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Mystery Monday Review – The Devil’s Disciple

Monday, August 12th, 2019

The Devil’s Disciple by Shiro Hamao

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

This fictional work consists of two interesting stories that abound in mystery, murder and uncertainty. Nothing is what it seems. Hamao thinks the fact that motives are often impossible to identify limits our ability to a judge anybody with total confidence. In both of these dark short stories in the crime fiction genre, he presents first-person narratives of why a perp did what he did.

Writing between the wars in what the Japanese call the Taisho Era, Hamao was one of the first Japanese writers of modern detective fiction with elements of the police procedural. He covers the discovery of the crime and the processing of suspects in custody and charging them in court. He is blunt about the Japanese police using psychological coercion and violence to extract confessions, false and not.

Japanese critics say that Hamao was influenced by S. S. Van Dine. Perhaps. In both stories, the setting is the upper crust of Tokyo society. We see that Japanese millionaires don’t behave any better than they ought, just like our home-grown rich. Plus, the story is told from multiple points of view, one of which is a defense lawyer who brings logical reasoning to develop alternative theories as to whodunnit. Finally, one victim in the second story was just as arrogant and in as much need of a good kick in the pants as Philo Vance.

But there the cozyish atmosphere ends with these superficial resemblances. These stories include adultery, sado-masochistic sex, and passion gone dark and consuming. It also deals with intense male-male friendships that we see in Japanese fiction like Mishima’s The Mask. Plus, there is uneasiness about unbridled female sexuality as we read about in Tanizaki’s Naomi, written in the same era. Readers into Japan will like how motive is influenced by living in an honor-bound culture, but no anthropological knowledge of Japan is in fact required. Readers who like Erle Stanley Gardner’s shots at the shortcomings of the criminal justice system will see that Hamao is Gardner’s counterpart. I think if a reader of exotic crime fiction is in the mood for pulpy grotesquery, this is the ticket.

Hamao was a viscount. Despite his aristocratic origins, he was a brilliant student and took up law as a career. He became a prosecutor, but when he saw there was money in fiction-writing (newspapers would pay for serials), he became a full-time author. He brought a deep legal knowledge and extensive experience with people from all walks of life to his fiction. His health was delicate, however, and he died when he was only 40 years of age in 1935.

 

 

 

 

 

Fiction Review – Where the Crawdads Sing

Thursday, August 8th, 2019

 

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

Review by Mirah W (mwelday)

Recently a friend recommended Where the Crawdads Sing and since I was coming off a high of reading another great book (Searching for Sylvie Lee, you can find my review here), I was anxious for another great summer read. I ordered Where the Crawdads Sing so I could read it before I saw my friend during a visit last month and we could talk about it together.  And there was so much to talk about!

I relish great books that I feel like I can’t put down. You know the kind…the books that when you are not reading, you are thinking about the characters and need to know what happens next. I read Where the Crawdads Sing very quickly because I had to know what was going to happen, how it would end, and how the characters would fare.

Kya is known as the Marsh Girl. In her small NC town, she is an outsider. Raised in a shack on the marsh, her mother and siblings leave when she is just a small girl. With an alcoholic and abusive father, she survives by hiding amongst the trees and grasses of the marsh. She befriends Jumpin’, the man who runs a small store and gas station on the marsh where she can exchange mussels and smoked fish for goods. Kya spends her life on the marsh, growing up, finding beauty in the nature around her, and also finding love. When Chase Andrews is found dead, the Marsh Girl is seen as the most obvious villain. Kya and Chase do have a complicated history, but would she kill him? I won’t go into the story any further here, I don’t want to give anything away.

Owens has created a gem with this book.  Owens has also given me one of my favorite characters in recent memory. Jumpin’ is such a wonderfully created character, full of love, wit, and loyalty. His quiet strength and being on the periphery of Kya’s life, but also the stabilizing center for many years, makes him such a memorable character. HIs warmth and kindness provide a much needed balance to the derision Kya receives from most other people.  I would love a novel to learn more about Jumpin’, his family, and his struggles in the same time and town as Kya.

In a strange way, this novel to me is reminiscent of Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird and Sue Monk Kidd’s The Secret Life of Bees. I know that might not make a lot of sense, but Where the Crawdads Sing it is a Southern story of someone who is learning about herself while also just trying to get through every day while being misunderstood, even persecuted. I truly loved Where the Crawdads Sing and highly recommend it. It is even better if you read it with a friend so you can talk about it together; trust me, you will want to talk to someone about this book!

