The Book Of James

The Book of James

Mackenzie was driving to Boston with her husband Nick when a truck runs a light and crashes into their car. Mackenzie is injured, but Nick dies soon after the accident in the hospital. He is drugged, but mostly coherent when he tells Mackenzie that they will be coming after her, that she should go to the house, and that she should find James.

Mackenzie has no idea what any of this means. She is about to find out however. She is contacted by Nick’s lawyer regarding his will. Mackenzie is shocked because they were barely getting by and had no idea that Nick had anything to leave to her. For the reading of the will, she goes to Philadelphia from her home in Maine.

She is not only shocked to learn she is the recipient of 15 million dollars but that Nick’s mother is still alive. And there is the problem. His mother, Cora, is apparently hiding a secret in the old Monroe mansion, Nick’s childhood home. Mackenzie accepts Cora’s offer to spend some time at the mansion. The offer comes with an ulterior motive, to find out what Mackenzie knows. Most of the novel is set in the mansion with Mackenzie trying to find James and figure out the secret that Cora is trying so hard to keep. But more importantly, Mackenzie wants to learn about the husband that she never truly knew because he kept secrets, too.

This is definitely a good psychological thriller with several interesting and unexpected twists and turns to keep the reader on his toes. Additional characters include a love interest in Dylan, the son of Nick’s lawyer and Mackenzie’s as well and Samantha, Mackenzie’s best friend. Give it a try.

The Book of James written by Ellen J. Green was published in 2015 by Thomas & Mercer, Seattle.

A Conspiracy Of Paper

A Conspiracy of Paper

A Conspiracy of Paper is written by David Liss and published in 2000 by Random House.

Time for some historical fiction, in this case, an historical mystery. The time is 1719 and the place is London, England. The new finance was all the rage. Consider what must have happened as the economy moved from a reliance on physical coin containing
precious metal – like gold – to paper money, bank notes. Also consider the dawn of the stock market and the inevitable speculation that entails. That’s where and when this story is set.

Our protagonist and investigator is Benjamin Weaver, former pugilist, thief and lately thief taker. A thief taker is most similar to our current bounty hunter. He also represents the beginning of the private detection business. He is also a Jew which was not necessarily a good thing to be in England at the time.

Benjamin’s father was a stock-jobber or, as we would know them a stock trader. He bought and sold stock on the Exchange. Stock trading was done not in a formal stock exchange as we know it but in the coffee shops along ’Change Alley. It was all very informal and totally unregulated. Well, not much was regulated in 1719.

In fact, the chief thief taker in London was one Johnathon Wild, perhaps the first crime lord in history. Judges were quite easily bought and jail time could be improved by renting a better cell with better amenities.

Benjamin is contacted by the son of an associate of Benjamin’s late father, a man named Balfour. The task, find out why Benjamin’s father and the elder Balfour were murdered. This surprises Benjamin because, having been estranged from his father, he had no idea that his father’s death was anything but the accident it appeared to be.

Ben’s search takes him and us through the world of the stock-jobber, Jewish traders, and the Jewish community itself. We also get a look at gambling dens, medicine (such as it was, think bloodletting for all manner of ills), the theater, and the new philosophy of probability.

The latter comes from Elias, a doctor (bloodletter), author, amateur philosopher and good friend of Ben’s.

This is an interesting look at English life in the early 18th century when economies were changing, life was hard for the poor and sometimes even harder for the Jews. Gin cost a penny a pint and was the preferred way for the poor to forget their troubles. Beer was drunk for breakfast and wine did appear to flow like water. It was both cheaper and safer to drink the wine than to drink the water.

Bad Sons

Here I go, reading the first book of a series and getting sucked into the vortex. Not that it is a bad thing. Often it is very good and I expect this vortex to be one of the good ones.

Although Bad Sons is the first in the Booker and Cash series it is definitely a stand-alone story. The story is resolved at the end and you can leave Booker and Cash to their own devices. Or you can continue to read. I’ll make that decision soon (probably to read on).

David Booker returns to Romney Marsh (England, Channel coast) to help his aunt and uncle pack some books for shipment in preparation for their retirement as book sellers. However, he finds them missing. Out jogging one morning he notices a police presence further up the beach. With foreboding, he continues to that place and finds that his aunt has drowned under somewhat mysterious circumstances.

The police turn out to be less than helpful. The detective inspector actually thinks Booker might have done it. The detective assigned to the case, Jo Cash is relatively certain that Booker didn’t do it. Because the police aren’t really pursuing the case, Booker takes it upon himself to do some digging. He ultimately gets Cash to go along with this amateur sleuthing.

