PaperBackSwap Blog


Posts Tagged ‘Book Suggestions’

Mystery Monday – The Case of the Curious Bride

Monday, February 13th, 2017

The Case of the Curious Bride by Erle Stanley Gardner

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

A woman claiming not to be a bride consults lawyer Perry Mason about her “friend” whose husband, supposedly killed in a plane crash, turns up alive and well. Della Street, Mason’s assistant, is sure the would-be client is in fact a bride. The lying client ends up facing charges of murder. All the evidence points to her guilt, of course, so Perry Mason requires cunning and mother-wit – not to mention a lot of PI legwork that he does himself – to save the client.

Published in 1934, the fifth Perry Mason mystery was a pretty good read. However, it has a hard edge to it, probably because the Depression casts a shadow over the characters and action. A millionaire businessman demonstrates the ethics and morality of an alley cat, reflecting public attitudes that were fed up with The Heartless Conscience-free Rich. Plus, near the end, Mason coldly observes that the murder victim – a con man who swindled plain janes into marriage and then stole all their money – “needed killing.” Yikes, talk about a dog-eat-dog world.

In the intricate plot, Mason is always a couple of moves ahead of the DA and cops. Planting fake evidence will do that, I suppose. I did not figure out who the culprit was before the end and I was blind-sided by the reveal.  To be fair, I must say that Gardner plays fair with reader. He has different characters repeat the basic facts of the case, so we readers can’t complain at the end that Gardner expects us to know things we were never told. I think Gardner used the repetition because the novel was serialized in Liberty Magazine (July 7 to September 15, 1934) and he had to get new readers up to speed.

I liked the antique atmosphere. Despite the racy hint of you-know in the title, there is no you-know in the novel, which is par for Mason novels. The trial sequence, as in many of the early Mason novels, is pretty short.

 

Save

Save

Thriller Thursday – Dark Voyage

Thursday, February 2nd, 2017

Dark Voyage by Alan Furst

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

In his eighth historical espionage thriller, Furst departs from his usual place and time of Europe between the wars. Nor does he focus on typical spies. In this one, the time is during WWII, April to June 1941 to be exact. The setting is at sea on a spy ship, the Dutch tramp freighter Noordendam. The hero is a stoical captain, Erik DeHaan.

DeHaan has been recruited into naval intelligence by three co-nationals, the owner of the Noordendam, a businessman, and a female artist. The Noordendam is re-painted, put under the control of the British intelligence service (which office is unclear to DeHaan), and sent out on a mission both in convoy and on its own, both as the Noordendam and the Santa Rosa. It lands commandos in Tunisia and explosives in Crete. It negotiates German defenses in the Baltic in order to transport radio equipment to listen in traffic to and from German submarines.

DeHaan is a classic Furstian protagonist. That is, sensitive and professionally capable, he brings his emotional and professional intelligence to fight, because that is what an ordinary person would do, fight when fight we must.

The other characters are regular folks too, doing what they can to fight in the hope that their small contribution will add to the huge effort to eliminate the Fascist threat, whether on the left or the right. Fleeing right extremism are Greek deserters, Spanish Republicans, and a veteran Ukrainian Jewish spy. A female Soviet maritime reporter is fleeing the Russian spies that want to recruit her for dirty work.

One flaw. The second half of the novel is set on the Baltic Sea near Malmö, Sweden, in the first 20 days of June, heading up to the Summer Solstice. Recalling how far north this setting is and the time of the year, readers will recall there is not quite 24 hours of daylight. When I lived in Riga, Latvia (1994-97), the sun didn’t set until close to 11:30 p.m. It didn’t get dark until 1:00 a.m. when it didn’t get “darkest before the dawn” kind of dark either. Then at about 1:00 a.m., it started to lighten up again. Furst does not mention one word about this phenomenon.

This flaw is balanced by the simple fact that Furst sets the climax in the Latvian port of Liepāja. Furst gets points in my book for mentioning Latvia at all, much less a little-known place such as Liepāja. The Russians and Germans wanted to occupy Latvia for the possession of Riga and the ice-free port of Liepāja, which the Russians wanted so secret they didn’t even put it on maps.

