Leonard, Elmore. Glitz.

NY: Arbor House, 1985.

Vincent Mora is a Miami Beach police lieutenant currently on medical leave (he got shot in the hip by a would-be mugger who died in the ambulance) and he’s doing it in San Juan, Puerto Rico — living cheap, lounging on the beach, and chatting with a particularly pretty young semi-hooker. Unfortunately, Teddy Magyk knows he’s there, too.

(more…)

Published in: on 26 February 2014 at 5:49 am  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , , ,

James, P. D. The Private Patient.

NY: Knopf, 2008.

A couple of years after writing this book, the author let it be known that it was officially the final installment in the long-running series featuring Detective Superintendent Adam Dalgliesh of Scotland Yard, who for the past several volumes has been running the Special Investigations Squad. And it’s not a bad story to be going out with, either.

(more…)

Published in: on 23 February 2014 at 8:17 am  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , ,

Crais, Robert. Demolition Angel.

NY: Doubleday, 2000.

Crais is best known for his “Elvis Cole” private eye series, so this is a departure for him — and a good one. It’s an unusual police procedural thriller, in that half of it is an exciting, well-plotted, and very suspenseful story about a sociopathic serial killer, while the other half is an equally well-developed character study of a cop suffering from PTSD. There’s even a hesitant love story in there.

(more…)

Published in: on 20 February 2014 at 11:14 am  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , ,

Shore, Emily. Journal of Emily Shore.

London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co., 1891.

Margaret Emily Shore was born on Christmas Day, 1819, in Bury St. Edmunds, Suffolk, the daughter of a curate with connections to the lesser aristocracy who was also a university-level tutor. She was something of a self-taught prodigy in both natural history and in her literary imagination, keeping accurate and detailed observational notes on wildlife at the age of nine, creating a fantasy country complete with botany, religion, and political parties at age ten, compiling a readable history of the Jews when she was eleven, and inventing a lengthy collection of rather witty Parliamentary speeches (stretching from 1840 to 2354 AD) at thirteen. And from 1831 to 1839, she kept a detailed journal of everything she saw and heard and thought. The last entry was written a fortnight before her death from consumption at the age of nineteen and a half.

(more…)

Crichton, Michael. Timeline.

NY: Knopf, 1999.

Crichton got kind of strange in his later years, and his last couple of books before his death in 2008 were not much more than right-wing political screeds, but he wrote some pretty good techno-thrillers in earlier times. In fact, most of his first dozen books were published under pseudonyms because he was still earning his living as a medical doctor, but The Andromeda Strain (1969) jumped him into the Big Time and established a niche for him somewhere between science fiction and Tom Clancy. And while the quality of his work varied a good deal, this is one of his better ones.

(more…)

Vickery, Amanda. Behind Closed Doors: At Home in Georgian England.

New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009.

Technically, the Georgian era begins in 1714 with the accession of George I and ends with the death of George IV in 1830, but the author prefers to focus on what is sometimes called the “long 18th century,” from the Glorious Revolution of 1688, when Parliament took over the reins of government, to the Reform Act of 1837. This is a culturally distinctive period, also called the “century of taste,” when classicism was dominant and society was determinedly polite.

There are a number of good books on English domesticity in the 19th century, but they tend to fasten on the gender limitations of what later was called Victorianism. Vickery, on the other hand, examines the home life of the previous several generations in terms of the world of men and the world of women, and how they overlapped under the same roof. Also, unlike many academic treatises, in which the author concentrates on abstract dissections of source material based on predetermined theories, Vickery delves into a wide variety of sources in the construction of extended anecdotal examples and case studies. The result is a narrative that reads like a story and is never, ever dull or boring. But it should also be noted that most of the surviving records deal with prosperous merchants, the gentry, and upwards. This is not a study of the nation’s poor, or even of its shopkeepers.

Prefatorily, the author notes that in English law as well as in cultural tradition, the home was a microcosm of the state, a man’s “castle.” And, unlike on most of the Continent, independent control of a house was the ambition of every adult. Extended families might share a residence in France or Italy without a qualm, but in Britain, a man was expected to go out on his own and establish his own household. Until he did so, he wasn’t really an adult. (This is the social model the U.S. generally adopted, naturally.)

Vickery follows a topical plan, with separate chapters devoted to the bachelor lifestyle (almost invariably as short as an unmarried gentleman could manage, since having a wife also was a mark of adulthood and success), setting up the household after marriage (a shared endeavor even at this period, to a perhaps surprising extent), the division of domestic life into “his” and “hers” (with an interesting analysis of surviving household account books, which give a truer picture of family dynamics than cultural tradition), architecture and the actual building of a house (usually a multi-generational undertaking), interior decoration (rather too much discussion of styles in wallpaper for my taste, but this is apparently a particular interest of the author), the lives and trials of dependents in the patriarchal family (wives, children, and less-well-off members of the extended family, as well as apprentices and servants), the culturally restricted existence of spinsters and widows, even when they have money and social status (the former were regarded as failures and the latter, often, as objects of pity and charity, even when it wasn’t needed), women as craftsmen and entrepreneurs (creating something for the home was an expected “accomplishment” but doing it for sale was usually another matter, except in the lower economic classes, where it might be a necessity), and taste and aesthetics in the home’s furnishings and accoutrements (sometimes a struggle between masculine things and surroundings and feminine).

All in all, this is both an entertaining and an instructive volume on what could easily have been a dry subject. Moreover, the author is an expert in this period, and so there is also a thorough academic structure beneath it all which will lead the student to a good deal of additional reading.

Published in: on 11 February 2014 at 8:11 am  Leave a Comment  
Tags: ,

Leonard, Elmore. Out of Sight.

NY: Delacorte, 1996.

Forty-seven-year-old Jack Foley has been a bank robber since the age of eighteen. He’s hit hundreds of banks and is good enough at it that the cops have never given him a derisory nickname — but he’s not so good that he doesn’t get caught.

(more…)

Published in: on 8 February 2014 at 4:49 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , , , , ,

Harrison, Kim. Into the Woods: Tales from the Hollows and Beyond.

NY: Harper, 2012.

Most of these eleven short stories and novellas were originally published in multi-author anthologies, though a couple are excerpts from novels in the “Hollows” series. (The Hollows is the section of the Kentucky hills directly across the Ohio River from Cincinnati.) Several of the stories fill the function of what in the comic book trade would be called an “origin” story, providing the back-story for several of the major characters in the novels.

(more…)

Gladwell, Malcolm. David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants.

NY: Little, Brown, 2013.

Gladwell has become somewhat famous for his ability to puncture popular preconceptions, and this fifth volume continues that tradition. This one focuses on the ways in which presumed underdogs seem so often to come out on top.

(more…)

Auchincloss, Louis. Tales of Manhattan.

Boston: Houghton, Mifflin, 1967.

When he died in 2010 at the age of 92, Auchincloss had been the recognized literary chronicler of American upper-class mores and privilege, especially the Manhattan variety, for more than sixty years. Like himself, his characters are most often the products of Groton and Yale or Harvard, or at least Columbia. Wealth is their birthright. (One of the wives depicted here, in the mid-1960s, is appalled to discover that her husband has allowed his fortune to dwindle to less than a million dollars. However will they be able to live?!)

(more…)