Showing posts with label murder mystery. Show all posts
Showing posts with label murder mystery. Show all posts

Saturday, November 2, 2019

Witchnapped in Westerham by Dionne Lister

Rating: WARTY!

This was your standard loss-leading opening volume in what the author hopes will become a successful series, and I wish her best of luck with that, but I wasn't impressed enough to want to continue - not even with this first volume, which I DNF'd. To be fair, I rarely do find a series like that - one I feel I can really get into.

Plus, some oddities. At one point I read, "We passed through the centre of town; shingles, dark brick, and chimneys abounded." Except that there are no 'shingles' in Britain unless you're talking about the skin inflammation. Or a pebbly beach. There are roof tiles. That said, it's been a while since I lived there, so maybe that's changed. Americanisms are creeping in everywhere. It just struck me as a sore thumb rather than a shingle though, but not in itself a book killer. It is a reminder in general for writers to be sure we're getting it right if we're writing about a country we may not have visited.

I've been experimenting with this novel! It's possible to have ebooks read to you as audiobooks, but the technology for this isn't exactly top of the line, much less cutting edge. Why businesses like Barnes and Noble, Kobo, and Apple don't try to get ahead of Kindle by introducing this technology as a free feature I do not know. Apple has pretty much given up on books, and B&N has pretty much given up on customers, but while I haven't yet given up on B&N like I did on Amazon, I am very disappointed in them. Kobo hasn't done anything to piss me off...yet!

But I digress. There are two methods I've found to bypass the stupidity and lethargy of the ebook vendors though, and have your phone read a book to you. One is to use an app like Air Read, which is free, but has a very robotic voice. It's quite amusing actually, and entertains with mispronunciations even when the book fails to entertain. It's a bit plodding, but it works decently well and I like it. The problem is that Air Read doesn't work inside apps like iBooks, Kobo, or Nook; it will read to you only those books which you load into the app, and as anyone knows who has tried to download a book they supposedly own from B&N for example, you cannot do it! The truth is that you do not own that book. In reality, Barnes and Noble does and there is no way in hell they will let you have it so you can use Air Read or apps like that, to read it to you. To read those proprietary books in those proprietary apps, you will need an app like Apple's Voice Over (or VoiceOver), or whatever Android's equivalent of it is.

The problem with Voice Over is that reads quite literally everything on the screen, including all your icons and buttons, so you do not want to launch it unless you're already inside the book you want it to read. Then all you do is ask Siri to turn on Voice Over, and swipe two fingers from the top of the screen to the bottom in the ebook, and it will read it to you. In Apple's iBook, which has a continuous scroll setting, this was sufficient to have the book read to me as long as I wanted. The Voice Over did not stop. In Nook, the Voiceover stopped unpredictably. At first I was thinking this was only at a chapter end, and perhaps a blank part of the screen at the end of a chapter was sufficient to halt it, but then it began halting randomly - and just as randomly, on occasion, resuming reading for no apparent reason. It works better in Kobo's app, but stills tops at the end of a chapter if there is a space between that and the succeeding chapter.

This random halting was doubly-annoying because on the road I was driving, I was haltered by four red lights in succession, Obviously the city is utterly clueless about synchronizing lights and thereby saving gasoline. But during this time, the Voice Over worked flawlessly. After I started getting green lights, that's when it began misbehaving so I had no chance to take a few seconds to fix it while stopped at the light! LOL! Thus my trip to the iBooks site to get the same novel - for free fortunately, from there, to test it out in their app. It worked flawlessly. But be warned, Voice Over comes at a price to your sanity. Do not ever turn off your phone - I mean completely off, with Voice Over turned on, otherwise you will have a nightmare getting back in.

On my iPhone, you can't reboot the phone and fingerprint in; it won't work. You have to tap in a six-digit code. When Voice Over is on, it won't accept the code, it will just read it back to you as you hit each key! LOL! To bypass this, you have to quickly double-tap, wait a split second, then tap a third time to actually enter the code - this for each of the six digits! Way to go Apple. To be fair, this isn't designed for me or for reading ebooks - it's presumably designed for vision-impaired people so there are doubtless reasons it works the way it does, but for me, for my purposes, it was intensely frustrating until I found my way around its foibles.

Also to stop the app, you need to tap once on your ebook, and let Voice Over read that one line, then quickly request Siri to turn off Voice Over. I say quickly because if you're sluggish, then Voice Over will start reading what you asked Siri to do (which appears on your screen). This is beyond stupid in my opinion, because Siri will start listening to Voice Over and trying to do what it wants. It's a nightmare, and Apple doesn't really care anymore, not since Steve Jobs died.

But I digress. On the face of it this novel sounded interesting - an Aussie witch who doesn't know she's a witch because her powers don't kick in - for some unexplained reason - until she turns 24. On her birthday she discovers that her beloved brother, who lives in England with his British wife, has gone missing, and also that she's a witch, as is her brother and her brother's wife. This is conveyed to her by a complete stranger who shows up at her door unannounced. This was my first problem with this novel - the main character's gullibility. Obviously in this case what the visitor, Angelica, was telling her was the truth, but in reality no one in their right mind would immediately swallow a complete stranger's story like that without making some effort to verify it! Rather than do this, Lily drops everything, and takes a flight to London from Sidney with this stranger!

