Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Gale Warning: Review

Gale Warning, originally published as Maddon's Rock in Britain, by Hammond Innes is a little outside my usual mystery fare. Primarily a high action thriller set on the high seas, this book--like much of Innes's work--would normally appeal to those who like their books full of adventure and masculine adventures. The story is told by Corporal Jim Vardy. Vardy and his mates, Gunner Bert Cook and Private Sills, are waiting repatriation to England at the end of World War II. Orders come for them to join Warrant Officer Rankin (as commanding officer) on special detail aboard the S. S. Trikkala, a freighter that will take them and a load of mysterious cargo back to England in a convoy of other boats.

The men are ordered to guard cases marked "Hurricane Engines for Replacement" round-the-clock during the journey. Also aboard the vessel is Captain Halsey, a Shakespeare-spouting captain rumored to be mixed up in piracy, several of his loyal crew (having followed him from a previous ship), and a young woman released from a prison camp, Jennifer Sorrell. Vardy, an army man who would have been better suited to the navy, overhears several conversations and observes some odd behavior that make him suspicious of Halsey and Rankin's true purpose.

When the Trikkala encounters a severe ocean storm (thus the title Gale Warning), Vardy and his mates are ordered into their designated life-boat. A boat that they had previously discovered to not be sea-worthy. Vardy refuses to board the boat--requesting to take one of the "less dependable" rafts instead. Halsey and Rankin deny his request and he defies orders, taking Bert Cook and Jenniferr Sorrell with him. They believe that the Trikkala has gone down and when they are picked up by one of the other ships, it seems that they are the only survivors from the doomed ship. But nearly a month later, Halsey, Rankin, the three crewmen loyal to Halsey are also found floating in the arctic waters.

Charges of mutiny are brought against Vary and Cook and despite their story of the unsafe boat, they are found guilty and sent to Dartmoor for three years. Word reaches them that the five other survivors are planning a trip to salvage the cargo of the Trikkala--which has been revealed to be a fortune in silver bouillon. Our heroes decide to escape from prison and try to beat Halsey and company to the ship with hopes of bringing back proof of their innocence. The real mystery of Gale Warning is whether Vardy will be successful and the revelation of the real story behind the sinking of the freighter.

There are no spoilers in my synopsis. My copy of the book has a brief blurb that pretty much covers everything I've told you--and the few bits I've been able to find on the interwebs tell just about as much. The kernel of mystery, as noted, surrounds Vardy's trip back to the Norwegian sea to find the silver. Bert Cook joins him--as does Jenny. Jenny is a sailor as well and it is her boat that is used to make the journey. The adventure and suspense of the final chapters more than make up for the lack of mystery through the first half of the book. These stories may have been primarily attractive to men during the war years and those immediately following, but I find Innes's prose compelling and interesting.  He's a good story-teller in an action-packed genre. Three and 1/2 stars.

★★★ 1/2

This fulfills the "More Than One Title" square on the Golden Vintage Bingo card.

Challenges Fulfilled: Vintage Mystery Challenge, Mount TBR Challenge, Bookish TBR, Around the World, Century of Books, Outdo Yourself, How Many Books, My Kind of Mystery, 100 Plus Challenge, What's in a Name, European Reading Challenge, Book Monopoly

Monday, April 14, 2014

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? is a bookish meme hosted by Book Journey. Every week we check in with what we read, what we're reading now, and what's next on the reading docket.  Here we go....

Books Read Last Week (click on titles for review): 
A Hangman's Dozen by Alfred Hitchcock, ed  (Robert Arthur
Naked Is the Best Disguise by Samuel Rosenberg
The Mammoth Book of the Lost Chronicles of Sherlock Holmes by Denis O. Smith

Currently Reading: 
Gale Warning by Hammond Innes: The 5,000-ton freighter, Trikkala, outward bound in convoy from Murmansk, struck a mine in the early hours of March 5th, 1945, 300 miles from the nearest land. There were only eight survivors and she was listed as sunk. Yet over a year later the Trikkala radioed an S.O.S. as she was battering her way towards the Hebrides through the gale-swept waters of the Arctic Ocean. Why was this ghost ship still afloat? What had happened during the missing months? What is the sinister significance of only eight survivors from a ship that never sank?
Books that spark my interest:
Letters from a Murderer by John Matthews 
Plain Sailing by Douglas Clark
By the Watchman's Clock by Leslie Ford  
The Monuments Men by Robert M. Edsel w/Bret Witter
Death by the Book by Julianna Deering

