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July 15th, 2013


01:57 pm - "Sorry, Wrong Dimension" by Ross Rocklynne

Story:  The story takes place in 1954, and involves a typical housewife, her infant, a girlfriend, Mabel, who pays a call during the day .... and the infants pet, invisible, ...... monster.

The first-person narrator tries to call for assistance, but gets an operator who tells her "sorry, wrong dimension" (hence the title). She and Mabel try to step open the door and find that they can't step outside.  She tries to call for assistance but {spoiler warning:  highlight following at your peril!}: she somehow get connected with a cheap hood and his partner, who invade her house, knock her out, and steal the infant's pet monster.

When she recovers, she calls again and insists on being connected to the dimensional police.

Will the police be able to intervene effectively, and return the "monster", to whom the infant has developed an attachment?

Positives:


  • This is an entertaining short story from the 50s which, 60-some years on, inadvertently gives some insight into the mentality of the day:  how commonplace it was for women to be housebound while their husbands work

  • It has a good pace, and a wry sense of humor.  The first-person narrator is fond of detective stories and used 50s-style hardboiled slang to get her way, creating a humorous contrast to the way that she speaks ordinarily throughout the rest of the story.

  • It is a light, amusing, romp.

Negatives:

Its never really explained how her apartment has ended up in another dimension, nor how she is able to contact the first group of inter-dimensional beings who pay her a visit

Evaluation:

Yes, there are one or two plot holes, but I only became aware of them after I read the story -- the humorous tone and breezy pacing kept me turning the pages.  That said, this isn't meant to be a story to contemplate; its meant to be enjoyed!

Assessment.

In the mood for a light, breezy romp?  Then I recommend this:  I enjoyed it a good deal.  Now .... if only I could find some other stories by this author!


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July 13th, 2013


03:20 pm - "Human Error" by Raymond F. Jones

I thought I'd take a break from my all-too-sporadic reviews of pulp novels to discuss a really good pulp science fiction story:  Raymond F. Jone's "Human Error", originally published in If Worlds of Science Fiction in April 1956 and available for free download (links provided below)

Story:  In the near future, the first space station, in orbit around the Earth, gets knocked out of orbit when a shuttle, operated by a highly skilled pilot, miscalculates, and runs into it, pushing it out of orbit.  The subsequent disaster, with shuttle and space station crash landing near San Francisco, creates a public furor calling for the end of the space program.  The cause of the disaster:  human error on the part of the pilot.

General Oglethorpe, the earthside base commander in charge of the space program, recruits Dr. Paul Medick, an expert in psychology and psychometrics, to head a project to get to the central problem with proceeding with space exploration:  how to eliminate human error.  Oglethorpe believes that there should be a way to make men more mechanical, operating with the consistent perfection of the machines which they operate.  Medick believes that there is more to human nature than mere biological mechanism.

Conflict develops between Medick and Dr. Nat Holt, an expert in electronics and instruments, who agrees with the General's mechanistic view of human nature.  Additional pressure is added by Congress considering de-funding both Medick's project and the space program, Senator investigators planning to visit the base, and a rabble rouser leading a mass of protesters to gather outside the base, bringing unwanted press scrutiny to the efforts of Mendick's "Project Superman".  With the clock ticking, will a solution be found .... and which view of human nature will prevail?

Positives:  One doesn't expect to come across a pulp science fiction story addressing such lofty subject matter as the question of whether humans are fundamentally mechanistic, rational beings, or emotional -- but this one does, and it deals with the questions it raises with some philosophical insight -- but with a pretty decent pace which kept me reading as well.  Pick it up for a story of scientists fighting against a deadline to solve a crucial problem -- and stay for the philosophy.

Negatives:  Above all else, this is a story of ideas.  Each character exists to articulate a particular view on the issues raised, and usually consists of nothing else except a brief description.

