Sunday, May 14, 2017

The Third Sister

Eliza's Daughter didn't impress me, but it's infinitely better than The Third Sister.  A disorganized (but mercifully brief) attempt to make Margaret Dashwood a fleshed-out character, it fails miserably.  Julia Barrett drags Margaret to Delaford and back and then to Bath, giving her no characteristics other than artistic talent and a vague feistiness.  Scenes with Mrs. Jennings's schoolmates (one of whom takes Margaret under her wing, another of whom manages to tame the Middleton children) serve only to pad the novel, and to bring Margaret into a situation I can only describe as Anne Elliot's dilemma with the names changed.  Barrett's worst crime, however, is to make Eliza Williams's daughter into a son (who bonds with Col. Brandon).

Saturday, April 22, 2017

The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer

Contrary to what alarmist clickbait articles say, our species had coexisted with cancer since our emergence.  At its roots, cancer is a copying error, and the older we get, the more likely we are to accumulate enough errors to knock out the safeguards against our cells' uncontrolled growth.  It's such a terrifying disease, eating the patient from within and leaving strange growths, that doctors would hide the diagnosis from their patients.  We've declared war on cancer and have to wonder whether cancer has won.

Siddhartha Murkerjee alternates between telling the overall history of cancer with a chronicle of his fellowship year at Dana Farber Cancer Institute.  The first great leaps in treatment didn't come from a doctor who focused on patient care but from Sidney Farber, a pathologist who with the help of antifolates formulated by chemist Yella Subbarow, managed to induce brief remissions in his young leukemia patients.  He'd only postponed the inevitable by a few months, but from there doctors moved onto drug combos and eventually to modern chemotherapy.  That, in turn, led to battles between the surgeons and chemotherapists, neither believing the other was in the right and both more concerned at times with killing the disease than saving the patient.  In the aftermath of AIDS activism, patients stood up and fought for more responsive care - less disfiguring surgeries, drug dosages correlated to cure the disease and spare healthy cells, and palliative treatments.

Murkerjee doesn't neglect prevention.  The first recognized environmental cancer was scrotal cancer in chimney sweeps.  Naked young boys were sent into the tight shafts and many developed a cancer almost unheard of in the general population.  Strangely, that explains why the link between smoking and lung cancer didn't jump out at researchers in the 1950s - smoking was so common that it threw off the signal-to-noise ratio.  Researchers linked chronic inflammation to some cancers, leading to a fall in liver cancer with the advent of hepatitis vaccines and in stomach cancer with better sanitation and the antibiotic treatment of ulcers.  I remember as a child hearing about the search for cancer vaccines, and while that hasn't panned out, less than a decade of vaccination against HPV is already causing a decline in the incidence of cervical cancer.  There's also secondary prevention, like mammograms and colonoscopies which find cancers early when they're more treatable.  With the identification of oncogenes, researchers are developing treatments which can turn off those genes, stopping tumor growth without harming surrounding tissues.  

Periodically, Murkerjee brings us back to 2004 and the cancer wards at Dana Farber.  We see patients struggle through treatment.  Some survive and some don't, and occasionally the patient comforts the doctor who has to say, "There are no more options."  He opens and closes the book with one patient, 30-year-old kindergarten teacher Carla Reed.  Her fatigue, odd bruises, headaches, and bleeding gums  were symptoms of acute leukemia, and Muurkerjee's intake notes say that she'll probably die during treatment.  Six years later, he visits her with flowers - not on a gravesite, but at her suburban house where they drink tea and discuss her treatment while her children and dogs play in the garden.  At 5 years, her remission can be considered a cure.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Eliza's Daughter

What happened to Eliza Williams after Willoughby seduced and abandoned her?  Joan Aiken's literary fan fiction answers that question.  Eliza Williams grew up in Byblow Bottom, fostered by  mercenary and neglectful Hannah Welcome and surrounded by illegitimate offspring allowed to run wild.  Fosters also cared for legitimate children, particularly rich ones, until they were out of toddlerhood.  Hannah Welcome's daughter fostered Therese Wexford, at least until she tried to sell the baby to a gypsy band.  Eliza rescued the child and became the frail, developmentally delayed (the child had spent her first two years barely spoken to or touched) girl's companion.

