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Archive for April, 2020

Mystery Monday – The Case of the Lucky Loser

Monday, April 27th, 2020

The Case of the Lucky Loser by Erle Stanley Gardner

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

 

This 1957 mystery starts with a troubled young woman hiring Perry to attend a court case and give her an informed opinion as to how a witness to a hit and run comes off on the stand. His lawyer’s intuition says the witness is lying.

Coincidentally enough, the next day the defendant’s aunt-in-law contacts Mason. The plus: the plot in this one becomes spectacularly tangled, as complex a puzzle as a Mason novel ever provides.

This novel provides an excellent example of Gardner’s uncanny ability to keep us turning the pages to see what happens next, even when we have given up trying to comprehend the twists.

 

 

 

Mystery Monday – Wolf in the Shadows

Monday, April 20th, 2020

 

Wolf in the Shadows by Marcia Muller

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

A reader with some pretentions to taste would expect, after 14 installments in a series, to hear the gears grinding. But not at all in this case because Sharon McCone, the baddest female PI in Early Nineties San Francisco, learns, grows, and changes from book to book.

This 1993 mystery deals with the issues of illegal immigration and dolphin-protecting environmentalists. With her bosses going all corporate on her and pressuring her to accept sitting at a desk and moving papers around, she proves herself to be the Coolest Toughest Girlfriend Ever and works on finding her missing soul mate Hy Ripinsky who has gone missing.

As usual, the characterizations, even of the secondary characters, are very finely drawn, as are the settings. Nothing mars the elaborate plot but a couple of melodramatic scenes.

Well worth reading.

Mystery Monday – Lament for a Maker

Monday, April 13th, 2020

Lament for a Maker by Michael Innes

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

Set in remote rural Scotland in the middle 1930s, this novel borders on the surreal, with fanciful plotting and bizarre characters. Who is responsible for the death of morbidly stingy Ranald Guthrie of Erchany? Maybe his stepdaughter Christine, or even her fiancé, who had at least a motive, since he comes from family in a feud with the Guthries – a story almost like Romeo and Juliet.

Innes narrates the story just as Wilkie Collins did in The Woman in White: he tells the tale through various characters, starting with the quirkiest of all – Ewan Bell, patriarch and village cobbler. He uses the unfamiliar vocabulary of Scottish English: such as, chiel for man. The new words add to the local color, strange atmosphere and bizarre goings-on. It’s challenging but attentive reading allows us to ken the meaning.

The next section is narrated by Noel Gylby, who is clearly an English major with a sophisticated literary style. Innes was a university prof and must have read – and suffered – stacks of papers written in this witty mannered style. Gylby appears in Hamlet, Revenge! by Innes. Very impressive is his depiction of Gothic scene of the ruined castle, unheated and unlighted, with the mad miserly laird in his keep, his face lined and heart in turmoil.

The third section features the orotund style of Lawyer Wedderburn. His pompous prose calls to mind attorneys in Dickens. The fourth section is the narrative of Innes’ series hero, Yard inspector John Appleby. The next section, I can’t possible give away as a spoiler. Innes – that is, J.I.M. Stewart – was a scholar of modernist prose so he enjoys pulling tricks out of its bag: multiple points of view, unreliable narrators, sly social comment, starting in the middle of the story, etc.

Innes wrote mysteries assuming his audience included bookish people. He has Lawyer Wedderburn define mysteries as “a species of popular fiction which bears much the same relation to the world of actual crime as does pastoral poetry to the realities of rural economy. “ So Innes thought it appropriate and fun to “bring a little fantasy and fun into the detective story,” as he said in his 1987 memoir.

Readers that like Nicholas Blake, Cyril Hare, Mary Fitt and Josephine Tey will like the intelligent and deftly written mysteries of Michael Innes. Lament for a Maker is a gem of detective fiction. It has been recognized as a classic for years. Rex Stout, creator of Nero Wolfe, included it on a 1947 list of best detective stories. It was selected for the “Top 100 Crime Novels of the 20th Century” by The Times in 2000.

 

 

 

Historical Fiction Review – In the Shadow of the Banyan

Tuesday, April 7th, 2020

In the Shadow of the Banyan: A Novel

In the Shadow of the Banyan by Vaddey Ratner

Review by: Mirah W. (mwelday)

In the Shadow of the Banyan is the story of Raami and her family during the time of the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia.  Between 1975 and 1979, the Khmer Rouge attempted to create their utopian Organization, taking homes and possessions away from the people and promising that the Organization would provide.

Raami is seven years old when the Khmer Rouge arrives at her home in the middle of the night and forces her family to leave with very little of their belongings. Fleeing the capital city of Phnom Penh, Raami’s family goes to their country home but that does not last long. Again, her family is forced out and their are caught up in the revolution and moved from camp to camp. Raami’s family is dealt blow after blow; they are separated from one another and pushed to the edge through violence, cruelty and hunger.

Ratner has created a novel that is heartbreaking and hopeful at the same time.  She delivers a story that mirrors the chaotic nature of life at the time of the Khmer Rouge and the isolation, confusion and disorientation at the time. The chaos and frustration virtually leaps from the page and while reading I was so angry and sad for Raami and what she goes through. Ratner provides a very moving Author’s Note at the end of the novel and she explains some of the autobiographical connections to the story that provided more depth, appreciation, and understanding of the novel.

Ratner delivers a strong novel about the strength of family and the human spirit that will stay with me for a long time. I give this novel 4 out of 5 stars for the strength of character development, clarity of storyline and depth of themes.  I highly recommend In the Shadow of the Banyan for those who enjoy historical fiction and cultural novels.