Evaluation:  If you are looking for a delicately nuanced psychological perspective of intelligent scientists grappling with a difficult research problem under time pressure .... why are you reading a pulp science fiction story in the first place?  The characters are flat and two dimensional.  That said, this is a story of ideas, and although it doesn't explore all its ideas with the depth and richness they merit, it probably does as much as could be done within the constraints of genre expectations and requisite page count for a digest-style science fiction magazine of the day.  This story won't win any converts to science fiction, but to those who are already fond of the genre, it fulfills all the requirements for such a tale and raises some interesting ideas, as well.

Assessment: Recommended -- for fans of thoughtful science fiction.

Links:

On Project Gutenberg.

On Manybooks.


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March 7th, 2013


07:02 pm - The Pusher, by Ed McBain

Premise: The detectives in the 87th Precinct, in a fictionalized version of Manhattan called "Isola", use authentic police investigatory techniques to deal with crime in a poor/working class neighborhood.

Story:  Steve Carella and Bert Kling, two detectives in the 87th Precinct, are called in when an apparent suicide is discovered in the basement of a tenement, in the early hours of a cold winters night.  But there is something very odd about this suicide:  the victim seemed to have killed himself both via an overdose, and by hanging.

It soon develops that the victim was a drug dealer, and a new pusher known only as "Gonzo" seems to have come into the area and taken over his territory.  It also seems that the victims sister, a prostitute and an addict, knows more than she is telling.

And then Lt. Byrnes starts getting calls from an unnamed informant, suggesting that he examine the fingerprints on the syringe found on the crime scene.  They couldn't, really, be the fingerprints of his own son, could they?

Positives:


  • The descriptive passages often border upon the poetic -- as in the opening chapters invocation of the mood and feel of winter in a large city.

  • The characters are appealing and well rounded, believable human beings.

  • The story is unpredictable -- unlike most novels, I couldn't guess what was coming next.  Yet few, if any, of the turnarounds seemed arbitrary or mechanistic.

  • There are seems that evoke strong feel:  of fear, of violence, of love, of tenderness, and of humor.

  • The author somehow manages to pull off major changes of emotion smoothly, without the jarring effect that tends to occur in less skilled hands.

  • When the protagonist, Steve Carella, finally finds "Gonzo", his identity comes as a bit of a surprise.

  • Minor villains often are not without their virtues, and protagonists, even the major ones, are not without their faults.  There is a convincing humanity to all the characters.

Negatives:

  • One or two major plot developments hinge on coincidence.

  • There is a shaggy dog quality about the storytelling -- there are red herrings and scenes that seem to be inserted not so much to advance the plot but to provide a change of pace or for the sake of characterization.  A tightly plotted thriller, this is not.

Evaluation:

Nope.  Its not a thriller.  But it was a genuinely entertaining read.  What it lacked in pacing, it more than made up in characterization, tone, and prose-style

Assessment: Recommended. This is a really good, entertaining, semi-hardboiled police procedural that delivers more than just the usual genre pleasures.

Other Reviews:

http://violentworldofparker.com/?p=4284

http://bloodymurder.wordpress.com/2011/08/10/the-pusher-1956-by-ed-mcbain/

http://nybooktime.blogspot.com/2007/12/book-review-pusher-by-ed-mcbain.html

http://avidbookreader2.wordpress.com/2009/06/29/review-the-pusher87th-precinct-by-ed-mcbain/


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December 8th, 2012


05:11 pm - Randisi Rampage

I was just appalled to realize that it has been 4 months since I posted here.  So, to make up (somewhat) for lost time, I thought I'd post reviews of 3 books I read recently that were written by Robert Randisi.

About the author:  Robert Randisi styles himself as a modern-day pulpwriter, and I think this characterization is accurate:  he is incredibly prolific, and has a great knack for fast-paced story-telling.  He is most noted for writing westerns (particularly the long-running Gunsmith series, under the name "J.R. Roberts") and detective novels.  I'm going to review 3 of his books here -- two private eye novels, and one western.  Lets take them chronologically in terms of the history timeframe of each narrative:

Angel Eyes:  The Miracle of Revenge

Premise: Liz Archer, a relatively naive and sheltered young woman, finds herself gradually transformed into a gunfighter in the Old West when she loses her fiance and her parents to a family of desperados.

