Thursday, June 26, 2014

redempton street

I heard about the Moe Prager novels on NPR at some point a while ago. I'm not sure what the show was, but they had some folks on there making recommendations, and it may have even been for summer reading. This was a few years ago and I took a note and looked them up. Based on what I heard on NPR, I thought my wife would like them, but they were a little hard to find. I didn't find them at my library and they didn't have them at the Barnes & Nobel, but I did find them up in Vermont. I was driving through Brattleboro on the way to Manchester and I stopped to eat and found a bookstore that specializes in mystery books. The bookseller knew exactly what I meant and told me he actually met Reed Farrel Coleman when he visited the store himself.

I wrapped up three books from the Moe Prager series and sprung 'em on the better half, and she started with this one... but didn't like it. bummer So I gave it a go and I can see why she didn't like it, its done in the old style. Think first person private dick, film noir, chit-chat and private banter knocking around in this guys head while he takes a gander at who's puttin' the screws to old Mrs. Brown from down the block. This guy is ex-cop, Brooklyn born, Jewish city guy who now owns a wine store with his brother, and has secrets from his past that eat away at him like the night sky eats away at sunny days in the park.

Coleman wrote this, and the other Moe Prager novels in the early 2000s but they are set in the 1980s, when the 1960s and even the 1950s are still someone fresh memories to many. Its part of how Coleman taps into the gumshoe era. Coleman has that continuous inner-dialog, street-beat down pat and it carries the story along as it bubbles through the narrative.

Coleman notes in an Afterword that Redemption Street is the book that most folks write to him about, saying that although its not their favorite Prager novel, its the one that they felt the closest connection to. Prager airs some of his fears, secrets and even dips into his feeling about religion and trust in this story, and according to the Coleman, this is really the only one of the novels that does that. Maybe that soul searching under current is what turned off my wife on this one, I found that it helped me understand this character and really brought him to life for me.

There are two more of these in the house somewhere. I'm going to keep my eye out for them.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

abyssinian proof

The Abyssinian Proof is the second novel by Jenny White, and the second in her series of Kamil Pasha mystery novels set in Constantinople in the late 1800s. The first is The Sultan's Seal, and the third is called The Winter Thief. this is only one I've read so far White has done some serious research into Turkey and has written a number of books on Turkey beginning in college. Her most recent book is also on the subject. SO, I'm saying, the lady knows her way around Turkey. And that shows in her writing.

White has put together a detective in the old timey tradition, similar to a Sherlock or a Dr. Thorndyke story, from that grand era in the late 1800s to the early 1900s, which includes such great protagonists as Charlie Chan, Hercule Poirot, and others. And her detective, Kamil Pasha fit in there well with his peers. White has created a sleuth, that like so many of these earlier generation detectives, weren't actually detectives, and are more the 'unwilling hero' a la Joseph Campbell. Kamil Pasha is mid-level judge, and does what he can to aid the police in solving crimes, if only to satisfy his betters above. At least to begin with.

Kamil Pasha is soft spoken, thoughtful, measured, fair and very thorough. He is also a bachelor, reasonably well off and grows orchids in his small greenhouse. White weaves a very compelling and fast paced story, spinning in threads from religion, history, mysticism and cult practice to the politics and class struggles of Constantinople in that era.

This was a fun one, and I'll be looking for the others. Read this book.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

shadow over babylon

Shadow Over Babylon is (was) David Mason's first book. Its says on the book jacket that Mason was trained as a sniper so he comes at this early 1990s novel from the perspective of a military man with specialized training and that shows in the detail he includes in this thriller. I didn't find anything since this one written by Mason, but that doesn't necessarily mean he didn't write one. right?

Mason imagines a very different outcome in the post Iraq war era, and populates his story with a band of organized and dedicated ex-service men (mostly) who decide--with very little prompting, it seems to me--to take matters into their own hands and remove a lingering middle-eastern problem. Mason has actually hatched a very intricate and elaborately planned mission, that he spins out for us as it takes place, keeping the reader wondering where this team is headed, and how they'll accomplish what they've set out to do. The story is well paced, really well thought out and suffers only a bit from a huge cast of characters that is at sometimes a little difficult to keep track of. the main characters seem pretty well flushed out, but the other are almost inter-changeable in a lot of ways.

