REDEMPTION STREET by Reed Farrel Coleman

Walking the Perfect Square introduced Moe Prager—retired New York City cop-turned-wine shop owner—to much acclaim and an enthusiastic readership. Still possessed of his vintage police savvy, and perhaps the only Jewish licensed PI in the five boroughs, Moe wonders if he’s really meant to be a merchant and not a cop. Redemption Street finds him in 1981, lured into the mystery of a 1966 hotel fire—one that killed seventeen people, including his first love—by a long-grieving brother and Moe’s own restless determination to set things right.

Reed Farrel Coleman’s crisp, page-turning narrative has Moe trudging through his childhood summer vacation stomping grounds, the now-decaying Catskill resort scene. The borscht belt’s near-forgotten landscape of scarred lives, ambitious politicians, and corrupt cops is the minefield Moe must brave to find the truth. Was the fire really sparked by a negligent smoker or was it murder?”

This is the second Moe Prager novel I have read, because I started with the sixth volume in the series.  Oh well.  This was very interesting, dealing with the old Catskills resort area after its sad decline.

Good mystery, but I pretty much figured it out, which is a rarity for me.  But it is basically about cultural assimilation, Jewish self-hatred, anti-Semitism, and the idea that the past is never really past, and it is always personal.


STARFISH by Peter Watts

Boy, I love Peter Watts.  A foremost sci fi British writer, he gives us a story line that is a page turner, great style writing, and some pretty nifty science stuff.

Starfish is the first of a trilogy, and I accidentally read the second book  in the series already, Maelstrom,  which I talk about here.

Here is the basics of Starfish.

A huge international corporation has developed a facility along the Juan de Fuca Ridge at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean to exploit geothermal power. They send a bio-engineered crew–people who have been altered to withstand the pressure and breathe the seawater–down to live and work in this weird, fertile undersea darkness.

Unfortunately the only people suitable for long-term employment in these experimental power stations are crazy, some of them in unpleasant ways. How many of them can survive, or will be allowed to survive, while worldwide disaster approaches from below?

Really fine, really really fine.


CARVED IN BONE by Jefferson Bass

A body farm is not nearly so uggy as you might think.  Well, ok, yes it is.  It is a scientific area where donated bodies are left to rot out in the open, or partially covered by brush, or are buried and dug up occasionally to see the rate of decomposition, etc.  It is a way to learn how and why and when decomposition happens, which helps forensic teams determine time and manner of death.

Jefferson Bass is the pen name of Jon Jefferson, writer, and Dr. Bill Bass, renowned forensic anthropologist. Jefferson and Bass have collaborated on 2 nonfiction books and 6 crime novels.  Dr. Bass, founder of the University of Tennessee’s “Body Farm,” is an author on more than 200 scientific publications. Jefferson is a veteran journalist and documentary filmmaker; his two National Geographic documentaries on the Body Farm were seen around the world.

So this is based on some real life stuff, and what an interesting read it was, too.  It is a bit of “Deliverance” meets Forensics, and the story line is thus:  Renowned anthropologist Dr. Bill Brockton has spent his career surrounded by death at the Body Farm. Now he’s being called upon to help solve a baffling puzzle in a remote mountain community. The mummified corpse of a young woman dead for thirty years has been discovered in a cave, the body bizarrely preserved and transformed by the environment’s unique chemistry. But Brockton’s investigation is threatening to open old wounds among an insular people who won’t forget or forgive. And a long-buried secret prematurely exposed could inflame Brockton’s own guilt.

This composite author has five more books in this series, so off I go to get some of the others.

THE WHEEL SPINS by Ethel White

This book, written in 1936, was the basis for Alfred Hitchcock’s classic film The Lady Vanishes.  

It is set on a continental train traveling back from some European holiday destination spot, and on it are our protagonist, a young flighty woman, and several of the vacationers from the resort where she had been staying.

In a first class carriage, she meets a middle-aged spinster, who has been traveling her whole life, off and on, and has just finished a stint as a governess for a wealthly family in some area which may have been Bavaria or Prussia or someplace.  The two hit it off, go for a meal in the dining car, and pass and say hello to a few others.  Back in the carriage, the girl falls asleep, and when she awakes, the companion is gone, and after several hours, still has not returned.

When the girl asks about the woman, everyone claims there was no such person, and for reasons of their own, the various pèople they had encountered on their way to the dining car also claim never to have seen her.

She, together with a couple of men she had met at the station awaiting the train, go about trying to find the women, while the men really do not believe her and think she is hallucinating.