Story:  Liz Archer loses her fiance when he is killed in a gunfight with a member of the Nolan family.  She confronts that Nolan, and kills him.  The Nolans take revenge by killing her family, but leave her alive.  Big mistake.  The novel follows her pursuit of revenge, which leads her to 3 different teachers who give her schooling in skills that she will need if she is going to succeed in taking on the remaining Nolans in the town which they control.

Positives:

  • Did I mention pace?  Randisi knows how to engage a reader, and keep them turning the pages.
  • Characterization:  although this is a secondary consideration after plot, Randisi works in enough subtlety and nuance into the characters that many of them become appealing, if flawed, personalities.  Even the villians are permitted some commendable traits.
  • One character seems to be clearly based on the protagonist of Randisi's "Gunsmith" series -- the charcter's personality, skills, and occupation are identical to those of the "Gunsmith's" protagonist at this time.  The only major difference is that this character has a different name.  I have to wonder if this was originally meant to be a crossover, and Randisi was forced to change the name of this character before it went to press.

Negatives:

  • Liz goes through a series of 3 informal tutorials, with 3 different "teachers", that school her in the use of a gun, feminine wiles, and sexuality to attain her goals.  I was a little disappointed when, in this 3rd section, she becomes a prostitute to further her aims -- but, realistically, besides the role of mother or school teacher, there were few other job opportunities for women.  That said, I thought that some of the sex scenes, though not entirely gratuitous since she uses her sexual allure to control men and get information, went on a bit too long, and diminished the pace of the storytelling.
  • This series, like many "adult" westerns, compromises suspension of disbelief by failing to account for the dangers of STDs and unintended pregnancy which went along with that profession.  The characters seem to exist in a fantasy era in which sex, although an important aspect of the story, is utterly without consequences.
  • That said, both of these are pretty much to be expected, given the genre expectations for so-called "adult" westerns at the time this was published

Assessment:

if you don't mind some lengthy passages devoted to descriptions of sex acts, this is a fun book, with appealing characters, and an engaging pace.  For a pulpy "adult" western, the characters were pleasantly nuanced, shaded, and credible.

Conclusion:  Recommended, subject to the provisos above.  Truth be told, I'm tempted to purchase and start reading the second story in this series very shortly.

The Ham Reporter

Premise: The time: 1911   The place:  New York City.  Bat Masterson has left behind the Wild West, and being a lawman, for a more congenial and seemingly more secure position as a sportswriters.  Until a good friend of his, a fellow sportswriter, disappears under suspicious circumstances.  He enlists the help of another sportwriter to help him with his inquiries -- a promising young gent by the name of ..... Damon Runyon.

Story:   Masterson and Runyon end up semi-officially setting up as private investigators, trying to get to the bottom of the mysterious disappearance of their friend, Inkpot Jones.  This investigation ends up leading them to not only confront the leaders of contemporary organized crime in New York city, but also the mentally disturbed head of Tammany Hall.  For having retired from the dangers and rigors of being a lawman, Masterson finds himself endangered from several quarters for his pursuit of the truth.

Positives:

  • Historical accuracy:  I'm not an expert in this era, but many of the references to events of the time, prominent locations and personalities proved to be reasonably accurate when I read up on them.  The bulk of the story is, of course, fiction but Randisi is to be given credit for folding in a good deal of actual history into this story.
  • OK ... I have to use that word again:  pace!  Randisi knows how to tell a good story that kept me turning the pages.
  • Bat Masterson and Damon Runyon were, actually, friends in real life.  In fact, Damon Runyon based the character "Sky Masterson", in his book "Guys and Dolls" (which later became the source for the Broadway play and the movie) on Bat Masterson.  It was entertaining to see the real friendship between these two important historical figures portrayed in what is, effectively, a private eye thriller

Negatives:

  • The resolution of one major plot thread relied on a major coincidence to resolve the conflict and let Masterson and Runyon off the hook

Assessment:  An entertaining story that also works in some nice historical and social background.

