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Wednesday, July 18, 2018

The Revolution Business

The Revolution Business (#758) is the fifth book in Charles Stross's The Merchant Princes scifi series.  Do not attempt to read this one unless you've just recently completed the previous books in this series, or you won't have any idea what's going on, as the author does not provide any back story for the reader.  Since this book ends on a cliffhanger, the same will be true for the next book(s) in this series.  An intriguing read, though, and worth the time.

Basically, this is a soap opera with Miriam Beckstein at the center.  She's introduced as an ordinary business journalist living a mundane life in Boston.  Everything changes when her foster mother, Iris, gives her a locket with a curious interwoven knot design.  When Miriam looks at it, she suddenly finds herself in the woods, but she hears horses nearby.  As she peers out through the foliage, she sees an impossible sight: medieval knights on horseback armed with assault rifles and Glock hand guns.  Who are they, and how did she get here?

The answer is that there are alternate universes located in the same geographical area, but with differing levels of culture and technology.  Only certain inhabitants of these places possess the ability to pass between worlds.  All have a few things in common, however: the desire to dominate all other worlds through power, money and whatever means necessary.  Miriam, as a long-lost member of the Clan with the ability to world-walk, begins to adjust to her situation as a pawn, but in The Revolution Business, she finds herself a reluctant queen.

When the medieval Gruinmkt and the US Government decide to go to war with nuclear weapons, the outcome won't be pretty...

The Bishop's Pawn

Cotton Malone returns in Steve Berry's latest thriller The Bishop's Pawn (#757).  This time he's exploring conspiracies surrounding the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.  That in itself is an interesting topic, but this novel marks a departure for Mr. Berry.  This is his first full-length narrative written in  the first person, and if you're a follower of this series, we meet Cotton Malone at the very beginning of his career with the Magellan Billet when Stephanie Nelle, his boss, first seconds his services as a young JAG lawyer at the Jacksonville, Florida naval station.

Cotton is assigned to retrieve a package from a private boat anchored near Fort Jefferson in the Dry Tortugas.  He's told by Ms. Nelle that it contains an extremely rare, and illegal to own gold coin - a Double Eagle.  He soon realizes that there is much more at stake here, and that it concerns Martin Luther King, Jr.  Trusting the wrong person here could get him killed.

Almost all of the action is set in Florida, including my home town.  From the description in the book, it's not clear to me that Steve Berry actually set foot here, since his descriptions didn't jibe with the reality.  Oh, well.  Cotton Malone does meet with a character in a cemetery in Port Mayaca, Florida, near Lake Okeechobee, where a mass grave of 1,600 black victims of the 1928 Hurricane are buried.  In his Notes at the end of the novel, Mr. Berry does say that the cemetery is real,, so my husband and I went exploring.  The cemetery is there, all right, with a marker on the side of the highway noting that the bodies are buried there, but we couldn't find the obelisk in the graveyard he mentions in the book marking the actual burial spot.  Sadly, their grave is unmarked.


If you haven't read any of Steve Berry's previous best sellers, The Bishop's Pawn might not be a bad book to start with.

Monday, July 9, 2018

The Maze At Windermere

I am really on the fence about The Maze At Windermere (#756) by Gregory Blake Smith.  I almost gave up reading halfway through, but I pressed on, only to find that only two of the five interlocking stories all set in Newport, Rhode Island throughout the centuries, were resolved.

Windermere here is a Gilded Age cottage, and it does, in fact, have a maze planted by the original owners, based on the one in Hampton Court, England.  Since three of the stories here - the first about a Quaker girl in the time of the Salem Witchcraft trials, the second about a mentally disturbed British officer (not a gentleman, despite his claim to be!), and the third about the future novelist Henry James during the Civil War - take place before the maze was even planted, the reader is given to understand that the Maze of the title is metaphorical.  The remaining two tales concern the hunt for an heiress during the time of the Robber Barons by a debonair man-about-town, and a fading tennis star in the not-distant-past who falls into a couple of casual summer affairs with consequences.

Each of these plots are interwoven, going backwards in time in the same sequence until the very last section of the novel, when snippets are thrown at the reader in seemingly random order.  The action is revealed bit by teasing bit, but there are references to the other on-going stories sprinkled throughout the narrative - repetitive names, locations and themes, that appear to connect them, but, in fact, do not.  They seem just to be the blind turnings of the eponymous Maze.  The theme that does tie all the stories together is sexuality, although that is not at first apparent.  I suppose it's cleverly done, but I was disappointed that there didn't seem to be any there there at the end.  Can't say I recommend this one.

On the other hand, I would be remiss if I did not mention the intriguing cover art on this volume.  I found myself studying it at some length.  It wasn't until I read the credits for the cover design that I even realized that a seascape by one of my favorite artists, Martin Head, was cleverly worked into the composite images.  Definitely worth taking a look at, even if you don't peruse the contents.  Kudos to the designer!

Thursday, July 5, 2018

The Throne of Caesar

Steven Saylor's Roma Sub Rosa series has finally taken Gordianus the Finder to his well-deserved retirement, and a totally unexpected honor from Julius Caesar.  Not to give anything away, but this honor will be bestowed by The Dictator during the Senate Meeting on the Ides of March.  It's no mystery that things will not end well.

The last three books in this series have been about Gordianus at the opposite end of his life, as a youth touring the Seven Wonders of World under the watchful eye of his distinguished tutor Antipater of Sidon.  They are full of action and youthful ambition.  The Throne of Caesar (#755) provides a stark contrast in mood and subject matter.  Saylor himself says in his Notes that it took him a long time to bring himself to write about Julius Caesar's assassination.  The conundrum for him was how to place Gordianus so that he is once again a witness to history.  His solution is ingenious, and allows him to inject a mystery into the plot concerning a lesser character.

