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Billy J. Hobbs "Bill Hobbs" (Tyler, TX USA)
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About Face: A Commissario Guido Brunetti Mystery
About Face: A Commissario Guido Brunetti Mystery
by Donna Leon
Edition: Hardcover
35 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Leon triumphs in her latest Brunetti thriller, April 14 2009
It's number 18 for Donna Leon's exciting Commissario Guido Brunetti mystery series and Ms Leon latest, "About Face," is just as entrancing, captivating, absorbing, and, yes, even mesmerizing as the previous 17.

Not one to be shy about addresses pertinent, socially significant issues, Leon, through Brunetti, has long cited the discrepancies in Italian society, especially in Venice, a city in which she lives and, in her words, loves. This affection is clearly shown in her works, of course, but she does fire both barrels at her targets.

In "About Face," Brunetti meets the quintessential Italian beauty at a dinner party at his father-in-law's, who, because of her knowledge of Cicero and Ovid, intrigues Brunetti. A striking beauty, Franca Marinello, is married to a much older wealthy Italian businessman and is the epitome of wifely success. Ah, as Shakespeare says, "that's the rub." Later, she visits Brunetti at his office, seeking help, quite concerned about her husband and a possible kidnapping. As it turns out, there's more than meets the eye. That's one of the thread lines Leon presents. In another, Brunetti meets an officer of the Carabinieri who comes to him concerning the murder of a man who has been helping the police in their pursuit of illegal transport and organized crime (explicitly linked). Brunetti picks up on this as fighting corruption is always on his priority list. Alas, of course, Leon's murder mysteries can't be accomplished without more murders and so the story goes.

Local color aside, of course, it is always a pleasure to read the interactions and interplay among Brunetti's police staff, his family, and local gentry. What would he do without his loyal Inspector Vianello, the brilliant and beautiful Signorina Elettra, and, of course, the essence of his life, his wife Paola and his children Raffi and Chiari, and his parents-in-law. In "About Face," the reader is not disappointed.
Revenge is also an ingredient here.

And in the case of Franca, Leon writes:
"She shot him. She shot him in the stomach once and then again, and when he was lying on the floor at her feet, she took a step towards him and shot him in the face. Her dress was pale grey and long; the first two shots stained the silk...and the third one sprinkled red droplets just above the hem."

Leon's terse fast-paced style of writing carries all her Brunetti books, but perhaps her greatest draw is her ability to present her characters, especially Brunetti and his wife, is such a mesmerizing, most sensitive manner. Brunetti the incorruptible and Paola ever the champion of injustice, especially toward the downtrodden, and inveterate fan of Henry James, make Leon's books--all of them--so well worth the time; reading each one, when one begins to explore the depths of these characters and to recognize the relevant, socially significant issues. Despite the accompanying violence in her police procedurals, Leon makes reading the real pleasure it should be.

As an aside, one of the mysteries of Donna Leon's mysteries is how she is able to be so critical of the Italian social, economic, and political systems that they haven't run her out on a rail, so to speak. (She did say in London last year that her books aren't translated into Italian!) Regardless of her criticisms, she clearly shows she loves Venice and while zeroing in on police activities, her picture of The Eternal City is one of love. Tough love, but love, nevertheless.

THE HOUSE OF SHADOWS
THE HOUSE OF SHADOWS
by P.C. DOHERTY
Edition: Hardcover
13 used & new from CDN$ 0.66

5.0 out of 5 stars Brother Athelstan's back in the pulpit!, July 16 2004
This review is from: THE HOUSE OF SHADOWS (Hardcover)
It's quite good news to find yet another episode of the "sorrowful mysteries of Brother Athelstan"--he's been gone far too long for my taste! Now, Paul Doherty, prolific as he is, has returned to this series, my favorite of all of them.
In "The House of Shadows," we find the good brother all involved with his parish and their annual mystery play for Christmas.
In past episodes we've shared not only his sorrows but his triumphs and joys, and most importantly his sleuthing skills. He loves a murder--to solve. And, once again,
he has not only one murder, but a series of them. What's a simple friar to do? Well, for starters, to solve them. And with his usual finesse and brilliance, he does.
Refreshing, too, is Doherty's depiction of Athelstan's Southwark, where, in addition to being the parish priest, he is secretarius, friend, and super sleuth to the Crown's
coroner Sir John Cranston. We are treated, too, to his beloved St. Erconwald's parish, with his cat Bonaventure, his horse Philomel, and the wide assortment of parishioners, all more than human! But this is also what endears his legions of fans
to him. England simply wouldn't be the same without the Good Brother!
Doherty has provided us another good read; let's hope he now has picked up this series for more episodes! (Billyjhobbs@tyler.net)

