Wednesday, October 31, 2012

October Wrap-Up & Pick of the Month

Onward in my monthly statisic-gathering and a combo post with Kerrie's Crime Fiction Pick of the Month over at Mysteries in Paradise.


OCTOBER



A tiny increase in the book numbers this month (a whole two more than last month, woo hoo)--and that includes reading Stephen King's doorstop book, 11/22/63 (weighing in at 849 pages).  Steadily working on knocking out those final books for all the challenges.  Only about 18 more to go.  The end is sight!

Total Books Read: 13
Total Pages:  3,612

Percentage by Female Authors:  38%
Percentage by US Authors:  69%

Percentage by non-US/non-British Authors:  8%
Percentage Mystery: 85%
Percentage Fiction: 92%
Percentage written 2000+: 23%
Percentage of Rereads: 0%
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: 25 (71%)



AND, as mentioned above, Kerrie is sponsoring a meme for those of us who track our reading. What she's looking for is our Top Mystery Read for each month.  This month 11 of the 13 books I read count as mysteries and I handed out only one five-star rating to
Some Danger Involved by Will Thomas (click title for review).  This historical mystery set in the Victorian era hit all the right notes for me.  We've got an interesting new detective pair to give Holmes and Watson a run for their money.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

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 "The Man with the Wild Eyes" by George R. Sims (in The Penguin Book of Victorian Women in Crime by Michael Sims, ed.): 

"I don't know how you have divined that," he said, "but your surmise is correct. The doctor told me that he had questioned Maud himself, and she had told him the same story--sudden giddiness and a fall into the water. But he had observed that on her throat there were certain marks, and that her wrists were bruised."


Top Ten Tuesday: Ten Heroines Who Rock

 

Top Ten Tuesday is an original bookish meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. Each week a new top ten topic is posted for followers to write about. This week we are asked to list our ten favorite strong female characters.

1. Nancy Drew: the "girl detective" who has led me on to every mystery story I've ever read. Nancy was the MacGyver of her times. She was always able to find a way out of every scrape she got into. Whether it was using her tap-dancing lessons to tap out morse code to send messages or her handy flying skills, she always had what was needed right at hand. The first really strong female character I ever encountered in books.

2. Phryne Fisher: the grown-up Nancy Drew in Kerry Greenwood's mystery series.  She flies planes, drives a marvelous car, and takes down the bad guys with style and class. She is smart, independent, fights for the underdog, and is everything a strong character should be.

3. India Black: The Madame of Espionage by Carol K. Carr. Sassy and brave and keeping up with a secret agent.  What more could you want.


4. Mary Russell (of the Laurie R. King Holmes books fame): Anyone who can keep up with Holmes rocks by my standards.

5. Marion Halcombe in The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins.  She makes the book.  Stongest character in it and way more of her would have made me like the book a whole lot better.

6. Kate Fansler (Amanda Cross mystery series): witty, smart, loyal academic. She has a lot of qualities that I aspire to.

7. Baroness "Jack" Troutbeck (from a series by Ruth Dudley Edwards): "Jack" is the no-nonsense, irrepressible and irreverant sleuthing partner to civil servant, Robert Amiss. Between the two of them, they manage to skewer all sorts of establishment positions from the ivory towers of education to the House of Lords.

8.  Meg Murry (A Wrinkle in Time, etc.): a brave girl who travels through time to save her dad.

Didn't quite make it to Ten....and didn't want to steal from others whose lists I've already peeked at.  But I did steal Falaise's title over at 2606 Books and counting...thanks, Falaise!
 

Monday, October 29, 2012

She Woke to Darkness: Review

Here I go venturing into the hard boiled realm again with She Woke to Darkness by Brett Halliday.  Halliday actually writes a more mystery-oriented hard boiled story.  And this one is a real treat--one I wasn't expecting.  I picked this up simply because it was one of my beloved little pocket size editions. And the blurb on the back didn't really indicate that this was anything beyond the typical P.I. story:

Who is this girl?
Loves good times and parties. After third martini has habit of giving her key to the nearest man, walking out with another. Natural enemy of all wives.

