Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Gale Warning: Review

Gale Warning, originally published as Maddon's Rock in Britain, by Hammond Innes is a little outside my usual mystery fare. Primarily a high action thriller set on the high seas, this book--like much of Innes's work--would normally appeal to those who like their books full of adventure and masculine adventures. The story is told by Corporal Jim Vardy. Vardy and his mates, Gunner Bert Cook and Private Sills, are waiting repatriation to England at the end of World War II. Orders come for them to join Warrant Officer Rankin (as commanding officer) on special detail aboard the S. S. Trikkala, a freighter that will take them and a load of mysterious cargo back to England in a convoy of other boats.

The men are ordered to guard cases marked "Hurricane Engines for Replacement" round-the-clock during the journey. Also aboard the vessel is Captain Halsey, a Shakespeare-spouting captain rumored to be mixed up in piracy, several of his loyal crew (having followed him from a previous ship), and a young woman released from a prison camp, Jennifer Sorrell. Vardy, an army man who would have been better suited to the navy, overhears several conversations and observes some odd behavior that make him suspicious of Halsey and Rankin's true purpose.

When the Trikkala encounters a severe ocean storm (thus the title Gale Warning), Vardy and his mates are ordered into their designated life-boat. A boat that they had previously discovered to not be sea-worthy. Vardy refuses to board the boat--requesting to take one of the "less dependable" rafts instead. Halsey and Rankin deny his request and he defies orders, taking Bert Cook and Jenniferr Sorrell with him. They believe that the Trikkala has gone down and when they are picked up by one of the other ships, it seems that they are the only survivors from the doomed ship. But nearly a month later, Halsey, Rankin, the three crewmen loyal to Halsey are also found floating in the arctic waters.

Charges of mutiny are brought against Vary and Cook and despite their story of the unsafe boat, they are found guilty and sent to Dartmoor for three years. Word reaches them that the five other survivors are planning a trip to salvage the cargo of the Trikkala--which has been revealed to be a fortune in silver bouillon. Our heroes decide to escape from prison and try to beat Halsey and company to the ship with hopes of bringing back proof of their innocence. The real mystery of Gale Warning is whether Vardy will be successful and the revelation of the real story behind the sinking of the freighter.

There are no spoilers in my synopsis. My copy of the book has a brief blurb that pretty much covers everything I've told you--and the few bits I've been able to find on the interwebs tells just about as much. The kernel of mystery, as noted, surrounds Vardy's trip back to the Norwegian sea to find the silver. Bert Cook joins him--as does Jenny. Jenny is a sailor as well and it is her boat that is used to make the journey. The adventure and suspense of the final chapters more than make up for the lack of mystery through the first half of the book. These stories may been primarily attractive to men during the war years and those immediately following, but I find Innes's prose compelling and interesting.  He's a good story-teller in an action-packed genre. Three and 1/2 stars.

This fulfills the "More Than One Title" square on the Golden Vintage Bingo card.

Challenges Fulfilled: Vintage Mystery Challenge, Mount TBR Challenge, Bookish TBR, Around the World, Century of Books, Outdo Yourself, How Many Books, My Kind of Mystery, 100 Plus Challenge, What's in a Name, European Reading Challenge, Book Monopoly

Monday, April 14, 2014

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? is a bookish meme hosted by Book Journey. Every week we check in with what we read, what we're reading now, and what's next on the reading docket.  Here we go....

Books Read Last Week (click on titles for review): 
A Hangman's Dozen by Alfred Hitchcock, ed  (Robert Arthur
Naked Is the Best Disguise by Samuel Rosenberg
The Mammoth Book of the Lost Chronicles of Sherlock Holmes by Denis O. Smith

Currently Reading: 
Gale Warning by Hammond Innes: The 5,000-ton freighter, Trikkala, outward bound in convoy from Murmansk, struck a mine in the early hours of March 5th, 1945, 300 miles from the nearest land. There were only eight survivors and she was listed as sunk. Yet over a year later the Trikkala radioed an S.O.S. as she was battering her way towards the Hebrides through the gale-swept waters of the Arctic Ocean. Why was this ghost ship still afloat? What had happened during the missing months? What is the sinister significance of only eight survivors from a ship that never sank?
Books that spark my interest:
Letters from a Murderer by John Matthews 
Plain Sailing by Douglas Clark
By the Watchman's Clock by Leslie Ford  
The Monuments Men by Robert M. Edsel w/Bret Witter
Death by the Book by Julianna Deering