Carnival of Saints
Carnival of Saints
by George A. Herman
Edition: Hardcover
23 used & new from CDN$ 2.12

5.0 out of 5 stars An A plus for George Herman!, July 5 2004
This review is from: Carnival of Saints (Hardcover)
George Herman certainly deserves credit for not only writing a spirited, often hilarious, tale set in early 16th century Italy, but for taking, literally, the Literary Bull by the Horns and presenting a delightful, mesmerizing story with equally mesmerizing characters.
"Carnival of Saints" shows Herman's influence of some real masters, notably Boccaccio and Chaucer. This is no "tale told by an idiot," to borrow Shakespeare, but it's a story of some original misfits, nine altogether, who are on a Grand Journey, metaphorically speaking, to right a few wrongs, as it were. While Herman's story does not take the form of "The Decameron" or "The Canterbury Tales," it certainly includes the bawdiness, the ribaldry, even the "lessons" these earlier masterpieces so clearly demonstrated.
These "misfits" early on recognize the fact that united they stand, devided they don't, and so with good fortunate, skill, and the Good Lord's blessings, their odyssey takes in the entire scope of Renaissance Italy, pulling no punches as some of the social, religious, and economic disorders of the time. Herman's wit clearly abounds and while readers wil find themselves caught up in the plot development the author's humor keeps everything in perspective. Well, almost.
These nine travelers, who represent a cross section of Italian society of the time, much as Chaucer did with his characters,
are ofttimes quite bumbling and seem their own worst enemies, yet the "goodness" of their souls always wins out. This is a delightful read, and readers who aren't overly familiar (or fond of) Boccaccio or Chaucer will still find the historical setting
and atmosphere worth the time. Herman has a number of well-received like books that also deserve a read! (Billyjhobbs@tyler.net)

The Ten Thousand: A Novel of Ancient Greece
The Ten Thousand: A Novel of Ancient Greece
by Michael Curtis Ford
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
36 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

4.0 out of 5 stars A lesson of Greece!, June 9 2004
Michael Curtis Ford's credentials seem quite sound, and certainly he has provided us with an epic-length and epic-like novel of sixth century Greece.
Told by Theo, Xenophon's squire cum friend, this story certainly comes packed for wear. Xeonphon has enlisted with the armies of Cyrus in Persia, having been among those Athenians disenfranchised by city leaders following her losses to Sparta. Cyrus is embattled in a civil war trying to capture the Persian crown which he feels belongs to him.
The book is not about Cyrus, though, and early on Cyrus is killed in one of the many battles of this campaign and eventually young Xenophon is left to lead the Greek mercenaries. His job, following Cyrus' botched attempt, is to get his troops back to Greece. This is really the story.
But getting his troops home is not an easy task. The story becomes one obstacle after another, usually in the form of enemy troops and Mother Nature (crossing the mountains in winter, for example). And, of course, scattered throughout are the examples of treachery, deceit, and a lot of mayhem.
While Xenophon is only gone for one year, Ford makes this novel seem longer than Moses in the desert (in which he foundered for 40 years!). Thankfully, Xenophon's tale is much shorter, although the book at times seems even longer.
Students of Greek history should find this an intriguing story, much of it based upon research done by Ford. Certainly, the author has made these historical characters come to life. He has also made the times and events quite realistic. It is worth the time to read! (...)

