Archive for June, 2011

29
Jun
11

CR3 #55: The Case of the Guilded Fly by Edmund Crispin

This is another work in my summer mystery series. Set in the late 30s in England, it’s sort of an upper-crust society murder. The main character (the Watson, of the piece) is journalist Nigel Blake, on holiday to his college town of Oxford. Although the narration is a third-person limited-omniscient, Nigel is character who does most of the heavy lifting. The main detective is Gervase Fen, a professor of English literature, a friend of Nigel’s who has done some detecting before. The rest of the characters are members of a repertory theater company, gathered with the playwright, his companion, the Oxford organist, and several other hangers-on, all of whom become suspects when a widely disliked member of the company is murdered days before opening night.

The mystery is quite twisty, and I couldn’t figure it out until the end when it was all laid out for me. I did have trouble for a while keeping all the characters straight, as there are eleven or twelve of them, and several are very similar. There were times when things got a bit dull, since it was just page after page of characters speaking to one another about what had already happened. There was not much action of any kind in it.

I know this book is part of the “Golden Age” of mysteries, but it was just slightly too boring for me. I’m not saying I won’t try another mystery by Crispin, as he may have worked out the problems in later works. However, I’m not inclined to ever read this one again.

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27
Jun
11

CR3 #54: Her Wyoming Man by Cheryl St.John

(Disclaimer: I won this book for free in a giveaway on Goodreads.com. Doesn’t mean I shall be even slightly less critical than I normally would.)

Her Wyoming Man is the story of Ella, who begins the story as a high-class hooker in Kansas City during the late 1800s (I think, I can’t recall if any specific dates were ever given). After a change in circumstances, Ella and a few of the other women from the “house of pleasure” make a run for it, answering an ad from a city in rural Wyoming that needs marriage-worthy women. Ella quickly finds herself married to a young widower named Nathan, who has three small children and political aspirations. How long can she keep her past a secret? And what will happen if it comes out?

In general, this is a pretty standard Harlequin-style romance. The heroine is beautiful, the hero is dashing, there is a certain amount of conversation, sexy times, a problem comes up, is overcome, and everyone basically lives happily ever after. It is not especially original, but the story is serviceable, and the characters are fairly likeable. The sexy bits were pretty good, though definitely not explicit. I really only had two issues with it; my first problem was the sometimes dizzying switches in perspective–the story is mostly from Ella’s point of view, but often it moves to Nathan’s, generally without warning, often mid-paragraph. My other problem was purely personal–I had trouble enjoying the story because I was so dreading the point when the truth about Ella’s past comes out.

I’d recommend this for anyone who enjoys the occasional fluffy historical romance. It’s a great way to spend a rainy evening or an afternoon lying on the beach.

24
Jun
11

CR3 #53: Bag of Bones by Stephen King (King REreview #1)

At the moment, I am running low on new books. Partly because I am running out of space to store them (I have a gigantic Ikea bookshelf, I just haven’t had the wherewithal to shift all our furniture around to create a space and then put it together), and partly because as I mentioned before, it’s summer. I lose motivation in summer, which is not helped by the fact that I managed to complete the full Cannonball. I’m waiting for some new ones to arrive, but what to do in the interim? As I stood in front of my bookshelves the other day, the idea came to me: Stephen King. I own nearly all of his books, and have only reviewed a few. New goal: Re-read and review all (previously unreviewed) King works I own. That should keep me busy during any slow points. Plus, it will give me the opportunity to think a little more critically about his works and express what it is that I enjoy about them to others.

I have already done Cannonball reviews for a few of his works:
1. The Cell
2. The Gunslinger
3. Lisey’s Story
4. The Drawing of the Three
5. The Wastelands
6. Wizard and Glass
7. Under the Dome
8. Hearts in Atlantis
9. Song of Susannah
10. The Tommyknockers
11. The Bachman Books

Hmm. That is more than a few, huh? Okay, well, anyway, now you know that there are more coming.  On to today’s addition to the list!

