Category Archives: 01. 2023 Reading Journal

February wrap-up

First book of February: The Lost Metal by Brandon Sanderson

Last book of February: The Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo

Total number of books read: 13

5 stars:

  • Under the Banner of Heaven by Jon Krakauer
  • The Beekeeper’s Apprentice by Laurie R. King

4 -4.5 stars:

  • The Lost Metal by Brandon Sanderson
  • Ice Cold Heart by P.J. Tracey
  • Time and Chance by Sharon Kay Penman
  • Evil Under the Sun by Agatha Christie
  • The Life We’re Looking For by Andy Crouch
  • Sabriel by Garth Nix

3-3.5 stars:

  • The Murder Rule by Dervla McTiernan
  • Doomed to Die by Dorothy Simpson
  • Bone Canyon by Lee Goldberg
  • A Necessary End by Peter Robinson
  • Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo

2023 Reading Journal: Modern Crime (Books 17, 18, 25, & 31)

Ice Cold HeartIce Cold Heart
by P.J. Tracy
Rating: ★★★½
Series: Monkeewrench #10
Publication Date: August 22, 2019
Genre: mystery: modern (1980-present)
Pages: 326
ReRead?: No

On a bitterly cold winter night, Kelly Ramage leaves her suburban home, telling her husband she's going to meet a friend.

She never comes back.

When her body is discovered, murdered in what seems to be a sex game gone horribly wrong, Detectives Gino and Magozzi take the case, expecting to find a flirtatious trail leading straight to the killer.

However, Kelly's sinister lover has done a disturbingly good job of hiding his identity. This isn't his first victim - and that she won't be the last...

I read this at the very beginning of February. I usually don’t jump into the middle of a series, but I checked this one out because I saw that both the audiobook and the kindle book were simultaneously available at my library, so I decided to try out a tandem listening/reading process. This was enormously successful and will be a part of my bookish life from here on out, when I can manage it. I was able to seamlessly transition between the two formats which meant that I could listen to my book while I was driving, cleaning, shopping and crafting, but read the book when my hands weren’t otherwise occupied. I blew threw the book in short order.

I also liked the book. It’s a pretty garden variety modern thriller, with a likeable cast of characters. I also enjoy books set in snowy/cold climates, and this is Minneapolis in the winter, so that definitely worked for me. I enjoyed it enough that I have the first in series on hold at the library – just the kindle book, though, because my library doesn’t have the audiobook.

The Murder RuleThe Murder Rule
by Dervla McTiernan
Rating: ★★★½
Publication Date: May 10, 2022
Genre: mystery: modern (1980-present)
Pages: 295
ReRead?: No

First Rule: Make them like you.

Second Rule: Make them need you.

Third Rule: Make them pay.

They think I’m a young, idealistic law student, that I’m passionate about reforming a corrupt and brutal system.

They think I’m working hard to impress them.

They think I’m here to save an innocent man on death row.

They're wrong. I’m going to bury him.

Dervla McTiernan is a new favorite author of mine – I’ve read the first two books in her Cormac Reilly series. While I was waiting for my hold on the third book of the series to come up, I decided to grab this stand-alone. I didn’t like it as much as I have enjoyed Cormac Reilly (especially the second in series, The Scholar, which was a standout read for me), but it was an enjoyable read. It is a bit of a legal thriller, which is generally not my favorite modern suspense trope, and it’s pretty obvious that McTiernan is not an expert on the American legal system. I am an expert on the American legal system, as I’ve been a criminal prosecutor for 27 years, and there book contains some glaring legal errors. Nonetheless, so long as I ignored the anachronisms and inconsistencies, it was a fun read.

Bone CanyonBone Canyon
by Lee Goldberg
Rating: ★★★½
Series: Eve Ronin #2
Publication Date: June 5, 2021
Genre: mystery: modern (1980-present)
Pages: 287
ReRead?: No

A cold case heats up, revealing a deadly conspiracy in a twisty thriller by #1 New York Times bestselling author Lee Goldberg.

A catastrophic wildfire scorches the Santa Monica Mountains, exposing the charred remains of a woman who disappeared years ago. The investigation is assigned to Eve Ronin, the youngest homicide detective in the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, a position that forces her to prove herself again and again. This time, though, she has much more to prove.

Bones don’t lie, and these have a horrific story to tell. Eve tirelessly digs into the past, unearthing dark secrets that reveal nothing about the case is as it seems. With almost no one she can trust, her relentless pursuit of justice for the forgotten dead could put Eve’s own life in peril.

This is the second in Goldberg’s Eve Ronin series set in California. I read the first one, Lost Hills, in April 2020 and had been meaning to get back to the series. Goldberg is primarily known for his screen credits, which include Diagnosis: Murder and Monk. This is a very pacey mystery that uses the California combination of glitz and squalor quite effectively, and leverages the persistent wildfires as a plot device. Eve Ronin is a likeable magnet for trouble. The books are lightweight, without the heft of Michael Connelly’s noir approach to Los Angeles, but are fun and quick. There are two more books in the series that are available for free from the Kindle Unlimited library. I’m sure I will read them both.

