Monday, February 17, 2014

An Engrossing Thriller from John Verdon

Reviewed by James L. Thane
Four out of five stars

When Dave Gurney retired from the NYPD as a decorated homicide detective and moved to an isolated country farm, he thought he was putting his old life behind him. Certainly his wife, Madeleine, hoped that was the case, and she loves their new life of peace, quiet and long walks in the countryside. She delights in her flowers, the wild life that abounds around the farm, and in her various hobbies.

Dave, not so much. Gurney discovers that he misses the hunt. His job had energized and challenged him, and he finds that sitting around watching the asparagus grow is not all that fulfilling.

A few months earlier, much to Madeleine's chagrin, Dave agreed to consult on a murder investigation, known as the Mellery case (Think of a Number), and his doing so threatened his marriage and his life. Once the case was concluded, Dave determined to put homicide investigations behind him once and for all, but now he's asked to consult again on a particularly difficult and gruesome case.

A young bride has married a very successful psychiatrist and then, only moments before the wedding toast, the bride is discovered in a small cabin on the property where the wedding is being held. She has been decapitated and her head is left, sitting on a table, staring back at the rest of her body.

The prime suspect is a mysterious Mexican gardener who was working on the property, who allegedly opposed the marriage and who has now disappeared. The police have launched a massive manhunt for the missing man, but he has vanished, along with the neighbor lady with whom he was allegedly having an affair.

The bride's wealthy mother is not happy with the way the police are handling the case and she offers Gurney a huge fee if he will look into it. Naturally, Madeleine opposes the idea, but Dave is intrigued and finally suggests a compromise in which he will give the investigation a couple of weeks and will then bow out, irrespective of the state of the investigation at that point.

Well, of course we all know how that's going to work out. Before long, Dave will be deeply entangled in the most intellectually challenging case he's ever confronted, and no matter what his wife thinks, he will have to see it through.

To say much more about the plot would probably be unfair; suffice it to say that this is a complex, densely plotted and very entertaining novel with more than the usual number of unexpected twists and turns. The characters are intriguing and the crimes are challenging. The book should appeal to anyone who enjoys a well-written psychological thriller.


[I have two reservations about this book. The first has to do with the relationship between Dave Gurney and his wife, Madeleine. Watching the way Dave's first case impacted their relationship was interesting, but watching the same story a second time was less entertaining. Clearly the two are at cross-purposes regarding the way in which Dave will spend his retirement and one of them needs to give in to the other. Either that, or they need to go their separate ways, but I would not want to read a third novel in which the two are constantly at odds over Dave's work.

My second concern involves a development that occurs when Dave engages a particularly nasty character about midway through the book. Dave is drugged and wakes up later with no memory of what has occurred over the last several hours. There is a serious possibility that he may have been photographed or filmed in a compromising situation. Dave thinks about the possibility of going to a hospital and having them run a tox screen to see what drug he might have been given. But then he decides against doing so.

SAY WHAT??? He has no idea what he might have been doing for the last few hours. He could have been set up for a very serious crime, and his only defense would be that he had been drugged and photographed in a compromising situation without his knowledge. The tox screen could confirm that he had been drugged and this is his only practical defense against whatever might be coming at him. Once the drugs are out of his system, he will have no defense. Dave is a brilliant guy and an experienced police detective. It's inconceivable that he wouldn't take this logical step to protect himself, and this colored the rest of the book for me. I still enjoyed the book a lot, but I would have enjoyed it more had it not been for these two irritating factors.

Oh Rather!

Young Men in SpatsYoung Men in Spats by P.G. Wodehouse
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Oh I say! Yes, jolly good, this! *nonsensical ejaculation!-cough-mutter* Another rollicking good time with the, ah, inane rich gentlemen of yesteryear - capital chaps! *throat-clearing tick* as, ah, as penned by the prolific P.G. Wodehouse...Sir Pelham Grenville, "Plum" as we called him back in good old Dulwich. Marvelous school that. He made out well there, if I recall...a First XI cricketer, I think. *wanders off in cloudy musings* Wodehouse...Wodehouse...Respectable Norfolk family, the Wodehouses, what? And what a smashing good writer the old bean turned out to be! Some say this, this, what's it...Young Men in Spats isn't as memorable as his Jeeves and Wooster stuff. Well, *huff!* I have nothing to say to that, but *huff! huff!* but that it's a bunch of hogwash and claptrap! No, no. Bunch of nonsense. Why, I chortled and snorted my way through from start to finish!

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A Pure Joy Is This Jeeves In The Morning!

Jeeves in the Morning (Jeeves, #8)Jeeves in the Morning by P.G. Wodehouse
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Jeeves in the Morning, aka Joy in the Morning is the stuff to give the troops! It's one of my all-time favorites in the Jeeves/Wooster line, as penned by the prolific and long-lived P.G. Wodehouse.


It includes a heap load more tales of woe for Bertie Wooster to get into and his butler Jeeves to get him out of. Also appearing is one of the best non-appearing characters, J. Chichester Clam. The poor fellow is saddled with a ridiculous name and is put through his paces in this story without even getting to say word one. I don't want to give away much more of the story, just know that the usual suspects show up for this precisely-plotted, tightly-wound, hilarious start-to-finish rollick.

