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The Quilty Reader

Lawyer, mother, avid reader. Game host extraordinaire! Partner in crime to Obsidian Black Plague! My bookish weaknesses include classics, fantasy, YA, and agreeing to read more books than is even remotely possible.

The Alice Network by Kate Quinn

The Alice Network - Kate Quinn

Plot Summary from Goodreads:


In an enthralling new historical novel from national bestselling author Kate Quinn, two women—a female spy recruited to the real-life Alice Network in France during World War I and an unconventional American socialite searching for her cousin in 1947—are brought together in a mesmerizing story of courage and redemption.


1947. In the chaotic aftermath of World War II, American college girl Charlie St. Clair is pregnant, unmarried, and on the verge of being thrown out of her very proper family. She's also nursing a desperate hope that her beloved cousin Rose, who disappeared in Nazi-occupied France during the war, might still be alive. So when Charlie's parents banish her to Europe to have her "little problem" taken care of, Charlie breaks free and heads to London, determined to find out what happened to the cousin she loves like a sister.


1915. A year into the Great War, Eve Gardiner burns to join the fight against the Germans and unexpectedly gets her chance when she's recruited to work as a spy. Sent into enemy-occupied France, she's trained by the mesmerizing Lili, the "Queen of Spies", who manages a vast network of secret agents right under the enemy's nose.


Thirty years later, haunted by the betrayal that ultimately tore apart the Alice Network, Eve spends her days drunk and secluded in her crumbling London house. Until a young American barges in uttering a name Eve hasn't heard in decades, and launches them both on a mission to find the truth...no matter where it leads.



I have probably mentioned this before, but I love WWI and WWII books that focus primarily on women's experiences during the war. I also have a weakness for dual timeline books. The Alice Network really worked for me. 


I will say that the 1947 timeline wasn't nearly as compelling as the 1915 timeline - Eve's experiences in occupied France gathering intelligence were gritty, realistic and heart-stoppingly dangerous. The 1947 timeline often felt like an annoying diversion that ground the true narrative to a halt.


Charlotte, or Charlie, the POV character in the 1947 timeline didn't 100% read like a young woman from 1947. She used expressions that felt modern, and, more importantly, I'm not sure that Quinn completely sold her behavior given the societal mores of 1947. But, I did enjoy the Thelma and Louise-esque adventures of Charlie, Eve and Finn, Eve's driver/Charlies taciturn Scottish love interest.


As is typically the case in this type of novel, the two timelines eventually merge to answer many of the questions that have been left unanswered for decades. It is a bit overly reliant on coincidence and the seeming ubiquitous invulnerability of one of the primary villains, but overall, I devoured this book and was sorry to see it end!

Reading progress update: I've read 250 out of 528 pages.

The Alice Network - Kate Quinn

This book barely fits into my Summer of Spies project, but having devoured more than ten espionage books in about 6 weeks, I'm ready to move on anyway. The Alice Network is really more of a piece of historical fiction than it is spy fic.


I used to read a lot of historical fiction of just this type, and I'm not sure how I got away from it. Every time I pick up a book of this sort, I thoroughly enjoy it.


I am enjoying this one - the split timelines between Charlie (1947) and Eve (1915) are intriguing, and WWI is one of my favorite historical time periods in any event. I have a virtual stack of hist fic that I think I will have to dip into! That may be my focus for the next six weeks, until it is time to pull out the horror, the suspense, the supernatural and the homicidal for this years game of Halloween Bingo!

Hercule Poirot #2

The Murder on the Links  - Agatha Christie

This is Christie's second Poirot mystery, and her third full-length novel. I read it for my chronological re-read of the Christie canon, which will include the short collections in order of publication.

She definitely has not hit her stride in this novel - in my opinion, that really happens with her sixth novel (and fourth Poirot offering) The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. Murder on the Links is a middling Christie - better than some, but not one of her best.

