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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.

Authors I am on the look-out for!

Since Powell's has a huge used book inventory, I decided to look for inexpensive editions from these authors:

 

Patricia Moyes: this is a relatively recent author who writes mysteries in the "golden age" style. Her books are available on kindle, but they are a bit pricey for books of their age.

 

Madeleine Brent: these aren't available in ebook at all, and the used copies are fairly expensive. I am not sure if I'll be able to get my hands on any of them, but I'll give it a look-see.

 

Patricia Highsmith: I am on an "I want to read more Highsmith" kick, so I'll just take a look and see what they have!

 

Agatha Christie: anything that I don't already own in print is fair game!

 

Ngaio Marsh: these are also available in ebook, for a fairly reasonable price, so I'll only pick the up if they're under $4.00.

 

John Dickson Carr: he is pretty unavailable, so I'm going to take a look see!

 

I may come up with more as I think it over today! If anyone has any suggestion for OOP gems, especially mysteries, let me know in the comments!

 

Oh. My. God! You Guys!

Obsidian Blue and I are going to get to meet!

 

 

This Sunday!

 

 

At POWELL'S BOOKS, Y'ALL!

 

The Great American Read on PBS

 

This popped up on my twitter feed this morning! There is some utter shit in this list, but here's also some good stuff here. Apparently PBS is doing a six part series. More information here: link.

 

I've read 47, evidently. There's a quiz!

 

The Nursing Home Murder by Ngaio Marsh

The Nursing Home Murder - Ngaio Marsh

Because this one involves the murder of the Home Secretary, which is apparently a cabinet level position in the British Government (it seems to correspond loosely to a combination of the Secretary of State and the Head of Homeland Security, near as wikipedia can help me to figure out), it is one of the featured books in Chapter 12 of TSCC100, Playing Politics. 

 

This is also the third Inspector Alleyn mystery, but is the first one that I've read. I am reserving judgment overall because it was obvious to me that there was a backstory to the characters that I didn't have.

 

The mystery itself was fun - by the time Inspector Alleyn gets called out to the deceased Home Secretary, who died on the operating table from a septic appendix, pretty much everyone is a suspect. He's been getting threatening letters from the local anarchists and Bolsheviks, and he's broken it off with a mistress who is taking it badly and who just happens to be, along with his former friend and hopeful swain of the above mentioned mistress, the nurse and surgeon, respectively. They've both recently threatened him because the nurse is not handling the rejection with equanimity. And then we have his rather bizarre wife, a Leninst nurse, and an anesthetist who is disturbingly fond of a hands on approach to eugenics.

 

I didn't get the relationship between Alleyn and Nigel Bathgate at all, and the relationship with his fiancee, the fair Angela even less. I think I need more data in order to draw any conclusions. It was enjoyable, but a bit farcical.

 

Unfortunately, the solution to the crime was just plain bad. I had to read the last two chapters three times before I was able to really absorb what had happened, and at the end I was still just puzzled about the entire thing.

 

 

Allrighty then.

HBU # 3: The Concrete Blonde by Michael Connelly

The Concrete Blonde  - Michael Connelly

In this third entry into the Harry Bosch Universe, we finally get more background on The Dollmaker case, which is really the case that catapulted Bosch to fame. Harry is being sued by the widow of The Dollmaker, whom he shot during an attempted apprehension, after the man reached under his pillow for what Harry thought was probably a gun, but which was, at it turned out, a toupee.

 

The widow is represented by prominent defense attorney Honey Chandler, who is nicknamed Money Chandler. Harry is represented by the county attorney, Belk. Harry is not satisfied with the quality of his representation. In addition, LA County has wanted to settle the case, but Harry won't let them. A significant portion of The Concrete Blonde occurs in the courtroom.

 

I am not really a fan of courtroom dramas - because I am actually a prosecutor, and I've tried a lot of criminal cases, reading courtroom dramas can be frustrating because I am all too aware of errors in procedure. I think it is probably human nature to struggle with books that cover territory that the reader has a deeper understanding of than the writer. This is the case with the courtroom portions of this book. I won't bore you with a detailed analysis of things that Connelly gets wrong, but there are aspects of the courtroom drama that he does get wrong.