The Lost Chronicles of Sherlock Holmes

The Mammoth Book of the Lost Chronicles of Sherlock Holmes by Denis O. Smith (2014) is an outstanding collection of non-canonical stories featuring the great detective. Smith manages to duplicate Watson's narrative voice with great skill--slipping only occasionally. The stories are very reminiscent of the original short stories without appearing to be mere copies of Doyle's work. I thoroughly enjoyed the stories and finding myself once again on the fog-shrouded streets of Holmes's London. I have two minor quibbles. First, there are two longer stories--almost novella-length--included (making this a mammoth-sized book, indeed!) and Smith seems to lose his narrative voice most in these. He maintains Doyle's style much better in the shorter works. Second, I'm not certain what dictated the order of the stories--whether they were published as short stories elsewhere first and then gathered in publication/writing order or if some other criteria was used--but I would have enjoyed them a bit more if the stories had appeared chronologically per the Holmes/Watson relationship. We skip from them have roomed together for some time to Watson being married and longer sharing rooms to a story from the earliest days of their shared rooms and then back forth between the first two options mentioned. Again, minor quibble that didn't prevent me from enjoying myself, it just caused a bit of a disruption in the flow of the work as a whole. Four and 1/4 stars. [finished late last night: 4/13/14]

 Here is a run-down of the stories included:
 "The Adventure of the Crimson Arrow": A man is killed with a certain archer's arrow. Holmes shows how it is possible that the archer in question is innocent.

"The Adventure of Kendal Terrace": Mr. Claydon comes home unexpectedly to find his entire household (wife & servants) missing and strangers in possession of the house as if they had always lived there. Holmes gets to the bottom of it all.

"A Hair's Breadth": Holmes uses a single hair to find the killer of a harmless old lady.

"The Adventure of the Smiling Face": A professor of Classical Archaeology is plagued with ominous notes and a tile with the face of a smiling woman. When the professor is found dead with only one set of footprints leading to the spot where he was found, the authorities are quick to call it accident. But Holmes knows better.

"The Adventure of the Fourth Glove": The Latchmere diamond has been stolen and Holmes must find the culprit. The clue is the fourth glove. (That's no spoiler...and I challenge you to figure out what the glove means.)

"The Adventure of the Richmond Recluse": Mr. David Boldero's brother has gone missing--apparently at the hands of their uncle who scooped the family fortune when their grandfather died. But there is no proof.  Holmes discovers what happened to the brother...and who really should have inherited.......

"The Adventure of the English Scholar": Mr. Rhodes Harte meets a learned English Scholar on the train.  When Dr. Kennett alights from the train, he leaves his satchel behind. Harte, a kindly good citizen, attempts to return the property...only to find himself in the middle of an international intrigue. He, of course, consults with Holmes who soon finds the truth of the matter.

"The Adventure of the Amethyst Ring": Holmes investigates the disappearance of Jack Prentice, a former dealer of stolen goods who has since gone straight.

The Adventure of the Willow Pool": Captain returns from India to find that his father and all of the townspeople have inexplicably taken against him. No one will tell him why (they all assume he knows what despicable thing he has done). Holmes finds the answer....and a murderer.

"The Adventure of Queen Hippolyta": Mr. Godfrey Townsend is abducted one morning on his way to the dentist and taken to a deserted house. His abductors leave for a short time (locking him in a room)...and fearing that he might be robbed of his expensive cigar case, he hides it under a floor board. The men return with a woman who is furious when she sees Townsend--they have grabbed the wrong man! He is knocked out and awakens in Hyde Park with no clue where the abandoned house might be. He comes to Holmes hoping he can help him find his case. Holmes does--and moreover discovers the secret behind the abduction.

