Saturday, October 18, 2014

Planned Parenthood Book Sale, Part 3

My son purchased 14 or 15 books at the book sale. Most of them were in the fantasy or sci fi genres. He was lucky to find all the books in one trilogy and some books from series he had already started.

Two of the books he found were cross-genre mysteries. The PI in these books is a zombie. Unfortunately, he found books 2 and 3 and wants to read book 1 first.

A brief description of the series at TV Tropes:
A horror-comedy detective series by Kevin J. Anderson, chronicling the cases of Dan Chambeaux, private investigator in the Unnatural Quarter. Shot dead while seeking his girlfriend's murderer, Dan returns to "life" as a zombie: one of countless "unnaturals" spawned by the supernatural upheaval of the Big Uneasy.
The series is also described at The Thrilling Detective Web Site.

Some of the other books he found:

One book that intrigues me is The Case of the Toxic Spell Dump by Harry Turtledove. I have not read anything by this author and this is also the first time my son has tried a book by Turtledove.

Three of the books my son purchased were in the Monster Blood Tattoo trilogy. They have beautiful covers. Description of the first book in the series on Wikipedia:
Foundling is the first book of Monster Blood Tattoo, a children's/young adult's fantasy trilogy written by Australian author, D.M. Cornish. It tells the story of Rossamünd, a boy unfortunately christened with a girl's name, who has lived his entire life in a foundlingery (kind of an orphanage) before he is chosen to become a lamplighter in a far away city. The book's action takes place entirely on the Half-Continent, a Dickensian world run by arcane science and alchemy, and plagued with deadly (and not-so-deadly) monsters. It also won Best Young Adult Novel at the 2006 Aurealis Awards.
I personally don't go much for young adult fiction, but the best young adult fiction is enjoyed by all ages, so I may give this series a try one day. My son has read the first in the series, Foundling, and did like it. You can see from the photo above that the books get longer as the series continues, but each book has a good portion of back matter to explain the world and the terminology. There are also some very nice illustrations by the author sprinkled throughout the books, 

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Books of 1932: The Saint vs. Scotland Yard by Leslie Charteris

The first book featuring the Saint, Meet the Tiger! by Leslie Charteris, was published in 1928. The Saint vs. Scotland Yard, published in 1932, is the eighth book published in the series. I found this book recently at a book sale. Serendipitously, it fit perfectly into the Books of 1932 challenge at Past Offences.

The Saint, aka Simon Templar, is not new to me. I have read books about the Saint and I am sure I have watched various adaptations over the years, but I don't remember a lot about any of them. So I was surprised at what I found in this book. I honestly don't know what I was expecting. This book consists of three novellas, so was a perfect re-introduction to The Saint.

The book was originally titled The Holy Terror, and that is exactly what the Saint is. The stories are lighthearted, sprinkled with songs written by the Saint. He has a female side-kick and lover in this book, Patricia Hall, who fully participates in the shenanigans. And that is how I would describe the Saint's adventures in this book. He doesn't seem to take himself too seriously. Throughout the novellas in this book, the Saint is feuding with Claude Augustus Teal, Chief Inspector of the C.I.D.

The bottom line is I enjoyed these three novellas, and I want to read more of the earlier books. John's review of The Avenging Saint at Pretty Sinister Books motivated me to look for books in the Saint Series. Sergio at Tipping My Fedora reviewed a later book of short stories, The Saint in Europe, and also covered the TV adaptations of those stories.