There were a few sub-plots that kind of seemed like Mason had cooking, and then sort of let them boil off and come to nothing. The final story may have been better without them, but who's to say. It was fun to read an alternative history, and also fun to read something a little different than the regular stuff I read, if you can call the range or stuff I read regular.

I would have read something else by this guy, but it doesn't look like I'll get the chance unless he cracks out something in the future!

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

black list

Black List is the latest (for me) by Brad Thor. Scot Harvath is an ex-Navy SEAL working for a private American national security and anti-terrorism firm. He's on location in Europe, doing his thing, when the crap hits the proverbial fan. Harvath is, for one of the first times in his life, completely at a loss and just barely scrambles away with his life.

And then it gets worse.

Thor writes a pretty good spy novel. The action is tight and the characters have some weight to them (in most cases). According to the interwebs, Scot Harvath is a recurring character, and Black List is the 11th installment in the Harvath series.
I'm sure I've seen Thor's books around the house, and after reading this one, it seems like the kind of stuff my wife reads pretty regularly, and we have similar tastes, so I'm willing to bet that I've read me some Brad Thor in the past.

The comment I made about most characters having some weight to them became especially relevant near the end of the story, when a pretty minor character came back in and I found that I didn't really know anything about this character. It seems as tho there is really only enough room in an action novel for the action and fleshing out the main characters. I don't mind that so much, but don't expect me to feel for a character you haven't told me anything about.

I bet there are some more Thor books around the house, I'll know what I'm in for when I'm checking them out for my reading list. my reading list consists of a few titles I'm too cheap to buy, and I sometimes know what I'm reading next, an...that's about it.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

anna and the king

There have been a number of movies made from this story, the most well known is probably The King and I with Yul Brynner and Deborah Kerr; a musical released in 1956, which also went on to be a stage play which ran for years with Yul Brynner as the king. They even spun this movie into a short-lived TV show. The original movie came out just 2 years after the book was published, and has the same title as the book: Anna and the King of Siam. The '46 movie starred Irene Dunne and Rex Harrison. A number of adaptations have been made over the years; one of the more recent starred Jodie Foster and Chow Yun-Fat.

The book is based in fact, but according to the author, Margret Landon, its been fictionalized in order to keep the story coherent. In an author's note in the backmatter, Landon says that the story is 75% true, and 25% fiction. Also in the note, she describes how she discovered two memoirs written by the main protagonist, Anna Leonowens, describing her adventures as a governess to the crown prince of Siam: The English Governess at the Siamese Court (1870) and The Romance of the Harem (1872). Leonowens was married and living in India with her husband and two children when her husband died and she needed to find work. Working for the King of Siam took her to the royal court--and harem--of King Mongkut.

Leonowens lived in Siam and tutored the King's children, and some of his wives, in English. All the while she worked to improve living conditions within the harem and did whatever she could to improve the lives of the women and children she schooled and became friendly with, she also did what she could to instill in the children a sense of fairness, and an understanding of the emancipation struggle that was going on in the US during the same period.  Leonownes was clearly a strong willed and determined woman, and felt certain that by the time she left, she had made a positive influence on the young prince and help to set him on his path of greater tolerance and freedom for his people. Thailand literally means, the land of the free.

Landon also mentioned in her author's note, that she had to cut much of the slow moving action-less information from the two Leonowens memoirs, and adjust the sequencing in order for the information from the two source stories to make sense in her book. Even with the cutting, the story was a little long but that probably partially based on the writing style from that era, when folks were more apt to want to curl up with a book for a while. It took me a while to pound through this one.

The book itself is a handsome volume, with a leatherized paper wrappers with gold tooling and titles on the spine, handsome unbleached endpapers and deckle-edged pages, and to top it off: a bound red satin ribbon to keep your place. The inside cover also has a pretty ex libris plate which says: "From the library of."