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Archive for May, 2018

Fiction Review – Handling Sin

Tuesday, May 29th, 2018

Handling Sin by Michael Malone

Review by Cheryl G. (Poncer)

 

I had a hard time reading this book, but not for the obvious reasons. It was hard to read because in every single paragraph there was some funniness that made me stop and laugh, out loud.

This book is a riotous romp from cover to cover. And there is quite a ways from the beginning to the end; 656 pages to be exact. And worth every hour it took to read.

The hero, Raleigh Whittier Hayes is sent on what seems to be a wild goose chase by his ill and elderly father through most of the south. And of course he has a side-kick. His loyal neighbor Mingo Sheffield tried to kill poor Raleigh at the start of the book, but through their adventures become bestest-ever friends and allies.

The cast of characters that Raleigh and Mingo run into along the way, an old-school gangster, a used-car salesman cousin, a troubled half-brother, jazz musicians and other assorted crazies, are all gems. Well developed character, each and every one.

Like the best books, this a story of transforming, and of becoming better humans. But the lessons learned come at a price. Don’t they always? If you are looking for a light read, this is not it. Mr. Malone is witty and a great story teller. If you are looking for a book that will make you laugh and think, and celebrate humans with all their foibles this is the book.

4 Stars

Mystery Monday – Double or Quits

Monday, May 28th, 2018

Double or Quits by A.A. Fair (Erle Stanley Gardner)

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

 

Writing as A.A. Fair, Erle Stanley Gardner released the fourth and fifth Bertha Cool – Donald Lam mysteries in 1941. In March, Spill the Jackpot had portly Bertha Cool lose weight due to pneumonia. In December, Double or Quits finds Bertha and her crack investigator Lam taking the day off to go fishing. Due to her health scare, Bertha becomes determined not work her life away without having any fun.

But another angler at the pier turns out to be Dr. Hilton Deverest, an M.D. with a big problem. Jewels from his safe have disappeared and so has Nollie Starr, his wife’s social secretary. He hires Cool and Lam to find the secretary, get the jewels back, and let her know that the doc will let bygones be bygones. Things get complicated for Cool and Lam when their client is found dead on the floor of his garage with his car engine running.

At this point with the case heating up, Gardner takes a little digression to tell the tale of how Lam pressures Bertha to make the agency a partnership. Miserly Bertha howls as if stabbed, but agrees. The first thing new partner Lam does is boost the wages of the agency secretary Elsie Brand. Not just a pretty name (I had two aunts named Elsie), she is a Gardnerian Ideal Woman: loyal, resourceful, game, insightful, quick-witted, kind, and easy on the eye.

As usual for both the mystery genre and Erle Stanley Gardner, the characterization is weak. But, more than in the Perry Mason novels, Gardner gets across the sense that the characters are plausible adults having real-life grown-up problems. Dr. and Mrs. Deverest have a marriage so troubled it borders on the sick. The doctor’s niece Nadine Croy is dealing with an ex that is milking her for money. Heartless con men exploit widows’ loneliness and discontent. In a fine scene, Elsie Brand’s cooking appeals to cop’s appetite which proves to be his undoing since after Bertha makes him pay for his greed and poor judgement. In another amusing scene, Lam plays another doctor like a fish, getting him to toss his professional ethics overboard.

More cheering is the relationship that Lam has with Elsie. It is not of the platonic nature of the one between Perry Mason and Della. Near the end of Double or Quits, a nurse solemnly warns Elsie not to be alone with Lam because, under the influence, he might be “abnormally stimulated.” Gardner writes, “Elsie Brand laughed in her face.”

True, the plotting gets convoluted. Granted, the deduction is rather improbable. But this is well worth reading just for the sheer enjoyment of the comical interplay between brainy Lam and stingy hard-charging Bertha, plus of the tender back and forth between Lam and Elsie. It’s funny how the Cool & Lam novels are a little hard-boiled and a little cozy at the same time.

 

 

 

Series Spotlight – The Scotland Yard Murder Squad

Tuesday, May 1st, 2018

 

The Scotland Yard Murder Squad Series by Alex Grecian

 

by Vicky T. (VickyJo)

 

 
I want to share with you a series of murder mysteries that I thoroughly enjoyed, written by Alex Grecian. The series is called the Scotland Yard Murder Squad, and the first book, The Yard, introduces us to Inspector Walter Day, a young, up-and-coming detective with Scotland Yard, Sergeant Nevil Hammersmith, an unlucky but clever colleague, and Dr. Kingsley, the coroner who has a fascination with clues.   

Walter Day has just come to London to join the newly created Murder Squad.  He is recently married to Clare, a woman who loves and supports him, but according to her parents, she’s married beneath her.  In spite of this, she is happy and adjusting to being the wife of a Scotland Yard detective. 

Alex Grecian brings Victorian London to life: rainy days in a gray city full of fog and grim alleys.  His characters are likeable (well, the good guys) and very believable.  He explores the lack of technology by showing us the difficulties of no rapid communication and no forensic science. Imagine trying to find a boy to deliver an urgent message for a penny rather than having a telephone at hand. 

Today, applying forensic science to criminal investigations is commonplace, but the Scotland Yard Murder Squad operates in Victorian London, where such practices are just being born. Dr. Kingsley is very fond of fingerprints, in spite of the Yard’s skepticism, and tries (mostly in vain) to convince the police to preserve a crime scene rather than tramp all over the place destroying evidence.  The notion of trying to understand the criminal mind, and searching for patterns of behavior and thought is also new and being tested at this time.   

The second book is The Black Country, which sees Walter and Nevil traveling to the Midlands, a place of superstitious villagers, a mysterious epidemic that is killing people, and the sinking of the village into the coal mines below.  So trying to find three missing family members suddenly takes on a bizarre edge, and Walter is challenged to the utmost.   

 

The third book, The Devil’s Workshop, tells us what had happened to Jack the Ripper (he was still alive, being held prisoner by a vigilante group determined to bring him to their own brand of justice) and introduced us to a murderer called the Harvest Man, after the Harvest spider who lives in attics. The Harvest Man liked to lurk in attics until the family was sound asleep, and then come out to kill.  But he had been captured, and was in prison—until he escaped with three other prisoners during a jail break.  To make matters worse, Jack the Ripper managed to escape his captors as well.  Walter Day and Nevil Hammersmith are racing against time to find these two madmen.  

 

 

Without giving too much away, let me just say that The Devil’s Workshop ended on a ‘bit’ of a cliffhanger, and the tension immediately continues in The Harvest Man, with the action picking up shortly after the third book ends.  The hunt is still on, and time is rapidly running out as the victim count rises.  Oh, and if you thought the cliffhanger was bad in book three, then brace yourself!  It’s even worse in book four.  So have book 5, Lost and Gone Forever, close by!  You won’t be sorry.  Grecian has announced that there will be a sixth book, but no definite date has been set.  I’m anxiously awaiting the next installment!