Friday Forgotten Stories: Bodies From the Library

Bodies From The Library selected and introduced by Tony Medawar, mystery, subtitled Lost Tales of Mystery and Suspense by Agatha Christie and other Masters of the Golden Age, Collins Crime Club 2018 hardcover. Stories from the Golden Age.

Sixteen forgotten tales which have either been published only once before – perhaps in a newspaper or rare magazine – or have never before appeared in print.

These stories are almost all really good, and I was very glad to have bought the book. I had some particular favorites, and I’m sure you, if you are a fan of golden age stories, will too. But I won’t say a lot more because EVERYTHING you need to know about this book is in the very fine post on the Cross Examining Crime blog post HERE. I couldn’t do a better job of describing the book or stories. Go there! Read it!

Contents:

Introduction by Tony Medawar
“Before Insulin” by J. J. Connington
“The Inverness Cape” by Leo Bruce
“Dark Waters” by Freeman Wills Croft
“Linkes Great Case” by Georgette Heyer
“‘Calling James Braithwaite'” by Nicholas Blake
“The Elusive Bullet” by John Rhode
“The Euthanasia of Hilary’s Aunt” by Cyril Hare
“The Girdle of Dreams” by Vincent Cornier
“The Fool and the Perfect Murder” by Arthur Upfield
“Bread Upon the Waters” by A. A. Milne
“The Man With the Twisted Thumb” by Anthony Berkeley
“The Rum Punch” by Christianna Brand
“Blind Man’s Bluff” by Ernest Bramah
“Victoria Pumphrey” by H. C. Bailey
“The Starting-Handle Murder” by Roy Vickers
“The Wife of the Kenite” by Agatha Christie

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current reading: Cinda Williams Chima

The Demon King by Cinda Williams Chima, fantasy, Hyperion Books, 2009 hardcover, 519 pages

16-year-old Han Alister encounters three underage wizards setting fire to the sacred mountain of Hanalea. Alister is unaware that this will lead to a series of events that threaten to consume the world in chaos. To prevent the wizard Micah from using a magical amulet against him, he makes Micah give him the amulet. Later Alister learns that the amulet has an evil history, and it once belonged to the Demon King. The Demon King is an evil sorcerer who almost destroyed the world a millennia ago. Now, the wizards will stop at nothing to get their amulet back.

Princess Raisa ana’Marianna, heir to the Gray Wolf throne of the Fells, has her own battles to fight. After spending three years of freedom with her father’s family at Demonai Camp, riding, hunting, and working at the famous Clan markets, she learns that her life is going to completely change. Court life in Fellsmarch pinches like a pair of tight shoes, and Raisa feels like a cage is closing in around her. However, an arranged marriage and an eroded inheritance are the least of her struggles. The power of the Wizard Council is growing, and her people are starving and rebellious.

Even though both Alister and Raisa come from different backgrounds, they wind up in a race to keep balance in the Queendom and to save Fellsmarch.

The action takes place in this first novel mainly in the mountainous Queendom of the Fells. The Seven Realms, which are seven loosely related areas that were once ruled by the Gray Wolf Queens and their wizard consorts, or kings: Queendom of the Fells, the Kingdom of Tamron, the Kingdom of Arden, the southern Kingdoms of Bruinswallow and We’enhaven, the Southern Islands, and the Northern Islands.

As readers of this blog have noticed, I seem to have a real appetite for fantasy this year. I really enjoyed this one, and as I have all four books on hand, went straight on to the next one. Pretty darn good for those who enjoy fantasy.

The Seven Realms novels:

The Demon King (2009)
The Exiled Queen (2010)
The Gray Wolf Throne (2011)
The Crimson Crown (2012)

A sequel series has been announced, titled The Shattered Realms. The first novel, titled Flamecaster, was released in April 2016.

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Friday book: The Smoke at Dawn by Jeff Shaara

The Smoke at Dawn by Jeff Shaara, Ballentine Books 2014 historical novel, Civil War

It is Summer, 1863. The Federal triumph at Vicksburg has secured complete control of the Mississippi River from the Confederacy, cementing the reputation of Ulysses S. Grant. Farther east, the Federal army under the command of William Rosecrans captures the crucial rail hub at Chattanooga. But Rosecrans is careless, and while pursuing the Confederates, the Federal forces are routed in north Georgia at Chickamauga Creek. Retreating in a panic back to Chattanooga, Rosecrans is pursued by the Confederate forces under General Braxton Bragg. Penned up, with their supply lines severed, the Federal army seems doomed to the same kind of defeat that plagued the Confederates at Vicksburg.

