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The “Spenser Novels”

Robert B. Parker, the “Spenser Novels”

Reviewed by the Fourth Tuesday and Mystery Book Club

Robert B. Parker inherited the position of the “Dean of American Crime Fiction” from such respected writers as Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler. The “hardboiled” American private eye is carried through Sam Spade, Lew Archer, and now Spenser, a thinking man’s tough detective. Parker’s writing reflects his life. He and his character both lived in Boston, both served in the military in Korea, both were in the sport of boxing, and both have remained loyal to the woman that each has fallen deeply in love with. Spenser worked as a police officer until his smart-alec approach got him fired. Now he is a private investigator.
Spenser often keeps nosing into problems, disturbing people, until someone attempts to stop him and the bad guys get discovered. He is not a “Holmes” type of detective who uncovers dozens of facts from observation or forensic science. Spenser asks questions, sits in long boring stakeouts, and roughs up people if necessary. As Raymond Chandler wrote, the private eye is “a man …who is not himself mean… tarnished nor afraid… He must be a complete man… a common man and yet an unusual man… He must be a man of honor… the best man in his world…” This describes Spenser. The gallant knight who must right wrongs and stand for something, whatever it is, and to defend it to the end. Parker’s books are simple criminal stories that sometimes get complicated. Between scenes of action, the characters, usually Spenser and his girl friend, Susan Silverman, hold conversations that become moral and philosophical debates.
The people who are most important in Spenser’s life are Susan and Hawk. Susan is more than just a person with whom Spenser falls in love. Susan meets the detective early in the series and develops as both a sounding board and adviser for Spenser.
Hawk is a unique character. He was Spenser’s opponent in the author’s early books. Parker initially included him to be the “dark side,” compared to Spenser’s good knight approach. He wanted Hawk to be ominous, deadly and scary. Parker succeeded. As the series progressed, Hawk becomes a friend to Spenser, and they help each other in many of the books.
Spenser novels are a quick read with short chapters. The stories flow through dialogue. The plots are not “who-dunn-its.” The storyline is often straightforward and simple, avoiding intricate and twisted scenarios. Some readers may not like the language, issues, force and violence found in some parts of the stories. Others will fall for this brave white knight- a philosopher who is trying to make his world a better place because that is the right thing to do. We recommend the Spenser novel series. Some of the books we read and discussed: Early Autumn, Looking for Rachel Wallace, Double Deuce, Thin Air, Widow’s Walk, Now and Then, Sixkill, and Rough Weather

Key Ideas from different club members:
Good writer, sometimes uses colorful language; Funny, witty, well written; Smooth reading, will read more of them; Chapters are shorter, a lot of dialogue keeps things moving; Easy read; Not my favorite author; Wanted to find out more about Spenser, but my book didn’t spend enough time on him; I was not impressed.

The Club Members rating of Robert B. Parker and his Spenser books:
(Pat Kuna, Karen Miller, Sharon Shaffer, {Julie Shultz}, Bill Simmons, Lynn Simmons, Helen Skalski, Barb Swanson, Linda Troll, and Patty Tullis)

Club’s Average Rating: 3.4 of 5 Rating Range: 2 to 5


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The Last Child

the last childby John Hart

John Hart is a writer who describes himself as a “recovering” attorney who lives in North Carolina, the site of his novels.  Although he is currently not practicing law, his experience in our criminal justice system benefits his writing.  He has received praise as a writer who can bring his characters to life, making them very real to the reader.  His thrillers keep us on the edge of our seats, unable to put his work down.  In the book “The Last Child,” Hart mixes a boyhood adventure much like Huckleberry Finn’s with a modern mystery of missing children and serves us a winner of a story.

The hero of the book, Johnny Merrimon, is a 13-year-old boy who had lived in a very happy and strong family.  This changed a year ago when his sister disappeared.  Johnny still will not accept that she might be dead.  His family has been devastated.  Johnny’s father has disappeared, apparently absorbing blame for not being on time to pick up his daughter.  His mother feels guilty and changes her entire life-style, having lost two of her loves- her daughter and her husband.  She uses drugs and alcohol to dull the pain.  The result is that she loses touch with her son.  Both Johnny and his mother are abused by the town’s rich and influential power figure.  Johnny fights back the only way he knows how.  He spends his every moment and all of his energy to find the sister—the twin sister he has lost.  Clyde Hunt, the troubled police detective, is always there, still trying to solve the mystery, which has devastated him and his family, too.  Now the town cringes in fear.  Another young girl has gone missing.

