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Friday, September 25, 2015


Theodore Roosevelt's great great grandson illuminates a less than admirable episode of American history in his novel Allegiance (#526).  Cash Harrison, the privileged scion of a leading Philadelphia family, is finishing up at Columbia Law School when the Japanese bomb Pearl Harbor.  Along with the rest of his classmates, Cash is gung-ho to enlist, only to fail his physical.  Instead of going off to war, he is offered a position clerking for Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black, which he somewhat reluctantly accepts. 

Once Cash arrives at Court and begins to settle in, he senses that things are going on all around him below the surface, but he cannot make out exactly what is happening.  One of the other clerks takes Cash under his wing after Cash is followed and his apartment broken into.  Gene Gressman is convinced that any tampering has to do with boring commercial cases - a classic "Follow the money" assumption, while Cash thinks it might be War or Justice Department interference with Japanese detention and renunciation programs. When he and Gene seem to begin unraveling some of the threads influencing the outcome of certain cases, Gene dies under mysterious circumstances.   With his investigation going nowhere, Cash's clerkship year is up, and he transfers to the Justice Department.  Here again, some puppet master seems to be pulling the strings behind Japanese citizenship and detention cases.  The more Cash pokes into the tangled web, the more uncomfortable he finds himself with the Government's position.  Things reach a head when agents of the mysterious puppet master attempt to kill Cash at the Tule Lake Detention Camp, and he must finally take a moral stand for what he believes to be justice.

This is not exactly an action novel.  It's told from the perspective of law, government policy and the manipulation of both by greedy and unscrupulous men with no regard for the consequences to others except for how the outcome will benefit them.  Here are many of the familiar names of the time: Franklin Roosevelt, J. Edgar Hoover and Clyde Tolson, Justice Felix Frankfurter and Francis Biddle, portrayed in a way that sheds new light on their actions (or inactions!).  If you are not "One of Us", you are the enemy, and that enemy does not turn out to be who Cash thinks it is at all.  The pacing of this novel is ponderous, but it's still worth taking the time to read about one aspect of what was happening on the homefront during World War II. 

The Watchmaker of Filigree Street

And now for something completely different...  Thaniel Steepleton as part of his duties as a London Home Office telegraphist learns one day of an impending bombing by a militant Irish group.  That same day, he comes home to find that his room has been broken into, but nothing has been taken.  In fact, whoever it was has left Thaniel an elaborate pocket watch.  He has no idea who could have left him such a valuable present, but it isn't until the day of the threatened bombing arrives and the watch saves his life that Thaniel's search for its maker becomes urgent.  That's the premise of debut novelist Natasha Pulley's novel The Watchmaker of Filigree Street (#525).

If you've never ventured into the steampunk genre, this novel would be an excellent starting place.  Thaniel at first glance is a typical government bureaucrat in Victorian London, but his interactions with Keita Mori, the Japanese watchmaker who can remember the future, reveal that there is much more to Thaniel than meets the eye.  Grace Carrow, in the meantime, is facing her own problems pursuing physics at Oxford.  It isn't acceptable for a woman to even use the libraries there for her research.  Grace has her own way around that problem by borrowing men's clothes from her fellow Japanese student and fashion plate.  The Japanese are very much in vogue in Britain (think Gilbert & Sullivan!), and many forward-thinking Japanese are making the most of their Western connections, much to the dismay of the traditionalists among them.  It's a mixture ripe for revolution on two continents, and the politics play a definite role in unfolding events in London. 

Some of the clockwork creations described in this novel are so unique and interesting, I found myself wishing that some of them were real.  Katsu, a clockwork octopus of all things, sounds like an ideal pet; companionship without the fuss of feeding or walking it, and the endless pleasure of never knowing quite what it will do next, if you don't mind the odd missing sock or shiny bauble.  Natasha Pulley has successfully created her own world in this novel filled with unexpected twists and turns.  I can't wait to see where she is going to take us next.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Palace of Treason

Jason Matthews returns to the entangled lives of Nate Nash, CIA handler, and Dominika Egorova, his SVR agent Russian asset, in Palace of Treason (#524) after their stunning debut in the espionage novel Red Sparrow (See my post of 8/21/15.).  Mr. Matthews certainly ought to know the field, after his years serving in the CIA, so the descriptions and operations he describes feel all too real.

