Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Book Shorts

Both Stephanie Barron and Elizabeth Peters have new books out in which they bid adieu, at least temporarily, to their much loved heroines. After nine novels, Barron dispenses with her Jane Austen character, a foregone conclusion after- for obvious historical reasons- she killed off Jane's love interest, Lord Harold Trowbridge. Still, I miss Jane. Murder mysteries set in the court of Queen Victoria seem to be all the thing these days. See Anne Perry's latest. Barron's A Flaw in the Blood begins with a secret summons from Victoria as Albert lays dying. This time, however, the reception Barron's Patrick Fitzgerald receives is quite chilly and the midnight meeting almost gets him killed. So begins a race against death to unravel the mystery. I won't give it away, because it is surprising. Of interest is the appearance in the novel, although not literally because he's dead at the time of the events, of actual historical personage John Snow. Think cholera epidemic and last year's The Ghost Map.

Elizabeth Peters departs from the Amelia Peabody series to return to earlier heroine Vicky Bliss. I cannot tell you the paroxysms of delight I experienced when a discovered there was to be a new Vicky Bliss. The adventures of Ms. Bliss, coupled with the antics of Herr Doktor Schmidt, her romance novel writing boss at the Berlin Museum, as well as the regular appearances of bad boy John Smythe, make for entertaining reading. Alas, as Peters explains the question of time- Bliss hasn't aged in near a decade but time has marched on- in the foreword to The Laughter of Dead Kings, I find she cites "the horror in Iraq." If I wanted political commentary, I would not pick up a murder mystery. Is Ms. Peters only writing the book for those who oppose the Iraq war, or does she presume that anyone literate would be against it? As a consequence, I don't know if it was the annoyance which stayed with me or the new domesticity of Vicky and beau, but the novel did not warm up until the end. There were some nifty surprises, but I'd recommend the earlier ones.

Finally, the devastation left by Hurricane Ike is bad enough, but the storm reminded me of Erik Larsson's excellent book, Isaac's Storm, which details the 1900 hurricane which hit Galveston and killed over five thousand people. Cuba figures in that one, too. In the days before radar, a fatal decision was made to ignore the reports of a hurricane coming from the weather service in Cuba. If you like nonfiction and haven't read it, pick up a copy. It's worth it.

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