May 2009

Author Rating: B

Richard Hawke is a pseudonym of Tim Cockey who writes humorous mystery fiction set in Baltimore, Maryland under his own name, reserving Richard Hawke for noir-ish detective fiction.

Speak of the Devil (read 5/28/09) recommended

Set in New York City, the protagonist, Fritz Malone, a private detective, is out buying bagels to take over to his girlfriend’s apartment but takes a small detour to view part of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade. He spots a gunman but is unable to get to him fast enough to prevent seven people being shot and killed.

It’s a pretty good, fairly well paced story involving an apparent mastermind who is holding the city hostage through a series of bizarre and escalating events.

I was disappointed by the resolution at the end. It seemed overly simplistic given the build up. Although there were many sections of the book which were excellently done, there were other sections which were disappointingly weak. I blame his editor who probably thought it “good enough” for a B genre. Westlake proved that crime fiction can be so much more, and Cockey/Hawke has potential. I’m just not sure that we will see it from him.


Author Rating: D

Three To Get Deadly (read 5/23/09) AVOID

I listened to the first CD of the recorded book, read by “actress,director, poet, playwright, and performance artist,” C.J. Critt, and found myself screaming and begging for Evanovich to just move the freaking story along already.

In the first hour of the ten hour recording all we learn is that “Mo Bedemier, Trenton’s most beloved citizen,” is missing. Over and over and over we learned that. For an hour plus.

Published in 1997, I would like to think that Evanovitch has possibly grown as a writer over the past ten plus years but somehow I doubt that she has changed enough to make it worth your while reading any of her books. I certainly will not be making a second attempt.

As for the narrator, it is hard to imagine a worse reading. She sounds like she is reading a grocery list. Absolutely horrible.

Author Rating: A+

Deptford Trilogy:

Of Davies’ three trilogies, this is my favorite — “a glittering, fantastical, cunningly contrived series of novels, around which a mysterious death is woven.” Individual reviews of the books can be found at the links.

Salterton Trilogy:

Reviewer E.A. Solinas at Amazon sums them up better than I can.

  • Tempost-Tost (read 12/5/07) recommended

Tempest-Tost opens with the organization of an amateur production of Shakespeare’s The Tempest. A motley crew of actors join it, including an exuberant professor, his quiet daughter, a quiet mama’s boy, a beautiful rich girl, a womanizing soldier, and an infatuated schoolteacher. Love, ambition, jealousy and infatuation rapidly tangle together, climaxing in an unusually dramatic opening night.

  • Leaven of Malice (read 12/6/07) recommended

Leaven of Malice is half satire and half mystery. The Salterton Bellman announces that Solly Bridgetower and Pearl Vambrace are engaged — the only problem is that it isn’t true. Professor Vambrace sees it as a personal affront, and sues the paper. Pearl and Solly are haunted by false rumors, reports, and claims about who faked the announcement. All they can do is try to find out themselves.

  • A Mixture of Frailties (read 12/8/07) recommended

A Mixture of Frailties opens with the death of Solly’s domineering mother. Her will leaves money to Solly’s family only if he produces a male heir with his wife Veronica (previously known as Pearl); until then, her money is to be used in a trust for a young female artistic hopeful, who will go to Europe for a few years to study whatever she is good at. And finding the right girl is only the start of Solly’s problems.

Cornish Trilogy:

  • The Rebel Angels (read 9/6/07) recommended
  • Bred In The Bone (read 9/25/07) recommended)
  • The Lyre of Orpheus (read 10/19/07) recommended

(Jack Illingworth) The Rebel Angels revolves around the execution of a difficult will. In this case, the estate is of one Francis Cornish, a fantastically rich patron and collector of Canadian art and a noted antiquarian bibliophile. A lost Rabelais manuscript is rumoured to be among his possessions, and his executors include the deliciously revolting Renaissance scholar Urquhart McVarish; Professor Clement Hollier, a classically middle-aged inhabitant of the ivory tower; and the Reverend Simon Darcourt, Davies’s obligatory humanist clergyman. A heroine is provided in the form of Maria Theotoky, a beautiful Ph.D. student of Professor Hollier’s. A rich, funny, and slightly ribald campus novel results, one that revels in the fustian of the now-vanished pre-postmodern university.

The Cornish Trilogy is by far the most arcane of Davies’s major works. The later volumes, What’s Bred in the Bone and The Lyre of Orpheus, extend out of the corporeal world, bringing angels, daimons, and souls in limbo into the fray.

Did Davies adapt parts of Han van Meegeren‘s story in creating Francis Cornish?

