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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

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

Books from the New York Times Best Seller’s List January 2014

  How Lucky You Can Be by Buster Olney

Where can you find a good book when you are looking for one?  The library has hundreds of books, but which one should you choose?  One option is to read reviews (like this one) or to wander through book lists, like the New York Times.  This will give you a good idea of what books are being read and enjoyed by others.  Our club decided to pick books from some of these lists.

​The book How Lucky You Can Be was written by Buster Olney, an ESPN announcer.  It is subtitled “The Story of Coach Don Meyer.”  Coach Meyer is the most famous coach that you never heard of… but other basketball coaches around the country know about him.  He devoted himself not only to his teams but also to teaching the art of coaching to anyone interested in the game he loved.  This is much more than a sports story.  It is the story of a dedicated man who at times neglected his family to achieve greatness in his field, passing the legendary Bobby Knight in career wins with over 903 victories, the most by any coach in history at that time.  It took a tragedy for him to express the love he had for his family — wife, children, and his players.

​ Don Meyer had been a college player at Northern Colorado and a head coach for years at David Lipscomb College and Northern State University.  His success was tremendous, but this story really begins on a lonely stretch of two-land road in South Dakota.  While leading a caravan of cars, taking his players on a team-building retreat, Meyer fell asleep at the wheel.  His car veered into an oncoming tractor-trailer truck.  The Coach was crushed, and it was feared that he would die from his injuries.  At the hospital, doctors prepared his wife because they were certain he would not make it through the surgery.  After five hours, Meyer survived but lost part of a leg, his spleen, and had numerous other injuries.  Meyer said that the accident was the best thing that could have happened to him.  He equated it with an angel providing him with a message.  The doctors found that Meyer had terminal cancer.

​ The story describes how this driven coach, who did not want to give up coaching basketball, rose to face the greatest challenge of his life.  He reassessed his life and his relationships.  His three adult children describe the changes that he under went.  Meyer now expressed himself, particularly his emotional self.  He did not hold back telling his children, his wife, or his players how much he loved them.  This tragedy actually has made their family even closer.  This is the story of a man who’s belief in God, his religion, his family, and his team— both coaches and players– gave him the strength to come back to coaching and to fight the lose of a leg and the cancer.  This would be the toughest battle of his life.

I recommend this book wholeheartedly, not only for basketball fans, as an inspirational story of a man fighting to overcome tremendous odds.  (5 of 5)

Other books from book lists rated by different club members:

Mr. Ives’ Christmas by Oscar Hijuelos

Part love story, part meditation on finding spiritual peace in the midst of crisis.  It is a beautifully written, tender and passionate story of a man trying to put his life in perspective.  (4 of 5)

  Eats, Shoots, and Leaves by Lynne Truss

A funny, informative nonfiction book with excellent examples of misused punctuation. (5 of 5)

  The Hundred Year-Old Man by Jonas Jonasson

The story spans the 20th century with a character similar to Forest Gump.  (4 of 5)

 The Postmistress by Sarah Blake

Multiple story lines and strong women tell the story of World War II.  (5 of 5)

    Pope Joan by Donna Woolfolk Cross

Thought provoking historic novel about women being held back by authoritive men.  (4 of 5)

     Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

Published in 1932, a thought  provoking novel anticipates developments that have profoundly changed society.  (4.5 of 5)

 The Christmas Train by David Baldacci

This tale shows how we do get second chances to fulfill our deepest hopes and dreams, especially during the season of miracles.  (5 of 5)

 God is not Mad at You by Joyce Meyer

A book that explains the relationship between God and man.  (5 of 5)

     Duck the Halls by Donna Andrews

‘Tis the season to be jolly – a funny novel with a heroine who rounds up stray animals of all sorts as well as a killer.  Duck the Halls! (5 of 5)

    Nighttime is My Time by Mary Higgins Clark

A riveting novel of psychological suspense that depicts the mind of a killer. (4 of 5)

The Club Members rating these books:

Pat Gombita, Mona Herrell, Pat Kuna, Lee Ann Schrock, Julie Shultz, Bill Simmons, Deb Stewart, Barb Swanson, Linda Troll, Patti Tullis and Rae Ann Weaver

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Filed under Adult Fiction, Adult Non-Fiction, Biography, Crime, Fourth Tuesday Book Club Books, Historical, History, Humor, Inspirational, Inspirational, Murder, Mystery, Personal Insights, Religion, Sports, Sports/Entertainment

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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Green River, Running Red: The Real Story of the Green River Killer–America’s Deadliest Serial Murderer

green river running redby Ann Rule

 Reviewed by The Fourth Tuesday and Mystery Book Club

            We all have a book on a bookshelf that is collecting dust.  It calls to us, and we want to pull it   down and read it.  A variety of reasons keep it on that shelf.  We have been too busy, we have to read something else, or we are just too tired to read right now… maybe tomorrow.  Our club decided to dust off those books and share with others what we finally found.

Ann Rule is famous for writing about true crime.  Her two most well known books tell of her work with the police in her backyard of Seattle, Washington.  Her personal knowledge and contact with the serial killers in both cases makes her books very personal accounts.  This book presents the facts and emotions around the “Green River Killer,” perhaps the most prolific serial killer in history.  He is serving 48 life sentences in prison.  This serial killer recently took part in an interview with the media admitting that he has killed nearly twice as many women as are now credited to him over a period of nearly two decades.

The author dedicated a large portion of the book to the young women that the Green River Killer murdered.  This means that the reader must spend a great deal of time learning about dozens of the Green River victims.  Rule describes their lives, included the rejection, the abuse, and often the sadness that drove most of them to prostitution.  A missing or murdered prostitute does not create as much urgency in a community that another type of murder might.

Although the book jumps back and forth between the victims, creating accounts that are somewhat confusing, the author deals with each individual–both victim and perpetrator—fairly.  It is sad and amazing that such a horrible killing machine actually existed.  This book is eye opening in many ways and an interesting true crime read.  I would recommend it.  (4.5 of 5)

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Filed under Adult Non-Fiction, Fourth Tuesday Book Club Books, Mystery, Tragic Events