Recent Reading: Mystery

I recently came across Robert Goldsborough’s When Archie Met Nero Wolfe on an ebook special, and downloaded it to my Kindle. Back in my voracious mystery-reading days, I read all of Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe novels, but I had not read any of Goldsborough’s books (authorized by Stout’s heirs). The idea of a prequel to the long history of Archie Goodwin and Nero Wolfe is enough to tempt any Rex Stout fan.

Archie Meets Nero WolfeAnd the book is lots of fun. Goldsborough captures the flavor of Stout’s novels and includes many of the supporting characters populating Wolfe’s world: Saul Panzer, Orrie Cather and Fred Durkin, Fritz Brenner, Inspector Cramer and Sergeant Stebbins, and of course Wolfe’s Brownstone on West 35th Street.

He also captures the flavor of Wolfe’s New York City in the 1930s: the new Chrysler Building, the Empire State Building under construction, diners, coffee shops, and apartment hotels, as well as the elegant estate that is the site of the kidnapping Wolfe is hired to solve. Goldsborough includes an Author’s Note explaining how he mined Stout’s work for backstory to use in this novel.

When Archie Met Nero Wolfe made me nostalgic for all those great old mysteries (Stout, Christie, Allingham, Marsh, et al). Given the number of unread books on my shelves, it’s probably just as well I no longer have my Nero Wolfe collection. But I do have a DVD set of the Tim Hutton/Maury Chaykin TV series, and I may just have to watch those again.

These days I stay busy enough trying to keep up with my favorite modern mystery writers (Elaine Viets, Spencer Quinn, Marcia Muller and more). One of these is Diane Kelly and her chronicles of Tara Death, Taxes and Hot Pink Leg WarmersHolloway, gun-toting (and all too often firing) Special Agent of the IRS. I’m a couple of books behind on Tara’s adventures (oh, for an extra reading day every week—why did I ever think cutting back my working days would solve this problem?), and I’ve just recently read Death, Taxes, and Hot Pink Leg Warmers. Yes, the title pretty much sets the tone.

This time around, Tara is after mortgage fraud by day and moonlighting in a strip club by night—no, as a bookkeeper. And her romance with fellow agent Nick Pratt is heating up nicely. Kelly manages to hit me with at least one scene in each book that has me laughing out loud (to the disapproval of my cat). In this book that scene involves Tara’s partner Eddie Bardin and a Vietnamese grandma with OCD and a hand-held vacuum cleaner. Tara’s friend Alicia and DEA Agent Christina Marquez are back, too.

Another current mystery author on my auto-buy list is Joan Hess. Her latest Claire Malloy mystery is Pride V. Prejudice. When a prosecutor with a grudge against Claire’s husband rejects her for jury service, Pride V Prejudicebehaving like a total jerk in the process, Claire decides to investigate the murder in question, for no good reason beyond embarrassing the prosecutor. As usual, she finds herself dealing with more complications than she expected, and her mother-in-law, whom she has never met, is arriving for a visit in three days. This time around Claire deals with aging hippies, organic farmers, and a four-year-old witness with a zombie obsession.

Told with Hess’ usual mixture of humor and mystery, Pride V. Prejudice is a fun read and a welcome addition to the Claire Malloy series, which I’ve been enjoying (and keeping) since it began in 1986 (when hard cover mysteries cost $12.95!).

What mystery solvers live on your keeper shelves?

The Debut of Writer Wednesdays

A few weeks ago a group Firebirds (2012 Golden Heart finalists) decided to get together for a year-long blog party: one Wednesday a month we’ll all write on the same topic, a bit of show-and-tell about our lives. To start off this month, we’re writing about weddings, in honor of Firebird sister Kat Cantrell’s double release of wedding-themed stories. To visit the rest of my blogging sisters, see the Writer Wednesday Blogs list on the right, and check out Kat’s new books and the schedule of future posts below.

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April’s theme is Tell us a highlight of your wedding day. The highlight of mine was probably that it came together at all, when and where it did.

When Jack and I decided to spend Christmas of 1969 in the suburbs of Miami with my parents, we weren’t planning (if you could even call our vague talk on the subject planning) to get married until the following summer, when Jack would graduate from Florida State and move to New Orleans, where I was attending grad school at Tulane. But as soon as my mother heard that idea, she decided we should get married right away, so she’d be sure to be there. (She wasn’t far off on that—some years later my brother was married by a justice of the peace in the Lafayette Parish Courthouse; my parents and I were not there.)

