Back of Beyond ~ by C.J. Box

I’ve read a few CJ Box books and enjoyed them well enough.  They’re usually a part of the Joe Pickett series, but this one is the first of a series I started reading in and thought I’d finished long ago.  It’s newish AND it was available at the library!  So I grabbed it.  

Back of Beyond 
by C.J. Box – 2011

Read by Holter Graham 11h 3m Rating:  A+ / crime-thriller
(#1 in Cody and Cassie series)

I think Back of Beyond may be better than the other books I’ve read by Box.  The blurbs for  focus on Cody Hoyt, the alcoholic cop who relapses while chasing after the killer of his sponsor, but that’s not the half of what all is going on in this book.

Cody Hoyt is the new cop on the block in a smallish Montana town.  He’s returned from duty in Denver where he got in trouble, but he’s been sober for two months now, thanks to AA.  Then his sponsor Hank, with 14 years sober, is found dead in the ruins of his burned out home.

 Other law enforcement see this as an accident because an empty bottle is also found in the ruins, but Cody knows better.  Hank Winters wouldn’t have done that.  And Hank’s treasured AA chips are missing from the briefcase where he kept them.  Cody knows this is murder, but how to investigate when his colleagues think otherwise.  Still, he has to pursue this. 

The other thread in the book is about a group of people on horseback for a wilderness trip. These folks have their own troubles as do the outfitter and his girlfriend.  Cody is also chasing after his own young adult son who is with this group and apparently in danger. 

The characters are interesting, sometimes fun, and realistic at the same time. That’s doing pretty well for a thriller.  I like the Montana/Wyoming setting (Yellowstone National Park and area).  The tension is masterfully built. The plot and subplots are twisty.  And I wasn’t that fond of the ending which felt messy to me.  Oh well –  I’ll be reading more of C.J. Box.  

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The Maine Mutiny ~ by Jessica Fletcher and Donald Bain

This is a nice, light, cozy mystery developed from the TV show of bygone years.  There are 55 books in the series now with another one coming up (supposedly).  I enjoy those written by Donald Bain, but I’ve not tried enough of the others to say.  

Murder She Wrote: The Maine Mutiny
by Jessica Fletcher and Donald Bain
2005 –
Read by Cynthia Darlow 7h 5m (2010)
Rating: B+ / mystery series
(#23 in Murder She Wrote series)

If you don’t know, the protagonist is Jessica Fletcher a retired and widowed school teacher who now writes very successful mystery novels. She still lives in a small town in Maine.  In the books she’s also a 1st person narrator.  But the books have been written by different ghost writers usually Jon Land and Donald Bain.  

This year the Lobster Association  of Cabot Cove have an issue with providing lobsters to the town festival. Tempers flare at their meeting and some violence and harassment and assault happens afterwards a few days. Angela can’t help but investigate. She wakes up in a boat out at sea to find there’s a dead man along.  And that’s enough for here. 

It was a whole lot better than I expected and I may read more of these Murder She Wrote books.  Cynthia Darlow is an excellent reader and reads quite as number of them.  

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This Is How They Tell Me the World Ends ~ by Nicole Perlroth

I first saw this at Audible – it looked good  and sounded good so it went on my Wish List there (now almost 300 books).  Then a friend in a reading group recommended it and it sounded right up my alley. I finished my current read and downloaded.  Yay!   

This Is How They Tell Me the World Ends
by Nicole Perlroth 
2021 / 493 pages
Read by Allyson Ryan 18h 31m
Rating: 9.5  / politics-government
(Read and listened)

It gets “good” right away – or at least I found myself absorbed.  And before long I downloaded the Kindle version to read along with the book in case I missed a good line or wanted to see how something was spelled.  Or if I wanted to do a search for some person, place, thing to remind myself (there are lots of characters).  

This is the information gathered by Nicole Perlroth as she did her New York Times job of Cyber Security Correspondent (Information Security and Info-Sec.) She interviewed hundreds of people. 

The material is organized by the type of job the people involved do and chapters are titled Capitalists, Spies, Mercenaries, Resistance, Twister (I don’t know) and Boomerang.  Overall there’s a certain chronological flow to it but Perlroth doesn’t stick to that,  she goes about her topics naturally.