 

Leaving those quibbles aside, though, I really enjoyed this book and thought that the mystery was exceptionally well done. During the trial, a body is discovered that appears to be from The Dollmaker, of a young woman who was killed well after Harry Bosch killed the man who the LAPD believed to be The Dollmaker. This throws the whole case into disarray, because the defense relies on the fact that the man that Bosch killed was a serial killer.

 

As the story develops, Harry has to look back into the old case and set aside his former conclusions in light of new evidence. He also has to work through his own discomfort with the possibility that he was wrong about the Dollmaker case four years earlier. And, again, his history becomes a significant aspect of the book, when Chandler accuses him of shooting the Dollmaker because he was avenging his murdered mother, whose killer was never brought to justice. 

 

We also finally get to see Bosch getting some support from the LAPD brass, including Chief Irvin Irving who, for the first time, tells Bosch that he would back him up no matter what happened with the jury, and that the shooting was justified. Bosch is also involved with Sylvia Moore, the wife of Calexico Moore, who he has been seeing since the end of The Black Ice. She is a thoroughly nice person, a teacher, and has tried hard to pierce Bosch's nearly impenetrable armor.

 

I enjoyed this book a lot, and really liked the fact that Connelly didn't fall back on the same trope of institutional corruption that the first two books really relied upon. The interactions between Bosch and the LAPD show a different, more functional and respectful, relationship with his peers. The relationship with Sylvia isn't going to last, but it's nice to see Bosch letting down his guard a little bit. 

 

Next up is The Last Coyote.

The Black Ice by Michael Connelly

The Black Ice - Michael Connelly

This is Connelly's second outing for LAPD Detective Hieronymus Bosch, opening shortly after he returns to work, having recovered from being shot in The Black Echo. Lewis and Clark, the IA detectives who wanted nothing more than to drum Bosch out of the LAPD are both dead. 

 

In this book, we have Harry investigating the murder of an unidentified male who was found outside of a restaurant that is frequented by the detectives of the undercover drug unit. During the course of the investigation, Harry realizes that there might be a connection between his murder and the suicide of Officer Calexico Moore, found dead in a hotel room over the Christmas holidays. Moore is also the subject of an IA investigation, and the belief is that he is a dirty cop who took the easy way out. 

 

Reading The Black Echo and The Black Ice in quick succession really highlighted the thematic similarities between these two books - in each of them, an effort is made to use Harry Bosch's rogue nature in a way that benefits the individuals at the heart of the conspiracy. In both of them, the individuals vastly underestimate Bosch's tenacity as an investigator, losing control of their plans midway through the book. And both of them involves themes of institutional corruption.

 

We again find Bosch in trouble with the LAPD brass, the subject of angry phone calls with management. He is, always, on the verge not just of firing, but probably of prosecution, for his policy violations. He has no sense of self-preservation. The intertwined cases lead him to the border towns of Calexico and Mexicali, where he runs afoul of the powerful head of a drug syndicate. Given the present situation in Mexico, with the cartels, this book maintains its currency. 

 

Harry sees similarities between himself and Calexico Moore, a fact which makes him very uncomfortable. The reader is finding out more about Harry's personal history, that his mother was a prostitute who was murdered when he was 12, that he grew up in foster care, and that his father, it turns out, was a prominent lawyer named Haller, and that he has a half brother - through Haller's legitimate family. We will get to know Mickey Haller in some of the later books. There is a description of the one meeting that Bosch had with his father, while he was dying of cancer. 

 

Arm chair diagnosing of Harry Bosch would lead to an assessment that he probably has some sort of attachment disorder related to being shuffled between foster homes and orphanages. So far, we haven't met anyone who has gotten close to Harry Bosch - he holds everyone at arms length. For all of that, however, he is not a nihilist, believing firmly that life is sufficiently meaningful that to take it is the greatest crime. He is not swayed by the prominence of the victim, working just as hard on the case of an itinerant worker or a dead junkie as he would on a case where a more "respectable" victim is murdered.

