Most Americans who know anything about World War II are aware of at least the broad outlines of the war in Italy: the American invasion, the rise of t...moreMost Americans who know anything about World War II are aware of at least the broad outlines of the war in Italy: the American invasion, the rise of the partisans, the fall of Mussolini, his re--establishment by the Germans and his final "disposition" by the partisans after the Germans were pushed out of Italy. But what most--and I include myself--don't really think about is that the partisan fighting really amounted to a civil war; there were plenty of people who still believed in Fascism for one reason or anther and actively helped the Italians Fascists in their fight against the partisans. The inevitable occurred, as it always does in civil wars: reprisals on both sides, mounting viciousness--and a legacy of hatreds that endures until the last member of that generation dies.
Commisario Soneri of the Parma police is called to investigate what looks like a suicide of an elderly man. But the evidence suggests murder. More or less on instinct, Soneri winds up in Torricella, a town on the Po River, not far from Parma where, during flooding due to heavy rains, the older brother of the supposed suicide has disappeared, his barge suddenly floating free down the Po. Later, his body is found deliberately submerged in the river. A check into the brothers' past reveals that they were Fascists who collaborated actively with the Blackshirts during World War II to round up local partisans, most of whom were Communists. Soneri is convinced that the reason for the two murders that occurred within hours of one another lies in the fighting of 50 years ago.
A very good book although murky at times; it's a little hard to follow the action. One never knows if that's due to the author or to the translation. Still, the characters are quirky enough, the local color of the riverine area of the Emilia region is well done, and the history of the sort of thing that happened all over Italy during that war interesting. This is the first in a series, and I'm looking forward to reading the next.(less)
Corey, a NYC homicide detective on leave after being seriously wounded, is recovering at his uncle’s house on Long Island...more1st in the John Corey series.
Corey, a NYC homicide detective on leave after being seriously wounded, is recovering at his uncle’s house on Long Island. The police chief of the small hamlet, a long-time family acquaintance, persuades Corey to become involved in a double murder homicide of two biologists whom Corey has met and liked. But since the couple worked on generating genetically altered viruses for vaccines at a Department of Agriculture animal biological research station on Plum Island, all sort of government agencies become interested, including the FBI and the CIA. Half of Long Island is in an uproar, convinced that the research station is involved in germ warfare research (illegal under an international treaty to which the US is a signatory) and that the couple were killed trying to smuggle out deadly viruses to sell to a foreign power.
The basic plot is good and the book is very well written. The denouement is exciting and again, very well written. But while I will rate this book highly on its merits, I don’t think I’ll read further in the series. Corey is a standard hard-boiled homicide detective who has a smart mouth and has trouble keeping his pants on. He’s a little too much of a stereotype and others have developed their protagonists better. I find him rather boring as a character and not interesting enough to read further to see if his character will change--which I rather doubt.
Highly recommended for fans of this type of police procedural.(less)
Death and Judgement[return]Donna Leon[return][return]4th in the Commisario Brunetti series set in Venice, Italy.[return][return]A prominent lawyer is...moreDeath and Judgement[return]Donna Leon[return][return]4th in the Commisario Brunetti series set in Venice, Italy.[return][return]A prominent lawyer is murdered, executio-style, on the train coming home to Venice from Padova. In the midst of the ever-growing corruption scandals in the Italian government, a very successful accountant from Padova, connectedted with teh Ministry of Health, appears to have committed suicide; everyone assumes that this is in connection with the scandals involving the Ministry but the Padova police have evidence that it was really murder. Finally the lawyer� s brother-in-law is murdered. though Brunetti is convinced that all three deaths are related, but the only connection he has is a phone number of a sleazy bar in Mestre, a town just outside of Venice on the mainland.[return][return]Leon has described this book as her angriest, and it is easy to see why. She nearly always illuminates some social injustice or ugly facet of Italian or Venetian life in her books, and this one involves the world-wide trade in women for the purposes of prostitution. to go further would be to give away the plot; in itself, it� s a very good police procedural, but leon uses the story to bring out truly horrifying facts about the extent of this slave trade. Yet, she is so skillful a writer that it never sounds preachy, but unfolds from Brunetti� s investigation.[return][return]As is typical of Leon� s books, her characterizations are the best part, especially true in this book of the one-timers. Brunetti and his family--especially his 14 year old daughter Chiara in this book--continue to deepen and therefore continue to engage the reader� s interest in this very real (and very Italian) family. Leon� s love for Venice, always shining out through Brunetti, is obvious, no matter how grim the political or social picture is; the city enchants.[return][return]Another excellent member of the series. Highly recommended.(less)