Before long there are dead bodies and twists and turns that keep the reader both guessing and involved.  Hart’s book is full of action and suspense.  There is little time to rest, or to put this exciting book down—which you certainly won’t.  Our book club gave this book the highest rating of any book we have read.  I highly recommend it to both mystery lovers and to anyone who enjoys a fast-paced, exciting story.

Key Ideas from different club members:

I really liked the characters; Well-written; Like 2 books in 1; Wonderful page-turner!  Loved it; Nice read; Fantastic!  Suspense and drama all wrapped up into one; Kept you reading and guessing; Couldn’t predict the ending; Keeps you guessing till the end; Fabulous book!

The Club Members rating of this book:

Pat Gombita, Pat Kuna, Sharon Shaffer, Julie Shultz, Bill Simmons, Helen Skalski, Deb Stewart, Barb Swanson, and Linda Troll

Club’s Average Rating:  4.9 of 5       Rating Range:  4 to 5

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Filed under Adult Fiction, Crime, Family, Fourth Tuesday Book Club Books, Murder, Mystery

Full Ride

fullrideby Margaret Peterson Haddix

reviewed by Karina, Teen Advisory Board

From the moment this book starts it firmly attaches to your heart. It pulls at your heart strings every step of the way, through every wittingly titled chapter, through every dramatic sentence, through every span of drama. Full ride is truly a novel worth throwing away two or so hours of your life on. This story starts out in Virginia with our main character Becca. She and her mother have been in hiding for years and they want to escape the pain. The pain of what? Of her father’s many crimes putting them all in danger of Excellerand, a highly powerful corporation like Google. Becca never gets to see or hear from her father unless their malicious, power hungry lawyer gets involved. Becca and her mother flee to Deskins, Ohio where they can start anew, but even by moving Becca can’t achieve the one goal she has. All she wants is to go to college, but with her predicament she can’t…until she finds a scholarship.It’s a full ride scholarship and all of Becca’s friends want it too. It’s called the Whitney Court scholarship…

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Filed under college, Coming of Age, Family, High School, Mystery, Young Adult Fiction

The Dirty Duck

by Martha Grimes

dirty duckThis month our book club decided to read works by Martha Grimes. She was born in Pittsburgh on May 2, 1931. Her   father was the city solicitor and her mother owned the Mountain Lake Hotel in western Maryland. Grimes and her brother spent summers in the country at their mother’s hotel (it was torn down in 1967). Grimes received her bachelors and masters degrees from the University of Maryland and taught in a number of places, including Frostburg State University. Most of Grimes’ novels fall in the subdivision of mysteries sometimes called “cozies.” Her most famous character is Richard Jury, a detective from Scotland Yard. Each of the 22 Jury mysteries are named after a pub, usually found in England. The Dirty Duck is the 4th in the Jury series.

Superintendent Richard Jury must find a serial killer who is targeting Americans from a group touring England. The murderer leaves behind lines of poetry after slashing his victims. Jury must also deal with another possible crime. One of the tourists is James Farraday, a millionaire widower from Maryland, who’s 9 year old boy, Jimmy, has disappeared. Farraday demands that Scotland Yard take over this case from the local police, too. Jury is helped by his friend, Melrose Plant, a rich aristocrat. Children often play an important role in the Jury stories, as in this one with the possible kidnapping of Jimmy. The discussion with Jimmy’s teenage sister, Penny, shows that Superintendent Jury has a good rapport with children.
It is recommended that you read the Jury series in order, with the earlier mysteries first. The characters change and develop. Events often build on things that happened in previous books. It is easier to follow and less confusing if you get to know the characters along the way. Grimes is a fabulous writer who uses the English language very effectively. Her stories are often complex, containing a large number of colorful characters, which makes it harder to casually follow events. Martha Grimes is a thinking person’s author. The Dirty Duck is an outstanding example of one of her early books. I would strongly recommend her to anyone who enjoys a good mystery.