Furst’s writing style tends to the run-on sentence, which gives an effective herky-jerkiness to the exposition. We readers never know what going to happen next.

 

 

 

 

Save

Mystery Monday Review – The Case of the Silent Partner

Monday, January 23rd, 2017

The Case of the Silent Partner by Erle Stanley Gardner 

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

 

The 17th Perry Mason mystery, published in 1940, is a must-read for all Mason fans. The reason is that Lt. Tragg makes his debut as Mason’s astute adversary.  Gardner explicitly puts Tragg at the same age as Mason, something that may disconcert fans who have always pictured Tragg as Ray Collins who was almost 30 years older than Raymond Burr.

Another curious point is that Tragg interviews a person of interest without Mason in the scene even after Mason has been introduced into the story. Usually Gardner places Mason in every act, every scene. Gardner has Tragg get the person of interest to reveal unwittingly what is on her mind while ostensibly giving her a word association test. Gardner does not want even the dullest reader to miss that the wily Tragg knows psychology whereas his hard-charging predecessor Sgt. Holcomb spells “psychology” starting with an “s.”

Our expectation that a Mason novel always climaxes with a rousing preliminary hearing scene leads to the third uncommon point. The climax is a civil trial. Mason does make the opposing lawyer look silly, however.

Because Tragg gets a lot of space, there is less Paul Drake. He is not introduced until about half-way through the story. His role is small. Fans of Della Street will be happy to know that she plays a very active role in the story. This, by the way, is why the novels are much better than the TV series. In the TV shows Della rarely did little beyond answering the phone and taking notes.

As usual, too, Gardner expresses his support for womankind, being about as much a feminist as we can expect of a man of his generation. He sympathizes with the female owner of a small chain of flower shops, emphasizes that she has to be twice a tough and canny as men in business but still be available to be caregivers to aging relatives.

 

 

 

Save

Save

Save

Fiction Review – Small Great Things

Wednesday, January 18th, 2017

Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult

Review by Mirah W. (mwelday)

I love Jodi Picoult’s novels because of her deft tackling of ethical and moral issues that face our society.  I have been a fan since I read The Pact many years ago.  When I saw that Jodi was going to be in Kansas City during her promotional tour of Small Great Things I immediately purchased tickets and it was a wonderful event!

According to Jodi, she started a book about race relations many years ago but set it aside when she felt it wasn’t her place to bring up the issue.  Given recent events in the US, she felt it was time to tackle a story about racism and our societal and learned attitudes about race.  Picoult described her in depth research, from meeting with former white supremacists, talking medical jargon with nurses, and meeting with a group of African American women to discuss Ruth’s voice and language.  One thing that cannot be denied through reading this novel is that Picoult did her absolute best to write with authenticity.

Small Great Things is the story of Ruth Jefferson, an African American labor and delivery nurse with over twenty years’ experience. During another regular day, conducting a regular check of a newborn in the ward, Ruth’s life is turned upside down.  She is told the parents, who are white supremacists, don’t want her treating their son.  When there are complications after a routine procedure and the baby dies, the parents accuse Ruth of killing their child. In the aftermath, Ruth questions the choices she has made throughout her life, how she has raised her son, and if her career will recover.

In true Picoult style of telling the story through various points of view, the author draws the reader into the gripping, misunderstood and complicated lives of all of the characters.   What do we each know about other races and what different roles does privilege play in society that we may have not even considered before?  What creates hate in our society? Picoult has given us a book that holds a mirror up to our faces and forces us to look honestly at ourselves, our words, and our actions.  Small Great Things earns 5 solid stars.

Mirah gets a book signed by Jodi Picoult

Mirah gets a book signed by Jodi Picoult

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Save

Save

Save

Save

Mystery Monday – Red Harvest

Monday, January 16th, 2017

Red Harvest by Dashiell Hammett

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

Personville, a city of forty-thousand in Montana, grew because a company developed mines. The mine owner had called in thugs to push back workers and their troublesome union organizing. The workers were duly crushed but the thugs didn’t leave since the pickings from vice rackets were so sweet. The town government was corrupted by the owner and the thugs. The mine owner gave his son a local newspaper to woo him back from Europe. Trouble was stirred when the son started a reform campaign and called in an operative from the Continental Detective Agency to provide facts to fuel the reform. The Continental Op(erative), who has no name, hits town and the son is shot dead in the street.

