Saturday, 30 November 2019

My Last November Reading Update

Since my last update I've finished two more books, both excellent. I've started a couple more but won't start any more in December until I've finished two big ones I've had on the go since October.

I'll update the two books I've finished this week and update those I've started. Then I'll continue with my look at the Mystery Genre - American Cops.

Just Finished

1. The Small Back Room by Nigel Balchin. An excellent, different type of war story, my first exposure to Mr. Balchin.

"I can't exactly remember how I heard about The Small Back Room by Nigel Balchin. I imagine it was listed at the back of another book I'd enjoyed and it sounded interesting. Balchin lived from 1908 - 1961 and is noted for his novels written during and after WWII, of which The Small Back Room was one. He also wrote novels under the name of Mark Spade.

The Small Back Room tells the story of Sammy Rice, who because of a crippling disability (which means he has an artificial foot, is unable to be in the British military during WWII and now works as a weapons scientist for a small firm that assists the British government with new ideas for equipment. Sammy is disillusioned with the politics of his work, especially with RB Waring, an advertising executive who keeps inserting himself in their work. Sammy finds Waring always trying to affect the scientific analyses of his team as they try to report on this new equipment.

Sammy lives with Sue, a secretary at the firm and struggles to understand why she should want to be with him, a broken man. Sue is a wonderful woman, who always tries to encourage Sammy and keep him from his more destructive impulses, brought on by his work frustrations and the steady pain of his damaged leg.

Sammy also in involved with situation. He has been called to assist an English military engineer, a bomb specialist. It seems that German aircraft have been dropping booby traps that have killed a number of people. Little information is available as the bombs have been exploded before they are able to get information about them; what they look like, what sets them off, etc. This is an ongoing story line that will be critical to the final action of the story.

It's a fascinating story that mixes the emotional context of Sammy's work and relationships with the technical aspects of this work. It's nice that it doesn't get too lost in the technical part, but presents enough to make that part also interesting. The story moves along at a nice pace and we get an excellent view of the characters and their lives. The last chapters are tense and almost heart stopping. I initially found the ending somewhat unsatisfying, but as I think about it, it's actually not at all. I think the reactions of Sammy as he looks at his life are quite normal and realistic. Excellent little gem of a story. (4 stars)"

2. In a Lonely Place by Dorothy B. Hughes. A noir classic that was also turned into a film with Humphrey Bogart.

"I first heard about In a Lonely Place by Dorothy B. Hughes when I was exploring the site of a publisher, Femmes Fatale. They published books by authors such as Valerie Taylor, Vera Caspari and also another author, Dorothy Hughes. I tried one by Valerie Taylor and I've been looking for others since. I was surprised to discover that In a Lonely Place was also turned into a movie, starring Humphrey Bogart as the main character, Dix Steele. I don't think I've ever seen it before but I do know it shows on TCM once in awhile.

Anyway, to get on to the story. In a Lonely Place is a psychological noir thriller that explores the mind of a serial killer. Dix Steele, a WWII vet, has come to LA to discover himself. He moves around and finally meets up with an old Princeton chum, Mel Teriss, and while Mel heads to Rio, Dix takes over his apartment, clothes, car, etc. Dix is a loner and has a number of quirks, e.g. hates crowds, doesn't like the noise of his electric razor, etc. He survives on a monthly stipend from an uncle back in New York, who agreed that Dix could go out west for a year to write a novel. Dix doesn't sleep a lot and he spends his nights wandering about LA, and seems to stalk girls.

At the same time, the police are looking for an apparent serial killer, the Strangler. One of the cops on this team is Brub (yup, that his name) Nicolai, who meets with Dix one day. It turns out that he and Dix were best friends in the Air Force stationed in England. Dix's routine is thrown for a loop as he begins to take more of a part in Brub's life and meets with Brub's wife, Sylvia. Dix also meets a woman in his apartment complex, Lauren, a red haired fire brand. His life is changed drastically by these events and he falls hard for Lauren. He likes being with Brub, as he gets updates on the status of his investigation.

Dix's life slowly and then more quickly unravels as time goes on. He doesn't trust Lauren, finds people following him. An incident from his past crops up that also unsettles him. Lauren begins asking more and more about where Mel has gone. Everything unsettles Dix and you feel the turmoil in his mind.

It's a fascinating portrayal of Dix and how his mental issues grow and grow. The last half of the story moves along a quick pace and you can feel what Dix is feeling. I'm glad that I found and read this excellent story. Hughes lived from 1904 - 1993 and over the course of her life wrote 14 crime novels. I'll have to check out the others. (4.5 stars)"

Currently Reading

1. Anne of Avonlea by Lucy Maud Montgomery (Anne #2). I read the first book last December and this seems close to Christmas fare to me. I hope Jo doesn't mind me borrowing her collection.

"At sixteen Anne is grown up...almost. Her gray eyes shine like evening stars, but her red hair is still as peppery as her temper. In the years since she arrived at Green Gables as a freckle-faced orphan, she has earned the love of the people of Avonlea and a reputation for getting into scrapes. But when Anne begins her job a the new schoolteacher, the real test of her character begins. Along with teaching the three Rs, she is learning how complicated life can be when she meddles in someone else's romance, finds two orphans at Green Gables, and wonders about the strange behaviour of the very handsome Gilbert Blythe. As Anne enters womanhood, her adventures touch the heart and the funny bone."

2. A Firework for Oliver by John Sanders (Nicholas Pym #1). 

"Nicholas Pym is given the mission of suppressing a newly-invented gun, a revolutionary weapon so far in advance of contemporary firearms that its very existence threatens the security of the Commonwealth, and the life of the Protector himself....."

My Ongoing Look at the Mystery Genre - American Cops
In my last entry I looked at Robert B. Parker's Jesse Stone mysteries.

James Patterson
1. James Patterson - Women's Murder Club. I tried this series about 15+ years ago when I first saw the TV series. I read the first books, although it's been awhile and I can't remember them. I'd like to try the next in line. Patterson was born in 1947 and since he started writing has provided 18 books in the Women's Murder Club Series. This isn't his only series by a long shot, mind you.

a. 1st To Die (2001).

