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Reading Slothfully

I was told in elementary school that I only could read at half the speed for success in college. Oh well, one benefit of slow reading is you get to live with the characters a longer period of time. I read in a vain attempt to better understand people. At my other homes, I'm known as a spouse, pop, guy in the choir, physical chemist, computer/web dilettante and child-care provider. In theory, I'm a published author, if you consider stuff like Quenching Cross Sections for Electronic Energy Transfer Reactions Between Metastable Argon Atoms and Noble Gases and Small Molecules to count as publications. I've strewn dozens of such fascinating things to the winds.

Currently reading

A Good Death
Christopher R. Cox
The Black Cargo
John P. Marquand
A Highland Christmas
M.C. Beaton
Tales from Moominvalley
Tove Jansson, Thomas Warburton
Moominland Midwinter
Tove Jansson, Thomas Warburton
On The Beach (Vintage Classics)
Nevil Shute Norway
The Maltese Falcon
Dashiell Hammett
Obscure Destinies
Willa Cather
A Start in Life (The Michael Cullen Novels)
Alan Sillitoe
Mobilizing Web Sites: Strategies for Mobile Web Implementation
Kristofer Layon

Ming Yellow

Ming Yellow - John P. Marquand This book was ok, but clearly not one of Marquand's best. Rodney Johnson is a journalist living in and reporting from China. At that time, China was a vast country ruled by warlords and bandits. The warlords were "generals" of one kind or another. Anyway, super rich financier, Edwin Newall has come to China seeking rare porcelains. He is accompanied by his daughter, the fabulously beautiful Melvina, or Mel, and his junior partner, Paul Steuben, who is basically the dumb jock type. Steuben is hoping to convince Mel into marrying him.

They run into a "westernized Chinese", Philip Liu, who had gone to missionary school and then graduated from the University of Pennsylvania. Liu tells them of a very rare porcelain, Ming Yellow. Only a very few pieces exist and they can be seen and purchased only by traveling into the interior. They go there and negotiate with one of the "generals", General Wu. It seems that Wu is trying to buy the allegiance of a local bandit and will use the proceeds of the Ming Yellow sale to forge the alliance.

But of course there's various kinds of skull duggery, complicated by Steuben's blundering stupidity and by Rodney Jones' attraction to Mel. It's one of those pass-the-time books that is ok, but not great. One problem with it for a reader some 80 years after publication is the racist stereotyping of the Chinese and the Chinese mind. I didn't find it hideously racist like Fu Manchu, but it did get a bit wearying. Perhaps it's just because naked racism has come out into the open again during our current political season. Whatever, I've mostly liked the Marquand books I've read, with the exception of the one he wrote that won him a Pulitzer Prize, the unbelievably boring, The Late George Appley. This, I think might be my least liked of the eight or so other books I've read by Marquand.

The Bottle Factory Outing: A Novel

The Bottle Factory Outing: A Novel - Beryl Bainbridge Two young women somehow get together and get themselves a job in a factory that bottles wine. The factory is run by Italians and all the other workers are Italian.

Freda is 26 and is tall and "plump"—something like 5'10" and 225 lbs. She thinks of herself as an aspiring actress and carries herself as such. She never succeeds in any auditions, so needs some kind of other work to make ends meet. She's brash and bossy.

Brenda is about 35 and was once married to a brute who took her off to the country where they lived with his nasty mother. He spent his time out drinking with his buds. Eventually Brenda couldn't take it and ran away. She's very shy and will do almost anything to avoid open conflict.

Freda and Brenda join forces and take a bed-sit together. They need money, so they get a job working at a wine bottling factory run my an Italian, Mr. Paganotti. Virtually everyone else working at the factory is Italian, with the exception of Patrick, who is the van driver. Mr. Rossi, who is the factory manager, takes a shine to Brenda and keeps trying to get her into spaces where he can seduce her. Freda, on the other hand has decided she's in love with Vittorio, Mr. Paganotti's nephew (or cousin?), and who is nominally engaged to another cousin still living in Italy.

So, Freda conceives the idea that the workers in the factory should have an outing, where they visit a grand house and also a safari park. Her prime purpose is to give her a chance to seduce Vittorio. Things, naturally, do not go as planned.

