Thursday, September 20, 2018

The Word Is Murder

The Word Is Murder: a Novel / Anthony Horowitz, 390 p.

Horowitz, author of Magpie Murders (which I enjoyed but seem to have neglected to blog about...), Foyle's War,  and Midsomer Mysteries, among others, has this time inserted himself as a character.  A woman visits a funeral home to plan her own funeral and is murdered the very same afternoon.  Horowitz is approached by the mysterious Hawthorne, formerly of Scotland Yard, who seems to work as an outside contractor to the police on especially difficult cases.  Hawthorne and Horowitz team up to solve the case and write a book, but their personalities clash and the investigation becomes tangled and dangerous.

This was a disappointment after Magpie.  Hawthorne, I gather, is meant to be a Sherlock to Horowitz' Watson, but, at least in the first of what may be a series, his character just isn't developed enough to be at all interesting.  He is smart, obsessively private, and...homophobic.  Yes, that's distinctive, but it's hardly endearing in the way that Holmes' many quirks are.  The murder story is well-plotted, with plenty of mis-direction and cliffhanging.  Enjoyable but not quite up to the hype.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

The Tourist

The Tourist / Olen Steinhauer, read by Tom Weiner, 408 p.

Milo Weaver, a former CIA tourist or black ops agent, investigates the murder of a trusted colleague in Paris.  He also happens to be accused of her murder, which complicates things.

An intricate plot made this a tricky (for me) listen - I kept wanting to refer back to earlier chapters to clarify things.  Very ably read by Weiner, but I suspect my next Steinhauer will be in print.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

American Sonnets for My Past and Future Assassin

American Sonnets for My Past and Future Assassin by Terrence Hayes, 91 pages.
Really great, moving, disturbing, and lyrical (more in the "words in a song" definition) poems about so much of the struggle we are locked in regarding race, and life in America right now. But it's not just that, the poems are bigger and wider, not scattershot, playful, but deadly serious, reaching back through time and locked in our particular present.
The 91 poems are presented, at least in part-I'm not a 100% sure how to read anything anymore, as notes to the assassin:

. . . In this we may be alike, Assassin, you & me: we believe
We want what's best for humanity. I'll probably survive
Dancing with the kinds of people who must find refuge
Among the sweat & rancor of a Fish & Chicken Shack
But Assassin, they'll probably murder you. Do you ask,
Why you should die for me if I will not die for you. I do.

Others don't seem so narrowly focused, aimed at the wider world:

The song must be cultural, confessional, clear
But not obvious. It must be full of compassion
And crows bowing in a vulture's shadow.
The song must have six sides to it & a clamor
Of voltas. The song must turn on the compass
Of language like a tangle of wires endowed
With feeling. The notes must tear & tear,
There must be a love for the minute & minute,
There must be a record of witness & daydream.
Where the heart is torn or feathered and tarred,
Where death is undone, time diminished,
The song must hold its own storm & drum,
And shed a noise so lovely it is sung at sunset
Weddings, baptisms & beheadings henceforth.

Terrence Hayes is (gives? is? i dunno) a great gift to readers.

The Shakespeare requirement, by Julie Schumacher

A follow-up to the author’s highly successful Dear Committee Members.   We’re back again at Payne University somewhere in the great Midwest.  In the earlier volume, Willard Hall was shared by the Economics and the English Departments, but Econ was rapidly expanding its reach and territory after a series of generous grants from wealthy donors.  Jason Fitger, the writer of endless letters of recommendations in the first book, is now Chair of English.  He’s endured over a year of construction dust and noise as the Econ Department builds its palatial new digs on the second floor.  Now that Department is eying the remaining space on the first floor and the basement.  The University President is pursuing advancement in the ranks of university through a new initiative called QUAP, the quality assessment program, and Fitger has been dragging his feet in producing the English Department’s required SOV (Statement of Vision).  When he finally presents it to his faculty to vote on, he runs into a road-block in the form of Professor Cassovan, the elderly Shakespearean, who strongly objects to the absence of any reference to his subject.   As in the first book, most of academia and its associated pretensions are skewered.  As is frequently quoted, "Academic politics is the most vicious and bitter form of politics, because the stakes are so low."  Hilarious and somewhat bittersweet as well.  308 pp.