Conclusion: Recommended

Everybody Kills Somebody Sometime

Premise: The year:  1960.  The place:  Las Vegas.  Eddie Gianelli, happily engaged in his work as a pit boss at the Sands, is peripherally aware that the Rat Pack is in town, staying at his casino, spending their days filming Oceans 11 and their nights performing on stage -- that is, until Joey Bishop comes to him, and tells him that he needs Gianelli to do a favor for him, but doing a favor .... for a friend....

Story:  ... and that friend is none other than Frank Sinatra.  Frank is concerned about death threats that have been sent to Dean Martin.  Martin doesn't think there is anything to them, and refuses to call on the police.  Frank Sinatra needs someone who is well-connected in Vegas to look into the matter, and he's heard word that Eddie G. is one of the best connected people going ....

Positives:

  • OK .... I gotta use this word again:  pace!  Randisi knows how to tell a compelling and engaging story.
  • Characterization:  the fictional characters are more than the usual cardboard cutouts -- they each have engaging nuances to their characters.  From what I've read about the real-life personalities, Randisi has done a pretty good job of conveying what they were like at that time.
  • Again, I wasn't that familiar with this era when I started reading this novel, but when I looked up info about some of the personalities portrayed here, I was pleasantly pleased to discover that there was some historical basis for what real-life personalities where around at this time, and place, and how they interacted with each other.  (I had no idea that Judith Campbell Exnor was Frank Sinatra's mistress before she became Kennedy's mistress, for instance).

Negatives:

  • Over-reliance on coincidence:
  • When Gianelli comes across first one, then a second, murdered showgirl, the location of one of the victims leads him to believe that this is connected to the Dean Martin death threats (spoilers)
  • A crucial, climatic, confrontation is resolved by the intervention of one of the Rat Pack members when he just happens (spoiler)


Assessment:  I dislike the reliance on coincidence to resolve not one, but two, important points of the story.  But, as with the other examples, this is an engaging, entertaining story

Conclusion:  Recommended.

Overall:  None of this is great literature.  You will not be profoundly moved.  Your worldview will not be shifted.  But if you are looking for some pleasant escapist entertainment, it will definitely fill the bill.  And, given the historical setting of two of these novels, you might end up learning something as well!  I know I did!


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July 23rd, 2012


12:54 pm - The Trailsman: Six Gun Scholar

Premise: Skye Fargo, an essentially honorable western pioneer more comfortable in the wilds than the cities, gets into adult-oriented western adventures approximately twice a month

Story:  Skye Fargo, taking some time off in San Antonio, espies some ruffians planning to attack a young woman near the Alamo one night.  He defends her successfully, but the ruffians get away.  Turns out that she is a young schoolteacher, travelling from Philadelphia to the town of Bandera to take up a teaching post.  Fargo decides to accompany her there, to protect her if need be.   It eventually develops that, although the majority of citizens are looking forward to having a school, one town father is opposed.  Skye has his hands full defending the schoolteacher, and her school, from various and assorted attacks, and trying to find out, definitively, who is behind these attacks.

Positives:

  • Appealing characters:  I've never read any books in this series before, but Skye Fargo came across as an honorable and decent person who stands up for those who are vulnerable.
  • Although there are no profound character studies, most of the characters eventually reveal greater complexity than their initial appearance, including one character who initially appears to be a complete villain.
  • Very good pace -- the story never lagged.
  • Two "twists" -- there are plot developments which, although set-up sufficiently to be organic to the story still came as a surprise.
  • The action sequences are well handled.  I was able to follow who was doing what, when, and why.
Negatives:
  • Well, it is an adult western -- you have to expect one or two almost entirely gratuitous sex scenes.  However, even at that, they don't seriously impede the momentum of the story, and arise more or less organically out of the characters and their situation.

Assessment:  This isn't any great work of literature.  Your worldview will not be influenced, you will experience no great epiphanies.  But -- if what you are looking for is some rousing good storytelling that will provide some nice escapism, and won't insult your intelligence, this book fills the bill.  This is the first "Trailsman" book I've read.  I'm planning to read more.

Conclusion:  Recommended.


