Cannonball Read IV

A bunch of Pajibans reading and reviewing and honoring AlabamaPink.

Archive for the tag “Cfar1”

Cfar1′s #CBR4 Review #14 of Freakonmics:A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner

I have heard for several years about this book but never read it.  I finally bought the ebook version and read it on my tablet.  It was my lunch hour and waiting room book.  I have to say it fit the purpose well, it was interesting enough to hold my attention, but there were frequent points where I could stop and pick back up without problem.  I liked the concept also, the use of tools commonly used for one purpose being applied to another.

Simply put, the authors pick a subject and ask a question, then they try to find data to analyze to answer the question.  Sometime the answer is controversial, such as the idea that abortion lower the crime rate, other times it might challenge beliefs in a less threatening way, such as why most drug dealers live with their mothers, or why realtors might leave their house on the market longer but encourage you to sell faster.  I found the book easy to read, and very interesting.  Economics was the least favorite of my business classes in school, but if it were taught more like this I might have got less sleep in class.  My version had updates, blog posts and comments included at the end.

Cfar1′s #CBR4 Review #13 of Nancy A. Collins’s Right Hand Magic: A Novel of Golgotham

Around the same time as a discovered the Anita Blake series, I came across three vampire books by Nancy A. Collins, with a recurring main character named Sonia Blue.  I rather enjoyed them at the time, despite the heroine having a silver-bladed switchblade as a weapon of choice.  I hadn’t heard much from Ms. Collins, although I can’t say that I had looked, then a few months ago, I ran across two new paperbacks at my local big box bookstore.  The first of these is Right Hand Magic.

Tate is an aspiring artist who moves out of her apartment/studio to get away from her ex-boyfriend, whom she caught in bed with another woman.  Tate comes from a wealthy family, and draws a monthly check, however her media of choice is metal sculpture, and this has to pay room and board and buy supplies.  Her family does not approve of her choice of occupation, so she doesn’t ask them for help.  She needs an apartment to accommodate not only her check but her occupation, so she checks out an apartment in the section of New York known as Golgotham.  This is where the shapeshifters, centaurs and other magicy types hang out.  The magicy types can mostly be picked out because they have 6 fingers on each hand, eyes with cat-like pupils, and odd colored hair.  Tate’s new landlord, Hex, is a practitioner of good (right hand) magic only and is thus sort of an outcast in the community.  They of course hit it off on several levels, but a local crime boss is kidnapping runaway shapeshifters and making them fight in underground matches.  Hex and Tate befriend an injured shapeshifter who escaped and heal him, only to have him be kidnapped again, requiring another rescue.

Overall, the book was an interesting and easy read, but the main character seemed to be a cardboard cut-0ut of an attractive and spunky girl trying to make it on her own.  She seemed to be there for things to happen to, and she really didn’t develop, noone in the book really did.  It was an okay book, a bit heavy on the romance and light on the action for me.

Cfar1′s #CBR4 Review #12 of Edmund Crispin’s The Case of the Gilded Fly

The second of the Edmund Crispin books I bought was The Case of the Gilded Fly.  It was actually first in the series, but the second I read.  In this book, a theater company comes to Oxford University to try out a new play.  The producer and author of the play is famous, but his last production flopped, so he is bringing his leading lady/mistress with him and using a local acting company to test this play with a smaller audience first.  The lead actress of the local group is a rather hated young woman who was previously dumped by the producer.  Shortly after rehearsals start, she gets shot in the bedroom of the chapel organist and hi jinks ensue.  I didn’t find the book as humorous as the previous one.  I also had some issues with the solution.  It seemed sort of lame and a cop out.  There was some humorous dialogue and the murder was almost a surprise, but I just didn’t buy it.  Overall, I enjoyed reading the book for the entertaining characters and the atmosphere, but plot, pacing and mystery were seriously lacking.