Death at La FeniceDeath at La Fenice
by Donna Leon
Rating: ★★★
Series: Commissario Guido Brunetti #1
Publication Date: June 1, 1992
Genre: mystery: modern (1980-present)
Pages: 270
ReRead?: No
Project: a century of crime

There is little violent crime in Venice, a serenely beautiful floating city of mystery and magic, history and decay. But the evil that does occasionally rear its head is the jurisdiction of Guido Brunetti, the suave, urbane vice-commissario of police and a genius at detection. Now all of his admirable abilities must come into play in the deadly affair of Maestro Helmut Wellauer, a world-renowned conductor who died painfully from cyanide poisoning during an intermission at La Fenice.

But as the investigation unfolds, a chilling picture slowly begins to take shape--a detailed portrait of revenge painted with vivid strokes of hatred and shocking depravity. And the dilemma for Guido Brunetti will not be finding a murder suspect, but rather narrowing the choices down to one. . . .

I had somehow never read any books in the Commissario Guido Brunetti series, set in Venice, Italy. I have a good friend who loves the series, which now numbers 31 installments, and who has mentioned several times how much she enjoys them. I decided that the best place to start was, as always, at the beginning, although she assures me that the series gets stronger as it goes along. La Fenice is the Venetian opera house, and the book’s victim, the opera conductor, dies of cyanide poisoning in his dressing room. As Brunetti pursues the case, it becomes clearer and clearer that our “victim” was one of those men who, as the expression goes, needed killing.

I found a lot of similarities between the character of Guido Brunetti and Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, from the Three Pines series. There is quite a bit of set-up and character introduction happening in this book, which distracted from the investigation, but which is one of the elements of a mystery series that I enjoy. The Venice setting is spectacular. I only gave it three stars, because the mystery is weak, but the rest of the book was very satisfying, and I look forward to getting to know Brunetti better over the course of the long series.

2023 Reading Journal: Books 1, 5, 9, & 12

The next round of quick updates is the golden age mysteries I’ve read so far this year: The Mad Hatter Mystery by John Dickson Carr; One, Two, Buckle My Shoe by Agatha Christie; Murder’s a Swine by Nap Lombard and Coroner’s Pidgin by Margery Allingham.

The Mad Hatter MysteryThe Mad Hatter Mystery
by John Dickson Carr
Rating: ★★★½
Series: Gideon Fell #2
Publication Date: January 1, 1933
Genre: mystery: golden age (1920-1949)
Pages: 304
ReRead?: No
Project: a century of crime

At the hand of an outrageous prankster, top hats are going missing all over London, snatched from the heads of some of the city’s most powerful people—but is the hat thief the same as the person responsible for stealing a lost story by Edgar Allan Poe, the manuscript of which has just disappeared from the collection of Sir William Bitton? Unlike the manuscript, the hats don’t stay stolen for long, each one reappearing in unexpected and conspicuous places shortly after being taken: on the top of a Trafalgar Square statue, hanging from a Scotland Yard lamppost, and now, in the foggy depths of the Tower of London, on the head of a corpse with a crossbow bolt through the heart. Amateur detective and lexicographer Dr. Gideon Fell is on the case, and when the dead man is identified as the nephew of the collector, he discovers that the connections underlying the bizarre and puzzling crimes may be more intimate than initially expected.

This was my first book of the year. I’ve read several others by John Dickson Carr, and I pretty much always enjoy them. This was not a “locked room” mystery, which is his specialty, and wasn’t as good as The Hollow Man, which seems to be the acknowledged masterpiece, and which I rated a full five stars. The Mad Hatter Mystery is set in London, and is the second in his Gideon Fell series; Gideon Fell, for some reason that I can’t really explain, sort of reminds me of Nero Wolfe, although he is modeled on G.K. Chesterton. This one has quite a twist at the end, that I wasn’t expecting. I read the American Mystery Classics edition, published by Otto Penzler’s press.

One, Two, Buckle My ShoeOne, Two, Buckle My Shoe
by Agatha Christie
Rating: ★★★★
Series: Hercule Poirot #20
Publication Date: November 1, 1940
Genre: mystery: golden age (1920-1949)
Pages: 224
ReRead?: Yes
Project: appointment with agatha

Even the great Poirot harbours a deep and abiding fear of the dentist, so it is with trepidation that he arrives at the celebrated Dr Morley’s surgery for an examination.
Yet even Poirot couldn’t have guessed that only hours later he would be examining the dentist, dead in his surgery – an apparent suicide.

Why would a successful dentist choose to kill himself on such a busy day? Poirot turns to the other patients for answers – but only finds other, darker questions.

