Wednesday Book Review: The Last Best Friend by George Sims

I am trying to put more book reviews here, so this is an attempt to get beyond one per week 😉

The Last Best Friend by George Sims

Publisher: Poisoned Pen Press/British Library

Release date:  Original 1967, rerelease 2017 

Description

“The small man standing on the narrow ledge stared fixedly forward with eyes made wide and blank by terror.”

At 2pm on a Monday in 1966, Ned Balfour wakes in Corsica beside a beautiful woman.

In the same instant, back in London, fellow art dealer and Dachau survivor Sam Weiss falls ten stories to his death.

Ned refuses to believe that Sam’s death was intentional, and his investigation thrusts him into the deceit and fraudulence of the art world, where he unmasks more than one respectable face.

First published in 1967, this thrilling tale of vertigo, suspicion and infidelity is a long-forgotten classic with an intriguing plot twist.

https://poisonedpenpress.com/books/last-best-friend-british-library-classic-thrillers/ 

The introduction by Martin Edwards illuminates further who George Sims was (d. 1999) and perhaps why he isn’t as well known as his contemporaries of the time (the “Swinging Sixties”) like John le Carre and Len Deighton.

Sims’ style is descriptive, literary, revealing a deep knowledge of London. Ned Balfour can’t reconcile that his friend Sam, a concentration camp survivor, has committed suicide. Both Balfour and Sam are antiquarian booksellers (as Sims was until his death), and Ned is driven to find the answer to his friend’s state of mind.  The antique books world is wonderfully depicted as this is Sim’s home turf.

I loved Ned Balfour for his self-analysis, his somewhat jaded view of the world. His descriptions and relationships with women are archaic, but not as problematic as the homophobia that Sims’s prose touches on. It’s the 1960s, however, and I’ve read worse from modern authors. The writing and the plot were too good, and I don’t want to give you the wrong idea.

For an antiquarian bookseller, he’s pretty tough, but both he and Sam are the WWII generation. Ned easily talks women into bed, and he finds himself, as he approaches middle age, kind of creepy. The plot twists and turns as Ned gradually figures out Sam was murdered and drives himself hard to find out who and why. Charming and engaging, I’ll be reading more of George Sims.

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Sunday Book Review: Murder in July by Barbara Hambly

Publisher: Severn House

Release date: 12/01/2017

I’ve always been a big fan of Benjamin January (and Barbara Hambly) so I was more than thrilled when this came up in the Net Galley queue to be reminded of the series.  The last book I read in the series was Die Upon a Kiss, which is #5, so I have a ton of catching up to do, happily, as Murder in July is #15.

In 1839 New Orleans, Benjamin, as ever, is content, living his life with his wife Rose and their growing family. Both a surgeon and a musician, he and Rose are preparing their home to become a boarding school for girls, the children of well-off white men and their mistresses of color.

But along comes Sir John Oldmixton with an offer Benjamin can’t refuse.  Not only is the money much needed, as Rose is also very pregnant, but a friend of Sir John Oldmixton has been found dead, possibly murdered, and his mistress, a free woman of color, has been accused of killing him. Benjamin is often called upon to maneuver between the overlapping of the borders of the whites and people of color. What makes this situation even odder, is that he recognizes the weapon used as to belonging to a woman he knew nine years before in Paris during the second revolution. She, too, was accused of a murder she didn’t commit, and Benjamin is sucked once more into the past as it bleeds into the present.  

The mystery and the history blend seamlessly to recreate this world of the antebellum South and 1830s Paris, totally absorbing.  The characters and their motives are realistically drawn, and the ending very satisfying.

 

WWW Wednesday at coffee and ink #8

Sam at Taking on a World of Words is the host of WWW Wednesday.  To participate, all you have to do is answer the three W questions and post in the comments section at Sam’s blog:

What are you currently reading?

What did you recently finish reading?

What do you think you’ll read next?

What are you currently reading?

I’m on the fence about this one.    I love the writing and the characters, and though the plot is a little on the slow side, I want to keep reading. I thought maybe it would be a little Dean Koontz-like but with much better writing. But there are few things that throw me out of the story: Up until I saw this is also in the Christian/Inspirational category, I was there. Also, the various churches and religions in town exist in a harmony that, to me, clashes with the era. I realize it’s part of the supernatural historical fantasy, but it doesn’t go down well.  It felt like modern wishful thinking and the seams are showing. I’m going to keep reading, though.

Description

What did you recently finish reading?

