Wednesday, January 20, 2016

The Book List: 2015

Enid Blyton

In the spirit of yearly holiday tradition, here is the list of books I loved most last year including my choices for Yvette's Book of the Year and the Runner-Up. Vintage is rampant you'll note, so obviously I'm not paying any attention to whether the books were published in 2015 - per usual. If I read it for the first time last year then that's new enough for me.


SECONDHAND SOULS (2015) by Christopher Moore 

Why? Because this book made me laugh so hard and was so damn preposterous yet still managed to hit the charm alarm every now and then even when it was being ribald and rude. Moore is a treasure and one of the very few authors of wicked imagination who knows how to fashion horror and delight into a palatable duo -  you laugh hard enough you don't have time to recoil. Of course it doesn't hurt that Moore is brilliant at what he does.

This is the sequel to the one of my all time favorites, A DIRTY JOB, but you don't really need to have read it, to get going with this one. Each book stands alone (though the main characters are shared). Yet SECONDHAND SOULS is, somehow, even more loony and memorable. There are scenes in this book that are impossible to forget - unfortunately. HA!!

Here's the Washington Post's review of SECONDHAND SOULS which has some nice detail and may convince you to give this book a try - if you dare.

Charlie tag line: NEED A CHEEZ!!!

5 Stars


HUNTINGTOWER (1922) by John Buchan 

A marvelous adventure in the Scottish Highlands on the trail of a princess in a tower (literally) with a band of ill-assorted heroes to the rescue.

This is a Buchan 'romance' in the great tradition of romantic adventures so favored by writers such as Robert Louis Stevenson or Sir Walter Scott though it takes place in the 'modern day' of 1922 or so. But it is also a tale with a dark undertow of unregenerate villainy, outreach of the revolutionary scourge rampant in Russia in the early part of the 20th century.

Our hero is Dickson McCunn, a nice, middle-aged Scottish grocer who has sold his very successful Glasgow emporium (and its two branch stores) to a big chain and is able thereon to lead a life of leisure - a life he finds less than satisfactory. So off he goes looking for adventure: a walking tour of the Scottish Highalnds, and before you can say, 'be careful what you wish for,' dazzling adventure is what he gets.

Just a lovely, lovely book for those of us who have never quite grown up or grown away from the satisfying delights of this sort of thing.

5 Stars

My Review

And now for the rest: 2015 was a wonderful reading year during which I managed to read 116 books. (Not counting those I began and didn't finish, of course.)

1) WARRANT FOR X (1938) by Philip MacDonald

The book on which the film, 23 PACES TO BAKER STREET starring Van Johnson was based. The book is a million times better, more thrilling, inventive and faster-paced. Written in the stylistically vivid prose of the Golden Era of detecting greats which I enjoy.

The story: An American playwright in London overhears a dastardly plot, he gets super-sleuth Anthony Gethryn involved and then watch out, even with the chanciest of clues, it's full speed ahead. A book to ingest in one exciting gigantic gulp. I loved it.

5 Stars

My Review

2) PRIVATE ENTERPRISE (1947) by Angela Thirkell

My very first Angela Thirkell book and then, of course, I went on a Thirkell reading binge. This author wrote (among other things) an endearing (occasionally bittersweet) series of books set in the fictional county of Barsetshire (a name out of Trollope), a place full of mostly upper class Brits, the sort I wistfully enjoy reading about. (Probably because I don't have to meet them in real life.) These are the sorts of people Austen wrote about, though Thirkell's sense of humor, I think, is more pronounced, easier to decipher, and she has a wicked sense of whimsy which Austen never had. But you have to be inclined to 'get' what Thirkell's doing or else the books will slip right by you. Nothing much happens except the minutiae of day to day village life before, during and after WWII. And (horror of horrors) we often get happy endings - but oh, the wonderful language and charm of a way of life long gone.

Thirkell is in the style of E.F. Benson,  D.E. Stevenson and a couple of others whose names escape me at the moment. But Benson is more caustic in his wit and on the reverse side, D.E. Stevenson is gentler.

5 Stars

3) AUGUST FOLLY (1936) by Angela Thirkell

Another in the this entertaining series set in Barsetshire. This one has a delightfully wordy and subtly snide beginning which made me instantly drop everything else and sit down to read. You may not have the same reaction and if so, pass Thirkell by. You either appreciate the quiet wit and rapier sharp understanding of a certain social milieu or you don't. But if you're an Anglophile, like me, you'll be in heaven.

If you do, you're in for a treat: here we have a yearly amateur theatrical (a Greek tragedy staged for the village's delight) with a cast of local 'volunteers'. Of course this event will spawn complications, amusement, angst, social observation, romance, witty exclamations and plenty of gin and tonic to soothe the overwrought.

Not to mention, a donkey named Modestine but mostly called Neddy.

5 Stars

My Review

4) BROKEN HOMES by Ben Aaronovich - a 'Rivers of London' suspense novel.

Who knew that 'urban fantasy' was a thing? But you know as well as I, that these days, everything must have a specific niche or else. Sigh. Oh well, if it bothers you, pretend otherwise.

I'm not the most enthusiastic fantasy reader, but these inventive books have won me over to the dark side. (Ha!) They feature a likable hero and his mysterious mentor and are full of pointed satirical humor and (be warned) crime of the gruesome kind but (like me) you can easily look away and move on to the next page. The stories take place in an alternate universe London (and its environs) where magic is real and Scotland Yard, grudgingly, must have a department (though small and disregarded) whose specialty is crime of the fantastical sort.

There is a Harry Potter-like notion to the series, but on the whole, Aaronivich's Britain is grittier and perhaps, in an odd way, realer. And sex happens.