Booker has just returned from teaching English to unappreciative pre-teens in Instanbul where things are not going well with his wife so the time away is appreciated. However, he didn’t expect to get involved with a murder investigation and perhaps personally involved with the office assigned to the case. Booker also suffers from some anger management issues which is why he is teaching in Turkey rather than the UK. And why he gets beaten up at least once. One should avoid attacking guys that bullied you in high school when they have their posse with them.

The pursuit of the culprits takes Jo and David into the history of the area during WW 2 and even on to the French coast. The resolution is a little different than David and Jo expect and even than we expect.

Some observations:

The story is told in the first person. I liked that since it really allows the reader to understand the information that the protagonist knows and allows us to try to figure out the mystery. Nothing is really hidden from us, the reader. It does however allow the protagonist to lead us down a garden path if he wishes. Caveat lector.

Booker turns out to be an interesting aptonym and one that sort of snuck up in me. Turns out that Booker eventually decides to stay in the book selling business.

Go, read the book if you like mysteries. It is worth the time.

Everyone Counts, Or Nobody Counts

This book represents two firsts for me: the first dead-tree book I’ve read in a long while and the first Harry Bosch mystery I’ve read. It won’t be the last in either department.

The Drop published in 2012 and written by Michael Connelly is the fifteenth Harry Bosch novel although the first that I have read. I have my work cut out for me if I want to read the rest of the series.

Harry is a LAPD homicide detective and a very good one. He is currently assigned to the Open-Unsolved unit investigating cold cases long since closed and unsolved. He and his partner, David Chu, are assigned an interesting one. A DNA match occurred in a kidnap/rape/murder case that occurred in 1989. The match was to a known sex offender. who would have been 8 years old when the crime was committed. So how did this DNA get on the victim?

Not long after being assigned this case, Bosch and Chu get assigned another high profile case, one involving in Harry’s words, high jingo. Which means lots of political spin. The death in question is of the son of a city councilman who has been a thorn in the side of LAPD ever since he was forced out as police chief. He and Bosch have had issues in the past. The problem with this case it to determine if it was suicide or murder and if murder, why and who did it.

This is a police procedural so there is little in the way of action. Harry and Chu do lots of leg work to investigate both of these deaths. Ultimately, they will come to a conclusion on them both, but neither will be satisfactory to Harry.

Harry is very good at his job and has a strong moral code. The title, “Everybody counts, or nobody counts” is Harry’s motto. He truly believes it. In between juggling two high profile cases he is raising his 15 year old daughter (whose mother, Harry’s ex, passed away a couple of years ago). All in all, Harry is doing a good job with Maddy. Harry even has time to find a love interest.

The book is definitely worth reading even if, like me, you haven’t met Harry Bosch before. Get to know him, I think you’ll like him.

The Magician

I seem to be reading older books these days. The Magician was written by W. Somerset Maugham and published in 1908. It isn’t one of Maugham’s well-known works like Of Human Bondage. In fact, Maugham himself claims to have nearly forgotten about the book and found the writing “lush and turgid” (see the Wikipedia entry)

The magician of the title is named Oliver Haddo and is a caricature of Aleister Crowley. In fact, Crowley wrote a rather nasty review of the book accusing Maugham of plagiarism, not of Crowley’s own work, but of several other, older books.

Haddo encounters the 4 primary characters in the story, Arthur, Dr Porhoët, Margaret (engaged to Arthur), and Susie (Margaret’s companion). None of them like Haddo, but Susie invites him to tea anyway. At tea, Haddo manages to kick Margaret’s dog (Haddo is known to have a significant negative effect on animals) which incites Arthur to attack Haddo and give him a thrashing. This goes down badly with Haddo although he says nothing at the time. He bides his time and plots his revenge.

Revenge takes the form of seducing Margaret with his occult powers. The rest of the story is how everyone handles this and ultimately what Arthur does in response.

Not a bad occult story. The writing didn’t seem that much over the top considering it was written more than 100 years ago. It’s an interesting book to read.

 

Red-Headed Sinners

Red-Headed Sinners is a noir mystery although there isn’t much of a mystery. Written in 1953 by Jonathan Craig, this novel follows disgraced cop Jeff Stoner. We see him first interrogating a red-head when suddenly he attacks and nearly strangles her. That proves to be enough to get him kicked off the force.