 
Basically, hackers find bugs of one sort or another and either exploit them directly or they sell them, this information, to the makers of the computers or application to fix. Or they sell them on the underground for other hackers to exploit or resell.  It’s big business these days – very big business. The first section of the book is about hackers of Apple, Microsoft, Google and so on.  

Then she goes on to develop the topics of crime and international crime and governments and law and no order with the big cyber attacks and ransomware stuff of today.  She ends with how this “system” is dangerous and we should each do what we can but it really looks like disaster is coming. 

It gets intense and kind of scary.  I decided it was time I updated my computer so I spent about 10 hours fiddling with that but it got done and I’ve vowed to be prompter about it.  

One of the best reviewers – (the bottom one below) says it’s not as serioulsy scary as Perlroth seems to portray it – she can be misleading

Some reviews: 
 Lori Stroud: https://www.npr.org/2019/02/03/691058267/reuters-investigation-finds-uae-employed-former-nsa-hackers-as-spies

Book talk: https://carnegieendowment.org/2021/02/23/this-is-how-they-tell-me-world-ends-cyberweapons-arms-race-event-7550

Reviews: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/02/09/books/review/this-is-how-they-tell-me-the-world-ends-nicole-perlroth.html

https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2021/02/09/cybersecurity-202-this-is-how-they-tell-me-world-ends-sheds-new-light-global-cyberweapons-arms-race/

Really good review – professional opinion: https://dale-peterson.com/2021/04/13/book-review-this-is-how-they-tell-me-the-world-ends-by-nicole-perlroth/

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Real Life – by Brandon Taylor (blog)

The really abridged version of this review is “I don’t think this was written for me or maybe even my age group.” 

Real Life
By Brandon Taylor
2021 /
Read by Kevin R. Free 9h 25m
Rating: 4/ 21st cent fiction


Stupid.  I’m allergic to books actually “about”  sex and romance and GLBTQ books get the same measure.  Taylor apparently thinks that because gay (or homosexual, or queer, or by whatever name) people have thoughts and feelings about these things they’re new.  I think it’s a new generation is gaining awareness and insight.  
The major characters here all seem terribly immature to me –  they’re angry with their parents and trying to establish themselves as adults. The first person narrator is so self-absorbed and self-pitying it was almost nauseating at times.  That and he’s too regularly saying things like,  “I’m sorry,” “I’m sorry,” “I’m sorry.”  And then blaming someone or something else.  –  immature!  
Oh well; because I just never got terribly interested. Actually, I’m more interested in reading books about old geezers gaining awareness – or having adventures – or whatever – and no, I do NOT want to read about the self-pity of senior citizens – lol! 

Sorry,  but if this book were about straight folks there are parts which would be so clichéd as to be trash.  Yes, Taylor can frequently write nicely – (nothing particularly special but …) and he writes about things which are kind of original (I suppose – guys having a pissing contest about who’s more gay than the other might be original?) 

 The truth is that I was simply bored numb well before half-way through.  I kept reading though because sometimes my books, literary or crime, don’t get going until 1/2 way through or later.    (And unless something is really off the wall gross, I want to try to keep up with the Booker Prize Lists – and fwiw,  I’ve had to flat ditch some short-listers but not many. 

Bottom line, I think I’m just too old for the subject matter which is “real life,” I guess.  This was something which might have interested me at age 22 – when I was discovering that different people (even foreigners) had similar (or universal?) ideas and emotions about many things and that there were authors who could really write about these things.  

Does that mean they could write so well that I identify? That I recognize the people, places, and things is realism – that I recognize the emotions is basic identification? –  I don’t know.  I think I’m a couple decades past 50 – lol.  
 I’ve been reading introspective stuff for 50 years now.  Sex has been “hot stuff since James Joyce and D.H. Lawrence and those guys were before my time.  I don’t need a new generation to open my mind and heart –  lol.  The only new thing here is that gays are people too at mainstream level.  OMG!  Really??? –   (sigh). Oh Lord love the young who think they are inventing it all – Go read the last chapter of Ulysses – “Molly Bloom’s Soliloquy.”   (They have a lot more sexual energy and interest than I do and it shows in this book and my reaction to it.) 

****Sometimes I need reviews to articulate what I am feeling.  For instance, during and after reading this book (Chapter 6 was the first time). The WaPo said that Taylor makes a point of noticing “white people,” undermining the unspoken rule of much realist fiction that race need only be mentioned when it’s other than white. 

