Thursday, January 26, 2017

Fer de Lance by Rex Stout; Clouds of Witness by Dorothy Sayers and The Man in the Queue by Josephine Tey

For Christmas, Josh and I bought ourselves a record player.  One of the indie bookstores we frequent in Shreveport sells vinyl records.  Because they had a buy-five-get-one-free sale among the used vinyls, we spent at least an hour going through and selecting Classical and Christmas records.  Josh and I each brought twenty records to the counter and paid around forty dollars for them.  I couldn't do the math, but Josh somehow arranged the records so we would get maximum value (since you have to pay for the most expensive and get the cheapest free) and it involved each of us bringing a pile to the cashier.

We got home with our prizes and soon found out that we should have checked the speed and material of the records.  Some were 78s, others were 33 and 1/2 and still others were made out of glass or something not vinyl.

But, most of them were entirely playable and therefore it was a profitable venture and also a lesson to make sure the records we buy are only vinyl 33s.  One of life's more harmless cautionary tales.

I am now listening to a selection of Gershwin, Gottschalk and Joplin.  Is it my imagination or does music sound better on vinyl?

 Fer de Lance by Rex Stout (published 1934)

 Because Detective Ollie Chandler listened to Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe's stories in the murder mystery Deception by Randy Alcorn, I ordered a couple of Stout mysteries.

Fer-de-Lance (Nero Wolfe, #1)Fer-de-Lance by Rex Stout

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the very first Nero Wolf mystery and the second one I read.

A man goes with family and friends on a golfing outing but collapses of a heart attack after swinging his club. But is it a heart attack? Nero Wolfe, who never leaves his house, knows that it is murder.

I enjoyed how the plot developed and this book was wonderfully devoid of the overt sexism in the other Wolfe mystery I read. Wolfe has an almost god-like omniscience and we don't watch him discover how events transpire, rather he lets us know how he has solved the case long before anyone else has.

While its fun to watch the drama unfold and the facts slowly reveal themselves to allow us to attempt solving the case too, I must say, Wolfe is not a likeable character. He is eccentric and egotistical holding few others in respect, although surprising us with who he will treat respectfully.

The police and lawyers can take on a bullying attitude, but Archie Goodwin, the narrator and Wolfe's right hand man and leg man, holds his own. Wolfe at all times remains impeturbable.

This story took some surprising twists, which I always enjoy, but at the same time, Wolfe holds a certain callousness and a lack of value for human life. Solving murders is more like an algebraic equation for him and he takes as much pleasure out of his orchids. I find this off putting but I suppose we're supposed to consider it an interesting character attribute and take it in stride.

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 The above is my review on Goodreads below is what I add to this blog review:

Nero Wolfe is a character unto himself.  He is a large man who rarely leaves his brownstone in Manhatten.  He will not change his schedule for anyone, including when he rises (eleven A.M.) the hour he visits his precious Orchids, or when he will see people, usually at some late, inconvenient hour.

Who is Wolfe?  A detective that is able to solve the most baffling mysteries, usually murders, without stepping foot out of his house.  He has a foot man, Archie Goodwin that goes out and interviews, and researches and basically whatever he needs to do, to find out as many facts as he can from a crime and bring it all back, including dragging reluctant witnesses, lawyers, suspects and what have you, to Wolfe.

Sometimes this seems a waste of time because Wolfe already seems to know much of what is going on through his own sixth sense or from reading the papers.  Wolfe is more than an astute observer of humans, he seems to have a mathematical ability to synthesize apparently disparate events and arrive at improbable solutions that, in fact, lead to the guilty party.  

As in Fer de Lance:

An Italian woman, Maria Maffei seeks Wolfe's help in finding her missing brother, Carlo, who was supposed to have returned to Italy.  He never got on the ship and has been missing for a couple of weeks.

Likewise, a professor Barstow is on vacation, playing a round of golf with friends and family, when after swinging his club, collapses of a heart attack.

Or is it a heart attack?  Ah no!  Mr. Wolfe has already combined events to know that Barstow has been murdered and so has Carlo and furthermore there's a connection and that is all I'm going to write about that in case anyone wants to read the story.

There's nothing more to say other than Stout is an exceedingly witty writer and the read is a joyful hayride over facts and events that lead one to a believable and exciting conclusion.

 Clouds of Witness by Dorothy Sayers (pub. 1926)
Clouds of Witness (Lord Peter Wimsey Mysteries, #2)Clouds of Witness by Dorothy L. Sayers

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I mention "believable" a lot when critiquing mysteries because it is an essential quality that a mystery must have. If the author breaks our belief in the story, the whole thing falls down like a house of cards and we, the reader, are left feeling dissatisfied and sometimes angry, maybe even betrayed ("I invested a week of reading to this story only to be cheated by a ridiculous conclusion?")

