The Red House by A.A. Milne

51aib188f4L._SL500_.jpgThe Red House
by A.A. Milne

1922 –
Read by William Sutherland – 6h 11m 
rating B+ / crime – puzzler
(both read and listened) 

It’s very different to read a crime novel written in 1922 but  I enjoyed it.  The main thrust is that of a puzzler so the characters and setting are not developed terribly well because all focus is on the who, what and how of the puzzle – not the why and there are very few suspects.  The “detective” Is an amateur with his helper – specifically likened to Sherlock Holmes. – It takes place in an old rather nice hotel/apartment building outside of London.
It’s very different to read a crime novel written in 1922 but I enjoyed it.  The main thrust is that of a puzzler so the characters and setting are not developed terribly well because all focus is on the who, what and how of the puzzle – not the why and there are very few suspects.  The “detective” Is an amateur with his helper – specifically likened to Sherlock Holmes. – It takes place in an old rather nice hotel/apartment building outside of London.

*******

“Like all really nice people, you have a weakness for detective stories…. After all that you have done for me, the least that I can do is write one.” So wrote A. A. Milne, beloved creator of Winnie the Pooh, to his father, to whom he dedicated this delectable mystery.

Mark Ablett’s stately mansion, the Red House, is filled with very proper guests when his most improper brother returns from Australia. The prodigal brother enters Mark’s study, the parlor maid hears arguing and the brother dies…rather suddenly, with a bullet between the eyes. The study is locked from the inside and Mark is missing!

Investigating the crime is wealthy Antony Gillingham, who rivals Sherlock Holmes in his remarkable powers of observation. He is aided by the perfect Watson, his friend Bill Beverley, a cheerful young man in white flannels. Echoes of Christopher Robin and his friends chime nostalgically throughout this charming classic of detection!

Public Domain (P)1999 Blackstone Audiobooks

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Double Indemnity ~ by James M. Cain

Interesting book which, although I’d certainly heard of many times, I’d managed to miss reading or seeing the movie (I don’t often go to movies).

*******
Double Indemnity
by James M. Cain
1946 / 224 pages 
read by James Naughton. 3h 16m
rating:  A+ / crime  – noir
*******

First published in 1943 it’s definitely noir of the Los Angeles variety.  Not as good as Raymond Chandler and I won’t compare to other LA detective novels – of which there are many and I’ve not read more than a good sampling.  I also think it’s better than other 1940s detective fiction set elsewhere – but again,  except for Chandler (my fave).  

So it’s hard-boiled in its own way, fast-paced with minimal, no-nonsense dialogue (“Just the facts, Ma’am.”) which seems somewhat racist in places (but wasn’t for that era).  There’s a tough guy attitude about the first person protagonist, Walter Huff, who is an insurance agent and actually that’s the case with all the characters except the young adult daughter of a major player.  The other fascinating character is the insurance-buying wife of the murder victim.   

There’s a twisted plot for a 129-page novel (novella), but it was originally a short story (1936?).  It’s been made into several movies and is still not a regular “sale” item on Amazon or Audible.    

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The Boy from the Woods ~ by Harlan Coban

I’ve read a number of Harlan Coban’s  books and I’ve come to expect a good high-suspense thriller. This one is almost up to his best,  but not quite.  I’ve read better from him.  

One difference, thank goodness, is that Scott Brick is NOT reading it. He’s read a number of Coban’s books and although I’m a fan, after awhile his intensity gets too 51Hja34aUnL.jpgmuch. 

 

*******
The Boy from the Woods
by Harlan Coban
2020 – 305 pages

read by Steven Weber 10h 8m
rating: B+ / crime
*******

Anyway,  in this book a high school girl disappears and the protagonist, Wilde, takes on the job of finding her.  Wilde is an interesting character.  Abandoned at a very young age,  he lived in the wilds of New Jersey, feral, until he was caught and adopted.  That’s very mysterious in itself but it’s only used as a piece of background in this novel. 

