ATTENTION CHALLENGE PARTICIPANTS

Second Round of Super Book Password News: Debbie has correctly guessed my Historic Event! But Ryan's Password is still up for grabs. And I have added a second Password. Click photo in the sidebar for links.


Some of Bev's Favorite Quotes...



Saturday, May 2, 2015

Another Spring Book Fling

So the other branch of the local library had their spring book sale this weekend. And, naturally, I had to go. I didn't anticipate finding much--I generally find maybe one or two gems, so it makes it worthwhile. This year? Bonanza! I came home with 23 paperback books (nearly all vintage) for under $6.00! I managed to come home with one duplicate (into the prize box with that one), but overall a really good day. Two are titles that have been on the TBF (To Be Found) list for a very, very long time: Who Is the Next? by Henry Kitchell Webster and Body Blow by Kenneth Hopkins; eight are my beloved pocket size. And all look delightful.

Here's a run-down of the haul:
Corpse Diplomatique by Delano Ames
Say Yes to Murder by W. T. Ballard (Penguin pocket size!) 
The Gallant by Charity Blackstock
All for the Love of a Lady by Leslie Ford (Bantam pocket size)
Old Lover's Ghost by Ford
The Case of the Gilded Lily by Erle Stanley Gardner (pocket-size edition)
The Case of the Haunted Husband by Gardner (Pocket Books WWII edition)
The Case of the Lucky Legs by Gardner (Pocket Books WWII edition)
The Case of the Rolling Bones by Gardner (Pocket Books WWII edition)
Mr. Crook Lifts the Mask by Anthony Gilbert
The Curious Conspiracy & Other Crimes by Michael Gilbert
The Empty House by M. Gilbert
Bodies & Souls by Dann Herr & Joel Wells (eds) Dell pocket size with Christie, Chesterton & others
Body Blow by Kenneth Hopkins
Money from Holme by Michael Innes
Servant's Problem by Veronica Parker Johns (John over at Pretty Sinister Books first alerted me to this one)
The Hidden Wrath by Stella Phillips
Puzzle for Players by Patrick Quentin (Pocket Books WWII edition)
Too Many Clients by Rex Stout
Spring Harrowing by Phoebe Atwood Taylor
Who Is the Next by Henry Kitchell Webster
Danger Point by Patricia Wentworth

And the duplicate which will be appearing in the prize box:
The D.A. Holds a Candle by Erle Stanley Gardner

Monday, April 27, 2015

The Case of Colonel Marchland: Review

To be able to tell when a man is lying is one of the most difficult parts of my job. (p. 205)

And Inspector MacDonald of Scotland Yard proves most adept at sifting the lies from the truth in the The Case of Colonel Marchand by E. C. R. Lorac. Macdonald is called in when the Colonel is found dead in his well-appointed drawing room after he has entertained a beautiful young woman at an elaborate tea. The Colonel is well known for his weakness for women, but no one in his household will admit to knowing who his latest conquest was. And the copper-haired lady has disappeared. Even after she is found, questions remain about what really happened at the Colonel's tea party.

Nearly all of the Colonel's servants and associates arouse Macdonald's suspicions--from the butler and three menservants who played bridge below stairs while waiting for the bell to sound to the chauffeur who had no business going upstairs at all to the secretary who got more and more tangled in his lies to the out-of-favor nephew (who also happens to be the heir) to unknown young man who had tried to weasel money out of the old man to the lawyer who seemed determined to make Macdonald  suspect the nephew. Each of them provide Macdonald with a piece of the puzzle--whether they intend to or not. There don't seem to be a lot of physical clues, but the Inspector makes the most of what there are: the missing pearls which had belonged to the Colonel's mother, the empty Cartier box lying on the tea table, a metal tube found in the cushions of a chair, and the remains of cat.

Unfortunately, unless I provide you all with a huge spoiler, I can't tell you why I love this one so much. Let's just say that Lorac (aka Edith Caroline Rivett) makes good use of a standard mystery trope and pulls it off with aplomb and fair play. She displays the clues for the reader and, really, as a long-time reader of Golden Age mysteries, I'm well enough acquainted with the customs of the times that I should have recognized the primary clues paraded under my nose. But I didn't--and that makes it all the more fun. I thoroughly enjoyed Macdonald's investigations into the amorous Colonel's life and the Inspector's interactions with various peripheral characters. Nicely plotted. A highly recommended entry in Lorac's mystery offerings. ★★★★

With "March" in the title, this fulfills the Time/Day/Month/Etc." square on the Golden Vintage Bingo card. And my first Bingo!



