Wednesday, May 31, 2017

If Ever I Return, Pretty Peggy-O: Review

Sharyn McCrumb's If Ever I Return, Pretty Peggy-O (1990) is set in the small Appalachian town of Hamelin, Tennessee where Spencer Arrowood is the Sheriff who keeps the peace. It's not a difficult job most of the time--an occasional run-away or teenage boy with excess energy stepping out of line; a few drunk and disorderlies...that's pretty much it. Then Peggy Muryan purchases the old Dandridge home. The moderately popular folksinger from the '60s is looking for a quiet place to compose new songs and set the stage for a comeback.

But the peace and quiet doesn't last long. Peggy begins receiving postcards with lyrics from various folksongs which she had once made famous. As Sheriff Arrowood points out to her, the lyrics as printed are scarcely threatening--but Peggy knows the lines that come next and the haunting, ominous nature of the lines not written are worse than those which appear. Then Peggy's dog is killed and marked with an insignia of some sort--butchered in a commando-style that has indications of a link to Vietnam. The dog's death is followed by a sheep--also left with clues referring to Vietnam. 

Things really get serious when a high school girl goes missing and winds up murdered--for Rosemary Winstead bears a striking resemblance to Peggy Muryan at the height of her career. LeDonne, Spencer's Vietnam vet deputy, doubts the Vietnam connection because the clues left behind in each case are too scattered. They point towards several different military units. Peggy, meanwhile, keeps getting those cards, and they seem to implicate her former singing partner, Travis Perdue--except es that Travis was a Vietnam casualty, an MIA. Is it possible he returned to the States after all? Why would he kill nice, young Rosemary? Who else had a motive?

[Possible spoiler ahead!]
I find the ending deeply disturbing and unsatisfying. Which, honestly, is what I believe McCrumb wants. Many of her characters are disturbed--whether they are haunted by a past that never was quite like they remember it or a past that changed them forever or if they are caught up in their interest in a past that was never theirs. Portraying the psychological dilemmas of the various characters is probably McCrumb's strongest gift in her writing. It certainly isn't in the crime plotting itself. I found the motive fairly unbelievable--quite probably because the killer's psychology is the least examined. The character appears regularly, so the fair-play side of me can't holler "No Fair! X isn't even a real suspect." But I can't say that I'm believing in X as the villain. It also doesn't help that Arrowood doesn't really figure anything out and does very little in the investigative line. We find out who the killer is because s/he appears in Peggy's house and spills out a confession in a burst of bragging. Otherwise, I just don't see this crime being solved. 

The setting is grand and the Appalachian background well-done. Most of the characters are well-rounded, interesting, and believable. One just wishes the villain were included in "most." A decent mystery with an intriguing set-up and lead-up to the final chapters. If the promise had been fulfilled, I would have given it a higher rating--as it is...★★

Monday, May 29, 2017

Deal Me In Week #21: "Persons or Things Unknown"

I'm still working my way through Jay's Deal Me In Challenge . In a nutshell--we line up 52 short stories for the year, we match those stories up to a card in a regular deck of card, and each week we shuffle our deck (of real cards) and draw a card from whatever remains in the deck. Last week I drew the Queen of Hearts which gives me "Persons or Things Unknown" by Carter Dickson (John Dickson Carr) from Murder by Experts edited by Ellery Queen. 

photo credit

In "Persons or Things Unknown" a host at Christmas-time regales his guests with a tale of long-ago murder that fuels the rumors of a ghost in one of the rooms of his house. When he took over the house, he found a diary that told the story of two men who loved the same woman and the death of one of them. It is an impossible crime that has gone unsolved for nearly two hundred years. But Dickson/Carr is an expert at providing solutions to impossible crimes and he does it again here.

Decision at Delphi: Review

Innocents Abroad...Kenneth Strang, architectural illustrator, is off another routine assignment--or so he thinks. Lee Preston, editor of Perspectives--a monthly magazine on architecture and the decorative arts, has hired him to sketch Greek classical structures and ruins as they would have been when built. The illustrations will be paired with photographs taken by Strang's regular collaborator Steve (Stefanos) Kladas showing what these buildings currently look like.