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-hour bookstore, by Robin Sloan

A newly hatched art school graduate, Clay Jannon is desperate for a new job in San Francisco after the economic downturn. He has he lost his web designer position at NewBagel, a failed startup.  He takes a position as the night clerk at Mr. Penumbra’s 24-hour bookstore, a dim, tall and narrow space with an assortment of “normal” books for sale on the first floor and towering shelves of arcana stretching above.  There don’t seem to be many customers at any hour of the day or night buying books, but an eccentric cast of regulars appears intermittently to borrow the volumes stored above.  Clay has a successful childhood friend who has made it big in tech, and acquires a few more interesting and clever friends as he seeks to figure out just what is going on behind the scenes at his unique and mysterious workplace.  Quirky, like his later Sourdough, which I thoroughly enjoyed, and a delight to spend some time with.  288 pp. 


Frankenstein / Mary Shelley, 231 p.

September's read for the Classics Book Group proved far more engaging than I had anticipated.  Most of us know the story, more or less; I didn't realize how little the novel had to do with monsterish-ness and how much it had to do with psychology, loneliness, grief, and regret over stupendously bad life choices.  On the question of what the novel has to say about science, the jury is likely to remain out forever.  Shelley is too sly to tell us directly what she thinks, at least in these pages.  Atmospheric and worth a read to celebrate the 200th anniversary of publication.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Maigret's Boyhood Friend

Maigret's Boyhood Friend by Georges Simenon (1968) 182 pages

What I like so much about the Chief Superintendent Maigret books is not only the description of the crime scenes, but the fact that the crimes drive the Chief Superintendent to distraction as he mulls over the details incessantly. The more that the explanation and perpetrator of the crime eludes him, the more morose he becomes. A portion of each of these books that I have read shows him revisiting the crime scene and/or calling in the suspects again (and perhaps yet again). Then by some wonder of mental Olympics, everything finally makes sense.

In this mystery, a woman who has multiple lovers is killed. One of the lovers, Florentin, happens to have been a classmate of Chief Superintendent Maigret long ago, a guy who was the class clown. He is rather "down on his luck" and had been supported by the murdered woman for some years. Rather than calling the police, he comes to Maigret's office over an hour after the murder, saying the murder occurred while he hid in a closet in her apartment. Maigret's investigators locate all the other lovers and Maigret interviews them. He also interviews the concierge of the apartment building the woman lived in, finding her difficult and uncommunicative. She says that no one left the building in the time period soon after the murder, just Florentin an hour later. As much as Maigret detests his old classmate, he senses that something is not right, and he can't charge him with the murder, even when he seems to be the likeliest suspect. A compelling read for those who like murder solutions uncovered by deep cogitation.

French Exit

French exit: a tragedy of manners / Patrick deWitt, read by Lorna Raver 244 pgs

Kara did a great job with her post about this book. What is difficult to convey is the quirkiness of the characters and the story.  Add to the audio version, the perfection of Lorna Raver's voice as Frances. She conveys the delightful oddness and mild snootiness with perfection.  The voices of the other characters are also excellent.

The Reversal

The Reversal by Michael Connelly, 389 pages.
The fourth book in the Mickey Haller / Lincoln Lawyer series finds the committed defense attorney switching sides and working for the prosecutor.
Jason Jessup had been convicted of killing a young girl twenty-four years ago, but had been set free when DNA evidence was tested and turned out to belong to someone else.
Haller, convinced of Jessup's guilt in this heinous crime, must battle his own instincts as a defense attorney, Jessup and his defense team, and the entrenched interests in the DA's office as he tries to find the truth. Haller enlists his half-brother, Harry Bosch, and his ex-wife, Maggie McPherson to fight on his side. Connelly never disappoints. His books are uniformly excellent.

Oryx and Crake

Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood  376 pp.

This had been on my "to read" list for a long time and I finally got to it. Unfortunately, I didn't particularly care for it but that's just me. The post-apocalyptic story of humanity being ravaged by corporate bio-engineering raises scary possibilities for our own future. However, the love triangle part of the story doesn't really resonate with me. The central character, Snowman (previously known as Jimmy) is a sympathetic character who is just trying to survive after the pandemic caused by Crake's BlyssPluss drug. He is also doing his best to help the human-like beings that were bio engineered and and immune to the pandemic. In his dealings with those beings Snowman's references to Crake give him seem an almost god-like status. The rest of the book is the backstory about Snowman/Jimmy's childhood and meeting Crake and Oryx, the once child porn star. This is the first book in the MaddAddam trilogy but I'm undecided on whether to continue on with the next book.