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Archive for the ‘Ed’ Category

In Richard Dooling’s introduction to Cornell Woolrich’s Rendezvous in Black, he mentions that Woolrich is one of the lesser known pulp mystery writers but is deserving of more notoriety. His titles themselves evoke ‘noir’, such as Rendezvous in Black, The Bride Wore Black, The Night Has a Thousand Eyes, and Waltz Into Darkness. Many of his books have been made into movies. And his writing won’t disappoint.

Rendezvous

(I usually like to show the cover of the edition I read, but this is so much more evocative of pulp fiction.)

Johnny Marr and his girlfriend Dorothy had a date every night at 8 PM in front of the drug store. Without fail. She was the love of his life. They were destined for marriage. But one night she doesn’t show up. There’s a crowd standing by the curb and a body lying in the street. It was a freak accident that killed Dorothy and Johnny vows to get revenge. He wants the perpetrators to know how it feels to lose the most important person in their lives.

I will be the first to admit that you have to suspend belief in order to enjoy the book. How Marr tracks down the perpetrators, how he exacts revenge, requires a leap of faith by the reader. But, the suspense level is high and one is apt to take that leap unquestioningly.

As I said, the writing won’t disappoint. In describing Detective Cameron, the poor soul who latched onto the fact that murder was taking place, Woolrich writes, “He was too thin, and his face wore a chronically haggard look…His cheekbones stood out and his cheeks stood in…There must have been times when his clothing had been at least passable, if nothing more than that. But he must have been entirely alone when that happened, because no one else could ever remember having seen him at such a time.”

The chapter titles tell you exactly what the action will be. Parting. The First Rendezvous. The Reunion. Simple but all telling. The fifth rendezvous is reminiscent of Wait Until Dark with Audrey Hepburn. You can figure out why.

While Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler may be masters as describing the seamy sides of Los Angeles and San Francisco, Woolrich is a master at describing the seamy side of people, the anger, the raw emotion, of people.

After reading one Woolrich story, most notably Rear Window (originally called It Had to be Murder), you will become a devout fan.

 

 

 

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Nina George, author most recently of The Little French Bistro and before that The Little Paris Bookshop has captured the novel market on Lost Souls. Just like Jean Perdu in The Little Paris Bookshop, Marianne, the sixty year old wife of Lothar, is lost. In a loveless marriage for 41 years, she has suffered, hoping that her suffering is a sign of strength rather than lethargy and resignation.

On a trip to Paris, Marianne gets off her tour bus, wanders until she finds the perfect bridge over the Seine and jumps in…after carefully taking off her shoes, folding her coat and depositing her wedding ring into the shoe. Hoping to drift away and end her suffering, unfortunately she is saved by a nearby vagrant and taken to a local hospital.

Having been diagnosed as being unstable, she sees no alternative but to return to her husband until she realizes, on the spur of the moment, that she can merely walk out of the building. She walks and rides, her destination the port city of Kerdruc in Brittany (I’ll let you read the book to find out why) where, of course, marvelous things happen.

As in The Little Paris Bookstore, The Little French Bistro (apparently called The Little Breton Bistro in the French version–click the link for a little more detailed synopsis), there are many lost souls in Kerdruc and Marianne touches the lives of each of them in ways she could never imagine. In the course of doing so, she discovers herself and realizes/hopes that at 60 years of age, it is not too late to live a full and happy life.

Ms. George has created memorable characters from the boorish Lothar to Simon, Jean-Remy and all the inhabitants of Kerdruc. She weaves some mythology and superstition into her narrative, told in the third person. She balances Marianne’s desire to be independent for the first time in her life against her desire to be loved as she or any woman deserves, also for the first time in her life.

The Little French Bistro has love and loss. It covers many of our basic emotions. It attacks our universal stupidity in matters of the heart. It begs us to reach out.

While Ms. George, at times, can get a little wordy over love and its importance and the consequences of its success or failure, she creates an interesting world that I’ve not read about before. I’ll caution readers here, as I did in my review of The Little Paris Bookshop, that this really isn’t a guy’s book. But, on the other hand, it is a charming book and maybe any male readers brave enough to try it, might learn how to treat the fairer sex.

