Book Review: The Five Red Herrings by Dorothy L. Sayers (Two Stars)

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Book Review: The Five Red Herrings (Lord Peter Wimsey #7) by Dorothy L. Sayers

Two Stars

“The more you hate everybody for hating you, the more unattractive you grow and the more they hate you.”

By her own admission (elsewhere), “the plot was invented to fit a real locality.” Apparently, also written to please her Scottish friends, this is a Sudoku puzzle of clues spread through several hundred pages of prose. Not one or two but five false trails are explored and discarded. Dreary. The least pleasing Wimsey mystery to date.

“This English habit of rushing into situations on a high tide of chatter and excitement.”

Five percent in, Sayers inserts a comment, “… as the intelligent reader will readily supply these details for himself, they are omitted….” Dirty trick. Yes, I deduced Continue reading

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Book Review: Strong Poison by Dorothy L. Sayers (Three Stars)

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Book Review: Strong Poison (Lord Peter Wimsey #6) by Dorothy L. Sayers

Three Stars

“I really don’t know how it was done … I’m not worrying about a trifle like that.”

By all standards this should be one of the best Lord Peter stories because in it we are introduced, under the most trying circumstances, to Harriet Vane. If you don’t know who she is, I’m not going to spoil things more than necessary (which will make this review difficult).

“People have been wrongly condemned before now.” “Exactly, simply because I wasn’t there.”

I’m not familiar with English judicial terminology, but the judge calling the accused the “prisoner” in his charge to the jury strikes me as prejudicial.

“A man doesn’t like it to see a man go all wobbly about his sister—at least, not such a prolonged wobble.”

Love at first sight. Gushy, saccharin, head-over-heals infatuation?

“A person who can believe all the articles of the Christian faith is not going to boggle over a trifle of adverse evidence.”

Spiritualist of the 1930s would be comfortable in certain circles of today’s society. The more things change ….

“Don’t talk like Jeeves.” “… Sherlocked.” “… as Holmes would say …”

Sayers is conscious of her antecedents and boasts of them.

“The enormous and complicated imbecility of things was all around him like a trap.”

Book Review: Lord Peter Views the Body by Dorthy L. Sayers (Two Stars)

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Book Review: Lord Peter Views the Body (Lord Peter Wimsey #4) by Dorothy L. Sayers

Two Stars.

“Built noticin’–improved with practice.”

This anthology of early Wimsey shorts reminds me why I hate anthologies. Authors (or, more likely, publishers) sweep up all the bits and pieces of a successful author or authors and foist it on the public as great literature. The resulting collection is often–as in this case–mediocre at best.

“Nobody minds coarseness, but one must draw the line at cruelty.”

Especially avoid the novelette: “The Undignified Melodrama of the Bone of Contention.” Dreadful. “The Fascinating Problem of Uncle Meleager’s Will” will enthrall crossword puzzle enthusiasts, without leaving the rest of us clueless.

“Bunter likes me to know my place.”

Sayers wrote for different readers. She assumes a level of French and Latin literacy rare among Americans today. Wonder how contemporary (1920s) English did.

“It is … dangerous to have a theory.”

Book Review: The Empty Throne by Bernard Cornwell (Four Stars)

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Book Review: The Empty Throne (Saxon Stories #8) by Bernard Cornwell

Four Stars

“It probably did not matter what the Witan thought … or what I thought. I should have thought harder.”

A romp through a historic game of thrones. History may not be quite as exciting as fiction, but that’s why we have historical fiction. And few authors blow the dust off the pages of time better than Bernard Cornwell.

“It probably did not matter what the Witan though … or what I thought. I should have thought harder.”

Uhtred may be on his last legs. His near-fatal wound is festering, his king is dying, his family is threatened, and his dreams are unfulfilled. What’s a man do to? If that man is Uhtred, attack.

“I wanted an end to the pain, to the problems, but I also wanted to know how it would all end. But does it ever end?”

Well written. Good map, though unreadable in the ebook format. Love, death, betrayal, and surprises. A real life strong female leader. Leavened with humor.

“As I said, Father, I am not noisy.” “And I am?” “Very.”

No quibbles, just looking for an excuse to insert another text quote.

“How?” “By killing any bastard who opposes her.” “Oh, by persuasion.” “Exactly.”

 

Book Review: Through Five Administrations by William H. Crook (Four Stars)

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Book Review: Through Five Administrations: Reminiscences of Colonel William H. Crook, Body-Guard to President Lincoln by William H. Crook

Four Stars

“The newspaperman, then as now, was on the outlook for a sensation. There was less regard for the truth then ….”

I’m a sucker for primary sources, even when–especially when–the writer reveals more about himself and his stop than he intended. Such is the case with this book. Crook takes you into his mind. You experience six presidents from the perspective of one who worked with them closely and personally, but was not involved in the politics of the day.

“It must be taken as for granted that I am somewhat prejudiced.”

Not surprisingly, Crook sees the best of each man, though some reviled each other. He defends each president, even as he acknowledges that some (especially Andrew Johnson) poured burning coals on their own heads.

“A narrow circle of New England theorists who, with their inheritance of inflated ideals and incomplete sympathies, had come to replace, by way of aristocracy, the social traditions of colonial times.”

Snowflake warning: This was written more than a century ago. Crook’s attitudes and expressions will offend modern sensibilities, even of those who agree with him. But if we are denied his point of view, the whole work would be suspect.

