Sunday, 24 September 2017

Dodge City

Finished September 21
Dodge City: Wyatt Earp, Bat Masterson, and the Wickedest Town in the American West by Tom Clavin, read by John Bedford Lloyd

This history looks at more than just Dodge City, Kansas. It looks at the general wild west, including Kansas, Arizona, Texas, and Colorado, among others. It mostly covers the period following the U.S. Civil War through the 1890s, but occasionally takes us further back or forward in time.
It tells us of Wyatt Earp, but also of all his brothers and their lives, and similarly with Bat Masterson, telling us of his brothers escapades as well. We see many other figures of the west including Doc Holliday and his on again, off again woman Big Nose Kate. We see Buffalo Bill, the McLaury brothers, the Clanton Brothers, Mysterious Dave, Belle Starr, Billy the Kid, and many more.
I didn't realize the way many of these people moved back and forth from one side of the law to the other, some breaking the law openly even while enforcing it.
Many of the men who spent time as lawmen also operated brothels, married prostitutes, and ignored the law when it was inconvenient to them. Some spent time for minor crimes, and got no jail time for bigger actions.
Sometimes, killing a man in self defense got them in trouble and other times it got them accolades. This was a time when things were wild indeed, where the men who didn't fit in found a way to live without boundaries. Men would shoot guns off just for fun, and as "western civilization" expanded to the west, wildlife grew scarcer and the relationship with the natives grew worse.
I learned a lot I didn't know.

To The Back of Beyond

Finished September 18
To the Back of Beyond by Peter Stamm, translated by Michael Hofmann

This short novel takes place in Switzerland. Thomas and Astrid have just returned from a vacation in Spain. Their two young children have been put to bed and they are enjoying a glass of wine out in their garden that evening. When one of the children demands attention it is Astrid who goes in to deal with it, and she goes on to finish the unpacking, and exhausted heads to bed.
Thomas sits for a while, watching the lights in the house change as Astrid moves through her routine. Then, instead of finishing his wine, gathering the glasses and going inside, he quietly opens the gate to the yard, and begins to walk. There is no premeditation to this action, no planning, just the impulse that pushes him forward.
The next morning, Astrid puzzles over his absence, at first thinking that he might have gone to work early. But when she finds that isn't the case, she covers for him, telling his work he is ill.  As Thomas walks on, and Astrid struggles to figure out where he is and what he is doing, the viewpoint alternates between the two characters, and the reader grows less sure of what is real and what isn't.
Astrid seems like a woman who has moved from a life of purpose to one where things happen to her. Thomas's doubt about his life and its purpose reflects a common feeling that most of us have had at one point or another.
This is a novel that invites reflection.

Death Comes to Pemberley

Finished September 17
Death Comes to Pemberley by P.D. James

This historical novel commences a few years after the events in Pride and Prejudice. Elizabeth and Darcy have a couple of young sons, Jane and Bingley live nearby and have also started a family. The Darcy's traditionally hold a ball every year, called Lady Anne's ball after Darcy's mother who started the tradition. The ball is only a couple of days away, and Jane and Bingley have already come to stay, as has their regular houseguest a young lawyer, and landowner who seems to have eyes for Georgiana, Darcy's younger sister. Darcy's cousin, Colonel Fitzwilliam, who was co-guardian of Georgiana with Darcy before she came of age, is also interested in the young woman.
Late in the evening, after some of the party has already retired, the commotion of a carriage nearly out of control approaching the house attracts the attention of everyone still up. When it is discovered that the carriage contains Elizabeth and Jane's younger sister Lydia, and Lydia's husband Wickham and his friend, an officer with the military, left the carriage in the woods, after which gunshots were heard, things get more animated. Most of the gentlemen go back to the woods with the carriage and its reluctant driver to look for the missing men, only to discover the body of one of them. The victim has massive head trauma, and everyone returns to the Darcy's home.
Even though he is a local magistrate, Darcy recognizes that he cannot have charge of this case and he goes to rouse one of his peers for the job.
As the investigation continues, we see into the legal world of the time, as well as the social world. The duties of the ladies to provide comfort, tidiness, and write the necessary letters, while the gentlemen do the work of guarding and finding legal representation.
We see Elizabeth and Darcy as a team, with genuine affection and respect for each other. They have grown from their previous iterations.
An entertaining read.

Tuesday, 5 September 2017

Campbell's Kingdom

Finished September 3
Campbell's Kingdom by Hammond Innes

This is another novel I picked up used. It was written in 1952 and set roughly at the time.
Bruce Wetheral is working for an insurance company in England following WWII. He has just received some unsettling news about his health that has him questioning his future, when he gets a visit from his lawyer explaining that he is the heir to his grandfather, who passed away a few months earlier. Bruce only met his grandfather once, when he accompanied his mother as his grandfather was released from jail and took him to a ship bound for Canada. His childhood was one of deprivation, and when his mother passed away while he was still at school, he had no thought of other family.
Bruce doesn't have a lot of money or a lot of time, and he knows that his grandfather was written off as a dreamer when it came to discovering oil in the Rocky Mountains, but when he thinks on it, he decides he wants to see this land he now owns for himself, before he sells it to the eager buyer.
The easiest, fastest, and cheapest way to get where he wants to go is to emigrate to Canada, and so that is what Bruce does, committing himself fully to his new venture.
Once in Calgary, he again meets with a lawyer, but when aware of a ride towards his destination he snaps it up, and sets out. The logistics of getting to the small town of Come Lucky up in the Rockies is a complex one, and the locals aren't entirely friendly. They blame his grandfather's enthusiasm for oil for their own lost investments. Now, with a dam project offering jobs, they don't take kindly to his refusal to sell the land that will be flooded when the dam gets operating.
Bruce is determined to drill up there in his land, and when he finds questionable conduct among those set to thwart him, his determination grows.
Bruce is an interesting character, seemingly out of his element, but we are constantly reminded of his "war record". He is not the only one with war experience, but the personal experience of being found guilty of something draws him to his grandfather, and moves him to try to fulfill his grandfather's dream.
I enjoyed this book for the interesting plot, the suspense, and the character of Bruce.

Monday, 4 September 2017

The Breakdown

Finished September 1
The Breakdown by B.A.Paris

I'd read her first book Behind Closed Doors, and found it a real page-turner, so I was interested to read this one. It was just as good. Great psychological thriller, with a fascinating plot. I guessed at some things, but not at all at others.
Cass is a school teacher, married nearly a year, and starting to think about children with her husband Matthew. Cass's dad died relatively young in an accident, and her mother died just a couple years ago from early onset Alzheimer's. Cass had left her teaching job to look after her for the last couple years of her life. Imagine Cass's surprise to find out that her parents, despite living a penny pinching life, had actually had quite a large nest egg. Cass is a nice woman who likes to give people thoughtful gifts, and now she can do things like that. She is excited to think about her best friend Rachel's upcoming 40th birthday this fall and the look on her face when she finds that Cass has bought her the French cottage that she fell in love with. No one knows about that surprise, not even Matthew, but that's partly because he doesn't seem to really like Rachel all that much.
Cass has made friends at the school she now teaches at and is at the leaving party to celebrate the end of the school year as the novel begins. It's a stormy night and she decides to not go on to the after party at her friend's house, but to go home instead. When she phones her husband to let him know, he tells her that he's got a migraine and is going to sleep in the spare room, but to be careful on the way home, and he emphasizes that she shouldn't take the short cut through the woods, in case of downed branches or other issues. Cass intends to follow his advice, but the traffic on the motorway is so bad that she makes a sudden decision to take the shortcut after all. The road is clear, but she is nervous, and she is surprised to see a car stopped in a layby. She only gets a glance of the woman driver through the rain and car windows, but she stops ahead of it to see if the woman needs help. Nothing happens, so she continues intending to call the police about the woman when she gets home, but a text from Rachel distracts her, and she forgets.
When the woman in the car is found murdered the next morning, Cass is freaked out. She doesn't want to admit she took that road after all, and she didn't see anything anyway, but she's still scared because of how close to home it happened. When she begins forgetting things, small things, but also important things, she gets scared that she's getting the same disease as her mother.
As we follow Cass's descent into fear and uncertainty, we see the people around her that don't know the whole story not understand her issues. She moves into a world of oblivion to get away from her fears, but in a way that is worse for her.
This is a story of manipulation, of unreliable characters, and of betrayal. A fantastic read.
And an extra element is an interview with the author at the end of the last disc.