A couple of specific notes - Hastings reappears as Poirot's sidekick. He is introduced in The Mysterious Affair at Styles as Watson to Poirot's Sherlock. Murder on the Links is told from the perspective of Hastings in a first person perspective. I find Hastings nearly intolerable in this book - his preening behavior in attempting to attract the fair "Cinderella" is about as subtle as a male peacock in full mating display. In other words, he acts like a buffoon.

I know, I know, Hastings always acts like a buffoon. But the prosecutor in me nearly swooned when he let his fair lady love - who won't even friggin' tell him her actual name - into the shed where the body, and the murder weapon, are being stored. All I can think about is "chain of custody, chain of custody, chain of custody." Someone should've thrashed him. If the murderer hadn't died before the end of the book, he had compromised the evidence to the point that, even in 1923, prosecution would've been nearly impossible.

And that ending. Oh, dear, that acrobatic, silly ending. 

One of the purposes of my reread - besides just sheer fun - is to take a look at Agatha's approach to justice and responsibility in her books, and try to evaluate if it changes or evolves over time. In Styles, the killers were obviously handed over to the authorities, but no mention is made as to their fate. Christie approaches the murder as a puzzle, and much more time is spent on matchmaking between the various existing or potential couples than on mourning the victim. In Links, the murderer receives street justice in self-defense and is killed before the end of the book.

Christie's early books had a romantic streak - couples were constantly falling in love at the drop of a hat. Hastings ultimately marries Cinderella, whose real name is Dulcie, as we learn at the end of the book. That pairing is totally unconvincing, and doesn't seem to age well as the books continue to be written. By the time Hastings disappears completely from the narrative, I am heartily sick of him. I far prefer Ariadne Oliver as Poirot's sidekick, even if most of her books aren't up to the quality of the early Poirots.

TLDR: a second tier Poirot with an annoying sidekick, but still a fun read for Christie fans.

Oh. Em. Geeeeee. You Guys

A rant

It seems that Amazon has changed their "also bought" recommendations formatting. I now get a mere 4 books as "customers also bought" recommendations when I look at a book on amazon.


But, I get SEVEN FUCKING PAGES of shitty, self-published "sponsored recommendations," none of which will I ever in one billion years purchase.


This fact, coupled with the utter unreliability of amazon's reviews, makes the amazon book page basically completely useless to me for finding additional books of interest.

Didn't really do it for me

Istanbul Passage - Joseph Kanon

I really wanted to like this book. The cover had great promise, and the Istanbul setting seemed like it would be terrific.Sadly, it just really didn't live up to the promise of either.


I spent a lot of time bored. Probably that is what espionage really is - months and years of boredom punctuated by minutes and hours of adrenaline fueled terror. Nonetheless, verisimilitude aside, I was meh on the main character, and the setting of post-war Istanbul didn't come through for me.


There were a few others by Kanon that looked appealing, but with so many other books, and so little reading time, I may just write him off completely.

+1 for my collection of Christie Heroines I Would Totally Get Drunk With

They Came to Baghdad - Agatha Christie

I actually finished this a few days ago, but haven't yet reviewed it because I somehow managed to schedule the buddy read during my trip to Disneyland. I don't know what I was thinking.


Anyway, I went into this book prepared for a repeat of my Passenger to Frankfurt experience. Imagine my surprise when it was more of an Anne Beddingfield crossed with Emily Trefusis experience. I loved Victoria Jones, even if she did make the preposterous mistake of crossing continents for a man that she'd just met. She amused me greatly, and I loved the part where she broke herself out of captivity after being kidnapped. I'm a great fan of women saving themselves - not so much a fan of men saving women.


The story was even somewhat believable for the first 50%, and had a delightfully campy feel to it. I do feel like Agatha always tries to go too big in her spy thrillers - it's always an attempt to take over the world, instead of just something small, like trying to assassinate a secret agent, or get some government secrets handed off to Russia. She goes so small with her murders - so many of them are just the narrowest of family homicides, where the motive is something of middling value, or a small slight, that her spy thrillers are jarring. I just can't take them seriously, so when they are obviously not meant to be taken seriously, they work for me. As opposed to the ones that are seemingly serious, which just come off as strained and sort of embarrassing.


