Books I Read in July

Saturday, July 27, 2019

Return (End Times Alaska Book 3)

by Craig Martelle

I didn’t like this book as much as the first two books in this series. For one thing, Chuck Nagy, the main character in these books, spends a significant time away from the other characters, but what goes on with them while he’s gone is still told in his voice. That bothered me a lot. The thing is, it could have been easily fixed by starting those scenes with something like “When I got back to the Community, I learned I was not the only one who was missing in action.” But instead, I had to make that assumption myself.

There was also a lack of tension in a lot of this book. As I implied above, there are three groups who go off from the Community in search of various things. That makes for a lot of traveling scenes, with what seemed like minor misadventures along the way. Sometimes the misadventures were missing. The people are delayed, but they’re not in serious jeopardy. Even when they are, the story is told in a detached manner, so you don’t feel it. I think this could have been fixed by telling some of this through the points of view of the worried wives, but that’s not the style of these books.

And then came the line that made me stop dead and realize why I didn’t this book:

“Nobody drinks too much.”

No, no one does. The entire Community is made up of good people who don’t do bad things. It’s Utopia. But that’s not real life.

No one refuses to work. No one beats his wife. No one lets trash pile up or steals food or is jealous and tussles with their partner’s boyfriend. Oh, there are encounters with bad guys outside the community. These are usually brief or in the past. But once even one of these flawed characters joins the Community, they are magically changed into something better.

That just didn’t work for me.

From the author’s note, this was intended to be the last book in the series, but fans begged him to write more, so there is a fourth book. I will probably read it at some point since I’ve subscribed to Kindle Unlimited, but I feel no sense of urgency to start book four.

The Case of the Sulky Girl

by Erle Stanley Gardner

A woman comes to Perry Mason asking him if the terms of a will can be set aside. Her father, knowing her personality, had left his money to her in a trust managed by her grandfather. She will not inherit the income if she marries before the age of twenty-five, which is also when she will inherit the money outright. Instead, all the money will go to charity.

It’s pretty obvious from the beginning that the only reason she’s asking this question is because she wants to get married. As a matter of fact, the girl and her former fiancé have already married, and are keeping the marriage a secret until they can sort the inheritance out.

And then the grandfather is murdered, which would mean the money would come to the woman immediately, but of course, she’s the primary suspect because she benefits from his death.

Because I enjoyed the Perry Mason TV series and read some of the books in earlier times, I’ve decided to read a number of the books with an eye as to how they’re constructed and why they work so well that Erle Stanley Gardner authored more than eighty of them. This book had the bonus of having Perry Mason disclose some of the things that helped him figure out whodunnit.

“None of them tell the truth the first time,” he told her, “at least the women don’t.”

So Perry tells Della when asking for her impressions of his new client. Now, a long time ago, I learned the phrase “everybody lies” in relation to mystery stories. Being a person who is more honest than most (often to my detriment), I have to remind myself all the time that people are more likely to be deceptive, especially when they’re a suspect in a homicide investigation.

But the new slant on this was the phrase “the first time.” It dawned on me that this is largely the whole way a murder mystery plot develops. Suspects and witnesses tell a not-quite-truth (or outright lie) the first time, but the sleuth is savvy enough to look beyond what they say and figure out what really happened. Sometimes this involves going back to the person and confronting them with the holes in their story. Or sometimes it means presenting contravening facts. An interesting insight that I want to remember when writing my own stories.

There were a number of other gems like this in this novel that I’ve made note of. I’m eager to start the next Perry Mason mystery in the series.

The Case of the Lame Canary

by Erle Stanley Gardner

This is book 11 in the Perry Mason series, and Gardner is hitting his stride. This may have happened earlier, but I’m studying how to write a mystery series like this one where you don’t have to read the books in order to enjoy them, so I skipped from book 2 to book 11 to make sure my assumption that order doesn’t matter was true.

Rita Swaine shows up in Perry Mason’s offices with a canary in a cage which she holds on her lap. The reason for her visit seems to have nothing to do with the canary, but its presence intrigues Perry.

The case is also unusual; Miss Swaine wants Perry to handle her sister’s divorce. Now, Mason tells her he’s not a divorce lawyer, but there is that canary. So he does a little informal investigating. The more he finds out, the more interested in the case he becomes.

Meanwhile, Della is desperate to go on a vacation, and coaxes Perry to commit to going on a cruise around the world. The romantic side of their relationship is a lot more pronounced in the books than it was in the TV series. While on TV Della limited  showing her feelings to adoring looks and warm words, the feelings are stronger in the books, and there’s no question the two of them are attracted to one another.

Of course, before too long, the divorce case becomes a murder case, and our favorite characters all play a part.

I have to give this book five stars. Not only was the mystery handled deftly, the subplot of the upcoming cruise added emotional depth as well as additional tension.

I also loved the way Perry consulted Della, asking her opinion several times throughout the book. He realizes she’s a shrewd observer of people and can give him insight into how women respond in certain situations.

I’m eager to start another book in this series right away.

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Elise's bookshelf: currently-reading

A Clash of Kings
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