There are some people, and I think it was astronomer Carl Sagan who started this meme, who believe that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Regardless of whoever originated that, once Sagan said it, everyone started chanting it like parrots, but I think that assertion is bullshit. Extraordinary claims require the same evidence as any other claim - sufficient to show that there's a valid basis to the claim; no more, no less! But Lily evidently subscribes to the school which demands zero evidence for extraordinary claims. This made it particularly ridiculous later when at the airport. Let me explain.

Lily is a wedding photographer with dreams of becoming something more, and at a wedding the night before, she had seen something very peculiar through her camera lens. The bride's father had turned transparent, but only when looked at through the lens of the camera. Later she learned that the bride's father had died that next morning. She saw this same transparency thing with a random guy at the airport, and realized that perhaps she could see impending death, yet rather than ask Angelica who was supposed to be something of a tutor to Lily as her witch powers came in, Lily chose to keep this to herself! This despite trusting this same woman to the point of leaving her life in Australia and flying to Britain on no more than Angelica's say-so! I found that to be an extraordinarily hypocritical situation!

The next extraordinary thing was that James had been missing for a week, yet this sister, Millicent, whom Lily was supposed to really like, had failed to even so much as call Lily to let her know her bother had disappeared? How lacking in credibility is that? Note that Lily and James's parents (and no, Lily and James's last name isn't Potter) had disappeared many years before, so they aren't in the picture, and of course Lily and James are the last of their family line.

Too often for me, Lily's behavior was dumb. Sometimes the writing itself was dumb. In England, Lily finally met this group of witches with whom her brother used to work before he disappeared, but Lily finds them an unprepossessing lot. The only one she likes is Millicent. This initially made me think maybe Millicent had something to do with James's disappearance. What happened next though was that one of the unprepossessing witches took Lily to one side and made a deal with her - she would tell her something relevant if Lily agreed to undergo a magical bond with this witch never to tell the secret on pain of a choking death! Gullible Lily agrees almost at once.

The big secret was simply that Millicent and James had had an argument before he disappeared. I'm like, what the hell? Why would that be a huge secret? Why would this witch want Lily bonded so powerfully never to reveal it? So now I'm suspicious of that witch instead of Millicent. But that kind of absurdist melodramatic writing really turned me off, which is why I decided I would listen to this book only for the ride home after work that day before I ditched it, unless of course it really turned itself around. Given that I was then about halfway through it, I had zero faith that it would, but at least in this way I would get the chance to start on a brand new ebook coming in to work on Monday morning!

Well, it didn't, so...ditched! I can't commend this crap based on the dumb-ass portion of it that I listened to.

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie

Rating: WARTY!

I'm saddened to report that this novel, published in 1939, and which has had at least four titles, "Ten Little Indians" not being even the most offensive of them, has sold over 100 million copies. The ten victims were comprised of eight visitors to this remote island, along Ethel and Thomas Rogers, who are the housekeeper and butler respectively. Slowly these people start being killed off, and apparently no one is safe.

The residents and visitors alike are all evidently morons, and all guilty of some misbehavior or one kind or another in their past. Apparently someone has found out about their sins and retribution is on its way. Anthony Marston dies first from cyanide poisoning, Mrs Rogers is found dead in her bed the next morning, and general MacArthur (no, not that one, this other one) dies from being bludgeoned. Mr Rogers is found dead shortly afterward not having a beautiful day in his neighborhood. Later, Emily Brent is found dead in the kitchen, again from cyanide poising. All that these people had to do was to lock themselves in a room and stay there eating nothing, until the boat came from the mainland, but apparently that never occurred to them.

And how convenient that the bad weather prevented the daily boat from coming over to the island and rescuing them that next morning! This book was too much and once the stupidity became not only evident, but also positively rampant, I DNF'd it. I can't commend it at all - and I'm now done with Agatha Christie.

The Body in the Library by Agatha Christie

Rating: WARTY!

Boring! That was my conclusion on my very first attempt to meet Miss Marple, another in Agatha Christie's stable of amateur detectives.

This audiobook began with a long, tedious, semeingly endless history of everyone who was remotely connected to anything. At first I thought I was listening a Stephen King novel, but no, there's Miss Marple being summoned. Naturally when you find the body of a complete stranger on your library, the first thing is to dismiss the word of the maid who has been terrorized by finding it. Obviously she's la-la. The next thing to do when it's actually confirmed is to say, 'the hell with the police, I'm calling in an amateur sleuth'. Well, I don't do 'sleuths', amateur or otherwise. If a book has the word 'sleuth' anywhere in the blurb, I don't even consider reading any further.

This one didn't have 'sleuth' anywhere to be seen, and that wasn't the reason I DNF'd it. The reason was that it took forever to get going and I lost patience with it. Miss Marple may or may not be doddering, I never got far enough to find out. My problem was that the entire book was doddering long before she ever came on the scene, so no. Just no.

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie

Rating: WARTY!

This was an offshoot of my reading of the biographies of Agatha Christie recently. There were about four of her books I had never read which were mentioned and caught my interest for one reason or another. I may as well have not bothered!

