Author Rating: A

The Thirty-Nine Steps (read 9/6/2014)

First published as a magazine serial in the last half of 1915, this is the first of five novels featuring Richard Hannay, adventure hero.

The Thirty-Nine Steps is one of the earliest examples of the ‘man-on-the-run’ thriller archetype subsequently adopted by Hollywood as an often-used plot device. In The Thirty-Nine Steps, Buchan holds up Richard Hannay as an example to his readers of an ordinary man who puts his country’s interests before his own safety. The story was a great success with the men in the First World War trenches. One soldier wrote to Buchan, “The story is greatly appreciated in the midst of mud and rain and shells, and all that could make trench life depressing.”

Richard Hannay continued his adventures in four subsequent books. Two were set during the war when Hannay continued his undercover work against the Germans and their allies the Turks in Greenmantle and Mr Standfast. The other two stories, The Three Hostages and The Island of Sheep were set in the post war period when Hannay’s opponents were criminal gangs.

I listened to the Librivox recording read by Adrian Praetellis and enjoyed it very much. I will be on the lookout for Buchan’s other novels.


Author Rating: B

Walking on Glass (read 8/23/07) Recommended

The manner in which the story was organized bothered me somewhat, but by the end I thought it an interesting work of fiction and worth a second read.

The Business (read 9/13/07) Recommended

Well done but it wrapped up too soon.

Sadly, Iain M. Banks himself wrapped up too soon, leaving his mortal coil on Sunday, June 9, 2013.

Author Rating: A-

The Black Book (read 3/8/09) Recommended

My introduction to Ian Rankin could not have been more satisfying. The fifth novel by Rankin featuring Inspector John Rebus is a very good read indeed.

Rather than reinvent the wheel, here’s what Booklist said at Amazon:

Rebus, an Edinburgh copper, is a wonderfully complex human being with the proverbial feet of clay. He has alienated his girlfriend, his ne’er-do-well brother has deposited himself in Rebus’ apartment with every appearance of staying for good, his promising new sergeant has been mugged, and his most unfavorite colleague is again out to discredit Rebus. But Rebus’ personal troubles pale when a local butcher is stabbed, and the investigation leads Rebus to conclude that the attack is somehow connected to a years-old unsolved arson-homicide case. Despite warnings from his superiors to leave the case alone, Rebus begins unraveling the tenuous threads that lead him toward a dangerous secret from the past. Rankin’s compelling and original plot is almost as intriguing as the gruff, tough, rebellious Rebus, whose rough exterior hides a charming, funny, tenderhearted human being we’d all like to know. A supremely satisfying read.

Exit Music (read 6/4/09) Recommended

Ten days before Inspector John Rebus’ retirement date, an expatriate Russian poet is found beaten and then bludgeoned, but no one who knew him has a clear motive. Then the sound man who had recorded two of the poet’s readings and was separately engaged to make recordings of the Scottish parliament as part of an art project turns up dead as a result of arson. Then Edinburgh crime boss Big Ger Cafferty, Rebus’ long-time nemesis, is found bludgeoned to death shortly after a surreptitious meeting with Rebus, further complicating Rebus’ already difficult relationship with his superiors.

Set In Darkness (read 6/6/09) Recommended

A body, long dead, is found on the walled up in an old building under renovation as the site of the new Scottish Parliament. Soon after a leading candidate for the new governing body is found murdered at the construction site. Rebus suspects a connection. Detective Siobhan Clarke accidentally witnesses the suicide of a surprisingly wealthy homeless man. Where did the almost half million in his bank account come from and why hasn’t he used it? Meanwhile, Big Ger Cafferty has gotten an early release from prison because he’s terminally ill. Big Ger looks very healthy but his bodyguard who was released from prison around the same time looks very unwell.

Bleeding Hearts (read 11/2/09) Meh

I am so disappointed with this book! All the other Rankin novels I have read have featured Detective John Rebus but this is (I believe) a stand-alone and, sadly, it is abysmal.

It’s about an independent hitman who goes on a journey from Scotland to Washington State to figure out who alerted the police immediately prior to his successful assassination of a journalist who had been investigating a cult. The hitman picks up a female sidekick, the daughter of the man who supplied him with weapons, to help him elude the police, the private investigator who has been trailing him since an earlier assassination went wrong and he killed the wrong person as well as a man who will stop at nothing to prevent the hitman — or anyone else — from finding out and revealing the secrets of the cult’s financing.

Sounds okay, right? Unfortunately, the two main characters — the hitman and his sidekick — are not believable or well drawn characters. The sidekick — supposedly a young woman in her early twenties — in particular is annoyingly portrayed as childlike and frivolous. The hitman’s motivations are hard to swallow throughout, and Rankin really falls apart when he moves the action to America. And the ending is really stupid. Rankin — unbelievably — has the private detective change his mind at the last minute about killing the hitman, the hitman afterwards discovers that the person who called the police is the victim herself who also solicited the hit because she had a terminal disease and she wanted someone else to carry on her investigation.

I would suggest that you skip this one. Rankin has written many terrific novels, but this is not one of them.

Doors Open (read 2/2/13) Recommended

Three friends who to one degree or another are art lovers and collectors make an execute a plan to steal valuable paintings from a warehouse used by a number of museums to store valuable items. One of them, Mike McKenzie, a retired “software mogul,” recruits Chib Calloway, a gangster he knew from high school, to provide the group with weapons and additional crew members. The job goes off without a hitch but then things take a wrong and scary turn. Very entertaining page-turner.