But from the moment Strang boards the ocean liner headed for the Mediterranean, nothing goes as planned. A second piece of luggage is added to his baggage...sent along by Kladas and it contains papers and film rolls that Strang needs to keep safe. Then when the architect arrives in Greece, Kladas is behaving oddly. He won't stay at the hotel as planned; he won't even stay put long enough for the two men to discuss their strategy. But Kladas isn't the only one behaving oddly--Strang's old friend Alexander Christophorou is also being secretive while also giving Strang nebulous warnings about other Americans and Englishmen in the city. There's a rich young Greek woman who tried to ward Kladas to stay away from Greece and someone keeps searching Strang's luggage looking for who knows what.

Things really heat up when Kladas disappears and then is reported dead and Strang finds himself a pawn in a murderous game of international international intrigue with an endgame labelled assassination.  He doesn't mind the danger for himself (truth be told he's kind of enjoying the spy in the corner business). But then Preston sends Strang another photographer to take his place. C. L. Hilliard--who not only takes beautiful pictures but is also a beautiful woman disguised behind those masculine-sounding initials. And when they fall in love, Strang finds that he has unwittingly handed the enemy the weapon they needed. How can he keep Kladas's secret safe, rescue the woman he loves, and help prevent the nihilists from wrecking the civilization that has been rebuilding since World War II?

Decision at Delphi (1960) is a gripping espionage thriller with believable characters. Strang served in WWII, so it isn't unexpected that he can handle himself in tight situations. Every character we meet has an interesting backstory that works into the present and MacInnes provides the motives and philosophies of the different factions without making the reader feel like they've sat through a Cold War lecture. There are many historical details necessary to understand the setting and events in late-1950s Greece and MacInnes provides them in a way that keeps the story moving. She also keeps the tension up--making it clear that Strang may well be trusting some of the wrong people, but it is difficult to tell where true loyalties lie is some cases. 

Good historical background, beautiful descriptions of the countryside in Greece and the area surrounding Delphi in particular, and compelling characters all combine in an exciting adventure. ★★★★

[Finished 5/28/17] ********
It's a little difficult to see, but the young woman on the cover (Miss Hilliard, I presume) has a camera around her neck. So, this fulfills the "Camera" category on the Silver Vintage Scavenger Hunt card.

Friday, May 26, 2017

I Can Lick 30 Tigers Today: Mini-Review

I Can Lick 30 Tigers Today (1969) is one of the Dr. Seuss books that I missed reading as a child. It would seem to be one of the lesser known books in the Seuss collection. Since it was published in my birth year, I decided to check it out--even though its length technically makes it ineligible to count as a candle on my birthday cake. The common theme of the three stories in the book is pride and overconfidence. The titular story has a younger Cat in the Hat type (his son?) bragging that he can take on 30 tigers. That number gradually dwindles until he decides that maybe he'll lick just one tiger...another day. "King Louie Katz" addresses the issue of aristocracy versus democracy when King Louie starts a trend of Katz carrying more important Katz's tails until the lowest Katz on the totem pole rebels. And "The Glunk That Got Thunk" shows what can happen when a little girl thinks up an idea that she can't control.

The stories are enjoyable, but definitely not on a par with The Cat in the Hat, Horton Hears a Who, Green Eggs and Ham, and the like. ★★ and a half.

The Constantine Affliction: Review

The Constantine Affliction (2012) by T. Aaron Payton (Tim Pratt) is a steampunk mystery meets fantasy meets science fiction meets a few literary allusions along the way. You'll find nods to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Mary Shelley, and Virginia Woolf among the clockwork automatons, alchemical science, and bizarre 1950s-B-movie monsters lurking in the Thames River. I particularly enjoyed discovering the real identity of Adams, the man who does autopsies (and other work) when a murder needs investigating. But I get ahead of myself...

The date is 1864 in Queen Victoria's England. Of course, this is a steampunk version of Victorian times, so it's not quite the Victorian England one is familiar with. There are calculating engines, airships, and flying machine that will soon replace the dirigible airships. There are magnetic field manipulators and clockwork ladies of the evening...and those unspeakable monsters which no one has seen but everyone talks about. There is also the titular Constantine Affliction. A strange disease which, when it doesn't kill the afflicted, mysteriously changes the person's gender after a period of high fever and delirium. The disease has been spread through prostitutes (thus the clockwork variety, immune from disease and easily cleansed) and has reached the highest levels of power--claiming the Queen's consort, Prince Albert as one of the highest profile victims.

