December 26th, 2013

Dead Dog Cat

(no subject)

A couple nights back I finished reading Osprey New Vanguard #16: Leopard I 1965 - 1995, a book about our NATO allies main battle tank of that period. Not nearly as interesting as I might have hoped for...

Books 229-230: The Shanghai Factor and Dust

Book 229: The Shanghai Factor.
Author: Charles McCarry, 2013.
Genre: Spy Thriller. Contemporary.
Other Details: Hardback. 304 pages.

The novel is narrated by a spy with no name; an American placed in Shanghai as a sleeper agent polishing his language skills and waiting for instructions from Washington. While there he becomes involved with Mei, a Chinese woman with her own secrets. Then his Stateside boss tasks him with a delicate operation in which he is to infiltrate the Chinese intelligence service as a supposed double agent. It is a dangerous life and hard to tell friend from foe. The action leaves China and returns to USA soil though the so-called Shanghai Factor follows him home.

At the start I was a little put off by the cover quote from Lee Child stating that McCarry was better than John le Carre. His opinion maybe but for me le Carre is hard act to beat. Still McCarry does share the quality of providing a slow burn rather than the flash bang of so much thriller fiction. McCarry's background as a former deep cover agent for the CIA gives him the perfect background for writing this novel about the unnamed young man who is playing the dangerous game of double agent.

I found this an intelligent, complex novel that kept me enthralled. I will be looking out for other of his works that have made it across the Pond.

Book 230: Dust (Kay Scarpetta #21).
Author: Patricia Cornwell, 2013.
Genre: Forensic Crime Thriller.
Other Details: Hardback. 512 pages.

It is almost Christmas, 2012 and Chief Medical Examiner Kay Scarpetta has returned home after working on one of the worst mass killings in US history. The event has effected her deeply though then she is called to the scene of crime in which the body of a young woman has been found inside the sheltered gates of MIT, draped in an unusual cloth and posed in a way that makes it clear this is not their first kill. They also discover that the body is covered in a fine dust that fluoresces under ultra-violet light. Further physical evidence links this to a series of disturbing homicides in Washington, DC though there is resistance on the part of the FBI to make the connection and Kay's husband is under pressure from higher up.

I felt this novel started off quite strongly but then the plot became so convoluted that it became confusing and I literally 'lost the plot' despite often popping back for clarification. Part of the issue was Kay's constant inner ramblings about her dysfunctional relationships along with tons of dialogue between Kay, Benton, Lucy and Pete that only made things more confusing. In addition, so much time was taken up with the minute forensic details of the case and this rendered the revelation of the killer somewhat anti-climatic and I struggled to see how this connected to the previous 470 or so pages.

It was quite obvious that Cornwell had been deeply upset by the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School and expresses this through her fictional character even though the name of the school is not mentioned. It is a respectful reference though I am not sure it really belonged in a work of fiction even as flashbacks of memory.

The novel ended with a 'Profile of Patricia Cornwell' giving background on the series and her writing process. I still long for the tightly written early Kay Scarpetta novels.


Bill O'Reilly and Martin Dugard's Killing Kennedy: The End of Camelot notes, "We are not conspiracy guys, although we do raise some questions about what is unknown and inconsistent."  Thus, Book Review No. 27 suggests that readers keep their copy of Vincent Bugliosi's Reclaiming History in mind, or close to hand, in tackling Killing Kennedy.  The story begins with President Kennedy about to be inaugurated, and Lee Oswald in Minsk, and follows them to the day their paths cross.  Along the way, though, President Kennedy confronts Cuba and the CIA and the Mob (and culture-warrior Mr O'Reilly has the president shagging Marilyn Monroe, and Mrs Kennedy on a cruise with Aristotle Onassis).  The book is careful not to twist any facts in ways that a conspiracy buff might seize upon, although it leaves the reader with sufficient material to think any of Cuba or the CIA or the Mob might have motive to remove a president.  The Camelot myth owes itself more to rueful statements by Mrs Kennedy than to any policy achievements of those days.

(Cross-posted to Cold Spring Shops.)
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I expect, this is the last post for the year and I have managed to read a surprising amount of books.

#77 Ngaio Marsh: Overture to Death. Narrator Ric Jerrom
A very clever mystery, which I greatly enjoyed.

#78 Ngaio Marsh: Death and the Fancing footman. Narrator: James Saxon
This one happens in the same neighborhood as the "Overture to Death" and that is why I have decided to have them one after the other even though they have not been released consecutively. A house party intentionally full of people who don't like each other very much results in a murder. I liked the mystery, but did not like the narrator. He was not great on women's voices and occasionally seemed to forgetfully go on and read the story as if it were told by one or other character.

#79 Laurie Graham: A Humble Companion
A story told by 'the Humble Companion' of Princess Sophia - a daughter of George III. The companion was supposed to be a girl of humble origins to provide a way for the princess to keep in touch with the 'real life'. Of course, the companion was not all that humble, being a daughter of rich merchant. And naturally the princess stayed behind her high walls. I found the book surprisingly frustrating. Nellie - the narrator - never actually does anything out of the ordinary. She marries the man she does not love, because her father thinks it is the best thing for her. She meekly goes to the stables because the princess and her brother tell her to - a jest which turns into something of a tragedy for her. She gets rid of an unwanted child without much thought. She is a nice, obedient, plodding little survivor. She likes to think of herself as the only friend 'Sofy' has and therefore goes back every time, but, in the long run, a good friendship should be mutually beneficial. (I am not talking about money and titles here). In this case, her 'friendship' brings Nellie nothing but problems and heartbreak and Sofy remains callow and unfeeling. And sure, she is not like that on purpose, but still... Is that friendship?