Tuesday, August 4, 2020

The Arsenic Labyrinth

The Arsenic Labyrinth (2007) by Martin Edwards

When Emma Bestwick disappeared ten years ago without a trace, the senior detective on the investigating team determined that it was simply a matter of someone who wanted to disappear. No foul play involved. But Hannah Scarlett, a young policewoman--now a DCI, had her doubts. Why would a woman who had just started a business that she seemed to enjoy and who had just come into a large amount of (unexplained) money decide to chuck it all and fade out? 

On the anniversary of Emma's disappearance, reporter Tony Di Venuto publishes a retrospective article that asks "What Happened to Emma Bestwick?" DCI Scarlett, now on the Cold Case team, doesn't like being maneuvered into reopening the case by the press but can't really say she's upset when an anonymous caller contacts Tony to tell the reporter that he knows that Emma won't be coming home. Scarlett's boss, always on the lookout for good press for the police, insists that the case be reopened and Scarlett and her team begin making the rounds of the previous suspects--jogging memories and digging up a past that some would like to keep buried.

Then the anonymous caller strikes again--this time telling Tony that he knows where the body is; that the police need to look below the Arsenic Labyrinth. Scarlett's team gets to work searching the long-abandoned arsenic mines and are rewarded with no one body, but two--hidden in the Labyrinth about fifty years apart. Is there any connection besides the convenient hiding place? That's what the police will need to find out. And then body number three shows up.

This is the third book in Edwards' Lake District Mysteries featuring DCI Hannah Scarlett and historian Daniel Kind. In this one, Daniel takes more of a backseat--contributing very little to the more recent murders, but he is able, while doing research on a book about John Ruskin, to track down the details of of the fifty-year-old murder. The reader will need to swallow a heaping helping of coincidence to accept the method by which he comes across his information, but it does make for interesting reading.

The plot is well done and if I had paid attention to certain clues and comments dropped along the way, I might have been able to figure it out--but I didn't. So, well done, Martin, for keeping me distracted with other things. One thing I wasn't too keen on was being inside the head of the "anonymous" caller (anonymous to the report and the police, but not the reader) who had his share of the guilt (though not all of it). I'd rather be in the position of figuring it all out than to know who the villain (or one of the villains) is up front. No a fan of inverted mysteries or even partially inverted. But that's a personal preference. Edwards does a fine job with it and manages to have a final twist that left this reader surprised.  ★★ and 1/2.
Deaths = 4 (two hit on head; one stabbed; one burned to death

Monday, August 3, 2020

Jerry Todd & the Rose-Colored Cat

Jerry Todd & the Rose-Colored Cat (1921) by Leo Edwards

Jerry Todd and his pals (Red, Scoop, Peg, and Spider) get mixed up in a very catty affair. It's not just one rose-colored cat (which, by the way, doesn't mean red or pink as you might think). They wind up on the receiving end of 150 cats--of all shapes and sizes. They also find themselves involved in a case of missing pearls, two fires, and a mysterious prowler who seems awfully interested in their collection of cats.

The way it happens is this--Professor Ellsworth Stoner arrives in Tutter (home of Jerry and the boys) by train one afternoon. He seems a bit confused and when the cat he's carrying in a basket escapes and has a tussle with a couple of dogs, the boys help the professor retrieve his cat. That's when they learn that Stone has a dandy scheme to open the world's first feline (the professor insists on feline over cat) rest home. He's going to convince rich people who want to vacation without their precious pets to send them to him to care for at the rate of a $1.00 a week. He asks the boys if they'd like to help him set it up and promises to pay them all $5.00 a week. 

They think it's a pretty good deal, so they agree. Jerry's dad even offers the old mill on his property as a likely site to set up business. The professor places an ad in the newspaper and soon the cats (er...felines) are arriving on all available trains. But there's a snag...the professor is an escapee from a local asylum and as soon as the institution gets wind of the cat scheme (one of the professor's idiosyncrasies is his fixation on cats), attendants are sent to bring him back. They have no orders to do anything about cats, so the boys are stuck with the animals.