Clever story, locked room (or locked train in this case haha) mysteries are always fun.

ON BEAUTY by Zadie Smith

“Howard Belsey, a Rembrandt scholar who doesn’t like Rembrandt, is an Englishman abroad and a long-suffering professor at Wellington, a liberal New England arts college. He has been married for thirty years to Kiki, an Afro-American woman who no longer resembles the sexy activist she once was. Their three children passionately pursue their own paths: Levi quests after authentic blackness, Zora believes that intellectuals can redeem everybody, and Jerome struggles to be a believer in a family of strict atheists. Faced with the oppressive enthusiasms of his children, Howard feels that the first two acts of his life are over and he has no clear plans for the finale. Or the encore.

Then Jerome, Howard’s older son, falls for Victoria, the stunning daughter of the Black right-wing icon Monty Kipps, and the two families find themselves thrown together in a beautiful corner of America, enacting a cultural and personal war against the background of real wars that they barely register. An infidelity, a death, and a legacy set in motion a chain of events that sees all parties forced to examine the unarticulated assumptions which underpin their lives. How do you choose the work on which to spend your life? Why do you love the people you love? Do you really believe what you claim to? And what is the beautiful thing, and how far will you go to get it?
This is an  analysis of family life, the institution of marriage, intersections of the personal and political, and an honest look at people’s deceptions.”

And there is a lot in the book about race.  Which the official plot description fails to mention, failing even to mention the races of the principle characters, which has a lot to do with the story line in general.  I edited in those descriptions into the official plot.  Strange, that.

Good read.  Zadie Smith is a great writer, and her books are filled with fascinating characters, and realisitic situations.  Definitely a kind of page turner.

THE DESCENDANTS by Kaui Hart Hemmings

A descendant of old Hawaiian families, that of a missionary and a Hawaiian princess, the family now owns a huge amount of land, all held in trust, and what’s left of the family has several proposals to purchase it and of course, develop it.  Most of the family are in favor of this because it means a big chunk of change in their pockets, and the first person narrator, a lawyer, who holds the majority shares in the venture, has the controlling vote.

So while all this is going on, his wife, something of a playgirl type is in a sailing accident and now lies in a deep coma, and never expected to regain consciousness.  The lawyer and his two daughters, a ten-year-old girl beginning a rebel phase, and his sixteen year old daughter, who has never fully gotten along with her mother and is away at boarding school because of her delinquent behavior at home, have to learn how to deal with this coming death, and with each other in a new way.

The girls are brought home from school to be with their mother during her last days, as she will be taken off life support soon, in accordance with her living will.

Throughout this process, we learn more about the marriage, that the wife had been having an affair with a property broker, and that the quiet, home-loving lawyer was probably the wrong choice for the vivacious social wife.

Story of a unbalanced marriage, wherein the husband thought everything was just hunky dory only to learn that he was the only one happy in the marriage.

Basically chic lit, a predictable ending, but readable nevertheless.  Not everything has to be Infinite Jest.

DEFINITELY MAYBE by Arkady Strugatsky, Boris Strugatsky

The Strugatsky brothers were Soviet-Russian science fiction authors who collaborated through most of their careers.   They were arguably  the greatest science fiction writers of the Soviet era: their books were intellectually provocative and riotously funny, full of boldly imagined scenarios and veiled—but clear—social criticism.

Definitely Maybe tells the story of astrophysicist Dmitri Malianov, who has sent his wife and son off to her mother’s house in Odessa so that he can work, free from distractions, on the project he’s sure will win him the Nobel Prize.

But he’d have an easier time making progress if he wasn’t being interrupted all the time: First, it’s the unexpected delivery of a crate of vodka and caviar. Then a beautiful young woman in an unnervingly short skirt shows up at his door. Then several of his friends—also scientists—drop by, saying they all felt they were on the verge of a major discovery when they got . . . distracted . . .
Is there an ominous force that doesn’t want knowledge to progress? Or could it be something more . . . natural?

Told in the form of diary excerpts, it is fragments of the attempts of various scientists to achieve their breakthrough ideas, but just who or what is preventing them is unclear to all.  Could it be ……. aliens?  hahaha

Not quite as funny as Roadside Picnic, which posits the debris and trash left behind by alien sightseers, but Definitely Maybe is still pretty clever, nonetheless.  The Strugatsky books give the reader a lot of questions, and dang little in the way of answers, suggesting that we are simply a clueless species who don’t know what questions to ask, let alone any of the answers.  I talked about Roadside Picnic here.