Ms. George’s books are quite the pair and you can’t go wrong reading them both.

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I don’t know whether I didn’t enjoy The House of Fame, the third installment of the Nick Belsey series by Oliver Harris. It might have been because I read it in fits and starts (until I sped read — skimmed the last 100 pages) so I never got into the flow. It could be because it actually was disjointed and reading it in longer segments wouldn’t have helped. But, to me, it wasn’t a great book.

House

Quick summary (which I don’t think is a spoiler): Nick Belsey is a disgraced cop who is under investigation. Trying to keep a low profile, he is living in a disused police precinct/court house. While no one is supposed to know he’s there, someone does because a woman knocks on the door looking for him. Her son, Mark, has disappeared and she would like Nick’s help in trying to find him. Of course, he accepts, low profile be damned.

In searching Mark’s room, Belsey finds he has an obsession with a young star, Amber Knight. So, Belsey goes to her mansion, gets in under false pretenses and poses as a private security guard.

Let’s stop here and say that one thing leads to another which leads to another and bodies start piling up. The House of Fame then veers off course and instead of exploring the life, stalkers and murders of the rich and entitled, goes down a totally different, relatively unbelievable road.

Belsey gets into and out of jams with ease. He outsmarts everyone. He poses as a cop, a private investigator, etc. He’s always one step ahead of everyone else.

The House of Fame was a Publisher’s Weekly Star book which always leads me to wonder what they see that I don’t but whatever it is, I’m blind to it. So, I say to you, there are some great mysteries out there. If you try The House of Fame and love it, I’m glad. But if you don’t love it, don’t say I didn’t warn you.

 

 

 

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The Sun is Also a Star, a finalist for both the National Book Award and the Michael L. Printz Award, by Nicola Yoon is a new spin on love at first sight, love in a day, etc. Natasha Kingsley is trying to save her family from deportation back to Jamaica. Daniel Jae Won Bae is on his way to get his haircut before his Yale admissions interview when fate intervenes. Seeing her from afar, he is intrigued by her, her huge afro, her absorption in the music she’s listening to through her big headphones.

TheSunIsAlsoAStar

Shy, he can’t go up to her and introduce himself, but fate steps in again when he saves her from being hit by a car as she crosses the street. Daniel, the poet, has fallen in love. Natasha, the pragmatist and scientist, hasn’t come close.

But, events work themselves out and they spend the day together. Yoon not only tells their story, but also ancillary stories: the security guard at USCIS (U.S. Citizen and Immigration Service), the secretary for Natasha’s immigration lawyer, their parents and siblings. Chapters alternate between Daniel and Natasha, with asides about various people, theories, etc.

Yoon also explores the complicated Korean American family dynamics and Jamaican American family dynamics–the thought of greener pastures in America and the wish of immigrants that their children have a better life than they had.

Will Daniel go to Yale? Will Natasha stay in the United States? Will it require a parallel universe to keep these lovebirds together? The only way you’ll know is by reading The Sun is Also a Star.

For a similar, totally enjoyable book about love in a day, try Jennifer E. Smith’s The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight.

TheStatisticalProbability

OK, so I have to put my two cents in. Is The Sun is Also a Star award worthy or finalist worthy? I don’t know. It certainly was an enjoyable read. The characters suck you in and never let go. It does deal with complicated issues such as family dynamics, parents forcing careers on their children, deportation, love. Yet, despite this, I found the book to be light and fluffy. Since both the National Book Award and the Michael L. Printz Award are “literary” awards, I’m not sure The Sun is Also a Star fits the categories. If this was a popularity contest, by all means. So, you decide for yourself. Let me know your thought.

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As Detective Inspector John Rebus, retired, talks to his medical examiner girlfriend, Deborah Quant, over dinner in the Caledonian Hotel restaurant, he recalls the murder there, over thirty years ago, of a young woman, Maria Turquand. The killer was never caught. With nothing but time on his hands, Rebus decides to investigate the case, imploring his former coworker, Siobhan Clarke to  bring him the cold case files.

