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Archive for May, 2020

Historical Spy Novel Review – The Spies of Warsaw

Wednesday, May 27th, 2020

The Spies of Warsaw by Alan Furst

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

Pre-World War II Warsaw becomes an arena of intense international rivalry. In almost every embassy, friendly and hostile, an intelligence cell operates. Secret agents assigned to Warsaw create an extremely colorful society. Poles, French, Germans, Russians – everyone knows that in the war is coming and that you have to prepare for it or be destroyed. Everyone believes that by their intelligence activities they will save their country from being occupied or that they will ensure victory for the homeland.

Our hero Jean-François Mercier, the French military attaché, also knows that armed conflict is inevitable. At 46, he has already participated the Great War and the Polish-Bolshevik war of 1920. He has had a long and dedicated service, and he would like to leave for a well-deserved retirement, but a sense of responsibility for the fate of millions keeps him on post. He skillfully navigates in a narrow diplomatic world, but does not avoid a direct, even painful clash, with an opponent. His strength is certainly increased by the warm feeling of a beautiful French-Polish woman working for the League of Nations that he met at a boring official reception. Mercier discovers that first of all he is not so old, and secondly – that he is not only ready for retirement, he is ready to go to extremes.

The book details Mercier’s activities in episodes. He runs agents and even saves one from being kidnapped and forcibly repatriated to a certain death in Germany. He sneaks into Germany to observe tank exercises. On his travels, in hotels and restaurants, a foreboding comes over him, “What is going to happen to these people after war comes.” He meets ordinary people who are fighting the forces of evil – literally – because it is the right thing to do.

The settings all have evocative details of Silesia and the countryside of Poland (think rural New Jersey). Furst is also effective at getting across the mundane details of ordinary people doing their best in trying circumstances – something we in the pandemic can connect to, for sure. We readers need the romantic angle as a break from the suspenseful intrigue and tension of Nazi cruelty. We readers also know what the characters do not: Poland is doomed to Nazi occupation and will be the most damaged country staggering out of World War II.

 

 

 

Fantasy Review – The Empire’s Ghost

Tuesday, May 26th, 2020

The Empire's Ghost: A Novel

The Empire’s Ghost by Isabelle Steiger

Review by Mirah W (mwelday)

I don’t often read fantasy adventure novels, but I was looking for a new series and the synopsis for The Empire’s Ghost was unlike anything else I’ve read so I decided to give it a try and I am glad I did!

The Empire’s Ghost is an epic fantasy adventure that centers around various kingdoms seeking control over neighboring lands, but with magic and cunning rulers, who will have the upper hand and who will be victorious? As I read, I became partial to Prince Kelken, who is the underdog in this story, but who knows if I will still like him later in the series.

The imagery is quite exquisite throughout the novel and the locales seem to become characters themselves.  There are a lot of characters to remember, especially since characters are referred to by more than one name or title, but after sticking with the novel, they became clearer in my mind and I could picture each one in every scene. The characters slowly reveal more and more about themselves as the novel progresses to provide more depth and understanding to their choices and actions. Magic and the use of magic is a thread throughout the plot, but does not control or distract from the plot.  The ending is definitely not a conclusion but, rather, an opening to another book set in this epic world.

I am giving The Empire’s Ghost 4 out of 5 stars. My reasons for the 4 star rating are primarily the amount of time it took for me to get invested in the novel and the difficulty I had following some of the intricacies of the plot.  The second half of the book definitely seemed to come together more solidly than the first half.  The action was easier to follow and the characters easier to delineate. I think a multi-faceted novel like The Empire’s Ghost would have benefited from a map and character list/tree at the beginning to give the reader some perspective. For a debut novel, I think Steiger created an amazing story with memorable characters. If you are looking for a sweeping, epic fantasy to transport you to a different world, The Empire’s Ghost is the novel for you.

 

 

 

 

Mystery Monday – The Case of the Dubious Bridegroom

Monday, May 4th, 2020

The Case of the Dubious Bridegroom by Erle Stanley Gardner

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

Mysteries in the Perry Mason series often start with a bang. In this 1949 outing, while working late in his office, Mason spies pair of shapely gams on the fire escape. When Mason queries her as to what she’s up to, the beauty says she works upstairs for a company in the extraction industry. Mason notes she’s carrying something that metallically glints, which she tosses away, saying it was a flashlight.

He wants to confirm her identity by checking out her car registration, but out on the street she smacks him, making onlookers think she’s a pretty baa-lamb fending off a wolf. In celeb-addled LA, this spectacle is noted and thus appears in the gossip column in the paper the next morning. His secretary Della Street rags Perry about the next morning.

But things get complicated mighty quick when Perry finds himself enmeshed in a case that involves two convoluted situations. One is bigamy involving a Mexican divorce that may or may not be legal. The other is a proxy fight looming at a stockholders meeting.

As usual, Gardner paints an unflattering portrait of the guardians of our criminal justice system. The cops arrest their person of interest by using trickery. At the trial two bumbling prosecutors are more intent on puffing themselves up by making Perry look bad than on building a strong case. They are helped out by Perry’s client, who lies to Perry about his movements on the night of the killing. The reliable lesson we regular folks can draw out of Mason mysteries is never lie to your lawyer.

A good, not great, Mason mystery redeemed by a rocker of an ending.