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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 Christmas Carol
Charles Dickens
The Way Some People Die
Ross Macdonald
Envy of Angels
Matt Wallace
The Fellowship of the Frog
Edgar Wallace
Code of Conduct (The Jani Kilian Chronicles Book 1)
Kristine Smith
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

No Orchids for Miss Blandish

No Orchids for Miss Blandish - James Hadley Chase I'm not sure why I picked this one up. I'd read another book my Chase a while back, and thought it was pretty awful. Not so this one. It was actually fairly good, given the genre. It's not Raymond Chandler, or even Dashiell Hammett, but still decent hard-boiled, noir detective fiction. I had no problems staying engaged. I'd give it 3*s +, were that allowed.

So, we have a gang of second-rate punks who decide to lift the diamond necklace of one Miss Blandish. Somehow they get stuck with Miss Blandish as well. But not for long. A higher-class gang of thugs disposes of the second-raters and snag Miss Blandish for themselves. After all, the diamond necklace is small potatoes, Miss Blandish should be worth a cool million in ransom.

The cops are all befuddled. They think Miss Blandish has been kidnapped by the second-rate punks, Riley and his gang, so go looking in all the wrong places. Riley and cohorts are actually well hidden in shallow graves.

But a former crime reporter, turned private eye, Dave Fenner, starts looking into things and begins to piece the strings together. Of course, there is lots of shooting and bodies pile up and so forth. It's also extraordinarily dark in that the not-quite-all-there Slim Grisson, son of Ma Grisson, the head of the higher-class gang, takes a fancy to Miss Blandish. They keep her drugged so he can spend time with her...or something.

One weird thing is that Slim Grisson liked watching TV. He had a 21-inch TV. Well, this book was written in 1939. There was barely any commercial TV until after World War II, i.e. a decade later. I don't believe that 21-inch TVs became common until the 1960s. I certainly don't remember such huge TVs in the early-to-mid 1950s, and I don't believe I got a TV that large until the mid 80s (also my first color TV). So, I have no idea how this makes sense. It's like the story was a 1930s period piece written in the 1980s by someone who had a lapse in his background research. It didn't spoil the story in any way, but it did seem rather weird to me.

The Barbarous Coast

The Barbarous Coast - Ross Macdonald For some reason, I stumbled across an article on my telephone, from The New Repbulic, about how Ross Macdonald was every bit as good, if not better, than Raymond Chandler, when it came to writing hard-boiled, noir detective fiction. So, I had to find me some Ross Macdonald. I have a vague feeling I'd tried doing this before, and none was to be found in my local library. But, the Boston Public Library did have a few Macdonald's available for us Kindle folk. So, I began my Macdonald investigations with this particular book.

So, we're in Hollywood in the 1950s. Lew Archer is called to The Channel Club to meet with Clarence Bassett, the club's manager. It seems Bassett wants Archer to "dispose of" an annoyance, one George Wall. Wall, who claims to be married to Hester Campbell, claims she's run out on him, in Toronto, and is likely back in Southern California, and likely with one of the Channel Club's richest, most influential members, Simon Graff, the movie mogul. On his way into the club, Archer had already run into Wall. On the way out, he tries to chase Wall off, but Wall begs Archer to find his wife. Archer agrees to do that.

So, Archer begins looking for the wife, and along the way runs into a variety of weird occurrences: some folks seem suddenly to have garnered magic movie contracts, despite having no prior skill; some folks, who were thriving, suddenly find themselves on the down-hill slide; floozies and drunks wander into and out of the scenes; etc. Along the way, bodies start piling up, gangsters drift in and out, Archer and others get the crap beaten out of them, and so forth. All the good stuff of hard-boiled, noir novels. The one thing missing is that Archer doesn't appear to live on a steady diet of whiskey, unlike Philip Marlowe and Sam Spade.

Anyway, this is quite good, albeit a bit convoluted. I'll definitely be hunting me some more Archer.

Interestingly, I just discovered that one can take a class at an Ivy League college in Hard-Boiled and Noir Crime Fiction. Who knew life's gutter creatures had ascended the ivory towers of academia?

Moominvalley in November

Moominvalley in November - Tove Jansson, Kingsley Hart Here endeth my study of the Moomins and their fellow creatures. I'll miss them.