Cfar1′s #CBR4 Review #11 of Edmund Crispin’s Love Lies Bleeding

Robert Bruce Montgomery was an English composer and author of nine detective novels and 2 short story collections.  He was considered one of the last of the classic English mystery novelists.  He was a great fan of John Dickson Carr and his detective, who was a fellow and English Professor at the fictional St. Christopher’s college located near Oxford, is modeled after Carr’s Dr. Gideon Fell.  Dr. Gervase Fen is in physically different from Fell, but mentally and personality-wise they are similar.  Published under the pseudonym Edmund Crispin, Love Lies Bleeding is my first sampling of this author.  I found two of his books in a local used book store.  This is the 5th of the books featuring Dr. Fen and was originally published in 1948.  My version was a Felony & Mayhem reprint from 2007.  The other book I bought was the first of the series, but I wasn’t paying attention and scooped this one up on Monday to read while waiting on my foster son at the eye doctor and dentist.  This is supposed to be one of the weaker books, but I enjoyed it.  Montgomery mixes a bit more more humor into his writing than Carr does.  He tends to be very fond of dropping literary and musical references into the mix.  Dr. Fen is the sort of character that is fun on paper, but would probably drive a person homicidal in real life.

The premise is that Dr. Fen is invited to be a key speaker at a “speech day” at a boy’s boarding school.  He is a friend of the headmaster and agrees.  Apparently this day is part of a weekend where the parents visit, awards are given and events produced.  One of the events is a play that involves students from a local girl’s school.  A 16-year-old girl is behaving oddly and parents and staff are afraid she has been, if not assaulted, in some other way messed with.  Then she disappears, supposedly run away with an unknown man, although the girl’s school headmistress doesn’t believe it.  Poison is missing from the chemistry lab.  This all happens before Dr. Fen arrives.  Then night after he arrives two professors are shot, one on and the other off campus within a short time of each other.   Later another murder is uncovered.   Are they connected?  The local  police are out of their depth, but not the good doctor.  The solution of the murders, theft  and kidnapping was actually too improbably to even suspend belief.  There were just too many details that had to have happened exactly right for at least two of the crimes to have occurred.  On the other had, the colorful characters, humor and just the literary, almost musical quality to the prose made it worth the purchase price and time spent reading it.  I also have to like an author who can create a character like Mr. Merrythought, a somewhat homicidal old possible bloodhound, who hangs around the campus terrorizing everyone.

Cfar1′s #CBR4 Review #10 of John Dickson Carr’s It Walks by Night

My third book read by this author was originally published under the pen name of Carter Dickson.  It features his second recurring detective, Prefect of the Police Henri Bencolin and takes place in Paris.  Bencolin is almost the opposite of Dr. Fell.  He is official rather than consulting, tall and flamboyant rather than overweight and untidy.  Where Dr. Fell is affable and seems like the sort of person you could have a beer with, Bencolin is arrogant and rather unpleasant to be around.   This book, like the previous two, was told in first person by a narrator.  The style of this book was also a bit different.  The clues were all laid out for you, although not always pointed out.  This book seem to actually be more fair about the clues than the previous two.  In this case, a madman who attempted to kill his wife has escaped custody.  The now divorced wife is about to remarry into a wealthy, noble family.  A plastic surgeon is found murdered and a threat on the former wife is received.  The police go on alert.  The evening of the wedding, a reception is held in a club.  The groom is seen, by Bencolin and the narrator, go into a room with a police guard on each door .  A few minutes later a waiter, summoned to the room with drinks, drops the tray of glasses at the site of the groom, beheaded, a bloody sword beside his corpse.  The only unguarded entrance to the room is a window, which opens onto a 40 foot drop with smooth walls and the grit and dust on the ledge are undisturbed.

I did not, at first, like this book as much as the previous two.  The tone was more formal and the detective a bit of a dick.  I did not notice the interruption of someone relaying important information in this book, however, it was replaced by the repeated insertion of phrases in French.  I do think the author was more forward with the clues to the identity of the murder, but not with how the murder was done.  I was let down by the explanation of the method.  It was too simplistic and I think the author hid some stuff there to keep the reader from picking up on it.