"Each one holds a piece of the puzzle: Lindsay Boxer is a homicide inspector in the San Francisco Police Department, Claire Washburn is a medical examiner, Jill Bernhardt is an assistant D.A., and Cindy Thomas just started working the crime desk of the San Francisco Chronicle.

But the usual procedures aren't bringing them any closer to stopping the killings. So these women form a Women's Murder Club to collaborate outside the box and pursue the case by sidestepping their bosses and giving each other a hand. The four women develop intense bonds as they pursue a killer whose crimes have stunned an entire city. Working together, they track down the most terrifying and unexpected killer they have ever encountered — before a shocking conclusion in which everything they knew turns out to be devastatingly wrong.: (3 stars)

b. 2nd Chance (2002).

"The Women's Murder Club is back! A brilliantly diabolical killer is murdering people from every walk of life. The deaths seem unrelated but police homicide inspector Lindsay Boxer senses a connection and, together with medical examiner Claire, assistant D.A. Jill, and Chronicle reporter Cindy, finds a link that sends a chill through the entire nation. This killer's motives are unspeakable." (3 stars)

c. 3rd Degree (2004).

"The Women's Murder Club returns in a shockingly suspenseful thriller. Plunging into a burning town house, Detective Lindsay Boxer discovers three dead bodies...and a mysterious message at the scene. When more corpses turn up, Lindsay asks her friends Claire Washburn of the medical examiner's office, Assistant D.A. Jill Bernhardt, and San Francisco Chronicle reporter Cindy Thomas to help her find a murderer who vows to kill every three days. Even more terrifying, he has targeted one of the four friends. Which one will it be?" (3 stars)

d. 4th of July (2005).

"In a deadly late-night showdown, San Francisco police lieutenant Lindsay Boxer fires her weapon and sets off a dramatic chain of events that leaves a police force disgraced, a family destroyed, and Lindsay herself at the mercy of twelve jurors. During a break in the trial, she retreats to a picturesque town that is reeling from a string of grisly murders-crimes that bear a link to a haunting, unsolved case from her rookie years.

Now, with her friends in the Women's Murder Club, Lindsay must battle for her life on two fronts: in a trial rushing to a climax, and against an unknown adversary willing to do anything to hide the truth about the homicides-including kill again?"

Well, there you go. The complete list of books in this series is available on this link

That's enough for one day. Enjoy your start to December. I'm off to get the missus and I a nice curry.. Yummmm! 

An Intro to my 25 Days of Top Songs / Books

Well, here it is, the last day of November and we move into the holiday month; Christmas, Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, etc. Yesterday I put up the outside lights. (I may try to add a few more today or next week, but they are basically up. So today I'm going to plan some of my December posts. I may also do one other post today, as I've finished two more books this weekk and want to update those.

Each year I try to do some sort of Top *** list. Some years I've done top TV shows, movies, actors, songs, books, etc. Last year, following my wife's example I did a Musical Advent calendar, picking 25 songs to lead up to Christmas day. So this is my plan for this year, the 25 favorite songs from my USB (I amend it regularly so there have been many changes over the year) and my 25 favorite books of 2019. Now fair to say, I haven't read all of my selections for 2019 yet, so it would have been possible that some of my December books might have the list.

So today, this is my plan. I'm going to warm things up with 3 songs that wouldn't make my Top 25 but that I really enjoy. Let's call them my novelty songs. I'll also highlight three of my December books that might have made it to my Top 25 list, but that I can't fairly add. So lets get started with some music.

Musical Trio

The Trash Mermaids
1. The Trash Mermaids - Panic Attack.

During my searches for new music, I have to say that quite often I'm attracted by the name of a group. You'll find that with all three of today's selections. The Trash Mermaids are described as an electro - pop band. They are lead by French vocalist Scarlett Blu. I quite like this song.

X-Ray Spex
2. X-Ray Spex - Identity.

X-Ray Spex were a punk rock band that formed in London in 1976. In their first incarnation they only released one album and five singles, calling themselves 'deliberate underachievers'. The song that I have is Identity from 1978.

Duck Sauce
3. Duck Sauce - Barbara Streisand.

OK, live and learn. (I mean me, here by the way). Duck Sauce is an American / Canadian DJ duo that formed in 2009. It consisted of American Armand van Helden and Canadian A-Trak. I just heard this song recently but it was their big single, released in 2010.

So there you go for my intro to December. In case you're worried about it, this will be my only forays into punk I think.

Now on to my three books. As I mentioned earlier, these are three of my December books that I have a feeling might have made it to my Top 25 list. So rather than leave them out, here they are as teasers for the month of December.

Literary Trio
I started two of the books in October but they are tomish and have taken me awhile to get going. I do have 5 or 6 books on the go at a time. The other book I've started this past week.

a. The Passage by Justin Cronin (Horror). I've had this book for a few years but finally dug it out, dusted it off and have given it a try. It reminds me of Stephen King's The Stand quite a bit.

"An epic and gripping tale of catastrophe and survival, The Passage is the story of Amy—abandoned by her mother at the age of six, pursued and then imprisoned by the shadowy figures behind a government experiment of apocalyptic proportions. But Special Agent Brad Wolgast, the lawman sent to track her down, is disarmed by the curiously quiet girl and risks everything to save her. As the experiment goes nightmarishly wrong, Wolgast secures her escape—but he can’t stop society’s collapse. And as Amy walks alone, across miles and decades, into a future dark with violence and despair, she is filled with the mysterious and terrifying knowledge that only she has the power to save the ruined world."

b. Middlemarch by George Eliot. I've read other books by Eliot and love her writing. Middlemarch has been no exception. It usually takes me awhile to get into the flow of these classics but I've been enjoying it very much and will probably finish it next week. It's been worth the effort. 

