Saturday, October 24, 2015

Murder by the Book

I suspect that there are only a few more installments in Susanna Gregory's Matthew Bartholomew series.  Murder by the Book is the eighteenth book in the series, and nearly two years after the publication of the twentieth volume, Gregory hasn't published a follow-up.  Additionally, for the first time since the middle of the series, Matt both mentions Matilde and realizes he's attracted to another woman for the first time since Matilde left Cambridge.

Matt's romantic life, though, isn't particularly important to Murder by the Book.  Once again, the colleges and hostels of Cambridge are at odds.  The University is, thanks to a benefactor, building a library.  Matt takes the logical view - with a central repository, all University members, even those who belong to poor institutions, will have access to a variety of books.  His view barely wins when the question comes to a vote, and during the meeting someone throws a book which hits a scholar on the head.  Coslaye, the stricken scholar, survives thanks to Matt's skill, but a few months later, he's attacked again and killed. Is his murder (and the others in Cambridge) related to the library?  Or are they connected to the smugglers plaguing Sheriff Tuylet?  And who is the French spy being hunted by one of the King's top agents (who also happens to be Brother Michael's mother)?  Gregory cleanly ties together the related plots, and includes several scenes showing Matt's and Michael's interpersonal chemistry.  If there are only two more books in the series, I'll miss spending time with the two of them.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

A Brief Guide to William Shakespeare without the Boring Bits

I don't agree with the title, but it's mainly because I don't particularly care for Peter Ackroyd's writing style.  He gives a pretty good overview to all of Shakespeare's plays (grouped by category) and reprints all the sonnets with a brief introductory chapter.  The result is a passable commute book (one that can be read in 5-20 minute snatches over the course of a week or so), but not a particularly engrossing or memorable book.  Ackroyd's analyses of the plays left my mind almost immediately, unlike Sr. Maureen Christi's dissection of "Romeo and Juliet."  Decades after 9th grade, I still remember what she had to say about the fickle teenagers.

A Holiday for Murder

This is a bit of an anomaly among my Agatha Christie paperbacks - I bought it new sometime in the early 80s, but didn't open it for at least 30 years.  It's a pretty standard Christie - a rich, unpleasant man invites his family (including a never-met granddaughter, the offspring of his late, estranged daughter) to his remote estate for Christmas and dies violently in a locked room.  Everyone had a motive, everyone had opportunity, everyone had an alibi, and Hercule Poirot just happened to be visiting the local constabulary.  Throw in two impostors and a romance, and you've got an average Christie.  More diverting than engrossing, I'd put this in the beach read or commute book category.  You'll enjoy it, but it's not going to take up too much of your brain.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Critical Mass

Throughout Critical Mass, I kept thinking, What if?  Not just the big What if? that arises in any novel concerning Holocaust survivors, but smaller What ifs?  What if Martina Saginor had been born in a time and place where it was normal for a working-class woman to get an education?  What if her mother had respected rather than scorned her intelligence?  What if her daughter had known her?

Critical Mass opens with the first meeting between Martina Saginor and Sophie Herschel.  Children in the same city but different spheres (Frau Saginor was the Herschel family seamstress), they became friends and after the Nazis invaded Austria, their daughters, Kitty Saginor and Lotty Herschel, grew up together as friends of last resort.  Both escaped to London (along with Lotty's brother) on the Kindertransport and their families died in the Nazi death camps.

Lotty never liked Kitty, but decades later she still feels a duty to her childhood companion.  When Kitty's drug-addicted daughter Judy Binder disappears, she asks VI Warshawski to find her.  The search leads her to an abandoned rural drug house, but not to Judy, and VI returns to Chicago and meets with Kitty.  Once there, VI discovers that Judy's son Martin (who inherited his great-grandmother's scientific genius and curiosity), has disappeared.  As a favor to Lotty, VI begins another futile investigation, one that becomes critical when VI finds Kitty bleeding to death on the floor of Martin's bedroom.  With her client dead, VI continues searching for Martin as a favor to Lotty and discovers a link between the drug house, Martina Saginor's forced labor in a Nazi camp, and the CEO of a corporation that feels like a combination of IBM, Microsoft and Facebook.  Paretsky also weaves in flashbacks seen through Martina's eyes and a sort of closure for Lotty Herschel.  Perhaps not quite as engrossing as Hardball, Critical Mass still ranks as one of Paretsky's best books.  If you read it, don't skip the author's note - while the story is completely fictional, Martina Saginor was inspired by an actual scientist.