Up till now they've gotten a lot of cats, but no cash. But then Mrs. Kepple sends a message with $10.00 telling them her prize-winning, rose-colored cat, Lady Victoria, will be arriving soon. Mrs. Kepple plans on visiting the local sanitarium for a rest cure of her own and will collect her cat then. The cat that arrives doesn't look so special to Jerry and the gang--she's a yellow cat who looks like she might have been picked up in alley somewhere. And she's got a strange copper collar with weird bumps on it. Somehow the cat links in with the prowler and the pearls and Jerry and his friends manage to put all the clues together and save the day in the end.

This was my first introduction to Jerry Todd. He and his friends are quite a collection--they remind me to some extent of the Dead End Kids when they were younger. I enjoyed the camaraderie among the boys and their determination to see the thing through to the end. It was fun that their escapades didn't always turn out quite the way they planned (for instance, the trap they set to try and catch the prowler), but they never let that stop them. I knew right away what was going on with the cat, but I enjoyed watching Jerry and the boys figure it out. ★★


The Proud Cat

The Proud Cat (1951) by Frances & Richard Lockridge

This is a delightful children's book by the authors of the Mr. & Mrs. North mysteries that can be enjoyed by all ages. I already knew that the Lockridges liked and understood cats (and dogs, really) from reading their mysteries. The Norths have cats in every story over a period of 30 years and dogs also appear in a few of those stories as well as in a few of their other mystery series. Their animals are very likable and have very definite personalities and place in the story without being too cutesy.

This particular story, of course, is all about a cat. A cat named Dinah, to be exact. Dinah is a very proud cat. She has been the focus of attention in the Wilson's home (Mr. & Mrs.) for about a year and a half and she's very used to the attention she (rightly) gets from her people. But then one day her people bring home two small-sized humans and Dinah gets a bit miffed. She's just sure that the Wilsons have brought their niece and nephew home to stay and that these small people have taken Dinah's place in their hearts. So, she refuses to make friends with Patty and Howdy (Howard) even though they, too, think she's the finest cat they've ever seen. 

It will take several adventures--from chasing off a stray dog to Patty's nursing while Dinah has a cold to the care the children show when Dinah has kittens--to break through her icy, proud armor. But eventually Dinah realizes that she's not too proud to admit she was wrong about the small humans. ★★★★

Sunday, August 2, 2020

The Town Cried Murder

The Town Cried Murder (1939) by Leslie Ford (Zenith Jones Brown)

Our story is told to us by Miss Lucy Randolph, a spinster brought up in the tradition of a true Southern lady. Having never married, she has invested all of her maternal feelings in her young relative Faith Yardley. Faith's mother (also Faith) died when she was young and she has been brought up under the rather prim, self-sacrificing eye of her father's sister, Melusina. Melusina has, as she will tell anyone who will sit still long enough, sacrificed all for her brother and the sake of the Yardley mansion. Her Southern pride will not allow Yardley Hall to be sold to "those Yankee Restoration people" who have given new life to so many of Virginia's lovely old homes...including Miss Lucy's. Melusina would much rather sell off what family heirlooms she can...and when those run out, trade Faith's happiness in on an arranged marriage with a wealthy older man to save the family fortunes. 

That's where our story begins. Miss Melusina has sent the announcement of Faith's engagement to Mason Seymour to the papers and considers everything settled. But then young, brash and handsome Bill Haines arrives. Haines is the ward of a man who paid his addresses to both Melusina and Lucy before being turned down and leaving Virginia for greener pastures. He has a note of introduction that allows him to take up lodging in Miss Lucy's home. He meets Faith and instantly falls in love. And that's when the trouble starts.

Haines winds up heading off to Seymour's house to tell him what he thinks of an elderly man taking advantage of a young girl like Faith and the next thing we know Seymour is dead. He was apparently shot from the terrace outside while he sat writing at his desk and it looks like the gun used came from Miss Lucy's place. Things look black indeed for Haines. But there are a few mysteries that the police will need to clear up before they can be sure. Who left the bloody stain on the Yardley's well? Who was
the mysterious shadow that Miss Lucy saw when she was out roaming about that night? What happened to Seymour's second will? Just how many people were in and out of Seymour's house that evening anyway? What did Faith's father do when he found out his sister had talked Faith into marrying someone she didn't love? Did he take matters into his own hands?