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December 8th, 2011


06:23 pm - Slocum and the Witch of Westlake

Slocum Witch WestlakePremise:  John Slocum, an essentially honorable man, but an inveterate wanderer who has an eye for the ladies, lives on the fringes of the law and finds himself caught up in adventures in the old west, usually once or twice a month.

Story:  Slocum, working temporarily for a rancher, in the process of tracking down rustlers who have stolen cattle and horses from his employer, discovers that this incursion is only the latest outgrowth of a lang running feud between his employer and a neighboring rancher.  He subsequently learns that the neighbor has resorted to hiring rustlers as payback for Slocum's employer hiring a local woman, a reputed witch, to curse his ranch.  When Slocum encourages his employer to meet with the neighbor, in the nearby town of Westlake, with the local sheriff acting as mediator, Slocum finds himself thrown into jail.  While there, he encounters Minh, the eponymous "Witch of Westlake".  Subsequently discovering that his employer was complicit in Slocum's imprisonment, and that the local sheriff is clandestinely offering a bounty for someone to kill Minh, Slocum and Minh decide to collaborate to create the appearance of fulfilling the desires of both ranchers, and of the sheriff, in order to raise enough of a stake to move on to another town.

Positives:

  • As with the other Slocum novels I've read, Slocum is an appealing character:  essentially honorable, dubious of authority, defender of those who are being set upon -- but not above looking out for his personal interests at the same time.
  • The action sequences have good pacing and are told in a clear enough way that you can follow what is going on.  That is, admittedly, not the kind of thing that most people are aware of, if its done right, but the kind of thing that is, all too frequently, done poorly.
  • The character of Minh has a pleasing ambiguity about her:  she isn't entirely a heroine, but neither is she, entirely, a villain, either.
Negatives:
  • Although a good story, its not exactly a page turner:  there isn't a lot of narrative momentum.
  • Besides Slocum, Minh, and "Mack", one of the ranchhands, the characters are little more than stereotypes
  • I had difficulty buying that Slocum would forgive Minh when she maniputated him into a particular situation, in order to set herself up in a new business in the new town to which they both relocate at the end of the story.

Assessment:  Taken as a whole, this book was a fun read.  The major characters are appealling and its entertaining to see how they address their problems and work out solutions, both individually, and together.

Conclusion:  Recommended.


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September 23rd, 2011


02:42 pm - Bloodshot by Cherie Priest

Bloodshot, by Cherie PriestTruth be told, I'm not much for vampire stories as a rule -- modern vampires novels tend to over-romantacize them, for my taste, and the stories often become drenched in sentiment.

Buuuuut .... I do like a nice, noirish mystery thriller.

I think I saw a preview for this on Scribd, and, on the promise that this wasn't another soppy vampire romance, I decided to download an excerpt, and give it a shot.

It says something that after reading the first two or three chapters in the excerpt, I immediately had to get a copy of it.

So, with no further ado, lets go through the usual breakdown:


Premise:  Raylene Pendle, a professional thief, also happens to be a nearly century-old vampire.  Independently wealthy from her long history of thefts, she stays in the business mostly for the challenge and gamesmanship.  She is a loner who, unlike most vampires does not belong to a "house", like most vampires.


Story:  She is surprised when she is contacted by another lone vampire, Ian, requesting her services.  it develops that Ian had been captured by a secret government project and subjected to experiments which have left him blinded.  He has been in contact with a doctor who might be able to restore some of his sight, if only he can provide the original documentation, which is held in keeping in a secure government warehouse.  Who better to obtain it, than a professional theif like Raylene?

Shortly after meeting with Ian, Raylene finds out that a warehouse she owns has been invaded.  She captures, questions, and then dispatches the invader.  She decides to investigate the organization that apparently lies behind this invasion.


