Friday Book Whimsy: A Line to Kill

I know I am repetitive when I talk about the books written by author Anthony Horowitz, but I can’t help it. His books are simply clever. There’s no other word for it. Lots of authors are good writers and tell a good story. It’s true that Horowitz does the same. But his clever plots cannot be replicated.

A Line to Kill is the third in the series featuring former police detective inspector Daniel Hawthorne, who has the insight and cleverness of Sherlock Holmes. And like Holmes, Hawthorne has a sidekick who not only records the events around their investigation (ala Dr. Watson) but helps him solve the crime. That person is Anthony Horowitz, who writes about himself. And like Dr. Watson, Horowitz mostly gets it wrong when it comes to helping Hawthorne solve the crime.

In A Line to Kill, Hawthorne and Horowitz are invited to attend a book festival on an isolated island off of England. They, along with several other authors — including a children’s book writer, a poet, and and a chef-turned-cookbook-writer — are commissioned to present their stories and answer questions. To complicate matters, the local people of the town are caught up in an argument over a proposed power line that will disrupt the peacefulness of the island but create jobs.

Before long, the murder of one of the locals immersed in this battle is found murdered. Furthermore, it has to be someone on the island who killed the man because there hasn’t been a ferry coming or going since they arrived.

This story line, of course, is Horowitz’s take on the locked door murder mystery. It becomes increasingly clear that one of the authors had to be the murderer, but what are the motive? To complicate matters, the man who was responsible for Hawthorne leaving his job on the police department makes an appearance.

Horowitz’s writing captures his reader with its twists and turns and surprises. The author’s self-deprecating manner of presenting himself makes readers smile and like the man even more.

I hope this series never ends.

Put That In Your Pipe and Smoke It

The other day, I was driving home from somewhere. I was stopped at a red light. There was a car that turned left on the green light, moving right past me. I couldn’t help but notice that the car was driven by a young 30-ish man who was smoking a pipe. Yep, you read that correctly. A pipe. If he had been wearing a plaid deerstalker hat, I would have thought it was Sherlock Holmes driving a tan Ford Taurus.

I haven’t seen a man smoking a pipe in 50 years. There was a time in the 70s when men smoked pipes. (Men, of course, smoked pipes long before the 1970s. But I’m pretty sure they went out of favor until the practice was renewed for some inexplicable — at least to me — reason in the 70s.) My dad, who smoked cigarettes for many years before he gave up the habit around 1970, smoked a pipe for a short time. I’m pretty sure it was half-heartedly. Because, PIPE. My brother-in-law Terry also smoked a pipe. In fact, if I remember correctly, he had a collection of pipes, some of which he probably smoked. As far as I know, he didn’t own a deerstalker cap or solve mysteries.

Now, men smoke cigars. Cigars are manly and fashionable and don’t make a huge bulge in your pocket if you carry it around as would a pipe. I know this because Bill often carries around a cigar. You never know…..

Speaking of Bill, when I observed the man smoking the pipe, I asked him if he ever smoked a pipe. The answer, of course, was yes. It was the 1970s and it looked good with the mustache and sideburns he sported, along with every other American man in the 1970s. I’ve never seen a photo of Bill with a pipe, but I have seen a photo of Bill with a mustache. And that’s all I’ll say about that.

“Why did you stop smoking the pipe?” I asked him.

“It was disgusting,” said the fervent cigar smoker.

There are still a few people in this world who smoke pipes, I read in an article in the Baltimore Sun. Of course, the article was dated August 1998, so all of those people might have already quit or died. Except for the man driving the Ford Taurus, and leprechauns. According to this long-ago article, both Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger secretly smoked pipes. I’m serious. The article said that they both hid the fact that they enjoyed a good puff of pipe tobacco because it’s considered unmanly, unlike cigars, which are so macho that even dictators smoke them. I’m guessing that neither Sly nor Arnie still smoke a pipe. It’s difficult enough to look macho when you’re limping from gout due to old age.

I will tell you that the last time I went to the grocery store, I cast a glance at the tobacco shelf, which is, of course, locked up like it contains original heirloom tomato and green bean seeds. There, sitting lonely and unloved, were several pouches of pipe tobacco, all with a touch of dust on them. Clearly not the store in which the Ford-driving pipe smoker shops.

Friday Book Whimsy: The Sentence is Death

Author Anthony Horowitz is one of my favorite writers. He is the creator of and writer for two of my favorite Brit mystery programs: Foyle’s War and Midsommer Murder. He has also joined the legion of folks who have written Sherlock Holmes mysteries, but done a much better job of most. With his  2018 novel The Word is Murder, he came up with one of the most clever story ideas I’ve ever come across as a reader. He continues this clever idea in The Sentence is Murder.