To my mind, this wasn't Ford at her best. The primary distraction is the dialogue and Miss Lucy's inner monologue. These seemed to be full of non sequiturs and a lot of jumping from one subject to another. The characters just plow ahead with their conversations as if everything is in order and making perfect sense, but it really wasn't. 

And, honestly, the wrap-up wasn't nearly as satisfying as it could have been. It was a typical "gather all the suspects and bring out the evidence against them all in turn" scene and that would have been just fine. I happen to like those because they tend to cover all the clues and red herrings and straighten everything out. But there was one twist too many--if John Crabtree (our investigator) had stopped his finger-pointing at Melusina, I would have been best-pleased. She had a dandy little motive and that interfering woman really would have made a nice culprit and gotten her out of the way of young love. {apparent blank area hides a spoiler--highlight it if you're curious} I still find that I enjoy the Ford books that feature Colonel Primrose & Grace Latham the most. Her standalone books just don't hold up as well. ★★ and a half

Deaths = 2 shot

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Death in Berlin

Death in Berlin (1955)  by M. M. Kaye

Miranda Brand is returning to Germany with her cousin Robert, his wife Stella, and their daughter. Miranda will be on a month's holiday and Robert is being stationed in the British half of the recently partitioned country. She doesn't remember much of Germany--having escaped from the country early in World War II after her parents were killed in an accident. While on the journey to Germany, they meet Brigadier Brindley who tells his fellow travelers an incredible story of runaway Nazis and a missing fortune in diamonds--a story that the young Miranda apparently took part in unknowingly. The entire party is fascinated by the tale...but someone has more interest than they let on.

The Germany-bound group (12 in all) board a train en route to Berlin and during the night, the Brigadier is stabbed to death. He had made it known that he didn't sleep well on trains without medication and so the killer knew Brindley would put up no resistance. Miranda and all of her traveling companions are suspects....but Miranda, who discovered the body when she inadvertently entered the wrong compartment, is the one who has blood on her hands.

Simon Lang, a soft-spoken British policeman stationed in Berlin, is also on the train and winds up commanding the investigation. Miranda is sure that he's fixed upon her as the primary suspect, but there's plenty of suspicion to go around--especially after more murders occur. 

Though this is the second of Kaye's mysteries, it is the last one that I needed to read to complete the series. The others were much easier to find for some reason. Overall, I was pleased with the story. Kaye gives us an excellent view of Germany in the post-WWII era before the Berlin Wall was erected. Since her husband was posted there during this time period, she was able to give us the benefit of her first-hand experience. She has always been very good at getting place and atmosphere right and Death in Berlin is no exception.

The primary mystery is also interesting with its ties to Nazi Germany and the motives behind the initial killing are quite sound. I do have a couple of minor quibbles (see spoiler portion of the review if you're curious), but did enjoy watching Simon Lang unravel all the threads. I did pick up on some of the solution (Kaye hits us over the head a bit with one particular clue...), but missed how other bits featured in the pattern. I blame that on the second part of my quibbles below.  I'm definitely glad I finally found this and was able to finish the series. I do wish I had been able to read them in order because I think her mystery plots improve over time and my expectations might not have been as high for this one. ★★

***********Spoilers Ahead. Read at your own risk************

I have two primary complaints about Kaye's book, one is the amount of coincidence in the story. The Brigadier just happens along and tells his story--to the very group of people that has not one, but two participants in it. Miranda (who had long forgotten the details of her escape from Germany) and the killer (who most certainly had not forgotten). Then another of the group of suspects just happens to run into their long-lost relative and that throws a few red herrings about which interfere with the smooth investigation of the crimes.

My other quibble is that we have two murderers. The motives loosely tie together, but not in a satisfactory way. If the primary concern was the Brigadier and his diamond story (as it seems to me it is), then I think it would have been better to stick to that motive for the murders. The other story line could well have served as a red herring, but adding in a second murderer seems to be a bit of....wait for it....overkill.

