Absolutely delightful. Loved it. Author comes up with goofy idea to write a mystery novel from the exclusive point of view of a private detective's do
Absolutely delightful. Loved it. Author comes up with goofy idea to write a mystery novel from the exclusive point of view of a private detective's dog, and totally pulls it off!
This was one of those library stumble-upons. I was looking for some variation in my lightweight fiction reading -- those books I go to when I need a "palate cleanser" after reading some substantial non-ficiton -- and started poking around in the display shelves of the local public library branch. As a mystery reader and dog person, I couldn't help but be attracted by the title and the cover, but who wouldn't be skeptical about the premise? Still, I thought, what the hell, I'll give it a try.
It turns out, Spencer Quinn may have hit on the best possible rendition of a risky premise. Chet's voice, as rendered by Quinn, is just about pitch perfect. He's clever, kind of a wiseass, but still indubitably a dog. He doesn't talk or pull off Lassie-esque feats of communication or rescue. Rather, he's got a sharp sense of smell, lousy long-term memory, and is easily pulled off his train of thought by a good scratch on the head in just the right spot, or by spotting the remnants of an old, burnt cook-out hot dog in the backyard. (Which he, of course, has to throw up about 5 minutes after chomping down.)
The whodunit plot holds up, too. Nothing too crazy far-fetched, nothing that really strains credulity, but enough intrigue to keep you interesting. Not that you need much, when what you're really interested in is Chet's take on things. He's simultaneously snarky and 100% recognizably doggy. Such as, in a scene familiar to any single person who's ever routinely shared their car with a dog:
We got in -- Bernie behind the wheel, and then there was an odd moment when Suzie and I both went for the shotgun seat. . . .
"C'mon, Chet, squeeze in back."
Squeeze in back? He was talking to me? I didn't move. In fact, a little more than that: I did this making-myself-immovable thing I can do, tensing all my muscles.
It was a treat to read, and I'm very much looking forward to working my way through the rest of the series. ...more
Let me start off by saying that I'm a fan of Scottoline's mysteries, and as such, I would have to beg any new reader of her work not to start with thiLet me start off by saying that I'm a fan of Scottoline's mysteries, and as such, I would have to beg any new reader of her work not to start with this book!
As a fan, I found it entertaining mainly because it's a fast read and, as another installment in the Rosato and Associates series, you get to revisit known characters. Beyond that, it starts out OK, but falls apart pretty quickly, as plot turns become increasingly more implausible. I mean, I get it, it's escapist fiction, but even with that, there's a line beyond which things just get crazy. The last hundred pages or so go completely off the rails, with plot developments that strain even the broadest limits of believability in fiction. Some of the things the characters get away with, or have happen to them, are as likely to happen as a genie appearing from a bottle. (view spoiler)[I mean, first she gets on a plane with no ID on a vague notion of an FBI say-so, but then, when she can't get on the next plane, a fellow passenger in line just happens to know a helicopter pilot (and, by the way, if you know a helicopter pilot who will get you there, why are you in line at the airport???) -- and not only will said helicopter pilot illicitly take you to another country, he also immediately, happily, and swiftly fulfills your request to get you a gun, without blinking? Whatta guy -- you even get a selection of illegal guns to choose from Seriously?! (hide spoiler)]
I keep my expectations low for this kind of reading, but this one pushes the limits.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
Only so-so. OK as far as the suspense element is concerned, but it feels very much like the plot was just lifted from the David Simon television serie Only so-so. OK as far as the suspense element is concerned, but it feels very much like the plot was just lifted from the David Simon television series, The Wire. Devil's Corner was published in 2005, right in the middle of The Wire's run. Granted, The Wire gained much of its following and acclaim in the years after its original airing, but it's hard to avoid the feeling that this book was cashing in, to some degree, on the storylines explored there.
The two main female characters are written well, but the development of the other characters in the book fall short of Scottoline's usual standards. More difficult to get past, however, was Scottoline's clumsy attempt to navigate the boundaries of segregated US racial realities. Most of the black characters are stereotypes straight out of central casting (one actually seems very much like a sloppily re-written version of a key character, Bubbs, a character far more nuanced and humanly written in The Wire).