 

I've already finished The Concrete Blonde, so you can expect a review of that one soon. Happily, Connelly steps outside of his theme of institutional corruption in that one, and gives us a straight up murder mystery.

Updates: Serpents in Eden, edited by Martin Edwards

Serpents in Eden (British Library Crime Classics) - Martin Edwards

I'm reading this collection for The Detection Club. I will update this post as I read the stories.

 

Table of Contents:

 

The Black Doctor by Arthur Conan Doyle: This is a non-Holmes story about a doctor of color (from the Argentine, so the precise racial background is undefined) practicing in a small rural community. It's interesting for the off-hand manner in which the doctor's minority status is addressed, as it is not a barrier to his ultimate engagement to a prominent white woman in town. The mystery is sort of obvious. 3 stars.

 

Murder by Proxy

The Fad of the Fisherman

The Genuine Tabard

The Gylston Slander

The Long Barrow

The Naturalist at Law

A Proper Mystery

Direct Evidence

Inquest

The Scarecrow

Clue in the Mustard

Our Pageant

Reading progress update: I've read 20%.

The Legend of the Seventh Virgin  - Victoria Holt

It's just not the right time for this book at this point, so I'm taking it off of my currently reading shelf and putting it back in the "to read some other time," category!

Welcome to the Harry Bosch Universe

The Black Echo  - Michael Connelly

Originally published in 1992, The Black Echo is Michael Connelly's first mystery featuring rogue LAPD detective, Hieronymus (Harry) Bosch.

 

I've read this book before, possibly all the way back in 1992, and my husband and I listened to the audiobook more recently on a car trip after I got the first two in the series for $1.99 during an audible sale. The Black Echo introduces many of the long-running series characters, including Irvin Irving, Jerry Edgar, Harry's well-dressed, ambitious partner slash real estate agent, Pounds, and Eleanor Wish. At the time that this book begins, Harry is 40 years old, and has been banging his head against the wall of the LAPD management for years.

 

There is a lot going on, plotwise. Harry draws a case of a body found in a drainage tunnel, and realizes as he is at the crime scene that the victim is someone that he served with as a "tunnel rat" in Vietnam. Much of this book is given over to developing the characters and Los Angeles/Hollywood setting. Scene setting is a tremendous strength of Connelly's - he gives his LA the right amount of tattered, grubby glamour alongside of its glittering, moneyed present. Connelly's treatment of LaLa land sits comfortably alongside Raymond Chandler's LA and the 1972 classic film Chinatown, with similar noir elements.

 

Harry himself is a noir character brought into the present. He is taciturn, troubled and solitary, a man whose eyes have seen too much, but who has never learned the art of not giving a shit. He still cares, and deeply, about the cases that he investigates, operating independently, all too often on the very edge of policy and procedure, to solve the cases that no one else really cares about, including, in this case, the murder of a junkie vet who died in an L.A. tunnel. He is a thorn in the side of an LAPD management that would very much like to be rid of him.

 

The Black Echo opens with Harry being assigned to the Homicide desk in the Hollywood Division, following an encounter in which Bosch kills a suspect who turns out to have been responsible for the death of nine women. The Dollmaker case is referred to frequently in this book, although the crime and investigation itself are only partially explained. It's clear, though, that this is the case that made Harry Bosch - he is already living in his house in the LA hills, with a view overlooking the city, which he bought after being used as a character in a Paramount picture. That shooting got him busted down from the prestigious Robbery-Homicide Division (RHD) to the Hollywood Division.

 

In this book, as in many others, Harry is in the middle of an IA investigation, being followed by a pair of untalented investigators named Lewis and Clark. He is partnered with FBI agent Eleanor Wish when his murder appears to be related to a bank heist which involved the thieves tunneling into the vault through the sewer systems. There are conspiracies that extend to the highest levels of law enforcement. The plot is convoluted, but still well-done.