The Lost Chronicles of Sherlock Holmes

The Mammoth Book of the Lost Chronicles of Sherlock Holmes by Denis O. Smith (2014) is an outstanding collection of non-canonical stories featuring the great detective. Smith manages to duplicate Watson's narrative voice with great skill--slipping only occasionally. The stories are very reminiscent of the original short stories without appearing to be mere copies of Doyle's work. I thoroughly enjoyed the stories and finding myself once again on the fog-shrouded streets of Holmes's London. I have two minor quibbles. First, there are two longer stories--almost novella-length--included (making this a mammoth-sized book, indeed!) and Smith seems to lose his narrative voice most in these. He maintains Doyle's style much better in the shorter works. Second, I'm not certain what dictated the order of the stories--whether they were published as short stories elsewhere first and then gathered in publication/writing order or if some other criteria was used--but I would have enjoyed them a bit more if the stories had appeared chronologically per the Holmes/Watson relationship. We skip from them have roomed together for some time to Watson being married and longer sharing rooms to a story from the earliest days of their shared rooms and then back forth between the first two options mentioned. Again, minor quibble that didn't prevent me from enjoying myself, it just caused a bit of a disruption in the flow of the work as a whole. Four and 1/4 stars. [finished late last night: 4/13/14]

 Here is a run-down of the stories included:
 "The Adventure of the Crimson Arrow": A man is killed with a certain archer's arrow. Holmes shows how it is possible that the archer in question is innocent.

"The Adventure of Kendal Terrace": Mr. Claydon comes home unexpectedly to find his entire household (wife & servants) missing and strangers in possession of the house as if they had always lived there. Holmes gets to the bottom of it all.

"A Hair's Breadth": Holmes uses a single hair to find the killer of a harmless old lady.

"The Adventure of the Smiling Face": A professor of Classical Archaeology is plagued with ominous notes and a tile with the face of a smiling woman. When the professor is found dead with only one set of footprints leading to the spot where he was found, the authorities are quick to call it accident. But Holmes knows better.

"The Adventure of the Fourth Glove": The Latchmere diamond has been stolen and Holmes must find the culprit. The clue is the fourth glove. (That's no spoiler...and I challenge you to figure out what the glove means.)

"The Adventure of the Richmond Recluse": Mr. David Boldero's brother has gone missing--apparently at the hands of their uncle who scooped the family fortune when their grandfather died. But there is no proof.  Holmes discovers what happened to the brother...and who really should have inherited.......

"The Adventure of the English Scholar": Mr. Rhodes Harte meets a learned English Scholar on the train.  When Dr. Kennett alights from the train, he leaves his satchel behind. Harte, a kindly good citizen, attempts to return the property...only to find himself in the middle of an international intrigue. He, of course, consults with Holmes who soon finds the truth of the matter.

"The Adventure of the Amethyst Ring": Holmes investigates the disappearance of Jack Prentice, a former dealer of stolen goods who has since gone straight.

The Adventure of the Willow Pool": Captain returns from India to find that his father and all of the townspeople have inexplicably taken against him. No one will tell him why (they all assume he knows what despicable thing he has done). Holmes finds the answer....and a murderer.

"The Adventure of Queen Hippolyta": Mr. Godfrey Townsend is abducted one morning on his way to the dentist and taken to a deserted house. His abductors leave for a short time (locking him in a room)...and fearing that he might be robbed of his expensive cigar case, he hides it under a floor board. The men return with a woman who is furious when she sees Townsend--they have grabbed the wrong man! He is knocked out and awakens in Hyde Park with no clue where the abandoned house might be. He comes to Holmes hoping he can help him find his case. Holmes does--and moreover discovers the secret behind the abduction.

"The Adventure of Dedstone Mill": Holmes takes on one of his youngest clients when Miss Harriet Borrow, age 14, engages him to help discover several things: who is trying to kill her younger brother, where their lovely aunt may be, and what happened to their friend, the tutor. It is a diabolical plot indeed.