Of the four novels I've read so far, BROKEN HOMES is my favorite, though I enjoyed and recommend all four.

My Review

5) THE CASE OF THE JOURNEYING BOY (1949) by Michael Innes

Not an Appleby book, but oh so wonderful in its own right. Young Humphrey Paxton, a plucky, precocious and suspicious boy (rightly as it turns out), is the son of an English scientist. So it stands to reason that he will be plunged into a cloak and dagger affair while on his way to Scotland with his disbelieving tutor. (Are there any other sorts of British youth in books from this era? No, thank goodness.)

Lots of razzmatazz and terrific hold on to your seat plot machinations by Innes at his best and most enthusiastic.

Nick Fuller's Review

6) OPERATION PAX (1939) by Michael Innes

An entry in the series in which a much younger Appleby doesn't appear until late and in which his sister plays a prominent part AND in which we spend much of the last third (or so) of the story in and around Oxford, best of all adventuring inside the fabled dark corridors (approached by a chancy secret entrance) of the famed Bodleian Library.

And since it's Innes, we must have a bit of absurdity woven into the plot. This time it's a secluded estate, a secret scientific laboratory masquerading as a rest home for people with various psychiatric problems, a place in which bad people are up to no good.. There is also a tame lion which strolls about the grounds.

Begins slowly, but picks up speed soon enough. I read this in two nights and would have stretched it into three, but I couldn't help wanting to know - sooner rather than later - what happened next.

7) CAREER OF EVIL by Robert Galbraith aka J.K. Rowling

Is there anything Rowling can't do? Well, obviously not. In her admittedly ghoulish series of crime novels which is only just three books along, she has created a fascinating hero and heroine (he more than she) and a world very different from that of Harry Potter. Though good vs. evil are still her main themes, her setting is contemporary London and her hero is Cormoran Strike, detective. He is a large, disheveled, psychically and physically wounded war vet with a knack for getting involved in difficult and occasionally gruesome murder cases. Her heroine is Robin Ellacott, a quirky young woman on the brink of marriage to the wrong man.

I am on pins and needles waiting for the fourth book.

 8) A FOOL FOR A CLIENT by Parnell Hall

A hilarious entry in the long-running and very entertaining Stanley Hastings series. I laughed so hard I almost fell off the bed - it doesn't get any  better than that.

Set in NYC, Stanley is a nebbish of a detective, a failed actor content to work for his ambulance chasing shark of a boss, lawyer Richard Rosenberg. I've read almost everything in this series and as with any long-running literary enterprise, there are the occasional one or two duds, but I'm happy to say that on the whole, life is better with Stanley than without. And in the first Stanley book, DETECTIVE, you get one of the more memorable opening paragraphs (or two) in the entire history of detective fiction. (Look for it and read it, you'll see.)

In A FOOL FOR A CLIENT, the brash Richard Rosenberg, Stanley's boss, becomes a murder suspect after his girlfriend is found murdered in her apartment. Rosenberg, here to fore, the scourge of the Manhattan courts (with plenty of enemies now laughing at his predicament) but a mighty fine lawyer of the take no prisoners variety, is determined to defend himself, hence the title of the book.

Stanley to the rescue.

9) THE ROSIE PROJECT by Graeme Simsion

Everyone was recommending this book and so of course, I decided not to read it. When push comes to shove I'm definitely not a 'go with the flow' reader. This book sounded too much like something contrived for a book club. You know what I mean.

Well, I was wrong.

A good friend recommended I get over myself and read it. So I did.

This story is simple enough, a young man with no idea he has Asperger's Syndrome - just thinks himself withdrawn from the minutiae of emotions - goes about acquiring a mate. But so charmingly written - it never hurts to have a likable and unsuspecting main character - plus no sentimentality and a minimum of 'cuteness'. I didn't expect to be drawn in, but I was.

Turns out THE ROSIE PROJECT is a delight. Sometimes the hype is deserved.


To my mind, this darkly emotional duo counts as one book divided into two parts. First, THE BEAUTIFUL MYSTERY which takes place in the eerily secluded monastery of Saint Gilbert (where no outsiders are ever permitted), a sanctuary only approachable by boat or plane. The setting is one of Louise Penny's most intriguing creations and the monks concerned in the murder of one of their own, are just as intriguing in their desperation to remain inviolate.

The heart-wrenching ending sets you up for the next book: HOW THE LIGHT GETS IN:

Chief Inspector Gamache is back in Quebec and near the end of his tether, seemingly the only honorable man left in the Quebec Surete.  Most of his agents have left the Homicide Division and daily he faces hostile replacements who have no respect for Gamache or his way of doing things. Forced into a corner, Gamache must make a final decision.

But when a murder case in the village of Three Pines once more draws him into the fray, the final decision may be taken out of Gamache's hands as his many enemies close in.

Two staggeringly good installments in a series which can often be termed brilliant. A series, by the way, which should probably be read in the order it was published. Though possibly you could begin somewhere in the middle and then play catch-up.

A prize-winning, beautifully written series which remains one of the very best.

Friday, January 15, 2016

I'm Moving!!

Racey Helps - via

Okay, here's the news: As you know, over the holidays, I was away visiting my daughter and her family in North Carolina. I had thought about moving down to be closer to my grandchildren (and my daughter and her husband) but I figured it would take a while. I was thinking maybe in a year or so. After all it's a big move and I'm an old dinosaur.

But lo and behold, a nice unit (last one left) in a Senior Housing building (part of a gorgeous new development) suddenly was there for the taking. Brian (my son-in-law) and I happened to walk in (just to get information), heard the rent, saw the apartment (Brian said, "We'll take it!" as he crossed the threshold) and rushed out to get the required paperwork in order. We drove back to the house, Brian did some computer razzle-dazzle, then we ran back to the development, signed the lease and lo and behold, I'm moving to N.C. in five weeks.

