Thursday, January 23, 2014

Hazel Holt. Mrs Malory and No Cure for Death (2005)

     Hazel Holt. Mrs Malory and No Cure for Death (2005) A chatty, light-weight mystery set in a west-country village near the Cornish coast. Widowed Sheila Malory lives a comfortable and busy life. Her gift for gossip helps the local constabulary (a DCI she knew when he was still a boy) find the perp. A doc with a mysterious past and an aloof manner is stabbed to death in his clinic office. Nicely done until the end. The solution, when it comes, is kinda lame, involving past deceptions and lies. It explains everything, but the psychology is pat, superficial, and includes facts that should have been alluded to throughout the book. Holt devised a too complicated plot, I think, with too many plausible suspects. Unsatisfying. I suspect that her connections in publishing (she was Barbara Pym’s advisor and biographer) eased publication of this third-rate book.
     This Signet paperback is published by Penguin Group: the cover design echoes the old penguin covers, which IMO is a cheat. This is nowhere near the standards of those venerable (and now disintegrating) volumes. * (2010)

Stella Margetson. Leisure and Pleasure in the Nineteenth Century (1969)

     Stella Margetson. Leisure and Pleasure in the Nineteenth Century (1969) I was about to put this book in a box destined for U. Vic’s book sale when I started leafing through it. Then I read it. A pleasure to read, filled with interesting anecdotes that taken together trace the history denoted on the title, from the easy liberty (and licentiousness) of the Regency through the narrowing of moral strictures during Victoria’s long widowhood (measured among other things by the tightening of corsets and increased layering of underclothes), to the loosening of behaviour (and clothes) in the last years of her reign and the ascendancy of the Edwardians. Margetson’s style is easy and straightforward. She’s especially good at linking what are in fact disparate stories. The only serious fault is that there are not nearly enough pictures. I won’t keep it, but I’m glad I read it. ** (2010)

Eric Wright. Buried in Stone (1997)

      Eric Wright. Buried in Stone (1997) Offered as the first Mel Pickett story, it’s really the second, as we first met Mel in A Fine Italian Hand, in which he helped Charlie Salter. Retired to Larch River, about three hours drive north of Toronto, Mel is nice guy, and much shrewder than his avuncular, vaguely rural externals suggest. But he can’t avoid being drawn into the case of a local thug’s murder. His legwork includes a welcome train ride to Winnipeg and drive to Kenora, where he finds proof of a crucial falsification of dates. The upshot is that Lyman Caxton, the local police chief, loses his woman, who has helped hide the thug (her brother) from the law. Pickett ends up about to marry Charlotte Mercer, the waitress/cook at the local cafĂ©, with whom he has been spending pleasant Sunday afternoons in bed and at table.
     All in all, a satisfying read; the crime and its solution provide an excuse for a portrait of rural Ontario that has the ring of truth despite its somewhat sentimental point of view. The byplay between the OPP, Mel, and Caxton is nicely done: the combination of mutual respect, wariness of treading on foreign turf, and professional procedure feels right. **½ (2010)

Eric Wright. Death by Degrees (1993)

     Eric Wright. Death by Degrees (1993) Salter’s father suffers a stroke, and partly to distract himself from his anxieties, and partly to delay the boredom of writing a report on gambling, Salter takes on a case of poison-pen letters implying that the death of a recently elected college dean is murder, and not the side effect of a botched robbery. Salter’s investigation turns up a nasty mess of campus politics, which suggests there may have been a murder. Which it was.
     Wright’s dissection of academia, though set in a mere technical college, is clear-eyed and somewhat gentler than I would expect (he was a teacher at Ryerson for many years). He has a knack for quick character sketches that leave us with the impression of more than what was shown to us. Salter’s on-going family soap opera is dealt with a little more thoroughly than in other books. His relationship with his father is not resolved into sweetness and forgiving delight, but remains touchy and mutually armoured to the end (he will go home to be tended by May, his common-law wife). Annie and Charlie do what they have to do, because the old man is family; Charlie eventually can forgive himself for not having the kind of mutually affectionate relationship with his father that Seth has with his grandfather. A good read. *** (2010)

