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Posts Tagged ‘Book Suggestions’

Mystery Monday Review – The Moving Target

Monday, November 19th, 2018

The Moving Target by Ross Macdonald

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

This is the first Lew Archer mystery –MacDonald named him after Miles Archer, Sam Spade’s murdered partner in The Maltese Falcon. Published in 1949, WWII hangs heavy over the story.

A distraught wife hires private detective Archer to search for her missing husband. It seems an almost inconsequential case, a matter that occurs in Archer’s agency every day. Nothing indicates crime is involved until we get into kidnapping and human trafficking in a case that will cost six lives.

Ross Macdonald is mentioned in the same breath as Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler and is considered one of the greats of 20th century American crime fiction. He took the classic whodunit thriller to a different level by exploring the question of the social and psychological “why” and influenced the hardboiled genre in the long term.

For instance, in this one, echoing Simenon’s view that given the right combination of interior and exterior pressures, anybody is capable of anything, Archer explains that war’s undermining of certainties, money and social pressures, opportunity or its lack, bad luck, and the wrong crowd cause good people to make mistakes that attract the attention of the law. For others who are just bad to the bone, “Money is just a peg people hang their evil on.”

This was his fifth novel, and so there are flaws. Some spots are slow. Other parts are over-written, which made Raymond Chandler mock the writing as pretentious (talk about the pot … ). Macdonald later learned to restrain the “fine writing” and he later outpaced Chandler, Cain, and Hammet, especially in the Lew Archer novels.

 

 

 

Mystery Monday Review – Maigret Goes Home

Monday, November 12th, 2018

Maigret Goes Home by Georges Simenon

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

 

In this 1931 mystery, in the Quai des Orfèvres our favorite Chief Inspector accidentally comes across an anonymous note, “A crime will be committed at the church of Saint-Fiacre during the first Mass of the Day of the Dead.” The message was received by the police of Moulins, who shrugged – no doubt in a Gallic way – and passed it on to the Police Judiciaire de Paris.

Since Maiget spent his childhood at Saint-Fiacre, in the Allier, his curiosity is stirred and he goes immediately to the chateau, where his father had served as the loyal steward. Maigret attends the Mass in which the note forecasts the crime. Sure enough, the Countess of Saint-Fiacre dies of apparent heart failure.

The local doctor finds that the death of the countess was brought on by violent emotion. Maigret finds in the Countess’ missal a clipping from the Journal de Moulins announcing the death of Maurice de Saint-Fiacre, her son and heir. The latter had just arrived from Paris to the village, where he intended to sponge money off his mother to pay his copious debts. If the check bounces, it’s the clink.

The inquiry, conducted at the castle, at the village and at Moulins, takes place in a somber heart-rending atmosphere from the get-go. Maigret returns to the village of his childhood, with an aura of nostalgia. But it soon dawns on him that things have changed for the worse in the past thirty -five years.

The estate is no more than a shadow of what it was at the time when the Maigret’s father was serving it. The countess has sold off three of the four farms, since the death of the Comte de Saint-Fiacre. She has had to cover the profligate the investments and expenses of her son Maurice. The countess has allowed herself to be exploited by many “secretaries” who have been lovers. The last of these, Jean Métayer, feeling suspected and vulnerable, appeals to a provincial lawyer whose manner and way of speaking get up Maigret’s nose.

Upsetting somebody to death with a fake clipping is not a crime for the courts. But all agree that is was a disgusting moral offense. Maigret talks to people to get a bead on the milieu, as usual. Maurice de Saint-Fiacre, however, the day after the death, gathers all the suspects in a room.

 

 

 

 

Free Book Friday Winner!

Sunday, November 11th, 2018

 

 

The Winner of the Brand-New copy of
The Devil You Know by Elisabeth de Mariaffi is:

Betty V. (bettyv)

 

Congratulations! Your book will be on the way soon!

Thank you to everyone who entered!

Mystery Monday Review – The Case of the Demure Defendant

Monday, November 5th, 2018

The Case of the Demure Defendant by Erle Stanley Gardner

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

Nadine Farr’s head-turning beauty is no help in dealing with her anxiety symptoms. Bad dreams. Jumpy. Feeling guilty. She has turned to the retro-named Dr. Logbert Denair, a psychiatrist who has her do a talk session under the influence of truth serum. Under sodium pentothol, she confesses to poisoning her uncle and then throwing the bottle with the cyanide pills into a small lake. Dr. Denair recorded the confession on reel to reel tape. Fearing the legal consequences but not wanting to hand the tape to the police, the good doc consults attorney Perry Mason concerning how to proceed.

