30 June 2014

Paying the price

There's a downside to spending a lot of time in a bookstore. Thankfully, the bookstore I'm spending time is is Barnes and Noble. They have a decent coffee shop and good quiche (which makes a great breakfast). Try to find those things at Amazon.com.

The downside is dealing with the temptation to spend money and the fact of having spent money.

I do try to limit myself to the bargain shelves, but I still spend money on things more than coffee and quiche.

Most recently, I bought Ian Rankin's The Impossible Dead. I expected the book to be another in his series about a maladjusted dectective, DI John Rebus. It wasn't.

The Impossible Dead is about Scottish cop Malcolm Fox. Fox leads an internal investigation team, which means he's automatically suspect by other police officers. Fox is charged to investigate the colleagues of a discredited detective who are suspected of covering up for their less than stellar colleague. Hardly anyone is friendly to the visiting cops' cop.

Then there's a murder committed with a gun that was recorded as having been destroyed 30 years earlier. And there are more links to troubled times in Scotland's past, when nationalists were active and more violent than the present day advocates of independence. (You do know there's a referendum on Scottish independence in September 2014, don't you?)

There's also a 30-year-old murder that seems to need sorting out. And important people who may have been involved in a murder or the non-destruction of a murder weapon.

Oh, and DI Fox has a personal life too. His father is in a memory care facility and his unemployed sister is angry that he doesn't help out more with their father. And, yes, he has to deal with those people as well as the cops he works with.

It was a good and easy task to read through Rankin's prose and plot. It was good not to have to read about Rankin's maladjusted "star."

Have you read The Impossible Dead? What did you think about it? Write. Tell this little bit of the world what you thought.

16 June 2014

Primary basketball season is over. School's out. Guess who has time to read.

None of that is quite true. Dale Stahl, a former colleague and newly named department chair is involved as a coach in basketball pretty much year round. And he e-mailed me back in mid-May (about the time his AP Econ class was pretty much over). Plus, it seems he read these books sometime earlier.

And I'm trying to figure out why I didn't get to his note sooner. Sorry, Dale. I have no excuses. Tell us more about Dead Lions.

Here's what he wrote:
Found a new author I absolutely love - Mick Herron.

He has two books set in London amidst the intrigue of the British MI5 secret service. Slow Horses and Dead Lions.

The basics plot element is that the "slow horses" are agents who have made some monumental mistake that has put them on a career path of being slowly but surely drummed out of the secret service.
Far from Regent's Park, the center of power, they are assigned to lowly tasks at the slightly decrepit and depressing Slough House. The leader of the slow horses is the overweight and seemingly burned out Jackson Lamb — a veteran of the cold war and a man with many secrets who still has his finger on the pulse of things, so to speak.

The books are phenomenal, Great intricate plots, twists, suspense without gratuitous violence, old fashioned page turners. I can see them as films and I certainly hope Herron adds a third book to the list!

15 June 2014

Which way now, Huck?

I was delighted with John Straley's Cold Storage Alaska. Even though I got a Lake Wobegon-like story instead of the mystery I expected, Straley got me interested in his characters and kept me entertained.

In the afterward to that book, I learned that there was a prequel of sorts that was published several years before Cold Storage Alaska. I found that prequel at Barnes and Noble and snapped it up. It's called The Big Both Ways.

Annabelle was the matriarch of the community in Cold Storage, Alaska that Straley wrote about. In The Big Both Ways, Annabelle is a young adolescent on the run with her aunt, Ellie Hobbs, who is involved in radical politics, the Wobblies, organized crime, and the cops. After disposing of an inconvenient body, the two of them are joined by Slippery (Slip) Wilson, a logger who quit his job after seeing his best friend die in an awful accident. All three are headed for Alaska, new starts, and ways to make a living.

The book is the story of how this unlikely trio got from the forests of central Washington to a tiny town on the inside passage of southern Alaska. And it's the story of a Seattle cop who kept trying to follow them. (But when he finds them, he only wants to know what really happened. Then he quits his cop job and becomes part of the Cold Storage community, known by Annabelle as Uncle George.)

But this novel is not really a mystery. Somebody wrote that it was a Jack London like story. I don't think so. I think it's an early 20th century, west coast version of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. The river isn't the Mississippi, but it's the inside passage. And it doesn't flow south all the time. It flows south and north, depending on the tides ("big both ways").

The adventurers aren't seeking freedom for Jim, but they are seeking freedom for themselves by getting lost in unfamiliar country. They're being chased by George the detective, by some union thugs who are out to capture a traitor, and by some gangsters who want money they believe Ellie Hobbs has made off with.

The little trio row their hearts out in a skiff, catch rides with questionable characters in big boats, evade Canadian customs, fight the tides, get shot at, and poach a farmer's lamb.

Like the story of Huck and Jim, it's difficult to imagine exactly how they survived and made it through the travails of travel. But I was really glad they did. I was cheering for them from the second third of the book.

Once again, I liked the characters and was entertained by their adventures. I certainly hope John Straley writes more stories like these. Mysteries would be okay too, but modeling stories after Garrison Keillor, Mark Twain, or Jack London works pretty well.

Have you read The Big Both Ways? Write and tell this little bit of the world what you thought of it.

08 June 2014

A familiar book

One of the books I picked up at the community used book sale was The Singing of the Dead by Dana Stabenow. Not only used, it was a paperback. And I bought it on the last day of the sale when everything was "half price."

I might have read this book before. It was published in 2001. I can't go look it up, because our former Internet host finally took down our old web pages where I once posted these little reviews online. (It has been 8 years since we switched.)

I didn't remember any of the plot, scenes, or clever lines when I read it. But it was familiar because I've read so many of Stabenow's books. Familiar characters, familiar settings, familiar culture...

Stabenow tells great stories without superfluous words or events. There really aren't any red herrings either. Freelance detective Kate Shugak gets hired to be security for a political campaign (the candidate had received threats). Along the way, bits and pieces of an unsavory past (some of it 100 years past) pop up. Shugak has to tie the past to the present in order to identify the danger to her client. Oh, and she's also helping a teenage runaway play hide and seek with his angry and abusive mother.

Three stories to tell and they were all interesting to me. This was one of the books that kept me from just sleeping in the hammock over Memorial Day weekend. It was a great weekend and the book helped.

Have you read The Singing of the Dead? If so write and tell this little bit of the world what you thought about it.