The actual plot here is that Naomi is missing from her single parent home and high school where she is generally bullied and has a very difficult life.  Another teen  is concerned and leads Wilde to the case and then gets involved in some rich bully’s  hi-jinks.  Then the rich kid goes missing.  And his parents have a background which leads to …. Well … .it’s a curious twist.  And the ending leads me to believe there could be a follow-up,  even a series.  (yay!)

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Educated by Tara Westover x2

Omg I got so much more out of the book this time,.  I think the first time I read it at plot. level only – getting only a fraction of what’s really there in terms of self-discovery and self-creation.

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*******
Educated:  A Memoir
by Tara Westover
2018 / 335 pages
read by Julie Whelan 12h 10m
rating – 10 / memoir
(both read and listened)
*******

This book is not about Mormonism because Westover’s family is not at all  representative of general Mormonism.  It’s also not representative of home schooling. There are plenty of people, parents and children,  who work with home schooling wonderfully well.

This book is about forms of family abuse,  child, sibling and spousal abuse, and how it, along with conspiracy theorist ideas and extreme religion,  traps its victims.  But that’s nowhere near all –  it’s about how one brave woman managed to get out and build a new life (that’s the good part).

I don’t give 10s to books on first reading but both reading and listening to it twice and being struck by its brilliance,  I have to.

 

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Mr Putin: ~ by Fiona Hill and Clifford Gaddy

Very interesting book, it turned up on the Brookings Institution list of recommended books and I’d been reading aaalready because a friend recommended it,. 

Putin is such a mysterious guy but Hill shows the logic and background of his ways and ideas and methods. He’s complex and has many dimensions, several more apparent than others. 

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*****
Mr Putin: Operative in the Kremlin

by Fiona Hill and Clifford Gaddy – 2020
read by Ellen Archer – 17h 38m
rating:  9 / political biography
(both read and listen)
*****

The book is not written in chronological order but rather it’s developed by themes corresponding to aspects of Putin and then in Part II shows how those aspects influenced his methods decision making. In general it covers the period from the fall of the Soviet Empire  through the Sochi Olympics and then almost to today’s issues in the political realm. 

 Coming from a lower middle class family in which he was the only surviving child, he moved through school and the KGB to the top of Russian state using all he learned in each station to move him forward in the next. 

Scattered throughout, a lot of attention is given to Putin’s Millennium Message because it seems to lay out his basic ideology if he has one, or at least his thinking on many issues.  He’s never really strayed from the points and ideas he made there. 

This is a really good book if you’re interested.

 

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Victim 2117 ~ by Jussi Adler-Olsen

I’ve read all eight of Jussi Adler-Olsen’s Department Q novels in order since they came out. The characters have been amazing and quirky, from The Keeper of Lost Causes to Victim 2117.    In this novel the focus is on Assad, a detective in Dept Q, and his background which involves war and spying and family.

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*******
Victim 2117
Jussi Adler -Olsen
translated by William Frost – 2020 
read by Graham Malcolm  –  14h 15m
rating B+ / crime – procedural series  
*******

It’s very intense and sometimes sad. It seems a bit different from the other Dept Q novels.

 

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Elevator Pitch by Linwood Barclay

I’ve read Linwood Barclay before and he’s okay –  a bit fanciful perhaps but sometimes humorous.    In this one the elevators in the skyscrapers of New York City seem to run amok crashing unexpectedly with people on board.  The mayor and his  office is completely upended by this as well as a 51kZat5mSmL-1._SL500_.jpgreporter and a couple detectives.  The only possible answer might be terrorism.

*******
Elevator Pitch by Linwood Barclay
2019/
read by Jonathan McClain 12h 52m
rating – B /  crime 
*******

We also visit some characters who seem to be in on the scheme.  There were times it felt like slapstick and other times it was tense as a straight thriller.  Then it got complicated.  I was kind of bored at first but it picked up and I was riveted for awhile.  Then it turned a bit silly (imo) but overall I’m glad I read it.

