Wednesday, 7 April 2021

A Midweek Reading Update, Plus New Books and Finally Women Authors

We're relaxing after an excellent lunch of left-over chili lasagna, with sweet potato and zucchini noodles. It was excellent. We're also enjoying last night's NCIS. Also excellent. We had another of those little weather bursts with a few minutes of small hail pellets. I think we had one last week too. Very strange.

Over this past weekend, I finished 3 books. I'll provide the reviews for them plus the synopses of the books I'm now starting. Also I'll provide the synopses of the new / used books I picked up when I went to Nearly New Books this morning to drop off books I've finished. Then I'll continue with my latest theme, women authors I'm enjoying, this one the last letter 'A' author.

New Books

1. Why Shoot a Butler? by Georgette Heyer (1933).

"Every family has secrets, but the Fountains' are turning deadly?

On a dark night, along a lonely country road, barrister Frank Amberley stops to help a young lady in distress and discovers a sports car with a corpse behind the wheel. The girl protests her innocence, and Amberley believes her?at least until he gets drawn into the mystery and the clues incriminating Shirley Brown begin to add up?

In an English country-house murder mystery with a twist, it's the butler who's the victim, every clue complicates the puzzle, and the bumbling police are well-meaning but completely baffled. Fortunately, in ferreting out a desperate killer, amateur sleuth Amberley is as brilliant as he is arrogant, but this time he's not sure he wants to know the truth?"

2. Alibi by Joseph Kanon (2005).

"It is 1946, and Adam Miller has come to Venice to visit his widowed mother and try to forget the horrors he has witnessed as a U.S. Army war crimes investigator in Germany. But when he falls in love with Claudia, a Jewish woman scarred by her devastating experiences during World War II, he is forced to confront another Venice, a city still at war with itself, haunted by atrocities it would rather forget. Everyone, including his mother's suave new Venetian suitor, has been compromised by the occupation, and Adam finds himself at the center of a web of deception, intrigue, and unexpected moral dilemmas. When is murder acceptable? What are the limits of guilt? How much is someone willing to pay for a perfect alibi?"

c. Persuader by Lee Child (Jack Reacher #7).

"Jack Reacher lives for the moment. Without a home. Without commitment. And with a burning desire to right wrongs --- and rewrite his own agonizing past. DEA agent Susan Duffy is living for the future, knowing that she has made a terrible mistake by putting one of her own female agents into a death trap within a heavily guarded Maine mansion.

Staging a brilliant ruse, Reacher hurtles into the dark heart of a vast criminal enterprise. Trying to rescue an agent whose time is running out, Reacher enters a crime lord's waterfront fortress. There he will find a world of secrecy and violence --- and confront some unfinished business from his own past."

4. The Bone Tree by Greg Iles (Penn Cage #5). I've enjoyed one of the Penn Cage books so far.

"Former prosecutor Penn Cage and his fiancĂ©e, reporter and publisher Caitlin Masters, have barely escaped with their lives after being attacked by wealthy businessman Brody Royal and his Double Eagles, a KKK sect with ties to some of Mississippi’s most powerful men. But the real danger has only begun as FBI Special Agent John Kaiser warns Penn that Brody wasn’t the true leader of the Double Eagles. The puppeteer who actually controls the terrorist group is a man far more fearsome: the chief of the state police’s Criminal Investigations Bureau, Forrest Knox.

The only way Penn can save his father, Dr. Tom Cage—who is fleeing a murder charge as well as corrupt cops bent on killing him—is either to make a devil’s bargain with Knox or destroy him. While Penn desperately pursues both options, Caitlin uncovers the real story behind a series of unsolved civil rights murders that may hold the key to the Double Eagles’ downfall. The trail leads her deep into the past, into the black backwaters of the Mississippi River, to a secret killing ground used by slave owners and the Klan for over two hundred years . . . a place of terrifying evil known only as 'the bone tree.'"

Just Finished

1. The Hanged Man of Saint-Pholien by Georges Simenon (Inspector Maigret #4).

"The Hanged Man of Saint-Pholien is the fourth book by Georges Simenon. It was also published as The Crime of Inspector Maigret (which also is the title of the 1st chapter) and Maigret and the Hundred Gibbets. It was first published in 1931, along with a number of other Maigret stories.