What is the idea? With a wink at Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, Horowitz writes himself –not a takeoff on himself, but actually his very own person — as a character in the book. In fact, he is Dr. Watson to London private investigator Daniel Hawthorne’s Sherlock Holmes.

London attorney Richard Pryce is found dead in his home, having been hit over the head with a bottle of expensive wine. It seems clear from the get-go that one of his clients — a famous, if odd writer is the murderer. After all, she threatened to kill him with a bottle of wine in front of a restaurant full of people. Still, just like Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, nothing is as it seems.

though Horowitz (the character) is getting much better at figuring out the nuances of the mystery, he still is pretty klutzy when compared to the much-more astute Hawthorne.

The mystery is good, but the real fun is reading about Horowitz’s insecurities and problems around writing and producing real-life shows like Foyle’s War as part of the story line. And it was fun to get to learn a bit more about the heretofore secret life of the brilliant detective Hawthorne.

I loved this book, and can’t wait for the next.

Here is a link to the book.

Friday Book Whimsy: The Word is Murder

Author Anthony Horowitz has created and written some of my favorite mystery television programs — Foyle’s War being my most favorite of all. As a writer of fiction, he is known primarily for his young adult books, with Alex Rider being perhaps the most well-known. But I fell in love with him originally for a book I reviewed a while back called Magpie Murders, a cleverly-written mystery story within a mystery story. Intrigued by that book, I quickly read a couple of Sherlock Holmes stories that he had written. Many have attempted to duplicate Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, but most haven’t succeeded. Horowitz did.

I was very excited, therefore, to see that he had a new novel being released. The premise of The Word is Murder was again so, so clever. And the result, I’m happy to say, met my expectations.

In The Word is Murder, Horowitz literally writes himself into the book as one of the characters. A disgraced police detective, let go from the London police force, is hired as a consultant for the case of a mysterious murder of the mother of a famous actor. In Sherlock Holmes/Dr. Watson style, the detective — known only as Hawthorne — hires Horowitz to work with him on a case, and chronicle it by writing a diary.

The actor’s mother visits a funeral home one day, making arrangements for her own funeral. This isn’t particularly unusual. However, what IS unusual is that she is murdered that very afternoon. Hawthorne and Horowitz work together to solve the mystery.

The character of Hawthorne is modeled directly after Sherlock Holmes. He is brilliant and cocky and brash. Horowitz writes himself as a likable Watson.

The ending was a surprise, and quite gratifying.

I will warn you that, while I absolutely LOVED this book — finding it so incredibly clever — I can see where a reader might be turned off by the way Horowitz portrays himself. There is lots of name-dropping, lunches with Stephen Spielberg, and so forth. It didn’t deter me. I recommend this book with great gusto!

Here is a link to the book.

Thursday Thoughts

Can You Hear Me Now?
Sometimes I embrace technology; sometimes I want to throw my cell phone/iPad/laptop computer right out the window. Nevertheless, overall, I know technology has improved our lives. Still, my heart sinks when my cell phone rings, and, upon answering it, I get that dreaded quiet lull indicating a computer-generated voice will pipe up. The other day when my telephone rang, my phone showed it was a call from my primary care doctor’s office. That’s never good. But that dreaded lull came on just before a cheerful computer-generated voice said, “Hello. We are trying to reach Kristine McLain. Have we reached the right number?” “Yes,” I said firmly and clearly. “Is this Kristine McLain?” said the nonhuman voice. “Yes,” I yelled again. After several more attempts, I finally convinced the computer I was who they wanted. “Our records indicate you have not had your annual mammogram,” said the voice. “Is this true?” “No,” I yelled into the phone. “If this is not true,” said the voice, “please indicate verbally when you last had your mammogram by telling us the month and year.” So I said, “December 2016.” “You said December 2015. Is this correct?” “No,” I yelled into the phone. “If this is not correct, please tell us the month and year of your last mammogram,” said the voice. “December 2016,” I repeated, loudly enough that Bill looked in from outside where he was doing yard work to see with whom I was arguing. “You said December 2015. Is this correct?” And so on, until after three identical attempts, at which time the voice said, “It appears we are having trouble communicating. We will call you at a later time,” and disconnected. I considered calling my doctor back to talk to a human, but know full well that the place at which I had my recent mammogram had sent her my results. Unfortunately, no one told the computer. This odd encounter once again reminded me that I will not drive or ride in a driverless car until technology has succeeded in inventing a workable automated phone system.