"By the time the novel appeared to tremendous popular and critical acclaim in 1871-2, George Eliot was recognized as England's finest living novelist. It was her ambition to create a world and portray a whole community--tradespeople, middle classes, country gentry--in the rising provincial town of Middlemarch, circa 1830. Vast and crowded, rich in narrative irony and suspense, Middlemarch is richer still in character, in its sense of how individual destinies are shaped by and shape the community, and in the great art that enlarges the reader's sympathy and imagination. It is truly, as Virginia Woolf famously remarked, 'one of the few English novels written for grown-up people'."

c. Death in Captivity by Michael Gilbert. I've read some of Gilbert's mysteries. This mystery is set during WWII in an Italian prisoner of war camp. The initial premise has intrigued me.

"While it has many of the elements of the classic detective story, it is also a gripping novel of mounting suspense that takes place in a 1943 prisoner of war camp for British officers in northern Italy—it was the first of Gilbert's numerous later works that would feature suspense and danger as much or more as elements of detection. Gilbert himself had been a British officer during the war, was captured, and interned in an Italian camp. He escaped and spent several months making his way through the Italian countryside trying to reach the British lines. Much of this book apparently reflects his own experiences. It was the basis of a 1959 British film, Danger Within (Breakout in the United States), that closely followed the events in the book. H.R.F. Keating, who wrote Gilbert's obituary for The Guardian, said that "Gilbert's time as a POW prompted Death In Captivity (1952), surely the only whodunnit set in a prisoner-of-war camp."

There you go, some songs and books to lead you into the Christmas countdown. I hope I haven't scared you away with any of my selections. See you tomorrow. Happy December.

Monday, 25 November 2019

A Monday, pre-US Thanksgiving Week Post....

Fiona Hill - so impressive
I didn't realize it's been a week since my last post. Unfortunately or fortunately, I guess, I spent last week along with my wife, Jo, engrossed in the US Impeachment hearings. I spent lots of time being impressed with the bravery and honesty of those people who testified before the hearings, risking jobs in some cases and also threats from right wing conspiracy theorists. I also spent lots of time angry at the blockheads from the Republican Party on the committee, who either spent their time spouting these same conspiracy theories, mocking the witnesses or just plain old shouting at them. I guess they have small 'pricks' and it makes them feel important to do so.

Chrystia Freeland - Canada's Next PM?
I also took a look at our country's new Cabinet and I was very glad to see the previous Secretary of External Affairs, Chrystia Freeland named as Deputy Prime Minister. I'm hoping that she will be the next leader of the Liberal Party and then the next Prime Minister of Canada... *fingers crossed*.. Wouldn't that be a kick in the pants for those right wing misogynists if it happens.

Anyway, this past weekend I took a clean break from anything political and both Jo and I had a nice relaxing weekend. I caught up on reading, finishing two books and Jo discovered a jigsaw puzzle program online and had lots of fun with them. So it was a very nice break anyway.

I'll provide my reviews of the two books I read and also a synopsis of the book I've since started. I'll also continue with my look at the Mystery Genre - American Cops.

Currently Reading

1. The German Agent by J. Sydney Jones. This spy thriller is based on the Zimmerman Telegram of WW1.

"The German Agent is my first exposure to the writing of J. Sydney Jones. I have been looking for his Viennese Mystery series, but this was an excellent introduction to his work. This historical spy story is based on real events, the Zimmerman telegram. It is set in Feb 1917, with WWI moving along, Britain's supply lines being destroyed by German U-boats and Britain desperately trying to get the US into the war.

The British spies intercept a German telegram, the Zimmerman telegram, from German foreign minister Zimmerman to the Mexican government, encouraging the Mexicans to invade the US and offering assistance. The hope would be that this would occupy the US attention and keep it out of the European war.

The story follows a German spy and assassin who has been sent to Washington to murder the British envoy who wants to give the telegram to Woodrow Wilson. Wilson wants to keep out of the war and avoids this meeting and American congressman Fitzgerald must try to keep the British envoy safe from the assassin until the meeting takes place.

So there you go, that is the basic story and we follow Volkman, the German, Fitzgerald and his wife as one tries to perform his task successfully and Fitzgerald tries to keep him safe. It's an exciting action-filled story. You get an interesting perspective of Washington DC on the early 1900s and of the pressure on the US to make their momentous decision. I did see some of the events coming but it never took away from the overall story. I look forward to trying another of Jones's books. (3.5 stars)"

2. Nobody True by James Herbert. I have to say that Herbert is one of the more unique horror writers I've tried. This was excellent.

"I had previously only read The Fog by James Herbert before I started Nobody True. The basic premise is that the narrator of Nobody True, one James True is a successful ad executive, a husband and father and is also able to perform OBE's (out of body experiences). While on an OBE one night, he returns to his body to find that he has been brutally murdered (this is quite graphically described).

My first thoughts on starting the story was, 'heck, this is a long 'un'. It takes a little while to get to the crux of the story. (It is told in the first person, if you are interested). We learn about True's childhood, his poor relationship with his mother, a bicycle accident in which he suffers a head injury and finds himself observing his body from the outside. This starts his exploration of OBE's (there are neat little footnotes throughout the story that elaborates on things that James discovers over the course of his life, about these experiences). True becomes a successful graphic designer and forms a small, successful advertising agency with two friends. Later in his life, one of his partners wants to sell their business to a bigger agency, there is an argument and at this point True, alone in their hotel room, has an OBE and as mentioned previously, returns to find his body desecrated.

True's partner is suspected as well as a serial killer who has been committing similar murders, with some key differences. True now without a body, finds himself wandering around London, visiting his wife and daughter, his mother, the police and also finds himself drawn to a basement apartment where he meets the person who might actually be the serial killer. From this point the story takes off. It's gruesome at times, as True describes the killer's actions, but at the same time also fascinating. True meets with other spirits at a seance and is told he must stop the killer. I had ideas about this, but will let you form your own as you delve into this story.

There are neat twists and turns that are unexpected (to me anyway) and also some very emotional moments that caught me up as well. I wasn't expecting much from this story and it too me awhile to get through it (I partially blame it on the fact that I have a few books on the go at once), but I'm glad that I stuck with it and spent a couple of hours this morning finishing it off. Excellent, well-paced, well-written and totally entertaining. (4.5 stars)"

Currently Reading

1. Gently By the Shore by Alan Hunter (George Gently #2). It's about time that I finally read the 2nd book in this mystery series.