This is a Hercule Poirot story full of suicide, surprise engagements, dramatic activity, secret engagements, unknown offspring, and finally the murder of Ackroyd. Evidently there’s trouble at t’ mill, lads! Of course Poirot solves it because when has he ever failed? There was far too much going on in this story, but I did not make it very far because the opening portion of it was so dreadfully boring dahlings! I gave up in it. It had intrigued me earlier when I was reading the biographies, but not so much that I’m willing to be bored to death! Not when there are other books out there which I know will grab my interest from the start. I can’t commend it based on the dire portion I heard.

Five Little Pigs by Agatha Christie

Rating: WARTY!

This audiobook made little sense from the title onward, but I did start to get into it initially. Unfortunately, it failed to hold my interest with too much rambling, and seemingly endless interviews covering the same ground. It was very flat and static, and it became boring for me. Maurice Disher, who was a reviewer in The Times Literary Supplement back in 1943, claimed, according to Wikipedia: "No crime enthusiast will object that the story of how the painter died has to be told many times, for this, even if it creates an interest which is more problem than plot, demonstrates the author's uncanny skill. The answer to the riddle is brilliant." I beg to differ. The suspect was - in retrospect, I have to admit since I'm usually hopeless at guessing who it is - pretty obvious, and it was clearly not the wife despite the endless damning evidence stacking up against her. I favored a different suspect which I thought would have made for a better story, but that might have been obvious too had she gone that route.

One problem was that I started in on this around the same time as I also started in on another Christie by the name of And Then There Were None which is not the original title, but it is a more acceptable title than the original ever was. The problem with hearing these two volumes so closely together was that in many ways they felt very much alike, the biggest difference being that this story focused only on five people whereas the other focused on ten!

The story begins with the daughter of a woman who was, some thirteen years before, convicted of murdering her husband and who herself died within a year of being imprisoned. Now her daughter is seeking to marry a guy and for some reason the jerk seems to be insisting that that conviction all those years ago is an impediment to marriage. My feeling this that this woman should ditch the guy, but instead she comes to Hercule Poirot, convinced of her mother's innocence, and asking that he investigate, so off he goes.

After a very brief analysis, he concludes conveniently that there are only five suspects (other than this woman's mother), and he goes off to interview them, hence the five little pigs. Every single one of them is gracious and loquacious. The problem was that of how would Hercule Poirot know this rhyme? It's been around since the mid-18th century, but why on Earth would Hercule Poirot know it? He didn't grow up in the UK, being Belgian and was therefore never exposed to British nursery rhymes. He moved to Britain only during World War One, when he was (as initially conceived) an elderly man, having retired 1905. Of course after his immense success, Christie rather had to retcon him some youth as it were, but still he was very mature.

None of this automatically precludes him from ever having heard the nursery rhyme, but the fact is that he never married, Never had any interest in women, and certainly never had children nor was interested in them, Quite the opposite in fact, so whence would he ever have heard the nursery rhyme? I think this is a problem of writing which Christie never thought through. Clearly, having long been a mother herself by then, she was aware of it, but she never considered the unlikelihood that Poirot would have been. She could have resolved this by having someone mention the rhyme to him in passing or have him accidentally hear it, thereby putting it in his head and having him adopt it as a framework for his enquiries, but this literary great never thought of that, I suspect because she evidently considered her character to be as English as she was despite the thin veneer of his foreign origin.

Yet this nursery rhyme forms the foundation of his battle plan and he refers to it quite often as he moves from one suspect to another. That may be a minor issue, but what wasn't was the endless repetitive retelling of the murder, which unlike Mr Disher, I found to be tedious. I found my mind wandering from the story often because it was the same story over and over, and I tired of it. I cannot commend this as a worthy read.

Chaos in Death by Nora Roberts aka JD Robb

Rating: WARTY!

I should have guessed from the absurd title that this audiobook wasn't for me, but I started listening to it anyway, so I have only myself to blame. Also it's by Nora Roberts. The JD Robb author name is a lie. I don't honestly know why authors lie about their authorship, but that's the way it is unfortunately. If I'd known this was part of a fifty book series all titles ending with " death" I would never have picked it up, but not only is the author lying, the publisher is too! There was nothing whatsoever on the cover of this book to indicate it was a part of a series. This one, absurdly, was volume 33.5!

The story is a bit bizarre. The reader, Susan Ericksen, is way too melodramatic, but I can't hold her completely at fault for that because the material is so poorly-written. The story starts with this guy - I assume it's a guy - who is putting the finishing touches to a triple murder he's committed and he's talking so ridiculously that I expect him to don a top hat and a cape when he was finished, and twirl his mustaches fiendishly.

Even when the cops show up the dialog is inane, and there's the trope of the one cop about ready to barf at the crime scene. I know that some people actually are very sensitive, but it's such a trope, especially in this day and age where blood and gore are in every other movie and cops are very often used to violence. We are largely inured to it now, and while I concede that movie gore and violence isn't like experiencing the real thing, this farcical trope of the barfing cop is long past its sell-by date, and it's just irritating to me. I quit it right there.

So this story and me? No way in hell!

Monday, September 2, 2019

Vegan Vamp by Cate Lawley

Rating: WORTHY!

