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sleeping sheepsnake "Seth" (Ontario, Canada)

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Death in a Tenured Position
Death in a Tenured Position
by Amanda Cross
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
26 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

3.0 étoiles sur 5 Death in a Tenured Position, March 6 2003
This would be a strange mystery if it didn't have such an obvious agenda: to probe at Harvard's sexism towards women, specifically its failure (as of the late 70s) to accept women as tenured profs in the stuffy old-boys English Department. Everything about the book, then, is geared to attack this unbending attitude: the dialogue (lots of witty remarks, asides, quick jibes that poke holes in the massive structure of hypocrisy and prejudice that looms like a big chauvinist-pig mountain), the characters--lots of frustrated women, be they stoic professionals just trying to make it by playing the game in a so-called Man's World, or the real rebels: feminists gathering their anger together to fight the established order; plus, of course, many narrow-minded men, profs and students alike who either actively block women from success at Harvard, or at best, sell soft sexism without even realizing how ingrained and foolish their attitude is; even the solution to the puzzling murder, which speaks to the damage done on a personal level when a lone woman, picked for her docility, finds she is ill-prepared to be the Jackie Robinson of Harvard. Instead, she becomes a murder victim.
If you commit to this read, be prepared to witness Harvard's English Department at its most revolting. I would even venture to say that the book is so locked into its agenda, that two things happen: the filter feels too narrow, and no matter the importance of the message, as mysteries go, this one really feeds you one thin dimension in order to support that message (I found I wanted to stop reading about Harvard as soon as possible, and was happy it was a short book); plus, in a story where everything has to do with sexism at Harvard--every page, every paragraph--I wouldn't say that's a guarantee for a classic mystery. The clues are eccentric and, in some crucial cases, quite literary, the motive is obviously going to relate to the main thrust of the book in some fashion (ie. if Harvard weren't like this, she wouldn't be dead--don't just blame the killer, blame the environment,and so forth), making the solution as predictable, with hindsight, as it may be surprising at first glance. You will have to decide if there has been an actual cheat.
What the novel succeeds in doing is pointing out, and giving a human face to, a great inequity. The most striking quote from the book--the one that hits home for me--is the fact that women often make the best students at a place like Harvard, but then are not allowed to teach there (or weren't, when the book was written; I confess to not keeping up with Harvard's stubborn machinations in this area).
Be aware that there are a few decent males in the novel, but in this arena, a decent male seems to mean one who doesn't think about anything too deeply or too much, and while taking things rather easily, is nevertheless handy for venting to, or leaning on, temporarily. Any male that opens his mouth with a serious opinion about anything, in Cross's mystery, is bound to incriminate Harvard, or men in general, and should have kept his mouth shut since puzzle-solver Kate Fansler always has the perfect retort, no matter how enigmatic or cerebral.
A crime novel with an axe to grind; I liked being enlightened and shocked, I didn't think it was a mystery for the ages that hearkened back to the Great Detectives. No way.

The Best of Weird Tales
The Best of Weird Tales
by John Gregory Betancourt
Edition: Paperback
Prix : CDN$ 14.19
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2.0 étoiles sur 5 The Best of Weird Tales: 1923, Feb. 28 2003
This is an enticing collection on the face of it, mainly because of the reputation of Weird Tales, and how expensive it would be to retain the issues from which these stories have been culled; but after sampling all the stories collected here as "the Best", I confess to overall disappointment.
This collection merely sets the table, and invites the reader to sit down. Weirdly enough, my favourite stories in the bunch probably qualify as the least weird. I liked the stark, bitter message of The Bloodstained Parasol, where a young woman just can't accept what her science-minded paramour does for a living--no ghosts or zombies here, just a quick look, back in 1923(!) at the inhumanity of scientific investigation. Then there's the story called, clunkily, The Two Men Who Murdered Each Other, which actually features two greedy fools who thought they murdered each other but didn't. Nevertheless, they get another chance to do it all over again at the climax.
Another quietly successful story with no supernatural elements: The Man Who Owned The World. Besides another jab at how science, far from being a boon, can be a curse for everyday man, it suggests that perhaps a dreamland is a happier place than reality.
Then we have the other stories, full of man-eating plants, phantom hearts, sinister incantations of devil-worshippers, and the hateful death-magic of an old Kahuna. But these weird tales just don't seem weird enough for this reader of the twenty-first century. The plot twists are simple, predictable, mostly leading nowhere except to some cheerless last line that gives us another raving madman, or another lesson in trite supernatural retribution. I started begging for some kind of twist-ending, some kind of shake-up to the recurring formula.
Most of the stories, then, are short, well-written if a bit heavy-handed, and fairly forgettable--starring a lot of small people who inevitably get what they deserve, served up either by human hands, or the unknown. This short collection might have been done in by part of the editorial policy; the editors provide inserts that comment on the state of the magazine each month, and in doing so, tip us off to all the great stories that were NOT included because they only wanted each author, no matter how consistent, represented once, or because they felt some stories, apparently marvellous, had been anthologized too much already and so somehow didn't need to be represented here. It gets a bit frustrating hitting upon this sort of commentary repeatedly, causing the deduction that perhaps this is not, after all, really The Best of Weird Tales: 1923.
Perhaps a key collection for die-hard Weird Tales fans only, and I have a feeling that Lovecraft's first story, Dagon, is accessible elsewhere--probably in those other anthologies which contain all the Weird Tales we didn't get here.