From this world, we meet Ellie Skyler, an intrepid female reporter who hides her identity behind the byline E. Skye. To her editor's dismay, she refuses assignments to cover the latest in Paris fashion and writes of the monsters in the river, interviews those who have been Afflicted, and plots to enter a clockwork brothel in (gasp!) male attire. Little does she know that her venture into masculine recreation will lead her to a plot to overthrow the Queen. We also meet Lord Pembroke "Pimm" Halliday, younger son of the aristocracy, who to his family's dismay dabbles in detection. He has been blackmailed into investigating the murders of prostitutes--some of the few remaining of the human variety--working for one of the most notorious men in London. Abel Value threatens to ruin the reputation of Pembroke's wife Winifred (who just happened to have been Pimm's best friend Freddy before the Affliction struck him) if he doesn't investigate.  Like a certain Professor Moriarty from another Victorian England, Abel Value is thought to be behind most of the crime in London--but there is never any evidence to connect him to it. 

Working from different angles, Ellie and Pimm find themselves on the same track and join forces to stop the man who lurks in the shadows behind Value--before monsters even worse than those rumored to be in the Thames are let loose on an unsuspecting England. 

This is a rollicking good novel that could definitely be a fine steampunk mystery series if Payton/Pratt decides to continue with the characters. Pimm and Ellie work well together and make an excellent team as well as an interesting couple. Winifred/Freddy is charming as well--stealing every scene she's in and adding color to the detective efforts. She could have her own book--life after the change and where it takes her after she and Pimm & Ellie sort out their relationship/s. The mystery plot isn't the strongest point--not much of a mystery really and those who want clues to discover on their own may be a bit disappointed, but it's well worth it for the overall story and adventure. Most interestingly, the book addresses issues of gender in a fresh and fascinating way. Should those changed by the Affliction be tied to their birth gender? In a world where inheritance so often was tied to oldest sons--what happens when an eldest daughter changes and becomes the eldest male child? If for no other reason, I would like to see Payton/Pratt write a sequel that examines the results of Victorian adjustment to the new order of things in terms of gender and gender equality. ★★★★

[Finished on 5/23/17]

Monday, May 22, 2017

Challenge Complete: Women Challenge

Sponsored by PeekaBook


Level 1: BABY GIRL - read 5 books written by a woman author
Level 2: GIRLS POWER - read 6 to 15 books written by a woman author
Level 3: SUPER GIRL - read 16 to 20 books written by a woman author
Level 4: WONDER WOMAN - read 20+ books written by a woman author

Once again I have read at least 20 books by women in 2017, and have completed the Wonder Woman level. Here are the books read. Thanks to Valentina for hosting this one again!

1. When the Sea Turned to Silver by Grace Lin (1/24/17)
2. All for the Love of a Lady by Leslie Ford (2/9/17)
3. Spice Island Mystery by Betty Cavanna (2/10/17)
4. Deception Island by M. K. Lorens (2/13/17)
5. The Thursday Turkey Murders by [Georgiana] Craig Rice (2/13/17)
6. Episode of the Wandering Knife by Mary Roberts Rinehart (2/26/17)
7. Zadok's Treasure by Margot Arnold (2/27/17)
8. Death in the Wrong Room by Anthony Gilbert [Lucy Beatrice Malleson] (3/2/17)
9. Murder at Government House by Elspeth Huxley (3/13/17)
10. Trixie Belden & the Gatehouse Mystery by Julie Campbell (3/16/17)
11. I Could Murder Her by E. C. R. Lorac (4/7/17)
12. Stroke of Death by Josephine Bell (4/12/17)
13. Coffin's Dark Number by Gwendoline Butler (4/16/17)
14. Grounds for Murder by Kate Kingsbury (4/26/17)
15. The Fennister Affair by Josephine Bell (4/28/17)
16. The Vanishing Violinist by Sara Hoskinson Frommer (4/30/17)
17. The Polka Dot Nude by Joan Smith (5/2/17)
18. The Invisible Intruder by Carolyn Keene (5/4/17)
19. The Shivering Sands by Victoria Holt (5/6/17)
20. Murder at Teatime by Stefanie Matteson (5/9/17)
21. Deadly Nightshade by Elizabeth Daly (5/19/17)

Deadly Nightshade: Review

Deadly Nightshade (1940) by Elizabeth Daly is the second in her Henry Gamadge series. Gamadge is a bibliophile and consultant on old books, autographs, and inks. He lives on the East Side of New York, but is willing to roam afield to investigate a suspicious signature....or an untimely death. This second adventure finds him returning to Maine (site of his first recorded case) at the behest of Detective Mitchell. Three children have been poisoned with nightshade berries with two recoveries and one fatality--and one more little girl is missing. The locals want to blame it on the gypsies camping in the woods.They're willing to accept that the berries may have been given out by mistake, but they want a scapegoat and are hankering to run the gypsies out of town.

