Detective


Author Rating: C/B

The Cat Who Could Read Backwards (read 8/1/2013) Recommended

Surprisingly well written, delightful and engaging light entertainment. First published in 1966, this is the first novel in Lilian Jackson Braun’s “The Cat Who…” series, featuring James Mackintosh Qwilleran (Qwill), a former crime reporter who, as the story opens, is hired to write about the art scene for an unnamed city’s newspaper, and introducing Kao K’o-Kung (Koko for short), the cat in the title. Although never formally stated in her books, the geographical settings in the series are thought to be modeled after Bad Axe, Michigan, where Braun lived until the mid-1980s.

UPDATE:  While the first book was a pleasure to read, those that followed … not so much.  Braun was unable or unwilling to continue Qwill as she had begun, and the books that followed hang on nothing but the thin thread of novelty.

The rest of The Cat Who novels are as follows:

Ate Danish Modern (1967)
Turned On and Off (1968)
Saw Red (1986)
Played Brahms (1987)
Played Post Office (1988)
Knew Shakespeare (1988)
Sniffed Glue (1988)
Went Underground (1989)
Talked to Ghosts (1990)
Lived High (1990)
Knew a Cardinal (1991)
Moved a Mountain (1991)
Wasn’t There (1992)
Went Into the Closet (1993)
Came to Breakfast (1994)
Blew the Whistle (1995)
Said Cheese (1996)
Tailed a Thief (1997)
Sang for the Birds (1998)
Saw Stars (1999)
Robbed a Bank (2000)
Smelled a Rat (2001)
Went Up the Creek (2002)
Brought Down the House (2003)
Talked Turkey (2004)
Went Bananas (2005)
Dropped a Bombshell (2006)
Had 60 Whiskers (2007)

Braun also had published three collections of short stories:

The Cat Who Had 14 Tales (1988)
The Private Life of the Cat Who… (2003)
Short and Tall Tales (2003)

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Author Rating: B+

Reginald Hill is a contemporary English crime writer, awarded the Crime Writers’ Association Cartier Diamond Dagger for Lifetime Achievement in 1995.

Death Comes For The Fat Man (read 8/20/11) Recommended

This is Hill’s 22nd crime novel featuring Yorkshire detectives Andrew Dalziel, Peter Pascoe and Edgar Wield. I would have liked to start reading this series with the first book, but my neighborhood library has a limited selection and, not knowing whether it would be worth the wait to order the first (A Clubbable Woman), I plunged in. If you are a fan of crime fiction and enjoy a good series, I can tell you, if your library has to order it from elsewhere in the system, it will be worth the wait to be able to begin at the beginning. Hill is definitely one of the better crime fiction writers.

Dialogues of the Dead (read 9/3/11) Recommended

Hill does a great job creating compelling characters and sustaining the reader’s interest throughout. I highly recommend this novel for its intelligence.

Pictures of Perfection (read 9/30/11) Recommended

A Dalziel and Pascoe mystery in which appearances can be deceiving.

Good Morning Midnight (read 10/6/11) Recommended

Dalziel and Pascoe investigate a suicide done in such a way as to throw suspicion of murder on the “wicked stepmother” and uncover hints of an international arms conspiracy.

The Woodcutter (read 11/13/11) Meh

I actually haven’t finished reading this one yet and I wouldn’t if I had anything else on my table. It’s a stand-alone story about a guy who leaves home as a young man to seek his fortune so that he can win the hand of his true love. The source of his fortune is the big mystery. When he’s been happily married for about 16 years, he’s convicted of fraud and pedophilia. The story really starts when he’s in prison and we learn his past through his conversations with his psychiatrist. The psychiatrist character is badly drawn and really annoying. I’m in a section now where that character is not involved but I dread her reappearance. I’ll keep reading until the library gets the books I’ve ordered but I doubt I’ll finish this.

Author Rating: C+

Deadfall (read 12/20/09) Meh

Reading this book was like examining an ancient record of a lost time — the early to mid 1980s. As I got ready to write this review, I did a search for any earlier post mentioning the author and discovered he was already on my banished list as a result of his short story in a very bad anthology of very bad mystery writers. This particular book wasn’t so awful that I stopped reading before the end, but it being relatively short was a significant factor in the decision to continue.

Apparently Pronzini wrote a series of “Nameless Detective” mysteries, this being number sixteen. Nameless is on a stakeout, waiting for some deadbeats to get home so he can repossess their car, when he hears two gunshots coming from a nearby home. He sees a figure running away and, upon entering the house, discovers the victim who he later learns is a gay man named Leonard whose wealthy brother had died falling from a cliff months earlier. Leonard’s “house mate,” who believes the two deaths are related, hires him to find the killer.

Pronzini treats homosexuals as if they are another species. He has no understanding of human sexuality. “Confirmed homosexuals couldn’t be seduced by a woman, of course.”

He is equally clueless about women, ascribing to Nameless’ girlfriend the kind of stupid responses to things that one expects from a man who sees women as a separate species as well.

What also becomes clear in reading this is how much Pronzini disapproves of pot smoking and is one of those misinformed people who insist that it is a “gateway” to heroin.

I’m giving Pronzini a C+ because, if you can ignore the cluelessness and can tolerate caricatures instead of characters, the story itself is plausible.

Author Rating: D

Do not confuse this execrable writer with the recommended writer Christopher Moore.

The Risk of Infidelity Index (read 12/8/09) AVOID

I guess the publisher was desperate to find someone willing to say something good about this book to print on the jacket so they looked to another author, T. Jefferson Parker, who damages whatever reputation he might have by declaring that this awful piece of trash is “taut, spooky, intelligent and beautifully written.”

This is a horrible, badly written book that no one should waste their time with. I actually only managed to suffer through to about page 80 when I decided that I had really done nothing so bad in my life that I deserved to suffer through to the end.

I got the book from the library thinking it was by Christopher Moore, a writer who is actually good. It is unfortunate that they have the same name, only distinguished by the hack’s use of the middle initial G (to my mind, “Godawful”). This book could not have been more of a disappointment.

Author Rating: A

Murder At A Police Station (read 12/2/09) recommended

What a wonderful British murder mystery from 1943!

The protagonist is a wanna-be poet/police sergeant named Pork in the little village of Severing who, suffering from toothache and anxious about coming down with the mumps, receives a mysterious phone call from someone who seems to be in trouble. When Sergeant Pork arrives at the house to which he was directed, he finds that he has been the victim of some kind of prank, but when he returns to the police station, there is a man, shot through the heart, laying dead on the floor in the charge room. Pork had locked the doors when he went out and they were still locked when he got back. Who is this man and how did he get here?

Absolutely delightful.

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

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.

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