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Posts Tagged ‘Book Recommendations’

Thriller Thursday – The Allingham Case-Book

Thursday, November 2nd, 2017

The Allingham Case-Book by Margery Allingham

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

Readers and critics place this mystery writer among the best old time cozy writers such as Sayers, Christie, and Tey. She was a professional writer down to her toes, able to construct solid plots peopled with peculiar characters in the Dickenesque tradition. Allingham’s series hero was the mildly eccentric Albert Campion.

This is a collection of 18 short stories that were collected in 1969 after her early passing in 1966. Some of the stories feature Campion though mainly as a listener to crime stories told by his policeman buddy Charlie Luke. In a collection this large, there will be stories any reader likes a lot better than the others. But overall, the stories are charming, ingenious, and readable. Some do not turn on a murder, but a con game or clever theft. Her spirit of fun appeals to me.

The edition I read was the 1972 Macfadden-Bartell one. It has a good introduction written by her widower. But, as is usual with cheapskate publishers, it gives no indication when the stories were written or which magazines published them. Some of them feel pre-WWII, but some are oddly timeless. I know that most readers don’t care, but I like to know what year or era a story is taking place.

 

 

Mystery Series Spotlight – Andy Carpenter

Tuesday, October 24th, 2017

The Andy Carpenter Mystery Series by David Rosenfelt

By Marianna S. (Angeloudi)

David Rosenfelt has written a very witty and unique series about reluctant criminal defense attorney Andy Carpenter, who, with the help of his golden retriever, Tara, gets clients acquitted against great odds. I just finished the 8th volume in the series, Dog Tags, which did not disappoint. Andy Carpenter inherited a substantial trust fund after his father passed away, which gives him the freedom to take on as few or as many clients as he wishes, many of whom are pro bono (and never charged a fee.) As a sideline, he and former client Willie run a dog rescue foundation for golden retrievers.
Dogs play a prominent part in the series, and especially in Dog Tags. Milo, a former Army canine from Iraq, returns with his disabled owner Billy Zimmerman, who is accused of murdering a former commanding officer one night.  The police are interested in the dog, who had been trained as a thief after his return to the states. Why would the FBI and various mobsters all be interested in this dog?  In a complex plot with many twists and turns, all clues lead back to a suicide bombing in Iraq which resulted in 18 deaths and Billy’s loss of a leg.
What makes these mysteries unique is the witty one liners and wisecracks that keep the reader laughing while trying to figure out who the bad guys are.  There are some funny and unique supporting characters such as body guard Marcus, who can eat one out of house and home in a single stake-out, and Laurie, Andy’s former cop faithful girlfriend.
To get the background story, the books can be read in order, although each one can also be read as a stand-alone.  Highly recommended, witty series.

Mystery Monday – One Man Show

Monday, October 23rd, 2017

One Man Show by Michael Innes

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

This 1952 mystery is also titled Murder is an Art and the UK title is A Private View.  Series hero Sir John Appleby, head of CID at Scotland Yard, is pressured by his wife Judith, who is a sculptor, to attend a gallery showing the work of a recently deceased young artist.  Innes makes Sir John suffer from art-babble along the lines of “A determined effort to disintegrate reality in the interest of the syncretic principle.” Plus, his paragraph describing the faces of snobbish attendees while they try to look engrossed and knowledgeable provides laughs at the expense of in-crowdism.

However, from under Sir John’s nose, the artist’s masterpiece is stolen. As the chase gets started, readers will remember the Duke of Horton from Innes’ classic Hamlet, Revenge of 1937. Another attraction is that Judith Appleby gets on the trail of the crooks. Funny are the perfect Cherman-like accent of art dealer Brown, born Braunkopf – “a pig broblem to unnerstan” – and the fight scene in a junk shop run by the Krook-like Mr. Steptoe. Braunkopf pops up in Money from Holme, too, another delightful entertainment. 
Like many of Innes’ stories, the time span is very short – in this case little more than 12 hours. Highly recommended. 

Mystery Monday Review – All Grass Isn’t Green

Monday, October 16th, 2017

All Grass Isn’t Green  by A A. Fair aka Erle Stanley Gardner

 

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

 

Milton Carling Calhoun hires PI team Bertha Cool and Donald Lam to find the missing writer Colburn Hale. Calhoun acts cagey about his background and the reasons why he wants to talk with Hale. As a result, Lam suspects funny business is afoot. 

He easily uncovers the fact that Colhoun is a scion of a wealthy family. Lam starts tracking Hale and finds out another struggling writer, Nanncie Beaver, has gone missing too.  The trail leads to Mexico’s porous border with Calexico, CA, across which tourists casually stroll (it’s 1970 in the novel) and crooks, aided by the high tech of CB radios, smuggle marijuana.  A smuggler is knocked off with Calhoun’s pistol. Lam’s series nemesis, Lt. Sellers of the LAPD, starts measuring Calhoun’s neck for the noose. 

When he wrote as A.A. Fair, Erle Stanley Gardner let himself relax a little. For instance, he is more apt to go off on tangents. He spends time describing the desert country, which he loved and wanted conserved. As in other Cool and Lam books, he supports the cause of women forced into disagreeable jobs, such as exotic dancers, clerical staff, retail supervisors and clerks, and other hard-pressed workers. Gardner, a successful writer, is surprisingly sympathetic to struggling writers who work hard for peanuts from money-grubbing publishers. 

Published in 1971, this was the last Cool and Lam novel. The book is still readable because Lam is narrating in first-person and in the courtroom scene a young DA gets his comeuppance. Bertha Cool, the comic miser, puts in a mere walk-on in the first and last chapters. The dialogue recapitulates information we readers already know. 

