November 2009

Author Rating: D

When We Were Gods: A Novel of Cleopatra (read 11/24/09) AVOID!

Where to start with how dreadful this book is?

Since the author starts out in the acknowledgment with thanking his editors, perhaps his editors are a good place for me to start. I don’t know what actual services Ayesha Pande and Rachel Kahan provided the author, but it had little to do with actual editing of this book.

Just short of a full printed page comes the first editing oversight — “his” instead of “her” — which a previous reader had corrected. Things go downhill from there. There are many instances in the first 75 pages of misplaced punctuation and confused sentence structure.

I will concede that I have only read to about page 75 but anyone who reads any further has a stronger stomach for stupidity than I have.

When things happen is so confused and contradictory that it’s hard to fix your place in time. The heading for chapter one indicates “fifty-one years before the birth of Jesus Christ.” There are no date headings for chapters two, three or four. Chapter five indicates “forty-eight years before the birth of Jesus Christ.”

Wouldn’t you think that three years had passed? You’d be wrong. Maybe. It’s impossible to know.

The character Cleopatra indicates, in conversation with another character, the passage of one year.

This is a major irritation. It is impossible to know with certainty how old Cleopatra is supposed to be. At chapter one she is 18, but how old is she at chapter five? Nineteen? Twenty-one? Who knows?

But that’s not the only time issue here. The author rambles on with general description but then morphs into narration of a specific event. When did this event occur relative to the last event which had been described? Days? Weeks? Months? Who knows?

Falconer claims to have done “research.” In fact, the back jacket blurb claims, “He travels widely to research his novels.” I wonder whether this “research” wasn’t just intimate weekends with his two editors and his agent, perhaps in Egypt.

The way the character of Cleopatra — central and most important to the book — is set forth is ahistorical. She wonders frequently about “finding love.” WTF?

She is presented as spunky and educated but almost completely passive except when she is literally sucking Caesar’s cock. WTF?

Another ongoing irritation is that a map is provided, not printed in the inside cover by a creative publisher, but on two pages before the text begins, presumably as an aid to the reader. Turns out, not so much. Only two out of every ten locations mentioned are indicated on the map.

I persisted as far as I did because my interest in Egyptian history and the actual Cleopatra had been piqued, but it became obvious that there is nothing historically reliable about this book. It is actually nothing more than a bad romance novel.


Author Rating: A+

The Man In My Basement (read 11/21/09) recommended

What a wonderful book! My only complaint is how well everything works out in the end. Most people like Charles Blakey do not have their lives work out so satisfactorily. I can testify to that. But read this book anyway for the questions it raises about good and evil, justice and morality.

Always Outnumbered, Always Outgunned (read 12/10/09) recommended

Wow. Mosley is a terrific writer. This novel is a group of short stories, many of which were originally published in a variety of magazines and other publications, about a man by the name of Socrates Fortlow who is struggling to make sense of the world and his place in it. Mosley provides the reader insight into what it means to be black in America, but it’s more than that. Fortlow’s journey is that of everyman.

Black Betty (read 3/11/10) recommended

Wow, Walter Mosely does it again. This is a terrific mystery set in Los Angeles in 1961. Easy Rawlins is hired to find a woman who he had known when he was a young kid, but the people who want her found don’t want him asking questions.

As well as being a terrific mystery, this is also historical fiction, providing the reader with some insight into what life was like in the early 1960s.

RL’s Dream (read 4/20/10) recommended

A singular event in a person’s life can make them or break them. Atwood “Soupspoon” Wise has lived a long life, the highlight of which was learning to play the blues with the great Robert Leroy Johnson. He’s been evicted from his apartment because he’s sick and fell behind on his rent but can’t handle living in a shelter so he goes back to his old apartment. The landlord has him and his stuff unceremoniously dumped on the sidewalk on a cold evening, but a young woman Kiki who lives in the same building takes him in and jeopardizes her job at a health insurance company by falsifying records to get him insurance coverage so he can get treatment for what turns out to be cancer. Another delightful and thought-provoking novel from a talented writer.

Fear of the Dark (read 6/11/10) recommended

Another wonderful mystery novel by Mosely, this one featuring Fearless Jones and Paris Minton. Minton’s aunt Three Hearts arrives in LA from Louisiana because her son and Minton’s cousin Ulysses — “Useless” to many — is missing and she wants her nephew to find him. Useless has gotten himself deep into blackmail and someone is murdering many of those with whom he was working. Minton and Fearless have to not just find Useless but figure out who’s behind it all and stop them before Minton’s fear of being murdered himself is realized. The only thing I didn’t like about this book was that I reached the last page too soon.

A Little Yellow Dog (read 1/15/11) recommended

This is one of Mosley’s Easy Rawlins mysteries, published in 1996. Although not as compelling as some of his other novels, it’s a good read.

The Long Fall (read 3/10/2013) recommended

Leonid McGill is a New York detective with a lot of problems but he doesn’t let that stop him from getting to the bottom of whatever problem presents itself.

Author Rating: C

Memoirs of a Bow Street Runner: The Thief Taker (read 11/16/09) meh

The story is set in London, in June 1815 and the protagonist, Henry Morton, is a Bow Street Runner who, in discovering who murdered Halbert Glendinning, finds his career and his life threatened by parties who prefer Glendinning’s death remain a mystery.

I have no real complaints. It’s competently written but I just didn’t find it in any way compelling.

Author Rating: B+

The Dead Fathers Club (read 11/14/09) recommended

When I first started reading this, I was a little put off by the fact that it is written without the usual capitalizations, quotation marks and other punctuation, but once I settled in I lost my small irritation, and in fact made the experience feel quite cozy which was important because the story itself, told from the point of view of a ten-year-old boy, is really quite sad.

Philip’s dad has died in a car accident as a result of his brakes failing and his ghost turns up, telling Philip that it was his uncle Alan who did it and Philip has to kill uncle Alan.

The characters are compelling and the story will keep you riveted until the end.

Author Rating: B

Rehearsal for Murder (Read 11/11/09) Recommended

Published in 1941, this is Elizabeth Ferrars‘ second “Toby Dyke” murder mystery. The home at which the murder takes place is called Wilmer’s End. I wonder if perhaps she chose this name in homage to Dashiell Hammett, Wilmer being the name of a character in The Maltese Falcon.

It’s a wonderfully entertaining murder mystery that does not strain the mind. It’s enjoyable for it’s quaint language. I particularly enjoy the clothing descriptions. I would love to have a “pale green linen dress with scarcely any back to it”!

Death of a Minor Character (Read 11/28/09) Recommended

This is, I believe, the fourth mystery Ferrars wrote “featuring sometime sleuth Virginia Freer and her estranged husband Felix.” What a difference 40 years can make, or not. Published in 1983, Ferrars’ characters are quaint and not terribly compelling, and the murder of the “minor character” is a bit of a stretch to feel inevitable or very believable in the context of the murder of the story’s more central victim. That being said, there are a lot worse ways to spend one’s time than reading a mystery by E.X. Ferrars.