Thursday, April 23, 2015

The Adventure of the Three Students: Review

The graphic novel version of the Sherlock Holmes short story "The Adventure of the Three Students" was chosen primarily to fit the need for a graphic novel in the latest challenge I've signed up for. I was very glad to find a Holmes graphic novel available at the local library. The original story by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle appeared in The Return of Sherlock Holmes.

The story is a fairly straight-forward one. Professor Soames has been preparing one portion of an exam for a very important fellowship with substantial financial support. Soames is responsible for the Greek portion of the exam. His task is to provide a large passage of Greek text for the students to translate. It must be a passage that none of them have seen before. He leaves the passage on his desk, locks the door, and joins a friend for tea. When he returns there is a key in the door (though the door is locked) and there is evidence that someone has been in the room. His  servant finds him bewildered and when Bannister, the servant, realizes that he has left his key in the door and allowed someone to see the exam he nearly collapses.

Soames calls upon Sherlock Holmes to determine if one of the three competitors for this highly sought-after fellowship was his visitor--and, if so, which one. After following up clues that include clay found on the floor, a deep scratch on the desk, pencil shavings on the window sill, and the odd behavior of Bannister, Holmes is ready to reveal the cheating student.

The graphic novel is faithful to the original story and a very quick read. It is quite obviously meant for young readers and may work quite well to interest them in the Great Detective. From an older reader's viewpoint, it is quite simplistic--and even points out (with arrows!) the clues in various scenes. The illustrations are also very inconsistent--Holmes varies in his look quite a bit, especially in reference to age. In some panels he looks to be in his thirties, others he seems to be even older, and then suddenly he looks very young and fresh-faced as if he is in his late teens. Fairly enjoyable for older readers, but I'm quite sure children will like it more.

Pop Sugar 2015 Reading Challenge



Found another one: Pop Sugar has what they think is the ultimate reading challenge. From a book your mom loves to a book with a love triangle, they're giving you a wide range of reads, spanning eras and genres, instead of specific books. You don't have to read all 50 books (technically 52, since one is a trilogy), but it's a fun incentive to diversify your reading — you may be surprised by what you find you enjoy! Click link above to see the full post.

I'm counting all books read in 2015 that fulfill a category beginning with January and my declared goal is 30 ( a little over half). Any over 30 will be bonus. No links to reviews here--my full reading list (with links) can be found at the You Read How Many Books OR 100+ Reading Challenges. I will date when the book is read.

Book with more than 500 pages: The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss
A Classic Romance:
Book that became a movie:
Published this year: The Golden Age of Murder by Martin Edwards
Book with number in title: Two & Two Make Twenty-Two by Gwen Briston & Bruce Manning
Book written by someone under 30: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams (27 yrs old)
Book with nonhuman characters: The Mote in God’s Eye by Niven & Pournelle (4/12/15)
A funny book: Death of a Tall Man by Frances & Richard Lockridge (1/31/15)
Book by a female author: Mother Finds a Body by Gypsy Rose Lee (1/12/15)
Mystery or thriller: Death Over Deep Water by Simon Nash (2/8/15)
Book with a one-word title: Panic by Helen McCloy (2/22/15)
Book of short stories: The World’s Best 100 Detective Stories Vol. 1 by Eugene Thwing, ed. (2/26/15)
Book set in different country: A Dead Man In Istanbul by Michael Pearce (1/14/15)
Nonfiction book: Mystery! A Celebration by Ron Miller (2/3/15)
Popular author’s first book: Caught Dead in Philadelphia by Gillian Roberts (2/11/15)
Book from author you love but haven’t read yet: 13 Steps Down by Ruth Rendell (2/15/15)
Book a friend recommended:
Pulitzer Prize winner:
Book based on a true story: Into the Valley by John Hersey (2/28/15)
Book at bottom of TBR pile:
Book your mom loves:
Book that scares you: Reliquary by Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child
Book more than 100 years old:
Book based on cover:
Book supposed to read in school but didn’t: The Giver by Lois Lowry [I actually read every book we were required to read in school. So I chose a book on lists of required readings for other schools that I have never read.]
A memoir:
Book you can finish in a day: Lost Laysen by Margaret Mitchell (2/17/15)
Book with antonyms in title: RFK: His Life & Death by Editors of American Heritage (4/15/15)
Book set somewhere you always wanted to visit: Death of a Dwarf by Harold Kemp (1/25/15)
Book that came out the year you were born: The Wilberforce Legacy by Josephine Bell (4/19/15)
Book with bad reviews:
A trilogy: The Cavalier in White (4/18/15); There Hangs the Knife; Dark Star by Marcia Muller
Book from childhood: The Ringmaster’s Secret by Carolyn Keene (4/16/15)
Book with a love triangle:
Book set in the future: Ten Thousand Light-Years from Home by James Tiptree, Jr. (1/12/15)
Book set in high school:
Book with color in the title: Ride the Pink Horse by Dorothy B. Hughes (1/3/15)
Book that made you cry:
Book with magic: The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman
Graphic novel: The Adventure of the Three Students by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle [graphic novel version adapted by Vincent Goodwin; illustrated by Ben Dunn] (4/23/15)
Book by an author you’ve never read before: The Case of the Painted Girl by Frank King (1/6/15)
Book you own by have never read: The Case of Colonel Marchand by E. C. R. Lorac (4/27/15)
Book that takes place in your hometown: Death of a Hoosier Schoolmaster by Marlis Day
Book originally written in a different language:
Book set during Christmas:
Book written by an author with your initials: Call for Michael Shayne by Brett Halliday (4/22/15)
A play: The Incredible Ice Cream Suit & Other Stories by Ray Bradbury
A banned book:
Book based on or turned into a TV show:
Book you started but never finished: The Poe Shadow by Matthew Pearl


Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Call for Michael Shayne: Review

On the night of June 8, Arthur Devlin, a quiet and unassuming insurance man, went to a bon voyage party. His bon voyage party--as he prepared to leave on a two-week Caribbean cruise. A number of his friends got together to wish him well and to drink to his health and good travels. They all had a great many drinks. When Art wakes up on the morning of June 20th, he finds himself in a room he has never seen before, in a set of clothes that he would never have picked out for himself, and no memory whatsoever of the past twelve days. Further investigation reveals a beauty of a goose egg on his head.

As he tries to gather his thoughts and sort out his last memory (that would be of the party), he notices another man in the room. But he can't ask him any questions....because that man is quite dead. With blood on his unfamiliar clothes and a blackjack nearby, it looks like Art may have lost control as well as his memory. Then there's the strange woman named Marge who calls the room, addresses him as "Joey, Darling," and wants to know if he got the money off of "that louse, Skid." When Art hesitates over his answers, she asks, "Did you kill him?" Well, that's what he wants to know.

He gets out of the hotel as quick as he can and heads home. He calls up his friend and doctor to come help him--hoping that if he really did kill a man during his black-out period that he won't be held responsible for what he did during a bout of amnesia. Dr. Thompson, while he wants to believe his friend, can't quite make his knowledge of amnesia fit the story Art has to tell. He suggest that Art go away for a bit and let it all blow over--after all who would connect a mild-mannered insurance man with a murder in that dive of a hotel? But Art is determined to get to the bottom of it all. He remembers a red-headed private detective who once said, "Murder is my business" and asks Mike Shayne to find out what really happened during those twelve days. But will he like what Shayne discovers?

Call for Michael Shayne is another trip into the private eye world for me. I don't make these trips often, but the Shayne series by Brett Halliday is always enjoyable. This was another fun romp and it's always good to watch Shayne one-up that annoying Miami Beach Chief of Police, Peter Painter. You'd think that Painter would learn that Shayne generally delivers the goods--and it's never the solution that the Chief has selected. This is a fast-paced story that I easily finished in a couple of hours. Halliday's descriptions of the Miami area are deft and transport the reader direct from 2015 to the beach city of the late 1940s/early 50s. My one disappointment with the book was that I spotted the main villain right off--others with a fair amount of detective fiction under their belt will probably do so as well. But Halliday had a second surprise lined up that made the ride worthwhile.  ★★ for a solid afternoon's entertainment.

First published in 1949, this fulfills the "Author with same first or last initial as you" (or in this case both initials) square on the Golden Vintage Bingo card.


Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Safari: Review

I picked up Parnell Hall's Safari on my latest trip to the library. It grabbed my interest because it takes place on a safari set in Zambia (and Zimbabwe) and I'm always on the look-out for stories set in different countries to help me with the Travel the World Challenge. It also had an interesting concept--a safari where the prey isn't wild game, but the travelers themselves. 

Stanley Hastings, part-time actor, part-time writer and most-of-the-time private investigator, and his wife Alice are off on their first-ever vacation, thanks to a small inheritance from Alice's great uncle. Alice has always wanted to go on a safari and she's determined that she and Stanley will have a great time taking photos of all the wild animals. This is strictly a no-kill trip to the wild. At least, that's what all the brochures say. But it isn't long before guides and guests are dropping faster than tsetse flies. And when Alice leaks the fact that Stanley is a private investigator (never mind that his primary investigations have to do with negligence claims), he finds himself thrust into the position of making an investigation. But some of his fellow travelers resent his questions and others don't think he's asking enough and start playing detective themselves. The only trouble is--those who ask the most questions wind up starring as next victim. Maybe being a detective on a murderous safari isn't the healthiest occupation...

