THE GUN SELLER by Hugh Laurie

You know Hugh Laurie.  He is Dr. House.  And a consummate performer, writer, actor, musician, etc. etc.  He partnered with Stephen Fry for years in several comedy shows in Great Britain, one of which was Jeeves and Wooster, which aired in the US as well.  Well, he wrote a novel in 1998, a thriller, which was kind of nifty.

OK, somewhat trope-ridden, and a little too cutesy-funsy, leaning heavily on British music hall humor at the beginning, but it got better as it went on.

Typical good guy/bad guys, international conspiracy by the capitalists kind of thing, but enjoyable none the less.  I believe it was his only offering in the novel genre.

Interesting how often a person talented in one genre also is talented in other artistic areas.

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RELIC by Douglas Preston

Just days before a massive exhibition opens at the popular New York Museum of Natural History, visitors are being savagely murdered in the museum’s dark hallways and secret rooms. Autopsies indicate that the killer cannot be human.

But the museum’s directors plan to go ahead with a big bash to celebrate the new exhibition, in spite of the murders.

Museum researcher Margo Green must find out who-or what-is doing the killing, along with FBI hotshot Aloysius Pendergast.

That’s the official plot description.  Actually, it starts off with a couple of scientist explorers in the Amazon hot on the trail of a hidden tribe.  They find artifacts, and an elderly woman warns them off.  One of them disappears, the other sends his finds back to the ship via their native guide/helper, and continues to look for his vanished partner and the tribe itself.  One of the things he has found is a relic — a small statue of a creature presumably the god of this tribe.  He also is never heard from again.

Cut to New York and the Museum of Natural History, where we meet a cast of interesting personages, and are stunned to learn that a couple of kids have been murdered in a vicious manner.  Then another.  What the deuce is happening?

It all hinges on a theory propounded by one of the museum’s scientists.  He says:

”Every sixty to seventy million years or so, life starts getting very well adapted to its environment. Too well adapted, perhaps. There is a population explosion of the successful life forms. Then, suddenly a new species appears out of the blue. It is almost always a predatory creature, a killing machine. It tears through the host population, killing, feeding, multiplying. Slowly at first, then ever faster.”

Random mutation is very well known, and if a mutant form develops in the right environment with the right food supply, anything can happen.  He is proposing that what appears to be a creature with the intelligence of a human is living in the museum.  It appears it may have come in with the shipment from the Amazon sent by the disappeared scientist explorers.

The final third of the book is essentially thriller, with the creature stalking and killing, and the ending has one tiny twist that is a nifty surprise at the very end.

Although I am not usually a fan of evil slime-dripping creature stalking and killing stories, but because of the basis of this, I found it great for about two-thirds, and  generally OK after that.  Well, heck, I read it all the way through, didn’t I?   With relish.

 

 

THE MINOTAUR by Barbara Vine

Barbara Vine is a pseudonym for the author Ruth Rendell, and under this nom de plume she publishes novels of psychological suspense. This one was published in 2005, and has elements of modern Gothic horror.

The official plot description, for your edification and review:

As soon as Kerstin Kvist arrives at remote, ivy-covered Lydstep Old Hall in Essex, she feels like a character in a gothic novel. A young nurse fresh out of school, Kerstin has been hired for a position with the Cosway family, residents of the Hall for generations. She is soon introduced to her “charge” John Cosway, a thirty-nine-year-old man whose strange behavior is vaguely explained by his mother and sisters as part of the madness that runs in the family.

Weeks go by at Lydstep with little to mark the passage of time beyond John’s daily walks and the amusingly provincial happenings that engross the Cosway women, and Kerstin occupies her many free hours at the Hall reading or making entries into her diary. Meanwhile, bitter wrangling among Julia Cosway and her four grown daughters becomes increasingly evident. But this is just the most obvious of the tensions that charge the old remote estate, with its sealed rooms full of mystery. Soon Kerstin will find herself in possession of knowledge she will wish she’d never attained, secrets that will propel the occupants of Lydstep Old Hall headlong into sexual obsession, betrayal, and, finally, murder.