RatherBeTheDevil.jpg

The day after Rebus chats with police officer, Robert Chatham, who years previously spearheaded a review of the case when new evidence was introduced, said Officer Chatham’s dead body was found washed up on shore, Rebus surmises it has something to do with his cold case.

How this cold case can be made to intersect with Clarke’s new assault and battery case perpetrated against known gangster Darryl Christie, only an experienced mystery writer such as Rankin can achieve.

Rather Be the Devil reunites Rebus with his co-workers, Clarke and Malcolm Fox. In addition, he meets up with his ‘friendly enemies’, Christie and Big Ger Cafferty. I haven’t read any of Rankin’s previous novels, so I was unfamiliar with the history of Rebus and his cohorts. While such knowledge wasn’t necessary to enjoy the book, it would have been nice. In addition, one arc of the story deals with issues surrounding Rebus’ health, which again, I had no familiarity.

The first 50 or so pages of Rather Be the Devil were a little slow, until the story got going. Then it was a reasonably fast read. The characters were well fleshed out, although I kept getting them confused with each other (Christie/Cafferty). The plot was interesting. Apparently Rebus never played by the rules, which he certainly does not in this episode.

While Rather Be the Devil was an enjoyable and satisfying read, I don’t know that I’d run out and start from the first book in the series (this is #21) or even line up to read the next in the series, if/when that is published. I think I’m more of a Peter Robinson/Inspector Banks fan.

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When the wealthy Mrs. Atterby walks into Bertha Cool’s detective agency with her daughter, Mrs. Cunner, to discuss Mrs. Cunner’s wayward husband, Bertha is all ears. Although most detective agencies don’t handle domestic cases, Cool is not above airing someone else’s dirty linen and she’s got just the agent for the case, Donald Lam. Of course, as Lam investigates, he discovers Mr. Cunner is involved in more than just stepping out on his wife…and Lam has the bruises to prove it.

theknifeslipped

The Knife Slipped, a long lost manuscript (there seem to be a lot of them cropping up nowadays) in Erle Stanley Gardner’s Cool and Lam series, apparently was supposed to be the second book in the series. I forgot that I had read another book in the series and wasn’t overly impressed.

Bertha Cool is a smart talking, obese broad who pretty much has no scruples. Unfortunately, she is way over the top, so if you’re into the believable, you’d be hard pressed to believe any of this.

Donald Lam appears to fall hard and fast for anything in a skirt. He doesn’t have much brain power, but for a skinny guy seems to take his beatings in stride.

*****SPOILER*****

The plot is totally outdated, as it deals with cheating on police and fireman civil service exams, which is not something I’ve heard much about recently.

Gardner was a prolific pulp mystery writer, but he wasn’t one of the best. He created unique characters for the times, but I can’t say that I really like Bertha Cool or Donald Lam. I wouldn’t go out of my way to read more of the series.

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The best way to describe What Light by Jay Asher is that it is suitable for one of those Hallmark or Lifetime Channel cheesy Christmas romance movies. So, the less said about it the better.

Synopsis: Sierra’s family owns a Christmas tree farm in Oregon. From Thanksgiving through Christmas they relocate to California to sell the trees. The farm and lot have been in the family for generations.

As a result of this lifestyle, Sierra has two sets of friends, one set in each state and gets emotional every time she has to leave one for the other. She’s also avoided entanglements in California, knowing she’s a short timer.

This year is the exception. She meets Caleb, a boy with a shady past. Her overly protective father, now has cause to be even more protective.

What Light is ready made for TV, cheesy plot, semi-tearjerker ending, set at holiday time. Quite the change from Asher’s overly serious, suicidal Thirteen Reasons Why. I had nothing else to read so I kept going, but luckily I’m not diabetic because the sugary sweetness of the book would have put me in a coma.

If you go for this sort of book (guilty pleasure or not), go for it. Otherwise read Sarah Dessen or Emory Lord or Morgan Matson.

The end.

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