Sunday, September 14, 2014

Archie Meets Nero Wolfe, by Robert Goldsborough

In the Super Clever Detectives genre, Sherlock Holmes stands out as the man who can observe the scene and pick up all kinds of information that no one else has seen. But we also have Nero Wolfe, who is a recluse, staying home and sending out a team of detectives to pick up bits and pieces of the facts. Nero analyzes all the info others have collected, then, at the appropriate time, he gathers the interested parties, including police, suspects and detectives, and resolves the mystery.

Another similarity these outstanding sleuths share is such popularity with fans that the books keep coming even after the deaths of authors, Arthur Conan Doyle and Rex Stout, respectively.

And that brings us to this delightful escapade penned by Robert Goldsborough. He is thoroughly familiar with Rex Stout's style and the recurring characters in the Nero Wolfe series, so he has written a prequel in which we learn how Archie Meets Nero Wolfe.

Archie Goodwin  is the narrator of all the stories and serves as Wolfe's personal secretary in addition to doing detective work on Wolfe's cases. But in this book he is a nineteen year old young man who has come from Ohio to New York City to earn a living and experience the adventure that might elude a young man in Ohio. The only job he can find is night security at the docks.

He proves to be an efficient guard by spotting two thugs who are intent on theft. When challenged, they pull guns, but they are not as true a shot as Archie, who kills them both.  He has eliminated two well known thugs and saved the property that would have been stolen, but his reward is getting fired and saddled with a reputation of being trigger-happy at the same time!

So he winds up going to work, more or less, for a seasoned detective, Del Bascomb, who is a little down on his luck himself.  He takes Archie on, on contingency, that is, until his detective work results in a pay off from a satisfied client.  As it happens, Del is one of the detectives that Nero Wolfe calls in from time to time, and this time there is a role for Archie to play.  Archie's wise-cracking ways are already well honed, but he must prove himself among these more seasoned men.  His ingenuity, not to mention his skill at remembering conversations verbatim, proves a valuable asset, and it is not long before Nero Wolfe has even more for him to do.

Goldsborough has acquitted himself admirably in recreating these much loved  players in the ongoing saga that is the collection of Rex Stout's inimitable Nero Wolfe mystery series. I enjoyed it and will be on the lookout for more from Mysterious Press.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

The Devil You Know, by Elisabeth de Mariaffi

This literary thriller has a slow build toward chilling fear for the safety of the vulnerable young protagonist, Evie Jones.  It is 1993 and she is a young reporter for the Free Press in Toronto, living in a walk up apartment, making a living on her own.  As a rookie her assignment is usually the background research work which she passes on to the more experienced reporters.  But her boss Angie hands her a new assignment and a new tool that changes everything. 

The assignment is to gather background info on the growing number of murders of teen girls in the Toronto area over recent years.  The tool is the LexisNexis resource on the computer. All you need is a subscription and a password, Angie says. Evie soon realizes what a marvelous tool this is.

Back when she was nearly 11, her best friend Lianne Gagnon became a victim of a kidnap/murder scenario that has traumatized Evie ever since.  She has spent a lot of time with therapists, yet is still consumed by the fear that the person who killed Lianne could be coming back for her. The suspect remains Robert Cameron, but he has never been apprehended.  Though Lianne's murder doesn't fit the time frame Angie has given her, Evie can't help using the LexisNexis resource to find out all she can about Robert Cameron along with research on the girls who are part of the assignment.  Before long she is discovering connections that she never would have expected and they are awfully close to home. 

At the same time she sees a stranger on her third floor balcony one night. It is snowing and dark outside. The light is on in her kitchen and all she sees outside is her own reflection in the glass patio door. She hears a noise from outside, and assumes it is an icicle falling or perhaps a raccoon.  But a neighbor's motion light comes on and there is no doubt that there is a man on the balcony staring in at her. She is terrified, but when she looks back outside he is gone. She calls the police, but tracks are covered before they arrive and there is not much they can do. 

Maybe she just imagined it.  Or maybe not...

Ms. de Mariaffi's style of writing contributes effectively to the mounting tension. Evie is telling the story in her stream of conscience-style, so we hear her worst case imaginings when she starts to get scared, and can't always be sure if she is telling us what she sees or what she is imagining.  But through it all, she keeps plugging away at the mystery, getting closer and closer to the awful truth.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Outlander: A Novel, by Diana Galbaldon

Above is the original 1991 cover and below is the current look of the first book in the series.

Claire Beauchamp Randall and her husband Frank are enjoying a second honeymoon in Inverness, Scotland in 1945. They have been separated for most of their six year marriage. Frank served his country during the war years, while  Claire served as an Army nurse. They have enjoyed reconnecting enormously after years of independence.  Frank is easing back into life as a university professor, and warming up to a fascinating pastime involving genealogy research.