Swords and Deviltry: Book 1 of the Adventures of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser
Swords and Deviltry: Book 1 of the Adventures of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser
by Fritz Leiber
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
9 used & new from CDN$ 12.22

4.0 étoiles sur 5 Swords and Deviltry, Feb. 25 2003
It's a keeper, and a winner, and a sure-fire treat!
Swords and Deviltry is the multi-faceted introduction to that fantasy duo you've heard so much about: Fafrhd and the Gray Mouser. I say "multi-facted" because author Leiber appeals to several emotions in the reader, through the use of humour and wit, swashbuckling action more than capably described whenever a sword slides free of a scabbard or deep into pink flesh, horrific magic (often of the creeping-tendril variety--be it snow tendrils, or dark-magic nooses and lassos, clutching at our heroes), sexual delight somehow sneaked in between dangerous encounters (both Fafrhd and the Mouser seem to realize that you have your fun when you can, since, in the life of a thieving adventurer, tomorrow may suddenly not be another day!), and finally, bitter tragedy that affects the destiny of our staunch duo right from the very beginning.
The portion of this chronicle called 'Ill Met in Lankhmar' is easily the most memorable, and the most affecting. The city itself is spotlighted in all its unpredictableness, introducing Fafrhd and the Gray Mouser to each other in the midst of--what else?--a fight in the streets. Of course. Once they have dealt with mutual enemies, and decided they enjoy each other's company far too much to either kill each other or go their separate ways, our heroes seem to bond in a curiously unspoken fashion. It's a terrific first meeting, especially when the two lads' respective lovers--Vlana and Ivrian--make it a foursome, back at the Mouser's ostentatious pad. A foursome doing some squabbling, since Fafrhd wants to break his oath to Vlana concerning taking some revenge on high-ranking members of Lankhmar's own shady Thieves' Guild, while the Gray Mouser is busy promising the ladies, quite brashly, that it shall be done. The rest is history, and demonstrates the treachery of Lankhmar itself, as it teaches that drunken pleasure causing overconfidence in a hastily worked plan of subterfuge may produce disastrous results.
Backing up slightly, I must say that the portions of the book previous to the fireworks of 'Ill Met In Lankhmar'--called 'The Snow Women' and 'The Unholy Grail'--contain their own charm, as we see snatches of the lives of Fafrhd and Mouse (soon to prefer the Gray Mouser for a name, thank you) before they met...the lives they are quick to leave behind. Fafrhd is at odds with his own mother, a snow witch of Cold Corner, and others of her menacing coven, and makes still more enemies at home, until one could say he is forced to leave on the fly (it's alright with him; he always wanted to leave Cold Corner anyhow, and meet more civilized people). Meanwhile, in 'The Unholy Grail', Mouse ties up his own loose ends, at times pursuer, or then the pursued, of an evil Duke who has killed Mouse's wizardly mentor. It's a wilderness showdown that sees Mouse strapped to a torture-rack when all is said and done--in sorry trouble unless he's got one final trick up his sleeve.
Swords and Deviltry is robust fantasy, colourfully told, and highly rewarding if you enjoy two thieves as heroes. Magic, swordplay, desperate chases, ambushes, betrayal and retribution, sex, friendship, and the lure of Lankhmar's shadowy alleys of adventure, all meld together seamlessly. Fafrhd and the Gray Mouser cannot ever seem to really want to leave Lankhmar, and the reader may not wish to for a long while either.

