SAMSON’S DEAL by Shelley Singer

samson's dealHere’s a new slant —  a guy doing some detecting for friends without a P.I. license and is not a cop.   It’s a cozy-ish mystery with a likable lad as the faux detector.  Jake Samson was a cop in Chicago during the 60’s riots, and after having to bash some college kids over the head, decided that police activities of that kind truly sucked   were not for him, so moved to California, a bit north of San Francisco.  So I am getting the idea that this is set in the 80s.

Jake conveniently has a little money from a small inheritance, (gee, some people have all the luck) and some savings, so he bought a little place which has another tiny cottage on the grounds which he rents out to Rosie,  a carpenter, whose sexual orientation turns out, conveniently as you will see, to be ummm gay.   This is convenient because she kind of becomes his sidekick in the detecting business.  It would have proved untenable if she were straight because then there would be all that sexual tension, yada yada yada.

The wife of a political science professor at the local college  is found dead below the deck of their hillside home.  A chick whom Samson used to date suggested to the husband that he call Jake for help in solving the case before it got too headline-y.

Turns out that the chick and the husband are friends, if you get my drift.  Natch, the police are eyeing the husband, because of the friend,  the friend isn’t looking any too clean, either, and then there is the campus radical right wing activist group, who are targeting the husband as a symbol of oppression or something, and set his office on fire.  Turns out the little wifey belonged to that group, (Holy protest, Batman),  and there are a few other suspicious characters stumbling about to muddy the waters.

Samson has a weekly poker game at his house, so the titles of this series are all poker terms.

Like I said, cozy mystery, so don’t get yourself all worked up that it isn’t the definitive expose of 80s student politics and the San Francisco zeitgeist of yore.  It’s a pleasurable read.  So also don’t be asking yourself questions such as

Why would a guy whose wife has been declared murdered and is himself under suspicion for the deed call upon an amateur sleuth to help him out?  Does that even make any sense?

Just enjoy the book and, as my father used to say, quit yer bitchin’.

Oh, I forgot to tell you.  Jake’s father periodically calls him long distance collect.  He figures if Jake can afford to accept the long distance call, he is doing OK and dad doesn’t have to worry about him.  I LIKE this.  I think I may use this technique on my kids.  Can you reverse the charges on Skype?

THREE-WAYS by Mike Markel

three waysAnother in the Detectives Seagate and Miner mystery series, set in a fictitious smallish town in Montana.  This is the one where Detective Karen Seagate is a drunk recovering alcoholic.    You may remember from Big Sick Heart that our girl got herself in some hot water and got fired.  Well, the Chief retired, a new guy is in and gave her her job back provisionally, based on her going to AA meetings.

This is the fourth in the series, although only about a year later in the timeline of the story.   Seagate and her partner, the Mormon straight-laced Miner, are called to a murder scene where a young man lies strangled and nude on his bed.  He is a grad student, functioning as TA.    One of the suspects is ….. you are going to love this…. one of his female students.  She thought she had a deal with him for an improved grade in exchange for some hoochie koochie, but after the hoochie and the koochie, he still gave her a crappy grade.  hahahahahahahaha.   So boy, was she pissed!

There are a couple of other lady suspects, more dead people, more triangulated relationships, more really bad decisions in this enjoyable mystery.  And no, I was not able to Name That Murderer.

Good writing, sassy, clean, and cleverly humorous:

The 1968 Beetle, hand-painted in swirly black and white like a Holstein cow, belongs to Robin, our Evidence Tech. She’s been with us four or five years.  Those years have transformed her from a tall, freckled, strong-boned athlete with baby fat to a tall, freckled, strong-boned athlete without baby fat.  She wears all kinds of jeweled hardware on her face — in her nose, up and down her ears, in her eyebrows.  She frequently changes the color of the streaks in her blond hair, the only rule being that the color must not appear in nature.  She curses more than me, which requires significant effort, and effortless drops the word pubes into quite a few sentences that would have been perfectly fine without it.

Nice series.  I think there are six so far in the series.

