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Archive for September, 2018

Mystery Monday Review – The Big Knockover and Other Stories

Monday, September 17th, 2018

The Big Knockover and Other Stories
by Dashiell Hammett


Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

Hammet was a master of PI fiction in the 1920s. These long stories star The Continental Operative, the nameless detective employed by the Continental Detective Agency. The writing is lucid, the tone hard-boiled and the settings realistic.

The Gutting of Couffignal (1925). The Op is employed by a rich dude to guard the presents at the wedding reception of the rich dude’s daughter. An audacious attack by a gang of robbers nets millions in booty. His attempt to recruit the locals on the exclusive island fails since “You can’t fight machine guns and hand grenades with peaceful villagers and retired capitalists.”

Fly Paper (1929). A debutante hangs out with the wrong people and finds that living on the edge with violence-prone knuckle-walkers is to her taste. The Op lands right in the middle of four marriages that are all rotten in unique ways. This story also shows Hammett’s penchant and supreme ability to set a large number of characters to bounce off each other.

The Scorched Face (1925). The Op is assigned to find two missing daughters. He uncovers evidence that connects a many socialite suicides and disappearances. The subtext of unbridled sex and its unfortunate consequences for vulnerable people – especially women – reflect an unease many people felt in the 1920s as Victorian mores were discarded.

This King Business (1928). The Op is sent to a Balkan country to extricate the wayward son of a rich guy. The son has found himself bankrolling a revolution for a crew of wily Slavs. The treatment of freebooting – i.e., funding coups out of sheer ignorance and misguided adventure and idealism – holds powerful interest in this story.

The Gatewood Caper (1923). Another wayward daughter case. It’s good, but feels half-done, as if its writing were rushed, that the writer should’ve revised a couple more times.. The setting of the Pacific Northwest – lumbering land – is persuasive.

Dead Yellow Women (1925). Set in San Francisco’s Chinatown, the Op and a Master Chinese Tong Boss match wits. In places it feels like a satire of a Yellow Peril story. The description of the maze-like interior of the criminal mastermind’s mansion is a tour de force.

Corkscrew (1925). The Op is a fish out of water when he assigned to clean up remote Corkscrew, Arizona. This ought to remind the astute reader of the masterwork Red Harvest. A gunslinger remarks, “A hombre might guess that you was playing the Circle H. A. R. against Bardell’s crew, encouraging each side to eat up the other, and save you the trouble.” The Op replies, “You could be either right or wrong. Do you think that’d be a dumb play?”

Tulip (1952) is a fragment of an autobiographical novel Hammett attempted near the end of life. Not consistently convincing as fiction, it at least presents Hammett’s ideas about literary form and content.

The Big Knockover (1927). Another audacious crime – the robbery of two banks at the same time. Unlikely that such an operation could be planned as carefully as the story would have it, but it has a lot of action and witty dialogue.

106,000 Blood Money (1927). This presents the sequel to The Big Knockover. Like many aftermath stories, it is less satisfying than the original, because the characters are made of cardboard. With hinges.




Non-Fiction Review – Touching History

Tuesday, September 11th, 2018


Touching History: The Untold Story of the Drama That Unfolded in the Skies Over America on 9/11

by Lynn Spencer


Review Vicky T. (VickyJo)


The Federal Aviation Administration Command Center is located in Herndon, Virginia. The Center is responsible for monitoring and planning the flow of civilian air traffic over the United States. 50 specialists work full time with airlines and air traffic control centers, helping to guide the nearly 50,000 flights operating on any given day in the U.S. They watch flight trajectories and weather patterns on huge screens. Picture NASA’s Mission Control, and you have a good idea of what the FAA’s Command Center is all about.

Ben Sliney was hired as the national operations manager at the Command Center. His job would be to oversee all 50 specialists, and he was very qualified for the position, having been an air traffic controller and then a manager for many years. But still, there was a bit of nervousness on his first day of this new job. We’ve all felt that, right? First day on a job jitters.

There’s one wrinkle, though. Ben Sliney’s first day on the job just happened to be September 11th, 2001. That’s right: 9/11.

Ben Sliney’s story, and the story of scores of other people from the flight industry and the military, is told in the gripping book “Touching History: The Untold Story of the Drama that Unfolded in the Skies over America on 9/11” by Lynn Spencer. Spencer gives us a minute by minute account of that terrible day, allowing us to experience the events of 9/11 through the eyes of other pilots, air traffic controllers, and the military personnel that scrambled to respond to an unthinkable situation.

