Thursday, June 02, 2022

May Reading: Highlights & Disappointments

It's been a while, guys, but I thought I'd post a really brief recap of my May reading today in hopes that I may hear from some of my old friends out there.

This is what May 2022 looked like for me:

  1. Savage Run - C.J. Box - Joe Picket #2 - modern range war
  2. Pudd'nhead Wilson - Mark Twain - slave-baby & master's-baby switched at birth - lots of social commentary of the times
  3. Indemnity Only - Sara Paretsky - V.I. Warshawski #1 - good introduction to series main characters, but mediocre plot 
  4. 1979 - Val McDermid - OK 1st book of proposed 10-book series
  5. One Damn Thing After Another - William P. Barr - at almost 700 pages, it answered all the questions I had about truth in politics
  6. Last Stand at Saber River - Elmore Leonard - excellent character-driven post Civil War novel set in Arizona
  7. Old Man Country - Thomas R. Cole - Interviews of elderly men about living into the "4th Age" - somewhat disappointing
  8. Rediscovering Travel - Seth Kugel - travel stories and tips from a professional traveler 
  9. The Madness of Crowds - Louise Penny - Unnecessarily long, dark post-pandemic novel; Penny may have "jumped the shark"
  10. Tyrus: A Memoir - Tyrus - short  memoir that completely manages to ignore the author's marriages and children
  11. The Babes in the Wood - Ruth Rendell - excellent mystery until Rendell ruins it by having Wexford recount its climax second-hand: show me, don't tell me  
  12. Slow Horses - Mick Herron - excellent tale about group of MI5 castoffs with ideas of their own - Book #1 in Slough House series

Currently Reading:
  • The Splendid and the Vile - Erik Larson
  • Dolphin Junction - Mick Herron
  • The Hag - Marc Eliot

The book that knocked my sox off last month was Mick Herron's Slow Horses, and I only even became aware of Herron's "Slough House" series because Apple TV decided to make the first book into a six-part series. I was immediately fascinated  by the characters, the actors, and the premise that a bunch of MI5 failures were shunted off to a dump of a building to do nothing but paperwork for the rest of their careers. 

I'm really excited by the series and Herron's writing. Dolphin Junction is a new collection of some of his short stories and novellas, and for the most part, I'm loving those too. I'm also reading a brand new Merle Haggard biography and struggling a bit to get into The Splendid and the Vile by another of my favorite authors, Erik Larson.

I do have to say that I was disappointed by several of my old favorites, specifically by Val McDermid's 1979, Ruth Rendell's The Babes in the Wood, and Louise Penny's The Madness of Crowds. Oh, well, can't win 'em all, I guess. 

Here's hoping all of you had a wonderful reading month and that you are all doing well. I've not been able to check in on your blogs as often as I hoped, but I may surprise you with an appearance soon.

Stay well, guys.

Thursday, February 03, 2022

2022 Reading Log

(For personal reasons, I've been forced to put an unplanned end to 
Book Chase. I do intend, however, to use the site to keep a record of my reading and will do so via this list - and perhaps other variations. Please feel free to comment in the usual manner if so inclined; I miss book blogging a lot, but I miss our conversation the most...Sam.)

5-Star Books (Ranked by Fiction and Nonfiction):
The Searchers - Alan Le May
Slow Horses Mick Herron
French Braid - Anne Tyler
The First Stone - Carsten Jensen
Trunk Music - Michael Connelly
Endangered - C.J. Box
Red Bones - Ann Cleeves
The King Is Dead - Ellery Queen
Raven Black - Ann Cleeves
The Junction Boys - Jim Dent - NF
One Damn Thing After Another - William P. Barr - NF
Stolen Focus - Johann Hari - NF

4-Star Books:
Black Ice - Michael Connelly
Crime Hits Home - Various Authors
Little Big Man - Thomas Berger
Wednesday's Child - Peter Robinson
Get Back - The Beatles
Cold Earth - Ann Cleeves
Harlem Shuffle - Colson Whitehead
Tennison - Lynda La Plante
Innocent Graves - Peter Robinson
White Nights - Ann Cleeves
Cry Macho - N. Richard Nash
Dead Water - Ann Cleeves
Red Handed - Peter Schweizer
The Anthropocene Reviewed - John Green
The Silence - Susan Allott
Murder in Mykonos - Jeffrey Siger
Open Season - C.J. Box
One Writer's Beginnings - Eudora Welty
Grave's End - William Shaw
Angry Mobs and Founding Fathers - Michael E. Newton
Pudd'nhead Wilson - Mark Twain
Last Stand at Saber River - Elmore Leonard
Rediscovering Travel - Seth Kugel
Dolphin Junction - Mick Herron
The Hag - Marc Eliot
Dead Lions - Mick Herron
Death Be Not Proud - John Gunther
Hidden Depths - Ann Cleeves
The List - Mick Herron

