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Archive for the ‘Book Reviews’ Category

Mystery Monday Review – The Broken Vase

Monday, August 3rd, 2020

 

The Broken Vase by Rex Stout

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

 

It is early 1941 in New York City. Gentleman farmer and private eye Tecumseh Fox is rich enough to afford giving a grant of $2,000.00 (about $35,000 in our 2021 dinero) to a young gifted fiddler to purchase a Stradivarius. Though not a music lover, Fox attends the Carnegie Hall concert for the premier performance of the fiddler on his prize violin. Unmusical Fox notices that the audience is shocked and leaving in droves. Fox is told that the violin’s tone didn’t sound at all right. The young violinist, in front of witnesses, takes his own life during the intermission.

Case closed, but a killing occurs that makes Fox think the suicide and the murder are linked. The rich mother of the murder victim hires Fox to investigate the circumstances and find out who committed the murder. Fox has a series of interviews and adventures that make for amusing reading, especially when one’s brain is too tired for more challenging reading matter.

Rex Stout is better known and more respected for his novels starring Nero Wolfe, rotund orchid fancier and PI to the rich and famous. Critics and fans agree that his other detective creations – Tec Fox, Alphabet Hicks, and Theodolinda ‘Dol’ Banner – are not up to the Wolfe-Archie stories, especially the novellas.

But I don’t care. As a fan of between the wars whodunnits, I have a soft spot for vintage characters, society settings, and squads of suspects. To his credit, Stout always plays fair with the reader, giving enough information to the reader to figure it out by the reveal. Also, like Conan Doyle was able to in the Holmes stories, Stout captures an insular world and feeling of timelessness – affluent Manhattan, mid-20th century – a quality that I hope discerning readers will enjoy for years to come.

 

 

 

Historical Fiction Review – Titans

Thursday, July 23rd, 2020

Titans

Titans by Leila Meacham

Review by Mirah W. (mwelday)

Meacham has created a literary enjoyment with Titans!  A novel about how family secrets can bring both heartache and redemption, Titans is an emotional and bittersweet journey.

Texas in the early 1900s is on the edge of discovery.  Oil has been found and methods of locating deposits and extracting it from the land are being developed.  Some homes are getting telephones and there is talk of a motorized conveyance replacing horses for travel.  In the Dallas/Ft Worth area, three families will come together as long-held family secrets are slowly exposed.

The Gordons are building an empire with their cattle ranch. Their adopted daughter Samantha is their joy and she has given up her dreams of an advanced education to be more involved with the family ranch. The Holloways have a wheat farm and their son Nathan has a deep connection to the land. Nathan is looking forward to the day he can run the farm and has a close relationship with his father.  Trevor Waverling is a wealthy manufacturing businessman who is no friend to either family, but he is about to meet Nathan and set everyone on a course of change.

Meacham weaves together the lives of these three families with a deft hand and the way the plot comes full circle offers a satisfying and thorough conclusion. Filled with complicated family histories and challenging family relationships, Titans delivers on several levels and I give it 5 stars.  The plot is well thought out and developed, the characters are not predictable but they are relatable, and the way the story comes together is seamless.

 

 

 

Mystery Monday Review – A Place for Murder

Monday, July 20th, 2020

A Place for Murder by Emma Lathen

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

There’s no way to make any money in cattle in Connecticut but a wealthy gentleman farmer keeps a herd of Anguses anyway. He also depends on the help to run an up-and-coming dog breeding kennel, another hobby of folks with a lot of dough. Unfortunately, in middle age he has kicked over the traces, impregnated a canine handler half his age and thus feels the honorable thing to do is divorce his wife of 20 years to the comic consternation of their son the college student.

Splits between wealthy business partners who are also husband and wife involve complex negotiations concerning property settlements. So our series hero, John Putnam Thatcher of the Sloan Guaranty Trust, is brought in to facilitate the settlement. Shockingly, the other woman ends up killed and so does another victim and Thatcher must solve the mystery.

Lathen trains her satirical eye on corporate America and a rural enclave of the very rich. She skewers corporate jockeying when the PR man of the Sloan is striving to get a seat on the Board of Directors, an outcome the conservative Thatcher is valiantly opposing. All the leading characters are middle-aged men with the usual problems of that sad demographic but the women – wives, secretaries, clerks – make the system work and further their ends in the indirect ways the oppressed and canny have developed over time immemorial.

Every Lathen novel seems to have a slapstick scene of public mayhem that’s hilarious. So, the dog show is an extremely well-done set piece, with funny interplay between fierce rivals competing hard for best in breed and show.

Published in 1963, the second Thatcher murder mystery gives a part to the recurring character, young Ken Nicholls. He met his wife in Accounting for Murder so in this one Jane is expecting their first and Ken is comically concerned about her delicate condition and spending too much time away in The Constitution State. The other members of the gang also play funny parts – perfectionist Everett Gabler and man about town Charlie Trinkam and Miss Corsa, Thatcher’s implacable PA. The inept and dense bank president Brad Withers plays a much bigger role in this one since he is brother to the wife in the troubled couple.

Well-worth reading, one of the best of the 24 book series, though it was only the second written.

 

 

 

Mystery Monday – The Case of the Rolling Bones

Monday, July 13th, 2020

The Case of the Rolling Bones by Erle Stanley Gardner

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

In the waning days of the Klondike Gold Rush, Alden Leeds and his partner Bill Hogarty mined a pocket of gold. In lawless country and murky circumstances, the partnership dissolved like the hungry dreams of busted prospectors.

In noir fashion, however, the past exerts a baleful sway over the present. In 1939, 33 years later, Leeds’ avaricious relatives worry that Leeds is bent on marrying former taxi dancer Emily Millicant and cutting them out of the will. In a desperate attempt to prevent this, they kidnap and commit Leeds with the connivance of a greedy doctor.