No 'ifs, ands or buts' - the chance came and I took it. You know how they say that half of life is just showing up? Well, here's proof of it. Thanks to Brian and Skye, I'm headin' South.

You're never too old for a new adventure.

As to why I haven't been posting lately, well just got back a week ago and I've been packing ever since. I'll be packing (and down-sizing) for the next few weeks so the blog will just have to get along without me. You know what an ordeal packing up to move can be, so please bear with me.

I have a post for Wednesday (something I'd been working on before I left) and then for the rest of the time until the Big Move, it will have to be hit or miss.

In case you're wondering, I'm thrilled to be moving.

Wish me luck, my friends, I can hardly believe this is happening.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Sunday Salon: The Many Guises of Santa

Vintage Illustration via

Vintage illustrationvia

Anne Yvonne Gilbert - via

Susan Mitchell - via

Gennady Spirin - via

Haddon Sunblom - via

Inge Look - via

Lisi Martin - via

Andre Francois - via

William Joyce - 'Santa Calls' - via

Raymond Briggs 'Father Christmas' - via

J.C. Leyendecker - Saturday Evening Post 

Edward Sorel - via

Ina Hattenhauer - via

I love these Santas in all their guises by all these artists in all these different styles.

This is my last post of the year - Rocky and I will be away for the holidays, visiting with family. This coming week will be devoted to cleaning, packing, wrapping and last minute shopping. When I return, stay tuned for my Favorite Books of 2015.

In the meantime, MERRY CHRISTMAS and a very HAPPY NEW YEAR, m'dears.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Friday Forgotten (or Overlooked) Book: THE HOG'S BACK MYSTERY (1933) by Freeman Wills Croft

Once upon a time, in a galaxy far, far away, my then husband and I went on a Freeman Wills Croft reading binge. There my familiarity with this British Golden Age author ends. If you ask me which books we read and what did I think of them (other than the fact that I must have enjoyed them or I wouldn't have kept reading) I couldn't tell you.

But recently, Croft's name began popping up in online conversation and I determined to reread some of his books once again if I could find them. (Not as easy as one might think.) As luck would have it, THE HOG'S BACK MYSTERY is currently available as part of the British Library Crime Classics reprint series. But I opted for the audio version narrated by the wonderful Gordon Griffin. For me, audio works just fine as an alternate. I listened to it a few days ago while in the middle of wrapping Christmas presents and other assorted holiday chores.

Croft was the grandfather of the police procedural mystery (at least that's how I think of him). He was also a proponent of the Golden Age detection strategy of 'play fair' with the reader (which never mattered to me, but I'm probably in the minority there) so in this particular book you should be able to figure out the killer unless your eyes glaze over from the minutiae of forming a perfect alibi. Near the end, I lost track of who was doing what to whom at what time and just agreed with Inspector's French's summation. I never did accept that such a finely tuned alibi would have worked in real life. But then, books aren't - necessarily - real life.

For me, the excruciatingly detailed split-second timing of the alibi was the only weakness in a nearly perfect procedural mystery. But then, I'm not numbers oriented so there is that to consider as well. You might have a totally different reaction.

Otherwise THE HOG'S BACK MYSTERY is a fascinating case - 10th in the Inspector French series - which begins with the confounding disappearance (seemingly into thin air) of a doctor from his study (while still in his house slippers) and culminates, all told, in the especially cold blooded murders of four people. An almost tangible underlying atmosphere of unease fairly clings to the pages of this book, but don't ask - I couldn't put my finger on any specific thing. There's just that sense of inexplicable menace which can be self-generating in a good mystery.

I don't want to give too much away because the rewarding part of this sort of story, besides the atmospherics, is the step by step, clue by clue, chapter by chapter mounting of the case by the indefatigable Inspector and his police cronies. If you love that sort of thing - as I do - then this is the book for you.

My rating: 4 Stars (Would have been five but for the ending.)

Since it's Friday, you will want to check in at author Patricia Abbott's blog, Pattinase, to see what other forgotten or overlooked books other bloggers are talking about today.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Friday Forgotten (or Overlooked) Books: Four by Hare

I've recently discovered the books of Cyril Hare, aka Alfred Gordon Clark .  If you know my style, you won't be surprised to learn that I acted with my usual reckless abandon. Hare immediately zoomed into favored status in Yvette Land and I'm hoping to read every mystery of his that I can find. In the meantime, here are the four I've read and recommend:

1) THE WIND BLOWS DEATH(1949) aka When the Wind Blows

The mystery of the disappearing and reappearing clarinetist during a concert, obfuscates the murder of a visiting violinist moments before a major performance.This is the baffling problem facing the police and barrister Francis Pettigrew, author Cyril Hare's charming amateur sleuth. Pettigrew is plunged into the mix by his status as honorary treasurer of the Markshire Orchestral Society, a post he only reluctantly has accepted and see what comes of it. Now that he's on the scene, he might as well go ahead and help solve the murder.

I gave the book 5 Stars, so I must be in agreement with whoever it was that listed this as one of the 100 best mysteries ever written.

Belated apologies to John and Ron who correctly corrected me on my initial confusion re: the who and the where of the murder. I went back to the source, which I should have done immediately. Thanks, guys. 


Who murdered Lord Warbeck's heir? The victim had Fascist leanings so I say, well deserved, but still one cannot allow killers to vent unchecked. This is a murder that takes place over Christmas at a snowed-in country house peopled with the usual cast of eccentric upper crust Brits with problems (I know, what more could you ask for?). This is the perfect story to cuddle up with in front of a roaring fireplace (real or pretend) during the holidays.

