DEATH IN THE ENGLISH COUNTRYSIDE by Sara Rosett

Cozy mystery trying to stand of the shoulders of Jane Austin to suck you into it.

A location scouting company for movies and commercials has its owner go to England to a small country town to scout locations for a proposed film remake of one of the Austin novels, because there are not enough film versions of her books already cluttering up the place.

He goes on a Friday and by Monday has not returned, is not heard from, has not returned his rental vehicle, and the rest of the small company based in LA is nervous because, ok, well, he is a recovering alcoholic but has occasions of recidivism where he disappears for a several-day bender.

So his assistant goes to England to see if she can track him down, maybe boozing it up in one of the local pubs.  Nobody calls the police and reports it because…. and here is the follow-the-money angle ….. they are afraid if the money guy who will be bankrolling this production finds out, he will pull out of the project and take his dinero elsewhere.

Yeah.  I know.  Stupid premise right off the bat.

So natch the young single woman (aren’t they all in these cozies?) meets up with a local young single good-looking guy (aren’t they all in these cozies?) who was working with the disappeared guy, and wouldn’t you just know it, they come up with more clues (or clews, if you are British) than the police, whom they are eventually forced to call.  They get underfoot of the local gendarmes, make a series of stupid decisions, and make you wonder how they managed to get permission to enter the country in the first place.

Dopey situations, dopey characters, meh mystery which even *I*, the worst detective in the world, was able to solve.

There are more in this On Location series.  Egad.

 

Advertisements

A BREATH OF FRESH AIR by Amulya Malladi

Although this is a woman’s literature offering, it is really, at base, about the Bhopol, India, gas leak, of 1984, considered the world’s worst industrial disaster.

Anjali, a young Indian woman, wants to marry an army man, because of the uniform and the lifestyle.  Her family finds Prakesh, who is handsome and charming, a perfect match.

But he isn’t.  He only got married because he was fooling around with the wife of an officer at another posting, and his superior officer transferred him, and told him to get married to avoid further scandal.  So he does, the other officer gets transferred to his same new city, and he starts up again with the other woman.

Anjali goes to visit her parents in another city, and he was supposed to pick her up at the train station, which was near the Union Carbide pesticide plant.  He doesn’t come and doesn’t come, and she waits and waits, and then there is the accident, in which she tries to escape the station in a taxi, and the driver dies at the wheel, but she somehow survives.

She learns shortly after the accident about his affair, and demands a divorce on grounds of incompatibility, really rare at that time in India.  He grants her the divorce only because she threatens to change the grounds to adultery which would destroy his army career, so he agrees.

She becomes a teacher and meets a lovely decent man, a professor, and they marry and have a son.  The son is born with serious heart and lung issues, which it turns out are the result of her exposure to the gas accident in Bhopol, and is given only a year to live.  However, he has survived to age twelve, but is now dying.

Her ex shows up in the market, having been transferred to this city now. He is remarried with two children,  They come across each other in the market, and the rest of the story is about what happens then.

There is also a large portion dedicated to the 1984 Sikh Massacre, which was a series of organized pogroms against Sikhs in India by anti-Sikh mobs (notably Congress Party members and temporarily released convicts) in response to the assassination of Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards.  Anjali has a Sikh best friend, and an older  Sikh woman friend with whom she plays cards.   Her husband’s attitude and actions toward these people also has a great deal to do with their failing marriage.

Most people seem to be reading this for the chick lit aspect of the dying boy, but the whole thing is built around the real events of that time, and how they affected the lives of the average populace.

Very enjoyable and food for thought.

Amulya Malladi is the author of Song of the Cuckcoo Bird,  which I talked about here, and The Mango Season, which I talked about here.

 

REDEMPTION ARK by Alastair Reynolds

This is the second in the Revelation Space series.  Another doorstop of a book, a hard sci fi epic which flirts with the laws of physics, but hey, science fiction, ya’ll, why not flirt with the laws of physics?  COULD happen, right?

This volume, set in the 26th century,  gives us a really nasty lady villain in the person of Slade, a Conjoiner.  The Conjoiners are mind melders, which is kind of kool, insomuch as they can turn it off, or limit what another can view in their minds.   We also meet a nice guy, and aging (400 years old is aging, right?) warrior guy named Covain, and we get to meet a feisty freighter ship captain, whom her ship’s subpersona calls Little Miss, and her boyfriend.  She is taking her father’s body to some far star system to dump it in space there according to his wishes. I guess it’s the equivalent to burial at sea, or scattering the ashes over the waves.   She gets into trouble first with entering protected space and then later with ship problems, which is when she meets Covain, who instead of blowing her ship into a kabillion bits, gives her a shove back into space trajectory so she can get home.

