Saturday, July 21, 2012

A Review of The Case of the Missing Servant by Tarquin Hall

In The Case of the Missing Servant by Tarquin Hall we meet India's most private investigator. Is he the Sherlock Holmes of Delhi? Or perhaps India's Hercule Poirot? As I read this delightful discovery I could see Vish Puri, aka Chubby as a combination. Portly with a certain style in the clothes he wears I certainly am reminded of Poirot but being more hands on I can see Sherlock Holmes. One passage early on in the story reminded me of another detective.

" 'Vish Puri's third rule of detective work is to always make all suspects believe you are a fool', explained the detective. 'That way they are caught unawares.' " pg 80.

I was at once reminded of Columbo.

Most Private Investigators, Ltd. is brought into a case involving a missing servant girl from the Kasliwal household. A body of a woman badly damaged to the point of unrecognizablility is found. The master of the household is arrested as rumors have been about that he had gotten her pregnant and disposed of her. As Puri investigates clues lead to other possible suspects. The one suspect that seems to know the most turns up dead himself. A clue is found that makes Puri suspecious of the settled question that the woman's found body is really that of the missing servant.

Jumping ahead past the trial Vish Puri assembles all the main characters at the Kasliwal house for the final reveal, much as Hercule Poirot would do at the end of his cases. We learn the actual murderer, the motives for the murders, or the seeming murders, and the revelation that yes, the servant was indeed pregnant.

It is quite likely that I would never have run into Vish Puri if it were not for Goodreads. I most definately will be making room for others of this series to go next to my Poirots, Maigrets, and Holmes. It was a most pleasant surprise. A mystery with humor and delightful cast of operatives at the Most Private Investigators, Ltd., Tubelight, Flush, and Facecream. As a bonus, if you get hung up on a term or expression whether it be Hindi, Urdu, or Punjabi, Hall provides us with a glossery at the back of the book. If you love cozy mysteries you have to try Vish Puri, India's Most Private Investigator where "Confidentiality Is Our Watchword".

DISCLAIMER: I have received a complimentary copy of this book through Goodreads FirstRead giveaway program.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

A Review of Showcase Presents Justice League of America

This black and white rendition of the beginnings of the Justice League of America covers in this first volume The Brave and the Bold #28 from March-April 1960 through to Justice League of America #16 December 1962. Every Justice League of America story in order during this time period.

The stories are very predictable and quite juvenile, but that was because the primary target was kids. One could get these comic books at many variety and grocery stores in spinner racks at very low prices. Appeal to kids they did. This was the day when a story would usually begin and end in a single issue. Occasionally they would carry over into a second issue (talking all comics not just JLA). Even more rarely they would cross over into another title. Longer stories were generally saved for the annual issues where more space was provided. The stories in this volume were mostly told within a single issue.

My rating at 4 stars is not due to storytelling or the graphics, but the nostalgic nature of the contents of this book. I grew up with these stories and they have a value due to the fact I grew up with them, saving my dimes and pennies for my favorite titles each month...each ranging in cost from 10-12 cents each.

If you grew up with later comics in the last couple of decades you will find these stories dull and horrible. I will not debate that as I would agree as a comparison. However, if you are looking for a buzz from your youth this collection is more cost effective than trying to buy the originals, if you can find them.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

A Review of Prepare by Geoffrey Germann

A mysterious stranger seemed to show up at just the right time. A stranger who seemed to be invincible. In a crime ridden section of the city called the Orchard, an attempted robbery of a convenience store is interrupted as the night clerk Nikolai can do nothing but watch as the stranger takes out the thugs who were not only going to rob him but cause him bodily harm if not kill him outright.

At Mercy Hospital, resident Corinne works in an ER that more closely resembles a scene from MASH. As she leaves at the end of her shift a mysterious fighure stands in front of her as gangbangers charge into the waiting room to finish off a rival waiting for medical attention.

What follows is a new type of superhero who stops criminals in their attacks on innocent inhabitants of the Orchard who live their lives in fear of gang activity. There is cat and mouse games drawing out gang members and basically running them ragged as they try to catch up with this taunting mysterious figure.