"An Incident in Society": The military's secret codes have been copied and it's up to Holmes to stop the information from being passed to an infamous international spy.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Naked Is the Best Disguise: Review

Naked Is the Best Disguise: The Death and Resurrection of Sherlock Holmes by Samuel Rosenberg is a literary criticism revolving around Sherlock Holmes, but unlike most Holmesian critiques it focuses on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle more than on examining the works themselves for the sake of the work. Rosenberg speculates that Doyle left clues throughout his work that reveal hidden meanings and connections between the Holmes stories (and other of Doyle's work) and Nietsche, Oscar Wilde, Dionysus, Christ, Catullus, John Bunyan, Frankenstein, Robert Browning Racine, Flaubert, T. S. Eliot and others.

The title, which may seem odd at first, comes from William Congreve's The Double Dealer and preface the book.
No mask like open truth to cover lies,
As to go naked is the best disguise.
And Rosenberg claims that Doyle has used the open "truth" in his stories to disguise his real meaning and display his true self.

Samuel Rosenberg was a literary detective who also published surprising discoveries about the work of Mary Shelley, Melville and others. In this work Rosenberg posits that Doyle was a brilliant allegorist who left "purloined letter" references to both literary figures and people from real life. He would have us believe that the blueprint for Professor Moriarty was Friedrich Nietzsche and that Irene Adler stood in for George Sand.The author encounters the people who knew Doyle and who, he says, turned up in his stories; displays clue after clue about Sir Arthur himself; and claims the discovery of the real meaning behind the Sherlock Holmes mysteries. 

I must say that Naked Is the Best Disguise reads rather oddly from someone claiming to be a literary detective. Rosenberg's prose actually reminds me of Dorothy L. Sayer's Miss Climpson. His work is littered with exclamation points and italicized words and I can almost hear the breathless, urgent tone as he declares his earth-shattering revelations! Although, perhaps I am doing Miss Climpson a disservice--because Lord Peter Wimsey's right-hand woman is much clearer in her reports to Lord Peter than Rosenberg is in his ecstatic "discoveries" about Doyle. If his literary detective work is really that accurate (and I have severe doubts that it is), then he certainly shouldn't need to broadcast it at the top of his lungs and highlight it with little neon signs to say: "Look at this brilliant bit of deduction! Aren't I clever? Nobody else has figured this out yet. And if I use enough exclamation points and italicize all the important words, then you, poor reader, can't possibly miss my point."

So...the method of delivery is quite distracting--as is his frequent digressions to explain just where he was when each brilliant discovery about Doyle's work occurred to him. On a train. At a hotel. Wandering around the countryside. Because, by golly, where you are when you suddenly realize that "This reference is exciting!" (yes, he actually put that right there in the text) is just about the most important thing you can relate while trying to convince your audience that Moriarty is Nietzsche. Or wait---maybe that's Colonel Sebastian Moran.  Yeah--he's Nietzsche. NO....they're both Nietzsche! Did I mention that he seems a bit confused? 

I don't know if Rosenberg is actually as earnest as he seems to be about all this exclamatory nonsense or whether this is a bit of literary critique parody put on for his friendly group of Holmes aficionados. It doesn't much matter to me. All I know is it was tedious, convoluted, and pedantic when it wasn't being all breathless and urgent and I can't say that I recommend it at all. He has not convinced me with the comparisons he's made. It's sort of like statistics--you can make them mean anything you'd like them to mean. One star. Maybe.

Top Ten Tuesday: Most Unique Books

This week’s Top Ten Tuesday, brought to us by the Broke and the Bookish, asks us to list our Top Ten most unique books we've read.

This is an interesting question--because "unique" can mean such different things to each person.  Here's my list of unique books...

David Bainbridge
The X in Sex: How the X Chromosome Controls Our Lives  
Bainbridge manages to talk about fairly complex topics in language the layman can understand and infuses his writing with humor. 

Ambrose Bierce
The Devil's Dictionary

This "reference" book offers up reinterpretations of various terms in the English language. He devotes a lot of entries to lampoons of cant and political doublespeak, as well as other aspects of human foolishness and frailty. 

Lawrence Block
Random Walk 

Guthrie decides to take a walk. He doesn't know how far he's going or where he's going. A journey of any length begins with a single step and Guthrie takes it, facing east. Wonderful things happen as he walks. He begins to draw people to him. The group grows and walks and heals. The random walk: It never ends, it just changes; it is not the destination which matters, but the journey.