The reader does not have to have read the previous books in this excellent series about Ancient Rome to understand and enjoy the story here.  It can serve as an introduction.  Steven Saylor does reference Barry Stauss' excellent work The Death of Caesar which came out in 2015.  I made the mistake of lending this book to a professor friend of mine, and have yet to see it returned.  Oh, well, at least I don't think it met the same fate as Cinna's work does in The Throne of Caesar!

Monday, July 2, 2018

The Outcasts of Time

I seem to be reading a lot of time travel novels recently, but Ian Mortimer's The Outcasts of Time (#754) is different.  Most books in this genre feature travelers from the present day going back in history to witness important events, meet famous persons, or thwart catastrophes in the making, all very enjoyable in their own way.

However, The Outcasts of Time features two brothers, John and William, caught up in the midst of the bubonic plague sweeping across England in 1348.  When John's actions to help another lead to the brothers being exposed to the plague themselves, still miles away from home they are presented with a choice: go home and be with their loved ones for their remaining few days on earth, or spend each day of their allotted time ninety-nine days in the future from the time they fall asleep.  John chooses to face the unknown.

John's chief concern is for the welfare of his soul, as he seeks to atone for the harm done to others when his intention was solely to help them.  This component of the story is as riveting as the changes he finds in each generation, and the difficulties the brothers face as they try to adapt.  In many ways, I felt as though The Outcasts of Time could have been a text for my EfM studies, as the concepts of love, redemption and atonement discussed here are profound.  This book is special, and highly recommended if you are looking for a thoughtful read with substance.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

The Merchants' War

The Merchants' War (#753) is the fourth book in Charles Stross' s fantasy series The Merchant Princes.  The saga centers on Miriam Beckstein, a business journalist from Cambridge, Massachusetts, whose everyday existence is upended when she discovers her ability to walk between alternative universes in the same geographical location.   The new world she finds is peopled by medieval knights on horseback armed with machine guns, and ruled by powerful feudal lords.  Oh, and Miriam is a long-lost heiress of one of the richest Clans.  They've amassed their wealth by sending other "world-walkers" to Miriam's Boston to smuggle drugs, arms and modern conveniences for their own use back to the medieval Gruinmakt.  You have to know all this before you can read The Merchants' War, which makes this a perfect series for binge reading, because Charles Stross ends each book on a cliffhanger, and jumps immediately back into the action with the next installment with no back story to aid the clueless.

In this book Miriam has survived plots against her life, and has made a few discoveries of her own; namely that there is yet another alternative universe out there with its own plots and political maneuverings.  All Miriam wants at this point is to find a place where she can be safe, but she now has enemies in all three universes.  On the plus side, she's made some friends and allies as well.  Which is just as well, since the DEA in Miriam's Boston is about to launch a full out offensive against the Gruinmakt  as retaliation for planting nuclear warheads there.  Things are not going well...  To Be Continued.

I am really enjoying this series my husband introduced to me, but I do have a nitpick; although Stross gets the geographical details of the Boston area mostly right, Miriam Beckstein was raised in Cambridge, and works there professionally.  Her ex-boyfriend, Mike Fleming, who pops up in the series because of his government job, is also from the area.  So my question is, why do they Brit Speak?    They don't speak American English, not even tinged by a Boston accent.  They "go on holiday', put their cars in the "car park", ride the "lift" in their office buildings while waiting for a signal on their "mobiles".  And darn, they left that "anorak" in the "boot" of their car!  I have to admit, anachronisms bother me when I read historical fiction, or watch period dramas, so the wrongness of Miriam's conversations is very jarring.  It makes me wonder what else is wrong with this picture?  It's a good thing that the Miriam's alternative worlds don't need verification!

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Margaret Truman's Allied in Danger

My husband picked up a copy of Donald Bain's continuation of Margaret Truman's Capitol Crimes Series, Allied in Danger (#752).  Donald Bain himself is now deceased, but oh, how I miss Margaret Truman's writing!  Mr. Bain apparently worked closely with her during her writing career, but even so, I don't think his work comes anywhere close to hers.

Mackenzie Smith and his wife Annabelle, attorneys both, appear peripherally here, but the action in this story is carried mainly by Mac's friend Robert Brixton, a private investigator with whom he shares office space.  Mac has a client whose father was caught up in a Nigerian financial scam, and after squandering all his savings, killed himself.  His son wonders if there is any way to recoup his father's losses.  At the same time, Robert Brixton's friend working security at the British Embassy encounters a Nigerian Security Guard wearing a unique bracelet belonging to his murdered son.  Donald Portland had been told two years ago that his son was killed by rebels while on assignment in the Nigerian Delta.  If so, how did the bracelet he wore at all times wind up in a London pub?  Donald is determined to find out, and he enlists Robert's help.

I found that the book dragged in the beginning and middle, but ends rather abruptly, without tying up all the loose ends.  It was a most unsatisfactory conclusion after a lot of work to get there.  I could understand Donald Portland's motivation, but Robert Brixton's involvement to the point where he accompanies Donald on a dangerous trip to Nigeria strained credulity.  Actually, I found myself heartily disliking Robert Brixton  I failed to see why anyone, but especially his paramour (yes, he was proud of using that term to describe his live-in lover.) or the supposedly intelligent and discriminating Smiths would ever put up with him.  I'm glad I never have to again.  Not recommended.