EACH TO THEIR OWN by Diana J. Febry

each to their ownMz. Febry has written a number of pretty spiffy books, and if you want to know my thoughts on them, just enter her name in the search box on this blog to pull up the list.

This is a who dunnit that verges on the why they dunnit, with what felt like a cast of thousands.  I had a bit of trouble keeping them all straight, but frankly I think that was the fault of the reader (that would be me) more than the author, because really the characters were all strong enough to stay individuated in my head.  (You gotta give me points for ‘individuated’.  When was the last time you came across that word, huh?)

The story is told in the first person by various characters.  Maybe that’s what threw me off.  I had to keep checking to see who was talking.  (I’m sorry.  I confuse easily.  I like to think of it as part of my charm.)  Dan, a successful securities trader, retires after his daughter….no, step daughter…… no, she’s not that either.  She is the daughter of his ex-wife and her new husband.  One day when the girl was a young teenager (I think) mom drops her off for a weekend at Dan’s.  Why would she do this?  He is no relation to the girl.  This was never really fully explained.  Anyway, mom never comes back for the kid.  The kid, nor Dan, seem to mind, really, and in college she is all into investigative journalism or something and in the course of investigating something,  accidentally falls off a steep cliff and dies.  It is ruled an accidental death and that’s the end of that.

Except it isn’t.  Dan is convinced that there is more to it and that she didn’t just fall and sets off after her funeral to discover just what happened.

Also involved in the search are Luke, and a young girl whose name I forget, and the elusive Steve, who never does turn up.  Everyone is looking for Steve because his apartment got trashed (he’s a college student, so how would you know, right?), and everyone is off on a hustle to find him for some answers.  Meanwhile, there is a guy named Tony with a very ill father in a nursing home, and the old geezer mails off some incriminating stuff because he wants to put things right before he dies.  What things?  Uh oh.  So

Then there are some thugs chasing around, and guns, and so we seem to have three different groups running around trying to stop each other  from finding out this or that or something else, and it is a real mess.  No wonder I was confused.

It all comes to a dandy finale in one big scene, so at least we know that all’s well that ends more or less well.

This was my least favorite of Febry’s books.  I felt it lacked her characteristic quirky and noir undertone and the out-of-the-blue twist her work usually  has.  It was a thriller-wannabe, and I would have been happier if it had been shorter.   Not to say it wasn’t good or that I didn’t like it.  It was and I did.  But I just think her others were ever so much better.    (And I have no idea what the bloody barbed wire on the cover has to do with the storyline.)

 

 

ROADSIDE PICNIC by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky

roadside-picnicArkady and Boris Strugatsky are Russian brothers who may be considered the best of the best of the Russian science fiction writers.  Not much of the Russian sci fi canon has been translated, and we are lucky to have a number of the works of these two brothers in English translation.

In this novel, written in 1971,  the guys posit that Earth experiences a brief visit from extraterrestrials, actually a series of visits, in locations that would suggest originated from a single distant point far away, as if one stood in one spot and shot a gun at a revolving sphere.   This is the story about one location in northern America.

The aliens have long since gone, leaving a toxic and scary area which has been cordoned off, and to which access is forbidden to all but certain scientists, etc.  The area is filled with mysterious objects, the detritus left behind by the aliens,  much as travelers might leave behind their trash at a picnic site along a highway.  Hence the title of the book.  There are some who sneak in despite the prohibitions, and bring out objects which they sell on the black market.

There is no indication that anyone ever saw the aliens or their arrival or departure, but it is rumored that those who enter the zone risk some kind of genetic mutation which will be visited upon their children.  The book revolves around one such stalker, as those who enter the zone without permission are called,  and his girlfriend who becomes pregnant.

There is a great deal of interest in the ‘artifacts’ brought out.  The scientists have no idea what most of these things can do, and how to reverse engineer them, but they have discovered uses for a few of them.  One such item seems to act as an energy source and one character uses it to power his car.   They consider that these artifacts may have been tossed onto Earth with the expectation that we would study them, make a giant technological leap and send a signal.   They say these artifacts are answers to questions that we still can’t pose.

There is a deal of moralizing in the book, as there is in much of the sci fi of this period.  there is rather a long discussion by a couple of the characters on the nature and definition of reason.

The book has some interesting quotable lines:

Man meets an extraterrestrial creature.  How do they find out that they are both rational creatures?

Yeah.  How DO they?

It should never be forgotten that in our Euclidian world every stick has two ends.  Undesirable applications?  Precisely.

And:

Xenology:  an unnatural mixture of science fiction and formal logic.

Finally:

We know that everything changes, we’re taught from childhood that everything changes, and we’ve seen everything change with our own eyes many a time, and yet, we’re totally incapable of recognizing the moment when the change comes or else we look for the change in the wrong place.

Good story.  Now I have to find more by the Strugatskys.