Jeeves in the Morning is not completely dissimilar to other books in the series...All right, it's quite similar. You see, Wodehouse developed a winning formula and stuck with it. Reading his books is like watching a rerun of a beloved old sitcom: you can anticipate all the jokes, but you laugh anyway. It's not only the mad-capped, slap-stick shenanigans, but rather the author's wit that has you coming back for more of the same.

I read the books first, then watched the tv series (with Stephen Frye and Hugh Laurie) based on the books.


Though it's good, I didn't enjoy the show as much and wasn't sure why. But now that I've gone back and reread one of the books, it all makes sense. The key is the narration. The Jeeves/Wooster series is written as if Wooster is the narrator and as a narrator he is hilarious. Removing that element, as the tv series did, removed half the hilarity. Read the books and get a full dose of the funny!

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Another Solid Selection of Wodehouse Stories

Lord Emsworth and Others (Blandings Castle, #5.5)Lord Emsworth and Others by P.G. Wodehouse
Review by Jason Koivu
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I doubt I've ever seen more mileage gotten out of an air rifle!

P.G. Wodehouse is a master at squeezing the most out of a very little bit. The reader of even a handful of his stories gets a sense of deja vu, but since those stories are always light, airy and full of fun, that's not such a bad thing.

In this collection of stories, based around a few of Wodehouse's recurring characters, it's the title story that struck a hilarious blow to my funny bone. Lord Emsworth is a hopelessly doddering old duffer with the tiniest bit of spark left in him, just enough left to make you love the old fellow.

A chunky section in the middle of the book is filled with a slew of Wodehouse golf-based one-offs, which are fine. I prefer his Blandings Castle work or the Jeeves and Wooster material, but the golf stuff has its moments, especially if you like the game. The remainder of the book is rounded out with tales of Ukridge, his overly confident ne'er-do-well character who never notices that he never does well. I wasn't a huge Ukridge fan, but these few stories revolving around his costly shenanigans actually improved my opinion of him.

All in all, Lord Emsworth and Others bounced between 3 and 4 stars, a respectable rating. Though, I would not suggest the uninitiated embark upon Wodehouse with this collection.

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Deja Vu All Over Again

My Man Jeeves (Jeeves, #1)My Man Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I've read this all before! I know I sometimes complain that once you've read one Wodehouse story you've read them all, but no, I mean I literally have read all these stories already. Ah well, I've also seen every episode of shows like All In The Family or Are You Being Served? about half a dozen times, so why not give these wonderful words a rerun read through?

Well the answer would be because this is not Wodehouse's best effort at joining up words in a pleasing manner. He's had better goes at it with say The Code of the Woosters, The Mating Season or Stiff Upper Lip, Jeeves.

And then there's the issue of all these Jeeves & Wooster stories being set in New York. I've never been a fan of the stories set in America and I finally put my finger upon the why. Wodehouse's American characters living in America are dull. They lack the daffy spark of his English ones or even his Americans visiting the UK. What is it about England that makes them all go hilariously looney? Must be something in the gin water.

AND THEN there's the issue of the title. When a book's titled My Man Jeeves it'd better be carpetted wall-to-wall with Jeeves. This is not. Only about half of the stories are about the Jeeves and Wooster dynamic duo. The rest are about Reggie Peppers, who is a Bertie Wooster-lite.

If I was to bottomline all this, I'd say My Man Jeeves is not a rotten potato from the first Bush administration that you've finally unearthed from behind the fridge. No, it's a decent enough book and a good one to start off your Wodehouse reading career. However, there's better hilarity to be found amongst the author's canon.

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Wodehouse Will Explode Your Funnybone!

Uncle DynamiteUncle Dynamite by P.G. Wodehouse
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It all begins innocently enough with a What, Ho! and then before you know it everyone's up to their necks in the soup!

Uncle Dynamite is Uncle Fred and each of us ought to have an Uncle Fred in their lives. He's the sort of energetic, well-intentioned chap to stir up the pot, sometimes when the pot doesn't necessarily need stirring.

To explain the plot I would need to twist your brain about six ways to Sunday and attach it to a Slinky, so it must suffice to say that hijinks abound in a heisty capery sort of way with a bit of the "who's who, now?" and a whole lot of "but, but I!!!"s. There's Bonnie Babies to be avoided at all cost and love is in the air...stifled air that's headed in the wrong direction. With a well-stocked set of grey matter quick on its feet, Uncle Fred's got a solution for everything. That said, solutions often involve deceit and disguise. But of course it's all a matter of perspective, and if you'd only view it from the correct one you'd see how it's all on the up-and-up and makes perfect sense!

For this volume of comedic mayhem, Wodehouse has employed his standard script and populated it with a few familiar faces. It's not inventive genius in the literary line that you read Wodehouse for, but rather to gurgle up a good laugh or two as you follow the daffy mishaps of his parade of pranksters and paradigms of English aristocracy circa the early-ish 20th century. Besides the impossible ridiculousness of it all, Uncle Dynamite is also plentifully stocked with some of the more absurd names the author's ever produced: Frederick Altamont Cornwalis Twistleton, aka Lord Ickenham; Reginald "Pongo" Twistleton; Major Brabazon-Plank; Sir Aylmer "Mugsy" Bostock.

And with that said, I'm going to end my review rather abruptly, because why? Because here comes the last period.

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