Positives:

  • The writing is smooth, the story-telling, taut
  • Raylene becomes alive as a compelling, flawed, appealing character.
  • Subsidiary characters also become quit convincing -- especially an ex-military drag queen who calls himself "Sister Rose", who has been investigating the disappearance of his sister, who was also a vampire, and proceeds to lend invaluable assistance to Raylene in her subsequent adventures
  • This book is *really* hard to put down.  I found myself picking it up whenever I could in the course of the week to discover how Raylene got herself out of a given fix -- which, inevitably, led to her getting into a worse fix
  • There is a good deal of humor in the story, with Raylenes wiseass commentary about herself, other people, and events, given in first-person narration.
  • Finally, the author pulls a clever trick here, which is really very difficult to pull off:  "transparency".  This is when the subjective voice of the narrator belies something that is obvious to the reader that the character does not, themselves, realize.  In this case, Raylene likes to self-dramatize herself as being tough and jaded, but, from her own description, it becomes evident that she has a soft spot for those  who are outsiders or otherwise marginalized.
  • The transparency would be striking on its own, but the author also manages to make Raylene a dynamic character -- she is significantly changed and affected by the events of the story.



Negatives

The one thing that kind of bothered me about the main character was the cavalier way she dispatched human life -- even in circumstances where it was not really necessitated by concerns for self defense or the safety of others


Evaluation

All in all, an engaging story, well told, with a surprising level of literary skill for a genre novel.  It says something that I am looking forward to reading the next entry in the series -- and am only holding off until my schedule is a little freer, so I don't end up shirking responsibilities to find out "what's gonna happen next!?"

Assessment

Recommended!  I highly enjoyed this.  If you like action/adventure/investigation stories, you will find this an entertaining page turner.

(Buuuuuut -- if what you are in the market for is a soppy, romantic vampire story -- better to look elsewhere!)

Other Reviews of this Book

http://www.mybookishways.com/2011/08/review-bloodshot-cheshire-red-1-by-cherie-priest.html
http://myguiltyobsession.blogspot.com/2011/08/bloodshot-cheshire-red-reports-1-by.html



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May 20th, 2011


06:15 pm - Homes V. Hewitt; Round 1

 Sherlock HolmesSo .... When last I posted, I was writing about the various series of detective stories I've read.

It strikes me that there may be some merit in comparing the Sherlock Holmes stories, which set the standard, to their closest rival, the Martin Hewitt Stories.  

It seems all the more apt to compare each character's premier short story, for reasons that should become evident.

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes -- A.C. Doyle 

Scandal in Bohemia

Premise:  Brilliant consulting detective takes on the cases which Scotland Yard refers to him, which they can't solve, as well as taking on private clients.

Story:  The King of Bohemia asks Sherlock Holmes to obtain an incriminating photo of him with the adventuress, Irene Adler, with which the King believes that she plans to blackmail him, on the eve of his forthcoming nuptials with a woman of his own station.

Positives

  • The story has tremendous pace -- I've read it a number of times before, but I still found myself pulled into the story.
  • The main characters -- Holmes, Watson, and Irene Adler are brought, effectively, to life.
  • The way that Holmes solves the major problem, of determining the location of the incriminating photograph, is quite ingenious
  • It was quite daring of Doyle to make the first Holmes short story be one where his sleuth is, technically, defeated -- and by a woman, no less!

Negatives

  • The opening page or two are a bit discursive, by todays standards:  It takes a bit for the plot to get started.
  • Other than Sherlock's inferences about Doctor Watson's recent activities, there is, actually, no real mystery in this mystery story:  we know that Irene Adler is blackmailing the King from the start.  The only real puzzle is figuring out where she is hiding the photo.

Evaluation:  With the exception of the lack of a true mystery, this is still a fun story, that stands up to multiple readings.  The characters of Watson and Holmes are fully formed and credible.  The plotting is exemplary -- literally -- when I was in college, the Professor in Lit 101 assigned this story the first week because, although she was evidently embarrassed to have us read something that was so "pop culture", it was a perfect example for discussing the traditional pattern of short stories:  exposition, conflict, development, complication, resolution and denouement.


Assessment:  
Recommended.  Classic short story that stands up to multiple re-reading.