While not the first, the Da Vicni Code spawned any number of look-alikes in the ancient-secret-society, solve-the riddle-and-get-the prize genre. This...moreWhile not the first, the Da Vicni Code spawned any number of look-alikes in the ancient-secret-society, solve-the riddle-and-get-the prize genre. This riddle, however, is based on a 500 year old text, The Hypnerotomachia. Scattered throughout this seemingly deadly boring book are a series of clues that lead to& A Treasure. Like they all do.[return][return]As usual, it isn� t the treasure at the end that is the point of such books, but the process by which the riddle is solved. Actually finding the treasure, whatever it is, is usually anticlimactic. This is particularly true of The Rule of Four.[return][return]It� s quite a nice process that involves murder, of course, and academic politics at its usual worst. The whole puzzle is satisfying.[return][return]What makes this interesting is that it has two authors and it� s very evident when one is writing and the other isn� t. However, that turns out not to be a problem� it works, because one author takes exposition, the other dialogue and action. It� s a fun exercise in two bright young guys looking at the success of The Da Vinci Code and seeing what they could come up with as imitation.[return][return]But, no matter what the cover hype, this book simply is not as good as The Da Vinci Code. It� s a spin-off� and a good one. But where the characters in The Da Vinci Code were both interesting and believable, the ones in The Rule of Four fall flat. Brown had a terrific villain; the one in Rule of Four is pretty hum-drum. The writing also doesn� t compare with Brown� s; in Rule of Four, it� s adequate, at times good, but not anything you� ll remember. Brown is a much better writer.[return][return]This might be a good book to borrow from the library, or buy if you run across a cheap copy at a garage sale, but I wouldn� t spend a lot of money on it.[return][return]All in all, Dan Brown did it much better.(less)
1st in the Charlie Fox series.[return][return]The protagonist is a 26 year old woman who is ex-British Army and who has agreed to join the protection...more1st in the Charlie Fox series.[return][return]The protagonist is a 26 year old woman who is ex-British Army and who has agreed to join the protection agency run by her former lover. She takes a job in the US to serve as bodyguard for a spoiled teen-aged son of a supposed computer programming whiz.[return][return]The premise of the series� protagonist is very good, and the story has definite promise. Also, part of the setting for the action, which is nicely non-stop, is the Spring Break Nationals in Daytona Beach, Florida--exotic and fun. The plotting is good if not outstanding.[return][return]The problem with the book is the writing, which barely makes it above mediocre. It gets in the way of what could have been some interesting characters� teenagers. But Sharp's descriptive skills are not up to making these kids real. Her charge, in particular, is so sadly drawn that you wind up feeling sorry for him because Sharp is so limited in understanding and writing ability. The emotional connection between Charlie and her ex-lover Sean is written so badly that you wince every time it comes up, and start wishing for blood, guts and bodies so that you can wipe out the memory of the � romance� .[return][return]Too bad, because, again, the premise is intriguing. But it� s not a series in which I� ll read further.(less)
Tennessee was a critical state for both sides during the Civil War. There was plenty of Unionist sentiment in East Tennessee, although those who were...moreTennessee was a critical state for both sides during the Civil War. There was plenty of Unionist sentiment in East Tennessee, although those who were loyal suffered under a secessionist state government. Lincoln was anxious to aid them, and therefore was always eager to have a Union Army � liberate� the state, particularly that section.[return][return]For the Confederates, Tennessee was the doorway to the inner Confederacy; Chattanooga in particular was the jumping off point for the Confederate heartland in Georgia And Alabama.[return][return]Two armies contested the ownership of Tennessee: The Union Army of the Cumberland, commanded by Major General William S. Rosencrans and the Army of the Tennessee under the questionable leadership of Braxton Bragg. These two armies skirmished a number of times, but in late 1862 and during 1863, the two armies fought 3 major battles that were critical to the war; Stone� s River (Murfreesboro), Chickamauga), and Chattanooga.[return][return]The first at Stones� River took place From December 31, 1962 to January 4, 1863. Nearly Union disaster, it ended technically and emotionally a Union victory, since Bragg retreated from the field. But despite Bragg� s weaknesses as a field commander, it was a close thing.