This was another freebie from a book flyer I get via email. I downloaded it some time ago, and I forgot about it until I saw it offered again in that same flyer, so I dug it out of my collection and read it. It's nice not to be beholden to Net Galley for a change, so I can pick and choose whatever I feel like reading at the time, and take my time with it rather than feel compelled by deadlines and archive dates!

The story is very short, and clearly it's aimed to be a loss-leader to lure potential addicts into a series. I'm not a series fan, nor am I a first person voice fan, nor am I a vampire story fan, so this one had three strikes against it to begin with, but it was so different, or at least it promised to be, and I am a big fan of not taking the road most traveled. I was pleased that the blurb did not lie and that this novel actually worked its way under my skin. I ended up enjoying it.

That said, series? I'm not sure I want to get back into this in another story even though I enjoyed the first one, because that way lies madness. It takes a person into that insanity territory where you're doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. This applies to you whether you are writing a series or reading one. So maybe I'll be back, but while that decision remains to be made, let's look at this one volume.

Mallory is not liked by her fellow office colleagues, except when she buys drinks. On this night, after doing that very thing and resenting it, she leaves the bar early and wakes up several days later with no memory of what happened in between. Plus she's lost many pounds in weight. Eventually she gets to a doctor who realizes that she's been bitten by a vampire. Mallory is referred to an underground vampire society that the doctor feels can help her. The problem is that she's not your usual vampire. The thought of blood, let alone drinking it, turns her stomach, as does much of the usual food she had liked to eat. She finds through trial and error that a vegan diet works for her.

That immediate issue settled, she takes up a commission from the vamp society to track down her attacker, who will be giving the underworld a bad name if he (or she) continues unchecked in this apparently random assaulting behavior. So the story goes and it was entertaining, amusing, and quite interesting although the mystery was a bit of a mess-tery. That aside though, I enjoyed the story and the voice, and the fact that the novel is set in Austin even though the author isn't. I will definitely consider reading another volume of this.

Dead Man's Folly by Agatha Christie

Rating: WORTHY!

After this I have about four more Agatha Christie novels I'm interested in reading because they had mentions that interested or intrigued me in the biographies I read, and then I'm done with her. I think I've done enough! LOL! This one was another attempt to listen to one of her stories, an effort which hasn't been going well lately, but I can hope that if they're read by David Suchet as this one was, they might engage more. He does a masterful job of reading this particular novel - really quite engaging. That may be why I enjoyed this story, although the story is one of her better ones, I think.

The mystery is of the death of Marlene Tucker, a young girl who is ironically playing the victim in a murder mystery enactment put on as a sort of treasure hunt for attendees at a fête held at Nasse House in Devon. I recently saw a novel advertised which essentially steals this plot for its own. The treasure hunt is being staged by Ariadne Oliver, a well-known writer of murder mysteries, who has contacted Poirot because she has become suspicious of an assortment of changes to her plot which have been requested by various people. Something feels wrong to her and she hopes Poirot can figure out what's up, but before he can do so, Marlene is dead, and Lady Stubbs, wife of Sir George Stubbs, the newish owner of Nasse House, is missing.

The murder investigation drags on over several weeks with neither the police nor Poirot making progress, until Poirot has an insight and finally solves it. I find it ridiculous that Poirot is never charged with obstructing justice since he frequently withholds so much information from the police, even when he has strong suspicions, if not a strong conviction of the murderer's identity! But that aside, this story was well-written and entertaining, and beautifully-read, so I commend it as a worthy listen.

Sequence by Lori Andrews

Rating: WARTY!

I gave up on this about ten pages from the end because I was so tired of it by then, and I regretted even hoping it would improve. This is yet another novel that convinces me that if the story isn't getting you where you want to be, there is no shame involved if you abandon it, and there is every good and sane reason to drop it and move on to something more fulfilling instead of wasting your life in continuance. To do otherwise is a prime example of the sunk cost fallacy.

The main character, Alex, who is a geneticist working for the government in a military lab who gets dragged into a crime investigation since she can to DNA forensics, was profoundly dumb. There were times when she was not so stupid, and I had hoped that this would be a case where a not-so-smart character shows a steady improvement as the story goes on, but she did not. In fact she actually regressed. For example, despite being a geneticist, she couldn't see what was obvious to me from the off: that if genetic markers are close but not an exact match for a suspect, then perhaps those markers might be those of a relative of the suspect rather than the suspect himself. Once she got on that path, the crime was all-but solved.

Obvious was an issue with this novel because I was way ahead of the investigators several times and that's not often the case with me in this kind of a novel, so I know a story is poorly-written if even I can figure it out so easily. It wasn't so much the obvious as the dumb that got to me though.

Alex leaps directly into bed with someone she barely knows, but of whom she does know he's a player. She has unprotected sex with him without a thought about condoms, which immediately turns me right off a story. Yeah, if the portrayal is of a character who is profoundly stupid and is heading for the wrecker's yard, that's one thing, but for a modern professional and purportedly a smart woman who is a medical doctor to boot, it completely betrays the character. It's especially bad if that same character is pining for a lost but hopeless love, and yet she has no problem simply leaping without even looking. I almost quit reading the story right there. It turns out I should have gone with my first instinct.

