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Archive for September, 2017

Mystery Monday – Black Orchids

Monday, September 25th, 2017

Black Orchids by Rex Stout 

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

 

(AKA  The Case of the Black Orchids and Death Wears an Orchid)

 

This novella opens with Archie Goodwin complaining about being dispatched to the Grand Central Flower show for four days running. His boss, the famous if eccentric PI Nero Wolfe, wants him to gather intelligence on three newly-developed black orchid plants hybridized by Lewis Hewitt, an arch-rival in flower fancying who “churns his beer.” 

While at the exhibition, Archie is smitten by a model in a unique exhibit. A beautiful blonde picnics in a sylvan (now there’s a 1940s word) scene with her boyfriend, near a stream, with mossy rock walls nearby. Crowds gather when she bathes her slim ankles and comely dogs in a nearby pool. Archie is unsettled, to the point where he doesn’t mind looking at thousands of flowers.

On fourth day, she follows the script as usual. That is, she tries to awaken her BF who has been feigning a nap with a newspaper over his face. But she runs into Archie who’s jumped over the rope to examine the supine figure. He’d noticed the male model’s foot at an awkward angle and thought it merited investigation. He probes the top of the man’s head with a finger that went “right into a hole in his skull, a way in, and it was like sticking your finger into a warm blueberry pie.”

Yuck. Not for nothing did blurb writers back in the day describe Stout as “gruesome, gory, but gay.” “Gay” as in the 1940s “carefree” sense, you understand.

The method of murder is diabolically clever, as we would expect in a classic mystery from that bygone era. So complicated, in fact, that we readers doubt it would work in the real world.  Still, this, the first novella Stout wrote, is quite a strong entry in the Wolfe canon. Wise-guy Archie’s narration has its usual brash, snappy, likable tone. The dialog between Archie and Wolfe is simultaneously acerbic and affectionate. The overall tone is light-hearted. As a whodunit that plays fair, there are red herrings and plausible deductions. As any good series book does, it delivers the inevitable touchstones we fans look forward to: the irascible Lt. Cramer; the red chair; the city girl with moxie; the glasses of milk; the bottles of beer; Wolfe barking “Archie!” 

It was published in the August 1941 issue of The American Magazine.

 

 

 

 

 

Mystery Monday Review – Top of the Heap

Monday, September 18th, 2017

Top of the Heap by Erle Stanley Gardner (aka A.A. Fair)

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

Published in 1952, this is the thirteenth of 29 novels starring the PI partnership of Bertha Cool and Donald Lam that were written by Erle Stanley Gardner under the pen name of A.A. Fair. After reading about half-dozen of this series (a misnomer since they needn’t be read in any order), I think that Fair’s Cool and Lam novels are smarter, sexier, wittier and just more entertaining than Gardner’s Perry Mason novels. 

Top of the Heap is worth reading. As usual, the murder is a relatively small part of an intricate scheme, plot, or scam. As the running joke, Bertha Cool plays the comic miser like Mr. Krabs. Her hard-charging ways contrast with ex-lawyer Donald Lam’s subtle questioning of persons of interest and holding off cops bent on putting him in the hoosegow.  Another constant is that because gentlemanly Lam is such a considerate listener, all the female characters fall for him in spite of his short stature and reticence.

We don’t expect asides of any sort from Gardner, who drove plots like big sister Lucy runs little brother Linus. Unusual, then, are the social science tangents, especially involving female characters. Gardner puts on his sociologist’s hat to have a young working woman describe Sex in the City in LA circa the early 1950s: “You’re not independent. You’re a cog in the economic and social machine. You can get just so high and no higher. If you want to play you can get acquainted with a lot of playboys. If you want anything you’re stymied.”  Through an ex-strip tease artist, we get the anthropological view from a participant-observer.  The self-possessed fan dancer describes her sense of power over the audience and her teasing of it as the core spectacle of old-time burlesque shows: “I had the most supreme contempt for the individuals in the audience, but the group of the contemptible individuals became an entity, an audience. I loved to hear the roars of applause….” Short unexpected digressions like this distinguish the Cool and Lam novels from the Mason ones.

A publisher called Hard Case Crime got this novel back into print in 2004, its first publication in 30 years. It was an excellent choice. 

 

 

 

Civil War Fiction Review – Killer Angels

Tuesday, September 12th, 2017

The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara

Review by Bon S. (bons)

I have chosen this title THE KILLER ANGELS by Michael Shaara to review for several reasons. First, it is available to order by anyone reading this article in PaperBackSwap.