Who is this man?
Takes fun where he finds it, and finds plenty. His little black book covers territory from Greenwich Village to Yorkville. His goal is usually fun. This time it was murder.

Mike Shayne in a tense, violent, deadly game tries to out-guess a sinister combo and plays hide-and-seek with murder.


 See?  No hint at all that what we have here is the author himself appearing front and center and all lined up as the prime suspect.  Halliday attends the 1953 Edgar Allen Poe Awards in New York City.  While there he has to put up with arrogant young writers who look on him as an old-timer who has over-stayed his welcome in the writing world and who needs to step aside and make room for their up and coming brilliance.  He's getting a little disgruntled with the world, when Elsie Murray is introduced to him.  Elsie is every male author's dream--a lovely young woman who adores his books, can actually talk intelligently about them, and apparently is intent on making it with her idol.

They have a few drinks at the MWA bar and then decide to take the conversation back to her place for more drinks....and whatever else they might decide to do.  But...Elsie isn't just a crime story fan-girl.  She's got an unfinished manuscript of her own that she'd like Halliday to take a look at (isn't that always the way....everybody's got an angle).  She tells him that the novel is based on actual events.  She knows what actually happened up to a point, but she's had to figure out the ending (and she claims to have come up with a doozy) and is having trouble figuring out how to get from point A to point B.  She's hoping Halliday will be able to give her some pointers on how to fill in the middle section of the book.

Before they can discuss things much further, Elsie receives a phone call that obviously puts her in a panic.  She hands Halliday the manuscript and shoves him out the door.  He agrees to read the draft and call her to arrange a meeting of the minds later.  He heads straight to his hotel, reads the thing straight through, and decides to call her right back and give her his initial thoughts. Only it isn't Elsie who answers the phone.  It's a rather official, policeman-sounding kind of guy.  Which seems to Halliday to be kind of ominous.  He's quite sure that something has happened to Elsie and gets a true-crime writer friend of his to scope things out with the cops.  Unfortunately, he's right.  Elsie's been strangled and guess who's going to be number one on the suspect list.  That's right, the fella who took her home from the party.  

Halliday calls up his good friend and detective, Mike Shayne, and asks him to come to NYC as quickly as possible.  By the time Shayne arrives, Halliday has disappeared and the cops are sure that he's on the lam.  It's up to Shayne to decipher the clues in the unfinished manuscript and hunt down the real villain before Halliday becomes another body in the morgue.

This is a lovely little romp through New York in the 1950s.  As an added bonus, Halliday spends the first part of the book dropping prominent names from the mystery field like nobody's business. The reader finds herself rubbing elbows with Helen McCloy, Helen Reilly, Clayton Rawson, Frederic Dannay and Manfred Lee with near misses with John Dickson Carr and George Harmon Coxe.  There have been other authors who have dropped themselves down into the narrative, but it doesn't always work out as successfully as this does with Halliday.  He gives the reader a good mystery to chew on and manages to make his participation in the story very realistic.  I thoroughly enjoyed this "soft" hard boiled mystery.  Three and a half stars.

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? is a bookish meme hosted by Book Journey. It's where we gather to share what we have read this past week and what we plan to read this week. It's a great way to network with other bloggers, see some wonderful blogs, and put new titles on your reading list. So hop on over via the link above and join in...and leave a comment here so I can check out what you are reading.
 

Books Read (click on titles for review):
 Murder Most Puzzling by Lillian S. Robinson 
The Foods of North Italy by Luigi Veronelle 
Some Danger Involved by Will Thomas
She Woke to Darkness by Brett Halliday
Currently Reading: 
The Penguin Book of Victorian Women in Crime by Michael Sims (ed):  It is the Victorian era and society is both entranced by and fearful of that suspicious character known as the New Woman. She rides those new- fangled bicycles and doesn't like to be told what to do. And, in crime fiction, such female detectives as Loveday Brooke, Dorcas Dene, and Lady Molly of Scotland Yard are out there shadowing suspects, crawling through secret passages, fingerprinting corpses, and sometimes committing a lesser crime in order to solve a murder. Michael Sims has brought together all of the era's great crime-fighting females- plus a few choice crooks, including Four Square Jane and the Sorceress of the Strand.
 
