Sunday, October 22, 2017

Emma: Jane Austen

Jane Austen's novel, Emma, is a book about a rich, beautiful, and somewhat spoiled young woman who spends most of her time trying to manipulate the lives of others. Yet she does not do this maliciously or uncaringly. Everything she does is to help others, at least from her point of view. Emma, the protagonist, can be very annoying, yet I liked and sympathized with her throughout, while at the same time wanting her to wake up and grow up.

This is my third Jane Austen book in three months, and I am enjoying them all very much, more than I expected to. Some books I like more after I have finished them and considered them for a few days, and that is the case with Emma.

In general, what I like about Austen's novels is that she gives us a picture of life (at least from her point of view) at the time the books were written, and also that she is pointing out the foibles of society at that time. (Not that society at this time is any piece of cake to deal with.)

Emma's story is told primarily from her point of view, though not in first person.
“She was the youngest of the two daughters of a most affectionate, indulgent father; and had, in consequence of her sister's marriage, been mistress of his house from a very early period. Her mother had died too long ago for her to have more than an indistinct remembrance of her caresses; and her place had been supplied by an excellent woman as governess, who had fallen little short of a mother in affection.”
Miss Taylor is the governess who had been Emma's friend, almost as close as a sister, until she left the household to marry Mr. Weston. So as the book begins she is Mrs. Weston, and the loss of her constant companionship is what leads Emma to find a new friend who becomes her protege, Harriet Smith. Harriet is clearly not at Emma's social level, and not as clever, but is well-mannered and genial. Emma determines that she will find a husband for Harriet that meets Emma's criteria as worthy.

In addition to Emma, the Westons, and Harriet, the important characters in this novel are

Mr. Woodhouse
"He was a nervous man, easily depressed; fond of everybody that he was used to, and hating to part with them; hating change of every kind. Matrimony, as the agent of change, was always disagreeable; and he was by no means yet reconciled to his own daughter's marrying..."
I love the character of Mr. Woodhouse, Emma's father. He wants everything to remain the same forever. He sees the marriages of his eldest daughter and Emma's governess as misfortunes because they left him to pursue their own lives and needs and he cannot see them everyday, any time he wants. Many readers see Emma as self-centered and narcissistic, but Mr. Woodhouse more truly fits that description. He is focused on his own needs, and wants the universe to continue to revolve around him and cater to his needs. Emma is a loving daughter, treats him respectfully, and tries to get him out and about at times.

Mr. Knightley, a close family friend and the brother of the husband of Emma's older sister, is another important character. He is seventeen years older than Emma, and he is the only person who points out her flaws to her when she makes mistakes. Emma and Mr. Knightly  are valued friends but often at odds with each other.

Frank Churchill is the son of Mr. Weston by a previous wife, who was raised by his wealthy aunt and uncle, the Churchills. It is obvious that the Weston's would like Frank Churchill and Emma to get together (to the reader, but not to Emma, who is not interested in marriage and happy to live with her father).

Jane Fairfax comes to live with her aunt and grandmother, Miss Bates and Mrs. Bates, her only living relatives. Emma and Jane are about the same age, and although Jane is not socially Emma's equal, Emma feels threatened by her talents (singing and playing the piano).

What I like about this novel specifically is the portrayal of Emma. She may be irritating, at times infuriating, but she sees herself as independent and is not focused on her own marriage plans, which is refreshing. I found it funny that Emma is extremely aware of distinctions between the classes and whether or not she should mix with certain groups of people, but she ignores all of this when she schemes to make a match between Harriet and various men, all not of Harriet's class.

As the book progresses we see Emma's gradual (very gradual) realization that she should not be so judgmental and should stop messing with other people's lives. She learns to be more careful and considerate in her behavior and opens up to a relationship she did not realize was important to her.

My biggest complaint about this book (and so far about Austen's novels in general) is the length. She spends so much time on details and building up portraits of people and situations and, at times, loses the reader along the way. This isn't enough to deter me from reading Austen, however. The pros far outweigh the cons.

I read Emma this month as a part of the Jane Austen Read All A-Long at James Reads Books. The readalong started with Sense and Sensibility in July and continues through Persuasion in December. I read Pride and Prejudice in August and Mansfield Park in September. I will be reading Northanger Abbey in November and Persuasion in December. 


Publisher:   Book of the Month Club, 1996 (orig. pub. 1816)
Length:      437 pages, including about 35 full page illustrations
Format:      Trade paperback
Setting:      UK
Genre:        Literary fiction
Source:      I purchased my copy.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

The Nightrunners: Michael Collins

I love the beginning paragraphs of this book... They set the story up so well.
It was the kind of house that made my father feel small–a nobody, nothing. Three stories, nearly thirty rooms, and half hidden by its own tall trees on some ten acres of Connecticut woods. A rolled lawn still green in November before the first snow, and a triple garage, with rooms above, that had been a coach house when the country was young. Not the Rockefeller mansion, no, but you knew that the people who lived here were someone.
My father had looked at houses like this one and talked about being no one. Not when I was small, but later, just before he disappeared. When I was small he'd been proud of being a New York City cop,  but later he watched important men in big cars driving out of big houses and talked about not even existing.
In this ninth book in the series, Dan Fortune has been summoned by Wallace Kern, President of Kern Laboratories, to find Kern's brother, William, a gambler who has disappeared. Fortune succeeds in this mission, but soon realizes that there is more to the story, and continues investigating. This story has twists and turns I did not anticipate, and not only in the mystery plot. Primarily set in New York, there are also side trips to Southern California and Mexico.

