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Archive for October, 2017

Mystery Series Spotlight – Andy Carpenter

Tuesday, October 24th, 2017

The Andy Carpenter Mystery Series by David Rosenfelt

By Marianna S. (Angeloudi)

David Rosenfelt has written a very witty and unique series about reluctant criminal defense attorney Andy Carpenter, who, with the help of his golden retriever, Tara, gets clients acquitted against great odds. I just finished the 8th volume in the series, Dog Tags, which did not disappoint. Andy Carpenter inherited a substantial trust fund after his father passed away, which gives him the freedom to take on as few or as many clients as he wishes, many of whom are pro bono (and never charged a fee.) As a sideline, he and former client Willie run a dog rescue foundation for golden retrievers.
Dogs play a prominent part in the series, and especially in Dog Tags. Milo, a former Army canine from Iraq, returns with his disabled owner Billy Zimmerman, who is accused of murdering a former commanding officer one night.  The police are interested in the dog, who had been trained as a thief after his return to the states. Why would the FBI and various mobsters all be interested in this dog?  In a complex plot with many twists and turns, all clues lead back to a suicide bombing in Iraq which resulted in 18 deaths and Billy’s loss of a leg.
What makes these mysteries unique is the witty one liners and wisecracks that keep the reader laughing while trying to figure out who the bad guys are.  There are some funny and unique supporting characters such as body guard Marcus, who can eat one out of house and home in a single stake-out, and Laurie, Andy’s former cop faithful girlfriend.
To get the background story, the books can be read in order, although each one can also be read as a stand-alone.  Highly recommended, witty series.

Mystery Monday – One Man Show

Monday, October 23rd, 2017

One Man Show by Michael Innes

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

This 1952 mystery is also titled Murder is an Art and the UK title is A Private View.  Series hero Sir John Appleby, head of CID at Scotland Yard, is pressured by his wife Judith, who is a sculptor, to attend a gallery showing the work of a recently deceased young artist.  Innes makes Sir John suffer from art-babble along the lines of “A determined effort to disintegrate reality in the interest of the syncretic principle.” Plus, his paragraph describing the faces of snobbish attendees while they try to look engrossed and knowledgeable provides laughs at the expense of in-crowdism.

However, from under Sir John’s nose, the artist’s masterpiece is stolen. As the chase gets started, readers will remember the Duke of Horton from Innes’ classic Hamlet, Revenge of 1937. Another attraction is that Judith Appleby gets on the trail of the crooks. Funny are the perfect Cherman-like accent of art dealer Brown, born Braunkopf – “a pig broblem to unnerstan” – and the fight scene in a junk shop run by the Krook-like Mr. Steptoe. Braunkopf pops up in Money from Holme, too, another delightful entertainment. 
Like many of Innes’ stories, the time span is very short – in this case little more than 12 hours. Highly recommended. 

Mystery Monday Review – All Grass Isn’t Green

Monday, October 16th, 2017

All Grass Isn’t Green  by A A. Fair aka Erle Stanley Gardner

 

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

 

Milton Carling Calhoun hires PI team Bertha Cool and Donald Lam to find the missing writer Colburn Hale. Calhoun acts cagey about his background and the reasons why he wants to talk with Hale. As a result, Lam suspects funny business is afoot. 

He easily uncovers the fact that Colhoun is a scion of a wealthy family. Lam starts tracking Hale and finds out another struggling writer, Nanncie Beaver, has gone missing too.  The trail leads to Mexico’s porous border with Calexico, CA, across which tourists casually stroll (it’s 1970 in the novel) and crooks, aided by the high tech of CB radios, smuggle marijuana.  A smuggler is knocked off with Calhoun’s pistol. Lam’s series nemesis, Lt. Sellers of the LAPD, starts measuring Calhoun’s neck for the noose. 