The story is an interesting one. Maigret is in Brussels for a meeting. He sees a man, somewhat shabby, in a cafe. The man opens an envelope and begins counting 1000 franc notes. His curiosity piqued, Maigret follows the man. He wraps the money in a cheap package, addresses it to someone in Paris and mails it the cheapest route. Then he takes a shabby suitcase and takes the train to Bremen Germany. Maigret buys a similar suitcase and switches his with the man and also books a hotel room next door to the man's room. Watching through the keyhole, he sees the man open his suitcase, discover that it's not his and then Maigret is shocked when the man kills himself with a revolver.

So there you go, does that grab your interest? Feeling guilty somewhat, Maigret now begins to investigate the man and why he might have killed himself and what was the money for. This is basically a solo Maigret story, it's a case he needs to conduct on his own. It will mean traveling back to Paris and visiting other towns in France and Belgium. He will meet an interesting collection of strangers and try to ascertain how they are connected to the suicidal man.

It's a quick story, easy to see maybe how Simenon was able to produce so many books in a single year. Maigret is obstinate, frustrated, angry with himself and determined to get to the bottom of the situation. Were crimes involved? Why was the man living under an assumed name. Maigret meets his wife in Paris and feels even more of a need to resolve the situation to help put her mind at ease.

The story moves quickly and flows nicely. There is a nice tension established and little touches, physical threats against Maigret, meetings with the 'suspects' and a fascinating ending. Simenon starts off by grabbing your attention, holding it throughout and ultimately providing a satisfying conclusion. Great story (4.5 stars)"

2. Virtual Light by William Gibson (The Bridge #1).


"Virtual Light is the 1st book in William Gibson's Bridge trilogy. I've read a few others of his books and for the most part have enjoyed. I've not read in any particular order, in fact I've already read the 3rd book in this trilogy, All Tomorrow's Parties, which I also enjoyed. Virtual Light was an entertaining story, a fascinating look at a possible future and had some excellent characters.

Interestingly, Gibson set this story in 2005, so some of his ideas haven't come to reality... thankfully. It's set in California, which is split up into SoCal and NoCal. Berry Rydell is an ex-cop from Nashville. He was fired due to a case there and he moved to LA to work with a security company. In San Francisco we meet Chevette Washington, a bike messenger. Chevette reminds me of Jessica Alba in Dark Angel. I had wondered if the book had influenced the Dark Angel TV series but it seems not.

Chevette lives on the Bridge, the old bridge between SF and Oakland. It's now inhabited by homeless people, who have created their own world, living on the various levels and also up in the bridge supports. Chevette lives with Skinner, an older man who needs her assistance, in a bit of a symbiotic arrangement. He saved her and she now looks after him. Also in SF is Mr. Yamazaki, a Japanese visitor who is trying to discover  the reality of the bridge and community.

Chevette steals a pair of sunglasses on one of her deliveries, from an obnoxious man who had harassed her. In LA, Rydell and his partner, Sublett, while on a security response, cause destruction of a gated home and Rydell is fired. He is hired by a security company to help recover the sunglasses and is sent to SF.

The story basically revolves around the two characters. Chevette realizes the glasses are more than they appear, people are dying because of them and she is being chased and her life threatened because of them. Rydell, somewhat bemused by his life, also realizes he is being used and must decide whether help or catch Chevette. I'll let you read the story to discover how it is all resolved.

Gibson has created such a fascinating future. San Francisco has created a life for the lower classes that is rich and filled with neat people. The life on the bridge is especially fascinating. Chevette is an independent woman, forced to be tough as a result of her past experiences. Her struggles to evade the people out to get her and the sunglasses shows how skilled she is and what a great character she can be. Rydell grows as the story develops and skillfully uses friends and strangers to help him along the way. I don't want to ruin the story be elaborating too much but for a first story in a trilogy, it had a satisfying conclusion but also leaves so many tidbits about this new world that you want to keep reading to see more. Excellent, entertaining, fast paced, action filled, quick flowing story. (5 stars)"

3. The Blue Room by Georges Simenon (1964).

"I've enjoyed a few of Georges Simenon's Inspector Maigret mysteries. The Blue Room was my first attempt at one of his standalone mysteries. It was originally published in 1963.

This story starts in a hotel room where Tony, a married man, has just finished having sex with Andree, the wife of a local businessman. It becomes apparent that this isn't the first time. It also becomes apparent that Tony is remembering this event due to an interview with a local investigative judge and that it happened in the past and that something else has also happened.

