For years leading up to December 21, 2012, people were getting their end-of-the-world mojo on. It seemed like everywhere you looked someone was puttin...moreFor years leading up to December 21, 2012, people were getting their end-of-the-world mojo on. It seemed like everywhere you looked someone was putting out a book taking advantage of the reading public's interest in the supposed doomsday predicted by the ancient Mayan calendar. I read a few myself just to see what was up. I missed 12.21 by Dustin Thomason (Aug. 2012). That's not too shocking given the fact that I'm not, generally speaking, all that into thrillers--particularly medical thrillers. In fact--without scanning through my books read list--I believe the last medical thriller I read was Coma by Robin Cook....in the 80s. But you know how I am with challenges...I can't resist them. So, when Shellyrae at Book'ed Out called for a medical thriller in her Eclectic Reader Challenge and the Goodreads Literary Exploration Challenge also called for a thriller, I couldn't say no.
And the premise for 12.21 grabbed me when I went hunting in the library website for a medical thriller that I thought might do ('cause I just don't have those hanging about the house...).
Lots of interesting historical tie-ins which Thomason uses to put a twist on the usual Mayan end-of-the-world thing (shifting of the poles, great earthquakes, and all those other climatic earth-related disasters). I really enjoyed learning about the Mayans through the ancient codes. The plot line itself is good--believable and a bit scary if prions really could turn that dangerous. It is a fast-moving, quick read that I enjoyed on a a lot of levels. However, like several others on Goodreads, I did find it a bit difficult to connect with the characters. I just never got invested in most of them as people and the one character that I found the most intriguing (and I can't tell you why without a spoiler) winds up dying. Ain't that always the way? Overall--a darn good read for something so far out of my comfort zone. (Three & 1/2 stars, actually)
I would have finished Donna Tartt's near-600 pager, The Secret History, much sooner if my dad's medical emergency hadn't eaten up most of my reading t...moreI would have finished Donna Tartt's near-600 pager, The Secret History, much sooner if my dad's medical emergency hadn't eaten up most of my reading time last week. That's a round-about way of telling you that this is a pretty impressive page-turner for a book about a bunch of (mostly) upper-class privileged college kids who know Greek like the back of their hands and use their studies and knowledge to reenact an ancient Greek Bacchanalia. It's quite interesting to see scholarship-dependent Richard with all the insecurities of a West Coast middle to lower-middle class student try to fit in with the "cool kids."
The Bacchanalia is what leads to all their troubles....the "secret" of the Secret History--they push beyond the limits of morality in a way that most college students would never dream. And I find this story to be more of an intricate examination of how various personalities handle the pressures brought on by what the group has done than a regular whodunnit kind of mystery. Tartt handles the psychological reactions very well and it is very interesting to see who falls apart, who remains stoic, and what Richard makes of it all. The reader also has to wonder at the motivations behind the apparent easy acceptance of Richard into the highly secretive, exclusive Greek studies group.
Kudos to Tartt for making such an appalling story--I mean, really...what these college kids get up to and how they treat those who are their friends--into such an appealing and absorbing read. Four stars.
This was first posted on my blog My Reader's Blog. Please request permission before reposting any portion. Thanks!(less)
Abraham Grace Merritt wrote under the name of A. Merritt. He was extraordinarily popular during the 20s and the 30s--especially for fantasy and horror...moreAbraham Grace Merritt wrote under the name of A. Merritt. He was extraordinarily popular during the 20s and the 30s--especially for fantasy and horror. His novel Seven Footprints to Satan was first published as a five-installment serial in the 1927 Argosy-All-Story Weekly and then published in book form in 1928. It has been billed as mystery, horror and thriller--and I'd say it's quite a mix of all three, leaning more towards the thriller with a bit of mystery and horror thrown in for flavor. The super-villain reminds me of Fu Manchu mixed with Moriarty. For the period, the racial stereotypes are not nearly as prominent as the Fu Manchu books, although they are still there.