Sammy Davis, Jr. [text by Burt Boyar]

"Sammy never went anywhere without a camera.  There was no bridge, historical landmark, or person who was safe from capture by his camera lens." His enormous photo collection includes everyone from presidents to movie stars to the man on the street.  He has Sinatra in his pajamas and Martin Luther King Jr. at the Lincoln Memorial.  He recorded a warm day in uptown New York City with folks sitting on their porch steps and the beautiful view from his San Francisco suite. 

Jason T Eberl & Kevin S Decker, eds
Star Trek & Philosophy: The Wrath of Kant  

These essays use episodes and moments from Star Trek's various incarnations and feature films to explore philosophical issues ranging from the nature of communication between very disparate species to logical development of Vulcans to the ethical dilemmas found in Deep Space Nine.  The essays use one of the icons of fictional space exploration to explore the philosophies of the human race.

Harlan Ellison

Harlan Ellison is not for everyone. He's not for the squeamish. Or the prudish. You want your fiction all neat and tidy and full of rainbows and sunshine and happily-ever-afters. Ellison is not your man....Ellison, as he puts it, walks through our lives and runs them through his spectacular imagination and hands them back full of all the horrors and nightmares and mortal dreads we don't want to face. No, I'm not talking about zombies or things that go bump in the night.  

Gareth P. Jones
The Thornthwaite Inheritance
 Ovid and Lorelli Thornthwaite have been trying to do each other in for so long that they have forgotten who made the first try. Was it the working guillotine? Or was it the exploding iced lolly? It really doesn't matter...where other children have simple sibling rivalry, Ovid and Lorelli have machineries of death.

David L. Ulin
The Lost Art of Reading: Why Books Matter in a Distracted Time  He argues that because of the overwhelming amount of information that streams through our consciousness thanks to the internet we do not have the time or the attention to devote to truly immersing ourselves in the story--the narrative. Whether that be a story we are reading, being told, or even living. The constant race to keep up with the latest email, FaceBook post, or Tweet prevents us from savoring the moment...

Charles Yu
How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe Minor Universe 31 is a vast story-space on the outskirts of fiction, where paradox fluctuates like the stock market.....and every day people get into recreational time machines and try to the one thing they should never do: change the past. That's where Charles Yu, time travel technician--part counselor, part gadget repari man--steps in. He helps save people from themselves.

And one that I read pre-blogging and therefore don't have a review for:
Graham Rawle
Woman's World
(from GoodReads) Painstakingly assembled from 40,000 fragments of text snipped from women’s magazines, this strange and wonderful tale moves at the breakneck pace of a pulp thriller. A stunning visual tour de force, Woman’s World is also a powerful reflection on society’s definition of what it means to be a woman.

Teaser Tuesdays

MizB of Should Be Reading hosts Teaser Tuesdays. Anyone can play along. Just do the following:

*Grab your current read.*Open to a random page.
*Share two "teaser" sentences from somewhere on that page.
*BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! You don't want to ruin the book for others.
*Share the title and author too, so other TT participants can add it to their TBR lists if they like your teaser.

Here's mine from Naked Is the Best Disguise: The Death and Resurrection of Sherlock Holmes by Samuel Rosenberg: 

The syndrome set in motion by the ring and the book accelerates when Inspector Lestrade, who never gets anything right, finds a false clue to the murder. Pointing to a corner of the syndromic dark apartment, he shouts triumphantly: "Look at that!"

{This is turning into a rather dry, pedantic look at Sherlock Holmes and his creator, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.}

Monday, April 7, 2014

A Hangman's Dozen: Review

Alfred Hitchcock's A Hangman's Dozen is a collection of short stories by mystery and suspense story stars such as Evan Hunter, Ray Bradbury, Donald Westlake, and Jonathan Craig among others. You could call this Hitchcock's How-to Guide for committing the perfect crime--although "perfect" may be in the eyes of the beholder. In this criminal do-it-yourself guide we get the following tips:

