Hercule Poirot’s Christmas – Agatha Christie

Hercule Poirot's ChristmasApparently, I’m on an Agatha Christie kick this month, but wow, if I could plot like this, I’d never have time to read. I’d be too busy writing! All the clues were there and I still didn’t see it coming. I admit that with all the whining family members, it was nice to find a couple of people with a spine. Too bad they were hell-bent on revenge. But still, with all the back-stabbing family members, who wouldn’t feel right at home? Christie, not for the first time, borrows a page from Sherlock Holmes in this one, this time a page from The Hound of the Baskervilles with the family resemblance via an old family portrait. It was kind of fun realizing that, like a little inside joke between reader and author. I was reminded of the quote by Edith Wharton:

Another unsettling element in modern art is that common symptom of immaturity, the dread of doing what has been done before.

Dear Ms. Christie had no such difficulty and good for her. When it’s this good, it’s not plagiarism, it’s homage.

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They Do It With Mirrors – Agatha Christie

They Do It With MirrorsI love Miss Marple. My first was the filmed version of Murder She Said and then somewhere I caught just a piece of one of Joan Hickson’s versions. My ideal Miss M is a cross between Margaret Rutherford and Joan Hickson.

As appealing as Marple is, however, I don’t know why anyone would invite her anywhere. People drop like flies when she’s about. Of course, with Christie’s usual flair for populating her novels with so many people you need a program to keep track, the body count — and suspect count — can get hip deep pretty easily. I had this one figured out way too early. Still, a decent read.

Black Riders & Other Lines – Stephen Crane

Black Riders and Other Lines

More poetry. I’d not read Stephen Crane outside of high school. It was nice recalling where I’d first read the lines: “Because it is bitter, And because it is my heart” and

Yes, I have a thousand tongues,
And nine and ninety-nine lie.
Though I strive to use the one,
It will make no melody at my will,
But is dead in my mouth.

Who said there is no beauty in truth?

Tepper Isn’t Going Out – Calvin Trillin

Tepper Isn't Going OutThis week’s book was Tepper Isn’t Going Out, a novel by Calvin Trillin. It’s an amusing little satire in which, in the end, you realize that things are not always what they seem. The realization makes the ride all the more enjoyable, though. It’s a familiar gentleman-minding-his-own-business-becomes-a-folk-hero story with a twist: this gentleman (who also actually happens to be a gentle man) just wants to be left alone to read his newspaper in his (legally parked) car. In New York City.

While it won’t have you rolling in the aisles, it will put a smile on you face and has its fair share of laugh out loud moments. Recommended.

Nine Horses – Billy Collins

Nine HorsesI have difficulty reviewing poetry. I know what I like when I read it: the writer’s talent for observation is numero uno; lack of pretention is numero dos. Billy Collins is well-deserving of his status as U.S. poet laureate. This very short little book is now listed among my favorites.

Five Skies – Ron Carlson

Five SkiesFive Skies is, at first glance, a simple enough tale: three men, near strangers, are hired to build a ramp to nowhere. It is a frivolous project, required for a stunt which will occupy mere seconds of a completely forgettable film.

As the project unfolds, however, so do the lives of these deeply wounded men. Five Skies is a quiet, understated novel. It is a glimpse at the violence our simplest decisions can do to our lives. It is a tribute, too, of the healing power of work and of friendships forged not by words, but by the simple act of being there, by the handling of a tool, by the shouldering of part of a load.

Carlson’s writing is spare and deep as desolate and beautiful as the landscape he paints. Five Skies is the kind of book you became a reader for. It is a rare gem. Five Skies is five stars.

Sudden Death – David Rosenfelt

Sudden Death Sudden Death by David Rosenfelt. I was attracted to this series for the simple fact that the cover of one of the books featured a dog. I’m a sucker for books with dogs, no matter how slight the reference. In my defense, I checked out reader reviews before actually making a purchase. Even so, I find that I’m guilty of reading this series out of order, having read Dead Center first (which should have followed Sudden Death). I managed to keep track of everything just fine, however.

As with too many mysteries lately, I had the who-dunnit figured about mid-way through, but enjoyed the characters too much to care, Overall, the novel was pretty tightly plotted for what was still a “relaxed” read, with just the right level of humor and cynicism. I think this would make a decent TV series. A kind of Perry Mason meets Eureka, maybe.

Or maybe not.

