Current Reading: Penzler, Penny

I’m running behind on these posts, what with the holidays and
(so much) football, so these were read in December.

The Big Book of Christmas Mysteries edited by Otto Penzler, mystery anthology. I did a Friday Forgotten review of this on November 29, so there isn’t much to add. If you only have one Christmas Mystery short story anthology, this is the one to have.

Kingdom of the Blind by Louise Penny, mystery, Armand Gamache (Three Pines) series. One of my very favorite series, characters, settings. I drop everything and read her books when they appear, as I did with this one. The story picks up immediately after the previous book, Glass Houses so it’s recommended you read that book first, or at least, if you’re rereading, refresh your memory of the last 50 pages or so. I didn’t do either, but kinda wished I had until I remembered some details I’d forgotten. Many of Penny’s books can be read as stand-alone novels, but this isn’t one of them

Gamache is still being investigated for decisions he made regarding a drug shipment, letting some in in order to bust a major drug ring. But not all the drugs were captured, some is missing, and that’s a problem. That’s all I’ll say. This is a strong, tough, riveting novel. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

So how about you?
What have you been reading?

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FFB: Mr Calder and Mr. Behrens by Michael Gilbert

This is a revised version of a post that originally appeared in The Broken Bullhorn

Mr. Calder and Mr. Behrens by Michael Gilbert
Penguin Crime, 1982 paperback

“It was six o’clock, on as foul a morning as could be imagined. In Warsaw it was raining, in the way it rained just before the rain turned to sleet and the sleet to the first snow of winter.”
– “Emergency Exit”Calder & Behrens cvr sml

This collection of twelve spy stories by British mystery author Michael Gilbert was first published in 1982 by Hodder & Stoughton in Great Britian and by Harper & Row in the U.S. The Penguin Crime edition shown here was published a year later.

When I hear the phrase “spy story” the first thing that comes to mind is fiction by Eric Ambler, Len Deighton and Helen MacInnes. Then I think of Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels. And there are the excellent if somewhat difficult espionage novels by John LeCarré

Perhaps a better term for these Calder and Behrens stories is counter-intelligence. Whatever label you affix, these are terrific.

I’d heard of these stories long before I read “The Road to Damascus” (not in this collection) in Muller & Pronzini’s very enjoyable collection Detective Duos. Reading that was the catalyst for me to hunt up a copy of this one, and I read it with delight. When I was done, I wished for more, and from me, that’s a high compliment for any book. These are good stories, the writing is crisp, the Calder and Behrens (and Rasselas, their Persian Deerhound) are likable characters and the stories clever and entertaining. I like the way Gilbert’s characters resolve the problems he puts in their way. The spy business is a no-nonsense game, and these men approach it as such, yet there is a trace of wry humor under the surface. They use force when necessary, with immediacy, seemingly in contrast to their otherwise mild personalities. Very enjoyable and highly recommended. 

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Favorite Books of 2018

Last week I posted my reading count (129) for the year, which for me is a good year. Today I’m sharing some of my favorite books read during the year. Note I didn’t say “best”, but rather favorite, I think it’s an important distinction. My first pass through my read list yielded over thirty books, too many for a post like this. My second (painful) pass cut that down and eventually I got to 20. Sigh. Note there were quite a few books I liked a lot that aren’t in this post. What follows is in no particular order. Covers follow title groupings.

West of Guam: The Complete Cases of Jo Gar by Raoul Whitfield – mystery short stories including a series of connected ones. Really superb, probably my favorite book of the year. Five stars.

Ka by John Crowley – either fantasy or general fiction, depending on your thought. Not for everyone, but I liked it more and more the further I read.

And Be A Villain by Rex Stout, Second Confession by Rex Stout – mystery – the second and third of the three Arnold Zeck novels, and though the first is fine, I like these the best. Always worth rereading.

A Killing in Quail County by Jameson Cole – mystery – this 1996 hardcover had been sitting on the shelf since new, and I finally pulled it off the shelf in a fit of “I don’t know what to read next”. Sure glad I did, I especially liked the 15 year-old narrator.

Ragged Lake by Ron Corbett – mystery – His first mystery and a good one. I also liked the next one, Cape Diamond, just not quite as much.


The Killer Angels by Michael Sharra – non-fiction (slightly fictionalized) – excellent account of the battle at Gettysburg.

An Informal History of the Hugo Awards by Jo Walton – non-fiction – though I had some occasional issues with the author’s point of view, over all this was both a fun book and a good reference.

A Serpent’s Tooth by Craig Johnson – mystery – A Longmire novel. I read a lot fewer of these in 2018, but may pick that up this year. Though not my favorite in the series, those favorites were read in previous years.

In Farleigh Field by Rhys Bowen – historical drama – Taking place at the beginning of World War II in England, I found this character-driven novel good, and even better upon reflection.