Fortune has only one arm, and he feels this makes him depend on his common sense and intelligence. Not much is said here about how he lost his arm. I enjoyed getting to know Dan Fortune and I liked the author's writing style. In this book, there is less action and gun play, and more emphasis on brains and persistence. Dan doesn't like to give up on a case. I will be going back to the beginning of the series to see the character's development, but also because the first novel in the series, Act of Fear, was very highly acclaimed.

Michael Collins was a pseudonym for Dennis Lynds. Lynds was from New York like his protagonist, but he moved to Santa Barbara when he was 41 and several of the books in the Dan Fortune series are set there. In Santa Barbara, Lynds became friends with Ross Macdonald (Kenneth Millar),  who "wrote a letter of introduction on Collins’ behalf to his old editor Ray Bond at Dodd, Mead paving the way for Act of Fear’s publication.  Macdonald also hooked Collins up with literary agent Dorothy Olding." (See this interesting article and interview at Mystery*File).

See Barry Ergang's review at Kevin Tipple's blog, Kevin's Corner.


Publisher:  Robert Hale, London, 1979 (orig. pub. 1978)
Length:      216 pages
Format:     Hardcover
Series:      Dan Fortune, #9
Setting:     New York
Genre:      Mystery, Private Investigator
Source:     I purchased my copy

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Deep Water: Christine Poulson

Description from Christine Poulson's web site:
When patent lawyer Daniel Marchmont agrees to act for Calliope Biotech, he doesn’t know what he’s getting into. The first lawyer on the case is dead, and a vital lab book is missing. Daniel and his wife Rachel are hoping biotechnology will also provide a cure for their daughter Chloe, who suffers from a devastating genetic disorder. Then the unimaginable happens, and they face a moral dilemma that threatens everything.
Meanwhile young researcher Katie Flanagan suspects something is very wrong in the lab. But knowledge is dangerous when someone is playing a perilous game . . .
I had never thought about the many aspects of pharmaceutical research and development. There are those who need the drugs, to improve their lives or maybe even save them. There are the researchers, who are fighting for time and money to complete their research. And the companies who fund the research with the hope of high return on the investment. I liked how this novel showed that all of these wants and needs can lead to misunderstandings, battles for power, and greed... and possibly murder.

There are a lot of characters, but the novel centers around Daniel Marchant's family and Katie Flanagan's research mishaps, and I had no trouble keeping the other characters straight. Daniel's involvement is complicated because the lawyer that he replaces on the case against Calliope Biotech was his ex-wife. Katie ends up living on Rachel Marchant's boat when she loses her flat. The  main characters all have their problems and the personal issues add to the story rather than detract.

There is a good level of tension throughout and the pacing is terrific. The setting is very nice too. The biotech industries are located in Silicon Fen in the area around Cambridge, England.

Poulson's next book, Cold Cold Heart, a sequel to Deep Water, is due out in the UK in November and in the USA in January 2018.  I am excited about the setting: an Antarctic station and I will be getting my copy as soon as it is available.

See also Moira's review at Clothes in Books and a review and interview at Promoting Crime Fiction.


Publisher:  Lion Hudson, 2016
Length:      250 pages
Format:     Trade paperback
Series:      Katie Flanagan, #1
Setting:     UK
Genre:      Medical thriller
Source:     I purchased my copy

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Bodies Are Where You Find Them: Brett Halliday

This novel is the fifth book in a series of over 70 novels about Mike Shayne, the tough and determined private investigator. The first thirty novels in the series were written by Davis Dresser, using the pseudonym Brett Halliday. The remaining novels were written by other authors, still using the same pseudonym.

There were two reasons that I read this as my first Mike Shayne novel. It was the earliest novel I had in the series, and I wanted to start close to the beginning. Also, this novel was inspiration for the film Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, and I wanted to see how much they resembled each other.

Mike Shayne is a hard-boiled, unsentimental private detective in Miami, Florida. The only thing he is sentimental about is his new wife, and she is not around for very much of this story. She is sent off to New York on a vacation that they were supposed to take together, but Mike must remain behind to work on a case related to a prominent politician who is running for Mayor.

While Shayne is getting ready to go on the trip with his wife, a young woman comes to his office with some information on the Mayoral candidate, Burt Stallings. She is very inebriated and passes out before she can tell Shayne her secret. He leaves her alone and when he returns she is dead, strangled with one of her stockings. Afraid that he will be arrested for her murder before he can prove his innocence, he sends his friend,  reporter Timothy Rourke, to get a car to move her. When they both return, the body has disappeared.

While all of this is going on, Stallings comes to Shayne and demands that he find his stepdaughter, who has been kidnapped. It seems obvious that the dead body in his bedroom must be the kidnapped stepdaughter, and Shayne has to figure out what is really going on.

