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Showing posts from January, 2012

CBR4 #7: The Crime at Black Dudley by Margery Allingham

In some ways, The Crime at Black Dudley is a very typical British country house mystery. A bunch of upper class people are invited to a party weekend at some god-forsaken, off-the-beaten-path estate. They arrive to find they don't necessarily know each other, and are a bit curious as to why they have been chosen. The house comes complete with creepy relative, hostile manservant, and a very weird family tradition. When a murder occurs, it's only the beginning of what will turn out to be a simply disastrous weekend.  The women weep, the men engage in fisticuffs, there are secret passages, hidden identities, and a few fiendish plots.

The main character is Dr. George Abbershaw, a mild-mannered physician who occasionally consults for Scotland Yard. The actual detective of the piece is Albert Campion, who both extremely intelligent AND extremely weird. Although Dr. Abbershaw in some ways functions as a Dr. Watson, he is less privy to Campion's actions and motivations. It's a…

CBR4 #6: Emergency! True Stories From The Nation's ERs by Mark Brown

I work in a hospital. I'm not a medical professional, mind you. I am a mere officemonkey, making appointments, pushing papers, gathering information. But even from where I sit, I can still observe some of the patient interactions that go on. I've been on the phone with people who've yelled at me, burst into tears, chatted at me for more than half an hour, and a few 80 year old men who have flirted with me. I've been given gifts, and one time a woman chucked a clipboard at my head for no apparent reason. However, the department I work in isn't an emergency area. We're basically a M-F operation, and we usually close up shop around 6pm. I can't imagine what it would be like to work in a place that is open 24 hours a day and deals with people suffering from life-threatening trauma.

Mark Brown's book, Emergency!, is a compilation of short essays from emergency room personnel around the country. Some tales are a few pages long, some are just a few lines, but …

CBR4 #5: Haunted by James Herbert

I love a ghost story. I'm not especially picky about them, but I prefer those in which the ghost is a definable character rather than a mysterious evil force. While an anonymous angry spirit is certainly spooky, a specific vengeful ghost is much more interesting in my opinion.

James Herbert's Haunted is such a ghost story, though the actual existence of the ghost is in question most of the way through. Protagonist David Ash works for a London supernatural society as a sort of ghost hunter. Mostly, he travels around and tries to debunk hauntings with science, equipment, and modern thought. He's a notorious skeptic, even though he does work with people who do seem to have paranormal gifts.

When he gets invited out to Edbrook by the young Mariell siblings and their spinster aunt, he agrees to go without much thought. Since Ash believes very little in the spiritual realm, he doesn't think he has much to worry about. Unfortunately, when he arrives, he finds that everything …

CBR4 #4: Dissecting Death: Secrets of a Medical Examiner by Dr. Frederick Zugibe

For some reason, I am really into forensics right now. It's a shame that I am both poor at science and rather squeamish, because it seems like such a fascinating job. However, between having to know all that biology and having to deal with maggots on a fairly regular basis, I am sure it is not for me.

Dr. Zugibe, who penned this book, did an excellent job. He wrote the most widely used textbook in the field of forensics, so he is great at making this interesting but also extremely informative.

Before the mid-seventies or so, a town's coroner wasn't a medical professional, but someone elected to the position by being bright enough to manage the paperwork. Often they were lawyers or business owners, and they didn't know anything about dealing with bodies. They could declare someone dead, but were unable to determine any causes that weren't blatantly obvious. Later, these laypersons were slowly replaced with trained medical examiners--people who knew what they were lo…

CBR4 #3: The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

I did not want to read this book. I heard all the hype, and saw about a zillion people reading it on the train, but I resisted. I thought it was going to be badly written crap like the Twilight series (and I don't want to hear it about the Twilight series...I did try to read them, but after ten pages in the first book, I felt myself developing a brain aneurysm from the terrible, terrible writing and had to stop.) You know, lame YA series for girls coated in unbelievable fantasy tropes and damsel-in-distress behavior. However, several ladies I trust seemed to enjoy it, as well as The Boyfriend, so when someone offered to loan me the first book I decided I might as well give it a chance.

I'm so glad I did. Each year, two teenagers from each of the twelve "districts" must compete in "The Hunger Games," a bloody battle to the death that is mandatory viewing for everyone in the nation. This particular year, Katniss Everdeen ends up as one of the twenty-four comp…

CBR4 #2: Cross Fire by James Patterson

This is James Patterson's 17th Alex Cross mystery. Now, I haven't read all of them -- I think I've only read the first two or three -- but I seem to recall that the ones I read were considerably better than this.

Detective Alex Cross finds himself chasing down a pair of deadly snipers while trying to plan his wedding. AND there's a killer carving mathematical equations in the foreheads of his victims! AND his youngest child's unreliable mother is giving him stress. AND his arch nemesis--serial killer Kyle Craig--has returned!

It's frankly a lot going on, and most of it is a lot less exciting than it sounds. Kyle Craig reveals his plan very early, so there is no suspense at all for the audience. The two murderers are left mostly unexplained, and one (the more interesting one, actually) is pretty much used as a plot point and then immediately discarded. Alex's home drama churns but goes nowhere and changes nothing. Maybe this was a book designed only to lead …

CBR4 #1: Whom the Gods Love by Kate Ross

So 2011 is over, and I missed my goal of the elusive "Double Cannonball" by five books. Still, 99 books read and reviewed in a year is really pretty impressive. And Cannonball Read IV has already started (more information here) so here's another opportunity for me to beat my personal best. 104 in 2012!

The first book of the new year is the third book in Kate Ross's Julian Kestral series. With each book I get a little sadder, since I know there are only four books...meaning that the series will end soon. That's tough to handle, because these are SO GOOD. They're everything I look for in a mystery novel, and I could read about Julian Kestral for at least twenty more books. (Kate Ross is dead, and Dan Brown plows forward...life is obviously NOT FAIR.)

In this story, 1830s English dandy Julian is contacted by the father of Alexander Falkland, a young man who travelled in Julian's high class social circle. Alexander has been brutally murdered in his own home d…