Monthly Archives: August 2013

A Novelist Who Made Crime an Art, and His Bad Guys ‘Fun’

In honor of Elmore Leonard. I haven’t really gotten into Leonard; my loss. I intend to make up for that now. Please click this link to a great profile of this master writer.


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100 Novels Everyone Should Read

From a British newspaper. I’m going to have to live to be 150 and be sure my library card is up to date. I doubt seriously, though, that I even undertake Proust. How many of these have you read? A number I read in college, but that’s been so long ago. And many of the books are better read when you are older and have more experience of life and the world.

100 The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkein
WH Auden thought this tale of fantastic creatures looking for lost jewellery was a “masterpiece”.
99 To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
A child’s-eye view of racial prejudice and freaky neighbours in Thirties Alabama.
98 The Home and the World by Rabindranath Tagore
A rich Bengali noble lives happily until a radical revolutionary appears.
97 The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
Earth is demolished to make way for a Hyperspatial Express Route. Don’t panic.
96 One Thousand and One Nights Anon
A Persian king’s new bride tells tales to stall post-coital execution.
95 The Sorrows of Young Werther by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Werther loves Charlotte, but she’s already engaged. Woe is he!
94 Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie
The children of poor Hindus and wealthy Muslims are switched at birth.
93 Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy by John le Carré
Nursery rhyme provides the code names for British spies suspected of treason.
92 Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons
Hilarious satire on doom-laden rural romances. “Something nasty” has been observed in the woodshed.
91 The Tale of Genji by Lady Murasaki
The life and loves of an emperor’s son. And the world’s first novel?
90 Under the Net by Iris Murdoch
A feckless writer has dealings with a canine movie star. Comedy and philosophy combined.
89 The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing
Lessing considers communism and women’s liberation in what Margaret Drabble calls “inner space fiction”.
88 Eugene Onegin by Alexander Pushkin
Passion, poetry and pistols in this verse novel of thwarted love.
87 On the Road by Jack Kerouac
Beat generation boys aim to “burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles”.
86 Old Goriot by Honoré de Balzac
A disillusioning dose of Bourbon Restoration realism. The anti-hero “Rastingnac” became a byword for ruthless social climbing.
85 The Red and the Black by Stendhal
Plebian hero struggles against the materialism and hypocrisy of French society with his “force d’ame”.
84 The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas
“One for all and all for one”: the eponymous swashbucklers battle the mysterious Milady.
83 Germinal by Emile Zola
Written to “germinate” social change, Germinal unflinchingly documents the starvation of French miners.
82 The Stranger by Albert Camus
Frenchman kills an Arab friend in Algiers and accepts “the gentle indifference of the world”.
81The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco
Illuminating historical whodunnit set in a 14th-century Italian monastry.
80 Oscar and Lucinda by Peter Carey
An Australian heiress bets an Anglican priest he can’t move a glass church 400km.
79 Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys
Prequel to Jane Eyre giving moving, human voice to the mad woman in the attic.
78 Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
Carroll’s ludic logic makes it possible to believe six impossible things before breakfast.
77 Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
Yossarian feels a homicidal impulse to machine gun total strangers. Isn’t that crazy?
76 The Trial by Franz Kafka
K proclaims he’s innocent when unexpectedly arrested. But “innocent of what”?
75 Cider with Rosie by Laurie Lee
Protagonist’s “first long secret drink of golden fire” is under a hay wagon.
74 Waiting for the Mahatma by RK Narayan
Gentle comedy in which a Gandhi-inspired Indian youth becomes an anti-British extremist.
73 All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Remarque
The horror of the Great War as seen by a teenage soldier.
72 Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant by Anne Tyler
Three siblings are differently affected by their parents’ unexplained separation.
71 The Dream of the Red Chamber by Cao Xueqin
Profound and panoramic insight into 18th-century Chinese society.
