Friday, October 23, 2015

vacation ahead -- back in two weeks


 By this time next week we will be off snorkeling somewhere in the Caribbean for nearly two weeks, one of my favorite things to do in life.  We're doing a long cruise -- it's the only venue where business Larry is unreachable by phone (the roaming rates are absolutely ridiculous) so it's perfect.  Between snorkeling and sailing on Hobie Cats, we will be spending a lot of our time in the ocean -- I'm definitely a water baby.   The last time we went snorkeling was in drysuits in the Gulf of Alaska in snowy, freezing weather, and we had a blast -- well, at least I did.

When we're not physically in the ocean, we'll be laying out on our balcony (a very small fraction of which you can see here):

reading, enjoying foofy umbrella drinks, reading, relaxing and just having 12 days of ahhhhh.  When we go on cruises, which is not often, we pretty much keep to ourselves and spend most of our time just stretched out in the sun. I'll be taking tons of books, including Benjamin Black's newest Quirke series installment, Even the Dead, the newest Irene Huss series novel, The Treacherous Net, and Johan Theorin's The Voices Beyond among others.  When I get back, I'll have a new novel by Deon Meyer waiting for me (Icarus)  along with John Katzenbach's latest The Dead Student.  

see you in a couple of weeks --

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

in the spirit of the season -- Hallowe'en Party, by Agatha Christie

My edition of this book is the blue leatherette hardcover, the whole set of which  my very understanding and indulging spouse discovered in a consignment shop and bought for me some years back. But this cover is much more interesting than my plain one, and way more interesting than the original:

Having recently watched the excellent dramatization of this book on DVD (with David Suchet, of course, as Poirot and Zoe Wanamaker the absolutely perfect Ariadne Oliver), I figured I'd give Christie's Hallowe'en Party a go in book form.  After finishing it late yesterday afternoon, I found myself agreeing with a contemporary reviewer from the Toronto Daily Star who wrote that "Poirot seems weary and so does the book."  It was a bit disappointing in that I'm used to actually seeing Poirot's little gray cells at work, and here, while he does solve the mystery, it's just not the same as the older Poirot novels -- he does indeed seem incredibly tired. Poirot's less than lackluster self combined with several missed character opportunities made this book not as fun to read as I'd hoped.

The plot itself is an incredibly good one.  The wealthy Mrs. Rowena Drake, who has her fingers in every social, civic and church-related pie in her village, throws a Halloween party at her home for the "eleven-plus" group of kids.  Ariadne Oliver happens to be in the neighborhood, staying with her friend Mrs. Butler, and they both attend the party.  Mrs. Oliver is famous, of course, and one young girl (Joyce) tries to impress by telling her about the time she saw a murder happen.  Of course, she says, she didn't realize that it was a murder that she was seeing at the time, but now she realizes the truth of it.  Joyce, who has a penchant for story telling and making things up, is pooh-poohed by everyone at the party -- no one believes her and they make fun of her for making up something so outrageous.  But someone must have believed her, because when the party ends, Joyce is discovered head down in a tub filled with water meant for apple bobbing.  Poirot is visited the next day by a very shaken Ariadne Oliver, who tells him what happened. He latches on to Joyce's tale of murder, leading him to go to the scene of the crime.

Zoe Wanamaker (Ariadne Oliver) and David Suchet (Poirot) in "Halloween Party"
While the plot is good, I think Christie missed the boat on this one -- it most certainly isn't the best of Poirot and it isn't the best in terms of clues for the amateur armchair detective to follow. I just don't feel like she utilized those skills in this book that made her such an enduring mystery writer.    When it comes down to the who and the why, things seemed rather shaky and I found myself saying things like "but what about..?" more than once.  I hate plot holes, no matter who the writer is, and there are definitely a couple or three sinkhole-sized ones here.

So the long and short of it is great plot potential, but not so hot in the execution.  I suppose even Agatha Christie can have an off day, and it definitely shows in this one.

Friday, October 9, 2015

from the UK: Before It's Too Late, by Jane Isaac

Legend Press, 2015
282 pp

paperback (from publisher, thank you!)