"Bomb #14" by Jack Ritchie: How to get the girl and be sure you keep her
"The Forgiving Ghost" by C. B. Gilford: How to get rid of a bothersome wife
"The Children of Noah" by Richard Matheson: How to have the perfect barbeque with an out-of-town guest
"An Attractive Family" by Robert Arthur" How to keep murder in the family.
"Let the Sucker Beware" by Charles Einstein: How to perfect your con game
"Fair Game" by John Cortez: How to turn the tables on someone who plans on framing you for murder
"The Curious Facts Preceding My Execution" by Richard Stark: How even the most perfect plans can go awry
"Your Witness" by Helen Neilsen: How to get your lawyer husband to arrange for a corroborating witness to your innocence when he dies
"Blackout" by Richard Deming: How to dress for success when confessing to murder
"The October Game" by Ray Bradbury: How to really make your spouse suffer
"Stop Calling me Mister" by Jonathan Craig: How to get rid of a cheating wife and her lover--all in one go
"The Last Escape" by Jay Street: How to avenge your own murder--from the grave
"Not a Laughing Matter" by Evan Hunter: How to take care of those who make fun of you
"Most Agreeably Poisoned" by Fletcher Flora: How to prove to your wife that you're the better man--even if you have to die to do so
"The Best-Friend Murder" by Donald Fletcher: How to really make friends and influence people

Each story has a little preface from the master showman himself. And the book provides a good solid collection of entertaining stories. Three stars for a quick crash course on murder.

This book, published in 1962, fulfills the "Number in the Title" square on the Silver Vintage Bingo card.

It's Monday! What Are you Reading?

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? is a bookish meme hosted by Book Journey. And I really enjoyed taking part in it. And then life happened and somehow I lost blogging hours somewhere and managed to get off track with all my memes. Every week I kept thinking...Next week I'll start off on Monday with my memes and get going again.  Well, here I am....finally!

Books Read Last Week (click on titles for review): 
The Clue of the Leather Noose by Donald Bayne Hobart
The Coral Princess Murders by Frances Crane 
Decoded by Mai Jia 
After I'm Gone by Laura Lippman

Currently Reading: 
A Hangman's Dozen by Alfred Hitchcock (ed): A collection of short stories by mystery and suspense story stars such as Evan Hunter, Ray Bradbury, Donald Westlake, and Jonathan Craig. You could call this Hitchcock's How-to Book. It includes instructions on the following:
*How to solve your marital problems (poison)
*How to dress properly when admitting to first degree murder (black tie)
*How to take off a few pounds fast (a knife)
*How to ruin a perfect friendship (a homemade bomb)

And many, many other helpful hints from the specialists.
Books that spark my interest:
Letters from a Murderer by John Matthews 
The Mammoth Book of the Lost Chronicles of Sherlock Holmes by Denis O. Smith
Plain Sailing by Douglas Clark
By the Watchman's Clock by Leslie Ford  

Sunday, April 6, 2014

After I'm Gone: Review

You can rewrite life all you want, Sandy thought. It's still a play where everyone dies in the end. (p. 193)

When Bambi Gottschalk met Felix Brewer in 1959, she knew he wasn't perfect--except perfect for her. It was love at first sight for both of them when he crashed that party at the Lord Baltimore Hotel, danced one dance with her, and told her he'd be the only one she'd ever know. And he was right. But...as mentioned...not perfect. He made plenty of money to keep her in finery and was always looking to get ahead, but he cut corners and made his money in ways he didn't like to discuss. And even though she was the only woman he'd ever love, she wasn't the only woman he'd ever have. 

She learned to accept the indiscretions...until Julie came along. Julie lasted longer than the others. Then Felix got brought before the Grand Jury for some of his income's irregularities and did a runner before he could be put away. When Bambi discovered that Felix had apparently forgotten to make provisions for her and his three daughters and then Julie disappeared ten years to the day from when Felix disappeared, Bambi believed--as did the general public--that Julie had taken the money and run off to join her lover. At least she believed it until Julie's remains were discovered in a secluded park. But no money was found and no trace of Julie's murderer or Felix.

Twenty-six years later, Roberto "Sandy" Sanchez, a retired cop who now works on cold cases as a consultant, gets interested in the old murder and begins digging into the past. He has a perfect record because he hand-picks his cases and he knows that "the name [of the killer] is always in the file." You just have to look at everything from the right angle. But no matter how he looks at it, he always comes back to the man who disappeared and the five women he left behind.