Here’s the basic deal:  there are these aliens who are trying to save the universe from itself by constantly eliminating emerging intelligence because it seems that intelligence tends to blow itself up and poses a major threat to the entire universe.  It is now dismantling some planet and asteroid and moon bodies near Remangan (I think that is the name) planet with a view to destroying their sun (again).

The plague ship Nostalgia for Infinity is back. 4 kilometres of machine melded into a cathedral of the grotesque that is part spaceship, part alien virus, part man, more than a bit creepy and 100% Awesome.  The two gals from the previous book have changed jobs.  The kidnapped warrior lady is now the Inquisitor of Chasm City, and the former operator of Nostalgia for Infinity is hiding out in the backwater of the planet.

As we also learned in the last volume Nostalgia for Infinity comes packing heat. Hell-class weapons. And they aren’t called hell-classfor nothing – each of them capable of unleashing Armageddon with a thought. And is the mind behind them human?  Alien?  Or what?
New creatures are introduced — hyperpigs.  Enhanced pigs almost to the point of full human.  Some more than others.  A denigrated species.  Like…. never mind.
Well, Slade wants those weapons to fight against what they call the Wolves, those aliens destroying the worlds in order to save the universde,  and Covain wants them for the same reason, but he and Slade are at war against each other.   And the Inquisitor and that other chick want those weapons for the same reason, and are at war with the Conjoiners for them.  I am confused.  Yeah, well.
The Inquisitor et al see the need to evacuate the planet QUICK before everything blows up and figure they can use that plague-y Nostalgia for Infinity to transport most if not all of the population to another star system so things are getting exciting.
There is so much going on in this novel that to give you a plot outline would take almost the same 700 pages as the novel itself, and since the map in that case would become the territory, I am leaving it at this.
I am so caught up in this story, maybe not so much for the story itself, but because of the endless descriptions of the physics, the science, the landscapes, the ships.  Dang I love this stuff!

Nostalgia for Infinity

THE SINGLE STAIRCASE by Matt Ingwalson

Nice novella, or long story, or whatever.  I truly cannot get straight what the various lengths are called.  But this is a closed room mystery, and a darn good one!

It features two missing persons detectives in an unnamed city, both former SWAT members, who go by their SWAT  nicknames of Owl and Raccoon.  They are called in by a young couple whose 3 month old daughter has apparently been kidnapped from her room on the third floor, and the only way up or down through the house was a single staircase which went through the living room where they were watching TV.

Owl suspects the parents of having killed the child and done away with the body.  But a full search of the house and surrounding areas does not provide a body.  There is no body, no ransom note, no nada except some strange behavior on the part of the bereaved parents, who although seeming upset, were not what you would call frantic.

Great story.  I was almost a little sorry it was not full book length, it was that good.  There are two more in the series.  I will see if I can snag them.

BELOW STAIRS by Margaret Powell

Margaret Powell was born in 1907 in Hove, England, to a poor family, and had to leave school at age 13 to start working in a hotel laundry room.  A year later she went into service as a kitchen maid, eventually progressing to a cook before marrying a milkman named Albert.

After having had to give up a scholarship to a good school as a kid in order to work, at age 58 she worked on taking her O levels and progressed on to her Advance levels.  She then went on in 1968 to write her first book, this memoir, then two more books and a cookbook, and co-authored three novels, tie-ins to the television series Beryl’s Lot, which was based on her life story.  She died in 1984.

So don’t give me any guff about how you are too old to do something.  You can do whatever you want whenever you want.  You just have to want it badly enough.

She was a scullery maid for a number of years and then a cook, during the twenties, when there was a substantial divide between ‘them’ upstairs, and the domestic staff downstairs.  She worked for a number of different characters, all of whom required the staff to call them ‘Madam’, and never called the staff anything but their last names. The population who comprised the domestic service were mostly from the poor.   One employer was surprised to see her reading a book, saying she (the employer) didn’t know she could read.  Being a scullery maid was a tough job,  especially since the cooks under whom they worked thought all of them shiftless and stupid, and berated them daily.

A lot of the book is devoted to comments about the social divide, how they were treated so poorly, and what would appear to be a rapid turnover of scullery maids, parlor maids, under parlor maids, footmen, etc.   The one house where the domestic staff was treated well, with respect, and paid well, all the staff stayed their whole lives, and she only worked there as a cook on a temporary basis while the permanent cook had and operation and a recovery period.  She was so sorry to have to leave that place.

