Saturday, April 26, 2014


If you read my review of What Comes Around posted earlier this morning, you'll know this one isn't going to be a rave.  I went on to read this novel partly because I wanted to give the genre another chance but also because the one thing I loved about the previous Ted Bell novella was the hero, Bond, excuse me, Alex Hawke.  He is really a charming wealthy fellow who just happens to work for MI6, Britain's excellent intelligence wing, and has mad skills in flying, fighting for his life, saving innocent souls from evil, etc.  Not his fault really.  It just goes with the territory.

The evil entity in this story is China with help in the especially evil department from North Korea.  We meet William Lincoln Chase, Jr. and his lovely family of Georgetown on his wife's 40th birthday.  He has planned a special evening for them and their two children at her favorite restaurant, after which they will walk the short four blocks home.  He is brilliant, the head of a company that designs and makes advanced weapons systems.  As I wrote in my notes, everything is too good for this guy,  You know something awful is going to happen.  Sure enough, as they walk home, all four are kidnapped by the Chinese and seemingly disappear off the face of the earth.

This is a large book with no end of excitement and some of the most horrendous characters you will ever read about.  One kills with trained ravens for instance.  These are single-minded people dedicated to one goal and anyone who stands in their way is fair game.  

Well, I shouldn't have accepted this novel from the publisher to read and review.  Although I used to love this genre, I couldn't even finish this book.  It isn't the author's fault; this just isn't the kind of thing I enjoy reading.  As I wrote previously, this is a very popular series and each episode sells well.  I can imagine readers who think of Hawke in the same adulatory way many think of 007 and he is a memorable character worthy of that devotion.

In other words, if this is your thing, definitely run don't walk to get a copy of Warriors by Ted Bell. Trust me, you either love the genre or you won't be able to get through it.

Recommended only for lovers of spy novels
Source:  William Morrow Imprint, HarperCollins


This novella serves as my introduction to Alex Hawke, a sort of 007 type of hero who gets into unspeakably horrific situations and still manages to save the day.  He has his ancestral home in England but spends as much time as possible at Teakettle Cottage, a secluded place on the south shore of Bermuda.  He is in his early 30s with black hair and glacial blue eyes.  He is always accompanied by his lifelong manservant, Pelham Grenville, and has a young son, Alexei.  The boy's mother died in a previous episode, but Alex dotes on him.

In this story former CIA VIPs are being killed, no mean feat for men who are still fit and alert. The first one lives on Penobscot Bay in Maine.  He is a gruff but soft-hearted old man who we immediately care about but fear for.  In this kind of book anyone who looks to have a great life is sure to be killed.  And so he is in what is meant to look like an accident.  He was a special friend of Alex Hawke's.

I can't really tell any more about the story, but you know there will be more deaths and that in the end Hawke will get the bad guy and have a drink with his buddy sort of over the dead body. Suffice to say that I was mistaken in thinking this might reacquaint me favorably with a genre that I find unbelievable and formulaic.  In my younger days I loved these spy novels but sad to say, I'm over that now.

However, I think you should ignore that last paragraph if this is your kind of book.  Alex Hawke is a wildly popular hero and any episode in the series is well received by lovers of the genre.  I'm like the curmudgeon in Penobscot Bay who was the first to be murdered in What Comes Around.  Perhaps that explains my antagonism toward the rest of the book. 

 I must say Hawke is an appealing character who has anything and everything he wants (with the exception of his dead wife) and yet is ready to risk his life on a moment's notice to save the world from evil.  You can't dislike the guy.  As a novella, this is a good way to find out if the series is for you.

Recommended only for lovers of this genre  
Source:  William Morrow Imprint, HarperCollins

Sunday, April 20, 2014


This will be a difficult book to review.  I couldn't begin to describe the plot as I kept getting lost in it, perhaps you can follow it better than me.  Having said that, it's a fascinating story set in London in 1385.  I knew some characters, King Richard II, John of Gaunt, and Geoffrey Chaucer among others.  Chaucer in fact is one of the main characters.  He is in charge of the custom house where wool is shipped out, one of the big exports for the nation.

Chaucer is a successful writer, and has just begun to play around with the stories and characters that will become The Canterbury Tales.  He and another poet, John Gower, are good friends.  They have long traded verses and critiqued each other's work.  The mystery centers around a book of prophecies that tell how 12 kings have died, followed by the prophecy of how Richard II will meet his end.  Did Chaucer write this book?  John Gower's son, a spy, is apparently behind the mystery of the book.  But then there is also a powerful Englishman raising an army in Italy with plans to return to London.