But down to cases...James Kirkham, world traveler and adventurer who seems to be a precursor to Indiana Jones, has returned to New York City after his latest exploit. One in which he relieved a rather nasty fellow of some priceless jade tablets. During his short time back in the City, he has felt as though he has been under constant surveillance. All of his adventurer's senses are on the alert, but he can never see anyone suspicious about. When he begins to feel the unseen eyes upon him in even the secluded confines of his club, he decides to draw his pursuers into the open by deliberately walking through the most deserted parts of the city.
Just when he thinks his plan has failed, he finds himself neatly abducted--without violence and right under the nose of a friendly (but totally unhelpful) policeman as well as a member of the marines. He finds himself conducted by subway and then by car (with curtained windows so he can't see where he's taken) to the sprawling estate and fortress-like home of a man who goes by the name of Satan. Satan claims to be the most powerful man in the world--with hundreds of willing servants at his beck and call, ready to kill when asked and to steal the treasures of the world at a moment's notice.
Kirkham has drawn Satan's attention with his daring exploits around the world and the evil mastermind is determined to make Kirkham one of his minions. But he claims to be a fair evil genius--he will gamble with Kirkham for his life, his freedom, or eternal servitude. In his throne room there are two thrones--one in which Satan sits and one which holds a jeweled crown and scepter. On the steps leading to the crown are seven footprints. Four are "good" prints and three are "evil"--the positions of good and evil are not static. There is a mechanical device that is spun and randomly assigns the footsteps their good or evil status. Anyone gambling with Satan must trod on four of the prints. If he steps on one "evil" print, then he must perform one service of Satan's choosing. If he steps on two "evil" prints, then he will owe Satan a year of service. If he steps on all three "evil" prints, then he is Satan's to do with as he pleases--lifelong service, to kill in what ever horrible way he chooses, anything. On the other hand, if he manages to step only on the "good" prints, then Satan and all his minions and all his wealth (and he's got a TON of that) is the victor's to command.
Kirkham is always ready for a gamble--but his task is made more difficult by the presence of the lovely Eve, a woman for whom he will do anything to save her from Satan's clutches, and Harry, a cockney mechanic whose life Kirkham once saved and who is looking to return the favor. The story revolves around Kirkham's gamble and seeing how our hero will manage to escape from Satan and all his devoted servants.
This was a fast-paced thriller that was easily read in single evening. I was surprised at how much fun and how engaging this little trip into a fantastic pseudo-cult could be. Satan really is quite nasty and the delight he takes in destroying those who fail him is really diabolical--and all with without the blood and gore that is prevalent in more recent thrillers. There are also interesting questions to consider--is Satan as supernatural as he claims or is he just an incredibly intelligent and persuasive human master criminal. Merritt doesn't necessarily answer that question--and if Satan is really "the devil" as Harry puts it, then the story itself makes you willing to believe it. Three and a half star for a very entertaining read.
Whatever I might have been, whatever I might become, here, today, I am a man who keeps his promises. ~Michael Suslov (p.435)
Michael Suslov is a CIA ag...moreWhatever I might have been, whatever I might become, here, today, I am a man who keeps his promises. ~Michael Suslov (p.435)
Michael Suslov is a CIA agent in Argentina. A man with slim ties to the former First Lady of Argentina, Eva Peron; he nonetheless has promises to keep and, as the saying goes, miles to go before he sleeps. And before this story is over he will be called upon to keep those promises--even at the risk of his life.
When Eva Peron dies, her body is preserved and held in trust for the Argentine people--but her body vanishes from the vault where it was kept and moved from place to place. Each time Evita's body is moved, devoted followers manage to find her and flowers are sent. After sixteen years, the Argentine people want Evita back and Suslov is called upon to transport the body safely. But there are more groups than one who want Evita's body...and moreover, they want to find the key to a Swiss bank box rumored to hold the millions that Evita reportedly stole. Some of the people on Suslov's trail are rogue CIA agents, some are former colleagues, and some are former friends--but they all want Evita and most want the money. It becomes more and more difficult for Suslov to determine who is on what side and it will be a long dangerous journey before Evita can be brought home and Michael can keep his promises.