Claire is more interested in herbs and interesting plants, so when Frank is researching his ancestry in Scotland, Claire returns to the standing rocks on the hill called Craigh na Dun. She and Frank had watched women doing a pagan-type dance there on the previous night and she wanted to collect some plants she had noticed.  She hears a peculiar humming, goes to explore near the rocks and is inexplicably pulled into a time warp, waking some 200 years earlier in the midst of a battle between English soldiers and the Scots.

Claire is at first accosted by an English officer who turns out to be Frank's (several greats-) grandfather and a totally unsavory individual.  She is quickly captured by a Scotsman, who takes her to his leader.  The Scots have sustained some injuries in battle and Claire's urge to provide emergency care kicks in.  She repairs Jamie Mac Tavish's dislocated shoulder. The Scots are impressed with her skills but suspicious of her origins, as her clothes are totally immodest by the standards of the day, and since she sounds English, some of them are sure she is a spy.

The only option they see is to take her with them back to Castle Leoch, miles away from Craigh na Dun.  She is treated graciously for the most part, though not really trusted, but she intends to find a way back to the portal that will take her back to the time in which she belongs.

But in the meantime, she becomes the "doctor" in the castle infirmary, and develops a deepening friendship with Jamie and several other of the castle's inhabitants.  By the time she actually has an opportunity to see if the "portal" is still there she is deeply troubled about whether it is best to go or stay.

This is an entertaining, captivating historical novel.  It is a great love story, an adventure and a study in the contrasts of social mores of "then" and "now."  I thoroughly enjoyed  all 550 pages and am looking forward to reading more about these great characters.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The Beautiful Ashes, by Jeaniene Frost

Ivy is 20, incredibly stressed and heart-broken as she searches desperately for her missing 18 year old sister. Their parents have just died in a car crash in Bennington, Vermont. Tragically, the accident occurred when they were searching for their younger daughter Jasmine in the community from which her last text message had come.

Stopping in the rain at a charming bed and breakfast, Ivy hopes  the desk clerk will recognize a photo of Jasmine, but suddenly Ivy is hit with a vision, a much seedier and dreary version of the charming inn, and is shocked to see Jasmine there too.  When the vision disappears, Ivy is startled to realize that the desk clerk has assaulted her.  Somehow Ivy is able to escape, but a return to her motel just increases the confusion and mayhem.

A handsome stranger is waiting for her in her room; minutes later a police officer knocks on her door. The two men seem to know each other and regard one another as enemies.  There is a lot that Ivy isn't being told but the next thing she knows she is a kidnap victim travelling in the rear seat of the handsome stranger's car. Amazingly,  he talks like he wants to date her, even as he takes her to a mysterious meeting with someone who just might have the answers to Jasmine's whereabouts.

This is a paranormal romance with tons of action, including battles between angels and demons. Ivy quickly learns more about herself.  The recurring visions she has had are actually real, and she has some latent powers that she must learn how to use to have a chance at freeing Jasmine from the demon world.  She is torn by the enormous attraction she and Adrian have for one another, and the growing realization that they may not be on the same side in this supernatural struggle.

The first in a series of Broken Destiny Novels, this is a satisfying and fast-moving read that will have you anticipating the next in the series.  The Beautiful Ashes is scheduled for publication in September, 2014, so be looking for it now.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

The Way of Kings, by Brandon Sanderson

Volume One in the projected ten volume series of The Stormlight Archive, The Way of Kings is an epic fantasy that outdoes itself in world building. Brandon Sanderson has imagined a world that is vast, harsh, and rife with unique and unusual technology.  The warriors use swords and shields, but the civilization has developed a form of long distance instant messaging that allows instant communication across the miles.  Some gifted folks among them have the ability to transform substances in abundance into much needed goods, such as rocks into food, for instance. And others have developed, or been gifted with, skills to defy gravity...a definite advantage in hand to hand combat!

Battles are fought over the chrysalis of giant armored creatures, whose bodies enclose giant crystals which can be used to create and sustain energy for whomever possesses it.  

Sanderson uses main character flashbacks to fill in the past stories of key people whose stories we follow to delve deeper into the world of Roshar and how it has come to be what it is.  Though history has been imperfectly preserved in children's tales and in mythology, there are also vast libraries with written history preserved and available to scholars among them.

Kaladin is one of the protagonists we follow.  He is the son of a surgeon in a small rather remote village and expects to become a surgeon himself.  But unexpected circumstances cast him into the role of a soldier.  He quickly demonstrates his leadership ability and his fighting skills, but is double crossed by an officer and becomes a slave. His leadership skills re-emerge however, and over time the group of lowly bridge movers he is assigned to in another military unit become a band of effective workers with great loyalty and admiration for Kaladin.  Kaladin himself is a great self-doubter, but eventually even he comes to recognize his special qualities as being similar to some of the legendary warriors of yore.

