Beard, Mary. SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome.

NY: Liveright, 2015.

Until recently, Beard wasn’t that well-known outside the world of academic classicists, her occasional appearances on BBC notwithstanding. Then this engaging and engrossing volume of her thoughts on the Roman republic and the early empire came out after (literally) fifty years in the making, and everyone’s reading it. She may have done more for popular interest in ancient Rome than any writer since Gibbon.

First, she makes it clear that this is not a complete history of the 1,500 years of Rome’s existence in various forms. She’s interested mostly in the city’s establishment and the slow, nearly mythical formation of the Republic from its period of what were essentially warlords and gangsters. And she ends with Caracalla’s extension of citizenship to all free people within the empire in 212 CE, because after that it was an entirely different game with different rules, and not really “Roman” any more.

(more…)

Black, Benjamin. Christine Falls.

NY: Henry Holt, 2006.

For anyone who doesn’t already know, “Benjamin Black” is the nom de crime of Irish novelist John Banville, and this was his first mystery novel featuring Quirke, a decidedly quirky forensic pathologist in Dublin in the 1950s, when the Church ran absolutely everything. But even though this is a “detective story,” it’s nothing at all like what Michael Connelly or Lawrence Block might write.

(more…)

Swierczynski, Duane. Revolver.

NY: Mulholland Books, 2016.

I stumbled on one of this author’s earlier crime novels a few years ago and became an almost instant fan of his rather noir style. He’s a Philadelphian through and through and the seamy side of the city he knows so well becomes a character in his books, too. And this time, he indulges in an unusual sort of narrative strategy.

(more…)

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.

(more…)

Lord, Walter. The Good Years.

NY: Harper, 1960.

Lord was one of the best popular historians of the mid-20th century, best known for his classic books on the Titanic and Pearl Harbor. His method was always to go to the original sources, especially the people who participated in, or at least witnessed, events. Behind that would be family correspondence, newspaper accounts, and anything else that was “up close and personal.” I got hold of this book my first year in college, shortly after it was published. I was already hooked on social history and I loved it. A half-century later, it well repays rereading.

(more…)

Cave, Roderick & Sara Ayad. The History of the Book in 100 Books.

Buffalo, NY: Firefly Books, 2014.

As a kid, I learned to appreciate books as physical artifacts, as much as for their content. In high school, I learned to love the smell of rare and used bookstores. And in library school, in the late 1960s, I finally took a few courses in the history of books and printing, where I learned about papermaking, the history and practice of typesetting, and the arts of illustration and bookbinding.

(more…)

Edmondson, Elizabeth. A Man of Some Repute.

Seattle: Thomas & Mercer, 2015.

It’s always nice to discover a new mystery author and a new set of interesting characters living in a new setting. Edmondson has produced eight previous novels but this appears to be her first sort-of detective story, set in the early days of the Cold War.

So it’s 1953 in darkest England and Hugo Hawksworth is reporting for duty to the secret government department for which he works in a small town four hours from London.

(more…)

Waldrop, Howard. Horse of a Different Color.

East Hampton, MA: Small Beer Press, 2013.

If Howard Waldrop, the Trout-Hunter, is not officially listed as a bona fide American Institution, he certainly ought to be, and any long-time attendee of ArmadilloCon can tell you why. For years, the Howard Waldrop Show at the con has been SRO, as his friends and fans hunker down to listen to him read a new story. Complete with props and often with dramatic lighting supplied by a flashlight.

(more…)

Lovett, Charlie. First Impressions: A Novel of Old Books, Unexpected Love, and Jane Austen.

NY: Penguin, 2014.

Awhile back, I read Lovett’s first novel, The Bookman’s Tale, which also has a bibliographical theme (a lost Shakespeare primary source that time) and quite enjoyed it. This one is even better. The author has been an antiquarian bookseller and he brings that whole slightly strange world very much to life. At the same time, he successfully combines an exciting mystery and detective plot with a believable and non-sappy love story, which isn’t easy.

(more…)

Adams, Samuel & Sarah. The Complete Servant.

London: Knight & Lacey, 1825 (reprinted, 1989).

A number of books were published in the first half of the 19th century in Britain on how to deal with servants. The burgeoning middle class was becoming wealthier and an important part of the servant-employing population, but most of them hadn’t grown up with servants in the house — no more than a generalized maid-of-all-work and perhaps a cook — and they needed guidance.

(more…)

Published in: on 24 March 2016 at 7:15 am  Leave a Comment  
Tags: ,