Friday, July 25, 2014

Sister Act--Julie C. Graham reviews Let Me Clear My Throat by Elena Passarello at EIL

Just a quick note to say that my sister Julie now has a book review up at Escape Into Life. Since I'm the book review editor there, some might say this smacks of nepotism. However, as Julie is an MFA candidate at Antioch University, it's all on the up and up. Anyway, check out her piece on Let Me Clear My Throat there, an exploration of all things vocal.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Watcher in the Shadows, by Geoffrey Household

 Although regular readers here will know that I read a lot of crime and suspense fiction, I came across Geoffrey Household by an alternate route. I am also a big fan of the New York Review of Books imprint, and at the bookstore where I used to work, I came across a copy of Rogue Male in the  bargain bin a few years ago. Bargain bins, especially book bargain bins, are funny places. In one way, they are the receptacles of the lowest of the low. Books that can't be sold new, can't be returned for credit, the least loved of the unloved. My copy of Rogue Male couldn't even be sold as a used book, and had been reduced still further.

But sometimes bargain bins are the places where you find the best books of all. Books that have fallen out of fashion, or maybe never were in fashion to begin with. With a title like "Rogue Male", and with the picture of a dead and perhaps disintegrating wolf on the cover, this one was perhaps never destined to play well in feminist, animal loving Santa Cruz. Nevertheless, it turned out to be a gripping and intelligent game of cat and mouse which I found well worth my time.



Household's fate as a writer is an interesting one. Apparently he achieved success with Rogue Male, but wasn't able to take advantage of it. He was too busy being an intelligence officer in Rumania from 1939 onwards to rest on his laurels.It wasn't until World War II was over that he was able to begin  writing again, though judging from the long list of his books, he didn't exactly suffer from writer's block.


Watcher in the Shadows came out in 1960, and it is set in the period about ten years after the war. In some ways, it is the same sort of plot as Rogue Male is but with some interesting differences. Psychologically, it's interesting that Household makes his character an Austrian who, while working for British Intelligence, penetrated the Gestapo undercover. As the story opens, he is living in England as a zoologist studying red squirrels. The plot is set in motion by an unknown assailant who apparently wants his head. Charles Demmim is perhaps a bit too modest for his own good, in that he has never gotten around to telling the world that he was not actually working for the Gestapo, but, in fact, against them. This might strain credibility, except for the underlying thread that Dennim still feels far from guiltless about his war years. Continuing on in a very unassuming London life is all right, but there is  no forward motion in it. As one character tells him, he is always looking behind him, never ahead. Although there are very good reasons for him to be looking over his shoulder in this case, that doesn't make this observation untrue in a broader sense as well.

I always admire writers who put time and energy into making their minor characters come to life, particularly in such pure action fare as this. In this book, it is the Melton clan, who live on the shadowy side of the law but have their own kind of values, that he brings warmly to life. In Rogue Male, Household made Asmodeus the cat memorable, and in this one it is a rather spoiled Arabian stallion called Nur Jehan who provides the more comical moments to a not otherwise comical tale.

I found Watcher in the Shadows on a library book sale cart. Household's novels are not much in print now, so if I see any more on my journeys, I will certainly grab them up. You should too.

Monday, July 14, 2014

A Dog About Town by J. F. Englert at Escape into Life and a list of books from the 40s though not by me


I  put up a post on the first of a mystery series at Escape Into Life before the weekend but haven't had time to mention it here. I feel a bit bad that I have only read the first of J. F. Englert's mysteries featuring Randolph the highly deductive Labrador Retriever, because he's an interesting writer and although these books may be more in the cozy tradition than the thriller mode, they are not cute in the way you might be tempted to think. He deserves a wider audience. Anyway, here's the link to my review of A Dog about Town.

I just happened upon a good list of novels to read from the Forties over at A Commonplace Blog, which is written by D.G. Myers. I have read a few of the books mentioned and more than a few of the authors, but definitely not all. I like lists, in the sense that I like other people to do all the hard work of compiling them so that I can profit from them. Never say never, but I think it's fairly safe to assume that you will not be finding me going to all that much effort here. However, I am usually just about industrious to post a link...

Monday, June 30, 2014

Sabbath's Theater, by Philip Roth at EIL


I wanted to leave the Dana King promotion up till it had run its course, but just a quick note to say that my review of Sabbath's Theater is up at Escape Into Life. In the early days, I didn't think I'd much care for Roth, so never read him, but was later won over by American Pastoral. A friend in my book group persuaded us to read Sabbath's Theater, saying that five years ago she thought she would have been offended by it, but now found it very funny. And I think this is a book that may catch you at the right moment in life or the wrong one. In the end, I was glad I'd read it, but even ten pages before the end I had to put it down for a bit, groaning too much Philip, too much!


If you are in the mood for an outsize character who is part Fyodor Karamazov (the outrageous father), the Marquis de Sade (at least as played by Geoffrey Rush in the movie) and part Casanova (as played by Donald Sutherland, not Heath Ledger), then this is the time to read it. But I will warn you that Mickey Sabbath is someone you will have to grapple with. 

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Get 'em while they're hot--Dana King offers his books free for a limited time.

I am a little slow on the uptake sometimes. It took not one but two of my fellow bloggers to put up news of this to make me realize that,gee, I could do the same thing. Anyway, crime novelist Dana King is offering his four books free on Kindle from June 25-June 29. That means starting tomorrow in my time zone. I already have three of the four in one form or another, but I will definitely snap up the fourth in the next couple of days. Not that you need help with your selections because you can just grab them all up, but I have written a couple of reviews that you can find by going HERE , or you can get a brief description of each HERE on Paul D. Brazill's blog.

As we've been discussing over on Detectives Beyond Borders, where Peter Rozovsky first clued me in to the offer, writers make these generous offers to pick up a few more fans who then presumably will get the word out to others. So pick up a couple and spread the word in whatever way you typically do that. I'd link you to the Amazon page, but they won't be on sale till tomorrow.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Read outside the box

I came across an interesting piece in the Guardian yesterday about a prize I hadn't heard of before. It's called the Jerwood Fiction Uncovered Prize and it was developed to promote deserving and what you might call underrepresented British fiction. The author of the article is Matt Haig, who was also one of the judges (and, I might parenthetically add, the author of The Dead Father's Club, a modern take on Hamlet which I read enjoyed and rather summarily reviewed here a few years back). Haig articulates something about the current state of the book world which I increasingly felt during my sojourn in the book biz, but which I wouldn't have been able to state so well.

"Also, I don't think it is too controversial to point out that the market is increasingly being shaped by sales and marketing people, rather than editors and others who actually know what a good book is. So if a book does well, during the next two years you'll see many echoes of that book on the shelves. The once kaleidoscopic book world risks becoming 50 shades of safe. If you are writing a book that doesn't fit into the categories of mass-market thriller or book-club friendly WI-lit, then it is going to struggle to find a publisher. If it does so, then it will struggle to find a publisher that can justify spending the marketing money needed to make an impact."

One of the cool perks these winners get is having their portrait done in tintype by photographer Tif Hunter. You can see them HERE.

To see a bit about the books themselves, go HERE.



Friday, June 13, 2014

Life and Fate, by Vasily Grossman--at Escape Into Life


Once again I must use this blog simply to steer you to my post at Escape Into Life to read my review of this great novel surrounding the events at the Battle of Stalingrad. I hesitate to call it a review--it is more an enjoinder to tackle this long work. We should not cower before a tome, as one of my friends put it in our recent discussion of The Way We Live Now.


One of the subjects Life and Fate tackles is how to keep our integrity and human freedom in the face of totalitarianism. It is interesting that in daily life, we evade, prevaricate and obscure the truth when we really have very little to lose. How hard was it, then, for those who faced prison and even death in these circumstances? If nothing else, we can all be just a little bit braver, since most of us do have that luxury.