Two Old Favorites Return

Stuart Kaminsky’s Toby Peters mysteries were a pleasure I shared with my mother for years. I still have nearly all of them in paper copies, some from the old Doubleday Mystery Book Club (good paper, small print), and some in paperback (yellowed paper, even smaller print). I have e-book copies of the two I never did find in print. Recently the first one, Bullet for a Star popped up in an e-book sale, and I snapped it up (even though I have that one on the shelf).

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The series starts in 1940. Toby Peters, ex-cop, ex-security guard at Warner Brothers, is a downscale private detective in Los Angeles, when a producer at Warner’s calls him to handle a blackmail payoff involving a photo of Erroll Flynn and a very young girl. That wouldn’t surprise anyone, but Flynn says he’s never seen (or anything else) this particular young girl. And Toby soon finds out someone is willing to kill to get his (or her) hands on the negative, real or not.

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Rereading Bullet for a Star is a bit of a time machine trip for me, back to 1977 when my mother, a great movie fan as well as a voracious mystery reader, and I first discovered Toby, and back to 1940, which Kaminsky renders in delightful detail. Kaminsky was a professor of film studies, and the Toby Peters series weaves together hard-boiled detective action, Hollywood history, and a sardonic sense of humor. At the end of Bullet for a Star Toby gets a phone call from a frightened Judy Garland, leading the way to the next book, Murder on the Yellow Brick Road. These little teasers continued throughout the series.

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The call from Judy Garland leads Toby to the M.G.M. lot and the sets for The Wizard of Oz, seldom used since a year has passed since the picture was released. But there Toby finds the body of a little person in Munchkin costume, something the studio would like to keep as quiet as possible. So Toby takes on the case, interviewing witnesses (Clark Gable and Victor Fleming), aided at one point by an enterprising young suspense writer named Raymond Chandler, harassed by his brother (an irascible LAPD lieutenant), and targeted by the killer. Next: the Marx Brothers. There are 24 books in the series, so it will take me a while to catch up.

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Another mystery series that I have recently picked up in ebook form even though I have old paper copies on my bookshelf is Charlotte MacLeod’s Peter Shandy stories. As the series opens in Rest You Merry (1978), Shandy, a middle aged tenured professor at Balaclava Agricultural College, has overdone the Christmas decorations at his campus home and left town for the holidays, his form of protest over the annual “Illumination” festival. Feeling a bit guilty about his shenanigans, he returns to find Jemima Ames, wife of his best friend and chairwoman of the Illumination, dead in his locked house. Accident, or something more sinister?

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Becoming a detective by necessity is a big change for Shandy, co-developer of the famous and profitable Balaclava Buster rutabaga, but an even bigger change results from the arrival of Helen Marsh, a distant connection of the Ames family, and just what our bachelor professor needs. Together, Peter and Helen investigate deaths, arson, and the mysterious thefts of old books from the long-ignored Buggins Collection. Add in a variety of eccentric faculty members and spouses, students dressed as elves, and a tipped-over bowl of fried marbles, and you have a delightful tale. There are ten books in the Shandy series, but MacLeod wrote many others as well.

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Cheers to Mysterious Press and Open Road Media for making Toby Peters and Peter Shandy available again.

Kindle Voyage Reset

A couple of weeks ago my four-year-old Kindle Voyage stopped working. Well, parts of it stopped working—the main parts: the library, and then the home screen. The Voyage continued to receive the special offer ads, and some of the menus worked, but clearly there was no way to actually read a book on it, even after several restarts and assorted Google research.

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Now this wasn’t exactly an emergency. I have an 8-inch Fire tablet, where I actually do most of my electronic reading, a 10-inch Fire tablet, the Kindle app on my phone, and the Kindle app on my computer. But I do like to have the small dedicated e-reader to stick in my purse for times when I know I’ll be sitting and waiting somewhere, or eating alone.

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The evening the Voyage stopped working, I checked Amazon for a possible replacement. I hadn’t realized that the Voyage had been discontinued a couple of years ago. The newer Oasis, which I might have wanted if I wasn’t reading so much on my Fire, is wildly expensive. The newest Paperwhite, on the other hand, was selling that night for $85, as opposed to its usual $130. Did I really need one? I’d think about it.

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The next day the price of the Paperwhite had gone back up to $130, and I decided that purchase could wait a while. I downloaded the Price Tracker for Amazon app to my phone and set it up to let me know when the price went down again, and I went back to reading on my Fire.