[Finished on 7/31/20] 
Deaths = 4 (two stabbed; one drowned; one shot)

Friday, July 31, 2020

Murder in the Dog Days

Murder in the Dog Days (1990) by P. M. Carlson

In the middle of a 1970s sweltering heat wave, Maggie Ryan, Carlson's intrepid amateur sleuth, and her husband Nick join up with Maggie's brother Jerry, his wife Olivia to go to the beach with Olivia's colleague Dale Colby and his family. Olivia and and Dale are reporters for the Mosby Sun-Dispatch and Dale is in the middle of a big story involving the blown-up plane belonging to a high-profile senator. The senator wasn't on the plane--but two of his aides and the pilot all died. Dale is trying to discover if the culprit was a terrorist or if there was a more personal motive to the attack. 

At the last minute, he decides to forego the beach trip, sending everyone away while he works on his story. When the group returns that evening, they find the door to his study locked from the inside and no response to their knocks. They break the door open and find Dale dead in a pool of blood--having apparently been hit over the head with a table lamp. But how did the murderer get in and out? All the windows are also locked and there's no way anyone could have gotten out the door. 

Vietnam nursing veteran, Detective Holly Schreiner takes charge of the investigation and soon finds herself faced with numerous suspects--from the most obvious wife Donna to the equally likely ex-wife Felicia (constantly angry because Dale was behind on child-support) to disgruntled family members of those killed in the plane accident to rival reporters. Lots of suspects, fewer motives, even less opportunity...and some even come with handy alibis. Running through the entire story is a thread of connection to the Vietnam War as well as disquieting relationships. Schreiner will have to face some of the demons of her veteran past as she sorts through the clues surrounding the present case.

This was an interesting peek at the time period just after Vietnam. Carlson writes with real insight and compassion about those who have been there and the reactions they faced upon their return as well as the personal conflicts they had to deal with. The mystery plot was also handled well and I enjoyed seeing how she resolved the impossible crime element of the locked room. I had an idea about that which was in the ballpark but wasn't quite right. I missed the vital clue that would have pointed me in the proper direction. 

Maggie Ryan is an interesting amateur sleuth. Not only is she very observant, but she really understands people and has a good dose of compassion for those involved in the murder. She's unsettling for Holly Schreiner because she unwittingly becomes a symbol of some of the detective's buried memories from the conflict. The two have a very prickly relationship until a critical moment with the victim's daughter allows Maggie to help both the daughter and Schreiner face up to their very separate griefs. Overall, a fine mystery and character examination. ★★ and a half.

Deaths = one (spoilerish--would give away the "how" of the story--will file under "other")

Sunday, July 26, 2020

Footprints Under the Window

Footprints Under the Window (1933) by Franklin W. Dixon

Frank & Joe Hardy are fending for themselves in Bayport while their mom and dad are out of town on a trip. They know their dad is in the middle of a big case and is possibly using the trip as a cover. Then they get word that their Aunt Gertrude is about to descend upon them (as she always seems to do when she hears the boys are left at home)--little do they know that she will be the catalyst that sends them into a mystery as well.

For when they go to meet the boat she planned to arrive on, there's no Aunt Gertrude--only a man by the name of Simon Pebbles who tells them their aunt had a minor accident on the dock and wasn't able to make the trip after all. She had asked him to stop in Bayport and phone the Hardys to give them the news. Pebbles winds up missing the ferry and Frank & Joe invite him to spend the night at their house. When they wake up in the morning, they're surprised to find Pebbles gone, papers missing from their dad's things, and...Aunt Gertrude lying on the front room floor. 

She's very groggy and feels ill and insists that she saw a Chinese man staring at her in the night. It seems she didn't miss the ferry, but became extremely drowsy and slept through the first stop at Bayport. She was awake enough to get off when it made its return trip in the early morning hours. But what about the Chinese man? It seems that Chinese folks are going to figure very prominently--when the boys took a huge load of laundry to the local Chinese laundry (trying to prepare for their aunt's surprise visit), they found the very friendly Sam Lee replaced by a nasty man by the name of Louie Fong. Then when they search around the house for clues to explain Pebbles disappearance, they find a piece of paper with Chinese writing in addition to some mysterious footprints.

Next up...a man who says he hired Fenton Hardy to investigate claims that he (the man) was smuggling Chinese illegally into the States appears and demands that the boys tell him where their father is. Since they don't know, Frank & Joe decide to investigate on their own. All the clues seem to point to the laundromat and the change in ownership....but who is the man who left the footprints under their window and who seems to be spying on the same people they're investigating? And what does Simon Pebbles have to do with it? They'll have to answer those questions before they can wrap up this mystery.