 
Books that spark my interest:

Star Trek & Philosophy: The Wrath of Kant by Jason T Eberl & Kevin S Decker (eds)
A Long Fatal Love Chase by Louisa May Alcott
and two Review Request books that I need to get to:
Death in the Memorial Garden by Kathie Deviny
Face of the Enemy by Joanne Dobson & Beverlee Graves Myers

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Crime Fiction Alphabet: Letter X


I have signed up for a second year of The Alphabet in Crime Fiction, a community meme sponsored by Mysteries in Paradise. Each week she'll be expecting participants to produce a post featuring a mystery/crime novel or novelist related to that week's letter.  The end is in sight--we're up to that diabolical Letter X.  And X is for E. X. Ferrars.  

E. X. Ferrars is the American-generated pen name for a British mystery writer born Morna Doris McTaggart in Rangoon, Burma.  She is also known under her British pen name Elizabeth Ferrars. Ferrars wrote stories that best fit in the cozy genre--puzzle mysteries, solved by fairly average folks, and with story lines that don't challenge the "status quo."  Most of her novels are stand-alone stories, but she did give us three series featuring recurring characters.  Her first five novels feature freelance journalist Toby Dyke and his companion George.  She also wrote about Virginia and Felix Freer, an estranged couple who still manage to get together often to solve crimes, and Andrew Basnett, a retired botany professor.

While I have read and enjoyed several of Ferrars's stand-alone novels and a couple of the Freer series, my favorites come form her Basnett series.  Basnett is an academic (one of my mystery weaknesses).  He has retired and is supposedly working on a book ('cause he has all this time do so now you know), but is continually getting side-tracked by various episodes of deviltry going on around him.  Here's just one example, Something Wicked:

"When Andrew Basnett, a retired professor of botany, took his nephew's cottage in a quiet Oxfordshire village for the winter, he didn't expect to find himself living opposite a woman locally reputed to have killed her husband, even though an unbreakable alibi meant she had never been brought to trial. Nor did he expect to find himself cut off from all mains services as the result of a blizzard. And he certainly did not expect to discover in his cold, dark living-room the body of the village's second murder victim." (from Goodreads)

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Some Danger Involved: Review

Some Danger Involved by Will Thomas is one of the most engaging historical mysteries set in Victorian England that I have read in a long time.  Very atmospheric and informative--informative without being pedantic.  The story begins with Thomas Llewelyn, a down-on-his-luck ex-Oxford man and ex-prisoner.  Llewelyn has found it very difficult to get employment after spending time in Oxford prison for a very small crime.  He is nearly ready to end his suffering--permanently--when he sees an advertisement in The Times:

Assistant to prominent enquiry agent. Typing and shorthand required. Some danger involved in performance of duties. Salary commensurate with ability. 7 Craig's Court.

He goes to Craig's Court on the first day, but the line is so long he quickly gives up the wait.  When the advertisement is still running for a fourth day, he decides to give it one more try...and if he doesn't get this job, then he will be seeking out the river.

Fortunately for him, Cyrus Barker, the enquiry agent in question, sees something in this downtrodden man that makes him give Llewelyn a chance.  The Welshman has barely had time to settle in to his new establishment--which serves as home as well as work--when Barker is called in by prominent men in the Jewish community to investigate the horrible murder of a young scholar in the Jewish quarter.  It is Barker's job to determine if this was a private feud or if this represents a violent outbreak of the unrest which is sweeping England with the influx of Jewish refugees. Neither Barker nor Lord Rothschild and Sir Moses Montefiore want to see an English version of the pogroms. The trail takes Barker and Llewelyn from the meanest streets of the Jewish ghetto to the lair of the early Italian mafia to the churches of London. There will be another murder and Llewelyn will come close to being a third victim before he and his employer can close the case.