Painting in the Dark
Painting in the Dark
by Russell James
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 28.85
5 used & new from CDN$ 28.85

4.0 out of 5 stars James paints an interesting read!, June 9 2004
This review is from: Painting in the Dark (Hardcover)
"Painting in the Dark," a very dark (a Roman noir) murder mystery about two aristocratic sisters who had been Nazi sympathizers and friends of the "high Nazi echelons," including you know who, during his rise to power. At least, this is the core of the plot.
Russell James has written a very intriguing mystery in which evil truly does become personified. This riviting story line usitlizes more threads that Clothos could contrive, but while it may bounce back and forth from one character to another, from one time period to another, it still contains a cohesion that is not difficult to admire.
For readers who have trouble reading stories of people who are truly evil, perhaps this one should not be undertaken. James' evil and demented characters puts him on a par with Patricia Highsmith. The P.D. James, Martha Grimes, Donna Leon, Ruth Rendell police prodecurals feature super detective superintendents and each exhhibits murderers par excellence, still they don't seem to espouse this evilness in the characters that Russell James does here. This is not to say that his characters and plot are not of excellent worth: they are. James has presented us with some very, very bad characters; in fact, not any of the characters in the whole book have more "good" characteristics than they have "bad" ones. An interesting turn for a novelist to post. And, certainly, his characters are none whom I would want to meet even in a brightly lit alley! In addition, through the two sisters, James presents "the other side" of the Nazis without the book being a political statement.
It is very well written and has a few really clever and witty passages and references-affording some necessary comic relief in such a depressing tale. The cleverness of the pun in the title serves as an example of this. (...)

The Winter Queen: A Novel
The Winter Queen: A Novel
by Boris Akunin
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 12.27
78 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

4.0 out of 5 stars 'Queen' reigns as a royal series!, May 10 2004
"The Winter Queen" by Boris Akunin is set in 1876, Czarist Russia, and introduced me
to Erast Fandorin, the author's young investigator with the Moscow police. Granted,
perhaps the style of writing, the wit, and even the other nuances of the prose are due to the actual
translator's abilities (Andrew Bromfield), still this series promises to be popular here in America as well as in
Russia, where millions of copies of this series have been sold, we are told.
Young Fandorin (21 or so) fast finds himself caught up in a series of bizarre incidents,
beginning with the suicide of a young student. By chance, Fandorin indulges his
superior's "interest" in the suicide and then begins to unravel a far-reaching world of
intrigue, espinage, murder, and general mayhem, from Moscow to London and back.
The murder plot aside, Akunin's period piece is good reading as he's able to capture the
atmosphere of late 19th century Russia, yet without judging it one way or the other. His
few references to "the communists about" are also subtle, but not important to THIS
STORY.
Akunin's series (reportedly more than 10 Fandorin episodes) apparently are finding
themselves into welcomed English translations. If "The Winter Queen" is a true example,
let's bring 'em on! A good, exciting, series. (Billyjhobbs@tyler.net)

The Slaying of the Shrew
The Slaying of the Shrew
by Simon Hawke
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
17 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

4.0 out of 5 stars Hawke stages another Shakespearean Mystery!, May 10 2004
It's the exciting second episode of Simon Hawke's William Shakespeare-Tuck Smythe
medieval mystery series. As with the previous, "Much Ado About Murder", "The Slaying of
the Shrew" is a fun read, a story of derring-do, intrigue, comedy, romance, and, of course,
murder!
William Shakepeare is our hero, dropping couplets here, blank verse there, a little more
iambic pentameter over yonder, and on center stage. What a clever--and readable--idea for a
stage-worthy series!
As has been noted, much has been written about the Bard, but no one has made him out
to be an Elizabethan solver of murders as American author Hawke has.
One does not need to be a Shakespearean authority to enjoy the mystery. Hawke laces
his prose with often clever references to the original Shakespeare, tossing in a lines here and
there that, of course, "found" their way into one or more of the original plays.
In this series, Shakespeare has not yet completed one play, although he has now
discovered he can at least pay the bills by writing sonnets on commision. Young twenty-ish
Will works as a minor actor for the Queen's Men. Shakespeare's friend Symington Smythe II
(Tuck), Shakespeare, and the entire troup have been hired to stage the entertainment for lavish
wedding of a noble's daughter, named Catherine. Indeed, she's the byword for "shrew"; alas,
though, the best laid schemes of mice and the Queen's Men often go awry, and this is no
exception. Catherine is found murdered and Hawke's rescuers and mystery-solvers leap to the
case.
There plenty of suspects and it takes the brilliance of Shakespeare to narrow the field and
eventually solve the case.
Solving the case, of course, really isn't the lure of this book (or the series). Just getting to
know William Shakespeare is the fun part (although, of course, readers should remember that
his is purely fiction!).
But the play's the thing, wherein they're bound to catch the conscience of the thing,
and through diligence, brilliance, and cleverness, well, all's well that end's well, to coin a
phrase.
Indeed, "The Slaying of the Shrew" is a delightful book, whether one is versed in
Shakespeare or not. Kudos to Hawke for creating such a series and here's to future episodes.
(Billyjhobbs@tyler.net)