(view spoiler)[One plot development that I found particularly distasteful in this respect was the epilogue, in which the residents of the Devil's Corner neighborhood practically fall on their faces praising the main character, white lawyer Vicki Allegretti, for "saving" their neighborhood. While Vicki's investigating gets the local drug ring broken up and the drug market shut down, the real hero of the neighborhood is clearly local resident Reheema, who is the engine driving the neighborhood cooperation forward. Moreover, the scenes that Scottoline writes describing the neighborhood's recovery evince a fundamental misunderstanding of what's at work in impoverished neighborhoods of color. Vicki visits the neighborhood and is pleased to see people outside, repairing their rundown homes. Message: it took someone else (that nice white lawyer lady) doing the hard work of getting rid of the drug dealers for them, for the residents to finally start to caring about their own neighborhood again. Apparently before that they just didn't care or maybe were just lazy -- naturally, it didn't have *anything* to do with redlining, poverty, and official city neglect of poor black neighborhoods.... (hide spoiler)]
I've been a fan of Scottoline's fiction, but this one was below par.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
It’s an entertaining, suspenseful story that starts out giving off every impression of being a fairly standard historical romance, but defies expectatIt’s an entertaining, suspenseful story that starts out giving off every impression of being a fairly standard historical romance, but defies expectations just enough to keep you turning pages. There’s a surprising amount of sex, murder, madness, and mayhem lurking behind what at first seems to be an off-the-shelf rural-farmer-seeks-mail-order-bride plot, and it turns out to be as much a meditation on sex and passion (carnal and otherwise), and on how obsessions and fixations can drive people to extremes.
The author excels in creating environments. His powerful descriptions of the Wisconsin winter put you in the middle of a frigid, barren landscape with snow in every direction. And the depiction of turn of the (20th) century St. Louis, or at least of its seedy sides, is evocative and unexpected, startling you into considering the underside of worlds we usually only imagine as sepia photographs of upstanding citizens strolling down busy mercantile streets.
It won’t make my top-ten list, but it was certainly a decent way to spend a weekend....more
I’ve been doing some heavy non-fiction reading lately -- most recently, the kind of historical/political stuff about US misdeeds that usually has me wI’ve been doing some heavy non-fiction reading lately -- most recently, the kind of historical/political stuff about US misdeeds that usually has me wanting to set something on fire. At times like these I find some light fiction helps leaven things out, and among my first go-tos in that column is Lisa Scottoline.
I recently finished one of the novels in her Rosato & Associates series which I gave pretty high marks, more because I enjoyed the plot idea than because of the quality of the writing. Daddy’s Girl, on the other hand, registers at a higher level altogether. The plot is more compelling, the writing is tighter and better crafted, and the whole tone is more serious. Which is not to say the book is flawless, but the flaws are mostly those of the genre -- mainly, some unlikely behavior and some unlikely coincidences. Having said that, the story includes a couple of excellent plot twists, including one I absolutely did not see coming.
My only real complaint is about the main character herself. For at least the first half of the book, Natalie (Nat) is such a doormat -- especially in the presence of her family. (view spoiler)[I spent so much of the book just wishing she’d tell her family to piss off that I was actually a bit disappointed that she more or less reunites with them in the end. (hide spoiler)] But she does seem to grow over the course of the book, and her relationships do improve for the better before it’s all over, so it’s all good, in the end. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
Finally, I discovered that to really understand the story, you have to go to James M. Cain’s original novel. It’s only in the book that you can really get inside Mildred’s head and understand what motivates her. I finished the novel feeling even more admiration for Mildred’s character and drive than I previously had, but also more aware of the flaws and weaknesses that contribute to her discordant relationship with her daughter.