Thomas gives us a new look at the Holmes and Watson/Wolfe and Goodwin detective team.  Lots more action than most of the Holmes stories and Barker is far more mobile and physically involved than Nero Wolfe generally is.  I thoroughly enjoyed this new addition to the ranks.  The characters are interesting and I particularly like the interaction between Barker and Llewelyn.  They have the chemistry necessary to create a duo to follow in such auspicious footsteps.  We learn a lot about Llewelyn background, but there is still plenty to be revealed about his employer.  The other members of Barker's staff from Mac the butler and general factotum to Dummolard, his French chef, are also well-drawn.  And I hope to see more of Inspector Poole of the C.I.D.   I also enjoyed the historical information that Thomas works into the narrative.  I appreciate learning something when I pick up a historical novel without being beaten over the head with scholarship.  Thomas weaves knowledge about the Jewish population in England into the story without overburdening it.  He gives us enough to know why this was such a hot topic without sounding like a text book.

This is an interesting and entertaining beginning to a fairly new historical mystery series.  I look forward to future installments.  Five stars.

The Food of North Italy: Review

The Food of North Italy by Luigi Veronelli is a cookbook giving some general information about the region, cuisine, dining and drinking habits of northwestern Italy.  We also get a collection of over 50 recipes full of "rich, sophisticated dishes, especially those from Turin, once the capital of the Savoy dynasty. Much of the area is rural, however, which has fostered a long tradition of country cooking. The people know how to make the most of their ingredients in such dishes as zabaglione (an egg yolk, sugar, and marsala dessert), agnolotti (meat-filled ravioli), and monte bianco (a chestnut dessert). The region is also famous for its rare white truffles, shaved over risotto, pasta, fonduta, fried eggs, and more. Several of the finest red wines in Italy also come from this region, such as Barolo, Barbaresco, and Barbera, as well as one of the world's best-known champagnes, Asti Spumante." 

What I learned from this book....If these sorts of dishes are what's cooking in northern Italy, then I probably don't want to go  If these recipes involve "sophisticated" dishes, then I am quite happy to remain unworldly.  From an apparent obsession with veal to really nasty looking Watercress Soup with Frog Legs to Bergamo-style Polenta & Game Birds (where the birds look like they were deep-fried whole....seriously) to Horse Steak (HORSE, for crying out loud)--I politely, but emphatically say, NO, thank you.  A great deal of the time I was asking--out loud to my husband who really didn't want to know--"Why the heck would you do that to a horse [bird, frog, rabbit, fill in the blank]???!!!!!  Because, honestly, if I didn't have an aversion to eating horses, I still can't figure out why the dish should sound appealing...not to mention the bird and frog dishes look positively disgusting.  I really mean it.  

I thought learning about authentic Italian food would be interesting. Not really.  My advice: If, after my review, you're still curious and want to check this out for yourself, DO NOT read before dining.  Trust me.  One star.

Friday, October 26, 2012

R.I.P. Screening VII: The Masque of the Red Death

I returned to my mini-Vincent Price viewing marathon with the excellent 1964 film The Masque of the Red Death.  Based primarily on the story by Edgar Allan Poe (while adding a sub-story utilizing another Poe tale, "Hop-Frog"), this is probably the Price movie that holds the most vivid memories for me.  I don't think I'll ever forget the final scenes where Prince Prospero's guests begin the dance of death.




Price stars as Prince Prospero, a decadent nobleman who has sold his soul to the Devil, dragging many of his noble friends (and enemies) along with him.  He terrorizes a nearby village--condemning two men who dare to stand up to him to death.  A beautiful, innocent young woman by the name of Francesca (Jane Asher) begs for mercy.  Prospero has never been confronted by such innocent, unwavering faith before and for amusement says he will grant mercy to one of the men...but Francesca must choose who will live and who will die.  One is her father, the other is her fiance.  Before she can be forced to make her choice, one of the villagers falls victim to the Red Death and Prospero kidnaps Francesca and orders his guards to bring the doomed men to his castle where he and the other noblemen he has granted protection from the plague will feast and be entertained while the peasants die in the countryside surrounding them.  Prospero is intent on corrupting Francesca--proving to her that her God no longer exists and that she should give her allegiance to his master, Satan.  But while he plots her moral demise and prepares her father and fiance for a deadly entertainment, the Red Death enters his castle.


