Tuesday, December 26, 2017

The Diamond Caper

Peter Mayle's Caper novels are technically mysteries, I guess.  There's a crime, a detective, usually a chase or some sort of counter-scam, and the bad guys get caught.  I don't think of them as mysteries, though.  I solve them much too easily, and think of them mainly as a framework for a series of fantastic meals and postcards from the south of France.

The Diamond Caper adds a slight twist to Mayle's usual blueprint.  This time the crime, diamonds stolen from a well-hidden personal safe, were insured by Knox Insurance.  That's Elena Morales's employer and the crime occurred just as she and Sam Levitt bought their house in Provence.  Between the lure of long lunches and the company's setback, she's decided it's time to become a lady of leisure - after she and Sam solve the burglary.  With the help of their friend, the slightly disreputable mogul Francis Reboul and a detour through several stately homes, they discover the subtle clue to the obvious (to me, anyway) culprit.  Like most of Mayle's books, it's quick. light, and enjoyable, best read either on a beach or in the depths of winter when you wish you were somewhere warmer and less depressing.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

All Shall Be Well

I wonder whether Deborah Crombie planned for her main characters to fall in love and eventually marry, or if it just happened.  Knowing that they do, I looked for signs in All Shall Be Well, and while Duncan Kincaid may be feeling the first hints of his attraction to Gemma James, the recently divorced and frazzled single mum doesn't quite have the energy to notice.

Crombie, as usual, shows their relationship against a murder case.  Jasmine Dent was terminally ill, but Duncan, her upstairs neighbor, doesn't think her death scene appears natural.  Her book and glasses aren't by the bed, and the scene just seems wrong.  So was she murdered or was it a mercy killing?  She'd asked Margaret Bellamy, a rather downtrodden young co-worker, to help her die but according to Margaret, Jasmine had changed her mind.  Margaret's sponging boyfriend might have thought that Jasmine would leave Margaret money he'd be able to use, and of course Jasmine's home care nurse would have the means and knowledge to commit a mercy killing.  Jasmine's brother, watching yet another business fail and knowing that his sister would no longer bail him out has a strong motive, and even the retired Major living downstairs from Jasmine and Duncan turns out to have reason to hold a grudge against her.  Once again, Crombie manages a surprise ending that's fully supported.  I've read three of her books and each ending has been a well-founded surprise.  It's going to take some self control to not binge-read her backlist.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Citizens of London: The Americans Who Stood with Britain in Its Darkest, Finest Hour

Before the United States entered WWII, a few prominent Americans played a major role in Great Britain's fight against Nazi Germany.  Two are well known, but the most influential has sadly become a footnote.  Averell Harriman was a millionaire who used his connections to be appointed the head of the Lend-Lease program.  The program helped keep Britain supplied, particularly during the early years of the war, but it also allowed Harriman to live in luxury (most of the Americans in Britain before 1942 did) and carry on an affair with Winston Churchill's daughter-in-law Pamela.  His role was important, but in Lynn Olson's book he comes across as more of a dilettante.  Edward R. Murrow is a more familiar, and more vibrant character.  Olson shows him as dedicated to the cause and to his job, a workaholic who feels constrained by the studio where he worked so well.  The third man was Gil Winat, the American ambassador to Great Britain who renounced his isolationist predecessor's policies and worked to bring the US into a real partnership with the UK.  Alongside the the stories of these men's war years, Olson tells of the personalities and personality clashes among the Malta delegates.  FDR and Churchill met with Stalin because it was necessary at the time, but reading the needling and undermining FDR aimed at his British counterpart, I can't help but wonder if it caused their dependence on Stalin and partial led to the severity of the Cold War.