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Tuesday, May 12, 2015

A Certain Justice by P.D. James

By the time I was a high school teenager I had graduated from reading Robin Hood, Ivanhoe and King Arthur, to  detective novels & murder mysteries. Perhaps it was all due to the fact that my eleventh grade English teacher required ten book reports.  Somewhat, to my own amazement, I had convinced her to give me a full ten book credits for reading the Complete Sherlock Holmes, all thousand plus pages and The Count of Monte Cristo for extra credit.  Thank you Mrs. H. Of course, the fact that I left school at 2 p.m  to begin a grocery store carry out boy job till 9 P.M,  might have  helped seal the deal.   In any case, I read all  of Conan Doyle’s stories and was quite hooked on the detective genre for a few more  years.

More recently, an obituary in the New York Time reminded of that earlier interest – “Phyllis Dorothy James White, who became Baroness James of Holland Park in 1991 but who was better known as “the Queen of Crime” for the multilayered mystery novels she wrote as P. D. James, died on Thursday at her home in Oxford, England. She was 94.”
I had read most of her mysteries featuring Inspector Adam Dalgleish over the years. The depth of her characterizations, and plots enhanced by wonderful and a little quant English prose cannot be exaggerated.   One I had missed was A Certain Justice.

It was very good involving the murder of a barrister in the heart of London and in Englands  highest court of law.  Many of her other novels went well beyond very good to superlative. The best ever actually and I would recommend  all.


Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Black River by S.M. Hulse

I don’t do “Westerns”.  Never have. Never will, though my Dad spoke to me of Zane Grey and Riders of the Purple Sage as a child.  Heck, I didn’t even watch Westerns on TV during their heyday in early television.  I do love flyfishing rivers though, so when I plucked S.M.  Hulses debut novel Black River off the library shelf, opened it to the middle and saw the word Montana three times,  I took it home. Surprise!  It wasn’t another flyfishing gem like the book A River Runs Through It or Robert Redfords movie of the same name. It turned out to be a western but not like the kind your granddaddy loved…..

 Black River is a modern-day Western that takes place in the small town Rocky Mountain West.  Stoic   sixty-year-old Wes Carver loses his wife, Claire, to cancer in the opening pages, leaves Spokane with her ashes to return to Black River a small Montana town where he worked as a CO (Corrections Officer) in a State Prison, meets his estranged step son and finds out the man who tortured him in a prison riot is up for parole.  He is invited to speak at parole hearing. Not incidentally there he would face the prisoner who had smashed all his fingers leaving him unable to exercise his favorite hobby and talent to play his beloved fiddle ever again.
Hulse has centered her novel around these and other dramatic events leaving a good but emotionally fragile man some very hard choices. I've lived in a small town all my adult life and summered in  Montana enough to have somewhat a sense of these places.  Amazingly,  Hulse captures it all perfectly with spot on detail,  spare prose and clear purpose. Yes, there are several “flashbacks” which I ordinarily abhor. Here though they give emotional depth to the unfolding events. I didn’t mind them at all

By The Way, she wrote the book as her MFA thesis at the University of Oregon.  Ah, to be so young and so talented. This book should be at the top of any list of best debut novels for 2015…..



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@Barrie Summy