Cfar1′s #CBR4 Review #09 of John Dickson Carr’s The Man Who Could Not Shudder

The second of Mr. Carr’s books I read, The Man Who Could Not Shudder also featured Dr. Gideon Fell, his overweight detective.  In this book, the narrator is asked by a friend to escort an acquaintance around London.  The narrator, who is an author of some sort, spends time with the man, who mostly visits small, out of the way museums.  At some point, while in a club (all British men in these types of mysteries belong to clubs) they hear a tale of a haunted house.  The mysterious acquaintance is a well-off business man, and the tale of the house intrigues him.  Apparently, an elderly butler had, for reasons unknown, shoved a heavy wooden dining table out of the way one night, climbed onto a dining room chair, leaped up and grabbed hold of a large chandelier and swung wildly until it ripped loose of the ceiling and crashed down onto him.  Now the house is the site of mysterious moving furniture, odd noises, ect.  The business man hires a friend of the narrator, a young architect, to check out the house, then buys and restores it.  He then throws a ghost party.  He invites the narrator and the narrator’s fiance, a business acquaintance and the acquaintance’s lovely younger wife, the architect and a young lawyer.  The first night a couple of mysterious things happen, but the next morning things really start.  A man is shot, in front of witnesses, by a gun that moves by itself.  Scotland Yard is called in and Dr. Fell comes along.  

This outing was as interesting as the first.  The solution seems like something you might see on the Mythbusters.  This story also had more twists and turns The Dark of The Moon.  Mr. Carr does seem to have a quirk to his writing.  He likes to have a character start to reveal something or make an important point, only to be interrupted.  This happened enough times in both books to move from amusing to irritating.  Overall this was a nice little book to read before bed.  

 

Cfar1′s #CBR4 Review #08 of John Dickson Carr’s Dark of the Moon

When I was a child, one of my summer treats was to go to work with my father on occasion.  He was manager of a business in a nearby town and went to work fairly early in the morning.  Later, the business was sold and converted into something unrelated, and he was given the option of moving to another location or being laid off.  He bought into a similar business on the other side of town.  It was smaller and older and not nearly as nice, but it had one major advantage to a 12 year-old bookworm.  Heaven, in the form of a used bookstore, was just a short walk up the street.

I was recently prowling through one of the local used bookstores with my foster son, trying to influence him to read.  As we left the children’s section, a small stack of paperbacks caught my eye.  There were 4 books written by John Dickson Carr.  He was one of the authors I discovered long ago in that small bookstore.  I bought them on a whim and dived in.  I was curious to see if they held up to my memories.

Mr. Carr also published under 3 other pen names, including Carter Dickson.  He specialized in “locked room” mysteries or crimes, usually murders, committed under seemingly impossible situations, but which turn out to be possible, although not necessarily plausible, at the end of the book.  The first book I read was Dark of the Moon.  I am much older, more cynical and jaded, but I still find the books entertaining.  They were period pieces to me back then and more so now.  They seem to transport you back to a more innocent time, which should be odd in books dealing with murder.  But it’s nice, at least for me, to go back to when the violent death of a single individual was seen as an evil thing, and the finding of who was responsible of the highest importance.  We as a society, now seem to take violence as a normal part of our world.

