29 January 2011

The Pyramid & Four Other Kurt Wallander Mysteries by Henning Mankell


The whole situation is insane, he thought.

This collection consists of five short stories and novellas that have been arranged chronologically to trace Wallander's growth from rookie cop to seasoned detective. Any reader (or viewer of the BBC series) who has longed to know Wallander before he became a middle-aged divorced detective should The Pyramid a pretty eye-opening read.
  • "Wallander's First Case"
    Takes place in 1969, when Wallander is a young patrolman in Malmo, just beginning his relationship with Mona, the woman he will marry. One night, Wallander hears what sounds like a gunshot in his apartment building and, when he investigates, he finds a neighbor’s door ajar and a body on the floor. The death is ruled a suicide but Wallander isn’t convinced and he decides to investigate on his own time, acting against the rules of the police department, because it will also help him look like a successful detective-candidate ...
  • "The Man with the Mask"
    Christmas Eve 1975, Wallender's supervisor asks him it check out a grocery store on his way home. The old woman who owns the shop has called several times, reporting a strange individual outside her store. When Wallander arrives, the woman is dead and his is attacked by a desperate man. Wallander's only hope for rescue lies in his wife Mona. Eventually, she will become angry he has not come home from work and call the station looking for him ...
  • "The Man on the Beach"
    1987, Wallander is chief inspector in Ystad with a failing marriage. A local taxi driver picks up a fare who quietly dies in the back of his cab. An autopsy reveals the fare was poisoned earlier in the day. Wallander and his team learn that the victim had been staying in Ystad for the past week, traveling into Svarte by taxi each day to walk on the beach. It's quite a tangled story and the ending felt incomplete to me.
  • "The Death of the Photographer"
    It's 1988 and Wallander and Mona are separated. The body of a local portrait photographer is found in his studio. The victim seems like "regular guy" but Wallander refuses to believe that a normal man could be the victim of such a brutal attack. Eventually, it becomes clear there was more to the victim then met the eye ...
  • "The Pyramid"
    One night in December 1989, Wallander is called out to investigate the crash of a small unregistered plane. This plane, not appearing on radar as it flew into Swedish air space, appears to have been carrying a load of drugs. The crew is dead and there is not a lot of evidence to go on when Wallander called away to investigate arson and suspected murder at a local sewing shop. Why would anyone have anything against two dear old ladies? And why do they have such a big safe full of money? As Wallander tries to connect these cases, his father is arrested by the Cairo police while on holiday in Egypt! His crime? Trying to climb the Cheops pyramid!
Taken all together they paint an unrelentingly grim picture of a life curbed by dysfunctional relationships, senseless crime, and terrible weather. I do not recommend reading them all in one go, as I did, unless you enjoy depressing yourself. Certainly, there are moments of fine black comedy and the dull plod of police work is very realistically presented, but I didn't finish the collection with any feelings of affection for Wallander or his Sweden.

The Pyramid & Four Other Kurt Wallander Mysteries written by Henning Mankell & translated from the Swedish by Ebba Segerberg with Laurie Thompson (The New Press, 2008)

27 January 2011

Georgette Heyer's Regency World by Jennifer Kloester


I read a lot of Heyer's romances and regularly come across phrases or descriptions I must puzzle out either by sifting through websites or searching the reference section of my library. It's not a big deal -- I'm have a great love of useless trivia -- but I've frequently wished for a little guide I could quickly thumb through to find my answer. And, lo, my wish has been granted!

Georgette Heyer's Regency World is divided into fourteen chapters with many black-and-white illustrations scattered throughout. Chapters cover everything from the social ladder to postage to vowels and all points between. The appendix of cant and common phrases is very welcome as is the timeline of contemporary events -- as with Austen, I find it easy to forget that these stories do not occur in a bubble.

The index is very well laid and is arranged both by subject and, interestingly, by novel. Theoretically, you could read all the notes on The Black Sheep in one go before you even started the book! (I'm not sure why you would want to do this, but you could).