I'll keep my comments short and to the point. The details about the actual safari--very good and interesting. The characters beyond Stanley and his wife--fair. Not the most interesting bunch ever, but not just a bunch of stereotypes either. Stanley and his wife? I have zero interest in them whatsoever. I have no idea why they stay married. The entire relationship appears to consist of Stanley being held on a very short leash--she's always monitoring what he's eating, assuming he's flirting with every woman in sight, and treating him like a child. She even tells him how to pack his gear, for crying out loud. Her main occupation seems to be insulting him in every way possible and she doesn't care if it's in front of total strangers or not. He spends his time ogling all the women and telling himself he's too old to do anything about it. And his investigative skills? Laughable at best. Of course, we're repeatedly told that he has no real experience investigating murder (really? I suppose the other 18 books are all about negligence claims--must make for exciting reading)--so we're not supposed to expect him to be Sherlock Holmes.  Trust me, he's not. 

The blurbs on the back of the book led me to believe that this was a humorous romp with a "wholly charming hero." The wisecracks aren't funny, the hero isn't particularly charming, and the mystery is no romp. Stanley doesn't really solve it through actual detective work--he just happens to have a sudden inspiration in the wrap-up scene that proves right and the killer falls into his not-so-cunning trap. ★★ purely for the descriptions of the safari itself and the scene-setting (which was rather good).

The Smiler with the Knife: Review

For the Lucky 15 Challenge, one of my many (many!) challenges, I had to read a book randomly chosen from my TBR pile by someone else. I enlisted the services of my son and he decided my next book should be The Smiler with the Knife (1939) by Nicholas Blake (aka Cecil Day-Lewis). The book was a surprise on two counts. First, it was not, as I fully expected it to be, one of the books with an all-red cover* [red would be my son's favorite color]--although it does have a bit of red on it. And, second, while it is billed as "A Nigel Strangeways Mystery," it isn't really. The story focuses on his wife, former world-explorer Georgia.

Nigel and Georgia have just settled into a life of rural domesticity in Devon when they notice some dubious goings-on in the little village. It all starts when Georgia's sharp eyes spot a tarnished locket while trimming their hedge. The locket holds a photo and a strange circular badge...and apparently belongs to Major Keston.  Then the Major entertains some rather unusual visitors and seems to be indulging in a spot of smuggling under the cover of a local ghost legend. But what exactly is being smuggled? Nigel consults his uncle Sir John Strangeways who is also the head of Scotland Yard's C-Branch. Sir John needs someone to infiltrate what looks to be an underground Nazi-sympathizer organization located in the heart of England. Nigel's reputation as an investigator with close ties to the police make him unsuitable--so a plan is hatched to distance Georgia from the Strangeways so she can go on one more adventure. An adventure that will not only put her life in danger--but an adventure that will also decide the fate of England. She will have to use all her resources as an adventuress to make her way through the affair.

After I adjusted to the fact that Nigel was not the hero of the piece, I settled down to enjoy this political thriller with a very resourceful heroine indeed. Georgia handles herself rather well among the hush-hush cloak and dagger types and uses great ingenuity to get herself out of some rather tight places. She dresses up as everything from Father Christmas to a Radiance Girl (a cross between an interpretative dancer and a New Age devotee) and is aided by adventurer-wannabes like the manager of a well-known department store and a plucky vicar's wife. There's a cross-country chase and Georgia manages a rather MacGyver-style escape. It's all great fun and a thrilling adventure all in the name of foiling the fascist bad guys. No great mysteries here, just a straight political thriller complete with evil master mind and henchmen. A topical story for the times which has held up very well. ★★  and a half.


*He tells me that would have been too obvious. So he went with one that had an interesting title.

This fulfills the "Pseudonymous Author" square on the Golden Vintage Bingo card.


Sunday, April 19, 2015

The Wilberforce Legacy: Review

Benjamin Wilberforce is an elderly man hoping to spend his final retirement years in peace and quiet in Princeton, San Fernando (a Caribbean stand-in for Trinidad). He had resigned his commission jin the British Army when his brother's criminal activities came to light. He gets his wish until a flurry of telegrams and letters arrive at his hotel from his sister and his nephew. The letters are from his sister warning him that his ne'er-do-well nephew George (son of their crooked brother) will be visiting him soon--probably looking for money--and that her daughter is also on her way just to visit the uncle she remembers fondly. The telegrams, one sent from the United States and one sent from Venezuela--at virtually the same time and date, each claim to be from George with the glad tidings that he will arrive the next day. George #1 will arrive in the morning and George #2 in the afternoon.