After finishing the book, I moved on to Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, which we had viewed several times before. I hadn't expected there to be so many similarities between the book and the film. The main differences I noted were the setting (Miami vs Hollywood) and the time (1941 vs 2005).

In the book, the woman's body pops up when least expected. The subject is serious but the tone of the novel is light. Eventually some of the clues lead Shayne and Rourke to a sanitarium, and in the end the motive for the murder is money. These elements all exist in the movie also, just rearranged and updated to fit current times.

In the book, Mike Shayne is the detective and his sidekick is a reporter and friend. In the movie, Gay Perry (played by Val Kilmer) is the detective and Harry Lockhart (played by Robert Downey, Jr.) is his sidekick, pulled into the story first because he is getting experience for a role in a movie as a private detective, and then later because his childhood friend, Harmony (Michelle Monaghan), now an aspiring actress, is involved. The events in both the book and the movie are chaotic, confusing, and seemingly random but as with most private detective stories, the pieces all come together in the end.

I enjoyed both the book and the film. The actors in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang are wonderful, and the story is a lot of fun. There are thrills combined with comedy and romance, and allusions to Raymond Chandler's books. The chapter titles in the movie are all taken from Raymond Chandler novels or stories: "Trouble is My Business", "The Lady in the Lake", "The Little Sister", "The Simple Art of Murder", and the epilogue, "Farewell, My Lovely". And to top it off, it is set at Christmas.

The poster for Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is from enigmabadger via Flickr.


Publisher:  Dell, 1959. Orig. pub. 1941.
Length:     183 pages
Format:     Paperback
Series:      Mike Shayne, #5
Setting:     Miami, Florida
Genre:      Mystery, private detective
Source:     I purchased my copy.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Malicious Intent: Kathryn Fox

Summary from the author's website:
Dr Anya Crichton, a pathologist and forensic physician, finds work is sparse for the only female freelancer in the field. Between paying child support, a mortgage and struggling to get her business off the ground, Anya can’t yet afford to fight her ex-husband for custody of their three-year-old son, Ben. 
After her expert evidence helps win a high-profile court case, Anya is asked by lawyer Dan Brody to look into the drug overdose of a young Lebanese girl. While investigating, Anya notices startling coincidences in a number of unrelated suicides she’s been asked to examine by friend and colleague, Detective Sergeant Kate Farrer. 
This is the first novel in the Dr. Anya Crichton series, set in Sydney, New South Wales, Australia. A big plus is the strong female protagonist, balancing family responsibilities with dedication to her work. I like this author's writing style; after building the story up to the main investigation, the pacing and tension kept me reading.  The main character's personal circumstances and backstory make the story more realistic and credible, although usually I prefer less of that in a mystery.

My main problem with this book is that I don't like the descriptions of forensic examinations. For some reason I can handle some violence and grit in books, but the realities of autopsies are unappealing. I did appreciate the detailed description of Crichton's considerate handling of the examination of a rape victim. I had forgotten that forensic physicians perform evaluations on victims of crimes involving physical abuse to record the evidence. So, overall, a book covering very interesting topics that sometimes were a challenge for me to read about.

The author is a  physician with a special interest in forensic medicine. This novel won the 2005 Davitt Award for Best Adult Novel. The series consists of seven novels so far, and Fox has also written a book with James Patterson, titled Private Sydney.

Some other resources:

This is my second book read and reviewed for the Australian Women Writers Challenge for 2017.


Publisher:  HarperCollins, 2006 (orig. publ. 2004)
Length:      345 pages
Format:     Trade paperback
Series:      Dr. Anya Crichton, #1
Setting:     Sydney, Australia
Genre:      Medical thriller
Source:     I purchased my copy

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

The Emperor's Snuff Box: John Dickson Carr

As far as I know, I have never read any mysteries by John Dickson Carr (or any under his other pseudonym, Carter Dickson). Many bloggers have spoken highly of his books and encourage me to try one and finally I did. I think this one was a very good choice. It is a standalone novel, not one of the series novels featuring the well-known detectives Dr. Gideon Fell or Sir Henry Merrivale.

As I started reading the novel, it seemed like a romance. Eve Neill is living in France, divorced from her first husband, Ned. She lives across the street from her fiancé, Toby, and his family. One night her ex-husband sneaks into her house to beg her to return to him, and they see someone attacking her fiancé's father, Sir Maurice Lawes. Ned falls on the stairs as he leaves the house, but seems fine and returns to his lodgings. Because Eve does not want to reveal that her ex-husband was in her house, she does not share information she has about the crime, until it is too late, and incriminates herself.

The detective in this story was a "specialist in criminal psychology," Dr  Dermot Kinross. I liked that character a lot. The Lawes' family is full of very aggravating people. I was out of patience with Toby's family for not trusting Eve, and with her for caring what they thought under the circumstances, but the story is told so well that none of my nitpicks deterred my enjoyment. The mystery plot is very clever and also fun to read. I have acquired several other books by Carr and I will be trying more of them out.

Here are some reviews from other bloggers: At Tipping My Fedora, Clothes in Books, and In so many WORDS... 