This is a lovely novel. I picked it up because it's a mystery and I've enjoyed previous books by Laura Lippman. I stayed with it because of the characters. Lippman takes us back and forth between the events in the past and the happenings of the present and does it very effectively. That sort of thing doesn't always work well for me, but Lippman handles it just right. I also enjoyed the various viewpoints in the story--from Sandy to Bambi to Felix to Julie to the three daughters. Each viewpoint gave us the different angles that Sandy insists you have to examine in order to find the truth. 

The book is also more than a mystery--sure, we're wondering what really happened to Felix and who murdered Julie--but the story is also about relationships and loss and trust...and what happens when that trust is misplaced. It's about the long-range effects of our actions and how little control we have over the ripples caused by our decisions--and how the best-laid plans can go awry. 

The one distraction for me was all the background information on Sandy. There was an awful lot of information about him and his wife and their son.  And information about the woman who raised him. We learn about his inadequacies and way more details about his private life than we really need to make the story progress. It's good to get to know the detective and to understand what motivates him, but a lot of what we learn doesn't really help with that. This distraction brings the read down to four stars.

Mount TBR March Checkpoint Winner!

Thanks so much to everyone who checked in--kudos on your progress so far and good luck with the second quarter.  Now it's time for me to warm up the CRNG and see what it makes of our entries....Feeding the numbers in....Lights are flashing....wheels are turning...and gears are whirring.  And...........our winner is Link # 5: Cath@read_warbler!! Congratulations Cath! I'll be contacting you soon so you can claim your prize.

Happy Reading!

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Sinners & the Sea eBook Sale

I will be taking part in a virtual tour for Rebecca Kanner's Sinners and the Sea: The Untold Story of Noah's Wife with HF Virtual Book Tours on May 21. Currently it is on eBook sale now through April 7th for only $1.99 at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iTunes and Google Play. The synopsis and links for eBook purchases are below.




Publication Date: April 2, 2013
Howard Books
Formats: Hardcover, Paperback, eBook, Audio CD
The young heroine in Sinners and the Sea is destined for greatness. Known only as “wife” in the Bible and cursed with a birthmark that many think is the brand of a demon, this unnamed woman lives anew through Rebecca Kanner. The author gives this virtuous woman the perfect voice to make one of the Old Testament’s stories come alive like never before.
Desperate to keep her safe, the woman’s father gives her to the righteous Noah, who weds her and takes her to the town of Sorum, a haven for outcasts. Alone in her new life, Noah’s wife gives him three sons. But living in this wicked and perverse town with an aloof husband who speaks more to God than to her takes its toll. She tries to make friends with the violent and dissolute people of Sorum while raising a brood that, despite its pious upbringing, develops some sinful tendencies of its own. While Noah carries out the Lord’s commands, she tries to hide her mark and her shame as she weathers the scorn and taunts of the townspeople.

But these trials are nothing compared to what awaits her after God tells her husband that a flood is coming—and that Noah and his family must build an ark so that they alone can repopulate the world. As the floodwaters draw near, she grows in courage and honor, and when the water finally recedes, she emerges whole, displaying once and for all the indomitable strength of women. Drawing on the biblical narrative and Jewish mythology, Sinners and the Sea is a beauti­fully written account of the antediluvian world told in cinematic detail.

Decoded: Mini-Review

Synopsis (from book flap): Rong Jinzhen, an autistic math genius with a past shrouded in myth, is forced to abandon his academic pursuits when he is recruited into Unit 701. As China's greatest cryptographer, Rong discovers that the mastermind behind the maddeningly difficult Purple Code is his former teacher and best friend, who is now working for China's enemy — but this is only the first of many betrayals.

Brilliantly combining the mystery and tension of a spy thriller with the psychological nuance of an intimate character study and the magical qualities of a Chinese fable, Decoded discovers in cryptography the key to the human heart. Both a riveting mystery and a metaphysical examination of the mind of an inspired genius, it is the first novel to be published in English by one of China's greatest and most popular contemporary writers.

It seems plain to me that I just don't get mysteries as written by Chinese authors. Previously, I had read A Pair of Jade Frogs by Ye Xin and I struggled with it as well. The problem for me is pacing and expectations--I realize this is absolutely my problem and no reflection on the authors at all (thus, I have not given a star rating to this novel--it wouldn't be fair). Decoded takes forever to get to the main kernel of the story--namely the problem highlighted in the first paragraph of the synopsis above.  The synopsis that grabbed my attention and caused me to pick this up at the library.

