Tuesday, February 28, 2017

February: Part 2

In Diamond Solitaire, Peter Diamond, having lost his job as a policeman, proceeds to lose his job as a security guard at Harrods.  A little Japanese girl is found hiding in the furniture section after hours.  She doesn't speak and no one can find out who she is.  No one claims her.  

It's decided that she's autistic.  She's placed in a school for autistic children in London.  She haunts Peter.  He decides to devote himself to finding out who she is.  She begins to trust him and to draw.  The drawings are clues to where she came from.

The clues lead to an international pharmaceutical company and the development of a drug for treating Alzheimer's and which may also help maintain youthful brain function.  It turns out that the little girl's mother is a chemist who had worked on the drug.

Peter is helped by a very famous sumo wrestler who foots the bill for Peter's investigation.  He also plays a large, if you'll excuse the pun, part in an exciting rescue.

I like The Cazalet series very much, but this third book was aptly named.  I had difficulty reminding myself which character the chapter was about or which character was talking.  Confusion concerns mostly the young women in the family:  Zoe, Louise, Angela, Clary, and Polly.  They're all unlucky in love.

If you've read the series in order, you've watched the girls grow up and move out into the world.  Zoe's husband Rupert is MIA in World War II.  She's in limbo, not a wife and not a widow.  Louise marries Michael, a painter who is too devoted to his manipulative mother.  Clary and Polly are dipping their toes into romance and life in London.  Angela, after an unfortunate affair with a co-worker and an unwanted pregnancy, has given up.

Don't count on Elizabeth Jane Howard to deliver a happy ending, just interesting characters and slices of life in England before, during, and after the war.

It just so happened that while I was reading Confusion (see above), I was also reading Mrs. Milburn's Diaries.  I love reading diaries written by normal civilians during World War II.  Mrs. Jack Milburn (Clara) kept her diaries from 1939 through 1945.  She and her husband lived near Coventry, England.  Their only son, Alan John, was captured at Dunkirk and spent the next six years in German prisoner of war camps.  News of him was sporadic, although he and his mother exchanged letters, often much delayed.

Clara was active in the war effort, the Land Girls and the Women's Institute.  She was proud of their cars and volunteered to drive people from place to place, patients to doctors and hospitals, etc.  She also gardened and kept chickens.  A photograph of a watercolor she did of Coventry Cathedral shows that she was an accomplished artist as well.

She had a housekeeper, Kate, who cooked and cleaned and kept things in order.

Alan came home on May 10, 1945, and the diaries end.  Judy Milburn, the woman Alan married, adds information about what happened to everyone after the war.

I enjoyed reading these diaries.  It still overwhelms me when I read the number of people killed, soldiers and civilians, the amount of planes and bombs.  And it happened within living memory.

As diaries of World War II go, my favorites are still the diaries of Nella Last.  Her personality came through more in her writings.

Does anyone know of any World War II diaries by American women?

Murder at the Motor Show was first published in 1935.  Mr. Nigel Pershore, a wealthy gentleman, goes to an auto show and drops dead.  The coroner can't find a cause of death, except that his healthy heart suddenly stopped.  The autopsy reveals, however, that he had arsenic in his body, but not enough to kill him.

The police investigate and are sure they have the killer.  It must be the man's niece, who stands to inherit the bulk of his fortune.  Or is it his nephew, who will inherit even more because he knows something that the others don't know.  But maybe it's the man whose mortgage will be satisfied by Pershore's death.  Maybe it's not any of those.  Who is the mysterious woman who visits Nigel Pershore?

The book starts slowly, in my opinion, with too much detailed information about the innovative cars at the show.  Dr. Priestly, the detective of the series, doesn't intervene until late in the book.  I've only read one other Rhode book, The Claverton Affair.  I think I need to read a few more before I decide whether or not I like this series.    

Who knew that going to a car show could be so dangerous?!

Thursday, February 16, 2017

February 1st Through the 15th

A woman of my word, here are brief reviews of the books I read in the first half of February.  I hope you all had happy Valentine's Days.  I spent mine at the doctor's and then in bed with a stomach virus.  Fortunately, I had my Valentine to take care of me.  Much better now.