Roger Corman directed several films based on Poe stories.  This and The Pit & the Pendulum are the only two that I have ever seen.  I don't remember much about Pit, but Masque has stuck with me for over 30 years.  This has repeatedly been referenced as the best of Corman's Poe films, and I don't doubt it.  Vincent Price is excellent as always...we certainly believe that he has sold out to the Devil and he is at his creepy best in his efforts to turn Francesca to the dark side.  I know I've said it before...but I do love these classic horror movies with Vincent Price.  


Quotes:
Francesca: Forgive them!
Prospero
: Forgive them? If my hound bites my hand after I have fed and caressed him, should I allow him to go undisciplined? 

Francesca: Is there anything to fear in that room?
Prospero
: For the uninvited, there is much to fear. 

Prospero: I'm not corrupting, Alfredo, no... instructing. 

Francesca: [after Gino has been ordered to be removed from the castle] Prince Prospero let me go with him.
Prospero
: You?
Francesca
: Please.
Prospero
: You, oh no my dear I couldn't bear to think of... No [to the crowd] you will go to your rooms now and prepare for the masque, you will not appear in your costumes until... midnight. [turns to see Francesca following him] Why do you follow me?
Francesca
: Bring Gino back and I will do whatever you wish.
Prospero
: You would destroy yourself for him?
Francesca
: Yes.
Prospero
: [smiling] You almost cause me to doubt. 

Man in red: It's time for a new dance to begin... the Dance of Death! 

Prospero: Your Excellency... this girl [he indicates Francesca] in all my life, I've never met one who's faith rivalled mine. Spare her to me.
Man in red
: A charitible request... a rare thing with you, Prospero. 

Man in red: I have no title. Why do you call me "Excellency"?
Prospero
: Well, I thought that as the ambassador of Satan...
Man in red
: He is not my master. Death has no master. 

Prospero: I should like to see your face.
Man in red
: There is no face of death... until the moment of your own death.

Man in red (to Prospero): Why should you be afraid to die? Your soul has been dead for a long long time. 


Theme Thursday: Time



Hosted by Reading Between the Pages

Rules
  • A theme will be posted each week (on Thursdays)
  • Select a conversation/snippet/sentence from the current book you are reading
  • Mention the author and the title of the book along with your post
  • It is important that the theme is conveyed in the sentence (you don’t necessarily need to have the word)
*Link back to Reading Between the Pages

And this week's theme is Time (hour, minutes, seconds, duration, etc).  Here's mine from Some Danger Involved by Will Thomas (pp. 142-3):


I awoke several hours later. The room was dark, save for a shaft of moonlight coming in from the back window. The beam illuminated my employer, who sat in my desk chair by the window, fiddling with some coins in his hands. He was deep in thought, as far as I could tell. What had brought him here? Ah, yes. The shooting. I'd almost forgotten. Was he standing guard? If so, he was a little late.

"What o'clock is it?" I asked
"Almost ten," he responded. "How do you feel?"



Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Challenge Complete: Cruisin' Thru the Cozies




I have also completed Socrates' Book Reviews: Cruisin' Thru the Cozies. Love me some mysteries and love me some cozies.

Here's a quick run-down of what I had to do. If you want the full scoop, hop on over to her place and check it out. And sign up....and pick up 8 or 10 more challenges while you're at it, so I won't look quite so crazy.

1. Choose the level you wish to participate:

Level 1 - Snoop - Read at least 6 books
Level 2 - Investigator - Read 7-12 books
Level 3 - Super Sleuth - Read 13 or more books

2. The challenge runs from January 1, 2012 and ends December 31, 2012.

3. You don't have to choose your books in advance. If you do, you can change your list at any time during the year. Books can overlap with other challenges.

4. Books can be in any format - paper, audio, ebooks...it all counts.

There's more...but you get the idea. Go sign up. Do it now!