3-Star Books:
Expats - Christopher Dickey
The Kings of London - William Shaw
The Illusion of Simple - Charles Forrest Jones
Final Account - Peter Robinson
The Mountain Lion - Jean Stafford
The Dutch Shoe Mystery - Ellery Queen
Black Money - Ross Macdonald
Blue Lightning - Ann Cleeves
Rizzio - Denise Mina
Thin Air - Ann Cleeves
Wild Fire - Ann Cleeves 
Maigret in New York - Georges Simenon
Blood at the Root - Peter Robinson
Savage Run - C.J. Box
Indemnity Only - Sara Paretsky
1979 - Val McDermid
Old Man Country - Thomas R. Cole
The Madness of Crowds - Louise Penny

2-Star Books:
The Words Between Us - Erin Bartels
The Department of Rare Books and Special Collections - Eva Jurczyk
Shadows of Pecan Hollow - Caroline Frost
Sea of Tranquility -  Emily St. John Mandel
Tyrus: A Memoir - Tyrus
The Babes in the Wood - Ruth Rendell
The Secret Keepers of Old Depot Grocery - Amanda Cox

 January 2022

  1. Black Ice - Michael Connelly - Harry Bosch  #2
  2. Crime Hits Home - Various Authors - Short Stories
  3. Little Big Man - Thomas Berger - Classic Western Novel
  4. Wednesday's Child - Peter Robinson - Inspector Banks #6
  5. Get Back - The Beatles - Documentary Companion Book
  6. Cold Earth - Ann Cleeves -  Jimmy Perez #7
  7. The Illusion of Simple - Charles Forrest Jones - Crime Novel
  8. Expats - Christopher Dickey - Nonfiction 
  9. The Kings of London - William Shaw - Breen & Tozer #2
  10. Harlem Shuffle - Colson Whitehead - Crime Novel
  11. Raven Black - Ann Cleeves - Jimmy Perez #1
  12. The Words Between Us - Erin Bartels - Thriller Romance 
  1. The King Is Dead - Ellery Queen - 1952 Classic Mystery
  2. The Searchers - Alan Le May - 1954 Classic Western
  3. Final Account - Peter Robinson - Inspector Banks #7
  4. Tennison - Lynda La Plante - Jane Tennison #4 - Prequel 
  5. The Mountain Lion - Jean Stafford - 1947 coming-of-age novel
  6. Innocent Graves - Peter Robinson - Inspector Banks #8
  7. White Nights - Ann Cleeves - Jimmy Perez #2
  8. Stolen Focus - Johann Hari - Big Tech impact on ADD
  9. The Dutch Shoe Mystery - Ellery Queen - 1931 Classic Mystery
  10. Black Money - Ross Macdonald - 1965 - Lew Archer #13
  11. Red Bones - Ann Cleeves - Jimmy Perez #3
  1. The Department of Rare Books and Special Collections - Eva Jurczyk - Novel about thefts from a university library 
  2. Cry Macho -  N. Richard Nash - 1975 novel & 2021 coming-of-age movie starring Clint Eastwood (brilliant book/so-so movie)
  3. Blue Lightning - Ann Cleeves - Jimmy Perez #4
  4. Shadows of Pecan Hollow - Caroline Frost - Predictable crime/coming-of-age novel set in Southeast Texas
  5. Dead Water - Ann Cleeves - Jimmy Perez #5: Jimmy is back
  6. Red Handed - Peter Schweizer - How prominent Americans are bribed by the Chinese government and what they do in return
  7. The Anthropocene Reviewed - John Green - A revealing memoir disguised as 44 short, unrelated essays
  8. Rizzio - Denise Mina - novella, 16th century historical fiction
  9. Thin Air - Ann Cleeves - Jimmy Perez #6
  10. The Silence - Susan Allott - British mystery set in Australia 
  1. The First Stone - Carsten Jensen - Danish novel about Afghani war
  2. Wild Fire - Ann Cleeves - 8th & Final Jimmy Perez novel - flat 
  3. The Junction Boys  - Jim Dent - Coach Bear Bryant's infamous 1954 football camp at Texas A&M (favorite sports book ever)
  4. Sea of Tranquility - Emily St. John Mandel - time-travel novel in which I never felt a connection to any of the characters
  5. Maigret in New York - Georges Simenon - Maigret #27 (1947)
  6. Endangered - C. J. Box - Joe Pickett #15; excellently plotted
  7. Murder in Mykonos - Jeffrey Siger - CI Andreas Kaldis #1
  8. Open Season - C.J. Box - Joe Pickett #1 - Perfect introduction
  9. One Writer's Beginnings - Eudora Welty - memoir in three parts
  10. Grave's End -  William Shaw - Alex Cupidi # 4 - well written, character-driven crime novel
  11. Blood at the Root - Peter Robinson - Inspector Banks #9
  12. Angry Mobs and Founding Fathers - Michael E. Newton - a revealing look at the American Revolution
  1. Savage Run - C.J. Box - Joe Picket #2 - modern range war
  2. Pudd'nhead Wilson - Mark Twain - slave-baby & master's-baby switched at birth - lots of social commentary of the times
  3. Indemnity Only - Sara Paretsky - V.I. Warshawski #1 - good introduction to series main characters, but mediocre plot 
  4. 1979 - Val McDermid - OK 1st book of proposed 10-book series
  5. One Damn Thing After Another - William P. Barr - at almost 700 pages, it answered all the questions I had about truth in politics
  6. Last Stand at Saber River - Elmore Leonard - excellent character-driven post Civil War novel set in Arizona
  7. Old Man Country - Thomas R. Cole - Interviews of elderly men about living into the "4th Age" - somewhat disappointing
  8. Rediscovering Travel - Seth Kugel - travel stories and tips from a professional traveler 
  9. The Madness of Crowds - Louise Penny - Unnecessarily long, dark post-pandemic novel; Penny may have "jumped the shark"
  10. Tyrus: A Memoir - Tyrus - short  memoir that completely manages to ignore the author's marriages and children
  11. The Babes in the Wood - Ruth Rendell - excellent mystery until Rendell ruins it by having Wexford recount its climax second-hand: show me, don't tell me  
  12. Slow Horses - Mick Herron - excellent tale about group of MI5 castoffs with ideas of their own - Book #1 in Slough House series
  1. Dolphin Junction - Mick Herron - collection of short stories & novellas featuring his series characters - uneven, but fun
  2. The Hag - Marc Eliot - maybe the definitive Merle Haggard bio
  3. Dead Lions - Mick Herron - "Slough House" #2 - excellent story about Soviet sleeper agents who "wake up" after two decades
  4. Trunk Music - Michael Connelly - Harry Bosch #5 in which Harry reconnects with ex-FBI agent Eleanor Wish and they marry
  5. Death Be Not Proud - John Gunther - memoir of a father who watched his son fight a brain tumor for 15 months (1947 death)
  6. Hidden Depths - Ann Cleeves - Vera Stanhope #3 (2007)
  7. The Secret Keepers of Old Depot Grocery - Amanda Cox - heavy-handed Christian novel with boring final third
  8. The List - Mick Herron - Novella, "Slough House" #2.5 
  9. French Braid - Anne Tyler - Gradual changes in family-tightness over four generations of a Baltimore family 