From NetGalley:

Doing what she does best, a haunting story based on an old Appalachian folktale and rendered into a murder mystery.  I haven’t read Sharyn McCrumb in oh so long, and I have a lot to catch up on.  When a new bride dies in an accidental fall, her mother knows who did it and works to get justice for her daughter.  Deceptively simple and haunting prose…I’m halfway through and have trouble putting it down! edit: wonderful! Review to come!

Description

From NetGalley:

Another 5 star winner! Wow, this historical suspense blew me away. I’ll be looking for more from this author.  Review to come!

Description

 

I’m always looking for good vivid Victorian mysteries, and this series is perfect.  I listened to the audiobook on my morning walks around the horsetrack in town and finally finished. I don’t usually listen to audiobooks, but this story got me out of bed and lacing up the sneakers, so I’m definitely moving on to the next audiobook in the series 🙂 Review to come.

Blurb:

An atmospheric debut novel set on the gritty streets of Victorian London, Some Danger Involved introduces detective Cyrus Barker and his apprentice, Thomas Llewelyn, as they work to solve the gruesome murder of a young scholar.

When a student bearing a striking resemblance to artists’ renderings of Jesus Christ is found murdered — by crucifixion — in London’s Jewish ghetto, 19th-century private detective Barker must hire an assistant to help him solve the sinister case. Out of all who answer an ad for a position with “some danger involved,” the eccentric and enigmatic Barker chooses downtrodden Llewelyn, a gutsy young man whose murky past includes recent stints at both an Oxford college and an Oxford prison.
As Llewelyn learns the ropes of his position, he is drawn deeper and deeper into Barker’s peculiar world of vigilante detective work, as well as the dark heart of London’s teeming underworld. Together they pass through chophouses, stables, and clandestine tea rooms, tangling with the early Italian mafia, a mad professor of eugenics, and other shadowy figures, inching ever closer to the shocking truth behind the murder.

Not from NetGalley, either. I love Megan Chance and this was on sale a few days ago, oh look, it still is! https://www.amazon.com/Spiritualist-Novel-Megan-Chance-ebook/dp/B0019O6IXY/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8

Exactly what I expected and love about Megan Chance!!

Blurb:

Sometimes truth is the greatest illusion of all.

In a cold January morning in 1856, Evelyn Atherton’s husband is found murdered after attending an exclusive séance. Having “married up” into New York society, Evie herself is the immediate suspect. Ostracized and vulnerable, she knows that to clear her name she must retrace her husband’s last steps. And so, joining forces with her husband’s best friend–and the only Manhattan lawyer who will accept her case–Evie dives into the mysterious underworld of the occult.

Before long, the trail brings them to a charismatic medium, Michel Jourdain. Evie’s instincts tell her the smooth-talking Jourdain is a charlatan–and her only hope for exoneration. But getting close to Jourdain means embracing a seductive and hypnotic world where clues to murder come through the voices of the dead.

Caught in a perilous game in which she is equal player and pawn, predator and victim, Evie finds there is no one to trust, perhaps not even herself. As her powerful in-laws build a case against her, and with time running out, Evie must face the real ghosts of her past if she is to have any hope of avoiding the hangman

What do you think you’ll read next?

I’m not sure, but these are my choices:

I picked up an Isabel Allende novel Island Beneath the Sea in a Bookbub deal. Another author I’ve lost track of. I loved Fortune’s Daughter, but that was published quite a while ago.

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/8149392-island-beneath-the-sea

And three gay romances from my favorite authors:

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/35561986-the-bones-of-our-fathers?from_search=true

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/32600210-the-ruin-of-a-rake?from_search=true

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/35118935-spectred-isle?ac=1&from_search=true

Standalone Sunday Book Review: Black Teeth by Zane Lovitt

 

Publisher: Text Publishing

From NetGalley:

Description

Review: This is my first Aussie Noir, and, wow, I could not put it down. Told in the first person, for the most part, by millennial computer geek Jason, the prose is rife with slang singular to Australia and Jason’s generation. I found the author’s wonderful writing style enhanced by this–keeping in mind the original Noir authors pioneered the use of 1930s and 1940s slang in their dark stories, so this really worked for me. It’s a story of a weird kind of multigenerational revenge plot that keeps sucking Jason in, pitting him against criminal machinations past and present. I think he wanted to stop what was going to be happen, but can’t be sure—he’s the more honest of the group of morally decrepit folks, but what keeps him involved? A week later the story still resonates with me, and I’ve been recommending it to anyone who will listen. This is like nothing I’ve read before, and I can’t wait to go back and read the author’s first book, and his next.

