Sayers, Dorothy L. Strong Poison.

NY: HarperCollins, 1995, 1930.

It’s 1930 and mystery novelist Harriet Vane is on trial for murder. She was in love with another writer, Philip Boyes, and wanted to get married, but he refused to have anything to do with such a bourgeois institution, and so they simply shacked up. After a year or two, however, he decided to marry her after all. Except Harriet, deciding that their domestic arrangements — for which she had been willing to brave the censure of society — had just been an egotistical test on Boyes’s part, to see if she was good enough for him. There was a row, naturally, and shortly afterward Boyes died in some agony of arsenic poisoning.

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Published in: on 27 February 2011 at 6:29 am  Leave a Comment  
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Pope, Dudley. Ramage’s Devil.

London: Secker & Warburg, 1982.

This 13th adventure in the career of Capt. Lord Nicholas Ramage of the Royal Navy follows the pattern of the previous several volumes in taking what could have been two or three short stories, each with its entirely separate plot, and sort of jamming them together to form a somewhat disjointed novel that’s not entirely successful. Ramage, the Protestant heir to an earldom, has finally come to terms with the reality that Gianna, the gorgeous young Catholic Italian countess he rescued from Bonaparte’s cavalry a dozen books ago, is not going to be someone he could ever marry — and, in any case, she’s taken advantage of the lull in the war resulting from the ill-advised Treaty of Amiens (1801) to try to slip back into Volterra and resume ruling her little country.

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Published in: on 25 February 2011 at 6:06 am  Comments (1)  
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Pratchett, Terry. Once More, with Footnotes.

Framingham, MA: NESFA Press, 2004.

Terry Pratchett was Guest of Honor at the 2004 World Fantasy Convention and the organizers had a great idea: This sort of odds-and-sods collection of all (well, much of) the small stuff Sir Terry has written over the past twenty years, which most of us probably have never seen. Introductions to books, fantasy con banquet speeches, talks to learned societies that don’t take themselves too seriously (though “Imaginary Worlds, Real Stories” is both serious and seriously funny), short newspaper and magazine articles, a book-signing tour report (quietly hilarious, really), and an assortment of short stories, both Discworld-related and not. Early in his literary career, he paid the bills as a journalist and civil service press officer, and much of this volume comes from that phase of his life. So these brief pieces are largely (theoretically) “forgettable” — but he says himself that “when you’re a journalist you’re writing for tomorrow. Or possibly Friday. You’re not writing for forever.” Still, they give a sense of history and completeness, and there’s a leavening of the dry wit that I don’t think he’s capable of omitting from anything he writes.

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Published in: on 23 February 2011 at 6:52 am  Comments (1)  
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Isaacs, Susan. Lily White.

NY: HarperCollins, 1996.

Isaacs has never really hit the big time as a novelist, though every one of her dozen-plus novels has made the New York Times best seller list, and — in my opinion — she has never produced less than a very good story. But this one may be her best. Lee White is a middle-aged Long Island criminal defense attorney (and ex-assistant DA) with a client she can’t quite figure out. Norman Torkelson, a talented con man who has had a long and reasonably successful career stealing the life savings of lonely women, is awaiting trial for the strangulation of his latest scam victim.

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Pratchett, Terry. I Shall Wear Midnight.

NY: Harper, 2010.

It’s difficult to think of an author who is more humane, more caring, more simply likeable than Sir Terry. He believes in people, even those he doesn’t have much use for. And these traits have made him one of the most popular living authors in any language. Having said all that, it’s also nice to be able to say that this is a very good wrap-up to the four-volume story of Tiffany Aching, Witch of the Chalk, Witch of the Hills, Big Wee Hag to the Nac Mac Feegles, and all of sixteen years old — though she’s been a witch since she was nine.

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Published in: on 17 February 2011 at 3:27 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Kipling, Rudyard. Stalky & Co.

London: Macmillan, 1899.

While rereading Tom Brown’s Schooldays recently, I eventually remembered that Kipling had also written a “school novel,” and I went and found it – and it turns out to be rather a good antidote for the high-mindedness of Hughes’s book. The boarding school it depicts is located in Devon and is based on the United Services College, which Kipling attended in the late 1870s and early ‘80s. It’s a very different sort of operation than Rugby, as its explicit mission is to prepare young men for military careers, mostly via Sandhurst. In fact, three-quarters of the students are the sons of army officers (most were born abroad) and they’re inclined to go into the family business, especially in the Indian Army (which is not the same thing as the British Army).

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Published in: on 15 February 2011 at 5:37 am  Leave a Comment  
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Sayers, Dorothy L. Unnatural Death.

NY: Harper, 1927.

Whatever his undoubted talents as a detective, let’s face it — Lord Peter Wimsey is a busybody. He and his buddy, DI Charles Parker of Scotland Yard, are having tea in a café and idly discussing methods of murder in the medical profession when a stranger at the next table butts in to tell them of his own recent experience with a late patient whom he suspected of being the victim of foul play by a great-niece who was also the old lady’s nurse.

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Published in: on 13 February 2011 at 7:16 am  Leave a Comment  
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Sayers, Dorothy L. Clouds of Witness.

NY: Dial, 1927.

Even though Whose Body?, the inaugural adventure of amateur sleuth Lord Peter Wimsey, was pretty good, it was a rather bald narrative. This second outing is far more subtle and far more interesting and it brings the author’s glass to bear on the Wimsey family in all its huntin’, shootin’ glory. Peter is on holiday in Corsica following the strain of the case in the first volume but is called back home when his brother, the duke, is arrested for the murder at his hunting lodge of Capt. Cathcart, fiancé of Lady Mary Wimsey, sister to the two brothers.

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Published in: on 10 February 2011 at 7:27 am  Leave a Comment  
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Isaacs, Susan. As Husbands Go.

NY: Scribner, 2010.

Isaacs has written maybe a dozen novels over the past couple of decades and I’ve read most of them. She’s a terrific writer; her characters are four-dimensional, her dialogue sparkles, and her sense of humor is the drollest imaginable. Like the author, most of her protagonists are middle-aged Jewish women living on Long Island. They tend to be upper-middle-class but smug or snobbish they’re not.

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Sayers, Dorothy L. Whose Body?

NY: Harper & Row, 1923.

This is the first-written of the Lord Peter Wimsey detective yarns, and yet it reads as if Sayers had been at her craft for years. Wimsey, of course, is the younger brother of the Duke of Denver — for which he is thankful as he would have positively hated having to bear the title himself — and, being a gentleman, and well educated, and wealthy, he can hardly go off to work every morning. But, except for collecting books, he does get bored. If he hadn’t been a member of the aristocracy, he likely would have become a copper, so he makes do as an amateur detective.

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Published in: on 6 February 2011 at 9:50 pm  Leave a Comment  
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