 

CUTTING FOR STONE by Abraham Verghese

cutting for stoneWhen was the last time you read a book set in Ethiopia?  Never, right?  Me, either.  Well, dash yourself to the local bookstore, library or Amazon and grab a copy of this  beautiful, compelling story, set in Ethopia beginning in the  1940s.

An Indian nurse, a nun,  training in Madras,  is sent to Africa by her Superior.  The year is 1947.  On the ship, half the passengers and crew fall ill to some sickness, and the rest are suffering from extreme seasickness.  She meets a young British surgeon who is on his way to  a small Catholic mission hospital in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.   But he falls violently ill.  Our nun, Sister Mary Joseph Praise,  runs around the ship treating everyone.  Her roommate does not survive, but the doctor does.  They arrive at Aden, Yemen, where unable to find her destination, Sister Mary Joseph Praise has some unspeakable experiences which almost destroy her, and which we are not told about.  In despair, she makes her arduous way to Ethiopia, to Addis Ababa, to find Dr. Thomas Stone, the doctor she nursed back to health on the ship, and to work there.

Dr. Stone is a fantastic surgeon doing miracles for the poor people who come to the mission for treatment.  Sister Mary learns to be a wonderful surgical nurse, and together they move as one.  Seven years later, Sister Mary is brought to the operating room, apparently dying.  She is pregnant and trying to give birth to what turns out to be conjoined twins.  The female doctor who specialized in gynecology and obstetrics, is yelling at Dr. Stone to perform a Cesarean, but for some reason he is paralyzed with fright, so she steps in.  Trying to extract the babies, she finds them conjoined at the head by a tube, and in order to get them out, must cut the tube.

And so begins the story of the twins, Shiva and Marion.  Marion is named after Marion Sims, a simple practitioner in Alabama, USA, who had revolutionized women’s surgery.  He was considered the father of obstetrics and gynecology.  And Shiva is named after , you know, Shiva, the destroyer, among other identities.

You know me, I am all about the story, and this is a page turner, told in the first person by Marion, who has grown up to be a noted surgeon in his own right.   It is all about their lives in this time of upheaval in Ethiopia, when Emperor Haile Selassie was in power, and during the revolution.

…the notion of African royalty.  The bloodlines of Emperor Haile Selassie extended back to the Queen of Sheba and King Solomon, making the Windsors or the Romanovs look like carpetbaggers.

It is filled with wonderful characters, exciting action,  and stuff you didn’t know about Ethiopia and it’s neighbor Eritrea, and their ongoing squabble.  Well, maybe more than a squabble.  The twins eventually have a falling out, Marion goes on to New York for his advanced medical training. More stuff happens.  Not going to tell you.  Go read the plot description in Goodreads if you want to know all that badly.

But I will tell you some of the fascinating things I have learned:

Christians in Ethiopia have been there for a long long time.

When the pagans  back in Yorkshire and Saxony were using their enemies’ skulls as a plate to serve food, these Christians in Ethopia were singing the psalms.  They believe they have the Ark of the Covenant locked up in a church in Axum.  Not a saint’s finger, or a pope’s toe, but the Ark!

And you think coffee comes from South America?

A goatherd, centuries ago, has noticed how frisky his animals became after chewing a particular red berry.  From that serendipitous discovery, the coffee habit and trade spread to Yemen, Amsterdam, the Caribbean, South America and the world, but it had all begun in Ethiopia, in a field with a goatherd and his goats.

Sister Mary Joseph Praise, in the book, was a Malayali from Cochin, in the state of Kerala.

Malayali Christians traced their faith back to St. Thomas’ arrival in India from Damascus in A.D. 52.  “Doubting” Thomas built his first churches in Kerala well before St. Peter got to Rome. ….Spice traders have sailed to Cochin for centuries for cardamom and cloves, including a certain Vasco de Gama in 1498.  The Portuguese clawed out a colonial seat in Goa, torturing the Hindu population into Catholic converts.  Catholic priests and nuns eventually reached Kerala, as if they didn’t know that St. Thomas had brought Christ’s uncorrupted vision to Kerala a thousand years before them.