The Master and Margarita
The Master and Margarita
by Mikhail Bulgakov
Edition: Paperback
Prix : CDN$ 12.62
49 used & new from CDN$ 9.51

4.0 étoiles sur 5 The Master and Margarita, Feb. 10 2003
It's impossible for me to say that I really understand this novel. It's not totally my fault, either: Bulgakov died before he could finish editing it, and this has left apparent contradiction in the narrative. The editors and translators in this edition try to point out inconsistencies in their "Commentary"--actually a set of endnotes that refer to certain words or phrases--but unfortunately do not include page numbers. You will have to come up with a system for when you want to flip to the back of the book and look something up in the hope that it is addressed. Anyway, the Commentary also hints strongly, at certain points, that it merely scratches the surface when it comes to explaining about Bulgakov's many sources. It seems Bulgakov drew heavily from real personages he had met or had skirmishes with--including literary critics, government officials in charge of housing, etc., or even literary figures whom he came to know or inspired him through their works--and Ellendea Proffers's annotations include a few admittances that she basically gives up on providing all the countless topical references. I suppose we get the important ones.
Meanwhile, there's all the religious allegory, combined with uniquely Russian satire of the environment Bulgakov had become familiar with, Moscow of the 20s and 30s. So, be prepared to watch as high fantasy is used to tear apart politics and religion. The devil and his fantastic entourage invade the squalor and bureaucracy of Moscow between World Wars, and wreak havoc. People are teleported, documents appear and disappear at the whim of the troublemakers, thus giving officials headaches they never dreamed of, the devil hands out free money that later turns to illegal foreign currency, gifts of fine clothing that are illusory--and that's just the start. Woland's powerful associates include creepy Korovyov, a tall, skeletal oily talker who cannot be trusted, Behemoth the talking feline, who can get quite nasty with anyone who gets in his or his friends' way (best to stay quiet around him if you want all your body parts), and quiet Azazello, with the red hair and fangs, who can also leave quite a bruise if he wants to. Sometimes these folks are slicksters, masters of illusion, laughing manipulators of their poor human pawns, and later, mostly, they get more direct in their mischief put upon Moscow, with their fires, and theft, and apparent indestructability.
Through all the chaos, Woland takes a special interest in two sundered lovers: a failed writer called the Master who let his critics blast his career to pieces, and Margarita, who watched him fall apart over the rejection of his retelling of Pontius Pilate's story (we are treated to large portions of this radical version of Pilate's most famous moments, along with new looks at Judas, Yeshua (Christ), Levi (Matthew the tax collector), and others), and encounters Woland just when she may fall victim to offering him too much for a lovers' reunion. A poet named Ivan, incarcerated at the same asylum where we first meet the Master, also figures into Woland's puppetmaster machinations, and does not escape the situation without having his life and outlook radically altered.
For the fantasy reader, there are witches and demons, much magical mischief-making, and lots of symbolism pointing at greater meaning to it all (the moon as symbol, light versus dark as part of Manicheeism, tons of religious iconography, and hey, flying broomsticks and all-powerful talking cats). If you can't get it all sorted out while enjoying the sly revels, then don't worry about it; the editors have abandoned trying to make it all make sense, and for that matter, nobody in Moscow really understands what really happened anyway!

The Turing Test
The Turing Test
by Paul Leonard
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
17 used & new from CDN$ 43.36

3.0 étoiles sur 5 The Turing Test, Feb. 7 2003
I think it's overrated. I think it features a lot of scurrying about and spy-caper antics to cover up what is a very simple situation.
The early part of the book--narrated by Alan Turing (as conceived by Paul Leonard) is the best part. Turing's fascination with the amnesiac Doctor, starting with their wonderful meeting by a piece of sculpture the Doctor wishes could talk, fuels the book for me. But then, as we have a switch in narrator (Graham Greene picks up the thread of the adventure, and then further passes the reins to Joseph Heller) I started to switch off. Not only is each narrator less interesting than the last, but the story continually backtracks, presenting scenes over again from different perspective. Did I need to read this book in one sitting to really understand it?--I'm not sure, but for most of the book, it seemed as if all the key players--Turing, Greene, Heller, and the Doctor--were running around enacting cloak-and-dagger schemes, and bluffs, and double-bluffs, and chess-moves with pawns sacrificed--with nobody involved even sure what side they were on. The characters, in their behaviour, appeared to me to be automata, somehow playing spy games simply because they liked the Doctor, though many times they did try and get him to explain himself.
The plot concerns a strange coded message picked up from Dresden near the end of World War 2; it seems to be some kind of barely-decipherable call for help, but who from?: Jewish refugees? German dissidents? POWs? It's all very murky, considering how many characters run around worrying about it, and ultimately end up playing murder games over it. More and more the highly irregular code, initially examined by the Doctor and Turing, looks to be un-Earthly--hence the Doctor's enthusiasm. His lack of memory at this point in the series, coupled with some sense that he is not a normal human, has him searching for beings that may provide answers, and the Dresden code is a promising lead. Unfortunately, I just felt the story ended up being a whole lot of nothing--not as impenetrable as that other exhausting, "highly literary" Who effort, The Adventuress Of Henrietta Street (which bored my socks off), but not as great as I had been led to expect. True, the contrast in personality between Turing, Greene, and Heller--their various philosophies, reactions to the Doctor, heated conversations about humanity, evil, love and emotion, war, etc. etc. etc.--are somewhat stimulating, but for me, these were lively characters caught up in confusion. And when I'm feeling confused about a plot that, when you start junking all the cloak-and-dagger fooferah and endless backtracking, would take a paragraph to sum up, it means I'm not enjoying the book.