70 The Leopard by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa
Garibaldi’s Redshirts sweep through Sicily, the “jackals” ousting the nobility, or “leopards”.
69 If On a Winter’s Night a Traveller by Italo Calvino
International book fraud is exposed in this playful postmodernist puzzle.
68 Crash by JG Ballard
Former TV scientist preaches “a new sexuality, born from a perverse technology”.
67 A Bend in the River by VS Naipaul
East African Indian Salim travels to the heart of Africa and finds “The world is what it is.”
66 Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Boy meets pawnbroker. Boy kills pawnbroker with an axe. Guilt, breakdown, Siberia, redemption.
65 Dr Zhivago by Boris Pasternak
Romantic young doctor’s idealism is trampled by the atrocities of the Russian Revolution.
64 The Cairo Trilogy by Naguib Mahfouz
Follows three generations of Cairenes from the First World War to the coup of 1952.
63 The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson
Stevenson’s “bogey tale” came to him in a dream.
62 Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift
Swift’s scribulous satire on travellers’ tall tales (the Lilliputian Court is really George I’s).
61 My Name Is Red by Orhan Pamuk
A painter is murdered in Istanbul in 1591. Unusually, we hear from the corpse.
60 One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez
Myth and reality melt magically together in this Colombian family saga.
59 London Fields by Martin Amis
A failed novelist steals a woman’s trashed diaries which reveal she’s plotting her own murder.
58 The Savage Detectives by Roberto Bolaño
Gang of South American poets travel the world, sleep around, challenge critics to duels.
57 The Glass Bead Game by Herman Hesse
Intellectuals withdraw from life to play a game of musical and mathematical rules.
56 The Tin Drum by Günter Grass
Madhouse memories of the Second World War. Key text of European magic realism.
55 Austerlitz by WG Sebald
Paragraph-less novel in which a Czech-born historian traces his own history back to the Holocaust.
54 Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
Scholar’s sexual obsession with a prepubescent “nymphet” is complicated by her mother’s passion for him.
53 The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
After nuclear war has rendered most sterile, fertile women are enslaved for breeding.
52 The Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger
Expelled from a “phony” prep school, adolescent anti-hero goes through a difficult phase.
51 Underworld by Don DeLillo
From baseball to nuclear waste, all late-20th-century American life is here.
50 Beloved by Toni Morrison
Brutal, haunting, jazz-inflected journey down the darkest narrative rivers of American slavery.
49 The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
“Okies” set out from the Depression dustbowl seeking decent wages and dignity.
48 Go Tell It On the Mountain by James Baldwin
Explores the role of the Christian Church in Harlem’s African-American community.
47The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera
A doctor’s infidelities distress his wife. But if life means nothing, it can’t matter.
46 The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark
A meddling teacher is betrayed by a favourite pupil who becomes a nun.
45 The Voyeur by Alain Robbe-Grillet
Did the watch salesman kill the girl on the beach. If so, who heard?
44 Nausea by Jean-Paul Sartre
A historian becomes increasingly sickened by his existence, but decides to muddle on.
43 The Rabbit books by John Updike
A former high school basketball star is unsatisfied by marriage, fatherhood and sales jobs.
42 The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
A boy and a runaway slave set sail on the Mississippi, away from Antebellum “sivilisation”.
41 The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle
A drug addict chases a ghostly dog across the midnight moors.
40 The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton
Lily Bart craves luxury too much to marry for love. Scandal and sleeping pills ensue.
39 Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
A Nigerian yam farmer’s local leadership is shaken by accidental death and a missionary’s arrival.
38The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald
A mysterious millionaire’s love for a woman with “a voice full of money” gets him in trouble.
37 The Warden by Anthony Trollope
“Of all novelists in any country, Trollope best understands the role of money,” said W?H Auden.
36 Les Misérables by Victor Hugo
An ex-convict struggles to become a force for good, but it ends badly.
35 Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis
An uncommitted history lecturer clashes with his pompous boss, gets drunk and gets the girl.
34 The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler
“Dead men are heavier than broken hearts” in this hardboiled crime noir.
33 Clarissa by Samuel Richardson
Epistolary adventure whose heroine’s bodice is savagely unlaced by the brothel-keeping Robert Lovelace.
32 A Dance to the Music of Time by Anthony Powell
Twelve-book saga whose most celebrated character wears “the wrong kind of overcoat”.
31 Suite Francaise by Irène Némirovsky
Published 60 years after their author was gassed, these two novellas portray city and village life in Nazi-occupied France.
30 Atonement by Ian McEwan
Puts the “c” word in the classic English country house novel.
29 Life: a User’s Manual by Georges Perec
The jigsaw puzzle of lives in a Parisian apartment block. Plus empty rooms.
28 Tom Jones by Henry Fielding
Thigh-thwacking yarn of a foundling boy sewing his wild oats before marrying the girl next door.
27 Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
Human endeavours “to mock the stupendous mechanism of the Creator of the world” have tragic consequences.
26 Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell
Northern villagers turn their bonnets against the social changes accompanying the industrial revolution.
25 The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins
Hailed by T?S Eliot as “the first, the longest, and the best of modern English detective novels”.
24 Ulysses by James Joyce
Modernist masterpiece reworking of Homer with humour. Contains one of the longest “sentences” in English literature: 4,391 words.
23 Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
Buying the lies of romance novels leads a provincial doctor’s wife to an agonising end.
22 A Passage to India by EM Forster
A false accusation exposes the racist oppression of British rule in India.
21 1984 by George Orwell
In which Big Brother is even more sinister than the TV series it inspired.
20 Tristram Shandy by Laurence Sterne
Samuel Johnson thought Sterne’s bawdy, experimental novel was too odd to last. Pah!
19 The War of the Worlds by HG Wells
Bloodsucking Martian invaders are wiped out by a dose of the sniffles.
18 Scoop by Evelyn Waugh
Waugh based the hapless junior reporter in this journalistic farce on former Telegraph editor Bill Deedes.
17 Tess of the D’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy
Sexual double standards are held up to the cold, Wessex light in this rural tragedy.
16 Brighton Rock by Graham Greene
A seaside sociopath mucks up murder and marriage in Greene’s literary Punch and Judy show.
15 The Code of the Woosters by PG Wodehouse
A scrape-prone toff and pals are suavely manipulated by his gentleman’s personal gentleman.
14 Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë
Out on the winding, windy moors Cathy and Heathcliff become each other’s “souls”. Then he storms off.
13 David Copperfield by Charles Dickens
Debt and deception in Dickens’s semi-autobiographical Bildungsroman crammed with cads, creeps and capital fellows.
12 Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe
A slave trader is shipwrecked but finds God, and a native to convert, on a desert island.
11 Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Every proud posh boy deserves a prejudiced girl. And a stately pile.
10 Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes
Picaresque tale about quinquagenarian gent on a skinny horse tilting at windmills.
9 Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf
Septimus’s suicide doesn’t spoil our heroine’s stream-of-consciousness party.
8 Disgrace by JM Coetzee
An English professor in post-apartheid South Africa loses everything after seducing a student.
7 Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë
Poor and obscure and plain as she is, Mr Rochester wants to marry her. Illegally.
6 In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust
Seven-volume meditation on memory, featuring literature’s most celebrated lemony cake.
5 Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
“The conquest of the earth,” said Conrad, “is not a pretty thing.”
4 The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James
An American heiress in Europe “affronts her destiny” by marrying an adulterous egoist.
3 Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
Tolstoy’s doomed adulteress grew from a daydream of “a bare exquisite aristocratic elbow”.
2 Moby-Dick by Herman Melville
Monomaniacal Captain Ahab seeks vengeance on the white whale which ate his leg.
1 Middlemarch by George Eliot
“One of the few English novels written for grown-up people,” said Virginia Woolf