A disgusted Abraham Lincoln has seen enough of General Rosecrans. Ulysses Grant is elevated to command of the entire theater of the war, and immediately replaces Rosecrans with General George Thomas. Grant gathers an enormous force, including armies commanded by Joseph Hooker and Grant’s friend, William T. Sherman. Grant’s mission is clear: break the Confederate siege and destroy Bragg’s army.  Meanwhile, Bragg wages war as much with his own subordinates as he does with the Federals, creating dissension and disharmony in the Southern ranks, erasing the Confederate army’s superiority at exactly the wrong time.

This third book in the series has both historical detail and stark depictions of battle. Again, the real historical figures take most of the stage, but the reality of the fighting is brought to the reader by fictional soldiers on the front lines, musket in hand.

From the Union side come the voices of Generals Grant, William Tecumseh Sherman, and George Thomas—the vaunted “Rock of Chickamauga”—as well as the young private Fritz “Dutchie” Bauer. From the Rebel ranks come Generals Bragg, Patrick Cleburne, and James Longstreet, as well as the legendary cavalry commander, Nathan Bedford Forrest. History played out on a human scale. The Smoke at Dawn vividly recreates the climactic months of the war in the West, when the fate of a divided nation truly hangs in the balance.

Next week, a break from the Civil War for something more mysterious.

So how about you?
What have you been reading?

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current reading: Eight Million Ways to Die by Lawrence Block

Eight Million Ways to Die by Lawrence Block, graphic novel version, adapted and illustrated by John K. Snyder III, IDW Publishing (July 17, 2018), 144 pages

There were several mentions of this in the latest issue of Mystery Scene magazine. Several reviewers listed it as a “favorite” of 2018. So I got a copy from the library.

As the fifth entry in the Matthew Scudder series, Eight Million Ways to Die  comes about in the middle of his story. He’s had his share of problems, most recently the tragic shooting that drove him off the force, away from his family and into a bottle. He’s trying to understand that last part, sometimes happy to drown himself in the booze, sometimes attending an AA meeting.

He seems to be comfortable with the unlicensed, off-the-books private detective world he’s created for himself. So when Kim Dakkinen, a prostitute who wants help to get out of the life comes to him, he takes her case without much hesitation — only to find himself with a heap of regret after he worked things out for her only to find a few days later she has been hacked to death.

That’s enough of the plot. If you haven’t read this one, and most of the people who visit this blog probably have, you’ll probably want to read the book. But this graphic novel is pretty well done, the artwork of rough and gritty, just like the world Scudder lives in, and the whole package is well done.

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A Chain of Thunder by Jeff Shaara

A Chain of Thunder by Jeff Shaara, Ballantine Books 2013, volume 2 of The Civil War Western Theater, historical novel (fictionalized)

Continuing with Shaara’s Civil War books, which I read in ebook format. Last week I reviewed A Blaze of Glory, about the battle of Shiloh. This time, it’s Grant’s campaign against Confederate General John Pemberton, leading to the South’s loss of the citadel of Vicksburg.

As the war in the West turns badly for the South, the Union knows the one great barrier to their control of the Mississippi River, considered critically important, lies at the Confederate bastion of Vicksburg, Mississippi. Protected by high embankments, and a formidable presence of Confederate artillery, the Confederate forces there under the command of John Pemberton, are confident that Vicksburg is a citadel that cannot fall. But Federal commander Ulysses Grant believes otherwise.

So Grant launches an overland campaign that avoids a direct frontal assault on the town from the river, and instead, maneuvers his army downstream, crossing from Louisiana into Mississippi where the Confederates are too weak to make an effective stand. Instead of pushing directly at Vicksburg, Grant employs an audacious strategy, slicing quickly through the Mississippi countryside toward the capital city of Jackson.

Pemberton’s superior, General Joseph Johnston arrives in Jackson and sees Pemberton’s situation in Vicksburg as hopeless. Thus he holds his own forces back from the fight, allowing Grant the freedom to focus all his energies on Vicksburg itself. Johnston’s reluctance to engage Grant, and thus offer relief to Vicksburg, is one of the most controversial decisions of the war.

The story is told primarily through the voices of Union General William T. Sherman, and, returning from the first volume (A Blaze of Glory), the young private from Wisconsin, Fritz Bauer. On the Southern side, the story is told through the eyes of Pemberton himself, as well as a young civilian woman in the town, Lucy Spence, who serves her cause the only way she can, by volunteering for nursing duties in the makeshift hospitals,

Like the first novel, this book is excellent. Next week I’ll be going on to the third book.

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current reading: Child of the Daystar by Bruce O’Conner

Child of the Daystar by Bruce O’Conner, ebook, Lulu Publishing, 11-16-2015, 280 pages, fantasy, Wings of War series, book 1 of 4.

In the mood for fantasy, which you may recall I said in this blog in January that I planned to read more of, I turned to this, the first of a four volume fantasy series in ebook format.