I completed the Super Sleuth level. Here's my reading list:

1. Silver & Guilt by Cynthia Smith (4/9/12)
2. Murder Has Its Points by Frances & Richard Lockridge (1/12/11)
3. A Slip of the Tong by Charles Goodrum (6/3/12)
4. Mysterious Incidents at Lone Rock by Rajendra Pillai (8/6/12)
5. The Key by Patricia Wentworth (8/15/12)
6. Something to Die For by Susan Holtzer (6/1/12)
7. A First Class Murder by Elliott Roosevelt (5/16/12)
8. Garden of Malice by Susan Kenney (5/21/12)
9. The Doctor Dines in Prague by Robin Hathaway (3/12/12)
10. The Curious Cape Cod Skull by Marie Lee (3/21/12)

11. The Cat Who Saw Red by Lilian Jackson Braun (5/22/12)
12. O' Artful Death by Sarah Stewart Taylor (6/20/12)
13. Mrs. Jeffries Stands Corrected by Emily Brightwell (8/19/12)
14. Murder at the Library of Congress by Margaret Truman (9/24/12)
15. Murder Most Puzzling by Lillian S. Robinson (10/23/12) 

Challenge Complete (may read more, though) 10/23/12

Challenge Complete: Wishlist Challenge

Create your own banner at mybannermaker.com!
 
 The Wishlist Challenge was a new challenge that was meant to help us with our TBR wishlist books.  Those books that we come across on interwebs or friends suggest or sound good to us somewhere, some time and we think, "I ought to read that" or "I want to read that." And we never do.  So....we were supposed to

Read 12 books (one for every month of the year) that you would like to read, but don’t already have on your shelves.

And I have!  I'm now ready for all that honor and glory that Judith promised will shine on everyone who finishes!
 
Here's my list:
 
1. The War of the Worlds Murder by Max Allan Collins (4/19/12)
2. Nantucket Soap Opera by S. F. X. Dean (3/20/12)
3. A Slip of the Tong by Charles Goodrum (6/3/12)
4. The Gemini Man by Susan Kelly (4/15/12)
5. The Curious Cape Cod Skull by Marie Lee (3/21/12)
6. The Doctor Dines in Prague by Robin Hathaway (3/12/12)
7. Murder Most Puzzling by Lillian S. Robinson (10/23/12)
8. A Good Death by Elizabeth Ironside (3/28/12)
9. The Anatomy of Ghosts by Andrew Taylor (9/30/12)
11. The Lady in the Loch by Elizabeth Scarborough (5/23/12)
12. Lake of Sorrows by Erin Hart (10/14/12)
 

Murder Most Puzzling: Review

Spent the last couple days dipping into an academic cozy mystery--Murder Most Puzzling by Lillian S. Robinson. Dr. Margaret James, known as Jamie, has just returned to the U.S. after separating from her French husband.  They had found each other during the '60s at Berkeley, but when he inherited the title of Count his values and hers no longer meshed.  She is trying to sort her life out when she gets a request from a life-long friend to come to Ebbing College and fill her teaching assignment as a professor of poetry.  Becca Parsons has been diagnosed with cancer and Jamie is more than willing to help her friend out.

Jamie also takes over Becca's duties in sorting through the Ebbing family documents and comes across a 19th-century journal by one of the family's matriarchs.  It tells of forbidden love between Elizabeth Ebbing Brock and her best friend Helen "Nell" Breckenridge.  A family scandal resulted when the girls were "outed" by Lizzie's brother and there is also a mysterious fire that wipes out most of Nell's family right at the time they are trying to get her psychiatric treatment for her "diseased mind" and set her up with an appropriate marriage.  

Jamie just begins to grapple with the difficulties of getting the manuscript published when it disappears.  Who wants to suppress the documents?  Then one of the other professors (and a distant relative of the Ebbing family) is killed.  Both she and Jamie had been involved with the Dean of the College, and the police settle on Jamie as the prime suspect....a woman scorned and all that.  Jamie is determined to find out who has stolen the manuscript and who has murdered Professor Sharon Reilly.  And if those are the same person.  She's also doing research into the 117-year old scandal and fire to try and determine if the motive for the modern day crimes lie in the past.

