Holland, Cecelia. Until the Sun Falls.

NY: Atheneum, 1969.

As an undergraduate in the 1960s, I considered, like many other book-addicted young people with a knack for words, whether I could become a professional novelist. That didn’t happen, though I’ve been writing various sorts of stuff ever since. The difference with Holland, who is almost exactly my age, is that she wrote her first novel, The Firedrake, before she graduated and it was published the following year. She’s been at it steadily ever since and I regard her as consistently one of the very best writers of historical fiction out there. (I even own most of her books in First Edition.)


Dolan, Harry. The Last Dead Girl.

NY: Putnam, 2014.

Dolan, who has written two first-rate murder mysteries featuring magazine editor David Loogan of Ann Arbor, has found a novel way to avoid (for now) simply turning out a third episode: He takes his protagonist back more than a decade, to 1998, when his name was still David Malone and he was living in Rome, New York. So Malone’s personality and ways of dealing with the world are pretty much the same, even though the setting is entirely different.


“Good Form” in England, “by an American Resident in the United Kingdom.”

NY: D. Appleton, 1888.

There were literally scores of volumes published in 19th-century Britain on the subject of good manners, proper etiquette, and correct behavior in society, which leads one to believe the nouveau riche, especially, had deep insecurities about social class. I’ve read quite a few of these publications and there’s a good deal of natural similarity among them. But this one is quite different. The anonymous author says up-front that his purpose is “to provide Americans with a concise, comprehensive, and comprehensible hand-book which will give them all necessary information respecting ‘how things are’ in England.”


Sawyer, Robert J. Calculating God.

NY: Tor, 2000.

. . . so the spaceship lands in front of the museum and the eight-legged alien says to a security guard, “Take me to your paleontologist.” No, really, that’s how it starts. Dr. Tom Jericho is the vertebrate paleo department head at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto (Sawyer’s SF stories always pretty much ignore the U.S.) and the alien, part of a group of scientists from Beta Hydri III and Delta Pavonis II, wants permission to examine his fossil collection. Sure, why not?


Rankin, Ian. The Naming of the Dead.

NY: Little, Brown, 2006.

This episode in the career of Edinburgh police detective John Rebus has the most complex plot yet, and it’s set against both the G-8 summit in Scotland in 2005 and the London terrorist bombings on July 7th of that year. Rebus is always a trial to his superiors and he seems to be the only cop in Britain whose presence isn’t wanted in Edinburgh to provide security for all the arriving heads of state and to control the protests.


Forester, C. S. Lieutenant Hornblower.

Boston: Little, Brown, 1952.

No one seems to read Forester much anymore, and that’s a shame. My local library hasn’t even bothered to replace the volumes in the series that have gone missing or worn out over the years. But without Horatio Hornblower, there would be no Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin, no Richard Bolitho, no Nicholas Ramage, no Thomas Kydd — no world of adventure novels set in the Royal Navy of the Napoleonic era, really.


Rankin, Ian. Flashmarket Alley.

NY: Little, Brown, 2004.

Like most police procedural mystery novels that are written as part of a series, this fifteenth story about DI John Rebus of Edinburgh combines a well-written and complicated multi-thread plot about murder with an investigation of current problems and issues — specifically, this time, illegal immigrants and people-smuggling in Scotland.


Pekar, Harvey. Studs Terkel’s Working: A Graphic Adaptation.

NY: New Peess, 2009.

I was an avid fan of Working when it was first published back in 1972. Studs was the laboring man’s journalist, an old-style leftie who was psychologically in touch with union organizers and waitresses and salesmen, but also could talk to pro baseball players and Hollywood actors.


Rankin, Ian. A Question of Blood.

Boston: Little, Brown, 2003.

Detective Sergeant Siobhan Clarke of the Edinburgh CID, in whom DI John Rebus has long taken both a professional and a semi-paternal interest, is being stalked and harassed by an aggressive ex-con, and it’s taking its toll on her. Then, suddenly, the creep dies in a kitchen fire in his flat — and the next day Rebus turns up with his hands badly burned and bandaged.


Bentley, Nicolas. The Victorian Scene: A Picture Book of the Period, 1837-1901.

London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1968.

The word “Victorian” instantly brings a host of clichés to mind, many of them inaccurate. It was a period of great and broad changes in the English-speaking world, in both culture and technology. A great many volumes of social history have been published about the 19th century in all its aspects, but it’s hard to find a good, readable survey that escapes being trite and superficial. I first read this one thirty-odd years ago and it’s still one of the best, even if it is a “picture book.”