I’d noticed that but couldn’t or didn’t really “think” it.  No articulation of the impression it made. 

P.S.   I have been attracted to men but I have never (ever) blamed the guy for it.  LOL!   I think this must be a male thing – gay, straight, trans, queer, homo, faggot or whatever.  

Sorry this is so long – I guess I went on a rant.

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Never Far Away – by Michael Koryta

The first major problem with this one is that the premise is too far fetched; like, way beyond my suspension of disbelief.  And it opens and closes with too much thriller-type violence for my tastes. So I just figured an avid reader is going to come across a disappointment from time to time and I finished anyway because I did want to find out how it ended.

Never Far Away
by Michael Koryta 
2021/
Read by Robert Petkoff 11h 52m Rating: B- / thriller 

.   Besides, the characters were fun, the writing was satisfactory, and the romance was kept to a very light minimum. So okay – maybe it wasn’t that bad, but I rated my one prior Koryta book a C and I didn’t check prior to buying this one. But this one was on sale, it’s a 2021 book, and with a remote Maine setting it was inviting. I am forgiven.

And then it very slowly turned quite enjoyable. And then it turned pretty good, too. But that’s not until about 1/2 way through. And then it flips back to barely mediocre and then to standard genre crime thriller fare – with too much chase and violence.

The plot has to do with some long ago trial testimony after which Nina Morgan becomes Leah Trenton and is put into witness protection.  Her children continue to live with their dad but everyone (except Dad) understands that Nina herself is dead.  

She’s not dead. For the last 10 years Nina/Leah been working as a tour guide, hiding out in Maine enjoying life as best she can and missing her family dreadfully. Unfortunately life happens, her her husband is suddenly dead in an auto collision.  In the aftermath of that and getting the chilren to “Aunt Leah” enough informaion spills out to alert those people who want Nina/Leah dead. So the plot takes dark and twisty turns with hired guns suddenly available to find Nina.
 
Okay – the tension is masterfully built and the plot is twisty so it’s a page-turner. My rating is how those pluses and minuses kind of averaged out.

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Landslide ~ by Michael Wolff

This book is so funny.  And it’s marginally informative, too, but I don’t think that’s the point.  That’s not really why I read it anyway.  And it’s funny only until you think about it.  

Landslide: The Final Days of the Trump Presidency  
by Michael Wolff 
Read by Holter Graham 11h 11m
Rating – 8 / current eve
nts – 

It’s all true (or as true as most of these books are),  but the way Michael Wolff writes it, and Graham Holter accentuates the funny parts increases that aspect.  Remember, or imagine again, the sight of Rudy Giuliani with hair dye running down his cheek – that would have been funny at the time if it hadn’t been so pathetic and we didn’t know how it would end. Trump  was (and still is) believing that the election had been stolen via a variety of possibilities and his teams were conducting investigations of investigations plus lawsuits.Those elements plus the clown-train/train wreck appeal of Rudy Guiliani and the mental machinations of Sydney Powell (one of Trump’s “independent” lawyers) make for near slap-stick – until it doesn’t.  

So the thing is to just laugh along with the joke and don’t think, because if you take think about it, this shit-show could be seriously scary. I mean this is the man who supposedly holds the keys to the nukes and he’s got a lot of his own guys placed in high positions ready to follow orders – groveling to be able to follow orders.

Thankfully the immediacy has passed and we’re only left to grieve the thousands dead from the   Coronavirus which Trump tried to ignore and dealt with via pure incompetance thinking only of the politics.

The scary part now is how powerful will Trump continue to be in Republican politics and how long will this new wave of Coronavirus last – how many more will die.  

But overall it was a relief to laugh about the bumblings of Trump and his Three Stooges administration though. It was sad/scary to realize the man hasn’t changed a whit – he might have, as he said recently, “gotten worse.”   And now we don’t know how it ends. 
 

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Children of Ash and Elm ~ By Neil Price

Amazing book by Neil Price who tries to write a history of the Vikings more from their point of view than has been done before.  He tells about who they were and how we know this, or intelligently figure it. He is an archeologist by profession but knows his history, too. 