Jay Ingram. The Science of Everyday Life (1989)

     Jay Ingram. The Science of Everyday Life (1989) Ingram was the host of CBC’s Quirks and Quarks for many years. This is one of several books that indirectly came out of that show: a collection of bite-size explanations of common experiences, ranging from yawning to the change in pitch when you stir cream into your coffee to the mathematics of parties. He takes care to provide the latest and best research, with references. Better yet, he indicates when the phenomena are still not fully understood.
      Fun, enlightening, and above all an excellent primer in the scientific stance: The world is marvellous place, and asking questions about it makes it more marvellous still. That’s a great antidote to the pseudo-romantic notion that science destroys the mysteries of the cosmos. Actually, it replaces mystery with wonder, and the answers almost always add even more mysteries. Science is a journey without end.
     This book is out of print, but it’s worth searching for. ***

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Akutagawa Ryunosuke. Rashomon and Other Stories (1959)

     Akutagawa Ryunosuke. Rashomon and Other Stories (1959) Specially translated for the Bantam Classics series, this is a good introduction to Akutagawa’s work. The introductory essay reprises his life, and places him in the Japanese tradition. It appears that Japanese writers often lifted stories from old books; their skill lies in the reworking of the story to suit both the reader’s tastes and their own preoccupations and weltanschauung. In this, Japanese literature resembles that of Europe before the Renascence, after which authorial originality became an admirable feature rather than a defect. It’s no accident, I think, that the shift towards the personal in art and literature coincides with the shift towards new discoveries in the sciences and technologies. I gather from reading the occasional review that Japanese literature is becoming “modern” in the same way. These stories not only offer a few hours entertainment but also insight into a different view of the world. **½ (2010)

Alan Coren, ed. Punch Book of Crime (1976)

     Alan Coren, ed. Punch Book of Crime (1976) Towards the end of its long run, Punch’s essays became more and more serious. At times, they sounded like leaders in the Guardian. Even the few fictional pieces in this collection exude a rage at a broken and barbarous system that fails to rehabilitate and punishes prisoners gratuitously merely for the misdeed of being cooped up. The cartoons are up to the old and rarely equalled standard, but the prose by turns enrages and nauseates, not by its style, but by its subjects. ** (2010)

Eric Wright. Charlie Salter mysteries

     Eric Wright. Charlie Salter mysteries as follows: A Single Death, Smoke Detector, A Body Surrounded by Water, A Question of Murder, Charlie Salter, dogsbody in the Special Cases Centre of the Metropolitan Toronto Police, is a nicely ordinary man, whose tenaciousness and knack for asking useful questions produce the successes chronicled in these books. He has a good sense of the politics of his organisation, and the good sense to stay out of that game. Married with two sons, an irascible father, and a daunting family of in-laws (big names on PEI), he worries about the right Christmas presents, the best way to deal with the boys’ adolescence, and so on.He and Annie have a good relationship, grounded in love and mutual respect, which carries them over the inevitable spats.
     Charlie is a bit obtuse about personal relationships and women’s sense of grievance, but no more so than most men. Basically an amiable and friendly man, he tends to fall into liking some of his suspects, which in a couple of cases misleads him (and stretches the story to book length). The cases themselves have the ring of truth, for Wright avoids fanciful and ingenious methods of murder, and concentrates on the characters of victims and suspects. Charlie and his helpers slog through the process, and eventually sift out the nuggets of real information that justify the tedium.
     Wright is good on the background, both of Toronto (which he describes in nicely done brief tour-lectures for the non-Canadian readers), and both the particular and general social setting. I like this series very much, and read all except the first one in one go. They would make a nicely laid-back, wry and comic series, if done with a tone and p.o.v. similar to The Last Detective. *** (2010)