I usually don't read modern books that continue an older series, but the two books I've read by Guy Fraser-Sampson that continue the Mapp and Lucia series are well done and capture the flavor of the originals.

Mapp (not very wealthy) and Lucia (wealthy) are continuously trying to outdo each other socially.  Lucia and her husband, Georgie, decide to vacation in the lakes section of Italy.  Mapp finds out and, lucky for her, one of Benjy's old India friends, a very wealthy man, asks Benjy if he'll escort his son on vacation until he is free to take him  -  all expenses paid.  So Mapp connives to go to the same little town and stay in the same hotel as Lucia.  All I can say is that pandemonium and laughter ensue.

I've read a few of the Judge Dee mysteries and this one wasn't one of my favorites.  It dragged and I didn't like the theme.  Judge Dee stops at a festival at which a young man is poisoned.  And a woman is found murdered.  There's much talk about the Emperor's Pearl, a valuable pearl stolen years ago from the royal jewels, thought to be a myth by many.

Judge Dee must solve the mystery.  What he finds is a sadist and a surprise.

This book was disappointing, too.  I like Amy Poehler.  I don't think you can beat her and Tina Fey for laughs when they get together.  But this book felt forced, disjointed, didn't make me like Amy more, and maybe even a little less.  I thought it would be funnier.

Another celebrity memoir, but this one was more enjoyable.  That is, despite the fact that much of the book is about Cumming's horrible father and how he beat Alan and his brother and made them feel that they were worthless.  When Alan was 45, his father called and told him that he wasn't his real father.

Alan, in the middle of the British show Who Do You Think You Are? is devastated.  Elated to think that he's not the blood of a monster, but having to reevaluate his life and family.  So, simultaneously, he investigates the truth of his father's declaration and the story of his mother's father, who elected to leave his family after the war and who died in a mysterious shooting incident in the Far East.

And, finally, an old mystery by a well-regarded mystery author.  During a dinner with his neighbors, a man complains of stomach pains.  One of the neighbors, a doctor, opines that it's an ulcer and advises him to lay off the booze and rich food for a while.  He sends over some medicine.  The next day, the man is much worse and he dies a few days later.

The dead man's estranged brother arrives and demands an investigation.  They find that the man died of arsenic poisoning.  There is much speculation about how he ingested the arsenic:  in the medicine is the first supposition, but he also could have committed suicide (his finances are tanking), or it could have been accidental (he's been experimenting with different washes for his fruit trees), or, his brother's favorite, his younger wife could have done it because she wanted to leave him for another man.  The revelation was a surprise to me.

So, there you are.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

The Rest of January

I like posting a half month at a time, so I think I'll continue this way.  I may post about single issues occasionally.  So, here are the books I read in the second half of January:

I like archeological mysteries and I bought a bunch of Lyn Hamilton's series at a local used book store.  The series features Lara McClintoch, an antiques dealer.  She's in business with her ex-husband, which causes some problems.  In this book, Clive, her ex, gets the brilliant idea that to stimulate interest in their antiques business, Lara should lead a history / antiques tour somewhere in the world.  They pick Tunisia.

A varied group signs up for the tour.  A couple of celebrities, a couple of widows and single women, a fellow antiques dealer whose interest is ancient coins, a guy who only talks about investments and is constantly on his phone.  One member of the group is found dead in the swimming pool, but it wasn't an accident according to Lara.  She has experience with murder.  A fire breaks out in a travel critic's room.  The clothes and accessories in another member's room are rearranged and her necklace is stolen.  

There's an archeological 'dig' going on in the harbor, searching for a sunken ship with a cache of gold.  One of their members dies and one is injured.  That's not an accident either.  Someone tampered with their air tanks.

There's a lot going on.  Mixed in with the contemporary story is the story of the sunken ship, sunk in the time of Carthage.  So I had some fun and I learned some things, too.


