The Suspect

suspectWhen two high school graduates, Alex and Rosie head to Thailand for a gap year, they’re looking for fun, for escape from the pressures their suburban parents put on them. Yet they land in a seedy guesthouse. The girls go missing and British journalist Kate Waters is assigned to get the scoop on what happened.

Kate’s your average intrepid reporter and is gung ho about getting the story right and first. She’s married with two sons, one of whom dropped out of university and went off to Thailand to save the turtles. When the two teens disappeared, Kate volunteers to do the reporting hoping to make a side trip to the Thai island where her son is volunteering.

Alex and Rosie are found dead in the cold storage of a sleazy guest house. Kate’s world is further rocked when it turns out her son isn’t volunteering and never did. He’s implicated in the girls’ murders. He’s been floating around Bangkok doing drugs and working at the same guest house where these girls stayed.

While this was a quick read and I enjoy stories set in locales the world over, The Suspect’s characters didn’t appeal to me. Alex was rather whiny and should have parted ways with her travel companion early on. Kate’s son was a wimp and a waster, who was good at manipulating his mother. Mama, who owned the guest house was the stereotypical “Me speak English good” dodgy foreigner.

I pity anyone who hasn’t been to Thailand who reads this book. In my book club today a few people fell into that group and they were repelled by the idea of going there. Thailand has its seedy side like many countries, but that’s not all there is.

Glass Houses

glass-houses-cover-promo

I enjoyed my first taste of Louise Penny’s work, Glass Houses. Set in a small Canadian town, this police/detective with hero Chief Inspector Gamanche break the most basic rules o policing in hopes of combatting two drug cartels, one Canadian and one US. Woven into this story is a spooky storyline with a mysterious character shrouded in black robes. Gamache soon learns about the legend of the Cobrador, the dark figure who stalks and scares those with guilty consciences. In Spain a Cobrador was a dramatic means of scaring people who were guilty of something or who owed a debt, i.e. a way to shame someone.

While Gamanche is trying to catch the drug runners in his questionable way, a Cobrador comes to his small town and is soon found dead.

Penny crafted characters I enjoyed. Her plot was daring and well-paced. I listened to the audiobook and the narrator was superb. I can’t imagine reading the paper version and having a better experience.

There were portions where I wish the style was tighter, but all-in-all I recommend Glass Houses for any mystery fan.

A Beautiful Blue Death

bluedeathI learned about Charles Finch’s A Beautiful Blue Death at Citizen Reader’s blog. Again her recommendation was spot on. Finch’s first novel, a mystery introduced me to amateur detective Charles Lennox. Lennox’s friend Lady Jane asks him to look into the death of her former maid Prudence Smith.

Lennox is very much cut from the same cloth as Sherlock Holmes, though he’s polished his social skill more than Benedict Cumberbach’s Sherlock. His right hand man is Dr. Mitchell, these amateur detectives are shrewd to have a close friend who can analyze poison, dead bodies and such. Graham is Lennox’s butler who’s willing to go to the ends of the earth for his boss.

Strong, fascinating female characters include

“Pru” is an interesting victim. She entrances me and as Lennox investigates he keeps learning of yet another lover. She appears to have been a strong woman who spoke up for herself and for what’s right, which is how she wound dead.

Following the Holmesian path, Lennox must deal with an inept Scotland Yard and that’s lead by Exeter, who’s about 5 steps behind Lennox vis-a-vis science and logic.

A Beautiful Blue Death has a smooth style and kept surprising me till the very last pages. Though Finch is American, his tone and style were very British. I’ll read more in this smart, delightful series.

The Rules of Civility

rulesCiv_.gifGeorge Washington, the US’ first President, was known for his stellar character. Richard Brookhiser collected the wisdom Washington hand-copied of rules of behavior. Brookhiser adds background on the rules and how they seem to have been handed down from teachings of 16th century Jesuits and notes on situations when Washington followed this precepts and comments his peers made on Washington’s behavior.

I found the book charming and still useful. I learned about the culture of 18th century America and the first President. On top of that, I saw how holding oneself to high standards builds character. Yeah, that sounds hokey, but I think it’s often true.

