Already a big fan of Downing's earlier "Station" series set in WWII era Berlin, I was eager to plunge into this new series starter on a British spy be...more Already a big fan of Downing's earlier "Station" series set in WWII era Berlin, I was eager to plunge into this new series starter on a British spy before the outbreak of WWI. The opener continues the mastery I've come to expect: Great plotting, good physical descriptions, an intriguing love story and a light shined on the parts of history we know little about.
We start with Jack McColl, a Scotsman, in Tsingtau in China, where his cover business is selling a luxury car known as the Maia, along with his brother and an associate. His real work is undercover spying against the Germans in what he hopes will be an effort to help prevent a European war.
On that trip, he meets Caitlin Hanley, a forward thinking American journalist, with whom he quickly falls in love. Before he can leave for a trip to the U.S. and then back home, though, he is attacked by a knife wielding Chinese man and has to recover on the boat trip home.
From then on, the book is a galloping spy plot with plenty of twists and turns. Who tried to kill Jack? Was his German friend Rainer von Schon all that he seemed? What will happen to Jack while he scopes out the Germans and an Indian independence movement in San Francisco, or later, when he is assigned to travel to war-torn Mexico to see if he can protect Britain's interests in the oil trade there? What will become of him and Caitlin if she ever discovers his real work, especially since her younger brother is involved in the fight for Irish independence, which is being quietly supported by the Germans?
It all comes together in a satisfying romp, and there is no sweet wrapup either, which lets you know there is more to come.
I hope David Downing's star keeps rising, because he is a true talent who can blend historical research with rousing storytelling, and his touch for balance between character, plot and historical description just keeps getting better.(less)
I'm an admirer of Denise Mina's writing, and I wish I could have given this larger praise, but I felt the ending was a bit anticlimactic and not quite...more I'm an admirer of Denise Mina's writing, and I wish I could have given this larger praise, but I felt the ending was a bit anticlimactic and not quite as shocking as I think she meant it to be.
In this novel, Glasgow detective Alex Morrow is pregnant and faced with the brutal slaying of a young woman in her recently deceased mother's house. Her face has been obliterated by someone stomping on her, and bloody tennis shoe footprints abound. In the home's kitchen, police discovered several hundreds thousand euros, wrapped in neat bundles. As she pursues the case, she encounters an old childhood friend who helped care for the victim's mother, and whose children will fall under suspicion for the killing, largely at the insistence of Morrow's thoroughly vain and dislikable boss, Bannerman.
As her fellow officers lead an underground revolt against Bannerman, she doggedly pursues leads that eventually take her to the suspects.
And without needing a spoiler alert, I should say that this is really not so much a whodunit as a whydunit, so you are able to follow the sad tale of the two young men who become the main suspects, and her excellent ability to get you to feel sympathy for the boy whose plutocrat father has just committed suicide, whose mother is irresponsible and self absorbed and whose younger sister is suicidal herself.
There are a couple minor surprises at the end, but the intent of the book seems to be much more to explore the inner lives of a working class family, a nouveau rich family and the police officers who maneuver between them than it is to keep you guessing with plot twists.
I picked this up as part of a project I'm doing on immigration, but it's going back in the maybe someday pile. While it has provocative arguments, I a...more I picked this up as part of a project I'm doing on immigration, but it's going back in the maybe someday pile. While it has provocative arguments, I already by the third chapter could feel it becoming repetitive, and its views on immigration are much more geared to the British and European situation than the American one.
My other qualm: While Collier purports to stake out a middle ground on the immigration debate, the tone and weight definitely skewed anti-immigration, as he raised concerns about how well immigrants were assimilating into host societies and whether the presence of a large immigrant diaspora in a country breaks down the general bonds of public trust. Much of his speculation is theoretical, too. He relies heavily on on a graph he developed showing forces of diaspora and assimilation, but none of his examples using the graph were based on actual data (very sloppy, I thought).(less)
I'd like to have given this book three stars because the subject matter -- how we understand people, and the wide range of psychological experiments t...more I'd like to have given this book three stars because the subject matter -- how we understand people, and the wide range of psychological experiments that have been done to find answers -- is inherently interesting, but Mayer is such a prosaic writer that I just couldn't bring myself to do it.
He should thank his lucky stars that former New York Times writer Daniel Goleman was the first to lay out Mayer's ideas in his best-seller, Emotional Intelligence. Mayer and his colleagues have now developed a new questionnaire and tool designed to expand on EQ and see how good people are not just at understanding their feelings and those of others, but in understanding how people work together in organizations and families, how people can understand themselves well enough to plan successful life outcomes and other such issues.
Interesting issues, dressed up in boring brown paper.(less)
Most of the material in this series of short essays (easily digestible in one sitting) was familiar to me, but Corballis has a gift for conversational...more Most of the material in this series of short essays (easily digestible in one sitting) was familiar to me, but Corballis has a gift for conversational explanation with some opinion thrown in, so this was fun.
Perhaps my favorite part was his essay on why walking on two legs may have fostered the smartest animals on the planet (that being us). It's not just that it freed our hands to gesture (and he thinks our language evolved from gesture) and make tools and carry things, but bipedalism meant women could not carry children for as long as most mammals (otherwise they'd never be able to walk), which means the children are born relatively prematurely, which means their brains continue to develop during the helpless stage of infancy, which increases learning and social bonding, and voila, a homo sapiens advantage!