4 Stars.


Police Inspector Mallett is on holiday at Pendlebury Old Hall Hotel when a fellow guest, Leonard Dickenson, is found dead - suicide the probably cause. The night before, Mallett had had an odd conversation with Dickenson wherein the man revealed that the rather shabby hotel had once been the family home. Moreover, Dickinson had seemed despondent and gone on at length about death and other assorted grimness. Not a fun evening for Inspector Mallett. Hence, the Inspector is inclined to accept the coroner's verdict of suicide. But he has second thoughts once he meets the Dickenson family who are at daggers drawn over the idea that suicide will nix the large insurance payment they were expecting.

I gave this one 3 Stars because I didn't like anyone in the story except Mallett. Still, the ending was a clever surprise.


Set during WWII, this is the first book to feature barrister Francis Pettigrew who has been sent to ply his legal talents on behalf of the Pin Control Ministry (?). A faction of government which has been relocated to the seaside resort of Marsett Bay in the north of England. (I never did figure out what the Pin Control Ministry actually was and what they did but got the feeling this was Hare being satirical about government pettiness and let it go at that - assorted pin business being rather droll to read about.) Anything in aid of the war effort.

Here we're introduced to a disgruntled group of civil servants busy shuffling papers around while indulging in office gossip and spite and putting up with over-crowded accommodations - a nice cast of suspects when murder strikes. The crime itself is tantalizingly close to a locked room mystery event and it's up to Pettigrew (with the help of Mallett who shows up mid-book) to save the day for the Pin Ministry.

3 Stars.

I like Cyril Hare's deliciously serene style of writing, his devious plotting and his knowledge of British law which comes in handy. Though not as prolific as other Golden Age mystery writers, Hare certainly deserves to have his work read, remembered and/or discovered. I plan on getting my hands on more of his books in the new year.

Michael Edwards and Philip L. Scowcroft have a nicely done tribute to Cyril Hare, his life and work, at this link.

Friday is Forgotten (or Overlooked) Book day over at author Patricia Abbott's blog, Pattinase. So don't forget to check in and see what other forgotten or overlooked books other bloggers are talking about today. 

Friday, November 27, 2015

Friday Forgotten (or Overlooked) Book: WARRANT FOR X (1938) by Philip MacDonald

First off: If the plot sounds familiar, this is the book upon which the so/so Van Johnson movie 23 PACES TO BAKER STREET was based. The screenplay made drastic changes including getting rid of Anthony Gethryn's charismatic presence and making the American playwright hero (played by Johnson) blind. So let's forget about it and concentrate on the source material today.

I'm really fond of the work of Philip MacDonald (of THE LIST OF ADRIAN MESSENGER fame), having recently read (for the first time) and enjoyed, THE RASP, MURDER GONE MAD, and MYSTERY OF THE DEAD POLICE. And now, WARRANT FOR X, which is the 11th in the Anthony Gethryn series and for me, so far, the very best of a pretty good bunch. (I gave it five stars in my listing.)

Link here for a complete listing of Philip MacDonald's books.

So, here we go:

I read WARRANT FOR X aka THE NURSEMAID WHO DISAPPEARED recently and enjoyed every moment. I'm crazy about stories that draw me in and don't want to let me go. I only wish the book was twice as long, but maybe then I wouldn't have been able to stand the excitement.

WARRANT FOR X begins in the company of a successful American playwright alone in London with not much to do. Sheldon Garrett celebrates his 34th birthday alone and reading for the first time ever, a story by the eminent philosophical and mystery great G.K. Chesterton. Thus, influenced by the author, Garret takes a bus and finds himself wandering the lonely streets of Notting Hill where, lost in a maze of dark and unfamiliar byways, he finally stumbles into an empty tea shop near closing time.

When two women enter the shop and head for a booth nearby, Garret overhears a whispered conversation which convinces him that a crime involving a child is about to be committed. Luckily the two women remain unaware of Garret sitting in the shadows.

He decides to follow the two when they leave but soon loses them in the throng of London. What to do next? Well, he goes to Scotland Yard, but without much more to tell them that what he'd heard, they dismiss his story as being unlikely.

Fortunately, Avis Bellingham, the nice society woman Garret has fallen in love with (though they are currently mired in one of those foolish misunderstandings which only seem to occur in books) happens to know Lucia Gethryn, wife of the brilliant Anthony. He, of course, is the well-known solver of crimes and interpreter of puzzles too complex for the official police. A dinner invitation is issued.

After hearing Garret's tale, Anthony Gethryn agrees that a dastardly plot is certainly afoot. And before you can say hop, skip and/or jump, they are on the trail of some very dangerous people. What follows is an intriguing hodgepodge of blackmail, suicide, several nasty murders - actual and attempted murder - a kidnapping, more attempted murder, all amid the kind of inspired misdirection we haven't seen (or at least, I haven't) since I don't know when.

Of course, the book was published in 1938, so there is some creakiness at the joints, but on the whole, nothing to bother about. Philip MacDonald's writing is intelligent, fast-paced and mostly to the point. We hang on for dear life as Gethryn and Garrett, along with the police (finally) attempt to prevent a heinous crime from taking place. Clue after clue is unraveled, often times making things more complex rather than less. Time is of the essence as page after page, things seem darkest before the dawn and their prey remains more elusive than ever. What a thrilling tale.

WARRANT FOR X is definitely my kind of book. Perfect (and easy enough to get online for very little cash) if you're mired in the winter doldrums or soon enough will be. I might save it for January when things always seem dull and dreary. (I know, do as I say, not as I do.)