On one level, this book is rather absurd, dark humor. But the ending is enigmatic and really makes little sense to me. It would seem that there are no attachments beyond lust or thralldom. I dunno, the first 70% of the book was mildly amusing, but the conclusion left me cold. Beryl Bainbridge was a well celebrated British author in her time, but based on this example, I'm not sure if I'll attempt another of her offerings or not.

Most Secret (Vintage Classics)

Most Secret (Vintage Classics) - Nevil Shute Norway This is another of Nevil Shute's novels set in England during World War II. It's a period of time that fascinates me. Times were terrible, but somehow the British muddled through and eventually entered a new era in which they could once again thrive. The plot is a bit more convoluted than most other Shute books I've read, and also rather more blood thirsty. Not my favorite of his works. But still rather engaging.

Basically we have four protagonists, or perhaps five. Charles Simon is an Englishman who was brought up in France, sent to public school in England, and then returned to work in France as a cement engineer. He is fluent in both French and English and, although his accent and word choices are slightly off, can readily pass as one or the other. When the Germans get too close to where he is working, he manages to escape to England and gets taken on by the military.

Oliver Boden is the son of a wool spinner. He takes rather a fancy to sailing. His life-long friend and, for a short time, spouse, is killed in a German air raid over London. He wants revenge.

Michael Rhodes is the son of a doctor who died while Rhodes was still young. Despite some hard times, he did make it through school and procured a job as a chemist. He loves mixing up concoctions, whether it be skin-restoring face cream, or something more akin to napalm.

John Colvin is a sailor who has bummed around here and there. He was living in Seattle when the war broke out and immediately found his way to England so as to sign up with the Royal Navy.

Then, we have Commander Martin, who is sometimes narrator of the story, and who is nominally the head of the war-time operations described.

So, the British have a French fishing vessel in one of their ports. At the suggestion of Simon, they outfit it for some covert war intrigue. Simon thinks that the people of Brittany will turn against their local German occupation force if some horrific acts of defiance can be accomplished. They decide to use the French fishing vessel to insinuate itself into the fishing fleet and then rain fire on the few German boats "guarding" the fishermen. So, they get the boat outfitted with a flame thrower, and Rhodes concocts a rather deadly pyrotechnic mix to spew onto the Germans. Bowden is the overall head of the operation, and Colvin provides expertise in navigation and general seamanship. Something like that.

Like all Shute books, it was well plotted, rather interesting, and, of course, somewhat nerdy on the science, engineering, and sailing parts. It was a bit more blood thirsty than I would like, but then I spent too much time in Sunday School as a youngster.

The Road

The Road - Cormac McCarthy My friend, Michael, proclaimed Cormac McCarthy as being the most beautiful writer America has ever produced. Perhaps so. Michael is, after all, an English teacher, so he should know about this kind of stuff. I, on the other hand, was always labeled as an English retard in school: I only read at half the speed required to be a success in college, and my "essays" were returned with lots of bright, red "K"s marked all over them. A "K" meant the writing was clumsy. Ok, so it's clumsy, what do I do about it? Since I was an English retard, no one wasted their time telling me how to do better (well, except for my first love, Miss Garner, my 11th-grade teacher; she did make an effort to help). Good thing I found physical chemistry. By immersing myself in P. chem, I could avoid starvation despite my English-language disability.

Anyway, this book, wasn't doing much for me and I gave up 10% of the way through. It seemed that intentionally artsy-fartsy writing was more important to this author than was any kind of compelling narrative. I have no idea what was going on because the author thought it more important to describe bleakness in the most imaginative and colorful ways, for endless page after endless page, than to describe what actually was the issue being addressed (perhaps some kind of post-apocalyptic, dystopian remnant of a world inhabited by at least one man and his boy companion). I'm done with McCarthy, which will only reinforce the belief that I'm an English retard. I'm old enough that, with luck, I'll be dead soon and this limitation of mine will no longer be of any consequence.