Once Were Cops – Ken Bruen

Once Were CopsThis is my first Ken Bruen. I enjoyed the style: stark noir, without all the description. A number of scenes packed a real emotional whallop and surprised me, considering I was reading about characters for who I had no empathy whatsoever. My take is that Shea, Rodriguez and Kebar were all serial killers; Rodriguez and Kebar operated within the cover of the job whereas Shea didn’t bother. Rodriguez killed Nora just to mess with Shea’s head. I think Rodriguez is without doubt the most dangerous and unstoppable of the three: a sociopath who blends. Anybody read Martha Stout’s The Sociopath Next Door? I’ve worked with people like that. No, I’m not in law enforcement–I’m in the automotive industry. LOL! Despite popular fiction, not all sociopaths kill; some enjoy other methods of decimating people’s lives and enjoy watching them grieve their losses. And when sociopaths realize they’ve been recognized it can get a little eerie…

The ending felt somehow oddly rushed, however. I can’t explain why, but it just felt it was simply, suddenly, over.If it were film, I’d chalk it up to the studio planning a franchise. Still, recommended.

The Doorbell Rang – Rex Stout

The Doorbell Rang I had this one laying about the house for at least a decade and finally got around to reading it. My first Nero Wolf, if you can believe it. Someone mentioned on 4 Mystery Addicts that the book that plays a lead roll in The Doorbell Rang, The FBI Nobody Knows, is, apparently, an actual book. I wonder if Stout fielded any heat about that, because the book is obviously damning to the FBI. I can’t believe J. Edgar took it lying down. Anyhoo, I enjoyed the plot, loved the snappy dialogue. Loved the character of Archie. He can ring my doorbell anytime.

Downside? Thanks to this book, I’ve officially added lots more books to my To Be Read stack… And why aren’t Stout’s books available on the Kindle!? Scandalous!

The Worried Citizen’s Little Survival Guide – Stephen Windwalker

The Worried Citizen's Little Survival Guide Okay, so the full title is The Worried Citizen’s Little Survival Guide to the Greatest Financial Crisis of the Century (Understanding and Surviving the Domino Depression)

Man. Windwalker loves those long titles. Really. I own several of his books on the Kindle and have found he can be relied upon to keep his writing on track and useful without losing the novice or boring the expert, so when I found this little gem, I scooped it up. Or the Kindle-download equivalent of scooped, anyway.

I was not disappointed. Those you still buying the talking head’s insistence that our current financial situation is a market “correction” need to pull your heads out of the sand long enough to read this one. I’ve followed the trail of our current global depression for a good while now, and I was impressed by how Windwalker managed to condense the history of the global meltdown into the financial free-fall of Iceland. The breakdown followed a similar course in many other nations, of course, but rather than bash us about the head with it all, he focused on one case in point.

This is a small book and a surprisingly quick read, but it’s not light, by any means. In fact, it is gut-wrenching, but that is scarcely the author’s fault: it’s the topic. Windwalker manages to tie together hyperinflation, climate change, victim nations, weapons proliferation, terrorism, and financial violence and still keep us reading.

Of course, there is some political bias. Windwalker doesn’t claim to be a journalist — not that many journalists these days have a problem with flouting their own political views. But hey, if you can’t read with your own filters intelligently in place, maybe you should just give up reading entirely. ::shrug:: Take up knitting or marksmanship. Personally, I prefer the latter, but I digress.

This is no tale for the shrinking violet. This is the end of the world as we know it. And, despite REM’s assertion to the contrary, I don’t feel so fine. Like most, I lost big time on my 401k. In fact, I no longer even have one. As Windwalker points out, after the crash of 1929, it was 1954 before the Dow rallied to its 1929 level. That’s twenty-five years, folks. Some of us don’t have twenty-five years to wait for the market to recover, let alone the number of years it will take for it to replace what we lost in 2008/2009. Some of us — myself included — will never recover what we invested, let alone what those investments earned. Barring a miracle, I’ll die at my desk, despite whatever age I attain. Nope, I’m not feeling sorry for myself, just stating a fact.

The depressing part is, I’ll have plenty of company.

Most of us now lack the money for stock investments. Bonds, which usually fair well in a bad market, are no longer a haven; they’re just another hole. Unemployment and underemployment are leading to a quickly shrinking tax base and God knows who’ll be funding these bailouts. Child abuse indeed. And we haven’t seen the end, yet. The housing crisis may be leveling (please God) but the giant, bank-fed Ponzi scheme that is the looming credit card crisis hasn’t yet hit us. That won’t be pretty.

True to his word on “Surviving the Domino Depression,” Windwalker does provide some hints on how to begin with the “man in the mirror” and make necessary changes in our lives. Those hints are pretty basic: downsizing our properties, taking a closer look at how we define our “needs” and generally re-writing our expectations. I’ll tell you one of the biggest hints: remember that life is for living, not for spending. Get off the track that has fed this roller coaster for decades and remember: you’re a human being. Not a human buying. Think about it.

Well done, Mr. Windwalker. This one needs to be on the best-seller list.

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