"When Chief Inspector Gently arrived in Starmouth, the 'body on the beach murder' was already the topic of conversation for the massed holiday-makers. First published in 1956, this was the 2nd of Alan Hunter's series of crime novels featuring George Gently."

The American Mystery Genre - American Cops
In my last entry, I highlighted Gregg Olsen's Emily Kenyon series.

Robert B. Parker
1. Robert B. Parker - Jesse Stone. I've previously discussed Parker's Spenser detective series. Over the course of his life he wrote 41 books in his Spenser series. He only wrote 9 books in his Jesse Stone series. It was also turned into a series of excellent TV movies starring Tom Selleck as Jesse Stone. I have read one of the Stone stories so far and enjoyed very much. I've got two more of the series on my bookshelf. And yes, it's probably always best to read a series in order, even though I don't know what I've missed by not doing so for this series.

a. Death in Paradise (Jesse Stone #3 / Oct 2001).

"Robert B. Parker is back in Paradise, where Detective Jesse Stone is looking for two things: the killer of a teenage girl—and someone, anyone, who is willing to claim the body..."

b. Sea Change (Jesse Stone #5 / Feb 2006).

"When a woman's partially decomposed body washes ashore in Paradise, Massachusetts, police chief Jesse Stone is forced into a case far more difficult than it initially appears. Identifying the woman is just the first step in what proves to be an emotionally charged investigation. Florence Horvath was an attractive, recently divorced heiress from Florida; she also had a penchant for steamy sex and was an enthusiastic participant in a video depicting the same. Somehow the combination of her past and present got her killed, but no one is talking-not the crew of the Lady Jane, the Fort Lauderdale yacht moored in Paradise Harbor; not her very blond, very tan twin sisters, Corliss and Claudia; and not her curiously affectless parents, living out a sterile retirement in a Miami high rise. But someone-Jesse-has to speak for the dead, even if it puts him in harm's way."

c. Stranger in Paradise (Jesse Stone #7 / Feb 2008).

"I have read one of Robert B. Parker's Spenser mystery series books and enjoyed very much. I've also enjoyed the Jesse Stone movies based on Parker's books. Stranger In Paradise is my first Jesse Stone book and is the 7th in the series. Most enjoyable I must say.

Jesse is sheriff in Paradise, Massachusetts. He's reinventing himself after moving from a police job in LA. He's got an interesting police department, about 12 cops; the two most interesting being Molly and Suitcase. His ex-wife, Jenn also lives in Paradise, trying for a career as a TV journalist. They love each other, see each other, but haven't decided where to go from there. Jesse is also seeing psychiatrist, Dix, trying to sort out his issues / problems. Of course there are other characters as well.

An old case from ten years ago resurfaces when Wilson Cromartie (Crow) shows up in Jesse's office. Crow was part of a bank robbery / kidnapping that took place then. Wasn't able to be convicted of anything and it seems he may have prevented the other robbers from killing the hostages, especially the woman. He likes women (you will find this out). Crow has been hired to find a mother and daughter for some fellow from Florida. He wants Jesse to know he's in town.

That's the gist of the story. When Crow finds the two, he is told to kill the mother and bring the girl to Florida. He refuses and this sets off a chain of events, involving a gang from the next town and also killers who work for the father. A minor story line involves Paradise protesters who don't want Latino children from the neighboring town to come to a small school near their residences. Are the two stories related? Read it and find out.

I really enjoyed this story. Parker has a sparse writing style but still manages to craft a rich, interesting story. The characters are interesting, some likable, some not so much, but still engrossing. The story moves along quickly and is difficult to put down. Once you get into it, say on page 1, you will want to see how it ends. And along the way, you will be fascinated. Most enjoyable. (4 stars)"

The remaining books in this series are -
 - Night Passage (#1 / Sep 1997)
- Trouble in Paradise (#2 / Sep 1998)
- Stone Cold (#4 / Oct 2003)
- High Profile (#6 / Feb 2007)
- Night and Day (#8 / Feb 2009)
- Split Image (#9 / Feb 2010)

Jo made a nice butter chicken and rice for dinner and I bought us apple streudels for dessert. All excellent. Now, it's time to watch All Rise. Have a great week!

Monday, 18 November 2019

A Monday Reading Update

Another weekend has gone by. We had some very high winds on Saturday but it calmed down yesterday. Kind of mizzy outside today.

I had a productive reading weekend, finishing two books. I have therefore also started two new books. I'll update those books and then continue with my look at the Mystery genre - American Cops. So away we go!!!!

Just Finished

1. The Guns of Navarone by Alistair MacLean. When I was in high school I read many of MacLean's thrillers. The Guns of Navarone was one that I missed for some reason. In the past few years, I've been enjoying his works again and this time I did read it. Glad I did.

"The Guns of Navarone was Alistair MacLean's second novel, published in 1957. I've read others of his earliest books, HMS Ulysses and South by Java Head and they, like Guns, were excellent. For some reason I never tried Guns, maybe because I've instead focused on the excellent movie. But I'm glad that I finally decided to read it.

If you want a wartime thriller, filled with action and desperation and heroism, you need to try The Guns of Navarone. It's a non-stop action story in a three day period. A group of 5 men, lead by New Zealand mountain climber and now Allied soldier, Captain Mallory, must make their way to the Greek island of Navarone and there to destroy the huge German guns that threaten a British fleet that must make its to withdraw a British force isolated on the island of Kheros. Previous attempts both by sea and by air have tried to neutralize these guns but they have failed.

So Malloy and his group, consisting of his Greek ally Andrea, an American explosive expert, Cpl Dusty Miller, a British sailor and communications man, Brown and a young office, Lt Stevens must safely make it to Navarone, scale the cliffs to get onto the island and then avoid German mountain troops to get to the fortress that houses the guns and dispose of them. Hindering their trip, besides terrible weather, is a spy within the British ranks and possible a traitor amongst the Greeks on Navarone.