Book Review: Paradox Forged In Blood by Mary Frances Fisher

Publisher: Cambron Press 

From NetGalley:

Description

From Mary Frances Fisher comes her debut novel, PARADOX FORGED IN BLOOD, a compelling work of historical fiction based on true events and stories passed down from the author’s family.

A murder on Millionaire’s Row. A killer’s chilling words, “Shh. I know where you live.” A woman tormented by her guilt-ridden past.

A historical murder mystery, Paradox Forged in Blood is set in Cleveland, Ohio, during the late 1930s. Four decades after the murder of socialite Louis Sheridan, the cold case is resurrected with receipt of new evidence that transports detectives back to Nazi Germany. The only living witness, Ellen O’Malley, must confront a haunting secret and her complicit actions.

Review:  Despite the fact the novel is well proofread and the plot moves along quickly, I’m really turned away by the abundance of clichés and over-used descriptions. A historical mystery based on true events and apparently the family legend—it reads too much at times like fiction and not enough like true crime. The fictional narrative is bumped around by the true crime narrative and visa versa, meaning it’s hard to get a grip on what’s happening. Too many characters have brief point of views, though I think the author is trying for an omniscient view. I found the whole thing hard to wrap my head around.

Conversations abound whose only purpose is to give the reader an info-dump and much of what’s reported is told through the hazy lens of nostalgia.

 I’m sure there are readers out there who appreciate this type of family history storytelling, but it’s not for me.  I’m an avid reader of both fictional historical and contemporary mysteries and true crime, but this fell short of the mark with the unexciting prose style and dull, stolid characters.  I think the story would have been better served as one or the other, but as it is, it’s neither fish nor fowl and left me cold.

 

Book Review: The Ghosts of Galway by Ken Bruen

Mysterious Press

Release Date: November 17, 2017

I have to admit, I fell for the cover, but it’s the synopsis that pulled me in (from NetGalley):

Description:  “Bruen is a singular voice in crime fiction with his ear for lilting Irish prose and his taste for the kind of gallows humor heard only at the foot of the gallows” (New York Times Book Review). In The Ghosts of Galway, he brings those elegiac talents to bear on a case involving a famously blasphemous red book and Bruen’s equally profane antihero Jack Taylor. As well-versed in politics, pop culture, and crime fiction as he is ill-fated in life, Jack Taylor is recovering from a mistaken medical diagnosis and a failed suicide attempt. In need of money, and with former cop on his resume, Jack has been hired as a night-shift security guard. But his Ukrainian boss has Jack in mind for a bit of off-the-books work. He wants Jack to find what some claim to be the first true book of heresy,The Red Book, currently in the possession of a rogue priest who is hiding out in Galway after fleeing a position at the Vatican. Despite Jack’s distaste for priests of any stripe, the money is too good to turn down. Em, the many-faced woman who has had a vise on Jack’s heart and mind for the past two years, reappears and turns out to be entangled with the story of The Red Book, too, leading Jack down ever more mysterious and lethal pathways. It seems all sides are angling for a piece of Jack Taylor, but as The Ghosts of Galway twists toward a violent end, he is increasingly plagued by ghosts – by the disposable and disposed of in a city filled with as much darkness as the deepest corners of Jack’s own mind.”

This is the 13th novel in the Jack Taylor series from the prolific, award-winning Ken Bruen. I love Noir and crime fiction and ripped through this in a very short time. The first person point of view prose of the rambling, sometimes shambling, Jack Taylor is riveting. The author tips his hat to other crime writers, quoting snips from their novels where appropriate, but I especially loved that the title is homage to James Lee Burke’s “In the Electric Mist with the Confederate Dead.” James Lee Burke is one of my top favorite authors—though I only read the Robicheaux stories—I never really fell into the Montana or Texas novels. Big plus, Electric Mist is my favorite of his novels.

Apparently, Jack has had a long and harrowing fall from having once been a Garda, and he’s left a lot of violence and hatred in his wake, but new trouble always seems to find him. Also, the story takes place in 2016 where the deaths of music icons Bowie, Prince, and Cohen have an affect on Jack’s inner landscape, as does Trump creeping up America’s skirts…something ugly has crept into Galway dragging with it a fallen priest, a psycho ex, and a long list of innocents.

I’ve never read Ken Bruen before, and I love his short and lilting, yet brutal, style, the near stream-of-consciousness of Jack’s thoughts as he races from pun to pun only he seems to get. He must have a good rep, though, as everyone wants to hire him to get the job done.

My one complaint: Contractions don’t get used enough and the language sometimes feels a little stilted, which takes away, in my opinion, from the casual style.

So, I’m going to go back to the beginning of this series and start reading. You should to, if you like noir and crime fiction 🙂