Quote from the introduction to this book, titled "Between Ourselves":
Then come with us.... the Saint and I will inspire you.
     We will go out and find more and more adventures. We will swagger and swashbuckle and laugh at the half-hearted. We will boast and sing and throw our weight about. We will put the paltry little things to derision, and dare to be angry about the things that are truly evil. And we shall refuse to grow old.
     Being wise, we shall not rail against the days into which we have been born. We shall see stumbling blocks, but we shall find them dragons meat for our steel. And we shall not mourn the trappings and accoutrements of fancy dress. What have they to do with us? Men wore cloaks and ruffles because they were the fashionable things to wear; but it was the way they wore them. Men rode horses because they had nothing else to ride; but it was the way they rode. Men fought with swords because they knew no better weapons; but it was the way they fought. So it shall be with us.
     We shall learn that romance lies not in the things we do, but in the way we do them. We shall discover that catching a bus can be of no less adventure than capturing a galleon, and that if a man loves a lady he need not weep because the pillion of his motor-cycle is not the saddlebow of an Arab steed. We shall find that love and hate can still be more than empty words. 
Some biographical facts from
Born Leslie Charles Bowyer Yin in Singapore (then a British colony) on May 12, 1907, Leslie legally changed his name by deed-poll to Leslie Charteris in 1926. He died in Windsor, England on April 15, 1993 at age 85. His father, Dr. S. C. Yin was a wealthy Chinese surgeon, a direct descendant of the emperors of China during the Shang dynasty; his mother was English.
In 1952, Leslie Charteris married an actress, Audrey Long. The couple remained married until he died. She died recently, on September 19, 2014. Long had roles in many movies between 1942 and 1952. See this post at The Hollywood Reporter for more information.


Publisher:   Charter, 1980 (orig. pub. as The Holy Terror, 1932)
Length:       274 pages
Format:      Paperback
Setting:      London
Series:       The Saint
Genre:        Mystery
Source:      Purchased.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Planned Parenthood Book Sale, Part 2

My husband bought eleven books at the book sale. He is much more in control of his book buying impulses than I am. But he was very happy with most of the books he got. This is a sample.

Whispering Bodies by Jesse Michaels

About the author:
Jesse Michaels is an artist, musician and writer from Berkeley California. Over the years he has played in bands, created fanzines and illustrations, and written fiction. He was the singer of the punk bands Operation Ivy, Big Rig, Common Rider and Classics of Love. He has created art for Neurosis, Green Day, Christ on Parade, Filth, The Criminals, Spencer Moody, Pretty Girls Make Graves and many others.
Description of the book at the author's website:
Whispering Bodies is a comic novel which employs a mystery frame to tell the story of a reclusive man who must leave the safety of his isolated world to clear the name of a woman he has fallen for.
A comment on the back of the book suggests this book is like The Third Policeman by Flann O'Brien, so Glen picked up a copy of that one also.

Unfortunately, Glen did not enjoy that book at all. Here is his review at Goodreads:
The unnamed narrator of this book is a failed farmer and pub keeper who finds himself increasingly under the thumb of John Divney, a hired man who - over time - considers himself part owner of the farm and pub. Divney needs money and his solution is to enlist the (very passive) narrator in murder and robbery. The murder takes place and so far so good. Then the book decides it will be an "Alice and Wonderland" - with a quest for a box possibly filled with loot, nonsensical and surrealistic dialog, a visit to eternity, and endless discussions on bicycles - and it is then that it becomes a slog (and only 206 pages!) for me. Many readers really (really!) like this book but I'm afraid I found it a great struggle to finish.

London After Dark

From Kirkus Reviews:
Addenda to his earlier Fabian Of The Yard fills in the picture of crime in England and works its way from general exposition on various types of illegalities to specific cases. From night haunts, guarding royalty, gambling, dope, sex, perverts, unlawful pictures and satanic practices, he goes on to the crooks themselves, the informers, the rackets, and winds up with 14 examples of the painstaking police activities that untangled varying iniquities. This dossier has a very moral tone to its yarning, and its expertising, by an ex-superintendent of the Yard, offers solid, dependable -- and interesting material for the true crime fancier.