When he wrote as A.A. Fair, Erle Stanley Gardner let himself relax a little. For instance, he is more apt to go off on tangents. He spends time describing the desert country, which he loved and wanted conserved. As in other Cool and Lam books, he supports the cause of women forced into disagreeable jobs, such as exotic dancers, clerical staff, retail supervisors and clerks, and other hard-pressed workers. Gardner, a successful writer, is surprisingly sympathetic to struggling writers who work hard for peanuts from money-grubbing publishers. 

Published in 1971, this was the last Cool and Lam novel. The book is still readable because Lam is narrating in first-person and in the courtroom scene a young DA gets his comeuppance. Bertha Cool, the comic miser, puts in a mere walk-on in the first and last chapters. The dialogue recapitulates information we readers already know. 

Novices or non-fans may want to give this one a pass.  But at the end fans will admire the fireworks Gardner could still light and feel gratitude at the hours of sheer reading pleasure that he provided.   

 

Historical Spy Fiction Review – The Foreign Correspondent

Tuesday, October 10th, 2017

 

The Foreign Correspondent by Alan Furst

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

Alan Furst writes best-selling historical spy fiction. The novels are set before and during World War II. His protagonists are similar to Eric Ambler and Alfred Hitchcock’s ordinary people pulled into murky intrigues in which they have no control over anything except their own will, their own sense that they must strike back against tyranny. With authority and conformity the default settings for many, Furst’s protagonists resist and rebel instinctively, like hardcore readers (“Hey, adult, I’d rather read than go outside, thank you very much.”). Furstian heroes don’t have abstract philosophies about liberty and freedom. They just don’t like getting pushed around and feel they must fight or be overwhelmed by bigots, xenophobes, haters, and the Colonel Cathcarts that all have a right to do anything we can’t stop them from doing. Want rights? Fight for them.

This novel is set 1938, right on the eve of war. Carlo Weisz, along with scores of other Italian brain workers, has had to move to Paris. He belongs to a small group that publishes an underground newspaper that is printed in Italy, then distributed samizdat-style by sneaky teenagers (perennial Furstian heroes) in bus stations and other public places.

Carlo finds himself dealing with agents of various intelligence services and plug-uglies sent by Mussolini. He’s able to visit Germany on reporting jobs and meets the woman that he loves, unfortunately married to anti-fascists and thus watched by the Gestapo.

The Foreign Correspondent is long on atmosphere and short on action. But it’s heartening for rebellious readers.

 

 

 

Mystery Series Spotlight – Amelia Peabody

Monday, October 9th, 2017

The Amelia Peabody Series by Elizabeth Peters

By Vicky T. (VickyJo)

What is it about a series that is so appealing? You would think that several books about the same person would get—if not boring—then at the very least, monotonous.  But for me, if I enjoy the main character, then I want to continue peeking into his or her personal life; I want to continue sharing adventures and finding out what comes next.  I’m obviously not alone in this, because more and more series are being written every day, especially in the mystery genre.   

Lately, I’ve been reading my way through a series written by Elizabeth Peters.  We are introduced to Amelia Peabody in the first novel, Crocodile on the Sandbank.  It’s 1884, and Amelia’s indulgent father has died, leaving her a very wealthy spinster.  Amelia decides to use her money to see the world, and heads to Egypt by way of Rome.  She comes across a young woman named Evelyn, who has been abandoned (and “ruined”) by her lover; Amelia takes her under her wing, making Evelyn her companion as they journey on to the archaeological wonders of Egypt.   

The two women run into very suspicious happenings, and it seems as though Evelyn is in danger.  Amelia fancies herself a sleuth and is determined to not only solve this mystery, but to help the eminent archaeologist she has just met, Radcliffe Emerson, and his younger brother Walter to…well, to do everything.  Men are not the most organized creatures, are they?   

This novel is such fun!  It’s presented to the “Dear Reader” as Amelia’s journal, and the mystery aspect takes a secure back seat to the cast of unforgettable characters.  While Evelyn and Walter fall in love, Amelia and Emerson (he hates his given name) clash repeatedly, and it’s a wonder no one gets throttled.  There is sly humor throughout, and one can’t help but admire Amelia (as she knew you would, of course). 