The entire first half of the novel (perhaps even a bit more) is taken up in a minutely-detailed exposition of Jinzhen's ancestry--his family and all the details surrounding them and his birth and who he his and where he came from and where they lived and how they made riches from salt and how they lost their wealth and.... And--by the time we actually got around to the meat of the story I found I had no interest at all. Is there a need for an explanation of Jinzhen's background? Absolutely. Is there a need to go into such mind-numbing detail? In my opinion, absolutely not--because by the time I had made my way through the first half Mia Jia had lost this reader. And the intrigue of the thriller never brought me back.  

Readers who are more capable at discarding preconceived notions about the pacing of a mystery/thriller may thoroughly enjoy this novel--and judging by the rating on Goodreads that is absolutely possible. I am sorry it wasn't possible for me.

The Coral Princess Murders: Review

In The Coral Princess Murders, Frances Crane's husband and wife team, Pat & Jean Abbott are off to exotic Tangier where odd characters, strange events, drugs, smuggling and murder will play havoc with their vacation plans. Tangier plays host to Americans (Pat & Jean as well as a Mary Kay-like mistress of cosmetics and an American reporter), a White Russian prince (married to the cosmetics queen), a Belgian detective (no, not that one), a jet-setting underworld character or two, and, of course, the Tangier police. 

The Abbotts are invited into the intrigue when Linda Varna (aka the Coral Princess), purveyor of beauty products, consults Pat about her missing lover, Nick Gannaway. But Nick soon reappears and it becomes clear that there is more to the drama than the Abbotts may think. An decidedly slimy little man by the name of Hugo Poole alternately tries to worm information out of them and drag them into what looks like a drug-smuggling operation before someone decides that he is meddling where he doesn't belong. Poole disappears...well, all him but his hand which is found on the beach near shark-infested waters. 

It is assumed that someone threw him to the sharks and left the hand as a warning. And, most inconveniently, the Abbotts are the last people known to be with him before he vanished. The Belgian detective who represents the Tangier police takes great interest in Pat and Jean and their relationship to our prime characters--so great that they feel they must get to the bottom of the mystery to prove their innocence. It is also their task to keep as many of these others unharmed as possible until they can discover who is involved in the dope trade and how. It all wraps up nicely in a ramshackle little house in the Kasbah and a heroic save by Pat.

This one was not quite as fun and enticing as the previous Pat and Jean Abbot book I read (The Yellow Violet, last February). Perhaps it was the drug-trafficking. Perhaps it was the fact that I didn't have much sympathy for any of the characters--save one whose brother winds up killed. Perhaps it was the slightly disjointed feel to everyone's conversation. It read as if all the characters were speaking to each other in a secret short-hand language that was never properly explained to the reader. I still enjoyed the characters of Pat and Jean, but I found them much more engaging on their home turf in the States. Three stars--a nice solid read, but not spectacular.

Challenges fulfilled: Vintage Mystery Challenge, Mount TBR Challenge, Bookish TBR, Around the World, Monthly Key Word, Color Coded Challenge, Century of Books, Outdo Yourself, How Many Books, My Kind of Mystery, 100 Plus Challenge, What's in a Name, Women Challenge, Cruisin' Thru the Cozies

This fulfills the "Set Anywhere but the U.S./England" square on the Golden Vintage Bingo card.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

March Wrap-Up & P.O.M. Award

Once again in 2014 I will be combining my monthly wrap-up post with Kerrie's Crime Fiction Pick of the Month over at Mysteries in Paradise.  I'm pretty pleased with my year so far...Goodreads says I'm five books ahead of schedule.  Let's keep it that way.  Here are the stats:

Total Books Read: 16
Total Pages: 4370

Average Rating: 3 stars
Top Rating: 5 stars 
Percentage by Female Authors: 44%

Percentage by US Authors: 69%

Percentage by non-US/non-British Authors: 1%
Percentage Mystery: 63%
Percentage Fiction: 88%
Percentage written 2000+: 50%
Percentage of Rereads: 1%
Percentage Read for Challenges: 100% {It's eas
y to have every book count for a challenge when you sign up for as many as I do.}  
Number of Challenges fulfilled so far: 7 (18%)

AND, as mentioned above,
Kerrie has started us up for another of Crime Fiction Favorites. What she's looking for is our Top Mystery Read for each month. In March, I read ten books that may count as mysteries and only handed out one five-star rating.  That makes awarding the P.O.M. very easy....