Age of Myth, Age of Swords, Age of War by Michael Sullivan – fantasy – I loved these three thick fantasy novels as well as anything I read during the year. Probably the best fantasy I’ve read in several years. I can scarcely wait for the next book, The Age of Legend, coming in April.

Broken Ice by Matt Goldman – mystery – An intriguing mystery in a slightly different setting with an interesting cast. Good one.

Desolation Mountain by William Kent Krueger – mystery – Cork O’Conner gets involved when a Senator’s plane goes down near Aurora, and men in sun glasses and dark suits come crawling out of the woodwork. Excellent as usual from this favorite author.

Hawke’s Prey by Revis Wortham – thriller – This was a new-to-me author, character, series (2 so far). Fast, exciting, plenty of shell casings fly.

Kingdom of the Blind by Louise Penny – mystery. The good news: another excellent Chief Inspector Gamache novel from Penny. The bad news: I suspect (though Barbara and most of my friends disagree) it could be the last. Let’s hope not!

Irontown Blues by John Varley – science fiction – one of the few SF novels I read and really liked a lot. There were others, but they got cut in narrowing things down for this post.


That’s it. Maybe I missed some, or forgot some, but those were all favorites.

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Friday Forgotten: Sands of Mars by Arthur C. Clarke

Sands of Mars Arthur C. Clarke, publishing history: UK: Sidgwick & Jackson, 1951, as The Sands of Mars, US: Gnome Press, June 1952, as Sands of Mars, this copy Anchor  Permabook, 1962.

Sands of Mars was Arthur C. Clarke’s first published novel.

I bought this copy of Sands of Mars, when I was in high school. At the time it was the first novel by the popular short story writer. I read it, and liked it, and then put it away on the shelf. It’s held up pretty well through rereadings, the latest last month. It’s now considered a classic, though it would be another year before Clarke received a Hugo nomination for his next novel, A Fall of Moondust.

The story was published in 1951, before humans had achieved space flight. It is set on the way to, and on the planet Mars, which has been settled by humans and is used essentially as a research establishment. The story setting is that Mars has been surveyed but not fully explored on the ground.

[summary edited from Wikipedia]
“Martin Gibson, a famous science fiction author, is travelling to Mars, as a guest of the crew of the spaceship Ares. After arriving at Space Station One, in the orbit of Earth, from which all interplanetary journeys start, he begins the three-month trip to Mars.

On Mars, Gibson and the crew go their separate ways. On a trip by passenger jet to an outlying research station, Gibson and the crew are forced down by a dust storm. They explore the nearby area and discover a small group of kangaroo-like creatures, the unsuspected natives of Mars. They appear to have limited intelligence by human standards and are vegetarians, living on native plants. It is later revealed that the plants are being cultivated by researchers to enrich the oxygen content of the Martian atmosphere. This project, and related others, are being kept secret from Earth.

Hadfield reveals that scientists have been working on “Project Dawn”, which involves the ignition of the moon Phobos and its use as a second “sun” for Mars. It will burn for at least one thousand years and the extra heat, together with mass production of the oxygen-generating plants, will eventually – it is hoped – make the Martian atmosphere breathable for humans.

Gibson finds himself so persuaded of the importance of Mars as a self-sufficient world that he applies to stay on the planet, and is invited to take charge of public relations – in effect, to “sell” Mars to potential colonists.”

The good: I love this classic old science fiction cover by Robert Schultz. I really like what Clarke did imagining both the flight to Mars and the way the colony there has been created and is developing. Clarke is, and always continued to be masterful at the hard science aspect of his novels and stories, and this is a good example. Everything is explained in a way that makes it easy to accept and believe, “Yes, that’s the way it would be” the reader thinks.

The bad: The plot is pretty thin. Even with a secondary plot involving Gibson and one of the crew having a connection on Earth, you could summarize the plot as fellow goes to Mars, wanders around, decides to stay. The discovery of the Martians is underwhelming, and what and who they are seems mostly a setup for ending.

Anyone used to more modern, exciting, action-packed science fiction would likely find this boring. I didn’t, but I was mindful that I was reading a classic from the early 1950s, that it was Clarke and his style, and I just wanted to enjoy the book for what it is. You may too.

This review qualifies for VintageSciFiMonth at the Little Red Reviewer blog.

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Reading Counts, 2018

I read 129 books this year, assuming I’ll finish the one I’m reading by the 31st. I expect I will.

Here’s the breakdown:

More than ever, my reading is slanted toward mysteries, with fantasy, science fiction and, surprisingly to me, non-fiction. That’s more non-fiction in a year than I’ve read in more than a decade. In looking at the list, it’s mostly biographies and autobiographies, though I broke a couple out on the chart.

The mystery reading is all over the genre, from golden age to hard boiled, amateur detective and police procedural. I don’t read true crime, so none of that is included.

More on 2018 and my favorites in the next Monday post.