This was a terrific book, containing everything I like:  British understatement, that slightly off-center story, characters that are so strange you just have to love them, and mystery.

Kerstin is told by the friend of the Cosways, who recommended her for the job, that the house has a labyrinth, and Kerstin spends a lot of time roaming the grounds looking for it but is unsuccessful in finding it.  Finally, one of the daughters of the house explains to her that it is in the library, and when taken there, Kerstin discovers it is indeed a labyrinth, set up by one of the great grandfathers, a mazi of isles created by book.  There are thousands of books, in the dimly lit room, narrow aisles, teetering piles, dusty shelves.  The aisles eventually lead to a center cleared area where a statue of one of the atheistic philosophers stands with his hands positioned to hold a book, and in them is placed a bible.

The mentally challenged son she is supposed to be caring for turns out to be autistic, which was not widely known about in the setting of the story, the 70s.  He has been drugged by his mother who dislikes him, and her elderly boyfriend doctor, who could be censured for prescribing these inappropriate drugs.   He loves the library, and after the murder of one of his sisters, for which he is blamed, retreats to the library.  The law enforcement people have to find him in there and drag him out, hence the title of the book.

For me, it was a total page-turner, and was one of the books I was sad when it had to end.

 

THE GREAT IMPERSONATION by E. Phillips Oppenheim

Another great read from my LIST of the best sellers of the last 100 years.  This one was published in 1920.

Set in the years before World War I, a dissolute aristocrat from England apparently kills a man who allegedly attacked him in the woods near his estate.  The body of the man is never found, and when the aristocrat returns home covered in blood, his wife goes into some kind of shock and goes crazy.  Under this cloud, the aristocrat goes to Africa to spree around and shoot game and generally make a drunken nuisance of himself.

After about ten years, he is found, almost dead, by a German operative, a man he went to college with years and years ago.  Curiously, they look almost identical, a fact noted back in college days.  He is nursed back to health, and the two of them spend a night sharing secret stories of their lives and pasts.  Then the German guy must leave on assignment, and the British aristocrat is sent on his way with supplies.  But those supplies do not include water or food, only whiskey, meant to kill him.

He is found dead, and the German goes to England in his stead, claiming to be the aristocrat.  We the Gentle Readers are never quite sure just whose side this German guy is on.  The Germans are using him as a spy to keep them posted on the temperature of the British people and provide him with money to recover his estate, pay his debts, and no long be the debouched cad he was.  His ‘old’ acquaintances are delighted at this change in him, his deranged wife begins to care for him, but claiming he is a different man, not her husband, the Hungarian princess with whom he (the German count) was having an affair still is desirous of him, but feels he has changed dramatically from the cavalier she once knew who killed her husband in a fight, hence his exile to Africa.

War approaches, and we see the struggle of those English who believe war is imminent, and those who believe that the Germans want peace as much as they do, personified in the personage of the aristocrat’s Duchess cousin’s husband, the Duke, and in the personage of a German salesman, a naturalized British citizen, who befriends the guy on the ship home to Britain, and turns out to be his handler.

So.  Who is alive?  Who died in Africa?  Did anyone die in Africa?  Can a tiger change its stripes.

Fun read.  Well written, cleverly plotted.

E. Phillips Oppenheim was the author of 116 novels, mainly of the suspense and international intrigue type, but including romances, comedies, and parables of everyday life, and 39 volumes of short stories, all of which earned him vast sums of money. He also wrote five novels under the pseudonymn Anthony Partridge and a volume of autobiography, ‘The Pool of Memory’ in 1939.

He is generally regarded as the earliest writer of spy fiction as we know it today, and invented the ‘Rogue Male’ school of adventure thrillers.    More than 30 of his works were made into films.

Well, dang, you could spend  a good many years simply reading his oeuvre.

Magic. Wizards. Spells.  Demons.  You know, everyday stuff like that. Ho-hum.  Yawn.  hahaha  This is the first of the Dresden Files series, of which there are about sebenty-lebenty books.  The genre is fantasy/paranormal/magic/mystery.    Kind of noir wizard detective in the 40’s Raymond Chandler style.  You know, Sorceress in A Red Dress.  As written in 2000.

