Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The Likeness

The Likeness (Dublin Murder Squad, #2)The Likeness by Tana French
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

After the evens of In the Woods, Cassie Maddox is struggling to get her life back together. When a woman resembling her is found with an ID bearing the same name Cassie used in an undercover case years before, Cassie is thrust into a life that isn't her own in an effort to find out who killed the woman with her face...

The Likeness was a tough nut to crack. The setup is fairly preposterous and was a big hurdle to overcome before I could dig into the book and enjoy Tana French's superb stylings. A woman pretending to be another woman that looks just like her in an effort to find out who killed her? Is this an episode of The Bloodhound Gang I missed?

Once I got over my initial misgivings with the setup, I enjoyed The Likeness immensely. I still loved Cassie from Operation Vestal so I was already invested in the story. Tana French is no slouch, either. Just as in In the Woods, she crafted a great cast of characters. As Cassie's identity eroded and merged with Lexie's, I have to admit that I didn't blame Cassie for getting attached to Lexie's friends and their relationship.

There were some tense moments on the road, like every time Cassie/Lexie slipped up. I had no idea what actually happened to Lexie until it was spelled out for me, nor did I guess the identity of the father of her baby.

Cassie's relationships with Sam and Frank were also one of the more interesting parts of the book. French could have easily glossed over some of those details but I'm glad she didn't. French creates some of the richest characters in crime fiction. I still wish things would have went differently with her and Rob in In the Woods, though.

Four out of five stars but French had to work harder for that fourth star than she did in In the Woods. Luckily I've got the next Dublin Murder Squad book on deck.



View all my reviews

Monday, January 26, 2015

The Detectives of the 87th Precinct Tackle a Case Involving Blood Relatives






















Reviewed by James L. Thane
Four out of five stars

This book, which first appeared in 1975, is about halfway through the 87th Precinct series and it's one of the better books in the series. Two young female cousins, seventeen and fifteen, are walking home late one night after a party in a driving rainstorm. As they take refuge from the rain in an abandoned building, the elder of the two is viciously stabbed to death. The younger, though cut in several places, manages to run to the 87th Precinct station house where she reports the crime.

The younger girl is able to give the detectives a fairly detailed description of the man she says attacked them, and the detectives' first step is to interview known sex offenders. They find one who closely matches the description the girl has given them and the guy has the world's worst alibi for the time of the attack. But when the young girl looks at a lineup, instead of identifying the known perv, she mistakenly picks out a detective.

Her mistake totally destroys the girl's value as an eyewitness and so Steve Carella and the other detectives on the case are forced to fall back on other, much more pain-staking and difficult methods in their attempt to capture the guilty party. There's more than the usual amount of police procedure in this book, and it's fascinating to watch the way in which the detectives would work a case like this--or at least the way they would have worked it forty years ago, before the advent of DNA testing and other more modern investigatory tools.

It's a very entertaining book that takes a number of totally unexpected twists and turns, one that's sure to appeal to any fan of the series and to most readers who enjoy crime fiction.
  

Jerk Of Arc

The Red Queen (The Cousins' War, #2)The Red Queen by Philippa Gregory
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Now is the Spring of this woman's discontent...
Cause, I mean, talk about bitter!

In Philippa Gregory's The Red Queen the prominent historical figure from the War of the Roses period and eventual mother of King Henry VII, Margaret Beaufort is portrayed as one who felt God had destined her for a higher calling, of which she was robbed, and for which she was forever after embittered.

The story follows Margaret from when she was a little girl daydreaming about becoming the next Joan of Arc, an English version of the virginal saint. Historical fiction writer and avid researcher Gregory gives us a probable glimpse into what it might have been like to be a very young, very highly placed lady within the court of England during the 15th Century. A very young lady who is contracted to marriage before she can speak, who is married off by the age of 12 to a man twice her age and who is made to give birth - preferably to a male heir - by the tender age of 13, there is no place in such a girl's life for dreams of Joan of Arc.