Tama Starr. The "Natural Inferiority" of Women (1991)

     Tama Starr. The "Natural Inferiority" of Women (1991) Starr has assembled an astonishing collection of quotations illustrating the patriarchal theory that men are superior and women are inferior. Occasionally, they are witty, especially those put in the mouths of fictional characters, but mostly they are absurd, and occasionally bizarre. Reading so many misogynistic pronouncements all in one place confirms the suspicion that misogyny at one extreme is self-serving deliberate ignorance, and at the other is a mental illness. Technically, I think it’s a type of hysteria, which is ironic, considering the origin of that term.
     The collection also shows that religious leaders have a lot to answer for. In the soi-disant Christian West, Augustine of Hippo’s self-absorption had a very damaging effect on the early church. He believed, as narcissists have always done, that his experience is universal. When he got religion, he projected his disgust over his past life of debauchery onto his new-found ideology, and distorted the lessons of the Bible. Not that he was unique: religionists from all faith traditions have done exactly the same.
      I don’t know what impulse leads some men into fear and loathing of their women. Freud’s theories suggest an answer, but Freud himself would have resisted it: these men (including Freud himself) suffer from fear. There’s something about women that terrifies these men, and their only defence (per Freud) is to transform the object of fear into an object of loathed inferiority. By imagining superiority, such men prop up their faltering ego, which threatens to dissolve into abject terror. I suspect the fear is prompted in large part by the recognition that we are animals, a fact that humans tend to deny more or less indignantly. For some people, the animal in the human is a disgusting stain on what they believe is  a spiritual nature; so Woman, who reminds us of our animal nature by giving birth to us as all other mammals do, becomes the focus of that fear. That mothers wield practically absolute power over small children no doubt injects the note of impotent hate.
     Starr has arranged the quotations in something resembling an argument, which is (as she notes) circular. Women arouse men’s baser instincts, so women must be evil. Because women are evil, they arouse men’s baser instincts. That men may be responsible for allowing their baser instincts to be aroused seems to be an idea considerably beyond the intellectual capacity of all those clever theologians and philosophers who prove their superiority by producing elaborations on this fallacy. ***

Friday, January 17, 2014

P. D. James. Time to be in Earnest (1999)

     P. D. James. Time to be in Earnest (1999) A fragment of autobiography, and a pretty good fragment. James begins a diary in 1997 when she turns 70. This book consists of edited and recomposed  entries, many of them mini-essays on topics that interest her and that she know will interest her fans (I'm one).
     She is carefully reticent about her feelings, but not so much about her opinions, in which she displays a classic conservative cast of mind. She likes an orderly society, but doesn’t like injustice. She doesn’t like capital punishment, but thinks it deters murder. She thinks people should earn their way in life, but she also knows that many people are constrained by circumstances over which they have no control, and believes it is the community’s duty to help them. She’s well aware of how  great a role luck played in her own life: there was no guarantee that her first novel would be published, nor that it would be a success.
     Much of her time in 1997-98 was spent promoting A Certain Justice in book tours, and much of the rest in speaking engagements. She likes good conversation, and remarks often on what she and her table companions discussed. Occasionally she discusses the crime novel; she notes that forensics and police procedure are much more carefully described and followed than in earlier times. Jane Austen is her favourite author; she includes a talk she gave about Emma as a mystery novel.
     She loves her family and treasures her friends, and  can find pleasure and joy in landscape and weather and visits. If she converses as she writes she would be a delightful table companion. The last paragraph is worth quoting:
 The cells in my body must have renewed themselves countless times since that eleven-year-old walked round Ludlow Castle so carefully the letter which opened for her the delights and opportunities of a high school education. I inhabit a different body, but I can reach back over seventy years and recognise her as myself. Then I walked in hope – and I do so still. ***

Rosemary Sutcliff. Frontier Wolf (1980)