Mason tells the shrink that the statements of a patient are confidential and protected by professional privilege, but evidence a crime has been committed must be reported to the police. Mason, also reluctant to run to the police (which may lead to a defamation charge), points out that since the confession could be a delusion caused by drugs and thus not legally effective, the doctor had better make further inquiries. Denair hires Perry to take the lead since and who would know better that the illustrious legal expert?

This 1956 mystery has a lot of surprises. As for Mason, he is accused by Hamilton Burger, with frank and inhuman glee, of fabricating evidence. Things look pretty dicey for our hero until the last few pages. I would highly recommend this as better than average to readers who know they are fans of Perry, Della, and Paul but readers not used to Gardner’s shenanigans with evidence may be put off by the convoluted plot.

 

 

 

Historical Fiction Review – The Tsarina’s Daughter

Tuesday, October 30th, 2018

The Tsarina’s Daughter by Carolly Erickson

Review by Mirah W. (mwelday)

There is something about the Romanovs, something that has made many people question what really happened to the family. Were they all executed? Could some members of the family and household have escaped the tragic end? Historical accounts tell us the Romanov family died 1918, executed by the Bolsheviks to keep the Russian people not loyal to Lenin from uniting under Tsar Nicholas, who abdicated the throne in 1917. But there are questions that surround the events of the execution and where there are questions, there will (inevitably) be doubts.  These questions and doubts have led to numerous books and movies about the possibility that not all of the Romanovs died that fateful night in 1918.

I was first drawn to Carolly Erickson when I read her novel The Hidden Diary of Marie Antoinette many years ago. That novel was based on the ‘what if’ scenario of Marie Antoinette leaving a hidden diary behind to be found after her execution by guillotine. I found it to be a real page turner. Erickson’s The Tsarina’s Daughter is written from the same ‘what if’ perspective. What if one of the Romanov daughters managed to escape? What if she was able to immigrate to the United States under a new name and live a full and meaningful life?

Erickson weaves a love story for Tatiana, daughter of the Tsar. Accustomed to a life of luxury, Tatiana is unexpectedly exposed to the dark reality of life in Russia after World War 1 and the start of the Russian Revolution.  Tatiana begins to go out in disguise and works to help the poor and sick. Tatiana meets people who are strong but struggling with the hardships of Russian life. While she is out from the confines of the walls of the palace, she falls in love with a young doctor. Tatiana also begins to see her father in a different light. He is not the strong leader she thought he was; his choice to turn a blind eye to what is really happening in Russia is doing real damage to the country. Upon his abdication, the family is imprisoned, and their lives quickly degenerate from the life of abundance they have always known.

This is not an accurate historical account of events, but it’s not supposed to be. Erickson clearly states this in her ‘note to the reader’ at the end of the book. She writes, ‘The Tsarina’s Daughter is an imaginative retelling of Tatiana’s story, with many invented characters and events added to the historical background’. Some of the more negative reviews I have read were accusations of the author’s lack of research and that things weren’t based on fact.  I think this is an unfair reason to not offer a positive review. Erikson has written her share of nonfiction works and knows how to do research but The Tsarina’s Daughter wasn’t meant to be an addition to the historical record, it was created to be a fictional, ‘what if’ tale.

This ‘imaginative retelling’, as Erickson calls it, allows the reader to daydream of a situation where an innocent girl finds love, escapes a terrible fate, and goes on to live a full and complete life….and I’m ok with that.  I read the book in two days, so it was another Erickson page turner for me.  I think if you can accept that it’s meant to be a ‘what if’ scenario and not a retelling of fact, you will enjoy this novel by Erickson as much as I did. After all, The Tsarina’s Daughter won the Romantic Times Reviewer’s Choice Award for Best Historical Fiction so I can’t be the only one who thinks it is a great read!

 

 

 

 

Literature and Fiction Review – The Third Angel

Thursday, October 25th, 2018

The Third Angel by Alice Hoffman

Review Vicky T. (VickyJo)

 

There are many different types of love in the world. There is romantic love, familial love, platonic love…but sometimes, the hardest thing to do is to love yourself. Alice Hoffman explores all facets of love in her beautiful novel “The Third Angel.” She tells the story of three women, who have encounters with love that will forever change their lives.

We start in 1999. High powered attorney Maddy Heller has come to London to act as a bridesmaid in her sister Allie’s wedding. Allie, a famous children’s author, is having second thoughts about this marriage. What she doesn’t know is that Maddy has had an affair with Allie’s fiancé, Paul. This tangled triangle becomes further complicated when Paul is diagnosed with terminal cancer.

The book skips back in time to 1966. London is alive and swinging, and Frieda Lewis has left the country life to come to the city and be in the middle of the energy and excitement. She works in a hotel called Lion’s Park, where rock musicians occasionally stay. She meets an up and coming singer/songwriter, and falls deeply in love, knowing that his addiction to drugs, and his girlfriend, could ruin what might be a beautiful relationship.