This book is submitted for the Golden Vintage Scavenger Hunt in the "Brunette" category.


Publisher:  Pocket Books, 1946, orig. pub. 1942.
Length:   198 pages
Format:   paperback
Setting:   France
Genre:    Mystery
Source:   I bought my copies.

Monday, October 2, 2017

August and September Reading

I skipped a reading summary for August so this is a combo summary for August and September. I read ten books in August and seven in September. As usual most of the books were crime fiction. I read several of these books specifically so that we could go ahead and watch film or TV adaptations (Blue Lightning, Hammett, The Case of the Rolling Bones, and One Shot).

My project for the next few months is to read books by Jane Austen, as a part of the Jane Austen Read All A-Long at James Reads Books.  So far it has been a great experience. In August I read Pride and Prejudice (a re-read actually). In September I read Mansfield Park, which was totally new to me. And now I am reading Emma.

And these are the crime fiction books I read:

Blue Lightning (2010) by Ann Cleeves
Blue Lightning is the fourth book in the Shetland series by Ann Cleeves. Jimmy Perez is a Detective Inspector in the Shetland Islands. The book takes place on Fair Isle, where Perez grew up.  My thoughts are here.

Dead Skip (1972) by Joe Gores
The DKA Files series by Joe Gores features a group of investigators who work for Daniel Kearny Associates, a firm specializing in repossessions of vehicles whose owners have defaulted on their loan payments. The setting is in and around San Francisco. Dead Skip is the first novel in the series. I enjoyed it and will continue reading the series. My thoughts are here
Hammett (1975) by Joe Gores
This is a fictionalized version of events in Samuel Dashiell Hammett's life in 1928, when Hammett was no longer a private detective and was trying to support himself with his writing. An old colleague tries to get him involved in a high profile case in San Francisco. My thoughts are here.

Malicious Intent (2004) by Kathryn Fox
Set in Sydney, Australia, this is the first novel in a series starring Dr. Anya Crichton, a pathologist and forensic physician, who begins working as a freelancer. Dan Brody, a defence lawyer, asks her to look into the drug overdose of a young Lebanese girl. Forensic investigations are not my favorite subjects in mysteries, but this was an exciting read and my interest never lagged.

The Emperor's Snuff-box (1942) by John Dickson Carr
This is a standalone novel, not one of Carr's series books. Eve Neill is living in France, divorced from her first husband. She lives across the street from her new fiancé's family. One night her ex-husband sneaks into her house to beg her to return to him, and they see someone attacking her fiancé's father. I enjoyed this book immensely.

Dr. No (1958) by Ian Fleming
James Bond is sent to Jamaica to follow up on the disappearance of two agents, one of them being the Head of Station, John Strangways. This was a very entertaining novel and I enjoyed it even more since the movie is a favorite. My post is here.
Deep Water (2016) by Christine Poulson
Deep Water is about a legal fight to assert a company's claim to a drug patent, and the deaths that may or may not be related to it. This novel shows the many aspects of pharmaceutical research and development. There are those who need the drugs, to improve their lives or maybe even save them. There are the researchers, who are fighting for time and money to complete their research. And the companies who fund the research. This sounds complex, and there are a lot of characters, but they all feel real and the pacing is terrific. 

Winter Ground (2008) by Catriona McPherson
When a circus comes to spend the winter at the neighboring estate to Gilverton, Dandy Gilver is asked to investigate some worrisome pranks and practical jokes. Then one of the pranks results in a death, and the question becomes, was it an accident or not? Set in 1925 at a country house in Perthshire, Scotland. The setting is great, the characters are interesting, and it is set around Christmas and the New Year.

The Case of the Rolling Bones (1939) by Erle Stanley Gardner
This is the 15th Perry Mason novel in a series numbering over 80 books. A 70-year-old man (Alden Leeds) is institutionalized in a sanitarium by his relatives who don't want him to marry a younger girlfriend from his past.  His niece (Phyllis Leeds) thinks that Alden is being blackmailed and goes to Perry Mason for help. My post is here.

A Capital Crime (2010) by Laura Wilson
It is the 1950s in London; Detective Inspector Ted Stratton is a widower with grown children. The story begins with the suspected murders of a woman and her child. But it is also about the post-war changes in England and family relationships. Overly long, but I enjoyed this third book in the DI Ted Stratton series.
Close Quarters (1947)
and Smallbone Deceased (1950) by Michael Gilbert
Close Quarters was Michael Gilbert's first mystery novel and also the first in the Inspector Hazelriggs series.  Smallbone Deceased  is the fourth in the series and regarded by many as his best book. I love the way Michael Gilbert writes and both books are enjoyable reads. Smallbone Deceased was especially good, though.
Wicked Autumn (2011) by G. M. Malliet
Max Tudor is the vicar of the very small village of Nether Monkslip, and the star of this amateur sleuth mystery. However, he was previously an agent for MI5, so he has a bit of experience. He gets called on to help in a behind-the-scenes role when a prominent member of the Women's Institute dies during the Harvest Fayre. A bit too cozy for me, but I plan on reading more in the series.