The Honor of the Big Snows

The Honor of the Big Snows - James Oliver Curwood My son's jazz trio plays a monthly gig at Cafe Chianti in Beverly, the first Tuesday of each month. At the October gig, I was sitting with his relatively new girlfriend. We were soon joined by a former school mate of theirs, Kathy Svirsky, who had spent something like seven years in Alaska. During break, she began talking about the aurora and how sometimes it crackled. Immediately, I thought of this book and realized I just had to read it again. Until I had read this book many years ago, I didn't know that aurorae could sometimes make noise. I'd studied their physical chemistry and knew all about the excitation mechanisms of some of its features. such as the auroral green line, but never knew about the sounds.

Anyway, to the book. On a night when the aurora was crackling overhead, somewhere up in the wild north of Canada, well north and west of Hudson's Bay, a young woman, Mélisse Cummins, lay dieing on her bed. She tells her husband, John, that she hears music. He says it's only the sound of the skies, i.e. the aurora. But as time goes on, a half starved boy, Jan Thoreau, perhaps 14, stumbles into their cabin, playing the violin, offering music for food. The woman dies at peace, the music having accompanied her soul to a better place, or something.

It turns out, there is a baby Mélisse. Jan stays with Cummins and helps him with his tasks around the Hudson's Bay Company outpost and helps to rear the baby Mélisse. But, Jan has a great secret. Mostly he can forget about it and live a glorious life in the great outdoors. But occasionally he is reminded of the roll of papers that lie hidden inside his violin, and his horrible secret haunts him.

Naturally as time goes on, Mélisse grows into a beautiful young woman and grows to love Jan, not just like a sister, but like a woman. This causes Jan great grief and he flees. His secret taint is so egregious, apparently, that he could never tell Mélisse about it lest she throw him over, or something. Eventually, we do learn of Jan's imagined taint. But, does said taint come between the potential lovers? Find out for yourselves.

This book is a romantic adventure in the northwest. I loved the parts about nature, auroras, the snows and the thaws in the spring, the trapping and hunting culture. It really speaks to my inner Eagle Scout. But, the book does have some particularly weird parts: overly romanticised views of women and the glories of their hair (Curwood had a Madonna complex and was a hair fetishist); some strange views of what "taints" blood lines; the natural inferiority of half-breeds, Indians and Francophones (although many of them do have good hearts); and of course, the somewhat creepy Humbert-Humbert-like romance that blossoms between Jan and Mélisse. But it's all about pure womanhood, or something.

But despite the weirdnesses, I thoroughly enjoyed re-reading this classic from the past.

FWIW, Amazon claims the book is a mere 157 pages long. That works out to 384 words/page (yup, I counted the words). In reality, a page of text in a properly typeset novel is more like 250–300 words/page. So in reality, this book should be listed as something closer to 200 pages or a bit more.

The House Behind the Cedars

The House Behind the Cedars - Charles W. Chesnutt What a wonderful and interesting book. Chesnutt was an African American author who wrote around the turn of the 20th century. Who knew there were such people a century ago? Oops, my whiteness is showing again.

Anyway, this book is set in the south just after the Civil War. The primary problem it addresses is mixing the races, so to speak. John Warwick, a prosperous young man visits a small town, Patesville. At night, he sneaks off to visit the women who live in a nice house behind a hedge of cedars. It turns out to be where his mother, Mis' Molly Walden and sister, Rena, live. John has been gone for ten years and has "passed for white". He thinks his sister should return back with him to his home. He has a small child for whom she could help care. He has become a widower. But first, he sends her off to school to become refined in the ways of white society.

When Rena, now known as Rowena Warwick, joins him, she fits immediately into the polite, chivalric society of the better class of white folks. A young man, George Tryon, falls in love with Rowena and they set a date for their marriage. But then, Rena has a dream about her mother's being sick. So, she returns to Patesville to nurse her. By chance, Tryon has some business in Patesville and sees Rena there and realizes that she wasn't white after all. It seems she has slightly "tainted" blood, and it would never do to similarly taint one's own blood line.

So, of course, we have the problem that still plagues our society even now in the 21st century. Will true love and true character find a way to remove the blinders we have placed on ourselves by our specious views on race?