A number of creatures feel unsettled and decide to make their ways to Moomin Valley, so as to hang out in a sensible household, i.e. that run my Moominmamma and Moominpappa. But the Moomins are not there. So, the creatures make up a family of their own for a while. Then they begin to drift back off, and so ends the Moomin Saga. Quite a fun series of books.

Moominpappa at Sea

Moominpappa at Sea - Tove Jansson, Kingsley Hart After several "difficult" books, I figured it was time to revisit the Moomins. Sadly, this will be my last visit with them for a while, I plucked the last two Moomin books from the children's shelves in our library, and there won't be anymore for me to enjoy.

Anyway, in this book, it seems that Moominpappa is getting bored in Moomin Valley. He also has dreams of a lighthouse. Something like that. So he packs Moominmamma, Mommintroll and LittleMy into his boat, The Adventure, and heads out to sea. Eventually, they find the lighthouse. The lighthouse keeper seems to be missing. All they find is an old fisherman who doesn't communicate much. The island appears to have a life of its own—e.g. stones and trees move about—and it takes them all quite some time to figure things out.

I'm not sure this is at the level of the other Moomin books I've read, but it got better as I went along. Probably better because the writing can be lyrical in parts, the action mystical, and the Moomins adorable. Rather fun.

Rebel Raider

Rebel Raider - H. Beam Piper This book is essentially a hagiographic portrayal of the exploits of a Confederate military adventurer, John Singleton Mosby. Basically, Mosby ran a guerrilla operation in Virginia wherein he attacked and plundered the supply lines of the Union armies.

I didn't find this book particularly well written or interesting. It was basically a listing of this happened, then this, then this, then.... Perhaps if the hero weren't a guy who was killing and plundering people merely for the right to enslave, beat, rape, and kill black people for fun and profit, I might have had more sympathy for him. In terms of merely military tactics, Mosby's story might be vaguely interesting to people who like that kind of thing. I'm not one of them by a long shot.

The 3*s should have a - (minus) appended. I'm not even sure that this book makes more interesting reading than the work of another Piper I've come across, Further Observations of the Nitrogen Orange Afterglow, or yet another Piper I know who has written a novel or two.

Small Great Things

Small Great Things - Jodi Picoult This is quite a book. An important read for those of us who are trying to understand issues or racism, especially the advantages our white skin have bestowed upon us (unless, of course, we're not white). The book jumps back and forth. Between the points of view of Ruth Jefferson, a nurse who works in L&D (labor and delivery); Turk Bauer, a white supremacist whose child died shortly after birth; and Kennedy McQuarrie, a young white lawyer who works in the public defender's office, because her eye-surgeon spouse makes enough money for the both of them.

The issue revolves around the birth of one Davis Bauer, Turk's son. Turk insisted that no black nurse should be allowed to touch his new-born son. But, there's a medical emergency c-section, and the nurse attending Davis, was called away and left Ruth to watch over Davis. Davis begins having medical problems. Ruth tries to resuscitate him, but stops when she hears her supervisor walking down the hall, the supervisor who wrote the orders that Ruth was not to touch the baby.

So, seeing a medical emergency, all hands are on deck, so to speak, and Ruth is given the job of chest compression, to keep the heart pumping while they try to restore the baby's breathing. The baby dies and Turk, who came into the room blames the black nurse for being too vigorous. He swears out a complaint against Ruth, and the hospital throws her under the bus, so to speak.

So, we have findings, the trial, and so forth. Ruth gets a nice middle-class, white public defender, who really doesn't understand racism. Basically, Ruth schools Kennedy. So, along with the trial, we learn quite a bit about the problems of white racism, our ignorance of the basic issues. We understand the overt racism, but not how our institutions have been designed to disadvantage people not born in a white skin.

It's all quite fascinating. I have been slowly learning about this stuff for a number of years now, but it's good to get different perspectives and looks. Then too, it's particularly important that we learn about these things given that we have recently installed a racist in the White House (not to mention a racist as Attorney General). Shame on us all.

Interesting, just a week after I finished this book, the guy who first tried to school me on the issues of white racism, Horace Seldon, passed away. Horace will be greatly missed, he was a true gem of a person.

The Girl with Seven Names: A North Korean Defector's Story

The Girl with Seven Names: A North Korean Defector's Story - Hyeonseo Lee, David John This is a somewhat difficult book to read, but also quite interesting. The difficulty is with the subject matter, not the writing. The book is well written.