When the Therese's father, the local squire, dies in a riding accident, Eliza contacts Colonel Brandon's attorney with the request to attend school.  She never meets Brandon (he's rejoined the army and Marianne has left Delaford with him), but Eliza does stay briefly with poverty-stricken Elinor and Edward Ferrars before leaving for the Bath school their daughter Nell attends.  Lodging with a barely respectable relative of Elinor's, Eliza prepares for life as a governess or music teacher (the best that an illegitimate girl with polydactyly can hope) and has begun her career at 17 when fighting off an attempted gang rape leads to her disgrace.  From there she travels to London (staying in a millinery-brothel), comes under the protection of her late mother's last (and good-hearted) protector, and reunites with Therese an her mother in Portugal.

As a novel, Eliza's Daughter is entertaining if a bit too reliant on coincidence.  As Austen fanfic, it's just wrong.  Like The Private Diary of Mr. Darcy, the characters aren't consistent with Austen's.  Colonel Brandon would not abandon Eliza to Byblow Bottom.  She may have been Willoughby's daughter, but she was also the granddaughter of Brandon's first love.   Eliza's life would have been like Harriet Smith's - sent to a respectable school where she'd hope to marry a respectable man, maybe even one of Mr. Gardiner's sons.  I can't see Marianne as a bitter woman who'd punish Willoughby's daughter either, and even Fanny Price at her worst wasn't as priggish as Aiken's interpretation of Edward Ferrars.  Overall, I found Eliza's Daughter compelling, but frustrating.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Raiders of the Nile

We know before we open Raiders of the Nile how it will end.  Steven Saylor has gone back to Gordianus's youth in Alexandria, so we know he will survive any danger.  Maybe that's why we first see Gordianus breaking into Alexander's tomb and hours from the end of his adventure.

Our generally honest (but at this point still somewhat naive) hero ended up joining a pirate band while searching for Bethesda.  On his 22nd birthday, they'd met a mime troupe whose female member  could pass for Bethesda's sister.  Axiothea is also under the protection of a local criminal lord, and mistaken identity leads to Bethesda's capture.  The professional finder and solver of mysteries can't find his slave (and lover, and eventual wife), until Tafhapy shows him a ransom note - The Cuckoo's Nest had taken Bethesda in place of Axiothea.  A night of gambling at a disreputable inn leads to mass murder, and a contrived but entertaining series of events brings Gordianus into the Cuckoo's lair.  Accepted as a full member, Gordianus finds himself back in Alexandria where Saylor hastily ties together the plot threads.  It's far from his best mystery, but a highly entertaining novel.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

An Antidote for Avarice

I think I picked up one of Caroline Roe's mysteries at Bouchercon, 2003.  Cure for a Charlatan was set in medieval Spain and I was ready to expand my historical mystery horizons from England and Ancient Rome.  I don't remember much (other than that the detective is a blind physician living in the Jewish quarter and assisted by his daughter), but I must have enjoyed it because I bought most of the rest of the series.   They then sat on my shelf, almost undisturbed, until my recent round of pre-shelf-clearing evaluations.

I say "almost undisturbed" because when I opened An Antidote for Avarice, I found an April, 2011 train pass marking the start of the third chapter.  Obviously I started the book almost 6 years ago and didn't get far.  Add in my shelf-clearing mood and the book's chances of donation were high.  An Antidote for Avarice would have to be fantastic for me to keep it and read the rest of the series.  It wasn't.

