Monthly Archives: October 2012

Archie Meets Nero Wolfe: A Prequel to Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe Mysteries by Robert Goldsborough

It had been years, no, decades since I read Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe books. I may have read them all; but there are undoubtedly some I have missed.

I really enjoyed Timothy Hutton’s Nero Wolfe series that ran on cable from 2001-2002. Hutton played Archie Goodwin and the late Maury Chaykin was Wolfe. It was an excellent adaptation that really captured the 50’s feel of the novels. It was criminal (pun intended) that it only ran for such a short time.

So I was delighted to be able to get this book from NetGalley. It seemed that I was reading Rex Stout again. All the familiar characters were there, and Wolfe was all that I remembered. Goldsborough has Stout’s voice nailed down. It is as if Goldsborough is channeling Rex Stout.

This book starts at the beginning, relating how Archie came to work for Wolfe. Goldsborough explains in the Afterword that it is based on clues (there I go again) in the Stout books. It’s the Depression when Archie Goodwin comes from Ohio to New York City and gets a job as a night watchman.  After being fired for being “trigger-happy,” – he shoots two burglars in their tracks, he finds a job as a detective’s assistant with detective Del Bascom. Then they are called by Nero Wolfe to aid in solving the kidnapping of Tommie Williamson, the son of a New York hotel magnate. In this case, Archie meets the man who will change his life.

 I am delighted to learn that Goldsborough has written other Nero Wolfe books.  His first novel starring Wolfe, Murder in E Minor (1986), was met with acclaim both from critics and devoted fans, winning a Nero Award from the Wolfe Pack. There are six more novels, including Death on Deadline (1987) and Fade to Black (1990). I intend to check them all out, as well as revisiting the original Rex Stout and his Nero Wolfe books.

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Dead on Ice: A Lovers In Crime Mystery by Lauren Carr

This was a quick and satisfying read. I received it from NetGalley and am glad to see that I’ve gotten in on the first installment of a new series.

 The series features Hancock County Prosecuting Attorney Joshua Thornton and Pennsylvania State Police homicide detective Cameron Gates who had met on a previous case in another book. 

Normally, I would avoid like all plagues anything with “Lovers in Crime” in the title. I prefer hard-boiled mysteries and I usually don’t really want to know much about the detective’s personal life. (See Raymond Chandler.) However, this book doesn’t dwell on the main characters’ personal relationship.

The story revolves around the discovery of the body of Cherry Pickens, a well-known porn star, whose body turns up in an abandoned freezer. It turns out that Cherry is a hometown girl, and everyone in town, it seems, is connected with her.  

 The trail to the solution follows back to 1978 when eighteen-year-old Angie disappeared following an evening at the local roller skating rink. When that mystery is solved, the murderer is revealed.

Truthfully, there are so many people involved that I was confused at first as to who was who, but I finally caught on. Everyone has their own secrets. Trying to unravel the truth from the twisted lies that have remained hidden for so long leads the investigators on quite an interesting chase.

 Mysteries that originate in the past have always appealed to me. Ross McDonald’s mysteries have that element.

I am interested to see where the series goes next. My experience with this book leads me to check out Lauren Carr’s other books.

My one reservation, and it is a minor, probably a petty one, is that Carr finds it necessary to explain, in an entire paragraph, her reference to a character as a “Mrs. Robinson.” Hasn’t that reference to Anne Bancroft’s role in “The Graduate” become a standard reference to an older woman who puts the moves on a younger man? Or is it that I was a senior in high school when that movie was released and I am very familiar with it and Simon and Garfunkel’s “Mrs. Robinson” song from the soundtrack. Oh, well.

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Speaking from Among the Bones: A Flavia de Luce Novel by Alan Bradley

I love Flavia de Luce. I would adopt her, but I’m afraid she’s too smart for me. For an eleven-year-old, Flavia is too clever, too resourceful, and too head-strong. As her own father says, she is a genius. And Alan Bradley is a genius for creating her.

 I feel so fortunate to have been able to get this from NetGalley. I have a terrible confession to make – I couldn’t put my Kindle down, so I took it with me to a Texas Camerata concert of Italian Baroque music. I love the music and have the highest respect for the Texas Camerata. However, one does read while listening to music, doesn’t one? So, during a couple of the sonatas, I pulled out my Kindle to follow Flavia’s adventures. I’m afraid I had to stifle a few guffaws; I sincerely hope I didn’t disturb anyone.

 I enjoyed this book more than any of the others in the series since the first one, The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie. The plot seemed more concise, more taut, somehow. It is the five-hundredth anniversary of St. Tancred’s death, and Bishop’s Lacey’s church personnel is preparing to open its patron saint’s tomb. Flavia (like Jessica Fletcher) always seems to be in the right place at the wrong time. Thanks to her, the excavators find a body in the tomb. On the way to the solution, Flavia (and we) learn more about her father – an old friend of his is introduced (he happens to be a detective) – and about her mother. The book closes with a truly dramatic cliff-hanger; I can’t wait until the next book which, according to Flavia’s website http://www.flaviadeluce.com/seeds-of-antiquity/ , is titled The Dead In Their Vaulted Arches and is due inearly 2014. Sigh.

  In the meantime, if you have been unfortunate enough to have missed this series, the other Flavia de Luce novels are The Weed That Strings the Hangman’s Bag, A Red Herring Without Mustard, and I Am Half-Sick of Shadows.