It begins by telling about life in North Korea when the author was growing up. N. Korea is a highly stratified society, stratified in terms of one's perceived loyalty to the ruling Kim family. So, the author and her brother grew up happily enough. Her parents had adequate jobs, and her mother was more than adept at smuggling and bribery so that she could provide some extras for her family. Smuggling and bribery are ok in N. Korea, in their place. The only unforgivable sin, apparently, is disrespect to the Kims.

The author's family lives along the Yalu River. China is just on the other side. People sneak over and back all the time. One day, as a young teenager, the author decides to go across the river for a "visit". She figures she'll be back within a day or so. She's just curious. But, once she's there, she really can't go back without causing severe problems for herself and her family. She has some distant relatives a few miles inland, and they take her in.

Because she's illegal, she can't go out alone. The Chinese authorities are continually on the look out for illegal N. Koreans. When they find them, they return them. So the author spends her days watching TV and learning Mandarin. She gets so good that she can pass, so to speak.

Her relatives try to marry her off to as guy who is so dull that death seems like a better option. So, the author runs off, and finds a way to survive. Well, time goes on, things happen, eventually, she makes it to Seoul and is taken into the S. Korean society. But she misses her mother and brother and contrives to smuggle them into S. Korea. More weird problems.

So, much of the book reads like "The Perils of Pauline", one damn crisis after another. The author manages to keep up her spirits and things work out in the end. Quite fascinating.

Interesting to read about life under the Kims in N. Korea. Basically, they are a family of marginally competent narcissistic autocrats. Life under such folks is pretty awful. And now, we've elected ourselves a narcissistic autocrat. With luck, our vaunted checks and balances will mitigate the damage. We'll see.

Search The Dark

Search The Dark  - Charles Todd I've read 4 "Inspector Ian Rutledge" books previously, and liked them all quite well. This book was ok, but a bit on the marginal side (so, ***- for a rating). Ian Rutledge is a Scotland Yard detective who served in WWI. That conflict was not kind to his psyche and he carries in his mind the thoughts and comments of Hamish, a Scottish Corporal he'd had to have executed. Then too, the love of his life, Jean, jilted him when he came back from the war psychologically damaged. But he went back to Scotland Yard, and has persisted in his duties.

For a time, this basic back story seemed an interesting take. Now, it's getting tedious, despite my sympathy for the ravages of war on the lives of the people sent off by the high-living assholes who send regular folks off to kill and be killed for the asshole's fun and profit.

Anyway, I didn't feel that this particular story held together very well. Rutledge is sent to Dorset to help with a local investigation. The local guy, Inspector Hildebrand, resents the hell out of Rutledge's presence and makes that clear.

So, we have another war-damaged guy, Bert Mowbray, who looks out the window at the Singleton Magna train station and sees what he thinks is his wife, Mary, with their two children and another guy. He's desperate to be let off the train, but it's too late. He gets off at a later stop and returns to Singleton Magna and then spends the next two days badgering everyone any anyone about the woman and children he saw. No one seems to know anything much.

But then, a young woman is found murdered with her face bashed in. She's about the proper size, shape and coloring to be Bert's spouse, Mary. Inspector Hildebrand instantly picks up Bert for the murder. But where are the children? Scotland Yard dispatches Rutledge to Dorset to find them.

Much to Hildebrand's disgust, Rutledge isn't quite convinced that the victim is actually Mary Bowbray. There were reports that Mary and the kids had been killed in a bombing in London several years previously. Also, Bert's description of the children fits the children as they were, but don't account for the fact that they would have become several years older.

Then, we get into a rat's next of red herrings, so to speak. It seems that a young woman, Margaret Tarelton, who and just interviewed for a spot helping with a local museum, has gone missing. She had previously worked for Elizabeth Napier, the daughter of Thomas Napier, a local MP, or something. Perhaps she'd had an affair with Thomas, or perhaps with the father of the guy who was setting up the museum, Simon Wyatt. Simon Wyatt was supposed to have gone into the MP business, but also came back from the war, traumatized. He also came back with a French wife, Aurore. When he had left for the war, he'd been engaged to Elizabeth Napier. But wait, there's more! It seems that they find a second body, also of similar size and shape to the deceased, and also with her face bashed in. But this body is 3 months old. It could be the body of Betty Cooper, who'd been working in the neighborhood some six months previously, but who'd up and disappeared no one knows where. But how could Betty disappear six months ago, but come back unseen only to be murdered three months ago? Then, of course, WHERE ARE THE CHILDREN?????