Perhaps I'd have enjoyed the story more if less had taken place on the road.  I'm not a road-trip person, agreeing with Miss Piggy that if getting there is half the fun, you're going somewhere really boring.  The ennui of the trudging caravan (consisting of Isaac and his family, his patron the Bishop of Gerona, some nuns, and several soldiers) gave the various attacks, ambushes, and murders a vaguely disconnected feel.  The first murder is that of a messenger, then there's a man left for dead along the road, followed by attacks on the travelers - they all blended together and I just didn't care to figure out whether and/or how they were connected.  An Antidote for Avarice wasn't bad, but it just didn't grab me.  Hopefully someone browsing the shelves at the Book Corner will enjoy it more.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Day of Wrath

I'm running out of shelf space - I need to either weed books or buy a larger house.  Some series I haven't reread may go soon, but I'm starting with the books that have sat on my shelves, unread, for years, giving them one chance to impress me or go to Book Corner.  Day of Wrath wasn't bad, but it's going to be donated.  Courtier Nicholas Peverell returns from Henry VIII's court to find that his steward has been murdered.  Soon afterwards, the man's lover dies as well.  They'd overheard a plot against Henry from a group called Dies Irae (Day of Wrath) and thus had to die.  The problem is that the plot isn't particularly interesting or well-explained (although I easily guessed that it was connected to the impending dissolution of the local abbey) and the murder's identity isn't well supported.  Nicholas is a bit to Mr. Exposition for my taste, but Jane Warener who assists him, is more engaging.  It's adequately entertaining, but not good enough to stay on my shelf.

The Lady in the Tower: The Fall of Anne Boleyn

Alison Weir takes an unromantic look at Anne Boleyn's last days in The Lady in the Tower.  Starting with Anne's final miscarriage (she had three miscarriages or stillbirths after giving birth to Elizabeth, and Weir mentions the possibility that those losses were caused by Rh incompatibility), Weir traces the political machinations that led to Anne's death.  By 1536, Henry, always mercurial, was becoming desperate for a male heir, and his courtiers knew it.  Seeing that he was tiring of Anne's strong personality (which had originally attracted him), the Catholic factions put forward her opposite - sweet, compliant Jane Seymour.

But how to get rid of Anne?  Divorcing Catherine of Aragon (now recently deceased) had cost Henry politically, so that wasn't a viable option.  Fortunately for Henry (and for the Catholic faction at court), Anne had not endeared herself to the people or to the court.  The same strong personality that first attracted Henry left her with no political capital to spend when his desire for an heir surpassed his desire for her.  Her enemies convinced Henry she was a danger, put her in the Tower guarded by women (including her sister-in-law) who already disliked her.  From there, it was only a few quick rumors to charges of adultery (highly unlikely since she was pregnant or recovering from a birth, stillbirth, or miscarriage for most of her time as Queen) and death by an executioner summoned before her trial began.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Absolution by Murder

I think I bought Absolution by Murder because the cover art was similar to Kate Sedley's early Roger the Chapman books (when they were available in the US without an amazon.co.uk account).  It's followed me since 1994 or 1995, from New Jersey to Virginia and back home to Philadelphia, and it stood, pristine and unopened on my bookshelf until about a week ago.  I've heard about Sister Fidelma in the intervening years but there was always something better to read.

I still feel that way.  Absolution for Murder wasn't a bad novel, but I was underwhelmed.  While part of a delegation to a convocation deciding whether the 7th Century Irish and English Churches will follow Rome or continue with their own calendars and traditions, Abbess Etian is murdered in her cell.  Sister Fidelma, a highly qualified lawyer back home in Ireland, and Brother Edaulf, a Saxon monk/apothecary, use their complementary skills to solve the crime.  Along the way, Peter Tremayne throws in some ecclesiastical history, four more deaths, and a bit too much exposition before unmasking the criminal I'd identified three pages after the discovery of Etian's corpse.  I'll admit that I went into the book hoping that I'd put it in the donation box (I need the shelf space), but those lowered expectations may have upgraded my opinion by eliminating the specter of disappointment.