By day he returns to his home to rest and prepare for another nights activity. Vigilantism is of course frowned on by the local authorities and this stranger becomes very much a person of interest.

Darren is a scientist/technician of micromechanical engineering and teams up with fellow collegue Adam in devising the suit and the technologies that make its wearer impervious to most forms of attack. They sell their company which gives them the resources to carry out their crime fighting agenda.

We also learn at the end that this crusader has a secret lab that escapes the self destruct expolosion that Darren uses to destroy the evidence that is apparant to the police as they close in on him.

I would like to have seen a little more of Adam and his role in this story. I am a bit curious as to how the second gang could have discovered Adam's role in the vigilantism and where their center of operations was located. Other than Adam was executed by the second gang we don't know the particulars. Walter's role at the end and how much he knew was somewhat explained but I not sure it was adequate for me to be believable.

In spite of my few little quibbles with this book, I still found it a fast and enjoyable read. Everything does not have to clearly resolved in order to have a pleasurale experience. If you do find this book and went along for the ride the ending left a door open to further adventures of Darren. As I understand it there is a sequel in the works.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

A Review of Antimatter by Frank Close

In a short but packed book Frank Close presents the story of antimatter. The beginning is the Big Bang, but leads us to the Tunguska explosion over Siberia in June 1908. An explosion unlike any ever seen by man. Many theories are considered but Close asks us to consider the possibility that this was an antimatter explosion.

The author takes through a history of the quest for antimatter with physicist Paul Dirac and his mathematical equations. As this history progresses the strange world of subatomic particles are cataloged including one called 'strange'. It is a world of weird and wonderful objects. In the discovering of antimatter it is also learned how rare it is in the universe.

We eventually come to a discussion about how we could contain something that has the potential of coming into contact with regular matter annihilate itself and that matter. If a way of containing antimatter without the annihilation it is possible to explain why we haven't been blown to bits in a massive explosion. In other words, according to one chapter, why is there anything at all?

Antimatter has long been a subject useful in science fiction. Are there practical uses for this material? Is it fantasy to consider its use as a clean energy source, or is research going to produce as the Air Force would like, an antimatter bomb. This book also would give the general reader a better understanding of just what physicists are trying to do at the Large Hadron Supercollider.

For those interested in the subject of particle physics, or for those looking for an explanation of how antimatter works would find this book an intelligent introduction without the need for lots of mathematics. The general reader can make sense of the subject matter but some general knowledge of the subject would make it easier reading.

A Review of Mother Desert: Poems by Jo Sarzotti

Through the years I haven't read that much poetry although I had an English lit professor who had a passion for it. We didn't learn the mechanics as to how poems were written but how to appreciate the way the words were selected and used to produce images and emotions. I am totally unqualified to consider whether these poems were technically correct or that they followed a specific form. All I can say is that I enjoyed them.

It has been some time since I last took a "road trip" down some back road that was once a well traveled hiway in the past, but you've seen them yourself or in the movies, and passed by deserted buildings at some intersection. The abandoned gas station, the motel where the "VACANCY" sign has been long ago extinguished:

"On the outskirts of town

Long-boarded up, abandoned

Motels, coyote in the rubble,"


I once traveled the long hiway through the Mojave Desert at night in my younger days, when as a member of the US Air Force I would leave Nellis AFB to travel home to central California for visits. Traveling at night often I would be the only one for long stretches of time. Memories are made fresh with such lines as:

"If I drive far enough, fast enough,

Something will change."