 

This story was used, in part, in Season 3 of the Amazon series, Bosch. Titus Welliver inhabits the character of Bosch so convincingly that I am unable to not picture him as I read the book. Overall, The Black Echo is an incredibly strong series entry, and the fact that it was Connelly's first book is really sort of amazing.

Reading (And Watching) The HBU

 

The new season of Bosch just dropped on Amazon - ten awesome episodes of Titus Welliver as the taciturn LAPD murder detective Hieronymus Bosch. I have watched each season as it was released, and have been considering a series rewatch. My husband and I started the new season on Friday, and watched two episodes over pizza and beer.

 

I really don't remember when I started reading the Bosch series - decades ago, certainly. I also don't remember if I started with The Black Echo, the first entry in the original Bosch series. Since that time, Michael Connelly has reworked his arcs and there is now an ordering of what someone (the publisher? Connelly himself?) is calling the Harry Bosch Universe.

 

So, I decided that a reread - in order - is called for here, so I'm adding the HBU to my list of ongoing reading projects. I already own most of the books, so this should be a cheap, and easy, reread. I've read all the way up to Nine Dragons in the Bosch track of the series (it's book 14 out of 21), at which point, I bogged down badly and didn't finish. The HBU as a whole is comprised of 31 books:

 

 

I own all of the books except The Lincoln Lawyer, Suicide Run (short stories), Blue on Black (short stories), The Scarecrow, Switchblade (short story), and then the last four: The Wrong Side of Goodbye, The Late Show, Two Kinds of Truth and Dark Sacred Night.

 

I started The Black Echo last night, which introduces Harry Bosch, as well as many of the ongoing characters. This story was used, with significant modifications, in Season 3 of the amazon series.

A very strange book

The Mayfair Mystery - Frank Richardson

I can't quite figure out what to say about this book. It is an incredibly weird little tale, and, to be honest, it isn't really much of a mystery. 

 

Here is the note about the author from Goodreads:

 

Frank Collins Richardson, barrister, and novelist, was educated at Marlborough and Christ Church, Oxford, afterwards entering the Inner Temple and being called to the Bar. But there, as he admitted, he was a failure, and he took in consequence to writing, his "King's Counsel," a novel, appearing in 1902. It was followed by some dozen others. His peculiar topic of humour was the subject of whiskers, which he discovered by accident, and perhaps worked for rather more than it was worth. But his treatment of it was hailed at the time as an amusing innovation, and by pen and pencil, and by judging at seaside male "beauty-shows," it cannot be said that he was wholly unsuccessful in his peculiar hobby. (from obituary in "The Times", August 2, 1917) 

 

I added the bold.

 

Which brings me to one of the weird elements, which is, of course whisker humor. Who would've thought, really, that whisker humor was a thing. I would certainly agree that he worked it for rather more than it was worth - I was tired of it about ten seconds after it was introduced. Obviously, times have changed, although in this era of peak hipster beard (estimated to have occurred in 2014), I suppose that there could be some mileage to be gathered.

 

Moving on.

 

There were elements of this book that were interesting, and could make for a fine study of gender crossing, queer theory, and whatever else one might be looking for. I was, however, looking for a mystery and with that, I cannot recommend this book.

Note to my librarian friends

The Mayfair Mystery - Frank Richardson

This book needs to be separated from the author "Frank Richardson" with which it is associated. It is not the same author, but I can't seem to do it.

 

This is the correct Frank Richardson:

 

https://www.goodreads.com/author/list/14505135.Frank_Richardson

 

Thanks.

H is for Homicide

"H" is for Homicide - Sue Grafton

This was definitely not my favorite Kinsey. Don't get me wrong, I still read it in about two hours, because Grafton's writing is just that engaging. But overall, I didn't feel that the story was as strong as some of the other installments.

 

The book begins with the murder of a claims adjuster who has become a friend of Kinsey's. Simultaneously, a corporate asshole is sent out to the Santa Teresa division of the insurance co where Kinsey is co-located to try to figure out why their claims numbers are out of whack. He pretty quickly gets on Kinsey's last nerve (I don't think she has that many nerves to spare, so this takes somewhere in the neighborhood of immediately), so she heads off to work on an investigation of possible insurance fraud by a woman named Bibianna Diaz.