On Edge
On Edge
by Barbara Fister
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
11 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

3.0 étoiles sur 5 On Edge, Jan. 31 2003
This review is from: On Edge (Mass Market Paperback)
I found it very difficult to decide how much I like this mystery. In the end, I settle for a compromise. The book has plusses: the plot is always marching forward, and not going in circles as even some classic whodunits are known to do; the protagonist, Konstantin Slovo, is so angry and impulsive he becomes a most fault-ridden hero whom it is nevertheless impossible to dislike; the book, if all else doesn't work for you, lives up to its title: The whole story is on edge. There is nothing of a non-edgy disposition on any page, unless you count Slovo's romantic downtime with Ruth, who is then quickly on edge when she finds out a distressing secret Slovo has been keeping.
So the book's greatest strength is that which is most likely to turn off many readers. It is disturbing and at times disgusting, as Slovo attempts to stop a child-murderer in Brimsport, Maine. Brace for awful descriptions of the victims' remains--though it's fair to say that the horrid nature of the deaths, and how the young victims' bodies are left, is not really presented in a gratuitous manner. And there is no actual depiction of a murder; but like in the movie Seven, it's what the local cops, the FBI, and Slovo find after the fact. The narrative also repeats descriptions of the dead a few times, as photos are mulled over, facts are reviewed, and suspects are questioned. So the sickening flavour of the story, at times, merely comes from the same gruesome details being mentioned over and over, where it concerns the three dead children.
The living population of Brimsport, at least the ones Slovo comes into contact with as he tries to prevent the impending death of a fourth child, are enough to set the rest of the narrative on edge. Brimsport was scandalized, in the 80s, by a whole raft of children coming forward to claim victimization by a hidden cult of sexual abusers. Mishandling of the cases turned the affair into a witch hunt, with loads of innocent people netted and character-stained, as interrogation made it impossible to tell when the kids were lying or speaking the truth. Repercussions from this portion of Brimsport's history have a direct effect on Slovo's current investigations...and on his safety. Paranoia in the town has re-emerged, some of Slovo's own spotty past is disseminated throughout the town (he is a very complicated character, when it comes to past indiscretions), and his life is in danger. One attack on Slovo is particularly vicious.
But he plods on, weeding through a very seamy list of suspects. Digging through personal histories, and playing the friend to some of the more disturbed Brimsporters, comes to reveal a hotbed of drug users, unfit moms, possible pedophiles, disgruntled cops with nasty attitudes, town vigilantes, and one high and mighty crusader who seems to be using Brimsport's constant woes to reinvigorate his media career (he already used his troubled son to do this, and Slovo must keep an eye on both newly-returned son, and father). With a fourth victim pending--the killer leaves gruesome clues to what he has done, or is about to do--Slovo, and some local law-enforcement, plus FBI, who are willing to give him some leeway (up until his own anger forces him to push too hard), must deal with a huge roster of edgy, edgy suspects.
This is no cosy. But the plot very ably moves from development to development without any circular motion. This isn't one of those tired novels where the detective very predictably rides a suspect merry-go-round, visiting the same suspects at predictable intervals, and making familiar wisecracks (Slovo's idea of communication, facetious and cynical or otherwise, is a bit skewed). The book moves with purpose, and has a powerful, edgy style that never lets up--though I must confess I had become a bit suspicious of the character who was eventually revealed as the killer.
Five-star edginess in a three-star mystery. Read it if you like them exceptionally gritty and disturbing, with a messed-up hero.

