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Posts Tagged ‘Book Recommendations’

Mystery Monday – Lament for a Maker

Monday, April 13th, 2020

Lament for a Maker by Michael Innes

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

Set in remote rural Scotland in the middle 1930s, this novel borders on the surreal, with fanciful plotting and bizarre characters. Who is responsible for the death of morbidly stingy Ranald Guthrie of Erchany? Maybe his stepdaughter Christine, or even her fiancé, who had at least a motive, since he comes from family in a feud with the Guthries – a story almost like Romeo and Juliet.

Innes narrates the story just as Wilkie Collins did in The Woman in White: he tells the tale through various characters, starting with the quirkiest of all – Ewan Bell, patriarch and village cobbler. He uses the unfamiliar vocabulary of Scottish English: such as, chiel for man. The new words add to the local color, strange atmosphere and bizarre goings-on. It’s challenging but attentive reading allows us to ken the meaning.

The next section is narrated by Noel Gylby, who is clearly an English major with a sophisticated literary style. Innes was a university prof and must have read – and suffered – stacks of papers written in this witty mannered style. Gylby appears in Hamlet, Revenge! by Innes. Very impressive is his depiction of Gothic scene of the ruined castle, unheated and unlighted, with the mad miserly laird in his keep, his face lined and heart in turmoil.

The third section features the orotund style of Lawyer Wedderburn. His pompous prose calls to mind attorneys in Dickens. The fourth section is the narrative of Innes’ series hero, Yard inspector John Appleby. The next section, I can’t possible give away as a spoiler. Innes – that is, J.I.M. Stewart – was a scholar of modernist prose so he enjoys pulling tricks out of its bag: multiple points of view, unreliable narrators, sly social comment, starting in the middle of the story, etc.

Innes wrote mysteries assuming his audience included bookish people. He has Lawyer Wedderburn define mysteries as “a species of popular fiction which bears much the same relation to the world of actual crime as does pastoral poetry to the realities of rural economy. “ So Innes thought it appropriate and fun to “bring a little fantasy and fun into the detective story,” as he said in his 1987 memoir.

Readers that like Nicholas Blake, Cyril Hare, Mary Fitt and Josephine Tey will like the intelligent and deftly written mysteries of Michael Innes. Lament for a Maker is a gem of detective fiction. It has been recognized as a classic for years. Rex Stout, creator of Nero Wolfe, included it on a 1947 list of best detective stories. It was selected for the “Top 100 Crime Novels of the 20th Century” by The Times in 2000.




Mystery Monday – The Dreadful Hollow

Monday, March 30th, 2020

The Dreadful Hollow
by Nicholas Blake

Review by Matt B. (

Poison pen letters figure largely in Dorothy Sayers’ novel Gaudy Night, Agatha Christie’s The Moving Finger and John Dickson Carr’s Night at the Mocking Widow. Ditto for The Dreadful Hollow (1953). Someone is sending abusive missives in the small Dorset village of Prior’s Umborne. One of the recipients has committed suicide, another has attempted it, and yet another has had a nervous breakdown.

Not only has the tranquility of a quiet village been disturbed by the letters, but the wheels of the factory, the main employer in town, are moving more slowly too. This enrages the imperious owner Sir Archibald Blick. He hires private detective Nigel Strangeways to identify the mean epistle writing culprit. Strangeways gently questions a variety of characters in the cozy village settings of the post office, the Sweet Drop pub and inn, the vicarage and Little Manor, the home of the thirty-something sisters Celandine and Rosebay Chantemerle.

Celandine is a cornflower-blue-eyed blonde, full of vivacious charm, but wheelchair-bound. She has suffered hysterical paralysis ever since she discovered the corpse of her father in a quarry. Rosebay is younger and auburn-haired. Like her red-haired sisters, she’s a passionate soul, which means she’s a blast when she’s feeling good but a thunderstorm when she’s feeling bad. Dinny has kind of a past with Charles Blick, a son of Sir Archibald, while Bay has a present with him.

