August Reading Round Up
My reading for August includes a little bit of history and a whole lot of mystery. A couple of the mysteries, are food related. One of the others features the first work by a now long established writer, and the final book on the list is by my favourite detective fiction writer of all.
I came across this book one lunch hour as I was looking for some reading material to enjoy with my meal. It was one of three books I purchased, because there was a sale on where you could purchase three of certain titles for a total of ten dollars. I haven’t really cracked the other two yet, but you’ll read about them if you stick around for my September reading round up.
I’ve always been a history buff, but haven’t really read up much on the English Civil wars. Up until now my knowledge has been pretty much informed by Yeatman and Sellar’s 1066 and All That, with it’s description of the English Civil war as being between; “The Cavaliers: Wrong but wromantic, and The Roundheads, right but repulsive.”
The full title of the book is A Brief History of the English Civil Wars, this book being one of several books in a series entitled A Brief History of… As the title suggests the whole history is a whole lot more complicated than that, and Miller does a good job of laying out the major players, major grievances, and major events. It is clear that Miller doesn’t hold the Puritan forces in high regard, but on the whole he gives an even handed treatment of both sides and doesn’t really exonerate anyone.
Miller’s main contention throughout the book is that the Civil Wars and the execution of the king were not inevitable, and in fact up until the last few months of the war were seen as high unlikely outcomes. This is one aspect of the English Civil Wars that I would like to go back and read up on.
One interesting aspect in reading this book was reading about the military history of the war. In particular Prince Rupert of the Rhine, Nephew to Charles the 1st. Rupert was a very successful cavalry leader in the first part of the Civil War. Later in life he was a colonial governor, and one of the founder of the Hudson’s Bay Company, a legacy that has come under much debate in recent years. Rupert’s Land, the diocese of which I am a part was named for him.
The other item that stood out to me was the development of the New Model Army under Thomas Fairfax, George Monck, and having Oliver Cromwell among it’s notable generals. The army succeeded in part because of it’s religious zeal, believing that they were doing God’s will. Their faith gave them a strong sense of discipline and also a greater willingness to die.
This also made the English Ciil Wars a particularly bloody period in England’s history. This should serve as warning to us in our present world, that willingness to kill in the name of God will always induce great suffering.
The Black Echo – Michael Connelly
Michael Connelly is a crime reporter turned detective fiction writer. The Black Echo was his first novel, written back in the early 1990s, and features a renegade detective by the name of Harry Bosch. I picked this one up, because one of my readers suggested Connelly to me when commenting on a previous month’s round up. I decided to take her advice and pick a copy up.
I like to start at the beginning of a series whenever I get the chance and used the library’s reserve system to get myself the book.
Set in Los Angeles, Bosch the main character is a Vietnam Vet who has achieved some notoriety along with some trouble for his handling of certain cases. While in Vietnam he worked as a tunnel rat, soldiers sent to blow up the tunnels the Viet Cong had built. The novel begins with Bosch being called out to the scene of the discovery of a body in an L.A. The body turns out to be one of his former tunnel rat comrades, dead of an apparent drug overdose.
A few clues at the scene lead Bosch to believe this isn’t the case. He is soon brought in the orbit of the FBI, including a desirable, young female agent. Bosch believes his former comrade’s death is connected to a cold case involving a major bank job, one that was pulled off while Bosch was on suspension for shooting an unarmed suspect.
Throughout the novel it appears that Bosch is being played by others who think they know who he is. In the end, revenge is at the back of all that happens, with a surprise killer at the heart of the mystery. However, Bosch is a man who still believes in justice and follows the case to its logical conclusion regardless of what it costs him.
This was Connelly’s first novel, but I wouldn’t have know that if I hadn’t looked it up before I decided to read it. It’s no wonder the book won Connelly the Edgar for best first novel. The plot is complex and the characters believable. The best part is the development of Bosch during the course of the novel. Connelly does a great job of revealing aspects of Bosch’s character as the story progresses. I’m definitely going to be looking up more Connelly books as I go forward.
Cook the Books – Jessica Conant-Park and Susan Conant
Cook the books is the fifth and apparently final book in the Gourmet Girl series. I say apparently, because it was published in 2010, and there hasn’t been another one since. I’m only semi disappointed by that.
The reason I say semi-disappointed is that while I really like the way the characters have grown and developed over the course of the series, I found that in the last two novels the murder plots themselves were much harder to believe than in the earlier novels int he series.
This book opens with Josh, Chloe’s love interest, in Hawaii, and Chloe taking a job helping the son of a celebrity chef, to write a cookbook based on Boston Restaurants. The first chef they are going to interview for the book is Digger, Josh’s fellow chef and a recurring character throughout the series. Unfortunately Digger dies in a fire, which Chloe finds suspicious and must investigate.
One of the things that I think hurts this series as it moves along is that the police play almost know part in the solving the later mysteries in the series. So, rather than having a clue or two that the police have overlooked, it appears that the police are incapable of doing basic police work.
As always the food writing is quite good.
Murder With Fried Chicken and Waffles – A. L. Herbert
Over the last few months I’ve had a growing interest in Southern Cooking and the history behind it. I stumbled across this book while perusing the mystery section of the Winnipeg Public Library and thought that it would make an interesting choice to go along with some of the other reading I had been doing.
I really like the main character, Mahalia. She is a strong, independent black woman, who is a successful businesswoman who doesn’t need a man to support her. Her best friend Wavonne brings a nice, comic touch to the book, as does her mother. I’m not that familiar with black culture, but I recognize most of the pop culture references made throughout the story.
In general, this is more what I expect a first novel to be like. There are some really good parts to this novel, but there are some areas that are fairly weak. The weakest part is the mystery itself. While the premise, fraud and revenge, is a strong one, the way the case is solved is hard to imagine. Secondarily, the behaviour of the Mahalia and Wavonne (particularly Wavonne), surrounding the investigation is just a little too far fetched.
The food in the book is very good and the restaurant work scenes work quite well. I like the fact that in this series Mahalia has a larger staff to help her out, for those times when she is absent from work while she investigates the murder. There are two ore books in the series so far, and I hope to read them both.
John Rebus is my favourite detective. Ian Rankin, his creator, will be in Winnipeg on October 26th, and I’m very much looking forward to the chance to meet him. In preparation for the visit and the release of In a House of Lies, the newest Rebus book, I decided to pick up a copy of Rather the Devil You Know.
The book opens with Rebus, now retired, on a date, where his social awkwardness is on full display. However, his date, coroner Deborah Quant, is willing to listen to him as he tells the story of an old crime that haunts him. Meanwhile, Siobhan Clarke, is called out to a beating laid on a hoodlum by the name of Darryl Christie, whose sister had been killed many years before.
Into this mix is thrown the kidnapping of a dodgy money manager, and several shadowy figures. One of these shadowy figures is an unknown Ukrainian. However, there is another shadowy figure who is very familiar to Rebus. None other than Morris Gerald “Big Ger” Cafferty. Cafferty, who like Rebus, is supposedly retired, seems to be very active for someone whose reached that point in his career.
The novel has many twists and turns and many subplots. Along the way, Inspector Malcom Fox, who was introduced in The Complaints, and was once a love interest for Siobhan Clarke, runs into trouble because of his drug using sister. Rebus gets to the bottom of the unsolved mystery, and when all of the machinations are full we are left with a familiar scenario emerging.
The development of Fox’s character and the introduction of Quant, add some fresh layers to both the stories and Rebus’s character. I’m really looking forward to In the House of Lies, to see how this plays out going forward.