Currently Reading:
  • The Splendid and the Vile - Erik Larson
  • Devil's Peak - Deon Meyer

  • E-books - 15
  • Audiobooks - 16
  • Abandoned - 3
  • Translations - 2
  • Library Books - 45
  • From My Shelves - 17
  • Review Copies - 3
  • Amazon Prime Loans - 1
  • Fiction - 52
  • Nonfiction - 14
  • Male Authors - 41
  • Female Authors - 24
  • By Both - 1
  • American - 35
  • British - 26
  • Canadian - 3
  • Danish - 1
  • French - 1

  • 2022 - 11
  • 2021 - 9
  • 2020 - 2
  • 2010s- 15
  • 2000s - 8
  • 1990s - 9
  • 1980s - 1
  • 1970s - 1
  • 1960s - 2
  • 1950s - 3
  • 1940s - 3
  • 1930s - 1
  • 1920s - 0
  • 1910s - 0
  • 1900s - 0
  • 1800s - 1
Pages Read: 
  • Jan -    3,348
  • Feb -   3,559
  • Mar -  3,326
  • Apr -   3,466
  • May -  3,316
  • Jun -    2,804
  • Total - 19,819

Sunday, January 16, 2022

International Television Crime Series - Part 2

More of my favorite television series from around the world:

Astrid (Called Astrid et Raphaëlle in France) 

French with subtitles

One Season (9 episodes in total) with more to come

Premise: Astrid Nielsen, who has Asperger's syndrome, maintains the evidence and case files in the judicial police library. She has an incredible memory and uses her own brand of logic to solve puzzles, so the police district commander decides to have her take a look at a number of cold cases. She is partnered with Raphaëlle, and their relationship is half the fun. Great characters. Good mysteries.