While the crux of the story hinges upon the trials of Margaret, it is the War of the Roses, fought between the Houses of Lancaster and of York that moves the action forward in this tale. Without the war, the narrative would bog down into a long-winded list of Margaret's complaints. At times they take a tiresome turn nonetheless. However, Gregory does do an excellent job of building characters, whether it be the complex Margaret or the light but exacting hand with which the author draws up more two dimensional players.

I say "players" because while reading this, one can't help but think of the Shakespeare play King Richard III, being that Richard - that son/sun of York - is such an important figure in this tale. You may remember Richard is not portrayed kindly in the play. In fact, because of that play he is often lumped in with some of the more reviled historical figures ever to soil the Earth. In The Red Queen Richard is given somewhat of a reprieve. Don't get me wrong, you'll still be rooting against him, however, Gregory removes some of the heavy load of pure evil that Shakespeare dumped upon his poor, humped back.

Speaking of dual natures, Margaret herself is not always seen in the best of lights. As a story's heroine, there are times where she is hardly likable. Kudos to Gregory for maintaining character, and thus story, integrity. Tell it like it is and let the chips fall where they may! Sometimes that makes for the best fiction, and The Red Queen, as a historical fiction, definitely ranks right up there!


Rating: 4.5 stars

View all my reviews

Some Readers May Need More Persuading

PersuasionPersuasion by Jane Austen
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Talk about persuasion! In Jane Austen's Persuasion our hero and heroine are neither interesting nor do they have an obvious magnetic attraction for one another. As readers we always knew they'd get together in the end, and yet we're still glad they do. That's the power of Jane Austen's persuasion!

Unlike in some of Austen's better work, there is a twist, but not much of a triangle. And I felt the twist to be more Bronte-esque, as in the revealing of a horrible secret. Persuasion lacks a complicated plot, and what it does have doesn't come even remotely close to that of Pride and Prejudice or Sense and Sensibility. There's plenty of irritating busybodies, ala Emma, but Austen thankfully refrained from making them too irritating. No, here there is a good balance of silly characters and solid salts-of-the-earth.

On a personal note, I found it refreshing to read so much about the navy in this book. During the Napoleonic Wars, in which Britain fought France over two decades, their superior navy was an integral part of their eventual success. Some of Austen's books are meant to take place during this tumultuous time and yet the war is hardly ever mentioned. Occasionally the female characters will fawn over some officer or other, but that's about it. In Persuasion, a naval captain is our heroine's love interest, an admiral takes lodging at her stately home and numerous other gentlemen of the navy fill out the periphery. Heck, a ship or two is even referred by name! I don't demand, or even think a book whose focus is meant to be on women finding love should be all about what the men are doing during a war, but it's nice to see that the women at least realize their country is at war, as it's nice to see Austen was not completely insensible of it either. It is quite correct that she should devote the bulk of her work to describing the home front war women of her society fought...the war to conquer a suitable man.

View all my reviews

Saturday, January 24, 2015


The Last Policeman
Ben H. Winters
2012 Quirk Books

reviewed by carol
 ★    ★    ★    ★   
 

Imagine Spin (my review) crossed with The Manual of Detection (my review) and a suicide investigation. As interpreted by Kant.  What do I mean? Consider:

An asteroid is heading toward Earth. Fast and large, the power of its collision with Earth will cause an explosion “equaling the blast force of a thousand Hiroshimas,”  and the shock waves will cause tsunamis and earthquakes worldwide. Even worse, the resulting environmental destruction will cast a cloud cover over the world, obscuring the sun for years. After prolonged speculation, scientists discover the exact doomsday will be in six months, eleven days. Suddenly, humanity has an expiration date–if not from the disasters, then from starvation.  “Answer this, in your blue books, Professor Palace: what effect does it have on motive, all this information, all this unbearable imminence?”  What will your partner do? Children? Neighbors? The clerks at your grocery store? The plumbers? Doctors?


‘What about you, Dr. Fenton?’
‘Excuse me?’ She stops at the door, looks back.
‘Why haven’t you left, gone off to do whatever it is you’ve always wanted to do?’
Fenton tilts her head, looks at me like she’s not exactly sure she understands the question. ‘This is what I’ve always wanted to do.’