It's a fascinating, thrilling story and features great acts of heroism. It draws you in immediately and holds your interest and attention throughout. How they manage to avoid and foil every attempt on their lives, makes for such an interesting story. If you enjoy thrillers, you really need to try this story, a page-turner and excellent war story. This type of story is Alistair MacLean's specialty. (4 stars)"

2. Over Sea, Under Stone by Susan Cooper. Cooper is a new author for me. I can't remember where I heard of this series, but this first book in The Dark is Rising series was excellent.

"What an excellent story! Over Sea, Under Stone is the first book in English author Susan Cooper's young adult The Dark is Rising fantasy series of 5 books. People of a certain age might remember those 60's TV shows featuring precocious kids involved in all sorts of adventures. Well, this is a reminder of those excellent shows.

Three young kids, Simon, Jane and Barnie Drew go on a summer vacation with their parents and Great Uncle Merry (or as they call him gumerry) to the Cornwall coast. Their parents have rented a house, the Grey House, from an old sailor and gumerry is staying with them.

What these three great kids don't know is that they will become involved in a search with their Great Uncle for the Grail of King Arthur. And this search will be contested by forces of the dark who also want the Grail for their own reasons. The kids find a secret room in their rental house and find a old map, which will guide them in their search. It's a dangerous search and they don't know who their enemies are and Merry isn't always about to help them. Of course they do have the sailor's dog, Rufus, faithful and with strange insights.

The story moves along at a nice clip and we get exposed to the kids' ingenuity, intelligence and bravery as the search for clues to guide them to the Grail. Their parents play very little role in this entertaining story, leaving the children free to wander about the area, deal with the 'bad guys' and have fun and adventure.

This was a completely entertaining story, lovely kids, interesting locale and lots of action. I can't wait to try the next installment, which currently resides on my bookshelves. (4.5 stars)"

Currently Reading

1. The Small Black Room by Nigel Balchin. This is another new author for me but it did sound interesting when I read the synopsis. I'm enjoying so far.

"Sammy Rice is a weapons scientist, one of the 'back room boys' of the Second World War. A crippling disability has left him cynical and disillusioned - he struggles with a drink problem at home, and politics and petty pride at work. Worse still, he fears he is not good enough for the woman he loves.

The stakes are raised when the enemy begin to drop a new type of booby-trapped bomb, causing many casualties. Only Sammy has the know-how to diffuse it - but as he comes face to face with real danger, all his old inadequacies return to haunt him.

Can he, at last, prove his worth and put his demons to rest?"

2. In a Lonely Place by Dorothy B. Hughes. Another new author for me, this book is supposed to be a classic of the noir genre. We shall see. I'm reading this as part of a December Group Read in my Mystery Book Group.

"Dix Steele is back in town, and 'town' is post-war LA. His best friend Brub is on the force of the LAPD, and as the two meet in country clubs and beach bars, they discuss the latest case: a strangler is preying on young women in the dark. Dix listens with interest as Brub describes their top suspect, as yet unnamed. Dix loves the dark and women in equal measure, so he knows enough to watch his step, though when he meets the luscious Laurel Gray, something begins to crack. The American Dream is showing its seamy underside."

My Ongoing Look at the Mystery Genre - American Cops
In my last entry I looked at Ed McBain's 87th Precinct series.

Gregg Olsen
1. Gregg Olsen - Emily Kenyon. Olsen was born Seattle in 1959. He's known for his non-fiction books and novels which are mainly crime related. Amongst his fiction books are two set in the Pacific Northwest, featuring single mother and cop, Emily Kenyon. I have the second book on my shelf so far.

a. A Cold Dark Place (#1 / 2008).

"The Seeds Of Evil. . .

In a secluded farm house in the Pacific Northwest, a family has been slaughtered--and a teenage son has disappeared. Single mother and cop, Emily Kenyon spearheads a dark hunt for a killer. But Emily's teenage daughter Jenna is one step ahead of her. . .

Are Planted In. . .

Jenna knows the boy suspected of murdering his family and wants to help him--perhaps too much. Then within days of the first murder, another family is butchered, this time in Iowa. And on the heels of this brutal slaying, another follows in Salt Lake City. Eerie similarities link the crime scenes. But an even darker connection threatens to claim even more victims. . .

A Cold Dark Place

As Emily fits the puzzle pieces together, she realizes the danger surrounding her daughter is worse than she'd imagined. Now in a desperate race to save Jenna, Emily must match wits with the most cunning, diabolical killer she's faced yet in her career--a killer who's just placed her and her daughter at the top of his list. . ."

b. Heart of Ice (#2 / 2009) 

"Three bodies, three different towns. Each victim was a sorority girl--pretty, privileged, and brutally murdered. There are no fingerprints, no clues. He is scrupulously careful, craving those exquisite seconds when the light fades from his victim's eyes. But the rush never lasts, and the killing won't stop--not until one special woman has been made to suffer. . ."

So there you go, some book ideas for you. Enjoy your week!

Friday, 15 November 2019

A Friday Post

It's been a relatively slow reading month. I'm not sure why. We've been dealing with our puppy who has had a sore foot, but it hasn't taken up all that much time.

I've been working on my 2020 Challenge list and I've been putting aside my reading to get that ready. It's meant reviewing all of the 'to be read' books on my bookshelves (and there are quite a few of them and trying to organize them into my various challenges. I'll get into those the closer I get to the end of 2019. I think I'll like them though and hopefully it'll mean finishing off a few of my ongoing series.. But that's enough of a clue. LOL!