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The Bat by Mary Roberts Rinehart

After the last book, I did promise that I would cleanse my palate with something truly classic and well-written. Well, one out of two isn’t bad. When I saw a Mary Roberts Rinehart’s novel on Net Galley, I couldn’t believe my luck. My mother introduced me to her books back in my pre-teen days – that is what passed as YA literature back then. I read a couple of her books in the past few years and enjoyed them for what they are – old-fashioned, demure, cozy mysteries with a likeable heroine narrating the story. This book, however, was just a little too too, if you know what I mean.

In case you aren’t familiar with Rinehart, she was born in 1876, in Pittsburgh and died in 1958. Her family experienced financial difficulties, which surprised me, as I’ll explain a little later.

Mary Roberts Rinehart was a well-known mystery and romance writer. Her stories combine adventure, love, ingenuity, and humor in a style that is distinctly her own. Most of her fiction included startling plot twists. Rinehart generally added realism in her depiction of contemporary life, with many different classes, corruption high and low, and a great diversity of characters. Her leading lady was inevitably a woman of a certain age with a comfortable income, with the notable exception of her Miss Pinkerton series. Rinehart’s stories appeared in the Saturday Evening Post, and she was also a published playwright.
Mary Roberts graduated from the Pittsburgh Training School for Nurses in 1896. That same year she married physician Stanley M. Rinehart. She and her husband started a family, and she took up writing in 1903 as a result of difficulties created by monetary losses. Her first story appeared in Munsey’s Magazine in 1903. The Circular Staircase (1908), her first book and first mystery, was an immediate success, and the following year The Man in Lower Ten, which had been serialized earlier, strengthened her popular success. Thereafter she wrote steadily, averaging about a book a year. A long series of comic tales about the redoubtable “Tish” (Letitia Carberry) appeared as serials in the Saturday Evening Post over a number of years and as a series of novels beginning with The Amazing Adventures of Letitia Carberry (1911).

Rinehart served as a war correspondent during World War I and later described her experiences in several books, particularly Kings, Queens and Pawns (1915). She wrote a number of romances and nine plays. Most of the plays were written in collaboration with Avery Hopwood; her greatest successes were Seven Days, produced in New York in 1909, and The Bat, derived from The Circular Staircase and produced in 1920. She followed this in 1926 in novel form.

In 1914, Rinehart’s writing and career drastically changed. Rinehart gave up mystery and humorous fiction, and turned to straight novels for most of the next 15 years. Her novels were commercially hugely successful, but critically slammed. While inoffensive morally, critics felt they represented lowbrow popular fiction. According to her biographer Jan Cohn, Rinehart often suffered horribly from depression during these years. Her husband Dr. Stanley Rinehart bitterly resented his wife’s commercial success. He seems to have used his medical degree and general intellectual skills as a weapon to demonstrate his mental superiority to his wife, the trashy author of popular fiction, and pushed her to write “serious literary works”. By contrast, Rinehart had a happy relationship with her three sons. Motherhood is always depicted in glowing terms in Rinehart’s fiction, although often shown to be very hard work, while marriage is an unmitigated horror story. Husbands are commonly depicted as misogynists who are cold hearted, philanderers, men intolerant of their wife’s career, who have to have their own ways in the smallest details. The best of these mainstream tales are from the 1930’s and in the collection Married People. Rinehart also wrote a number of powerful tales about wife beating long before it became a feminist issue in the 1980’s.

Rinehart did write some mystery and humorous fiction during these years. The crime story “The Confession” (1917) is a grim but powerful portrait of a woman’s guilt, depression and mental breakdown.

She also wrote two fusions of supernatural-psychical research fiction and mystery fiction, “Sight Unseen” (1916) and The Red Lamp (1925), which are among the author’s lesser works. As early as “The Amazing Adventure of Letitia Carberry” (1911), Rinehart was talking about spiritualism in her mysteries, but in that story it is just a red herring – no actual supernatural events occur.

Spiritualism is not found just in Rinehart, but in many other American authors of mystery fiction of the period, such as S.S. Van Dine, Ellery Queen, and John Dickson Carr. It makes their storytelling so interesting. The Bat uses spiritualism, but as mentioned above, it serves as a red herring.

In the early 1920s, the family moved to Washington, DC when Dr. Rinehart was appointed to a post in the Veterans Administration. He died in 1932, but she continued to live there until 1935, when she moved to New York City. There she helped her sons found the publishing house Farrar & Rinehart, serving as its director.
She remained best known as a writer of mysteries, and the growing popularity of mysteries after World War II led to frequent republication of her works. Her autobiography, My Story, appeared in 1931 and was revised in 1948. At Rinehart’s death her books had sold more than 10 million copies.

Sometimes real life can be stranger than fiction. Rinehart also maintained a vacation home in Bar Harbor, Maine, where, in 1947, her Filipino chef, who had worked for her for 25 years, fired a gun at her and then attempted to slash her with knives, until other servants rescued her. The chef committed suicide in his cell the next day.

Rinehart suffered from breast cancer, which led to a radical mastectomy. She eventually went public with her story, at a time when such matters were not openly discussed. The interview “I Had Cancer” was published in a 1947 issue of the Ladies’ Home Journal. Rinehart encouraged women to have breast examinations.

The Bat
I had the feeling as I read this book that it would be easily adapted to the stage. Ninety plus of the story takes place in the living room, with characters coming in and out of various doors. Turned out I just really have a second sense (you think). As this story was originally a play, Rinehart might have used a little more creativity in rewriting it as a novel. It was also adapted for the movies in 1926, along with The Bat Whispers (1930), and a remake of The Bat in 1959. In 1933 RCA Victor released The Bat as one of the earliest talking book recordings. I would love to hear that. I wonder how many records it took to record and whether it was on 16 rpm or another speed.