P.S. Don't forget to check in at author Patricia Abbott's blog, Pattinase, to see what other forgotten or overlooked books other bloggers are talking about on this Friday.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Happy Thanksgiving!

Thanksgiving cover illustration by one of my very favorite guys from the past, Constantin Alajalov.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Friday Forgotten (or Overlooked) Book: THE MAN WITH A LOAD OF MISCHIEF by Martha Grimes

This is the first Richard Jury mystery and the one which introduces us to the nicely neurotic inhabitants of Long Piddleton. The setting is a snowy picture postcard English village, cozily nestled on the banks of the River Piddle. It's the Christmas season but that hasn't stopped a murderer from going about his nefarious duties.

When a dead body is found stuck in a keg of beer at The Man With A Load of Mischief pub (all Jury books are titled after existing English pubs), followed by yet another dead body later found tucked in the mechanical sign above the front door of the Jack and Hammer (Long Piddleton's not so friendly neighborhood pub), well, it's time for Scotland Yard in the form of Richard Jury to make an appearance. Not that that puts paid to the killings in this small village in Northants.

Detective Chief Inspector Jury is tall, handsome, languid, lonely, given to intuitive flashes and incapable of finding the right woman (no matter if she is right in front of his nose). Yet he possesses a smile which is supposed to stop women (and anyone else) in their tracks. Go figure. He is also a man whom children instinctively trust and divulge their secrets to. An especially important trait in a Martha Grimes book.

Here we also meet, for the first time, the charming and very cavalier Melrose Plant, a man who, for reasons which become obvious over the length of the series, has given up his title as Earl of Caverness. Given up the title, yes, but not the mien. Still, he is pretty down to earth for a man of luxurious lifestyle complete with mansion and butler. Now if only he could get rid of his annoyingly batty aunt, all would be perfection. 

So who is responsible for the rather unsightly Long Piddleton killing spree? 

One would immediately jump to the conclusion that I'm talking about a series of cozies, but one would be wrong. Author Martha Grimes has invented a style of story which should be discordant, but to my mind is not; she has managed to combine the ambience of the cozy (along with the requisite cast of assorted eccentrics) with the deeper, darker ambience of the police procedural/thriller. The crimes themselves are often ugly and the solutions never pat. Happy endings for all involved do not abound except very occasionally. One just never knows how a Jury book is going to turn out. If you cannot acclimate yourself to this sort of thing, then the series is not for you. 

Too bad because for wit, intelligence and imagination, you can't top Martha Grimes.  In so many ways she is unique in the world of genre (if you care to describe it like that) fiction.

I've read THE MAN WITH A LOAD OF MISCHIEF a couple of times and have also listened to the audio version narrated superbly by Steve West. It's up to you how you choose to begin this series (not that it really needs to be read in order), if you choose to begin it and I say: please do.

I've written about Richard Jury before since he remains one of my favorite characters in fiction (and one of my huge crushes) and over the years I've read every single Jury book. (But don't ask me for synopsis of plots please, the spirit is willing but the memory banks are depleted.) You must trust me when I say that on the whole, I've enjoyed almost every single one and it is a series I recommend highly. 

(And no I don't mind the inclusion of dogs and cats of varying personalities, names and antics. I like the element of other-worldliness they add to the stories.)

Since it's Friday, don't forget to check in at author Patricia Abbott's blog, Pattinase, to see what other forgotten or overlooked holiday-themed books other bloggers are talking about today.

Friday, November 13, 2015

A repeat post: Friday's Forgotten Book: REED'S PROMISE by John Clarkson

I've written about REED'S PROMISE before (this is a repeat - more or less - of a post from 2012) and I'll probably write about it again. It is a book that makes other thrillers seem tame by comparison, a fabulous feat of writing by a novelist who I'm still not all that familiar with. (Primarily because he doesn't have a lot of books on the shelves at the library.) He has a spotty publishing history and doesn't turn out books on a regular schedule far as I can tell.

But if you have any affinity for thriller writing at all, make note of John Clarkson's REED'S PROMISE and promise yourself you'll read it. This book continues to be one of the best of its kind, though I suspect there aren't really many of 'its kind' around. It surpassed my expectations going in as it was one of those serendipitous reading events.

The book begins at breakneck speed - we're suddenly thrown into the middle of a motorcycle accident in which the rider, Bill Reed will lose a leg and become an embittered amputee lying in a hospital bed feeling sorry for himself. He is a private eye and ex-FBI agent with a talent for forensic accounting - tracking illegal money back to its original source.

In the middle of bemoaning his fate, Reed receives a note from his cousin Johnny Boy Reed. Johnny Boy has been institutionalized at the Ullmann Institute in upstate NY, since he was a kid. He is severely retarded but able to function enough to put together a note to his private eye cousin asking for help.The note is cryptic enough (a series of numbers and bits of paper glued together), but Bill deduces from it that something is wrong and maybe he should go take a look - if for no other reason then that Johnny Boy is family. Guilt is a great motivator.

With a prosthetic leg in place, and a cane, Bill heads up to the Ullmann Institute.

REED'S PROMISE resonates with a crushing sense of dread from the beginning of Reed's quest to ferret out the truth and perhaps redeem himself in his own eyes.

First of all, Reed is a man minus a leg - can he stand up to physical attack? Can he fight if he has to? Just how strong is he? Can he be undermined by his handicap? All these thoughts ran through my mind as I continued to read.

Also, I didn't want his cousin Johnny Boy - whom we come to know and like - physically harmed in any way. So from the very beginning I was worried and that worry only grew.

When Reed arrives at the Ullmann Institute, and realizes almost right away that something bad is going on, you do wonder whether he will be able to 'fix' things.