So we bowed to the inevitable, arriving shortly before Christmas and marrying on the evening of the 29th. My mother made me a dress (dark green and very short), Jack found a suit somewhere, and my parents’ back fence neighbors, who owned a small bakery, made us a cake. The church was still decorated for Christmas, all red and green. My best friend, Claudia, was home from Brooklyn for the holidays, as were several of my college buddies. Jack found an acquaintance to act as best man (I think his name was Paul, but I’d have to dig out the paperwork to be sure). My brother, who was about sixteen at the time, was the altar boy.

I lost Jack in 2002, but to this day I have a yellowed clipping on one of my bulletin boards: The success of a marriage is inversely proportional to the amount spent on the wedding. Worked for us, for thirty three years.

 

FROM EX TO ETERNITY:
Bride: Cara, wedding dress designer
Marital Status: Jilted at the altar
Action Required: Revenge on the runaway groom
From Ex To EternityTwo years after waiting at the altar for Keith Mitchell, Cara isn’t ready to meet him again, much less work with him as the consultant on her bridal fashion show! For his part, a misunderstanding sent him running, but now that he knows the truth, and they’re spending long days working together, he wants her back in his bed. Will Cara use their passion to gain the ultimate revenge? Let the newlywed games begin.

Buy Links:  Amazon   B&N   |   Apple   |   Kobo  |   Google

FROM FAKE TO FOREVER
Bride: Meredith, soon-to-be co-owner, wedding dress business
Marital Status: Victim, Vegas wedding mix-up
Action Required: Divorce, ASAP
From Fake to ForeverAfter one night of tequila and sex, their impromptu Vegas wedding shouldn’t be valid. But Meredith Chandler-Harris just discovered she’s still tied to irresistible businessman Jason Lynhurst. She needs out of their marriage, but to become his company’s new CEO, he needs her as a bride. Let the newlywed games begin.

Buy Links:  Amazon   |   B&N   |   Apple   |   Kobo  |   Google

 

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Cheryl Bolen’s Duchess By Mistake

Lady Elizabeth Upton is on a mission of charity, hoping to find a home for the widow and child of a soldier killed in the Peninsular War, when a series of accidents leads her into a very compromising situation involving a tub of bath water and the Duke of Aldridge.

Duchess By MistakeAs the daughter of a marquess, she has a position in society to uphold; she can’t laugh away such an embarrassing incident. But she has no intention of being forced into a loveless marriage, either, even if she did once have a girlhood crush on Philip Ponsby long before he became a duke.

Aldridge, just returned from several years abroad, has vague ideas of providing his family with an heir, but this isn’t quite what he had planned. However, Elizabeth would make a suitable wife, and she is the sister of his oldest friend. Maybe this isn’t such a bad idea after all.

So begins one of Cheryl Bolen’s favorite story lines, the marriage of convenience. Both Elizabeth and Philip have their duties to family and society to meet, and an agreeable marriage, if not a love match, seems the best way to handle the problem.

But what happens when these two people begin to fall in love, each convinced that the other does not feel the same? What happens when the young officer who once courted Elizabeth but left without offering for her hand returns from the war, and when Aldridge’s one-time Italian mistress shows up in London?

Duchess By Mistake is populated with likable supporting characters, a couple of budding secondary romances, and interesting historical background, as Elizabeth campaigns for war widows and orphans while Aldridge takes his newly-claimed seat in the House of Lords (and his less public work at the Foreign Office) to heart.

Lady By ChanceThis book is the second in the House of Haverstock series, a follow-up to Bolen’s Lady By Chance (the story of Elizabeth’s brother Charles and his wife), but it can easily be read as a stand-alone novel. If you enjoy emotional but non-graphic Regency romance, you will want to read Duchess By Mistake.

Recent Reading: Science Fiction

I’ve been a steady reader of science fiction for decades, since the days when the “Age of Wonder” could be defined as Twelve, and most of the writers and readers were male. That has changed, happily, and these days science fiction is no longer a male bastion. It has, in fact, expanded to include science fiction romance and/or romantic science fiction, and these two books could tip into either of those categories.

Gunpowder AlchemyJeannie Lin’s Gunpowder Alchemy, the story of Jin Soling, once the daughter of privilege, now struggling to care for her eight-year-old brother and opium-addicted mother, takes place in an alternate China in 1850. The coastal ports of the Empire are full of Westerners with their steam-driven ships airships and weapons, while Chinese technology is powered by gunpowder.

Soling’s two-day journey to the provincial capital, where she hopes to sell the last treasure left by her engineer father, goes horribly awry, sending her on weeks-long journeys to the port cities and the open sea, and to meetings with Westerners and one-time colleagues of her disgraced father, including Chen Chang-wei, the man to whom she was promised at the age of ten. The betrothal was dissolved long ago, but Soling and Chang-wei become friends, and perhaps more, as he helps her find her way back to her family in the face of pirates and rebels. The background of Western invasion, the opium trade, and rebellion within the Empire is very much a part of Soling’s story, as is her independence as an apprentice physician.