Celia's Cheeks

Celia's Cheeks - Harold Piper OMG, adolescent potty humor issuing from the "pen" of my older brother. WTF? It's about an Ivy League cub reporter in southwest corner of a state with mountains (think Colorado).

This book involves a tale showing how small-town politics can go awry at the slightest "upset". It seems that young Celia Totten was hiking in the woods when she felt the call of nature. Equally young and eager beaver forest ranger, Cy Smith spies her "act of public indecency" and cites her. When she tries to run away, he adds resisting arrest to her charge. It's all pretty silly.

The police chief sees it as silly as well and tears up the ticket. This gets him in turn into a war with the head of the forest service: who are the police to summarily override a forest-service citation? The local judge and prosecutor get into the turf-war act. It's all reported in the small town paper, and becomes a national sensation. So "outsiders" descend on the small town and publicly denigrate it across the nation. Which brings in the city council into the fray. They decide to pass a bill making it a crime to make fun of people and/or events in their town. Something like that.

Much of this is seen through the eyes of the local journalist core, one of whom is a fledgling reporter with a fancy Ivy-League degree in English literature. That approach to the story telling makes sense. After the author graduated from Princeton with a degree in English literature, he first worried his parents by hanging around in his bed room in their house for four or five months. Then he got a job with the Durango Herald, a small-town paper in the southwestern corner of Colorado. Thus, much of the background, and likely some of the events and characterization, are drawn from those experiences. In essence, one can say that the author wrote about what he knew.

The book is meant to be a trifling piece filled with rather broad humor, a bagatelle. It fulfilled that intention.

Up at the Villa

Up at the Villa - W. Somerset Maugham A short bonbon from Maugham. Maugham himself calls it a novelette, but it's really a novella, 30,364 words (I counted them).

Anyway, a young and fabulously beautiful widow, Mary Panton, has gotten away from London and memories of a bad marriage and is living in the Italian villa of some friends, in the hills above Florence. It's a relatively idle life, filled with reading, hanging out in the garden, and parties.

Sir Edgar Swift, an ambitions "Empire builder" who is 24 years her senior, is about to be shipped off to India. He asks Mary to marry him and come along. She requests a few days to think things over.

While she is thinking, she runs into Rowley Flint, a notorious bounder. She successfully repels Rowley's attentions, multiple times, but still, apparently, some kind of bond is formed.

On the way home one night, she finds an impoverished Austrian refugee, Karl Richter, an art student. She thinks to give him one great gift, an evening of wining, dining, and herself. When Richter understands that she did it only out of compassion, and not love, he kills himself. Mary calls on Rowley to help dispose of the body and clean up the mess in her sitting room.

Naturally, there are a few more complications involving Rowley and Sir Edgar. A cute, engaging story, well worth one's time.

The Simple Art of Murder

The Simple Art of Murder - Raymond Chandler This is a collection of eight stories by the master of hard-boiled fiction, Raymond Chandler: two short novellas, five novelettes and a short story proper. If you like that genre even a bit, this is a can't miss collection. It's full of tough guys and floozies and the consumption of unimaginable amounts of whiskey. There's always a body or two that shows up full of lead, or in one of the stories, "Nevada gas", which seems to be a euphemism for hydrogen cyanide, the stuff of gas-chamber executions.

What Became of Anna Bolton

What Became of Anna Bolton - Louis Bromfield The first ten per cent or so of this book was a bit of a tough slog, perhaps due to getting used to a new author's style. But, I ended up loving this book.

David Sorrell is a journalist in Europe in the years leading up to World War II. Although times are becoming tough, there is still a cadre of "beautiful people", living a life of parties and idleness, the life of the good old times. He goes to a party in London and sees one of the hot things of the day, Anna Bolton. Anna is a rich American widow and the toast of the town. Sorrell remembers Anna from her growing up years in Lewisburg, Ohio. Then, she was Annie Scanlon, the daughter of "Mary the cleaning woman". She lived on the wrong side of the tracks, so to speak, and vowed that one day she would "show" Lewisburg. When he first meets Anna at the party, Anna feigns not to recognize Sorrell, and he doesn't push it. He muses on how far she has come.