I've really enjoyed reading the updates of my fellow readers! I agree with Lillelara that Christie may have been drunk while she wrote this. It was also definitely written before she lost her sense of humor and became the "Get Off My Lawn" Christie of her later books. And I loved reading BrokenTune's comparisons with Ian Fleming's James Bond.


Now that I've read this, I am even more excited for the proposed adaptation. It could be great fun! Let it be great fun, please.....

Reading progress update: I've read 47%.

They Came to Baghdad - Agatha Christie

So, rather surprisingly, I have been quite enjoying this - Victoria is one of Agatha's resourceful young women and she has managed to finagle her way to Baghdad. Not sure if it will continue to be enjoyable, but so far so good.

A Summer of Changes

It seems that life changes happen all at once, and this has been a big June for me and my family. My youngest son graduated from high school two weeks ago. My daughter graduated from U of O yesterday, and she and my husband are in Eugene packing up her apartment.


This may be the last time that we live in the same state. She will be home over the summer, for one last summer, and then she is off to Tennessee with her fiance, and will come home not as a resident but as a house guest (of course, you're never really a house guest in your childhood home).


My son is starting at the community college this fall, so I'm not confronted quite so brutally with the reality of adult children. He's going to be with us for a couple of years yet, although he's already talking about getting an apartment.


But, the bottom line is that I've got a lifetimes worth of memories to make with my girl before she heads off to the Great Smokies. I will be watching a lot of Murdoch Mysteries and Poirot, cooking - I need to teach her a few of my signature recipes so she can cook them for herself, since a quick train trip home for the weekend won't be possible - and just generally hanging out. I probably won't be around as much as usual, since I need to pack everything into those last few months with her!


I've been feeling melancholy and nostalgic for days now. I'm just grateful to modern transportation, which means that she will really only be a few hours away by plane. Imagine how parents felt sending their children off to the west, or to the new world, knowing that you might actually never see them again. Heartbreak.

Relevant to the Baghdad Buddy Read!

They Came to Baghdad - Agatha Christie

A reminder about the buddy read planned for next week! The drinking and reading commences on 6/24/18!


And, on another note, a new Agatha Christie television adaptation has been announced - They Came To Baghdad! Link to article.

Interesting perspective - infuriating, frustrating and sad

The View from Flyover Country - Sarah Kendzior

I follow Sarah Kendzior on twitter - @sarahkendzior - and I find her social media feed to be engaging and illuminating in this age of Trump. The View from Flyover Country is a collection of essays that she published back in 2012 - 2014, in which she focuses on several topics that, in hindsight, appear to provide insight into how Trump carried the important, and unexpected, 60K votes in a few counties in Michigan and Wisconsin, which led to his victory.


The sections are entitled:


I. Flyover Country

II. The Post-Employment World

III. Race and Religion

IV. Higher Education

V. Media

VI. Beyond Flyover Country


When Kendzior talks about "Flyover Country," she is speaking of the swath of the U.S. that is in the center of the country, much of which was firmly Democrat until it wasn't, and which has been in decline for decades. She herself lives in St. Louis, and much of her perspective is taken from her home city and home state, which is desperately poor and racially tense.


She riffs on several themes throughout the book, which really boil down to a meditation in inequality - every theme has as an underlying coda the reality that a small percentage of Americans are in possession of most of the private, and public, good, and that the price to buy into privilege is far too high for the average American to pay.


For example, her discussion about higher education focuses on the stark reality that only about 25% of the "professors" are full-time, tenure track employees with real salaries and benefits that form the reward for their years of education. Approximately 75% of "professors" are piece-work adjuncts who live in poverty, sometimes making as little at 12K a year, living in their cars. Their educations and intelligence are indistinguishable from the professional class, but they are unable to obtain for themselves a "real job" in academia, even after serving as the foot soldier of the University (unpaid graduate student) for years, toiling for their Ph,D. If one is not interested in higher education, this may not inspire sympathy, but she demonstrates the same model is being used by employers in essentially all markets, with the possible exception of the financial sector.


