loss of life in World War I. You would think that our so-called great generals of this war would have learned from the stupid mistakes of the idiot generals who had been bleeding their countries dry for the three years before we got into the war, but it didn’t happen.

That is the sad side of this interesting story, the unbelievable casualties that Company D and hundreds of other companies suffered because our generals wanted to prove that Americans could die just as well as Europeans. The other side is the pride we should feel, after reading these stories, for the men who willingly went to war to make the world ‘safe for democracy.’ Many of those who died were not born citizens of the United States, but went to war in Europe to ensure that war would not come to America. Maybe we should make this book required reading for members of Congress so they would hopefully understand how stupid their political games look against this backdrop of human sacrifice.

If you ever visit the National Museum of the Marine Corps (free admission) in Quantico, Virginia, make certain you see the short film of the Marines assaulting across a French field into Belleau Wood. After seeing that film, I thanked God I was in the Marines during Viet Nam and not during World War I.

 

 

 

Mystery Monday – Bruno, Chief of Police

Monday, September 23rd, 2013

Bruno, Chief of Police by Martin Walker

Review by Cheryl R. (Spuddie)

 

Series order: #1
Main Character: Benoit Courrèges, aka Bruno, in St. Denis, France
Benoit Courrèges is the chief of police in a village in southern France. A former soldier who has seen horrible things, he’s very happy to settle into the slow, easy routine of village life and uses his head and heart to solve the disputes that do sometimes crop up, rarely using his police power to arrest anyone. He’s renovating his home outside the village, an old shepherd’s cottage that he’s already put years of work into, and loves cooking and fine wines. So life is good for Bruno, which is what he’s known as to the locals. And then the grisly murder of a North African immigrant, also a retired soldier, rocks the town, and Bruno must put aside his gentle ways to apprehend the killer.
It took me awhile to warm up to Bruno. At first, it felt to me like the author was trying to copy the style of Louise Penny, who writes one of my very favorite series set in French Quebec in Canada. The ambience of the village seemed quite similar to Three Pines, and it seemed as though Bruno also was a bit of an oddball detective with different ways of thinking and looking at the world. So as I first embarked on this read, I was a bit resentful that anyone would even TRY to emulate Penny’s series. As I got into the middle of the book however, it became clear that Bruno was going to be his own man, and St. Denis, his village, was definitely not Three Pines. Thank heavens for that!
As a lover of foreign mysteries, one of the things I enjoy about them is the immersion into a totally different culture, the description of day-to-day life that is so different from my own. I’ve learned a lot of probably useless facts about the world from reading fiction, but also have had glimpses into other ways of life, belief systems, political systems, and the like. For example, while there are always certain procedural similarities in murder investigation from one country or locale to another, there are often differences based on different laws, how the regulatory hierarchy is set up, and so on. But as in so many murder mysteries regardless of where they take place, Bruno must tread carefully and often ends up bucking the wishes of his superiors if he wants to actually solve the case rather than just quickly come up with the most convenient suspect. He must delve deeply into the dead man’s past to do this, which leads him dangerously close to some things important people don’t want brought to light.
Although I had a few problems with the book, small annoyances, by the time I finished, I had come to like Bruno and his little village of St Denis very much. I don’t know if it will become a favorite, but I am definitely looking forward to the second in series. Four solid stars!
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Literature and Fiction Review – Blame

Thursday, September 19th, 2013

Blame by Michelle Huneven

Review by Mirah W. (mwelday)

 

What would happen if an event that changed the course of your life turned out not to have happened the way you thought?  What if there were details you didn’t know?  Would you be the person you became because of the event or would you be fake, just someone portraying who you thought you were supposed to be?

Patsy MacLemoore is a smart, professional woman with a problem: she is an alcoholic who has been known to experience alcohol-induced blackouts.  During one of her blackouts two people are killed and she is found guilty of their deaths.  Patsy’s life changes after this event and she makes choices, some of which are fueled by guilt.  But what is the full story of what happened that night?  I’m not going to tell you here but, as the full story is revealed, Patsy struggles to be honest with herself about all of the motivations behind her choices.

One thing I really like about ‘Blame’ is Huneven carefully crafts and delivers Patsy’s character development.  Patsy’s struggles are relatable; she could be your family member, a friend or neighbor.  Her story is told with honesty and a heavy dose of reality.

I also liked how Huneven started the story with characters other than Patsy.  At first I was confused but then it started to make sense to me.  In my opinion, in the beginning Patsy wasn’t comfortable in her own skin. She was swayed by alcohol and the people around her and didn’t have control of her own life.  So it seemed appropriate for the author to demonstrate that lack of control by not revealing how Patsy fit in the big picture at the beginning of the novel.

After reading this novel, I am definitely going to read other books by Huneven.  My final judgment: ‘Blame’ is worthy of five stars.

 

 

 

 

Historical Fiction Review – The Chalice

Wednesday, September 18th, 2013

The Chalice by Nancy Bilyeau

Review by Jerelyn H. (I-F-Letty)

I enjoyed The Crown so it was a foregone conclusion that I would pick up Ms. Bilyeau’s second novel The Chalice.

Former novice Joanna Stafford is trying to make a life for herself in the village that was once served by Dartford Abbey, all the while facing bigotry and resentment from the villagers.  Many of the Sisters, Brother Edmund, and Constable Geoffrey Scoville, once again populate the pages.  As well as the nemeses that plagued Joanna’s life are back, plus a few more for good measure.  She is once again a pawn in a dangerous game, but one that has a far wider reach than in the last novel.

Bilyeau is a fine writer and she tells a good tale.  She writes with a real knowledge of the Tudor period, and while she takes small liberties now and then with historic figures, it is done with real forethought as it pertains to the arc of the story, so is not gratuitous.  Of course she is going to be more sympathetic to the characters that follow the Church of Rome, Joanna was a novice after all and views life through that belief system.  Bilyleau does a superb job of showing the difficulties that the inhabitance of the religious houses had assimilating back in to a secular society, after the dissolution of the monasteries, especially when the secular society under Henry VIII was so undefined.  There is mysticism and devious plots and love stories and betrayal and through it all Joanna tries to keep her faith.

4 stars 

 

 

Mystery Monday – The Undergound Man

Monday, September 16th, 2013

 

The Undergound Man by Ross Macdonald

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

 

Ross Macdonald’s complicated plots hinged on PI Lew Archer’s investigations into family backgrounds. Social class, economic hardship, mental illness, and substance abuse pressure families, leading moms to snap, dads to disappear, and kids to dabble in trouble. Macdonald’s stories are all virtually the same, but the concise style plus the social and psychological insights keep us fans reading these uniquely American tragedies.

In The Underground Man, Archer is hired by a distraught mother whose child has possibly been kidnapped by two crazy, mixed up teenagers. Set in about 1970 in California, two specters haunt the setting. The psychedelic drug LSD drives kids to places their minds probably shouldn’t go. Environmental damage is caused by deforestation and wildfires and subsequent landslides as well as oil spills and chemicals  such as DDT. Referring to DDT damaging the eggs of seabirds, he mentions “a generation whose elders had been poisoned … with a kind of moral DDT that damaged the lives of their young.” Indeed, the moral rot and cowardice among the California rich go far beyond one character’s bald advice to small business owners, “The rich never pay their bills.”

The wonder of Macdonald, though, is his Agatha Christie-like talent at misdirection. We readers get so immersed in the calamities that these families must face that the reveal of the perp comes as a complete surprise. Whatever that literary magic thingy is that keeps us reading, engrossed, Macdonald, like Dickens, Christie and Gardner, had it in spades.