Sunday, May 22, 2016

For those of you whose TBR piles aren't big enough

3 fantasy writers to read while you wait for George R.R. Martin to finish Game of Thrones:

I have read none of these, so I am just reporting.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Steven Havill, Blood Sweep

Steven Havill, Blood Sweep
Poisoned Pen Press, 2015
ISBN 9781464203879
Also available as an ebook

Undersheriff Estelle Guzman discovers that her older son Francisco is performing in a concert in Mazatlan, Mexico (you'll find out why she didn't know). 

Sheriff Bobby Torrez is shot at and barely misses being killed, while out hunting antelope. 

A representative of a development company has come to Posadas to pitch plans for a hotel/conference center (and other facilities), spinning off the ongoing development of the astronomy development (see Night Zone, the previous book in the series for this development). 

Retired sheriff Bill Gastner experiences a health crisis. 

Guzman's (adoptive, 99-year-old mother) receives an odd phone call seeking money.  And Guzman's younger son, Carlos, receives a strange phone call from someone purporting to be Estelle's uncle. 

There's a lot going on here, and Havill handles it all expertly.  The characters we have met and now know well from the previous 19 books in the series remain interesting, true-to-life, the setting is expertly evoked.  And the resolution has some surprises for us as well.  Beautifully done.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Andrew Cartmel, Written in Dead Wax: A Vinyl Detective Mystery

Andrew Cartmel, Written in Dead Wax: A Vinyl Detective Mystery
Titan Books, 2016
Also available as an ebook

ISBN 978-1-78329-7672

This is a long book.  Very long.  478 pages long.  I read it in less than two days. 

Our narrator (and it comes to me now that I don't think we ever learn his name) makes what passes for a living by finding, buying, and reselling vinyl.  As in records.  (He also keeps the odd record for himself, to play on his hand-built system that will blow your mind.)  He is hired  by N. Warren, of International Industries GMBH, to find one very specific record, Easy Come, Easy Go, recorded in 1955 by Easy Geary for the LA label Hathor.  Hathor released exactly 14 records, all in 1955, of which this is HA-0014.  No one has copy (that anyone know of).  (Well, there are re-issues, but who wants one of those?)  It is distinguished by Geary and Rita Mae Pollini having signed the master disc in the "dead wax," the space at the end of the record. 

Of course the search is not easy--someone else is also looking for this record--and  people start dying.  Clearly, something more than simply a record is at stake here.  The writing is crisp, and you will learn more about searching for old vinyl than you ever expected, or perhaps wanted, to learn.  The author clearly knows and loves the jazz artists and recordings of the 1950s (as do I), and the non-fictional players and music that show up are almost always things one would profit by listening to (I have a bunch of it, mostly on CD--my ear isn't quite as good as that of our protagonist).  The supporting characters (especially Tinkler, but also the cats) are a treat. 

It's long, it's convoluted, and occasionally I think the deaths are pushed a bit to the side.  But I already can't wait for the next one. 

Friday, May 13, 2016

Bill Crider, A Bond With Death

Bill Crider, A Bond With Death
St. Martin’s Press, 2004 (OP)
ISBN 0-312-32296-8
Available as an ebook

I'm not quite sure how I managed to miss tA Bond With Death when it was published (I had read the first two books--A Knife In the Back and Murder Is an Art--when they were published), but these things happen.  Having seen a mention of it, and read a brief statement of the situation, I knew I had not read it.  So I found it, and read it tonight, in about 3 hours. 

Sally Good, who chairs the Department of English at Hughes Community College, becomes involved in two seemingly unrelated matters.  The first is a bond issue the school needs voter approval for (and the opposition to which is being led by a former member (Harold Curtin) of the English department who was forced to retire).  The second concerns accusations of witchcraft involving her--her late husband's many-greats-grandmother was accused of, convicted of, and hanged for witchcraft in Salem in the 1690s.  Oh, and the former faculty member, fondly (right) referred to as the Garden Gnome, has dies under suspicious circumstances. 

Against her better judgment, Good becomes involved in the investigation of Curtin's death.  Lurking on the periphery of all this is Seepy Benton, former math professor and now director of institutional research at Hughes.  Crider handles all of this smoothly; it is nice to read an academic mystery that gets both the academic part and the mystery part right.  (As an academic myself, I am fairly sensitive to this.)  I just hope that the plot is not drawn entirely from his experience as chair of the English department at Alvin CC.  I am also pleased to say that Seepy, who apparently moved on to another CC in another small Texas town, actually gets a chance to behave somewhat heroically. 

If you have not read the Sally Good books, you should.  I wish there had been more of them (and of the Carl Burns books as well--another fine set of academic mysteries) (and, while we're at it, we could have used more Truman Smith PI novels).  I was somewhat stunned to realize that Crider has published 43 mysteries--counting the almost released Survivors Will Be Shot Again--and 6 westerns, beginning in 1986.  Considering the man had a full-time job for most of that time, he managed to provide us with four first-class mystery series and a number of fine stand-alone books.  (I have read everything except the westerns, which I should probably read, and enjoyed every one of them.)

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Michael Pearce, Our Man In Naples

Michael Pearce, Our Man In Naples
Soho Press, 2009
ISBN 978-1-56947-607-9
Also available as an ebook.

The 6th of 7 (to date) books featuring Sandor Seymour.  Seymour is an English-born child of an immigrant Polish family with a talent for languages, who has wound up working for the Special Branch.  And he keeps getting loaned to the Foreign Office when something goes wrong overseas (so far, in Trieste, Athens, Istanbul, Tangiers, Barcelona, Naples, and Malta). 