Gunpowder Alchemy is a departure from Jeannie Lin’s historical romance novels set in 9th century Tang China, and an enjoyable twist on the steampunk genre. A brief excerpt of Soling’s next adventure, Clockwork Samurai, is included. I’ll definitely be watching for it.

Echo 8, by Sharon Lynn Fisher, is set in a near-future version of Seattle, not quite ours but very close. Tess Caufield is a parapsychologist with Seattle Psi, Ross McGinnis is an FBI agent assigned as her Echo 8bodyguard, and Jake Parker is a captive Echo, a person displaced from an alternate Earth nearly destroyed by a asteroid. The FBI is involved because the Echoes, not all of them captive, are dangerous, energy vampires needing to feed on native humans to survive.

As Tess and Ross delve deeper into the mysterious appearances—and disappearances—of the Echoes and their victims, the dangers mount on both personal and wider levels, while some of the Echoes hit shockingly close to home. Fisher draws a vivid picture of Tess’ Seattle and the parallel ruined Earth, and had me rooting for her characters.

I can also recommend Fisher’s previous books, Ghost Planet and The Ophelia Prophecy; all three are completely different stand alone science fiction romance novels.

A Close Call in Traffic

Early this afternoon I was driving across the Bay Area Boulevard overpass (over I45 south of Houston) when a man on a very large black motorcycle decided that the right lane wasn’t moving fast enough and he needed to be in the left lane, ahead of me, at the high point of the bridge.

 The Sunday afternoon traffic was leisurely, moving at thirty miles an hour or less, so I wasn’t concerned by his lane change, although he didn’t leave me much room.

I wasn’t concerned, that is, until Motorcycle Guy leaned too far to the left, laid his bike on its side and slid off and across the pavement, landing on his back.

I stomped on my brakes (thank you, Star Toyota service department) and stopped about two feet from the huge bike. Fortunately the driver behind me did the same and didn’t rear-end my poor little Corolla.

helmetMotorcycle Guy was wearing one of those soup-pot helmets that look like they came from the prop department of an old war movie. No visor, no neck protection. He was also wearing a scruffy tee shirt with ragged arm holes where the sleeves had been torn away, exposing lots of bare skin.

I sat there stunned for a moment, hoping Motorcycle Guy would sit up, or at least move, not quite knowing what to do. Fortunately the vehicle ahead of the bike, a big black SUV, stopped and backed up a few feet, and the driver, who must have seen what happened in his rear view mirror, jumped out and ran back to Motorcycle Guy. The driver to my right did the same, and by the time the two good-hearted drivers reached him, Motorcycle Guy was moving—and letting loose some fairly colorful language.

There didn’t appear to be much I could do to help, but I got out of my car in case I was needed. Traffic behind me, both lanes of the bridge blocked, waited with surprising patience. I don’t know how many drivers could see what had happened, but I didn’t hear a single horn complain.

The two drivers helped Motorcycle Guy, still cursing at the universe (and perhaps at himself), to his feet, and the three of them righted the bike. Motorcycle Guy climbed on, the bike started up, and he took off across the bridge. Both he and the bike must have picked up some scrapes and scratches, I’m sure, but both were mobile. If Motorcycle Guy stopped cursing long enough to thank his two helpers, I couldn’t tell. The rest of us climbed back into our cars, and traffic across the bridge returned to normal.

No harm, no foul, I guess. But I have to wonder what might have happened if Motorcycle Guy had pulled that maneuver on the freeway instead of the overpass, at sixty or seventy miles per hour instead of twenty five or thirty. Could I have stopped before hitting him? Could the driver behind me? Could anyone have safely stopped to help? Could that pot-like helmet have saved him if he landed on his head?

I see motorcyclists riding without helmets every day—I don’t believe they are required in Texas, a state where “personal freedom” trumps social responsibility all too often. I once saw a man riding a bike down I45 at sixty miles an hour, wearing no helmet—perhaps because a helmet would have interfered with the cell phone he held pressed to his left ear.

I hope Motorcycle Guy got home safely. I’m very grateful that I did.

Scrivener & HTML

I’ve finally downloaded the latest upgrade to Scrivener for Windows, after putting it off for several weeks. Normally I download Scrivener’s upgrades as soon as they are available, always on the lookout for the frequent small improvements the programmers at Literature & Latte send out.

This time, however, the first item on the change list was the announcement that Scrivener would no longer include HTML coding on clipboard output.