The book itself is a fairly attractive trade paperback designed, I presume, by Sourcebooks to blend with the Heyer Regencies it has already republished. It is, perhaps, a bit too pink for my taste, but I have never been very fond of pink.

And while, yes, much of the information contained in this volume can be found on the Internet or in your library, it is much more pleasant to have it all neatly arranged in one location!

Georgette Heyer's Regency World by Jennifer Kloester (Sourcebooks, 2010)

24 January 2011

Graphic Novel: American Vampire

American Vampire by Scott Snyder, Rafael Albuquerque, and Stephen King (DC Comics, 2010)

Back in the days of silent film, Pearl, a pretty young actress, is invited to a party populated by some serious bigwigs who, if they like what they see, could make her a star. Unfortunately, they turn out to be vampires and more interested in eating her than in promoting her. Later, Pearl is found wandering mostly naked in the desert and is taken to the hospital. She has lost a lot of blood and dies ... then a mysterious man appears and brings her back from the dead.

... Dun Dun Dun ...

Pearl's mysterious "savior" is Skinner Sweet, American Vampire, and he has transformed her into a vampire like himself -- a new, superior breed of vampire capable of walking in sunlight and invulnerable to many things which cripple or kill European vamps.

... Dun Dun Dun ...

This graphic novel has generated a lot of praise and I was looking forward to reading it. Unfortunately, I hated it. Seriously hated it. So much of the action, story, and illustrations seemed gratuitous. And the plot "twists?" Felt is if they were thrown in because no-one knew how to move the plot forward. Also, stop objectifying the ladies

23 January 2011

"Rise up, my love, my fair one, and come away."

Wisdom's Daughter: A Novel of Solomon and Sheba by India Edghill (St. Martin's Press, 2004)

For a thousand years, Sheba has been ruled by queens and has remained a happy, prosperous land. Alas, tragedy as struck the queen's house and Bilqis, Queen of Sheba, is without heirs. Too old to bear another child, she knows that raising up a girl from one of the noble Sheban families will only bring strife and civil war. If only her daughter and granddaughter had not died! If only her sister's son were a daughter! If only.

In desperation, Bilqis appeals to her goddess, Ilat, and is told she must leave Sheba to seek the next queen. Coincidentally, emissaries from King Solomon's court have recently arrived in Sheba, seeking trade agreements. Seeing her chance, Bilqis goes north with her riches to Jerusalem to test the wisdom of Solomon and find her heir.

I really enjoyed Wisdom's Daughter. Edghill has a knack for characterization and many of her (female) characters seemed to leap off the page. I was also pleased that, while Wisdom's Daughter is principally about Bilqis, her heir, and King Solomon, Edghill has used their story to explore the lives of the many women in Solomon's life. One hears much of Solomon, but very little about his wives or mothers, yet they practically formed a small city unto themselves and must have had interesting lives!

It did seem a little strange that a novel full of temples and gods was not particularly religious. Despite being set in Jerusalem, Judaism doesn't come off well. Most of the female characters were much more interested in goddesses and Baalit, Solomon's own daughter, did not seem to experience any religious qualms when she sought to become the next Queen of Sheba. Perhaps because Yahweh (or his priests) didn't have much use for women, women didn't have much use for Yahweh? And, when you're offered the queenship of a rich and prosperous kingdom, maybe you don't quibble about god?

20 January 2011

Serious Librarians Want Their Stuff Back



After spending this evening reading through five pages of lost books (approximately twenty books to a page) trying to decide which ones my library can afford to replace, Sunday's Pearls Before Swine strip feels extremely relevant.

Grr.

Fun With Fathers

A Matter of Class by Mary Balogh (Vanguard Press, 2010)

Reginald Mason dresses and behaves like a true gentleman of the ton, but he is not. No, he is the son of an "upstart" (self-made man) who despise the ton just as surely as he longs for the day his son truly become a gentleman. How can he make Reginald assured admittance in all the best circles? Marry him of to gentry ...