With his client dead, the Continental Op makes a deal with the mine owner to find the killer and by doing so shake up the bad guys that run the town. The Op does find the killer but the owner backs off reform. The Op does not let up. The Op employs deceit, brutality, and bad guys killing bad guys, among other low tactics, to clean the town up.

The Nobel Prize-winning author André Gide called the book “a remarkable achievement, the last word in atrocity, cynicism, and horror.” It is not for faint-hearted readers. After all, Hammett coined the phrase “blood simple” which inspired the Coen brothers call their first movies, an experiment in noir, Blood Simple. Also challenged will be readers that are wary of convoluted plots and large casts whose names have to be remembered.

Strangely, the book is not grim – its high spirits are irresistible.

Save

Save

Mystery Monday – Trouble is My Business

Monday, January 9th, 2017

 

Trouble is My Business by Raymond Chandler 

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

 

There are various editions of this book. I read the Vintage Crime trade paperback ISBN 0394757645, published in July of 1988. The attraction of this edition is that it contains Chandler’s introduction in which he mulls over writing for the pulps and the place of crime fiction in popular literature.

It contains these short stories which were originally published in the late 1930s in pulp magazines like “Black Mask” or “Dime Detective.”

Killer in the Rain
The Man Who Liked Dogs
The Curtain
Try the Girl
Mandarin’s Jade
Bay City Blues
The Lady in the Lake
No Crime in the Mountains
Trouble Is My Business
Finger Man
Goldfish
Red Wind

 

The last four in the list are stories featuring, Phillip Marlowe who was Chandler’s series hero. The first couple of stories, Chandler recycled into sections of late Marlowe novels such as the immortal The Big Sleep.

Suffice to say, this is genuine classic fiction. Great mystery writers from Ross Macdonald to Loren D. Estleman were influenced and inspired by these stories to write hardboiled detective fiction.

My approach to short stories is to read one at a time and then go do something else to think about it. I think if a reader gulped down these stories one after in one setting, Chandler’s metaphors and dialogue (not to mention artifacts like smoking stands and Marmons) might seem corny.

I didn’t read Chandler for a long time because I thought his prose rather overwrought and prolix. Older and wiser now, I read these stories with much pleasure.

 

For more Chandler, see also my review of the late novel Playback .

Save

Save

Mystery Monday Review – Over My Dead Body

Monday, January 2nd, 2017

Over My Dead Body by Rex Stout

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

Published in 1939 after being serialized in The American Magazine, this is the seventh of the series that starred rotund PI Nero Wolfe and his more active assistant and sidekick Archie Goodwin. Wolfe has enough eccentricities for three people: indolent, orchid-fancying, woman-hater in the old-fashioned manner. But he is as brilliant as Sherlock Holmes. Archie is the archetypal American: athletic, brash, wise-cracking, and a hit with the fair sex.

Nero Wolfe confronts consequences of his own decisions made the last days of the troubled Hapsburg empire and its unhappy seething possessions in Croatia, Bosnia, and Montenegro. That is, he adopted a baby girl, left her with people he trusted, but lost touch with her when they were killed for their revolutionary sympathies by the secret police.

The situation gives Archie a chance to tease Wolfe:

“I’m resigning as of this moment.”

“Resigning from what?”

“You. My job.”

“Rubbish.”

“No, boss, really. You told the G-man you have never married. Yet you have a daughter. Well,” I shrugged. “I’m not a prude, but there are limits —”

The daughter does not necessarily want contact with the famous rotund agoraphobic PI in Manhattan, but a spot of trouble brings her to Wolfe’s brownstone seeking help. Later two murders occur. They revolve around a fencing school where the daughter, her friend Carla, and the odd Miss Vorka work.

This mystery has the right amount of plot and character. Stout includes a number of scenes full of high-jinks. The reveal of logical and plausible. Unlike the other novels, Manhattan itself does not play a major role, but this is a quibble. Storm clouds of World War II hang over novel, reminding us that writers are canaries in the coal mine.

 

Save