After some time, the "beautiful people" seem to have gathered in Paris. Anna fits into that society as well, but as the Germans begin invading France, she flees to the South of France. She makes a home for herself, for a time in a small town where she helps refugees. The beautiful people begin to wonder "what ever became of Anna Bolton?" Sorrell eventually finds her again and extracts her story.

So we have a story of a poor, but intelligent and ambitious woman leaving her poor beginnings behind and fighting her way into the top echelons of society. Then because of war and other interesting events, begins to realize how shallow that life was, a life that was essentially in its death throes anyway. She finds redemption in later life working to help mitigate some of the horrors the second world war has meted on innocent people. A wonderful story.

White Like Me

White Like Me - Tim Wise Off and on, I've been exposed to the concepts of white racism or white privilege. That is, people try to teach me about it, and I do try to learn, although I fear that I'm a dull and slow student. This all began many years ago when I met a man named Horace Seldon while jogging around Lake Quannapowitt in the next town over from us. Horace, an ordained UCC pastor, has dedicated his life to the cause of educating his fellow white people regarding the special privileges we have by dint of our skin color. More recently, we had a study group in town over the book written by a local author, two towns over in the other direction, Debby Irving. Her book, Waking Up White: And Finding Myself in the Story of Race. In between, I've been trying to understand racial issues by reading African American authors like Walter Mosley and Ta-Nehisi Coates. My friend, Michael, recommended this book, and I cued it up.

This book is ever so much better than Ms. Irving's. For one thing, it provides a much better introduction for beginners to read about and to begin to understand the subtle issues of racism. I think part of this is that Mr. Wise grew up in modest circumstances, so his white privilege wasn't augmented by an additional layer of country-club privilege. I'm not sure Ms. Irving understood that augmented privilege she had. So, some of her arguments fell flat because those of us not born to the country club could see that some of the advantages she was experiencing weren't about whiteness so much as being born with a silver spoon in her mouth. Of course, being able to be part of the country-club set is also very much about being white, unless you might be O.J. Simpson.

Anyway, much of the advantage our skin color (or perhaps lack of it) provides us has to do with expectations and opportunities. We white folks, don't have anyone look at us strangely like perhaps we're not qualified, before we even open our mouths. Rather, we're assumed qualified until we prove we're not. This is not the case with people of color, who must find ways to prove their worthiness before they are deemed qualified. We white folks never have to worry that politicians will structure voting rights so that we are disadvantaged with respect to people of color. Not so people of color. Within a week or so after the Roberts Supreme Court overturned the voting rights act, people in some states, like North Carolina and Texas were falling all over themselves to find insidious ways to deny voting rights to people of color. Yes, a few poor whites got caught in the cross fire, so to speak, but the bills were specifically designed primarily to deny the vote to people of color. Some of us white folks complain about affirmative action plans which guarantee a few seats for people of color in our universities, but don't even blink at the white affirmative action going on with "legacy admissions", which overwhelmingly accrue to white folks.

And so, the beat goes on. The first step to mitigating the problem of racism is to recognize it. This book is a good beginning. The solution to racism isn't just to pretend it's gone the way the Klu Klux Clan (which a recent Presidential candidate has helped regain traction in our society), but to recognize when we are obtaining privileges other people are not, and to get us to work to level the playing field for all.

Don't Ever Get Old

Don't Ever Get Old - Daniel  Friedman Baruch (Buck) Schatz was once a legend in the Memphis police department. He has been retired for some 30 years now and is 85 or so. Basically all he does is watch TV, take pills, and go to funerals.

One of his former army buddies, Jim Wallace, calls Buck to his hospital room for a final confession, so to speak. It seems that Wallace had seen the head of the Nazi prison camp where they had been interred, Heinrich Zeigler, escaping at the end of the war. Zeigler had bribed Wallace to let him pass the check point with a bar of gold. It was clear to Wallace that Zeigler had many more bars of gold. Schatz was upset by this betrayal. Zeigler had almost beaten Schatz to death just before the camp was "liberated", and Schatz wants revenge, perhaps the gold as well.

