Review ~ Mystery Writers of America Cookbook

This wonderful cookbook gets full marks at every level.

The book, itself, is lovely. A hardcover book with a textured front, gold spine, gold and white lettering and decoration on the front, and a gold ribbon to use as a bookmark. The photographs of the dishes are top notch. There is a a real art to photographing food and these pictures and their presentation is excellent.

This is probably the first cookbook that I have read cover to cover. You can’t help doing so as the authors have penned short commentaries about their cooking and their recipes. Lee Child’s instructions on how to make coffee, and the quips before each section had me in stitches. Kate White, the editor, has also penned interesting, short sidebars of information on food, poisons and murder.

Each of these delights is amazingly easy to make. Harlan Coben’s Myron’s Crabmeat Dip directions, for example, is one line long: “Mix ingredients together while heating on stove. Serve warm.” It can’t get any easier! After all, if you are busy writing you don’t want to spend the entire day in the kitchen. These are easy, tasty repasts.

I was delighted to find Kinsey Millhone’s Peanut Butter & Pickle Sandwich in here, as I have been enjoying this crazy sounding concoction for years. Frankie Y. Bailey’s muffins and Brad Meltzer’s chicken will be the first ones we’ll try.

Perhaps what is most enjoyable is that these short entries make the writers very human. Their personalities shine through. This book is for people who enjoy mysteries, beautiful, readable books and wonderful yummy food.

Published in: on March 21, 2018 at 3:09 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Review: The Whites by Harry Brandt

The Whites is a powerful story of a group of NYPD detectives, criminals, trust, friendship and the lengths that a person will go to for those who deserve his loyalty.

Billy Graves is commander of the Night Watch squad; the officers that cover Manhattan’s felony crimes between 1a.m. and 8 a.m. Billy was one of seven young cops assigned to anti-crime. Known as The Wild Geese, they became like family to each other and now, twenty years later, five of them remain. Billy is the only one still at work.

Each of them is burdened with a case of their own where a criminal had managed to get away with a particularly horrendous crime. These criminals were known as ‘The Whites’. Now the Whites are turning up dead. At the same time, someone has targeted Billy’s family.

You can’t read this book quickly or lightly. There are multiple, complex characters and you need to pay attention. The effort is well rewarded, it is a read that has completely drawn characters; you get to know them, with all their flaws and all their demons, and you want them to come out all right in the end.

Brandt gives you the story of the Wild Geese, the Whites, the nightly cases of the Night Watch squad, the consuming rage of the stalker of Billy’s family and the moral challenge that Billy must face all in one tightly woven story. You couldn’t ask for a better read.

Published in: on March 13, 2018 at 10:15 am  Leave a Comment  
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Where Have I Been?

It seems as if I fell off the planet. I took an unexpected break from my blog. I’ve been writing a mystery – two, in fact. (Not yet published) A health issue and two accidents had me focused on other things..

WordPress has gone through some changes while I was away, so please bear with me. It may take some time before I figure out how to do things I used to know how to do.

I’m trying to get back in the habit of posting and will start off with my latest contribution to the Sherlockian journal, Groans, Cries and Bleatings – The Mystery Corner. If you’d like to get a preview of my novels, the website is http://www.bakersomerset.com! Please come over and take a look.

The Mystery Corner

Fifth Column by Mike Hollow 

Inspector Jago is called out first thing in the morning because an unidentified body of a woman has been found in the ruins of a bombed out house. It’s 1940, England during the Blitz. The scene would make an onlooker believe she died during the bombing, but in fact, she was strangled. It’s an old-fashioned case of murder.

Detective Inspector Jago and his young Detective Constable Craddock are the cement of the book and the relationship between them was exceptionally well done. At one point, Craddock says of a witness ‘she hasn’t let herself go’. Jago responds, “You make it sound as though she’s some old dear about to kick the bucket. The poor woman can only be the same age as me, if that. You’ll be telling me next I’m looking a bit frail and ought to sit down.” “Oh no, sir, you’re still quite spritely.” “Spritely? You can’t tell a man who’s barely turned forty that he’s spritely. Sixty is spritely, not forty.” “Yes, sir. My mistake.”

Rita is another great character. She works at the cafe where Jago takes Dorothy and Craddock. Rita’s opinion of government efficiency is perfect. – “She led them to a table for four near what had once been the front window. “Still patched up with plywood, I see,” said Jago. “Yes.” Said Rita. “Can’t see much point putting glass back in just so it can get blown out again by the next bomb. Did you hear what the Home Secretary said?” She turned to Dorothy with an understanding look. “He’s a bloke in the government,” she said. “Apparently he told the House of Commons that little strips of brown paper aren’t much good at protecting your windows if a bomb drops outside.” Rita continued, “Fancy that. Not just a pretty face, is he. Blinking genius.”