While Kaladin is in the lowest social rank in this army, Dalinar is a high ranking warrior, almost legendary hero and a close adviser to his nephew the Alethi king.  Like Kaladin, Dalinar sees visions occasionally. Though the visions seem to be allowing him to see glimpses of the past and perhaps the future, he doubts himself and his interpretations, much like Kaladin does.  The Alethi Army is fighting the Parshendi army for access to the giant crystal harvest. And by the way, there is a lot of mystery surrounding the Parshendi.  They are similar to humans, but have the ability to communicate with one another through humming, not to mention the ability to grow armor on their own bodies.

 Dalinar's niece Jasnah is a scholar/historian in a far away city-state, looking for answers to questions of history and destiny in the archives.  As it happens, Shalinar, a young woman trying desperately to salvage her family's fortune and status, offers herself as an apprentice to Jasnah.  But her hidden agenda requires her to gain Jasnah's trust and then steal the Soulcaster fabrial that Jasnah wears on her hand and wrist.

Eventually all their paths are destined to either clash or merge to continue to unfold the mysteries of the past and future of the world of Roshar.  Lots of questions remain at the end of this lengthy volume, but the promise of nine more novels in the series should surely take care of "the rest of the story."  Dedicated epic fantasy fans are no doubt waiting for the answers and volume 2, Words of Radiance is already on the shelves.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Song of Kali, by Dan Simmons

Dan Simmons has written a horror story that chills the reader to the very core. The protagonist has been invited to Calcutta to pick up a new manuscript of an established poet.  The problem is that the poet's death had been reported some years ago, and the editors at Harper's magazine want journalist/poet Robert Luczak to go pick it up personally so that he can determine if the poet M. Das is indeed still living, or if the Writers Union in India is perpetrating a hoax. 

Robert takes his wife, who knows several of the Indian languages. Having been born in India, he feels she can help him translate not only language but cultural differences. Their 7 month old baby daughter goes along as well. 

Problems begin almost immediately.  The plane is late; the person expected to meet them is not at the airport but another man is.  He is socially awkward to say the least but convinces them he was sent to meet them.  He does finally get them to the hotel but Bobby has an almost visceral dislike for the man and for the city of Calcutta.  Once he gets to the hotel he relaxes a little and decides his anger is likely due to jet lag.

But every time he leaves the hotel, he meets with obstacles, changed plans, and the uncertainty of whether he will get back to the safety of the hotel or not.  When he insists that he must meet M. Das personally, he is gradually introduced into a perverse cult of the Hindi goddess Kali. He begins to see her evil influence everywhere.  Perhaps the evil is not just the religious cult but the culture of the city itself.  His departure is delayed over and over.  He tries to get his family out of town but the flights are so unreliable...will they ever be safe and secure again?

First published in 1985, this book has won the World Fantasy Award and is recognized as a classic in the horror genre.  If you haven't read it, give it a try.

The Silver Rings, by Samuel Valentino

The Silver Rings is a delightful conglomeration of fairy tales that should delight very young readers and their parents, as well as the older children who read for themselves.  It is fun to pick up on the similarities to the Cinderella story, and characters such as The Fairy Godmother, the Three Little Pigs, the Sly Fox, a magic mirror, giants, noble princes, etc., etc.

Samuel Valentino has written and illustrated a story featuring identical twins Alice and Celia.  They are patient and hard working girls who are bossed around mercilessly by their step-mother.  StepMom has two daughters, Tara(ntula) and Ana(conda), who are as mean as they can be, not to mention ugly and obnoxious.

Celia and Alice take advantage of an opportunity to escape from their home into the Enchanted Forest.  With only a few missteps, they make their way to their fairy godmother Mozzarella's house.  She gives the girls each a disguise for protection and a magic ring, so that they can separate, but the ring will turn colors if one sister is in trouble and needs the help of her sister.  The girls love each other but like different  environments so they set out in different directions.  Celia loves the outdoors; Alice wants four walls and the comforts of home.

They find what they want in the short run, but troubles come...there are lots of fairy tales to allude to...but the girls find first, adventure, then obstacles, then an awareness that they are quite capable of saving themselves.  And oh, yeah, some handsome princes, eventually (who they help to save) come, making their lives just that much more interesting!

A delightful tale with appealing illustrations and plenty of humor and wit, the book is available as of July 1, 2014, so be on the look out for this delightful fairy tale!

I read the eversion of the book courtesy of NetGalley.