This is a fairly decent academic mystery.  Certainly not the best one ever--but the characters are great in limited ways.  I particularly like Jamie's friendship with Becca and her mentoring relationship with three of the students at the college.  I wasn't particularly taken with Jamie's left-over swingin' sixties habit of jumping in and out of bed with just about every man she comes across in the book.  As one of her friends notes, it's a little difficult to "follow [her] love life without a score card." She comes back to the States and takes up with a fellow she used to know named Nick (who has a wife, but they're in a non-monogamous relationship, so it's okay) just long enough to bring him into the story and then abandon him in California when she heads to Pennsylvania and Ebbing College.  There she meets and falls into bed with Walt (the dreamy Dean, who also has a wife--but she's an alcoholic and crazy and in an institution, so that's okay too).  Meanwhile, she goes up to a local inn a couple of times and meets another man who she'd happily go to bed with if it weren't that her soon-to-be-ex-husband shows up hoping to reboot their marriage....and....you guessed it, she can't resist a couple of rolls in the hay with him for old time's sake.  Or something. 

Honestly, I just think Robinson was beating the reader over the head with sexual freedom and how different is supposedly is now (1980s in the book) as opposed to the 1800s and their views of "unnatural lusts."  But then, it's not really all that great now, because we still have homophobic people running around upset over this journal....not to mention Jamie's other friend Erin who comes to teach history when Sharon Reilly is killed (and who happens to be a lesbian).  A lot less effort on that front and more attention to making the mystery more of a mystery and we'd have an all-out winner.  There weren't really any red herrings to speak of and it doesn't do a lot for the detective novel when your villain is telegraphed mid-way through--at least that's when I figured it out.  Two and a half stars.

Crime Fiction Alphabet: Letter W


I have signed up for a second year of The Alphabet in Crime Fiction, a community meme sponsored by Mysteries in Paradise. Each week she'll be expecting participants to produce a post featuring a mystery/crime novel or novelist related to that week's letter.  
We're fast approaching the end of the alphabet--this week's entry brings us up to the Letter W.  And W is for The War of the Worlds Murder by Max Allan Collins.



Unlike the Sherlock Holmes pastiche of a similar name (which I read last year), The War of the Worlds Murder does not take place in the world of the H. G. Wells classic. At least, not exactly. This story revolves around the historic Mercury Theatre radio presentation of The War of the Worlds by Orson Welles which caused mass panic in 1938. It features Welles, John Houseman, and Walter Gibson (aka Maxwell Grant), creator of the Shadow, among other historical figures. And, as in his other "disaster" mysteries, Collins uses an author of detective fiction (in this case, Gibson) as his amateur crime solver.

The first half or so of the book is spent in build up. We are introduced to the characters and given a very plausible set up for the murder. Collins gives us a look at the creative spirit of Welles and how the dramatic production of the Martian invasion came about. Gibson is brought into contact with Welles when he (Welles) decides that it would be a great idea to collaborate on a Shadow movie, as a natural extension of the successful radio show. Then Gibson (and through him, the reader) is introduced to the worshipers, admirers, hangers-on...and even possible enemies of the brilliant young actor/director.

Just as the radio production is about ready to go on the air, Welles, Gibson and Houseman discover the body of a young woman in one of the empty sound rooms. She had been the latest in a long line of Welles flings--just recently given the heave-ho. There is blood everywhere and and an incriminating knife that points straight at Welles. The door is locked (but there is a window which has given them the view)...and by the time the security guard can be summoned to bring a key the body and the weapon have disappeared!

But you know what they say in show business...the show must go on. And so it does. One of the most historic radio programs ever goes on the air and panic takes over the country as thousands believe that the Martians are really invading. In the midst of all this, Gibson is watching, thinking and gathering clues to the real disaster that has taken place off-stage. Who killed the young woman? Was it someone trying to frame Welles--or has the actor/director (and amateur magician) pulled a conjuring trick of his own? And what happened to the body? By the end of the evening Gibson will have answers to all these questions.

Collins, as always, has done his homework--and that is quite evident. Historical and anecdotal details are superb. The tale of the panic-inducing radio broadcast is quite interesting. And exciting--as Collins takes us from snippets of the broadcast to scenes from the world outside the broadcasting studio. He uses stories of actual audience reactions to show how effective the broadcast was. The murder mystery itself leaves a bit to be desired. It's not nearly as good as either The Titanic Murders or The Hindenburg Murders, for instance. But for a look at the world of 1938 and particularly for a look at what happened when Welles allowed the Martians to invade...it's very good. Three stars for a good solid story overall.