However, I found his characterization of Dorothy, Jago’s romantic interest, rather flat. She is supposed to be an American journalist but the purpose of her presence seems to be to allow commentary about philosophical war issues that don’t really have anything to do with the mystery itself. Her journalistic endeavors seem one-dimensional and to my way of thinking, Jago spends far too much time thinking about her, for a police procedural.

All the historical details put you into the scene. You put the book down feeling you were there. The book was published in England, and some of the references while understandable there, may be confusing to American readers. A tiny bit of editing for a US edition would have fixed that. For example, Hollow begins the book with a description of Jago waking up in his Anderson Shelter. You understand immediately that this was a bomb shelter outside the house. Other references are sometimes more difficult.

Geography is no longer taught using a big paper map hung on a roller high above the blackboard. (If it’s taught at all, and do classrooms still have blackboards?) So how many readers will understand this reference? “Empire Office Services sounds like they sail off in pith helmets with vital supplies of carbon paper and typewriter ribbons to every last dot on the map that’s coloured pink…” Everyone who watched the movie “Hope & Glory” understands it, but how many others? Back in the 40’s (and I don’t know for how long afterwards) the countries on a map were all coloured and ‘the pink bits’ all belonged to the Empire.

An odd reference, especially for those under the age of 40 or 50, might be when Craddock, referring to a woman who showed no emotion at the bad news they had brought, says “Maybe she’s just a goldfish.” Jogo turned to face Craddock with what he hoped was a patient expression and says, “Cold fish, Peter.” Craddock replies, “Sir?” And Jogo explains, “A cold fish is a person who doesn’t betray their emotions. A goldfish is what the rag and bone man gives you for your mum’s old clothes.” In fact, the rag and bone man would give kids a goldfish (the kind that swims), or a balloon, a wooden clothes peg, or something for bringing him items. And who was ‘The Umbrella Man’? It was the nickname of the British Prime Minister at the start of WWII, Neville Chamberlain.

It turns out the murdered woman worked in a factory that made items for the War Office where there has been a theft, so there is the threat that the murder could be war related. There are lies, personal hatreds, bigamy, blackmail, and a lot of other good stuff. In spite of its few glitches, Fifth Column, the second book in the Blitz Detective series, is an enjoyable mystery in a WWII setting. It stands alone well. You needn’t have read the first in the series to enjoy it.

Fiddler’s Green by Ernest K. Gann

“Fiddler’s Green…the imagined Elysian Field of sailors and vagabond craftsmen—where credit is good…where there’s many a lass and many a glass…and never a storm at sea.”

I’m not sure you would consider Fiddler’s Green a mystery. You certainly know who the culprit is because the book opens with Bruno Felkin running through the fog in San Francisco, trying to put distance between him and the man he just killed. The killing was stupidity mixed with an accident, but Bruno is a two-time loser and he knows the police won’t take his word for what went down. The question is, will the police catch him.

Bruno’s sure his girlfriend will give him an alibi, if he can just get to her place fast enough. His luck turns sour; she’s gone to the movies. Bruno keeps running, wondering where he can hide. He takes refuge in the hold of Hamil Linder’s fishing boat, tied up at the dock, and the next morning finds himself heading out to sea.

The timeless story revolves around what happens to Bruno while he’s at sea. It also revolves around the policeman, who is searching for Bruno. Gann is a true storyteller. Every word in this 1950 novel is to be savored. His characters are so real, the setting so true, you can see into the heart of it all. His tale is of Bruno, the fishermen in the fleet, a man and his son, a fierce storm raging at sea, and a cop named Kelsey.

In the Best Families by Rex Stout

Wolfe leave the brownstone? Unfathomable. But when Mrs. Rackham hires Wolfe to find out where he’s getting his money, and Mr. X. sets of a tear gas bomb in Fritz’s kitchen, that’s what happens. In fact, he goes in the dead of night leaving notes for Theodore, his orchard keeper, Fritz and Archie. The orchards are to go to a man on Long Island, who will keep Theodore on. Fritz is to work at Marko’s wonderful restaurant, and Archie is ordered, “Do not look for me.” Then, to top things off, a notice appears in the Gazette that Nero Wolfe has retired. Did I forget to mention – Mrs. Rackham winds up dead.

In my copy, there is an introduction written by Patricia Sprinkle. She says that she fell in love with Nero Wolfe as a child of ten when she read the stories to her ill father. Since she was a child, she didn’t take notice of the author’s name. What she did notice was that Nero Wolfe was fat, he drank beer (something not done in the Sprinkle household), he insulted people and got away with it, he was a picky eater, and he didn’t do anything he didn’t want to do? In her eyes, he was the perfect grown-up. Years later, she was reintroduced to Wolfe and found he hadn’t changed.

Next to Sherlock Holmes, Nero Wolfe is probably the most enduring of detectives. In the Best Families has Wolfe taking on the one criminal whom he cannot risk losing to. Marko tells Archie that Wolfe left an instruction for him. He must “act in the light of experience as guided by intelligence.” So it’s up to Archie to act. I think this is one of my favorite Wolfe books.