Marie Yovanovitch
As well, Jo and I have become hooked on the ongoing Impeachment hearings taking place in the US Congress. The first two days which have featured career public servants and Foreign Service employees, Ambassador Bill Taylor, State Department official George Kent (both on Wednesday) and former Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch (Friday) has been enthralling. Each day has brought up new information and I've been impressed with the patience, intelligence and dedication of all of the witnesses. I loved it today when at the end of Ambassador Yovanovitch's testimony, the gallery gave her a standing ovation. They recognize a hero when they see one. The three witnesses make the Republicans on the panel, especially f***wits Devin Nunes and Jim Jordan (somebody buy that man a suit coat! Has he no respect for the institution in which he works??) and the occupant of the White House and his sycophants seem like whiny children. Interesting today that another of his campaign staff, Roger Stone, has been found guilty of crimes. Sheesh!

Anyway, there you go, some reasons that I haven't completed but two books so far. I'm about to finish a couple more and I plan to do some heavy duty reading this weekend!

So what to talk about today? Well, I've received a couple of new books this past week. So I'll update those for you and also continue with my ongoing look at the Mystery genre - American Cops.

New Books

1. The Inspector and Silence by Hakan Nesser (Inspector Van Veeteren #5).

"It’s a sweltering summer in Sweden and Chief Inspector Van Veeteren is long overdue for a holiday when a secretive and dubious religious sect comes under investigation. One of its members, a girl on the cusp of adolescence, is found dead in the forest near their holiday camp, brutally raped and strangled; the discovery of her body has been phoned in by an anonymous caller.

The members of the sect, the Pure Life, are led by Oscar Yellinek, a charismatic but unnervingly guarded messiah figure. In an act that mystifies and infuriates Van Veeteren and his associates, the members of the Pure Life choose to remain silent about the incident rather than defend themselves. But an unidentified woman is continuing to assist the authorities, and her knowledge suggests she’s more than just a passing Good Samaritan. Her tips become doubly perplexing as a new string of increasingly horrifying crimes defy everything Van Veeteren and his team thought they knew about the case."

2. Morning Star by Pierce Brown (Red Rising Saga #3). 

"Darrow would have lived in peace, but his enemies brought him war. The Gold overlords demanded his obedience, hanged his wife, and enslaved his people. But Darrow is determined to fight back. Risking everything to transform himself and breach Gold society, Darrow has battled to survive the cutthroat rivalries that breed Society’s mightiest warriors, climbed the ranks, and waited patiently to unleash the revolution that will tear the hierarchy apart from within.

Finally, the time has come.

But devotion to honor and hunger for vengeance run deep on both sides. Darrow and his comrades-in-arms face powerful enemies without scruple or mercy. Among them are some Darrow once considered friends. To win, Darrow will need to inspire those shackled in darkness to break their chains, unmake the world their cruel masters have built, and claim a destiny too long denied—and too glorious to surrender"

3. The Killing of the Tinkers by Ken Bruen (Jack Taylor #2). I've read the first book and also enjoyed the TV series based on the books.

"Jack Taylor, a disgraced ex-cop in Galway, has slid further down the slope of despair. After a year in London he returns to his home town of Galway with a leather coat and a coke habit. Someone is systematically slaughtering young travelers and dumping their bodies in the city centre. Even in the state he's in, Jack Taylor has an uncanny ability to know where to look, what questions to ask, and with the aid of an English policeman, apparently solves the case."

4. The Winter Thief by Jenny White (Kamil Pasha #3). I've read and enjoyed the first two books in this series and plan to finish it off with this 3rd and, currently final, book.

"January 1888. Vera Arti carries The Communist Manifesto in Armenian through Istanbul's streets, unaware of the men following her. The police discover a shipload of guns, and the Imperial Ottoman Bank is blown up. Suspicion falls on a socialist commune that Arti's friends organized in the eastern mountains. Investigating, Special Prosecutor Kamil Pasha encounters a ruthless adversary in the secret police who has convinced the Sultan that the commune is leading an Armenian secessionist movement and should be destroyed, along with the surrounding villages. Kamil must stop the massacre, but he finds himself on the wrong side of the law, framed for murder and accused of treason, his family and the woman he loves threatened." 

My Ongoing Look at the Mystery Genre - American Cops
In my last entry I looked at Archer Mayor's Joe Gunther series.

Ed McBain
1. Ed McBain - 87th PrecinctEd McBain lived from 1926 - 2005. He was born in New York as Salvatore Albert Lombino and legally changed his name to Evan Hunter. He was most successful writing under Ed McBain and under this name he wrote 50+ in his 87th Precinct series. It's a police procedural series set in a fictitious city. Back in the day (what day do you ask? Well, a few years back, let's say) I did like this sort of series but I've been avoiding them of late as I started to really explore the mystery genre. I finally decided to try one of the 87th Precinct books and enjoyed very much. The books I've read so far have been short, succinct and enthralling. In some ways they are like JJ Marric's London set Commander Gideon books, Garry Disher's Australian set Inspector Challis series and Michael Gilbert's London set Inspector Petrella series. They all have something in common, good hard-working cops plugging along working on a variety of cases and getting results. So far I've read the first three books in the 87th Precinct series and I've got the next two awaiting my attention, plus a few others. So let's take a quick look at these first 5.

a. Cop Hater (#1 / 1956).

"Cop Hater is the first 87th Precinct mystery by Ed McBain. I'd only recently really started to get interested in McBain's stories (this one was initially published 1956) and I finally found a copy of the 1st book, this past month. It was with anticipation that I started to read it a week ago.

What a great, entertaining story! It's a simple story that reminds me of the best cop TV shows; Law and Order, Dragnet. A police detective is murdered by being shot in the back. It starts a major investigation by the detectives of his precinct, the 87th Precinct. The story is methodical, there are nice explanations of forensic techniques and other police procedures and you get into the lives of the police detectives taking a major role in the particular investigation.
For a relatively simple, short story, a great deal happens and lots of excellent, interesting detail is provided. 

I enjoyed everything about this initial 87th Precinct story and I have #2, The Mugger, teed up for my follow-on read. Even though it might not be profound or offer deep philosophical ideas, it presents an excellent look at how the police act in an investigation and is told in a tidy, entertaining way and was totally enjoyable. (5 stars)"

2. The Mugger (#2 / 1956).

"The Mugger is the 2nd book in the 87th Precinct series by American writer, Ed McBain. I've now read the first two of the series in pretty quick succession and I'm kind of hooked. The premise is simple; the cops of the 87th Precinct try to solve cases in their area.