Mike Noonan is a reasonably well-known author of thrillers. His life was going along just fine until his wife Johanna died of an aneurysm one sunny August day. After her death, Mike finds himself totally unable to write. Merely opening the word-processing program on his computer causes intense panic attacks. He has several unpublished novels put away to live on, but when four years go by and he is no closer to being able to write again, he decides a change is in order. Mike packs himself up and goes to his summer house in northern Maine, Sara Laughs. Not long after he arrives, he finds himself wound up in the custody battle of a young mother fighting to keep her daughter, having increasingly disturbing dreams, and having experiences inside the house that can’t possibly be real. As time passes, he discovers the deep, dirty secret of the small Maine town, and what it has to do with the angry spirits of Sara Laughs.

This is a traditional ghost story, though filtered through the Stephen King lens. I actually didn’t like this one the first time I read it–I much prefer King’s more ensemble-type stories, and sometimes find myself a little annoyed at his writer characters. However, on second reading I found that I liked it a lot better. I am usually a fan of old-fashioned ghost stories–the kind wherein the ghost is haunting for a specific purpose, rather than being a simple random evil presence–and this surely fits the bill. The characters are interesting, although there were points where I found Mike to be a little dense (of course, all horror story characters HAVE to be a little dense sometime, or the story would end awfully quickly). I enjoyed the character of Kyra, who might be a little precocious, but still struck me as adorable. The plot was interesting and made sense, though I thought it got bogged down a bit in places. I also would have liked to see the “history” information spread out through the book a little more–as it is in IT, for example–rather than piled up in a big discovery at the end.

On the whole, I’d say this book is definitely flawed, but it also had some genuinely spooky moments, and some interesting wordsmithing. I’d probably rate it about a 3 of 5.

21
Jun
11

CR3 #52: The Seven-Per-Cent Solution by Nicholas Meyer

A few weeks ago, I was sitting around with nothing to do, unable to watch TV because The Boyfriend was thoroughly engaged in some sporting event. I found myself in front of the computer, poking around through the Netflix OnDemand list. Suddenly, I remembered the Pajibans recent flurries of praise for the BBC’s Sherlock and figured I might as well give it a try.

Ten minutes in, I was completely hooked and already bemoaning the fact that only four episodes had been made. I mentioned this in a previous entry, but bring it up again because it led me back to the original source material. I already own the collected works, but upon further investigation, I discovered that (unsurprisingly, really) some other authors have created their own Holmes tales. I happened to purchase The Seven-Per-Cent Solution simply because it seemed to be the top-rated of the group.

In this story (purported to be a lost work of Dr. Watson, dictated years after the death of Holmes), Dr. Watson tells the story of what REALLY happened during the period that Sherlock Holmes was thought to be dead (spanning Doyle’s stories “The Final Problem” and the one about the airguns, the title of which I can never remember). Watson tells us that the truth is that Holmes had fallen victim to his cocaine addiction, and required serious treatment. The doctor manages (with the help of Mycroft Holmes and a twisty plan) to get Sherlock to Vienna, where he places him in the treatment of Sigmund Freud. From there, a mystery begins to unfold.

I enjoyed the story very much, and felt that the characters were fairly true to the original works. Meyer did a good job with his “alternate history,” and I also enjoy the footnote “corrections” and additions the author made on Dr. Watson’s “original manuscript.” The plot itself was perhaps a little thin when it came to the mystery, but as I said, the characters were enjoyable, there were some very exciting parts–a wild chase on a train, for example–and the little in-jokes to readers familiar with the previous works were enjoyable. I would definitely recommend this for any fan of Sherlock Holmes.

Huzzah! I have completed the Cannonball Read! Fifty-two books read and blogged! I AM A GOLDEN GOD!

…Okay, well maybe not. But I AM very pleased with myself. Now I have to decide whether stop here, or to continue on and attempt the death-defying double Cannonball. I’m not sure I could actually do fifty-two more before the end of the year, but I don’t see why I shouldn’t try. Might be interesting to see how far I get, at least.

20
Jun
11

CR3 #51: The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey

I was talking to my mum the other evening, and she asked about what I’d been reading lately (partly because she is genuinely interested, and partly because I pass along a lot of my books to her, and she hoping to get some good stuff instead of YET ANOTHER BOOK about a horrific fire or shipwreck or something). I said that since it is now summer, I have shifted into trashy fiction/mystery gear. I explained that is what summer is for…even though I am no longer in school and thus get to pick ALL my own reading material. I then went on to explain that my latest trash mystery was a defense of Richard III, using historical documents to show he was innocent of the murder of the two young princes. She said “That doesn’t sound trashy at all.”