This debut fiction novel by Owens gets 5 out of 5 stars from me for a beautiful coming of age story.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mystery Monday Review – What Happened at Hazelwood

Monday, August 5th, 2019

What Happened at Hazlewood by Michael Innes

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

 

This 1947 mystery does not feature Innes’ series hero John Appleby. However, the story is set in the same world of country houses, discreet if eccentric servants, and mad and bad squires.

The obligatory murder is only yet another atrocity is a series of past evil doings that are returning to haunt the present.

As in other Innes’ mystery novels, the ending so far-fetched as to preclude guessing and to leave us readers shaking our heads at the audacity of the writer to assume that we’ll think it credible. But we do and even find it fun.

Innes’ vocabulary and allusions to Anglophone literatures will please and puzzle us English majors. Finally, many references to things and people Australian will appeal to those interested in the Sunburnt Country.

 

 

 

Mystery Monday Review – Death on the Agenda

Monday, July 29th, 2019

Death on the Agenda by Patricia Moyes

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

The mysteries of Patricia Moyes were written from the Sixties to the Eighties but they exemplify the traditional British detective story, since violence occurs offstage and the light tone is amusing.

Moyes wrote 19 mysteries and many short stories starring the main characters of Henry and Emmy Tibbett. Henry is a Scotland Yard Inspector but homemaker Emmy brings her canniness and pluck to the table. She also bucks up Henry when he’s down. Like Nick and Nora as well as Campion and Amanda, the crime-solving couple makes for a stable domestic atmosphere that long-time married readers can connect with. Moyes was well-travelled and she sets Henry and Emmy down in various interesting locales. For Death on the Agenda (1962) they are in Geneva for a convention of law enforcement officers working against the drug trade. Moyes likes to describe natural settings such as mountains and lakes. Like Patricia Wentworth of Miss Silver fame, Moyes is also skillful with people’s appearance and their clothes and fashion accessories.

A member of the conference staff is murdered. Henry finds himself one of two solid suspects. The evidence is so solid against him that for a couple of moments he wonders if he had a brainstorm and stabbed the victim dead with a dagger. Surprisingly, Henry, at the dangerous age of 45, has a flirtation with another woman, an attractive, intelligent and kind Australian, which sends Emmy rather off the rails too.

While some readers may not feel easy with the semi-adultery, others may be uncomfortable with gun-play in which one character shoots a gun out of another’s hand. How Dick Tracy! Also there is the standby of the Golden Age mystery: the excessively ingenious method of murder. I sigh, but other readers would not.

I’m not giving anything away when I say that things turn out fine. The rich are no better than they should be. The Tibbett marriage stays intact. The killer is caught. Stability restored.

I’ve read two by Moyes lately and both were good enough to drive to snap up about half-dozen additional books with Henry and Emmy at used book sales. I think if a reader likes Ngaio Marsh and Margery Allingham, she’ll like Patricia Moyes.

 

 

 

 

Mystery Monday Review – The Long Goodbye

Monday, July 22nd, 2019

The Long Goodbye by Raymond Chandler

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

This 1953 mystery includes all the characters required by a noir detective thriller of the Fifties. Trigger-happy bullies. Gambling kingpins. Dope doctors. Elegant women. The idle rich. The hard-pressed poor. The squeezed middle class. Honest cops who use dodgy methods on the good and the bad alike. Drunken artists, tortured writers. In their midst, Philip Marlowe, a tough PI that refuses to be pushed around.

The murder of the daughter of a California mega-millionaire is pinned on Terry Lennox, with whom Marlowe used to share gimlets (half gin, half lime juice) in the Victor Bar. Marlowe is warned by thugs in all stations of life not to meddle in the incident. Philip Marlowe reminds us of a Weimaraner in that while there is a trail to explore, he will follow it until he finds the answer, not caring about who he runs past or over.

Though in his other books Chandler’s incident and plots took a backseat to tone, setting and atmosphere, in this one, the twists and obstacles make sense. Like life and like work, one issue seems resolved only to have another, hydra-like, leap up to take its place. The complexity of the plot drew me in to the point where I could not keep from reading it. The plot turns come to an unexpected and sad end that may leave a bitter taste in the mouth, though it makes me eager to read another novel with Marlowe.