As Mason works to get Leeds sprung from the sanitarium, Leeds escapes with the help of an old crony. Emily’s black sheep brother, John, later ends up with a carving knife in his back with Leeds’ prints all over the apartment.

Readable as usual especially for the first appearance of Gertie the Office Switchboard Girl and the appeal of the ole pard relationship between Leeds and Hogarty.

 

 

 

Nonfiction Review – The Rural Diaries

Wednesday, July 8th, 2020

The Rural Diaries: Love, Livestock, and Big Life Lessons Down on Mischief Farm
The Rural Diaries by Hilarie Burton-Morgan
Review by: Mirah W (mwelday)

I am not quite sure how The Rural Diaries came up in my suggestions, but I am so glad it did! Hilarie Burton-Morgan is an actress best known for her roles in One Tree Hill, White Collar, and is the darling of holiday movies on networks like The Hallmark Channel. While I am a fan of her work, I have not followed her career closely and wasn’t even aware she had written a book until I saw a post about The Rural Diaries: Love, Livestock, and Big Life Lessons Down on Mischief Farm on Instagram. I thought the synopsis sounded fun so I got a copy and I honestly thought Hilarie’s book was a pure delight to read.

In The Rural Diaries, Hilarie is open and charming as she takes the reader through the ups and downs of her marriage, having children, creating their dream farm, losing loved ones, and finding purpose in her community. She delves into the parts of life that can be complicated and challenging. She honestly addresses her Hollywood experiences that resurfaced during the Me, Too movement. Dispersed throughout her story are asides with recipes, renovation and gardening tips, and beautiful personal photos.

One thing  I was not expecting was the kinship I would feel to Hilarie as she told her story. Who knew there was someone else out there who could love Lonesome Dove as much as me? So much so that she would name her son after one of the main characters, Augustus. I mean, she had my heart with that. And the naming of Mischief Farm, while the perfect name for her family, has a connection to a beloved pet that actually made me a little teary. (I’ll leave that story as a mystery in the hopes that you’ll pick up a copy of The Rural Diaries for yourself.)

The Rural Diaries really does come across as a love letter, which is how Hilarie describes it. It’s not a love letter in the sappy, unrealistic way; it is a love letter that is honest, messy, funny, and tender. I give this love letter 5 stars.  I enjoyed Hilarie’s story, I found her to be forthright and tough, and I was disappointed when I reached the end.

 

 

 

Mystery Monday – Down in the Valley

Monday, July 6th, 2020

Down in the Valley by David M. Pierce

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

 

Born in Montreal in 1932, David M. Pierce was a poet, actor, and songwriter for Alice Cooper (among others). Pierce was also, because the performing arts gives way too many chances to rest between gigs, bartender, truck driver, reporter and sales agent for furniture and magazine companies.

So he brought to the six mysteries starring PI Victor Daniel varied professional experience and his copious reading — we hardcore mystery readers who also read everything can always tell from vibrant word play when a writer has read everything from Shakespeare to Dickens to Pound.

This novel is the first mystery featuring PI Victor Daniel, published in 1989. For us of a certain age in 2020, the nostalgia factor is strong with his Apple II computer, Adidas kicks, and on the radio Maureen McGovern. Daniel is over six and half feet tall, wears loud Hawaiian shirts, and does about any kind of job that comes his way.

While there is a modicum of a plot involving fighting the dope problem at a high school, strung together are incidents of various cases he has boiling. These incidents are peopled with a wide variety of characters: a one-legged vet, a riot grrl, and a police detective in heliotrope suits and burgundy shoes, just to name a few. The dialogue is always engaging, the word choices apt, though there are some spots where not much seems to happen and lapses of taste and crudeness of attitude to show how hard-boiled Valley People are.

Apparently, even though the author wrote five additional novels in this series, they never really caught on and are only remembered by true connoisseurs of mysteries. In the 1990s, recall, really long and really dark mysteries became the thing and these novels, under 300 pages and madcap, are not long and dark. Maybe the writer had trouble with the publisher promoting the books in the right way. Pierce passed away in 2016 of complications due to a stroke.

But the work lives on and it’s up to us hardcore mystery readers to read Pierce so he’s not as unjustly forgotten as Mignon Good Eberhart.

 

 

Mystery Monday Review – Independent Witness

Monday, June 29th, 2020

Independent Witness by Henry Cecil

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

The English judge Henry Cecil (1902 – 1976) wrote comic legal fiction. Think of John Mortimer’s Rumpole stories, though more gentle and less acerbic, just as clever, funny, and enjoyable. Cecil will call to mind P.G. Wodehouse in that Cecil uses stock characters like the dumb colonel, the obsessed widow, the silly young person, etc.

This novel from 1963 describes a hit and run case in which a member of Parliament is accused of not only hitting a motorcyclist but fleeing the scene. Cecil has a variety of comic characters take the stand. The dialogue-driven cross-examinations should be read slowly and savored. While this is not a typical whodunit, I still recommend it to mystery fans since there is a traditional surprise at the end.

Cecil’s humor is very English, wise, and humane and not as silly or zany as Wodehouse’s jesting is. Mercifully, to my mind, but different strokes. Cecil’s comedy is smart, with lucid prose, dazzling dialogue, and difficult legal points explained gracefully and comprehensibly. Cecil was a barrister and high court judge himself so his views on evidence, judges, juries, lawyers, and clients are worth listening to. The eager reader doesn’t mind his digressions on topics such as the thought processes of ordinary people who are would-be jurors or lawyers and judges who talk too much.

His legal fiction from the Fifties and Sixties is still in print, because his wit, style, intelligence, and deft plotting still provide much interest and sheer reading pleasure.