Novices or non-fans may want to give this one a pass.  But at the end fans will admire the fireworks Gardner could still light and feel gratitude at the hours of sheer reading pleasure that he provided.   

 

Mystery Monday Review – Silent Thunder

Monday, April 18th, 2016

Silent Thunder by Loren D. Estleman

Review by Matt B. (buffalosavage)

 

This is the ninth mystery to star the series hero Amos Walker, published in 1989. In the hard-boiled manner of Raymond Chandler’s Phil Marlowe, Walker drinks like a fish, smokes like a chimney, shoots straight as an arrow, and cracks as wise as … an owl?

Walker is hired as a freelancer by a large security firm. The behemoth assigns him to investigate Doyle Thayer Junior. His widow Constance has admitted to killing Junior but claims his history of abusing her drove her to plug him fatally in self-defense. Building an argument for self-defense, her lawyer wants Walker to dig up dirt on the dead husband so that the jury will be grateful to the widow for removing such a menace to society. Inarguably, Thayer Junior was a threat to himself and others because he collected enough weapons to stock an arsenal and he partied like it was 1989. Guns, alcohol, testosterone, and negligent gun safety practices were as volatile a mix then as it is nowadays.

Walker’s investigation takes him to the market in illegal guns. His nearly paid-for Chevy is raked by M-16 fire by a hooded quartet. After getting bonked on the head by a knuckle-walker, Walker is comforted by the widow. Not just with iodine.

The language is rough, various scenes feature gun violence. The grim attitudes reflect the noir fallacy that the world is more dangerous and grisly than it really is. The reveal centers around a villain whose plot is as grandiose as any Bond-movie megalomaniac.

But Estleman’s hard-boiled mystery never fails to entertain. Walker, like Lew Archer, has soul and quick wit, though realistic and tough. The references to SE Michigan and uses of local lingo such as “up north” will appeal to Downriver born and bred readers like me.

  

Mystery Monday Review – The Case of the Cautious Coquette

Monday, April 11th, 2016

The Case of the Cautious Coquette by Erle Stanley Gardner

 

Review by Matt B. (buffalosavage)

 

Mystery expert Mike Grost says that the creator of Perry Mason had “seemingly inexhaustible ability to generate complex plots.” Evidence for this assertion abounds in this one, the 34th Perry Mason novel.

Amazingly, our favorite criminal lawyer opens the story performing as a personal injury attorney. Before we reach for the cuspidor, however, we must recall that this makes total sense since Mason takes on cases in which the little guy is pitted against remorseless forces like insurance companies.

Mason is seeking witnesses to the hit-and-run accident that left his client (a poor college kid) with a broken hip and his mother (a widow) all shook up. Complexity rears its head after a newspaper ad yields two drivers of two suspected vehicles and eventually two settlements for one accident. Mason is further astonished when found shot to death in a garage is a chauffeur that turns out to be the driver of one of the guys who settled. In typical Dickensian-Gardnerian fashion, the vic was named Hartwell L. Pitken.

Attractive and cunning Lucille Barton wants Mason to represent her in an alimony action, which he declines since he doesn’t do divorce cases. But Mason is with Lucille when Pitkin’s body is found in the garage of her apartment building. Mason directs her to report the body to the police and then leaves. Just like his usual conniving client, Lucille doesn’t make the call and a neighbor provides a positive ID of the hottie, but is less sure of Mason. To avoid having to answer awkward questions from the police, Perry decides to cite attorney-client privilege. This lands him with a client he doesn’t want, so he has to prove her innocence when she is arrested for murder of the driver.

In a rare linking of talents and resources, Homicide Detective Tragg and Mason join forces. Tragg’s rival on the force, Sgt. Holcomb, throws Tragg under the bus, so Tragg gratefully takes a tip from Mason. He cheers – silently, of course – when Mason tricks Holcomb and a witness into a false identification and makes Holcomb look like a big dummy in court. Mason and Tragg are even involved in a car chase, a rarity in the Mason novels.

Despite some antique slang such as “swell” and adjectives that have lost their power (what is the shape, size, and appearance of a “well-upholstered woman” anyway?), both fans of the series and novices will enjoy one of most intricately plotted of Mason’s cases.

 

 

 

 

 

Historical Fiction Review – Sacajawea

Thursday, April 7th, 2016

Sacajawea by Anna Lee Waldo

Review by Mirah W. (mwelday)

During a recent trip to South Dakota I discovered the novel Sacajawea in the Mt Rushmore gift shop.  I was intrigued and decided to give this massive paperback tome a try.  I love South Dakota and I am very interested in our country’s westward expansion and native cultures.

By all accounts, Sacajawea’s life started out pretty idyllic but it didn’t take things long to quickly unravel.  She experienced separation from her family, was traded as a commodity, treated badly and without respect by several key people in her life, and experienced many personal losses and disappointments.  When Sacajawea had the opportunity to join the harrowing Lewis & Clark expedition she was able to reconnect and honor many parts of her cultural heritage, while at the same time she came to appreciate some of the customs of the white explorers.  Much of Sacajawea’s life was tumultuous and uncertain but, based on all that is known of her, she was strong and resilient.

One thing cannot be denied about Waldo’s novel: extensive research was conducted to craft this novel.  The notes were lengthy but added a lot of depth to the novel.  I appreciate this level of research and attention to detail.  Even with this extensive research, there is much that is not known about Sacajawea’s life after the expedition.  There are various accounts of the direction her life took after the expedition and where and how she died.  Waldo presents one widely accepted version of Sacajawea’s later life and this, I think, is where the novel loses some of its traction; I think the first three quarters of the novel are stronger and more clearly presented.

From a historical perspective, Sacajawea is a wonderful novel that gives a voice to one of the most iconic women of American culture.  I highly recommend this book for anyone interested in the history of the American west.