So, with the help of his grandson, Tequilla (William), Schatz contrives to find Zeigler and the gold. But, along the way, other people have cravings for the gold. Also, a bunch of bodies pile up, apparently related, but how?

So, it's a sort of interesting story. Lots of folks will think that Buck is a lovable character because he is an irascible, elderly Jew, and what's not to love about plucky old Jews? Well, I thought Buck was rather an asshole, and I didn't find him all that funny. Being an old person myself, albeit not yet in Buck's league of elderliness, I'm a bit sensitive about old people using age as an excuse for assholism. Lighting up cigarettes in churches and hospitals is not funny, it's a sign the character is a narcissistic asshole who deserves to be put down.

My spouse thought I should read this book so as to learn about the experiences of others who are facing the problems of aging. I'm on board with doing that, but not if I'm to be learning from self-absorbed assholes. I'll not be reading another book in this series.

The True Deceiver (New York Review Books)

The True Deceiver (New York Review Books) - Tove Jansson, Thomas Teal, Ali Smith My cousin, Diane, is always posting things about Moomins on FaceBook. It seems Moomins are some kind of mythical/cartoon creatures beloved by Finnish people. I have a vague feeling that Diane has a kid living in Finland, or perhaps he just works for a Finnish company. Anyway, I thought to read about Moomins and found that none of the Moomin-related books are available from the local library in kindle format. But, I my library did have this particular book by the Moomin author, Tove Jansson, in kindle format. The library may be closed for the month, but the kindle snagging continues unabated. Once the library reopens, I may have to break down and borrow a dead-tree book. After reading this book, I'm pretty sure there's very little relationship between what goes on in this book and Moomins.

This book is rather bleak, but then I would expect that Finland might be a bit bleak in the winter, and the action, such as it is, takes place in winter. Katri Kling lives with her brother, Mats. Mats is a bit simple; all he cares about is boats and stories about boats. He spends his evenings drawing up boat plans and his days hanging out at a boat builder's place. Sometimes they give him an odd job or two: sanding, painting, sweeping up, simple stuff that a simple man can do. Katri is stand offish and prickly, but has a reputation for shrewdness and honesty. It doesn't help that she didn't grow up in the small town where she is living and also that she has yellow eyes. So people don't like her much. She doesn't much care.

The local celebrity is Anna Aemelin, who illustrates books, but only during the summer. She paints the most detailed and faithful pictures of woodland floors, almost the real thing. But then she populates her forest floors with rabbits who grow flowers out of their pelts. Her book illustrations are wildly popular. Anna is basically a recluse who lives alone in the large old house her prosperous parents had built.

Katri has a vision that she would like to live in Anna Aemelin's house, and also find a way to get Mats a boat. So over time, Katri contrives to become Anna's housekeeper and then begins taking over Anna's business affairs. It all seems straight forward, but is it? Then too, are Anna's seemingly passive and passive-aggressive responses to Katri straight forward, or is something else going on with her?

I guess one might say this is a bit of psycho drama. It's very well written and somewhat interesting, but a bit bleak. This is probably not for people whose only interest in reading is escapism. If one reads to understand better the human condition, then this book will be worth one's time.

I Am Half-Sick of Shadows

I Am Half-Sick of Shadows  - Alan Bradley In need of a breather, we get back to Flavia de Luce, the precocious 11-year old who loves chemistry and is nosy as all get out. What's not to like about chemistry and nosy, 11-year old girls? My spouse would say, "LOTS!", but I have a fondness for chemistry and I have a fond memory of my awesome niece when she was 11 or so (not that I still don't have a fondness for her now that she's rapidly approaching spinsterhood).

It turns out that Flavia's father finds himself in straightened circumstances, yet again. So he hires out his manor house to a theater company who are planning to film a movie with the most magnificent, illustrious, most beloved actress of the day, Phyllis Wyvern. The film people come and set up. The local vicar convinces Ms. Wyvern that she should put on a small "entertainment" for the people of Bishops Lacey, to support the church's roof restoration project.

It's also Christmas, and Flavia determines to figure out once and for all if St. Nick is fact or fiction. So she concocts an ungodly sticky goo to slather on the chimney pots. She'll capture St. Nick for sure, if he is real, and if she doesn't capture him, then she'll know he's a myth. Yay, experimental science!