 

 

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Caffeine~ by Michael Pollen

This is mainly an entertaining and informational listen. (I’m not sure it’s a whole book.)  It was free with my Audible membership. I’ve read two or three books by Michael Pollan and enjoyed them quite a lot – especially The Omnivore’s Dilemma (2006).  I know he’s got a lot of critics and I tend to side with them (GMOs and LSD etc).  There shouldn’t be much trouble with Caffeine.  Pollan drinks it in various forms (probably not sodas though).
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*******
Caffeine: How caffeine created the modern world 
by: Michael Pollan (1/20) 
read by author 2 h 2m
rating:  B / social sciences
*******

In order to do a worthy job on the book, he had to stop drinking any kind of caffeine for three months. Not an easy task.

It’s part history and part science with some social science thrown in.  He mentions Tom Standage’s A History of the World in 6 Glasses  (link to my review) which I read several years ago and found to be quite fun.

A chunk of the book revolves around Pollan’s own withdrawal from caffeine.  “What musical masterpiece was ever written under the influence of chamomile?”  And while abstinent, he misses the cultural associations in his daily life.  Then like with any drug, there is the  awareness of how caffeine comes to control the life of an addict,  For instance, when out of town, you scope out where you’ll get your morning fix before you go to bed.

Pollan enumerates the benefits and drawbacks of caffeine along with a few of the difficulties of research.  It does improve mental faculties like focus and linear thinking to a certain extent.  It lightens the mood, too.  But it might not do so well with improving creativity – not known.

He goes on with the less attractive aspects, like sleeplessness which is bad and itself produces more negative effects.

There’s lots more along those lines, plus the origins of Peet’s, a Berkeley original.  Pollan, also from Berkeley,  is a great narrator.  So if you have Audible it’s definitely worth the price and time, so I  say go for it. There are reviews around but  I don’t know if the book is available anywhere else.

NPR: https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2020/02/10/803394030/michael-pollan-explains-caffeine-cravings-and-why-you-dont-have-to-quit

Pollen:  https://michaelpollan.com/books/caffeine-how-coffee-and-tea-created-the-modern-world/

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Acts of Omission ~ by James S. Bostick

This started slow but at about 1/3 through it  picked up.   It’s different to read a crime novel with no murder victim in it and only one “thriller” type episode.  

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*******
Acts of Omission
by James S. Bostick
2019 /
read by Roger Wayne 14h 29m
rating A-  / legal crime
*******

The main crime is medical negligence and liability along with some  Insurance fraud, by the insurance company, but the twist is that the victim’s prior lawyer is very powerful and guilty of malpractice.   The book is interesting and,  no spoiler, the bad guy, an attorney,  is really bad.  This legal novel is truly full of legal matters.   

 On the down side the characters are a bit flat and the plot is somewhat predictable at times.  And the book is long but on the up side the tension is masterfully built so the longness isn’t usually a problem although during the final court sessions um ….   

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Yellow Bird ~ by Sierra Crane Murdoch

This is an important book and it’s very well written,  but the author should not have read it in her whispery, breathy soft voice.  This is true crime!  It’s not “no matter how bad they were, remember when your kids were young.”   Mama/author loves her characters.   (Keep reading below)

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*******
Yellow Bird: Oil, Murder, and aa Woman’s Search for Justice in Indian Country
by Sierra Crane Murdoch
2020 / 381 pages
read by author – 14h 56m
rating – Kindle 8.5 Audible – 3 (due to narrator) /True Crime 
(both read and listened) 
*******

The book is important because what is happening on some Indian Reservations is abominable and the US government is either in collusion or ignoring it.  In some ways history is happening all over again – but instead of gold being found on Indian land,  this time it’s oil – again.  And as usual when there’s a lot of money around there’s corruption to the point of murder.  This time the place is western North Dakota on the Fort Berthold Reservation where fracking is legal.

How do dirt poor people who have been victimized for generations divide up millions of dollars when it suddenly crosses their paths?   Not very well in this case..