 

HANGMAN by Faye Kellerman

hangmanThis is the nineteenth in the Peter Decker/Rina Lazarus detective mystery series.  Yeah, I know.  Nineteenth.  How can you come up with that many plots?  And she has other series, too, and some stand-alones.  I have lost track of how many of them I have read, but it’s been a bunch.  If you want to see my thoughts on the others, just enter her name in the search window here on the blog and you will get a list of them.

By now, the daughter who was just born in one of the last ones I read is eighteen years old.  Boy, time flies.  And Decker is about to celebrate his 60th birthday.   I would think that Kellerman is getting tired of this duo and is about to finish him off with a heart attack or something, except that they end up fostering a 14 year old pianist genius.

An old school friend who is now an emergency room doctor, has married a hit man.  Yeah, you really have to question some people’s life choices, don’t you.  Anyhow, they have a son, the said musical genius, and the friend calls upon Peter to help defuse a bad situation between her and the hit man husband.  The next day, the son calls Decker, because his mother is missing.  Decker comes to where they were staying and since there is no  sign of the mother who is not answering her phone, and the father is not answering his, Decker brings the boy home with him until they can either find one of the parents, or figure out what else to do with the kid.

MEANWHILE, (and see, this is why I am thinking heart attack),  a horrific homicide case lands on his desk.  A young woman is found hanging at a construction site, which sets off an interesting (for us readers) investigation, and entails a couple more deaths, and geez, but at least it is L.A. and you figure, well, yeah, it’s L.A.

So he is running around trying to find the kid’s mother, trying to find the hit man father, trying to find the killer of this young woman, and things get really busy.

You may recall that this series started off with Decker getting in touch with his Jewish roots, meeting Rina who is Orthodox and so there is a lot about the Jewish beliefs and culture for a lot of the earlier series.  But I guess how many times can you explain all that, especially so your faithful readers don’t fall into a coma from the repetition, so there is very little of that in this book, only mentioning his adherence to his Sabbath, etc.

Great plot, great mystery.  I really like this series.

THE BLOOD DOCTOR by Barbara Vine

Blood doctorDon’t be fooled by the Barbara Vine authorship.  It is really  Ruth Rendell in disguise.  She was (she died last year) a famous British crime writer, with probably her most well known series starring Inspector Wexford.   She used Barbara Vine to differentiate those series from her other work.

The Blood Doctor is a fascinating story revolving around hemophilia  genetics, genealogy and a long ago crime.

It is told by a hereditary peer, who lives in an upper class house in London, but not a spectacular one,  who has given up his job to be a biographer, at which is he modestly successful.  He is also a member of the House of Lords,  and this book was written in 2002, I believe, when there was a lot of razzle dazzle going on about reforming the Upper House to boot out the hereditary peers allowing only life peers the right to vote.  So for this Damn Yankee, all the descriptions of the rooms in Parliament, and how the Upper House was arranged and who sat where, etc, was kind of interesting.

Well, this guy decides to write a biography of his great grandfather when he discovers that the old boy kept a mistress for nine years and when his fiancee died, married her sister, giving her, incidentally, the same engagement ring.   This great grandfather was a doctor, specializing not only in blood diseases, but in hemophilia in particular, and was appointed as one of the physicians to Queen Victoria, who, you may know, was a carrier of the gene for hemophilia, and whose daughters were carriers and whose son was afflicted with the disease.  Now, of course, this is fiction, so the part about him being her physician is made up, but there is a lot of information about hemophilia and Queen Victoria and her line, and we learn that apart from it being passed down through the female line, that a son of a hemophilia cannot himself be a hemophilia.  We also learn that in about 30% of all cases, it comes from a spontaneously mutating gene on the female side.

In addition, the biographer’s second wife is trying to get pregnant, but has had miscarriage after miscarriage, and there is a whole lot about that issue as well.

He comes in contact with several cousins and aunts in in search for more material with which to write his book, and further information turns up further strange facts and incidents, with lead to further interviews, and the who thing gets just a touch unwieldy so that Mz. Vine has to keep repeating the lineages for us confused readers as to who begat whom and it does get a bit tedious, but as we slog on, we get dragged deeper and deeper into what is shaping up to be something nefarious in the past.

I really like her writing, and this was a great story with lots of incidental info that I didn’t know, like about hemophilia and how the House of Lords operates.

So I don’t think this qualifies as a mystery exactly, although it does revolve something mysterious in the past that is the engine for this whole book. index

POINT OF NO RETURN by Diana J. Febry

pointMz. Febry is one of my favorite writers.  I have talked about a number of them here on the blog.  Just put in her name in the blog search window to see what else she has written.

Point of No Return takes up where Bells On Her Toes ends, but not to fret because other than featuring the same two principle characters, DCI Peter Hatherall and DI Fiona Williams, and being set in the same horsey country,  it has nothing to do with Bells.

I love police procedurals that have a bit of personal stuff going on as well, and this one fits the bill very nicely.  DCI Hatherall is still dithering around about leaving the force and DI Williams is still intelligent and charming and bucking for promotion.