Or even more vivid in the same poem:

"A dead animal blots the yellow line,

Natural taxidermy,

Flattened & dried, particalized,"


The night time desert presented little in the way of change except for a brief stop in a small desert town for refilling the gas tank because it was a long ways to the next. The road occasionally littered with some animal that wasn't fast enough to avoid the wheels of the occasional vehicle that passed. Even in death they seemed to be defiant. As if to say I am still here:

"The dead thing stares back,

Won't retreat, gives no quarter"


My grandparents farmed as a way of life and while they had no above ground silo they had an old pump house with a windmill on the top as a fossil of the time that wind power lifted water from the ground, but to be replaced by an electric pump and a more stable supply. The pumphouse and its windmill stood out in the landscape to give comfort that we were nearly there and would soon be at home with relatives long missed. Two little lines makes vivid that image that replaces the reality that has since been torn down to make way for acres of houses:

"A plank barn, its silo

For all the world a lighthouse on the brink>"


That windmill next to the barn was a lighthouse for me. Opportunities for a city kid to mess about with the cows and calves. Getting our hands wet so that we could rub them on the salt blocks that were placed for the cattle to supplement their mineral needs and letting the calves suck the salt off our fingers:

"Perhaps I'll lie down with the cows

In their still-green pasture, let them lick

Salt from my face"


While Jo Sarzotti images Cairo and barges with tusks, I recall images of Thailand during my time during the Vietnam War. Images of long ago greatness in their part of the world where the elephant was not only heavy load transport but a tool of battle. Images staged for tourists but well remebered in the line:

"Armored for war, its triumphal procession

Is too wide for city gates."


While I have finished this small volume of verses, I am at the same time NOT finished. I am not sure anyone can ever finish a poem and say "that's it. The universe is comprehended. I can now forget about it and move on"

A number of these poems reflected experiences in my life in ways one wouldn't think. In some ways they cause me to think about experiences in new ways. I liked this collection. They made me think about the way a few lines can tell whole stories with well chosen words. I will probable go get more books of verse. They reminded me of that old English lit professor. Don't just read the words, read the pictures.

For disclosure purposes, this volume of poems was awarded free through Goodreads First Read giveaways.

Sunday, July 08, 2012

A Review of The MIkvah Scrolls by Steven G. Lightfoot

I rarely rate a book as unliked, but unfortunately I couldn't find anything to like about it. It was a fast read with large type and lots of white space and my first impression upon completion was that with some major editing this might make a passable couple of short stories. There is no novel here.

The characters were almost cartoonish to cliche with no depth. The author gave the reader no reason to care about these people. As an archaeologist the lead Dr. Cross, who was described as "more 'Indiana Jones' than scholorly professor" was setting a standard that the author did not come close to meeting. The archaeology was for the most part invisible.

As a Christian novel I found it to be very shallow. I have read supernatural books that were more realistic and convincing. The dialog did not enhance any way the archaeological reason for why we are supposed to be traveling with these people. A few places there was a distinct political message for our time, which is author's perogative, but in the couple of instances where this was expressed the opinion also did not advance the story. I was raised a Christian and am the son of preacher, but this part of the novel did not present itself well to me. I am sure that in certain Christian circles this might be a positive. If that is the case the rest of the storylines are probably in the way.

There was a Middle East political subplot in the story but was never develop in any fashion that would aide the moving forward of the plot line. I presume that this political subplot of danger was were we come into the story but it was no enhancement to make it interesting.

As I have said previously, this book could possibly shake out as a couple of short stories following heavy editing, and possibly an essay on how this authors understanding of his religious faith should play out in our national politics, but as a whole this book failed to work for me.

Sad that this review was negative as it was a Goodreads First Reads giveaway and the author took the time to autograph my free copy.
Addendum to Goodreads review:
About the only scene that was real was when Rev Proudman flashed back to his combat experience during the first Gulf War in Iraq. The author was a Marine officer during the same war. It is my opinion that had the author wrote about that experience as the subject of his novel, his writing may have been much better. To me it seemed that was the only thing that he really knows and understands. His secret new technology for archaeology work is neither new or unique as ground penetrating radar has been used for some time. Archaeologists even have satellite technology and imaging to aid with their digging. My advise for future book ideas would be for the author to hire, if he wishes to self-publish, an editor.

Thursday, July 05, 2012

A Review of Murder on the Eiffel Tower by Claude Izner

We begin with a newsclip about a rag and bone man dying of apparant bee sting in this novel set in 1889 Paris with the World Exposition that is featuring the brand new Eiffel Tower. This novel is translated from the French and is written by Claude Izner the pseudonym of two Paris booksellers and experts on 19th century Paris. Claude Izner is Liliane Korb and Laurence Lefevre. This mystery is the first in what is to be a series of mystery novels featuring Victor Legris.