After a somewhat slow beginning, this turns into a fast-paced thriller that keeps the reader on her toes. Lots of action and the chase in the final chapters is well worth the ride. The best of the book is in the denouement and I enjoyed Michael's interactions with Gina and Hector. And I have to chuckle when I think of the wool they pull over General Peron's eyes in those last moments. I agreed to read this as a review request because of the story of Evita--I knew very little before and was intrigued by the historical context and mysterious circumstances. It was very interesting to find out how many of the extraordinary events were factual. Overall, a very solid and interesting read. I give it three and a half stars, but if you are a thriller or espionage fan I can easily imagine it earning a higher rating.
This was first posted on my blog My Reader's Block. Please request permission before reposting Thanks!
[Disclaimer: This book was made available to me as an advanced reader copy--there may be differences between this copy and the final published version. My review policy is posted on my blog, but just to reiterate...This review copy was offered to me for impartial review and I have received no payment of any kind. All comments are entirely my own honest opinion.] (less)
This is as fine a historical novel as I've read. David Morrell tells us in the Afterword that "for two years, [he] lived in 1854 London." For two days...moreThis is as fine a historical novel as I've read. David Morrell tells us in the Afterword that "for two years, [he] lived in 1854 London." For two days, so did I. He so expertly weaves his research about Thomas De Quincey and Victorian England into his story that I expected to look up from the pages and see a hansom cab go by in the thick London fog. I knew very little about De Quincey before reading this book, but that didn't matter. Morrell told me everything I needed to know without making it feel like loads of research were being crammed down my throat. By the time the book was finished, I felt like I knew De Quincey--and his daughter and Lord Palmerston and rest of the characters--personally and had walked along side the De Quinceys and the two policemen that come to their aid as they search London for the madman who kills while targeting the "Opium Eater."
I was also interested in the way Morrell used many of the hallmarks of 19th century novels and sensation fiction--from the omniscient third-person narrator to the first person journal entries of Emily De Quincey. Not only does he evoke the time and place historically, but he makes readers believe they are reading a 19th century account of the events. A very impressive bit of authorial legerdemain.
I am not usually one for thrillers that focus on grisly serial killings--but when I do read them, I much prefer them to take place on a stage far removed from the present day. The murders described in Murder as a Fine Art are quite horrific, but Morrell does an excellent job of focusing on the motivation for the crimes rather than the sensational details of the deaths. It was fascinating to see De Quincey thinking about the subconscious mind long before Freud and the killer's motivations were quite believable. I was hooked from the moment I picked the book up and put it down only when such mundane matters as sleep and work demanded it. So far, the best new book of 2013.
This was first posted on my blog My Reader's Block as part of a Virtual Blog Tour. I received no payment of any kind and the review is my honest opinion of the book. Please request permission before reposting any portion. Thanks!(less)
Something nasty is lurking in the basement hallways of the New York Museum of Natural History. A nasty, primeval, ferocious something...that kills swi...moreSomething nasty is lurking in the basement hallways of the New York Museum of Natural History. A nasty, primeval, ferocious something...that kills swiftly and mercilessly and Special Agent Pendergrast, Lieutenant D'Agosta, museum researchers Margo Green and Dr. Frock need to find out who or what it is before everyone connected with the museum falls victim....
The museum is due for a grand opening of a new, spectacular exhibition by the name of of "Superstition." The directors of the museum are determined that nothing will happen to either delay the extravaganza or tarnish the museum's reputation. So, when odd disappearances occur and rumors of a "Museum Beast" start to circulate, Winston Wright and Lavinia Rickman tighten security and clamp down on the rumor-mongers, but refuse to even think about putting of the grand opening. And not even a dead body or three are enough to change their minds.