Palace of Treason deals with a particularly relevant topic.  Dominika has resurfaced in Moscow after a lengthy period not communicating with her CIA handlers after a messy prisoner swap on a lonely Estonian bridge.  She loves Russia, but not the men who run her, especially the Chief of the KR line of Russian Counterintelligence and coincidentally her boss, Zyuganov.  He's already tried several times to have her killed, but when she successfully turns an Iranian asset, she learns that he holds the secret to speeding up uranium enrichment for building a nuclear weapon. Egorova knows it's time to reactivate her channel to the CIA.  Her achievements have brought Dominika to Putin's attention, placing her in an ideal position to gather intel.  In the meantime, a highly-placed Ameican is turning sensitive and highly classified materials over to the Russians. Unless the Americans can identify their own mole before the Russians turn him over to an illegal handler, he or she will disappear.  It becomes a matter of life and death for Dominika when she discovers that the American spy is going to turn over the name of a mole working inside Russia.

It's riveting reading, but don't attempt this one without having read Red Sparrow first.  (Despite the recipes included at the end of each chapter, this book might not be suitable reading during meal time for those with sensitive stomachs!)  Best of all, Mr. Matthews has left the door open at the end of Palace of Treason for yet another appearance of  these spy craft practitioners.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Who Let the Dog Out?

David Rosenfelt"s latest Andy Carpenter mystery Who Let the Dog Out? (#523) goes beyond a simple whodunit?   Of course there's a dog: in this case Cheyenne is a shepherd mix who's dognapped from the Tara Foundation Shelter.  Since Andy and his partner Willie have attached GPS units to all their dogs' collars, it seems a simple matter to track Cheyenne's current location via the chip.  They had called in their friend Pete Stanton from the police to lend some legal backing in case there's a problem reclaiming the dog from her abductor.  It's a good thing Pete is there when Andy discovers Cheyenne sitting beside a gruesomely murdered body.

The questions come thick and fast, and before Andy knows it, he finds himself with a new client - Tom Infante.  The police have found a knife buried in his backyard, but Infante insists he didn't murder the victim.  If he didn't, who did?  And why had Gerald Downey kidnapped Cheyenne just before his brutal murder?  When Andy learns who Cheyenne's real owner is, the case suddenly gets a lot more interesting.

Rosenfelt's plotting, and the humorous interplay among his established characters are a pleasure to read. Not to mention the dogs!   I devoured this one in one sitting.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

The Other Daughter

Oh, if only every book I pick up was such a pleasure to read!  Lauren Willig's stand alone novel The Other Daughter (#522) is the perfect blend of romance, deception and lurid secrets in 1920s London society.

Fancy finding out that your father, whom you had been told died on a botany expedition when you were only four, is suddenly revealed to be very much alive, and an earl, to boot!  Rachel Woodley has suffered a series of losses in a matter of days: her mother, her post as governess to a wealthy French family, and her home.  Could it possibly be that she might regain her beloved Papa?  Or has Lady Olivia Standish, his other daughter pictured with the Earl in a current issue of The Tatler, replaced Rachel and her mother in his affections?  Rachel is determined to find out on her own terms with the help of fashionable gossip columnist Simon Montfort.  It's a business arrangement: her exclusive story for his help in mingling with London's Bright Young Things.  So why don't things work out that way?

Loved it from beginning to end.  Ms. Willig saves an especially good twist for the end of this story.  If all romances were written at this level, I would be reading many more of them.  It's so rare to find a good story in what passes for romance these days.  And best of all, this is a book you can comfortably share with your mother and grandmother, too!  Can't wait for her next venture.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

The Nightingale

Back to fictional France again with Kristin Hannah's World War II novel, The Nightingale (#521).  This woman sure can tell a story.  No wonder my sister-in-law couldn't put this book down while she was visiting this spring!

It's the tale of two sisters, Isabelle and Viane, whose lives are changed forever by the war.  Isabelle, the impulsive one, becomes a member of the Resistance.  Viane's husband is called up to join the French Army and she remains at home in their small country town with her daughter, Sophie.  On the surface, it would appear that Isabelle's choice would be more noble and fraught with danger, but reading about what Viane must endure on a daily basis makes it obvious that life in occupied France was no picnic for anyone - that the possibility of betrayal and death might have been even higher where everyone knows you and your business.

The story is told mostly in the 1930s and 40s, but there are sections from 1995 which make it obvious that someone in the tale has survived and lived in America for many years with her secrets from the war.  It is not apparent until the very end of the story just who this character is, which adds another element to this multi-layered tale.

This book might not have the elegant language and poignant images evoked in Anthony Doerr's wonderful All The Light We Cannot See (See my post of 4/6/15.), but it has such a powerful narrative that the reader is totally immersed in the action.  It's not a pretty tale, but then, neither is war.  This is such a compelling read it well deserves its longtime place on the Best Sellers List.  Don't miss it.