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Christmas Goodies – books

Each year, as expected and desired, I receive some books at Christmas. Here is this year’s bounty. All but one of these I had put on a “wish list” and those wishes were fulfilled. A very nice selection, I look forward to reading every one. By the way, on the Big Book of Female Detectives, I have both the print book and, for ease of reading, the ebook. Cool.


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Current Reading: Christmas Eve Reading

I’ve been reading various things, as always, and I’ll get back to those next week, but for today I decided to share with you some Christmas Eve reading. I read these, and other Christmas-themed books, each year at this time.

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. This edition published by Stewart, Tabori and Chang, New York. You all know the story. This edition, published in 1997, contains the complete text and nearly eighty illustrations in both color and black and white by Everett Shinn, first attached to this work in 1938. It’s a pleasure to read this every year.

The Night Before Christmas by Clement Clarke Moore. Originally published as “Account of A Visit From St. Nicholas” in 1823. This edition, published in 2006, is illustrated by Gennady Spirin. Of course it’s a wonderful poem, one I’ve heard since I was very young, but it’s the illustrations that make this edition special to me.

So how about you? Do you have a favorite holiday book?
What else have you been reading?

Posted in Books & Reading, current reading | 14 Comments

Forgotten: A Holiday for Murder by Agatha Christie

First published in 1938 as Hercule Poirot’s Christmas, and in 1939 as Murder for Christmas by Agatha Christie. Avon Books changed the title to A Holiday For Murder in 1947. This copy: Bantam Books mass market paperback 1976, and also shown, the William Murrow trade paperback, 2011. A Hercule Poirot mystery.

It’s Christmastime in a big old rambling country house. The entire family is gathered at the request – really an order – of the ailing octogenarian head of the family. There’s a lot of money at stake. What could be a better setting for a classic holiday murder mystery? Why, Hercule Poirot’s involvement, of course.

Simeon Lee called his sons and their wives together on Christmas Eve and told them he was drawing up a new will. The old man was worth millions, more than enough to tempt any of the family, most of whom were disgruntled with the old man in some way, to think of murder, especially if this new will would disadvantage them.

Arthur, long suffering sin living in the house, would love to have his life back. Harry, black sheep of the Lee family, always managed to get plenty of money out of his father, but wanted more. David admitted he despised his father, but claimed he didn’t care about the money. Pilar, Simeon’s beautiful granddaughter, was

Shortly after the family had finished their dinner, a blood-chilling scream came from the old man’s bedroom. Simeon Lee had been brutally murdered. For the visiting Hercule Poirot, it was time to put his little grey cells to work.

A good choice for the season. Unlike most of her books, I saw the solution to this one coming, but this is still an entertaining entry in the Poirot canon. Worth your time.

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Current Reading: Frederick C. Davis, Bob Woodward

click to enlarge

Please Pass the Poison by Frederick C. Davis, pulp mystery, first in Bill Brent series. Brent is a tough reporter who has been forced into the role of love columnist for The Recorder newspaper. Published between 1941 and 1946, these novels appeared in Dime Detective. In this, the first novel in the series, Brent gets mixed up in a poisoning case, against the wishes of both his editor and a rival reporter. Not bad.

Fear by Bob Woodward, non-fiction. What to say about this? A thick book full of often surprising, though on second thought not really that surprising, behind-the-scenes looks at the inner workings of the Trump White House. I shuddered a lot, exclaimed often, shook my head in disgust many times. Read it if you have the stomach.

So how about you?
What have you been reading?

Posted in Books & Reading, current reading | 21 Comments

Forgotten Book: Jeopardy is My Job by Stephen Marlowe

Jeopardy Is My Job by Stephen Marlowe, © May 1962, Gold Medal 1962 paperback, mystery featuring Chester Drum

I picked this up at the L.A. paperback show, Lessercon, a few years back and finally got around to taking it off the shelf to read during a recent trip. I finished it up when I got home.

Drum is hired by “the Governor”, his superior, to find his adult son, who has gone missing in Spain. As the search gets underway, Drum is put off by the lifestyle of American expatriates living on the Costa Del Sol, and wonders if the missing son has simply melted into this live-for-today group. As he digs deeper, however, he uncovers widespread smuggling. It’s used as a form of investment: give some money to an “agent” to invest with a smuggler, get your dividend which is a share of the profits of the shipment.

He also discovers the missing man’s beautiful daughter, who is in love with a local bull fighter, is involved up to her pretty neck and seems to know a lot more than she’s admitting. With few clues to follow, in true hardboiled P.I. fashion Drum has to poke his nose in wherever he can to sniff out motive and try to figure out where the missing man may have gone—and whether he is alive or dead.

This is an entertaining P.I. novel, and the setting, typical of Drum novels set around the world, provides a nice change from big-city grit. Though I suspect this isn’t the best of the series, I like the character of Drum and have more of these on the shelf. You might try one.

Posted in Books & Reading, current reading | 10 Comments