Her stories of the stingy and haughty manner of the various employers would be amusing if it weren’t so sad, but by the end of her stint in domestic service, things were already changing a bit, wages were higher, with more time off.

Upstairs Downstairs, and Downton Abby were based on her work.  Very entertaining reading, and makes you glad that was never your lot in life, that’s for sure.

ENGLISH CREEK by Ivan Doig

Ivan Doig has staked out the Dupuyer Creek area of northern Montana as the setting for most if not all of his books, and you can see the love of the area in his descriptions.  Montana weather and landscape combine to act as a character in its own right in his stories.

English Creek is the story of one summer in the life of the almost-fifteen-year-old son of the Forest Ranger in charge of the English Creek area of the National Forest.  It is told in the first person and He might possibly be one of the few teenagers you might actually want to meet in person.  The year is 1939, a  period between the wars that has the cattle ranchers in the area going bust and selling out, sheep production taking over, a much more profitable enterprise, and many farmers giving up the toil against the weather and falling prices.

The book has lots of wonderful characters, from the boy’s mother, a former librarian,

…. a warning she felt she had to put out, in that particular tone of voice with punctuation all through it.  When we could start hearing her commas and capital letters we knew the topic had become Facing Facts, Not Going Around with Our Heads Stuck in Yesterday.

Another old character was described as

. . .  one of those chuckling men you meet rarely, able to stave off time by perpetually staying in such high humor that the years didn’t want to interrupt him.

And a couple of others:

Glacier Gus was an idler so slow that it was said he wore spurs to keep his shadow from treading on his heels.

Three Day Thurlow had an everlasting local reputation as a passable worker his first day on a job, a complainer on his second, and gone sometime during his third.

Our boy’s older brother, Alex, 18, a whiz with math, has decided against college, much to his parents’ dismay, and wants to marry the local  belle who hasn’t yet finished high school.  He stomps off when his parents  try to talk him out of it, and gets a job with the biggest cattle rancher still operating in the region, living in the ranch’s bunkhouse.

It is a lovely and gentle story of family ties and the complexities of relationships, and ends with a massive forest fire in the district, fought hard and bravely by the fire service and those it can enlist to help.

I have a couple of other of Doig’s books in the queue.  Can’t wait to get to them.

BRIGHTNESS FALLS FROM THE AIR by James Tiptree Jr.

When Alli Sheldon started writing science fiction, she wrote four stories and sent them off to four different science fiction magazines. She did not want to publish under her real name, because of her CIA and academic ties, and she intended to use a new pseudonym for each group of stories until some sold. They started selling immediately, and only the first pseudonym—”Tiptree” from a jar of jelly, “James” because she felt editors would be more receptive to a male writer, and “Jr.” for fun—was needed. Her mother was the writer Mary Hastings Bradley; her father, Herbert, was a lawyer and explorer. Alice Sheldon died in 1987 by her own hand.

So, that’s the author.  And now for the book.  Brightness Falls from the Air is a hard science sci fi written in 1985, about a small planet on the fringe of accessibility.  Winged humanoids live there, along with a number of other strange creatures.  It was discovered some time ago that the winged creatures possessed a substance in the wing glands that tasted fantastic to humans, and it was also discovered that if it was harvested while the creature was in distress, it tasted even better.  So the humans sadistically hunted these beings down until almost extinction, there was a war over it, and the Dameii became a protected species.

There are three guardians on the planet now to ensure the safety and health of the Dameii. Visitors to the planet must be fully vetted and get hard-to-get permission to go they.  The guardians have built a small hostel, and periodically receive visitors to view (from a distance) the ethereal Dameii, and to watch the spectacular light show of the periodic passing of a dying star.

When the story opens, visitors are just arriving, and a motley bunch they are, too, consisting of an eleven-year-old prince kind of on a Grand Tour to find a suitable mate, an aristocratic woman and her comatose twin, with whom she is wired by brain so her sister can receive stimuli and hopefully recover. (Kind of like a wifi hookup.)   However, it has been twenty years since the accident which put her into the coma, so the odds are not good.  There are a couple of scientists, and two strange guys who are furious because their flight tickets were not to this planet, in which they have no interest, but to another, but the transport ship doesn’t want to hear it, and leaves them there to deal. And a Reality TV group, a videographer and his troupe of 4 teens.

It turns out that almost no one is who they seem at the outset, and there are a number of twists and turns and reveals and counter reveals and retro reveals that made this, for me, a great read.  Goodreads folk were mixed in their enjoyment, but I am a simpler kind of soul, and don’t mind if some of my sci fi is more fi than sci, and so therefore I found it entertaining and agreeable, which is, after all, all I ask of a book.  Right?