     Rosemary Sutcliff. Frontier Wolf (1980) Alexios, commander of a post on the Roman frontier with the Germanic tribes, makes a bad decision and loses most of his men. As punishment, he’s assigned to a post on the frontier between Roman Britain and the land of the Picts, the Painted People, a couple of day’s march north of Hadrian’s Wall. The men he commands are an unruly lot, most of them recruited from the tribes who live in the borderlands. He becomes a friend of Cunorix, who later becomes Chieftain. A series of good and bad events culminate in a crisis: the chief’s brother Connla steals (“borrows”) a horse, he’s hunted down and executed, and there’s war. Alexios decides to withdraw; the last third of the book describes the troop’s trek through hostile country to Hadrian’s Wall. He brings most of his men to safety. His reward is the command of a larger frontier force in Belgium.
     The novel was re-published by Puffin, Penguin’s imprint for children’s and young adult books. Sutcliff’s YA historical novels don’t downplay the dark side and the gore, but don’t overdo it either. As far as I can tell, the historical details are accurate, allowing for the fictional fort that Alexios commands. The overall impression of a dangerous time and place to be a Roman soldier or a British native has the ring of truth. I’ve read a few others of Sutcliff’s books, she knows how to tell a story, create character, and imagine the past. More here: and Sutcliff Wikipedia Frontier Wolf is 3rd in fictional chronology of the Eagle of the Ninth series. ***

John Brunner. Time Jump (1973)

     John Brunner. Time Jump (1973) Brunner specialises in SF satire. Like Pohl, he has a sharp eye for ironic miscalculations, such as the Martians in The Warp and the Woof Woof. They are so sure of their mental and technological superiority that they fail to realise that they are much smaller than humans, whom they despise as semi-intelligent primitives at best. They make nice mouse-sized snacks for the “most intelligent” dweller at the house of the astronaut who is scheduled to arrive at their planet pretty soon. They also failed to pay enough attention to the habits of humans, so that they pick up the dog instead of the man, who has gone out with his wife for a farewell celebration. Darker miscalculations drive the plot of Nobody Axed You, in which a gruesome TV show inspires people to kill each other, and so helps reduce the population. A nice collection of bite-sized tales. **½ (2010)

David Sumner. High Rails over Cumbres (1976?)

     David Sumner. High Rails over Cumbres (1976?) A lovely little pamphlet summarising the history of the D&RGW narrow gauge lines in Colorado and New Mexico, and the saving of the section over Cumbres Pass as a tourist railway. The railway still exists, although it has been overshadowed by the Silverton Railway, which preserves the southern section of the line. Old and new photographs, a page from a timetable, but no map. Two photos show the original timber trestle over Toltec Gorge and the later masonry embankment that replaced it. Good little book. *** (2010)

Frederik Pohl. The Abominable Earthman (1963)

     Frederik Pohl. The Abominable Earthman (1963) Pohl is one of the greats of the Golden Era of the commercial short story, those two or three decades of pulp fiction that began just before the second world war and petered out when TV displaced cheap fiction and the general interest magazines in the 70s. This collection shows the range and the limits of Pohl’s art. He liked to write stories of how humans, despite their obvious flaws and weaknesses, nevertheless manage to win against beings that seem overwhelmingly superior, as in the title story. Here a lazy petty crook of the most pathetic kind discovers that the Sirians get drunk on CO2, which leads to their eventual defeat.
     Pohl also has a knack for thinking through the consequences of different cultural assumptions. In “The Martian Stargazers” he combines this skill with historical speculation in an elegiac tale of how myths can become lethal when taken literally, The Martians called Sirius the Sleeper, and when a nova appears near that star, they imagine that the Sleeper has awoken. In a frenzy of fear they destroy themselves. Sometimes the irony is darker: in “Punch”, an advanced race suffering from terminal ennui has given humans their technology, so that they may become game clever enough to provide a real challenge to the hunters. Punch goes hunting with some humans, and discovers that they, like him, do not like to shoot sitting ducks.
     Pohl’s general attitude is ironic: humans (and other sentient beings) hold solipsistic views of the world that as often as not lead to their undoing, or shift the balance of power in unexpected ways. One could say that he specialises in the tale of the unintended consequence. His stories are well done, and often forgettable, but loads of fun to read. *** (2010)

