What I Read in July, 2020

Friday, July 31, 2020
Bookshelves with Books

Archie Meets Nero Wolfe
Robert Goldsborough

I think this book came up in my Amazon recommendations, and since I love classic mysteries, I knew I wanted to read this one. But, since the price was slightly above my usual maximum spend for an ebook, I borrowed it from the library instead.

This is a prequel to the original mysteries written by Rex Stout, but it’s written in the same style. I enjoyed this origin story and learning how Archie Goodwin worked with Nero Wolfe for the first time. Wolfe’s particular habits are on full display here: his long sessions with his orchids, two bottles of beer while he talks with people, his refusal to leave his home, instead relying on a crew of private detectives to do his investigating for him. In the end, of course, it is his intellect that puts the pieces together and solves the case.

This time, it’s a kidnapping. The son of wealthy parents who have an estate on Long Island is taken during a brief moment when his governess is called to the telephone for an urgent call. There are a couple of murders, but those are incidental to the real crime.

I notice most reviewers thought this book was missing something, but I read the originals too long ago to make comparisons to the characters in those books. All in all, I found it enjoyable.


Relative Fortunes
Marlowe Benn

I would give this book three-and-a-half stars if I could.

Julia Kydd, a society girl who’s threatened with losing her income when her half brother, Philip, has their lawyers reinterpret their father’s intention in his original will, wagers him that she can not only prove that Naomi Rankin was murdered, but she can find out whodunit.

In 1924, while the Nineteenth Amendment has been ratified, women are still fighting for equality. Naomi, sister to Julia’s best friend Glennis, is a leader in the women’s movement. She’s severely punished for that. While her family is wealthy, Naomi lives in abject poverty in the basement of the family home with her friend Alice. Men still control the purse strings, and women often live on the beneficence, if you can call it that, of their male relatives. Their other option is to marry and be supported by a husband whom they may or may not love.

Sexual liaisons are rampant, even among those who are married, and faithfulness doesn’t seem to be a virtue. I’m not sure whether this is a true representation of the times or exaggerated in this novel for the sake of the plot.

Speaking of which, the author has certainly done her research as far as vocabulary contemporaneous with her story. Unfortunately, this means that many terms are so obscure, they didn’t appear in my Kindle’s dictionary, which was annoying.

Unlike other reviewers, I didn’t find the beginning of the novel slow going. In fact, I enjoyed getting to know the characters and the time, as well as the romantic dilemmas Julia and Glennis face. I suppose this means there’s not much mystery going on here, but I still found the read enjoyable.

No, my issue was with the latter part of the book. In my opinion, there was at least one, and perhaps two, too many twists. Yes, I know it’s traditional to do this with a killer revealed who’s not the real killer, but not always, and certainly not more than once. There’s also a reversal and a couple of back-tracks. It’s hard to describe that better without giving away too much of the resolution for the plot and various subplots, but at least in one instance, a character does an about face, and Julia doesn’t have any problem with that, which I definitely would.

Anyway, an interesting read, but I probably won’t be reading the second book in this series.


11/22/63
Stephen King

This is one of those books I’ve wanted to read for a while, but the cost of the Kindle version and the long waitlist at the library kept putting me off. Recently, the waitlist got a lot shorter, so I reserved the book and finished it this month.

The hero, Jake Eppington, learns of a time-travel portal from Al, the owner of a diner. Every time you enter it, you’re taken to a specific day in 1958. No matter how long you stay in the past, when you return to the present, only two minutes have passed. And every time you go back, history is reset to what it was.

Al is convinced that if the assassination of John F. Kennedy can be prevented, all kinds of other horrible things can be averted, such as the Viet Nam war. Al has tried to do this himself, but after several trips, he’s too old (having aged in the past) and at the point the novel opens, dying of cancer. So he persuades Jake that it’s up to him to prevent Lee Harvey Oswald from shooting JFK.

It takes a couple of trips of his own and a lot of persuading by Al, but finally Jake accepts the mission. If you do basic math, there are five years between the time Jake goes back and the day on which Oswald kills the president, leaving plenty of time for Jake to have other adventures leading up to the big day.

While he’s back there, Jake decides he needs to right other wrongs. He also finds the love of his life, Sadie, the school librarian in the high school where he gets a teaching job. He also learns two important things: the past doesn’t want to change, and what changes Jake makes have unintended consequences.

There was one part toward the beginning which was a little slow, but I persevered through that and was swept up in the story by the writing as only Stephen King can do it. From about half-way, it was hard to put the book down.

I’m not sure this story could have had an ending that would please everyone, but I do know that I wasn’t totally happy with the one Stephen King chose. I won’t say anything more because I don’t like spoilers, but this book is definitely worth your time to read.


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