Mitchell isn't sold on the idea, but he also can't find any other explanation. So, he calls upon Gamadge who has proven able in the past to see solutions that others miss. He soon discovers that a mysterious woman visited the homes of the children before they took ill. Was she a gypsy in disguise? Was she a harmless representative of a magazine as she claimed? Or did her disguise hide someone more closely associated with one or more of the families? A state trooper also died during that time period in what was determined to be an accident. But Gamadge wonders if that death is part of the same puzzle. Mitchell takes him around to meet the various families involved and slowly the bibliophile begins to see the pattern behind the poisonings. 

This is a rather intricate story that was, at times, a little hard to follow. I ascribe part of that to the fact this particular edition is abridged--not my preference for reading (especially mysteries), but thus far this is the only edition I've been able to find in my used bookstore/booksale ramblings. Fortunately, Gamadge is as engaging as ever and the supporting characters are interesting as well. The plot is a bit convoluted, but with a hint of belief suspension it does make sense in the end. I'd be interested to know if I'd figure it out when reading the unabridged version. Good solid fare and an enjoyable read. ★★

[Finished on 5/19/17]
This fulfills the "Mask" category on the Golden Vintage Scavenger Hunt card.

Deal Me In Week #20: "The Dragon of Pripyat"

I'm still working my way through Jay's Deal Me In Challenge . In a nutshell--we line up 52 short stories for the year, we match those stories up to a card in a regular deck of card, and each week we shuffle our deck (of real cards) and draw a card from whatever remains in the deck. Last week I drew the Five of Spades which corresponds to "The Dragon of Pripyat" by Karl Schroeder (from The Year's Best Science Fiction 17th Annual Collection by Gardner Dozois, ed.).

photo credit

"The Dragon of Pripyat" takes place long after the Chernobyl disaster. The site is still "hot" radioactively and there is always a danger that another disaster could be triggered. Gennady Malianov is a freelance nuclear inspector who is hired by the Chernobyl Trust to investigate the site. Someone is extorting money from the Trust by threatening to trigger just such a disaster unless they are paid. Malianov finds more than he bargained for when a old man living in the danger zone tells him of a dragon living near the reactor's remains.


Friday, May 19, 2017

Petty Theft: Mini Review

Petty Theft (2014) by Pascal Girard 

Awkward. If I had to sum this book up in one word, that's what I'd go with. Pascal (the character) is awkward. The whole set-up winds up being awkward. And the simple line-drawing panels are awkwardly far afield from the usual graphic novel fare offered up these days. The tag line on Goodreads "A hilarious romantic comedy about kleptomania and booklovers" caught my attention and the plot--Pascal notices a young woman in a bookshop stealing his book, so he decides to play amateur detective and figure out who she is and see if he can catch her in the act...falling for her in the process--sounded original and intriguing. But the story just isn't. Intriguing, that is. It isn't hilarious either. Pascal is so awkward it's painful, but he is also not at all compelling, so one doesn't really sympathize with him.

And you can't tell me that Pascal went with his bad back and worked in construction for more than one day without re-injuring and worsening his condition. Yeah--it happens, but it should have happened immediately.

I still think the plot was a good concept. I wish it had been rendered more effectively. ★★

[Finished on 5/16/17]

The Golden Bird: Review

The Golden Bird: Folk Tales from Slovenia (1969) by Vladimir Kavčič contains eighteen folktales from the heart of Slovenia/Yugoslavia. Those who are familiar with folk tales and fairy tales will recognize common themes that bear great resemblance to such stories as Sleeping Beauty, Beauty and the Beast, Snow White & Rose Red (the original and now Disney's version of Snow White), Bluebeard, Jack and the Beanstalk, and The Brave Little Tailor. There is also a short version of the Tom Thumb story. It is interesting to see that various themes appear across a broad spectrum of cultures--whether because certain experiences are common to all people or because the original oral stories were spread by traveling story tellers who left their stories with different cultures. 