This one of those Christie mysteries that gets better every time I read it. It’s not her strongest work, and the first time I read it, I was actually not that impressed. It has improved on reread. I enjoyed the political element, and thought that Christie did a good job of portraying privileged individuals who believe – and are treated as though – they are above the law. Given the political realities in both my home country of the U.S., and in the British government, this seems to be a depressingly accurate depiction of power and the people who wield it.

Murder's a SwineMurder's a Swine
by Nap Lombard
Rating: ★★★★½
Publication Date: January 1, 1943
Genre: mystery: golden age (1920-1949)
Pages: 280
ReRead?: No
Project: a century of crime

“I should imagine this was murder, too, because it would be very difficult to build yourself into a heap of sandbags and then die…”

In the blackout conditions of a wintry London night, amateur sleuth Agnes Kinghof and a young air-raid warden have stumbled upon a corpse stowed in the walls of their street’s bomb shelter. As the police begin their investigation, the night is interrupted once again when Agnes’s upstairs neighbor Mrs Sibley is terrorized by the sight of a grisly pig’s head at her fourth-floor window. With the discovery of more sinister threats mysteriously signed ‘Pig-sticker’, Agnes and her husband Andrew – unable to resist a good mystery – begin their investigation to deduce the identity of a villain living amongst the tenants of their block of flats.

A witty and light-hearted mystery full of intriguing period detail, this rare gem of Golden Age crime returns to print for the first time since its publication in 1943.

This book was so much fun – one of the best BLCC reissues that I’ve read. It is set in 1943, in London during the earliest part of the war, with the victim found in an air raid shelter among the sandbags. The main “sleuths” are a married couple, Agnes and Andrew Kinghof, with some of the same sparkle as Tommy and Tuppence or Nick and Nora (note the name alliteration, which seems to be a requirement). The killer taunts and scares his/her victims before murdering them by wearing a pig’s mask and appearing in windows before the murders; it’s a bit disturbing. There are motives aplenty. Overall, I really enjoyed this golden age mystery.

Coroner's PigeonCoroner's Pigeon
by Margery Allingham
Rating: ★★★½
Series: Albert Campion #12
Publication Date: October 1, 1945
Genre: mystery: golden age (1920-1949)
Pages: 241
ReRead?: No

World War II is limping to a close and private detective Albert Campion has just returned from years abroad on a secret mission. Relaxing in his bath before rushing back to the country, and to the arms of his wife, Amanda, Campion is disturbed when his servant, Lugg, and a lady of unmistakably aristocratic bearing appear in his flat carrying the corpse of a woman.

The reluctant Campion is forced to put his powers of detection to work as he is drawn deeper into the case, and into the eccentric Caradocs household, dealing with murder, treason, grand larceny, and the mysterious disappearance of some very valuable art.

I always want to like the Campion mysteries more than I actually like the Campion mysteries. I find Allingham’s plots to be convoluted and sometimes difficult to follow, although I do like her characters. I think that if I can just get a handle on the series, I will enjoy it more. I’ve been reading them out of order, and I’m wondering if it might be better to back up and start at the beginning – this was 12th in the series, and maybe that’s why I tend to struggle a bit. I have read The Crime at Black Dudley, which is nominally first in series, but barely includes Campion. When I dive back into this series, it will be with Book 2, Mystery Mile, and I’ll see if I make any headway.

My Vintage Mystery Series: Volume 2

Inspector Henry Tibbet by Patricia Moyes

Why I read it: I first started reading this series years ago, when I picked one up at the UBS. Which one is lost to the sands of time. The first book was published in 1959.

C.I.D. Inspector Henry Tibbets, with his famous “nose” for crime, and his wife Emmy are a delightful pair. The series makes use of their travels – so far, I’ve accompanied them to a posh ski resort in the Italian Alps, a rustic resort on a Caribbean island, an international drug conference in Switzerland, and Emmy’s 20th WAAF reunion. I’ve been collecting the paperbacks as I find them, and I’m up to book 7, Murder Fantastical, which is sitting on my shelf waiting for me.

The Inspector Luke Thanet series by Dorothy Simpson.

Why I read it: I don’t remember how I found this series. I may have picked up an old paperback at the UBS and then, after reading it, found the series was available as some kindle reissues at my local library. The first book was published in 1980, when I was in the 9th grade, but I didn’t read it until the last few years.

The main character is Luke Thanet, a British police inspector. It’s set in Kent, England, and has a total of 15 entries, the last having been published in 1999. Thanet has a sidekick, Sgt. Lineham, who helps him with his investigations. In addition, Luke’s wife, Joan, and his two children feature prominently in the books and they provide an interesting sociological review of changing marriages and mores during a time when women were more actively entering the full-time workforce. Joan is hired as a probation officer in the third book, and Luke occasionally ruminates on how much his internal male compass struggles with having a wife who has interests beyond home and family (i.e., beyond him).