One Shot (2005) by Lee Childs
This is the ninth Jack Reacher novel, and I read it because it is the basis for first Jack Reacher film. I loved this book; it is only the 2nd Jack Reacher book I have read. Now I will be  reading more of them.

The Nightrunners (1978) by Michael Collins
Coincidentally, this is the ninth Dan Fortune novel. Dan Fortune is a one-armed private detective based in New York. In this story he starts out tracking down a business man's brother, who is a compulsive gambler, but soon realizes that the story is much more complex. Michael Collins was a pseudonym for Dennis Lynds. Lynds was from New York like his protagonist, but he moved to Santa Barbara when he was 41 and several of the books in the series are set there. I will be tracking down more of them.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

The Case of the Rolling Bones: Erle Stanley Gardner

Description from the back of my paperback edition of The Case of the Rolling Bones:
Perry Mason sat quietly in his office and complained to Della Street that life was dull. Two minutes later he was neck deep in trouble. It involved Alden Leeds, black sheep of the Leeds family. It seemed that when Uncle Alden was much younger he had run away to Alaska. There he had struck gold and become entangled with a Klondike dance-hall girl. Now that girl had reappeared and staked a claim on Alden. His heirs took one look at her and objected strenuously.
And this is only the start of a very complicated story starring Perry Mason, the famous and talented defense lawyer, and his lovely secretary Della. The plot of TCOT Rolling Bones is so complex even now I could not hope to explain it to you. There are confused identities, multiple aliases, and the story leads all the way back to Alden Leeds' early days as a prospector in Alaska.

My favorite part of a Perry Mason novel is always Perry and Della and the way they work together. Here are the descriptions of those two in The Cast of Characters at the beginning of the book:
Perry Mason, who likes to puzzle with human problems, and gets a lot of encouragement. 
Della Street, who is not only Perry's Girl Friday but all the other days of the week.
Due to the complexities of the plot and me getting completely lost in it, I would not say this is my favorite Perry Mason novel. Of course, I have only read two of them in the last few years, so I don't have much to compare to. (I read many books from the series when I was a teenager.) The other one I read recently, The Case of the Restless Redhead, published in 1954, had a more straightforward plot (comparatively). It did involve Perry juggling the evidence; I had forgotten that he has no problems doing that and getting away with it.

So, not my favorite, but still an entertaining read. Many people liked this one a lot, so I don't want to discourage anyone from reading it. John at Pretty Sinister Books has written a wonderful review with lots of detail, and his post features three lovely covers different from mine.

We have been watching episodes from the Perry Mason TV series. In the first season, a large number of the episodes are based on the novels, and the last episode of that season is an adaptation of TCOT Rolling Bones. As you would expect when you shorten the story to  a one hour episode, the story is greatly simplified in the TV show, but it doesn't lose any of its charm.

Raymond Burr as Perry Mason is very entertaining, always so sure of himself. Barbara Hale as Della is terrific, and it is fun to see the cars and clothes from the 1950s. In this episode, Perry and Paul Drake (a detective who often works for Perry) go to Reno, Nevada via airplane, and it was also fun to see the old airplane, a Douglas DC-4. The California settings are good too.


Publisher:   Pocket Book edition,1947. Orig. pub. 1939.
Length:      218 pages
Format:      Paperback
Series:       Perry Mason
Setting:      Southern California
Genre:       Legal Mystery
Source:      I purchased this book.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Mansfield Park: Jane Austen

I enjoyed this story of a young girl who was taken in by her aunt and uncle because her own parents cannot afford to support all their children. Thus, Fanny Price grows up in a much wealthier and educated family than the one she was born into. As she grows up, Fanny is made very much aware that she is less educated and not of the same station as her cousins. She misses her parents and her siblings, especially her older brother, William. Her new family has two girls and two boys and all of them are older than she is. Fanny is befriended by one of her male cousins, Edmund, who is six years older. The others pretty much ignore her.

The first three chapters (of nearly forty) cover from the time Fanny joins the Bertram's at Mansfield Park at about 10 years of age until she is about 16 or 17. At that point, her cousins Maria and Julia are looking for husbands and the rest of the story covers the ups and downs of their flirtations, courtships, and marriages.

Both because of her younger age and because she is  not of the same social status as her cousins, Fanny does not expect to be a part of the associated festivities and is usually more of a looker on. Although Fanny has had many of the benefits of being raised at Mansfield Park, there is a clear difference between her and her spoiled cousins, who are demanding and think little of others. Fanny has turned into a lovely and kind young lady, but is often treated as more of a companion and a servant to her two aunts.  Especially by her Aunt Norris, who doesn't want to see her get any special treatment at all.

Complex relationships develop between the Bertram daughters and sons and other young people in the area. A wealthy brother and sister, Henry and Mary Crawford, move into the area. Fanny's two female cousins (Maria and Julia) are both in love with Henry and in competition for his affections, even though the eldest already has a fiancé. Mary Crawford is attracted to Edmund Bertram, but isn't happy with his lower prospects financially as a younger son.

A very interesting part of the story for me was the plans by the young people to perform a play. Tom, the eldest son, starts up construction in one part of the house to have a stage for the performance. Fanny's uncle, usually very much in charge of the events in the household, is away in Antigua and Edmund and Fanny are sure that he would not approve the performance of a play in his home. But even Aunt Norris, who has been left in charge while Lord Bertram is gone, supports the endeavor. In the end there are ruinous relationships and broken friendships.