For readers interested in the use and misuse of alcohol, the novel is also about drinking as the basis of relationships and when heavy drinking shades into alcoholism. The book claims “A man who drinks too much on occasion is still the same man as he was sober. An alcoholic, a real alcoholic, is not the same man at all … he will be someone you never met before.” Throw that out for discussion the next time you hit the neighborhood watering hole.

Chandler’s longest, most ambitious novel is still being read after more than half a century. Mysteries like this, I hope, will never get old.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mystery Monday Review – The Complete Curious Mr. Tarrant

Monday, July 15th, 2019

The Complete Curious Mr. Tarrant by C. Daly King

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

 

Readers that like Ellery Queen or Philo Vance may also like the stories in The Curious Mr. Tarrant (C. Daly King, 1885-1963). Set in the mid-1930s, Trevis Tarrant is a gentleman of means, filling his leisure with solving strange and scary happenings. He is ably assisted by his Japanese valet-butler Katoh, who, though inconsistent with being a medical doctor and master spy, speaks preposition and article-free English (what was author King thinking?).

This book has eight short stories of bizarre cases and sometimes gruesome killings. By an American author but never published in the US until Dover released a facsimile edition (ISBN 0486235408) that preserves the old font and British English spellings. It’s mildly disconcerting to hear the tone of true-blue American lunk head (narrator Jerry Phelan) but read “recognise” and “kerb.”

This novel survives among hard-core readers of classic mysteries partly because it is listed in Ellery Queen’s Quorum: The 125 Most Important Books of Detective-Crime Mystery Short Stories.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fiction Review – Searching for Sylvie Lee

Wednesday, July 10th, 2019

Searching for Sylvie Lee: A Novel

Searching for Sylvie Lee by Jean Kwok

Review by Mirah W (mwelday)

I am a big fan of Jean Kwok. I read Mambo in Chinatown in one day and thoroughly enjoyed Girl in Translation. Kwok creates characters who are strong yet vulnerable and makes them relatable to any culture. When I learned of Kwok’s newest release, Searching for Sylvie Lee, I knew I had to add it to my summer reading list. Kwok’s novel was also selected as the Read with Jenna Today Show Book Club selection for June and is a NY Times bestseller so there was a lot of buzz that encouraged me to read it!

Sylvie Lee is the oldest daughter of Chinese immigrants and, from the outside, it looks like she has everything together. She is college educated, leading an accomplished career, beautiful and married to a handsome husband. Her parents are extremely proud of what she has accomplished and her younger sister Amy adores her.  Sylvie spent her early years in the Netherlands with her grandmother and aunt’s family and when her grandmother is ailing, Sylvie returns to the Netherlands to see her grandmother one more time. When Sylvie’s family realizes she has gone missing in the Netherlands, Amy travels there to try to get answers and find Sylvie. In the process of her search, Amy learns a lot about herself and inner strength, but she also learns the secrets of Sylvie’s life and the truth of how she went missing.

Searching for Sylvie Lee is a intricate, poignant story about family secrets and family dynamics that impact every family member in a different way. I wasn’t expecting the range of emotions I experienced while reading this book. I had moments of anger, confusion, joy and sadness; it actually took me a few days to wrap my mind around all of the emotions and process them all. Kwok created a family that was damaged and loving at the same time. Some people hurt each other through their love and others wanted to support each other through love, and isn’t that such an accurate portrayal of real life? People do all kinds of things in the name of love, good and bad.

Kwok’s novel was emotionally deeper than I was expecting. I loved the complexity of the characters and how they were relatable in spite of that complexity. The way that Kwok reveals the story through the various characters’ voices is intelligent and engrossing, yet easy to read. I am giving this book 4 out of 5 stars. I really enjoyed it and the themes were deep and emotional. Kwok navigates the waters of family drama with heart and soul. I would highly recommend adding Searching for Sylvie Lee to your summer reading list!

While you’re on PBS, check out my reviews of Kwok’s Mambo in Chinatown (review here) and Girl in Translation (review here) on the PaperBackSwap Blog!  I would love to know if you also enjoy Kwok’s novels and your thoughts on any of her books!