So overall this was not too bad of a plot in very general terms, but the writing wasn't where it needed to be to make this a really good story, and to have a female author once again have a female character who needs some sort of validation by having a male magically come into her life and give her everything she needs is too much in this day and age - or any day and age for that matter. I cannot commend this as a worthy read and resent the time I wasted on it! I'm done with the book and the author.

Murder in Mesopotamia by Agatha Christie

Rating: WARTY!

This one was not well read by Anna Massey, and the story wasn't engaging me at all so I DNF'd it. I had already seen this on TV but I couldn't recall the finale, so I thought it might make for an entertaining read, but in the end it was just annoying. Holmes once said to his companion, "Watson, you know my methods!" which was his polite way of saying 'figure it out for yourself' and so it's time, I think, to read a biography about Christie, and see if I can learn anything from that about what made her tick.

On the upside, this story is mercifully-free of that moron Captain Hastings who makes John Watson look like a scintillating paragon of incisiveness. On the other, it was a bit much to swallow. It features Amy Leatheran (a name to conjure with!) who is a nurse taking up her charge in the Iraq desert at an archaeological dig, caring for the ailing wife of the man in charge of the dig. This woman - the patient, not the nurse - seems to have experienced terrifying hallucinations, and in the end dies, and Hercule Poirot finds himself trying to unearth clues as to the perp. I can't commend this audiobook version based on the portion to which I listened.

By the Pricking of My Thumbs by Agatha Christie

Rating: WARTY!

This was my first - and last - experience of Agatha Christie's Tuppence and Tommy Beresford stories. Tuppence, seriously? Does she have a sister half her age named Penny? Actually her name is prudence. I have no idea how she got labeled Tuppence. The plot was quite an engaging one: a painting goes missing and it turns out the painting reveals something really rather critical about a criminal enterprise. T&T begin an investigation and showing a complete lack of prudence, Tuppence goes off alone and disappears. Rather than call the police, Tommy takes up her disappearance as his primary investigation, and he ends up knocking on the door of this woman whose name I forget, but who inadvertently became my hero!

Instead of him grilling her in the hope of finding a lead to his wife's disappearance, she ends up interrogating him and he lets her take complete control! This went on, and on and on, and on, and...on. I'm serious. It went around in circles forever and I got so irritated with it that I quit listening to this summarily. You know it's bad when you'd rather listen to rubber on asphalt than to the actual audiobook you ahve in your car, especially during a somewhat tense long-distance drive where a mild distraction would have been very welcome.

I swear I don't give tuppence about this investigating team and I never will. In fact rather than shilling out for another such story I would pound on their heads so severely that they'd be left only half a crown....

Tennison by Lynda La Plante

Rating: WARTY!

I read or started to read two murder mysteries over the last few days. One of them was entertaining, moved at a good clip and provided a really decent story. This was the other one - the one I DNF'd, by 'beautiful the plant'.

I've seen Tennison on TV and was curious about the original book, but this almost six-hundred-paged massive tome was so dissipated and meandering that I lost interest after reading about a fifth of it. It was literally all over the place and it annoyed the hell out of me with all the distractions and side-shows that had nothing whatsoever to do with the central murder investigation.

I know many people enjoy a big fat read, but not me. To me it's intensely irritating to be getting to a good bit concerning the murder, and then to veer wildly off into someone's wedding or some garbage in which I have zero interest. Even skipping those parts, I still grew bored with cattle-grazing pacing of this book. That fact that it was set in the past and was larded with sexism that was the norm back then did nothing to enhance it. I'd much rather read a book featuring the sexism that's still rampant today.

In this story, set at the start of her career, Jane Tennison is a young raw recruit, new to the job, and running late on her first day because she's evidently an idiot. This isn't a good sign of a great police officer or a great main character. She misses her bus stop and then, still not paying attention to her surroundings - a really bad sign in a police officer - she collides with an elderly woman and is forced to stop and help her pick up her groceries and walk her back to her flat. Of course this is all in the pouring rain. In addition to this, Tennison's sister is getting married and Jane is senior bridesmaid and her parents don't really take her career choice seriously, so it was pretty much everything-but-the-kitchen-sink loaded into this and it really didn't work at all.

The TV show taken from this book was, as I recall (it's been a while!), watchable, but nothing I'd want to sit through again. The book I didn't want to sit through the first time. I can't commend it based on what I read.

Hawk Moon by Rob MacGregor

Rating: WORTHY!

This was a fun and entertaining whodunit set in high-school. It's a little heavy on the Hopi religion, and at first I thought this might turn me off it, not being remotely religious myself, but I do enjoy a variety of stories including those with religion in them, and in the end it wasn't an issue.

The story concerns Will Lansa, who is back for the new school year after spending the summer on a Hopi reservation with his father. After meeting with his girlfriend on a lonely stretch of land outside of town, Will breaks up with her and she promptly disappears. Will is the last one to see her alive, and consequently becomes the number one suspect when her murder appears to be the explanation for her disappearance. This becomes even more of an issue when his baseball cap, along with a knife, a distinctive gift that he had foolishly kept in the unlocked glove compartment in his jeep, are discovered with traces of Myra's blood on the knife blade.

