Chicago

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I enjoyed the audio book of David Mamet’s novel Chicago. Narrator Jim Fragione, captures the Chicago dialect and Mamet’s rhythm.

I expected a historical novel about Al Capone or some other well known criminal figure, but that wasn’t what Mamet had in mind. Set in post-WWI Chicago, jaded reporter Mike Hodge love a young Irish girl is viciously murdered and Mike seeks justice. Did her family do it? Or someone more nefarious? Capone, the Levee District and WWI figure prominently in the novel, but Hodge and the life of a reporter in the 1920s takes center stage.

The plot isn’t the book’s strong suit. That would be a tie between the references to Chicago’s red light district and criminal element and Mamet’s trademark philosophizing in a Chicago dialect. That’s what made the audio book soar.

Death on the Nile

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This coming week my mystery book club was going to meet to discuss Agatha Christie’s Death on the Nile. I listened to the audio book and watched the movie. The audio book’s narrator David Suchet was terrific and brought the story to life.

While on a vacation in Egypt Hercule Poirot, the Belgian detective who’s forever telling people he isn’t French, gets on board a boat and finds his fellow travelers keep getting bumped off. There’s a love triangle consisting of Linnet, a wealthy heiress, Jacqueline her good friend and her Simon new husband, who was in love with the friend. There’s a German doctor, a rich, imperious woman and the young companion who resents her boss. The heiress’ trustee, her London lawyer her maid, and the maid’s married lover round out the cast.

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One eerie element to the story is that Jacqueline’s stalking Linnet. Everywhere they go Jacqueline’s there. Ever jumpy, things get worse when Linette is found dead. Poirot soon suspects everyone. Then the bodies start to pile up. The maid is found dead and then a third murder follows. Poirot finds almost everyone has a motive.

With Peter Ustinov, Mia Farrow, David Niven, Angela Lansberry, Bette Davis, Maggie Smith and Olivia Hussey, the film is chock full of stars. Alas, I found the story in both formats lacking. I wasn’t pulled in to the story as Poirot didn’t use much hard evidence. It seemed that his main talent was supposition and conjecture to find possible motives. He doesn’t draw me in the way Sherlock Holmes does. I was left craving a better plot and more complex characters. I felt Christie just took the idea of Murder on the Orient Express and just made a few small changes.

 

Nerve

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Dick Francis’ mysteries are all set in the world of horse racing and Nerve is no different. I read it for a mystery bookclub and was disappointed. While I liked the affable hero, Rob Finn, I expected a murder in this mystery and a faster pace.

Rob Finn’s a talented steeplechase jockey, he’s an outsider in his own family of talented musicians. Finn also gained a little of my sympathy as he’s hopelessly in love with his first cousin. Yet as much I’m a romantic and found the cousin Julia a wonderful woman, she was his first cousin. For me that’s too close to be sure of good genetics should a couple have children.

In Finn’s world several successful  jockeys have been fired, injured and in once case the victim of suicide. What’s going on? It seems coincidental until just when Finn’s career begins to take off and he’s featured on a popular racing TV program, Finn’s horses fail one after another. Soon he’s shunned and isn’t getting as many races. Finn doesn’t understand it but vows to figure out what’s really going on and to rescue his reputation.

I liked learning about the racing world and I liked the touch of romance, but Nerve lacked mystery and the writing wasn’t terrific. I found that I could skim paragraphs and not lose out much. That’s not a good sign. My favorite writers make me savor every word.

The Small Bachelor

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While P.G. Wodehouse’s The Small Bachelor doesn’t feature Jeeves or Bertie Wooster, it contains the main features readers enjoy in his writing — charming wit and wordplay, a supercilious butler, a bumbling young man, a bit of romance and a bothersome aunt-like character.

The story starts:

On the roof of the Sheridan Apartment House, near Washington Square, New York, is a “small bachelor apartment, penthouse style”, and the small bachelor who owns it is amateur artist George Finch, who is rich due to an inheritance. He falls in love with Molly Waddington at first sight, but is too shy to approach her until he retrieves her dog. George’s authoritative friend J. Hamilton Beamish, author of self-help books, is helping mild-mannered policeman Garroway become a poet. Garroway recognizes George’s valet, Frederick Mullett, an ex-convict who served time for burglary, though Mullett is now reformed. Mullett is engaged to former pickpocket Fanny Welch, who is somewhat less reformed.

George is invited into Molly’s home by her father, Sigsbee H. Waddington; Mr. Waddington, who has been influenced by Western films and novels, longs to go out West and takes a liking to George, since George is from East Gilead, Idaho. Though once wealthy, Mr. Waddington cannot afford to go out West because he is now financially dependent on his rich wife, Molly’s step-mother, socially ambitious Mrs. Waddington. She dislikes George, believing his morals are suspect because he lives in an unconventional artist neighborhood, and wants Molly to marry the tall and handsome Lord Hunstanton. However, Molly finds Lord Hunstanton stiff and loves George. Hamilton Beamish gets help for George from Madame Eulalie, Mrs. Waddington’s palmist and fortune teller, who tells Mrs. Waddington that disaster will strike if Molly marries Hunstanton. Beamish also falls in love with Madame Eulalie. Molly gets engaged to George, though Mrs. Waddington still dislikes him.

The Small Bachelor Plot. Wikipedia.org Retrieved on February 23, 2020.

Of course, more hijinks ensue in this fast-paced story.

I thoroughly enjoyed the audio version narrated by my favorite Jonathon Cecil, who crafts the best characters with his voices.

The story was a joy to listen to and made me laugh out loud. Wodehouse delivers everything I’ve come to expect in terms of a fun story.

New Book Club

PragerU has a new book club with Michael Knowles. Each month he and a guest will discuss a great book. This month Michael and Dennis Pragerdiscuss Viktor Franks’s Man’s Search for Meaning. 

I enjoyed their in-depth conversation and they’ve convinced me to move this book up in my reading queue. I’m curious about what book Michael will discuss next and who he’ll have on. I do wish they’d tell us the next book so I could read it before the February video comes out.

And All through the Night

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Famous for hard-boiled police stories, Ed McBain delights with And all through the House. Set in his 87th Precinct with thieves and drug dealers getting hauled in on Christmas Eve, McBain creates a – dare I say charming- modern nativity story with 16 year old, Puerto Rican Maria and her young husband José getting arrested for squatting in an abandoned building.

I enjoyed the tough guy bravado and the clever mix of the nativity with the police genre. Published with illustrations that have a straightforward look, this short story was a fun, quick read.