The last third of the book takes place in 1952. Twelve-year-old Lucy Green is traveling by ship to London with her father and stepmother to attend her stepmother’s younger sister’s wedding. They stay in the lovely hotel Lion Park, where Lucy, who is currently obsessed with Anne Frank, meets a handsome stranger who befriends the lonely girl, and asks a great favor of her. By getting involved in a love triangle between three adults, Lucy’s life will be forever altered.

Hoffman weaves these three stories together on numerous levels; Lucy Green will grow up to be the mother of Maddy and Allie Heller, while Frieda will become Paul’s mother, Allie’s fiancé. The stories take place in the same hotel, Lion’s Park. And the women in these tales are all experiencing love, in all its incarnations. Hoffman shows us how love can be beautiful, bittersweet, and sharp enough to wound the heart. It can strike one suddenly, with no rhyme or reason. It can enrich one person’s life while at the same time destroying someone else’s.

This is one of those rare books that I wanted to read again the minute I finished it. I had an urge to read it back to front, and I may just do that. Hoffman is another one of those writers that uses language to effortlessly create moods and emotions in her readers. Her sentences are made to be savored, and I am in awe of her writing talents. She makes it look so easy.

The title comes from Frieda’s father, an old country doctor who always told her that there was the Angel of Life, the Angel of Death, and the Third Angel. When he went on his rounds, or was called out late at night, it was either the Angel of Life or the Angel of Death that rode in his car with him. But it’s the Third Angel that is the most curious. “You can’t even tell if he’s an angel or not. You think you ‘re doing him a kindness, you think you’re the one taking care of him, while all the while, he’s the one saving your life.”

This beautiful novel is a story of love, of forgiveness, of deep sorrow, and incredible joy, and enduring regrets. Hoffman breaks your heart while she examines the human condition, and the lives of women who have loved, and lost, and yet hope to love again.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mystery Monday Review – From London Far

Monday, October 22nd, 2018

From London Far by Michael Innes

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

 

Richard Meredith is a middle-aged classics professor who specializes in Martial and Juvenal. As an absentminded intellectual (is that redundant?), he finds himself in his tobacconist’s shop and mutters a phrase from Dr. Johnson’s London, a Poem. He is surprised when the clerk opens a trap-door and ushers him down into the depths of London. He comes upon scores of art masterpieces. Against the smugglers of looted art, he finds an ally in Jean Halliwell, a young scholar in archeology with a specialty in Minoan weapons. In an exciting if far-fetched scene, they and two bloodhounds escape being put in a sack and dropped into the Channel by fleeing across the rooftops of London.

They proceed to have adventures that are so zany as to lead us readers to think that John Buchan’s rousers like Greenmantle are being parodied. As usual, the villains are bizarre. For example, one is an eccentric rich guy – with the hyper-American name of Otis K. Neff – that will call to mind the unhinged oil millionaire Jo Stoyte in After Many a Summer Dies the Swan by Aldous Huxley.

Also as usual, there are plenty of erudite laughs:

The man was … simultaneously enjoying the remains of a cigar and a thoughtful study of the girl’s knees. Habit apart, there seemed to be no reason why he should not study the superincumbent parts of her anatomy as well, for the girl was stripped for bathing to a degree which Meredith could not at all approve.

At 300 pages, some snipping in the middle and near the end would have been in order. But members of the thinking audience – i.e., us avid readers — will be able to pat themselves on the back for understanding allusions to The Perfumed Garden and knowing already what pygmalionism is.

It’s not, however, merely learned yuks. Innes describes rural Scotland and its remotes fastnesses so vividly we wish we could visit Caledonia someday. He makes wise observations of religion in Scotland, art appreciation, and the mentality of collecting. Published in 1946, it also touches on the heavy subject of Europe pulling itself together after the most destructive war in history.

I think that Innes had a middle-aged, male, middle-class, educated and bookish target audience in mind. However, he always portrays his female characters with lots of smarts and readiness for action. Against scholarly stereotype, Jean Halliwell combines dedication to fighting evil-doers with a zest for adventure. There’s a wonderful parody of academic disputation near the end when Jean incisively supports her position in an argument where she and Meredith are trying to account for the art collecting mania of Otis K. Neff.

Michael Innes was the pen name of J.I.M Stewart (1906 – 1994), an English prof in the UK, Ireland, and Australia until his retirement in 1973, after which he wrote mysteries full-time until about 1985. Most of his mysteries starred Sir John Appleby, a Scotland Yard Detective Inspector. But many of his books are stand-alone novels like this one and Lament for a Maker.