Ghosts by Gaslight

From a review at Deseret News:
Ghosts by Gaslight: Stories of Steampunk and Supernatural Suspense edited by Jack Dann and Nick Gevers, is a collection of all new ghost stories, inspired by the likes of Edgar Allen Poe and Arthur Conan Doyle. The stories, by established authors, infuse a modern fascination with old-fashioned technology into a Victorian setting in a genre called steampunk. While not every contributing author is a short story specialist, each story has some unsettling or haunting aspect to it.
From the reviews I read, the biggest criticism of this book was that not all stories had steampunk elements. As in any collection of short stories, some are better than others, and this depends on the reader's taste.

Blackmail by Parnell Hall
This is the ninth book in the Stanley Hastings series.

From Goodreads:
Complications arise when Stanley Hastings handles a blackmail payment involving pornographic pictures. Not only does he fail to stop the blackmailer, but everyone he talks to dies.
“Every page quivers with comic frustration and the result is an absolute joy.”—Kirkus (starred)
“Parnell Hall succeeds in making Stanley Hastings one of a kind …. BLACKMAIL is pleasantly reminiscent of an earlier era, when detectives like Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin brought some humor to their chores.”—The Wall Street Journal 

The Girls of Atomic City by Denise Kiernan

The description below is from Boing Boing. There are also lots of photos at that post of WW II workers in Oak Ridge, Tennessee.
At the height of World War II, Oak Ridge, Tennessee, was home to 75,000 residents, consuming more electricity than New York City. But to most of the world, the town did not exist. Thousands of civilians — many of them young women from small towns across the South — were recruited to this secret city, enticed by solid wages and the promise of war-ending work. Kept very much in the dark, few would ever guess the true nature of the tasks they performed each day in the hulking factories in the middle of the Appalachian Mountains. That is, until the end of the war—when Oak Ridge’s secret was revealed.
Drawing on the voices of the women who lived it—women who are now in their eighties and nineties — The Girls of Atomic City rescues a remarkable, forgotten chapter of American history from obscurity.

Friday, October 10, 2014

New (to me) Authors: 3rd Quarter 2014

At the end of every quarter, Kerrie at Mysteries in Paradise hosts a meme for the best new-to-me crime fiction authors. Check out other posts for this quarter.

These are the books by authors that are new-to-me this quarter:

All of these authors wrote books that I enjoyed reading, and I will continue to read books by most of them. Often when I do these summaries for three months worth of reading, the most recently read books are the most memorable.

Most enjoyable was:

The Wine of Angels by Phil Rickman. This novel combines a mystery and the supernatural. The characterization is wonderful. All of the main characters are well fleshed out. The characters are realistic; all have flaws. They are mostly likable but far from perfect. Very, very long, though.

Not so enjoyable, but a very good book:

Lie in the Dark by Dan Fesperman. This book is a police procedural set in the midst of the siege of Sarajevo during the Bosnian conflict. It describes the daily life of homicide inspector Vlado Petric as he tries to do his job. The siege has been going on for two years, and Petric's wife and child have escaped to Germany. His job seems to be useless in times of war when so many are dying and suffering.

Quotes from the book:
    The same two motivations which had kept him going before the war could still sustain him. Or at least he hoped they could.
    One was the small, slender promise that beckons to all homicide detectives-that someday, something worthy and noble would come of his work. For the clever and the persistent, perhaps something larger lurked behind the daily body count. In the way that an epidemiologist knows that a single autopsy can provide the key to a pandemic, Vlado clung to a belief that, now and then, one murder offered a portal to machinations far greater than the pulling of a trigger or the plunging of a blade.
    But could this still be true in wartime? ...
    Yet Vlado couldn't help but marvel at the enduring popularity of murder. He knew from his history texts what war was supposed to do to people. In Stalingrad they ate rats and burned furniture to stay warm, but they stuck together. Even in London, fat and soft London, suicides dropped and mental health soared. But now he wondered if it hadn't all been some great warm lie of wartime propaganda. Because, if anything, people succumbed more easily now to the passions that had always done them in. And as the siege grumbled on, spurned lovers still shot each other naked and dead, drunks stabbed other drunks for a bottle, and gamblers died as ever for their debts.
This is not the darkest book I have ever read, but it is not a fun read or uplifting.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Lie in the Dark: Dan Fesperman