Later, Fanny returns to live with her own lower-middle-class family for several months. In this section the chasm between her family and her adopted family is very clear. Her main joy in this visit is seeing more of her favorite brother William but he is quickly shipped off to sea on a new assignment. She is shocked by the rowdy and rude behavior of her siblings and sees the reality of life without the luxuries of Mansfield Park where there were servants to cook and clean.

There are several very interesting (and maddening) characters. Lady Bertram has hardly any interest in her children and is very passive, refusing to make decisions. Her sister, Aunt Norris, is a busybody, controlling and manipulative, and very unkind to Fanny.

I personally liked Fanny a lot, but some readers find her bland. At one point she rejects a proposal of marriage because she does not care for the young man, nor does she believe that his sentiments are sincere, and I respect her sticking to her convictions. Some Bertram family members are disappointed with her behavior. I would have liked her to share her opinions and speak up for herself, but due to her upbringing and being treated with little affection for so many years, I  can see how this could have shaped her quiet, submissive behavior.

So far in my reading of Jane Austen's books (this book and Pride and Prejudice), it seems the stories focus on marriage and the importance of the proper choices of mates (with sufficient resources). All of this was very important in those times, and the book highlights the limited options for women. Another theme is family relationships, especially those between parents and children.

I bought an annotated copy of Mansfield Park to read, but I found it really wasn't useful for a first read. Too distracting from the story. Luckily I had another copy to read. But afterwards, I did enjoy reading through some of the notes and picking up more information on facts and attitudes of the times. This is a book I am sure I will reread and probably enjoy even more on a second read.


Publisher:   The Folio Society, London, 1959 (orig. pub. 1814)
Length:      364 pages
Format:      Hardcover
Setting:      UK
Genre:        Literary fiction
Source:      I purchased my copies.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Hammett: Joe Gores

Joe Gores was an admirer and a student of Dashiell Hammett's writing. Both had been private investigators before they  became full time writers. Both had lived and worked in San Francisco. Thus Gores was the perfect person to write this fictionalized version of events in Samuel Dashiell Hammett's life, set in 1928 when Hammett was no longer a private detective and was trying to support himself with his writing.

In this novel, Hammett is approached by Victor Atkinson, a private detective he had worked years before.  He wants Hammett to join him in an investigation of corruption in the San Francisco police department and government. Hammett refuses, stressing that he is not interested and not up the task after many years away from the profession. When Atkinson is killed very soon after that, Hammett gets involved.

Gore's story telling sucked me in. He provided a wonderful picture of San Francisco in the late 1920's. I enjoyed both the view of Dashiell Hammett at that time and the mystery plot. The descriptions of the corruption in San Francisco at that time were fascinating.

The New York Times obituary for Joe Gores has this to say about Hammett:
In “Hammett“ (1975) Mr. Gores skillfully blended fact and fiction, inventing a murder case for his protagonist to solve at the time the actual Hammett was finishing “Red Harvest.” Critics praised Mr. Gores’s evocation of Hammett’s literary style and character, as well as his fictional world.
On the dust jacket of the hardback edition, a quote from Joe Gores:
"I wanted to paint a fictionalized, yet honest portrait of the man who created an authentic and original voice in American literature and to paint that portrait against the backdrop of his times--the 1920’s--and his city--San Francisco." 
The Author Notes at the end of the book about Hammett's life and San Francisco history were almost as enjoyable as the book itself. Those notes got me interested in reading more books by Hammett. So far I have only read The Maltese Falcon and The Thin Man.

After reading the book, I then watched the film adaptation from 1982, directed by Wim Wenders. The executive producer was Francis Ford Coppola, and Ross Thomas was one of the screenwriters. It was not the first time we had seen the movie, so I already knew I liked it. But viewing it after reading the book, I noticed how different it was from the book. Some of the basic story was there, and it was still about corruption and vice in San Francisco, but the story in the film was not nearly as realistic as the book felt. Still, we enjoyed viewing the movie again.

I liked Frederic Forrest as Dashiell Hammett, and Marilu Henner was very good as a neighbor and friend. Peter Boyle is one of my favorite actors and he had a good role as Hammett's old friend, a former Pinkerton detective. That role is much bigger in the film than in the book. And Elisha Cook Jr. has a small part as a taxi driver.

Here are some interesting links regarding problems in the production of the film:

Writers Who Worked on The "Hammett" Screenplay at The Thrilling Detective

Wim Wenders Sets The Record Straight at IndieWire


Publisher: Putnam, 1975
Length:    242 pages
Format:    Hardback
Setting:    San Francisco
Genre:     Historical Mystery
Source:    Purchased.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Busman's Honeymoon: Dorothy L. Sayers

I was surprised that Dorothy Sayers wrote only eleven mysteries featuring Lord Peter Wimsey. I have read them all, but for most of them it was a long time ago. Of these, only four feature Harriet Vane as Wimsey's love interest.

