Saturday, September 27, 2014

Dangerous Talents - Frankie Robertson

    2012; 394 pages.  New Author? : Yes.  Book #1 (out of 3, plus a short story) of the Vinlanders’ Saga Series.  Genre : A bunch of them; see below.  Overall Rating : 7½*/10.

    While examining some fascinating old petroglyphs in the desert east of Tucson, Celia “Cele” Montrose suffers quite a fall.  Oh, she’s unhurt, other than a few scrapes and scratches.  But she has fallen through a portal into a parallel world.

    The bad news is it’s still the desert, and if she doesn’t find water soon, Cele will die.  The good news is there are some men close by, and they surely have water.

    The weird news is they appear to be Vikings.  What are Vikings doing in a desert?

What’s To Like...
    Dangerous Talents is an ambitious blend of at least five genres, listed here in descending order of prominence : Action-Adventure (swords, bows and arrows); Romance (babe meets hunk); Fantasy (spells, artifacts, and the titular ‘Talents’); Historical Fiction (Vikings and Indians); and Alternate History (magic portal).  There are some additional items in each genre, which are omitted because this is a spoiler-free blog.

    The pacing was nice; I didn’t really hit any slow spots.  There was enough action to satisfy the male readers, and enough Romance to satisfy the females.  I liked the way the language barrier was handled; and if you enjoy Norse mythology (I do), then you’re in for a treat.  I thought the concept of the “Talents” was quite innovative.

    The main plotline was well-conceived, although not particularly "twisty".  Just about anybody except Celia can spot the main baddie when he/she first appears.  The ending comes in two stages – first the Adventure’s resolution (around 90%); then the Romance’s (98%).  The latter closes neatly, but the former has a deus ex machina feel to it.  That, however, is dependent on what direction Frankie Robertson takes this series.

    There are some R-rated portions in the book.  “Baldur’s Balls” is a common expletive here (albeit one I find colorful and droll); and things like morning wood and cockstands arise on a recurring basis.  The sex is explicit.  You probably don’t want Little Susie reading this.

Kewlest New Word...
Bota Bag (n.)  :  A traditional Spanish liquid receptacle, made of leather, and usually used to carry wine;  a wineskin.
Others : Byrnie (n.); Grue (n.)

    “Dawn will be a long time coming,” he said.  “Sing to me.”
    Sing?  She’d never sung without music to guide her and drown her mistakes.  Her experience consisted of singing along with the radio, and in church as a child.  “I’m not very musical.”
    “I’m not very critical.”  (loc. 1233)

    “The priests know many things, my lord, but they cling to Tradition like some women cling to husbands who beat and bloody them, afraid to free themselves.  The priests are afraid to choose their own way, so they let Tradition do it for them.  It keeps them ignorant and they call it virtue, and they try to keep others ignorant as well.  It’s time to move forward.”  (loc. 5714)

Kindle Details...
    Dangerous Talents sells for $2.99 at Amazon.  Book 2, Forbidden Talents, goes for $4.99; and Book 3, Debts, sells for $2.99.  Frankie Robertson has several other novels available for $3.99; and two short stories for $0.99 apiece.

I have more important things to think about than Viking lust.  Or lust for Vikings.  (loc. 3196)
    It is somewhat dicey to critique the Romance portions of Dangerous Talents, since that is not a genre I read.  Let’s be clear, I knew this book was as much a Romance as an Action-Adventure when I downloaded it; the Amazon blurb makes this obvious.  Nevertheless, for the male readers who picked this up for any or all of the other genres…

    Celia does a lot of repetitive musing in the book.  Does he love me, does he not?  Do I love him, do I not?  Should I go home, should I stay?  We’re also treated to endless misunderstandings between our lovebirds.  Why is he so untrusting?  What is she mad about now?

    You can call this filler if you want, and I won’t disagree.  But it is also the standard fare of Romantic Lit.  See for example, Jane Auel’s The Mammoth Hunters, where the reader has to endure 750 pages of this kind of endless dreck.  Or any Lisa Jackson novel.  They are two highly respected authors in this genre.

    So ANAICT, the romance in Dangerous Talents is done pretty well, but I'm no expert.  If you want to appeal to a higher authority, I can have my wife read it.  Romance novels are her bread and butter.

    7½ StarsDangerous Talents kept me interested in what would happen next the whole way through, and that’s all you can ask from a fiction novel.  Add 1 star if you like Romance mixed in with other genres. 

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The Handmaid's Tale - Margaret Atwood

   1985; 311 pages.  New Author? : Yes.  Genre : Contemporary Literature; High-Brow; Dystopian Fiction.  Laurels : 1985 Governor General’s Award (won); 1987 Arthur C. Clarke Award (won); 1986 Nebula Award (nominated); 1986 Booker Prize (nominated); 1987 Prometheus Award (nominated).  Overall Rating : 9*/10.

    Set in the future – roughly one generation – the United States has suffered the unthinkable – a military coup.  The constitution has been suspended indefinitely; no dissent is tolerated.  New laws have been enacted, based on religious principles.  America has been renamed the Republic of Gilead, and is now a Puritan-style theocracy.

    Coincidentally, the majority of the North American Caucasian men and women are sterile, most likely due to chemicals seeping into the food chain and drinking water.  The survival; of the race is threatened.  What can be done?

    Well, there is Biblical (Old Testament) precedent.  If the wife is unable to conceive, the husband is permitted to procreate with a suitable servant.  Which Jacob did with Bilhah, who was his wife Rachel’s handmaid.

What’s To Like...
    The Handmaid’s Tale is told in the first-person by Offred (“Of Fred”), who has been tested, found to be potentially fertilizable, and given to a Commander ("Fred") for baby-making purposes.  Having been married “before” to a divorced man, she is ineligible for matrimony, as her erstwhile husband is now considered to be still wedded to his first wife.  Their daughter has been taken from them, and Offred has been designated a Handmaid.  The alternatives are much worse, and there is some small consolation in the fact that a handmaid is a valuable commodity.

    Margaret Atwood draws upon restrictive rules from various religions to create a frightening world.  There are Paulist tenets forbidding women to speak and to be in all subjection; there's the  Hindu practice of arranged and child marriages; and the Muslim taboo on alcohol and tobacco.  Commoners are forbidden to read the Bible, and if you get caught trespassing Old Testament laws, you will end swinging from the Hanging Wall.

    Nuns, Quakers, and Baptists are wanted criminals.  But the new society is also decidedly anti-intellectual.  Universities are closed, and professors executed unless they reform.  Abortion doctors are summarily executed; there's no reform option for them.

    Atwood fleshes out this dystopian world with some fascinating theocratic details.  You can go with Offred to buy “Soul Scrolls”, see the corpses dangling from the Hanging Wall, testify at a “Prayvaganza”, and attend a very special “Salvaging”.  You’ll meet “Aunts”, “Marthas”, “Eyes”, “Guardians of the Faith”, Commanders, Wives, and of course, other Handmaids.

    As with any Dystopia, life is not as idyllic as those in power would lead the people to believe.  Societal restrictions make life miserable for all women, no matter where they are in the social caste structure.  But it’s very tough on the men as well; they can be executed for adultery or any other transgression just as easily as women can.

    OTOH if you are far enough up the Power Ladder, there are ways to skirt the rules.  Hypocrisy thrives, if only for the select few.  Yet there are ways for the powerless to resist.  Just don’t get caught.

    The tension builds to a satisfying ending, despite it being somewhat of a cliffhanger.  Be sure to read the last dozen or so pages of the book called the Historical Notes,  It looks like a boring appendix, but it's actually part of the story, and will answer some (but not all) of the cliffhanger questions.

    A chair, a table, a lamp.  Above, on the white ceiling, a relief ornament in the shape of a wreath, and in the center of it a blank space, plastered over, like the place in a face where the eye has been taken out.  There must have been a chandelier, once.  They’ve removed anything you could tie a rope to.  (pg. 7)

    A thing is valued, she says, only if it is rare and hard to get.  We want you to be valued, girls.  She is rich in pauses, which she savors in her mouth.  Think of yourselves as pearls.  We, sitting in our rows, eyes down, we make her salivate morally.  We are hers to define, we must suffer her adjectives.
    I think about pearls.  Pearls are congealed oyster spit.    (pg. 114)

 “Nolite te bastardes carborundorum.”  (pg. 90.  The translation of this is given in the comments.)
    The writing is both elegant and powerful.  The pacing is good, but not perfect.  The first 90 pages or so set a terrifying scenario, but don’t move the plotline along at all.  And the segue from Offred’s present-day thoughts to one of her many flashbacks is at times annoyingly subtle.

    Still, The Handmaid’s Tale is a riveting look at the brutality of a theocracy.  And 30 years after its writing, it is still timely, what with Muslim and Christian Extremists flexing their Fundamentalist zealotry, both claiming to be doing the will of God.

    Small wonder then, that TH’sT clocks in at #88 on the Top 100 Most Frequently challenged books (the complete list is here).  And since this week has been designated National Banned Books Week for 2014, this seemed an appropriate read.

    9 Stars.  Highly topical and highly recommended.  In its own way, this book will scare you far worse than a Stephen King thriller.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Raising Steam - Terry Pratchett

    2014; 381 pages.  New Author? : No.  Book #40 of the Discworld Series.  Genre : Comedic Fantasy.  Overall Rating : 7*/10.

    Change is coming to Discworld.  Dick Simnel has the idea, a working model of something he calls a steam-powered locomotive.  Sir Harry King has the money, and the business acumen to know how to take Dick’s invention and turn it into a profitable enterprise.  Moist von Lipwig has the persuasiveness, and he’ll use it to convince all sorts of people that living near a railroad is a desirable thing.

    Of course, no plan moves in Ankh-Morpork without the blessing of Lord Vetinari.  And although he travels around Discworld in a carriage, the potholes in the streets (especially those of Ankh-Morpork itself) makes him yearn for a comfortable seat in a plush railcar.

    But not everybody is keen on change.  Lately, someone’s been sabotaging the clacks towers, because that was something new.  It is prudent to assume said perpetrators will also try to derail (pun intended) the plans for a network of trains.  Perhaps Commander Vimes, aka “The Blackboard Monitor”, should be given the task of providing security.

What’s To Like...
    Some of the book’s formatting is vintage Terry Pratchett.  If you’re a Discworld footnote fan, there are 80+ of them for you here.  There are no chapter divisions, although a couple maps are included, which is both very unusual and very handy.

    I was delighted to see the Quirmians speaking French.  Ditto for Lord Vetinari’s penchant for crossword puzzles.  There are lots of dwarfs, trolls, and goblins.  And some gnomes pop up, which is a species I don’t recall meeting before.

    As always, Pratchett explores a number of themes in Raising Steam.  First, there’s Industrialization – with its pros and cons, and the inevitable pushback against it.  Second is the timely topic of Terrorism – how  it operates and recruits, and how it pushes the buttons of discrimination and religious zealotry (“Tak says…”).  Finally, there’s the recurring Discworld theme of racial (species, actually) bigotry.

    The resolution to the main plotline is somewhat anticlimactic, as the highly anticipated showdown just sort of fizzles out.  But Pratchett throws several little “twists” into the mix that tie up some of the secondary threads; such as Iron Girder’s true nature Rhys’ true nature, and Lord Vetinari’s actions.  Overall, the ending is satisfactory, but not stellar.

Kewlest New Word...
Ginnungagap (n.) : in Norse mythology, the vast, primordial void that existed prior to the creation of the manifest universe. A Vikingism.
Others : Purdah; Murrain; Fossick (Aussieism); Bothy (Scottishism).

    “And I see you are still smiling!  Will you be so good as to share ze joke?  The well-known so-called Ankh-Morpork sense of ‘umor does not translate very well here, I’m afraid.”
    “Don’t be,” said Moist.  “When the humors were handed out, Ankh-Morpork got the one for joking and Quirm had to make do with their expertise in fine dining and lovemaking.”
    He held a beat and said, “Would you fancy a trade?”  (loc. 2218)

    The town of Big Cabbage, theoretically the last place any sensible person would want to visit, was nevertheless popular throughout the summer because of the attractions of Brassica World and the Cabbage Research Institute, whose students were the first to get a cabbage to a height of five hundred yards propelled entirely by its own juices.  Nobody asked why they felt it was necessary to do this, but that was science for you, and, of course, students.  (loc. 4345)

Kindle Details...
    Raising Steam sells for $11.99 at Amazon.  That’s to be expected of a recent release that is only otherwise available for $18.25 in Hardcover.  ANAICT, none of the other Discworld books cost more than $5.99 for the Kindle.

”Any three dwarfs having a sensible conversation will always end up having four points of view.”  (loc. 954)
    Sadly, Raising Steam is another step down the slippery slope towards mediocrity for the Discworld series.  Some of it is inherent for the subject matter.  Industrialization is not a very exciting topic for a fantasy story, and the first 2/3 of the book just trudges along step by developmental step.

    To boot, our four main characters – Vetinari, Moist. Harry King, and Dick Simnel – are all humans.  Most devoted Discworld readers pick up a Pratchett book for the various other sentient creatures.  Yes, we meet up with a bunch of “old Discworld” friends along the way, but they’re all cameo appearances.

    The tone is also darker, even more so than the previous book, Snuff, was.  There’s a lot of killing, most of it told in a decidedly non-humorous way, with only one victim encountering DEATH.

    The storyline finally gets moving around 67%, and for those who have persevered, the last third of the book is a delightful bit of vintage Pratchett, with Sam Vimes and the Night Watch getting a lot more ink while saving the day against a determined foe.  But that’s a lot of tedious pages to get through before getting to the good part.

    7 Stars.  In a nutshell, Discworld has lost its sparkle.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Lucia In Wartime - Tom Holt

    1985; 216 pages.  New Author? : No.  Book #1 (of 2) of Tom Holt’s continuation of E.F. Benson’s Lucia series.  Genre : Humor, British Fiction.  Overall Rating : 6½*/10.

    It’s the height of the Second World War, and it’s up to every able-bodied Englishman to do his part in the war effort.  That includes the good civilians in the quaint little (fictional) Sussex coastal town of Tilling.

    For some, it means parading around as part of the town’s militia.  Heaven help us all if they have to defend against invading Germans.  For others, it means teaching cooking on the radio – somehow making savory dishes from cabbage and turnips.

    But for Lucia Pillson and Elizabeth Mapp-Flint, the phrase “war effort” means a personal, no-holds-barred, to-the-death contest, with the social status of being Tilling’s social queen at stake.  Which, when you get right down to it, kinda outshines the fighting over across the channel.

What’s To Like...
    The two Lucia books are early efforts by Tom Holt, published in 1985/86, the year before his first novel, Expecting Someone Taller, came out.  The books were deliberately written in the style of the series’ original author, E.F. Benson.  As such, the storyline of Lucia in Wartime is more focused and less convoluted than the usual “Tom Holt plotline”.  But his natural talent for wit is already present.

    Lucia and Elizabeth are the stars, vying for the spotlight and social supremacy.  They both have their pride and their faults, and are differentiated only by Lucia being a bit more successful at her conniving, and slightly (but only slightly) more likeable.  Their husbands are both pleasantly bumbling.   The rest of the characters are a fascinating assortment of townsfolk that could’ve easily fallen out of a P.G. Wodehouse Jeeves novel, albeit without the problem-solving butler himself.

    The book has a nice “feel” for life in WW2 England, with things like ration cards, invasion fears, suspected enemy agents, and a thriving black market.  It was another world, yet Holt gives it a light, whimsical touch, without making it any less real.  The ending is a letdown, being both abrupt and arbitrary.  But I don’t know if this is a Benson-esque climax, and/or if it sets up the sequel, Lucia Triumphant.

Kewlest New Word. . .
Peripeteia (n.) : A sudden reversal of fortune or change in circumstances.
Others : Danegeld; Sinecure

    “My dear, you aren’t horrified, are you?  I hope I haven’t offended your principles by offering you black-market fish.”  (. . .)
    "Dear Lord Tony,” she purred, “do you suppose a poor civilian like myself could provide a square meal for four hungry soldiers from the Government ration?  Very well then, let us not mention a horrid subject again.”
    “Well said!” exclaimed Lord Limpsfield.  “Some people are so stuffy and silly.  But I always say that all’s fair in love and war, and there’s a war on, and I love salmon mousse, so that’s fair enough.  Au reservoir!  (loc. 1149)

    “We must face facts.  Jerry’s out there,” Benjy cried, waving his hand in the general direction of Hastings.  “He’s biding his time, waiting to pounce.  And to make matters worse, my sergeant's been called up.  Terrible!  Ah well, there it is.  It’s here he’ll attack, you mark my words.  Think of William the Conqueror,” he added darkly.
    “He was French,” said Georgie.
    “Ah, but the French were our enemies then.  Puts a whole new complexion on the matter.”  (loc. 5323)

Kindle Details...
    Lucia in Wartime sells for $6.95 at Amazon, as does its companion book Lucia Triumphant.

“We are not fighting for Bridge and boiled cabbage, but for Beauty and Truth.”  (loc. 5597)
    It appears that most of those who pick up Lucia In Wartime do so because they read and loved the E.F. Benson Lucia books, and are thrilled to find that Holt wrote two additions to the series.  I’ve never read any of the Benson books; I read LIW because I’m a Tom Holt enthusiast.

    Frankly, this is not his best stuff, but OTOH, it is a nice first-effort and he was trying to write in somebody else’s style.  When you remove those two constraints – and allow Holt to do his own thing – he’s a topnotch author.

    I really should’ve read one of the E.F. Benson books first.  I thought they were hard to find (Benson wrote them in the 1920’s and 30’s), but it turns out two are available as free Kindle downloads from Amazon (the copyrights have expired), and the Phoenix library carries the rest of them in hardcover format.  So methinks a trip to the library is in order for next weekend.

    6½ Stars.  Subject to an upward revision if E.F. Benson turns out to be a mediocre writer, and Tom Holt is just mimicking his style.  DO NOT make this your first Tom Holt book.

Monday, September 8, 2014

The Lost Girls of Rome - Donato Carrisi

   2011; 483 pages.  New Author? : Yes.  Genre : Crime Mystery; Thriller.  Overall Rating : 9*/10.

    In Milan, Italy, a policewoman seeks to understand why her freelance reporter husband fell off a building.  In Rome, a serial killer is found in a coma, with the words “Kill Me” scrawled on his chest.  And in a strangest coincidence, the EMT intern who finds him is the twin sister of one of his victims.  In another part of Rome, two shadowy “investigators”, Marcus and his mentor Clemente, investigate the case of a kidnapped college girl, being careful not to cross paths with the police.

    Marcus has an additional mystery to solve – he’s suffering from amnesia, with the past coming back only in bits and pieces in his nightmares.

    Tread softly, everyone.  Evil is afoot, and those who have to deal with it will sometimes get their hands dirty.

What’s To Like...
    Donato Carrisi hops back and forth between the three main plotlines listed above, then mixes in a couple more killings and a set of mysterious flashbacks.  The Lost Girls of Rome will give your brain a good workout as you try to figure out who’s behind each death, and how they all connect to each other.  Things are complicated, but if you pay attention, it’s not confusing.

    All the main characters are deeply developed, and Marcus is especially fascinating.  His detecting skille are close to those of Sherlock Holmes, so it’s fun to watch him examine a crime scene.  He focuses on looking for anomalies in the patterns, and is extremely skeptical of anything masquerading as a coincidence.  Clemente may be the mentor, but Marcus is the wunderkind, despite his amnesia.

    The writing is excellent even though it's a translation into “England” English from the original Italian.  There are a slew of plot twists to keep you on your literary toes, and while the storyline is complex, Carrisi’s skillfully maneuvering brings it all together into a logical, if somewhat stutter-step conclusion.  I especially liked the flashbacks, as well as the (supposedly factual) concepts of the penitenzieri and transformists.

Kewlest New Word. . .
Pastis (n.)  :  a aniseed-flavored aperitif.

    “We’re not dealing with a case of multiple personality,” Florinda Valdez said, “or the kind of patient who claims to be Napoleon or the Queen of England.  Subjects affected by chameleon syndrome tend to imitate perfectly whoever they meet.  Faced with a doctor they become doctors, faced with a cook they say they know how to cook.  Questioned on their profession, they respond in a general but appropriate manner.”  (. . .)
    “But Angelina doesn’t simply emulate other people.  When she was in contact with the old woman, she actually began to age.  Her mind was causing her body to change.”  (pg. 161)

    “Even if I explain to you what I do, it wouldn’t be enough.”
    “Then at least tell me why you do it.”
    The penitenziere was silent for a few moments.  “There is a place where the world of light meets the world of darkness.  It is there that everything happens: in the land of shadows., where everything is vague, confused, undefined.  We are the guardians appointed to defend that border.  But every now and then something manages to get through.”  He turned to look at Sandra.  “I have to chase it back into the darkness.”  (pg. 246)

 We often forget that even monsters were children once.  (pg.  178)
    Those who read The Lost Girls of Rome for the Crime-Mystery aspect will not be disappointed.  There’s lots of Action and Intrigue, and I didn’t feel like there were any slow spots.  But on a deeper level, the novel raises a number of psychological issues, which at times are both enlightening and disturbing.

      To wit – are we born good, evil, or amoral?  If the latter, can childhood experiences turn some of us into monsters, and if so, can psychopaths such as serial killers be “turned back” into good people.  Finally, if a person is never shown or introduced to a concept such as mercy or love, how would he know to use and apply it later on?

    9 StarsThe Lost Girls of Rome is a superb story on both the Thriller-Mystery and the Psychological levels.  Subtract 2 stars if you were looking for a beach read or an airport novel.  This is not a book to read when you want to take off your thinking cap and relax.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

The Burglar Who Liked to Quote Kipling - Lawrence Block

    1979; 304 pages.  New Author? : No.  Book #3  (of 11) in the Bernie Rhodenbarr “Burglar” series.  Genre : Crime-Humor.  Overall Rating : 8½*/10.

    Bernie Rhodenbarr is a reformed man.  He used to be quite the burglar, but a stretch in the pen made him see the error of his ways.  He is now content to run a small used-book store.  The profits aren’t as good but he can read on the job and no one is trying to throw him in jail.

    But some people persist in doubting that he’s really changed.  Like the local cop who wants Bernie to steal a fur coat for his wife.  Nope.  Stealing on behalf of a policeman is a sure recipe for disaster.  Then there’s the man who wants him to steal a single book.  Really?  A book-dealer stealing a book?  The irony just drips.

    But he’s willing to pay Bernie $15,000 for the job.  Hmmm.  Well, maybe just one more heist.  For old times’ sake, you know.

What’s To Like...
    You’ll find The Burglar Who Liked To Quote Kipling in the Murder-Mystery section of your local bookstore.  Technically it’s a Cozy.  There’s no sex or drugs in the story, and I don’t remember any cussing.  Heck, even the murder, a bullet to the head, produces very little blood.

    But you should really read the books in this series first and foremost for their wit and humor.  The dialogue always sparkles, and Bernie is a charismatic ex-thief (the "ex-" might be debatable), who’ll remind you of Donald Westlake’s John Dortmunder.

    The two main characters in the series – Bernie and his best pal Carolyn – are both warmly lovable.  Even the local cop has a certain charm about him.  The one-and-done characters, including the baddies, are all refreshingly likable.  And don’t worry about Romance developing between Bernie and Carolyn – she’s gay.

    Lawrence Block manages to insert numerous plugs for classic literature into the text.  Kipling naturally takes center stage here (although I don't recall much quoting of him), including a fascinating and completely fictitious account of a long-lost novel by that author.  The story moves at a pleasant pace, which is a  must for any cozy.  The ending is the standard “gather all the suspects together and then explain who the culprit is” device, but so what?  All the elements of the plotline are resolved neatly, and each book in this series is a standalone tale.

Kewlest New Word ...
Billingsgate (n.) : Coarse, abusive, or obscene language.  (a Britishism)

    “What the hell do you know about books?”
    “Well, I was always a big reader.”
    “In the jug, you mean.”
     “Even on the outside, all the way back to childhood.  You know what Emily Dickinson said.  “'There’s no frigate like a book.'”
    “Frig it is right.  You didn’t just run around buyin’ books and then open up a store.”  (loc. 166)

    We entered the vestibule.  “You don’t have to come,” I said.
    “Ring the bell, Bern.”
    “I’m serious.  You could wait in the car.”
    “Wonderful.  I can play it safe by sitting in a stolen car parked at a bus stop.  Why don’t I just wait for the subway?  I could cling to the third rail for security.”    (loc. 1496)

Kindle Details...
    The Burglar Who Like To Quote Kipling sells for $4.74 at Amazon.  All the rest of the books in the series sell for either $4.74 or $4.99, which seems quite reasonable.

”When you don’t know what you’re looking for, you have a great advantage, because you don’t know what you’ll find.”  (loc. 1672)
    Although the story is a whodunit, don’t try to solve it before Bernie does.  Some of the critical clues aren’t revealed until that final gathering.  Instead, just trot alongside Bernie as he tries to figure out what's going on, devises clever stratagems, and engages in witty banter.  I found TBWLTQK to be a “just right” mystery – the denouement was neither too arbitrary nor too obvious.

    I read two or three books from this series about 10 years ago, and enjoyed them all.  I don’t know why it’s taken me so long to get back to Lawrence Block and Bernie Rhodenbarr, but it was a nice surprise to discover that my local digital library carries 10 of the 11 books in the series.  I suspect I’ll be reading more of these in the coming months.

    8½ Stars.  Add ½-Star if you’ve read anything by Kipling, and like his stuff.