When she talks about employment in highly sought after fields, she makes the point that the barriers to entry in those fields - knowing someone who is already powerful, and the ability to participate in unpaid internships - act to keep out everyone who doesn't already come from a family with status. Young people who want to break into publishing or the media or foreign policy must be able to take unpaid internships in expensive cities in order to meet the right people who control the hiring process. Therefore, it is a self-fulfilling prophesy - the already powerful consolidate power in themselves and their progeny and the rest of the nation goes begging.


The major downfall of the book is that it tends to be repetitive because it is a collection of essays published over a number of years, and so you read the same or similar anecdotes in multiple essays. It is also, to be quite honest, simply depressing as fuck. I am fortunate to be at the tail end of a moderately successful and quite stable career - I am 3 years away from being able to take an early retirement which will enable me to live, if not in luxury, certainly without being reduced to eating cat food and sleeping on sewer grates under newspapers. I was lucky enough to buy a house that has increased substantially in value, and will continue to do so until I can cash out and use the money to sustain myself in more austere circumstances.


I'm not really worried about me, although a total global economic meltdown would no doubt ruin me as it would ruin everyone except for the global elite which seems to invariably emerge from every crisis with an even larger percentage of the resource pot. 


But, I am launching kids into adulthood right now. And this shit makes me want to cry and scream and demand to know who the fuck thought it was a good idea to create a new Gilded Age where those ultimate expressions of vacuous grasping mediocrity - the Trumps and their ilk - would end up winning the financial lottery at the expense of my children. It's bullshit.


So, yeah, Sarah Kendzior just depressed the fuck out of me. It's true, most of it, and it's gross and it should be a goddamned crime. But it's the way we live now.

Slow And Steady (Horses) Win The Race

Slow Horses - Mick Herron

I really had no idea what to expect of this book when I picked it up. I ended up really, really, as in thoroughly and completely, enjoying it. Set in London, it revolves around Slough House, the place where spies go to languish after they've made a mess of something.


To rely upon this book, as well as Our Man in Havana, is to conclude that incompetence in British government is rewarded with exile, diminished responsibilities, and the same salary. True? Possibly.


In Slow Horses, however, things are not entirely as they seem. A book that is positively prescient on the rise of angry white nationalism - published in 2010,  Mick Herron saw clearly the rising of the forces that would ultimately lead to Brexit - relies upon conspiracy within conspiracy that must be unraveled by the Slow Horses if they are to avoid being, yet again, blamed for events that are beyond their control.


Great first installment in an engaging series. 

Detection Club Bingo: UPDATES


Links to the book lists - courtesy of Themis-Athena


The 100 books: The 100 books individually highlighted by the author.


Chapters 1 through 5: (Chapter 1: A New Era Dawns; Chapter 2: The Birth of the Golden Age; Chapter 3: The Great Detectives; Chapter 4: Play Up! Play Up! and Play the Game!; Chapter 5: Miraculous Murders)


Chapters 6 & 7: (Chapter Six: Serpents in Eden; Chapter Seven: Murder at the Manor)


Chapters 8 through 10: (Chapter Eight: Capital Crimes (London mysteries); Chapter Nine: Resorting to Murder (detectives solving crimes while on vacation); Chapter Ten: Making Fun of Murder)


Chapters 11 through 15: (Chapter Eleven: Education, Education, Education; Chapter Twelve: Playing Politics; Chapter Thirteeen: Scientific Enquiries;; Chapter Fourteen: The Long Arm of the Law; Chapter Fifteen: The Justice Game


Chapters 16 through 20: (Chapter 16: Multiplying Murders; Chapter 17: The Psychology of Crime; Chapter 18: Inverted Mysteries; Chapter 19: The Ironists; Chapter 20: Fiction from Fact)


Chapters 21 through 24: (Chapter Twenty-One: Singletons; Chapter Twenty-Two: Across the Atlantic; Chapter Twenty-Three: Cosmopolitan Crimes; ChapterTwenty-Four: The Way Ahead)



Updated 6/10/18



It's been a couple of months since I updated my card, although I have checked off a couple more spaces by reading Patricia Highsmith's Strangers on a Train and  Marsh's The Nursing Home Murders.