Pendergrast and the researchers slowly gather evidence that points to a doomed expedition undertaken by associates of the museum several years earlier. Whittlesey, one of the leaders of the expedition, had gone to the Brazilian rainforest in search of the lost Kothoga tribe--a primitive group who worshiped a strange god named Mbwun who was half-man, half-lizard and who was said to be the offspring of a Satan-like demon. A relic which is said to represent Mbwun was found among the crated items sent back by Whittlesey and will be the centerpiece of the new exhibit. With murderer leaving a trail of clues that eerily call to mind descriptions of Mbwun, could the rumors of a "Museum Beast" be more firmly rooted in fact than anyone would like to believe?
This is a hair-raising, edge-of-the-seat thriller. Weighing in at 468 pages, I managed to finish this book in less than 24 hours--and that's allowing time for sleeping last night and working a full 8 hours today. That's not meant as a brag. I'm simply underlining the fact that, despite thrillers being NOT my thing (and only reading this one because I had to have something in the horror-line for a challenge), I only put the thing down when I absolutely had to. Preston and Child know exactly how reel you in and keep you reading even when you're being scared out of your wits. Seriously creepy and quite, um, bloody--but not gratuitously so (and I managed to skip the worst descriptions without losing any of the storyline....I'm a weenie when it comes to blood and gore). I learned with Cabinet of Curiosities that I can take a bit of horror now and then, provided that it's well-written and delivers a good story with interesting characters. Preston and Child come through again with this ★★★★ outing.
Hmmm. I think I missed a memo. One titled The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson. 'Cause, I was warned by several fellow-bloggers and friends o...moreHmmm. I think I missed a memo. One titled The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson. 'Cause, I was warned by several fellow-bloggers and friends on GoodReads that this book "scared the crap" out of them. "Super scary." "One of the all-time scariest books ever...." I kept refusing to read the book near bedtime because I'm a big weenie when it comes to horror and creepy stuff (and it's a testament to my love of Carl's R.I.P. Event each fall that I subject myself to this sort of thing come September & October). I didn't want to have nightmares. I kept thinking, "Okay, it's not scary yet. But it's coming. It's coming. It's coming." And then, "Oh wait. I'm done. So....where was the really scary part? I missed it." This was so seriously not scary that I may even try to watch the 1963 movie version The Haunting to add to the movie portion of the R.I.P. event. [Possible spoilers coming after the synopsis.]
So...here's the scoop: Dr. Montague is on a mission to find an authentic haunted house. When he comes upon Hill House, it would seem that he has found his prize. None of the local townspeople will stay at Hill House after dark. No one who has rented the house has stayed longer than a night or two. There is a dreadful past full of death and suicide. His next mission is to invite people who have experienced some sort of occult incidents in the past to join him at Hill House and see what kind of psychic phenomena they encounter. Those who accept his invitation include Eleanor, a lonely girl who lived in a house attacked by a rock-throwing poltergeist; Theodora, a more lively girl with psychic tendencies; and Luke, son of the family and heir to Hill House. Their days at Hill House are fairly ordinary--exploring the rooms and then the grounds. But the nights are filled with strange, banging-on-the-doors noises, intense cold (especially outside the nursery), and doors that close themselves (when not being banged on). Eleanor is sure that the house knows her name and is trying to make her its own. Is she right?
Possible spoilers ahead...
As I said, straight up horror-scary, this isn't. At least not to me. Psychologically interesting, yes. Because although one might think Dr. Montague is the central character, it soon becomes apparent that Eleanor is the main focus. The manifestations, such as they are, do seem to revolve around her--either happening to her or vaguely being blamed on her. When I reached the end of the story I was left wondering: Did these events really happen? Were they all part of Eleanor's imagination and fear? There was even a hint, from some of the comments from the other characters and thoughts running through Eleanor's mind [yes, we are given access to Eleanor's thoughts], that perhaps the other characters are creating some of the situations. Following Eleanor and her reactions to the house and events is the most interesting part of the story for me. It is really intriguing to see how her sense of loneliness and her urgency to belong to the group affect her experiences in the house.