At the exposition and on the tower a Eugenie Patinot is excorting her sister's children. She sits down on a bench only to feel a pain in her neck and dies. The apparant cause of death is a bee sting. It is during this time we meet the staff of a small newspaper Le Passe-partout. We also meet Victor Legris and Kenji Mori coowners of the Elzevir Bookstore which is the central hub of this mystery.

Two have died of bee stings when a third victim, John Cavendish, is found dead. This makes Victor Legris suspicious of his partner Kenji Mori. There is some evidence that ties Mori to Cavendish. During his investigation he discovers that the two have a past history in Southeast Asia. Also circumstantial evidence begin to point to the illustrator Tasha Kherson of the Le Passe-partout. Tasha presents a problem for Victor as he has fallen for her. Along the way Victor reads up on poisons and suspects that the real cause of death is curare.

Then there is the death by apparant bee sting of a Russian Constantin Ostrovski. The deaths all look totally random with little to connect them. What do they have in common? Kenji's whereabouts have been established and it couldn't have been him. There even are doubts that it was Tasha who could have committed the crimes.

The book was an enjoyable mystery though for me it was a slow read in a couple of places but with a little effort I got by those points in the story and continued on. If you are looking for a "cozy" mystery I would likely suggest this one. I haven't read any of the others in this series of Victor Legris mysteries and would likely read them if opportunity permitted. I went along with Victor in his interpretation of evidence and facts and was a little surprised at who did commit the crimes and why.

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

A Review of Kitty's Greatest Hits: A Collection by Carrie Vaughn

It is in this first short story "Il Est Ne" that that I am introduced to Kitty Norville, werewolf radio personality. A werewolf in human form comes into her life at a diner on Christmas called the Waffle House. During this story I learned that she has control over her changing and teaches this newcomer how to do the same. In the meantime they stop a serial killer. Enjoyed it.

The second story "A Princess of Spain" is an alternative history that has roots in reality. Arthur, Prince of Wales and heir to the throne was actually married to Catherine of Aragon before she was married to Henry VIII who eventually followed Henry VII to the throne of England. The twist is that this short story is a twist on how Arthur died. Or are our history books hiding the truth? Got a giggle out this one.

The third short in this book is "Conquistador De La Noche". This is the tale of a Spanish soldier who rode with Coronado in the New World. He is visited by an old friend who lures him to a remote village where he notices that things aren't right. While there he is attacked by his friend and others to become a blood thirsty demon like them. His faith in God however, helps him to control his urges to kill humans in order to drink their blood. Trapped he does what he was told could not be done.

"The Book of Daniel" is a retelling of the story of Daniel and the Lion's Den in the Old Testament with a twist. Daniel an advisor to King Darius make enemies among Darius' other advisors. A character called Suza who is a dancer joins Daniel on a walk that results in a journey to a forest where others are. They are changing from human form to various animals. Suza, Daniel's companion on the walk, turns into a leopard. Daniel, a lion. Daniel goes into the Lion's Den by order of King Darius....well, you figure out the rest.

"The Temptation of Robin Green" introduces us to a young army officer who works in secret Army base in California in a special lab where the objects of study include a werewolf, a vampire named Rick, a talking dog, a unicorn, a mermaid and a new addition, a silkie. We learn that Robin is a virgin and the power of the silkie is that of temptation. Robin is drawn to the silkie when she learns truely that he is male in the most obvious of ways. Against the advise of Rick the vampire, Robin plans to escape the lab with the silkie, which she accomplishes. Read the story for how this all ends.

"Looking After Family" Young Cormac Bennett's father is killed and Cormac kills his father's attacker. He is taken in to live with his Aunt and Uncle on their farm. One night Cormac goes into the darkness with rifle in hand, but his cousin attaches himself and wants to go out with him. It is in this story that I am introduced to Cormac, werewolf hunter.