A number of people quit their current lives to chase their dreams, so many in fact, that its become known as ‘going Bucket List.’ Another portion of the population commits suicide. Henry Palace has been working for the Concord Police Department as a patrolman for sixteen months when he is unexpectedly promoted to Detective. Like Fenton, he is doing what he always wanted to do; although unlike Fenton, he’s woefully unprepared. When an apparent suicide is found at the local ‘pirate’ McDonalds (the franchise has disbanded), the rest of the department is ready to dismiss it as another doomsday suicide. Palace notices something odd about the scene, and doggedly persists in investigating as a homicide, even as the rest of the department dismisses his suspicions. 

Characterization is excellent.  Palace is interesting character but hardly exciting; methodical, stalwart, imperturbable–and young. He prefers to play a quiet, background role: “So I haven’t mentioned [my history] to a new person in years–don’t mention it as a rule–I am not a fan of people having opinions about the whole thing–not a fan, generally, of people having opinions about me at all.” What is fascinating about the characterization is how Palace accounts for the end-of-world mentality in investigating motive and action. Winters has hit upon the myriad of responses humanity will offer at both personal and international levels.  The plot is methodical, building on the investigation and the characters’ reactions.  It’s not a fast-moving mystery with large-scale, implausible drama; this is small-scale, human reaction of relatively normal people under extreme circumstances. 

Technically part of a trilogy, the mystery thankfully has a resolution, although questions remain in the larger arcs of the meteor and Palace’s future. The writing captures Palace’s thought process in rather straightforward, but appropriate, language. It is a nice compliment to the complicated philosophy surrounding each person’s actions. But the writing is not all doom-and-gloom and ethical conundrums. Palace has the dry humor of many police officers confronting humanity’s bizarre behavior:

He doesn’t remember. I stare at him, standing there, still smirking. It’s such a fine line with some people, whether they’re playing dumb or being dumb.

At the end, I wondered “was it worth it?” I’m not sure Palace answered–nor asked–that question, although I certainly did. And I wonder what I would do with only six months. This is the kind of book that asks questions without presenting clear-cut answers. I found I was vaguely unsettled once I realized where Winters was going–or not going–but I respect an author that encourages such complicated thinking. I’m curious to where the story goes next, so I’ll be looking for the next book.


cross posted from its permanent home at my blog:  https://clsiewert.wordpress.com/2015/01/04/the-last-policeman-by-ben-h-winters/

Friday, January 23, 2015

THE IPCRESS FILE BY LEN DEIGHTON

The Ipcress FileThe Ipcress File by Len Deighton
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

”Weapons aren’t terrible,” I said. “Areoplanes full of passengers to Paris, bombs full of insecticide, cannons with a man inside at a circus--these aren’t terrible. But a vase of roses in the hands of a man of evil intent is a murder weapon.”

 photo Ipcress File_zpsjz3ewjk1.jpg
Michael Caine is “Harry Palmer”.

The protagonist of this novel is nameless. Though there is a moment in the novel when someone whispers:

“Hello Harry.”

Now my name isn’t Harry, but in this business it’s hard to remember whether it ever had been.


When the producers and directors met with Michael Caine about making the movie version they decided that they had to refer to the protagonist by some sort of name so Caine christened him Harry Palmer. Later in this series of novels “Harry” is referred to as “Charles”. Neither of them are of course his real name.

We know that he used to work in military intelligence, but has recently been put in charge of a small agency called WOOC(P) which is so secret that no one seems to even know what the acronym stands for. He has a very efficient secretary suffering/benefiting from OCD named Alice who is always trying to get him to be more tidy with his files. He is always teasing her with jibs like: ”Your seams are crooked.” He requisitions an attractive female assistant, since Alice doesn’t seem to find him even remotely attractive, and no one is more amazed than he is when she shows up.

”She was wearing that ‘little black sleeveless dress’ that every woman has in reserve for cocktail parties, funerals and first nights. Her slim white arms shone against the dull material, and her hands were long and slender, the nails cut short and varnished in a natural colour. I watched her even, very white teeth bite into the croissant. She could have been the top kick in the Bolshoi, Sweden’s first woman ship’s captain, private secretary to Chou En-lai, or Sammy Davis’s press agent.”

 photo Sue20Lloyd_zpsgbnrteld.jpg
The lovely Sue Lloyd is Jean in the movie version. I have such fond memories of watching her star on the TV series The Baron with Steve Forrest.