This case is about a former hairdresser from a larger city who has bought a farm which had gone bankrupt and set up as a wannabe farmer and his wife as a horsey person. I think she trains horses, but doesn’t board them.  Years ago, he was on a tractor in one of his fields when a neighboring young man lost control of his car, and his passenger was killed as the forks of the tractor impaled him.  The driver was acquitted but hanged himself on the day of his acquittal, from a tree on the wannabe’s property.  He claimed that the wannabe farmer ‘could have reversed’.

A few years later, vandalism began on the farm,  which escalated rather dramatically to the farmer’s truck blowing up, amputating the feet of the wife who started the engine.  Shortly after, a young man who had worked on the tractor wiring was found dead on the local golf course.  I told you that tenth hole was a Killer.  Then the younger son of the farmer family disappears.

Trying to work all angles, it was discovered that one of the young people who knew the suicide, moved away shortly after, and no one has seen her since.

Well, my darlings, as we know, violence begets violence, and more things blow up and more people get injured and killed , and the action increases as the police try to keep the farmer family safe, and my nice tidy police procedural becomes darker and darker and morphs into a heart pounding thriller.   I had to go get my digitalis to finish the book!  Damn.  I’m too old for this shit excitement.

Gotta say, I am looking forward to the next in what seems to be becoming a series, because even though DCI Hatherall ended up in the hospital and on thinly disguised forced leave, he isn’t leaving the force, even though he is claiming he will go be a writer.  Yeah, sure.  NONE of us believe that.

SAINTS AND HEROS TO THE END OF THE MIDDLE AGES by George Hodges

Saints and HerosDuring my Medieval Period, which does not refer to my age but to the period a while back when I was very interested in the Middle Ages and read quite a bit about it, was when I came across this nice book and snagged it, but never actually got around to reading it before my Literary ADD kicked in and I was off on another hobby horse.  I saw it in my List of Books I Will Probably Not Live Long Enough to Read, and decided, what the heck, I could use a role model right about now, so I gave it a go.

This little abbreviated history of the Christian saints of Europe and England was written in 1911.  I also tend to like things written in the early part of the 20th century…. they have a soothing and gentler tone to them that today’s works don’t seem to possess.  And not just because today they are mostly about zombies rather than saints.

We start off with Cyprian, who lived from 200 – 258 AD.  He was born in Carthage, and Christianity was in its early stages, still heavily under attack and the emperor Septimius Severus even made it a crime to invite anybody to join the Christian society.  So unlike today when certain unnamed Republicans would make it a crime NOT to join the Christian society.  Ya live long enough, you’ll see it all…..

Then we learn about Athanasius (yeah, I never heard of him either), Ambrose, Chrysostom, Jerome, and of course Augustine, Benedict, Gregory, Charlemagne, Hildebrand, Anselm, Bernard, Becket, Langton, Dominic, Francis, Wycliffe, Hus (another one who is not part of my memory banks) and Savonarola.

We see that from this author’s mind, at least, the Saints tend to be the founders of the various Catholic Church priestly orders, but we also see that all those good intentions soon turned to naught, and that money, power and greed for both always wiggles its way into the picture.

As it turns out, this series (there are several more) was written for young people, so it is an historical account uncluttered by a plethora of mind-numbing details.  It does leave holes here and there for questions as to actual succession of facts, but it did teach me that I have a Young Person’s mind, because I enjoyed this so much more than many other volumes on history which I have read in the past.

I have also decided not to aspire to sainthood.  Too much work and pure thoughts.

THE MANY DEATHS OF THE FIREFLY BROTHERS by Thomas Mullen

firefly brothersI can’t decide whether this book is a hoot or a deeply profound examination of what exactly is life, or both or just what.  But boy, was it fun.

It is set in the 1930s America, during the Depression.  A nice middle class family finds itself spiraling lower and lower as the father’s investments fail along with the economy.  The oldest son turns to running bootleg to earn money to support the family, gets busted twice, and after his release the second time, decides that robbing banks gives a better payoff.  He is joined by his youngest brother and off they go into the world of Baby Face Floyd, Dillinger, and the rest of the famous crime-spree guys.

The novel opens with the brothers, Jason and Whit Fireson, lying on slabs in a police morgue, full of bullet holes, dead.  Well, no, they are not dead.  At least, not any longer.  They WERE dead, but now, strangely enough, they are not.

So of course you know that with an opening like this, I am totally sucked in.  And you will be too.  Because who can resist folk hero outlaws, now called the Firefly Gang by the press and the public, robbing the banks that robbed the people?  And who seem to come back to life?  Well, not me, that’s for sure.

Remember Donny and Marie?  (“I’m a little bit country;  I’m a little bit rock and roll.”)  Well, this is a little bit paranormal, and a little bit crime fiction, and a whole lot of pretty good character development, and a whole lot more of action.  It is a story of Everyman in the Depression, the efforts to get by, the unemployment, the breadlines, the poverty, the dance marathons, the loss of everything with the Wall Street crash.  It is a story of struggle and desperation and hope, and ….. of resurrection.  Whooeeee momma!

Definitely one of the better books I have read lately.  Highly recommended.  Especially if you are hoping to wake up not dead after you die.

outlaws