Matthew Ullmann and his wife Madeleine run the institute like some sort of fiefdom (and have made themselves rich in the process) and they are, no question about it, a fiendish duo. We know they are the enemy Reed will have to vanquish if he wants to save Johnny Boy - yet it doesn't weaken the suspense angle one bit.

While reading REED'S PROMISE I remember having to stop and take breathing breaks, tension breaks, while I acclimated my emotions and took deep breaths to calm myself. That's how overwhelmed I was by the increasing fear of what would happen to the two main characters. Up until that moment (a few years ago) I'd never read a book in which the 'hero' was an amputee taking on evil all by himself - using his wits, his smarts and yes, his physical abilities to thwart some especially nasty characters.

I don't know how else to say this except that it's own unique way, this is a brilliant book. Clarkson, who is also a screenwriter, has a knack for visual scene creation which adds immeasurably to the suspense. If your library doesn't have REED'S PROMISE, booksellers online do. Get a copy, read it and see if I'm exaggerating.

Unfortunately, the book has two major strikes against it: One: no one ever heard of it. (The publishers were obviously asleep at the switch.) Two: It has a horrible cover. I say: IGNORE the cover! Read the book.

Recently I learned that Clarkson finally had a new book, another stand-alone: AMONG THIEVES. 
I was really looking forward to it. But it was, ultimately, a disappointment. Good suspense but the violence seemed over the top and the characters had few redeeming qualities. I'd say stick with REED'S PROMISE. (It's entirely possible that AMONG THIEVES is a man's book and I was just the wrong audience, being a frail woman.)

Friday's Forgotten Books is the weekly meme hosted by the oh-so-talented author Patricia Abbott at her blog, Pattinase.Lots of forgotten (or overlooked) books mentioned today so don't forget to go take a looksee.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Happy Veteran's Day!

Herbert Andrew Paus (1880 - 1946) - via 

If you get a chance, remember to thank a veteran for their service.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Saturday Salon: American painter, illustrator and muralist Grant Wood (1891 - 1942)

American Gothic - 1930 - via

Most of us know Grant Wood's rather grim American Gothic painting which has become an iconic piece over the years. But obviously there's more to Wood than one painting, no matter how famous.

Thanks to Poul Webb's art blog, I discovered some of Wood's early work and much to my amazement I realized immediately that there was much more to Grant Wood than I'd suspected. I'd always liked Wood's tightly woven farm and landscape paintings evoking a sort of mythical mid-western ideal, but his early work (influenced by his study in Europe) is much freer and impressionistic in tone. It's always interesting to see the routes that painters make on their way to an eventual style. Take a look:

Courtyard in Italy - 1924 - via

Old Stone Barn - 1919 - via

Statue in Paris - 1920 - via

Cafe in Paris - 1920 - via

The Shop Inspector - 1925 - via

At the Gate 1926 - via

To learn about Grant Wood and see more of his work, please check out Poul Webb's art blog.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Friday Forgotten (or Overlooked) Book: WHEN LAST I DIED (1941) by Gladys Mitchell

Originally published in 1941, this is the 2005 re-issue by Rue Morgue Press. 

Thanks go out to Sergio over at his fabulous blog, Tipping My Fedora, for getting me interested in reading Gladys Mitchell's Mrs. Bradley books. His enthusiastic review of DEATH AT THE OPERA did the trick.

(DEATH AT THE OPERA was my first choice, but it quickly became apparent that nobody had this book unless I wanted to pay big bucks and no I didn't.)

I had originally been put off reading Gladys Mitchell because of the television series starring Diana Rigg (whom I like) which I never cottoned to, though I did like the interaction between Mrs. Bradley and her neat chauffeur. And I loved the fashions.

At any rate, I've now read two Mrs. Bradley books: one I really liked and one I didn't finish. So I suppose I'll be reading more - one out of two isn't bad. But the next one had better be one I finish.

WHEN LAST I DIED begins with a note from the author:

To you, American Reader, whoever you are, affectionately.

I am a Londoner. Proud, too, of it. Whilst this book was being written,the Jerries made rings round it. They picked off seven houses, a railway bridge, and a block of flats. We put the Union Jack up on all these sites. They they wiped out shops, factories, and the main road. It took time to put back the gas mains alone on that main road. Then they dropped high explosives in the garden six doors away. Still, here is the book.


How anyone can continue to write under those conditions, I just cannot even imagine. I feel humbled by Mitchell's grit and steadfastness.

On with the review:

WHEN LAST I DIED makes use of a good plot ploy - the found diary. I do have a weakness for cold case type murder investigations.

Now, it says here in this book that Mrs. Bradley is a psychologist though, to my mind, a very strange one. She is so weird herself that it would make one pause before going to her with any problems of the mental sort. I never got a clear sense of what she looked like - I know she's old and kind of 'reptilian' and has an odd propensity for cackling (?) but that's about it. Just for a lark, I began to envision her as a lizard in a serviceable suit  and hat. Not that that was what the author intended I'm sure.

I also noticed that in the books, the chauffeur, up front and center in the television series, is hardly on the scene when most of the action is taking place. He doesn't show up at all in the second book (the one I didn't finish), at least not in the pages I read. Too bad. I like the idea of a chauffeur as associate crime fighter.

At any rate, Mrs. Bradley decides to rent a house by the sea for a few weeks as part of some sort of psychological experiment resulting from her professional involvement with a school for delinquent boys. Her seven year old grandson occasionally comes to stay which I found a bit odd to begin with, since there had been sinister doings at the school and the experiment involves short term stays at the Bradley house by various boys. A kind of break from their normal routine.