The author writes that his approach to this novel was influenced by his own son, who asked this medieval scholar if people then had forks.  Good question, one that agrees with my own philosophy of history.  The everyday life of common people is endlessly interesting to me, and that is exactly what you get in this book, in spades.  For instance, the smells of 14th century London are almost real as you read.  People didn't bathe, the streets are littered with manure, chamber pots emptied anywhere, clothing isn't changed nor the bedding. I felt like I needed to hold my nose while I read.

Another thing I love about the book is the characters.  Chapters are told from the point of view of various characters.  Even though the person isn't identified at the beginning of the chapter, it is pretty easy to figure out who it is.  I suppose this adds to the confusion but I thoroughly enjoyed following the various characters as they all searched for the mysterious book.

My only caveat really is that if you find earthy language and actions offensive, this isn't the book for you. Places are named without delicacy, many of the characters are, shall we say, in the sex trade, and even officials and religious figures speak frankly of what goes on.  I had trouble getting used to that but couldn't fault the author for using this language since it is all a part of giving us an honest look at everyday life.

Source:  William Morrow Imprint of HarperCollins

Wednesday, April 16, 2014


    I'll be recommending this book far and wide to anyone who loves historical novels and characters who stay in the reader's mind long after the last page.  The subtitle says it is a novel of the greatest trial in Irish history, one that took place in 1743, but the majority of the book is about the life of a young man who was kidnapped and shipped to the colonies as an indentured servant.  His crime?  He was the heir to an earl but his amoral uncle was determined to have the title and estate whatever the price.

Robert Louis Stevenson was inspired by this story to write Kidnapped, which I now want to reread.  I imagine many other writers have been interested as well.  Author David Marlett is an attorney and historian so the narration of legal proceedings are wonderful, and shocking.  What a difference from today's courts! One particularly judge is so obviously biased as to be comical.  The descriptions of British jails are sickening. For instance, a prisoner in shackles tries to walk to a window for a breath of air and lice crackle beneath his feet.  The squeamish among us needn't worry though.  You'll be able to read this and enjoy it.

Since our hero, Jemmy Annesley, is in America for many years, we follow him through bad masters and good.  His impressions of a land so different from Ireland and sense of wonder at seeing Indians are a lovely break after his kidnapping and some horrible conditions aboard ship.  His love for characters who truly care for him and his struggle to overcome understandable anger make him quite sympathetic.  Of course the reader already cares about Jemmy because life has been so unfair and his father and uncle so cruel.  Yet he remains a man with a well-developed sense of fairness.  

I've been impressed with books published by The Story Plant but this one is by far the best.

Highly recommended
Source:  Publisher

Tuesday, April 15, 2014


The subtitle of this little book is The City of Light During the Great War, 1914-1918.  It is a unique look at Paris by an Australian who has lived in that city for many years and is married to a Frenchwoman.  His grandfather was apparently sort of an odd man who enlisted in the Aussie forces to fight in France during World War I.  He never spoke about his experiences so our author, John Baxter, tries to learn what he might have done in France.

That turns out to be a side venture though.  Mainly the book is factual, the real stories of what Paris was like during the war.  I hadn't realized for instance that the trenches were just outside the city.  People could take an excursion to "see the war" rather like Washingtonians riding out to see the battle during the American civil war.  There wasn't much to see except mud, filth, sick and wounded men, and the vast gaping no-man's-land between the lines.  The sounds of the guns could be heard all over the city, and they could see the results of firing of "The Paris Gun" that had a range of 40 miles.

Meanwhile, the city residents and men on leave lived it up.  I guess everyone would go a little crazy with the war just a few miles away, shortages of supplies and money, and not knowing if the Germans would invade.  Horrible lies were spread about what Germans would do if they occupied the city so everyone was afraid.  Might as well live it up while they could.

This was a time when Ernest Hemingway and Jean Cocteau and Pablo Picasso and many other authors and artists enjoyed a free, libertine way of life.  The wine and liquor flowed and those who had gas for their cars raced around town picking up party-goers.  Troops were ferried to the front lines by taxi and private cars, fashion was either fantastic or military, and sex was freely available.  

Baxter tells this story in vignettes and along the way seeks his grandfather's real story.  There are a few little things in the book which I suppose could offend but after all this is a time when anything was possible and he throws a light on all of it.  He does eventually find out his grandfather's war experiences and realizes why he never talked about it.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and would suggest it for anyone who thinks history is dry and boring.  Paris was a lot of things during the war, but never boring.

Highly recommended
Source:  Publisher Harper Perennial

Monday, April 14, 2014


   I wish I had time to read all of the earlier books in this series.  I'm growing quite fond of Inspector Banks and his detectives Winsome and Gerry so I'd like to know more about them.  Too, I would love to know more about Annie Cabbot, the abrasive detective who rubs me the wrong way.  In the two books I've read so far (Watching the Dark was the other one), she has been a thorn in Banks' side and an irritant to me but I've learned that she had been badly injured in the line of duty and had an unusual childhood.  She's so touchy and opinionated, though, that sometimes they have to work around her to get anywhere in their investigations.  I really must make time.