Busman’s Honeymoon was the last novel in the series. After five years of being wooed by Peter, Harriet Vane has finally said yes, and we get a peek at the wedding planning, the nuptials, but most of all their first few days of marriage while on their honeymoon at Talboys, where a dead body is discovered.

The story begins with a series of letters and extracts from the diary of the Dowager Duchess of Denver (Peter's mother). That part of the story is lovely, entertaining, and gives the reader a good picture of the issues with Lord Peter choosing to marry a commoner and a woman who has been previously involved in a murder trial.

Following that, Harriet and Peter leave for Talboys, a farmhouse in the country that Harriet had dreamed of owning when she was a child. Peter has just purchased Talboys and has arranged for it to be habitable for them for their honeymoon. Things go very wrong, and when they arrive the house is locked, and not close to ready for them to take it over. They find the previous owner's niece, who lets them into the house, which is in disarray. The next day, as they all (but mostly Bunter, Peter's loyal manservant) work hard to get it into shape, a body is discovered. Of course, Peter and Harriet inevitably get involved in the investigation.

There is much good to say about this book. Sayers excels at characterization, both in the major and the minor characters. In this book, Harriet and Bunter are getting used to their new roles in relationship to each other. I also enjoyed the portrayal of Superintendent Kirk, of the local CID, who investigates the murder, and his concern for his police constable, Joe Sellon, who seems to  be implicated in the murder.

The body is not discovered until one third of the way into the book, and this story is like many of Sayer's books concerning the couple in that it is not really the mystery that is given the most attention, but the story around the mystery. Some readers like this, others don't. I am mostly neutral on this point, except that I think in this case both the mystery plot and the discussions of Harriet and Peter's new relationship go on too long. The book has interminable stretches where characters discuss the intricate timing of alibis and there is way too much dialog between Peter and Harriet about their relationship (not to mention that much of it is in French). I would have liked a shorter version of this book much better.

I reread this book because we had purchased a copy of Haunted Honeymoon (1940), the film adaptation starring  Robert Montgomery as Lord Peter Wimsey and Constance Cummings as Harriet. We had taped a copy when it showed on TV years ago and were glad to be able to watch it again. The story was not too changed, although in the film the couple have sworn off of detecting and are not too much like the characters in the book, in my opinion. But still a lot of fun to watch.

Other resources:

Most posts that discuss this book or the entire set of books featuring both Harriet and Peter, do contain spoilers to the early books, so if you haven't read any of the books starting with Strong Poison, you may want to wait to read the following posts.

These three posts discuss Busman's Honeymoon: At My Reader's Block, Classic Mysteries, and crossexaminingcrime.

These two posts discuss all the books with Peter and Harriet: At Clothes in Books and Criminal Element.


Publisher:  Avon Books, 1968 (orig. publ. 1937).
Length:      318 pages (of very tiny print)
Format:      Paperback
Series:       Peter Wimsey, #11
Setting:      UK
Genre:       Mystery
Source:      I purchased my copy.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Dr. No: Ian Fleming

At the end of From Russia with Love, James Bond had been poisoned. At the point that Dr. No begins, Bond has just returned from months of recuperation and M is eager to send him off on an assignment.

M and Bond are having relationship problems. M thinks that Bond may have lost his nerve or made poor decisions in the last case. The doctor does not want Bond put out in the field so soon after his recovery, but Bond is ready and willing to get back to work. However, he does resent it deeply when M forces him to use a new type of gun, a Walther PPK instead of his Beretta.

M asks Bond to go to Jamaica to follow up on the disappearance of two agents, one of them being the Head of Station in Jamaica, John Strangways. This is considered a "soft" assignment, almost a test of Bond's abilities, and thus Bond feels even more resentment. When Bond decides to investigate some suspicious circumstances on Crab Key island, he sets out with a guide and doesn't bother letting M or anyone else in Jamaica know his plans. Thus when the situation on Crab Key gets rough and dangerous, there is no hope of rescue.

This was a very entertaining novel. Now that I am used to the fantastical aspects in the James Bond novels, I can just go along with that and enjoy the fun. There are some standard elements in each James Bond book: a powerful supervillain, a beautiful and sexy love interest, and lots of action and violence.  Here we have the sinister Dr. No on Crab Key island and Honeychile Rider, the young and naive woman collecting shells on the beach at Crab Key. Quarrel, a Cayman Island fisherman, first met in Live and Let Die, takes Bond to the island. Bond, Honey, and Quarrel discover Dr. No's nefarious plans but don't realize how much of a maniac he is.

Other elements that routinely show up in the Bond stories are racism and sexist attitudes, and this book is full of those. If you can get past those, it is a fun adventure novel, with a fairly accurate view of the place and the time.

I was also biased towards this novel because Dr. No is one of the films that I am most familiar with. As the first adaptation of a Bond novel, it is extremely memorable and I am very fond of it. I was glad to see that the novel and the film are very much alike.

One difference is the presence of Felix Leiter, CIA agent, in the film, and my favorite actor in that role, Jack Lord. The action starts to diverge some after Bond and Quarrel get on Crab Key island, and Dr. No's motivation is somewhat different in the film. Ursula Andress as Honey is very fitting in the role. Since this was the first film adapted from the books, it also benefits from the absence of an overload of gadgets or unbelievable physical prowess on Bond's side.

