Monday, September 29, 2014

Silesian Station (John Russell) by David Downing | LibraryThing

Downing begins his second novel in the John Russell series with a girl being sent by her Jewish farm family to Berlin where they expect things to be better.  She arrives at the Berlin Siliesian Station (now known as Berlin Ostbahnhof, it was a main station in East Berlin) expecting to be picked up by her uncle, but instead is met by someone in his stead.  She disappears.

John Russell is on his way back from the United States where he has been visiting with his son, Paul, and obtaining an American passport (it’s complicated, but explained in Zoo Station, the first volume - they should be read in order).  While on the return voyage he receives a telegram informing him that his girlfriend, Effie, has been arrested by the Gestapo.  Russell realizes it’s because they want something from him.

John’s ex-brother-in-law, Tom, whom he trusts implicitly, reveals the niece of one of his Jewish employees has disappeared and her uncle had been killed by storm-trooper thugs shortly before she was due to arrive. Russell, having written a story about private detectives a year before promises to find one who might be able to look for the girl.  The detective is shut down by the police so Russell embarks on his own search.

And so begins another in this excellent series, part spy novel, part mystery. Downing’s choice of a journalist as the protagonist is an excellent vehicle for portraying the events the events surrounding Germany’s annexation of Czechoslovakia and the provocations leading up to the invasion of Poland. Russell observes all these events “from the ground” so-to-speak which gives them an intricacy and immediacy not often present in a history book, which by its very nature, has to take a broader view.  Yet at the same time, Downing provides that as well through the interactions of Russell with the Gestapo and the British foreign office.  

Downing must have done an immense amount of research to get the details of ordinary life down so well. (Remember Pathe newsreels?) An excellent series.

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Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Gladly the Cross-Eyed Bear (Matthew Hope Mysteries) by Ed McBain | LibraryThing

“I didn’t kill him.”  This persistent refrain comes from Hope’s client but on each occasion of her affirmation the surrounding circumstances in her story change in a Roshomon-like manipulation of the truth.

His client, Lainie Commins, is suing a toy company for violation of copyright, claiming she had come up with the idea of a cross-eyed bear whose eyes were corrected when specially designed toy glasses were put on.  When the owner of the toy company is murdered, suspicion falls on Lainie, especially when she doesn’t deny having gone to his yacht that evening and numerous witnesses placed her at the scene around the time of the murder.

Hope is hampered by the absence of his normal detective operatives, Warren and Toots.  In a parallel story, Warren has kidnapped Toots, who has become a crack addict, and much against her will, taken her out on a boat, some thirty miles out to sea, where she remains handcuffed to a bracket in Warren’s attempt to get her to kick the drug “cold turkey.”

There are actually three parallel stories going on although not necessarily concurrently:  Hope’s experience in the hospital escaping from a coma and his subsequent recovery after being shot; Warren’s efforts to “cold turkey” Toots; and the investigation of the Toyland boss’s murder.

I like the way  McBain writes and lays out the story, often in a matter-of-fact manner but vivid manner.  His description of  the intensity of an addict’s cravings seems so real one wonders if he had some personal knowledge.

Downgraded from 4 stars only because I didn't think the multiple story lines worked that well.

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Saturday, September 20, 2014

Plan B: A Novel by Jonathan Tropper | LibraryThing

I’ve read several of Tropper’s books. He specializes in the dysfunctional family. This one concerns four friends: our narrator, Ben, long in love with Lindsey, but just getting divorced from Sarah;  Chuck, the Rogaine-using surgeon who can’t seem to get enough sex; Jack, a movie star with a bad cocaine habit, now estranged from them after they attempted a half-hearted intervention; and Allison, Jack’s sort of girlfriend.

But the worst thing is they’re turning thirty.  If I were a dog I’d be dead. Thirty . . . shit. It’s a nice round number to arrive at if you have it all together. Success, love, a family, the overall sense that you actually belong on the planet. If you have all that, you can wear thirty well. But if you don’t, it feels like you’ve missed the deadline, and suddenly your chances of ever getting it right, of ever achieving true happiness and fulfillment, are fading fast. . . Thirty . . . shit. Crows feet, jowls, love handles. I’ve started to see myself through the eyes of the teenagers I pass on the street, repeatedly shocked by the realization that they see me as older. So many of the things I’ve eaten with impunity for years suddenly give me indigestion. Nothing feels new anymore. Everything I see just reminds me of something else. I know now that there are certain things I’ll never do in my life. A shirt I still think of as new turns out to actually be seven or eight years old. Seasons are quicker, holidays vaguely disturbing. Statistically speaking, I’ve used up more than one third of my life span, the healthiest third. And where are the tradeoffs? Where’s the authority? The wisdom? The confidence that was supposed to have come with adulthood? I’m only experienced enough to know that I’m as clueless as I ever was.” (Man, would I love to be thirty again. My kids all thought thirty was death.  Now they’re all approaching or are past forty, it’s a different story.)

Convinced they can only help Jack with drastic measures, they adopt Plan B.  They kidnap him to get him out of his addiction.  Then things get complicated. They realize their motivations weren’t quite what they professed.  On the other hand, “The Scarecrow, Lion, and Tin Man weren’t just helping Dorothy for the hell of it. They all had their own reasons for wanting to see the Wizard.”

A very sweet book and thoroughly enjoyable.  It has suspense, conflict, surprise, and humor.  “That guy” Don told us when we greeted him on the porch, “got into the gene pool when the lifeguard wasn’t watching.” “He definitely has severe delusions of adequacy.”

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Friday, September 12, 2014

The Devil's Star: A Harry Hole Novel by Jo Nesbo | LibraryThing

I did not realize when I started this book that it was fifth in a series of ten, so far. While it does stand alone, I think I would recommend reading them in order.

Detective Inspector Harry Hole has been on a drunken bender for several weeks.  Having been obsessed with the idea that a fellow cop, Tom Waaler, is corrupt and had killed two people in order to hide his activities, he had come to the conclusion that he was stymied and unable to take the case further.  He has but one ally in the police department, his boss, Bjorn Moller. “Harry Hole.The lone wolf, the drunk, the department’s enfant terrible and, apart from Tom Waaler, the best detective on the sixth floor.”   He’s occasionally totally dysfunctional with moments of brilliance.

They are confronted with a strange case where the killer seemingly picks his targets at random, leaving only a severed digit as a clue and red diamonds.  Hole realizes that the killer is leaving a trail and the clues all revolve around the pentagon shape.

It took me a bit to get into the book, but once involved, it’s a real rush to the end with numerous tight curves and bends. Downgraded for intuitive insights on the part of Harry that seemed to spring out of thin air rather than from investigatory brilliance.

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Thursday, September 11, 2014

Jack in the Box (Brock and Poole Mysteries) by Graham Ison | LibraryThing

DCI Harry Brock is called to the scene of a burned corpse discovered by the fire brigade after being sent to put out a small litter fire.  Brock’s side-kick is DS Dave Poole and the two make an interesting pair. It’s a rather routine police procedural.  What makes it above average is the interplay between Brock and Dave.

Ison was a Scotland Yard detective for some thirty years and his expertise is apparent.  As are his often sarcastic opinions of the state of the current British justice system.  

Good story with lots of false leads.  Unlike his Hardcastle series, it’s set in a modern world, rather than around WW I.

Perfectly paced  audiobook nicely read by Damian Lynch.

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