Other books by Martha Grimes read by the book club:
Richard Jury books: Dust (#21), Lamorna Wink (#15), The Old Wine Shades (#20), The Horse You Came In On (#11) and The Old Silent (#10)
Other books: Foul MatterThe Way of the FishesDakota and Hotel Paradise
Book club members who read Martha Grimes:
Pat Kuna, Donna Norseen, Sharon Shaffer, Bill Simmons, Deb Stewart, Barbara Swanson, Linda Troll, and Rae Ann Weaver


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Filed under Adult Fiction, Fourth Tuesday Book Club Books, Murder, Mystery, Strong Sense of Place, Travel, Writers

Death Along the Spirit Road

by C. M. Wendelboe

Reviewed by   The Fourth Tuesday and Mystery Book Club

 Image            Manny Tanno is a hero who is quite different from the typical slick detectives that occupy the pages of most mysteries.  He is over-weight, balding, fighting the urge to smoke again, and perhaps the worst driver in mystery lore.  He is a very real person who could not wait to get out of his hometown and prove that he could be a success.  What makes him different is that his “home town” is Pine Ridge Village, a Lakota Sioux Indian Reservation.  Manny did achieve success.  He became a highly regarded FBI agent.  Now he is reluctantly coming home, sent by his boss to solve a murder that no one is able to solve.  Manny must do it in two weeks or lose his job as an instructor at the FBI Academy.

Jason Red Cloud also grew up in Pine Ridge Village and became a successful land developer.  He was heading up a project that would bring jobs and money to the impoverished reservation.  Jason was found dead, beaten with a Sioux war club.  Near the body was also found what appeared to be the remnants of a Lakota religious ritual that is traditionally performed for the dead.

To add to the complications of the murder, Manny’s old rival, “Lumpy” Looks Twice, is the acting Chief of the Tribal Police Agency.  Lumpy is not cooperative, and sets up Manny in tough situations to make his life difficult.  The community is not greeting this FBI agent with open arms.  Even his family is less than happy to see Manny return.  This is probably because his older brother, Reuben, who served time in prison for murder, is a prime suspect in this homicide.

C. M. Wendelboe’s first effort with the characters of Pine Ridge is successful.  The people he describes come alive in the pages of this book, the first in a series of three mysteries.  He succeeds in making us care about Willie, the young policeman who Manny befriends, about Cara, who falls for Manny, and about Reuben and others.  Around these personalities, Wendelboe weaves a good mystery centered on a murder, stolen and returned Indian artifacts, and Indian culture.  The author shows the importance of the family among the Lakota.

Wendelboe visited the Mary S. Biesecker Library August 6th, 2011 and on August 7th he appeared at the American Legion in Somerset.  We therefore have a connection with this mystery writer.  If you enjoy Margaret Coel or Tony Hillerman’s stories of American Indian culture and the hard-boiled detectives of Robert Parker, you should enjoy C. M. Wendelboe.  This is a unique combination of both styles, and it comes off well.  It should wet your appetite for his next two books, both with Manny Tanno also as the hero.  We recommend his first mystery and hope that Mr. Wendelboe will pay another visit to us.

Key Ideas from different club members:

Good detective story with Native American info sprinkled throughout; Interesting; Hard to get into but I liked it once I got into it; I liked the book; I will read more of this series; Really outstanding.

The Club Members rating of this book:

Pat Kuna, Lee Ann Schrock, Sharon Shaffer, Bill Simmons, Barb Swanson, Linda Troll, Patty Tullis, and Rae Ann Weaver

Club’s Average Rating: 4.1 of 5       Rating Range: 3 to 5

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The Scarpetta Factor

scarpetta factorby Patricia Cornwell

Reviewed by The Fourth Tuesday and Mystery Book Club

                A “procedural” is a type of mystery that follows police at work.  The reader “listens” to in-depth conversations about forensic science or police techniques for dealing with cordoning off an area for public safety.  Often the discussions are long, dry, detailed, and boring… just like real police work.  Procedural mysteries take us into the daily activities of a police officer or a crime scene investigator, like this book’s main character, Kay Scarpetta.  In this era of CSI and other forensic crime shows, Patricia Cornwell’s forensic heroine and her writings are extremely popular.

In this story, Scarpetta has become well known and is in high demand.  Television shows want a forensic expert like her to explain things to their audiences.  They want the “Scarpetta Factor” to draw viewers and raise their ratings, especially when a serial killer is stalking New York City.  CNN is torn between reporting the news and making it.  Is it possible that this maniac is driving a yellow cab and killing women?  Are the people of the great city in danger?  The disappearance of an important, influential financier adds to the city and the police concerns and complicates the search for a possible serial killer.

What people don’t know is that Kay Scarpetta and her husband, Dr. Benton Wesley, are being stalked themselves, apparently by one of his former mental patients.  Their lives and safety are threatened when a package that looks like a bomb arrives at their apartment.  It becomes even more complex when an organized crime figure becomes involved in the plot.