Inspector Banks by Peter Robinson

Why I read it: It might be a little bit of an overstatement to say that I “read” this series, when I’ve actually only read the first book, and that only a few weeks ago. But, Inspector Banks has been on my radar for a while, and I enjoyed the first book enough to check out the next two. Gallows View was published in 1987, and there are a total of 27 books, with a 28th to be published in April. In fact, it’s probably a bit of a misnomer to even call this “vintage” at this point. Although, 1987 was a looong time ago, and it therefore feels pretty vintage to me.


The Richard Jury series by Martha Grimes

Why I read it: I started reading Richard Jury in high school – my mom read the mass market paperback editions, and I would read them after she finished with them. I read them through high school (the first several), college (the next few) and law school (through maybe book 11 or so). There are 25 of them, reaching all the way into the end of the twenty-teens. I quit reading them at some unidentified time in the past, but have been picking them up and rereading over the past few years.

These books are, honestly, a little strange. Richard Jury is a recognizably normal Chief Inspector, but the side characters can be quirky to the point of bizarre. Melrose Plant, Earl of something or another and his not-even-remotely-likeable Aunt Agatha, Jury’s gorgeous neighbor, whose name I have forgotten but it might be Carolanne – it’s all very over the top. It’s sort of like Northern Exposure, but in book form, and in England. I am also fairly sure that Grimes (an American, but who writes books set in England) titled all of her mysteries after fictional pubs, and they have some of the greatest titles in the history of mystery fiction.

Pollard and Toye by Elizabeth LeMarchand

Why I read it: This is sort of a “village murder” series, also set in England. I obviously have a thing for mystery series set in England, and I’m not even a little bit guilty about this. The first of the Pollard & Toye murders was published in 1967, and there are 17 of them. The last, The Glade Manor Murder, was published in 1989. I’ve read more than half of these – the last one I read was (according to Goodreads) Unhappy Returns, and I finished it in March 2020.

I recall that one being a bit of a disappointment, which may explain why there has been a delay in continuing with the series. They are all available through the Kindle Unlimited Library, though, so I’m sure I will continue on at some point.

Monday at the Library: 1.23.2023

Print books: (returned 6, checked out 1)

  1. Migrations by Charlotte McConagh
  2. All the Horses of Iceland by Sarah Tolmie
  3. The Death of the Heart by Elizabeth Bowen: I checked this out after listening to the Backlisted Podcast about it. I’m not sure I’ll get to it this time, but I definitely want to read it. It’s also on my Classics Club list!
  4. National Provincial by Lettice Cooper: I confess that I am on my FOURTH renewal of this book; it looks wonderful, but I’m not in the right mood for it and I think it needs to go back to the library. I can always check it out again later.
  5. The Unsuspected by Charlotte Armstrong
  6. The Haunted Lady by Mary Roberts Rinehart
  7. Cassandra at the Wedding by Dorothy Baker
  8. Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of a Violent Faith by Jon Krakauer: I am not sure I will get to this one – I read it years ago, and then watched the series and wanted to reread it, but it was only a 14 day checkout and can’t be renewed.
  9. The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind by Mark Noll: lost interest; maybe later.
  10. Celebrities for Jesus: How Personas, Platforms and Profits are Hurting the Church by Katelyn Beaty: lost interest; maybe later.
  11. Marple: 12 New Stories, Multiple Authors: awful book, great buddy read
  12. Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson
  13. Murders a Swine by Nap Lombard: I loved this BLCC reprint.
  14. Upright Women Wanted by Sarah Gailey: I haven’t had enough interest to pick up this novella, and decided it might be better as an audiobook, so I checked it out from my other library system.

Digital Checkouts (returned 11; checked out 7)

  1. Killing the Goose by Frances & Richard Lockridge: this is 6th in the Mr. and Mrs. North mystery series and is next in line for me
  2. Dead by Morning by Dorothy Simpson: currently reading
  3. Ex Libris by Michiko Kakutani: inspired by MBD, currently dipping in & out as my whimsy takes me.
  4. A Dedicated Man by Peter Robinson: Book 2 in the Inspector Banks series; hold just came up this morning
  5. A Necessary End by Peter Robinson: Book 3 in the Inspector Banks series
  6. The Liar’s Girl by Catherine Ryan Howard: impulse check out
  7. The Murder Rule by Dervla McTiernan: since I have to wait for book 3 of the Cormac Reilly series
  8. The Woman in the Library by Sulari Gentill: I’m really excited for this one!
  9. The Lost Metal by Brandon Sanderson: the final book in the Wax & Wayne installments of the Mistborn series; currently reading/listening
  10. Dreaming of the Bones by Deborah Crombie
  11. The Glass Palace by Amitav Ghosh
  12. They Knew by Sarah Kendzior
  13. Ice Cold Heart by P.J. Tracey; audiobook; checked out on a whim. I’m trying to do more walking, so I’ll be listening to more books.
  14. The Pale Blue Eye by Louis Bayard: audiobook; also checked out on a whim
  15. Upright Women Wanted by Sarah Gailey: Checked out the audiobook; under 4 hours long.
  16. A Necessary End by Peter Robinson: returned because I’m not ready for it yet.
  17. The Deer Leap by Martha Grimes: ran out of time
  18. Lavender House by Lev AC Rosen: read & returned
  19. Gallows View by Peter Robinson: read & returned
  20. The Bullet that Missed by Richard Osman: I’ve finished this one, but my mom is also reading it, so I’ll hold onto it until she is finished.
  21. Stone’s Fall by Iaian Pears: this is the second time I’ve checked this one out and it’s not looking like I’ll get to it this time either; returned, unread.
  22. Goldenhand by Garth Nix: finished, yesterday.
  23. The Scholar by Dervla McTiernan; read & returned; so good!
  24. The Old Silent by Martha Grimes: returned unread
  25. Died in the Wool by Ngaio Marsh: ran out of time
  26. The Age of Vice by Deepti Kapoor: I’m just not in the mood for this one right now, and there are dozens of holds, so I returned it for someone else to read. Probably later in the year.

