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Posts Tagged ‘Book Reviews’

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.   

 

Historical Spy Fiction Review – The Foreign Correspondent

Tuesday, October 10th, 2017

 

The Foreign Correspondent by Alan Furst

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

Alan Furst writes best-selling historical spy fiction. The novels are set before and during World War II. His protagonists are similar to Eric Ambler and Alfred Hitchcock’s ordinary people pulled into murky intrigues in which they have no control over anything except their own will, their own sense that they must strike back against tyranny. With authority and conformity the default settings for many, Furst’s protagonists resist and rebel instinctively, like hardcore readers (“Hey, adult, I’d rather read than go outside, thank you very much.”). Furstian heroes don’t have abstract philosophies about liberty and freedom. They just don’t like getting pushed around and feel they must fight or be overwhelmed by bigots, xenophobes, haters, and the Colonel Cathcarts that all have a right to do anything we can’t stop them from doing. Want rights? Fight for them.

This novel is set 1938, right on the eve of war. Carlo Weisz, along with scores of other Italian brain workers, has had to move to Paris. He belongs to a small group that publishes an underground newspaper that is printed in Italy, then distributed samizdat-style by sneaky teenagers (perennial Furstian heroes) in bus stations and other public places.

Carlo finds himself dealing with agents of various intelligence services and plug-uglies sent by Mussolini. He’s able to visit Germany on reporting jobs and meets the woman that he loves, unfortunately married to anti-fascists and thus watched by the Gestapo.

The Foreign Correspondent is long on atmosphere and short on action. But it’s heartening for rebellious readers.

 

 

 

Fiction Review – The Ocean at the End of the Lane

Tuesday, October 3rd, 2017

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

Review by Vicky T. (VickyJo)

 

“I remember my own childhood vividly – I knew terrible things. But I knew I mustn’t let adults know I knew. It would scare them.” ~ Maurice Sendak, in conversation with Art Spiegelman. 

This quote opens Neil Gaiman’s novel, The Ocean at the End of the Lane and beautifully sets the tone for this compact cross between a fairy tale and a horror story. Let me say this right up front: if you do not enjoy magic in your fiction, stop right here. Gaiman presents the very real magic of childhood, where things are generally black or white, good or evil; where magical things can and do happen without too much disbelief on a child’s part. 

The book opens with a middle-aged man traveling back home to Sussex, England, for a funeral. He takes a seemingly aimless drive through the countryside, only to realize that he has been heading to the site of his childhood home, and the home of a childhood friend, Lettie Hempstock. This visit takes him down memory lane to the events that occurred when he was only seven years old, and Lettie was eleven. As the narrator reminisces, his memory becomes sharper, more true — and we see the reality of a very dangerous time that, for some reason, he does not remember as an adult – not until he comes back to this place. It’s almost a glimpse into an alternate universe, except we, as readers, know it’s the real universe. 

I loved this book. I loved how Gaiman captured my childhood philosophy: Don’t Tell the Adults. They won’t believe you, or worse — they’ll ruin it. Magical things can happen, and you just need to deal with it, for with height and age comes disbelief and impatience. The world we live in as children must not be betrayed, even if we get scared sometimes. 

The Specsavers National Book Award is a British literary award which honors the best UK writers and their works, as selected by an academy of members from the British book publishing industry. There is the best in fiction, in non-fiction, in autobiography, and so on. From this list of winners, readers vote to select the Book of the Year. It is the only literary award chosen by the reading public. And the winner for 2013 was The Ocean at the End of the Lane. It’s a lovely honor, and well-deserved. 

Give it a try; after all, can so many voters be wrong?  Oh, and don’t tell the adults what you’re reading… 

 

 

 

Mystery Monday – Black Orchids

Monday, September 25th, 2017

Black Orchids by Rex Stout 

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

 

(AKA  The Case of the Black Orchids and Death Wears an Orchid)

 

This novella opens with Archie Goodwin complaining about being dispatched to the Grand Central Flower show for four days running. His boss, the famous if eccentric PI Nero Wolfe, wants him to gather intelligence on three newly-developed black orchid plants hybridized by Lewis Hewitt, an arch-rival in flower fancying who “churns his beer.” 

While at the exhibition, Archie is smitten by a model in a unique exhibit. A beautiful blonde picnics in a sylvan (now there’s a 1940s word) scene with her boyfriend, near a stream, with mossy rock walls nearby. Crowds gather when she bathes her slim ankles and comely dogs in a nearby pool. Archie is unsettled, to the point where he doesn’t mind looking at thousands of flowers.

On fourth day, she follows the script as usual. That is, she tries to awaken her BF who has been feigning a nap with a newspaper over his face. But she runs into Archie who’s jumped over the rope to examine the supine figure. He’d noticed the male model’s foot at an awkward angle and thought it merited investigation. He probes the top of the man’s head with a finger that went “right into a hole in his skull, a way in, and it was like sticking your finger into a warm blueberry pie.”

Yuck. Not for nothing did blurb writers back in the day describe Stout as “gruesome, gory, but gay.” “Gay” as in the 1940s “carefree” sense, you understand.

The method of murder is diabolically clever, as we would expect in a classic mystery from that bygone era. So complicated, in fact, that we readers doubt it would work in the real world.  Still, this, the first novella Stout wrote, is quite a strong entry in the Wolfe canon. Wise-guy Archie’s narration has its usual brash, snappy, likable tone. The dialog between Archie and Wolfe is simultaneously acerbic and affectionate. The overall tone is light-hearted. As a whodunit that plays fair, there are red herrings and plausible deductions. As any good series book does, it delivers the inevitable touchstones we fans look forward to: the irascible Lt. Cramer; the red chair; the city girl with moxie; the glasses of milk; the bottles of beer; Wolfe barking “Archie!” 

It was published in the August 1941 issue of The American Magazine.