The scenario for the 2nd book is a series of muggings in the precinct, with the latest involving the death of the female victim. At the same time, uniformed officer Bert Kling is asked by a childhood friend to try and get his sister-in-law to tell what she is up to and to advise her to be careful. She is the latest victim of the mugger.

The book is a police procedural in its truest form. So far, different cops have been involved in working the case. The main cop from book 1 is, in fact, on his honeymoon. You have Kling trying to solve the murder, working mostly during his off-time, and also trying to develop a relationship with a witness he has questioned. You also have Havilland and Willis from the first book following their own channels of investigation and also woman constable, Eileen Burke, walking the streets at night trying to lure out the mugger.

The book moves nicely between the various police investigators, even touching neatly with the forensic investigation. It's an enjoyable read and a very entertaining story. The Pusher is the 3rd book. I'll have to get a copy."

3. The Pusher (#3 / 1956).

"First published in 1956, The Pusher is the 3rd book in Ed McBain's 87th Precinct police procedural series. I find it hard to believe, myself, that I rated this book 5 stars, but for its small size, it packs a great punch.

The 87th Precinct is set in a fictional US city and features the cops and detectives of the 87th Precinct. In this edition, they and the city they protect are preparing for Xmas. The story starts with Detective Steve Carella and his partner, newly promoted Detective King called out to a seeming suicide. The body belongs to a young Puerto Rican addict who is found dead with a rope around his neck. To Carella, it seems to pat and he suspects that the boy has been murdered.

This begins a fascinating case involving drug dealing, an addicted Police Lt.'s son who may be involved in the murders, possible black-mailing and other murders. The story moves along at a nice pace, mainly following Carella's investigation but also covering his boss, Lt Byrnes as he must deal with issues surrounding his son.

It's more than just an investigation, although having said that, there are interesting pieces of forensic work and excellent interrogations that are realistic and well-crafted. But you also get into the personal lives of the detectives; Carella's relationship with is lovely wife Teddy and Byrnes' troubled but powerful relationship with his wife and son. Even minor characters such as Carella's informant Danny Gimp are turned into real people. I loved the dedication of the police. I loved how McBain took time to present the city and the people who lived there.

The story ended emotionally for me. The story was only 158 pages but it grabbed me from the very beginning and held me engrossed from beginning to end. I've now read the first 3 books in the series and each and everyone has been excellent. (5 stars)"

d. The Con Man (#4 / 1957).

"The Con Man: a trickster taking money from an old woman for his own private charity, a cheater fleecing businessmen out of thousands of dollars, and a lady-killer. If the boys of the 87th Precinct know every trick he plays, then why are the bodies still washing up on shore?"

e. Killer's Choice (#5 / 1957).

"A homicide in the 87th Precinct wasn't exactly front-page news. But two murders made headlines. Both added up to big trouble. Pretty redhead Annie Boone lay face-down on a liquor store floor, surrounded by broken bottles and riddled with bullets. The boys of the 87th didn't have a suspect without an iron-tight alibi."

So there you go, the first five books in this series. The first three were excellent, nice, short but completely entertaining and complete. I highly recommend. The complete series plus background information can be found at this link.  

Have a great weekend and like me, settle down with a good book or two.

Thursday, 7 November 2019

A Thursday Reading Update

As the week winds down, I finished my 2nd book in November. I started it in September but it was a slow go for awhile. I really have to limit how many books I read at one time as it's easy to set some of the longer ones aside and just focus on the short ones.

I've started one new book as well, by a new author for me. I'm looking forward to getting into it.

Almost the whole family
What else has been going on? My wonderful sister sent me some pictures she took during my recent visit back home. The picture above features my Dad, me, my two brothers and my nephew. Unfortunately, it doesn't include my sister because she was the nice person taking the photo. I feel somewhat naked being the only person without a moustache, but, then again I've nothing to hide.. 😜

So anyway, in this BLog entry, I'll update the book I've completed, the one I've since started and also continue with my look at the Mystery genre, American Cops.

Just Finished

1. The Last Temptation by Val McDermid (Carol Jordan & Tony Hill #3). This is the 3rd book in the series that started with Wire in the Blood.

"The Last Temptation is the 3rd book in Val McDermid's Tony Hill / Carol Jordan thriller series. I will say that this was one heck of a long story but once I got into it, it kept me interested.

So the plot? Tony has retired from criminal profiling and has sort of hidden himself off in Scotland as a psychology professor and is dating another woman. Carol has moved up in the police force and is hoping for an assignment with Europol (a Europe version of Interpol). She is offered a special assignment. She looks like the girlfriend of a German drug dealer / human smuggler. She is to portray an English criminal who wants to do a deal with Radecki so that the German police and English police can end his operation.

Another story line involves a German police officer, Petra and a Dutch police officer, Marijke. They are friends who met online in a chat group for lesbian police officers. Marijke is involved in a murder case of a psychologist and Petra feels there has been a similar case in Germany. By somewhat convoluted machinations, Carol is involved with Petra in the Radecki case and introduces the two cops to Tony Hill who wants to get back into the profiling fame.

Make sense? Well, it actually does. The story moves to Berlin, where Carol is working undercover. Oddly enough, Tony goes to Berlin as well, both to help Petra with her case and to be a sounding board for Carol. Petra gets him accommodation in the same building as Carol. Do you see a potential problem there? Well, I can't say... you'll have to read it.

So the story moves along, with Carol inculcating (this is my new favorite word) herself into Radeckis operation and Tony investigating the murders. Both are interesting cases and it's also interesting how the stories come together at times.

It takes awhile to get there but the tension builds quite dramatically. I think I could foresee some of the problems.. it turns out I was right in some ways. I've always liked Carol and Tony and their friendship / relationship, but I have to say I really liked the two European cops. Marijke and Petra were excellent.