On the Beach

Finished August 29
On the Beach by Nevil Shute

I picked this up in the general store waiting for the ferry to Thetis Island and found it a fascinating read. First published in 1957, the novel is set in 1963, a year after the end of a short but terrible war. Over the first few pages, the reader learns of the extent of the war. It would appear that the war started with Albania, turned into an Israeli-Arab war, then a Russo-NATO war, then a Russo-Chinese war, and involved many nuclear weapons including cobalt bombs. Most of the northern hemisphere seems to be affected as no one responds to contacts the surviving American ships try to make. The ships' most senior officer gave the order to sail into Australian waters and place themselves under Australian command.
The main characters are mostly Australian, beginning with Peter Holmes, a Lieutenant Commander with the Royal Australian Navy and his wife of two years Mary. They have an infant daughter, Jennifer.
An American atomic-powered submarine, the U.S.S. Scorpion, survived the war and is now in Melbourne harbour, and in early 1963 Peter is asked to join it as a liaison officer. The captain of the Scorpion is Commander Dwight Towers, also a fairly young man, with a wife and two children back home in the US.
The reader gradually learns of the situation, the fuel shortage, the radioactive dust moving in the atmosphere, the expectations for the future. We see into the lives of Peter and his family, Dwight, and the young Australian woman Moira Davidson that the Holmes invite to help entertain the American when he visits the family on shore leave. We also see the young scientist John Osborne, a radiation specialist assigned to the submarine, and learn of his dreams.
Everyone had a life they were in the middle of living and we see how they adjusted to their new reality, how they changed as time went on, and the truth began to sink in.
In this time of war rhetoric and unstable leaders, it didn't seem like that outlandish a plot.

Second Life

Finished August 24
Second Life by S.J. Watson

This novel is one of psychological suspense. I loved his first novel Before I Go to Sleep, but this one didn't grab me in the same way.
Julia Plummer, that central character here, and the narrator, is a photographer. She had a difficult childhood, with her mother dying young, and her father an alcoholic, making her the chief caretaker of her younger sister. She struggled with addiction, and then left home for love of a boyfriend, but ended up back home in England again, rebuilding her life.
An exhibit including one of her photographs has just gone up, and as she warily goes to see it, she is taken back mentally to the life she was living when she took it. It is a photo of the young man she was in love with at the time, near the end of their relationship.
She returns home from the gallery to hear news that her younger sister Kate, who has been living in Paris, and supposedly putting her own life back together, is a murder victim. Many things are going on inside Julia with this news: guilt at not being there for her sister when she was needed; relief at not having to fight her sister to keep custody of her sister's son Connor, now 14, whom Julia and her husband have raised; anger and sorrow at the loss of her sister; and a deep sense of vengeance to find out who is behind her sister's death.
As Julia reaches out to her sister's roommate Anna for more information, she also tries to keep what she is doing from her husband Hugh who is trying to shelter her. Their relationship is a complicated one, and only gets more so. Julia follows her sister into the online world of cyberdating, and finds herself caught up in the new persona she has taken on.
This is a tale of escape, of the past coming back to haunt us, and of secrets kept.