It has been printed in hardcover, paperback/trade, mass market and audio cassette.
The book itself is a sure winner, being an account of the Battle of Gettysburg on July 1863 and for any American historian of the Civil War, (also known as the War Between the States), it is the story, in novel form, of probably one the most  famous battles fought in that war.

Another important reason for this book review is it is a Pulitzer Prize winner, plus his book was selected as number one in the book  The Leader’s Bookshelf, of which over 200 current and retired military people selected as the most important 50 books they selected to read, which was written and compiled by (Ret.) Admiral Stavridis, USN, and R. Manning Ancell.

On the same site, President Lincoln stood before hundreds of citizens on a cold winter day on November 19, 1863. only five months after that battle, to deliver his Gettysburg Address.

That speech took only 20 minutes and it was said that the people stood in awe, no clapping of hands, no applause of any kind or like recognition… just silence from listening to those 96 words. Lincoln thought he had failed. Yet in reality that speech will live forever as one of the greatest of all.

Michael Shaara’s book captures the essence of those few days of battle and death. He found and retrieved journals and letters of the original words of soldiers. Those who fought their brothers and cousins and died with over 20,000 other soldiers, from both North and South.

He relied on personal letters from non published accounts in journals or printed newspapers. He did not use already researched or published academic studies, or historians points of view. You will find no index, suggested reading list or bibliography in this book.

Shaara’s book is a novel, presented to the readers as the voices of the Confederate side. Loud and clear General Robert E. Lee and his band of generals spoke. In the back of this novel, you will find a afterword and list of the principle Southern military personnel who served the South. Reviewers of this book have stated it is a re-capture of the emotional experiences of the thoughts and actions this battle presented. It is pain revealed, danger and death experienced, and how the men of Lee’s brigades and companies of thousands of men worshiped the man Robert E. Lee.

No one can accurately pin point what the American Civil War was about.  Many theories, many studies, with thousands of books written on its behalf, and yet in the 21st century we have an author who seems to know how to write of the personal feelings and present his theories, leaving a final conclusion to test America’s viewing of this conflict.

He somehow has explained the impossible and it is believed the words he has spoken have come from the heart.  He seems to get inside the heads of the Confederate Army and speaks for the dead soldiers and that lost cause.

Other famous authors of today read this book and cried, others are studying it still, many keep thinking about it and often we have, from a novel, a recreation of a few days in Gettysburg, PA 154 years ago.

Their testimonies are recorded on the dust jacket flaps of this book.

So on those hot July days the battle raged on and history was made. Our minds are transformed from his novel to what this battle and war was all about or what we think it was all about.

Killer Angels helped us to entertain new opinions, different ideas, and even books written 100 years apart from each other of the actual scenes and style of when that event took place.

Michael Shaara’s book reveals the daily and hourly details of those few days of this famous battle and the reason why that battle was fought.

Remember something about this author…he is not a first time writer. He has been around for awhile with his story For the Love of the Game, his great baseball novel, which later was made into a movie.That novel stirred our hearts for America’s pastime. He now has claim to four novels. The others are The Herald and The Soldier Boy, so check him out in PaperBackSwap.

Mystery Monday – Casino Royale

Monday, September 11th, 2017

 

Casino Royaleby Ian Fleming

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

 

This is the first James Bond novel, first published in 1953. A true Bond fan should read it with the caution that in some ways the main character is the Bond we know and like but in others he is not. 

We like the JB that is believable because he feels fatigue and panic. He makes mistakes. Due to cockiness, he lets down his guard and Vesper, the romantic interest, gets kidnapped. However, in this premier, he’s cold, merciless, and callous. His opinion on women spies is summed up as “Women were for recreation. On a job, they got in the way and fogged things up with sex and hurt feelings and all the emotional baggage they carried around.” 

Besides the stereotypes we hold in disapprobation nowadays, the violence in this one is about the hardest of the entire series. The torture scene is almost as cringe-inducing as Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer putting an icepick through a perp’s – well, never mind.

Like I said, a Bond fan should read it because Fleming’s action rocks. The bombing, car chase, and gambling scenes pack punch.  Fleming gives the impression he knows a lot about specialized technologies and the work of spies (he was in Naval Intelligence during WWII). Though Fleming runs low on synonyms by the end and the story drags a bit after the climax with Le Chiffre, read it. You know you want to. It’ll take a whole afternoon.