Lady Annabelle Ashton, daughter of the Earl of Havercroft, has brought great shame upon her family due to her recent unseemly conduct. Namely, attempting to run off to Gretna Green with her father's handsome new coachman. Annabelle's father, understandably outraged, decides the best way to punish her is to marry her off to the upstart Mason's son ...

But, wait! There's more!

Two people, long secret friends, grow to love each other. Knowing their union is impossible without their families' approval, they set out to manipulate those dear people into letting them have their way ...

While the fathers could be a bit wooden, Balogh has created several compelling characters and the story is a sweet one. A diverting read on a dreary winter afternoon.

19 January 2011

Wordless Wednesday: More Snow

Pine in Snow


Roseanna by Maj Sjöwall & Per Wahlöö


The first Martin Beck mystery, Roseanna takes place in 1960-something Sweden. The nude body of a young woman is dredged from a canal near Lake Vattern and it is obvious to all she was violently murdered ...

I've given up on Roseanna. At page seventy-seven (the end of the interview with Roseanna's sometimes boyfriend), I simply decided I could not go on. After the descriptions of Roseanna's wide mouth, slack breasts with "large, brown nipples," and the American detective's questions about whether she had ever achieved orgasm ... the novel became distasteful to me. And, while there could be no doubt the person who murdered her was very wicked, I had a disquieting suspicion that Roseanna would still be held culpable for her own murder. It all smacked of slut shaming and I didn't want to be part of it -- even if it was a work of fiction.

And, yes, I know Roseanna was first published in the U.S. in 1967 and so I should probably cut it a little slack as it merely reflects its age, but I just can't.

Wrong reader, wrong book, wrong time.

Roseanna by Maj Sjöwall & Per Wahlöö (Vintage Crime, 2006)

09 January 2011

More Favorite Stories of Christmas Past


The stories found in More Favorite Stories of Christmas Past are:

  • "Keeping Christmas" by Henry Van Dyke
  • "A Christmas Dream, and How It Came True" by Louisa May Alcott
  • "The Last Dream of the Old Oak" by Hans Christian Andersen
  • "Christmas at Red Butte" by Lucy Maud Montgomery
  • "The Little Match Girl" by Hans Christian Andersen
  • "Rosa's Tale" by Louisa May Alcott
  • "A Christmas Carol" by Charles Dickens.

I admit I did not listen to all the stories in this collection -- only made it all the way through "Christmas at Red Butte" and "Rosa's Tale" -- but I was very pleased with these two. Prebble and Bean read very well with great animation and strong characterization. Indeed, I think I could listen to Bean all day. Perhaps she would come sit in my kitchen and read my cookbooks aloud to me if I paid her in cake?

Suuure, crazy lady, sure.

Montgomery's "Christmas at Red Butte" is a sweet story about sacrifice, love, and family. A poor young woman sacrifices a dear memento to provide a "real" Christmas for her family, only to have something even more precious returned to her on Christmas Day. This story seemed familiar and I'm pretty sure I must have read it in Christmas with Anne and Other Holiday Stories.

In Alcott's "Rosa's Tale" a young woman brings her sister's horse a Christmas treat and discovers that the old wives' tale about dumb animals being able to speak on Christmas Eve is true. Rosa's life story shares much in common with Black Beauty and would be a great read for any horse or animal lover.

I tried listening to Alcott's "A Christmas Dream, and How It Came True" and Andersen's "The Last Dream of the Old Oak," but couldn't make it all the way through either of them. Alcott's story was just a little too precious for me to stomach and Andersen's story seemed so heavily drenched in symbolism that listening to it made me I feel as if I was being hit over the head with The Symbolism Stick.

More Favorite Stories of Christmas Past read by Simon Prebble & Joyce Bean (Tantor Media, 2008)