The story line is actually very pertinent today--with people so very worried about "illegals" getting into the country. As per usual, it is the immigrants looking for a new life who suffer the most. Here we have a gang of smugglers "helping" illegal immigrants get into the country and then exiorting money from them by blackmailing them about their status. There are, certainly, some disturbing racial stereotypes to be found here--but a point is made that while most of the Chinese encountered in the story can speak English perfectly well, they deliberately do not do so with white men so no one will suspect how intelligent they really are. And the ultimate bad guy of the piece isn't Chinese.

There is a lot of action--from thrown knives to falling down trapdoors to being chased by an angry wolfhound. There's also overheard conversations, disguises, urgent telegraph messages, and the drugging of innocent aunts. And, of course, the Hardys--Frank, Joe, and Fenton--get their man/men in the end. ★★

Friday, July 24, 2020

Between the Devil & the Duke

Between the Devil & the Duke (2017) by Kelly Bowen is a regency romance novel with heavy doses of mystery, intrigue, and murder. It features Lady Angelique Archer who bears the weight of her family's troubles on her shoulders. Her mother died five years ago from a mysterious illness. Then her father, the Marquess of Hutton, died during a hold-up by a highwayman, leaving his family with far less money than anticipated. The family solicitors hem and haw about the difficulties, but it boils down to the fact that the Marquess sold off all of his property save the family home in London and the proceeds from those sales have disappeared into the ether. No one knows why he was selling or where the money went. 

Lady Angelique's brother (now the Marquess) is a wastrel--frittering away what little money was left on wine, women, and song--and she is at her wit's end as to how she can keep things together. She has sold everything in the house that could be converted into cash and still isn't going to be able to meet the bills--including the school fees for her twin younger brothers. But the lady has a skill that she can put to use. She has extraordinary mathematical abilities and decides to use those abilities to allow her to count cards at society's gambling dens. She's turning a fair profit and managing (she thinks) to draw little attention to herself in the process....

But Alexander Lavoie, owner of the club she's been frequenting, has noticed her. He noticed her the moment she walked in and has watched the masked woman work the cards like no one he's ever seen before. He doesn't mind because she's been playing vignt-et-un and relieving some rather despicable members of the ton of their money. More than that, he doesn't mind because she fascinates him and he wants to find a way to discover who the lovely lady behind the mask is. Opportunity falls into his lap one night when one of his customers becomes more than unusually upset at having lost and accosts her. Even though it's clear that the woman can handle herself, Lavoie takes advantage of the situation and steps in as owner. He uses the situation to find out more about her and offers her a job dealing the cards for a vingt-et-un table--where she'll be able to make money for the house (and considerably more for herself with percentage he guarantees).

One thing leads to another and, of course since this is a romance novel, sexual tension starts running all over the place. Alex keeps telling himself that he must keep business and pleasure separate, but we all know that's not going to last long. Angelique is too alluring, too clever, and too able to make him a good partner in all ways. On her side, she keeps telling herself that she had a lucky escape from an really bad engagement and that she doesn't need a man to interfere in her affairs, but that's not going to last long either. Alex is too handsome, too easy to talk to, and too concerned about her for her to walk away from. And she does wind up needing his help...

Her wastrel brother gets framed for a murder he swears he didn't commit and Alex has connections that can help get to the bottom of the plot. And plot it is--someone has hated the Archer family for at least five years and is willing to kill repeatedly to get the revenge they feel due. The budding romance has to go on hold while Angelique and Alex follow the twisting trail to a surprising culprit.

I don't read a lot of romance novels anymore...but this fit right into a challenge category that I was having difficulty with, so I snatched it up from the library. It was a pleasant surprise to find a murder mystery plot receiving equal time with the romance--and to find it to be an interesting mystery plot. I thoroughly enjoyed the relationship between our two protagonists and I have to say that my favorite scene occurred after they had sneaked into the Tower to visit her imprisoned brother. They are making their way out when they hear guards coming. Alex (who is dressed in his old military uniform) tells her to hide while he tries to talk his way out of it and he spins a story about his general sending him to look up records (they're caught in some sort of records stash area in the Tower). The guards aren't buying it and Angelique, who is dressed in male clothing with hair stuffed under a hat, bustles out and plays the pompous secretary to the general to perfection. It's a delightful scene.