Jeff drinks and suffers from black-outs. What we come to learn is what happens during those black-outs and why he has a thing for red heads. The story is a bit simplistic and we’re fed the details in a pretty obvious manner. However, watching what is an essentially good man fall deeper and deeper into a pit that he really doesn’t understand is somehow compelling.

An interesting read and somewhat representative of the noir period in pulps. I picked up my ebook version from the now-defunct munseys.com. It is also available at Amazon. I can recommend this for a casual read.

Ars Paradoxica

I’ve been interested in old time radio for some time. Actually, my first memory of a radio program (as opposed to music or news) was when I was around 5 years old. The program was Sergeant Preston. I guess now that I found the archived version of the program I’ll have to listen to it.

I enjoy listening to old time radio programs while working on the house. It makes painting walls more enjoyable. I’ve gone through Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar, Broadway is My Beat, Richard Diamond and parts of Boston Blackie. I doubt that I’ll ever finish all of the Suspense. There must be nearly a thousand episodes archived.

However, this is about a more modern radio program: Ars Paradoxica. We meet Sally Grissom as she inadvertently invents time-travel and goes back to October 1943 and the Philadelphia Experiment. In fact, she lands on the deck of the USS Eldridge. She is immediately brought to the attention of Wild Bill Donovan who is heading, among other things, ODAR, an acronym for something I can never remember: Office of Developed Anomalous Research.

The story involves a little time travel, time travel paradoxes, cold war paranoia, the ability of power to corrupt, and what it means to be completely ripped from your life and dumped into a world more than 60 years ago. Sally does miss her smartphone, the internet and pizza delivery in 30 minutes or less.

Season 3 is starting soon, don’t miss it.

 

It Really is the Journey

The Physician by Noah Gordon originally published in 1986.

It’s the eleventh century, the year is 1020 to be exact. Rob J Cole is the eldest of the Cole children. His mother dies after giving birth in a pile of horse manure. His father dies soon after probably of pneumonia that he caught working as a carpenter (joiner actually). The children in the Cole family are given to other families where they can ultimately contribute. Rob being the eldest is difficult to place. In fact he decides to leave and go on his own.

Rob is found by Barber an aptly named itinerant barber/surgeon. Barber isn’t his real name but there is something in his past he wants to avoid. Rob is taught to juggle, perform magic and learns the barber/surgeon trade. It turns out that Rob has a unique gift; he can sense when someone is about to die. He did it with both of his parents and he repeats the feat with some of the patients that call upon Barber.

The deaths of his parents, his gift, and the suffering he sees as a an apprentice surgeon give Rob the incentive to become a physician. In the eleventh century England this means apprenticing to an existing physician who are mostly interested in making money by blood-letting. Rob comes to realize that Barber is doing more good than the average physician.

On their journeys around England Rob encounters a Jewish physician who seems to know much more than average. From him Rob learns of Avicenna and his school for physicians in Ispahan. Unfortunately, Christians are not permitted to go to that madrasas. Rob had been circumcised early and it occurs to him that he could pass as a Jew.

After Barber’s death Rob sets off for Ispahan. He joins a caravan and befriends a group of Jewish traders. From them he learns a bit about Judaism and hopes to pass as a Jew when he reaches Ispahan. He is also introduced to the Parsi language which he studies intently so he will be ready when he reaches Ispahan.

Rob first journeys from boyhood to adolescence to adulthood under the tutelage of Barber. His next journey of discovery is across Europe to Ispahan. It is there that he embarks upon his journey to be a physician. He also learns a lot more about being a physician, a Jew and a lot about Arab politics. Ultimately, he journeys back to England to be a physician. Yet another journey ensues, this time navigating the politics of the physicians in London, the church, and prejudice against Jews. He also journeys into love, marriage, fatherhood, and various friendships.

There is a lot more going on here that I’ve mentioned. This is a good historical novel that paints what would appear to be an authentic picture of life in the eleventh century.

Welcome

I guess I better write something for the first post otherwise everyone will be reading the boilerplate that WordPress provides.

The picture above shows the mountains to the west of Palm Springs. Yes, it does rain in Palm Springs. We even have flash floods at times.

A little about me that isn’t in the about page. I’m a retired software engineer, DIY enthusiast, and intermittent traveler. We have a 20 foot travel trailer that we’ve hauled from California to northeast Ohio twice, both times in the company of our cat, Max. He’s really comfortable traveling.  By the way, that’s him below having his evening cocktail.

2017-05-12 17.47.21 HDR

I went to Ohio State and have degrees in Math and Computer Science. Those degrees are getting a bit rusty since I’m retired although I still hack a bit now and then.