In this book, a South Carolina family has a history of violence and mysterious deaths.  The patriarch of the family throws a party for his daughter, who is being trying to pick between two very similar suitors.  Among the invited guests are Dr. Gideon Fell (sort of a cross between Sherlock Holmes and Nero Wolfe albeit with more pronounced sense of humor) and the narrator.  The night after the arrival of Dr. Fell, the host is found with his skull caved in behind the house on a patio covered with wet white sand, no footprints other than his own present.  The mystery also involves someone leaving cryptic messages on a blackboard, a creepy deserted elementary school, and lots of suspicious characters with secrets.  There are generally 2 to 4 deaths in this type of book, but in this case there was only one murder and an attempt.  Mostly Carr plays fair in his books and presents you with all the clues, although he is never obvious.  I felt in this one a few things were held back.   Also don’t expect anything resembling police procedure, Dr. Fell may be a lecturer on criminology and the stories may be set in the past, but massive suspension of belief is still required.  But only Ed McBain and Joe Gore ever seemed to write books with actual realistic police procedure.  I personally enjoyed the book, it was a good story but not his best.  I felt the method of murder was too finicky and left a lot to chance.  There is also usually a romantic side story and it was here mostly it provided a bit of light comic relief.  The stories were a bit gloomy for their time, but by modern standards aren’t dark.  If you like a nice puzzle and a fun quick read, check your local used book stores and libraries.

Cfar1′s #CBR4 review #07 of Elmore Leonard’s The Law at Randado

My second stab at Mr. Leonard’s work is a Western from early in his career. Back when I was younger, way before the internet, I read everything available and frequently hit up family friends and the local library for books. Originally I preferred mysteries, but when I ran out of those, I disovered both science fiction and westerns. Mostly I was exposed to Zane Grey and Louis L’amour. Mr. Leonard would easily fit in with them, although (based on a single book and a couple of short stories) Mr. Leonard’s characters may be a bit different and his style is somewhat unique. The hero of The Law at Randado is a local boy who was “promoted” from cattle hand to deputy. The sheriff and judge are at the county seat some distance away. When the book starts, the deputy has arrested two Mexican men who were stealing cattle from the wealthiest ranch in the area. He is also trying to stop some Native American’s making illegal whiskey. He’s caught one and is searching for the others. The three prisoners are in his jail awaiting the sheriff coming and transporting them for trial. The wealthy rancher is old and dying and his son is pretty much the poster child for mean, spoiled, rich boy. He bullies, although in most cases is doesn’t take much, some of the more prominent townspeople into inciting the population into a lynch mob. They take the two cattle thieves out of the jail and lynch them. The deputy returns, gets beat up, goes to the sheriff, gets warrants, returns, gets beat up and hauled out of town again, then returns again. It’s pretty much a standard western, except it isn’t. The deputy is tough and stubborn, but he isn’t the fastest gun, nor the best brawler. He confronts his enemies head on, but uses his brains. There is a gun fight, but it isn’t the quick draw you would expect and the final confrontation is unusual and non-violent to say the least.

 

Leonard’s humor and style isn’t as polished as his more recent work, but it’s there. His philosophy seems to be to tell the story and not let unnecessary description get in the way. That may be why so many of his tales become movies or books. To read a Leonard story is to use your imagination, because he tells you what’s happening, but unless it’s very critical, not what anything looks like. If he wants you to know someone is a tall man, he doesn’t tell you, but a character in the story might mention it, or you might have to figure it out from the man’s actions. This book isn’t something I would go out of my way to find, but if you are into westerns, it’s not a bad one. It wouldn’t make it into my favorites anytime soon.

Cfar1′s #CBR4 review #06 of Elmore Leonard’s Raylan

I picked a horrible year to try a Cannonball read, even just a partial one.  I recently started a new, sort of, assignment at work, only due to the state’s weird hiring practices, I have spent the last 2 months, and will spend most of next month, working 2 caseloads.  I’ve done lots of reading, but I doubt many of you would appreciate my reviews of various policy manuals dealing with the supervision of high risk offenders.  Plus I doubt my agency would find my reviewing them very amusing.  I also received my first foster child in February and I am getting on the job parenting training.  Fortunately supervising felons and raising children require a very similar skill set and sense of humor.  Anyway, my pleasure reading has taken a beating but I am too stubborn to give up so here is a belated review.  I should have two others posted soon.