Well, as you can tell, it's all rather convoluted, and I've left off some other war-traumatized folks. I didn't find the twists and turns particularly interesting or satisfying, and the ending didn't really make a lot of sense. It was just some ad hoc thing to make us all feel better at the end, or something.

The Valley of Amazement

The Valley of Amazement - Amy Tan I might have finished slogging through this had I not had several other library books which were becoming due. Then again, this isn't really my cup of tea, my being an elderly, repressed Calvinist and all. I made it through 36% of the book, or 336 pp.

So, we have a young American girl in China (Shanghai). Her mother, also American, runs the fanciest "house of pleasure" in Shanghai, the only one that caters both to rich Chinese and also to rich foreigners. From time to time, she, the mother that is, can get the two sets together for business chats. At other times the two sets hang out with their own set for partying. Then of course, there are first-class "courtesans" to woo and on which to lavish riches, some of which (the riches, that is) are "shared" with the mother.

Well, at some point, the mother goes off to America to reunite with her husband and the son who was taken from her at his birth. Somehow, the girl, Violet, gets kidnapped on the way to the boat and ends up in a different "pleasure palace". Well, after 300+ pages of reading about life in Chinese "pleasure palaces" back a hundred years ago, I cried uncle. There are certain types of human depravity that do not attract me. This is one: rich old men using young girls as toys. Of course, we just elected a President who is no better than his Chinese peers from a century ago. Perhaps that has helped stigmatize the whole charade for me. Or perhaps it's just because I am, as I've said above, a repressed, elderly Calvinist. Whatever, I'm done.

I've read several other Amy Tan books and liked them well enough. I read her because I want a Chinese perspective so as better to understand the cultural context in which my son-in-law might have grown up. He is fully American, but his parents grew up in China. Anyway, I decided that whatever insight I might have received from this book wasn't worth wading through all the smut.

V is for Vengeance (Kinsey Millhone, #22)

V is for Vengeance (Kinsey Millhone, #22) - Sue Grafton I wasn't sure when I began this book whether I'd like it or not. But it drew me in, and was quite engaging by the end. This is, of course, the 22nd in the series of Alphabet Mysteries featuring Kinsey Millhone, private investigator.

Basically, Kinsey is looking for discounted underwear in an somewhat up-scale store and sees a woman shoplift several items. She had seen the woman earlier with another woman and thought the second one was a clerk. But eventually, she figured out that they were in cahoots. She rats out the woman she saw, and the shop lifter got nabbed. Kinsey tried to track down the accomplice and was almost run down for her efforts. Well, the first woman ended up having jumped or been thrown off a local bridge. The woman's fiancé comes to Kinsey to ask her to look into things. He thinks she couldn't possible be a shop lifter.

Well, Kinsey gets enmeshed in an investigation involving organized crime working in fencing "lifted" goods and also a bit of loan sharking on the side. We have weird coincidental interactions between seemingly unrelated people, a corrupt cop who threatens Kinsey, a career burglar who is sort of a pal of Kinsey's, and, naturally, a bit of Kinsey's life with the Hungarian cook, the cook's elderly spouse and the spouse's brother, the latter of whom is Kinsey's land lord. Anyway, it's an engaging tale.

I've read quite a number of these books previously. Running a series with the same character over a period of 35 years comes with problems I'd not noticed before. Kinsey is a spunky, 35-year old woman. She stays a spunky, 35-year old woman (ok, she turned 38 in this book). When Kinsey first came out, she was hip and modern and so forth. But here 35 years later, I feel like I'm reading a period piece. Kinsey was contemporary when she first burst on the scene, but she can't be now. If she were, she'd be 70! She'd have become Miss Marple, and that wouldn' work in the noir-ish genre Grafton effects to follow.

Not Without Laughter

Not Without Laughter - Langston Hughes It seems that we're in Kansas, in an African American community, in 1912 and beyond.

Whenever I go on vacation, I try to read some books by
African American authors. I think I only managed this one this year. The issue for me, is that I can't possibly understand other people, unless I learn about them by reading about their lives (African Americans, Japanese, Chinese, etc.). This book, although written some 87 years ago, is still a fresh lens to help us privileged, comfortably well-off white folks see ourselves as others see us; others in this case, being African Americans.