“Speeches in both House and Senate … filled with wild alarm, not for the country, but for [their] party.”

Book Review: The Gospel of Loki by Joanne M. Harris (Four Stars)

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Book Review: The Gospel of Loki by Joanne M. Harris

Four Stars

“It wasn’t my fault. I was as much a victim of this as any of the others. If …”

You already know the story. Harris hews much closer to the traditional Poetic Edda than most modern re-interpretations, especially those of Marvel. This is a snarky self-justification by Loki, the villain of almost everyone else’s take.

“That’s history for you. Unfair, untrue, and for the most part written by folks who weren’t even there.”

Head and shoulders above many recent retellings of other myths and fairy tales which try to make the bad guy into a good guy. No, Loki is who he is. Naturally, seen from his point of view, everyone else is stupid or evil. A lot like modern American politics.

“Who needs friends when you can have the certitude of hostility?”

If someone were to cinematize this, I can see Tom Hiddleston as Loki, but not Anthony Hopkins as Odin. Better, Ian McKellen on his worst day: Gandalf with issues.

“You don’t bring wildfire into your home and expect it to stay in the fireplace.”

Quibbles: The title implies there’s good news here; there isn’t. Not for Loki, not for the AEsir, nor for the Folk (humans). The story starts in Chapter Four, before that it background.

“I could tell Odin would never understand the scale and grandeur of Chaos–at least not until the Ends of the Worlds, by which time it would be too late.”

Book Review: The Flame Bearer by Bernard Cornwell (Four Stars)

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Book Review: The Flame Bearer (Saxon Stories #10) by Bernard Cornwell

Four Stars

“When a man cannot fight he should curse. The gods like to feel needed.”

Read this book. I can’t imagine anyone starting a series with the tenth installment, but if you’ve read a few and slacked off this is a good place to jump back in. Classic Uhtred.

“… and stroked a stone down a sword already as sharp as the shear wielded by the three fates.”

Cornwell is a master of historical fiction, though he admits that he’s run out of history and in this story, “Just about everything is invention.”

“We’re outnumbered and they have the high ground. Does that mean we’re attacking?” “Of course, it does.”

The battle scenes are gory, the coincidences monumental, and the stakes are higher than ever. Leaven with just a touch of humor.

“You’re an idiot.” “Men often tell me I’m like you, Father.”

“Men see what they want to see.”

Book Review: Unnatural Death by Dorothy Sayers (Four Stars)

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Book Review: Unnatural Death (Lord Peter Wimsey #3) by Dorothy Sayers

Four Stars

“I’ve seen enough to know that nothing is a certainty.”

Perhaps the best of the series to date. Sayer opens with Winsey guessing there’s been a murder and who done it, and then follows his investigation through many by-ways and dead ends. In the meantime, the body count rises.

“I have no use for men. They always look on women as sort of pets or playthings.”

Almost a century ago, Sayer investigated with insight and sensitivity gender, race and class issues, which we think are the purview of modern advocacy groups. That her conclusions would not please everyone is a given. She uses the term epicene in a relevant way.

“… with the cheerful brutality of the man who has never in his life been short of money.”

A distinguishing feature of the Wimsey stories is Wimsey’s sensitivity to the consequences of Continue reading

Book Review: Clouds of Witness by Dorothy Sayers (Four Stars)

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Book Review: Clouds of Witness (Lord Peter Wimsey #2) by Dorothy Sayers

Four Stars

“Beliefs don’t matter. It’s what you know about people.”

Readers who like 1926 tongue-in-cheek detective stories of manners and fans of Downton Abbey, will find this just their cup of tea. Others, not so much. The reader is assumed to be literate in French, which I’m not. I muddled through.

“Time and trouble will tame an advanced young woman, but an adult old woman is uncontrollable by any earthly force.”

Lord Peter’s brother, the Duke of Denver, is accused of murder. Suddenly Peter’s embarrassing hobby–sleuthing–may save Duke Gerald’s title … and neck.The title gives away the twist: too many witnesses to too much, some of it misleading or simply untrue.

I’ve read this book before. Don’t know where or when. I suspect in ebook format, so it couldn’t have been that long ago.

“Contrast is life.”

Book Review: Whose Body? by Dorothy Sayers (Three Stars)

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Book Review: Whose Body? (Lord Peter Whimsey #1) by Dorothy Sayers

Three Stars

“It’s a wonderful the ideas these rich men with nothing to do get into their heads.”

First published in 1923, this is a dated but enjoyable detective fiction by the sole female associated with the Inklings. Storytelling is tedious with frequent repetition and long narrative exposition, the tone is light and enjoyable.

“The franker you are with people, the more likely you are to deceive them; so unused is the modern world to the open hand and guileless heart, what?”

The central premise of this tale: whose body is which of a pair–one missing and one found, but clearly not the same person–is justified so poorly in the end, but the reader will have been hooked by then and won’t care.

“I love trifling circumstances; so many men have been hanged by trifling circumstances.”

Beneath the breezy English nobility send up is a darker backstory of “shell shock” (as they called post-traumatic stress after World War One) and changing cultural mores. Sly references to how real investigation differs from fictional, especially Holmesian.

“There’s nothing you can’t prove if your outlook is only sufficiently limited.”