Books I read this week: June week 2

Here’s what I read this week.

Buffet for Unwelcome Guests: The Best Short Mystery Stories of Christianna Brand  is so good. I’ve never read any of Christianna Brand’s mysteries before, and my goodness, is she masterful. The clues are there but she’s pointing you at something else, her characterizations are so good and complex; she’s just an excellent writer and a spectacular mystery writer. This is a collection of short stories and some are from the perspective of the detective, others from the viewpoint of the killer. There wasn’t one weak story in the bunch.

Familiar Faces: Stories of People You Know by Mary Roberts Rinehart is a collection of a completely different sort of short story. These are stories of living and loving and losing, of saying goodbye and finding things that were lost. They’re very graceful stories, and quite insightful into character. My favorites were The Philanderer’s Wife and Mr. Cohen Takes A Walk; both fully realized worlds in and of themselves.

“No, Wilmer. D0n’t be sentimental. I’m sorry for you, and you’re sorry for yourself. That makes it unanimous, but it doesn’t change anything.

American Ghost: A Family’s Haunted Past in the Desert Southwest by Hanna Nordhaus is one of those tailor made for me books. I was doing so well in my “buy no more books” resolution and then this book came up as a Kindle daily deal and the little blurb said, “The award-winning journalist and author of The Beekeeper’s Lament attempts to uncover the truth about her great-great-grandmother, Julia–whose ghost is said to haunt an elegant hotel in Santa Fe—in this spellbinding exploration of myth, family history, and the American West.”  Um, yes! Sign me up! And it did not disappoint. Nordhaus uses her journalism skills to research and investigate the life of her great great grandmother (who is believed to haunt the hotel that currently exists in her old home), and in the process illustrates why family history is so fascinating, important, and frustrating. She is able to find a lot of information about her great great grandfather, and other situations surrounding Julia, but little specifically about Julia. But the narrative that she is able to construct about her life, as well as her own experiences with various psychics as she attempts to contact Julia, is fascinating. I think anyone who is interested in family history would really enjoy this book.

If Abraham was domineering, or consumed in his work, or if he gambled and frequented bordellos or yelled at or ignored his wife, was he a villain, or simply a man of his time and place? Would Julia have thought her husband a monster and a scoundrel, or would this be how she expected husbands to behave? Is it fair to judge as villains these ordinary men of an earlier era, simply because they played by rules we no longer honor?

We flew from Tokyo to Texas in the middle of this week (I count the weeks for these posts by date not by Sun-Sat), and I knew chances were good I’d be awake for the whole flight so I needed something to read. I can’t read just anything on planes, it has to be escapist but not stressful. This time I went with two books that I knew the endings of (the first because it’s an older story so I’d heard the end, the second because it’s a mystery so it has to get solved) so a level of the stress was taken out of reading them.

The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith is one of those books that I’ve always meant to read. Then it came up 5 different times in the course of 2 days and I took that as a sign that I should read it on the airplane. It really is such a good book, and must have been groundbreaking when it was originally published. Tom Ripley (the main character) is not a good person, he does horrible, manipulative things, and yet you’re biting your nails hoping that he doesn’t get caught. He’s definitely a precursor to characters like Dexter and similar anti-heroes. The basics of the story are that Tom Ripley, (who has already run afoul of the law, even if the law doesn’t know it yet) is sent by an acquaintance’s father to go retrieve him from Italy. But when Ripley gets out there he realizes that Dickie (his charge) has a pretty good thing going, and maybe he wants in on it. And then that is threatened and he decides to kill Dickie and take over his life. It’s audacious and a bit crazy and somehow you find yourself hoping he gets away with it.

Miss Silver Comes to Stay  by Patricia Wentworth is a really solid mystery in the Agatha Christie vein. Murder victim that lots of people hate, many suspects but one really obvious one, complicated twists and great interpersonal connections. The story centers around a man returning to his childhood village after the death of his mother and how that impacts everyone in the village. He’s not very nice and riles a number of people up, and then ends up with his head bashed in. Miss Silver, who is a governess turned professional detective, is visiting a friend in the village and sets out to help the police. It’s a great read and I really enjoyed it, even though I had to go back over details because I was reading it after being awake for 23 hours. I’m excited to read more in the series- this one was number 16.

The girl was excessively pretty- really quite unnecessarily so.

Cecilia Voycey had always been told that discretion was a virtue. She would not for the world have denied or questioned it. All the same there are virtues which are very well in the abstract, but which, encountered in the flesh, can be a source of extreme irritation.

Right now I’m in the middle of Vermillion: The Adventures of Lou Merriwether, Psychopomp by Molly Tanzer and it is INSANELY good. I will post about it in the next book post. What are you reading?

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