The rental had, several years before, been the property of a young woman named Bella who was tried and acquitted for the murder of a cousin, a ghost hunter who'd been investigating a local haunted house. The woman had since committed suicide and the house passed to a servant who is happy to let the place for the summer.

In the meantime, Mrs. Bradley gets her hands on a diary written by Bella outlining events prior to the murder and the strange disappearance of two boys from the aforementioned school at which Bella herself had once worked. Then there is the suspicious death of Bella's aunt, a well-to-do old woman who'd choked to death on some grated carrots (?).

Mrs. Bradley is almost immediately suspicious of what she reads in the diary and decides that there's much more here than meets the eye. And as she goes nosing about it is soon obvious that she is correct, there is something rotten in this pleasant little village by the sea.

I was completely taken in and spent most of a night reading and trying to get to the bottom of a rather convoluted tale of twisted lives and ugly death.

Admittedly I found Mrs. Bradley hard to take - especially the cackling part - and as I mentioned, I had trouble visualizing her. She just didn't seem real to me if I can call anyone in this sort of story 'real' - but you know what I mean. But other than that, I thoroughly enjoyed reading this.

The other Mitchell book I began (my local library only had the two titles) was THE RISING OF THE MOON, a book I thought I'd like but didn't bother finishing. This one had Mrs. Bradley entering the fray very late in the story which was okay but leading up to her involvement, the tale was told from the point of view of two young, adventurous boys living in a village who come across a murder or two or three. Sounded good, but for whatever reason, wasn't.

But as I say, WHEN LAST I DIED is worth a look, if you can find a copy. And I'm still hoping to come across DEATH AT THE OPERA. Maybe an inter-library loan will do the trick.

Since it's Friday, don't forget to check in at author Patricia Abbott's blog, Pattinase, to see what other forgotten (or overlooked) books other bloggers are talking about today.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Book Review: RADIANT ANGEL by Nelson DeMille

The only thing I didn't like about this book and it's only because I'm squeamish, were several scenes of disturbing violence, other than that I'm highly recommending RADIANT ANGEL to any reader who loves a suspenseful, thrill packed adventure yarn where all the good guys are working towards a common and worthy goal, in this instance, saving Manhattan from annihilation. Not telling you too much, all this is pretty evident in the quickly moving early chapters. Besides, the title and cover really say it all.

Re: the violence - you can always skim, i.e. look the other way. That's what I do.

The bad guys in this, one of Nelson DeMille's more fast-paced books, are not those whom we might have expected which makes for a nice break in the action. Know what I mean? And again, no I'm not revealing too much.

There is an enviable knack, maybe even a genius, to telling a good rip-roaring story that makes it almost impossible to put a book down until you get to the end and Nelson DeMille has it. I read RADIANT ANGEL in two large bouts of reading late into the night. Luckily this was not the usual lengthy tome we normally get from DeMille (not that there's anything wrong with that), no, this is slightly shorter and more action condensed DeMille and the story doesn't suffer for it. This is atypical DeMille, but still excellent.

Before we go any further let me just add that I've read most of Nelson DeMille's fiction except three -and the ones written under various pseudonyms which I never knew existed until recently - and I've enjoyed and admired everything of his that I've read except two. Nah, I'm not gonna' tell you which two. Cause who am I to diminish your possible enjoyment? And besides, I'm definitely in the minority.

Of all DeMille's many protagonists, my favorite is John Corey whom we meet again in RADIANT ANGEL. We initially came across (now former) NYC homicide detective Corey on his way to bust up a frightening conspiracy in PLUM ISLAND, the first book. Since then there have been five more with RADIANT ANGEL being the very latest.

Corey has worked for several government agencies including the FBI but seems constantly to be moving about from job to job since he is known for being a maverick (that's why his bosses try and try and try to keep a tight rein on him). He is also an unorthodox thinker, a screw-up, and occasionally a loose cannon. Most of all, I think, the higher-ups despise Corey for his refusal to go along to get along, his complete lack of political awareness (the source of some of his funnier and more wince-inducing epitapths) and his wicked and totally inappropriate sense of humor - he has that in abundance.

These are some of the main reasons why I love this character - that and the fact that he gets things done when others are still fumbling about trying to figure out what to do. Corey can reason quickly and has an uncanny knack for linking a and b and correctly deducing z. In an out of control world filled with evil doers, this is a mighty welcome talent - you'd think.

In RADIANT ANGEL, Corey is now back in NYC (his wife still works for the FBI and commutes between the city and Washington D.C.), working for the DSG (Diplomatic Surveillance Group) keeping an eye on Russian diplomats working at the U.N. This job is thought to be a nice quiet dead end resting place for Corey after his run in with the CIA while battling terrorists in Yemen in the last book. But you know, where John Corey goes, trouble always seems to follow. Thank goodness.

While on a routine weekend surveillance Corey and his fellow watchers are scooped up into a quickly escalating crisis of the sort that might seem fanciful if not for the fact that the world today is what it is.

"I was parked in a black Chevy Blazer down the street from the Russian Federation Mission to the United Nations on East 67th Street in Manhattan, waiting for an asshole named Vasily Petrov to appear. Petrov is a colonel in the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service - the SVR in Russian - which is the equivalent to our CIA, and the successor to the Soviet KGB. Vasily - who we have affectionately code-named Vaseline, because he's slippery - has diplomatic status as Deputy Representative to the United Nations for Human Rights Issues, which is a joke because his real job is SVR Legal Resident in New York - the equivalent of a CIA Station Chief. I have had Colonel Petrov under the eye on previous occasions, and though I've never met him he's reported to be a very dangerous man, and thus an asshole."