Naturally, Phyllis Wyvern turns up murdered just before the local entertainment is to go off. So everyone already had been gathered in the manor house, so they're stuck there. They're also trapped because the roads are all snowed in and the phone lines are down.

Needless to say, Flavia's sleuthing saves the day, and her special goo helps capture one of the culprits, if not St. Nick.

Wings Of Fire

Wings Of Fire - Charles Todd This is the second of the Inspector Rutledge mysteries written by "Charles Todd", a mother/son team. I read the 8th or 9th several years ago, and tried the first last summer. Insp. Rutledge is a shell-shocked veteran of WWI who is now working at Scotland Yard. His superior, doesn't much like having Rutledge around, so sends him off on obscure missions in places far from London. This book takes place in Cornwall, the extreme south west of England.

A brother and sister from an old aristocratic family appear to have committed mutual suicide. One of their heirs had an accident a short time later, falling downstairs and breaking his neck. One of the other heirs, however, felt that something with the family history wasn't quite correct. She got a highly placed government official to request a Scotland Yard investigation. Since Rutledge's superior wants to get him out of the way, Rutledge is sent to Cornwall. Rutledge discovers a history of family tragedy, one member fell out of a tree and was killed, another wandered off on the moor and never returned, another "shot" himself in a gun-cleaning accident, another appears to have been thrown from his horse and cracked his head on the rocks. Lots of "accidents/suicides' over the years. Rutledge investigates and concludes that likely one of the family members was a serial killer, perhaps one of the brother/sister suicides.

So, basically, Rutledge flounders around for quite some time before getting some clarity in his own mind. He is hounded by the voice in his head of "Hamish", a Scott whom he had had executed during the War for insubordination. He's also hounded by the loss of his fiancée, Jean, who dumped him after the war.

The first few books in this series that I read (#s 6, 4, then 1) I liked quite a lot, but this one not so much. It felt formulaic or something. Or perhaps the cognitive dissonance of reading this after a string of Walter Mosley novels left me disoriented. I'm on the fence as to whether I'll revisit Insp. Rutledge again next summer or not.

The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey

The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey - Walter Mosley This was interesting. At the beginning, we have Ptolemy Grey, a 91-year old, musing. Or rather trying to muse. He suffers from dementia, and can't think straight much of the time. He struggles to remember people from his recent past. He struggles for coherent speech, coherent responses to questions. He lives alone. Once a week or so, his grand nephew, Reggie, drops by. But suddenly Reggie has stopped showing up. Another grand nephew, Hilly, shows up to take Reggie's place. But, even demented, Ptolemy can tell that Hilly robbed him after he'd taken Ptolomy shopping and to the bank.

Hilly then takes Ptolomy to Niecie's house. Niecie is Hilly's mother, and obviously, Ptolomy's niece. They're having a wake for Reggie, which Ptolomy didn't realize until he saw Reggie lying in state, so to speak. But, Ptolomy meets Robyn, who has moved up from Georgia after her parents die to be under Niecie's guardianship. Robyn takes over the care of Ptolomy.

They go to a doctor, a slightly shady one, who is willing to try an experimental drug on Ptolomy that has some promise of restoring his cognitive abilities. The downside is that the drug won't work for long, and that Ptolomy will likely die within a few months. Ptolomy figures he's making a deal with the devil, but the devil, i.e. the doctor, only wants his body after Ptolomy's death, not his soul. The drug does work after a fashion, and Ptolomy gains a few months of clarity during which he, with Robyn's help, settles his affairs, including finding and "settling" with Reggie's killer.

That's sort of the story, but the fascinating parts are the story that keeps going on in Ptolomy's head. He remembers snatches of his childhood and snatches of wisdom imparted to him by a local character, Coy Dog. Mosley does an amazing job, I think, of probing the mind and thought processes of one suffering from mild dementia. Some of the things going on reminded me of some of the issues going on with my mother in her final years as a centenarian. Also, it's always interesting to read Mosley to get some insights into the African American experience.