Tey’s detective Arthur Grant is laid up in the hospital after a painful accident. He has hurt his back, is unable to move, and is slowly losing his mind from inactivity. Soon, a friend drops by with a stack of photos, some of famous historical criminals and some of their alleged victims. One reproduction of a painting catches his eye, and soon he finds himself trying to gather all the information he can on the infamous King Richard III. With help from his friends, Grant begins to investigate the case against Richard (using his modern methods of detection). He discovers in short order that everything he thought he knew about the situation could very well be false.

Tey quotes historical documents as she lays out her case for the innocence of Richard, as well as pointing the blame in another direction. Obviously, hers is not the first book to bring this information to light (a fact that is mentioned within the text itself) but it does so in an easy to read and entertaining way. I enjoyed the character of Detective Grant, and was right there with him as he reveled in his discoveries and vented his frustration. The story moved along a good clip, tying the historical facts together in an unintrusive literary frame. I felt like I was learning, but not being lectured to.

I’d definitely recommend this to anyone who is interested in historical mysteries or in quiet detective stories.

15
Jun
11

CR3 #50: The Circular Staircase by Mary Roberts Rinehart

The Circular Staircase was written in 1908 by Mary Roberts Rinehart, a woman many considered to be the “American Agatha Christie.” This particular novel is one of the first mysteries in the “Had I but known” style, in which the first person narrator is telling the story from a point after the events, and often throws in small hints about the danger that is to come.

In this particular case, Rachel Innes–a middle-aged spinster–decides to take a house in the country for the summer, along with her niece and nephew, whom she has raised for most of their lives. The house, Sunnyside, turns out to have some very strange issues, including many suspicious things that go bump in the night. As if that wasn’t bad enough, shortly after they arrive, a man is shot in the house during the night, even though all the doors were closed and locked. Soon, both of Miss Innes’s wards are wrapped up in the mystery, and the house continues to be haunted by noises and uninvited guests. Miss Innes, along with Detective Jamieson and the comedic maid Liddy, manage to untangle the deadly mystery.

This is not a bad book, and the mystery was logical but not easily figured out. Some of the dialogue was funny, and the characters were relatively well-written. One thing that I did find a bit disconcerting was the casual racism throughout the book. The character of Thomas the butler is written as a blatant Uncle Tom stereotype, and the other characters make flippantly disparaging remarks–i.e., using the word “darkies” and discussing their tendency toward laziness, stupidity, and inability to handle money–in passing conversation. It’s not unusual, I suppose, for the time the book was written, but it feels very strange now that a character in a book can be nonchalantly racist. Nowadays, racism is used as an indicative character trait, not just some conversational filler.

 

Aside from that small issue, this is a tolerable book, though it’s nothing special.

14
Jun
11

CR3 #49: Under Observation by Lisa Berger

So it looks like my new obsession for fall (once I’m done with the summer’s mystery challenge) will be mental hospitals. I checked my to-read list and discovered about six mental hospital-related books.

 

Lisa Berger spent about a year observing one unit at Massachusetts’s McLean Hospital (for more information about McLean’s history, here is a link to a previous review). The book was written in cooperation with the doctor-in-charge of the unit she observed, and benefits greatly from his observations. She focuses on a few specific patients over the course of two weeks (roughly the average stay for a patient in the hospital.) They each have different issues, and are treated in different ways. The book also gives some information about how new psychiatric drugs are developed, what the new (in 1992, anyway) advances in mental health are, and the different ideas regarding the treatment of psychological problems. There is also a certain amount of discussion on the way things like insurance companies and profit margins effect the treatment of patients at McLean.

 

On the whole, this isn’t a bad book. The observations are good, and the characters are life-like. The only problem I had began with the introduction, which explains that the book is not entirely true, but (due to issues of ethics and patient privacy) that the patients portrayed are not real, but rather “compositions” made up of many different patients the author and her consulting physician observed. That took me out of things quite a bit, because I found myself thinking about how the patients portrayed were more fiction than reality. It also made me wonder which parts of the entire book are true and which are not. Another down side is that some of the chapters talking about drug research and brain chemistry can be a little dull for someone who is not particularly science-minded.

 

I would probably only recommend this to someone who is deeply interested in the subject but not bothered by the fictional aspects of the story. It’s not really a book for the mildly interested.