Starring: Sara Mortensen, Lola Dewaere, and Benoit Michel

My Rating: 5 Stars


British (PBS/Masterpiece)

One Season (4 episodes in total)

Premise: Two very different brothers, one wealthy and successful, the other barely scraping by as a record shop owner, get themselves into big trouble one night when they accidentally run over a pedestrian on a quiet residential street. Their attempt to cover up their involvement in the old man's death takes numerous twists and turns. Quirky, fun, sometimes funny, this one will suck you right in.

Starring: Mark Bonnar (a personal favorite), Jamie Sives, and Ruth Bradley

My Rating: 4 stars

DCI Banks


5 Seasons plus the pilot (32 episodes in total)

Premise: Based on the long Inspector Banks series by author Peter Robinson, this is a character-driven series of police procedurals headed up by a man who fled London police work for a quieter career. Looks like he was wrong about that...of course.

Starring: Stephen Tompkinson and Andrea Lowe

My Rating: 3 Stars



One Season (4 episodes in total)

Premise: A police detective is charged with investigating a series of disappearances that occurred almost 20 years earlier during Northern Irelands violent and bloody past. One of the people who disappeared was his own wife, and when people around the investigation begin to die, the detective knows he is getting close to finding those responsible. The main character is always interesting, but this one is very dark.

Starring: James Nesbitt, Lorcan Cranitch, and Charlene McKenna

My Rating: 3.5 Stars

Elizabeth Is Missing

British (PBS/Masterpiece)

One 87-minute movie

Premise: An old woman, who is moving deeper and deeper into dementia, worries that something bad has happened to her missing friend, Elizabeth. She begins looking for clues on her own but her old memories get confused with her present day investigation to the extent that she starts inadvertently recovering clues to her sister's disappearance of decades earlier. She needs to solve both mysteries before her own mind makes it too late for that to ever happen. It's a race against the clock and calendar. 

Starring: Glenda Jackson (a personal favorite), Helen Behan, and Sophie Rundle

My Rating: 5 Stars


Swedish with subtitles

One Season (6 episodes total)

Premise: By this point in his career, Bäckström is as much a national TV star in Sweden as he is a police investigator. He has become everyone's go-to guy for TV interviews that television commentators love to do when fresh crimes are being speculated about. This time he is investigating one of the strangest murders he's ever run across during his long career: the skull of a recent murder victim has been uncovered but the victim is known to have died years earlier. Great characters.

Starring: Kjell Bergqvist, Agnes Lindström Bolmgren, and Livia Millhagan 

My Rating: 4 Stars

Saturday, January 15, 2022

International Television Crime Series - Part 1

Like so many of you, I am almost as big a fan of international crime television series as I am of published crime fiction. The interesting thing to me is how much the television shows and the books overlap...although  when that happens, I always end up preferring the books to the television.

Here are some of the television series from around the world that I have either already enjoyed or am still in the process of enjoying:

Agathe Koltès
French with subtitles

One Season  (10 episodes total)

Premise: Big city cop comes to coastal village to join the local police force commanded by her daughter, who resents her. Their relationship is kept secret from everyone else...until it slips out. 

Starring: Philippine Leroy-Beaulieu and Hortense Gélinet 

My Rating: 4 Stars

Two Seasons (12 episodes total)
Premise: A young woman becomes convinced that her father had something to do with her mother's sudden death.
Starring: Adrian Dunbar and Carolina Main. 
My Rating: 5 stars Season 1, 4 stars Season 2

Seven Seasons (68 episodes total)
Premise: LA cop Harry Bosch refuses to play by the rules but he is the best detective in the precinct. Based on the Michael Connelly Bosch series. 
Starring: Titus Welliver, Jamie Hector, Amy Aquino, Lance Reddick, and Madison Lintz.
My Rating: 5 Stars for all seasons

Tin Star
Three Seasons (25 episodes total)
Premise: Former London cop takes a job as chief of police in small town Canada. It all begins innocently enough before his past catches up with him and all hell breaks loose.
Starring: Tim Roth, Genevieve O'Reilly, Christina Hendricks, and Abigail Lawrie.
My Rating: 5 Stars for Seasons One and Two 

The Long Call
One Season (4 episodes total)
Premise: To be with his partner, a gay policeman returns to the town from which he was ostracized years earlier by a fundamentalist religious cult. His past haunts him daily. (Based on the Ann Cleeves novel)
Starring: Ben Aldridge, Declan Bennett, Sarah Gordy, Anita Dobson, and Siobhán Cullen.
My Rating: 3 Stars