[return][return]Cozzens book is well written. He clearly and in great detail describes the personalities of the generals commanding, the events that led up to the battle, command decisions, the enormous problems that Bragg had with his subordinates, especially Polk, and goes into great detail on troop movements.[return][return]Yet, this is a bad book. Why? The maps. Or, I should say, the lack of maps.[return][return]Cozzens goes into great detail about the fighting that occurred on December 31, when the Confederates nearly drove the Union Army into the Tennessee River. We read about movements of regiments and detachments of regiments; brigades; divisions. But there is almost no way to follow all this detail, since maps for the time frame between about 9 am and 3 pm are nowhere to be found. Here and there are maps of tiny segments of the battlefield that were bewildering, because it was impossible to relate that area of the battlefield to any other area. Mention is made of fighting occurring, for example, around the Widow Burris� house, but trying to locate that house on any of the relevant maps was impossible. for the most part, I was flipping back and forth between a map of the overall area of the battlefield and the position of the two armies on the eve of the battle on pages 74-75 and some of the detail maps, trying to get some idea of where the action occurred.[return][return]In addition, the detail maps have no distance scale! I� ve never ever read a Civil War military history in which the maps gave you no idea of the distances involved. For all the reader knows, the units depicted could be 10 miles or 100 ft. apart--there is no way of knowing from the map.[return][return]Somewhat more minor but still extremely annoying is the way the Order of Battle is presented. For some baffling reason, Cozzens chooses to call them The Opposing Forces instead of the more tradition Order of Battle (OOB). Minor detail, but the presentation is not. The OOB is arranged in the traditional hierarchy: General commanding, then Corps, Corps commander, followed by each division, it� s head, and the brigades that compose the division and their heads and component regiments. Standard and a valuable part of any military history if the reader wants to have a prayer of keeping the units and their commanders straight; it� s the classic case of you can� t tell the players without a score card. Unless you have a phenomenal memory, there is no other way to determine whose brigade was doing what when.[return][return]But the format--the font and font size--are identical for all levels of hierarchy and there is no distance or other demarcation that makes it easy to distinguish division from brigade. I spent too much time trying to locate individual units from the names of their commanders in the truly confusing OOB.[return][return]I don� t feel as if I read this book in vain; I learned a good deal and came away with an appreciation of Rosencrans and even Sheridan, whom I have always viewed as little more than a thug in a uniform. The maps of the latter part of the battle were better and I now feel I have a really good idea of how the Union artillery under Mendenhall shredded the Confederate infantry and saved the Union left. However, I� m going to have to reread the book with a better set of maps from somewhere in order to truly understand what happened in the middle of the New Year� s Eve battle.[return][return]How this book was selected as a Book-of-the-Month Club selection is beyond me. The text is good enough to engage the average reader who wants to learn a little more detail about what is not the most promoted battle of the Civil War. But without adequate maps, it seems to me that it would only turn the casual reader off reading any more on the Civil War.[return][return]Avoid unless you have a set of good maps from another source. A general map of the battle won� t serve.(less)
As far as I'm concerned, this is not a book to "start" or "finish"; I read rather selectively, as I come across references to or quotes from Lincoln's...moreAs far as I'm concerned, this is not a book to "start" or "finish"; I read rather selectively, as I come across references to or quotes from Lincoln's early speeches and letters. Reading the entire speech or letter is very well worth while rather than just depending on a memorable quote such as the one for "a house divided against itself". Lincoln was an excellent writer, who worked hard on his speeches, and it shows.[return][return]This volume is a collection of speeches and letters from the 26 years before Lincoln became President, and clearly illuminates the evolution of his thinking as well as showing a core consistency in his philosophy. Highly recommended.[return][return]The Library of America edition is a beautiful one.(less)
Boston, mid-1970s. Someone has stolen the Godwulf Manuscript from an urban Boston university, and Spenser--an ex-policeman...more First in the Spenser series.
Boston, mid-1970s. Someone has stolen the Godwulf Manuscript from an urban Boston university, and Spenser--an ex-policeman turned private investigator--is hired to recover it. Simultaneously, a student connected with a radical cult organization winds up dead, with four bullet holes in his chest; his young lover is the prime suspect in the murder. Spenser believes the two incidents are connected, but his investigation is frustrated repeatedly by lack of leads.