Her name is Jean Tonnesson and she falls for “Harry’s” snarky charm and is soon providing him with stimulation like a secretary on Mad Man. He might be swapping fluids with her, but he still doesn’t trust her. There is something not to be fully understood about her and “Harry” has a natural distrust of everything.

“Harry” has a daily rondevu in a seedy London business to fetch a particular envelope. He reseals the money and fake passports into another envelope and mails it to himself again. He is prepared for something to go disastrously wrong every day.

”It doesn’t take much to make the daily round with one’s employer work smoothly. A couple of ‘yessirs’ when you know that ‘not on your life’ is the thing to say. A few expressions of doubt about things you’ve spent your life perfecting. Forgetting to make use of the information that negates his hastily formed by deliciously convenient theories. It doesn’t take much, but it takes about 98.5 per cent more than I’ve ever considered giving.”

In other words “Harry” is a complete pain in the ass.

He is invited to attend an atomic bomb weapons test event by the US government on an atoll in the Pacific. “Harry” is kidnapped and subjected to cold war brainwashing which was of particular interest to the author Len Deighton. When he escapes instead of finding himself in some desert hellhole, he discovers that he is within walking distance of London. It seems there has been a double cross or a triple cross or maybe just your standard diabolical attempt to infiltrate and take over the British government. Someone is kidnapping top level scientists and brainwashing them. But to what end? And why attempt to brainwash poor “Harry”?

 photo Len-Deighton-circa-1966-011_zpsdrnf15rb.jpg
Len Deighton pulled that rug off his head and pulled it over all our eyes.

It is all rather confusing. In fact the whole plot of the novel is completely unfathomable. When Len Deighton approached Ian Fleming’s publisher they asked him to simplify the plot and bring it back. He refused and took the book to a rival publisher who accepted the novel as written. The editor over there must have been cockeyed, cross-eyed, inebriated, or merely brilliant because the book though proving so puzzling to readers somehow became a huge success.

Kingsley Amis famously weighed in with it is "actually quite good if you stop worrying about what's going on".

And that is the key, when I finally let go and quit trying to figure out exactly what was going on I started to really enjoy the writing. Deighton expects a lot of his readers which is probably why his novels have fallen out of favor these days. The asides though witty are reasonably obscure. It is all lost in translation from the mind of Deighton into English. I’m sure this book made perfect sense to him or it is all one elaborate ruse on the reading public.

At the beginning of many of the chapters Deighton would put a horoscope that loosely reflected the contents of the chapter.

 photo aquarius2_zpsk2xuplxy.jpg

”--Aquarius (Jan. 20-Feb. 19). A good week for your hobbies and romance, but you can expect some difficulties with evening arrangements. Forthright talking may well clear the air.--”

Maybe the cipher for the plot resides in the horoscopes.

Regardless of being befuddled for most of the book I ended up absolutely enjoying the ride. The wit, the charm, and the snarky irreverent behavior of “Harry” kept the pages turning and a smile on my face. Sometimes we just have to let go of the rigid confines of a definable plot.

I have the 1965 film on order which I hear is excellent and not confusing at all. I really can’t recommend this book except to the hardiest of Cold War fans. I find it utterly fascinating that the British public made this book a bestseller and Deighton a literary star. In for a penny in for a pound I’m definitely reading the second book in The Secret File series called Horse Under Water. Maybe Deighton will start to make sense or I will just have to accept that sometimes the insensible can still be entertaining.


View all my reviews

Jesus' Son

Denis Johnson
Harper Perennial
Reviewed by Nancy
4 out of 5 stars



Summary


Jesus' Son, the first collection of stories by Denis Johnson, presents a unique, hallucinatory vision of contemporary American life unmatched in power and immediacy and marks a new level of achievement for this acclaimed writer. In their intensity of perception, their neon-lit evocation of a strange world brought uncomfortably close to our own, the stories in Jesus' Son offer a disturbing yet eerily beautiful portrayal of American loneliness and hope.