Other resources: See this post at Killer Covers which features many different cover illustrations for Dr. No.  Also Moira's post on this book at Clothes in Books.

Next I will be moving on to Goldfinger, maybe before the end of the year.


Publisher:   Bantam Books, 1971 (orig. pub. 1958) 
Length:       216 pages
Format:      Paperback
Series:       James Bond, #6
Setting:      Jamaica
Genre:        Spy thriller
Source:      I purchased this book.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

The A.B.C. Murders: Agatha Christie

The A.B.C. Murders, also published as The Alphabet Murders, is a book in the Hercule Poirot series, published in 1936. An added plus for me is that Captain Arthur Hastings and Inspector Japp join him in this investigation. And in this case, there is another official assigned to the case, Inspector Crome, who, as usual, underestimates Poirot's abilities.

Captain Hastings is visiting Poirot, back from his ranch in South America. Poirot receives a letter hinting that a crime will take place in Andover. Thus begins a series of murders, each set in a different city. The case is unusual for Agatha Christie because it is a hunt for a serial killer, and that was not very common in the 1930's.

As I have been reading more books by Agatha Christie in the last few years, I have found every one of them to be an entertaining read, never boring. And this one was no different on that score. It was not my favorite but it has many things to recommend it.

I like the Poirot novels that are narrated by Captain Hastings; the two have a nice relationship, teasing each other but always supportive. In this case there are sections of the book not told from Hastings viewpoint, and we are warned of this. But I did not find that approach quite as effective. There seemed to me to be more characters than usual and I did get confused trying to keep track of them. Even so, I guessed what was going on, and who did it, but not the motive.

Even though I would not put this on my list of top novels by Agatha Christie, it has made many top 5 or 10 lists of Christie novels so I still would recommend it, especially if you are a Christie fan. If you are new to Christie, maybe it is not the place to start.

See other posts about this book at Confessions of a Mystery Novelist..., A Crime is Afoot, and Wordsmithonia.

This post is submitted for the Golden Vintage Scavenger Hunt in the "Train" category.


Publisher:  Pocket Books, 1966. Orig. pub. 1936.
Length:     188 pages
Format:     Paperback
Series:      Hercule Poirot
Setting:     UK
Genre:       Mystery
Source:     I purchased my copies.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Red Bones and Blue Lightning: Ann Cleeves

When I wrote a post on the first two books in the Shetland series by Ann Cleeves, Raven Black and White Nights, I had difficulty explaining exactly what I liked so much about the books. After having read the next two books in the series, I think it is a combination of good storytelling, good characters, and the wonderful setting of the Shetland Islands. And another big plus is that there is variety in each book.

In Red Bones, Jimmy Perez is called to the small island of Whalsay because his deputy's grandmother has been killed. The death appears to be a tragic accident, caused by a neighbor who was shooting rabbits nearby, but there is still a lot of resentment between the families involved. This book was especially interesting because the focus was on dysfunctional family relationships.

In Blue Lightning, Perez has gone to Fair Isle with his fiancée to see his parents. A reception honoring the couple is held at the bird observatory on the island. The next day, Perez is called in because the leader of the institute has been murdered. Perez is on vacation, of course, but the island is socked in due to weather conditions and there is no one else to handle the situation. I liked the immersion in the birding community (which Cleeves knows a lot about); the ending was very much of a surprise, and makes up for the slow pace of the investigation.

Perez is not a troubled detective but his character is very brooding. He follows police procedure in handling the crimes, but it seems that the resolution of the crimes is solved mostly by intuition. The pace is slow and Perez spends a lot of his time (in both books) thinking about his personal life and relationships.

I like everything I have read by Ann Cleeves. Other than the first four books in the Shetland series, I have read two Vera Stanhope mysteries and two Inspector Stephen Ramsay mysteries. The Vera Stanhope series is my favorite so far, but the Shetland series is very, very good. For mystery lovers who like police procedurals or mysteries with unique settings, I would definitely recommend these books. However, if you are bothered by too much of a character's personal relationships in a mystery, this may not be for you. I am neutral on that topic; for me, it really depends on whether the writer can carry if off.

I read these two books recently because we wanted to watch the Shetland TV series. For some reason, they started the series with an adaptation of Red Bones. The series is different from the books in many ways, but mostly the crime and the resolution is very similar to the books, so I am glad I read the books first. The actor playing Jimmy Perez (Douglas Henshall) is very different from the character in the book, at least physically, and the stories are more like police procedurals, with more focus on his co-workers. Here Jimmy Perez is portrayed as widowed with a teenage daughter. Even with the differences, I enjoyed the episodes very much. Honestly, in the TV series, setting is the big draw for me. I could watch the shows just for the beautiful scenery and a look at life on the Shetland Islands.

More reviews here:


Publisher:   Minotaur Books, 2009 and 2010
Length:       392 and 357 pages
Format:      Hardcover
Series:       Jimmy Perez, #3 and #4
Setting:      Shetland Islands, Scotland
Genre:       Police procedural
Source:     I purchased the books.