This book, even though it’s non-fiction, reads like a suspense novel. The minutes and hours tick down as we go from the FAA’s Command Center, to the American Airlines headquarters, to various air traffic controllers, to other pilots in their cockpits. The author is a pilot and a flight instructor, so she does an excellent job of explaining flight terms, and keeping the various characters and agencies straight. I learned a lot about civilian flights, our military response to the threat that day, and about the personalities involved.

It’s the little details that I found fascinating. For instance, when the hijackers picked up the intercom to talk to the passengers in the cabin, they didn’t realize that the intercom didn’t just broadcast to the passengers in the plane; everything they were saying was on the plane radios, and could be heard by other pilots in other aircraft. Another chilling detail: the North American Aerospace Defense Command (or NORAD) is the agency that is responsible for the detection of and response to an attack against the mainland United States. Sept. 11th was the day they had scheduled a training exercise, which would include a simulated hijacking. So when word came in of a plane suspected of being hijacked…everyone thought it was part of the exercise.

Not only did U.S. air flights need to be grounded that day, an incredible decision that poor Ben Sliney had to make, but flights coming into the U.S. had to be re-routed when the unprecedented decision to close American air space came down. It was just too unbelievable for many folks. One radio controller had the task of trying to explain this to an incoming Asian flight. The pilot was enroute to San Francisco, but was told he could not land in the U.S. “No problem, we go to Oakland.” “Negative, Sir, You are unable to land in U.S. airspace.” “Oh..roger! We go to Los Angeles.” “No, sir. You cannot go to the United States. The United States is closed.” The controller then sends the flight to Vancouver. The pilot finally understands the implications of all this, and signs off with a quiet, “Our condolences.”

For an inside look at 9/11 from a unique perspective, be sure to try “Touching History.”





Mystery Monday Review – A Most Contagious Game

Monday, September 10th, 2018


A Most Contagious Game by Catherine Aird

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)


In this 1967 whodunnit, our main character, Charles Hardin, is a London business man who has had to retire in his early fifties because of a dicky heart. While in hospital, he’s given his wife a blank check to buy whatever manor house she can find that she finds suitable.

Once discharged and in the house in the village of Easterbrooke, he is discouraged to find the house is not much of a fixer-upper. His attitude changes quickly when he discovers a priest’s hole, a hiding place for a priest built into many of the foremost Catholic houses of England during the period when Catholics were persecuted by the Tudors. The chamber, in fact, contains a skeleton about 150 years old. To parallel this old murder mystery is the contemporary murder of an errant wife, whose husband, having vanished, is the suspect.

As Charles does his research on the old murder, readers will be reminded of Josephine Tey’s classic A Daughter of Time, in which a bedridden copper rehabs the rep of Richard III. This village cozy has a brisk pace and well-drawn characters. The prose is witty and intelligent but not too much so. This is a stand-alone mystery, her only outing that did not feature the team of Sloan and Crosby. Though I have kiddish memories of an uncle who read mysteries having Catherine Aird books, this was the first one of hers that I’ve ever read. I can say that I’d like to read more, though I’m usually snobby about cozies.




14th Birthday Contest Winner!

Friday, September 7th, 2018


We have a winner! Congratulations to

Marya Z. (rutabaker)


Your entry was chosen at random as the winner of our Favorites at 14 14th Birthday Contest! You have a choice of either 6 PaperBackSwap Credits, one year of Standard Membership or a one year subscription to Box-O-Books. We will be sending you an email so you can let us know which prize you choose.

Thank you to everyone who entered our contest! It was great to read about all of your favorite books!

And stay tuned here on the PaperBackSwap Blog and to our Facebook page for more chances to win books and prizes!

And be sure to follow us on Facebook, to be among the first to learn of contest and give-aways.


PaperBackSwap’s 14th Birthday Contest

Monday, September 3rd, 2018


Today, PaperBackSwap turns 14! Happy Birthday to us! And what is a Birthday Party without games?!

Since playing pin the tail on the donkey, or musical chairs isn’t easy to do online, we have come up with a game everyone can play.
We call it Favorites at 14.

Here is how it works:

In the comments here on the Blog, tell us one of your favorite books, title and author, from when you were 14, or thereabouts. And tell us why you liked the book.

It is that simple. On Friday, September 7, 2018, we will choose a winner at random.

The winner will receive their choice of 6 PaperBackSwap Credits, one year of Standard Membership or a one year subscription to Box-O-Books.

Contest is only open to current PBS members whose accounts are in good standing.


Good luck to everyone!



Free Book Friday Winner!

Sunday, September 2nd, 2018


The Winner of the brand-new copy of

The Man Who Fell From the Sky
by Margaret Coel is:


Julie Y.

Congratulations, your book will be on the way to you soon!


Thank you to everyone who commented on the Blog!