As with all story collections, the folk tales vary in strength. The weakest is a story about a boy who misinterprets his mother's instructions all the time. It is just a series of examples of such behavior, but there doesn't seem to be any moral or conclusion--such as the stories where the youngest, weakest, least regarded brother/sister winds up winning out and marrying the princess/prince. The examples just end with nothing really happening. Overall, an interesting and engaging collection. ★★

[Finished on 5/16/17]

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Murder in Mount Holly: Review

It's the late 1960s. Lyndon Johnson is President and United States is deep in Vietnam. Herbie Gneiss is happily attending college when his widowed mother guilts him into leaving college to get a job and sending her enough money to keep her from starving...with enough extra to pop chocolate bonbons in her ever-hungry mouth all day long while watching television. He gets a job at the Kant-Brake toy factory which churns out military-style toys. He moves into Miss Ball's rooming house (to be close to work) and meets fellow-roomer Mr. Gibbon who also works at the factory.

Herbie has just settled into his new life when Uncle Sam decides another soldier is needed in 'Nam and drafts him. Exit Herbie off the stage and (spoiler alert) soon out of the story all together. During his brief sojourn at the rooming house, he introduces Mr. Gibbon to his mother and they fall in love. Pretty soon, Mrs. Gneiss gives up her house and moves into Herbie's old rooms at Miss Ball's. Led by the ultra-patriotic Mr. Gibbon (veteran of three wars!), the three decide they need to do something on the home-front while Herbie is off fighting for his country. What better thing to do than to show the You-Know-Whos (all the commie brown people taking over America) that "real Americans" means business? And what better way to show the You-Know-Whos than to rob a bank managed by a small dark man who is undoubtedly a communist? Probably. Maybe. 

The three elderly robbers-to-be set work casing the joint and making plans for a spectacular robbery that will put them on the front page as patriotic Americans saving their money (and the rest of the town's while they're at it) from the evil Reds who are stealing everybody blind. As is often the case, the best laid plans often go astray--but what's a murder or two, kidnapped policemen, and a stolen cop car among friends?

Paul Theroux's Murder in Mount Holly (1969) is the second non-traditional crime novel I've read from my birth year. It's starting to look like a trend. It could, just, be slotted into the inverted mystery category. There are definitely no surprises here--except for guessing how many corpses there will be littered about before the over-the-hill gang get done with their crime spree. But I don't think Theroux's real goal was a crime novel. It strikes me more as satirical commentary on the times in which he lived. He plays on the idea of patriotism--most obviously with the character of Mr. Gibbons, but also with Mrs. Gneiss's false pride in sending her son off to the battlefield. I definitely get the feeling that dear old mom is thinking more about her next bonbon than she is about Herbie off in Vietnam. And if her lover-boy, Gibbons, weren't so hipped on his particular brand of patriotism I doubt she'd give it another thought at all. He uses the casual violence to underscore the violence of the current war. Theroux also examine the fear of the other (all those brown people taking over everything) that strikes a chord with today's reader with the background noise of Donald Trump and his supporters chanting "Build the wall!"  

A thought-provoking novel that, like Blind Man With a Pistol, gives the reader another snapshot of America in the late 1960s. ★★

[Finished on 5/15/17]
This fulfills the "Blue Object" category on the Silver Vintage Scavenger Hunt card.

The Mystery of the Talking Skull: Review

The Three Investigators #11
The Mystery of the Talking Skull (1969)
by Robert Arthur

Jupiter Jones, chief investigator of The Three Investigators detective agency, decides that he wants to attend an auction and brings fellow investigators, Pete Crenshaw and Bob Andrews, along. It's all part of the gathering of experiences so they can be  well-informed detectives. While at the auction, Jupiter becomes interested in an old trunk that belonged to the Great Gulliver. The Great Gulliver was a mediocre magician who had one great trick--a talking skull who could predict the future. He is the only bidder and becomes the proud owner for only $1. 

He's barely taken possession of the trunk before people start clamoring to buy it from him. There's the elderly lady who reached the auction just moments too late to bid and offers $25 for it, and Maximilian the Magnificent who flaunts $100 and claims to want the trunk of his good friend Gulliver "for old times sake." There's also the mysterious men who keep hanging around The Jones Salvage Yard, owned by Jupiter's aunt & uncle, and who try to steal the trunk. Obviously, the trunk holds a valuable secret--but is it more than just a talking skull magic trick? Once Socrates, the skull, begins talking to him, Jupiter and The Three Investigators just might find out!