Dan Fesperman's novels are geopolitical thrillers. Per his author page at Goodreads:
Dan Fesperman’s travels as a writer have taken him to thirty countries and three war zones. Lie in the Dark won the Crime Writers’ Association of Britain’s John Creasey Memorial Dagger Award for best first crime novel, The Small Boat of Great Sorrows won their Ian Fleming Steel Dagger Award for best thriller, and The Prisoner of Guantánamo won the Dashiell Hammett Award from the International Association of Crime Writers. He lives in Baltimore.
Lie in the Dark is a police procedural set in the midst of the siege of Sarajevo during the Bosnian conflict. It describes the daily life of homicide inspector Vlado Petric as he tries to do his job. The siege has been going on for two years, and Petric's wife and child have escaped to Germany. It is a relief to Petric that they are safe, but his daughter is very young, and growing up not knowing her father. That is only one of the many ways that Petric's life is painful and depressing each and every day.

He stares out his window in the morning and watches grave diggers bury the dead.
He began the day, as always, by counting the gravediggers out his front window. There were nine this morning, moving through the snow a hundred yards away in the middle of what used to be a children's soccer field. They stopped to light cigarettes, heads bowed like mourners, the shadows of stubble faintly visible on hollowed cheeks. Then they shed their thin coats and moved apart in a ragged line. Backs bent, they began stabbing at the ground with picks and shovels.
Vlado had come to depend on the gravediggers' punctuality. He knew they liked to finish early, while the snipers and artillery crews of the surrounding hills were still asleep in the mist, groggy from another night in the mud with their plum brandy. By midmorning the gunners would also be stretching muscles and lighting cigarettes. Then they, too, would bend to their work, and from then until nightfall the soccer field would be safe only for the dead.
Vlado wondered sometimes why he still bothered to watch this morning ritual, yet he found its arithmetic irresistible. It was his daily census of the war. 
In Sarajevo, food is hard to get and often barely edible. People walking in the streets are vulnerable to being shot by snipers, and their homes may be shelled. Windows and walls that have been knocked out are covered with whatever materials can be found, but are really no protection from the fighting. Everyone lives in fear everyday.

And in the midst of this, Petric's job has been reduced to trivial, routine matters. The Interior Ministry’s special police have taken over investigations of all serious crimes. Then, Petric is assigned a new case, a policeman that appeared to have been killed by a sniper's bullet. The special police cannot investigate because the victim, Esmir Vitas, was the leader of their group, and they want it to appear to be a fair investigation.

After  being led in many different directions, Petric uncovers a conspiracy revolving around the theft of artistic treasures in Sarajevo, and finds that it is linked to Esmir Vitas. He puts himself in grave danger to find more information. He makes mistakes, trusting those he should not trust.

I found similarities between this book and The Last Policeman by Ben H. Winters. That book is about a pre-apocalyptic event that is affecting the fabric of life in a similar way to a city under siege. There seems to be no reason to investigate murders when the future of life is so uncertain. In this case, coworkers, friends and relatives die everyday or lose their livelihoods as the city is damaged and lacks necessary supplies. Like everyone else, Petric is just surviving from day to day until this case comes along.

As many reviewers have noted, this book is as much a picture of life in a war zone as it is a mystery thriller. To be honest, I know very little of the history and background of the breakup of Yugoslavia. The author reported from Sarajevo on the Bosnian War, so I assume his depiction of this aspect of it is close to reality.

I did like this book a lot. It sounds like a depressing book, and it is very bleak. No matter what the resolution of this story is, there have been too many people irretrievably harmed by the conflict. The ending of the novel may have been a bit unrealistic, but it did not mar my enjoyment of the book at all. there are so many facets to this book.

If the topic and setting sounds interesting to you, I recommend this book. The author wrote a second book about Petric, The Small Boat of Great Sorrows. I have that book, and three stand-alone novels by Fesperman.