I am beyond the halfway point for Detection Bingo - I've checked off 14 squares, and have 11 left to fill!


The Card:


As promised, I put together a bingo card for The Detective Club, based on the chapter headings in Martin Edward's The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books.


Each number refers to the relevant chapter in The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books. The images are either a detail from the cover image of a book mentioned in the chapter, with the exception of #3, and I couldn't resist an image of Hercule Poirot for a chapter called The Great Detectives!


1. A New Era Dawns: image: cover detail from The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle

2. The Birth of the Golden Age: image: cover detail from The Mystery of the Red House by A.A. Milne

3. The Great Detectives: image: Hercule Poirot as played by David Suchet

4. Play Up! Play Up! and Play the Game!: image: cover detail from The Hog's Back Mystery by Freeman Croft
The Hog's Back Mystery by Freeman Wills Croft

5. Miraculous Murders: image: cover detail from Miraculous Murders anthology, edited by Martin Edwards
Murder of a Lady by Anthony Wynne
Also read:
Miraculous Mysteries edited by Martin Edwards (anthology)
The Hollow Man by John Dickson Carr

6. Serpents in Eden: image: cover detail from Serpents in Eden anthology, edited by Martin Edwards
Poison in the Pen by Patricia Wentworth
7. Murder at the Manor: image: cover detail from Murder at the Manor anthology, edited by Martin Edwards
The Secret of Chimneys by Agatha Christie

8. Capital Crimes:  image: cover detail from Capital Crimes anthology, edited by Martin Edwards
Murder in Piccadilly by Charles Kingston
Also read:
Murder in the Museum by John Rowlands
Lord Edgware Dies by Agatha Christie

9. Resorting to Murder: image: cover detail from Resorting to Murder anthology, edited by Martin Edwards

10. Making Fun of Murder: image: cover detail from Ask A Policeman by The Detection Club
The Secret Adversary by Agatha Christie

11. Education, Education, Education: image: cover detail from Death on the Cherwell by Mavis Doriel Hay
Death on the Cherwell by Mavis Doriel Hay
Also read:
Cat Among the Pigeons by Agatha Christie

12. Playing Politics: image: cover detail from The End of Andrew Harrison by Freeman Wills Croft

13. Scientific Enquiries: image: cover detail from Death of an Airman by Christopher St. John Sprigg
Mystery in the Channel by Freeman Wills Crofts

14. The Long Arm of the Law: image: cover detail from anthology of the same name, edited by Martin Edwards

15. The Justice Game: image: cover detail from Verdict of Twelve by Raymond Postgate
Somebody at the Door by Raymond Postgate

16. Multiplying Murders: image: cover detail from The Z Murders by J. Jefferson Farjeon
The Z Murders by J. Jefferson Farjeon (read 1/12/18)

17. The Psychology of Crime: image: cover detail from Payment Deferred by C.S. Forester

18. Inverted Mysteries: image: cover detail from Portrait of a Murderer by Anne Meredith

19. The Ironists: image: cover detail from Family Matters by Anthony Rolls

20. Fiction from Fact: image: cover detail from  The Franchise Affair by Josephine Tey

21. Singletons: image: cover detail from Darkness at Pemberley by T.H. White

22. Across the Atlantic: image: cover detail from Strangers on a Train by Patricia Highsmith
Strangers on a Train by Patricia Highsmith

23. Cosmopolitan Crimes:image: cover detail from Pietr the Latvian by Georges Simenon 

24. The Way Ahead: image: cover detail from The Beast Must Die by Nicholas Blake
25. Free Square: I've used an image of The Detection Club mascot, Eric the Skull, for the free square.
The Golden Age of Murder by Martin Edwards