Medical Meddlers, Mediums, and Magicians: The Victorian Age of Credulity

Sometimes I can lose myself completely in my book while commuting, but with a relatively short train ride and frequent interruptions (even in the quiet car),  it's best to keep my reading on the light side.  Medical Meddlers, Mediums, and Magicians is an ideal commute book - entertaining enough to hold my attention but not deep enough to require deep thought, and arranged in sections ranging from less than one to about three pages.   I found "Medical Meddlers" the most interesting (among them was James IV of Scotland who practiced dentistry along with ruling his country), particularly how the author (a physician) delineated between outright quacks and those who were doing their best with the limited knowledge of the day.  I've never been particularly interested in the supernatural, so "Mediums" didn't hold my attention quite as well.  "Magicians" was disappointing, partially because so few were covered and partially because there wasn't enough attention given to those who debunked the mediums and meddlers.  Light and entertaining, but ultimately disposable, it's enjoyable without being particularly memorable.

Call for the Dead

George Smiley was always a spy, but his first appearance was in a traditional mystery novel.  Shortly after Smiley interviewed Samuel Fennan about a letter questioning Fennan's possible communist leanings, Fennan committed suicide.  Why, though, did the dead man request a wake-up call for the morning after his death?  Smiley, with the assistance of Peter Guillam and recently retired Police Inspector Mendel delves into Fennan's past and finds a connection to his own WWII spying.  Not quite convinced that Fennan was compromised, Smiley comes up with an alternate interpretation of the facts.  Which one is the truth?

Call for the Dead is a brief, tightly plotted mystery which outlines George Smiley's subdued, analytical character.  Different in tone from LeCarre's spy novels (and from the movie Tinker, Tailor, Solder, Spy which I re-watched last night), it's a good introduction to the author's elegant prose and most famous character.

Nancy: The Story of Lady Astor

I grew up on Masterpiece Theater, BBC costume dramas with top-level actors and sets which may have cost 35p for all six episodes.  I remember watching and wanting to like "Nancy Astor."  She was the first woman elected to Parliament, and the show was well done.  It didn't grab my attention, though.   Maybe I would have paid more attention if I'd realized Pierce Brosnan played her first husband (two years before "Remington Steele") but probably not because it was a few months before that would matter to me.

36 yeas later, I still didn't know much about Nancy Astor when I opened Nancy: The Story of Lady Astor, and I found her a bit less admirable than I thought I would.   Like many pioneering women in politics, she road her husband's coattails into the House of Commons.  What I didn't realize was that (after a hardscrabble early childhood in the wake of the Civil War), she came from a wealthy and prominent family.   Chillie Langdon may have served on the front lines for a Virginia regiment (records aren't clear), and after some financially tumultuous years selling tobacco found his fortune mustering and managing work crews.  By Nancy's teens, the family owned a large estate and summered at the premiere southern resort.  She and her sisters (including Irene, the original Gibson Girl) had debuts and Nancy spent an unhappy year at a finishing school in New York.

At 18, she married Robert Gould Shaw, soon became pregnant with her son Bobby, and quickly divorced her abusive husband.  Nancy then went to England where she rode with the hunt and eventually married Waldorf Astor.  He was the son of a wealthy American ex-pat (a member of the banking family) and an aspiring politician.  Nancy threw herself into his campaign for Parliament and shared his noblesse oblige style progressivism.  When Waldorf became the 2nd Viscount on the death of his father, Nancy ran for and won his seat, eventually spending 25 years in Parliament.

On the surface, admirable, but I just can't admire the person behind the public figure.  On a personal level, she could be cruel; a bully to her siblings and in later years vicious to her daughters-in-law.  Professionally, she was largely bluster and posturing, often speaking on a point without proper research or even basic knowledge of the topic.  There's also the Cliveden Set she led and which supported appeasement (I felt that Port intentionally glossed over this aspect of her life).  I don't believe in heroes, and I expect pioneers to be a bit more ruthless out of necessity than those who follow them.  Still, Nancy Astor had too few positive and too many negative achievements for me to truly admire her, and a bit too much bland snobbery to be personally compelling.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Turbo Twenty-Three

Janet Evanovich may run out of T-words by the time she gets to the 40th Stephanie Plum book.  Turbo Twenty-Three isn't as good as Two for the Dough, Hot Six, or  To the Nines (few of her double-digit books have been), but it's her best in a while.  Steph (accompanied by Lula, of course) find her FTA highjacking a tractor trailer full of ice cream.  He steals Lula's car so they chase him in the truck.  You know that's not going to go well, and it doesn't.  Even worse, there's a dead body (frozen, coated in chocolate and rolled in nuts) in among the frozen treats.