Some believe that The Bat shows Rinehart at the height of her powers and is her greatest work. I can’t agree. There were too many characters, the butler was referred to as “the Jap” (although that might have as politically correct as you could get at the time), and Rinehart operates as uber-omniscient author. She is constantly telling us that a character is doing something that no one else notices. Subtlety is nowhere to be found. I don’t remember that style from her other books; perhaps it is because of its stage heredity that it is present here. Also, I was about 75% through the book when I realized who done it – I don’t appreciate that in a mystery.

Off, off topic:
When reading books from another era, you can pick up the most interesting pieces of trivia. At one point, Miss Van Gorder refers “Gillette as Holmes.” I wondered who Gillette was. I Widipediaed him. The following is from that source:

William Hooker Gillette (July 24, 1853 – April 29, 1937) was an American actor, playwright and stage-manager in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. He is best remembered today for portraying Sherlock Holmes on stage and in a now lost 1916 silent film. His portrayal of Holmes helped create the modern image of the detective. His use of the deerstalker cap (which first appeared in some Strand Magazine illustrations by Sidney Paget) and the curved pipe became synonymous with the character. And it was in his play, not in Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories, that Holmes first said “This is elementary, my dear fellow,” which subsequently became “Elementary, my dear Watson”. Gillette assumed the role onstage more than 1,300 times over thirty years, starred in a silent motion picture based on his Holmes play, and voiced the character twice on radio.

So, really, Gillette is responsible for the image we have today of Sherlock Holmes. Doyle created him, but Gillette gave him form.

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The Baby in the Icebox and Other Short Fiction by James M. Cain

I am in awe of James M. Cain. I have read Mildred Pierce, but I don’t think I have read his other very famous novels. Seen the movies, yes, but as those of you have read and seen Mildred Pierce (the original with Joan Crawford) the two have very little to do with the other. Both terrific, but quite different.

What has happened to short stories? I am old enough to remember when magazines (wait – you mean I’m old enough to remember magazines!) printed short stories in each issue. By the time I came along they were romance stories in the women’s magazines my mother subscribed to; in the 1920’s through the 1940’s, The Saturday Evening Post, Liberty, The American Mercury, The Bookman, Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, and dozens of pulp magazines published short stories by the very best of contemporary authors. (This is being written on the day we learned that the Washington Post has been sold to Amazon – what’s next? The New York Times??)

Maybe we associate short stories with those anthologies we had in school; maybe we just don’t think short stories are cool. They should be popular now. They are perfectly suited for mobile consumption. The iPhone and iPad and other tablets are with their owners all the time, and a story on these devices can be read on a treadmill, in a bank line, on an airplane, wherever the user has a few minutes and wants to be transported to the magical place stories can create. Poe’s definition of the short story remains as true today as when he wrote it: “a story is a thing that can be read in one sitting.” If he were writing today he might rephrase it: “…in one hour on the tread mill.”

Roy Hoopes, the writer of the introduction to this collection of short stories and one novella states that Cain was essentially a writer of short fiction. The Postman Always Rings Twice and Double Indemnity are really novellas, according to Hoopes. Cain himself wrote, “In one respect … it [the short story] is greatly superior to the novel, or at any rate, the American novel.”

Cain was from Maryland and most of his early work was placed in the East. He wasn’t successful in selling this fiction and, as a result, taught school, worked as a newspaper reporter, and served in France during WWI. The characters in these stories were “homely characters” who spoke in “ain’ts, brungs, and fittens.”
He was good friends with H. L. Mencken, who is regarded as one of the most influential American writers of the first half of the twentieth century.

A very controversial figure, Mencken commented widely on the social scene, literature, music, prominent politicians, pseudo-experts, and the temperance movement. He was skeptical of economic theories and particularly critical of anti-intellectualism, bigotry, populism, fundamentalist Christianity, creationism, organized religion, and the existence of God.

An outspoken admirer of German philosopher Nietzsche, he was not a proponent of representative democracy, which he believed was a system in which inferior men dominated their superiors. During and after World War I, he was sympathetic to the Germans, and was distrustful of British propaganda. However, he also referred to Adolf Hitler and his followers as “ignorant thugs.” Mencken, through his wide criticism of actions taken by government, has had a strong impact on the libertarian movement.