Where I really lost all sense of scariness (what little there was) was when Mrs. Montague showed up with her planchette and her side-kick Arthur. She demands to know what her husband has done about contacting the departed and won't let him get a word in edgewise. She was pure comic relief to me and, quite honestly, I couldn't see that the story was tense enough to need any relief. It is also possible, now that I think it over, that her odd, no-nonsense approach to contacting the spirit world just threw a bucket of cold water over the atmosphere in the house and that was why the doctor's investigations came to an end.
Three and a half stars for a good, interesting story.
Well-known for his hard- to semi-hard-boiled crime novels and characters created in the Black Mask pulp magazine, George Harmon Coxe's Inland Passage...moreWell-known for his hard- to semi-hard-boiled crime novels and characters created in the Black Mask pulp magazine, George Harmon Coxe's Inland Passage would seem to be a stand-alone, more straight-forward crime fiction novel. Sure, there are some gangster-types lurking about, but the focus of the mystery is more of a simple whodunnit than most gangster-oriented stories.
Knox Randall had taken a bruised heart and three thousand dollars with him to Florida. His plan included wine, women and song (well...good times, anyway)--enough to help him forget the girl back in New York who had bruised his heart. He is down to his last three dollars and forty cents when a newspaper ad catches his eye. A Mr. Perry Noland is looking for an experienced sailor to run his boat up north--payment of a small sum up front and whatever Randall can earn from taking on passengers for a pleasure cruise up the coast.
It sounds ideal to Randall and soon he has hired first mate/steward/cook to help with the duties and has rounded up a full complement of passengers. But all is not what it seems--from the initial hire to passengers traveling under assumed names to gangster-types following the boat by land. The owner of the boat is found shot to death and the first mate isn't long for this world either. Randall, an advertising businessman by trade, begins to wonder just what kind of a job he's taken on. He knows that there is some sort of sleight of hand going on beyond the murders and, having fallen for one of the passengers, he makes it his business to get to the bottom of things.
And get to the bottom, he does. This was an interesting, fun, and fairly light crime novel from the '50s. Randall is a great character and most of the other characters are flushed out with few mystery stereotypes. He plays his final wrap-up scene well--with a nice bit of action thrown in. A pretty fairly clued mystery--I had my suspicions about the villain of the piece, but didn't quite put it all together. Three stars for a solid mystery.
In Mary Roberts Rinehart's The Bat, Cornelia Van Gorder, a spinster who has longed for adventure, takes herself, her Irish maid Lizzie, and her neice...moreIn Mary Roberts Rinehart's The Bat, Cornelia Van Gorder, a spinster who has longed for adventure, takes herself, her Irish maid Lizzie, and her neice Dale off to the country to escape the city's summer heat. She rents a country home that has recently become available when Courtleigh Fleming, a local bank manager, died. She's bemoaning her quiet, unadventurous existence when suddenly the countryside becomes the center for some very mysterious activity.
Cornelia begins receiving anonymous notes meant to frighten her away from the house. There are rumors that The Bat, a notorious criminal mastermind, is in the area. And...in the wake of the bank manager's death, it is discovered that a large amount of bank funds are missing--as well as one of the bank clerks. Cornelia's neice begins acting strangely, her maid Lizzie is nervous as a cat, and her butler Billy is inscrutable (as all Chinese men of the time are represented). Dale brings home a new gardener who isn't what he seems and Cornelia decides to request that a detective be sent to help her get to the bottom of the nasty notes. Who on earth could possibly care if she spends her summer in the banker's abandoned house?
