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Posts Tagged ‘Book Recommendations’

Mystery Monday Review – The Fashion in Shrouds

Monday, January 8th, 2018

The Fashion in Shrouds by Margery Allingham

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

This 1938 whodunnit combines mystery, romance, and novel of ideas. It’s set in a fashion house and peopled with glamorous and good-looking characters.

The mystery: an irresponsible brute of an aristo is poisoned in his own plane and this convenient death may or may not be related to a suicide whose skeleton is found by the hero Albert Campion.

The romance: three professional women must balance their successful careers with romance and marriage to suitable men. The novel of ideas: the obstacles to balancing career and love for women.

Although in our post-modern days these issues are rather dated, the book is worth reading for the character of Georgia Wells, stage-actress and femme fatale who is the illustration of Rebecca West’s observation, “The main difference between men and women is that men are lunatics and women are idiots.” Idiotic in the original Greek sense that Georgia is vain, selfish, egocentric, and childishly cares only about her own goals and pleasures. Georgia is an incredible creation, right up there with Uriah Heep and Elizabeth Bennett’s Silly Mother.

 

 

 

 

 

Non-Fiction Review – Living With Cannibals

Tuesday, January 2nd, 2018

Living With Cannibals And Other Women’s Adventures
by Michele Slung

 

Review by Vicky T. (VickyJo)

 

I was shelving books in the library the other day when I ran across a small volume called “Living with Cannibals and Other Women’s Adventures” by Michele Slung.  Well, I have to confess “Living with Cannibals” really caught my eye.  I know all about the old saying ‘Don’t judge a book by its cover’ but sometimes it happens! 

Anyway, the cover had an old photograph of a very determined looking woman wearing a skirt and a pith helmet swathed in veils, standing on top of a mountain.  I thought, anybody who could climb a mountain dressed like that is worth reading about.  And I was right! 

“Living with Cannibals” profiles 16 women adventurers; it gives a brief biography of each woman and then details the wanderings and adventures of her life.  A few of the names are familiar, such as Amelia Earhart and Dian Fossey.  But most of the women’s names are unknown, in spite of their accomplishments.  For instance, can you name the first woman to reach the North Pole?  How about the first woman correspondent to report on World War I from the front lines?  Which woman has logged more hours orbiting the earth than any other woman on Earth?  Yeah…I didn’t know either.   

Not all the women profiled here did something “first”; some of them took risks or traveled to exotic places at a time when most women seldom left their front yards.  Ida Pfeiffer, in 1842 at the age of 45, wrote her will and set off on a trip around the world.  She saw Constantinople, Jerusalem, and Cairo.  She ended up taking two more voyages around the world, and wrote about her adventures in books titled “A Lady’s Voyage Around the World”, and  “A Lady’s Second Journey Around the World.”  She had no qualms about dressing in trousers or passing herself off as a man if need be, unlike Fanny Bullock Workman.  Fanny absolutely refused to wear anything other than her skirts–not even a divided skirt.  Fanny fell in love with the relatively new sport of climbing.  She pounded nails into the soles of her boots, and ended up breaking the woman’s altitude record by reaching 23, 300 feet on Nun Kun peak in what is now India in 1906.  (In fact, Fanny is the intrepid climber on the book’s cover.) 

Adventurous women were not only to be found in the 19th century.  We also learn about Helen Thayer, who with a single Husky serving as an alarm system for polar bears, skied by herself to the North Pole in 1988.  Dervla Murphy set out from her home in Ireland in 1963 and bicycled all the way to India, alone.  In 1989, Arlene Burns realized a childhood dream by kayaking 100 miles down Tibet’s Brahmaputra River.  She then returned to land, made her way alone back to Katmandu and on to Bangkok where she swapped her kayak for a mountain bike.  She then cycled from Bangkok down the Malay Peninsula to Singapore. 

The book ends by introducing Sylvia Earle, a marine biologist who reached a record depth in 1979 of 1, 250 feet diving in a Jim suit.  She has spent hours exploring the ocean, our last frontier.  Sylvia says, “People are under the impression that the planet is fully explored, that we’ve been to all the forests and climbed all the mountains.  But in fact many of the forests have yet to be seen for the first time.  They just happen to be under water.  We’re still explorers.  Perhaps the greatest era is just beginning.” 

The wonderful thing is that just about every woman profiled in this volume wrote about her adventures; a very complete bibliography of titles is listed at the back of the book.  I have lots of new titles to search out now! 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Spy Thriller Review – The Cold War Swap

Wednesday, December 27th, 2017

The Cold War Swap by Ross Thomas

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

During his lifetime, other writers, critics and fans ranked Ross Thomas (1926 – 1995) as one of the top thriller writers.

In this Edgar Award-winning novel series hero Mac McCorkle owns and runs a popular watering hole in Bonn, West Germany. His pal Mike Padillo uses the bar for espionage and con jobs, two activities treated as indistinguishable in Thomas’ world view. An Unnamed Mysterious Agency sends out Padillo, a resourceful clandestine agent, to do risky and sensitive jobs.

In this case, Padillo is to drag back two American defectors from East to West Germany. Snafus occur one after the other, and McCorkle has to help Padillo ferry the unstable pair back. Strengths of the novel: snappy dialogue, cynical but likable characters, and the credible milieu of the two Germanys.

Thomas is especially savvy when he’s talking about uniforms and clothes; often his novels have funny tangents about the messages telegraphed by male fashion choices.

