Sunday, September 19, 2010

Friday (Sunday?) Review Post for 9/17/10

Two books this week.

S.J. Parris - Heresy

I really enjoyed this. A spy/mystery novel with Giordano Bruno as the protagonist, well written and (I assume) well researched. The deneument seemed to drag on a little, but that made sense given that the book was about Bruno and not really about the murders. The structure reminded me, a little, of Name of the Rose, but only a little. My favorite line (which I cannot now find in the book) was a statement by Bruno that in his theological view, at the end, even the devils would be pardoned by God. All that being said, I'm not sure what else to say about the book. It was entertaining, but I don't know that it was life changing.

James R. Benn - Rag and Bone

Another enjoyable detective novel,  this one set during World War Two. Billy Boyle is a beat cop from Boston, recently promoted to detective, and then drafted into the Army. To keep him safe, his Irish-American parents pull strings to get him placed on the staff of his distant uncle (by marriage) Eisenhower. Boyle ends up digging into the dirty little problems that Eisenhower needs fixed, but doesn't want brought to light. In this novel, he investigates the murder of a Soviet military atache in London. There is some considerable suspicion that the death of the atache is linked to reports about the Katyn Forest massacre which are just beginning to leak out into the press - the Nazis claim that the Poles killed in Katyn were executed by the Soviets, the Soviets claim that the Nazis did it. The Poles (and Boyle has a Polish friend, which complicates things) assert that the Nazis are correct in this particular moment (and the historical record, for the record, backs up the Nazis and the Poles on this), but the whole mess is dismissed in an effort to maintain Allied cohesion - the British and the Americans need the Soviets to keep killing Germans until the British and American armies are ready to land in France, and the Nazi revelation of the massacre, from the point of view of the military leadership, is a ploy to drive a wedge between the various Allied forces (also, probably, true.). In the end, the motives for the murder are far far more complicated. Benn handles the plot nicely, has well written characters who react in realistic ways, depicts Boyle's procedural techniques in a realistic way (Boyle plods through the clues, engaging in lots of footwork, making connections with people, and only through a wandering path comes to the right answer - but the answer which is both morally and factually right, which was nice), and includes a short historical note (which I appreciate in a work  based in history.) I've missed one of the books in this series, but it turns out not to matter all that much - if you've read the first one or two, you have a handle on who the characters are and can dip into the series where-ever. I expect the next book to coincide with Operation Overlord (Normandy invasion), and there will probably be one or possibly two more in connection with WWII, and possibly a Cold War extension. I'll pick them up when I see them, Benn is a good author and his characters are worth taking a look at.

Yesterday, I found myself at a library for a writing group, and picked up (without comment):
Larry Doyle - Go, Mutants
Donald Kingsbury - Psychohistorical Crisis

later, I was in a used book store and grabbed:
Charlie Stross - The Hidden Family
I will probably have to re-read the first book of this series (The Merchant Princes) before I can read this one.