Monday, January 13, 2014

Garrison Keillor. A Christmas Blizzard (2009)

     Garrison Keillor. A Christmas Blizzard (2009) James Sparrow hates Christmas; his wife Joyce loves the season and the feast. Sparrow flies to N. Dakota because his uncle’s health is failing. There a blizzard prevents his return to Minneapolis, so he spends some time in an ice fishing hut. He’s visited by various visions, or maybe angels, or maybe ghosts, which, like Scrooge’s Marley, teach him to be a more tolerant and loving human being. They also tell him that his wife is pregnant, which is something of a miracle after many years of marriage. So all’s well.
     Garrison Keillor is a wonderful story teller. This novel is very like his News From Lake Wobegon in tone and structure. He rambles, and it seems the story is about to get away from him and end up nowhere in particular, but like a walk in the bush on a winter’s night it bends back to where it started, a place that has changed in unexpected ways. Or perhaps it’s we who have changed, and see the old familiar places as the miracles they are. Worth another read. ***½

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Henry Petroski. Remaking the World (1999)

     Henry Petroski. Remaking the World (1999) Jon gave me this book for Christmas. Petroski wrote historical essays for American Scientist, a magazine that appears to carry on the original intent of Scientific American, which was much more focussed on technology (and even DIY) than the current version. His essays are very much like Gould’s, but the style is somewhat more neutral and pedestrian. I get little sense of Petroski’s personality, which is a pity, since his choice of subjects indicates a lively mind and wide range of interest.
     His emphasis on the non-technical aspects of engineering is important. Most people lack scientific and technical insight (we need a word like “illiteracy” for this), which means that the context of engineering works is often incomplete. The yearning for quick fixes prompts politicians and their constituents to trust the technocrats too much (see the “heightening” of “security measures” at airports recently). On the other hand, nimbyism and paranoid Ludditism result in know-nothing rejection of economically viable and ecologically effective solutions (see the resistance to H1N1 vaccination).
     All in all, a good book, with useful nuggets of information here and there. For example, “bug” as a glitch or unexpected flaw in design predates computers. Petroski quotes a note in Edison’s diary, in which Edison refers to “Bugs – as such little faults and difficulties are called –”. I’ve suspected that the “insect in the electronic works” was a story a little too pat to be true, and am happy to have my suspicion confirmed. *** (2010, previously posted)

William L. Shirer. The Rise and fall of Adolf Hitler (1961)

     William L. Shirer. The Rise and fall of Adolf Hitler (1961) This little book is aimed at school children, which means it’s simplified, and in places simplistic. It also affirms some of the post-war disinformation, such as that Austria was conquered by Hitler. In fact there was plebiscite, and 98% of those voting wanted Anschluss. And over 95% voted. The movement in favour of Deutschösterreich (German Austria) was strong even before Hitler moved to Germany. This movement originally wanted the “real” Austria to secede from the Hapsburg empire and take its proper place alongside or even as part of the German hegemony. When Hitler referred to the “mongrel” Slavs, he was merely repeating some of the attitudes of this movement.
     Shirer describes Hitler’s legal manoeuvres as trickery, rather than stressing that Hitler learned the lesson of the failed Putsch: that he would achieve his aims only if he could get hold of the legislative levers, and change the laws so that everything he did was legal. That includes the Holocaust. He saw the law as a tool for providing the legitimacy (same root, BTW) he needed. I can’t think of a single modern dictator who operates otherwise. Even the ancient Roman tyrants acted within the law – they just made sure that the Senate voted them the right to do as they wished.
     Shirer claims repeatedly that the story he tells is based on documents and other evidence, and as far as I know the facts are all true. This is a book that middle school children should read, I think, especially with a teacher who can help them see its implications for today’s politics. Saviour politics are a threat to democracy that never goes away. We live once again in a time when too many people are hoping for some powerful leader to keep them safe, and the same mixture of political ignorance, apathy, fear, and cocooning that brought Hitler to power is once again strong. So also is the polarisation: when people see nothing but disaster around them, they focus on a single, simplistic solution, and demonise those who disagree with them. People like me, who were more or less successfully inoculated against the delusions promoted by a wannabe tyrant, and can see the signs of creeping tyranny, are often seen as extremists. **½ (2010)

