Tuesday, June 27, 2017

The definitive novels of Jack Higgins

Regular readers of this blog will know that Jack Higgins (Harry Patterson) is my favourite author. In my opinion, the bestselling British writer is one of the finest storytellers of my time. He makes writing stories, including thrillers, look so easy, just like his compatriot Jeffrey Archer. Although I have not read all his 85 fast-paced action-espionage novels, I have read many, and I look forward to reading the rest with much excitement. I started reading Higgins in early eighties, with his most significant work, The Eagle Has Landed, followed by Hell is Too Crowded, The Last Place God Made, and A Prayer for the Dying. I remember each of these well. His heroes, many of them ex-IRA, are anti-heroes and vice versa; the kind you want on your side because you know they're good men, almost saint-like, and all very likeable. Here are six of my favourite novels of Jack Higgins, though, if you ask me tomorrow I'll replace them with another six including Night of the Fox, Toll for the Brave, and The Keys of Hell. Have you read Higgins?


Thursday, June 22, 2017

It Might Have Been by Ella Wheeler Wilcox

I don't usually share posts from my other blog B+ve where I post infrequently. But I thought I'd make an exception with my pithy review of Ella Wheeler Wilcox's poem that I like a lot. It's both inspirational and spiritual. I read a lot of the latter, more as an approach to life. I offer my take at the end of the verse.

We will be what we could be. Do not say,
"It might have been, had not this, or that, or this."
No fate can keep us from the chosen way;
He only might who is.

We will do what we could do. Do not dream
Chance leaves a hero, all uncrowned to grieve.
I hold, all men are greatly what they seem;
He does, who could achieve.

We will climb where we could climb. Tell me not
Of adverse storms that kept thee from the height.
What eagle ever missed the peak he sought?
He always climbs who might.

I do not like the phrase "It might have been!"
It lacks force, and life's best truths perverts:
For I believe we have, and reach, and win,
Whatever our deserts.

© Encyclopedia Britannica
Second Take: “No fate can keep us from the chosen way.” In my opinion, this one line perfectly sums up American author and poet Ella Wheeler Wilcox’s 1917 poem It Might Have Been. Many of us spend our lives dreaming about the things we want to do and the goals we want to achieve. And when we can’t — or choose not to — pursue our dreams, we spend the rest of our lives in regret and feeling sorry for ourselves. We blame our luck or the lack of it; we bemoan our fate for what isn't and what should have been. The truth is we have no one to blame but ourselves. When people with serious difficulties in life can swim against raging currents and climb hostile mountains and taste sweet victory, why can’t the rest of us climb a few rungs of the ladder to reach our destinations? The only way to change It might have been to I made it! is by substituting the proverbial “Impossible” with “I-am-possible”. Then we shall win, and have our deserts too.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Past Tense by Margot Kinberg, 2016

Kramer walked slowly in the direction Stephens had indicated. Then he stopped short. His face drained of colour and he gulped twice. He could see it clearly — a bone sticking up out of the dirt he’d been preparing to move.

It’s not often that the principal character in a work of fiction takes a backseat and allows the secondary players to lead from the front. In Past Tense, Joel Williams, the affable and self-effacing policeman-turned-academician, does just that and still walks away with honours. But then, he's the hero of the novel.

The professor in the Department of Criminal Justice at Tilton, a fictional university in Pennsylvania, hasn’t lost his detective streak as he quietly investigates an old case buried by time and dirt. Construction workers on the campus are stunned when they dig up bones identified as those of Bryan Roades, a 20-year-old student who went missing four decades ago.

As coffee-drinking Tilton police detectives Donna Crandall and her partner Ron Zuniga work on the case with a steadfast resolve, Williams makes his own inquiries into the suspected murder of Roades. Along the way he cooperates with the cops, passing on useful leads that could help solve the riddle—who killed Roades, and why?

Investigations lead the campus sleuth and police detectives to people Roades was associated with 40 years ago. Inspired by journalists Woodward and Bernstein of Watergate fame, Roades was relentlessly pursuing a story on the women’s liberation movement for The Real Story, the Tilton University newspaper. He was trying to interview professors and fellow-students, including women, who were reluctant to talk to him because they didn't want their personal lives and secrets exposed. His fanatical zeal evidently cost him his life.  

The discovery of his remains opens a Pandora’s box, as those who knew Roades back then find themselves in the crosshairs of the investigation. As Williams and the police detectives inch closer to the truth, one of his old women acquaintances is found dead. And suddenly we have two murders, past and present.

Past Tense, the third in Margot Kinberg’s Joel Williams series, is a fine blend of police procedural and campus mystery.

Though Joel Williams greets us from page one, he gets into the thick of the mystery much later. Until then, he reads about it in the Tilton Sentinel over a cup of coffee. I found his character interesting: I don’t think I have read any mystery where a detective or private investigator keeps a low profile and solves the case from the sidelines; in fact, almost as a spectator, it’d seem. However, it’s clear from the start that his interest in the Bryan Roades case is genuine and it has more to do with his previous job as a cop and his passion for solving mysteries, than winning accolades and fans.

The narrative swings back and forth, offering a glimpse into the character of Roades and his relations with people we are familiar with in the present. There are few descriptions and plenty of dialogue, the way I like most fiction. The pace is easy, almost leisurely, but the author keeps the momentum going throughout the course of the 421-page generously-spaced novel. If you’re familiar with writer and blogger Margot Kinberg’s prolific crime-fiction blog Confessions of a Mystery Novelist..., you’ll know what I’m talking about.

Past Tense is engaging and entertaining, and the author, I assume, brings her vast experience as an academician to bear on this campus mystery of a high order. You won't be disappointed.

P.S.: Special thanks to Margot for sending me a signed copy of the book.

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