It was fun, but got a little too evil demon-ish for my taste, a whole lot of whirling and swirling and damage and black magic and stuff like that.  I like my fantasy/paranormal/magic/mystery a bit more subtle, thanks.  Here’s the plot, such as it is:

Lost Items Found. Paranormal Investigations. Consulting. Advice. Reasonable Rates. No Love Potions, Endless Purses, or Other Entertainment.

Harry Dresden is the best at what he does. Well, technically, he’s the only at what he does. So when the Chicago P.D. has a case that transcends mortal creativity or capability, they come to him for answers. For the “everyday” world is actually full of strange and magical things—and most don’t play well with humans. That’s where Harry comes in. Takes a wizard to catch a—well, whatever. There’s just one problem. Business, to put it mildly, stinks.

So when the police bring him in to consult on a grisly double murder committed with black magic, Harry’s seeing dollar signs. But where there’s black magic, there’s a black mage behind it. And now that mage knows Harry’s name. And that’s when things start to get interesting.

Dresden is a wizard working as a P.I., or a P.I. working as a wizard.  A woman calls his office, needing his services.  And that’s where it begins.  Then it continues when the police call him to view a double murder where the victims’ hearts have been …. well …. exploded.  Egad.  Obviously done by magic, and between the chick and the gruesome murder, Harry is suddenly busy.

Fun read, but I’ll take a pass on the remaining series.  I can only take so much summoning of demons before I get hungry and want to summon a pizza.

BOOGIE HOUSE by T. Blake Braddy

OK, I really loved this book.  A nice mashup of mystery, thriller, paranormal lite, and small southern town politics.

Even though it stars  a tried-and-true trope of the alcoholic cop on suspension, or maybe he was fired? I forget.  He was drunk, ran a stop sign, ploughed into an older black woman, destroying her car, but fortunately she only suffered a leg injury.

In one of his evenings along with the bottle, he wanders into the surrounding woods and finds himself at the old boogie house, a negro juke from the sixties, now abandoned and decaying.  He hears music, blues and laughter and people having fun.  He goes gingerly to the building, steps in, the halluciation stops, and he sees the beaten and tortured body of a young black man, dead a few days, in a corner.

He of course calls the police and reports it, and it turns out to be the son of the woman he T-boned.  She visits him to tell him she will speak in his favor at the court hearing for his dui, and asks him to find the killer of her son.

We meet a mojo man, more spirit apparitions, more ethereal blues music, and a desperate wannabe senator who will do anything to keep his run for congress from collapsing.

Great mystery, just enough paranormal to be interesting without being too woo woo and not credible,  just enough sad history of his own, which all twines around this current situation, and just enough likability of our trope-bound protagonist to make it a really interesting and fun read.

There are two more volumes to this series.

THE THIRTY NINE STEPS by John Buchan

This  is a 1915 novella by John Buchan. John Buchan, 1st Baron Tweedsmuir, GCMG, GCVO, CH, PC was a Scottish novelist, historian, and Unionist politician who served as Governor General of Canada, the 15th since Canadian Confederation.

I say! What a dashed ripping yarn old chap!  (I stole that from a review on Goodreads.)  I usually like books from this era, but frankly, for me, this one read like a YA boy’s thriller.

A guy returns to England from Rhodesia, and is bored.  There is a spy living in his apartment house, and who ends up dying in Hannay’s apartment, and our boy is on the run from the police who think he did it.  He has found a coded notebook of the spy, and it talks of an important person getting killed which would start off a great war.  There were was something about the counterspies who will escape by means of the thirty-nine steps.

On the run, Hannay decides to go to Scotland, but the police and the other spy guys get wind of him there, and he experiences a lot of hair’s breadth escapes, a lot of which includes improbable disguises.  Makes you think those other spy guys were pretty incompetent.

Well, spoiler time, Hannay is not in time to alert the authorities, and that important guy gets killed, but Hannay is able to thwart the killers’ escape.   What comes to be called the Great War starts two days later.

There are a bunch more books in this series.  But not for me.  I am going to leave improbable disguise thrillers, and get back to improbable space opera thrillers.  Eh.  To each her own, right?