David Popp, ed. 102 Realistic Track Plans (2009)

     David Popp, ed. 102 Realistic Track Plans (2009) Track plans have a fascination out of all proportion to their significance. Their appeal is universal. Whether a model railroader is a novice dreaming of the ultimate layout, or a seasoned builder, a track plan attracts the eye and mind, and everyone that studies one will think of ways in which it could be adapted to his or her space and preferences. When the plan shows a layout that was actually built, so much the better. That means that at least one person knows it works.
     All the plans in this book are of actual layouts featured in Model Railroader and Great Model Railroads over the last few years. The smallest ones will fit on a card table if built in N or Z, the largest ones fill half a basement or garage. Some have strange alternative routes, or favour one direction over another because of poorly planned reversing tracks. But all of them work, in the sense that their builders operate trains more or less prototypically. All of them have a good balance of landscape, townscape, and track. Many exhibit ingenious ways of arranging staging yards, or draping a multi-lap mainline around the room so that the scene does not look too crowded, or adaptations of real track arrangements. All were planned as layouts rather than as track plans, but “track plans” is the term familiar to novices, who are a large part of the target audience. Short articles on track planning (measuring the space, drawing the plan, devising a general scheme, etc) give the novice reader the advice (s)he needs.
     What’s missing are the names of the original builders or planners, IMO a major omission. The captions could be a little more informative in terms of hints for operation, for example. Other than that, this is a very good book. If it’s reissued as a trade paperback, it may eventually replace 101 track Plans, Kalmbach’s best selling book ever. *** (2010)

Chris Leigh. Britain’s Railways from the Air (1987)

     Chris Leigh. Britain’s Railways from the Air (1987) Leigh has assembled a lovely collection of air photos, many taken in the 1920s and 30s, when aerial photography was difficult, to put it mildly. He reprints a photo showing the photographer hanging onto a large plate camera, while the pilot looks over his shoulder, prior to take off.
     Considering the relatively slow speed of the photo emulsions of the time, the inevitable shaking of the plane itself, and the difficulty of maintaining the aim of the camera, it’s amazing how clear the images are. Actually, even though this book was printed in the late 80s, printing technology was generally still not capable of transferring the film image to the page without a severe loss of detail and a compression of gray scale in the shadows and highlights. Or else the publisher assigned the printing to an older firm still using older technology, and so saved some money. In any case, Leigh often refers to things he must have seen when he examined the original prints or negatives, but which the reader cannot make out. It would be nice to see the book reprinted with current technology, or issued as an e-book with large image files scanned from the negatives.
     Even so, I enjoyed the book. One thing that struck me was the large number of allotments near the railway lines, some of them on a patch of ground between the tracks and an industrial site, and so on. Another thing is how empty much of rural England was before the second world war: the housing estates that now crowd round country towns and villages were almost entirely absent. Some of the railway installations were enormous: it’s difficult to realise how much land railway yards and junctions could take up. Nowadays, the tracks have been lifted from most of them, and the sites host shopping malls, light industries, or apartment blocks. *** (2010)

Tim Wilco. More Funny Things on the Way to Church (1983) & Bill Stott. The Crazy World of Gardening (1987)