This was my first Dorothy Whipple book.  I've already bought another of hers, Because of the Lockwoods.  I loved this book, a domestic mid-20th century novel.  It's a genre that I've previously disregarded.  My copy of The Great Mr. Knight, which seems to be the American title of They Knew Mr. Knight, was from my library, firmly covered in unremovable plastic, hence the lousy photograph of an interesting cover.

Thomas Blake works at the factory his family founded.  Against Thomas's pleading, his father sold the factory to raise cash after his mismanagement caused the business to falter.  Thomas believes that the factory should be his.  He, his wife and three children live in The Grove, a respectable neighborhood.

Thomas contrives to meet Mr. Knight, a wealthy financier who rides the same train.  Knight takes Thomas under his wing and gives him investment tips.  He buys Thomas's factory and puts Thomas in charge.  As he makes more money, Thomas and his family move up the wealth ladder.  They move to Fairholme, a house his wife doesn't like.

When Knight moves out of his country estate, Field Place, and back to London, he suggests that Thomas buy Field Place and offers him a good deal.  He and his family love Field Place.  But Knight has abandoned Thomas and Thomas has gotten himself entangled in too many questionable financial dealings, in way over his head.  You see what is coming, don't you?  I did, but I still wanted to read about how each family member reacted to their changing fortunes.

I felt it was time for more mystery and a move to Sicily, so I reached for an Inspector Montalbano book by Andrea Camilleri.  They're dependably good.  I can't form a good image of Montalbano, though.  I believe him to be a middle-aged (early 50s), sort of heavy man, not especially attractive  -  but women in the books seem to find him appealing.  He's always getting involved with beautiful women, despite his longterm, long-distance relationship with his girlfriend / fiancee (?) Livia.

There are two mega yachts in the harbor.  One has brought in the body of a badly beaten man, so badly beaten that he can't be identified.  The wealthy owner of the sailing yacht is gorgeous and overbearing.  The woman from the harbor master's office is gorgeous, too, and attracted to Montalbano.  They play relationship tag.

Montalbano is, as usual, in trouble with the police department he works for.  He lies, he avoids, he annoys his bosses.  But he does figure out the identity of the dead man and the secret of the two ships.

This classic was interesting for many reasons.  I realized that this book and The Great Mr. Knight were both about reaching for financial and social success and the risks people will take to acquire and keep them.

Pere Goriot lives in a down at the heels boarding house.  It appears he's very poor, but he always seems to be able to sell something when one of his spoiled daughters makes a demand.  He was once wealthy, a self-made man.  His daughters' wishes were always granted, so they grew up to be selfish and thoughtless women, continuing to make financial demands of their poor father while relegating him to his poverty and shunning his company.  Both are married to men of social and financial standing.  Goriot worships his daughters.

A young medical student is also a boarder at the house.  He comes from a modest family in the country, but he soon abandons his studies for the more attractive social scene.  The problem is that he doesn't have any money.  He thinks that being a doctor will take too long and won't produce enough income.  He decides that he must edge his way into society, which he does with the assistance of a distant relative.  He plans to marry or pledge himself to a wealthy woman.

He has a choice between another boarding house resident, a young heiress whose father refuses to recognize her.  If her father makes her his heir, she'll be very wealthy.  She's a sweet, innocent pretty girl.  But he's attracted to one of Goriot's married daughters.  Goriot likes him and is delighted.  He does everything he can to encourage the relationship because he thinks the young man makes his daughter happy and that her husband doesn't.

My goodness.  I'm glad I don't have either social or unattainable financial goals.  I wanted to shake several of the characters in the novel, Goriot and his daughters, and others, too.  At the end, Goriot realizes what his daughters are, but he blames himself.  It's a sad ending.

I hope that life is calming down and that I will have time to continue reading Don Quixote.  It's a funny and surprising book, but a long one.  I haven't found a good audio of the whole book, parts 1 and 2, to listen to while reading.  That helped me through Moby Dick and I was hoping listening and reading would get me to the end of Don Quixote.  I'm not forcing myself to read it, I just need a nudge to keep focused.  Wish me luck!