Alison Maclean, Mr. Wilberforce's niece, arrives shortly thereafter to find that George #1 has been found murdered, floating in the pool of Wilberforce's hotel and wearing a death mask of the old man's face, George #2 had visited and apparently left, and Benjamin Wilberforce is nowhere to be found. It's no use trying to get answers out of Wilberforce's lawyer and confidante, Mr. Gopal, because he has disappeared too. Faced with these inexplicable events, Alison decides to stay on the island until the mystery is cleared up. A bonus is her interest in Peter Grant, the young lawyer sent out from England to help her get to the bottom of Wilberforce's disappearance. Superintendent Graham and Inspector Vincent with the Fernandan police investigate and are helped by the two young people and by Jim, the Fernandan waiter at Uncle Ben’s hotel, who knows more than anyone about Benjamin Wilberforce and his legacy. Before it's all over, Alison will be kidnapped and drugged, a fire will be set, and someone will come back from the dead.

This is a slow-moving, leisurely read (not unlike life as a retired military man on a Caribbean island) with just a dash of action towards the end. Bell (aka Doris Bell Collier Ball) sets her stage well--good island atmosphere and detail with decently outlined characters, though some of the island inhabitants may run a bit to stereotype. Alison plays the plucky heroine well although she does show a latent tendency to defer to the handsome, strong hero Peter Grant whenever his arms are available for collapsing tearfully. When Peter is not around, she stands up nicely to the bad guys and shows her independence as a good heroine should. There's not much mystery about who is behind the murders and resulting mayhem, but there is a nice surprise in store for the villain as well as a tiny twist for the reader to enjoy. Overall a solid ★★  outing.

First published in 1969--the same year I made my debut, this qualifies for the "Birth Year" square on the Silver Vintage Bingo card.


Saturday, April 18, 2015

The Cavalier in White: Review

The Cavalier in White is the first book in a trilogy by Marcia Muller (1986). The short series features art security expert Joanna Stark and revolves around her efforts to track down Anthony Parducci, a brilliant art thief who has managed to elude the authorities for years. In Cavalier, Joanna is brought out of retirement--a self-imposed seclusion really--by her partner when the eponymous work of art, a painting by Frans Hals, is stolen from a San Francisco gallery. A gallery that was wired for security by their company. And the son of her long-time friends, the Wheatleys, is trying to cut a deal with the insurance company for the safe return of the painting. A security guard from the gallery, a man who also has connections to the Wheatleys, disappears and the investigators have to wonder if he's involved. Joanna spots clues that make her think Parducci might be involved--but why is he interested in a group of people who might possibly have an adopted son? And why did Mike Wheatley (the aforementioned son) give Parducci the address of Joanna's apartment? She will have to find all the missing links before she will retrieve the painting--but not before murder is done and she is forced to confront her past.

This was a strong opening to the series. Joanna has some issues that she needs to work through and it was enjoyable watching her on that journey. The mystery elements were fairly played and fairly intriguing. While it is fairly obvious fairly early that some of Joanna's suspicions about the the theft are correct, there is a surprise in store that gives the wrap-up a good twist. It was, however, frustrating to watch Joanna repeatedly get herself into a situation that she knows she shouldn't be in, then get out of it, and turn around in time to plunge into another one. It wouldn't be quite so bad if she did it without thinking. But she tells us that she knows she shouldn't and then does it anyway. It was interesting to see her make some progress with her issues by the end of the story. But it is obvious she has a long way to go. Good solid beginning. ★★

This fulfills the "Crime Other Than Murder" on the Silver Vintage Bingo card. There is a murder--but that is not the focus of the story. Joanna's purpose is to strack down the art thief and determine whether Parducci is that thief.


Thursday, April 16, 2015

The Ringmaster's Secret: Review

Yesterday I finished a walk down memory lane. I had recently picked up a copy of the Nancy Drew The Ringmaster's Secret by Carolyn Keene at a local flea market. Not that I didn't already have a copy--I do. But this was the tweed-style hardcover book that matches the original set of six books that my mom handed down to me when I was seven. I'd like, at some point, to have all 38 of the titles which were published in tweed to match Mom's set. Since I bought it, I decided I ought read it for old time's sake. This edition of the book has the original 25 chapters (instead of the truncated, yellow-spine version I already had from 1974). If my other Drew books weren't buried in storage, I'd dig out the 1974 edition just to see what changes had been wrought (beyond transforming Nancy from a blonde to a titian-haired beauty).