Children of Ash and Elm:
A History of the Vikings
By Neil Price
2020 / 573 pages   
Read by: Samuel Roukin 17h 25m 
Rating: 9.75 / European history
(Read and listened)
 

Oh my what a good book! Neil Price writes us a history of the Vikings more from their point of view than has been done before (other than their own sagas, of course). It a long book, but it’s both very readable and packed with information at the same time.

 I was attracted to it back in November or December – the title sounded like a Christmas book and the Audible cover is red and green with a large triangle shape on it so, what else could it be? (The large triangle is the shape of a Viking ship.) The cover art is gorgeous and makes me wish I still read hard covers because that could sit around my house for weeks and I’d never tire of seeing it.  

 
Anyway, I didn’t buy it and the book stayed on my Wish List at Audible waiting. So I kept it on my wish list.  And then … ta-da … a month or so ago it popped up on sale! Omg – yes.  And even knowing it was not a Christmas book,  I bought it – I could still save it back in my library. But I got impatient so when I had time to read it I just opened it up.  

Oh and it was so good to start out –  I just had to get the Kindle version to read along.  This is in case I think I missed something or didn’t quite comprehend and wanted to read it again, or it’s in case I need to see a name spelled out, or if there are pictures or maps or source information.  Sigh – I’m bad. 

The material is covered pretty much chronologically with the associated social parts interwoven. The ‘Rus (as they were sometimes known)  finally do get to Constantinople via the rivers of Russia. They also get to Greenland and Vinland (North America) and many other places – Paris, London, maybe a couple sites in North Africa. They conquered other places and occasionally settled down there to be citizens and get converted.   They are everything you’ve ever heard and more (or less).  Price covers domestic issues,  death, sex issues, right along with foreign trade and battles.  

I think my only complaint is that the reader went a bit too fast for the material. That speed is fine on a run-of-the-mill crime novel, but Children of Ash and Elm is history and dense with names and places and dates and events.  So I would listen then read the same pages over again – I did that quite a lot.

These are links to some of the incredible reviews I found – they didn’t convince me to read it – I wanted to see what others thought – I love it when we agree. 🙂


https://slate.com/culture/2020/09/vikings-neil-price-children-ash-elm.html

https://www.medieval.eu/review-children-of-ash-and-elm-a-history-of-the-vikings/

https://blogs.sciencemag.org/books/2020/08/27/children-of-ash-and-elm/

https://bookmarks.reviews/reviews/all/children-of-ash-and-elm-a-history-of-the-vikings/

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Vanished ~ by Victor Methos

I’ve been reading legal thrillers by Methos for a couple years. That’s what he writes! Up to now. Now he’s got a new game and it’s a procedural thriller. Vanished is the first in a trilogy featuring the detective partners Kyle Dixon and his new partner, newly relocated from LA, Ethan Bodin . They work out of Cheyenne, Wyoming, they’re both white and about the same age but where Bodin’s wife is not in the picture and he has an adolescent daughter, Dixon’s wife is having issues of her own. They have a baby son.  

Vanished
by Victor Methos
2021
Read by Patrick Zeller 6h 46m
Rating – B+ / crime 

Bodin comes off as a “good guy” fresh, very smart and apparently gung-ho from LA.  Dixon is cynical and somewhat hardened Cheyenne-savvy cop. His last partner was killed not too long prior.  Still – although there are plenty of differences I had a hard time remembering which name was new in town.  If I got that far I remembered the rest. 

One day they get an anonymous tip and go checking a remote setting in the mountains.  There they find the corpse of a woman who was left hanging from a tree like she’d been crucified. Her breasts and insides were cut out/off.  They look into it but later the chief calls them in.  He wants the case buried because of an upcoming election.  The thing is that the perpetrator might be a serial killer.   

There are other threads going on and a few of them build quite a lot of tension.  There was too much time spent on developing the non-cop relationships but that kind of cleared up by the end. In fact, the whole book got better after 2/3rds.  

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The Silence of the Grave ~ by Arnaldur Indriðason.