 Prologue

Fort Berthold Indian Reservation, North Dakota

A MAN ONCE TOLD ME a story of how he dug up the bones of his relatives and held them in his hands. He is an old man now; then, he was young. He said he took the job because there were no others on the reservation and because the work was easier if a man did not think too hard about whose bones he was handling.

It’s the story of a crime (many crimes really) at or near or involving the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation in western North Dakota near the Bakken Oil fields.  As the state acquired the rights to drill and frack outsiders moved in and brought crime in various forms from white collar theft to drugs and violence.

Yellow Bird is the name of one family in the community and the author’s connection is revealed in the book – it’s not family, Murdoch is white..  She meets Lissa Yellow Bird and investigates the story mostly from Lissaa’s point of view but on her own a fair bit, too.

I kept listening because the story itself is compelling but at about 1/2 way I finally caved and bought the Kindle version and was quite happy with it.

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A Very Stable Genius ~ by Philip Rucker and Carol Leonnig

A Very Stable Genius
by Philip Rucker and Carol Leonnig
2020 / 466 pgs
read by Hilary Huber and authors – 17h 22m
rating – 9.5 / current events
(both read and listened)

I hesitated for several weeks before buying this book/recording.  After the hearings I thought I’d had enough of #45 for awhile and I thought the reviews of this one left something to be desired. But it stayed on my Wish List and after awhile I reread the reviews and re-listened to the sample and thought some more.  Okay -fine – I caved. I’m glad I did.

What did I find?  It’s much better than I was afraid of . Yes, it is a rehash of a lot of information  found elsewhere but it’s all in one place and arranged as chronologically as reasonably possible without becoming choppy or difficult to follow.  There are a few things which seem to get lost in the shuffle but it’s minor.  

The time frame is from Trump;s election to the release of the Mueller report.  

I am so glad I read this.  Now that the impeachment and trial by Senate are over all the problems Trump has created seem like so much water washed under the bridge.  

It criticizes Mueller too,  only a few people escape criticism.  

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Furious Hours ~ by Casey Cep

Furious Hours:

Murder, Fraud and the Last Trial of Harper Lee
2020/ 315 pages
rating: 8 / true crime
(Both read and listened)

Interesting book. There are two main sections involved in this book. One is Harper Lee’s life while the other is the story of Reverent Willie Maxwell.  I’ve read both To Kill a Mockingbird which is not my favorite book but really quite good, and Go Set a Watchman which is curious.  

I knew quite a lot of the Harper Lee story but nowhere near all the information and detail Cep provided. I knew nothing about the Maxwell murders – Lee’s new book topic.  

Harper Lee was a talented writer but she really only published one story – To Kill a Mockingbird – and that was with a lot of help from her publisher. She very badly wanted a second book and although there was Go Set a Watchman, that’s the original story which was developed into Mockingbird.  As it turned out Watchman was a sequel to Mockingbird but written prior.  They were published over 50 years apart.  

Personally I think the reason Harper Lee was unable to complete a second book was because she had had so much help with Mockingbird it changed the whole book and became something other, more maybe.  She knew that and it left a somewhat sour taste with her about Mockingbird while motivating her to write a second book.  But on her own she was too much of a perfectionist.  

She was an enormous help to Truman Capote in researching and organizing In Cold Blood but “The Reverent,” as it would come to be called, was more complex and she wanted to write nonfiction this time – but what we call “creative” nonfiction, like Capote’s nonfiction novel. But for Lee, every word had to be accurate. 

The racial politics is complex, too, partly because of the stories themselves, partly because of the times and partly because of the author’s views..  I get the feeling that Harper Lee was a progressive libertarian.  She deeply believed in racial equality but for her, government intervention was anathema. She and her father, Amasa Lee (Atticus Finch of both Mockingbird and Watchman) were a lot alike.  She and Tom Radney, the main attorney for Maxwell and his killer, thought a lot alike.   

 Ah well – the book is quite good, revealing, and a pleasure if you’re interested in True Crime (it’s been around for millennia) or Harper Lee or just this Alabama case.. 

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