But enough about that. How did the book stand up after more than thirty years?

The story is an interesting one. It begins with Nancy taking trick riding lessons from a former circus performer and a mysterious package arriving in the mail from Nancy's Aunt Eloise. Aunt Eloise is aware of her niece's horseback riding lessons and sends her a golden bracelet with five horse charms--with a place for a sixth charm. Aunt Eloise also presents Nancy with a bit of a mystery, telling her in an accompanying letter that the shopkeeper told her that the bracelet had originally been given to a circus performer by a queen. The performer was forced to sell the bracelet and would not reveal her true identity. Nancy is immediately intrigued and wonders what secrets the woman was keeping. 

Then the Sims circus comes to town and Nancy discovers that the young circus star, Lolita, is very unhappy--practically a prisoner of her foster parents, Ringmaster Kroon and his wife. The Kroons took custody of Lolita when her parents were in an accident and reportedly killed. But Lolita wears a charm that looks remarkably like those on Nancy's bracelet and Nancy goes undercover (as a bareback rider) in the circus to look for clues connecting Lolita and her charm to the woman who sold the bracelet. Her investigations will take her to England, see her and George Fayne kidnapped and left aboard a speeding freight train, and finally straight into the lion's den (well, cage) before the mystery is finally solved.

I had a good time with this. How likely is it that Nancy, after a few lessons,  would be expert enough at trick bareback riding to sub for a regular performer? Not very. But it also isn't very likely that one young woman would be an expert horsewoman, airplane pilot, dancer, code-breaker, speedboat driver, sailboat sailor, tennis and golf player, seamstress, gourmet cook, etc. and etc. Nancy is a super-girl--just the way we like her. She doesn't represent reality. She represents possibility. The possibility that any young woman who is determined and confident enough can do anything she wants to do. That's what Nancy meant to me when I read her stories originally and I see that meaning for girls now.

A thoroughly enjoyable trip to the past. ★★★★

First published in 1953, this qualifies for the "Amateur Detective" square on the Golden Vintage Bingo card.





Wednesday, April 15, 2015

RFK His Life & Death: Mini-Review

This short volume, published very soon after the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy, captures the immediacy and horror of the event after giving the reader a brief biography of RFK's roots and the years leading to his brief run towards the presidency. It is full of photos--including well-known photographs as well a pictures that I hadn't seen published in other books about Kennedy. It also includes an eyewitness account of his final hours from a member of the American Heritage staff assigned to cover the Indiana and California primaries.

America, I believe, lost something very important in June of 1968. Kennedy's detractors tried to say that he had suddenly changed his image in order to make his bid for the highest office--that he had to increase his appeal to minorities, the young, and the poor in order to make a campaign viable. But he didn't "suddenly" change. He had been fighting in small ways for the marginalized and under-represented for years. The earliest mention in this book comes in the 1950s while he was attending law school at the U of Virginia. At the time, Kennedy was president of the Student Legal Forum and responsible for inviting many dignitaries to speak at student events. Dr. Ralph Bunche had been invited and Bunche accepted with the proviso that the audience be integrated. 

Bobby, according to a Forum committee member, "blew his stack" at the Southern students who rebelled against signing a resolution favoring the integration they approved in principle...."He had a lack of understanding of the problems these people faced; to him it seemed illogical to support something but be unable to sign for it." Bobby carried his fight to the president of the university after rejecting a compromise solution, and Bunch spoke to an integrated audience. It had been Bobby's first fight on a matter of principle and he had won. (p. 53)

When Kennedy was killed and his body was sent by train back to the Capitol, the tracks were lined with those who saw a dream ended. A dream represented in part by a speech Kennedy made after another dreamer, Martin Luther King, Jr., was killed:

What we need in the United States...is love and wisdom and compassion toward one another, and a feeling of justice toward those who still suffer within our own country, whether they be white or they be black.

It was true then and it remains true now.

