31 August 2009

Londinium Mystery

One of the books I picked up at the Amery Library a couple weeks ago was The Jupiter Myth by Lindsey Davis. I pulled this one off the shelf because I remembered being entertained by a couple of her books several years ago.

Davis is an Oxford-educated former civil servant, who "ran away to be a writer." What she has written more than a dozen mysteries about a first century (C.E.) "informer," Marcus Didius Falco. Old Falco has worked his way up from being a free lance fixer and finder of missing relatives to working for the top Romans in colonial London.

The story in The Jupiter Myth circles around (and boy, does it go round and round) the attempt by Roman (not Scilian) organized crime to expand its protection and smuggling business to the frontier. In the process a retainer of a British ally of Rome, a local "king," is murdered. Falco is assigned by the Roman governor to fnd out what's going on and placate the "king."Of course, things get more complicated. Falco's best buddy, a fellow veteran, is undercover from Rome investigating the Roman mob. And the people Falco is interested in are the same people his old pal is interested in. And, his best buddy is secretly in love with Falco's sister. And Falco's wife is trying to rescue a homeless waif who is a British orphan. And one of the governor's centurians is on the take.

The story telling seemed to start off very slowly (like a Swedish mystery?). It may have been that I was reading in bits too small to keep me interested. However, when I began reading more than a couple little chapters at a time, the story was more interesting.

Marcus Didius Falco might whine about British weather and carp about being so far from his glorious Rome, but it was a relief from the dour Scandinavian weltanschaung I've read a lot of lately. Better? No, just a bit more uplifting.

Davis is great on researching the historic details and she does tell a good story. Check out one of her books and tell us what you think.

29 August 2009

Interstate escapism

Our family book supplier, Mary the banker (for awhile more), dropped another J. A. Jance novel on our shelf not long ago.

I'm in the midst of a political science writing project and I need some escapist reading now and again to maintain my sanity. This book was a great help.

The book Mary provided was Fire and Ice. Like the C. J. Box book, Below Zero, I read recently, I have little clue about the meaning of the title. Fire is a peripheral clue in one of the mysteries in the book. But ice? Well, it snowed in one scene.

Jance included two of her recurring characters in this book. J. P. Beaumont, a Seattle detective is trying to find a serial killer. Meanwhile in Cochise County, Arizona, Sheriff Joanna Brady is investigating the murder of an ATV park caretaker.

Guess what. Clues in the Seattle case connect to people involved in the Arizona case. Beaumont and Brady together again. The last time Jance put them in the same book, I may have groused about a mystery that was really a romance novel. Thankfully, not this time.

Fire and Ice is a pretty good tale of police work. Beaumont and his partner/wife in Seattle and Brady and her staff in Arizona. These are the usual interesting Jance characters in a well-told story, even if it's a bit jumbled. Sometimes it seemed like a hobo stew: Jance seems to have tossed in all the ideas for stories that were floating around in her notebooks and added some seasoning to see what happened.

What happened was good and just the kind of escape I needed once in awhile from the political culture of Iran, centralization in Putin's Russia, and corruption in Nigera. Check the library.

See also:

Follow up on list of top Swedish mysteries

Dan Conrad wrote:

I finished Echoes from the Dead by Johan Theorin a couple nights ago and while I wouldn't rate it above Dragon Tattoo I'd probably put it somewhere on a top twenty (or so) Scandinavian crime novels list.

It seems to be a pattern in a lot of these that little that goes on in the first 80-100 pages has much to do with the main mystery -- but keeps you just interested enough that you persevere until the main story kicks in and your hooked. In this case I'm glad I stuck with it -- though I almost didn't.

The novel opens with the disappearance of a 7 year old boy and then jumps ahead 20 years to a still distraught mother and grieving grandfather -- both of whom feel it may be their fault that the boy disappeared. The grandfather is old and rather feeble (physically) and has been thinking about the matter all these years and is closing in on a possible solution and brings his daughter (the mother) in to help -- and to help her. It gets pretty interesting at that point and the solution is clever, reasonable, and not quite what I expected.
See also:

[Seems spooky to hear that plot summary just days after reading news stories about the California woman kidnapped 18 years ago.]

Dan Conrad wrote

We apparently not the only ones who liked reading Stieg Larsson. I just checked where I was on the Hennepin County/Minneapolis reserve list and found I am now number 151 out of 679 requests for The Girl Who Played with Fire. The most I've ever seen before was like 150 or so reserve requests.

13 August 2009

Icelandic mystery

After I posted the list of Swedish mystery novels that Dan sent along, Carol added a couple books to the list.

When I stopped at the Amery library on my way to Sidetrack, the only one I could remember was Jar City by an author whose name began with an I. On the shelf, right between the Hs and Js were half a dozen mysteries by authors whose names began with I. And in the midst of them was Arnaldur Indridason's [right] Jar City.

Now, I'm not picky, but Indridason is Icelandic, not Swedish. And his second name, perhaps a patrnym, is not a "proper surname." Combine that with the tiny Icelandic society and you get a place where everyone addresses everyone else by their first name. Even the phone books catalog people by their first names.

Arnaldur's book is subtitled, "A Reykjavik [right] Thriller." It's not a thriller. Technically, it's a police procedural novel. The story centers around the efforts of a detective named Erlendur to find the murderer of a thoroughly disgusting character named Holberg. There are a couple side stories, the most interesting is about Erlendur's daughter, and it compliments the main story well.