Some more cool stuff:

Ghosh (another doctor at the mission hospital) had learned the technique of vasectomy as an intern, and he’d learned directly from Jhaver in India, whom he spoke of as “the maestro of male nut clipping who is personally responsible for millions of people not being here.”

The book is filled with descriptions of medical conditions and explicit surgery scenes.  You can jump over those if you have a queasy tummy.  I enjoyed them immensely.    The title comes from the Hippocratic Oath:

I will not cut for stone, even for patients in whom the disease is manifest;  I will leave this operation to be performed by practitioners, specialists in this art….

I still don’t know what that means.   I had to look it up.   OK; here i t is.  There is a surgical method for removal of calculi, stones formed inside certain organs, such as the kidneys (kidney stones), bladder (bladder stones), and gallbladder (gallstones), that cannot exit naturally through the urinary system or biliary tract. The procedure is usually performed by means of a surgical incision (therefore invasive).  So the Oath contains  a clear warning for physicians against the “cutting” of persons “laboring under the stone”; an act that was better left to surgeons, as distinct from physicians. Operations to remove bladder stones via the perineum, like other surgery before the invention of anesthesia, were intensely painful for the patient.

So I suppose in general, it is a warning to leave the specialties to the specialists.

Just a wonderful book.  I leave you with one final thought —  when it comes to an incurable patient who is dying, there is an Eleventh Commandment:

Thou shall not operate on the day of a patient’s death.

 

 

 

JOE VAMPIRE: THE AFTERLIFE by Steven Luna

VampireYeah, I know.  I said I would never read another vampire book.  I said I was so done with vampire books.  But THIS vampire has a blog!  How can I resist a vampire with a blog?

This is the second of the Joe Vampire series.  Since vampires live forever, I guess this series could theoretically go on forever.  Especially if the author gets turned into a vampire.

OK, here’s the vampire deal.  Joe is a decent fellow whose friend in a fit of pique or something, puts him in a situation where he got bitten and turned into a vampire.  All that happened in the first book, so other than thinking that with friends such as him, who needs enemies, I am not overly clear as to why.

Apparently, the process of turning into a vampire is not immediate.  It can take days or weeks, it all depends on the individual.  Well, after a painful period of conversion, and Elizabeth Kübler-Ross‘s seven stages of grief (shock or disbelief, denial, bargaining, guilt, anger, depression, and acceptance/hope), Joe has come somewhat to terms with his condition, and has worked out a way to be as unvampire-ish as possible.  He uses a dremel three times a day to grind down the fangs, and has settled on chicken blood for feeding, now keeping a flock of chickens in his back yard for that purpose.   He takes some special Chinese herb mixture to tone down the vampireness and make him less vulnerable to the sun, has a night job, so he can minimize that sun problem, and along with his best friend, (not the one who bit him), is working on creating a band.

He tells very few people that he is a vampire, and has met a young woman who does know, and loves him anyway, and they get married.  And then the unspeakable happens — his best friend and band mate gets bitten by a female vampire nasty lady, and most of the remaining story is about Joe trying to help his friend cope, but said friend doesn’t want to cope, he wants to be a full-on vampire,  and on and on.

I really enjoyed it.  It is told in first person using the blog posts.  He is sad, and witty, and comical and sincere, and it is all about loyalty, friendship, and coping with the hand life deals you.   Want some quotes?  Why not:

I’m not good when it comes to going above and beyond.  I’m at my happiest staying beneath and within.

Everybody knows that all you ever get from a bunch of sour grapes is a lot of bitter whine.

And finally,

“I just don’t understand how it’s scientifically possible.” [vampirary]  “How is anything scientifically possible?  Science doesn’t define rules by which things must happen; it defines rules by which things are happening already.  It doesn’t dictate nature;  it merely transcribes.”

Vampires are referred to as ‘the undead’, but truly, as beings that are practically immortal, they’re really more living than the rest of the populace.

I now am going to have to look very closely at anyone raising chickens in their suburban back yard.

dracula

 

BIG SICK HEART by Mike Markel

big sick heartThis is the first in the Detectives Seagate and Miner mystery police procedural series.