Parker broke new ground with Spenser, a tough, sarcastic, cynical private investigator with a past. Supposedly, McDonald, Leonard, Connolly developed their protagonists more or less on the model created by Parker with Spenser. I also see no small resemblance with Elvis Cole, Myron Bolitar and some other, more contemporary PIs.
The plot is good although nothing special; what makes the book is the character of Spenser (who, among other things, is quite a good cook) and the interesting characters that fill the story.
Not the best police procedural I’ve read, but interesting enough that I will read at least one more in the series.
First in the Kenzie/Gennaro series.[return][return]Parick Kenzie and Angie Gennaro are a private detective firm located in the working class area of D...moreFirst in the Kenzie/Gennaro series.[return][return]Parick Kenzie and Angie Gennaro are a private detective firm located in the working class area of Dorchester in south Boston. Weaned on the streets and culture of the Irish and Italians who are the largest ethnic groups in the area, Kenzie and Gennaro are highly intelligent, extremely good at their work, tough, and above all, knowledgeable about how Boston in general and their subculture in particular works.[return][return]So when a powerful politician gives them a seemingly trivial job� recovering some stolen documents from a missing black cleaning woman� Gennaro and Kenzie are, to say the least, wary.[return][return]As well they should be. This seemingly relatively innocuous job leads them into the nightmare of Boston� s gang warfare. Before the puzzle around the documents is solved, Kenzie and Gennaro will journey through some of the roughest territory on Boston� s streets and be forced to deal with some of the ugliest aspects of human behavior. [return][return]Everything about this book is outstanding: the plotting, the evocation of Boston� s working class neighborhoods and ambience, the characters� all of them, from protagonists to minor players� original and with distinct voices of their own, and above all, truly superior writing.[return][return]This is a superior book in any genre. Highly recommended.(less)
No. 19 in the Richard Sharpe series.[return][return]I simply don� t know how Cornwell does it. He manages to turn out book after book in this series o...moreNo. 19 in the Richard Sharpe series.[return][return]I simply don� t know how Cornwell does it. He manages to turn out book after book in this series of consistently excellent quality, with taut writing, interesting characters, and page-turning plots. Sharpe� s Revenge is no different.[return][return]Napoleon� s defeat seems imminent, but, Sharpe has more personal concerns; the book opens with what turns out to be a hilarious duel (in its outcome) between Sharpe and Captain Bampfylde, the leader of the combined Army-Navy expedition that was the core of the plot to the previous book, Sharpe� s Siege. [return][return]Meanwhile, Sharpe� s French nemesis, Major Ducos, ever politically astute, ahs decided that the emperor can� t win� and so he absconds with Napoleon� s personal treasure, cleverly laying a false trail of evidence that leads back to Sharpe. Sharpe, arrested for the crime, escapes to track down the real thieves and come to a personal reckoning with Ducos.[return][return]As usual, Cornwell captures the sense of the era. As he writes in the Historical Note, Wellington� s army was the finest Britain has ever had; in 1814, after Napoleon� s surrender, that army was dispersed to outposts around the world. Many of the soldiers had taken Spanish and Portuguese wives, but were unable to bring their families back with them to England, causing enormous suffering for the women and children who were left behind. Cornwell does a good job of seamlessly interweaving this bit of human interest into the story.[return][return]His greatest strengths, however, are in his battle descriptions, and in this book, we� re treated to two; the battle of Toulouse and Sharpe� s last encounter with Ducos.[return][return]Oh, yes, Sharpe� s romantic life� not the strong point of his character. There� s an interesting and ironic development along those lines as well. This aspect of Sharpe� s career has not been and is not now the highlight of the series but it� s there and in this book, it� s a nice twist.[return][return]Cornwell has no peer in this genre. Another truly outstanding book in the series.[return][return]Highly recommended.(less)
