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Posts Tagged ‘Book Suggestions’

Spy Novel Review – Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

Tuesday, August 22nd, 2017

 Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy by John le Carré

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

The British spy service is in shambles. It collects no product. Long-time bosses have been given their walking papers. The resulting reshuffle of duties has demoralized the remaining old timers. However, a minister and his minion bring a low-level agent to the attention of terminated spy master George Smiley. The agent’s story sends Smiley on a hunt for a possible mole who is passing secrets to the Russians.

The novel seems like a mystery since it has multiple interviews with a variety of characters, five suspects, startling twists and an exciting reveal. But it treats themes such as disillusionment, the end of the British Empire, marital dissolution, and the workaday life in a large bureaucracy. LeCarre also uses devices – such as the weather, remote places, and the focus on hands – for more literary effect than we expect in a mystery or spy novel.

In a BBC Radio “Front Row” interview in 2009, John LeCarre said that John Bingham’s crime novels such as My Name is Michael Sibley, published in the 1950s when the two men worked together in British intelligence, inspired LeCarre to write his first two books, Call for the Dead and A Murder of Quality. Some critics go so far as to call Bingham the inspiration for George Smiley, but Bingham disliked le Carré’s portrayal of world-weary, cynical spies.

 

 

 

 

Mystery Monday – Port Hazard

Monday, August 14th, 2017

Port Hazard by Loren D. Estleman 

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

 

Published in 2004, this is the seventh, and to date the next to the latest, historical mystery western featuring deputy US marshal Page Murdock. With three dozen or so westerns, mysteries, and stand-alones to his credit by the time he wrote this one, Estleman challenges himself and his readers by writing in the extravagant style of dime novels and sensational novels of the later Victorian era. Of a theater in Port Hazard:

Cabbage roses exploded on burgundy runners in the aisles. Laurels of gold leaf encircled a coffered ceiling with a Greek Bacchanal enshrined in stained glass in the center, lighted from above so that the chubby nymphs’ nipples and the blubbery lips of the bloated male gods and demigods glittered like rubies.

The dialogue however brings to mind the pithy skepticism about the conventions that we enjoy in noir novels.  There is also much crook argot, which makes sense if you don’t overthink it. A glossary is provided for readers with a low tolerance for ambiguity.

The story opens in Montana, which is more or less the homeless Murdock’s base. His boss, federal judge Harlan Blackthorne, sends his the Barbary Coast on a dangerous assignment. Murdock is to determine if indeed an organization called the Sons of the Confederacy is headed by the Honorable D.W. Wheelock, city alderman and captain in the San Francisco fire brigade. On the way to San Francisco, he persuades Edward Anderson Beecher—a railroad porter (who were all African-American) to watch his back. Murdock trusts the ex-cavalryman to be a fighter.

Rendered well are the gamblers, drunks, vigilantes, prostitutes, thugs, bent politicians and Chinese gangsters. Secondary characters include a gambler who is an undercover Pinkerton gumshoe and a little person whose hand lost in a maritime accident has been replaced with a curious assistive device: an iron ball on a chain. The action is violent, some of the jokes are definitely of the guy variety.

Recommended for those readers who find no problem dipping into mystery genres outside the cozy zone.  

Thriller Thursday Review – The Antagonists

Thursday, August 10th, 2017

 

The Antagonists by William Haggard

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

At a lean 127 pages, this cold war spy thriller is short but packs in a lot of action and intrigue. Haggard excels at getting the reader on the edge of her seat, expecting any twist or turn. He builds tension as skillfully as Ruth Rendall or M.R. James.

But what’s realistic is that the hotshot scientist at the center of events is a real caution. He is a communist epicurean. He has an eye for the ladies. His fork is ever-ready for the West’s best viands. His palate will condescend to sample wines. He’s a brilliant eccentric that brings to mind Richard Feynman.

Also, Haggard features his series hero Col. Charles Russell, star of The Unquiet Sleep and Slow Burner. As Perry Mason is our ideal lawyer and John Putnam Thatcher our ideal banker, Russell is our ideal spy master. Though he detests communists as a gang of tyrants and murderers, he doesn’t allow his personal feelings to cloud his reason.

 

 

 

 

Historical Fiction Review – In the Land of the Long White Cloud

Wednesday, August 9th, 2017

In the Land of the Long White Cloud by Sarah Lark

Review by Mirah Welday (mwelday)

Ok, full disclosure.  This book is long.  If you’re not interested in sweeping sagas, this might not be the book for you.  However, if you like books that take you on adventures, characters who make you want to cheer or throttle them (depending on the chapter), twisted love stories, and high drama, keep reading.  And it’s the first book in a series so those of you who like to series, that’s another bonus!

Helen Davenport is a governess in England when she sees an advertisement for young women to travel to New Zealand and, hopefully, marry one of the many eligible bachelors. Helen decides this could be the opportunity she has been searching for to get away from her dim prospects of an advantageous marriage in London.  She gets passage to New Zealand through the church when she agrees to chaperone young girls being sent to New Zealand to work as housekeepers or nannies.