In the rush to judgment, and even though Will hasn't been arrested, he's largely shunned at school except by a few close friends and a key person in the form of a computer whizz named Corina who has long had a crush on Will. With her help and some assistance from a spirit guide, Will eventually manages to solve the mystery and prove his innocence. I can actually think of a better way to have told this story, but in in the end, it was told well enough, and it was engrossing and a easy to finish, and I commend it as a worthy read.

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Murder on the Links by Agatha Christie

Rating: WARTY!

Here's an example of Christie reusing old material. One the characters is named Bella like the one in her Dumb Witness story, and also we have an instance here of Poirot being summoned to help out someone whose life is on the line and he arrives too late - again, like in the Dumb Witness story. It's also in some ways a case of mistaken identity as in Dumb Witness. The story takes place in Merlinville-sur-Mer in France where Poirot arrives with all Hastings at the Villa Genevieve to discover that mister Renauld was stabbed in the back with a letter opener the previous night, and left in a newly-dug grave by the local golf course.

The worst part of this story for me was the appalling reading by Charles Armstrong, who has no idea how to pronounce French words and repeatedly mangles ones such as Sûreté and Genevieve. When he tries to imitate a female voice his own voice sounds like he's being strangled. It was horrible to listen to and I couldn't stand to hear any more after the first 15 percent or so. I DNF'd this and consider it a warty "read".

I got hold of the DVD for Murder on the Links as well as Dumb Witness. Of the two, the latter departed from the book the most - and by quite a considerable margin, but I enjoyed that filmed story. It was cute and amusing, but Miss Peabody was totally absent, which annoyed me to no end. Murder on the Links, by contrast, was a lousy story which made no sense and in which Hastings was a complete dumb-ass (even more than he usually is) who got rewarded rather than getting his just deserts for actively perverting with the course of justice.

Having DNF's this, I can't comment on whether the book was as bad, but the TV show in regard to this particular episode simply isn't worth watching. Worse than this though was that despite the story taking place almost entirely in France, every single person spoke with a perfect English accent with no trace of actual French marring it whatsoever! Even French words like Genevieve and Sûreté were mangled. It was almost as though it was filmed entirely in England with a complete English cast! Whoah! Trust me, it sucked. I think it's by far the worst Poirot episode I ever saw and I've seen most of them so this one is double-warty!

Dumb Witness by Agatha Christie

Rating: WARTY!

This started out rather well, and was quite well read by Hugh Fraser, who played Poirot's companion Captain Hastings in the David Suchet TV series which covered very nearly all of Poirot's stories. The problem for me was that it descended into predictability and tedium in the last third or so, and the brilliant detective Poirot failed to see clues that even I could see, which tells me this story was badly-written.

I'm not a fna of detective stories which begin by telling us information the detective doesn't have. I much prefer the ones where we come in blind to the crime, just as the detective arrives. This one was not one of the latter, but the former, so we got an overly-lengthy introduction to the crime which to me was uninteresting and removed any suspense and excitement.

That said it wasn't too bad once the story began to move and Poirot arrived, but Hastings was a complete asshat with his endless whining along the lines of 'There's nothing to see here! Let's go home'. I'm truly surprised Poirot didn't slap him or kick him in the balls. I know this business of having a dumb-ass companion was set in stone by Arthur Doyle, but it's really too much.

The story is of the death of Emily Arundell, and aging and somewhat sickly woman of some modest wealth, at whom her relatives are pecking for crumbs before ever she's dead. After a fall down the stairs which she survives, Emily passes away at a later date, and after this, Poirot gets a letter form her which was somehow delayed in posting. It seems rather incoherent, but it does suggest she fears greatly for something. Poirot arrives to discover she died, and rather than turn around and go home, he poses as an interested buyer for a property that belonged to Emily so he can snoop around and ask questions. This part went on too long, too, for my taste.

Eventually Poirot's deception is exposed by Miss Peabody who for me was one of the two most interesting characters, and hands down the most amusing in the book. I really liked her. My other favorite was Theresa Arundell, whose initials, you will note, are TA, which have mirror symmetry. It's this that Poirot fails to grasp for the longest time after he learns that a person was identified by initials on a broach which was glimpsed in a mirror.

The problem though is that Christie fails to give us vital information that would have clearly identified the killer for anyone sharp enough to have picked up on this mirror image, so we're cruelly-robbed of the chance to nail down the actual killer, although some of the red herrings are disposed of with relative ease.

The final insult is Poirot's gathering of all the suspects together for the dénouement, and this is ridiculous for me. I know it's a big thing in these mysteries, but really it's laughable and spoils the story. It's so unrealistic and farcical especially since everyone, including the murderer, blithely agrees to gather for this exposure. How absurd! If the murderer had any sense, he or she would off Poirot before he had chance to expose the culprit, and thereby they would get off scot-free since Poirot is such an arrogant and persnickety old cove that he never reveals to anyone who the murder is until that last minute, thereby giving them ample opportunity to scarper!