Nigel Strangeways depends on his insight, phenomenal memory, and deadpan manner in his investigations. His foil is Scotland Yard’s Inspector Blount, down to earth, candid, and tough. In the first half, the focus of the story is always on the anonymous letters. A religious manic-depressive adds to the climate of anxiety in this novel. So the setting is cozy, but the tone is decidedly rattled, though not on the same high pitch as the relentless The Beast Must Die.

Cecil Day Lewis, English poet and novelist, used the pen name Nicholas Blake for seventeen mystery novels starring this series detective. His characters and settings are always well-defined, even if the detecting side is sometimes too easy. The writing is highly intelligent and articulate without being overly intellectual. Day Lewis was a classicist so the plots have an undercurrent of Greek tragedy: mistakes come out of impulse, tormented personalities cause a lot of fussing and fighting.



Mystery Monday Review – Defending Jacob

Monday, March 16th, 2020

Defending Jacob by William Landay

Review by Cheryl G. (Poncer)

This legal thriller took me quite by surprise. As a genre, I have enjoyed reading legal thrillers and courtroom dramas for as long as I can remember. A great genre for escaping the grunt and grind of everyday life. John Grisham, Scott Truro, Michael Connelly… they have all kept me entertained. But I have to say, that Defending Jacob by William Landay has now risen to the top of the list. There is good reason that this book became a bestseller.

The book begins with testimony from a grand jury hearing; the witness being questioned is a ‘former’ Assistant Attorney. It is from his point of view that the book is written. The book continues at a good pace, not rocketing and careening, but slowly and surely building a story of meaning of this attorney and his family when personal life and work life collide.  As the reader, my sympathy was with him the whole way through the book. His character is well defined and very human, and relatable.

Through several twists, and many chapters, the grand jury testimony continues, and it is this testimony that eventually brings the book to its stunning conclusion. With the last page read, I said aloud, “Wow!” It is a book that will stay with me a while. With things to turn over in my mind. Thoughts of “What if…”, “How would I react if…”. This is a book that made me think as well as feel. And a great book to escape into during this time of social distancing.


Mystery Monday – The Case of the Grinning Gorilla

Monday, March 9th, 2020

The Case of the Grinning Gorilla
by Erle Stanley Gardner

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

At an auction in 1952, Perry Mason coughs up five bucks (about $9.00 in 2020 dollars) in order to buy the diaries of Helen Cadmus, a young woman who, the authorities have concluded, either was washed overboard or committed suicide on a yacht excursion. Whatever famed lawyer Perry Mason does, mind, is noticed by the celeb-obsessed citizens and hustlers of L.A. Soon after, in a vivid scene with a believable interview, an obvious crook Nathan Fallon visits Mason. Fallon claims that he is a distant relative of Cadmus and wants her diaries to protect the poor dear girl’s reputation. He offers Mason big bucks for the diaries on the behalf of Helen’s employer, millionaire Benjamin Addicks. His curiosity quickened, Mason refuses the offer.

Mason has his private investigator, Paul Drake, look into the background of the eccentric Addicks. In a curious wrinkle, Addicks seems like a mad scientist. Who but a mad doctor would conduct brain research that involves the use of apes, chimps, and gorillas as test subjects?

Perry Mason and his loyal secretary Della Street end up paying a visit to Addicks’ creepy and heavily-guarded mansion. In a scene right out of the pulps (where Gardner cut his writer’s teeth), Mason has a spine-tingling confrontation with a gorilla. He also finds Addicks, stabbed to death. Mason ends up defending Josephine Kempton, the former housekeeper of Addicks. She is a typical exasperating Mason client in that she figures that withholding information from her defense attorney is not really and truly lying.

Three elements distinguish this Mason story from the books Gardner wrote in the Fifties.