All Hat and No Cows
Yesterday afternoon, Bill and I went to Jimmy John’s for lunch (his favorite). We decided we weren’t in the mood to go back to our house, so we decided to visit a place we’ve driven by many, many times, and each time we have said we should stop just for the fun of it, but never have. You will be surprised when I tell you it was a business called Tractor Supply Co. “I went to one of these kinds of stores once a long time ago, and got a bucket,” Bill said. And apparently he was in the market for a bucket once again. It was about what you would expect. Lots of tools, lots of animal feed, the makings for chicken coops, a small display of ranch clothes, and a large selection of buckets. Bill happily chose one, after taking a bit of time to decide between the black bucket and the red bucket. Hey, I’m not going to complain. I do the same thing at a kitchen supply store. For the record, he picked black. And he told me that his rancher friends would say that we were all hat and no cows. I’m not sure that’s a bad thing, though admittedly he made me laugh.

Speaking Sharply
Last year very shortly after we arrived, Maggie’s husband Mark came to our house packing his knife sharpener. He commenced that day to sharpen all of our knives, much to my delight. So I began nagging him almost upon our arrival this year to once again sharpen our knives. His heart was willing from the get-go, but circumstances never allowed it to happen. Happily, day before yesterday, he and Austin appeared at our door with the knife sharpener. Maybe 10 minutes and a lot of whirring noises later, my knives were sharp and ready to go. He’s very kind to do this for his mother-in-law and his wife’s old auntie. Of course, it might have helped some that I threatened to stab him in the heart with my dull knife if he didn’t help me out soon.

Speaking of Love
While looking for something else altogether, I stumbled upon this old photo of the McLains when they were considerably younger. My heart just melted when I looked at it, and it melts every time I look at it again. I think I mostly love how Alastair has his head on Addie’s shoulder. Today? Wouldn’t happen….


Elementary, Dear Watson
I got hooked a few years ago on the PBS mystery series Sherlock (not to be confused with CBS’s Elementary). I’m pretty sure that a lot of the reason I was so taken was because I’m quite frankly very smitten with Benedict Cumberbatch’s portrayal of the famous detective. Smitten. Who uses that word anymore? Anyway, I don’t particularly think the actor is terribly good looking in any other role in which I’ve seen him; however, as the sherlock-1600x720great detective, he is simply dreamy. Dreamy. Who uses that word anymore? With the exception of one show that aired last January, PBS’s Sherlock has taken quite a break. So while I’m recording the program, I haven’t watched any of the new episodes yet. Instead, I am watching the old ones on Netflix to get caught up and back into the swing of things. And I had forgotten just how BIZARRE the show is. Bill watches bits and pieces and looks at me like what the….?  I might be getting too old for the program, but then there’s Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock. Dreamy.


Friday Book Whimsy: The Last Moriarty

searchThere are dozens of authors who have taken on the task of recreating Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s great detective Sherlock Holmes. In fact, I was shocked when I went on Amazon to try and figure out how many Sherlock Holmes-related books there are in existence. The most interesting to me is a fairly recent addition to the offerings – Mycroft Holmes — actually a mystery involving Sherlock’s brother Mycroft written by – wait for it – basketball star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Who knew?

For reasons that I have never quite figured out, as much of a mystery fan as I am, I have never gravitated towards Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes books, which, of course, have almost a cult following. I mean to give them another try, as my interest in the great detective has been piqued again by both the PBS show Sherlock and the CBS show Elementary.

For this reason, I decided to give The Last Moriarty, by Charles Veley, a try when it showed up as an offering in my daily Goodreads Deals email a while back. I’m really ever so glad I did.

Veley didn’t contemporize the detective as does the CBS program Elementary. But he does throw in a few surprises, which for my part, I will not give away.

The two men who reside at one of the most famous addresses in London – 221B Baker Street – have been put to work on several cases. The most important involves the safety of some of the most important businessmen from the United States, including John D. Rockefeller, who have come to London for a meeting involving the national security of both countries. It seems, however, that though Holmes’ prime nemesis, Moriarty, is, in fact dead, one of Moriarty’s trenchmen has escaped from prison and is out to continue Moriarty’s work. At the same time, a young woman with a link to Sherlock’s past, makes an appearance. Together, the three attempt to save their friends from this evil enemy.

Veley’s book read easily, and the plot moved in an interesting manner. The addition of Lucy James to the Sherlock/Watson team provided a nice change, and an indication that there will be more books to come.

Good reading.

Here is link to the book.