 

Martin HewittMartin Hewitt, Investigator

The Lenton Croft Robberies

Arthur Morrison

Premise:  Like Holmes, Martin Hewitt is a detective who depends upon keen observation and insight to solve mysteries.  However, thats where the resemblance ends:  Unlike Holmes, Hewitt is hearty and affable, a man in business who sometimes refuses to solve a puzzle until he is sure his fee will be paid.  A man of the streets, with an affable manner, who works cooperatively with the authorities

Story: A nobleman comes to Hewitt with a problem:  on 3 different occasions, guests at his house have had items stolen.  Two of the thefts occurred in the same room.  Two of them occurred with a window open (but no means of human ingress thereby).  Two of the thefts involved items of value (in the third case, a brightly colored piece of costume jewelry was preferred to an item nearby of substantial value).  The one factor they all have in common is that in each instance, a burnt out match has been deposited near where the stolen item was last seen.  The third theft has just occurred, and the nobleman wanted to find out who is committing these crimes and stop them, before his reputation is sullied.

Positives:

  • Martin Hewitt comes across as a believable, appealing character.
  • The story has a good pace, and a smooth prose style
  • The story is entertaining and clever

Negatives
  • Like the Holmes story, the first page or show is discursive -- describing how Hewitt came into his current career and his relationship with the narrator, before plunging into the story.
  • All the characters besides Hewitt are pretty stereotypical.
  • I anticipated the solution (but still enjoyed the story).
  • One or two pieces of evidence were withheld from the reader until Hewitt provided the solution

Evaluation:  An entertaining, and engaging story.  For this review, I meant to just skim over it to refresh my memory of the plot details, but, even knowing the solution, I found myself pulled into it

Assessment:  Recommended!

 

Comparison:  Often  Hewitt is often dismissed as a mere "Holmes clone", the principle similarities between the two characters is that they both solve problems by use of keen observation and insight.  Otherwise, they are very different, indeed:  Whereas Holmes is lean, eccentric, patrician in manner and bohemian in habits, and, working out of his home, doesn't seem to regard his work as a  job, but more of a past-time, Hewitt is hearty in appearance, even-tempered, and works from an office, where he clearly sees his detective work as a business.

This story does show some influence from Doyle, however, with the concern about a theft and the effect on the client's public esteem being similar to Scandal in Bohemia.  There is, moreover, a very obvious borrowing from {SPOILER ... highlight at your peril} the Scarlet Band, given the manner the criminal agency {End Spoiler}.

However, I actually find Hewitt is some ways more appealing and believable than Holmes.


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April 26th, 2011


07:51 pm - Catching Up; Ed McBain; E-Books; Victorian Detectives

 Its been a while since I've posted here.

I know my posts are, at best, sporadic, but, having been fairly conscientious lately, I thought I'd explain the recent lack of posts to my steadfast readers, and give you some indication of what is, likely, forthcoming.

I recently reviewed 2 Ed McBain 57th Precinct novels, and greatly enjoyed them.

When I was told that these are best enjoyed if they are read in order, I thought I'd make a little project of that.  Having started with the 7th book in the series, Lady Killer, I went back to the first book of the series, Cop Hater.

I really enjoyed that, so I went on Amazon and bought the 2nd book, The Mugger, in paperback.

And I haven't gotten any further, for one simple reason.

Its in print, and, at 49, I'm finding that its more difficult into reading print books if I don't have ideal lighting situation.  

Instead, I've been doing a lot more reading via an ebook reader, which has the advantage that I can resize the type on the fly to a size that is comfortable, given the ambient lighting conditions wherever I am.  I was fortunate to be able to obtain the other two book in e-book editions, but I haven't found the 2nd book available, as yet, in that format.

So, I *am* planning to get back to the 87th Precinct -- with summer approaching, I might find a few lazy, well-lit afternoons to return to the squadroom of the 87th Precinct.

In the meantime, I have found a number of good Victorian/Edwardian detective stories, which I have been consuming with gusto:

Arthur Morrison came up from the lower classes, and wrote a number of works describing the lot of the poor. He became a regular writer for the Strand Magazine, so when Arthur Doyle killed off Sherlock Holmes, Morrison seized the opportunity to create his own detective, Martin Hewitt. Hewitt is, in some ways, the opposite of Sherlock Holmes: he's well fed instead of scrawny, he cooperates amiably with the police, instead of holding them in contempt. I also appreciate that the stories are a little more *gritty* than the Sherlock Holmes stories -- Hewitt is as likely to help middle-class people as gentry, (without the condescension that Holmes evidenced for the petite bourgeois), and clearly does his investigations as much for the money as the satisfaction -- in a couple stories, he holds off beginning an investigation until he's sure his fees will be met.