First, the pulpy action, settings, and antsy ambiance were hinted at above. Second, in the climax in two characters attempt to murder Perry Mason, which is unusual since Gardner usually kept violence off stage. Third, Gardner seldom went beyond the usual motivations of love, hate, lust, and greed. However, Benjamin Addicks is a tangled guy. He reportedly conducts psychological experiments with gorillas because he wants to understand the dark roots on the scalp of our souls.






Young Adult Science Fiction Review – The Demon Seekers: Book One

Thursday, March 5th, 2020

The Demon Seekers: Book One by John Shors

Review by Mirah W. (mwelday)

One of my favorite authors has made the leap into young adult fiction and I am thrilled! John Shors recently released his complete The Demon Seekers series and I quickly devoured Book One. I love that he released all three books just a few weeks apart so excited readers could quickly continue reading the series! (You’re the best, John!)

As a fan of both dystopian fiction and John Shors, this series immediately appealed to me. I read Book One in less than one week, even waking up a little earlier so I could read a couple of chapters before work! Set in 2171, hostile aliens have been on Earth for a century. Earth was their prison and they have practically wiped humans from the planet, hunting them relentlessly and turning Earth into a desolate place for those humans left. We are introduced immediately to Tasia in Cambodia, one of the few areas designated as a hidden stronghold for the few humans that remain on Earth. Tasia is seventeen and has grown up in the jungle of Cambodia and is comfortable there, but she is soon thrown into a journey of discovery and destiny when she begins the search for life-saving medicine for her brother.

I thought the characters were interesting and multi-faceted. Tasia is seventeen and head strong, she wants to be strong for her family and is looking to really make a difference in the fight against the aliens. In her quest to find medicine for her brother, she joins Draven, Raef, Aki and Jerico to travel to different strongholds to find what she needs. Each character fills a different need in the group and offer a different emotional element to the story.  Like all of John’s previous novels I have read, the environment practically becomes a character of its own through very detailed descriptions and level of importance to the overall storyline. The descriptions are vivid, and I could see the colors and destruction in my mind as I was reading. Due to this level of description, I think this series would be amazing on the screen.

There are current socioeconomic and political themes throughout, but they are not distracting from the story; instead these themes enhance the story and plight of the characters. I believe this would be a great series for parents and young adults to read together to discuss the plot, the characters’ decisions and how that could relate to current events. The different types of people groups in the novel (guardians, seekers, hiders) could easily be given parallels in today’s world.

The mystery of the aliens/demons and how they came to be on earth and connection to humans is still unfolding by the end of the book and I am hooked. I thoroughly enjoyed The Demon Seekers: Book One and have given it 5 stars (and I have already ordered The Demon Seekers: Book Two and The Demon Seekers: Book Three).  If you enjoy science fiction, fantasy, and dystopian fiction, I think you would enjoy The Demon Seekers.





Mystery Monday Review – Appleby and Honeybath

Monday, February 24th, 2020

Appleby and Honeybath by Michael Innes

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

This 1983 mystery features Michael Innes’ series heroes in the same novel. The setting is a country house with weekend guests. The squire is a ruffian who hates his well-stocked library. He amazed and appalled that buzzing around with requests are literature scholars, art historians and auctioneers that want to explore its treasures to extend knowledge, build reputations, and stuff their wallets. This gives Innes a chance to tweak the landed gentry for their philistinism, scholars for their pride, and hustlers for their greed. All in hilarious ink-horn terms like “inchoate,” “’velleities,” and “pernoctate.” An Oxford literature don remarks, ”An unresolved fatality is an unsatisfactory thing to leave behind one after a quiet weekend in the country.” Indubitably. This is a light mystery to read between more serious works or more grisly tales of murder.




Book Winner!

Friday, February 21st, 2020

The Winner of the brand-new copy of
Cabin 1 (Steele Shadows Security)
by Amanda McKinney is:

Norma L.


Congratulations, Norma! Your book will be on the way to you soon.
We hope you enjoy it!

Thank you to everyone who entered!