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Posts Tagged ‘Book Reviews’

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 – Murder at the Flea Club

Monday, March 2nd, 2020

Murder at the Flea Club by Matthew Head

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

The year 1957 finds The Flea Club a hot Paris night spot. This story isn’t more crowded than the usual country-house mystery. I had no problem keeping who’s who straight.

Still, I got the feeling yet that this is an over-crowded mystery because they don’t have a lot to do except talk. And talk. And talk some more. For instance, an American “confirmed bachelor,” probably with his hand stereotypically on his hip, prattles like this:

Have you been downstairs, Hoopy? …. Well do go! I mean the place is simply fantastic, these utterly tremendous holes, right in the middle of the clubroom, and the most tremendous piles of dirt. Really quite picturesque and too too archaeological! So intellectual, is the way I feel about it, so un-Flea Club. But good, you know, really good. The Institute’s been taking pictures, if you can imagine. I mean it – the Institute! Ninth century if it’s a day, Professor Johnson says. Can you imagine?

This tedium is worsened by Head’s choice to narrate half the novel as Hooper’s recounting the last couple days’ action to Dr. Mary Finney. Like the flamboyant bachelor above, the reporting seems to go on and on. Besides it’s too unbelievable that Hooper would remember conversations word for word. By the scene in which they plan to gather all the suspects in a room, I was relieved and grateful.

On the positive side, Head uses language skillfully. He’s memorable at describing sounds (“She put both hands in front of her face and made unlovely burbling sounds”) and colors (“Freddy’s face turned into shrimp-colored blubber and began to vibrate”). Better, he’s funny as when Hooper and the teenager go on a date, the girl acts abstractedly: “I was proud to be with such a pretty girl, but if anybody tried to figure us out they must have thought either that we had had a lovers’ quarrel, or been married a little too long. Or maybe they just thought we were English.”

I gather that series hero Dr. Mary Finney’s usual locale was the Congo. So maybe the writer felt wobbly away from the familiar setting. Plus, this was the last novel in the series so maybe the earlier ones are better. Head is a good enough writer that I will try an earlier book in the series if it falls in my lap.

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

Horror Book Review of The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires: A Novel

Tuesday, February 18th, 2020

The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires: A Novel
by Grady Hendrix

Review by Cyn F. (Cyn-Sama)

 

I think the southern Gothic setting just works for a story about vampires. The lush, dense heat of a summer night, and something rotten seeping into a otherwise perfect town. Maybe it has something to do with my first introductions to literary vampires was Interview With a Vampire by Anne Rice, and Lost Souls by Poppy Z. Brite. Of course, those books showed vampires in a sympathetic light. The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires takes the concept of vampires, and brings them back to their horrific roots.

Patricia Campbell’s life is a small, quiet one. Her husband is distracted with his work, her children are becoming more and more distant. Her monthly book club is supposed to be a shining moment, a chance to get out of the house. Only problem is, no one wants to read the titles that are assigned.

Some of the disgruntled book club members decide to form their own book club, where they can read what ever they want. Including a boat load of classic true crime masterpieces.

Then, strange things begin to happen.

Patricia looses a large chunk of an ear to a rabid neighbor.

Intriguingly a stranger moves into the neighborhood, and children start to go missing. Is there a connection? Or have they all been reading too many sensational novels?

Being a bigger fan of novels where the vampires are the heroes, I was not sure I was going to like this book. I have to say, that I was a fan.

It was nice to go back to the roots of horror, and read something that creeped me out a bit. Plus, I loved the setting. I like seeing these supposedly perfect families succumb to the rot within. Most of the rot was there before there was a vampire, it just all rose to the surface the more these ladies investigated.

If the rest of Grady Hendrix’s work is of this caliber, I will be seeking out more of his books.

 

 

 

Mystery Monday Review – The Veiled One

Monday, February 17th, 2020

The Veiled One by Ruth Rendell

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

 

Rather more violent than the usual Reg Wexford outing. A housewife is strangled with a garrot, of all the horrible things. And a car bomb explosion puts our series hero Reg into hospital. His high-strung but likeable partner Mike Burden stands in. He takes aim at a suspect but can’t get him to talk. When Rendell is on a roll, as she is in this 1988 mystery, she is spellbinding.

 

 

 

 

 

Mystery Monday Review – The Arena

Monday, February 10th, 2020


The Arena
by William Haggard

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

In this crime and spy novel from 1961, the merchant bank known as Bonavias is declining. However, a upstart competitor approaches them, offering an amount 20% over Bonavias’ market value. Series hero Col. Russell must become interested when he learns that also part of the deal is a research start-up called Radarmic. There is suspicion that an unfriendly power wants access to the radar technology Radarmic is developing. The rep of the unfriendly power would stoop to criminal violent means to take over the bank and the start-up.

Haggard, an Englishman, was an intelligence officer in India during WWII and then worked in Whitehall after the war. So he has the knowledge and experience that we trust in a writer of intelligent crime and espionage stories. Back in the day, Haggard’s novels were not popular in the US, though critics often praised his work as “James Bond for adults.”

Like William F. Buckley’s series hero Blackford Oakes, hero Col. Charles Russell, head of the Security Executive is a “man of the right.” The department minds odd security issues that fall in the grey areas where no clear authority to act exists. Russell is a cheerful conservative who maintains his cool in stressful situations. Russell doesn’t do much except think and talk to people in posh clubs and stuffy offices. He spends much time being perplexed. I don’t know how Haggard makes this fascinating and un-put-downable. But he does.

Haggard’s ability to take the reader into the closed worlds of research, government, criminal syndicates and spy agencies is irresistible. At least to readers who like John le Carré, John Bingham, Emma Lathen, or Alan Furst.