An additional interesting thing about this book is that it follows the life of a young, African American boy who lived in Kansas, from about 1912 to 1918 or so. The boy was something like 7 to 14 over this period (fuzzy math). My mother was a young girl growing up in Kansas at the same time, although she was a bit younger. So, it's interesting to read about young African American children in Kansas and to compare it with my mother's stories of growing up.

Langston Hughes was best known as a top notch poet. But this book shows that he's also a rather good novelist. The writing is wonderful.

Speaking from Among the Bones: A Flavia de Luce Novel

Speaking from Among the Bones: A Flavia de Luce Novel - Alan Bradley On his 500th birthday, the folks at St. Tancred's were going to exhume the venerable saint's bones. Only problem was that Flavia DeLuce looked into the tomb only to notice the decomposing body of the organist who had gone missing some six weeks previously, just at the beginning of Lent.

So, Flavia DeLuce, the spunky 11-year-old wanna be chemist sets to work trying to figure things out. Along the way she talks about blood analysis, lead poisoning, and all manner of things.

One of the charms of this series is the constant references to chemistry. I learned this time around that one must take the "science stuff" with a grain of salt. I know enough chemistry to think things sound reasonable, but my chemistry is somewhat sketchy when one gets to compounds with more than two or three atoms. But in this book there were a couple of "factoids" that couldn't possibly be correct. One was a temperature reference where they confused an increase in 10 deg C with a reference that it would be 283 K. Nope. An increase in 10 deg C is exactly 10 K. I would have expected that even a sophomore chemistry student would have caught this one.

The other semi-obvious error is more arcane. Flavia's Uncle Tar (Tarquin de Luce) had set up the chemistry lab, and it allegedly included a functioning gas chromatograph. Then they gave a reference to an obscure Russian who invented chromatography (paper) in 1903 or so. But actual gas chromatography wasn't invented until around 1950, about the time Flavia took over Uncle Tar's laboratory. Uncle Tar, on the other hand died in 1928, well before anyone, Russian or not, had a functional gas chromatograph. The reason I worry about this is that I'm under the impression that my undergrad research adviser built the first functional gas chromatograph at Harvard University. That would have had to have been in the mid 1950s. There's no way an amateur chemist would have built a gas chromatograph some 25 years before one was built at Harvard (not to mention, at least 20 years before Martin and James developed gas chromatography).

But, scientific niggling aside, it was a fun book to read.

The Dew Breaker

The Dew Breaker - Edwidge Danticat This primarily reads like a collection of short stories, but they are linked with some common characters appearing in several of the episodes. Basically, it describes incidents in the lives of Haitian immigrants in the U.S., and, in some cases, describes their lives in Haiti prior to their immigration, or in one case, on a return trip.

The book was the "One Read" book for Bunker Hill CC this past year, and even though BHCC gave me the boot several years ago, I was interested in reading what they thought would be useful for their students. It probably would have helped me when I did teach. I did have a student who came from Haiti. As I recall, he made a rather beautiful web site about his home country.

The Yellow Spider

The Yellow Spider - John Charles Beecham Well, to get the proper perspective on this book, one should first read its prequel, The Argus Pheasant. As an added bonus, the first book is much better prepared and proofed than the kindle version of the Yellow Spider. Unfortunately, I read this book first. Still, it was a good tale, and although poorly formatted, still readable.

This seems to be one of those "yellow peril" kinds of books that were all the rage back a hundred of so years ago. The best known of the genre, I think, would be the Fu Manchu series. Interestingly, I found The Insidious Dr. Fu Manchu to be so hideously racist that I couldn't read past the first few chapters (or perhaps it was just that the plot line was stupid). Well, this book was even more racist, but, somehow, I found it fascinating.

So, we're in northeastern Borneo, a Dutch colony. The "Resident of Bulungan", which means government executive, I think, is Peter Gross. He's a giant of a man and very powerful and cunning. He's traveling incognito on a boat with several other people, the lovely Grace Costain, her "step-mother", Violet (only 3 years older than Grace), her fiancé, Vincent Brady, and also a missionary and a trader. The ship is attacked by pirates, as directed by the infamous Ah Sing, a.k.a. "The Yellow Spider". Peter and Grace escape overboard and make it to land, somehow. Eventually, they make it to the fort that keeps the local native population under control. The others are held for ransom in a secret city, where Ah Sing runs his operation.

