Friday, September 22, 2017

The Cuckoo's Calling by Robert Galbraith

Image result for the cuckoo's calling

I pretty much trudged through Robert Galbraith's (aka JK Rowling) The Cuckoo's Calling. It weighs in at 550 pages which is a bit long for the type of middlebrow mystery that I enjoy.

The investigation in the book concerns the death of a popular fashion model. The police see it as a straightforward suicide, but the model's brother is convinced she was murdered. Clues mount up and it begins to look as if the brother is right. 

It falls on Cormoran Strike to untangle the lies and alibis.

Strike is a private investigator with an office in London. He has a lot of issues. He ruminates on these issues often. In the evenings, the mornings, pretty much all the time. A former Royal Military Police investigator, he was wounded in Afghanistan, his longtime girlfriend has left him (or he left her, or maybe it was mutual), he had a rough childhood with a drug addict for a mother, he is the illegitimate child of a rock star whom he has only met twice, and he is in debt. He drinks; he smokes; he eats junk food; he bemoans his fate.

He is not really my kind of guy. 

Why, you might ask, did I continue in the company of this fellow? I am not sure. Every character introduced had an involved back story and none of them were very endearing. They were all too rich, too arrogant, too thin, too duplicitous.

The only bright spot in the entire tale is Robin Ellacott, Strike's secretary just arrived from a temp agency. Robin's fiance is not too happy about her recent assignment. Robin, however, is thrilled as she has long had a hankering to solve mysteries. Turns out she is good at it. 

The pages light up when Robin is in the room. She is resourceful, discreet, organized, thoughtful, and respects Strike's privacy. I liked her. 

I kept thinking I would just give up and move on to something else. Eventually, though, I quit arguing with myself and settled into bed each night to find out how Strike and Robin were getting along with the case.

I mentioned in an earlier post that the BBC has created a series based on this book and the two following: The Silkworm and Career of Evil. I think I will learn of Strike's further adventures via the television series. (Please take note, Netflix.)

Have you tried any of the Strike books? What did you think?

Friday, September 15, 2017

Crooked House by Agatha Christie and a birthday toast

Related image

Today, September 15, is Agatha Christie's birthday. I won't give her age as it wouldn't be polite, but let's just say she would be pretty old if still alive. 

I have written before about my longtime enjoyment of Dame Agatha's fascinating mysteries starring Hercule Poirot (my favorite) and Miss Jane Marple (her favorite). I also wrote about researching her passion for archaeological splendors for a paper I presented to a group four years ago (here and here).

I recently read Crooked House for the first time and was struck anew by how pleasant it is to be in her world of stately homes, family secrets, afternoon teas, formal gardens, nannies, and tutors.  

I came to Crooked House through a column in The Guardian called Novel Recipes. It takes a look at certain foods mentioned in various works — say, the macaroons in The Enchanted April, or potted beef from The Wind in the Willows — and creates the recipes. For Crooked House, it was the ice cream sodas mentioned near the end of the book. 

This tale doesn't feature either of her famous detectives. Instead we have Charles and his fiancée Sophia trying to solve the murder of Sophia's grandfather Aristide Leonides. Sophia has put the marriage on hold until the murderer is unmasked. 

There are plenty of suspects. All of Aristide's family rub up against each other in the large house — two sons, two daughters-in-law, Sophia and two other grandchildren, a former mother-in-law, a nanny, a tutor, and the young new widow.

Fortunately, Charles's father is assistant commissioner of Scotland Yard so he is privy to the goings on both in the house and in the investigation. Ms. Christie writes in the prologue that Crooked House is one of her favorites. I can see why: the denouément is quite surprising and dark.

But back to the ice cream sodas — one of my favorite childhood treats. When I would spend the night with my grandparents, I would beg for one as an after-dinner indulgence. My grandmother kept those little glass bottles of Coca-Cola chilled in the refrigerator which combined with vanilla ice cream made for a cold, fizzy, foamy delight. 