It turns out that the ice cream company has hired Rangeman to solve a series of sabotage incidents, so Ranger sends Steph undercover at both his client an a rival.  While working the cup line gives her a few leads, that's not how she finds the murder.  No, she uses coincidence and a few leads from Grandma Mazur's new boyfriend, a bartender who looks like Willie Nelson only older (yes, this induces Mrs. Plum to chug "iced tea" at dinner).  Oh, Steph (unwillingly) and Grandma Mazur (willingly) also help Lula and angry little person Randy Briggs break into reality TV.  Several laugh-out-loud scenes and a good (although abruptly solved) mystery make Turbo Twenty-Three worth the time.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

No Mark Upon Her

My mom has been reading Deborah Crombie's books since the start of the series, but No Mark Upon Her is the first volume she's handed to me.  I prefer reading series from the start, so as soon as my annual book diet ends, I'm gong to start working my way through the thirteen books that precede it.

Rebecca Meredith had been a shoo-in for the Olympic rowing team at 22, until she went skiing and broke her wrist a few months before the trials.  Nearly 15 years later, she's a Scotland Yard DI and maybe, possibly, about to try again for the Olympic team.  When she misses an appointment with her ex-husband (who needs some information on a potential investor, a recently retired police official), he assumes the worst.  He's right - Becca has been murdered and left to drift downstream from her grounded shell.  Police brass call in DI Duncan Kincaid, just married and about to take family leave with his newly adopted daughter.   They trust Duncan to both solve the case and to be discreet, because they suspect that police politics may have lead to Becca's murder.  With his wife, DS Gemma  Jones (still on family leave) and her former assistant Melody Talbot investigating the rumors that bubble up during the official case, Duncan and his assistant Doug Cullen discover the killer's identity.

Or did they?  Crombie pulls off one of the hardest tricks for a mystery novelist, a true surprise ending that's fully supported.  That, and how skillfully Crombie blends in Duncan's and Gemma's domestic life, is why I now have a new series to read.

Murder 101

I predicted Peter Decker's retirement from the LAPD four books ago in Blindman's Bluff.  I was wrong in thinking that he'd retire altogether and that Cindy Decker Kutiel would become the new protagonist.  That's probably a good thing, because Faye Kellerman has relocated Cindy and her NP-turned-med-student husband Kody to Philadelphia and I suspect that the West Coast based author would place neighborhoods in the wrong parts of the city and make Walnut Street run north/south.

Decker hasn't actually retired.  Instead, he's moved to a college town in upstate New York and joined the local police force.  The police deal mainly with small property crimes and sub-critical medical problems - and Tyler McAdams, a rich kid working as a police officer "until I start law school" and mainly to irritate his wealthy and overbearing father.  McAdams is smart, but arrogant and condescending, so naturally Rina invites him to the Shabbat dinner she holds for local students.  That evening, the police chief calls Decker to investigate a break-in at the local cemetery.  It turns out that someone has replaced two of four Louis Comfort Tiffany panels in one of the mausoleums with fakes.  A few days later, a senior art student is found murdered.  The two crimes lead Decker McAdams into the art world and, with some research help from Rina, to a solution I found a bit too abrupt and too wide-ranging to be fully satisfying.