The Blood Pact
Dutch series with subtitles
Three Seasons (30 total episodes)
Premise: A mobster recently released from prison coerces a Dutch tax official into helping him solve his money problems. Their eventual bonding surprises both of them.
Starring: Barry Atsma, Georgina Verbaan, and Jacob Derwig. 
My Rating:  A solid 5 all the way through

As much for my own record-keeping and memory-jogging as for anything else, I'm going to add to this original group of favorite television series as time allows. In the meantime, I hope some of you find something here that you might enjoy. Too, please feel free to recommend your own favorite TV series in any comments you post below. 

Thursday, January 13, 2022

Cold Earth - Ann Cleeves

Earth, published in 2016, is the seventh book in the eight-book Shetland series by Ann Cleeves. Prior to reading this one, my only experience with the series and its characters came via the very successful television series based on the books. Fans of both will already know that there are some significant differences between the books and the television shows, but it is worth mentioning a couple of them. 

First, the physical appearance of the main character, Jimmy Perez, is not at all the same. In the television series, people meeting Jimmy for the first time are a little startled by his surname because he bears no resemblance to their stereotypical idea of what a “Perez” should look like. In the shows, Jimmy sometimes explains the origin of the name in his bloodline. That is something he does not have to do much in the books because he is described in those as having dark hair and eyes — people meeting him for the first time are likely to be more surprised by his Shetland/Scottish accent than by his physical appearance.

Second, and must more significantly, Jimmy’s stepdaughter Cassie is about a decade younger in the books than she is in the television series. Even as near the end of the series as Cold Earth is, Jimmy is still having to look for babysitters for the little girl when he is unexpectedly called out on a case. At a similar stage of the television series, Cassie is already living on the mainland and only returns to the Shetlands for periodic visits to her two fathers. This age difference places the focus on two very different aspects of Jimmy’s personality in the books and shows. 

The opening of Cold Earth is one of my favorite parts of the novel: a small crowd has gathered in a hilltop cemetery to say goodbye to an old friend of Jimmy’s. It’s cold, windy, and rainy already, and everyone is plenty miserable even before a mudslide triggered by days of torrential rain comes roaring toward them. The slide is bad enough that all the cemetery’s headstones are smashed and carried further downhill, and the crowd can do nothing but watch helplessly as a nearby small house is totally destroyed by the mud that slams into it. The only good news is that no one lives in the house because its elderly owner has recently died.

So what’s to be made of the total stranger, a dark-haired woman dressed in a beautiful red silk dress, that Jimmy discovers in the wreckage? 

No one knows her name, where she’s from, or even how long she may have been living in the now-destroyed house. Soon enough, though, Jimmy discovers a little wooden box amid the rubble that contains pictures of two children and an unsigned letter addressed to someone called Alis. Beginning with what’s in the box, and with a lot of help from the mainland Scottish police, Jimmy starts pulling on one thread after the other until it all starts to make sense. But what he is about to learn has the power to destroy families, ruin countless reputations, and get others killed, including someone close to him. 

Bottom Line: Ann Cleeves has a well deserved reputation as one of the finest crime writers working today, having already enjoyed huge success with both her Shetland series and her Vera Stanhope series. Her new Two Rivers series featuring Detective Matthew Venn has also been well received and is off to an excellent start. Cold Earth (I wish I could reveal the origin of that title without having to use a spoiler to do it) is another example of her brilliance, and I am looking forward to reading more of the Jimmy Perez story very soon.

Ann Cleeves

Tuesday, January 11, 2022

Get Back - The Beatles, Peter Jackson, Hanif Kureishi, and John Harris

Although Get Back includes a Foreword from Peter Jackson, an Introduction from Hanif Kureishi, and an Afterword from John Harris, the Beatles are rightfully credited as authors of the book. The bulk of Get Back is verbatim dialogue taken directly from the 120 hours of tape recorded in January 1969 while the Beatles were trying to figure out for themselves if they were working on a TV show, a documentary, a live appearance, or simply their next album (Let It Be). As such, the book makes for the near perfect companion piece to Jackson’s almost eight-hour documentary recently released on Disney+. 

Beatles fans know, of course, that what happened in January 1969 also marked the beginning of the end of The Beatles as a band. Rather than ever again performing live as a band or collaborating in any real sense, the Beatles were on the verge of embarking on solo careers, something that everyone but Ringo Starr seemed keen to do. Inevitable as the breakup was, it still marks a sad moment in the lives of contemporary fans of the band, a moment they still remember well. 

