The Hot Kid – Elmore Leonard

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Hot KidWe were all surprised by how prolific Elmore Leonard was.  Lots and lots of stories, first short stories, then pulp Westerns before moving on to mystery, crime, and then screenplays.  An amazing number of his stories were made into movies, movies we’ve all seen and liked.

We found the book to be a fascinating look at a period of time and part of the country we didn’t really know too much about.  Had no idea that Bonnie and Clyde, Dillinger, and Pretty Boy Floyd were all running around shooting things up at the same time.  Joan thought they were at different times and different parts of the country.

And it was also interesting to see what part the press played in all that.  The story didn’t play out in private.  It was in the papers and the quest for fame plays a big part in the story.  The way the individual bank robbers thought was interesting and influenced by the press – “This guy robbed this many banks, so I’m going to rob more.”  “That guy got that much money out of the bank, so I’m going to get more out of the same bank.”  “I’m related in a half-assed way to a bad guy, look at me, look at me.”  “I shot that guy, so now I’m famous and will get more famous.”

Tony Antonelli was declared to be a rank opportunist and almost as bad as Jack.  And one of our group put forward the idea that Tony was Elmore Leonard himself, which gave us all a little something to think about.

Joan found Tony’s belief that he couldn’t/shouldn’t interfere with the natural order of things in the gangster world an interesting twist.  Not wanting to tell the people at the roadhouse that the bad guys were coming so as to not change the natural course of events just struck the group as odd.  Looking at both sides of the event as if they were animals in the zoo, being an observer and then reporting it.

Favorite characters – Carl, Louly, and Virgil.  Dude knew how to live life.

Least favorite characters – Luigi/Lou, Jack.  There’s probably a psychological name for why he was the way he was.  Beyond ass.

As for all the whores, good gravy…

4 stars

Portrait of a Killer: Jack the Ripper, Case Closed – Patricia Cornwell

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Portrait_of_a_Killer.car_Well, this was a long, gruesome slog.  In a word, the group found this book to be TEDIOUS.  A few of us didn’t finish it and the reasons given mostly concerned the pages and pages of discussions about watermarks.  Chapters, even, were given over to watermarks and who had what, when.

We agreed that we didn’t know too much about Jack the Ripper except that some guy was killing prostitutes in some kind of gruesome way and Jekyll and Hyde might be involved and a member of the Royal family and maybe a doctor.  The details of where, who, and (gulp) how were truly awful.

The book is actually an interesting premise.  A well-respected journalist, forensic pathologist, and best-selling author with buckets of money researches the available documents surrounding the Jack the Ripper case and decides Rickert is the one who done it.  And she even buys up a bunch of his art in her search for the truth.  Or at least her search for proof of her truth.  We had to admit that Cornwell was focused in her research, even if her presentation of the material could have used some organization and editing.

Her argument is compelling.  The man’s art is disturbing, his habits odd, the timing right.  But we got tired of the dark and dreary topic and the discussions about watermarks.  So yes, there was some skimming.  Particularly after the first half.  But it was thought-provoking.

Favorite? – The author.  Joan liked how she inserted herself into the narrative.  Joan also liked Warren, the poor head of Scotland Yard who brought in bloodhounds who ran amok in Hyde Park and who ended up quitting (or was he fired?)

Least favorite – Sickert.  Just a big psychopathic, self-centered weirdo.  Even if he didn’t do it, he was a big psychopathic, self-centered weirdo.

2 stars

A Drop of the Hard Stuff – Lawrence Block

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drop-of-the-hard-stuff-1-194x300Surprisingly, everyone really liked this book.  I say surprisingly because I thought it was a tad lackluster in the mystery department.  But it seems that our group didn’t care.  Lots of entertaining characters, a compelling story, and a logical mystery.  After the gap between reading the book and meeting, however, we could not, for the life of us, remember WHODUNIT.  So many books, so little memory…

It was an interesting look at the life of a recovering alcoholic, a man in his first year of sobriety and all the internal gyrations someone in that position goes through.  His knowledge of where and when AA meetings were to be fascinating.  The never-ending need to consciously not drink and the support in that community was interesting to see and it all felt very real.  The steps of the program was also interesting to learn about.  Those parts of the story stayed with me for many days after I finished it.  The ending?  Not so much.

The main character has bottomed out, but is slowly making his way back out of the hole and trying to solve a murder at the same time.  And it’s a murder that ties in with his ongoing sobriety journey, making that challenge even harder.

Most of the group thought the mystery was compelling, even though it really isn’t the main focus of the story.  This is the story of a man’s journey. 

This group does like interesting and entertaining characters.

Favorite characters:  Scudder, Jim Faber, his sponsor, Motorcycle Mark, the victim’s sponsor, Bobby, the albino black guy, the Dude, and the bartender

Least favorite characters: Jan, Steffens, High-Low Jack, the cause of all the problems.  But even so, I didn’t REALLY dislike these characters.  There wasn’t anything TOTALLY reprehensible about them.

