I've done it again. I've let too many books pile up so here's the skinny on the last five books I've read:
The Dain Curse by Dashielle Hammett
Dashiell Hammett wrote The Maltese Falcon and The Thin Man both of which became popular Hollywood movies in the thirties and forties of the last century. Hammett was a prolific author who wrote many murder mysteries, defining the hard nosed private eye. The Dain Curse starts with what else? a murder.
Mr. Leggett is found dead in his diamond making laboratory in the second floor of his home. At first we think it's the wife. She has the motive. But no, it turns out it's the daughter who actually has the motive. Wait a minute, the daughter is just the desperate junkie and member of a cult and needs saving by her fiance. So he did it. No he didn't! He gets murdered too. Looks awfully like the daughter did it. Guess what! She didn't and you'll never guess who did it because there are so many characters and suspects and it really is the least likely one who did it after all. A nice fun read when you need a break from the heavier stuff.
The Bridge Over the River Kwai by Pierre Boulle
I had heard so much about this book and I finally got around to reading it. It is worth reading, even if you're not interested in WWII stories.
A troop of British soldiers gets caught by the Japanese and is put to work to build a bridge yes, over the river Kwai in Thailand. This will enable the Japanese to drive their trains with supplies across the continent. It is an essential traveling point for the Japanese and any sabotage would seriously hamper their efforts to win the war.
Naturally, the soldiers do their best to make as defective a bridge as possible.
But they are called up short by their commander, Colonel Nicholson, who is also prisoner. He informs them that, as Englishmen, they are going to show these Japanese their superiority by making the most perfect bridge ever. Colonel Nicholson tyrannically presides over the building of this bridge, indifferent to the health or welfare of his subordinates. They are going to make a bridge that will publicly establish the superiority of the English over their enemies.
Little known to Nicholson, a British intelligence operations group is watching and making preparations to blow up the bridge.
This book is filled with suspense and is fascinating in its psychology. How someone can become so obsessed with his idée fixe that he loses sight of the reality of the situation. The British objective was not to prove their superiority but to win a war, which meant defeating their enemies, not aiding and abetting them.
I really had no idea how the story was going to end and I could barely wait to find out. Highly recommended reading.
Wednesday the Rabbi Got Wet by Harry Kemelman
I picked this up from a book fair for a dollar. The title appealed to me. This is one of a series of stories by Kemelman about Rabbi Small. It also is a murder mystery of sorts. The most interesting thing about this book is not the storyline, however. It is Kemelman's observations, as told by the Rabbi and other members of his synagogue concerning the culture of Judaism: orthodox vs reform, Christianity compared to Judaism. The purpose of religion, is Judaism a religion (hint: not to Rabbi Small) and so on. I have always been interested in Jewish culture and I found this book both interesting and enlightening. In fact I went and bought the Rabbi's other days of the week.
The History of Christianity by Davie Bentley Hart
A year ago I finished twelve volumes of the history of Christianity by a Roman Catholic publisher. Needless to say, the account had a definite Catholic slant but was also fair and objective and extremley informative.
This books is written by a member of the Eastern Orthodox Church. It is a much shorter and concise history, being one volume with fifty-one chapters, each only a couple of pages long dealing with an era of Christianity from the death of Christ to the present day. Since Hart is Orthodox, his slant is somewhat different. That is not to say the record of historical events are different, just his conclusions regarding certain historical events.
I enjoyed this book because it showed up certain facts that I had not previously appreciated, such as the role of certain men who developed the Cyrillic alphabet (named after Cyril, one of two monks who traveled to Russia and developed the alphabet so the Bible could be read in the heart language of the people) and also the Byzantine viewpoint of the schisms that took place between the Eastern and Western branches of the church.
The Club of Queer Trades by G. K. Chesterton
And lastly, my beloved Chesterton! The Club of Queer Trades is typical Chesterton, always making one think outside the box.
The club of Queer Trades is a group whose members can only join if they are engaged in an unusual job but one they can make a living at.
There are six stories, each one a mystery- and forget about having any idea whatsoever of what's going on until the protagonist, Basil Grant, enlightens you at the very end. The stories are fun and mysterious. My edition has Chesterton's own illustrations which I find cute. That may sound strange but I don't know how else to describe them.