I have somehow avoided reading Mr. Leonard’s books despite having seen many movie and television shows based on them.  How I managed to avoid such a prolific writer for so long, I have no idea.  Recently while in the library, I managed a few seconds between hunting down Pokemon and Dragon Ball Z books to sneak into the adult section.  Based on the fact I like Justified, I felt it was time to give Mr. Leonard a good try so I grabbed 3 books, a western, a Raylan Givens book and another book with a recurring character.  I meant to get Pronto, but grabbed Raylan by accident.  I don’t know whether it is the same in the first two books about Raylan Givens, but this book felt less a novel and more three  short stories that happen to be tied together by sharing some common events and characters.  From researching a little after reading, I wasn’t the only one to feel this way, and other people more familiar with the author say this was not the best introduction to his work.   Despite this opinion, I read the book fairly quickly.  Leonard’s style is very easy to read. Despite the title, Raylan Givens seems almost an afterthought in most of this book.  The first chunk of the book deals with a couple of rather dim-witted drug dealers who branch out, with help, into a weird extortion scheme where they remove a victim’s kidneys, then try to sell them back to him.  From there it moves into a mining company that more or less bullies everyone that disagrees with them, which happens to be most of the community, resulting in a murder, and onto a group or strippers turned bank robbers and a rather sexy poker playing coed who skipped out on a warrant.  The stories are tied together mainly by a few characters appearing in two or more stories.  Raylan isn’t developed as a character at all, but does get to shoot some people.  I am fairly sure this book was probably put out to capitalize on the television series and as such Raylan is portrayed more like the series on television and less like the previous books.  I am glad i picked up a couple of other books though, as I want to see what Mr. Leonard can do.  I like the style,  dialogue and humor enough to want to see what it’s like when there aren’t any restraints on it.

Cfar1′s #CBR4 review #05 of Kalayna Price’s Grave Witch

I discovered the Anita Blake series long ago and fell in love with the mix of fantasy and action.  I think she was actually the first female protagonist I really enjoyed reading about.  I devoured everything I could get, then the series became more about sex than the story or the characters and I quit.  I still reread the early books on occasion and recommend them to friends.  I credit the series with both introducing my to dark urban fantasy and kick-ass female protagonists.  I keep buying books searching for something to fill that void in my reading diet.  I have discovered a few writers and characters that partially do so, but not yet found one I can say solidly does so.  My most recent attempt isn’t a bad start though.

 

Alex Craft isn’t the tough, vampire slaying, zombie raising Anita, but there are some similarities.  Alex raises shade rather than zombies, and makes them visible so they can speak with relatives, testify in court, whatever is needed.  There weren’t any vampires or werewolves in this first book in a series, however there were witches, warlocks, gargoyles and several types of fairy.

 

Alex Craft is estranged from her family.  She is a grave witch, born with the ability to see ghosts and act as a bridge between the worlds of the living and the dead.  She can also do other types of magic, although not as well as she should be able to.  Alex’s sister asks her for a favor, to look into the death of a coworker of their father.  She sometimes acts as a police consultant and tries to do the favor using her connections only to end up finding something very odd about the body.  She does the job she was supposed to do for the police, raising a shade to testify in court about her murder, then is nearly killed by a gunman while leaving court.  Her friend, the detective she works with is seriously wounded by a spelled bullet, meant for her, and she finds herself stalked by both a persistent ghost and a mysterious detective she finds both attractive and sinister.  As she pokes deeper into the case she uncovers a ritualistic serial killer, strange information about her past, and lots of  nearly deadly encounters.

 

There isn’t a lot new to the world, but everything is done pretty well.  There are interesting supporting characters, we don’t find out much about them, but that leaves the author plenty to do in the following books.  The protagonist is rounded out fairly well and is both believable and sympathetic.  She lets the reader find out the rules of her world naturally rather than spoon-feeding it to us.  I though it was a good introduction to the series and already have the second book ready to go.  She also has another series I may check out.  This was also the first book read completely on the kindle app on my droid phone.

 

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