Therefore it is with a heavy heart that I must conclude that Clouds of Witness left me a little wanting. It simply is not Sayers' best mystery. It is not a total loss because Lord Wimsey is as charming and witty as ever and the dialogue alone is worth the read-especially Wimsey's repartee and his mother's who is every bit his match.

Wimsey is in Paris when he reads in the paper that his own brother has been arrested on suspicion of murder. The victim is their sister Margaret's fiancee.

Hardly being able to contain his excitement Peter starts ordering his valet, Bunter, to pack and book a train passage. He discovers that Bunter has already packed and booked a plane ticket since it's faster. Bunter is Wimsey's Jeeves, but Wimsey, being brilliant, is not Bunter's Wooster.

As with most of Sayer's mysteries, this one leads you on quite the trail of intrigue and adventure, not to mention misadventure so I cannot say the book was a disappointment.

No, I was only let down a little at the conclusion, but maybe that's not fair to say since others might find her solution entirely satisfactory. I'll say no more and let future readers decide for themselves.

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Finally, I am excited to introduce a new (for me) discovery:

  Man in the Queue by Josephine Tey (pub. 1929)

The Man in the Queue (Inspector Alan Grant, #1)The Man in the Queue by Josephine Tey

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I read this book over the weekend. I have never read anything by Tey before and after reading this first novel of hers, consider her a gem of a find.

People are crowding each other in a line outside a theater to see a final performance of the wonderful Ray Marcable's "Swan" performance before she sails off to America. A fat woman (her description, now we would say a "woman of size") is trying to pay for her ticket while she is being pushed by the man and the crowd behind her.

She turns around to tell the man to back off (or she does, I don't remember) but the man sinks to his knees and keels over. In his back is a thin dagger. How did a man get to be murdered in a crowded line with no one noticing?

That is the job of Detective Grant of the Scotland Yard to find out. Giving nothing away I will give my subjective reaction to reading this story.

It was one of the best mysteries I've read. Tey is not like other mystery writers. She follows no formula. I was surprised at the different paths the story line took. Following a sluggish, beginning, the plot quickened its pace and maintained it through out. I was surprised and delighted at the solution and conclusion.

What I liked best about the story was the humanness of all the characters. No one was a propped up cardboard figure, which I sadly must accuse Rex Stout and sometimes my beloved Dorothy Sayers of doing.

Both Sayers and Stout have created heroes that are so much smarter than everyone else that they appear to possess an omniscient glow about them. Both Wimsey and Wolfe are forever befuddling and befooling (I made that word up) everyone else and especially the police.

And here I must shake a stern finger at both of them. They make the police out to be little more than idiots and even buffoons. This is neither fair nor believable.

I understand that maybe underdogs who have been bullied by police, detectives, lawyers, and powerful rich guys enjoy reading them dance to Wolfe and Archie's tune, but it is also a little one-dimensional.

The same is true for Lord Wimsey. Like Wolfe, he apparently has the entire mystery solved from the get go but just needs to play along until he gets irrefutable proof in order to convict the guilty party. I generalize, but it's basically true.

Probably that is why I liked Gaudy Night so much. We saw a tenderer, vulnerable side to Wimsey.

Tey's Inspector Grant is very smart and so are his fellow detectives but they are not know-alls. They struggle and are often wrong. That was an endearing attribute of Grant in Man in the Queu. He thinks he has things solved, then he doesn't. Then he does; no, he doesn't. Now he does! Rats, not yet, after all!

But he or the other police are still human and smart and likeable characters. Tey created people I would want to get to know. I doubt Lord Wimsey would look twice at me. Wolfe would simply eat me alive.

All the characters are pretty nice people and hospitable and very believable. I eagerly look forward to further Tey mysteries.

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 The rain falling outside my window.  You can see my giant oak, the reason I bought the house, a guinea pig pen and the ugly tin barriers we had to attach to the fence to keep my dogs from chewing through the wooden slats in their efforts to get at and mutilate the  miniature Schnauzers who live on the other side.  In my dogs' defense, the Schnauzers started it.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