     Tim Wilco. More Funny Things on the Way to Church (1983) Just what the title says, and all true, if the people who submitted these anecdotes are to be believed. A few real knee slappers, but mostly gentle chucklers or wry smilers. **½

     Bill Stott. The Crazy World of Gardening (1987) Again, just what the title says. The cartoons will prompt more or less pleasant memories in all gardeners. These two books are Christmas gifts from Fay, who knows I like to be amused. **½ (2010)

Friday, January 10, 2014

Two railway histories

     Glen W. Curnoe. The London & Port Stanley Railway 1915-1965 (1976) A compilation, not a book, but a good read for the railfan, and especially for the L&PS fan. Photos vary in quality, but are generally well-reproduced. Curnoe has assembled a useful and pleasing collection of pictures and reminiscences. Recommended for them as likes these kinds of books, and no doubt useful for anyone who intends to write thorough history of the line. **½

     John H. White. Early American Locomotives (1972) White has collected engravings and drawings illustrating the development of steam locomotives in North America from the beginnings to about the 1890s. Visually very nice, with brief but informative captions, and an introductory survey. I’ve looked through this book many times. It amounts to a demonstration of the engraver’s art and skill *** (2009)

Alexander McCall Smith. Heavenly Date (2003)

     Alexander McCall Smith. Heavenly Date (2003) McCall Smith has a deserved reputation as a story teller, but I find his tales more than a little lightweight. He writes for what was at one time a major market, mass magazines. In the 50s and 60s most magazines, even those focussing on niche interests, carried short fiction. Now, only women’s magazines provide a reliable market, and it’s no accident that McCall Smith has a higher status among women readers than among men. These short stories are pleasant entertainments, but no more. A couple disturb a surface that hides darkness, as in Bulawayo, a story of a wife’s decision to abandon her husband for a fling with a boy, but McCall Smith leaves it up to the reader to imagine that darkness. At his best, he displays the same kind of cool ruthlessness as Alice Munro: He just shows you what happens, and how poor or ill-considered choices, or mere accident, can cause catastrophe. This dispassionate view of human frailties lifts him a notch or two above the merely good. **½ (2009)

Linwood Barclay. Bad Guys (2005)

     Linwood Barclay. Bad Guys (2005) The narrator, a reporter for the city paper, which improves his income but not his level of anxiety, which remains high. Turns out it’s justified: Zack becomes entangled in a homicide, the Mob, crooked cops, a car with drugs in the door panels, and so on. The mobster collects Barbie dolls, so when Zack attacks the collection itself, he’s distracted enough to lose the firefight. All ends well, but it’s taken 40 TV-scene sized chapters to get there. Barclay wrote a column for the Toronto Star; this accounts for the ring of truth in the newsroom scenes. He has a sly sense of humour, he delivers dead-pan comments that take a second ro two to hit, and touches of parody and satire of the hard-boiled ‘tec story. Entertaining enough that I’ll read any other of Barclay’s books that I find. **½

Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Here's a blog with cool Pictures of roads. Unlike most blogs I get when I click on Next Blog, this one is current. Recommended.

Sunday, January 05, 2014

David Sedaris. Holidays on Ice (1997)

     David Sedaris. Holidays on Ice (1997) Occasional pieces by a satirist who at his best rivals Swift, but too often is merely bad tempered. All these pieces deal with Christmas. “Santaland Diaries reports on Sedaris’s stint as a department store elf; his observations on the tyranny of sentimental expectations are astute and hilarious. “Based on a True Story” satirises the contemptuous and self-deluding attitudes of the self-styled creative people who want to make money with movies and TV shows supposedly about actual events. It uses Swift’s technique of impersonation of the satiric target, and succeeds as Swift’s “Modest Proposal” does: it makes us squirm as we half-recognise attitudes in ourselves uncomfortably close to those attacked. Sedaris has a reputation as a humorist, but humour is at most a side effect of his true talent, that of clear-eyed observation of the follies and vices that beset us all. ***