Over the course of the book we realize that Tony is in prison awaiting trial for 'something' and that we are hearing about his life; his marriage to Gisele, his daughter Marianne, the development of his affair with Andree, etc, as part of an investigation into some crime(s).

It's an interesting way of presenting this story. Tony has obviously been interviewed by others prior to the judge, Judge Diem, the local police, the prosecutor, etc. We discover how the affair began. Tony and Andree had gone to school when very young but had never had any other relationship. It is only after Tony's return, with his wife and daughter, that the affair begins. The events of Aug 2nd are critical, due to a conversation between Tony and Andree, where she asks if he would marry her if they were free.

As the story progresses, we find out more details until the ultimate climax of the story. (Of course, I won't ruin it). But the aspects of exploring Tony's feelings towards Andree, towards his wife and daughter, how he 'felt' add to the interest in the story and his actions or 'inaction'. I found this story quite different from the Maigret's I've read. There is an objectivity, a matter-of-fact quality, but still an interesting psychological examination and even a coarseness (when describing their intimacy). Different and worth trying, even if just to see how things are resolved. (3.5 stars)"

Currently Reading

1. Every Dead Thing by John Connolly (Charlie Parker #1).

"Former NYPD detective Charlie "Bird" Parker is on the verge of madness. Tortured by the unsolved slayings of his wife and young daughter, he is a man consumed by guilt, regret, and the desire for revenge. When his former partner asks him to track down a missing girl, Parker finds himself drawn into a world beyond his imagining: a world where thirty-year-old killings remain shrouded in fear and lies, a world where the ghosts of the dead torment the living, a world haunted by the murderer responsible for the deaths in his family—a serial killer who uses the human body to create works of art and takes faces as his prize. But the search awakens buried instincts in Parker: instincts for survival, for compassion, for love, and, ultimately, for killing.

Aided by a beautiful young psychologist and a pair of bickering career criminals, Parker becomes the bait in a trap set in the humid bayous of Louisiana, a trap that threatens the lives of everyone in its reach. Driven by visions of the dead and the voice of an old black psychic who met a terrible end, Parker must seek a final, brutal confrontation with a murderer who has moved beyond all notions of humanity, who has set out to create a hell on earth: the serial killer known only as the Traveling Man."

2. Act of Passion by Georges Simenon (1947).







"For forty years Charles Alavoine has sleepwalked through his life. Growing up as a good boy in the grip of a domineering mother, he trains as a doctor, marries, opens a medical practice in a quiet country town, and settles into an existence of impeccable bourgeois conformity. And yet at unguarded moments this model family man is haunted by a sense of emptiness and futility.

Then, one night, laden with Christmas presents, he meets Martine. It is time for the sleeper to awake."

Women Authors I Enjoy - Madeline Ashby

Madeline Ashby
Madeline Ashby is an America / Canadian author. She was born in California in 1983. She has written a series of books in her Machine Dynasties series. What I am familiar with is one novel which was selected for Canada Reads in 2017. I thought it was excellent and I do hope that someday Madeline will continue the story. 

1. Company Town (2016).





"Company Town is my first experience with the work of Canadian writer, Madeline Ashby. She has also written a series about 'the Machine Dynasty' which I may check out.

In Company Town, which is set on the oil rigs out past Newfoundland and which are complete communities, Go Jung-hwa works as a body guard for the United Sex Workers of Canada. Everyone, except Go seems to be augmented in some way or another. (Did I say that I did find this story confusing for lots of it? Oh, ok, well, I did) The wells are purchased by a new company, the tycoon dynasty, Lynch and Lynch wants Go to work for them, to be the bodyguard for the young heir to the organization.

Old friends of Go begin to be murdered. As well, there are threats to Go's life. She begins an investigation with the help of Joel, the boy she is guarding, and also with that of Daniel Siofra, the man who works for Lynch and who hired her.

What does Lynch really want with this community? What is it building below the surface? Who is killing Go's friends? It's a fascinating, dystopian world. Did I understand everything that was going on? I don't think so, but it's one of those stories where you seem to just absorb the facts, the atmosphere and wonder about a mind that can create it. Go is a neat character and so is Joel. The life on the wells is one 

I'd like to explore more. Interesting, neat and enjoyable story. I will have to see what the Machine Dynasty books are about. (4 stars)"

If you find this interesting, this link will take you to Madeline Ashby's other books. 

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