100 Something Books Since February to December 2016

I need to get this out before this year is over and my little list of 2016 is no longer relevant.  Here is what I read, more or less, since last February.  The links will take you to my review:
  1. Hemingway:  the Writer as Artist by Carlos Baker
  2. Rudyard Kipling by Kingsley Amis
  3. History of England by G.M. Trevelyan
  4. A Higher Call by Adam Makos
  5. Joseph Conrad by Norman Sherry
  6. Ezra Pound by Peter Ackroyd
  7. Designa:  Technical Secrets of the Traditional Arts
  8. Dancing On My Grave by Gelsey Kirkland
  9. Douce Apacolypse
  10. The Place of Houses
  11. Tacitus:  Germania, Agricola, Oratory
  12. Paris in the Past and Montmarte
  13. New Grove's Modern Masters
  14. Beethoven Biography by Frederich Schiller
  15. Holding onto Air by Suzanne Farrell
  16. Stoneground Ghost Tales by Ralph B. Swain
  17. Maigret and the Spinster by Georges Simenon
  18. Lew Archer Private Investigator by Ross Macdonald
  19. Beethoven's Letters
  20. House of a Thousand Candles by Meredith Nicholson
  21. Why Call them Back form Heaven by Clifford Simak
  22. A Life in Photographs by Edward Steichen
  23. Knights of the Brush:  The Hudson River School and the Moral Landscape by James F. Cooper
  24. Mozart by Marcia Davenport
  25. The Writer's Art by James J.  Kilpatrick
  26. Beautiful Bibles
  27. The Ghost Stories of Edith Wharton
  28. A Composer's World by Paul Hindemith
  29. Agatha Christie:  Five Complete Novels
  30. I Should Be Dead by Bob Beckel
  31. Short Breaks Into Mordor:  Dawns and Departures of a Scribbler's Life by Peter Hitchens
  32. Christianity's Dangerous Idea by Allistair McGrath
  33. Chess:  An Illustrated by Raymond Keene
  34. The Lewis Chessmen Unmasked by David Caldwell
  35. Shirley Jackson:  Novels and Stories (The Lottery, The Haunting of Hill House, We Have Always Lived in the Castle and Complete Short Stories)
  36. Midnight to Siberia by David Greene
  37. Michelango An Art Book
  38. The Zimmerman Telegraph
  39. Mozart: A Cultural Biography by Robert Gutman
  40. Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky
  41. The Loved One by Evelyn Waugh
  42. Death in a Prairie House:  Frank Lloyd Wright and the Taliesin Murders by William R. Drennan
  43. The Life of Michelangelo by Ascanio Condivi
  44. Meditating Spaces by Michael Freeman
  45. The Simple Home by Sarah Nettleton
  46. Hanok:  The Korean House by Nani Park and Robert J.  Fouser
  47. C.S.  Lewis:  An Experiment to Criticism
  48. Behold the Glory by Chad Walsh
  49. Historical Account of Two Notable Corruptions of Scripture by Isaac Newton
  50. Caves of Steel by Isaac Asimov
  51. The Naked Sun by Isaac Asimov
  52. A Walk Through the Cloisters by Bonnie Young
  53. The Vatican Collections
  54. Abandoned Places by Kieron Connolly
  55. Nine Tailors by Dorothy Sayers
  56. The Complete Short Stories by Ernest Hemingway
  57. On Stories to the Essays on Literature by C.S. Lewis
  58. The Quiet American Graham Greene
  59. Robots and Murder by Isaac Asimov
  60. TinTin Le tresor Rackham Le Rouge by Herge
  61. TinTin La Estrella Misteriosa by Herge
  62. Mozart:  a Life by Paul Johnson
  63. The Poetic Wonder of Isaac Watts by Douglas Bond
  64. The Gospel and Epistles of John by F.F. Bruce
  65. A Night on the Moor and Other Tales of Dread by R. Murray Gilchrist
  66. Gaudy Night by Dorothy Sayers
  67. One of the Few by Jason Ladd
  68. Medieval Monsters by Damien Kempf and Maria L. Gilbert
  69. Ernest Hemingway:  A Life Story by Carlos Baker
  70.  A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway
  71. Parrots by Petra Deimer
  72. TinTin L'Etoile Mysterieuse by Herge
  73. Parrots by Batest Bosesabork
  74. Budgerigar Handbook by Ernest L. Hart
  75. African Grey Parrots by Mulawka
  76. Cockatiels by Nancy Curtis
  77. TinTin Au Congo by Herge
  78. Frank Lloyd Wright American Master by Kathryn Smith
  79. The Good Soldier by Ford Madox Ford
  80. Crime Novels:  American Noir 1930s and 40s
  81. World of Ancient Rome by Michael Grant
  82. My Brilliant Career by Miles Franklin
  83. The Life of Michelangelo by Giorgio Vasari
  84. The Edge of the Chair Edited Joan Kahn
  85. The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert by Rosaria Butterfield
  86. Classic Tales of Horror Edited by Robin Brockman
  87. Night Flight by Antoine Saint de Exupery
  88. The Iliad by Homer
  89. The Witch of Prague and Other Stories by F. Marion Crawford
  90. Murder in the Gun Room by H.B. Piper
  91. TinTin en Amerique
  92. Classic Ghost Stories Edited by Robin Brockman
  93. Maniac McGee by Jerry Spirelli
  94.  Chilling Horror Stories (Gothic Fantasy) by Dale Townsend
  95. Seven Complete Perry Mason Novels by Erle Stanley Gardner
  96. Asterix the Gladiator by Goscinny and Uderzo
  97. Burmese Days; Keep the Apisdistra Flying and Comping Up for Air by George Orwell
  98. Chilling Ghost Stories by Dale Townsend
  99. Deception by Randy Alcorn
  100. Dr. Doolittle by Hugh Lofting
  101. Henry James on Italy 
  102. The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
  103. Coming Up for Air by George Orwell 
  104. Many Masks:  A Biography of Frank Lloyd Wright by Brendan  Gill
  105. The Colosseum by Peter Quenell 
  106. Letters of Mozart 
  107. Photographers:  Andre Kertesz, Lewis Hine, August Sanders, and Nadar
  108. The Thurber Carnival