To be honest, I had no idea that copy-and-paste from Scrivener included HTML, but I had noticed that as soon as I began writing my blog posts in Scrivener and copy/pasting them into WordPress, my WordPress posts appeared in 14 point rather than 12 point type. I habitually write in 14 point Times Roman in both Scrivener and Word, much easier on my eyes, but trying the same copy/paste from Word only produced 12 point type in WordPress.

So when the Scrivener upgrade said it would no longer put HTML on the clipboard, I realized what was happening. Sure enough, when I looked at one of my WordPress postings in the “text” view (rather than the “visual” view which I use to finalize posts) it was loaded with HTML coding, way more than I would ever have the patience (or knowledge) to do by hand.

I was pretty sure I had seen something in Scrivener that would allow me to export individual documents in a variety of formats (rather than go through the rather complicated Compile feature), and after searching through most of the menus I finally found it (in the most obvious place): File/Export/Files (or Ctrl+Shift+X, for the keyboard-oriented).

Unfortunately, that didn’t work. It produced a file that opened with Internet Explorer, but when I copy/pasted it to WordPress, none of the HTML coding came along.

So I went to the Literature & Latte web site forum section and hunted around until I found a post from someone dealing with the same question, where I learned that there is a “copy special” item on the Scrivener edit menu that allows copying several different formats to the clipboard. After several attempts I have discovered that Edit/Copy Special/Copy as HTML will get me most of what I want, if I paste it into the WordPress “text” editor rather than the “visual” editor. Then it took a trip to the WordPress forums (via Google) to learn that it takes “Shift+Enter” to add a blank line in the visual editor.

I don’t know why the clipboard output in Scrivener has been changed. From the description in the change list, I’m guessing it must have been causing a problem for people copy/pasting to Word or other word processing programs. I’ve spent way too much time finding a work around this morning—but then, time spent learning something new is never wasted.

Recent Reading

I’ve been enjoying Marcia Muller’s Sharon McCone mystery series for many years, since it began with Edwin of the Iron Shoes back in 1977. When I noticed that Muller had published the first in a new series, written with her husband Bill Pronzini, I bought a copy and quickly misplaced it in my fear-inspiring collection of unread books (so many books, so little time). When I learned that two more books have come out in the series, I found The Bughouse Affair on my mystery shelf and read it.

“Carpenter and Quincannon, Professional Detective Services,” has been in business in San Francisco for The Bughouse Affairthree years when The Bughouse Affair opens in 1894. Sabina Carpenter is a former Pinkerton investigator, widowed when her husband was killed on a case. John Quincannon is a former Secret Service Agent. Their partnership is strictly business, although Quincannon would like something more to develop (and perhaps it will, in time).

While an Englishman who claims to be Sherlock Holmes meddles in their investigations, Sabina and John find that their separate cases, involving burglars, pickpockets, and murder, are actually related. But the real charm of the book for me is the detailed and very believable description of life and business in the San Francisco of 1894. If you enjoy the setting, you will enjoy the book.

Also set in the late nineteenth century, but not fiction at all, is Evan Schwartz’ Finding Oz: How L. Frank Baum Discovered the Great American Story. As the subtitle suggests, this is less straight biography than a portrait of the society and political events that influenced Baum. I picked the book up because, although I Finding Ozam a life-long Oz fan, I knew little about it’s creator. I learned that Baum dabbled in a variety of business ventures, most of them less than successful, lived in a number of places, and married the daughter of a well-known crusading feminist. I also learned a great deal about the life and times of the period.

I found some of Schwartz’ conclusions a bit far-fetched (he did not convince me that the massacre at Wounded Knee was reflected somewhere in The Wizard of Oz), but the book was definitely entertaining. I have a couple of anthologies containing the first ten Oz books on my shelf (Schwartz shows little interest in Baum’s career post-Wizard) and I may just reread them one of these days.

Howard Blum’s American Lightning: Terror, Mystery, the Birth of Hollywood, and the Crime of the Century is the story of the terrorist bombing of the Los Angeles Time building in 1910. Like many “crime of the century” events, this one has been largely forgotten. I’d never heard of it, and when I mentioned it recently to a friend who grew up in L.A., she didn’t know about it, either.

American LightningBlum’s narration mostly follows the efforts of William Burns, known in his day as “the American Sherlock Holmes,” to identify and track down the bombers, but he also brings in D.W. Griffith, who finds inspiration in the case as the movie industry moves from New York to Hollywood, and the attorney Clarence Darrow, who was involved in the defense of the accused bombers. Griffith’s involvement seemed a bit tenuous to me, but I enjoyed the descriptions of the early movie business.

American Lightning gives an interesting picture of the U.S. (and Los Angeles in particular) a century ago, and reminds us that terrorism is nothing new.

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