2023 Reading Journal: Books 3, 4, 6 & 11

Every year I make a (very quiet, very private) resolution to post about every book that I read. I promptly (sometimes within hours) abandon this notion, because I read so much that a full blown post for each book is a completely unattainable goal. This also presupposes that I have enough to say about every book I read that I could even write a full-blown review. This is simply not the case – I enjoy most of the books I read, but just because I enjoy a book doesn’t mean I have a lot to say about it.

This year, I thought to myself “there is no rule that you have to do a full-blown review for every single book you read.” So, I’m giving myself permission to knock off several books in a post, with a few quick words about each book.

The Bullet that MissedThe Bullet that Missed
by Richard Osman
Rating: ★★★★
Series: The Thursday Murder Club #3
Publication Date: September 15, 2022
Genre: mystery: modern (1980-present)
Pages: 413
ReRead?: No

It is an ordinary Thursday, and things should finally be returning to normal.

Except trouble is never far away where the Thursday Murder Club are concerned. A local news legend is on the hunt for a sensational headline, and soon the gang are hot on the trail of two murders, ten years apart.

To make matters worse, a new nemesis pays Elizabeth a visit, presenting her with a deadly mission: kill or be killed...

While Elizabeth grapples with her conscience (and a gun), the gang and their unlikely new friends (including TV stars, money launderers and ex-KGB colonels) unravel a new mystery. But can they catch the culprit and save Elizabeth before the murderer strikes again?

It’s always fun to spend some time with Joyce and the Thursday Murder Club gang, and this third book in the series was no exception. I’d had the book on hold since before it was released, and it finally came up for me so I read it right away. The circle keeps widening and the hi-jinks (and danger) never end.  This is basically Scooby Doo with old people (I would have gotten away with it if it weren’t for those meddling pensioners!) and I will read this series forever.

Lavender HouseLavender House
by Lev AC Rosen
Rating: ★★★★½
Series: Andy Mills #1
Publication Date: October 18, 2022
Genre: mystery: modern (1980-present)
Pages: 274
ReRead?: No

Lavender House, 1952: the family seat of recently deceased matriarch Irene Lamontaine, head of the famous Lamontaine soap empire. Irene’s recipes for her signature scents are a well guarded secret—but it's not the only one behind these gates. This estate offers a unique freedom, where none of the residents or staff hide who they are. But to keep their secret, they've needed to keep others out. And now they're worried they're keeping a murderer in.

Irene’s widow hires Evander Mills to uncover the truth behind her mysterious death. Andy, recently fired from the San Francisco police after being caught in a raid on a gay bar, is happy to accept—his calendar is wide open. And his secret is the kind of secret the Lamontaines understand.

Andy had never imagined a world like Lavender House. He's seduced by the safety and freedom found behind its gates, where a queer family lives honestly and openly. But that honesty doesn't extend to everything, and he quickly finds himself a pawn in a family game of old money, subterfuge, and jealousy—and Irene’s death is only the beginning.

When your existence is a crime, everything you do is criminal, and the gates of Lavender House can’t lock out the real world forever. Running a soap empire can be a dirty business.

Lavender House got all kinds of buzz when it was released. I would describe it as a queer historical noir set in 1950’s San Francisco. If that appeals to you, well, come sit next to me, because my immediate response was “yes, please,” and it didn’t disappoint. I really enjoyed this book – and it was my favorite of the year (so far) until I read:

The ScholarThe Scholar
by Dervla McTiernan
Rating: ★★★★★
Series: Cormac Reilly #2
Publication Date: May 14, 2019
Genre: mystery: modern (1980-present)
Pages: 400
ReRead?: No

From the author of The Ruin comes a compulsive new crime thriller set in the fiercely competitive, cutthroat world of research and academia, where the brightest minds will stop at nothing to succeed.