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Visiting my folks: Photos of Longview Texas, the Gulf Coast Florida and somewhere in Mississippi

Synergy Park near my home in Longview, Texas

I am having technical difficulties.  Apparently the Daily Mail, a UK blog, doesn't like Macs because it has yet to post a single comment I have contributed.  I am suspicious of being snubbed because my husband posted one from his PC and he got published even though his comment wasn't nearly as thoughtful or as eloquently expressed as mine.

Blurry, but I love the accent of yellow against the subdued background.

Then this blog of mine won't let me make a comment above the list of the books I read in 2016, so I have given up until Josh gets home and let him fix it.  Of course the price is I have to listen to the well-worn sermon on how horrible Mac computers are but what choice do I have?
Derek and my parents at Synergy Park

So I will instead post some photos that I took last week while I was staying with my parents on the Gulf Coast.  My parents flew up to spend Christmas with us here in Texas.  Then my son in his car and I in mine drove, each carrying a parent/grandparent, back to Florida.

It's a ten-hour drive, the worst part being the three-hour straight shoot across the width of Louisiana.  Once we get to Mississippi the ride is broken by Vicksburg, Jackson, Hattiesburg, then on to Mobile, Pensacola, and finally to Niceville, my home town.

Mom and me in a gas station in Mobile, Alabama after nine hours of driving.  I think you can see the weariness on my face.

My mother, who has stage four lung cancer, suffered the most.  No more cross country drives for her.  She spent most of our Florida visit immobile on a recliner, completely lacking in energy.  Usually we visit all my favorite beaches but this time our visit was limited to conversation and reading books. I read out loud to her since she only has peripheral vision due to Macular Degeneration.  

Lest you pity her, know that her limited eyesight hasn't deterred her.  She recently read War and Peace (for the fourth time!) looking sideways at the pages.  I told her she needs to start listening to the novels but she says she's not that far gone yet.

But she enjoys being read to.  Usually my dad does it, but while I was there (and also in Texas) I was afforded that privilege (Dorothy Sayers and Rex Stout plus a biography of Socrates, stay tuned for reviews) .

While she slept one afternoon my son Derek and I drove a couple of miles down the road to Fred Gannon National Park.  Knowing he was leaving for Virginia Beach and back to school made me appreciate our long walk and talk all the more.  Cherish those moments parents!! 

Here are a few photos from our walk along the nature trail.

We discussed everything from career choices to girlfriend wisdom.  Saturday, Derek left for Virginia while I still had a couple of days before I was to return to Texas. Sunday, while my mom was resting, I drove to a deserted beach a couple of miles from my parent's house.  It was bitterly cold and I really hadn't dressed for it but the beauty of the water and the beaches was worth it.  I took a lot of pictures of barren trees.  Standing alone, their branches reaching for the sky seemed to fit my mood of isolation.

The sun began to wane and the sunset is always more colorful and lingering in the winter but I had surpassed my limits of toleration for the biting wind and plummeting temperature so I had to leave.

 On my last day, I took my mother to one of our favorite parks where we watched the sun slowly sink over the Bayou.

Hopefully I'll figure out where my Paris photos are on this computer and I'll be able to print my travelogue on the year I spent in the City of Love one week last December.

On the  road back to Texas.

Driving through Mississippi past Hattiesburg

Back in Texas before leaving for Florida:  mom, dad and son.