I will admit to being a bit dazzled by the glow of the dream that never was. Who can say what changes might have come from a Bob Kennedy presidency? (Yes, Bob. He never liked "Bobby.") I first became interested in Robert F Kennedy in high school history class when we covered this period of American History. When we were assigned an in-depth research paper I was drawn to the figure of RFK. At that time, I read from many biographies and other histories of the time...both those pro-Kennedy and those against. I soon became one of many who believe that Bob Kennedy could have made a difference. This book reminded me of that research and reminded me of what might have been. ★★★★



Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Flying to Nowhere: Mini-Review

The New York Times Book Review called John Fuller's Flying to Nowhere "As rich and exciting as The Name of the Rose, but deeper and more disturbing." I call it one weird little book. The blurb on the back makes it sound like a mystery. Set at an isolated monastery on an island off the coast of Wales, it follows Vane, an emissary from the bishop, who has been sent to investigate the disappearance of over twenty pilgrims who never returned from a visit to the island's miraculous well. The Abbot seems remarkably unconcerned that pilgrims have vanished. And, in fact, seems rather vague about whether any pilgrims ever arrived at all. He doesn't really bother himself with that, you know. He's too busy dissecting any cadavers that happen to come his way in an all-out search for the body's seat of the human soul. Has the Abbot been knocking off pilgrims in his quest for knowledge?

You got me.

Can't say we really get an answer to that. Or to much of anything. Let's just say that William of Baskerville (from Name of the Rose) the emissary Vane ain't. His method of investigation is hard to follow and his interviews with various members of the monastery are thoroughly unsatisfactory. Everyone from the Abbot to the novices either refuse to answer or give answers that make very little sense and he doesn't really follow up on that. As detective fiction of any sort, the book is a dismal failure and not even close to being in Eco's league. Fuller seems much more interested in the mystery of the human soul and investigating the boundaries between body and soul and between life and death than telling us what really happened to those pilgrims. Oh, we do get an answer of sorts--but not one that tells us who or what was responsible. The book is much more mystical than mysterious. But the questions it poses aren't asked in a satisfactory or compelling manner. There are no interesting or sympathetic characters to root for--the most sympathetic character is Vane's horse--and he doesn't last past the first few pages. That's not a spoiler...trust me.

Over all, a disappointing book and definitely not what I expected when I read the words "a vastly entertaining murder mystery" on the back.  --maybe.


Monday, April 13, 2015

Murder in the Wind: Mini-Review

In Murder in the Wind (aka Hurricane) by John D. MacDonald (1956) we have a suspenseful tale of natural disaster and man-made murder. Hurricane Hilda, a storm of terrifying intensity is headed straight for Highway 19 in Florida. In its path, a half dozen cars carrying a disparate group of people--headed out of Florida on business of their own and trying to outrun the storm. When they are forced to detour off the main road and the storm blocks their path, they must seek shelter in a rickety, abandoned house. The ragtag bunch includes an undercover agent who has just taken revenge for a personal tragedy, a small-time criminal in over his head with sidekick and girlfriend in tow, a beautiful young widow trying to start over, a young family returning north after a failed attempt to make a living in Florida, a gold-digging ex-tennis player and his wealthy young wife, and a businessman whose life's work is crumbling before his eyes because of the inadequacy of his subordinate (also along for the ride). Their refuge from the awesome power of nature becomes a sort of grand and grisly hotel - especially once the invisible hand of flying death descends.

Less a mystery than a survival story, most of the suspense comes from the looming storm rather than from any doubt about who was murdered and why or by whom. When it happens, we know the full story. The only question in regards to the killer is whether s/he will make it out of the storm alive and escape justice. More than half the story is focused on each of the six cars headed towards zero hour in the abandoned house. Told from various points of view, we get to know who each of the characters is, their back story, and what events have set them on Highway 19 headed north out of Florida and into one of the most violent hurricanes to hit Florida (at least until the 1950s). There are tensions of all sorts--from the normal tensions of people facing a natural disaster to tensions between the couples to the tensions between small-time crooks and the law (the federal agent). The storm will prove who are heroes and heroines and who are cowards and who will take advantage of the storm to do a little murder.

Overall, a well-told tale by a master stylist with well-rounded characters. My only disappointment was going in expecting a mystery and not finding much mystification.  ★★ and a half

This fulfills the "Multiple Title" square on the Golden Vintage Bingo card.


Sunday, April 12, 2015

Challenge Complete: The Mystery Reporter Challenge




MYSTERY READER'S CHALLENGE 2015 
Sponsored by Dead Herring 

REPORTER CHALLENGE:  
Who? What? Where? When? How? 
Why? – because it’s fun to read! 