When Dr. Emma Sweeney stumbles across the victim of a hit-and-run outside Galway University early one morning, she calls her boyfriend, Detective Cormac Reilly, bringing him first to the scene of a murder that would otherwise never have been assigned to him. The dead girl is carrying an ID that will put this crime at the center of a scandal--her card identifies her as Carline Darcy, heir apparent to Darcy Therapeutics, Ireland's most successful pharmaceutical company. Darcy Therapeutics has a finger in every pie, from sponsoring university research facilities to funding political parties to philanthropy--it has even funded Emma's own ground-breaking research.

As the murder investigation twists in unexpected ways and Cormac's running of the case comes under scrutiny from the department and his colleagues, he is forced to question himself and the beliefs that he has long held as truths. Who really is Emma? And who is Carline Darcy?

I don’t think I’ve been this enthusiastic about a series since I read The Blackhouse, book one in Peter May’s Lewis Trilogy, set on the Isle of Lewis off Scotland. This is the second in McTiernan’s Cormac Reilly series, set in Galway, Ireland. I read the first in series last year, The Ruin, and liked it a lot, but The Scholar blew me away. I’ve already put all of her other available books on hold at my library. Great characters, great setting and a dynamite plot.

The Madness of CrowdsThe Madness of Crowds
by Louise Penny
Rating: ★★★½
Series: Chief Inspector Armand Gamache #17
Publication Date: August 24, 2021
Genre: mystery: modern (1980-present)
Pages: 436
ReRead?: No

Time and again, as the New Year approaches, that charge is leveled against Armand Gamache.

It starts innocently enough.

While the residents of the Québec village of Three Pines take advantage of the deep snow to ski and toboggan, to drink hot chocolate in the bistro and share meals together, the Chief Inspector finds his holiday with his family interrupted by a simple request.

He’s asked to provide security for what promises to be a non-event. A visiting Professor of Statistics will be giving a lecture at the nearby university.

While he is perplexed as to why the head of homicide for the Sûreté du Québec would be assigned this task, it sounds easy enough. That is until Gamache starts looking into Professor Abigail Robinson and discovers an agenda so repulsive he begs the university to cancel the lecture.

They refuse, citing academic freedom, and accuse Gamache of censorship and intellectual cowardice. Before long, Professor Robinson’s views start seeping into conversations. Spreading and infecting. So that truth and fact, reality and delusion are so confused it’s near impossible to tell them apart.

Discussions become debates, debates become arguments, which turn into fights. As sides are declared, a madness takes hold.

Abigail Robinson promises that, if they follow her, ça va bien aller. All will be well. But not, Gamache and his team know, for everyone.

When a murder is committed it falls to Armand Gamache, his second-in-command Jean-Guy Beauvoir, and their team to investigate the crime as well as this extraordinary popular delusion.

And the madness of crowds.

I’m a huge fan of the Chief Inspector Gamache series, but I have to admit that this installment left me cold, and not because the whole thing is set during a snowstorm. I didn’t like the basis of the plot and I thought that the investigation itself was sort of plodding. Not Penny’s best work, but finishing it means that I’m only one behind and will be caught up once I read 2022’s A World of Curiosities.

Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson

by Marilynne Robinson
Rating: ★★★★½
Publication Date: March 1, 1980
Genre: fiction
Pages: 219
ReRead?: No
Project: a century of women, classics club round 2

A modern classic, Housekeeping is the story of Ruth and her younger sister, Lucille, who grow up haphazardly, first under the care of their competent grandmother, then of two comically bumbling great-aunts, and finally of Sylvie, their eccentric and remote aunt. The family house is in the small Far West town of Fingerbone set on a glacial lake, the same lake where their grandfather died in a spectacular train wreck, and their mother drove off a cliff to her death. It is a town "chastened by an outsized landscape and extravagant weather, and chastened again by an awareness that the whole of human history had occurred elsewhere." Ruth and Lucille's struggle toward adulthood beautifully illuminates the price of loss and survival, and the dangerous and deep undertow of transience.

Marilynne Robinson has been on my TBR list for decades, at least. When I was putting together my second Classics Club list, I dithered between Housekeeping, her debut novel, and Gilead, her unconnected follow-up. I ultimately settled on Housekeeping. I had little background on the book, and even fewer expectations, when I started.

This book is so beautifully written that the sadness is almost lost in the gorgeous prose. I gather from my research that Robinson was previously on the faculty at University of Iowa, and was part of the well-regarded Iowa Writer’s Workshop.

Housekeeping is the story of a family – told from the perspective of Ruth – that has experienced more than its fair share of tragedy. It begins with the death of Ruth’s grandfather in a spectacular train derailment into Fingerbone Lake off of the long railway bridge into the town of Fingerbone, where he and his wife, Sylvia, live in the home he built. Fingerbone is never situated on a map, but seems to correspond to Sandpoint, Idaho.