 

 

Thriller Thursday Review – A Coffin for Dimitrios

Thursday, December 21st, 2017

A Coffin for Dimitrios by Eric Ambler

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

The 1939 thriller kicks off when a Turkish police officer invites Charles Latimer, a former British academic now a mystery writer, to a corpse viewing. Police pulled from the Bosphorus one Dimitrios, a con man and spy. The policeman gives Latimer a sketchy account of Dimitrios’ life of crime: thief, killer, spy, narcotics smuggler, assassin and human trafficker.

Latimer, partly as an experiment, partly out of pique at being treated like an amateur by the policeman, decides to fill in the blanks in Dimitrios’ criminal history. The story narrates Latimer’s meeting Dimitrios’ former victims, marks, and henchmen. Things start to get messy and dangerous. Rum guys wonder why a professorial type should be interested in somebody whose death relieved a lot of dodgy people.

There’s no whining about the big bad world but there’s no moral or ethical ambiguity either, a point that draws me to these old suspense novels. Although all the thrillers Ambler wrote in the 1930s are worth reading, A Coffin for Dimitrios is the classic that has never gone out of print.

 

 

Mystery Monday Review – Rim of the Pit

Monday, December 11th, 2017

Rim of the Pit by Hake Talbot

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

This 1944 mystery is a classic locked-room mystery. Set in a cabin in wintry New England woods, the characters have gathered for a séance to be conducted by a medium who is the widow of a logging baron. The baron’s spirit will announce who among the living has the logging rights to his lands, that is to say, the lands he owned when he was still among the quick. The séance gets out of hand when the baron’s spirit floats around and puts everybody, even the skeptics, into a tizzy.

The conniption doesn’t help clear thinking when the medium is murdered inside a locked room. The bloody tomahawk points to the current husband of the medium as does evidence that he flew out a window, over freshly fallen snow, to land over 100 feet away from the house. His fingerprints are on some grisly hunting trophies mounted high on a wall over the fireplace. Naturally, the characters assume that the current husband is possessed by a supernatural beast we have met in Algernon Blackwood stories, the widigo.

Critics and fans of the locked room mystery consider this book a masterpiece. Blog critic Mike Grost points out that John Dickson Carr must have influenced Talbot in that the reader is often misled about the order and significance of events and that action is mainly characters moving about, with their location being crucial to the solution of the impossible crime. Talbot – whose real name was Henning Nelms, a magician – sets an eerie tone, so weird that even we skeptical readers can go along with the supernatural explanation. At least for a time.

The incidents become rather convoluted, about on the same level as “two guns confusion” in Erle Stanley Gardner’s Perry Mason novels. The reveal, however, is sensible and logical. Readers who like the intricate puzzles of Carr, Christie and Queen will probably like this one.

 

 

 

 

 

Mystery Monday Review – Not Quite Dead Enough

Monday, November 13th, 2017

Not Quite Dead Enough by Rex Stout

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

During WWII Stout devoted most of his time to war work, writing for the government. But he did write some Nero Wolfe shorties. This contains a pair of novellas that first came out in The American Magazine (1906 – 1956), “Not Quite Dead Enough” in December, 1942 and “Booby Trap” in August, 1944.

Stout makes them topical, given the nation is at war against fascism, so Wolfe’s sidekick, Archie Goodwin, serves in the Army. Like Conan Doyle coyly hinted things in the Holmes stories, Stout is adept at throwing out tantalizing hints as to what Archie is doing to serve. A counter-intelligence officer, perhaps?

The WWII backdrop is unique in the canon. Archie is driven to set himself up for arrest in order to snap Wolfe out of a patriotic frenzy. The wartime fever has driven the agoraphobic and gastronomic Wolfe to actually go outside and do some brisk walking. Well, as brisk as the rotund Wolfe (and the poor cook Fritz) can manage. This will delight long-terms fans of the series, believe me.

The book has plenty of funny characters. The reveal and the ending, too, depart from the norm in that the climax occurs not with all suspects gathered in the office, but with only Archie in attendance, with Wolfe proposing and disposing. Hey, whaddaya want, there’s a war on!

I highly recommend this one to both Wolfe fans and novices

Mystery Monday Review – Appleby’s Answer

Monday, November 6th, 2017

Appleby’s Answer by Michael Innes

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

Like Nicholas Blake, Cyril Hare, Mary Fitt and Josephine Tey, Michael Innes wrote mysteries with bookish people in mind. His vocabulary makes readers run to their dictionary: weedy, embrocation, and inamorato. Being a scholar of Shakespeare, his allusions are learned. His veddy English Dickensianism depends on farce, satire, faux pas, and zany characters in bizarre situations. All in all, a pleasure for hard-core readers, the kind of people who read Swift, Defoe, and Smollett for sheer pleasure.

This one opens with Innes’ poking gentle fun at mystery writers who write cozies like Murder in the Cathedral and Vengeance at the Vicarage. Authoress – steel yourself – Priscilla Pringle is gratified to spy a fellow train passenger reading one of her books. Her curiosity is quickened when the fellow passenger seeks her advice on how to commit murder, blackmail, and arson. She gets the feeling that the passenger indeed has nefarious plans. As the plot unfolds, lucky coincidence takes a hand and enter our series hero John Appleby.

Now a 60-year-old retiree of the Commissioner of Metropolitan Police, Appleby and sculptress wife Judith investigate what may be a complex criminal plot or silly damn malice. Published in 1973, this is very much a late entry in the canon, which began in 1936 with Seven Suspects (aka Death at the President’s Lodging). Appleby’s Answer is a novelette, which is okay with me. With age, I grow impatient with mysteries that seem more otiose the longer they are. New readers of Michael Innes would do better to test the early ones; fans of Innes – readers who want a break from Sterne and Fielding – will like regardless.