Monday, October 22, 2012

It's Monday! What Are You Read?

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? is a bookish meme hosted by Book Journey. It's where we gather to share what we have read this past week and what we plan to read this week. It's a great way to network with other bloggers, see some wonderful blogs, and put new titles on your reading list. So hop on over via the link above and join in...and leave a comment here so I can check out what you are reading.
 

Books Read (click on titles for review):
A Question of Time by Helen McCloy 
The Adventure of the Ectoplasmic Man by Daniel Stashower 
The Final Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Peter Haining, ed
 
Currently Reading:
Murder Most Puzzling by Lillian S. Robinson:  Margaret Jameson -- affectionately known as Jamie -- accepts a pinch-hitting appointment as professor of poetry at quiet Ebbing College. Once there, she stumbles upon a long hidden manuscript, a journal from the 19th century, revealing sexual and literary secrets and an explosive family scandal. Grappling with the pros and cons of having the manuscript published, Jamie is stunned when it suddenly disappears. Murder follows and stains the quiet campus. What is the connection between the 117-year old scandal and the murder?
 
 
Books that spark my interest:
The Penguin Book of Victorian Women in Crime by Michael Sims (ed) 
Star Trek & Philosophy: The Wrath of Kant by Jason T Eberl & Kevin S Decker (eds)
A Long Fatal Love Chase by Louisa May Alcott
 

Sunday, October 21, 2012

The Final Adventures of Sherlock Holmes: Review

When The Final Adventures of Sherlock Holmes was first published, it had long been established that the adventures of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's celebrated sleuth Sherlock Holmes was made up of fifty-six short stories and four novels. There had also long been rumors of various other materials by Doyle that had never been collected and published in one volume.  Peter Haining hunted down some of the most elusive items and brought them all together in this book.  And what we have is a grand mish-mash of early stories, plays, poems, and essays about Holmes--all written by Doyle.  Well, purportedly in some cases.

I am quite sure that I've read some of these pieces before....probably re-collected in other places once Haining had done the leg-work of hunting them down for first time.  I can't say that any of the stories or other pieces are particularly earth-shatteringly great, but the pieces are interesting for anyone who has more than a passing interest in all things Holmes.  We are given everything from "The Mystery of Uncle Jeremy's Household" which is a clear precursor to The Study in Scarlet to Doyle's own explanation of how he came to kill off his most famous literary offspring.  There is also the list of Doyle's favorite stories--Holmes fans can see how their own favorites match up.  


The dust jacket blurb says that this volume "will undoubtedly be welcomed by every Holmes enthusiast and find a place of honour in Sherlockian Libraries throughout the world...."  Well, maybe there was great joy in Holmes-ville when this was first published, but coming to it now I would say that it's a decent collection of early and obscure material on Holmes.  Three stars.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

What My Book Piles Say About Me


Wallace Yovetich over at BookRiot has written an article telling book hoard.....ER, collectors, yes (!) collectors what our piles of books say about us.  Here's the one that seems to fit me best....Although I can proudly say that I don't have more unread books than those that I have read.....Yet.


Poor dear. You are the one that had the BEST of intentions. You began your stacks with the belief that you would actually read the books you placed there. You had no idea, when you started this, that you would have so little will power when it came to bookstores and libraries. Soon the lust for books overcame you, you greedy little thing, you, and the stacks grew taller and wider. You now have more unread books than read books… welcome to the club.

Saturday Snapshot: Jack-o-Lanterns

Saturday Snapshot is a meme hosted by Alyce at At Home with Books. All you have to do is "post a photo that you (or a friend or family member) have taken and then leave a direct link to your post in the Mr. Linky on [her] blog. Photos can be old or new, and be of anything as long as they are clean and appropriate for all eyes to see. How much detail you give is up to you." All she asks is that you don't just post random photos that you find online. (Click pictures for close-up).
 

Here are lots of Jack-o-Lanterns from when my son was young: