Thursday, May 26, 2016

Presumption of Death by Perri O’Shaughnessy, 2003

Entry for Friday’s Forgotten Books at Patti Abbott’s blog Pattinase.

Presumption of Death is the ninth book in the Nina Reilly series written by Perri O’Shaughnessy, the pseudonym of sisters Mary and Pamela O'Shaughnessy of California.

Nina Reilly is a successful lawyer with a penchant for difficult cases. She practices out of Lake Tahoe. In this novel, however, Nina comes to Carmel Valley in Monterey County to give her life a new direction. She lives with her boyfriend, private investigator Paul van Wagoner, with whom she shares a close but complicated relationship.

Carmel Valley is where Nina faces the biggest test of her career. Just as she is settling down in the place where she started her law career, Wish, the 21-year-old son of her former assistant Sandy Whitefeather, is arrested on suspicion of lighting fires in the valley, destroying homes and property, and causing the death of his no-good jobless friend Danny Cervantes.

Wish is close to both Nina and Paul who feel responsible for his welfare and want to clear his name. He reminds Nina of her own estranged son. Paul feels they owe it to Sandy to get her son out of jail. Wish has been assisting the PI on his cases. The three are like family without being related.

Did Wish ignite the fires? Did he use arson to kill his friend? Or was he framed by one or more people with a dark and sinister motive?

A bigger question—is Danny really dead? The body was charred beyond recognition and was identified as Danny’s from a belt decorated with conchos. He was probably bludgeoned as the autopsy revealed a skull injury. Wish is taken into custody because a woman named Ruthie, who picks up stray cats, claimed to have seen the two men in a car and presumed they were the arsonists. Later in the book, the cat lady is found mysteriously dead in her car.

Apart from Ruthie, Presumption of Death has several interesting characters, all of whom are suspects. There are married couples, old and new, harbouring secrets and fantasies; a creepy and unpleasant young man called Robert ‘Coyote’ Johnson who lives on a dirt road in a canyon with Nate, his terrified younger brother; and Danny’s reclusive but charming uncle Ben Cervantes.

Any of these people could have started the fires in a premeditated move to halt the rapid development of Carmel Valley—the replacement of cottages with condos and mansions, the displacement of old habitants and the handicapped—and let Wish take the rap. Wish and Danny were local Native Americans and were anti-development.

Presumption of Death is an engaging story with some implied elements, like the wildfires in the real Carmel Valley in California. The pace is slow in the first-half of the 443-page book, as the author describes the village atmosphere and the disparate neighbours in some detail. The narrative style is elegant but casual, almost conversational. At one point I wanted to put away the book (which I never do) but I was glad I read through, as the suspense built up in the second-half with the action shifting to the courtroom.

Perri O’Shaughnessy paints a deceptive picture of Carmel Valley whose landscape is not as beautiful as it would seem and whose residents are not as peace-loving as they appear to be. Nina and Paul pursue their investigation with relentless zeal and considerable risk, as they unravel the chilling truth in, what I thought, was an unexpected twist to a decent legal thriller.

The Nina Reilly novels

01. Motion to Suppress, 1995
02. Invasion of Privacy, 1996
03. Obstruction of Justice, 1997
04. Breach of Promise, 1998
05. Acts of Malice, 1999
06. Move to Strike, 2000
07. Writ of Execution, 2001
08. Unfit to Practice, 2002
09. Presumption of Death, 2003
10. Unlucky in Law, 2004
11. Case of Lies, 2005
12. Show No Fear, 2008
13. Dreams of the Dead, 2011

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Drabble #5: A story in 100 words

Mike Hammer sat in a quiet corner in the library and read My Gun is Quick by Mickey Spillane.

“Excuse me, sir. What is that book you are reading?”

Mike looked up into the grim faces of a police inspector and a constable. The librarian, colour draining from her cheeks, lurched against a bookcase.

How dare you! Books about guns, sex, and violence are banned.

The inspector held a pair of handcuffs. “You are under arrest.”

“I don’t think so.”

The gun in Mike’s hand coughed...once, then twice.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Discovering Erma Bombeck

"When humour goes, there goes civilisation."

Some of that humour died with Erma Bombeck in April 1996. 

I first heard of the American author and humourist in the late nineties and read about her work only after I had access to the internet. Then, about a decade ago, I bought a few paperbacks in a secondhand bookshop and was hooked by her clean, elegant, and thoughtful humour. She saw the funny side of everyday life, marriage, family, children, relationships, jobs, dreams, and even issues like post-natal depression. There was a distinct flavour to her humour writing that put me at ease as I read.

Last evening, I bought one more book, I Want to Grow Hair, I Want to Grow Up, I Want to Go to Boise: Children Surviving Cancer (1989), a grim and sobering read compared to her previous books. The book is not without humour, except it's not her own. Bombeck sees and hears the wonderful stories of brave children and teenagers who survived cancer and is amazed when she learns how humour and laughter and optimism helped the kids beat the odds.

As she prepared to write the book, Bombeck wondered if there could be humour in such a serious topic. Her doubts were cleared when one kid told her, "Would you be happier if we cried all the time?" She was convinced. Bombeck donated all the money earned from the sale of this book to cancer research. 

Every once in a while I read Erma Bombeck. I leaf through her books at random, in much the same way I read spiritual books. Humour and philosophy, there's not much difference. Both put me in a good mood. That's the idea of reading most anything.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Green Zone, 2010

My entry for Tuesday's Overlooked Films, Audio and Video at Todd Mason's blog Sweet Freedom.

I discovered Green Zone (2010), directed by Paul Greengrass, and Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq's Green Zone (2006), the book on which it is loosely based, quite by accident.

After watching the film unexpectedly on cable, I read about it online and found that it was adapted from the book by Rajiv Chandrasekaran, an award-winning Indian-American journalist.

Chandrasekaran was former Bureau Chief of The Washington Post in Baghdad had a ringside view of America’s 2003 war in Iraq. He was until recently National Editor at the paper and, apparently, left the Post to start his own venture.

I plan to read Imperial Life in the Emerald City because I have been following events in Iraq and the Middle East ever since Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in 1990.

Before I talk about the film, here is the synopsis of the book.

The Green Zone, Baghdad, 2003: in this walled-off compound of swimming pools and luxurious amenities, Paul Bremer and his Coalition Provisional Authority set out to fashion a new, democratic Iraq. Staffed by idealistic aides chosen primarily for their views on issues such as abortion and capital punishment, the CPA spent the crucial first year of occupation pursuing goals that had little to do with the immediate needs of a postwar nation: flat taxes instead of electricity and deregulated health care instead of emergency medical supplies.

In this acclaimed firsthand account, the former Baghdad bureau chief of The Washington Post gives us an intimate portrait of life inside this Oz-like bubble, which continued unaffected by the growing mayhem outside. This is a quietly devastating tale of imperial folly, and the definitive history of those early days when things went irrevocably wrong in Iraq.

I think the common thread between film and book is that things didn’t go as America planned in the immediate aftermath of the Iraq war. Democracy cannot replace dictatorship overnight. Any regime change and especially a forced one brings its own set of challenges. There are serious consequences as we have seen in the years following US withdrawal. Iraq seems to be worse off than it was under Saddam, however despotic his regime was.

While George Bush senior was largely justified in launching Operation Desert Shield, his son’s invasion of Iraq thirteen years later had less to do with weapons of mass destruction and more to do with conquering Iraq and replacing Saddam with a puppet regime. Green Zone exposes the lies Bush and his neocon buddies told the world, questions the justification for American involvement, and reveals the deceptions and internal conflicts of agencies like Pentagon and CIA.

Caught in the crossfire of conspiracy are Chief Warrant Officer Roy Miller (Matt Damon) and his men whose mission is to find the weapons—based on secret information given by an Iraqi named Magellan—and bring in Al-Rawi, a powerful general in the Iraqi Republican Guard. The powers-that-be have good reason to capture Rawi for he can nail America's lie.

During a tense standoff between Miller and Rawi, the general reveals that Iraq got rid of the weapons in the early nineties but Washington didn’t want the world to know the truth. And that might well have been the case.

General Al Rawi: Your government wanted to hear the lie, Mr. Miller... they wanted Saddam out and they did exactly what they had to do... this is why you are here...

Rawi, who was on America’s 55 most wanted list, is currently serving a life sentence for his role in the suppression of the 1991 rebellions in Iraq.

Green Zone has the feel of an action-packed documentary and that’s partly because the events and people seem all too real, including WSJ reporter Lawrie Dayne (Amy Ryan) who suspects the truth and lets Miller in on the secret. The last hour of the film is shot almost entirely in the dark and shadowy lanes of Baghdad, as Miller and his men chase Al Rawi. It’s the kind of film that makes you wonder—"Did this really happen?”—and leaves you balancing on the seesaw of fact and fiction.

The very talented Matt Damon is somewhat expressionless but he does well as a conscientious soldier in a war that should have never taken place. Other notable actors include Greg Kinnear and Brendan Gleeson. The film was shot in Spain, Morocco and England though the viewer wouldn't know. 

Director Paul Greengrass seems to favour Damon who he cast in The Bourne Supremacy (2004) and The Bourne Ultimatum (2007) in the Bourne Trilogy. The actor is set to reprise the role of Jason Bourne in the namesake movie slated for a July release. Apart from these films, Greengrass has made Captain Phillips (2013), United 93 (2006) and Bloody Sunday (2002), all very intense and hair-raising. Clearly, he has a penchant for real-life stories laden with drama and action.

If you enjoyed films like American Sniper, The Hurt Locker, Zero Dark Thirty and Black Hawk Down, you’ll probably like the lesser-known Green Zone, but don’t go in with too many expectations.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Pigeon-Blood Red by Ed Duncan, 2016

Voyage is making Cleveland-based writer Ed Duncan’s latest novel Pigeon-Blood Red into an action-adventure movie. The 184-page book, which is described as “a fast-paced and suspenseful crime thriller,” is published by Zharmae Publishing Press

I have not read the book, though I have been invited to do so.

© Book Publicity Services
According to the synopsis, “Pigeon-Blood Red tells the story of underworld enforcer Richard ‘Rico’ Sanders, who believed his next assignment to be an ordinary job. Retrieve his gangster boss's priceless pigeon-blood red ruby necklace and teach the double-dealing cheat who stole it a lesson. The chase quickly goes sideways and takes Rico from the mean streets of Chicago to sunny Honolulu, where the hardened hitman finds himself in uncharted territory when a couple of innocent bystanders are accidentally embroiled in the crime.”

Further, “As Rico pursues his new targets, the hunter and his prey develop an unlikely respect for one another and Rico is faced with a momentous decision—follow his orders to kill the couple whose courage and character have won his admiration, or refuse and endanger the life of the woman he loves?”

“It’s always been said that you should write what you know. I am a lawyer—as is a pivotal character in the novel who is being pursued by a hitman—and I'm excited to be able to use my legal training creatively as well as professionally,” Duncan was quoted as saying in an email sent to me by Book Publicity Services.

Ed Duncan, a graduate of Oberlin College and Northwestern University Law School, was a partner at a national law firm in Cleveland, Ohio, for many years. He is working on the second installment in the proposed trilogy.

Both the paperback and Kindle version of Pigeon-Blood Red are available at Amazon.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Book you'd love to read again right away

A week ago I posed a question on this blog—which is the one book that you’d love to read again this minute—and why?

Just one book sitting in your memory and standing on your bookshelf.

I am not surprised at the terrific choices everyone made. The books cover different genres, which says a lot about the kind of books people like to read—and reread. Of course, all this is subjective as I, myself, read in nearly every genre. History today, mystery tomorrow.

Some of these books have been reviewed by those who selected them and wherever possible I have given the links to the reviews. In case I have missed yours then please let me know in comments. I will be adding more choices as they come. After all, books are timeless.

Without any more fuss I hand over this space to my friends, fellow-bloggers, and book lovers  many of whose recommendations have made it to my TBR list.

Moira Redmond at Clothes in Books

I’m not going to agonize over this. I’ll make a quick decision, even if I might choose a different one if you asked me tomorrow.

Agatha Christie has given me such an enormous amount of pleasure over the years, that I am going to pick one that I first read when I was about 12, and have read several times since, always with great enjoyment—The Man in the Brown Suit by Agatha Christie. On my blog here.

My chosen book is a very good story, an excellent mystery, and very entertaining and funny. It has a twist at the end which foreshadowed a more famous book. I loved the adventurous character of Anne Bedingfield—she was a great heroine, and Sir Eustace Pedler is hilarious.

I think if I was having a hard time I would be able to ease into this book and it would take my mind off any difficulties.

Charles Gramlich at Razored Zen

One book that I reach for every couple of years is To Tame a Land by Louis L'Amour. It's the story of Ryan Tyler, who begins as a young boy with his father. They are in a wagon train through Indian country when their wagon breaks down and the train rolls on. Tyler goes through many adventures as he grows up to become a gunfighter. It just resonates with me. Adventure, family, pathos, action. All here.
John Norris at Pretty Sinister Books

I doubt you will read this, but I'd read it cover to cover without a break if I had the luxury and "had to" do so. It's not a mystery novel, BTW. The Man Who Fell in Love with the Moon by Tom Spanbauer. I have a blog post about it though it just barely fits into my category of crime, adventure and supernatural fiction. It's a western and a borderline adventure novel. Not at all the kind of western most readers of that fiction would choose.

Oscar Case at Bloggingcurly

I would choose O. Henry Short Stories to renew my acquaintance with him.

Yvette Banek at in so many words...

 I’ve been rereading a few books from my own library lately, but I gather you mean what ‘special’ book I’d reread at the drop of a hat?

Huntingtower by John Buchan springs to mind. Full of adventure and derring-do, I LOVE the ‘feel’ of this book. It is the perfect read far as I’m concerned.

Nan at Letters from a Hill Farm

The Code of the Woosters by P.G. Wodehouse. If pressed I would say this is my favorite PGW. It’s the cow creamer story.

David Cranmer at The Education of a Pulp Writer

The Stranger by Albert Camus

Sergio Angelini at Tipping My Fedora

I would pick The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald because it is a beautifully composed short novel that I read when I was a pre-teen and it has haunted me ever sense for its sense of longing and loss, about how the past can so condition a person for the rest of their lives and for the desperate things people can do just to ‘fit in’.

Tracy Kaltenbrun at Bitter Tea and Mystery

My choice for the book I’d love to read again is Some Buried Caesar by Rex Stout, the 6th book in the Nero Wolfe series.

Keishon Tutt at Yet Another Crime Fiction Blog

The one book I would reread again right this minute isn’t even a mystery novel, it’s a sweeping historical fiction/romance novel set during WW2 and 912 pages long. What’s really great about it is how immersed you are as a reader in the lives of the characters and the events that shape their lives. It’s at turns suspenseful and enlightening. Highly recommend Bronze Horseman by Paullina Simons. 

Richard Robinson at Tip the Wink

I think The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler is the best of (his) novels and should be considered essential reading for any mystery fan.

Sharad Bailur

My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell

Snigdha Nair

The book I would love to (re)read is The Swiss Family Robinson by Johann Wyss. A shipwrecked family with four boys who learn how to survive through ingenuity and the wide array of birds and animals they come across makes this a very interesting read.

Elgin Bleecker at The Dark Time

I know how this will sound, but the book I would read again, right now, if I had the time and did not have such a daunting TBR pile, would be Tolstoy’s War and Peace. It is beautifully written, with great observations and understanding of all the characters.

And, if I may add to my suggestion, I would also reread the short stories of W. Somerset Maugham (which I do from time to time, but not as often as I would like). His storytelling and writing style remind me of what it is all about.


Here I will really press my luck and also add a little known book that I found just great: Guard of Honor, a 1948 novel by James Gould Cozzens. It is the story of a racial incident between white pilots and segregated black pilots at a Florida military base during WW2. It is a long, involved story with many, many characters, all of whom seem absolutely real.