Publisher:   Soho Crime, 2012 (orig. pub. 1999)
Length:       276 pages
Format:       Trade Paperback
Series:        Vlado Petric, #1
Setting:       Sarajevo
Genre:        Police Procedural
Source:       I purchased my copy.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Garden of Beasts: Jeffery Deaver

Description from the author's website:
Paul Schumann, a German-American living in New York City in 1936, is a mobster hit man known equally for his brilliant tactics and for taking only “righteous” jobs. But when a hit goes wrong and Schumann is nabbed, he’s offered a stark choice: kill Reinhard Ernst, the man behind Hitler’s rearmament scheme, and walk free forever—or be sent to Sing-Sing and the electric chair.
The instant Paul sets foot in Berlin his mission becomes a deadly cat-and-mouse chase, with danger and betrayal lurking at every turn. For the next forty-eight hours, as the city prepares for the coming summer Olympics, Schumann stalks Ernst, while a dogged criminal police officer and the entire Third Reich security apparatus search frantically for the American.
I have only read one other book by Jeffery Deaver, The Bone Collector, which is the first book in the Lincoln Rhyme series. Deaver's books are primarily thrillers.  This book is a standalone historical thriller, set at the time prior to World War II that Germany was building toward rearmament. The author spent a lot of time researching the period. There are three pages at the end where Deaver explains who and what really happened as described in the book and how various details differed from real life. He also includes sources he used in the Acknowledgments section.

This is one of those books that is hard to describe without revealing some of the twists and turns that make it an enjoyable read. The situation is not as simple as it initially appears.

I liked the slow reveal of the primary characters, both their background and their motivations.  Some of the characters seemed too much like stereotypes, but I felt like at the end they had been fleshed out to be more realistic. The story shifts between Paul Schumann, the hit man who is coerced into working for US intelligence; Willie Kohl, the policeman who is investigating a murder in Berlin; Rheinhard Ernst, Schumann's target; and other minor characters.

My favorite character is Willie Kohl. He is a Kripo inspector not associated with the SS or the Gestapo. Most of the resources of his department have been taken over by the other groups, but he has learned to work around that when necessary. It is hard doing a good job investigating crimes in the environment he is working in, but he carries on.

In an interview at his site, Deaver picks Otto Webber as his favorite character.
He’s a small-time crime boss and operator in Berlin. He’s funny, lives life to the fullest and forms an improbable friendship with Paul.
Paul plans to take his landlady out for dinner. She has lost her job as a teacher for saying the wrong thing in the classroom, and her circumstances are drastically reduced.  This describes her transformation:
Thirty minutes later, a knock on the door. When he opened it he blinked. She was an entirely different person.
Käthe was wearing a black dress that would have satisfied even fashion goddess Marion in Manhattan. Close fitting, made from a shimmery material, a daring slit up the side and tiny sleeves that barely covered her shoulders. The garment smelled faintly of mothballs. She seemed slightly ill at ease, embarrassed almost to be wearing such a stylish gown, as if all she’d worn recently were housedresses. But her eyes shone and he had the same thought as earlier: how a subdued beauty and passion radiated from within her, wholly negating the matte skin and the bony knuckles and pale complexion, the furrowed brow.
I liked the book a lot and would recommend it to those who like thrillers set in this period, and who don't mind the length. I did have a few minor quibbles. There was a love interest that seemed to be thrown in unnecessarily, but in the end that part of the story did fit in OK. Although the story kept me interested and entertained the entire time, there are big twists around page 400 (in a book of 536 pages). Twists are good, and I really liked that the author had me fooled, but up until that point I felt like the book was not anything special. After more is revealed I was very impressed with the book.


Publisher:   Pocket Books, 2005 (orig. pub. 2004)
Length:       536 pages
Format:       Paperback
Setting:       Berlin, Germany
Genre:        Historical mystery
Source:       I purchased my copy.