I got hold of the DVD for this story from the library and watched it. I also watched Murder on the Links. Of the two, the former departed from the book the most - and by quite a considerable margin, but I enjoyed that filmed story. It was cute and amusing, but Miss Peabody was totally absent, which annoyed me to no end. Murder on the Links, by contrast, was a lousy story which made no sense and in which Hastings was a complete dumb-ass (even more than he usually is) who got rewarded rather than getting his just deserts for actively perverting with the course of justice. I can't comment on whether the book was as bad since I DNF'd it, but the TV show in regard to this particular episode simply isn't worth watching. Worse than all I've mentioned though was that despite the story taking place almost entirely in France, every single person spoke with a perfect English accent with no trace of actual French marring it whatsoever! Even French words like Genevieve and Sûreté were mangled. It was almost as though it was filmed entirely in England with a complete English cast! Whoah! Trust me, it sucked. I think it's by far the worst Poirot episode I ever saw and I've seen most of them.

So while there were some interesting and even fun bits to this audiobook, overall it was tedious, and I cannot commend it as a worthy listen.

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

What You Don't Know by JoAnn Chaney

Rating: WARTY!

What you don't know is how bad this book is! This audiobook was so hard-bitten it turned me right off. It made me think of eating soft tacos that were encased in in heavy-duty aluminum foil instead of a soft tortilla. The reader was Christina Delaine, who pretty much growled her way through it and I couldn't stand the tone, nor did I like the story, so I gave up on it and consider this a truly warty read/listen.

The basic story sounded interesting from the blurb, but the execution as poor. The story is that of two people, one, a police detective who was involved in bringing down a serial killer, and the other, a newspaper reporter who covered the story. Now both have fallen on hard times, him stuck on resolving cold cases, and she selling make-up in a mall. How that happened I don't know because I didn't listen to this for very long, but when a new series of murders begins, both of these people see this, rather sickly, I have to say, as a chance to get their lives back. Why that would be, again I don't know, but it smacks of that old sawhorse of the retired police detective being pulled back in to solve a new case because evidently the entire police force is utterly incompetent and only he can save them. The same thing applies to the reporter in a different way. I don't like that kind of story, so I guess I should never have picked this one up. My bad!

The blurb mentions that the wife of the serial killer didn't suspect a thing, so she claimed. Now I'm wondering if she's the real killer and her husband was innocent, or at least whether they were working together, and that's how these murders have started up again, but I didn't like how this story was told, or the narrator, so I wasn't about to listen to it anymore just to satisfy that curiosity. The author spells her first name with a capital A, but because of the idiot cover designer, you'd never know this since her name is block caps. Another publisher fail! Long live self-publishing.

Hunting for Hidden Gold by Leslie McFarlane

Rating: WARTY!

This was an audiobook read reasonably well by Bill Irwin. My problem with it was not only the antiquated story (this was written almost a century ago by Leslie McFarlane, writing as Franklin Dixon), but mostly the tinny accompanying music.

Leslie McFarlane was a journalist, not a musician, and while I have yet to confirm this officially, I remain pretty much sure that he never wrote any accompanying music for the story. Neither did Edward Stratemeyer who was the mover and shaker behind these books. So whence the impetus for the sad and annoying music in the audiobook edition? Is Bill Irwin not good enough to listen to without accompaniment? It really irritates me when audiobooks do this and I've had to listen to two or three lately which all have had music at least at the very beginning of the book. Why? Get a clue, publishers!

The Hardy brothers are evidently frequently put at risk of their lives by their thoroughly irresponsible father, by being tasked with helping him to solve mysteries. In this book, their own stupidity gets them into trouble, They're required to fly to Montana, to track down missing gold, and they have a three-hour layover en route. As soon as they reach the airport, they're accosted by a stranger who informs them that he has important papers from their father, but he has...wait for it...forgotten them, they're so important! He asks if the boys will accompany him to his home to get the papers. Rather than insist they have a flight to catch and cannot leave the airport, and request he brings the papers to them as he was tasked to do, they blindly go with him and end up tied up on a house! The Hardy Boys are morons. That's when I quit listening to this.

I get that the whole idea of the story is to bring the kids in because it's a kid's story, but the mark of competent writers is that they do this without having the kids look stupid or have them needlessly endangered by idiotic adults. Their involvement needs to be organic, and not blatantly incompetent or dumb. Leslie McFarlane simply wasn't up to it. And yeah, I know this story is antique and that sensibilities were different back then, but that doesn't mean I have to give it a bye today. Instead I give it a bye-bye. This story was garbage and it's warty, period.

Cell 8 by Anders Roslund, Börge Hellström, Kari Dickson

Rating: WARTY!

Talking of crime, this was one more casualty in an increasing number of failed audiobook experiments. I have a modest commute to and from work, and I like to catch up on reading on the trip, so...audiobooks! This is why I tend to experiment a lot more with audiobooks than other formats, and why I have more fails. This novel was one from a rising tide of Scandinavian crime fiction which is curious because there's very little homicide there compared with other nations.

The USA, for example, is almost at the top of the list for sheer numbers of murders (although in the middling lower half for murder rate) whereas northern Europe is low on the list. Iceland had precisely one murder in 2016, for example, the same year the USA had over 17,000. Norway had 27, Denmark 56. The purportedly easy-going Sweden had over one hundred, but by comparison, the supposedly highly civil UK had almost 800. That said, the murder rates in these countries are very roughly the same and only about a fifth of the rate in the USA. So not a lot of murders to work with in Scandinavia, and nowhere near in proportion to the slew of novels about them, hence my comment about it being curious.