I've got a lot of nostalgia for this series. I first discovered them when I went with my then best friend and her family on a shopping trip to the big malls in Ft. Wayne. I was the one insisting on stopping at all the bookstores and had never heard of "Alfred Hitchcock & the Three Investigators," but I couldn't resist a new mystery series and grabbed up two or three of the novels. This is one of the titles that I missed reading back in the day. I have to say that I miss the Alfred Hitchcock connection--I mean, I know that Hitchcock just lent his name to the series and Random House decided to change the host when he died, but it was fun having him as the mentor for the boys. This newer edition has some guy named Hector Sebastian (apparently, after a little Google research, a fictional mystery writer)--not nearly as interesting to me.

It was still fun to revisit a childhood favorite and I enjoyed following along with the boys as they tracked down clues, entered their Headquarters through the secret tunnels in the junkyard, and ultimately discovered the secret hidden in the trunk and in Socrates's mysterious messages. Good solid adventure for young readers with a mystery that they can solve even before Jupiter does (I did!). ★★

[Finished on 5/13/17]
Fulfills the "Map/Chart" category on the Silver Vintage Scavenger Hunt card.

Deal Me In Week #19: "Pink Bait"

I'm still working my way through Jay's Deal Me In Challenge . In a nutshell--we line up 52 short stories for the year, we match those stories up to a card in a regular deck of card, and each week we shuffle our deck (of real cards) and draw a card from whatever remains in the deck. Last week I drew the Two of Clubs which corresponds to "Pink Bait" by Octavus Roy Cohen (from The World's Best One Hundred Detective Stories Vol. 7 edited by Eugene Thwing. And, though I got it read last week, I'm just now logging it.

Emanuel José’s hand-carved giant playing cards

"Pink Bait" finds master criminal Thomas Matlock Braden in my home state of Indiana. Braden isn't just your average Moriarty-type of master criminal--directing vast nefarious organizations. He works alone, but handles "only tasks which require extraordinary finesse, infinite patience and an all-embracing knowledge of human nature." When he comes into possession of a purloined necklace of perfectly matched pink pearls, he travels to a resort in Indiana to look for the perfect "mark" upon which to work his magic. Because if anyone can sell an unsaleable stolen necklace, it's Thomas Matlock Braden.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Death Cracks a Bottle: Review

Death Cracks a Bottle (1969) by Kenneth Giles is the sixth novel in his Harry James (Sergeant and then Inspector) series. At this point, James is an Inspector with his own Sergeant Honeybody. This investigation takes James and Honeybody to the Heavan family's wine and spirit business where the chairman of the board, Christobal Botting, has been murdered with a cosh on the head with a three-liter bottle of vermouth. There are plenty of intrigues and antics at Heavans--from blackmail to fiddlin' the books to hatred among the remaining directors to a crazy Heavan family member who's just been "cured" and let out of the loony bin--it's enough to drive anyone to drink. The Heavan family don't care who their front man is as long as he keeps The Family first and makes sure that the profits keep rolling in. It doesn't matter if the books are fiddled (everybody does it) or the wine is a bit watered down. But they do care about the blackmail that Botting has been doing and somebody in the Heavan business has apparently had enough. Was it one of the Heaven heiressess who hold the purse strings or their husbands who sit as directors? Maybe it was Mr. Stiggins, the financial wizard who can cook a book so tasty that no one questions his figures and who looks to be the next in line for the Chairmanship now that Botting's out of the way. Or maybe it was one of the bottlers who was caught tippling a bit too much on the side.

 A Scotland Yard team's life is a hard one--working their way through wine tastings and offers of drinks from the Heavan family right and left as they review witness statements and hunt for clues. Honeybody especially appreciates the free refreshments and James doesn't mind letting the suspects think the wine has gone to head a bit. He sets the final trap nicely when he appears to become overly-confiding while in his cups...but he gets a bit of a surprise when the villain who walks into his trap is unexpected and more prepared for trouble than he is.

Which...speaking of that ending. I'm a little troubled by a senior officer getting himself into the situation which James does and being so pig-headed about not letting anyone else know where he was and what he was doing. Sure, it creates tension at the end, but hopefully real policemen don't do that sort of thing.

Overall, an entertaining mystery and much more a traditional police procedural than the last one I read (Death & Mr. Prettyman). There is still a bit of a feeling that James and Honeybody's conversations have a whole subtext that only they understand, but it's not quite the "Who's on first" vibe that I got before. Again, not quite a fair play mystery--but then the late 60s/early 70s weren't exactly the period for that type of Golden Age style. I will definitely keep my eye out for more this series. ★★

Finished on 5/13/17
Fulfills the "Bottle" category on the Silver Vintage Scavenger Hunt card. 