Let me tell you right off, you are not going to like Detective Karen Seagate all that much.  She is a drunk   has a drinking problem.  It is told in the first person voice of Seagate, and I really like the way the author eases into letting us know that fact.  First, we learn she is divorced, that her husband left her, and then somehow, possibly unfairly, got custody of their teenage son.   So she is alone, and drinks every night after shift. Oh, yeah, and in her sorrow, had a one night stand with a fellow officer.   But little by little, as the book goes on, we start to understand that the reason the husband was emotionally unavailable and then physically absent all the time was because she had had this drinking problem long before he left.  And it was why he left.  After her indiscretion with the coworker, she is put on night shift, and that is when the husband goes to court for custody.

She has a new partner, a young man, a Mormon, who is strong in his faith and convictions, but not obnoxious.  Clever guy, and a great foil for Karen.

Their first case arises from a security detail they are on, to keep things cool at a campus debate on stem cell research conducted by a traveling debating team.  After accompanying the two to a pub after the debate, they see them safely to their hotel rooms.  Early the next morning they are called back to the hotel.  The stem cell research proponent is found dead in his bed. He is the corrupt leader of Soul Savers organization, and there are plenty of suspects.  His wife to whom he has been serially unfaithful, his young female assistant, the original founder of the organization whom he managed to edge out, his debate partner, and a politician he was blackmailing.

The mystery — the case — is interesting, but really, this is more of a literary fiction piece about the damaged lady cop, how she is systematically sabotaging her life, and the arrow-straight partner and their relationship, all wrapped around the underpinnings of a mystery.  Things really fall apart for Detective Seagate when she finds out via an email that her son is in serious trouble in school, so having been drinking, she wildly overreacts and jumps in her car to go confront the ex about this.  That, as can be expected, does not go well, and on her way home, she swerves into the oncoming lane and T-bones a car, and one of the children in the car suffers severe head injury and it is touch and go if she will live.  Seagate cajoles a fellow officer to hold off on the breathalizer for a couple of hours so she will not test over the limit.

Her chief doesn’t like her.  I wonder why?  A hung-over screw-up, messing up his last year before retirement?  What’s not to like?   He allows her to finish up the case and then fires her.

Let’s see.  Any good quotes for you?  OK, here’s one.  They get the hotel manager out of bed at the crack of O-dark thirty, and he shows up

wearing a fresh flower in his lapel.  Apparently, he was the kind of hotel manager who gets a call there’s been a death in his hotel and thinks, this outfit could really use a boutonniere.

The title is from the coroner’s statement of the cause of death of the obese victim with the grossly enlarged heart.

“Dilated cardiomyopathy.”   “English?”  “Big sick heart.”

Lots of information given us about stem cell research,  telling us via one of the character’s:

It’s the highest-level research going on in the world:  it’s neurology, molecular biology, chemistry, even physics, all rolled up into the most complicated mystery we’ve ever tried to unravel.  If we can figure out how to deliver the GDNF, glial derived neurotropic factor, the right way, and get it to integrate successfully, that could be the key to beating Parkinson’s, MS, Lou Gehrig’s, Alzheimer’s, meningitis, and severed spinal cords.

So, yeah, loved the book.   It certainly ain’t your mother’s Agatha Christie.

stem cells

 

CROOKED MAN by Tony Dunbar

crooked manThis is the first in the series about Tubby Dubonnet, a lawyer in New Orleans.  I had read one much further on in the series, Crime Czar,  without realizing I had the first in the series in my To Be Reads.  I don’t know how that happened.  I grab them when they are free on Amazon.  Beats me.

Tubby is a likable guy, if a bit of a drinker, although he does have an unbreakable rule of never appearing before a judge unless absolutely sober, so he has that going for him.

He has a partner, Reggie.  The two of them met up in law school.  Reggie is the wheeler dealer, brings in clients.  Tubby is the nuts and bolts guy, goes to court, etc.