3.5

 

Monogram Murders – Sophie Hannah

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mmcover2-200x300This is NOT a previously unpublished Agatha Christie story.  It’s a new Hercule Poirot story by a new author written with the blessing of Ms. Christie’s estate.  I repeat, this is NOT an Agatha Christie story.

That said, who cares if someone took Hercule Poirot and set him to work on another case?  It’s a lovely mind bender of a puzzle that is sure to entertain fans and non-fans alike.

And, once again, the group surprised Joan – they loved this book.  Well, mostly.  One of our group couldn’t get past Chapter 3.  But on the whole, the group enjoyed this immensely.

The Christie style of writing is wordy and ponderous and as a reader, you have to pay attention to EVERYTHING that’s put in front of you if you want to have any chance of deciphering the problem.  That’s hard work.  Joan slogged through the book, determined to figure out the mystery.  She didn’t.  And she had to read the ending three times because the whole thing was so confusing and convoluted.

Others, however, found this story to be a nice change of pace.  Hercule Poirot is such a unique character.  He has no faults and manners are everything to him.  We talked about how awful Ida and Harriet were and the nature of small towns/villages.  This was set in the late 1920s, so there was even more insulation from the outer world and much more turning inward, in this case, in a very sour way.

Favorite characters – Fee (waitress), Margaret Ernst (graveyard watcher), Luca Lazzari (silly man), the doctor

Least favorite – Jennie, Ida, Harriet, Catchpool, what a big baby.  Poirot, what a pompous ass.

3 stars (1)

Holmes on the Range – Steve Hockensmith

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HolmesThis month the Spanish Springs Mystery Book Club saddled up and headed for the wilds of Montana, where we met all manner of ornery and entertaining folk.

The group really liked this book.  The writing style was hilarious and compelled the reader to keep turning the pages, while the story was interesting and entertaining.  The gritty language made some homesick for Montana, while others (Pam!) did NOT like the maggots.  There weren’t THAT many maggots.

Again, we had a break from corrupt police departments and enjoyed another interesting look at class division and distinction.  This time, though, the British aristocracy looked down its snobby nose at the American working class and there was a division between two groups of cowhands.  Money was not the key to power – food and weapons made the leader.

Favorite characters – Big Red, Old Red, Brackwell (his costumes were hilarious), Crazymouth (Joan liked trying to figure out his Cockney slang), the Swede (we liked his comments), and Clara (so wonderfully devious).

Least favorite – The Duke (who put gambling ahead of everything), Edwards, Uli, Spider, Clara (who was declared to be a b**ch), and Boudreaux.

3.5

Okay, it was closer to 3.75 stars, but that’s not an easy graphic to find.

Fourth Bear – Jasper Fforde

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4th BearThe group was widely split on this one. Three of us didn’t finish it, while others loveloveloved it. And the reasons for loving it were many. The audio version, with its different voices for the characters, was declared to be hilarious. One of our group found the satirical look at society and its class envy, failure of government, and the hatred of big business to be engrossing. The story was clever and absurd and generally entertaining.

We did agree, however, that it was very hard to get into. Initially, Joan did NOT understand what was going on. The little blurbs at the beginning of each chapter were not at all helpful and only added to her confusion. And knowledge of nursery rhymes and British cultural references was declared to be key to the story. The breaking down of the fourth wall in telling the story was an interesting development and the references to various plot points was amusing.

Once we got into it and suspended our disbelief, it was well worth the time.

Favorite characters– Ashley, the car, Punch and Judy, and Jack.

Least favorite – Briggs, Goldilocks, Gingerbread Man, Bisky Bat

3.52.5 stars

(the lower rating includes the people who didn’t finish it, though some would have given the book negative stars)

Avalanche – Patrick McManus

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AvalancheThis was a fun read and the group really enjoyed it, as evidenced by the high ratings it was given.  Nothing terribly heavy duty about this, but it was an interesting mystery.

Joan initially thought the book was set in Alaska and couldn’t figure out why Bo didn’t call a snowmobile a “machine” and he didn’t know what a sno-cat was.  Eventually, however, she figured out that the story was set in the “wilds” of Idaho and things made much more sense.

It was a tricky mystery full of funny characters and lots of twists and turns.  Nothing too heavy duty here, just an entertaining read.  One of our group compared the author’s style to Robert B. Parker, with the pithy observations and funny sidekick.

Good fun, and lots of quirky characters.

Favorites – Bo, Dave, Hoot, Pap, Susan, the medical examiner

Least favorite – Deputy Herb, Grady, Blanche, Lindsay, the girl who was rescued, Blanche, Daisy,  Tom and Janice.

4 stars

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