Let me pause for a quick overview for anyone not familiar with the plot: Mildred Pierce is a housewife in 1930s Glendale, California, who starts the story right on the precipice of a major change in her life. Before the first chapter is even over, she’s sent her husband Bert packing, into the arms of his “other woman”, finally having had enough of pretending Bert hasn’t been cheating on her while she has been providing the family’s income with her homemade cakes and pies, after a series of business failures on Bert’s part. Now she’s effectively a single mother, with no job history, few skills, two children to provide for, and a house to maintain, all in the middle of the Great Depression. After some initial struggles, Mildred turns a lowly waitressing job into more pie business on the side, which spins off into a restaurant -- and eventually a chain of restaurants -- of her own. Along the way, she also finds love with a man straight from the society pages. Her daughter Veda has always been pretentious and snobbish, and Mildred’s new financial success allows her to provide Veda with all the trappings of the life she’s always dreamed of. Things slowly sour, though, as the money and things Mildred can now provide only make Veda more insufferable, and Mildred’s new love comes to resent her when his fortune collapses just as her star -- and income -- is rising. Without revealing too much, setbacks, misfortunes, bad decisions, and betrayals ensue, and Mildred has to fight her way through it and somehow come out on the other side.
In both cinematic treatments, Mildred is a sympathetic character, and it’s easy to root for her as she discovers her own resiliency and reserves of determination that help her not only survive difficulty but even come out ahead. On that level, she is a character that earns our respect. Her one blind spot is her daughter Veda -- a kid who is so rotten, that, in the films, at least, it is incomprehensible how Mildred continues to indulge her. However, in the novel, it becomes clear that Mildred’s feelings and actions toward Veda come out of her own (far more restrained) sense of superiority. To a certain degree, she doesn’t see anything amiss with Veda desiring something better. Certainly she sees nothing wrong with wanting more for her child than she was able to have for herself, and takes pleasure in being able to provide it. But Mildred has managed to balance her own aspirations for higher social regard with her satisfaction in her own life and her pride in her accomplishments. Veda, on the other hand, possesses no higher qualities to counterbalance her snobbishness and social ambition, and she doesn’t merely aspire for something higher, she demands it -- and has little but contempt for her mother for her lack of status and pretension. For her part, Mildred sometimes acts as if Veda were an extension of herself, and her obsessiveness about Veda is also a way of trying to keep control over her daughter’s life. In the end, though, the absence of the qualities that humanize Mildred make Veda all villain, and the only question is whether Mildred will be able to come to terms with it.
I had never paid attention to the source material of the film Mildred Pierce, so I have to admit I was surprised to discover it was written by the author of two other novels which became film noir classics, The Postman Always Rings Twice and Double Indemnity. I was particularly impressed with Cain’s ability to write an appealingly complex female protagonist, and as a male writer in the 1940s, at that -- far better than I would have expected. Whether or not the book is your first introduction to the story, Cain’s novel is a worthy read. In addition to the nuanced human story he tells, the book also provides a valuable look at a particular place and time in history. It’s wonderful to get a sense of, for example, everyday life under Prohibition, or to get a view of now well-known and hugely developed California towns, in a far different era. And above all, the central story endures. ...more
OK, I won’t make any claims about this being Serious Literary Fiction, but I have yet to find another writer that can make a lightweight read as redeeOK, I won’t make any claims about this being Serious Literary Fiction, but I have yet to find another writer that can make a lightweight read as redeeming as Lisa Scottoline. As a fan for several years, I’ve been working my way through the back catalog -- if I’ve counted right, this is the 14th Lisa Scottoline novel I’ve read so far -- and Killer Smile comes out as one of my top faves.
Scottoline pulls off a neat little trick here. Killer Smile is as easy-reading a page turner as any of her other books, but there’s a very respectable degree of substance in there, too. Sure, there’s all the usual peril elements of a Scottoline mystery, but in this case, the central whodunit cannot be unraveled without an extended trip into the history of US WWII internment camps. While this is not the first of Scottoline’s novels to bring in some serious real world history (see, e.g., The Vendetta Defense, where the plot reaches back into Mussolini-era Italy; and Dirty Blonde, which surely was the first time most readers had heard of the Centralia, PA, coal seam fire) it may be the most poignant, with some of the details drawn from the real personal history of Scottoline’s own grandparents.
In addition, all of the familiar elements I’ve come to expect from Scottoline are there: a female-centric narrative, warmly drawn characters, and lots of local Philadelphia references. And although Scottoline’s law-firm-setting novels rarely go heavy on the legal points, the resolution of the plot here even relies on some clever lawyering -- bonus!