In this first case, Reggie gets himself involved in a very nefarious deal, and as the British say, it all goes pear shaped.  A smallish-time drug runner, Darryl Alvarez, the manager of a local nightclub, has been caught unloading fifteen bales of marijuana from a shrimp boat.  Oops.  He is caught before he can turn over the payment for said MaryJane, which his girlfriend is holding in a separate vehicle, to the deliverer.  After being released on bail, he comes to Tubby’s office and gives him a gym bag full of money.  Lots of money.  The very money he was to have paid to the deliverer of the weed. 

Now the owner/deliverer of the weed wants his money, and sends his enforcers everywhere looking for it.  In a sad reversal of fortune, Tubby learns that his partner was in on the deal and is about to kill Tubby in a deserted construction site in order to get that bag of money.  Needless to say, he does not succeed, as there are many more books in this series. 

This is a fun noir-ish book, with lots of other interesting things going on.  For instance, his clients are all — shall we say — eccentric, including a transvestite entertainer with curious medical issues, a buxom deadbeat blonde, a doctor who refers his own patients to a malpractice lawyer, and the driver of a Mardi Gras float shaped like a giant crawfish pot.   Yeah, definitely a fun guy and an enjoyable read. 

So, mystery, thriller-lite, and a delightful look at life in New Orleans.

 

 

MURDER IN THE WINTER by Steve Demaree

Murder in WinterThis is the second in the Dekker Cozy Mystery series, and although after the first book, 52 Steps to Murder I said I didn’t think I would read any more of the series, well, I lied, and after checking my kabillion-title TBR list, saw that I had five more of the series in my little electronic possession, so I figured what the hey, give it another shot.

I am embarrassed to admit that Lt. Decker and his homicide sidekick  Sgt. Lou Murdock are starting to grow on me.

It’s kind of hard to describe the tone of these books.  They might be called Christian Fiction Lite, because Lt. Cy Dekker talks casually about his daily devotional reading and a prayer.  As he says,

After all, God was around on the first day.  Murders didn’t happen until after He had made a few imperfect people.  I needed to put Him first.  I never prayed for God to reveal the murderer’s identity to me.  How could I pray for that?  Would would I say?  “Lord, expose this person’s sins while not revealing mine.”?

He never begins his day without this, and Sgt. Murdock usually has a message of the day  from God  related to the case at hand.  These are never particularly helpful in solving the crime, but are always referential to the situation at hand.   The theme of the messages for this case are all titles of old TV shows.  So I guess the tone in general of these books could be described as warm and decent and affectionate.

The story is  told in  the first person voice of Cy Dekker, and are gently humorous, and in the somewhat stilted manner that some police seem to use.  For instance,

…so I ambled to the house to get my camera to take some photos.  I would have scurried, but I knew that the prints wouldn’t melt before I returned.  Besides, it had been many years since I had been able to scurry. A man my age and size can only scurry downhill, and a robust man proceeding downhill will not stop scurrying until the downhill element ceases to exist.

And

It’s called experience, which is what happens to you that you wish had happened to someone else.

OK; one more

Before I could sample the Baked Alaska, Mycroft made a few gyrations and fell face first into his.  From what I could tell, his hairline landed about Barrow while his chin touched down in Anchorage.

This case is about a series of deaths which occur at an isolated inn, during a big snowstorm.  Lt. Dekker receives a note on his car windshield saying “Be at Overlook Inn at Precipice Point this weekend.  I have murdered, and you can be there to watch the bodies fall.  Neither you, rotund doofus Lt. Dekker nor your stooge, Sgt. Murdock, will be able to stop me.”

It turned out to be a good mystery, involving a lot of local actors, and guess what!  More tunnels, like in the first book.  But in this case, the tunnels have much less to do with the case solving than in the first book.  I wonder if tunnels will be a recurring theme for this series?  Hmmmm.

I sort of had a glimmer of who the murderer might be, but definitely not a strong enough glimmer to announce it for certain, more of a flicker, you might say.  And then only if you were being generous about my detecting skills.

So all in all, a nice book.  I think my opinion of the first book still stands;  I think maybe the author is getting better at this.  baked alaska