I was well over the halfway mark in this novel when I realized something -- I hadn't seen any swearing, blatant sex or gratuitous violence anywhere.  Kudos to the author for that. Not that I mind swearing so much,  but I can do without extraneous sex and violence that does little or nothing for or gets in the way of the main story line.

Before It's Too Late is a police procedural on the lighter side. It's not light enough to fall under cozy but not nearly as dark as my normal fare, and much lighter in tone than most of what's out there on bookstore shelves as we speak.   There is an angsty main character, DI Will Jackman, who is still grief stricken after an accident that left his wife paralyzed and unable to function.  Jackman has a daughter Celia, a university student whose inner strength Jackman relies on at times when his fails.  He had moved his family to Stratford-upon-Avon when Celia was young, because it was a "pretty sleepy town when it came to serious crime,"  but at the moment,  the police are currently stumped over a missing person case that turned into murder.  Smarting over the lack of information in that case,  Jackman finds himself tasked with investigating another young woman gone missing -- a university student named Min Li, whose case becomes "high profile" with quick results expected.  Sadly, not much evidence has surfaced in this case either, except for some CCTV footage that may offer clues to her last sighting.  But here's the thing -- the reader knows where Min Li is -- her narrative runs through the book parallel to that of the investigation, while the bad guy gets some brief air time here with his story as well.   Jackman and his people have to find Min Li as quickly as possible and things become even more urgent when another university student goes missing.

It's a good book that will keep you turning pages to figure out the who; there are a couple of plot twists involved that make the armchair detective's work just a little bit harder.  The story isn't overwhelmed with Jackman's angst (a plus);  the author gives you just enough information about him to start fleshing him out as a character.  Isaac also reveals the nature of "political policing," as ego, ambition and well-placed friendships override one cop's need for solid detective work, which Jackman can't stand; another well-crafted part of this novel is the focus on the Chinese community and how interactions with outsiders actually work.  Very nicely done and very insightful.  The only thing I wasn't overly fond of was the kidnapped girl's narrative -- first and foremost, it's a bit too melodramatic for my taste and second, well, I can't really explain this one without spoiling things so I'll leave it for others to discover.

I'd say if you've got one foot out the cozy door and are looking to up your crime game without diving headfirst into gritty noir, Before It's Too Late is a fine transition from cutesy to criminal, with enough edginess to make it compelling reading.  I appreciate that Ms. Isaac didn't feel the need to add in all manner of extraneous stuff that many modern writers feel is necessary -- she proves that sometimes a good story can be had without trying to attract every possible audience by using all of the usual over-the-top creepy sex and violence that seems to be a mainstay these days.  It can be done, folks, and it's a refreshing change.

Again, my thanks to the publisher for my copy.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

... and speaking of Agatha Christie, a new release of Murder on the Orient Express!!

look what just came in my mail!  It's a brand new facsimile edition put out by William Morrow, released today, even down to "The Crime Club notation on the side.  I LOVE this cover!  About this particular edition, the note on Amazon says the following:

"Reproducing the original typesetting and format of the first edition from the Christie family’s archive,Murder on the Orient Express Facsimile Edition also features the first hardcover edition’s actual cover art, which has been painstakingly restored to its original beauty."

Inside is also a lovely reproduction of the original: first, the title page,  

followed by a short blurb and a list of other works by Agatha Christie:

In case you're at all interested, here's the Amazon link (I get nothing if you click through).

Monday, October 5, 2015

Sad news: Henning Mankell: 1948 - 2015

Henning Mankell passed away today at the age of 67.  

One of my very favorite Scandinavian writers has passed away today, after battling cancer.  You can read about it here at BBC news for the full story.

Mankell, of course, authored the Wallander series, which I've been collecting and reading for years now.   He has long been one of my favorite crime writers , not just from Scandinavia but in crime fiction as a whole. Crime readers everywhere will mourn his passing -- he brought something new and completely different to the genre.  Today is a sad day.

requiescat in pace