The mystery in this one is fascinating.  The body of a former teacher is found near a bridge over what used to be a railroad bed.  He might have committed suicide by jumping off the bridge but the drop wasn't long enough to be sure of death.  Other evidence is more indicative of murder.  The man was malnourished, his teeth were bad, and his clothing was ragged.  They discover he had several years earlier been dismissed after being accused of sexual misconduct with two students.  Nearly everyone had deserted him and he was broke, yet he had 5,000 pounds in his pocket.  Could drugs be involved?  Was he guilty of the charges?

During the investigation Banks visits Lady Veronica Chalmers at her home.  Her brother-in-law, whose son is up for a choice political appointment, contacts Banks' superiors and he is warned off of questioning her again.  Of course Banks doesn't obey (when did a detective in a mystery novel ever obey?) but he and Gerry have to be circumspect about their inquiries.  He is certain Chalmers has some sort of involvement.  Is he just besotted with her because she's so beautiful and charming?

Like many other mystery fans I have a long list of series that I just cannot pass up.  The Inspector Banks series is only the most recent addition to that list.  Looking forward to more.

Highly recommended.
Source:  William Morrow Imprint, HarperCollins

Sunday, April 13, 2014


I could hardly wait for this novel since Inspector Ramirez of Havana, Cuba is the most original and, well, lovable crime solver I had met in a long while.  I loved The Beggar's Opera, the first book in the series, but this follow-up book practically requires that you have read and remembered much of the first one.  The plot and the characters follow well from the first story though so if you've read that one, you'll be better able to keep up with this one.  

Inspector Ramirez is a hoot.  He is an honest man, a husband who adores his wife but is always slightly puzzled about staying on her good side.  She loves him too and likes keeping him on his toes.  He was unnerved in the first story to discover victims of crimes he was investigating appearing in his life and following him around.  No one else is aware of these ghosts but they follow him everywhere until he solves their case.  In this story the ghost is an older woman wearing a white dress and she has a large fish knife sticking out of her chest.

Ramirez is sent to Ottawa, Canada to pick up a priest who had abused and raped boys in his care at a Cuban orphanage.  It should all be easy.  His first impressions of Canada are funny.  He is understandably cold all the time, and worried whether the water is safe to drink.  Overall it's a bit like a person being released from prison after many years and trying to get used to all the changes of modern life.  By the same token, Blair's description of Cuban laws, customs, and privations are amazing to the reader.  His police escort is an Indian who tells him about life on the reservation and hard times for one particular old man.  That sounds more like home to Ramirez.

As soon as he arrives in Canada he is involved with another murder, that of a woman who had been in Havana with her husband, left him there, and then died before reaching her home.  Ramirez knows the husband, an Ottawa cop, and has evidence that pertains to their relationship.  I wondered how to tell this part of the story because it's quite confusing.  Actually the whole book is hard to follow because there is just too much going on.  That's why I only gave this one three stars.  

Funny and sad.  Recommended only for people who have read The Beggar's Opera.
Source:  Amazon Vine

Thursday, April 3, 2014

DANCE THE MOON DOWN by Robert Bartram

I rarely accept books for review from authors.  This one appealed to me because of the setting and time period, England during World War I.

Victoria Avery is the main character, one that I came to like very much.  She is married to a successful poet (actually making a living at it) named Gerald and they live a lovely life in a cottage surrounded by flower gardens near a village.  Then Gerald enlists as World War I begins.  For a time he writes frequently, then suddenly the letters stop.  Victoria has promised to wait for him in their cottage and although she cannot afford to actually live there, she leaves a letter for him in the cottage and remains in the area.

Her best friend before marriage is a suffragette follower of Emmaline Pankhurst who leads illegal protests and assaults to keep the issue in the papers.  Beryl will constantly be in trouble with the police, but Victoria isn't interested in getting the vote for women.  She doesn't think that will ever happen.  She spends a short time in London trying to learn where Gerald is, but decides to return to the village since she isn't getting anywhere.

During the war Victoria must support herself and yet stay near the village.  She works as a farm laborer where she grows close to her three roommates.  It's fascinating how they learn from each other and become family for each other.  I loved these characters.

The story is a simple one told simply, yet imparts great truths about people faced with a war they know almost nothing about and separation from loved ones that tests their strength of character and their love.  I won't reveal what happens after she starts working at the farm but that was the most engrossing part of the story for me.

The book is available from

Source:  Author