I've had some success with other Scandinavian crime books, but I couldn't get with this audiobook translated from the foreign by Kari Dickson. It began with a guy in jail and then went to a flashback the length, presumably, of the entire novel. I don't do flashbacks. This flashback involved the singer in a band on a cruise ship taking exception to a man who was fondling the women he was dancing with. The singer gets arrested and turns out to be someone else. Yawn.

Why this guy thought he ought to be policing these women who were in a public place on a dance floor and perfectly capable of deciding for themselves what they wanted is a mystery that wasn't gone into in the portion I could stand to listen to. I could not get into this, it wasn't interesting at all to me. Life is too short to waste on a book that doesn't grab you from the start.

If I Die Tonight by Alison Gaylin

Rating: WARTY!

This audiobook is supposedly about a hit and run in a stolen car, but it moved so slowly that I got the impression it was far more about a single mom detective policing two problematic kids than ever it would be about solving a crime, so I gave up on it. I think I'm going to quit even thinking of reading books with titles of this nature - the "If blah blah blah" kind of title.

This author also wrote a novel titled "What Remains of Me" which is a no-no and pretentious kind of a title for me. If I'd know about the previous title, I would never have picked this one up, and it would have been a wise decision. So it's a hackneyed story that the author evidently isn't interested in getting to, with a fake bad guy. On top of that, I later discovered that Kirkus loved this book, which is another reason to avoid it like the plague.

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

4:50 from Paddington by Agatha Christie

Rating: WARTY!

This is a short audiobook that I thought I would give a try. I am not much of a fan of Christie's writing, but I did enjoy the Hercule Poirot series on TV to the point where I even wrote a parody of Murder on the Orient Express. I have to really like something or really hate something to do a parody of it, and I'm not thinking of doing a Miss Marple parody, but I know nothing of those particular stories, so I decided to give this try since I found it on audiobook. My bad!

It's read by Joan Hickson, a Brit actor with whom I'm familiar (no, not that familiar!). She played the role of Miss Marple in a TV series of the same name (Marple, not Hickson!). There were twelve shows, and one of them was based on this particular novel. I may try to see that if I can get my hands on it, just out of curiosity, but this particular novel I found far too plodding and filled with too much extraneous detail to be entertaining. I think Hickson was the wrong choice too, because her voice, sorry to say, sounds a bit too mouth-filled-with-marbles for enjoyment. It reminded me of the voices the Monty Python crew used when they were impersonating women. I can see why the publisher hired her, but going the 'obvious' path isn't typically the best option and for me it didn't work well here.

Christie is the world's all-time best-selling author, even as of today, having sold some three billion books (that's not the same as saying almost half the planet's population have read her!), which ranks her behind only the Bible and Shakespeare, but I have to ask, if Christie had never lived, and some unknown writer today wrote her books and offered them for sale, would a publisher actually buy them or would that poor writer end up having to self-publish if they wanted to get anything out there?

Would these books sell even if they were picked up by a mainstream publisher? Would a publisher even pick up a typescript to read if its title was "4:40 from Paddington"?! I may be wrong of course, find it hard to believe that they would. Certainly not as well as they historically did. But guess what? Her books are now starting to come into the public domain, so who knows what new writers will do with them?

Anyway, this one, first published in 1957, has the interesting plot of a woman traveling on a train which happens to run in parallel for a short time, with another train traveling in the same direction. Through the windows, before the trains part company, the woman witnesses a man strangling a woman on the other train, and when she reports this to the train authorities (why them and not the police I have no idea) they dismiss her story, thinking she has dreamed it after reading a magazine story about someone who was strangled.

The woman is a friend of Miss Marple of course. I have a theory about this. People like this Marple and this Poirot (and far too many others) always seem to be around when murders are committed! It seems only logical to conclude that they somehow cause the murders. How else can you account for them being in such proximity to so many of them?

Anyway, when the woman reports this murder to Marple, she's believed, and the two of them then go to the police, where Maple knows the desk sergeant. They're taken more seriously, but when inquiries come up blank, Miss Marple recruits a small army of advisors to figure out where the body most likely was tossed from the train. She's working on the theory that this was a planned murder, the murderer throwing the body out at a convenient, but secluded location, and then afterwards coming back by car and picking it up to dispose of it.

The basic problem here is: why would he plan it on a train? If he could lure the victim onto a train ride with him, he could evidently lure her anywhere. The limp excuse given is that someone might see him with his victim and remember it if he tried the murder somewhere else, but this completely ignores the fact that everyone and their uncle would see him and this poor woman going onto the train together! So, not so well thought out.

What got to me though was the excessive detail which had nothing to do with the murder or the investigation: eating all the food at the table, clearing away the dishes, washing the dishes. Sorry, but no! There was too much of this, and the story felt perfunctory even with these details, like Christie wrote this as detailed notes, but never bothered to flesh them out before it was published. While the plot was a good starting point, the story itself felt poorly-written and was consequently unentertaining, and I gave up on it. Besides, everyone knows the Butler did it, right? Or the doctor.