All in all a very entertaining, tense story. I look forward to finding the next book in the series. I hope it'll be a bit shorter. :0) (3.5 stars)"

Currently Reading

1. The German Agent by J. Sydney Jones.

"A ruthless German spy is torn between love and duty in this powerful espionage thriller"
February, 1917. A lone German agent is despatched to Washington to prevent the British delivering a telegram to President Woodrow Wilson by any means possible. For this is the Zimmermann telegram: it contains a devastating piece of news which is sure to bring the USA into the war on the side of Britain and her allies. 

Having fought in the trenches himself, Max Volkman knows that America s involvement will only prolong the slaughter of innocents and is implacable in his determination to kill the British envoy carrying the telegram. But when his pursuit of the Englishman leads him to the home of American heiress Catherine Fitzgerald, wife to one of Washington s most powerful politicians, he is presented with a terrible choice: loyalty to his comrades in the trenches or the loss of the one woman he has ever truly loved. 

His decision will determine the outcome of the First World War."

My Ongoing Look at the Mystery Genre - American Cops
In my last entry on this topic I looked at Julia Keller's Belfa Elkins mystery series.

Archer Mayor
1. Archer Mayor - Joe Gunther. The Belfa Elkins series is set in West Virginia. The Joe Gunther series is set in Vermont, currently Mayor's home state. Since 1988, he has written 30 books in the series. I've read two so far and have a couple of others on my bookshelves.

a. Open Season (Joe Gunther #1 / 1988).

"Open Season by Archer Mayor is the first book in the Lt Joe Gunther crime series. It was initially published in 1988. Gunther is a police lieutenant in Vermont. He quickly gets involved in a number of strange incidents, including the murder or a house intruder. They seem to relate back to a murder case that occurred 3 years previously. The people involved were, so far, jurors in the case.

Gunther takes on the case and has difficulties persuading his superiors that the case is related to the trial, that possibly the suspect wasn't guilty. If this is found to be true, it will make the investigators look very bad as they were very quick with their conviction.

I found the story confusing at times, as Gunther grasps at threads to try and find out what actually happened and who the person is in the ski mask that seems to be orchestrating the whole investigation. I did find it somewhat frustrating at times but, at the same time, I enjoyed Mayor's style of writing. It is very accessible and clear. The characters are interesting and the following the course of the investigation draws you in.

Ultimately, I was very satisfied with the overall story and the resolution. For an introduction to a series, it was nicely presented and held my attention throughout and made me want to continue reading. Now that I've broke the ice with Mayor and his Lt Gunther, I'll definitely be searching the rest of the series. (4 stars)"

b. Occam's Razor (Joe Gunther #10 / 1999).

"Occam's Razor is the 10th book in the Joe Gunther mystery by Archer Mayor and the 2nd book in the series that I've read (I have only managed to find a few books in the series so far).

Gunther is a police lieutenant based out of Brattleboro, Vermont and head of the detective department. This story starts off with Gunther and his team called out in the middle of the night to attend to a body discovered on the train tracks. It appears like murder as the body was placed strategically on the tracks; with head and hands on the tracks so that the body couldn't easily be identified. As they investigate the case another murder is discovered; that of a prostitute who has been stabbed to death and also of her baby, who has died of exposure in the house.

Thus begins a meandering, at times, investigation of the murders, that might somehow be linked and might involve illegal Hazmat disposal, political intrigue, etc. We get an excellent view of the government in Vermont, and of the state itself. The story delves into the lives of the investigators and we get to know more about them.

I like that the case doesn't get resolved in two or three days but that we get a long realistic investigation, as clues dry up and then others come to the forefront so the investigators can move in other directions. As well, there is an interesting look at a move by the government to update the whole policing structure of Vermont.

All in all, even though at times I got somewhat lost in the story, it was so very well written and described that I enjoyed it very much. Mayor is an intelligent writer who keeps the story moving and holds your interest. Most enjoyable and I look forward to continuing to explore Gunther's life and investigations. (4 stars)"

c. Tucker Peak (Joe Gunther #12 / 2001).

"The tony ski town of Tucker Peak, Vermont is experiencing a rash of condo burglaries. Normally this wouldn't be a case for Joe Gunther and the newly-formed VBI, but when high-profile people have their high-value possessions stolen, names get dropped and strings get pulled. Turns out it's just as well they called in Joe, since once they begin investigating the case suddenly develops a body count. Between drug-dealing, burglary, financial shenanigans, ecoterrorism, sabotage and murder, there's something deathly serious going on behind the resort's pristine veneer."

d. St. Alban's Fire (Joe Gunther #16 / 2005).

"With Joe Gunther and his Vermont Bureau of Investigation team spread thin on assignment everywhere, from the remote dairy county of Northwest Vermont to the slums of Newark, NJ, they're pushed to their absolute limit when a string of serial arsons across the Green Mountain State evolve into the most shocking series of murders the bucolic region has ever known."

e. Chat (Joe Gunther #18 / 2007).

"Intriguing plots, complex characters, and a vivid landscape are the foundation of Archer Mayor's award-winning New England thrillers. Now in this suspenseful new novel two investigations will lead Mayor's popular hero Joe Gunther to the shady realm of Internet chat rooms, where relationships are formed and broken, and nothing is as it seems. 

News travels fast in the small state of Vermont. In this tight-knit society, police officers and investigators proudly maintain a kinship that transcends the boundaries of their jurisdictions. When an unidentified body is found in the peaceful town of Brattleboro, local police and the Vermont Bureau of Investigation both appear at the scene. 

But before investigator Joe Gunther can begin to gather evidence of murder, a family emergency sends him to his hometown, where the lives of his mother and brother have suddenly been threatened. Gunther reaches out to a network of police officers who know him only by name and reputation as he attempts to discover the source of this imminent danger. 

Meanwhile, his investigative team chases an elusive murderer who has no apparent ties to the victim. In a state that is more like a neighborhood community, secrets are difficult to keep, and it's sometimes impossible to know who can be trusted. Gunther soon finds himself opposing criminals more menacing than any he has ever encountered in order to save those he holds closest to his heart."

The complete list of Mayor's Gunther series is available at this link.
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