But, as Hanif Kureishi puts it:

“Don’t cry about it. The end of The Beatles was as necessary as it was inevitable, as important and liberating as the end of any relationship. The Sixties were done; the Seventies would be darker and The Beatles were only rarely a dark band. Something else, far harder and crueler would be required. After Abbey Road there would be Bowie’s Hunky Dory.”

Get Back is presented in three acts: “Act One: Twickenham Film Studios,” “Act Two: Apple Studios,” and “Act Three: The Rooftop.” The acts are further broken down into separate conversations for each day that The Beatles worked at the specified location, clarified in part by noting what songs were rehearsed, who else was present but silent, and what activities were happening in the background. 

Keep in mind that this is what is often referred to as a “coffee table” book, an oversized book using heavy, glossy paper that includes dozens of specially selected photos taken at the time by photographers Ethan A. Russell and Linda McCartney (wife of Paul McCartney). The thing weighs in at over four pounds, and feels even heavier than that for some reason; this is a quality product. Reading Get Back may not be the same as watching Peter Jackson’s stunning documentary, but it is definitely the next best thing. Even better, is doing both.

I’ll close with one final quote from Mr. Kureishi:

“They had to escape. And we had to let them go. We owed them that, after what they’d done for us. The four of them would go on working, playing and entertaining us. It was their living, their life and destiny. Our tribute is to play the records and hand them on to our kids, while thanking the band, and being grateful every time we hear those voices for some of the most beautiful pop songs ever created.”


Apple Studios, January 21-31, 1969

Sunday, January 09, 2022

Wednesday's Child - Peter Robinson

Wednesday’s Child
(1992) is the sixth of Peter Robinson’s twenty-seven Inspector Banks novels. Even though I have already read the latest three novels in the series, it was not until I decided to start reading the Banks series from the beginning, and got into book number five (Past Reason Hated), that I finally began to much warm up to Banks and his crew. Robinson, to that point, seemed content to write very good, straightforward police procedurals more than the kind of crime book that most appeals to me: those in which the main and supporting characters are so fully developed that I can begin predicting their reactions to whatever situation they confront in each new novel. Simply put, that’s when it all becomes real to me.

Wednesday’s Child picks up much from where the previous novel ended. Alan Banks, now forty years old, is still happy with his decision to have left London for the slower pace of life he and his family enjoy in northern England. His home life, however, is not what he wishes it were now that his son has begun university studies half way across the country and his daughter much prefers the company of her teenaged friends to that of her parents. And now, Banks’s wife seems to blame his impatience for much of the friction between them and their daughter. It doesn’t help, of course, that Banks often works the kind of hours that cause him and his wife to live almost separate lives for weeks at a time. 

But first and foremost, Alan Banks is a cop who tends to take crimes committed on his home turf personally — especially those crimes that victimize children. When seven-year-old Gemma Scupham is taken from her home by fake social care workers, Banks knows that if he doesn’t find the little girl quickly, he will almost certainly never find her alive. He also knows that Gemma is not being held for ransom because the girl’s mother, who depends on government payments for support, is incapable of paying any ransom at all to get her daughter back. So now, considering what is likely happening to the little girl, it is all hands on deck. Even Detective Superintendent Gristhorpe, more administrator than field investigator these days, is back in the field. 

After a body is discovered by sheer chance inside a remote, abandoned mine, Banks is removed from the kidnapping case so that he can handle the murder investigation. But then something strange happens. Some of the same names, and leads, begin to appear in both investigations — and if the little girl has any chance of survival, Banks and Gristhorpe know that it will take their combined efforts to save her. The race is on.

Bottom Line: The Inspector Banks series is not one I might still be reading if I had first begun reading the books in the order in which they were published. I am grateful that I started the series from the wrong end, after Banks had become more of a fleshed-out character than he is in the early books. Take this as the word of encouragement it is meant to be: the Alan Banks character should not be given up on too soon because like me, in the end, you just might start calling Alan Banks one of your favorite fictional detectives of them all. 

Peter Robinson

Friday, January 07, 2022

Edna Ferber, Detective (Ed Ifkovic Mystery Series)

That so many of my favorite book blogs are authored by fans of series crime fiction has resulted in me now following/reading something near two dozen such series. And because more than a few of those series were several years old by the time I finally became aware of them, the backlists involved are lengthy enough to provide me with years of fun reading to look forward to.