It felt like I needed a break from the violence but I sure didn’t get it with this book.  I guess I knew I wouldn’t this being a Scandi-noir but it doesn’t require a lot of analytic thinking so … 

The Silence of the Grave 
by Arnaldur  Indriðason. 
2005 into English by Bernard Scudder
Read by George Guidall 8h 20m
Rating: A- 
#2 in Reykjav
ik Murder Mysteries, 

Detective Erlendur Sveinsson, the protagonist for the eponymous series, is called to a construction site in Reykjavik where human bones have been just been discovered at a birthday party held in a home nearby. The bones are 70 years old but the effects are present day. Meanwhile, Erlender’s daughter is having a lot of problems.  

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At Night All Blood Is Black ~ by David Diop 

In WWI there was a troop of Senegalese riflemen who fought alongside their French colonizers in their war against Germany. These troops were called the Chocolats.   Our 1st person narrator, the 20-year old Alfa Ndiaye, joined up with them as did his best friend, Mademba Diop. But Mademba is badly wounded early on. Mademba begs Alfa to slit his throat and put him out of his misery, but Alfa can’t do it. He loves Mademba. And this is the story of how he deals with all that.

At Night All Blood Is Black
By David Diop (France) 
Translator Anna Moschovakis
Read by Dion Graham
Rating:  9 / literary-histori
cal

That death affects Alfa deeply. He carries the body back to his unit but has thoughts he would never have had prior. He thinks about the earth’s womb and knows others can know nothing about his thoughts. So he thinks them . The others honor him for bringing Mademba’s body back, but he knows he shouldn’t be honored because he couldn’t put Mademba out of his misery which might have been the more honorable deed. The knowledge that he has caused unimaginable suffering for his friend sets him free to think and do what he will. He is free not to be human when “the voices” say he must. He is now savage

Later, in another battle, a “blue-eyed” enemy is mortally wounded and Alfa can finish the job by actually taking his life and in so doing he honors the man’s dignity and humanity. He then takes the man’s hand which becomes the first of a collection of similar souvenirs. So Alfa collects and hides hands while going mad.  

Outwardly he is the same as ever. Inside he thinks his fellow soldiers are idiotic.  And no one knows what he thinks and he knows that.  The difference is that Alfa became savage for reals. When he goes out to battle Alfa brings back trophies, rifles and the hands of the enemy.  His fellow soldiers wonder about the rest of the bodies. But Alfa is free to be an authentic savage – not just to scare the enemy.  

The writing is so powerful and meaningful that it enabled me to get past the horrendous violence and terror.  

Diop is can be very repetitive using the phrases “God’s truth” a LOT and “I swear to you,” as well as “I knew, I understood.”   There is definite reason behind the repetition – some languages do that with certain words like many Spanish speakers use the word “verdad” (truth) frequently.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Senegalese_Tirailleurs

Words Without Borders:    https://www.wordswithoutborders.org/book-review/bereaved-soldier-looks-for-revenge-david-diop-at-night-all-blood-is-black

Foreign Policy: https://foreignpolicy.com/2020/11/21/trenches-colonizer-world-war-i-france-senegal-review-david-diop-night-all-blood-is-black/

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Nightmare Scenario ~ by Yasmeen Abutaleb

I got tired of politic books after Trump’s first impeachment trial and although I watched and read the news as carefully as usual, I had no desire to go more deeply into anything.  In January of 2021 I read Ten Lessons for a Post-Pandemic World by Fareed Zakaria but that wasn’t really a “political” book.  

Nightmare Scenario: Inside the Trump Administration’s Response to the Pandemic that Changed History”
by Yasmeen Abutaleb and Damian Paletta
Read by
Kirsten Potter
Rating: 8 / current events


Before that I read “The Great Influenza” by John M. Barry in November, 2020 because I was interested in that prior pandemic in relation to what we were enuring in 2020. But that was about 1918 and published in 2004, so that was history.  The last “current events/politics” type book I read was in August of 2019 when I read  Impeachment: A Citizen’s Guide by Cass R. Sunstein.  I think I simply burned out on them.  

But this new release caught my eye.  I saw the author on a news show and the anchors talked the book up a bit, so I checked and yup available via Audible and the narrator sounded fine.  

The last 18 months have been so stressful in the US (or the world?)  Reading the book was mostly a review of some of what I (we) have lived over the last 18 or so months. There was new information, of course, and behind-the-scenes perspectives which were eye-opening to an extent. Getting the story in one volume of back-to-back incidents is amazing because sooo much happened in such a short time.  Decades of history happened in months of life.
 