Raz I’Syul Arro is a male atherian, a sort of giant humanoid lizard, but of the rarest variety because he has wings. As an infant, he is rescued from slavers by a nomadic clan living in the Cienbal desert. The clan adopts and raises him as human, teaching him human language and in particular to keep his savagery in check.

However, following the death of his adopted “parents” he vows revenge, becoming a ruthlessly efficient killer for hire, bent on vengeance and murderous retribution against all slavers that he can lay his hands on. He is known as the Monster of Karth (one of the Fringe Cities of the desert) and is stronger, faster, more ferocious and more agile than humans, adding his tail, claws and teeth to his sword, dagger and armor.

While there are battles, sometimes somewhat gory, the best aspect here is Raz I’Syul Arro’s personality. Also the world building, the mostly desolate desert and rock world, is well done.

There is a secondary plot, which will no doubt meld with the first in the next books, involving a peace-centric cult, one of whose members Raz saved in a battle.

I enjoyed this quite a bit, and intend to get back to the series soon.

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A Blaze of Glory by Jeff Shaara

A Blaze of Glory by Jeff Shaara, Ballantine Books 2012, the Civil War in the West (Book 1), Paperback, 480 pages

I’ve had a passing interest in the American Civil War. I learned what was taught in school – the west coast perspective – and I  read “The Red Badge of Courage” but that was about it.

However in 1990 I watched with great interest Ken Burn’s The Civil War enjoying the insights and presentation, and learned a lot from it. A few years later I borrowed it from the library and re-watched it.

Then I read Bruce Catton’s Centennial History of the Civil War, which covers the causes of the war, and the battles of Bull Run through the final surrender.

I liked the books, and later I wanted more. I came across The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara, about the Gettysburg battle, and liked it a lot. Then my friend Dave Lewis suggested I try the books by Jeff Shaara, Michael’s son, and I got them in ebook format.

I’ve just finished reading the first of four in his Western Theater Tetralogy: A Blaze of Glory about the Battle of Shiloh. Like The Killer Angels, the book is written from the viewpoints of several people involved, on both sides of the conflict, both famous and a few characters added to give the story a more personal flavor. One of these is a foot soldier, carrying a single shot musket, who is on the front lines of this cannon-musket-bayonet battle. It was a bloody one, and our character was on his belly in the famous peach orchard fight.

This book is very well done. I’ll be going on to the second book, which is about the battle and siege of Vicksburg  next week.

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current reading: The Long and Faraway Gone by Lou Berney

The Long and Faraway Gone by Lou Berney, William Morrow trade paperback, February 10, 2015, 464 pages, mystery, P.I.

I read strong reviews – extremely positive in every way – on this, and several people had recommended this one, so after a long wait I got a copy from the library.

The plot – “Twenty-five years after a devastating shooting and the unrelated disappearance of a teenage girl, the survivors of both events struggle to find out what really happened so they can move on with their separate lives.”  – from Kirkus Reviews.

It’s much more involved than that, and depending on your viewpoint as a reader, it’s either a straight P.I. story, or a noir story, or both, or a novel of obsession, or maybe all three. While others found the book compelling, I found it off-putting. To me, after a while, the level of obsession went beyond reasonable to nonsensical. I found myself thinking, and occasionally saying out loud, “Oh come on!” So I’ll recommend the book based on all the great reviews and other positives (I did like the sense of place), but for me, it was a “meh”.

Posted in Books & Reading, current reading | 14 Comments

Daylight Savings: Bah!

No, thanks. Don’t need it, want it, like it. It’s ridiculous. I want regular time, all the time. It’s idiotic, unneeded.

Bill Crider didn’t like it and neither do I.

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Friday Book: The Case of the Substitute Face by Erle Stanley Gardner

When Perry Mason meets Mrs. Carl Newberry on a vacation cruise, she is a woman desperately interested in saving face. For she and her husband are newcomers to the ranks of the rich, and they’re sparing no expense at helping their daughter, Belle, make a successful splash in the right social circles.

But Mrs. Newberry suspects that her husband embezzled the company he worked for and their new-gotten fortune is illegal. She turns to Mason for legal advice, and mentions during the interview that a signed portrait of their daughter, who looks quite similar to a well-known movie star, has been stolen from her suitcase. When Mr. Newberry dies suddenly and his wife is left holding his hefty money belt, Perry wonders if his grieving client is really a black widow. . . .

This is a good, very enjoyable Mason novel, and there are enough twists and reveals to keep any Mason fan satisfied.

The Perry Mason television show broadcast this as episode 31 on May 10, 1958 titled “The Case of the Substitute Face” with the plot slightly rewritten but substantially the same. For example, the cruise ship is coming from Vancouver, not Hawaii.

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