Levels 
Cub reporter: 5 books (1 from each category)
Columnist:   10 books (2 from each category)
News Anchor: 15 books (3 from each category)
Editor: 20 books (4 from each category)
Newspaper Mogul: 25 books 


  *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   * 
Sign up for this challenge on GoodReads
 (In The Challenge Factory under yearly challenges) 
*  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *

I joined the challenge at the Cub Reporter level. I may work my way up...but commitment will be complete once I do one category under each. For full details check out the challenge at Dead Herring or on Good Reads. [My sign-up at GoodReads]. I finished the "What" category in April (actual finish date 4/5/15) and my commitment is now complete.
WHO: Protagonist is a crook: Ride the Pink Horse by Dorothy B. Hughes (1/3/15)
WHAT: Poison in the title: Poison Jasmine by Clyde B. Clason (4/5/15)
WHERE:Set in England: The Case of the Painted Girl by Frank King (1/6/15)
WHEN: Dark & Stormy Night: Panic by Helen Mccloy (2/22/15)
HOW: Gun/shooting: A Dead Man in Istanbul by Michael Pearce (1/14/15)



The Mote in God's Eye: Review

The Mote in God's Eye by Larry Niven & Jerry Pournelle has been on my personal Mount TBR for almost twenty years. Back in the days when I was all about SF, my BFF sent me the sequel (The Gripping Hand) for my birthday and I hurried out and supplied myself with the first book. And then never got around to reading them. Till now. I've mentioned this a few times here on the Block....I really believe that for some books there is a window of opportunity for optimum reading moment. I must have passed it for Mote. Robert Heinlein called Mote "possibly the finest science fiction [he had] ever read." At the moment, I just can't see it.

Niven & Pournelle started with a tremendous idea: Mankind's first contact with an alien species. They then promptly take that idea and bloat it into a long, drawn-out story (nearly 500 pages!) of build-up to a "secret" that the aliens are hiding from the humans....that anyone who has paid any attention at all to the construction of Motie society should have been able to figure out shortly after second contact. Let me explain that...

So...Captain Roderick Blaine of the spaceship MacArthur (of the Empire of Man's Imperial Navy) has just rescued a Senator's daughter cum anthropologist and picked up a greedy trader from the recently retaken planet New Chicago. Sally Fowler is an honored guest; the trader is a "guest" retained at the Emperor's pleasure. On their way back to civilization, they run into an alien probe ship from the Coalsack Nebula. The view of the area from nearby Imperial colonies makes the nebula look like a hooded man with red giant star for an eye and and a yellow dwarf star embedded in it (like a "mote" in the eye of God). The encounter ends with an adult Motie and two "miniatures" taken aboard the MacArthur and the alien probe ship apparently sent by the Motie on auto-pilot for a return trip home.

The humans face a dilemma--will the Moties interpret the incident as an attack? Will mankind be able to send a diplomatic group out the Mote to make peaceful contact with the aliens? The rest of the book revolves around that mission. When the MacArthur (and accompanying warship Lenin) finally do make real contact (the second contact mentioned above), they discover that Motie society is divided into very strict castes: Mediators, Masters, Engineers, etc. Each caste has been adapted to its particularly task--Engineers don't have wasted brain space for speech. They spend their lives taking equipment apart and putting it back together (in better form) OR changing it entirely into something new. Mediators are supremely adapted for speaking and resolving conflicts among castes and helping all castes to work together for the race's good. And so on.

As mentioned, the authors had a great idea. They came up with a pretty interesting alien race. But the human characters that they sent on the mission weren't that interesting at all. Very flat, very stereotypical: the macho, hero-type Captain; the damsel-in-distress, rescued by said hero--supposedly an intelligent anthropologist and yet falls for the hero with very little cause [he barely speaks to her throughout the whole book]; the Scottish engineer [yes, really]; the blind-to-all-danger chief scientist; and so on. Niven & Pournelle then took these stock characters and sent them through a very bloated build-up to the real action--meeting the Motie society in the second encounter. Honestly--it took for-freaking-ever to get to that point. Slow-moving story plus stock characters plus enough scientific jargon to make the average reader's eyes cross. And I say this as a SF-lover and as someone who has read Robert Forward's very hard science fiction (Dragon's Egg and Starquake) and loved them. I had to gloss over huge chunks in order to move on.  The final problem was the aliens' "secret." As noted, it wasn't. Surely to goodness one of those bright humans should have picked up on it before the final scenes. Making that "secret" the entire crux of the matter made for a pretty flat finale. 

Kudos to Niven and Pournelle for building an interesting alien race. I wish the story would have taken us to them more quickly and given us more time to learn about them. Less time on the MacArthur would have managed that quite nicely. I agree that the work is ground-breaking in its take on first contact and give Niven and Pournelle all three stars for that. Better human characters and plot pacing would have garnered more. ★★

[And...apologies to Paula, I don't think I'll be going on to The Gripping Hand.]