Monday, October 28, 2013

Joe Gunther Hunts the Elusive Tag Man

Reviewed by James L. Thane
Three out of five stars

It's always fun to return to Vermont for a visit with Joe Gunther, the head of the Vermont Bureau of Investigation, and the rest of the cast that populates this long-running series. With the twenty-fourth volume in the series just appearing, this remains one of the best regional mystery series going.

As this book opens, Gunther is on personal leave, checking in occasionally with the rest of his team while he struggles to recover from a significant emotional blow that he suffered at the end of the preceding book. Joe is not a young man any more and through the years he's had more than his share of heartache. This latest tragedy has hit him particularly hard.

While he recovers, the city of Brattleboro is intrigued by the antics of a cat burglar who becomes known as the Tag Man. Adept at breaking and entering and at defeating the most sophisticated security systems, the Tag Man enters the homes of wealthy people and skillfully picks through their possessions, in the process deconstructing their lives for his own amusement. He apparently never takes anything of value, although at each stop he eats something out of the refrigerator. His calling card is a simple post-it note with the word "TAG" which he leaves at each scene.

To the press and to many other observers, it seems like simple fun and games. But it's not so funny to the people whose privacy is violated or to the authorities who are attempting without much success to put an end to that Tag Man's escapades. But then the Tag Man breaks into the home of a guy who rubs him the wrong way, and in this case he does walk away with something of great value to a very nasty man. Then, on his next outing, the Tag Man discovers something even more alarming, and suddenly his seemingly harmless hobby is no longer fun and games.

The Tag Man now has some very dangerous people after him, including the agents of the VBI. As the case heats up, Joe Gunther gradually emerges from his shell and ultimately takes the lead in the investigation. What follows is a dangerous game of cat and mouse that puts any number of people at risk, and as always, Archer Mayor spins a very engrossing tale. Readers who have not yet discovered this series would be well-advised to start with the earlier books, but old fans of the series will welcome this addition.

Two Dudes Having A Gay Old Time!

A Journey to the Western Islands of  Scotland and The Journal of a Tour to the HebridesA Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland and The Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides by Samuel Johnson
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Two buds go for a romp in the Highlands of Scotland.

In A Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland... we get a glimpse of the bromance between dictionary man Samuel Johnson and lawyer James Boswell as they hike through the hills and lochs down to the isles along the west coast. Boswell, a Scot, plays host to Johnson, showing him the sights, which are nicely described, as well as introducing him to some of the more colorful characters of the area.

This is fairly light reading with a touch of airy philosophizing now and then. Johnson's sometimes jovial, sometimes truculent nature comes in for some good-natured ribbing. He was a larger-than-life character with some strong opinions. It's great to get this candid look at the man, someone who I've been intrigued with since I saw him played by Robbie Coltrane in the Brit comedy Black Adder. Whenever he's portrayed, it's as a blustery big man with even bigger, louder ideas. He's a liver of life, and since so much of his life was spent working with words, a bookworm like myself can't help but love him.

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Howards….What Was That?

Howards EndHowards End by E.M. Forster
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I've read three of Forster's most well known novels, and yet, I don't feel I know them at all. Even this one, as I read it, was fading from memory. I don't mean to say that his work is forgettable, but with every Forster book I've read - amazing human portraits and elegant, occasionally profound turns of phrase - somehow they all flitter on out of my head. It's as if they were witty clouds: intelligent and incorporeal. Heck, I've even seen movie versions for a couple of them and I still don't recall what the stories are about.

Why is that? If I could pinpoint it, well, then I wouldn't have started this review with that first paragraph. Perhaps it is because of Forster's penchant for pleasant diversions. He expounds upon ideas as the action unfolds, and that's wonderful! He gives the reader some very nice theories on human behavior to ponder upon. My problem is that I ponder too frickin' much! A writer like Forster is a danger to me. My imagination likes to fly and it's not very well tethered, so when I read books like Howards End with lines like "And of all means to regeneration remorse is surely the most wasteful. It cuts away healthy tissues with the poisoned. It is a knife that probes far deeper than the evil."...oh boy, off goes my mind in another direction and the next thing I know I've spent 20 minutes on a single page. Ah, but they are wondrous pages to linger upon. Perhaps it is worth the time.

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