So, in honor of Dame Agatha's birthday, I treated myself to an ice cream soda today. A very simple one from McDonald's — I ordered a vanilla ice cream and a small Coke. Combine, et voilà

I think she would approve. Happy Birthday!


Image result for ice cream soda coca cola

Friday, September 8, 2017

Books Out, Books In

It has been a productive week. 

Even though it was wrenching to do so, I donated a stack of 15 books to Locust Grove Historic Home for its used book sale that is held twice a year. Like Marie Kondo suggests, I thanked them for the joy they had brought me and wished them well. 

A session of furniture rearranging on Labor Day was what spurred me on to cull those few volumes. A friend did most of the heavy lifting and even tidied up a bookshelf or two. I am pleased with the new arrangement but feel as if I have moved house. What used to sit on my right side is now on my left and vice versa. I am having a devil of a time trying to reorient myself. 


Image result for six feet under dorothy simpson

As for my reading, I started right into the second Inspector Thanet mystery (I wrote about him last week). I like it even better than the first. In Six Feet Under he is investigating the murder of a somewhat dowdy middle-aged woman and discovers she had a penchant for snooping. That will certainly get one into trouble...although murder seems a bit extreme. But maybe there was blackmail involved as piles of money are found under the dead woman's mattress. We shall see.


Image result for the cuckoo's calling

There has been a stir about the new BBC production of Strike - The Cuckoo's Calling. This series of seven episodes is based on the mystery written by JK Rowling under the pseudonym of Robert Galbraith. I downloaded a copy of the book from my library. I was surprised it was available. I will start it as soon as Inspector Thanet solves his case.


Image result for the little virtues

Finally, I stumbled across a short article by memoirist Vivian Gornick who wrote that her love of personal essays began when she read The Little Virtues by Natalia Ginzburg. I was not familiar with Ms. Ginzburg, but I too am a fan of the personal essay. Luckily, my library had a copy of the book and as of today it sits by my reading chair. It is slim — a little over 100 pages. It has a copyright and translation date of 1985, although it was originally published in 1962 in Italy.

That pretty much wraps up the reading portion of the week. There is a touch of autumn in the air and even though I suspect a few more days of hot weather will arrive in a blast, I am happy that summer is winding down. 

Friday, September 1, 2017

The Night She Died and How to Murder a Millionaire

I hunkered down recently and read the first books in two new-to-me mystery series. They have served as my bedtime reading.

Image result for the night she died by dorothy simpson

The Night She Died by Dorothy Simpson
Here we first meet Detective Inspector Luke Thanet. The crime to solve? Julie Holmes, still wearing her tweed overcoat, is found stabbed in the hallway of her home on quiet Gladstone Road. Her husband claims he found her dead when he returned home from class. Can he be trusted? Or perhaps the killer was one of the other men in Julie's life? A former boyfriend from London? Her boss? Or was it someone from her childhood? 

I liked Inspector Thanet. He has a wife and two children and in this outing, at least, has a tendency to overthink things and jump to conclusions. But then he is mature enough to acknowledge his own shortcomings. A promising start.

This was published in 1981 and Ms. Simpson has 14 more mysteries featuring Luke Thanet the last of which came out in 1999.

Image result for how to murder a millionaire


How to Murder a Millionaire by Nancy Martin
This one is just pure fun. Nora Blackbird is from old Philadelphia money. Unfortunately the money is all gone, but she and her sisters Libby and Emma still mingle with high society. Nora has taken a job as society columnist for a Philadelphia paper. She attends a cocktail party hosted by the paper's owner, millionaire art collector and family friend Rory Pendergrast, and discovers his dead body. That will put the end to any party!  

Nora's sleuthing uncovers all sorts of secrets and I had a delightful time amateur-detecting with her. Looking forward to reading more about the Blackbird sisters and their high society high jinks.

What's new on your bedside table?