 

This rapidly turns into a total shitshow, with an attempting kidnapping of Bibianna. It turns out, Bibianna was previously engaged to Raymond, the head of a California insurance fraud crime ring involving faked car accidents, staged car accidents, and all kinds of other nonsense. Oh, and murder. When Bibianna broke off the engagement she basically ghosted him. Kinsey gets herself arrested and thrown in jail with Bibianna and ultimately agrees to go "undercover" to try to help the PD make their case against Raymond.

 

Unfortunately, the entire book felt sort of like farce. The Millhone books tend in that direction anyway, but there is usually an undercurrent of seriousness, and characters who are reasonably believable. Pretty much everyone in this book except for Kinsey, and one of the young claims adjusters who asked Kinsey to work on the fraud case, felt like caricatures of people who might exist. 

 

And, guys, Raymond - the villain - was the worst combination of pathetic, annoying, violent, and just flat out gross. He is basically trying to force Bibianna into marrying him, which nearly made me retch. I was wholly unconvinced that he had the brains to run the operation that he was supposedly running. His violence was erratic and often unintelligible. 

 

Anyway, I just wasn't crazy about this one. It was OK, but I'm hoping that the letter "I" is better!

TBR Thursday, April 12, 2018

Inbox/Haul:

 

I bought 3 kindle books, 1 print book, and 1 audiobook this week:

 

 

1. Seven Tears for Apollo by Phyllis Whitney: after reading This Rough Magic by Mary Stewart, I decided to try a Whitney that was set in Greece, and settled on this one, which is set on Rhodes. 2. Lost Island by Phyllis Whitney: this book came up when I was looking for a book set in Greece, and was only $1.99. So I bought it. 3. The Nursing Home Murder by Ngaio Marsh: this is the third Roderick Alleyn mystery, and is mentioned in Chapter 12 of TSCC100, Playing Politics, which I haven't yet crossed off my Detection Club bingo. 4. Serpents in Eden, edited by Martin Edwards: I ordered the print version of this book. The kindle prices on the BLCC editions have increased in price recently, so there isn't as much of a difference between ebook and paperback, and I've decided that I want a physical collection. My general plan is to buy one a week, starting with some of the short story compilations. 5. To Play the Fool by Laurie King: this is book 2 of the Kate Martinelli series. I used an audible credit for it, because I really enjoyed A Grave Talent.

 

Outbox/Read:

 

I finished 4 books this week: Nine Coaches Waiting by Mary Stewart, G is for Gumshoe by Sue Grafton, A Grave Talent by Laurie R. King, and Mystery in the Channel by Freeman Wills Crofts.

 

Reading Plans:

 

I am well into Seven Tears for Apollo, and will likely finish that tonight or tomorrow night. I also started The Mayfair Mystery by Frank Richardson, which is an exceedingly strange book. I am starting H is for Homicide by Sue Grafton - Obsidian Blue and I have started a buddy read since I've finally caught up to her! In addition, I'm part way through To Play the Fool on audio, so I'll continue with that over the weekend.

 

As for future plans for The Detection Club project, I am still planning for a Harriet Vane/Peter Wimsey reread sometime soon, and I want to explore a bit of Roderick Alleyn, so I'll probably dive into The Nursing Home Murder. Next up on my Christie reread is Murder on the Links, and then after that I'll be picking up The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. I've reread that one fairly recently, but I'm looking for some specific elements in the reread.

 

I'm not planning on participating with any degree of formality in Dewey's Read-A-Thon this weekend, although I'm sure I'll spend some time curled up with a book. I'm also working on a quilt, which may get me to the end of my audiobook.

Mystery in the Channel by Freeman Wills Crofts

Mystery in the Channel (British Library Crime Classics) - Freeman Wills Crofts

This was my second Inspector French mystery, which I preferred to the first, The Hog’s Back Mystery. My primary complaint about The Hog’s Back Mystery was that it got bogged down in tedious detailing of the clues, and that Crofts skimped on supporting character development, resulting in characters who were difficult to tell apart.