Even so, there's always room for one...or several...more, and that's why I want to ask if any of you are currently reading the "Edna Ferber, Detective" series featured in the latest Mystery Scene magazine (number 170). Ed Ifkovic began using author Edna Ferber as a fictional detective in 2009 and has averaged almost a novel per year since then:

  • Lone Star (2009)
  • Escape Artist (2011)
  • Make Believe (2012)
  • Downtown Strut (2013)
  • Final Curtain (2013)
  • Cafe Europa (2015)
  • Cold Morning (2016)
  • Old News (2017)
  • Mood Indigo (2018)
  • Run Cold (2019)
  • Indian Summer (2020)

Series Author Ed Ifkovic

According to the Mystery Scene article, the novels jump back and forth between the various decades of Ferber's life and career, so it doesn't sound as if there is any particular benefit to reading them in order. That said, I did decide to take a look at the series via its first book because that one is set during the filming of Ferber's novel Giant in 1955. Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson, and others involved in the movie are included as characters in Lone Star, but the primary focus is on actor James Dean because the murder victim in the story is a woman who has accused Dean of fathering her child. 

Edna Ferber in 1928

Edna Ferber (1885-1968) was the author of numerous novels, plays, novellas, and short stories. Among her most famous were the Pulitzer Prize winning So Big (1924), Showboat (1926), Cimarron (1930), and Giant (1952). I particularly admire the dedication in her 1938 autobiography: "To Adolph Hitler, who has made me a better Jew and a more understanding human being, as he has millions of other Jews, this book is dedicated in loathing and contempt." 1938, this was.

I have a vague recollection of seeing this series mentioned on another book blog, and I know that the books are not going to be new to all of you, so please do let me know what you think of them.

Thursday, January 06, 2022

Little Big Man - Thomas Berger

I only discovered Thomas Berger’s 1964 novel Little Big Man after watching its 1970 movie version starring Dustin Hoffman in the title role. But coincidentally, this week's second reading of the book coincided almost perfectly with the fiftieth anniversary of the first time I read it — and it turned out to be as entertaining as ever.

The novel’s main character, Jack Crabb, is the Forrest Gump of the second half of the nineteenth century. Despite dying at 34 years of age before he could complete his memoir, Crabb tells of his experiences and/or friendships with the likes of George Armstrong Custer, Wild Bill Hickok, Calamity Jane, Wyatt Earp, and others. Much like the fictional Forrest Gump would do in his own part of the country decades later via novel and film, Jack was everywhere out West where anything of consequence seemed to be happening, including the Battle of the Little Big Horn.

The fictional editor responsible for getting Little Big Man’s memoir into print put it this way:

“It is of course unlikely that one man would have experienced even a third of Mr. Crabb’s claim. Half? Incredible! All? A mythomaniac! But you will find, as I did, that if any one part is accepted as truth, then what precedes and follows has a great lien on our credulity. If he knew Wild Bill Hickok, then why not General Custer as well?”

Jack Crabb’s big adventure begins when his father converts to Mormonism and decides to move the family cross country to Salt Lake City. Unfortunately for Mr. Crabb and his family, an Indian raid on the wagon train the family was a part of ended their move well before its intended destination. The good news is that not everyone in the family was killed in that raid; the bad news is that Jack and his older sister were carried away by the raiders. Jack’s sister, who had talked the Indians into taking Jack along in the first place, manages to escape early on, but she does so without including Jack in her escape plan. And that’s how Jack became the adopted son of an Indian chief and survived to have all the adventures captured in Little Big Man.

For the next quarter of a century, Jack will move between the white world and the Native American world each time he needs to save his life from one side or the other. Whenever he finds himself on the losing side of any battle between the Americans and the Indians, Jack manages to switch sides just in the nick of time in order to survive and begin a new set of adventures. He is so good at saving his own neck, in fact, that by the time his memoirs have attracted some interest, Jack Crabb is 111 years old and still feisty as ever. 

Bottom Line: Little Big Man is great fun despite the tragic events the novel vividly portrays as Jack Crabb negotiates the two very different cultures he spends time in. It is the story of America’s westward expansion and the simultaneous near elimination of a race of people who already called this country home. It is a farcical view of American history that still manages the kind of emotional impact that serious, nonfiction history books do not always achieve. Little did they expect it, but fans of Little Big Man were to be rewarded 35 years later with the publication of Berger’s The Return of Little Big Man. How did Jack manage to tell the rest of his story? I’ll leave that up to you to find out because it’s all part of the fun. 