Cain followed Mencken’s lead in the essays he wrote for Mencken’s publications. He also started writing successful short fiction. He decided to go to Hollywood where he got a job writing screenplays. He gradually found the West, especially California, appealing. One of the principal forms of recreation in the 1930’s was taking car drives. He and his family took hundreds of trips to the canyons, valleys, beaches, and all the other California attractions. He decided that California was the natural background for his writings.

His two greatest influences on his literary style were Ike Newton and Ring Lardner. Ike Newton was a bricklayer who had laid a walk on the campus of Washington College while he talked to twelve-year-old James Cain for hours. Cain later used Ike’s speech to create the dialogue in his stories. One of the most recognizable traits of much of Ring Lardner’s writing, both in his columns and in his fiction, is the use of the American slang vernacular.

Several of the short stories were truly haunting, making a remarkable impression on me. Many of the stories followed Cain’s basic theme – two people who conspire in committing a crime, but mistrust lead to betrayal. “The Baby in the Icebox” was reminiscent of The Postman Always Rings Twice in that the setting is a gas station, one of the characters is a drifter, and the husband is a jerk. “The Girl in the Storm” is melancholy and ironic. “The Birthday Party” was a poignant coming-of-age tale. Not all the stories have unhappy endings; in fact, the novella Money and the Woman (The Embezzler) went about 180◦ away from the way I thought it was going.

This was an excellent collection of first-rate short stories. Please bring back the short story; after reading this book, I am very nostalgic for the genre.

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Conjure House by Gary Fry

I got this from Amazon for my Kindle because there must have been some kind of special deal. (I checked – it was free). At least, I hope that is what it is because I can’t imagine buying it otherwise.

It has a 4.5 rating on Amazon; I can’t imagine how it managed that.

If you hadn’t figured it out by now (and I know you have because you are a very smart person or you wouldn’t be reading my blog), I didn’t care for this book. This is the first book I’ve read in a long time that I feel owes me for the hours of my life I spent reading it.

It is a mishmash of horror tropes – a little H. P. Lovecraft, a little Stephen King, a little who knows. The writing isn’t even good – it is too repetitive and pointless. He mentions three different characters’ excellent vocabulary four times.

The story doesn’t make any sense. SPOILER ALERT: Why would the children without thumbs kill Anthony’s parents fifteen years after their younger son, Simon, disappeared? Why did the children assume Victorian dress once the big bad guy disintegrate? Did their thumbs grow back? Was Simon the only child he had taken in over a hundred years? What made the big bad disintegrate? Was it Anthony’s pseudo-psychobabble? According to Anthony, a psychology PhD candidate, the big bad is bad because his father was mean to him. What??? The author is credited with a PhD in Psychology. Let’s hope he sticks with his day job (unless it is writing books), except I think he recently published another book.

So, in conclusion, resist the this book. Don’t be fooled by the Amazon ratings. Avoid this book at all costs. I need to go read one of the Brontés, Wilkie Collins, Jane Austen – anybody – to wash my mind out. The sooner I forget this experience the better.

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The Bat by Jo Nesbø

This book is the first in the Harry Hole series. It was published in Norway in 1997, but only now has been translated into English. There are ten books in the series; I make it a rule to begin with the first book in a series.

So, I haven’t read the other books; I don’t know that I will. I read some reviews on Goodreads and Amazon that conceded that this was not that good a book, but that the later ones were much better. That may be, but I’m going to have to wait to find out – too many other books to read right now.

I can compare this book to the first book in the Kurt Wallander series or the Amos Walker series or another half dozen series, mystery and not, that I have read. In those cases, I couldn’t wait to get hold of the next book, and the next one, etc. That’s not my experience here. I just couldn’t “bond” with Harry. I just didn’t see where Nesbø was going with the character. As to the plot, I kept thinking the book was over and couldn’t understand what could be in the pages left.

I will give this series the benefit of the doubt, though, and read one or two more. If other reviewers can assure me that the books get better, then I’ll give Harry Hole a chance. However, I can’t recommend this specific book.

Of course, I did finish the book. Is this like the diner telling the waitperson the meal wasn’t any good after he has eaten it all? Hope not.

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