To be quite frank, those complaints remained in this installment, albeit to a lesser degree. The book begins with a bang – a steamer finds a yacht dead in the water, with two dead bodies on board. From there, it is towed back to port, where the dead are speedily identified and the search for the murderer commences.

 

Thinking back on the book at its conclusion, I do not think that there was a single female character in this book. Inspector French may have spoken to a female shopkeeper at some point during the tale while he was canvassing for information about a suspect, but, if he did, it was in such passing that it didn’t register with me at all. Every character of consequence in this book was a man.

 

It is quickly established that the two victims were principals in a financial firm which was on the brink of failure. It being 1931, there was no taxpayer funded Troubled Assets Recovery Program available to bail out the firm, or its clients, which resulted in thousands of ordinary Brits losing their fortunes, such as they were. It was also quickly established that someone had looted whatever was left of the money, and that the murders appeared to have something to do with this financial chicanery.

 

I loved this aspect of the book. It was, in fact, a “strikingly modern subtext.” I, like the Assistant Commissioner quoted below, find the fraudulent machinations of the already wealthy to enrich their already overflowing pockets, disgusting:

 

“The Assistant Commissioner was a man who, while utterly relentless in his war on crime, not infrequently showed a surprising sympathy with the criminal. He always deplored the punishment of the out-of-work or the poorly paid, who, seeing his family in want, had stolen to relieve their immediate needs. Even on occasion he had surprised French by expressing regret as to the fate of the murderers. Murderers, he held, were by no means necesssarily hardened criminals. In their ranks, they numbered some of the most decent and inoffensive of men. But for the wealthy thief who stole by the manipulation of stocks and shares and other less creditable means known to high finance, whether actually within or without the limits of the law, he had only the most profound enmity and contempt.”

 

Trump University, anyone? To the wealthy of 2018, the poor and middle class are merely marks, and there is a sucker born every minute. How I wonder what Freeman Wills Crofts and the Assistant Commissioner would’ve thought of the band of vulpine thieves in charge of our public treasury?

 

Anyway, Inspector French is a rather plodding character, but in a good way. He is, perhaps, not given to flashes of insight, but he is thorough, and good police work is its own reward. Through many twists and turns and blind alleys and dead ends, he does arrive at the correct solution.

 

There was, again, some tedious alibi deconstruction, with time tables and analysis of ocean currents and wind direction. I’ve realized that I do not care about these things – I am not going to pull out a pad of paper and start making a little table of distances and times to see if I, before Inspector French, can bust an alibi. I just want to be entertained to the end of the tale, and this minutiae does not entertain me. This particular book is mentioned in Chapter 13 of The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books, Scientific Inquiries, on the strength of this element. Apparently Crofts was an engineer, and put that background to work in his fiction.

 

The problem with characterization persisted in this book and was amplified by the fact that every single character of note, as I stated above, was a middle-aged white guy of moderate wealth and education. There were several occasions where a name came up that I didn’t immediately recognize, but it was clear that this character had been introduced before, so I had to flip backwards in the book to try to identify exactly who it was.

 

I enjoyed it enough that I will continue to explore Inspector French, but I wish that Crofts would let him off the chain a bit. The man barely has a personal life, and he seems like a decent guy. Give him a vacation, for god’s sake!

Reading progress update: I've read 40%.

A Grave Talent - Laurie R. King

As most of you are aware, I absolutely love the Mary Russell series by Laurie King. I haven't really dipped into her other books. I do think that I previously read A Grave Talent because the story is familiar, but I can't remember the plot well enough for that to be a problem for me here.

 

I am totally loving this book, and am even more convinced that Laurie King is herself a rare talent. While the books are quite different, there is a commonality with the Inspector Gamache series (besides just the coincidence that both authors are named Laurie) in that they both use the mystery novel as a springboard for deeper concerns.

 

I am liking it so much that I've agreed to drive my daughter's cat back to school today, just so that I can have 4 hours in the car alone with Kate Martinelli.