Thomas Berger

Tuesday, January 04, 2022

Crime Hits Home - S. J. Rozan (Editor and Contributor)

Crime Hits Home
is a nice collection of crime related short stories exploring the most jarring type of crime imaginable, those that invade a victim’s most personal space: the home. Keep in mind that, as S. J. Rozan points out in her introduction to Crime Hits Home, “home” does not mean the same thing to everyone. Some people, Rozan says, are living in the home they want to spend the rest of their lives in, others hate where they are, and still others are desperate to return to the place they never should have left in the first place. But what all of these homes have in common is that we feel safest when we are there. So what happens when those safe spaces are violated in the worst ways imaginable?

Twenty authors, including Rozan, give their take on how that feels to the victim and what happens next. Mystery fans, of course, will recognize names like Sara Paretsky and Walter Mosley among the twenty, but some of the best stories in the book come from authors with whose work I am less familiar. 

Among my favorites are “Oyster Creek,” a story by Neil S. Plakey in which a man comes home after his mother has been killed on the roadway in a tragic hit and run accident. After what he learns about the accident and who was behind the wheel, the young man faces a decision that there is no coming back from. 

I enjoyed Ellen Hart’s “Calling Mr. Smith” because it is so easy to imagine what a movie director like Alfred Hitchcock could do with a plot like this one in which a woman mouths off in a bar one night that she would be better off without her elderly mother. Was the wrong person perhaps listening? 

Then there’s G. Miki Hayden’s story, “Forever Unconquered,” about a Seminole Indian family whose home turf in swampy Florida is invaded by drug dealers who make the mistake of hijacking the wrong man’s airboat. Let’s just say that it’s not a mistake they are going to make twice.

What is my favorite story of them all is also the shortest in the book: S. J.  Rozan’s “Playing for Keeps.” This is a deceptively simple story about a little girl who not only survived a German concentration camp but made sure that her younger brother did the same. Now, the children are living in the US where the girl is being mocked and bullied by a boy because of her accent and religion. If he only knew who he was picking on…

Bottom Line: The stories in Crime Hits Home, despite the theme common to them all, are very different from one another. They were, however, all chosen for the collection because of how clearly they address that theme: nothing is worse, and no one feels more cornered, than when a criminal dares invade a person’s home space, be that a physical home or a place you live in only in your mind. Bad things can happen to bad people when they push their intended victims too far — and in Crime Hits Home, those things do happen. 

S. J. Rozan, editor & contributor

Crime Hits Home is schedule for an April 19, 2022 publication by Harlequin Trade Publishing's Hanover Press. Review copy was provided by publisher. 

Sunday, January 02, 2022

The Black Ice - Michael Connelly

The Black Ice
(1993), the second novel in Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch series, solidifies the image of Bosch that started to take form in the novel that introduced Bosch to the world a year earlier (The Black Echo). Harry Bosch, at this stage in his life, is a loner, a Vietnam War veteran who still carries the resulting emotional scars, and above all else, an honest cop who will always stand up for the little guy. Even the LAPD brass recognize that Harry Bosch is not someone who will worry about what they think of him. Rather, he will go where his investigatory instincts take him, no matter the risks to his own life or career aspirations.

In The Black Ice, those instincts take him into Mexico - and he’s not coming back to Los Angeles until he is good and ready. 

It’s Christmas week, and even though Harry is the on-call detective, his phone doesn’t ring after another detective is discovered dead in a seedy LA motel room. Sensing that someone doesn’t want him to show up at the scene, Harry wastes no time getting there after being alerted to the crime by chatter on his police radio. There he learns that investigators are more than willing to call the cop’s death a suicide, and he is pretty much told to go away and mind his own business. 

But when another case that Harry is investigating starts to seem related to the cop’s death, Harry is reminded of a lesson he learned from his first partner when he was a just a rookie detective:

“…facts weren’t the most important part of an investigation, the glue was. He (the partner) said the glue was made of instinct, imagination, and sometimes guesswork and most times just plain luck.”

Harry is not one to count much on luck, but he has an abundance of instinct, imagination, and educated guesswork working in his favor. When, even after another cop is found dead, there are still a lot of people wanting to shut him down, Harry refuses to play their game. Now, if he can just avoid becoming the third dead cop in this case, Harry is going to separate the good guys from the bad guys once and for all. 

Bottom Line: The Black Ice is a well written and entertaining mystery, but it is also interesting for other reasons that Harry Bosch fans will appreciate. Along with further solidifying the Harry Bosch image as a crusader-cop, The Black Ice is also the novel in which Bosch learns his father’s identity. He learns, too, that he has a half-brother and three half-sisters when he spots them at their shared father’s funeral. That half-brother will, of course, turn out to be none other than Mickey Haller, who will go on eventually to earn his own Michael Connelly series as “The Lincoln Lawyer.” 

Michael Connelly