The book focuses on Trump’s responses with the subtitle of “The Trump Administration’s Response” and that subject is covered in breadth and width – medium depth.  

I got some answers about the inflammatory and multi-faceted medical mask issue and the consequences of that dispute.  Then there was the testing problem and developing a reliable test to get out there as well as just getting it out there. Getting people to use or take it was another problem. There were important protests during this time which were mostly peaceful, but violence did occur – including incited by Trump. (Getting people together to solve problems is just NOT what Trump does.)

This is a mostly chronological telling so it’s easy to follow, but it’s a complex tale with many facets with no one in charge.  The authors’ idea is that Trump didn’t want to take responsibility and from what I’ve read and seen that sounds just about right.  Instead he made more messes with his tweets.  
I got more insight into Trump’s whole manner of governance and management. which is basically pretty shallow and combative and I’ve read quite a lot about it. 

Deborah Birx and Anthony Fauci come off as being close to heroic although there is some tarnish. And there are many other players. But there’s no question who the main problem is/was.

And Trump wanted it all fixed (NOW!) so that he looked like a hero and nothing looked bad on him for the upcoming election. That was apparently his only interest.

 Abutaleb goes into a bit too much background on some of the major players (Fauci, Birx) At close to 500 pages, the book was unnecessarily long.

Such a major mess the US had on its hands.  A disaster really but “The Fifth Risk” by Michael Lewis showed how something like this was just waiting to happen from the time Trump was elected.

Many of these people/characters were playing power games but there were others trying to do their level best to protect the US. Those in the administration were primarily looking out for their own careers or financial interests while those in the Civil Service were simply trying to do the jobs they signed on for. The biggest trouble is that no one, power player or lowly lab tech or highest level diplomat, really knew what was going on or how to fix it so everyone just argued

Most recently I’ve been struck by Trump’s apparent penchant for violence – from the time of his early rallies where he promised to pay the legal costs of his supporters, should they need it, to the January 6 Insurrection. He not only plays “divide and conquer” games to manage his affairs and campaigns, he directly incites violence. It’s how he stays “in control.” And if he’s not in control then no one is. (This is both scary and sickening.)

I think this book may have had a more profound impact on me than I first thought. Perhaps the impact was from my pondering and putting it together with prior knowledge from outside the scope of the book.

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The Man Who Died ~ by Antti Tuomainen

This is another book I got at the last Audible sale. I’d had this on my Wish List for several months already, but just hadn’t done anything about it and then it pops up on the sale.  I probably had it on the Wish List because it’s a Finnish author and I have a soft spot for them.  

The Man Who Died 
by Antti Tuomainen
Translated from Finnish by David Hackston
2020
Read by Kris Dyer 9h 17m
Rating:  8/A-:  comic literary crime  

Shortlisted for the Petrona Award for Best Scandinavian Crime Novel of the Year***

***Shortlisted for the CrimeFest Last Laugh Award***

 One fine day the married but childless Jaako Kaunismaa, age 37, is told by his doctor that he is being poisoned to death and has only a few days or weeks, or who knows how long, to live. It’s too late. Jaako owns a successful mushroom company in Hamina, Finland, where he and his employees harvest and pack the the edible Matsutake mushrooms and then sell them to Japanese buyers. 

Needless to say, Jaako’s first concern is to find out who is murdering him. 
 After the doctor gives him this dreadful news, Jaako goes home to see and tell his wife Dinah where he finds her on the patio with Petri, the company van driver.  Dinah is naked, bouncing naked on Petri’s young firm body. These are two prime suspects, but Jaako manages to say nothing; he sneaks back out. 
Later that day Jaako finds out that there’s a new mushroom company in town and they’re bent on driving Jaako out of business.  One trusted employee tells him she’s been offered double the salary and that night Dinah tells him Petri needs a new van.  Jaako starts investigating and it gets even more complicated when an employee of the other company falls on a Samari sword. 

I have to just say that this is darkly hilarious – noir Finlander.  
This is an amazing book – it’s dark and funny and very different from any crime novel I’ve read prior.  Themes?  Oh – poisoning, adultery, 
An odd thing is that I have relatives named Reimo and Jaako and I think others so that was weird.
 https://www.fantasticfiction.com/t/antti-tuomainen/man-who-died.htm

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