Overall, an enjoyable read, though I do prefer older regency romances (such as those by Georgette Heyer) with less emphasis on the sex. This one mitigates the sexy bits by offering up a nice, juicy mystery. ★★ and 3/4

Deaths = 5 (one poisoned; one stabbed [throat slit]; three shot) 

Thursday, July 23, 2020

Murder at Melrose Court

Murder at Melrose Court (2018) by Karen Baugh Menuhin

Menuhin has set her historical mystery series right in the middle of the Golden Age. This debut novel takes place at Christmas time in 1920. Major Heathcliff (please don't call him that) Lennox discovers a dead body on his doorstep. It is established that the man died of a heart attack, but the local police are still suspicious that Lennox knows more than he tells. Which he does. The man had a scrap of paper in his pocket with the name "Countess Sophia Androvich Zerevki Polyakov" on it. The major tells the police that he has never met the woman--which is, strictly speaking, true; but it's a good thing he didn't say he'd never heard tell of her.

Following on the heels of the deadly discovery, Lennox receives a telegram from his Uncle Charles Lennox insisting that he come home to Melrose Court for the Christmas holidays because he has "important news to impart." The important news? Uncle Charles...long confirmed bachelor, tottering around with his walking stick...is engaged to be married. To (you'll never guess...) the Countess Sophia Androvich Zerevki Polyakov. Other family members are on deck and Uncle is going to change his will.  But Uncle Charles is a jolly fellow and we like him, so (unlike many of the Golden Age mysteries written in the 1920s and 30s) he isn't the one who gets murdered. The next dead body to make an appearance is...(you'll never guess) the Countess Sophia Androvich Zerevki Polyakov. And our hero finds himself standing over her, having stupidly picked up the gun lying beside her--because it was his gun and what's it doing there, darn it? Now the local police are really suspicious of him and pretty much the whole house thinks he's a murderer. But he's not and now he's got to prove it. A couple more dead bodies, several red herrings, and a handful of clues later he does. And in classic Golden Age style, he gathers everyone together for a final reveal-all scene. 

This was a pleasant first mystery novel. I enjoyed seeing many of the familiar Golden Age tropes employed--sometimes with a bit of a twist. The overall historical feel of the book is good and I appreciated the humor and witticisms strewn throughout. My primary concern with the novel is Major Lennox. His character just doesn't interest me as much as the protagonist in a series should. There are glimmers of a character I could enjoy over the length of a series, but it's not fully realized--not as much as one would like upon a first meeting. I do have hopes (given the glimmers) that Menuhin will build on the major's character in future books and I enjoyed the novel enough to be ready to try the next one when the occasion arises. ★★ and 1/2.

Deaths = 4 (one heart attack; two shot; one pushed from height)

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

In Memory Yet Green

In Memory Yet Green: The Autobiography, 1920-1954 (1979) by Isaac Asimov

Asimov's autobiography gives us the early years of his life--from his birth in Russia and his family's immigration to the United States to the point where his writing career had really taken off. By the time the book ends, he has written his most famous novelette, "Nightfall," and has seen his Foundation series (originally published as separate short stories) released in book form. He provides an intimate view of history--from post-WWI Russia to the United States during WWII and the Korean conflict and includes snippets of other events along the way. The book also features the struggles faced by a young immigrant family in early 20th Century America. Most relevant for those who, like me, have enjoyed his science fiction are the insights into how he got into the writing business and what the early years of science fiction and publishing were like. 


Finally finished this one--it seems like I've been working on it forever. At over 700 pages, Asimov was one wordy dude and only covered 34 years of his life. I love his fiction, having cut my SF eye teeth on his books and short stories. But I must say: the man had a (shall we call it) healthy ego. Once he knew a thing, he was quite prepared to point out how well he knew a thing. Repeatedly, in case you missed it. To give him his due, he also presents the reader with his shortcomings and mistakes in life and is perfectly willing to own up when he was at fault. He also seems to have been a remarkedly loyal friend and family member--helping out in situations that may have turned out disastrously simply because he, as he called it, was following the code of the Woosters: Never let a pal down. He also stuck with his first book publisher, Walter "Brad" Bradbury at Doubleday even when Fredrick Pohl tried to tempt him with bigger profits at Ballantine books.