The plot is nicely complicated and the telling weaves all the pieces together nicely. It's a nice book. I read it during a couple days at the lake when I took breaks from writing teaching materials. It was a break book. I was never tempted to put aside my work to read. I read because I wanted a break from writing.

Hey, good news. There were practically no improbabilities in this book. The Heart of Gold's infinite improbability drive wouldn't get very far on this novel.

Carol liked this one. I liked it in a nice way. Maybe Carol will tell the rest of us why she liked it.

If you read Jar City, write and tell us what you think of it.

I have a Lindsey Davis historical mystery novel, set in the Roman Empire's Londinium, to go on to. I look forward to Davis' authentic-sounding descriptions of life in that frontier outpost of pre-Italian civilization.

05 August 2009

Vem hade kunnat gissa?

After reading my comments about Stieg Larsson's book, Dan Conrad pointed out a "top ten" list from The Guardian. Who would have guessed (Vem hade kunnat gissa?) a list of the ten best Swedish crime novels? Camilla Läckberg, you will note if you read the article, is a writer of Swedish crime novels. The Guardian article includes thumbnail descriptions of the books.

Thanks, Dan. If Stieg Larsson's book is #9 on the list, this could keep me busy with Swedish novels for a long time. (I wonder what my Swedish great-great grandparents would think about this?)

[Title translation by Google]

Camilla Läckberg's top 10 Swedish crime novels

  1. The Mind's Eye by Håkan Nesser [Ben Vincent's review]
  2. Blackwater by Kerstin Ekman [Marisa's review]
  3. Missing by Karin Alvtegen [Karin Alvtegen's web site]
  4. Sun Storm by Åsa Larsson [Karen Chisholm's review | my review]
  5. The Fifth Woman by Henning Mankell [Mankell's Wallander web site]
  6. Unseen by Mari Jungstedt [Maxine Clarke's review]
  7. Shame by Karin Alvtegen [Lilian Pizzichini's review in The Independent]
  8. Echoes from the Dead by Johan Theorin [Norman Price's review]
  9. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson [a review from Scandinavian Books | my review]
  10. Midvinterblod by Mons Kallentoft (not yet translated) [a review in Swedish at LjudBoken]

A review of The Preacher by Camilla Läckberg at Nordic Bookblog.

03 August 2009

Pickett's world again

We scored another C.J. Box novel from Mary the banker, our supplier. I didn't read the last one she supplied because I didn't like what was implied and forshadowed in the first chapter.

This one was another of his "Joe Pickett" novels. It wasn't so scary. The title was Below Zero.

Some of Box's books have been okay; others have been quite good. Nobody keeps me reading through insane violence like Box does. This one has insane violence, with the emphasis on insane. It also involves a character given up for dead in a previous novel and a big red herring.

There's a lot of improbability in this story. Enough so that Douglas Adams' S.S. Heart of Gold (a spaceship powered by an Infinite Improbability Drive), could probably travel vast distances on the improbablility in this book.

I'm not fond of implausibility in realistic fiction. I guess this isn't realistic fiction, because I wasn't bothered much by it until I'd finished the book.

Here's the sum of my recommendation. I read the first half of the book in a couple session over three days. Last night, I crawled into bed intending to read for half an hour or so. The next thing I know, I had finished the book and it was nearly 1 A.M. (a time of day I rarely see these days -- especially on a Sunday night/Monday morning). That's how good the story telling was.

I haven't figured out the meaning of the title yet. The story is not set in winter or a freezer. But this is a compelling story. (Second book in a row that I didn't want to put down. Maybe it's me.)

Check the library for Below Zero by C.J. Box. Or if you can't wait buy it from your local book store or from Amazon.com below.

For Kindle

Paranoid sci fi

A couple weeks ago, we headed for the nearby east (Cleveland, Ohio) for a bit of family reunion and an American Red Cross fund raiser featuring a huge and wonderful fireworks show.

I stopped at the Northfield Library to pick up a couple paperbacks for the plane rides and the layovers in Chicago. One of the books I checked out, and the one I read, was Philip K. Dick's Time Out of Joint. The author is best known for his novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep which was transformed into the movie Bladerunner.

The time is out of joint; O cursed spite,
That ever I was born to set it right!

-Hamlet, Act I, Scene V

Philip K. Dick is a cult hero for his big ideas. And conceptually, Time Out of Joint is an intriguing and complex project. It was written in 1959 in the midst of the Cold War. In the book, it's 1996, the war is hot, and main character Ragle Gumm is a vital player. He is a tactical expert who has had a mental breakdown, but he's so important to the war effort that the powers that be will do nearly anything to keep him functioning -- even create the past. Making the scheme work requires Ragle Gumm's amnesia. But he begins to remember.

There are flashes of great writing in the book. They illuminate the mundane nature of most of the book like flashes of lightning. The basic concept is clever, but too many details are shoddy. Lou Stathis, writes in an afterward that Philip K. Dick had mental health problems, financial problems, and that he'd stoke himself with meth and go on writing jags to turn out books. Time Out of Joint seems like the product of such a time.

I'd certainly like to see what Ray Bradbury would have done with this plot.

PS: Ray Bradbury's 89th birthday is August 22. Send him a card in care of his local book store:
Ray Bradbury
c/o Mystery and Imagination
237 North Brand Blvd.
Glendale, CA 91203

The Philip K. Dick web site

Some of Bradbury's stories are variations of Dick's story

for Kindle