Flitting around in the wilds is Koyala, the virgin priestess of the locals, also known as the Argus Pheasant. Koyala is a half-blood, i.e. her father was a French trader and her mother an indigenous person. Thus she has "tainted" blood. She is also the granddaughter of the most famous local priest and has special powers herself. She is much beloved by the indigenous folks, the Dyaks. It seems that Peter has managed in large part to keep the savages at bay with the help of Koyala. In essence, they are a team. But Koyala sees Peter flirting with Grace, and she goes crazy. The sparks of jealousy threaten Peter and Koyala's alliance, and thereby, the peace of the whole region, or something.

So, Ah Sing gets the locals to rebel, and we have a revolution on our hands. Will Koyala and Peter manage to stem the revolt? Will Grace get reconnected with her fiancé and her "mother-in-law". Will Ah Sing prevail or will he be defeated? Well, read it for yourselves to find out.

The Valley of Silent Men

The Valley of Silent Men - James Oliver Curwood Oh.my.God! This is silly, and also appalling. What ever was I thinking? I blame it all on my spouse's grandfather, who introduced me to James Oliver Curwood some 49 years ago, when we had just begun courting.

So, Jim Kent, a Mountie, lies in bed. He thinks he's dying, so confesses to having murdered someone or other so as to get the guy the Mounties had fingered, Sandy McGregor, set free. An amazingly beautiful young woman visits Kent, briefly, and he is immediately smitten by her long raven tresses and her violet-flamed eyes. Also her tiny feet.

Well, it turns out Kent was lying and he didn't kill someone or other. But his testimony convicts him. But...the ravishing young woman, Marette Radisson, comes to the jail and frees him. They flee up the river into the north. They are separated when their boat crashes on the rapids, and each presumes the other is done for. But each persists on to the "Valley of the Silent Men" so as to commune with the soul of the "lost" one. And so forth.

The sexism in this is appalling. Yeah, I know it was written in 1920, but even for that time it seems appalling to me. The silly, self-indulgent romantic fantasies of the main character are appalling. But, back in the dark ages, I was attracted to the works of James Oliver Curwood, chuckling at the rampant sexism and self-indulgent romantic fantasies. I'm appalled at what I once was.

In the Wet

In the Wet - Nevil Shute I have always rather liked Nevil Shute. This is my least favorite of the dozen or so books of his that I've read. Part of it is the weird polemics. Part of it is the clumsy way Shute went back and forth between the two, intertwined story lines.

So, we begin with a 60-something Church of England clergyman, Roger Hargreaves, in Northeastern Australia, Queensland. Hargreaves served a large parish, in terms of area, many square miles. They have two seasons there, wet and dry. "In the wet", travel is very difficult.

Well, Hargreaves meets up with an old drunk, Stevie. Stevie varies his time living with a Chinese guy (Liang Shih) who grows vegetables and opium, or living in town, cadging free drinks. Stevie had once been a pilot in the Royal Flying Corps, and had later managed a "station" (Australian ranch).

Time goes on. One day, Liang Shih comes into town to tell the local medical person, Sister Finlay, that Stevie is very sick. Hargreaves and the Sister head out to check up on Stevie. It's just become rainy season, and the travel is difficult. Eventually they make it. To ease Stevie's pain, Liang Shih gives him some opium. Hargreaves sits by the bedside, hoping to comfort the sick, probably dying, man. He is hoping to help him ease his way into the "next world". Eventually, Hargreaves gets Stevie talking about his past and any possible relatives he might have. Stevie says his actual name is David Anderson, but his mates all call him Nigger. Stevie says he's married to a woman named Rosemary and has two children. He claims to have flown the queen around here and there.

Next thing one knows, the focus of the story has changed. Rather abruptly. No warning. No transition. Not even a gap in the printing or a new chapter. We've leapt from Australia in 1953 to England in 1983. Eventually, toward the end of the book, we leap back, and it all makes some kind of sense. In the meantime, we're invited to Shute's diatribes against socialism, the national health service, the one-man-one-vote model for democracy, and so forth. Much of the book does read like classic Shute with airplanes and boats woven in, a shy friendship between an man and a woman that leads to romance, and so forth.

Overall, it's a decent enough book, but the polemic nature of Shute's stunted politics gets wearying, and as I said, the clumsy transition between 1953 and 1983 and back is very disorienting.