My Review


I wasn’t sure if I would like this collection of loosely connected stories about a young guy who is addicted to drugs, sometimes homeless, sometimes employed, and occasionally steals. He’s not an especially likable character, but I enjoyed being a part of his thoughts, his views, and his haphazard journey through life. Maybe it's because I have empathy for addicts and others who live on the edge.

This powerful and gripping collection of stories was troubling, intense, and humane. I was overwhelmed by its beautiful language and poignant passages.

One of my favorite stories in this collection is Dirty Wedding, a sad and unsettling little story about abortion, loneliness, heroin addiction, and death.

“The wheels screamed, and all I saw suddenly was everybody’s big ugly shoes. The sound stopped. We passed solitary, wrenching scenes. Through the neighborhoods and past the platforms, I felt the cancelled life dreaming after me. Yes, a ghost. A vestige. Something remaining.”

Beverly Home was sad, a little humorous, and very hopeful. The young narrator finds a part-time job in a nursing home, spies on a Mennonite couple in their bedroom, and begins a life of sobriety.

“All these weirdos, and me getting a little better every day right in the midst of them. I had never known, never even imagined for a heartbeat, that there might be a place for people like us.”



Mark Monday's Top 10 Books Read in 2014




in no particular order:


The Story of Harold by "Terry Andrews"


life is all small moments, that’s what’s important, all those mundane moments that accumulate and create a life, a good life – life is good, it really can be! – you didn’t expect the novel to take a breath and suddenly affirm life –





Mortal Leap by MacDonald Harris


Dead-Soul Boy runs away from home; he becomes a merchant marine and travels the world. Dead-Soul Boy sees the world through his dead, dead eyes. does Dead-Soul Boy's soul ever come alive? stay tuned!







Miracleman Vol. One by Alan Moore


Here be dragons, and unexplored territories - at least in 1985, before Watchmen. Alan Moore Had his ideas and themes already perfectly formed, his darker directions already mapped out. His smart deconstruction and reconstruction of comic tropes and hero archetypes never blunt his story's visceral shocks or disguise its messily emotional foundation. The dialogue and narration move from angst-filled realism to surreal poetry. His Miracleman moves from knowable to unknowable.





Endless Love by Scott Spencer


I can't explain why I love someone. I can explain the things I like and love about them, the details... but explain the love itself? who can do that? I think love is one of the unexplainable things in life. it can't be quantified.





Secret Hours by Michael Cisco


he is unique. his stories are often about a state of mind. spiritual transformation. mental degradation. crazed emotional highs and lows. metaphorical landscapes. terrible forms of transcendence. intellectual terrors. chthonic excavations.





Memory by Lois McMaster Bujold


this is a wonderful novel about figuring out that who you are does not equal your job or your birth name or any specific, singular role or title; rather, it is the sum of all such things, and your experiences, and your internal workings, your actions and your potential, your ability to change or not change, and so much more. you = not easily summed up in one word.





The Man from Primrose Lane by James Renner


when it comes to love and other obsessions, "yesterday" and "tomorrow" are mere constructs





Montana Gothic by Dirck Van Sickle


a meditation on loss. it is bleak and beautiful; a tall drink of icy cold water; a dark, sad dream of a book.





Lilith's Brood: Dawn, Adulthood Rites, Imago by Octavia Butler


Butler correctly assesses humanity's tragic flaw: a genetic tendency towards hierarchism at every level. a flaw that on the micro level leads to an inability to form relationships based on equality - and in the macro, one that could easily lead to the end of humanity's home world as they know it. oh, humanity.





Lucia in London by E.F. Benson


Has fair Riseholme itself been superseded? It cannot be! Well, as we sort out this dreadful mystery, at least we are still able to sit back and enjoy Lucia make short work of London's tarsome social mores and strictures. No one knows how to climb more swiftly than Lucia!





special bonus favorite: favorite novella read in 2014:


"Pale Horse, Pale Rider" by Katherine Anne Porter


who is this new Miranda who has seen death up close, who has lived and loved and lost and died and been reborn... who has made death her friend? why, she has become Katherine Anne Porter, of course.