Some nuggets:

1. Every action done in company ought to be with some sign of respect to those that are present.

2. When in company, put not your hands to any part of the body not usually discovered.

3. Show nothing to your friend that may affright him.

4. In the presence of others, sing not to yourself with a humming voice, or drum with your fingers or feet.

5. If you cough, sneeze, sigh or yawn, do it not loud but privately, and speak not in your yawning, but put your handkerchief or hand before your face and turn aside.

6. Sleep not when others speak, sit not when others stand, speak not when you should hold your peace, walk not on when others stop.

7. Put not off your clothes in the presence of others, nor go out of your chamber half dressed.

8. At play and attire, it’s good manners to give place to the last comer, and affect not to speak louder than ordinary.

9. Spit not into the fire, nor stoop low before it; neither put your hands into the flames to warm them, nor set your feet upon the fire, especially if there be meat before it.

10. When you sit down, keep your feet firm and even, without putting one on the other or crossing them.

 

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie

The_Sweetness_at_the_Bottom_of_the_Pie

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie is a cute mystery with with a precocious 11 year old heroine, Flavia de Luce. Set in 1950’s pastoral England, Alan Bradley’s novel is as sweet as can be and at times that sweetness was too much. I listened to the audio book which featured a gifted narrator, but after about 15 minutes not wanting to develop literary diabetes I had to turn it off.

The charming, brilliant Flavia is a chemistry whiz who can’t abide her older sisters. She plans and concocts a poisonous lipstick for her sister who loves wearing make up and focuses on her looks. Flavia is smitten with the Periodic Table and is an expert in chemistry, history and all things esoteric.

When a mysterious stranger is found dead on her family’s estate, her father is arrested for murder and Flavia begins to investigate. Of course, the police get involved, but as implausible as it sounds only Flavia makes any significant discoveries. The inspector’s role in the story is just as a foil to Flavia’s clever thinking. He’s not a bumbler, but I didn’t buy that the police seemed to make no progress on he case.

Bradley stuffed more clever metaphors into a paragraph than any author I’ve ever read. Flavia’s thinking was clever, but someone ought to teacher her to tone it down. No one speaks like this. Not even the most precocious child.

While I did like the mastery in small doses, I found the ending disappointing and Flavia’s character too sweet.

Getting to Yes

getting-to-yes

Getting to Yes by Robert Fisher and William Ury completely changed how I look at negotiations. Typically we think of negotiating like haggling at a flea market both sides begin with a false impossible request and they where each other down till they will reach a midpoint.

Getting to Yes opened my eyes to Principled Negotiation which separates the people from the positions and use tried-and-true principles to show the people you’re working with why you want what you want can find solutions the benefit all. So negotiation isn’t a battle of the wills, but we’ll rather a way to look at situations and base decisions on solid principles.

I got the audiobook on CD and played it in my car. I enjoy the narrators deep authoritative voice which reminded me of someone like Charlton Heston. His voice made some of that more humorous negotiation examples hilarious.

The book is methodical and would help anyone whether you’re negotiating a business contract, International peace, a salary, or a car purchase. It has help for people who have harmonious relationships or people dealing with toxic personalities. It’s a book I can see referring back to again and again. I was ready to apply these principles last week, but my supervisor forgot we were going to talk about a job offer that’s been on the table a few weeks. Maybe tomorrow.

The Ukimwi Road

Ukimwi rd th

Travel writer par excellence Dervla Murphy’s The Ukimwi Road: From Kenya to Zimbabwe chronicles her incredibly journey across Africa on her bicycle in 1992. During this time, AIDS was sweeping through Africa and as Murphy traveled, she learned how AIDS impacted the people of each country. Murphy talks with healthcare professionals, missionaries, corrupt border officials, health educators, prostitutes, feminists,  truck drivers, and more.

Her plan, Murphy insists, was to have a pleasant 3,000 mile ride through Africa. Instead her ride is an intense education into the AIDS epidemic in which she seeks answers to what caused Africa’s epidemic and how can it be stopped in a place where so many men won’t use condoms or stick with one partner. One of Murphy’s strengths is that she judges herself as much as anyone else. She seeks to understand the people of Africa and critiques the role of foreigners who’ve colonized and now offer aid in forms that usually fail.

Murphy’s witty and perspicacious. She’s a keen observer and thorough researcher, who made me feel like I was right there with her listening to stories around a common dinner table as she also made me grateful that bedbugs or dirt roads on a rainy day were affecting me.