 

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Bryant and May and the Invisible Code by Christopher Fowler

I’m not sure how I came across this book. I may have been checking Amazon to see if there was a new Peculiar Crimes Unit book. At any rate, I found it, only to discover that it is not available in hard- or paperback form in the United States. The book is out in the UK, but as of September, 2012, there is no publication date listed in the US. However, it’s available as an audiobook from Audible.com, a subdivision of Amazon. That’s what I did. I’m not fond of audiobooks – I don’t spend that much time in the car and it’s difficult for me to just sit and listen to a book. However, I’m happy I have it. I very much enjoyed the reader, Tim Goodman. His voice is distinct and appropriate for each character, and his voice for Arthur Bryant is dead-on perfection. It is just as I imagine that Arthur sounds.

 One problem I have with audiobooks is the interruptions in listening. I listened to many passages several times, trying to find where I had left off. I don’t have an audio Kindle, so I had to copy it onto my iPod. (This lead to several very frustrating conversations with Apple.) However, my battle with technology has nothing to do with the book.

 The Invisible Code begins with an inexplicable death which Bryant wants to look into but isn’t allowed. Instead, there are hired by Oscar Kasavian, who has many times tried to shut down the PCU, to find out why his wife has suddenly started behaving strangely. A society photographer is stabbed to death in a nearby park, and the PCU discovers a link between the two deaths and possibly with Kasavian’s wife, too. The investigation sets Arthur Bryant on a trail that leads to Bedlam and Bletchley Park, which currently houses the National Codes Centre and the National Museum of Computing, and into the world of secret private clubs, madness, codes and witchcraft.

 As I have mentioned in another review, I love this series. I would give anything to have a cup of tea with Arthur Bryant. I hope he and the PCU live forever, and that Arthur never retires. Christopher Fowler has created a marvelous world with memorable characters.  

Once again, this tenth book in the Peculiar Crimes Unit series is notable for its use of London settings in the story. Descriptions of churches, museums, streets and history bring the city alive. My favorite mysteries have humor in them; I laughed aloud several times. Fowler has quite a turn of phrase, along with his individualized characterization.

Please, read the whole series from the beginning, starting with Full Dark House: A Peculiar Crimes Unit Mystery. You won’t regret a minute of it.

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Murder Casts a Shadow: A Hawaii Mystery by Victoria N. Kneubuhl

Maybe my expectations were too high. Amazon’s description of this book read

 New Year’s Eve, 1934. While Honolulu celebrates with champagne and fireworks, someone is making away with the Bishop Museum’s portrait of King Kalakaua and doing away with its curator. A series of brutal murders follows, and an unlikely pair, newspaper reporter Mina Beckwith and visiting playwright Ned Manusia, find themselves investigating a twisted trail of clues in an attempt to recover the painting and uncover the killer. 

 Prewar Honolulu comes to life in this thoroughly entertaining mystery that evokes a colorful bygone era.

I guess I had Charlie Chan, Raymond Chandler, or Dashiell Hammett in mind. That’s not what I got. I didn’t get the impression of the 30’s or any noir; this book reminded more of Nancy Drew mysteries. Ned was her boyfriend, right? With that name, I had difficulty imagining him as Samoan. Nearly all the other characters were white.

There was too much going on and too many characters. The red herrings were not persuasive; the murderer was obvious at the first appearance.

The Hawaiian history information was very interesting, and the descriptions of the islands made me want to visit Hawaii – of the 30’s.

And what was the deal with the frame for the king’s portrait? What happened to it? If it was immaterial, why mention its historic and artistic importance. Chekhov’s Gun rule states that if an unimportant element introduced early in the story becomes significant later on. In this case, much was made of the picture frame and then it disappeared from the plot.

All in all, a disappointment. I don’t plan to get the sequel.

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Daddy Love by Joyce Carol Oates

Joyce Carol Oates, as prolific a writer as she is, has written many riveting, heart-rending, moving, significant, and relatable stories. Why, then, did she choose to write this stomach-turning novel about a sociopathic and sadistic pederast who abuses young children and animals? As talented and skillful writer Oates is, I would never have selected this book from Net Galley if I had had a clue as to the subject. I’m going to going on a James Thurber and Robert Benchley binge after this descent into hell.

 I’m not ignoring the fact that the situation Oates relates doesn’t happen every day. We don’t hear about every occurrence of child abduction; there clearly was a reason for the establishment of the Amber Alert. We need to be aware of the dangers in our society to young children and animals. That may have been Oates’s motive in writing this book. A question that is often asked when an abducted child is found after being missing for years is “Why didn’t the child try to escape?” Oates addresses this question in many ways in her description of how Daddy Love trains his boys to obey unquestioningly. The ending is ambiguous; Robbie may or may not recover from his experience. Oates leaves us to wonder what is next for the very damaged Robbie.

 I have mentioned abuse of animals a couple of times. This is a very personal issue for me. I don’t think this is a spoiler for anyone who reads this book: when Daddy Love gets Robbie a dog from the shelter, the reader will know how it is going to end. I skipped those pages. There is no rule that one must read every word.

 In conclusion, this is a very disturbing and very well executed book. Be aware, though, that it is not for the faint-hearted.

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