It would be great to make a lot of money with my writing, and I would feel silly if all the other writers went on to make a lot of money and left me behind

But then I thought of Brad taking my first book, and going over the galleys with me, and working with me to cure me of overwriting, and being kind and helpful, and I had to picture myself saying, "Sorry, Brad, you've been outbid."

So I finally said, "I can't do it, Fred. I'm sorry."

Asimov, as is true of all of us, was a complex individual. Intelligent, creative, competitive (he always wanted to be first or youngest to do something), loyal, sometimes easily angered over trivialities, in equal parts self-deprecating and somewhat egotistical, and, well....a bit of a lech--he never met a pretty girl he didn't want to hug. With his spare, direct style (you wouldn't think it since he took over 700 pages to to tell us about less than half of his life), he comes through as trying to be honest about his life. He is on display, warts and all, and some of it is a little difficult to take--especially in these days. One has to wonder if all the women he thought were so indulgent with his eyebrow-wagging and suggestive comments really were (I sincerely doubt it). And whether they really did think he was just harmless. It's obvious that he thought they thought so (or had chosen to believe it). He also seemed to be disproportionately concerned with everyone's looks--men and women--especially in first encounters. Everyone is initially described in terms of how attractive they are. He soon moves on to other matters and has great respect and interest in others' intelligence, but it's a bit jarring to see that everyone is measured on the Asimov attractiveness scale.

But--putting that to the side--this is a very good autobiography. It is entertaining and informative and even though it's quite long it was never tedious. Asimov is a storyteller above all and he makes the story of his life worth telling. ★★★★

Monday, July 20, 2020

Between the Thames & the Tiber: The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes

So...after a much longer hiatus from reviewing than planned, I'm back with a short review of Between the Thames & the Tiber (2011) by Ted Riccardi. Short--because I listened to the audio novel version as I traveled to and from my parents' house last week to provide support while my dad underwent surgery (thus explaining a week of the radio silence) and I have difficulty doing in-depth reviews of books I listen to rather than read (especially if it's the first time "reading" them).

The audio novel version made pleasant listening through most of the stories. Simon Prebble does an excellent job representing Holmes and the good Doctor as well as providing distinctive intonations for the various characters they meet in their adventures. I found most of the stories to be just intricate enough to keep my interest while driving, but not complex enough to frustrate me if I happened to miss anything while concentrating more intently on traffic situations when necessary. I do have the distinct impression (supported by various reviewers on Goodreads) that the plots might not hold up to the greater scrutiny I could give them if I read the hard copy book. 

And there were definitely a few frustrating details that I noticed even though I was listening and not reading. The adventures are not given in chronological order; they jump back and forth in time with one story taking place before Moriarty died and yet it isn't given a flashback feel. It is produced as if it just naturally comes next after a story that takes place in the early 1900s.  Several of the adventures--particularly in the latter half of the audio novel--quite simply do not have a resolution. The culprits are not caught and in two of the stories you don't even know for sure who culprit was. The story just ends as if Holmes had given up which is not at all what one expects of the world's greatest detective. In addition, Riccardi introduces a lady-interest (not enough happens that we could call it a love-interest) for Holmes in one of the first stories and then she just disappears. Watson makes remarks in his introduction to the stories about how influential this relationship was on Holmes and yet we are given no evidence of any such thing. 

What I enjoyed most about the collection was the relationship between Holmes and Watson. Riccardi gets that right (for the most part). The friendship between the two is quite evident and portrayed well. Prebble's reading helps to emphasize this. Also, Watson is, as he should be, not as observant and intelligent as Holmes, but he is not the bumbler or fool that is sometimes his lot in pastiche (or in the Rathbone/Bruce films). ★★ for a pleasant audio novel experience.

Deaths = 7 (one poisoned; one hit on head; three shot; one electrocuted; one natural causes) [There were actually more--but since I listened to this and didn't read it, I don't have a good record and can't name any of the others as a certainty]