Gwyneira Silkham reluctantly agrees to marry the son of a wealthy New Zealand sheep/land baron when her father makes an unscrupulous bet and wagers his daughter’s hand in a game of cards.

Helen and Gwyneira meet on the ship while sailing to New Zealand and an unlikely friendship grows.  Both are optimistic about their future lives in New Zealand but what will be their realities? They will each face hardships of much different natures but both will be challenged and both will find strength they didn’t know they had.  And what will happen to the young girls Helen is chaperoning?

In the Land of the Long White Cloud had a lot of drama that kept me interested but there were some lulls in the action that made it a little hard to get through. I cannot comment on the realistic portrayal of New Zealand during the 1800s.  I imagine if I was more familiar with the landscape and culture of the country, I would find some discrepancies.  Some of the characters use some language that I’m not sure was prominent at the time.  But I am willing to overlook some of that and chalk it up to artistic license on the author’s part. Overall, I would give it a solid 3.5 stars out of 5…good for the entertainment but I have a feeling it is lacking on authenticity for the time.

 

 

Autobiography Review – Upstairs at the White House

Tuesday, August 1st, 2017

Upstairs at the White House: My Life with the First Ladies
by J. B. West

Review by Mirah W. (mwelday)

With all of the Presidential politics of the past couple of years I really started to wonder what life in the White House is really like.  And, if I’m honest, my recent binge of The West Wing played a role in this curiosity, as well.

J.B. West worked at the White House for over 25 years, as Assistant to the Chief Usher and later as Chief Usher. He worked closely with each First Lady as she grew familiar with the home and acclimated to life in the White House.  West worked in the White House with the Roosevelts, Trumans, Eisenhowers, Kennedys, Johnsons, and Nixons.  It was a fantastic position from which to experience the ups and downs of presidential living and the ups and downs of the country.

Some memorable takeaways were West’s descriptions of the never ending visitors of Mrs. Roosevelt’s who would stay for weeks at a time in the White House. The cancelling of the formal season at the White House following the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the White House going through food rationing during World War II like the rest of the country. The frugality of the Trumans and the true relationship that created their strong marriage. The vast reconstruction of the White House during the Truman years.  The control Mamie Eisenhower had over every aspect of life in the White House and her generosity at birthdays and the holidays for all of the staff she had contact with on a daily basis.  The lengths that Jackie Kennedy took to protect her children from the press and public eye while in the White House and the darkness that fell over the White House after the assassination of President Kennedy.

I found West’s book interesting and it seemed like an honest account. I was so fascinated by the ‘behind the scenes’ look at the life in the White House and how it transformed over the years. The photographs he shared were also great and put an image to some of the descriptions he provided.  I think this would be an interesting read for any presidential or first lady history buff. Solid 4 stars.

 

 

 

 

Mystery Monday – Mr. Moto is So Sorry

Monday, July 31st, 2017

Mr. Moto is So Sorry by John P. Marquand

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

 

A reader can tell this spy story was originally published in serial installments in the Saturday Evening Post in 1938. Chapters end with cliffhangers. Three long-winded chapters in the middle give the distinct impression Marquand was getting paid by the word. He gives the magazine audience what it expects. Dangerous encounters on a train. A romantic interest with a modern plucky American woman. Exotic and wily Chinese, Japanese, Mongols, Russians, and, heaven forfend, Australians. A maguffin that spy services want.

But despite temporary and uncharacteristic verbosity in the middle, Marquand is true to himself by including themes that he liked to use. The protagonist is a young American man who finds himself through his adventures, just like the young men in Your Turn, Mr Moto and Think Fast, Mr. Moto. Also, though willing to give his all for the Emperor and expand Japan’s influence, Mr. Moto is kind of a good-guy, working to restrain factions in the Japanese army that want to overrun China.

Marquand was an Army Intelligence operative during WWI and traveled in China and Japan during the Thirties so his writing on these topics have authority. Recommended to readers of vintage mysteries.

 

 

Mystery Monday – The Longer the Thread

Monday, July 24th, 2017

 

The Longer the Thread by Emma Lathen

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

The 13th mystery starring series hero John Putnam Thatcher was published in 1971 by two business women who wrote under a pen name. Thatcher, a middle-aged financier on Wall Street, must visit his bank’s Puerto Rico branch, which is concerned about problems at an investment, a large garment maker. The backdrop of Puerto Rico provides social and political conflict between those who want Puerto Rico to be independent versus those who want the special status with the US to continue as usual.

The garment maker’s factory has seen sabotage of finished goods and machines. A foreman – an obnoxious bad actor who was enjoying the trouble (we all know such people at work) – is shot to death. The main suspects are the gringo managers of the plant, which sparks talks of strikes. The factory owner calls in a union organizer, a tough woman negotiator, a character for which the book is worth reading for the authoresses’ first-wave feminist views (that anybody can achieve success from logical thinking and having a clear-cut goals). Thatcher investigates the murder and sabotage, but arrives at the conclusion mainly by reasoning. There is local color and plausible action in Lathen stories, like fires, riots, and intense confrontations, but ultimately reason takes center stage.

I highly recommend this one to Lathen fans and novices.