I did, however, enjoy Murder 101 as a novel.  Peter has spent his entire career with experienced detectives, so I enjoyed watching him instruct a rookie in the basics of police work.  The Deckers' East Coast relocation means that they can visit their kids, so they (and we) have dinner with Sammy and his wife Rachel, Jake and his girlfriend Ilana, Hannah and her fiancĂ© Rafe, and Cindy and Kody.  There are even cameo appearances by Marge Dunn (by phone) and Scott Oliver, and McAdams's grandmother, a stereotypical but entertaining grande dame.  The 22nd book in the series made me want to go back and read the first.

The Counterfeit Heiress

Warning - Spoiler in the link

A few years ago, every mystery I read seemed to have a subplot (usually one that detracted from the main story and/or involved "old friends" never mentioned before or since).  My current trend is parallel stories, and my authors use it much more successfully.  The Counterfeit Heiress is the third consecutive Lady Emily book to include a separate narrative which adds a new perspective to the main mystery.  It's no surprise that Tasha Alexander does this well; And Only To Deceive used this method to give Lady Emily a reason to solve her husband's death.

Alexander's secondary storyline features Estella Lamar.  One of Cecile's old friends, the mysterious world traveler has only been seen in blurry photographs since abruptly leaving on her travels.  Years later, someone claiming to be Estella shows up at the party of the season, a costume ball at Devonshire house thrown in honor of Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee.  Cecile recognizes her as an imposter and the woman, wearing a costume very similar to Emily's, runs off.  Someone murders the imposter before anyone can identify her and Emily and her husband Colin make discreet inquiries at the request of the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire.

Cecile, meanwhile, begins to wonder what happened to her friend Estella?  She's been sending dispatches back from her travels, but no one has actually seen her.  Upon analysis, her travels seem impossible, taking too little or too much time to get from point to point.  Estella's Paris and London homes are both fully staffed despite the fact that the mistress of the house hasn't been in residence for over 20 years.  Has she been kidnapped?  Is she even still alive?  Inspired by a true story, Estella's fate caused her imposter's death, but Alexander still manages to make the murderer a mostly sympathetic character.  It's a nice twist on the traditional mystery.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Sins of the Fathers

A few weeks ago, I realized that fiction written in the last third of the 20th Century can fall into an uncanny valley.  It's familiar but foreign.  I filter most of the 1970s through childhood and the 1980s through the inward focus of a teenager and college student, but I recognize the landmarks.  Ruth Rendell's early novels fall slightly outside that range.  They're not-quite-old movies and TV shows I saw on UHF channels on rainy weekends.

Rendell was rightly lauded for bringing a psychological edge to the mystery novel, but it makes her earlier works rather dated.  Henry Archery's son is engaged to the daughter of a convicted murderer.  A brilliant and charming Oxford student, she can't (according to the common knowledge of the day) be the child of such a brute.  Using this logic, Archery asks Inspector Wexford to reopen the case, one of Wexford's first, and exonerate Herbert Painter of the viscous murder of his employer, the elderly Mrs. Primero.  Rendell provides us, and Archery, with alternative suspects (the victim's grandson, an unstable local woman) and motivations (money), but the twist is itself a twist.  The conclusion of Sins of the Fathers conforms to the beliefs of the day, but upends two things that we think we know at the start of the book.

Main Street

Babbit was on my summer reading list for 10th grade.  I hated it.  It was my original cookie book (read a few pages, reward yourself with a cookie, repeat until done).  When I reread it while we discussed it in class, though, I fell in love.  Sinclair Lewis was a master at portraying flawed but mostly decent people who quietly chafe against a conformist society, appearing to - or wanting to - fit in but never quite feeling comfortable about it.

I wonder if Carol Kennicott would fit in anywhere.  We meet her as a college student, vibrant, enthusiastic, and a bit remote.  A judge's daughter from Mankato (neither a small town nor a large city), she has no close friends and isn't close to her only relative, an older sister.  It's her sister who introduces Carol, by  then working as a librarian in St. Paul, to Dr. Will Kennicott, a country GP who apparently came to town to find a wife (I wonder if he had a shopping list of desired characteristics).  He think she's pretty; she's bored and enticed by the chance to Do Good in a Small Town.