Time Cat
Time Cat
by Lloyd Alexander
Edition: Paperback
46 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

4.0 étoiles sur 5 Time Cat, Jan. 28 2003
This review is from: Time Cat (Paperback)
This cheery, charming whirlwind of a kids' book did have me purring somewhat. Gareth the cat, with the ankh on his furry chest, shows his owner, young Jason, that the rumoured nine lives of a cat really means nine exciting trips through time. Pet takes owner to ancient Egypt, 5th century Ireland, the home of "Odranoel" da Vinci (that would be Leonardo, who likes to spell his name backwards for fun), and even the Isle of Man, just when tailless cats are washing up on shore. In fact, most of the places and times Gareth and Jason visit have some special attitude towards cats (not sure if Gareth just wanted to be the center of attention the whole time, but cats will be cats); Gareth, and Jason by association, are either being revered, such as in Pharoah's Egypt (well, okay, Gareth revered, Jason to be thrown to the crocodiles), looked to as role models (Gareth and Jason try to educate a young Japanese Emperor not to be such a puppet for his bullying Uncle), or hated and feared ("the cat's an evil spirit!--Burn the cat and the boy!"). The two even end up in places where people don't even recognize cats; in the Ireland of 411 AD, Gareth is mistaken for a dog, since everyone knows that a wildcat is a big, nasty thing. Gareth, in fact, tussles with a wildcat. But she turns out to be female...
The whirlwind of time travel ends in America: 1775, and Jason's exposure to the War of Independence is perhaps the most grown-up portion of the book. A dying patriot, shot in front of the young man, entrusts Jason and his cat with a mission. Others fall in the midst of battle, as Jason sets out to complete his appointed task. Later, the last trip through time is over, and Jason tries to finally absorb what Gareth has been trying to teach him throughout the entire odyssey (Gareth is a bit of a lecturer, doing a bit of a Yoda to help Jason become a man).
This is a young adults' fantasy novel, so the cat talks, and can travel through time, and can allow Jason to understand myriad languages, all without any kind of logical explanation. It's magic; though it's fair to say that the ending, though familiar, ties up everything nicely, as well as providing some answers to the mystery of Gareth.
Several quick history lessons packed into a fun novel for young readers. But I did enjoy it, and I'm in my thirties as I write this.

by Jonathan Morris
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
13 used & new from CDN$ 12.45

4.0 étoiles sur 5 Anachrophobia, Jan. 27 2003
Oh, here we have another perpetual war going on somewhere in the Who universe. It seems I just read about the very same thing, not two books ago, in Paul Leonard's Dr Who effort called Toy Soldiers. I would easily report that the two books cover much of the same thematic ground...if not the same actual ground (yes, Toy Soldiers features the more traditional war-zone mud of the trenches, while this here tale, Anachrophobia, features snow and ice, and time storms).
Morris's perpetual war is fought--between the Plutocrats and the Defaulters--with a smattering of time-manipulation thrown in with the grenades. Accelerated Time can be used against a soldier--the enemy soldier ages quickly and dies. Decelerated Time can freeze a soldier in place while enemy is chronally free to move around him. Best that a soldier not even catch a part of his body in any of these danger areas. Anyway, the big news is that, at Isolation Station Forty--where the Doctor, Anji, and Fitz hole up--the Plutocrats are trying to perfect a time-sphere that would allow them to end all the nonsense by going back to the beginning of the war and altering it in their favour. But this experiment looks to be the most likely cause of people turning into living clocks, and worse yet, this strange condition looks to be contagious once it gets loose. The Doctor works to stop the bizarre transformations before he, or his friends, get infected.
The main problem of the book, the one that makes it less than brilliant, is the fact that the plot gets stuck at Isolation Station Forty for a heckuva long time. This limits characters to the same few rooms and corridors. Back and forth, back and forth. Into the medical bay; over to the control room; trouble in the time-sphere bay, better get over there; oops, back to the medical bay (a clockface person could get loose); down this corridor, through this airlock--oops, no, back inside, back in airlock, down this corridor, down that corridor; captured, locked in storage room; free, down that corridor, back to control room. Lots of that, lots of Isolation Station Forty.
Thankfully, the final stages of the novel release the characters from their quarters, and the corridors, and the medical bay, and the control room, etc., at the Station--and we all get to go outside for a breath of fresh air. The Doctor races to a Defaulter village-outpost to finally discover who is really behind the war, and stop the weird infection. The coolest thing about the clockpeople is their ability to reverse time within a small area around themselves, so that they can "jump back" to a few seconds before they were in danger, or even killed, making them frustrating opponents. Their scariest ability turns out to be the offer they can make to anyone: go back and change the part of your past you most regret. But there is a terrible consequence for doing the irresistable.
The book is again like Toy Soldiers, in its loony explanation for the perpetual war (different explanation, just as loony). So with that in mind, and also remembering that Isolation Station Forty gets a bit dull after characters have run around it for the fifth time, enjoy this entry despite its clunkiness at times.