Author Rating: A

Starlight 1 (read 5/17/09) recommended

Don’t wave off this collection of short stories put together by Patrick Nielsen Hayden, published in 1996, because they are labeled as “science fiction.” Few involve outer space, all are well written, many took my breath away.

Someone gets the bright idea to replace workers with zombies.

Only the Crazy Water Man can truly hear her.

The source of Emily Dickinson’s vision revealed.

Historical fiction of science.

The future tries to steal the present.

England is a land of magic.

The life saving qualities of validation.

To me, this is the only unsatisfying story in the book. A woman has sex with a man in her office.

I struggled to understand this story.

This one was also difficult for me to understand because I lack any real knowledge of Shakespeare and Greek tragedies, but what I did understand made me queasy.

Re-drawing the world.

People are just not very nice.

Author Rating: A

Farewell Summer (read 5/16/09) recommended

According to the postscript at the end, this short novel was originally part of Bradbury’s 1957 semi-autobiographical novel Dandelion Wine, which I had read and liked very much back in the 1970s. Both are set in the fictional town of Green Town, Illinois. The action in the first book takes place during the summer of 1928, the second begins on October 1st 1928. Douglas Spaulding, his brother Tom and their friends don’t want summer to be over, they don’t want to grow old. It’s a story about the beginning of understanding.

I listened to — and very much enjoyed — the Recorded Book edition, read by Robert Fass. Three and a half hours in length, it fits perfectly into a summer afternoon.

Fahrenheit 451 (read 1970s) recommended

A frightening vision of the future which in some ways has already come true. Books are burned, ignorance is celebrated.

The Martial Chronicles (read 1970s) recommended

Stories written by Bradbury in the 1940s about life on Mars, some funny, some scary, all of them well worth your time.

Something Wicked This Way Comes (read 1970s) recommended

I remember being actually frightened reading this short novel about two boys and the “dark carnival” that arrives in their town.

The Illustrated Man (read 1970s) recommended

First published in 1951, this is a remarkable collection of 18 short science fiction stories told through the moving tattoos on a man’s body.

A Medicine for Melancholy and Other Stories (read 1970s) recommended

More great short science fiction stories.

Author Rating: A+

A Key To The Suite (read 5/15/09) recommended

John D. MacDonald, who died in 1986, wrote dozens of crime and suspense novels and short stories. His best known characterTravis McGee appeared in 21 of them. There is crime in this one but this is not a crime story, it’s a psychological tale of a sales convention, a sexual liaison and blackmail. Published in 1962, there is a lot here that is very dated but it’s an interesting look at corporate culture. The men described in this book are the fathers and grandfathers of today’s business executives.

Pale Gray For Guilt (read 5/24/09) recommended

Published in 1968, this is the ninth in MacDonald’s Travis McGee series and, like the others, set in Florida. McGee’s old friend “Tush” Bannon is driven to bankruptcy and murdered so that his ten acres of land on the Shawana River can be had cheap by developers. Simply, it is a story of revenge and retribution. McGee sets up several cons to extract substantial sums of money from the perpetrators both to punish them and to provide for the widow and her children.

In addition to being a gripping story, it’s interesting for its social commentary from a 1960s perspective. Some of the writing is a little confused but that is really a very minor fault.

The Dreadful Lemon Sky (read 10/13/09) recommended

Published in 1974, this Travis McGee novel begins when a young woman who he hadn’t seen in several years turns up wanting him to hold a large amount of cash for her. Several days later McGee learns she has been hit and killed by an automobile, so he and his friend Meyer go to Bayside, Florida to find out why she’s dead and where the money came from.

It turns out that Carrie had been involved in marijuana trafficking, and before the book is done three more people are dead.

What I enjoy most about MacDonald is his exploration of social issues, in this case the sale and use of marijuana.

Barrier Island (read 1/31/10) recommended

John D. MacDonald is one of those rare writers who got better and better as the years went by. Barrier Island, published the year he died, in 1986, is proof of that.

Wade Rowley is a partner in a real estate company in a booming town on the Mississippi coast who discovers his partner has gotten them involved in a shady deal involving a barrier island. It is, as the jacket blurb says, “a novel about decency and greed, good and evil, about the barriers we build inside ourselves to govern our behavior and how those barriers are eroded.”

Author Rating: B

The Man Who Ate The 747 (read 5/7/09) Meh

J.J. Smith travels the world for The Book of Records, certifying and confirming world records in everything under the sun. He winds up in Superior, Nebraska where a man is eating a 747 for love.

There is nothing complicated or exciting about this book but it is well written and engaging. A nice read for the beach or hammock.

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