Here are a couple links to the first two volumes of short stories:

http://www.manybooks.net/titles/morrisona1125211252-8.html

http://books.google.com/books?id=9JI7AAAAYAAJ&printsec=frontcover&dq=chronicles+of+martin+hewitt&source=bl&ots=SuiLTIi3L-&sig=06Y6bOWLvDwQP8gRtemoaUNj-QM&hl=en&ei=nnCwTcDOOZP6sAPh6fX3Cw&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=2&ved=0CCAQ6AEwAQ#v=onepage&q&f=false


I've also read a couple volumes of Edgar Wallace's "J.G. Reeder". Reeder is an investigator for the Prosecutors office, who often gets to malefactors before the police because, as he states, he has the misfortune to "think like a criminal". So far, I've only read the first book -- I think there might be two or three more:

http://gutenberg.net.au/ebooks02/0200891.txt


Finally, I just started reading the "Old Man in the Corner" by Baroness Orczy. He is a proto-typical "armchair detective", who mostly gathers his information about criminal cases from the newspapers, and shares his insights as to who *really* committed crimes which have puzzled the police with a young woman journalist who frequents his favorite cafe'. Rather an ambiguous figure, since he admits that he's unwilling to share his insights with the police if he is impressed with how *cleverly* the crime has been committed:

http://www.manybooks.net/titles/orczybar1055610556-8.html

All of these are fun, intellectually stimulating, reads.

In the weeks to come, until I can get back to the 87th Precinct, I think I'll start reviewing, and maybe comparing, stories from these varying series.

In the meantime, check out those links, and good reading!
 


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April 16th, 2011


04:58 pm - Doctor Who: The Forgotten Army -- Review *completed*
 Doctor Who The Forgotten ArmyPremise:  He's known, only, as "The Doctor".  He appears human, but he is actually the last surviving member of a race called the "Time Lords" and he travels through space and time, usually with a comely human assistant.  He doesn't go looking for trouble -- he seems to think of himself as a tourist -- but, somehow, trouble always finds him and he overcomes adversity primarily through his advanced intelligence, superior knowledge, utter unpredictability, and his trusty sonic screwdriver.

Story:  The Doctor and Amy arrive in New York city just as something unusual is occuring:  an exhibit of a preserved mammoth has come alive, in the museum of natural history.

The Doctor and Amy proceed to investigate and discover {spoiler -- highlight at your peril} that the mammoth is, effectively, a Trojan horse, concealing an invasion force of small aliens.

This invasion force is *very* speedy -- faster than the human eye can track -- very disciplined, and very effective.  They soon have Manhattan sealed off.  The Doctor and Amy have to figure out their invasion plan, and stop it, in a brief amount of time.

Positives:

  • The story moves at a quick pace.
  • The dialogue and characterization are consistent with the characters as portrayed in the TV show.

Negatives:

  • I suspect that the writer has previously written primarily for visual media:  he often will suddenly reveal something crucial in the environment that a character suddenly is interacting with -- which wasn't even *hinted* at before.  Its rather the inverse of Checkov's principle:  he suddenly have the proverbial gun going off, without ever having mentioned it before.  In a collaborative, visual media, this wouldn't be a problem -- the scenic designer or artist would insert those kind of details.  But in a narrative work, every time that occurs, it throws me out of the story, as I wonder "where did *that* suddenly come from?
  • The antagonists are a little too comical and absurd to take seriously as a threat.

Evaluation:  To the good, the action of the story was constant enough that it kept me reading along.  However, the errors in story telling and the crude humor frequently challenged my suspension of disbelief.

Assessment:  For only the second time here, I can't recommend this novel.  The writing is very, very poor.  

However, I've read some other Doctor Who novels, and most of them are quite entertaining.

I'll be recommending some good ones, shortly!


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