15th in the Richard Sharpe series.[return][return]Although late in the chronological sequence, this book is one of the earliest that Cornwell wrote. L...more15th in the Richard Sharpe series.[return][return]Although late in the chronological sequence, this book is one of the earliest that Cornwell wrote. Like any good writer, he learned and improved as he went along. Sharpe� s Enemy, however, does bear something of a burden from being one of the early ones, because as in one or two other early books, Cornwell has a bit of a difficult time getting the action off the ground smoothly.[return][return]However, the book suffers only from comparison with later ones that come earlier in the chronology. It� s still a whacking good action-adventure story, and Cornwell has no peer, now or then, in writing battle scenes.[return][return]Unlike all the other books that precede it, Sharpe� s Enemy is not based on a real battle. In his Historical Note, Cornwell explains that he wanted to write one story that would reflect the last winter before Wellington started his ultimately victorious march that would end up at Waterloo.[return][return]There are a few interesting historical facts. One is the introduction of Congreve� s Rocket System, somewhat earlier than actually occurred, but still sticking to historical fact as to their deployment. The other is that there did exist a band of deserters from all the major armies� British, French, Spanish, and Portuguese� that terrorized a large part of southern Spain.[return][return]What makes this book special is that Cornwell devotes just about 2/3 of the story to this fictitious defense of a fortified pass in southern Spain, Liberated from the necessities of following history as far as a battle is concerned, Cornwell, turns his truly impressive descriptive powers to an imaginary engagement in which Sharpe battles not only the French but his arch-enemy, Obadiah Hakeswell. The result is yet another fantastic installment in a terrific series.[return][return]Highly recommended.(less)
Nearly half of this, the 4th installment of Cornwell's Nathaniel Starbuck series, is taken up by the Battle of Antietam (or Sharpsburg), and Cornwell'...moreNearly half of this, the 4th installment of Cornwell's Nathaniel Starbuck series, is taken up by the Battle of Antietam (or Sharpsburg), and Cornwell's expert handling in great detail of that battle is the only thing that saves this book from a much lower rating--and that's because I am a Civil War buff. Otherwise, the writing is mediocre and the character of Starbuck just sorts of stutters and does nothing.
Antietam was and remains the bloodiest single day in US military history, with something like 23,000 casualties. It was a terrible battle, with both armies exchanging possession of one single patch of ground, the cornfield, something like 80 times. The sunken road was a slaughterhouse for both sides as well.
Cornwell does great justice to this battle, and his fictionalized characterization of George McClellan, the completely incompetent commander of the Union forces, is excellent. As usual, the depiction of the conduct of soldiers in battle is very fine, as is the portrayal of its horrors.
But Starbuck himself has become a nonentity and the writing is pretty poor. However, the fictionalized military history is very good, and anyone who wants a good introduction to Antietam/Sharpsburg will find that part of the book absorbing.(less)
No. 10 in the Richard Sharpe series.[return][return]It� s still 1810, and the British Army and Captain Richard Sharpe are still in Portugal. Bought by...moreNo. 10 in the Richard Sharpe series.[return][return]It� s still 1810, and the British Army and Captain Richard Sharpe are still in Portugal. Bought by Sharpe� s stolen gold, Wellington has had built enormous defences known as the Torres Vedras just north of Lisbon, constructed with Sharpe� s stolen gold. Wellington has ordered the Portuguese countryside stripped of all food, hoping in that manner to force the French to retreat out of starvation, since Napoleon� s army existed by living off the land. As yet, the French do not have any idea of these new defences.[return][return]But in any country, under any conditions, there are always those who put profit ahead of patriotism. Two such are the Ferreira brothers. One is a major in the Portuguese Army, playing both side, the English and the French. But, convinced that the French army is unstoppable, he throws in with them in order to safeguard his family fortune through war profiteering� making money by selling hoarded, contraband food while his countrymen starve. The other, nicknamed Ferragus, is a thug, a criminal for whom this is simply another way to earn even more money than he already has through other criminal activities.[return][return]Sharpe runs into the brothers while on patrol as the allied army retreats down the country, headed for Lisbon. He and Ferragus strike up an instantaneous hatred, but for the present, Ferragus has to back down as Sharpe orders a supply of contraband food belonging to the brothers to be destroyed. But unknown to the British or Portuguese authorities, the brothers have hidden a huge amount of stores� food, forage, military supplies� in Ferragus� warehouse in Coimbra, a town that is best known for its ancient university, one of the oldest in Europe. Sharpe is destined for a confrontation in Coimbra, a dramatic escape from the town� only to wind up at the Battle of Bussaco just north of the town.[return][return]Standard Cornwell and Sharpe, with the usual climax of the story being a graphically-described bloody battle between the English and Portuguese on one side, and the French on the other. This has all the elements that a fan of the series is used to seeing� excitement, well-researched history, and excellent writing. [return][return]Highly recommended.(less)