Corey has a way with words.

Read this only if you have a few hours to set aside because I guarantee you will not (or at least not until the wee hours of the morning) be able to put this book down until you get to the nail-bitingly fabulous end.

And yes, you may read this even if you haven't read any of the others books in the series. You can always go back and see what happened when and why Corey's marriage is a bit rocky right now.

I hope there will be more of John Corey in the future because I am definitely not ready to say goodbye.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Happy Halloween at the Cobweb Hotel...

...where guests check in but they don't check out. Mwahahaha!!!

Friday, October 30, 2015

Friday Forgotten (or Overlooked) Book: DEATH OF AN AIRMAN (1935) by Christopher St. John Sprigg

A British Library Crime Classic - this nicely packaged book (with a forward by Martin Edwards) is one of several Golden Age mysteries brought back for our delight by Poisoned Pen Press. It's a wonderful thing to make available little known and/or scarce Golden Agers for those of us who love this sort of book and yearn for more and MORE and still many more. These are the sorts of books we love to read and reread alongside Christie and Sayers and Marsh and Tey and the rest of 'em. I'm very fond of comfortable murders solved by people with manners. Just because someone is lying dead at your feet doesn't mean you can't say please and thank you.

Christopher St. John Sprigg wrote several mysteries (as well as other books under a pseudonym) and died fighting in the Spanish Civil War before his 30th birthday. Afterwards his work faded into obscurity, but now, thanks to Poisoned Pen Press, we can become acquainted with a book that Dorothy Sayers herself (then critic at the Sunday Times), enjoyed and recommended.

DEATH OF AN AIRMAN is a sprightly and intriguing mystery set mostly at a British airfield where professional and amateur pilots go about their daily flying routines and where shortly two murders will throw a monkey-wrench into the proceedings. Baston Aero Club is a flying school run by the unfortunately named Sally Sackbut (yes, I know, but that's her name), it is where we first meet the Bishop, a rather nice provincial chap who has a habit of noticing things and will, before long, be instrumental (in a kind of peripheral way) in helping Scotland Yard solve two brutal murders.

'A young woman with a reddish face and horn-rimmed glasses appeared suddenly out of a door marked "Manager, Baston Aero Club."

"Well, young man, what do you want?" she asked sharply.

The middle-aged man in grey flannels who was standing in the club hall looked around to see who was being spoken to, and then perceptibly started when he realized that it was he who was being addressed.

"Are you the manager of the Baston Aero Club?" he asked.

"Manager and secretary. In fact, I run the place," she answered.

"I see." The speaker, though obviously not shy, had not quite recovered from the surprise of being addressed as "young man" by a woman some years his junior.

"The fact is, I want to learn to fly. That is," he added diffidently, "if I'm not too old for that sort of thing." His diffidence contrasted with a certain deep richness of voice - the kind of voice which inevitably suggests public speaking.

The young woman beamed. "Don't you worry! We'll teach you if it kills us - or you." She rummaged over a table in the hall which was littered with papers and picked out a form.

"We'd better make you a member before you lose your nerve. Are you a British subject? We're not particular, but if you aren't British we don't get a subsidy for teaching you, so we charge you more."

"I am an Australian."

The red-faced young woman peered at him anxiously from behind her glasses. "I hope you don't get fighting drunk? Our last Australian smashed every glass in the place the day he went solo."

The stranger cleared his throat deprecatingly. "I think it unlikely that I should do the same. I am the Bishop of Cootamundra."

The plucky Doctor Marriott, or as he much prefers, just plain 'Bishop', will soon be up in the air in one of the school's planes doing his very best to follow the rather odd sounding (at least to me) instructions issued by his instructors, an enigmatic scar-faced flying ace named Furnace as well as the aforementioned Sally.

When Furnace, flying solo, crashes and is killed in full view of those on the ground the unfortunate event is first thought to be a suicide. But when something about the body itself bothers the Bishop, he decides to ask a few questions.

What follows is a locked room sort of mystery in which the 'locked room' is actually the cockpit of a small two-seater plane and 'the how' of a murderous attack remains unexplained until the last couple of chapters.

After the perturbed local police call in Scotland Yard, there follows an exhumation where a sickening fact emerges. Slowly a far reaching criminal conspiracy is uncovered which leads to a horrible second murder and a rip-roaring ending which, inadvertently involves the Bishop in a high flying death defying trip. I don't, normally, like books where drugs are involved, even tangentially, but when written this well in a style that I admire, I'll put up with it. I love when a whole new world is opened up to me by a writer, especially a writer I've never read before.

But we mustn't forget that this is a book set in and of its time.

It is the kind of thing where, in the end, the bad guys make full confessions and explain everything that needs explaining - nobody does that sort of thing much anymore, but back in the day, bad guys spilled their guts for the edification of the reading audience.

This contrivance is the only weakness (and really, it's not annoying just overly familiar in hindsight) in an otherwise very entertaining book which brings to light, if a shade dramatically I suppose, a bit of the comings and goings of a flying industry still in its infancy. A burgeoning industry in which both male and female pilots were dashing figures whose adventures were followed by the media. A by-gone age where local air shows and races were exciting occurrences and pilots were treated as celebrities.

P.S. There's also a nicely done and totally unexpected development in the very end which left me smiling.

Luckily and surprisingly, my library had a copy of this book, but if your library is not as accommodating, you can certainly find copies of DEATH OF AN AIRMAN online. I'm currently looking for used copies of the rest of the British Crime Library Classics titles.

Since it's Friday Forgotten (or Overlooked) Book day, don't forget to check in at author Patricia Abbott's website, Pattinase, to see what other forgotten or overlooked books other bloggers are talking about today.