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This morning my phone beeped, and the price tracker informed me that the price of a Paperwhite Kindle had dropped again, this time to $95. That sounded good, so I popped one into my Amazon cart, and added a non-Amazon case I had run across while buying a new case for my Fire.

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Then, just for the heck of it, I opened the Voyage. Out of juice, so I connected it to a charger (by now I have a whole basket of them on the kitchen counter) and went back to reading the newspaper. When I checked the Voyage, the home screen and library were still gone, but I opened the settings to see if there might be something I’d accidentally changed, and found the menu item for resetting the device to factory specs, the nuclear option. This would erase everything stored on the reader, but since it wasn’t working anyway, why not try? If it worked, it wouldn’t be any different than setting up a new reader.

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So I hit reset.

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And it worked.

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After several minutes of doing whatever it was doing, the Voyage came back and asked me to connect to my wifi network and then to my Amazon account. Once that was done, there was the home screen and the library, nothing downloaded but everything available in my cloud. I downloaded and opened the book I’ve been reading on the Fire, and there it was, synced to the right page (something the Voyage had been having trouble with for a while) and ready to go.

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I emptied my Amazon cart. I’ll stick with the Voyage, at least until it craters again.

Keeping Up To Date

The other night I received an email from a reader (hurray for readers!) of my blog, letting me know that one of the links in my article Software for Writers led him to a Japanese porn site. He was interested in the software, so he’d found (and sent me) an active link leading to an innocent software site (if a bit old, referencing Windows XP as the program’s operating system).

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So I clicked on the link in my article and—oh, my goodness! That link did not go there when I set it up several years ago, and I apologize to anyone else who accidentally ended up there. My guess is that someone let their domain name expire and had to set up a new one. Apparently the vacated domain appealed to someone in Japan with an interest in things other than writers’ software.

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I wrote and posted that article nearly six years ago, so after I replaced the bad link with the correct one (Thanks again, Stephen!), I checked all the links, and was pleasantly surprised to see that all the programs I mentioned still have active web sites. I’m no longer using any of them, having switched almost all of my writing to Scrivener in the intervening years (see Introduction to Scrivener for Novelists), but we all process our writing differently, so another program (or combination of programs) may be just what you’re looking for.

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On the theme of keeping up to date, I read and replied to that email on my newest toy, an Amazon Fire HD 8 tablet. I knew I wouldn’t resist long after I had WiFi set up in the house. I’ve been an Amazon Prime member for years, but as much as I buy from the Zon, the free shipping doesn’t add up to the annual fee. So I thought I’d buy an Amazon tablet to use for music and videos. And, of course, because I wanted a new toy. The Fire is inexpensive (less than I paid for my Kindle Voyage) and simple to use. The Quick Start Guide is the size of a business card, mainly showing the location of the on/off button. I plugged mine into the charger and it sprang to life, walking me through the rest of the set up.

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I have barely scratched the surface of the App Store, but I have both my email accounts set up (and setting up my little-used gmail account brought my phone calendar over), along with Goodreads and Facebook. I promptly made the time-sink error of downloading three games (there are thousands available): Solitaire, Sudoku, and Flow Free, a totally addictive logic game.

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The Fire came with a six-month subscription to the Washington Post—that might not be to everyone’s taste, but I’m enjoying it, and I expect I’ll renew when it runs out in September.

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Of course the Fire comes with the Kindle app already installed (along with Amazon Video, Amazon Music, Amazon Shopping, and Alexa), and the e-reader function is very nice, including something called “blue shade,” which you can turn on to cut out the blue light that keeps some people (and I seem to be one of them) from sleeping after reading on a screen at bedtime. One of the joys of having my Kindle Voyage, my phone, and the Fire all on WiFi is the automatic sync—if I forget my Voyage, I can pick up where I left off in a book on my phone. And if I want to read in bed on the Fire, it takes me right to the page where I stopped on the Voyage.

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The Fire only connects to the Internet via WiFi, but once you’ve downloaded a book, a game, or even a video, you don’t need the connection.

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Any day now, I’ll actually sit down and start watching The Man in the High Castle. Maybe that could get me back on the exercise bike I’ve been neglecting.

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Lest you think I have been totally absorbed by the Cloud—I still do the crossword, the jumble, the cryptogram and the sudoku in the Houston Chronicle every evening (I actually read the paper in the morning), and I continue to add to my collection of paper books To Be Read (I have five on pre-order from Amazon even as I type, and there may have been recent trips to bookstores).

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There are not enough hours in the day.

Kindle and book

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