The Darker the Night by Herbert Brean (3.5 stars)

Murder in the Vatican by Ann Margaret Lewis (4 stars)
The Poisoned Island by Lloyd Shepherd (4 stars)
Vicious Circle by Douglas Clark (3.75 stars)
Endless Night by Agatha Christie (2 stars)
India Black & the Gentleman Thief by Carol K. Carr (5 stars)
A Tale of Two Biddies by Kylie Logan (3 stars
The League of Frightened Men by Rex Stout ( 4 stars)
Tut, Tut! Mr. Tutt by Arthur Train (3.5 stars)
The Clue of the Leather Noose by Donald Bayne Hobart (2.75 stars)

As you can see...this month's P.O.M. award goes to my favorite Madam of Mystery India Black and the Gentleman Thief 

This is a whirlwind of a book. The story moves at full throttle and keeps the reader on the edge of her seat waiting to see what will happen next--whether it's the next step in the mystery plot or where the relationship between India and French is headed or what India plans to do about the hereditary information she gets from the Marchioness. There is a lot going on and Carol K. Carr handles it all superbly. The India Black series is wonderful and just keeps getting better. If you love a good adventure mystery set in Victorian times with a bit of romance for flavor and haven't started reading these yet, then what's keeping you 

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

The Clue of the Leather Noose: Review

It was not only the actions of the two women which worried him. Mystery stalked grimly amid the shadows of the old house. (p. 62)

Watson Gregg is found murdered on a public boardwalk during a quite busy hour of the day. In fact, no less than four people approached him in his rolling chair near the time of his death. His death is an odd one--strangulation with a yellow, leather "necklace." And he is a man that will be mourned by few--a cruel man who has wooed and discarded women as it suited him and who had no problem using men such as his doctor with no regard for them as human beings. But which of his associates hated him enough to kill? Was it the young woman who sprang from his chair distressed and crying? Or one of the other women who paused to talk with him on the boardwalk? Or maybe it was the tall man who seemed to share a joke with this humorless man? Or perhaps there was someone who wasn't noticed at all? Captain Jerry Blake has his hands full tracking down motives and suspects and the young lovers in the case, Larry and Lannon, aren't sure whom they can trust.

This one has a very pulpy, very B-movie feel to it--that doesn't prevent it from being a lot of fun.  You have the evil man done to death--with plenty of people with motive to wish him dead--from Larry and his jealousy to Gregg's current women (who may realize that Gregg is starting to tire of her) to his discarded wife to his overworked, underpaid doctor to his tormented servant to the hardened criminal-type with shady connections. You've got a blackmailer and an inscrutable Japanese servant and a slightly wacky "coloured" maid who seems to have a thing for spirits and "debbels" (although her devils are of a more human nature). 

You've also got the menacing tall man who threatens Lannon--who in standard B-movie fashion can do nothing practical about her predicament but screech loudly, freeze firmly in place so the villain can grab her, and wait for her handsome hero to come to her rescue.

Lannon looked about her wildly. There was something about this man that was utterly terrifying. She did not know what to do. (pp. 137-8) 

Which, of course he does--and once he realizes that Lannon really does love him and is rooting for him to knock the baddie's block off, he really sets about it properly. This pleases Lannon to no end...

After all, one can get a mighty big kick out of having two men fighting over you! Particularly when one is only twenty. (p. 147) 

So...you've also got a lot of action and fist-fights and sneaking around in the dark and under the boardwalk and through spooky, old house. And to wrap it all up, you've got Captain Blake rounding up all the suspects and witnesses and pointing the finger of suspicion at each one before finally Revealing All. Is it original? No.  Does it play fair? Not particularly--the good captain has a few clues stuffed up his sleeve which we never got a peek at. But it is good clean fun and a pleasant hour or two of reading. 2.75 stars.

This fulfills the "Murder Method in the Title" square on the Golden Vintage Bingo Card and was actually finished on March 31, 2014.