That's when the excitement begins. There are mysterious people popping in and out of rooms. Strangers on the roof and bats flying through the rooms. The detective seems ready to round up and use the rubber hose on anyone who even looks at him cross-eyed. Billy the butler scurries around seeing ghosts and Lizzie is screaming at the drop of a hat. Before long, the banker's nephew is dead, a secret room is discovered, and the missing money is found. Cornelia gets her adventure....and even gets the satisfaction of outwitting The Bat.
Great fun. This book (which is based on the play The Bat, which in turn was based on Rinehart's The Circular Staircase) reads like a serial story. Just about every chapter ends in a cliff-hanger moment and there is more action going on in this old house than you'd believe. Four stars.
I think all of us were caught in the strange panic and fear which swept through Germany after Hitler had assumed control. No one knew what was going t...moreI think all of us were caught in the strange panic and fear which swept through Germany after Hitler had assumed control. No one knew what was going to happen or what could happen. (p. 39)
The Talking Sparrow Murders by Darwin L. Teilhet ("Tee-let") was written in 1934 and is set in Germany just as the Nazi party is beginning to rise and Hitler has been Chancellor for a year. The book has been praised (on the cover, in the back blurb, and in the introduction) by Dorothy L. Sayers, Julian Symons, and Douglas G. Greene with comparisons to John Dickson Carr and all speak favorably of it in the company of other crime fiction such as The Thin Man, The Postman Always Rings Twice, Murder on the Orient Express, and The Nine Tailors--all of which came out in that year.
I absolutely agree that it is a phenomenal book historically. As Greene's introduction mentions, Teilhet, an American who spent time in Germany, witnessed these events first hand. He is one of the few writers of those early years of Hitler's reign to realize what a terrifying prospect that was. It is easy for us to look back and wonder why more people didn't recognize what Hitler and the Nazi party would mean to Germany, the Jews, to Europe and the world. But few popular authors did--and "it took five or six years for popular writers, who usually reflect widely-held attitudes, to feature Hitler and the Nazis in their novels." (Greene)
So, it is very interesting to read a mystery/spy thriller novel written by a man who was on the spot at the time. I wish I could say the mystery as a whole interested me in the same way. Written by an American, the story comes across as having been written in German and translated. The dialogue is stilted...even when it involves conversations between Americans. The comparisons to Carr are somewhat accurate--the entire story has a very bizarre feel, not unlike some of the early Henry Merrivale stories or even the Bencolin stories. And, of course, the plot reminds one of The Thirty-Nine Steps in which the wrong man will be accused if the police catch up to him. Except, in The Talking Sparrow Murders, the police do catch up to William Tatson right away and he spends the rest of the novel trying to prove that he doesn't know anything about the death of an old man who was muttering about "talking sparrows"--or the other murders that happen along the way.
The story opens with Tatson on his way to an appointment. He's stopped in the street by old man who says, "I think I must be ill." Tatson suspects an old ploy to get him in a taxi and robbed and tries to politely pass on by, but then the old man starts talking about hearing a sparrow speak--a bird that says, "Help! I am caught!" And that's when Tatson's troubles begin. The old man is shot and Herr Polizeidirector Kresch seems to suspect that Tatson is involved. Tatson is due to leave Germany and return to a job in the States--if he's not on his way home in two weeks at the latest, he will lose his position. And so begins a mad dash to unravel the mystery before his two weeks are up. The resulting plot will involve three murders, a bit of fraudulent book-keeping, a mystery man by the name of La Roc, and a couple of lovely ladies. Tatson will be held in jail, beaten up, and shot at before he and Kresch can bring things to a successful conclusion. And running underneath is the steady threat of the Nazi take-over of Germany.
There are plenty of twists and turns along the way and it's easy to see why Tatson is so wrong so often. I would like to give this a full three stars (and will round up here on GoodReads), but can't really do so....2.75 stars. It's just not quite what I usually call a good solid read.