Also fun: his analysis of the difference between lying and bullshit, his reflections on why the brain's functions are asymmetrical, and the intriguing idea that when we learn written language, our right brains produce a mirror image of all the letters we learn in the left brain, helping to explain the frequent letter reversals in children learning to write.
With his main detective, Harry Hole, grievously injured in the previous book and his family in turmoil as a result, there are a lot of unknowns from t...more With his main detective, Harry Hole, grievously injured in the previous book and his family in turmoil as a result, there are a lot of unknowns from the very start in this novel. Is Harry still alive? Why are police officers suddenly being killed? Will an ad hoc investigative team of Harry's old associates be able to crack the case?
I can't really give away any of the particulars, but suffice to say that Nesbro manages to create three or four possible suspects for these gruesome murders as the novel evolves, each one with a likely motive, until he begins as the story gallops to a finish to eliminate each of them one by one.
I will favor brevity over explanation because of all the spoilers I would be forced to reveal. I will say that Nesbro still has a ways to go to create truly satisfying women characters, but his plotting, pacing and the sheer brutality of much of the crime kept me page turning and page turning.
I have read many Holocaust memoirs, but somehow had never gotten around to this short, powerful book by Elie Wiesel. It tells of his family's deportat...more I have read many Holocaust memoirs, but somehow had never gotten around to this short, powerful book by Elie Wiesel. It tells of his family's deportation from a town in Hungary to the concentration camps, first to Auschwitz and then to Buchenwald.
As he grows weaker through his imprisonment, he clings to the fact that he is able to stay with his father, a relationship that almost lasted until his liberation.
I won't elaborate further. This is a brilliant and disturbing memoir, its density counteracting its brevity. I will just quote one section:
(While they are being transported by train at the end of the war, German citizens began to amuse themselves by throwing pieces of bread onto the cattle cars to watch the men fight for them. In his car, a son attacks his father after seeing him eat a small piece of bread).
"Meir, Meir, my boy! Don't you recognize me? I'm your father ... you're hurting me ... you're killing your father! I've got some bread ... for you too ... for you too ... "
He collapsed. His fist was still clenched around a small piece. He tried to carry it to his mouth. But the other one threw himself upon him and snatched it. The old man again whispered something, let out a rattle, and died amid the general indifference. His son searched him, took the bread, and began to devour it. He was not able to get very far. Two men had seen and hurled themselves upon him. Others joined in. When they withdrew, next to me were two corpses, side by side, the father and the son.
When I first picked up this initial book in the series, I thought it would be a whodunit, and while that ended up being partially true, this is really...more When I first picked up this initial book in the series, I thought it would be a whodunit, and while that ended up being partially true, this is really more of a combination of a romance novel and a historical saga.
Maisie Dobbs is raised as the daughter of a fruit and vegetable peddler in Britain, and after her mother dies, goes into service with the formidable but kindly Lady Rowan. But she is whip smart, and the Rowan family decides to support her education at the women's college at Oxford.
Then WWI comes along, and everything changes (cue the dashing military surgeon who falls in love with her).
The novel moves back and forth from Maisie's newfound occupation as a private eye/psychologist and her history as a nurse in the war, dealing with the horrible maiming injuries of the front in France. Threads of that experience come together in the case she investigates, of a quiet rural retreat set up for the severely wounded, and where something is amiss.
The story was strong enough -- the period of history interesting enough -- to keep me engaged, but I can only hope that Winspear has learned how to write more skillfully as the series has gone along. This first book is full of amateur blunders -- Maisie is always shuddering, or gasping, and readers are constantly being given filler lines in the midst of dialogue ("Billy stopped to tap his leg to emphasize the point," etc. etc.) that are unnecessary and irritating.
Probably won't continue with the series, but I didn't put it down either, did I?(less)
This may not be fair but life is short. I know I've just reached some turning point in this novel of a woman who is escaping revenge after killing he...more This may not be fair but life is short. I know I've just reached some turning point in this novel of a woman who is escaping revenge after killing her husband, but I'm several pages in and have no idea why she committed the crime, but know a lot about her slogging through the wilderness and stealing petty items from a woman who befriend here, and geez, just get me some plot, already. This one is going in the far-away bin ....(less)
Both the story and the construction of this hard-boiled thriller captured me from the beginning.
Michael is a young man who went through a horrific ex...more Both the story and the construction of this hard-boiled thriller captured me from the beginning.
Michael is a young man who went through a horrific experience as a grade schooler that has left him unable to speak.
Taken in by his liquor-store owning uncle in a Michigan town outside Detroit, he has only two major talents: his art, and his artistic fingers, which allow him to teach himself to jimmy locks.
That leads to a high school night break-in that starts as a prank against a rival team's football star, but ends up with Michael being the only one to take the rap and having to work out his community service with the man whose home was broken into.
It is there that Michael meets Amelia, the homeowner's daughter and the love of his life. She too is a talented artist, and soon, she is attracted to him as well.
But her father has fallen in with the wrong crowd, and Michael is forced to loan himself out for training as a safecracker to keep Amelia and her father from being hurt.
The story bounces back and forth between his teen experiences and his life as a "box man," culminating in a scary finale when Michael and his California crew decide to make one big play against a crowd of mobsters.
This is a page turner that is straightforward without being hackneyed.(less)