Magnay, Sir William. The Hunt Ball Mystery.

NY: Brentano’s, 1918.

Magnay, a baronet, was a popular and prolific novelist from the 1880s through World War I but almost no one has heard of him today. His prose couldn’t be called scintillating, nor his plots ingenious, but both were workmanlike and his books were very readable. This classic locked-room mystery was (I think) his last and was published posthumously the year after his death. And while it’s not a bad story, it’s probably best approached as an artifact of early 20th-century social history.

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Published in: on 30 March 2017 at 7:20 am  Leave a Comment  
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Lord, Walter. Day of Infamy.

NY: Holt, 1957.

Lord was one of the best popular historians of the mid-20th century, best known for his classic books on the Titanic and the San Francisco earthquake and the major events of World War II. And seventy-five years ago last December an event took place after which the entire world changed completely and forever: The Japanese sneak attack on the American naval presence in Hawaii. It brought the U.S. into the war, all isolationist thoughts forgotten, with a thirst for revenge. (No one these days announces they’re about to go to war, but in 1941, Americans were still outraged at being jumped from behind.) And that did, indeed, change everything.

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Published in: on 27 March 2017 at 7:17 am  Leave a Comment  
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Pratchett, Terry. The Shepherd’s Crown.

NY: HarperCollins, 2015.

This is the fifth and last book about young Tiffany Aching, Witch of the Chalk and Wee Hag of the Nac Mac Feagles. It’s been sitting on my shelf for a year, waiting for me to read it, because it’s also the last book by Sir Terry that I will ever be able to read for the very first time. And that’s a hard thing to do. Since it also begins with the death of Esme Weatherwax, the most powerful and by far the most influential witch on Discworld, it’s also about death and about replacing the irreplaceable: The last lesson Terry wanted to teach us.

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Hill, Reginald. Good Morning, Midnight.

NY: HarperCollins, 2004.

I began reading my way straight through this lengthy series several years ago (this is the 21st volume) and I’ve come to greatly enjoy the gradually developing collegial relationship between Detective Superintendent Andy Dalziel, the boss of Mid-Yorkshire CID, and his star subordinate, DCI Peter Pascoe, who is about as different a personality as it’s possible to be — and also the recurring supporting cast, including Sergeant Edgar Wield, the ugliest cop in Britain, who is also gay and has a memory like a computer. Other members of the team have featured in the stories over time, most recently Shirley “Ivor” Novello and “Hat” Bowler, both smart and ambitious young DCs.

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Corey, James S.A. Abaddon’s Gate.

NY: Orbit Books, 2013.

This third volume in “The Expanse” continues the frantic pace and high narrative quality of the first two. There’s been more than a thousand pages of exposition already, which makes it difficult to summarize what has come before. I’ll limit myself to saying that the alien “protomolecule” — machine or organism or whatever it is — has left Venus behind, sailed off to the orbit of Uranus, and built a vast ring, which can only be a gateway, a teleportation point to someplace far away.

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Ashford, Lindsay Jayne. The Woman on the Orient Express.

Seattle: Lake Union Publishing, 2016.

It’s a historical fact that in the fall of 1928, still recovering mentally from a very painful divorce and not wanting to be trapped by the press in England when her ex-husband married his mistress, Agatha Christie, already famous as the author of ten mystery novels (and also for her public bout of “amnesia”), anonymously crossed the Channel and boarded the Orient Express, headed for Baghdad.

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Corey, James S.A. Caliban’s War.

NY: Orbit Books, 2012.

This second volume in the space-opera series “The Expanse” is at least as good as the first. The manufactured alien life form known as the “protomolecule” has been sidetracked to Venus instead of striking Earth, thanks to the fatalistic heroism of Detective Miller of Ceres, and our neighboring planet is undergoing major changes that no one understands. Captain Jim Holden and his tiny crew, hardcore survivors all, are working their way around the system in their stolen/salvaged Martian Navy assault ship, acting as enforcers for the rebellious Outer Planets Alliance, which is now on the way to becoming an actual goverment for the Asteroid Belt.

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Cole, Allan & Chris Bunch. The Court of a Thousand Suns.

NY: Ballantine, 1985.

This is the third volume in the ongoing military career of Sten (no first name) in the service of the Eternal Emperor in the 40th Century. The first two volumes, which began with young Sten’s successful quest for revenge and his early career in the Guard and then in the super-secret Mantis Corps, were pretty good action/adventure space opera, but this effort is considerably weaker.

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Corey, James S.A. Leviathan Wakes.

NY: Orbit Books, 2011.

“James Corey” is actually the team of fantasy author Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck, who works for George R.R. Martin, and together they’ve produced one of the most exciting and enjoyable space operas I’ve read in years. The setting is a couple of centuries in the future, with thirty billion people crowding Earth, another four billion terraforming a politically independent Mars, and several hundred million more spread through the Asteroid Belt and the rest of the solar system. We haven’t reached the stars yet but that’s coming. Meanwhile, politics gets in the way, as it always does with humans.

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Hill, Reginald. Death’s Jest-Book.

NY: HarperCollins, 2003.

I’ve always preferred to read my way through an extended series of mystery novels in chronological order, because each new case generally builds on those that came before and the characters develop in the same way. Some readers jump around within a series and seem none the worse for it — but that’s really not an option here. This volume follows hard on the heels of its immediate predecessor, Dialogues of the Dead, and actually continues the plotline. The two books together are nearly 1,000 pages and you should think of them as a single fat novel.

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