I have read so many books since I last posted, I don't think I'll ever catch up. Some of them I'd have to reread just to refresh my memory on what the hell I read. I just rejoined the Quality Paperback Book Club ( QPB ), so in a few weeks I will have even more books scheduled. I'm going to get a few of the better ones on here in the next few days though.
This is the fourth installation in a fairly new mystery series, but it was the first one that I read. And it caught my eye not because of the relationship of the two main characters to Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, but because the author chose to place his characters in San Marcos, Texas, my chosen home for the past 20 years.
The two central characters in the book are Gustav Amlingmeyer (aka "Old Red") and his brother Otto (aka "Big Red"). What has gone on before the central plot is that both "Old Red" and "Big Red" are roving cowboys in the late 1890's, moving from place to place. "Big Red" reads Sherlock Holmes stories to his brother, who is illiterate. "Old Red" fancies himself a detective in the fashion of Holmes and has taken up cases along the way and solved several.
Which brings us to the current novel. The Amlingmeyers end up in San Marcos to try to determine the cause of death of a prostitute that "Big Red" knew from 5 years prior. A lot of people aren't happy that he has returned to town, and some of them are determined to see that he moves on posthaste.
Speaking as only a recent resident, I tried my damnedest to place the buildings and events in the context of the current layout of the town (and failed miserably, only one of the streets still bears the same name 100 some odd years later. But I had fun with it and enjoyed meeting a couple of new characters to add to my list of favorite detectives. Fortunately my library has the other three books so far published so I will be able to catch up on them quickly.
I rate this one 8½ stars.
As it started out, this book was very interesting, but it got a little dull towards the middle, especially the mock debate between two separate viewpoints on the merits and problems with advertising, represented by one Sut Jhally and James Twitchell. I think its more geared towards someone who is more of a student of marketing and advertising than someone who has a passing interest in the field.
I can't give it more than 4 stars.
In 1959, the leader of the Soviet regime, Nikita Khruschev, visited the United States for a lengthy tour of both major cities and country fairs. He was met with varying levels of interest, sometimes parades and sometimes protests (and sometimes both).
The author begins his story with Vice-President Nixon's visit to Moscow and the "Kitchen Debates", but that is only the preface to the real story. Originally Khruschev was to reciprocate the invitation to come to America with an agreement to meet for talks on the arms race. But wires got crossed, and the codicil to the invitation went unvoiced.
This put the tour by Khruschev on a somewhat tense level with the Eisenhower administration which felt it had an obligation for diplomacy by allowing the tour to be one-sided from their point of view, but it was pulled together nonetheless. What follow in the latter ¾ or so of the book is an entertaining and often hilarious tale of the Soviet premier's encounters with diplomats and ordinary citizens as he goes from New York to Los angeles to a county fair in the Mid-West, with people fawning over him in some of the most unlikely of places, given the atmosphere of the time. (This, you will have to be aware, occurred not long after the McCarthy "Red Scare", and just following on it's heels would have been the Bay of Pigs and the Cuban Missile Crisis of the next President's term.)
All of this proves to be one of the more readable biographies I have read in recent years (albeit not a true "biography" in the sense of the word that I would normally mean, since it spans less than a year in total time). I highly reccommend it to anyone who normally avoids biographies, though, because it hardly feels like one, more like an anecdotal remembrance instead.
I rate it 7½ stars
To the authors' credit, they admit in the introduction that the title of this book is misleading; it's not 20 things about "everything". But there are 20 chapters of various subjects, ranging from aliens to weather, each contained in it's own chapter.
If you are familiar with the monthly magazine and it's regular column "20 Things You Didn't Know About...", then you may have seen these before, or like me, you may not. I'm not entirely sure if they are reprints since I have only been an infrequent browser of the magazine.
That said, there is still plenty of reason to read the book, even if you do know everything. It's fun, for one thing. There are the 20 things in each chapter, but there are a lot of sidebars with other intriguing pieces of info, and numerous quotes from different people that are peppered in the text.
Give it 7½ stars.
The final season of the TV series Monk is on us and that presents a problem for fans of the series. Where will we get our Monk fix now? The answer is in the person of Lee Goldberg, a writer for the show and, with this book, an eight-time novelist of the series. Fortunately Mr. Goldberg (who is still a young chap, from the looks of him) doesn't seem to be dry on ideas for novels for our "intrepid" hero. (If, by "intrepid", you take to mean will go to any lengths to catch his man, as long as there aren't any germs, heights, snakes or a bottle of milk between them...)
At the outset of this mystery, Monk has been laid off as a consultant for the San Francisco PD due to budget cuts, but Monk, being Monk, can't just let the crimes go unsolved. He begins making "anonymous" calls to the police hotline giving clues that solve the various crimes that are on the police docket. This is OK with Monk, but both his assistant Natalie and Captain Stottlemeyer are frustrated with him for not keeping out of the mix.
To the rescue comes a private agency called Intertect who hires him on with a very generous salary to work for them. And work for them he does, staying up all night to solve cases. In the meantime, a rather unsavory former policeman with SFPD, now a police officer in a neighboring town, turns up dead, and evidence seems to point to Capt. Stottlemeyer. It is up to Monk to save the day. Except for one problem. The evidence even convinces Monk that the Captain is guilty.
Will Monk save his friend or will the Captain get the electric chair? Will natalie strangle Monk to keep him from solving cases for free, thus putting her job and lifestyle in jeopardy? And more importantly, will Monk even get within a hundred yards of this dirty cop? Tune in (or rather read in) to find out.
With the exception of two early issues in the novel, with Monk having an larger, more self-important ego than I previously thought he had, and felt out of place (although probably not as out of place as they felt to me), I did enjoy this installment.
I rate this one 8 stars.