The Face Eater
The Face Eater
by Simon Messingham
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
13 used & new from CDN$ 12.17

3.0 étoiles sur 5 The Face-Eater, Jan. 20 2003
A solid Dr Who page-turner, that avoids mimicing what has gone before by showcasing a few interesting surprises in the last portion of the book.
The Doctor and Sam intercept a distress call from Proxima II, where the first community of human colonists (five thousand strong) has set up shop as workers, supervisors...and a few troublemakers. Because all these pioneers had been psychologically examined before selection, the worst thing that Supreme Executive of the overseer organization--Global Mining Corporation--had to worry about, previously, were a few disgruntled miners trying to set up a Union, or the odd bit of cantankerousness erupting at some of the seedier watering-holes.
But when the "Face-Eater" arrives and starts claiming victims, is he merely a human lunatic who managed to fool the psyche-profilers...or does the answer lie within Proxima II itself? The strange, furry little natives, with their stone formations--marked with glyphs that may contain a warning about the magnificent mountains beyond the colony--appear only to be capable of mimicing the words of humans, or the Doctor, who tries to bond with them. But things heat up; mimicry, on this planet of secrets, goes beyond the repetition game played by a few cute aliens. Distraught colonists experience visions of tragic incidents from their pasts, reliving the awful deaths of loved ones. And then there's the Face-Eater, chalking up victims who, suddenly, may not be so dead after all. Or are people being duplicated for some sinister purpose? The Doctor and Sam must apply themselves, before the colony, under a manic, paranoid leader with several gun-toting toadies who will do her bidding, tears the colony apart using brutal oppression to solve all her problems.
Readers who don't watch everyone carefully will likely be in for a few shocks; all readers who recognize the trappings of "killer loose on a colony-world" stories on sight, will recognize them here. But, this treatment of familiar ideas is fairly satisfying, creepy throughout most chapters, and ends up demonstrating just how well the Doctor and Sam have gotten to know each other. This would be their last adventure before Fitz joined them, and their ability to depend on each other, and only each other if it comes to that, is highlighted here.

Something Like a Love Affair
Something Like a Love Affair
by Julian Symons
Edition: Hardcover
Prix : CDN$ 38.49
16 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

3.0 étoiles sur 5 Something Like A Love Affair, Jan. 10 2003
Judith Lassiter has a problem. She is unhappy in her life. At the start of this novel she deals with it the nice way: she mails love-letters to herself and plants them on the breakfast-table beside her when they arrive, hoping her husband, Victor, will ask about what sort of mail she's getting. It seems she somehow wants to live out a romantic fantasy, and yet also use it to create ripples in her drab, unfulfilling realworld environment. But Victor never seems to care enough to ask about her private mail. Victor, in fact, is under investigation at work for some shady business practices that start with collusion in a blackmail scheme (to force a nature-lover to back off from protecting property that Victor's architectural firm wishes to develop).
Stuck in a rut, Judith begins a passionate, breathtaking extramarital affair with a fellow much her junior--Billy, who has the odd job of re-teaching veteran drivers how to brush up their eroded road-skills. A strange form of employment, but that's not all that's strange about Billy; near as Judith can come to figure it, Billy is either living with his mother or perhaps is hiding another lover at home. Plus, he has a rough past, once hiring a group of toughs to rough up his own father.
As her husband becomes more guarded in his comments about how much trouble he could be in at work, and as all her close friends seem to be suggesting she actually stay in bad marriage, Judith and Billy try to work out a possible future. But there are complications. Judith seems to be developing some kind of fractured personality, and when someone tries to blackmail her using an embarrassing portion of her past against her, Judith begins to contemplate hiring a hitman to clean up her problems before she can run off with Billy.
Several short sections of the novel break in on the main narrative to show just little hints at how it is all going to turn out: there will be at least one corpse lying in some underbrush. The murder victim's identity is of course revealed at the finale, where we learn how all Judith's trials and tribulations, including her need for Billy, have led.

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