Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Tricky Business

By Dave Barry

Extravaganza of the Seas is a cruise ship whose main purpose is to deliver drugs to organized crime boss, Lou Tarrant. Its cover is that of a floating casino, taking its passengers out beyond the three mile limit and out of the jurisdiction of the government.
Wally and his band members have a steady job performing on the ship. These guys, all competent musicians, have never hit the big time, to their disappointment. Wally has recently left his wife and moved in with his mom. He feels like his life is going nowhere good.
Fay also works on the ship as a cocktail waitress. Like Wally, she is also struggling and coping with life after marriage. She too has moved in with her mother.
Bobby Kemp is a sleazy businessman who owns the ship, but in name only. He purchased the ship, thinking it was a good investment. But then mobster Lou Tarrant muscled in on Bobby, revealing the true purpose of the trips out to the three mile limit, the transfer of money and drugs. In fact Tarrant muscled in on all Bobby's questionable businesses and this has made Bobby very unhappy. So unhappy that he has come up with a plan, a plan that he will put in force on a night when the Extravaganza of the Seas sails off into a dangerous tropical storm, loaded with its usual complement of devoted gamblers, Wally and the band, Fay the cocktail waitress and two old guys who have escaped from their retirement home. A good time will not be had by all.

This was a very entertaining story, although at one point I put it down when it got a little too gruesome for me. Lots of action, lots of humor, complicated plot and a satisfying ending add up to a very enjoyable read, except for that one really nasty part.
For another review see http://www.publishersweekly.com/978-0-399-14924-5.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

The Riddle of the Third Mile

By Colin Dexter

A body is found in the water. It is only a torso. The head, hands and legs are missing, obviously a ploy to keep the dead man's identity disguised.
Together Inspector Morse and Lewis will unravel the clues that will lead them to their killer. The complicated path they will travel will take them into the past and through the halls of academe and even into the effects of terminal illness on the human psyche. For Morse, much of this path will be familiar, given his relationship with Oxford University, and the reader will learn a bit more about why Morse became a policeman.

As a non-British person, much of this plot was obscure to me, as it rests upon how students and professors are promoted in their university systems. There is talk of greats and vivas and masters other such stuff. I think if I had at least the tiniest bit of a grasp on that subject that the plot would have made more sense to me. Instead it was like trying to understand the arcane practices of some ancient and obscure culture and it just went over my head.
Also, the victim (SPOILER) turns out to be a man who is, if I remember correctly, only briefly mentioned in the first part of the book. If you were reading too fast, you might have missed it.
And further, Morse comes off as a bit of a fat head with his snotty condescension to his assistant, Lewis, and to other "lower class" people he encounters.
So, all in all, the book was a tiny bit of a disappointment but I did quite enjoy the complicated plot despite the obscurity of the victim. A fascinating  construction, and an enjoyable read even though some parts of it were outside my frame of reference.

For another review, see: https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/colin-dexter-4/the-riddle-of-the-third-mile/.

Saturday, October 08, 2016

Swan Peak

By James Lee Burke

Dave and his wife and Dave's best friend Clete are staying with a friend of Dave's who owns a ranch in Montana. Dave and Clete have no intentions beyond enjoying some fishing and relaxing in the great outdoors. But of course, that is not what happens.
The neighbors are not friendly and Clete has a run in with them when he accidentally trespasses on their land. These people, the Wellstones, come from Texas oil money and are used to having their own way. So just avoid them, right?
Then two college kids turn up dead near the ranch and before they know it Dave and Clete are up to their necks in trouble. Throw in a long-dead gangster, a beautiful country singer, an escaped convict, a prison guard looking for revenge, a serial killer, PTSD and you have a complicated mess that will challenge even the finely honed skills of Dectective Dave Robicheaux and PI and ex-cop Clete Purcell.

This was an enjoyable story and a nice departure from Robicheaux's usual stomping grounds of Louisiana. The plot was rather complex and I still don't understand [Spoiler] what happened to the real Leslie Wellstone.
For another review, see https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/james-lee-burke/swan-peak/.

We in the United States are facing a troubling election this year 2016. We have two candidates, a woman who has been unfairly maligned for decades and a man who practices deception, bigotry, racism, and sexism. Burke says something in closing his story that I think applies very well to this election: "A confidence man chooses only one kind of person as his victim -- someone who, of his own volition, invites deception into his life."  Thus the candidacy of Donald Trump and the willingly-deceived who follow him.