The timeframe is also not clearly identified – it feels like it is set in the 1940’s or 1950’s, but that may simply have been because the narrator, Ruthie, isn’t particularly interested in the trappings of modernity. Published in 1980, It seems likely that Ruthie would have been slightly older than I was, so she was probably born in around 1960, which would mean it is occurring in the 1970’s.

Aside from the beautiful writing, it is hard to say that I “liked” this novel. The tone is melancholy and almost elegiac. The actions of most of the women in the book who preceded Ruthie are inexplicable at best, indicative of serious mental health issues. Her mother, Helen, abandons her two girls, Ruthie and Lucille, to their grandmother and commits suicide by driving her car into the same lake that claimed her father. The lake looms large over the family, a reminder of tragedy that is inescapable.

Helen’s older sister, Molly, developed a religious fervor and disappears into China, presumably as a missionary. After Helen’s death, the girls are raised by their grandmother until her death.

After Sylvia dies, the youngest sister, Sylvie, returns to Fingerbone after being essentially a drifter for the years since she has left, and ends up as the caregiver for Ruth and Lucille, a job for which she is poorly equipped. The townspeople ignore the neglect and oddness of the behavior of the three until Lucille decides that she has had enough of the squalor and strangeness of their living situation and leaves to live with a teacher. This seems to breach the code of silence that the three of them have operating within and provides a glimpse to the rest of the community about how things really are in the old, crumbling house within an orchard inhabited by the strange aunt and her two odd school-aged nieces.

The title of the book comes from Sylvie’s increasingly frenetic behavior to try to stave off the removal of Ruthie from her car. Her “housekeeping” before intervention consisted of piling up newspapers and cans in what was previously the parlor of the home:

The visitors glanced at the cans and papers as if they thought Sylvie must consider things appropriate to a parlor. That was ridiculous. We had simply ceased to consider that room a parlor, since, until we had attracted the attention of these ladies, no one ever came to call. Who would think of dusting or sweeping the cobsebs down in a room used for the storage of cans and newspapers – things utterly without value? Sylvie only kept them, I think, because she consider accumulation to be the essence of housekeeping, and because she considered the hoarding of worthless things to be proof of a particularly scrupulous thrift.

Ruth speaks of the conditions in which she is living with no insight to their strangeness. Ultimately, the actions of the Sheriff and well-meaning townspeople lead to far reaching consequences, Sylvie’s attempts to align Ruth’s living conditions with the expectations of the community being inadequate to stop the proceedings that have already  begun.

In the same way I’m not sure how I feel about the book, I’m not sure how I feel about the ending.

Monday at the Library

Not a lot of change since last week:

Print books:

  1. Upright Women Wanted by Sarah Gailey
  2. Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson
  3. All the Horses of Iceland by Sarah Tolmie
  4. The Death of the Heart by Elizabeth Bowen: I checked this out after listening to the Backlisted Podcast about it. I’m not sure I’ll get to it this time, but I definitely want to read it. It’s also on my Classics Club list!
  5. National Provincial by Lettice Cooper: I saw someone reading this on Twitter, and it’s definitely up my alley. I just haven’t gotten to it yet.
  6. The Unsuspected by Charlotte Armstrong
  7. Murders a Swine by Nap Lombard
  8. The Haunted Lady by Mary Roberts Rinehart
  9. The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind by Mark Noll: continuing my interest in why the American Evangelical church seems to reject science and education and aligns itself with soulless grifters.
  10. Cassandra at the Wedding by Dorothy Baker
  11. Celebrities for Jesus: How Personas, Platforms and Profits are Hurting the Church by Katelyn Beaty: see comments on The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind.
  12. Marple: 12 New Stories, Multiple Authors: This is the only new book I’ve added to the pile. I returned 3, so the numbers are moving in a reasonable direction.

Digital checkouts:

  1. A Necessary End by Peter Robinson
  2. The Deer Leap by Martha Grimes
  3. Lavender House by Lev AC Rosen
  4. Died in the Wool by Ngaio Marsh
  5. Killing the Goose by Frances & Richard Lockridge: this is 6th in the Mr. and Mrs. North mystery series and is next in line for me
  6. The Old Silent by Martha Grimes
  7. The Bullet that Missed by Richard Osman: I’ve finished this one, but my mom is also reading it, so I’ll hold onto it until she is finished.
  8. Stone’s Fall by Iaian Pears: this is the second time I’ve checked this one out and it’s not looking like I’ll get to it this time either.
  9. Goldenhand by Garth Nix: this is also the second time I’ve checked this one out, but I’m determined to get to it this time.
  10. The Scholar by Dervla McTiernan

My vintage mystery series: Volume 1

I read a lot of mysteries, and a lot of the mysteries are read are vintage mysteries. I thought it would be fun – and helpful – to make a list of the golden/silver age series that I have been making my way through over the last few years. This is going to require multiple posts, so today is just volume I.

Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct series: I am on book 11 of this series

Why I read it: I’ve been reading it for probably 4 or 5 years at this point. Most (if not all) of the books are available through the Kindle Unlimited library on Amazon, and, as well, I bought a huge number of them when they went on sale many years ago for $.99 or $1.99 a book. The books are set in the fictional city of Isola, which is an obvious stand-in for NYC. McBain started writing the books in 1956, with The Mugger, and it is the longest-running American detective series (of which I am aware), with 55 entries, the last of which was published in 2005, so nearly 50 years later. I’m intrigued at the idea of a series which covers all of the changes in police procedure and criminal investigation that have occurred over the 49 year period, including changes in interview techniques, forensic evidence, and legal opinions. I don’t know how much McBain will mention those changes, but it has the potential to be very interesting.

The Henry Gamadge series by Elizabeth Daly: I am on book 6 out of 16.

Why I read it: I stumbled on this series when I was browsing the digital catalogue at one of my two libraries systems. I had never heard of Elizabeth Daly, but when I started googling and looking on GR, it looked interesting. The first book was published in 1940, and there are 16 entries in the series, with the final book having been published in 1951. I’ve enjoyed the five books I’ve previously read, and my library has the entire series, so I’m sure that I will read the rest of them, at some point or another. Henry Gamadge is a rare-book dealer/antiquarian, although so far his occupation hasn’t featured as much as I would have liked. I really like mysteries published in the 1940’s, and I’m hopeful that I will get some WWII homefront vibes. The next book in the series is Evidence of Things Seen, published in 1943.

Mr. and Mrs. North by Frances & Richard Lockridge: I am book 7 of 26.

Why I read it: I don’t actually remember how I found this series, but it’s perfect golden-age mystery fun. The first book, Mr. and Mrs. North, was published in 1936. Pam and Jerry North are a young married couple living a very glamorous 1930’s life in NYC. I reviewed the first three books in this post: Mr. and Mrs. North and their Glam and Fab Murder Life, and since then, I’ve added another 3 to my read pile. All of them are delightful. Pam North is particularly enjoyable, with her sparkling personality and occasional poorly-tuned sense of self-preservation. Detective Weigand – aka Loot – and his former love interest, now wife, Dorian are also terrific characters. The mysteries are fine, but it’s the sense of glamour and amusement that really makes these books worth reading. Unfortunately, my library only has 14 of the books, so if I want to read the other 12, I’m probably going to have to buy them. They were re-issued by Mysterious Press/Open Road, so they are available as ebooks.

Inspector Maigret by Georges Simenon

Why I read it: Well, first of all, I’m completely obsessed with the new Penguin Classics editions. They are lovely books, and my local library has – I think – all of them available. I’ve been checking them out in blocks of 4 at a time. I can’t say where I am at in the series, because I have just been reading them in no particular order, as my fancy (and what’s available) guides me. The series began with Pietr the Latvian in 1931, and spans 75 books and 5 decades, ending with Maigret and Monsieur Charles in 1972. The books themselves are often barely more than novellas, but it’s the character and setting that Simenon makes sing – Maigret himself is intriguing, but the side characters: the victims, the perpetrators, the witnesses, bring the various settings within France, Paris and elsewhere, to life. I imagine that I will read these books for the rest of my life, because, like Agatha Christie, they have become comfort reading for me and the mystery is almost beside the point.

Chief Inspector Littlejohn by George Bellairs

Why I read it: This is another series where I read more or less randomly. According to Goodreads, there are 57 books in the series, but they have not been reprinted by a single publisher. British Library Crime Classics has a few, Agora Press has some, Mysterious Press has a few, and some haven’t been reissued at all as far as I can tell. Fortunately, this is not a series that requires chronological reading, so I’ve mostly been reading the ones that are available through the Kindle Unlimited library, which tend to be the Agora Press editions. I enjoy Chief Inspector Littlejohn and his wonderful wife, Letty. There are several books that are set on the Isle of Man, which is a unique setting – Bellairs apparently retired to the Isle of Man, which explains why. There are also a few that are set in France, that take place while Littlejohn is on holiday. The first book in the series was published in 1941, the final book was published in 1980.

That’s a start for today. To be continued…

A Dozen for 2023

I thought it would be fun to put together a list of a dozen books that I’m really excited to read in 2023.

1. Age of Vice by Deepti Kapoor; 2. The Fortnight in September by R.C. Sherriff; 3. Hell Bent by Leigh Bardugo; Middlemarch by George Eliot (reread); 5. Life and Fate by Vasily Grossman; 6. Shadows on the Rock by Willa Cather; 7. Homecoming by Kate Morton; 8. Babel by R.F. Kuang; 9. The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte; 10. The Bullet that Missed by Richard Osman; 11. Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin; 12. Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus