Sunday, November 29, 2015

Romulus Buckle and the City of the Founders - Richard Ellis Preston, Jr.

   2013; 446 pages.  New Author? : Yes.  Book 1 (out of 2 so far) in the 'Pneumatic Zeppelin' series.  Genre : Steampunk; Action-Adventure; Post-Apocalyptic Thriller.  Overall Rating : 7½*/10.

    At first glance, Romulus Buckle, he of the Crankshaft clan, seems mighty young to be already commanding an airship.  But his crew is equally youthful, and these are desperate times.  A rival clan, the Founders, has kidnapped the leader of Buckle's clan, and he and his crew are on their way in the airship to attempt a rescue.

    There are many ways for a zeppelin and its crew to be catastrophically lost, including crashes (pop goes the airbag; plop goes the zeppelin), fires (the hydrogen gas in the dirigible is extremely flammable), and in the course of combat, which includes suicide missions.  Such as this one.

    So maybe it isn't so unusual to be a young zeppelin captain and crew.  Because, with so many ways to perish so quickly, there may be no such thing as an old airship captain.

What’s To Like...
    Romulus Buckle & The City of the Founders is set in the post-apocalyptic greater Los Angeles area, where the land is covered year-round by layers of (from bottom to top) snow, mustard gas, and fog.  Richard Ellis Preston Jr. gives only scant details about the “Day of the Storming” that destroyed almost everything on Earth; presumably this will be fleshed out in subsequent books in the series  We know the adversaries were the Martians – the mustard gas is courtesy of them – yet Romulus’ chief engineer, Max, is half-Martian (a nod to Mr. Spock, perhaps?), so it might not be quite the simple “us versus them” scenario.

    There is action and adventure, and a poopload of characters to meet.  But above all else, this is a Steampunk novel.  The Martian attack somehow wiped out all electrical power, so to travel by land means choosing between steam-powered railroad engines or walking.  And air travel is mostly via hydrogen-inflated dirigibles.

    There are kewl beasties (such as tanglers and wugglebats), nasty baddies (such as forgewalkers and steampipers), and lethal weapons of war (such as sticky bombs and robotic owls).  The bad guys seem to be every bit as potent and resourceful as the good guys; and I have a feeling we have not yet seen the Ultimate Evil, Isambard Fawkes, at his best …er… worst.

    The book ends at a logical place – the resolution of the attempt to free Balthazar, but there is a long way to go in the overall storyline.  I have a feeling this series will have a “united we stand, divided we fall” motif, but that is speculation only.  And I am certain the question “What about old Shadrack” will be addressed somewhere down the line.

Kewlest New Word ...
Empennage (n.) : an arrangement of stabilizing surfaces at the tail of an aircraft.

    One might think Buckle was young to be in command of a sky vessel as dauntingly impressive as the Pneumatic Zeppelin – and he was – but he led a crew whose average age did not exceed twenty years by much, except for Max, of course.  Nobody knew how old Max was, and she was never in the mood for telling.  But then, there was no “getting old” around the Snow World – the old California – in those days, not in the time of the Noxious Mustard (also referred to as stinkum if you were using gutter talk) and the Carbuncle Plague, with the nasty beasties a-lurkin’, Bloodfreezer storms, and the high-percentage risk of one’s blackbang musket exploding in one’s face every time one pulled the trigger.  (pg. 3)

    Buckle couldn’t see any weapons on the Owl.  “What’s she for?”
    “She’s a reconnaissance robot,” Zwicky said, clicking shut the access panel he’d just been tinkering inside.  Zwicky’s personality was much more prickly than Wolfgang’s. although Buckle sensed it was more a nervous insecurity than true rudeness.  “The Owl sees with sound, like a bat.  She emits a distinct series of whistles, and when the sound waves bounce back she can ‘see’ them.”
    “Shouldn’t you call them ears, then?” Buckle asked.  (pg. 156)

“Taste some Imperial revenge, you bumptious fog-sucker!”  (pg. 363)
     Romulus Buckle & The City of the Founders is a promising start to an ambitious Steampunk series, but the pacing leaves something to be desired.  Richard Ellis Preston Jr. seems to love giving overly extensive descriptions of every square inch of the Pneumatic Zeppelin (the name of Romulus Buckle’s airship), detailed bios of a good many of the cast of characters, and a running travelogue of a lot of the California wasteland as well.  I recognize the need for world-building in Book One of any series, but here, after a quarter of the way through, about the only thing accomplished in the plotline was Romulus losing his footing atop the zeppelin.

    Also, while the Chapter titles are fantastic, it would’ve been nice to have them listed in the front of the book, for easy reference when trying to remember which character did what.

    Still, the descriptions are well done, and aren’t any more excessive than what you’d find in a Tom Clancy novel.  Clancy once left me with a feeling that, if you gave me all the parts, I could completely reassemble a Sherman tank.  Here, I felt the same way about putting the zeppelin back together.

    7½ Stars.  Add 1 star if you are a Tom Clancy fan.  I’m not.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

The 92-Year-Old Lady Who Made Me Steal A Dead Man's Car - Fred Schafer

   2013; 226 pages.  New Author? : Yes.  Genre : Literary Fantasy; Humor.  Overall Rating : 6*/10.

    Eberhardt Walker’s life has taken a turn for the weird.  First there was that near-miss accident in the intersection.  Which was followed by the stealing of a car with a 92-year-old partner-in-crime by the name of Irene.  And hiding out at her place, which turned into a more permanent arrangement.

    But what really took the cake was meeting Irene’s roommates, all 25+ of them.  Each one has issues and they're are all just so unreal.

    Or are they?

What’s To Like...
    You’ll meet a slew of literary characters in The 92-Year-Old Lady Who Made Me Steal A Dead Man’s Car, most of which are from the classics.  So if you’re into authors like Jane Austen or Ernest Hemingway you’ll probably enjoy this book.  If highbrow literature is not your shtick (and I fall into that category), then the good news is that not knowing anything about these characters isn’t much of a drawback.  Outside of the literary peeps June and Pursewarden, the only folks you need to keep track of are Eberhardt (who’s the narrator of the story) and Irene.

    Apart from the opening car-theft sequence, there’s not a lot of action or tension in the storyline.  Even the fire and the arrests are rather tame affairs.  There was a nice nod to Orhan Pamuk, a Turkish writer that I happen to like.  And Fred Schafer pays an extended tribute to Ernest Hemingway, who killed himself in Ketchum, Idaho.

   There is a handy literature reference table at the end of the story, which will match up the literary characters with their authors/books.  If we assume this is Fred Schafer’s personal book list, he has interesting and varied reading tastes.  There are some adult situations and cussing in the book, but I thought it fit in quite nicely.

    The ending is nice, trite, surprising, logically obvious, and well-crafted, all at the same time.  This is a standalone novel, and I’m betting it’s a one-and-done.  However, if Fred Schafer decides to send Eberhardt and Irene journeying into the literary dimension(s), something that this books cirs out for, a sequel could be developed.

Kindle Details...
    The 92-Year-Old Lady Who Made Me Steal A Dead Man’s Car sells for $2.99 at Amazon.  Fred Schafer has a poopload of other e-books available, mostly non-fiction motivational books.  They also go for $2.99.

    It was on a Sunday evening that she said to me, “We have reached a fork in the road.  What do you think, should we explore both directions?”
    “You one direction, and I the other?” I asked just to be sure I understood her correctly.
    She nodded.
    “I shall miss you,” I said.
    “No, you won’t.”  (loc. 127)

    “Lots of paper,” he added.  “In the world where I come from you could store all these books on a little chip the size of a finger nail.”
    “But you couldn’t smell them,” Irene commented.
    “Good point,” the pastor replied.  Then, after a few seconds he asked, “Why would you like to smell them?”
    “That’s also a good point,” the old lady replied.  “But don’t worry about it.  I don’t think I could explain it to you.”  (loc. 699)

 “Arguing, chatting, and drinking whiskey with Hemingway, heck, why shouldn’t you have felt happy!”  (loc. 899)
    The 92-Year-Old Lady Who Made Me Steal A Dead Man’s Car has two significant drawbacks.  The first is the book’s genre, which changes several times as the plotline moves along.  It starts out as an tale of action-intrigue.  But then it seemed like the author wrote himself into a corner, so he switched to a quasi-fantasy tale, with a host of literary characters coming to life in the story.  Frankly, this was the best part of the tale.  But after a while, it morphs into an existential discourse, which was both boring and a bunch of verbal twaddle.  If you don’t believe me, ask Eberhardt.   

    Then there’s the humor itself.  The Amazon page hypes The 92-Year-Old-etc. as a  work of “Humor-Satire”, with the subcategory being ”Humorous” just in case you didn’t figure it out the first time.  There is some wit, but there’s also a lot of unfunny stuff.  Our protagonist is a self-appointed vigilante who mutilates and murders rapists by cutting off their …er… members.  Is there some reason why this qualifies as “humorous”?  Ditto for the driver/owner of the commandeered car who gets smashed to smithereens in the roadway, thus providing a convenient means of transportation for our two protagonists.

    I kept waiting for Fred Schafer to somehow work the  vigilante and vehicular manslaughter angles  into the main storyline, but it never happened.  Overall, this would’ve been a much better story without the Action and Philosophizing.

    6 Stars.  The best part of The 92-Year-Old Lady Who Made Me Steal A Dead Man’s Car is the middle, “literary-fantasy” genre.  But even this is not original.  If you want to read a better treatment of this, check out Jasper Fforde’s “Thursday Next” series, the first book of which is reviewed here.

Friday, November 20, 2015

The Android's Dream - John Scalzi

   2006; 394 pages.  New Author? : No.  Genre : Science Fiction; Thriller.  Overall Rating : 8*/10.

    It’s all about the sheep.

    But not just any old sheep; a very rare and genetically-engineered breed of sheep (it has blue wool) called the Android’s Dream.  The alien Nidu are demanding that Earth supply an Android’s Dream to them, as compensation for a diplomatic incident: one of our ambassadors murdered one of their ambassadors, and it falls upon the State Department’s Harry Creek to go find and procure one.

    There’s just one hitch.  There are only a few Android’s Dreams around, and someone seems to be bent on killing them all.  And when Harry gets in the way, well, they’ll just kill him as well.

What’s To Like...
    The opening two sentences of the book are “Dirk Moeller didn't know if he could fart his way into a major diplomatic incident.  But he was ready to find out.“  That should give you a heads up that The Android’s Dream is not going to be as serious as John Scalzi’s magnum opus, Old Man’s War (reviewed here).  But neither is it a total departure in form and genre – the trademark Scalzi space opera and action-thriller elements are still present.

    The character development is good.  Harry Creek is your classic protagonist, and there’s a typical love angle in the plotline.  But the secondary characters shine.  I especially liked Archie McClellan and Takk, and Brian Javna was a nice twist.  Even the evil characters are interesting, and they are just as resourceful and powerful as the good guys.  Similarly, should hostilities break out between we Terrans and the alien Nidu, the two sides are evenly matched, although both sides are relative wussies on a galactic scale.

    As always, John Scalzi’s wit, humor, and subtle social commentary are on display.  We can partake of Nugentian venison, get a good work-out playing wall-ball, and find spiritual guidance through the Church of the Evolved Lamb.  You may also learn a thing or two about legal and diplomatic wrangling, which may come in handy should we ever have to deal with space invaders.  And if using flatulence to make offensive remarks doesn’t tickle your funny bone, something’s wrong.

    There is an adequate amount of both action and intrigue.  This is space opera, so be prepared for some cussing, violence, and adult situations.  This is a standalone novel, and in the end everyone ultimately gets their just desserts.

Kewlest New Word ...
Collimate (v.) : to accurately align (an optical or other system).

    “The principle is simple,” Fixer said, handing the slightly curved thing to Moeller.  “You pass gas like you normally do, but instead of leaving your body, the gas enters into that forward compartment.  The compartment closes off, passes the gas into second department (sic), where additional chemical components are added, depending on the message you’re trying to send.  Then it’s shunted into the third compartment, where the whole mess waits for your signal.  Pop the cork, off it goes.  You interact with it through a wireless interface.  Everything is there.  All you have to do is install it.”
    “Does it hurt?” Moeller asked.  “The installation, I mean.”
    Fixer rolled his eyes.  “You’re shoving a miniature chemistry lab up your ass, Mr. Moeller,” Fixer said.  “Of course it’s going to hurt.”  And it did.  (pg. 9)

    Takk understood that Earth was positively littered with houses of worship and that people were always claiming that their god of choice wanted them to do one thing or another.  But in his personal experience the only time he heard people invoke their deity was when Takk was about to beat the hell out of them or turn them into a snack.  And even then, more than half the time they invoked defecation instead.  Takk found that inexplicable.  (pg. 276)

It’s hard to describe to anyone who is not in fact a sentient computer.  But imagine you’re a tapeworm, and then suddenly you’re Goethe.  (pg. 376)
    There are some quibbles.  The entertainingly madcap prologue – farting as a weapon -  was fantastic, but felt disjointed from the rest of the story, which was decidedly more focused on thrills-&-spills and political intrigue.  Scalzi wrote some of his novels as serial installments; perhaps The Android’s Dream is one of them.

    The ending felt contrived and for me was somewhat anticlimactic.  The Nidu, who appear to have the upper hand in the matter the whole way through, are all too easily persuaded to fight amongst themselves.

    But these are minor criticisms.  The major problem is something that Scalzi probably had no control over – a wretched job of editing by the publishing house, Tor.  The grammatically grating “He been…” was bad enough, but jeez, when you run into the misspelled word “supercede” (sic), it makes you wonder whether Tor even bothered to use Spellchecker when editing Scalzi’s manuscript.  Sloppy, sloppy, sloppy.

    8 Stars.  This isn’t John Scalzi’s finest work, but it’s still a good read.  Add 1 star if you can ignore all the typos and errata.  I couldn’t.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Agatha Heterodyne and the Heirs of the Storm - Phil and Kaja Foglio

   2010; 144 pages.  New Author? : No.  Book 9 in the “Girl Genius” series.  Full Title : Agatha Heterodyne and the Heirs of the Storm – A Gaslamp Fantasy with Adventure, Romance & Mad Science.  Genre : Graphic Novel; Gaslamp Fantasy.  Overall Rating : 8½*/10.

    We’re going to eschew most of the format we usually use in these reviews, since this is essentially a reread of one of the Agatha H novelizations that I finished a short time ago.  That review is here, and Agatha H. & the Heirs of the Storm constitutes the last third of that book.

    I’ve been wanting to compare the Graphic Novel format to the Novelization format for some time now, and felt that this was a good opportunity to do so, since the storyline was fresh in my mind.  I also just recently figured out where my local library has been stashing these graphic novels; there is a small “Teen Library” section tucked away on the fourth floor of the main branch that I was hitherto unaware of.

What’s To Like...
    The artwork is stunning.  The book’s credits list Phil & Kaja Foglio as creating the story, Phil for the “penciling”, and Cheyenne Wright for the colors.  It is all a visual treat.

    There is a handy, 1-page “The Story So Far” section at the very beginning.  The novelizations cover the entire Graphic Novel series, three per volume, and I’ve read them all, so  it’s hard for me to judge how helpful this brief backstory is.  It felt very “bare bones”, but perhaps it’s like picking up a comic book; say, Wolverine Issue #88.  You don’t really care much about all that went before.

    There are no page numbers.  Amazon says Agatha Heterodyne and the Heirs of the Storm has 144 pages, and that feels accurate.  The storyline in the two formats seemed to jive closely, so I don’t think you’re missing much by choosing one or the other.  There’s a way-kewl “Jagermonster Comics” section at the end.

    There’s nothing R-rated at all in the graphic novel.   I had heard rumors to the contrary.  The worst that can be said in this regard is that all the girls are “buxom”, but that’s standard fare in any comic book series.

Paperback Details...
    Agatha Heterodyne and the Heirs of the Storm sells for $21.48 at Amazon.  There appear to be 13 volumes in the Girl Genius Graphic Novels series, and they all in the $15-$25 price range.  This feels steep to me, but I know very little about pricing graphic novels.  The only other graphic novel I’ve read is Watchmen, which sells for $11.99.

The verdict…
    I had a bit of trouble determining who’s who in the graphic novel, which inherently does not occur in the novelization.  OTOH, you have no trouble envisioning the people, the environs, etc. in the graphic novel; there is much more inherently left to the imagination in the novelization.

    So it’s a toss-up.  You basically can’t lose no matter which format – or both – you select to follow this series with.  Reading the graphic novel was a delight, but I will probably continue to wait for the novelizations to come out.  This is mostly due to my reading habits; even as a kid, I preferred books to comics.

    8½ Stars.  Listen, Girl Genius is still a fantastic series, and I highly recommend it no matter what format you read it in.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

The History Buff's Guide To World War II - Thomas R. Flagel

   2012; 350 pages.  Full Title : The History Buff’s Guide to World War II – Top Ten Rankings of the Best, Worst, Largest, and Most Lethal People and Events of World War II.  New Author? : Yes.  Genre : Non-Fiction; Military History; Lists.  Overall Rating : 8½*/10.

    Do you love to read non-fiction books about World War 2, but find they often bog down into hundreds of pages of military minutiae?  If so, you’ll find Thomas R. Flagel’s book refreshingly enjoyable.

    Or do you prefer some “light reading”, such as a book of “Top Ten” lists, but find them often just too silly?  Is it really necessary to read a list of ten different Eskimo worlds for snow?  If you’re yearning to learn something meaningful from a bunch of Top Ten lists, you’ll find this book pleasurably enlightening.

    Are you tired of the American-centric view of history, and wonder if there’s more to World War 2 than just Pearl Harbor, D-Day, and the Atomic Bomb, then The History Buff’s Guide to World War II will deepen your understanding of global history.

    Finally, if you only read genres like Romance, or Sci-Fi, or Murder-Mystery, then …um… well, then this book isn’t for you.  But it will still broaden your literary horizons, so why not give it a try?

What’s To Like...
    As the title states, the target audience here are history buffs, of which I am a proud member.  Thomas R. Flagel presumes you have at least a basic understanding of the players and events of World War 2, and aims to give the reader a better understanding of the causes, the decisions, and the cost of the conflict.

    To do so, the author employs a “Top Ten List" template, which I found to be an original approach to the subject matter.  At first glance, it would seem to be an awkward fit, but it works nicely here, due in no small part to the fact that each of the ten “items” on every list is accompanied by several paragraphs justifying its inclusion in the list.  Moreover, each entry is has a fascinating piece of trivia appended to it.  One example : “For each citizen of the Axis, the United States had three artillery shells.  There  were enough bullets made worldwide to shoot every living person on the planet forty times.”  (loc. 1336)

    My favorite lists (and yours will probably be quite different) were :
         “Wars Before The War” (1)
        “Songs” (44)
        “Worst Military Commanders” (53)
        “Military Blunders” (57) and
        “Popular Myths and Misconceptions” (70)

    I was impressed by the objectivity and ‘balance’ in Thomas R. Flagel’s writing.  The war may have begun on December 7th for the USA, but for Europeans, it started two or more years earlier, when Hitler commenced grabbing chunks of Austria and Czechoslovakia.  And for those in the Far East, the horrors of war commenced in 1937, with the invasion by Japan of China and Manchuria.

 Kewlest New Word ...
Lebensraum (n., proper) : the territory that a state or nations believes is needed for its natural development; literally, “living space”.

    Compared to other eras, this frequency of unrest was relatively standard.  What had changed by the twentieth century was the volume and tempo of armed conflicts because the “art of war” was giving way to science.
    In less than a lifetime, battleships tripled in size.  The largest artillery shells grew from the weight of a man to the weight of an automobile, from a maximum range of two miles to more than fifty.  Aircraft evolved from puttering mobile machine guns to deafening heavy bombers.  This onslaught of “progress” provoked a haunting fear that warfare was spiraling out of control.  (loc. 93)

    From Denmark to Spain, pressed tight against the meandering Atlantic coastline, stood the wall to Hitler’s Fortress Europe: bunkers, trenches, pillboxes, siege guns, machine-gun nests, barbed wire, thousands of antitank and antiship obstacles, and five million mines.  The defensive perimeter ran more than seventeen hundred miles, equivalent to the distance from Boston to Denver.  It required three years and half a million workers to erect, and it was the largest construction project ever attempted since the Great Wall of China.  It was also almost completely useless.  (loc. 3493)

Kindle Details…
    The Kindle version of The History Buff’s Guide To World War II sells for $9.99 at Amazon, which seems a bit steep to me.  Heck, the paperback version is less than $2 more, costing $11.73.  There are two other books in the series, dealing with the Civil War and the US Presidents, and they too sell for $9.99.

“God is always on the side with the biggest battalions.”  (loc. 3831 )
    There are some weaknesses, most of which are only applicable to the Kindle version.  Thomas Flagel has included a bunch of neat WW2 photos, but they are incredibly small on the Kindle Fire.  However, if you access Amazon’s “Look Inside” feature, you’ll see that they are full-sized in the paperback version.  There were also some annoying page-to-page glitches; this too is Kindle’s fault.

    The last 20% of the book is nothing more than copious amounts of notes, which is NBD on the Kindle, but is not very tree-friendly for the “real” books.  I recognize those notes are a necessity for any non-fiction history book because there will always be puffed-up nitpickers looking to find anything and everything to disagree with.  But really, who reads the notes?  Couldn’t they just as easily be placed online, with a link for the nitpickers?

    Finally, while I was thoroughly entertained for most of the book, the last few lists just kinda pootered out for me.  Specifically, the 10 Best Books about WW2 (and no, the author doesn’t include his own), the 10 best Historic Sites (and what hotels to stay at when visiting them), and the last list, “Ways To Get Involved”.  OTOH, the “Top Ten Movies About WW2” was an absolute delight.  We readers are a fickle lot.

    8½ Stars.  Subtract 2 Stars is you're a tea-bagger who only likes reading history after Glen Beck or Bill O'Really has rewritten it.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

One Corpse Too Many - Ellis Peters

   1979; 188 pages.  New Author? : No.  Book 2 (out of 20) in the “Brother Cadfael” series.  Genre : Murder-Mystery[ Cozy.  Overall Rating : 7½*/10.

    For the besieged defenders of Shrewsbury Castle, there is no hope.  King Stephen has decreed that no mercy shall be given to them.  And so, after the final assault by Stephen’s forces, the 94 surviving defenders are hanged from the castle walls, then cut down and their bodies unceremoniously dumped into a common ditch

    But enemies or not, they deserve a proper Christian burial, and it falls upon Brother Cadfael from the nearby abbey to oversee that duty.  And it is quite a shock when he discovers that, whereas 94 bodies went into that ditch, 95 were taken out.

    Who is the extra corpse?  Why was he murdered?  And perhaps most importantly. who killed him and then why did he feel the need to cover it up?

What’s To Like...
    The Brother Cadfael series takes place in 12th-century England, in the westernmost area close to the border with Wales.  One Corpse Too Many is set in a particularly violent time – when civil war rages across England as King Stephen and the Empress Maud vie for power.

    As is usual for this series, the storyline is part Romance (two of them, in fact), part Murder-Mystery (of the ‘cozy’ variety), and part Historical Fiction, of which Ellis Peters (the pen name for Edith Pargeter) is an absolute master.  One of the recurring characters in the series, Hugh Beringar, is introduced here, and plays a lead role in the plotline.  This is my eighth Brother Cadfael book, although I’m not reading them in order, and it was neat to see from where and how Hugh makes his way into the greater plotline.

    The book is unusual in a couple ways.  First of all, at 188 pages, it is the shortest Brother Cadfael book I’ve read so far.  The previous ones have ranged from 198 to 275 pages.  Also, while this can still be called a “cozy” murder-mystery, the parts dealing with the 94 victims are somewhat gruesome.  Finally, both Romances are rather straightforward and uncomplicated.  Generally, the Romances in this series have “issues” – one of the lovebirds is a suspect, the duo come from different social classes or opposite sides of a conflict, etc. That isn’t so here.

    There’s more  action than usual, mostly because of the bitter war going on.  And if you like your protagonist subjected to situational ethics, you’ll quite enjoy the decisions Brother Cadfael has to make with regards to God, the warring parties, and the lovers themselves.

Kewlest New Word ...
Unchancy (adj.) : unlucky, inauspicious, dangerous.
Others : Distrained (v.); Sedulous (adj.); Caltrop (n.).

    Nicholas Faintree was laid, with due honours, under a stone in the transept of the abbey church, an exceptional privilege. … Abbot Heribert was increasingly disillusioned and depressed with all the affairs of this world, and welcomed a solitary guest who was not a symbol of civil war, but the victim of personal malice and ferocity.  Against all the probabilities, in due course Nicholas might find himself a saint.  He was mysterious, feloniously slain, young, to all appearances clean of heart and life, innocent of evil, the stuff of which martyrs are made.  (pg. 65)

    When the dishes were cleared away, musicians playing, and only the wine on the tables, the servitors in their turn might take their pick of what was left in the kitchens, and the cooks and scullions were already helping themselves and finding quiet corners to sit and eat.  Cadfael collected a bread trencher and loaded it with broken meats, and took it out through the great court to Lame Osbern at the gate.  There was a measure of wine to go with it.  Why should not the poor rejoice for once at the kings cost, even if that cost was handed on down the hierarchies until it fell at last upon the poor themselves?  Too often they paid, but never got their share of the rejoicing.  (pg. 167)

“Brother Cadfael at least can tell a hart from a hind.”  (pg. 88 )
     There’s only one weakness to One Corpse Too Many, but it’s a significant one  - The Murder-Mystery itself.  For the first ¾ of the story, Brother Cadfael is up to his ears in various plot and intrigues, so his sleuthing takes a back seat.

    When he does finally get time to investigate the murder, it’s essentially a string of fortuitous discoveries.  A fragment of an artifact is conveniently found, which makes it a simple task to determine who the perp is – just look for the rest of the artifact.  Our baddie realizes this as well, and has the foresight to dispose of the rest of incriminating artifact.  But there is a convenient witness to the act, and said witness then conveniently crosses Brother Cadfael’s path.

    All this is trite enough, but it gets exacerbated by a medieval “let God decide” method of determining guilt or innocence.  It reminded me of the Monty Python Holy Grail “how do you know she’s a witch?” scene, except here the tone is supposed to be serious.  All works out, of course.  But it would’ve been much more entertaining if God had somehow chosen wrongly.

    7½ Stars.  Add 1 Star if you read Brother Cadfael books for the Historical Fiction and couldn’t care less about whodunit.