In Naples, a minor member of the British consular staff, who has developed a passion for bicycle racing, is stabbed in a public square.  Seymour is sent (as a "tourist," with his fiance, a Lybian woman named Chantale) to find out who killed him--and why.  It's 1913, and Italy is attempting to redeem its failures to achieve colonies in Africa by going to war with Ethiopia.  A Napoli family is trying to win a pension for their son's Arab wife (Jalila).  (And it's much more complicated than that.)  Along the way, we learn a lot about daily life in early 20th century Naples, about the operation of the daily lotteries, and about the Camorra (the Neopolitan version of organized crime).  And about bicycle racing.

What matters, and what doesn't, are issues at the heart of the book, and Pearce does a good job of keeping us off-balance.  In fact, much of the books does not seem at all like an investigation, until the end, when we realize that all those casual conversations were moving us closer and closer to knowing both what the real questions are, and how to answer them.  I have not yet read Our Man In Malta, but this is the best of the bunch so far.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

In which I read a western

I don't think I have read a western novel since I was in  grade school.  That's sort of amazing, given the number of westerns I watched on TV and at the movies; I started, but didn't finish Charles Portis' True Grit.  But because of something I read on-line, I think probably at Bill Crider's blog, and partly because my wife is a major fan of the old Hopalong Cassidy movies and TV shows, I acquired a few Hoppy books, and have now read one (started another and set it aside).

The one I set aside was written by the creator of the character, Clarence Mulford, who published 29 books about Cassidy between 1904 and 1941.  I, in fact, started the first one, Bar-20, which was the name of the ranch on which Hoppy was working as a hand.  I can't tell you much about the plot, because I didn't get past the first chapter, hung up over all the dialogue being in dialect, which is a problem for me.  Especially when the author uses a dialect spelling that is pronounced just as the "real" world is--in this case "yu" for "you."  I may try to get back to it (or watch the movie).

The one I read was Trouble-Shooter, published in 1951 and the fourth of four written by Louis L'Amour (The Rustlers of West Fork; The Trail to Seven Pines; The Riders of High Rock).  Somewhat to my surprise, L'Amour writes cleanly and smoothly.  There's a mystery of sorts here, although the "solution" of it becomes quite obvious quite early on.  The characters are reasonably well-developed and act in ways consistent with their characters.  The book includes two women as principal or supporting characters, and both are depicted as competent, strong people--which was nice to see.  While the plot is fairly transparent, and has one really big glitch--the transplanting of a 40-year-old, several ton cottonwood tree in a way that fools people--the ride is nice.  Those western heroes, though, really could take a licking and keep on ticking, couldn't they?

I'll read some more.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Sharyn McCrumb, Bimbos of the Death Sun

Sharyn McCrumb, Bimbos of the Death Sun
Ballantine Books , 1996 (reprint of 1988 original))
ISBN-13: 978-0345483027

I recently read something that encouraged me to re-read Sharyn McCrumb's fourth mystery novel (which won the Edgar for Best Paperback Original), which I remembered as an extraordinarily good book.  The sequel, Zombies of the Gene Pool, while OK, was not nearly as good (according to my memory).  McCrumb then left Jay Omega behind to concentrate  on the Elizabeth McPherson books, and, later, the Spencer Arrowood books. 

My re-read of Bimbos did not turn out well.  While the book is well written, and the plot holds together, I was somewhat surprised to discover that there were only a couple of more-or-less sympathetic characters in the book--Marian Farley (who teaches a course in science fiction as literature and is Jay's love) and the Scottish folk-singer Dory McRory (who is stuck in the hotel for the weekend and really wants as little to do as possible with the strange folk he finds all around).  By and large, the depiction of the organizers and attendees of Rubicon--the con being held in the hotel--shows them as people without lives outside the world of fandom, as unpleasant or narcisistic or both, as unattractive and unlovable.  

And the main focus of the con, best-selling author of Celtic fantasy novels, Appin Dungannon, is a mean-spirited, nasty piece of work who hates not only his fans, but his work, and, it seems, himself.  Even Jay, who is portrayed in a relatively neutral manner, does not compel our attention (even if he does, with Marian's help, unravel the mystery).  The book remains funny, and the narrative is fairly strong.  But, in the end, I was struck more by the mean-spiritedness than by anything else.  (I will note that I quit reading the McPherson books with Missing Susan, by which time it seemed to me that McCrumb had tired of the character and wanted her to go away.  I never started on the Arrowood books.)

Monday, May 2, 2016

John Rowland, Calamity in Kent

John Rowland, Calamity in Kent
The British Library Publishing Division (April 10, 2016)

ISBN:  978-0712357838
Also available as an ebook

Jimmy London, a reporter, is recuperating from (unspecified) surgery in a resort town in Kent.  On his early morning walk, he encounters the lift-keeper (of the "lift", or cliff railway, that transports people from the town down to the beach, or up), who has discovered a body in the locked facility.  Inspector Shelley of Scotland Yard happens to be vacationing in the town, and takes over the investigation from the local detective, Inspector Beech, and, for no good reason, enlists London as his unofficial assistant. 

To call the pace of this book "leisurely" would be to understate the matter.  It drags.  London--who narrates the story--seems to have to say everything that occurs to himself at least twice.  Shelley is a bad caricature of a Scotland Yard detective.  And at about the 260-page mark, Rowland apparently realizes he has to wrap things up, and he does in about 5 pages...with the world's worst explanation for a "locked room" mystery (but which was fairly obvious by about page 40).  I have another book by Rowland, but unless it is markedly better than this one, there won't be a third.  (A volume in the British Library Crime Classics series.)