Patricia Cornwell introduces new readers to the people in Kay Scarpetta’s life.  In addition to her husband who is a forensic psychologist and former FBI profiler, we meet her niece Lucy, who is a computer whiz assisting the police.  Scarpetta’s watchdog is the tough cop, Marino, who now works for the hard, driven district attorney, Berger.  Cornwell was never directly involved in police work.  However, much of her character’s lives reflect Cornwell’s own personal experiences, whether it was having a fatherless childhood, marrying an older man as a father image, or entering into intimate relationships with other women.  Cornwell’s own foibles and flaws are used to mold Scarpetta’s world.

For those who love CSI and procedural mysteries, you will enjoy this book.  It is a very long novel that could have been much shorter.  Cornwell must explain who people are, events from the past, and how characters’ relationships developed, for those who have not read her earlier Scarpetta mysteries.  This makes it sometimes wordy and repetitive, but the story is strong.  We recommend it with the understanding that there are weaknesses in this particular book.

Key Ideas from different club members:

Needed knowledge from previous books to really understand; Too long; Too wordy; Too many characters; I got confused with the twists in the story; Hard to follow plot and I usually like her books; Not as good as her other books; Could not stay interested in the book; Enjoyed use of language and phrasing; Intriguing plot; I really liked the book, will read more.

The Club Members rating of this book:

Linda Bowman, Pat Gombita, Mona Herrell, Pat Kuna, Julie Shultz, Bill Simmons, Deb Stewart, Linda Troll, and Rae Ann Weaver

Club’s Average Rating:  3.3 of 5       Rating Range:  2 to 5

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The Sherlockian

the sherlockian

Reviewed by the Fourth Tuesday Mystery and Book Club   

by Graham Moore

Can you imagine wanting to kill the character that made you one of the most famous writers in the world?  That is exactly what Arthur Conan Doyle did in 1893—he killed Sherlock Holmes!  The public at the time was outraged.  How dare he take away our favorite detective!  Little old ladies, swinging their umbrellas, attacked Doyle in the street.  He was advised by everyone on how to bring Holmes back.  Doyle was even sent a mail bomb.  People were certainly upset.  Then Doyle, for no apparent reason, brought Holmes back from the grave after a seven-year absence.  Why?  What happened?

The author of this book, Graham Moore, takes these and other historical events and mixes them with fictional characters.  He creates two mysteries in one riveting novel—tied together by a missing diary– in two time periods presented in alternating chapters.  This approach worked well in the book because of the connections between the two events.

The first mystery takes in 1900.  After deciding to kill off Holmes, Arthur Conan Doyle is pulled into a mystery of his own.  Two young women are murdered in unusual circumstances.  His close friend, Bram Stoker (the author of Dracula) serves as his assistant, confidant and friend—or in other words, his “Watson.”  They set out to find justice for the murdered girls and find that the path is quite difficult.

In the second mystery line from 2010, Richard Lancelyn Green, one of the world’s leading scholars on Doyle and Holmes, announces that he has found Doyle’s missing diary.  Green is apparently murdered—strangled with his own shoestring.  It appears that someone wants Doyle’s missing diary.  This diary contains Doyle’s description of the events of his experiences in 1900.  Harold White, a literary researcher, takes on the Holmesian role and sets out to solve the murder and to recover the diary.  Harold also has a “Watson” although a much prettier one.  Her name is Sarah, and she provides Harold with another mystery.  Her puzzle is much more difficult for Harold to solve.

A weakness in the book might be that the characters are not strongly developed and as sympathetic as they could be.  Doyle comes across as a grouchy, mean, self-centered, and not a highly principled man.  He hurts some of those around him and that does not seem to faze him.  This is not the Doyle that has been portrayed in his biographies.

The two mysteries move along in tandem, alternating chapters.  You will learn much about Doyle’s life and work while being entertained by a fabulous young writer, Graham Moore.  There is no real need to be a Sherlockian (one who is obsessed with things about Sherlock Holmes) to enjoy this mystery.  We all agree quite strongly that this is a good book, and we highly recommend it.

Key Ideas from different club members:

Wasn’t crazy about the ending; Great reading experience, fabulous writer; Interesting format; I really liked it, good read; A clever historical fiction novel.

The Club Members rating of this book:

Linda Bowman, Mona Herrell, Pat Kuna, Bill Simmons, and Linda Troll

Club’s Average Rating:  4.4 of 5       Rating Range: 4 to 5

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