The author (whose real name was Barbara Mertz) had a PhD in Egyptology and she used her knowledge to give her novels a very authentic feel.  She also includes real people from the time, especially Howard Carter (who eventually discovers the tomb of King Tut) and other luminaries from the world of late Victorian archaeology.  (Emerson does not consider them luminaries.  He considers them bungling idiots who have no earthly idea how to run a cursed dig.)   

There are 20 books in the series, 19 of them by Elizabeth Peters, and one published in 2017 by Joan Hess.  (Elizabeth Peters died in 2013.)

If you’re looking for a fun mystery with engaging characters, an exotic locale and not much in the way of gory murder (although be prepared for mummies) this is the series for you! 

 

Amelia Peabody Series

1 – Crocodile on the Sandbank, 1975

2 – The Curse of the Pharaohs, 1981

3 – The Mummy Case, 1985

4 – Lion In The Valley, 1986

5 – Deeds of the Disturber, 1988

6 – The Last Camel Died at Noon, 1991

7 – The Snake, the Crocodile, and the Dog, 1992

8 –The Hippopotamus Pool, 1996

9 – Seeing a Large Cat, 1997

10 – The Ape Who Guards the Balance, 1998

11 – The Falcon at the Portal, 1999

12 – He Shall Thunder in the Sky, 2000

13 – Lord of the Silent, 2001

14 – The Golden One, 2002

15 – Children of the Storm, 2003

16 – Guardian of the Horizon, 2004

17 – The Serpent on the Crown, 2005

18 – Tomb of the Golden Bird, 2006

19 – A River in the Sky, 2010

20. The Painted Queen, 2017 (written by Joan Hess)

 

 

Fiction Review – The Ocean at the End of the Lane

Tuesday, October 3rd, 2017

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

Review by Vicky T. (VickyJo)

 

“I remember my own childhood vividly – I knew terrible things. But I knew I mustn’t let adults know I knew. It would scare them.” ~ Maurice Sendak, in conversation with Art Spiegelman. 

This quote opens Neil Gaiman’s novel, The Ocean at the End of the Lane and beautifully sets the tone for this compact cross between a fairy tale and a horror story. Let me say this right up front: if you do not enjoy magic in your fiction, stop right here. Gaiman presents the very real magic of childhood, where things are generally black or white, good or evil; where magical things can and do happen without too much disbelief on a child’s part. 

The book opens with a middle-aged man traveling back home to Sussex, England, for a funeral. He takes a seemingly aimless drive through the countryside, only to realize that he has been heading to the site of his childhood home, and the home of a childhood friend, Lettie Hempstock. This visit takes him down memory lane to the events that occurred when he was only seven years old, and Lettie was eleven. As the narrator reminisces, his memory becomes sharper, more true — and we see the reality of a very dangerous time that, for some reason, he does not remember as an adult – not until he comes back to this place. It’s almost a glimpse into an alternate universe, except we, as readers, know it’s the real universe. 

I loved this book. I loved how Gaiman captured my childhood philosophy: Don’t Tell the Adults. They won’t believe you, or worse — they’ll ruin it. Magical things can happen, and you just need to deal with it, for with height and age comes disbelief and impatience. The world we live in as children must not be betrayed, even if we get scared sometimes. 

The Specsavers National Book Award is a British literary award which honors the best UK writers and their works, as selected by an academy of members from the British book publishing industry. There is the best in fiction, in non-fiction, in autobiography, and so on. From this list of winners, readers vote to select the Book of the Year. It is the only literary award chosen by the reading public. And the winner for 2013 was The Ocean at the End of the Lane. It’s a lovely honor, and well-deserved. 

Give it a try; after all, can so many voters be wrong?  Oh, and don’t tell the adults what you’re reading…