Carol quickly realizes that she's the victim of a bait and switch.  Main Street Gopher Prairie is populated by narrow-minded, mean-spirited, materialistic conformists. Will is a good doctor, but he's extremely condescending towards the immigrant farmers he treats and more interested in land speculation than healing.  His friends are crude and the Jolly Seventeen - the young, fashionable wives - are a catty bunch of cliquish "mean girls."  Carol's attempts to improve the town fail, through the scorn of the town and, sadly, Carol's lack of skill or endurance.  Her story grows darker as she makes friends who are driven from the town, each one leaving a film of suspicion on Carol's reputation.

Lewis could have made Carol a selfless crusader crushed by the evil town, but he's more subtle.  Carol is mostly right (the town is drab, crude, and ugly), but she acts arbitrarily and often without considering the whether her goals are right for Gopher Prairie.  She's also not very good at reforming, becoming discouraged and then losing interest at the first obstacle.  Will is the wrong husband for Carol, but he's not necessarily a bad person, and while some of the townspeople are vicious others come across as weak and easily led.  Carol is trapped, but partially because she took the path of least resistance.  I sympathize with her, then look at her short-sighted decisions.  And then I wonder, did she have other options?

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

The Inheritor's Powder: A Tale of Arsenic, Murder, and the New Forensic Science

I wanted to like The Inheritor's Powder, but just couldn't.  Not particularly well written, it switches between a shallow history of arsenic as a murder weapon, the confusing family history culminating in a murder, and a sprinkling of primitive forensic science.  I read it quickly, hoping it would get better.  It didn't.

Razor Girl

I saw Carl Hiaasen on his promotional tour for Razor Girl.  Besides learning that the frozen dead monitor lizard in Basket Case was real (I did not expect that), I found out that a woman did cause an accident by shaving he personal topiary while driving to a date (with her husband in the passenger seat).  Hiaasen used that Only in Florida story as a jumping-off point for another novel featuring restaurant inspector Andrew Yancy.  Still stuck on roach patrol and dating Dr. Rosa Campesino (who's transferred from the morgue to the ER), he meets razor girl Merry Mansfield because of beard hair in a pot of quinoa.

I should explain.  The beard hair belongs to Buck Nance, a/k/a Matt Romberg, a Wisconsin-born accordion player turned (along with his bandmate brothers) star of Bayou Brethren, "reality" TV stars who raise pedigree chickens and use the feathers for bespoke flies.  His beard ends up in the quinoa because Merry Mansfield rear ended the wrong rental car leading to the kidnapping of Buck's agent, Lance Coolman, instead of Martin Trebeaux, owner of Sedimental Journeys (and someone unwise enough to refurbish the beach in front of a mob-owned resort with broken glass).  Without Lance to keep him on script, Buck adds some racist and homophobic jokes to the "colorful" stories he's been booked to tell at The Parched Pirate in Key West.  Not unreasonably fearing for his life, Buck escapes, ducks into the kitchen at Clippy's, and hacks off his beard.  Since the mayor and his partner own Clippy's, Andrew's boss calls him out on an emergency inspection, and he keeps the hair.

OK, maybe I can't explain.  Suffice it to say that Hiaasen adds in some six pound rodents, a fake emotional support dog, a shady lawyer, multiple kidnappings, a relocation to Norway, a mongoose, the notorious Stoney's, and a combination deodorant and roll-on Viagra.  Typical Hiaasen - half a dozen crazy plots which somehow all come together in the last few pages.  One of his better novels, and guaranteed to get you some extra space if you read it on public transit.

Monday, January 2, 2017

The Royal Stuarts

The Royal Stuarts is a straightforward summary of the reigns of the titular family.  The monarchs before Mary get short chapters, and Allan Massie adds little insight to the English/Scottish monarchs.  The book also suffered from poor editing, occasionally confusing me with ambiguously placed pronouns.  It's the rare volume to go straight into a donation box.