But actually, I think the biggest surprise of this book is that it’s provided me with my new favorite quote, delivered by Mrs. Nyquist, in Montana, over huckleberry pie:
If you can’t be brave, be determined. And you’ll end up in the same place.
Picked this one up rather at random off a library shelf, while searching for some beach/summer reading. It's an unusual mystery story, interweaving thPicked this one up rather at random off a library shelf, while searching for some beach/summer reading. It's an unusual mystery story, interweaving the kidnapping of a child in the late 90s in St. Paul, MN, with recollections of the Lindbergh kidnapping in the 1930s. It's at least the 2nd novel written by this author involving the same characters, so I read it out of order and can only judge it on its own merits, and not as part of the series.
Overall it's entertaining, and mostly held my attention, though despite the precipitating crime occurring with in the first couple chapters, it felt slow to get off the ground. It only gets a 2-star "I'ts OK" rating from me, though, because even though the premise is creative, the present-day sections are uneven, overdone in some places -- overdramatized and overwrought -- and underdone in others, where characters and events are underdeveloped and too much is taken for granted. However, I found the sections dealing with the 1930s crime mystery to be much better written and much more interesting -- the primary villain of those sections is deliciously fiendish, and the primary hero appealing and relateable, with all his flaws. I'm sure it would have been a better book without the whole present-day connection, actually.
Still, it was an OK read and a nice change of pace from my standard go-to paperback mysteries, and I'll be interested in reading Thayer's other books at some point as well.
Wonderful. Hamill takes us back to a Brooklyn neighborhood in the 1940s, seen from they eyes of almost-12-year-old Michael Devlin, who is imaginative,Wonderful. Hamill takes us back to a Brooklyn neighborhood in the 1940s, seen from they eyes of almost-12-year-old Michael Devlin, who is imaginative, intellectually curious, always observing, and increasingly willing to question the accepted wisdom of the world around him. A dutiful Irish Catholic altar boy, he stumbles into becoming a shabbos goy for the lonely immigrant rabbi of an almost forgotten synagogue. His acquaintance with Rabbi Hirsch grows into a lovely friendship, in which Michael tutors the Rabbi in English and teaches him the ins and outs of baseball, while Rabbi Hirsch teaches Michael Yiddish and tells him stories of life in his native Prague, both recent and historical. Michael is enraptured by the stories, and we accompany him on his flights of fancy through the Rabbi's stories, where he not only listens but sees himself walking the streets of Prague alongside Hirsch as a young man, observing from the wings as centuries-ago history unfolds in front of him, or swooping through space and time alongside mythical beings and characters of fables.
Alongside Michael's friendship with the Rabbi, the contemporary world goes on, in which the neighborhood and the country are in post-war recovery, American culture balances on a pivot point with the potential entry of Jackie Robinson to Major League Baseball, and violence and anti-Semitism unfold in a direct and personal way in the neighborhood. Michael observes it all and struggles to understand, making Snow in August a coming-of-age story as well, in which Michael has to reconcile the attitudes of the adults around him -- matter-of-fact racism and anti-Semitism, provincial expectations, and a keep-your-head down, no-snitching code of conduct -- with larger concepts of faith, equality, and justice, and has to find his own way through.
Some readers will love the ending, and some will hate it, and I will not spoil it here. But I will say that regardless of how you may feel about the ending, the book is exceptionally well written, with vivid descriptions of Michael's imaginations, and carefully drawn relationships among all the major characters. The Brooklyn world Hamill describes is as much a real and recognizable place as the Prague of Michael's imagination is a fantastical one, and both make the book a treat to read. ...more
This is just a quick-read novella preview/prequel to The 9th Girl. I can see how someone who paid for it not knowing what they were in for could be frThis is just a quick-read novella preview/prequel to The 9th Girl. I can see how someone who paid for it not knowing what they were in for could be frustrated. But I had no complaints about its length, since I knew what I was getting into, and I got it from the library. I thought it was a good, quick read, and all the key Tami Hoag elements are there - a familiar detective pair, unflinching crime details, brisk pacing, decent characterization.
My complaints come up having started The 9th Girl right after, and finding some word for word repetitions in character and place descriptions in the next book. Now that's just lazy. I'm OK with the teaser-for-the-next-book thing, but don't insult my intelligence. ...more