Next up is another Cormac Bennett story, "God's Creatures". Cormac is a older and we once again find him hunting a werewolf, this time one which is killing cattle. The rancher who lost the cattle calls him in to track and kill the predator. Cormac tracks the wolf to a Catholic girl's school but eventually loses the trail. He attends church to try and get a "feel" for who might be the one who is hiding the secret. No one stands out but is confronted by a nun after services. Cormac sets bait that night but nothing is tempted. Returning to his motel he is attacked by a very large wolf. This was a interesting story and a side to Cormac in the aftermath of the hunt that seemed sympathetic.

In "Wild Ride" T.J. is introduced. Gay, he is tested and is found to be HIV positive. T.J. is a motorcycle mechanic and is at a race in which a rider by the name of Alex takes a fall and by all appearances should have been seriously injured or killed outright. Alex has a secret and T.J. senses it. T.J asked Alex to help him. Alex invites him to a bar called The Dustbowl. T.J. is eventually invited to a back hallway which leads to a garage where there is a steel cage. A woman takes off her clothes and gets in the cage when she begins to turn. The secret is that these peopole are werewolves and it becomes obvious to T.J. that invincibility has a price. Some time after turning T.J. is tested again only this time there is no sign of the HIV, but now he lives with another disease.

"Winnowing the Herd" finds Kitty at an office party for the radio station whe works at as a night time personality. Basically, Kitty is in dialog as much with the other staff as well as inner dialoge with herself. I found it amusing that playing performance poetry on her show late at night would create tension with programming.

In "Kitty and the Mosh Pit of the Damned" Kitty attends a live concert and in the intervening mosh a young man is killed. Turns out one of the band members "sold his sold" not to be famous but to play his instrument well. When the "devil" is found out and in attendence drawing "life" from the mayhem and violence Kitty is pressed to the point of turning but the bartender takes the action to take control of the situation. A nail gun comes in handy for things other than its intended use.

"Kitty's Zombie New Year" brings Kitty into contact with a zombie. Not the usual horror movie type of zombie but one possessed by object through certain substances. I do wonder if they really could be available through eBay?

"Life Is The Teacher" is an erotic thriller involving a vampire that needs to feed but is learning to do so without destroying the human that gives up the blood. She takes just enough by giving her victim intense pleasure, and who just as quickly loses any memory of the encounter even taking place.

A fan of Kitty's radio show a vampire in "You're on the Air" calls into the show to tell his story. Not a story of involvement with historical figures from long ago, but of the lousy luck in life that he has had. After he tells the story 2 young travelers come into the store. Shortly after a man comes in with the intent of robbing him. Cooperating he empties the register only to have the robber complain about how little. If only the robber would have left right away no one would have gotten hurt. The young girls head to the register and the robber turns to face then with gun pointed. Jake, the cashier acts.

"Long Time Waiting" is a longer story. We come into it in the 1900s when a hunter comes upon a gruesome murder. She knows who committed the act, but the authorities catch her. We next find her facing the hangman's gallows. Moving forward in time Cormac is in the same Colorado prison, for doing what needed to be done in his profession of hunting werewolves, that the hanging in 1900 took place. Then it starts. Throats are being slashed in locked cells with cellmates in a mad desire to escape through the bars. Cormac is having dreams of a young women in old dress. She knows what is killing and how to stop it. She just needs a body and she has chosen Cormac's.

I wasn't sure how I would like this book when I first started it as I haven't been in the custom of reading modern werewolf and vampire books, but am a science fiction fan who will enjoy a good fantasy novel. I have had no experience with the Kitty Norville universe prior to this book of collected short stories. What I have found were some entertaining stories that were in part serious and humorous with main characters for the most part were able to maintain some control over what was inside them. The fact that Kitty tries to live a normal life and has worked to maintain control of the wolf inside her. Cormac does what he needs to do and in "God's Creatures" I sensed that he had some signs of compassion for the possessor of the werewolf inside. I am sure readers of the genre would enjoy these stories and would suggest them. I will likely go looking for at least a couple of the full length Kitty novels to see how Carrie Vaughn works with more space to develop character and plot.

For discloser purposes I received this book free by way of Goodreads First Reads giveaway.