The Dante Club: A Novel
The Dante Club: A Novel
by Matthew Pearl
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 13.68
134 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

5.0 out of 5 stars 'The Dante Club' holds no bars!, April 24 2004
Matthew Pearl has taken a clever setting and clever use of real characters to pose some very dramatic and very readable situations. Mr. Pearl's intelligent and intellectual approach in "The Dante Club" is refreshing to read; it also gives the opportunity for the reader to think and to understand Boston following the Civil War.
Using as principle characters Longfellow, Oliver Wendell Holmes, and James Russell Lowell (among others), Pearl's murder scenario very cleverly surrounds--even is inundated by--Dante's "Divine Comedy." There's deaths aplenty, each a symbolic reference to one or more of Dante's "crimes in hell."
What to do? This trio, among others, has been working diligently to translate Dante into English. Alas, there are forces who violently (indeed) oppose such work, among them some of Harvard's academic elite.
The wisdom, the art, the bravery of Pearl's "characters"--combined with some he's clearly created, such as the police chief and his African-American officer--make this story gripping and fascinating. Pearl's wit, his scholarly touch, his fast-moving writing style certainly make this historial-fiction cum police procedural one not to miss. An excellent read!

Doctored Evidence: A Commissario Guido Brunetti Mystery
Doctored Evidence: A Commissario Guido Brunetti Mystery
by Donna Leon
Edition: Hardcover
31 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

5.0 out of 5 stars 'Doctored Evidence' needs no second opinion!, April 14 2004
It's more than a "lucky 13" for Donna Leon. "Doctored Evidence" is a carefully-crafted, purposefully-written, and fully-fulfilling (typical!) Leon police procedural featuring my favorite Italian, Commissario Guido Brunetti.
The erstwhile policeman has been on holiday to Ireland when the death occurs (A Romanian cleaning woman supposedly murdered her employer and made off with a large sum of money, only to be apprehended at a border crossing; before police can take her into custody, she bolts and is killed by an on-coming train)and when he returns he has already dismissed the case, which he'd read about in the papers, as merely a "cut and dried" episode in the life of the police in Venice.
Of course, the death of the cleaning woman has suspicious and unusual circumstances and shortly after Brunetti returns to work, a neighbor of the dead woman reports to the police that she has proof that the woman is innocent. This, of course, really peaks Brunetti's interest and from that point on, Donna Leon is, well, Donna Leon.
Before the case is closed, of course, readers once again witness the inter-play between Brunetti and his associates, his family, and his beloved Venice. Leon is not shy about taking literary pot shots at a number of socially significant issues facing not only the Venezians, the Italians, but the rest of the world.
Step by step, Leon takes us to the conclusion, where, of course it's no secret, Brunetti's intellect, talent, and good will once more triumph.
"Doctored Evidence" continues the Leon reputation. What a fascinating series Leon has created. Tis a pity one has to wait a year for the next episode.

City of the Dead: The Third Egyptian Mystery
City of the Dead: The Third Egyptian Mystery
by Anton Gill
Edition: Paperback
10 used & new from CDN$ 0.89

5.0 out of 5 stars Gill writes the wrongs with this 'first detective', April 4 2004
Anton Gill, a prolific author clearly in his own "write," continues his series set in Egyptian times (18th Dynasty) in "City of the Dead."
Tutankhamun meets his (inevitable) untimely death and, of course, the "dance of the succession" begins, violently. Only the scribe Huy (billed as the "world's first detective") can decipher the code of this historic miasma. And Gill presents a credible, albeit, of course, fictional accounting. Along the way, Gill's writing skill and succinct plot development accompanied by clearly defined and skillfully developed characters make reading this short novel a treat.
The plausible conclusion sets us up for another in the series, although at this writing (2004) none has been spotted. We hope Gill hasn't given up on us. It's a good series and worth fighting for! (Billyjhobbs@tyler.net)

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