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Blind Man with a Pistol: Review

Blind Man with a Pistol (1969) is the first Grave Digger Jones and Coffin Ed Johnson novel I've read and the last in the series published before Chester Himes's death in 1984. It tells the story of one night and a day in Harlem. A period in which Detectives Jones and Johnson are tasked with finding the person responsible for a spate of organized race riots while weaving their way through murders, Black Muslims, Black Power movements, organized crime, and terrible violence everywhere. 

They get sidetracked from their primary assignment (the race riots) when a pantsless white man with his throat cut falls dead at their feet.  A trail of blood leads back to a cramped apartment building where apartments full of people neither saw nor heard anything. Another murder (of a key witness) follows and the police seem powerless to stop the murderer or the riots. The story ends with a regular shoot-em-up featuring the titular Blind Man and his pistol. 

I have to admit that I really didn't follow what was going on throughout most of this. Plot does not seem to be a major point of interest for Himes. I think I know who was behind the riots, but I wouldn't bet anything too valuable on that and I haven't the faintest idea about who killed the pantsless man and the witness. Jones and Johnson (and the white policemen on the force) haven't solved that crime by the end of the book and I doubt that they were going to. There is a lot of gratuitous violence and if you have any qualms about language (both racial and vulgar), then I'd suggest you steer clear. Definitely not a mystery story in the traditional sense.

I recognize that Himes was using the crime novel as a vehicle to make statements about violence and conditions in Harlem as well as to highlight the racial tensions of the time period. This is valuable for those interested in the late 60s/early 70s in New York. And, perhaps, the chaotic nature of the book--which jumped around from scene to scene and from viewpoint to viewpoint--was meant to reflect the chaotic atmosphere of the time and place--but it makes things difficult on the reader. Interesting as a snapshot of the time period, but not a typical mystery novel and it was difficult for me to enjoy it from that standpoint. The ending is well-done. Himes does seem to have a gift for describing the crowd mentality and giving the full flavor of the people's reactions without over-doing it. ★★

This fulfills the "Revolver" category on the Silver Vintage Scavenger Hunt card.

Challenge Complete: Charity Reading Challenge

Charity Reading Challenge
Host: Becky's Book Reviews (sign up here)
Duration: January-December 2017
# of books: You decide

This was my second year participating in Becky's challenge. Like last year, I signed up with a goal of 12 books and I've now reached that--so my commitment has been met.

It was interesting to to track my charity giving based on books during 2016. I get a great number of my used books from our Friends of the Library [FoL] used book shop and their twice yearly sales as well as the Hoosier Hills [Food Bank] Community Book Fair. So, I read books that I've gotten from there over the years. I am still recording each time I indulge my book habit at FoL book shop and at the fall book fair in 2017. Last year I spent a total of $268.15 at charity book sales and at FoL shop. We'll see how much I give away in 2017. I will report a final total at year's end.

1. Death of a Racehorse by John Creasey [bought at the Hoosier Hills Book Fair October 2016] (1/7/17)
2. Murder at the Masque by Amy Myers [FoL Bookstore, 7/12/14] (1/16/17)
3. The Black Count by Tom Reiss [FoL Bookstore, 4/18/15] (1/21/17)
4. I Have No Mouth & I Must Scream by Harlan Ellison [Hoosier Hills Book Fair October 2015] (1/24/17)
5. Deception Island by M. K. Loren [FoL Bookstore 7/12/14] (2/13/17)
6. Zadok's Treasure by Margot Arnold [FoL Bookstore 5/29/14] (2/22/17)
7. Silence Observed by Michael Innes [Hoosier Hills Book Fair October 2016] (3/28/17)
8. The Official Dictionary of Sarcasm by James Napoli [FoL Bookstore 1/2/16] (4/14/17)
9. Death with Blue Ribbon by Leo Bruce [Red Cross Book Fair October 2013] (4/20/17)
10. Who Is the Next? by Henry Kitchell Webster [FoL Book Sale] (4/24/17)
11. The Fennister Affair by Josephine Bell [Hoosier Hills Book Fair October 2016] (4/28/17)
12. Storm Center by Douglas Clark [Hoosier Hills Book Fair October 2016] (5/1/17)