Night Soldiers by Alan Furst

Night Soldiers - Alan Furst

How did I miss this series? Beginning in a small Bulgarian town in 1934, Furst follows Khristo Stoinev for the next 12 years or so, through the Spanish Civil War, Paris, and Bessarabia, an area of what is now Moldova. Along the way, Khristo is a trained spy for the NKVD. He is sent to Spain as part of his spy work, and becomes the subject of one of Stalin's irrational purges, flees and spends the rest of WWII trying to stay alive.


The book begins with a scene in Khristo's hometown, where his brother is beaten to death for laughing at a petty autocrat with delusions of importance, who is being recruited by a German. Close in time, a Russian comes to town to engage in some recruitment for the motherland. This is during the lead up to WWII, when Germany and the USSR are jockeying for importance and supremacy in the Balkans.


Most of the book occurs from the POV of Khristo and his fellow NKVD officers, which makes it significantly different from most WWII spy fiction. My favorite part of the book was the second section, set in 1937 Paris, just prior to the occupation.


Furst has a genius for placing individuals on a huge stage. The book reminded me a bit of Doctor Zhivago in that way - we know from the dates that enormously consequential events are playing out in a global arena, but his narrow focus on the characters and their day-to-day business of survival and spycraft has the effect of humanizing those historical events. He is not interested in the Prime Ministers and Presidents, rather his focus is on the small individuals and how their actions fit into the large story.


His ability to evoke a historical scene is also truly remarkable. He has an eye for the detail that makes history come alive. Night Soldiers is the perfect name for the book, because so much of the action happens during the dark hours, and the pictures in my mind are all black and white and barely lit.


There are a total of 14 books in this series at this point. Each book appears to be a standalone, and I'm pretty sure that Furst is done with Khristo. While nominally categorized as espionage, my sense of the series feels bigger than that, as though perhaps I have discovered a modern version of Zola's Les Rougon-Macquart, focused on a hyper-realistic exploration of what it was like to live and work as a spy during WWII.


So far, the summer of spies has been epically successful, generating, at this point, two separate ongoing reading projects: Graham Greene and the Night Soldiers series. Can't ask for more than that!

Reading progress update: I've read 20%.

The View from Flyover Country - Sarah Kendzior

I follow Sarah Kendzior on Twitter, and have for a long time. I find her to be insightful and interesting, in spite of the fact that she invariably makes me feel like the world is falling apart at the seams. I've had this book on my radar screen since the election of Donald Trump.




Mistaking wealth for virtue is a cruelty of our time.


Everything she says is true, and this is truest of all.

Our Man In Havana by Graham Greene

Our Man in Havana - Graham Greene, Christopher Hitchens

Graham Greene is one of those authors that I've always meant to read - and following along with BrokenTune's Greene-land Adventures project increased my desire to dip into his books. The Summer of Spies gave me a perfect opportunity to check out one of his "espionage" books.


I wasn't expecting the level of farce contained in this book. It's not really a spy story - it's a story about a reluctant vacuum-salesman-turned-spy who has no intelligence to provide, but who needs to make the money he is getting for his dispatches worth the while of the British Intelligence service. So, he starts making stuff up.


There are some very funny parts of this book - the "missile drawings" that were obviously based on a vacuum cleaner is hysterical. The conversation between Hawthorne and his boss where the boss convinces himself that Wormold is actually some sort of a merchant king is bitingly funny, and also quite a propos of current politics, where, apparently, 49% of America can be convinced that a lying moron with inherited money is actually a brilliant strategist worthy of being President. 


When it is in your interest to believe something, this book points out, reality is of little import.


And, as it is in life, when delusion collides with truth, someone is probably going to die. The ending is a brilliant illustration of what happens when human beings are confronted with an inconvenient and embarrassing reality - sometimes maintaining the lie is easier than acknowledging that you've been fooled.


So it goes...