"The Adventure of Dedstone Mill": Holmes takes on one of his youngest clients when Miss Harriet Borrow, age 14, engages him to help discover several things: who is trying to kill her younger brother, where their lovely aunt may be, and what happened to their friend, the tutor. It is a diabolical plot indeed.

"An Incident in Society": The military's secret codes have been copied and it's up to Holmes to stop the information from being passed to an infamous international spy.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Naked Is the Best Disguise: Review

Naked Is the Best Disguise: The Death and Resurrection of Sherlock Holmes by Samuel Rosenberg is a literary criticism revolving around Sherlock Holmes, but unlike most Holmesian critiques it focuses on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle more than on examining the works themselves for the sake of the work. Rosenberg speculates that Doyle left clues throughout his work that reveal hidden meanings and connections between the Holmes stories (and other of Doyle's work) and Nietsche, Oscar Wilde, Dionysus, Christ, Catullus, John Bunyan, Frankenstein, Robert Browning Racine, Flaubert, T. S. Eliot and others.

The title, which may seem odd at first, comes from William Congreve's The Double Dealer and preface the book.
No mask like open truth to cover lies,
As to go naked is the best disguise.
And Rosenberg claims that Doyle has used the open "truth" in his stories to disguise his real meaning and display his true self.

Samuel Rosenberg was a literary detective who also published surprising discoveries about the work of Mary Shelley, Melville and others. In this work Rosenberg posits that Doyle was a brilliant allegorist who left "purloined letter" references to both literary figures and people from real life. He would have us believe that the blueprint for Professor Moriarty was Friedrich Nietzsche and that Irene Adler stood in for George Sand.The author encounters the people who knew Doyle and who, he says, turned up in his stories; displays clue after clue about Sir Arthur himself; and claims the discovery of the real meaning behind the Sherlock Holmes mysteries. 

I must say that Naked Is the Best Disguise reads rather oddly from someone claiming to be a literary detective. Rosenberg's prose actually reminds me of Dorothy L. Sayer's Miss Climpson. His work is littered with exclamation points and italicized words and I can almost hear the breathless, urgent tone as he declares his earth-shattering revelations! Although, perhaps I am doing Miss Climpson a disservice--because Lord Peter Wimsey's right-hand woman is much clearer in her reports to Lord Peter than Rosenberg is in his ecstatic "discoveries" about Doyle. If his literary detective work is really that accurate (and I have severe doubts that it is), then he certainly shouldn't need to broadcast it at the top of his lungs and highlight it with little neon signs to say: "Look at this brilliant bit of deduction! Aren't I clever? Nobody else has figured this out yet. And if I use enough exclamation points and italicize all the important words, then you, poor reader, can't possibly miss my point."

So...the method of delivery is quite distracting--as is his frequent digressions to explain just where he was when each brilliant discovery about Doyle's work occurred to him. On a train. At a hotel. Wandering around the countryside. Because, by golly, where you are when you suddenly realize that "This reference is exciting!" (yes, he actually put that right there in the text) is just about the most important thing you can relate while trying to convince your audience that Moriarty is Nietzsche. Or wait---maybe that's Colonel Sebastian Moran.  Yeah--he's Nietzsche. NO....they're both Nietzsche! Did I mention that he seems a bit confused? 

I don't know if Rosenberg is actually as earnest as he seems to be about all this exclamatory nonsense or whether this is a bit of literary critique parody put on for his friendly group of Holmes aficionados. It doesn't much matter to me. All I know is it was tedious, convoluted, and pedantic when it wasn't being all breathless and urgent and I can't say that I recommend it at all. He has not convinced me with the comparisons he's made. It's sort of like statistics--you can make them mean anything you'd like them to mean. One star. Maybe.

Top Ten Tuesday: Most Unique Books

This week’s Top Ten Tuesday, brought to us by the Broke and the Bookish, asks us to list our Top Ten most unique books we've read.

This is an interesting question--because "unique" can mean such different things to each person.  Here's my list of unique books...

David Bainbridge
The X in Sex: How the X Chromosome Controls Our Lives  
Bainbridge manages to talk about fairly complex topics in language the layman can understand and infuses his writing with humor. 

Ambrose Bierce
The Devil's Dictionary

This "reference" book offers up reinterpretations of various terms in the English language. He devotes a lot of entries to lampoons of cant and political doublespeak, as well as other aspects of human foolishness and frailty. 

Lawrence Block
Random Walk 

Guthrie decides to take a walk. He doesn't know how far he's going or where he's going. A journey of any length begins with a single step and Guthrie takes it, facing east. Wonderful things happen as he walks. He begins to draw people to him. The group grows and walks and heals. The random walk: It never ends, it just changes; it is not the destination which matters, but the journey.

Sammy Davis, Jr. [text by Burt Boyar]

"Sammy never went anywhere without a camera.  There was no bridge, historical landmark, or person who was safe from capture by his camera lens." His enormous photo collection includes everyone from presidents to movie stars to the man on the street.  He has Sinatra in his pajamas and Martin Luther King Jr. at the Lincoln Memorial.  He recorded a warm day in uptown New York City with folks sitting on their porch steps and the beautiful view from his San Francisco suite. 

Jason T Eberl & Kevin S Decker, eds
Star Trek & Philosophy: The Wrath of Kant  

These essays use episodes and moments from Star Trek's various incarnations and feature films to explore philosophical issues ranging from the nature of communication between very disparate species to logical development of Vulcans to the ethical dilemmas found in Deep Space Nine.  The essays use one of the icons of fictional space exploration to explore the philosophies of the human race.

Harlan Ellison

Harlan Ellison is not for everyone. He's not for the squeamish. Or the prudish. You want your fiction all neat and tidy and full of rainbows and sunshine and happily-ever-afters. Ellison is not your man....Ellison, as he puts it, walks through our lives and runs them through his spectacular imagination and hands them back full of all the horrors and nightmares and mortal dreads we don't want to face. No, I'm not talking about zombies or things that go bump in the night.  

Gareth P. Jones
The Thornthwaite Inheritance
 Ovid and Lorelli Thornthwaite have been trying to do each other in for so long that they have forgotten who made the first try. Was it the working guillotine? Or was it the exploding iced lolly? It really doesn't matter...where other children have simple sibling rivalry, Ovid and Lorelli have machineries of death.

David L. Ulin
The Lost Art of Reading: Why Books Matter in a Distracted Time  He argues that because of the overwhelming amount of information that streams through our consciousness thanks to the internet we do not have the time or the attention to devote to truly immersing ourselves in the story--the narrative. Whether that be a story we are reading, being told, or even living. The constant race to keep up with the latest email, FaceBook post, or Tweet prevents us from savoring the moment...

Charles Yu
How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe Minor Universe 31 is a vast story-space on the outskirts of fiction, where paradox fluctuates like the stock market.....and every day people get into recreational time machines and try to the one thing they should never do: change the past. That's where Charles Yu, time travel technician--part counselor, part gadget repari man--steps in. He helps save people from themselves.

And one that I read pre-blogging and therefore don't have a review for:
Graham Rawle
Woman's World
(from GoodReads) Painstakingly assembled from 40,000 fragments of text snipped from women’s magazines, this strange and wonderful tale moves at the breakneck pace of a pulp thriller. A stunning visual tour de force, Woman’s World is also a powerful reflection on society’s definition of what it means to be a woman.

Teaser Tuesdays

MizB of Should Be Reading hosts Teaser Tuesdays. Anyone can play along. Just do the following:

*Grab your current read.*Open to a random page.
*Share two "teaser" sentences from somewhere on that page.
*BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! You don't want to ruin the book for others.
*Share the title and author too, so other TT participants can add it to their TBR lists if they like your teaser.

Here's mine from Naked Is the Best Disguise: The Death and Resurrection of Sherlock Holmes by Samuel Rosenberg: 

The syndrome set in motion by the ring and the book accelerates when Inspector Lestrade, who never gets anything right, finds a false clue to the murder. Pointing to a corner of the syndromic dark apartment, he shouts triumphantly: "Look at that!"

{This is turning into a rather dry, pedantic look at Sherlock Holmes and his creator, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.}